4/13-4/15 Series Preview: Anaheim Angels

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

After playing .500 ball on the season-opening six-game road trip, the Yankees are finally coming home for the first time in 2012. Jorge Posada will help kick things off by throwing the ceremonial first pitch in this afternoon’s game. We’re going to get our first taste of FOX (Saturday afternoon) and ESPN (Sunday night) broadcasts this weekend as well, so hooray for that.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Halos are just 2-4 in the early going, losing two of three to the Royals and Twins. They won the first game of each series before dropping the final two. The Angels have scored the second most runs (30) and allowed the third most runs (also 30) in the league this year.


(REUTERS/Eric Miller)

The addition of Albert Pujols turned an okay offense into a good one, but not the powerhouse that seems to be the popular opinion. Their 107 wRC+ is the ninth best in baseball in the early going, five spots behind the Astros for perspective on how little that means. Pujols (71 wRC+) is off to a slow start, as are Erick Aybar (61), Vernon Wells (72), Howie Kendrick (78), and the finally healthy Kendrys Morales (77). The only regulars who have hit so far are Mark Trumbo (276 wRC+), Chris Iannetta (182), Peter Bourjos (128), and Torii Hunter (118).

As a team, the Halos have only hit three homers, and one of those was an inside-the-park job by Bourjos. Wells and Trumbo hit the other two. The stolen base game has been a bit better, with Maicer Izturis and Kendrick each swiping two. Bourjos and Trumbo have one each. The Angels are very right-handed heavy aside from the switch-hitting Morales and the occasional Bobby Abreu sighting, so they aren’t a great fit for Yankee Stadium. Of course, Pujols and Trumbo can hit it out of any part of any park.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Ervin Santana

Santana has been billed a Yankee Killer ever since Game Five of the 2005 ALDS, but they’ve tagged him for a .290/.373/.523 batting line and a 5.55 ERA in 326 regular season plate appearances against him (71.1 IP across a dozen starts). Santana allowed six runs in 5.2 IP to Kansas City in his first start, struggling to throw quality strikes and get ahead in the count. He’s almost exclusively a two-pitch pitcher — 91-95 mph fastball and a low-80s slider — though his platoon split isn’t extreme as you might expect. If Santana’s getting ahead in the count, the best plan of attack might be to swing early to avoid seeing that slider.

Saturday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP C.J. Wilson

The $77.5M man, Wilson jumped ship and moved from the Rangers to their chief rival this offseason. You can’t blame him, he’s from Southern California and that’s a boatload of money. Plus that’s a good park to pitch in. Anyway, he held the Twins to one run on three hits across seven innings in his first start, though he walked four and struck out five. A true six-pitch guy, Wilson will use three low-90s fastballs — four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter — to set up his low-80s slider, low-80s changeup, and upper-70s curveball. Aside from the changeup, he’s used each pitch at least 10% of the time since becoming a starter. The Yankees have seen enough of Wilson over the last few years with Texas and have mixed results against him. Some good games, some bad.

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Sunday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jerome Williams (tentatively)

At the moment, the Angels’ starter for Sunday is officially listed as TBD. Williams is expected to make that start after getting through a rehab start on Tuesday with no issues. He’s been battling a hamstring problem and started the season on the DL. Once considered one of the five best right-handed pitching prospects in the game by Baseball America, the 30-year-old flamed out in 2007 before resurfacing with the Angels last year. He pitched to a 3.68 ERA with a 4.62 FIP in 44 IP last season. We don’t have much to go on because of the big gap in his big league history, but last summer Williams used low-90s four and two-seamers with an upper-80s slider and a low-80s changeup. The Yankees will be going into this one blind, so all intents and purposes.

Bullpen Status

Dan Haren and Jered Weaver managed just eleven combined innings against the lowly Twins the last two days, so the Angels have had to use their pen quite a bit lately. Left-hander Hisanori Takahashi has appeared in each of the last two games, throwing 27 combined pitches. Right-handers Kevin Jepsen (18 pitches) and Rich Thompson (39) pitched yesterday, as did lefty Scott Downs (five). Veteran righties LaTroy Hawkins (16) and Jason Isringhausen (ten) pitched on Wednesday. Closer Jordan Walden hasn’t pitched in four days simply because they haven’t had a save situation. The primary setup guys — Downs, Hawkins, Izzy — should be ready to go tonight and are hardly intimidating.

Despite being overworked on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Yankees had yesterday off and their bullpen should be fine for the series opener. Mariano Rivera pitched in three straight before the off day, so he might be somewhat limited in this series. If he pitches tonight, they might lay off him tomorrow. Everyone else should be good to go.

Mailbag: Sabathia, Phillips, 2B, Robertson

Five questions and four answers this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, especially mailbag questions.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

John asks: Hey guys, I wanted to ask if you are worried about CC Sabathia? I watched his start [on Wednesday] and am worried about his fastball (his change and slider looked fab), his velocity is down to 90 – 91. It seemed to me that he was throwing a cut fastball – is this something he is trying to do or a flaw?

I wouldn’t worry about the velocity, Sabathia always starts the year a little slow before cranking it up once it gets a little warmer out. Here are the PitchFX start-by-start plots. Plus, I suspect he was taking a little something off the other night in an attempt to improve his command, which has been awful. I didn’t see much of a cut fastball, though Sabathia has been saying he throws one for a few years now. The manually classified PitchFX data disagrees, but if the guy says he throws it, he probably throws it.

Like you said, the changeup and especially the slider have been sharp so far, CC just can’t seem to get his heat under control. I do wonder if it’s a weight thing, because he had the same issue early last season before everything clicked during that ridiculous mid-summer run. Perhaps losing 30-something points during the winter is the best thing for him physically but a bad thing for his command. Maybe it speeds up his delivery just enough to throw him off. Who knows, just a cracked theory. I wouldn’t worry about Sabathia until we get a few weeks into the season and we start seeing more upper-80s than low-90s.

Suchin asks: Could you add Brandon Phillips to the Kinsler:Cano graph? With both those deals manageable for Cano, would be instructive, so long as the Yankees don’t overpay.

Here you go…

Source: FanGraphsBrandon Phillips, Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler

You can also see the data plotted cumulatively and by season.

I don’t love WAR — FanGraphs or otherwise — because I don’t have enough faith in the defensive component, but it is useful for comparing players like this. Cano is the best of the three, both in terms of overall production and medical history. That last part is very important, because these guys won’t give you anything if they’re on the DL. Stuff like RBI totals and finishes in the MVP voting will factor into Cano’s next contract as well, and he blows Kinsler and Phillips away in both categories.

As I’ve said before, I fully expect the Yankees to re-sign Cano to something outrageous after next season. I just hope the Kinsler (five years, $75M) and Phillips (six years, $77.5M) extensions have established the market and help keep it in the six-year, $100M range.

Brian asks: Are there any prospective 2B that the Yankees could target if they decide to let Robinson Cano walk because of money, contract length, and doubts about decline years? Similar to how they gave up a young prospect (Jesus Montero) from a position with depth for a young prospect (Michael Pineda) from a position of need. Obviously, not necessarily of that magnitude.

Legit second base prospects are very rare only because most big league second basemen are failed shortstops. Off the top of my head, the only big leaguers that came up through the minors as second basemen are Dan Uggla, Orlando Hudson, and Howie Kendrick. That would be the place to start, looking at shortstops who could slide over.

There’s actually a shortage of quality middle infield prospects in baseball around the moment, especially beyond the big two of Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar. Someone like Nick Franklin of the Mariners could fit the bill with Dustin Ackley ahead of him, though his ability to remain at the middle of the diamond is in question. Jean Segura of the Angels is another possibility, but they might need him with Erick Aybar due to become a free agent soon.

Remember, the Montero-Pineda trade was a big time anomaly. You just don’t see trades like that — a true baseball trade filling needs involving young players going each way — made every day, so I wouldn’t expect anything like that again should the Yankees let Cano walk and need a replace second baseman. Even on a smaller scale, prospect for prospect trades are rare because everyone loves their kids more than everyone else.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

Paul asks: What’s the deal with Robertson’s pitch selection? Is PitchFX classifying differently or is he making his best case for ‘heir to Mariano’ by throwing exclusively cutters?

Tucker asks: Here’s a question for all Yankee fans: would you be comfortable with David Robertson as the closer next year?

Might as well lump these two together. Yes, Robertson has been throwing a cutter since the start of last season. He threw it about a quarter of the time last year but nearly 80% of the time this year so far, though that’s probably just a sample size thing. We’ll see more curveballs in due time, remember he’s a little behind other pitchers because he missed three weeks in Spring Training with that foot injury. Robertson definitely throws a cutter though, and it’s a really good pitch for him.

As for being comfortable with him as the next closer … sure. Don’t get me wrong, he makes things very interesting, but he’s better than the vast majority of the relievers out there. Trust me, it’s going to be a total shock to the system when Mo is gone, we’ll all have a newfound appreciation for just how easy he makes it look. I do think you’d rather be the guy who replaces the guy who replaces Rivera though; whoever takes over as closer will be asked to live up to impossible standards. Let Rafael Soriano do that so Robertson could have the clean slate the next year. Anyway, this is begging for a poll…

Would you be comfortable with Robertson closing in 2013?
View Results

Banuelos implodes in win; Austin homers twice

Jose Campos headlined today’s Future Shock after last night’s dominant performance. “[If] he stays healthy, he’s likely an easy Top 101 prospect next year” wrote Kevin Goldstein. You need a subscription to read the entire piece.

Got some roster moves: RHP Chase Whitley, UTIL Kevin Mahoney, and LHP Francisco Rondon have all been promoted. C Gus Molina, 1B Rob Lyerly, and IF Jose Pirela have all been placed on the DL. C Jeff Farnham was activated off the phantom DL.

Triple-A Empire State (7-2 win over Buffalo)
2B Kevin Russo: 2-5
C Frankie Cervelli: 0-5, 1 R, 1 K — .087/.160/.087 so far
1B Steve Pearce: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K — .333/.419/.481 so far
DH Jack Cust: 2-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K
RF Dewayne Wise: 1-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K — been rakin’ since the day he got here, Spring Training included
3B Brandon Laird: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 1 E (throwing) — five for his last 17 (.294) with three doubles, two walks, and one strikeout
CF Colin Curtis: 0-1, 1 R, 5 BB — that’s a new franchise record for walks in a game
SS Ramiro Pena & LF Ray Kruml: both 1-4 — Pena drove in a run and struck out … Kruml doubled, drove in two, and whiffed twice
LHP Manny Banuelos: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 6 BB, 0 K, 3/2 GB/FB — just 36 of 74 pitches were strikes (48.6%) … total disaster, the worst start of his career … if you’re looking for a silver lining, Ben Badler says reports indicate that his stuff is still lively, it’s just location
SwP Pat Venditte: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — ten pitches, six strikes
RHP Manny Delcarmen: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/4 GB/FB — 27 of 53 pitches were strikes (50.9%)
RHP Cody Eppley: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 24 of 41 pitches were strikes (58.5%)
RHP Kevin Whelan: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — seven of eleven pitches were strikes … capped off a great day of bullpen work

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

How’s that for a random video? Mighty Marcus Thames had many fine moments in pinstripes, but that wasn’t one of them. I wonder if he’s Eduardo Nunez‘s role model? Okay, that was uncalled for.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The Marlins and Phillies (Buehrle vs. Blanton) will be on MLB Network at 7pm ET, plus the Rangers start their first round playoff series against the Senators (7pm ET on NHL Network). Talk about whatever you like, have at it.

Ten years of The End of Mariano Rivera

Only three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and people saying Mariano Rivera is finished every time he blows a save. We heard it last week, we’ll hear it again at some point this summer, and as Deadspin points out, we’ve been hearing it for ten years. They chronicled the history of the “Mo is done” article, something that dates all the way back to 2002. It gets RAB’s highest recommendation, make sure you check it out.

Yankee prospects and controlling the controllables

A recent profile of track prodigy Galen Rupp and his coach, former marathon champion Alberto Salazar, noted that it’s been forty-eight long years since an American man won an Olympic medal at the 10,000 meter distance. Salazar believes that Rupp, his twenty-five year old student of 12 years, can end that drought this summer in London. Rupp is an extremely talented runner, one of the best at the 5 and 10k distances, but both Salazar and Rupp know that besting the dominant Africans at this distance would require virtually everything to go right. And so they’re doing their best to ensure that it does. “The mantra is control the controllables,” explains Nike’s sports psychologist, Darren Treasure.

 “”We’re not at all intimidated by the Africans; they’re great runners but there’s so many of them. With our [American] runners, we have so few of them that we have to do everything perfect,” says Salazar…

Since 2001, Salazar has ensured that his small crop of Oregon Project runners have access to every technological, physiological and psychological advantage available. From altitude simulation tents and rooms to both anti-gravity and underwater treadmills to the Cryo Sauna, a cylindrical chamber that turns liquid nitrogen to gas to cool an athlete’s body at bone-chilling temperatures for rejuvenating purposes, Nike, who reported revenues of $19 billion in 2010, pays for and houses them on their 193-acre Beaverton, Ore., campus.”

So what do Cryo Saunas and altitude simulation tents have to do with Yankee prospects? The Empire State Yankees, the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees, are currently without a home stadium. The Yankees are in the process of tearing down the old PNC Field and replacing it with a $40M facility, but in the interim the club has nowhere to call home. This means that players like Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine will be spending the entire season on a 142 game road trip, playing “home games” in six different cities. The hope is that the stadium will be completed in time for the 2013 season, but 2012 will be a tough order for these Yankee minor leaguers.

This is a more extreme example of the grind of minor league life, detailed in depth by Mike Ashmore here. While the facilities at the major league level are top notch, players just below that level often deal with situations that wouldn’t be suitable for elite athletes in other sports. Of course, plenty of these athletes are not elite, and the lion’s share of them won’t ever become major league regulars. Regardless it’s not a stretch to say that the nutrition opportunities in particular for players at the minor league level do not come close to that of an Olympian or a major leaguer. I asked Josh Norris, beatwriter for the Trenton Thunder, about the food habits of the players he covers:

 “The per diem is certainly meager, and the postgame spreads aren’t exactly Jenny Craig approved… Fast food is the only available option a lot of the time, but they can obviously choose, say, Subway over McDonald’s. A personal chef/nutritionist would obviously be helpful, but for 30 guys on the road and at home would get really, really complicated.”

Norris went on to astutely note that an in-shape ball player isn’t always the superior ballplayer:

 “A perfect example is a guy like Richie Robnett. With his shirt off, that guy was a Met-Rx commercial waiting to happen. At the plate, however, his washboard abs rarely translated into solid contact. Contrast that with a guy like, say, Prince Fielder, who obviously isn’t the picture of health. If you went in with no knowledge of the players other than their appearance and perceived health/strength, you’d take Robnett every time. Being a successful baseball player requires much more than pristine physical fitness. There’s coordination, adherence to practice regimen, and, on some level, I think, superior genetics.”

Given that prime nutritional health and peak baseball performance aren’t perfectly correlated, and given that most of these players have little ultimate value to the major league team, what’s the impetus to spend more money to institute a more rigorous exercise and nutrition program? New, advanced technologies don’t always translate directly into improved baseball skills. Maybe there isn’t a smart, snappy answer to these questions. But these players are athletes, and we don’t know what sort of talent and skill is left underdeveloped when they aren’t given every chance to become the greatest they can be.

Do the Cryo Saunas mean that Rupp recovers better from his hard workouts and gets faster, leading to one or two seconds gained on the track? Would he have been that fast if he had just used ice? You can’t know. But when there’s so much at stake, and so much money to be made (especially in baseball), it would seem prudent to take every avenue possible to maximize the value of your players. They may not need Cryo Saunaus, but ensuring that every minor leaguer in the Yankees organization gets the best nutrition and workout facilities available to them might lead to an organizational advantage and a more efficient development of talent. If I were the owner of a team and had some extra cash lying around, perhaps leftover thanks to new restrictions on how much I can spend on the draft, I might see if this would be a worthy investment.

Could Jeter’s successor already be on the Yankees’ roster?

Every incarnation of the Yankees has its polarizing players. For some reason, swaths of fans flock to disparage certain players, while others rush to their defenses. In the mid-00s A-Rod was perhaps the most polarizing player on the Yankees. Elite player? Sure. But he was portrayed as a bad teammate — one who, according to so many fans, would never win a World Series with the Yankees. While A-Rod is still polarizing in some ways, it’s not nearly to the level it was before 2009. Now fans are out to fry smaller fish.

While Nick Swisher has his detractors, he is not the most polarizing player on the Yankees. No, that distinction belongs to Eduardo Nunez, a mere utility infielder. His potential — Baseball America ranked him their No. 8 Yankees prospect before last season — tantalizes some. His on-field blunders, including 20 errors in under 1,000 defensive innings last season, infuriates others. There appears to be little gray area in between.

Love him or hate him, though, the Yankees clearly think he can be part of their future. They’re trying to get him as much playing time as possible this year, using their lack of a regular DH to rotate players and get Nunez time in the field. The idea is to determine his value to them in the future, which they cannot do if he’s playing in AAA or getting irregular reps in the majors. For his part, Nunez is making the most of the opportunity.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Dan Barbarisi writes about Nunez’s desire to succeed Derek Jeter as the Yankees’ everyday shortstop. He certainly gave his all this off-season, joining Robinson Cano bright and early for all-day workouts. In the process Cano has altered Nunez’s view of what it takes to be a big leaguer. For Nunez — whom Barbarisi describes as having “physical ability, smarts and talent” — it could be just the wake-up call he needs to take the next step.

The story actually comes full-circle in terms of polarizing Yankees. A-Rod, who polarized like none other early in his Yankees career, once took a young Cano under his wing. At a time when Cano’s focus was waning, A-Rod showed him the path to greatness. Cano has since put in his work, and the results are visible. Now Cano has turned his own attentions towards Nunez. Can Cano have the same effect on his protege as A-Rod had on his?

Replacing Jeter is no small task. There’s not only the legendary shoes that Nunez has to step into, but there is the sheer ability that Jeter possesses even to this day. His skills in decline, Jeter has figured out a way to hit better than most of his peers at an age when most of them have declined to the point of on-field uselessness. Nunez’s hard work doesn’t guarantee his ability to step into that role, but it does give him another leg up. He’ll need every one of them if he’s to one day become the Yankees’ starting shortstop.

Ben’s Take: I read the Barbarisi article this morning and had a few thoughts of my own considering the way last night’s game played out. Joe Girardi removed A-Rod for Nunez as a pinch-runner in the 8th, and Nunez took over at third base in the 8th. He nearly threw away a grounder during the Orioles’ half of the inning. When the Yankees took the lead in the 10th, Girardi removed Nunez for Eric Chavez, a superior fielder.

On the one hand, the move made sense. Chavez in his prime was a Gold Glove third baseman with a stellar arm, and he’s the guy you would want manning the hot corner when outs are at a premium. On the other hand, the Yankees removed their primary back-up infielder for defensive purposes late in the game last night. I don’t think I had ever seen that happen before.

To me, then, the question becomes: What do you do with Eduardo Nunez? The Yanks clearly have high hopes for the future, and he has a lot of raw ability. Yet, he’s become a worrisome liability in the field, not quite at the Chuck Knoblauch level but not a guy who has earned late-inning trust. The Yanks want to keep him at the Big League level, but just maybe he’d be better off playing the infield everyday in the minors while working on his throwing. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to Nunez or the Yanks.