Update: Banuelos’ sore elbow not considered serious

5:01pm: Via Norris, Banuelos did go for an MRI and it came back clean. It’s more of a “tired arm” than actual soreness, apparently.

2:30pm: Via Josh Norris, left-hander Manny Banuelos was placed on the Triple-A disabled list for precautionary reasons and his sore left elbow is not considered serious. Banuelos and Eduardo Nunez (sore thumb) both hit the shelf just yesterday. It’s been a pretty brutal season for pitching injuries, so this is welcome news. Hopefully it remains nothing serious and Manny can get back on the mound relatively soon.

Still no date for Mariano Rivera’s knee surgery

Via Bryan Hoch, there is still no date set for Mariano Rivera‘s knee surgery. He’s still getting treatment and therapy for the blood clot in his right calf, and doctors want him to strengthen the knee before going in and repairing his torn right ACL. For what it’s worth, Mat Gamel of the Brewers torn his ACL a few days before Rivera but did not have surgery until today. Apparently waiting a few weeks for the swelling to go down and stuff is common with this kind of injury. Hopefully they can get Mo fixed up within a month so he can begin the rehab process.

2012 Draft: Daniel Robertson

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

Daniel Robertson | SS/3B

Background
A California kid from the Los Angeles suburbs, Robertson (no relation to David as far as I know) stars at Upland High School and is committed to UCLA. He was also heavily recruited by Georgia and Arizona, so some of the biggest baseball programs in the country had their eye on him.

Scouting Report
Robertson is listed at 6-foot-0 and 190 lbs. and although the consensus is that he won’t have the mobility to remain at shortstop, he has all the tools to develop into a standout defender at the hot corner thanks to his arm, instincts, and soft hands. He’s projected to be a high-average hitter from the right side thanks to his quick bat and innate ability to get the barrel on the ball. Most of his power is into the gaps but Robertson has hinted at future power potential, so there’s a chance he’ll turn into a complete all-around hitter. He’s earned the “gamer” tag for his all-out style of play and has drawn raves for his advanced approach, baseball acumen, and polish.

Miscellany
Both Baseball America (35th overall) and Keith Law (38th) recently ranked Robertson and a fringe first round talent while MLB.com has him a little further down the list at #58 overall. Chances are someone will like him enough to grab him before the Yankees’ two second round picks (#89 and #94 overall) come around, so they’d have to grab Robertson in the first round (#30 overall) if they want him. The Yankees have had no trouble bucking the consensus and reaching for players the last few years, and Robertson fits their mold as a polished high school player with strong makeup and two-way skills.

Baseball America’s Int’l Free Agency Preview

$80k in 2004. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The amateur draft begins in less than two weeks and a few weeks after that, the international signing period will open on July 2nd. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement limits each team to $2.9M in international spending this summer, though clubs can exceed that amount if they’re willing to deal with the harsh penalties. Start next season, international spending restrictions will be on a sliding scale based on winning percentage. The more you win, the less you have to spend.

The very best prospect on the international market this summer is Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler, who still has yet to establish residency outside of Cuba and be declared a free agent by MLB. He will be subject to the spending restrictions come July 2nd but can sign for any amount prior to that date, so he better hope they speed up the process. The kid is looking at a bonus in the $20M range at the moment and will get maybe one-tenth of that after July 2nd.

Baseball America’s Ben Badler previewed this summer market today (subs. req’d), looking at nine non-Soler players who are among the best prospects available. Two of the nine have been connected to the Yankees…

Luis Torrens, C, Venezuela (video)
A former shortstop and third baseman, the 6-foot-0, 170 lbs. Torrens is rough behind the plate because of his inexperience. He has the athleticism and tools and stick at catcher, though his right-handed bat is the main attraction. Torrens has doubles power to all fields and figures to start driving balls over the fence as he matures, and his approach is very advanced for a kid who turned 16 just three weeks ago. He trains with and is represented by Carlos Rios, the Yankees’ former director of international scouting, and Badler says New York is the club “most strongly linked” to Torrens at the moment.

Alex Palma, OF, Venezuela (video)
One of the most advanced hitters in this year’s international class, Palma has a right-handed swing geared for hard contact. He’s hit high-quality pitching in showcase events but like everyone else his age, he’s still developing his power stroke. Palma is listed at 6-foot-0 and 200 lbs. and is limited to a corner outfield spot because he’s not the best runner in the world. He does have an arm suited for right field, however. Badler says the Yankees are “making the strongest push” to sign Palma, and his bonus could approach seven figures.

Other top prospects include Venezuelan SS/OF Franklin Barreto (linked to Blue Jays), Dominican OF Gustavo Cabrera (Royals), Venezuelan LHP Jose Castillo (Padres and Red Sox), Venezuelan SS Luis Castro (Rockies), Brazilian LHP Luiz Gohara (Mariners), Venezuelan RHP Jose Mujica (Jays), and Dominican SS Amed Rosario (no team). Seems like a pretty strong year for Venezuela.

Earlier this month Badler speculated about some ways teams could essentially circumvent the spending limitations this summer, including shady under-the-table deals. The Yankees spent just about $3M on international players last summer — or what they gave Gary Sanchez alone a few years ago — but have historically been among the biggest spenders in Latin America. Every team is on an even playing field now, so it’s going to come down to scouting ability. Hopefully the lure of the Yankees brand helps as well.

The Yankees and pitches in the strike zone

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Yesterday I wrote about the Yankees and their increasingly impatient offense, showing that they haven’t been working the count this season like we’ve seen in the past. It’s unlikely that seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance is the root cause of the team’s recent offensive woes, but I do think it’s a contributing factor. Not getting in favorable counts and swinging at the pitches pitchers want you to swing at will drag down anyone’s numbers.

Plate discipline isn’t just swinging at strikes and laying off balls though, it’s also about swinging at quality strikes. Not every strike is one you can drive. Here’s a PitchFX breakdown of the team’s plate discipline tendencies — swing and contact rates on pitches both in and out of the strike zone — over the last four seasons…

Notice the in-zone stats I’ve highlighted in yellow. Starting with 2009, the Yankees have swung at more pitches in the strike zone each season but have made less contact. We’re talking about a three percentage point difference in each category over a four-year span so it’s not a huge change, but it is a change for the worse. The Yankees have become more aggressive within the strike zone in recent years but have less to show for it. Simply put, their swing-and-miss rate within the zone is climbing.

As a whole, pitchers around the league have not changed their overall approach against the Yankees since 2009…

Other than the expected year-to-year fluctuations, the Yankees have seen the same percentage of fastballs and offspeed pitches over the last few years. They’ve also seen the exact same number of first pitch strikes, so it’s not like they’re falling behind in the count more often. Pitchers may be pitching them differently in different counts and in specific situations (men on base, etc.), but that’s beyond my PitchFX capabilities at the moment. That would help explain the in-zone plate discipline issues, however.

The Yankees are anything but an offensive powerhouse these days and there are many reasons why. Missing more hittable pitches in the strike zone could be one of those reasons, though the little bit of data above hardly confirms that. The team is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to making contact on pitches in the strike zone, and some of those misses very likely came on pitches they should have hit hard somewhere.

Yanks in need of a shake-up (that isn’t coming)

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

I can’t remember the last time the Yankees played this poorly for an extended period of time like they are right now. It wasn’t 2008, so you have to go back to the early-1990s and I don’t want to think back that far. Yes we’ve been spoiled and yes, the Yankees have been terrible for the last three weeks or so. They’ve scored two or fewer runs in five of their last seven and 11 of their last 21 games. Impossible to win like that.

Back in the day, George Steinbrenner probably would have fired someone by now. Or at least I think he would have, that’s what everyone else is telling me. I wasn’t really old enough to appreciate his heyday. Anyway, the Yankees need some kind of shake-up right now, but I don’t mean firing Joe Girardi or a coach or anything like that. More like … drop Tony Womack and Jaret Wright and recall Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. That type of thing. You know, inject a little youth into a team that seems to be sleepwalking for 27 outs a night.

Unfortunately, the Yankees can’t make a move like that. The current roster is completely inflexible, with big contracts all of the place and nowhere to move these guys. I mean, I suppose they could bench Russell Martin and insert Frankie Cervelli into the lineup, but that’s not exactly what I have in mind when I talk about a shake-up. Brandon Laird isn’t doing to replace Alex Rodriguez, Colin Curtis isn’t going to replace Nick Swisher, there’s nothing to do. The Yankees made their bed with these guys and now they have to sleep in it.

Pretty much the only move the club can realistically make right now is dumping Freddy Garcia, but no one cares about the 12th man on the staff. Adding a new long reliever isn’t exactly the kind the move that will light a fire under the team. That’s not a shake-up, that’s a pretty typical roster move. Other than getting Brett Gardner back at some point in the next two weeks (hopefully), there’s no change coming and that’s a problem. The guys already in the clubhouse are responsible for turning things around and that’s not easy to do.

The Yankees fell into last place last night and are lucky no one is running away with the AL East. They’re still only five back in the loss column with 120 games to play, many of them intra-division games. We’ve seen them go on huge second half runs before and after 42 games, we have to hope they have another one in them. Different doesn’t always mean better, but a roster shake-up of some kind is something we’d probably see when things got this bad. There just aren’t any moves that can be made, so instead we get Mark Teixeira batting seventh. That’s the only shake-up they can make because the roster is so inflexible.

Last Place: Yanks go out like wimps in loss to KC

So what exactly do the Yankees do well right now? The answer is nothing other than lose and not bother to capitalize in run-scoring situations. They have that down to a science.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Pitching

Hiroki Kuroda wasn’t terrible but he wasn’t great. Three runs in 5.1 IP — two on a Mike Moustakas homer that would have sailed foul in a normal-sized stadium — shouldn’t result in an automatic loss but that’s life for a pitcher on the Yankees these days. Kuroda allowed seven hits and three walks (one intentional), giving up the first run(s) of the game for the eighth time in his nine starts. For once it would be nice if they didn’t have to play catch-up with their supposed number two starter on the mound. Hiroki’s performance continued a recent trend of starts that rate anywhere from “awful” to “meh.”

Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada pitched well enough in their short relief appearances (not gonna ding Rapada for walking a right-handed batter) but Freddy Garcia got hammered, specifically by Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy launched a two-run homer and Garcia went on to allow five hits and a walk in 2.1 IP, striking out no one. He’s quite useless, even for the 12th man on the staff.

That's the face you make when you have a .305 OBP. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Hitting

Another night, another 13 (thir-friggin’-teen!) at-bats without a hit with runners in scoring position. That includes another bases loaded, no outs situation that yielded zero runs — Robinson Cano struck out looking, Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging, and Raul Ibanez flew out to deep left-center. That’s the second time they’ve failed to convert a bases loaded, no outs situation into even one run in what, the last four games? They did it Friday as well, right? Gross.

Aside from A-Rod, who singled and doubled, the two through six hitters went a combined 0-for-13 with three walks and seven strikeouts. Curtis Granderson drew two of the walks, Cano the other. Russell Martin chipped in a pair of hits, then Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez had one each to recap the offense. The Yankees have some serious offensive problems at the moment and they can’t wait around for things to fix themselves much longer. These games count.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Leftovers

We have two candidates for stupid play of the nigth. First, why was A-Rod tagging up with one out in the sixth? He was on second and made it into third safely, but Alex Gordon’s throw beat him to the bag and most of the time he’d have been out. I understand they’re struggling to score runs, but forcing things and making stupid mistakes won’t bring the bats back to life.

Secondly, what in the world was that play by Teixeira in the sixth? The Royals had a man on third and one out, but he got caught between looking the runner back to third and stepping on first after fielding a chopper. He ended up making a poor throw across the diamond and everyone was safe. Again, let’s get back to smart baseball please. Look the runner back and step on the base for the sure out.

That’s really it, I have nothing else to add. Monday’s loss was the Yankees’ third straight, sixth in seven games, eighth in ten games, and 14th in 24 games. Coupled with the Red Sox’s win over the Orioles, the Yankees are now in last place in the AL East. They deserve every bit of it as well.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

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


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Game two of this three-game series will be played Tuesday night, though yet again the forecast looks ugly. If they do play, it’ll be Phil Hughes and Luke Hochevar on the bump.