Are Brett Gardner’s leads too big?

When Brett Gardner stole second base in the third inning of Sunday’s game, it was his first successful steal in ten team games and just his second stolen base in his last six attempts. That’s not just a horrible success rate for a fast guy like Gardner, it’s horrible for anyone. For all his speed, Brett isn’t exactly the best base stealer in terms of instincts and jumps and stuff like that, often frustrating us fans as we sit around wondering why he hasn’t run yet. I mean, I know he’s not going to run every time he reaches base, but still.

I don’t have any evidence of this, it’s just a theory, but is it possible that Gardner’s leads are just too big? Meaning that he’s so far off the bag that he’s drawing so many pickoff throws from the pitcher that he’s effectively slowing himself down. That screen cap above is from last night’s game, and you can see that Brett is taking a pretty aggressive lead. He took a similarly-sized lead in Sunday’s game, and it’s also worth noting that Chris Getz took a lead that big in last night’s game as well. Perhaps Gardner could help himself by shortening up just a bit, maybe drawing fewer pickoff throws.

Putting on my amateur psychologist hat, I think a big part of it is mental, that Gardner’s just afraid of getting caught so he doesn’t run as much as he should. Drawing fewer pickoff throws with a shorter lead might make him feel a little more comfortable when it comes to getting reads, which in turn might make him a better base stealer overall. I dunno, that’s just my crackpot theory. What do you think?

The Jorge Posada Problem

(AP Photo)

It’s no secret that Jorge Posada has been struggling this season, you didn’t need me or last night’s 0-for-3 to tell you that. He’s hitting just .147/.250/.343 at a time when the average designated hitter is hitting .256/.337/.392, so the Yankees have been playing with a significant disadvantage this season. Whether it’s just old age, or Posada finding life as a designated hitter difficult after all those years behind the plate, or something else entirely is really none of my concern, all I know is that Jorge’s struggling and it’s a drain on the offense. The season is still young, but we’re starting to reach the point where we can’t just blindly blame things on small sample sizes and expect him to snap out of it. Posada’s been terrible for almost 120 plate appearances now, so the Yankees have to starting thinking about alternatives and soon.

Fortunately, they have a very obvious alternative stashed away in Triple-A by the name of Jesus Montero. The organization’s top prospect hasn’t hit for much power this year (just two extra base hits in his last 20 games, .070 ISO), but we all know it’s in there.  If he wasn’t hitting for average (.333) or getting on base (.355 OBP), then it would be a concern. Montero’s bat is big league ready, there’s very little doubt about that, the only hold up is that there wasn’t an obvious spot for him on the roster or in the lineup. Now there is.

So if the Yankees do call up Montero to take over as DH, how would the lineup and bench work? Just thinking out loud here, but Posada could essentially take over the Eric Chavez role. No, he wouldn’t be able to play third base obviously, but he could certainly back up first base, pinch-hit, and DH on occasion. Eduardo Nunez would have to be the primary backup third baseman, and it’s worth pointing out that both Russell Martin and Frankie Cervelli have some experience at the position at the Major League level (71.1 and three defensive innings, respectively). It’s not ideal, but they’re always there in case of an emergency. Montero takes over as the primary DH and Ramiro Pena hits the bricks. Done and done.

The service time stuff isn’t much of an issue with Montero at all. We’re already well past the point of delaying his free agency by a year, and the Yankees could always afford whatever extra it would cost if he qualified as a Super Two player. CAA Baseball’s preliminary internal studies peg next year’s Super Two cutoff at two years and 146 days, which is right in line with what it had been in recent years. That’s basically 40 days into the 180-something day long season, so we’re right there (just for reference). Plus there’s also a non-zero chance that Super Twos will go away in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, so it might be a non-issue all together. Point being, there’s little incentive to be gained by keeping Montero down in the minors right now, at least not financial incentive.

I don’t think it’s time to pull the plug on Posada just yet, but we’re fast approaching it. We’ve got to see some considerable improvement out of him during this 16 games in 16 days stretch (now 15 in 15), which brings us to May 26th. I’ve been saying that June 1st was my target date for Jorge’s turn around, but May 26th is close enough. He has to be hitting by then because we’re going to be a third of the way into the season. They can’t wait forever. The first third is for evaluating, the second third is for making changes, and the final third is for riding them out. The simplest change the Yankees can make right now is at DH, and right now Posada is giving them every reason in the world to make that change.

Big jerk A-Rod spoils Melky’s return to the Bronx

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Obvious sarcasm is obvious. In all seriousness, it was good to see Melky Cabrera back in the Bronx, wasn’t it? I know I (and many others) hated on him pretty hard during his tenure in pinstripes, but it was nothing personal. I’ve gotta admit, I smiled a bit when he hit the solo homer in this game, just for old time’s sake. I’m just glad it came in a rather generic and utterly forgettable win by the Yankees.

A-Rod Gets Them In

By now you know that Alex Rodriguez has been stuck in a little bit of a slump since coming back from that stiff oblique, but if Derek Jeter can break out of his slump by beating out infield singles and grounding balls though the holes (before he started hitting them over the fence), then why can’t A-Rod? The Yankees loaded the bases (on a walk, single, and a hit-by-pitch) with the score tied at one in the fifth inning, bringing Alex to the plate. Kyle Davies came after him with a steady diet of cutters and changeups before leaving a 2-2 curve just a little up, and A-Rod grounded the ball back up the middle and pastadiving Alcides Escobar for a two-run single. The rally and run-scoring hit wasn’t all that spectacular, but at this point we’ll take anything from Alex. Hopefully he’s starting to wake up (five for his last 17 now, .294).

This was the bad one. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Big Out Number One: Swish Takes A Leap Of Faith

Freddy Garcia was pretty strong all game, though he did run into a bit of trouble in the top of the fifth. Mike Aviles and Matt Treanor strung together consecutive singles with one out, then Escobar got caught staring at a slider for strike three and out two. Chris Getz, who reached base twice in the game and stole his seventh base in the first inning, connected on a 1-1 changeup and lined it into right. Nick Swisher got on his horse and chased it down, making a diving catch to the end the inning. It was a poor man’s version of Brett Lillibridge’s game-ending catch a few weeks ago.

The risk here is obvious. If Swisher misses the ball, both Aviles and Treanor score with ease and Getz is at least standing on third. Given his speed, an inside-the-parker wouldn’t have been out of the question. Swish missed a tough diving catch in the third, but the risk there was minimal since the bases were empty. He gambled and won in the fifth, resulting in a +0.058 WPA swing for New York. We’ll have to disagree with the spreadsheeters here, because it’s obvious the catch was much more important than that given the baserunner situation.

Big Out(s) Number Two (& Three): Robertson Escapes The Seventh

David Robertson seems to take his fireman thing very seriously. He entered the game with two on and none out in the seventh, coaxing a fly out from Aviles before walking Treanor to load the bases with the Yankees up a pair. He was merely getting Kansas City right where he wanted them. Escobar got two fastballs off the plate before fouling off four straight, then Robertson dropped the hammer and struck him out on a curveball in the dirt. Getz took three pitches for a 1-2 count then fouled off four straight of his own, but the third curveball of the encounter did the trick. Robertson whiffed the Royals’ leadoff hitter when home plate ump Ed Hickox ruled that Getz broke the plane on his check swing. The replay showed that the call was … questionable. I’ll leave it at that.

Robertson’s two strikeouts were the biggest defensive plays of the game (by far) according to WPA, checking in at +0.115 and +0.120, respectively. He’s faced just five batters with the bases loaded this season (doesn’t it seem like 500?), and four of them have struck out. That’s getting the job done, folks.

Leftovers

You see that little white glob on the right of the above screen cap (with the arrow)? That’s Brett Gardner already around first and on his way to second during his third inning triple. The ball hasn’t even landed yet, and he’s already past first and going to towards second. Insane. Jeter’s resurgence continued with a 2-for-4 night, including an RBI when he drove in Gardner after the triple. Both of those hits in the third came with two outs too, so that’s cool. The Cap’n is up to .283/.336/.354 on the season. I remain cautiously optimistic.

Curtis Granderson took an 0-for-4 with three whiffs while Russell Martin and Jorge Posada each went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Robinson Cano and Swisher both singled in four at-bats and saw exactly 19 pitches. I noticed that Robbie set himself up at the plate very slow and deliberately in his first at-bat, almost as if he was trying to slow himself down and intentional take the first pitch. We’ve seen him do similar stuff in the past, but this is the first time I remember seeing him do it in 2011. Mark Teixeira singled, walked, and got hit by a pitch. Tough day, but productive.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Freddy Garcia was pretty good, allowing the one run on Melky’s solo shot in six innings of work. He struck out three and walked two, though ten of his 13 outs on balls in play came via the fly ball. That’s a little risky, but hey, it worked. I though Joe Girardi pulled him at exactly right time, so no complaints about the bullpen usage here.

Speaking off bullpen usage, Rafael Soriano was unavailable in this game because of a tender elbow, so Joba Chamberlain handled eighth inning duties and was fantastic. He struck out former Yankees teammate Melky Cabrera on a 96 mph fastball down in the zone, struck out former Nebraska teammate Alex Gordon on a 98 mph fastball away, then got Billy Butler to ground out weakly. Nine pitches, three outs. That’s how you do it.

Mariano Rivera gave up an opposite field single to Jeff Francoeur to lead off the ninth, but then he struck out uber-rookie Eric Hosmer after falling behind in the count three balls to no strikes. The final two outs came on an acrobatic 1-4-3 double play. Not textbook, but it works. Get the ball, throw the ball, and let’s go home.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has your box score and video, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Same two teams tomorrow night, when A.J. Burnett takes on Vin Mazzaro. Bruce Chen was supposed to go to the Royals, but he was placed on the disabled list with a lat strain. We get Vinny from Jersey instead.

Soriano to get precautionary MRI on right elbow

Rafael Soriano will go for an MRI on his right elbow tomorrow, Yankee manager Joe Girardi said after the Yanks’ 3-1 win over the Royals. Soriano’s absence raised a few eyebrows this evening as David Robertson threw the 7th and Joba dominated the 8th, and Girardi said that Soriano was “a little tender…a little bit sore.” The Yanks’ manager said that after speaking with team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad, Soriano decided to go for a “precautionary” MRI. “He didn’t feel good today,” Girardi said.

After Girardi’s presser, Soriano, who last pitched on Sunday, said he has been sore for two weeks but said he felt “fine.” Soriano has had two surgeries on his right elbow and wants to get a clean bill of health before moving forward. We will, of course, follow this story closely.

JoVa goes deep again, but SWB falls

Triple-A Scranton (9-5 loss to Buffalo)
Dan Brewer, RF & Justin Maxwell, CF: both 0 for 5, 3 K – oof
Chris Dickerson, LF: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 SB – breaks out of a little 1-for-10 slump
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 BB, 1 K – four walks in his last eight games after none in his first 27 games
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 3for 5, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI – trying to make me look bad I see … he should know I don’t need help in that department
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B – nine for his last 23 (.391), so hopefully he’s walking up
Jordan Parraz, DH & Luis Nunez, 2B: both 2 for 4, 1 K – Parraz doubled and drove in two
Doug Bernier, SS: 1 for 4, 3 K
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 11-0 GB/FB – 51 of 87 pitches were strikes (58.6%) … hooray for all the ground outs, but yuck for everyone else
Ryan Pope, RHP: 1.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 17 of 25 pitches were strikes (68%) … not his finest moment
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 3-1 GB/FB – half of his 34 pitches were strikes … 6-7 K/BB ratio in 14.2 IP

[Read more…]

Game 33: Back Home

Nope. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

A seven-game swing through Detroit and Texas isn’t the most grueling of baseball road trips, but the games themselves were pretty tough. The starting pitchers had to grind a few games out, the offense tirelessly stranded baserunners like it was going out of style, and all those games came at the back end of a 16-in-16 stretch. I’m sure yesterday’s day off helped recharge the batteries, I know I enjoyed it, and hopefully the Yankees are ready to go to town during this quick six-game homestand. Here’s tonight’s lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

Freddy Garcia, SP

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Notes: The Royals placed Bruce Chen on the disabled list, so the Yankees will face Jersey’s own Vin Mazzaro tomorrow … Phil Hughes expects to start throwing on Thursday, and hopes to be back within six-to-eight weeks. Good luck with that, kiddo. Seriously, good luck.

Shameless Plug: Check out Take on Russ tomorrow morning from 11am-noon. Click the link for details.

Quick Mailbag: Jorge Vazquez

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Nico asks: OK, so I remember your piece from late February on Jorge Vasquez, and I just re-read it as a refresher. How can people be so sure his skills won’t translate to the bigs? He is absolutely raking in Scranton – is there some obvious sign that he will be useless against big-league stuff? I’ve just never heard of such abstract reasoning for why we shouldn’t see what a player can do at the big-league level. Thanks!

JoVa has been killing in Triple-A so far this year, currently ranking in the International League with eleven homers behind teammate Justin Maxwell, who has a dozen. His .389 wOBA is undeniably gaudy, but there are obvious flaws in his game. First and foremost, his plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired. Vazquez has drawn just five walks this season despite being one of the league’s preeminent power hitters, and in 730 plate appearances since signing with the Yankees back in 2009, he’s drawn just 23 unintentional walks. That 3.2% walk rate is on par with noted big league hackers like Orlando Cabrera, Alfonso Soriano, Juan Uribe, and (sadly) Robinson Cano. Except we’re talking about a guy in his late-20’s drawing so little walks against minor league competition.

With that low walk total comes a ton of strikeouts, we’re talking 235 in 686 at-bats in the system (34.3%). Vazquez has struck out 37 times in 127 at-bats this season (29.1%), and even in the Mexican League he was almost always over 30%. Strikeout rates that high by older players in the minors almost always stem from one of two things (often both): the guy just can’t recognize breaking balls, or he has a huge hole in his swing that pitchers exploit. Given the low walk totals, I’m guessing it’s more of the former in Vazquez’s case. The power is real, no doubt about it, but he’s a two-true outcomes guy at Triple-A, and that doesn’t really translate to the show.

Then there’s the defense, which he doesn’t really offer. JoVa’s should be viewed strictly as a first baseman if he has to actually wear a glove, though he’s played some third in the minors. He’s playable at the hot corner the same way Eric Hinske was, in an emergency or late in a blowout game when you want to rest the regular. Jorge’s a short (5-foot-11) and pudgy (225 lbs.) dude that just doesn’t move around well. I can relate. He’s really more of a DH than anything else.

Joe mentioned Mitch Jones in his February post, a guy that spent parts of seven seasons just annihilating the minor leagues (.249 ISO) in the Yankees’ system before bolting for Japan (and eventually coming back). It’s a good comparison in the sense that both Jones and Vazquez are classic AAAA-types, though the former’s career walk rate in the minors (9.9%) is more than double the latter’s. Jones was also athletic enough to play the outfield the entire time. Shelley Duncan is cut from a similar cloth, but he walked more than Jones and struck out way less than both guys (24.3% strikeout rate in the minors). And again, he could handle the outfield.

Vazquez opened some eyes with a great Spring Training and has carried that success over into the regular season, but you have to be careful with guys like this. He’s way old for the level at 29, he doesn’t lay off enough pitches out of the zone, and his defensive value is negligible. JoVa’s a great organization guy, and maybe he gets a cup of coffee with someone somewhere down the line, but he offers little to his Yankees team as presently constructed.