Lining up Sabathia

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

All season long, there have been questions about the pitching staff. It didn’t matter how well Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia or Ivan Nova pitched, they were going to be judged on a start-by-start basis. All three have exceeded expectations, no doubt, but they’re still being treated as question marks. One thing has never been in question though, and that’s who would start Game One of the ALDS. That would be CC Sabathia, regardless of how well everyone else pitched. There’s a slight problem though, Sabathia doesn’t line up to start that game, and it’s not even close.

Because of the continued use of the six-man rotation, Sabathia has either two or three starts left. If the Yankees keep the rotation the way it is right now, CC would have to start Game One on just two days rest, which obviously won’t happen. If they move him back a day, he’d have to start Game One on seven days rest. Move him up a day, it would be three days rest. Here, look at the schedule, it just doesn’t work without getting creative. There’s not much schedule left, so the Yankees can’t keep delaying this rotation decision like they have for the last month or so. Sabathia needs to get lined up for September 30th, the date of Game One, and it needs to happen soon. My solution: a simulated game on Thursday.

Sabathia last pitched on Saturday, so Thursday would be his turn with normal rest. The Yankees have to get him back on a regular five-day schedule at some point, the sooner the better. They’re off on Thursday, traveling from Seattle to Toronto, which is why it would have to be a simulated game. Sabathia gets his work in that day, the lines up to start on the 20th (Rays) and then on the 25th (Red Sox) before that Game One comes up. In an absolute disaster scenario in which the Rays catch New York and the two teams are tied for a playoff spot, they Yankees would have the option of pushing CC back to the 26th to have him face Tampa. I doubt it comes to that, though. They’ll be able to use that simulated game to have Sabathia pitch on normal rest for basically three full turns through the rotation, giving him (hopefully) enough time to get back into the routine before the postseason. This would be ideal given where we are right now.

Obviously the long and late night flight from Seattle to Toronto sucks (thanks for the getaway day on Wednesday, Mariners! [/sarcasm]), but the Yankees could simply send Sabathia to Toronto before the rest of the team. Have him fly out on Tuesday, rest on Wednesday, then show up to the park on Thursday afternoon ready to unload 100 pitches. Greg Golson, Chris Dickerson, Brandon Laird … all the September call-ups that might be rusting away on the bench can step in the box for some extra at-bats, and Jesus Montero could catch in order to develop some of that all-important familiarity with the staff ace. Even if he splits the catching duties with Austin Romine, it works.

Are the Yankees going to do this? Most likely not. They absolutely have to do something though, and they should probably do it pretty soon. Figuring out who starts Games Two and Three is enough of a concern right now, they don’t need to make things even more difficult by having Sabathia start Game One on some inordinate amount of rest. The idea of essentially skipping CC sounds crazy, but the team has built up enough of a cushion on the wildcard that they could get away with it. A few wins in Seattle would make the simulated game plan even more palatable.

Freddy’s homers: long-term problem or just a blip?

(Frank Franklin II/AP)

For the first few months of the season it was the one thing that kept Freddy Garcia’s head above water. As summer rolled in, it allowed him to stand behind CC Sabathia as the team’s No. 2 pitcher. But after going 10 straight starts without allowing a home run, Garcia has allowed five in his last three, including four in his last two, which amounts to 7.2 IP. It leaves the Yankees facing a big question heading into the postseason: can Freddy still step up and take the ball in Game 2?

There are two possible scenarios at play here. The first one, popular with the statistics-oriented crowd, is that Garcia is merely experiencing a correction. It’s not normal for a pitcher to go 10 starts without allowing a homer, and so Garcia is just coming back down to earth. His xFIP has suggested such a regression, and the past three games represent just that. The second one is that he found something in his repertoire that allowed him to suppress home runs earlier in the season. His finger injury, and perhaps some dulling of his command due to a long layoff, is reason for his recent failures.

During his homerless streak, Garcia leaned heavily on his changeup. He threw it 30 percent of the time, more than any other pitch in his arsenal. After that he threw the four-seamer and the slider with frequency; in total he threw those three pitches a hair more than 85 percent of the time. The remaining 15 percent was divided almost evenly among the cutter, splitter, and two-seamer. This might seem odd, since the splitter has been, anecdotally, Garcia’s most effective pitch this season. Yet he doesn’t deploy it with frequency. Instead he picks his spots, and it worked. He generated swings on 11.2 percent of his 259 splitters during the streak.

In his last three starts Garcia has started relying on the splitter much more frequently. He has thrown it 39 times out of 250 total pitches, or 15.6 percent. That’s essentially triple the rate at which he threw it during his streak. At the same time he’s backed off the changeup significantly, throwing it only 45 times, or 18 percent. The slider has gained primacy in Garcia’s repertoire; he has thrown it 31.2 percent of the time since coming off the DL. Might the change of pitch selection be reason for Garcia’s failures?

In his start against Baltimore, the one when he allowed two homers and seven runs in 2.2 innings, Garcia leaned on the slider. He threw it 16 times in his 56 pitches, or 28.6 percent. The Orioles hitters demolished it, though — the Brooks Baseball data has the linear weights score on the slider at 3.12, which is simply horrible (negative scores are better). He also got beat up with the fastball, which is unsurprising. In that game he threw the splitter just four time,s and with generally good results: three strikes, one swinging, and a negative linear weights score. He apparently used that performance to justify heavier usage of his splitter yesterday.

That, of course, did not work either. Garcia threw 26 splitters out of 106 pitches, or 24.5 percent. His linear weights score: 2.04. His slider, however, was more effective, generating three swings and misses on 33 pitches and resulting in a -1.04 linear weights score. The changeup also came back into play, accounting for 27 of those 106 pitches and generating five swings and misses. It wasn’t overly effective, just barely on the linear weights scale, but it certainly got the job done moreso than it did against the Orioles. As expected, the results were quite better. But they weren’t necessarily good.

The change in repertoire, then, lends credence to both ends of the argument. While it’s certainly possible that Garcia is just experiencing a correction following his homerless streak, it’s also possible that a change in pitch selection, and a lack of sharpness in command, has led him down a homer-prone path. There’s no real way to tell, of course, which makes the issue that much more frustrating. But it’s good to know that there are tangible changes at play. If everything had been the same as before, the situation might appear a bit more dire.

This leaves some room for optimism. If Garcia gets sharper with each outing, he might be in ideal shape come playoff time. When he’s keeping hitters off-balance with his slider and changeup, while working the splitter into opportune spots, he’s shown that he’s effective. But he hasn’t done that in his last few games. His next few starts, then, will be of great importance in determining the postseason rotation. The No. 2 spot is, in all likelihood, his to lose. A strong finish could set the Yankees up well for a playoff run.

Series Preview: Seattle Mariners

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

Just three games left in this unfortunate September west coast swing, everyone’s least favorite road trip. The Yankees got off the schneid yesterday thanks to Peter Bourjos’ error, but the offense certainly started to look more like its usual self. Three games in the Emerald City, coming right up.

What Have The Mariners Done Lately?

Unsurprisingly, a lot of losing. Seattle just split a four-game series with the Royals, and before that they won just one of six games against the Angels and Athletics. Over their last 19 games, they’re just 5-14. The Mariners are 64-85 with a -100 run differential on the season, the third worst record and run differential in the league.

Mariners On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Rennett Stowe via Creative Commons license)

Obviously, it’s a bad offense. Seattle has scored just 500 runs this year, the fewest in baseball by 49 runs. They’ve scored more than two runs just twice in their last six games as well. Their entire attack revolves around two guys, and one of them is not Ichiro. The leadoff man is hitting just .275/.313/.339, easily his worst season in the States. Instead, those two guys are Dustin Ackley (.290/.367/.453) and Mike Carp (.274/.333/.465, but hot of late). Both are lefty swingers, so expect to see former Mariner Aaron Laffey a few times in the series if Boone Logan is still an no-go because of his dead arm.

The rest of the lineup is hit or miss, mostly miss. Brendan Ryan (.244/.310/.322) is one hell of a shortstop, but also a number nine hitter masquerading as a number two hitter. Justin Smoak is at .232/.318/.397 for the season, but has two homers and 13 hits in ten games since coming off the DL. Believe it or not, the DH platoon is Adam Kennedy (.241/.282/.391 vs. RHP) and Wily Mo Pena (.217/.217/.478 vs. LHP), which is sad. Miguel Olivo (.223/.256/.381) does the catching, and the duo of Casper Wells (.238/.316/.433) and Trayvon Robinson (.250/.293/.424) splits time in center field now that Franklin Gutierrez is out for the season with an oblique injury. Alexi Liddi (.125/.125/.250 in very limited time) and Kyle Seager (.265/.313/.364) split time at the hot corner. To call it a below-average offense would be an insult to below-average offenses.

Mariners On The Mound

Monday, RHP Felix Hernandez (vs. Phil Hughes): It doesn’t get any easier after that series in Anaheim. Felix has faced the Yankees twice this year, throwing seven innings each time (four runs and then one run) and beating them twice. His stuff is as nasty as it gets – a mid-90’s four-seamer, a mid-90’s two-seamer, a high-80’s changeup, a low-80’s curveball, and a mid-80’s slider – and he’ll throw pretty much any pitch in any count. All five are swing and miss pitches too. Hernandez is as good as it gets.

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

Tuesday, LHP Charlie Furbush (vs. A.J. Burnett): One of the pieces Seattle got from the Tigers in the Doug Fister trade, the Yankees have never seen Furbush before. He’s been pretty bad in seven starts with the Mariners, pitching to 5.79 ERA (~4.75 FIP) in 37.1 IP. Furbush is a rather generic lefty, with a high-80’s fastball, a low-80’s slider, and a mid-70’s curve. He’s not great at striking people out (6.24 K/9), not great at limiting walks (3.57 BB/9), and not great at generating ground balls (41.7%), so in other words, he’s exactly the kind of pitcher that will give the Yankees fits.

Wednesday, LHP Jason Vargas (vs. Ivan Nova): Another generic-ish lefty without great peripherals (4.30 FIP and a 4.57 xFIP), Vargas goes to work with a high-80’s fastball, a low-80’s changeup, and a low-70’s curve. He’s also cut and sink his fastball on occasion. The Yankees have faced him twice this year and smacked him around both times: six runs in three innings in May, then eight runs in four innings in July.

Bullpen: Like every other team, Seattle’s bullpen is full of September call-ups. Closer Brandon League (2.95 FIP) is easily their best arm, and he’s being set up by journeyman Jamey Wright (4.32 FIP). Righties Tom Wilhelmsen (3.84 FIP) and Shawn Kelley (3.27 FIP) will also see important innings late in the game. Cesar Jimenez (just 1.1 IP since being called up) is the lone lefty.

The rest of the bullpen is filled out by various nondescript righties. Josh Lueke (3.82 FIP) was part of last year’s Cliff Lee trade, Chance Ruffin (5.75 FIP in limited time) was part of the Fister trade, and Dan Cortes (5.92 FIP) was part of the (first) Yuniesky Betancourt trade. Steve Delabar made his big league debut yesterday, and Jeff Gray (4.86 FIP) is pretty terrible. That’s it, ten relievers in all.

Recommended Mariners Reading: U.S.S. Mariner and Lookout Landing.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 12th, 2011

Record Last Week: 3-4 (31 RS, 36 RA)
Season Record:
88-57 (785 RS, 585 RA, 93-52 pythag. record), 3.5 games up in AL East, 7.0 up for wildcard
Opponents This Week:
@ Mariners (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Blue Jays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Offense comes back to life in win over Halos

After days of feeble ground outs and ugly swings, the Yankees offense returned to form in a hard fought win on Sunday. They’re not all the way back yet, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

(Harry How/Getty Images)

A Run!

It had been so long, the first one deserves its own section. After going down 1-2-3 in the first inning, extending their scoreless stretch to 16 offensive innings (one run in their previous 26 innings), Robinson Cano got things going in the second inning with a leadoff single to the opposite field. He moved over to second on a wild pitch strike three to Jesus Montero, proving that even Montero’s strikeouts are productive. The kid can’t be stopped! Eric Chavez jumped on a 1-1 fastball and shot a hard grounder back up the middle, squeezing through the infield and bringing Cano home for the first run the Yankees have scored on something other than a homer since Thursday.

Freddy Sez: Shaky At Best

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Last time out, the Orioles demolished Freddy Garcia for seven runs in just 2.2 IP. He was better this time around, but not much. Howie Kendrick hit a two-run homer in the first and Peter Bourjos did the same in the fourth, meaning Freddy has allowed five homers in 9.1 IP since his 69 IP homerless streak ended three starts ago.

The biggest moment of Garcia’s start was easily the fifth inning, his last. Erick Aybar singled back up the middle then stole second. Bobby Abreu drew a walk after a Kendrick fly ball moved Aybar to third, and he stole second as well. With men at second and third with just one out in a one-run game, Garcia was ordered to intentionally walk Torii Hunter. I’m generally not a fan of free baserunners, and I’m especially not a fan of leaving a pitcher in after he issues an intentional walk. It always seems like they have trouble finding the strike zone after throwing four wide ones.

Sure enough, Freddy fell into a 3-1 count on Mark Trumbo, but the hacktastic rookie let it rip and popped up weakly to shallow right, not deep enough for Aybar to tag up. Garcia again fell behind on Alberto Callaspo, but eventually the Angels third baseman grounded out harmless to second to end the threat. Five runs on seven hits and three walks in five innings isn’t good at all, but Sweaty Freddy really made some pitches when he had to in that fifth inning. Gotta love those veteran presents.


The Offense Returns

That Chavez RBI single in the second was a good sign, and the rest of the lineup started to breakout soon thereafter. Two innings later, Cano belted a solo homer to right, and one inning later Curtis Granderson clubbed a two-run homer to almost the exact same spot. The game stayed at 5-4 until the seventh inning, when the Yankees made their move.

Ervin Santana was left in for the proverbial “one more batter,” allowing the first two men he faced in the inning (Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter) to reach on singles. The tying run was at third with no outs, but Granderson struck out for the 158th time this year, a new single season franchise record. A dubious record, but a record nonetheless. Mark Teixeira picked him up with a deep fly ball to center that would have been a sacrifice fly if Bourjos hadn’t completely muffed the catch. He’s arguably the best defensive outfielder in the game, right up there with Gardner, but he simply botched that one. Both Gardner and Jeter scored, and Tex would up on third on the three-base error.

You could kinda see the offensive rebounding taking shape. The at-bats were starting to get better, the number of ugly swings and misses were going down, and the number of well struck balls increased. They had runners on base every inning from the second through seventh, a welcome site after the previous night’s futility. Bourjos’ mistake was obviously a huge, huge part of the win for New York, but it wasn’t all luck. The offense looked much more Yankee-like in this one.

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


The bullpen held the Angels scoreless for four innings after Freddy exited, but of course Rafael Soriano made it interesting in the seventh. A single by Kendrick and a perfect hit-and-run by Abreu put runners at the corners with one out, but Abreu wound up at second on a rather weird play. Hunter worked the count full and checked his swing on the 3-2 pitch, then started walking towards first. He got in Austin Romine‘s way (more on him in a bit), so Abreu (who was running on the play) was safe at second. There was no obstruction call because there was no throw, but there’s no doubt Hunter got in the way. Soriano managed to escape the inning on a ground ball, but it’s never easy with him. Never.

Cory Wade, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera were pretty flawless in the sixth, eighth, and ninth innings, respectively, save for a few infield singles. The Angels had nine (nine!) of those suckers in the three game series, creating perhaps the most unwatchable brand of baseball known to man. If I wanted to watch that stuff on a daily basis, I’d coach Little League.

Oh, and this was Mo’s 599th career save. One more for 600, two more to tie Trevor Hoffman’s all-time record, three more to break it. There’s 17 games left, seems like he’s got a pretty good chance to accomplish all three this year.

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Montero made his first career start behind the plate due to the injuries to Russell Martin (bruised right thumb) and Frankie Cervelli (concussion symptoms), and he was pretty much what everyone said he’d be. He did throw out one attempted basestealer, but two others were safe without a throw. Montero also allowed a wild pitch to get throw his legs (allowing a run to come in) but also blocked quite a few of Garcia’s splitters. Combined with his 0-for-3 (three strikeouts and an intentional walk) at the plate, it was easily the worst game of his young career.

Joe Girardi told us everything we need to know about Montero’s defense when he replaced him with Romine in the seventh inning, Romine’s big league debut. I wonder how many players have made their Major League debut as a defensive replacement behind the plate without an injury necessitating the move? Can’t be many, I’m sure of that. Romine looked fine but wasn’t really tested, just that weird play with Hunter walking in front of him.

Jeter had two hits, Granderson the homer, Tex a walk and the sacrifice fly/error, Cano two hits, Andruw Jones two walks, Eduardo Nunez one walk, and Gardner a hit and a walk. That last guy also got caught stealing. Like I said, it was a much better showing for the offense compared to the previous four games, hopefully something that gets them back on the right track. This lineup is too talented to be terrible for that long.

The Rays stomped all over the Red Sox and swept that series, moving them to within 3.5 games of Boston for the wildcard. The Yankees, however, moved to 3.5 games up (four in the loss column) in the division, their largest lead of the season. They also remain seven up for the wildcard. That’s a pretty awesome place to be at this point of the season.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has some other stats, and ESPN has the updated standings.

Up Next

Off to Seattle for the last three games of the season’s final west coast trip. It’ll be Phil Hughes against Felix Hernandez on Monday night, a 10:10pm ET start.

Open Thread: 9/11

I was taking a test, my sophomore year at Penn State. I remember I had back-to-back two-hour classes at 8am and 10am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and both classes were in the same room with the same professor. I kid you not. Such is the life of an engineering major. The professor used to take advantage of the schedule by giving us huge exams that took up the entire four hours. We were stuck in that damn room all morning, and I just so happened to be the first one in the class to finish the test. I was always good at that, I’d finish tests super fast and I’d almost feel embarrassed to hand it in before everyone else. And of course I’d doubt myself, what’d I do wrong that I was able to finish so quickly?

Anyway, I was the first to finish the test, so I left the room and went to kill time in the computer lab next door. I dropped my stuff off and ran downstairs to the little cafeteria to grab a pack of S’mores Pop Tarts, my guilt pleasure du jour back then. I remember standing on line and seeing smoke coming out of the Twins Towers on one of the little cafeteria TV’s. This was around 10:45 or so, maybe even a little earlier, and I had no idea that what I was seeing on the TV was not live, it was footage from earlier that morning.

I (as well as everyone in my class) had missed everything while taking the test. Didn’t hear about the first plane, didn’t hear about the second plane, didn’t hear about the Pentagon, didn’t hear about either Tower collapsing. I couldn’t hear a damn thing on that ancient TV in the cafeteria (you had to turn a knob to change the channel, I remember that very well), so I made my way back to the computer lab figuring I’d just pull up to see what happened. All I knew was that there was a fire at the Twins Towers, that’s it.

CNN wouldn’t load. I tried The Post, The Daily News, The Times, and a few other prominent news outlets as well, but nothing was cooperating. I left my browser on CNN to see if it would eventually load, and as I waited a few others had finished the test and made their way into the lab. One of them was a buddy named Rick, who was a few years older than me. He was married with kids, did some time in the Air Force and had gone back to school. I told him about the fire at the Twins Towers and that I was waiting for CNN to load to see what was up. He hopped on his computer and pulled up MSNBC. I never thought to check MSNBC mostly because I wasn’t one to obsess over the news in the first place. MSNBC loaded right up. I’ll never forgot how I felt when I looked at his screen.

The entire time I was at Penn State, I had met just a handful of fellow native New Yorkers, but I never got close to any of them. Most of my friends were from Pennsylvania; it seemed like everyone was either from Scranton, Philly, or from somewhere just outside Pittsburgh but never actually Pittsburgh itself. I was hundreds of miles away from home, about as safe as it gets, but I was scared. Four hours ago I was stressed out about taking this test that counted for some obscene percentage of my final grade, and you mean to tell me the Twins Towers are gone now? Completely gone, leveled, as in I’ll never see them again?

I spent the rest of the morning just piecing everything together. Oh, there was a plane? Two planes? Four??? As completely heartless as it sounds, I didn’t care about the Pentagon or Flight 93 that morning. My mind was on back home. I was surrounded by friends and classmates but no one understood what it was like for me. New York wasn’t home to them. This is where I grew up, where my family lived. My uncle worked right across the street from one of the Towers back then, was he okay? (He was) What was going on? What do I do now? Do I drive home? Go to class that afternoon? (Class was canceled) Call home? Yes, call home. Everyone was fine and accounted for. That made me feel better but not really, I still felt helpless and overwhelmed.

Ten years is a long time, and I’ve lived through all sorts of good and bad stuff since then, most of which I remember but not nearly as well as I remember that day. After I went back home that afternoon (not home home, just home), I watched the news all day, and I remember hearing “this is a day we’ll never forget” over and over again. I found out about everything basically all at once. I didn’t watch Sept. 11th unfold throughout the course of the morning. It was one huge shock. I went from thinking an electrical fire broke out in one of the Towers to finding out nothing was ever going to be the same again in an instant. I’ll never forget where I was that morning, how I found out about everything, and how unbelievable it all seemed. I was so far away from home but it felt like I was right there. Like most New Yorkers, I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think about that morning, even ten years later. The Yankees were as big a part of the healing process as anything else, that fall they were more than just my favorite baseball team. They were basically a coping mechanism.

* * *

Anyway, that’s my 9/11 story and this is your open thread. The ESPN Sunday Night game is another matchup of two non-contenders (Cubs @ Mets, Garza vs. Miguel Batista), but that’s okay, the Jets are playing. They’re hosting the Cowboys at 8:20pm ET on NBC. I’ve always found Sunday night football to be far more enjoyable than Sunday night baseball, but that’s just me. Talk about whatever you like here, anything goes.

DotF Note: I goofed last night, the NY-Penn League Championship Series starts tomorrow night, not tonight. The Staten Island Yankees will be in Auburn for the first game of the best-of-three series.