Catch RAB on The Pulse Network’s Sports Buzz

I’ll be making another appearance today on the Pulse Network’s Sports Buzz show. Today’s hit comes at 11 a.m., and I’m calling in to chat trade deadline. I’ll talk about which players the Yankees are interested in, the areas in which the club needs the most improvement and which deals are most likely to get done before Saturday’s trade deadline. You can watch it live right here.

Javy’s season comes into clearer view

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Last time through the rotation Javy Vazquez blew through the Angels’ order, using just 37 pitches to record the first 12 outs. This time it took him 45 pitches to record those first 12 outs, but the difference was that he kept cruising after that. He completed the seventh and even came out for the eighth, using 102 pitches (64 strikes) to keep his team within striking distance. It seems like he’s doing that in almost every game now. That’s quite a change from the beginning of the season.

At this point we can draw a few conclusions about Javy’s season. For instance, he’s clearly lost a bit on his fastball. In good starts and in bad he’s averaging around 89 mph, after averaging around 91 mph for most of his career. That has led to a number of changes in his numbers, including an decreased strikeout rate, increased walk rate, and increased home run rate. Of course, some of that is attributable to his ugly first five starts, which he has put behind him. It warrants a bit closer look to see what has changed since the beginning.

Home runs stand out the most, because they do the most damage. Javy has surrendered 18 of them this year, which has led to a career-high rate of 1.51 per nine. Eight of those came in his first five starts, meaning he has surrendered just 10 in his latest 13 starts, a much more palatable number (1.07 per nine). Opponents are putting the ball in the air frequently, 47.4 percent, a number that, if anything, has gone up as he’s gotten better.

The added fly balls do have a side benefit. While ground balls suppress extra base hits, fly balls suppress base hits in general. The AL is hitting .231 on groundballs, but is hitting .222 on fly balls (.142 BABIP because of the sac flies). This helps explain Javy’s .255 BABIP. It might seem unsustainably low, and I do suspect that we’ll see something of an uptick in it. I’m not sure when that will happen — after all, he does have a .221 BABIP in his last 13 starts.

His walk rate, 3.45 per nine, is quite high for him, but again comes mostly from the beginning of the season, when he displayed no command of his fastball. In his last 13 starts he has walked 2.79 per nine, still a bit above his normal numbers but understandable given his change of scenery and diminished fastball. Those facts also have affected his strikeout rate, which is at just 7.23 per nine. There’s little chance he recovers those lost strikeouts, but it seems he’s made some other adjustments.

In terms of pitches, it seems he has all but ditched the slider. While it rated at 3.0 runs above average last season, it was the worst of his four pitches. This year it rates at 0.2 runs above average, better than his curve and change, which rank in the negatives. Yet this could be more indicative of how pitch type values measures runs above average. In his first five starts he threw his slider 16.1 percent of the time, mixing it well with his curve and change. He threw it for strikes, 62.7 percent, and got batters to swing and miss on 12 percent of them. Yet something just wasn’t working with it.

In his last 13 starts he has cut down on the slider usage greatly, throwing it 10.6 percent, less frequently than all of his other pitches. He has gone more to the change and the curveball. The change has become his weapon of choice, as he’s deployed it 19.8 percent of the time and has seen a 14.8 percent whiff rate. As for the slider, he’s seeing fewer swings and misses, 9.5 percent, as he throws it less often, but he’s also seeing fewer of them, 14.6 percent, put in play. Back when he was throwing it more often opponents put it in play 21.3 percent of the time.

This is not, in other words, the Javier Vazquez who contended for the Cy Young last year. He’s not the guy who will strike out more than a batter per inning and refuse to issue the free pass. He’s not the guy with four lights out pitches who will go to any one in any situation. Instead he’s a veteran who’s learning to survive with diminished stuff. It caught him off-guard earlier in the season, and it took him five starts to finally realize his limitations. He’s made those adjustments, though, and it shows in the results. Javy might not be a top of the rotation starter, but he provides stability to these Yankees.

Yanks top Indians behind Javy & Granderson

Sunday’s game lasted a little longer than the Yankees would have liked because of a two-plus hour rain delay, and they presumably arrived in Cleveland a little later than they would have liked this morning. That could have explained their slumping bats early in Monday’s game, but then again the team also seems to have no interest in scoring runs for Javy Vazquez. Curtis Granderson‘s third homer in the last two games put the Yankees on top late, and a surprise 8th inning setup tandem handed the ball off to Mariano Rivera, who preserved the 3-2 win. Matt Garza no-hit the Tigers, so the Yanks’ lead in the AL East remains at three.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Wait, Why Aren’t They Pinch Running For Posa … Nevermind

Former Yankee Jake Westbrook was on his game Monday night, holding the Yankees to just two hits through the first eight innings. One of those hits was a Nick Swisher solo shot, accounting for the Yanks’ lone run up to that point. Westbrook’s pitch count sat at 99 entering that 8th inning, though it was a stress-free 99 pitches and there was every reason to believe he had enough left in the tank for another three outs.

Jorge Posada, the designated hitter following the long game and late travel, starting the inning off by taking two sinkers for strikes, but he managed to work the count full before knocking a ball through the 5.5 hole for a leadoff single. Down by one with a lifeless offense, it stood to reason that Joe Girardi would send out a pinch-runner, especially since he had Marcus Thames and Juan Miranda on the bench to bat as the DH if needed later in the game. Instead, Girardi left Posada out there to run for himself, and it turned out all he would need to do was jog.

Curtis Granderson, just 5-for-23 (.217) off Westbrook prior to Monday night, took the righty’s first pitch changeup in the dirt for a ball. Westbrook’s next pitch was his worst of the night, a 91 mph fastball belt-high and out over the plate, and Granderson didn’t miss it. Posada knew it was gone, Grandy knew it was gone, Westbrook know it was gone, we all knew it was gone. The ball landed several row back in the rightfield stands, giving the Yankees a one run lead they’d never give up.

The homer was worth .402 WPA, which I’m going to guess is the second highest WPA for a non-walk-off hit by a Yankee this year behind Alex Rodriguez‘s game tying homer off Jonathan Papelbon back in the Thames walk-off game.

"I swear dude, we're trying to score." (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Give The Guy Some Run Support

In what has become a common occurrence since mid-May, Vazquez took the ball deep into the game and was rather stellar, only to be saddled with minimal run support. Travis Hafner touched him up for a solo homer in the 2nd, and the Indians scored what was then the go-ahead run in 6th on a double, fielder’s choice, and another double. In between the homer and the first double, Javy retired ten of 11 and threw no more than 16 pitches in an inning until the 7th.

All told, Vazquez gave the Yanks seven strong innings, giving up five hits (scarily enough, four doubles and a homer) and two walks while striking out five. The offense backed him up with three runs or fewer for the fourth time in his last five starts, and for the tenth time overall in his 19 starts. Big ups to Javy though, he was pretty damn good.

Where’s Joba?

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

During his pre-game press conference, Joe Girardi indicated that he would “lean toward” using Joba Chamberlain should a situation arise where the Yanks had a slim lead in the 8th. That exact situation came up tonight, but there was Joba on the bench in the bullpen, watching as David Robertson warmed up while Javy started the inning. After Vazquez walked Michael Brantley to start the frame, Girardi called for Robertson, who ran out of the bullpen like the place was on fire.

With a man on first and none out, Robertson’s jumped ahead of Asdrubal Cabrera 1-2, though the Indians shortstop spoiled a good put-away curveball. D-Rob’s last pitch of the night was a fastball that Cabrera beat into the ground for a rally killing 6-4-3 double play. It decreased Cleveland’s chances of a win by more than 20%. It was the third time this year that Robertson has faced just one batter while recording two outs, which is kind cool.

Girardi turned to Boone Logan to face Shin-Soo Choo (and his enormous platoon split) with two outs in the 8th, and six pitches later everyone was walking back to the dugout after strike three. It was the cleanest 8th inning pitched by Yankee relievers in who knows how long.

The Best Of The Rest

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Granderson’s homer wasn’t his only well struck ball of the night. He clobbered a ball off the top of the rightfield wall in the 5th, but got thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double. Choo played it perfectly off the wall and made a great throw, but the replay showed Grandy’s foot got in there before the tag. Such is life.

Speaking of Choo, Kenny Singleton was mispronouncing his name all night. He was saying “Shin-So”, not “Shin-Sue”. I’ll be paying attention tomorrow to see if he keeps doing it, but I suspect someone on the staff will straighten him out.

Mark Teixeira drew a walk, extending his streak of reaching base safely to 42 consecutive games. It’s the longest streak of his career by several games, and is the second longest such streak in the big leagues this year.

Robbie Cano was intentionally walked for a league leading 11th time. He had been intentionally walked 14 times total in the first five years of his career. That’s awesome. Robbie also reminded us all that he has the meanest double play pivot in the game in that 8th inning.

You know what isn’t awesome? Jhonny Peralta. He saw six total pitches in his four at-bats tonight. Turrrible. Good thing he’s on the Indians.

Mariano was understandably rusty tonight, it was his first action since last Wednesday. Nevertheless, scoreless 9th inning for Mo.

I have to say, I’ve been very impressed with Javy’s fielding this year. He handled that comebacker in the 6th to nab the lead runner between second and third, and it was just one of many times this year that he’s made nice plays on balls hit back at him. Very cool and collected in those spots, makes good decisions too. Fielding the position is not a crucial part of a pitcher’s game, but it’s certainly a nice bonus.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

We’re all still waiting on Alex Rodriguez’s 600th career homer. He went hitless in four at-bats tonight, and is 6-for-17 (.353) with two doubles since hitting No. 599. It’ll come soon enough, don’t worry. Part of me hopes it doesn’t come until the Yanks return home next week.

WPA Graph & Box Score

I love big spikes (or in this case, dips) like that, as long as they go in the Yanks’ favor. MLB.com has your box score, FanGraphs your nerd score.

Up Next

Same two teams as the same time tomorrow. Former Indian CC Sabathia gets the ball against rookie righthander Josh Tomlin, who will be making his big league debut. You know what that means … they’re doooooooooomed!

No Montero, no Romine, no Sanchez, no problem

Josh Norris posted Q&A’s with Slade Heathcott and J.R. Murphy. They’re both must reads.

Austin Romine is getting a little extra rest per the organization’s mandate. Remember, this is his first full season as an every day catcher and he has started to slow down of late, likely due to fatigue. No biggie, it’s always good to let the kids sit back and recharge the batteries every once in a while.

Triple-A Scranton (3-0 win over Rochester)
Kevin Russo, LF & Greg Golson, CF: both 0 for 4, 1 K
Reid Gorecki, RF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 K – five for eight over his last two games
Eric Bruntlett, SS & Jorge Vazquez, 1B: both 1 for 4, 1 2B – Bruntlett scored a run … JoVa drove in two & K’ed
Chad Tracy, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB
Chad Huffman, DH: 1 for 4, 1 K
Reegie Corona, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 K
Chad Moeller, C: 1 for 4, 1 K – four for eight while filling for Jesus Montero and his bruised forearm
Tim Redding: 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 6-10 GB/FB – 75 of 104 pitches were strikes (72.1%) … check this guy out
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – ten of his 17 pitches were strikes (58.8%)

[Read more…]

Game 98: There’s a team worse than the Royals?

A-Bomb at the Jake | Credit: Tony Dejak/AP

There’s just something about ripping on the Royals. They warrant it in some ways — after all, their GM has made some questionable calls during his tenure. In any case, the team has been pretty bad for a while now, and while they have some prospects that could help turn it around I don’t think there’s a lot of faith in their front office to make the necessary moves in completely remaking the franchise. Which is a shame, because some of the smartest baseball guys I know are Royals fans.

Today the Yanks move onto a team that has fared even worse than Kansas City this year, the Cleveland Indians. They’re only a game back of the Royals, but it took a 7-3 run to even get there. Of course, after rattling off six straight coming out of the break they’re now 1-3 in their last four. Most recently the Rays took two out of three from them.

Taking the mound is former Yankee farmhand Jake Westbrook. He wasn’t in the system very long, having come over from Montreal, along with Ted Lilly, in the Hideki Irabu trade. The Yanks then flipped him to Cleveland six months later in the David Justice trade. He’ll go up against Javier Vazquez, another former Expos farmhand. The goal tonight: to not lose effectiveness after four innings.

In good news, A-Rod remains in the lineup despite getting hit on the hand with a pitch in his final PA yesterday. He says it feels fine. I bet it’ll feel a lot better after he knocks one out of the park. In 255 PA at Jacobs Field A-Rod has hit 10 home runs.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, DH
7. Curtis Granderson, CF
8. Francisco Cervelli, C
9. Brett Gardner, LF

And on the mound, number thirty-one, Javier Vazquez.

Curtis and Malec bound by more than baseball

Since his call-up in June we’ve heard a few stories about Colin Curtis’s battle with testicular cancer at age 15. It’s quite the story, especially since we normally associate cancer with older folks. What tends to get glossed over is Curtis’s connection with former Yankee farmhand Chris Malec. Always an RAB fave, Malec was diagnosed with testicular cancer during his senior year at UC Santa Barbara. Today Mark Viera of the Times recounted the duo’s tale, noting that they still keep in contact even after the Yankees released Malec this spring. It’s a great pre-game read.

Moseley to start Thursday

Via Bryan Hoch, Joe Girardi confirmed that Dustin Moseley will start against the Indians on Thursday in his pre-game press conference. Sergio Mitre will resume working out of the bullpen after apparently losing his job in his first start off the disabled list. Can’t say I’m expecting much out of Moseley, but let’s just hope for the best.

(Get well soon, Andy)