Yanks rotation is earnings its pay

If every pass through the rotation went like the last one, the Yankees would win 130 games. Maybe more. Four of the five starters produced incredibly starts, while the exception was a mere decent start. There is no better way to describe this excellence than to lay out the numbers.

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

Last pass through the rotation

Pitcher IP BF #P R ER H HR BB SO
Sabathia 6.0 22 73 1 1 3 0 0 9
Burnett 7.0 28 111 0 0 6 0 2 7
Pettitte 8.0 30 107 2 2 4 0 3 4
Vazquez 5.1 23 107 3 3 6 2 3 6
Hughes 7.1 25 101 1 1 1 0 2 10

In those five games the Yankees pitched a total of 42 innings, thanks to the rain-shortened affair on Friday evening. Of those 42, the starters have picked up 33.2 innings, leaving little work for the bullpen. (Yet, still, Mariano has gotten into the past three games.) They have been nothing but stellar, allowing just seven runs, which amounts to a minuscule 1.87 ERA and a 2.72 FIP. No, it is no wonder at all that they won all five games.

The bullpen has done quite a job as well. Joe Girardi deployed five relievers in the past five games, leaving Sergio Mitre and David Robertson dormant. Here’s how that crew fared.

Bullpen last five games

Pitcher IP BF #P R ER H HR BB SO
Chamberlain 3.0 10 47 0 0 1 0 0 5
Rivera 3.0 10 50 0 0 1 0 0 3
Marte 0.2 3 13 0 0 0 0 1 1
Logan 1.1 7 32 0 0 2 0 1 1
Aceves 0.1 4 13 3 3 2 1 1 0

The three-run homer Al Aceves surrendered to Nelson Cruz on Saturday makes this line look a bit worse than it actually is, considering the lead the Yankees held at the time. Even still, that’s just three runs in 8.1 innings. That’s a 3.24 ERA and 3.44 FIP. Without Aceves, well, we’re looking at a zero ERA and 1.51 FIP. Even with Aceves, the 10:3 K/BB ratio is just stellar.

Will the rotation perform this well on the next pass? I’m willing to bet not. That’s not to say they’ll pitch poorly. They might post a performance that nets them another four — hell, maybe five — wins in the next five games. But the way they’ve pitched in their past five is nothing short of remarkable. That has lessened the pressure on the bullpen, forcing them to throw just 1.2 innings per game. That, as a side note, is how you build a good bullpen. Just build a rotation that limits their necessity.

Hughes steals the show as Yanks win again

We’ve seen this movie before. Three years ago, in a road game against an AL West club, a 20-year-old Phil Hughes flirted with a no-hitter in his second start of the season before having to exit the game with a hamstring injury. It was the mother of all letdowns, because not only was the no-no gone, but the best young Yankee in years was going to spend a significant chunk of time on the shelf.

Wednesday night, a now 23-year-old Hughes again flirted with a no-hitter in his second start of a different season in a different road game against a different AL West club, and even though he wasn’t able to finish it off, the young righthander turned in the best start of his career and reminded everyone who thought he was only the second best option for the fifth starter’s job just what he is capable of.

Happy Phil is happy.

Hughes the man?

The night started out in rather ordinary fashion. Hughes was having trouble with his fastball early, as it was flying high and away to lefties, but he managed to get leadoff man Cliff Pennington to swing through a cutter for the first of what would be many strikeouts on the night. Daric Barton reached base when Hughes threw four straight pitches out of the zone, but that was pretty much all they would get off him the rest of the game.

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

Down went Ryan Sweeney on a broken bat ground out to short, down went Kurt Suzuki swinging at strike three. The A’s wouldn’t get much else off of Hughes, who sat down 18 consecutive batters from the 2nd through 7th inning. He struck out a career high ten along the way, eight of them swinging. The no-hit bid came to an end on the first pitch of the 8th inning, when Zombie Eric Chavez took a fastball right back through the box, ricocheting off Hughes’ left arm and landing on the grass in the front of the mound. It was an uncommon way to end a no-hitter, but Hughes knows all too well about that.

Hughes threw 101 pitches on the night, a whopping 70 for strikes. Oakland batters swung and missed at 13 fastballs, which were averaging 92.55 mph on the gun. Barton was the only batter to face a three ball count before Gabe Gross walked to end Hughes’ evening, and frankly there weren’t even that many balls put into play that threatened to fall in. There was no great defensive play, no bang-bang plays at first, nothing. The 12 non-strikeout outs were all very routine.

The Yankees’ young righthander was very much in control Wednesday night, spotting his fastball(s) to all quadrants of the strike zone, and dropping his curve in for strikes seemingly at will. The front four starters in the Yanks’ rotation are pulling in a combined $62.75M this season, but it’s the dirt cheap 23-year-old that was seemingly a forgotten man at this time last year that has become the must-see every five days. Hughes was simply incredible all night. Bravo young man.

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

Biggest Hit: Alex Rodriguez‘s triple

As good as Hughes was, Ben Sheets matched him zero for zero for the first few innings of this one. A-Rod stepped to the plate to lead off the 4th inning, and started off his at-bat with a half-hearted swing over the top of one of Sheets’ patented eyes-to-toes curveball. Two fastballs missed inside for a 2-1 count, but the fourth pitch of the at-bat was a curveball that didn’t fall far enough, hanging up long enough for Alex to drive it into rightfield. Sweeney dove after it but fell just short, and the ball scooted by him and back to the wall.

Running hard as usual, A-Rod chugged around first and second, and slid into third with a leadoff triple, setting up the Yankees to get on the board first just perfectly.

Biggest Out: Cliff Pennington’s ground out

Once Hughes was out of the game, the A’s threatened the Yanks’ long-standing two run lead when Jake Fox singled in a run to cut the lead in half and put the tying run in scoring position. Joba Chamberlain, now officially the 8th inning guy, had replaced Hughes earlier in the inning, and instead of talking about no-hitters we were suddenly worrying about maintaining the lead. These things tend to happen all at once, you know. No hitter gone, shutout gone, lead gone. Or at least almost gone.

Joba started Pennington off with a 92 mph piece of cheese that just missed on the outer half for ball one, and things looked to be going from bad to worse. After a failed pickoff attempt, Joba went to his trademark slider, catching Pennington out in front. He rolled the ball over to first, to the Yanks’ surest handed defender in Mark Teixeira, who took it to the bag himself to end the inning. Threat: neutralized.

Happy Moments

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

Back to back triples. How can you not love that? Is it just me, or does it seem like the Yanks are hitting far more three-baggers this season? It’s probably just a sample size thing, but it sure is fun. Also, congrats to Brett Gardner for slapping a ball into left in the 9th, I can’t remember the last time he hit a ball out of the infield before that. Sarcasm aside, it was a big insurance run. It also kept the Yanks’ streak alive of scoring at least three runs in every game this season.

Oh, and Phil Hughes. He was pretty good tonight.

Annoying Moments

I’m not sure what was going on with all those runners being sent on 3-2 counts in the first two innings, but it was rather annoying. On the other side of the coin, why didn’t Gardner tag up on that fly ball to the wall by Nick Johnson in the 5th? A runner that fast needs to be on third after a ball is hit that deep, no excuses.

Derek Jeter needs to stop swinging at so many first pitches. I know he had a .483 wOBA on the the first pitch last year, but damn dude. It’s okay to take something once in a while, especially as the leadoff hitter.

Randy Winn. The dude is toast. Greg Golson can provide the same (or better) defense and baserunning, and at least offers a chance at being a non-zero with the bat for close to one-third of the cost.

After throwing 26 pitches in this game and working for the third time in four days, Mariano Rivera won’t be available tomorrow and maybe not Friday either.

WPA Graph

The individual batter breakdowns are available at FanGraphs’ box score.

Next Up

These same two teams finish up the series with a get away day tomorrow. First pitch is scheduled for 3:35pm ET, CC Sabathia vs. Dallas Braden. We’re going to have our weekly game chat for that one.

Game 14: Going for a half-dozen

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

The Yankees have won their last five games coming into tonight, outscoring their opponents 30-11 in the process. They’re off to their best start in what seems like an eternity, and there are times that it looks like the only thing that can stop them is disaster of biblical proportions. Even when their number four starter has a poor outing, he was still pretty good. Everything’s clicking right now, and they’re looking to keep this winning streak alive.

Phil Hughes gets the ball for his second start of the season this evening, facing a pitcher with a very similar style to himself: Ben Sheets. Both work primarily in the low-90’s with their fastball and back it up with a big overhand curveball, though Sheets doesn’t throw a cutter as far as I know. Should be a very fun matchup, definitely worth staying up late for. Here’s the lineup…

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

And on the mound, the patron saint Phil Hughes.

First pitch is scheduled for 10:05pm ET tonight, and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Oh, and make sure you scroll down for tonight’s DotF.

Scranton & Tampa bust out offensively

Personal fave Eduardo Nunez was mentioned as a sleeper by Kevin Goldstein at ESPN today. “He’ll certainly never displace Jeter or Cano in the middle of the Yankees’ infield,” said KG, “but he could be a valuable utility player as early as this year, as one could argue he’s a better bench option than Ramiro Pena.” I’ll believe it when I see it. (h/t Doug)

Triple-A Scranton (8-2 win over Syracuse)
Kevin Russo, 3B & Eduardo Nunez, SS: both 2 for 4, 2 R – Russo doubled, drove in a run, got hit by a pitch & walked … Nunez walked twice, stole two bases & committed a fielding error
Reegie Corona, 2B & Juan Miranda, 1B: both 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HBP – Corona drew a walk, swiped a bag & scored … Miranda hit a three run bomb and K’ed twice
David Winfree, RF: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 2 RBI
Jon Weber, DH: 0 for 5, 1 K – remember that great Spring Training? he’s hitting .150-.209-.150 now
Chad Huffman, LF: 1 for 5, 1 2B
Chad Moeller, C: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K – it’s too bad Jesus Montero needed a day off, he would have had some fun in this rout
Greg Golson, CF: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI – dude’s 13 for his last 36 (.361) with the same number of triples (3) as strikeouts
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 3.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3-5 GB/FB – 35 of 61 pitches were strikes (57.4%) … back in the rotation in place of the injured Dustin Moseley
John Van Benschoten: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 3-3 GB/FB – 28 of 46 pitches were strikes (60.9%)
Royce Ring: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 8 of 12 pitches were strikes … doesn’t it seem like he’s out there every single day? … he’s the 2010 version of Ben Kozlowski
Amaury Sanit: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB – 11 of 21 pitches were strikes (52.4%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 14 of 19 pitches were strikes (73.7%)

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Yankees sign Josh Romanski

Via BA’s minor league transactions, the Yankees have signed lefthander Josh Romanski, who was released by the Brewers within the last few weeks. The 23-year-old was Milwaukee’s fourth round pick in 2008, but he missed the 2009 season with Tommy John surgery. He’s probably best known for spending three years as the number two starter behind Brian Matusz at The University of San Diego.

I’ve been a fan of Romanski’s for quite some time, and even wrote him up as a potential draft target back in ’08. I have no idea why the Brewers cut him after giving him a $247,000 signing bonus and footing the bill for his TJ rehab, but it’s the Yanks who benefit. It’s not every day that you can add a fourth round talent to your organization for basically nothing.

Open Thread: Cano follow-up

This morning I planned to write about the three Robinson Cano plate appearances from last night in which he drew a walk. I knew there would be a few interesting tidbits — for starters, that it’s not the first time in his career that he’s done it — but what I didn’t expect to find was a trend in his swings for the year. It appears that he’s been laying off pitches outside the zone when it’s delivered low and inside. This was not only something I saw last night, but, according to Cano’s charts from the year, something that has happened all season.

I wondered if this was something that has happened just this season, or if Cano has always been selective on pitches in this location. I don’t have the skills at this point to run a study like this, but two people I work with at FanGraphs, Jeff Zimmerman and Dave Allen, were kind enough to supply some research for me. These are all in the form of heat maps, which are self-explanatory. First up is Jeff, who supplied Cano’s swing data, both from 2007 through 2009, and then a separate chart for this season.

That’s 2007 through 2009. It appears that, at least against right-handers, Cano has done a good job of laying off the low and inside pitch. He fared a bit worse against lefties, as you can see that greenish brownish streak off the plate low and inside, where it is a bit more green against righties. How does that compare to 2010?

Cano has done a bit better against lefties this year on the low and inside pitch. In fact, it looks like he has a pretty good command of the strike zone at this point. He performs a bit worse against righties, especially when the pitch is more low than inside, but that’s something we’ve come to expect from Cano.

Finally, I wondered if Cano should be laying off the low inside pitch. This is where Dave Allen played a large role. He sent a chart, complete with FanGraphs background, showing Cano’s run values. Sure enough, he’s green low and in. Then again, he’s green in the middle of the plate, too, so I’m not sure how much that tells us. Still, it’s worth a look.

Again, thanks to Jeff and Dave for supplying these heat maps. I wish I could produce this type of stuff myself.

With that, this is your open thread for the evening. Talk about whatever right up until game time, when we’ll gear up for a game thread.

2010 Draft: Baseball America’s latest top 50 rankings

Baseball America posted their latest rankings of the top 50 draft prospects today (subs. req’d), and several players I’ve highlighted place right around the Yankees’ first choice, #32 overall. JuCo outfielder LeVon Washington comes in at #31, Indy league southpaw James Paxton is right behind him at #33, and California prep righty Peter Tago behind him at #35. Virginia Tech’s Austin Wates is down in the low-40’s. Their #32 player is Georgia high school outfielder Chevez Clarke, who is a phenomenal athlete and an elite defender, but he has almost no present power.

The draft is still six weeks away, but it would take a catastrophe for the Nationals to pass on Bryce Harper with the top pick. Beyond that, it appears the Pirates will grab Mississippi lefty Drew Pomeranz with the second pick, leaving the Orioles to pick one of about a dozen premium high school arms, included Jameson Taillon.