The Yanks sure can hit lefties

It seems like 10 years ago, but it hasn’t been so long since the Yankees’ offense had trouble against left-handed pitching. In fact, it was one of the defining characteristics of the late-00s teams. As the years passed and the pitching staffs got worse, the problem got worse. In 2004, for example, the team allowed almost five runs per game, but the offense was good enough to bludgeon opponents. While they had a .798 OPS against righties, they excelled against lefties, an .843 OPS.

In 2006 that started to change. While the team hit lefties very well, an .800 OPS, they hit righties better. This wasn’t a huge deal, mainly because of the high mark against lefties. Yet it was strange that they had hit righties better. They hadn’t done that in three years. Matters got worse in 2007, when they posted a .789 OPS against lefties against a .844 mark against righties. This was good, in that they killed the pitchers they faced most often. But those times facing lefties, 27 percent of the season’s plate appearances, they just didn’t fare as well.

The issue came to a head in 2008. The offense was down in general, a .769 OPS for the season. Yet against lefties they hit very poor, a .734 team OPS. They also faced lefties more often, in 30 percent of the season’s plate appearances. This was made worse because the two prominent left-handed hitters in the lineup, Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi, both hit lefties very well. It was everyone else who flailed and faltered against them. Yet at season’s end neither was asked to come back.

Despite featuring many of the worst culprits of the lefty deficit in 2009, the Yankees as a team hit them much better. Not only that they hit them better than righties. Yankees hitters again faced lefties in 30 percent of their plate appearances, posting a .846 OPS. They had a .837 mark against righties last season. No longer could teams line up their middling lefties to face the Yankees and expect dominance. With a lineup featuring four switch-hitters and two lefty-killing left-handed hitters, the Yankees were up to the task.

This year we’re seeing more of the same. The Yanks are down to three switch-hitters in the starting lineup, and actually started the season with four left-handed hitters. Despite that, they’ve posted an .814 OPS against lefties in 33 percent of their plate appearances. The mark against righties isn’t great, .796, but considering the league-wide offensive drought that’s still a very good mark. The AL as a whole has a .748 OPS against righties and a .723 mark against lefties. Part of the Yankees’ offensive success this year, it seems, is taking advantage when facing a lefty.

By 2009 the stereotype of the Yankees not hitting lefties had gotten old. We’d been hearing it for at least a couple of years, and it was frustrating by that point not only because we’d heard it so often, but because it was true. That all changed last year. The new additions hit lefties very well, and continue to do so. It might not seem of great importance, since it covers around 30 percent of plate appearances, but considering how much better than the league the Yankees hit lefties, I think it is definitely an important part of the offense.

Behind the plate, a conundrum

Credit: AP Photo/Peter Morgan

Finding a good Major League catcher isn’t easy. Finding a good Major League catcher who can hit is even harder. For the last 13 seasons, though, the Yankees have had just that in Jorge Posada, and now I’m starting to wonder if Jorge’s time is behind the dish is running out.

This year, Jorge has fought off a variety of injuries and has appeared in 45 of the team’s first 72 games. Of the team’s 635.1 innings, he has caught just 222.0 — or around one-third — of them. As his 147 OPS+ and his .279/.386/.524 line indicates, he can still mash the ball, but his days as the regular catcher are behind him.

To pick up the slack, the Yanks have turned to 24-year-old Francisco Cervelli. Never known for his offense while rising through the Yanks’ farm system, Cervelli has a whopping 21 games of AAA experience under his belt, and the Yankees have been milking him for all of his worth since he arrived in the Majors last year. Overall this year, his numbers aren’t too shabby. He’s hitting .287/.368/.367, and pitchers have seemingly enjoyed throwing to him in the 383.1 innings he’s caught.

But Cervelli is something of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. His overall numbers are powered by a 6-for-12 start to the season and a hot streak that saw him hitting .400 through mid-May. Since May 18, when he went a costly 0-for-4 in a Yankee loss to the Red Sox, Cervelli is hitting just .211/.302/.267 with 16 strike outs in 108 plate appearances. He has just four extra-base hits in that span. The truth is that this May-June Cervelli is closer to reality than the April-May Cervelli who hit .400/.471/.517 over 71 plate appearances.

What are the Yankees to do? When I examined this issue a few weeks ago, I wondered how the team would handle Posada. The answer has become clearer recently: The Yankees will, with Nick Johnson out, use Jorge to DH as often as they can. As the trade deadline approaches, it’s certainly easier for the team to acquire a bat to replace Johnson, but doing so would push Jorge into the field more often. It’s questionable at best as to whether Posada’s body can withstand catching nearly every day from July through late October. He’s far better off as the DH right now.

So the Yankees can move forward with Cervelli for the time being. Austin Romine, while hitting a robust .294/.360/.447 at AA, won’t make the big jump to the Majors. He’s not a fringe prospect as Cervelli was, and the Yankees would rather see him develop than be moved up too quickly. Jesus Montero‘s hitting hasn’t been up to par at AAA, and the 20-year-old may not see his future behind the plate anyway.

As problems go, this isn’t a bad one to have, and I’d be surprised if the Yanks tried to land a catcher at the trade deadline. After all, their price tags are generally just too steep. There is now, however, some urgency behind the developments of Romine and Montero. Someone will soon have to step up to replace Jorge no matter how tough a task that would be.

Laird goes deep twice in win over Erie

Zoilo Almonte and Ray Kruml were promoted to High-A Tampa at the expense of Francisco Santana of Neil Medchill, who were sent to Low-A Charleston. Meanwhile, NoMaas checked in with Brett Marshall following his first start since Tommy John surgery. He said he was throwing 93-95 on Monday, and will likely head to Charleston after his start on Saturday. Oh, and Juan Miranda is on the disabled list.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 win over Pawtucket)
Justin Christian, LF: 2 for 3, 1 BB, 1 SB – threw a runner out at the plate
Reid Gorecki, CF & Greg Golson, RF: both 0 for 3 – Gorecki drew a walk & drove in a run
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K – 14 for his last 42 (.333)
Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Rene Rivera, DH: both 1 for 4 – JoVa drove in a run … Rivera crossed the plate once & K’ed twice
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4
Reegie Corona, 2B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI – now has five homers, one more than Montero
Eric Bruntlett, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B
Tim Redding: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 11-5 GB/FB – 72 of 106 pitches were strikes (67.9%)
Zack Segovia: 2.1 IP, zeroes, 2-5 GB/FB – 20 of his 31 pitches were strikes (64.5%)

[Read more…]

Yankees promote Andrew Brackman to Double-A

Via Josh Norris, 2007 first rounder Andrew Brackman has been promoted to Double-A Trenton. The 6-foot-10 righthander has rebounded from a disastrous 2009 campaign to post a 2.84 ERA (eerily enough, also a 2.84 FIP) in his last eight starts (44.1 IP). More importantly, he’s walked just nine batters in 60 IP (1.35 BB/9) all season after walking 76 in 106.2 IP (6.41 BB/9) last year. He gets the ball tomorrow.

Congrats to Brackman, it’s great to see him improve so much as he gets further away from Tommy John surgery.

Open Thread: Happy Birthday, Phil

That first start sure seems like a long time ago, don't it? (Photo Credit: Nick Laham, POOL/AP)

Well look at that. The Yankees’ blossoming ace turns the ripe old age of 24 today. Hard to believe he’s still that young, no? Here’s a partial list of big league starters older than Mr. Hughes…

Clay Buchholz (22 months older)
Yovani Gallardo (four months)
Josh Johnson (16 months)
Ian Kennedy (14 months)
Tim Lincecum (24 months)
Mike Pelfrey (30 months)
David Price (11 months)

Also older than Phil Hughes? Andrew Brackman, who is six months his elder. Pretty crazy, huh?

Anyway, here is your off day open thread. The Mets and Tigers are playing on both SNY and MLB Network, and you’ve also got Oklahoma and South Carolina in College World Series action (loser is eliminated) on ESPN2. Apparently the NBA draft is on somewhere as well, if that’s your thing. Talk about whatever you want, just don’t be a jerk.

Link Dump: Jeter, Yanks-Dodgers, Torre, Balk

I was just going to do a little self-promotion in this spot, but I found enough other interesting things to serve up a smorgasbord.

Derek Jeter and the double play

Derek grounded into two twin killings last night, but before that he’d actually avoided wiping out two players at once. All this despite having the No. 9 hitter reach base more often than last year, putting the ball in play more than last year, and hitting the ball on the ground more frequently.

I tackle the issue at FanGraphs.

Revisiting the Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchups

Matt at Fack Youk is a busy dude, as he has started a series about the 11 Yankees-Dodgers World Series. He has four of them up right now. Check out 1941 & 1947, 1949, and 1952. This series illustrates why I read Fack Youk every day.

Just because he’s still alive doesn’t make him the greatest

What’s that? Mike Lupica wrote something stupid? We tend to ignore that — in fact, I don’t think we’ve once linked to a Mike Lupica article on RAB. And if we did, 1) it came in our first year, and 2) we apologize. Anyway, Craig Calcaterra couldn’t help but respond to the ridiculous claim that Torre is, in Lupica’s words, “the greatest manager Big Apple has ever seen.” I’m sorry, that’s incorrect. We would have accepted John McGraw, Casey Stengel, or Joe McCarthy as the obvious answers.

Can we get a ruling on balks?

There was a controversial non-balk call in last night’s Angels-Dodgers game. Dipping into the FanGraphs well just one more time, Jack Moore breaks down the non-call with rulebook entires and screen caps. The comments are actually pretty decent, too.

For Rivera and Yanks, a trade that wasn’t

Still a Yankee after all of these years. | Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

What Mariano Rivera did last night was nothing short of amazing. Pitching in his second inning of work for the first time since Game 6 of the 2009 World Series and on the mound that was the site of his greatest failure, Rivera almost let this one slip away. After a Curtis Granderson home run put the Yanks ahead, the Diamondbacks loaded the bases with no outs against the Yanks’ closer. And then Mo went to work.

Facing Arizona’s 4-5-6 hitters, Rivera was ruthless. As I paced around my living room at 1:45 in the morning, the Sandman induced a foul out, a pop out and a strike out. The game ended without a fist pump, a little dance on the mound or even a smile. In fact, Mariano looked relieved and sounded more than a little bit annoyed with himself for nearly blowing his 72nd career win. The greatest demands self-perfection.

As Mo’s ERA dipped to 1.03, we thanked him for last night’s win. After a while, it’s easy to take Mariano for granted. He’s just there, ready to do what he needs to do to get outs, to save games, to nail down a W. He doesn’t need the histrionics of Jose Valverde or Jonathan Papelbon. He just is Mariano.

But more than once, the Yankees almost missed out on the opportunity to enjoy 16 years of excellence. As a young pitcher, Mariano was a hot commodity in the Yankee farm system, and George Steinbrenner always wanted the next best thing. Last summer, I reflected upon the time the Yankees almost traded Mariano and Jorge Posada for David Wells. Had that deal gone through in 1995, Yankee history would be shockingly different.

That wasn’t, however, the only time the team nearly traded their future Hall of Famer. After inheriting the closer mantle in 1997, Mariano had a post-season collapse against the Indians. The Yanks were five outs away from a trip to the ALCS when Rivera served up a two-out home run to Sandy Alomar. While Ramiro Mendoza would lose the game in the 9th, Rivera’s inability to nail down the game cost the Yanks a shot at a Championship Series rematch with the Orioles. It stung.

Some in the Yankee organization were still willing to part with Mariano Rivera over concerns of a bad arm, and that winter, he was again the subject of trade rumors. When the Mariners quietly let it be known that Randy Johnson was on the market, George Steinbrenner tried to pounce. Unbeknownst to then-GM Bob Watson, the Boss proposed a Rivera-for-Johnson swap straight up. The Mariners rejected that trade but came back with another shocking offer.

Seattle, trying to exploit its position, asked instead for a starter to go along with Rivera. That start just happened to be Andy Pettitte, but the Yankees were “turned off” by that request, The Daily News reported in November of 1997. That would have been a deal for the ages, and it wasn’t the only proposal floated with Rivera. The Expos asked for him along with Posada and Eric Milton in a potential deal for Pedro Martinez, and the Twins initially wanted Rivera in a package for Chuck Knoblauch.

We know how this story ends. The Yanks never landed Pedro; they got Randy Johnson seven years too late; and Chuck Knoblauch arrived for a package of nothing much and helped lead the Yanks to three World Series before losing it in 2001. Rivera, meanwhile, perseveres and not trading him remains one of the best moves the Yankees have made over the past twenty years.