Joba continues playing catch, will shed walking boot next week

Via Chad Jennings and Peter Botte, right-hander Joba Chamberlain visited the doctor yesterday and will lose his walking boot next week. He made 50 throws today and said he’s been playing catch regularly since the ankle injury. “It’s going to take a lot of things to stop me from (getting on mound this year),” said the obviously optimistic right-hander. I’m glad he’s working hard to come back, but the Yankees can’t count on Chamberlain for anything this season. Whatever they get out of him should be a bonus.

For what it’s worth, Jennings says Joba has lost a noticeable amount of weight. He wouldn’t say exactly how many pounds he lost, but he did acknowledge that it’s “more than a couple … obviously I look different.” Here’s a photo from last night’s NY Rangers game so you can see for yourself. Notice the scar on his elbow.

Yanks vying for worst monthly starters’ ERA in a decade

It’s no secret that the Yankees’ collective starting pitching has not lived up to expectations thus far on the young season. While there’s nowhere to go but up at this point, I was curious to see how the team’s woeful April performance — at 5.73, the Yankee starters have put up the second-worst collective ERA in MLB; the only team with a worse mark is Minnesota. Boston’s starters, after a week of beating up on the AL Central, brought their mark down to 5.71 — stacked up against previous Yankee teams, so I went back and collected the last 10 years worth of monthly Yankee starting pitching ERAs.

If the Yankee starters were to finish April out at their current 5.73 ERA, it would represent the second-worst mark the team has put up in a month in the last 10 seasons. The worst was April 2007’s 5.94, much of which was due to Kei Igawa being allowed to throw 20.2 innings of 7.84 ERA ball, although Chien-Ming Wang‘s 5.84 in 12.1 innings and Chase Wright’s 7.88 in 8 innings didn’t help things, either.

Now obviously ERA only tells a very small and flawed portion of the story. I was also curious to see how the team got to this point and whether they were doing anything substantially different, so I grabbed their PITCHf/x stats for April 2012, April 2011, and the MLB average.

The first thing that jumps out is the team’s deployment of the four-seamer appears to be way down from a year ago in favor of more sinkers and way more sliders. And this is problematic in that the rotation’s sinkers are collectively getting crushed to the tune of -5.3 runs above average and -1.91 per 100 pitches thrown. The latter figure is 92%(!) worse than league average. This appears to be due to location issues — the team is leaving its sinkers closer to the middle of the plate horizontally than the league, and its sinkers are rising nearly an inch-and-a-half higher. As always, we need to approach the classification algorithm with some wariness, but if this data is accurate it helps partially explain why the execution’s been so poor.

Somewhat surprisingly, one of the primary culprits for the poor sinker showing is CC Sabathia, who TYA’s Mike Eder noticed last week was leaving the pitch up during his first few innings against the Twins until correcting whatever flaw in his mechanics led to this happening. Given Sabathia’s improvement in the latter half of the Twins game and strong showing against the Rangers last Monday, I wouldn’t expect the sinker to be an issue going forward. Sweaty Freddy’s sinker has been the worst in baseball in the early going, though I have less confidence that he’ll be able to rectify his situation.

The other bizarre aspect relating to the Yankee starters’ performance this month is that their peripherals have been, for the most part, outstanding.

They’ve been striking a ton of men out — second-highest K/9 in the AL, behind Chicago by 0.01 — and walking almost no one. The team’s biggest bugaboo has been the home-run ball. Surprisingly the starters haven’t even given up the most total home runs in the AL, but on a rate basis they’ve been abysmal, with a second-worst-in-MLB 1.73 HR/9, and a 17.3% HR/FB% ranking third-worst. They also have the highest BABIP in the league by a not-small margin, and all three of these figures are way, way above league average.

Despite all of this starting ineptitude, at 10-8 the team is only two games behind where it was last year after 18 games, and two games better than the 2007 team and its decade-worst monthly ERA. Even better news for Yankee fans is that it would be almost impossible for the team’s starters to perform any worse than they have, and hopefully they start turning it around sooner rather than later.

The RAB Radio Show: April 27th, 2012

It’s pretty obvious what we’re going to talk about, right?

Podcast run time 43:58

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

[audio:http://riveraveblues.com/podcasts/TheRABRadioShow042712.mp3]

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Moose Skowron, Yankee fan favorite, passes away at 81

Bill “Moose” Skowron, a mainstay of the great Yankee dynasty of the 1950s and long-time fan favorite at Old Timers’ Day, has passed away at the age of 81. Moose was a first baseman during the years of Mickey Mantle and was a five-time All Star with the Yankees and White Sox. He also won five World Series win the Yanks and Dodgers and is the only player to baseball history to homer for one team in the World Series and then homer against that team in the following year’s Fall Classic. He completed that feat in 1963 while with Los Angeles.

In 1087 games with the Yankees, Skowron hit .294/.346/.496 with 165 home runs. He always drew a rousing ovation during his myriad Old Timers’ Day games, and his baseball card from the mid-1950s that my dad had when I was a child remain one of my earliest memories of card collecting. He will be missed in the Bronx this year.

RAB Live Chat

4/27-4/29 Series Preview: Detroit Tigers

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Less than eight months ago, it was this same Tigers team that knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs with a win in Game Five of the ALDS. Well, not this same exact Tigers team, they have added and subtracted some players since then. Revenge on the menu regardless.

What Have They Done Lately?

The big bad Tigers have lost their last four games and six of their last seven. They actually just got swept by the Mariners at home, and were outscored 21-9 during the three games. That’s legit embarrassing. Detroit is now 10-9 with a -7 run differential, the fourth worst in the AL.

Offense

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

With the addition of Prince Fielder, this fearsome juggernaut offense is … off to a pretty sketchy start. The Tigers have an 88 wRC+ as a team, which ranks 20th in baseball. Their 79 runs scored and 4.16 runs per game both rank 15th among the 30 clubs. It’s kinda hard to believe given the hype, but then again lineups run more than two deep.

While Fielder (120 wRC+) and Miguel Cabrera (140 wRC+) remain incredibly dangerous despite relatively slow starts, the supporting cast has left a lot to be desired in the early going. Austin Jackson (134 wRC+) tore the cover off the ball for about a week before falling into a tailspin, though catcher Alex Avila (125 wRC+) has managed to build on his breakout 2011 seasons. Those four guys are carrying the offense by themselves because no other player with even 30 plate appearances has been remotely close to average.

Jhonny Peralta (63 wRC+) and Brennan Boesch (46 wRC+) have done nothing, ditto the second base platoon of Ramon Santiago (35 wRC+) and Ryan Raburn (9 wRC+). Andy Dirks (116 wRC+) has performed well in very limited action, though Don Kelly (71 wRC+) has not. The Tigers released Brandon Inge (-4 wRC+) yesterday, replacing him with Quad-A masher Brad Eldred (13 HR and 293 wRC+ in Triple-A). The 31-year-old right-handed hitter is expected to DH against left-handers initially, though I suppose we could see him thrown right into full-time duty since he’s been hitting and Detroit has received the third worst production from the DH spot (85 wRC+) this year.

The Tigers are unlikely to have the services of Delmon Young tonight and maybe through the weekend after he was arrested following a drunken brawl last night. He faces a hate crime-related charge, which is serious stuff. Young did some damage against the Yankees in the postseason but was off to a slow start this year, producing a 74 wRC+ in 74 plate appearances. His absence could make life a little easier for the Yankees, though the Cabrera and Fielder duo is a scary as it gets.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Justin Verlander
You’re not going to find a more dominant pitcher in baseball than Verlander right now. The reigning AL Cy Young and MVP Award winner has started this season almost exactly the same way he ended last season, with lots of strikeouts (8.90 K/9 and 26.1 K%), few walks (2.30 BB/9 and 6.7 BB%), and a fair number of ground balls (41.6%). Verlander is a machine, sitting in the mid-90s with the four and two-seamer before ratcheting it up into the high-90s and triple digits in the later innings. His upper-70s curve is arguably the best in the business, and his mid-80s changeup makes his fastball seem even harder than it really is. Jim Leyland will run his ace into the ground, so working the count against Verlander is futile. The guy is going to throw eight innings and 130 pitches regardless, so the Yankees have to take a cut if they get something decent to hit. No point in waiting around.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Saturday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. LHP Drew Smyly
The big question for Detroit coming into the season was the back of their rotation, though Smyly has strung together three pretty good starts — including one against the Rays and one against the Rangerss — to begin his big league career. The 22-year-old southpaw has a history of missing bats in the minors and has shown the same skill in the show (8.44 K/9 and 22.1 K%), but he can be a little jittery with the walks (3.38 BB/9 and 8.8 BB%). Smyly relies very heavily on his low-90s four-seamer, mid-80s cutter, and low-80s slider, though he’ll mix in one or two changeups a game. The whole “OMG a lefty they haven’t seen before!” logic applies here, but I’m far more concerned about Garcia’s performance in this game than Smyly’s.

Sunday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Max Scherzer
It seems like every time the Yankees face Scherzer, they either light him up or he completely shuts them down. It doesn’t feel like there’s much of a middle ground. The right-hander is off to the best start of his career; you just wouldn’t know it by looking at his bloated 8.48 ERA. He’s still trying to work off a seven-run, 2.2 IP showing from earlier this month. Scherzer is missing bats (10.53 K/9 and 24.2 K%) and limiting walks (2.75 BB/9 and 6.3 BB%), though he remains fly ball heavy (35.5% grounders). A true three-pitch guy, he’ll sit in the mid-90s with his fastball and back it up with a mid-80s to righties and a mid-80s changeup to lefties. He’s traditionally had a harder time with batters of the opposite hand, however.

Hate. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
I doubt we’ll see much of Detroit’s bullpen tonight with Verlander on the bump, but their core bullpen arms are rested. Jose Valverde (3.59 FIP but the same number of walks as strikeouts) hasn’t appeared in a game since Sunday, though his two primary setup men — Joaquin Benoit (2.42 FIP) and Octavio Dotel (1.75 FIP) — threw 21 and 14 pitches yesterday after not pitching since Sunday, respectively. Southpaw and former Yankee Phil Coke (1.98 FIP) threw two whole pitches yesterday following a two-inning, 24-pitch outing on Tuesday.

Second lefty Duane Below (1.40 FIP) was supposed to start the season as the Tigers’ fifth starter, but apparently they stuck him in the bullpen at some point and just left him there. He threw two innings and 25 pitches on Wednesday and is more of a long man than a specialist. The recently recalled Luke Putkonen gives them a multi-inning mop-up guy. The right-hander has yet to make his big league debut and was actually a rotation-mate of Adam Warren‘s at UNC once upon a time. Pretty much the only reliever that might qualify as unavailable tonight is righty Collin Balester (5.21 FIP), who threw two innings and 32 pitches on Tuesday before throwing two innings and 27 pitches on Wednesday. Overall, the Tigers rank 12th in baseball with a 3.52 bullpen FIP.

Outside of David Phelps, who probably needs another day or two to recover from his 53-pitch outing on Wednesday, the Yankees’ bullpen is fresh following yesterday’s off day. For the latest and greatest on the Tigers, we recommend Bless You Boys and Tiger Tales.

Mailbag: Oswalt, Liriano, 2014, Jeter

Got five questions this week but only four answers because I lumped two of them together. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Steve asks: With the news that Michael Pineda is gone for the season and the way Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia are performing, can Roy Oswalt be an option for the rotation?

Sure, I definitely think he’s option. You have to be careful not to fall in love with the name though, because Oswalt is not the guy he used to be with the Astros. He has two degenerative discs in his back and has openly talked about retirement, plus he’s expressed a preference to play close to his Mississippi home. Oswalt has never pitched in the DH league full-time and has always been a guy that relied more on limiting walks (2.09 BB/9 and 5.6 BB%) and getting ground balls (47.3%) thank missing bats (7.35 K/9 and 19.8 K%).

I think Andy Pettitte‘s return has set the market price for Oswalt, a quality older pitcher voluntarily spending time away from the game. If the Yankees could get him on a low-risk minor league deal that pays him $2-3M if he makes the team, by all means do it. Heck, I’m sure he and Pettitte are pals after their time in Houston together, maybe that gives him more of a reason to join the Yankees. I just can’t see guaranteeing the guy anything without getting him in camp and having him throw to batters in the minors, proving that he still has something to offer.

Potter asks: If the Twins were willing to do it, would the Yankees think about a Francisco Liriano for Hughes trade? They both seemed to be going down the same path with their respective ball clubs and maybe a change of scenery would help. It can’t be much worse then what’s happening now.

Liriano’s been very bad this year — 22 runs and 39 baserunners in 16.1 IP with more walks (13) than strikeouts (12) — and the Twins took advantage of yesterday’s off-day to skip his turn in the rotation. I have zero confidence that Hughes can be an effective starter but I do think he can be a pretty good reliever because he is still able to blow his fastball by hitters in hitter’s counts. I have no faith in Liriano’s ability to be competent in any role, plus his salary is substantially higher ($5.5M vs. $3.2M). I’ll keep the “maybe he won’t suck as a reliever” guy rather than trade him for the “he’s awful at everything he does on a baseball field” guy. It’s been too long since Liriano was effective.

Grant asks: With Hughes pitching so far below expectations, Pineda out with an uncertain future, and Garcia, Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda all likely gone after 2012, what do you think the odds are the front office abandons the austerity plan and goes after Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels? As they get as close as they are to free agency, you have to think they’ll at least test it. Is it possibly contingent on Manny Banuelos‘ development?

Tyler asks: In your perfectly ideal situation, what do you picture as the Yankees roster these next few years to get under the luxury tax? Along the same lines, which prospects do you think are most important to develop in big leaguers to fit the 2014 and beyond Yankees?

(Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

I don’t expect the 2014 payroll plans to change after Pineda’s injury but I would not be surprised if they still pursued Hamels*. There’s a lot of money coming off the books both this offseason and next, and he is by far the best hope to add an elite hurler to the rotation. The Dodgers will definitely provide some stiff competition, but it’s doable. The problem is that the Yankees would have to skimp elsewhere, particularly in at least one corner outfield spot, the bullpen, and basically the remaining three-fifths of the rotation.

Unless you’re talking about a true cornerstone player, someone like Troy Tulowitzki or Evan Longoria or Matt Kemp, one injury should not throw a team completely off the rails. Especially an injury to a one-in-five starting pitcher and especially not the Yankees. Guys like Banuelos, David Phelps, Jose Campos, and Adam Warren are that much more important following Pineda’s injury because they are going to have to contribute something as starters, relievers, or trade bait. Same deal with Mason Williams and Tyler Austin as outfielders. The 2014 plan was going to take some creativity even before Pineda’s injury, now it’s just that much more difficult.

* Forget about Greinke, they’ve already declared him unfit to pitch in our fine city.

Alan asks: I just wanted to know your opinions on what you think realistic expectations are for Derek Jeter‘s numbers for the rest of the year. I admit, before the season started, I said I would be happy if he hit .280 this year. Now, do you guys think he could actually hit .310 this year? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but can he really approach his 2009 numbers at the ripe old age of 38? Thanks!

Well, I know for sure that he will not maintain his .420/.442/.642 batting line all season. Derek’s good, but he ain’t that good. I was thinking the same thing before the season, that a .280 average a .350-ish OBP would be fantastic. Now? He looks so good and is driving the ball so well that you can’t help but be optimistic. It’s not like he’s beating out infield singles and just slapping some ground balls through holes, the Cap’n is flat out raking. Line drives all over the field.

Jeter hit .334/.406/.465 in 634 at-bats back in 2009. He’s at 81 at-bats now, so to finish the season with a .334 average, he’ll still have to hit .322 the rest of the season. A .465 SLG would require a .439 SLG the rest of the way. I have a hard time expecting anyone to hit .320+ over any prolonged period of time, but can Jeter hit .300/.360/.430-ish from here on out? I definitely think that’s possible. Without questions, Derek’s resurgence as been the most exciting development over the last 12 months or so.