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.

D-Backs play HR Derby, pound Yanks in opener

Coming off two satisfying wins against their crosstown rivals, the Yankees caught a cross country flight to the site of one of their most heart wrenching losses, the scorching hot desert of Arizona. Temperatures outside the park checked in at 102-degrees, but the temperature inside was probably even higher because of all the missiles the Diamondbacks hit on Monday.

Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin, AP

LaRoche Plates Three With One Swing

A.J. Burnett started the night having allowed six homeruns in three starts this year, and he definitely gave them up early an often in the series opener. The most damning of the three first inning shots was Adam LaRoche’s three run bomb over the pool in right-center on the first pitch he saw. It was instant deflation. The Yanks are struggling on offense, and that blast put them in a four run hole that felt like forty. Solo homers are one thing, but those three run shots are the ones that’ll kill ya.

Teixeira Kills A Mini-Rally

It wasn’t much, and the game was basically in the bag by this point, but the Yanks made a little bit of noise in the 7th inning when Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher sandwiched two singles around a pair of fly outs. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, Mark Teixeira let Rodrigo Lopez off the hook by hacking at a first pitch changeup on the outer half, popping it up harmlessly to shallow right field. He must lead the league in those. If nothing else, at least make Lopez sweat a little man.

Two Outs, None On

Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin, AP

For the fifth time in his last eight starts, Burnett allowed at least six runs to score, doing one better and spotting the Diamondbacks seven runs in just four innings of work. Sure, the sheer number of runs hurt, but you know what really ticks me off? That all seven of those runs scored after their were two outs in the inning AND there was no one on base.

The 1st inning started out rather easily for A.J., he needed just nine pitches to coax a harmless fly out and a ground ball out of Kelly Johnson and Stephen Drew, respectively. The Justin Upton came to the plate with two outs and jumped all over a 94 mph fastball that ran back over the plate, sending it just to the right of the huge batter’s eye in dead center. The homer stunk, but one run in the first inning is hardly insurmountable. Well, except when you let four more runs score in the inning, which Burnett did.

Single, single, homer, homer, double went Arizona’s next five batters, and it wasn’t until the pitcher came to the plate that Burnett was able to escape the inning. The D-Backs pushed another run across in the 2nd, when Upton singled with two outs in front of Miguel Montero’s double. Same thing in the 4th inning. Two quick outs, Upton walks, steals second, scored on a Montero single. Like clockwork.

Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin, AP

If you give up a solo homer with two outs once in a while, I can live with that. When you allow seven runs to score when there was no one on base and two outs in the inning, yeah, that’s hard to forgive. Luckily the Yankees have enough pitching depth to absorb this bad stretch of starts by Burnett, but the AL East is so tight this year, they need him to at the very least give them a chance to win every five days. He hasn’t been doing that for the last month and a half.

The Bad Stuff

How the hell do you let Rodrigo frickin’ Lopez start the 8th inning with just 87 pitches thrown? That’s just terrible. All this “he had them off balance all night” stuff is getting really old, really quick. Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, and now Lopez. Apparently everyone in the Yankee lineup is geared for 92+ and can’t adjust. Frustrating as hell.

Chan Ho Park … I dunno what it is with him, but he always seems to get lit up in his second inning of work. You’d think Joe Girardi would have realized this by now. I feel like CHoP could be a lot better if used differently, but no excuses, he has to pitch better when called upon.

I don’t know if it was the roof or what, but didn’t it seem like the outfielders had a tough time picking the ball tonight? Not just the Yanks either, a few D-Backs’ outfielders got a few late break as well.

Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin, AP

Some Good Stuff

Nick Swisher clubbed his third triple of the season, setting a new career with 55.6% of the season left to play. At age-29, Swishahouse is enjoying the best season of his career, which is not entirely unexpected. Where would the Yanks be without him?

Big ups to Colin Curtis for making his big league debut tonight, even though it was just a pinch hitting appearance and he made an out. He’s the fourth player to make their big league debut for the Yanks this season, join Chad Huffman, Kevin Russo, and Ivan Nova.

Brett Gardner is on some kind of hot streak, he’s 99 for his last 100. Okay fine, he’s seven for his last 11 in the last three games, but that’s still awesome. The little guy is hitting .324/.404/.428 in 257 plate appearances. Again, where would the Yanks be without him?

As much as A-Rod is struggling, he drove the ball with authority to right-centerfield twice tonight. Once for a double, once for an out to the deepest part of the park. Hopefully this is the start of something big.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Blah. Here’s the box, here’s the nerd.

Up Next

Despite the loss, the Yankees will wake up Tuesday morning still in first place. These same two teams will go at it again later this evening, though the game starts at 9:40 pm ET, a little earlier than Monday’s contest. Andy Pettitte gets the ball against a suddenly homer prone Danny Haren.

Some late night listening with RAB

I’m going to be appearing on Sports Talk Soup’s MLB Monday radio show at 11pm ET tonight, so make sure you click here to stop by and listen. We’re going to recap the first two months of the season and look forward at what to expect the rest of the way. Should be fun.

GCL Yanks start 2010 with the mother of all games

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

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Pawtucket, walk-off style)
Reid Gorecki, CF: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K
Eric Bruntlett, LF: 3B: 0 for 4
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 3B – 16 for his last 41 (.390)
Jorge Vazquez, 3B-1B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K, 1 E (fielding)
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 4, 3 K – eek
P.J. Pilittere, 1B: 2 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Justin Christian, LF: 0 for 1, 1 BB, 1 K – just up from Trenton because of Colin Curtis‘ call up
Reegie Corona, 2B: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 SB
Jeff Natale, DH: 0 for 2, 1 RBI
Ivan Nova: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 3-9 GB/FB – 63 of 96 pitches were strikes (65.6%) … four runs allowed in his last 27 IP
Royce Ring: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K – just five of his 11 pitches were strikes
Zack Segovia:0.2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2-0 GB/FB – half of his 12 pitches were strikes
Jon Albaladejo: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 23 of his 40 pitches were strikes (57.5%) … he blew his first game since last August, but ended up Clipping a win

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