The RAB Radio Show: April 20, 2012

With another week of baseball in the books we have plenty to talk about. We basically covered all of the Yanks flaws and strengths in this episode, going from the shaky starting pitching to the lights-out bullpen, to the consistent, if frustrating, offense. It’s been quite a few weeks, and things will only get better from here.

Podcast run time 46:58

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

For Fenway’s 100th, Yanks throwback to 1912

The Yanks will sport throwback 1912 hats today to honor the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park.

While watching the Twins and Yankees play on Wednesday night, I took stock of the field and shook my head at the Twins’ uniforms. Minnesota sometimes sports these alternate road jerseys with grey pants, and the team looked as though they were more prepared for a Spring Training game than a regular season affair.

The Twins though aren’t the only team with solid color tops. All across baseball, either as part of a marketing effort or to vary up the styles, clubs have added alternate uniforms. The Angels were sporting solid red tops over the weekend; the Blue Jays wear something that’s, well, very blue; and the Red Sox too have solid red or blue tops for home or away games, respectively. Call me old fashioned — or a Yankee fan — but I much prefer the solid look.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have not broken with tradition. Except for one game during which MLB honored the Negro Leagues, the Bombers have steadfastly refused to discard their now-famous home pinstripes or road greys. The uniform may have looked a little different in the earlier decades of the 20th Century but for over 50 years, since the Yanks ditched the alternate road jersey in 1943, the club has adhered to tradition through thick, thin and whatever MLB marketing gimmick crossed its path.

That is, they’ve adhered to this tradition until today. When the Yankees and Red Sox take the field in a few hours at Fenway Park, they will be dressed in modern garb updated to resemble the 1912 team. It’s Throwback Day for the Yanks for the first time in franchise history. It’s finally okay to tinker with obdurate tradition as long as the club is honoring that tradition, and I like it.

For the game today, the Yanks will sport the cap atop this post. It’s an updated look on the 1912 original. This one, from New Era, is a bit different from the 1910-1911 Cooperstown Cap. The interlocking NY is the modern version and not the compressed version from the past. The colors though — a grey cap with a navy blue bill — are sleek.

The jersey, above, are similar yet different. Gone is the New York in block letters across the front, and the interlocking logo looks a bit more historic. The serifs on the letters are more pronounced and wider, and there will be no names or numbers on the back. It’s a look straight of the time when the AL ball club had yet to settle on an identity. They weren’t quite the Highlanders as many believe today, but they weren’t yet fully embraced as the Yankees yet. (The club will also be sporting appropriate stir-ups with the high-sock look.)

I enjoy this nod toward tradition. It’s not garish; it’s not ruining the Yankee brand or the Yankee legacy. It’s a glimpse of history in 2012. And at least the Yankees of 1912 had that identifiable logo and branding. The Red Sox throwback hat is, on the other hand, such a hilarious beauty that you’ll just have to see it for yourself.

4/20-4/22 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

For the second straight season the Red Sox have gotten off to about as frustrating a start as both the team and fanbase could imagine, stumbling out to a 4-8 record due largely to some utterly abysmal pitching. Boston’s pitching staff — a significant question mark heading into the year — has been horrendous, and is currently dead last in MLB with a 6.20 ERA (an astoundingly bad 6.63 for the bullpen, and an equally poor 5.97 for the starters) and third-to-last with a 4.78 FIP. Somehow the Rays — remember them, the team that swept the Yankees during the first weekend of the season? — actually have a worse bullpen ERA than Boston, at 8.63. I suppose if it’s any consolation to the Fenway faithful, Boston was only 2-10 after its first dozen games in 2011, so it could be worse.

That the Sox have even won four games is a testament to what’s been an exceptionally hot-and-cold offense thus far — one game they’re pasting the opposition with 13 runs, the next getting shutout. The Sox currently rank fifth in the American League in wOBA (.328) and seventh in wRC+ (102), while the Yanks are second in both wOBA (.357) and wRC+ (123). The Sox offense is certainly better than they’ve shown thus far, and, like last April, a visit from their rivals to the south could very well be what helps restore order to the Red Sox.

Of course, the Yankees, at 7-6, have had some of their own issues in the early going as well. Their starting pitching has been nearly as bad as Boston’s, with a 5.59 ERA over 74 innings (for a frame of reference, the 2011 team had a 5.37 ERA over 67 innings through its first 13 games, and were 8-5); however, unlike the Sox, the Yankees feature a bullpen that has been virtually impossible to score on, boasting the lowest ERA in MLB (1.83) by a not-insignificant margin. Additionally, while the Yankee offense has certainly done its job, several key members of the Yankee lineup still have yet to really get going as well — I’m looking at you, Robbie, Alex and Russell — and a visit to one of the friendliest offensive parks in baseball could be just what the doctor ordered.

Today’s 3pm start marks the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, and as a result, both the Sox and Yanks will be wearing throwback jerseys. Per Marc Carig, this is the first time the Yankees have ever worn a throwback jersey (per that same article, the only time the Yankees have played an official game in uniforms other than their own was on a day to celebrate the Negro Leagues in 1996, when the team wore the uniforms of the New York Black Yankees while the Detroit Tigers donned the uniforms of the old Detroit Stars), and it’s quite cool of the franchise to acquiesce and ensure that Boston’s big day is properly recognized considering the history between the two teams.

The Pitching Match-Ups

Friday at 3pm: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Clay Buchholz
Today’s game features Ivan Nova (4.15 ERA/4.06 FIP, 10.4 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 41% GB%), making just his second career start at Fenway, against Clay Buchholz (9.82 ERA/4.45 FIP, 5.7 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 44.7% GB%).

Nova struggled (4.1 innings, 4 ER) in his first start at Boston a year ago — also in a matchup against Buchholz — but the offense bailed him out, in what would be the Yankees’ only win against the Red Sox in the first half of 2011. Nova’s been pretty sharp in his two starts thus far — with a presumably unsustainable K/9 and sub-2 walk rate — although his improved K rate appears to have come at the expense of his HR/9, which currently sits at an also-unsustainable 2.1. Though it’s only been two starts, Nova’s slider appears to not only be here to stay, but also the best weapon in his arsenal.

Buchholz has gotten pretty roughed up in his two starts on the young season, as he makes his way back from missing more than half the season last year. If Buchholz ever finally figures out how to consistently harness his stuff — and it looked like he was on his way to doing so after a masterful outing against the Yanks last May — he’s going to be extremely tough, as he features five pitches each thrown more than 10% of the time: a 94mph four-seamer, 94mph sinker, 81mph changeup, 91mph cutter and a 78mph curveball. However, his average fastball velocity is slightly down thus far (although this appears to a baseball-wide April trend), hasn’t really been striking anyone out and he’s also walking too many guys, so hopefully the Yankees can capitalize on what appears to be a still-rusty Buchholz.

Saturday at 4pm: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. LHP Felix Doubront
The 4pm FOX Saturday Afternoon Game of Death™ features the ugliest matchup of the weekend, Freddy “Sweaty” Garcia (6.97 ERA/5.03 FIP, 7.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 42.4% GB%), against southpaw Felix Doubront (5.40 ERA/2.80 FIP, 11.7 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 27.6% GB%).

Freddy had mixed success against Boston last year, although his one start at Fenway last August was about as good as one could have hoped for, as the Chief gutted out five innings of one-run ball in a game the Yanks really should have won.

Doubront has never started against the Yankees, and only has 4.2 career innings of relief work against the Bombers, holding them to a .188/.235/.275 line across a mere 17 PAs. Doubront’s a hard-throwing lefty with a 93mph heater that he complements with a 92mph sinker and 77mph curveball. He also features a changeup and a cutter. Though it’s quite early, Doubront’s been arguably Boston’s second-best starter behind Daniel Bard, and it’s also tough to predict how he’ll fare turning over a Yankee lineup multiple times. This one could get ugly, my friends.

Sunday at 8pm: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Daniel Bard
And in the ESPN Sunday Night Marathon Heartbreaker™, guaranteed to end well past midnight or your money back, CC Sabathia (5.59 ERA/3.58 FIP, 10.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 36.4% GB%) faces the aforementioned set-up-man-turned-starter Bard (4.63 ERA/2.99 FIP, 10.0 K/9, 6.2 BB/9, 59.4% GB%).

CC finally looked like himself during his last go-round against the Twins, and despite the unsightly ERA, he’s striking out the world and limiting the walks. Once he gets his GB% back to the mid-40%s where it belongs, he’ll be his usual unstoppable self. After starting his Yankee career quite auspiciously against the Red Sox, with 28.1 innings of 2.22 ERA/2.21 FIP ball in 2009, Sabathia’s been a bit of a mixed-bag against the Olde Towne Team, falling to 3.96/5.00 over 25 innings in 2010, and getting torched by Boston through his first four starts against them last year, with a 7.20 ERA over 25 innings and losing all four games. Sabathia finally silenced Boston at Fenway last August 30 with a six-inning, two-run bulldog performance.

Bard’s been Boston’s best starter in the early going, racking up the Ks while yet to surrender a home run, although he’s also walking the ballpark (6.2 BB/9). The Yankees know Bard well, but they obviously don’t know him as a starter. As a reliever Bard’s fastball was routinely in the 97-98mph range, but it has understandably been dialed back to around 94mph as a starter. That still makes him one of the hardest-throwing starters in the game, and his slider is a real knockout pitch, coming in 13mph slower than his four-seamer. Bard also throws a sinker and an occasional change.

There had been some rumblings that the Sox might opt to start Jon Lester on Sunday night, as he would be on regular rest, but Bobby Valentine confirmed yesterday that Bard is still slated to start. Frankly, I’m a bit shocked that the Sox haven’t shuffled their rotation so that Josh Beckett and Lester aren’t somehow combining to start all three games, given how the Red Sox routinely bend themselves backwards to make sure their big two start as many contests as possible against the Yankees.

The Prediction

If you read my Red Sox season preview, then you know that the Yankees are 8-22 at Fenway Park during the month of April since 2001, and have only won their annual April set at Fenway against the Red Sox once (back in April 2010) in that 11-year span. Not only that, but prior to their April 2010 series win, the last time the Yankees had won an April set against Boston at Fenway was in 1975. For whatever reason, the Yankees just seem to play terrible ball at Fenway in the early going of any given season.

That said, if the Yanks were ever going to accomplish a rare April Fenway series win, this weekend would arguably be the time, with the Sox pitching staff reeling, neither Beckett nor Lester scheduled to make an appearance, and a bullpen missing its pre-season closer in Andrew Bailey and an 8th-inning guy that apparently can’t get anyone out and as a result was subsequently demoted to Pawtucket. Of course, even with the Sox not performing at their optimal level I still have a hard time envisioning the Yanks taking two of three at the-bandbox-where-no-lead-is-safe, and fully expect Dustin Pedroia — who hit .406/.463/.565 across 81 PAs against the Bombers last year, and has a career .392 OBP vs. the Yanks — to get on base during every plate appearance and help grit and grime Boston to multiple victories. Also, you can book David Ortiz for 18,000 bombs this weekend as well.

In my history of series predictions I seldom call for a Yanks series loss, but given the numbers the smart money here says Boston two out of three. On the flip side, the Twins just won two games in a series at Yankee Stadium for the first time since 2001, so who knows, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Mailbag: Giants, Catching, Swisher, Jeter

Just four questions this week, nothing crazy. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send us something, mailbag questions or otherwise.

I think we can all use a year off from the beard. (REUTERS/Darryl Webb)

Many of you asked: Can the Yankees trade Rafael Soriano to the Giants? What could they get in return?

As soon as the news broke that Brian Wilson will miss the season with his second Tommy John surgery, our inbox was flooded with “trade Soriano to the Giants!” comments and questions. Seriously, you guys didn’t hesitate. San Francisco is going use a closer platoon for the time being, with Jairo Garcia Santiago Casilla getting the majority of the save chances.

Can the Yankees trade Soriano to the Giants? Sure, his contract does not include a no-trade clause. His salary — $11M this year and $14M next year, plus the opt-out — effectively serves as a no-trade clause for him, however. Given his erratic performance over the last season and his injury history, Soriano has negative trade value. They’re not getting Brandon Belt for him, they’re not getting a Grade-B prospect, they’re not getting anything of value. It would be another A.J. Burnett trade, with the Yankees eating money and receiving what amounts to nothing in return. The Giants do a wonderful job of evaluating pitchers — Barry Zito notwithstanding — and are unlikely to overvalue a Proven Closer™. The Yankees made their bed with Soriano, and now they have to sleep in it.

Steve asks: What is the status of Austin Romine and the Yankees’ strategy for the system’s catching depth? With the recent injury to Brett Gardner, it’s evident how quickly a strength can turn into a problem.

Forget Gardner, it was evident how quickly depth can disappear when Romine got hurt. Apparently it takes two defense-first guys — Chris Stewart and Craig Tatum — to replace him. Anyway, there has not been a Romine update since Spring Training and I can only assume that he isn’t close to returning. Backs are tricky, especially since he had a similar issue last summer and suffered a setback in camp.

The Yankees continue to say that if Russell Martin were to get hurt, Frankie Cervelli would take over as the everyday catcher, not Stewart. Frankie’s toiling away in Triple-A with Tatum as his backup while Gus Molina and Jose Gil handle catching duties in Double-A. Most of the club’s high-end catching depth is in the lower minors, specifically J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez. Murphy could probably use a couple hundred at-bats in High-A this season, though Sanchez is probably just a weeks away from a promotion to that level after starting the season back at Low-A. They can split catching and DH duties for a few weeks, it’s not the end of the world. Those guys are certainly not big league options this year and are unlikely candidates for next year as well.

"Do you know what MFIKY means?" (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Jon asks: Do you see any scenario where the Yankees keep Nick Swisher instead of Curtis Granderson?

Sure, I could absolutely see something like that playing out. It all depends on the kind of contract Swisher wants, but something a little north of Michael Cuddyer money (three years and $31M) is perfectly fine by me. He’s a year younger than Granderson will be when he hits free agency, so you wouldn’t be buying as many decline years as you would by re-signing Grandy after next season. Swisher is also likely to cost less given Granderson’s offensive showing over the last year and a half. With Brett Gardner capable of stepping into center fielder, it makes a lot of sense to re-sign Swisher this offseason and let Curtis walk after next year.

Daniel asks: With the way that Derek Jeter has performed since coming back from his injury and if he can continue his performance this season and next, what are the chances that Jeter declines his player option after next season and asks the Yankees for another 15+ million per year? Also, how might this influence the 2014 budget plan?

Jeter has been brilliant since coming off the DL last Independence Day, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. He still has all of this year and all of next year to go before that player option becomes an issue. The Cap’n would have to maintain this level of production for the next 18 months before this becomes a realistic scenario. At that point he’ll be 39 years old and I have a very hard time thinking any team will pay a shortstop that age $15M annually. Maybe the Yankees would do a two-year, $20M deal if he declines the option and keeps hitting like he has, but even that’s pushing it. They’ve already paid Jeter very handsomely for what he’s done for the franchise, at some point reality has to come into play.

Granderson’s three homers carry Yanks to win

This game had bad news written all over it in the early going, but the Yankees came from behind for the 7-6 win thanks to Curtis Granderson‘s monster effort.

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The Murphy’s Law Inning

The top of the first inning was just amazing. Everything that could go wrong, did. First, Eduardo Nunez threw the ball away on a routine grounder to put men on first and second with one out. Then the Yankees played the shift on the left-handed hitting Ryan Doumit only to see him fist a ground ball right where the shortstop should have been standing. That scored two runs. Then it was Phil Hughes‘ turn to make a mistake, specifically leaving a two-strike cutter up in the zone for Danny Valencia to hook into the left-center field gap for two runs.

The error obviously hurts, but like I said the other day, at some point the pitcher has to pick up his defense. Hughes didn’t do that, and it led to a four-run inning. The shift didn’t help, Nunez didn’t help, and Hughes didn’t help. The Yankees can’t keep playing catch-up game after game, at some point these mistakes have to stop.

Get Some Back

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Just like Wednesday night, the Yankees responded to the four-run top of the first by scoring three in the bottom half. This time they did it with homers, first a solo shot by  Granderson and a two-run job by Mark Teixeira. It was Tex’s first homerun of 2012, Spring Training included. Robinson Cano narrowly missed an opposite field homer as well, his ball died on the warning track. We’ve seen the Yankees score runs in bunches in the first inning only to get little the rest of the way so far this season, but thankfully that didn’t happen in this one.

Two-Out Rally

Nunez helped open the floodgates with his error in the first inning, but he atoned for his mistake by starting a two-out rally in the second. He doubled to left with a full count, then scooted home and tied the game when Derek Jeter sliced a single to right. After getting ahead in the count 3-0 and then 3-1, Granderson clobbered his second homer of the night one batter later. The two-run shot landed in the second deck. Grandy’s fifth homer of the season gave his team a 6-3 lead.

Hughes Settles

After throwing 27 pitches in the first inning, Hughes needed just 58 pitches total to navigate the next four frames. He retired 13 of the next 15 batters he faced following Valencia’s double, settling down and looking more like the guy we saw in Spring Training. Phil’s night ended on a sour note when Doumit hooked a hanging changeup into the second deck in right for a two-run shot, but we saw some positive signs in the second through fifth inning. The Yankees are unlikely to make a rotation change until either Andy Pettitte or Michael Pineda is ready to return, but at least now Hughes can point to something positive and try to build on it. Give him credit for not completely tanking after that first inning.

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The Grandyman Can!

Coming into Thursday’s game, Granderson owned a .208/.321/.458 batting line. He managed to raise that to .283/.377/.679 in five plate appearances. That’s .277 OPS points in one night. Of course, going 5-for-5 with three homers is no ordinary night. You already heard about the first two homers above, but Curtis chipped in another solo shot in the fourth, a line drive into the right field seats that proved to be the difference in the game. He added a line drive single in the sixth and an infield single in the ninth.

Granderson became the first Yankees ever (ever!) to hit three homers as part of a 5-for-5 game. It was the first three-homer game by a Yankee since A-Rod did in Kansas City back in August of 2010, and the first three-homer game in the new Yankee Stadium. He was so good that I’m going to forgive him for getting picked off first base in the ninth inning.

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)


The bullpen has been the backbone of the team all season, and those guys again carried the load on Thursday. Boone Logan finished off the sixth inning for Hughes despite throwing two innings on Wednesday. Rafael Soriano put two men on base in the seventh, but he got out of the jam with a trio of strikeouts. David Robertson did the usual — put the tying run in scoring position before escaping the jam — and Mariano Rivera slammed the door with a perfect, six-pitch ninth. At 1.83, the Yankees own the best bullpen ERA in baseball.

Teixeira continued his hot hitting, no doubt inspired by my series of posts examining his offensive decline. He went 2-for-4 with the homer, giving him four straight multi-hit games and 11 hits in his last 29 at-bats (.379). Jeter singled once, both Raul Ibanez and A-Rod each singled twice, Russell Martin drew his usual walk, and Nunez sparked the two-out rally with his double. Nick Swisher drew a walk, leaving Robinson Cano as the only player in the lineup to fail to reach base. The Yankees have scored at least five runs in all but three of their 13 games this season. They’ve scored six or more runs in seven of 13 games. If the starting pitching had been just good instead of terrible, they’d have like nine wins by now.

The Yankees need to stop with the shift, it’s just not happening right now. They don’t have the personnel to pull it off and the pitchers just aren’t able to pitch to specific spots to get the kind of contact they need to make it work. They can worry about looking smart later in the season, just play the usual defense and worry about getting the pitching staff back on track. That first inning ground ball isn’t the first time we’ve seen it blow up in their face this homestand.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

Now that’s a fun WPA graph. has the box score and video, FanGraphs the other stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees are headed up to Boston for a three-game weekend series, and tomorrow afternoon they’ll help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park by wearing 1912 throwback uniforms. That’s pretty neat. Ivan Nova and Clay Buchholz are your starting pitchers.

Charleston turns triple play in comeback win

D.J. Mitchell nearly threw a complete game shutout last night, and that earned him to top spot on today’s Minor League Update (subs. req’d). “Scouts think he could be effective as either a back-end starter or middle reliever,” wrote Kevin Goldstein, “as while he’s on the small side, he’s ultra-athletic and features a fastball that has slightly above-average velocity and plenty of movement. He’s not going to be a star, but he should have big league value, even on a championship-level roster.”

In other news, the Yankees have signed Nelson Figueroa according to the right-hander’s Facebook page. The 37-year-old Brooklyn native and former Met will help chew up some Triple-A innings. This might be an indication that Manny Banuelossore back will keep him out a little longer than expected. Either that or Ramon Ortiz is already sick of all the travel.

And finally, Neil Medchill has been promoted to Double-A Trenton. Dan Brewer has been placed on the phantom DL to make room on the roster.

Triple-A Empire State (5-3 win over Rochester)
CF Ray Kruml, LF Dewayne Wise & 1B Steve Pearce: all 1-4 — Kruml stole two bases and scored two runs … Pearce hit a three-run homer and struck out
C Frankie Cervelli: 0-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
DH Jack Cust & 2B Doug Bernier: both 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K — Bernier doubled, drove in a run, and committed a fielding error
3B Brandon Laird: 0-4, 2 K
RF Colin Curtis: 2-4, 1 R, 1 K, 1 SB
SS Ramiro Pena: 0-2, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 CS, 1 E (fielding)
RHP Adam Warren: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 7/6 GB/FB — 61 of 101 pitches were strikes (60.4%)
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — ten of 15 pitches were strikes
RHP Manny Delcarmen: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 WP — six of ten pitches were strikes … not exactly sure why he came out of the game, it’s a little odd that he was lifted for another righty after facing just two batters
RHP Jason Bulger: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1/0 GB/FB — seven pitches, four strikes
RHP Kevin Whelan: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 12 of 19 pitches were strikes (63.2%)

[Read more…]

Game 13: Running Out Of Time

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The Yankees have given Phil Hughes a lot of rope through the years, and it sure seems like that rope is getting shorter and shorter by the start these days. Andy Pettitte and Michael Pineda are still a few weeks away, but it’s going to take more than one or two strong starts for Hughes to keep his rotation spot when those two return. The Twins are about as good of a matchup as he could hope for these days, so even though it’s only April 19th, this is a pretty important start for Phil. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
3B Alex Rodriguez
DH Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Nick Swisher
LF Raul Ibanezand so it begins
Russell Martin
2B Eduardo Nunez

RHP Phil Hughes

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.