Joba the Starter seemingly an afterthought

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Joba Chamberlain was or wasn’t almost traded for Dan Haren on July 23, according to various rumors. The veracity of those alleged trade negotiations isn’t really important today, but we know that other teams felt comfortable asking for Joba at the trade deadline even if the Yanks weren’t keen on shipping off their 24-year-old erstwhile phenom.

Since that near-non-trade, Joba has pitched better out of the bullpen than he had in the months prior to the rumors. That great regression — one that said Joba’s high K rates and low home run rates should have led to better results — seemed to kick in, and in 15.2 innings since late July, Joba has allowed just five earned runs on nine hits and four walks. He has 12 strike outs to complement that 2.87 ERA, and while not totally dominating, Joba has been flashing his plus stuff and getting the job done.

Interestingly, as the last few weeks have seemingly restored some semblance of faith in Joba, they’ve also shown me how the Yankees view him. Shortly before the Haren trade rumors swirled, the Yanks lost Andy Pettitte to a groin injury. To plug what they thought would be a four- to six-week hole, the team first turned to Sergio Mitre and later handed the ball to Dustin Moseley. While Moseley has made some solid starts, including one against Josh Beckett and the Red Sox, neither Mitre nor Moseley have been revelations in the rotation.

Meanwhile, as Moseley has sputtered along, other Yankee starters have struggled as well. A.J. Burnett is 3-10 over his last 15 outings with an ERA of 6.86, and Javier Vazquez has lost and perhaps regained his rotation spot since a dead-arm period sent his stuff and numbers tumbling. With Phil Hughes showing some signs of fatigue in his last outing and fast approaching an innings limit, the Bombers had to call upon Ivan Nova to pitch some key games amidst a pennant race in late summer. If only they had another starting pitcher with Major League experience on the team…

Of course, it’s clear now where I’m going with this summary of the state of the Yankees’ starting rotation. At no point since mid-July when the Yanks’ pitching problems started to pop up did the Bombers consider moving Joba Chamberlain from the bullpen to the starting rotation, and I can’t figure out why not. Since 2007, Joba’s role on the team has been a hot topic. He was a starting pitcher throughout college, was drafted as one and rocketed through the system as one. The Yanks moved him to the bullpen three years ago to limit his workload and give the Big League club an impact arm when they had to build a Bridge to Mariano more solid than Kyle Farnsworth. Three season later, Joba Chamberlain remains in limbo.

To start the 2010 season, the Yankees claimed Phil Hughes and Joba would fight it out for the fifth starter spot, but as early as January, we heard that the Yanks had all but decided to hand the job to Phil. When Joba struggled in Grapefruit League action, Hughes won the job, and Joba was banished to the bullpen for the entire season. The team, Brian Cashman said, wanted to keep a cap on Joba’s workload but still saw him as a starter going forward.

If that was truly the case, Joba should have been starting this summer. He wasn’t good enough early on as a reliever to justify keeping him in a high-leverage set-up role, and he’s been a part of Joe Girardi‘s mix-and-match approach to the 6th, 7th and 8th innings lately. He could have been moved out of the bullpen mix and into the rotation without weakening the team’s late-innings needs, and he could have built up the innings he needs if he’s going to be in the mix for a starting job next year.

The truth about Joba is that he hasn’t been a bad starting pitcher. He made 43 starts before turning 24, and he went 12-9 with a 4.18 ERA/4.07 FIP in 221.2 innings. He 8.4 K/9 IP is an impressive mark for such a young pitcher, but he walked too many guys. When he was bad, he was really bad, and some of the late-2009 abbreviated starts make his overall numbers look worse than he performed as a starter. Still, none of his numbers or the results scream out “failure” as a starting pitcher, and he certainly showed some brilliance both before and after his 2008 shoulder injury.

For now, Joba remains a pitching enigma on the Yanks. At a time when the Yanks could use a proven Major League starter, he’ll finish out the year in the bullpen. If the Yanks go deep into October, he could rack up around 75-80 innings pitched this year, and the Yanks are seemingly ready to throw him back into the rotation next year. Someone in the Yankee organization knows what the plan is for Joba, but today, I remain as mystified with the team’s treatment of this potentially valuable arm as I was last year. The Yankees, it seems, just can’t figure out what to do with Joba Chamberlain.

Yanks open series with 11-5 drubbing of A’s

Heading into last night’s game, Trevor Cahill held the AL’s second lowest ERA, trailing just Clay Buchholz. So when the A’s staked him to a 3-run lead in the first, things didn’t look so good for the Yankees. It took all of five batters to change that outlook. The night continued to get better, and it ended with an 11-5 Yankees victory.

Biggest Hit: Swisher ties it early

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

For the most part Dustin Moseley has done a good job filling in for Andy Pettitte. He’s had some rough outings, but that’s expected. He is, after all, Dustin Moseley. All the Yanks ask is that he keeps them in the game. From the outset last night it looked like he would fail. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases, and the A’s struck for three before heading out to the field. That had to feel good with Cahill on the mound.

The Yanks wasted no time in evening the score. Gardner started with a walk, Teixeira followed two batters later with a single, and then Robinson Cano brought home the first run with a single of his own. That ball was so well struck that even though Mark Ellis was in a position to field it, he just couldn’t make the play. That brought Nick Swisher to the plate, and Swisher delivered.

Cahill delivered five sinkers during the at-bat, but only one of them ended up down in the zone — Swish took that one for ball two. The sequence went ball, foul, ball, ball, foul, double to deep center. Coco Crisp made a valiant effort, but the ball went beyond his outstretched glove. It took him a moment to recover, which gave Cano enough time to score from first and tie the game.

In a span of just five batters the Yanks turned this from a frustrating game into a new game. That’s what happens when you have such a high-powered offense.

Meet Saturday’s starter

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

When Moseley walked Kurt Suzuki in the fifth he accomplished two things. First, he guaranteed that Girardi would take him out of the game. The last pitch hardly had time to cross the plate before Girardi was out of the dugout and on a brisk jog to the mound. Second, he opened the door for Javy Vazquez‘s return to the rotation. For the next 4.2 innings, Vazquez made his case clear.

It took a Jeter jump toss to get out of the fifth, but from there Vazquez had things under control. He started the game by retiring seven straight and allowed just one run on two hits, striking out six. He even hit 90 consistently. Though, for what it’s worth, Moseley’s final pitch was also 90 mph.

Moseley’s next turn in the rotation would come on Saturday, but I’d bet on Vazquez slotting in there. It seems like a good time to see if he can be that guy he was from May into July. That will be a big boost to a rotation going through a rough patch.

Filling in for A-Rod

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Marcus Thames hit his 10th home run of the season this year, though it certainly feels like he’s hit more than that — probably because he’s hit six in his last six games. The tear comes at a great time. It’s like not losing Alex Rodriguez at all. In fact, since A-Rod’s injury Thames is 11 for 34 (.324) with three walks (.432 OBP) and six home runs (.765 SLG).

Mark Teixeira, too, has been cruising along since A-Rod started missing time. He was 3 for 3 with a walk last night, and is 14 for 41 (.342) with six walks (.429 OBP) and seven extra base hits (.659 SLG). He and Thames have made missing A-Rod not as big a deal as it could have been.

Miscellany

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Brett Gardner got on base three times and didn’t score. You won’t see that happen often.

How many young pitchers have we see throw 100 mph? How many of those pitchers sustained that speed? How many of them lasted long-term? Sorry, Henry Rodriguez, but you are no Billy Wagner.

Swisher is back up to .298, for those of you who are still holding out hope that he’ll finish the season at .300.

Trevor Cahill has allowed 50 earned runs this season. The Yankees have 14 of those.

Graph and Box

More at FanGraphs. You know, FanGraphs has the box score, too. But just in case you like ‘em simple, here’s the regul’r box score.

Up Next

Phil Hughes attempts to recover from a poor start, while Vin Mazzaro starts for the A’s. Considering the sparse crowd last night, I’m sure Mazzaro will be able to get all of his buddies into the game.

Heathcott walks off in Charleston win

Triple-A Scranton (8-7 loss to Lehigh Valley)
Kevin Russo, SS & Brandon Laird, 3B: both 1 for 5 – Russo scored a run … Laird K’ed twice
Greg Golson, RF: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB – 14 for his last 37 (.378) with four doubles, a triple, and the homer
Jesus Montero, DH: 0 for 5, 1 RBI, 1 K
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 2, 2 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 1 K – seven of his 15 walks have comes in the last five games
Chad Huffman, LF: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 BB – 11 walks and seven strikeouts in his last nine games
Reid Gorecki, CF: 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 K
Robby Hammock, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
Chad Moeller, C: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Al Aceves: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 21 of 33 pitches were strikes (63.6%) … I have to say, rehab has not been kind to him
Amaury Sanit: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1-1 GB/FB – half of his 18 pitches were strikes
David Phelps: 5 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 5-5 GB/FB – 66 of his 98 pitches were strikes
Royce Ring: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2-0 GB/FB – nine of 16 pitches were strikes
Zack Segovia: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K - half of his ten pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 131: Looking for more Moseley magic

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The Yankees kick off a 10-game homestand tonight with the first of four games against the Oakland A’s. This is the seventh time the teams will meet this season, but the first in New York. The Yanks went 5-1 out in Oakland during series in April and July.

Dustin Moseley gets the start for New York. He has put together some nice starts since getting called up in July. Even in the ones where he’s given up some runs I thought he was getting unlucky at points. But with Moseley’s pitching style he’ll have to catch every break in order to be successful. The A’s do have the No. 11 offense in the AL, scoring 4.05 runs per game, so this might be a good matchup.

Where the A’s have the advantage is in pitching. It’s the reason they’re currently one game over .500. This almost feels like the 2009 Seattle Mariners, in that the A’s have the fewest runs per game allowed in the AL (and therefore have the lowest team ERA). They’re just third in FIP, though, so it would seem that their defense gobbles up balls in play. To that end they have the second best team UZR in the league and the best defensive efficiency.

Tonight’s starter, Trevor Cahill, has been a big part of the A’s success. His peripheral numbers make his season seem like a fluke: 4.04 FIP, 4.12 xFIP, .217 BABIP. But there are certainly mitigating factors, like his 56 percent groundball rate, fourth best in the league. With an excellent infield behind him a large percentage of those balls get turned into outs. If he keeps that sinker down in the zone the Yanks will certainly find him troublesome. I’d say he can be beat, but the last time he allowed more tan three runs in a start was on July 17. Then again, that was to the Royals, so you just never know.

(Also, Cahill has allowed two or fewer runs in 16 of his 23 starts.)

Teixeira is back in the lineup tonight, making the group seem a bit more formidable.

Lineup:

1. Brett Gardner, LF
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Robinson Cano, 2B
5. Nick Swisher, RF
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Marcus Thames, DH
8. Curtis Granderson, CF
9. Ramiro Pena, 3B

And on the mound, number forty, Dustin Moseley.

A’s series tickets going for cheap

As the Yanks return home after a six-game road trip, they’ll face off against the Oakland A’s in a four-game set at Yankee Stadium. Time was that the A’s in late August and early September would serve as a playoff preview, but the days of Jason and Jeremy Giambi, of Miguel Tejada, of Eric Chavez and the Big Three are long gone. Today, the A’s are a young team with some solid pitchers playing .500 ball.

And so with many New Yorkers still on vacation and the big September series still a few weeks away, tickets are selling well below average on the secondary market this week. Our partners at TiqIQ provided us with the graphic above, and many choice tickets for this week’s games are still available at RAB Tickets.

For those interested in making it to the Bronx this year, now is a great chance to go. The tickets against the Blue Jays this weekend will go up, but the Orioles won’t command a premium. After the Yanks leave town on the 8th of September, they return home only for seven games against the Rays and Red Sox, and tickets to those contests are sure to cost a fortune.

The advantages of playing at home

As the games melt away from the 2010 baseball season, the Yanks’ grip on a playoff spot grows stronger. The Bombers are 6.5 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox with 32 left to play and share an AL East lead with the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately, one of the two beasts of the east can win the division, and the crown this year carries a steep price. The winner will secure home field advantage in the ALDS and ALCS while the loser will likely end up with the second-best record in the American League and no home field advantage at all.

For the Yankees, the schedule, as I’ve written a few times this month, isn’t on their side. I’ve updated the spreadsheet of remaining games to include the results from the past week, and if anything, the Rays’ schedule has gotten easier after they took two of three from Boston. For the Yankees, they play 32 games against teams with a combined winning percentage of .522. On the season, the Yanks are 36-22 against these teams, and if they duplicate those results in September, they’ll end up with 99 wins and 63 losses. That should be good enough to win the AL East.

Tampa Bay, however, has other plans in mind. The Rays have 32 games left against teams with a combined .480 winning percentage, and the AL upstarts are 42-24 against these competitors this year. If Tampa Bay duplicates those results, they’ll end up with a record of 100 wins and 62 losses. Baseball Prospectus’s Playoff Odds report doesn’t see either team reaching that 100-win plateau, but gives Tampa that one-game edge in the standings. Considering how many woulda, coulda, shoulda games the Yanks have played this year, that final regular season result would be a tough one to take.

Of course, much could change over the next five weeks, and the Yankees and Rays both seemingly control their own AL fates. The two teams meet seven times over the season’s home stretch, and if the Yanks can strike a decisive blow against Tampa, something they’ve struggled in doing this year, the AL East crown could be theirs for the taking. With Boston now on the ropes, I’m not going to root for the Rays any longer this year.

It’s all well and good to look at how the Yanks can get to October, but the division title concerns the elusive home field advantage. Does it matter if the Yanks don’t have the home-field edge this year? Make no mistake about it: The Yankees are better at home than they are on the road. At Yankee Stadium, where CC Sabathia doesn’t lose, the Yanks are 42-22; on the road, the club is a still-impressive 38-28. At Yankee Stadium, the club puts up a .367 wOBA while on the road, that mark falls to .332. The home-road split could be more significant if the Yanks must play four out of seven games in Tampa Bay where they are hitting just .229/.297/.398 this year.

Whereas the Yanks score 6 runs per game at home and just under 5 per game on the road, their pitching exhibits less drastic splits. Yankee hurlers have a higher ERA at home than they do on the road — 4.08 vs. 3.75. Because Bombers pitchers have given up a whopping 39 more home runs at home in 0.1 more innings than they have thrown on the road, we can say that Yankee Stadium giveth and Yankee Stadium taketh away.

Still, we can’t underestimate the CC effect. Despite the weaker pitching at home, CC Sabathia, the Yanks’ presumptive Game One starter, is 10-0 at home with a 2.46 ERA/3.21 FIP and 8-5 with a 3.75 ERA/3.85 FIP on the road. Never mind the pride of a division crown; I want home field advantage for the joy of watching CC Sabathia dominate in the Bronx.

With 32 games left and seven against Tampa Bay, the Yankees just need to win. They’re not yet guaranteed a playoff spot, but their October Magic Number is a cool 26. Even without bragging rights on the line, they need to gain that home field advantage for another run at a World Series trophy. The longer the standings remain knotted at the top, the more of an edge Tampa Bay gains, and so it is time to just keep on winning.

Clemens pleads not guilty to perjury, obstruction charges

Roger Clemens appeared this morning in federal court in the District of Columbia to enter a plea of not guilty to charges of perjury and obstruction of Congress. Clemens is facing a six-count indictment concerning statements he made in February 2008 in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Department of Justice and Congress believes Clemens lied under oath, and like it or not, the case against Clemens will partially rest on Andy Pettitte’s shoulders. Clemens, who left DC to participate in a golf tournament at Myrtle Beach this afternoon, has already rejected a plea deal and plans to fight the indictment. This case, however, won’t go to trial for a few years, and Clemens will stay in legal limbo until then.