Open Thread: Happy Birthday, Phil

That first start sure seems like a long time ago, don't it? (Photo Credit: Nick Laham, POOL/AP)

Well look at that. The Yankees’ blossoming ace turns the ripe old age of 24 today. Hard to believe he’s still that young, no? Here’s a partial list of big league starters older than Mr. Hughes…

Clay Buchholz (22 months older)
Yovani Gallardo (four months)
Josh Johnson (16 months)
Ian Kennedy (14 months)
Tim Lincecum (24 months)
Mike Pelfrey (30 months)
David Price (11 months)

Also older than Phil Hughes? Andrew Brackman, who is six months his elder. Pretty crazy, huh?

Anyway, here is your off day open thread. The Mets and Tigers are playing on both SNY and MLB Network, and you’ve also got Oklahoma and South Carolina in College World Series action (loser is eliminated) on ESPN2. Apparently the NBA draft is on somewhere as well, if that’s your thing. Talk about whatever you want, just don’t be a jerk.

Link Dump: Jeter, Yanks-Dodgers, Torre, Balk

I was just going to do a little self-promotion in this spot, but I found enough other interesting things to serve up a smorgasbord.

Derek Jeter and the double play

Derek grounded into two twin killings last night, but before that he’d actually avoided wiping out two players at once. All this despite having the No. 9 hitter reach base more often than last year, putting the ball in play more than last year, and hitting the ball on the ground more frequently.

I tackle the issue at FanGraphs.

Revisiting the Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchups

Matt at Fack Youk is a busy dude, as he has started a series about the 11 Yankees-Dodgers World Series. He has four of them up right now. Check out 1941 & 1947, 1949, and 1952. This series illustrates why I read Fack Youk every day.

Just because he’s still alive doesn’t make him the greatest

What’s that? Mike Lupica wrote something stupid? We tend to ignore that — in fact, I don’t think we’ve once linked to a Mike Lupica article on RAB. And if we did, 1) it came in our first year, and 2) we apologize. Anyway, Craig Calcaterra couldn’t help but respond to the ridiculous claim that Torre is, in Lupica’s words, “the greatest manager Big Apple has ever seen.” I’m sorry, that’s incorrect. We would have accepted John McGraw, Casey Stengel, or Joe McCarthy as the obvious answers.

Can we get a ruling on balks?

There was a controversial non-balk call in last night’s Angels-Dodgers game. Dipping into the FanGraphs well just one more time, Jack Moore breaks down the non-call with rulebook entires and screen caps. The comments are actually pretty decent, too.

For Rivera and Yanks, a trade that wasn’t

Still a Yankee after all of these years. | Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

What Mariano Rivera did last night was nothing short of amazing. Pitching in his second inning of work for the first time since Game 6 of the 2009 World Series and on the mound that was the site of his greatest failure, Rivera almost let this one slip away. After a Curtis Granderson home run put the Yanks ahead, the Diamondbacks loaded the bases with no outs against the Yanks’ closer. And then Mo went to work.

Facing Arizona’s 4-5-6 hitters, Rivera was ruthless. As I paced around my living room at 1:45 in the morning, the Sandman induced a foul out, a pop out and a strike out. The game ended without a fist pump, a little dance on the mound or even a smile. In fact, Mariano looked relieved and sounded more than a little bit annoyed with himself for nearly blowing his 72nd career win. The greatest demands self-perfection.

As Mo’s ERA dipped to 1.03, we thanked him for last night’s win. After a while, it’s easy to take Mariano for granted. He’s just there, ready to do what he needs to do to get outs, to save games, to nail down a W. He doesn’t need the histrionics of Jose Valverde or Jonathan Papelbon. He just is Mariano.

But more than once, the Yankees almost missed out on the opportunity to enjoy 16 years of excellence. As a young pitcher, Mariano was a hot commodity in the Yankee farm system, and George Steinbrenner always wanted the next best thing. Last summer, I reflected upon the time the Yankees almost traded Mariano and Jorge Posada for David Wells. Had that deal gone through in 1995, Yankee history would be shockingly different.

That wasn’t, however, the only time the team nearly traded their future Hall of Famer. After inheriting the closer mantle in 1997, Mariano had a post-season collapse against the Indians. The Yanks were five outs away from a trip to the ALCS when Rivera served up a two-out home run to Sandy Alomar. While Ramiro Mendoza would lose the game in the 9th, Rivera’s inability to nail down the game cost the Yanks a shot at a Championship Series rematch with the Orioles. It stung.

Some in the Yankee organization were still willing to part with Mariano Rivera over concerns of a bad arm, and that winter, he was again the subject of trade rumors. When the Mariners quietly let it be known that Randy Johnson was on the market, George Steinbrenner tried to pounce. Unbeknownst to then-GM Bob Watson, the Boss proposed a Rivera-for-Johnson swap straight up. The Mariners rejected that trade but came back with another shocking offer.

Seattle, trying to exploit its position, asked instead for a starter to go along with Rivera. That start just happened to be Andy Pettitte, but the Yankees were “turned off” by that request, The Daily News reported in November of 1997. That would have been a deal for the ages, and it wasn’t the only proposal floated with Rivera. The Expos asked for him along with Posada and Eric Milton in a potential deal for Pedro Martinez, and the Twins initially wanted Rivera in a package for Chuck Knoblauch.

We know how this story ends. The Yanks never landed Pedro; they got Randy Johnson seven years too late; and Chuck Knoblauch arrived for a package of nothing much and helped lead the Yanks to three World Series before losing it in 2001. Rivera, meanwhile, perseveres and not trading him remains one of the best moves the Yankees have made over the past twenty years.

Possible trade target: Ty Wigginton

As we move closer to the trade deadline (barely more than five weeks away now), we’re going to take a look at a few players that may or may not make sense for the Yankees given their needs. It seems foolish to waste time writing about players that don’t make sense for the Yanks, but most of the time their names will be linked to the team just because, so we might as well give our two cents. We’ve already looked at one bench option in Jeff Keppinger, and now it’s time to look at another: Ty Wigginton.

Photo Credit: Rob Carr, AP

I’m not sure why, but Wigginton seems to have a lot of Mark DeRosa in him, in that lots of fans think he’d be the perfect utility player for the Yankees. He’s kind of a big name and has had some big seasons in the past, so it’s a match made in baseball rumor heaven.

Wiggy certainly had himself a huge start the season, hitting .300/.361/.613 with 13 homers in his first 167 plate appearances, which I’m sure the Orioles loved because it boosted his trade value. Since then though, the former Met is hitting a whopping .225/.349/.270 in 109 plate appearances, bringing his overall season line to .272/.356/.485. That’s still very good obviously, and it’s not completely out of whack because he’s produced like that over full seasons before. For what it’s worth, ZiPS rest of the season projection calls for .280/.343/.464 with 11 more homers the rest of the way, but that assumes he’ll be playing on an every day basis, which he most certainly would not being doing on the Yankees.

Photo Credit: Rob Carr, AP

Defensively, Wigginton does offer extreme versatility, having spent considerable time at every infield spot but shortstop, plus the corner outfield positions. He’s not very good at any of those spots though, with negative UZR‘s across the board over the last few seasons (some in the double digits) and there’s no reason to expect him to improve at age-32. Not that he would be asked to steal or anything, but Wigginton is 5-for-14 in stolen base attempts over the last three years, and has cost his team about three runs on the bases in non-stolen base situations during that time. For all intents and purposes, he’s a righthanded bat off the bench that can fake it at several spots defensively.

As for contract status, Wigginton is owed just a touch under $2M for the remainder of the season, and he’ll become a free agent this winter. He isn’t projected to be any kind of compensation free agent either, and isn’t even close enough to the Type-B threshold to make it interesting (more than 14 points away). Because he’s spend so much time at first base over the last two seasons, he’s lumped in with 1B/OF group, which is based on a different set of stats and knocks his performance down a peg.

The Orioles are reportedly seeking a young shortstop in return for Wigginton, which is perfectly fine as long as they don’t think they’re getting a franchise cornerstone. The Yankees have a few players that fit that bill, namely Ramiro Pena, Reegie Corona, and Eduardo Nunez, all of whom have their strengths, but generally aren’t considered future every day players. I can’t imagine that Baltimore will get a better return than those three, especially if they don’t want to eat any of the money left on his deal.

Yankee bench players have been a largely underperforming group this season, and the problem has been somewhat exacerbated by nagging injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. Wigginton certainly makes sense on the surface, but the cost is rather steep (basically five to six years of one of those prospects for four months of Wiggy plus his salary). The Yankees showed last season that you can find valuable reserves on the trade mark for a pittance. Just because it can be done doesn’t mean that it should.

Vazquez grinds it out against D-Backs

Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin, AP

Last night’s game was so ugly and frustratingly long that by the time Curtis Granderson gave the Yankees the lead and Mariano Rivera pulled his Houdini act, everyone had pretty much forgotten that Dontrelle Willis and Javy Vazquez started the game. Willis was simply dreadful, throwing just 27 of his 66 pitches for strikes and eclipsing the 88 mph plateau a whopping five times. I haven’t seen any of his other starts this year, but the last thing he looked like on Wednesday was a Major League caliber pitcher.

Vazquez didn’t pitch too well himself, though he looked like Cy Young compared to Willis. The former Diamondback let Arizona off the hook just as much as the Yankees’ offense did, surrendering a pair of runs in the bottom of the 1st after walking the bases loaded. It probably would have been more if not for some dreadful baserunning (theme of the night, apparently). A dozen pitches in, he finally threw a pitch over 88.

But then Javy settled down for a bit. He retired the side in order in the 2nd on a dozen pitches, and did the same in the 3rd on seven pitches. Miguel Montero led off the 4th with a single, then moved to third on a Chris Young double. Adam LaRoche plated two with a single, giving Arizona the league, but otherwise Vazquez would retire the next three batters to escape the inning the next six batters he faced overall to end his night. He wasn’t terribly efficient, needing 85 pitches (exactly 60% of which were strikes) to record 15 outs, and he only recorded five of those 15 outs via strikeout or ground out.

After the game, Michael Kay said something to the effect of “Vazquez regressed back to where he was in April,” which on the surface probably seems true. He allowed six hits and four runs in just five innings and walked two guys compared to a lone strikeout. Following his seven start stretch of brilliance, this game certainly had an April feel to it. At the same time though, it didn’t.

The early season version of Javy Vazquez couldn’t stop the bleeding. A one run inning turned into a two or three or four run inning in the blink of an eye, and the game was out of reach by the time he hit the showers. That’s not what happened last night, he pitched around some defensive miscues (namely Frankie Cervelli on that rundown) and managed to hold the D-Backs to two two run innings when they easily could have been worse. What Javy did last night was something people say only about Andy Pettitte or Phil Hughes or other fan favorites: he grinded it out (“ground” sounds weird in this situation, no?).

The first inning was obviously the worst of the night. Vazquez walked leadoff hitter Kelly Johnson on four pitches before falling behind 3-1 on Stephen Drew. Just six of his first 19 pitches were strikes, and he hadn’t even recorded an out by then. It was clear he didn’t have his best stuff going, and that it was going to be a battle all night long. Yet in the end, four innings later, he was lifted for a pinch hitter after retiring 12 of the final 15 batters he faced and the Yankees were still in a game. That’s not April Javy, that’s a veteran starter bearing down and keeping his team in it on one of those days when he didn’t have it working.

No pitcher will be on each time out, and Javy is no different. It was just a bad start, not a regression to Bad Javy or a sign that all the progress he made recently has stalled. There’s no reason to hold Vazquez to a different standard and think every start has a deeper meaning that it does. He’s just a pitcher that struggled on a random Wednesday night in the desert. That’s all.

Thank Mo for Yanks win

Seriously, the AP has no pictures of Mo from last night. Sad. | Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

Sometimes you have to wait to get to the good part. Sometimes that involves suffering for three hours before something really good happens. Last night the Yankees and the Diamondbacks played some sloppy baseball that covered up for shaky — to be kind in at least Arizona’s case — performances from their starting pitchers. Players were gifting outs to the other team, which killed a number of scoring opportunities. Instead of having an 8-7 game after three innings it was tied at two.

From there we saw a see-sawing of the score. Adam LaRoche put the Diamondbacks up by two. The Yankees came back to score on a groundout and then an infield single off the glove of a drawn-in LaRoche. Damaso Marte couldn’t hold Arizona scoreless in the bottom half of the inning, and it took until the Yankees’ last at-bat to pick up that tying run, a sac fly off the bat of Alex Rodriguez. Thankfully, at that point the Yankees were prepared to do battle in extra innings. The great Mariano was warming up.

Like all managers, Joe Girardi makes some odd in-game decisions. Even last night he pulled a strange substitution in the ninth. I had no idea why he took Swisher out of the game to gain maybe a step advantage with Kevin Russo. The trade-off didn’t make sense to me at the time. Why take out one of the team’s best hitters just to gain a fractional advantage on the bases? But then it became clear: Girardi planned to use Mariano, and he planned to use him for more than one inning.

This decision, too, seemed odd, if only because Girardi has played this situation by the book in every instance I can recall. A tie game on the road usually means that Mariano sits around and waits for the offense to capture a lead. Sometimes, as we saw in Toronto, it never happens. But because Javy Vazquez had pitched only five innings, Girardi had used many of the arms in his bullpen. Marte pitched an inning. Robertson pitched an inning. Chamberlain pitched an inning. Only Park, Gaudin, Logan, and Mo remained. Girardi made the obvious choice.

Part of that choice, it appears, came because Mo was not only the best choice but also the easiest. The Yanks, down by one, put the tying and go-ahead runs on base with none out in the ninth. If Teixeira and Rodriguez came through they’d probably have taken the lead. Girardi obviously wanted Mo ready for that situation. When A-Rod hit the sac fly to bring home Jeter and tie the game, Mo was already going through the motions. At that point it was a no-brainer. He hadn’t pitched since Sunday, and couldn’t pitch until Friday. Girardi not only made the call to bring in Mo, but he called on him for two innings.

Unsurprisingly, Mo pitched brilliantly and kept the game tied in the ninth. It took him 19 cutters, sitting at 92-93 mph, to sit down the Diamondbacks in order. There was a little scare when Kelly Johnson hit a fly ball to right, but it was just a warning track shot. Curtis Granderson wasted no time in showing him how it’s done. That meant Mo could come back in the bottom of the 10th with a chance for the win. The Diamondbacks didn’t go easily. In fact, Mo had loaded the bases with none out. Three pitches to Chris Young resulted in a pop out. Ditto LaRoche. It took five cutters, the last at 93, to finish off Mark Reynolds, but at that point the pitches didn’t matter. The great Mariano had delivered.

There was plenty of bad in the game. Both teams made plenty of mistakes that cost their team runs. The players knew it. Here’s Mo’s take, via Fack Youk:

We pulled this game [out] but we played horrible. It’s unacceptable, the way that we played. We can’t be playing games like that, you know? We are better than that are we are supposed to do what’s right in baseball.

A-Rod, too, knows they need to play better.

“Obviously, we’re not happy with the way we played today,” Rodriguez said. “We know we have to do a lot of things better. We’ll take the win, but we really don’t feel good about it. In order for us to do what we need to do late in October, we’re going to have to clean it up a little bit.”

In a way, this cancels out the terrible loss to the Indians earlier in the season. That’s how I’m going to view it. Mistakes were made, but when the last out was recorded it was the Yankees celebrating. They might have done so reluctantly, but they did nonetheless.

Yanks win a game they had no business winning

Once a Yankee, always a Yankee. (Photo Credit: David Zalubowski, AP)

That game was simply dreadful. Embarrassing, really. It’s not worth my time and it would be too frustrating to put together an in-depth recap, but all you need to know is that the Yankees drew seven walks in the first three innings yet only scored two runs. Overall, there were 23 baserunners, just six runs, five GIDPs, three outs on the bases, wild pitches, a balk, strike outs after being up 3-0 in the count, Brett Gardner getting his hand stepped on after sliding into first, you name it. The Yanks simply had no business winning this game.

Thankfully, the Padres took care of business down in Tampa, and our old pal Jason Giambi made sure the Red Sox went home with a loss as well. The Yanks started the day a game and a half up in the AL East, and by the grace of Mo, they’re going to bed two and half games up. Not that they deserve it after this garbage. They better get their heads out of their asses before they get to LA.

But hey, a win is a win.