Game 54: One-Third

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The Yankees will play game number 54 tonight (weather permitting) and are exactly one-third of the way through the 2012 season. A win tonight puts them in a tie for first place in the AL East (in the loss column), which is right where you want to be. Well, you’d like to be ten games up everyone, but that’s not realistic in this division. Not at this time of the year, anyway. The Rays are in town  for the biggest series of the year to date, and Andy Pettitte will look to set the tone for the rest of the homestand. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
LF Raul Ibanez
RF Nick Swisher
DH Eric Chavez
Russell Martin

LHP Andy Pettitte

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

David Robertson Update: Robertson (oblique) threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium and said he’s pain-free. It’s just a matter of getting back into the swing of things. He hopes to be back in 8-10 days.

Yankees sign Ricky Orta to minor league deal

Via Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed right-hander Ricky Orta to a minor league contract. The 27-year-old was the Mariners’ fourth round pick in 2006 but missed all of 2010 and most of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery. He signed a minor league deal with the Rays last season and only managed four appearances (eight innings) before the end of the season.

Orta isn’t a starter long-term but he’s an interesting relief prospect. He runs his fastball up to the mid-90s and has a decent breaking ball, enough for middle relief work. The Yankees could send him to either High-A Tampa or Double-A Trenton and get about 40 innings to evaluate him this summer. If they like what they see, they could retain him going forward and have a potentially useful arm. Orta’s never pitched above Double-A, so he has all three minor league options left. It’s an interesting move, certainly more interesting than the typical minor league signings.

The fascinating and depressing state of the Yankees with RISP

The Yankees have officially hit rock bottom. With a .219 batting average with runners in scoring position, the Yankees rank dead last in the AL.* There’s really not much left to say about this. It seems unfathomable that the Yankees can hit .281 without runners in scoring position and .219 with prime opportunities to score.

*The A’s did manage to raise their BA with RISP by 11 points last night, so there’s hope, I suppose.

The oddities don’t end there, though. For instance, while the scoring position situation is bad enough by itself, the Yankees have a real issue when hitting with a runner on third base. When they don’t have a runner on third they’re hitting .276. Any time a runner is standing on third, though, the bats simply die. They’re hitting just .173, 29 for 168, in those situations.

Having multiple men on base is usually a boon for the offense. Pitchers find themselves in a spot, because they’re running out of places to put hitters. But the Yankees let opponents off the hook in these situations, hitting just .196, 50 for 255. When there is just one man on base the Yankees are hitting .275.

Man on first? No problem. The Yankees frequently move that man over, hitting a whopping .291. Unfortunately, they then have multiple men on base, which we’ve seen causes trouble. Once they get that hit with a man on first, putting runners on first and second or first and third, they’re hitting just .205. Their power is their saving grace here, as seven of their 33 hits in these situations have cleared the fence.

We’ve all seen the Yankees’ disastrous results with the bases loaded. To their advantage, the top four hitters in the order have seen the most PA with the bases loaded. To their detriment, they’re a combined 5 for 35. Three players — Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, and Eric Chavez — are hitless in a combined 18 PA with the bases loaded, though all three have at least one RBI. Andruw Jones doesn’t have a batting average with the bases loaded, having walked and hit a sac fly in his two PA. Nick Swisher, 2 for 4 with a homer and a double; Chris Stewart, 1 for 2; and Mark Teixeira, 1 for 3 with two walks and a double, have been the most effective Yankees with the bases loaded.

If one thing is made clear, it’s that these numbers are absolutely absurd. They just don’t add up, given how well the Yankees hit overall. That gives me some faith that in time they’ll turn around. Until then, though, we must suffer this seeming parody. Then again, they do continue winning. They took two of three in Detroit while going 5 for 31 with runners in scoring position, and went 6-3 on the road trip despite hitting .202 (17 for 84) with RISP. As Ben said to me yesterday, if the Yankees actually figured out how to hit with runners in scoring position they’d never lose a game.

6/5-6/7 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Separated by one game in the loss column in the AL East, the Yankees and Rays will meet for the third time this season over the next few days. Tampa swept the season opening series at Tropicana Field before New York took two of three in Yankee Stadium early last month. First place is on the line … but it’s only June so it’s not like this is a huge series. It is the biggest of the season to date, however.

What Have They Done Lately?

Despite sitting atop the AL East with a 31-23 record and a +18 run differential, the Rays have actually lost five of their last eight games. They did take two of three from the fading Orioles over the weekend, contributing to their league best 19-11 home record. Tampa’s 12-12 road record is another matter.

Offense

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Sitting just below the league average a 4.26 runs per game, the Rays own a perfectly average 100 wRC+ as a team and really miss the injured Evan Longoria (167 wRC+). The offense has instead been carried by Matt Joyce (162 wRC+), who has held his own against left-handers (133 wRC+) in the early going. Desmond Jennings (114 wRC+) is likely to return from the DL to reinforce the top of the order at some point this series if not tonight. He’s been out with a knee issue.

Staples like B.J. Upton (117 wRC+), Carlos Pena (108 wRC+), and Ben Zobrist (103 wRC+) have been no worse than average but have a tendency to perform better than that against the Yankees. Luke Scott (98 wRC+) has been in a prolonged slump (87 wRC+ in May) and is losing playing time to former Yankee Hideki Matsui (100 wRC+). Godzilla has three hits in his 16 plate appearances, including two homers. Miscellaneous annoying infielders like Drew Sutton (53 wRC+), Sean Rodriguez (80 wRC+), Will Rhymes (81 wRC+), and Elliot Johnson (104 wRC+) have been anywhere from bad to average while both catchers — Jose Lobaton (56 wRC+) and Jose Molina (57 wRC+) — have been awful. Rich Thompson (-27 wRC+) is basically a pinch-runner/defensive replacement in the outfield.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Jamie Shields
This will already be the third time the Yankees are facing Shields this season. The first go ’round (six runs in five innings) went much better than the second (three runs in six innings), but I think we all know how good he can be. Shields has pitched to a 3.95 ERA with a 3.59 FIP, with career bests in strikeout (9.12 K/9 and 23.8 K%) and ground ball (59.0%) rate. His walk rate (2.71 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%) is a career worst though, and his 1.11 HR/9 is up there. Shields is the master at pitching backwards, using his various offspeed pitches — low-80s curveball, upper-80s slider, and world-class mid-80s changeup — to setup his three upper-80s/low-90s fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter). He’s a tough assignment, no doubt about it.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Wednesday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Alex Cobb
Cobb has made three solid starts (3.71 ERA and 3.20 FIP) since replacing Jeff Niemann in the rotation; he had a comebacker fracture his leg. He’s primarily a ground ball guy (57.1%), not a strikeout (6.35 K/9 and 15.4 K%) or low-walk (3.71 BB/9 and 9.0 BB%) type. Cobb uses four pitches, including a pair of upper-80s fastballs in the four and two-seamer. He also throws a mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. The Yankees faced Cobb once last year, though he held them to two runs (one earned) in six innings. At least they’re not going in blind.

Thursday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP David Price
My Cy Young pick has cooled off a bit after a roaring start, pitching to a 2.44 ERA and a 3.24 FIP in his eleven starts. His strikeout rate (7.57 K/9 and 20.7 K%) is his worst in three years and his walk rate (2.81 BB% and 7.7 BB%) jumped a bit after a career-low last season, but his ground ball rate (52.6%) is his best ever. Price is another three fastball — mid-90s two-seamer, mid-90s four-seamer, low-90s cutter — guy with three offspeed pitches — upper-80s slider, upper-70s curveball, low-80s changeup. The Yankees have seen him two already this season with good results (five runs in seven innings) and bad results (two runs in 6.1 innings). You know how good he is.

(J. Meric/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
Like the Yankees, the Rays had Monday off so their bullpen is rested. New York has the added advantage of getting a complete game from Phil Hughes on Sunday, so the bullpen has really had two full days off. Good stuff.

Anyway, Tampa’s bullpen is anchored by the reborn Fernando Rodney, who’s pitched to a 2.19 FIP thanks to his newfound ability to throw strikes (1.37 BB/9 and 4.0 BB%). Homer prone setup man Joel Peralta (4.10 FIP) has pitched better after a few rough weeks to start the season, and situational ground ball (55.0%) righty Burke Badenhop (4.25 FIP) lends a hand from time to time. Long man Wade Davis (3.48 FIP) is the only other right-hander in the bullpen.

The Rays have three left-handers to deploy in various situations. Jake McGee (1.35 FIP) is the hard-throwing guy that will pitch to both lefties and righties but J.P. Howell (4.77 FIP) is the soft-tossing specialist. Cesar Ramos (4.40 FIP) is a low-leverage mop-up type who is far from a roster lock. He could be sent down and replaced with another disposable arm at any time. Overall, the Tampa relief corps is in the middle of the pack with a 3.72 FIP. For the latest and greatest on the division rivals from Florida, check out DRays Bay.

2012 Draft: Day Two LiveBlog

After needing more than four hours for 60 selections last night, the amateur draft moves to a rapid fire conference call this afternoon (audio, Draft Tracker). Rounds 2-15 will take place via conference call today, and the Yankees have two picks right out of the chute at numbers 89 and 94 overall. The former is compensation for failing to sign second rounder Sam Stafford last year, the latter is their natural second rounder. The full draft order can be found here and the slot values for New York’s picks can be found here.

Use this thread and liveblog to talk about all things draft today. Please keep the draft talk in the draft threads and be mindful of our Commenting Guidelines. Thanks in advance.

2012 Draft: Preparing for Day Two

Oppenheimer. (Linda Cataffo/NYDN)

Now that the pomp and circumstance is over with, we can finally get down to the nuts and bolts of the draft. The best players tend to come from the first round but the vast majority of drafted big leaguers do not. The solid regulars, role players, and the like are usually drafted in the middle-to-late rounds and that’s how organizational depth is built. Turning a top ten selection into a star is one thing, turning a third rounder into Brett Gardner or a 17th rounder into David Robertson is another.

As we gear up for Day Two, let’s take a look ahead at what might be in store for one of the most unpredictable days on the baseball calendar.

The Basics
The draft resumes at noon ET today and will cover rounds 2-15. It’ll be conducted via conference call (available on MLB.com) and the picks will come rapid fire, none of this five (or even one) minutes between selections nonsense. The Yankees have two second rounders (#89 and 94 overall) and one pick in each subsequent round for a total of 15 choices this afternoon. Yes, there will be a liveblog.

Saving Draft Pool Space
A number of clubs with multiple Day One picks — specifically the Cardinals and Rangers — already grabbed low cost players in an effort to save draft pool space by eventually signing those players to below slot deals so they can redistribute the savings elsewhere. I expect the Yankees to do the same thing at some point today, perhaps even as soon as with one of their two second rounders. Both of those picks are valued at over $500k each, so going cheap with one could result in substantial savings.

The question is this: is it better to save say, $400k by going cheap on one of the two second rounders or by going cheap in the seventh, eight, ninth, and tenth rounds? Given the expected return on late picks, you can make a very strong case the latter is preferable. Then again, the board will play a factor. If there are two top talents sitting there in the second round, the Yankees could grab both and figure out the money thing later. If not, they could try to get the savings all at once. The point is, it’s better to have the extra cash and not need it than to need it and not have it. Expect a money-saving selection(s) at some point.

More Prep Players?
The Yankees were connected to high school arms quite heavily the last few weeks and that’s exactly what they took in first rounder Ty Hensley. The number of top prep players still on the board greatly outweighs the number of interesting college folk, so chances are the Yankees will lean towards high schoolers again today. I think a perfect world scenario would call for adding one of RHP Duane Underwood or RHP Ty Buttrey to Hensley in the second round, giving the Yankees two high-end arms at the core of their draft haul. That would be amazing. I would be surprised if either lasts that long, however.

At some point I would expect Damon Oppenheimer & Co. to start targeting polished college arms given their track record, more fodder for that bullpen pipeline. That usually happens in the later rounds though, plus the new spending restrictions could really throw a wrench into things. Then again, guys like Chase Whitley, Branden Pinder, and Mark Montgomery all signed for five figures. The Yankees have a knack for digging these guys up.

* * *

Other than RHP Mark Appel and RHP Lucas Giolito, we didn’t see any top talents slide on Day One and those two really didn’t fall that far at all. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement was designed to get the best talent to the worst teams and that’s what happened. It makes for a very straight forward draft with relatively few surprises. I think it’ll take the clubs another year or two before they really figure out the best way to operate under the new system and land the best talent despite the spending restrictions.

2012 Draft: Best Available on Day Two

The Yankees went big with their first round pick on Monday night, taking prep right-hander Ty Hensley with the 30th overall selection. Both Baseball America and Keith Law (subs. req’d) listed the ten best available players still available this morning, with no expected first rounders still on the board. I recommend checking out BA’s top 500 rankings; you can sort by drafted or undrafted with a lot more players listed. High school arms RHP Duane Underwood and RHP Trey Buttrey have been connected to the Yankees in recent weeks and remain available, though New York’s approach from here on out remains to be seen.