The pursuit of 600 and ticket prices

Click the graphic to enlarge.

Via our partners at TiqIQ comes a chart showcasing the downward trend in weekend ticket prices. Even as A-Rod sits on the precipice of his historic 600th home run, ticket prices haven’t, by and large, increased this weekend. In fact, they seem to be trending downward.

The obvious question is why? Shouldn’t prices move up as history nears? One factor pushing prices down could be general A-Rod malaise. At the Pinstriped Bible, Steven Goldman posits that the cheapening of the home run milestones combined with the inevitability of A-Rod’s reaching the mark and general coolness toward him have combined to lend the act an air of something less historical than it otherwise would have. Sometimes, the media drives this narrative, but even without A-Rod’s PED revelations, 600 is just another number.

On the other hand, A-Rod is the youngest player in baseball history to reach 600, and as last night’s crowd reaction to his eighth inning double showed, the fans want to see him launch this home run. I blame the Royals and the weather. First, the Royals are an uninspired opponent. They’re 41-54 with few inspiring players and no gate attractions. These prices aren’t too out of line with any other weekend summer game, and the Royals don’t draw fans to the game. With rain in the forecast tonight and a heat advisory bringing another 95-degree day tomorrow, the ballpark is a less appealing place to roast away under the sun.

For those looking to get in on the A-Rod action, TiqIQ has seats in prime zones. You’ve got Field Level outfield seats for tonight under $60, Saturday bleacher seats for under $20 and Main Outfield seats less than $45.

Deadline dealing: D-backs listening on Haren

Luis Gonazlez’s RBI single that fell just to the edge of the outfield where Derek Jeter could have caught it had the infield not been in seems like just yesterday to Yankee fans. To the Diamondbacks, though, that moment of glory is long gone. This year’s team, currently 37-59, miles away from first place, is en route to a second consecutive last place finish, and with the trade deadline near, Arizona is holding a very attractive piece in pitcher Dan Haren.

To the uninitiated, Haren might not seem like much. His 7-8 record with a 4.60 ERA is nothing to write about, but those numbers, as they so often don’t, can’t capture the full story. Outside of Roy Oswalt, Haren is the best pitcher still available at the deadline this year. In 141 innings, he has struck out 141 hitters, best in the NL, and he’s walking just under two per nine innings pitched. The home runs have been his bugaboo this year, but even while surrendering 23 longballs, his FIP is still a nifty 3.84 and his xFIP 3.39.

And so, inevitably, many teams are interested in Dan Haren, and Buster Olney just happened to hear this: The Yankees are one of them. Even though Andy Pettitte will probably be out only for a few weeks, targeting Haren makes perfect sense. The right-hander would be a fit for any contender, and the Yankees know that pitching is what will separate the AL champion from the rest of the very competitive pack. The club also realizes that Phil Hughes is facing an innings limit. Haren would give them a plus arm as the innings mount.

Haren, though, will not come cheap. He’s signed through 2012 with a $15.5 million club option for 2013, and he’s set to make only $12.75 million in both 2011 and 2012. In a market where A.J. Burnett and John Lackey can both make upwards of $82 million for five years, Haren’s deal is a downright steal. The Yankees know that; the Diamondbacks know that; any team kicking the tires on Haren knows that.

Once upon a time, Arizona had let it be known that they wanted two Major League pitchers in exchange for Haren, and potential partners let it be know that the D-backs were off their collective rockers. Now, though, the price has come down, but the team still wants an A-plus package. “Ideally what we would ask for is major-league ready pitching, be it starters and/or bullpen, and prospects,” club CEO Derrick Hall said yesterday. “The volume doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be four or five or six guys. It’s really about the quality.”

The Yankees match up, and as Jayson Stark said yesterday, the club is quietly letting other teams know they want to make some deals. Currently, says Stark (second item), the Yankees are “actively talking” with Arizona. If the deal “just involves prospects, they appear poised to jump into those talks aggressively.” In fantasyland, the Yankees could try to offer a Hector Noesi, a Romulo Sanchez or an Ivan Nova for Haren, but the realistic trade proposal probably starts with Joba Chamberlain.

Despite nearing arbitration, Joba is still cost-controlled, young and a viable Major League pitcher. He could be a starter; he could be a bullpen guy; he could be both. Depending on the prospects — and it always depends upon the prospects — the Yanks should be willing in a heartbeat to flip Joba in a Haren trade. Maybe that too has an element of fantasy in it, but it’s a fair starting point for both sides.

Any trade for Haren would have a cascade effect on the Yanks’ plans and would probably shift their off-season targets from another pitcher to a bat. With Haren on board, Cliff Lee wouldn’t be as imperative of a pick-up for the club, and it’s debatable if the Yanks would have room for him in their budget. If Andy Pettitte were to return for 2011, a decision that many beat writers have said seems to be an inevitable, the rotation would effectively be full. But I’m getting ahead of the situation a bit.

Today, at least four teams, including the Tigers, Phillies and Cardinals, are very interested in Haren. If the Yankees are serious, they have the pieces to get the deal done, and with the trade deadline eight days away, the speculation will wrong strong until then. Buckle up; it’s time for that wild ride that is late July.

RAB on the Off The Wall podcast

Just a heads up, I sat down for a chat with Joe Auriemma of the YES Network’s Off The Wall podcast yesterday, and we basically covered the Yankees’ farm system head to toe. We touched on all the big names like Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, Ivan Nova, and personal fave Eduardo Nunez, but we also hit on the Rookie level GCL team too. Make sure you give it a listen, it’s the second on the list when you click the link.

Not the best or worst of nights for Sabathia

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Looking at the scoreboard and nothing else, it would appear that CC had a so-so night against the Royals. He allowed four runs, three earned through just 6.1 innings, which is a few outs short of a typical Sabathia start. He did strike out nine, nice because his strikeout rate is down a bit at this point and we know he started heating up during the summer months last year. But those 11 hits stand out. So do the 120 pitches he threw to record those 19 outs.

Really, though, it wasn’t that bad a game for Sabathia. Of the 19 balls he allowed in play, eight were hit on the ground. That’s a good thing. While the AL hits to a slightly better batting average on ground balls, .231, than fly balls, .222, those ground balls rarely go for extra bases. AL hitters have produced a .248 SLG on grounders and a .577 SLG on fly balls. So while grounders might result in a few extra men on base, they hurt a lot less than balls hit in the air.

This plays right to the Royals’ game. As Joe Posnanski chronicled earlier in the week, the Royals pick up base hits and little else. They’re first in the majors in batting average, but they’re just seventh in OBP and 10th in SLG. They hit, sure. But they also make plenty of outs and they have a hard time advancing runners multiple bases. It’s no surprise that the team has a .325 wOBA that ranks ninth in the AL.

Despite the high hit and undesirable run totals, we can take plenty of positives from this outing. For instance, CC’s strikeout rate is slightly down this year, 7.4 per nine. Last night he struck out nine Royals. His average velocity this season, according to PitchFX, has been 93.4 mph. Last night he averaged almost a mile per hour faster, 94.25 mph, and topped out at 96.5. He hit 96 plenty of times in the sixth inning, even though he had lost his control by that point.

Sometimes those ground balls will find holes. Thankfully, they don’t do much damage if you can keep inducing those grounders. That’s the beauty of the situation. While hitters reach base more often when hitting the ball on the ground, they’re also vulnerable to the double play with a man on and less than two outs. So if one guy hits one on the ground through a hole, the next guy might do the same thing and erase both runners. CC has an added weapon in that he can strike out hitters and therefore leave more of them stranded. Again, that’s what we saw a lot of last night.

Remember, too, that there were other little things for which we can’t blame Sabathia. In the first inning, for instance, Billy Butler would have grounded into an inning-ending force out, but the runner was moving. That forced Robinson Cano to move from exactly the spot where Butler hit the grounder. And then there’s Jorge Posada‘s head-scratching throw to third. But that’s for another day. All of this hurt Sabathia even further.

One thing we can be sure of: his early season trouble are over. He did have some, for sure, but lately all we’ve seen is vintage CC. In his last 13 starts he has pitched 91 innings while striking out 81 and walking 33. He has allowed 83 hits in that span on a .306 BABIP. And, after struggling with the homer earlier in the season he hasn’t allowed a single on in his last nine starts.

Some of the numbers make last night’s outing look like middling, but looking it a bit deeper it was actually pretty good. The nine strikeouts are encouraging, as are the ground balls. It’s just that some of them found holes last night. If CC pitches similarly next time out I suspect that his line will look a lot more attractive.

A-Rod, Jeter, Sabathia among the highest earning athletes in 2010

Yeah, the title is rather obvious. Of course those guys are among the highest paid American athletes this year, they all have contracts worth well into nine-figures. Alex Rodriguez trails only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and LeBron James in earnings this year, taking in a total of $37M between his salary ($33M) and endorsements ($4M). Derek Jeter is three spots behind him after banking $31M ($21M in salary, $10M in endorsements), and CC Sabathia five spots behind him at $26.5M ($26M salary, $0.5K endorsements). Those three are the only baseball players in the top 25.

Mark Teixiera comes in at No. 35 overall with a $20.25M payday ($20M salary, $0.25M endorsements), and A.J. Burnett No. 50 closes the list with $16.775M in the bank ($16.5M salary, $0.25M endorsements).  John Lackey, Vernon Wells, Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Barry Zito, Torii Hunter, Josh Beckett, and David Ortiz are the only other baseball players to crack the list. They claim it’s American athletes only, and even have a separate list for international athletes, but somehow Ortiz qualifies. Eh, whatever. All this does is confirm what we already know: it’s good to be a Yankee.

A-Rod hits homer No. 599 as Yanks trounce KC

Whenever a team as perennially awful as the Royals come to town for a four game set and aren’t scheduled to throw their Cy Young Award winning ace, it’s easy to start thinking about a sweep. Of course the first step toward that sweep is winning the first game, and the Yankees did exactly that on Thursday night. With Tampa Bay enjoying a scheduled day off, the Yankees picked up a half-game on their division rivals and now lead the AL East by three full games.

A new mural at the Stadium. It'll be up through the end of the season. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Biggest Hit: Posada Doubles In The Go-Ahead Run

The first few innings of this game went back and forth. The Royals stayed true to form as the game’s premier bloop single outfit (lead the majors in batting average, third worst in isolated power), pushing a pair of runs across in the top of the 1st before the Yanks answered back in the bottom half. They scored another run in the 2nd, and the Yanks answered in the 3rd. With the score tied at three in the 5th, Robbie Cano singled with one out to start the rally, and two changeups later the Yankees had the lead for good.

Jorge Posada, who had himself a rather interesting night (more on that later), took the first pitch in the dirt for a ball before unloading on a hanging changeup, sending it deep into the leftfield corner and scoring Cano from first. He later came around to score himself on a Marcus Thames sac fly, though looking back it’s hard to believe that these were the two runs that would effectively decide the game. This one had 10-8 or 9-6 written all over it early on.

Biggest Out: Guillen Kills The Rally

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Before the Yankees broke things open in the bottom of the 8th inning, Joba Chamberlain once again found himself in trouble in the top half. In fairness, it wasn’t entirely his fault. Scott Podsednik and Jason Kendall beat out a pair of infield singles with one out that traveled a combined 100-ft or so, and the inning should have been over when Posada threw Podsednik out stealing third. Instead third base ump Chad Fairchild called him safe, and the inning continued.

Joba poured a first pitch fastball into the zone that Billy Butler took for a strike. Butler then took a slider out of the zone for a ball before swinging over another slider for strike two. Butler is one of the game’s best young hitters (.306/.369/.483 in close to 1,100 plate appearances since the start of last year), and he fought off two more sliders and another fastball for a full count. Joba then challenged him with a fastball, but the pitch rose out of the zone and the bases were loaded with two outs.

It was a two-run game at the time, so the typical uneasiness of a Joba outing was compounded about a million times over. His first pitch to the hacktastic Jose Guillen was wide for a ball (gulp), but Joba got Guillen to roll over on the next heater for an inning-ending ground out. It was a stressful inning, no doubt, and the first two baserunners weren’t entirely Joba’s fault. Still, would it kill the guy to have a 1-2-3 inning once in a while? I’m not sure how much more I can put up with this, .401 BABIP or not.

599

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Alex Rodriguez took another step towards history tonight, clubbing career homerun No. 599 in the 7th inning. It was an opposite field job off reliever Robinson Tejeda, and the three pitch at-bat really allowed A-Rod‘s greatness to shine. Consider the sequence:

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

First Pitch: 92 mph fastball, swing and a miss
Second Pitch: 94 mph fastball, fouled off
Third Pitch: 94 mph fastball, gone

If you throw a hitter as smart and physically gifted as A-Rod the same pitch three times in a row, you’re asking for trouble. He saw it the first time, adjusted the second time, and locked in on it on the third try. Might as well have put it on a tee.

Although he merely doubled in his final at-bat of the game and first shot at No. 600 in the 9th, Alex is now one swing away from history. My money’s on a first inning three run homer off Kyle Davies this Saturday, just like No. 500. Baseball is weird like that sometimes.

A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit Of That

Posada had what we’ll call an adventurous night behind the plate in this game. He lucked out in the 5th when home plate ump Eric Cooper called Butler out on a play at the plate even though Jorge didn’t even tag him. Replay showed he wasn’t close to tagging him, either. An inning later, he made what might have been the dumbest decision in baseball history. The unparalleled Yuniesky Betancourt struck out on a breaking ball in the dirt, and instead of throwing to first for the sure out, Posada threw to third to try and catch Willie Bloomquist napping. The throw was offline and went into leftfield, Bloomquist scored and the YuniBomber ended up at second. CC Sabathia bailed him out, but goodness. Bloomquist struck out on a ball in the dirt the next inning, and Posada lobbed the ball to first for the out, except he almost chucked it into rightfield. Mark Teixeira bailed him out that time. Definitely not a night they’ll relive on Jorge’s Yankeeography, go-ahead double or not.

CC Sabathia wasn’t especially sharp on Thusday, but he did take the ball into the 7th inning as usual. The 15 combined hits and walks he allowed are a new career high, but he limited the damage thanks to nine strikeouts. The big guy did what aces do, kept his team in the game even without his best stuff or command.

Big ups to David Robertson for another fireman act in the 7th. He entered the game with a one run lead and two men on base with just one out, but a pop-up and a strikeout later the Yankees were out of the inning. I can’t imagine either he or Joba will be available tomorrow after pitching in each of the last two games. I guess that makes Boone Logan and Jon Albaladejo the de facto setup men tomorrow. It’s better than Chad Ho Moseley.

Brett Gardner had two outfield assists in this one: one on Wilson Betemit at second to end the 1st (before Guillen crossed the plate, saving a run), and another on the Butler play at home. The replay showed that both guys were safe, Butler by a mile, but I’m not complaining. Kinda makes you forget that he’s had just one hit in his last 19 at-bats.

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Tex went 3-for-4 with a double off his personal whipping boy Bruce Chen, extending his streak of reaching base safely to 38 consecutive games. They should invite that guy to Spring Training every year just so Tex could face him and hopefully get off to a hot start.

David DeJesus sprained his thumb and will miss the rest of the series, but it could have been a lot worse. It looked like he messed up his wrist crashing into the fence on a Derek Jeter fly ball that turned into an inside-the-park homerun, but apparently the wrist is fine. Hopefully DeJesus gets well soon, he’s a good player that deserves to be traded to a contender before next week’s deadline.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Not as jumpy as the actual game felt. MLB.com has the box, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Same two teams, same time tomorrow. A.J. Burnett gets his shot at redemption against Brian Bannister.