Varce dominates as Staten Island splits two

Just a heads up, the minor league season comes to an end next Monday (High-A Tampa and Short Season Staten Island finish up a day earlier). Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton have already clinched playoff spots, and Tampa should do the same relatively soon. Low-A Charleston and SI are out of the race. Don’t be surprised if Bradley Suttle gets bumped up to Trenton for the playoffs with Rob Lyerly taking his place in Tampa. The Thunder have been missing a bat since Brandon Laird’s promotion. There will also be some pitching moves as well, starting today with George Kontos, John Van Benschoten, Bryan Mitchell, Freddy Lewis, and … wait for it … Pat Venditte!

Meanwhile, Jesus Montero, Eduardo Nunez, and Jon Albaladejo were named to the Triple-A International League end of season All Star Team, so congrats to those guys.

Triple-A Scranton (6-0 loss to Lehigh Valley)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 CS – just seven for his last 28 (.250)
Greg Golson, CF & Jesus Montero, C: both 1 for 4 – Golson doubled & K’ed
Juan Miranda, 1B: 0 for 4
Jorge Vazquez, DH, Chad Huffman, LF & Eric Bruntlett, SS: all 0 for 3 – JoVa K’ed twice, Huffman & Bruntlett once
Colin Curtis, RF: 1 for 3 – threw a runner out at second
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K – two for his last 28 (.071)
Lance Pendleton: 6 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 11-4 GB/FB – 60 of his 104 pitches were strikes (57.7%)
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 0-4 GB/FB – 23 of 34 pitches were strikes (67.6%)

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Yanks set to expand active roster

As the Yanks have wrapped play on August 31, they’ll soon have the option to expand their active roster to 40, and according to Chad Jennings, the team is going to take advantage of the added depth. The Journal News beat writer says that Greg Golson, Jonathan Albaladejo and Chad Moeller will be summoned to the big leagues. The remainder of the Scranton roster will have to take aim at the AAA title without its record-setting closer. Moeller’s promotion will require a 40-man move, but there’s a lot of dead weight on that thing right now.

In addition to these call-ups, the Yankees will activate Lance Berkman from the DL on Sept. 1st as well. Alfredo Aceves could rejoin the Yanks too, and A-Rod will be returned to us on Sunday once his 15-day stint is up as well. For now, Jesus Montero will remain at AAA.

Heyman: Yankees won claim for Ted Lilly

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees recently won the waiver claim for Dodgers lefthander Ted Lilly. Team Torre pulled Lilly back, however, so he will not be traded to anyone, let alone the Bombers. Since the Yanks have the best record in baseball and thus are unable to block anyone, the fact that they claimed him indicates to me that they had sincere interest in acquiring him. Given the struggles of A.J. Burnett, Dustin Moseley, and Javy Vazquez, I can’t say I blame them, though I’m not confident with Lilly in the AL East. Oh well, moot point now anyway.

Game 132: Keep this train a-rollin’

Because these guys have, sadly, not been around much:

A wise man once said: “We won yesterday. If we win today, that’s two in a row. If we win tomorrow, that’s called a winning streak. It has happened before.” The Yanks haven’t had many winning streaks in August, but they’re on one right now thanks to a win last night. Now it’s time to keep that train a-rollin’ to four in a row.

Taking the hill for Oakland will be 23-year-old New Jersey native Vin Mazzaro. He’ll be making his third appearance against the Yankees tonight, and his second in front of the Yankee Stadium crowd. Last time he pitched here he allowed six runs in 4.1 innings. This year he’s been a bit better overall. Like Trevor Cahill, he seems to benefit a ton from the Oakland defense. His 3.61 ERA is quite a distance from his 4.59 FIP and 4.50 xFIP, and about a mile from his 5.07 tERA. Could we see the second night in a row of statistical correction?

Phil Hughes is coming off his worst start of the year, a 3.2-inning, 102-pitch effort in Toronto last week. He’ll look to get back into the six-inning groove tonight. We pay attention to Hughes’s starts because he’s good and has the potential to be better, but his starts are even more interesting now. He’ll enter uncharted innings territory tonight after just 1.2 innings, so it’s tough to know what to expect. I’m also curious to see if he ever plans to work in more curves and changes, or if he’s going to stick with his bread and butter, results be damned, for the rest of the season.

Lineup:

1. Brett Gardner, LF
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Robinson Cano, 2B
5. Nick Swisher, RF
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Marcus Thames, DH
8. Curtis Granderson, CF
9. Ramiro Pena, 3B

And on the mound, number sixty-five, Phil Hughes.

2010 Arizona Fall League rosters announced

Hard to believe that we’re already talking about the Arizona Fall League, but here we are. According to Frankie Piliere, the Yankees are sending Austin Romine, Brandon Laird, Corban Joseph, George Kontos, and Craig Heyer to the desert this year, with a few other roster spots still open. Pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras said the team was sending four pitchers (one starter and three relievers), so I presume those open spots are for the other pitchers.

Manny Banuelos, a logical candidate for an AzFL assignment because of his appendectomy, can’t play in the fall league because his winter ball rights are still controlled by his former team in Mexico. If anything, he’ll pitch for them.

Melky Mesa named Florida State League Player of the Year

With Melky Cabrera jettisoned to the Braves, Melky Mesa took over the crown as the best Melky in the organization, and he cemented that status by being named the Player of the Year in the High-A Florida State League today. This comes after Austin Romine took home the same award last year. The 23-year-old Mesa has a .351 wOBA in 505 plate appearances for High-A Tampa this year, and he’s a duel threat: he’s second in the league with 19 homers and fifth with 31 steals.

The book on Mesa has always been that he’s extremely talented but raw, with his greatest weakness being his inability to make consistent contact. He improved on that this year by bringing his strikeout rate down to 25.3% (it had been in the low-30’s the last few seasons), but needs to continue that improvement to have an impact in the big leagues. Regardless, congrats to him on the award.

Mechanical tweaks or the placebo effect?

When players struggle we want answers. It’s in our nature to seek the cause of a change. When A.J. Burnett fell apart in June we could easily point to Dave Eiland’s absence as the reason. Every time Derek Jeter slumps at least one person claims he’s hiding an injury. If any new player has a tough time it’s clearly because he can’t handle the pressures of playing in New York. The list goes on and on, but it seems that we always search for a single cause to explain everything.

The coaching staff seemingly understands this phenomenon. Every time a player goes through a rough patch we hear about the staff working with him on something specific. Derek Jeter, who prides himself on not using video to analyze his swing, took to the monitors with Kevin Long this season. A-Rod wasn’t hitting for much power, so he and Long worked on opening his hips. The list goes on forever, but two instances this year stand out.

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

For most of the season Curtis Granderson has looked lost at the plate. He has had a few hot streaks and has hit a few big homers, but for the most part his production has declined from even last year, which was a step down from his excellent 2007 and 2008 seasons. Earlier this month he and Long worked on his swing mechanics. Since then he has hit .258/.352/.484, which, while not stellar, is still an improvement. He has also cut down on his strikeout rate and increased his walk rate. It seems as thought the tweaks worked.

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

After a rough start Javy Vazquez returned to form, and from mid-May through the All-Star break he was the Yankees’ second best starter behind CC Sabathia. Vazquez came up particularly huge in June when Burnett had trouble recording outs. But in August Javy experienced difficulties. The Yankees termed it a dead arm, which caused his velocity, already significantly below last year, to fall even further. Not satisfied with just the dead arm explanation, Dave Eiland went to work. As Chad Jennings noted last night, he seems to have found something.

There is a slight mechanical adjustment that seems to be helping Vazquez’s fastball. When he lifts his left leg in his delivery, Vazquez is bringing the leg farther back. It’s not more of a twist, he said, and the leg’s not coming up any higher, it’s just coming a little farther back toward second base.

“The arm angle also has to play a part of it, but (pitching coach Dave Eiland) feels like that’s going to give me better momentum, and it has,” Vazquez said. “The ball was true to where I wanted it to be.”

Considering Vazquez’s success, along with his velocity, during his last two relief appearances, it seems that Eiland’s mechanical tweaks worked. Notice, though, how the word “seems” appears frequently in the preceding paragraphs. It means that we can’t really prove any of these claims.

The problem with using these correlations to create a causal case is that we rarely see an incident with just one cause. We often see myriad little things, rather than one big thing, cause something to happen or to change. Sure, you can see that Granderson keeps both hands on the bat longer, and if you studied video you might be able to see the difference in Vazquez’s leg kick. But there is probably much more going on than we can readily see.

The placebo effect could very well be at work here. Both Granderson and Vazquez knew something was going wrong, so they made efforts to improve. Both instances involved concrete changes — the hands for Granderson, the leg kick for Vazquez — so the players could have a specific area of focus. Now that we’ve seen both players show signs of improvement we can look back to that one instance and attribute the mechanical tweaks to the change. But really, the mechanical tweaks might serve as nothing more than a confidence boost. We have no way of knowing for sure.

A-Rod lacks power, works with Long, hits three homers in a game. Granderson strikes out a lot and has trouble getting on base, works with Long, cuts down on his strikeouts and starts getting on base. Vazquez starts throwing in the mid-80s with poor command, works with Eiland, starts throwing 90 with precision. In all of these cases it’s easy to make the connection, but the easy answer isn’t always the right answer. In a game as complex as baseball there are almost always multiple factors at play, and confidence does not rank least among them. It’s great to see Granderson and Vazquez showing signs of life after working with the coaching staff. But I’m not quite ready to chalk up their recent success to those tweaks. There are just too many other factors at play.