Yankees sign Greg Smith and Cory Wade

The Yankees have signed left-hander Greg Smith and right-hander Cory Wade to minor league deals and assigned them to Triple-A Scranton. Dan Brewer and Buddy Carlyle were placed on the disabled list to make room on the roster. Smith was part of the Dan Haren (to Arizona) and Matt Holliday (to Oakland) trades, but he’s just a fill-in starter for SWB while most of their rotation is in the big league bullpen. I liked him as a prospect once upon a time (I was hoping the Yankees would get him in the second Randy Johnson trade), but that was a while ago.

Wade is actually interesting and could be useful to the big league team. He had a very nice year for the Dodgers in 2008 (3.78 FIP in 71.1 IP), but Joe Torre’s workload was just too much and he had shoulder surgery in 2009. Wade resumed pitching late last year and caught on with the Rays after being non-tendered, striking out 8.34 while walking just 1.47 per nine in 36.2 relief innings with their Triple-A affiliate before being released over the weekend (he told them he was going to use his opt-out clause, so they let him go early). He is a little homer prone, but Wade is a three pitch reliever (fastball, curve, change) and is only 28. He’s certainly more useful than the Carlyles and Amaury Sanits of the world.

Game 64: Goodbye, Cleveland!

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Marianne O'Leary via Creative Commons license)

This series has gone so well for the Yankees, I don’t want it to end. No one does. The Yankees have outplayed the Indians in every way imaginable, and they’ll look to complete the rare four game sweep tonight. A.J. Burnett‘s last start was brutally ineffective, so hopefully he pitches a strong game tonight and avoids the June slump that sent last season into a downward spiral. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Brett Gardner, LF
Frankie Cervelli, C – Russell Martin was in the lineup, but was late scratch because of a stiff back

A.J. Burnett, SP

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Sorry for you out of towners. Enjoy.

Two LOOGYs In A Pod: Both Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano have starting playing catch, maybe even with each other. No word on their timetable, but I can’t imagine it’ll be anytime soon … Rafael Soriano still hasn’t been cleared to throw, but it could happen this week … Eric Chavez is hitting in the cage but still not running.

New design added to the RAB Shop

Courtesy of Tyler Wilkinson, we’ve uploaded a new design to the RAB Shop designed for all the ladies out there that dig more than just the long ball. Yes, I stereotypically chose pink for the image above, but you can customize the color and style within the shop itself. You don’t even have to get a shirt, there’s hoodies, onesies, coffee mugs, and tons of other stuff.  We have ten different designs available now (well, nine really, since we have two color schemes of one), so check it out in case you haven’t lately.

Boone Logan’s Ineffective Slider

It has not been a good year for Boone Logan, who has “held” the 46 left-handed batters he’s faced to a .350 wOBA this year. He’s only struck out seven of those guys as well, which is an an unfathomably bad rate (15.2%). The Yankees were apparently concerned enough about Logan’s ability to repeat his success from the second half of last year that they signed Pedro Feliciano to a (not cheap) free agent deal. Feliciano’s injury has again thrust Boone into top LOOGY status, a job he really doesn’t deserve at the moment.

The root cause of Logan’s struggles appears to be his slider, a pitch that went from being 2.50 runs above average (per 100 thrown) in 2010 to 1.71 runs below average this year, a swing of more than four runs. He’s throwing the pitch almost exactly as often this year as last, but batters have gone from swinging and missing at it 25.6% of the time to 12.7% of the time, so the slider’s whiff rate has been cut in half. Part of the problem is just location, which you can see from the heat maps above (what’s a heat map?). Logan did a good job of burying the pitch down and away to lefties last year, but this season it’s ending up in the middle of the plate entirely too often.

The characteristics of the pitch are different that last year as well. Boone has actually picked up about an inch and a half of horizontal movement while losing a mile an hour of velocity. A slower pitch with more break is loopier; the 2010 version of the pitch came in harder and had shorter, sharper break. Leave a loopy slider out over the plate … well that’s just a meatball, even to a same-side batter. Logan’s release point is no different (here’s a gif comparing 2010 to 2011), at least not different enough to worry about (could just be a PitchFX issue). Since his fastball velocity is also down noticeably, it could just be a mechanical issue. Or maybe he’s hiding an injury (or doesn’t even know about it) Both theories make sense, as do countless others.

Given the injuries to the rest of the bullpen, the Yankees need Logan to pitch better than he has just to provide depth. He has to improve against lefties at the absolute minimum, since the only reason he’s on the team in the first place is to neutralize the Adrian Gonzalezes and Adam Linds and Matt Joyces and Nick Markaki of the league. Getting back to burying that slider down and away, preferably just out of the strike zone, is step one of that process.

Scouting The Trade Market: Michael Wuertz

Ugly hat is ugly. (Photo Credit: Flickr user ztil301 via Creative Commons license)

Injuries have really done a number of the Yankees’ bullpen of late, taking away both Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano for a while, though there’s some hope that Soriano will be able to start throwing this week. Some of the minor league reinforcements like Amaury Sanit (hah), Tim Norton, and Mark Prior are also on the disabled list, so the well is starting to run dry. Even if Soriano comes back relatively soon, the Yankees will still have to go outside the organization for help anyway. They’ve lost that much depth.

One team that could be a trade match is the Athletics, who are sinking like a stone after losing a dozen of their last 13 games and firing their manager. They have a full five man rotation on the disabled list, as Brett Anderson recently joined Dallas Braden, Brandon McCarthy, Rich Harden, and Tyson Ross on the shelf. Bigger names like Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes are sure to be mentioned, but perhaps the best fit is slider specialist Michael Wuertz. Let’s break it down…

The Pros

  • Wuertz is death on right-handers thanks to one of the game’s best sliders. He’s holding same side batters to a .103/.167/.205 batting line this year and .192/.258/.306 with 32.7% strikeouts since the start of 2009.  Batters have missed with 13.4% of their swings against him this season, which is insanely high but actually down from 15.4% last year and 17.9% two years ago.
  • Although his calling card is his ability to shut down righties, Wuertz is also more than serviceable against lefties. They’re hitting .242/.353/.345 off him this year and .212/.291/.389 since the start of 2009. His slider is so good that he uses it against lefties as well, which is not something you usually see.
  • He has experience in a variety of roles, including middle relief work and setup man duties, plus he even spent some time as Oakland’s closer when Andrew Bailey got hurt last year. For what it’s worth, he’s also pitched in the postseason (with the Cubs back in 2007). I don’t put much stock in that, but it doesn’t hurt.
  • Wuertz’s contract contains a club option for next year, so it would not necessarily be a rental. He currently projects as a Type-B free agent, so the Yankees could get a draft pick should they let him walk.

The Cons

  • As great as that slider is, Wuertz uses it 51.5% of the time, a very high rate. Slider usage that extreme usually leads to elbow trouble, with Brad Lidge, Justin Speier, and Manny Corpas being recent and notable examples.
  • Sure enough, Wuertz has dealt with some injuries over the last two years. He missed all of April with shoulder tendinitis last season, then missed a few weeks with an oblique strain this April. Thumb issues also shelved him for some time last September (no DL trip because of expanded rosters though).
  • His strikeout rate is trending downward, though it’s still more than respectable at 7.91 K/9. It’s just not as good as 9.08 batters he struck out per nine innings last year, or the 11.67 he struck out per nine in 2009.
  • The club option proves for some nice flexibility, but it’s not exactly cheap. Wuertz is making $2.8M this season (about $467,000 per month, pro-rated) and the option will pay him $3.25M next year ($250,000 buyout). The Yankees can obviously afford it, but that’s pricey by middle reliever standards.

It’s tough to come up a player similar to Wuertz that’s been traded in recent years just to get an idea of the likely cost, plus we can’t forget that Billy Beane always seems to ask for the moon. The Twins gave up a C-level prospect to get Jon Rauch from the Diamondbacks two years ago, but that was part of a waiver trade a month after the deadline. Kyle Farnsworth was traded to the Braves along with Rick Ankiel last year, so that doesn’t help us either. Matt Capps had the Proven Closer™ tag last year, so that doesn’t work either. Anyway, Wuertz makes some sense for the Yankees just because he’s a veteran arm with a standout pitch and experience in high-leverage spots. He’s really not all that different from Joba when you think about it.

The offense at three intervals

(Photo Credit: Flick user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Even though we do it constantly, checking baseball stats every single day is as useful as checking your weight every day if you’re on a diet. It fluctuates so much that the data rarely tells you anything useful, especially early on in the process. It’s best to break things down into larger segments, like checking your weight on the first of every month or something. We’re not deep enough into the baseball season to break things down by month, but we’re at a convenient point in the season where we can break things down into three 21-game segments. Obviously these are team games and not individual player games, but we can definitely see some interesting trends. Let’s dive in…

Derek Jeter
After 21 Games: .262/.330/.286
After 42 Games: .257/.309/.327
After 63 Games: .259/.324/.324

The good news is that the extra base power is starting to show up even though it’s almost all doubles. That’s fine, Jeter’s real job atop the lineup is to simply get on base, and he’s really doing a very poor job of it. His walk rate (8.1%) is right in line with his career numbers, he’s just isn’t hitting for average anymore. Some of that is BABIP luck (or unluck, really), but we all watch the games, Derek just doesn’t make much hard contact these days.

Curtis Granderson
After 21 Games: .270/.325/.635
After 42 Games: .270/.339/.610
After 63 Games: .279/.353/.611

Curtis is a bad man. A bad man with a rising walk rate as pitchers begin to show him more respect. Don’t go changin’, Curtis.

Mark Teixeira
After 21 Games: .253/.387/.560
After 42 Games: .253/.373/.500
After 63 Games: .252/.366/.539

Well, at least his batting average is consistent. Unfortunately Tex’s on-base percentage is trending in the wrong direction because he hasn’t been walking much lately, at least relative to his usual walk rate. The power numbers really had nowhere to go but down after he hit six homers in the team’s first 15 games, and they’ll probably continue to go down because a .287 ISO is still crazy high.

Is Tex just a .250 hitter now? It’s entirely possibly, he’s certainly gotten pull happy from the left side in Yankee Stadium, but frankly he should. Play to the ballpark man. I think the other team would rather see him lay down two or three bunt singles (to beat the shift) a game than take a normal at-bat. I know I’d rather see David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez do that whenever they face the Yankees, anyway. Teixeira’s hit more and more fly balls since coming to New York, and more fly balls means more homeruns but also more outs. It shouldn’t be a surprise that his BABIP has also dropped. It would be nice if the $180M first baseman hit for average, but I’m happy as long as he maintains a .380-ish OBP and a .250-ish ISO with his usual stout defense, which he’s close to doing.

Alex Rodriguez
After 21 Games: .317/.442/.667
After 42 Games: .261/.348/.486
After 63 Games: .288/.363/.518

The start of A-Rod‘s season was very 2007-ish, he was just tearing the cover off the ball and it looked like nothing could stop him. Then he had that stiff back/oblique and fell into that brutal slump he’s since rebounded from. Alex’s 9.6% walk rate and .231 ISO combination is still crazy good (just 17 other players in the game have both) but both are below his career averages (10.9% and .268, respectively). We can’t ignore what he did (or didn’t do) following that little injury, but A-Rod started the season hot and is hitting .314/.367/.568 over the last 31 days. That’s All-Star production, just not what we’ve come to expect from Alex.

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

Robinson Cano
After 21 Games: .299/.303/.586
After 42 Games: .288/.313/.519
After 63 Games: .281/.324/.500

Is it fair to call the guy with the third highest wOBA among AL second baseman (and fourth best overall) a disappointment? I don’t think I would go that far, but I am disappointing in the complete deterioration of Cano’s plate discipline. His walk rate is right back down to where it was before last season, but the real problem is that he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone than ever before. It’s not a coincidence that his strikeout rate is a career worst (though still way better than league average). He’s been better about that of late, but come on man, Robbie ain’t no .280 hitter.

Nick Swisher
After 21 Games: .208/.326/.236
After 42 Games: .223/.337/.317
After 63 Games: .225/.350/.350

Okay, now this guy has been a disappointment, there’s no way around it. Swisher really didn’t pick up the pace until the west coast trip started about three weeks ago, but he’s still struggling against righties. I suppose the good news is that he’s drawing a freaking ton of walks, as in a top ten walk rate (15.7%) in all of baseball, and that his batted ball profile is relatively unchanged. Like I said, Swish has started to turn it around, but we’re now 63 games into the season and he just finally cracked a .700 OPS. Ouch.

Jorge Posada
After 21 Games: .138/.233/.415
After 42 Games: .183/.299/.374
After 63 Games: .226/.323/.378

It’s been … uh … an eventful season for Posada, who was hitting so poorly that he was supposed to hit ninth one game, at least until he pulled himself out of the lineup. All of the improvement has come in the last six games or so, in which Jorge has simply destroyed the ball. His power continues to disappear (he hasn’t hit a homerun since April 23rd) though at least he’s drawing some walks. Aside from the last week, it’s been a brutal season for Posada, the kind of season that gets non-legacy players released.

Russell Martin
After 21 Games: .292/.370/.597
After 42 Games: .268/.371/.480
After 63 Games: .232/.338/.429

When you hit six homers in the team’s first 17 games, there’s just nowhere to go but down. Martin crashed back to Earth a little harder than expected, but he continues to provide value with his ever-increasing walk rate alone. A 2-for-31 slump (with some games missed due to injury mixed in) has dropped his batting average almost 40 points in his last ten games, though he isn’t striking out much and that appears to be some dumb BABIP luck more than anything. Russ doesn’t have to hit for huge power to be valuable, just keep getting on base at a decent clip and play solid defense. Expectations were pretty modest coming into the year and a hot start shouldn’t change them.

Brett Gardner
After 21 Games: .145/.197/.306
After 42 Games: .266/.343/.411
After 63 Games: .276/.353/.425

Now this guy, this guy’s been an adventure all season. Gardner’s early season slump was among the worst I’ve ever seen, but the statistical correction was glorious. I can buy his current batting average and OBP as his true talent level, but I do think the power numbers are a touch high. Seven total bases in four at-bats yesterday really gave him a nice boost in that department anyway (came into the game with a .395 SLG). For a nine-hole hitter that plays top of the line defense in the outfield for the low, low price of approximately league minimum, it’s hard to be disappointed with Gardner’s overall production to date. Now, if only he could get back to stealing bases like he did last year…