Open Thread: The Scrapzone

I got sucked into these Hardball Made Easy videos last night after talking with some others about how Matt Kemp got the nickname “The Bison.” I dunno, don’t ask. My personal favorite is this one on blocking the plate, only because you can use The Flatbush outside of baseball as well. Taking one for the team is pretty important as well.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing the Angels again (Pelfrey vs. Haren), and MLB Network will air a game as well (teams depend on where you live). You’ve also got Taylor Jungmann (Texas, 12th overall pick this year) vs. Karsten Whitson (Florida, 9th overall last year) Florida in the College World Series on ESPN. That’s pretty awesome. It’s Saturday night though, I say go out and live a little.

Site Note: We’re going to be running some maintainence from midnight through 6am, so the site may be slow or even down for periods of time.

Game 69: Ex-Marlins

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Jay?? via Creative Commons license)

A.J. Burnett squared off with former Florida Marlins’ teammate Brad Penny in the second game of the season, and today he’ll give it a go against Ryan Dempster. The two were teammates from Burnett’s debut in 1999 until Dempster was traded to the Reds in 2002, and in that final season together they were the Opening Day (Dempster) and number two starters (Burnett). A.J. got the best of Penny back in April, so it would be nice if he could top another former teammate this afternoon. Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Russell Martin, C
Eduardo Nunez, SS
A.J. Burnett, SP

It’s a FOX game, so first pitch is scheduled for a little after 4pm ET. Yuck. Enjoy the game, not necessarily the broadcast.

Saying the Right Thing, Part 1

You should have swung at that, Grandy. See guys? He sucks.

Now that we’re a good ways into the season, the excitement of baseball has faded away into the grind that is rooting for the team that you love. It’s hard to watch guys play a sport where, for hitters, they will only be successful 30% of the time and for pitchers, they’ll usually give up a couple of runs and get in and out of trouble. After the second or so week of the season, this ceases to be entertaining and it’s time to start complaining about everything.

Now, a successful team like the Yankees always has a lot going wrong with it. The pitching might be bad, the bullpen might be bad, the hitting might be bad, and to top it off, the front office might be running the entire organization (most notably player development) into the ground. What’s more important than making sure you’re pointing out to everyone how bad the team is when you’re pointing out what. There are times when pointing out the flaws within the team makes you a good fan and times when it just makes you seem obnoxious and whiny. Timing, as they say, is everything. In this two-part series, I’ll cover what to complain about when you don’t know what to choose amidst the catastrophe that is a 39-29 record with a +89 run differential and a 3.56 team ERA.

The Lineup

The greatest thing about the lineup is that it changes a couple of times a week, and there’s almost always something wrong with it, even on good days. Complaining about the lineup works on any game day, and since lineups come out early, you can get a good head start on the whining. Anyone but Gardner leading off? It should obviously be Brett Gardner. Gardner leading off? Obviously he’s going to get caught stealing. Derek Jeter leading off is a great fallback but is obviously not applicable when he’s injured. Lineups also are also the first place you’ll see where the A-list players are getting a day off, and this is totally not okay. The only options should be a) Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Russell Martin never get a day off and never get injured or b) they are replaced with players who are as good as them. Anything else is worth talking about how bad the lineup is today. I’ll cover the B-listers in more detail below.

B-List Players

Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena, Chris Dickerson, Andruw Jones, and Francisco Cervelli essentially make up the Yankees bench and get their fair share of starts. The problem is, none of these players are as good as who they’re replacing. If any of these players are in the starting lineup, sound the alarm, alert your friends, and start whining. If there’s more than one of them? Well, you could could complain for days and everyone would just keep on agreeing with you. It’s simply not acceptable that these very young (or in Jones’ case, slightly older) players perform at a lesser level than their A-list counterparts, many of which have collected awards for their offense and/or defense. Ramiro Pena, why are you not as good as Alex Rodriguez? Sheesh, he totally sucks. Eduardo Nunez, why do you not possess the skill and grace of Robinson Cano or the fielding, uh, prowess, of Derek Jeter? Come on guys. Seriously? And the last one….

Francisco Cervelli

The man gets a category all of his own. He can’t hit, he can’t catch, he can’t throw, he’s too enthusiastic, he’s annoying, he’s overplayed. Did I miss anything? Frankie is the ultimate great fallback punching bag for when everything seems to be going right. Even when he goes 2-for-3, he still makes two errors in the field, like he’s allowing the fans to have a place to focus all their rage. I think it’s really quite noble of him, to be honest. I don’t understand why we’re not blaming him for Montero playing every day in AAA and Martin’s back spasms, to be honest. I mean, we’re already getting on him for being in the lineup. So what’s one or two more things that he has absolutely no control over? He was probably getting everyone to lose to Doug Davis from the bench, even. At least he’s a better dresser than most of the Yankees.

Slumps

Both the fans and the players know that every player is expected to perform at his career numbers or better at all times. If there’s even the slightest hint of a slump – say, ten PAs or so – it’s time to start making people aware how bad this player is. And the worse the slump gets, the more vocal you can to become. Screaming your head off about Jorge Posada in late May? Totally acceptable. However, you have to be careful to quit complaining the moment they break out of the slump. Jorge Posada is now great. It might be a good time to start complaining about Russell Martin (before he can heat up) or Nick Swisher’s left side, where he is still struggling. Andruw Jones, despite his relatively few appearances, is also a great target for this complaining, though it’s only good to do this when he’s actually striking out playing.

Not Hitting Against Crappy Pitchers

Phil Humber. Carlos Carrasco. Doug Davis. Last year, it was Bryan Bullington and Josh Tomlin. I feel like I speak for everyone when I say it’s annoying that the whole lineup all decides at once to stop hitting against a particular pitcher, especially when it’s a bad one. These kind of decisions are made with absolutely no respect to the fans. Seriously, guys, if you’re not going to hit, can you at least decide not to hit against someone who is throwing well this year (like Alexi Ogando?). You had a perfect opportunity to go down without a peep and instead you whacked everything and decided to do nothing against Doug Davis. It’s obvious that the Yankees decide what games to hit in and what games to be put down in, and complaining about that choice is perfect when those quiet games are being played.

Not Hitting

When you have a lineup that contains names like Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano, you should score a billion runs every day. Never mind that getting on base 30% of the time is considered successful. That is stupid. Everyone should always get hits and runs. All the time. This is another great fallback complaint when Cervelli isn’t playing, because someone will probably go 0-for-4. If you’re lucky, there will be a few 0-fers that make for easy targets due to mass strikeouts or weak ground balls.

Tune in tomorrow for part two, featuring pitching and and the front office. I know you can barely hold your breath in excitement. One additional note: Ryan Dempster isn’t really that bad, so no complaining about not hitting against him. Complaining about not hitting in general is, of course, totally acceptable.

The year of magical pitching

You could almost taste it. Cliff Lee was going to sign, Andy was going to come back, Hughes would take a step forward, the bullpen would stay healthy and the Yankees would have one of the most dominant pitching staffs in baseball and march towards a 100-win season. It sounds idealistic in retrospect, but at certain junctures this winter it didn’t seem all that far off. Of course, it didn’t quite play out that way. Cliff Lee signed up for the inferior transit system and culture of Philadelphia, Andy retired, and Hughes got hurt and took half of the bullpen with him. And then something funny happened. Brian Cashman made a bunch of little moves, earning screams from the haters, and a lot of them actually worked. I say this tongue-in-cheek, but in 2011 the new market inefficiency has been whatever Cashman says it is.

In the bullpen, Cashman picked up Luis Ayala on a minor-league deal, and while Ayala did make a brief trip to the disabled list in April he’s pitched very well out of the pen. He’s given the Yankees 22.2 innings, giving up 19 hits, 8 walks and striking out 18. He’s getting groundballs at a very nice rate, almost 50%, and he has an ERA of 1.25. Even though his BABIP is relatively normal he has a super-high strand rate and a lower HR/FB ratio, which means his xFIP of 3.77 is likely more predictive of his future performance than his ERA. Regardless, he’s been a useful cog for the team so far nonetheless. The other surprising reliever has been Cory Wade, profiled extensively by Mike here. As Mike noted, he has obvious limitations but he’s a very nice minor league depth move at this time of the year. He’s found his way to the major league roster and he’s pitched perfectly so far, allowing no hits over 3 innings and striking out 3.

In the rotation the hot story right now is Brian Gordon, who pitched 5.1 innings of two run ball against Texas on Thursday, walking three and striking out three. Some wanted Hector Noesi to take this spot, but the organization didn’t feel that he was able to provide the necessary length for a starter given that he has been pitching in relief. Others wanted one of David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell or Adam Warren didn’t get the opportunity to start the major league level. In a piece reviewing Gordon’s performance at Baseball Prospectus, Jay Jaffe quoted his fellow Pinstriped Bible author Steven Goldman as getting quite upset about this, saying, “The only possible message is that they will never be good enough, that the Yankees are so deeply suspicious of their own prospects that they would rather take someone else’s trash over their own treasure.” Yet as Jaffe so aptly noted, this isn’t the only possible message the organization is sending the young bucks:

The glass-half-full take on Gordon’s addition is that at no cost, Cashman alertly added another arm to the organizational larder at a time when the Yankees have two starters and two key relievers on the disabled list, with zero guarantee that Colon, Phil Hughes, and Rafael Soriano will be effective and bulletproof the rest of the way

The other two scrap heap rotation pickups are obvious. The first is Freddy Garcia. Despite the fact that he always seems on the verge of getting lit up, Freddy Garcia has been an entirely serviceable fifth starter for the Yankees this year. He has a strikeout rate of 6.38/9 and a walk rate of 3.25/9 to go along with his ERA of 3.63. He doesn’t get a lot of fly balls, and so he lives and dies by his ability to command the ball well and command it low in the zone. He’s managed to throw 72 innings for the Yankees so far this year, and he threw 157 for the White Sox last year, so Sweaty Freddy may be able to keep chugging along all summer long.

And of course there’s Bartolo Colon, arguably the best pitcher on the Yankees until he got hurt. That isn’t meant as disrespect to staff ace CC Sabathia, but it’s remarkable how similar their lines have been. Sabathia has a 3.28 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 3.50 xFIP, a 2.89 K/BB ratio and a 47.3 GB%, whereas Colon has a 3.10 ERA, a 3.34 FIP, a 2.99 xFIP, a 4.00 K/BB ratio and a 47.3 GB%. Colon has struck out more than a batter per nine innings more than Sabathia, but Sabathia has an obvious edge on innings over Colon. But whether or not he compares favorably to Sabathia only demonstrates how spectacular Colon has been on the year. For $900,000 the Yankees have gotten some of the best pitching in baseball this year. To say that he’s exceeded expectations is an understatement. He’s been the $2 scratch-off ticket that wins you a cool grand.

After an offseason that saw the Yankees throw yet another gigantic contract at yet another highly regarded free agent, only to see him go elsewhere, Brian Cashman has shown a remarkable ability to create and preserve depth in the rotation and the bullpen by picking up starters on the cheap and snatching other extraneous pitchers off the lower rungs of the depth charts of other teams. 2011 is a season in which a lot could have gone wrong so far. At times it feels like this team is walking a high wire. But it’s also a season in which a lot of what Brian Cashman has touched has turned to gold. It’s true that you don’t count on these things lasting forever. Is Cory Wade really a shutdown reliever? Is Brian Gordon anything but an organizational arm capable of filling in for a few starts? Will Sweaty Freddy’s stream of junkballs really baffle hitters for another hundred and forty innings? It doesn’t seem likely, and that’s why it’s good to hear that the front office isn’t resting on its laurels and counting on the current crew to take them into October. But it shouldn’t obscure the fact that the contributions of the cast-offs have proven vital to this team’s early season success.

2011 Draft: Yankees sign Dante Bichette Jr.

Update (9:34am): Sweeny Murti hears that the signing bonus will be around $750,000, so just a little bit above slot. Marc Carig confirms.

Original Post (9:03am): Via K. Levine-Flandrup, the Yankees have officially signed top pick Dante Bichette Jr. No word on the signing bonus, but I can’t imagine it’s far off from MLB’s slot recommendation of $694,800. The signing wasn’t expected to take very long at all and it didn’t, so now he’ll likely join the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees when their season begins on Monday. Alright Dante, time to make the Yankees look smart.

Yankees’ bats go silent in loss to Cubs

Ah interleague play, baseball’s annual money and attention grab. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand why they do it and why they’ll continue to do it, but I just don’t like it. The novelty wore off a few years ago. Anyway, Friday’s loss to the Cubs was a fairly standard “lack of offense loss,” meaning the Yankees had no answer for a crummy pitcher and couldn’t overcome an early but generally small deficit. Such is life.

Where was that Doug Davis?

Doug Davis? Really???

Pretty much all you need to know about this game is that Davis batted for himself in the seventh inning. A pitcher like that shouldn’t bat for himself in the fourth inning, nevermind the seventh. His slow, slower, slowest approach kept the Yankees off balance until the very last pitch he threw, number 111 that Nick Swisher clanked off the left field wall for a double with one out in the eighth. That was just their third hit off Davis, who walked three, struck out four, and got ten ground ball outs compared to eight fly ball outs. The only reason he was charged with a run was because reliever Sean Marshall allowed Swisher to score on a Mark Teixeira single. I really can’t explain it, Davis threw “fast”balls and changeups and curveballs and the Yankees simply couldn’t do anything. It was pretty gross.

Almost

Despite getting shutdown by Doug Davis – I can’t even believe I’m writing that – the Yankees did have the tying run on base in the late innings. Carlos Marmol came out of the bullpen and blew Alex Rodriguez away to end the eighth, but the ninth inning was a little more interesting. Robinson Cano‘s would-be leadoff bloop single (maybe even double) was turned into an out thanks to a great catch by Reed Johnson, but then Russell Martin drew a walk to bring the tying run to the dish. Jorge Posada struck out look at a total meatball (grrrr), then Brett Gardner slashed a single to put the tying run on base. Alas, pinch-hitter Chris Dickerson (who has two plate appearances in the last two and half weeks) struck out on three pitches to end the threat and the game. For shame.

Freddy Settles Down

Two weeks ago we saw Freddy Garcia come out of the gate against the Red Sox and everything was up. It was up and over the heart of the plate, and that predictably led to disaster. Garcia started Friday’s game much the same way, and the Cubs made him pay for it to the tune of three runs in the first three innings. They were up two runs before he even got the second out of the game, and it looked like one of those games where we would see a whole lot of Jeff Marquez. But then Freddy settled down.

After Aramis Ramirez singled in Chicago’s third run of the game, Garcia got on a bit of a roll and retired the next eleven batters he faced before Tony Campana beat out a bunt infield single that was more the product of bad defense than good hitting. Freddy stranded Campana and sat down the side in order in the seventh, so he retired 15 of the final 16 men he faced. Six hits, two walks, and three runs in seven innings is usually enough to win with this kind of offense, but it wasn’t meant to be on this day.

Robinson Cano: Also good at baseball.

Leftovers

Swisher, Tex, and Gardner were the only Yankees’ batters to reach base twice. They each had a hit and a walk. Cano, Martin, and Eduardo Nunez each reached once in some form or another, and Garcia had two sacrifice bunts in his two plate appearances. The three pinch-hitters – Posada, Dickerson, and Andruw Jones – all struck out. Sad face. Robbie did make a great defensive play on a ground ball though, flipping it to first with his glove. That was pretty cool.

Great exchange during the fourth inning…

John Flaherty: “I like [NL baseball], this is exciting.”

Doug Davis takes called strike three right down the middle.

Ken Singleton: “There’s your excitement.”

Excellent, go Kenny. In a related note: Am I the only one that can’t stand Michael Kay’s manageable/unmanageable game stuff? Who is he to decide if the game was too long or just right? Bah, whatever.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs has everything else.

Up Next

Same two teams tomorrow afternoon in a (ugh) FOX broadcast. Those always suck. A.J. Burnett gets the ball against Ryan Dempster at 4pm ET.

Williams opens SI season with a bang

Ready for some injury news? Low-A Charleston placed Slade Heathcott, Jose Ramirez, Eduardo Sosa, and Kyle Roller on the disabled list either today or within the last few days. No idea what’s wrong with any of them, but that’s three of their five best hitters and a top three starter. Yikes.

Baseball America has some more draft signings, and many of those guys are on the Short Season Staten Island roster. Their season started today, so we’ve got another team to track. The Rookie Level GCL Yankees start their season on Monday. Also, Gary Sanchez got some love In The Team Photo of this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet.

Triple-A Scranton (6-5 loss to Columbus)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 RBI
Greg Golson, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 2 K – nine for his last 18 (.500) with two doubles and the two troubles
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 BB
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K
Brandon Laird, 3B, Jordan Parraz, RF & Gus Molina, DH: all 0 for 4 – Laird and Molina struck out once each, Parraz twice
Austin Krum, CF & Luis Nunez, SS: both 1 for 4, 1 R – Krum struck out … Nunez committed a throwing error
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 4.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 6-2 GB/FB – 52 of 90 pitches were strikes (57.8%) … yuck
George Kontos, RHP: 2.2 IP, zeroes, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 19 of 26 pitches were strikes (73.1%)
Randy Flores, LHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – eight of 11 pitches were strikes (72.7%)
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K – 11 pitches, 14 strikes (.786) … caps off a perfect night by the bullpen

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