Open Thread: Goin’ goin’, back back, to Cali Cali

Gaudin's got a 1.43 xFIP and a 16.88 K/9 in 2010. (Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu, AP)

I’m pretty sure I’ve used that post title before, but so be it.

The Yankees are probably already in the Bay Area in advance of their series against old buddy Chad Gaudin and the A’s, otherwise they’re probably en route. I wonder if they’ll present Gaudin with this World Series ring there, or if he’ll have to wait for the Fed-Ex guy. I’d like to see Joe Girardi & Co. hand it off, would be a nice thing to do.

Anyway, here’s the open thread for the night. There’s NBA and NHL playoff action, and the Cubs are visiting Ike Davis and the Mets. Talk about whatever you want, but enjoy.

So far, the bandbox is gone

Prior to the start of the 2010 season, Joe pondered if the new Yankee Stadium would still be as home run-friendly as it was last April. Noting that “perception of Yankee Stadium as a bandbox started in April and was based mostly on a game where Cleveland hit six home runs,” he wondered if the stadium would play truer to its late-2009 trends or its early-season long-ball tendencies.

Well, with the first homestand of the season behind us, the Yanks and their opponents hit 13 home runs or just over two round-trippers a game. Opponents hit four of those in 210 plate appearances, good for a home run rate of one long ball every 52.5 plate appearances. The Yankees hit nine of those or one every 24.89 plate appearances. If those figures look awfully similar to the 2009 rates, well, that’s because they are. The Yanks are still very good at hitting home runs at home, and through six games, the team’s pitchers have been even stingier with the long ball than they were last year.

This long-standing home run reality, though, hasn’t stopped writers from proclaiming a slow-down in the home run rate. Take a peek at this AP article from Ronald Blum. He alleges that the stadium “no longer is playing like a bandbox.” Never mind the fact that it hasn’t since last May. It’s time to play Let’s Create a Meme, and this year’s winner is the opposite of a bandbox.

In the article, Blum alleges that because there were two homerless games already this season, something must be different, but the Yankees are having none of it. “Guys have been making good pitches and going about their business the right way. I don’t think I’ve noticed any difference at all,” Joba Chamberlain said. “I guess at the end of the season we’ll see how everything compares, but I don’t think it’s any different.”

Andy Pettitte was one of the stadium’s early critics, and he had trouble at the start of 2009 trusting his stuff in the new park. Since then, he’s grown accustomed to it. “Last year it was just early, we had winds that were ripping straight out, and now what we’ve got is we’ve got winds that are going dead in.” Pettitte said. “So it’s definitely to left field I believe has played a lot different on this homestand than it did on the first couple of homestands last year. Toward the end of the season last year, I felt like it really started playing pretty fair. Right field is short. That’s all there is to it. But the rest of the ballpark plays actually pretty big.”

Therein lies the rub. The stadium was slightly home run-happy last year, but that’s because the Yankees had a home run-happy lineup of left-handed sluggers. The team is primed to exploit that advantage again this year, but otherwise, the stadium has suppressed non-home run extra-base hits. It plays, in other words, like a fair baseball stadium, and those who criticized its home runs have been notably silent since early last spring.

Yankees visiting the White House next Monday

Buried at the bottom of this column about the Yankees’ awesomeness, Joel Sherman mentions that the team will visit the White House next Monday where President Obama will honor the World Champions. The team is off that day, and they’ll be in the D.C. area after flying east from the West Coast en route to a date with the Orioles. Traditionally, the team being honored will give the Commander-in-Chief a jersey featuring the number that corresponds to his presidency, but 44 is already taken in Yankeeland. It would be pretty funny if Reggie made a big stink about the team’s giving away a jersey with his retired number and to a noted White Sox fan no less.

2010 Draft: High School Targets

The one that got away. (Photo Credit: Maya Sugarman, The Daily Bruin)

With trades, attrition, and graduation taking their toll on the Yankees’ farm system, the 2010 draft represents the team’s first chance to infuse the organization with some much needed high upside talent. College players certainly offer quality, however by the time they’re eligible for the draft, they’ve usually been heavily influenced by college coaches more focused on winning than development. High school players often come with higher ceilings because they get to do basically all their development under professional instruction.

Bryce Harper should technically be a junior in high school, but his decision to get his GED and move on to junior college not only looks genius at the moment (he’s hitting .422-.516-.891 with 15 homers and 13 doubles in 39 wood bat league games), but it also gives him tremendous leverage since he’ll be eligible for the next four drafts.  The top true high school prospect this year is Texas righty Jameson Taillon, who’s touched the upper 90’s with his fastball and shown a put away slider. He’s not as good as Tyler Matzek (last year’s top prep prospect) because his command comes and goes and he’s maxed out physically (6-foot-7, 230 lbs), but he’s still a legit top five prospect.

The Yankees have selected high school players with three of their five top picks under scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, so even though he loves polished college players, he’ll certainly grab a talented high schooler if they’re out there for the taking. Here’s three players that could be available when the Yanks’ first pick (32rd overall) comes up this June…

Photo Credit: Flickr user Let's Play Two

Nick Castellanos, SS, McCarthy HS (Fl.)
First off, Castellanos is not going to stay at short long term. He’s already 6-foot-3, 190 lbs and doesn’t have the athleticism for the position, so a move to third base will be almost immediate upon signing his first pro contract. He has the arm and the hands for the hot corner, but if he gets even bigger than expected a move to an outfield corner will be necessary.

The good news is that Castellanos can hit. I mean really hit. He’s incredibly strong for an 18-year-old, which gives him good present power and should allow him to launch some serious bombs as he gets older. His bat speed is good and his swing is fine, not textbook, so he should compliment his immense power with a good batting average.

Rumors are circulating that Castellanos is looking for anywhere from $5-$7M to skip out on his commitment to Miami, which is no doubt pricey. It’s Justin Upton money, basically. Castellanos isn’t that good and I doubt he gets a bonus that large (we always hear talk of high schoolers wanting enormous bonuses this time of year), but $2-3M isn’t out of the question.

Photo Credit: Flickr user Let's Play Two

A.J. Cole, RHP, Oviedo HS (Fl.)
Cole’s been on the radar for a few years now, but he’s kinda getting lost in the shuffle with some bigger named (and bigger armed) high schoolers popping up around the country. However, Cole might be the most complete prospect of the bunch, flashing velocity and quality secondary offerings with plenty of room for projection.

Listed at 6-foot-5 and 185 lbs, Cole is an incredible athlete with a fluid delivery and a free and easy arm action. His fastball sits in the low-90’s but has touched 95, with plenty of room to improve down the road. An upper-70’s slider acts as his second pitch, but the Yankees’ brass would probably have him switch to a curveball given his loose arm. Cole also throws a change, which is in it’s infancy like a typical high schooler’s. The only knock on Cole is that he tends to go into cruise control while facing inferior competition, though his work ethic is fine. He can just get complacent at times.

On pure talent, Cole should go in the top ten picks, but he’s a candidate to fall if his bonus demands don’t match up with the value teams place on him. Committed to Miami like Castellanos, Cole shouldn’t be there when the Yankees first rounder comes along, but it’s very possible he will be. If so, he’s an absolute steal at that spot.

Photo Credit: The OC Register

Peter Tago, RHP, Dana Hills HS (Cali)
A bit of a late bloomer, Tago has started to flash some serious velocity as the spring has progressing, reportedly touching 95-96 in recent outings. His breaking has sharpened up and has morphed into more of a true slider than the slurve he was throwing previously, and his changeup is pretty good for a prepster as well. Tago’s build is a scout’s dream, as he stands 6-foot-1, 190 lbs with broad shoulders and plenty of room to fill out. It’s not hard to envision his newfound velocity sticking as he matures. He’s going to have to work to keep his delivery in check – he currently throws from a low-3/4 slot but tends to drift – though that’s nothing uncommon for a high schooler.

I’m always a bit weary of guys like Tago that pop up late, but he was a top 100 draft prospect before the velocity spiked anyway. We still haven’t heard anything about bonus demands, but he’s committed to UCLA, which stirs up bad memories of Gerrit Cole. In a perfect world, he’d still be available when the Yankees second round pick (82nd overall) comes around, but that seems unlikely.

* * *

Of the three players mentioned, Castellanos is most likely to drop to the Yankees because of his enormous bonus demands, but there’s also a chance he falls further into the middle rounds and ends up one of those double-digit round, seven figure bonus guys. The kind of draft pick that didn’t exist until four or five years ago. Cole represents the best case scenario for the Yanks’ first pick, so cross your fingers.

Pettitte’s biggest mistake was just that

For seven innings yesterday, Andy Pettitte held the Rangers in check. He used both his curveball and his cutter equally, mixing in the changeup five times. I’m still amazed that Pettitte continues using his fastball as often as he does. He threw 53 four-seamers to go along with 17 two-seamers, and even though he topped out at 90 according to the PitchFX gun the Rangers hitters still couldn’t do much with it.

Pettitte’s only blemishes came in the third inning, when a leadoff single opened an opportunity for the Rangers. As I mentioned in the recap, Elvis Andrus drove in a runner from second on what appeared to be a good pitch. The next batter, Michael Young, followed with an RBI of his own. Yet I couldn’t help notice something peculiar about Young’s at-bat: Pettitte used his fastball exclusively.

By reputation, Young kills fastballs. For a bit of statistical proof, if you look at his pitch type values at FanGraphs, you’ll see that he consistently rates very high. Why, then, would Pettitte deal Young a steady diet of fastballs? After the game he admitted that his mechanics didn’t feel right during the first five innings, so perhaps he stuck with the fastball in order to get everything back into working order. I think, though, that there’s a more likely explanation.

To that point in the series Young was 4 for 8. All four hits were singles, but with the relatively quick Andrus on second a single would have been all the Rangers needed to take the lead. Josh Hamitlon was due up after Young, and he presented a better match-up for many reasons. Not only would that be a lefty-lefty match-up, but Hamilton had also gone hitless since his first at-bat on Friday evening. He didn’t look particularly strong during his at-bat in the first, and I’m sure Pettitte would have much rather faced him than Young.

To that end, here’s the Gameday chart of the at-bat.

Five fastballs, all away. Even on a 3-0 count Pettitte still tried to catch the corner rather than throwing one over. This makes me think the strategy was to just keep the ball away from his wheelhouse, get him to chase if possible, but accept the walk if it comes to that. On the at-bat’s ultimate pitch, it appears Pettitte just missed his spot. The ball caught a bit too much of the plate, and Young did what he could with it.

That pitch was Pettitte’s only real mistake of the afternoon. Maybe the changeup he threw to Matt Treanor three batters earlier didn’t get inside enough, but that was just a single. The double to Andrus looked like a good enough pitch, but went for an RBI double anyway. To Young, though, that last pitch looked like it was supposed to end up a bit more outside, perhaps too far outside. That would have put runners on first and second for the slumping Hamilton. Of course, Hamilton hit the ball well, and would have had an RBI himself had Teixeira not made a leaping stab at a liner destined for right field. I do wonder, though, how differently the at-bat would have gone had Pettitte known that a ground ball would have ended the inning without another run scoring.

This actually makes me appreciate Pettitte’s start that much more. He ran into trouble in the third, and even though he wasn’t feeling 100 percent, he still stuck to his plan. He got a bit unlucky when he missed with a hittable fastball, but he also recovered that luck when Teixeira snagged Hamilton’s liner. This had the potential to be a big inning for the Rangers, but Pettitte limited the damage. A situation like this is one of the many reasons that the Yankees continue bringing him back every year.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 19th, 2010

Record Last Week: 5-1 (33 RS, 18 RA)
Season Record: 9-3 (60 RS, 47 RA), tied with Rays for AL East lead
Opponents This Week: Monday OFF, @ Athletics (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), @ Angels (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

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Yanks complete sweep with win over Rangers

Taking two of three always represents a favorable outcome. That works out to a 108-win season, excellent by any standard. But when the opportunity to sweep a team arises, I always find myself a bit disappointed if they don’t deliver. For instance, not sweeping the first three series was fine because each featured a rubber game. In this weekend’s series, however, the Yankees had a chance to walk away perfect. They delivered in their first opportunity, defeating the Rangers 5-2.

Biggest Hit: Ramiro Pena‘s two-run single

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Rangers’ starter Rich Harden lived up to his reputation yesterday, showing good stuff and poor control. The Yankees took advantage, working the pitch count an driving Harden from the game in the fourth inning. The greatest damage came in the third, when eight Yankees came to the plate and saw 35 pitches. They also erased their only deficit of the game in quick, impeccable fashion.

Walks to A-Rod and Curtis Granderson, sandwiching a Jorge Posada single, set the Yanks up with bases loaded and one out. Nick Swisher failed in his attempt to capture the lead, striking out on three pitches. That left the inning up to Ramiro Pena. Harden started the at-bat with a low changeup, which Pena swung over. He came back with a fastball, slightly off the plate inside, but Pena kept his hands in and got a good part of the bat on the ball, sending it over Ryan Garko’s head for a single.

With Andy Pettitte dealing, the Yanks didn’t need any more than this. They got more, which is always appreciated, but they didn’t need it. The pitching has just been that good this season.

Honorable Mention: Teixeira’s jack

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

For the second straight season Mark Teixeira has started the season in a slump. It seems like he’s just missing some of these pitches, which is both encouraging and frustrating. Encouraging because it means that he’ll surely be in mid-season form before long. Frustrating because he’s so close to making an impact. Yesterday he took a step forward, hitting his first home run of the season and tying the game after the Rangers had taken the lead in the top of the inning.

Harden did not come out throwing gas in the third. His first pitch registered only 86 mph, and while it looked like a fastball PitchFX classified it as a changeup. The next pitch was similar in speed, just 1 mph faster, and break, but it was classified a fastball. In any case, neither of them were particularly impressive, and they both ran right down the middle. Teixeira jacked the second one, about thigh high, into the second deck in right.

Tex didn’t pick up a hit the rest of the afternoon, and it’s quite possible that his slump continues a bit longer. Still, it was nothing but encouraging to see him tie the game with his first homer of the year.

Biggest Pitch: Andrus and Young give Texas the lead (tie)

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

While Pettitte pitched well for most of the game, he still ran into a bit of trouble in the third. Matt Treanor opened the inning with a single, and after a sacrifice bunt found himself on second with one out. On a 1-2 count, Pettitte threw a cutter inside to Elvis Andrus, and the latter hit one sharply down the line for an RBI single. It wasn’t a bad pitch by any means. The pitch was in on Andrus’s hands, but he reacted quickly enough. It was much like Pena did in the bottom of the inning, though Pettitte’s pitch had a bit more movement than Harden’s.

Pettitte then delivered three fastballs off the plate outside to the next hitter, Michael Young. After a fastball strike on the outside corner, Pettitte again went away with the fastball, this time catching a bit of the plate. Young lined it to right, which all but assuredly would score Andrus. Swisher, possibly overestimating his own arm strength, gave it the ol’ college try, but all it did was allow Young to advance to second.

The situation nearly got worse when the next batter, Josh Hamilton, smoked one toward right field. Mark Teixeira made a leaping catch, though, and nearly got Young going back to second. One batter later, Vlad Guerrero popped one up to the infield, leaving the Rangers with their one-run lead.

Cano’s impatience can be frustrating

We’ve gone out of our way to praise Robinson Cano, the new fifth hitter, for his hot start. At times he’s seemed a bit more selective at the plate, even if he drew only his second walk today. During other at-bats, though, he still seems like the hacking kid who came up in 2005. This is what his at-bat in the third felt like.

After Teixeira’s game-tying homer, Harden lost control a bit. He walked A-Rod on five pitches, the four balls all high pitches. What does Cano do to follow-up? He swings at the first three pitches he sees. Harden went down the well, starting Cano with a fastball low in the zone, which the latter fouled away. He fouled the next pitch, a changeup that fell below the zone. The final pitch, a changeup in the dirt, drew a futile swing.

Cano will do this from time to time. The key, I think, is that these incidents are spread further apart than in the past. So far we’ve seen that, an encouraging sign. It’s tough to not be frustrated after watching that at-bat, though.

Happy thoughts

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Andy’s continued April brilliance. It seems like he’s been excellent to start the year since returning in 2007. He ran into a bit of rough patch early in 2008, but other than that he’s been money in the early goings. He’s not going to pitch like this every time out, but it’s nothing but encouraging to see Pettitte at the top of his game in April.

Brett Gardner’s big day. As Mike said, this isn’t going to be a regular occurrence, but it’s a nice reminder of what Gardner adds to the team when he gets on base. At very worst, his willingness to take pitches works right with the Yankees’ M.O.

The Yanks continue to work opposing pitchers like few other teams. Not only did they force Harden to throw 94 pitches in his 3.2 innings, but they also put a dent in the Rangers’ bullpen. Dustin Nippert threw 40 pitches in 2.1 innings, though Darren Oliver used just 23 to complete the final two. I wonder, though, if by the time Oliver came in everyone was just racing to the finish.

Jorge’s home run was a think of beauty. Nippert opened the AB with two curveballs that missed, and then went exclusively to the fastball. He reached back for something extra on the 3-2, hurling it at 94 after sitting mostly 91-92. It caught all of the plate, though, and Jorge sent it on a line over the right field wall.

Annoyances

Other than Cano’s three-pitch strikeout after A-Rod’s walk, I had few complaints about this one. I had few complaints about the series in general, and seeing how it resulted in a sweep I think I’ll back off the annoyances section for now.

WPA Graph

It dips and rallies.

You can check out the player breakdowns at FanGraphs.

Up Next

The Yanks take the day off today as they travel to start a six-game tour of the AL West. Thankfully, only half of those games start at 10 p.m., with the schedulers cutting us a break on Wednesday with a rare road getaway game. The A’s are up first, 10 p.m. on Tuesday.