Linkage: A-Rod!, Posada & Pitchers, Draft

Nothing like a batch of links right before lunch, even if some of them are a little stale…

Defending A-Rod

Lost in the mix of disdain and straight up hatred for Alex Rodriguez and the whole unwritten rule thing with Dallas Braden was that there’s a side to A-Rod’s story as well. This post by Joe Posnanski and this one by Morgan Ensberg (yes, that Morgan Ensberg) really do a phenomenal job of coming to the defense of the Yankee third baseman, not necessarily by being apologetic, but by looking at the facts and not letting past discretions cloud their view of the matter. Both pieces are fantastic reads even if they are a tad outdated, so make sure you give them a read.

Also, I recommend making Ensberg’s blog part of your daily reading. It’s truly awesome.

Posada ranks Yankee pitchers

This one’s a few days old too, but we haven’t gotten around to linking to it yet. Jorge Posada sat down with some Yahoo! (see what I did there?) to talk about all the pitchers he’s caught during his career. I’m not sure how much I trust him though, because he said Scott Proctor “would throw 98, 99, 100.” I remember Proctor throwing in the mid-90’s at times, but 98-100? They didn’t even have him that high on the TV gun. Maybe Jorge was referring to the ultra-juiced stadium gun. Either way, it’s a fun read.

Largest contracts in draft history

I hate to self-promote, but I put way too much time and effort into researching and writing this post at MLBTR about he richest deals ever given to drafted players. Everyone knows that Stephen Strasburg and Mark Prior and Mark Teixeira got paid, but who knew that Pat Burrell got $8,000,000 back in 1998? Or that Eric Munson got $6,750,000 in 2000?

2010 Pledge Drive Update

Our 2010 pledge drive to benefit Curtis Granderson‘s Grand Kids Foundation is in full swing, and thus far we’ve raised $222.77 with 141 games still left to play. It’s never too late to pledge, just follow the link for all the information you’ll need about what we’re doing and how to get in on the action.

Early season swings hurt Granderson’s numbers

Last night the Yankees returned home from a 12-game, three-city road trip that Curtis Granderson would probably like to forget as quickly as possible. After picking up a hit in the first game, he went 0 for his next 17, though he did walk four times in that span. On Wednesday night he went 2 for 5, but then last night he put up a zero, capping a 3 for 29 road trip.

Yes, Curtis has been pretty awesome on defense this year | Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

This came as quite a disappointment, considering how hot Granderson started the season. In fact, he might have warded off criticism for a bit after his first at-bat home run, and then game-winning home run, in Boston. He cruised after that, too, and through the first 12 games he was 14 for 45 with two doubles, two triples, two homers, and five walks to just nine strikeouts.

It is difficult, at this point in the season, to draw any conclusions from a player’s performance, even if he has appeared in every game. As we’ve seen from a number of Yankees hitters, slumps show up in the numbers a bit more emphatically than later in the season. What we can examine is what the player has done so far, with the knowledge that it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll continue these trends.

For Granderson there are both positives and negatives. The biggest negative, as many of us feared, is his production against lefties. He has appeared 30 times against a left-handed pitcher, and has struck out a third of the time. That’s significantly worse than his career mark, a 25 percent strikeout rate against lefties. He has drawn one walk, so has put the ball in play 19 times. Five have dropped for hits, a .278 BABIP, which is actually a bit higher than his career BABIP against lefties.

Those poor numbers against lefties, though, mean that he’s been hitting righties just fine. Yet he has still been a relative disappointment there. His .368 wOBA against righties looks good, but ranks below any mark he has produced since 2006. Again, this is likely to change. His BABIP against righties is just .263, and even in his younger years he produced far, far better marks. I expect that, along with his power, will increase as he gets more at-bats against opposite handed pitchers.

Another encouraging sign: he’s putting the ball on the ground a bit more frequently than he did last season. In 2009 he produced a career-low 29.5 percent ground ball rate. This went along with a career-high fly-ball rate, though a career-high infield fly ball rate also tagged along. To put it in perspective, last year Granderson hit 21.2 percent line drives, 29.5 percent ground balls, 42.9 percent outfield fly balls, and 6.4 percent infield flies. This year he has hit 22.4 percent line drives, 37.9 percent ground balls, 36.2 percent outfield flies, and 3.4 percent infield flies. In his best year, 2007, he hit 21 percent line drives, 34.2 percent ground balls, 41.6 percent outfield flies, and 3.2 percent infield flies. I think he’s well on his way to a season perhaps not as good as 2007, but certainly better than 2009.

It’s easy to get discourage by early season numbers. Slumps bring them down, and Granderson’s numbers certainly don’t look pretty right now. I do think, though, that there are enough positive signs of a turnaround. He’ll hit righties better, and while he might not hit lefties better I think his numbers, especially his strikeout numbers, will move towards his career totals. Again, the Red Sox series has kept him shielded from most criticism, so I hope that he gets things started during this home stand to keep the critics at bay.

Burnett, Cano lead Yanks to series victory

Remember when I said that there’s just no way Cano will keep up this production throughout 2010? It’s still equally unlikely that he does, but damn. This has been a pleasure to watch. It must be what people in St. Louis feel all the time with Albert Pujols. Even if he makes an out, he’s still hitting the ball hard. He powered the offense in their 4-0 win in the series finale against the Orioles.

Biggest Hit: Cano’s first homer

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

When Burnett has both his fastballs and his curve working, the Yankees don’t need much offense to hand him the win. He toyed with the Orioles all night long, inducing ground balls and poor contact on fly balls. Not only were his pitches moving, but he also showed excellent control, throwing nearly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. That resulted in just one walk, which, combined with the three hits he allowed, amounted to no runs for the Orioles.

The Yankees got the only run they’d need in the first, but they can’t count on just one run. Robinson Cano tacked on another in the fourth inning. A-Rod has been in a little slump, 0 for his last 19, so Cano has been coming up with fewer men on base. That hasn’t stopped him from brutalizing pitchers. Brian Matusz started the at-bat with a curveball high for ball one, and then went back to the same pitch. This one landed a little lower, high in the strike zone but slow enough for Cano to get all the around on. Into the seats it went, and Burnett got a bit larger lead.

Biggest Pitch: The walk

In the top of the sixth Cano struck again, doubling off Matusz to lead off the inning. Marcus Thames followed with a double, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Burnett had dominated the Orioles for the first five innings, so a three-run lead looked like quite a convincing lead at that time. It was. The largest WPA swing in favor of the Orioles came in a situation where they merely put a runner into scoring position, the first time they’d done so all game.

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

It was one of the rare poor sequences for Burnett. He missed pretty badly with a first-pitch fastball, and then came back with three more. Only one, a called strike two, was close. The final three pitches all missed inside, though Markakis did foul off a curveball before taking a fastball inside for ball four. That was all they’d get, though. Matt Wieters hit into a fielder’s choice, and Miguel Tejada popped out to end the frame, ending the Orioles’ best chance of the evening.

Hey Mark Teixeira

Teixeira might have gone only 1 for 4 with a double last night, but again made some solid contact. That solid contact hasn’t translated into his normally ridiculous numbers yet, but it seems like he’s close. Maybe a trip back to the inviting confines of Yankees Stadium will be just the boost he needs. He did, after all, hit 24 of his 39 home runs last season at home.

When Burnett’s on

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

Some games A.J. Burnett will have trouble with his curveball. We saw one of those starts over the weekend, though he mixed his four-seamer and two-seamer well enough to survive 6.1 innings against the Angels. This time he added his power curveball, and it left the Orioles with no chance.

You might notice, on Brunett’s FanGraphs page, that he’s throwing more fastballs this year than he did last year. If you go to his PitchFX page, you’ll see that he’s dividing them among his four-seamer and what PitchFX classifies as a sinker. A number of other pitchers have shown the same tendency this season, so it sounds like a chance in pitch classification algorithm. Still, it does seem like Burnett has been mixing his four-seamer and two-seamer a bit more this season.

His strikeouts per nine are way down this year, under six for the first time ever, but his groundball rate has risen. After another nine groundouts last night that figures to increase. Combine that with a low walk rate, and you have a very good, albeit completely different, A.J. Burnett. He’s not going to pitch like this every start, but if he has a few more like it in him, we’re going to enjoy life plenty this summer.

Robinson Cano…

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

Is there anything Robinson Cano can’t do? He leads the league in batting average and is ninth in OBP. He tied the two league leaders, Paul Konerko and Kelly Johnson, this evening, but both hit home runs of their own today, Johnson one and Konerko two, so he’s still in third. Also, I’m not completely certain of this, because I used a wOBA calculation spreadsheet and I’m not sure if it exactly matches FanGraphs’ formula, but I believe Cano will lead MLB in wOBA once the stats update.

Some Yankees have been in slumps lately. Teixeira hasn’t gotten started this season, A-Rod is 0 for his last 19, and Granderson had a pretty poor road trip. Cano has made up for them. Thankfully, when his production starts to even out, the other guys will likely get into a groove. Just another reason to love this team.

Joys

Every minute of that game.

Just so it doesn’t go unmentioned, yes, that backhand and throw by Cano was unreal. It was impressive enough that he got to the ball in time to make a play. But that throw was perfect. For his next trick, he’ll remove his glove and throw to first left-handed.

Annoyances

None worth mentioning.

WPA Graph

Great game last night, eh? Oh yeah, total domination. Unbelievable. Fuggedaboutit.

Next Up

The Yanks are back home and will face the White Sox. Unfortunately, Ozzie Guillen just now, a day before he starts a series with the Yankees, realized that Juan Pierre is no good. Andy Pettitte might have to face a slightly better hitter when he opens the series tomorrow night.

Noesi shows no mercy to Dunedin

Colin Curtis was placed on the disabled list with a high ankle injury, but it doesn’t sound too serious. Matt Cusick was activated off the phantom DL to take his spot. Abe Almonte is also on the DL, hence Francisco Santana’s arrival. Not sure what’s up with him.

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 win over Louisville, walk-off style)
Kevin Russo, 3B: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI – 15 for his last 36 (.417)
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Eduardo Nunez, SS, Juan Miranda, 1B, Jesus Montero, C & Jon Weber, RF: all 1 for 4 – Nunez stole a bag … Weber K’ed
Chad Huffman, LF: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – hit a walk-off jack as the first batter in the bottom of the 9th
Chad Moeller, C: 1 for 3
Reegie Corona, 2B: 0 for 2
Zach McAllister: 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 WP, 2-9 GB/FB – 66 of 96 pitches were strikes (68.8%) … the grounders just aren’t there this year, he’s got a 0.56 GB/FB this year after being closer to 1.5 the last few years
Amaury Sanit: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 18 of 29 pitches were strikes (62.1%)
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 10 of his 11 pitches were strikes … 14-5 K/BB ratio in 14.1 IP with a 1.55 GB/FB

[Read more…]

Game 21: Almost home

"You know Alex, it's an unwritten rule that you're only allowed to have one elbow up on the bench, not two." (Photo Credit: Gail Burton, AP)

It’s hard to believe that the Yankees are 21 games into their season and the month of April is basically over, but they’ve only played in front of their home fans six times. Considering that they’re 63-19 at home dating back to last May (including playoffs), it’ll be nice to for the Yanks to come home for six games before going back out on the road yet again.

Before they can do that though, the have to deal with Brian Matusz and the Orioles tonight. Matusz, the 4th overall pick in the 2008 draft, has been Baltimore’s best starter this year, pushing a 2.79 FIP with a 9.85 K/9 in his previous four starts. He touches 95 with the fastball, and backs it up with a slider, a curve, and a changeup, all of which can be legitimately used to put batters away. Oh, and he’s lefthanded. It’s like the quadruple whammy. I know Matusz is just 23-years-old, but the Yankees are going to have their hands full in this one.

Here’s the lineup…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Thames, DH – thank goodness he won’t be playing the field
Granderson, CF
Cervelli, C – Jorge Posada‘s knee is still bothering him, but he’s available in an emergency
Gardner, LF

And on the mound, Allen James Burnett.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, and the game can be seen locally on YES or nationally on MLB Network. Enjoy.

Social Media Update: For those of you on Facebook, be sure to check out the updated River Ave. Blues Facebook page. We’ve recently overhauled the page with a new RSS feed of the blog, frequent status updates relating to the Yankees and baseball and some new graphics and photos. We’ll be posting some exclusive and non-exclusive content to Facebook, and those of you on the social networking site should be sure to become a fan of our page.

Take your swim trunks and flippy-floppies

Exciting news, Yankee fans: It’s once again possible to take a boat to Yankee Stadium. If the 4 train is too crowded for you, just hop on the Water Taxi — brought to you by Delta Airlines — at Pier 11 near Wall St., 90 minutes before game time. According to the Water Taxi’s website, these boat rides take an hour, and those on the boat can buy cocktails, beer and food while floating up the East River. It’s first come, first serve, and the boats are limited to just 147 passengers. Unfortunately, the Water Taxi isn’t offering rides back to Wall St. after the game, but for Will Leitch, that doesn’t matter. He’s very excited to travel to his baseball games this summer on a boat.

Hard to believe, but Cano even hotter than last year

In 2007 and in 2008, Robinson Cano got off to a slow start. After nearly winning the batting title with a late surge in 2006, Cano stumbled a bit in August, posting a .270/.320/.337 April. Things got worse in May, and he hit rock bottom on May 16 when he was hitting .234/.276/.312. He took off after that, though, and in his final 522 PA he hit .326/.374/.536, which more resemble the Cano we had gotten to know in 2006.

Photo credit: Chris Carlson/AP

In 2008 his start was even worse. He hit under .200 for almost the entire month of April, finishing the month at .151/.211/.236. While he hit rock bottom on May 3 that year, his recovery didn’t go as well as in 2007. His .300/.327/.452 line from May 4 through the end of the season wasn’t terrible, but it was far below what we had come to expect from Cano. It got so bad that Joe Girardi ended up benching him in September.

The narrative, then, entering the 2009 season was that Robbie had to get off to a hot start in order to fend off his critics. As we saw, he responded. Through 20 games he hit .381/.418/.619, and while he didn’t keep that up for the rest of the season he still kept up a respectable line of .311/.341/.505 from Game 21 through Game 162. His final line, .320/.352/.520, represented his best production since that superb 2006 season.

In 2010, we’ve seen more of the same. Cano’s hot start is a big reason why the Yankees have gotten off to such a hot start. In the first 20 games he’s hitting .390/.430/.701, which closely resembles his 2009 start. The good news, though, is that he has shown improvement in every category. His BA is clearly higher. In his first 20 games last year he walked 6.6 percent of the time and had a .238 ISO. This year he has walked 7 percent of the time and has a .312 ISO.

There’s just no way Cano will keep up this production throughout 2010. Yet even if he drops off a bit he’ll finish strong this season. It’s tough to ignore such a massive increase in power. It comes at the cost of strikeouts — Cano’s 13 percent strikeout rate is his highest since 2007 — but he’s also shown a bit more willingness to take some pitches and even draw a walk. I’m being cautious, given Cano’s similar start last year, but it seems like this year could be his best yet.