Via Dan Barbarisi, Eric Chavez‘s injured foot isn’t fractured, he just has a really deep bone bruise. The fracture doctors saw in the x-ray was an old fracture from when Chavez was a kid; apparently he had a condition in which he was born with fractures in both feet and had to wear casts as a child. It sounds weird but it happens, I was born with bone spurs in both my ankles for no apparent reason. I didn’t have to wear casts though. Anyway, no fracture is good news, though Chavez is still 2-3 weeks away from rejoining the team,
As the 2011 season marches along, there’s one gigantic elephant in the room that everyone’s trying to forget about for the time being: CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause. The Yankees’ ace can skip out on the final four years and $90-something million dollars left on his contract after the season and hit the free agent market in search of greener pastures. Sabathia will be the best freely available pitcher by a mile, and the Yankees desperately need him to stick around.
Brian Cashman said yesterday that the team will not discuss a new contract with Sabathia during the season despite some obvious reasons why they probably should. This is not news though. The Yankees have a long-standing policy of not talking contracts until the current one expires, regardless of the player’s status or importance to the team. In fairness, Cashman also stuck to the rule three years ago, when his contract expired and he didn’t pursue some kind of extension beforehand. Barring a complete catastrophe, Sabathia will opt out because it’s the smartest move he could possible make.
On the open market, CC is going to have a lot of leverage against the Yankees, and I mean a lot. An unprecedented amount, even. But the Bombers won’t be completely handcuffed because only a limited number of teams can afford to give Sabathia the monster contract he’ll be seeking, and at the end of the day absolutely no one can offer him more than New York. Sabathia has also said “I’m not going anywhere” while noting that he lives in the area year-round and that his kids go to school here. That’s just a clever way of not saying he won’t use the opt out though. So if/when he does bail on the rest of his contract, CC’s choices will be a) come back to the Yankees on a new deal that will pay him handsomely, or b) take less money elsewhere and uproot his family for the second time in three or so years. And be hated by Yankees fans for basically the rest of eternity.
In other contract non-news, Hal Steinbrenner refused to commit to Cashman beyond this season, simply saying that the higher-ups will base the decision on more than just the team’s performance this year. Cashman responded by saying nothing, almost literally: “Nothing to respond to.” His latest three-year contract is up, and although he was more candid than expected this past winter, he and the Steinbrenners still have a strong working relationship.
The Sabathia opt out situation is sure to be messy, but I think Cashman’s will be messier. I figure CC will return after using Cliff Lee’s contract with Philadelphia (six years, $150M) as a starting point in negotiations (he’s got a much longer track record and will still be younger this winter than Lee was this past offseason). Maybe he’ll make all our hopes and dreams come true and decide not to use the opt out, but I would be stunned if that happened. Cashman has some leverage over ownership given the way they went over his head for Rafael Soriano and with Derek Jeter‘s contract, plus the fact that there’s no ready-made, in-house replacement available. These decisions won’t have to made for a few months, but ever so often reminders like this will pop up.
Games like last night’s happen throughout the course of a 162-game season, but that doesn’t make them any less frustrating. The Yankees are still in first place and (more importantly) still have the second best run differential (+39) in the league. It hasn’t been pretty over the last few weeks, so let’s break out the old complaint box…
That’s what the Yankees are hitting with men in scoring position over the last two weeks or so, since the second game of the Detroit series*. I usually don’t put an overwhelming amount of stock in performances with RISP since it’s generally a small sampling of plate appearances (just 90 over that time, which is nothing in context of the entire team), but that doesn’t mean the Yankees’ failures in those spots don’t drive me insane. Last night was the epitome of RISPFAIL, as they went just 2-for-16 with men on second and/or third and stranded 15 runners in 11 innings. Just awful.
The newer, slimmed down version of Alex Rodriguez was a monster at the outset of the season, hitting .385/.500/.821 with four homers in his first 13 games before missing one game and part of another with a stiff back/oblique. He just hasn’t been the same since, hitting .194/.260/.269 in his 17 games back. The grand slam in his first game back against the Orioles seems like a distance memory. It’s clear that Alex’s timing is off at the plate; he’s fouling off pitches he should crush and completely whiffing on others he should at least hit hard somewhere.
I had some fun with David Robertson‘s knack for pitching out of other people’s messes yesterday, but you know what? The guy has a serious walk problem. He’s always been a little wild, sure, but this year he’s unintentionally walked nine men in 14 innings (5.79 uIBB/9), and that includes eight walks in his last 5.2 IP. Robertson’s walked at least one batter in his last six appearances after walking just two in his first ten games. Is it possible that warming up practically every game in April is taking a toll on his arm now? He’s never been known as a control freak, but the sudden spike in free pass rate is a nice piece of anecdotal evidence. That leads me to this…
I hate ’em. Mariano Rivera in the ninth? Perfectly fine with me, no issue there whatsoever. $35M setup man in the eighth? Fine, I can live with that. But having a designated seventh inning guy? Now we’re really pushing the envelope of common sense. There needs to be more flexibility with Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and even Boone Logan in those spots, if for no other reason than to avoid wearing one or all of them out given all these close games the Yankees have been playing.
How many rundowns have we seen the Yankees botch this season, especially when pitchers are involved? Whatever the number is, it’s too many. Rundowns have to be viewed as guaranteed outs, and they’ve not only failed to convert a number of them, but they’ve often ended up costing the team runs. We’ve also seen instances of pitchers forgetting (or being too lazy) to cover first base, or just muff balls grounded to their area. Did they just skip PFP in camp because four-fifths of a rotation is made up of veteran guys? Whatever it is, the sloppy play needs to be cleaned up.
* * *
These are just a few of the more … annoying aspects of the team right now, but there’s certainly several others. Those include the heavy use of the sacrifice bunt, Buddy Carlyle’s presence on the roster, Logan’s general inability to get out lefties, Cano’s hackiness, so on and so forth.
* Cherry-picking at its finest.
Last night was not a game we want to relive, but hey, we’ve got a show about the Yankees. It’s tough to avoid topics like this. Somehow, we find a way to end on a high note.
Podcast run time 19:13
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Just to make sure this is perfectly clear right up front: defensive statistics for the 2011 season are a long, long, looong way from being reliable. The sample size, 30-something games for all teams, is just way to small for the data to mean anything right now. That unreliability is part of the reason why none of the advanced metrics agree on the Yankees’ defensive performance.
The table above, screen cap’d from FanGraphs, shows the advanced defensive numbers for each American League team. I recommend clicking for a larger view, one that you can actually read. The Yankees are third in the league with a +8.6 UZR, meaning they’ve saved more than eight-and-a-half runs better than expected through 34 games. Aside from the outfielder’s arms (ARM), they’ve been better than average on double plays (DPR), at ranging for the ball (RngR), and when it comes to making errors (ErrR). With positive production in three of the four components, it’s no surprise their UZR ranks so high. Then why is their +3.9 UZR/150 just seventh in the league, right in the middle of the pack? It’s just a sample size issue, these numbers are very volatile right now.
John Dewan’s famed +/- system (DRS in the chart) says the Yankees are a dozen runs below average right now, fourth worst in the AL. Revised Zone Rating (RZR), which measures how many balls hit to a player’s zone were converted into outs, says the Yankees are the second best defensive club in the AL at .858. RZR is used in conjunction with Out of Zone Players (OOZ), which is the number of balls hit outside of a player’s zone that he turned into outs, but the Yankees are just sixth in the league in OOZ. DER is defensive efficiency ratio, and although it’s not in the chart, it’s easily calculated. It’s just 1-BABIP, telling you how many balls in play are converted into outs overall, regardless of where they’re hit. The Yankees are middle of the pack (ranking eighth in the AL, to be exact) at 0.716 DER.
Six different stats (though it’s really four since UZR and UZR/150 go together, as do RZR and OOZ) giving us five different approximations about the team’s overall defense. Some say it’s great, others say it’s terrible, others say it’s middle of pack. But like I said before, it’s just way too early in the season for these numbers to have any meaning. So the question to you is this: what is your take on the Yankees’ overall defense this year? Is it good, bad, average, or something else? I think it’s been slightly better than average mostly thanks to Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Russell Martin (who’s reminded everyone what defense behind the plate actually looks like), but that’s just me. What about you?
Last night’s game was infuriating for many reasons. We could spend hours griping about every individual failure, but how productive is that? Instead, I want to examine one aspect of the game, one that has recurred many times this season. In a situation that did not call for it, the Yankees chose to sacrifice bunt. It’s not the reason they lost the game; it actually ended up working. But in that specific situation, and in all situations from a general standpoint, sacrifice bunting does not represent sound strategy.
After blowing a one-run lead late in the game, the Yankees found themselves in extra innings. The Royals wasted little time in taking a 1-0 lead, which put the Yanks on the hot seat in the bottom of the 10th. It was hotter, still, because Joakim Soria was on the mound for Kansas City. In the past few years he has established himself as a premier closer, perhaps the best in the league after Mariano Rivera. But this year he has been hittable. It was clear from the first batter last night that he did not have his best stuff, as he walked Russell Martin on four pitches.
We all knew the sacrifice was coming. The Yankees have faced a number of situations this year where one run is of great benefit, and it seems as though Joe Girardi has deemed the sacrifice the correct move in every instance. Brett Gardner showed bunt on the first two pitches, but Soria missed with both. That was six straight balls. Even great pitchers have off nights, and the Yankees appeared lucky enough to catch Soria on one. So what did they do? They kept the bunt on, both on the 2-0 and 3-1 pitches. Gardner did get it down successfully, but to use the term success here is specious at best.
The problem with bunting in that situation starts with simple run expectancy. With a runner on first and no outs, a team has a 44.1 percent chance of scoring a run at some point in the inning. That’s not win expectancy, or multiple run expectancy. It is single-run expectancy. With a runner on second and one out, the chance they’ll score a run is 41.8 percent. The difference isn’t huge, but it does exist. Here is the entire table, for reference, courtesy of Tangotiger (with a hat tip to Capitol Avenue Club, the best Braves blog on the planet):
This is based on historical data, so we do have the true odds of something happening. Of course, when you take the average you have data points both above and below the average. In other words, there are individual instances where having a runner on second with one out is better for a team than a runner on first and none out. It’s up to the manager to pick and choose those situations and beat those odds. In this way I still see two issues with bunting here.
1) The Yankees had just three outs until death. This wasn’t a tie game, where yeah, it still matters, but failing to score in the inning won’t end the game. Either the Yankees scored or went home losers. Why, then, would you give away one of your chances when the odds say you have a worse shot in the new situation? Is Derek Jeter coming up with a runner on second and one out really better at this point than Brett Gardner batting with a runner on first and none out? I don’t think that specific situation mitigates the diminished odds. Gardner is going better than most guys on the team right now. Let him hit.
2) It was predictable. Picking your spots means doing it sometimes and not others. Everyone at the Stadium and everyone at home knew the bunt was coming. That makes it seem as though Girardi thinks that bunting is generally a good strategy in that situation. History says this is not the case. Again, you can beat the odds if you choose your spots wisely. But if your strategy is to consistently bet against the odds, you’re going to lose more often than not.
Of course, the bunt did work, in that Ganderson singled home Martin. Bad process can lead to good results, and even here the Yanks got incredibly lucky that Martin advanced to third on a Jeter grounder to short. There was no way Martin was scoring from second on Granderson’s single. Not with how hard he hit it, and not on Francoeur’s arm.
There is no reason to blindly hate bunts. There are situations when they can work out better than the alternative. But as a general strategy, history shows that they’re not sound. When a bunt means giving away one of your three remaining outs, it’s an even worse strategy. If Girardi is going to use it as an occasional ploy to gain an advantage, that’s one thing. But if he’s going to bunt in every one of these situations, it’s quite another. The evidence is not on his side.
I don’t want to recap this game any more than you want to read a recap of it. In hindsight, it was probably a bad idea to strand a zillion baserunners. Who knew? Seriously though, they went 2-for-16 (!!!) with runners in scoring position, leaving 15 men on base in 11 innings. The Yankees left two men on base in the third, sixth, seventh, and ninth innings, which is unfathomably bad. Too make matters worse, their pitchers walked (get this) eleven runners. The Yankees beat themselves, there’s really no other way to put it. They squandered so many chances and made so many dumb mistakes (bunting when Joakim Soria had thrown one strike out of eight pitches? where’s the common sense?) that they deserved to lose. Period, end of story.
So blame whoever you want, blame David Robertson, blame Joe Girardi, blame Buddy Carlyle. I blame the offense, but that’s just me. Doesn’t really matter though, just move on and forget about this mess. These two teams will play the rubber game tomorrow night, when Ivan Nova takes on Sean O’Sullivan. Here’s the box score and WPA Graph if you’re so inclined.