Would Batting Ninth Help Gardner?

Have to hit before you can run. (AP/Kathy Willens)

No two ways about it: Brett Gardner is in the midst of an awful slump. He was given the coveted leadoff spot in the order and has thanked the Yankees for the present by batting a miserable .150/.227/.225 to start the season. In a lineup where the 7-8-9 hitters are no joke, Gardner appears to be trying to put a hole in the Yankees lineup right at the top. There’s no way he sticks there if he keeps up with this performance. He doesn’t have to be amazing – just get on base and steal a lot of bases and avoid the double plays with a certain shortstop and noted new groundball machine coming up behind him. But it’s not happening at the moment.

It doesn’t really matter to the Yankees whether Gardner bats first or ninth in the long run – according to David Pinto’s lineup analysis, they gain just 0.045 runs with Gardner’s 2010 numbers leading off over him batting ninth, which comes out to about seven runs all season. For a team that’s showing as much offensive power as this one is, seven runs over 162 games is a drop in the bucket. But maybe it matters to Brett Gardner. The leadoff spot in an order, while perhaps not as important in the giant scheme of all things baseball, does have a certain prestige about it. Certain players like to hit leadoff. Certain players don’t. Whatever that intangible is, maybe it’s bogging Gardy down. Let’s see.

Admittedly, we’re still dealing with fairly small sample sizes when we look at his plate appearances in only these two spots. It’s odd to think that this is only Gardy’s third year as anything other than a September call-up, and only his second year where he’ll be showing up in, ideally, more than 110 games. Additionally, no one really knows if Gardner’s poor second-half 2010 was all wrist injury or pitchers adjusting to him but I’m willing to bet it was some combination of both. Halfway through the year, scouting reports are coming in on a guy. Gardner’s must have looked something like, ‘throw strikes.’ We’ll do what we can with the number we have and take the results with a grain of salt.

Gardner has 264 plate appearances leading off in 59 games, all but two of which he started. In those games, he’s batted a mediocre .256/.338/.348, with a tOPS+ (OPS+ relative to total OPS+) of 92. In comparison, he’s started 116 games in the nine-hole, giving him 419 plate appearances and a slightly worse line of .240/.333/.312 and a tOPS+ of 81. There’s good news and bad news here. Good news: the numbers are better for the leadoff spot. Bad news: the numbers go down with the increased PA, so the second line is probably closer to what we might see over a larger sample. However, the numbers are so close that it honestly doesn’t matter. Not surprisingly, there’s also a change in the stolen base approach: Gardy only stole five more bases in those additional 155 PA batting ninth, and was also caught an extra five times. And if the sizes were equal, he would also have more walks from the leadoff spot as well: 48 BBs in 419 PA batting ninth vs. 25 BB in 264 PAs leading off.

One interesting thing to note is that that Gardner’s BABIP batting ninth is .286, which is a little lower than average. Bat him leadoff, however, and his BABIP shoots up to .337. I’m not sure why this is: could be luck, could be a different approach at the plate, could be the pitchers throwing him balls he can get better hits off of. Either way, that leadoff number is much, much closer to his career .321 BABIP than the nine-hole one. While we’re on this topic, Gardner’s 2010 BABIP of .340 and makes his current 2011 BABIP of .222 look pretty depressing.

There’s a lot of different elements to take into account here, but even with the small samples it seems like batting leadoff doesn’t bother Gardner, which is definitely a good thing for the Yankees and for the speedster. Let’s hope that we can all look back in a few years and have much larger samples that prove he is an amazing leadoff hitter and should never leave that spot. Then we can all roll our eyes at his 2011 April slump and talk about how unlike him that was. For now, all we know is that Gardner’s not doing too well and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with where he’s batting. Let’s hope his new approach figures itself out or he returns to whatever was working in 2010.

Harrison grounds Yanks on record-setting night

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

For the second straight night, the Yankees watched almost helplessly as their young starter dug them quite a hole. And for the second straight night, the bullpen tossed up zero after zero and gave the offense a chance to get back in the game. Unfortunately they were unable to complete the comeback on Friday, but they did bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth. Let’s recap the loss bullet-point style…

  • Ivan Nova … not good dude. Five walks and a hit batter is just too many free baserunners against that Rangers lineup. He really needs to figure out how to get outs once the lineup turns over, because he’s not giving the Yankees any length in his starts. When the other team has more runs than hits, then you’ve got to point the figure right at yourself. Walks and wild pitches/passed balls killed them.
  • Six, six freaking double plays! Some were turned with great defense, others were completely routine. That’s the new franchise record by the way, no Yankees team had ever grounded into six double plays in a nine-inning game before tonight. Crazy.
  • Lance Pendleton kicked off his Hall of Fame career in style, eh? Struck out the first two men he faced and gave the team three perfect innings. He’s the first pitcher in team history to fire three perfect innings in his debut. How about that?
  • Curtis Granderson hit his third homer of the season, and all three have come off lefties. Once he starts putting them over the fence against righties, he’ll really be in business.
  • Two hits for Derek Jeter and two hits for Nick Swisher, so they were productive at the top of the lineup. Alex Rodriguez doubled in the ninth and drew a walk earlier in the game, continuing his assault on AL pitching. I hereby proclaim his new nickname: wOBA-Rod.
  • Three walks for Jorge Posada, and now 20 of his 43 plate appearances (46.5%) have ended in a walk, strikeout, or homer this season. Three-true outcomes baby. Eric Chavez with a pinch-hit single, the one he should have had in the ninth inning of Thursday’s game if Brett Gardner hadn’t been allowed to bat for himself.
  • Here’s the WPA Graph, and here’s the box score. The double plays are frustrating, but for whatever reason this loss doesn’t bother me. I guess that by the end of the ninth, the GIDP’s were more comedic than anything else. Oh well. These two clubs will get back at it tomorrow afternoon, when Sweaty Freddy Garcia takes on Derek Holland. Assuming it doesn’t rain, of course.

Here’s a quick recap of the night in the minor leagues.

  • Triple-A Scranton won. Jesus Montero picked up three more hits to bring his season line to .471/.471/.647. He has 15 hits in his last 30 at-bats. That’s really good. Justin Maxwell doubled twice, and Adam Warren allowed three runs in six innings. He also struck out five and walked two.
  • Double-A Trenton won. Austin Krum reached base four times while Austin Romine, Cody Johnson, Ray Kruml, and Bradley Suttle each picked up two hits. Graham Stoneburner allowed one run across six innings, though he struck out just two and got nine ground balls. Kei Igawa picked up the save with three scoreless innings.
  • High-A Tampa won. Rob Lyerly, Luke Murton, and Zoilo Almonte all went deep to highlight the offense. Jose Ramirez struck out six and walked three in four innings work, allowing three runs. Mark Prior allowed two runs in an inning, but Scottie Allen resorted order with three scoreless innings. They need to get that kid in the rotation, stat. He’s being wasted in relief.
  • Low-A Charleston won (walk-off style). Slade Heathcott went 2-for-4 with a whiff, and Anderson Feliz finally got off the schneid with two hits of his own. J.R. Murphy singled and doubled, and Rob Segedin not only homered, but he had the walk-off hit-by-pitch. Ramon Flores reached base only once (on a walk). Kramer Sneed struck out five in 5.1 innings, allowing three runs.

Game 12: Jackie Robinson Day

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

I never saw Jackie Robinson play, I’m way too young for that. But his impact is obviously still felt, and in honor of him and what he accomplished, all players and field personnel will wear his number 42 during today’s games. Mariano Rivera won’t need a new uniform of course, since he’s the last player in baseball history to don the number on an everyday basis. With any luck, we’ll be seeing that number 42 jog out to the mound later tonight to preserve a win. Here’s the lineup…

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

Ivan Nova, C

Wow, look at that nearly symmetrical lineup. Turn that sucker sideways and you have a pseudo-bell curve, at least until you get to Granderson at the bottom. Anyway, you can watch this game locally on YES or nationally on MLB Network when it begins shortly after 7pm ET. Enjoy.

Phil Hughes Update: In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees are sending Hughes to the disabled list with what they termed a “dead arm phase.”

Yankees sending Hughes to the disabled list

Update (4:11pm): Scratch that, Joe Girardi told Marc Carig that Hughes is going to be placed on the disabled list and remain with the team, not sent to the minors. They called it a dead arm phase. “Something had to be done,” said Hughes. “My velocity’s just not there. My arm feels dead. This will able me to build arm strength and get this right.” Get well soon Philbert.

Original Post (3:54pm): Via Brian Costello, the Yankees are sending Phil Hughes to Triple-A Scranton to work out whatever the hell is costing him velocity and command. It’s pretty obvious that the team had to do something here, sending Phil out there every fifth day to get shelled isn’t in the best interest of him or the club. I figured they would give him one or two more starts, but I applaud them for acting quickly and not screwing around (i.e. phantom disabled list, bullpen, etc.). I’m sure Hughes is disappointed, but he can right this by getting back on track in a structured environment where results really don’t matter.

Right-hander Lance Pendleton is being called up to replace him on the roster, though it’s unclear who will fill the vacated rotation spot. My money’s on Hector Noesi. I assume Pedro Feliciano will be shifted to the 60-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster.

Series Preview: Texas Rangers

For years, the Angels were the one team in baseball that gave the Yankees fits. For whatever reason, Mike Scioscia’s team just had their number. Now that the Halos are getting older and are heading down baseball’s power rankings, they’ve apparently handed the torch of “AL West team the Yankees can’t beat” to the Rangers. After sweeping Texas in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium in April, Joe Girardi‘s team lost four of their five remaining regular season meetings, all of which took place in Arlington. The ALCS was a completely one-sided affair; that the Yanks forced six games is a minor miracle.

But this is a new season. There’s no Cliff Lee looming nor is there an Andy Pettitte to fall back on. Vlad Guerrero has been replaced by Adrian Beltre, Lance Berkman has been replaced by Russell Martin, things have changed. The weather looks to be gorgeous but a little chilly this weekend, when the Yankees take on their toughest opponent to date in 2011.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rangers started the season looking like baseball’s best team, and reality they probably are at the moment. They won their first six games and outscored their opponents 42-20 in the process, but they’re just 3-3 since. Prior to Thursday’s off-day, Texas dropped back-to-back games against the Tigers, losing the first on a Miguel Cabrera walk-off single and the second on a Brandon Inge walk-off homer. For whatever reason, Neftali Feliz was nowhere to be found in either game. Their +32 run differential is the best in baseball and nearly two times greater than the second best mark in the AL (Toronto’s +17). If there’s such a thing as momentum, the Yankees would appear to have it. They’ve won their last two while the Rangers lost their last two in demoralizing fashion.

Rangers On Offense

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Yankees caught a very big break this series, both literally and figuratively. By now you’ve heard that Josh Hamilton, last year’s AL MVP, broke his arm sliding head first into home during Tuesday’s game and is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. It was a weird play, Hamilton was on third when a pop-fly went into foul territory, but no one covered the plate and he broke for home after the catch. After the game he threw third base coach Dave Anderson under the bus, though he later apologized. Bottom line: The Yankees won’t have to face arguably the best player in the league this weekend.

Of course, Texas’ offense is still extremely good. Designated Yankee killer David Murphy (.418 wOBA in limited action) steps in for Hamilton, and Nelson Cruz’s boomstick is still fully operational (.451 wOBA). Ian Kinsler torched the Red Sox in the first series of the year, but he leadoff guy is hitting just .152/.243/.273 in the nine games since. Adrian Beltre has hit .350/.381/.750 with two doubles and two homers in his last five games after a very slow start to the season, while Michael Young owns a .474/.476/.579 line over the same time. Mitch Moreland is a perpetual pain in the ass near the bottom of the lineup (.389 wOBA), though Elvis Andrus (.291), Julio Borbon (.297) and Yorvit Torrealba (.275) haven’t done much yet this season. I’m willing to bet Andrus gets his fair share if crap infield hits this weekend like he did in the ALCS. Mike Napoli looms on the bench as a lefty-masher, though that should only come into play when CC Sabathia starts on Sunday.

Rangers On The Mound

Game One: Matt Harrison, LHP: Part of the Mark Teixeira trade back in the day, Harrison has been in straight up Beast Mode in the early going this year. He held the Red Sox and Orioles to one run over seven innings in each of his first two starts, allowing just seven hits and three walks total with seven strikeouts and 50% ground balls. He’s not some soft tossing lefty either. Harrison’s four-seamer has averaged 93.7 mph this year and has topped out at 97 while the two-seamer sits about a mile-per-hour or two below that. He uses each about 30% of the time. A low-80’s changeup is his next best offering and he doesn’t have a real knockout breaking ball, but will throw both a slider and curveball and the occasional cutter. If Joe Girardi was ever going to employ Danks Theory, this would be a good game to do it, taking that changeup away. Harrison has gotten smacked around pretty good in five career appearances (two starts) against the Yankees (7.53 ERA, 4.40 FIP in just 14.1 IP), but that was before he showed up to camp this year bumping 97.

It's Derek Holland's year. Eno Sarris told him so. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Game Two: Derek Holland, LHP: You probably remember Holland from his stellar relief work in the ALCS (5.2 scoreless innings), but now he’s back where he belongs in the rotation. He allowed three runs in six innings to the Mariners in the first start before shutting the O’s down for six frames last time out. He’s very much like Harrison in that he’s fastball-changeup heavy, sitting 93.2 with the former and the mid-80’s with the latter. Holland’s slider is a quality third offering though, a pitch he can use to get swings and misses. He’s another guy the Yankees have crushed in the past (9.49 ERA, 8.07 FIP in 12.1 IP) but again, that’s no guarantee of future success. Holland’s a dynamite young pitcher.

Game Three: Alexi Ogando, RHP: In the rotation only because Tommy Hunter strained some fat at the end of Spring Training, Ogando was never a full-time starter until the Rangers stuck him in that role in Spring Training. Sure enough, he fired six shutout innings against the Mariners two weeks ago and followed that up with seven shutout innings against the Tigers earlier this week. Ogando has allowed just four hits and three walks in those 13 IP, striking out eight. It doesn’t make sense, but for whatever reason it just worked. The right-hander sits 93-94 with the fastball and mixes in a few 95’s and 96’s, but he’s a two-pitch pitcher. If you don’t get the heat, your getting the slider, that’s it. His changeup is an afterthought. Ogando made just six relief appearances against the Yankees last year (four regular season and two playoffs), throwing a total of 4.2 IP. For all intents and purposes, they’ve never really seen him before.

Bullpen: Well, at least Feliz is well rested. He hasn’t pitched in four games, but at we also know that Washington won’t use him in a tie game on the road. Score one for the good guys. Yankee favorite Arthur Rhodes joins Darren Oliver to give the Rangers not one, but two lefties that are a handful of outings away from a forced retirement. Darren O’Day is a sidearm/submarining righty specialist, and Mark Lowe (a throw-in in the Lee trade) throws hard and that’s about it. Rule 5 guy Mason Tobin is unspectacular, and Pedro Strop is essentially another Lowe. It’s not exactly a bullpen that strikes fear into opponents, but you’ve got to get to them before the ninth inning. Otherwise you’re probably out of luck.