Game 92: Oh no, a rookie pitcher

Hopefully we see a similar pose from O'Sullivan tonight. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Ah yes, the bane of the Yankees’ existence, the rookie pitcher. Scott Kazmir was supposed to start tonight’s game, but he hit had to hit the disabled list with a case of the sucks shoulder issue, so the Yankees will instead face 22-year-old righty Sean O’Sullivan. He’s a rather generic righty, with a miniscule strikeout rate (4.8 K/9 in MLB, 6.6 in MiLB) and an okay amount of grounders (37.5%) . Everything looks good for the Yanks, but then again who knows with a pitcher they’ve never seen before.

It’s too bad the Angels didn’t throw Trevor Bell tonight (who was also in consideration for the start), we coulda mentioned that he’s the grandson of Bozo The Clown. For shame. Here’s the starting nine…

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

Hughes, SP

You have to believe it took minutes off Joe Girardi‘s life when he pencil three consecutive lefties into the bottom of the lineup. Game time is 7:05pm ET, and this one can be seen on My9. Enjoy.

Rushing to Joba’s defense

It has been nothing but a frustrating season for Joba Chamberlain. He started off with some success, but the velocity on his fastball just wasn’t there. Then he started pumping mid- to upper-90s fastballs, but started getting hit hard. Now his ERA is inflated and we’ve heard numerous calls for his expulsion from the eighth inning role. That’s natural. No matter what he’s doing otherwise, he’s allowing runs to score, and therefore is making it more difficult for the Yankees to win ballgames. At some point if he’s not getting results then he has to be taken out of such critical situations, right?

At some point, yes. At this point, however, I’m a firm believer that Joba should continue to get the ball. In terms of events over which he has the most control — strikeouts, walks, and home runs — he’s performing exceptionally. It’s on balls in play that he gets hurt far worse than he has in the past. This could be something mechanical — and at this point I’m willing to bet that he’s experiencing some physical difficulty that’s hurting his command — but it also certainly involves some degree of luck. There is, of course, the chance that his luck doesn’t even out by the end of the year; that’s a peril of pitching out of the pen. But there’s also a good chance that by mid-August we see a Chamberlain more like the 2008 version than what we’ve seen so far in 2010.

This was actually a discussion on a few sites today. Steve Goldman at Pinstriped Bible first took it up, and concluded that it’s far too early to give up on a pitcher of Joba’s caliber, even if it seems like his “potential is seemingly already spent.” Later in the day Bloomberg Sports presented much of the same information in graphical form. They also noted Joba’s drop in pop-up rate and his minuscule strand rate as potential issues. Then Rob Neyer added his commentary, from which we can take away one important point.

“Jose Lopez’s grand slam a couple of weeks ago is still fresh in our minds, and with that single pitch Chamberlain’s ERA jumped from 4.91 to 5.89.”

Such is the nature of relief pitching. It’s going to take patience with a pitcher like Joba, who has such high expectations placed on him. We’re not seeing immediate results, and so the natural reaction is to call him a bust and move onto the next guy. The Yankees, however, like something they’ve seen with him. For all you hear about the organization’s frustrations with his maturity and entitlement, they keep sending him back out there. Something tells me they’re thinking more along the lines of the crew at Bloomberg, Goldman, and Neyer, and not like the callers on AM radio.

Plotting out Phil Hughes’s starts

Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP

How do you freak out Yankees fans these days? By telling them that the team will skip a young pitcher’s start. It happened last year with Joba Chamberlain, and the reactions to Phil Hughes this year have been similar. That Hughes pitched poorly in the start following his long rest didn’t help matters. Thankfully, the Yankees don’t take fan reaction into account when making moves for the long-term good of the club. Skipping Hughes wasn’t about some arbitrary innings limit. It was about monitoring the workload of a relatively inexperienced pitcher to help keep him healthy and pitching in the future.

As discussed this morning, the Yankees won’t have many opportunities to skip Hughes in August. They’re going through a long stretch of games that will give them just two days off between now and early September. The Yankees could opt to skip Hughes during those days, but considering the summer heat and humidity, combined with Andy Pettitte‘s absence, it’s more likely that they just give everyone an extra day during those breaks. So where will that leave Hughes as the team enters the home stretch?

With starts scheduled tonight, Sunday, and then the following Friday, Hughes will have 19 starts under his belt, a mark he hasn’t reached since 2006. If he averages 6.1 innings per start he’ll be at 120 innings before the calendar flips. Again, that would be the most he’s pitched since 2006. That in itself should cause concern; imagine going through a rigorous weight training program four years ago, then going a bit lighter during the ensuing three years, and then picking back up at that heavy pace again. Even if Hughes does not present a greater injury risk because of this increased workload, chances are he could face fatigue issues. Again, a break during August is basically out of the question.

After his start on July 30, he would then line up to pitch Wednesday, August 4 against Toronto. That is followed by an off-day, and chances are everyone will just take a breather. The Yanks could choose to go with Hughes on four days’ rest and have him pitch against Boston on Monday the 9th, but I think they’ll have him throw down in Texas on Tuesday the 10th. He’d then go Saturday the 14th, Thursday the 19th, and then Tuesday the 24th before getting another longer layover. Then it’s the 30th against Oakland to close out the month.

Using the 6.1 innings per start guideline, that would bring Hughes to 158 innings heading into September. That’s just 22 innings below the arbitrary 180-inning ceiling they mentioned earlier in the season, so maybe that’s four more starts. He clearly wouldn’t make it through September at that pace, so the Yankees have to hope they have enough of a cushion to skip Hughes a few times in September. Even so, given the tough schedule I can’t see them skipping him more than once. Chances are that if the Yankees don’t have a comfortable lead in the East by mid-September, Hughes could actually hit the 200-inning mark.

Does this affect the Yanks’ strategy in acquiring a starter at the deadline? I think it most certainly does. The easiest transition for Hughes is to move right to the bullpen for September and the playoffs. Skipping his starts might help in the long-term, but the Yankees haven’t realized any short-term success when implementing that tactic. By adding a starter the Yankees can not only replace Pettitte’s production and give him more time to recover, but they can more easily handle Hughes’s workload. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s one the Yankees seemingly feel necessary for the long-term health of their rotation.

Albaladejo set to join Yanks tonight

In a move I’ve been anticipating for a few weeks, Jonathan Albaladejo will join the Yankee bullpen this evening when the team puts Andy Pettitte on the DL. Because the Yanks don’t need Pettitte’s rotation spot until the weekend, they have the luxury of holding an extra bullpen arm for a few days. If Albaladejo can impress in this short stint (or if the Yanks are simply sick of the three-headed Chad Ho Moseley beast), he’ll stick around when Sergio Mitre is activated prior to his Saturday start.

Albaladejo hasn’t had much success in the majors over parts of three seasons, but this year, on the strength of increased velocity and better breaking pitches, he has dominated at the AAA level. On the season, he is 2-1 with a 0.96 ERA in 46.2 innings. He has allowed just 25 hits, two home runs and only 12 walks while striking out 61 or 11.8 per nine innings. He might not be the answer to the Yanks’ bullpen woes, but he could be part of a solution.

A-Rod and No. 600

Alex's 500th. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

At some point in the not too distant future, Alex Rodriguez is going to connect with a pitch and send it over the fence for the 600th time of his career. We’ve already seen him do that same thing 253 times in pinstripes, setting the single season franchise record for homers by righthanded batter along the way (twice). He is inarguably the greatest hitter this 28-year-old has ever seen play for the Yankees (some of you older fans are welcome to disagree), someone with a first ballot Hall of Fame resume if he retired today.

And yet, there is almost no buzz, no excitement surrounding his pursuit of this historic milestone, as Ken Rosenthal points out. Alex’s 500 HR chase garnered much more attention, both locally and nationally. Maybe it’s the PED thing, that’s a legitimate question, maybe it’s just homerun fatigue. The 500 HR club added ten new members in the last decade or so, nearly doubling in size. Perhaps that once great milestone is losing its luster.

The 600 HR club has experienced the same kind of growth. There are six players in baseball history with that many homeruns to their credit, three of whom (Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds) joined the club in the last decade. Before that, it had been more than 30 years since Hank Aaron and Willie Mays joined Babe Ruth as 600 HR men, and they did so within three years of each other. So again, this club has doubled in size in the last decade after tripling in size almost four decades ago.

That shouldn’t cheapen the accomplishment, though. Tens of thousands of players have worn a Major League uniform at some point, yet just six have hit more homers than the Yankee third baseman. Soon enough, A-Rod will not just join those six great players in the 600 HR club, he might even surpass them all down the road. Consider what he’s already accomplished despite not turning 35-years-old until next week. He’s already hit the seventh most homeruns in baseball history. He was the youngest player to hit 300 homers, the youngest to hit 400 homers, the youngest to hit 500 homers, and he’ll also be the youngest to 600 homers by a not small margin. He’ll beat the Bambino to the milestone by a full year.

Alex has accomplished many things on the baseball field, but it doesn’t seem like gets as much credit for it as his peers. Consider how much love and adoration Griffey received at a similar point in his career despite being a fraction of the player. Maybe it has to do with expectations. A-Rod was so obviously gifted that greatness was a foregone conclusion. If he didn’t succeed, it would have been the biggest bust in baseball history. Greater than Brien Taylor and Mark Prior, greater than Steve Chilcott and Matt Bush. Alex couldn’t fail, it wasn’t an option.

Of course, there’s also public opinion to consider. Alex has long been considered a phony for his off-the-field antics and a choker for failing to become a World Champion, as if that was solely his fault. Now he has his ring, he has his homerun crowns with more to come, maybe everyone is just bored and looking for a new whipping bow. Either way, A-Rod’s greatest almost seems to get neglected at times, especially recently.

Consider this: Have you ever seen any mainstream media outlet, including the Yankees’ own television network,  give A-Rod credit for hitting more homers than any other infielder (first baseman included!) in baseball history? I certainly don’t ever recall it. And yet he accomplished that rather remarkable feat this season, passing Frank Robinson when pulled the old “hit a grand slam after the other team intentionally walks Mark Teixeira to load the bases” trick against the Twins in May. You remember that homer, yet you remember it for every reason other than Alex becoming the all-time leader in homeruns hit by an infielder. Think about that. More homers than any other infielder in baseball history, yet you’d probably never would have realized it if you didn’t read this post.

Now he’s moving onto bigger and better things. Alex’s 600 HR chase might not be the getting the attention the Yankees expected when they included the $30M worth of milestone incentives in his contract (those incentives don’t kick in until he hits homer No. 660, though), but that doesn’t cheapen the accomplishment. Also, they can point the finger at themselves for that lack of attention as well. They should be promoting this on television and around the ballpark like there’s no tomorrow. It’s a cash cow going unmilked.

We really should take a step back to realize what we are witnessing here. A-Rod isn’t just a great player, he’s a historically great player that will be talked about for years to come. We know history has a way of repeating itself; the first game after George Steinbrenner‘s death played out very much in the same way as the first game after Thurman Munson’s death, with a 5-4 walk-off win. Alex hit his 500th career homerun in Yankee Stadium off Kyle Davies of the Royals on a Saturday. The Royals are coming to the Bronx this week. Saturday’s scheduled starter? Kyle Davies.

(You can find ticket info for upcoming games after the jump if you want to see Alex hit No. 600 in person.)

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Derek Jeter’s marketable edge

Having five World Series rings is better than a panoramic vista view sunroof. Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

To say that Derek Jeter is popular is akin to proclaiming New York in slight fiscal troubles. Both are understatements of the highest degree. In fact, no other Major Leaguers are, according to a recent Sports Business Journal survey, as popular and as marketable as Derek Jeter, and how the Yankees realize this marketability could impact Jeter’s off-season contract negotiations and his Bronx future.

Based upon the results of a survey sent to 49 sports business executives and media personalities, Derek Jeter is tops among baseball in terms of marketability. He appeared on 47 of the 49 ballots and garnered 39 first-place votes en route to 223 total points. Albert Pujols finished behind Jeter with 111 voting points. (The full results are available here.)

Those in media were universal in their praise of Jeter. “You’ve got the star power. He’s playing in the biggest market. He’s obviously an All-Star caliber player. And I think more important than anything else, he’s one of the few guys that has really just stayed out of all kinds of trouble and controversy,” Mark Feinsand, Daily News beat writer, said to SportsBusiness Daily. “He’s got a clean-cut image and he’s always lived up to it. Any company that would get into business with him wouldn’t be worried about waking up and seeing his face flashed across the front page for the wrong reasons.”

Jeter, says the business executives, is primed for a very successful post-baseball career as a brand as well. He has become synonymous with Yankee success and class, and marketers love the image he puts forward. “He’s just so consistent, and I think people feel that reliability,” Brandon Steiner, chair of Steiner Sports, said. “It’s just really unusual for a player and a personality like him to be that consistent for that long, all going in the right direction.”

While this news is all well and good for Derek Jeter’s accountant, for the Yankees, it is just another aspect of Jeter’s package to consider when he comes up for free agency in a few months, and it adds to the forces pulling the Jeter issue in various directions. As some coverage focuses on Jeter’s image, in today’s Times, Joe LaPointe looks at Derek’s slump. Through 89 games, Jeter is hitting .271/.335/.384. He has a 97 OPS+, but with an sOPS+ of 110, he’s still better than the average AL short stop by a significant amount.

The team though has reason for concern. He’s seeing a career low 3.53 pitches per plate appearance, hasn’t homered since June 12 and is hitting just .248/.324/.338 over his last 310 plate appearances. He also turned 36 last month and is due to take home $21 million this year. Brian Cashman recognizes that a prolonged slump at this stage in a player’s career could be more than just a slump. “We’ll find out at some point,” Cashman said last month of Jeter’s play and his ability to stick at short. “The clock runs out on everybody. Sometime in the future, it will be a real issue to deal with.”

As Jeter’s struggles continue and the Yanks continue to win despite his lackluster play, the jury is decidedly out on how his season will end. Buster Olney, writing today, thinks Jeter will recover because “his history tells you he’ll bounce back.” Baseball history, though, says that middle infielders playing in their late 30s aren’t too dissimilar from this year’s version of Jeter. But Olney also says that if Jeter didn’t carry that marketable image around with him, he probably wouldn’t get more than $5 million a year after a season such as this one. Fangraphs’ WAR valuation pegs Jeter to a three-win season which would be worth closer to $12 million annually. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

NoMaas, in a piece that analyzes Jeter’s new-found tendency to swing at too many pitches, ponders the same problem. “In a strange and perverse way,” SJK writes, “this could be a blessing in disguise for the front office, since a down year could give them a stronger position in contract negotiations additionally influenced by public relations and legacy.”

So with three months left in the baseball season, the Yankees find themselves stuck in the middle with DJ. Chances are good that, because of Jeter’s image and marketability, the proper contract length for the right amount of dollars will generate enough revenue to pay for a significant part of the salary. But the Yankees also need a short stop who can man the position and a hitter who isn’t a drain on the lineup. How much should Jeter earn? For how many years? As I’ve said this season, I’m glad I’m not the one making that decision.

Mailbag: Joba, The Boss, Swisher, Montero

Time for another edition of the RAB Mailbag. Remember, you can email me your questions at any time, but the easiest thing to do is use the Submit A Tip box below The Montero Watch in the sidebar. This week’s topics include the mess known as Joba Chamberlain, the post-George Steinbrenner Yankees, Nick Swisher‘s future in pinstripes, and players I would be willing to acquire in a straight up trade for Jesus Montero. Let’s get to it…

About Joba Chamberlain… I wonder how much of his current troubles with consistency are due to the inconsistencies in his role, shifting from starter to reliever and back, then back again. I can’t remember any pitcher being moved back and forth so many times, aside from spot starters/long relievers of the Ramiro Mendoza mold, but that’s not the same. I personally have always been in the “Joba is a starter” crowd, and I still think he could be a top notch starter as he’s still young, has great stuff, and has been healthy. I think next year he should become a full time starter (yes, even though it’s another change, at least it will be the last), possibly starting in AAA to rebuild his mojo (if necessary), then set him loose on the AL and hope it works. Thoughts? – Howie

The Blue Jays really screwed around (bouncing back-and-forth between the rotation and bullpen) with both Dustin McGowan and Brandon League earlier in their careers, particularly McGowan. He hasn’t thrown a pitch in the big leagues in 742 days because of major reconstructive shoulder surgery, and he recently had another setback. I’m not saying the juggling act led to McGowan’s injury though, not at all. He threw 80.1 more innings in 2007 than he did in 2006, when he was still just 25-year-old. That’s the likely culprit

Anyway, back to Joba. I definitely think the constant changing of roles has impacted him in a negative way. There’s nothing wrong with shifting a player to the bullpen at the end of the season, but going from reliever to starter and having that transition take place in meaningful games is tough. Also, while well-intentioned, the 2009 Joba Rules were horrifyingly stupid. The fact that the Yankees aren’t doing the same thing to Phil Hughes this season is basically an acknowledgment of that stupidity. Joba definitely had a deer in the headlights look towards the end of last season, like he didn’t know if he was coming or going, looking over his shoulder at the bullpen wondering if this was going to be his last batter.

That said, I don’t think Joba is beyond repair. I’ve given up on him being a starter not because I don’t think he can do, just because I don’t expect the Yankees to give him the chance to do it again. If they were going to give him another shot at starting, they should be very straight forward about it and do it in very controlled manner. Start him in the minors, let him stretch out at his own pace, get into a routine, and then call him up once he’s found a groove and has earned it. At times he does appear a little too comfortable, something we never saw out of Phil Hughes because he did the up-and-down thing for a few years. Maybe he needs a little kick in the ass in that regard.

That’s all easier said than done, of course. After this season Joba will have to clear (revocable) waivers to be sent to the minors because he’s been in the bigs for more than three calendar years. If someone were to claim him, the Yanks could pull him back, though he couldn’t go to the minors. If they tried to send him down again, then those waivers are irrevocable and the claiming team would get him. That might throw a wrench in any plan that involves sending him to the minors.

Will George Steinbrenner’s passing have any immediate impact on the Yankees day-to-day operations? – David

This question was sent in after we heard about The Boss’s passing last Tuesday, which is why it seems a little outdated. That’s my fault, not David’s.

As you probably know by now, Steinbrenner’s death will not impact the team’s day-to-day operations in any way. He handed control of the organization over to his sons in 2007, at which point George stepped into the background. Nothing will change, it’ll be business as usual from here on out.

Where can I find 2010 wOBA and FIP for minor leaguers? Fangraphs only has miLB numbers through last season. – Larry

I have absolutely no idea when FanGraphs will update with 2010 minor league info, so they’re out of the question for now. The best place to get wOBA and FIP for minor leaguers is FirstInning.com, a very underrated site. They also have a version of HR/FB% for pitchers, as well as runs created (RC) and RC/27 for batters. MinorLeagueSplits.com has more comprehensive FIP data, broken down by level, by year, career, you name it.

Swisher isn’t just having a lucky season, the peripherals prove that. I believe that he has really enjoyed his time in New York, and has worked his ass off to keep his stay… the Yankees got him for nothing and he is really hitting his ceiling. He is hitting for power and avg, and his fielding is infinitely better than it was when he joined us as a platoon player. Do we see Nick in pinstripes for an extended period of time? – Daniel

I don’t think I’ve ever seen another player be so happy to be a Yankee. Maybe on the inside, but no one has shown it as much as Swisher, and that has everything to do with his personality, of course. He’s put a lot of work in to become the player he is today, losing weight in each of the last two offseasons and working with hitting coach Kevin Long to improve his performance against breaking balls, all of which shows you that he wants to be a better player and remain with the team long-term.

Swish signed a big fat contract with the A’s back during the 2007 season, signing away his three arbitration years and one year of free agency in exchange for $26.75M guaranteed. Can’t say I’d blame him, I’d take the long-term security too. Anyway, Swish will earn just $6.75M this season (FanGraphs says his performance has already been worth $11.6M) and $9M next season. The Yankees could then choose between a $10.25M option for 2012, or a $1M buyout. If Swish finishes in the top five of the MVP voting this year or next, the option jumps up to $12M.

Nick is right in the prime of his career right now, and will turn the big three-oh this November. Usually any decisions on option years are due ten days or so after the end of the World Series, so the Yanks will have figure out what to do with Swish for 2012 a few weeks before his 31st birthday. Assuming they pick up his option, which they unquestionably would if he maintained his currently level of production, Swisher would be able to test the free agent water as a 32-year-old, for all intents and purposes.

That’s when players, particularly power hitters like Swisher, tend to slow down, so the Yankees might not want to fork over a big four or five year contract at that time. Ideally Swish would sign for something like two years at $12M per plus an option for a third year, but the end result will likely be something in the middle. I’m not going to waste any more time talking about something that won’t happen for two years down the road, but for now rest assured, Swish will be in pinstripes* through next season at the very least, and more than likely through the end of 2012.

* Obviously, things can always change. This is all theoretical.

Mike, last year you would always say that there were 50 guys you would trade [Jesus] Montero for straight up. Does that still hold true this year? For the mailbag would you list those 50? Or even just 25. – Joe

Sure, I’ll give you 50 right now. The list is after the jump for space reasons, but I’ll explain my methodology here. It’s pretty simple. I didn’t consider salary or whether or not that player actually fits with the Yankees, because there is a difference between being willing to acquire a player and actually being able to acquire that player. Take David Wright for example. I would trade Montero for him straight up, but the Yanks already have a third baseman, it’s not a realistic fit. Nonetheless, Wright’s on my list.

What I did consider, however, is the number of years of team control a guy has left. I essentially ruled out all the rentals like Cliff Lee. Oh, and Yankee players too. They weren’t eligible for the list.

Again, the list is after the jump. It’s alphabetical, so don’t read anything into the order. Hiss and spit in the comments.

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