Via Marc Carig, Phil Hughes threw a simulated inning today and will throw live batting practice over the weekend in Anaheim. If that goes well, there’s a chance he could go out on a minor league rehab assignment soon thereafter. At least that’s what Hughes hopes, not what the team has told him (for all we know). Either way, Phil is still a long way off, he’s going to need four or five or maybe even more minor league starts to stretch out and stuff. He basically has to go through Spring Training again.
The Yanks have rattled off three straight quality wins, and the offense has hit five of the better pitchers in the AL in the past five games. That leaves some positive vibes. Mike and I ride them and discuss the state of the team and how remarkable they’ve been, especially of late.
Podcast run time 17:49
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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.
The draft is just five days away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some players individually rather than lump a few together in one post.
Logan Verrett | RHP
Hailing from the baseball hotbed of The Woodlands, Texas, Verrett was a standout baseball and football player in high school before focusing on the former at Baylor. He holds several school and conference records, most notably Big-12 records for single season BB/9 (2.30) and K/BB ratio (4.14) as well as career K/BB ratio (3.83). Verrett was not drafted out of high school.
A big right-hander with some projection left to dream upon (listed at 6-foot-3, 185 lbs.), Verrett throws three pitches for strikes. His fastball sits 89-92 on most days but has topped out at 95 in short bursts in the past. A slider that occasionally misses bats is probably his second best offering, though a sinking changeup in the mid-70’s might also stake a claim to that title. Verrett relies more on command and setting hitters up than pure stuff, but it’s a solid mix of pitches with good probability. His delivery is sound and he’s a big time competitor. Here’s some (slow motion) video.
Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has made it clear over the years that there are two things he likes in college pitchers: polish and strong showings in the wood bat Cape Cod League. Verrett has both after striking out 34 and walking just five in 41.1 IP with the Chatham A’s last summer (64.2 IP, 66 K, 21 BB in his CCL career). All the tools are there for him to be a durable, mid-rotation guy in the future, though the lack of a true put-away pitch limits his ceiling at the moment. Keith Law and Baseball America ranked Verrett as the 83rd and 100th best prospect in the draft class, respectively, suggesting that he’s a second or third round kind of guy.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball posted his second mock draft over the weekend (first round, sandwich round). His top three is the same as last time – Rice 3B Anthony Rendon to the Pirates, UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole to the Mariners, Virginia LHP Danny Hultzen to the Diamondbacks – but things get a little haywire after that. Sickels has the Yankees taking New York’s own Williams Jerez with their first selection (51st overall), noting that “stock is rising and he’s linked with the Yankees.” Fortunately, I told you everything you need to know about Jerez about two weeks ago.
Given their pitching woes, the Yankees need A.J. Burnett to rebound from his horrible 2010 season and become at least a solid innings eater in the middle of their rotation this season. Not want, need. Burnett woke up this morning with a shiny 3.99 ERA, which is almost exactly league average these days. His 4.43 FIP is better than last year’s mark (4.83) but is still below average, though his 3.98 xFIP (4.49 in 2010) is basically on par with the rest of the league. Returning to league average is an improvement for Burnett, sadly.
However, ERA and FIP really don’t paint the whole picture. Offense was down last season and it continued to crater this year, so our feel for what’s good and what’s bad might need to be recalibrated. When you take a look at the underlying performance (table on the right), you can see that A.J. is essentially the exact same guy now as he was last year in terms of strikeouts, walks, ground balls, and homerun rate. The AL average strikeout rate actually dropped a bit this year despite the decrease in offense (6.83 K/9 vs. 6.67), but the homerun rate went down about a tenth of a homer per nine while walk rates remained static. So in a way you can say that Burnett’s fielding independent performance (particularly homers and walks) actually got worse this year.
So what’s different? For one, he’s managed to cut more than 70 points off his overall BABIP (.246 vs. .319) even though his batted ball profile barely changed. The BABIP drop is most notable when there are men on base. Last year, opponents tagged Burnett for a .247/.319/.410 line with men on base and .260/.328/.450 with runners in scoring position. Those lines have dropped to .212/.300/.394 and .197/.253/.379 this year, respectively. The BABIPs nosedived from a normal .285 and .292 in those spots in 2010 to a measly .227 and .197 in 2011, again respectively. A.J.’s strikeout rate is pretty much the same in those spots in both years (about one whiff for every five batters), but the batting ball data shows that hitters have been putting the ball in the air a lot more often with men on base this year than last (about 10% more often). More balls in the air translates to a lower BABIP, but sheesh, not that low.
Aside from the remodeled (but not overhauled) mechanics and a few more changeups, the 2011 version of Burnett is pretty much exactly the same as the 2010 version. He’s running into some better luck (especially when pitching from the stretch with men on base) after being on the other end of the spectrum last season, but the underlying performance is all the same. If Burnett runs out of luck with men on base, it could get ugly, and will only emphasize the team’s need for another high-end starter. For now, the end result (runs allowed) is better, but at the end of the day it’s still the same old A.J.