Game Five: Starting A Streak

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

With the first win out of the way, the Yankees can now focus on their first winning streak of 2012. Left-handed pitchers they haven’t seen before have been a bit of a bane over the years, and tonight they get the Taiwanese-born southpaw Wei-Yin Chen. The 26-year-old is anywhere from 88-94 with the fastball plus a slider and a split-changeup hybrid. He’s supposedly stingy with the walks, but he’s never faced anything like the Yankees’ lineup before. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
CF Curtis Granderson
DH Andruw Jones
Russell Martin
LF Brett Gardner

RHP Freddy Garcia

Tonight’s game starts at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on My9 locally or MLB Network nationally. I can only assume it’s going to rain since the game is on My9. Enjoy.

Jeter’s advantage in the young season

Four! Four hits against a lefty. Ah ha ha ha. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Sometimes an unexpected break can be just what we need. For Derek Jeter, last year’s trip to the disabled list, which he had not visited since 2003, provided just such a break. It allowed him to step back and refocus his efforts after a .260/.324/.324 start to the season. Whatever he changed, mentally and physically, turned around his season. In his 314 PA after returning he hit .331/.384/.447, which closely resembled his superb 2009 season.

Jeter’s changes appear to have lasting effects. In spring training he hit .318/.362/.455, and is now off to a hot start in the 2012 season. After a 4 for 4 performance last night he’s now 7 for 17 on the season (.412) with a walk and a double. Because he’s Derek Jeter, the 4 for 4 performance caused people to say some ridiculous things, but that’s understandable. It’s hard not to be excited about an apparently resurgent Jeter.

That Jeter has gotten off to such a hot start comes with little surprise. In their four games this year, the Yankees have faced two lefty starters, against whom Jeter excels. Against these left-handed pitchers Jeter has picked up five of his seven hits. Last year following his injury Jeter faced a left-handed pitcher 89 times and hit .390/.438/.622, smacking four of his six home runs in that sample. Even in 2010, when he struggled more than ever previously in his career, he hit .321/.391/.481 against lefties, a 135 sOPS+ (that is, compared to the league vs. left-handed pitching).

Jeter’s prowess against left-handed pitching is no revelation; he’s smacked them around far worse than righties in every year of his career except for 1999 (his surge against righties fueled his career-best season). But in recent years he has beat them up to a disproportionate degree: in his last three seasons he has the tree highest tOPS+* figures of his career. That is, his use of left-handed pitching as batting practice has essentially kept his career afloat as he has aged. This is especially true in the last two years, when he produced solidly below-average numbers against right-handed pitching (81 and 94 sOPS+).

*tOPS+ is his split compared to his overall numbers, so it compares the player to himself, while sOPS+ compares him to the league. Also, adding to that asterisk, Jeter did produced a 132 tOPS+ vs. lefties in 2000, which ties his 2009 mark. Close enough.

Tonight Jeter gets another chance, as the Yankees face Orioles’ lefty Wei-Yin Chen. After that, C.J. Wilson will take the mound against the Yankees this weekend. Francsico Liriano will be in town with the Twins next week. When the Yanks head up to Boston it might line up so they face Jon Lester and Felix Doubront. The Rangers have both Matt Harrison and Derek Holland. Among their most common opponents, the Orioles have two lefty starters, as do the Red Sox and the Rays. Only the Blue Jays are left with a single lefty in their rotation. All of this will play to Jeter’s advantage this year.

We so often see players, and especially middle infielders, start to fade by the time they’re Derek Jeter’s age. In many ways, Jeter himself has been in decline as a ballplayer. He’s kept himself afloat, though, and a big part of the reason is his ability to pick up the ball from left-handed pitching. May this skill fuel his career from now through the end of his current contract — and perhaps beyond.

Yanks showing patience & contact skills early on

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Yankees won their first game of the season last night, scoring exactly six runs for the third time in four games. They also drew seven walks compared to just two strikeouts, continuing an early-season trend of taking ball four and putting the ball in play. The Yankees currently have the lowest strikeout rate (11.1%) and the highest walk rate (15.4%) in baseball, and frankly it’s not all that close in either category.

Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher lead the way with five walks and two strikeouts each while Robinson Cano has yet to strikeout in any of the four games. Russell Martin and Mark Teixeira also have more walks than whiffs while Derek Jeter and Raul Ibanez have the same number of both. Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson are the only regulars with more strikeouts than walks. It’s only four games, but stuff like this is still fun to see. The Yankees are billed as a power and patience club, and they’re getting both without the typical byproduct of strikeouts. That’s actually been a bit of a trend during the Kevin Long years…

K% BB% wRC+
2012 11.1% 15.4% 116
2011 18.0% 9.9% 113
2010 17.8% 10.4% 112
2009 15.7% 10.3% 117
2008 16.2% 8.6% 104
2007 15.2% 9.8% 120

The average walk and strikeout rates during that time are 8.5% and 18.0%, respectively, so the Yankees have been better than average at both. Jeter, Teixeira, A-Rod, and Martin have always been high walk, reasonable low strikeout guys while Cano doesn’t do much of either, walks or strikeouts. Swisher and Granderson struck out a whole bunch, but they also drew plenty of walks. That’s all by the design; the Yankees have sought out players who make pitchers work and generally make contact.

The early-season results are a rather extreme example of what the Yankees are capable of doing offensively. David Price was the only member of Tampa’s vaunting pitching staff to record more strikeouts (five) than walks (four) during the season-opening series, and poor Brian Matusz never had a chance last night. At some point the club’s walk and strikeout numbers will even out and resemble what they did over the last half-decade, but right now getting the best of both worlds. Power, patience, and contact.

Robinson Cano and the Ian Kinsler contract

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Robinson Cano‘s contract has been a bit of a hot topic around these parts over the last six months or so, though it would be more accurate to say his next contract has been the hot topic. The Yankees will undoubtedly exercise their 2013 option and keep Cano around next season, but he’ll become a free agent after that. Given his production and his popularity, it’s easy to see how Robbie’s next deal could become quite unwieldy, especially with all this talk about the 2014 budget.

Last summer I spit-balled the idea of a six-year contract worth $120M, covering the 2012 through 2017 seasons. The Joey Votto contract appeared to change the landscape, at least in terms of non-free agent players getting paid like free agents. The Rangers did us and the Yankees a solid yesterday, agreeing an extension with Ian Kinsler that finally gives us a reasonable guideline for Cano’s next deal. The terms: five guaranteed years and $70M with a sixth-year club option ($5M buyout). That’s more than the Braves gave Dan Uggla (five years and $62M) at a similar point of his career and deservedly so.

It might not appear to be the case at first glance, but Cano and Kinsler are very similar players. Rather, they provide similar value while going about it in very different ways…


Source: FanGraphsRobinson Cano, Ian Kinsler

Cano is the high batting average guy who hits for good power and plays solid defense (depending on your choice of metrics). Kinsler hits for a lower average while hitting for more power, stealing more bases, and playing a similar level of defense. His massive home/road split and lengthy injury history — at least one DL trip in each of his first five seasons — are legitimate concerns Cano doesn’t share. Robbie’s actually hit better away from Yankee Stadium in his career and has played at least 159 games in each of the last five years. They were born five months apart, so age is a non-issue.

This isn’t about Cano vs. Kinsler, it’s about the market for elite second basemen. Kinsler’s deal is the largest ever for a player at the position in terms of average annual value at $14M per year, but that will change when the Yankees exercise Cano’s $15M option for next season. Therein lies the problem; Kinsler’s new contract represents a pay cut for Cano. With Scott Boras now calling the shots and the Dodgers’ new ownership group looming, you can be sure Robbie isn’t taking a pay cut barring something completely unforeseen.

If nothing else, this new contract between Kinsler and the Rangers brings us back to reality a bit. Cano’s next contract might be closer to $17-18M per year rather than $20-22M based on similar players, but all bets are off if Boras manages to take Robbie out onto the open market as a free agent after next season. I know the Yankees have their policy of not negotiating new contracts until the current one expires, but they already broke that policy once for Cano and they would be very wise to do it again if they have serious interest in retaining him long-term. For all we know, they might not. Letting Robinson walk after 2013 isn’t the craziest thing in the world.

Yanks rough up O’s, get first win of 2012

The Yankees finally got their first win of the season, though Monday’s game clearly proved that they just beat up on bad teams and can’t beat contenders. Isn’t that the narrative now?

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

What Do They Always Say About Spring Training?

Jeremy Hellickson allowed 20 runs in 20 IP this spring, then he damn near threw a complete game shutout against the Yankees on Sunday. Ivan Nova was nearly as bad as Hellickson in camp — 21 runs in 22.1 IP — but he also shook it off and came out throwing bullets on Monday night. The Yankees’ young right-hander wasn’t quite as dominant as Tampa’s young right-hander, but two runs over seven innings is more than enough to succeed in this town. Nova did allow ten hits — six for extra bases — but he struck out seven and walked zero. Seven grounders against seven fly balls is a bit out of character, however.

It was all about command for Nova, the one thing that most eluded him in Spring Training. He did a fine job of keeping the fastball down and was able to get weak swings at his breaking stuff when ahead in the count. The Orioles had runners on base in every inning but the second, so yeah, it wasn’t the cleanest game. This start was basically a bad Ivan Nova start from the second half of last year, and that’s still pretty good.

The Cap’n

(REUTERS/Patrick Smith)

Derek Jeter has led three of the four games off with a hit this year, including this one. It was part of a 4-for-4 night, which included three singles and big opposite field double. Although he only scored one run and drove in another, Jeter seemed to be in the middle of every rally the Yankees put together, either starting it or extending it. He’s got a robust .412/.444/.471 batting line through four games, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that two of those games were started by left-handers. The Cap’n still does his best work against southpaws, as we saw in this one.

Sadly, Jeter also dropped down a sac bunt in the sixth after the first three batters of the inning reached base. Four of the six men they sent to the plate reached base that inning, with the exceptions being Jeter on the bunt and Alex Rodriguez‘s inning-ending double play. Derek was 3-for-3 at that point, and it sure would be nice to see him swing the bat in that spot rather than “play the game the right way.” Nitpicking, I suppose.

The Adventures of Eduardo

I can’t imagine any utility infielder has ever been as polarizing as Eduardo Nunez. Starting in place of A-Rod at third base, Nunez managed to flub a somewhat routine ground ball in the third, make a diving catch of a line drive in the fourth, and run in circles before catching a pop-up in the ninth. He also singled, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and got hit by a pitch. The Orioles are throwing another southpaw tomorrow, and I’m willing to bet Nunez will be in the lineup again. I’m thinking second base this time.

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Leftovers

David Robertson and Mariano Rivera got their first work in since Opening Day, each throwing a scoreless inning. Robertson allowed two hits and struck out two, Mo went one and one. I was telling myself this morning that Joe Girardi would probably go all-in with his bullpen if they had a lead just to get that first win of the season. This didn’t really qualify as going all-in, but I can’t imagine we’ll see Robertson and Mo pitch with four runs leads all that often this year.

Every Yankee had a hit except for Nick Swisher (two walks) and A-Rod (one walk). Here’s a fun little factoid: four games in, the offense has drawn 25 walks while striking out just 18 times as a team. That’s pretty nuts. Al from Miami has six walks and two strikeouts on the season. Curtis Granderson doubled, Andruw Jones homered (off a righty specialist!), and a bunch of other guys had singles. Poor Brian Matusz had no chance, he had to work for every strike and the Yankees were making him pay when he made a mistake.

I don’t understand why both runners were on the move when A-Rod had a full count in the second inning. Matt Wieters is arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball — threw out 37% of base stealers last season — and they had Matusz on the ropes. A-Rod struck out and Jeter was thrown out at third. Rally and inning over. I don’t think teams send runners in 3-2 counts enough, but you have to pick your spots better. Not against Wieters.

As for that little dust up at the end of the game, apparently the Yankees felt Robert Andino was relaying location to the hitter while on second base and Russell Martin said something to him after the final out was recorded. Normally I’d say he might catch a fastball in the ribs for that, but Freddy Garcia and his nothingball are going on Tuesday. Words might hurt more.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score and no highlights, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees will look for their first winning streak of the season on Tuesday, when Garcia gives it a go against Taiwanese import Wei-Win Chen. It’ll be his big league debut after spending seven years in the Japanese league. Dude’s still only 26, he got started early. That’s another night game.

Pettitte goes three in first minor league outing

Bryan Mitchell (second) and Jose Campos (eighth) had two of the eight best pitching performances in the minor leagues this weekend according to Game Score. Hooray for that.

The Yankees have signed right-hander Michael Dubee to a minor league deal and assigned him to Double-A Trenton. Graham Stoneburner was placed on the DL with a groin injury in the corresponding move. Dubee is the son of Phillies’ pitching coach Rich Dubee, and he’s spent six unspectacular years bouncing around the minors with the Phillies, White Sox, and Pirates.

High-A Tampa (9-6 loss to Clearwater)
CF Eduardo Sosa & 1B Kyle Roller: both 1-3, 1 BB — Sosa scored and struck out … Roller whiffed three times
2B Kelvin Castro, LF Ramon Flores & RF Rob Segedin: all 1-4, 1 K — Castro drove in a run while Segedin scored
C J.R. Murphy: 0-3, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 E (throwing)
3B Zach Wilson: 1-4, 1 R, 3 K
DH Neil Medchill: 3-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — remember his huge season with Short Season Staten Island a few years back?
LHP Andy Pettitte: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 4/3 GB/FB — a whopping 26 of 32 pitches were strikes (81.3%) … he’s going to take an extra day off before his next start after throwing one more inning than planned tonight … he was a “very easy” 85-87 with a strong changeup, so basically a Spring Training start
RHP Brad Meyers: 1.2 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 1/2 GB/FB — debut for the Rule 5 Draft pick, who is on the DL with a shoulder problem … this officially starts his 30-day rehab clock
LHP Kramer Sneed: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K
RHP Zach Nuding: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 2/1 GB/FB– he was the scheduled starter, but then Pettitte showed up

[Read more…]

Game Four: Just Win

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Rays had their fun this weekend, but it’s time to close the book on that series. The Yankees are in Baltimore now, a place that has been very friendly to them over the years. They’ve won 17 of 25 games at Camden Yards over the last three years, part of a 39-15 record against the O’s overall. Coincidentally enough, the Yankees have gone 13-5 against the Orioles in each of the last three seasons. They sure could use a win now, the natives are starting to get restless. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
DH Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
CF Curtis Granderson
LF Andruw Jones
Russell Martin
3B Eduardo Nunez

RHP Ivan Nova

Tonight’s game will start just after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Try to enjoy.