Open Thread: Backman Goes Bananas

Someone sent that in during yesterday’s chat, but I had to wait until today for an open thread to use it in. The video both is and isn’t safe for work. There’s nothing inappropriate visually, but the audio is rather … colorful. Truly an epic meltdown by Wally Backman.

Anyway … eh screw it. You guys know what to do with these open threads by now, so have at it.

Thames hits the DL with hamstring issue, Huffman recalled

Leftfielder/designated lefty masher Marcus Thames left today’s game with a hamstring issue, and although the MRI came back clean, he’s been placed on the disabled list with a strain. Chad Huffman has been recalled from Triple-A Scranton to take his place.

Huffman was claimed off waivers from the Padres in April, and he’s pretty similar to Thames. Righty hitter, mashes lefties (.903 OPS vs. LHP in the minors, .830 vs. RHP) and is limited defensively to leftfield and first base. Considering that Thames is hitting just .176-.314-.250 since May 2nd with awful defense, chances are Huffman can step right in and the Yankees won’t miss a beat, if not improve.

Is Phil Hughes’ pitch selection really a problem?

There has been a much discussion around Phil Hughes and his lack of secondary pitches this year. Sure enough, he has primarily relied on the fastball and cutter, rarely broken out the curve, and the changeup we read about all winter is seemingly non-existent. There’s certainly some concern here as he starts to see teams for the second, third and fourth times this year, but if he can get by without mixing his pitches too much, should he?

We all remember Hughes’ start against the Red Sox where he couldn’t put anyone away and the Sox were fouling off pitches left and right. It was concerning, and was prefaced by a post that was questioning how Hughes would do the second time around.  The post turned out to be spot on for that appearance. While that start seems to stick out amongst a ton of great starts, I think we as fans are coming back to that start a little too often. I have read and heard a bunch of people talking about Hughes’ lack of mixing his pitches and that Sox start is being used as an example. He certainly struggled that night without being able to put batters away, but what do the stats tell us about Hughes’ ability so far to get people to swing and miss?

In researching this, I came across some pretty interesting info, but Hughes certainly isn’t struggling with foul balls and getting batters to swing and miss. He is inducing swinging strikes right up there with the best pitchers in the game (a group he may be on the way to joining). So far Hughes has managed to get swings and misses on 9% of his total pitches. Without context that’s somewhat meaningless, but let’s take a look at how some other pitchers are doing.

AL
Lester 10%
Burnett 7%
Price 8%
Buchholz 10%
Verlander 8%
NL
Halladay 10%
Jimenez 9%
Johnson 11%
Lincecum 13%
Wainwright 10%

In the AL, Verlander and Burnett possess some of the most lethal, swing and miss stuff in baseball, and yet Hughes is getting more swinging strikes than them. He’s also ahead of Price, and just below Boston’s duo of Lester and Buchholz. John Lackey, (not to be confused as having great stuff or being a great pitcher despite being paid like one) has garnered swings and misses on just 6% of his pitches this year. Clearly the guys in the NL have an advantage in that they are facing weaker lineups, but Hughes’ is getting as many swing and misses as Jimenez, who is off to a historic start, and is just behind Halladay and Wainwright.

I think a lot of the concern with Hughes’ pitch usage so far stems mainly from that Red Sox game, and sure enough that was his worst game all year in terms of swings and misses with just 5. We, as people, do a great job of remembering the outliers, not the norm. Is there a chance that the Yankees and Hughes have decided to try to get by early in the season on a limited repertoire, only to unleash everything else as the season goes along? It’s pretty far fetched, but if he’s having so much success with primarily two pitches, what’s the use of using the curveball and change? The obvious answer is that he doesn’t want to lose the feel for those pitches, though maybe he is focusing on those pitches in his side sessions. Again, I don’t think that was the plan, but he may be comfortable enough, and having enough success, that it’s not worth throwing the kitchen sink at the Detroit Tigers in a game in May. I don’t think Hughes will continue to have the same success going forward without mixing in more curves and changes, but in the meantime, I don’t mind the pitch selection. As soon as he starts getting hit (and that could mean within a game), they need to switch it up ASAP.  He’s not always going to have his best fastball, in terms of location or velocity, and while he hasn’t had major struggles yet, when the time comes, Hughes and the Yankees will need to respond.

For more of my work head over to Mystique and Aura.

Game 62: Javy vs. Wandy

You think Brandon Jacobs could play third until A-Rod's back? (Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP)

It’s a fitting pitching matchup today, a pair of ace-level performers from 2009 that are finding success much tougher to come by in 2010. The similarities end there though, because Javy Vazquez did whatever he needed to do to get himself back on track (2.73 ERA in his last six appearances), but Wandy Rodriguez is still scuffling along. The only possible explanation is that he’s on my fantasy team, and I had the nerve to call it a steal when I landed him 79th overall.

Anyway, here’s this afternoon’s starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Posada, DH
Thames, LF
Cervelli, C
Granderson, CF
Russo, 3B

And on the mound, Javier Vazquez.

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET, and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Interviewing Horace Clarke

Unfairly or not Horace Clarke has an era in Yankee history named after him. It was an inglorious time in Yankee history when CBS owned the team, and the Yanks, fresh off decades of dominance, faded into irrelevance. Clarke was supposed to be a part of the new guard, but instead he became known as a player who symbolized Yankee failure. For more on Clarke’s story, check out this piece from the Daily News and this spring training before I made the team, so I knew some of the guys. To meet guys like Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek, Elston Howard, and Bobby Richardson was a treasure. It was a treasure to be among players who were winning pennants and series for years with the Yankees.

Every time someone asks the question, “What was the greatest thing that you can remember in baseball”, I always mention this. When I got called up I joined the team in Boston and then we went to Baltimore and after that back to New York. The first day I suited up and went out onto the field at Yankee Stadium before practice I looked around in awe. Then I went out to center field where the greats were with their plaques. That was one of my biggest thrills, just putting on the uniform and going out onto the field. There were other times over the years where I did something, something that stands out, but just walking out onto that field was special. I remembered that I used to listen to the radio broadcasts about the stadium and the great players that played there; it was really a thrill and a terribly nice feeling.

During you first couple of years with the Yankees was there a sense among the players that the dynasty was over or that the team was in trouble?

There was not a sense of that but with all the big guys who were great players and were successful in New York leaving the game we realized that most of us were there to replace them. As a matter of fact it was because Richardson told the Yankees that he would retire in a couple of years when I was down in Richmond (AAA) that I got recalled. I was a shortstop all of my minor league career and they told me they were going to convert me to a second baseman. I didn’t know at that time that Richardson had warned them about getting out of the game. It was timely that he was leaving and I got to come to the big leagues and see him play along with Kubek and Boyer and see the way that they played. It was very impressive because I never saw some those plays made in the minor leagues.

Crosetti was their old third baseman and he was a coach there for 15-20 years after he retired, he was a fixture. I always sat by him when he was on the bench between innings and he would say certain things to me about playing the infield. I took so many ground balls in practice that I had a coach in Puerto Rico say to me that I was going to give him blisters on his hands. I was always a work horse when it came to bettering myself.

Mel Stottlemyre, Roy White, and yourself came along during a downturn in the organization. Your career story is similar to Mattingly’s in that you played between the dynasties. Do you feel any frustration about that?

Well sure, it’s a disappointment but the reality is we had talent that would get better with experience but there are not too many guys that are going to come up and replace Mantle, Maris, Rizzuto, Richardson, Boyer, Ford. Not too many players could replace those guys (Laughs). We had catchers on the team during my tenure there but the one guy who came up that everybody knew once he started playing was going to be a first-class catcher was Thurman Munson. So, players like that don’t come about everyday. I didn’t play on a championship team or a pennant winning team but in 1970 we were the second winningest team in baseball. We won 93 games and the Orioles won 108. We got a $600.00 check for coming in second place and home we went (Laughs). I didn’t have an opportunity to be in the wild-card like they have now, that might have made a difference. You know how many teams have been the wild card and have become champions? Maybe four or five. I was so happy that they went to the World Series in 1976 and then again in ’77 and ’78. I left five or six guys who were able to win a championship. They won after that long stretch of not being in a series.

I believe in some respect you were a victim of baseball history. Although the Yankees didn’t have all bad teams while you were there the fans had become accustomed to being in the World Series. The Yanks were there 22 times from 1936-1964. The advancing age and injuries to the team’s stars appear to be the reasons for the organization’s drop-off. Regardless, that period is often called “the Horace Clark Era”. This unfair label fails to recognize you as the Yankees most durable player of the late 60’s and early 70’s. (Clarke led the Yankees in hits twice, at-bats four times, triples twice, runs twice, stolen bases four times, and average once, and led the AL in at-bats twice.) Do you have any thoughts on this?

You see (Laughs) every time I hear “the Horace Clarke Era” I don’t know how to take it but I think it is mostly because we were losing and I was a member of all of those teams. I could understand because fans, writers, and commentators were spoiled at being so successful for so long. I know how the fans feel about the drought that we went through, it was a let down during that losing era. But when I hear it I think, “Here we go again. The Horace Clarke Era, the Horace Clarke Years”. I’m going to tell you something, while I was there some guys (writers) always target me, I was targeted more than anybody I think because I played just about everyday. When I was traded to San Diego a writer wrote, “You know, that guy wasn’t so bad after all.” Because he had gone to the record books and saw what I had done over those years.

They said I couldn’t make the double-play but Gene Michael and I were tops in double plays a couple of years. I have looked in Yankee books and compared my stats to some of the older second basemen over the years and they didn’t do any better then me but they were among elite players that won World Series. My play was consistent over the years. I got on base and scored runs everyday. During the time I played I had the 3rd leading fielding percentage among second basemen. How could I be that bad?

Did you stay in the game at all?

After the ’74 season I didn’t get any offers from Major League teams, just offers from Mexico and Japan. I said wait a minute, I played 17 years and I’m not going back to the minor leagues in Mexico or even Japan. I came home to St. Croix and I instructed the kids in baseball for 20 years retiring in 1995. That was something I was happy to do.

I was at opening day at the new Yankee Stadium. There was about 40 of us there and they called us out onto the field. It’s also nice that when I go back to the Old Timers Game and they announce you and you get some applause from the people who remember you. I don’t think it was all bad. I’m going to tell you this; your time is your time. I wouldn’t say that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time because I got to play 17 years in baseball and 10 years in the big leagues. I am able to retire and collect a pension from Major League Baseball. That alone, playing so long and collecting a pension, is great.

Kenneth Hogan is a New York City Firefighter who lives in Rockaway, Queens. He has written four books including America’s Ballparks, The 1969 Seattle Pilots; Major League Baseball’s One-Year Team, and Batting 10th for the Yankees; Recollections of 30 Yankees You May Not Remember (due August 2010). He has appeared on NBC’s “The TODAY SHOW” and White Plains Cable’s “Beyond the Game.”

Andy excellent again as Yanks take opener

I went out to the Stadium tonight, but it didn’t really feel like I was there. The place was tame, though I kind of expected that given the time of year and match-up. The game also went as quickly as we’ve seen a Yanks game, just two hours and 19 minutes. That’s what happens when the teams score in bursts and the pitchers otherwise roll. The Yanks got to Brett Myers early, and it was enough for Andy Pettitte.

Biggest Hit: Cervelli opens it up

Photo credit: Bill Kostroun/AP

Things seem to be breaking Brett Myers’s way this year. His peripherals are good, not great, though his ability to keep the ball in the park, a problem for him during his days with Philadelphia, have certainly helped him out. In fact, nearly all of his other peripherals are right in line with his career. That includes strikeout rate, walk rate, hit rate, batting average against, and OBP against. His SLG against, however, is a puny .398, down from .443 for his career.

The Yanks took care of business early, putting Myers on the ropes right at the start. Curtis Granderson got it started with a one-out double, and then the Yanks kept the pressure on. Teixeira walked, and then Cano singled to load the bases. Swisher worked a 3-2 count before taking a walk, bringing home Granderson and opening the scoring. Jorge Posada struck out, but one batter later Francisco Cervelli grounded one up the middle to score two. The hit was huge. The Yanks will feature a weak bottom of the order this weekend, and for one of them to come through when the top of the order has done its job can, and probably will, be the difference in these games.

The hit was big for Cervelli, too. When Jorge Posada took a foul ball off his foot on May 16th, Cervelli was hitting .393/.460/.500. Clearly that wouldn’t last. Full-time exposure caught up to him, and he’s hit .188/.306/.217 in his last 86 PA. He’s better than that, I’m sure, and if he ends the season at .280/.372/.344 I think we’ll all be pleased. Still, huge hit. Turned out to be the difference maker.

Biggest Pitch: We’ll just give it to Pettitte

Photo credit: Bill Kostroun/AP

Normally the starting pitcher has some kind of impact situation where he comes through heroically, setting down his opponent and putting his team back on offense. Pettitte didn’t really run into much of that last night. He had a little trouble in the second, but even then it was a bloop, a walk, and a double. After that he cruised. Even in the eighth he was all but out of the inning until Jeter and Cano failed to connect on a double play. So even though there weren’t any big swings for Pettitte he still has the biggest pitches of the night.

Photo credit: Bill Kostroun/AP

There were a few instances where Astros’ hitters made solid contact off Pettitte. For instance, in the sixth Jeff Keppinger, Lance Berkman, and Carlos Lee all hit decent outfield flies. But they weren’t scorchers. In fact, if you follow the FanGraphs link below you’ll see that while they’re classified as fliners — something that’s between a liner and fly ball — all three fall further under the fly ball category (hence the fliner, fly designation). In other words, they weren’t rockets at luckily positioned players.

In terms of WPA, Joba’s strikeout of Berkman was the biggest negative swing of the game. With the tying run on third that’s understandable. The biggest positive swing for the Astros was Manzella’s double. Again, the Yanks had the lead and the two runners came on a walk (after a tough AB) and a bloop. Again, well-pitched game for the Yanks.

Just as a quick side story. When Joba delivered ball one to Keppinger, the guy in front of me turned to his girlfriend and said that it was an unintentional intentional walk. Yeah. Because when you can walk Jeff Keppinger to load the bases for Lance Berkman, you have to do it.

This, that, and the other

It looks like Teixeira is back in turn-it-around mode. He hit well in the Baltimore series and he continued that last night, going 1 for 3 with a walk, RBI, and run scored. I have a feeling that this time his turnaround is for real. Then again, I said that at the beginning of May.

Good to see Jorge pick up a hit. It’s only his fourth since coming back, and he has yet to hit for extra bases. With his two strikeouts last night he’s whiffed 11 times in 37 PA since June 2. After the layoff I expected he’d go on a rehab assignment, just go get back in the rhythm. Hopefully he’s getting there now.

In the annoyances department, Tommy Manzella drove in the first two Astros runs and scored the third. Kid has an OPS below .550. Yes, it happens. It’s baseball. Doesn’t make it any less annoying. Thankfully, it’s the kind of thing we’ll forget by the time Javy Vazquez throws out the first pitch tomorrow. Probably before that, even.

And, in the best news of the night, Andy Pettitte picked up his 200th win as a Yankee. That makes 237 for his career. He’ll need quite a few more seasons like this if he’s going to flirt with 300. The odds on that have to be pretty long.

Also, if the outfielders keep doing that, I’ll keep posting the pic.

Chart and box

The line never crosses into Astros territory. I approve.

Traditional box at .com. More green lines at FanGraphs.

Up Next

Yay for Saturday afternoon games. It’s Javy Vazquez against Wandy Rodriguez.

Heathcott does it all in Charleston win

Lots of notes, so let bullet point…

  • 1B Kyle Roller (8th round) has signed, ditto RHP Connor Mullee (24). LHP Trevor Johnson (22) is expected to stay in school.
  • For what it’s worth, Paul O’Neill said during tonight’s broadcast that his nephew Mike (42nd rounder) is probably going to follow through on his commitment to Michigan. He apparently injured his shoulder right before the draft and needs surgery. It was a nepotism pick anyway.
  • The Yankees will follow the progress of these players during the summer before deciding whether or not to offer a deal (all courtesy of Robert Pimpsner’s Twitter feed): RHP Dan Burawa (12), LHP Cameron Hobson (37th), OF Mike Gerber (40), and LHP Kyle Hunter (43).
  • LHP Evan Rutckyj (16) has signed with a Florida junior college, which slightly increases his negotiating leverage since he can just re-enter the draft next year. He’s reportedly looking for a first round pay day.
  • Absolutely zero Yankee draft picks are still playing in the NCAA Division I postseason, in case you’re curios. No College World Series section in DotF this summer. Lame.
  • Joel Sherman heard the Yanks were “talking about trying to re-sign” Chris Garcia, presumably to a minor league deal. He’ll be out until next spring after having his second Tommy John surgery in April.

Triple-A Scranton (9-5 loss to Charlotte) got beat by an old buddy
Reid Gorecki, CF, Reegie Corona, 2B & David Winfree, RF: all 1 for 5 – Gorecki scored a run, K’ed & committed a fielding error … Winfree doubled, drove in a run, scored another & K’ed
Eduardo Nunez, SS & Chad Huffman, 1B: both 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B – Huffman drove in two & K’ed
Juan Miranda, DH: 2 for 4, 1 BB – hasn’t played the field since leaving a game after being hit by a pitch a few weeks ago
Jesus Montero, C: 2 for 4, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 PB – five for his last 17 (.294) … last three hits have been doubles … progress, people
Greg Golson, LF: 1 for 4, 2 K
Zach McAllister: 2.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2-4 GB/FB – 31 of 53 pitches were strikes (58.5%) … first game back from a minor triceps issue, so he gets a mulligan
Jason Hirsh: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 3-7 GB/FB -46 of 66 pitches were strikes (69.7%)
Royce Ring: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 13 of his 19 pitches were strikes (68.4%)

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