The 2010 RAB Pledge Drive reminder

In case you missed it, we’ve announced our plans for out 2010 Pledge Drive benefiting Curtis Granderson‘s Grand Kids Foundation. Details can be found by clinking on the link. We’ve already raised $12.30 through two games, and are on pace for close to $1,000 this season. It’s never to late to get in on the action, and we can make your pledge retroactive to the start of the season, or effective today. We’re pretty flexible. Thanks in advance.

Yanks walk their way to first win of the season

With two days for the Opening Night loss to fester, the Yankees and their fans were champing at the bit for Tuesday’s matchup. The Yanks and Red Sox played one of those good old fashioned back-and-forth affairs, and it was a typical game between the two rivals: drawn out and mentally draining. Both teams had plenty of chances to blow the game open, but it wasn’t until one batter simply refused to make an on out that the decisive run was scored.

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa, AP

Biggest Hit: Nick Johnson‘s bases loaded walk

The biggest hit of the game wasn’t even a hit, it was a wimpy little walk. Nick Johnson – a.k.a. The OBP Jesus – stepped to the plate in the 8th inning with the bases loaded and two outs, sporting a .444 OBP on the young season but zero hits. He drew a pair of walks in five plate appearances on Sunday, then drew another walk and was hit by a pitch in his first four plate appearances on Tuesday. Hideki Okajima was already 27 pitches into his night when Johnson¬† dug in, so fatigue was starting to come into the picture.

After three straight balls, NJ took a called strike before Okajima missed inside with a pitch, putting Johnson on base for the fifth time of the season and simultaneously walking in the go ahead run. It was the biggest WPA swing of the game, and he didn’t even bother to take the bat off of his shoulders. Nick’s cool like that.

Biggest Out: Marco Scutaro’s double play

In terms of WPA, the four biggest outs record by Yankee pitchers were all three outs in the 8th inning and the first out in the 9th inning. I’m going to go back a little bit earlier for what I think was the biggest out of the game, Marco Scutaro’s inning ending double play in the 4th. The Yankees trailed 3-1 at the time, and the Red Sox were poised to tack on some more runs after Adrian Beltre singled (again) and Mike Cameron took a breaking ball to the ribs.

A.J. Burnett had been in battle mode all night, pitching out of the stretch for what seemed like the entire game. He painted the outside black for strike one to the former A’s utility man, then overthrew a fastball that was too high for a ball. His third pitch, a 95 mph two seamer down and in, tied Scutaro up, resulting in a harmless groundball to short that turned into an inning ending 6-4-3 double play. If Scutaro reaches base and turns the lineup over with less than two outs, things could have gotten out of hand quickly.

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

Pulling the starter an inning early

Second guessing calls to the bullpen comes with the territory of baseball blogging, and we saw a prime example of this Sunday night when CC Sabathia was left in even after he was visibly fatigued. Joe Girardi didn’t make the same mistake tonight, lifting Burnett after five innings and 94 pitches, but more importantly, before he had a chance to work himself into trouble in the 6th.

Burnett’s performance was okay – 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K – servicable, but nothing to write home about. He didn’t have a 1-2-3 inning all night, and he let the leadoff hitter reach base in the first four frames. Just two of those leadoff hitters came around to score, but starting 80% of your innings off with a baserunner isn’t exactly a recipe for success. Burnett finished strong by striking out both Kevin Youkilis and The Corpse of David Ortiz swinging, but given his generally shakiness, it was time to get him out of there.

The old saying is that it’s better to get rid of a player a year early than a year late, and that same concept applies to this game. Bravo to Girardi for getting Burnett out of there before he made another mess, one he may not have been able to wiggle out of.

Bullpen shenanigans

Once Burnett was out of the game, Girardi turned to old reliable, Al Aceves. The Mexican Gangster tossed up two perfect innings on just 23 pitches, but once the almighty 8th inning came around, Girardi went back into micromanaging mode. The same cast of characters that let the game get away on Sunday night were right back in there on Tuesday, though they escaped the inning unscathed after Joba Chamberlain struck out a pair and pumped his fists like drunken pledges on initiation night. It worked for this game, but the constant mixing and matching is painful to watch. The more relievers you use, the more likely it is that you’ll find someone having a bad night.

Things That Made Me Smile

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa, AP

Nick Johnson gets all the attention for his plate discipline skills, but the other Nick put on an absolute clinic tonight. Swisher’s first at-bat came with runners at first and second and one out, and he served a 94 mph fastball on the outer half into the rightfield corner for a game tying double. His plate appearance in the 4th lasted five pitches and ended when he took a curveball off his back foot. Leading off the 6th against Manny Delcarmen, Swisher took the first three pitches for a 2-1 count, then fouled a pitch off and took another off the plate to work it full. Two more foul balls later, he roped a double off the wall. In his final turn at the plate. Swish fouled off four 0-2 pitches and seven total (seven!) in an 11 pitch at-bat. The Yankees’ 7th place hitter saw 30 pitches by himself on Tuesday, seven more than anyone else on the field.

Considering how much attention his defense received after Sunday’s game, I suspect we won’t hear a damn thing about Jorge Posada‘s fine work behind the plate tonight. He blocked several curveballs in the dirt with guys on base, and even called for a 3-2 curve with a runner on third, knowing if it got away from him it would cost the team a run. Yeah, he threw the ball into center on Jacoby Ellsbury first inning stolen base, but he shouldn’t have been on base in the first place. He was though, and that’s because…

The Marcus Thames Experiment got off to an inauspicious start when he misread a fly ball that led to a run in the first, and then he later compounded the damage by striking out looking to end the fourth. Needless to say, I was glad to see Girardi give him the quick hook and pinch hit Brett Gardner in the 6th inning. Although they didn’t score in the inning, it was the right move. Thames has a very limited skill set, so getting a more useful player into the game once Jon Lester was out of there increased the team’s chances of winning.

Faced the challenge of hitting in the fifth spot on the lineup, Robbie Cano continues to smoke the ball. He singled in the 2nd, walked to lead off the 4th, drove in a run with a sac fly in the 5th, and pushed a big insurance run across the plate with a solo jack in the 9th. Cano’s hitting a cool .500 on the young season.

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

Joba Chamberlain’s fist pump. I still think he should be a starter, but man, those are always fun. Two batters faced, two swinging strikeouts. It was good to see someone slam the door in a sticky situation after Sunday’s debacle.

Annoying Moments

Even though they won, the Yankees squandered more than their fair share of opportunities. They leadoff man reached base in the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, yet they only scored runs in two of those innings. As a team, they went just 3-for-14 with men in scoring position, though that doesn’t include NJ’s bases loaded free pass. Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson went a combined 0-for-8 in those spots. That’s three guys in the span of four lineup spots leaving ducks on the pond.

It’s probably just a small sample size thing, but damn, Jeter’s hitting a ton of grounders to short so far. He had three of them in the first game (one got through for a hit), and then three more this game. The Captain’s calling card is serving the ball into right, but he has yet to put a ball in play to that field in this young season, instead hitting everything back up the middle, shaded towards the shortstop.

Damaso Marte throwing over to with Kevin Youkilis on first. The guy has 19 career steals in close to 700 games. How necessary was that? If that wasn’t bad enough, he threw a sinker and Tex couldn’t handle it, putting the tying run on second with no outs late in the game.

Next Up

These two teams are back at it tomorrow night for the final game of the series, with first pitch scheduled for 7:10pm ET. That one will be on YES and ESPN2.

WPA Graph

Who doesn’t love these things? You can check out the individual player breakdowns at FanGraphs’ box score.

Game 2 Spillover Thread 2

Nick Johnson will walk his way into our hearts. Who needs hits anyway?

Game Two Spillover Thread

Cano still can’t get a hit with RISP.

/sarcasm

Game 2: Burnett seeks redemption at Fenway

Photo credit: Ben Margot/AP

When the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett in December, 2008, they knew what they were getting into. They had seen him pitch 71.2 innings against them as a member of the Blue Jays from 2006 through 2008, striking out 72 along the way. His ERA, 2.39, dazzled, and it looked somewhat in line with his FIP, 3.03. It’s no wonder that the Yankees players lobbied Brian Cashman to pursue him that off-season.

Not only did Burnett dominate the Yankees as a Blue Jay, but he also had a fine time with the Red Sox. He threw only 56.1 innings against them, but produced excellent results, a 2.56 ERA. His FIP was a bit higher, mostly due to the 13 walks the Red Sox drew in 27.2 innings during the 2008 season. Burnett managed to avoid trouble with those, though.

Last year, however, Burnett fared worst against the Sox than any other team*, allowing 22 runs, 20 earned, over 20.1 innings. The six homers he allowed matched his total from the past three years against the Sox. He also struck out 16 to 16 walks, the dreaded 1:1 ratio. It certainly left a sour taste in Yanks fans’ mouths. Wasn’t this guy supposed to kill the Sox?

*Excluding the other Sox, against whom he pitched just 4.2 innings.

Burnett gets his chance at redemption tonight. There’s plenty of perceived pressure on him in this one. Not only does he have the weight of his poor performances against the Sox last season, but he’s also coming off something of a rough spring, in which he tried out a changeup, and then couldn’t find his curveball. Chances of him throwing a single change tonight? I’d say pretty close to zero. Also, he’ll be working with Jorge Posada, his apparent nemesis last season.

Opposite Burnett is Jon Lester. The 2008 breakout lefty struggled to open the 2009 season, but recovered to post another excellent season. He faced the Yankees four times, and save for the final outing he pitched pretty well, allowing just six runs over 20 innings before giving up five in 2.1 on September 25. He also pitched very well against the Yankees in 2008, something I’m sure endears him to Red Sox fans. Well, that and his really awesome pitching against other teams.

Lester actually improved last year despite a slight uptick in his ERA. Most notable was his strikeout rate, which went from 6.50 per nine in 2008 to 9.96 per nine in 2009. In better analytical terms, Lester struck out 17.4 percent of batters faced in 2008 and 26.7 percent in 2009. That’s an astronomical jump, and perhaps Lester can’t sustain it. But from what I’ve seen, he’s just that good. He also has decent ground ball rates, which bode well for a lefty at Fenway Park. In an early season prediction regarding Lester, I bet he finishes top five in the Cy voting.

We get our first taste of a platoon tonight, as Marcus Thames gets the start in left over Brett Gardner. It’s too early to determine how Girardi will handle this going forward. Lester is, after all, one of the premier lefties in the AL, so this arrangement might just be for the tougher lefties. Also, having the small left field at Fenway might have influenced his decision. Granderson moves all the way down to last in the lineup as Swisher moves up a peg.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Johnson, DH
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Nick Swisher, RF
8. Marcus Thames, LF
9. Curtis Granderson, CF

And on the mound, number thirty-four, A.J. Burnett.

Levine, Attanasio spar over baseball economics

Randy Levine, with t-shirt and World Series trophy in tow. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

When USA Today released their annual salary survey yesterday, Brewers’ owner Mark Attanasio had some choice words for the Yankees. The Brewers, what one might consider to be a mid- or small-market team, make do with what they have, but what they have pales in comparison with the Yanks’ coffers, and Attanasio, a Yankee fan by birth, knows this.

?We?re struggling to sign [first baseman Prince Fielder], and the Yankees infield is making more than our team,? he said to Bob Nightengale and Scott Boeck yesterday.

Today, Randy Levine, the Yanks’ team president, fired back. While speaking with Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, Levine had this to say:

“I’m sorry that my friend Mark continues to whine about his running the Brewers. We play by all the rules and there doesn’t seem to be any complaints when teams such as the Brewers receive hundreds of millions of dollars that they get from us in revenue sharing the last few years. Take some of that money that you get from us and use that to sign your players.

“The question that should be asked is: Where has the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue sharing gone?”

In one sense, Levine has missed the boat here. Since purchasing the team for $223 million in 2005, Attanasio has increased Milwaukee’s payroll from the meager $27 million the Seligs spent annually to $80 million. The team draws approximately 3 million fans a year, and in a weak NL Central, the Brewers can, more or less, contend deep into the season every year. Attanasio has put his money and the revenue sharing dollars to good work, and in that sense, Levine’s charge rings false.

But in another, the Yanks’ president is right on the money. The Yankees have access to a media market far bigger than that of Milwaukee’s, and the team virtually sells out its entire 81-game home stand. They have paid, according to Maury Brown’s Biz of Baseball, $175 million in revenue sharing and are playing by the rules, as Levine says. Until Major League Baseball changes the rules, the Yankees should continue to play by those rules. Spend if you can. Spend if you have the money.

This isn’t the first time Attanasio has targeted the Yankees. He was not a happy camper when CC Sabathia turned down the Brewers’ $100 million offer to sign an even richer deal with the Yanks, and he knows that teams in Milwaukee’s position can’t compete, on a dollar for dollar basis, with the teams in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia. This clash might just be a media-driven war of words, but the big-market and small-market teams are gearing up to face off. I don’t know how they’ll fix what many perceive to be a competitive balance problem, but you can be this won’t be the last we hear from the Brewers or Yankees.

CC’s spotty history on Opening Day

Photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP

On March 31, 2003, a 22-year-old CC Sabathia got the ball on Opening Day for the Cleveland Indians. He fared very well in his first opener, lasting seven innings and only allowing two runs. He did surrender eight hits and walk one, but he worked out of jams in a few innings. Heading into the bottom of the eighth Sabathia was the pitcher of record, having left with a 4-2 lead. David Riske ended that, though, allowing a game-tying home run to Marty Cordova.

The next year, CC was even better. Again he lasted seven innings, but this time he allowed no runs, surrendering just two hits, though he did walk four. The biggest difference was in his strikeout numbers. He set down nine of the 25 Twins he faced. Leaving the game with a 4-0 lead, it appeared Sabathia would get his first Opening Day win. Alas, it was not to be. Jose Jimenez, Scott Stewart, and Rafael Betancourt combined to allow four runs in the eighth, placing another ND on Sabathia’s record. The Indians lost again, this time with Chad Durbin surrendering a walk-off home run to Shannon Stewart.

In 2005 Sabathia was in line to make his third Opening Day start, but he opened the season on the DL. In 2006 he again got the nod, but this time suffered an injury during the start, straining his oblique and missing a month. His performance wasn’t very good that game, as he allowed three runs in just 2.1 innings against the White Sox. Still, we can chalk that one up to his oblique acting up. It was his first bad Opening Day start, after all, and at age 25 it appeared he had many, many more of them in his future.

Opening Day 2006 didn’t go too well for Sabathia, though it didn’t go poorly. He didn’t get hurt, which was an upgrade over 2005, but he also allowed three runs over six innings of work, allowing eight hits and walking run while surrendering two home runs. The Indians, for their part, rocked Jose Contreras early on, scoring five in the first, four in the second, and three in the third, staking Sabathia to a 11-2 lead after three. It would be his first Opening Day win, though not close to his best Opening Day performance. From there, though, it has been all downhill.

In his first start following his coronation as AL Cy Young, Sabathia bombed. For the third straight season the Indians opened the season against the White Sox, and for the third straight year it was something of a slugfest. Jim Thome took CC deep in the first inning for a two-run shot, and then did the same in his next at-bat, another two-run shot in the third. By this time the Indians had scored seven runs off Mark Buehrle, though, softening the blow. They maintained that 7-4 lead until the sixth, when Sabathia walked two before allowing an RBI single to A.J. Pierzynski. Jensen Lewis came in to clean up, but he and Rafael Perez combined to blow the lead the next inning. The Indians ended up winning the game, but CC got another no-decision to go along with his poor start.

Yankees fans had high hopes for Sabathia on Opening Day 2009, but again the big man flopped. He worked out of trouble in the first, but an Adam Jones started the scoring in the third. It all came undone in the fifth, when the Orioles went double-single-single-single-groundout/run-walk-walk. That final walk came with the bases loaded and one out. Sabathia then left the game, having surrendered six runs in just 4.1 IP. The damage might have been even worse had Brett Gardner not thrown out Melvin Mora trying to score on a sac fly.

On Sunday we saw yet another poor Opening Day start from Sabathia. He didn’t look great in the early goings, but he managed to limit the Red Sox damage to two runs through five innings. In the sixth, however, he was clearly gassed, and the Sox took advantage. He left the game having recorded one out in the inning and with the tying run on base. David Robertson promptly surrendered it, leaving Sabathia with an assured no-decision.

As he’s shown in years past, Sabathia is able to shake off poor season openers to post excellent seasons. Last year is a prime example. It took him almost all of April to get into his groove, but once he did we all forgot about his April woes. This isn’t to say that CC shouldn’t start Opening Day. I’m sure he’d have similar struggles in his first start no matter what turn in the rotation he took. It’s to say, though, that for the next year or five we shouldn’t have high expectations of Sabathia on Opening Day. We should, however, maintain our expectations for the season. The man is simply a beast.