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.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 17th, 2010

Record Last Week: 3-4 (30 RS, 24 RA)
Season Record: 24-13 (208 RS, 135 RA, 26-11 Pythag. record), 2.0 games back
Schedule This Week: vs. Red Sox (two games, Mon. & Tues.), vs. Rays (two games, Weds. & Thurs.), @ Mets (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Joba, Mo can’t finish off the Twins

No one likes to see a game like that. The Yanks seemed in control the whole time. Sergio Mitre did his job, and then David Robertson did his. To have it come apart in the hands of your two best relievers will certainly break hearts. We know that Joba can’t K ‘em all, and we know that Mo has one of these hiccups once or twice a year. I hope that, by this point, everyone knows it’s not time to write a column about how Mo’s time has come. Sadly, you know it’s there.

Biggest Hit: Winn splits the outfielders

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

The Twins got on the board in the second when Justin Morneau hit a solo homer, but that wasn’t the biggest deal. Morneau will do that from time to time, and the Yanks were sure to score a run at some point. It didn’t look like that would come in the second. The first two batters made outs, though Jorge did come through with a single up the middle. Marcus Thames drew a rare walk, but even then things didn’t look good, for Randy Winn was at the bat.

During Curtis Granderson‘s absence I’ve grown accustomed to seeing Winn swing over pitches. Even with fastballs it seems like his bat passes through the zone a good few inches above where the ball crosses. This time, though, he went down and got a low fastball and drove it into the gap. The Twins fielders seemed ill positioned for such a drive — it takes a special kind of hit to score Marcus Thames from first, even with two out. That put the Yanks up 2-1.

Winn picked up another big hit, though we’ll get to that later. I want to like him — he’s been a solid player throughout his career and would make a quality fourth outfielder — but it just hasn’t clicked for him this year. It might not at all.

Biggest Pitch: Duh

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

After inexplicably walking Jim Thome with the bases loaded, Mo got another chance to finish the eighth, this time against the lefty Jason Kubel. He opened with a cutter low and in, which Kubel looked at for ball one. The next one was in a similar spot, just a bit higher, and Kubel crushed it into the right field stands. We were all crushed, though it’s not an unfamiliar scene. It actually reminded me of Mo’s early appearance against the Rays last season (the one in May, not the one during the summer).

The first sin, of course, was walking Thome, who just wasn’t biting on those cutters low and in. He took one way off the plate for ball one, but the next two were much closer. After getting one over middle-low, Mo went back to working inside, generating two foul balls before his errant seventh pitch. That one was up and away, which makes me think he completely missed. He got another chance, though, and just didn’t come through. I’m sure he will next time they call his name.

Still, it was on Joba

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

Mo might have thrown the pitches that turned the game, but Joba put him in that position. He actually started off the inning well enough. Denard Span singled to lead off, which is never ideal with a runner of his speed. But those types of things happen, and good pitchers work around them. Joba did by inducing a ground ball, but not one that would allow the Yanks to double up Orlando Hudson. He then pitched around Joe Mauer, an understandable strategy, before striking out Justin Morneau. All seemed well.

It was not all well, of course. Joba threw four straight breaking balls to Michael Cuddyer, and found himself in a 2-2 count. He did go to the fastball, 96 mph and high in the zone, but not quite high enough. Cuddyer fouled it away. Joba, ever the predictable one, went back to his slider, and Cuddyer crushed it towards Teixeira, who couldn’t hold on. I thought going to Mo was a bit premature there, especially with the slumping Jim Thome at the plate, but it was by no means a bad move. Calling on Mo never is. I just would have rather seen Joba clean up his own mess.

When the bottom of the order hits…

Joe Girardi sure knows how to waste his bench. When Greg Golson, defensive sub for Marcus Thames, came up in the eighth, Girardi still had Nick Swisher off the bench to pinch hit. Because the lefty Brian Duensing was on the mound, Girardi could use Swish, who can swing pain-free only from the right side. Ron Gardenhire predictably went to his righty, so Girardi had to burn yet another pinch hitter, Juan Miranda. And Miranda predictably struck out. That meant Randy Winn and Ramiro Pena were set to open the ninth.

Yet, by some stroke of luck, both singled off Jon Rauch, giving the Yankees three opportunities with the tying run at the plate. But Rauch got his bearings and struck out the next three batters he faced, the top of the order. It’s quite disheartening to see the scrubs give you a chance, only to see your best blow it. I don’t know what to say after that, other than that’s baseball.

WPA Graph and box score

Yes, you can make the joke about falling off a cliff.

More WPA info at FanGraphs and the box score at MLB.com.

Up Next

The Red Sox come into town for a pair. Phil Hughes and Daisuke Matsuzaka kick off the series tomorrow night at 7. The RABbis will be in attendance.

Laird drives in seven as Trenton pushes winning streak to ten

Hector Noesi has been promoted to Double-A Trenton. It’s well deserved, he completely overwhelmed the High-A Florida State League (2.06 FIP, 11.1 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, ~40% ground balls).

Triple-A Scranton (7-6 win over Charlotte)
Kevin Russo, 3B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 HB – on base seven times in his three games back
Reegie Corona, 2B: 2 for 5
Eduardo Nunez, SS & Jesus Montero, DH: both 0 for 4 – Nunez K’ed once, Montero twice
David Winfree, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 K – he’s been a pretty nice find, can’t complain when it’s a minor league signing
Jon Weber, RF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 E (fielding)
Chad Huffman, LF & Reid Gorecki, CF: both 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB
Chad Moeller, C: 1 for 4, 2 R, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 PB
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 4 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2-8 GB/FB – 46 of 64 pitches were strikes (71.9%) … he’s not even getting it done in AAA anymore
Amaury Sanit: 2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-2 GB/FB – 23 of his 41 pitches were strikes (561%) … gave up two jacks, giving him five in 19.2 IP
Josh Schmidt: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 4-0 GB/FB – 16 of his 26 pitches were strikes (61.5%)
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 WP – ten of his 15 pitches were strikes … 31 K in 23 IP

[Read more…]

Open Thread: So it goes

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

Well, games like that happen every so often. No one likes seeing Mariano Rivera blow a lead, but it happens two or three times a year, and we move on. Nothing you can do about it. Just come back to the park tomorrow and beat Boston.

Here’s tonight’s open thread. The Phillies and Brewers (Cole Hamels vs. Dave Bush) are you ESPN Sunday Night game, plus you’ve got NHL playoff action as well. Talk about whatever you want, just be cool.

AAA prospects: a status report

Photo Credit: Cataffo/ Ny Daily News

Mike does a great job compiling all of the stats and happenings across the Yankees’ minor league system in his nightly Down on the Farm series. From Staten Island to Scranton, we have a pretty good sense about how our players did, even if we mostly only care about Montero, Romine, ManBan, Ramirez, Warren, Z-Mac, Stoneburner and a handful of other players.

But after a while we sometimes get “stuck” in the numbers — we forget how the guy that’s just gone 0-5 with 4 K’s during last night’s game is very often the same guy that went 4-5 with two home runs the night before. So I’m going to be doing a recap of how some of the AAA farmhands have performed thus far, all of which came from milb.com or minorleaguesplits.com. Many of the players on this list are on Mike’s Preseason Prospect List, where you can get a better look at their long term prospects. In this AAA installment I chose to recap players that are actual prospects, most of which will likely (if they haven’t already) see major league action this year. Not too many are interested in seeing Amaury Sanit’s progress, though I’m betting we’d all love to find out if Kei Igawa sleeps with those awesome sunglasses on (I’ll do some digging and try to find out for you all).

Next week we’ll take a look at how some of the AA guys are looking. Also, because there’s a Montero Watch present in the sidebar and most DotF are comprised of MonteroTalk, we’re going to leave him out on this one.

AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre

Kevin Russo, 2B: With the big league club having apparently suffering a pandemic of Mets-itus, a few AAA players have seen some promotions. Chief among them, and for good reason, is utility player Kevin Russo. Russo, a former 20th round draft pick out of Baylor in 2006, had hit .302/.383/.425 as Scranton’s second basemen before jumping to Massachusetts after Robinson Cano was hit by a Josh Beckett fastball. He got only two plate appearances but Russo’s versatility – he can at least play three infield spots and man the corner outfield positions – defensively, his solid on-base skills, and good contact ability make him a good candidate to stick in the big leagues for a long time. With Ramiro Pena‘s mounting struggles with the bat (which was inevitable, really), Russo may take him over as a super-utility guy at some point. He’ll have to show he can at least play SS passably, though, and there’s no guarantee of that. Bonus: if there are minors fantasy leagues that exist (I’m hoping they do), he’ll soon have CF eligibility, too. He’s played there of late.

Season line in AAA: .301/.388/.416

Last ten games: .310/.383/.405

Time in New York: .000/.000/.000

Eduardo Nunez, SS: Most people saw this coming. Nunez got off to a torrid pace, as Greg Fertel and even RAB’s own Mike Axisa have noted in his DotF postings. Consequently, Nunez has really tailed off, displaying why we shouldn’t fall in love with early season small sample sizes. With a few middle infielders ahead of him in the pecking order and poor defensive skills (albeit with a great arm), Nunez is unlikely to see any big league action this year. If he does it will because of ghastly circumstances. Poor defense, weak power, unrefined on-base skills with very good contact ability, plus speed and a wonderful arm. That may translate to some modicum of minor league success, but I don’t see it happening on the major league level for a middle infielder (and really one in name only).

Season in AAA: .321/.371/.400

Last ten games: .244/.262/.268

Juan Miranda, 1B: Miranda was a big-money IFA signing of the Yanks from Cuba back in 2006. You may remember he was once considered the future first baseman of the Yanks. While that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, Miranda, in his final option year, is playing for a contract for a big league club next year. The book on him was that though he really nails right handers, he struggles with lefties and his defensive play is by no means great, even for a first baseman. Last year he took positive steps in correcting those problems, hitting lefties with a triple slash of .291/.367/.507. So far, in AAA, he’s continued that pace, hitting .313/.389/.563 in 33 plate appearances (note: this is according to minorleaguesplits.com, which is a bit behind in their stats). Oddly, he’s struggled against righties, hitting .222/.354/.364 in 66 plate appearances. He’s been in New York for a few games, and with Nick Johnson possibly out for a few months, Miranda may stay in New York as a DH. Considering Johnson’s injury history, the team couldn’t be caught too surprised by that. This may be make or break for Miranda.

Season line in AAA: .260/.371/.438

Last ten games in AAA:.250/.357/.417

Time in New York: .143/.250/.286

Photo Credit: Mike Ashmore

Ivan Nova, SP

Nova’s rocketed up Yankee top prospect lists over the last two years as he’s finally started to harness his very good stuff. He’s been up in New York after the injury bug hit and he’s largely impressed, though he’s probably the guy sent back down with Park coming back from the DL. In his first appearance, Nova, signed by the Yanks and returned after being selected as a Rule V from the Padres, came in and threw two scoreless innings and in today’s game he again looked fairly good. With a likely ceiling as a back-end starter in the AL East (which really isn’t all that bad when you think about it), Nova is very likely to be the first guy up again with another injury, first because he’s already on the 40-man roster, and second because a groundball pitcher with good stuff is always a valuable commodity. He also has an outside shot at a rotation spot next year depending on how things shake out.

AAA season: 37 IP, 2.43 ERA, 35 hits, 32 K, 12 BB, 1.78 GO/AA

Last two starts: 13 IP, 3.84 ERA, 17 hits, 7 K, 4 BB

Time in New York: 3 innings, 0.00 ERA, 4 hits, 1 K, 0 BB

Zack McAllister, SP

Z-Mac has had an up-and-down in his first run at AAA. Arguably the Yankees’ top pitching prospect, McAllister ran into some issues in late April, early May, giving up over 6 runs in two of three starts. Still, he’s sprinkled in some good games and has strung two consecutive 7-inning performances of good ball. A polished groundball pitcher, McAllister may wind up trade bait or perhaps in the rotation as early as next year. He, like Nova, has back rotation or possibly #3 starter potential, but he’s going to need to get that groundball rate up again. A 34% GB ratio is not going to work at the big league level for a guy with his skill set. It wouldn’t hurt to develop a true out pitch, either.

Season in AAA: 45 IP, 4.40 ERA, 52 hits, 32 K, 9 BB, 0.52 GO/AA

Last two starts: 14 IP, 2.14 ERA, 14 hits, 8K, 1 BB

Romulo Sanchez, SP/RP

The last of the famed “Fat Sanchezes,” Romulo has been very impressive in his time in Pennsylvania and also in New York. Sanchez has a great fastball, occasionally hitting the high 90’s with his 4-seamer, but he likely profiles best as a reliever in the future due to his erratic control and fringe-average off-speed pitches (a changeup and slider). If he can locate that big fastball and keep hitters off balance with one of the off speed offerings, he could definitely stick with the big club over the year. His numbers in Scranton are a bit misleading. In April he gave up 10 earned runs in only 2.1 innings. Otherwise, he’s been among the better pitchers in the upper minors.

AAA season: 32 IP, 5.34 ERA, 30 hits, 32 K, 16 BB, 1.22 GO/AA

Last 2 starts: 14 IP, 1.42 ERA, 9 hits, 17 K, 2 BB

In New York: 3.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1 hit, 3 K, 1 BB

Mark Melancon, RP

The final name on our list, Melancon entered last season with high expectations and didn’t live up to them in limited action. I recall his propensity for hitting opposing batters (along with old favorite Mike Dunn). It was probably just jitters because he returned to AAA and fell right back where he’d been before his callup. He came back up again briefly and showed signs of life, causing many of us to think he’d be up in the Bronx to start the year. Well, hasn’t happened yet but it seems like just a matter of time. Melancon has again been very good in Pennsylvania in 2010. A look at his splits reveals some quirks, though. You might look at his numbers against righties and say, “Wait a second, this doesn’t look right.” And to some extent, you’d be right. But aha! Along with a BABip against righties of .462, he’s also giving up a line drive rate of 26.2%, yet checking in with an FIP of 3.05. Look a bit further over and you see why. He’s striking out 16.55 righties per nine innings this year. Wow, that’s strange data. Against lefties he’s getting lots of groundouts, another promising sign. I’d be fairly shocked if we don’t see Melancon in the Bronx very soon.

AAA Season: 23 IP, 2.74 ERA, 21 hits, 31 K, 8 BB, 1.71 GO/AA

Last 4 appearances: 5.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4 hits, 13 K, 2 BB