Game 38: Welcome to our house

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP

The first six times these teams met this season, they played up in Boston. Now it’s time to bring the rivalry back the Bronx. Considering that the Red Sox won just two of the first six games on their home turf, they should be very, very afraid. Joe Girardi‘s team is showing no mercy, trotting out its two best starters in the two-game set.

Phil Hughes, who shut down these same Red Sox just ten days ago, gets the ball tonight, looking to improve upon his league-leading 1.38 ERA. He’ll be opposed by the guy Boston paid $51,111,111 just to talk to, Daisuke Matsuzaka. He pitched well last time out, but he was facing a terribly impatient Blue Jays lineup (31.2% swing rate on pitches out of the zone, highest in the game) that fell right into his nibbling act. The Yanks are on the complete opposite end of the plate discipline spectrum (24.8%, fourth fewest) and won’t be so forgiving.

Here’s the starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Gardner, CF
Teixiera, 1B
A-Rod, DH
Cano, 2B
Cervelli, C
Thames, RF
Winn, LF
Pena, 3B

And on the mound, St. Phil.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Ben and I will be sitting up in the Grandstand (Section 416, Row 6 to be exact) while Joe kicks it with all the high rollers in the Legends seats. Come say hello if you want, we won’t bite. Otherwise, enjoy the game.

Irrationally skipping Javy or rejuggling the rotation?

Determined Javy is determined. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

When the Yankees announced on Saturday that Javier Vazquez would be skipped this week and also available to pitch out of the bullpen, fans and analysts grew concerned. Were the Yankees about to pull a Carlos Zambrano with one of their starters just a few days after he seemingly had turned a corner in Detroit? Were the Yankees being too cautious with Javy as the Red Sox come to town? For a team not known for handling its pitchers, the Vazquez move appeared to be another subject to numerous second guesses.

Javy fans had good reason to be concerned as Joe Girardi explained the Yankees’ organizational thinking. “We might have to put Javy in the bullpen for a couple of days,” Girardi said. “Javy will probably have to pitch out of the bullpen for us the next couple of days, until we can get everything right.”

If everything doesn’t go right, rotation-wise, the Yanks may turn to Sergio Mitre again, a far inferior option to Vazquez. The Yanks, though, sound willing to call upon Vazquez out of the pen if one of their starters falter over the next four games. “You’ve got to worry about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, before we can worry about Friday,” Girardi said. “We want him to start on Friday is the bottom line, but sometimes, you have unforeseen circumstances that you cannot predict are going to happen.”

Ken Davidoff called this move an “acknowledgement that Vazquez clearly ranks fifth in the Yankees’ pecking order.” That is an obvious charge and one the Yanks would probably admit off the record, but the team has a better rationale for this move. Joel Sherman explains the “secondary reason” and “tactical advantages” for reshuffling the rotation:

If Vazquez started [Monday] and the other starters stayed in line then CC Sabathia would pitch Wednesday against the Rays and Tuesday in Minnesota. Instead, he now will pitch Tuesday against Boston and that will enable him to start Sunday night against the Mets. And the Yanks see that as wise since the game is at Citi Field, there will be no DH and Sabathia is one of the best hitting pitchers in the majors.

In addition, if Vazquez started tomorrow, then Andy Pettitte would have opened the Mets series on Friday night. That would have meant his next two starts after that would have been against Minnesota and Baltimore. But if Pettitte starts Thursday against the Rays – as he is now scheduled – then his next two starts will be against the Twins and Indians, both heavily lefty-swinging teams.

The Yanks wanted to make sure that both Sabathia and Pettitte started against the Indians, who rely on lefty swingers Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore, Russell Branyan and Travis Hafner. Cleveland began Sunday with a .215 batting average against lefties and a .576 OPS.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the Yankees are thinking ahead and projected their rotation. Furthermore, the move makes sense from Vazquez’s perspective as well. In his career against the Red Sox, he is 2-7 with a 4.23 ERA and his peripherals — 10.0 K/9 IP and a 3.48 K/BB ratio in 66 innings — are better than the won-loss record. A closer examination though reveals that Vazquez struggles against the current iteration of the Red Sox. Granted, we should take batter/pitcher numbers with a grain of salt, but active Red Sox have hit .298/.346/.519 against Vazquez. Although the current Mets have hit him hard as well (.309/.362/.459 with Gary Matthews, Alex Cora and Luis Castillo leading the charge), the Yankees prefer to start Javier in spacious CitiField.

With somewhat conflicting accounts — one from Girardi that talks of the pen and one from Sherman’s anonymously-sourced story supported by Vazquez’s career — Javier Vazquez is left twisting in the wind. But the Yankees still seem to consider him a rotation candidate. They’ve liked what they’ve seen from Sergio Mitre but know that Vazquez, when on, is a far superior pitcher. The leash with him will be short, but this reshuffled rotation is in no way an indictment of Vazquez. As long as he builds on his Detroit success, the Yanks’ pitching gurus should be pleased.

Park activated, Nova sent down

Via Bryan Hoch, the Yankees have activated Chan Ho Park from the 15-day DL after he battled a bum hamstring for the last month. Ivan Nova has been sent to Triple-A Scranton to make room on the roster. Getting CHoP back is big right now, given the unreliably of the middle relievers beyond Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera (yesterday notwithstanding). Furthermore, David Robertson and Joba respectively threw 30 and 23 high stress pitches yesterday, so they might not even be available tonight. Park might get thrown right into the fire.

Rosenthal: NJ to undergo surgery

According to FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal, Nick Johnson will undergo surgery on his right wrist. The Yanks’ erstwhile DH will be out until at least July as he recovers from the procedure. Over the weekend, we reported that the odds on Nick’s needing surgery were around 50 percent, and apparently, his wrist did not respond to a cortisone shot. Johnson, off to a slow start during his second stint for the Yanks, was hitting .167/.388/.306 before the injury, and the Yankees will now turn to Juan Miranda and a rotating list of veterans to fill the designated hitter hole. The Yanks’ lineup, as I wrote last week, is better off with a set DH, and I have to wonder if Brian Cashman is at all tempted to kick the tires on this guy.

For Nick and the Yankees, a wrist injury is both not surprising and very disappointing. If one major injury has plagued Johnson throughout his injury-plagued career, it has involved his right wrist. He missed the entire 2000 season with a right wrist injury and had surgery on the same wrist in 2008. He also suffered a left wrist injury in 2002 that carried over to 2003. Without strength in his bottom hand, the left-handed Johnson may find it hard to hit for much power if he returns later this summer.

Update (4:15 p.m.): Making this news official, the Yankees have confirmed surgery for Johnson. He’ll undergo the procedure tomorrow, and the team anticipates that it will be at least four to six weeks before Johnson resumes baseball activities. “This is not a quick fix,” Joe Girardi said to reporters. “This is going to be a while.”

Link Dump: Hughes, WPA, Draft Hype

You guys ready for another thrilling round of Yankees-Red Sox? It’s only their third meeting of the season within the first 40 games, but who’s counting? Anyway, here’s some spare link to check out while you anxiously await first pitch.

A Hughes Difference

I know I’m not the only one to feel this way, but next to the always-on pitch counter, Jack Curry has been the best addition to YES this season. In his latest at the dot-com, he spoke to tonight’s starter Phil Hughes about what he thinks the biggest difference is this year. “I think if you look at my raw stuff to when I was starting games this season to last season, there’s probably not that much difference,” said Phil. “I’m maybe a little bigger and stronger. But I feel what has really changed is my confidence out there and my ability to attack the strike zone. Those have been the two biggest things.”

I recommend reading the whole thing, it’s worth the time.

Yanks-Sox Through The Eyes Of WPA

Finally, someone came up with a unique way to look at the rivalry. Using WPA, Mark Simon at ESPN found the players with the biggest impact on the rivalry dating all the way back to 1995. It should be no surprise, but Manny Ramirez leads all hitters (and all players, period) with a 5.906 WPA, meaning he won just about six games all by himself. For the Yanks, the top hitter has been Alex Rodriguez (2.674 WPA), followed closely by Paul O’Neill (2.557). It drops off considerably after that. Your leaders on the mound are Mariano Rivera (3.664), Pedro Martinez (3.545), and Andy Pettitte (3.109). No one else is over two.

It’s a long read, but it’s really informative. I found it interesting how low Derek Jeter is on the list.

Hyping the Draft

Nothing is more exciting to the baseball blogosphere than a promising youngster, so it’s no surprise that the draft has taken on a mind of it’s own in recent year. Trust me, it’s not an accident that the two most hyped prospects in draft history have played during the Twitter age. Over at FanGraphs, Erik Manning looked at the attrition rate of first round picks from the 1990’s, and it turns out that just 6.8% of those picks developed into true stars. Just under a quarter of them amounted to anything more than an average regular, while a whopping 63.4% busted all together.

Teams have gotten better at evaluating and developing players, but the draft is still just a crap shoot. Now it’s just an expensive crap shoot.

Phil’s first real test

Huuuuuuuuuuughes. (Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP)

I don’t know about you, but the best part of the 2010 season for me has been watching Phil Hughes take the ball every five days. Oh sure, a 24-13 start is great, but watching Phil deliver on all his promise has been far, far more rewarding. We dealt with the ups, the downs, the injuries, the doubters, and now our patience has been rewarded with watching him blossom into a true frontline starter.

We all know how spectacular he’s been this season, with a 1.38 ERA (1st in the AL), 2.50 FIP (3rd), and 3.61 xFIP (9th), but Hughes’ first real test of the season will come tonight against the Red Sox. It was just ten days ago that he limited that same team to two measly runs over seven innings in the most hostile of environments, but now the element of surprise is gone. Boston’s hitters have had a first hand look at Phil, so adjustments come into play.

In his first start against the Red Sox, Hughes threw 61 four-seam fastballs, 29 cutters, nine curveballs, and just one changeup. Let’s break it down a little further though…

First of all, disregard the fourth time through the order data. It consists of two pitches to Marco Scutaro to end the 7th inning. However, the pattern is obvious. Each time through the order, Phil threw fewer and fewer four-seamers and incorporated more and more cutters and curveballs. Granted, we’re talking about a small amount of curves, so perhaps we should just ignore them. But replacing those relatively straight four-seamers with a moving cutter disrupts the hitter’s timing, and that’s the name of the pitching game.

So now that the Red Sox will dig in against Hughes for the second time in a little over a week, and you can be sure they’ll dig into their memory banks to remember how they were attacked. Fastball heavily early on, more cutters later.

As always, the success doesn’t come from one individual pitch, it’s the separation between two pitches. Part of the reason why Hughes’ cutter has been so effective is because hitters also have to respect his four-seamer, and when both pitches come in at 90+ mph, there’s just not much time to adjust. However, most big leaguers can handle a fastball if they’ve seen it enough times and know it’s coming, so the first time through the order tonight will be particularly telling. Perhaps Hughes should switch it up and go with some more cut fastballs early on to “change up the scouting report,” so to speak. You might see a few more curveballs and (gasp!) changeups than last time just to mix it up a little more as well.

At this point though, the ball is in Boston’s court. Their hitters have to adjust and prove that they can handle Hughes’ fastball-cutter combo before the Yanks’ young hurler must make any changes to his approach. There’s no need to fix what isn’t yet broken. Like everyone else though, the second time through the league is going to tell us a lot more about what kind of pitcher Phil Hughes is than his first time through.

Four tickets available for tonight’s game

It’s kinda short notice, but a reader has four tickets available for tonight’s Phil Hughes vs. the Red Sox game. They’re located in Section 230, Row 14, Seats 14-17, which is the second deck in left field. It’s under the Audi Club and one section over. Face value of the tickets are $60 each, so it’s $240 for all four. If interested, email me via the link in the sidebar and I’ll put you in contact with the seller.

Update (12:43pm): The tickets have been claimed.