DJ3K Notes: RAB contest, Jordan Brand t-shirts

Jordan Brand has unveiled the designs for its DJ3K commemorative t-shirt.

As Derek Jeter returns home tonight sitting on 2997 hits, the Yankee captain appears destined to join the exclusive 3000-hit club this weekend before the All Star Break, and the marketing frenzy is hitting overdrive. Secondary ticket prices are through the roof (and you can find whatever deals remain on RAB Tickets) while Jeter’s promotional partners are building hype too.

This afternoon, Jordan Brand e-mailed us about a series of items designed as part of their DJ3K collection. On the field, Jeter will be sporting special spikes and batting gloves while Jordan Brand is also releasing a sneaker. For the fans who want merchandise, the t-shirt above will on sale at all major sporting goods stores for $25 once he reaches the milestone. A blue version will be on sale as well.

Furthermore, don’t forget to enter our own DJ3K contest. The details are available in this post, but the short of it is simple: Become a fan of RAB Tickets on Facebook and enter, before the first pitch tonight, with a prediction of the game, the inning and count of Jeter’s 3000th hit. The winner will get two tickets to a sporting event of their choice courtesy of TiqIQ.

Despite Jeter’s status as a lightning rod for controversy and criticism this year, the next few days should be a lot of fun in the Bronx. No one has ever reached 3000 hits as a Yankee, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that accomplishment. As ‘Duk wrote at the Big League Stew today, let’s enjoy it.

Baseball America’s Midseason Top 50 Prospects

Baseball America posted a midseason (half) update to their preseason top 100 prospects list, and you can see the list for free. You’ll need a subscription to see the analysis, however. Jesus Montero fell from number three overall to number eight, though they caution everyone to not “be swayed by [his] so-so first half, his hit/power tools are still the same.” Manny Banuelos jumps from number 41 to number 13 (“Was dominating in spring training, but stuff isn’t as firm now as it was”) and Dellin Betances from 43 to 26 (“Impressive stuff, but Betances rarely makes it look easy”). Gary Sanchez (preseason #30), Andrew Brackman (#73), and Austin Romine (#98) did not figure into the updated top 50.

BA also put together a stock up/down report (subs. req’d), with J.R. Murphy making the Stock Up section. “[Scouts] report he’s improved significantly on defense, as he threw out 27 percent of opposing baserunners and polished up his receiving. He’s still an offensive catcher, but he’s more of a catcher than ever before.” We’ve heard about the improved defense before. Brackman made the Stock Down section: “His fastball velocity remains inconsistent but has more consistently dipped into the average range … Brackman’s confidence has taken a hit, and scouts report he throws his curve when he most needs a strike.” One good, one not so good.

The bullpen is currently bare

Steak goes on the Meat Tray, and the Meat Tray should probably stay in the bullpen. (From Flickr user dulouz cats via Creative Commons license.)

The biggest complaint last night was not about Phil Hughes‘s shaky first. It wasn’t about his inability to put away batters, nor his lack of a clean inning. In fact, it had little to do with Hughes at all. Running through the comments on the game recap and on other social outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, the biggest complaint was the mere presence of Sergio Mitre. That has something to do with Hughes, since he only pitched five innings and forced the bullpen to enter the game early. But everyone seems willing to overlook that and heap the blame on Mitre, whose disastrous inning proved to be the difference* in last night’s game.

If you don’t believe in the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, that is.

Having Mitre in the game was surely a problem, but given the situation and roster composition it’s hard to argue with his presence. Take a gander at the 40-man roster and see if there are any better alternatives. The only pitchers who aren’t in the majors have something that makes them something of a worse choice than Mitre. They have:

Dellin Betances: It’s pretty clear why he’s not in the MLB bullpen.

Andrew Brackman: He hasn’t transitioned well to the AAA bullpen, so AA is a greater possibility than the majors.

Steve Garrison: He’s currently getting shellacked at AA. He throws with his left arm, so if the Yanks thought he could help in the pen he likely would have been up at some point during this big bullpen shuffle. An early season injury has cost him, and his last start skews his numbers a bit.

Brian Gordon: He certainly could be helping the Yanks out of the bullpen right now, but it’s understandable why they have him working as a starter in the minors. We’ve already seen this season how important pitching depth can be.

Ivan Nova: Same deal as Gordon. He’d probably work very well in the bullpen, when he could focus on his fastball and curveball. But his best starts this year have come when he mixes all four of his pitches, so it’s probably best at this point to have him continue doing that in the minors. They’ll need him for a start sooner or later, anyway.

Pants Lendleton: He’s only two years younger than Mitre, and I have a hard time making a case that he’s as good.

Ryan Pope: Dude just got demoted to AA from AAA, so he’s far removed from the issue at this point.

Kevin Whelan: He’s on the seven-day disabled list in AAA.

Perhaps at a point later in the season we’d see Nova or Gordon taking Mitre’s spot. But for now, with nearly three months of baseball left to play, preserving starting pitching depth takes a slight precedence over the bullpen. That’s probably the biggest reason why Mitre is on the roster right now.

Regarding the complaints that he should not have been the one to enter the game, I find it hard to disagree. The Yankees had other options at that point, and a 3-0 lead is far from insurmountable, especially with the A lineup. Girardi could have gone to Cory Wade, who didn’t pitch in Tuesday’s game, or Hector Noesi, who hasn’t pitched since Sunday (and threw just two pitches in that game). Maybe Girardi didn’t want to use Wade, since Cleveland hit him around on Monday. I don’t quite buy that, but it’s not enough to raise a stink. But when it’s combined with the non-use of Noesi — he’s pitched just 6.2 innings since mopping up for Freddy Garcia against Boston in early June — it becomes an issue. There is little reason to trust Mitre over Nova, especially in a game that the Yanks can still salvage.

The hand wringing is likely for naught, as the Indians did have a strong hold on the game. Even if Noesi or Wade had entered the game in the eighth and held the Indians scoreless, the Yanks would have faced Chris Perez to open the ninth. He’s been good this season, but has a propensity to walk guys and doesn’t strikeout many (at least this year). But he shut down the Yanks immediately upon entering the game, and I imagine, since he’s done it most of the season, that he would have held down the top of the order at the start. And so that three-run rally might not have even gotten off the ground if Mitre didn’t allow those two runs in the eighth.

For the time being Sergio Mitre is the unfortunate product of the Yankees bullpen situation. Three of the seven guys they’d counted on to start the season are on the 60-day DL, and two aren’t coming back this season. That means the Yanks have some mixing and matching to do, and Mitre gives them just one more option. He’ll be gone soon enough, as the Yankees shop at the deadline and perhaps get Rafael Soriano back. We can gripe in the interim, and rightfully so. But until the Yankees make an acquisition or get back a pitcher from the DL, he’s going to be sitting in the bullpen and sometimes agitating us with his presence.

Phil Hughes and the need to pitch downhill

Phil Hughes made his first start in nearly three months last night, dancing around danger for five innings and allowing just two first inning runs. He gave up six hits (all singles), two walks, and two hit batters, throwing 87 pitches and getting just two swings and misses.  “People are going to say it’s a good outing, but we know that he can be better,” said Joe Girardi afterwards. “We know that he can be downhill more …  I talked about with the extra days off and the first outing, my concern was that he would be up a little bit. That’s what we saw.” And up he was…

That heat map comes courtesy of David Golebiewski at Baseball Analytics and shows the location of Hughes’ fastballs last night. Everything is up in the zone, and a fair amount of it is towards the middle of the plate. There’s nothing wrong with pitching up in the zone if you have enough fastball to get away with it, but right now Hughes doesn’t. He sat mostly 91-92 mph last night with a few 93’s mixed in, up from earlier in the year but still down from last season, when he’d routinely flirt with 94-95.

Hughes is a big dude, listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 lbs. on the official site, but he’s so not outrageously tall that driving the ball down into the bottom third of the zone should be that difficult. He’s a fly ball pitcher (just 35.2% grounders for his career) because he’s up in the zone so, and that’s why he had so much trouble with homers in the second half last season. It sounds easy, but it only is in theory: Hughes has to pitch down in the zone given his present stuff. Pitching upstairs consistently just won’t work like it did in the first half of last year.

Of course, one start doesn’t tell us much. Perhaps he was just amped up and overthrowing, leading to pitches up in the zone. Did Phil look better than he did in April? Obviously yes, it would have been tough to look any worse. But he still had the same problem with putting guys away, so instead of trying to strike everyone out, it might be time to switch to (ugh) pitch-to-contact mode, even if it’s just temporary. Getting the ball down in the zone will help that, and maybe dabbling a two-seam grip would be worth a try as well.

Scouting the Trade Market: Tim Byrdak

(From Flickr user slgckgc via Creative Commons license.)

The Yankees don’t have too many needs as the deadline approaches, but we’ve heard time and again that they seek left-handed pitching. Specifically, they’d like a lefty reliever to go with, or perhaps replace, Boone Logan. Many teams seek similar help, and it complicates the market. No one wants to pay that much for a guy who comes in to face just one or two batters, but no team wants to be left without such a guy. Most of the time, that means few are available. This year is no different, though there’s an intriguing name pitching across town: Tim Byrdak. Via MLB Trade Rumors, the Mets will look to move him this month, so let’s size him up.

The Pros

  • He has absolutely mowed down lefties this year, striking out 19 of 55 he has faced (13.50 per nine, or 35% of all lefties faced). He has walked only three of those 55, thanks to a 67 percent strike rate. In other words, he’s probably not going to go all Logan and walk the guys he’s charged with retiring. The rate doesn’t hold up through his entire career, but he still has struck out more than a lefty per inning (26 percent) since 2005.
  • He’s struck out nine of 40 righties he’s faced (9 IP), good for a 23 percent rate. He’s not great against them, as he’s walked six (one intentional), but he can hold his own if he needs to face a righty sandwiched between two lefties.
  • He has held inherited runners at bay this season, allowing just five of 27 to score. That’s huge for a LOOGY, since he’ll often enter a game with men on in a big spot.
  • Speaking of big spots, he’s faced 17 men in high leverage situations this year and has allowed just three hits. He has walked three, though one was intentional, while striking out six. He’s also struck out 13 of the 32 men he’s faced with runners in scoring position, and 18 of 51 with men on base.
  • Most importantly, he throws with his left arm and is potentially better than Logan. That seems to be the main criteria for the Yankees this deadline.

The Cons

  • The rates listed above are in the small sample that is 2011. His walk rate against righties for his career is over 6.00, and it’s still around 6 when you take out the intentional walks. In other words, he could turn into a pumpkin real quickly.
  • Another reason to dislike is his 1.34 WHIP against lefties this year. It’s great that he’s sitting plenty down via the strikeout, but the ones who make contact are faring very well. Maybe his .387 BABIP against lefties is a fluke and will come down, or maybe it’s a sign that he’s fooling some of them but not others.
  • While he’s stranded runners aplenty this year, his career rate is a pretty standard 33 percent. If he’s going to regress back to his career average, it’s going to mean a lot of inherited runners scoring in the second half.
  • Similarly, his career performance in high leverage situations is fairly pedestrian. That 1.67 WHIP, which includes a 6.00 BB/9 rate, does not look pretty.

If the Yankees do attempt to acquire Byrdak, they have to do so with the hope that a change of leagues — he hasn’t pitched in the AL since 2007 — helps him keep going with the high strikeout rate. It’s really all he offers. If that rate regresses, he’s of even less use. So while they’d be essentially bidding on a prayer with Byrdak, they’d also have to expect the worst, since that’s the nature of relievers. That means not parting ways with anything of remotely significant value. But since he’s a lefty and has a high strikeout rate, there is probably a team willing to up the bidding on him. I just hope the Yankees don’t bite. Given the state of the bullpen I wouldn’t mind seeing Byrdak added, but only at the right price. If it costs them anything from their top 15 or so prospects, it’s probably too much.