Game 87: In 3-D!

Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson, AP

The next big thing in entertainment is going to be 3-D TV, and YES is making history tonight by broadcasting the first ever baseball game in three dimensions. Granted, you need a fancy 3-D TV set, but if you have one and you’re a Verizon FiOS customer, then you’re in luck. You’ll get to see Mark Teixeira hit baseballs right into your living room. If you don’t, don’t worry, there will be a regular old broadcast as well.

As for the actual game, the Yanks won’t be as lucky as they were yesterday today. Felix Hernandez isn’t getting traded before first pitch, so they’re stuck facing the guy that two-hit them in the Bronx last week. Hopefully the Yanks went to town in the video between then and now and will be better prepared for King Felix tonight.

Here’s your starting nine, on the final 10pm ET start of the season…

Brett Gardner, LF
Nick Swisher, DH – this will be his fifth time DH’ing in the last eight games
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Curtis Granderson, CF
Colin Curtis, RF
Frankie Cervelli, C
Ramiro Pena, SS

Javy Vazquez, SP

Three lefties in a row? Joe Girardi‘s gone mad, mad I tells ya!

Anyway, like I said, 10pm ET start tonight with YES carrying the game. I’m not sure how this whole 3-D thing works as far as channels and what not, but I assume everyone tunes into YES until further notice. Enjoy the game, no matter how many dimensions you watch it in.

Open Thread: The final 10pm ET game of 2010

That has nothing to do with baseball, but it’s amazing nonetheless. So yeah, watch it.

Here’s an open thread if you’re just killing time until the final 10pm ET game of the Yankees’ 2010 season. Oh happy days. Talk about whatever, just be civil.

Nick Swisher will participate in Home Run Derby

Via Sweeny Murti, first time All Star Nick Swisher with try his luck in the Homerun Derby on Monday, filling the spot vacated by the “injuredRobbie Cano. The Yankees weren’t too pleased with Cano being in the event, and I can’t imagine that they want Swish there either. Will he come up with a minor injury between now and Monday? My money’s on a sore biceps.

Yankees sign Colombian catcher Alfredo Castellon

A week into the2010 international signing period, the Yankees finally made their first strike, signing 18-year-old Colombian catcher Alfredo Castellon Jr. He was signed after impressing at a tryout camp in Tampa at the end of June, though the terms of the deal are undisclosed. There’s no such thing as having too many young catcher, the Yanks almost showed just how valuable of a commodity they could be yesterday.

The Cap’n kinda-sorta makin’ it happen

Photo credit: John Froschauer/AP)

Quite a few noticed early in the season that Derek Jeter looked different. No, he didn’t get in the best shape of his life, receive Lasik eye surgery or anything like that — but his hitting approach was decidedly odd. No longer did you see the lithe future Hall-of-Fame shortstop with his trademark lashing of baseballs to the opposite field for a hearty helping of singles and occasional doubles. You didn’t see the trademark patience either; there was no working deep into counts.

Instead, we surprisingly witnessed first-pitch swings that ended up eliciting weak groundballs to shortstop. Some of this was masked by his inordinately high slugging percentage, which gave a big boost to his line. Still, at .330/.354/.521 coming into May, this was not the Jeter of old.

At the end of April, Jeter’s walk rate was at 3.5% (career rate is 9.0%), his pitches per plate appearance was 3.54 (it’s usually in the high 3’s) and his swing percentage stood at 53.5%, roughly 5 percentage points higher than his career average (h/t Matt Imbrogno at TYU). Perhaps the most egregious notation is by my calculation, Jeter was swinging at the first pitch in 53.9% of his at bats by the 1st of May. For a leadoff hitter, that’s dastardly and for the Cap’n, uncharacteristic.

Even if the initial results were positive (his average was a robust .400), it doesn’t often bode well for future success, as pitchers will adjust and the lower amount of pitches seen generally means the more length the starter can give the opposing team. It led me to wonder if his bat was slowing down, which, if true, could be big trouble for a player bound to get a new contract and whose value is largely derived from a plus bat with positional dearth. (His decline against fastballs instills such fear in me.) With suspect defense, he needs to hit.

On the positive side, Jeter’s walk rate, which climbed marginally in May at 6%, has jumped since then. In June and July he’s walked 12.7% of the time and 14.7%, respectively. Jeter’s now within his normal walk range, checking in at 8.3%. His swing percentage has since dropped to 48.1%, directly in line with career averages. With 296 pitches seen on an 0-0 count since 5/1, Jeter’s swung at 87 of them for a first pitch swing percentage of 29.3%. All in all, there are some encouraging signs that Jeter’s starting to get back into his former approach in batting discipline, if slowly.

Still, it’s not all peachy. Jeter’s still swinging at a lot of balls out of the zone (28% this year compared to his career average of 20%) and though he’s making contact, it seems a safe bet that most of those swings are going for easy groundouts. The groundballs are really the crux of the issue.

Jeter’s a career .260 hitter when putting the ball on the ground. This year, however, he’s at .222. Earlier in the season Jeter had been hitting an absurd number of ground balls — 71% of the time for the first month. He’s since dropped that percentage to a still-high 63.1% in May and 63.9% in June, finally falling back to 76% (!) in July (albeit, a very small sample). You’d expect better luck with BABip for groundballs moving forward for Jeter given his career rates and no noticeable loss of speed. Still, this has to be the most perturbing aspect of what we’ve seen out of #2 this season.

(Photo credit: Julie Jacobson/AP)

In spite of the ground-bashing, he’s upped his line drive rate to 17.2% on the season (still 3 percentage points lower than his career average), which has come largely at the expense of fly balls, down to 15.2% on the year. Perhaps some of the irony in his hit data is that Jeter’s been fairly successful hitting the ball in the air — of the scant few times he’s hit a flyball, he’s hitting .362/.354/.915 with a .244 BABip. For his career, he’s a .241/.235/.636 hitter with a .155 BABip. So really, he’s had phenomenal luck when lifting the ball and fairly poor luck when hitting the ball on the ground.

On the defensive side, the longtime Yankee captain was coming off a year in which his normally below-average to fringe-average defense was seen as a plus, registering an 8.0 UZR and a 4 on Total Zone, the former a career high and the latter just the third positive TZ score he’s had in his career. No one expected this at age 35. If interviews and media are to be believed, his success with the glove in 2009 was chalked up to a new exercise routine borne out of Jeter’s desire to improve after being called out by GM Brian Cashman. This year, while not a complete meltdown, it seems Jeter’s defense has again eroded to bare mediocrity. There’s no way to tell if there are nagging injuries or just general deterioration of quickness and agility.

But it does seem strange that he’d have such a spike after years of relative incompetence, then right back down again, no? Was 2009 an aberration? Seems like it, though one season’s worth of defensive metrics is hardly a sign of much (and certainly not one half-season, by that token). It’s no mystery Jeter has trouble ranging to his left, and the jump throws from his right are a sign of poor range. I’d love to see some data on the amount of jump throws Jeter does per season — it may give us a better sense of how his overall range is moving forward, a key piece of data as he’s in line for another contract. All in all, this can’t be considered a plus moving forward.

Reports of his ultimate demise may be exaggerated  — he’s had poor first halves before, he’s suffered from some poor BABip luck and his increase in walks, a better swing percentage (particularly on the first pitch), higher line drive rate must provide some solace for more success later this year — but with a possible four-year contract on the horizon, his July resembling his April approach (albeit in a small sample), and the death-by-groundball, even the most die-hard Yankee fan must be nervous about what Jeter will look like going forward.

Read more of the stupid things I write on Mystique & Aura.

The aftermath of a Cliff Lee almost-trade

He coulda been on a better contender. Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

Twenty four hours ago, I thought Cliff Lee would be in pinstripes. Although I was very hesitant to give up Jesus Montero, Lee is one of the top left-handed pitchers in the game, and a rotation featuring three lefties in Lee, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte along with Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett would have been nearly unstoppable. I had images of dominant second half running through my mind.

As we now know, with the deal 99.9 percent done and with the teams’ already having exchanged medicals, the Mariners pulled out. Ostensibly, they got cold feet over David Adams‘ ankle, and that’s an excuse I don’t buy for a second. Players recover from ankle sprains, and Montero — not Adams — was the key piece to the deal. But somehow, the Rangers came a-knockin’, and for Justin Smoak and three others, Lee was theirs for the next two and a half months. Maybe he can bring the franchise their first playoff series victory since joining the league as the Washington Senators in 1961.

The fallout from the Mariners’ dealings have been wide-reaching. The Yankees, as Tyler Kepner writes, are mad at the Mariners. A year ago, Seattle asked for Austin Jackson for Jarrod Washburn; this year, they could have landed Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee. By now, I’m sure Brian Cashman has grown tired of the Mariners’ antics, and the prevailing sense in the organization is that Seattle used them to get Smoak.

Although a general manager is obliged to make one last call before signing off on a deal, others in baseball feel the Mariners went to far, says Joel Sherman and George A. King III. The Yankees, say the two well-connected Post reporters, believed the deal to be done pending acceptance of physical reports, but the Mariners on Friday started to ask around for Eduardo Nunez instead of David Adams. The Yankees were hesitant after agreeing to a framework of a deal the night before. “The Yankees do not do business that way,” a Yankee official said to the Post. “When we say something is a deal, it is a deal.”

In the same article, Cliff Lee said that he spoke with CC Sabathia on Thursday night, expecting to rejoin his former Cleveland teammate in pinstripes. Sabathia mentioned yesterday that Lee was looking forward to being a Yankee, and Lee speculated that the media coverage made the Rangers up their offer. Generally, that’s the way these trades work, and the Mariners would have gone back to the Rangers whether The Post had broken the story or not. For what it’s worth, Torii Hunter, who wants to be a GM one day, believes the Mariners broke an unwritten rule when they traded Lee within the division. Of course, he’s saying that because now the Angels have to go through Lee and the Rangers to reach the playoffs.

Interesting, in all of the coverage of the prospects, the Yankees now seem more willing to trade Jesus Montero than they were a few months ago when Roy Halladay was available. With the emergence of Austin Romine and the depth at catcher which includes a 17-year-old Gary Sanchez now with the Rookie Leagues and probably three or four years away, the team is loaded at that position. Club officials are not confident that Montero will stick behind the plate even as they believe he could bring an impact bat to the lineup. As trading him would have been a reasonable move, keeping him is just as positive for the future of the franchise.

For now, the consensus around baseball is that the Yankees will get their man a few weeks after the World Series ends. If it’s only a matter of money for Lee, the Yanks’ offer will trump all others. They didn’t get their man yesterday through no fault of their own, and now they might have to go through him to reach World Series title number 28. They’ve done it before; they can do it again.

Give CC his due

Does one of the C’s in CC Sabathia stand for consistent? He is among the most sure things in baseball for a starting pitcher, and I think it’s this consistency that often has CC overlooked. When he was with briefly with Milwaukee he was mentioned as among the best pitchers in baseball, if not the best. In the year and a half since signing with the Yankees, those mentions have slowed, if not come to a full stop. Should they have?

Any conversation about the best pitchers in baseball undoubtedly includes Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zack Greinke, Chris Carpenter and others. CC’s name is often left out. There are a few main factors which contribute to this: 1. He’s moved to the AL East, clearly the best division in baseball and toughest to pitch in. 2. He’s a high priced Yankee free agent signing. The MSM loves to gloss over the “Core Four” but the hired guns of the Yankees don’t get as much love, as they are often treated as mercenaries. CC doesn’t get bashed like A-Rod does, but he probably had has many glowing articles written about him nationally in his 3 months in Milwaukee as he has in a year and a half in pinstripes. 3. CC is historically a slow starter, so he doesn’t jump out of the gate fast with eye popping numbers. While I know ERA isn’t the best stat out there for pitchers (or close) I will consider it for the sake of this post as I’m questioning the lack of CC love in the mainstream.

What really brought this to my attention was a chat in April/May with Rob Neyer. He listed Lincecum, Greinke, Halladay, Hernandez, Haren and “Your favorite Cardinal” as the best pitchers in baseball. Those guys are all great, but considering the league switch, should Haren, Carpenter, Wainwright, and Lincecum automatically be considered better than CC? When asked about CC, Neyer replied “At the moment, no. He was among the very best when his K/BB ratio was in the 4-5 range. Since joining the Yankees he’s been under 3. Still plenty good, but not mystical.” Isn’t that simple statement explained by joining the Yankees in the AL East? Also of note, a follow up question the next week asked “You mentioned that CC isn’t on the level of the top pitchers in the league, and that when he gets hi K/BB ratio in the 4-5 range, it would be a better argument. Am I missing something, but little Timmy has never had a K/BB ratio in the 4’s for an entire season?” Neyer’s retort “No, he hasn’t. But his HR rate has been absurdly low. Sabathia’s a different sort of pitcher.”

Seriously? Lincecum’s HR is absurdly low not only because he’s a great pitcher, but he pitches in the NL, in an extreme pitchers park, in a division where he also gets to pitch in pitchers parks like LA and San Diego. If CC were pitching in San Francisco, even if his K/BB rate didn’t improve (which it undoubtedly would), wouldn’t his HR rate likely become “absurdly low?” While it’s a small sample size, it’s interesting to note that in CC’s 17 National League starts, his HR rate was 0.4/9. That’s the definition of absurdly low Rob. CC’s HR/9 in Interleague play is 0.5/9 (in 242 innings). Again, absurdly low.

Ubaldo Jimenez got off to a great start in 2010 (and has since, predictably, tailed off) but still hasn’t been as a good as CC was in Milwaukee and has a much shorter track record than CC had by the time he got to Milwaukee. Yet Ubaldo had a ton of articles written comparing him to Bob Gibson a month ago, while CC had articles written about how he can only beat the Orioles (written by a moron, but written and published nonetheless). Ubaldo has been fantastic this year, but can anyone really say he’s a better pitcher than CC? I’m not ready to, not by a long shot.

While the Greinke love has tailed off this year, he’s still a great pitcher and deserves to be discussed among the best in baseball. But better than CC? I don’t think you can say that with any certainty. His 2009 was otherworldly, and better than any season CC has had, but he hasn’t been as good as CC this year when using MSM stats and has been a very similar pitcher by more advanced metrics. Again, considering ERA as the MSM would, Greinke’s ERA is 3.10 since 2007 (including time in the pen) and CC’s is 3.05. Greinke was fantastic last year, but to simply use a one year sample to put him in the best in baseball conversation and leave CC out is shortsighted. It comes back to CC’s consistency. He hasn’t had an off the charts season from April to October, so his peak just hasn’t been as memorable. CC doesn’t have a 2.16 ERA like Greinke (only once under 3, never in the AL), so his consistency is almost a downfall. If he had a 4.10 ERA in 2007 and a 2.00 ERA in 2008, he’d have roughly the same 3.05 cumulative ERA, but in the minds of many, having one off the charts season would make him seem like a better pitcher. Hell, if you had polled around baseball before last October, many of the experts would tell you Josh Beckett is as good as CC. It ain’t close.

Without delving into the case of every top pitcher in baseball, it’s wrong to dismiss CC as not being amongst the best. Neyer mentioned Haren, Carpenter/Wainwright, and doesn’t consider CC in their class? Really? Even Neyer, who for the most part knows his stuff (except for the “Yankees clearly don’t care about defense” nonsense), and should understand the difference in leagues (and divisions within the leagues) made it a point to leave CC out. He didn’t forget CC, he specifically stated reasons why CC wasn’t among the top pitchers in baseball. You can tell me that Felix and Halladay are better than CC and I won’t make much of an argument. Neyer somehow even managed to leave out future Yankee Cliff Lee (was he subconsciously already fitting him for pinstripes?), whom you could certainly make a case for being among the best, but when you tell me that all of those are guys are definitely better than CC, I have to disagree.

For more of my work head over to Mystique and Aura.