Game 69: Ace vs. ace, redux

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

CC vs. Johan. Lefty vs. lefty. YES vs. SNY. Big brother vs. little brother. Bronx vs. Queens. Good vs. evil. North vs. South. Humanity vs. vuvuzelas. It’s all on the line today … well, maybe not. Should be a fun game though. Here’s the lineup…

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robbie Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, DH
7. Curtis Granderson, CF
8. Frankie Cervelli, C
9. Brett Gardner, LF

And on the mound, the best pitcher in New York, CC Sabathia.

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET, and can be seen on either YES or WPIX locally, or TBS nationally. Enjoy.

A modest proposal

With legitimate concerns regarding Teix (is he possibly turning the corner or just showing a “hot flash”?), the health of A-Rod and Posada, and the volatility of the bullpen, it seems silly to harp on an under-performing bench. Make no mistake, like all teams, the 2010 New York Yankees aren’t going to be sending up world-beaters off the bench. They’re bench players for a reason. Any tinkering will ultimately have minimal impact on the team and its win-loss record.

Nevertheless, a few changes to bring in some fresh blood may yield some positive dividends for the team. This doesn’t mean promoting Jesus Montero or Austin Romine to the big leagues – that would be foolish. It means taking a hard look at Kevin Russo, Chad Huffman, Ramiro Pena and some of the weaker links in the bullpen. In short, the guys that haven’t “earned the right” to keep their spot when they aren’t performing and better options may be looming. On this beautiful morning, we’ll focus on the hitters.

I’ll admit I’ve never been a true believer of AAA SS Eduardo Nunez. He walked less than Stephen Hawking, was reported to have poor defense, had a BABip 60 points higher than anything he’d been at in his previous two levels (Charleston, Tampa) and I wasn’t sold on his power being more than a fluke. Yet he still threw up a combined line of .313/.343/.421 in just under 500 PA’s between Trenton and Scranton in 2009, so he couldn’t be entirely ignored, either. This year he’s largely shut me up. Offensively, at least. On the year in Scranton he’s posting a line of .320/.359/.410. That’s damn good. He’s hitting more line drives this year (up six percentage points to 17.6%) and his HR/FB rate is crazy low at roughly 2.5%, suggesting power should rebound a bit. (Last year’s rate was 8/150 – around 5%.) While I don’t know much about his defense, Nunez, 23, might just be ready for a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

As of now Ramiro Pena is the backup shortstop and the team (appropriately) seems to value his glove’s versatility. He can capably man all of the infield positions and can also play the outfield in a pinch. Herein lies the problem – for a guy hitting .190/.235/.210 (and little indication he’ll ever be even an average hitter), he really hasn’t been very good with the glove this year. Granted, it’s an extremely small sample, but even the eye test seems to indicate Pena’s been fairly pedestrian with the leather. Per UZR at Fangraphs, he’s negative at all positions thus far. Using B-Ref’s metrics, he’s also been underwhelming. On the year, Pena’s RAR is -4.8, his WAR -0.5 and he’s had a negative WPA in almost half of his games (12 out of 30).

Do I think he’s a poor fielder? No, not at all. But when as a player you’re all-glove, no bat, playing in limited bench time, it’s important that you reach defensive expectations. That hasn’t happened and given that he has options, I can’t think of many reasons to keep him around. Yes, he’s been victimized by an extremely low BABip of .220 and his defense should be better, but how much can he reasonably contribute? Nunez contributing average offense and below-average defense in limited time would be more valuable to the team than above-average defense and well below-average offense from Pena.

You’ll probably get poor defense with Nunez. I’ve heard a few Nunez fans say he’s much improved with his glove this year. He has good tools (and a great arm) but it’s never quite come together. Maybe he has; I’ve yet to hear anything myself, but it’s totally possible. He does, however, lead SWB with 7 errors. Even if his defense is poor, I think it’s reasonable to expect he could give you .270/.300/.350 in the big leagues. Of course, I also thought that Russo would provide that, so perhaps that expectation is unreasonable. Still, if nothing else, with Russo and Cervelli often in the lineup due to apprehension to push Posada and A-Rod (justifiably so), having a Nunez at least provides a better shot that there won’t have a complete black hole when an infielder needs a rest. Because I have no doubt Pena will always be a black hole in the lineup.

While Kevin Russo was a fan favorite early on for his “clutch hits,” he’s been dreadful offensively for the team. For the Bombers Russo is “hitting” .196/.260/.239 and even worse in June, checking in at a paltry .136/.240/.136. The good news is he’s been really hurt (like Pena) by a BABip of .225, has what appears to be solid hitting skills (if the minors are any indication), has been good with the glove and there’s really no one in the high minors that can play a utility role like he. There aren’t better options available in house. With Pena, I think there are.

As I’ve said, the difference between Pena and Nunez in the grand scheme of things –as a backup infielder getting spot duty– is likely to be small. This doesn’t mean you stand pat. If the move is made and Nunez is the inverse of Pena (average hitting, unbelievably poor defense), you probably end the experiment and return to the previous set-up. There’s really not much downside to a switch. With both players having options, the bottom of the lineup very often being an automatic out with injuries and necessary rest for starters, and Nunez potentially having some value to the Yankees (or another team via trade) in the future,it’s a move I think needs investigating.

Teixeira, Granderson back Hughes in 5-3 win

Runs have been at a premium for the Yankees over the last three games, and things didn’t figure to get any easier with Mike Pelfrey scheduled to be on the mound Saturday afternoon. To make matters worse, leadoff hitter Derek Jeter was out of the lineup with a bum heel, forcing Brett Gardner to serve as the table settler. The offense finally started to show some signs of life, and Phil Hughes settled down after a rocky start to earn his American League leading tenth win.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Two Run Jack, Jack It Up

Although a first inning run to answer Jose Reyes’ leadoff homer gave us all some hope that offense would start producing like they were capable of, the Yanks started the 3rd inning down a pair of runs thanks to another Reyes shot. Much like the first inning, Gardner started things off a solid single back up the middle, putting instant pressure on Pelfrey with his speed.

Mark Teixeira, the embodiment of the Yanks’ offensive struggles, came to plate with Gardner on second following a Nick Swisher ground out. He worked a 2-1 count on three consecutive fastballs, then jumped all over a hanging changeup for a two-run homer, his first in what feels like an eternity. The ball clanked off the chain-link fence separating the rightfield stands from the Yankee bullpen, and for the second time in the game the Yanks came right back and answered a Mets’ run(s) the next half inning.

Not to be outdone, Curtis Granderson stepped up to the plate with Jorge Posada on second an inning later, hitting a two run shot of his own after fouling off three straight offerings as part of a seven pitch at-bat. Technically, that was a biggest Yankee hit of the game at 17.3 WPA, but for all intents and purposes Tex’s shot was just as important. His checked in at 17.2 WPA.

A Yankee Killer Does Them A Favor

Even though he only spent a year and a half with the Red Sox, Jason Bay has turned into a guy that Yankee fans never want to see at the plate with men on base. The Yanks were still clinging to the two run lead Granderson spotted them, but Phil Hughes put himself in a little bit of a jam by walking Ike Davis to put men on first and second with one out in the 6th.

Bay came to the plate with the chance to give the Mets the lead with one swing of the bat, but he did the exact opposite of what we’ve become used to him doing. He hooked a first pitch cutter on the outer half to the left side of the infield, right at third baseman of the day Kevin Russo. Russo fired to second for one out, and Robbie Cano turned the pivot to complete the double play and get out of the inning. The double play benefited the Yanks almost as much as the two run homers.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

A Hughes Turn Around

Phil Hughes’ overall body of work has been stellar this year, though his previous six starts have been rather mediocre. He pitched to a 4.95 ERA in 36.1 innings, allowing 41 hits and 13 extra base hits, though the team still managed to win five of those six starts.

Saturday’s game started out in inauspicious fashion, with Reyes sending Hughes’ second pitch of the day into the right fielder corner for a leadoff homer. Hughes pitched around a leadoff single in the 2nd, but Reyes touched him up another homer, this one a two runner, in the 3rd inning. That would be all the Mets would get, as the Yanks’ young starter retired eight of the next ten batters he faced, escaping the only other jam he’d face all day thanks to Bay’s double play.

Overall, Hughes allowed five hits and walked three, but he carried the Yanks through the 7th inning on an economical 99 pitches. His troubles finishing off batters weren’t much an issue, with the Mets fouling off only 15 of those 99 pitches this afternoon. Five of those fouls came in one 6th inning Angel Pagan at-bat. That’s a great improvement from the last few weeks, when the opposition was spoiling 40 or so pitches in a given start.

If you’re reading this site, you know that pitcher wins don’t mean much of anything. I have to admit though, seeing that 10-1 next to Hughes’ name is pretty damn cool.

The Goodness

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Big ups to Gardner for the job he did leading off today. Started off two innings with singles, and the Yanks went on to score both times. Can’t say their usual leadoff hitter has been that productive lately.

It won’t show up on the box score, but Nick Swisher hit three balls right on the screws, with just one single to show for it. Dems the breaks.

Mike Pelfrey had not blown a single lead handed to him by the Mets this season coming into today, but the Yanks got him to cough up two leads in the first three innings.

Meanwhile, Hughes came back to strikeout Reyes his third time up following the two homers. Good job of showing him who’s boss.

Ramiro Pena even picked up a single. When that happens, they have to win. Can’t waste that kind of production.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Solid job by Joba Chamberlain in the 8th while wearing Boone Logan’s pants. Four straight sliders to strike out the amazing David Wright to end the inning, none hangers, all biting. Great stuff.

The Badness

The Yankees aren’t out of the woods offensively just yet. They squandered an opportunity with runners on second and third and no outs in the 8th with a chance to blow things open. I don’t blame Pena for making the final out of the inning, but Jorge Posada and Granderson have to at the very least get that run in from third. All they needed was deep fly ball to anyone but Jeff Francoeur, but they couldn’t come through. For shame.

WPA Graph & Box Score

This would look a lot more pleasant without Reyes. Here’s the box score, here’s the nerd score.

Up Next

The 2010 edition of the Subway Series concludes tomorrow afternoon with CC Sabathia taking on Johan Santana for the second time this season. Hopefully the bats continue to wake up a little.

Montero goes deep, but Scranton loses anyway

Bad news about Gavin Brooks. He hurt his labrum is Spring Training and needed surgery to repair it. He’s likely out until next year. In much happier news, the rookie level GCL Yankees kick off their season on Monday.

Triple-A Scranton (5-4 loss to Lehigh Valley)
Reid Gorecki, LF, Eric Bruntlett, 3B & Reegie Corona, 2B: all 0 for 4 – Gorecki K’ed twice, Bruntlett & Corona once each
Colin Curtis, RF: 0 for 3, 1 BB
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 2 K – hitting just .182 with SWB … what gives?
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K – 15 for his last 29 (.517) with five doubles, two triples & a homer … I guess we shoulda taken the Montero Watch down sooner, right? … wait, what?
P.J. Pilittere, DH: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 E (fielding)
Tim Redding: 5 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 7-3 GB/FB – 57 of 94 pitches were strikes (60.6%) … I usually don’t care about who the crappy veteran AAA innings guy is, but seeing Redding in the organization bothers me
Mark Melancon: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 22 of his 33 pitches were strikes … good to see him getting back on track
Royce Ring: 1 IP, zeroes, 2-1 GB/FB - six of his nine pitches were strikes

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Open Thread: RAB commercial on YES

Just in case you haven’t seen it during the pre- and post-game shows yet, here’s our 15 minutes of fame. We’re not good enough for the big money, between inning slots yet, but one day we’ll get there. Oh shush, we’re allowed to gloat every now and then.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for this beautiful Saturday evening. Depending on where you live, you’ll get either the Rays-Marlins or the A’s-Cardinals on MLB Network, plus you have UCLA-Florida in College World Series action on ESPN. Gerrit Cole starts tomorrow for the Bruins, but they’re sending Trevor Bauer out to the mound tonight, and he’s another potential first rounder next year. I can’t recommend the CWS enough, just great baseball. Anything goes tonight, just be cool.

Aceves throws off half-mound

Sorely missed reliever Al Aceves threw off a half-mound today, the first time he’s thrown off something more than flat ground since suffering a back injury in early May. He threw for approximately six minutes and reported no pain, but chances are the team will opt to leave him behind in New York during their west coast trip next week. I can’t see why they’d subject a guy coming off a back injury to sitting on a pair of cross country flights within a week.

Aceves said he might begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton soon, though that was just him spit balling it. The team has announced no plans, and presumably wants to see him throw comfortably off a full mound before starting his rehab clock.

Game 68: Time for Brian Cashman to crack some skulls

Things could be a lot worse right now. The Yanks are still 41-26, still in first place, still have the best record in baseball. At this time last year they were slumping as well. They had just beaten the Marlins 5-1, but were 38-29, three games out of first place. It took two more losses to Florida and a shutout in Atlanta to inspire Brian Cashman to visit the team. And we all know what happened from there.

This team is certainly as talented as last year’s version. They shouldn’t be losing three straight to the pitchers they faced. They shouldn’t have scored only four runs in those three games. But that’s how it goes sometimes. The whole team is uncomfortable, perhaps no one more than the guy who leads it all off, Derek Jeter. He has often said that he doesn’t slump, but rather that he sometimes feels uncomfortable at the plate. You can tell that’s the case right now. He’s squirming as he waits for the pitcher to deliver. He’s 4 for 29 since the start of the Houston series.

The Yankees aren’t panicking, though. They’re sending out the regulars in an attempt to stanch the bleeding against Mike Pelfrey and the Mets. I’m sure Phil Hughes wants to make the most of his return match after failing to put away Mets’ hitters last time.

Derek Jeter is out with a sore heel suffered running down the last night, so here’s the new lineup:

1. Brett Gardner, LF
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, DH
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Curtis Granderson, CF
8. Ramiro Pena, SS
9. Kevin Russo, 3B

And on the mound, number sixty-five, Phil Hughes.