Poll: Greatest game at New Yankee Stadium

The last few days have been pretty good for Yankees fans, starting with Derek Jeter‘s 3,000th hit and 5-for-5 game on Saturday. After the Cap’n went deep for the milestone hit, I declared that game the best in the history of the New Yankee Stadium. Many disagreed and offered alternatives, so what follows is only natural: a poll. Let’s relive seven of the most memorable games in New Stadium history, then vote for our favorite at the end…

August 7th, 2009: A-Rod‘s 15th inning walk-off against Boston (box) (video) (RAB recap)

The Red Sox mopped the floor with the Yankees early in 2009, winning the first eight games they played. New York got into the win column on August 6th, but it wasn’t until the next night that it felt like they were over the hump. Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett dueled for seven-plus scoreless innings, then the bullpens squared off for seven more scoreless innings. Rookie Junichi Tazawa was on the mound for Boston by time the 15th inning rolled around, his big league debut. Jeter singled to lead off the inning, but the Yankees looked liked they were about to blow another opportunity after Johnny Damon popped up a bunt and Mark Teixiera struck out. Alex Rodriguez took matters into his own hands, ending the game by clobbering a 2-1 curveball into the visitor’s bullpen for the walk-off win.

October 9th, 2009: ALDS Game Two (box) (video) (RAB recap)

They called it Yankee Stadium, but the park needed some postseason magic before it felt like home. That magic moment came in bottom of the ninth inning of Game Two of the 2009 ALDS, when the Twins were nursing a 3-1 lead with ubercloser Joe Nathan on the mound. Teixeira dunked a single into right to lead off the inning, and then Nathan made the mistake of falling behind A-Rod. His 3-1 fastball caught a little too much of the plate, and Alex did not miss it. I’ll never forget the moment of silence immediately after contact. It was almost like everyone in the building was gasping for air in disbelief. The place exploded it was clear the ball was heading over the fence for a game-tying two-run homer. It was … indescribable. David Robertson‘s greatest escape job ever and Tex’s walk-off homer two innings later were almost secondary, A-Rod’s brought the house down with his ninth inning homer. There was no more looking back, the new Stadium was home now.

October 29th, 2009: World Series Game Two (box) (video) (RAB recap)

You can make a pretty strong case that this was the most important game in the history of the New Stadium. The Yankees got manhandled by Cliff Lee in Game One of the Fall Classic, and if they dropped Game Two they were going to Philadelphia for three games down two games to none in the best-of-seven series. A.J. Burnett did his part, shutting down the Phillies down for seven innings after giving up an early run. Pedro Martinez was on his game in the first few innings, but Tex tied things up with a solo homer in the fourth. Hideki Matsui gave the Yankees a one-run lead with a solo homer in the sixth, then Jorge Posada plated an insurance run in the seventh. Burnett struck out nine in his seven innings, handing the ball off to Mariano Rivera for the two-out save. Just like that, the Yankees were right back in the series.

November 4th, 2009: World Series Game Six (box) (video) (RAB recap)

The Yankees have opened every one of their new stadiums with a World Championship, and the current version is no different. Matsui drove in four runs before the end of the third inning and six total on the night, leading to his World Series MVP trophy. Andy Pettitte gave up three runs in 5.2 IP on three days rest, Joba Chamberlain chipped in a scoreless inning, Damaso Marte pitched out of the Phillies’ last threat by striking out Chase Utley on three pitches, and Mo recorded the final five outs to clinch the franchise’s 27th title. It was glorious.

May 17th, 2010: Marcus Thames walk-off against Boston (box) (video) (RAB recap)

Unlike the other games in the post, I was actually in attendance for this one. The Yankees jumped out to a 5-0 zip off Daisuke Matsuzaka in the first inning, but the Red Sox slowly chipped away and a back-to-back homers by Kevin Youkilis and Victor Martinez off Chan Ho Park in the eighth inning gave them a 9-7 lead. Boston had a chance to add on a few more when they had the bases loaded in the ninth, but Javy Vazquez came out of the bullpen to strike out Youkilis to end the inning. Brett Gardner led off the bottom of the ninth with a double into left and Tex nearly tied things up with a ball to deep center one batter later. A-Rod did tie the game, launching a homer into the visitor’s bullpen for two runs, but the Yankees weren’t done. Robinson Cano hit a ball to deep center like Teixeira for out number two, but Frankie Cervelli extended the inning by taking a fastball to the ribs. Mighty Marcus Thames stepped to plate hunting a first pitch fastball and he got it, hitting a walk-off two-run homer into the left field stands.

July 16th, 2010: Walk-off win in first game after George Steinbrenner‘s death (box) (video) (RAB recap)

The Boss’ health had been declining but his death still caught us all off guard. I still remember feeling sick after hearing the news of his emergency trip to the hospital soon after waking up that morning. The Yankees were off for the All-Star break at the time, so they didn’t return home to honor their late owner until a few days later. Much like Bobby Murcer following Thurman Munson’s death in 1979, one player seemingly carried the Yankees to victory on this date. The Rays grabbed a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning on a Ben Zobrist RBI ground out, but Nick Swisher got that run back with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the eighth. A ninth inning rally ignited by a Curtis Granderson leadoff walk and capped off by Swisher’s walk-off single through the right side sent the Yankees home victorious, the first game of the post-George era. Swisher had also driven in a run earlier in the game, and his +0.745 WPA is the largest by any player in a single game at New Yankee Stadium.

July 9th, 2011: Jeter’s 3,000th hit (box) (video) (RAB recap)

It wasn’t just when or where, it was how. Jeter’s milestone hit a no-doubt homerun into the left field bleachers, arguably his hardest hit ball of the season. Teammates met him at the plate and the celebration lasted several minutes on the field, but Derek wasn’t done yet. He had his third career 5-for-5 game, and the fifth hit drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth. It was one of those moments that make this game beautiful, when an aging star steals a day from his prime and reminds us of their past greatness.

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I think these seven games are the best candidates, but if you disagree and think another was the greatest in New Stadium history, then tell us about it in the comments. Thanks in advance for voting.

Which is the greatest game in New Yankee Stadium history?
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Hughes getting back to basics for Sunday’s start

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

There has been something lacking from Phil Hughes‘s game lately. The focus for the past couple of years has been on his changeup, a perpetually in-development pitch, but the problem is greater than that. I’ll refer you back to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook 2007, which featured Hughes on the cover and rated him the Yankees No. 1 prospect (and, later, the No. 4 prospect in all of baseball):

Hughes’ greatest accomplishment as a pro has been to forsake his slider in favor of a knockout curveball, which is more of a strikeout pitch and produces less stress on his arm. It’s a true power breaking ball that sits in the low 80s with 1-to-7 break. Club officials call it the best in the system because Hughes can throw it for quality strikes or bury it out of the zone, and because he uses the same arm slot and release point he uses for his fastball.

The last time we saw anything that resembled a knockout curve from Hughes was back in May, 2007, when he was working on a no-hitter against Texas. With two strikes on Mark Teixeira, Hughes reached back and tried to bury one of those curveballs, but he flubbed the landing. The ball sailed inside, and Hughes limped around the mound. He hasn’t been the same since.

One of the bigger changes Hughes implemented since then was a new grip on his curveball. Instead of the 1-to-7 power curve, he employed a knuckle grip, a la Mike Mussina and A.J. Burnett. It has worked from time to time, but overall it hasn’t been anything close to the knockout pitch that he displayed while mowing down the minors in 2006. In today’s New York Post, Mark Hale helps shed light on the issue.

Essentially, Hughes finally realized what everyone else had seen: the knuckle grip just wasn’t working. He tried to make it work, by speeding up his arm, but no matter what he did the pitch was average at best, and it although I’m not a scout I’m fairly certain that a good number would call it below average. He did throw it both for strikes and in the dirt, but in the zone it seemed a bit flat, and in the dirt it didn’t fool anyone — “It never looks like a strike,” Hughes said. And so, on Sunday he will likely re-implement the original grip. “It’s a lot more like a power curveball now,” said Hughes.

Another interesting change Hughes has worked on this week: changing his mechanics. We often hear about changes in mechanics, and most times it means nothing. But when it comes to his plant leg, eyebrows raise. That’s the hamstring he pulled on that night in Texas, the night he showed so much promise. Hughes acknowledges that the issues could stem from that incident, too. “I just felt like over the years, basically starting from my hamstring injury, I’ve kind of formed a couple of bad habits,” he said. That he’s consciously working to correct these bad habits is certainly encouraging.

This type of story is usually reserved for spring training, a time of hopes and dreams for the upcoming season. To see it in the middle of the season is somewhat odd, but inspiring at the same time. Essentially, Hughes is admitting that many of his issues stem from the injury that cost him most of the 2007 season. If he can get back to the pitcher he was before that, with both his mechanics and his curveball, he could yet turn into the pitcher who, according to Baseball America, had the “combination of stuff, feel and command to profile as a No. 1 starter.”

The Obligatory Ubaldo Jimenez Post

Lost amidst the hoopla of Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia this weekend was a report from Ken Rosenthal indicating that the Rockies have been receiving inquiries about the availability of ace right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez. They aren’t actively shopping Jimenez according to Rosenthal, but “if the Rockies get an offer that┬ámakes sense, they will give it serious consideration.” The Reds are already said to have interest, but no significant trade negotiations have taken place.

The Yankees have been looking for high-end pitching since the offseason, and Jimenez the kind of pitcher that usually doesn’t hit the trade market. He has his pluses and negatives like everyone else, so let’s recap…

The Pros

  • In terms of pure stuff, there are few (if any) better. Jimenez legitimately sits in the mid-90’s with two fastballs, a true four-seamer and a two-seamer that runs in on righties. He’ll throw a low-80’s slider to righties and a mid-80’s changeup to lefties, but batters on both sides will get his filthy high-80’s splitter. An upper-70’s curveball will show up every once in a while as well.
  • As you’d expect with that kind of stuff, Ubaldo puts up stellar strikeout (8.19 K/9 this year, 8.39 since the start of 2009) and ground ball (46.6% this year, 49.9% since the start of 2009) rates. He doesn’t have much of a platoon split at all, holding righties to a .220/.298/.323 batting line (3.50 FIP) and lefties to .227/.309/.341 (3.08 FIP) since the start of 2009.
  • Jimenez has been on the disabled list exactly once in his career, and that was this April for a cracked cuticle. Hardly a long-term concern. He’s on pace for his third consecutive 200+ IP season and his fourth consecutive 190+ IP season. Ubaldo has thrown the 15th most innings in baseball since the start of the 2008 season, and he’s that one DL trip away from being top 12. Dude eats innings.
  • The Rockies signed Jimenez to a long-term contract back in 2009. He’ll earn just $2.8M this season ($468,000 a month or so) and $4.2M next season before options for 2013 ($5.75M) and 2014 ($8M) come into play ($1M buyout of each). The 2014 option is voided if he’s traded though, so forget about that. Either way, Ubaldo will be paid a fraction of what he could have earned had he gone through the arbitration process.

The Cons

  • As good as his present stuff is, Jimenez’s fastball velocity is down noticeably after sitting in the upper-90’s over the last few seasons. His swing and miss rate sat between 8.9% and 9.6% from 2007 through 2010, but it’s just 7.5% this year.
  • The strikeouts and ground balls are great, but Ubaldo will hurt himself with ball four. His 3.19 uIBB/9 this year is down from 3.36 in 2009-2010 and 4.23 in 2007-2008, but it’s still nothing special.
  • Jimenez is very much like A.J. Burnett in that he’s hit or miss. One day he’ll look like the best pitcher on the planet, the next he’ll look completely average, and the next he’ll look like he belongs in Triple-A. His average Game Score since the start of 2009 is 57.5 but the standard deviation is 15.9, which is kinda nuts. That means his Game Scores (and thus the quality of his outings) vary a great deal. Burnett is at 50.4 and 17.7 during that time, respectively.
  • He’s done a fine job of staying healthy in the show, but Ubaldo did have some serious shoulder trouble in the minors (2004) and that is never fully behind you. Just ask Chien-Ming Wang. It’s also worth noting that he’s thrown his splitter way more this year (14.4%) than ever before, and that pitch supposedly takes a toll on the elbow over time.
  • Ubaldo has some postseason experience but not much. He allowed seven runs in 15 IP against the Phillies in the 2009 NLDS, though he did allow just four runs in 16 IP as a rookie during Colorado’s march to the 2007 World Series. His track record against AL competition in interleague play is average at best (4.08 ERA and a ~3.50 FIP in 79.1 IP). I don’t put too much stock in that stuff, but it’s worth noting.

One trade came to mind as a comparable almost immediately: Dan Haren from the A’s to the Diamondbacks. At the time of that deal, the 27-year-old Haren had two years and an option left on his contract (total value of $16.25M), and his big league career consisted of 3.97 FIP and 14.1 WAR in 781.1 IP. Right now the 27-year-old Jimenez has a year-and-a-half plus an option left on his deal ($11.12M), and his career consists of a 3.57 FIP and 19.6 fWAR in 832.1 IP. The difference between the two pitchers is consistency, or really the perception of it.

It’s a fair comparison, and it cost Arizona six (!!!) young players to acquire Haren and minor league reliever Connor Robertson (David’s brother, seriously). One of those six was an upper level stud prospect (Carlos Gonzalez), another was a lower level stud prospect (Brett Anderson), one was a rising but flawed lower level prospect (Chris Carter), two were mid-range prospects (Greg Smith and Aaron Cunningham), and the sixth was a young big leaguer struggling to find his way in the show (Dana Eveland). That’s quite a haul.

There are plenty of reasons to like Jimenez and plenty of reasons not to like him. The talent is so immense that it’s easy dream and see him becoming the best pitcher in baseball after a little talk with the organization’s pitching gurus. The risk is also obvious, especially when you consider that the AL East is no picnic. I’m guessing at it’ll take at least four young players to acquire Ubaldo, and two of them are going to have to be absolute studs. Remember, Colorado is not rebuilding, they’re ready to contend and will want players that can help very soon, not two years from now. It’s about cost and risk, how much of the former are the Yankees willing to pay and how much of the latter are they willing to assume. They’d be foolish not to at least inquire though. No harm in that.

The Boras Double Standard

Scott Boras, on Francisco Rodriguez: “Closers don’t make good setup men. Does anyone want an unhappy setup man in their clubhouse?”

Yup.

Mets ship K-Rod to Brewers

Via MLBTR, the Mets have traded closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers for two players to be named later. Nice of them to wait until after the All-Star Game to announce the deal. Anyway, K-Rod was on the Yankees’ radar as a potential trade target: He was reportedly open to a deal to the Bronx, and Ben made the case for him last month. That option is clearly off the table now. Fantasy managers should look at Bobby Parnell for saves as he is likely to become the next Mets’ closer.