The Best He’s Ever Been

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

CC Sabathia was almost perfect last night. Mother Nature tried her hardest to throw him off track with a pair of short but just long enough rain delays in the later innings of his outing against the Mariners, perhaps robbing him of just enough command and rhythm that it cost him the perfect game. Sabathia ended his night with a career-high 14 strikeouts in seven innings, allowing a total of two balls to leave the infield. He was dominant, completely overpowering a weak lineup, but this was not a one-start thing.

Sabathia has been the best pitcher in the world over the last month or so, a span covering seven starts. He’s thrown 54.2 of 63 possible innings (86.8%) and allowed just five runs. Five. Only 46 batters have reached base in that time (0.84 WHIP), and only 31 of those 46 batters reached via a base hit. CC has struck out 72 batters in that span, raising his season strikeout rate from 6.6 K/9 to 8.3 K/9 in just seven starts. That’s 46.1% of his season strikeout total in 32.4% of the innings. Sabathia’s been so good these last seven starts that we can legitimately ask this question: has he ever had a seven-start stretch like this before?

The best season of Sabathia’s career was 2008, when he combined to rack up 7.1 bWAR and 7.6 fWAR in a career-high 253 IP with the Indians and Brewers. His second half effort with the Brewers is the stuff of legend, when he practically carried the franchise to their first playoff appearance in a quarter-century. Sabathia made 17 starts with Milwaukee, including the final three on three days rest. He managed to accumulate 4.8 bWAR and 4.6 fWAR with the Brewers, which is a great season for most pitchers. He did that in 130.2 IP.

The best seven-start stretch during Sabathia’s time with Milwaukee came from August 8th to September 5th, when he threw three complete games and two shutouts in seven starts. The table on the right has the stats from CC’s last seven starts this year as well as the stats for that seven-start stretch with the Brew Crew back in 2008. I used Sky Kalkman’s WAR Calculator to calculate the WAR, which is pretty close to bWAR. It uses actual results in the calculation (runs allowed), not underlying performance (FIP) like fWAR. It tells us what did happen, not what should have happened.

As you can see, the run Sabathia is on right now is even better than what he did in Milwaukee three years ago. He recorded two fewer outs but struck out a dozen more batters and allowed 14 fewer hits and one fewer homer. Those seven starts in 2008 came against the Braves, Nationals, Astros, Padres (twice), and Pirates (twice), who combined for a .421 winning percentage that season. These seven starts this year have come against the Rockies, Brewers, Indians, Blue Jays, Mariners, and Rays (twice). That’s a combined winning percentage of .496. He’s performed better against better competition.

It’s hard to believe considering how dominant he was during his brief stint in Milwaukee, but Sabathia’s last seven starts have been better than anything he’s done before. He’s piling up strikeouts and keeping opponents off base via hits and walks. No one is scoring off him, not at all, and he’s taking the ball deep into the game every time out. We see hot streaks come and go all season long, but it’s not often that we see one of the game’s best go off a run better than anything they’ve ever done before. This is the pitching equivalent of 2007 Alex Rodriguez, the starting version of 2008 Mariano Rivera. That’s how good Sabathia has been for the last month.

Sabathia brilliant as Yanks hand M’s 17th straight loss

Another night, another rain delay (two, actually), another win for the Yankees. They followed a very generic but proven effective formula to win Tuesday’s game: get great starting pitching for your ace, hit some homers, hand the ball off to Mariano Rivera, go home. It’s that simple. For Seattle, that meant a 17th consecutive loss.

Almost perfect.

King CC

We’ll never know. We’ll never know what could have been if it wasn’t for the rain. CC Sabathia wasn’t just dominating the Mariners, he was perfect through the first 5.1 innings, retiring the first 16 men he faced before the skies opened up for a 30 or so minute rain delay. Sabathia had struck out the last seven men he faced before the delay and eleven overall to that point, getting swings and misses with every pitch in his arsenal. Only one Mariner had hit the ball out of the infield to that point, and that was Ichiro‘s line out to center on the very first pitch of the game.

That first delay didn’t seem to phase CC, who came back out and retired the next two men to end the sixth. He struck out Ichiro on a hanging slider to kick off the seventh, but he fell behind to Brendan Ryan and gave him a 2-0 fastball. Ryan put a good swing on the ball and ended the perfect game bid with a legitimate single to left. Did the delay throw Sabathia’s command off a bit? Maybe, but again, we’ll never really know. Two more strikeouts and the end of the inning followed.

It started to rain again, and there was a short little delay in the middle of the seventh. The official word was a 14 minute delay, then the Yankees went down quickly against Doug Fister, so the total downtime for CC was maybe 20-22 minutes. At 84 pitches, Sabathia went back out for the eighth and I had no issue with it. Twenty minutes is nothing, it’s like sitting in the dugout while the Yankees score a run or three on offense. Joe Girardi will get torn to shreds because CC walked the first three batters of the inning but whatever, complainers gonna complain.

Sabathia’s 14 strikeouts are a new career high, the third time in his last three starts he’s whiffed ten-plus batters. He raised his season K/9 from 7.9 to 8.3 in this game alone, and my calculations have his already league-leading 5.2 WAR climbing to 5.7, the fourth highest single-season WAR of his career. We’re still in July. The Mariners had no chance in this game, none. Sabathia could have shut them down right-handed. The big guy was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

Oh, Hey, Yeah They Scored Some Runs Too

Look where that pitch is. Drove that sucker right out.

Through all of 2009, all of 2010, and the first 100 games of the 2011 season, Curtis Granderson hit exactly zero homeruns to the opposite field. The last time he hit one out to left was in September of 2008, but not anymore. The Grandyman sat back on a 2-2 curveball and clobbered a big fly to left in the fourth, a solo shot that just cleared the left field wall near the foul pole. That’s some serious strength, and was his team leading 28th bomb. It gave New York a 1-0 lead.

The Yankees tacked on two runs in the very next inning, an inning that started with three straight singles and four singles by the first five batters. Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez (more on him in a bit), Jorge Posada, and Brett Gardner all got involved, and Derek Jeter plated a run with an RBI groundout. I have to say, I was impressed by Fister, a former Yankees draft pick who works quickly with a no-nonsense, four-pitch mix and pounds the zone. That fifth inning was the only time all game he labored, but he was otherwise plenty good enough to win. Unfortunately giving up three runs with that offense backing him is an auto-loss.

Escape

There was a mess to clean up in that eighth inning after Sabathia walked the bases loaded, and of course the man brought in to take care of business was David Robertson. He was a little wild, but struck out Adam Kennedy in a full count for the first out before running the count full to the corpse of Chone Figgins. Figgins grounded the ball to third where Chavez bobbled it before stepping on the base for the second out. He probably didn’t have enough time to get the runner at the plate or throw to first for the double play anyway. Ichiro struck out looking to end the threat. Robertson allowed a run to score, but that’s almost unavoidable in the situation he inherited. He did his job and limited the damaging, keeping Sabathia’s line nice and beautiful.

HOPE Week is the best week.

Leftovers

Welcome back Mr. Chavez. He made his presence know with two nice stops – one to his left and one to his right – to end the second and third innings before singling in that two-run fifth inning. Chavy did bobble that ball in the eighth, but that’s not the end of the world. It’s good to have him back though, he put together some solid at-bats and reminded us all that he’s still a really, really good glove guy despite all the injuries. With all due respect to Brandon Laird, the Yankees got a nice boost with Chavez’s return.

Granderson’s team lead in homers didn’t last long, Mark Teixeira tied him with his eighth inning solo shot, his third of the homestand and 100th as a Yankee. He also singled earlier in the game. Pretty much all the offense has already been mentioned; Gardner had a single, Jeter an RBI ground out, Grandy the homer, Tex the homer and single, Swisher a single and a walk, Chavez a hit, and Posada two hits. Robinson Cano and Frankie Cervelli took 0-fers. Like I said, Fister ws pretty impressive, I’m a fan. He’s not a star, but a very solid pitcher.

Mariano Rivera closed things out with two strikeouts in a perfect ninth, so all told Yankees pitchers’ struck out 18 and allowed just the one hit to Ryan. Only one other team has thrown an 18-strikeout one-hitter in a nine-inning game since 1920, and that was Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game in 1998. Pretty neat. The Yankees are a season-high 21 games over .500, and have won three in a row plus eight of 13 since the All-Star break. They’re fattening up that win total just like they should be.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other fun stuff, and ESPN the up to date standings.

Up Next

The Yankees will go for the sweep Wednesday afternoon at 1pm ET, when Phil Hughes gets the ball against Felix Hernandez. If the Mariners can’t win that one, they may never win again.

Bored Montero leisurely homers in SWB win

Remember Scott Bittle? The Yankees took him with their second round pick in 2008 but did not sign him after a physical revealed “wear and tear” in his pitching shoulder. He went back to school, got drafted by (and signed with) the Cardinals the next year, then did not pitch at all in 2009 or 2010 because of shoulder problems that eventually required surgery. They released him today with just 5.1 career innings to his credit. For shame. With the compensation pick they received for failing to sign Bittle in 2008, the Yankees took J.R. Murphy in 2009.

Speaking of Murphy, you may have noticed that he hasn’t played in a while, since last Thursday in fact. He is currently on the disabled list according to the High-A Tampa roster, though I don’t know why. Hopefully it’s nothing serious, just some nagging bumps and bruises from catching.

Triple-A Scranton (11-2 win over Buffalo)
Kevin Russo, 3B: 1 for 4, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (throwing)
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 5, 3 R, 2 K – threw a runner out at the dish … he reached base three times in fielder’s choices, hence the three runs
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 K – the double went to center, the homer was pulled to left … that’s his fifth homer in 15 games, and six of his last eight hits have gone for extra bases
Mike Lamb, DH: 1 for 4, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI
Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Luis Nunez, 2B: both 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR – Nunez’s was a solo shot … JoVa drove in two but struck out four times
Jordan Parraz, RF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – he’s been their most consistent hitter all year, seems like he’s always picking up a hit or two
Austin Krum, LF: 1 for 3, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 CS
Doug Bernier, SS: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 K, 1 E (missed catch) – eight for his last 15 (53.3%)
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 6 BB, 3 K, 8-4 GB/FB – 60 of 105 pitches were strikes (57.1%) … more walks and strikeouts in two of his last three starts
Buddy Carlyle, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – ten of 12 pitches were strikes
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0-1 GB/FB – eight of 12 pitches were strikes
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – seven of 12 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Report: Yankees have best chance to land Ubaldo

Via Danny Knobler, the Yankees are the team with the best chance to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies before Sunday’s trade deadline. That doesn’t mean they’re close to a deal, just that they have the best chance at him. Honestly, this sounds like someone (likely Colorado) is trying to drive up interest (and the price) for the right-hander, but take from it what you will.

Game 101: Do I hear 17?

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Jay?? via Creative Commons license)

The Mariners have lost 16 games in a row and now they’re going to face CC Sabathia and an offense that has scored 37 runs in its last four games. Be thankful you’re rooting for the good guys. Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Eric Chavez, 3B – yay
Frankie Cervelli, C

CC Sabathia, SP

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on My9 locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Yankees acquire Eric Chavez

The Yankees made their first trade deadline deal today. Joel Sherman reports that they have acquired Eric Chavez from the disabled list in exchange for Brandon Laird going back to Triple-A. Chavez is in the lineup and playing third base tonight. The Yankees had an open 40-man roster spot thanks to Brian Gordon fleeing for Korea, so no other move was required. Welcome back, Chavy.

 

The Great What If?

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Ever since Cliff Lee decided to return to Philadelphia this offseason, the Yankees’ rotation has been a “figure it out as we go” situation. Sergio Mitre was given a shot to win a job in Spring Training. Bartolo Colon was a total shot in the dark based on Tony Pena‘s winter ball recommendation. Freddy Garcia was the last girl left at the bar. Kevin Millwood and Carlos Silva came and went. Someone named Brian Gordon even made two starts. It’s kinda remarkable that the Yankees have the sixth best ERA (3.68) and FIP (3.85) in the AL after all of that.

Despite that surprising success, the team is still on the lookout for a bonafide number two starter before Sunday’s trade deadline. So far we’ve heard about guys like Francisco Liriano, Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez, Gio Gonzalez … you name it and the Yankees have/had interest in them. Here’s the question no one really wants to see to answer though: what happens if they don’t make a trade for a number two starter before the deadline?

* * *

It’s not often that you an take a pitcher and his production for granted, but CC Sabathia is a given. We know he’s going to make 34 or 35 starts. We know he’s going to keep the Yankees in the game every time out and we know that more often than not, he’ll do much more than that. We know he’ll be there to end losing streaks and extend winning streaks, and be ready to take the ball in Game One of any potential playoff series. I don’t like to think of it as taking Sabathia for granted, but that’s kinda what we’re doing. The rest of the rotation though, that’s where the questions arise.

In terms of raw production, Colon has been the team’s number two starter this year. Just check out some of the peripherals…

Colon: 7.96 K/9 … 2.34 BB/9 … 46.4% grounders
Sabathia: 7.91 K/9 … 2.34 BB/9 … 48.0% grounders

They’re the same pitcher in terms of strikeouts, walks, and grounders, almost exactly. Sabathia is better at preventing the long ball (4.2% HR/FB vs. 10.1%) and is far more durable, but the underlying performance is similar. Bart is already in uncharted territory, however. He’s thrown more innings this year than any year since 2005, and since that Cy Young winning season he’s made a total of four starts after today’s date, July 26th. The concern is that Bart won’t hold up not just the rest of the season, but deep into the playoffs. I’m not necessarily talking about breaking down, just running out of gas. Plain old fatigue. The fastball might go from 93-94 to 90-91, the two-seamer might lose some movement, 80+ pitches might become a chore, that kind of stuff happens. That’s why the DL stint may have been a blessing in disguise, maybe it extended his effectiveness for another two or three or six weeks. Who knows?

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Sweaty Freddy doesn’t have the same sexy peripherals as Colon and Sabathia, but he’s actually third on the team in FIP (3.65) and innings (111.2). Last night’s game was a classic example of what he can do; plow through a bad lineup with a slow, slower, slowest approach and generates more ugly swings than anyone else on the staff. It’s kind of fun to watch, actually, at least when he’s on. Garcia did throw over 150 IP last year, so there isn’t much of a concern about him holding up through September. It’s just a question about his effectiveness with a repertoire befit of a slow-pitch softball league.

As strange as this sounds after all the debate we had during the 2008-2009 offseason, A.J. Burnett has been a bonafide workhorse for the Yankees. He hasn’t missed a start all year and has completed at least five innings every time out. That has value. Yeah, his performance is erratic, but overall he’s been a low-4.00’s ERA guy with peripherals that suggest he should be a little better (3.97 xFIP) or a little worse (4.68 FIP). The important thing is that he’s not a complete disaster like last year, where he was ineffective and out of games early. At least now he’s giving them a chance.

The last spot in the rotation is far from settled. Something clearly is not right with Phil Hughes, whose fastball velocity is down from last year even after this season’s DL trip. The new grip curveball is better but it’s still not much of a swing and miss offering, and both the changeup and cutter look like they belong to a kid in rookie ball. His entire arsenal dropped a grade, if not more. Maybe letting him thrown 80.1 more innings in 2010 than he did in 2009 wasn’t such a great idea after all.

Ivan Nova was solid in the first half but has been romanticized into an ace since going to Triple-A. That isn’t the case. He’ll come up to start one of two games this Saturday against the Orioles, give up maybe three or four runs in five or six or maybe even seven innings (it is the Orioles, after all), and then people will remember what he is. Nova can’t miss bats (5.01 K/9 and 5.2% swings and misses) and isn’t the greatest at limiting walks (3.63 BB/9), so he survives on his ground ball rate (55.3%). He’s a fine back of the rotation option, counting on him for more would be pretty foolish. Adam Warren was being prepared to start one of those Saturday games if Nova’s ankle didn’t heal up in time, and David Phelps was also considered for a spot start earlier this year. I’m sure D.J. Mitchell will get consideration as well. That’s the extent of the team’s pitching depth, which is what they’ll have to go to battle with the rest of the season if a trade is not made.

* * *

That patchwork rotation sounds scary, but we can make anything sound scary if we want. Look at the Rangers last year. They went to the World Series with 1) a legit ace, 2) a 30-year-old that a) led the AL in walks, and b) was in his first season as a starter, 3) a cast-off in his first year back from Japan, and 4) Tommy freaking Hunter. The 2007 Rockies had pre-surgery Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, rookie Ubaldo, and JOSH FOGG. Those are just two examples of recent patchwork rotations that got to the Fall Classic, but you probably already picked up on the fact that both those clubs lost the World Series to teams with superior pitching.

The Yankees have a pretty big lead in the wildcard race (eight games in the loss column) plus a light schedule over the next month or so, so they’re in good position to make the playoffs. Nothing is guaranteed, but they’ve got a great head start with about 38% of the season left to play. They don’t need to add a starter to have a shot at playing in October, that much is pretty clear. Adding a number two guy behind Sabathia and ahead of everyone else is about improving their odds in the postseason. Anything can happen in a short series, like Jeff Francis out-pitching Beast Mode Brandon Webb or Cody Ross taking Roy Halladay deep twice in one game, That’s the beauty of baseball. The Yankees don’t need another starter, but it sure would improve their chances of doing damage in the playoffs if they got one.