Game 25: Frankie’s Back

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Gus era ended too soon, at least for me. But I guess if you’re taking away a Gus, you could do worse than bringing in a Frankie. Mr. Cervelli gets his first start of the season today after missing the first four or five weeks with a broken foot. Oh yes, there will be fist pumps. Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Brett Gardner, LF
Frankie Cervelli, C

Ivan Nova, SP

The game starts a little after 1pm ET and can be see on YES locally or TBS nationally. Enjoy the game.

Programming Note: There will be a feature on 2009 first rounder Slade Heathcott during the pregame show, so check it out. He’s killing the ball for Low-A Charleston right now (.370/.453/.630).

Curry: Millwood expected to opt out

Kevin Millwood will likely not be joining the Yankees, the YES Network’s own Jack Curry reported via Twitter. Millwood, who signed a Minor League deal toward the end of Spring Training with a May 1 opt-out date, did not impress the club in three outings down on the farm. In his most recent appearance, he lasted just two innings, giving up six earned runs on seven hits, and the club was not impressed with his stuff or velocity. If he can find another job with a Major League team, power to him, but the Yanks are, for now, satisfied with their pitching depth. Few will shed tears over this development.

Update: Buster Olney confirms it, Millwood has opted out. It’s been real, Kevin.

Jorge’s rough start

Believe it or not, the Yankees have already played over 14% of their 2011 schedule. It feels like the season just started. Despite that feeling, we’re quickly getting to the point where data and statistics can start to prove enlightening. Caution is required, though, as we’re still dealing with small sample sizes. We do know that all small sample sizes are not created equally. Some samples become statistically relevant very quickly. Others, like BABIP or UZR, take a very long time to stabilize. The distinction is important, because this is the time of the year at which you’ll be tempted to believe that an unreliably small sample size is indicative of future performance. In a lot of cases, it likely won’t be.

Part of the reason that this temptation is so strong is because it confirms what our eyes have seen. This is particularly the case when a player looks terrible, either at the plate or in the field: “Carl Crawford may bounce back, but have you seen how badly he’s flailing at offspeed stuff in the dirt? Will he ever be able to hit a curve from a lefty?” This is where it gets tricky. Part of what Crawford may be dealing with is a temporary deterioration of skill, a slump. He looks bad, so we aren’t surprised to see him get bad results. There’s a flip side, though. Crawford is getting bad results, which makes us more likely to focus on how badly he looks. It’s a self-reinforcing mechanism, and the only way it stops is for Crawford to stop looking bad, or get better results, or both.

This is a roundabout way of addressing Jorge Posada and his horrific start. Heading into the weekend Posada was batting .130/.231/.391 with only nine hits and eight walks in 78 plate appearances. The only reason Posada’s slugging percentage is so high is because six of his nine hits have been home runs. It’s really been an all or nothing sort of year for Jorge. Some have argued that his slow start is indicative of a larger trend and predictive of future performance. Some have even called for Posada to get the Old Yeller treatment, so to speak. These calls may be premature.

So far, Posada’s approach at the plate isn’t much different than it’s always been. He’s swinging at the same amount of pitches he always has, both in and out of the zone (the latter is slightly elevated). His contact rates are slightly lower than they’ve been in the past but not significantly so, and he hasn’t accrued enough plate appearances for his contact rates to be considered statistically significant anyway. What seems to be happening is simply that Posada is getting some bad luck on balls in play. Posada’s career BABIP of .316. It currently stands at .070. For Posada or for any major leaguer, a BABIP of .070 is simply unsustainable. No matter how badly he’s looked at the plate, particularly against off speed pitches, there is simply no reason to expect him to maintain a BABIP that low.

He has looked bad against off speed pitches. As Mike noted on Thursday, Posada has always excelled primarily against fastballs. But this year he hasn’t been as bad against off speed pitches as our eyes may have told us. From 2009 to 2010, Posada saw 457 sliders and whiffed on 17.1% of them. This year he’s seen 33 sliders and whiffed on only 6.1% of them. In 2009-2010, Posada saw 597 changeups and whiffed on 10.2% of them. In 2011 he’s seen 44 changeups and whiffed on 11.4% of them. From 2009-2010 Posada saw 464 curveballs and whiffed on 14% of them. This year he’s seen 37 curveballs and whiffed on 16.2%. The “biggest” increase is the curveball. Posada has whiffed on 2.2% more curveballs in 2011 than he has in the past two years. This increase in whiff rate amounts to exactly one more curveball whiffed this year than he would have in the past two years. One.

Others might point to his batted ball data as an indication of his decline. His line drive percentage is down to 12.2%, off from a career average of 20%. His ground ball percentage is right in line with past norms; the line drives have essentially turned into fly balls this year. One way to frame this would be to say that Posada’s line drive percentage is currently half of his career average. This sounds rather ominous. Another way would be to look at the actual granular data. Posada has 21 groundballs, 22 fly balls and 6 line drives in 2011. If his line drives were in line with career numbers (20.1%) he would have hit a grand total of 10 line drives this year, rather than 6. A difference of 4 line drives hardly seems worth getting worked up over. If in July Posada is still hitting line drives at a 10% clip then perhaps it is time to worry. At this point it’s simply too small of a sample, and too small a difference, to merit concern.

Posada very well could be undergoing a serious age-related decline. He’s 39 and he’ll turn 40 in August. He’s spent 15 years as a catcher in the majors and has a lot of wear and tear on his frame. But right now Jorge Posada’s biggest problem seems to be that he’s gotten shortchanged in the luck department for the first month of the year. Soon the organization will deem Jesus Montero ready for the show and Montero begin to push Posada towards the proverbial exit. But until then there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why Posada, a potential Hall of Fame catcher and face of the Yankees for the past decade, shouldn’t be given plenty of time at the plate to see if his luck will turn around.

Note: Stats don’t include yesterday’s game.

Yankees pound Drabek, hang on for win over Jays

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

After Friday night’s runner stranding competition, the Yankees came out of the gate on Saturday and piled up some runs against Kyle Drabek with some non-homerun tactics. Let’s recap…

  • The three-run second inning went single, walk, fielder’s choice (runner out at second), single (run scored), walk, sacrifice fly (run scored), single (run scored), strikeout. Three runs, six baserunners, not one extra base hit. What is this nonsense? Where are the rally killing homers? The Yankees tacked on two more runs in the third on three singles, two walks, and a wild pitch. They went 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
  • The five early runs were great, but the Yankees managed no hits and just one walk in 5.2 innings against the Blue Jays’ bullpen. So either good job by Toronto or bad job by New York. It’s probably a combination of both. Good thing the Yankees tagged Drabek for seven hits and four walks in just two-and-a-third innings pitched.
  • Another bend but don’t break performance for A.J. Burnett, who threw just 82 pitches through six innings even though it felt like he threw 182. The Jays got him for nine hits but no walks, and he struck out four. His ERA sits at a tidy 3.93 after six starts, though it hasn’t always been pretty.
  • The Formula™: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-6 GB/FB. Got the job done, but it wasn’t exactly flawless. Joba Chamberlain threw just six pitches in his inning, and for the life of me I can’t find a logical reason why he couldn’t pitch the eighth inning as well. Slaving to designated innings marginalized an effective reliever for not the first time this year.
  • Derek Jeter came to the plate with the bases loaded and less than two outs (twice!) and managed to hit the ball in the air (twice!!!). How about that. Everyone in the lineup aside from Jeter and Jorge Posada had a hit, and Derek was the only guy not to reach base. Russell Martin drove in a run, threw out a would-be basestealer, and blocked plenty of A.J.’s 55-footers. Great afternoon for him. Brett Gardner has quietly reached base nine times in his last 14 plate appearances (five hits, four walks).
  • Looked like the sun was tough early on, both Curtis Granderson and Rajai Davis botched fly balls in the first inning. Only Grandy’s miscue led to a run though.
  • Here’s the box score and video, here’s the WPA Graph.

The rubber game and final game of the homestand will be played Sunday afternoon at the usual 1:05pm ET start time. Ivan Nova takes on Jesse Litsch in the most uninteresting pitching matchup of the season (so far). RAB Tickets can get you there dirt cheap, and if you get to the Stadium early, you can have your skin examined for cancer and some other nasty stuff for free.

Banuelos solid in Trenton win

Alan Horne told Mike Ashmore that he’s scheduled to throw some long bullpen session over the next two weeks before getting back on the mound to face real live hitters. Horne didn’t pitch at all last year and has thrown just 100.2 IP since 2007 due to various shoulder issues. The now 28-year-old was once one of the Yankees’ best pitching prospects, but we know how that story usually goes. Jeremy Bleich, meanwhile, is throwing 35-pitch side sessions.

Triple-A Scranton (4-1 loss to Gwinnett) faced the best pitching prospect in baseball and an old buddy
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB – threw a runner out at third
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 BB – eight for his last 24 (.333) with five walks
Jesus Montero, C: 2 for 5, 1 RBI - I believe that’s his first game behind the plate since the injury
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 0 for 4, 4 K - that’s 29 K in 23 games
Justin Maxwell, LF, Jordan Parraz, RF & Ramiro Pena, SS: all 1 for 4 – Parraz and Pena each whiffed once, but Maxwell did three times … Maxwell has now struck out 35 times in 22 games, which is horrible
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K
David Phelps, RHP: 7 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 9-4 GB/FB, 1 E (throwing) – 63 of 96 pitches were strikes (65.6%) … hasn’t been great this year, hopefully that changes as the weather warms up
George Kontos, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB – seven of his eight pitches were strikes

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