Those lovable Yankees

Smile if you love the Yankees. (Photo Credit: Paul Sancya, AP)

Forgive me while I try something different. We’re not going to analyze anything in this post, I just want to talk about the current crop of Yankees and how for the most part, they’re damn easy to like. I’m sure non-Yankee fans feel the exact opposite, but who cares about them. They’ll probably respond with something creative like “for $250M they should be likable.” Originality knows no limits, you know.

Anyway, the more I think about it, the more I realize how enjoyable this team is to watch and follow on a daily basis. Winning certainly has a lot to do with it, but the Yankees won a ton of games last decade and looked like a bunch of grumpy old men doing it. I’m not talking about clubhouse chemistry and all that stuff, I’m just talking about plain old likability. Gary Sheffield scowled his way to 6.4 WAR in three seasons in New York, but looked miserable 24 hours a day. The only time I ever remember him smiling was when he hit his 500th career homer as a member of the Mets last year. Kevin Brown was another one. He punched walls and threw his glove and posted 4.1 WAR in his two seasons with the Yanks, but was impossible to like. The list of grumpy, old, and productive Yanks goes on seemingly forever.

It’s pretty easy to pinpoint exactly when this shift towards more likable players began, it was the 2008-2009 offseason. CC Sabathia is a monster off the mound and seems like a teddy bear off it. A.J. Burnett can be infuriating when he pitches, but you’d be hard pressed to find louder cheers at the Stadium than after one of his pie jobs. Nick Swisher can make the routine look complicated on defense, but his outgoing personality and willingness to help others appeals to all. Curtis Granderson is the exact same way, even though he joined the team a year after those guys. It seems odd saying it, but these players simply seem to love playing baseball for a living. There were far to many that didn’t seem to appreciate the opportunity over the years.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Another part of it is all the young, homegrown players. For whatever reason, it’s just easier to root for the guys who grew up Yankees, at least I feel that way. Maybe it’s because they’re closer to my age and I can relate. Robbie Cano‘s smile was MVP caliber long before his game was. Melky Cabrera was doing all sorts of silly stuff that never failed to put a smile on your face. Brett Gardner makes us all feel warm and fuzzy inside just because we can’t remember the last time the team had a player that exciting to watch. Frankie Cervelli … don’t even start with him. He could run for mayor of New York and I’m convinced he’d finish no lower than third in the voting. People love that guy.

And of course, there’s the old timers. Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada are beloved for being far more than great players. They’re beloved because they are all great people with no egos. I’m adding Alex Rodriguez to this group since he’s the longest tenured player on the team after those guys. He’s definitely a bit of a weird fella off the field, but he’s hands down the greatest player I’ve ever seen in pinstripes, and chances are the same is true for you. We all love a good comeback story, and his performance following last year’s PED fiasco and hip surgery should be enough to convince even the most determined of haters that he’s an amazing player and we’re lucky to have him. Watching world class players like A-Rod are what makes being a Yankee fan great.

Sure, Burnett stunk and the Yanks lost last night, but in the end who cares. In a week it’ll nothing but a distant memory and in the month it’ll be completely forgotten about. The Yanks are fun to root for not just because they’re a great team, but because they have great players who make the game fun to watch. The corporate baseball playing robots are gone, since replaced by players who would sleep at the park if you let them. If you can’t find this team easy to cheer for, then you take this game far too seriously.

Is it the pitcher, or is it the opposing offense?

The Phillies, as we’ve frequently heard, have had trouble scoring runs lately. After they beat Boston on May 21 they led the NL in runs per game, and given what we know about their offensive players that should have come as no surprise. Since then, in a 22-game span, they’ve dropped a full run per game to ninth in the NL, a half run per game behind league-leading Cincinnati. Yet last night they broke out for six runs on six hits, three of which went for extra bases. Were they breaking out of a slump?

As Ben noted this morning, “Last night’s affair was one of those ugly outings where the pitcher shoulders all the blame.” Given how the game unfolded after he left, I have to agree with that. The Phillies reverted to the futility we’ve seen, or at least heard of, during the past few weeks. Worse, they did it against two of the Yankees’ worst pitchers.

Photo credit: Paul Sancya/AP

It’s not secret — not to Yankees fans, not to anyone who follows baseball with a modicum of intensity — that Boone Logan and Chad Gaudin rank among the lesser relievers in the league. If not for injuries they probably wouldn’t have major league jobs right now. But they were easy options, and since the Yankees have two relievers on the DL their presences are understandable. Temporarily, at least.

Their troubles are well known. Gaudin walks too many hitters and has a tough time with lefties. In an ideal world he’d come in from the pen to face a string of righties, but there’s always that lefty on the bench that can trip him up. This leads to a high number of hits, particularly extra base hits. Logan walks even more batters than Gaudin, and even has troubles throwing strikes to same-handed hitters. The only reason he ever sniffs the majors is because he throws the ball with his left arm.

Yet those two combined to not only hold the Phillies scoreless during the final 5.2 innings last night, but to no-hit them. While Burnett used 87 pitches to record 10 outs, Logan and Gaudin combined for 78 pitches to get the final 17 outs. They threw two-thirds of their pitches for strikes. They each struck out three hitters, Logan in 2.2 innings and Gaudin in 3. It was quite the change from what we saw earlier in the game.

Could it have been the Phillies offense getting complacent after scoring six runs? It could be, I suppose, but I’d never turn to this as a primary explanation for their late-inning futility. They know that a four-run lead isn’t safe with the Yankees’ offense — hell, they brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth, and it wasn’t all that surprising. So I’m sure they didn’t just turn off some switch and slide into cruise control. Maybe it was something subconscious, a sense of satisfaction that they had scored six runs after battling and struggling to score just one during many games in the past few weeks. None of us can really say for sure.

The most likely explanation is that Burnett was just bad. We know that he has terrible outings from time to time, just like we know that Guadin and Logan are bad pitchers. We also know that the Phillies offense has struggled during the past few weeks. When those elements combine in my head, it points to Bad A.J. and not much else. We’ll have to learn to live with these starts. At least it bodes well for today.

When A.J. goes bad

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

A.J. Burnett was so bad last night, he made a punchless offense look like the superstar sluggers they were supposed to be. The Phillies, a team that had scored six runs just twice since doing so on May 15, lit him up like Times Square. After 3.1 painful innings in which he threw first-pitch strikes to just 10 of the 21 batters he faced, Joe Girardi mercifully yanked him from what would be a 6-3 loss.

Last night’s affair was one of those ugly outings where the pitcher shoulders all the blame. Burnett threw 87 mostly bad pitches en route to a six-hit, four-walk appearance. He was responsible for all six runs the Phillies scored and struck out three hitters. Shockingly, Phillies’ batters swung and missed just five times against Burnett. He had nothing.

Unfortunately for the Yanks, having nothing has become a common theme for A.J. After starting the season 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA over his first six starts, the wheels have utterly fallen off. Over his last eight appearances, Burnett is 2-5 with a 6.36 ERA in just 43.2 innings. Opponents have knocked out nine home runs over those starts, and his K/BB ratio is an ugly 35/22. He’s not giving the Yanks quality starts or innings right now.

For the team adjusting to the second of five years of the A.J. Burnett Era, this wildly inconsistent performance is nothing new. The Bad A.J./Good A.J. meme didn’t arise out of thin air, and the Yankees and their fans know that Burnett is only as good as the movement on his pitches. He’s a high-walk, high-strikeout pitcher with little command within the strike zone of his pitches, but his stuff can be so devastating and overpowering that the lack of command often doesn’t matter. And to think the Yanks only have three years and $49.5 million left on this contract after 2010.

That’s the real rub. The Yankees will have to live with A.J. Burnett and his amazing disappearing act through his ages 34, 35 and 36 seasons, and Baseball Reference’s Juan Guzman and Pete Harnisch comparables don’t inspire much confidence. Neither pitcher were still in the bigs come their age 35 seasons.

But does this inconsistency coupled with the inevitable decline of age make Burnett’s deal a bad one? So far, it’s tough to complain about it. He arrived with high expectations last year, and by and large, delivered on his salary. While earning $16.5 million, Burnett was, according to Fangraphs’ WAR, a $14 million hurler. Considering the Yanks had to outbid the Atlanta Braves for his services and won a World Series in his first year in pinstripes, I’d say the team is happy to pay a $2.5 million premium.

Going forward, though, Burnett’s 2010 experiences feature a few warning signs. As the Phillies demonstrated last night, Burnett isn’t getting many swing-and-miss strikes. In fact, this year, his Swinging Strike percentage is down to 7.2 percent. Prior to joining the Yanks, Burnett was generally above 10 percent (and well above league average) in that category, but since coming to the Bronx, his swings-and-misses have dissipated. More balls in play inevitably lead to more hits.

In a similar vein, Burnett’s strike outs have declined precipitously as well. In his peak years in 2007 and 2008, Burnett averaged nearly 9.5 K/9 IP. Last year, that figure declined to 8.48, and this year, he has around 6.7 strike outs per nine innings. We want to see that number stay steady.

It’s still too early in the year to draw many conclusions, and Burnett’s dip in numbers as well as a one-mph drop in velocity, could just be related to early season pitching woes. Nothing reminds us of Dr. AJ and Mr. Burnett quite like an eight-game, 2.50-ERA span, and he could start one of those next week against the Diamondbacks. But last night, Burnett didn’t have it, and if that’s what his aging future in pinstripes is going to look like, that deal he signed might just be for one year too many.

Yanks can’t figure out Moyer, fall 6-3

With their heads held high after topping arch-nemesis Roy Halladay on Tuesday night, the Yankees showed up to the park on Wednesday with another reason to feel good about themselves: cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez would be back in the lineup. Turns out that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig could have been in the lineup for all Jamie Moyer cared, he was that damn good. Thankfully Tampa Bay fell to Atlanta, so the Yanks are still tied atop the AL East with the game’s best run differential.

Victorino Pulls A Gardner

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

The key to the Yanks drubbing of Halladay on Tuesday night was a Brett Gardner bases loaded triple that split the outfielders and rolled to the right-centerfield wall, pushing three runs across and giving the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish. That seemed like a pretty good blueprint for victory, so the Phillies’ speedy outfielder went ahead and did the same thing in this game.

We’ll talk more about A.J. Burnett in a bit, but all you need to know right now is that he loaded the bases with one out in the 2nd inning by walking Raul Ibanez (on five pitches), allowing Greg Dobbs to single to right (scoring Ibanez), walking Brian Schneider (four pitches!!!), and taking a Wilson Valdez shot up the middle off his feet for a single. The Phightin’s had the bases loaded with one out, so Burnett did the smart thing and ran the count full to Shane Victorino.

Victorino had been hitless since last Thursday, but he didn’t a miss a sinker left letters high and out over the plate, rocketing it into the same right-centerfield spot as Gardner the night before. The bases cleared, the Flyin’ Hawaiian was standing on third, and the Yankees were down four runs before they even sent four men to the plate.

Jamie Moyer, Yankee Killer

Untouchable. (Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP)

Following arguably the worst start of his career, 47-year-old Jamie Moyer took to the mound on Wednesday and did the exact opposite of what we all expected him to do: he dominated the Yankees. The only blemishes in his eight stellar innings of work were solo homers by Robbie Cano and Jorge Posada, but otherwise the Yankees didn’t put him in the stretch until the 7th inning, when A-Rod drew a one out walk. That baserunner was quickly erased with a 5-4-3 double play. It was one of those kinds of nights.

Moyer’s slow, slower, slowest approach simply befuddled the Yanks, who didn’t really hit anything hard beyond the homers. He got just two swings and misses out of his 107 pitches, and became the oldest pitcher to ever beat the Yankees. Not exactly how we drew it up.

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

Game Five A.J.

With a chance to clinch the World Series last November, the Yanks sent Burnett to the mound in Game Five against the Phillies, and he promptly made a mess in the bed, to be candid. In that game he allowed six runs and eight baserunners in just two innings of work, which really isn’t much better than the six runs and 11 baserunners he allowed in 3.1 IP on Wednesday. Beyond the Victorino triple, Burnett also allowed back-to-back solo homers to Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth, the first time all year the Phillies turned that trick despite their … ahem … American League lineup.

Burnett simply didn’t give the Yankees a chance to win in this one, needing 87 pitches to record ten outs. Nothing quite boils the blood like a Bad A.J. start.

Logan & Gaudin … Really?

Yeah, I can't figure it out either, Swish. (Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP)

One good thing came out of Burnett’s horrific and short outing … well, I think it’s a good thing. If nothing else, it was fun to watch. Anyway, Boone Logan and Chad Gaudin, the two lowest members of the Yanks’ bullpen totem pole absolutely dominated the Phils for close to six innings tonight. I know, who saw that coming?

Logan faced nine batters, and got seven of them to either strikeout or ground out. Gaudin replaced him and sat down all nine men he faced without incident. It was Yeoman’s work out of the bullpen (/The Show‘d), with Logan and Gaudin keeping the Yanks in the game when Burnett couldn’t. Without them, the tying run doesn’t come to the plate in the bottom of the 9th.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Boy, that little rally off Brad Lidge wasn’t as big as we thought, eh? MLB.com has the box score, FanGraphs all the other stuff.


Up Next

Rubber match is set for tomorrow evening at 7:05pm, and just like last November Andy Pettitte will get the ball to try and pick up the series win Burnett couldn’t. He’ll be opposed by Kyle Kendrick, who has turned all non-pitchers he’s faced into the 2009 version of Hideki Matsui due to a .289-.341-.510 batting line against. That has to be a trap, no?

Heathcott & Murphy lead Charleston’s offensive explosion

Kevin Goldstein on Dellin Betances (sub. req’d): “Whatever magic the Yankee coaching staff has pulled with Andrew Brackman of late, it seems to have work off on Betances as well, as he’s throwing strikes and dominating, allowing five hits in 12 innings while striking out 13 and, most surprising, walking just one while consistently getting into the mid-90s with his fastball.”

Love the mid-90’s part.

Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off day.

Double-A Trenton (8-4 loss to Altoona)
Justin Christian, LF: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 SB
Austin Krum, CF, Marcos Vechionacci, 1B & Luis Nunez, SS: all 1 for 4 – Krum doubled & scored a run … Vech doubled, drove in a run & K’ed … Nunez got caught stealing
Austin Romine, C & Brandon Laird, 3B: both 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 E – Romine K’ed twice, Laird once … Romine made a throwing error, Laird a fielding error
Dan Brewer, RF: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB, 1 E (fielding) - five for his last ten
Wilkin DeLaRosa: 4 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3-8 GB/FB – meh
Cory Arbiso: 2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 3-1 GB/FB
Josh Schmidt: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1-0 GB/FB
Wilkin Arias: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1-1 GB/FB – stranded two of three inherited runners
Kevin Whelan: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 1 K – holy crap moly … strikes, boy
Grant Duff: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1-1 GB/FB

[Read more…]

Game 65: He could be my grandfather

"Back in my day we had to pitch the ball uphill, both ways. And we didn't have arms back then, we had stumps." (Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP)

I’m kind of bummed out that the Phillies flip-flopped Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer in their rotation; I was hoping to see an old man matchup of Moyer and Andy Pettitte tomorrow. Instead, he’ll go tonight against A.J. Burnett, two pitchers that couldn’t be any further away from each other on the pitching spectrum. Moyer got demolished last time out by the Red Sox, and I’m hopefully the Yankees will do the same. I’m pretty sure the AL East is no place for a senior citizen.

On to the other good news: Alex Rodriguez is back! Well, kind of. He’ll be the designated hitter tonight because his lateral movement isn’t all the way back, but getting your cleanup hitter back is always a good thing. Jorge Posada resumes his regular catching duties. Here’s the rest of the lineup…

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

And on the mound, Allen Burnett.

The skies look threatening, but there appears to be enough of a window to get this sucker in. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Baseball America’s decade of draft grades

We all love draft grades, so Jim Callis of Baseball America went nuts and graded out each team’s draft from 2000-2009 (sub. req’d). He has the Red Sox coming up with the highest GPA at 3.40, with the Diamondbacks not too far back at 3.20. Boston’s four grade A’s and a B+ from 2001-2005 will do that. The Yankees came in 26th overall, ahead of the Mets, White Sox, Astros, and Mariners. They received four straight D’s from 2000-2003 since Phil Coke is pretty much the only thing they have to show for those efforts. Phil Hughes alone earned them a B in 2004, and the epiphany draft of 2006 was an A. Everything else was a C or C+, and their overall GPA is 1.95. I think they put you on academic probation for that.