Yankees win the game, but lose Colon

The Yankees can’t have anything nice. Friday night’s blowout win over the Indians was clouded by the official announcement of Joba Chamberlain‘s upcoming Tommy John surgery. Saturday afternoon’s shutout win cost the Yankees their number two starter, as Bartolo Colon suffered a strained hamstring covering first base in the seventh inning. The win counts in the standings, but the net result of the day was a loss for New York.

Few things in baseball are more fun to watch than that called strike three.

RIP Bartolo

As great as he’s been this season, there’s always been an elephant in the room when Colon pitches. This could be the last start, the last batter, the last pitch … he could blow up at any moment. He did blow up today, but not in the way we all figured. Bartolo’s right arm is fine (thankfully), it was a bum hammy that took him down. That’s like a rhino going down because it stepped on a thumb tack while the hunter was loading his rifle.

Colon was again masterful on Saturday, carving up his former team with his usual diet of four and two-seamers to both sides of the plate. He struck out the first two he faced and retired 14 of the first 16 men he faced on a measly 59 pitches. Bartolo threw ten pitches in each of the third, fourth, and fifth innings, and only one batter made it as far as second base against him. Colon’s day ended at just 83 pitches with two outs in the seventh, when the hamstring gave out as he covered first base on a ground ball by Shin-Soo Choo. He had struck out six, walked one, allowed two hits, and gotten seven ground ball outs to that point. I feel like a broken record because we say this after every start, but Colon was brilliant. Unfortunately this day had a tragic ending.

Just a flick of the wrists.

All They Needed

It’s pretty cool when a guy has a dozen homers through a third of the season and it feels like we’re waiting for him to heat up. That’s kinda the situation with Alex Rodriguez, who seems to be victimized by his own greatness more than anyone in his the history of the universe. Homers like the one he hit today, a fourth inning solo shot that broke a scoreless tie, go underappreciated because he’s so damn good. Less than 24 hours after hitting a ball into the left field bleachers, Alex connected on a 1-0 fastball and drove it through the wind into the Indians’ bullpen. It wasn’t as majestic as Friday’s homer, but it gave the Yankees a lead on a day when their starter was cruising and their core relievers were rested. We’ll forget about it in a week, but it’s just a gentle reminder that A-Rod is always capable of changing the complexion of a game with one swing.

Mitch Talbot appreciates Alex’s greatness, so much so that he hit him with a pitch the next time he came to plate. Aside from Fausto Carmona’s shot at Mark Teixeira on Friday, I think this one was the most obviously intentional out of all the recent hit-by-pitches. Curtis Granderson had just taken Talbot deep (more on that in a second), Tex hit a ball to the track, and of course A-Rod hit the homer last time up. It was a first pitch fastball right to the hip, pretty much where these intentional plunkings tend to happen. There were two outs in the inning and none on, and yeah it was raining, but Talbot didn’t appear to slip in any of the replays.

I’m not one of those guys who thinks you have to retaliate for every hit-by-pitch, but this is getting ridiculous. If you can’t control your 90 mph fastball, then you don’t get to pitch inside. Colon couldn’t retaliate because both benches had been warned, but it’s time to push back a bit and send a message because this is going on too frequently. “We’re the Yankees, we’ll hit your guys back and win the game too.” Sounds good to me.

How About Some More?

Would have been more impressive if he actually caught it with the parka over his head.

A-Rod’s homer was the only run the Yankees would ultimately need, but that didn’t stop them from tacking a few more on. Granderson hit a solo shot of his own in the sixth, a golf shot more than anything else. I didn’t think it was a bad pitch at all. A Choo misplay in right allowed Nick Swisher to score from first on a Jorge Posada single an inning later, and Tex capped it all off with a solo homer in the eighth. He’s gotta keep pace with Curtis, you know? Grandy is tied with Jose Bautista for the MLB lead with 20 homers while Tex is second with 19. At what point do we start talking about these two being the Yankees’ most dangerous 1-2 punch since … I guess A-Rod and Gary Sheffield in 2005?

No LOLpen

The bullpen is in a world of trouble at the moment, so 2-0 wasn’t exactly a comfortable lead when Colon exited. David Robertson came in to replace him and immediately allowed a single before getting the final out of the seventh. Jack Hannahan and Lou Marson opened the eight with singles, but Robertson escaped the inning by striking out Michael Brantley (looking), Asdrubal Cabrera (looking), and Grady Sizemore (swinging). There was also a balk mixed in there, and you can make a case that those three are the Indians’ three best hitters. David let out an Eight Inning Guy™ caliber fist pump after Sizemore swung over top of that curveball, which is always fun. Boone Logan (of all people) threw a flawless ninth to close things out. He even struck out the only lefty he faced. Go figure.

Today's weather: dank.


The Yankees made a full innings’ worth of outs on the bases, which is at least the second time they’ve done that this season. Brett Gardner got caught stealing twice, once going for second and once going for third, then Jorge Posada got picked off second later in the game. That was partially Gardner’s fault as well; he was trying to bunt Posada over to third with no outs and just flat out whiffed. Still, Jorge can’t be that far off the base. Ah the joys of bunting.

Derek Jeter took an 0-for-4 and now has five games left in the homestand to pick up the nine hits he needs for 3,000. I’m sure he’ll get it done, the baseball gods always make sure this stuff sorts itself out. Aside from the three solo homers, Swisher and Posada each had one hit while Gardner had two. Robinson Cano drew a walk to round out the offense.

Eduardo Nunez replaced A-Rod at third base in the ninth inning, and Joe Girardi said after the game that it was just a precaution because Alex’s hip stiffened up a bit following the hit-by-pitch. No, it’s not the same hip he had surgery on. A-Rod said he’ll play tomorrow, so no problem there.

The wind was especially brutal Saturday afternoon, every ball hit high in the air was an adventure for the defenders. Didn’t matter for A-Rod, Grandy, and Tex on the homers through.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

For the first time all year, the Yankees will follow up a 1pm ET Saturday game with a 1pm ET Sunday game. Every other weekend series has featured some kind of weird start time due to FOX or ESPN or west coast or whatever. Freddy Garcia gets the ball against Josh Tomlin.

Heredia, Turley strong at the lower levels

Jesus Montero did not play for Triple-A Scranton, but apparently it was a routine day off (he actually coached first base, so it’s not an injury). Brian Cashman said he’s not being called up, but here’s my conspiracy theory: Montero’s coming up tomorrow if Russell Martin is not healthy enough to play. We’re pretty much at the point were Martin will have to go on the disabled list if he can’t catch, and they don’t want to risk Montero getting hurt tonight. Anyway, we’ll see.

Oh, and Brad Halsey has already been promoted from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton. That was quick, he just made his first appearance for Tampa last night. Kei Igawa moved up to Triple-A Scranton to fill the rotation spot of whoever comes up to replace Bartolo Colon.

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 loss to Syracuse)
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 5, 1 K
Ramiro Pena, SS: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K – ten for his last 36 (.278) with five walks and four whiffs
Jordan Parraz, RF: 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 0 for 4, 3 K
Brandon Laird, DH: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI – 14 for his last 36 (.389) with four doubles and two homers
Kevin Russo, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 CS
Dan Brewer, LF: 1 for 4, 3 K, 1 SB
Luis Nunez, 2B: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 K
Jesus Montero, PH: 0 for 0, 1 BB – see? healthy enough to pinch-hit, though Doug Bernier pinch-ran for him
Gus Molina, C: 2 for 4 – > Frankie Cervelli?
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 7 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 12-3 GB/FB – 66 of 116 pitches were strikes (56.9%) … is that enough to get him a spot start over Hector Noesi in place of Bartolo Colon? I don’t think so … he gave up two hits to a (pretty good) rehabbing big leaguer
Ryan Pope, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB – eight of his 11 pitches were strikes … > Lance Pendleton or Jeff Marquez?

[Read more…]

Open Thread: The Franchise Player Draft

Cutch's got the whole Predator look going on. (Photo Credit: Flickr user Brock Fleeger via Creative Commons license)

A little over a week ago, I post something about ESPN’s Fantasy Player Draft, specifically the sheer absurdity of Wilson Ramos being taken 30th overall. This past week the FanGraphs writers did the same thing at the behest of the readers (contracts were a non-factor, it was all about talent), and the results were published last night. Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki were predictably the top two picks, but Mike Trout was a major head scratcher at three. Why take a prospect when the guys you hope that prospect turns into are still on the board? Oh well, Carson Cistulli’s cool like that. Ryan Zimmerman and Joey Votto rounded out the top five.

I picked 15th and took Andrew McCutchen. Pitchers are too risky and I wanted a premium up-the-middle player. McCutchen has yet to turn 25 and does it all; he hits for average, draws walks, hits for power, steals bases, and plays a mean center field. Look at his FG player page and what he’s doing this season, it’s five-tool player porn. Joe picked two spots after me and grabbed Jay Bruce, a true power hitter still not in his prime at a time when power across the league is declining. Yeah, he plays a non-premium spot, but he plays it damn well and a case could be made that he’ll be the best hitting outfielder in baseball with a year or two. Jose Reyes was not picked even though everyone seemed to say they were considering him, and I’m kinda surprised Buster Posey didn’t go despite the injury. The only Yankee taken was Robinson Cano at 24. Who would you have taken if you had my pick? Joe’s? First overall?

Once you’re done with that, use this as your open thread for the evening. The Mets are playing the Pirates (Dickey vs. McDonald), and MLB Network will carry a game as well (teams depend on where you live). No basketball or hockey playoffs tonight, so that’s all you’ve got. Talk about whatever, enjoy.

Al, what makes CC so good?

Photo by alexabboud on Flickr/ licensed through Creative Commons.

For Thursday’s Red Sox game, Michael Kay, Al Leiter, and Paul O’Neill were in the booth and Kay asked Leiter the title question. One of the things I love about the ever-changing Yankees booth is that you get a  lot of different opinions and views on the game from the various ex-players that cycle through. I’m sure you all have your opinions on the best booth (I think Cone-Singleton wins it. Was Leiter there too?) but I love all the ex-player stories, and I love even more listening to how retired players view current ones. We get on certain announcers basing their opinions on players on intangibles, weak stats, and clutchness, but Leiter managed to avoid basically all of these things as he explained why Sabathia is such a great pitcher. He was insightful, comprehensive, and interesting. I want to see if he’s right. I’ll blockquote his words words here:

Yeah, you start with stuff…I think his ability to pound the zone, get ahead. He is somewhat unpredictable. He’s got the ability to have control on both side of the plate He’s aggressive. Delivery-wise, he stays closed….He’s a big man. He has good trajectory or downward plane, has an idea.

And now, for fact checking:

Sabathia pounds the zone: True. For his career, Sabathia has thrown 52.3% of all his pitches inside the zone, and 64% for strikes. In 2011, he’s right on the money with 65% strike percentage and 46.6% being in the zone. This also includes a career 60.4% first-pitch strike and a 59% in 2011.

Sabathia gets ahead in the count: Partially true. For his career, 3085 hitters have taken hacks when they’re behind to CC, and they’ve batted a worse-than-Jorge .190/.197/.276. Only 3027 hitters have hit when they’re ahead, and their .275/.441/.441 is decent at best. But the majority of hits and outs have been made with an even  count. 3116 have done it, and they’ve hit .278/.283/.417. The first pitch strike lends to being ahead, though it doesn’t always work out that way.

He is unpredictable: True. Sabathia throws a fastball, a slider and a changeup. While the slider is usually his out pitch, everything looks the same coming out of his hand, and for his career he throws the same percentage of sliders and changeups (15.9%). Should you be looking for a changeup that averages around 85 MPH or a 80 MPH slider in the dirt? Good luck figuring that one out. You’ll need it.

He controls both sides of the plate. True. While Sabathia prefers to throw the fastball away to righties, he has absolutely no problem throwing it inside or throwing it for a strike. He also can throw it high or low for strikes, too. Here’s a heat map of Sabathia’s fastball vs righties in 2010 to prove it, with a more yellow area meaning more pitches were thrown to that area:

He’s aggressive: True. Aggressiveness is really a combination of a number of the other stats above. Sabathia throws strikes. A lot of strikes. He isn’t afraid to blow a pitch over the plate (just look at all that yellow in the middle!) and overwhelm a hitter. He usually doesn’t throw around batters, either.

Delivery-wise, he stays closed: Plausible. Without a stat to back this one up, we’re finally left to depend in our eyeballs. That Leiter started with the numbers things and moved slowly into observational notes was very cool to me. From what I know about studying a pitcher’s delivery (absolutely nothing), Sabathia’s always had a relatively simple delivery. He keeps it close to his chest. His release points stay the same. It’s not complex, it’s not violent, just a big man throwing a baseball.

He’s a big man: True. No comment.

He has good trajectory or downward plane: True.  Considering the fact that CC is 6’7, I’d say he’s throwing down off the mound, yeah. Plus, his release is nice and high.

Has an idea: Plausible. What does this mean? I think it might have something to do with  that Sabathia knows what pitches he’s going to throw. He has a plan about how each at-bat is going to go, or at least, knows how to change his approach based on the game, the hitter, and so forth. He’s reached that point in his career where he knows what’s good and what’s bad.

Like your baseball players, you don’t choose your announcers. Unfortunately, when your announcers are really bad, you can’t bench them or DFA them or anything. You’re stuck with them. Now, Kay isn’t the greatest announcer the world has ever known, but having Cone, Leiter, Singleton and Flaherty rotating up with him makes him a lot more bearable. And when the guy in the booth actually knows what they’re talking about, it’s pretty wonderful. I’m willing to bet Al Leiter knows just a little about what makes a good pitcher, and he totally nailed it here. Hooray for him.

Bartolo Colon leaves game with strained left hamstring

Update (3:26pm): It’s a strained left hamstring, his landing leg. That’s bad, Bartolo’s probably headed to the disabled list even if it’s just a minor strain.

Original Post (3:02pm): Bartolo Colon left this afternoon’s game with an apparent leg injury after covering first base in the seventh inning. David Robertson replaced him on the mound. Out of shape pitchers and wet grass don’t mix well. Stay tuned for updates.

Game 62: Back for more

Fake Obama digs it.

The Yankees needed last night’s game to remind everyone that they’re still one of the best teams in baseball, capable of laying beatdowns on any team at any time, regardless of how awful they looked a few days ago. The bullpen needs work, the offense is still inconsistent, the starting pitching can still be hit or miss, but you know what? Show me a team without similar problems and I’ll show you my two bridges for sale. Here’s the lineup that will hopefully continue the onslaught against Indians’ pitching…

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

Bartolo Colon, SP

The weather isn’t great, but it looks like there will be enough of a window to get this game in (eventually). First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Injury News: Eric Chavez has started some light hitting drills, but he has not started to run yet. That’s kinda important … There’s a chance Rafael Soriano will begin throwing this week, but nothing is set in stone. Obviously, they need him.

The switch-hitter’s split

As the offense sputtered against Boston last week the calls for the Yankees to add another bat to the lineup got louder. Carlos Beltran is the current cause celebre among some fans. The hope in picking up someone like Beltran is that he’ll fill in the spots in the lineup where the offense has been dragging, especially in the corner outfield and designated hitter slots, and give the team another solid offensive bat. As a long-time Beltran fan, it would certainly be exciting to see the Yankees add him. However the team may be getting a Beltran-esque level of production going forward from one of their own hitters, Nick Swisher. Swisher has had a rather ugly start of to the year. For the first two months of the season he hit .213/.335/.314, a mouth-vomit-inducing line of mediocrity. Those first two months are gone now. They’re lost. He can’t go back and recover those days of 0-fer and cause those groundballs to squeak through and line drives to fall in, and his end-of-year stat line is going to bear the imprint of his slow start no matter how well he hits for the remainder of the year. But what’s done is done, and the question is what we should expect from him going forward. If he’ll simply go back to hitting as he has in the past, specifically as a left-handed hitter, then the team will benefit and the need for offensive reinforcement will be lessened a bit.

When understanding why Swisher has done so poorly this year so far, and he now stands at .216/.343/.345 with a .311 wOBA and 5 home runs, it’s important to focus in on his platoon split. He’s always fared better from the right side of the plate than from the left side of the plate. In almost 1200 plate appearances batting righty against left-handed pitchers he has hit .264 with a .400 on-base percentage with a .441 slugging percentage, a superb record of plate discipline and a decent mark of power. When hitting from the left side the results are a bit worse. Swisher has hit .245 with a .338 on-base percentage and a .471 slugging percentage. It’s a bit more power, yes, but it’s a far worse mark in on-base skill.

There’s value in treating Swisher the right-handed batter and Swisher the left-handed batter as two discrete and separate hitters. Swisher from the left and Swisher from the right have their own separate power, on-base, power and BIP data. We don’t usually like to treat them separately, and this is mostly because of impatience. By June we’re ready to treat the data we have as reliable and trustworthy. After all, we’ve been watching for two months, and we’d like to think that we know, thank you very much, what Swisher’s deal is. It’s his approach, it’s his “at-bats”, it’s just not working. Sure, it’s all of those things, even if saying his at-bats have been bad is kind of another way of saying he’s not getting hits. But in order to avoid falling down a rabbit hole of tautological and self-referential logic, of confirmation and recency bias, we have independent evaluative methods, measures that don’t depend on our mood or emotion or our own two eyes, as keen as the latter might be.

Here’s the main issue: Swisher has hit right-handed at a healthy rate, as always. From the right side, he’s hit hit .327/.412/.491 from the right side in 68 plate appearances. He’s hit two home runs, and his batting average on balls in play is .356. He’s been the man as a righty. As bad as Swisher’s overall numbers look right now, if he hadn’t been killing the ball as a righty his season would look even worse. The culprit is his line from the left side of the plate, where he currently resembles the love child of Alcides Escobar and Yuniesky Betancourt. It’s been horrific. In 166 plate appearances he’s hitting .175/.313/.292. His batting average on balls in play is .210, well below any mark considered reasonable for a major league hitter unless there’s some reason to believe that Swisher’s skillset has deteriorated to the point where he’s no longer a major league caliber hitter. If that’s the case, it’s probably time for him to abandon switch-hitting entirely.

Considering he’s in the midst of his physical prime, this doesn’t seem like the smartest course of action. This is especially true because all his peripheral split stats as a left-handed hitter are exactly where we’d hope they’d be. His career walk rate is 11.8%, and this year it is 16.4%. His strikeout rate this year is 25.2% versus a career mark of 27.5%. He’s hitting line drives around 2% more often than he has historically. His ground ball and fly ball rates are nearly identical to his career marks. He has a career 15.8% home run to fly ball ratio, but this year it’s only 6.4%, a likely candidate for regression. Smart money is on Swisher bouncing back from the left side and seeing better results in average and power.

The fact is that we don’t really learn a whole lot from 68 plate appearances from the right side of the plate and 166 plate appearances from the left side of the plate. Virtually anything can happen in a small sample size, and that’s not hyperbole. So it doesn’t matter if we’re in June, a small sample is a small sample. We can find value in examining this sample, then, when we contextualize it properly in the hitter’s historical profile. Swisher hasn’t been the best from the left side throughout his career, but he’s been far better than a .600 OPS hitter. It boils down to a simple question. Do we believe in the 2788 plate appearances as a left-handed hitter throughout Swisher’s career, or the 166 plate appearances as a lefty in 2011? Do we trust the advanced split data, cool our jets and wait this thing out, or just assume that Swisher’s ability as a left-handed hitter has completely abandoned itself and argue that he should bat strictly from the right-side? My preference is to stick with the larger sample size and give Swisher some more runway.

They say that time heals all wounds. In baseball, the time needed to heal all wounds is generally a weekend sweep. Should the Yankees hammer the Indians all weekend the calls to trade Swisher for Beltran, an actual proposal I saw, to DO SOMETHING, will likely subside some as the frustration of losing dissipates and confidence returns. Yet this doesn’t mean the decision-makers on this team should stand pat their attempt to make this club better, any more than they should panic after a losing streak. And so even while there is optimism for and upside in Nick Swisher there will still be some opportunities to improve and turn this team into a real juggernaut. I’ll get to one of those opportunities tomorrow morning.