David Price vs. Cliff Lee in Game One. You can watch this one on TBS starting at 1:37pm, so talk about it here if you want.
Baseball America posted their list of the top 20 prospects in the High-A Florida State League today, and four Yankees made the cut: Dellin Betances at #4, Adam Warren at #13, Melky Mesa at #19, and Andrew Brackman at #20. Matt Moore (Rays), Chris Archer (Cubs), and Jacob Turner (Tigers) were the only players ahead of Betances. Manny Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify.
In the subscriber only scouting reports they noted that Betances’ delivery is improved but there are still some concerns because of a head jerk and a stiff landing. The latter is pretty easy correct and is not uncommon at all. As for his stuff, they call it a “93-95 mph fastball and a power curveball” and a work-in-progress changeup. BA lauded Warren’s deep repertoire, which features “heavy 90-93 mph fastball”, a slow curveball, and a cutter/slider kind of breaking pitch. They also mention that his 6-foot-1, 200 lb. frame is maxed out, and there’s a chance he’ll end up as more of a setup man than a starter.
Mesa was said to have the best set of tools in the league behind Phillie turned Astros turned Blue Jay Anthony Gose. He “showed true four-tool ability” because he has “excellent raw power that already makes its presence felt in games, runs well, covers a lot of ground in center field and owns a strong, accurate arm.” His ability to make consistent contact and handle breaking balls is, as it always was, a concern. Brackman “showed an 89-94 mph fastball and a power curveball … giving him a pair of plus pitches on his best days.” They note that he uses his height to his advantage and that his changeup is improved, but his command can still waver from time to time.
The Double-A Eastern League list comes out on Friday, and the Yankees should be well represented once again. Brackman is again eligible for that list, and you’ve also got Hector Noesi, Austin Romine, and even Brandon Laird. David Adams is a long shot given his injury, and if Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify for the FSL list, he definitely won’t have enough for the EL. For shame.
The Twins’ lineup is not one the Yankees should underestimate. The team finished second in the majors in OBP, seventh in SLG, and fifth in wOBA. Yet, as Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs explained on Monday, looking at a team’s overall season stats doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture. A good part of the Twins’ numbers came from Justin Morneau, who was on an MVP-like tear before missing the second half with a concussion. He will not factor into the series. There are other factors, too, such as bench players. Some of them got playing time during the season so that starters could rest. They will not play much of a role in this series.
The best way to look at a team’s offense, then, is to examine the strengths and weaknesses of its components. That will not only give us an idea of what they do as hitters, but will also help us see how they match up against the opposing pitcher. Tonight that will be CC Sabathia against the best the Twins have to offer.
In the bottom of the first Sabathia will face an immediate challenge. Denard Span might have had a poor 2010 season, but he’s still a dangerous guy from the leadoff spot. He actually hits lefties a bit better than righties not only this year, but in his career. This year he has a .347 OBP in 243 PA against fellow lefties, but Sabathia has done a good job of keeping them off base, a .305 OBP to the 220 he’s faced. Span has hit far better at home than he has on the road, which certainly bodes well for the Twins in the series. Sabathia has pitched slightly worse on the road, but the spacious Target Field should help him keep the ball in the park. Sabathia’s ground ball tendencies also play to his favor against the leadoff man; Span has not gotten on base well against that type of pitcher.
While Span is the guy who can swipe a bag if he’s on — he went 26 for 30 this season — Orlando Hudson is the Twin who can do the most damage on the base paths. Hi EQBRR of 2.2 leads the team even though he’s not by any means a prolific base stealer. Thankfully for the Yankees, Hudson got on base this year at a lower rate than he has since 2005. He has hit a bit better at home, a .353 wOBA against a .324 mark on the road, but he hits lefties a bit worse than righties. He also hits ground ball pitchers better than fly ball ones, which could help him against Sabathia. Then again, the fastball and slider have hurt him this year, so perhaps Sabathia can keep him neutralized. He has hit changeups well, though, and Sabathia is apt to throw one to a righty.
Even if Sabathia can keep Span and Hudson off base, he’ll still have to deal with one of the league’s more dangerous hitters. Joe Mauer’s .373 wOBA is only disappointing when compared to his 2009 MVP season. He produced despite multiple injuries, the latest of which was a knee injury from which he just recovered. What hurts him in Game 1 is his lack of power both against lefties and at home. Just two of his nine home runs this season have come at home, and just one of nine has come off a left-handed pitcher. Still, he has hit .272 with a .342 OBP against lefties, so he can still produce. If the Yankees can keep him moving just one base at a time they’ll be in good shape.
Where the Twins order used to feature Justin Morneau it will now feature Michael Cuddyer. That’s a significant drop-off, especially considering Cuddyer’s poor 2010 season. He immediately stepped up in July, following Morneau’s injury, and produced a .376 wOBA on the month. But since then he’s been much less productive. Yet he has still hit lefties well, a .376 wOBA, and has also produced at Target Field, a .340 wOBA. Both of these, plus his quality numbers against ground ball pitchers, are reasons he’ll likely bat behind Mauer in Game 1, and likely Game 2 as well.
That leaves Delmon Young for the fifth spot. Can you believe he’s just 24 years old? The time he spent in Tampa Bay feels like it was eons ago. Instead he’s finally found his stride in Minnesota. He followed up a quality second half of 2009 with a very good 2010 season that included career highs in BA and ISO. As expected he produces better against lefties, a .390 wOBA, but he doesn’t have much of a home/road split. He also hasn’t hit ground ball pitchers that well this year. During the course of his career he has, but something must have changed this season.
In the final four spots Sabathia might have to worry most about a rookie. True, it’s tough to write off Jim Thome, even if he battled back problems in September and he doesn’t hit lefties as well as he does righties. Sabathia will have that advantage over him. Thome also has had trouble against the slider, a pitch that Sabathia will throw to a lefty in any count. He also hits relatively worse against power pitchers and ground ball pitchers, both of which describe Sabathia. Still, Thome has produced quality numbers at Target Field. Considering the alternatives, I’m certain he’ll be in the starting lineup tonight.
Jason Kubel is another player who will likely bat higher in the order when a right-handed pitcher is on the mound. He actually battled wrist problems in September, but it appears he is back and healthy, having started every game since the 21st. He hits lefties particularly poorly, a .297 wOBA this year and .299 for his career. The slider has given him fits all year, so Sabathia has weapon with which he can retire Kubel. Jason Repko took most of the starts when Kubel was hurt, but there’s little chance he starts in the series. His right-handedness might help, but he’s actually been dominated by lefties this year and doesn’t have good career numbers against them.
While he probably won’t win the AL Rookie of the Year Award, Danny Valencia might be the most dangerous first-year player in the AL. In just 322 PA he produced 2.6 WAR. His .351 wOBA ranks sixth among AL third basemen with at least 300 PA, though that does put him third out of the four playoff third basemen. He’s done an especially excellent job against lefties, a .424 wOBA in 111 PA, and he gets on base against ground ball pitchers more often than he does against fly ball pitchers. Valencia hasn’t played against the Yankees yet, and I fear that he might become a thorn in their sides this series.
J.J. Hardy finishes things for the Twins. He was brought in with hopes that he’d return to his 2008 form, but that didn’t happen. Instead he missed plenty of time to injury — nearly 50 days — and was largely ineffective when healthy. His .320 OBP is an improvement over 2009, but his power remains at the same, low level. He continues to play excellent defense, but his bat makes him the No. 9 hitter in this lineup.
In terms of hitters, the Twins don’t have much on the bench. Drew Butera, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Jason Repko, and Matt Tolbert likely won’t play much of a role in the series beyond pinch running and playing defense. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to use any of them otherwise. Maybe you’d see someone pinch-hit for a lefty if Girardi goes to Logan in the late innings, but I’m not sure that it gives the Twins much of an advantage. Their starting lefties against left-handed pitching inspires more confidence than a backup righty against a lefty.
The Twins’ lineup has some potential issues against Sabathia, but it does appear as though they have a number of advantages. The guys at the top of their lineup haven’t done a great job, but Mauer has gotten on base, if nothing else, against lefties and at home this season. He can set the table for the righties Cuddyer and Young, who seemingly back up well against Sabathia. The quality of hitters drops off after that, though, so the key will be working around those 3-4-5 hitters. That’s probably true in every game, but particularly true here. Sabathia can certainly handle the hitters at the top and at the bottom. With a little careful planning and some luck he can definitely make it through this lineup and look like the ace he has been all season.
Back in July you guys voted the Alex Rodriguez/Marcus Thames tag-team walk-off comeback against Jonathan Papelbon as the best moment of the first half of the season, and now it’s time to address the second half. Here’s a recap of some of the most memorable moments from the last three-plus months, with the poll to follow…
July 16th: Swish walks off in first game after George Steinbrenner‘s death (video)
For the first time since 1973, the Yankees played a game without George Steinbrenner at the helm. The Boss passed away the day of the All Star Game, and when the team he loved resumed play a few days later, they did so after honoring his memory. Nick Swisher honored in George in his own way, by doing a mean Bobby Murcer impression. Swish got the Yanks on the board with a run-scoring single in the third, trimming Tampa’s lead to 2-1. Five innings later, with his team down one, Swish teed off on a Joaquin Benoit fastball, tying the game with a solo shot to right. The game remained tied an inning later, when the man of the hour stepped to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs. Swish ended the game with a walk-off line drive single to right, scoring Curtis Granderson and sending everyone home with a smile on a day that started with tears.
July 21st: Colin Curtis pinch homers for Brett Gardner (video)
Five days after Swisher’s dramatic game, Curtis hit the first homerun of his big league career. It was a three-run shot and the Yankees were ahead at the time, so all it did was extend the lead. Nothing special, except that he didn’t even start the at-bat. Brett Gardner did, but he got tossed after taking two straight strikes and arguing with home plate ump Paul Emmel. Lil’ CC came off the bench and inherited the 0-2 count, but he then took three straight Scot Shields offerings for balls to work the count back full. The fourth pitch was in the zone and Curtis put his A-swing on it, hitting it out to right. It gave the Yanks a bit more a cushion, but for a rookie to work that kind of an at-bat off the bench was something to behold.
Aug. 16th-20th: HOPE Week (videos)
This was not a single moment. It didn’t involve any meaningful games and yet everyone won. The Yanks held their second annual HOPE Week in late August, which the official site describes as “a unique week-long community program that will bring to light five remarkable stories intended to inspire individuals into action in their own communities.” They invited a host of amazing people to Yankee Stadium during the week for a once in a lifetime experience that didn’t celebrate the Yankees, but their guests. It was one of those times when even the most dedicated of fans put baseball on the back burner. If it didn’t tug on your heartstrings, then you just don’t get it.
Aug. 11th: A Texas-style comeback (video)
The Yanks were coming off two straight losses, including a tough walk-off defeat at the hands of the Rangers with the immortal Mariano Rivera on the bump. Texas jumped all over Javy Vazquez early and often the next day, and they started the sixth inning up 6-1 with Cy Young contender Cliff Lee on the mound. Derek Jeter lead the inning off with a triple and came around to score on a wild pitch, and the Yanks tacked on two more in the seventh thanks to a Lance Berkman double and a Gardner single. Thames closed the gap to 6-5 with a solo homer in the eighth, but any further comeback would have to come against wunderkind closer Neftali Feliz. Berkman walked to lead off the ninth, was pinch hit for by Granderson who moved over on a Gardner walk. A wild pitch but the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position temporarily, because Jeter singled in the tying run one batter late. Feliz as removed from the game but it did no good; that Thames guy came through again with a go-ahead single. Rivera pitched around a leadoff triple in the ninth to earn the save and give the team arguably it’s most impressive win of the year.
Sept. 17th: A-Rod teaches Uehara a lesson (video)
Things got pretty ugly for the Yanks down the stretch, and they opened their series in Baltimore having lost eight of ten games, coughing up their lead in the AL East. A-Rod got his team on the board early with a solo homer, but they couldn’t muster anything else until Orioles’ closer Koji Uehara was on the mound in the ninth inning. Down 3-1, Jorge Posada started the inning off with a monster 11-pitch at-bat, reaching on a single. Curtis Granderson moved him over to second with a single two batters later, but Mark Teixeira popped up for the second out. That brought A-Rod to the plate, but given how poorly things were going in Yankeeland it felt like just another tease. Uehara pounded him inside pitch after pitch, and it even looked like he got strike three on a borderline pitch. Instead the home plate ump ruled it outside, and the next inside fastball caught a little too much of the plate and A-Rod put a lot of hurt on it. The three run homer gave the Yanks a 4-3 and an eventual win, one they desperately needed.
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Time to vote. If you don’t think one of those five moments above wasn’t the most memorable of the second half, them tell us about it in the comments! Here’s to many more wonderful memories in the coming weeks…
Yesterday morning I wrote about a roundtable discussion with Bernie Williams. It was in no way comprehensive; it was just the parts of the conversation that stuck out most to me. Bernie had plenty of other interesting things to say. Thankfully, a couple of other people caught different parts. Emma Span has her account at Bronx Banter, and Amanda Rykoff fills in all the details on The OCD Chick. Both offer a different take on the experience of meeting and talking with Bernie Williams.
A.J. Burnett had plenty of time to prepare what he’d say this afternoon. He knew long before us that he was not going to start a game in the ALDS. I don’t know what went through Burnett’s head in those few days, but it resulted in him getting the best press coverage possible. “Burnett handled himself better today than anybody could have expected,” wrote Mark Feinsand of the Daily news. “Burnett is a super-likable guy,” said Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York*. That type of reaction tends to occur when you admit that you suck and take your demotion without issue.
*The rest of Matthews’s quote reads, “who regrettably seems destined to drive himself and his bosses crazy.” Well said.
Burnett will sit in the bullpen for the ALDS, which raises the question of how Girardi will use him, if he’ll use him at all. Would he use him in the sixth inning of Game 3 if Hughes throws 100 pitches through five. Would he use him in Game 4 if he had used Wood, Robertson, and Chamberlain in the first three games? I doubt he uses him before any of those three, but he probably fits in ahead of Moseley and Mitre. There’s a chance he’ll get an inning or two, which makes me wonder how he’d adapt to a relief role.
Burnett last pitched in relief on April 16, 2008, in an extra-inning game against Texas. In a 5-5 game he allowed two runs on three hits and a walk. The Blue Jays were retired in the bottom half and the Blue Jays lost the game. The time before that came in 2004, on the final day of the season. Burnett hadn’t pitched since September 12. He came into the fifth inning of a 5-3 game against the Phillies and pitched two scoreless innings that included four strikeouts. In his career Burnett has made four relief appearances and has faced 30 batters. They have hit .346/.433/.500 off him.
Of course, four appearances scattered over three different years doesn’t mean much as it concerns his current abilities. Then again, I don’t think that many stats, if any, can explain A.J. Burnett this season. Normally I’d go through his numbers in various reliever situations — first inning of work, men on, late & close, etc — but I’m not sure it would tell us anything. Not only are they small, non-predictive samples, but they’re also almost all bad, because A.J. was bad most of the season. There are very few situational splits in which the opponent’s OPS against dips below .700. It’s tough to find any silver lining with numbers like that.
I really wanted this to be a post on how A.J. might make a good reliever — that he might add a fourth to the setup crew of Chamberlain, Wood, and Robertson. But that’s just not likely. It’s possible, in the same way that it’s possible that the Braves win the World Series. But it would come only in a desperate scenario. I have to agree with Ben; Burnett the reliever is a pitcher I hope never takes the mound in the ALDS. It probably means a grave situation — even before Burnett enters the game.
Ivan Nova is one of six players up for this year’s Triple-A Best Starting Pitcher of the Year award, matched up against Jeremy Hellickson (Rays), Dan Hudson (D-Backs), Anthony Lerew (Royals), Brandon Dickson (Cardinals), and Michael Kirkman (Rangers). The 23-year-old Nova threw 145 innings for Scranton across 23 starts, posting a 2.86 ERA (3.46 FIP) with 7.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. He was clearly the team’s best starter all season long, and he even provided some value to the big league team with a few September spot starts.
You can vote for the award right here through next Monday, so head on over, give a click, and support your homegrown Yankees.