6/01-6/03 Series Preview: Detroit Tigers

(photo c/o Getty Images)

The Yankees are in Detroit tonight for the first of seven games they’ll play at Comerica Park this season — three now, and another four in August. The Yankees are 22-25 all-time during the regular season at Comerica (and 1-3 in the postseason), and the only ballpark they’ve played worse baseball at since 2000, minimum 7 games, is Angel Stadium.

Detroit’s had a 2012 somewhat similar to the Yankees in that both teams entered the year with high expectations that neither have yet lived up to. In particular, Detroit is coming off a 12-16 May (and you thought the Yankees’ 14-14 month was lousy), and just dropped three of four at Boston before salvaging the finale last night. In adding Prince Fielder, Detroit was expected to boast one of the top offenses in the league; instead to date they’ve fielded an essentially league-average attack, at 102 wRC+ on the nose.

Old friend Austin Jackson has been Detroit’s best hitter on the season, not to mention one of the hottest hitters in all of baseball, as he boasts a 169 wRC+, but he’s also currently in the DL. Miguel Cabrera (137 wRC+) and Prince Fielder (140) are raking, although Cabrera hasn’t been at quite the superhuman level he hit at last season. Of course, that doesn’t make him any less fearsome.

Left-fielder Andy Dirks has been the biggest surprise on the team, with an outstanding .388 wOBA, while Alex Avila has struggled early to match his 2011 breakout season but has come on of late (112 wRC+). Rookie center-fielder Quinton Berry has raked in a very small sample in place of Jackson thus far, but he figures to come back to earth soon enough. The remainder of Jim Leyland’s everyday lineup is rather underwhelming, with Jhonny Peralta (92 wRC+), Delmon Young (85), Brennan Boesch (71) and Ramon Santiago (45!) providing anywhere from below-average to replacement-level to horrendous production. However, Peralta picked things up considerably in May, with a 115 wRC+.

The Tiger bullpen has put up the worst ERA in the AL but the third-best FIP, due in part to the highest BABIP in the league (.316) by a good margin. Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel have split set-up duties and are killing it, as both are striking out more than 13 men per nine and mostly keeping the ball in the yard. Closer Jose Valverde hasn’t quite been his usual dominant self (4.43 ERA/4.55 FIP; 7.5 K/9 against 10.3 for his career, 0.0 fWAR), but every other current member of the bullpen has provided positive value.

The Pitching Match-Ups

Friday, June 1, 2012 at 7:05 p.m. LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Casey Crosby

ALERT. ALERT. ALERT. Not only is Casey Crosby a dreaded starter-they’ve-never-seen-before, but he’s making his Major League debut against the Yankees tonight. And he’s a southpaw! That is, literally, the trifecta of certain Yankee doom; the only thing worse would be if Crosby couldn’t crack 90mph with his fastball; alas, he apparently has mid-90s heat. According to the first scouting report Google turned up, he also features a usable curveball and work-in-progress changeup.

Now in fairness, the Yankees of more recent vintage haven’t struggled quite as poorly against guys-they’ve-never-seen-before as the 2010 team seemed to. While Yu Darvish and Crosby’s Tiger teammate Drew Smyly own the 3rd- and 4th-best-pitched games by Game Score against the Yankees this season, the Yankees did pummel Tyson Ross and Will Smith.

The Bombers have also only faced three hurlers making their MLB debuts as starters since the beginning of 2011 — the Angels’ Garrett Richards, who they tagged for 6 runs in 5 innings last August; Wei-Yin Chen, back in the fifth game of this season, who gave up 2 ER (4 total) in 5.2 IP; and the aforementioned Smith, who they got for five runs in 3.1 innings last week. Additionally, the latter two throw with their left hand, so obviously a rookie LHP starter isn’t quite the death sentence I’m making it out to be. I doubt anyone would be surprised to see the Yankees either hang 7 runs on Crosby in 2 innings or Crosby shut the Yankees out over seven.

Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 7:15 p.m. RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Rick Porcello

Doug Fister was originally slated to make this start before Detroit placed him on the DL; instead, Rick Porcello gets bumped from Friday to tonight. Porcello appears to have taken yet another step backwards this season, and one can’t help but wonder, similar to the Yankees’ situation with Phil Hughes, whether the Tigers might finally stop giving the youngster opportunities to prove himself. The extreme sinkerballer (51% of all pitches thrown) continues to strike no one out, and his peripherals outside of a low walk rate and nice GB% are rather middling across the board. That Porcello allows so many balls in play with one of the most porous infields in baseball behind him has been lost on no one, and it’s entirely possible that Porcello could be a reliable mid-rotation starter on a team with a top-shelf defense. But in Detroit, he’ll likely continue to struggle to be more than a #5.

Porcello also throws a 92mph four-seamer 19% of the time, an 84mph slider 16% of the time and 82mph changeup 11% of the time, none of which are currently above-average by pitch values per 100 thrown. Porcello’s faced the Yankees four times in the regular season and has alternated terrible starts with strong ones. The Bombers of course last saw Porcello in October, and got to him for four runs over six innings en route to forcing a decisive Game 5 in the 2011 ALDS. Every time Porcello takes the hill against the Yankees I expect them to touch him up but then he’ll go out and throw a gem, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what the Bombers do in this one.

HIROK! has one career start against the Tigers, and it came in 2010 at Los Angeles. I’ve been mostly disappointed by Kuroda’s results thus far — we all expected the K rate to decline, but I didn’t think it would get below 6.0/9, and like everyone else in the starting rotation he’s been way too homer prone — although he’s still managed to do a mostly reasonable job of giving the team a chance to win every five days, even if the process hasn’t always been pretty.

Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 1:05 p.m. RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Justin Verlander

If Michael Kay is doing the Detroit series, you’ll undoubtedly hear a lot about how Justin Verlander has a career 4.16 ERA against the Yankees over 62.2 regular season innings. Strangely, the only team that his hit him harder in as many or more innings is the Indians. For whatever reason, the Yankees generally seem to be able to hang 3-4 runs on Verlander despite the righty being arguably the most dominant pitcher in the game.

That said, Verlander is once again making a mockery of the American League, and currently leads all of baseball in fWAR while pitching to a 2.55 ERA/2.32 FIP. We all know Verlander is as good as it gets, and this will easily be the Yankees’ toughest assignment of the weekend.

Verlander sets his prey up with a vicious 96mph fastball (thrown 61% of the time), stuns them with an 85.5mph change, and knocks ’em out with an 81mph curve (19%) that currently ranks as the 2nd-most valuable in baseball by wCU/C.

The Prediction

The Yankees are catching a fairly big break in missing Max Scherzer this time around, as Scherzer has given the Yankees fits since 2009 despite underwhelming performances against seemingly everyone else (though they did get to him for three runs over 4.2 innings back in late April).

The Yankees really have to take the Friday game behind Sabathia in what on paper should be the weekend’s biggest mistmatch (although Verlander against Hughes isn’t exactly a fair fight, either), though I’m reluctant to predict two of three this weekend, especially given the team’s historical struggles at Comerica.

The RAB Radio Show: June 1, 2012

It’s been a decent week in Yankee land — even with losing two out of three in Anaheim. Considering the way series usually go down there, it could have been much worse.

  • We open with a review of the last two series, which have left the Yankees 4-2 on the road trip.
  • Then it’s onto reader mail. I want to make this a more regular feature on the show.
  • A bit on Derek Jeter, seeing as its the 20th anniversary of the Yankees drafting him.
  • Cody Johnson: actual prospect?
  • Runners in scoring position: the natural cure.

There are, of course, various other ideas bandied about here and there throughout.

Podcast run time 56:24

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:


Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

RAB Live Chat

2012 Pre-Draft Top 30 Prospects

(Matt Burton/MiLB.com)

The regular season is only two months old, but it’s already safe to say it’s been a pretty down year for the farm system. Injuries have wreaked havoc on some of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects and a few of the lower level position players have battled extended slumps. The number of disappointments is always greater than the number of surprises, but I feel like it’s been taken to the extreme in 2012.

The pre-draft list is unquestionably my least favorite of the three prospects lists I publish (preseason, pre-draft, post-draft) because not a much has changed this early in the season. There’s always injuries and extreme performances (both good and bad), but most prospects just maintain the status quo. Just three prospects have dropped off the Preseason Top 30 List — Cesar Cabral, Graham Stoneburner, and David Adams — and that’s almost entirely due to injury. None of the preseason list guys have graduated to the big leagues yet, though David Phelps is getting awfully close.

The post-draft list is always a ton of fun though. Figuring out where the new guys fit in is always a challenge and frankly, it’s nice to have new players to write about. There’s only so long you can write about these guys before you start to get prospect fatigue (coughDellinBetancescough). Anyway, so here is an updated look at the 30 best aspiring big leaguers in the Yankees’ organization. Ages are as of today.

  1. LHP Manny Banuelos, 21 — currently on the DL with a sore elbow after missing time with a lat issue, we really haven’t gotten a chance to see the southpaw all that much this season (3.83 FIP in just 24.0 IP)
  2. OF Mason Williams, 20 — the most exciting player in the system got off a scorching hot start but has battling nagging injuries and perhaps relatedly, a prolonged slump over the last two or three weeks (.331 wOBA)
  3. Gary Sanchez, 19 — he’s pounding Low-A pitching (.383 wOBA) as he should be in his second tour of duty, and you have to figure a promotion is coming soon
  4. RHP Jose Campos, 19 — manhandled the competition (3.24 FIP in 24.2 IP) before elbow inflammation put him on the shelf indefinitely
  5. RHP Rafael DePaula, 21 — has yet to appear in a game after finally securing his visa, so this ranking is based on his substantial upside
  6. 3B Dante Bichette Jr., 19 — he got off to a slow start and didn’t hit his first homer until yesterday, but DBJ has come on strong of late (.324 wOBA) and is poised for a big second half
  7. OF Tyler Austin, 20 — the run-away favorite for farm system MVP through the first two months (.477 wOBA), Austin has continued to show his all-around offensive game while adapting well to right field
  8. RHP David Phelps, 25 — has pitched to a 4.49 FIP in 33.1 IP as a swingman for the big league team, and I doubt he’ll be eligible for the post-draft list in mid-July
  9. RHP Dellin Betances, 24 — his control issues have gone from bad to worse (7.69 BB/9 and 18.5 BB%) and his days as a starter appear to be numbered
  10. J.R. Murphy, 21 — having what might be the quietest bad year in Yankees’ prospect history (.297 wOBA), though his walk (9.5%) and strikeout (12.2%) rates remain very strong
  11. OF Ravel Santana, 20 — the ankle is all healed up and he’s slated to join Short Season Staten Island when their season begins later this month
  12. RHP D.J. Mitchell, 25 — got his first taste of the big leagues and is having another solid season with the traveling circus in Triple-A (3.40 FIP)
  13. Austin Romine, 23 — hasn’t played yet this season due to an inflamed disc in his back, but he’s been cleared to resume baseball activities and is expected to return until July
  14. OF Ramon Flores, 20 — he’s been pretty streaky so far (.313 wOBA) but continues to control the strike zone well (8.1 BB% and 16.5 K%)
  15. OF Slade Heathcott, 21 — has yet to play this season due to another left shoulder surgery, but he’s scheduled to debut with High-A Tampa next week
  16. RHP Adam Warren, 24 — hasn’t pitched all that well this year (4.74 FIP) and frankly, has been underwhelming in Triple-A since getting their last season (4.24 FIP in 207.2 IP)
  17. RHP Mark Montgomery, 21 — I’m not going to call him the next David Robertson, but Montgomery is the closest thing we’ve seen to the next D-Rob thanks to his knockout slider and pure dominance (1.21 FIP)
  18. RHP Brett Marshall, 22 — has turned into a steady and reliable workhorse, but he isn’t missing bats in Double-A (5.02 K/9 and 13.7 K%) and that’s a red flag
  19. 2B Angelo Gumbs, 19 — has been sneaky great so far (.355 wOBA) and has done his best work on the bases (19-for-22 in stolen base attempts)
  20. RHP Bryan Mitchell, 21 — the long-term project has been inconsistent from start-to-start but has some of the best stuff in the organization (3.20 FIP) and the strikeout rates to back it up (9.62 K/9 and 26.3 K%)
  21. SS Cito Culver, 19 — another slow starter (.310 wOBA), Culver gets a bit of a pass because his missed time following his grandfather’s death … he’s started to kick it into gear in May and has shown off a great batting eye (14.6 BB%)
  22. LHP Nik Turley, 22 — has battled on-and-off blister issues but has otherwise continued the progress he made last season (2.97 FIP)
  23. OF Zoilo Almonte, 22 — missed several weeks with a hamstring issue but has hit well when on the field (.342 wOBA)
  24. Greg Bird, 19 — power-hitting backstop will try to prove he can stick behind the plate when he joins one of the Short Season clubs later this month
  25. OF Ben Gamel, 20 — Mat’s little brother has been a consistent producer this season (.325 wOBA) but he needs to develop some pop down to road since he’s stuck in the corner outfield
  26. RHP Chase Whitley, 22 — three-pitch reliever has forced his way to Triple-A early this spring (3.61 FIP) and could be in line for a late-season call-up
  27. UTIL Ronnie Mustelier, 27 — is he the position player version of Al Aceves? I don’t know, but you can’t ignore the .412 wOBA he’s put up since signing
  28. UTIL Brandon Laird, 24 — hasn’t hit at all in Triple-A dating back to two years ago (.299 wOBA in 823 plate appearances), but he sneaks into the list because he’s versatile and does have power
  29. LHP Daniel Camarena, 19 — three-pitch command lefty is likely to debut with the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees following his stint in Extended Spring Training
  30. 2B Corban Joseph, 23 — returning to Double-A for a third straight season (.390 wOBA) after starting the year on the DL with a shoulder program is odd, but he was hanging onto the list by the skin of his teeth anyway

May 2012 Monthly Wrap-Up

Welcome back, Robbie. (photo c/o Reuters Pictures)

For last month’s wrap-up, please click here. I went a little overboard collecting data this month, so I’ll try to make this as brief as possible.

The Yankees played a decidedly mediocre month of baseball in May, going 14-14 and splitting both their home and road contests. They’re probably lucky to have managed a .500 record considering they gave up slightly more runs than they scored, but all things considered one can’t complain too much about the mostly uninspired ball the team played seeing as how they didn’t lose any games in the standings. Although that 4.0 runs per game mark is pretty sad considering they never even dipped below 4.5 runs per game during any one calendar month over the last two seasons.

The Offense

Despite one of the most wretched stretches of futility in recent Yankee history midmonth, the team still wound up with an above-average attack in May (107 wRC+), although in reality the team’s primary issue wasn’t putting runners on but actually taking advantage of their opportunities and scoring those runners. Unfortunately I can’t split RISP down by month — I can’t imagine how gross the team’s numbers would’ve been in May — but on the season the Yankees have a .309 wOBA/90 wRC+ with runners in scoring position, which is just unacceptable for a team with this much firepower. I still expect things will even out in due course, but it doesn’t make the futility any less frustrating to watch.

On an individual level, Robinson Cano finally remembered he was Robinson Cano, putting up a .399 wOBA/152 wRC+, and the much-maligned Mark Teixeira (137 wRC+) and the slightly lesser-maligned Alex Rodriguez (131 wRC+) also provided output closer to their career norms, though the latter’s line remains rather punchless (.431 SLG in May; .424 overall). Raul Ibanez also continued to do work, with a big-time .397 wOBA/151 wRC+. On the flip side, Russell Martin‘s hitting woes continued, with a below-average (though fairly well above-average for a catcher) .313 wOBA/93 wRC+; while Derek Jeter‘s hot hitting cooled off as he turned in a .315 wOBA/94 wRC+ month.

However, most surprising was Nick Swisher, who went from red-hot in April to completely useless in May, with a .242 wOBA/44 wRC+ showing. This was Swish’s second consecutive sub-par May (last year .293/78); hopefully he can get back to where he’s supposed to be in June.

Starting Pitching

After a horrific start to the season, the starting rotation got somewhat back on track on May, although the staff’s most glaring weakness — susceptibility to the longball — actually got even worse. I keep waiting for the HR/9 to regress, and while it seems unlikely that the Bombers’ starters will go an entire year giving up home runs at  an absurd 1.63 per nine clip — only five teams in the last decade featured rotations that even posted 1.5 HR/9 rates for a full season, and the highest of those five was 1.59 by the 2003 Rangers — they are going to have to cut the longball crap out if they intend to both make and make a deep run in the playoffs. Of the bottom 30 rotations by HR/9 in that link, only three made the postseason — the 2006 Twins (1.37 HR/9), the 2007 Phillies (1.35) and 2009 Phillies (1.34).

As usual, CC Sabathia led the way with another badass month of May, although even he wasn’t immune to the home run (1.14 per nine); Hiroki Kuroda continued to outpitch underwhelming peripherals (3.96 ERA/5.01 FIP); Andy Pettitte returned to the team for the first time since October 2010 and didn’t skip a beat, helping lend some stability to the rotation; while Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova continued to play which-young-Yankee-righthander-will-get-demoted-first, as Hughes’ season line sits at 5.64 ERA/5.04 FIP despite a stretch of four better-than-expected starts, while Nova continued to give up rockets all over the field en route to a 5.60 ERA/5.02 FIP on the year. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Hughes’ and Nova’s struggles is that they continue to strike a lot of hitters out and mostly limit the walks, but they are making far too many mistakes and when they do, those mistakes are getting crushed. Incredibly, Hughes’ 1.7 HR/9 was actually an improvement from April’s 2.9 rate.

The Bullpen

For the second straight month, the bullpen was the team’s most consistent component — not to mention remained one of the most effective units in the AL — which is pretty amazing considering Mariano Rivera didn’t pitch and David Robertson threw 3.1 innings. Boone Logan wins the award for most ridiculous line of the month, with a 15.4 K/9, 1.0 BB/9, zero home runs, .538 BABIP, 4.82 ERA and -0.08 FIP. Yes, negative.

Platoon and Home/Road Splits

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I also compiled the team’s platoon and home/road splits for the first time ever in a monthly wrap-up, to see what, if any, trends have emerged.

As you can see, the offense has turned in nearly identical performances against both righthanders and lefthanders. I was probably most surprised to see that the offense has performed slightly better on the road than at home — in particular, the team somewhat surprisingly leads the AL in road ISO, although they did come in 2nd in the AL in that category last year, so I suppose it’s not that bizarre.

The pitching staff has been getting absolutely brutalized by righthanded hitters, giving up a league-worst 1.44 home runs per nine to righties and league-worst .465 slugging. Lefties have been kept at bay slightly more effectively, although they’re still doing their share of damage. And it may surprise some of you that the staff has pitched better at home thus far this season despite Yankee Stadium‘s friendly offensive confines, though they are still giving up way too many extra-base hits.

Sanchez homers twice in big Charleston win

Triple-A Empire State (3-0 loss to Toledo)
CF Kevin Russo: 2-4, 2 K, 1 CS
2B Matt Antonelli: 1-4, 2 K
1B Steve Pearce & DH Jack Cust: both 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K
LF Ronnie Mustelier: 1-2, 1 BB, 1 CS, 1 HBP — stuck in a little 8-for-39 rut (.205)
C Frankie Cervelli: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K — 13 hits in his last 35 at-bats (.371)
3B Brandon Laird: 2-3, 1 BB, 1 K — had two hits in his previous 27 at-bats (.074)
RF Colin Curtis: 0-4, 1 K
SS Ramiro Pena: 0-3, 1 K
RHP D.J. Mitchell: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 8/3 GB/FB — 70 of 115 pitches were strikes (60.9%) … 46 strikeouts in 53 IP this year (7.8 K/9), up a full strikeout from his career rate coming into the season (6.9 K/9)
RHP Jason Bulger: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 22 of 33 pitches were strikes
LHP Justin Thomas: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K — 18 pitches, 12 strikes

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2012 Draft: Christian Jones

The 2012 amateur draft is only five days away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some prospects individually rather than lump them together into larger posts.

Christian Jones | LHP

A potential first round pick coming into the spring, Jones grew up in the Bay Area before headed to the University of Oregon. His draft stock took a huge hit when he blew out his elbow in February and needed Tommy John surgery.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs., Jones throws three pitches from a low arm slot when healthy. His sinking fastball sits in the low-90s and his slider sweeps across the plate, as you’d expect given his arm slot. A changeup serves as his third offering. Jones repeats his classic drop-and-drive delivery well, but he can still suffer through bouts of wildness on occasion. His makeup and work ethic are considered major pluses and his rehab is going well by all indications.

The new spending restrictions really screw over a kid like Jones, who went from a potential top pick to someone who might not be drafted at all. Baseball America ranked him as the 315th best prospect in the draft following the elbow injury, so way down the list. With teams unable to pay him say, third or fourth round money without incurring harsh penalties, there’s a very good chance Jones will return to school and come out as a potential top pick in next year’s draft. I really like him as a late-round upside play, but the system really doesn’t allow for those kind of picks anymore.