Reminder: RAB and FanGraphs Live Discussion in NYC on August 7

Mark your calendars for August 7. That’s the day that FanGraphs invades New York City to bring you the first, but hopefully not last, FanGraphs Live Discussion. It’s going to be an eventful morning of baseball talk that will feature a number of top baseball minds discussing and analyzing the game. Best of all, RAB will be a big part of it.

Ben, Mike, and I will lead the New York baseball discussion, one of the many panels at the event. We talk baseball with you guys every day, but this format will allow for a more intimate, more guided discussion. We’ll be led by FanGraphs’s Carson Cistulli, who hosts and produces FanGraphs Audio. Check that link for an example of Carson’s inimitable discussion-guiding skills. They are, as I’m sure he’d say himself, white hot.

(Also, check back at that link soon; I’ll be on the pod in its next appearance.)

In addition to that we’ll have a riveting discussion of baseball media that will feature former Deadspin editor and current New York magazine contributor Will Leitch, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald, Alex Speier of WEEI, and Wall Street Journal contributor David Biderman. Best of all, RAB fave Jonah Keri will moderate the discussion.

There will, of course, be plenty of nerd stat speak going on, featuring Mitchel Litchtman, better known as MGL, from The Book blog. And then there are all the FanGraphs notable, including founder David Appelman, Dave Cameron, and Bryan Smith.

You can catch the event at The Florence Gould Hall, which is up on 59th Street between Madison and Park, which is close to 4, 5, 6, N, R, and Q subway stops. You can buy your tickets here for $15, plus $1.37 processing fee.

If you miss this you’d better be dead or in jail. And if you’re in jail, break out!

Coming back from rock bottom

I feel bad for that baseball. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It was an ugly sight. The Yankees were in Toronto playing the Blue Jays in early June (the 5th, to be exact), and first baseman Mark Teixeira was still mired in one hell of an April slump. He entered the game with a .221/.336/.380 season batting line (.212/.316/.288 in his previous 17 games), and then finally hit rock bottom. After a harmless fly ball to left in the first inning, Teixeira struck out swinging in his next five plate appearances.

Starter Ricky Romero got him three times, closer Kevin Gregg nailed him once, and reliever Casey Janssen was kind enough finished off the platinum sombrero in extra innings. Tex was visibly frustrated, but not as much as the fans were. We wanted him dropped in the batting order, we wanted him to make big changes to combat changeups, we wanted him on the bench for a day or three, we wanted improvement. Plain and simple. Something, anything that might help him get back to being the Mark Teixeira we all grew to love last season. Thankfully, the hideous Saturday afternoon in Toronto truly represented rock bottom.

Tex went out the next day and even though he didn’t pick up a hit, he reached base on an intentional walk. Considering the events of the previous day, it was a small victory for the Yankees. Tex finally found his way into the hit column the next game, and did so with authority. He went three-for-four with a homer and a pair of walks against the Orioles, raising his OPS by 31 points in the process. Quite simply, Tex hasn’t stopped hitting since.

The Yanks’ first baseman has picked up a base hit in 30 of 37 games since that five strikeout performance, and more importantly he’s reached base safely in all 37 of those games. It’s the second longest such streak of his career, eclipsing a 36 game effort back in his days as a Texas Ranger. Only Joey Votto of the Reds has had longer streak of reaching base in consecutive games this season, though Tex is nowhere close to matching him. Votto’s streak was a mammoth 58 gamer that started in late-April and ended two weeks ago.

Overall, Teixeira has hit .321/.425/.629 with more walks (23) than strikeouts (17) during these last 37 games, boosting that sorry season batting line I mentioned earlier to a much more respectable .256/.366/.471. He still has a long way to go to get back to his career batting line of .287/.377/.539, but he’s well on his way. The reason for his improvement isn’t anything out of this world, he’s just started hitting more line drives (about 4%) and cut down on the infield pop-ups (by close to 6%). Unsurprisingly, that has improved his batting average on balls in play (.235 before the streak, .310 during). There’s still some more regression on the way to get him back to his career BABIP of .305, which puts a smile on my face.

As Tex has gone so have the Yankees. The team has won 25 games during his 37 game streak, going from two games back to two-and-a-half up in the division. Of course many others contributed to those 25 wins, but getting their MVP-caliber first baseman back on track certainly didn’t hurt. Mark Teixeira has turned back into the Mark Teixeira he’s supposed to be, just like we all knew he would at some point. It just took a little longer than expected this season.

Boone Logan’s big chance

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Just after the All-Star break the Yankees placed reliever Damaso Marte on the 15-day DL with inflammation in his left shoulder. The move sounds more like a precautionary maneuver than anything; the Yanks remember how greatly Marte helped in the World Series and want him fully healthy for the stretch run. Still, he was the only lefty in the bullpen, and if Joe Girardi has made anything clear during his tenure it’s that he wants a lefty available. That meant only one thing, the recall of Boone Logan from AAA Scranton.

The season hasn’t gone so well for Logan. He had two previous stints with the big league club, both of which resulted in far too many walks and hits. In fact, those seem to be Logan’s calling cards. He has a career BB/9 rate of 4.25 and a career BABIP of .350. A pitcher who puts so many men on base likely won’t find long-term MLB success. Maybe he’ll get lucky for a while and find favorable situations in which he can help the team. But over time he’ll probably remain ineffective. Yet I remain optimistic about Logan.

Maybe it’s because of his demeanor. He’s a big dude, 6’5″, but has this goofy streak that makes him quite the affable character. Plenty of players take themselves too seriously, but that’s clearly not the case with Logan. And with good reason. It’s easy to forget that he’s only 25 years old. It might seem like he’s been around forever, but that’s because he broke into the league as a 21-year-old in 2006 and pitched a full season, 50.2 innings, as a 22-year-old in 2007. Now that he’s entering his prime I think the Yankees might get some use out of Logan.

One thing we often hear discussed on broadcasts is how hard Logan throws. According to the Baseball Info Solutions velocity data presented on FanGraphs, Logan’s fastball averages 93.3 mph this year, which is about on par with his short 2009 stint with the Braves. It is also a tick higher than his velocity in 2007, which is so far his best full season in the majors. I’m not sure what one has to do with the other, but the uptick in velocity also moves in step with his increased fastball usage. He’s throwing it 72.1 percent of the time this year while using his slider just 18.9 percent. In 2007 he used the slider 37.9 percent and in 2008 he used it 41.5 percent.

The FanGraphs pitch type values aren’t perfect, since they don’t consider the pitch sequence. In other words, maybe a pitcher is retiring plenty of batters with the curveball, but that ignores how he set them up with the fastball. Yet it still tells us whether hitters did or did not hit the pitch well. For his career Logan’s fastball rates as -1.65 runs per 100 pitches, while his slider rates as a positive 0.38. This year Logan’s fastball is getting hit, -2.5 runs overall, while his slider, +1.9 runs, and his changeup, +1.0 runs even though he throws it just 9 percent of the time, have worked well. Perhaps, then, sequencing has become an issue. Might Logan find more success by going to the slider and changeup more and using his fastball in a different manner?

Maybe it comes down to figuring out exactly what he did yesterday. He came in to start the seventh inning of a one-run game and pitched as well as anyone could have expected. The first lefty he faced, Bobby Abreu, flied out to center on a 3-2 fastball that he set up with two two-strike sliders. Logan then worked the count 2-1 on Torii Hunter before leaving a changeup right over the middle of the plate. But then, with the tying run on base, he slung two fastballs, 94 and 95 mph, over the outside corner to get ahead of Hideki Matsui 0-2. In this count he has gone to his slider 61 percent of the time this year, but yesterday he went even further outside with a 95 mph fastball, getting Matsui to swing and miss.

Will that happen every time? Absolutely not. Can the Yanks trust Logan as a primary setup man? Not now, and probably not at any time this year. But considering the state of the bullpen, I don’t see how he’s any worse an option than Chan Ho Park, Dustin Mosely, or Chad Gaudin. The Yanks need help, and if they’re going to acquire an arm or recall one from AAA I’d far rather see those three go before Logan at this point. He’s no great shakes, but he’s young and showing signs of improvement. Unless the Yanks are running out an elite relief corps, I think Logan should have a place in the pen.

Joe Girardi and the Cubs

Two days ago, former Yankees’ player and manager Lou Piniella announced his retirement from baseball, effective at the end of the season. It wasn’t exactly a surprising announcement, and the popular belief was that he was not going to return to the Cubs as their manager next year one way or the other. His contract is up, the team is underperforming, and new ownership just took over. The entire front office regime could change as well.

Sure enough, there has since been plenty of speculation that Piniella’s successor could be none other than current Yanks’ manager Joe Girardi. And why not? It makes plenty of sense on the surface. Girardi (and, I believe, his wife, but don’t quote me on that) grew up not far from the Windy City in Peoria. He went to school at Northwestern in Chicago, was drafted by the Cubs and broke into the majors with them before returning for a second stint later in his career. His roots in Chicago obviously run very deep. It’s a match made in baseball heaven: a manager with success in a large market coming back to manage his hometown team. They make movies out of this stuff.

Clearly, Girardi is a favorite of GM Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner family. They basically handpicked him for his current job after the 2007 season, stuck by him during the disappointment of 2008, and heaped loads of praise on him for last year’s World Championship. Even though the organization does not negotiate new contracts with its members until their current deals expire, it was a foregone conclusion that the Yankees would re-sign Girardi to a very lucrative deal after his contract ended this winter. There was no reason to suspect otherwise, at least not until all this Piniella stuff happened.

If nothing else, the Cubs’ opening gives Girardi some serious leverage when the time comes for his new deal. His current contract has an average annual value of $2.5M, which is above the league average but not insane. It also includes incentives based on how far the team advances in the playoffs. For comparison’s sake, Terry Francona makes $4M annually, Ron Gardenhire about $3M. Even though the 2010 season is a long way from over, Girardi will certainly command a raise based on what he did last year alone, perhaps something along the lines of what Boston is paying Francona. That shouldn’t be a problem for the Yankees, who paid Joe Torre more than $6M a year from 2005 through 2007.

Talking strictly from a baseball perspective, there’s almost nothing the Cubs could offer Girardi that the Yanks’ couldn’t match, if not exceed. The North Siders have bad contract after bad contract, an okay but not great farm system,  and a shaky front office situation (though that may change over the next three or four months). The young core of the next great Cubs’ team is not in place and needs time to develop. You’ve got Geovany Soto, Starlin Castro, Sean Marshall, Andrew Cashner, and…Marlon Byrd? The Ricketts Family can talk all they want about spending big and fielding a competitive team, but the Cubbies are not one or two or five moves away from contention. The Yankees give Girardi everything he could possibly want from a competitive standpoint. They know it, he knows it, and the Cubs know it.

What the Yankees can’t offer Girardi is home. Sure, he’s settled down in the area, but I’m sure the Chicago area is still home to him. I lived on the West Coast for a few years after school and I ended up moved back to New York simply because I missed being home, and I’m a whole lot younger than Girardi. Can you imagine how much a career journeyman backup catcher misses being settled and at home?

I can’t speak for Girardi and his preferences. Not many people get to play or manage or coach or whatever close to their hometown in this game, so I would certainly understand if he wanted the job. Maybe he wants a new challenge. Maybe he relishes the chance to manage the team that breaks the Cubs’ more than a century-old World Series drought. Maybe he just wants to go back to the National League so he can bunt and double switch and wheel play until he turns blue in the face. Whatever the reason, it won’t be because the Cubs give him a better chance to win.

I hope he stays, but I’d understand if he didn’t.

Yanks win an odd one against the Angels

For four innings this seemed like a typical rebound game. After getting their asses kicked last night the Yanks scored six runs in four innings while holding the Angels scoreless. Javier Vazquez had thrown just 37 pitches through those four innings, and it didn’t look like the Angels had much of a chance. But from the fifth inning on it became anything but a typical ballgame.

Biggest Hit: Miranda takes out an insurance policy (WPA) and Cano’s tater (subjective)

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

The aim of WPA, as I see it, is to capture the essence of the moment. Given the current base-out state and score situation it can, using data from thousands of games, describe how important a certain moment or event appears. Of course, you can’t always capture emotion in a number. When it comes to important moments in a game I’ll sometimes argue with the value WPA assigns to it. Today we’ll split the difference.

Heading into the bottom of the seventh the Yanks were walking a tightrope. In a matter of two innings they saw their 6-0 lead cut all the way to 6-5. The Angels mounted a few threats that the bullpen quelled, but it still felt like heartbreak could be a few pitches away. That’s why Juan Miranda‘s one-out solo home run in the bottom of the seventh was so important.

Scot Shields got Cano to, once again, chase a pitch at his eyes to cap a three-pitch strikeout. That brought up Juan Miranda, 0 for 3 to that point, with none on and one out. On the 2-1 pitch Shields delivered a fastball up and over the plate, and Miranda laid into it, sending it into the Yanks’ bullpen for some much-needed insurance. Even the one additional run made the lead seem so much safer.

To me, though, the biggest hit came earlier, during the four-run third. The Yanks had rallied on a Jeter single, Swisher double, and Teixeira single to extend the lead to four. Two batters later Robinson Cano took a 2-0 sinker over the center field wall to break open the game. At that point, with Vazquez cruising, it felt like a comfortable game.

Biggest Pitch: Joba gets another grounder

Two dozen photos, none of Joba | Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

I don’t know what happened to Javy. I don’t think Javy knows what happened to Javy. Girardi explained it as him trying too hard to avoid the walk. It could be that. It’s definitely not something you see every day from a pitcher who was going so well earlier in the game. David Robertson then worked himself into a jam in the sixth but got out of it in what was the second biggest pitch of the game. He ran the count to 3-1 on Howie Kendrick before getting him to line out on a high fastball.

In the seventh, Girardi went to Boone Logan, who retired both lefties and allowed a single to the righty Torii Hunter. With another righty, Mike Napoli, due up, Girardi went to Joba Chamberlain for the final out. He basically let Hunter steal second, and then on a 3-2 count missed low with a fastball to put on Napoli. It looked like he’d get out of it when Juan Rivera hit a chopper towards third, but it was hit too weakly and everyone reached safely. For the second inning in a row the Yankees faced a bases loaded jam, and for the second inning in a row they avoided damage. Kevin Frandsen grounded to A-Rod, who stepped on third to end the inning.

The bullpen did a great job, Joba’s eighth aside, for the second time in three games. The relief corps remains one of the weaker parts of this team, but they’ve come through lately and have helped deliver two big wins.

Miscellany

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Derek Jeter had a nice-looking day. He’ll go on a tear sometime later this month into August. Just watch.

If I didn’t know better I’d think that Nick Swisher has a chance to hit .300 this year. It looks like he can hit anything up there. He looked especially good in the third when he waited back on a curveball and served it back into center for a base hit.

With this 3 for 5, two-double night, Mark Teixeira‘s line is up to .256/.366/.471. I have August 8 in the pool of when he’ll get his SLG over .500.

A-Rod has struck out only 4 times in his last 40 AB.

As Chad Jennings notes, Robinson Cano hadn’t been intentionally walked twice in a game since 2007.

For the second time this season Juan Miranda homered off a pitcher with the last name Shields. He hit one off James on May 20.

Granderson looked good, going 2 for 4. If it takes a critical article every day to get him going, I’m up to the task.

Yesterday was Cervelli’s 10th multi-hit game in 49 starts.

Brett Gardner lost a chance to bring his batting average back over .300 when he got ejected, for the first time in his career, in the seventh.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Colin Curtis, who hit his first career home run, is the only player in the league with the last name Curtis. There are only two players whose first name is Curtis.

And finally, Michael Kay got all riled up for an A-Rod fly ball that didn’t even push Matsui to the warning track, but showed no emotion when, one batter later, Robinson Cano put a ball in the bullpen to give the Yanks a 5-0 lead.

Box, graph, and highlights

Poppa, what does the tall red bar mean?

More at FanGraphs. Also: traditional box and highlights.

Up Next

The Royals come to town for a four-game set. Thanks to the luck of the draw, Zack Greinke pitched on Wednesday, and so he won’t face the Yankees. Bruce Chen will square off against CC Sabathia at 7:05 p.m. tonight, and the Yankees will hope their starting pitcher can make it through six innings for the first time since CC’s last outing.

Former Yankee manager Ralph Houk, 90, passes away

Ralph Houk, the former Yankee manager who succeeded Casey Stengel and won two World Series with the Bombers in the early 1960s, passed away today at the age of 90 in his home in Winter Haven, Florida. Houk, signed by the Yankees in 1939, spent parts of eight seasons as Yogi Berra’s back-up during the late 1940s and early 1950s, but he made his mark as leader of a 1960s powerhouse. He served as the manager for the 1961 and 1962 World Series winners and the 1963 AL champions before moving up to the General Manager spot in 1964. During the 1966 season, Houk returned to the bench and served as manager throughout CBS’ seven-season reign as Yankee owners. Houk resigned after piloting the George Steinbrenner-owned 1973 Yankees to an 80-82 finish and went on to pilot the Tigers and the Red Sox.

For his career as Yankee skipper, Houk was 944-806, and he was much beloved by the players. In his obituary of Houk, Richard Goldstein paints a picture of a man who loved baseball and couldn’t leave the game. Today, he is sometimes a footnote to the great Yankee Era and the symbol of the years of mediocrity under CBS. Still, he left his mark on the club, and only four managers in team history won more games.

Jesus, Montero is on fire

Josh Norris was at Low-A Charleston’s game last night and got some video of Jose Ramirez and J.R. Murphy. Check it out.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 loss to Gwinnett)
Kevin Russo, CF: 2 for 4 – got picked off first
Reegie Corona, 2B, Eric Bruntlett, 3B, Greg Golson, RF & Chad Moeller, C: all 0 for 3 – Corona drew a walk
Eduardo Nunez, SS, Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Chad Huffman, LF: all 1 for 4 – Nunez stole a base, scored a run & got caught stealing … JoVa got picked off first, K’ed twice & committed a fielding error … Huffman K’ed
Jesus Montero, DH: 3 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB – eight for his last nine with two doubles & two homers … .420/.532/.740 in July … he hasn’t struck out in ten days
Tim Redding: 8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 10-7 GB/FB, 1 E (pickoff) – 67 of 102 pitches were strikes (65.7%) … if he wasn’t Tim Redding, I’d say he’s making a might fine case to challenge Sergio Mitre for that open rotation spot
Romulo Sanchez: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – eight of his 13 pitches were strikes (61.5%) … whole lotta stuff happened in the span of 13 pitches there, huh?

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