Is it the pitcher, or is it the opposing offense?

The Phillies, as we’ve frequently heard, have had trouble scoring runs lately. After they beat Boston on May 21 they led the NL in runs per game, and given what we know about their offensive players that should have come as no surprise. Since then, in a 22-game span, they’ve dropped a full run per game to ninth in the NL, a half run per game behind league-leading Cincinnati. Yet last night they broke out for six runs on six hits, three of which went for extra bases. Were they breaking out of a slump?

As Ben noted this morning, “Last night’s affair was one of those ugly outings where the pitcher shoulders all the blame.” Given how the game unfolded after he left, I have to agree with that. The Phillies reverted to the futility we’ve seen, or at least heard of, during the past few weeks. Worse, they did it against two of the Yankees’ worst pitchers.

Photo credit: Paul Sancya/AP

It’s not secret — not to Yankees fans, not to anyone who follows baseball with a modicum of intensity — that Boone Logan and Chad Gaudin rank among the lesser relievers in the league. If not for injuries they probably wouldn’t have major league jobs right now. But they were easy options, and since the Yankees have two relievers on the DL their presences are understandable. Temporarily, at least.

Their troubles are well known. Gaudin walks too many hitters and has a tough time with lefties. In an ideal world he’d come in from the pen to face a string of righties, but there’s always that lefty on the bench that can trip him up. This leads to a high number of hits, particularly extra base hits. Logan walks even more batters than Gaudin, and even has troubles throwing strikes to same-handed hitters. The only reason he ever sniffs the majors is because he throws the ball with his left arm.

Yet those two combined to not only hold the Phillies scoreless during the final 5.2 innings last night, but to no-hit them. While Burnett used 87 pitches to record 10 outs, Logan and Gaudin combined for 78 pitches to get the final 17 outs. They threw two-thirds of their pitches for strikes. They each struck out three hitters, Logan in 2.2 innings and Gaudin in 3. It was quite the change from what we saw earlier in the game.

Could it have been the Phillies offense getting complacent after scoring six runs? It could be, I suppose, but I’d never turn to this as a primary explanation for their late-inning futility. They know that a four-run lead isn’t safe with the Yankees’ offense — hell, they brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth, and it wasn’t all that surprising. So I’m sure they didn’t just turn off some switch and slide into cruise control. Maybe it was something subconscious, a sense of satisfaction that they had scored six runs after battling and struggling to score just one during many games in the past few weeks. None of us can really say for sure.

The most likely explanation is that Burnett was just bad. We know that he has terrible outings from time to time, just like we know that Guadin and Logan are bad pitchers. We also know that the Phillies offense has struggled during the past few weeks. When those elements combine in my head, it points to Bad A.J. and not much else. We’ll have to learn to live with these starts. At least it bodes well for today.

When A.J. goes bad

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

A.J. Burnett was so bad last night, he made a punchless offense look like the superstar sluggers they were supposed to be. The Phillies, a team that had scored six runs just twice since doing so on May 15, lit him up like Times Square. After 3.1 painful innings in which he threw first-pitch strikes to just 10 of the 21 batters he faced, Joe Girardi mercifully yanked him from what would be a 6-3 loss.

Last night’s affair was one of those ugly outings where the pitcher shoulders all the blame. Burnett threw 87 mostly bad pitches en route to a six-hit, four-walk appearance. He was responsible for all six runs the Phillies scored and struck out three hitters. Shockingly, Phillies’ batters swung and missed just five times against Burnett. He had nothing.

Unfortunately for the Yanks, having nothing has become a common theme for A.J. After starting the season 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA over his first six starts, the wheels have utterly fallen off. Over his last eight appearances, Burnett is 2-5 with a 6.36 ERA in just 43.2 innings. Opponents have knocked out nine home runs over those starts, and his K/BB ratio is an ugly 35/22. He’s not giving the Yanks quality starts or innings right now.

For the team adjusting to the second of five years of the A.J. Burnett Era, this wildly inconsistent performance is nothing new. The Bad A.J./Good A.J. meme didn’t arise out of thin air, and the Yankees and their fans know that Burnett is only as good as the movement on his pitches. He’s a high-walk, high-strikeout pitcher with little command within the strike zone of his pitches, but his stuff can be so devastating and overpowering that the lack of command often doesn’t matter. And to think the Yanks only have three years and $49.5 million left on this contract after 2010.

That’s the real rub. The Yankees will have to live with A.J. Burnett and his amazing disappearing act through his ages 34, 35 and 36 seasons, and Baseball Reference’s Juan Guzman and Pete Harnisch comparables don’t inspire much confidence. Neither pitcher were still in the bigs come their age 35 seasons.

But does this inconsistency coupled with the inevitable decline of age make Burnett’s deal a bad one? So far, it’s tough to complain about it. He arrived with high expectations last year, and by and large, delivered on his salary. While earning $16.5 million, Burnett was, according to Fangraphs’ WAR, a $14 million hurler. Considering the Yanks had to outbid the Atlanta Braves for his services and won a World Series in his first year in pinstripes, I’d say the team is happy to pay a $2.5 million premium.

Going forward, though, Burnett’s 2010 experiences feature a few warning signs. As the Phillies demonstrated last night, Burnett isn’t getting many swing-and-miss strikes. In fact, this year, his Swinging Strike percentage is down to 7.2 percent. Prior to joining the Yanks, Burnett was generally above 10 percent (and well above league average) in that category, but since coming to the Bronx, his swings-and-misses have dissipated. More balls in play inevitably lead to more hits.

In a similar vein, Burnett’s strike outs have declined precipitously as well. In his peak years in 2007 and 2008, Burnett averaged nearly 9.5 K/9 IP. Last year, that figure declined to 8.48, and this year, he has around 6.7 strike outs per nine innings. We want to see that number stay steady.

It’s still too early in the year to draw many conclusions, and Burnett’s dip in numbers as well as a one-mph drop in velocity, could just be related to early season pitching woes. Nothing reminds us of Dr. AJ and Mr. Burnett quite like an eight-game, 2.50-ERA span, and he could start one of those next week against the Diamondbacks. But last night, Burnett didn’t have it, and if that’s what his aging future in pinstripes is going to look like, that deal he signed might just be for one year too many.

Yanks can’t figure out Moyer, fall 6-3

With their heads held high after topping arch-nemesis Roy Halladay on Tuesday night, the Yankees showed up to the park on Wednesday with another reason to feel good about themselves: cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez would be back in the lineup. Turns out that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig could have been in the lineup for all Jamie Moyer cared, he was that damn good. Thankfully Tampa Bay fell to Atlanta, so the Yanks are still tied atop the AL East with the game’s best run differential.

Victorino Pulls A Gardner

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

The key to the Yanks drubbing of Halladay on Tuesday night was a Brett Gardner bases loaded triple that split the outfielders and rolled to the right-centerfield wall, pushing three runs across and giving the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish. That seemed like a pretty good blueprint for victory, so the Phillies’ speedy outfielder went ahead and did the same thing in this game.

We’ll talk more about A.J. Burnett in a bit, but all you need to know right now is that he loaded the bases with one out in the 2nd inning by walking Raul Ibanez (on five pitches), allowing Greg Dobbs to single to right (scoring Ibanez), walking Brian Schneider (four pitches!!!), and taking a Wilson Valdez shot up the middle off his feet for a single. The Phightin’s had the bases loaded with one out, so Burnett did the smart thing and ran the count full to Shane Victorino.

Victorino had been hitless since last Thursday, but he didn’t a miss a sinker left letters high and out over the plate, rocketing it into the same right-centerfield spot as Gardner the night before. The bases cleared, the Flyin’ Hawaiian was standing on third, and the Yankees were down four runs before they even sent four men to the plate.

Jamie Moyer, Yankee Killer

Untouchable. (Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP)

Following arguably the worst start of his career, 47-year-old Jamie Moyer took to the mound on Wednesday and did the exact opposite of what we all expected him to do: he dominated the Yankees. The only blemishes in his eight stellar innings of work were solo homers by Robbie Cano and Jorge Posada, but otherwise the Yankees didn’t put him in the stretch until the 7th inning, when A-Rod drew a one out walk. That baserunner was quickly erased with a 5-4-3 double play. It was one of those kinds of nights.

Moyer’s slow, slower, slowest approach simply befuddled the Yanks, who didn’t really hit anything hard beyond the homers. He got just two swings and misses out of his 107 pitches, and became the oldest pitcher to ever beat the Yankees. Not exactly how we drew it up.

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

Game Five A.J.

With a chance to clinch the World Series last November, the Yanks sent Burnett to the mound in Game Five against the Phillies, and he promptly made a mess in the bed, to be candid. In that game he allowed six runs and eight baserunners in just two innings of work, which really isn’t much better than the six runs and 11 baserunners he allowed in 3.1 IP on Wednesday. Beyond the Victorino triple, Burnett also allowed back-to-back solo homers to Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth, the first time all year the Phillies turned that trick despite their … ahem … American League lineup.

Burnett simply didn’t give the Yankees a chance to win in this one, needing 87 pitches to record ten outs. Nothing quite boils the blood like a Bad A.J. start.

Logan & Gaudin … Really?

Yeah, I can't figure it out either, Swish. (Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP)

One good thing came out of Burnett’s horrific and short outing … well, I think it’s a good thing. If nothing else, it was fun to watch. Anyway, Boone Logan and Chad Gaudin, the two lowest members of the Yanks’ bullpen totem pole absolutely dominated the Phils for close to six innings tonight. I know, who saw that coming?

Logan faced nine batters, and got seven of them to either strikeout or ground out. Gaudin replaced him and sat down all nine men he faced without incident. It was Yeoman’s work out of the bullpen (/The Show‘d), with Logan and Gaudin keeping the Yanks in the game when Burnett couldn’t. Without them, the tying run doesn’t come to the plate in the bottom of the 9th.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Boy, that little rally off Brad Lidge wasn’t as big as we thought, eh? MLB.com has the box score, FanGraphs all the other stuff.


Up Next

Rubber match is set for tomorrow evening at 7:05pm, and just like last November Andy Pettitte will get the ball to try and pick up the series win Burnett couldn’t. He’ll be opposed by Kyle Kendrick, who has turned all non-pitchers he’s faced into the 2009 version of Hideki Matsui due to a .289-.341-.510 batting line against. That has to be a trap, no?

Heathcott & Murphy lead Charleston’s offensive explosion

Kevin Goldstein on Dellin Betances (sub. req’d): “Whatever magic the Yankee coaching staff has pulled with Andrew Brackman of late, it seems to have work off on Betances as well, as he’s throwing strikes and dominating, allowing five hits in 12 innings while striking out 13 and, most surprising, walking just one while consistently getting into the mid-90s with his fastball.”

Love the mid-90’s part.

Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off day.

Double-A Trenton (8-4 loss to Altoona)
Justin Christian, LF: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 SB
Austin Krum, CF, Marcos Vechionacci, 1B & Luis Nunez, SS: all 1 for 4 – Krum doubled & scored a run … Vech doubled, drove in a run & K’ed … Nunez got caught stealing
Austin Romine, C & Brandon Laird, 3B: both 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 E – Romine K’ed twice, Laird once … Romine made a throwing error, Laird a fielding error
Dan Brewer, RF: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB, 1 E (fielding) – five for his last ten
Wilkin DeLaRosa: 4 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3-8 GB/FB – meh
Cory Arbiso: 2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 3-1 GB/FB
Josh Schmidt: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1-0 GB/FB
Wilkin Arias: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1-1 GB/FB – stranded two of three inherited runners
Kevin Whelan: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 1 K – holy crap moly … strikes, boy
Grant Duff: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1-1 GB/FB

[Read more…]

Game 65: He could be my grandfather

"Back in my day we had to pitch the ball uphill, both ways. And we didn't have arms back then, we had stumps." (Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP)

I’m kind of bummed out that the Phillies flip-flopped Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer in their rotation; I was hoping to see an old man matchup of Moyer and Andy Pettitte tomorrow. Instead, he’ll go tonight against A.J. Burnett, two pitchers that couldn’t be any further away from each other on the pitching spectrum. Moyer got demolished last time out by the Red Sox, and I’m hopefully the Yankees will do the same. I’m pretty sure the AL East is no place for a senior citizen.

On to the other good news: Alex Rodriguez is back! Well, kind of. He’ll be the designated hitter tonight because his lateral movement isn’t all the way back, but getting your cleanup hitter back is always a good thing. Jorge Posada resumes his regular catching duties. Here’s the rest of the lineup…

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

And on the mound, Allen Burnett.

The skies look threatening, but there appears to be enough of a window to get this sucker in. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Baseball America’s decade of draft grades

We all love draft grades, so Jim Callis of Baseball America went nuts and graded out each team’s draft from 2000-2009 (sub. req’d). He has the Red Sox coming up with the highest GPA at 3.40, with the Diamondbacks not too far back at 3.20. Boston’s four grade A’s and a B+ from 2001-2005 will do that. The Yankees came in 26th overall, ahead of the Mets, White Sox, Astros, and Mariners. They received four straight D’s from 2000-2003 since Phil Coke is pretty much the only thing they have to show for those efforts. Phil Hughes alone earned them a B in 2004, and the epiphany draft of 2006 was an A. Everything else was a C or C+, and their overall GPA is 1.95. I think they put you on academic probation for that.

The similarities of Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson

For some reason I’ve detected a bit of fan angst towards Curtis Granderson. It’s not widespread or particularly vicious, but I’m actually a bit stunned that it exists at all. It seems like at least once a game I mention to Mike, or he mentions to me, how awesome Granderson has been. Yet he still has detractors. They all seem to spout the same lines about him, too. He can’t hit lefties and is a platoon player. He has bad instincts in the outfield. He strikes out too much. It has seemed to me that these claims are quite overblown when contrasted with the things that Granderson does bring to the table.

The more I thought about it, the more my mind kept going to the parallels between Granderson and another outfield trade acquisition, Nick Swisher. They were acquired in different manners: Swisher a buy-low guy without a clear role, Granderson a costly acquisition who was immediately installed as the starting center fielder. After that, though, the storylines seem to line up pretty well. Considering the shifting fan perception towards Swisher, I think we’ll eventually see the same for Granderson. Unfortunately, we might be looking at a similar timeline, which is to say a little over a full season.

Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

In 2007 it looked like Nick Swisher was just hitting his stride. He had posted his second straight solid season, in which he bumped up his OBP 10 points over the previous season. The A’s, however, stood little chance to contend in 2008 and decided to cash in their Swisher chip, sending him to the White Sox for Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney. Swisher responded to his new environment by posting what was by far the worst season of his career. It was enough for both manager Ozzie Guillen and general manager Ken Williams to sour on him. When they called around for trades that winter Brian Cashman pounced.

Swisher responded by posting the best year of his career. His 29 home runs didn’t match his 35 from 2006, but he compensated with a flurry of doubles, which resulted in the best power season of his career. Combined with a .371 OBP it made for a .375 wOBA, better than his previous high, .368. Still, fans didn’t love Swish. He made a few bonehead plays in the field and on the basepaths that stuck in everyone’s craw, and that led to negative evaluations despite wildly positive results. It took an incredibly hot start this season for him to disprove the naysayers. It makes sense. After all, a .300 batting average can win over plenty of old school critics.

In the same manner, the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson after a down year. It wasn’t quite his worst — his 2006 was a degree below his 2009. But it was certainly a letdown after his 2007 and 2008 seasons. Many fans looked at his 2009 season as representative of what he was as a player. He can’t hit lefties. He strikes out a ton. He hits for power, but that’s about it. An early season slump and a three-week DL stint didn’t help that impression.

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

Yet, as I mentioned in last night’s recap, Granderson has been quite excellent since coming off the DL. His early season slump set him back heavily — he was hitting .225/.311/.375 when he pulled up lame rounding second on May 1 — but as we’ve seen every single year of baseball’s existence, anything can happen in 91 PA. In fact, it happened to Swisher in 2009. In 92 PA from May 1 to May 27 he hit .127/.297/.225, quite a bit worse than Granderson’s initial cold streak. And, as mentioned above, Swisher recovered and ended with a career year.

Come to think of it, other than the platoon split the complaints about Granderson also pretty much mirror the complaints about Swisher. Both have a reputation for striking out, and while most objective measures both played good defense they had a reputation, at least in the eyes of Yankees fans, for playing sloppily in the field. All of this ignores the positives they bring to the game. I have had no problem with the defense from either, bonehead plays aside, and while strikeouts might be emotionally distressing and aesthetically ugly, they aren’t really that worse than other forms of outs. They’re just things that people tend to complain about.

Yet on the positive side, both possess power, and both are adept at getting on base. If a player can do both of those, he’ll have a spot on any team. And, as Swisher has shown, prime-aged hitters can indeed learn new tricks. Granderson has been just fine for the Yanks. If he transitions like Swisher he could get even better as the summer rolls along. And that’s not even getting into what next year could mean for him.