Game 20: Stop the bleeding

RAWR!!! (Photo Credit: Rob Carr, AP)

As fast as the start to the season was for the Yankees, things turned in the opposite direction just as quick. They’ve lost four of their last five games despite being outscored by just three runs during that stretch. Even with their recent dip, the Yanks still have the fourth best winning percentage and fifth best run differential in the game, plus … you know … the season is far from over. They’re still on a 102 win pace.

CC Sabathia gets the ball tonight in an effort to right the ship, back at the site of where he first announced his arrival to the Yankees last May. He faced Jeremy Guthrie that night, and he’ll do the same again on this one. Of course, Alex Rodriguez stole the show in that game when he hit a three run homer on the first pitch thrown to him on the season. Such a selfish jerk.

CC’s coming off back-to-back complete games, except one was rain shortened and the other was an eight inning loss. You can tell Joe Girardi is really trying to get off the schneid tonight, he’s sending the A-lineup out there to back up Sabathia…

Jeter, SS
Johnson, DH
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Granderson, CF
Swisher, RF
Gardner, LF

And on the mound, Carsten Charles Sabathia.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm, and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

The All Star Game will be more offensive

Major League Baseball just can’t keep its hands off the All Star Game. Although this glorified exhibition game “counts” for something, the powers-that-be have been tinkering with the format over the last few years. After the 2002 game ended in a tie, the All Star Game became the determining factor for home field advantage in the World Series, and the rosters expanded to ensure a deeper bench.

Today, MLB announced a new round of changes — including the universal DH no matter the home ballpark — that will be implemented this year when the game heads to Anaheim. The changes came out of the workings of the Commissioner’s Special Committee for On-Field Matters, and the Players Association has given them its blessings. They are as follows.:

  • The designated hitter rule will now be utilized by both teams regardless of whether the All-Star Game is played in an American League or a National League ballpark. The National League’s starting DH will be selected by the N.L. All-Star manager, while the American League’s starting DH will continue to be selected via fan balloting.
  • Any pitcher selected to an All-Star Team who starts a regular season game on the Sunday immediately preceding the All-Star Game will not be eligible to pitch in the All-Star Game and will be replaced on the roster. The pitcher who is ineligible to play in the All-Star Game will be recognized as an All-Star, will be welcome to participate in All-Star festivities and will be introduced in uniform.
  • Rosters will be expanded from 33 players to 34 players, consisting of 21 position players and 13 pitchers. Last year’s 33-man rosters consisted of 20 position players and 13 pitchers.
  • In addition to the existing injured catcher rule, one additional position player who has been selected to an All-Star Team will be designated by each All-Star manager as eligible to return to the game in the event that the last position player at any position is injured.

By and large, these rules seem to guard against the injury potential while also enhancing the entertainment value of the game. With pitchers no longer batting, AL managers aren’t forced into some awkward double-switch situations, and the reality is that fans would rather see a slugger rather than a weak-hitter pitcher come to the plate during the Midsummer Classic. Perhaps with some extra offense, the NL, winless since 1996, will have a fighting chance.

These recommendations are among the first in a series that should come from the Commission’s committee. Consisting of, according to USA Today, “Tony La Russa, Mike Scioscia, Jim Leyland and Joe Torre, eight current and former front-office executives and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson,” this group has already urged MLB to compress the playoff schedule, and the panel is set to release a longer report on the game last this year.

The Yankees might not be as hated as you think

If you were to survey a random group of 1,000 baseball fans about their most hated team, I suspect the Yankees would be the most frequent answer. There are just so many reasons to hate them. They buy their team via free agency. They have an unmatched payroll. They win, a lot. And their fans have developed a sense of entitled arrogance. I think this picture sums up how fans of other teams view Yankees fans.

According to a recent study, though, there are other teams that face a bit more net hate than the Yankees. David Biderman of The Wall Street Journal describes a survey conducted by Nielsen Co. — the company that determines television ratings with their set-top boxes. They developed an algorithm that searches the internet to determines the positive and negative reactions to various brands. Among baseball teams, the Yankees somehow did not score the lowest.

That honor belongs to the Cleveland Indians with a score of 0.9 on the -5 to 5 scale. The Red Sox were the next most hated team at 1.1. You have to get past the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros before you get to the Yankees, in the No. 5 spot, at 1.8. The Mets rank as the ninth most hated team, and our very own Ben Kabak has a quote in the article regarding that.

“Even Yankee fans don’t hate the Mets these days,” says Benjamin Kabak, a writer for the River Avenue Blues Yankees blog. “We just feel bad for them.”

I suspect this survey suffers from a volume issue. Are the Indians, Reds, and Astros really more hated than the Yankees? Obviously not. The issue, I think, is that there is so much positive reaction to the Yankees that it offsets a lot of the negative remarks. Again, I’m not sure of the exact algorithm, but I’m pretty sure that the positive reactions from the large Yankees fan base played a big part in their ranking. Compare that to the fan bases of the Indians, Reds, and Astros, all of which have experienced a few losing seasons lately.

Optimizing the bullpen with another righty

Photo Credit: Julie Jacobson, AP

A disabled list trip that was originally supposed to be nothing more than an early season precaution has morphed into a multiple week hiatus with no end in sight for Chan Ho Park, whose bum hammy has yet to improve. The Yankees originally called up Boone Logan to replace him in part because CHoP was expected to be out just the minimum two weeks, but also because he left a solid enough impression during Spring Training. At the same time, Mark Melancon would remain with Triple-A Scranton and work on a regular schedule, rather than be buried as the sixth or seventh man in the bullpen. Now that Park’s return has entered into “indefinite” territory, it might be time for the Yankees to swap out Logan and Melancon.

Logan has put five men on base in his 2.1 innings of work so far despite his new mechanics, but we’re talking about three games, which are meaningless to base an evaluation on. Sure, last night’s episode of walking the sole lefty batter he brought in to face was frustrating, but that happens to everyone. The real reason why I’d like to see Melancon brought up to replace Logan is the upcoming schedule.

The Yanks’ next eight games come against the Orioles and White Sox, who have .316 and a .299 team wOBA‘s against righthanders. The Orioles has several lefthanded bats in Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, and Rhyne Hughes, but Markakis is the only one who is demonstrably worse against southpaw pitching (.328 wOBA vs. LHP, .377 vs. RHP). Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera have the 8th and 9th innings exclusively, so Damaso Marte can be used against him as needed in the 6th or 7th inning. Good righty relievers like Al Aceves and David Robertson (last night notwithstanding) should be able to neutralize the other two.

The White Sox have four lefty batters in their regular lineup, but three of them are named Juan Pierre (.243 wOBA), Mark Kotsay (.193), and A.J. Pierzynski (.172). The fourth is Mark Teahen who is having a fine year (.390 wOBA), so that makes him Marte’s designated guy for the series. The other three are awful, and burning through relievers just to get a platoon advantage against them is the height of foolishness.

Once the eight games against those two clubs are through, the Yanks head back to Boston, whose top lefty batters are David Ortiz (.240 wOBA) and J.D. Drew (.271). Drew is a high quality player with a platoon split (.349 wOBA vs. LHP, .394 vs. RHP), so that’s the guy you sic Marte after. Ortiz can’t catch up to even average fastballs anymore, so any thought about bringing in a lefty specialist to face him is based only on the scars of the damage he’s done in the past. He’s not worth it any more, Drew’s the only lefty in their lineup worth fearing.

After the Red Sox series is a four game set at Detroit, who bring very little offensively beyond the top four of Austin Jackson, Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, and Miggy Cabrera. Damon’s the only lefty, and Yankee fans are well aware of his platoon split after his time in the Bronx. Again, there’s only one lefthanded bat in the lineup worth saving a lefty reliever for. A second lefthander really won’t be a true necessity until after that Tigers’ series, when the Twins bring Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Jim Thome to town for a weekend set from May 14th to 16th. The next 15 games are against predominantly righthanded lineups.

That’s where Melancon comes in. The schedule allows the Yankees to only carry one lefty specialist, instead stacking the bullpen with righthanders that create better matchups. Melancon has a negligible platoon split in the minors, and has pitched to a 3.23 FIP against righthanders during his career. He has been good yet not overwhelming at Triple-A Scranton (4.33 FIP, 1.89 GB/FB, 8.78 K/9), but we all know that his track record is exceptionally strong. He’s the logical call-up for that spot currently occupied by Logan.

If the Yankees go this route, Joe Girardi has to commit to being more liberal with not just Marte, but Melancon as well. He has to show a willingness to bring Marte into the 6th inning of a game if the situation calls for it, and he can’t bury Melancon for a week or more. Joba’s the 8th inning guy, we may not like it but they officially announced it to the world, so show some confidence in the kid and let him face a lefty if they come up in his inning. Girardi and the Yanks will have close to three weeks to evaluate Melancon before the Twins series, so they can adjust accordingly from there.

There’s no reason to double up on lefty relievers over the next few weeks, so why not tailor make the relief corps to fit the opponents?

The Sabathia – Posada connection

In his last three starts, CC Sabathia has thrown to Francisco Cervelli. For the most part, this appeared to be the luck of the draw. Each start has been either a day game after a night game, or else a night game before a day game. The latter case happened just once, in the rain-shortened game against Texas. Posada had to sit for either Friday’s or Saturday’s game, and since Joe Girardi has been deliberately pairing his starting catcher with A.J. Burnett, Saturday’s starter, it was a clear choice to write Cervelli’s name in the nine spot.

Photo credit: Mike Carlson/AP

Yet, despite the coincidental nature of Cervelli catching Sabathia, there seems to be something there. Last season Cervelli caught Sabathia 10 times, which equalled Jose Molina’s total and was just five fewer than Posada’s. Adding it up, Sabathia threw to the backup catcher 20 times while he threw to the starter just 15. Posada’s May injury skews that number a bit, since Molina was hurt at the time and Cervelli started most games. Still, that was a short stretch. If Girardi deployed the backup catcher only when Posada needed a rest, we should have seen more Posada starts when CC was on the mound.

A glance at the results reveals a discrepancy. With Molina and Cervelli catching, Sabathia performed much better. In those 20 games he averaged almost 7.1 innings per start. In the 15 games with Posada he averaged just 5.2 innings per start. As expected, the results favored Cervelli and Molina. Opponents hit .195/.244/.307 when Sabathia threw to Cervelli and .233/.273/.349 when he threw to Molina. With Posada behind the plate, though, the results were pretty terrible, as opponents hit .262/.344/.414. This would appear an indictment of Posada. As with most baseball concepts, though, this one isn’t black and white.

In 2008 Sabathia got off to a poor start. He pitched like a repeat Cy Young winner down the stretch, but when he started the season with Cleveland he was beyond horrible. In six April starts he lasted just 32 innings and allowed 28 runs. Last year we saw much of the same. It was a bit better, as he pitched 32.1 innings in five starts, allowing 17 earned runs, but it was still his worst month. The poor start extended into May a bit, and through his first six starts Sabathia had allowed 21 earned runs in 39 innings. It seemed, then, that Sabathia was simply a slow starter. He proved that later in the season, as he pitched like the ace the Yankees had envisioned.

Posada caught two of those early poor starts, Opening Day against the Oroles and then the 6.2-inning, seven-run performance against the A’s later that month. He also caught the home opener against the Indians. While Sabathia allowed only one run in that span, he also allowed five hits, including three doubles, and walked five. Also, on the season’s final day, Sabathia allowed nine runs on eight hits and five walks in just 2.2 innings. Behind the plate: Jose Molina. These all seem like aberrant performances, either due to a slow start — Molina caught two bad games during Sabathia’s first six starts — or nonchalance at season’s end.

Sabathia surrendered five or more runs in eight starts last year. Posada caught four of them, though again three were either in April or otherwise the last game of the year. Molina caught three, while Cervelli caught just one. On the other end, Sabathia allowed zero or one runs in 13 starts, and the distribution is quite even. Posada and Molina caught four each, while Cervelli caught five. Again, this all looks good for Cervelli. In their 10 starts together last year Cervelli caught just one clunker and five gems.

There might be something to the Sabathia-Cervelli connection, though I’m not willing to draw any conclusions based on 13 starts. There’s just so much more going on for a pitcher beyond the guy who receives the pitches. As Sabathia showed last season, he was equally apt to throw a gem or a clunker with Posada or Molina behind the plate, and Molina has a far better defensive reputation than Jorge. Again, maybe there’s something there, but I don’t think the data shows anything definitive.

Of course, if Sabathia pitches poorly tonight we’ll hear plenty about his work with Jorge. I’d still dismiss it, though. Then again, I don’t expect a poor start from Sabathia, so I don’t expect it will be an issue anyway.

Inside the Boone Logan decision

When Joe Girardi walked to the mound to remove Phil Hughes last night after 5.2 less-than-efficient innings, I had a bad feeling about the eventual outcome. At the time, the Yanks were winning 2-1 but hadn’t made the most of their chances to score, and Girardi needed to get 10 outs from his relievers. Even with the best of bullpens, that’s not a comforting thought, and the Yanks’ relievers haven’t been on their game yet this year.

Boone Logan — depending upon your point of view — didn’t disappoint. He was brought in to get out the left-handed Luke Scott, and after running the count full, Scott drew a walk. There was no reason for Logan to pitch around Scott. The worst outcome would have been a tie game, and Scott hits dingers off of left-handed pitchers just once every 21.55 times to plate. That figure may be better than his 24.77 PA/HR mark against righties, but a home run wasn’t too likely.

What bothered me most about the Logan decision was that Joe Girardi was turning to what is arguably his worst non-Sergio Mitre reliever in a situation I thought didn’t warrant a lefty-lefty match-up. Had Chan Ho Park not been injured, Girardi wouldn’t have gotten overly cute with the match-ups in the 6th inning of a one-run game. But he did, and while David Robertson managed to blow it wide open after Logan left, I spent the rest of the game stewing over Logan’s inability to do his rather small job.

The more I thought about it, the less sense it made to go to Logan, but other Yankee fans had a different take on it. It was, they said, a low leverage situation, and the team has the luxury of two lefties in the bullpen. If not then, when else would be a proper time to use Boone Logan in a favorable match-up? So let’s use that one at-bat as a microcosm of a manager’s job and explore the various factors Joe Girardi must consider when heading to the pen.

First, Girardi decided to go get his pitcher Phil Hughes. The youngster didn’t have his best stuff tonight but gutted it out through 109 pitches. As the Orioles were seeing Hughes for the fourth time that evening, Girardi made the call to go to the pen as the pitch count total reached its max for the night. While Hughes seemed to find a groove in the sixth, Girardi’s move there isn’t indefensible.

The first aspect of the game that Girardi could have considered was the leverage situation. Per Fangraphs’ gamelog, the leverage index heading into the Scott at-bat was 0.76, clearly a low leverage situation. Most of Boone Logan’s appearances have come in low leverage situations, and 155 of the 415 hitters he’s faced in those situations have reached base. That’s a .373 on-base percentage. His xFIP in those situations is 4.55, and his K/9 and BB/9 are 6.88 and 4.04 respectively. He pitches slightly better in medium leverage situations and worse in high leverage appearances.

Despite Logan’s mediocre numbers, Girardi had the luxury of bringing him in to face a lefty. Of the 295 lefties Logan has faced, just 97 have reached for on OBP of .329. His K/9 IP spikes to 8.82, his walks decline to 3.53 and his xFIP against lefties is a very respectable 3.71. One factor working against Logan in this situation, though, was his lack of success in bases-empty situations. There, his walk rate goes from 2.61 with men on to 5.43. Perhaps he tries to be too careful with no one on base.

Countering Logan was Scott, and against lefties, his numbers suffer. He has hit lefties to the tune of .246/.326/.458 in his career vs. .268/.354/.503 against righties, and his wOBA .339 and .363 respectively. In low-leverage situations, Scott’s wOBA is .374, but it’s certainly reasonable to conclude that the Logan/Scott match-up favored the Yanks.

As we know, Boone Logan and the Yankees lost that match-up, and the team couldn’t get out of the inning. But this glimpse into one plate appearance during the course of a nine-inning game offers us a chance to see the various pushes and pulls a manager must consider as he manages. Joe Girardi has these various splits as his fingertips, and we see him consulting his book frequently once he has to turn the game over to the bullpen. Last night, the move didn’t work out for the Yanks, but all things considered, it wasn’t a bad one at the time. Even the best-laid plans often go awry.

Bullpen falters as offense can’t recover in 5-4 loss

After two impressive starts to begin his season, Phil Hughes struggled a bit last night. He struggled with control, often missing high in the zone and way off the plate. This led to not only four walks, but also just two strikeouts. It’s tough to get guys to swing and miss when you’re missing the zone so often. Despite his woes, he still pitched pretty well, allowing just one run in 5.2 innings. Only six Orioles reached base safely during that span. The bullpen, however, could not finish the job, and the Yanks dropped the series opener 5-4.

Biggest Hit: Posada puts the Yanks on top

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

After loading the bases in the third inning it looked like the Yanks might finally break open the game. Posada got things started in the fourth. After fouling off an outside fastball for strike one, he got one right down Broadway and hit it out to Eutaw. That gave the Yanks their first lead of the game, and with none out in the fourth it looked like they might start rolling. That, of course, did not happen.

Kevin Millwood got Curtis Granderson to ground out, and then got Nick Swisher and Randy Winn to both pop out on off-speed pitches. After a scoreless fifth inning Millwood again ran into trouble in the sixth, but we’ll get to that in just a moment.

Biggest Pitch: The other Hughes ties it

Through five innings Phil Hughes had thrown 101 pitches. This season Joe Girardi has shown a willingness to let his starters go further, but since Hughes had accumulated those pitches in a pretty short span, I was surprised to see him come out for the sixth. He answered the call, retiring Matt Wieters and Miguel Tejada to start the inning. That fit perfectly with the plan. The next step: bring in the lefty Boone Logan to face the lefty Luke Scott.

In his career Scott has performed worse against lefties than against righties, but he still hits lefties reasonably well (.339 wOBA). With Hughes’s night clearly over, Girardi was certainly going with the lefty, and Logan has been the hot hand in his short stay. The at-bat didn’t start well, as Logan missed with a fastball high and then a fastball away. He battled back, but on the 3-2 pith missed with a slider low. Girardi then went to David Robertson, who hit Ty Wigginton on an 0-2 count, moving the tying run into scoring position.

Robertson worked his first two pitches low and away to Rhyne Hughes, the Orioles recently recalled first baseman, but he got around on the second one, lining it to left for the game-tying single. I’m actually impressed that Hughes did what he did there. The pitch was a 93 mph fastball low and away. To pull it, and pull it on a line, is no small feat. Hughes should get plenty of credit for that one.

One batter later Nolan Reimold smacked a 2-2 curveball down the third base line to give the Orioles a lead they would not relinquish. As on the decisive pitches to Hughes, I didn’t think the ultimate pitch to Reimold was all that bad. The curveball touched the bottom of the zone, but Reimold, a good hitter, just got a good piece of it. Then again, the 0-2 HBP was completely his fault.

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

Heartbreaker with the bases loaded

The third inning looked like a triumphant one. Nick Swisher opened the frame by singling on an 0-2 curveball and Randy Winn followed with his first hit of the season. Jeter didn’t do his part, nearly grounding into a double play, but Rhyne Hughes didn’t make the play cleanly and could only get the out at first. The Yanks then caught a break when Miguel Tejada misplayed a sharp grounder by Gardner, which allowed Swisher to score. The game was tied at one.

After a walk to Mark Teixeira the Yankees had bases loaded, one out for their Nos. 4 and 5 hitters. With the way both A-Rod and Cano have been hitting they figured to get at least a run. A-Rod fouled off the first four pitches of the at-bat before smoking an inside fastball that went right into Tejada’s glove. Cano then got a waist-high changeup on a 2-1 count, but he just missed it. Had his bat made contact with the ball a fraction of an inch higher, that ball would have been warehouse-bound. Instead it arced into the mitt of Nick Markakis, thus ending the threat.

It was the Yanks best chance to break open the game. They came close, but I could name you more than one cliche about close not counting.

Baserunning blunders abound

Losses happen. In fact, chances are the Yanks will lose a ton more games this season. That’s why they play so many of them. One loss, even to the Orioles, never strikes me as particularly frustrating. What does frustrate me is when the team plays sloppily. When that sloppiness occurs all in one inning, it’s even more nerve wracking.

Robinson Cano is not a base stealer. He has been caught more times, 22, than he has reached safely, 19. There is just no reason to send him anymore, unless it’s the vaunted Tim Wakefield-Victor Martinez battery. Yet on the first pitch he was off. In his defense, it took a perfect throw to get him. Still, I don’t get the logic in ever sending Cano. Why risk the base runner when he’s made an out in more than half of his attempts.

Posada then drew a six-pitch walk, which drove Millwood from the game with one out in the sixth. With the way the Orioles bullpen has pitched so far this season, that presented an opportunity for the Yanks. The Yankees didn’t exactly take advantage of the opportunity, but they did blow a chance. Nick Swisher hit a ball that got by Tejada, but not far into the outfield. Jorge took a big turn around second, way too far for a player with his speed. Tejada recovered quickly and made a good throw to second, getting the diving Posada.

Posada and Cano are good players. We know, without having to think twice, that Jorge is a poor base runner and that Cano is not a good base stealer. Both had good showings at the plate. Both had their weaknesses exposed. That’s what was most frustrating about this game.

Well, that and the Wigginton HBP.

And the ninth

There’s not much to say about the ninth inning that can’t be told via the game log. Nick Johnson did his job by drawing a one-out walk, bringing the tying run to the plate. Jeter spoiled a good at-bat by swinging at a pitch that was a few inches off the plate. The way the home plate ump was calling the game, that wouldn’t have been close to a strike.

An error kept the Yanks alive, with runners on first and third and two out. Teixeira wasted no time in pulling a low fastball down the line to put the Yankees within a run. That brought up A-Rod, hitless in the game to that point. He saw nearly the exact same pitch as Teixeira, and he too put it sharply on the ground. Julio Lugo had him played perfectly, though, and got Teixeira at second to end the game.

It was a nice ending, with the Yankees rallying a bit. The O’s did help out, but what they gave away with the error they took right back by playing A-Rod right where he hit it.

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

Annoyances

Cesar freaking Izturis. I was talking to Jay from Fack Youk as Izturis knocked in his second run of the game and commented that the Yanks weren’t winning this one. “You don’t win a game where Cesar Izturis has two RBI,” I said.

It was only the 47th time he’d produced two or more RBI in a game. His team’s record in those games: 42-4, 43 after last night. He later knocked in a third run, only the 10th time in his career he has accomplished that feat. His teams are now 9-1 in those contests.

Have I mentioned the Wigginton HBP yet? Two outs, 0-2 count. Other than a home run, a HBP is the roughest outcome right there.

I think I’ve aired my other grievances well enough above.

Joys

Granderson did make a nice catch. He also went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

Hughes allowing only one run, and lasting 5.2 innings, when he couldn’t put anyone away.

WPA Chart

If only that green line kept moving downward.

Up Next

They’ll play again tomorrow night, this time on YES. The Yanks try for a bit better turn through the rotation this time, as CC Sabathia makes his fifth start of the season. Jeremy Guthrie takes the ball for the Orioles.