The Jays and Stealing Signs

The Yankees, specifically Joe Girardi and Russell Martin, made a little bit of a stink during the team’s four-game series in Toronto immediately after the All-Star break, suggesting that the Blue Jays were stealing signs. They weren’t the first team to make such accusations, and the ESPN duo of Amy Nelson and Peter Keating published an article today about said accusations. They’ve spoken to opposing players who’ve seen a person relay signs from the standings, and dug up some more possible evidence. It’s a pretty interesting read, so check it out.

Link Dump: Burnett, Best Tools, Romine, Arodys

Lunchtime linkage for those of you that prefer a later meal, like myself…

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The Jorge Posada Hypocrisy

I swear, I wrote the first half of his great Jack Curry article on the train this morning. I mean, granted it wasn’t word for word, the premise was the same: the Yankees are coming off as extremely hypocritical for taking Jorge Posada out of the lineup because it’s best for the team while continuing to give A.J. Burnett starts every five days (or every six days, really). Jack’s a far better writer than I am, so go read his article to get the gist of what I was trying to say.

American League Best Tools

Every year, Baseball America surveys managers, coaches, and scouts about the best tools in both the American League and National League (no subs. req’d). I usually find these pieces interesting, but this year’s effort is a bit … wonky. Those surveyed voted Brett Gardner as the best bunter in the AL, which is most certainly not the case. He’s gotten a lot better recently, a lot better, but I’m not convinced that he’s even the best bunter on the team.

Derek Jeter was dubbed the best hit-and-run artist, while Gardner took home fastest baserunner honors but was named just the third best overall baserunner (behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Elvis Andrus). CC Sabathia the was voted the third best pitcher (behind Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver) and as having the second best slider (Felix Hernandez). Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano were named the best defensive players at their position, and Alex Rodriguez was third at the hot corner (Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria). And finally Mariano Rivera was named the top reliever, just ahead of … Kyle Farnsworth. Yep.

Austin Romine‘s Achy Back

Double-A Trenton backstop Austin Romine was placed on the disabled list a few days ago with a back strain, something that required an MRI but apparently isn’t serious enough to end his season. The club is hopeful he’ll be back by next week. How did he injure his back? As Mike Ashmore explains, it was just a case of minor league life…

“My back was tight after the long bus ride after the 7 o’clock game in Akron,” Romine said.

“We had to drive and get back really early in the morning, and I fell asleep with my legs up in a bad position.  I got up and my back was a little sore, and I thought it was just regular soreness.  I usually have soreness at this time of the year.  I played through it and woke up in the morning with a little pinch in my back, so I let them know.  It stayed sore for a little while, so they thought that sitting on the bus for four hours and going to Altoona would probably be a bad thing with the back thing going, so I stayed back and got treatment done.”

Romine said his back is “really good” right now but they’re just being cautious. You’d think he’d have the whole sleeping on a bus thing down after three plus years in the bush leagues. Of course, it could just be a cover story.

The Circle of Reliever Life

In case you haven’t heard, the Braves have released Scott Proctor today and replaced him on the roster with Arodys Vizcaino. It’s one former Yankees reliever for a former Yankees prospect, one pitcher they overworked for another they never had the chance to overwork. Arodys’ call-up is similar to Joba Chamberlain‘s in 2007; he’s been starting in the minors but they moved him to the bullpen to maximize his innings limit on the year. The only difference is that Atlanta doesn’t need Vizcaino right now, at least not like the Yankees needed Joba. The second (really third) Javy Vazquez trade didn’t work out for the Yankees, at all, but that’s life. Look ahead, not back.

Burnett to the bullpen, for the right reasons

(Charles Krupa/AP)

Last night’s game seemed like a replay of an old one. A.J. Burnett pitched well through five innings, but in the sixth he completely fell apart. All the good will he had accumulated by shutting out the Angels in the first five completely disintegrated when he handed them a three-run lead. The calls for his removal from the rotation were loud and frequent following the game.

As long as the Yankees employ a six-man rotation, there is no need to remove Burnett. As Mike argued last week, there are definite benefits to maintaining this six-pitcher arrangement for a few weeks. There’s a doubleheader later this month, which will require them to use six starters in five days, and everyone could probably use a bit of rest during the 30 games in 30 days stretch. But the six man rotation will not last until the end of the season.

The hope is that either Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes stands above the other and claims the final spot in the rotation. But what if they continue to pitch well, while Burnett continues to toil in mediocrity? The Yankees say that Burnett’s rotation spot is not in jeopardy, but they have every reason to say that right now. They might be singing a different tune, though, if Nova and Hughes produce quality results in their next few starts.

With more than two years left on his deal, Burnett is not going anywhere. The Yankees are not DFAing him, nor are they trading him. That leaves them with limited options. They’ve taken the path of least resistance, which is to continue trotting him out there and hoping for the best. But as has become apparent in the past two seasons, his best might not be enough. He’s been good at times, but he hasn’t sustained his success for any long stretch. It might be time to go with the alternative.

There is a right reason and a wrong reason for placing Burnett in the bullpen. The wrong reason is the one you’ll hear from most agitated fans: to get him out of the rotation. While that would certainly represent a byproduct of placing him in the bullpen, it does not represent a good reason for doing so. Placing him in the bullpen just to get him out of the rotation means, in all likelihood, that he’ll wither out there, waiting for a mop up situation. That’s not productive for anyone.

The right reason for placing Burnett in the pen is that he might actually find success there. Maybe if he’s able to gear up for short appearances, emptying the tank while taking advantage of his two-pitch arsenal, he could become a viable short relief option down the stretch. It might not be the best use of $16.5 million, but it’s better than leaving him in the rotation while a potentially better option leaves for the bullpen.

Two innings have bitten Burnett more than others: the 4th and the 6th. Why the fourth has been a problem remains something of a mystery. The sixth, though, is a bit more understandable. At that point he’s facing batters for a third time, and the third time through opponents have a .900 OPS against Burnett. In the sixth they have a .918 OPS. Even with the ugly fourth inning, if we look at just the first five innings Burnett has a .216/.294/.393 batting line against, with a 3.85 ERA and 4.17 FIP. It’s pretty clear that he lacks the stamina to give the Yankees length as a starter.

In the first three innings, however, Burnett’s numbers are much nicer. There he has a .205/.288/.358 batting line against, with a 2.88 ERA and 3.82 FIP. He strikes out almost a batter per inning, and has a 2.4 K/BB ratio. He does have some trouble starting a game, as opponents have a .812 OPS through 25 pitches, and a .728 OPS in the first inning. But perhaps Burnett could mitigate some of these numbers by 1) not necessarily facing the top of the order, and 2) emptying the tank rather than pacing himself. Given his overall numbers the first time through the order, when opponents have a .647 OPS, it seems worth the shot.

If stamina truly is the problem, and the numbers do indicate that is the case, then not all is lost for the last two years of the deal. It might be tougher to get into that peak physical condition, since Burnett will be 35 next year. But he can certainly work on building endurance during the off-season, with hopes of joining the rotation in 2012. But right now there’s no good way to improve his stamina. If he’s gassed after five innings, there’s little the Yankees can do.

Moving Burnett to the bullpen provides a potentially useful solution for a clear problem. Who knows: maybe Hughes or Nova will falter in their next few starts and necessitate Burnett staying in the rotation. But if they both pitch well, Burnett might not only be the worst of the starting options, but he might also be best suited for the pen. The chances are slim that they’ll do that, as they’ve remained adamant about keeping him in the rotation. But if the Yankees put him out there with the idea that he can play a useful role, then maybe they’ll gain some value from that.

Yankees have some interest in Arthur Rhodes

Via George King, the Yankees have some interest in the recently released Arthur Rhodes, but only on a minor league contract. The 41-year-old southpaw was cut by the Rangers after they made a pair of trades to improve their bullpen at the deadline. Rhodes has held lefties to a rather mediocre .217/.310/.405 batting line this season, with nearly as many walks (five) and strikeouts (seven). He’s also unusable against righties (.333/.365/.633).

Rhodes started the season a couple of bad outings away from a forced retirement, and that’s basically what happened. There’s nothing wrong with a minor league contract, and hey, maybe they’d catch lightning in a bottle for a few weeks, but there’s little reason to think Rhodes is still an effective reliever.

Yankees drop opener to Angels in stupid fashion

I don’t think there’s another way to describe this loss. Just stupid. Way too much stupid going on. Stupid.

Inexcusable

I like Curtis Granderson, I think we all do. He’s having a huge year, he’s a likable guy, there’s very little about him not to like. But I’m sorry, that play to end the game was quite literally the stupidest play I’ve seen by a Yankee this season.

They were down two with men at first and third with two outs, and Mark Teixeira (seven homers in his previous 17 games, second most homers in baseball) was at the plate … how the frickin’ frack do you get caught in a rundown between first and second on the old fake to third, go to first pickoff move? I understand you want to get in scoring position so a single ties the game, but good grief, you have to let one of your best hitters swing the bat. They stepped off and tried that play how many times? Take the hint and let the closer that was asking for trouble have it.

Physical mistakes are one thing, but mental mistakes like that bug the crap out of me. It’s just awful. I can’t … I can’t even get my head around the stupidity. I mean, even Eduardo Nunez‘s steal after the leadoff walk was sketchy. Who knows if the Yankees would have won the game had Curtis stayed at first (probably not), but at least give your best homerun hitter a chance to do his thing, don’t take the bat right out of hands. Sheesh. Inexcusable, completely inexcusable.

Derp.

WWWMW™ Part Deux

We dealt with this earlier in the season, and unfortunately it’s back for an encore. What’s Wrong With Mo Week™ is back in full effect after Mariano Rivera gave up a go-ahead two-run homer to Bobby Abreu in the top of the ninth, a 3-1 cutter on the inner third that really didn’t cut. There will be panic in the streets in the morning after Sunday’s blown save and this game, but I don’t worry about Mo. He’s come out of these rough stretches so many times before that I refuse to dwell on it or even give it a second thought. He’ll be fine, don’t worry.

Stupid Sixth Inning

Stupid hair. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

You guys (and gals) remember Game Four of the ALCS last year? Burnett was putting together a solid outing, giving the Yankees exactly what they needed, but later in his start he was ordered to intentionally walk David Murphy and then the next batter (Bengie Molina) hit a back-breaking three-run homer on a fastball that missed its spot by feet. It was supposed to be down and away, and it ended up belt high on the inner third, right in Bengie’s wheelhouse. The sixth inning meltdown in this game followed a similar script, but obviously the stakes were much lower.

Burnett had shut the Angels down for the first five innings, wiggling out of a few jams but nothing too ridiculous. Bobby Abreu hit a game tying solo homer to lead off the sixth, but one solo homer in five plus innings isn’t the end of the world in my book. After Torii Hunter flew out to right, Mark Trumbo drew a walk and moved to second on Vernon Wells‘ deep fly ball. With two outs in the inning and his pitch count approaching 100, Burnett was ordered to intentionally walk Maicer Izturis (Maicer Izturis!), who was 2-for-2 to that point. I hate intentional walks in close games, but I suppose bringing Peter Bourjos to the plate wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Didn’t like it, not really up for arguing about it.

Much like that ALCS game, Burnett was left in to face the next hitter. One of these days I’ll do a study on pitchers who are left in after an intentional walk, and I’m willing to bet their walk rate to the next batter is way high compared to their career mark. Anyway, Burnett walked Bourjos to load the bases, then Jeff Mathis (Jeff Mathis!) clubbed a two-run double to give the Angels the lead. I didn’t think it was a terrible pitch, a curveball down in the zone that Mathis golfed to left-ish center. But still, it’s Jeff Mathis. Bourjos came around to score the fourth run on a wild pitch, which effectively ended Burnett’s evening.

I mean, not for nothing, but Joe Girardi had a shorter leash on Burnett in Chicago with what, a six or seven run lead? But no, let’s try to squeeze a few more hitters out of him with a fully rested bullpen after the intentional walk in a tie game. /facepalm

Leftovers

Granderson ended the game with that dumb baserunning play, but he did hit a solo homer in the bottom of the first to open the scoring, so that’s good. The Yankees also built a two-out, game-tying rally in the bottom of the seventh via a Russell Martin double, Eduardo Nunez single (Martin scored), Brett Gardner single, and Derek Jeter two-run single. Robinson Cano singled, Eric Chavez ground-rule doubled and walked, then was replaced by pinch-hitter Andruw Jones, who singled. That’s pretty much the extent of the offense.

More bang-up bullpen work from Cory Wade and David Robertson, who combined to whiffed four of the seven men they faced. Wade really should have been in there after the intentional walk, but whatever. Not in the mood to harp on that stupidness.

Abreu had four (!!!) homeruns on the season coming into the series, so naturally he hit two in the first game. /facepalm

The Yankees have now lost three in a row, all to their two biggest competitors (at the moment). They’re still six full games up in the wildcard though, which is a pretty nice lead to have with less than 50 games to play.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

I’m usually very good about closing the book on a game (win or lose) and looking ahead to the next one, but screw this. This stupid loss will stick with me tonight. Completely sucks. MLB.com has the stupid box score and stupid video highlights, FanGraphs some other stupid stuff, and ESPN the stupid updated standings.

Up Next

Ivan Nova will try to continue to show that he deserves all the praise he’s been getting lately in the second game of this series on Tuesday night. Rookie right-hander Garrett Richards will make his MLB debut for the Angels, straight outta Double-A.