Late comeback not enough as Pineiro foils Yanks

This type of game will happen. Javy Vazquez wasn’t sharp, though he managed to limit the damage through five innings. It looked like he might escape doom in the sixth, but it was not to be. Not only did he allow a run on a Kendry Morales double, but Morales himself came around to score later in the inning, courtesy of Al Aceves. Mike will have more on the Morales at-bat in the morning. For now, onto the recap.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Biggest Hit: Swisher triples

Joel Pineiro had his sinker working yesterday, and it had Yankees’ hitters baffled. Through four innings they managed just one hit, a Robinson Cano double off the glove of Torii Hunter. Cano managed another hit off him in the fifth, this time a single to left. To groundouts moved him to third base with Nick Swisher at the plate.

While the count didn’t run to 3-2, Swisher did make Pineiro work, fouling off three straight 2-2 pitches after not swinging at the first four. Pineiro tried to mix things up later in the at-bat, throwing a curveball and then a changeup, but on the eighth pitch went back to the sinker. It caught enough of the zone that Swisher was able to make solid contact, driving it to right-center. Cano scored easily, and the outfielders were so ill-positioned for that particular hit that Swisher made it all the way to third.

This was actually the biggest hit of the game from either side. The Angels spread their runs out, and since the Yankees never got too close the Angels gradually moved closer to that 100 percent WPA mark. Swisher’s hit was huge because not only did it cut the Angels lead to one, but it also made Swisher the potential tying run. Brett Gardner, however, could not deliver.

Biggest Pitch: Abreu continues owning Vazquez

When Abreu came to bat in the first inning, Michael Kay mentioned how well he had hit Vazquez in the past. He spoke mostly of counting stats, but here are the rate stats, just for fun: .282/.358/.746. In other words, Abreu posted a decent BA and OBP against Vazquez, but when he hit it he hit it a ton. A hit in the first improved those numbers, but his third-inning double did the most damage.

With Erick Aybar standing on first, Abreu took a called strike one on the low-outside corner. Vazquez came back with a changeup, again outside, but this one ran a bit high. Abreu laid into it, lining it to center. It got behind Curtis Granderson, and Aybar came around to score. Brandon Wood had previously scored on Aybar’s single, so this staked the Angels to a 2-0 lead. It also led to boos from the Stadium denizens. Where do we get these fans?

Vazquez actually recovered decently, pitching two more scoreless innings before running into trouble again in the sixth.

Biggest Blunder: The eighth inning

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

With a 5-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, the Angels looked poised for victory. Mike Scioscia turned to his erstwhile setup man, Scot Shields, long-time Yankee-killer, to hold a four-run lead. It was immediately clear that, at least on this day, he was not up to the task.

After a failed bunt attempt Shields delivered four straight pitches out of the zone to Brett Gardner. That’s usually a terrible way to start an inning, but with the Yanks down four it was unlikely Gardner would take a base. Derek Jeter tapped one to the pitcher after taking two pitches, and he beat out the throw to first, setting up the Yanks with runners on first and second.

Nick Johnson might have had the best at-bat of the game in this spot. He took the first three pitches, a called strike followed by two balls, before fouling off the next five. On the at-bat’s ninth pitch Shields went back to his curveball and placed it on the outside edge. Johnson jumped on it, though, lining it to center and scoring Gardner. The Yanks, as they always seem to do, sent the tying run to the plate.

Scioscia had seen enough of Shields. With the game on the line he turned to Kevin Jepsen, who was all over the place. It did work to his advantage, though. A wild pitch put runners on second and third, but Mark Teixeira couldn’t deliver. He grounded one to short. It scored Jeter but didn’t advance Johnson and accounted for the inning’s first out. Alex Rodriguez drew a walk in the next at-bat, so he became the tying run.

Robinson Cano whaled one to third base in the next at-bat, and I have no idea how he beat out the double play. It looked tailor-made, especially for a player with Cano’s speed. He was just safe, though, preserving the inning. Here’s where Jepsen’s wildness helped. After throwing just six of his first 15 pitches for strikes, Jepsen came back with two straight in the zone to Posada. He took both, and eventually — and predictably — struck out on a low slider.

Teixeira’s ground out lowered the Yankees’ chances of winning by 8.3 percent. Cano’s fielder’s choice brought it down another 8.8 percent, and Jorge’s strikeout, with the tying run on first base, sunk it another 9.8 percent. The Yanks had a grand opportunity to tie the game, or at least bring it within a run, and failed to do so.

Aceves slowing it down

Either the gun was cold — which is possible, since Vazquez topped out at 90 — or Aceves was a bit slow with the fastball yesterday. It topped out at 89 on the Pitch f/x gun. He didn’t look very good in general, perhaps because he hasn’t gotten much work this season.

Things that annoyed me

The eighth, even though the Yanks scored runs. It seemed like a classic comeback in the making. Instead if was marred by middle of the lineup futility. Thankfully, we know these guys will come around.

Hideki Matsui. Come on. The Angels hit three doubles today. I’m not wishing Matsui added to that, but rather that he hit a double in place of, say, Torii Hunter.

The fans. There’s no need to boo Vazquez, especially in the third inning. He recovered nicely, and he nearly finished his appearance with six innings and two runs. Alas, that was not to be, and the sixth inning was quite annoying. Still, there’s just no need for the booing, especially in freaking April.

Mark Teixeira. Yeah, I know. We’ve seen his April struggles first-hand and know that he makes up for it later. It doesn’t make it any less annoying while it’s happening, though.

Also, it’s been two games at home this season and we haven’t seen a walk-off. This team is clearly a bust.

Things that made me smile

Joba. He allowed a hit, struck out a batter, and still needed only nine pitches to retire the side.

Robinson Cano’s continued excellence. Even in the eighth he whaled the ball. Too bad it was right at Wood.

Nick Swisher. For his gritty at-bats and his hustle around second and into third.

Nick Johnson. Coming through big.

Also, someone mentioned this in the chat last week. New York Nicks. That gonna take?

Derek Jeter. Because while it seems everything he hits is a grounder to short, he’s still hitting .324.

WPA Chart

To FanGraphs for the full boxey.

Up Next

It’s a battle of season debuts, as Phil Hughes takes on Scott Kazmir tomorrow at 7 p.m.

Montero has a big night in Scranton win

Dustin Moseley was placed on the DL, and Kevin Whelan was activated to take his place. It’s some kind of forearm issue, but there’s no ligament damage, and he might not miss that much time.

Triple-A Scranton (1-0 win over Syracuse)
Kevin Russo, 3B: 0 for 3, 1 BB
Eduardo Nunez, 2B & Chad Huffman, LF: both 0 for 4 – Nunez committed a fielding error … Huffman K’ed
Juan Miranda, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 4, 1 2B – moved up to the cleanup spot, and looks what happens … has at least one hit in every game
Jon Weber, DH: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 HBP
Colin Curtis, RF: 1 for 3, 1 K
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI – he hit two homers last year, so of course the only run in the game would come when he goes deep
Reegie Corona, SS: 2 for 3

Zach McAllister: 4 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 3-4 GB/FB – 56 of 87 pitches were strikes (64.4% … left the game because his pitch count was getting up there
Royce Ring: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 19 of 30 pitches were strikes (63.3%)
Amaury Sanit: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 23 of 36 pitches were strikes (63.9%)
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 8 of 13 pitches were strikes (61.5%) … not a bad replacement for when your regular closer needs a night off

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Torii’s a girl’s name*

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Am I the only one with an irrational dislike of Torii Hunter? He’s does a ton of stuff for charity and from what I can gather he’s a great guy, but damn, I just don’t like him as a player. His UZR in center over the last three years is -12.8, which is decidedly below average and the third worst in the game. His wOBA is strong at .361 over the same time, and is identical to Johnny Damon‘s. It’s good, but it’s not that good.

I mean, he’s a nice player, but is he as good as he’s made out to be? No. Is he worth the $18M annually the Angels are paying him? Good Lord no. I hate to hate on a player like that, but sheesh, I just don’t get it with Torii.

Anyway, here’s the night’s open thread. The NHL playoffs start tonight with the Flyers at the Devils, and the Nets’ season comes to a merciful end as well. As for baseball, you’ve got the Mets at the Rockies, and the Astros at the Cardinals on ESPN2. Houston is 0-7, and as a team they have drawn six walks. Nick Johnson has nine. That about sums up their situation.

* Someone yelled that from the bleachers at a game I was at last year. It still makes me laugh.

Waiting for Tex

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

We knew it was coming, but it’s still kinda tough to look at. Mark Teixeira, for whatever reason, is simply awful in April, and he’s doing it again this year. Through the Yankees’ first eight games, he’s hitting a cool .097-.263-.129 in 34 plate appearances, good for a .238 wOBA. All three of his hits came in the same game last week, though before today he had more walks than strikeouts. It’s a small consolation, but at least he’s still finding ways to get on base occasionally.

The bad news is that even with Tex’s dormant bat, the Yankees are second in the league with 46 runs scored, three behind the Tigers who’ve played one more game. I should probably make it clear that that’s bad news for the rest of the league. Robbie Cano is absolutely killing the ball with a .382-.389-.676 batting line through the first eight games, and even his outs are hard hit. Jorge Posada is batting the quietest .400-.516-.800 in history, and Nick Swisher is getting on base more than 45% of the time out of the eight hole. As ridiculous as it sounds, Tex is the easy out in the lineup right now.

And that’s the problem: the automatic out is smack dab in the middle of the lineup, not the bottom where they usually hide. Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson have collectively reached base 30 times in the team’s eight games, yet Tex has only drive in three runs. When he’s had men on with two outs, he’s made the final out of the inning 75% of the time, which is far too much with Alex Rodriguez batting behind you. There’s an easy way to fix this until he starts hitting, just bat him lower in the order.

I don’t think Joe Girardi would ever do it out of the loyalty or whatever, but if Tex is going to continue to toss up 0-fers for the next few games, why not drop him a few spots? The lineup wouldn’t require any fancy rejiggering, just push everyone up so A-Rod hits third, Cano hits fourth, Posada hits fifth, etc. That arrangement is obviously working, so there’s no need to screw with it. Batting Tex eighth would be embarrassing on both a team and individual level, but I don’t see a problem with slotting him into the six spot.

In that scenario, your lineup is…

Derek Jeter
Nick Johnson
Alex Rodriguez
Robinson Cano
Jorge Posada
Mark Teixeira
Curtis Granderson
Nick Swisher
Brett Gardner

Again, I don’t think it’ll ever happen, but where’s the harm? The lineup becomes a bit more circular, and now there’s no weak bat behind Jeter and Johnson. As soon as Tex warms up ever so slightly, you move him back up. Simple, right*?

* That probably means I’m dead wrong. [/JoPoz]

The Yankees are winning at games at a .625 pace, so there’s not much to complain about, but I don’t see what’s wrong with a little tweak here or there to maximize the lineup’s production for the next week or two.

Game Eight Spillover Thread

One more thread for good luck.

Game Eight: Getting down to business

"Eat it, bitches." (Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP)

At long last, all the bells and whistles are over with. No more openers, no more ring ceremonies, no more introductions along the baselines, all that’s left now is the routine of regular old baseball, day after day after day for the next six-plus months. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Show up to the park, take the field, take care of business, go home, and do it all again the next day.

Here’s the lineup that’ll face sinkerball specialist Joel Piniero today, the first day of the rest of the season…

Jeter, SS
Johnson, DH
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Granderson, CF
Swisher, RF
Gardner, LF

And on the mound, the Puerto Rican Punisher, Javy Vazquez.

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET, and can be seen on YES. Enjoy the game.

Robertson’s uncommon ninth inning

Yesterday’s game was an almost complete pleasure. The Yankees received their World Series rings with Hideki Matsui in the park. They hit around Ervin Santana and by the ninth inning had put seven runs on the board. All that remained were the final three outs. Joe Girardi tasked David Robertson with the assignment, and given what we’ve seen of Robertson so far in his young career I doubt anyone expected what came next.

Bobby Abreu gets high-fives all around after his salami | Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Robertson allowed three straight singles to load the bases with none out. The first two were a bit questionable, a weak grounder that neither A-Rod nor Jeter could field in time to get Howie Kendrick. The next batter, Jeff Mathis, laid down a bunt that Robertson hesitated in fielding, resulting in another single. Brandon Wood, batting under .100 at that point, singled to right in the next at-bat. Luckily, Kendrick did not score on the play. After a strikeout of Erick Aybar, though, I thought Robertson would get out of the inning with minimal damage.

That, of course, did not happen. Bobby Abreu crushed a fastball over the right field fence, plating four runs and putting his team within two. With the save situation in effect the Angels had little chance. They had just two outs remaining and had to face Mariano Rivera. He made quick work of Torii Hunter and Matsui, capping the Yankee victory, but the bit about Robertson still stung a bit. How did he let the game get away from him so quickly?

Instead of focusing on the why, though, after the game I wondered more about the what. Namely, the sequence of events that led to the Angels’ four runs. Robertson had allowed three singles and a home run in succession. How many pitchers had actually done that before? I thought it rare, since a runner on second will score on a good percentage of singles. Thankfully, there’s a rough way to check on that. I headed over to Play Index and ran the linked query. To recount:

I set hits to equal four, runs to equal four, and home runs to equal one, with the IP being a third of an inning or less. I also set extra base hits to equal 1*HR. That way I ensured that the three other hits were singles, meaning it was most likely that the home run scored all of the hitters who had singled. The only thing I couldn’t set, due to Play Index’s limited input fields, was limit walks to none. I accomplished that by sorting the results, though.

Since 1920, only 34 pitchers had experienced such a sequence of events. Thirteen of those failed to record an out. The other 21 got through a third of an inning, though only five of them accomplished that with a strikeout, as Robertson did. This information, while interesting, does not represent the oddest item I found on the list. What really stuck out was one name: Mariano Rivera.

On September 4, 2004, the Orioles visited the Stadium, sending Sidney Ponson to the mound to face Mike Mussina. The Yanks, for whatever reason, could not hit Ponson. He pitched a complete game two-hitter, walking just one. Mussina didn’t fare so poorly himself, finishing seven innings while striking out eight. He allowed just two runs, but when the other pitcher is going as well as Ponson it’s not good enough for the W. In any case, Torre wanted to keep the game close. He brought in Tom Gordon, who pitched a scoreless eighth. Then, in order to preserve the comeback possibility in the bottom of the ninth, he brought on Mo.

Here’s why I think Robertson’s sequence was a bit rarer than Play Index indicates. Mo actually gave up the home run to lead off the inning, to Rafael Palmeiro. Javy Lopez and David Segui followed with singles, and then Jay Gibbons sacrificed them to second and third. Larry Bigbie singled home Lopez, and that brought Torre out of the dugout. He sent in Bret Prinz to clean up the mess, but Brian Roberts immediately homered, bringing home Segui and Bigby and leaving Mo charged with four runs.

If anyone knows of a better way to check on the single-single-single-home run sequence, please let me know. We know that, at most, it has happened 33 times since 1920. I have a feeling that the actual number falls a bit below that.