Tampa and Staten Island win big on Derby night

Kevin Goldstein had a lukewarm report on Austin Romine from the Futures Game (subs. req’d)…

[Romine’s] prospect stock remains flat. He’s a good hitter for average, but his aggressiveness early in the count and merely gap-to-average power leave his total line a bit empty. He’s also one of those frustrating backstops who has the tools to be a good defender, but is a so-so receiver with a slow release that wastes his strong arm … I can’t remember the last time I heard a scout get really excited about his future.

Don’t miss the injury news from earlier this evening. Also, Kanekoa Texeira is back, re-signed to a minor league deal. Yay, I guess.

Triple-A Scranton is off until Thursday for the All-Star break. The actual All-Star Game will be played on Wednesday, and Adam Warren is the only Yankees farmhand that will be there. Jesus Montero, Jorge Vazquez, and Kevin Whelan were all picked for the game but withdrew due to injury.

Double-A Trenton (7-6 loss to Reading in 11 innings, walk-off style)
Ray Kruml, RF: 3 for 5, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI – this isn’t deja vu, it’s his second straight game with this exact same line
Corban Joseph, 2B & Cody Johnson, DH: both 0 for 5 – CoJo struck out twice, Johnson all five times (!!!)
Bradley Suttle, 1B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K – had just two hits in his previous 30 at-bats (.067)
Melky Mesa, CF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 K, 1 CS – threw a runner out at first
Rob Lyerly, 3B: 1 for 5, 1 R, 2 K, 2 E (both fielding)
Jose Pirela, SS: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K – hit a game-tying three-run homer with two outs in the ninth
Damon Sublett, LF: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) – threw a runner out at the plate
R.J. Baker, C: 0 for 4, 3 K, 1 E (missed catch)
Craig Heyer, RHP: 3 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 2 HB, 2-2 GB/FB – I wonder if it’s time to put him back in the bullpen, the whole starting thing doesn’t seem to be cooperating
Josh Romanski, LHP: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 3-2 GB/FB
Brad Halsey, LHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB
Cory Arbiso, RHP: 3 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 4-4 GB/FB – two of the walks were intentional
Pat Venditte, SwP: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0-1 GB/FB – gave up the walk-off homer to a pretty good prospect

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Heathcott may be out for season, Turley out a month

Via Josh Norris, Slade Heathcott has missed most of the last month or so with a left shoulder issue, and it’s likely that he’ll miss the rest of the season. He had surgery on the shoulder this past offseason, and apparently a second surgery is possible. That’s his throwing arm, by the way. That really sucks. Nik Turley, meanwhile, will miss about a month with a broken hand. Line drive got him. He’s already over his previous career high in innings, so the rest might not be the worst thing in the world. Too bad it’s not by choice.

Need some good news? Donnie Collins says that Tim Norton is about a week or so from returning to the mound, which sounds hard to believe after the report of his labrum being severely torn and his career being in jeopardy. Mark Newman confirmed that he’s a week away, so it’s obvious the original injury report was wrong. Great news, Norton was having an absurdly dominant year.

Open Thread: 2011 Home Run Derby

Is it home run or homerun? I’ve always preferred one word, but the official site and Wikipedia say I’m wrong. Oh well. Anyway, tonight is the night of the most simultaneously boring and entertaining event in baseball, the Home Run Homerun Derby. The first two or three batters are fun, then it just starts to drag. MLB changed things up this year by appointing team captains (Prince Fielder and David Ortiz, the last two winners) and letting them pick the participants, though that didn’t do too much. I know he’s having an awful year, but it’s criminal that Adam Dunn still has not taken his hacks in the Derby yet. Mike Stanton’s another guy that should have been picked as well, just look at what the kid can do. His MLB.com highlight pages are pure homerun porn. Oh well.

The Yankees have one of their own in the Derby, second baseman Robinson Cano. Mark Teixeira was originally asked to participate, but he decided against it when he didn’t get selected for the game. Can’t say I blame him, I’d rather spend the time off with my family than fly out for the one event. Cano’s father Jose (a former big leaguer) will pitch to him, which would be pretty cool. Here are the participants, though I have no what order they’re hitting in…

American League
Jose Bautista
Robinson Cano
Adrian Gonzalez
David Ortiz

National League
Prince Fielder
Matt Holliday
Matt Kemp
Rickie Weeks

StatCorner says Chase Field is basically a neutral homerun park for right-handed batters (102 HR pack factor) and very favorable for lefties (114), but you know what? I’m going against that and am picking Holliday. It’s not about how far you hit the ball but how many you hit out, and we’ve seen so many players tire in the later rounds over the last few years. Holliday’s so absurdly big and strong that I think he’ll hold up the best during the course of the competition. Plus having the experience from last year, when he hit just five homers, will probably help.

Anyway, that’s my pick. The Derby starts at 8pm ET and can be seen on ESPN and ESPN3.com. You can talk about that or whatever else your heart desires here in the open thread, so have at it. Anything goes.

Update: Here’s the order: Cano, Holliday, Gonzalez, Weeks, Bautista, Kemp, Ortiz, Fielder.

A Brief History: Yankees in the Home Run Derby

They don’t call them the Bronx Bombers for nothing, s0 I was somewhat surprised to see that just three Yankees have participated in the Home Run Derby a total of four times since the event started in 1985. Robinson Cano will make it four players and five appearances later tonight, when he takes his hacks at Chase Field in Arizona with seven others. It could have been Mark Teixeira, but he decided to spend the All-Star break at home with his family after not making the AL team. Oh well. Let’s go back in time and relive the four Derbies the Yankees graced with their presence…

(Photo Credit: www.oocities.org)

Tino Martinez, 1997

I was pretty young and naive in 1997, so I thought Tino’s monster 44 homer campaign was a sign of great things of come. Of course that was his career season, and on only two other occasions did he top even 30 homers (1995 and 2001). Tino’s first half in 1997 was beastly, a .302/.370/.619 batting line with 28 homers (!!!) in 85 games. The Derby was a little different back then, it had ten players (not eight) taking their swings at the brand spanking new Jacobs Field in Cleveland.

Tino hit five homers in the first round, tied with Mark McGwire for the second most behind Larry Walker (nine). Martinez went deep eight times in the second round, again the second most behind Walker’s nine. Although the Colorado outfielder and eventual NL MVP out-homered the Yankees’ first baseman 19-16 over the course of the event, Tino’s timing was better. He hit three homers in the finals to Walker’s one, and that was that. The first Yankee to compete in the Derby had won it. Tino production dropped a bit in the second half, but he still hit a crazy good .289/.372/.525 with 16 homers in 73 games down the stretch.

Jason Giambi, 2002

(Photo Credit: The Lawrence Journal-World)

The Giambino’s first year in pinstripes was insanely good; he hit .318/.430/.602 with 22 homers in 86 games heading into the break. The first round of the Derby in Miller Park wasn’t much of a problem, Giambi hit 11 homers. Only Sammy Sosa (12) had more. Back in those days, the four players that advanced to the second round faced off head-to-head, one seed vs. four, two vs. three. Giambi drew Paul Konerko as the two seed, then out-homered him seven to six in the second round. Sosa (five) beat Richie Sexson (four), so he and Giambi met in the finals even though Konerko had the second most homers in the round.

Sosa was no match in the finals. Giambi out-homered him 7-1 to win the event, and his 24 total homers were the second most all-time behind the 26 Sosa hit in 2000. Two Yankees in the Derby, two wins. Giambi’s production didn’t slip at all in the second half, he hit .309/.442/.593 with 19 homers in his final 69 games.

Jason Giambi, 2003

MLB invited Giambi to the Homerun Derby for the third straight year and why not? He was one of the game’s premier sluggers at the time. He had hit .267/.419/.547 with 26 homers in 91 first half games, so not that far off from his 2002 first half in the OBP and ISO departments. U.S. Cellular Field loves left-handed batters and Giambi took advantage, leading the way with a dozen first round homers. Garrett Anderson hit seven, and no one else topped four. Giambi drew Albert Pujols in the second round, though his eleven homers were not enough. Pujols hit 14 and advanced to the finals, losing to Anderson 9-8. Despite being bounced in the second round, Giambi’s 23 total homers were the second most in the event, three behind Pujols. His production dropped in the second half, down to .226/.401/.498 with 15 homers in 65 second half games.

(Photo Credit: The Connecticut Post)

Nick Swisher, 2010

Swisher wasn’t even supposed to participate in the event in the first place. He was a replacement for Cano, who had to withdraw due to a sore back. Swish didn’t make it out of the first round, hitting just four balls out of Angels Stadium. He was spared the embarrassment of hitting the fewest homers in the event by Chris Young (one) and Vernon Wells (two). David Ortiz eventually beat Hanley Ramirez in the finals. After hitting .298/.377/.524 with 15 homers in 84 games in the first half, Swisher dropped to .275/.336/.494 after the break, but he did hit 14 homers in 67 games.

* * *

Aside from the superhuman Giambi in 2002, everyone’s production declined in the second half, but they were hardly useless. I think it has more to do with those guys having outrageously good first halves and just coming back to Earth down the stretch. Cano is at .296/.342*/.521 with 15 homers through the team’s first 88 games, and it’s worth noting that he’s traditionally been a better hitter in the second half. That was not true last year, however. Either way, I’d love to see Cano win the thing, but I’ll take the field on this one.

* I was surprised to see his OBP that high, but then I realized that it’s inflated by a career-high nine hit-by-pitches. He got plunked eight times last year and eight times 2007. If we remove those HBP’s from his time-on-base and plate appearance totals, his OBP is just .326. I don’t want to think about what it would be if we removed the four intentional walks.

Comparing the Yankees to their peers: Infield

The halfway point of the season passed about a week ago, but the next three days represent the observed mid-point in the season. Absent meaningful baseball games to discuss, we’re left with a short period of evaluation. We do this every year, and we try to take it from a different angle each time. This year we’ll look around the roster and compare the Yankees to their positional peers. We start today with the infielders.

To keep things on a similar scale, we’ll measure everything in runs. On offense this will be FanGraphs’ Batting Runs Above Average (the offense component of WAR, which is wOBA park- and league-adjusted) and UZR. Since UZR has its share of issues, we’ll also add Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average for more context — though there is no rank on FRAA.

1B, Mark Teixeira

(Charles Krupa/AP)

A notoriously slow starter, Teixeira helped eliminate that narrative when he homered in the seasons’s first three games, and four of the first five. It spurred his best April in recent memory: .256/.392/.549. He’s fallen off considerably since then, though, hitting .240/.338/.508 since May 1, for a collective first-half line of .244/.352/.519, or a .378 wOBA.

Offense: 18.0, 6th. I actually expected Teixeira to finish a bit worse here, on account of the insane production among first basemen this year. Sixth isn’t bad, but the players ahead of him are way ahead of him: Paul Konerko, who ranks fifth, is nearly seven runs better than Teixeira at the plate.

Defense: 2.9, 7th. UZR has rarely worked out favorably for Teixeira. We see him make amazing plays every week at first, yet he has two years of below-average UZR numbers as a Yankee. I’m not sure why, but the answer might simply be that the numbers that feed into UZR don’t necessarily reflect the skills that make a first baseman valuable. Or maybe it’s seeing something that our eyes aren’t. FRAA has him at -2.9 runs.

WAR: 3.1, 5th. Teixeira leapfrogs Konerko here not just because of defense, but because Konerko has a league-worst -7.3 base running mark. Yes, that’s worse than Posada.

2B, Robinson Cano

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

After a career year in 2010, Cano had set the bar high for 2011. He hasn’t quite reached that level of production, but he has surged at times. He ended the first half with a .296/.342/.521 line that looks good, not great, but is actually relatively elite given the offensive environment.

Offense: 15.8, 5th. Would you believe that Dustin Pedroia is first among 2B with 18.1 runs above average? He’s a little ways ahead of Cano thanks to his much higher OBP. Cano has the power game going on, which keeps him right around the leaders. He’s actually closer to first than his is sixth, so he’s grouped in with Pedroia, Rickie Weeks, Ian Kinsler, and Ben Zobrist as the top-tier offensive second basemen in the league. You can throw Howie Kendrick, at 13.1 runs above average, in there if you want as well.

Defense: -2.5, 16th. As has been the norm. UZR rates Cano lower than what we observe from day-to-day. This year he’s been observably worse than he was in 2010, but it still doesn’t feel as though he’s a below average defender. Unsurprisingly, FRAA has him at 1.2 runs above average. Then again, it had him slightly below average last year, and well above average every other year of his career, and had 2008 as his best year.

WAR: 2.9, 8th. This is where his fielding numbers hurt a bit. It’s tough to imagine that Brandon Phillips is more than a win better than him in the field, but that’s where UZR is going with this season. It might not be completely accurate, since batted ball data isn’t perfect and can affect UZR. But it might just be the effects of a small sample: half a season of UZR is akin to a month or so of offensive data, and so it could be the result of a simple slump.

3B, Alex Rodriguez

(Kathy Willens/AP)

After he got off to an incredibly hot start, Alex battled injuries, first to his oblique and then to his knee, throughout the first half. He ends it on a downer, as surgery will cost him four to six weeks. But given how well he hit even with the injuries, a healthy, rejuvenated Alex could be an enormous threat down the stretch.

Offense: 15.1, 2nd. Kevin Youkilis has greatly outhit every third baseman in the league, as he’s 6.8 runs ahead of Alex. That’s to the Sox advantage in one way, since they essentially have two guys who hit like first basemen. But as you’ll see in the next few categories, it’s not all hunky dory.

Defense: 10.3, 1st. There is no doubt that Alex has played a superb third base this season. He looks smoother out there in the field, which likely has to do with his trimming down this winter. But has he provided a win above average with his glove? Just as we should be skeptical of Cano’s low UZR, we should be skeptical of Alex’s high one. He’s been good, but I’m not so certain he’s been that good. Then again, FRAA has him at 6.2 runs above average, which is already better than any of his years at third except for 2008.

WAR: 4.0, 1st. This is largely a fielding-based advantage, but it does appear that A-Rod is that much better than Youkilis with the glove at third. Third base is a pretty bleak position this year, and so having Alex has been a great advantage. That stinks, because he’s going to miss plenty of time. But it also means that Eduardo Nunez shouldn’t have much trouble hitting like an above-average third baseman.

SS, Derek Jeter

(Kathy Kmonicek/AP)

Jeter was primed for a bounce back. He had worked all winter trying to simplify his swing, removing a hitch that hurt him greatly in 2010. Yet it didn’t work out at all. He abandoned his new mechanics shortly after the season started, and at the break he’s more or less at the same level as last year. Missing time with a calf injury didn’t help matters. Unless Saturday was a portend for the second half, it appears that we’ll have a second half of Jeter atop the lineup with a .330ish OBP.

Offense: -2.3, 15th. There is Jose Reyes, and then there is a second tier of very good offensive shortstops: Asdrubal Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, and Yunel Escobar. It starts to dip a bit after that, with a cluster around 5 runs above average, until we get into the negatives. Unfortunatley, Jeter doesn’t even fall into that 5-run group. He has been the offensive equivalent of Ryan Theriot, which is something I never thought I’d have to type.

Defense: -1.0, 15th. Again, the eye test pretty much lines up with the UZR assessment. Jeter hasn’t been great in the field, but he’s certainly looked better than he did last year. It’s clear that he put more emphasis on his defensive game during the off-season, because he’s getting to more balls to his left. Maybe it’s a positioning thing, too. FRAA has him at -3.7, which, while not very good, is way, way, way, way better than the numbers throughout his career on that scale.

WAR: 0.9, 17th. In one way, the injury hurt him here, since WAR is a counting stat. In another way, since he’s below average both at the plate and in the field, perhaps his DL hint merely stanched the bleeding. In any case, he stands further below his peers than any other Yankees starter. That’s something that absolutely needs to change in the second half, especially with A-Rod — who is so far ahead of his peers — missing time.

Russell Martin, C

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Martin started off the season with a bang — thanks, Ned! — but has dropped off considerably since then. He ended the first month at .293/.376/.587, but has hit just .185/.299/.287 since then. He seems like a guy who would benefit greatly from the three days off. Of course, he’s the backup catcher for the AL in the All-Star game, which means he’ll play.

Offense: 1.0, 13th. Part of this is the time he missed, and part of it is the horrible performance since the end of April. Injury might have explained some of his poor performances, but his numbers have continued to decline even after he recovered.

Defense: 0.5, 6th. I’m honestly not sure how they’re doing defense, since there is no UZR for catchers. Normally they use Defensive Runs Saved, but those are in whole numbers, not fractions. In any case, Martin grades out at around the same level as his peers, which passes the eye test. His pitchers, with their long deliveries, might be hurting his caught stealing numbers, too.

WAR: 1.7, 8th. Considering his offensive shortcomings, this isn’t too bad. He might be even better, too, since Carlos Santana has logged about a third of his playing time at first base. There’s clear room for improvement, too, which could bode well for Martin in the second half.

The Brandon Laird Option

(Photo Credit: Flickr user paul.hadsall via Creative Commons license)

Alex Rodriguez will miss the next month or so after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee today, leaving the Yankees will a huge hole in their lineup. Even though he hasn’t been hitting for power, A-Rod was still very productive from the cleanup spot, hitting .333/.387/.417 in 93 plate appearances since his last homerun. The Yankees can replace his stats (they may luck out and find someone to match that production but the odds are against it), though they won’t replace the way his presence impacts the game. Alex is one of those rare players that changes the game from the on-deck circle, and no backup infield does that.

Reports over the weekend indicated that the Yankees prefer to replace A-Rod from within, but they’ll at least kick the tires on outside options. The most popular trade candidate seems to be Aramis Ramirez, but he’s a complete non-option. He can definitely hit, no doubt (.298/.346/.497), but his contract says his $16M club option for 2012 turns into a player option if he’s traded. That’s a total deal breaker, there’s no reason for the Yankees to take that on for a six-week stopgap. More realistic options include Melvin Mora and Kevin Kouzmanoff, but they’re not guaranteed to outperform the guys already have in the organization.

The obvious in-house replacement is Eduardo Nunez, who did a fine job filling in for Derek Jeter a few weeks ago. The team has already indicated that he’ll get the bulk of the playing time in A-Rod’s absence, but there is one other option: Brandon Laird. Gerald’s little brother is already on the 40-man roster and is having an okay but not great season at Triple-A. He’s hitting .268/.297/.418 overall with ten homers, though it’s worth noting that he’s been playing better of late: .299/.325/.470 in his last 243 plate appearances, .292/.320/.503 in his last 153 plate appearances, and .311/.321/.584 in his last 78 plate appearances. No, he’s doesn’t walk much, but that’s life.

Laird does his best work against southpaws, tagging them for a .300/.337/.525 line this year (.258/.284/.383 vs. RHP) with a similar platoon split through his career. Not only does have a plethora of experience at third base, but he’s also played plenty of first base and the Yankees have had him dabble in left field over the last ten months or so. It’s probably not a coincidence that his first career game in right field came two days ago. Laird won’t win any Gold Gloves, but he won’t embarrass himself and should make all the routine plays, just not the spectacular onces. My guess is that with a full season’s worth of playing time, he’d probably be 5-10 runs below average with the glove. Not awful, but his bat is good enough that he should be better than replacement level.

For all intents and purposes, this is why the Yankees protected Laird from the Rule 5 Draft last winter. He’ll never ever ever be a starter on this team (barring disaster, anyway), so he serves two purposes: trade bait and an injury fill-in. If he performs well enough at the latter, maybe he snags a bench job for a while. There’s no doubt he’s better than Ramiro Pena, especially offensively, so the Yankees could swap the two and use Laird two or three times a week, primarily against lefties. That way Nunez could spell Jeter and Robinson Cano (or even get a day off himself) without completely sacrificing offense. He’d also be the fifth outfielder and backup first baseman as well.

This is exactly the kind of situation teams carry players like Laird, to fill a temporary hole on the big league roster. ZiPS projected a .250/.297/.424 batting line at big league level before the season, which would be a minor miracle in my eyes. The minor league equivalency of his Triple-A performance is .234/.261/.355 overall and .268/.285/.398 over his last 243 plate appearances. That’s a .295 wOBA or so, and maybe optimal usage (i.e. limited exposure to righties) gets him up to a .310-.315 wOBA, basically league average. I’d rather give Laird a chance to do that than stick with Pena, who we all know will be awful. Sorry Ramiro, nothing personal.

This isn’t quite a long-term fill-in situation but it’s not short-term either, let’s call it medium-term. It’s the perfect chance to try Laird out and see what the kid can do. If he flops, then fine, the Yankees will have essentially lost nothing because his replacement (Pena) is also terrible. If mean really, if not now, then when? Come Thursday (when the games start back up), there are two moves I want to see: Pena down and A-Rod to the disabled list, replaced by Laird and (I guess) Chris Dickerson. Nunez gets the majority of the playing time but Laird sees semi-regular at-bats against lefties. The bench would be the non-useless quartet of Laird/Nunez, Dickerson, Andruw Jones, and Frankie Cervelli. This is why they put Laird on the 40-man during the offseason, to use him in spots like this.