Some thoughts from Opening Night

Double-A Trenton awaits the pre-game introductions. (Photo Credit: Mike Ashmore)

One night isn’t enough to draw any conclusions from, but the first day of minor league baseball was very good to the Yankees. Here’s some quick thoughts…

  • The organization is clearly trying to avoid putting any undue pressure on Jesus Montero. Despite the fact that he’s the best hitter in the Triple-A Scranton lineup, he batted way down in the order last night, in the six hole. They did this with Austin Jackson last year, and eventually moved him up in the order when he got comfortable and started to produce. Either way, it’s good that they’re taking it easy on him. Being in Triple-A at age-20 is tough enough, he doesn’t need to feel like he has to carry the offense on top of that.
  • Boone Logan‘s hot spring carried over, for at least one game. He struck out four and recorded two more outs on the ground, and threw just four balls in two innings of work. I suspect that f he reasonably approximates this level of performance going forward, he’s going to first guy called up whenever the Yanks need an extra arm, not Mark Melancon.
  • From a fan perspective, it stinks to have Slade Heathcott start the season in Extended Spring Training. Between Andrew Brackman‘s surgery and Gerrit Cole not signing, the last time we got to see a first round pick start their first full season in the organization in a full season league was Ian Kennedy back in 2007. Yikes.
  • Hector Noesi is legit. He battled arm injuries for a few years, but now that he’s finally healthy he’s on his way to being one of the organization’s top pitching prospects. I was surprised when he was added to the 40-man roster after the year, but he’s got a low maintenance delivery and very good command of three pitches (89-91 mph fastball, changeup, curve). High-A Tampa is just a pit stop for him, he should in Double-A Trenton before long, and possibly even Triple-A Scranton at some point.
  • Chris Garcia’s injury is unfortunate, but frankly it’s not totally unexpected. He’s very easy to dream on with his size and power repertoire, but that injury prone label is well deserved. He said it felt serious last night, but hopefully the MRI says something different. I’m not getting my hopes up.
  • This team needs another high upside, high probability prospect in the worst way. I know that’s a lot to ask, but damn, it truly is “Montero and everyone else.” Hopefully Brackman maintains last season’s late success and becomes that guy.

It was a great Opening Night; all four affiliates won convincingly (combined score: 14-2) and the starting pitching was phenomenal (21.2IP, 10 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 17 K). The best part of all? We get to do it all again tonight.

Garcia’s injury casts a cloud over Opening Night

Two links to pass along before we get started. First, Baseball America put together a list of the youngest players in each league, but for whatever reason they forgot about Jesus Montero. His birthday is listed as November 28th, 1989, which should make him the youngest player in the Triple-A International League by more than two months. Further down the ladder you have Manny Banuelos, who is the youngest player in the High-A Florida State League by a good seven months.

Second, Padres executive vice president Paul DePodesta fired off a blog post about losing Chad Huffman on waivers to the Yanks. He throws some praise the player’s way.

And now, what you’ve waited all winter for. As per Opening Day tradition, you get the full lineups…

Triple-A Scranton (1-0 win over Buffalo)
Kevin Russo, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
Reegie Corona, 2B: 0 for 4, 2 K
Juan Miranda, 1B: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K – he kills this league
David Winfree, RF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – first homer of the season in the farm system
Jon Weber, DH: 1 for 3
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 2B - doubled in his first Triple-A plate appearance
Colin Curtis, LF: 0 for 3, 1 K
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 0 for 3
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 3
Ivan Nova, SP: 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2-4 GB/FB – 34 of 49 pitches were strikes (69.4%) … left the game after a lengthy rain delay … rock solid season debut, if he keeps it up, he’ll be the first guy called up when the big league team needs a starter
Mark Melancon: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 5-0 GB/FB – 16 of 23 pitches were strikes (69.6%) … same as he always was
Boone Logan: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2-0 GB/FB - 18 of 22 pitches were strikes (81.8%) … damn yo
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 7 of 12 pitches were strikes (58.3%)

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Travel day

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

Apparently the schedule makers felt the Yankees needed a full day to make the two-hour flight from Boston to Tampa today, because there’s no game. It’s amazing how we wait all winter for baseball, but as soon as it comes back, we get all impatient with scheduled off days. Or at least I do, anyway.

The good news is that the minor league season starts tonight, so that means the first of many DotF‘s will be up later this evening. Until then, you can kill some time with the Islanders, Devils, Mets, and/or Cubs-Braves (MLB Network). Remember, the free preview of Extra Innings runs through Sunday, so every baseball game is available for for all the see these days. Make sure you check in on the Angels-Twins game tonight (10pm ET first pitch), Hideki Matsui is starting his first game in the outfield since June 15th, 2008. That should be fun.

Report: Feds digging into A-Rod’s finances

The Anthony Galea/A-Rod story just won’t go away. Although MLB officials were reportedly “very happy” with Alex Rodriguez‘s explanation of his relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea, federal officials are digging into the Yanks’ third baseman’s financial records, according to a report in The Times. Galea, a Canadian doctor who has treated some high-profile U.S. athletes, is under investigation for allegedly supplying HGH and other performance-enhancing drugs to American clients, and the doctor treated A-Rod during the slugger’s rehab from hip surgery last year.

The Times says that the feds still want to meet with A-Rod, and the ongoing delay in arranging a time to talk have led them to contact others in A-Rod’s circle. Reportedly, the feds have asked A-Rod’s assistants, in the words of Michael S. Schmidt, “to determine the number of times he met with Galea, where they met and how much money Galea was paid for his services.” Investigators have also reached Angel Presinal, the tainted trainer who has been on the fringe of a few PED scandals over the past few years. As the season kicks into gear, this is one cloud I’d rather not see hanging above A-Rod’s head.

Baseball does not move fast enough for Joe West

Joe West and Andy Pettitte share a moment during the 2009 World Series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Cowboy Joe has a problem: The glacial pace of Red Sox-Yankees games is getting under his skin, and the players just don’t respect him or the game.

“They’re the two clubs that don’t try to pick up the pace,” Joe West, umpire, crew chief at Fenway this week and sometimes singer/songwriter, said prior to last night’s game. “They’re two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It’s pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play.”

West’s rant came after players on both teams complained Tuesday night when they were denied time outs by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez. With reporters at the ready, West continued his tirade. “The commissioner of baseball says he wants the pace picked up. We try and still almost went four hours,” he said. “All of baseball looks to these two clubs to pick up the pace… The players aren’t working with us. This is embarrassing, a disgrace to baseball.”

A disgrace to baseball. Strong words coming from an umpire who once quit his job as a failed labor negotiation tactic.

The reaction to West has, unsurprisingly, been swift and somewhat critical. Rob Neyer supported West’s statements but wondered if the umpires should be at fault. Jason at It’s About The Money, Stupid highlighted West’s strike zone. Others have questioned West for speaking out in the first place. Umpires, many believe, should be seen and not heard.

But West has a point, and we’ll get to that in a minute. First, I’d like to address concerns about West’s strike zone as one reason for the game’s delay. The argument alleges that West doesn’t call low strikes, and thus, pitchers are throwing more pitches and the game takes longer. That is partially true, but if we take a look at the normalized strike zone, that argument breaks down. Via Brooks:

It’s true that Joe West doesn’t call a low strike, but he’s willing to extend the zone to his left a bit. By my count, he called nearly as many pitches that were strikes balls as he did pitches that were out of the zone strikes. That’s a spurious argument, and it detracts from West’s valid points.

The valid point is that Yankee-Red Sox games are very, very long. Sunday’s game took three hours and 46 minutes to play; Tuesday’s lasted three hours and 48 minutes. Even last night’s 10-inning affair went on for three hours and 21 minutes. According to figures from last year, an average major league game lasts around 2:52 while the Yankees play games that average 3:08 and the Sox 3:04. When the two teams play each other, they averaged nine innings in 3:30 last year, a good forty minutes slower than league average. Pick up the pace, indeed.

But, as always, the question remains: Does it matter? The Yankees and Red Sox both take more pitches than just about any other team in baseball, and the two teams were one and two in the AL in on-base percentage last year. As I said yesterday, the more pitches a team takes, the baserunners they have, the more runs they have, the more pitchers they see, the longer the game takes.

Meanwhile, from the money perspective, few fans care. In the New York area, YES Network enjoyed its second-highested rated regular season game ever on Opening Night, and NESN had its highest Opening Night ratings in its history. ESPN2, airing the game outside of the two major New England and New York media markets, scored a 2.4 rating, just a few thousand viewers behind the NCAA women’s championship game. The fans have repeated said they don’t mind the long games; they just want baseball.

In the end, I think Joe West’s claims are right. The Yankee/Red Sox games do take too long, and some of that is because the games are sometimes managed as though they are Game 7 ALCS chess matches and not just games one, two and three of the regular season. I think baseball should try to cut down on these lengthy games for the overall health of the sport. After all, we want to see game action and not David Ortiz spitting on his batting gloves for the fourth time in three pitches.

But Joe West is also wrong. It’s not his place to call baseball’s marquee teams an embarrassment. It’s not his place to yell at the players. Let Bob Watson spin his wheels arguing with teams over picking up the pace. The umpires just sound as though they’re whining in the face of baseball’s success, and that is what I find to be a disgrace to baseball.

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Update (5:09 p.m.): Mariano fires back

As Joe West’s comments reverberate throughout baseball, Mariano Rivera has slammed the umpire over his remarks. Brian Costello and George A. King III caught up with the Yankee closer who wasn’t too pleased to hear West complaining about having to do his job.

“It’s incredible,” Rivera said to the two Post reporters. “If he has places to go, let him do something else. What does he want us to do, swing at balls?”

Rivera, a player who has tremendous respect for the game and the umpires, didn’t hold back. “He has a job to do. He should do his job,” Rivera said. “We don’t want to play four-hour games but that’s what it takes. We respect and love the fans and do what we have to do and that’s play our game.”

On the one hand, it will, as Costello and King write, be interesting to see how West reacts the next time he’s behind the plate for a Mariano appearance. On the other hand, Rivera, the Yankees and the Red Sox should be insulted by West’s comments. As many have pointed out, West’s partiality is now in doubt, and Bud Selig should step in to calm this escalating situation.

RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Just a reminder, my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 4:05pm ET today. You can listen in on either FOX Sports 1030 AM or WOBM 1160 AM, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to stream it online via one of those links as well.

Chan Ho Park: A lesson in unpredictability

No matter how much we preach, it’s easy to fall into the trap of basing too much on small sample sizes this early in the season. We’ve already seen the Joba Chamberlain 8th Inning Machine rear it’s ugly head after two-thirds of an inning, and many fans had already written off Chan Ho Park by Monday morning. Instead of relegating him to mop-up duty like his predecessor may have, Joe Girardi ran CHoP out there again last night in the 7th inning of a tied game, receiving more than acceptable results.

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa, AP

It’s clear that Park was better last night, and a large part of that has to do with pitch selection. The former starter broke out everything but the kitchen sink during his three innings of work, throwing two types of fastballs, two types of breaking balls, and a changeup for good measure. There’s no better way to use a pie chart than to graphically depict pitch selection, so let’s have a look…

(click for a larger view)

Again, small sample size comes into play, and we’re also at the mercy of PitchFX’s pitch classifications. There’s not much we can do about it, so we have to run with it.

On Sunday night, 13 of CHoP’s 21 pitches were fastballs, including the one Dustin Pedroia lifted over the Monstah for a two-run homer. Tack on six sliders, and more than 90% of the pitches he threw on Sunday were either fastballs or sliders. Jumping ahead to Sunday, and it’s clear from the pie chart that he used everything in his arsenal pretty evenly.

Marco Scutaro, the first batter Park faced, was retired on two breaking pitches, which was followed by Jacoby Ellsbury getting four fastballs and three offspeed pitches. Dustin Pedroia got two breaking balls and a fastball before making an out. In that first inning of work, CHoP threw just one four-seam fastball, but three two-seamers, three sliders, three curveballs, and a changeup. If you were standing in the box, you were playing a guessing game.

Park’s second inning of work was much of the same. He started Victor Martinez off with a curve, then threw a change, slider, and a two-seamer before putting him away with another curve. In a five pitch at-bat, Boston’s catcher saw four different kinds of pitches. Kevin Youkilis made a first pitch out on a four-seamer, and David Ortiz went down swinging on a curve, change, and slider. Through two innings of work, CHoP had thrown two four-seamers, four two-seamers, five sliders, six curves, and three changeups.

In his third inning of work, Park sat down Adrian Beltre on a slider and a four-seamer before J.D Drew singled on a two-seam fastball. Mike Cameron was due up next, and he was set down on the V-Mart Plan: four different pitches in a five pitch at-bat. Facing Scutaro for the second time, Park threw him a curve, a two-seamer, and two consecutive sliders to get him to line out to Brett Gardner.

CHoP started Drew off with two straight changeups, the first time he doubled up on a pitch all night. After mixing in a four-seamer, he threw another changeup, the only time he threw the same pitch three times to one hitter on Wednesday. The back-to-back sliders to Scutaro to end his night was the only other time Park doubled up on a pitch.

When a pitcher is throwing five different pitches, that means there’s a total of 25 different combinations of a two pitch sequence. Park used 17 of those 25 different sequences last night, and only one of them more than three times (see right). He had no pattern whatsoever, he gave the Red Sox nothing to pick up. By the third inning, you can usually tell if a guy likes to follow a fastball with a changeup or a slider or whatever, but not last night.  It was a clinic in keeping hitters off balance.

(Note that the chart only reflects sequences thrown to one batter. So it doesn’t include the last pitch of one at-bat and the first pitch of the next.)

The job Park did with mixing his pitches up was clearly the story of his outing last night, but it’s also worth nothing that he had a little more giddy up on his stuff as well. On Sunday, his four-seamer topped out at 92.8 mph, but last night it didn’t dip below 92.96. The slider also jumped from 85-88 to 88-89. CHoP was reportedly battling some kind of stomach bug earlier in the week, so maybe that came into play somehow on Sunday. Either way, being unpredictable and throwing hard is quite the combination.

Obviously, it was just one outing. Park’s not always going to be as good as he was last night, but he’s also not going to be as bad as he was Sunday. He’ll likely settle in somewhere in the middle, but if he keeps mixing his pitches like he did last night, especially in bursts of short relief, he’s going to one helluva weapon out that pen. It’s not always about pure stuff, keeping hitters off balance works just as well.