Series Preview: Texas Rangers

Deep thoughts with (the since demoted) Pedro Strop. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Thankfully out of Detroit, the Yankees are heading to place of recent heartbreak: Arlington, Texas. They won just one of five games played there last season, and that doesn’t include two losses in three ALCS games. The Bombers’ 2010 season ended in this stadium, as you surely remember. The Yankees already beat the Rangers in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago, and they could really use another series win right now.

What Have The Rangers Done Lately?

Remember when Texas started the season with nine wins in their first ten games and looked like the best team in baseball? They’re 8-15 since then, and have lost eight of their last eleven games. The Rangers have lost five or their last six series as well, so yeah, they’re struggling.

Lots of this, please. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Rangers On Offense

No Josh Hamilton and guess what? No Nelson Cruz either. The outfielder has a tight quad and hasn’t played since Tuesday, and he definitely won’t play tonight. The Rangers are hopeful that he can go tomorrow, but that’s not a given. Considering that he’s hitting just .219/.303/.438, I’m not sure if his absence is a good or bad thing for New York.

Michael Young killed the Yankees earlier in the season in Yankee Stadium, and he comes into the series with a modest six game hitting streak and a .327/.351/.500 line in his last 13 games. Ian Kinsler has been warm of late, with seven hits (four doubles) in his last 25 at-bats. Julio Borbon has five hits in his last ten at-bats following a 12-for-55 start. I’m guessing the last few games are the outlier. Elvis Andrus keeps singling opponents to death; he’s got 13 hits in his last 38 at-bats, but just one extra base hit (a double). Those four make up Texas’ hottest hitters at the moment.

Adrian Beltre has just 13 hits and five unintentional walks in his last 62 plate appearances (.241 AVG, .306 OBP) and David Murphy has hit an empty .235 over the last two weeks or so (.316 OBP, .030 ISO). Certified pain in the ass Mitch Moreland is roaming right field in Cruz’s stead, and he’s cooled down considerably of late: .212/.333/.391 in his last 39 plate appearances. Mike Napoli (two for his last 22) and Yorvit Torrealba (four for his last 22) aren’t doing much of anything, and personal fave (but Grade-A hacker) Chris Davis has five hits in seven games (playing part-time) since being recalled, though two are doubles and one went over the fence. The top of the lineup – Kinsler, Andrus, Young – is the minefield that must be navigated, though the cleanup hitting Beltre is always tough as well. At least against the Yankees.

Rangers On The Mound

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Friday, LHP Matt Harrison: Same three pitchers that we saw three weeks ago, when the Yankees took two of three in the Bronx. Harrison’s scorching hot start (1.23 ERA in his first three starts, including that double play fest against the Yanks) has been followed by disaster: he’s got an 11.12 ERA in three starts since. Last time out against the A’s, he allowed four runs in just 1.2 innings. The start before that featured seven runs in three innings. The Yankees have to be patient, Harrison’s walked five batters and struck out just two in those last two starts. He’s still throwing gas, and backs it up almost exclusively with a changeup.

Saturday, LHP Derek Holland: Two earned runs in seven innings against Oakland followed three starts with exactly five earned runs allowed, including one against the Yankees. I liked Holland as a breakout candidate coming into the year, and his 3.71 FIP with a 50.4% ground ball rate looks a whole lot better than his 4.66 ERA. Another fastball-changeup heavy lefty (with the occasional slider), Holland held the Yankees in check until the late innings a few weeks ago, not getting hurt until his pitch count was well over 100. Will Ron Washington make the same mistake twice? History says yes.

Sunday, RHP Alexi Ogando: Aside from that five run, 6.1 IP effort against the Yankees a few weeks ago, Ogando has yet to allow more than two earned runs or throw fewer than six innings in any start. I don’t get it either. He’s almost exclusively a fastball-slider pitcher, and the Yankees’ lefty bats predictably did damage after seeing his shtick the second and third times through the order. Hopefully they’ll be able to jump on Ogando a little earlier since they’ll be seeing him again in a relatively short amount of time.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Bullpen: Just the Yankees’ luck, Neftali Feliz is expected to be activated off the disabled list in time for tonight’s game. That pushes Darren Oliver out of the closer’s role and back into middle relief, which he shares with Arthur Rhodes. Righty specialist Darren O’Day is out for a while with a torn labrum in his hip, but he’s been replaced with another sidearming righty: Cody Eppley. He’s appeared in four games so far, walked two and striking out three in 5.2 innings of work. Like most guys with that arm slot, Eppley is fastball-slider heavy, with an occasional changeup.

The rest of the bullpen is patchwork at the moment. Mark Lowe is the best of the bunch but he’s nothing special, and Dave Bush handles long relief duties. They also have old buddy Brett Tomko on the roster, which is good news for the Yankees. Hard throwing former top prospect Ryan Tucker is also in the mix, but these aren’t exactly Washington’s go-to relievers in big spots. The more we see of these guys this weekend, the better.

Recommended Rangers Reading: Baseball Time In Arlington and Lone Star Ball.

The RAB Radio Show: May 6, 2011

Sorry it’s late; I had a derp moment this morning between recording the podcast and the chat. Anyway, Mike and I lament the series that was, but look forward to the series in Texas. Hey, it’s three guys they’ve seen in the past three weeks. Maybe that’ll help the offense get going.

Podcast run time 20:56

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Yanks call up Peña, DFA Kevin Russo, claim RHP Jess Todd

The Yanks made a few minor moves this afternoon as they have officially called up Ramiro Peña to replace the injured Eric Chavez on the roster. They have also designated Kevin Russo for assignment and picked up right-handed reliever Jess Todd off of waivers from the Indians. Russo, 26 and an off-season trade candidate, was hitting just .230/.306/.300 at AAA and had been taking up precious space on the team’s 40-man. The move to pick up Todd though is a strange one. Todd, once the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league pitcher of the year, was a second round pick back in 2007, but despite minor league success, he has allowed 24 earned runs in 28.1 Major League innings. Still, he has posted over a strike out per inning and is only 25.

Mailbag: Jurrjens, Catchers, Extensions, Shortstops

Hooray for mailbag day. Four questions, four topics, including one about contract extensions and two about the futures of two up-the-middle positions. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send your questions in.

That would be Mr. Gardner at the plate. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Daniel asks: So I’ve heard on the RAB Radio Show that you guys aren’t huge fans of Jair Jurrjens, personally I have been. He has shown some serious signs of life … what would it take to acquire him, and would it be worth it?

I always try to find comparable pitchers when dealing with questions like this. We’ve got a 25-year-old right-hander with a career 3.41 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 6.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 45.5% ground ball rate, and two-and-a-half years of team control left (assuming a midseason trade). Jurrjens also has an injury history (including offseason knee surgery and shoulder tightness three years ago), so we can’t forget that. So who’s the comparable?

Matt Garza doesn’t fit, he had better numbers and a better track record of health, so go adjust down from there. Brandon Morrow isn’t a great match, neither is Scott Kazmir or Dan Haren. Edwin Jackson? That might work, when he went to the Tigers for Matt Joyce. Joe Blanton to the Phillies also works well, and he cost them one really good prospect (Adrian Cardenas), a decent big league ready pitching prospect (Josh Outman), and another throw-in prospect (Matt Spencer). Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena happened so long ago, but it’s still along the lines of Jackson-for-Joyce. You know what might work best? Tom Gorzelanny to the Nationals for three good prospects (A.J. Morris, Michael Burgess, and Graham Hicks).

The Blanton and Gorzelanny blueprints say three good (but not any of them great) prospects is enough, though one above-average, young big leaguer could get it done. Atlanta reportedly had interest in Eduardo Nunez, so maybe you built a package around him and one of the Triple-A arms (preferably D.J. Mitchell) is a good starting point. Fill in from there. I’m not a Jurrjens fan, but I’d almost certainly pull the trigger if that’s the cost.

Romine's probably the Yankees best chance for a long-term, homegrown backstop. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Anonymous asks: People often mention Yankees as a team with great depth at catching prospects but do you think any of them can actually stick at catcher? Montero’s struggles at C has been chronicled extensively but KLaw reiterated in his chat last week that he doesn’t think Romine can stay at catcher. Sanchez supposedly has the tools to catch but is obviously struggling to field right now. J.R. Murphy‘s ability to handle catching is also doubtful from various scouting reports. So do you guys think any of them will catch in the big leagues? How would you rate each of their chances?

I don’t think Jesus Montero can catch long-term in the majors, but I think he could fake it for two or three years before he really fills out in his mid-20’s. Austin Romine is better, and Keith Law has always been the low man on his defense. Most other publications see him as average behind the dish, which is good enough. Gary Sanchez has been a defensive disaster early in his career (25 passed balls and 11 errors in 42 games behind the plate), and Murphy is spending more time in the outfield and at DH than at catcher. Those two have a long time to improve, but the early returns are not good.

Montero’s bat is so special that I’d make it work behind the plate for as long as possible, then figure things out once he’s completely unplayable. Romine almost certainly has the best chance to catch in the show when it comes to long-term staying power, though Kyle Higashioka is the best defender out of all of ’em. Too bad the kid can’t hit.

Paul asks: With the shift across the league towards locking up young players for the majority of their productive years, do you see the Yankees rethinking their strategy of not handing out extensions to their own guys? It seems with less premium players hitting free agency, this may be something to look at in the near future for the Yanks.

Yes and no. I don’t see any reason for the Yankees to take on that risk with pitchers since all we have to do is look at Chien-Ming Wang and Phil Hughes to see the potential downside. Position players are a different story since they’re generally safer bets to remain productive. They locked up Robinson Cano just as he entered his arbitration years and that contract (four years, $30M guaranteed) turned out to be a steal regardless of what happens from here on out. I don’t who would be a candidate for such a contract now, certainly not Brett Gardner or Frankie Cervelli. Maybe Montero if he comes up and kills it for two years or so. So yeah, they should at least consider such deals, but I don’t really blame them for not wanting to assume the risk when they can afford big arbitration raises.

Bill asks: What is the FA situation next year and the year after at SS? Jeter cannot be a realistic option for the next two years (hopefully) and after watch Nunez sail throw after throw against Detroit it’s safe to say he is out too.

After this season you have Jose Reyes, Yuniesky Betancourt (nope), Ronny Cedeno (also nope), and aging Jimmy Rollins (no way), and personal fave J.J. Hardy on the free agent market. The post-2012 class offers Erick Aybar and Stephen Drew, who are both legit options based on what we know right now. Jason Bartlett would be an okay stopgap at best. For better or worse, the Yankees are stuck with Jeter (or Eduardo Nunez) at short for the foreseeable future. Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez ain’t walking the door, sorry folks.

Where did Burnett’s changeups go?

Remember back about three weeks ago, when the Yankees were winning games and A.J. Burnett was throwing his changeup rather frequently? It was glorious, wins rained down from the heavens like champagne and the changeups flocked to the plate like the salmon of Capistrano. Well, the Yankees have lost three games in a row coming into today and guess what? Burnett hasn’t been throwing his change as much since then.

The table to the right shows a few things, but most importantly the number (and percentage) of changeups that A.J. has thrown in each of his seven starts. After throwing 32 in his first three starts, he’s thrown a total of 14 changeups in four starts since. For all intents and purposes, he went back to using the pitch as little as he did last year (about 2.4%) after throwing it more than ten percent of the time early on. The effectiveness of the pitch has dropped; it’s had a negative run value in each of his last three times out, so maybe it’s just not working and a) the catcher isn’t calling it as much, b) Burnett isn’t comfortable throwing it at the moment, or c) a combination of a and b.

I looked at the number of left-handed batters in the other team’s starting lineup of each game just to see if that had something to do with it since the changeup is a pitch used to neutralize batters of the opposite hand. That didn’t bring any potential answers; aside from that April 7th game against the Twins, when they loaded the lineup with seven lefties/switch-hitters, Burnett has faced either three or four guys swinging from the other side of the plate in his other six starts. I don’t have an answer, I have no idea why the changeup has suddenly been put back on the shelf.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. A.J. had a 4.67 ERA and a 4.47 FIP in his first three starts but a 3.08 ERA with a 4.03 FIP in the four starts since. Super small sample size caveats apply, that goes without saying. We hear stories about guys trying to add a pitch all the time in March and April, and for a while it looked like Burnett was making a concerted effort to incorporate the changeup in his repertoire. Maybe he said the hell with it and went back to 98% fastballs and curveballs, maybe he’s just struggling with the pitch at the moment and isn’t comfortable using it in games, maybe it’s just a PitchFX classification problem. Whatever it is, it’s worth paying attention to as the season goes on.

Errors, lack off offense lead to third straight loss

Another day, another offensive struggle. On top of that, this game featured an injury to a semi-important player and two errors on plays a high school kid should make. The Yankees actually led Thursday’s game for five-plus innings, but the end result was the same as the previous two games. The Tigers came into the four-game series on a six-game losing streak, but they leave it on a three-game winning streak.

Maybe one of the mascots distracted him right before the throw? Twice? (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Eduardo Knoblauch

Eduardo Nunez has always had a strong throwing arm, so strong that there were some rumblings of moving him to the mound as he stumbled through the 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons. But a strong arm is only half the battle, maybe less. Nunez committed 167 errors in 636 minor league games (one every 3.8 games), and most of them were on throws because his arm is highly inaccurate. We saw that a little last year, and it was on full display this game.

The first error came in the bottom of the fourth inning, with the Yankees up by one. Brennan Boesch grounded to short, a completely routine and otherwise forgettable play, but Nunez threw the ball in the dirt and Mark Teixeira was unable to scoop it at first. Luckily that didn’t lead to a run, but the second error did. That one came with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning, with the Yankees down by one. Don Kelly slapped a ball to short, and although I wouldn’t call it routine, it wasn’t exactly the toughest play in the world. Nunez threw the ball high, over Tex’s head at first, and two runs came around to score on what should have been the third out.

We’re not asking for miracles here, those were two plays a Major League caliber shortstop needs to make. Nunez did go 2-for-4 and is now hitting .385/.429/.538 in limited playing time, but who cares? Those were his fourth and fifth errors in 22 defensive innings at shortstop. A backup infielder has to be able to catch and throw the ball without a problem, that’s the first item on the job description. I don’t break out the word “unacceptable” often, but I’m using it now: Nunez’s defensive play has been unacceptable for a utility infielder.

Might be time for a new haircut, Swish. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

More Offensive Struggles

Ten hits, three walks, and heck, the Yankees even went 3-for-8 (.375) with runners in scoring position and plated all three runs with two outs, fun situational hitting type of stuff, but they still scored just three runs. It’s the third straight game they’ve scored three or fewer runs, and the seventh time in their last eleven contests.

Know how many times they got the leadoff man on base in this game? Twice. Robinson Cano singled to open the fifth but was erased on a Tex double play ball three pitches later. Alex Rodriguez then opened the ninth with a single and eventually came around to score. But that’s it, just two leadoff runners on. In fact, only thrice did the second runner of the inning reach base. Eight of their 13 baserunners came with two outs in the inning, when they’re least likely to come around to score. The offense is straight up sucking right now, and boy is it frustrating.

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

A.J. Deserves Better

The first inning as a little rocky, but A.J. Burnett undoubtedly gave his team a chance to win on Thursday. He allowed just two earned runs (three unearned) on three hits and a walk in seven innings, hitting another batter with a pitch (when he was trying to bunt, grumble grumble) and striking out five. Two of the unearned runs scored on Nunez’s second error, but the first came when Burnett threw the ball into foul territory on a pickoff play. The runner went from first to third and later scored on a sac fly. Such is life.

This is the second time in three starts that A.J. allowed three hits and two or fewer earned runs in seven or more innings of work, and yet he lost both games. Go figure. The Yankees’ pitchers have really turned it around of late, with the last three guys each going seven innings with four earned runs or less. Those are winnable games given this team’s bullpen and offense, but it’s just not clicking right now. Earlier in the year the offense was carrying a suspect pitching staff, now the pitching is carrying the offense. Too bad they aren’t winning games like they did last month.


Someone's happy they allowed a run in a non-save situation. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Eric Chavez tripled in the Yankees’ first run of the day (a missed dive by Kelly helped), but he managed to break a bone in his foot between second and third. No timetable for his return has been announced, but it won’t be anytime soon. Ramiro Pena is expected to take his spot on the roster tomorrow. It’s been fun Chavy, but we all knew it wouldn’t last.

Brett Gardner continued to do good things by picking up two hits in five trips to the plate, and Cano snapped an 0-for-9 skid with two hits. Curtis Granderson singled and walked, and A-Rod went 2-for-2 with two runs scored after replacing Chavez. Russell Martin and Nick Swisher went hitless but walked once each. Tex and Jorge Posada were the two most unproductive batters on the day, combining for nine outs in eight plate appearances. It’ll click soon, right? Right?!

Lefty specialist Boone Logan‘s first three batters: homer by left Brennan Boesch, strikeout of righty (and the monster hitter) Miguel Cabrera, and a 3-0 count to lefty Alex Avila. He managed to allow just the one baserunner in his inning, but yeah, not how you draw it up. Boone’s been good for a few weeks now, so he gets a pass.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Oh you teases. has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Time to get the hell outta Detroit. Too bad Texas is next; the Yankees open a three game series with the Rangers on Friday night when Ivan Nova faces lefty Matt Harrison.