Game 71: Oh good, a real pitcher

Photo Credit: Ed Andrieski, AP

Roy Halladay. Win.
Jamie Moyer. Loss.
Kyle Kendrick. Loss.
Hisanori Takahashi. Loss.
Mike Pelfrey. Win.
Johan Santana. Win.
Rodrigo Lopez. Loss.

What’s wrong with that picture? It’s completely backwards. The Yankees are losing to the pitchers they theoretically should beat, and beating the pitchers they theoretically should lose too. Don’t get me wrong, beating quality pitchers is great, but you’re going to face more have-nots than haves over the course of a 162 game season, so it would be nice to start beating those guys.

Thankfully, the truly great Dan Haren is on the mound for Arizona tonight, even if his 2010 season hasn’t been up to his lofty standards. He’s still striking out a ton of guys (8.97 K/9) and walking next to no one (1.78 BB/9), but he’s getting beat with the long ball (1.60 HR/9) and some plain old bad luck (.344 BABIP). The 4.71 ERA is deceiving, because everything else suggests he’s been much better (4.10 FIP, 3.43 xFIP, 4.22 tRA). But hey, the Yankees have made a habit out of beating guys like this in the last week or so, so let’s hope this trend continues.

Here’s your starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Granderson, CF
Gardner, LF
Pettitte, SP

Hopefully Andy doesn’t get too cute when Haren is at the plate tonight, dude’s got a 1.000 OPS this year.

First pitch is scheduled for 9:40pm ET, and the game can be seen on YES. The temperature is going to flirt with triple digits tonight, but I’m sure the roof will be closed and the air conditioning will be on.

Open Thread: MLB Bonus Baby’s Draft Review

Photo Credit: MLB.com

Andy Seiler at MLB Bonus Baby is reviewing each team’s draft class over the next few weeks, and today he got to the Yankees. He offered up a blurb on all 50 players they selected (yes, all 50), giving the class an overall grade of C+. That’s basically the grade I have it during our draft day liveblog(s). There’s a lot of upside, but a whole lot of risk as well. No one better exemplifies that than first round Cito Culver (above). Make sure you check out Andy’s review, very informative stuff.

As for the rest of the night, use this as the open thread until the regular game thread comes a long a little after 9pm ET. The game starts at 9:40, a little earlier than yesterday.

No panic for the bullpen

Despite a few hiccups here and there, the Yankees bullpen actually hasn’t been that bad this season. Check out the numbers for AL bullpens. The Yanks’ relief corps has allowed 4.07 runs per game, third best mark in the AL. Not only that, but the fourth place team has allowed .24 more runs per game, while the first place team has allowed just .19 fewer. In other words, in terms of runs allowed the Yankees have one of three clearly superior bullpens in the AL.

Part of the reason for this is that the starters have been so good that only the best relievers have been needed in high leverage situations. Yankee relievers, including Chamberlain and Rivera, have entered the game with an average Leverage Index of .899, lowest mark in the AL. The bullpen has faced just 49 high-leverage situations, fewest in the AL by a decent margin. That means that the lesser relievers, even if pitching poorly, aren’t doing so at critical times.

The bullpen’s biggest problem right now is Chamberlain. He has faced 32 batters in high-leverage situations and has allowed nine hits, including two doubles and a homer, which has led to 12 runs. His groundball percentage, at 50 percent in low- and medium-leverage situations, drops to 42 percent when the pressure is highest. Even still, his peripherals are excellent in these high leverage situations. He has struck out 11 of those 32 batters to just two walks. What takes away from that is that he throws more pitches to batters in high leverage situations. This leads to deeper counts, and it’s then that Chamberlain becomes predictable. On 2-2 and 3-2 counts he’s going to the slider 66 and 63 percent of the time, respectively.

I doubt the Yankees will stop giving the ball to Chamberlain. He still has plenty of talent, and at times he’s looked brilliant. Also, the team doesn’t really have anyone to take those high leverage innings. Damaso Marte has faced only eight batters with the pressure on high, and he’s allowed three hits, including two doubles. David Robertson has also struggled in high leverage situations, walking three of the 16 batters he’s faced while allowing four hits and striking out just one. Beyond those guys, there aren’t many other options to take these critical situations. Joba shows the most promise in them, and I suspect he’ll continue to get the ball.

I have seen, in various places, concern about the back end of the bullpen. Chan Ho Park has been a disaster so far with his .354 BABIP and six home runs allowed. Chad Gaudin is nothing but a mop-up man. Boone Logan can’t even do his one job, which is to get out lefties. Damaso Marte walks way too many batters. These concerns, of course, are real. None of the above statements is false, at least in the context of the season to date. Still, there are two mitigating circumstances. First, we’ve seen two of these guys, Park and Marte, pitch much better than they have been. Second, as mentioned above, they haven’t been placed in the highest leverage situations, which is to say that the damage they have caused has been, for the most part, minimal.

The back end guys are also replaceable if they get to a certain point of ineffectiveness. Logan can always go back to AAA. Gaudin can always return to the scrap heap. Chan Ho Park will get more chances than the others, but even he isn’t making a salary that would make the Yankees balk at releasing him if his current pitching continues. They probably won’t find much on the trade market to replace them — after all, every team is looking for bullpen help — but there are a few interesting names on the farm. Ivan Nova, who made his major league debut earlier this season, is pitching well. Jason Hirsh has moved to the bullpen, perhaps because the Yanks think they can get some production from him. Jonathan Albaladejo has straight dominated AAA, with 45 strikeouts to 12 walks in 34.1 innings. And there’s always Mark Melancon.

Again, these are options for the very back of the bullpen. If the starters continue pitching well, the only bullpen issue the Yankees might face this year is of finding one more high-leverage reliever. Can Joba step up? Will they give Robertson and Marte a longer audition? These, I think, are the pressing questions for the bullpen. Sure, Park, Guadin, and Logan might be frustrating to watch. But in terms of where they ranks on the Yanks’ list of problems, it’s the same as the leverage situation when they enter games: low.

2010 Futures Game rosters announced

The rosters for the 2010 edition of the Futures Game were released today, and the Yankees will be sending two representatives to Anaheim next month: Austin Romine for the U.S. squad, Hector Noesi for the World. Jesus Montero has already appeared in the game twice, so he was ineligible this year, not that his performance warrants it. Remember, the prospects elected to this game are the best of the best. Just look at how many of last year’s participants have already appeared in the big leagues.

Part of me was hopefully that Andrew Brackman would get selected, just as validation of his improvement more than anything, but Romine is a fine choice. No more than two players per club go, though ten teams were given just one representative. The game will be played on Sunday, July 11th, the day before the Homerun Derby and two days before the All Star Game.

Hip, Hip, A-Rod!

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

By the end of the Yanks’ 6-3 victory over the hapless Orioles on June 3, it seemed as though Alex Rodriguez had finally arrived this year. He went 2 for 5 that night with a home run had reached the magical .300 plateau. Over his previous 26 games, A-Rod had hit .347/.409/.594 with 6 home runs — a pace that would translate to 38 dingers over a full season. It’s been all downhill since then.

A-Rod has now gone 49 ABs since his last home run. If he fails to homer tonight in the first or second innings, it will be his second such stretch of 50 homerless ABs this year. During that span, he is just 8 for 46 (.174) with only two walks in 12 games. And, oh yeah, the hip that sidelined A-Rod for four games is still bothering him a bit.

“It’s just one day at a time right now,” he said last night. “I’m definitely feeling better. It’s a slow process. I’ll be back out there tomorrow and I’ll tell you how I feel tomorrow. I hope I can start all six games on the trip, but I don’t want to talk about best or worst or six. I’ll definitely be out there tomorrow and then hopefully the next day.”

For the Yankees, A-Rod’s hip presents something of a problem. They’re currently amidst their final NL swing of the season and do not have the luxury of the DH until they return home next Tuesday. With the offensive malaise that has overtaken the club, the team cannot afford to stack Ramiro Pena above the pitcher’s spot and, in effect, give away two out of every nine outs.

The team, however, is putting a happy face on it. Both A-Rod and manager Joe Girardi liked what they saw from A-Rod last night, and I provisionally did too. By the end of the game when he was driving the ball, A-Rod seemed to be swinging more freely from his hips. In games last week, the Yanks’ third baseman appeared to be trying to drive forward with his torso instead. He needs a healthy hip to generate power.

“His at-bats were good tonight,” Girardi said. “Even in his first two at-bats, he just missed a couple of pitches. So I do sense he’s getting more comfortable. The more at-bats he gets, the more his timing will come back. He works very hard at everything. The pitch away, he works at all that stuff. Obviously, when you’re driving the ball the other way you’re staying on the ball, and that’s a good sign.”

Yet, despite these assurances, the hip is a problem that doesn’t go away overnight. A-Rod is on pace for just 20 home runs right now, and his triple-slash line of .276/.348/.459 is the worst since he was 19. A-Rod also suffers from the same problem the rest of us do: He’s not getting any younger. Expecting the 40-home run A-Rod to return might leave us grasping at straws.

Last year, Nate Silver’s concerns about A-Rod’s decline led us to note how the Yanks have to keep him healthy for the long haul. As long as they do that, the Yanks will be OK. But handle with care.

Revisiting Arizona’s first inning homers

If one good thing came out of A.J. Burnett‘s first inning of work last night, it’s that a whole lot of East Coast based Yankee fans got to go to sleep at a decent hour. The Yankee righthander coughed up five runs in the frame after recording two quick outs, surrendering a trio of homeruns. Perhaps he wanted to make sure that fans in each section had a chance at a ball, because the three homers center to centerfield, rightfield, and leftfield, respectively. He’s an equal opportunity homerun giver upper.

The long ball has become Burnett’s bane this month, as he’s already allowed nine in just 20 innings of work. Prior to June, he had allowed just four homers in 71.1 innings, and over the last two seasons it was 44 homers in 428.1 innings. For what it’s worth, three of the four teams he’s started against this month (Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Phillies) are noted homerun hitting teams that rank in the league top ten for big flies. It’s not an excuse, but when you miss your spots, these are the teams that will really make you pay.

And miss his spots is exactly what Burnett did last night. Not just on the homeruns either, he was wild all throughout his four innings of work. I guess you could say he was fortunate that Arizona didn’t hit more homers than they actually did. Let’s recap the three long balls…

The Justin Upton’s Solo Shot

First, I recommend clicking on each image in this post for a larger view of the action. Each one will open in it’s own tab, don’t worry. Obviously, the shot on the left shows where Jorge Posada set up, and the shot on right shows where the pitch ended up.

As for the homer to B.J. Upton’s brother , it was a 1-1 fastball that Posada wanted down and away, presumably in an attempt to get a ball grounded towards the right side of the infield, i.e. the good defensive side. Burnett missed his spot by feet here, not inches, leaving the pitch basically belt high and right out over the plate. It’s a hitter’s pitch, and Upton is a great hitter despite some struggles this year.

Adam LaRoche’s Three Run Shot

Burnett had just allowed a pair of singles to Miguel Montero and Chris Young, so again Posada wanted the ball down and away to try and get that last out on a ground ball. That’s basically all Leo Mazzone preached during his time and Atlanta, drive the ball and away from the hitter because that’s the toughest location for him to do damage. Anyway, Burnett missed his spot and left the ball on the inner half, and that’s where LaRoche likes it according to ESPN’s Inside Edge. The ball was down, just on the wrong side of the plate.

Aside: Going back to Montero’s single for a second, I thought that was actually a really good pitch. It was a curve that dropped off the table, but the D-Backs’ catcher went down and slapped the ball on the ground. It just scooted by Robbie Cano at second. Not sure what the point of mentioning this was, but that stuck out to me as I was watching the game. Good pitch, good location, just an unfortunate result.

Mark Reynolds Doing What He Does When He’s Not Striking Out

Unlike the Upton and LaRoche homers, Reynolds hit a curveball. It was a 1-1 count and once again the call was for the pitch down and away, but A.J. hung it on the inner half. Reynolds simply dropped the barrel of the bat on it. The guy’s hit 89 homers in his last 371 games, it’s what he does to pitches like that. A.J. missed both vertically and horizontally here.

When he’s on, Burnett racks up the two best things a pitcher can get: strikeouts and ground balls. In his somewhat arbitrary defined (by me) good starts this season, he’s struck out 17.6% of the batters he’s faced and generated grounders on 48.9% of the balls put in play. In his bad starts, those totals are 14.7% and 33.7%, respectively. Long story short, when he’s bad, Burnett leaves the ball up in the zone and the hitters are making contact. That equals homeruns. Doesn’t matter who the catcher is.

I don’t think Burnett’s recent rough patch can definitively be attributed to pitching coach Dave Eiland’s absence, but it is one hell of a coincidence. He’s been consistently inconsistent his entire career, and at some point he’ll get back on track and fire off two months worth of starts with a sub-3.00 ERA like he did last year and the year before that and the year before that. Thankfully the Yankees have four other not just quality, but elite level starters in their rotation, so they should be able to keep their heads above water while Burnett tries to right the ship.

How to identify a slumping offense

Rodrigo Lopez is not a good pitcher. I made sure to highlight this in last night’s game thread. He somehow manages to get by with the lowest swinging strike rate among NL starters along with one of the highest home run rates. He doesn’t walk many, but his other peripherals, including his ridiculously low groundball rate, indicate that other teams should destroy his mediocre offerings. Yet the Yankees couldn’t break through against him last night. It was just one more sign of a slumping offense.

For a while it looked like the Yanks had snapped out of it. After an offensive drought against the Blue Jays earlier this month they went on to score 19 runs in three games against the Orioles and then 22 in the three games against the Astros. The kicker, the game that seemed like it meant more than it did, came a week ago against Philly, when the team rocked Roy Halladay. And then the slump set in. Three runs, only two of which came against Jamie Moyer. One run against Kyle Kendrick. Shutout by Hansori Takahashi. Even when they scored five against Mike Pelfrey the next day they were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position. On Sunday they were 2 for 9.

Last night we saw more of the same. The team managed eight hits and two walks off Rodrigo Lopez, but just one of those hits came with a man in scoring position. That was Nick Swisher‘s triple. Mark Teixeira could not follow with his own hit with a runner in scoring position. It cost them two outs to score Alex Rodriguez after he hit a no-out, RBI double in the sixth. Even in the ninth it took defensive indifference and two outs to bring home Brett Gardner. Trading an out for a run can be to a team’s advantage in some situations, but not when they’re down by four, five, or seven runs. The price for moving the man over was just too great.

On another night, at another point in the season, I’m confident the Yankees would have done to Rodrigo Lopez what the Diamond backs did to A.J. Burnett. They put the ball in play 28 times against him and managed hits on just eight. That’s a .286 BABIP, right around normal, but it wasn’t only the number of hits. It was the type of hits. FanGraphs had the Yanks at 18 fly balls and four line drives, with just six balls hit on the ground. Of course, three of those six balls on the ground went for base hits. Lopez this season has allowed 12.4 percent of his fly balls to leave the park, 11.7 percent for his career. Last night that was a big fat zero. Worse, they weren’t mere pop flies. They were what Baseball Info Solutions classifies as Fliners, combination line drives and fly balls. Some of these get classified as liners, some as fly balls. A-Rod‘s and Posada’s rips in the eighth were both classified as flies, though they were well-struck balls that, at another time, probably would have left the yard.

There was absolutely no reason, under normal circumstances for this offense, that Lopez should have completed eight innings with 103 pitches. Had the Yankees offense not been slumping, he’d have been out right around the time A.J. exited. If things were going right, maybe Swisher jacks a three-run shot in the fifth rather than missing with a good swing and popping up to the infield. Maybe Curtis Granderson puts a ball in the air that gets past the shortstop. Maybe Teixeira drives home the runner one of the two times he came to bat with a man on third.

It would have taken quite an offensive feat to defeat the Diamondbacks last night. Burnett put them in a hole early, but it looked like they might be able to battle back if he settled down, as he he has after poor first innings a couple of times this season. He did not. With a smoothly running Yankees offense scoring six, seven runs isn’t a big deal. But with the way they’re currently playing it is. There’s not much to do about it, really. These are good hitters who just can’t string together hits. I have confidence that they can find a groove and do it. It’s the question of when that I’m not so sure about.