Game 12: For Those About To Hi-rok

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Five days ago, Hiroki Kuroda opened the Bronx portion of the Yankees’ schedule with a bang, shutting out the Angels over eight-plus innings. Tonight he gets the much less hyped Twins, who have put up a nice little fight over the first two games of the series. You can’t expect Kuroda to repeat his last start tonight, but gosh darn it, I sure hope he does. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Robinson Cano
DH Nick Swisher
RF Raul Ibanezoh boy
3B Eric Chavez
C Russell Martin
LF Brett Gardner

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Tonight’s game starts at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Update: Brett Gardner is a late scratch will right elbow soreness. Andruw Jones is playing left field

Chris Stewart and the squeeze bunt

When Chris Stewart stepped to the plate with men on second and third with no outs last night, many — including the YES Network booth — saw it as an opportunity for a squeeze bunt. Stewart is an awful hitter, but he instead swung away and grounded out to third, unable to advance the runners. Joe Girardi said today that he didn’t even consider a squeeze in that spot. Marc Carig wrote about the squeeze non-call today, and found that the Yankees haven’t scored a single run on a squeeze play under Joe Girardi’s watch. Fans of smallball tactics will disapprove, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“That the Yankees would have such a weak hitter at the plate with runners on — as they did with Stewart last night — is in itself an aberration,” wrote Carig, referring the team’s perpetually potent offense. “So, if anything, the fact that the Yankees rarely bother with squeeze plays is an indication that Girardi is smart enough to manage to the strength of his team.” Stewart went on to drive in three runs later in the game, another aberration. I’m not a bunting kind of guy but there is a time and a place for that stuff. The third inning is not that time, however.

Yanks welcome Jason Marquis to the AL

Today on, Marc Carig posted a quick hit on Hiroki Kuroda’s stance on hitting. When asked if he missed taking at-bats in the National League, Kuroda replied, “I don’t miss it at all.” Tonight Kuroda will make his third American League start, and he’ll be going against a fellow newcomer to the Junior Circuit. Jason Marquis has spent parts of 12 seasons in the NL, starting with the Braves and moving onto the Cardinals, Cubs, Rockies, Nationals, and Diamondbacks. Now, at age 33, he makes is AL debut. Life could get a bit rougher for him, too.

Like Kuroda, Marquis won’t miss holding a bat. In 625 career PA he’s a .197/.216/.283 hitter. In the last three seasons he’s gone 22 for 132, a .167 average, with just two walks. The only problem, however, is that while Marquis himself will not hold a bat, he also won’t face any opposing pitchers. That could be quite an issue for the low-strikeout Marquis.

For his career Marquis has struck out 974 of 7328 total batters faced, or a paltry 13.3 percent. Yet of those 974 strikeouts, 173 have come against the opposing pitcher. That amounts to 18 percent of his career strikeouts. Moreover, his career strikeout rate against pitchers is 33.1 percent, against 11.8 percent against non-pitchers. Last year only three qualified pitchers had strikeout rates below 11.8 percent: Jeff Francis, Carl Pavano, and Brad Penny. The results there weren’t particularly pretty.

What’s worse for Marquis is that his strikeout rate has declined since his mid-20s. From his age-21 through his age-25 seasons he struck out 16 percent of opposing batters. But from his age-26 through his age-32 seasons he has struck out just just 12.1 percent of all batters. Again, combined with his strikeout rate against pitchers — 30 percent since 2005 — it adds up to trouble when facing pitcher-less AL lineups. That goes doubly for a high-powered offense such as the Yankees.

From all appearances, Marquis seems set up to fail. He’s a lifetime NL pitcher who has a hard time generating swings and misses in the first place. Now he’s moving to the AL, where he not only has no pitcher on whom to pick, but also a full-time hitter with whom to contend. It makes me wonder whether we’re in store for what Mike terms a reverse lock. Are the Yanks so well match against Marquis that they’re destined for failure? I damn well hope not. This is one guy the Yanks should pound on and pick up a relatively easy victory against.

The early season DH production

The Yankees received some of the worst DH production in the American League last year, finishing 11th out of the 14 teams with a 101 wRC+. That’s exactly league average among all hitters for all intents and purposes, but it’s below average in the context of position. The only thing a DH has to do is hit, and a league average performance doesn’t really cut it for a contender.

Early on this season, the Yankees have actually received less production from their DHs than they did last year. Although they moved up a spot and now rank 10th out of the 14 AL teams, they do have a below league average 97 wRC+. The funny thing is that it doesn’t feel like the Yankees are receiving below average DH production, at least to me. Part of the problem is Raul Ibanez, who hasn’t been anything special overall — .222/.267/.481 and 97 wRC+ — but has had a knack for the big hit. The go-ahead double in Baltimore and the moonshot against the Angels standout in my mind, not all the unproductive walks back to the dugout.

The DH situation this season is kinda weird because because the Eduardo Nunez/Andruw Jones-based platoon, and in fact the Yankees have used five different starting DHs in their eleven games. The rotation is going to force us to think about the position a little differently, at least in terms of production. Is a league average DH actually a good thing if it helps keep say, Alex Rodriguez healthy and more productive at third base? That’s obviously what the Yankees are hoping.

The season is too young to start worrying about how certain players are performing, good or bad, and that’s especially true for the rotating DH spot. I don’t like the rotation idea because it means more playing time for inferior backups, but it’s not the gravest misjustice in the baseball world. If it keeps the regulars like Derek Jeter and A-Rod healthy, then it’s doing exactly what it’s designed to do. We did see a bit of a rotation last season and it didn’t keep them healthy, but that’s what will have to happen in 2012 to smother the stink of league average DH production for a second straight year.

The Teixeira Analysis: Left-Handed Balls In Play

At least someone in Maryland likes him. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Over the last two days we’ve taken a look at the two different Mark Teixeiras to help get an idea of his where his offensive decline is coming from. There’s a right-handed hitting version of Teixeira, who continues to mash and has actually shown signs of improving in recent years, not decline. Then there’s a left-handed hitting version of Teixeira, who has racked up fewer and fewer hits over the last three years. The good news that he’s still hitting the ball over the fence and isn’t striking out any more or walking any less, the problem is isolated to the balls he’s putting in play from the left side of the plate.

Today we’re going to look at those balls in play as a left-handed batter. This post is very image-heavy, so I’ve added a Read More button just to make sure we don’t have any loading issues with the front page. You have been forewarning, there are a bunch of images on the other side of that jump…

[Read more…]

The Seldom Used 25th Man

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

The season is still relatively young, but we already have a pretty good idea of how the different pieces of the roster fit together. Eduardo Nunez and Andruw Jones are part of an unorthodox DH platoon, Clay Rapada is the low-leverage lefty reliever, and Chris Stewart is the rarely seen backup catcher. David Phelps has settled in as the long man and could eventually earn more responsibility. Everyone on the roster seems to have their set role except for one man: Eric Chavez.

Through eleven games, we’ve seen Chavez a total of five times. He pinch-hit for Nunez when the Yankees were down six runs with one out in the ninth inning of the second game of the season, singling off Josh Lueke for his lone hit of the campaign. He’s pinch-made outs on three other occasions with the Yankees down multiple runs in the late innings, and in one other appearance he replaced Nunez for defensive purposes after the Yankees took the lead in extra innings in Baltimore. Other than that, he’s been nothing more than a spectator.

Before his foot injury last season, Chavez was used primarily to rest Alex Rodriguez at third base and occasionally sub-in for Mark Teixeira at first. He was getting roughly two starts a week, but now it’s Nunez getting the playing time whenever A-Rod needs a day. When Teixeira came down with flu-like symptoms prior to last night’s game, it was Nick Swisher at first, not Chavez. That probably had something to do with the left-handed Francisco Liriano being on the mound, but Joe Girardi said before the game that he wanted to rest Swisher because he anticipates using his heavily in the coming weeks. Once Tex got sick, Girardi scrapped the Swisher plan rather than start Chavez against the southpaw.

Given the Yankees’ insistence on getting Nunez playing time, Chavez is a square peg and the roster is a round hole. There’s no obvious role for him other than the occasional pinch-hitting appearance or defensive replacement late in blowouts, whenever Girardi has a chance to rest both A-Rod and Derek Jeter for a few innings. Then again, that’s usually what the 25th man on the roster does anyway. Chavez is overqualified for the job despite his injury-proneness, but I suppose that’s the perk of having veteran players want to be on your team. Once the schedule opens up a bit and off days become a little more spread out, chances are we’ll start to see a little more of Chavez. Right now he’s just a seldom used spare part.

Yanks roll as Stewart, CC shine

For a few minutes in the top of third, things started getting dicey in the Bronx. The Twins had a 3-1 lead against CC Sabathia, but then the Yanks’ ace bore down. You could see the determination on his face as he blanked the Twins, and the Yanks’ bats carried the Bombers to an easy 8-3 win over the Twins. Order was restored to the Bronx.

CC’s Big Game

Coming into tonight’s game, CC Sabathia hadn’t pitched much like an ace. An ill-timed intentional walk on Opening Day led to a four-run first inning, and he struggled against the Orioles last week. Sporting an 0-0 record, he carried a 6.75 ERA into the game, and through the first 2.1 innings, it looked like more of the same. He couldn’t locate his pitches, and his breaking balls were tailing out over the plate.

After allowing back-to-back run-scoring hits to Clete Thomas and Jamey Carroll, CC seemed to discover his pitches. To my eye, he appeared annoyed with himself, and he responded by striking out Joe Mauer. Josh Willingham flied out to a sliding Brett Gardner — who said after the game that he felt a sting in his wrist on the play — to end the threat. From there, it was smooth sailing.

Sabathia retired 13 Twins in a row before Trevor Plouffe walked, and he pitched into the 8th inning. With seven strike outs in 7.1 innings, CC upped his total to 22 on the year and walked away a winner for the first time in 2012. Order had seemingly been restored to the top of the Yankee rotation.

Stewart’s Big Day

At the plate, the Yanks were making Twins’ starter Francisco Liriano work. He had reached 76 pitches when the Twins went to their bullpen, and the Yanks continued to feast. Tonight’s stars were the bottom half of the order as Eduardo Nunez, Brett Gardner and Chris Stewart went 6 for 10 with 5 runs batted in. Derek Jeter added a hit and a pair of RBIs, his 8th and 9th on the season. It took him until the Yanks’ 32nd game to reach that mark last year.

Stewart though should earn some recognition. The Yanks acquired him to boost their Minor League depth and give them a solid defensive back-up. Any hitting he does is gravy, and tonight, he helped with the bat. With one out and the bases loaded in the 3rd, Stewart lined Liriano’s 76th pitch into left field for a two-run single. The Yanks grabbed the lead, and they would never relinquish it.

In the 7th, with the Yanks holding to a 7-3 lead, Stewart found himself at bat again with Brett Gardner in scoring position. He again lifted a pitch into left field for his third RBI of the night, a new career high. Stewart won’t hit much; that’s not his role anyway. But for a night, he came through when he had to and helped cement the game for the Yanks.

Odds & Ends

After Monday night’s disappointing loss, the Yanks bounced back with a stress-free game over the Twins. We could use a few more of those this year — although three of the last five games have been stress-free wins.

While Derek Jeter picked up another hit, the middle of the Yanks’ order continued to do nothing. Robinson Cano and A-Rod went 1 for 9, and three of Cano’s outs came with runners on base. It’s been a rough beginning for those two, but they should break out in a big way soon enough.

Brett Gardner had a great night and saw his early-season triple slash line take a big jump. He’s now 9 for 28 with 5 walks and 5 runs scored on the season. His defense, as he showed with that diving play, has been spectacular in left. Andruw Jones‘ home run was a monster shot into the night.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings has the box score and video highlights, Fangraphs some additional stats and ESPN the updated standings.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The third of this four-game series kicks off at 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday. Jason Marquis will make his Twins debut, and he’ll face Hiroki Kuroda, coming off a stellar outing on Friday afternoon. RAB Tickets has all the good deals.