Game 62: Back for more

Fake Obama digs it.

The Yankees needed last night’s game to remind everyone that they’re still one of the best teams in baseball, capable of laying beatdowns on any team at any time, regardless of how awful they looked a few days ago. The bullpen needs work, the offense is still inconsistent, the starting pitching can still be hit or miss, but you know what? Show me a team without similar problems and I’ll show you my two bridges for sale. Here’s the lineup that will hopefully continue the onslaught against Indians’ pitching…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixiera, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Brett Gardner, LF
Frankie Cervelli, C

Bartolo Colon, SP

The weather isn’t great, but it looks like there will be enough of a window to get this game in (eventually). First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Injury News: Eric Chavez has started some light hitting drills, but he has not started to run yet. That’s kinda important … There’s a chance Rafael Soriano will begin throwing this week, but nothing is set in stone. Obviously, they need him.

The switch-hitter’s split

As the offense sputtered against Boston last week the calls for the Yankees to add another bat to the lineup got louder. Carlos Beltran is the current cause celebre among some fans. The hope in picking up someone like Beltran is that he’ll fill in the spots in the lineup where the offense has been dragging, especially in the corner outfield and designated hitter slots, and give the team another solid offensive bat. As a long-time Beltran fan, it would certainly be exciting to see the Yankees add him. However the team may be getting a Beltran-esque level of production going forward from one of their own hitters, Nick Swisher. Swisher has had a rather ugly start of to the year. For the first two months of the season he hit .213/.335/.314, a mouth-vomit-inducing line of mediocrity. Those first two months are gone now. They’re lost. He can’t go back and recover those days of 0-fer and cause those groundballs to squeak through and line drives to fall in, and his end-of-year stat line is going to bear the imprint of his slow start no matter how well he hits for the remainder of the year. But what’s done is done, and the question is what we should expect from him going forward. If he’ll simply go back to hitting as he has in the past, specifically as a left-handed hitter, then the team will benefit and the need for offensive reinforcement will be lessened a bit.

When understanding why Swisher has done so poorly this year so far, and he now stands at .216/.343/.345 with a .311 wOBA and 5 home runs, it’s important to focus in on his platoon split. He’s always fared better from the right side of the plate than from the left side of the plate. In almost 1200 plate appearances batting righty against left-handed pitchers he has hit .264 with a .400 on-base percentage with a .441 slugging percentage, a superb record of plate discipline and a decent mark of power. When hitting from the left side the results are a bit worse. Swisher has hit .245 with a .338 on-base percentage and a .471 slugging percentage. It’s a bit more power, yes, but it’s a far worse mark in on-base skill.

There’s value in treating Swisher the right-handed batter and Swisher the left-handed batter as two discrete and separate hitters. Swisher from the left and Swisher from the right have their own separate power, on-base, power and BIP data. We don’t usually like to treat them separately, and this is mostly because of impatience. By June we’re ready to treat the data we have as reliable and trustworthy. After all, we’ve been watching for two months, and we’d like to think that we know, thank you very much, what Swisher’s deal is. It’s his approach, it’s his “at-bats”, it’s just not working. Sure, it’s all of those things, even if saying his at-bats have been bad is kind of another way of saying he’s not getting hits. But in order to avoid falling down a rabbit hole of tautological and self-referential logic, of confirmation and recency bias, we have independent evaluative methods, measures that don’t depend on our mood or emotion or our own two eyes, as keen as the latter might be.

Here’s the main issue: Swisher has hit right-handed at a healthy rate, as always. From the right side, he’s hit hit .327/.412/.491 from the right side in 68 plate appearances. He’s hit two home runs, and his batting average on balls in play is .356. He’s been the man as a righty. As bad as Swisher’s overall numbers look right now, if he hadn’t been killing the ball as a righty his season would look even worse. The culprit is his line from the left side of the plate, where he currently resembles the love child of Alcides Escobar and Yuniesky Betancourt. It’s been horrific. In 166 plate appearances he’s hitting .175/.313/.292. His batting average on balls in play is .210, well below any mark considered reasonable for a major league hitter unless there’s some reason to believe that Swisher’s skillset has deteriorated to the point where he’s no longer a major league caliber hitter. If that’s the case, it’s probably time for him to abandon switch-hitting entirely.

Considering he’s in the midst of his physical prime, this doesn’t seem like the smartest course of action. This is especially true because all his peripheral split stats as a left-handed hitter are exactly where we’d hope they’d be. His career walk rate is 11.8%, and this year it is 16.4%. His strikeout rate this year is 25.2% versus a career mark of 27.5%. He’s hitting line drives around 2% more often than he has historically. His ground ball and fly ball rates are nearly identical to his career marks. He has a career 15.8% home run to fly ball ratio, but this year it’s only 6.4%, a likely candidate for regression. Smart money is on Swisher bouncing back from the left side and seeing better results in average and power.

The fact is that we don’t really learn a whole lot from 68 plate appearances from the right side of the plate and 166 plate appearances from the left side of the plate. Virtually anything can happen in a small sample size, and that’s not hyperbole. So it doesn’t matter if we’re in June, a small sample is a small sample. We can find value in examining this sample, then, when we contextualize it properly in the hitter’s historical profile. Swisher hasn’t been the best from the left side throughout his career, but he’s been far better than a .600 OPS hitter. It boils down to a simple question. Do we believe in the 2788 plate appearances as a left-handed hitter throughout Swisher’s career, or the 166 plate appearances as a lefty in 2011? Do we trust the advanced split data, cool our jets and wait this thing out, or just assume that Swisher’s ability as a left-handed hitter has completely abandoned itself and argue that he should bat strictly from the right-side? My preference is to stick with the larger sample size and give Swisher some more runway.

They say that time heals all wounds. In baseball, the time needed to heal all wounds is generally a weekend sweep. Should the Yankees hammer the Indians all weekend the calls to trade Swisher for Beltran, an actual proposal I saw, to DO SOMETHING, will likely subside some as the frustration of losing dissipates and confidence returns. Yet this doesn’t mean the decision-makers on this team should stand pat their attempt to make this club better, any more than they should panic after a losing streak. And so even while there is optimism for and upside in Nick Swisher there will still be some opportunities to improve and turn this team into a real juggernaut. I’ll get to one of those opportunities tomorrow morning.

Yankees pound Tribe, get back to winning

I think we all needed this. It’s been a brutal few days in Yankeeland, and a simple win wasn’t going to suffice. An 11-7 depantsing of the Indians that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicates certainly helped ease the pain.

Hip hip.

Fausto Carmo-nope-a

The Yankees needed to come out of the gate strong following the ass-whoopin’ they took from the Red Sox, and Fausto Carmona was happy to oblige. The first four batters he faced failed to make contact … and three reached base. Derek Jeter walked on four pitches ahead of a Curtis Granderson strikeout, then Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez drew walks to load the bases. Fifteen of Carmona’s first 20 pitches were balls. Fifteen!

Thankfully, Robinson Cano did not swing at the first pitch*, instead fouling off four pitches before singling in a run. Nick Swisher drove in the second run with a sac fly, and Jorge Posada plated another with a single. By the time Brett Gardner grounded out to end the inning, the Yankees were up by three and Carmona had thrown 40 pitches. They were patient, letting the Indians’ starter work himself into trouble before jumping all over hittable pitches that essentially had to be over the plate. Those are the kind of innings we’re expecting from this team, and they never looked back.

Pretty much the only thing this bullpen's good for.

Fight!

Things got a little testy in the second inning. Granderson whacked a solo homer with two outs (his 19th) to make it four-zip Yankees, then Carmona hit Teixeira with the very next pitch. It was high-ish, hit Tex in the back/shoulder and only because he ducked away. I think it would have been a high rib or shoulder shot if he didn’t move. Anyway, Tex got up, starting yelling at Fausto to “throw the ball over the plate,” and then the bench cleared. And so did the bullpens. And then the managers got in each other’s faces. It was pretty awesome. No punches were thrown, but it was still pretty cool. The plunking was clearly intentional, no doubt about it.

Tex’s Revenge

The Yankees scored runs in the first, second, third, fourth, and sixth innings, then had the bases loaded with one out in the seventh. Carmona was long gone at this point, but Teixeira still got some revenge by clearing the bases with a three run double into the right-center field gap. That gave the Yankees a 10-2 lead, and believe it or not, that was Tex’s first double in 33 days.

Oh, And How About Ivan Nova?

This was a pretty big start for Nova, whose rotation spot is very much in doubt these days. The offense staked him to a big early lead and he did exactly what he needed to do, throw strikes and not dick around, which is why he retired a dozen of the first 14 men on faced. The Tribe pushed across a run in the fifth on some walks, a single, and a ground out, and Nova ultimately allowed a pair of runs in seven innings of work. He struck out six, a season high. The Indians aren’t exactly a powerhouse offense, but lesser offenses were smacking Ivan around in his previous starts. Good job by him.

Death By Bullpen

Joe Girardi used four relievers to get the final six outs really because he had too, not because he wanted to. Kevin Whelan walked four of the six men he faced in his big league debut (more on that later), Amaury Sanit allowed four singles to the six men he faced, Lance Pendleton walked the one man he faced, and then Mariano Rivera cleaned up the mess by recording two outs in the ninth. Nine of the 13 men that the law firm of Whelan, Sanit & Pendleton faced reached base, which is pretty awful when they’ve got a nine run lead. Rivera shouldn’t have to pitch in a game like this, but he hadn’t pitched since Sunday in Anaheim. It’s not the end of the world, but it would have been nice to have given him another day off. Oh well.

That A-Bomb went a looong way.

Leftovers

It’s pretty obvious that Whelan was overthrowing, just about everything was up and out of the zone. It was a less than ideal debut, but sometimes these things happen. Mike Dunn walked a million guys in his debut and now he’s one of the best relievers in the NL. Give the kid more time, it’s not like the alternatives are all that great anyway. He did show a very nice split though, it’s just a matter of throwing strikes with the fastball for Whelan.

Speaking of the alternative, I’m not sure Sanit is even a Triple-A caliber pitcher. It was surprising when they called him up in the first place, and he hasn’t done anything to justify the team’s faith in him. There’s no reason to carry eight relievers when he’s going to be number eight. Get another position player up here, stat.

A-Rod hit one of the longest homeruns in Yankee Stadium history in the fourth inning, a solo shot into the left field bleachers just to the side of the restaurant. It would have hit the windows if it was another foot or two towards dead center. T’was an absolute bomb.

Jeter singled doubled, his 2,991st career hit. He’s got six games left in the homestand to get nine hits. Granderson had two hits and a walk, Tex a hit and two walks, A-Rod two hits and a walk, Cano three hits and a walk, Posada three hits, Gardner two hits, and Frankie Cervelli one hit. The only guy without a hit was Swisher, who had two walks. It as a total team effort on offense, and they even stole five bases (two by Gardner, one each for Jeter, Grandy, and Tex).

Jorge’s three hits raised his season average to .215, which is still terrible but at least he’s off the interstate. Since that ugly little incident when he pulled himself out of the lineup, he’s hitting .326/.421/.429 in 57 plate appearances. That’s … not bad at all. Posada also has ten hits in his last 17 at-bats over the last four games.

WPA Graph & Box Score

What’s the WPA of the brawl? I demand answers! MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has the rest.

Up Next

Quick turn around, as these two clubs will play game two of this four game set at 1pm ET on Saturday. Bartolo Colon takes on Mitch Talbot and the rest of his former team.

* Seriously, I would have gone up to the Bronx and … let Robbie know I was very very disappointed.

Marshall kills worms in losing effort

Jairo Heredia was ranked as the 13th hottest prospect in the minors in this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet, which is pretty cool. Josh Schmidt was promoted to Triple-A Scranton to replace the promoted Kevin Whelan, and apparently the Yankees have signed Cuban defector Ronnier Mustelier. He’s a second baseman, and here’s all I could find on him in my limited search time.

Triple-A Scranton (6-3 loss to Charlotte)
Austin Krum, LF, Ramiro Pena, SS, Jesus Montero, C, & Jorge Vazquez, 1B: all 0 for 4 – JoVa struck out thrice, Montero and Krum once each … this was Montero’s first game back after missing four with that eye infection … Krum threw a runner out at the dish
Brandon Laird, 3B & Dan Brewer, DH: both 0 for 3 – Laird walked, struck out, and scored a run … Brewer struck out a pair
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 3, 1 R
Kevin Russo, 2B & Jordan Parraz, RF: both 2 for 3 – Russo drove in a run, scored another, and struck out … Parraz doubled, got caught stealing, drove in a pair, and threw a runner out at third
Buddy Carlyle, RHP: 3.2 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 6-1 GB/FB – 37 of 59 pitches were strikes (62.7%)
George Kontos, RHP: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 0-2 GB/FB – 22 of 37 pitches were strikes (59.5%) … 36-13 K/BB in 33 IP
Randy Flores, LHP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 12 of 17 pitches were strikes (70.8%)
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 14 of 17 pitches were strikes (82.3%)

[Read more…]

Updates: Kevin Whelan up, Joba under the knife

Update (6:28pm): Joba was placed on the 60-day disabled list and Chris Dickerson was send down to make room for Whelan on the roster. I don’t get that at all. Thirteen pitchers when three of them are pop-up guys? When one of you catchers has a bad back? How does this roster construction make any sense?

Original Post (4:30pm): Via Donnie Collins, Kevin Whelan is on his way to New York and will be activated before tonight’s game. It’s unclear who will be sent down, but my money’s on Amaury Sanit. Figure that either Joba Chamberlain or Justin Maxwell will be placed on the 60-day disabled list to clear a 40-man roster spot. Whelan’s been absolutely awesome for Triple-A Scranton this year, striking out 30 and walking just six in 27 innings. He does have a history of walking guys and getting hurt though, but he was clearly the top call-up candidate. The Yankees just might actually get some return from the Gary Sheffield trade after all.

Meanwhile, the Yankees announced that Joba Chamberlain with undergo Tommy John Surgery on Thursday. Dr. James Andrews will perform the operation, and the Yanks should get their right-hander back within 9-12 months. My money’s on a return by the All Star Break next year. Considering Joba never really felt the pain associated with ligament damage and had been throwing quite well, this is a blow for the team. We can dream that the club will reassess his future role in the pitching staff. (Additional reporting by Benjamin Kabak.)

Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

(Photo Credit: Flickr user BenSeese via Creative Commons license)

The Yankees and Indians have some ties, namely CC Sabathia and the 2007 ALDS, but otherwise these are two very different teams. It’s the whole David vs. Goliath deal, the small market club vs. the big bad Yankees, the speedy club vs. the Bronx Bombers, all that jazz. The Yankees and Indians do have one thing in common right now though: they’re both playing terrible baseball at the moment.

What Have The Indians Done Lately?

The Tribe was the surprise, fell-good story of the year early on, jumping out to a ridiculously hot 20-8 start through the first month of the season. The good times didn’t last though. The Indians are just 14-18 since then and they’ve been outscored 153-125 in the process. Imagine if they hadn’t scored 14 runs in two innings off Vin Mazzaro that one game. Cleveland has won just four of its last 15 games, and they’ve scored a total of nine runs in their last six games. Yep, the Indians are who we thought they were. Regression is a bitch.

Indians On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Like I said, they’re struggling to score runs of late, in part because the resurgent Travis Hafner (.409 wOBA) is on the disabled list. That said, the top five spots of their lineup are very, very dangerous. Lead-off man Michael Brantley (acquired in the Sabathia trade) owns a .349 wOBA for the year and a .354/.426/.521 batting line over the last two weeks. Number two hitter Asdrubal Cabrera has been the best shortstop in the AL this year, combining a .395 wOBA over the full season with a .343/.361/.629 batting line this month. Grady Sizemore is now hitting third following his long knee-injury related layoff, and a .366 season wOBA with a .290/.353/.506 line over the last two weeks is reminiscent of the old Grady.

Carlos Santana holds down the cleanup spot and hasn’t been great overall (.336wOBA), but he’s come alive over the last three weeks or so (.317/.434/.463). Shin-Soo Choo has not been himself (.300 wOBA) in part because of his DUI (according to him), though he’s still dangerous and left-handed power in Yankee Stadium plays well. The rest of Cleveland’s lineup is a little hit or miss. Matt LaPorta (.332 wOBA) is the best of the rest (he was another piece in the Sabathia trade), but old pal Shelley Duncan (.270 wOBA), Jack Hannahan (.309), Lou Marson (.248), Austin Kearns (.252), and Travis Buck (.308) aren’t scaring anyone. Prospect Cord Phelps was just called up to take over second base from the punchless Orlando Cabrera (.263 wOBA), and he went hitless in his first and only game on Wednesday.

The big thing to watch with the Indians is that they will run, which will be a problem if Russell Martin‘s still not healthy enough catch and Frankie Cervelli plans on throwing some more balls into center field. Choo, Brantley, and Cabrera all have seven steals or more, and they’re aggressive going first to third and what not. As a whole, the Tribe’s offense is right about league average at a .324 wOBA, but the lineup is very top heavy.

Indians On The Mound

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Eric Kilby via Creative Commons license)

Friday, RHP Fausto Carmona: Fausto is like the sinkerballing version of A.J. Burnett, dude’s just crazy inconsistent. Here’s his runs allowed in his last five starts: 4, 8, 4, 9, 4. He’s also allowed ten runs in a game this year (Opening Day, actually), and also has six starts of two earned runs or less. Good luck figuring him out. Carmona will throw that hellacious low-90’s sinker most of the time, but he can also mix in quality sliders and changeups. They aren’t strikeout pitches, but enough to keep both righties and lefties off balance. A 58.1% ground ball rate with a very good infield defense are the recipes for his success.

Saturday, RHP Mitch Talbot: An elbow injury has cut Talbot’s season in half, but his last two starts have been pretty good (12.2 IP, 3 R) following a disastrous return (3 IP, 8 R). His main weapons are a two-seamer and cutter, both of which sit in the high-80’s. He’ll also throw the occasional changeup and slider, though Talbot doesn’t miss bats (6.11 K/9) and he does walk guys (4.18 BB/9). His saving grace is a fine ground ball rate (50.5%).

Sunday, RHP Josh Tomlin: Oh the nightmare of Josh Tomlin. You probably remember that he made his Major League debut against the Yankees last year, when he held them to one run and three hits in seven innings. He was rocking a sub-2.50 ERA as recently as three starts ago, but it’s now closer to 4.00 after allowing six runs in six innings in both of his previous two outings. Tomlin is a pretty generic right-hander, throwing three high-80’s fastballs (cutters, two-seamers, four-seamers), a changeup, and a curveball. He doesn’t walk anyone at all (1.27 BB/9), but he also doesn’t miss any bats (5.10 K/9) and is a big time fly ball guy (37.4%). Unsurprisingly, he’s homer prone (1.27 HR/9).

Monday, RHP Carlos Carrasco: The prize of the first Cliff Lee trade, Carrasco fits the mold of Talbot and Tomlin (low walks and low strikeouts), just with better stuff. He’ll sit in the low-90’s with his heat and back it up with a changeup and curveball, getting a solid amount of ground balls (49%). It’s worth noting that the scouting report on Carrasco has long been that he struggles with men on base for whatever reason (diminished stuff from the stretch? overly worried about holding runners? who knows), so the Yankees need to make him sweat when guys get on. He followed up a six run, six inning outing against the Rangers with 8.2 shutout innings against the Twins in his last two starts.

Bullpen: The Indians have a really good bullpen, owning a 3.60 FIP and 3.25 ERA as a unit. Closer Chris Perez is flirting with the dreaded 1.00 K/BB ratio (5.01 K/9, 4.63 BB/9), and with a 31.4% ground ball rate, you wonder how long until he blows up. Setup man and great name Vinny Pestano has been fantastic, striking out 11.57 batters per nine while walking just 3.43 per nine. Lefties Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp are holding same-sided batters to .209/.222/.256 and .063/.147/.156 batting lines, respectively. Both hold their own against righties too.

The rest of the relief corps consists of middle man Chad Durbin (3.97 FIP but a 5.47 ERA), mop-up man Frank Herrmann (5.51 FIP and a 7.71 ERA), and righty specialist Joe freakin’ Smith, who naturally has a reverse platoon split (.311/.392/.356 vs. RHB, .100/.174/.150 vs. LHB). The Tribe can certainly protect a lead in the late innings with a lot of guys that have a lot of different looks, but there are some soft spots in the middle innings that can be exploited.

Recommended Indians Reading: The DiaTribe and Let’s Go Tribe