Montero’s bat continues to wake up

A few people have emailed this in, but I haven’t seen any confirmation. Apparently Abe Almonte had surgery to repair a torn labrum and is done for the season. For shame, if true.

Mike Ashmore posted the second part of his Q&A with Austin Romine, and it’s a must read. I can’t wait to see the kid show off his speed. Oh, and in case you missed it, Kevin Goldstein had a glowing report of Graham Stoneburner.

Triple-A Scranton (13-8 loss to Durham)
Kevin Russo, CF & Eduardo Nunez, SS: both 3 for 6 – Russo scored a run, drove in two & K’ed twice … Nunez doubled, drove in three & K’ed
Reegie Corona, 2B: 1 for 6, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K
David Winfree, 1B: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C & Jon Weber, RF: both 2 for 5, 1 RBI – Weber doubled, scored a run & K’ed … Montero’s threw out an attempted basestealer … he’s now four for his last ten, so he’s starting to come around
Chad Huffman, LF: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 1 HBP
Robby Hammock, 3B: 0 for 1, 3 R, 4 BB – six walks & five hits on the year
Matt Cusick, DH: 1 for 2, 1 R, 3 BB – I guess it’s a good thing when the 7-8-9 hitters combine to reach base ten times
Dustin Moseley: 5 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 Balk, 7-3 GB/FB – 51 of his 87 pitches were strikes (58.6%)
John Van Benschoten: 0.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K - eight of his 15 pitches were strikes (53.3%)
Mark Melancon: 2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 24 of 37 pitches were strikes (64.9%) … very unlike him
Jon Albaladejo: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2-0 GB/FB – seven of his eight pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Off to Bahston

"AAAAAAAAHHHHH!!! Oh wait, that's just my reflection." (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

Is it just me, or has today been particularly hectic for a Thursday? There’s nothing more I want to do right now than just sit back, relax, and watch some Parks & Rec and what not. The Yankees are presumably already in Boston, ready to start this week’s FOX and ESPN broadcast filled weekend. I can’t wait.

Use this sucker as your open thread for the night. If you feel like doing some advanced scouting of the Red Sox, they’ll be taking on the Angels in an MLB Network broadcast game. Otherwise you’ve got NHL and NBA playoff action, plus about a million other things. Have at it.

The goods on Stoneburner

Despite his all-out assault on the Low-A South Atlantic League, the reports coming out on Graham Stoneburner might be even better than the stats. In today’s Minor League Update, Kevin Goldstein mentions that the righty from Clemson has “broken out a much-improved slider this year, along with well-above average command.” Back when I profiled Stoneburner during the offseason, reports indicated that he had an average at best slider and command that came and went, so obviously he’s taken a huge step forward early in his career. Whatever tweaks the Yankees had him make, well bravo.

The 22-year-old Stoneburner has a 2.78 FIP with a 43-9 K/BB ratio and a 2.30 GB/FB ratio in 38 IP (six starts), and he struck out 11 in seven innings of work last night. It’s only a matter of time before he gets the bump up to High-A Tampa. The Yanks signed him for just $675,000 as their 14th round pick last year.

Phil Hughes: Good & Lucky

I don’t think even the most diehard of fans expected fifth starter suddenly turned third starter Phil Hughes to be as good as he has been through four starts. He’s allowed just nine singles and one homer through 25 innings, which mean the league is hitting just .124 off the 23-year-old. However, as Eno at Bloomberg Sports points out, Hughes has also been really lucky. That ultra-low average is backed up by a a microscopic .162 BABIP, and he’s also stranded 87.4% of the batters than have reached base against him. As those two regress back to normalcy, his 1.44 ERA will start to look more like his 4.23 xFIP, which is still pretty damn good.

The article isn’t all doom-and-gloom, Eno definitely gives Hughes props for the improvements he’s made and the natural progression of a young starter. Make sure you check it out, it covers both ends of the spectrum.

Injury info points towards DL stint for Pettitte

In today’s Under The Knife column (subs. req’d), Will Carroll mentions that based on what we know right now, Andy Pettitte is likely headed towards a stint on the disabled list, even if it’s nothing more than precautionary. “Pettitte’s elbow issue is not near the flexor tendon, where he had previous problems,” says Carroll, “but instead seems to be in the ‘back’ of the arm, near the triceps and could indicate some UCL issue. Joe Girardi indicated that Pettitte had some forearm issues earlier this season, so this could be some sort of cascade or a mechanical issue that’s translating toward whatever the weakest point of the arm is at any moment.”

It’s scary anytime the UCL gets mentioned, but remember that part is just Carroll speculating. As for a DL stint, I wouldn’t be surprised by one at all. They could stick him on the 15-day retroactive to yesterday, which would mean he’s eligible to come off on the 20th. If Pettitte’s injury is minor and he’s able to return after two weeks, then you’re looking at just two Sergio Mitre starts (the 11th and 16th). It’ll also allow the Yanks to bring up an extra reliever instead of carrying a dead roster spot. We’ll know more in the coming days, but as I said this morning, it’s better to be safe than sorry at this point of the season.

Yanks return to Boston with one thing in mind

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Yankees-Red Sox series always come with an excessive amount of hype, which is understandable because it’s great baseball theater. This weekend will be no different, as the Sox come off outscoring the lowly Angels 25-10 during a three game sweep while the Yankees are winners of six of their last seven. The three games over the weekend will garner much media attention, but in the end the series has very little significance. The best Boston can do is crawl to within three games of the division lead and two games of the Yanks. It’s a big series everywhere but reality.

The Yankees go back to Fenway this weekend with one thing on their mind: get out alive. Over the last week, five of the team’s most important players have dealt with injuries of varying severity, and at this point the team really can’t afford to see another player hit the shelf. Curtis Granderson‘s injury stretches the team’s already thin outfield depth, and Andy Pettitte‘s forearm will likely push Sergio Mitre into the rotation for at least one turn. Frankie Cervelli has filled in admirably while Jorge Posada has dealt with knee and calf ailments, ditto Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera‘s tight flank. As much of a pick-me-up as they’ve been, the team is clearly better off with Posada and Mo healthy enough to do their jobs.

Alex Rodriguez‘s knee cost him just one game and one baserunning experience, and appears to have been the least severe of this latest rash of injuries. The drop off from him to his replacement (Ramiro Pena) is the widest gap on the team, so right now the focus has to be on keeping his body fresh and health with this knee issue is in the not too distant past, even if it means extra days off. He hasn’t been hitting all that much (just a .331 wOBA), but the more time he misses with an injury, the longer it’s going to take him to get his bat going. An extra day or rest here or there, even if it seems excessive to us outsiders, is going to be worth the reward.

But beyond those already hobbling, the Yankees have to be careful with the other players that have managed to stayed in the lineup. Derek Jeter is a 35-year-old shortstop and isn’t indestructible just because he’s Derek Jeter. Robbie Cano, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira have proven to be extremely durable players in recent years and are in their physical primes, so their health outlook is good. However, the same could have been said of Curtis Granderson.

Fluke injuries happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s why they’re flukes. Anyone could have come up lame rounding second like Granderson did over the weekend. It’s the injuries that just pop – Mo’s flank, A-Rod‘s knee, Andy’s elbow, Jorge’s calf – that have to be managed carefully. Losses to the Red Sox always sting a little bit more, but getting out of this weekend’s series with everyone healthy should be the biggest thing on everyone’s mind.

Swisher and Gardner adjusting their approaches

How does a team go 19-8 when their two best hitters have mostly struggled most of that time? By getting production from some unexpected places. Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Brett Gardner have carried the Yankees’ offense, compensating for the slow start by Mark Teixeira and the recent woes for Alex Rodriguez. All three appear in the AL wOBA leader board, with Cano ranking fourth, Gardner ninth, and Swisher 12th. They’ll eventually cool off, but by that time Rodriguez and Teixeira could be back to their baseball bashing ways. Teixeira is already mostly there.

The high production from Gardner and Swisher won’t stay at this level all season — .380 and .378 BABIPs are hard to maintain — but both have displayed approaches that could portend future success. Gardner has continued his selective ways, taking even more pitches than he did last season. Conversely, Swisher is swinging the bat far more often than ever before in his career. Both approaches, by their current results, have worked.

Photo credit: Bill Kostroun/AP

The most striking of Swisher’s 2009 numbers is his strikeout percentage. At 18.9 percent, it represents his lowest rate since his 71-PA debut in 2004. He’s actually chasing more pitches out of the zone, 28.1 percent against 17.4 percent last year, but is also swinging at more pitches in the zone, 69.3 percent against 56.7 percent. All those extra swings have led to him making more contact, 83.3 percent of his swings. This has led to more solid contact, which shows up in his batted ball numbers. Of the 74 balls Swisher has put in play, 18 have been line drives, 24.3 percent.

The trade-off for Swisher has been noticeable. In 2009 he saw 4.27 pitches per plate appearance, which ranked second in the American League. That led to the highest walk rate in his career, 16 percent. This year Swisher has seen 4.06 pitches per plate appearance. While that’s still a solid number, it ranks just 25th in the AL. Strangely, the only hitter who saw more pitches last season, Kevin Youkilis, again ranks directly above Swisher (though has the same P/PA number). The approach has helped with men on base. While Swisher hit a respectable .246/.403/.453 with men on in 2009, he’s hit .340/.415/.596 in those situations this year. The extra hits mean more RBI and more advanced runners, which has boosted the Yanks offense.

Photo credit: Henry Ray Abrams/AP

Gardner has made up for Swisher’s reduced number of pitches seen. He has seen 4.5 pitches per plate appearances, second in the AL. This is an improvement of nearly half a pitch per plate appearance over last season. This has led to a higher walk rate, 11.7 percent, compared to 9.2 percent last season. Yet it doesn’t appear Gardner is being more selective. He has swung at 19.2 percent of pitches outside the zone against 17.2 percent last season. The main difference comes on pitches inside the zone. He has swung at 40.3 percent of those, against 50.7 percent last season. In other words, he sees more pitches, but also takes more strikes.

What has allowed Gardner to stay productive this year is his success when swinging in the zone. Not only does he mostly avoid swinging at pitches out of the zone, but he also apparently lays off pitches in the zone that he knows he can’t handle. To that end, he has made contact with 98.8 percent of pitches he has swung at inside the zone. In fact, his first miss of the season came yesterday. This has boosted his contact rate, which is excellent for a hitter of Gardner’s style. He has also performed superbly with two strikes. He has seen such a count in 62 of his 94 PA, and has hit .339/.403/.393.

I have no idea if Gardner and Swisher can sustain anything resembling the success they’ve realized in the first month. What we can see, though, is that they’re both taking a definite approach at the plate. Swisher is swinging earlier in counts and is making a ton more contact, leading to a higher batting average and more power. Gardner is taking everything he doesn’t like, even if the ump calls it a strike. That has worked, though, because he’s able to compensate by hitting well with two strikes. It has worked so far, and I don’t think we’ll see a shift in strategy any time soon.