Hooray for mailbag day. Four questions, four topics, including one about contract extensions and two about the futures of two up-the-middle positions. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send your questions in.
Daniel asks: So I’ve heard on the RAB Radio Show that you guys aren’t huge fans of Jair Jurrjens, personally I have been. He has shown some serious signs of life … what would it take to acquire him, and would it be worth it?
I always try to find comparable pitchers when dealing with questions like this. We’ve got a 25-year-old right-hander with a career 3.41 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 6.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 45.5% ground ball rate, and two-and-a-half years of team control left (assuming a midseason trade). Jurrjens also has an injury history (including offseason knee surgery and shoulder tightness three years ago), so we can’t forget that. So who’s the comparable?
Matt Garza doesn’t fit, he had better numbers and a better track record of health, so go adjust down from there. Brandon Morrow isn’t a great match, neither is Scott Kazmir or Dan Haren. Edwin Jackson? That might work, when he went to the Tigers for Matt Joyce. Joe Blanton to the Phillies also works well, and he cost them one really good prospect (Adrian Cardenas), a decent big league ready pitching prospect (Josh Outman), and another throw-in prospect (Matt Spencer). Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena happened so long ago, but it’s still along the lines of Jackson-for-Joyce. You know what might work best? Tom Gorzelanny to the Nationals for three good prospects (A.J. Morris, Michael Burgess, and Graham Hicks).
The Blanton and Gorzelanny blueprints say three good (but not any of them great) prospects is enough, though one above-average, young big leaguer could get it done. Atlanta reportedly had interest in Eduardo Nunez, so maybe you built a package around him and one of the Triple-A arms (preferably D.J. Mitchell) is a good starting point. Fill in from there. I’m not a Jurrjens fan, but I’d almost certainly pull the trigger if that’s the cost.
Anonymous asks: People often mention Yankees as a team with great depth at catching prospects but do you think any of them can actually stick at catcher? Montero’s struggles at C has been chronicled extensively but KLaw reiterated in his chat last week that he doesn’t think Romine can stay at catcher. Sanchez supposedly has the tools to catch but is obviously struggling to field right now. J.R. Murphy‘s ability to handle catching is also doubtful from various scouting reports. So do you guys think any of them will catch in the big leagues? How would you rate each of their chances?
I don’t think Jesus Montero can catch long-term in the majors, but I think he could fake it for two or three years before he really fills out in his mid-20’s. Austin Romine is better, and Keith Law has always been the low man on his defense. Most other publications see him as average behind the dish, which is good enough. Gary Sanchez has been a defensive disaster early in his career (25 passed balls and 11 errors in 42 games behind the plate), and Murphy is spending more time in the outfield and at DH than at catcher. Those two have a long time to improve, but the early returns are not good.
Montero’s bat is so special that I’d make it work behind the plate for as long as possible, then figure things out once he’s completely unplayable. Romine almost certainly has the best chance to catch in the show when it comes to long-term staying power, though Kyle Higashioka is the best defender out of all of ’em. Too bad the kid can’t hit.
Paul asks: With the shift across the league towards locking up young players for the majority of their productive years, do you see the Yankees rethinking their strategy of not handing out extensions to their own guys? It seems with less premium players hitting free agency, this may be something to look at in the near future for the Yanks.
Yes and no. I don’t see any reason for the Yankees to take on that risk with pitchers since all we have to do is look at Chien-Ming Wang and Phil Hughes to see the potential downside. Position players are a different story since they’re generally safer bets to remain productive. They locked up Robinson Cano just as he entered his arbitration years and that contract (four years, $30M guaranteed) turned out to be a steal regardless of what happens from here on out. I don’t who would be a candidate for such a contract now, certainly not Brett Gardner or Frankie Cervelli. Maybe Montero if he comes up and kills it for two years or so. So yeah, they should at least consider such deals, but I don’t really blame them for not wanting to assume the risk when they can afford big arbitration raises.
Bill asks: What is the FA situation next year and the year after at SS? Jeter cannot be a realistic option for the next two years (hopefully) and after watch Nunez sail throw after throw against Detroit it’s safe to say he is out too.
After this season you have Jose Reyes, Yuniesky Betancourt (nope), Ronny Cedeno (also nope), and aging Jimmy Rollins (no way), and personal fave J.J. Hardy on the free agent market. The post-2012 class offers Erick Aybar and Stephen Drew, who are both legit options based on what we know right now. Jason Bartlett would be an okay stopgap at best. For better or worse, the Yankees are stuck with Jeter (or Eduardo Nunez) at short for the foreseeable future. Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez ain’t walking the door, sorry folks.
Remember back about three weeks ago, when the Yankees were winning games and A.J. Burnett was throwing his changeup rather frequently? It was glorious, wins rained down from the heavens like champagne and the changeups flocked to the plate like the salmon of Capistrano. Well, the Yankees have lost three games in a row coming into today and guess what? Burnett hasn’t been throwing his change as much since then.
The table to the right shows a few things, but most importantly the number (and percentage) of changeups that A.J. has thrown in each of his seven starts. After throwing 32 in his first three starts, he’s thrown a total of 14 changeups in four starts since. For all intents and purposes, he went back to using the pitch as little as he did last year (about 2.4%) after throwing it more than ten percent of the time early on. The effectiveness of the pitch has dropped; it’s had a negative run value in each of his last three times out, so maybe it’s just not working and a) the catcher isn’t calling it as much, b) Burnett isn’t comfortable throwing it at the moment, or c) a combination of a and b.
I looked at the number of left-handed batters in the other team’s starting lineup of each game just to see if that had something to do with it since the changeup is a pitch used to neutralize batters of the opposite hand. That didn’t bring any potential answers; aside from that April 7th game against the Twins, when they loaded the lineup with seven lefties/switch-hitters, Burnett has faced either three or four guys swinging from the other side of the plate in his other six starts. I don’t have an answer, I have no idea why the changeup has suddenly been put back on the shelf.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. A.J. had a 4.67 ERA and a 4.47 FIP in his first three starts but a 3.08 ERA with a 4.03 FIP in the four starts since. Super small sample size caveats apply, that goes without saying. We hear stories about guys trying to add a pitch all the time in March and April, and for a while it looked like Burnett was making a concerted effort to incorporate the changeup in his repertoire. Maybe he said the hell with it and went back to 98% fastballs and curveballs, maybe he’s just struggling with the pitch at the moment and isn’t comfortable using it in games, maybe it’s just a PitchFX classification problem. Whatever it is, it’s worth paying attention to as the season goes on.
Another day, another offensive struggle. On top of that, this game featured an injury to a semi-important player and two errors on plays a high school kid should make. The Yankees actually led Thursday’s game for five-plus innings, but the end result was the same as the previous two games. The Tigers came into the four-game series on a six-game losing streak, but they leave it on a three-game winning streak.
Eduardo Nunez has always had a strong throwing arm, so strong that there were some rumblings of moving him to the mound as he stumbled through the 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons. But a strong arm is only half the battle, maybe less. Nunez committed 167 errors in 636 minor league games (one every 3.8 games), and most of them were on throws because his arm is highly inaccurate. We saw that a little last year, and it was on full display this game.
The first error came in the bottom of the fourth inning, with the Yankees up by one. Brennan Boesch grounded to short, a completely routine and otherwise forgettable play, but Nunez threw the ball in the dirt and Mark Teixeira was unable to scoop it at first. Luckily that didn’t lead to a run, but the second error did. That one came with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning, with the Yankees down by one. Don Kelly slapped a ball to short, and although I wouldn’t call it routine, it wasn’t exactly the toughest play in the world. Nunez threw the ball high, over Tex’s head at first, and two runs came around to score on what should have been the third out.
We’re not asking for miracles here, those were two plays a Major League caliber shortstop needs to make. Nunez did go 2-for-4 and is now hitting .385/.429/.538 in limited playing time, but who cares? Those were his fourth and fifth errors in 22 defensive innings at shortstop. A backup infielder has to be able to catch and throw the ball without a problem, that’s the first item on the job description. I don’t break out the word “unacceptable” often, but I’m using it now: Nunez’s defensive play has been unacceptable for a utility infielder.
More Offensive Struggles
Ten hits, three walks, and heck, the Yankees even went 3-for-8 (.375) with runners in scoring position and plated all three runs with two outs, fun situational hitting type of stuff, but they still scored just three runs. It’s the third straight game they’ve scored three or fewer runs, and the seventh time in their last eleven contests.
Know how many times they got the leadoff man on base in this game? Twice. Robinson Cano singled to open the fifth but was erased on a Tex double play ball three pitches later. Alex Rodriguez then opened the ninth with a single and eventually came around to score. But that’s it, just two leadoff runners on. In fact, only thrice did the second runner of the inning reach base. Eight of their 13 baserunners came with two outs in the inning, when they’re least likely to come around to score. The offense is straight up sucking right now, and boy is it frustrating.
A.J. Deserves Better
The first inning as a little rocky, but A.J. Burnett undoubtedly gave his team a chance to win on Thursday. He allowed just two earned runs (three unearned) on three hits and a walk in seven innings, hitting another batter with a pitch (when he was trying to bunt, grumble grumble) and striking out five. Two of the unearned runs scored on Nunez’s second error, but the first came when Burnett threw the ball into foul territory on a pickoff play. The runner went from first to third and later scored on a sac fly. Such is life.
This is the second time in three starts that A.J. allowed three hits and two or fewer earned runs in seven or more innings of work, and yet he lost both games. Go figure. The Yankees’ pitchers have really turned it around of late, with the last three guys each going seven innings with four earned runs or less. Those are winnable games given this team’s bullpen and offense, but it’s just not clicking right now. Earlier in the year the offense was carrying a suspect pitching staff, now the pitching is carrying the offense. Too bad they aren’t winning games like they did last month.
Eric Chavez tripled in the Yankees’ first run of the day (a missed dive by Kelly helped), but he managed to break a bone in his foot between second and third. No timetable for his return has been announced, but it won’t be anytime soon. Ramiro Pena is expected to take his spot on the roster tomorrow. It’s been fun Chavy, but we all knew it wouldn’t last.
Brett Gardner continued to do good things by picking up two hits in five trips to the plate, and Cano snapped an 0-for-9 skid with two hits. Curtis Granderson singled and walked, and A-Rod went 2-for-2 with two runs scored after replacing Chavez. Russell Martin and Nick Swisher went hitless but walked once each. Tex and Jorge Posada were the two most unproductive batters on the day, combining for nine outs in eight plate appearances. It’ll click soon, right? Right?!
Lefty specialist Boone Logan‘s first three batters: homer by left Brennan Boesch, strikeout of righty (and the monster hitter) Miguel Cabrera, and a 3-0 count to lefty Alex Avila. He managed to allow just the one baserunner in his inning, but yeah, not how you draw it up. Boone’s been good for a few weeks now, so he gets a pass.
WPA Graph & Box Score
Time to get the hell outta Detroit. Too bad Texas is next; the Yankees open a three game series with the Rangers on Friday night when Ivan Nova faces lefty Matt Harrison.
Update: Trenton’s game is over, I added it to the post.
Triple-A Scranton (4-1 loss to Pawtucket)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 1 for 3, 1 BB
Chris Dickerson, CF & Gus Molina, DH: both 0 for 3 – Dickerson walked, whiffed, and got picked off first … Gus struck out all three times
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB – eight for his last 22 (.364) with three walks
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 E (fielding)
Justin Maxwell, LF: 0 for 4, 2 K – threw a runner out at the dish
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 3, 1 2B
Jordan Parraz, RF: 2 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (throwing)
Ramiro Pena, SS: 0 for 0 – he was pulled after the first inning, so that means he’s on his way to join the big league team
Luis Nunez, SS: 0 for 4, 1 K
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 4 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 3-2 GB/FB – 55 of 96 pitches were strikes (57.3%) … strikes Andrew, challenge them in the zone, you’ll win more often than not
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 3-0 GB/FB – 15 of 22 pitches were strikes (68.2%) … he was supposed to start Tuesday, the game that rained out, so they skipped his start … this was just one of those “stay sharp” outings
Luis Ayala, RHP: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3-1 GB/FB – 15 of 29 pitches were strikes (51.7%) … Buddy Carlyle better start watching back
Amaury Sanit, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 14 of 19 pitches were strikes (73.7%)
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0-2 GB/FB – 12 of 20 pitches were strikes, but the walk was intentional
You know what that is in the headline? That’s the number of runs the Yankees have scored in each of their last 11 games. That dates back to the first game of the White Sox series, and is an average of 3.64 runs per game. That’s terrible. The 2010 Mariners scored 3.17 runs per game, and they were the worst offensive team of the DH era. The Yankees are hitting .232/.322/.364 during that time, which is bad but not completely horrific. Part of the problem is that they’ve grounded into 13 double plays and stranded 70 runners on base (77.0% strand rate) during that time, ungodly rates. Bah, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. They suck right now.
So here’s your open thread for the night. MLB Network will carry a game (teams depend on where you live) and I’m sure there’s some NBA and NHL playoff action on somewhere. You all know what to do, so go nuts.
Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees apparently tried to trade utility man Kevin Russo late in Spring Training. That must have been after they decided on Eduardo Nunez and Eric Chavez as the reserve infielders with Ramiro Pena stashed in Triple-A. Given Chavez’s injury, they’re probably glad they held onto him/couldn’t find taker.
By no means is Russo great, but he’s versatile (can play three infield spots and left field) and has shown the ability to get on base in the minor leagues (.351 OBP). He is hitting just .227/.299/.299 in 24 games for Triple-A Scranton this year, but he’s a career .285/.358/.371 hitter at the level, which is where he’s spent the vast majority of the last three seasons. In a brief (54 plate appearance) cameo with the big league team last year, he hit .184/.245/.224 with one really big hit.