We’ve wasted countless words here talking about specific players the Yankees may or may not target at the trade deadline, and the majority of the time we’ve written about pitchers. The one point we keep missing or just ignoring is the goal of a trade. Yes, it’s to make the team better (duh), but for when? Given the Yankees and their perpetual pursuit of World Championships, the goal is too build a better postseason team, specifically a better postseason pitching staff. That’s a different animal than a regular season staff, very much so.
Right now, at the end of June, the pitching staff is a dozen guys deep because they’re playing everyday and they don’t want to overworking certain players, yadda yadda yadda. Come playoff time, that all changes. There’s no screwing around, you’ll see clubs rely heavily on their three best starters and three or four top relievers. That’s pretty much it. Just look back at 2009, the Yankees used just three starters in the playoffs and the relief quartet of Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Phil Hughes threw 34 of 46.1 total relief innings (73.3%). Those seven guys combined to throw 92.5% of the team’s total innings that postseason.
If anyone beyond the six or seven top pitchers gets into a postseason game, it’s either a) an emergency (short start or extra innings), b) a blowout, or c) overmanaging. This is nothing new, and it’s not something unique to the Yankees. As much as we don’t want to see them on the roster, the Brian Gordons and Buddy Carlyles of the world are only here to help navigate this current stretch of the 162 game regular season. The beauty of the postseason is that we get to see who the manager really trusts because he’s in “win at all costs” mode.
At the moment, I see just three guys on the Yankees’ staff that are absolute locks for the postseason roster: Mo, Robertson, and CC Sabathia. I don’t think anyone else’s spot is guaranteed. Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia have done a bang-up job at the back of the rotation so far, but will they start a playoff game for the Yankees this year*? Who knows if Bartolo Colon will return from the hamstring injury and pitch the way he did earlier in the year. Furthermore, who knows if he’ll hold up all year? It’s a roll of a dice every time he goes out there. How effective will Rafael Soriano be? Phil Hughes? A.J. Burnett was not used out of the bullpen in last year’s ALDS, he’s certainly not guaranteed to pitch. Obviously some guys will step up and seize jobs between now and then, but others will make it by default.
The clear needs right now for a potential Yankees’ postseason pitching staff are a legitimate number two starter behind Sabathia, two reliable right-handers out of the bullpen, and a lefty specialist that can actually get lefties out. It’s entirely possible that all four needs will be filled from within, but the smart money is on some outside help being needed. The Yankees have another month to really evaluate their internal options before the trade deadline, and beyond that they can sort out the rest of the staff and ride the hot hands into October. Just remember, the pitching staff at the end of the season will look little the one the Yankees have now, and with good reason.
* Assuming they get that far, of course. The playoffs are far from a given.
And now it’s the National League’s turn to come to the Yankees. The Bombers have done their time in Chicago and Cincinnati, and now they’re back in their natural element, with nine real hitters in the lineup and no need for double switches. The less “strategy,” the better.
What Have The Rockies Done Lately?
Although they dropped their most recent game to the Indians, the Rockies are coming in hot. They’ve won two of their last three games, six of their last eight, and nine of their last 14. Most of those games have been close though, nine of the 14 were decided by two runs or less. Four of the last five have been one run affairs. Colorado is exactly .500 at 37-37, and their +11 run differentially is just a win or so better than average.
Rockies On Offense
The Rockies can definitely hit (.323 wOBA as a team, ninth best in baseball), but their lineup is very top heavy. It starts right at the top with Carlos Gonzalez, who has followed up last year’s monster .416 wOBA, 6.6 fWAR season with a .348/1.5 effort this year. Since moving to the leadoff spot earlier this month, the center fielder is hitting .362/.392/.551 in 16 games. The number two hitter changes by the day, but of late it’s been either Jonathan Herrera (.319 OBP, .288 wOBA) or Chris Nelson (.279 OBP, .327 wOBA). They split time at second base as well.
Batting third is the best player in franchise history, Todd Helton. He’s having a great dead cat bounce year (.382 wOBA), doing his usual job of getting on base like a fiend (.387 OBP) while rediscovering some of that lost power (.190 ISO and nine homers, already more than he had last year in half the plate appearances). Troy Tulowitzki is generally one of the five most valuable players in baseball and the cleanup hitter, but he’s down to a .357 wOBA due to a prolonged stretch of mediocre hitting (.251/.300/.407 since the end of April). It’s worth noting that his last 14 games feature a .356/.387/.559 line, and he capable of doing major damage at any moment. Former Yankee Jason Giambi will be the designated hitter and protect Tulo, and he brings a .426 wOBA to the table in limited playing time. Hopefully the Yankees take a huge lead in one of these games and the Giambi parks one into the upper deck in garbage time, I wouldn’t mind that for old time’s sake.
The rest of the lineup is a bit more fluid. Ty Wigginton (power heavy .358 wOBA) is now the regular third baseman after Ian Stewart’s disaster start, and the duo of Ryan Spilborghs (.320 wOBA vs. LHP) and Seth Smith (.427 wOBA vs. RHP) platoon in right. Catcher Chris Iannetta sports a .229 batting average but a .389 OBP because his 19.9% walk rate is the second highest in baseball (behind only Jose Bautista). His power is very real as well (.218 ISO). Recent call-up Charlie Blackmon (.338 wOBA in limited time) handles left field duties. Colorado has three guys that qualify as elite count-workers (Helton, Giambi, and Iannetta), three that can steal a few bags (CarGo, Tulo, Blackmon), and a number of players capable of putting one in the people. It’s a diverse and effective offense, but that top five is where the real damage is done.
Rockies On The Mound
Friday, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez: It’s been a very up-and-down year for Mr. Jimenez. Sometimes he’ll be this guy, other times he’ll be this guy. He’s very enigmatic, almost like a younger version of A.J. Burnett (who he will be facing). Ubaldo’s strikeout numbers aren’t as good as you’d expect them to be with his stuff (7.83 K/9) but he’s gotten the walks under control (3.86 BB/9) and generates a fair number of ground balls (45.9%). His stuff is absurd despite a noticeable drop in velocity; he’ll still sit 94-96 with both a two and four seamer. Jimenez’s wide array of secondary pitches includes a changeup (mid-80’s), slider (low-80’s), and curveball (high-70’s), and his new toy is a nasty little splitter that dives down and away from lefties and sits in the high-80’s. You can see it at 0:30 and 0:40 of this video. Filthy. If good Ubaldo shows up tonight, there’s almost nothing the Yankees can do. If it’s bad Ubaldo, then it’s all about patience.
Saturday, RHP Aaron Cook: A shoulder issue kept Cook on the shelf until late-May and this will be his fourth start back. He’s an extreme pitch-to-contact guy, having struck out just four men per nine innings since his first full season in 2006. Cook will get a healthy amount of ground balls (50% in 2011, but well over that in the last few years) with an upper-80’s sinker and a low-80’s slider, plus he’ll also throw some low-70’s curves on occasion. He typically won’t hurt himself with walks, but the Yankees tend to eat pitchers without overpowering stuff and a pitch-to-contact approach for breakfast. Cook hasn’t been great since coming off the disabled list, which naturally means he’ll throw eight scoreless tomorrow.
Sunday, RHP Juan Nicasio: Nicasio started this season in Double-A and crushed the competition there (10.0 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 56.2 IP) before skipping right over Triple-A and joining the Rockies’ rotation. His numbers aren’t as stellar in five big league starts (7.53 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, 40.7% grounders) but that’s to be expected. The 25-year-old relies heavily on a mid-90’s fastball, throwing it about two-thirds of the time. Nicasio backs it up with a low-80’s slider and a mid-80’s changeup, but when push comes to shove he goes back to the number one. There’s nothing tricky here, it’s power stuff and he dares you to hit it.
Bullpen: It doesn’t show up in the ERA (3.93), but the Rockies have a phenomenal relief corps that is near the top of the league in strikeout rate (8.01 K/9) while boasting the game’s best walk rate (2.72 BB/9). It starts at the back with Huston Street (8.31 K/9 and 1.56 BB/9), who does his job well but is amazingly homer prone (1.56 HR/9 this year, 2.09 HR/9). I guess solo shots aren’t the end of the world. Rafael Betancourt might be the best setup man in the world, having struck out 11.6 batters per nine innings since the start of last season while unintentionally walking just 1.08. He’s a human rain delay because he takes his sweet time between pitches, but he’s also brutally effective.
The middle innings feature former Marlins and Astros closer Matt Lindstrom, who throws serious gas but doesn’t miss as many bats as you’d expect. He can make it interesting on occasion, but he gets it done more often than not. The criminally underrated Matt Belisle (8.39 K/9 and 2.10 BB/9) will throw four different pitches in relief and fill-in wherever manager Jim Tracy needs him. You could see him in the third or the eighth, he’s like the 2009 Al Aceves. Lefty specialist Matt Reynolds has held same side batters to a .188/.239/.288 batting line since coming up in the second half of last year. The hard-throwing Rex Brothers was just called up and doesn’t really have a defined role, and we’re most likely to see his mid-90’s gas from the left side in low leverage spots, if anything. Swingman Clayton Mortensen has done some starting and some relieving this year, and right now he’s the weak link in the bullpen (4.98 FIP). The Rockies’ bullpen is a microcosm of the team; they’re deep and diverse with no obvious weak spot, better than their .500 record would lead you to believe.
Recommended Rockies Reading: Purple Row
So here’s a funny question: when’s the last time Curtis Granderson hit a homerun? It’s been a while, twelve team games in fact. That doesn’t really sound like much, but considering that he hit four homers in the twelve games before that and two homers in the twelve games before that, it feels like an eternity. Grandy’s last long ball was this garbage time shot off Yoshinori Tateyama in the first game of the Texas series. Yeah, it’s been a while.
There’s a few things worth noting about the homerless stretch. First of all, Granderson isn’t struggling without them. He has ten hits in his last 37 at-bats, a .270 average that is right in line with his .277 season mark. Two of those ten hits have been triples (though it’s hard to call last night’s triple and triple, thanks to Nyjer Morgan), and triples still clear the bases like homeruns. He’s also drawn eleven walks and been hit by two pitches in that time, good for a .426 OBP. Homers or not, getting on base that often is stellar.
Secondly, the lack of homers is likely a regression back to normalcy more than anything else. With 21 homers through the team’s first 65 games, Granderson was on pace to go deep more than 52 times this season, and it was really hard to see him doing that. No matter how prolific his power may be, 52 homers in a season is rarefied air. There’s a reason it’s only happened 31 times in baseball history. Twenty-one homers through 77 games put Grandy on pace for 44 dingers, which is still a huge number that we would have happily signed up for before the season started.
Third, pitchers really aren’t pitching him all that differently. With some help from Texas Leaguers, here’s a breakdown of the pitch selection Granderson’s seen since his last homer on June 14th…
Just a few more sliders, on average eight more per 100 pitches seen, which works out to about two more per game (give or take). It’s not like pitchers have stopped feeding Granderson fastballs all together. Yeah, his strikeout rate has gone up, from one whiff for every 4.38 plate appearances before his last homer to one for every 3.76 at-bats since, but six strikeouts in his first three games after that last homer are skewing the numbers. In his last nine games, Granderson has struck out once every 4.88 plate appearances.
We’re just about halfway through the season and Curtis Granderson is hitting .277/.365/.579 (.405 wOBA) with 21 homers, 38 extra-base hits, and 13 steals while playing very good defense at a premium position. He’s also played in all 77 team games (75 starts, two appearances off the bench), and durability is a wonderful trait. Whether you prefer fWAR (4.2) or bWAR (2.9), he’s already surpassed last season’s production (3.6 and 2.8, respectively). Granderson hasn’t hit a homerun in more than two weeks, but it’s just a blip on the radar more than anything. The fact that it’s noticeable when he doesn’t go deep for twelve straight should tell you that he’s been pretty damn awesome.
The pitching matchup was lopsided (on paper), the offense were pretty comparable (on paper), and you had two first place teams (in reality) opening a three game set on Tuesday night. The Yankees put this one to bed early, rolling to their third straight win.
Feed The Narrative
So maybe Zack Greinke can’t pitch in New York. Or maybe he can and this was a bad game. Or maybe he can but his laughable defense betrayed him. Seriously, how bad are the Brewers in the field? Nyjer Morgan turned a routine fly ball into a triple in the first, and Casey McGehee tried to tag Alex Rodriguez at third instead of throwing to first (with Jorge Posada running!) to end the frame. Laughable. But anyway…
The Yankees knocked Greinke out of this game after just two innings and 56 pitches, tagging him for seven runs. After coming into the game with eight unintentional walks all season, he walked three in this game. It was also the first time in his career he did not strike out a batter in a start. Instead of focusing on the fact that the Yankees crushed an elite pitcher, we’ll all argue over Greinke’s ability to handle pressure and New York and whatever else we can come up with. Either way, yay Yankees win.
Freddy Gets By
A closer game would have been much more stressful. After a scoreless first inning and a quick second inning, Freddy Garcia really wasn’t fooling anybody. The Brewers hit several rockets but ran themselves into two inning-ending outs on the bases that killed potential rallies. In fact, Milwaukee’s fourth inning went like this: single, single, fielder’s choice (runner out at second), single, sacrifice fly (runner thrown out trying to go from first to second). The Brew Crew were all over Freddy the second and third time through the order, but hey, two runs in six innings. Sign me up.
Lol Brewers, lol
I touched on this a second ago, but how sloppy were the Brewers? Let us count the ways…
- Morgan plays that routine fly ball into a triple
- Brewers play the shift on A-Rod to pull, but they feed him offspeed stuff away and he slaps a single where the second baseman should have been.
- McGehee fields a grounder at third and tries to tag A-Rod instead of throwing to first to get the slow-footed Jorge Posada to end the inning. McGehee hurt himself in the process, but stayed in the game.
- Marco Estrada simply dropped the ball while on the mound for a balk.
- Zach Braddock went to his mouth while on the mound, resulting in an automatic ball four to Robinson Cano.
- Rickie Weeks’ falls down fielding a routine ground ball, shuffles it to Yuniesky Betancourt at second for the first out, but he bobbled it and couldn’t turn the inning ending double play.
That’s all the stuff I can remember, and just for the record: I did not see number five. I was in the other room at the time, so I’m going off word of mouth for that one. Craziest thing? The Brewers had ZERO errors in the game. Goes to show how useless they really are. We’ve definitely seen the Yankees play a sloppy game like that once or twice this season, and it sure is no fun to watch. The Brewers will be better than that Wednesday night, I’m sure of it.
Oh By The Way, Offense!
Hooray for double digit runs, that’s a good way to make the night fun. Nick Swisher hit a three-run homer off Greinke (and a double later), and Mark Teixeira hit a two-run shot in garbage time for his MLB lead tying 24th. Curtis Granderson reached base three times (two walks and the “triple”), A-Rod reached base three times (two hits and a walk), Brett Gardner reached twice (walk and a hit-by-pitch to leadoff the game), and the trio of Russell Martin, Jorge Posada, and Eduardo Nunez each picked up a hit as well. Chris Dickerson got to pinch-hit in garbage time and put just his second ball in play of the month. That lack of playing time will kill ya.
Garcia was lifted after six innings and just 76 pitches, which seemed kinda odd. If the game was closer, I’d understand it more, but they were up by nine at the time. Probably could have squeezed another inning or two out of him, but whatever. Nitpicking at its finest. (Ed. Note: Girardi later said he pulled Garcia because the bottom of the 6th lasted too long, and he didn’t want to run Garcia back out there. Understandable.)
Oh, Nyjer did the honors of hitting a line drive right back at Garcia, which he caught but dropped before throwing to first for the out. One comebacker per start for Freddy, it’s in his contract. Look it up.
Hector Noesi relieved Garcia and really had to work in his two innings (48 pitches), but he did strike out three. After the beating he took in Cincinnati, it’s good to see him get back out there and toss up a few zeroes. Cory Wade tossed an uneventful ninth.
The Yankees have won three in a row, seven of their last nine, ten of their last 13, and 13 of their last 17. That’s a pretty nice run, I’d say.
WPA Graph & Box Score
Game two of the series will be played tomorrow night, when A.J. Burnett gives it a go against his former Blue Jays’ teammate Shaun Marcum. If you want to check out the game, RAB Tickets can get you there on the cheap.
Fresh off last night’s stellar effort, Nik Turley has been promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa. Kramer Sneed and Dan Burawa both appear to be making the trip up as well. Jose Ramirez was activated off the disabled list to take one of the open spots on the River Dogs’ roster.
Triple-A Scranton (9-2 loss to Norfolk)
Austin Krum, LF: 0 for 5
Luis Nunez, SS & Jesus Montero, C: both 0 for 3, 1 BB – Nunez whiffed … Montero allowed a passed ball and missed a catch for an error
Mike Lamb, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 1 3B
Terry Tiffee, DH: 1 for 4, 1 2B
Brandon Laird, 3B & Greg Golson, CF: both 1 for 4 – Laird scored a run and struck out twice … Golson struck out and got picked off first
Jordan Parraz, RF: 0 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB
Doug Bernier, SS: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K – seldom used backup infielder is on a nice little run, six for his last 16 (.375)
Greg Smith, LHP: 6 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 6 BB, 2 K, 1 HB, 8-4 GB/FB – 60 of 103 pitches were strikes (58.3%) … that’s us u-g-l-y
Fernando Hernandez, RHP: 2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K – 29 of 50 pitches were strikes (58%) … he’s so bad, so so bad
Late last night word got out that Dodgers’ right-hander Hiroki Kuroda will require some kind of compensation to waive his no-trade clause at the deadline. Kuroda is expected to be one of the best available starters this summer, though Joel Sherman reports that the Yankees will not give the 36-year-old an extension to facilitate a trade. Kuroda is currently having his worst season in the States, but he still has a 3.10 ERA with a 3.82 FIP. I’ll take it.