Game 94: Bring on the Quarter Pounders

I love that movie. If you’ve never seen it (see it!), the dialogue in the scene above involves John Travolta telling Samuel L. Jackson that people in France call a quarter pounder a Royale. Ever since I’ve heard that, I’ve referred to Kansas City’s baseball club as the Quarter Pounders. Perhaps I should grow up.

Anyway, back to something relevant. Tonight’s game features a pair of lefties that were both ranked among the best lefthanded pitching prospects in the game by Baseball America at one point. Bruce Chen, who gets the ball for KC, was ranked as the fourth best prospect in the game way back in 1999, and two years later his counterpart CC Sabathia was ranked as the seventh best prospect in the game. Obviously their careers have taken very different paths, with CC living up to his promise while Chen has gone to play for ten different big league teams and in the minor league system of one more. He’s got half decent numbers this year (4.35 FIP, 5.01 xFIP, 7.34 K/9), but still, it’s Bruce Chen.

Here’s your starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixiera, 1B – he’s 7-for-11 with a double and six homers (!!!) off Chen in his career
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Thames, DH
Granderson, CF
Gardner, LF

And on the mound, the Big Stoppa, CC Sabathia.

The Royals traded third baseman Alberto Callaspo the Angels earlier this afternoon, so we’ll see old buddy Wilson Betemit man the hot corner for KC tonight. Who did they get for Callaspo? Sean O’Sullivan (and a minor leaguer), who beat the Yankees the other night. Lots of Yankee ties in that move.

The first game of this very welcome four game set with the Royals (no Zack Greinke, woo!) starts at 7:05pm ET. The game is on YES as (almost) always, and it’s also part of MLB Network’s regional coverage tonight. Depending on where you live, you’ll either get Yanks-Royals or Twins-Orioles. Enjoy the game.

RAB on Bloomberg Sports, Fangraphs

As River Ave. Blues continue its quest to take over the world, we’ve made a few appearances in other sports media outlets worth exploring. Over at Frangraphs, Joe took a top examination of the Yanks’ deadline needs. He says the team could stand to find a platoon partner in center field and needs some obvious help on the bench and in the bullpen. Sergio Mitre too remains an unknown.

Yesterday morning, at the bright and sunny hour of 8 a.m., I recorded a video segment with Bloomberg Sports’ Ballpark Figures. The piece a five-minute bit with Bloomberg TV host Michele Steele and Bloomberg Fantasy Sports Analyst Rob Shaw, and we talked about A-Rod‘s 600th home run, the team’s deadline needs and other sundry stories swirling around the Bombers. Catch the video at the link above or watch it below.

To need a DH or not to need a DH

When Nick Johnson went down with a wrist injury in early May, the Yankees found themselves with a lineup problem. As with any team, they had no back-up plan for the designated hitter spot, and although Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi had spoke of their desires to use the DH as a rotation half-day spot for their aging veteran core, that move meant far too many at-bats for the likes of Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Pena. It does the team no good if having an above-average designated hitter for a day leads to, in the cases of Pena and Cervelli, a combined 307 plate appearances of well below-average hitting.

As Johnson’s injury morphed into something that will probably be season-ending, the Yankees have scrambled a bit to fill the DH spot. Jorge Posada has earned the bulk of at-bats over the last few weeks, and while Marcus Thames can hit against lefties, his production against right-handed pitcher leaves him on the bench until the late innings. And so a meme emerged: The team needed a more permanent solution to the DH hole.

Recently, those rumblings have turned into full-fledged dissent by the Yankee faithful. Even with the arrival of Juan Miranda — a career minor league slugger with little Major League experience or success — commentators believed the Yankees would look to upgrade the designated hitter spot before the July 31st trade deadline. Adam Dunn could be had for the right price, and if the Yanks got creative, a few other hitters could wind up on the open market.

A funny thing happened on the way to trade deadline though. Down in Scranton, Jesus Montero got hot. His streak isn’t just your average hot streak; it’s a blistering, sweltering, Yankee Stadium-on-Old Timers’ Day hot. In 50 at-bats since the start of July, Montero is hitting .420/.531/.740 with four home runs. He’s walked 13 times and struck out just seven, the last K coming 10 days ago. After a horrendous cold stretch, Montero has, since June 1, poured it on. He’s hitting .329/.402/.584. He’s 20. He’s at AAA. Chew on that.

The drumbeat grew louder. Bring him up to DH, they say. He’ll hit at least as well as Juan Miranda and probably better. He’s truly the real deal, they say. I’ll admit it: I’m very, very tempted by the idea.

Yet, promoting Montero may just be an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist. It’s true that the Yankees could use a more permanent solution at designated hitter, but their offense isn’t suffering. As their positional splits reveal, the Yankees have been above average at every position this year except three: 1B because of Juan Miranda and Nick Johnson’s production while in the field; 3B because of Kevin Russo and Ramiro Pena’s inability to hit; and CF because Curtis Granderson is having a disappointing season. Notice that for two of these positions, the rotating DH actually drags down the overall production to below-average totals. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez individually are both putting up above-average OPSs relative to the league average at their positions.

At the DH spot, the Yankees aren’t suffering. Their make-shift DHs are putting together an sOPS+ of 111, far above the league average. (Considering the combined batting line of .244 with a .779 OPS for Yanks’ DHs, that’s a sad commentary on the state of American League DHs, but I digress.) Take a look at the positional breakdown:

On an individual level, the numbers are too small to draw many conclusions, but Juan Miranda’s and Marcus Thames’ production doesn’t look bad when we isolate their DH totals. In fact, both hitters are faring better than average in very limited plate appearances. At the very least, this platoon deserves an extended look.

This DH/Jesus Montero conundrum doesn’t end there. Right now, I have little doubt that Montero will be a productive bat in the Majors. I’m not sure the Yankees are convinced he’ll be a catcher, and I’m not sure there’s much to gain keeping him behind the dish at AAA for the sake of appearances. The Cliff Lee dealings illustrated how the Yankees value Montero, and if they truly saw him as the catcher of the future, he wouldn’t have been included in that trade. That title will be reserved, for now, for Austin Romine.

But the compelling reason to keep Montero in AAA is one of track record. Take a look at the list of 20-year-olds in the expansion era who had at least 200 PAs at the Major League level. With a few notable exceptions, these players all put up below average numbers. It’s just not easy to be 20 and a Major Leaguer. The Yanks need Montero to be great in the long run; they don’t need him to be merely adequate in 2010.

Barring a big deal, the DH spot will remain in flux for the Yankees. If Montero’s torrid stretch continues throughout August, we can reconsider the issue for September. But the Yanks keep winning, Montero keeps mashing, and we’ll patiently await a designated hitter and eventually Jesus Montero too.

RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Just a reminder, my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 4:05pm ET today. You can listen in on either FOX Sports 1030 AM or WOBM 1160 AM, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to stream it online via one of those links as well.

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.