Fresh off leading the UConn Huskies to a national title win in this week’s NCAA championship game, Bronx-native Kemba Walker will take the mound at Yankee Stadium next week. The college junior, likely heading for the NBA, will throw out the first pitch before Wednesday night’s affair against the first-place Orioles, Roger Rubin of The Daily News reported yesterday. Along with Walker’s appearance on the mound, the Yankees are hosting a SuperGroup Ticket night for UConn “fans, students and alumni” on Wednesday. Mosey over to this page for details on the $5 ticket night.
Red Sox Nation: Where parents make their children cry.
This here is what we call a trap series. There’s only one way for the Yankees to come out looking rosy, and that’s if they win all three games against the Red Sox. If they win the series but lose one game, well then they’re the choke artists that couldn’t beat the oh-and-whatever Red Sox and allowed them to get their season back on track. If they happen to lose the series but still win a game, well sheesh, then they’re really letting them back in the race (the April race, mind you). Get swept? Break out the pitchforks and boards with nails in them.
Thankfully, I’m pretty sure we’re all smarter than that. The Red Sox will win a game at some point and there’s a pretty good chance it’ll happen this weekend, and who cares? It’s one game. My focus is on the Yankees; just win the series like they’ve done in the first two. That’s the goal, win series. The pursuit of that goal starts today. Here’s your starting lineup…
Phil Hughes, SP
It’s a 2pm ET start today, which is completely weird for a Friday, even if it is Boston’s home opener. Anyway, YES will have the game, so enjoy.
Chat!: It’s Friday but there’s a day game, so let’s combine the regular chat in with the game thread and make it a game chat. We can talk about whatever, but I’ll occasionally chime in with thoughts and observations and updates from the game. The chat is after the jump for space reasons and will begin at 1:45pm ET.
There’s the story, and there’s the reality. The story, of course, is the Red Sox 0-6 start. What’s even more surprising is that they have scored only 16 runs in those six games. No, things haven’t started clicking for the 2011 Boston Red Sox. But, as Dave Cameron wrote yesterday, that doesn’t change their perceived talent level, nor does it change their projected performance going forward. It merely adjusts the season-long expectations. In other words, they’re no worse than we thought before the season, but their perceived advantage may be gone at this point.
The Yanks head to Fenway for three games this weekend before heading back home. The law of averages suggests that the Sox pick up at least one. Of course, we’ve seen some crazier things happen. But hey, even the Astros have finally won a game. Boston’s first victory can’t be too far off.
What Have They Done Lately?
Well, I just spent most of the first two paragraphs talking about that, right? The Sox opened up with a tough series against the Texas Rangers, and while they didn’t necessarily play their worst baseball, their pitching was probably as bad as could reasonably be imagined. That included Jon Lester getting lit up on Opening Day, following by a 3.2-inning, nine-run performance from John Lackey. The Sox scored five runs in each of those games, which is usually enough to win. Alas, not in this case.
Then on Sunday they got a quality showing from Clay Buchholz — that is, he limited the Rangers to four runs, albeit they were four solo homers. That’s when the offense stopped showing up. Of those 16 runs they’ve scored, only six came in the last four games. That’s not going to get it done, even against the Indians. They’re going to score runs, and that might start this weekend. But to this point they’ve given little indications of a turnaround.
Red Sox On Offense
In theory, of course, the Red Sox have one of the best offenses in the league. Their best four hitters — Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Gonzalez — stack up against anybody’s, and they have a nice collection of quality players around them. No, they’re not going to score 1,000 runs this season; really, they weren’t even at the start of the season, before this slump. But they figure, or at least figured, to give the Yanks a run for their money as the top offense in the league.
One aspect of the lineup that could give the Yankees fits, at least in the first two games, is the Red Sox left-handedness. Five of their starting nine bats from the left side, and another switch hits. Things will change when CC Sabathia takes the mound Sunday evening, but for the first two games there will be plenty of righty vs. lefty plate appearances.
The Sox have also tweaked things heading into this series. Carl Crawford, who in the past has voiced his displeasure with hitting leadoff, will slide into that very spot this afternoon. That puts the team’s best four hitters atop the lineup, which will give any team an advantage.
Red Sox On The Mound
Game 1: John Lackey. After a disappointing first season in Boston, Lackey got off to a terrible start in his sophomore effort. As with the offense, he’s really not this bad. Maybe he’s not the guy who kept his ERAs in the mid 3s in Anaheim, but he’s also not a guy who’s going to get bombed for nine runs in 3.2 innings that often.
One of the biggest things for Lackey in his first game was his inability to induce a ground ball. He’s always been a decent ground ball guy, sitting in the mid-40s for the past few years. But he got just one of the 23 batters he faced last Saturday to hit one on the ground.
Game 2: Clay Buchholz. The good news is that he pitched better than any of his fellow starters the first time through. The bad news is that he got taken deep four times. No men were on base for those incidents. One of his strengths last year was his ability to avoid the long ball altogether, so his first start isn’t very encouraging in that regard. Still, it’s one game and chances are he returns to his normal ground balling self before long.
One thing to watch from Buchholz is his strikeout rate. In the minors always had excellent strikeout numbers, but once he started spending significant time in the bigs that dipped to below average. We’ve seen this before, from one Jon Lester. In his breakout 2008 season his strikeout rate was below average, but for the past two seasons he’s struck out more than a batter per inning. I suspect Buchholz will display a similar trend this year.
Game 3: Josh Beckett. The last time Beckett faced the Yankees he allowed five runs in 6.2 innings. The time before that he allowed seven in 4.2. The time before that he allowed 5, 3 earned, in 5.1 before leaving with a back injury that kept him out for two months. And the time before that they hit him for 5 in 4.2 on Opening Day 2010. No, it has not been a fun time lately for Josh Beckett against the Yankees.
His first game of 2011 looked somewhat like his starts against the Yankees last year. He lasted just five innings and allowed three runs, but 1) it took him 106 pitches to finish 5, and 2) he got lucky on a number of long fly balls that stayed in the park. I doubt the Yankees hitters will be as forgiving as the Indians. This is a pretty big season for Beckett, the first of his four-year extension and the follow-up to his ineffective and injury riddled 2010. A solid start against the Yankees would go a long way.
Bullpen. The Sox helped strengthen the back end of the pen by adding Bobby Jenks, but their other relievers are still questionable at best. They did get better today, though, as they replaced Matt Albers with Al Aceves and Dennys Reyes with Felix Doubront. If their starters look anything like they did the first time through, they might need those guys.
It’s Boston series time. Of course, we have to take a quick look back at the series that was Minnesota. But since yesterday’s game was largely unremarkable, we can get it out of the way and talk about what everyone’s talking about.
Podcast run time 22:19
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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.
Note: Friend of the site Alex Kresovich (who produced podcast the intro music) has a beat in the running for the NBA2K12 soundtrack. They’re now down to ten finalists after 11,000+ submissions, and you can vote for Alex through Facebook. All you have to do is click the link, then click “Like” for Alex Kresovich, “The Return.” He’s in 2nd and rising, so give him that boost. Apparently, you might have to refresh the ballot before his name shows up.
This week we’re going to tackle Carmen Angelini‘s future, Andrew Brackman‘s innings, contract insurance, and CC Sabathia‘s fWAR. Remember to use the Submit A Tip form in the sidebar to send in your questions.
Marc asks: Would it be insane to try Carmen Angelini on the mound? He clearly isn’t going to make it as a position player and the Yankees should exhaust all options after giving the kid a cool million.
I was pretty high on Angelini back in the day, but the kid just didn’t hit at all (.270 wOBA in almost 900 plate appearances in Low-A and below) and then missed the entire 2010 season after having hip surgery. He seemed like a lost cause at that point, a waste of $1M, so I was understandably surprised when he popped up in the High-A Tampa box score last night. I’m pretty sure the Yankees don’t think of him as much more than an organizational player at this point, since they bumped him up a level after a year off when he didn’t hit a lick at the lower levels. He’s just filling out a roster; guys that can legitimately play shortstop are more uncommon than I think most of us realize.
When he was drafted, the scouting report on Angelini said that he had a strong arm for a shortstop, but it wasn’t a “wow” arm. Not the kind of arm that makes you think he could pitch. That’s not to say it isn’t worth a shot, maybe he builds up arm strength with a throwing program or proves to be a control freak. Position player-to-pitcher conversions don’t work very often, but at some point it’ll given him a better chance at the success than what he’s doing now. I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean isn’t insane.
Dee asks: What’s the reasoning behind putting Brackman in the 5th rotation spot in the SWB rotation? Do you think it could be an indication of limiting his innings somewhat in the first half of the season so that he could provide the big league team with more innings in the later part of the season either out of the rotation or bullpen? Does Brackman have a projected innings limit this year?
Andrew Brackman threw 140.2 IP last year after throwing 106.2 IP the year before, so he should be good for 170 IP or so this year. Remember, he’s older than your typical prospect (already 25), so they could probably push the innings envelope a little more with him. That 170 number is more than enough for what they’ll (presumably) need him for this summer, which is a spot starter or reliever. All five of the guys in the Triple-A rotation are in pretty good shape when it comes to innings limits this season, so that’s not much of a concern.
I wouldn’t read much (if anything) into the order of the minor league rotations. There could be something we don’t know about in play here; maybe he got a blister and needed more time off, maybe his throwing schedule in Major League Spring Training didn’t line up exactly with the work being done in minor league camp. Remember, Brackman’s the low man on the totem pole in terms of Triple-A experience, so it could be a seniority thing. Who knows.
eyerishyank asks: One thing I have always wondered about is insurance on contracts. Did Carl Pavano really cost the Yanks 40 mil or did insurance pick up a lot of that tab? Some guys I understand cannot get insurance, but can most guys? I would love to understand better how insurance mitigates risk with baseball contracts to help evaluate the “real risk” involved in some of these deals.
Insurance on baseball contracts is like insurance on everything else; the insurance company evaluates the risk and then decides whether or not to proceed and provide coverage. I have no idea if the Yankees had insurance on Pavano’s contract, but he wasn’t exactly a beacon of health before coming to New York, so it’s not safe to assume they did. Information about insurance doesn’t get reported all that often, but I’m sure it’s something teams pursue for every contract, especially pitchers. The problem is that if you don’t use it, you don’t get your money back, and if you do use it, the price in the future goes up. Those bastards.
Charlie asks: Hey guys I just thought this was kind of cool, if all goes well in CC’s next start he will have accumulated 50 WAR for his career. According to Fangraphs he is as 49.9 right now.
This was sent five days ago, before Sabathia shut out the Twins for seven innings on Tuesday. That effort was worth 0.3 fWAR, so his career total now sits at 50.2 fWAR. Players within 5.0 fWAR of CC (in either direction) include Tommy John (47.1), Don Sutton (47.8), Jimmy Key (47.9), Orel Hershiser (48.5), Dave Stieb (49.5), Ron Guidry (50.6), Tom Seaver (52.2), and Phil Niekro (52.8). Here’s the career fWAR list if you’re interested, but remember the data only goes back to 1980 or so. Sabathia’s got a whole lot of career left ahead of him, so he’s going to zoom up the list over the next few seasons.
With a disappointing loss and a rain out in the rear view mirror, the Yankees needed something to make them feel better in the final game of their season opening homestand. Francisco Liriano is a tough assignment more often than not, and he lived up that reputation in the first few innings of this one. But the Yankees eventually got to him by doing something they haven’t done a whole lot of so far in 2011: they scored runs without the help of a homerun.
Biggest Hit: Andruw Jones, True Yankee™
The Yankees imported Andruw Jones for one reason: to hit lefties. He marked his territory by homering off Brian Duensing in his first plate appearance on Tuesday night, but that was a measly tack-on run in a game his team eventually lost. On Thursday though, Jones’ efforts were much more important.
The Twins jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning thanks to a trio of doubles, but Liriano started the bottom half by walking Alex Rodriguez with a series of breaking balls. A-Rod swung and missed at a 1-1 slider down-and-in, but he settled in and took the same pitch when Liriano threw it again on 1-2, 2-2, and 3-2. Robbie Cano jumped all over a first pitch fastball and grounded it through the right side to put men on first and second with none out. After Jorge Posada got caught looking at a backdoor slider for strike three, Andruw came to the dish after Joe predicted he’d go 0-for-4 in yesterday’s podcast.
Liriano was offspeed heavy all game, and he certainly was in this particular at-bat against Jones. A first pitch slider was fouled off for strike one, then a changeup dropped in at the knees for a quick strike two. Jones fouled off another slider to stay alive then took the only fastball he’d see for a ball. The fifth pitch of the encounter was a total mistake pitch, a slider that hung up in the zone and about thigh high. Andruw yanked the pitched into the left field corner to score A-Rod and set the Yankees up with men at second and third with just one out. Although it only tied the game, the double improved the Yankees chances of winning by 16.9%, the biggest WPA swing of the game.
Honorable Mention: Gardner gets some BABIP luck
It’s no secret that Brett Gardner is off to a slow start this year, as he came into this game hitting just .125/.176/.125 in 19 plate appearances. He’s definitely hit a few balls hard that found gloves, namely the extra base hit Delmon Young robbed earlier in the series. Batting ninth against the lefty, Gardner finally had things break his way for once. Two batters after Jones’ double tied the game, the Yankees’ left fielder blooped a 2-1 fastball into shallow right field for a single, driving in the team’s fourth run, the eventual game-winner. It was perfectly placed, a nice little correction for his .182 season BABIP.
A.J. grinds it out
We’ve written more words than we care to count about how important A.J. Burnett is to the success of the 2011 Yankees, and two starts into the season, things are going okay. A.J.’s biggest jam came of the game in the second inning, when he looked to be headed for one of his patented meltdowns. Justin Morneau led the inning off with a four-pitch walk, and before you knew it, Jim Thome was ahead in the count 2-0. Russell Martin came out to the mound for a quick talk, but Burnett eventually walked Thome to put men on first and second with no outs. This was it, here comes the A.J. meltdown.
Except it didn’t come. Burnett fell behind Michael Cuddyer two balls to no strikes but retired him on a routine fly ball two pitches later. He then went after Jason Kubel with a variety of fastballs and offspeed pitches, striking him out with a curveball down in the zone. Sophomore third baseman Danny Valencia got no respect; he saw five straight fastballs clocked between 93 and 94 and eventually popped out on the infield. Credit A.J. for keeping it together and to Martin for helping him battled through it after the early inning struggles. The three outs recorded that inning were the three biggest of Burnett’ day according to WPA.
Of the 99 pitches the Yankees’ right-hander threw, 64 were fastballs, which isn’t all that unusual for Burnett. What was unusual was the dozen changeups he threw, since he’ll typically throw maybe three in a given start. Eight of the 12 were strikes, including two swings and misses, one of which was by Joe Mauer, arguably the best pure hitter on the planet. The Twins swung and missed just four times against Burnett, who struck out five, but it can only help if he starts incorporating that change more often. It’s only been two starts, but Burnett’s performance has been encouraging so far. That’s better than the alternative.
Unfortunate play in the seventh inning, when Nick Swisher took out second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka with a slide trying to break up the double play. It was a clean slide – you can see in the photo that Swish was close enough to touch the bag, less than an arm’s length away – but hard, and Nishioka ended up on the ground in obvious pain. He had to be helped off the field, and after the game we learned that he suffered a fractured fibula. Swisher said afterwards that he was expected him to jump, and Nishioka told him it wasn’t his fault. Ron Gardenhire declared it a clean play as well. Swisher was obviously concerned in the dugout and I’m sure he feels bad. It sucks, you don’t want to see anyone get hurt, but it happens. It’s part of the game. You have to figure Nick will get one in the ribs the next time these two teams meet. It’s only fair.
The Yankees scored their first run the old fashioned way, by manufacturing it. Gardner drew a walk and stole second, then Jeter moved him over to third with a ground out. Swisher completed the rally with a sacrifice fly, the old school way. The offense didn’t do much outside of this run and the fourth inning rally; Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez combined to go 0-for-6 with a walk (A-Rod) and a hit-by-pitch (Tex on the right quad, he’s fine). Posada’s day was particularly awful, 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He couldn’t figure out Liriano if he knew what was coming. Jeter’s new old swing resulted in a first inning double and an infield single.
Another day, another dry hump for David Robertson. It’s an epidemic at this point (note the D-Rob Dry Hump Counter in the sidebar). Joba Chamberlain gave up an unearned run but ultimately he, Rafael Soriano, and Mariano Rivera shut things down over the last three frames. Soriano gave up a hit to Mauer (excusable) then got three fly balls to escape the inning, two of which were long. Those are going to be a problem when the weather warms up.
That was straight up bad defense on Thome’s fourth inning double. Not by Gardner, who had the ball get by him on the carom off the wall in center, but where the hell were Jones and Swisher? They’ve got to back him up on that play, someone more mobile that Thome would have been on third and probably thinking about an inside-the-parker. Poor form, fellas.
And what the hell, why in the world are they bringing the infield in with Thome (!!!) at third base in the fourth (!!!) inning?! Good grief, sometimes you have to ignore the book and use your brain a little.
The Twins still don’t have a first inning hit this season; they’re now 0-for-18 with two walks in the first inning after Burnett sat them down in order yesterday. They still haven’t won back-to-back games in the Bronx since 2000. Sucks for them.
The Yankees did not set a new record low attendance today since 41,512 people allegedly showed up. It didn’t look like that many, so I assume they counted the season ticket holders regardless of whether or not they attended.
WPA Graph & Box Score
Time to head up to Fenway Park for the first time in 2011. Phil Hughes will take on John Lackey in Boston’s home opener tomorrow afternoon starting at 2pm ET. Can’t imagine the natives will be happy with the 0-6 start.
Ryan Pope, Josh Schmidt, Luis Nunez, R.J. Baker, P.J. Pilittere, Jose Ortegano, Mike Gipson, Jeremy Bleich, Alan Horne, David Adams, Grant Duff, and Warner Madrigal are all starting the season on the disabled list according to Mike Ashmore and Josh Norris. First of all, yes Pilittere is back. He signed with the Diamondbacks as a minor league free agent over the winter, but was released in Spring Training and re-signed with the Yankees a few days ago. Secondly, I assume Pope is actually hurt. The organization’s closest to the majors relief prospect (a guy on the 40-man roster, no less) isn’t someone you stick on the phantom DL. Ortegano’s probably hurt too; you don’t claim a guy off waivers and keep him on the 40-man just to stick him on the minor league DL as a place holder.
Anyway, on to the games. As per tradition, here’s the full lineups on Opening Day…
Triple-A Scranton (7-2 loss to Lehigh Valley)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 0 for 5, 3 K, 1 E (fielding) – brutal
Chris Dickerson, CF: 0 for 4, 1 BB, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 2 K – first hit of the season was a line drive to the opposite field
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 0 for 4, 2 K
Justin Maxwell, LF: 0 for 4, 3 K
Brandon Laird, 3B: 1 for 4, 2 K
Greg Golson, RF: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB – solid night amidst a lot of crap
Jordan Parraz, DH: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 1 BB
Ramiro Pena, SS: 1 for 4, 2 K – poor guy is a ninth place hitter even in the minors
David Phelps, RHP: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HB, 10-0 GB/FB – 58 of 89 pitches were strikes (65.2%) … not his best night, but at least he got all those grounders
George Kontos: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 16 of 20 pitches were strikes (80%) … allowed an inherited runner to score
Andy Sisco: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K – 11 of his 20 pitches were strikes (55%)
Amaury Sanit: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 2-0 GB/FB – 12 of 20 pitches were strikes (60%) … kinda surprised he’s still around