A tale of two Phils

In the span of two batters on Sunday afternoon, Phil Hughes’ start against the punchless Astros went from great to mediocre. Tommy Manzella singled just past the reach of Derek Jeter to drive in two runs; former Yankee Kevin Cash homered for just the second time this year to plate another pair; and instead of a six-inning, one-run performance, Hughes found himself tagged for five earned runs in 5.2 innings against the NL’s worst offense.

For Hughes, the last two batters served as something of a microcosm for his recent performances. He had Manzella at 2-2 but then had to throw five more pitches — four fouls and a called ball — before the weak-hitting Astros’ short stop came through. During the AB, the pitches weren’t bad, but Hughes couldn’t locate his out-pitch. Manzella battled against the fastball and fouled off a curve. The home run by Cash, on the other hand, was off an 88-mph cutter that had too much of the plate.

With the book closed on yesterday’s outing, Hughes stands at an impressive 9-1 with a 3.11 ERA, a 3.69 xFIP, a K/9 of 8.84 and a BB/9 of 2.63. Every single one of those numbers is better than Hughes’ career averages, and as a 23-year-old, he’s showing us why he’s constantly been regarded as one of the game’s top young pitchers. But complacency can come at a price, and Hughes needs to be a few adjustments. Let’s break it down.

Over his first six starts of the season, Hughes went 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA. With a one-hit, 7.1-inning performance weighing heavily on the numbers, opponents hit .165/.243/.203 vs. Hughes as the righty struck out 39 hitters in 39 innings and walked 14. Tellingly, he gave up just one long ball. Over his next six starts, Hughes went 4-1 but with a 4.95 ERA. His strike out and walk rates — 35 K and 8 BB in 36.1 innings — are where they should be, but he has allowed four home runs over this span. Opponents have hit .277/.312/.419 against Hughes.

So what’s going on here? First, we have to address the variances in Hughes’ BABIP. As the second chart on this page shows, Hughes has seen his individual game BABIP trend constantly upward. At the same time, opponents have been hitting more fly balls and fewer ground balls off Hughes than they were at the start of the season. As such, a few more of those balls have left the park, and the ERA has ticked upward.

But BABIP and its cousin, while convenient scapegoats, aren’t the only culprits. Hughes has been getting hit because teams have been picking up his pitch selections. He’s had trouble throwing the curveball for strikes — only seven of the 18 he threw Sunday were strikes and all were called. He threw 22 cutters and no change-ups, by now a routine performance for Phil. By the time Cash teed off on a cutter, the Astros had gotten a good, long look at Hughes’ weaker pitch.

As the season has gone, Hughes has been a revelation. His peripherals are fantastic; his fastball electric; his curveball devastating. He’s pitching himself toward a spot on the All Star Game and justifying the Yanks’ faith in him over the last few years. But he’s still a work in progress. He still needs a change-up he can use as an out-pitch when hitters aren’t missing the fastball. He still needs to improve his pitch selection.

If the Yanks keep the rotation as is, he’ll face the Mets — a team against which he struggled in May — this weekend, and that could be a test for Hughes, making his last starts before he turns 24. But at that age and under the Bronx glare, every start is a test.

Jesus! Brackman & Heathcott!

The Yanks have signed St. Louis University righty Bryant Cotton as an undrafted free agent. It’s just a lower level depth move, guy to eat up innings. Meanwhile, Robert Pimpsner posted an updated projection of Short Season Staten Island’s roster, with the official one set to be released Friday.

Triple-A Scranton (8-6 win over Indianapolis)
Reid Gorecki, RF & Juan Miranda, 1B: both 1 for 5, 1 R – Gorecki tripled & K’ed … Miranda doubled & K’ed thrice
Colin Curtis, LF: 4 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K – had four hits in his previous 31 at-bats (.129)
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 3 for 5, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 1 SB – that’s a helluva game right there … he got taken out hard on a clean slide at second while turning a double play, but he walked it off
Jorge Vazquez, 3B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K – not surprised he went deep, he hit some bombs in batting practice
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K – eight for his last 15 (.533) with four doubles … appeared to hurt his knee blocking a ball in the dirt, but he stayed in the game & even made a nice defensive play
David Winfree, DH: 0 for 4, 3 K – couldn’t join the party
Reegie Corona, 2BL 2 for 4, 2B – also made some kind of great defensive play, which has become his niche
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K
Romulo Sanchez: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 4-6 GB/FB – 58 of 91 pitches were strikes (63.7%)
Royce Ring: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0-1 GB/FB – six of his ten pitches were strikes … gave up a homer to a lefty batter
Zack Segovia: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 17 of his 24 pitches were strikes (70.8%)
Mark Melancon: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 3-2 GB/FB – 14 of 24 pitches were strikes (58.3%) … getting better, but still not back to his usual self

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Ready for a rematch

Sad Phillies are sad. (Photo Credit: Eric Gay, AP)

The Phillies return to the Bronx tomorrow for the first time since getting beat in the 2009 World Series by our beloved Bombers, but this current version of the Phightin’s is in quite the rut. They’re just 6-14 in their last 20 games, and have been outscored 98-48. As a team, they’re hitting just .221-.291-.309 during that stretch, and they were shut out six times. Suddenly all that talk about the Phils’ having an American League offense seems rather comical.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Mariners and Cardinals (Luke French vs. Adam Wainwright) are on ESPN, and I’m sure there’s some World Cup stuff going on somewhere. Whatever you choose, talk about it here.

Pinstripe Alley interviews Austin Romine

Travis G. at Pinstripe Alley recently sat down with Yankees’ prospect Austin Romine (part one, part two) for a quick and informative interview. They discussed a whole bunch of stuff, including the generic questions about what a typical day is like, what he does in the offseason, stuff like that, but I most enjoyed the questions about how he’s changed his approached his plate this year, and what he has to work on defensively. It’s a great a relatively quick lead despite being a two-parter, and I highly recommend it.

RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Had some scheduling conflicts last week, but my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 5:30pm 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.

2010 Draft: Sickels analyzes the Yanks’ haul

John Sickels at Minor League Ball reviewed the Yankees’ 2010 draft haul today, saying that everything looks good except for the Cito Culver pick, which he describes as an oddity. “Many Yankee fans are upset by this pick,” he says of Culver, “but I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude at this point … I’ve been doing this kind of work long enough to know that the ‘sure’ picks often don’t work out and the weird ones sometimes do.” That’s what the draft is all about, waiting and seeing.

Aside from Culver, Sickels’ lauded the Angelo Gumbs (2nd round), Rob Segedin (3rd), and Gabe Encinas (6th) selections, though he’s not to fond of Tommy Kahnle (5th). Check it out, it’s a short and quick read that gives you a good overview of the top of the Yanks’ draft.

Bold prediction: Jeter will finish 2010 as AL’s top shortstop

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

I’m not sure when it happened. Looking at the game logs it was probably around May 9, when his average dropped below .300 for the first time this season. In any case, there has been some — concern might be a light word, but I’ll use it — over Derek Jeter‘s struggles. He started off the season strong despite his refusal to work a count, but things started to turn south in May. Particularly around that May 9 data, the start of a four-game hitless streak, Jeter looked particularly weak. His average dropped from .330 at the start of May all the way to .266 on May 19. Was Jeter washed up?

Clearly he was not. His bat didn’t appear any slower. He just wasn’t making the kind of contact we’ve grown used to in the past 15 years. A few folks pointed to his low walk rate as an indicator, but I don’t think that’s particularly troubling. Clearly Jeter was comfortable jumping on first pitch fastballs, and while it hurt him for a while it appears he’s adapted. And that bad stretch turned out to be just that. Jeter made a complete recovery and is currently hitting very well. Just as we should have expected.

As it currently stands Jeter is hitting .293/.345/.440, a .347 wOBA. That puts him second in the AL among shortstops. The only player ahead of him is Toronto’s Alex Gonzalez. Despite a paltry .303 OBP, Gonzalez has hit for plenty of power this season, a .248 ISO. Considering how far out of line that is with his career numbers I suspect that it will continue to drop as the summer wears on. That opens up the top spot for Jeter. I will boldly predict that he ends the season as the AL’s leader in shortstop wOBA.

Really, though, there aren’t many, if any, strong alternatives. Only six AL shortstops currently sport a wOBA over .300, and one of them is Yuniesky Betancourt, who isn’t a serious contender by any stretch. It will ultimately come down to Gonzalez (if his power remotely holds up), Marco Scutaro, and Elvis Andrus. Even then, I think that if Jeter stays healthy and on track it will be a two-way battle between him and Andrus. Even then, I’d give Jeter the advantage. Andrus looked like the toast of the town in mid-May, when he was hitting .331/.431/.382, but since then he’s come back down to earth. He’ll still be good, but I think that Jeter has the clear advantage, at least on offense.

Even on defense Jeter ranks right around Andrus. While the latter mopped the floor with the AL competition last year he’s been a bit more human this year with seven defensive runs saved and a 2.2 UZR (6.1 per 150). Jeter has been a bit far behind in DRS, saving four runs this season, but has a UZR equal to Andrus, though his per-150 mark is just a tick behind. If Jeter keeps up his hitting and continues playing defense like this we should see him, for the second straight season, be the AL’s most valuable shortstop.

Not that this should come as much of a surprise. It is Derek Jeter, after all.