365 days of #cured

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Exactly one year ago today, Curtis Granderson was a platoon player. He was a centerfielder that couldn’t hit lefties on a team that played in a division with several high-end southpaws. His season batting line sat at .239/.306/.415 in 336 plate appearances on the morning of August 11th, 2010, broken down into .256/.336/.467 in 225 PA against righties and .206/.243/.275 in 111 PA against lefties. With Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, and Ian Kennedy excelling for the Tigers and Diamondbacks, respectively, the three-team trade that brought Granderson to New York was looking like a bust for the Yankees. Little did we know what was going on behind the scenes.

The Yankees had just finished up a four-game series at home against the Red Sox, and had moved on to Texas for the two-gamer against the Rangers. Granderson was not in the lineup on August 10th, the series opener, but it wasn’t all that unusual with lefty C.J. Wilson on the bump. Curtis pinch-ran for Austin Kearns in the eighth inning of the eventual loss, a forgettable moment in a forgettable game. The next day we heard that hitting coach Kevin Long was working on a “total reformation of the swing” with Granderson, a process that started when the student sought out the teacher. That was one year ago today.

Granderson did not start that night, but again nothing seemed out of the ordinary because Cliff Lee was on the mound for Texas. He pinch-ran for Lance Berkman in the ninth inning, but again, a forgettable moment in a forgettable game. Curtis returned to the starting lineup the next night, after the Yankees had split their two-game series with Texas and moved on the Kansas City. The Royals started lefty Bruce Chen that night, but Granderson singled off him in his first at-bat to drive in the game’s first run. Two innings later he doubled to right, and two innings after that he hit a fly ball to the warning track in right. The next day he singled and hit two more deep fly balls. The day after that he hit his first homerun in close to the three weeks, and in the series finale he hit one more deep fly ball.

(Photo via Amanda Rykoff)

The changes were subtle. Curtis had brought his hands down and eliminated some pre-swing bat movement, and also shifted from a one-handed follow through to a two-handed follow through. Granderson finished the season like a madman, hitting .261/.356/.561 with 14 homers in the team’s final 48 games, not to mention a .357/.514/.607 batting line in nine postseason games. Since that “total reformation of the swing” in Texas, exactly 365 days ago, Curtis has been one of the very best players in all of baseball.

In 161 games over the last calendar year, Granderson has hit .271/.362/.575 with 24 doubles, ten triples, and 45 homeruns in 693 plate appearances. He’s drawn 83 walks and scored 131 runs as well, though the 164 strikeouts are a bit of an eyesore. No one’s perfect though, a few strikeouts never killed anyone. In that time, only Jose Bautista (52) has hit more homers. Only six players have hit more triples. No one has scored more runs, and only Albert Pujols (116) is with 15 runs scored of the Grandyman. He leads all center fielders is basically every significant offensive category other than batting average over the last calender year, and is near the top in those same categories among all players, regardless of position.

Those struggles against left-handed pitchers? Forget about ‘em. Grandy has hit .278/.357/.567 with 14 homers in 215 PA against southpaws since the fix, which is nearly identical to his batting line against righties: .268/.374/.578. Before the fix, he had just 17 career homeruns against lefties in 795 PA. He went from one homer every 46.8 PA against southpaws to one every 15.4. That’s a factor of three, he tripled his homerun rate against same-side pitchers with a few mechanical adjustments.

We can’t downplay the significance of what happened one year ago today, it completely changed Curtis’ career. If you ask either Long or Granderson about the changes they made, the hands and the follow through, they’ll downplay the significance of the adjustments and say they were just minor tweaks. That may very well be the case, but the results are anything but minor. Granderson transformed from a platoon outfielder into an MVP caliber player overnight (almost literally), and the Twitterwaves are abuzz with the #cured hashtag anytime Curtis does something amazing. These days, that’s basically every game.

Grandy, Cano, Nova lead the way in Yanks win over Angels

You gotta love the everyday aspect of baseball. Twenty-four hours ago, we were pulling our hair out over a stupid loss to the Angels, but now everything in the baseball world is right again. The Yankees roughed up a rookie pitcher and took home a stress-free win on Wednesday. Perfect.

Juuust enough.

Oh Curtis, I Can’t Stay Mad At You

Curtis Granderson was one of the goats of Tuesday’s game, getting picked off first base with Mark Teixeira at the plate and the tying run on base. It took him all of two pitches to make up for that mistake on Wednesday night. We’ll talk more about Angels’ rookie Garrett Richards more in a bit, but all you need to know right now is that he walked the first two men he faced before catching too much of the plate with a 1-0 fastball to Curtis. It was literally off the top of the wall in right center, hopping into the home bullpen after ricocheting off the fence. Three batters in, the Yankees had a three run lead.

Oh but wait, Granderson wasn’t done yet. He tacked on a second homerun in the fifth inning, a solo shot on another Richards’ fastball. This one was a no doubter to left and Curtis’ 31st homerun of the season, a new career high. There’s 47 games left in the season, and right now he’s on pace to finish with 43 bombs, which would be the second most in the AL since 2008. Obviously, Jose Bautista tops that list with 54 last year. Even if he takes mercy on opposing pitchers the rest of the way and doesn’t hit 40, Granderson has been a marvel this season and the Yankees’ best player day-in, day-out, no questions asked.

Cy Nova

Okay, let’s not get too carried away. Ivan Nova was very good yet again, serving up just a solo homer through the first six innings (more on that in a bit) before losing the zone in the seventh. He gave up two singles and two walks to the first four batters in that seventh inning, but before that he’s allowed just four hits and a walk in six frames. Fourteen of his 18 outs came on ground balls, but he didn’t strike out a single batter and only got two swings and misses (both on fastballs) out of 96 total pitches. That’s right out of Chien-Ming Wang‘s playbook.

Nova did get some help though, because he could have easily finished the game with a 6 IP, 6 R line rather than the 6 IP, 3 R he ended up with. Rafael Soriano stormed out of the bullpen with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh, then got a ground ball double play out of Peter Bourjos (run scored) and a harmless fly ball out of Jeff Mathis. He’s still perfect since coming off the disabled list, retiring all 14 men he faced plus a guy he didn’t even face on the double play. It might be overlooked given the score, but Soriano’s three outs in this game were huge.

Oppo.

Leftovers

You can see why Richards was the 42nd overall pick in the 2009 draft, the kid’s got a great arm. But he was in way over his head in this game, making his big league debut in Yankee Stadium without a single Triple-A inning to his credit. He walked the first two men he faced, gave up a homer to the third, didn’t throw a first pitch strike until the sixth batter, and didn’t strike anyone out until the fifth inning. The Yankees hung six runs on Richards thanks to six hits (including two doubles, a triple, and Granderson’s two homers) and the two walks, but you know what? He can say that his first career strikeout was Derek Jeter, and that he was the first starting pitcher to make his big league debut at New Yankee Stadium. That ain’t bad.

Granderson wasn’t the only offensive star of the night. Robinson Cano doubled in the first, tripled in the fourth, and homered in the seventh. The long ball was an opposite field shot, a non-cheapie that landed several rows up right next to the visitor’s bullpen. He didn’t get a chance to complete the cycle, unfortunately.

Aside from Grandy and Cano, you also had a pair of hits from Nick Swisher, singles from Eric Chavez and Russell Martin, and walks from Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter. Mark Teixeira and Eduardo Nunez were kept off the bases.

Nova has now given up eleven homeruns this season, but all eleven have been solo shots and ten of them have come in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. That’s what you call limiting the damage, folks.

Luis Ayala finished the game off with two scoreless innings, throwing 32 pitches. He’s pretty good for the last guy in the bullpen, a veteran dude that can soak up some garbage time innings and keep it from getting interesting. Anyway, the Yankees put their three game losing streak to an end and regained their seven-game lead over the Halos for the wildcard.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerdy stuff, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

The rubber game is a matinee, a 1pm ET start on Thursday. Bartolo Colon takes the ball against his former team and rookie right-hander Tyler Chatwood. If you’re making a last minute decision to head up the Stadium, RAB Tickets can help you get in for cheap.

Sanchez homers twice in Charleston win

Ravel Santana got some love in today’s Minor League Update (subs. req’d), with Kevin Goldstein simply saying the “19-year-old Dominican is a high-ceiling tools machine with above-average power and speed.”

Triple-A Scranton (4-2 loss to Gwinnett)
Dan Brewer, RF: 0 for 0, 1 HBP, 1 CS – got hit then got thrown out trying to steal in the first, then immediately came out of the game
Jordan Parraz, RF, Brandon Laird, 3B & Greg Golson, LF: all 0 for 3 – Parraz walked … Laird drove in two … Golson walked and struck out three times
Chris Dickerson, CF & Jesus Montero, C: both 0 for 4, 1 BB – Dickerson struck out once, Montero twice … C-Dick also got picked off first
Mike Lamb, DH: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 BB
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 3, 1 HBP
Luis Nunez, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K
Doug Bernier, SS: 1 for 2, 2 BB - it seems like he walks a lot more than he really does (just 28 BB in 77 games)
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 8 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 2 WP, 10-2 GB/FB – 62 of 101 pitches were strikes (61.3%) … picked a runner off first … way to be efficient
Logan Kensing, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB - ten of 14 pitches were strikes (71.4%)

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Game 115: Rookie vs. Rookie

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Angels are throwing the Yankees a little bit of a curveball tonight, calling up rookie right-hander Garrett Richards to start instead of going with Hisanori Takahashi. Richards is coming straight from Double-A, where he posted a 3.54 FIP with an okay strikeout rate (6.38 K/9). Baseball America considered him the team’s seventh best prospect before the season, saying that he “touches 96 mph at times and sits comfortably at 92-93 with sink and occasional cutting action.” A mid-80’s breaking ball is his second pitch, which he calls a curveball but it looks a whole lot like a slider. BA cites observers that consider him “everything from a mid-rotation starter to a power reliever.”

Anyway, the Yankees have never seen Richards before, which usually means CERTAIN DOOM. I’m actually feeling pretty good about the matchup just because Richards is a typical power pitcher. The rookies with soft stuff are the ones that tend to give the Yankees fits, plus going from Double-A to Yankee Stadium in the middle of playoff spot race is a tough spot. Here’s the lineup…

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

Ivan Nova, SP

The game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally or ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Baseball mortality during the dog days of August

As Jorge Posada, the Yanks’ once and former designated hitter, has come to grips with his newfound role on the bench, the hot-tempered elder statesman has not been in the best of spirits. “I’m not happy with it,” he said to reporters this week. “I don’t need to tell you again that I’m not happy with it. But I’m moving on, and I’ll be ready to play whenever I happen to play.”

Of course, Jorge isn’t happy, and he has many reasons not to be. At the tail end of a career that could land him in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, Posada has been told by his one and only employer that he’s no longer with a job, and if he were anyone other than Jorge Posada, the Yanks probably would have flat-out released him a few weeks ago. Since he has a legacy, though, and rosters expand in three weeks, the Yanks will allow him to bow out somewhat gracefully at the end of the season.

For Posada, the end has been jarring. As the Yanks’ seemingly full-time DH for much of the season, he hit just .230/.309/.372 with nine home runs. He hasn’t homered since June 29, the date of A.J. Burnett‘s last win, and Posada posted just a .207/.258/.244 in 89 plate appearances since then. The league average DH is hitting .262/.338/.416. That sound Jorge hears isn’t the end of the road fast approaching.

For the past 15 seasons, Jorge Posada has been a stalwart. Often underappreciated for his hitting, he was a five-time All Star and finished third in the MVP voting in 2003. For the first few years of his career, he split catching duties with Joe Girardi and did not emerge as the Yanks’ full-time catcher until 2000 when he started 136 games the plate. His career numbers — .273/.374/.474 with 270 home runs — are particularly impressive as a backstop.

Posada was one of those Yankees with whom I grew up. We all know the stories of the core of the Yankee Dynasty as the team’s farm system produced Jorge along with his buddy Derek Jeter, their lefty Andy Pettitte, the closer Mariano Rivera and the graceful centerfielder Bernie Williams. Bernie’s slide into baseball oblivion was a quick one, spurred on by a slowing bat and a knee injury. He too was unhappy when the Yanks offered him only a Spring Training invite and only recently has re-embraced his turn in the Yankee spotlight.

Getting older though is what baseball is about. It’s a game dictated not by a clock but by the more leisurely pace of outs. As our favorite players age, the outs melt away much like innings on a scorecard. Jorge Posada isn’t the first former great to grow old before Yankee fans’ eyes, but he’s the first of the group that formed the core of my first Yankee Dynasty to suffer the fate. Andy Pettitte retired because his body couldn’t withstand the beating of another season, but he still had the skill to match.

Jorge isn’t alone here. We’ve seen Derek Jeter’s magical age-defying offensive streak come to a screeching halt lately as well. Even though he’s hitting better after coming off of the DL, his numbers are right-handed pitching are painful to see, and his overall line is a far cry from the halcyon days of 2009. The .273/.335/.360 slash line makes him seem like just another middle infielder and not Derek Jeter. One day in the future, in 2012 or 2013, the Yanks will be faced with a Jorge Posada situation with Jeter, and the boyish short stop won’t seem quite as timeless.

On the mound too, we’ve seen Mariano Rivera lose a little something. It’s not much, but it’s enough. Last night, it was the difference between missing middle-in on a 3-1 pitch that didn’t cut enough at 91 and missing middle-in on a 3-1 pitch that didn’t cut enough at 93 or 94 as he would have thrown five or six years ago. At 41, Rivera is the oldest Yankee, and baseball time marches on.

But baseball too is about renewal. Although no one will be the Next Mariano Rivera, young kids with live arms and lots of promise pass through the Yankee Stadium doors. We know the names of the players who are supposed to be the Next Big Thing, and we see a pitcher like David Robertson turn into a star. Soon, in ten or 12 weeks if the Yanks make a big October run again, it will be time to say good bye to Jorge Posada. But another feisty player with a hot temper will take his place. That’s the circle of baseball life.