Fan Confidence Poll: June 20th, 2011

Record Last Week: 5-2 (42 RS, 21 RA)
Season Record: 41-29 (372 RS, 276 RA, 45-25 pythag. record), one back in loss column
Opponents This Week: @ Reds (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, vs. Rockies (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Swisher homer caps comeback, Yanks take series

It had a been a while since the Yankees visited the Cubs and it’ll be a while before they go back, but Sunday night’s game capped off an eventful but ultimately successful three game series in the Windy City, a series the Yankees won thanks to Sunday’s come-from-behind win.

Ballgame.

Nick Swisher, Rally Killer

I think it’s fair to call Swisher the most disappointing regular this season, particularly when you consider his performance from the left side of the plate. He came into this game hitting just .173/.321/.280 in 187 plate appearances against righties this year, a big problem when you consider that roughly seven out of ten pitchers in the big leagues are right-handed. With men on the corners and none out in the eighth inning, I would have been happy if Nick grounded into a double play against the righty Chris Carpenter (not this one, this one) as long as it got the run in. He did managed to kill the rally, but not by grounding into a double play.

Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano led off the inning with singles against Sean Marshall, then the Cubs went to the rookie Carpenter in the biggest spot of the game. We saw him be wild and walk a guy on Saturday, and he looked the same on Sunday. The first two pitches to Swisher were mid-90’s fastballs high and away, but the third was a cookie, a 93 mph heater down the middle and over the plate. A classic get-me-over fastball in a 2-0 count. A tee wouldn’t have been any better. Swish jumped all over the pitch and did what he was supposed to do with that, he crushed it deep to right for a three run homer. It was gone off the bat, everyone knew it. Rally killed, three runs scored.

Now that's how you start a game.

Brett Gardner, Leadoff Hitter

Gardner came into this game having gotten on base in 70 of his last 163 plate appearances (43.8%), premium production regardless of batting order position. Randy Wells got him in a quick 0-2 hole to start the game, but after fouling off two pitches, Gardner yanked a knee high sinker into the right field seats for his first career leadoff homerun and fourth of the season. He also hit a two strike single next time up and helped create an insurance run in the ninth with a leadoff hustle double, and his season batting average is up to .294. Remember where he was in April? Yeah. If someone, anyone had a legitimate reason why this man shouldn’t be the Yankees full-time leadoff hitter when Derek Jeter comes off the disabled list, I’d love to hear it.

Right Where He Wanted Them

New Eighth Inning Guy™ David Robertson has a well-documented history of wiggling out of jams, so you didn’t really expect the eighth inning go smoothly, did you? Aramis Ramirez quickly struck out for the first out, but then Robertson walked Alfonso Soriano (on four pitches!) before walking Geovany Soto on six pitches. Just like that, the tying run was at the plate, and up came pinch-hitter and certified Yankee killer Carlos Pena. Robertson dropped a curve in for a ball before inducing a weak grounder to second for the second out, though the runners moves up. Pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt fouled off some tough cutters and curves, but eventually popped one up rather harmlessly to end the inning. Business as usual in the Robertson household.

Where’s The Pinch-Hitter?

Russell Martin had just tied the game at four with a sacrifice fly in the sixth, and a semi-intentional walk to Eduardo Nunez put men at first and second with one out. For some reason, CC Sabathia was allowed to bat for himself. Yes, he had thrown just 69 pitches up to that point, but he also wasn’t fooling anyone. The Cubs had eight hits (four for extra bases) and a walk in his five innings to that point. Of course, the second guessing seems rather stupid given the outcome of the game and the fact that Sabathia added two more scoreless innings, but at the time it was a huge moment in the game and having a real hitter at the plate could have changed things dramatically.

I don't think he'd be smiling if they were losing.

Leftovers

Speaking of Sabathia, he was not very good in this game, especially early on. The Cubs made a ton of hard contact in the first, even the outs, en route to taking a one run lead, and then CC made a huge mistake pitch to Soriano that he clobbered for a three run homer in the third. He pitched around a leadoff double in the fourth, but then he settled down and retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced. If you go back to that ugly seventh inning against the Red Sox two starts ago, Sabathia has allowed 14 runs in his last 14.2 IP. Not worried, he’ll get through it, but yuck.

Once they were behind 4-1, the Yankees really did a good job of scratching their way back into it. Swish plated a run in the fourth on a seeing through the right side, Nunez beat out a relay throw on a fielder’s choice that allowed the second run to score later that inning, and then Martin tied things at four with the aforementioned sac fly in the sixth. Three insurance runs scored in the ninth when Gardner (hustle double), Curtis Granderson (triple into the corner), Mark Teixeira (lol bloop double into the corner), and Alex Rodriguez (double into the ivy) started the inning with four straight extra base hits.

Martin took an Aramis back swing to the helmet in the middle of the game and was seen with an icepack on his head in the dugout. He was laughing and stayed in the game, but between that and the collision at the plate on Saturday, it was a rough two days for Russ. Since everyone was okay, we can also laugh at Ramiro Pena for catching a bad hop on a grounder in the ninth, taking it up high around the chest. The ball ricocheted to Nunez at short and he threw it straight into the ground, like a quarterback spiking the ball to stop the clock. Hilarious.

A total of 126,283 fans took in these three games this week, a record for a three-game series at Wrigley Field. That’s pretty nuts considering the park has been around since the dawn of time. But, you know, the Yankees are bad for baseball. They’ve now won 20 of their last 30 games, by the way.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stuff no one cares about.

Up Next

It’s off to Cincinnati for another interleague series in an NL park. Ivan Nova will kick things off against Johnny Cueto on Monday night. If you’re in the area, RAB Tickets can get you into the game for dirt cheap.

Girardi: A-Rod’s been playing with an injured shoulder

Via Wally Matthews, Alex Rodriguez has been playing a left shoulder injury for the past few weeks. “It’s just a small issue that only bothers him when he dives for a ball,” said Joe Girardi, though another source called it a strain and said he’s “managing it as best as he can.” Remember, Alex did serve as the designated hitter on Wednesday before sitting completely on Thursday, which if nothing else seemed a bit odd. Also, it’s his left shoulder, so throws aren’t a problem. Anyway, A-Rod is hitting .325/.397/.556 over his last 30 games, so it’s not like the injury is dragging him down at the plate.

The Phil Hughes Rehab Tour starts in SI

Make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread. Also, Ryan Pope has been placed on the disabled list, which might explain the shellacking he took the other night.

Short Season Staten Island (5-3 loss to Brooklyn)
Mason Williams, CF: 3 for 5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 SB – threw a runner out at third … have yourself a day, Mr. Williams
Cito Culver, SS: 0 for 5, 2 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) – still waiting on that first hit
Angelo Gumbs, 2B: 0 for 5, 2 K
Reymond Nunez, 1B & Ben Gamel, LF: both 1 for 4, 2 K
Cody Grice, DH: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K
Casey Stevenson, 3B: 0 for 2, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP
Nick McCoy, C: 0 for 4, 2 K
Shane Brown, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R
Phil Hughes, RHP: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 2-3 GB/FB – 41 of 61 pitches were strikes (67.2%), and he was scheduled for 65 … his fastball ranged from 89-95 (92-93 consistently) but there are conflicting reports are whether he held the velocity throughout the outing or it dropped off in the later innings … he allowed singled to the first two men he faced, then sat down 13 of the next 14 men he faced before a solo homer ended his day … this was a nice step forward, but he’s still got a long way to go
Wilton Rodriguez, RHP: 2.2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HB, 4-2 GB/FB
Matt Tracy, LHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 2-0 GB/FB

[Read more…]

Game 70: Father’s Day

(Photo Credit: Flickr user jwannie via Creative Commons license)

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. Most of us wouldn’t care about baseball if it wasn’t for the old man. Let’s go Yankees.

Brett Gardner, LF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Russell Martin, C
Eduardo Nunez, SS
CC Sabathia, SP

It’s an ESPN Sunday Night Game, so first pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm ET. Enjoy.

Saying the Right Thing, Part 2

A quick question: If you didn’t enjoy part one of this series, why are you reading part two?

To quickly summarize before I get back into the nitty gritty of this extremely important topic, complaining is a key part of being a fan of any sports team, and a sports team as good as the Yankees requires a double-dose of this skill. There are a lot of different things to complain about, but the key is to know what to talk about when and what to complain about when. Generally, immediacy is key: complain about lineups when lineups are posted, complain about Francisco Cervelli when he throws the ball into center field, and so on. Yesterday I covered hitters and today I’ll round up the other important stuff.

Letting Runs Score

When you’re being paid as much as these guys are and you only have one job, you better do it damn well. If your job is to not let people score, you better not let them score. It doesn’t matter that the average ERA is around 3. No Yankees pitcher should ever allow any runs. To do so is to invite scorn on yourself. There is a notable correlation between money and scorn – all CC showings that are not shutouts are automatic failures, whereras giving Ivan Nova a couple runs of leeway before calling himself failure is okay.

Pitching Changes

This is an easy fallback for when the game is going slowly – every pitching change is wrong. Every. Single. One. There is never a right choice. It’s not like pitchers shouldn’t be taken out of the game, just that it should always be at a different time. Robertson with two on and no out? Leave the starter in to get out of it. Ayala to start the sixth? Should be Marquez. Mo in the ninth? Bartolo Colon should have stayed in. Burnett takes a hard loss? He should have come out earlier. Boone Logan at any point in time, ever? Wrong. Noesi? Why is he in the pen at all?

Developing Starting Pitching

Is Hector Noesi starting? No? He should be. He is? Don’t rush the starters! No matter what the front office does, it’s always wrong. No matter how successful things are, they could always be better. Brian Gordon gives a great start? Noesi should have started. Noesi throws a great start? He should have been called up earlier! This is a great topic because it is always relevant, even when CC or AJ is on the bump. Starting pitching is necessary for the current and the future of the team, so this is a great complaint for anytime. Off day? Offseason? Blowout win? This is the complaint of choice.

Throwing Balls During Blowouts

When you’re up 11-0 in the eigth, all you need is to get outs. When you can’t even get players to swing at your pitches, it’s enraging. The players are ready to shower, the fans have other stuff to do, and you can’t even get a guy to put a ball in play. Plus, the offending pitcher risks requiring the use of an important pitcher. Seriously. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Weekend Writers

They suck.

Food for thought: Cano’s on-base skills

One way to define an outlier is one observation that deviates in a notable manner from the other observations in a sample. Here’s a graph of Robinson Cano‘s on-base percentage throughout his career graphed alongside league average on-base percentage. See if you can spot the outlier(s):

The league average sits right below .350 in this sample. For Cano, the outliers here appear to be 2008, a year in which he posted a typically low walk rate and an abnormally low BABIP, and last year, a year in which he doubled his career walk rate and posted a relatively normal BABIP by his standards. To cut down on the effect BABIP can have on on-base percentage, here’s a graph over time of his walk rate. Again, see if you can spot the outlier(s):

This one’s even easier to pick out: the outlier is 2010. Unfortunately, the purple line here is league average walk rate and the green line is Cano’s walk rate. As mentioned above, Cano doubled his walk rate last year en route to a .319/.381/.534 line. At the time it looked like a big step forward for a young developing player entering his prime. This year it’s right back where it always has been, below 5%.

Many times it’s common to hear fans or announcers get frustrated with pitchers who can’t throw strikes and struggle with command. “Just throw strikes” is a common refrain, as if control and command were mere switches one simply flips on or off depending on concentration. For some this may be the case, for others it’s a question of ability. Certain pitchers, for whatever reason, aren’t good (by MLB standards) at directing the ball where they want it to go.

It’s similar with batters, and with Robinson Cano. Pitch recognition and plate discipline are things that one can get better at, true. Kevin Long seemed to attempt to infuse Cano with plate discipline earlier in the year by instructing him to stop swinging at the first pitch, advice which Cano disregarded. This is a frustrating state of affairs, but perhaps some of the frustration can be ameliorated by simply accepting that Robinson Cano isn’t very good at showing discipline at the plate.

Cano is 28 years old and he’ll turn 29 this October. A 5% walk rate is the norm for Cano at this point in his career; the 8.2% mark in 2010 appears to be the outlier. Barring him developing new skills, it appears that Cano’s on-base percentage will fluctuate between .330 and .380 as his BABIP fluctuates. It sure would be nice if he would develop some patience to complement his incredible power; it likely make him the best second baseman in the game. Yet it doesn’t seem likely to happen and that’s a shame, because it does represent a hole in his game. But hey, there are worse things in the world than having Robinson Cano as your second baseman, walk rate and all.