Game 22: Home again

If only the starts lined up right: Andy Pettitte debuted 15 years ago yesterday.

Photo credit: John Dunn/AP

Freddy Garcia has gotten off to a horrible start in 2009. He pitched a Pavano-esque 129 innings from 2007 through 2009. Last season he came back last August with the White Sox after failing to catch on with the Mets earlier in the season, and actually pitched fairly well. His 56 innings mostly came in September, not the best month on which to base an analysis.

This season he’s off to a slow start, a 5.82 ERA in 17 innings spanning three starts. Walks and home runs have killed him. The Yankees do two things exceedingly well. They take walks, and they hit home runs. It sounds like a perfect combination for a night of baseball in the Bronx. Only problem is, it has the makings of a reverse lock.

Garcia, now 35, put together a solid career with the Mariners and White Sox. From his rookie season, 1999, through 2006 he missed the 200-inning mark just once. He had a 113 ERA+ during that span, 16th highest among pitchers with more than 1,400 innings pitched. His opponent tonight, Andy Pettitte, had a 117 ERA+ during that span, 13th overall.

In his career Garcia has faced the Yankees 10 times, pitching 68.1 innings and allowing 34 runs, 32 earned, for an ERA of 4.21. One of those instances came last season, when the Yankees got to Garcia for three runs in six innings. Before that he hadn’t faced them since 2006. The team is quite a bit different now.

Pettitte has faced the White Sox 23 times in his career, not including the 2005 World Series. He’s had his good games and his bad, allowing 75 runs, 67 earned, in 139 innings. His last outing came last year, when he struck out eight White Sox and walked none in 6.1 innings.

Posada’s out of the lineup again, though he says he’s fine. Girardi said he could use him tomorrow or Sunday. I might be worried if he doesn’t.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Johnson, DH
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Curtis Granderson, CF
8. Francisco Cervelli, C
9. Brett Gardner, LF

And on the mound, number forty-six, Andy Pettitte.

Jorge Posada and the contusion of doom

When a Jeremy Guthrie fastball tailed in on Jorge Posada and hit him above the knee on Wednesday night, the Yanks’ catcher was clearly in pain. He walked slowly down to first base, limped awkwardly to second and eventually scored but with Curtis Granderson right behind him. He never made it back into the lineup.

Yesterday, the Yanks said Posada was day-to-day. Supposedly, he could have caught in an emergency, but the pain and swelling in the area around his fibular head was substantial. He probably won’t play this evening either, and no one is sure how long he’ll be out. Today, in his Under the Knife column, Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll sheds some light on the injury:

Ben Wolf … points out something about Posada getting hit by a pitch Wednesday that hadn’t occurred to me: “Was reading your latest column and saw that Posada was hit in the fibular head (I had just read knee in the general news). Even if there isn’t a fracture, there’s a risk of the injury being more of a long-term problem if he ends up with any restriction in the superior tibiofibular joint, especially considering the demands of a catcher squatting on the knee (including that joint specifically I think), not to mention any mechanistic problems he could have running. I suppose we will see.” …Posada says he could catch if it was an emergency, but it’s clear that it’s the squatting that’s the problem. We’ll see how the Yankees deal with this over the weekend, but expect Posada to miss time. At best, he could DH, but I think they’ll hold on to the retro DL move until they’re more sure.

I’m not entirely sure who Ben Wolf is but initial Google searches indicate a Ben Wolf associated with Medtronic. We can apply his views broadly to see how the Yanks treat Posada over the next few days.

For the Yankees, Jorge Posada is a key offensive piece of their puzzle. On the young season, he’s hitting .316/.400/.649, and his success makes it easy to overlook Mark Teixeira‘s struggles and A-Rod‘s recent hitless streak. With Posada out of the lineup and Cervelli in, the bottom of the order looks significantly weaker even if the team’s defense — and overall base running — improves.

The team should give Jorge some time to heal, and if he misses 15 days, it’s not the end of the world. He was on the shelf for 25 days last May, and the Yanks managed without him. Cervelli will get the bulk of the player time, and the team will bring up Chad Moeller to serve as a backup if Posada must be DL’d.

For now, it’s just a bruise, but by the end of the weekend, we’ll know more. If Jorge doesn’t see game action this weekend, I’d expect a trip to the disabled list. Even if he’s available to pinch hit or DH, the team can ill afford Ramiro Peña as their backup catcher for an extended period of time.

The John Sterling conundrum

John Sterling, left, is everywhere he shouldn't be. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Few members of the Yankee organization generate as much vehement debate as John Sterling. The so-called radio voice of the Yankees is either beloved by those who enjoy his colorful descriptions of the game or hated by those who can’t stand his theatrics. As the old saying in New York goes, the Yanks play two games: the one on the field and the one John Sterling calls.

Over the last few years, we’ve debated John Sterling now and then. Most fans seem to view him as that mildly annoying guy that everyone tolerates but few truly embrace, and over the course of the season, it’s mostly a moot point. I’m not exposed to Sterling on a very regular basis, and neither are too many fans.

This week, though, Sterling aroused the ire of the sports media watchers who obsess over the Yankees. During the team’s appearance at the White House, Sterling, as the above picture shows, was front and center as President Obama toasted the Yankees. Afterwards, everyone was fairly appalled. Columinists Phil Mushnick and Neil Best along with Pinstripe Prophets’ blogger Charlie DeBiase all took Sterling to task for making Monday’s ceremony more about him than it should have been.

“Looking like a wax figure,” Mushnick wrote, “Sterling was posed and positioned so perfectly and prominently in the Yankees/President photos and videos you’d have recalled that he made the catch on Bill Mazeroski to end the 1960 World Series, then, in 1996, sold his playoff seats to Jeffrey Maier’s dad.”

While Best excused the team for not thinking clearly and simply arranging everyone in height order, the Newsweek media watcher urged the team to consider who is truly important to the team’s success. “I have no doubt they are valued members of the Yankees’ extended family,” he wrote. “But it was an awkward look, one players who were out of the frame could not have appreciated.”

Therein lies the rub. John Sterling is, for better or worse, a member of the Yanks’ extended family, but he comes across, according to many in the industry who have met him in various capacities, as thinking that his histrionics are responsible for the team’s success. If he didn’t have an outlandish home run call for the Yanks’ sluggers or if he didn’t make every fly ball “high….far…..and caught at the warning track,” the team wouldn’t win. But he’s not that important to the team. He’s just the guy that keeps people entertained while they’re driving in the car, sitting outside on a warm day or making a pit stop in the bathroom for a few pitches during some inning in the game.

Maybe that’s why I personally have never warmed up to Sterling. The game is about the guys on the field; it’s not about him. But on the radio and at the White House too, it’s always about him.

Edit by RAB: This post was updated at 11:41 p.m. with more information on sourcing.

Linkage: A-Rod!, Posada & Pitchers, Draft

Nothing like a batch of links right before lunch, even if some of them are a little stale…

Defending A-Rod

Lost in the mix of disdain and straight up hatred for Alex Rodriguez and the whole unwritten rule thing with Dallas Braden was that there’s a side to A-Rod’s story as well. This post by Joe Posnanski and this one by Morgan Ensberg (yes, that Morgan Ensberg) really do a phenomenal job of coming to the defense of the Yankee third baseman, not necessarily by being apologetic, but by looking at the facts and not letting past discretions cloud their view of the matter. Both pieces are fantastic reads even if they are a tad outdated, so make sure you give them a read.

Also, I recommend making Ensberg’s blog part of your daily reading. It’s truly awesome.

Posada ranks Yankee pitchers

This one’s a few days old too, but we haven’t gotten around to linking to it yet. Jorge Posada sat down with some Yahoo! (see what I did there?) to talk about all the pitchers he’s caught during his career. I’m not sure how much I trust him though, because he said Scott Proctor “would throw 98, 99, 100.” I remember Proctor throwing in the mid-90’s at times, but 98-100? They didn’t even have him that high on the TV gun. Maybe Jorge was referring to the ultra-juiced stadium gun. Either way, it’s a fun read.

Largest contracts in draft history

I hate to self-promote, but I put way too much time and effort into researching and writing this post at MLBTR about he richest deals ever given to drafted players. Everyone knows that Stephen Strasburg and Mark Prior and Mark Teixeira got paid, but who knew that Pat Burrell got $8,000,000 back in 1998? Or that Eric Munson got $6,750,000 in 2000?

2010 Pledge Drive Update

Our 2010 pledge drive to benefit Curtis Granderson‘s Grand Kids Foundation is in full swing, and thus far we’ve raised $222.77 with 141 games still left to play. It’s never too late to pledge, just follow the link for all the information you’ll need about what we’re doing and how to get in on the action.

Early season swings hurt Granderson’s numbers

Last night the Yankees returned home from a 12-game, three-city road trip that Curtis Granderson would probably like to forget as quickly as possible. After picking up a hit in the first game, he went 0 for his next 17, though he did walk four times in that span. On Wednesday night he went 2 for 5, but then last night he put up a zero, capping a 3 for 29 road trip.

Yes, Curtis has been pretty awesome on defense this year | Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

This came as quite a disappointment, considering how hot Granderson started the season. In fact, he might have warded off criticism for a bit after his first at-bat home run, and then game-winning home run, in Boston. He cruised after that, too, and through the first 12 games he was 14 for 45 with two doubles, two triples, two homers, and five walks to just nine strikeouts.

It is difficult, at this point in the season, to draw any conclusions from a player’s performance, even if he has appeared in every game. As we’ve seen from a number of Yankees hitters, slumps show up in the numbers a bit more emphatically than later in the season. What we can examine is what the player has done so far, with the knowledge that it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll continue these trends.

For Granderson there are both positives and negatives. The biggest negative, as many of us feared, is his production against lefties. He has appeared 30 times against a left-handed pitcher, and has struck out a third of the time. That’s significantly worse than his career mark, a 25 percent strikeout rate against lefties. He has drawn one walk, so has put the ball in play 19 times. Five have dropped for hits, a .278 BABIP, which is actually a bit higher than his career BABIP against lefties.

Those poor numbers against lefties, though, mean that he’s been hitting righties just fine. Yet he has still been a relative disappointment there. His .368 wOBA against righties looks good, but ranks below any mark he has produced since 2006. Again, this is likely to change. His BABIP against righties is just .263, and even in his younger years he produced far, far better marks. I expect that, along with his power, will increase as he gets more at-bats against opposite handed pitchers.

Another encouraging sign: he’s putting the ball on the ground a bit more frequently than he did last season. In 2009 he produced a career-low 29.5 percent ground ball rate. This went along with a career-high fly-ball rate, though a career-high infield fly ball rate also tagged along. To put it in perspective, last year Granderson hit 21.2 percent line drives, 29.5 percent ground balls, 42.9 percent outfield fly balls, and 6.4 percent infield flies. This year he has hit 22.4 percent line drives, 37.9 percent ground balls, 36.2 percent outfield flies, and 3.4 percent infield flies. In his best year, 2007, he hit 21 percent line drives, 34.2 percent ground balls, 41.6 percent outfield flies, and 3.2 percent infield flies. I think he’s well on his way to a season perhaps not as good as 2007, but certainly better than 2009.

It’s easy to get discourage by early season numbers. Slumps bring them down, and Granderson’s numbers certainly don’t look pretty right now. I do think, though, that there are enough positive signs of a turnaround. He’ll hit righties better, and while he might not hit lefties better I think his numbers, especially his strikeout numbers, will move towards his career totals. Again, the Red Sox series has kept him shielded from most criticism, so I hope that he gets things started during this home stand to keep the critics at bay.

Burnett, Cano lead Yanks to series victory

Remember when I said that there’s just no way Cano will keep up this production throughout 2010? It’s still equally unlikely that he does, but damn. This has been a pleasure to watch. It must be what people in St. Louis feel all the time with Albert Pujols. Even if he makes an out, he’s still hitting the ball hard. He powered the offense in their 4-0 win in the series finale against the Orioles.

Biggest Hit: Cano’s first homer

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

When Burnett has both his fastballs and his curve working, the Yankees don’t need much offense to hand him the win. He toyed with the Orioles all night long, inducing ground balls and poor contact on fly balls. Not only were his pitches moving, but he also showed excellent control, throwing nearly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. That resulted in just one walk, which, combined with the three hits he allowed, amounted to no runs for the Orioles.

The Yankees got the only run they’d need in the first, but they can’t count on just one run. Robinson Cano tacked on another in the fourth inning. A-Rod has been in a little slump, 0 for his last 19, so Cano has been coming up with fewer men on base. That hasn’t stopped him from brutalizing pitchers. Brian Matusz started the at-bat with a curveball high for ball one, and then went back to the same pitch. This one landed a little lower, high in the strike zone but slow enough for Cano to get all the around on. Into the seats it went, and Burnett got a bit larger lead.

Biggest Pitch: The walk

In the top of the sixth Cano struck again, doubling off Matusz to lead off the inning. Marcus Thames followed with a double, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Burnett had dominated the Orioles for the first five innings, so a three-run lead looked like quite a convincing lead at that time. It was. The largest WPA swing in favor of the Orioles came in a situation where they merely put a runner into scoring position, the first time they’d done so all game.

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

It was one of the rare poor sequences for Burnett. He missed pretty badly with a first-pitch fastball, and then came back with three more. Only one, a called strike two, was close. The final three pitches all missed inside, though Markakis did foul off a curveball before taking a fastball inside for ball four. That was all they’d get, though. Matt Wieters hit into a fielder’s choice, and Miguel Tejada popped out to end the frame, ending the Orioles’ best chance of the evening.

Hey Mark Teixeira

Teixeira might have gone only 1 for 4 with a double last night, but again made some solid contact. That solid contact hasn’t translated into his normally ridiculous numbers yet, but it seems like he’s close. Maybe a trip back to the inviting confines of Yankees Stadium will be just the boost he needs. He did, after all, hit 24 of his 39 home runs last season at home.

When Burnett’s on

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

Some games A.J. Burnett will have trouble with his curveball. We saw one of those starts over the weekend, though he mixed his four-seamer and two-seamer well enough to survive 6.1 innings against the Angels. This time he added his power curveball, and it left the Orioles with no chance.

You might notice, on Brunett’s FanGraphs page, that he’s throwing more fastballs this year than he did last year. If you go to his PitchFX page, you’ll see that he’s dividing them among his four-seamer and what PitchFX classifies as a sinker. A number of other pitchers have shown the same tendency this season, so it sounds like a chance in pitch classification algorithm. Still, it does seem like Burnett has been mixing his four-seamer and two-seamer a bit more this season.

His strikeouts per nine are way down this year, under six for the first time ever, but his groundball rate has risen. After another nine groundouts last night that figures to increase. Combine that with a low walk rate, and you have a very good, albeit completely different, A.J. Burnett. He’s not going to pitch like this every start, but if he has a few more like it in him, we’re going to enjoy life plenty this summer.

Robinson Cano…

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

Is there anything Robinson Cano can’t do? He leads the league in batting average and is ninth in OBP. He tied the two league leaders, Paul Konerko and Kelly Johnson, this evening, but both hit home runs of their own today, Johnson one and Konerko two, so he’s still in third. Also, I’m not completely certain of this, because I used a wOBA calculation spreadsheet and I’m not sure if it exactly matches FanGraphs’ formula, but I believe Cano will lead MLB in wOBA once the stats update.

Some Yankees have been in slumps lately. Teixeira hasn’t gotten started this season, A-Rod is 0 for his last 19, and Granderson had a pretty poor road trip. Cano has made up for them. Thankfully, when his production starts to even out, the other guys will likely get into a groove. Just another reason to love this team.

Joys

Every minute of that game.

Just so it doesn’t go unmentioned, yes, that backhand and throw by Cano was unreal. It was impressive enough that he got to the ball in time to make a play. But that throw was perfect. For his next trick, he’ll remove his glove and throw to first left-handed.

Annoyances

None worth mentioning.

WPA Graph

Great game last night, eh? Oh yeah, total domination. Unbelievable. Fuggedaboutit.

Next Up

The Yanks are back home and will face the White Sox. Unfortunately, Ozzie Guillen just now, a day before he starts a series with the Yankees, realized that Juan Pierre is no good. Andy Pettitte might have to face a slightly better hitter when he opens the series tomorrow night.

Noesi shows no mercy to Dunedin

Colin Curtis was placed on the disabled list with a high ankle injury, but it doesn’t sound too serious. Matt Cusick was activated off the phantom DL to take his spot. Abe Almonte is also on the DL, hence Francisco Santana’s arrival. Not sure what’s up with him.

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 win over Louisville, walk-off style)
Kevin Russo, 3B: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI – 15 for his last 36 (.417)
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Eduardo Nunez, SS, Juan Miranda, 1B, Jesus Montero, C & Jon Weber, RF: all 1 for 4 – Nunez stole a bag … Weber K’ed
Chad Huffman, LF: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – hit a walk-off jack as the first batter in the bottom of the 9th
Chad Moeller, C: 1 for 3
Reegie Corona, 2B: 0 for 2
Zach McAllister: 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 WP, 2-9 GB/FB – 66 of 96 pitches were strikes (68.8%) … the grounders just aren’t there this year, he’s got a 0.56 GB/FB this year after being closer to 1.5 the last few years
Amaury Sanit: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 18 of 29 pitches were strikes (62.1%)
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 10 of his 11 pitches were strikes … 14-5 K/BB ratio in 14.1 IP with a 1.55 GB/FB

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