The Yankees are kicking off their first of two trips to Oakland and the West Coast this weekend. They’ve won 22 of 28 games against the Athletics over the last three seasons, including 10 of 12 on the road in California.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Athletics are flirting with .500 at 22-23, though their -20 run differential is the third worst in the AL. They just lost two straight to the Angels but had won two straight before that. They lost two straight before that and … well you get the idea. Teams sitting near .500 tend to alternate wins and losses.
At 3.40 runs per game, the A’s are the lowest scoring team in the AL this season. Their 77 wRC+ is the second worst in baseball to the Pirates, ditto their .287 team OBP. Former Red Sox Josh Reddick has been their best offensive player by far, with a 143 wRC+ and 11 homers to his credit. Yoenis Cespedes is on the DL with a hand injury and his 112 wRC+ is sorely missed. Seth Smith (106 wRC+) is the only other player on the club with at least 120 plate appearances and above league average production to his credit.
Leadoff man Jemile Weeks (75 wRC+) is off to a terrible start just like his brother, and the number two spot in the lineup has rotated between Coco Crisp (28 wRC+) and Cliff Pennington (64 wRC+) for the most part. With Cespedes out, cleanup duties behind Reddick belong to Smith and Jonny Gomes, who is destroying left-handers (147 wRC+) and holding his own against righties (109 wRC+). Brandon Inge has hit well since being released by Detroit (126 wRC+) but no one really expects him to keep that up. First baseman Daric Barton (86 wRC+) and catcher Kurt Suzuki (48 wRC+) have just stalled out after promising starts to their careers.
Oakland’s bench is just unfathomably bad. Part-time DH/first baseman Kile Ka’aihue is the bright spot with an 89 wRC+, but backup catcher Anthony Recker (26 wRC+), extra outfielder Colin Cowgill (-1 wRC+), and corner infielder Josh Donaldson (-11 wRC+) have been inexcusably bad. I have no idea how you can carry two guys with negative production like that on your bench. Infielder Adam Rosales has one single and four walks in his eight plate appearances. I know the Yankees have been dreadful offensively, but sheesh. This is what a below average lineup really looks like, folks.
Friday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Tyson Ross
With three starters — Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson — on the DL, the Athletics’ rotation is patchwork at the moment. Ross has pitched to a 5.73 ERA (4.07 FIP) in seven starts with few strikeouts (4.54 K/9 and 11.2 K%) and too many walks (3.82 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%). He does get a healthy amount of ground balls though (55%). Ross has a very funky, upright delivery that adds deception to his low-90s two and four-seamers and mid-80s slider. He doesn’t have much of a changeup, so it’s basically the two fastballs and one breaking ball. The Yankees briefly saw him out of the bullpen a year or two ago.
Saturday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Bartolo Colon
Colon threw a complete game shutout for the Yankees in Oakland on Memorial Day last season, and now he’s looking to turn the tides this Memorial Day weekend. The hefty right-hander has a 4.09 ERA and a 3.95 FIP through ten starts, right in line with what he did last season (4.00 ERA and 3.83 FIP) despite the move out of Yankee Stadium and the AL East. Colon’s strikeouts are way down (5.55 K/9 and 14.6 K%) but so are his walks (1.46 BB/9 and 3.8 BB%). His ground ball rate (44.1%) is identical to last season. He’s still primarily an all-fastball guy, though he now sits right around 90 with the four-seamer and in the upper-80s with the two-seamer. His velocity this year is consistent with his second half fade last year (four-seamer and two-seamer). Colon has a slider and changeup, but as you know he rarely uses them.
Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Tom Milone
Part of the Gio Gonzalez trade, Milone is another low strikeout (4.99 K/9 and 13.9 K%), low walk (2.18 BB/9 and 6.1 BB%), moderate ground ball (44.2%) type. It’s like the Twins are spreading. Anyway, Milone is a classic finesse lefty. He sits in the mid-to-upper-80s with two and four-seamers and uses an upper-70s changeup as his go-to offspeed pitch. A mid-80s cutter and a mid-70s curveball are rarely used fourth and fifth offerings. Soft-tossing rookie left-handers usually give the Yankees fits, especially if they’ve never seen them before, but they did take care of business against Will Smith on Wednesday night.
With a 2.57 ERA and a 3.74 FIP, the Athletics boast one of the game’s most effective bullpens. Setup man Ryan Cook (2.69 FIP) is the only pitcher in baseball who has spent the entire season on the active 25-man roster and not allowed run. His scoreless streak is up to 22.2 IP. Brian Fuentes (2.79 FIP) replaced Grant Balfour (4.28 FIP) at closer after he had some rough outings a few weeks ago. Those three are manager Bob Melvin’s go-to relievers in the late innings.
Travis Blackley (1.63 FIP in six innings), Jerry Blevins (4.61 FIP), and Jordan Norberto (3.00 FIP) give Oakland three more lefties in addition to Fuentes. Blevins is a specialist but Norberto has the stuff to face both righties and lefties, which he’s been doing all season. Blackley had been out of baseball and playing all over the world until resurfacing this season, so his role hasn’t really been defined yet. Jim Miller (3.99 FIP) is the only other right-hander in their bullpen. Like the Yankees, the Athletics had yesterday off so their entire bullpen is fresh. For the latest and greatest from Oakland, we recommend Athletics Nation and Beaneball.
Got a massive mailbag for you this week. I dunno, I just couldn’t stop once I got going. Blame yesterday’s day off. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us stuff, mailbag questions or otherwise.
Nathan asks: What’s up with A-Rod and the lack of power? Is he not fully healthy, losing bat speed, or just getting old?
This came in before Alex Rodriguez hit those two homers on Wednesday night, somewhat obviously. Anyway, I think it’s all of the above. He’s going to turn 37 next month and not many players maintain 30+ homerun power into their late-30s. Only 34 players age 36 or older hitt 30+ dingers in a single season (49 total instances), and the vast majority of them took place during the offense-crazy late-1990s/early-2000s. The power decline has been a gradual thing for Alex, look at his ISO through the years…
That looks an awful lot like normal age-related decline. That monster 2007 season (.331 ISO) came at age 31, right at the end of his prime years. On top of getting old, he also had the torn labrum in his hip. Players need their lower halves to generate power and Alex’s was compromised a bit. Lots of people will blame the past PED usage and hey, they might be right, but I don’t think there’s anything that unusual about a player on the wrong side of 35 losing his power, even a historically great player like A-Rod.
Ivan Nova’s journey from amateur to prospect to big leaguer is a unique one, partly because he wasn’t a high-profile player who signed for a lot of money as a teenager. ESPN’s Jorge Arangure chronicled Nova’s journey, explaining how he transitioned from position player to pitcher with some help from his father, who woke him up for 5am workouts every day. He spent two weeks working out for the Red Sox at age 16, but says “I really didn’t want to sign with Boston … My father and I were both Yankee fans.”
Interestingly enough, the article explains that Nova is working on a new changeup grip with pitching coach Larry Rothschild because he shelved the pitch for much of last season and lost feel for it. He uses the new pitch sparingly (6.9% according to PitchFX) and both Nova and Rothschild say it’s a root cause of his homerun problem — PitchFX confirms that five of the ten homers he’s allowed this season have come off that new changeup. Arangure’s article is a great read and gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation. Make sure you check it out.
The Triple-A SWB Yankees have set up a Twitter account (@SWBBallpark) with updates on the construction at PNC Field, if you’re interested. They even put together a live construction cam for those of you who want to stare at the parking lot for various lengths of time.
Also, make sure you check out Dom Amore’s piece on Tim Norton. The right-hander has officially retired as a player and has begun his career as a coach within the organization. We heard he was leaning that way last month.
Triple-A Empire State (6-2 loss to Buffalo)
CF Kevin Russo & 2B Matt Antonelli: both 1-4, 1 R
1B Steve Pearce: 1-3, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB — six hits in his last 12 at-bats
DH Jack Cust & LF Ronnie Mustelier: both 0-4 — Cust struck out three times
3B Brandon Laird, RF Cole Garner & SS Ramiro Pena: all 0-3 — Laird walked and whiffed … Gardner struck out
C Frankie Cervelli: 1-3, 1 K
RHP Adam Warren: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 10/2 GB/FB — 63 of 103 pitches were strikes (61.2%) … underwhelming again
LHP Justin Thomas: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 11 of 17 pitches were strikes
RHP Nelson Figueroa: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 1/2 GB/FB — 20 of 37 pitches were strikes (54.1%)
RHP Manny Delcarmen: 1 IP, zeroes, 0/3 GB/FB — 10 of 12 pitches were strikes
Scheduled days off never seem to come at the right time. When the Yankees couldn’t score a run to save their lives last week, they played. Everyday. Even when the rain threatened, they still played. No matter what, the baseball gods make sure they played so they could struggle. Now that they’ve won two in a row and things are starting to look up, they’re off. Off on Thursday and off to the West Coast for a nine-game road trip through Oakland, Anaheim, and Detroit. Funny how that works.
Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. Weather permitting, the Mets are playing the Padres at home (Jeremy Hefner vs. Eric Stults, so yuck) and MLB Network will also air the Phillies and Cardinals (Blanton vs. Westbrook) a little later on. There’s also some NBA playoff action going on somewhere. Hooray for sports. Talk about those games or anything else here. Enjoy.
It’s only late-May, but Keith Law posted an updated list of the top 25 prospects in the minors today (subs. req’d). RHP Dylan Bundy of the Orioles claims the top spot with OF Bryce Harper now in the big leagues, and Baltimore also owns the number three prospect in SS Manny Machado. SS Jurickson Profar of the Rangers is sandwiched between them at number two.
OF Mason Williams check in at #24, up ten spots from KLaw’s preseason ranking. “He’s not walking, but he’s also making a ton of contact, and he’s barely begun to fill out physically,” he wrote. “There’s a lot of projection involved in this ranking but he’s a favorite of many scouts (and of me) because of the substantial upside here.” LHP Manny Banuelos was ineligible for the list because he’s on the DL, but I confirmed with Law that he would have made the top 25 as well. He ranked 23rd on the preseason list.