Montero goes deep day after non-trade

Make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread.

The Yankees had a scout on hand yesterday to watch 16th rounder Evan Rutckyj pitch for his summer league team. The big Canadian lefty is looking for first round money.

Triple-A Scranton
Game One (3-0 win over Lehigh Valley in 7 innings)
makeup of an April 26th rain out
Reegie Corona, 2B & Greg Golson, CF: both 0 for 2, 1 BB – Corona stole a base & K’ed … Golson threw a runner out at first as part of a double play
Chad Tracy, 3B: 2 for 3, 1 R – they signed him yesterday
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K – nine for his last 43 (.209)
Juan Miranda, 1B: 1 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI – took a big leaguer deep … I guess someone is mad about almost being traded
Jorge Vazquez, DH & Eric Bruntlett, RF: both 0 for 3 – JoVa K’ed twice, Bruntlett once
Chad Huffman, LF: 1 for 2, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Tim Redding: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 6-4 GB/FB – 59 of 91 pitches were strikes (64.8%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 3 K – nine of his 13 pitches were strikes … that’s his 40th career save for SWB, a new franchise record

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Game 87: In 3-D!

Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson, AP

The next big thing in entertainment is going to be 3-D TV, and YES is making history tonight by broadcasting the first ever baseball game in three dimensions. Granted, you need a fancy 3-D TV set, but if you have one and you’re a Verizon FiOS customer, then you’re in luck. You’ll get to see Mark Teixeira hit baseballs right into your living room. If you don’t, don’t worry, there will be a regular old broadcast as well.

As for the actual game, the Yanks won’t be as lucky as they were yesterday today. Felix Hernandez isn’t getting traded before first pitch, so they’re stuck facing the guy that two-hit them in the Bronx last week. Hopefully the Yanks went to town in the video between then and now and will be better prepared for King Felix tonight.

Here’s your starting nine, on the final 10pm ET start of the season…

Brett Gardner, LF
Nick Swisher, DH – this will be his fifth time DH’ing in the last eight games
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Curtis Granderson, CF
Colin Curtis, RF
Frankie Cervelli, C
Ramiro Pena, SS

Javy Vazquez, SP

Three lefties in a row? Joe Girardi‘s gone mad, mad I tells ya!

Anyway, like I said, 10pm ET start tonight with YES carrying the game. I’m not sure how this whole 3-D thing works as far as channels and what not, but I assume everyone tunes into YES until further notice. Enjoy the game, no matter how many dimensions you watch it in.

Open Thread: The final 10pm ET game of 2010

That has nothing to do with baseball, but it’s amazing nonetheless. So yeah, watch it.

Here’s an open thread if you’re just killing time until the final 10pm ET game of the Yankees’ 2010 season. Oh happy days. Talk about whatever, just be civil.

Nick Swisher will participate in Home Run Derby

Via Sweeny Murti, first time All Star Nick Swisher with try his luck in the Homerun Derby on Monday, filling the spot vacated by the “injuredRobbie Cano. The Yankees weren’t too pleased with Cano being in the event, and I can’t imagine that they want Swish there either. Will he come up with a minor injury between now and Monday? My money’s on a sore biceps.

Yankees sign Colombian catcher Alfredo Castellon

A week into the2010 international signing period, the Yankees finally made their first strike, signing 18-year-old Colombian catcher Alfredo Castellon Jr. He was signed after impressing at a tryout camp in Tampa at the end of June, though the terms of the deal are undisclosed. There’s no such thing as having too many young catcher, the Yanks almost showed just how valuable of a commodity they could be yesterday.

The Cap’n kinda-sorta makin’ it happen

Photo credit: John Froschauer/AP)

Quite a few noticed early in the season that Derek Jeter looked different. No, he didn’t get in the best shape of his life, receive Lasik eye surgery or anything like that — but his hitting approach was decidedly odd. No longer did you see the lithe future Hall-of-Fame shortstop with his trademark lashing of baseballs to the opposite field for a hearty helping of singles and occasional doubles. You didn’t see the trademark patience either; there was no working deep into counts.

Instead, we surprisingly witnessed first-pitch swings that ended up eliciting weak groundballs to shortstop. Some of this was masked by his inordinately high slugging percentage, which gave a big boost to his line. Still, at .330/.354/.521 coming into May, this was not the Jeter of old.

At the end of April, Jeter’s walk rate was at 3.5% (career rate is 9.0%), his pitches per plate appearance was 3.54 (it’s usually in the high 3’s) and his swing percentage stood at 53.5%, roughly 5 percentage points higher than his career average (h/t Matt Imbrogno at TYU). Perhaps the most egregious notation is by my calculation, Jeter was swinging at the first pitch in 53.9% of his at bats by the 1st of May. For a leadoff hitter, that’s dastardly and for the Cap’n, uncharacteristic.

Even if the initial results were positive (his average was a robust .400), it doesn’t often bode well for future success, as pitchers will adjust and the lower amount of pitches seen generally means the more length the starter can give the opposing team. It led me to wonder if his bat was slowing down, which, if true, could be big trouble for a player bound to get a new contract and whose value is largely derived from a plus bat with positional dearth. (His decline against fastballs instills such fear in me.) With suspect defense, he needs to hit.

On the positive side, Jeter’s walk rate, which climbed marginally in May at 6%, has jumped since then. In June and July he’s walked 12.7% of the time and 14.7%, respectively. Jeter’s now within his normal walk range, checking in at 8.3%. His swing percentage has since dropped to 48.1%, directly in line with career averages. With 296 pitches seen on an 0-0 count since 5/1, Jeter’s swung at 87 of them for a first pitch swing percentage of 29.3%. All in all, there are some encouraging signs that Jeter’s starting to get back into his former approach in batting discipline, if slowly.

Still, it’s not all peachy. Jeter’s still swinging at a lot of balls out of the zone (28% this year compared to his career average of 20%) and though he’s making contact, it seems a safe bet that most of those swings are going for easy groundouts. The groundballs are really the crux of the issue.

Jeter’s a career .260 hitter when putting the ball on the ground. This year, however, he’s at .222. Earlier in the season Jeter had been hitting an absurd number of ground balls — 71% of the time for the first month. He’s since dropped that percentage to a still-high 63.1% in May and 63.9% in June, finally falling back to 76% (!) in July (albeit, a very small sample). You’d expect better luck with BABip for groundballs moving forward for Jeter given his career rates and no noticeable loss of speed. Still, this has to be the most perturbing aspect of what we’ve seen out of #2 this season.

(Photo credit: Julie Jacobson/AP)

In spite of the ground-bashing, he’s upped his line drive rate to 17.2% on the season (still 3 percentage points lower than his career average), which has come largely at the expense of fly balls, down to 15.2% on the year. Perhaps some of the irony in his hit data is that Jeter’s been fairly successful hitting the ball in the air — of the scant few times he’s hit a flyball, he’s hitting .362/.354/.915 with a .244 BABip. For his career, he’s a .241/.235/.636 hitter with a .155 BABip. So really, he’s had phenomenal luck when lifting the ball and fairly poor luck when hitting the ball on the ground.

On the defensive side, the longtime Yankee captain was coming off a year in which his normally below-average to fringe-average defense was seen as a plus, registering an 8.0 UZR and a 4 on Total Zone, the former a career high and the latter just the third positive TZ score he’s had in his career. No one expected this at age 35. If interviews and media are to be believed, his success with the glove in 2009 was chalked up to a new exercise routine borne out of Jeter’s desire to improve after being called out by GM Brian Cashman. This year, while not a complete meltdown, it seems Jeter’s defense has again eroded to bare mediocrity. There’s no way to tell if there are nagging injuries or just general deterioration of quickness and agility.

But it does seem strange that he’d have such a spike after years of relative incompetence, then right back down again, no? Was 2009 an aberration? Seems like it, though one season’s worth of defensive metrics is hardly a sign of much (and certainly not one half-season, by that token). It’s no mystery Jeter has trouble ranging to his left, and the jump throws from his right are a sign of poor range. I’d love to see some data on the amount of jump throws Jeter does per season — it may give us a better sense of how his overall range is moving forward, a key piece of data as he’s in line for another contract. All in all, this can’t be considered a plus moving forward.

Reports of his ultimate demise may be exaggerated  — he’s had poor first halves before, he’s suffered from some poor BABip luck and his increase in walks, a better swing percentage (particularly on the first pitch), higher line drive rate must provide some solace for more success later this year — but with a possible four-year contract on the horizon, his July resembling his April approach (albeit in a small sample), and the death-by-groundball, even the most die-hard Yankee fan must be nervous about what Jeter will look like going forward.

Read more of the stupid things I write on Mystique & Aura.

The aftermath of a Cliff Lee almost-trade

He coulda been on a better contender. Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

Twenty four hours ago, I thought Cliff Lee would be in pinstripes. Although I was very hesitant to give up Jesus Montero, Lee is one of the top left-handed pitchers in the game, and a rotation featuring three lefties in Lee, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte along with Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett would have been nearly unstoppable. I had images of dominant second half running through my mind.

As we now know, with the deal 99.9 percent done and with the teams’ already having exchanged medicals, the Mariners pulled out. Ostensibly, they got cold feet over David Adams’ ankle, and that’s an excuse I don’t buy for a second. Players recover from ankle sprains, and Montero — not Adams — was the key piece to the deal. But somehow, the Rangers came a-knockin’, and for Justin Smoak and three others, Lee was theirs for the next two and a half months. Maybe he can bring the franchise their first playoff series victory since joining the league as the Washington Senators in 1961.

The fallout from the Mariners’ dealings have been wide-reaching. The Yankees, as Tyler Kepner writes, are mad at the Mariners. A year ago, Seattle asked for Austin Jackson for Jarrod Washburn; this year, they could have landed Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee. By now, I’m sure Brian Cashman has grown tired of the Mariners’ antics, and the prevailing sense in the organization is that Seattle used them to get Smoak.

Although a general manager is obliged to make one last call before signing off on a deal, others in baseball feel the Mariners went to far, says Joel Sherman and George A. King III. The Yankees, say the two well-connected Post reporters, believed the deal to be done pending acceptance of physical reports, but the Mariners on Friday started to ask around for Eduardo Nunez instead of David Adams. The Yankees were hesitant after agreeing to a framework of a deal the night before. “The Yankees do not do business that way,” a Yankee official said to the Post. “When we say something is a deal, it is a deal.”

In the same article, Cliff Lee said that he spoke with CC Sabathia on Thursday night, expecting to rejoin his former Cleveland teammate in pinstripes. Sabathia mentioned yesterday that Lee was looking forward to being a Yankee, and Lee speculated that the media coverage made the Rangers up their offer. Generally, that’s the way these trades work, and the Mariners would have gone back to the Rangers whether The Post had broken the story or not. For what it’s worth, Torii Hunter, who wants to be a GM one day, believes the Mariners broke an unwritten rule when they traded Lee within the division. Of course, he’s saying that because now the Angels have to go through Lee and the Rangers to reach the playoffs.

Interesting, in all of the coverage of the prospects, the Yankees now seem more willing to trade Jesus Montero than they were a few months ago when Roy Halladay was available. With the emergence of Austin Romine and the depth at catcher which includes a 17-year-old Gary Sanchez now with the Rookie Leagues and probably three or four years away, the team is loaded at that position. Club officials are not confident that Montero will stick behind the plate even as they believe he could bring an impact bat to the lineup. As trading him would have been a reasonable move, keeping him is just as positive for the future of the franchise.

For now, the consensus around baseball is that the Yankees will get their man a few weeks after the World Series ends. If it’s only a matter of money for Lee, the Yanks’ offer will trump all others. They didn’t get their man yesterday through no fault of their own, and now they might have to go through him to reach World Series title number 28. They’ve done it before; they can do it again.