Why Kei Igawa is still a (Scranton) Yankee

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

There’s no denying that one of Brian Cashman‘s biggest mistakes has been the acquisition of Japanese lefty Kei Igawa. After getting blown out of the water on the bidding for Daisuke Matsuzaka by the Red Sox, Cashman and the rest of the brain trust turned to Igawa, who was coming off a five season stretch with the Hanshin Tigers where he topped 200 innings four times (172.1 IP the other year) and posted a 3.14 ERA, 8.59 K/9, and 2.47 BB/9. He wasn’t going to be the ace Dice-K is was supposed to be, but he was expected to solidify the back of a rotation that featured the likes of Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, and Darrell Rasner the year before.

The Yanks won Igawa’s rights with a $26,000,194 bid during the posting process; the extra $194 was an ode to his league leading strikeout total in 2006. They then gave him a five year contract worth $20M, but have gotten basically nothing out of him. Igawa’s Yankee career consists of 71.2 innings of 6.66 ERA, 6.19 FIP, 5.74 xFIP pitching, totaling -0.2 WAR. It’s quite literally $46M flushed down the toilet.

It’s not like the Yankees haven’t had a chance to unload Igawa, either. The Padres claimed the lefty off waivers back in August of 2007, he was part of the Johan Santana trade talks, ditto Mike Cameron, and the Cubs even showed some interest in him as recently as this offseason. None of that materialized, and in hindsight, yeah they should have just let the Padres have him and the $17M or so left on his contract. The Yanks still believed Igawa was salvageable and wanted to try to extract value out of him, but of course that never happened.

Late last night in one of his classic Heard This tweets, Buster Olney said that one reason why the Yanks have yet to deal Igawa is because doing so would cost them big time against the luxury tax. Ben and I couldn’t exactly figure out how that would work (neither could Maury Brown), but Jayson Stark explained the situation back in May:

At least now, you see, Igawa doesn’t count against their luxury-tax payroll because they were able to dump him off the 40-man roster. But if somebody actually wanted him (not that there’s any indication of that), the Yankees would have to pay virtually his entire salary. And that would pull all those dollars back onto their luxury-tax bill, to the tune of a 40 percent tax on whatever they’re paying.

In other words, one GM said, “They have huge incentive not to trade him, even if they could. So he’s one of the all-time stuck-in-purgatory cases.”

Essentially, if the Yanks trade Igawa and eat any of the money left on his deal, it counts against their big league payroll and thus the luxury tax. As long as he’s in the minors and not on the 40-man roster, which has been the case for more than two years now, his salary does not count towards their Major League payroll. The luxury tax isn’t cheap, 40% for every dollar on the payroll in excess of $170M, so they’d be looking at $2.2M in extra luxury tax if they deal Igawa today and ate every dollar left on his deal. That’s pocket change for the Yanks, but is it worth paying on top of Igawa’s salary just to get rid of him? Nah.

There’s a lot of venom towards Igawa and his sunglasses for obvious reasons, but I dunno, having him in Triple-A doesn’t bother me as much as it does some others. It’s not like he’s blocking an actual prospect, he’s just the veteran swingman/long man that every Triple-A team employs to soak up miscellaneous innings here and there. Does it suck that the Yanks still have to pay him another $4M next year? Sure, but they’re stuck paying that money anyway. Might as well get something out of him.

So until his contract expires after next season, Igawa is stuck in Scranton, not wanted by the Yankees, not wanted back in Japan. His occasional appearance in DotF is a reminder of just how poorly this deal turned out.

Grounders and strikeouts help A.J. avoid trouble

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

It’s hard to argue with a scoreless performance. Sure, the Indians have the third-worst offense in the AL. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to hold them scoreless. In fact, neither of the Yankees’ pitchers who went before Burnett accomplished that feat. He allowed 10 baserunners along the way, which is a rough number when you pitch just 6.1 innings. But Burnett’s performance allowed for a few extra baserunners. He was that good.

When a pitcher allows runners to reach base he can help himself out in two ways. First, he can strike out the subsequent hitters and leave the baserunners stranded. Second, he can get groundballs, which 1) can lead to groundouts, 2) prevents the runners from advancing too far, and 3) can produce a double play. While Burnett did allow 10 men to reach base, including five to lead off an inning, he mitigated this by striking out seven and keeping nine of 16 balls in play on the ground. That prevented the Indians from doing much after reaching base.

There were more good signs from A.J., too. For the year his four-seamer had been averaging 93.1 MPH, as had his two-seamer. In last night’s game he averaged 94 with each. It’s tough to make much of one start — there are enough PitchFX issues that comparing one start to an entire season’s worth of data might produce misleading results. The gun in Cleveland, however, appears to be in working order. It had Javy and CC right around where they’d been all season. It’s encouraging, then, to see Burnett dialing it up with the fastball.

As his strikeouts indicate, Burnett was also getting plenty of swings and misses. For the year his swinging strike rate is down to 7.3 percent from 8.2 percent last year and 10.3 percent in 2008. Last night he got 12 whiffs on his 114 pitches, or 10.5 percent. That’s more like it. Most of them came on his curveball (6) and his two-seamer (5). He got just one whiff on his four-seamer, and didn’t get any swings and misses on either of the two changeups he threw. It’s not like he needed that fourth pitch last night.

It was, in almost every way, a good night for Burnett. He got into some trouble by allowing leadoff runners to hit, but then he went to work, inducing grounders and striking out Indians to prevent them from scoring. It was the work of a true No. 2 pitcher, the guy the Yanks are paying $17.5 million per year. More starts like this would be appreciated.

Yanks pound Indians for sixth win in eight games

Fresh off a frustrating loss to yet another rookie pitcher, the Yankees showed up to the park on Wednesday with payback on their minds. After a 42 minute rain delay stalled first pitch, Fausto Carmona, the Indians’ All Star representative who is having a legitimately good season (3.59 tRA coming into this game), couldn’t make it out of the third before the Yanks hung a seven spot on him. The final score was as lopsided as you’d expect. Both the Rays and Red Sox won their games, so the lead over those two teams in the AL East remains at two and seven games, respectively.

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Biggest Hit: Take Your Pick

It’s always good when you can’t decide which hit was the biggest of the game from an emotional standpoint. That usually means the Yanks won in a big way. WPA says that Mark Teixeira‘s two run 2nd inning single (through the teeth of the shift!) to give the Yanks a 4-0 lead was the biggest hit of the game, but Brett Gardner‘s run scoring single earlier that inning to make it 2-0 was pretty close, ditto Alex Rodriguez‘s 1st inning single to open the scoring. All three improved the Yanks’ chances of winning by about ten percent.

Tack on runs were provided by Curtis Granderson (triple in the 3rd), Robbie Cano (solo homer in the 4th), Nick Swisher (single in the 3rd), and Gardner again (double in the 3rd). Aside from the score, the big offensive story of the night is how the Yanks simply wore Carmona out. The Indians’ righthander threw just 16 pitches while giving up a run in the 1st, but the Bombers forced him to throw 36 pitches in the three run 2nd inning before making him throw another 21 in a three run 3rd while recording just two outs. The Yanks’ batters were patient, fouling off tough pitches and making Carmona pay when he made a mistake. It was vintage Yankee offense.

Moderately Good A.J.

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

A.J. Burnett provided five scoreless innings in his last start before an extended rain delay cut his outing short, but he continued to roll right into this game. Even though the leadoff batter reached base in each of the first five innings, just one Cleveland baserunner made it to third base while Burnett was on the mound, and the righty navigated through trouble thanks to seven strikeouts, six ground balls, a pair of double plays, and a baserunner gunned down trying to steal.

It certainly wasn’t Burnett’s best outing – a better team makes him pay for all those leadoff runners – but after a dreadful June he finished July with 11 consecutive scoreless innings and a dead even 2.00 ERA in five starts. He’s certainly not out of the woods yet, but at least A.J.’s going in the right direction now.

Gallimaufry

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

So it looks like Joba Chamberlain‘s new role is 7th inning fireman in blowouts. He entered the game with a man on first and one out in the 7th inning, proceeded to balk the runner to second before escaping the jam on two fly balls hit relatively deep (not to the warning track, though) to right. Joba threw eight fastballs and two sliders, hitting 97 mph three times and 96 twice. Still lots of work to do here, folks.

Sergio Mitre finished things off with two scoreless innings with a quarter of his 20 strikes (32 pitches overall) coming on swings and misses. I’m sure the Indians’ batters were looking to just get this one over with, but that’s still nice to see.

While on the subject of the bullpen, I know it’s been a sore spot all season, but I don’t see why Burnett had to go back out to start the 7th with his pitch count already at 105. Same deal with CC Sabathia last night, who ended up throwing over 120 pitches. It’s okay to take the foot off the gas every once in a while, especially with an eight run lead. Those bullets are best used at another time.

Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher combined to go one-for-nine with a walk tonight. The other seven regulars combined to go 12-for-30 (.400) with six extra base hits and a walk. That’ll do.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Big ups to Granderson for that great slide hooking around Carlos Santana to get the plate for the Yanks’ second run in the early going. Thing of beauty. Bet you didn’t know the Grandy man is hitting .339/.375/.559 over the last three weeks or so.

Two days later, and Ken Singleton is still calling him “Shin-So Choo.” Grinds my gears. Oh, and speaking of grinding my gears, how about that douche grabbing the foul ball from the kid in the 4th inning? I have no tolerance for that crap, be an adult and put a smile on some kid’s face. You shouldn’t even have to think about it.

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

A-Rod didn’t hit his 600th career homer tonight, but he did go 2-for-5 with the RBI single and a booming double. He literally took the base with him on the two-bagger, rolling on his back with the base in his hands (as you can see above). Alex will give the whole milestone homerun thing another go tomorrow.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Solid, I’ll take it every time. MLB.com has the traditional box score, FanGraphs the new age stuff.

Up Next

The Yanks will try to take three-of-four for the second straight series when they send Dustin Moseley to the mound for his first start of the season tomorrow. Based on Mitre’s usage tonight, I assume Chad Gaudin will be Moseley’s caddy. He’ll be opposed by Mitch Talbot. Fitting that the Yanks will face the former Ray before heading to St. Pete for the weekend.

Heathcott drives in three in Charleston win

Yankee farmhands will be assigned to the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League this season, and their manager will be none other than Don Mattingly. Rosters won’t be released for a while. Hard to believe we’re talking about the AzFL already, where does the time go?

Triple-A Scranton (8-6 loss to Norfolk)
Kevin Russo, LF: 3 for 5, 1 R, 2 RBI – threw a runner out at second … 11 for his last 36 (.306)
Eric Bruntlett, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 0 for 5
Chad Tracy, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB – mashin’
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 PB – it was a ten pitch walk
Jorge Vazquez, DH & Reegie Corona, 2B: both 2 for 5 – JoVa scored a run & K’ed … Corona stole two bases
Chad Huffman, RF: 3 for 5, 1 R, 2 RBI
Reid Gorecki, CF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K
David Phelps: 3 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 3-3 GB/FB – 39 of 69 pitches were strikes (56.5%) … I suspect the Yanks will look to some of their minor league starters for bullpen help down the stretch, and he’s not helping his cause
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 3 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 3-2 GB/FB – 34 of 51 pitches were strikes (66.7%) … he’s thrown just 9.1 IP in the last 30 days
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 18 of his 33 pitches were strikes (54.5%) … he’s broke’d, hopefully not permanently
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0-4 GB/FB – 20 of his30 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 100: And on the 100th game, it rained

That photo came courtesy of Mark Feinsand about 20 minutes ago, and you can see the Yankees scattering off the field after batting practice while the grounds crew runs out to get the tarp on the field. The AccuWeather guy said during the pregame show that the game is likely to be delayed for an hour so, but there’s enough of a window to play tonight.

It also rained during A.J. Burnett‘s last start, when he held the Royals scoreless through five innings before getting washed out. Both Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin are available at length tonight, though I’m sure Joe Girardi doesn’t want to use both guys tonight with Dustin Moseley starting tomorrow. Thankfully the Indians are throwing Fausto Carmona tonight and not some rookie no one’s ever heard of. The Yanks have actually seen this guy before.

Here’s the lineup, which features a somewhat less-achy Jorge Posada

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, DH
Granderson, CF
Cervelli, C
Gardner, LF

And on the bump, it’s A.J. Burnett.

In case you haven’t heard, the Indians traded Jhonny Peralta to the Tigers within the last few minutes, so he won’t be around to make four outs on six pitches tonight. For shame. Whenever the game starts, you can watch on YES. In the interim, the Mets and Cardinals are on ESPN (and SNY, of course). Enjoy the game, hopefully it starts soon enough.

Update 7:10 p.m.: The Indians say first pitch is now schedule for 7:40 p.m.

Pettitte ‘feeling good’ down in Tampa

As Andy Pettitte works his way back from a strained groin, the left-hander told the Associated Press yesterday that he is “feeling good.” As part of his rehab, he went through running and agility drills and made approximately 90 throws. He has been out since July 18 and hopes to make a quick return to the mound. Dustin Moseley will start in his place tomorrow.

In other injury news, Al Aceves is ready to take the next step in his return from a back injury. After throwing a bullpen session yesterday, Aceves will either throw live batting practice later this week or head out on a rehab assignment. Anything they get out of the Mexican Gangster this year will be gravy and could be a huge boost to the team’s beleaguered bullpen as well.

If the Yanks make a big move, it will come in August

Joel Sherman passes along some excellent advice: “Avoid writing what is not going to happen.” I read that line as I was 800 words into an article examining why the Yankees won’t look into two possible upgrades in the starting rotation, Roy Oswalt and Carlos Zambrano. The loss to me: 30 minutes of my life. The gain for you: the cost of reading some thoughts on moves that will not happen. I think we all win at least a little in this transaction.

To Sherman’s larger point, the chances of the Yankees making a deadline deal do not look optimistic. Instead their deadline dealings will probably resemble what they did last year. Acquiring a bench bat, or maybe a low-profile bullpen arm, is all we’ll probably see from Cashman and Co. by the time the non-wavier deadline passes at 4 p.m on Saturday.

That doesn’t mean that the Yankees will stay put. It just means that they won’t pursue any of the names currently available. That’s not only because they’re luxuries and not needs, but also because many of them will be available for another month. Plenty of interesting players will clear waivers, which will open the way for deals. This group will certainly include a number of starting pitchers.

All of this works in the Yankees’ favor. As we move through August the team will have a better idea of how Phil Hughes is reacting to the increased workload. They’ll also have a better assessment of Pettitte’s injury. If they feel they need a starter after that, they should have options available. If they don’t, they can save the money and prospects by sticking with in-house options.

There still exists a possibility of a pre-deadline move. Brian Cashman works quickly and stealthily, so anything is possible at any time. But considering the potential August trade market, they might choose to just wait it out. There will be options later, and those options might not be any worse than the ones they have right now.

As to Oswalt and Zambrano, it’s not happening. I kinda just wanted to drum up something on them to get everyone talking, but really that wouldn’t be a productive discussion. Both are owed too much money, more than they’re ultimately worth. While the Cubs would likely kick in some cash, there are some other negatives from Zambrano that make even a complete salary dump a questionable move. If the Yanks do acquire a starter, it will likely be a name we haven’t seen them associated with yet.