Yanks pile it on, crush Orioles 9-1

Though the Yanks walloped the Orioles in a thoroughly enjoyable fashion last night, the game was overshadowed a bit by other events around baseball. Ken Griffey Jr., hero to a generation of kids and a centerpiece to baseball card collections everywhere, announced his retirement. The announcement was past due, but for Griff we give a pass. Then there was the perfect game in Detroit that ended imperfectly. Armando Galarraga had it, Jim Joyce blew it, and, well, there’s no reason to rehash that whole situation here.

The swing defined the player | Photo credit: Osamu Honda/AP

Biggest Hit: Granderson puts them on the board

Sure, AP, deprive me a shot of Granderson's double | Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

In a one-sided game, the first runs rule. That’s the case in this game, as the biggest WPA swing came in the second inning. Robinson Cano led off with a single, and then Jorge Posada, in his first at-bat back from the disabled list, worked a quick five-pitch walk, setting up an excellent situation for Curtis Granderson. Orioles starter Brad Bergesen went with the fastball exclusively, and left the fourth one right over the plate. Granderson hit it so hard and so definitively out of any fielder’s range that Posada scored all the way from first.

With Posada back and playing often, chances are Granderson will have to get used to hitting seventh. It’s like Robinson Cano hitting eighth on previous Yankee teams. On any other team he’d be hitting in a much more prominent spot, but with the Yankees’ lineup composition it’s one of the few areas he fits. He went 3 for 4 last night.

Honorable mention goes to Nick Swisher, whose double later in the inning gave the Yankees all they’d need. Bergesen tried to slip a slider by him, but it was right over the heart of the plate and Swish just tore into it. If he weren’t hitting so well then Granderson could very well be hitting second. But he is, and he’s a welcome addition to the top of the lineup.

Biggest Pitch: All of Hughes’s

The only pic of Hughes is a crappy one | Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

Q: What was there not to like about Hughes’s start?

A: Very little.

Once again, Phil Hughes had the gas working last night. He threw 68 four-seamers and generated five swings and misses. He threw 101 total pitches, 72 of which were strikes. That’s quite the high strike total. Yet, despite that, he broke the Yankees’ three-game starter walkless streak. Burnett, Pettitte, and Vazquez avoided walking hitters in their starts, and with a strike to ball ratio like Hughes he figured to continue it. But no, he walked Luke Scott in the sixth, his only shaky inning.

If that’s the worst of the start, you know it’s another great one. Hughes struck out seven, five swinging. Even on the strikeouts looking he looked good. In the first he thew Nick Markakis an 0-2 curve that dropped right into the zone, and in the fifth he struck out Adam Jones on six fastballs, the last of which did look a bit off the plate, but it got the job done.

Another good sign: by my count there were only eight two-strike fouls. Part of Hughes’s problem in the starts against the Red Sox and Mets was the inordinate number of foul balls. That made him work deeper at-bats, and eventually meant an early exit. He has adjusted during the past two starts, going with his curveball a bit more often. He has also stuck with the four-seamer, almost daring hitters with it, rather than throwing a barrage of cutters, as he did against the Sox and Mets.

Another offensive slaughter

Prettiest lefty swing since Griffey | Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

There weren’t many remarkable storylines in this one. It was domination from the beginning. The domination itself, in fact, was probably the most interesting part of the game, other than Hughes’s performance. The Yankees racked up 15 hits, four of which went for extra bases. Robinson Cano hit his 12th home run, Nick Swisher continued his hot hitting with a 3 for 5 effort, and Curtis Granderson continued to make Joe Girardi‘s decision to hit him seventh a difficult one.

Another high points: Jeter drew a walk to leadoff the game for what had to be the first time this season. Posada was the only other Yankee to walk. Granderson got another hit off a lefty. With a 2 for 3 night Gardner got the ol’ batting average back over .300. In more revealing stats, Swisher creeps closer to a 1.000 OPS.

Oddities

Just because there’s little else to say about the game:

Miguel Tejada tried to score from first, in the eighth, with none out, his team down 8-1.

Marcus Thames entered as a defensive replacement. Bask in those words, because you’ll probably never see them again.

Totally boring chart and box score

The green line means the Orioles suck.

You can get your regular box score at the .com and the green lines and acronyms you don’t understand at FanGraphs.

Next Up

Oh hey, day game. CC Sabathia vs. Kevin Millwood at 1 in the Bronx.

Heathcott’s season debut overshadows dominant night by starters

David Adams is getting closer to a return, and when he does it’ll make Trenton’s lineup stupid good. You mind many better in minor league baseball.

Triple-A Scranton (4-0 loss to Durham)
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K
Reegie Corona, 2B, Colin Curtis, DH, Rene Rivera, C & Matt Cusick, 3B: all 1 for 3 – Corona drew a walk … Curtis doubled & walked … Rivera K’ed
Eduardo Nunez, SS, Jon Weber, RF & David Winfree, 1B: all 0 for 4, 1 K – Nunez committed a fielding error
Chad Huffman, LF: 0 for 3, 1 K
Dustin Moseley: 6 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 10-4 GB/FB – 61 of 103 pitches were strikes (59.2%) … picked a runner off first
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3-2 GB/FB – 23 of 36 pitches were strikes (63.9%)
Royce Ring: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 11 of 15 pitches were strikes (73.3%)

[Read more…]

Game 53: A battle of former teammates

Tonight’s starting pitcher matchup features two former teammates, though they didn’t play together in the minors and certainly not the majors. Nope, Phil Hughes and Brad Bergesen were teammates at Foothill High School in Santa Ana, California some six years ago. Both graduated in 2004, and went on to be drafted by AL East teams, with the Yankees taking Hughes 23rd overall and the Orioles taking Bergesen 109th overall.

Hughes rocketed up the ladder, but Bergesen’s ascent was a bit more deliberate. It wasn’t until he reached Double-A at age-22 that he really made a name for himself, but here he is two years later starting in Yankee Stadium. If you want to read the article about Hughes from the picture above, click here.

Here’s the lineup, which features the very welcome return of a certain catcher…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, DH
Granderson, CF
Cervelli, C
Gardner, LF

And on the mound, St. Phil.

It’s a gorgeous day in New York, so this one will begun on time and under the sun at 7:05pm ET. The game will be broadcast on YES

Under Armour to sponsor Stadium Slugfest

When Yuri Foreman and Miguel Cotto take centerstage at Yankee Stadium this Saturday evening for the highly anticipated Stadium Slugest, Under Armour’s presence will dominate the ring. As CNBC’s Darren Rovell reported this afternoon, the sports apparel company has signed on to sponsor the title bout. The company will get signage throughout the ring and will air a commercial on the stadium’s giant jumbotron.

“We liked the opportunity of being part of the first fight in new Yankee Stadium and being live on HBO,” the company’s senior VP of brand Steve Battista said to Rovell. “We’re also focused on our current campaign of combine training and boxers go through a level of combine training that is levels above anything else.”

In other fight news, Todd DuBoef, president of Top Rank, the company promoting the fight, said that sales have been going “very well.” The stadium will be configured to seat 30,000 on Saturday night, and the coverage of games on YES has been inundated with ads for the bout.

Jorge returns to the lineup

Photo credit: Peter Morgan/AP

On May 19th, we heard the bad news. Jorge Posada might miss three to four weeks with a fracture in his foot. That wouldn’t sound good for any player, and it stung extra hard for a catcher in his late 30s. Three to four weeks? Might as well take the long on that one.

Yet Posada was determined to get back early. “I don’t need no four to six weeks,” he said before taking batting practice over the weekend. It was strange in the first place to hear about Posada not only taking batting practice, but also running sprints on the field so soon after the injury. Not even two weeks later, just a few days after removing the boot that protected his foot, he wanted back in the lineup.

Yesterday was a long shot. Clearly, if Posada wanted to return early he’d have to slide into the DH slot. The foot injury isn’t so much a concern for his hitting, or even his running. The big concern lies in his ability to squat for more than an hour a night. With the lefty Matusz going last night, Marcus Thames would undoubtedly serve as the DH. But tonight, with the righty Brad Bergesen on the mound, Thames will sit. Posada, it turns out, will get his first swings in just over two weeks.

Just over two weeks. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it. It’s not that Jorge’s a slow healer. We know he works back from injuries pretty quickly. Hell, he hadn’t even hit the disabled list until his shoulder pain became unbearable in 2008. But a foot fracture sounds serious. It certainly sounds like something that would take more than two weeks to heal. Yet here’s Jorge, back after spending just 16 days on the DL. One more than the minimum.

The Yanks will have to make a corresponding move, but don’t expect them to DFA Chad Moeller. As The Journal News reports, Posada himself expects the Yankees to carry three catchers for a bit. This makes sense. Jorge hasn’t done any catching since the injury, and he likely won’t do any for quite another few days, maybe even a week. Again, the concern is with his ability to squat and put pressure on the foot for an entire game. The goal with this move is to get his bat back into the lineup. For the next week, it appears he’ll serve as an upgrade to Juan Miranda, who is almost certainly en route to Scranton.

With the minor injuries he’s sustained this season, it feels like Jorge has been gone longer than two weeks. At the same time, it feels like he hasn’t been gone long at all. Two weeks for a foot fracture? Seems like nothing. In any case, it will be a joy to see him back in the lineup, hitting sixth. Whether it feels like he’s been gone for a while or he’s just left, it’s always a plus to get a boost from his bat.

Debating Andy the All Star starter

Photo credit: Andy King/AP

At 7-1 and sporting a nifty 2.48 ERA through 10 starts, Andy Pettitte is off to the best start of his career. As the Midsummer Classic fast approaches, talk is swirling that Pettitte should get Joe Girardi‘s call as the American League starter. In fact, Times national baseball writer Tyler Kepner made that very argument yesterday.

With the AL aces struggling, who would be a better choice than the 38-year-old lefty? After all, says Kepner, “no one can match Pettitte’s combination of record and ERA,” those two stalwarts of basic pitching stats. So let us ponder the question of Pettitte and the All Star Game.

There is absolutely no denying Pettitte’s value to the Yanks and his great 10 starts. Seven of his ten outings have been quality starts, and although his K/9 IP has dipped to 5.6 from a career norm of 6.6, his BB/9 IP has sunk to 2.5, and he’s allowed fewer than one home run every nine innings. By keeping free runners off base and allowing fewer home runs than he had last year at this point, Pettitte has seen his numbers improve markedly.

He is not, however, the best starter on the Yankees from a value standpoint. That honor belongs to Phil Hughes, tonight’s starter. The 24-year-old, 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA, has Pettitte beat in the three true outcomes categories. He’s striking out 9.1 per nine innings and has allowed 0.6 home runs per nine. His walk rate at 3.0/9 IP is slightly than Andy’s, but he has posted a 1.5 pitching WAR to Pettite’s 1.2. Hughes’ 3.63 xFIP tops Pettitte’s 4.12 mark by no small margin.

Yet, there’s something about Pettitte that makes him the front-runner for the symbolic mid-July start, and I believe that edge reaches to the essence of the All Star Game. Baseball’s showcase is nothing more than a glorified exhibition game/popularity contest (that counts for something but probably shouldn’t), and Pettitte is quite likely making a final pass through the Junior Circuit. In his career, Pettitte has swung from underrated to overrated and back again, but his career numbers are hard to deny. He’s 236-136 with a 3.87 ERA (and an ERA+ of 117). He has five World Series rings to his name, and on the verge of securing his 200th Yankee win, he’s a fan favorite in the Bronx. If anything, he deserves the honor.

Not everyone, though, agrees with that perception of Pettitte. As one of the many Yankees named in the Mitchell Report, he doesn’t carry a clean record, and as Will Carroll noted in his Under the Knife column yesterday at Baseball Prospectus, Pettitte, an admitted hGH user, has escaped much scrutiny and criticism over both his drug use and subsequent comments. We’ve watched people who have done worse, though, outshine the field in the All Star Game and the Home Run Derby over the past 15 years, and if the fans and players want to see the Andy Pettitte Good Bye Tour hit Anaheim for the All Star Game, it should.

As pitchers go this year, Andy Pettitte has thrown up some very impressive counting stats for a 38-year-old lefty who has clearly lost a few miles per hour on the fastball. He’s emerged as a smarter and better pitcher this year, and he’s now leading a very solid pitching staff in wins and ERA. He might not be atop those lists come July, but if Joe Girardi handed him the ball for the All Star Game start, few should complain all that much.

Javy’s return to the Stadium

Photo credit: Paul J. Bereswill/AP

Last time at the Stadium, they cheered Javy. The bullpen had completely melted down, turning what was once a 5-0 Yankee lead in the first into a 9-7 deficit in the ninth. The Red Sox threatened again, too, putting runners on first and third with two outs against Damaso Marte, who was in the midst of his longest 2010 appearance. With the righty Kevin Youkilis, who had homered earlier in the game, coming to the plate, Joe Girardi did not want to experiment by extending Marte further. He tapped his right arm while striding to the mound. The only right-hander warming in the pen was Javier Vazquez.

It took Vazquez just four pitches to strike out Youkilis, which kept the deficit at two and paved the way for a dramatic ninth-inning comeback. Vazquez heard cheers after Youkilis whiffed at strike three. It might have been the first time he heard sincere cheers all season. The first month of 2010, his return to the Bronx, had not gone according to plan. Vazquez, who had finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2009, stumbled at the start. He gave up a lot of home runs to Tampa Bay. He had a better, but not at all good outing against Anaheim, and followed that with a similar start against Oakland. Then, against the Angels again, he didn’t even complete four innings.

Vazquez got a chance to please the home crowd on May 1, in a start against the White Sox. The Yankees had come from behind to beat the Sox the previous night, but they looked a bit flat at the start of that Saturday’s game. Vazquez didn’t help matters. He gave up runs in each of the first four innings, and was removed before recording an out in the fourth. Unsurprisingly, the fans in attendance booed him mercilessly. They applauded Girardi for rejiggering the rotation so that Vazquez would miss the Red Sox — twice. They came up with ridiculous and asinine proposals that would ship Vazquez out of town. More than a few just wanted him released.

Javy, of course, would have none of that. He responded to the extra rest by pitching his best game of the year, a seven-inning, two-run performance against the Tigers that resulted in a loss only because the Yankees scored no runs. He then thoroughly dominated the Mets, allowing just one hit through six innings. If not for a bunt that nicked his finger, he might have pitched a complete game. But his next time out, against Minnesota, he again faltered. That might have been a result of the finger — he displayed no command of any pitch other than his four seamer, which indicated a poor grip of the ball. Then again, it might have been just another bad start.

Last night, against the AL’s worst offense, Javy rose again. He breezed through the first few frames. The Orioles looked like they didn’t have a chance. Even when they did manage a hit, Javy induced a groundball to erase the runner. He made just one bad pitch, a 1-2 fastball that ran far too high in the zone. He did seem to tire by that point; after throwing 61 pitches in the first five innings, he needed 42 to get through the final two. He also worked out of a jam in the seventh, preserving the 1-1 tie and paving the way for the go-ahead runs in the bottom of the frame.

Photo credit: Paul J. Bereswill/AP

There were plenty of differences between Javy’s start on May 1, the one in which fans booed him off the field, and the one last night. Yet, there also weren’t so many. Command was obviously the No. 1 difference. Earlier in the season Vazquez could not spot pitches like he had in the past. He’s a four-pitch guy who doesn’t possess overpowering stuff, so command plays prominently in his approach. If he can’t spot the fastball, he’ll have trouble fooling pitchers with off-speed and breaking pitches. Last night his command appeared to be there, much like it was against the Tigers and Mets, and which it certainly was not against the Twins.

During his start on May 1, he averaged 89.58 mph and had a max velocity of 92.7 mph. Yesterday his velocity averaged 89.16 and maxed out at 91.3. The difference there, however, seemed to be in the break. He got a bit more on the horizontal plane, and a bit more on the vertical one. Both serve to help deceive batters. His curveball dipped a bit more, his slider broke much more sharply away from right-handers, his curveball displayed more vertical break, and his two-seamer ran in more on righties. The velocities were similar, but it was about the command and the movement. He used both to stymie the Orioles hitters.

He also varied his pitch selection much more. Against the White Sox he threw 36 four-seamers, 21 curveballs, 10 changeups, nine two-seamers, and seven sliders. Last night he employed a relatively even distribution of pitches. He went with the four-seamer 36 times again, but supplemented this with 18 changeups, 17 curveballs, 16 two-seamers, and 12 sliders. He threw more pitches, yes, which led to the higher totals, but he didn’t favor one secondary pitch. He laid off the slider a bit, but he used the other three equally.

Strangely, he generated more swings and misses against the White Sox. That included three on the four-seamer, two on the changeup, one on the slider, and three on the curveball. Still, the Sox pounded him. Agains the Orioles he induced four swings and misses on the four-seamer, two on the changeup, and one each on the slider and curveball. The difference, of course, is that between those swings and misses he still induced poor contact last night, where he let the Sox hitters get the barrel of the bat on the ball previously. Again, movement and command play the biggest part in that trend.

The Orioles do feature the worst group of hitters in the AL, which might lead some to continue doubting Javy. Yet, despite the ineptitude of the opposing hitters, Vazquez did pitch noticeably better. His pitches hit the catcher’s glove. He wasn’t afraid to use any of his pitches. He showed more movement on each of his pitches*. This might not be the Javy we see every time. But if he can throw like this, he’ll have good outings against even the better offenses.

*I deliberately chose to compare starts at Yankee Stadium, in order to avoid any possible PitchFX calibration issues. Also, thanks to Brooks Baseball for the excellent PitchFX tool.