This was supposed to be a full article about the Yankees’ base running woes this season. We see them all the time: the pickoffs, the slow jumps, the horrible decisions to attempt the extra base, the rundowns, etc. But there are other aspects that aren’t as easy to see. For example, did you know that the Yankees rank among the worst for their base runners taking two bases on a single and three on a double? It’s not as easy to see, because it’s something that doesn’t happen, rather than something that does. In any case, as I was writing this I was reading through my favorite Yankees blogs, and I found that Moshe at The Yankee Analysts had already covered the topic. It’s a fantastically comprehensive view of the Yankees base running troubles, and it gets RAB’s highest recommendation.
With Derek Jeter on the shelf for the last week, Joe Girardi has employed a Brett Gardner–Nick Swisher leadoff hitter platoon with great (small sample size) results. Yankees leadoff hitters have put together a .423/.559/.654 batting line since Jeter got hurt, which is both awesome and unsustainable. After Tuesday’s game against the Reds was called due to rain, Joe Girardi told reporters that Jeter will return to the leadoff spot once he’s healthy. As far as I know, he didn’t give a reason or explain his thinking, though if he did I imagine it went something like this…
Jete is our shortstop and our leadoff hitter, that’s why he’s here. Gardy and Swish have done a great job, but it’s still Derek’s job and he’ll get it back. We feel our best lineup has Derek leading off. We trust all of our guys.
I think that about covers it. Of course you know that Jeter shouldn’t be leading off if you’ve watched the Yankees with any regularity this season. He’s hitting just .260/.324/.324 overall and a slightly better.270/.336/.345 from the top spot in the order. The average leadoff hitter is batting .264/.328/.387 this season, so the Cap’n isn’t even meeting that modest standard. There’s no logical reason why someone performing like that should get more plate appearances than anyone else in the lineup. None.
Obviously Jeter’s legacy is coming into play here, and that’s a dumb reason to make a decision. But it is what it is, and we’re stuck dealing with it. Perhaps there’s a compromise though, one that maximizes the team’s chances of scoring (and by extension, winning) without bruising Derek’s ego, since that is what this is essentially all about. The solution: platoon him with Gardner. A straight platoon, Gardner leads off against righties while Jeter leads off against lefties. That’s it.
As unimpressive as his overall stat line is, Jeter is still hitting a stout .299/.405/.403 against left-handed hitters, continuing last year’s trend (.321/.391/.481 vs. LHP in 2010). He’s unusable against right-handers though (.246/.294/.297 this year, .246/.316/.317 last year), and that’s where he’s really killing the team. Gardner does his best work against righties (.294/.366/.465 this year, .279/.362/.396 career), which is why he should leadoff against them. Jeter will be on the short of the platoon since he’s the righty, but you know what? That’s life. At some point he has to step up and face the reality of the situation. He hasn’t hit righties for 15 months now, it’s not just a slump anymore.
Not that I would know anything about it, but the old saying is that the toughest thing for a world class athlete to do is accept when they can no longer do thing they used too. That’s what Jeter is going through now, whether he realizes it or not. If they want to bat him leadoff until he gets his 3,000th hit, fine. Hopefully he does it sooner rather than later. After that though, the Yankees have to put their foot down and start doing what’s best for the team. Platooning Jeter and Gardner atop the lineup is step one of that process.
Hector Noesi was one of seven non-top 100 prospect evaluated by Keith Law today (Insider req’d), and here’s a snippet of what he had to saw…
I don’t get the Yankees’ desire to stuff Noesi — who has long had success as a starter in the minors — into a limited bullpen role … Noesi lacks a plus pitch, and his control is well ahead of his command right now, but there are four roughly average or better pitches there with a fastball in the 92-94 range and both the curveball and slider will flash better than average … at least has the stuff to hold his own in a major league rotation, even if it’s just as a fifth guy for now with a chance to be more of a four or a fringy No. 3.
Meanwhile, here’s some more news, which I’ll bullet point for simplicity’s sake…
- Kevin Whelan was placed on the disabled list with who knows what. He warmed up last night, but didn’t make it into the game for whatever reason.
- Both Buddy Carlyle and Damon Sublett were activated off the disabled list.
- Rob Segedin was promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa, which is completely unsurprising. Now there’s a reason to pay attention to the team.
- Rich Martinez was demoted from Charleston to Short Season Staten Island while Corey Maines went the other way.
- The 2012 Low-A South Atlantic League All-Star Game will be played in Charleston, which is pretty cool.
- Penn League Report has some scouting info on a quartet of Short Season Staten Island prospects, so check it out.
And finally, the games…
Triple-A Scranton (8-1 loss to Norfolk)
Austin Krum, LF & P.J. Pilittere, DH: both 0 for 4 – Krum struck out twice
Greg Golson, CF & Jordan Parraz, RF: both 0 for 3, 1 BB – Golson scored a run and threw a runner out at second … Parraz also threw a runner out at second
Kevin Russo, 3B & Jesus Montero, C: both 1 for 4 – Montero drove in a run and struck out
Brandon Laird, 1B & Luis Nunez, 2B: both 0 for 2 – Laird drove in two and struck out twice … Nunez walked
Doug Bernier, SS: 1 for 2, 1 BB
David Phelps, RHP: 5 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 5-1 GB/FB – 55 of 83 pitches were strikes (66.3%) … picked two batters off first … he allowed seven straight hits at one point, which is pretty nuts … a dozen hits allowed might actually be a DotF record, I don’t remember seeing many totals that high
George Kontos, RHP: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 15 of 26 pitches were strikes (57.7%)
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – a dozen of his 23 pitches were strikes (52.2%)
Buddy Carlyle, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 11 of 14 pitches were strikes (78.6%)
Is it just me, or is every game broadcast on My9 somehow impacted by rain? And not just this year either, it seems like this has been happening since the dawn of
time the YES Network. The Yankees and Reds are going to play two games tomorrow, New York’s first of at least three double headers this season. They also have two games scheduled for July 30th and August 27th, both against the Orioles to make up some April rain outs. The good news is that they have Thursday off, so the bullpen shouldn’t get too wrecked tomorrow.
Anyway, we’re left without baseball tonight, or at least baseball we care about. Here’s your open thread, which you can use to talk about the A’s and Mets (Outman vs. Gee), whatever game they show on MLB Network, the College World Series (South Carolina vs. Virginia, 7:30pm ET on ESPN, not an elimination game), or whatever your heart desires. You all know what to do, so have at it.
Tonight’s Yankees-Reds game has been rained out. The two clubs will play a double header tomorrow, the first game at 12:35pm ET and the second at 7:10pm ET. Brian Gordon and Freddy Garcia will start the games, we’re just not sure what order. Joe Girardi also confirmed that both Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez will only start one game each. Well, this bites.
Update: Garcia gets the day game, Gordon the night cap.
The Yankees’ perpetual search for pitching takes us to Ryan Dempster today, who we got to see firsthand over the weekend. He wasn’t very good, walking six and allowing eight hits in just 5.1 IP on Saturday, and the three runs scored had more to do with the Yankees not getting the job done with men on base than Dempster bearing down and pitching his way out of jams. A recent report indicated that there’s “no likely scenario” in which the Cubs trade him, but we’ve heard that about so many players in recent years that it’s tough to take it seriously. Let’s break it down…
- Dempster has proven himself as a bonafide workhorse over the last few years, throwing at least 200 innings every year since 2008 (he’s on pace to do that again this year). Although he had a lot of elbow issues early in his career, his only trip to the disabled list in recent years was due to a broken toe he suffered climbing over the dugout fence in 2009. That qualifies as a fluke.
- His fastball velocity has held up well over the years, still sitting in the low-90’s regularly. He’ll use both a two and four-seamer, though Dempster’s bread-and-butter is a mid-80’s slider that he throws 35.5% of the time. He’ll also throw his low-80’s changeup one out of every ten pitches. Since the start of the 2009 season, his slider has an 18.1% whiff rate, the changeup 20.2%. That’s pretty damn good.
- Since returning to the rotation in 2008, Dempster’s been above eight strikeouts per nine innings in three of the last four years (it was 7.74 K/9 in the one exception year, which is still close to eight per nine). His ground ball rate has hovered between 47.1% and 48.1% every year since 2007. Hooray for consistency.
- This is the last guaranteed year of his contract and he projects to be a Type-A free agent at the moment.
- Dempster does have a considerable platoon split since returning to the rotation. He’s held right-handed batters to a .240/.304/.375 batting line with 19.8% strikeouts and 7.3% unintentional walks since the start of 2008, but lefties have gotten to him for a .259/.339/.409 batting line with 24.0% strikeouts (very good) and 9.8% unintentional walks (not very good). His unintentional walk rate since 2008 is solid (3.18), but he’s been around 3.50 both this year and last. That’s nothing special.
- He’s become increasingly more homer prone over the last several years and is well-below-average at 1.27 HR/9 this year. His 15.1% HR/FB ratio is a touch high compared to recent years, and it’s worth noting that eight of the 13 homers he’s allowed this year came in his first five starts. He’s allowed just five homers in eleven starts since.
- I’m not sure how much (if any) stock to put in this, but Dempster is a career National Leaguer and has gotten hit around during Interleague play: 4.98 ERA, ~4.55 FIP in 202.1 career innings against the AL. We saw that on display last weekend and it’s not an insignificant amount of innings, but they’re spread out over 14 seasons (so an average of 14.5 IP per season, which is nothing). For what it’s worth, he has just one career playoff start to his credit, this one back in 2007.
- Dempster has a $14M player option for 2012 in his contract, and player options are alwaysbad news because the team has zero control over what happens. Any team that acquires him has to assume he’ll pick it up. He’ll earn $13.5M this year (about $2.25M per month) and there are a series of escalators built in the contract that are based on award finishes, etc.
The Yankees reportedly have no interest in Dempster (or teammate Carlos Zambrano), but we know they were at least scouting the Cubs recently. Plus “no interest” has led to an introductory press conference a number of times over the last few seasons, so I have a hard time believing that report. The player option is a killer because he could come over, completely stink, then eat up $14M of payroll next year. That said, at least Dempster’s option is market value; you don’t have to try all that hard to envision him going out on the market after the season and getting that kind of money. If he comes over, pitches well and picks it up, hey that’s freaking awesome. But that’s just one possible scenario out of many.
As for similar players traded recently, all I can come up with are Ted Lilly (Cubs to Dodgers), Javy Vazquez (Braves to Yankees), and Jake Westbrook (Indians to Cardinals), though I think we can all agree that Dempster is a notch above those two. They also aren’t perfect comparisons because of the player option (plus Javy was not a midseason trade). Those three required packages of multiple young players/prospects, which is probably what it would take to acquire Dempster. Anyway, I’m not sure what to think here. There are obviously pluses and some definite red flags, but I think it’s safe to say he passes the “better than Freddy Garcia” test. But is the cost and risk worth it?
Thirty days ago, Robinson Cano‘s triple slash line bottomed out at .273/.317/.488. He had just six unintentional walks to his credit in 186 plate appearances, and his 28 strikeouts put him on pace for 101 over a full season. It’s been four years since Cano last struck out more than 77 times in a season, and never once has he cracked the century mark. Hell, he’s never cracked the 90 strikeout mark. Although he was still performing at a rate better than the league average second baseman, it was still fair to consider Robbie’s season a disappointment given his lofty standards.
Thirty days ago coincides with the end of a stretch in which the Yankees won just eight of 19 games, including that ugly six game losing streak and seven games in which they scored three runs or fewer. The offense has a whole has ramped things up since then (.254/.335/.448 before, .274/.364/.458 since), and at the forefront of that turn around has been the resurgent Nick Swisher (.280/.430/.537 last thirty days), Jorge Posada (.310/.349/.397), and Brett Gardner (.338/.424/.500). All three got off to brutally slow starts, so their coming out parties were celebrated. No one paid much attention to Cano though, and his .330/.381/.573 performance over the last month seems to have gone completely under-the-radar.
The Robbie that has shown up over the last thirty days is the Robbie we watched last year, when he hit .319/.381/.534. His strikeout rate (13.6%) is right in line with where it was last season (12.3%), as is his unintentional walk rate (5.3% vs. 6.3%). Cano’s power numbers this year are actually better than they were last year (.214 ISO), both over the last thirty days (.243) and over the course of the entire 2011 season (.224). The weird part about that is that he’s actually hitting fewer balls in the air this season…
Hopefully I don’t have to tell you that fly balls tend to go for extra base hits a lot more often than ground balls, so maybe this means the power stroke is unsustainable. Cano’s BABIP (.302) is down compared to both last year (.326) and his career mark (.321), but it’s been on the way up during this recent hot streak. Unsurprisingly, so has his line drive rate. Overall, he’s raised his season batting line from .273/.317/.488 thirty days ago to .295/.341/.520 today.
Although Cano has picked up the pace over the last month, he still isn’t completely out of the woods. He’s still swinging at a career worst 40.1% of pitches out of the zone, though it’s worth noting that that’s down from 41.7% on May 19th, when I wrote this post. The 3.26 pitches he’s seen per plate appearance rank 160th out of 161 qualified batters (thanks, Yuni), but again that is up from 3.16 P/PA on May 19th and is at least approaching his career average (3.33). The strikeout rate has been slowly getting better, but he’s still on pace for a career high 96 whiffs. I don’t care too much about the strikeouts (plus 96 isn’t all that many anyway), I’m just concerned that he’s hacking at pitches he can’t do anything with. I know Robinson won’t ever be a 100 walk, .400 OBP+ guy, but some semblance of plate discipline would be nice.
It’s worth noting that throughout his career, Cano has typically been a slow starter, slow in that he has been less awesome in April and May and really awesome from June on. Here’s the splits if you don’t believe me. Last year was quite the opposite though, he started out on fire then cooled off. Perhaps that was just the outlier and he’s following his normal path this year, starting slowly before raising hell the rest of the way. I sure hope so, that would be sweet. Anyway, Robinson’s rebound from a start that can be described as slow only by his standards has gone almost completely unnoticed, but it’s a big part of the reason why the Yankees have gotten on a nice roll here and are willing games consistently. He’s not a kid anymore, Cano’s a veteran player and is being relied upon as a core member of the team, and right now he’s quietly producing like one.