Montero homers as Soriano’s rehab likely comes to an end

In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees have signed fourth rounder Matt Duran for $335,000. Ivan Nova threw a simulated game tonight and all went well, so he’s on track to start one the games in this Saturday’s doubleheader. Tyler Austin hasn’t played in a while because of an injured hand, and he had an MRI today. No word on the results or what the actual injury is. Dan Brewer is close to coming back from his hamstring problem. Austin Romine was out of the lineup again tonight (second night in a row), but apparently he’s healthy and there’s “nothing brewin’“. Speculate at your own risk.

Triple-A Scranton (15-1 win over Syracuse)
Rafael Soriano, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – eight of his 11 pitches were strikes … he was at 94 mph last night and then 93 mph tonight, so he bounced back well … he’s heading back to New York tonight, and said he doesn’t care what his role is going forward … oh, and this was his first 1-2-3 inning since Opening Day
Kevin Russo, 3B: 4 for 6, 2 R, 2 RBI – 14 for his last 28 with four doubles
Greg Golson, CF: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 K, 1 HBP
Jesus Montero, C: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HBP – fourth homer in his last 14 games … this one went out to left-center field
Mike Lamb, DH: 3 for 4, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB – just his second homer since June 9th
Jordan Parraz, RF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Austin Krum, LF: 1 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
Luis Nunez, 2B: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB
Doug Bernier, SS: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 1 BB –
Adam Warren, RHP: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 2-6 GB/FB – just 29 of 61 pitches were strikes (47.5%), though he hit 93 mph at least once … he’s the backup plan in case Nova can’t go on Saturday, so this was a short start by design
George Kontos, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 14 of 21 pitches were strikes (66.7%)
J.C. Romero, LHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – ten pitches, seven strikes
Logan Kensing, RHP: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 23 of 37 pitches were strikes (62.2%)

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Game 100: Triple digits

(Photo Credit: Flickr user notladj via Creative Commons license)

It’s always a sad day when we get to game number 100. The season has been halfway over for three weeks now, but this seals it. There are just 62 games left in the season after tonight, and that seems like a small number. I’m not ready for the season to be over. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, DH
Russell Martin, C
Andruw Jones, RF
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Brett Gardner, LF

Freddy Garcia, SP

It’s been raining pretty much all day, but not a torrential downpour or anything like that. Just a constant rain. I have no idea if they’ll be able to play tonight, but the tarp is still on the field. Since the Mariners do not come back to town this year, you can bet they’re going to wait this out as long as possible. If the game is played, you can watch it on YES. Enjoy.

Update: First pitch is scheduled for 9pm ET, supposedly.

Nova will test ankle in simulated game tonight

Via Joel Sherman, Ivan Nova will test his injured right ankle in a simulated game tonight. If all goes well, he’ll start one of the games in Saturday’s doubleheader against the Orioles. If it doesn’t, then Adam Warren will get the call. Nova was hit by a comebacker in this first start with Triple-A Scranton earlier this month, but he felt some lingering pain in the joint last time out and was placed on the disabled list as a precaution. He’s had six days off since then, so it’s good to see him get back on the bump so soon.

Update: Donnie Collins hears that Nova’s simulated game went well and he is on track for Saturday’s doubleheader. Good news.

Trade Rumor Roundup: Ubaldo, Gio, Kuroda

The deadline is coming up rather quickly, so let’s round up the latest from Yankeeland…

  • Unless a big-time ace caliber starter hits the market, the Yankees have made it clear to other teams that they will not trade Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, and Austin Romine. (Joel Sherman)
  • The Yankees would, however, consider dealing Montero for Ubaldo Jimenez, but the Rockies want multiple top prospects for their ace. New York is also concerned about his inconsistency, arm action, and the NL-AL transition. Colorado is out of it (11 games back now), but they have little reason to move the young and cost-controlled Jimenez, who’s one of the better pitchers in baseball. (Joel Sherman)
  • Executives from other clubs believe the Yanks will end up trading for a left-handed reliever at some point this week. We heard about their interest in Craig Breslow over the weekend. (Jon Paul Morosi)
  • The Yankees would “pay big” to get Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics, but Oakland is still refusing to talk about the lefty. Gio threw 111 pitches while giving up six runs in 4.2 IP against the Yanks yesterday, but he has a 3.57 FIP on the season. He’s young (26 in Sept.), left-handed, throws hard, misses bats, and is cheap (still in his pre-arbitration years), but the walks and lack of success away from the Coliseum are scary. (Sherman).
  • The Yankees remain interested in Hiroki Kuroda but have not had any recent discussions with the Dodgers about his availability. The 36-year-old right-hander has a full no-trade clause (and wants compensation to waive it) and Rosenthal says he’s keeping his options open, but other reports indicate that he will not approve a trade to the east coast. Kuroda’s got a 3.76 FIP this season, which is actually his worst since coming to the U.S., but he’s pitched very well over the last two months and makes sense for New York. (Ken Rosenthal & Bob Klapisch)

Scouting The Trade Market: Edwin Jackson

The trade deadline is just six days away now, so if the Yankees are going to make a move for a starting pitcher, it’s going to happen soon. We’ve been highlighting potential trade candidates for weeks now and we’ll do another one this afternoon: Edwin Jackson of the White Sox. Chicago is 49-50 with a -2 run differential this year, but they’re still just 4.5 games back of the AL Central lead. They’ve won five of eight since the All-Star break but are just 9-9 in July, and they haven’t been within three games of the division lead since mid-April. A healthy John Danks gives them six starters and one very nice trade chip to dangle. It makes sense that it would be the impending free agent.

Jackson is no stranger to being dealt, having been traded four times overall and three times in the last two and a half years. He was part of the three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, going from the Tigers to the Diamondbacks before being traded to the ChiSox at the deadline last year. Does that mean the clubs that had him didn’t like him and got rid of him, or does it mean that so many other teams wanted him? Choose your own narrative and we break down the facts…

The Pros

  • It seems like Jackson’s been around forever, but he’s still just 27 (28 in September). His career is progressing like it should be; he’s getting better every year. His FIP (3.20 this season) has improved every season since he became a full-time starter in 2007. His xFIP (3.41) and K/BB ratio (2.49) have gotten better every year since 2008. Jackson owns career bests in walk (2.74 uIBB/9) and homer (0.59 HR/9) rates this year, and you can see that just about everything is trending in the righty direction at his year-by-year graphs page on FanGraphs.
  • Jackson has the kind of power stuff the Yankees typically covet. His fastball sits in the mid-90’s and has his entire career, and he’ll also use a high-80’s slider and a mid-80’s changeup. It’s worth noting that the ChiSox and pitching guru Don Cooper had Jackson incorporate a two-seamer and use more offspeed pitches after trading for him last year. From 2008 until the trade last August, he threw basically no two-seamers and just 22.9% sliders and 8.1% changeups. Since the trade, he’s up to 8.4% two-seamers, 37.4% sliders, and 11.4% changeups. It’s probably not an accident that he’s done his best pitching with Chicago.
  • Aside from a forearm strain way back in 2004, Jackson has never dealt with injury problems. He’s made at least 31 starts every year since 2007 and has thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last two years and 180 innings in each of the last three. He’s on pace to do it yet again this season. Jackson has spent the vast majority of his career in the AL and a good chunk of it in the AL East with the (Devil) Rays.
  • Jackson is a pure rental is his salary is miniscule: $8.35M for the season, so approximately $2.78M after July 31st. He projects to be a Type-B free agent (though just barely), and it would be an easy choice to offer arbitration given his relatively low base salary.

The Cons

  • Jackson is surrendering more line drives that ever, a career-high 23.5% of the time this season. That’s led to a .333 BABIP and 134 hits allowed in 121.2 IP. The number of hits allowed and his batting average against (.283) are both among the ten worse in the AL. His career BABIP is .309, so it’s not like there’s a huge regression coming.
  • Despite the high-end stuff, Jackson has never really excelled at missing bats. His 7.18 K/9 this season is barely above the league average (7.02) and down from 7.78 K/9 last year. His 8.9% swing and miss rate is above the league average (8.5%) but down from last year (10.4%) and the year before (9.8%).
  • Although he doesn’t really have much of a platoon split over his entire career, he does have one this year. It’s not huge but it exists, likely because of the increased emphasis of his slider, a pitch not normally used against batters of the opposite hand.
  • Jackson has pitched in the postseason but not really. Tampa left him off their ALDS roster in 2008 then used him for just three relief appearances and 4.1 IP in the ALCS and World Series combined. That’s the only time he’s played on a serious contender, though he was part of the 2009 Tigers that played in a Game 163 against the Twins.
  • Jackson is a Scott Boras client, so he will definitely test the market after the season. Acquiring him wouldn’t give a club the inside track to re-signing him this offseason based on Boras’ history. I’m sure he’ll be touting Jackson as the next Roy Halladay or something.

The Yankees had a scout in Cleveland yesterday, a game in which Jackson just so happened to be pitching. He gave up two runs in six innings but walked as many as he struck out (three). Chicago has also been keeping an eye on the Yankees’ farm system. There have been rumblings about a potential deal that would have Jackson going to the Cardinals as part of a package for Colby Rasmus, but who knows if that’s true. If it is, the Yankees have little chance of acquiring him because they won’t be able to top St. Louis’ offer. Well, they could, but it wouldn’t be the smartest thing they’ve done.

The ol’ trade value calculator values the remainder of Jackson’s season and Type-B free agent status at $11M or so, assuming he maintains his current performance level for 31 starts. Victor Wang’s research gives us an idea of what that would be in prospects, essentially a back-end of the top 100 guy or some combination of two Grade-B prospects. Austin Romine or David Phelps plus Corban Joseph? Gary Sanchez or Adam Warren plus J.R. Murphy? I’m just throwing names out there, the reality is that we have absolutely no idea what the White Sox would want in return. The calculator at least gives us a halfway decent estimation. Brian Cashman has fleeced Kenny Williams before, though I don’t think we can count on that happening again. Either way, Jackson seems like he’d been a rock solid pickup for the stretch run, a legitimate starter than you can count on to stay healthy and outperform the cache of back-end arms on the roster.

The Yankees unclutch hitting

It seems odd to read complaints about an offense that had scored the second most runs per game in baseball. Yet as the deadline approaches and the Yankees make plans to shore up their roster, there have been an increasing number of calls for the Yankees to add a bat. Some of that might be the temporary frustration of an A-Rod-less lineup, but it does extend a bit beyond that. Something feels off about this offense. They put plenty of men on base, for sure — their .342 team OBP ranks second in the AL and is 20 points better than league average. But it seems as though they hit a degree worse once those men are on base.

We can look to fairly standard stats to debunk that idea. With men in scoring position the Yankees are hitting .261, which ranks fifth in the AL. Even better, they’re slugging .439 in those situations (.178 ISO). The added power helps ensure that runs score. Even when you add in situations when they have a man on first, they’re right around the same area. That is, while they might not be a super team with runners in scoring position, they are in no way deficient. When you put that many men on base in the first place, you’re going to score plenty of runs by being just above average with men on base.

Still, there’s some context lacking from the runners in scoring position stats. For instance, on Friday night the Yankees hit extremely well with runners in scoring position. But there came a point where all those extra runs were superfluous. That is, they were putting up numbers with men on base, but not in what would be considered clutch situations. The leverage in those situations was low. Thankfully, we have some numbers we can examine to help us mete out the higher pressure situations.

At FanGraphs there are leader boards and splits for almost everything. One thing I started checking this weekend, when researching an article on the Reds for ESPN, is how teams are performing in high-leverage situations. As it turns out, the Yankees are pretty poor in this regard. They rank 10th in the AL in both batting average (.244) and wOBA (.301) in high pressure situations. The Rays and Red Sox, by comparison, are their superiors, with .338 and .335 wOBAs in those same situations. In fact, the AL East takes the top three spots; the Blue Jays rank third with a .330 wOBA when it counts the most.

We can take this notion of high-leverage performance a step further, still, when we include WPA-based stats. There are two in particular I’ve grown to enjoy on a team level: WPA/LI and Clutch. WPA/LI basically strips leverage out of a team’s performance and gives you a context-neutral rating of a team’s offensive output — that is, how they hit, period, regardless of a situation’s leverage. The Yankees here rank third with a 3.54 WPA/LI, though they trail the Red Sox and Rangers by a considerable amount. But they’re about an equal degree ahead of the No. 4 team, the Tigers, while nine of the 14 AL teams have negative scores.

(On an individual level, Curtis Granderson leads the way, while Jorge Posada has been the worst on the team.)

The Clutch stat is similar in nature, but instead of comparing a team’s production to its context-neutral state, it compares overall performance to performance in high level situations. Here’s where the Yankees are at their worst. Their -3.65 Clutch score is dead last in the AL. This is in part because they hit so well overall; the Red Sox and Rangers are the second and third worst teams in terms of clutch. But when combined with their poor overall performance in clutch situations, it helps illustrate why there is a perception that the Yankees have underperformed this year. They have scored plenty of runs, but they’ve failed when a hit would have made a huge difference.

(Russell Martin actually has the best Clutch score on the team, followed by, gulp, Francisco Cervelli. Mark Teixeira is the trailer at -1.41, and A-Rod is pretty bad at -1.19. Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Cano round out the bottom five.)

In a way, a similar issue afflicted the Yankees last year. In 2010 they had a -2.50 Clutch score, fourth worst in the AL, while their WPA/LI was second best. It’s a bit different this time, though, as Alex Rodriguez led the way in Clutch last year. That is to say that Clutch score is not skill-based. Players will often regress to the -1 to 1 range if given enough time — even Captain Clutch himself has a 0.78 career Clutch score. Obviously high leverage situations have different effects on different players, but they normally don’t perform out of line with normal expectations. The problem is that the season has particular start and end dates, giving only a finite time for adequate regression.

There is a chance still for the Yankees offense to perform like the juggernaut it is on paper. Their numbers in high leverage situations stink now, but it’s not as though the team collectively wilts under pressure. In some cases, such as Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira, it might be a matter of approach. With others it could be as simple as dumb luck. The perception that they need a bat is understandable, and at DH they certainly could use some help. But what they need more than anything is for their current lineup to hit in high-leverage situations as they’re capable of normally. If that aspect of the game falls into place, the Yankees will have little to worry about in the final two months.

Series Preview: Seattle Mariners

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

This one has trap series written all over it folks, and I’ll explain why in a second. The Yankees and Mariners have met once before this season, in Seattle back at the end of May. The Yankees lost two of three but had leads in all three games, they just couldn’t close things out.

What Have The Mariners Done Lately?

Losing. Lots and lots of losing. As in a franchise-record 15 losses in a row. Seriously. The Mariners haven’t won a game since July 5th, when they beat the Athletics 4-2. They’ve been outscored 87-40 during the losing streak, and eight of those 40 runs came yesterday. All told, the Mariners are 43-58 with a -50 run differential, the third worst record and run differential in the AL. It seems inevitable that they’ll end that ugly losing streak in the Bronx, if not win the series.

Mariners On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user hj_west via Creative Commons license)

Seattle scored just 513 runs last season, the worst run production in the DH era. They’re on pace for 533 this season, so I guess that’s improvement. For comparison’s sake, the Yankees have already scored 513 runs on the season. Think about that. The Mariners are hitting .226/.289/.334 with a .279 wOBA as a team, MLB worsts in everything but SLG. They’re one point ahead of the Padres in that department.

It all starts at the top, where Ichiro Suzuki is going through the same kind of painful-to-watch age-related decline as Derek Jeter. He went 2-for-5 yesterday and that raised his season line to .268/.315/.318. Brutal. Brendan Ryan was a pain the last two times these two clubs met, and he’s hitting .264/.324/.342 as the regular two-hitter. He did go 2-for-4 yesterday and is on a nice little .305/.362/.436 tear over the last 30 days though. Dustin Ackley was called up a little more than a month ago and has already emerged as the team’s best hitter. He’s up to .297/.347/.505 on the season following yesterday’s 2-for-5. Everything kinda goes downhill from there.

When these two clubs met in May, Justin Smoak was at .263/.365/.461 on the season and making the Mariners looking very smart for taking him over Jesus Montero last July. He’s hitting just .190/.278/.341 since then, and we’re talking about 205 plate appearances. That’s dragged Smoak’s season line down to .244/.319/.396. Miguel Olivo has been hitting cleanup with his .223/.260/.395 batting line, and both Adam Kennedy (.251/.297/.382) and Jack Cust (.214/.347/.332) are getting regular at-bats. Franklin Gutierrez catches everything hit in the air and between the lines, but he’s all the way down to .192/.230/.231. Mike Carp (.263/.344/.439 in limited action) is now the regular left fielder, but it’s just 64 PA. That’s their regular lineup, though Chone Figgins (.182/.236/.240), Greg Halman (.256/.284/.385), Jack Wilson (.229/.259/.252), and Josh Bard (.222/.243/.417) almost might make appearances. It’s an ugly offense, as ugly as it gets.

Mariners On The Mound

Monday, LHP Jason Vargas (vs. Freddy Garcia): The Yankees tagged Vargas for six runs in three innings back in May, and he’s coming off back-to-back five-run outings. His 3.94 ERA lines right up with his 3.96 FIP, and his peripheral stats aren’t anything to write home about: 5.80 K/9, 2.35 uIBB/9, and 37.3% grounders. Vargas throws four pitches regularly but will mix in two others; his high-80’s four and two-seamers set up his low-80’s changeup, and he’ll also throw some mid-80’s cutters. Every once in a while you’ll see a curveball or slider. He doesn’t have much of a platoon split because of the changeup, but Vargas is a fly ball pitcher that doesn’t miss bats. Handedness shouldn’t matter much.

Tuesday, RHP Doug Fister (vs. CC Sabathia): The Yankees drafted Fister once upon a time, back in the sixth round of 2005. He didn’t sign and went back to Fresno State for another year, then the Mariners grabbed him in the seventh round of the 2006 draft. Fister has developed into a very nice starting pitcher in his second full-season, backing up his 3.30 ERA with a 3.19 FIP. His strikeout rate sucks (5.44 K/9), but he’s even stingier with the walks than Vargas (1.88 uIBB/9) and does a much better job of keeping the ball on the ground (45.5%). He gets good downhill plane from his 6-foot-8 frame and pounds the zone with his high-80’s four and two-seamers. A mid-70’s curveball and a mid-80s slider are his go-to secondary offerings, but we’ll also see a low-80’s change on occasion. The Yankees have not faced Fister this season or last, so the only experience they have against him is a pair of starts in 2009 (7 IP, 3 R and 4 IP, 6 R).

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Mark Sobba via Creative Commons license)

Wednesday, RHP Felix Hernandez (vs. Phil Hughes): Long live the king. Felix won the Cy Young Award with a 3.04 FIP and a 3.14 xFIP last season, and this year he’s at 3.11 and 3.11, respectively. Don’t be fooled by the 3.47 ERA, blame that on a low (for him) 72.0% strand rate. It had been north of 76% in the past. His .299 BABIP is also his highest in three years. Hernandez’s peripherals are still as good as it gets (8.43 K/9, 2.73 uIBB/9, 48.9% grounders), and his stuff is world class: mid-90’s with both the four and two-seamers, a high-80’s changeup, a mid-80’s slider, and a low-80’s curve. There are few better than Felix, who has made a habit of wrecking the Yankees in recent years. Yeah, they got to him for four runs in seven innings earlier this year, but that was a minor miracle. When it comes to pitchers of this caliber, history doesn’t matter.

Bullpen: The Red Sox did the Yankees a favor by taxing Seattle’s bullpen yesterday, forcing four relievers to throw 72 pitches across 3.2 IP. One of those four relievers was lefty Aaron Laffey (4.65 FIP), who recorded zero outs but gave up four hits and three runs on a dozen pitches. He also threw 18 pitches on Saturday, so he might not be an option tonight. He’s their only lefty in the ‘pen.

Closer Brandon League (2.69 FIP) threw 18 pitches, but he was just getting work in the blowout. Sometimes setup guy Jamey Wright (4.76 FIP) threw 28 pitches, and garbage time reliever Josh Lueke (4.54 FIP in limiting time) threw 14 pitches. David Pauley (3.36) is the Mariners’ relief ace, and you’ve also got some guy named Jeff Gray (3.42 FIP) and Yankees’ punching bag Chris Ray (3.54 FIP). They typically get the job done, though most of these guys are no names.

Recommended Mariners Reading: U.S.S. Mariner and Lookout Landing. Remember that RAB Tickets can get you to any of the three games for cheap.