I have to admit, I’m kinda disappointed the Yankees are going to miss both Stephen Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang this weekend. I think most of us have had this series circled on the calendar since the schedule was released, but I was really looking forward to seeing Strasburg’s awesomeness and the nostalgic aspect of CMW. For shame.
What Have They Done Lately?
Win and whole lot of it. The Nationals have won six straight games just like the Yankees, including a pair of three-game sweeps on the road in Boston and Toronto. That’s some accomplishment. Washington has the second best record in baseball at 38-23, trailing only the Dodgers. Their +42 run differential is the third best in the NL.
You’d never know the Nationals were one of the best teams in baseball by looking at their offense. They average just 3.93 runs per game, a bottom ten mark in baseball and the second worst by a team with a winning record. As a team, they own a .308 wOBA and a 91 wRC+, and are near the bottom of the league in stolen bases (37) and homers (62). Injuries to Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos are partly to blame, but sheesh.
It all starts here with Bryce Harper. The 19-year-old wunderkind has a 150 wRC+ in 117 plate appearances since being recalled at the end of April and quite simply, he’s been one of the best players in baseball since arriving. He’s amazing. Adam LaRoche (124 wRC+) has been their best non-Harper hitter and is their only other guy in their lineup that can safely be considered above average this season. Ryan Zimmerman (76 wRC+) has missed time with injury and Mike Morse (40 wRC+) has yet to get going after coming off the DL. Those are supposed to be their big bats.
The Nationals have gotten some decent mileage out of rookie Steve Lombardozzi (88 wRC+) and the middle infield tandem of Danny Espinosa (98 wRC+) and Ian Desmond (100 wRC+). Rick Ankiel (72 wRC+) gets most of the reps in center but former Yankee Xavier Nady (19 wRC+) will see some action against lefties with Harper moving to center. Jesus Flores (61 wRC+) has taken over behind the plate following Ramos’ injury. The bench — Tyler Moore (135 wRC+), Roger Bernadina (104 wRC+), and backup catcher Jhonatan Solano (227 wRC+ in four games) — is full of recent call-ups with strong numbers is very small samples. With all due respect to Zimmerman, Morse, and LaRoche, Harper is the guy the Yankees have to stop.
Friday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez
The Yankees have historically pounded Gio, but this isn’t the same guy. The southpaw has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball this year, pitching to a 2.35 ERA (2.06 FIP) with a sky-high strikeout rate (11.02 K/9 and 30.4 K%) and a strong ground ball rate (49.1%). His walk rate (3.72 BB/9 and 10.2 BB%) is still high but you can live with that given his propensity to miss bats and generate grounders. Gonzalez throws both a two and four-seamer in the low-to-mid-90s and he can reach back for 97-98 in tight spots. His curveball is one of the best in the game, a true bender right at 80 mph. A mid-80s changeup is an infrequently used third pitch. Gio will still walk himself into trouble occasionally, but at age-26 he’s really starting to put it all together.
Saturday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann
Kind of a forgotten man given everything going on around him, Zimmermann has very quietly been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last two seasons. His 2.91 ERA is backed up by a 3.87 FIP that is due to an unusually high homerun rate (1.16 HR/9 and 14.9% HR/FB), though he keeps the walks down (1.51 BB/9 and 4.1 BB%) and limits the damage to solo shots. Zimmermann is more of a ground ball guy (51.7%) than a strikeout guy (6.52 K/9 and 17.8%), and he recently told David Laurilia that that’s a conscious decision. A low-to-mid-90s fastball is his weapon of choice, and he’ll use it to set up his mid-80s slider and upper-70s curveball. He’ll also break out the occasional mid-80s changeup. I get the feeling that a lot of people will see Zimmermann for the first time this series and be surprised by how good he is.
Sunday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Edwin Jackson
The best free agent deal of the offseason, Jackson has pitched to a sparking 3.02 ERA with peripherals that are right in line with previous years: 3.50 FIP, 6.95 K/9 (19.6 K%), 2.46 BB/9 (16.9 BB%), and 44.9% grounders. He’s a two-pitch pitcher stuck in a four-pitch pitcher’s body, meaning he relies heavily on his mid-90s heat and mid-80s slider but will also throw a mid-80s changeup and an upper-70s curveball on the rarest of occasions. The Yankees have seen Jackson plenty through the years, both the crummy Devil Rays version and the good White Sox version.
Like the Yankees, the Nationals have a fresh bullpen because they had Thursday off. Former Yankee Tyler Clippard (1.92 FIP) has stepped up in the closer’s role while elbow woes have shelved Drew Storen, and he’s being setup by right-hander Craig Stammen (2.74 FIP) and left-hander Sean Burnett (2.31 FIP). The only other righty in manager Davey Johnson’s bullpen is Brad Lidge, who has not been all that good this season (5.57 FIP).
In addition to Burnett, Johnson has a trio of southpaw relievers to deploy in various situations. Mike Gonzalez (2.39 FIP) has thrown just three innings since being recalled and is their middle innings matchup guy. Tom Gorzelanny (3.28 FIP) will work full innings and face batters on both sides of the plate, and former fifth starter Ross Detwiler (3.96 FIP) handles most of the long relief work. Overall, Washington’s bullpen owns a 3.00 ERA with a 3.49 FIP.
The Yankees are getting David Robertson back today, so thank goodness for that. You can check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact details, but having Robertson back will help because guys like Boone Logan, Cory Wade, and Rafael Soriano have been worked hard of late. Needless to say, it’ll be great to see him back. For the latest and greatest on the Nationals, we recommend Federal Baseball.
RAB Meetup Info
If you’re like me and will be in the nation’s capitol this weekend, we’re going to have a little meetup on Saturday night after the game. Here are the details.
Six questions and five answers this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.
Jerome asks: With the Yankees starting to win a lot of games (and close ones at that) without David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, who should we credit for this? Does Joe Girardi’s binder deserve some love? I’m not saying we’re better without D-Rob and Mo but will this help convince the Yankees to never again spend big bucks on bullpen help in the future?
Yeah, it’s funny how the binder jokes went away when Girardi mix-and-matched his bullpen to 16 wins in 20 games without Robertson or Mo. I’ve always been amazed at how every industry in the world uses available data to make informed decisions and progress forward, but in sports it’s frowned upon. The number of people that think relying on “gut feel” is a good thing is staggering.
Anyway, I wouldn’t hold my breath if you think the team’s recent ability to put together strong bullpens using internal options and the scrap heap will keep them away from the free agent market. They are the Yankees and will always spend on players. Maybe they won’t splurge to the extent to Rafael Soriano again, but I doubt the Pedro Felicianos and Damaso Martes are going to go away forever. There’s nothing wrong with taking a one-year flier on a guy like LaTroy Hawkins or Chan Ho Park or Luis Ayala each winter, but the multi-year commitments for less than elite relievers are what really irk me.
Anonymous asks: Would you still be interested in acquiring John Danks after this rough start he has had to the season, including injuries? I know you were pretty high on him as a trade target.
Danks was terrible early on this year — 5.70 ERA and 4.97 FIP in nine starts — and is currently on the DL with a shoulder strain. He’s expected back sometime later this month. I drove the Danks train this offseason, I’m a big fan of the guy and like his chances of improving into his age-27 season, plus I liked his left-handedness and the fit for Yankee Stadium. Obviously the shoulder problem changes that somewhat, but also his new contract extension — five years and $75M — changes things as well.
The new contract basically eliminated my interest. I liked the idea of getting Danks for one year (2012) and seeing how he handled the AL East and Yankee Stadium before committing long-term. Now they’d be locked in long-term right out of the chute, which could be problematic given the 2014 payroll plan. I still like Danks and think he’ll be very good going forward, but I don’t think he makes sense for the Yankees at this point. Not with that contract.
Miller asks: If the starters keep pitching effectively, will the Yankees go after another starter at the deadline? Will they have faith in Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova to carry them through the playoffs?
Yeah, I’m sure they’ll trust those two into the postseason. Remember, you only need four starters in October and the fourth starter will be marginalized, maybe three starts tops if you make a deep run and play five or six or seven games in each series. The Yankees have a strong front three with CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda, so just one of those two — I’d go Nova and stick Hughes in the pen if the playoffs started today — needs to serve as the fourth starter.
The non-waiver trade deadline is still six or so weeks away and a whole lot can change between now and then. Injuries could pop up, guys could start stinking for no apparent reason, all sorts of stuff could force the Yankees to swing a deal for a starting pitcher. Things are going well right now and I wouldn’t expect rotation help to be all that high on the deadline shopping list at the moment.
D.R. asks: If Gardner is out for an extended period of time, what do you think of Jeff Francoeur as a trade target?
Peter asks: Jon Heyman reports that the Royals are putting Jeff Francoeur on the block. He’s a bit pricey for his production, but do you think he could be a fit for the Yanks to 1) fill in for Brett Gardner this year and 2) be a one-year stop-gap if they don’t re-sign Nick Swisher in 2013?
Frenchy is still only 28 years old and he’s under contract for $6M this year and $7.5M next season, so he’s not cheap. He had a very good season in 2011 (.346 wOBA and 117 wRC+) but has since reverted to his usual terrible self: 93 wRC+ in 2012 vs. 92 career. The two things Francoeur can do really well is hit left-handers (114 wRC+) and play defense (both just running down balls in the outfield as well as making throws). He also has a reputation as a great clubhouse guy, for what it’s worth. Frenchy is a classic underachiever in the sense that he should be so much better than he is; the talent is there for him to be a top-25 player in the game. The lack of plate discipline — not just not walking (5.0 BB%), I mean swinging at bad pitches and making weak contact — has been his downfall.
That said, Francoeur isn’t a terrible platoon option given his production, but he is given his salary. He’s being paid like an everyday guy and there’s no way the Yankees could run him out there for 500+ plate appearances. If he was making like, $2-3M or so, maybe it’s a different story as a one-year stopgap. He’s on the short-end of the platoon stick as the right-handed bat, so you’d still need a quality left-hander to make this thing work.
Rahul: Is there any update on the Michael Pineda injury? I actually forgot he is even a Yankee. I just haven’t even thought about the guy since maybe mid-May.
Pineda had his surgery as scheduled on May 1st, and Brian Cashman confirmed that everything went well that day. Based on the Twitter feeds of various Yankees’ farmhands, Pineda is currently in Tampa doing whatever he needs to do. I haven’t been able to find any kind of rehab timetable, but his arm may still be in a sling since we’re only six weeks out from surgery. I wouldn’t expect many updates at this point just because we’re less than two months into a year-long process.
- Josh Norris spoke to Short Season Staten Island manager Justin Pope (yes, that Justin Pope) and got a feel of the club’s roster. Ravel Santana is expected to be the club’s Opening Day center fielder while OF Danny Lopez, IF Claudio Custodio, RHP Taylor Morton, and IF Matt Duran highlight the rest of the crop.
- RHP Scottie Allen has been placed on the Low-A disabled list and LHP Matt Bashore was demoted from High-A Tampa to take his spot. [Josh Norris]
- C Jeff Farnham was placed on the Double-A disabled list and C Kyle Higashioka was bumped up from High-A Tampa to take his spot. I’m a big Higashioka fan for no apparent reason, so I hope he gets a chance to play. [Mike Ashmore]
Just FYI, the Staten Island and Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees both start their seasons this coming Monday.
Triple-A Empire State (10-0 loss to Syracuse)
RF Kevin Russo: 1-3, 1 BB
2B Corban Joseph, DH Jack Cust & 1B Russell Branyan: all 0-4 — CoJo struck out twice, Cust thrice
LF Ronnie Mustelier: 3-4, 1 K — threw a runner out at the plate … 16 hits in his last 45 at-bats (.356)
C Frankie Cervelli: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K, 1 PB
3B Brandon Laird: 1-4
CF Colin Curtis: 2-4
SS Doug Bernier: 0-3, 1 BB
RHP Adam Warren: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 5/4 GB/FB — 47 of 92 pitches were strikes (51.1%) … oh Adam, stop being such a disappointment
RHP Manny Delcarmen: 0.2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 20 of 35 pitches were strikes (57.1%)
LHP Mike O’Connor: 2.1 IP, zeroes, 3 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 16 of 21 pitches were strikes (76.2%)
RHP Ryota Igarashi: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 11 of 17 pitches were strikes (64.7%)
Off days are always better on the heels of a six game winning streak. Everyone’s feeling great about the Yankees, the weather outside is wonderful, and dudes are taking the ol’ water-propelled jetpack out for a flight over McCovey Cove. Pretty much a normal Thursday, no?
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Game Two of the NBA Finals starts a little later tonight (9pm ET on ABC), plus MLB Network will carry a game as well (teams depend on where you live). Talk about whatever you like here, have at it.
The Yankees have officially activated David Robertson off the disabled list, the team announced. David Phelps was optioned to the minors to make room on the roster. He’ll get stretched out with High-A Tampa before joining Triple-A Empire State.
Robertson has been on the shelf for a little over a month, and his return will help lighten the late-inning load on Cory Wade, Boone Logan, et al. Those guys did a great job in his absence. Phelps had recorded one out and thrown a total of nine pitches sine May 28th, so it’s not a surprise he was sent down. He needs regular work and this is the best way to get it.
The Yankees announced that Brett Gardner will miss another 3-4 weeks after receiving platelet-rich plasma therapy on his strained right elbow. He also received a cortisone shot. The official diagnosis is a bone bruise, joint inflammation, and a muscle strain.
Gardner did no long-term damage to his elbow, it just hasn’t healed entirely. All three doctors — Ahmad, Andrews, and Kremchek — confirmed the diagnosis. Joe Girardi suggested Brett might not be back until after the All-Star break a few days ago, and that seems pretty spot on right now.