Some late night listening with RAB

I’m going to be appearing on Sports Talk Soup’s MLB Monday radio show at 11pm ET tonight, so make sure you click here to stop by and listen. We’re going to recap the first two months of the season and look forward at what to expect the rest of the way. Should be fun.

GCL Yanks start 2010 with the mother of all games

Make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Pawtucket, walk-off style)
Reid Gorecki, CF: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K
Eric Bruntlett, LF: 3B: 0 for 4
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 3B – 16 for his last 41 (.390)
Jorge Vazquez, 3B-1B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K, 1 E (fielding)
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 4, 3 K – eek
P.J. Pilittere, 1B: 2 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Justin Christian, LF: 0 for 1, 1 BB, 1 K – just up from Trenton because of Colin Curtis’ call up
Reegie Corona, 2B: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 SB
Jeff Natale, DH: 0 for 2, 1 RBI
Ivan Nova: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 3-9 GB/FB – 63 of 96 pitches were strikes (65.6%) … four runs allowed in his last 27 IP
Royce Ring: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K – just five of his 11 pitches were strikes
Zack Segovia:0.2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2-0 GB/FB – half of his 12 pitches were strikes
Jon Albaladejo: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 23 of his 40 pitches were strikes (57.5%) … he blew his first game since last August, but ended up Clipping a win

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Game 70: More of the same, please

Yes, that is Wil Nieves, perhaps the worst backup C the Yanks had last decade. | Photo credit: Julie Jacobson/AP

When the Yankees entered the interleague circuit in June 2007, they were, gasp, below .500. They bowled through the first leg, though, sweeping the Pirates, partly thanks to the return of Roger Clemens, and then the Diamondbacks. In the latter series they outscored Arizona 18-4, with the closest game coming in the opener when they won 4-1. They left the series at 33-31, though they’d drop back below .500 after losing series to the Rockies, Giants, and Orioles. Of course, after that second loss to the Orioles they went 58-29 the rest of the way and made the playoffs, so all was forgiven.

That year the Diamondbacks won the NL West, and were leading the division when they entered Yankee Stadium. They left in third place, though unlike the Yankees they went to feast on Baltimore — twice, actually, regaining their division lead the second time through. This year the Diamondbacks are, uh, not so good. They’re 27-43, last in the West by 9.5 games. That’s not 9.5 games out of first, but 9.5 games out of fourth place.

Tonight the Yanks draw Rodrigo Lopez, whom you might remember from his years with the Orioles. He never walked a ton of guys, but he also didn’t strike out many and let a lot of batted balls leave the park. Why he remains in the league is a mystery. Yes, his ERA is 4.70, which isn’t bad for a starter on a team like the Diamondbacks, but he’s the kind of guy who could explode at any second. It’s really a surprise that his HR/9 is as low as 1.47 considering Arizona’s hitter friendly confines. He also sports a ridiculous 24.5 percent line drive rate, which is beyond silly for a guy who strikes out next to no one. You know what the league batting average on line drives is? Freaking .722. They yield a 1.693 OPS. How is this guy still in the league?

Just to pile it on: guess who has the lowest swinging strike percentage among qualifying NL starters. If you didn’t say Lopez, well, I don’t know what to tell you.

OK, I’m done ragging on Rodrigo Lopez…for now.

As for the Yanks, uh, hope that good A.J. shows up. That’s about it.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Curtis Granderson, CF
8. Brett Gardner, LF
9. A.J. Burnett, P

With off day, Yanks set to skip Hughes

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Over the winter, when the Yankees announced that Phil Hughes would be a starting pitcher this season, rumblings of the Hughes Rules emerged from those covering the club. We knew the Yanks were going to keep Hughes on a limit of around 170-180 innings, and we knew they weren’t going to be as public with the Hughes Rules as they were with the infamous Joba Rules.

Today, the mystery surrounding the Hughes Rules cleared up a bit, as Joe Girardi said the team will be taking advantage of a pair of off days to skip Hughes’ next start. Instead of pitching on Friday in Los Angeles, Hughes will next get the ball on Tuesday, June 29 when the Yankees return home to face the Mariners. He’ll make three starts before the All Star Break instead of four, and the Yankees will use their four-day break to ensure that Hughes has nearly two weeks off between starts.

If I’m reading the team’s mind correctly, Hughes will make the following starts before the break: June 29 vs. Seattle, July 4 vs. Toronto and July 9 vs. Seattle again. The team can restack its rotation after the break and won’t need a fifth starter until either the 21st or even the 25th of July because of a day off on the Monday after the All Star break. I’d guess the Yanks will use Hughes on the 21st because they don’t want to risk too much time off. He is, after all, their winningest starter.

Moeller DFA’d to make room for Curtis

Following up on Mike’s earlier post about Colin Curtis’ arrival with the big league club, the Yankees have designated Chad Moeller for assignment. Moeller was called up to serve as the team’s back-up catcher while Jorge Posada was hurt and had not played in a game since June 10th. While the decision to bring up Curtis is an interesting one itself, the corresponding move to jettison Moeller is not. Good bye, Chad. We hardly knew ye.

Anyway, feel free to use this as an open thread. We’ll be back with the game thread at 9:30.

Yankees call up Colin Curtis

Via LoHud, the Yankees have called up outfielder Colin Curtis from Triple-A Scranton, presumably because they want to extra position player while playing in NL parks this week. No word on a corresponding roster move, but Curtis will have to be added to both the 25-man and 40-man rosters. This could be the end of Chad Moeller.

The lefty swinging Curtis can play all three outfield spots but is best suited for the corners, and he’s hit ten for his last 28 with three doubles. He is the seventh member of the Yanks’ ungodly 2006 draft haul to reach the majors.

The Year of the Grand Slam

You may or may not have noticed, but the Yankees are hitting an awful lot of homeruns with the bases loaded this season. The team has seven grand slams in just 69 games, putting them on pace to hit a staggering 16 over the full season. The all-time record is 14, shared by the 2006 Indians and the 2000 A’s.

The Yanks hit just three salamis last year and seven the year before, so we’re already in some rarefied air here. In 106 plate appearances with the bags full in 2010, they’re hitting a combined .420/.481/.693 (.498 wOBA) with seven homers and 103 runs driven in. The last individual batter to have a wOBA that high in a single season was Barry Bonds in 2004, when he hit 45 homers and reached base 367 times in 147 games. That’s how stupefyingly good they’ve been when the pitcher has no margin for error.

Let’s take a second to recap all seven…

May 14th: A-Rod vs. Matt Guerrier (video)
Coming off four losses in their last five games, the Yankees had been beaten down by Scott Baker for the first six innings and trailed by one going into the 7th. Frankie Cervelli and Derek Jeter started the inning off with a single and a double, respectively, putting men on second and third with no outs. Not even a slumping Yankee offense could screw this up, but they sure tried.

Lefty reliever Brian Duensing got Brett Gardner to hit a lazy fly ball to left not deep enough to score the run, and the Twinkies decided to take advantage of a slumping A-Rod (had hit .230/.296/.328 in his previous 71 plate appearances) by walking the even slumpier Mark Teixeira (.198/.327/.382 on the season to that point) to load the bases and set up both the double play and the force at any base. You know what happened next.

Matt Guerrier was summoned from the bullpen to face A-Rod even though he was 4-for-6 with three homers off him to that point, and it took all of two pitches for Alex to lift the ball deep into the Bronx sky and into the leftfield stands. Hit Tracker measured the true distance of the shot at 367 ft., so it wasn’t A-Rod’s best. They all count the same, and the Yanks went on to win 8-4.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

May 28th: Robbie Cano vs. Tony Sipp (video)
Batting cleanup for the first time this year, the molten hot Cano came to the plate with no outs and the bases loaded following a Jeter single, a Curtis Granderson double, and a Teixeira walk. As he tends to do, Cano wasted no time and jumped all over Sipps’ first pitch, launching it deep into the rightfield second deck for a good old four run homer and an 8-2 lead. The ball traveled 386 ft., and I’m sure Sipps’ confidence fell just as far.

May 31st: A-Rod vs. Chris Perez (video)
People just never learn. Barely two weeks after the Twins fell victim to old “walk Teixeira to load the bases for A-Rod because he’s so unclutch” trick, the Indians did exactly the same thing. The Yanks had been nursing a one run lead since the 4th when Perez entered with one out in the 7th and the bases juiced after Rafael Perez got singled to death, and he promptly ran the count to 3-1 on the A-Rod. It was a winnable game for Cleveland, so walking in a run would have been pretty awful. Perez grooved a 3-1 heater and Alex did what he was supposed to do, he sent it right back up the middle, except airborne. The ball landed in Monument Park, the Yanks lead went from one to five, and the game eventually ended 11-2 in favor of the good guys. Hit Tracker measured this one at 421 ft.

June 8th: Granderson vs. Kevin Millwood (video)
The Yankees were in the middle of beating Baltimore for the eighth time in a row when Granderson stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the 3rd. Grandy was hitting a nice and clean .300/.333/.500 since returning from the disabled list a week earlier, but he still wasn’t putting together consistent at-bats. Millwood made it easy by starting him out 2-1 before Granderson fouled off a pitch to even the count at 2-2, but it was Millwood’s fifth pitch that he wishes he could have back. The Yanks’ centerfield pulled the ball 382 ft. down the rightfield line, over the scoreboard and into the barbecue pits lining Eutaw St. to give his team a six-zip advantage.

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

June 12th: Jorge Posada vs. Wandy Rodriguez (video)
A stretch of games against last place teams had helped correct the Yanks’ month long slump, but Posada wasn’t out of the woods yet. He was hitting just .133/.297/.133 in 37 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list, and Wandy already made him look foolish in this game by striking him out on a big loopy curveball. Posada obviously put that curve in his memory bank, because the Astros’ hurler went right back to it when the Yanks had the bases loaded and no outs in the 3rd.

A walk, single, walk, and single had already brought one run in, but Jorge plated the rest when he poked that same curveball the opposite way and over the right-centerfield wall. The Astros went from tied at two to down by four in the matter of that one pitch, and they went on to drop the game 9-3. Hit Tracker measures this one at 388 ft.

June 13th: Posada vs. Casey Daigle (video)
Apparently the Astros hadn’t had enough the day before, so the went ahead and loaded the bases for Posada the next day as well. Already down by two, the forgettable duo of Brian Moehler and Gustavo Chacin walked the bases loaded, and Daigle came off the scrap heap out of the bullpen and immediately went 2-0 on Jorge. What resulted was the worst pitch in the history of Major League Baseball. An 87 mph thigh high fastball right out over the middle. Posada put his best swing on it, and 390 ft. later the Yankees had a 7-1 lead. He became just the third player in franchise history to hit grand slams on back-to-back days, joining Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey, who played a long, long time again.

June 20th: Teixeira vs. Johan Santana (video)
With everyone worrying about the April slump that just won’t end, Teixeira started to ease some of those concerns by hitting a game tying two run shot off Mike Pelfrey the day before he victimized Johan. The Yanks’ loaded the bases with no outs on a pair of clean singles by Gardner and Jeter and a somewhat comical bunt single by Nick Swisher, and the Mets’ ace quickly threw a first pitch ball to Tex. The next pitch caught the corner for a 1-1 count, but Johan left a changeup right out over the plate for the money shot, a 386 ft. blast into the left-centerfield stands to give the Yanks the only runs they would score in a 4-0 victory.

The Yankees hit three grand slams as a team on this most recent road trip, reminiscent of the home stretch last May that featured three straight walk-off wins against the Twins, basically announcing to the baseball world that walk-off wins were going to be the team’s trademark. They only have one glorious walk-off win this year, but it seems they entire team has changed their agenda. 2010 is a the year of the grand slam, folks. I assume A.J. Burnett will adjust his pie-throwing scheduled accordingly.

Possible trade target: Jeff Keppinger

It still feels like the season just started, but the trade deadline is already less than six weeks away. The Yankees got an early start on things last year, acquiring Eric Hinske from the Pirates on June 30th. We have a pretty good idea of where the team needs some help now that 42.6% of the season is complete, so over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at some (reasonable) players the Yanks could target in a midsummer trade to reinforce their squad.

Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson, AP

After doing such a fine job last year, Ramiro Pena has basically gone on to perform as his minor league track record suggested he should this year. He’s hitting a weak .190/.235/.206 (.213 wOBA) in 70 plate appearances, putting him on pace for 164 trips to the plate, or 43 more than last season. The reason he’s played so much more in 2010 is quite simply health. Alex Rodriguez has been battling a nagging hip/groin issue for the last month or so, and Derek Jeter has already missed time with minor illness, hamstring, and heel problems. Even Kevin Russo, who quickly became a fan favorite because of big hits against the Mets and Twins, has a .231 wOBA in a sneaky high total of 51 plate appearances.

It’s entirely possible that A-Rod and Jeter shake off the nagging injury bug the rest of the way and turn into the workhorse players they’ve been for the last decade and a half, but the Yanks would be wise to have a more viable backup infield option handy. I like Pena and Russo as much as the next guy, but they’re simply not producing enough, even by bench player standards.

Jerry Hairston Jr. might be the ideal target because of familiarity more than anything, but he’s not hitting either (.271 wOBA) and the Padres are surprise contenders that might not be willing to sell off a useful part. One team that isn’t anywhere near contending and has a versatile infielder to spare is Houston, who has been trotting Jeff Keppinger out as their starting second baseman basically all season.

The former Met and Red gained a little notoriety by hitting .332/.400/.477 (.385 wOBA) in 276 plate appearances for Cincinnati in 2007, though he’s basically established himself as a .267/.318/.365 hitter in 1,110 plate appearances since. He’s enjoying his best season since 2007 this year, with a .284/.330/.374 (.312 wOBA) batting line in 264 plate appearances for the Astros. The one thing he really excels at is getting the bat on the ball; his contact rate on pitches in the zone (97.7%) and on all pitches (93.1%) are among the four highest percentages in the game this year, ditto his absurdly low 2.2% swing-and-miss rate. His contact rates are almost identical to Brett Gardner‘s, for comparison.

Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson, AP

Because he hits for so little power (.091 ISO in 2010, .107 career), Keppinger basically provides an empty batting average, which is fine for a bench guy. You’re not asking him to be an offensive force off the bench, you just want more than an automatic out. Both his AVG and OBP are slightly above the league average (by 25 points and one point, respectively), and the Yankees really couldn’t ask for much more. Perhaps Kevin Long will be able to add a little loft to his swing like he did with Hairston (he went from 42.0 FB% with the Reds to 46.4% with the Yanks, boosting his offensive performance appropriately), adding a little more pop to his game.

Keppinger has played second base almost exclusively this year, though he has plenty of experience at both third and short as well (more than 760 defensive innings at both spots). He’s even logged time at first base and in both corner outfield spots in the past. Going around the horn, his career UZR/150’s at the three non-first base infield spots are -4.2, -12.3, and -1.4, which is quite simply awful. Keppinger’s throwing arm and ability to actually catch the ball is fine, he’s just got zero range. He’s not an asset on the bases either, with just four steals in eight attempts over the last three years, and his non-stolen base baserunning has cost his team 1.77 runs since 2008. Basically he’s a guy that gets the bat on the ball and can fake a bunch of different positions.

On the contractual side of things, Keppinger is still owed approximately $653,000 of his $1.15M salary this season, and he actual has two more years of team control ahead of him. Granted, he’ll be arbitration eligible during both those years, likely pushing his salary north of $2M and then $3M, but the Yanks would always have the option of non-tendering him. Who knows what the Astros would want in return, but I can’t imagine it’s much more than what the Yanks gave up for Hairston, grade-C and low level prospect Chase Weems (.231/.250/.282 as a backup in High-A ball this year). Moreover, owner Drayton McLane first needs to sign off on a rebuilding effort before GM Ed Wade can shop his players around.

It’s worth mentioning that Hairston’s production improved after he joined the Yanks last year (.308 wOBA with the Reds, .325 with the Yanks), but who knows why that happened. Maybe it’s just a small sample size fluke, maybe he was rejuvenated by joining a contender, maybe K-Long fixed him, who knows. Whatever it was, the Yanks can’t count on it happening again. By no means is Keppinger lighting the world on fire, but it’s a clear upgrade over Pena and Russo.

Remember, bench players are bench players for a reason: because they aren’t good enough to start. The only reason Keppinger is getting regular at-bats in Houston is because the Astros are terrible and don’t have a better option. His name is sure to pop up because he fits a need, but I’m not necessarily suggesting the Yankees should acquire him. I’m just laying out the facts for discussion purposes. Keppinger is a moderately productive player with a favorable contract on a team that shouldn’t consider him a long-term building block, ergo a decent trade target.