Game 95: No Swish

Hold up. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

There was a little bit of bad news not too long ago, as Nick Swisher had be scratched from the lineup with a sore achillies. Swish missed time earlier this year with a sore biceps, and hopefully this is just another minor ailment that’ll keep him out for no more than a few days.

One guy who will be in tonight’s game is A.J. Burnett, who has some work to do to get back on everyone’s good side. He slammed his pitching (his pitching hand!!!) against a clubhouse door in frustration last time out, removing any shred of effectiveness he had left against the Rays. Pitching well against a pushover team like the Royals tonight is a good first step back. Since they’ve pitched in each of the last two games, I’m guessing A.J. won’t enjoy the benefit of having David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen behind him.

Here’s the rest of the starters…

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

And on the bump, it’s A.J. Burnett. Hopefully he won’t be slamming any doors after this one. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm and can be seen on YES.

The pursuit of 600 and ticket prices

Click the graphic to enlarge.

Via our partners at TiqIQ comes a chart showcasing the downward trend in weekend ticket prices. Even as A-Rod sits on the precipice of his historic 600th home run, ticket prices haven’t, by and large, increased this weekend. In fact, they seem to be trending downward.

The obvious question is why? Shouldn’t prices move up as history nears? One factor pushing prices down could be general A-Rod malaise. At the Pinstriped Bible, Steven Goldman posits that the cheapening of the home run milestones combined with the inevitability of A-Rod’s reaching the mark and general coolness toward him have combined to lend the act an air of something less historical than it otherwise would have. Sometimes, the media drives this narrative, but even without A-Rod’s PED revelations, 600 is just another number.

On the other hand, A-Rod is the youngest player in baseball history to reach 600, and as last night’s crowd reaction to his eighth inning double showed, the fans want to see him launch this home run. I blame the Royals and the weather. First, the Royals are an uninspired opponent. They’re 41-54 with few inspiring players and no gate attractions. These prices aren’t too out of line with any other weekend summer game, and the Royals don’t draw fans to the game. With rain in the forecast tonight and a heat advisory bringing another 95-degree day tomorrow, the ballpark is a less appealing place to roast away under the sun.

For those looking to get in on the A-Rod action, TiqIQ has seats in prime zones. You’ve got Field Level outfield seats for tonight under $60, Saturday bleacher seats for under $20 and Main Outfield seats less than $45.

Deadline dealing: D-backs listening on Haren

Luis Gonazlez’s RBI single that fell just to the edge of the outfield where Derek Jeter could have caught it had the infield not been in seems like just yesterday to Yankee fans. To the Diamondbacks, though, that moment of glory is long gone. This year’s team, currently 37-59, miles away from first place, is en route to a second consecutive last place finish, and with the trade deadline near, Arizona is holding a very attractive piece in pitcher Dan Haren.

To the uninitiated, Haren might not seem like much. His 7-8 record with a 4.60 ERA is nothing to write about, but those numbers, as they so often don’t, can’t capture the full story. Outside of Roy Oswalt, Haren is the best pitcher still available at the deadline this year. In 141 innings, he has struck out 141 hitters, best in the NL, and he’s walking just under two per nine innings pitched. The home runs have been his bugaboo this year, but even while surrendering 23 longballs, his FIP is still a nifty 3.84 and his xFIP 3.39.

And so, inevitably, many teams are interested in Dan Haren, and Buster Olney just happened to hear this: The Yankees are one of them. Even though Andy Pettitte will probably be out only for a few weeks, targeting Haren makes perfect sense. The right-hander would be a fit for any contender, and the Yankees know that pitching is what will separate the AL champion from the rest of the very competitive pack. The club also realizes that Phil Hughes is facing an innings limit. Haren would give them a plus arm as the innings mount.

Haren, though, will not come cheap. He’s signed through 2012 with a $15.5 million club option for 2013, and he’s set to make only $12.75 million in both 2011 and 2012. In a market where A.J. Burnett and John Lackey can both make upwards of $82 million for five years, Haren’s deal is a downright steal. The Yankees know that; the Diamondbacks know that; any team kicking the tires on Haren knows that.

Once upon a time, Arizona had let it be known that they wanted two Major League pitchers in exchange for Haren, and potential partners let it be know that the D-backs were off their collective rockers. Now, though, the price has come down, but the team still wants an A-plus package. “Ideally what we would ask for is major-league ready pitching, be it starters and/or bullpen, and prospects,” club CEO Derrick Hall said yesterday. “The volume doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be four or five or six guys. It’s really about the quality.”

The Yankees match up, and as Jayson Stark said yesterday, the club is quietly letting other teams know they want to make some deals. Currently, says Stark (second item), the Yankees are “actively talking” with Arizona. If the deal “just involves prospects, they appear poised to jump into those talks aggressively.” In fantasyland, the Yankees could try to offer a Hector Noesi, a Romulo Sanchez or an Ivan Nova for Haren, but the realistic trade proposal probably starts with Joba Chamberlain.

Despite nearing arbitration, Joba is still cost-controlled, young and a viable Major League pitcher. He could be a starter; he could be a bullpen guy; he could be both. Depending on the prospects — and it always depends upon the prospects — the Yanks should be willing in a heartbeat to flip Joba in a Haren trade. Maybe that too has an element of fantasy in it, but it’s a fair starting point for both sides.

Any trade for Haren would have a cascade effect on the Yanks’ plans and would probably shift their off-season targets from another pitcher to a bat. With Haren on board, Cliff Lee wouldn’t be as imperative of a pick-up for the club, and it’s debatable if the Yanks would have room for him in their budget. If Andy Pettitte were to return for 2011, a decision that many beat writers have said seems to be an inevitable, the rotation would effectively be full. But I’m getting ahead of the situation a bit.

Today, at least four teams, including the Tigers, Phillies and Cardinals, are very interested in Haren. If the Yankees are serious, they have the pieces to get the deal done, and with the trade deadline eight days away, the speculation will wrong strong until then. Buckle up; it’s time for that wild ride that is late July.

RAB on the Off The Wall podcast

Just a heads up, I sat down for a chat with Joe Auriemma of the YES Network’s Off The Wall podcast yesterday, and we basically covered the Yankees’ farm system head to toe. We touched on all the big names like Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, Ivan Nova, and personal fave Eduardo Nunez, but we also hit on the Rookie level GCL team too. Make sure you give it a listen, it’s the second on the list when you click the link.

RAB Live Chat

Not the best or worst of nights for Sabathia

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Looking at the scoreboard and nothing else, it would appear that CC had a so-so night against the Royals. He allowed four runs, three earned through just 6.1 innings, which is a few outs short of a typical Sabathia start. He did strike out nine, nice because his strikeout rate is down a bit at this point and we know he started heating up during the summer months last year. But those 11 hits stand out. So do the 120 pitches he threw to record those 19 outs.

Really, though, it wasn’t that bad a game for Sabathia. Of the 19 balls he allowed in play, eight were hit on the ground. That’s a good thing. While the AL hits to a slightly better batting average on ground balls, .231, than fly balls, .222, those ground balls rarely go for extra bases. AL hitters have produced a .248 SLG on grounders and a .577 SLG on fly balls. So while grounders might result in a few extra men on base, they hurt a lot less than balls hit in the air.

This plays right to the Royals’ game. As Joe Posnanski chronicled earlier in the week, the Royals pick up base hits and little else. They’re first in the majors in batting average, but they’re just seventh in OBP and 10th in SLG. They hit, sure. But they also make plenty of outs and they have a hard time advancing runners multiple bases. It’s no surprise that the team has a .325 wOBA that ranks ninth in the AL.

Despite the high hit and undesirable run totals, we can take plenty of positives from this outing. For instance, CC’s strikeout rate is slightly down this year, 7.4 per nine. Last night he struck out nine Royals. His average velocity this season, according to PitchFX, has been 93.4 mph. Last night he averaged almost a mile per hour faster, 94.25 mph, and topped out at 96.5. He hit 96 plenty of times in the sixth inning, even though he had lost his control by that point.

Sometimes those ground balls will find holes. Thankfully, they don’t do much damage if you can keep inducing those grounders. That’s the beauty of the situation. While hitters reach base more often when hitting the ball on the ground, they’re also vulnerable to the double play with a man on and less than two outs. So if one guy hits one on the ground through a hole, the next guy might do the same thing and erase both runners. CC has an added weapon in that he can strike out hitters and therefore leave more of them stranded. Again, that’s what we saw a lot of last night.

Remember, too, that there were other little things for which we can’t blame Sabathia. In the first inning, for instance, Billy Butler would have grounded into an inning-ending force out, but the runner was moving. That forced Robinson Cano to move from exactly the spot where Butler hit the grounder. And then there’s Jorge Posada‘s head-scratching throw to third. But that’s for another day. All of this hurt Sabathia even further.

One thing we can be sure of: his early season trouble are over. He did have some, for sure, but lately all we’ve seen is vintage CC. In his last 13 starts he has pitched 91 innings while striking out 81 and walking 33. He has allowed 83 hits in that span on a .306 BABIP. And, after struggling with the homer earlier in the season he hasn’t allowed a single on in his last nine starts.

Some of the numbers make last night’s outing look like middling, but looking it a bit deeper it was actually pretty good. The nine strikeouts are encouraging, as are the ground balls. It’s just that some of them found holes last night. If CC pitches similarly next time out I suspect that his line will look a lot more attractive.

A-Rod, Jeter, Sabathia among the highest earning athletes in 2010

Yeah, the title is rather obvious. Of course those guys are among the highest paid American athletes this year, they all have contracts worth well into nine-figures. Alex Rodriguez trails only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and LeBron James in earnings this year, taking in a total of $37M between his salary ($33M) and endorsements ($4M). Derek Jeter is three spots behind him after banking $31M ($21M in salary, $10M in endorsements), and CC Sabathia five spots behind him at $26.5M ($26M salary, $0.5K endorsements). Those three are the only baseball players in the top 25.

Mark Teixiera comes in at No. 35 overall with a $20.25M payday ($20M salary, $0.25M endorsements), and A.J. Burnett No. 50 closes the list with $16.775M in the bank ($16.5M salary, $0.25M endorsements).  John Lackey, Vernon Wells, Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Barry Zito, Torii Hunter, Josh Beckett, and David Ortiz are the only other baseball players to crack the list. They claim it’s American athletes only, and even have a separate list for international athletes, but somehow Ortiz qualifies. Eh, whatever. All this does is confirm what we already know: it’s good to be a Yankee.