AL East trade winds starting to blow

If you went to bed at a reasonable hour last night, you might have missed the semi-late breaking rumor that had the Phillies in talks with the Astros to acquire Roy Oswalt. Why does this matter to the Yankees? Because a sister move would involve a trade of Jayson Werth (for payroll reasons, apparently), and the word on the street has the Rays as the front runners to land him. Philadelphia would then call up top prospect Domonic Brown in an effort to field an all lefthanded lineup.

As far as we know, the deals are not close, but Tampa certainly has the pieces to get a Werth deal done. Given their respective track records, Andrew Friedman will probably take Ruben Amaro to the cleaners if the trade does in fact happen. Tampa already has a good offense (.337 wOBA, sixth best in baseball) and a great defense (+22.7 UZR, third best), and adding a player of Werth’s caliber will only make them better. Given the Yanks’ current designated hitter situation, I can’t help but hope that Brian Cashman swoops in ninja-style and steals Werth away from Tampa.

Straightening out Curtis Granderson

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

Despite crushing a ball in his final at-bat, Curtis Granderson finished the night 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. That happens to the best of ‘em, but for Granderson it has become an all too common occurrence. In 19 of his 68 games played he has failed to reach base, and in 31 he has failed to pick up a base hit. This has left him with a lowly .309 wOBA.

Last month I noted the similarities between Granderson and Nick Swisher. Both came to the Yankees in trades and both had their sets of troubles with their new teams. Swisher, however, ended up with quite the year, probably the best of his career to that point. For Granderson, such a recovery doesn’t appear imminent. He’s hitting worse than ever right now.

Now that his batting line is down to .233/.302/.394, Granderson has started to remind me of yet another struggling Yankee from years past. In 2008 Robinson Cano got off to one of the worst starts of any Yankees starter in recent memory. Through 269 PA he was hitting .217/.260/.316, which is far worse than Granderson’s production through 266 PA this year. Cano, of course, didn’t miss almost all of May that year, but even so he was hitting .250/.286/.363 through team game 92.

There are plenty of differences between Cano and Granderson, most notably their strikeout rates. Even when Cano was going bad at the beginning of 2008 he struck out in just 7.8 percent of his PA through the team’s first 92 games. Granderson has struck out in 21.4 percent of his. Granderson, on the other hand, will actually take a base on balls. He has walked in 8.6 percent of his PA this year, while Cano’s walk rate was less than half that during his woeful period.

The one major similarity I’ve noticed between Granderson and Cano is how they stand at the plate. In the past Cano featured an open stance and kept his bat moving as he waited for the pitcher to deliver. We can see much of the same when Granderson is at the plate. In the past two years Cano has cut out much of that movement and has closed his stance to a degree. I wonder if such a transformation will be necessary in order for Granderson to again become a productive hitter.

There is some good news here. From Game 93 through the end of the 2008 season Cano hit .299/.330/.471. That’s not a stellar line by any means, but if Granderson could pull off something like that I’m sure that no one would complain. Of course, his AVG would probably be a bit lower and his OBP would probably be a bit higher, but even if Granderson hit, say, .280/.345/.471 from now through October, I’d say it was a season salvaged.

Even as he struggles, I have a hard time not liking Granderson. I always liked him as a Tiger, and was hopeful that he’s put his ugly 2009 behind him after becoming a Yankee. As I said in a previous article, I’ve given up on that hope. Even if he does hit that hypothetical .280/.345/.471 the rest of the way he’d finish the season at .258/.321/.433, hardly impressive and still worse than his 2009 season. Hopefully, like Cano, he can recover for next year. But for now it looks like the Yanks will have to live with his quality defense, bloops in front of him notwithstanding, and sub-par bat.

Hughes not sharp as Yanks take a beating

There will be no introduction tonight. This game was no fun after the first inning, none at all.

Biggest Hit: Swish gives ‘em the lead

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Despite the final score, this game actually felt good at the beginning. Phil Hughes retired the side in order in the top of the first, and the Yanks got right to work in the bottom half. Jeter saw a fastball he liked on the first pitch and hit it on the screws, but it went in Erick Aybar’s general direction and was caught four the first out. Apparently Nick Swisher was taking notes. He got a similarly fat fastball and he turned on it, sending it over the right field wall for a quick 1-0 lead.

The Yanks then loaded the bases with just one out, but could only manage one run, a chopper by Jorge Posada that was slow enough to preclude the double play. Which, considering Posada’s speed, is a pretty slow chopper. But Curtis Granderson couldn’t keep the rally going, as he swung and missed on a Sean O’Sullivan changeup. Still, the Yanks had to feel pretty good at that point. It wouldn’t last. The Yanks wouldn’t get a hit off O’Sullivan for the rest of the evening.

Biggest Pitch: Maicer Izturis clears the porch

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

By pushing across a run in the second and a run in the third, the Angels tied the game. They didn’t kill the ball off Hughes, so there didn’t seem reason for pessimism at that point. After all, the Yanks were facing a guy they clearly could hit. But the game took a turn for the worse in the fourth. Hughes got Mike Napoli to ground out, but then gave up a single to Juan Rivera, his second of three in the game. That brought up Maicer Izturis.

Hughes paid a bit too much attention to a runner as slow as Rivera, throwing over three times before throwing his third pitch. He missed with that third pitch, running the count 2-1. He then tried to sneak a fastball inside, but it wasn’t his best one, clocked at just 90 mph. In just the previous at-bat he was throwing 92-93 mph fastballs with similar movement. Izturis lined it to right, and it cleared at one of the shortest parts of the park. It gave the Angels a two-run lead, but I found it hard to complain. The Yanks benefit so much from homers like that. It wasn’t a crushed baseball. It just snuck over the short porch. It will happen, and again, the Yankees were facing a guy off of whom they should have scored more than two runs.

Alas, this is baseball.

Honorable mention: Napoli’s single

It won’t show up on a WPA chart, but the top of the second really got my goat. Torii Hunter led off the inning by pulling a 3-1 cutter for a base hit. Hughes then battled a bit with Hideki Matsui, and got a gift when Matsui popped one up with Hunter straying way off first base. Cano threw to Teixeira to complete the double play and empty the bases with two outs.

Hughes then got ahead of Napoli 0-2 with two good fastballs, but then threw three more. The last was high and caught plenty of the plate, and Napoli pulled it into left for a single. Rivera and Izturis followed with singles, cutting the lead in half. Hughes left it at that, thankfully.

Nothing bugs me more than runs after having a bases empty, two outs situation — especially with an 0-2 count on the hitter. It was just one of those nights, though. Hughes having no command didn’t help matters.

Miscellany

According to PitchFX data Hughes threw 12 changeups. That’s good. He also got a swinging strike. The bad news: he threw just three for strikes total. Hey, it’s not like the pitch will be there whenever he needs it. He’ll need to throw it, so I’ll take it as a positive, for now, that he’s actually using it. He didn’t get beat on it, and actually recorded two outs using it.

That said, he also threw only 15 curveballs. It seems like he’s not going to that pitch nearly enough.

Chan Ho Park allowed no home runs in 50 relief innings last year. He has allowed seven in 30.1 innings this year.

Speaking of Park, he and Gaudin are apparently in a heated battle for who gets DFA’d on Saturday when the Yanks activate Sergio Mitre. I say DFA ‘em both and bring up Romulo, too.

Graph and box

Let’s pretend this one never happened, shall we?

More at FanGraphs. If green lines aren’t your thing, you can check out the traditional box.

Up Next

The Yanks have one more against Anaheim, Javy Vazquez vs. Joel Piniero. It’s a day game, too.

Montero goes deep twice in SWB win

Triple-A Scranton (6-1 win over Gwinnett) check out which old friend had a 42 pitch inning for Gwinnett
Kevin Russo, LF & Eric Bruntlett, RF: both 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Reegie Corona, 2B: 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 4, 1 RBI
Chad Tracy, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 E (throwing) – five for his last 23 (.217) since his hot start
Jesus Montero, C: 2 for 3, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB – up to .271/.346/.459, which is pretty amazing considering how bad he started … also, his line is better across the board than Derek Jeter‘s
Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Chad Huffman, DH: both 0 for 4 – JoVa K’ed once, Huffman twice
Greg Golson, CF: 2 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 CS – fourth straight game with an extra base hit (three doubles, two homers)
Ivan Nova: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 11-5 GB/FB – 62 of his 97 pitches were strikes (63.9%) … he was up to 96 tonight … fantastic start, definitely making his case to be Sergio Mitre‘s replacement should it come to that
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 HB, 3-0 GB/FB – five of his nine pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 92: Oh no, a rookie pitcher

Hopefully we see a similar pose from O'Sullivan tonight. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Ah yes, the bane of the Yankees’ existence, the rookie pitcher. Scott Kazmir was supposed to start tonight’s game, but he hit had to hit the disabled list with a case of the sucks shoulder issue, so the Yankees will instead face 22-year-old righty Sean O’Sullivan. He’s a rather generic righty, with a miniscule strikeout rate (4.8 K/9 in MLB, 6.6 in MiLB) and an okay amount of grounders (37.5%) . Everything looks good for the Yanks, but then again who knows with a pitcher they’ve never seen before.

It’s too bad the Angels didn’t throw Trevor Bell tonight (who was also in consideration for the start), we coulda mentioned that he’s the grandson of Bozo The Clown. For shame. Here’s the starting nine…

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

Hughes, SP

You have to believe it took minutes off Joe Girardi‘s life when he pencil three consecutive lefties into the bottom of the lineup. Game time is 7:05pm ET, and this one can be seen on My9. Enjoy.

Rushing to Joba’s defense

It has been nothing but a frustrating season for Joba Chamberlain. He started off with some success, but the velocity on his fastball just wasn’t there. Then he started pumping mid- to upper-90s fastballs, but started getting hit hard. Now his ERA is inflated and we’ve heard numerous calls for his expulsion from the eighth inning role. That’s natural. No matter what he’s doing otherwise, he’s allowing runs to score, and therefore is making it more difficult for the Yankees to win ballgames. At some point if he’s not getting results then he has to be taken out of such critical situations, right?

At some point, yes. At this point, however, I’m a firm believer that Joba should continue to get the ball. In terms of events over which he has the most control — strikeouts, walks, and home runs — he’s performing exceptionally. It’s on balls in play that he gets hurt far worse than he has in the past. This could be something mechanical — and at this point I’m willing to bet that he’s experiencing some physical difficulty that’s hurting his command — but it also certainly involves some degree of luck. There is, of course, the chance that his luck doesn’t even out by the end of the year; that’s a peril of pitching out of the pen. But there’s also a good chance that by mid-August we see a Chamberlain more like the 2008 version than what we’ve seen so far in 2010.

This was actually a discussion on a few sites today. Steve Goldman at Pinstriped Bible first took it up, and concluded that it’s far too early to give up on a pitcher of Joba’s caliber, even if it seems like his “potential is seemingly already spent.” Later in the day Bloomberg Sports presented much of the same information in graphical form. They also noted Joba’s drop in pop-up rate and his minuscule strand rate as potential issues. Then Rob Neyer added his commentary, from which we can take away one important point.

“Jose Lopez’s grand slam a couple of weeks ago is still fresh in our minds, and with that single pitch Chamberlain’s ERA jumped from 4.91 to 5.89.”

Such is the nature of relief pitching. It’s going to take patience with a pitcher like Joba, who has such high expectations placed on him. We’re not seeing immediate results, and so the natural reaction is to call him a bust and move onto the next guy. The Yankees, however, like something they’ve seen with him. For all you hear about the organization’s frustrations with his maturity and entitlement, they keep sending him back out there. Something tells me they’re thinking more along the lines of the crew at Bloomberg, Goldman, and Neyer, and not like the callers on AM radio.

Plotting out Phil Hughes’s starts

Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP

How do you freak out Yankees fans these days? By telling them that the team will skip a young pitcher’s start. It happened last year with Joba Chamberlain, and the reactions to Phil Hughes this year have been similar. That Hughes pitched poorly in the start following his long rest didn’t help matters. Thankfully, the Yankees don’t take fan reaction into account when making moves for the long-term good of the club. Skipping Hughes wasn’t about some arbitrary innings limit. It was about monitoring the workload of a relatively inexperienced pitcher to help keep him healthy and pitching in the future.

As discussed this morning, the Yankees won’t have many opportunities to skip Hughes in August. They’re going through a long stretch of games that will give them just two days off between now and early September. The Yankees could opt to skip Hughes during those days, but considering the summer heat and humidity, combined with Andy Pettitte‘s absence, it’s more likely that they just give everyone an extra day during those breaks. So where will that leave Hughes as the team enters the home stretch?

With starts scheduled tonight, Sunday, and then the following Friday, Hughes will have 19 starts under his belt, a mark he hasn’t reached since 2006. If he averages 6.1 innings per start he’ll be at 120 innings before the calendar flips. Again, that would be the most he’s pitched since 2006. That in itself should cause concern; imagine going through a rigorous weight training program four years ago, then going a bit lighter during the ensuing three years, and then picking back up at that heavy pace again. Even if Hughes does not present a greater injury risk because of this increased workload, chances are he could face fatigue issues. Again, a break during August is basically out of the question.

After his start on July 30, he would then line up to pitch Wednesday, August 4 against Toronto. That is followed by an off-day, and chances are everyone will just take a breather. The Yanks could choose to go with Hughes on four days’ rest and have him pitch against Boston on Monday the 9th, but I think they’ll have him throw down in Texas on Tuesday the 10th. He’d then go Saturday the 14th, Thursday the 19th, and then Tuesday the 24th before getting another longer layover. Then it’s the 30th against Oakland to close out the month.

Using the 6.1 innings per start guideline, that would bring Hughes to 158 innings heading into September. That’s just 22 innings below the arbitrary 180-inning ceiling they mentioned earlier in the season, so maybe that’s four more starts. He clearly wouldn’t make it through September at that pace, so the Yankees have to hope they have enough of a cushion to skip Hughes a few times in September. Even so, given the tough schedule I can’t see them skipping him more than once. Chances are that if the Yankees don’t have a comfortable lead in the East by mid-September, Hughes could actually hit the 200-inning mark.

Does this affect the Yanks’ strategy in acquiring a starter at the deadline? I think it most certainly does. The easiest transition for Hughes is to move right to the bullpen for September and the playoffs. Skipping his starts might help in the long-term, but the Yankees haven’t realized any short-term success when implementing that tactic. By adding a starter the Yankees can not only replace Pettitte’s production and give him more time to recover, but they can more easily handle Hughes’s workload. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s one the Yankees seemingly feel necessary for the long-term health of their rotation.