Talkin’ about Aaron Laffey

(Photo Credit: Flickr user BGSU86 via Creative Commons license)

Stop me if you’re heard this before, but the Yankees are looking for a veteran lefty reliever. I know, shocking, but that’s what Jayson Stark reported yesterday. The Yankees dumped J.C. Romero from their Triple-A squad last week (he’s since hooked on with the Rockies) and claimed Raul Valdes off waivers earlier in the week, but he’s a veteran in terms of age (33) only (just 64 IP in the bigs). Another veteran(-ish) southpaw hit the market yesterday when the Mariners cut ties with Aaron Laffey (a former Indian, hence the picture), so let’s see if he’s a guy that makes sense for the Bombers.

The Pros

  • Well, he’s left-handed, and that’s always a plus. Laffey’s got a classic LOOGY repertoire, which means a fastball in the high-80’s and a sweepy slider in the low-80’s that helps generate a ground ball 51.5% of the time. He’ll also mix in the occasional low-80’s changeup and high-70’s curveball, but very rarely.
  • Laffey came into the season with one minor league option remaining, and although he was sent to the minors on July 30th, he was recalled two days later due to an injury. Because it’s already August 18th, any team that acquires him could stick him in Triple-A until September 1st and not burn that option because he will not have spent the required 20 days in the minors. Long story short, he has an option for next year.
  • He’s under team control for three more years after this one, and won’t make much money in his first trip through the arbitration process this winter. Something in the high six-figures is the most likely salary for next year.

The Cons

  • He may be left-handed, but Laffey has never been all that good against same side batters in his big league career. Lefties have tagged him for a .250/.321/.431 batting line (10 K, 7 BB) in 81 PA this year and .271/.339/.388 (77 K, 37 BB) in 488 PA for his career.
  • Laffey’s peripheral stats are terrible. His career overall numbers are an eyesore (4.44 K/9 and 3.42 uIBB/9), and against lefties they’re merely mediocre: 6.15 K/9 and 2.88 BB/9 with a 47% ground ball rate. That hardly screams “valuable reliever in the AL East.”
  • Uh … well he’s not really that much of a veteran, which is what the Yankees are reportedly looking for.

By no means is Laffey great, but we have to remember what we’re talking about here: a potential second lefty reliever. Not the number one guy that will get the big outs in the seventh and eighth innings, just a spare arm for some miscellaneous matchup work. I do like Laffey for that role, or perhaps I should say I like him more than the current in-house options (Valdes and … Steve Garrison?). That’s a better way to put it. That fact the team will be able to send him the minors next year without a problem is great, just because it’s an added level of flexibility and bullpens thrive on that. I wouldn’t give up anything of value to acquire Laffey, I don’t like him that much, but there’s nothing wrong with making a waiver claim and rolling the dice on a young (26), cost-controlled, and optionable southpaw for the rest of the season and next.

Yanks can’t finish sweep as late rally falls short

I bitch and moan about umpires all season long, pretty much every damn game, but I don’t ever blame a loss on them. I don’t blame this loss on the umps, but holy crap how much did they screw things up? I hate seeing umpires impact a game that much. Human element? The players are the human element. This kind of stuff is a joke.

Strike three. Sure, why not.

Almost

The Yankees went into the ninth inning down 5-3 with All-World closer Joakim Soria about to take the mound. John Flaherty was blabbing incessantly about how he’s having a poor year, completely ignoring that over the last two and a half months, Soria has a 2.22 ERA with a 27-4 K/BB in 28.1 IP. Brett Gardner set the stage by making an out oddly enough, but he did see nine total pitches in his leadoff at-bat. Derek Jeter followed up with a seven-pitch single into and out of Melky Cabrera‘s glove, then Curtis Granderson singled to right (five pitches) and Mark Teixeira walked (four pitches) to load the bases. So it’s a two-run game, the bases are loaded, and Robinson Cano is at the dish. I’m feeling pretty good right about now.

Cano battled for seven pitches, eventually flying out deep enough to left to score Jeter from third. The tying run was in scoring position, but now they were down to their final out. Soria’s second pitch to Nick Swisher way high and to the backstop for a wild pitch, moving the runners to second and third. It was a huge, huge play at the time. Swisher ended up drawing the four-pitch walk to re-load the bases, which brought Jorge Posada to the plate. Here’s the strike zone that ensued…

There’s several things going on here, so let’s do this in an organized fashion…

  1. Soria had just thrown his last five pitches out of the zone, as well as eight of his last 12 and 12 of his last 16. How in the world does he get a called strike on pitch number two?
  2. Twice? The same pitch?? And to end the game???
  3. Not for nothing, but Posada can’t take that pitch with two strikes and two outs when it’s already been called a strike once in the at-bat. Protect the plate and protect yourself from the umpire’s stupidity, yo.

I just don’t understand what happened there. The strike zone completely changed in that final at-bat from the rest of the inning. Then again, that’s nothing new in the game today, the strike zones are slightly amorphous, to paraphrase Joe Maddon. Jorge struck out, and both the rally and game were over.

The Homerun That Wasn’t

The amazing thing is that the strike zone in Posada’s ninth inning at-bat was only the second worse umpiring mistake in the game. Billy Butler whacked an 0-1 Bartolo Colon fastball to deep left-center field in the fourth, and it hit off the top of the wall and came back into the field of play. The umps ruled it homer, but Joe Girardi came out to have a word, and they went inside to review. Great, that’s what it’s there for, technology at work.

While the umps were doing their thing in the instant replay booth or whatever the hell it is, YES showed numerous replays that quite obviously showed the ball hitting the top of the padding of the wall and coming back. It was not off the recessed, higher wall, it was off the top of the shorter wall in front. It was clearly a double since it never actually left the field of play, and yet the umpires determined it was a homer after seeing the replay. Crew chief Dana DeMuth told Girardi that the ball didn’t have to clear both walls, which is 100% wrong according to Kim Jones, who said during the broadcast that she confirmed with two Royals’ sources that the ball has to in fact clear both walls. The umpire(s) straight up did not know the ground rules of the park. It wasn’t an inconclusive replay, the umps just did not know something they’re being paid to know.

Girardi admitted after the game (see the video above) that it was mistake not to play under protest, but I doubt anything would have come from it anyway (the last time MLB upheld a protest was 1986, and if anything they would have forced the Royals paint a yellow line or something). The real problem is that DeMuth refused to comment after the game, again showing that there’s zero accountability in his profession. How can you not know the ground rules? This isn’t some kind of weird play, like a ball off the catwalk in the Trop or something, it’s a simple homerun. They didn’t know the rules and don’t have to explain why. We should all be so lucky at our jobs.

Oh Look, Another Poor Start

I think the Yankees’ starters are trying to pick who loses a spot when they go back to a five-man rotation by having a “who can suck the most” contest. CC Sabathia gave up five homers to Rays, Phil Hughes pitched very well against Tampa (so he’s losing the contest), A.J. Burnett got roughed up on Tuesday, Ivan Nova got roughed up even worse on Wednesday, then Bartolo Colon have up five runs in five innings in this game. Of course one of those runs was Butler’s non-homer, but still. Colon gave up seven hits and walked two, the big blow being Alex Gordon’s three-run bomb two batters before Butler’s homer.

It hasn’t been a banner week for the rotation, but other than Burnett, we don’t have much of a reason to think it was anything more than a blip on the radar for these guys. This was the first time Bart allowed more than two runs in a start since that two-out, eight-run disaster against the Blue Jays in his first outing after the All-Star break. We’ll see what happens in five (or six) days and hope for the best.

(Photo via Ben Kabak)

Leftovers

Although the ump basically took the bat right out of Posada’s hands in the ninth, the Yankees had plenty of chances of score early on. Five of the seven men Bruce Chen faced in the first inning reached base, and the Yankees only scored one run (on a Granderson solo homer). They left men on first and second in the third inning, a man on second in the fourth, and then men on first and second in the seventh. That last one was particularly ugly. Jeter (single) and Grandy (walk) reached base to open the frame, then the sidearming Louis Coleman struck out the 3-4-5 hitters to escape the jam. Not one of them could put the ball in play. That’s how you end up leaving eleven men on base and going 1-for-10 with RISP.

Hector Noesi came out of hiding for three innings, allowing just one hit and one walk after Colon departed. All eight of his non-strikeout outs came on ground balls. Noesi threw fewer pitches in his three innings (38) than Soria did in the ninth (40), but this might be the last time we see him until September. Hector’s the obvious candidate to go down once Alex Rodriguez comes back and they get back to a 12-man pitching staff.

Jeter and Granderson combined to go 7-for-9 (with a walk), the rest of the lineup 3-for-25 (one of the three was a Russell Martin solo homer). Granderson had the homer and a booming double off the base of the wall, a ball that looked to be going out off the bat. Jeter did get picked off immediately prior to Curtis’ homer, but fallacy of the predetermined outcome and all that jazz. The Cap’n now has 15 hits in his last 27 at-bats, raising his season line to .290/.349/.380. How about that?

Was I the only one that raised an eyebrow when Bob Lorenz attributed the foul pop-up non-catch on youth and inexperience in the top of the first? Chen’s been playing professional baseball since 1994, he should know by now that the pitcher shouldn’t run into foul territory to catch a pop-up when there’s a position player able to make the play.

The Red Sox lost to the Rays, so the Yankees remained half-a-game up in the AL East. Their lead on the wildcard did shrink from 9.5 games to 8.5 games though, so … PANIC! Oh well, already over it. Go get ’em tomorrow.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs the “other” stats, and ESPN the updated the standings.

Up Next

It’s off to Minnesota for a four-game series with the Twins, which is music to my ears. The Yankees are 59-19 against the Twinkies in the Ron Gardenhire era (including playoffs), and frankly I’m surprised the Twins were able to win that many games. Sabathia kicks things off against fellow left Brian Duensing on Thursday evening.

A-Rod’s rehabs comes to an end in SWB loss

Apparently the Yankees signed 30th rounder John Brebbia before Monday’s midnight deadline, and have assigned him to Short Season Staten Island. There’s always one or two signings that trickle out a few days later. Josh Schmidt is headed back to Double-A Trenton, I assume to make room on the roster for the recently claimed Raul Valdes.

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 loss to Durham) they faced Matt Moore of the Rays, the best pitching prospect in baseball
Alex Rodriguez, 3B: 1 for 2, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding) – walked the first two times, struck out looking the third time, then singled to right the fourth time (Chris Dickerson pinch-ran for him and stole a base) … defensively, he allowed a grounder to get through his legs then misplayed a backhand stop, but he did catch a pop-up … and yes, there were several other plays in the game that he did actually make … he’ll said he’ll be in Minnesota tomorrow, but he’s definitely not playing
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K – homered off Moore
Jordan Parraz, RF, Jorge Vazquez, 1B, Brandon Laird, LF-3B: all 0 for 4 – Laird struck out once, the other two guys twice each
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 BB – also made a nice block on a ball in the dirt
Luis Nunez, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 K
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 2, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K – Lamb pinch-hit late in the game, but didn’t do anything though
Manny Banuelos, LHP: 4 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 5-1 GB/FB – 56 of 91 pitches were strikes (61.5%) … picked a runner off first … A-Rod‘s error didn’t help the pitch count (should have ended the inning, Manny ended up throwing 21 more pitches), but he did retire the last seven men he faced to finish strong
Pants Lendleton, RHP: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 33 of 49 pitches were strikes (67.3%)
Scott Proctor, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 13 of 20 pitches were strikes (65%)
Logan Kensing, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – ten of 17 pitches were strikes (58.8%)

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Game 121: Bartday!

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Here’s an interesting little factoid: the Yankees haven’t swept a three-game series since sweeping the Brewers at home at the end of June. Yes,  they did sweep the White Sox in Chicago a few weeks ago, but that was a four-game set. It’s been a while since they took all three games of a regular old three-gamer. They’ve got a chance to do that tonight against Bruce Chen and the Royals, and here’s the lineup they’re sending out there…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Andruw Jones, DH
Russell Martin, C
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Brett Gardner, LF

Bartolo Colon, SP

The Red Sox already lost to the Rays this afternoon, so the Yankees are guaranteed to end the day in first place. It’s getting late though, time to start padding that lead and pull away from the pack. It’s another 8pm ET start, and this one can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

The Evil Empire™®©

Here’s an interesting little story from Deadspin, which tells the tale of the term “Evil Empire.” The Yankees are trying to prevent the use of the phrase to parody the franchise, especially when people are “trying to illegally cash in on and otherwise trade off the goodwill of an MLB team’s identity for his or her own commercial gain without the Club’s consent.” The phrase isn’t exactly intellectual property though, and in fact it was first used close to 30 years ago. I can understand the Yankees (and MLB) wanting to protect their properties, but the term “Evil Empire” isn’t theirs. Anyway, I thought this was an interesting one for you legal buffs out there, so check it out.

A-Rod was “a little tentative” during last night rehab game

Alex Rodriguez played the field in a game for the first time since having surgery on his right knee last night, and he told Mike Mazzeo that there was a little apprehension on his part. “I was a little tentative. A little hesitant,” said A-Rod. “That’s something that comes with time and repetition. This was only my third game out there. I had the same experience coming off my hip injury in 2009, and those last few hurdles are more mental than physical.” There’s nothing unusual here, that little bit of apprehension if pretty normal when coming back from an injury. You don’t have to be a baseball player to know that.

A-Rod joked about not feeling 100% for the last 15 years when reporters saw the big ice pack around his knee after the game, but he did say flat out “there’s no soreness.” He’s been getting ice twice a day now as part of his regular treatment. Anyway, Alex told Jim Baumbach that he’s going to “try to ramp it up” tonight and get four at-bats, which likely means a eight or nine innings in the field. If all goes well, maybe we’ll see him tomorrow in Minnesota.

Update: Via Bryan Hoch, the Yankees are planning to bring Alex Rodriguez to Minnesota, but they might not activate him on Thursday. Sounds like they might give him a day off before adding him to the active roster again.

The Andruw Jones Revival

(Barton Silverman/The New York Times)

Andruw Jones made a pretty good first impression on Yankees’ fans. His first plate appearances of the season resulted in six pitch at-bat and a solo homer off Twins lefty Brian Duensing, exactly the kind of pitcher he was brought in to mash. Andruw had four hits in his first four games (three starts and 11 plate appearances), including a double and the homer, so everyone was happy. Unfortunately the good times stopped there, at least for a while.

Jones’ bat went silent after that, with April 27th and May 25th (two dingers) representing his only other multi-hit games in the first half. He went into the All-Star break with a .195/.278/.356 batting line in 97 plate appearances, hitting just .231/.315/.446 in 73 PA against lefties. Forty-one days had passed since his last extra base hit when the Yankees parted ways for the break, and he had been hitless in his ten previous at-bats before the midseason vacation. Considering how massively productive (126 wRC+) and likable the guy he is replacing (Marcus Thames) was in 2010, the majority of the fan base was decidedly anti-Andruw come mid-July.

Since the All-Star break, it’s been a much different story for Mr. Jones. He started the first game of the second half against the Blue Jays and lefty Jo-Jo Reyes, and he responded with two homeruns. Two days later he started against Ricky Romero and singled in the tying run in the eventual win. Gio Gonzalez was met with two RBI singles a few days later, and a couple days after that it was Zach Britton feeling the wrath of an RBI double and Jason Berken getting taken deep for a solo shot. Andruw came back from the break like a man possessed, hitting everything in sight and he hasn’t stopped since.

In 46 second break plate appearances, Andruw’s hitting .342/.457/.632 overall and .370/.485/.667 against lefties. Of course it’s a small sample size, we’re not trying to determine if this pace is sustainable (hint: it’s not), we’re just acknowledging that Jones was able to shake off the poor first half and make some noise heading into the dog days of summer. His season batting line has been boosted to .240/.336/.440, better than his preseason ZiPS projection (.221/.320/.438). He’s getting on base (.368 OBP) and hitting for way more power (.239 ISO) in 106 PA against lefties than Thames did last year (.352 OBP and .154 ISO) in 142 PA. Andruw’s also hitting .343/.410/.543 with runners in scoring position, for those inclined to value those situations.

The season hasn’t gone exactly according to plan for the Yankees fourth outfielder, but a scorching hot start to the second half has helped offset his awful first half. Jones is at the point where he’s doing what’s expected of him, and that’s get on base and hit for a ton of power against lefties despite a low batting average while playing something better than awful defense. It’s a thankless job for a guy that once ran off four 7+ fWAR seasons in a five year stretch and owns 400+ career homers, but Jones is contributing to the Yankees cause and has been better than expected since the All-Star break.