Today marks the 63rd anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, making him the first African American player in Major League Baseball since the 1880s. There’s plenty to say about Jackie and the effect he had on MLB. Thankfully, Matt at Fack Youk says it, and says it well. Not only does he touch on how Robinson’s promotion led other teams to do the same, but he also notes the Yankees’ reluctance to follow suit. They eventually did, promoting eventual MVP Elston Howard in 1955.
At some point or another, chances are someone taught you the Heimlich maneuver. That, however, does not mean that you can perform it properly. Toby Weiss, wife of Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hewbrew Institute of Riverdale, found that out first hand at Yankee Stadium yesterday. When she began choking on her steak the people around her tried to help, but no one could dislodge the hunk of meat from her throat. Thankfully, John Stone, staff sergeant with the Connecticut National Guard, was nearby. Once he saw Ms. Weiss turn blue he stepped in, performed the maneuver, and got her to spit up the steak.
Said Weiss afterwards, “I’m a big Yankee fan, but I really didn’t want to die in Yankee Stadium.”
Considering all the backlash, Javy Vazquez wasn’t all that bad yesterday. I know, sounds crazy, but it’s true. He allowed just two runs through his first five innings of work, both of which came in the third inning when Erick Aybar singled in Brandon Wood (who singled and stole second) before being doubled in by our old buddy Bobby Abreu. Javy allowed another run in the sixth when Kendry Morales doubled in Torii Hunter, and the fourth run charged to him came while he was sitting in the dugout; Al Aceves had come on and allowed a two out, worm burning single back up the middle to noted power hitter Maicer Izturis. The overall line isn’t pretty (5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K), but his first five innings were just swell before his pitch count approached triple digits. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s nothing to cancel your season tickets over.
But what if that double to Morales could have been prevented through a different plan of attack? I certainly am not privy to the Yanks’ scouting reports and what not, but I thought the pitch selection to Morales in the 6th was a little questionable. Clearly, Javy missed his spot on the payoff pitch, which was the biggest mistake of all:
You can see where Jorge Posada set up, and where the pitch went. So yeah, he definitely missed his spot. It happens, But what if the spot and the pitch call were different?
In his first two at-bats, Vazquez threw Morales six fastballs, six changeups, and one slider. He went FB-CH-CH-FB-FB in his first at-bat, getting him to ground out on a pitch off the plate. Morales took a changeup for a strike and a fastball for a ball in the 3rd, but Bobby Abreu ended the inning mid-AB when he was caught trying to steal third. Javy went FB-CH-CH-CH-FB before retiring Morales on a slider way off the plate (foul pop-up to third) when he came back to the plate the next inning.
So after giving him first pitch fastballs in each of his two previous official at-bats, Javy broke out the change and got Morales out in front for a swinging strike one in the 6th. The second pitch was a slider well off the plate, further out than the one he popped up in the 4th. Javy came right back with another change, and again Morales was out in front for a swinging strike. So that’s two swings and misses on changeups in the first three pitches of the at-bat.
Pitch four: changeup in the dirt. Ball two.
Pitch five: changeup in the dirt. Ball three.
So now the count is full, and Morales has seen six straight offspeed pitches going back to his last at-bat. Vazquez and Posada went with a fourth straight changeup, which Javy left up in the zone and Morales did what good hitters are supposed to do with a belt high changeup.
I can’t help but wonder if a fastball would have been a better call in that spot. The effectiveness of the fastball-changeup combination is dependent on the separation between the two pitches, meaning the difference in velocities. Obviously things like location and arm speed matter, but in general it’s the separation. The last two changes Morales saw were clocked at 80mph, and Javy’s fastball averaged 89 on the day, topping out at 91. So basically you had a ten mile an hour separation between the two at that point in the game, which is almost exactly what you want.
So, at that moment, after three straight changeups and six straight offspeed pitches down in the zone, a high fastball may have made the most sense. The art of pitching is all about disrupting the hitter’s timing, and some high cheese after that much slow stuff changes both Morales’ timing and his sight level. An 89 mph fastball after so many 80 mph pitches doesn’t look like 89, it looks like 99. Morales isn’t the most disciplined hitter, so if you get it high enough, he might swing through it Melky Cabrera-style. As you can see, he definitely had no problems offering at the high heat last season…
(h/t Texas Leaguers)
If Morales takes the pitch, then you’ve walked him and set up the double play for a good but inferior hitter in Juan Rivera. That ends Javy’s day and he gets booed off the mound for walking a guy, but he leaves a very winnable 2-1 game. If Morales tomahawks it into the rightfield stands, then you tip your cap to him.
Again, I’m no expert. But after getting a steady diet of offspeed pitches down in the zone and on the outer half, a fastball up at eye level may have been the way to go when trying to finish off Morales in the 6th. It’s easy to look in hindsight and say the pitch selection was questionable, but if Javy buries the change and Morales swings over it, then this post doesn’t exist. Such is the nature of day-after analysis.
This type of game will happen. Javy Vazquez wasn’t sharp, though he managed to limit the damage through five innings. It looked like he might escape doom in the sixth, but it was not to be. Not only did he allow a run on a Kendry Morales double, but Morales himself came around to score later in the inning, courtesy of Al Aceves. Mike will have more on the Morales at-bat in the morning. For now, onto the recap.
Biggest Hit: Swisher triples
Joel Pineiro had his sinker working yesterday, and it had Yankees’ hitters baffled. Through four innings they managed just one hit, a Robinson Cano double off the glove of Torii Hunter. Cano managed another hit off him in the fifth, this time a single to left. To groundouts moved him to third base with Nick Swisher at the plate.
While the count didn’t run to 3-2, Swisher did make Pineiro work, fouling off three straight 2-2 pitches after not swinging at the first four. Pineiro tried to mix things up later in the at-bat, throwing a curveball and then a changeup, but on the eighth pitch went back to the sinker. It caught enough of the zone that Swisher was able to make solid contact, driving it to right-center. Cano scored easily, and the outfielders were so ill-positioned for that particular hit that Swisher made it all the way to third.
This was actually the biggest hit of the game from either side. The Angels spread their runs out, and since the Yankees never got too close the Angels gradually moved closer to that 100 percent WPA mark. Swisher’s hit was huge because not only did it cut the Angels lead to one, but it also made Swisher the potential tying run. Brett Gardner, however, could not deliver.
Biggest Pitch: Abreu continues owning Vazquez
When Abreu came to bat in the first inning, Michael Kay mentioned how well he had hit Vazquez in the past. He spoke mostly of counting stats, but here are the rate stats, just for fun: .282/.358/.746. In other words, Abreu posted a decent BA and OBP against Vazquez, but when he hit it he hit it a ton. A hit in the first improved those numbers, but his third-inning double did the most damage.
With Erick Aybar standing on first, Abreu took a called strike one on the low-outside corner. Vazquez came back with a changeup, again outside, but this one ran a bit high. Abreu laid into it, lining it to center. It got behind Curtis Granderson, and Aybar came around to score. Brandon Wood had previously scored on Aybar’s single, so this staked the Angels to a 2-0 lead. It also led to boos from the Stadium denizens. Where do we get these fans?
Vazquez actually recovered decently, pitching two more scoreless innings before running into trouble again in the sixth.
Biggest Blunder: The eighth inning
With a 5-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, the Angels looked poised for victory. Mike Scioscia turned to his erstwhile setup man, Scot Shields, long-time Yankee-killer, to hold a four-run lead. It was immediately clear that, at least on this day, he was not up to the task.
After a failed bunt attempt Shields delivered four straight pitches out of the zone to Brett Gardner. That’s usually a terrible way to start an inning, but with the Yanks down four it was unlikely Gardner would take a base. Derek Jeter tapped one to the pitcher after taking two pitches, and he beat out the throw to first, setting up the Yanks with runners on first and second.
Nick Johnson might have had the best at-bat of the game in this spot. He took the first three pitches, a called strike followed by two balls, before fouling off the next five. On the at-bat’s ninth pitch Shields went back to his curveball and placed it on the outside edge. Johnson jumped on it, though, lining it to center and scoring Gardner. The Yanks, as they always seem to do, sent the tying run to the plate.
Scioscia had seen enough of Shields. With the game on the line he turned to Kevin Jepsen, who was all over the place. It did work to his advantage, though. A wild pitch put runners on second and third, but Mark Teixeira couldn’t deliver. He grounded one to short. It scored Jeter but didn’t advance Johnson and accounted for the inning’s first out. Alex Rodriguez drew a walk in the next at-bat, so he became the tying run.
Robinson Cano whaled one to third base in the next at-bat, and I have no idea how he beat out the double play. It looked tailor-made, especially for a player with Cano’s speed. He was just safe, though, preserving the inning. Here’s where Jepsen’s wildness helped. After throwing just six of his first 15 pitches for strikes, Jepsen came back with two straight in the zone to Posada. He took both, and eventually — and predictably — struck out on a low slider.
Teixeira’s ground out lowered the Yankees’ chances of winning by 8.3 percent. Cano’s fielder’s choice brought it down another 8.8 percent, and Jorge’s strikeout, with the tying run on first base, sunk it another 9.8 percent. The Yanks had a grand opportunity to tie the game, or at least bring it within a run, and failed to do so.
Aceves slowing it down
Either the gun was cold — which is possible, since Vazquez topped out at 90 — or Aceves was a bit slow with the fastball yesterday. It topped out at 89 on the Pitch f/x gun. He didn’t look very good in general, perhaps because he hasn’t gotten much work this season.
Things that annoyed me
The eighth, even though the Yanks scored runs. It seemed like a classic comeback in the making. Instead if was marred by middle of the lineup futility. Thankfully, we know these guys will come around.
Hideki Matsui. Come on. The Angels hit three doubles today. I’m not wishing Matsui added to that, but rather that he hit a double in place of, say, Torii Hunter.
The fans. There’s no need to boo Vazquez, especially in the third inning. He recovered nicely, and he nearly finished his appearance with six innings and two runs. Alas, that was not to be, and the sixth inning was quite annoying. Still, there’s just no need for the booing, especially in freaking April.
Mark Teixeira. Yeah, I know. We’ve seen his April struggles first-hand and know that he makes up for it later. It doesn’t make it any less annoying while it’s happening, though.
Also, it’s been two games at home this season and we haven’t seen a walk-off. This team is clearly a bust.
Things that made me smile
Joba. He allowed a hit, struck out a batter, and still needed only nine pitches to retire the side.
Robinson Cano’s continued excellence. Even in the eighth he whaled the ball. Too bad it was right at Wood.
Nick Swisher. For his gritty at-bats and his hustle around second and into third.
Nick Johnson. Coming through big.
Also, someone mentioned this in the chat last week. New York Nicks. That gonna take?
Derek Jeter. Because while it seems everything he hits is a grounder to short, he’s still hitting .324.
To FanGraphs for the full boxey.
It’s a battle of season debuts, as Phil Hughes takes on Scott Kazmir tomorrow at 7 p.m.
Triple-A Scranton (1-0 win over Syracuse)
Kevin Russo, 3B: 0 for 3, 1 BB
Eduardo Nunez, 2B & Chad Huffman, LF: both 0 for 4 – Nunez committed a fielding error … Huffman K’ed
Juan Miranda, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 4, 1 2B – moved up to the cleanup spot, and looks what happens … has at least one hit in every game
Jon Weber, DH: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 HBP
Colin Curtis, RF: 1 for 3, 1 K
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI – he hit two homers last year, so of course the only run in the game would come when he goes deep
Reegie Corona, SS: 2 for 3
Zach McAllister: 4 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 3-4 GB/FB – 56 of 87 pitches were strikes (64.4% … left the game because his pitch count was getting up there
Royce Ring: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 19 of 30 pitches were strikes (63.3%)
Amaury Sanit: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 23 of 36 pitches were strikes (63.9%)
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 8 of 13 pitches were strikes (61.5%) … not a bad replacement for when your regular closer needs a night off
Am I the only one with an irrational dislike of Torii Hunter? He’s does a ton of stuff for charity and from what I can gather he’s a great guy, but damn, I just don’t like him as a player. His UZR in center over the last three years is -12.8, which is decidedly below average and the third worst in the game. His wOBA is strong at .361 over the same time, and is identical to Johnny Damon‘s. It’s good, but it’s not that good.
I mean, he’s a nice player, but is he as good as he’s made out to be? No. Is he worth the $18M annually the Angels are paying him? Good Lord no. I hate to hate on a player like that, but sheesh, I just don’t get it with Torii.
Anyway, here’s the night’s open thread. The NHL playoffs start tonight with the Flyers at the Devils, and the Nets’ season comes to a merciful end as well. As for baseball, you’ve got the Mets at the Rockies, and the Astros at the Cardinals on ESPN2. Houston is 0-7, and as a team they have drawn six walks. Nick Johnson has nine. That about sums up their situation.
* Someone yelled that from the bleachers at a game I was at last year. It still makes me laugh.
We knew it was coming, but it’s still kinda tough to look at. Mark Teixeira, for whatever reason, is simply awful in April, and he’s doing it again this year. Through the Yankees’ first eight games, he’s hitting a cool .097-.263-.129 in 34 plate appearances, good for a .238 wOBA. All three of his hits came in the same game last week, though before today he had more walks than strikeouts. It’s a small consolation, but at least he’s still finding ways to get on base occasionally.
The bad news is that even with Tex’s dormant bat, the Yankees are second in the league with 46 runs scored, three behind the Tigers who’ve played one more game. I should probably make it clear that that’s bad news for the rest of the league. Robbie Cano is absolutely killing the ball with a .382-.389-.676 batting line through the first eight games, and even his outs are hard hit. Jorge Posada is batting the quietest .400-.516-.800 in history, and Nick Swisher is getting on base more than 45% of the time out of the eight hole. As ridiculous as it sounds, Tex is the easy out in the lineup right now.
And that’s the problem: the automatic out is smack dab in the middle of the lineup, not the bottom where they usually hide. Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson have collectively reached base 30 times in the team’s eight games, yet Tex has only drive in three runs. When he’s had men on with two outs, he’s made the final out of the inning 75% of the time, which is far too much with Alex Rodriguez batting behind you. There’s an easy way to fix this until he starts hitting, just bat him lower in the order.
I don’t think Joe Girardi would ever do it out of the loyalty or whatever, but if Tex is going to continue to toss up 0-fers for the next few games, why not drop him a few spots? The lineup wouldn’t require any fancy rejiggering, just push everyone up so A-Rod hits third, Cano hits fourth, Posada hits fifth, etc. That arrangement is obviously working, so there’s no need to screw with it. Batting Tex eighth would be embarrassing on both a team and individual level, but I don’t see a problem with slotting him into the six spot.
In that scenario, your lineup is…
Again, I don’t think it’ll ever happen, but where’s the harm? The lineup becomes a bit more circular, and now there’s no weak bat behind Jeter and Johnson. As soon as Tex warms up ever so slightly, you move him back up. Simple, right*?
* That probably means I’m dead wrong. [/JoPoz]
The Yankees are winning at games at a .625 pace, so there’s not much to complain about, but I don’t see what’s wrong with a little tweak here or there to maximize the lineup’s production for the next week or two.