Joba and 98

Somewhat lost in the offensive explosion that was the top of the 8th inning last night, Joba Chamberlain looked pretty damn fantastic in the bottom of the frame. Ironically enough, he walked the leadoff hitter on seven pitches with a seven run lead, which is the mecca of no-nos, but after that he was simply untouchable. Not one of his eleven fastballs dipped under 95 mph according to PitchFX, and six of them were at either 97 or 98. His 2-2 fastball to strikeout The Justin Upton looking for the first out was simply devastating (above), a 98 mph heater down and on the outer black. It was an unhittable pitch; the best possible result for Upton was a foul ball and probably a broken bat.

It’s the hardest I remember seeing the enigmatic starter turned reliever turned starter turned reliever turned starter turned reliever throw since the first half of 2008, so basically two full seasons. Joba has shown a few 95’s and 96’s at times this year, but sure enough he’d come back out with 91’s and 92’s the next time out. He hasn’t been able to maintain that velocity from outing to outing. What was different about last night?

I can’t offer a definitive answer, but I can’t help but wonder if the long top half of the inning gave him more time to get loose. Remember, it was a one run game before Arizona’s lolpen did what it’s done all season, and Joba was getting loose at the very start of that half inning in anticipation of a close game and a setup situationĀ  after three outs. The Yanks’ offense instead spent 21 minutes and three seconds piling up six hits, a walk, and six runs, so any sense of urgency was removed.

It’s no secret that starters and relievers have different warm up routines, and perhaps Joba is still adjusting to warming up in a matter of minutes instead of at his own pace. His fastball velocity has been creeping up all season, which isn’t all that surprising since everyone’s starting to get in midseason form and it’s warm out and the whole nine. But the upper-90’s is something I don’t think any of us saw coming. Maybe that velocity is hiding behind a few more warm up pitches, and Joba just needs to start his routine a little earlier, in the 7th inning or something.

Granted, pure velocity isn’t everything, he’s still got to locate his pitches in order to avoid hard contact. Major League hitters will hit 98 if you don’t locate it, which makes that pitch to Upton particularly impressive. It wasn’t quite Ubaldo good, but it was certainly good enough to get a batter that’s tormented the Yankees through the first two games of the series. If Joba can start to maintain even 95-96 and keep the ball down in the zone and out of the middle third of the plate, he’ll be highly, highly effective.

Perhaps I’m completely off base here and Joba just decided to turn it loose with a six run lead, figuring if he walked a guy, he walked a guy, it wasn’t the end of the world with the greatest reliever to ever walk the face of the Earth behind him. Maybe it was the Arizona heat that loosened him up. Maybe it was dumb luck. Whatever it was, I hope we see more of it in the future.

Yanks break out, beat D-Backs

There are plenty of ways to break out of a slump. There’s your classic slumpbuster, the preferred method of Diamondbacks commentator Mark Grace. But when your entire team’s slumping? That takes something more powerful. That takes something like the Diamondbacks bullpen. That cured what has ailed the Yanks’ offense, as they scored six in the eighth to put away the Diamondbacks and take the second game of the series 9-3.

Biggest Hit: A-Rod cares not for your slump

Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

We spent some time today ruminating on the slumps that have prevented the offense from scoring runs. A-Rod, 3 for 22 since his weekend off, was among the offenders. He did have two quality results on Monday, a line drive RBI double earlier in the game, and then a long fly that, on a different day, might have left the park. He showed last that it was no fluke.

Derek Jeter led off the game on a single to center, but both Swisher and Teixeira flied out on two pitches each. Dan Haren started A-Rod with two curveballs, one a ball and the next a called strike. He then went to the fastball, but left it right over the plate. A-Rod laid into it and launched it over the wall in left-center, giving the Yankees an early 2-0 lead.

The lead wouldn’t last long, a little more than a full inning, but it certainly came as a relief. After seeing the Yankees fail break through against Rodrigo Lopez it was nice to see them score early against a pitcher like Haren. A-Rod was 2 for 3 with a walk for the game.

Biggest Pitch: But it’s the pitcher

Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

The theme of Tuesday night’s game was allowing runs after having a bases empty, two out situation. That’s exactly what happened to Pettitte in the second. He did allow a lead-off single to Justin Upton, but erased him later with a pickoff. In between he struck out Chris Young, so Adam LaRoche did bat with none on and two outs. And he walked. Mark Reynolds then got a hold of one and ripped it to left, but Brett Gardner fielded it quickly and held each runner to two bases.

It might not have produced the worst result, but perhaps the toughest at-bat of the game came next. Pettitte and Chris Snyder went at it for 12 pitches, the first two of which were strikes. Snyder fouled off six pitches and worked the count full before taking a cutter inside for ball four. It was a shame to not get the eighth hitter and force the pitcher to lead off the ninth. Instead he’d bat with the bases loaded and two outs.

Dan Haren is having quite the season at the plate. He’s 17 for 41 with six doubles, though that’s clearly above his demonstrated talent level. Career he’s a .227 hitter with a .099 ISO, so he’s going to see that 1.000 OPS decline a bit. But for today it will only go up. Haren was 2 for 2 against Pettitte, including a game-tying single with the bases loaded in the second. Pettitte stuck with the fastball, getting a called strike and a foul ball before Haren stuck out his bat and smacked an outside pitch down the first base line.

The tie wouldn’t last as long as the previous Yankees lead. The very next inning the Yankees got the Diamondbacks, scoring a bases empty, two out run of their own on the power of singles from Swisher and Teixeira, and an RBI single by A-Rod.

Batting around in the eighth

While it felt good to put up runs early in the game, the Yankees slowed down in the middle innings. From the third through the seventh they managed just one hit, and that was by Andy Pettitte. The lead was nice, but the Yanks still hadn’t shown many signs of recovery, beyond the constant deep fly balls that just didn’t have enough.

The Diamondbacks bullpen this year has been terrible, among the worst units in recent memory. Already down big, the Yankees didn’t muster anything off them yesterday, but today, with the lead and the game still close, they feasted. The top of the order faced Esmerling Vazquez, he of the walk-off balk. Also he of the maddeningly high walk rate. In AAA during the 2008 season he walked 60 batters in 83 innings. Before last night he had walked 13 in 24 innings, and he’d add another one to that without adding anything to the inning count.

Single, double, single, walk, single was enough. The Diamondbacks, now down 5-2 and still with the bases loaded and none outs in the eighth, turned to former closer Chad Qualls. Cano continued the hit barrage, singling home Swisher. Posada brought home another with a sac fly, and then after Gardner advanced the runners Colin Curtis lined a ball over Chris Young’s head for his first major league hit and first two major league RBI.

Curtis was pinch-hitting for Pettitte, which meant that the Yankees had batted around. Jeter showed mercy on the Diamondbacks by grounding out , but the Yankees had already opened up the game.

Graphs, boxes, videos

You can admire Andy Pettitte’s .320 WPA at FanGraphs. You can admire the team’s 5 for 8 with runners in scoring position in the box score. The highlights will eventually pop up here.

Up Next

It’s another 9:40 start, with Javier Vazquez taking the mound against Dontrelle Willis.

Betances dominates again in Tampa win

First of all, make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread.

Secondly, I forgot to include that in yesterday’s DotF, but that’s a shot of Mikey O’Brien delivering a pitch during his utterly dominant start for the Staten Island Yanks on Sunday. Thanks to commenter alex k. for the pic. As you can see, O’Brien’s not a big guy. Listed at just 5-foot-11, 185 lbs.

In other news, Marcus Thames is with Triple-A Scranton, presumably because he’ll be starting a rehab assignment soon.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 loss to Pawtucket)
Justin Christian, LF, Reid Gorecki, RF, Eduardo Nunez, SS & Jesus Montero, C: all 0 for 4 – Christian drew a walk … Gorecki & Nunez each K’ed twice, Montero once
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 K E (fielding) – three doubles & a homer in his last three games
P.J. Pilittere, DH: 2 for 4, 1 K
Eric Bruntlett, 3B: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K – 0 for 21 since joining the organization
Reegie Corona, 2B: 3 for 4 – seven for his last ten
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1
Zach McAllister: 7 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 9-9 GB/FB – 62 of 91 pitches were strikes (68.1%) … longest outing in exactly one month
Mark Melancon: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 21 of his 35 pitches were strikes (60%) … good to see him coming out of that rut

[Read more…]

Game 71: Oh good, a real pitcher

Photo Credit: Ed Andrieski, AP

Roy Halladay. Win.
Jamie Moyer. Loss.
Kyle Kendrick. Loss.
Hisanori Takahashi. Loss.
Mike Pelfrey. Win.
Johan Santana. Win.
Rodrigo Lopez. Loss.

What’s wrong with that picture? It’s completely backwards. The Yankees are losing to the pitchers they theoretically should beat, and beating the pitchers they theoretically should lose too. Don’t get me wrong, beating quality pitchers is great, but you’re going to face more have-nots than haves over the course of a 162 game season, so it would be nice to start beating those guys.

Thankfully, the truly great Dan Haren is on the mound for Arizona tonight, even if his 2010 season hasn’t been up to his lofty standards. He’s still striking out a ton of guys (8.97 K/9) and walking next to no one (1.78 BB/9), but he’s getting beat with the long ball (1.60 HR/9) and some plain old bad luck (.344 BABIP). The 4.71 ERA is deceiving, because everything else suggests he’s been much better (4.10 FIP, 3.43 xFIP, 4.22 tRA). But hey, the Yankees have made a habit out of beating guys like this in the last week or so, so let’s hope this trend continues.

Here’s your starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Granderson, CF
Gardner, LF
Pettitte, SP

Hopefully Andy doesn’t get too cute when Haren is at the plate tonight, dude’s got a 1.000 OPS this year.

First pitch is scheduled for 9:40pm ET, and the game can be seen on YES. The temperature is going to flirt with triple digits tonight, but I’m sure the roof will be closed and the air conditioning will be on.

Open Thread: MLB Bonus Baby’s Draft Review

Photo Credit: MLB.com

Andy Seiler at MLB Bonus Baby is reviewing each team’s draft class over the next few weeks, and today he got to the Yankees. He offered up a blurb on all 50 players they selected (yes, all 50), giving the class an overall grade of C+. That’s basically the grade I have it during our draft day liveblog(s). There’s a lot of upside, but a whole lot of risk as well. No one better exemplifies that than first round Cito Culver (above). Make sure you check out Andy’s review, very informative stuff.

As for the rest of the night, use this as the open thread until the regular game thread comes a long a little after 9pm ET. The game starts at 9:40, a little earlier than yesterday.

No panic for the bullpen

Despite a few hiccups here and there, the Yankees bullpen actually hasn’t been that bad this season. Check out the numbers for AL bullpens. The Yanks’ relief corps has allowed 4.07 runs per game, third best mark in the AL. Not only that, but the fourth place team has allowed .24 more runs per game, while the first place team has allowed just .19 fewer. In other words, in terms of runs allowed the Yankees have one of three clearly superior bullpens in the AL.

Part of the reason for this is that the starters have been so good that only the best relievers have been needed in high leverage situations. Yankee relievers, including Chamberlain and Rivera, have entered the game with an average Leverage Index of .899, lowest mark in the AL. The bullpen has faced just 49 high-leverage situations, fewest in the AL by a decent margin. That means that the lesser relievers, even if pitching poorly, aren’t doing so at critical times.

The bullpen’s biggest problem right now is Chamberlain. He has faced 32 batters in high-leverage situations and has allowed nine hits, including two doubles and a homer, which has led to 12 runs. His groundball percentage, at 50 percent in low- and medium-leverage situations, drops to 42 percent when the pressure is highest. Even still, his peripherals are excellent in these high leverage situations. He has struck out 11 of those 32 batters to just two walks. What takes away from that is that he throws more pitches to batters in high leverage situations. This leads to deeper counts, and it’s then that Chamberlain becomes predictable. On 2-2 and 3-2 counts he’s going to the slider 66 and 63 percent of the time, respectively.

I doubt the Yankees will stop giving the ball to Chamberlain. He still has plenty of talent, and at times he’s looked brilliant. Also, the team doesn’t really have anyone to take those high leverage innings. Damaso Marte has faced only eight batters with the pressure on high, and he’s allowed three hits, including two doubles. David Robertson has also struggled in high leverage situations, walking three of the 16 batters he’s faced while allowing four hits and striking out just one. Beyond those guys, there aren’t many other options to take these critical situations. Joba shows the most promise in them, and I suspect he’ll continue to get the ball.

I have seen, in various places, concern about the back end of the bullpen. Chan Ho Park has been a disaster so far with his .354 BABIP and six home runs allowed. Chad Gaudin is nothing but a mop-up man. Boone Logan can’t even do his one job, which is to get out lefties. Damaso Marte walks way too many batters. These concerns, of course, are real. None of the above statements is false, at least in the context of the season to date. Still, there are two mitigating circumstances. First, we’ve seen two of these guys, Park and Marte, pitch much better than they have been. Second, as mentioned above, they haven’t been placed in the highest leverage situations, which is to say that the damage they have caused has been, for the most part, minimal.

The back end guys are also replaceable if they get to a certain point of ineffectiveness. Logan can always go back to AAA. Gaudin can always return to the scrap heap. Chan Ho Park will get more chances than the others, but even he isn’t making a salary that would make the Yankees balk at releasing him if his current pitching continues. They probably won’t find much on the trade market to replace them — after all, every team is looking for bullpen help — but there are a few interesting names on the farm. Ivan Nova, who made his major league debut earlier this season, is pitching well. Jason Hirsh has moved to the bullpen, perhaps because the Yanks think they can get some production from him. Jonathan Albaladejo has straight dominated AAA, with 45 strikeouts to 12 walks in 34.1 innings. And there’s always Mark Melancon.

Again, these are options for the very back of the bullpen. If the starters continue pitching well, the only bullpen issue the Yankees might face this year is of finding one more high-leverage reliever. Can Joba step up? Will they give Robertson and Marte a longer audition? These, I think, are the pressing questions for the bullpen. Sure, Park, Guadin, and Logan might be frustrating to watch. But in terms of where they ranks on the Yanks’ list of problems, it’s the same as the leverage situation when they enter games: low.

2010 Futures Game rosters announced

The rosters for the 2010 edition of the Futures Game were released today, and the Yankees will be sending two representatives to Anaheim next month: Austin Romine for the U.S. squad, Hector Noesi for the World. Jesus Montero has already appeared in the game twice, so he was ineligible this year, not that his performance warrants it. Remember, the prospects elected to this game are the best of the best. Just look at how many of last year’s participants have already appeared in the big leagues.

Part of me was hopefully that Andrew Brackman would get selected, just as validation of his improvement more than anything, but Romine is a fine choice. No more than two players per club go, though ten teams were given just one representative. The game will be played on Sunday, July 11th, the day before the Homerun Derby and two days before the All Star Game.