Curtis Granderson and the opposite field

Before plating five runs in the third and Nick Swisher‘s go-ahead sacrifice fly in the sixth, Curtis Granderson set the Yankees up for a quick strike last night by doubling with one out in the first inning. There’s nothing unusual about that on the surface, but this double was different that most of Granderson’s doubles. It was an opposite field double, landing perfectly in left-center between the ball-hawking Mike Trout-Peter Bourjos combination.

Granderson isn’t exactly an all-fields type of hitter. He pulls the ball for big-time power and is tremendously successful doing so. One opposite field double doesn’t mean much of anything, but take a quick look at his spray chart for the six-game West Coast road trip (via Texas Leaguers)…

Of his seven hits in the six games, four were to the opposite field and two were yanked to right for homers. The one hit that hugged the left field line was a total bloop, but the other three hits to left were solid line drives. All three came on pitches on the outer third of the plate from right-handers (Tyson Ross and Ervin Santana), so Granderson just flipped them to the opposite field. It’s pretty neat. A nice piece of hitting, as the pundits say.

The four opposite field hits on the road trip give Curtis nine such hits this season, one fewer than he had all of last year. His .378 wOBA to left is a top-20 mark among all left-handed hitters and far better than his .304 career mark. We haven’t heard anything about a conscious effort on Granderson’s part to hit more to the opposite field and it could all just be a fluke this early in the season, but it’s definitely something worth keeping an eye on. Anything that diversifies his offensive impact without taking away from that huge power is a major plus.

Yankees pursuing Taiwanese shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin

Via Taiwan Baseball, the Yankees are after 16-year-old Taiwanese shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin. They had originally agreed to sign him for $350k back in 2010, but the deal fell apart because he was too young to turn pro at the time. Bidding is expected to approach $2M this time around. “For sure we will make an offer that is higher than the current offers to get him to join the Yankees,” said Ken Su, the team’s scout in Taiwan. “Our organization has given instructions to get (Lin) at any cost.”

MLB.com recently ranked Lin as the 18th best international free agent on the market, noting that he’s a burner from the left side of the plate with little present power but a strong arm and solid defensive skills. He’s listed at 5-foot-8 and 160 lbs., so c’mon growth spurt. It’s worth noting that Lin will be subject to the spending restrictions implemented by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement come July 2nd, so expect him to sign before then. The Yankees are a very popular team in Taiwan thanks to the success of Chien-Ming Wang, and that can only help their pursuit of Lin and other prospects.

2012 Draft: Joey Gallo

The 2012 amateur draft is only five days away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some prospects individually rather than lump them together into larger posts.

Joey Gallo | 3B/RHP

Background
A two-way star and Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Gallo hit the tenth longest homerun in Petco Park history while participating in a wood bat showcase event last summer.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 200 lbs., Gallo is legitimate first round talent both on the mound and as a position player. He prefers to hit and went to great lengths to keep his pitching schedule a secret so scouts couldn’t see him this spring. Gallo has tremendous raw power from the left side, arguably the most in the draft, and he’s capable of hitting the ball out to all fields. He doesn’t make enough contact however, and there are real concerns about his ability to handle pro offspeed pitches. Although he’s athletic for his size, he’ll likely have to move across the diamond to first base because his hands and footwork aren’t good.

On the mound, Gallo runs his fastball up to 98 and will sit in the mid-90s. His power slider needs work but flashes swing-and-miss-ability on its best days. Like most high schoolers, he needs to improve his overall command and changeup.

Miscellany
Keith Law (#23), Baseball America (#33), and MLB.com (#33) all agree that Gallo is a back-half of the first round talent as a hitter, though he might have been in the conversation for the first overall pick had he focused on pitching this spring. It’s worth noting that Law had the Yankees selecting Gallo with their first rounder (#30 overall) in his latest mock draft, so there’s some interest there. The contact issues will be overlooked because power is so hard to find, plus he’ll always have the fallback option of returning to the mound.

Rafael Soriano: Closer

All I'm saying is that I only tuck in my shirt for weddings and funerals, and funerals are debatable. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

When Mariano Rivera tore his ACL earlier this month, we knew that life would change in a way we haven’t experienced since 1996. Sure, Rivera had been hurt before, but never in season-ending fashion. That meant handing the closer role to someone not just for a particular stretch of the season, but the entire season, from May through hopefully October.

David Robertson, unsurprisingly, got the first crack. In 2011 he ascended the bullpen ranks, starting as a random reliever before graduating to the seventh inning in Rafael Soriano‘s absence, and then eventually to the eighth once the Yankees lost Joba Chamberlain. Even when Soriano returned, Robertson remained Rivera’s primary setup man. He had earned it with his performance.

In his brief time as closer, Robertson picked up just one save, a sweat-inducing performance against the Tampa Bay Rays. The next night he blew a save, and before he could get another opportunity he landed on the DL with an oblique strain. There are worse things, of course, and Robertson appears to be on his way back; he’ll throw off a mound for the first time on Saturday, three weeks after his DL stint began. Yet in his absence someone else has risen to the occasion.

When the Yankees lost Rivera, there was brief consideration of Rafael Soriano for the closer role. Prior to signing with the Yankees he had been Tampa Bay’s closer in 2010, amassing 45 saves with an ERA well under 2.00. The year before he split closer duties in Atlanta with Mike Gonzalez. All in all, he entered the 2012 season with 90 saves, giving him the vaunted “closer experience” that people in the game seemingly value so highly. Given that experience, and his performance in Rivera’s and Robertson’s absences, he could hold onto the closer role from here on out.

No, Soriano does not make matters easy. He’s yet to record a 1-2-3 inning this season. Yet that merely reminds me of another Yankees closer who kept us on the edges of our seats. In 1996 John Wetteland had a penchant for making things interesting, but he still got the job done. Setting up for him was strikeout artist Mariano Rivera. The Yankees could create a similar dynamic this year, using Robertson to reprise Rivera’s role once he returns.

(Girardi could even go so far as to use Robertson for the Rivera Special, a two-inning setup job, given the emergence of Cory Wade and Boone Logan as late-inning options on days Robertson is not available.)

While it’s difficult to assign causation, Soriano has flourished in his brief time as Yankees closer. In seven appearances he’s struck out six and walked just one, allowing a single run — and that in his first save opportunity of the season. He’s held opponents to a .231/.259/.346 line, which is all the more impressive when you remember that he’s allowed at least one walk or hit in every outing. That is, he’s bending ever so slightly, but he’s not particularly close to breaking.

In many other years, losing Rivera would have crippled the Yankees. They perpetually lacked setup men, so inserting one of those ragtag relievers into the closer role would have likely been disastrous. These days they have a little more cushion — so much, in fact, that there’s a legitimate debate about who should close games. Given the dynamic of the current bullpen, though, the Yankees would probably do best to leave Soriano in the closer role, where he’s clearly comfortable, and using Robertson in tougher situations. Both have shown that they can handle those roles with aplomb.

The Starting Pitching Problem

(REUTERS/Alex Gallardo)

The Yankees won the game, but Ivan Nova turned in another poor start last night. It was the fifth time he’s allowed at least five runs in his last seven starts, raising his season rates to a 5.60 ERA and a 5.00 FIP. The homer by Mark Trumbo and the double by Mike Trout were the 39th and 40th extra-base hits he’s allowed, respectively, the most in the game and just 12 fewer than last year even though he’s faced 426 fewer hitters. Between Nova and Phil Hughes — 5.64 ERA and 5.04 FIP — the Yankees have been fighting an uphill battle twice every five day.

Nova’s problem continues to be his command and propensity to miss up and out over the plate, a problem that was evident in Spring Training. We’re ten starts and 62.2 innings into the regular season now, we’re starting to reach the point where something has to be done. Most guys with Nova’s numbers find themselves back in Triple-A and frankly, the Yankees sent him down for less last season. It doesn’t have to happen today, but the time to seriously consider a demotion is fast approaching.

With David Robertson expected to return soon — he’s slated to throw off a mound on Saturday for the first time since suffering his oblique strain — the Yankees will be getting some much quality bullpen depth back. His return will make it easier for them to temporarily slide David Phelps into the rotation since they won’t need him in the higher leveraged role he’s been working the last two or three weeks. Heck, you can make an argument that Ramon Ortiz would be a better stopgap starter. He’s been great in Triple-A lately and they might be able to squeeze a few decent starts out of him against NL clubs during the upcoming interleague schedule before casting him aside.

Anyway, this isn’t about punishing Nova or anything like that. It’s about getting him back on track as soon as possible so he can help the team win for the stretch drive. The longer they wait to take action, the more Bad Ivan starts they’ll get and they can’t really afford that given the ultra-competitive AL East. Hughes obviously deserves the same treatment, but a) I think Nova is far more likely to rebound, and b) I’m not sure they have to rotation depth to send both guys down simultaneously. Nova took his demotion like a champ last season and came back a better pitcher for it, so I’m hopeful the same will happen in this case.

They say the first third of the season if for evaluation, the second third is for making changes, and the final third is for riding those changes out. Well, we’re exactly four team games shy of the one-third point of the campaign, and the time to make changes is fast approaching. The Yankees can give Nova another start or two to show improvement before Robertson returns to shore up the bullpen, but if things don’t start to turn around soon, they’re going to have to do something. Getting Nova back to being the pitcher we know he can be is a top priority. The sooner he gets back on track the better, but at some point the Yankees have to determine if the solution to their rotation woes is in-house before the trade deadline approaches.

Russell Martin tore into umpire Laz Diaz last night

Via Marc Carig, catch Russell Martin ripped home plate ump Laz Diaz following last night’s game.”He told me I had to earn the privilege (to throw the ball back to the pitcher),” said Martin, a three-time All-Star. “Even at the end of the game after I get hit in the neck. I’m like, can I throw the ball back now? He’s still like no. I’m like you’re such a (expletive). Like for real. Unbelievable. I even told him like when there’s guys on base, I like to keep my arm loose. No. I’m not letting you throw a ball back. That’s pretty strange to me.”

Terrible umpiring is nothing new, but usually it’s limited to calls on the field. I’ve never heard of a catcher being told he has to “earn the privilege” to throw the ball back to his pitcher. That’s just petty. Of course, calling out an umpire publicly wasn’t the smartest move on Martin’s part. I’m thinking he’s going to have to work a little harder to get borderline calls going forward.

Yanks salvage series, win nail-biter over Angels


Source: FanGraphs

It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t easy, but the Yankees beat the Angels by the score of 6-5 on Wednesday night to salvage their three-game set in Anaheim. The win gave New York a 4-2 record on the West Coast trip and … that’s pretty good. I would have signed up for that six days ago. Let’s recap…

  • Big Inning: Ervin Santana was wild and asking for trouble, and the Yankees gave it to him in the third inning. Curtis Granderson hit a three-run homer and Robinson Cano followed up with a two-run homer, all before the first out was recorded. Russell Martin (runner) and Derek Jeter (batter) pulled off a perfect hit-and-run to set things up. For the first time in the series, we could all relax and breath a little with a 5-1 lead.
  • One Bad Inning: Ivan Nova managed to escape a bases loaded, no out situation in the first by only allowing one run, but he gave back the four-run lead in the fourth by allowing a two-run homer to Mark Trumbo and a two-run double to Mike Trout. Half of the eight hits Nova allowed came in that inning, but he deserves credit for locking it down after that and taking the ball into the seventh.
  • Take The Lead: Raul Ibanez hit a stand-up triple over Peter Bourjos’ head off a left-handed pitcher with one out in the sixth. Think about that sentence. It’s “you can’t predict baseball” defined. Nick Swisher plated Ibanez with a sacrifice fly, giving his team the 6-5 lead that they held onto for dear life.
  • Relief Ace: The unsung hero of the game was easily Cory Wade. Dude stormed out of the bullpen to strike out Howie Kendrick with men on corners to end the seventh (despite the ump’s best efforts) before chipping in a perfect eighth. Seriously, he was down 3-0 in the count to Kendrick but fought back for the strikeout. That was money right there, just a huge out.
  • Closed Out: Things got a little hairy in the ninth inning, mostly because Rafael Soriano did himself no favors by walking Alberto Callaspo with one out to put the tying run on base for the meat of the order. Albert Pujols reached on an infield single, but Soriano escaped the jam by getting Torii Hunter to ground into a fielder’s choice and Trumbo to fly out routinely to left on a broken bat. It was nerve-wracking, but he took care of business. Nice job.
  • Leftovers: Curtis Granderson doubled to the opposite field in the first inning, already his ninth opposite field hit of the season (he had ten last year) … Grandy and Ibanez were the only Yankees with multiple hits (two each), but everyone in the starting lineup not named Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez reached base at least once … Boone Logan allowed two dinky little ground ball hits to righties to set up that mess Wade escaped in the seventh … anytime you want to complain about Joe Girardi, remember that Mike Scioscia used Hunter as pinch-runner and Maicer Izturis as a pinch-hitter in this game … the Yankees are done with Anaheim, they don’t come back here this season. Thank goodness.

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some more stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees are off on Thursday and will open a three-game weekend series in Detroit on Friday night. The Tigers are calling up left-hander Casey Crosby to make his big league debut and start that game, but don’t worry, he’s not a soft-tosser. CC Sabathia will be on the bump for the good guys.