Bernie, in depth

Yesterday morning I wrote about a roundtable discussion with Bernie Williams. It was in no way comprehensive; it was just the parts of the conversation that stuck out most to me. Bernie had plenty of other interesting things to say. Thankfully, a couple of other people caught different parts. Emma Span has her account at Bronx Banter, and Amanda Rykoff fills in all the details on The OCD Chick. Both offer a different take on the experience of meeting and talking with Bernie Williams.

A.J. Burnett, relief pitcher

Burnett after losing in relief (Frank Gunn/AP)

A.J. Burnett had plenty of time to prepare what he’d say this afternoon. He knew long before us that he was not going to start a game in the ALDS. I don’t know what went through Burnett’s head in those few days, but it resulted in him getting the best press coverage possible. “Burnett handled himself better today than anybody could have expected,” wrote Mark Feinsand of the Daily news. “Burnett is a super-likable guy,” said Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York*. That type of reaction tends to occur when you admit that you suck and take your demotion without issue.

*The rest of Matthews’s quote reads, “who regrettably seems destined to drive himself and his bosses crazy.” Well said.

Burnett will sit in the bullpen for the ALDS, which raises the question of how Girardi will use him, if he’ll use him at all. Would he use him in the sixth inning of Game 3 if Hughes throws 100 pitches through five. Would he use him in Game 4 if he had used Wood, Robertson, and Chamberlain in the first three games? I doubt he uses him before any of those three, but he probably fits in ahead of Moseley and Mitre. There’s a chance he’ll get an inning or two, which makes me wonder how he’d adapt to a relief role.

Burnett last pitched in relief on April 16, 2008, in an extra-inning game against Texas. In a 5-5 game he allowed two runs on three hits and a walk. The Blue Jays were retired in the bottom half and the Blue Jays lost the game. The time before that came in 2004, on the final day of the season. Burnett hadn’t pitched since September 12. He came into the fifth inning of a 5-3 game against the Phillies and pitched two scoreless innings that included four strikeouts. In his career Burnett has made four relief appearances and has faced 30 batters. They have hit .346/.433/.500 off him.

Of course, four appearances scattered over three different years doesn’t mean much as it concerns his current abilities. Then again, I don’t think that many stats, if any, can explain A.J. Burnett this season. Normally I’d go through his numbers in various reliever situations — first inning of work, men on, late & close, etc — but I’m not sure it would tell us anything. Not only are they small, non-predictive samples, but they’re also almost all bad, because A.J. was bad most of the season. There are very few situational splits in which the opponent’s OPS against dips below .700. It’s tough to find any silver lining with numbers like that.

I really wanted this to be a post on how A.J. might make a good reliever — that he might add a fourth to the setup crew of Chamberlain, Wood, and Robertson. But that’s just not likely. It’s possible, in the same way that it’s possible that the Braves win the World Series. But it would come only in a desperate scenario. I have to agree with Ben; Burnett the reliever is a pitcher I hope never takes the mound in the ALDS. It probably means a grave situation — even before Burnett enters the game.

Vote for Ivan Nova as best Triple-A starter

Ivan Nova is one of six players up for this year’s Triple-A Best Starting Pitcher of the Year award, matched up against Jeremy Hellickson (Rays), Dan Hudson (D-Backs), Anthony Lerew (Royals), Brandon Dickson (Cardinals), and Michael Kirkman (Rangers). The 23-year-old Nova threw 145 innings for Scranton across 23 starts, posting a 2.86 ERA (3.46 FIP) with 7.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. He was clearly the team’s best starter all season long, and he even provided some value to the big league team with a few September spot starts.

You can vote for the award right here through next Monday, so head on over, give a click, and support your homegrown Yankees.

Open Thread: Yankee Statistical Leaders

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Now that the season’s over and we’re just killing time before the ALDS starts, let’s take a second to look back on some of the Yankees statistical leaders this season …

Position Players (min. 150 PA)

AVG: Robbie Cano (.319), Nick Swisher (.288), Marcus Thames (.288)
OBP: Brett Gardner (.383), Cano (.381), Mark Teixeira (.365)
SLG: Cano (.534), Swish (.511), Alex Rodriguez (.506)
ISO: A-Rod (.236), Tex (.225), Swish (.223)
wOBA: Cano (.389), Swish (.377), Tex (.367)
HR: Tex (33), A-Rod (30), Swish & Cano (29)
RBI: A-Rod (125), Cano (109), Tex (108)
2B: Cano (41), Tex (36), Swish (33)
BB: Tex (93), Gardner (79), Derek Jeter (63)
K: Swish (139), Tex (122), Curtis Granderson (116)
SB: Gardner (47), Jeter (18), Granderson (12)
fWAR: Cano (6.4), Gardner (5.4), Swish (4.2)
bWAR: Cano (6.1), Tex (4.2), Swish & Gardner (4.0)

Pitchers (min. 40 IP)

ERA: Mariano Rivera (1.80), CC Sabathia (3.18), Andy Pettitte (3.28)
FIP: Mo (2.81), Joba Chamberlain (2.98), Sabathia (3.54)
xFIP: Joba (3.34), Mo (3.65), Sabathia (3.78)
IP: Sabathia (237.2), A.J. Burnett (186.2), Phil Hughes (176.1)
K/9: David Robertson (10.42), Joba (9.67), Sabathia (7.46)
BB/9: Mo (1.65), Sergio Mitre (2.67), Joba (2.76)
K/BB: Mo (4.09), Joba (3.50), Sabathia (2.66)
GB%: Ivan Nova (51.4), Mo (51.2), Mitre (50.9)
AVG: Mo (.187), Mitre (.220), Sabathia (.238)
fWAR: Sabathia (5.1), Hughes (2.4), Pettitte (2.1)
bWAR: Sabathia (5.4), Pettitte (3.1), Mo (3.0)

Where would the Yankee have been without Cano and Sabathia? I’m afraid to think about it…

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. You’re on your own as far as entertainment goes; there’s no baseball, football, preseason hockey, nothing. You guys are smart, you’ll figure it out. Have at it, and don’t forget to become a fan of RAB Tickets on Facebook for a chance to win a Yankee hat.

Almost a different look for the Yanks on the road

Thanks to the tireless uniform report Michael Kay used to give out on the radio, we all could describe the Yanks’ road uniform in our collective sleep — gray background, New York in blue across the chest outlined in white, yadda yadda yadda. But once upon a time, the Yankees almost changed that design. In a Uniwatch column published last week, uniform guru Paul Lukas with former Yanks’ PR director Marty Appel to discuss the near-change to the Yanks’ road digs.

As Appel described in his 2001 memoirs, he walked into then-GM Gabe Paul’s office to find the sample. “They were the opposite of the home pinstripes — they were navy blue with white pinstripes. The NY logo was in white. Gabe liked them. I nearly fainted,” he writes. “I think my dramatic disdain helped save the day and saved the Yankees from wearing those awful pajamas on the field.”

In his interview with Lukas, Appel rehashes this tale — which happened to take place in Robert Moses’ old office at the World’s Fair grounds — and talks about how his reaction ensured that George Steinbrenner never even saw this abominable uniforms. Interestingly, Lukas notes that the Yanks were the first team to commemorate anything with a sleeve patch, and the mock-up of Jeter and A-Rod in the alternate uniforms is a classic.

Exploiting Minnesota’s weaknesses

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The Twins finished the regular season with the fourth best record in baseball (94-68) and on a three-plus month hot streak that saw them go 47-25 down the stretch. They did that primarily by crushing their own division and the AL West, because their 15-18 record against the AL East is hardly awe-inspiring. Like every other team they have their flaws, some more noticeable than others. Exploiting those weaknesses is going to be important for any team playing the Twins, and it just so happens that they draw the Yankees in the ALDS.

Here are two of Minnesota’s biggest drawbacks, two things that the Yankees wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of in years past because they lacked a little something called speed.

Running On Carl Pavano

Yankee fans are well aware of their team’s problem with allowing stolen bases. Jorge Posada and Frankie Cervelli hardly ever throw anyone out (just 17.3% combined), and some pitchers on the staff seem allergic to holding runners (coughA.J. Burnettcough). The Twins have a bit of a stolen base problem of their own, and it comes in the form of former Yankee Carl Pavano.

Pavano, who has always been slow to the plate, allowed 31 stolen bases in 39 opportunities this year (79.5%). Essentially one out of every seven baserunners with an opportunity to steal have at least attempted it, and most of them were successful. Joe Mauer, who threw out 42.2% of attempted basestealers from 2004-2008 is down to just 26.2% over the last two seasons. He also battled some shoulder soreness this summer, so he’s more susceptible to the stolen base than ever before. Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Derek Jeter need to take advantage in Game Two and swipe bases whenever possible.

It’s not just about stealing bases to get runners in scoring position either. Pavano is a ground ball pitcher (51.2% grounders this season) and has gotten a double play in 11.5% of his opportunities this year, so swiping some bases will help avoid those twins killings, particularly when Jeter and his league leading 65.7% ground ball rate are at the plate. Run boys run.

Jason Kubel’s Defense

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Justin Morneau’s injury hurt the Twins in more ways than one. Sure, replacing his .447 wOBA is basically impossible (though Jim Thome did a helluva job trying), but it also forced an unfavorable defensive shift. Michael Cuddyer stepped in as the everyday first baseman, pushing Jason Kubel into rightfield full-time. There’s a reason that 60% of Kubel’s starts in 2008 and 2009 came as a designated hitter, and that’s because the man is awful with the glove.

Over the last three seasons, his -17.5 UZR in right ranks 35th out of 39 qualified fielders (min. 1,000 innings), and that’s mostly because of an awful range score (-14.5). Kubel simply doesn’t get to all that many balls out there, and that’s a bit exacerbated by spacious Target Field. Beyond just catching the ball, his throwing is a big time liability and something the Yanks can absolutely take advantage of.

In baserunning situations such as first-to-third on a single, first-to-home on a double, second-to-home on a single, and sacrifice flies with the runner at second and/or third, Kubel’s “hold” rate is just 39.3%. The league average is close to 46%. His “kill” rate checks in at just 3.4%, well below the 6% league average. A “hold” is when he limits to the runner to just one base on a single or two on a double (so first-to-second on a single, not first-to-third, etc.), nothing more. A “kill” is when he actually threw a runner out attempting to take the extra base.

Clearly, Kubel’s arm is something guys like Gardner, Granderson, Jeter, Robbie Cano, and even Alex Rodriguez need to exploit. He’s very unlikely to throw them out trying to take the extra base, so they should push the envelope as much as possible, particularly with Francisco Liriano on the mound. They simply won’t get many opportunities to generate extended rallies against him, so they have to create offense in other ways.

It’s also worth noting that Delmon Young is equally awful in left, with a -43.3 UZR over the last three seasons (dead last among qualified fielders). His hold rate on first-to-homes on a doubles, second-to-home to singles, and sacrifice flies to score a run (it’s not often a runner goes first-to-third on a single to left, or advances from second on a sac fly) is just 38.3%, his kill rate 5.3%. Like I said earlier, run boys run.

* * *

I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s not just the Yankees that have weaknesses heading into the playoffs. In addition to the above, the Twins are likely to be without top setup man Jon Rauch because of a knee injury (though he had it drained and claims he’s good to go), and their bullpen had the fourth worst strikeout rate in baseball this year at 6.74 K/9. If you’re going to let the Yanks put balls in play in the late innings, bad things will happen. With any luck they’ll take advantage.

Mitre, Moseley, and Golson make ALDS roster

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

With the team on its way to Minnesota in advance of tomorrow’s ALDS opener, the Yankees have released their 25-man roster for the series. They’re carrying 11 pitchers and 14 position players, with Sergio Mitre and Dustin Moseley grabbing the final two bullpen spots. They beat out the unimpressive quartet of Javy Vazquez, Chad Gaudin, Royce Ring, and Ivan Nova, all of whom pretty much bombed their September auditions. Nova’s the only real surprise, but he didn’t exactly shine in his relief appearance on Saturday night.

We know that CC Sabathia (Game One), Andy Pettitte (Game Two), and Phil Hughes (Game Three) will be the primary starters, though A.J. Burnett‘s status was a bit unclear. He made the roster and will pitch in relief, joining Joba Chamberlain, Mariano Rivera, Kerry Wood, David Robertson, Boone Logan, Mitre, and Moseley out in the bullpen. Given the scheduled off days between Games Two and Three (and Four and Five), the four core setup relievers (Joba, Wood, D-Rob, Logan) should be able to pitch almost every inning between the starters and Rivera. I’m curious to see if and how A.J. will be used, he could be a weapon if comes in and just airs it out for an inning, but does Joe Girardi trust him?

Greg Golson beat out Eduardo Nunez for a bench spot, since he offers top notch outfield defense and has no worse than equal baserunning ability. Ramiro Pena gets the nod over Nunez likely because of seniority, but it was the correct choice anyway. Neither player can hit and at least Pena can play stellar defense. Regardless, the utility infielder is going to be glued to the bench all month. The starting eight position players are clear and do not need introductions, and as expected the DH spot will be a Marcus Thames/Lance Berkman platoon. Golson, Pena, Austin Kearns, Frankie Cervelli, and the non-starting half of the DH platoon will occupy the bench.

Thames figures to get a lot of at-bats in the ALDS with lefties Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing scheduled to start two of the first three games for Minnesota, so Berkman’s going to play a big role coming off the bench as a pinch hitter in the late innings. His power appears to be pretty much gone, but he’s gotten on base 40 times in his last 100 plate appearances, which has definite value. Golson will likely get the call as the primary pinch runner since they have two outfielders on the bench and just one infielder, and he should be well equipped for the job. He’s swiped 60 bags in 73 tries over the last three years in the minors (82.2% success rate).

The Yankees are only going to go as far as their star players take them. The decision to carry Moseley over Nova, or Pena over Nunez will not determine their playoff fate. They might contribute a little something at some point, but that’s it. We’ve known who this team will rely on come playoff time all season, so for all intents and purposes the last three or four ALDS roster spots are inconsequential.