Open Thread: Another series win

"Ladies." (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

Another home game, another rock solid win for the Yankees. Whenever the Twins play in the Bronx, they must feel like the Yanks felt all those years playing in Anaheim. This series is already in the bag, so tomorrow’s house money day with The Sergio Mitre Experience on the mound.

I recommend going out and enjoying yourself on this gorgeous Saturday evening, but if you’re stuck in front of a computer, then use this as your open thread. The Mets-Marlins are on WPIX, plus the Cardinals-Reds (MLB Network) are on as well. Anything goes, so have at it.

A closer look at Marte

Note: This was written prior to Marte’s appearance against Thome this afternoon. Sure, he was able to get Thome out, but he still made a few mistakes that ended up not hurting him. That’s baseball!  I’m hesitant to say “Marte is back” as a result, though he did look improved.

Photo Credit: David J. Phillips / AP

With all the issues the Yankees are currently facing, the bullpen is relatively low on the list of major concerns for the team. Joba has looked great of late, Mariano is Mariano, Park and Aceves should be returning shortly, and our AAA callups Ivan Nova and Romulo Sanchez impressed in their short stints. With major and minor injuries throughout the roster, the struggles of Damaso Marte, David Robertson and Boone Logan aren’t going to be front page news in Yankeeland. After all, two of the three are just lefty specialists (one likely to be sent down when Park returns) and Robertson could be sent to AAA to work on his issues. Whatevs. But make no mistake, all is not well on the left-turn front.

Let’s take a look at last night’s game. Marte entered with a man on second and Joe Mauer at the plate. Marte misses on a first pitch slider outside. He returns with a fastball for a called first strike. It had good velocity but ended up nowhere near where Cervelli set up. At this point, I’m fairly worried. If there’s a short list of guys you absolutely do not want to miss on pitches, Mauer is on it. Then, for some reason, Damaso leaves a slider without much movement in the center of the plate, about belt high. Against Joe Mauer he’s fairly fortunate the ball was only smoked for a single, scoring Denard Span from second. Unfortunately, Brett Gardner attempted to nail Span at the plate and his throw was way up the line. Why he did that is a mystery to me.

Herein lies the problem: Marte was brought in as an expensive reliever (the contract extension still seems a bit of a blunder as of this writing) with the one goal – to get out tough lefties. He hasn’t done it with much regularity a a Yankee and while Burnett had command issues (and certainly not helped by a pygmy-sized strike zone), wouldn’t you rather have the better pitcher face the better hitters? Mauer’s no slouch against lefties, either. He hits them to the tune of .313/.376/.417. I understand why Joe made the decision and it’s much easier to second guess the Yankee manager from the comfort of my garden apartment, but I’d argue you’d rather have the better pitcher in against the better pitcher, especially if neither has much of a platoon split. All of Burnett’s pitches are better than Marte’s offerings.

Back to the action. So Mauer moves up to second and Morneau is now the batter. Morneau hasn’t been phenomenal against left-handers throughout his career, but as Mike noted in last night’s recap, why let their only really dangerous hitters beat you? With first base open, you’d think they’d not give Morneau anything to hit, if not walk him altogether, right? On the sixth pitch of the at bat, Morneau slams another high slider with little break. Boom! Double! Mauer scores. With the lead gone, Girardi then intentionally walks Michael Cuddyer (a righty) to get to Jason Kubel (a lefty, who has managed to do virtually nothing but walk and strike out all year). He flies out to Marcus Thames, inning over. But the damage was done. If not for A-Rod‘s heroics, Marte likely becomes the game’s goat, though true to form, Randy Winn would have given him a good run at it.

Damaso has some alarming peripherals this year. Now bear in mind, he hasn’t had many innings to accumulate a definitive sample size, but the numbers etch out many of his struggles. Let’s first take a look at plate discipline:

On the year, Marte is eliciting an O-Swing % of 16.2%, which basically says that his stuff doesn’t have a lot of movement where hitters bite at balls slicing out of the zone. In fact, batters are only swinging at a total of 31.6% of Marte’s pitches, about 15 points lower than league average. It gets worse. Only 40.4% of Marte’s pitches find themselves in the strike zone, but hitters are hitting 92% of them. I don’t need to tell you that’s a bad combination.

His velocity is is about 1 mph slower than it had been in 2009 and 2 mph slower than 2008, the year he was traded to the Yankeees. He’s getting older and it’s still very early, so that might go up as he finds himself further removed from shoulder surgery. Maybe more alarming is his PitchFX data. As a Pirate in 2007, his fastball had good vertical rise – moving 9.5”. Today it moves almost 2 ” lower, but a bit more in on left-handers. In 2007 his slider was a also a different looking offering. It was quicker and tighter than it is today – the pitch had a horizontal break of 1.0 inches and a vertical break of -4.6 inches. Now, in 2010, strictly as a LOOGY, Marte’s horizontal break is -7.6 inches and it moves vertically -2.1 inches. Essentially, his new slider is a larger, sweeping pitch that moves across the plate significantly more. We can’t gather any truly damning evidence, as Marte has been injured but this far he’s shown to be a different pitcher.

Unfortunately, that pitcher is also walking close to a career high at 6.14/9 while striking out a career low at 7.36/9. Girardi’s continually given Marte high-leverage situations, even as he has allowed inherited runners to score at an alarming rate (half of his 8 inherited runners have scored), and has issued far too many walks to yield good reults. A look at his shutdowns/meltdowns paints another grim picture. Marte has four meltdowns and not a single shutdown, which accompanies his team-low “clutch” score at -0.59.

Damaso Marte‘s career sample suggests he should at least be an excellent option to get lefties out, if not more. This isn’t just some guy pulled from the stands. He’d been a closer – and an effective one at that – and we like to defer to the greater sample if we can. In his case, his track record is very, very good. But he hasn’t done much good this year and with the exception of last year’s playoffs, has overall been an unmitigated disaster in New York. It’s still very early in the season and I’m optimistic he can return to form, but given the volatility of relievers, Marte’s lesser stuff and his injury history, it’s not crazy to think Marte could find himself DFA’d at some point, contract and all.

There don’t appear to be better lefty specialist options (*cough* Boone Logan) in house, so Girardi surely wants to give Marte every opportunity possible to come in and be a reliable specialist. At this point in the season it’s understandable. But at what point do you say enough is enough? If his appearances continue to resemble last night’s, we may be looking at a new slew of matchups quicker than we think.

Vazquez skipped again

While Tuesday’s rainout forced the Yankees to use Sergio Mitre for a second straight start, it also afforded them some flexibility the next time through the rotation. They’ll use it to skip Javier Vazquez’s next start, which would have come Monday or Tuesday against Boston. Instead he’ll start the series opener against the Mets Friday night at Citi.

Clearly, the Yanks want Vazquez to get a few more starts under his belt before placing him in a high-pressure game. They’re not going to be able to have Vazquez skip the Sox every time through, and at some point he’s going to have to pitch in a big game. Skipping his last start seemed to work, though, so maybe they’re in the process of getting him back on track.

Also, make sure to check out injury updates on Nick Johnson and Chan Ho Park below.

Injury Updates: Chan Ho Park & Nick Johnson

Finally, some good injury news. Prior to this afternoon’s game, GM Brian Cashman confirmed that Chan Ho Park would be activated off the disabled list in time for tomorrow’s game. He’s been on the DL for just about a month with a hamstring issue, but apparently he’s good to go after make two rehab appearances (one in Extended Spring Training, one in Triple-A) last week. With Al Aceves on the shelf for the foreseeable future, getting CHoP back is going to be a nice boost to a bullpen that been pretty shaky before the 8th inning.

Meanwhile, the news for Nick Johnson isn’t as promising. He received a cortisone shot in his wrist, and there’s only a 50% chance that it’ll take care of the inflamed tendon. If it doesn’t, he’ll have to go under the knife, which means 4-6 weeks before he could even pick up a bat. They’ll know whether he needs surgery or not within ten days or so. Just putting it all together, Johnson might not be back until August if he has surgery since he’ll need time for a minor league rehab assignment and what not.

Game 36: Andy Returns

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

After missing a start with some minor elbow inflammation, Andy Pettitte returns to the bump this afternoon as the Yankees look to pick up yet another win over the Twins at home. Minnesota is sending Francisco Liriano out there as they try to win for just the fourth time in the Bronx during the Ron Gardenhire Era, and all he’s done this year is post a 2.24 FIP with a 50.9% groundball rate (zero homers!) in six starts. He’s completely annihilated lefthanded batters as well (1.64 xFIP), so it might be a tough day for Robbie Cano and Brett Gardner. Here’s the lineup that’ll try to figure him out…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF – I guess the bicep is okay
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, DH
Thames, LF
Cervelli, C
Gardner, CF

And on the mound, Andrew Pettitte.

Nothing like a Saturday game under the sun. First pitch will be at 1:05pm ET, and the game can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Link Dump: Laziness, Girardi, House For Sale, Salty, and Tebow

Some Saturday morning links for your reading pleasure.

Putting data behind the obvious

Rob Iracane over at Walkoff Walk takes a look at a subject touched on many times here with regards to players who are questioned about hustle.  It’s a good read and even though what Rob writes is well known, the simple data he compiled is alarming.

Joe Girardi gets some credit

If you’re a Joe Girardi fan, enjoy this while it lasts.  Michael Rosenberg at SI lays out reasons for why Girardi is a perfect manager for the Yankees, without ignoring some of his faults.  If you can’t stand Girardi, take a peek and see if Rosenberg does anything to sway you.

In the market for new house?

‘Duk over at Big League Stew writes about the Field of Dreams being up for sale in Iowa for $5.4 million.  For anyone who has seen the movie, it’s a pretty good read, and it’s interesting to know what happened to the field since.

Remember this guy?

It seems like Jarrod Saltalamacchia should have been an All-Star several times by now, but his career as a catcher is heading in the wrong direction.  Bob Hersom of okcredhawks.com takes a look at Salty’s issues throwing the ball back to the pitcher.  The good news is Salty is hitting the ball well, so hopefully he either figures it out soon or his bat is strong enough to get him in the majors as a 1B/DH.  There’s always room in the majors for guys with 14 letter last names who married a teacher from his high school.

Well, if the whole football thing doesn’t pan out

Interesting story (scroll to bottom) in the Memphis Commercial Appeal about Tim Tebow taking batting practice with the Memphis University School baseball team.  Long story short, he crushed the ball.  Just in case he doesn’t make in the NFL, maybe he should keep his swing sharp.

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Link Dump

Putting data behind the obvious

Rob Iracane over at Walkoff Walk takes a look at a subject touched on many times here with regards to players who are questioned about hustle. It’s a good read and even though what Rob writes is well known, the simple data he compiled is alarming.

Joe Girardi gets some credit

If you’re a Joe Girardi fan, enjoy this while it lasts. Michael Rosenberg at SI lays out reasons for why Girardi is a perfect manager for the Yankees, without ignoring some of his faults. If you can’t stand Girardi, take a peek and see if Rosenberg does anything to sway you.

In the market for new house?

‘Duk over at Big League Stew writes about the Field of Dreams being up for sale in Iowa for $5.4 million. For anyone who has seen the movie, it’s a pretty good read, and it’s interesting to know what happened to the field since.

Remember this guy?

It seems like Jarrod Saltalamacchia should have been an All-Star several times by now, but his career as a catcher is heading in the wrong direction. Bob Hersom of okcredhawks.com takes a look at Salty’s issues throwing the ball back to the pitcher. The good news is Salty is hitting the ball well, so hopefully he either figures it out soon or his bat is strong enough to get him in the majors as a 1B/DH. There’s always room in the majors for guys with 14 letter last names who married a teacher from his high school.

Well, if the whole football thing doesn’t pan out

Interesting story (scroll to bottom) in the Memphis Commercial Appeal about Tim Tebow taking batting practice with the Memphis University School baseball team. Long story short, he crushed the ball. Just in case he doesn’t make in the NFL, maybe he should keep his swing sharp.

A-Rod slams Twins in 8-4 win

Coming home to play in front of their home fans for just the 13th time this season, the Yankees looked to get the bitter taste of the Detroit series out of their mouths by beating up on a familiar foe. The Twins are just 3-23 against the Yanks in the Bronx during the Ron Gardenhire Era, and one very clutch grand slam later, they were 3-24.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Biggest Hit: A-Rod Makes Them Pay

You know, there was once a time when Alex Rodriguez had a problem coming through in big spots. He’d tense up and take that big hack and invariably get just on top or just underneath the ball and provide a less than desired outcome. Then the first five months of 2009 happened, and Alex hit rock bottom. I can’t imagine what kind of effect that had on him personally, but all I know is that he’s been a big hit machine since then. Regular season, playoffs, whatever, he’s made things happen when the Yankees needed them to happen.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Gardenhire pulled something out of the 2008 play book on Friday by intentionally walking Mark Teixeira in the 7th inning to load the bases with one out for A-Rod. Tex had a single and a double already to his credit on the night, so he was put on and Matt Guerrier was brought in to try and induce the inning ending double play. Alex fouled off his first pitch, a fastball on the inner half, but didn’t miss the second pitch in the same spot. It was quite literally a big fly, hanging up in the air as it carried out to left. Even if it didn’t reach the seats, the game was tied because the ball was hit far enough back to bring Frankie Cervelli in from third. Cervelli wouldn’t have to do anything more than trot, because the ball landed a few rows back for Alex’s 19th career grand slam, third most all time. It also gave him sole possession of 7th place on the all-time homer list with 587.

The best part of that whole at-bat was the matchup. Gardenhire went to his trusted righty setup man in that spot and completely ignored the numbers; A-Rod had been 4-for-6 with three (!!!) homers off Guerrier in his career, so you’d think that was the last guy Minnesota would want to have on the mound in that spot. His first pitch was 90 mph and the second 91, so at least he tried to change speeds on Alex.

Biggest Mistake: Pitching To Morneau

The outcome of the game will certainly mask the mistakes, but pitching to Justin Morneau and his AL leading .485 wOBA with the go-ahead run on second and two outs in the 7th inning was quite the blunder. I understand Damaso Marte is the guy that’s getting paid the big bucks to get out big time lefties in spots just like this, but there comes a point when you have to take a look at the reality of the situation and make a judgment based on that. Michael Cuddyer is making outs more than 68% of the time this season, and your righty relief ace is warmed up in the bullpen. You put Morneau on in that spot and call on Joba Chamberlain to get the vastly inferior hitter in Cuddyer.

Alas, Marte hung a slider that Morneau whacked into the gap for a double, but the Twins ahead by one. When you play the Twins, you don’t let Joe Mauer or Morneau beat you. You don’t even give them the chance.

Biggest Out: Span Hits One Back To The Pitcher

Things got ugly early in the Bronx on Friday. A.J. Burnett fell victim to his own wildness and home plate ump Alfonso Marquez’s incredibly shrinking strike zone in the 2nd, loading the bases on a single, a walk, and an error with no outs recorded. Burnett inexplicably walked Nick Punto (Nick Punto!) on four pitches to force in a run, and all of a sudden we were wondering how many innings Ivan Nova could go after throwing two yesterday.

Thankfully, Denard Span bailed A.J. out. After taking three straight pitches for a favorable 2-1 count, Span jumped all over 94 mph heater down in the zone, hitting right back up the box. Burnett fielded it semi-cleanly, and fired home to start the always fun 1-2-3 double play. If that ball gets by the Yanks’ starter, the Twins are up 3-0 and there are still no outs in the frame. It was very early in the game, but given the Yanks’ recent offensive woes, a three run deficit would have felt like thirty.

When Bad Things Go Good

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

The night didn’t start out well for Burnett. His 1st inning involved a walk, a single, nine strikes, and seven balls but luckily zero runs. The next frame wasn’t as pretty, as you read above. By the time the inning was over, A.J.’s pitch count was already at 39, just 17 of which were strikes. After that inning, Bad A.J. climbed into the phone booth and out came Good A.J.

Burnett retired 14 of the next 20 batters he faced, with the only significant blemish coming in the 5th inning when last year’s AL MVP took a 93 mph piece of cheese on the outer black and hit it off a railing next to the visitor’s bullpen for a solo homer. It’s impossible to complain about that, it was a high quality pitch that a super-high quality player handled as if he was taking batting practice. It really was an impressive piece of hitting by Mauer.

Despite that high pitch count after two, Burnett pitched into the 7th inning before giving way to Marte, allowing just three runs (two earned) on exactly 100 pitches (just 51 strikes). He was missing his spots early, but he settled himself down and took the ball deep into the game. Burnett’s generally considered to be an unreliable guy, but this was the 35th time in 46 starts as a Yankee (playoffs included) that he completed at least six innings of work (76.1%). That’s getting the job done, people.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Happinesses

Brett Gardner going deep. Again. Wasn’t even a cheapie either. Even better: he broke into his homerun trot halfway down the first base line. Dude also added a single to bring his season line to .333-.411-.421. Raise your hand if you saw this coming. (Put your hand down you liar)

Robbie Cano getting things back on track. He picked up a pair of hits after a rough start to the month, and he’s still OPS’ing over 1.000 (1.017 to be exact).

Joba Chamberlain continues to look fantastic. He’s faced 23 batters this month, and has struck out 11 of them. Seven of the last ten men he’s faced have gone down on strike three. That’s domination, yo.

Cervelli continues to dunk cheap little bloop hits all over the field, but hey, I’ll take ‘em.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Punto sliding into first on a foul ball to the third base side. What the frig was that? Is it possible to overdose on grit? You can’t not laugh at that.

Sadnesses

Not too much, just Nick Swisher aggravating his biceps strain. Hopefully he won’t be out too long. Oh, and Derek Jeter continues to look lost at the plate. Yeah he doubled, but he also saw just 14 pitches in his five plate appearances. He’s down to 3.52 pitches per plate appearance this season (3.84 last year), his lowest mark since ESPN started recording the data in 2002. He’s swinging at lots of junk out of the zone and has noticeably expanded his zone, which is frustrating as hell.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Now that’s a graph. MLB.com has your box score, FanGraphs the individual WPA breakdowns.

Up Next

Same two teams in a Saturday matinee, 1:05pm ET. Andy Pettitte will be making his first start in ten days, and will be opposed by a rejuvenated (and particularly nasty) Francisco Liriano. Should be fun.