RAB Q&A: Al Leiter

(Getty Images/Jim Mcisaac)

Last Friday I was invited down to the MLB Network studios in Secaucus to look at their operation, and while I was there I had a chance to speak one-on-one with two-time former Yankee and current YES Network/MLB Network broadcaster Al Leiter. We talked for nearly 20 minutes and mostly discussed his career, but we also touched on Andy Pettitte‘s comeback, Michael Pineda‘s missing velocity*, and the 2012 Yankees in general.

* The interview took place before Pineda’s shoulder tendinitis was diagnosed.

Leiter is every bit as entertaining in real life as he appears on television, so needless to say it was a pretty awesome experience. Here’s the full interview, beginning with a question straight out of left field…

Mike Axisa: In Game Seven of the 1997 World Series, you threw a first pitch curveball to Omar Vizquel (to start the game). What was the thinking behind that?

Al Leiter: “Because I got peppered in Game Three, in Cleveland, I knew I had to throw a curveball. I went back and looked at two left-handers,  and it was the Yankees series against Cleveland. David Wells did well — Boomer was fastball-curve — and I watched every pitch. And then I looked at Andy Pettitte’s game; Andy Pettitte got peppered a little bit. Andy was more fastball, curve, cutter, slider, and I said forget it. You know what? It’s gonna be a [bad] game if I don’t use [my curve].

[Read more…]

ST Game Thread: Miami, Part Two

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

The Yankees beat the Marlins in their new ballpark last night, and now it’s time for round two. There will be a few more people in the stands as they build up towards Opening Day, but it’s still just a Spring Training game. Hiroki Kuroda will throw 60 or so pitches in his final tuneup before the regular season, and that will be that. Here’s the lineup…

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

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Available Pitchers: RHP Phil Hughes, RHP David Robertson, RHP Rafael Soriano, LHP Boone Logan, RHP George Kontos, RHP Brandon Pinder, RHP Mark Montgomery, LHP Juan Cedeno, and SwP Pat Venditte.

Available Position Players: C Gus Molina, 1B Doug Bernier, 2B Bill Hall, SS Ramiro Pena, 3B Eduardo Nunez, LF Justin Maxwell, CF Abe Almonte, RF Chris Dickerson, and DH Andruw Jones will replace the starters.

Tonight’s game starts at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on MLB Network. The blackout has been lifted in the Tri-State Area. Enjoy.

Pettitte prepping for possible minor league outing on Thursday

Via George King, Andy Pettitte could make his first minor league appearance this Thursday after throwing a 25-pitch bullpen session today. “I plan on pitching somehow Thursday for sure,” said Pettitte. “[A minor league game is] an option, anything is an option right now … Thursday is my day but I wish I could tell you exactly.”

High-A Tampa is playing at home that night, so it’s a pretty safe assumption that Pettitte would pitch in that game if he does get on the mound Thursday. He will probably only throw an inning or two, but it would be a significant step in his comeback attempt. Since Pettitte is on a minor league deal, he can make as many minor league appearances as he wants to get himself ready for the season. It’s not he’d be starting his 30-day clock on an injury rehab assignment or anything.

Ibanez gets a fresh start on Friday

Raul, going deep. (AP Photo)

In his spring training debut, against his former team, Raul Ibanez laced a double in a 1 for 3 performance. Over the next three weeks he’d pick up just one more hit. Considering his age and his 2011 numbers, his slow spring caused plenty of concern for Yankees fans. It’s just spring training, sure, but doesn’t it mean more when a 40-year-old player looks his age? If his bat is slow now, won’t it continue to be slow during the regular season?

In other words, there were plenty of out-loud questions about Ibanez’s ability to help the Yankees in 2012. As with Andruw Jones last year, he has drawn comparisons to Randy Winn, whose time with the Yankees in 2010 didn’t last even two months. While an early exit for Ibanez is still within the realm of possibility, it’s still only speculation at this point. There’s still time for Ibanez to round into form and help the Yankees this season.

For starters, Ibanez’s numbers this spring aren’t his worst in recent memory. In 2010 he hit .130/.266/.241 in 54 spring training at-bats, amounting to a paltry .506 OPS. This year he’s at .167/.211/.370, which is slightly better at .581. His strikeout totals are nearly identical, 13 in 2010 and 12 this year. The only difference is that he hasn’t walked this year. Maybe that’s cause for concern, or maybe it’s him being a little too anxious to belt a base hit. In any case, he went on to produce a .275/.349/.444 line in 2010, including .277/.366/.455 against right-handed pitching. While those aren’t stellar numbers, a repeat would be quite welcome all considered.

Since that horrible start to the spring, Ibanez has rebounded a bit. Following his 2 for 37 slump he’s gone 7 for 17 with a double and three home runs, plus a walk. He also had a fourth homer taken away by Jason Heyward. That streak should at least table the argument of whether he’s finished as a major leaguer. It won’t completely remove it, of course, just as his early spring slump didn’t prove it. But it’s at least a bright sign after a mostly dismal start to the spring.

We can look to the past, as well, to see other players who performed poorly in the spring, only to bounce back for a quality regular season. In 2010 Marcus Thames looked done, hitting just .135/.192/.269 in 52 spring at-bats. The Yankees signed him to a non-guaranteed contract, yet they still chose to bring him north. He rewarded them by hitting .288/.350/.491 in 237 PA. Brett Gardner hit .200/.286/.273 that spring, but hit .277/.383/.379 in the regular season. Last season Andruw Jones turned in a miserable spring, hitting .182/.265/.318. Even worse, he started off the season slowly. Yet he came back and provided excellent production in the second half.

The exceptions don’t prove that Ibanez will bounce back and produce big from the DH spot in 2012. What they illustrate is that spring numbers can deceive. Some players just take a while to get started. Some streak and slump to a greater degree than others, and their slow springs are just poorly timed slumps. For all we know, Ibanez might really be done as a major leaguer. But it’s not his spring training that will prove it. He’ll get his chances during the season, and considering how the Jones situation played out chances are the Yankees will give Ibanez an extended look. It might not work out, but we’ve seen too many veterans perform well after poor springs that he certainly deserves the shot.

Poll: The Long Man

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

No one likes to see a teammate get hurt, but it’s hard to imagine the Triple-A trio of David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell didn’t take the Michael Pineda shoulder tendinitis news as a personal positive. The injury freed up a bullpen spot and moved those three one step closer to the big leagues. There’s only one spot for three guys though, and the team is clearly looking to fill that spot with a traditional long man.

“Larry (Rothschild)’s done a really good job of getting them built up,” said Joe Girardi. “We kept them in camp a long time, and it was important they were built up for the season, and they are. But they’re built up to be a long man as well.”

What we’re talking about is the Hector Noesi role, which is fitting since Noesi was a Triple-A starter with seemingly little path to the big leagues at this time last year. As usual, these things have a way of working themselves out. The Yankees have to decide which of the three is best suited for the role and make the decision fairly soon since the Triple-A season starts in three days. Looking at Spring Training performance doesn’t really help one player stand out from the pack either…

G/GS IP TBF ERA K% BB% GB%
Mitchell 6/0 14.1 63 2.51 19.0% 12.7% 50.0%
Phelps 6/1 16.0 67 2.25 17.9% 6.0% 47.2%
Warren 5/2 15.0 63 4.80 12.7% 1.6% 60.0%

Not only are we talking about Spring Training numbers, but we’re talking about a small sample of Spring Training numbers. That’s like, the double whammy of baseball statistics. Maybe the two negatives cancel each other out and we should take these number seriously, but good luck deciding who’s performed the best.

I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here. I believe all three guys are capable of long relief work in the show right now, so there’s a chance the decision will come down to factors other than expected performance. Warren isn’t on the 40-man roster, so that might work against him. The Yankees reportedly view Mitchell as a reliever long-term, which could work in his favor. It could also work against Phelps, who might be sent to the minors so he remains fully stretched out for whenever a spot start is needed. We could come up with a million different scenarios supporting each guy.

The nice thing about this whole situation is the flexibility. Whatever decision the Yankees make isn’t permanent; they can swap these guys out as needed. If Phelps ends up throwing 80 pitches in extra innings or something, they could send him down and recall Mitchell for a fresh arm. If the guy they pick for Opening Day stinks, well there are two replacements ready to go. We say it every year but it is worth repeating: the bullpen at the start of the year is never the same as the bullpen at the end of the year.

Anyway, a situation like this calls for a poll. We’ve had quite a few of these lately, but so be it. It’s that time of the year.

Who should be the long man to open the season?
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2012 Season Preview: Rest of the AL

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Last week we took a nice long look at the teams who figure to be the Yankees’ primary competition this season, meaning the Red Sox, Rays, Tigers, Angels, and Rangers. There are eight other clubs in the American League though, and the Yankees are going to play those eight teams quite a bit more than the five other contenders. Most of those eight teams aren’t very good, but every game counts the same.

Rather than doing a boring old offense/defense/pitching preview for each of those eight non-contenders, I decided to have a little fun with this one and put together some haikus. I encourage you to leave your own in the comments.

Baltimore Orioles
No pitching, few bats.
Buck is all talk and no bite.
Don’t dare dis Flanny!

Chicago White Sox
Rebuild or contend?
Kenny can’t seem to decide.
I wish we had Danks.

Cleveland Indians
Some funny names,
Asdrubal and Ubaldo?
Not winning this year.

Kansas City Royals
Hosmer is the shizz.
Young pitching ain’t quite there yet.
LOL Frenchy.

Minnesota Twins
Mauer and Morneau
Used to be really awesome.
Now they are broken.

Oakland Athletics
Yoenis is here.
Trade all of the pitchers!
Where are the fans?

Seattle Mariners
Felix is the man,
The rest of the team sucks.
I miss Montero.

Toronto Blue Jays
AA the best,
Until he gets Jeff Mathis.
New unis do rule.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 2nd, 2012

Record Last Week: 3-2-1 (45 RS, 39 RA)
Spring Training Record: 16-11-1 (147 RS, 130 RA)
Spring Training Schedule This Week: @ Marlins (Mon. on MLBN), @ Mets (Tues. on YES/SNY/MLBN), vs. Mets (Weds. on YES/MLBN), Thurs. OFF
Regular Season Schedule This Week: @ Rays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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