Welcome to the majors, Jake Arrieta

When I put together the Orioles series preview on Tuesday, tonight’s matchup was listed as A.J. Burnett vs. Jeremy Guthrie. The Yanks have faced Guthrie a few times every year since the Orioles picked him up in 2007, so they have a decent history against him. It’s a mostly favorable one, as Guthrie has allowed 48 runs, 47 earned, in 81.1 innings. That has been largely courtesy of the longball, 15 of them. Many of us were looking forward to more of the same tonight.

(There was also the storyline of Guthrie plunking a few Yankees, but that’s not a huge deal. If he’s doing it, he’s only hurting himself. Well, himself and Jorge Posada…)

Instead, the Orioles decided to push back Guthrie a day and insert Jake Arrieta. A fifth round pick in 2007, Arietta ranked fourth on Baseball America’s 2010 top 10 Orioles prospects list. The move makes enough sense. Again, the Yankees have seen plenty of Guthrie in the past four years. The Orioles, desperate for a win against their division foes, want to muster any possible advantage. Bringing up a highly touted prospect seems like as good an idea as any. That Arrieta is absolutely dominating AAA makes the decision a bit easier.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

In terms of stuff, Arrieta is all there. He throws a 92-94 mph fastball that “has the action to generate swings and misses.” (Per Baseball America.) He also has a slider that BA says can be a good pitch “at times.” He also has a changeup that is a work in progress, and a curveball that is mostly reserved for lefties. Keith Law notes that Arrieta is ” a four-pitch guy with no plus pitch but nothing below-average.” That puts him in the No. 3 to No. 4 starter range, though as BA notes, his pure stuff probably puts him a bit higher than that.

What holds Arrieta back is his lack of command. All scouting sources I’ve seen make distinct note of that. He can get a bit wild inside the zone, which doesn’t bode well against major league hitters, especially of the caliber the Yankees’ lineup features. He also has a little problem with the walks. He handed out 56 free passes last season, when he pitched at both AA and AAA. That was the most in the Orioles’ system. He has already walked 34 in 73 innings this year, so it doesn’t look like something he’s improved on.

It seems like the Yankees hitters should be comfortable enough with Arrieta on the mound, despite never having seen him. He plays to their strengths, not only with the walks, but also the lack of command of pitches in the strike zone. Then again, the same could have been, and was, said about Brandon Morrow. Yet he shut down the Yanks offense. I can see Arrieta doing the same. If, for this one start, he throws tons of strikes he could give the Yanks fits.

There is little more exciting in baseball than fresh, young pitching. We’ve got to seen plenty of it in the past couple of years. Arrieta is the next on that list. While I’ll hope for the Yanks to put a few of his pitches on Eutaw Street, I am certainly excited to see the next crop of O’s pitchers.

Mark Teixeira and the changeup

Photo Credit: Darren Calabrese, AP

If you’ve watched the Yankees at all this year and last, you’ve surely noticed that first baseman Mark Teixeira has had an exceptionally tough time against changeups in 2010. This was particularly obvious last Saturday, when he looked helpless in striking out five times against changeup specialists Ricky Romero and Casey Janssen. The advanced metrics are picking up on Tex’s weakness against changeups as well, saying he’s been worth 0.58 runs below average against the pitch (for every 100 seen) this season compared to 0.88 runs above average last year and an even 1.00 for his career.

The struggles against changeups carry over to the fastball as well, which is expected given the relationship between the two pitches. It’s called a changeup in the first place because it changes the hitter’s timing off the fastball. Tex has produced 0.43 runs below average against the heater this year (again per 100 seen), compared to +2.20 last year and +1.70 for his career. Clearly, he’s not recognizing changeups and it’s affecting him against fastballs, which a hitter of his caliber should (and traditionally has) murder.

The season isn’t young anymore, we’re 59 games in and Tex is hitting an unacceptable .224-.338-.388. Maybe it’s time to (forgive the pun) change things up and try something not necessarily drastic, but unique. Allow me to quote Jack Moore fromSPN’s TMI blog

Recently, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has employed an unorthodox strategy against pitchers with great change-ups. Ever since Dallas Braden and his nasty change threw a perfect game against the Rays, Maddon has stacked his lineups with players who bat with the same hand as the starting pitcher in order to neutralize that pitch. The change-up is a pitch that is typically used to neutralize opposite-handed hitters, and so Maddon is attempting to take away this advantage from pitchers with great change-ups by reducing the number of opposite-handed hitters in the lineup. So far, the strategy has worked pretty well.

(snip)

However, the Rays sent up switch-hitters Ben Zobrist and Dioner Navarro to bat right handed against Marcum, and even more telling was that they not only used right-handed catcher Kelly Shoppach as the DH, but they hit him clean-up.

Did it work? Marcum’s line — four innings, 10 hits and seven earned runs — certainly suggests it did. Shoppach, Navarro, and Zobrist were a combined 3-for-6 against Marcum, including a home run by Navarro.

Maddon essentially tailored his lineups to take away the opposing pitcher’s greatest strength, and so far it’s worked. It’s unconventional, but it’s hard to argue with the early returns. Maybe this an approach Teixeira should take, batting from the same side as the pitcher if he has a great change, reducing what is his greatest weakness at the moment.

I’m sure it’ll be a tremendously uncomfortable experience for him since he’s never faced a non-knuckleball pitcher throwing from the same side in his big league career, but at this point it might be worth a shot. I already cited his awful stats, and whenever Tex seems to be coming out of it, he sinks right back into the pit of suckiness. It shouldn’t happen with a player of his caliber, and whatever they’re trying now just isn’t working.

Of course, Tex is just 30-years-old and in the prime of his career, so perhaps it’s best to just show confidence in him and hope it works itself out. How much longer can they wait though?

2010 Draft: Closing Links

After three days, 50 rounds and (by my count) 16 total hours of selections, the 2010 MLB Draft has come to an end and the focus shifts to signing these player. Yesterday was your typical day of late round selections; the Yankees drafted mostly college players to fill out minor league rosters (those guys are important, they take a lot of the load off the actual prospects) plus a few high school lottery tickets, led by Pennsylvania righty Keenan Kish (34th round).

My summary of the Yanks’ draft strategy still applies simply because not much could have been done on Day Three to change things. In many ways this resembles the Eric Duncan-Tim Battle-Estee Harris draft of 2003, when the Yanks looked for athleticism and shot for the moon with upside. That might sound bad, but seven years ago the Yankees had no interest in using the farm system for developing players. They didn’t try develop players, they tried developed trade bait. The current Brian Cashman led regime certainly has a dedication in player development,which makes this draft much more promising. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer drafted 20 high school players this year, easily the most in his six years at the Yanks’ helm. It’s very clear they were looking to not just infuse the farm system with some youth and upside, but develop that talent into cheap big league production.

Here’s what I assume is the last collection of links for this draft…

  • You can see every pick the Yanks made here, and the best place to keep track of who signs and who doesn’t is NYY Fans. Of course we’ll keep you updated on the notable signings, and even the not so notable ones as well.
  • First rounder Cito Culver said he’ll “almost certainly” sign with the Yanks, at which point he’d be assigned to the Yanks’ rookie level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. I can’t imagine Culver wouldn’t sign, hard to pass up first round money.
  • In case you didn’t notice, the Yanks took Paul O’Neill’s nephew Mike in the 42nd round yesterday. He better watch out, they’ll make him pay to replace the watercoolers in the minors.
  • “I like what they did later on Day 2 more than what they did early,” said Keith Law in his recap of rounds 2-30. He notes that Mason Williams (4th) wants top-ten money (basically $2M), and that Evan Rutckyj (16th) is looking for a first round payday, which means at least $1.2M or so.
  • “New York went after several highly regarded prep talents in the later rounds,” said Frankie Piliere in his Day Two analysis, “and while for most clubs this would be moot, considering the perceived price tag of high school talent late in the draft, the Yankees have the ability to throw money at these players and get them signed … Also striking about the Yankee strategy was their willingness to gamble on arms. Teams in their financial position can take a power arm with a flaw and see if they can turn him around, and that’s what they did taking right-handed college arms like Tommy Kahnle and Daniel Burawa. Both have not been stellar in college ball, but have the arms of back-of-the-‘pen type relievers.”
  • Third baseman Rob Segedin (3rd) made Jeff Sachmann’s list of sleepers, in which he notes a studly combination of triple-slash stats (.430-.514-.780) and a microscopic 8% strikeout rate. For comparison’s sake, first rounder and consensus top college hitter Zack Cox put up a .424-.508-.603 batting line with a 13% strikeout rate. Remember though, doing what Cox did in the SEC is a lot tougher than doing what Segedin did in Conference USA. Segedin is a draft eligible sophomore, so he’s got a little bit of extra negotiating leverage.
  • If you still haven’t had your fill, Jonathan Mayo looks ahead to next year’s draft and gives you ten names to keep an eye on. It’s obviously very early and a whole lot can change between now and then, but the 2011 draft is absolutely, positively stacked. There’s at least a dozen players that would have gone second overall this year, and Anthony Rendon of Rice probably would have gone ahead of Bryce Harper because it’s a similar bat much further along in it’s development.

The wonder and excitement of new Yankees

If Damon Oppenheimer is any indication, the Yankees felt pretty good on Monday night. In the first round of the amateur player draft, which included 32 primary picks and another 18 supplemental ones, the Yankees had just one selection. They’d make the 32nd pick and call it a night, not choosing again until Pick No. 82, the 32th pick on Day 2. They surely wanted to make that first one count. With all the players with signability issues, the Yanks were sure to have a top-tier talent fall into their laps. That’s exactly what happened when Commissioner Bud Selig announced that they were on the clock.

Here’s the thing about the new draft format: the teams don’t need all that time to make a pick. Without the ability to trade picks, everything is pretty straight forward. Take the player highest on your draft board and move onto the next pick. But because of the draft’s newfound popularity, MLB has tried to turn it into a more NFL-like event. The five minutes between picks is mainly for show. Still, Yankees fans sat in anticipation as the clock ticked down. Which one of the available high-talent players would they take?

When Selig returned to the podium, he announced a name that no one expected. Christopher “Cito” Culver, a shortstop from Rochester, NY, wasn’t on anyone’s mind. Yanks fans were thinking A.J. Cole, Nick Castellanos, Asher Wojciechowski. Instead they got someone whom Baseball America ranked No. 168, meaning they projected him to go somewhere between the fourth and sixth rounds. In BA’s draft report on Culver, Aaron Fitt wrote a line that no one wants to hear about a first round pick: “…some believe he profiles as a utility player down the road.”

Unsurprisingly, the Yankees’ fan base erupted. How could they take a player like Culver with such better talent on the board? Shouldn’t the Yankees, a team with an unfavorable draft slot, take the best player available? That’s the strategy they employed in the past. In 2007 they selected Andrew Brackman, and in 2008 they took Gerrit Cole. Neither of those picks looks great right now. Cole refused to sign, and Brackman, while showing signs of vast improvement lately, is still stuck in the low minors. The Yankees, it appears, have changed strategies. It started last year when they took OF Slade Heathcott with their first pick. The Culver pick seems like a continuation.

* * *

The internet made the draft accessible to more fans. Before outlets like Baseball America started to cover the draft and publish the results, the public was largely unaware of its team’s selections. In the late 80s Topps started to print No. 1 draft pick cards, so fans could find out the best talent their favorite team selected in the previous June’s draft. Other than the scant information available on the backs of those cards, fans knew very little about their team’s draft picks.

That all started to change as the internet evolved. Fans could follow their team’s top prospects through Baseball America and MiLB.com. As more information became available, fans took to blogs, aggregating information about prospects across the league. With a few well-worded searches you could find everything you need to know about any prospect in a system. It seemed like a good thing for baseball. Fans could follow more aspects of the game. That creates a far greater level of interest in the game.

In recent years, this interest in prospects extended to the draft. Fans wanted to know not only which players their teams were selecting, but they wanted to know everything about these players. Can they hit for average? For power? Did they come from a top college program? A prominent high school region? Mostly, teams wanted to see what the scouts saw. What could these players become? They could get plenty of this scouting information from not just Baseball America, but also prospect writers like Keith Law and Jonathan Mayo. We have, it seems, a full gamut of opinions on the best of these amateur players.

* * *

As you saw during the past three days, there aren’t many baseball writers who can cover the draft like Mike. He’s super prepared, and even when something unexpected happens he’s all over it. This year provides a prime example. Leading up to the draft we see various sources connecting players and teams. In order to get a draft profile up minutes after the Yankees make a pick, Mike wrote 20 — twenty — draft capsules last weekend. He got to use none of them. Still, he pounded out a profile of Culver before the night was done. He also penned an excellent article on the upside and arm strength of the Yankees’ crop of draftees.

All of that was not only to praise Mike, but also to frame my own place in this discussion. I am not a prospect expert. I follow the players in the Yankees system, not only through Down on the Farm, but also through scouting reports on Baseball America, Kevin Goldstein’s coverage on Baseball Prospectus, and Keith Law’s scouting articles on ESPN. But I don’t think that merely reading that information makes me an expert. It makes me better informed and gives me colorful information for the articles I write, but I never have, nor never will, profess to be an expert.

The people who can be considered experts all considered Culver a reach pick. Again, he ranked at the bottom of BA’s Top 200, and didn’t even make Keith Law’s. Given those rankings and the available scouting reports, many fans ripped the Yankees for the pick. They had done their homework. They had read plenty about the draft. They knew that there were many more highly ranked players ahead of Culver. Why didn’t the Yankees take one of those players?

No one waited for an explanation from Oppenheimer. The initial reaction was to express displeasure not only with the pick itself, but also with the Yankees organization as a whole. Ignoring the slew of prospects strewn throughout the system, they called the farm system thin. Many, I’m sure, wanted to see Oppenheimer fired, before the man could tell the public why he chose Culver with the No. 32 pick. Surely there had to be a reason why they chose him there when, by pre-draft accounts, he would have been there when they picked at No. 80.

Oppenheimer, of course, did have his reasons. Among them, unsurprisingly, was that they didn’t believe Culver would be there when they picked in the second round. But we’ll get to that in just a minute.

* * *

The reactions flowed in as soon as Selig announced the pick. One of my more level-headed friends thought it was “an, uh, interesting pick.” My super-reactionary, treats every game like the World Series friend called it, unimaginatively, a train wreck. The commenters here filled a thread with overreactions. The consensus, it seems, is that BA, Law, Mayo, et als, know what they’re talking about and the Yankees do not. This I never understood.

Having this information available is great. It means we can make more informed reactions to picks. But no matter the source of the information, no matter how astute the scout, we’re dealing with imperfect information. It’s not imperfect as-is, an assessment of the player as he currently stands. It is, however, imperfect when it comes to projecting major league talent. Most of these players are years away from being major league ready. Even the prodigy himself, Bryce Harper, will spend a few years in the Nats’ system before he joins Stephen Strasburg on the big league squad.

Knowing this, why make a big deal about the pick? I understand the disappointment of not getting one of the consensus top talents. It’s always easier to imagine a player making the majors when we have plenty of positive information about him. But the reality is that we don’t know a damn thing about how any of these players will adjust and develop through the minors. Big-time players can, and often do, bust. Low draft picks can accelerate to the majors. I’m certainly not the first person to point out Albert Pujols’s draft position, 13th round, 402nd overall. Rich Harden went in the 17th round. Kevin Youkilis went in the eighth, which is where the experts projected Culver. Jim Thome was a 13th round pick.

Rather than get worked up and declare the Yankees incompetent, I’d like to see what this Culver kid can bring. That’s the mystique of prospects. Because we don’t have any idea of how they’ll develop, following them becomes most of, if not all of, the fun. Maybe he won’t turn into the next big Yankees homegrown superstar. But you could say the same thing about Cole, Castellanos, and Wojciechowski. The Yankees certainly see something in him — why else would they have taken him so far ahead of where the experts ranked him?

* * *

Apparently, after the Yankees made their selection official Oppenheimer got a call from a rival executive who said that if the Yanks had taken someone else with hopes of Culver dropping to No. 82, they would have been disappointed. That, I think, changes the entire outlook. Yes, you want to maximize the value of your picks. If someone will drop to the third round, why take him in the first? But with the draft you just never know. The Yanks had picked out there guy, and with 49 selections before their next pick they felt they had to pounce on the guy.

Oppenheimer spoke to reporters about Culver the day after the pick. It went just as expected. Oppenheimer discussed why the Yankees chose the guy, and what went into the decision to target him above other more highly ranked talents. One passage in particular stuck out to me.

He has pop in his bat, even with wood. It’s high school, but he’s hitting the ball over the fence in center field with a heavier wood bat than most of these kids we see using. The kid only struck out twice. We saw him all summer against the better stuff, guys throwing hard, and he squared the ball up well during that time so we think he’s going to hit.

A lot of kids falter when they start using wood bats. That Culver has already hit with one, and has succeeded with one, is a good sign. But, then again, that’s all it is.

We all want to be knowledgeable fans. We want to know when our team is doing well and when our team is screwing up. With all the information available right now, it only takes a little time to form competent opinions about not only your favorite team, but all 30 MLB teams. The area where this mass of information does the least good is the draft. If there were some key, some telling aspect that informed a team of whether a player would or would not succeed, they’d use it and the draft would be less of a crapshoot. So far, none exists. Teams scout players, imagine what they can become, and take risks on them. The best odds can still bust. The longshots can turn into stars. That’s just the way the MLB draft works. So instead of expressing displeasure because the draft pundits didn’t like the pick, let’s shift the focus to the mystery of Culver. The kid could actually play in the system this year, unlike many of his first-round brethren. It could make for exciting times in the Yankees system.

Yanks claw back to beat Orioles

In the fourth inning, it looked like the Orioles were poised to steal a win. Weather reports had the rains waiting until 10 p.m., which gave the two teams a window to get in a game, or at least most of one. Yet in the third it started to rain a bit, and by the fourth it looked heavy enough to eventually call the game. The Orioles led 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth, and I thought for sure that when YES came back from a commercial we’d see the tarp on the field. But, mercifully, the rain stopped. The game went on. The Yankees simply could not let that opportunity slip away.

Given a chance to finish the game, the Yankees delivered. It wasn’t pretty, and the Orioles certainly contributed to their own loss. But with three outs in the bottom of the ninth the scoreboard read Yankees 4, Orioles 2. Score another one for the good guys.

Biggest Hit: Cano ties the game

Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

The sixth inning was a story of triumph, for the Yankees, and tragedy, for the Orioles. Chris Tillman, still at a good pace pitch-wise, faced Mark Teixeira to lead off the inning. He fed him three straight curveballs and had an 0-2 count. On the fourth he threw a fastball high, and Teixeira hit a slow roller. If it hadn’t rained, maybe the ball gets to Julio Lugo a bit quicker. But he was playing on the grass and had to charge the ball. It hit the lip of the grass and bounced away. That’s one way to beat the shift.

Alex Rodriguez then worked a 3-2 count, and on the payoff pitch he got an inside, belt-high fastball that he smoked to left for a sure base hit. Luke Scott overpursued, and the ball bounced away from him. Teixeira, seeing the opportunity, moved up to third. That set up Robinson Cano with runners on the corners and no outs. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have up in that situation right now.

Tillman had a clear strategy with Cano: keep the ball away. Only a couple of the eight pitches he threw were near the strike zone. Still, Cano battled through the at-bat. He took a strike on the outside corner and took the three pitches that were nowhere near the zone. He fouled off the rest. On the eighth pitch Tillman threw a curveball away, and Cano bounced one over Ty Wigginton’s head and into first for a game-tying single. That put A-Rod on third, and set up the Yanks to eventually take the lead.

They did on the very next batter. Jorge Posada hit a sure double play ball. Wigginton fielded cleanly and fed Cesar Izturis perfectly. But Izturis missed on the return throw. A-Rod would have scored either way — there were still none out — but that put Posada on second with one out. The Yanks had a chance to tack on to the lead, but after 1/4 of an intentional walk to Curtis Granderson the bottom of the order couldn’t bring home another run.

Biggest Pitch: CC gets Scott…again

Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

We’ve seen this type of start from CC before. He runs into trouble early and it looks like he’s going to get hit hard all game. But then in the middle innings he settles down, and by the seventh he’s still going strong. That was exactly the case last night. CC got singled to death early on, and it resulted in two Orioles runs. They wouldn’t get another the rest of the game.

In the fourth, fifth, and sixth CC retired nine of the 10 hitters he faced. In the seventh, with the Orioles down a run and the bottom of the order due up, they decided to try something different. Cesar Izturis bunted to the left side. A-Rod fielded in time to throw him out, but Cano didn’t get to the bag in time. Julio Lugo, desperate to avoid the double play, sacrificed him to second. That gave the Orioles at least two chances to bring home the tying run.

Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

But then Miguel Tejada grounded out to third, preventing the runner from advancing and spending the second out of the inning. That left matters to Nick Markakis, who nearly came through. He hit one between Teixeira and Cano, and it took a long dive from Cano to keep the ball in the infield. Markakis beat the throw, but the run did not score. After a Ty Wigginton walk loaded the bases, the game rested on the bat of Luke Scott.

This was the fourth time Sabathia would face Scott. In the first he got him swinging on a slider away. In the second Scott singled, but in the third CC came back with the same pitch as the first time and produced the same result. This time Sabathia went at him with his entire arsenal. It started with a curveball away for ball one. Then he came back with a fastball inside that Scott fouled away. Then came a two-seamer that broke down and in, which Scott missed completely. Then, with the count 1-2, Sabathia did not mess around. He went back to the slider, again low and outside. Scott was just as fooled as he was in the second and fifth. The threat was over.

Miscellany

Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

Good to see Gardner get into the game today, even if he wasn’t going to bat. It was a perfect situation for him to try a steal, and even though he didn’t get the best jump it worked out and led to an insurance run. You could see him flinching back towards the bag on a few pitches, so it still doesn’t look like he’s totally comfortable out there. I think that will come with experience, though.

You’re just not stopping Robinson Cano. He’s a different beast this year. If you don’t give him stuff to hit, well, he’ll still try to hit it. But if you feed him garbage he’ll actually take a walk. And if you give him anything near the plate he’ll find a place where someone isn’t standing and hit it there. The team hit seven line drives in the game, he had two of them. A-Rod had three.

Nick Swisher might have had only one hit, but he crushed one to the deepest part of the park in the top of the fifth. That seemed big at the time because it would have tied the game as the rains fell.

Good idea by Russo with the leadoff bunt. Seeing the Jeter GIDP was a bit disheartening, but it’s going to happen from time to time.

Joba has thrown 26.2 innings through 59 games. He’s on pace for 73.1 innings this season. That sounds about right, no?

Also, this is an awesome picure.

WPA graph and box score

The Orioles peaked just a little early.

More at FanGraphs. More traditional stuff at mlb.com.

Next Up

The Orioles will call up Jake Arrieta to make his major league debut against A.J. Burnett. Odd that they’re pushing back Guthrie.

Gardner day-to-day with sore thumb, may need MRI

Update (11:42pm): Gardner might need an MRI once the team returns home from Baltimore on Friday. Never good.

10:51pm: Joe Girardi said during the postgame that Gardner will not start tomorrow either, but will available to pinch run like he did tonight.

6:48pm: X-rays were negative, and Gardner’s day-to-day.

5:31pm: Via LoHud, Brett Gardner is going for x-rays on his injured thumb after leaving last night’s game with pain in the digit. “It doesn’t feel as good as I hoped it would,” said the speedy leftfielder. It’s the same thumb that Gardner broke last season, though yesterday he said the doctors told him it wouldn’t feel right for close to a year. Kevin Russo takes his spot tonight.

Considering his .378 wOBA at the bottom of the order, the Yanks can ill-afford to lose Gardner for any length of time. Hopefully it’s just some soreness, and he can get back in the lineup soon.

Tampa wins one in extras

One more day of bullet points as I come down from 50 rounds of liveblogging…