Thoughts on Gardner leading off

For the past two games Joe Girardi has written Brett Gardner‘s name first on the lineup card. Normally he doesn’t lead off the game unless Derek Jeter gets a day off, but for these two games Jeter has moved to the spot he knows very well. He has more plate appearances hitting second than in any other lineup spot, and given Girardi’s comments yesterday, we could see more of that in the second half. It certainly changes the dynamic of the lineup, at least against righties.

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

“[Gardner’s] on-base percentage against right handers is tremendous,” said Girardi. The manager does not lie. Gardner has faced a righty pitcher 205 times this season and has a .382 wOBA and .414 OBP. Combined with his speed, that makes for a tremendous leadoff hitter. Hitting in that spot will also give him a chance to take a base or two; it seems like he’s more apt to go with the No. 2 hitter up than the No. 3. We have only a minuscule sample to work with, so it’s not worth even running the numbers, but I think the anecdote holds up. It’s easier to send him when Jeter’s at the plate than when the big bats are up.

One of the reasons Girardi moved Jeter into the leadoff spot last year was his propensity to hit into the double play. By hitting leadoff he’d have fewer chances to kill a runner on base with a groundball to second or short. Wouldn’t moving him to the No. 2 spot then increase his double play frequency? A few weeks ago I wrote about the issue on FanGraphs and noted that even with two double plays the night before, Jeter’s rate was down from previous years. He has currently grounded into a double play nine times in 61 chances this season. That might not necessarily increase with Gardner hitting ahead of him.

Remember, Gardner has more PAs hitting ninth than any other spot in the lineup, so he’s frequently hit just before Jeter anyway. And, as we saw last night, Gardner’s speed can make that difference to break up a double play. Jeter hit into what looked like a tailor-made twin killing, but Gardner got to second base in time to make an impact on Adam Rosales’s timing. That bough Jeter the precious second he needed to make that extra step and beat the relay to first. Then there’s also the possibility of Garnder moving on the pitch, whether in a straight steal or a hit-and-run, further reducing Jeter’s double play opportunities.

The further effect of this move is to pile more power bats later in the lineup. Neither Gardner nor Jeter hit for a lot of power: they currently have ISOs of .112 and .122, respectively. Following them are Mark Teixeira (.191), Alex Rodriguez (.225), Robinson Cano (.221), Nick Swisher (.210), and Jorge Posada (.212). Then again, after the first time through the order this doesn’t make much of a difference, since Gardner normally hits ninth, right before Jeter any way. The only thing it really accomplishes, then, is getting Gardner more plate appearances — which, considering his production this season, does make sense.

Against lefties it could be a different story, but Gardner also owns a .355 OBP against them this year so he’s a viable option to hit atop the lineup every day if Girardi so chooses. But considering the Jeter and Swisher 1-2 combo against lefties — .387 and .415 OBPs, respectively — the Yanks would probably be slightly better off using them to lead off games, sticking Gardner in a spot further down the order. He probably shouldn’t hit ninth, as there’s no reason to bat Francisco Cervelli or Curtis Grandrson ahead of him. But if Girardi wants to move him down against lefties that seems like a fair proposition.

As we’ve pointed out frequently, lineup construction has little impact during the course of a full season — a win or so difference between the best and worst lineups. Since this will only happen for half a season it should have even less of an impact, especially because the lineup is basically constructed the same way, except with Gardner starting the carousel instead of turning it over. But given his stellar performance against righties this season, and given Swisher’s and Jeter’s excellent numbers against lefties, it’s tough to argue with the move. Gardner, it seems, has gained the Yankees’ confidence.

A-Rod slams A’s, Yanks clinch series with 6-1 win

One night after winning in very workmanlike fashion, the Bronx Bombers stayed true to their name on Tuesday and beat Oakland with the long ball. Alex Rodriguez led the charge, launching a pair of homers and driving in five of the team’s six runs. That was plenty given the effort CC Sabathia put forth, and the Yankees clinched the series win. Tampa Bay topped the Red Sox for the second straight night, so the Yanks division lead remained at two.

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

Biggest Hit: No One Loads The Bases For A-Rod And Lives To Tell About It, No One

This grand slam stuff is getting to be pretty fun, eh? The Yankees hit eight salamis in the first half of the season, and showed no signs of diverging from that path in the season half in this one. After the A’s took an early one run lead lead on a walk, stolen base, passed ball, and a double, it took the Yanks all of two innings to respond. Jorge Posada, in his first game back from his sprained left ring finger, singled back up the box to lead off the 3rd, though he was forced out at second on Curtis Granderson‘s ground ball to second. Colin Curtis walked and Brett Gardner singled to center to load them up with just the one out.

Derek Jeter, hitting in the second spot of the lineup for the second straight day, did something that was sadly predictable: he grounded the ball to second and appeared to hit into a rally killing double play. Oakland got the out a second but Jeter just barely beat the relay to first, tying the game at one when Granderson crossed the plate. The molten hot Mark Teixeira stepped up with a chance to give the Yanks the lead, but he had the bat taken out of his hands when he took an errant sinker to the ribs. He went down in pain, but ultimately stayed in the game. I knew everything would be fine when I saw Gene Monahan smile.

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

So up comes Alex Rodriguez, already with two grand slams to his credit on the season. The first pitch was a curveball that he fouled off, the second a sinker out of the zone. A changeup in the dirt followed, and a 2-2 count became a 3-1 count when the first base ump ruled that Alex checked his swing on a curve off the plate. Trevor Cahill made a mistake with the next pitch that showed his youth more than his All Star form: he threw an 89 mph fastball in a 3-1 count. It was a no-doubter right off the bat, a shot deep into the left-center seats that put the Yanks up by four.

It was A-Rod’s 21st career grand slam, tying him with Manny Ramirez for second most all-time. He tacked on a solo shot in the 6th, and he’s now just three away from 600 career dingers. Make sure you get your tickets for that first post-All Star break homestand, folks.

Biggest Out: Barton Goes Down Looking

Even with the first inning run, CC Sabathia cruised threw the first few innings of this one and started the 5th inning with a nice four run lead. The first out was a harmless fly ball to center, but Adam Rosales and former RAB Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Matt Carson singled to put two on with one out. Rajai Davis popped out into (way) foul territory, but Sabathia uncharacteristically walked the bases loaded when his former teammate Coco Crisp took four wide ones.

So here he is, with a four run lead and the tying run at the plate. Calm and collected, Sabathia dropped a first pitch curve in on Daric Burton for a called strike one. The next pitch missed wide for a ball, but the two pitches after that were called balls when they really weren’t. In danger of walking in a run for just the third time in his Yankee career, CC got Barton to foul off a 96 mph heater to run the count full, then finished him off with another 96 mph piece of cheese on the outer black. Barton slammed his bat on home plate and got in the umpire’s face, but the Yanks walked off their field with their lead intact.

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

More CC? Si Si!

It started in June, and it just hasn’t stopped. Sabathia’s surge continued not far from his hometown, as he held the A’s to just the one run over 7.2 innings, striking out a season high ten batters and throwing 74 of his 118 pitches in the strike zone. We’re officially into Beast Mode, people. The American League has been forewarned.

Some Other Stuff

How about those two plays in foul territory for Tex? In any other parks, those pop ups are rows deep. Rows, as in plural.

Granderson picked up a base hit off a lefty. Believe it or not, that’s just his sixth hit to leftfield of the season. Sixth! I guess he doesn’t really have an inside-out swing though. He also stole a base. Hopefully this series is the start of something big for the Yanks’ centerfielder.

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

Posada looked fine behind the plate, no obvious issues with the injured finger. The wild pitch in the 1st was on CC, it almost went over everyone’s heads and to the backstop. Jorge even picked up a hit, so everything seems a-okay. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Frankie Cervelli was behind the plate tomorrow, just to take it easy on Posada.

Robbie Cano, oh so great in the first half, is now just 11 for his last 59 (.186) dating back to June 20th. Maybe the Homerun Derby will help get him back on track.

Brett Gardner this series: 1-for-8, two strikeouts. It’s still hella, hella early, but the early returns on the leadoff hitter experiment are not what we hoped for.

WPA Graph & Box Score

It’s not as cool as Tuesday night’s Rockies-Cardinals graph, but I’ll definitely take it. Here’s the box score, and then the nerd score.

Up Next

The Yankees will go for the sweep tomorrow, hoping that A.J. Burnett continues to rebound from his awful June. His opponent? Well, still the A’s, but the opposing starteris¬† Gio Gonzalez, who the Yanks’ pounded back in May.

Vazquez goes deep again in SWB win

Make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread.

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 win over Rochester)
Reid Gorecki, RF: 2 for 5, 1 R
Reegie Corona, 2B: 3 for 5, 1 R
Eduardo Nunez, 3B, Chad Moeller, C & Greg Golson, CF: all 0 for 4 – Nunez walked & K’ed twice … Golson K’ed twice
Juan Miranda, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K – mashin’
Chad Huffman, LF: 1 for 5, 1 K
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K – three straight games with a jack, fourth in his last nine
Eric Bruntlett, SS: 2 for 4, 1 RBI
Ivan Nova: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 9 K, 7-3 GB/FB – 64 of his 105 pitches were strikes (61%) … that comes after zero punchouts in his last start
Royce Ring: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – seven of his nine pitches were strikes
Jon Albaladejo: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 14 of his 17 pitches were strikes (82.4%) … seriously, what more does he have to do to get a shot?

[Read more…]

Mariano Rivera withdraws from All Star Game

Prior to tonight’s game, Mariano Rivera told reporters that he is withdrawing from next week’s All Star Game because he’s been “pitching hurt.” Apparently Mo injured his knee shagging fly balls during batting practice during the Dodgers series, and he still feels it on every pitch. His nagging side/flank issue still isn’t 100% either. Mass panic will set in, but Mo has pitching through it over the last week and has been simply fantastic. He’ll rest up during the break, and hopefully be good to go in the second half.

Game 83: All Star vs. All Star

Are they serious with those unis? (Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP)

So we’ve got ourselves an intriguing little pitching matchup tonight. Everyone knows about CC Sabathia and his ridiculous levels of awesomeness, but what about Trevor Cahill? The 22-year-old got rocked in his first start of the season (eight runs in five innings against the Blue Jays), but since then he’s pitched to a 2.22 ERA and held opponents to a .201/.269/.294 batting line in 77 IP. He’s got a Kevin Brown-esque turbosinker that has generated ground balls 54.3% of the time this season, but if the Yankees are patient, Cahill will work himself into trouble (just 43.6% of his pitches have been in the zone).

Here’s the lineup that will face Oakland’s lone All Star representative…

Gardner, LF
Jeter, SS
Teixiera, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, DH – third time he’s DH’ing in the last four games, could he be nursing something?
Posada, C
Granderson, CF
Curtis, RF

And on the mound, CC Sabathia.

Another late one, with first pitch scheduled for 10:05pm ET and can be seen on YES.

Open Thread: Send Swish!

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP

It’s Day Three of the Send Swish! campaign, and we’re sad to report that Kevin Youkilis has taken a narrow lead over Nick Swisher in the voting for that precious final spot on the AL All Star Team. There’s still two days left to vote, and you can always come here to RAB and click on our little Send Swish! button to go to the ballot. Youkilis has already been to two All Star Games, screw him, let’s get Swish in there. Go vote people!

Once you’re done casting your ballot, use this as your open thread. The Mets are playing the Reds, and there’s another game on MLB Network, but who you see depends on where you live. Could be Red Sox-Rays, which has obvious Yankee ramifications. Anything goes, just be cool.

As expected, Sabathia righting the ship

About a month ago, before his 13th start of the season, I broke down some numbers for CC Sabathia. There were a few reasons for concern, notably a home run rate far above his career norms. Everything else, however, looked about the same when compared to his first dozen starts in 2009. Since then Sabathia has been nothing but lights out. He has pitched 38 innings, striking out 32 to 13 walks, and allowing just seven earned runs. He also has not allowed a home run in that span.

Through 17 starts he currently has 7.2 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, and 7.3 H/9. Through 17 starts last year he had 6.75 K/9, 2.67 BB/9, 0.78 HR/9, and 7.69 H/9. In other words, reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.