First Half Review: 7 who fell short

On Monday night Ben reviewed seven Yankees who performed better than we could have expected heading into the season. Those players have helped keep the team moving as various players slumped. Some of those slumps lasted longer than others, and that resulted in a number of players falling short of the expectations we had for them early in the season.

Nick Johnson

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Was an injury to Nick Johnson expected? To some extent it had to be. Even last year, when he was mostly healthy while playing for the Nationals and Marlins, Johnson still hit the disabled list for two weeks. But a season-ending injury in May? While it was a certain possibility I’m not sure any but the most cynical of fans had that in mind. It pays to be a cynical fan in that way — if you’re right you get to gloat and call everyone else an idiot, if you’re wrong you’re pleasantly surprised. It works well in a sport where the failures far outweigh the successes.

Even while Johnson was in the lineup he didn’t perform to expectations. As normal his OBP was high, on the strength of his superhuman 24.5 percent walk rate, but Johnson didn’t exactly hit to expectations. In fact, he had just 12 base hits in his 98 PA, while he walked twice as many times. Half of his hits did go for extra bases, a huge plus in a larger sample but mostly useless in Johnson’s case. He has been the big disappointment this season.

Chances are his season is done, even though the Yankees could use someone exactly like him right now. That’s a shame. There was so much potential there, and the Yanks realized none of it. They had to choose among injury risks for their DH spot, and they picked the one guy who didn’t stay healthy. Such is life.

Mark Teixeira

Credit: Darren Calabrese, AP Photo/Canadian Press

It hurts me just a little to put Teixeira on this list. Sure, he was the source of mass frustration in April, and then again in May, and then for a little of June. His slumps have put him in a tough spot, a .254/.360/.465 line headed into the break. In terms of his career that’s off the mark, but a .361 wOBA looks pretty nice all considered.

Teixeira produced the worst April of his career, a mere .136/.300/.259, .271 wOBA. We were used to Tex getting off to slow starts, but this was much worse than last year when he hit .200/.367/.371, .330 wOBA. May started off well but then he slumped again and finished the month with a .280/.366/.475 triple slash, .366 wOBA. In June he stumbled again, a .353 wOBA, but he has recovered in July with a .545 wOBA through 50 PA. That makes his May 1 through the break numbers look a bit better: .291/.380/.529. I don’t think anyone will complain if he maintains that pace for the rest of the season.

Derek Jeter

Photo credit: Ben Margot/AP

At the beginning Derek Jeter was an equal opportunity first-pitch swinger. It seemed like he was swinging at all of them and, for the most part, grounding them all to shortstop. Yet through his first 23 games he was hitting .333/.367/.510. The lack of walks was a bit concerning, but as long as Jeter was hitting all was well. Unfortunately, his torrid start ceased right there.

In the course of just a few weeks Jeter saw his average tumble to .266, a span during which he was 12 for 71. He then climbed back over the .300 mark for a bit, but has steadily declined since. He peaked on June 1, when he was hitting .307 after a 2 for 3 day. Since then he’s hitting .221/.319/.321.

Why are we citing Jeter’s batting average above all else? Because his game seems so dependent on it this year. Or, at least, it was. Since the April in which he walked in just 3 percent of his plate appearances, Jeter has steadily improved, walking 6.4 percent of the time in May before walking in nearly 13 percent of his PA in June and July. His BABIP has fallen off in these months, so if he can just put it all together I think he can have a fine second half. It won’t look like last year, but it should look a bit better than 2008 if all goes well.

Alex Rodriguez

Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP

Again, this is not a guy I wanted to put on the list, but with his subpar first half numbers I couldn’t leave him off. A-Rod has had some shining moments for sure, including three grand slams and a few game-changing hits. Still, on the whole he’s been something of a disappointment, probably in part because of his hip issues.

Everything is down for Alex this year, even his strikeout rate. His defense has been fine, but suffered a bit when his hip hurt him the most (just before he sat out against Philly and Houston). Since June 1 he is hitting .232/.298/.464, which is nice from an isolated power perspective, but even then it’s sub-par for A-Rod. Hopefully his proclamation at the Home Run Derby, that he felt stronger, holds true in the second half. The Yanks will need his production.

Curtis Granderson

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

One thing we knew when the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson is that he’d need to work with Kevin Long in order to correct the problems that plagued him last year. They went beyond mere bad luck on balls in play; Granderson was putting the ball in the air more often, and had been especially pull-happy. While lefties pulling the ball at the Stadium can produce quality results, it doesn’t usually make for a well-rounded player.

Granderson’s first half results can be rated as nothing but a disappointment. He has produced even less than he did last year, a .319 wOBA. His walk rate and power are down, which doesn’t go well with his .280 BABIP. The good news is that he’s putting the ball on the ground and hitting it on a line more often, so maybe he’s working out of it.

Unlike the others on the list I don’t have as high expectations for Granderson in the second half. It took Long a year to transform Swisher, just like it took him time to get Robinson Cano into a good spot. I imagine that we might see some improvement from Granderson in the second half — he can’t really do much worse at this point — but I don’t expect it to be revelatory. I will still maintain faith, however, that we’ll see a different Granderson in 2011.

A.J. Burnett

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

In April and May Burnett killed opponents, a 3.28 ERA and 3.37 FIP. He had a few bad games in there, notably a nine-run performance against Boston, but for the most part he was pitching very well despite a curveball that wasn’t working like normal. So his strikeouts were down, but he made up for that by keeping the ball on the ground more often than last year. But then June came and ruined everything.

Burnett’s June totals: 23 IP, 35 H, 29 R, 29 ER, 17 BB, 19 K, 9 HR. He had allowed four home runs in his previous 77.1 IP. That’s the entire reason he comes in below expectations. Even with his two excellent starts in July he still has a 4.75 ERA and 4.73 FIP. That’s not what the Yankees are paying $17.5 million for. Burnett will have to hold up his end of the deal in the second half. Thankfully, everyone surrounding him is picking up the slack.

The non-Mo bullpen

Photo credit: John Froschauer/AP

The list could go on forever if we listed all of these guys individually, so it’s best to just lump them together. In terms of peripherals the unit has been adequate. They rank 4th in the AL in OBP against, 5th in SLG against, and 4th in WHIP. The strikeouts could be better, 7.43 per nine, 7th in the AL. But as a unit they’re simply giving up too many runs, a 4.14 ERA that’s good for 9th in the league.

Here’s a quick rundown of the individuals in the pen and their deficiencies:

Joba: Too many hits allowed. Not sure if this is luck or him just trying to not walk guys. He has walked only 14 in 37.1 IP, a decent rate, but one he’s going to have to eventually bring down if he’s going to be a success in the setup role.

Robertson: Still trying to work off that Abreu grand slam. He walks way, way too many guys, though his strikeout numbers are again impressive, 32 in 29.2 IP.

Park: Hits, homers, and a lack of velocity. He’s dialed it up recently, but with few positive results to show for it. His time is running short.

Marte: Again, too many walks. Lefties are hitting just .146 against him and he has allowed just one extra base hit to the 31 righties he’s faced, but those walks — eight to righties — will hurt plenty. Especially with no one else in the pen to pick up for him.

Gaudin: Again with the walks. I see little reason to keep him around. He won’t once the next guy returns.

Mitre: Very good all considered. His WHIP is 1.00, fueled by a low hit rate, but maybe that’s something he can capitalize on in the pen. Once he returns from his batting practice injury I think he’ll get a shot in one-inning stints.

Lyerly helps Charleston walk-off with a win

Triple-A Scranton is off until tomorrow for the All Star break. The International League defeated the Pacific Coast League 2-1.
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 0 for 2 – started the game & batted third … he saw a total of four pitches on the night
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 2, 1 K – entered the game in the 5th inning … same deal as Nunez, saw four pitches all night, he looked pretty overmatched during the strikeout, two weak hacks … he replaced Eric Kratz, who exited the game because he found out he was being called up to the big leagues for the first time in his career … cool story
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB – got the save in the 9th … ten of his 11 pitches were a strikes, and the one ball was borderline … he’s definitely a different guy than the one we saw the past few years, threw a ton of four seamers & a few curves, used to be sinker-slider … I can’t see why they wouldn’t give him a try, they have nothing to lose

Double-A Trenton is also off until tomorrow for the All Star break. The West All Stars beat the East All Stars 10-3.
Austin Romine, C: 0 for 2 – started the game & batted third
Brandon Laird: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K – started & batted cleanup … the good news is that his ankle’s okay
D.J. Mitchell: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – eight of his 14 pitches were strikes (57.1%) … pitched the 5th inning
Josh Schmidt: 0.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-0 GB/FB – nine of his 17 pitches were strikes (52.9%) … pitched the 9th, or at least part of it

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Triple-A All Star Game

Photo Credit: Flickr user tjperr

All 30 big league teams are off today, with the Yankees even getting to enjoy one extra day off before returning to work on Friday. That doesn’t mean we’ll have to go without real live baseball though, because the Triple-A All Star Game is being played this evening in b-e-a-utiful Allentown, PA.

Three Yankee farmhands made the International League squad: Jesus Montero (right), Eduardo Nunez, and Jon Albaladejo. Nunez was voted in as a starter by the fans, Montero was selected as a reserve. The Yanks’ top prospect is hitting .312/.380/.550 in his last 30 games, helping erase any concerns about his slow start to the season. It just took the 20-year-old Montero a little time to adjust to Triple-A pitching, that’s all.

Albaladejo has been nothing short of fantastic this season, but I’m willing to bet he’ll handle the all important 8th inning tonight while Scott Mathieson of the hometown Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs gets the 9th inning glory. The game doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a matter of deferring to the hometown guy. I’m actually looking forward to seeing Albie again, just to see how much he’s changed since we last saw him. Supposedly he’s scrapped the sinker/slider approach and has gone with a four-seam fastball/curveball approach. Curious about how true that is.

Here is the rest of the roster, and here’s the team the Pacific Coast League is sending. The game starts at 7pm ET and can be seen on the MLB Network. You can talk about it here, or anything else you want in tonight’s open thread. You guys know what to do, so have at it.

Secondary market prices up 77 percent for Friday

Our partners at TiqIQ have put together the following graphic on ticket prices since George Steinbrenner passed away yesterday. With the Yanks out of action until Friday, tickets for the game have increased by 77 percent since Tuesday morning. Those seats that are generally the least expensive have seen the biggest increase with Grandstand prices spiking by nearly 200 percent. For those looking to buy and those looking to sell, the market strikes me as capitalism the Boss would have loved.

Cashman: A-Rod dealing with ‘minor’ thumb injury

When Alex Rodriguez didn’t appear in the All Star Game yesterday, Yankee fan and foe wondered if the slugger was injured. Today, Brian Cashman said to ESPN New York that A-Rod is dealing with a minor thumb injury. Despite saying that “it’s not even worth talking about,” Cashman talked about the injury with Wallace Matthews. The sore thumb was not, he said, the reason why Girardi didn’t use A-Rod in last night’s game, but it is an injury that has been nagging the Yanks’ slugger for a few games. The team doesn’t expect Rodriguez to miss any time.

Did we miss out on Jeter’s 3,000th hit?

By the end of the 2008 season it became clear that, health permitting, Derek Jeter would reach the 3,000-hit milestone sometime during the 2011 season. He had just 179 hits that season, his lowest total since his injury-shortened 2003 campaign, which left him with 2,535 career hits. Yet even if he’d matched his career high of 219 hits it still would have taken him until 2011. It’s a shame that the target date comes after his 10-year, $189 million contract expires, but that’s the way things work in baseball.

At 2,847 career hits, Jeter is the active MLB leader. He has 100 hits on the 2010 season, which puts him on pace for 196 if he matches his 2009 total of 716 PA. Let’s give him another seven, just because I think he’ll perform better in the second half (it would give him a .284 average on the season). That would put him at 2,950 career hits, meaning he’d break the record probably some time in May of next year. It will be a joyous time for Yankees fans, not only because it’s Jeter accomplishing it, but because we’ve never witnessed a player reach 3,000 hits as a Yankee. While the milestone is real in the official record books, Jeter has actually already accumulated more than 3,000 career hits.

Under MLB guidelines, postseason numbers do not count towards a player’s career totals. I guess they do this to create a level playing field for everyone. Players from an older era are at a distinct disadvantage because they did not have the playoffs. Even before 1995 there was just one round, the LCS, before the World Series. With three rounds, modern players would have the ability to tack on even more stats to their career totals — notice how almost all playoff records were broken after 1995. Still, it’s something to ponder. Those hits did happen, they did count, and they did occur during a championship season.

Jeter trots home after hitting 3,000 | Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

As Tom Tango pointed out this morning, Derek Jeter reached his true 3,000th career hit on June 12th this year, when he homered off Wandy Rodriguez in the bottom of the first. There were no fireworks, and there was no celebration. I’m sure that exactly zero people were even aware of the feat. I don’t think that makes it any less meaningful. The 3,000 hit milestone is arbitrary anyway. What’s the difference between Sam Rice’s 2,987 and Roberto Clement’s 3,000? I don’t see much there.

No one will officially recognize Derek Jeter as having 3,000 hits until next May. That’s fine. Those are the standards MLB set for its record keeping, so for the sake of uniformity that’s what we’ll use as the official marker. But make no mistake: Derek Jeter has 3,000 hits that have counted towards a championship season. This just makes me question how truly meaningful the milestone is.

Memories of two icons distinct and different

When the Yankees begin their second half on Friday night, two lost icons will take centerstage. To honor the memory of their late owner and Bob Sheppard, the only man more identifiable with the Yankees than George Steinbrenner over the last six decades, the team will don a pair of commemorative patches. It will be but one of the many ways in which the club will honor two icons.

The patches, as shown above, are a change from the Yanks’ usual armband memorials. The microphone of the Voice of Yankee Stadium will be worn on the sleeve while the GMS patch will be worn on the chest of the uniform either above the interlocking NY while in the home pinstripes or the word “York” on the away digs. These two men had not been the same since illnesses felled them both in the mid 2000s, and now they will be remembered by the Yankees throughout the season.

I’ve had both the Boss and Bob Sheppard on my mind over the last few days, and I took Bob’s passing harder than I did George’s. For me, as with millions of other Yankee fans, Bob Sheppard was Yankee Stadium. Nothing signalled summer more so than walking through the tunnels behind the stands while hearing Mr. Sheppard go over the Yankee Stadium ground rules. “During the course of the game,” he would intone in his slow and precise manner, “hard hit baseballs and bats may be hit or thrown into the stands.” Who would fail to heed such a warning?

As I grew up going to baseball games, Bob Sheppard would always be there. He announced Mike Pagliarulo with deliberation and amused the crowd when Shigetoshi Hasegawa joined the Angels. His “Der-ek Jee-tah,” heard again last night on the national stage during the All Star Game broadcast, remains as iconic an announcement as any in sports. Through thick and thin, elementary school, high school, college, 9/11, World Series’ victories and defeats, thrilling playoff comebacks and crushing collapses, Bob Sheppard’s voice — such a booming voice on a slight man — would usher fans in and out of Yankee Stadium. He and longtime organist Eddie Layton were two peas in a nostalgic pod that never grew old.

In no small way, Bob passed with the old Yankee Stadium. He fell ill in late 2007 and missed all of the lasts at Yankee Stadium. He missed the last playoff games, the last Joe Torre appearance, the last All Star Game and the entire last season. As the Yankees counted down the games remaining until their move across the street, Mr. Sheppard never made it back to Yankee Stadium. He made a video appearance during the final game, and while frail, he still had the Voice as he read the lineups one last time. Bob passed away just a few weeks after the final pieces of the House that Ruth Built, and the parallels are too eerie to ignore.

My dad was born the year before Bob Sheppard took over the microphone, and he had, until the recent spate of indistinct public announcers, known no other voice at Yankee Stadium. “Bob Sheppard,” he said in recollection, “That voice is part of my life’s soundtrack and the loss runs deeper by reason of that. For more than 50 years (beginning with my first trip to Yankee Stadium as a 7-year-old) that voice was part of my summers…a powerful, disembodied presence that was woven deep into the fabric of something I dearly loved.”

With the Boss, on the other hand, his lasting legacy is far more complicated than that. In recent years, Yankee fans have celebrated George Steinbrenner. He’s become the patron grandfather of the Yankees. As the club spends his money, he hasn’t been the same hands-on control freak he was in the 1970s and 1980s. Maybe he mellowed with age, and maybe he realized his investments would increase if he allowed his baseball minds to put a more competitive product on the field. Despite some mid-2000s hiccups, though, the Yanks have flourished under his benevolent eye since his return to the game in 1993 from a suspension.

When I myself was a seven-year-old Yankee fan, coming of age with Tim Leary, Andy Hawkins, Lee Gutterman and a cast of offensive offensive characters, I found myself with my dad at Yankee Stadium on a warm night in late July. I have vague recollections of the game on the field, but what I do remember involved a long standing ovation in the middle of a Yankee victory. The fans were reacting not to the play on the field but the drama off the field. George Steinbrenner had just been suspended from baseball by Fay Vincent for hiring Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Mr. May himself, Dave Winfield.

As coverage from the time shows, Yankee fans were none too disappointed about the news. By 1990, many Yankee fans had decided that Steinbrenner’s meddlesome ways were a detriment to the ballclub, and they weren’t afraid to say it. ”I speak for all true Yankee fans when I say that getting rid of Steinbrenner is the best thing that could happen to this team,” Bobby Ricci, a 24-year-old fan from the Bronx, said. ”Now it’s time to get rid of all the guys who Steinbrener calls his baseball people. Obviously, they don’t know much about baseball.”

Another presciently predicted better days ahead. ”This is so sweet. Maybe it’ll save the team. Now they can build a dynasty again,” Mike Nisson said.

In a short paragraph I asked my dad to write about sitting in the stands for that game, he too remembers the joy of the crowd:

“It’s hard to overstate how satisfying it was to have been sitting in the stands at Yankee Stadium as word spread through the crowd that it had just been announced that George Steinbrenner had been suspended. As the news worked its way through the stands, a low murmur graduated into raucous cheers from fans who were jubilant in seeing retribution visited on the man who had spent years spending money on mediocre players, berating professional athletes to the point of public humiliation, repeatedly inflicting the pathological Billy Martin on the players and fans and, finally, spying on Dave Winfield. Punctuating the cheers were some shouts of disapproval from fans who expressed the opinion that a suspension was not adequate and that he should have been banned for life (I, of course, being among that chorus). That display struck me as a bit of the French Revolution coming to the venerable House that Ruth Built–and it felt great.”

That’s the real first impression I had of George Steinbrenner. It wasn’t of the loyal philanthropist or the dedicated owner; rather, it was of the mercurial interloper whose suspension was welcomed by people older and wiser than I. Even as George aged into someone who still wanted to win but could seemingly control this temper, I still wondered about the good and the bad in him. For those who didn’t know him in any personal context, he isn’t an easy man to describe.

Yesterday, as the Yankees in Anaheim gathered to talk about the Boss, Andy Pettitte‘s presence and words struck me as particularly telling. Pettitte and George Steinbrenner were never that close. For years in a row, George wanted his GMs to trade Andy Pettitte. He didn’t like his competitiveness and thought him too soft to succeed in the Bronx. Every year at the trade deadline, Pettitte would be the subject of rumors — to the Phillies for Adam Eaton, to somewhere else but the Bronx. In 2003, when the Yanks had the opportunity to let Pettitte walk, they did. It was a Boss move through and through.

Yet, Number 46 sat at the podium yesterday afternoon and looked as distraught as anyone else there. He had lost a mentor and a boss, the man who, eventually, showed enough faith in him to stick with him. Now, Pettitte has five Yankee World Series rings and forgave the Boss, as so many others have. That’s the man of contradictions that he was: flawed, temperamental, hated and ultimately accepted in New York as the wins rolled in. As he once said, “Winning is first, next to oxygen.”