Big jerk A-Rod spoils Melky’s return to the Bronx

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Obvious sarcasm is obvious. In all seriousness, it was good to see Melky Cabrera back in the Bronx, wasn’t it? I know I (and many others) hated on him pretty hard during his tenure in pinstripes, but it was nothing personal. I’ve gotta admit, I smiled a bit when he hit the solo homer in this game, just for old time’s sake. I’m just glad it came in a rather generic and utterly forgettable win by the Yankees.

A-Rod Gets Them In

By now you know that Alex Rodriguez has been stuck in a little bit of a slump since coming back from that stiff oblique, but if Derek Jeter can break out of his slump by beating out infield singles and grounding balls though the holes (before he started hitting them over the fence), then why can’t A-Rod? The Yankees loaded the bases (on a walk, single, and a hit-by-pitch) with the score tied at one in the fifth inning, bringing Alex to the plate. Kyle Davies came after him with a steady diet of cutters and changeups before leaving a 2-2 curve just a little up, and A-Rod grounded the ball back up the middle and pastadiving Alcides Escobar for a two-run single. The rally and run-scoring hit wasn’t all that spectacular, but at this point we’ll take anything from Alex. Hopefully he’s starting to wake up (five for his last 17 now, .294).

This was the bad one. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Big Out Number One: Swish Takes A Leap Of Faith

Freddy Garcia was pretty strong all game, though he did run into a bit of trouble in the top of the fifth. Mike Aviles and Matt Treanor strung together consecutive singles with one out, then Escobar got caught staring at a slider for strike three and out two. Chris Getz, who reached base twice in the game and stole his seventh base in the first inning, connected on a 1-1 changeup and lined it into right. Nick Swisher got on his horse and chased it down, making a diving catch to the end the inning. It was a poor man’s version of Brett Lillibridge’s game-ending catch a few weeks ago.

The risk here is obvious. If Swisher misses the ball, both Aviles and Treanor score with ease and Getz is at least standing on third. Given his speed, an inside-the-parker wouldn’t have been out of the question. Swish missed a tough diving catch in the third, but the risk there was minimal since the bases were empty. He gambled and won in the fifth, resulting in a +0.058 WPA swing for New York. We’ll have to disagree with the spreadsheeters here, because it’s obvious the catch was much more important than that given the baserunner situation.

Big Out(s) Number Two (& Three): Robertson Escapes The Seventh

David Robertson seems to take his fireman thing very seriously. He entered the game with two on and none out in the seventh, coaxing a fly out from Aviles before walking Treanor to load the bases with the Yankees up a pair. He was merely getting Kansas City right where he wanted them. Escobar got two fastballs off the plate before fouling off four straight, then Robertson dropped the hammer and struck him out on a curveball in the dirt. Getz took three pitches for a 1-2 count then fouled off four straight of his own, but the third curveball of the encounter did the trick. Robertson whiffed the Royals’ leadoff hitter when home plate ump Ed Hickox ruled that Getz broke the plane on his check swing. The replay showed that the call was … questionable. I’ll leave it at that.

Robertson’s two strikeouts were the biggest defensive plays of the game (by far) according to WPA, checking in at +0.115 and +0.120, respectively. He’s faced just five batters with the bases loaded this season (doesn’t it seem like 500?), and four of them have struck out. That’s getting the job done, folks.


You see that little white glob on the right of the above screen cap (with the arrow)? That’s Brett Gardner already around first and on his way to second during his third inning triple. The ball hasn’t even landed yet, and he’s already past first and going to towards second. Insane. Jeter’s resurgence continued with a 2-for-4 night, including an RBI when he drove in Gardner after the triple. Both of those hits in the third came with two outs too, so that’s cool. The Cap’n is up to .283/.336/.354 on the season. I remain cautiously optimistic.

Curtis Granderson took an 0-for-4 with three whiffs while Russell Martin and Jorge Posada each went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Robinson Cano and Swisher both singled in four at-bats and saw exactly 19 pitches. I noticed that Robbie set himself up at the plate very slow and deliberately in his first at-bat, almost as if he was trying to slow himself down and intentional take the first pitch. We’ve seen him do similar stuff in the past, but this is the first time I remember seeing him do it in 2011. Mark Teixeira singled, walked, and got hit by a pitch. Tough day, but productive.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Freddy Garcia was pretty good, allowing the one run on Melky’s solo shot in six innings of work. He struck out three and walked two, though ten of his 13 outs on balls in play came via the fly ball. That’s a little risky, but hey, it worked. I though Joe Girardi pulled him at exactly right time, so no complaints about the bullpen usage here.

Speaking off bullpen usage, Rafael Soriano was unavailable in this game because of a tender elbow, so Joba Chamberlain handled eighth inning duties and was fantastic. He struck out former Yankees teammate Melky Cabrera on a 96 mph fastball down in the zone, struck out former Nebraska teammate Alex Gordon on a 98 mph fastball away, then got Billy Butler to ground out weakly. Nine pitches, three outs. That’s how you do it.

Mariano Rivera gave up an opposite field single to Jeff Francoeur to lead off the ninth, but then he struck out uber-rookie Eric Hosmer after falling behind in the count three balls to no strikes. The final two outs came on an acrobatic 1-4-3 double play. Not textbook, but it works. Get the ball, throw the ball, and let’s go home.

WPA Graph & Box Score has your box score and video, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Same two teams tomorrow night, when A.J. Burnett takes on Vin Mazzaro. Bruce Chen was supposed to go to the Royals, but he was placed on the disabled list with a lat strain. We get Vinny from Jersey instead.

Soriano to get precautionary MRI on right elbow

Rafael Soriano will go for an MRI on his right elbow tomorrow, Yankee manager Joe Girardi said after the Yanks’ 3-1 win over the Royals. Soriano’s absence raised a few eyebrows this evening as David Robertson threw the 7th and Joba dominated the 8th, and Girardi said that Soriano was “a little tender…a little bit sore.” The Yanks’ manager said that after speaking with team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad, Soriano decided to go for a “precautionary” MRI. “He didn’t feel good today,” Girardi said.

After Girardi’s presser, Soriano, who last pitched on Sunday, said he has been sore for two weeks but said he felt “fine.” Soriano has had two surgeries on his right elbow and wants to get a clean bill of health before moving forward. We will, of course, follow this story closely.

JoVa goes deep again, but SWB falls

Triple-A Scranton (9-5 loss to Buffalo)
Dan Brewer, RF & Justin Maxwell, CF: both 0 for 5, 3 K – oof
Chris Dickerson, LF: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 SB – breaks out of a little 1-for-10 slump
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 BB, 1 K – four walks in his last eight games after none in his first 27 games
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 3for 5, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI – trying to make me look bad I see … he should know I don’t need help in that department
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B – nine for his last 23 (.391), so hopefully he’s walking up
Jordan Parraz, DH & Luis Nunez, 2B: both 2 for 4, 1 K – Parraz doubled and drove in two
Doug Bernier, SS: 1 for 4, 3 K
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 11-0 GB/FB – 51 of 87 pitches were strikes (58.6%) … hooray for all the ground outs, but yuck for everyone else
Ryan Pope, RHP: 1.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 17 of 25 pitches were strikes (68%) … not his finest moment
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 3-1 GB/FB – half of his 34 pitches were strikes … 6-7 K/BB ratio in 14.2 IP

[Read more…]

Game 33: Back Home

Nope. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

A seven-game swing through Detroit and Texas isn’t the most grueling of baseball road trips, but the games themselves were pretty tough. The starting pitchers had to grind a few games out, the offense tirelessly stranded baserunners like it was going out of style, and all those games came at the back end of a 16-in-16 stretch. I’m sure yesterday’s day off helped recharge the batteries, I know I enjoyed it, and hopefully the Yankees are ready to go to town during this quick six-game homestand. Here’s tonight’s lineup…

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

Freddy Garcia, SP

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Notes: The Royals placed Bruce Chen on the disabled list, so the Yankees will face Jersey’s own Vin Mazzaro tomorrow … Phil Hughes expects to start throwing on Thursday, and hopes to be back within six-to-eight weeks. Good luck with that, kiddo. Seriously, good luck.

Shameless Plug: Check out Take on Russ tomorrow morning from 11am-noon. Click the link for details.

Quick Mailbag: Jorge Vazquez

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Nico asks: OK, so I remember your piece from late February on Jorge Vasquez, and I just re-read it as a refresher. How can people be so sure his skills won’t translate to the bigs? He is absolutely raking in Scranton – is there some obvious sign that he will be useless against big-league stuff? I’ve just never heard of such abstract reasoning for why we shouldn’t see what a player can do at the big-league level. Thanks!

JoVa has been killing in Triple-A so far this year, currently ranking in the International League with eleven homers behind teammate Justin Maxwell, who has a dozen. His .389 wOBA is undeniably gaudy, but there are obvious flaws in his game. First and foremost, his plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired. Vazquez has drawn just five walks this season despite being one of the league’s preeminent power hitters, and in 730 plate appearances since signing with the Yankees back in 2009, he’s drawn just 23 unintentional walks. That 3.2% walk rate is on par with noted big league hackers like Orlando Cabrera, Alfonso Soriano, Juan Uribe, and (sadly) Robinson Cano. Except we’re talking about a guy in his late-20’s drawing so little walks against minor league competition.

With that low walk total comes a ton of strikeouts, we’re talking 235 in 686 at-bats in the system (34.3%). Vazquez has struck out 37 times in 127 at-bats this season (29.1%), and even in the Mexican League he was almost always over 30%. Strikeout rates that high by older players in the minors almost always stem from one of two things (often both): the guy just can’t recognize breaking balls, or he has a huge hole in his swing that pitchers exploit. Given the low walk totals, I’m guessing it’s more of the former in Vazquez’s case. The power is real, no doubt about it, but he’s a two-true outcomes guy at Triple-A, and that doesn’t really translate to the show.

Then there’s the defense, which he doesn’t really offer. JoVa’s should be viewed strictly as a first baseman if he has to actually wear a glove, though he’s played some third in the minors. He’s playable at the hot corner the same way Eric Hinske was, in an emergency or late in a blowout game when you want to rest the regular. Jorge’s a short (5-foot-11) and pudgy (225 lbs.) dude that just doesn’t move around well. I can relate. He’s really more of a DH than anything else.

Joe mentioned Mitch Jones in his February post, a guy that spent parts of seven seasons just annihilating the minor leagues (.249 ISO) in the Yankees’ system before bolting for Japan (and eventually coming back). It’s a good comparison in the sense that both Jones and Vazquez are classic AAAA-types, though the former’s career walk rate in the minors (9.9%) is more than double the latter’s. Jones was also athletic enough to play the outfield the entire time. Shelley Duncan is cut from a similar cloth, but he walked more than Jones and struck out way less than both guys (24.3% strikeout rate in the minors). And again, he could handle the outfield.

Vazquez opened some eyes with a great Spring Training and has carried that success over into the regular season, but you have to be careful with guys like this. He’s way old for the level at 29, he doesn’t lay off enough pitches out of the zone, and his defensive value is negligible. JoVa’s a great organization guy, and maybe he gets a cup of coffee with someone somewhere down the line, but he offers little to his Yankees team as presently constructed.

Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

After a recovery for the offense in Texas — Rangers Ballpark cures what ails your hitters — the Yankees will spend some time at home this week. The Kansas City Royals come into town, but don’t let them fool you. This isn’t the team that finished 67-95, last in the AL Central last year. They’re currently 18-16, second in the Central, and while that might not represent their actual talent level, it does indicate that they’re a tick better than before. At least they’re playing that way, which is all that matters as the two teams match up this week.

The future, Eric Hosmer. (Ed Zurga/AP)

What Have the Royals Done Lately?

In late April it appeared as though they were quickly reverting to the same old Royals, as they lost six straight to Texas and Cleveland. But sometimes facing the worst team in the league can pick you back up. That’s what happened when the Royals faced Minnesota last week. They swept through that series and then took two of three from Baltimore. Dropping two of three to the A’s has left them 6-3 in their last nine, though the competition, at least on the offensive side of the ball, wasn’t best-in-league.

Royals on Offense

Frenchy's poppin' 'em. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

One of the reasons the Royals have played so well this season is by hitting the ball well. Their .338 wOBA ranks fourth in the majors, just a single point behind Texas. Last year they were known as a team that could string together some singles and make some runs, but this year they’re actually hitting with some power, ranking fourth in the league with a .155 ISO. Unlike last year, they post a threat to put up a crooked number this year.

The leader of the offense is, to everyone’s surprise, Jeff Francoeur. Through his first 142 PA he is hitting .302/.345/.581, including a team-leading eight home runs. We’ve seen Francoeur get off to hot starts before — last year he started off with a .378 wOBA in April before slipping later in the year — but something seems different about this year. It always does, until things come crashing down. You’ll pardon me for not buying into the Francoeur hype. The only thing that has changed for him is his swinging strike rate, and I don’t think cutting that down is enough to turn an undisciplined hitter, who still doesn’t draw walks, into a powerhouse. Better, maybe, but not bum-to-superstar.

Complementing Francoeur in the middle of the order is Alex Gordon, who, after wearing the bust label, has resurged in the early portion of this season. It’s easier to buy Gordon’s turnaround than Francoeur’s, because there didn’t seem to be any reason why he couldn’t succeed previously. Injuries derailed him to a degree, and he never really got into a groove. This year he’s hitting .309/.367/.500 while playing, statistically at least, a solid left field. He could cause some issues at Yankee Stadium.

There’s always Billy Butler, too, who has again established himself as a solid hitter with gap power. The full home run package will probably never come, but he can still draw a walk and make solid contact. Maybe those skills will go for waste in the cavern that is left-center at Yankee Stadium, but it’s not as though he’s a straight pull hitter. With Butler, Francoeur, and Gordon in the middle of the lineup the Royals certainly pose a threat.

Can't find a Betemit. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Of the eight Royals with 100 or more PA, six of them have a wRC+ above 100, and five of them are above 125. The latter group includes former Yankee Wilson Betemit, who has done nothing but hit since he signed on with Kansas City. In the last two seasons he has hit .300/.374/.497 in 422 PA, which is almost certainly the best 400-PA stretch of his career. It’s doubtful that he continues doing this for the next few years, but he certainly has become a threat at the moment. In the former group, but not the latter, is Melky Cabrera, who has shown great improvement since his disappointing 2010.

And I’ll close by mentioning Eric Hosmer, rookie and Baseball America’s No. 8 overall prospect. He’ll be taking the reps at first base.

Royals on the Mound

(Carlos Osorio/AP)

Tuesday, RHP Kyle Davies. By this point Davies is pretty well known as one of the worst regular starters in the majors. Last year he made 32 starts and allowed a 5.34 ERA against a 4.46 FIP. This year he has been especially prone to the longball, which plays right into the Yankees’ hands. Then again, we’ve seen matchups previously where the opponent plays to the team’s strengths, only to see them flail and falter. Still, it’s easy to conjure memories of the Yankees lighting up Davies in the past — A-Rod‘s 500th homer stands out most prominently. But whatever the case, he’s simply not a good pitcher, and probably shouldn’t have his job much longer. The Yanks should get their licks in while he’s still employed.

Wednesday, LHP Bruce Chen. He is, to quote an under-used meme, the premier leftballer of our time. Of course, in reality Chen isn’t the premier anything. He has, however, pitched very well this season, a 3.59 ERA in seven starts. They have been of the hit or mss variety, though, with the determining factor being home runs. In four of his starts he has allowed no longballs and has combined to allow four runs, three earned, during them. But he has allowed three homers in a game twice, and allowed one homer in a game once. The Yankees, it appears, should jump all over him. The only caveat is that all seven of his homers this year have come off righties. I think that is going to change on Wednesday evening.

Thursday, RHP Sean O’Sullivan. Last year O’Sullivan went from frustration to laughingstock in no time flat. The first time he pitched against the Yanks last year was the first of his career, and we all know how that story goes. The Yankees flailed and faltered, getting just two runs in six innings. Less than a month later the two met again, this time when O’Sullivan was on the Royals. They blasted him for four runs in 5.1 innings, including a pair of homers by Alex Rodriguez. So far this season he has done a good job keeping the ball in the park — his only homer came in his first start — but he has had some rough times otherwise. Even in his last start, when he allowed three runs in eight innings, he didn’t strike out anyone. His season K/BB sits at 14:14, and while he makes up for some of that with ground balls, it’s not enough to overcome the lack of swings and misses — and control.

Bullpen. We all know about Joakim Soria, who is one of the league’s premier closers. He has had a rough start to 2011, but there’s no reason to think he’s on the decline or anything like that. He is joined by a new cast of relievers who throw hard and, for the most part, throw strikes. Aaron Crow has been absolutely lights out, while Blake Wood hasn’t been too shabby himself. Lefty Tim Collins will generate plenty of comments for his shortness and his odd motion, though his results haven’t been all there. Nathan Adcock will get flak for his name, but the dude can pitch. The Yankees had better get in their shots against the starters, because this is no pushover bullpen.

Recommended Royals Reading: Royals Review and Royals Authority.

Strength Up The Middle

The late-1990’s Yankees dynasty was built on strong up-the-middle players. Bernie Williams was a center fielder that hit like a corner outfielder. Derek Jeter was so far better than the league average shortstop it wasn’t even funny. Chuck Knoblauch had his throwing issues, sure, but he got on base 37.4% of time from 1998-2000 while manning second. A young and sprightly Jorge Posada posted an on-base percentage similar to Knoblauch’s (.376, to be exact) while chipping in double-digit homers on an annual basis from behind the plate. That’s the kind of production team’s dream of getting from those spots.

Given the nature of those positions, the offensive expectations are much lower relative to the corner spots. The increased awareness of the value of defense has lowered those expectations even more in recent years. The Yankees have gotten tremendous production from those four positions so far this season, which is part of the season why they’re in first place and have been for the better part of a month.

It all starts with Curtis Granderson, who’s been the best hitter on the team this year and one of the best in the game. Yankees’ center fielders have produced 11.2 batting runs this season (Brett Gardner did have some spot starts, so he gets some credit), 11.1 runs better than the AL average. They’ve also been more than a run-and-a-half better than average defensively. To be a combined 12.7 runs better than average at one position at this point of the season is insane. The catchers (8.5 batting runs better than the AL avg) and second basemen (7.8) have been far above-average as well, with most of the credit going to Russell Martin and Robinson Cano, respectively. Derek Jeter’s been bad overall, but he’s helped Yankees’ shortstops contribute 1.5 more batting runs that the average AL shortstop. I wish I knew what that was before Sunday, but oh well.

Although the Yankees have been slightly below-average defensively at short, second, and behind the plate, the difference is more than made up by the offense. Combine the offensive and defensive contributions across the four positions, and the Yankees have been 28.2 runs better than the league average at the all-important up-the-middle spots. That’s essentially three wins, just 32 games into the season. Almost a run a game. Crazy. The graph above shows the individual breakdowns, so make sure you click it for a larger view. Now the Yankees just need to work on improving the other up-the-middle position, and that’s the guys on the mound.