Joe Girardi and the Cubs

Two days ago, former Yankees’ player and manager Lou Piniella announced his retirement from baseball, effective at the end of the season. It wasn’t exactly a surprising announcement, and the popular belief was that he was not going to return to the Cubs as their manager next year one way or the other. His contract is up, the team is underperforming, and new ownership just took over. The entire front office regime could change as well.

Sure enough, there has since been plenty of speculation that Piniella’s successor could be none other than current Yanks’ manager Joe Girardi. And why not? It makes plenty of sense on the surface. Girardi (and, I believe, his wife, but don’t quote me on that) grew up not far from the Windy City in Peoria. He went to school at Northwestern in Chicago, was drafted by the Cubs and broke into the majors with them before returning for a second stint later in his career. His roots in Chicago obviously run very deep. It’s a match made in baseball heaven: a manager with success in a large market coming back to manage his hometown team. They make movies out of this stuff.

Clearly, Girardi is a favorite of GM Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner family. They basically handpicked him for his current job after the 2007 season, stuck by him during the disappointment of 2008, and heaped loads of praise on him for last year’s World Championship. Even though the organization does not negotiate new contracts with its members until their current deals expire, it was a foregone conclusion that the Yankees would re-sign Girardi to a very lucrative deal after his contract ended this winter. There was no reason to suspect otherwise, at least not until all this Piniella stuff happened.

If nothing else, the Cubs’ opening gives Girardi some serious leverage when the time comes for his new deal. His current contract has an average annual value of $2.5M, which is above the league average but not insane. It also includes incentives based on how far the team advances in the playoffs. For comparison’s sake, Terry Francona makes $4M annually, Ron Gardenhire about $3M. Even though the 2010 season is a long way from over, Girardi will certainly command a raise based on what he did last year alone, perhaps something along the lines of what Boston is paying Francona. That shouldn’t be a problem for the Yankees, who paid Joe Torre more than $6M a year from 2005 through 2007.

Talking strictly from a baseball perspective, there’s almost nothing the Cubs could offer Girardi that the Yanks’ couldn’t match, if not exceed. The North Siders have bad contract after bad contract, an okay but not great farm system,  and a shaky front office situation (though that may change over the next three or four months). The young core of the next great Cubs’ team is not in place and needs time to develop. You’ve got Geovany Soto, Starlin Castro, Sean Marshall, Andrew Cashner, and…Marlon Byrd? The Ricketts Family can talk all they want about spending big and fielding a competitive team, but the Cubbies are not one or two or five moves away from contention. The Yankees give Girardi everything he could possibly want from a competitive standpoint. They know it, he knows it, and the Cubs know it.

What the Yankees can’t offer Girardi is home. Sure, he’s settled down in the area, but I’m sure the Chicago area is still home to him. I lived on the West Coast for a few years after school and I ended up moved back to New York simply because I missed being home, and I’m a whole lot younger than Girardi. Can you imagine how much a career journeyman backup catcher misses being settled and at home?

I can’t speak for Girardi and his preferences. Not many people get to play or manage or coach or whatever close to their hometown in this game, so I would certainly understand if he wanted the job. Maybe he wants a new challenge. Maybe he relishes the chance to manage the team that breaks the Cubs’ more than a century-old World Series drought. Maybe he just wants to go back to the National League so he can bunt and double switch and wheel play until he turns blue in the face. Whatever the reason, it won’t be because the Cubs give him a better chance to win.

I hope he stays, but I’d understand if he didn’t.

Yanks win an odd one against the Angels

For four innings this seemed like a typical rebound game. After getting their asses kicked last night the Yanks scored six runs in four innings while holding the Angels scoreless. Javier Vazquez had thrown just 37 pitches through those four innings, and it didn’t look like the Angels had much of a chance. But from the fifth inning on it became anything but a typical ballgame.

Biggest Hit: Miranda takes out an insurance policy (WPA) and Cano’s tater (subjective)

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

The aim of WPA, as I see it, is to capture the essence of the moment. Given the current base-out state and score situation it can, using data from thousands of games, describe how important a certain moment or event appears. Of course, you can’t always capture emotion in a number. When it comes to important moments in a game I’ll sometimes argue with the value WPA assigns to it. Today we’ll split the difference.

Heading into the bottom of the seventh the Yanks were walking a tightrope. In a matter of two innings they saw their 6-0 lead cut all the way to 6-5. The Angels mounted a few threats that the bullpen quelled, but it still felt like heartbreak could be a few pitches away. That’s why Juan Miranda‘s one-out solo home run in the bottom of the seventh was so important.

Scot Shields got Cano to, once again, chase a pitch at his eyes to cap a three-pitch strikeout. That brought up Juan Miranda, 0 for 3 to that point, with none on and one out. On the 2-1 pitch Shields delivered a fastball up and over the plate, and Miranda laid into it, sending it into the Yanks’ bullpen for some much-needed insurance. Even the one additional run made the lead seem so much safer.

To me, though, the biggest hit came earlier, during the four-run third. The Yanks had rallied on a Jeter single, Swisher double, and Teixeira single to extend the lead to four. Two batters later Robinson Cano took a 2-0 sinker over the center field wall to break open the game. At that point, with Vazquez cruising, it felt like a comfortable game.

Biggest Pitch: Joba gets another grounder

Two dozen photos, none of Joba | Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

I don’t know what happened to Javy. I don’t think Javy knows what happened to Javy. Girardi explained it as him trying too hard to avoid the walk. It could be that. It’s definitely not something you see every day from a pitcher who was going so well earlier in the game. David Robertson then worked himself into a jam in the sixth but got out of it in what was the second biggest pitch of the game. He ran the count to 3-1 on Howie Kendrick before getting him to line out on a high fastball.

In the seventh, Girardi went to Boone Logan, who retired both lefties and allowed a single to the righty Torii Hunter. With another righty, Mike Napoli, due up, Girardi went to Joba Chamberlain for the final out. He basically let Hunter steal second, and then on a 3-2 count missed low with a fastball to put on Napoli. It looked like he’d get out of it when Juan Rivera hit a chopper towards third, but it was hit too weakly and everyone reached safely. For the second inning in a row the Yankees faced a bases loaded jam, and for the second inning in a row they avoided damage. Kevin Frandsen grounded to A-Rod, who stepped on third to end the inning.

The bullpen did a great job, Joba’s eighth aside, for the second time in three games. The relief corps remains one of the weaker parts of this team, but they’ve come through lately and have helped deliver two big wins.

Miscellany

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Derek Jeter had a nice-looking day. He’ll go on a tear sometime later this month into August. Just watch.

If I didn’t know better I’d think that Nick Swisher has a chance to hit .300 this year. It looks like he can hit anything up there. He looked especially good in the third when he waited back on a curveball and served it back into center for a base hit.

With this 3 for 5, two-double night, Mark Teixeira‘s line is up to .256/.366/.471. I have August 8 in the pool of when he’ll get his SLG over .500.

A-Rod has struck out only 4 times in his last 40 AB.

As Chad Jennings notes, Robinson Cano hadn’t been intentionally walked twice in a game since 2007.

For the second time this season Juan Miranda homered off a pitcher with the last name Shields. He hit one off James on May 20.

Granderson looked good, going 2 for 4. If it takes a critical article every day to get him going, I’m up to the task.

Yesterday was Cervelli’s 10th multi-hit game in 49 starts.

Brett Gardner lost a chance to bring his batting average back over .300 when he got ejected, for the first time in his career, in the seventh.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Colin Curtis, who hit his first career home run, is the only player in the league with the last name Curtis. There are only two players whose first name is Curtis.

And finally, Michael Kay got all riled up for an A-Rod fly ball that didn’t even push Matsui to the warning track, but showed no emotion when, one batter later, Robinson Cano put a ball in the bullpen to give the Yanks a 5-0 lead.

Box, graph, and highlights

Poppa, what does the tall red bar mean?

More at FanGraphs. Also: traditional box and highlights.

Up Next

The Royals come to town for a four-game set. Thanks to the luck of the draw, Zack Greinke pitched on Wednesday, and so he won’t face the Yankees. Bruce Chen will square off against CC Sabathia at 7:05 p.m. tonight, and the Yankees will hope their starting pitcher can make it through six innings for the first time since CC’s last outing.

Former Yankee manager Ralph Houk, 90, passes away

Ralph Houk, the former Yankee manager who succeeded Casey Stengel and won two World Series with the Bombers in the early 1960s, passed away today at the age of 90 in his home in Winter Haven, Florida. Houk, signed by the Yankees in 1939, spent parts of eight seasons as Yogi Berra’s back-up during the late 1940s and early 1950s, but he made his mark as leader of a 1960s powerhouse. He served as the manager for the 1961 and 1962 World Series winners and the 1963 AL champions before moving up to the General Manager spot in 1964. During the 1966 season, Houk returned to the bench and served as manager throughout CBS’ seven-season reign as Yankee owners. Houk resigned after piloting the George Steinbrenner-owned 1973 Yankees to an 80-82 finish and went on to pilot the Tigers and the Red Sox.

For his career as Yankee skipper, Houk was 944-806, and he was much beloved by the players. In his obituary of Houk, Richard Goldstein paints a picture of a man who loved baseball and couldn’t leave the game. Today, he is sometimes a footnote to the great Yankee Era and the symbol of the years of mediocrity under CBS. Still, he left his mark on the club, and only four managers in team history won more games.

Jesus, Montero is on fire

Josh Norris was at Low-A Charleston’s game last night and got some video of Jose Ramirez and J.R. Murphy. Check it out.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 loss to Gwinnett)
Kevin Russo, CF: 2 for 4 – got picked off first
Reegie Corona, 2B, Eric Bruntlett, 3B, Greg Golson, RF & Chad Moeller, C: all 0 for 3 – Corona drew a walk
Eduardo Nunez, SS, Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Chad Huffman, LF: all 1 for 4 – Nunez stole a base, scored a run & got caught stealing … JoVa got picked off first, K’ed twice & committed a fielding error … Huffman K’ed
Jesus Montero, DH: 3 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB – eight for his last nine with two doubles & two homers … .420/.532/.740 in July … he hasn’t struck out in ten days
Tim Redding: 8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 10-7 GB/FB, 1 E (pickoff) – 67 of 102 pitches were strikes (65.7%) … if he wasn’t Tim Redding, I’d say he’s making a might fine case to challenge Sergio Mitre for that open rotation spot
Romulo Sanchez: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – eight of his 13 pitches were strikes (61.5%) … whole lotta stuff happened in the span of 13 pitches there, huh?

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Lil’ CC gets it done

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

So that was kinda cool today, eh? Gotta give it up to Colin Curtis not just for hitting his first career homer, but for how he did it. Brett Gardner got tossed in the middle of an at-bat, Curtis assumed an 0-2 count, takes three pitches off the plate before crushing a fastball to right. He hasn’t played much, but when he has, Lil’ CC has put together some real quality at-bats. He’s been a pleasant surprise.

If you want to watch the game again, the encore is on YES at 7pm ET. Otherwise you could watch Stephen Strasburg face the Reds on ESPN (also 7pm ET), though I have to say I’m kinda sick of the kid given how much the MSM has smothered him with attention. I guess this is how non-Yankee fans felt about Joba back in the day. Anyway, here’s the open thread, go to town.

Yankees interested in Jhonny Peralta

Via MLBTR, the Yankees have expressed some interest in Indians’ third baseman Jhonny Peralta. I’m kinda surprised that it took this long to connect the two, but better late than never I guess. Peralta is what he is, a below average offensive player (.308 wOBA over the last two seasons) and a horrific defender (-4.0 UZR/150 career at third, -5.7 at short), but he is an upgrade over Ramiro Pena. The big problem is his salary, since Peralta is still owed $1.93M this year with a $250,000 buyout of his $7M option for next season. There’s no point in talking about compensation draft picks since no one would bother offering him arbitration.

The Yanks have been inked to Wes Helms and Ty Wigginton as well, so they’re obviously looking for a righthanded infielder with a little thump in his bat. Even though he’s stunk this year, I’m still intrigued by Andy LaRoche.

Game 93: Getting back on track

Matsui hit a HR in his first game back at Yankee Stadium last night. (/Gary Cohen'd) (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

It’s only been four games, but the Yankees’ starting pitchers have been a bit off since returning from the All Star break. It started with CC Sabathia‘s shaky, though not terrible, effort against the Rays on Friday, even though he was working on normal rest. A.J. Burnett got knocked around before knocking himself out of Saturday’s game on ten day’s rest, while Andy Pettitte didn’t have his usual command before getting hurt on the same amount of rest the next day. Phil Hughes, working on 11 day’s rest last night, got smacked around pretty good himself.

So today the ball falls into the hands of Javy Vazquez, who by all accounts has been no worse than the team’s second best starter over the last seven or eight weeks. But there is a problem when Javy pitches: the Yankees never score any runs. Ever. They’re scored a total of 30 runs in his last 11 starts (2.72 per), and were held to two runs or less a whopping six times during that span. It’s not like he’s been lined up against aces either, I think the guy’s just cursed.

Joel Piniero, who’s on a nice little roll of late (2.10 ERA, 3.59 FIP in his last seven starts) will be a tough matchup today. He won’t beat himself with walks and chances are the team will beat his sinker into the ground. Gotta hope Piniero leaves a few pitches up the zone and the Yanks capitalize.

Here’s the lineup, which needs a real DH like nobody’s business…

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

And on the bump, it’s Javy Vazquez.

It’s a getaway day for this short two game set, with the game starting at 1pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.