Game 105: Nova’s Back

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The Yankees already have one win to their credit today, and now they’re welcoming Ivan Nova back to the rotation for the night cap. Joe Girardi indicated earlier this week that Nova could be up for more than just the spot start, though a trade is always possible as well. The Rockies have a scout in the stands tonight as the Ubaldo Jimenez talks go down to the wire. Either way, Nova’s job is to help the Yankees win tonight. Here’s the starting nine…

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

Ivan Nova, SP

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

Roster Move: To make room for Nova on the roster, the Yankees have sent Chris Dickerson back to Triple-A. He won’t be able to come back up for ten days, but I imagine the Yanks will just call up Greg Golson tomorrow. Either that or they’ll roll with a 13-man pitching staff for a week and a half (no thanks).

Orioles Trade: The Yankees haven’t made a trade yet, but Baltimore has. Between games they dealt super(setup)man Koji Uehara to the Rangers for the hacktastic Chris Davis and the festively plump Tommy Hunter. So no Koji tonight if the game is close in the late innings. Good news for the Yankees, and I think that’s a pretty nice trade for both teams.

Yanks pound Tillman, take first game of doubleheader

For the first two innings, Chris Tillman looked like Cy Young, striking out four men in a row at one point. He reverted back to his usual self after that, which meant his day ended with seven runs allowed in 4.1 IP. Let’s recap quickly…

  • The highlight of the offense was Nick Swisher, who was a triple shy of the cycle and has hit .351/.439/.544 since the All-Star break. Brett Gardner opened the scoring with a two-run single in the third, and the trio of Eric Chavez, Frankie Cervelli, and Chris Dickerson all had run-scoring singles. Jorge Posada drove in a run with a ground out.
  • Swish, Chavez, Cervelli, and Dickerson all had multiple hits, while Robinson Cano (walk), Gardner,  and Posada (single) all reached once. Eduardo Nunez and Mark Teixeira went a combined 0-for-9 with four strikeouts (three by Nunez), though Tex did come around to score after reaching first on a fielder’s choice. Considering the lineup, eight runs if pretty damn good.
  • Bartolo Colon had been amazingly efficient with his pitches earlier in the season, but he needed 105 to get 15 outs this afternoon. He walked two and gave up five hits, allowing two runs to score on ground ball outs. He pitched around a bases loaded jam in the first (struck out Mark Reynolds) and a runners on second and third situation in the third (struck out Derrek Lee). Bart did whiff six and get five ground ball outs, but it was a shaky outing and he had to battle for each out. It could have been worse.
  • Big ups to Cory Wade, who spared the bullpen after Colon’s short-ish start by soaking up three innings on 39 pitches. He did allow a solo homer to Reynolds, but that was the only blemish. Considering the score at the time (8-2), who cares. His work is greatly appreciated and will help the Yankees later tonight. Of course Boone Logan had a shaky ninth and caused Mariano Rivera to start throwing in the bullpen, so that sucks.
  • Here’s Tim Welke’s strike zone, which screams “we’ve gotta play two today so hurry the hell up.” Here’s the box score, the FanGraphs stuff, and the updated standings.

The second game of today’s doubleheader starts at the usual time, regular old 7pm ET. Ivan Nova will make his triumphant return to the bigs against Zach Britton, who is doing the same. The Yankees will have to make a move for Nova, but they have not yet announced it.

Handicapping the AL Cy Young Race

As the season moves into the dog days of August, some of the discussion in baseball circles naturally turns towards end of season awards ballots. This is usually a lot of fun, particularly when the old school, traditional camp goes head to head with the sabermetric camp and acrimony and recriminations ensue. There’s nothing quite like watching a reporter argue for a pitcher based on the win-loss record against someone who hasn’t looked at a W-L record all season. In anticipation of this, I’ve set out to handicap the American League Cy Young race, and have done so by trying to consider all relevant factors. Plenty of voters really do prefer looking at win-loss record, earned run average and overall team success. Other voters are comfortable looking past that and examining stats like FIP, strikeout and walk rates, and other more advanced measures of pitcher success. I’m not arguing for a particular voter rationale as much as trying to predict which one of the American League’s best pitchers will garner enough support from voters to take home the bacon. It’s a very good crop of pitchers this year, so the debate should be lively.

Honorable Mentions: C.J. Wilson, Felix Hernandez and Justin Masterson. All three have had fantastic seasons in their own right, but it’s hard to imagine any of them cracking the top 3 of the ballot as things stand right now. Of the three, King Felix seems the strongest candidate to move up the ballot if he finishes strong and other candidates slip. He’s won before, and he’s having another superb year in Seattle.

The Fringe

Dan Haren, photo courtesy of AP.

Dan Haren

My preseason pick for Cy Young is having another typically superb season. Haren is a bit of a fly ball pitcher, so pitching in Angels Stadium with good outfield defenders has really helped him so far. This year, Haren’s strikeout rate has dipped into the 7.5 K/9 range, down a little from his usual ~8 K/9 mark. However, he’s been more stingy than ever with the free passes, walking only 1.36 batters per nine innings. As a result, Haren leads the American League in K/BB ratio with a 5.65 mark, ahead of Justin Verlander’s 4.97.

Haren’s win-loss record is currently a modest 10-6. With a dozen or so starts left on the season, he seems unlikely to win twenty games this year, so he’s not likely to pick up any support from the traditional crowd in that area. His ERA is 3.01, certainly a respectable mark but nothing as shiny some of the other candidates. His ERA doesn’t diverge too wildly from his FIP (2.65) or xFIP (3.12), so there’s no reason to expect him to tail off as the season moves on, except for the fact that he usually pitches better in the first half of the season than the second.

As a result, I expect Haren to wind up in the top 3 of a few ballots, but he likely won’t be a serious contender for the award. Aside from K/BB ratio, he doesn’t lead the league in any of the “important” metrics, whether they be traditional or sabermetric, and there just isn’t a whole lot of buzz about his season. It’s been an excellent year for Haren, but probably not one good enough to win him the award. This is a friendly reminder that the Angels obtained him using Joe Saunders as the primary trade chip. Moving on.

Josh Beckett

Sadly, this was the only photo of Beckett available on the Internet. C'est la vie. Photo courtesy of AP.

Josh Beckett would likely be a serious contender for the Cy Young if not for the fact that he’s thrown roughly 30 to 40 innings less than the some of the other heavy hitters on this list. Like other seasons, Beckett has had a few struggles with his health this year, but he’s still managed to put together a good campaign and has several factors working in his favor for his Cy Young bid. For one, he’s a very well known pitcher with a reputation as being an ace, and he pitches in Boston and gets plenty of exposure. Further, he has a very low ERA, currently at 2.17. Those two factors alone mean that he’ll show up on plenty of Cy Young ballots around the nation.

Beckett is having a good year, no way around it. Yet, interestingly, his very low ERA is slightly misleading. It’s not as if this is a breakout year for Beckett. His strikeout rate has dipped a bit from career norms, and his xFIP is right in line with his career average. In fact, he posted a lower xFIP in each one of his 2007-2009 seasons. This shouldn’t obscure the fact that Beckett has had great success in the run prevention category, and if he cracks the 200 inning mark and the Red Sox win over 100 games he might find himself creeping up the ballot for plenty of voters. It won’t be undeserved. But it will be an interesting testament to the importance that a sub-3 ERA has on the psyche of the Cy Young voting community.

The Contenders

Jered Weaver

Aside from the pitcher deemed the Favorite, Jered Weaver has perhaps the strongest case for the AL Cy Young this year. Not only is his win-loss record a solid 14-4, but he also boasts a rather anemic 1.79 ERA. Weaver has a good strikeout rate thus far, punching out around seven and a half batters per nine innings, and he walks around two batters per nine. The key to explaining his tremendous success at run prevention this year is his astronomically low home run rate, 0.34 HR per nine innings. Weaver has given up only 6 home runs the entire year, well below what one would consider normal. Only 3% of his fly balls have turned into home runs this year; league average is around 10%, and Weaver himself is a career 7.5% HR/FB pitcher. It’s really an odd situation, particularly because Weaver is such an extreme fly ball pitcher. As a result, several run estimators expect Weaver to start yielding home runs at a much higher rate. His xFIP is 3.61, nearly two runs higher than his ERA.

I’m not advocating that Weaver be penalized in any way for maintaining such a low home run to fly ball ratio. If he ends the year with a 3% HR/FB ratio and a sub-2 ERA, he’ll likely win the Cy Young and it’ll be hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve it. The historical record is what it is, even if it’s not likely sustainable or repeatable. The season isn’t over just yet though. Weaver has a decent amount of time left and it’s reasonable to expect his HR/FB ratio going forward to be somewhere around his career rate of 8%, which means more home runs and a higher ERA. Weaver may be a front-runner for the award at the moment, but it’s possible that he loses some steam as some of those fly balls turn into home runs and his ERA regresses in the last two months of the season. If not, and he finishes with 20 wins, a sub-2 ERA and a 90 win Los Angeles Angels team, he very well may take home his first ever Cy Young.

Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander in the state of Karl Welzein. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Another pitcher sure to get some love from Cy Young voters is Justin Verlander. Verlander is currently posting his third straight sub-3 FIP season, but this year he finally has the ERA to match it (2.34). Verlander currently boasts an elite strikeout rate with an 8.79 K/9, but is walking a career low 1.77 batters per nine. For a career 2.81 BB/9 guy, this is a substantial reduction, and it leaves him with the second-best K/BB ratio in the American League. Like Weaver, Verlander is also well on his way to twenty wins, currently sporting a 14-5 win-loss record.

The thing that may stand in the way the most of Verlander clinching his first ever Cy Young is the risk of batted ball regression. His BABIP is currently .239, below his career mark of .288. Yet even if that inches up a couple dozen points, Verlander is still likely to have a very compelling case for Cy Young. He’s going to have the wins, the ERA and the peripheral stats to support him. He’s also thrown a ton of innings, more than CC Sabathia, and he’s thrown a no-hitter this season. If Detroit wins the Central, he may get an even bigger boost from voters. Verlander’s 2011 is absolutely superb. Whether he’s able to beat out Weaver and others is another question.

The Favorite 

"Throw ya hands in the air if youse a true playa". Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

CC Sabathia 

All the stars are lining up for Sabathia to win the second Cy Young award of his rather illustrious career. On the traditional side, the big fellow currently leads the American League in wins with 15. It’s absolutely true that he gets loads of run support, which is why wins aren’t the best barometer of pitcher skill, but plenty of voters still consider the factor. CC has 10 or 11 starts left this season, which means he’s a really good bet to end the year with more than twenty wins, a feat he accomplished for the first time last season. Like Weaver and Verlander, Sabathia also sports a very low ERA, currently 2.56. If Weaver’s ERA ticks up north of 2, it’s likely to make CC’s case look stronger.

Sabathia also has the benefit of pitching for a team contending for a playoff spot, perhaps directly against his competitors. Personally, I don’t think a better pitcher should be penalized for pitching on a worse team, but it seems clear that plenty of voters put a sort of premium on whether the Cy Young contender’s team makes the playoffs. If Sabathia’s Yankees win the Wild Card and Jered Weaver’s Angels or Justin Verlander’s Tigers do not, it can only help Sabathia’s case.

Sabathia should receive a good amount of support from the stat community. His case rests on more than just win totals, ERA and the Yankees making the playoffs. He currently sports the lowest FIP in the American League (2.49) and the highest fWAR total (5.6). He has an elite strikeout rate, a good walk rate and he’s getting loads of groundballs. His BABIP is fairly normal, and the only thing that could hurt him going forward is his relatively low HR/FB ratio, currently about half of his career rate. As a result his xFIP is 3.03, a touch higher than Verlander but still lower than Jered Weaver’s 3.61 mark. In other words, there’s nothing too fluky about Sabathia’s performance. Anyone who has watched him lately knows that already. He’s been virtually untouchable lately, in a stream reminiscent of his now-famous performance with Milwaukee in 2008. Sabathia is an ace in his prime, pitching in a tough division and racking up all sorts of indicators of dominance. In the midst of a very good year of pitching in the American League, Sabathia may end of with the best case for American League Cy Young. If the big fella wants a new contract, he’s doing a really good job of showing the world just how good he can be.

Game 104: Bartday

Original via AP, Photoshop via Mister Delaware.

Hopefully Bartolo Colon‘s got a perfect game in that arm today, because this lineup … sheesh.

Brett Gardner, CF
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Mark Teixeira, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Jorge Posada, 1B
Chris Dickerson, LF – why sit Granderson vs. Tillman (RHP) in the day game but start him vs. Britton (LHP) in the night game?
Frankie Cervelli, C

Bartolo Colon, SP

The first game of today’s doubleheader starts at 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

The Experience Update: Via Marc Carig, Sergio Mitre has a nerve issue in his pitching shoulder. There’s no structural damage, but he’ll need to undergo more tests. I’m no doctor, but “nerve issue” just sounds scary. Hopefully everything goes well.

For This Fan, a Homecoming

(Photo by Kwong Yee Cheng from flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.)

Last Friday was my first visit to the new Yankee Stadium. The first year the place was built, I was in South Jersey, actually doing work in college. The next year I moved across the country, which is where I’ve been until I got the chance to take a vacation back to see my family on the East Coast. Making the pilgrimage to the House that Jeter Built was one of the things on the must-do list. Keep in mind that my home stadium, so to speak, is the Coliseum, so my baseball stadium expectations are set almost embarrassingly low. Disclaimer: I sound like a slack-jawed tourist. Because I was.

To start, there’s the view from outside of the place. Here are the things that surrounded the Coliseum: a storage yard filled with overused freight train cars, a mysterious BBQ place that looks like a hole in the wall filled with disease, and some kind of chemical plant. There’s also a train station and a somewhat-disgusting looking river. Then, of course, there’s the facade of the Coliseum, which might remind one of a bomb shelter more than anything else. Aside from the banners promoting the various records by the A’s and A’s players (lowest ERA, World Series Champions, their 20-game winning streak, and so on…), it’s fairly unremarkable cement. Very safe place to be if you’re thinking about a major earthquake, I suspect, but not exactly the prettiest thing in the world. To approach Yankee Stadium, rising with all its grace out of the Bronx, all arches and flags, was breathtaking. Every inch of the surrounding area has been thought out and decorated, to Babe Ruth Plaza to the huge gate numbers to the giant NY set into the ground. I basically had to consciously think about keeping my mouth shut so I didn’t walk around with it gaping open in awe.

Then there’s actually being inside. First off, being a somewhat crazy Yankees fan (you might have suspected this already), being in the park was like arriving at the scene of one’s pilgrimage. Make no mistake, Yankee Stadium is a cathedral just as much as it is a ballpark. From the archways to the monstrous banners in the Great Hall and from the entrances to the giant screens in center field, everything is a testament to how good the Yankees are and have been. Yes, it might go slightly into the realm of ostentatious and even a bit noveau riche, but as a tourist I loved how obvious Yankee Stadium made itself. This was not a place for losers. You came here, you played baseball, and you won, and that’s the way things were. It is impossible to be in Yankee Stadium for more than two seconds without realizing that you’re in the home park of an almost-too-successful sports team filled with superstars. For an opposing fan or team, I could see how it might be intimidating and oppressive: there’s nowhere to go, especially when the home team is winning on the field, to escape the perennial success of the New York Yankees. To me, it felt a little like being home in that fan way where other fans of your team are like brothers and sisters, and filled me with all kinds of crazy emotions, mostly joy that I was raised to feel like a part of that history. (Of course, I wasn’t alive for most of it, but fan psychology is a discussion for another day.)

Usually, I see people talking about how the stadium doesn’t have the same soul or it’s too commercial or the tourists have taken over or something along these lines. And while I could understand where those people are coming from, given the extreme number of shops with their too-expensive fan merchandise and the ads placed over most of the available space, I didn’t mind it one bit. Maybe this vibe sets in when you’ve been to the park a couple of times, but I found the ads a great splash of color added everywhere, especially considering the change from the mostly-cement coliseum where many of the signs were hung from the walls (to avoid drilling into concrete), and seat indicators were spraypainted onto plastic between aisles. And the shops were, again, just another relentless indication of what the Yankees were and how they did what they did. Call the team greedy and the place overly-commercialized if you want (certainly a legitimate argument), but remember that that poster being bought for $40 is helping to pay Mark Teixiera’s salary. Those tourists buying $120 seats are helping to pay the team just as much as you are, and maybe more.

And then there was the game itself. Oakland possesses two color screens that I suspect were both smaller than the giant ads in center field, and they’re not easy to see or watch. The rest of the screens are black and white. Just the sheer amount of information displayed in New York practically confused me: total bases, OBP, SLG, and the random miscellany that was displayed made me stare. It was like taking a starving Ethiopian child and putting him in front of a souped-up computer and telling him he could have anything he want. I gaped. Even past the actual information, there were the graphics, which were in color shocking, brilliant color: Russell’s mountie hat, Wrestler Brett, Swishalicious – these kind of things simply wouldn’t be possible in the Coliseum. There were different graphics to display the next batter up! Every player had a witty related graphic! Guess the Baby Bomber! The Subway Race! Not only were the screens themselves huge and the information so bright and colorful, but people were paid to make those designs and run them, and there ain’t no one on the Coliseum’s payroll doing that.

All-in-all, it was in every way an experience for me. To see my team at home again was really only the beginning of the visit: the stadium in itself was a whole different animal. There’s a way that I love the Coliseum in that it’s where I routinely see baseball – and extremely cheap baseball at that ($12 bleachers) – but it obviously doesn’t hold a candle to what Yankee Stadium is. The ballpark in the Bronx is a temple that worships the Yankees far more than it is a place where baseball is played. This might be obvious, but going from the Coliseum to Yankee Stadium was walking into a freezing room on a boiling day. Everything about it – the giant ads everywhere, the shops, the confused people who didn’t care about the game, the $15 margaritas – was wonderful. Don’t take it for granted, you lucky people in the city. You could be attached to the Oakland-Alameda Overstock.com O.com Coliseum like I am.

Late rally comes up short, Yankees fall to O’s

It’s pretty late and it’s Friday, so I’m going to do this as quickly as possible…

  • A.J. Burnett struck out a season-high ten (his most in a game since 2009), but he allowed five hits (all for extra bases) and three of them to the reanimated corpses of Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee. I’ll take eight innings and four runs from him all year, but I hate seeing him get beat by two over-the-hill guys like that. Oh well.
  • The Yankees didn’t muster much offense until late, when the certifiably terrible Kevin Gregg put on an LOLshow. Brett Gardner struck out to end the game (with the tying run on base) after the pitch that should have been ball four was called strike two. He smashed his bat into the ground out of frustration, smashing it to pieces, and I’m pretty confident in saying that if some other players did that (not necessarily on the Yankees), we’d hear about what terrible people they were.
  • Mark Teixeira hit a solo homer, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher had doubles, and Jorge Posada reached base four times (two singles and two walks). Luis Ayala needed 30 pitches to throw a scoreless ninth down three runs.
  • Here’s the box score, here’s the FanGraphs stuff, here’s the standings.

These two teams will play two games tomorrow, with Bartolo Colon and some guy named TBA (either Zach Britton or Chris Tillman, most likely) going for the Orioles at 1pm ET.

Brackman flirts with no-hitter, Tampa plays best game ever

Dante Bichette Jr. is the third hottest prospect in the minors according to this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. In other news, remember Chris Garcia? He signed with the Nationals and was assigned to their High-A squad. I checked to make sure it was actually him and not just another dude with the same name, and it’s him. Hopefully he stays healthy, kid’s got a great arm.

Triple-A Scranton (8-5 loss to Buffalo)
Kevin Russo, LF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 K
Austin Krum, CF & Luis Nunez, 2B: both 0 for 4
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 K
Mike Lamb, DH: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K – second straight game with a homer, fourth in five games
Brandon Laird, 3B & Jordan Parraz, RF: both 2 for 3, 1 2 B, 1 RBI, 1 HBP – Laird scored a run
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 3, 1 BB
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 3.1 IP, 0 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 9 BB, 2 K, 2 WP, 2-3 GB/FB – just 35 of 82 pitches were strikes (42.7%) … hey, the title wasn’t a lie
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K – 0-1 GB/FB – 12 of 19 pitches were strikes (63.2%) … allowed all three of the runners he inherited from Brackman to score
J.C. Romero, LHP: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1 HB, 0-2 GB/FB – just 11 of 28 pitches were strikes (39.3%) … eek
Josh Schmidt, RHP: 3.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 4-4 GB/FB – 26 of 41 pitches were strikes (63.4%)

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