Game 120: Revenge

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A little more than three months ago, the Royals tattooed Ivan Nova for ten hits and eight runs in just three innings of work, easily the worst start of his young career and one of just eight starts in the majors with that many hits and runs allowed in three or fewer innings this season. Nova’s been pitching very well since coming back up from Triple-A starts ago, so here’s his chance to exact some revenge against the team that embarrassed him back in May. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Andruw Jones, DH
Russell Martin, C
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Brett Gardner, LF

Ivan Nova, SP

It’s another 8pm ET start because of the Midwest game, and My9 will have the broadcast. Enjoy.

Freddy to test finger in bullpen session

Via Erik Boland, the bandage is off Freddy Garcia‘s cut index finger, and the big right-hander will test the digit out in a bullpen session today or tomorrow. Apparently it only gives him trouble when he throws his splitter, which is by far his most important pitch. Plus if it’s not healed all the way, he could end up tearing the cut back open and missing even more time. That would be bad.

Your favorite reporters on Darwin Barney’s bat

We’ve got some time to kill on a slow afternoon before tonight’s game, so enjoy. I lost it once Heyman got involved.

The League Average Derek Jeter

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

On the afternoon of June 13th, Derek Jeter limped off the field in the fifth inning of an eventual loss to the Indians. The Cap’n had flown out to right to open the frame, but he appeared to hurt something coming out of the box and was replaced in the next half inning by Eduardo Nunez. At the time, Jeter was hitting .260/.324/.325 in 296 plate appearances, and the calf strain he suffered on the play would keep him on the shelf for just about three weeks.

Nunez filled in capably while Jeter was on the shelf, adding the kind of life and electricity to the shortstop position that the Yankees haven’t had since 2009. The Yankees went 14-5 in Derek’s absence, going from 2.5 games back in the AL East to 1.5 up. As great as Jeter has been for the Yankees, there was definitely a sense of dread immediately before his return, because we all knew that not only would his unproductive bat be back in the lineup every day, it would be in the leadoff spot getting more plate appearances than everyone else. We all knew this, except we were all wrong.

Since coming off the disabled list on Independence Day against the same Indians he faced on the day of his injury, Jeter has hit .326/.382/.457 in 154 plate appearances with the same number of extra base hits (12) as he had before the injury in almost half the trips to the plate. That has raised his season line to .283/.344/.370, a performance that is exactly league average in terms of wRC+. That’s a top eight mark among full-time big league shortstops, an indication of how much Jeter has turned his season around and how weak the position is around the league. A 100 wRC+ at an up-the-middle position is pretty damn good.

“Staying back,” said Jeter after last night’s three hit (including a triple) effort. “Stay back better and obviously you’re going to drive balls more. That’s what I’ve been doing since I’ve been back, so I just want it to continue.” Derek has been driving the ball with much more authority since coming back, as the increased rate of extra base hits suggests. As we tend to do with stuff like this, let’s turn to the spray charts. First, it’s pre-DL Jeter

Almost everything he hit in the air went the other way or to center field. I count what, ten balls pulled into left (hits + outs)? That’s out of 231 balls in play. The majority of his hits came on balls right back up the middle or filleted through the right side (remember, the points indicate where the defender fielded the ball, not where it landed). Now let’s look at the post-DL spray chart

This one is much more spread out. The majority of his balls in play are still to center and right, that’s just the kind of hitter he is and always has been, but there’s also way more balls pulled into left. I count 12 balls hit to the outfield on the pull side, including one right to the warning track and one actually over the fence. That’s 12 balls to left in 115 balls in play after the DL stint versus ten in 231 before. It could be small sample size noise, but give how he’s been actually driving the ball these last few weeks, I’m guessing there’s something more to it than just coincidence.

Of course, we have to acknowledge that Jeter still does the vast majority of his damage against lefties (.500/.538/.750 in 39 PA) and is mediocre at best against righties (.265/.327/.353 in 115 PA). That’s a similar split to his pre-DL performance (.299/.405/.403 vs. LHP and .246/.294/.297 vs. RHP) and last year as well (.321/.391/.481 vs. LHP and .216/.316/.317 vs. RHP). At his age, I think we’re just going to have to accept the platoon split, which is made somewhat more tolerable because the best starters in the AL East are generally southpaws.

“You can get a lot more work in when you don’t have to play games,” said Jeter shortly after coming off the DL, referring to the work he did to stay back on the ball with rehabbing the calf. “So I sort of look at it as a blessing in disguise, I hope. I’ve felt good since I’ve been back.” The Cap’n has been performing to his career averages for about six weeks now, bringing his overall season performance to the league average, which is both encouraging and refreshing.

Would Jorge have made a good backup catcher?

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The Yankees made one thing clear early this past off-season: Jorge Posada was done as a catcher. Who would take over was anyone’s guess, but the conclusion came with no ambiguities. Posada wouldn’t even back up the new starter. Instead he’d slide into the full-time DH role, with the hope that a removal from the rigors of catching would keep him healthy and productive in the final year of his contract. The plan, as we’ve seen this season, didn’t follow the script.

If Posada had his way, though, he wouldn’t have shed the tools of ignorance. Instead, he would have moved into the backup role that Francisco Cervelli inhabits. As he told ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews, “I could have (caught) this year. I could have been a backup this year.” The only question is of whether this arrangement would work out better than the current one.

In purely offensive terms, it certainly would. Cervelli, after producing serviceable numbers in 2010, has in 2011 hit in a manner you’d expect from a backup catcher. There’s nothing wrong with that, since he is the backup, and it does appear that at least some of the pitchers on the staff — most notably CC Sabathia — like throwing to him. The problem is that we can’t measure that value. We can measure offense, though, and in those terms Posada comes out with a distinct advantage.

The Yankees have started the backup catcher in 29 games this year, 27 for Cervelli and two for Gustavo Molina. In that time they have combined to produce 1.8 runs below average. Posada, in his 92 games, has produced 1.9 runs below average. That is, in more than three times the number of games he’s been only 0.1 runs worse, meaning he’d be a ton better than the current backup catchers in those 29 games. (Some quick math puts Posada at 0.6 runs below average, using his 1.9 runs below average on a per-game basis.)

That leaves me with four questions, none we can answer with any certainty.

1) Would Posada have performed better, both at catcher and DH, if he had played behind the plate roughly 30 times?

2) Would Posada have remained healthy enough to stay behind the plate?

3) Would Posada, as the backup catcher, have started more than 30 times, therefore giving Russell Martin more time off and perhaps keeping him fresher and more effective?

4) What kind of effect would Posada have had on the pitching staff?

The first two questions can be answered only with guesses. Posada might have better career numbers as a catcher than as a DH, but those splits never tell the whole truth. How many of Posada’s ABs as DH have come when he’s been too banged up to catch? Wouldn’t any nagging injury that prevents him from catching also affect him at the plate as he DHs? To the second question we might guess that he wouldn’t remain healthy, since he hit the DL before catching 30 games in every season from 2008 through 2010. But again, that’s just a guess.

Chances are, if he stayed healthy, the answer to No. 3 would be yes. Again, it’s a guess, but I think it’s a better guess than the first two. The Yankees clearly avoided using Gustavo Molina early in the season, leveraging off-days in order to play Russell Martin in almost every game until Cervelli’s return. But Girardi almost certainly would have gone to Posada before he went to Molina, if only to keep Jorge sharp behind the plate. (Sharp being a relative term.) The other aspect of this answer plays into the next question, too.

It’s tough to tell what kind of effect Jorge would have had on the pitching staff, because we don’t have any reliable measure of such an effect. It is pretty clear, however, that Posada would not have started with either A.J. Burnett or Freddy Garcia on the mound. Both throw plenty of pitches in the dirt, and those would give the aged Posada trouble. That’s the only thing that might have held him back from starting more often than Cervelli/Molina. He would have been essentially limited to starting with Nova, Hughes, Colon, and maybe Sabathia on the mound.

Since Jorge hasn’t played the role of backup in over a decade, since we don’t know how he’d hold up physically, and since we don’t know how he’d affect the pitching staff, it’s difficult to find a solid answer to the posed question. Offensively the arrangement surely would have worked better, at least to the tune of a run and perhaps more, if you think that Jorge would have hit better if he played the field. But again, that’s an argument from theory with little usable evidence behind it. All we have to go on is speculation. Would Jorge have fit better with this team as the backup catcher, or would that have only led to more problems?