A-Rod hit by line drive in batting practice

Update Part Deux; The x-rays came back negative. And exhale.

Update: Alex is out of the lineup, Ramiro Pena takes his place. The initial diagnosis is a lower left leg contusion, and he’s off to get x-rays. Sigh.

Alex Rodriguez limped off the field during the batting practice this afternoon after taking a Lance Berkman line drive to his shin. He was able to walk off the field under his own power, but obviously this is a concern. No update yet, but stay tuned.

The great Francisco Cervelli rant

Oops. Photo Credit: AP Photo, Frank Franklin II

Francisco Cervelli isn’t supposed to be here, enjoying this much playing time. The weakest of the Yankees’ deep organizational corps of catcher, Cervelli has somehow caught 539 of the Yanks’ 958.1 innings this year. He isn’t hitting, and as a defensive specialist, his fielding has let him and the Yankees down. As a dinky pop up bounced off his glove and three unearned runs cost the Yanks the game last night, I had to wonder what exactly Cervelli was doing with so much playing time on a team with a $213 million payroll.

I don’t hold a grudge against Francisco Cervelli, the person. He’s a 24-year-old kid from Venezuela who clearly loves playing baseball as a career. He’s enthusiastic to a fault, and for a few weeks, he had a penchant for big hits. But he’s nothing more than a back-up catcher, but because Jorge Posada is a fragile 38, Cervelli has become the de facto starter, earning 56 percent of the team’s playing time and accruing far too many at-bats.

Coming up through the Yanks’ system, Cervelli never cracked the Yanks’ top 20 lists. The 2008 Baseball America Prospect Handbook has him at 23 and cites his “above average catch-and-throw skills.” After playing for Tampa, he had “impressed scouts with his toughness and ability to grind through the season.” Last year, he moved up to 21st and again, Baseball America praised his defense. “His defense is first-rate,” the book says, with a plus arm and above-average receiving and blocking skills.” His bat would never play as anything better than a back-up.

This year, half of this prediction is true. After his 1-for-3 performance last night, Cervelli is hitting .255/.328/.317 with absolutely no power. (Since the arbitrary date of May 18, he’s hitting under .200 with a .500 OPS in over 170 plate appearances.) His offensive value has him at 5.3 runs below average. As a back-up catcher, we could tolerate 100-150 plate appearances of Francisco Cervelli, but he’s now at 239 PAs. His playing time is in no danger of lessening any time soon.

The bigger problem right now is that Cervelli’s defensive prowess has fallen off the face of the earth. The botched pop-up last night was his seventh error of the season, and only Jason Kendall, with 300 more innings, has a higher error totals. The Yanks’ catchers now lead the AL with 13 errors on the year. He has allowed two passed balls while pitchers have thrown 22 wild pitches with him behind the dish. He’s also thrown out only seven of 44 would-be basestealers, and while much of that rests with the Yanks’ pitchers’ inability to hold runners on, Cervelli’s arm just hasn’t been as strong or as accurate as billed. That 16 percent rate is worst among all AL catchers with at least 300 innings caught. He’s fidgety behind the plate, and often lets his enthusiasm get in the way of framing pitchers and receiving the ball. Last night, he jumped up on a few pitches and may have cost the Yanks’ hurlers some called strikes.

In terms of overall value, Cervelli is still contributing positively to the team. Before last night, his WAR sat 0.5, but just a few weeks ago, he was a one-win player. As his numbers decline further, that total will continue to drop. Based on his strong April, he should be able to pull in a 0 or positive WAR value, but it’s not going to be much when the dust settles.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have turned to Cervelli on a regular basis this year. Due to age and nagging injuries, Jorge Posada just hasn’t been able to play much. He couldn’t — or Girardi didn’t want him to — catch last night, a night after an off day following a day game. At most, he’ll catch two of four games against the Red Sox, and the Yankees will replace Jorge’s bat — 10.6 runs above average — with Cervelli for a swing of nearly 15 runs. He has become the Melky Cabrera of 2010, an adequate bench player overrated by many and granted too much playing time.

With the Yankees’ financial clout, they shouldn’t be rolling out near-replacement players at any position. Even though there is a benefit to developing cost-controlled young players, the final piece of that equation concerns those players’ qualities. They must be good cost-controlled young players, and right now, Francisco Cervelli does not fit the bill. If the Yankees cannot trust Jorge Posada to catch three out of four games against the Red Sox, the team absolutely needs someone better than Cervelli, and right now, that’s not going to happen.

So what, then, were the Yankees to do? The list of free agent catchers following the 2009 season was sparse. The team wasn’t going to bring back Jose Molina. The Ivan Rodriguez Experience was one no one wanted to relive, and he — along with Rod Barajas, Benjie Molina and Gregg Zaun — wanted to start. They could have thrown good money after so-so players, but they went with Cervelli instead. It is a decision that’s backfired.

As the season plays out, I’ll have to come to terms with Cervelli. Despite last night’s game, when he didn’t take charge of a pop-up and his pitcher couldn’t take charge, Cervelli isn’t going to make or break a season. But with Jesus Montero knocking on the door, the Yankees aren’t going to stick with Cervelli much beyond October. He’s a constant reminder that the team still hasn’t yet figured out how to put together an adequate bench, and his ample playing time is a constant reminder that the Yankees buried their collective heads in the sand over Jorge Posada’s age and potential health problems. They didn’t plan accordingly, and we’re stuck with Cervelli.

Posada’s shot at Cooperstown hurt by the pinstripes?

Being overshadowed is the story of Jorge Posada's career. Credit: REUTERS/Pool-David J. Phillip

Jorge Posada’s Hall of Fame candidacy is already being debated and will continue to be debated for years.  His candidacy will likely be debated long after he either gets in or he doesn’t.  While I am a believer in his credentials, I wonder if his chances would be greater had he had an identical career in a different city, for a different team.

It sounds weird to suggest as many people believe in an East Coast Bias or Yankee Bias that brings more attention to players like Posada which should help his candidacy.  Also, had he not played for the Yankees, he clearly wouldn’t have as many rings as he does.  Despite all of that, I think Posada’s chances would be better had he spent his whole career in Atlanta, Chicago, Anaheim or another team that has had success over his 16 (and counting) year career.  Without getting too deep into his candidacy (here are cases for and against), Posada is one of the greatest hitting catchers of all time.  Whether you think he belongs or not, this really can’t be argued.  My argument is that playing for the Yankees has been detrimental to his candidacy.

Posada has never been the best player on the Yankees (his best season, 2007 happened to be the year Alex Rodriguez unanimously* won the MVP with a season for the ages) and has been far from the most recognizable.  If you were to start a list of the biggest names of the Yankees from 1995-2010, where would he fall?  Well, he’s the 4th biggest name of the “Core Four” for starters.  Then there’s A-Rod. Maybe Bernie Williams. And maybe he falls behind Brian Cashman, Joe Torre and George Steinbrenner when it comes to divvying out the credit of who helped the Yankees to 5 titles.  Is there another team in baseball where Posada could have played his career and been so far down on this list?

*Well, it would have been if two voters from Detroit didn’t vote for their own guy.

If Posada had played in Atlanta his whole career he would be right there with Chipper Jones when it comes to getting credit for position players.  While the Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz triumvirate are well remembered, Glavine hasn’t played a full season for the Braves since 2002, Maddux since 2003 and Smoltz since 2007.  While he would have long been in their shadows, he also would have had plenty of time on his own being the 2nd best, most well known player on the team.  He has not been afforded that luxury in New York where Jeter and Rivera have been bigger than him since Day 1 and continue to be, and Pettitte has been there for all but 3 years of his career.  Also, let’s assume that Posada wins a ring with Atlanta (very possible) and doesn’t have the stain of not winning a ring on his resume.  Wouldn’t Posada the Atlanta Brave be a bigger deal than Posada the New York Yankee?

What if Posada had spent his entire career in Anaheim?  Ignore for a moment that Mike Scoscia would have just benched him for being a catcher with a great bat, again, wouldn’t Posada’s career be more appreciated out of the shadows of New York (and his teammates)?  Who is the face of the Angels for the last 15 years?  Scoscia? Vladimir Guerrero?  Who else?  Guerrero spent 6 years in Anaheim, you could easily argue had Posada been an Angel, he would be the most recognizable Angel of the past 15 years.  Right or wrong, this would bolster his Hall of Fame candidacy.  Being the face of a franchise can only help when the members of the BBWAA cast their ballots.

You can run through these scenarios a million different ways, but for almost every other team during Posada’s career, he would be higher up on the pecking order of fame than he is with the Yankees.  For many baseball teams he would have been the face of the franchise for a 15 year period.  Personally I think this would outweigh the fact that he has played in New York his whole career.  Whatever benefit he has gained from playing for the Yankees, I think he has lost more by being viewed as a complimentary piece instead of the great player that he has been.  In fact, playing in New York probably has even led to more of the criticism he has come under, especially during the past few years.  The Posada Hall of Fame candidacy will be a fascinating one for the next 5, 10, maybe even 15 years.  If he can put up another solid season or two after this year maybe he jumps up to the “almost definite” category.  If he struggles (or retires) the case will be made for or against based on what he has done so far.  Either way, I think Posada’s case has been hindered by being the (relatively) small fish in a big pond.  If he were the proverbial big fish in a small pond, I think his candidacy would already be viewed in a better light.

Yanks drop opener to Sox, 6-3

For the fifth time in seven games, and for the fourth straight game, the Yankees took a lead with a two-run homer in the first. For the fourth of those five, the Yankees lost the lead and eventually lost the game. It seems backward. With two runs in the first it feels like the Yanks should score more later on. But in those five games they’ve scored just seven runs after the first-inning homer.

Biggest Hit: Kalish extends the lead

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

While some ridiculous antics in the second inning provided the emotional low point of the evening, it was Ryan Kalish’s home run four innings later that really put away the Yankees. It started when Vazquez threw Mike Lowell an 0-1 slider that hung, allowing Lowell to pull it into left for a one-out base hit. That brought up Ryan Kalish, a 22-year-old rookie outfielder from Red Bank, NJ.

Vazquez had struck out Kalish twice to that point, both on three pitches. The first time he set him up with two high, mediocre at best breaking pitches before finishing him with a letters-high fastball. Then in the third he dropped a curveball over the plate for a called strike and then went with two changeups, the second low and out of the zone, inducing yet another swing and miss. To open the third at-bat Vazquez again went to the changeup, and while this was low it was still in the zone. Kalish hit it on a line and it carried all the way to the Yankees’ bullpen, his first big league homer, giving the Sox a 6-3 lead.

The Yankees had just closed the gap the previous inning, and a 4-3 game seemed manageable at the time. But with one swing of the bat the Red Sox created a much tougher comeback situation.

Communication breakdown

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Despite a David Ortiz solo home run in the first, it looked like Javy was pitching reasonably well. He did allow a leadoff double to open the second, but he quickly got two pop ups — only Francisco Cervelli dropped the second one. That turned a runner on second, two outs situation into a runners on the corners, one out one. Vazquez then recorded his first strikeout of Kalish, though again the pitches didn’t look sharp. A walk to the No. 9 hitter loaded the bases, and another walk tied the game. Marco Scutaro’s double put the Sox ahead for good.

On the pop-up, it was absolutely Cervelli’s ball. Infielders are taught that the pitcher never comes off the mound to field a pop up. Why pitchers don’t abide, I guess, is purely instinctual, but they nevertheless sometimes get in the way. It was clear — made transparent by their grimaces seen on YES-Mo — that neither was comfortable as the ball fell towards the infield. Vazquez has to get out of the way there, just like Cervelli still has to catch it. It wouldn’t have been the easiest catch, as the spin of a pop-up makes it more difficult to catch when facing the outfield. (I once got a baseball in the mouth trying to do this, though in my defense it wasn’t a high pop up and I had to bound out of my squat to get under it.)

Please, pitchers: if there’s a pop-up in the infield and another fielder can get the ball (and this is almost always the case), let him.

Granderson brings the heartache

The Red Sox had the lead, but the Yankees had time. In the fourth it looked like they might strike. Robinson Cano started the inning with a shot through the hole and into right field for a base hit. Lance Berkman then sent one towards the middle, and while Scutaro fielded it he couldn’t make the flip to Jed Lowrie, allowing both runners to reach safely with none out. But time was running out, as Curtis Granderson was followed by Francisco Cervelli.

Granderson, of course, produced the worst possible outcome, a grounder to first that resulted in a 3-5 non-force double play. It was the worst because 1) Granderson’s speed makes a triple play awfully difficult, and 2) his speed also makes a double-force play a bit tougher. Hitting it right to Lowell, who was standing near the bag, allowed for the quickest way of retiring two on one play. It let Cano move to third, but with Cervelli coming up that didn’t matter much. His strikeout was tragically predictable.

The Yanks did score in the fifth, but with runners on the corners and one out they could only manage one run, an RBI single for A-Rod. The Red Sox widened their lead a half-inning later, and the Yanks managed just two hits the rest of the way. Jeter did work a tenacious at-bat in the ninth, but with two outs it wasn’t quite enough to jolt the Yanks.

Miscellany

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

This was the seventh game in which Vazquez has allowed multiple home runs. He has only seven homerless starts this season.

As Alex Speier of WEEI tweeted, “Clay Buchholz is the first pitcher this year to go more than 7 innings in fewer than 100 pitches this year against the Yankees.” Alex will be at tomorrow’s event, so we’ll temporarily forgive his affiliation.

With his 1 for 3 night, Jeter is now 25 for 75 since July 18, with a line of .333/.390/.440.

Since June 22 Gardner is hitting .208/.341/.305. He hasn’t drawn a walk in his last six games.

Box and graph

Sad, sad green line. Perk up tomorrow.

More at FanGraphs. You can read the traditional box, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It ain’t pretty.

Up Next

Up next: RAB/FanGraphs Live Discussion. But for the Yanks, they’ll meet the Red Sox again tomorrow at 4 on Fox (sigh). CC Sabathia tries to put the Yanks back in the win column. John Lackey gives it a try for the Sox.

Mesa keeps hitting, but Tampa falls to St. Lucie

Dellin Betances was named the 11th hottest prospect in the minors in this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. Brandon Laird got some In The Team Photo. Also, make sure you check out Rebecca’s interview with 19-year-old righthander Jose Pena, a prospect playing for the Yanks in the Dominican Summer League. Great, great stuff.

Triple-A Scranton (7-3 win over Pawtucket)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 SB – seven for his last 21 (.333)
Colin Curtis, RF: 3 for 6, 3 R, 1 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K – believe it or not, those are only Curtis’ second & third homers of the season … the first was that one in the big leagues when he came in for Brett Gardner mid-at-bat
Brandon Laird, 1B: 0 for 3, 2 K
Jesus Montero, C: 2 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 K – six for his last 18 (.333) with three doubles
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Eduardo Nunez, 3B, Chad Huffman, LF, Eric Bruntlett, SS & Greg Golson, CF: all 1 for 4 – Nunez doubled & drove in two in his first game out of the three-hole in months … Huffman, doubled, walked, drove in a run & came around to a score … Bruntlett doubled, scored a run & K’ed … Golson drove in two, scored another, K’ed & threw two runners out at third
Zach McAllister: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 7-6 GB/FB – 63 of his 100 pitches were strikes … that’s ten straight starts allowing at least one homer
Royce Ring: 0.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K - just five of his 14 pitches were strikes (35.7%) … allowed all three inherited runners to score
Eric Wordekemper: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 15 of 27 pitches were strikes (55.6%)
Zack Segovia:
Jon Albaladejo: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 2 K – seven of his nine pitches were strikes … that’s his 37th save of the season, one away from tying the league record

[Read more…]

Game 108: Hello, old friend

Who could forget? (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

It’s been what, two and a half months since the Yankees last played the Red Sox, and obviously a lot has changed since then. Javy Vazquez, tonight’s starter, has done a complete 180 and been the team’s best and most consistent starter since that series. The Yanks have added a few pieces, most notably Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood, and both Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson have returned from the disabled list. Mark Teixeira is back from the dead, ditto the bullpen.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, have lost Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Jason Varitek to injury. Jacoby Ellsbury is back though, same with Josh Beckett. Most importantly, the Yanks were three games back in the division at that time. Now they’re on top by half-a-game. A slim margin indeed, but I’ll take it. Boston, meanwhile, is six full games back in the division and in need of a huge surge this month if they want to make some noise in a playoff race.

On this very date last season, these same two teams kicked off a four game series in Bronx, and I’m sure you remember what happened. The Yanks won all four games, including that epic 15-inning scoreless game, effectively burying the Sox and claiming the top spot in the division for good. I’ll happily take a repeat of that, and that starts with a win tonight.

Here’s the lineup…

Jete, SS
Swish, RF
Tex, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Robbie, 2B
Berk, DH
Grandy, CF
Cerv, C
Gardy, CF

And on the bump, it’s Javy Vazquez.

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET, and you can watch on either My9 locally of MLB Network national. Enjoy the game folks.

Report: Yankees will keep an eye on Guillen

From the please be a cruel joke department, the Yankees will reportedly keep an eye on the recently designated for assignment Jose Guillen. I have absolutely no idea where Guillen would fit in with both Marcus Thames and Austin Kearns already on the roster. He doesn’t get on base (.308 OBP over the last three years), hits for nothing more than decent power (.164), doesn’t have any defensive value (-21.6 three-year UZR), and by all accounts is a bit of a jerk. Am I missing something here? There’s no reason for the Yanks to be interested in him, pass.