The time for learning is over: platoon Granderson

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

From time to time we find it appropriate to comes to the windows of our ivory towers and proclaim to the people what should be done. This doesn’t happen often, at least in this space. We might complain about this trend or that, but rarely do we recommend a wholesale roster or lineup change. Without all the relevant information we often folly when suggesting these changes. We also fall victim to recent trends, which can lead us to specious conclusions. I covered this on FanGraphs yesterday as it related to Raul Ibanez. Even among the Yankees we had voices clamoring for Derek Jeter‘s removal from the leadoff spot. I assure you, though, that this proclamation is neither premature nor does it lack relevant data.

Joe Girardi must start platooning Curtis Granderson.

When the Yankees traded for Curtis Granderson in December there were plenty of concerned voices. He had just come off a season in which he managed a .249 BA and .327 OBP, marks that fell below even his mediocre 2006 campaign. Those problems, in large part, came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit .183/.245/.239, a .223 wOBA. Why, asked the myriad voices, would the Yankees trade a rising center field prospect in Austin Jackson for a player whose skills appear in decline? The answer from the patient counterparty: he just had a bad year. Kevin Long can surely work with him.

At the beginning of the season it was easier to deal with Granderson’s struggles. The pithing staff, along with a number of non-stars, carried the team through April. Granderson struggled after a promising start, ending the month with a mere .314 wOBA. He had hit a few homers, including one in his first at-bat and then another off Jonathan Papelbon to give the Yanks a victory, so it was a bit easier to gloss over his lack of production. Yet Granderson still appeared uncomfortable at the plate. He’d get a chance to reflect on his rough first month in the Bronx, as he left a game in early May with a groin injury, not to return for a little over three weeks.

In June and July Granderson again struggled, though he produced a bit better than he had in April. His OBP for those two months sat around .305, a downright horrible mark for a starter, though he did hit for some power, with an ISO of around .195. Still, that amounted to a wOBA below .330, hardly the stuff the Yankees had hoped to receive from Detroit. August has gone even worse to this point, with Granderson striking out in 40.9 percent of his at-bats. His .220 wOBA has nowhere to go but up, though there can’t be much confidence that it will.

Most of this poor production has come against lefties. His .233 wOBA means he’s not helping the team at all offensively. He hardly walks against lefties, and he strikes out quite a bit more. His BABIP, .274, isn’t an abomination, but it’s more reflective of his low contact rate than any streak of poor luck. There’s a chance he might be underperforming a bit, as his career wOBA against lefties is .265. But even that is a poor mark that will be of little help to the Yankees as they battle with the Rays down the stretch.

The time for learning is over. The Yankees and Granderson had the opportunity earlier in the year to see if he could make adjustments to better approach lefties, but it hasn’t worked out. That’s fine. Granderson is still under contract for a couple of years, and as we saw with Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher, adjustments at the plate can take a few years. Granderson, along with Kevin Long, will get another chance this winter and next spring to help increase his production against lefties. But as far as 2010 is concerned, it’s time to shoot for the best results rather than a pipe dream of improvement.

A platoon not only helps in that it gets Granderson’s bat out of the lineup against lefties, but it also allows him to focus on a relative strength. Against righties this season he’s actually been pretty good. He has walked in 10.7 percent of his PA and has struck out in 23.2 percent of AB. His line, .258/.338/.490, amounts to a .353 wOBA, which is very good for a center fielder. Perhaps he’ll even increase that production if he’s able to face righties almost exclusively. Meanwhile, the Yankees can get Austin Kearns more appearances against lefties, against whom he has a .353 career wOBA.

I’m sure there are plenty of fans who will say duh, they should have done this months ago. With this I disagree. With the way the team has been playing they can afford to let a player work through his struggles, especially if it comes against pitchers whom he faces in about a third of his overall plate appearances. But now, in August, with no sign of improvement and a tight pennant race on the horizon, the Yankees need to abandon the sliver of hope that Granderson can produce against lefties and go with what most directly benefits the team. They can restart the Granderson experiment next year.

When Brett Gardner didn’t steal

Brett Gardner is fast. He can outrace most baseball players, and he won’t get caught too often by even the best of catchers. Victor Martinez, not a great defensive backstop, shouldn’t phase him, and yet, when faced with a prime opportunity to run and the perpetual green light, Gardner froze yesterday. His indecision could have cost the Yankees a shot at the game.

To set the stage, we return to the top of the eighth. Mark Teixeira had just hit a home run to cut the Red Sox lead to 2-1, and Alex Rodriguez followed that up with a single. A-Rod had stolen a base on Sunday night, but Joe Girardi wanted the sure thing. Although A-Rod’s spot could have come up again, the Yankees’ manager turned to his speedy weapon off the bench, and Brett Gardner was called upon to pinch run.

The entire stadium knew what would happen next. Gardner would take off and get into scoring position with no one out. The Yankees’ WPA would have been nearly 50 percent at that point, and Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada would have had the opportunity to plate the tying run by making two outs. Knotted at two, the game could have evolved into a battle of the bullpens while the Bombers would have enjoyed home field advantage. It didn’t work out as planned, and Mike’s recent analysis of Brett Gardner’s declining number of stolen base attempts seemed to predict this very situation.

The three-way face-off amongst Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Daniel Bard was an epic one, and Bard, to his credit, played it perfectly. He came set twice, held the ball for a long period of time and threw two fastballs to Cano. After coming set for the next two pitches, he twice threw over to first base. Each time, his time to the plate or to first varied, and Gardner couldn’t get a read on his move. The 1-1 pitch was a change-up, and the 1-2 pitch a fastball. Neither time did Gardner get a good read on Bard’s move. Two more pick-off attempts sandwiched a foul ball, and on the sixth pitch of the at-bat, when Cano had to protect the plate on 1-2, Gardner took off. The slow roller probably wasn’t hit hard enough for the Red Sox to turn two, and the chess game on the mound seemed to paid off.

In an ideal world, Gardner would be the Jacoby Ellsbury of the Yankees. The speed is there, but Gardner doesn’t have the instincts or daring of Ellsbury. Four times, the Red Sox’s center fielder took off during Monday’s game, and four times, Ellsbury beat the throw, including once on a pitch-out. Ellsbury knows he’s faster than Jorge Posada’s arm, and he knows how to read a pitcher’s move. As soon as the right-hander’s leg goes up, he runs. Gardner, on the other hand, did not. He should have gone on the first pitch and never went at all when it could have made a difference.

When Mike wrote about Gardner’s stolen bases here last week, he highlighted a quote from Gardner. “Early in the season I was getting on base a lot and running a lot, and my legs just got a little tired,” he said. “I need to start running more. I wish I had been running more recently in the last several weeks, but I will. When we need me to try to get into scoring position, I’ll try to…it’s just a matter of trying to be smart.”

I’m not in a position to ask Gardner about his mental approach on the bases, but it seems that he isn’t what baseball scouts would call a natural basestealers. He can rely on his speed but hasn’t mastered the mental art of knowing when to go and how to go. In fact, his reticence on the basepaths led the Yankees to employ Freddy Guzman exclusively as a pinch runner last year, and yesterday, it came back to bite them as the team never had a chance to use Gardner’s speed.

It’s very hard to teach fast players to be good baserunners. In his prime, Bernie Williams was a speedster in the outfield who never could run the bases well. Gardner, by virtue of his even better speed, can cover for his mistakes, but yesterday’s was a glaring one. He doesn’t seem to trust his legs; he doesn’t seem to run enough; and when the season is over, the Yankees will have to examine Gardner’s approach to the bases. With Carl Crawford, a stellar baserunner, available, Gardner’s hesitancy could weigh against his Yankee future.

Yanks offense can’t get going, settles for split with Boston

The first six innings of this one were fairly uneventful. Phil Hughes had a rough second. The Yanks didn’t get a hit until the fifth. Even then, things didn’t get interesting until the seventh, and things heated up for the final three innings. But the Yanks couldn’t capitalize and ended up dropping a tough one 2-1.

Biggest Hit: Thames almost gets it done

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Teixeira’s homer, being the lone run, is probably the biggest hit. But, just for fun…

Low-scoring affairs always produce odd results in WPA. For instance, the Red Sox won the game and had a 2-0 lead for most of it. Yet their highest WPA play was Bill Hall’s RBI single, which was only the eighth highest WPA play of the game. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s single that moved Hall to third was actually a bit more valuable. The top six WPA plays all came from the Yankees. Go figure.

The biggest swing came in the seventh. Jorge Posada singled to start the inning, bringing Marcus Thames to the plate. He was in the lineup specifically to face the lefty Jon Lester, but list most of the Yankees was 0 for 2 at that point. This time around he got an outside pitch and went with it, driving it over the gap in right-center. The ball hit the top of the wall and bounced upward, leaving us uncertain for a second whether it would bounce over the fence or back into the field of play. It was the latter, which allowed Posada to move to third.

With second and third with none out it looked like the Yanks might finally break through. Things looked even brighter when Austin Kearns took one off the foot and strolled to first. But three strikeouts later, they had nothing going.

Strikeouts get the best of ‘em

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

There were plenty of wasted opportunities late in this game. There was the situation in the seventh, where Lester and Dan Bard struck out three straight Yankees to prevent even a single run from scoring in a bases loaded, none out situation. The first came with Curtis Granderson up. He’d made decent contact off Lester in his first two plate appearances, but this time couldn’t handle him. It was Lester’s last batter and I’m sure he knew it, so perhaps he was giving that little bit extra.

Next up was Derek Jeter, who struck out swinging on a high fastball from Bard. Ditto Swisher. The Yanks had a shot there — in fact, their WPA in the bases loaded, no outs situation was actually above 50 percent despite being behind two runs. But the three strikeouts eliminated the threat, moving the win expectancy down 38.8 percent.

A few other strikeouts hurt in particular. Mark Teixeira‘s game-ender, with the tying run on second, was the biggest negative WPA swing of the game, -15.3 percent. The batter before him, Nick Swisher, had the second highest negative swing of the game, -14.5 percent. Curtis Granderson’s ninth-inning strikeout moved the WPA down 9.6 percent. Only Derek Jeter raised it that inning.

It looked like a disaster at first…

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

I was fuming over Phil Hughes’s first two innings. While he didn’t allow any runs in the first, he didn’t look particularly sharp. That came back to haunt him in the second, when he threw 37 pitches to seven Red Sox. But a lot of that wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t after all, given up many hard-hit balls.

In the first J.D. Drew got a base hit on a grounder. David Ortiz had a well-struck ball, but that was all they’d get in that frame. Then in the second he allowed another single on a grounder, which was followed by another poor throw-down by Jorge Posada on a steal attempt. With Ryan Kalish at third, Bill Hall hit a groundball infield single, plating the first run. Jacoby Ellsbury then hit one just out of Jeter’s reach, and it was a ball that maybe he gets to if he’s not at double play depth. The walk is inexcusable, but then Hughes got another grounder. Cano had to hustle to the hole to get it, and so didn’t get the double play, which resulted in another run. And, of course, Hughes ended the inning with another groundball out.

After that, though, he settled down nicely, throwing 16 pitches in the third before getting the Sox on seven in the fourth. He ended the day with 114 pitches through six, having allowed just one hit after Ellsbury’s single. He struck out just three, but he did get nine ground balls and kept all nine fly balls in the park. Considering the poor luck he had in the second, it’s hard to hold this one against him.

Graph and box

The peaks represent frustration.

More at FanGraphs. Or you can check out the traditional box.

Up Next

The Yanks will travel to Texas, sans Mark Teixeira, to face C.J. Wilson and the Rangers. A.J. Burnett will make his delayed start.

Montero hits walk-off HR as SWB ekes out a win

Got a few notes, so let’s bullet point it…

  • Jason Hirsh was named the Triple-A International League Pitcher of the Week. I believe that’s the fourth SWB pitcher to win the award in the last five weeks. Melky Mesa took home High-A Florida State League Offensive Player of the Week honors.
  • Jon Albaladejo was voted as the best reliever in the IL according to Baseball America (subs. req’d). Eduardo Nunez was dubbed the Best Defensive Shortstop and as having the Best Infield Arm.
  • Gary Sanchez got a mention from Kevin Goldstein in today’s Minor League Update (subs. req’d). “He’s got a plus-arm, but his release is long and slow. The difference between him and Jesus Montero—another Yankees’ catching prospect that competes to be ‘the next Jorge Posada—is that Sanchez has more athleticism. That’s good, but there’s work to be done.”
  • Unsurprisingly, the Yankees continue to talk with fourth round pick Mason Williams. He’s reportedly looking for a $2M bonus, basically top ten money, even though he is far from that kind of talent.
  • Tim Norton is done for a season with a lat injury. Poor guy has no luck when it comes to health, but at least it’s not his shoulder again.

I don’t think I’ve updated the standings at all this year, so let’s do that now (these do not reflect today’s games)…

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Pawtucket, walk-off style) 68-47, lead the division by 7.5 games
Kevin Russo, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 K
Colin Curtis, CF: 0 for 4, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI – walk-off two run shot off a guy who was in the bigs earlier this year … the legend grows
Juan Miranda, 1B & Chad Huffman, LF: both 1 for 3 – Huffman K’ed twice
Jorge Vazquez, DH, Eduardo Nunez, SS & Eric Bruntlett, 3B: all 0 for 3 – JoVa K’ed twice, Bruntlett once
Greg Golson, RF: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 SB – threw a runner out at second
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 4-6 GB/FB – 60 of 75 pitches were strikes (80%) … he didn’t go to a three ball count all night … I must say, what a freaking performance
Zack Segovia: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 16 of 20 pitches were strikes
Royce Ring: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – six of his eight pitches were strikes … if he was in another organization, he’d probably have been called up already
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 HB, 1-1 GB/FB – 11 of his 20 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Teixeira may miss part of Texas series

Mark Teixeira supplied the Yanks with their lone run in this afternoon’s affair against Boston, but he’s not set to travel with the team to Texas this evening. Instead, as Marc Carig reports, Teixeira stayed in New York to be with his wife Leigh as she prepares to give birth to the couple’s third child. Mrs. Teixeira’s due date is tomorrow, and so Mark could conceivably be back with the Yankees before too long. He doesn’t, however, know how much time he’ll miss. “This is not an exact science,” he said.

With two lefties on the mound during the Texas series, the Yankees will mix and match with Marcus Thames and Austin Kearns. Lance Berkman will probably play first until Teixeira returns. And just for fun: Game 6 of the 2009 World Series was on November 5, 2009, five days and nine months before Leigh’s due date.

Open Thread: Lefty, lefty, lefty, lefty

That close.

The Yankees fell to Jon Lester and the Red Sox today, which isn’t all that surprising because he is one of the three or five best pitchers in the league, but I sure hope the Yanks are ready to face some more lefties. Tomorrow they get C.J. Wilson (who’s holding lefties to a .102/.190/.133 batting line this year), the next day it’s Cliff Lee (who’s awesome), and the day after that it’s Bruce Chen (who stinks). Brace yourself for a whole lotta Austin Kearns and Marcus Thames over the next few days, I suspect they’ll play in each of the next three.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Cardinals and Reds are on ESPN in a matchup of the two NL Central contenders, but you can also kill some time with this. I got 180 out of 188, didn’t miss any obvious ones though. You guys know what to do, so have at it.

A wider strike zone and quicker game

Back in June, Dave Cameron caught a lot of crap for an idea he expressed regarding the length of baseball games. “The only way to shorten a Major League game is to make the strike zone bigger,” he wrote. The comments poured in, many of them critical of Dave’s take. Of course there are other ways to speed up the game, they said. And yes, there probably are. But no one thing would speed up the game to the level that widening the strike zone would.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Stuart Miller writes a column dedicated to this very topic. It’s a worthy read, with plenty of reactions from former and current players about how umpires call balls and strikes. It seems that everyone quoted in Miller’s article agrees with Cameron. Games will not only be shorter, but paced more quickly, if umps call the high strike. There was even one former ump who called for a 22-inch, rather than a 17-inch, wide plate.

There is also an accompanying Bats blog post that contains some more quotes, specifically from Curtis Granderson. It also cites John Walsh’s study that shows umpires widening the zone on 3-0 and shrinking it on 0-2.