Soriano, Chavez will begin rehabs assignments tomorrow

Via Chad Jennings, both Rafael Soriano and Eric Chavez will begin their rehab assignments with High-A Tampa tomorrow. “You just kind of keep your fingers cross that everything goes well for both of them tomorrow,” said Joe Girardi before tonight’s game, who confirmed that Soriano will need at least three rehab appearances before rejoining the team. They also want him to pitch on back-to-back days at least once before activated. Chavez is likely to DH at first, but playing the field can’t be far behind if they’re willing to start his rehab clock.

Game 93: A rookie!

(AP Photo/Christine Cotter)

The Yankees have never faced Alex Cobb before. Well, maybe the recently recalled Brandon Laird saw him in Triple-A this season, but that hardly counts. He’s a rookie pitcher that lives off his offspeed stuff, and that usual spells certain doom for the Yankees. Tampa’s bullpen took a beating over the weekend, so now it’s time to step it up a bit and really put some pressure on them in the first game of a four-game set. Please, no flailing at changeups. Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF
Eduardo Nunez, 3B

The game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Rays Moves: Tampa made a series of roster moves before the game today. Juan Cruz and third catcher Jose Lobaton were both placed on the disabled list while Adam Russell was designated for assignment. In their place comes tonight’s starter Alex Cobb, left-handed Alex Torres (a starter, though I’m sure he’s here to work out of the bullpen), and catcher Robinson Chirinos, who can also play the infield. Torres came over in the Scott Kazmir trade, Chirinos for Matt Garza.

The $180M Tino Martinez

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

This season started out so promising for Mark Teixeira. He put any concerns about an April slump to bed pretty early, homered in each of the first three games of the season as well as four of the first five. Tex had a .279/.408/.656 batting line with six homers to his credit through the team’s first 17 games, which would have started some ridiculously early MVP talk if Curtis Granderson wasn’t matching him shot for shot while Jose Bautista was busy doing his superman impression.

It’s been a series of ups and down for Teixeira since that completely arbitrary 17th game cutoff. He’s hit .231/.331/.466 in the team’s last 65 games and .209/.313/.419 in their last 34 games. His series in Toronto featured just two singles, and you have to go all the way back to the final game of the Mets’ series in CitiField to find his last extra base hit. He may be second in the league with 25 homers, but a .240/.346/.500 batting line (.368 wOBA) and 2.8 fWAR is not exactly what he or the Yankees had in mind when he signed that fat $180M contract two and a half years ago. It’s very good production, but not elite.

The Yankees have had just four primary first baseman over the last three decades or so, and every single one of them has been an above-average player. The second of those four was Tino Martinez, who like Teixeira was very good but not elite during his time in pinstripes. Tino’s first two weeks with the Yankees were awful (.088/.255/.118 kind of awful), awful enough that he was regularly booed at home. He of course went on to turn things around and help the Yankees win the World Series in his first year with the team, just like Teixeira. The similarities don’t end there though.

From 1996-1998, Tino’s first three years with New York, he posted a .364 OBP and a .516 SLG. In his two and a half years as a Yankee, Teixeira owns a .368 OBP and a .518 SLG, identical to Martinez’s output for all intents and purposes. Of course these two guys are very different hitters. OBP and SLG are output stats, they tell you what happened rather than why it happened (SLG is an even bigger culprit than OBP). Tex is pretty close to a classic three true outcomes type, hitting for big power while drawing lots of walks and striking out a fair amount. Tino was much of a contact oriented hitter. He had power but not Tex power, he drew walks but not an overwhelming amount, and he also had a knack for avoiding the strikeout. The OBP and SLG might be identical, but little else is …

Teixeira has a pretty big edge in the WAR department (remember, he’s still got another 70 games to play this year). The one part of OBP we don’t see here is hit-by-pitches, which is a repeatable skill to a certain extent. Tex is a HBP magnet and has been for most of his career, getting hit by 33 pitches since becoming a Yankee. Tino got hit by 27 pitches in his entire seven years in pinstripes. Unfortunately we don’t have batted ball data for the late-90’s, otherwise I’d love to compare the two that way. It’s pretty obvious that Tex has gotten a little homer happy at New Yankee Stadium, just look at his ever increasing fly ball rate…

I do think that Teixeira’s low batting average this year can at least be partially blamed on bad luck; a .219 BABIP is extreme even for a guy that faces a defensive shift and puts 47% of his balls in play in the air. His expected BABIP (xBABIP) based on his batted ball profile is something like .294, which almost matches his career .297 BABIP. Even if you don’t buy the xBABIP idea, I still find it very hard to believe a .219 BABIP is suddenly Teixeira’s true talent level. Exactly two players have single season BABIP’s that low this century (min. 400 PA): Aaron Hill last year (.196) and Dan Uggla this year (.205). Carlos Pena was at .222 last year, then you have to go all the way back to 2004 to find someone else in the .220’s (that would be Tony Bautista at .225). I expect some kind of regression from Tex, even if it’s just getting his BABIP into the .260’s or so. Maybe it happens this year, maybe it doesn’t*.

It’s worth pointing out that Tino’s offensive output started to slip after 1998, which is easiest to see here. He hit just .267/.333/.461 from 1999-2001 and was 31 when that decline started, the same age Teixeira is now. Both of these two are slick defensive players (I think Tex is a little better, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen Tino play first regularly) and neither ever really hit in the playoffs (though Tino has two huge World Series homers to his credit), plus they’re both pretty boring interviews and what not. Tino has achieved True Yankee™ status but I get the sense that Teixeira earned it in 2009 but has somehow lost it since. I didn’t know that was possible. Either way, their first three years with the Yankees were very similar in terms of overall production even if they went about the offensive end of things very differently. The odds of the Yankees (or any team, really) coming out ahead during an eight-year contract worth nearly $200M is pretty small, but it’s still pretty disheartening to see Teixeira’s decline to Tino levels so soon. I expect there to be some kind of rebound, hopefully it comes soon.

* And besides, the only reason I really care about his batting average is because it’s dragging his OBP down. It would be nice if everyone hit .300, but I’d be much happier with .240/.400 than .300/.360.

Peña out with emergency appendectomy; Laird up

Brandon Laird, come on up. You’re the next contestant on “Can the Yanks’ Back-Up Infielder Field Cleanly?” As per George A. King III, Ramiro Peña will be on the disabled list for four to six weeks after undergoing an emergency appendectomy this morning in the Tampa Bay Area. The Yanks have recalled Laird to take his place. Ranked 14th in our pre-season prospect list, the 23-year-old was hitting .266/.296/.415 with 10 home runs in 362 plate appearances for AAA Scranton. He’ll likely share some time at third base with Eduardo Nuñez unless the Yanks acquire an offensive upgrade before the trade deadline.

Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The Yankees and Rays played each other a little over a week ago, when the Bombers took two of three at home. That was supposed to be a four game series, but Mother Nature got in the way. This one will be a four-gamer, the dome will make sure of it.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

Played a lot of innings, that’s what. The Rays and Red Sox played 16 innings last night, with Tampa coming out on the wrong end of a 1-0 score. Those two teams split the first two games of their series, and the Rays have lost four of their last five series. They’re 3-6 since the end of interleague play, and three of those losses were shutouts. They’re six games back of the Yankees in the loss column for the wildcard.

Rays On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Same set of guys we saw last weekend. The meat of the order is Johnny Damon (.275/.322/.420), Ben Zobrist (.266/.359/.474), Evan Longoria (.233/.317/.441), Casey Kotchman (.333/.393/.465), and B.J. Upton (.240/.422/.418), the guys that play every single day. Matt Joyce fouled a ball of his knee on Saturday that forced him from that game and kept him on the bench yesterday (other than a pinch-hitting appearance, when he fouled a ball off his toe), and his availability for this series is unclear. I’m sure we’ll see him at some point, either off the bench or starting. Either way, his excellent season line (.293/.353/.522) masks a .183/.236/.351 slump since the calender flipped to June.

Then you have everyone else. Sean Rodriguez crushes lefties (.306/.405/.556) but can’t touch righties (.169/.234/.297). Reid Brignac (.193/.236/.221) has kinda sorta taken the shortstop job back from Elliot Johnson (.209/.276/.357) with a recent hot streak (two multi-hit games in his last four contests). John Jaso (.255/.347/.371 vs. RHP) and Kelly Shoppach (.239/.363/.388 vs. LHP) typically platoon behind the dish. Tampa recently recalled third catcher Jose Lobaton, but he hurt his knee last night and could end up on the disabled list. Sam Fuld (.238/.296/.351) will make an appearance now and then, as will Justin Ruggiano (.259/.279/.439). The Rays have a pretty drastic home/road split, but not in the traditional way. As a team, they’ve hit .227/.296/.374 at Tropicana Field, but .258/.325/.416 away from home. It’s weird, the Trop has turned into a pretty extreme pitcher’s park over the last few years, suppressing offense to about 80% of the league average since the start of last season according to ESPN’s park factors. Don’t ask me to explain.

Rays On The Mound

Monday, RHP Alex Cobb (vs. A.J. Burnett): Uh oh, a rookie they’ve never seen before. At least this one isn’t a soft-tossing lefty. Cobb has made five spot starts for Tampa this season, all with generally good results. He gave up four runs in four innings in his debut, but he’s allowed no more than three runs in the other four games while failing to complete six innings only once. Cobb has struck out 19 and walked 12 in 29 IP, getting exactly 50% ground balls. He makes his living with a low-90’s two-seamer and a mid-80’s changeup that he’ll throw a pretty much any time. A high-70’s curveball is his third pitch, a mid-80’s slider his seldom used fourth offering. Cobb does have a pretty significant platoon split in both the majors and minors, which is odd given the changeup.

Tuesday, RHP Jeremy Hellickson (vs. Bartolo Colon): The Yankees were supposed to get Hellickson last week, but he was scheduled to start the game that was rained out, so Tampa skipped him. This start will be his first since July 3rd, so 16 days off. Maybe there will be some rust. Hellickson is another fastball-changeup-curveball guy, but his stuff and command is a full grade better than Cobb’s, if not more. His underlying performance this year isn’t great (5.90 K/9, 3.39 BB/9, 33.1% grounders), but he’s coming off a nice run of seven quality starts in his last eight outings. The Yankees haven’t seen him other than a handful of short relief appearances last season.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Wednesday, LHP David Price (vs. Freddy Garcia): Finally, someone we’re familiar with. The Yankees put ten men on base and scored four runs against Price last week (5 IP), and also scored five runs in five innings off him earlier this season. He lives off his mid-90’s two and four-seamers, throwing them a combined 70.7% of the time this season. A mid-80’s changeup and a high-70’s curve are his favorite two secondary pitches, and the high-80’s slider he used to dominate the SEC is basically a show-me offering these days. The Yankees have had some success against Price this year, but come on. You know how good he can be.

Thursday, RHP Jamie Shields (vs. CC Sabathia): The Yankees didn’t have any success against Shields last week; he limited them to four hits and one unearned run in eight innings. It took an otherworldly effort from Sabathia for them to win. Shields throws three low-90’s fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter) but doesn’t use them that often. Just 40.1% of his pitches are fastballs. His hellacious low-80’s changeup is his go-to pitch, and he’s using his high-70’s curve more often this year (21.4%) than ever before. A mid-80’s slider will make an appearances every once in a while. Shields has been both very good and very bad against the Yankees in recent years, and they’ve seen enough of him to know what’s up.

Bullpen: The Rays played deep into the night yesterday, so their bullpen is pretty taxed on the moment. Both Juan Cruz (3.70 FIP) and Jake McGee ( 4.84 FIP in limited action) have pitched in each of the last three days. Cesar Ramos (4.66 FIP), Adam Russell (5.08 FIP), and Brandon Gomes (4.01 FIP in limited action) have each pitched in the last two days. The trio of Kyle Farnsworth (2.86 FIP), J.P. Howell (5.97 FIP), and Joel Peralta (3.85 FIP) each pitched yesterday as well as Friday. Tampa has to send someone down to call-up Cobb in time for tonight’s game, and it’ll almost certainly be Gomes after the threw three innings and 48 pitches last night. They’re definitely stretched a little thin at the moment, but most days they’re set in the eighth and ninth innings while being a little hit-or-miss elsewhere.

Recommended Rays Reading: DRays Bay