Catch RAB on the Pulse Network’s Sports Buzz

A little late-morning self-promotion: I’ll be making a live appearance at 12 noon today on the Pulse Network’s Sports Buzz show. They’re on right now, talking with Dan Duquette, and you can watch it live right here. I’m calling in to talk about Joe Girardi‘s All Star Game decisions, where the Yanks stand heading into the second half, what potential moves the team could make before the trade deadline and, of course, George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard.

Poll: Favorite moment of the first half

As Yankee fans, we’re privy to many exciting and memorable moments. We have Aaron Boone taking Tim Wakefield deep, Derek Jeter diving into the stands, David Cone throwing a perfect game on the same day Don Larsen threw out the first pitch, Jim Leyritz turning a World Series around with one swing of the bat … I could go on and on, but we only have so much bandwidth to spare. The first half of the 2010 season was no different, as the Yanks again supplied plenty of memorable moments.

Today we’re going to vote for which first half moment was our favorite. After some consultation with Ben, Joe, and a few others, I picked out six of the best moments of the season’s first three months and present them below, not that you’ll need the refresher course. Once you relive the magic, vote in the poll at the bottom of the post.

April 7th: Granderson takes Papelbon deep (video)
The season was just two games old at this point, but new centerfielder Curtis Granderson had already made his mark in pinstripes by homering in his very first plate appearance of the year. After splitting the first two games of the series, the Yanks and Boston headed into extra innings tied at one in the third game. Jonathan Papelbon was on the bump for the Red Sox in the 10th inning, having already thrown a perfect 9th on just ten pitches. The first batter of extra innings was Granderson, who fouled off a first pitch fastball before connecting with a chest-high heater on pitch number two. The ball landed several rows deep in the right field seats, giving the Yanks a lead they would protect for the win. It takes quite a bit to win over Yankee fans, but hitting a pair of homers against the Sox in the first three games of the season is a good start.

April 21st: Hughes flirts with a no-hitter (video)
I wouldn’t call it controversial, but the team’s decision to go with Phil Hughes as the fifth starter in 2010 certainly wasn’t unanimously agreed with by the fans. It took Phil all of two starts to prove the Yanks right. After a solid outing against the Angels first time out, Hughes took the mound in front of his parents in Oakland and simply dominated the A’s. He started the game by striking out Cliff Pennington before walking Daric Barton on four pitches, but that was all the A’s would get for a while. Hughes retired the next 20 batters he faced, and there he was in the 8th inning just six outs away from a no-hitter with a very manageable pitch count of 85. Unfortunately, long-time Athletic Eric Chavez singled on a first pitch fastball off Hughes (literally) to start the 8th, Oakland’s first base hit of the game. Phil faced three more batters before giving way to the bullpen, and even though he didn’t finish off the no-no or even the game, he showed everyone why the Yanks were right to make him the fifth starter.

May 8th: Tex goes deep, again and again and again (video)
Mark Teixeira‘s early season slumps have become a rite of spring, and things seemed to be turning the corner in early May, just like last season. The Yanks were back in Boston with Tex sporting a .181/.328/.295 batting line, though he got the scoring started with a 3rd inning run scoring single. That was his least productive hit of the day. Two innings later he took Clay Buchholz deep to right for a solo shot, and then two innings after that he did the exact same thing to Ramon Ramirez. Two homers from Tex were a godsend given his performance to that point (he had two homers total coming into the game), but he tacked on a two run shot in the 9th off outfielder turned mop-up man Jonathan Van Every for his third homer of the game. Teixeira raised his season OPS from .623 to .740 in this one game, simultaneously becoming the first Yankee to have a three homer game in Fenway since some dude named Lou Gehrig.

May 14th: A-Rod slams the Twins (video)
Much like Teixeira, the 2010 season started off a little slowly for Alex Rodriguez. He went into the May 14th game against Minnesota with just one homer in his previous 89 plate appearances, and unsurprisingly the team had lost four of their last five games. Down 4-3 in the 7th, the Yanks started to scratch out a rally when Derek Jeter singled and Frankie Cervelli doubled, though their struggles with runners in scoring position seemed to kick in again when Brett Gardner popped up to shallow left. Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire pulled a page out of the 2008 playbook, intentionally walking Tex to load the bases for the unclutch A-Rod. New pitcher Matt Guerrier needed all of two pitches to turn a 4-3 lead into a 7-4 deficit, surrendering a grand slam that carried just far enough to left-center. Alex had lifted the offensive burden off everyone’s shoulders, giving the team a much needed lead and win.

May 17th: Walking off against Papelbon (video and video)
I guess mid-May was a lot busier than I remember. Ben and I were in attendance for this one, and things started off very much in the Yanks’ favor. They hung a five spot on Daisuke Matsuzaka in the 1st inning, but slowly gave that lead away and then some over the next seven innings. The Red Sox carried a 9-7 lead in the 9th inning, and went to Papelbon to nail things down. Gardner made things interesting immediately, doubling to left to bring the tying run to the plate. Tex flew out deep to right, sending Gardner to third, but those extra 90 feet proved to be moot. A-Rod sent the first pitch of his at-bat into the visitor’s bullpen, tying the game at nine and giving the Yanks’ new life. Frankie Cervelli reached base on a hit by pitch after Robbie Cano made the second out of inning, and much like A-Rod three batters earlier, Marcus Thames jumped all over Papelbon’s first pitch for a two run walk-off homer. He became the second new Yankee of the season to take the Red Sox closer deep for a game winning homer.

June 27th: Comeback against the Dodgers (video, video, and video)
The calling card of the 2009 Yankees was their ability to come from behind and win, but up until this game they hadn’t really shown the same flair for the dramatic. The Dodgers headed into the 9th nursing a four run lead, and went for the kill by bringing in All-World closer Jonathan Broxton. What happened next? Tex struck out, A-Rod singled, Cano doubled in A-Rod, Posada singled and sent Cano to third, then Granderson walked. That loaded the bases with one run already in, but the rather punchless bottom of the order was due up. Boy, did they come through.

Chad Huffman singled to right to drive in two, sending Grandy to third. Colin Curtis, six days into his big league career, fouled off pitch after pitch in a ten pitch at-bat before grounding out to first, driving in Granderson to tie the game at six. One inning later, Cano muscled a ball over the left-centerfield fence for a two run homer, giving the Yanks a two run lead and grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat.

* * *

These aren’t necessarily the biggest moments in terms of WPA swings or anything like that, they’re just memorable occasions that stick with us, regardless of how important they were in the grand scheme of things. Heck, some of these aren’t even individual moments, but rather a series of moments. Vote below to pick your favorite, and if one of these wasn’t your favorite moment of the first half, then tell us what you think it is in the comments. Thanks in advance.


First Half Review: 7 who fell short

On Monday night Ben reviewed seven Yankees who performed better than we could have expected heading into the season. Those players have helped keep the team moving as various players slumped. Some of those slumps lasted longer than others, and that resulted in a number of players falling short of the expectations we had for them early in the season.

Nick Johnson

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Was an injury to Nick Johnson expected? To some extent it had to be. Even last year, when he was mostly healthy while playing for the Nationals and Marlins, Johnson still hit the disabled list for two weeks. But a season-ending injury in May? While it was a certain possibility I’m not sure any but the most cynical of fans had that in mind. It pays to be a cynical fan in that way — if you’re right you get to gloat and call everyone else an idiot, if you’re wrong you’re pleasantly surprised. It works well in a sport where the failures far outweigh the successes.

Even while Johnson was in the lineup he didn’t perform to expectations. As normal his OBP was high, on the strength of his superhuman 24.5 percent walk rate, but Johnson didn’t exactly hit to expectations. In fact, he had just 12 base hits in his 98 PA, while he walked twice as many times. Half of his hits did go for extra bases, a huge plus in a larger sample but mostly useless in Johnson’s case. He has been the big disappointment this season.

Chances are his season is done, even though the Yankees could use someone exactly like him right now. That’s a shame. There was so much potential there, and the Yanks realized none of it. They had to choose among injury risks for their DH spot, and they picked the one guy who didn’t stay healthy. Such is life.

Mark Teixeira

Credit: Darren Calabrese, AP Photo/Canadian Press

It hurts me just a little to put Teixeira on this list. Sure, he was the source of mass frustration in April, and then again in May, and then for a little of June. His slumps have put him in a tough spot, a .254/.360/.465 line headed into the break. In terms of his career that’s off the mark, but a .361 wOBA looks pretty nice all considered.

Teixeira produced the worst April of his career, a mere .136/.300/.259, .271 wOBA. We were used to Tex getting off to slow starts, but this was much worse than last year when he hit .200/.367/.371, .330 wOBA. May started off well but then he slumped again and finished the month with a .280/.366/.475 triple slash, .366 wOBA. In June he stumbled again, a .353 wOBA, but he has recovered in July with a .545 wOBA through 50 PA. That makes his May 1 through the break numbers look a bit better: .291/.380/.529. I don’t think anyone will complain if he maintains that pace for the rest of the season.

Derek Jeter

Photo credit: Ben Margot/AP

At the beginning Derek Jeter was an equal opportunity first-pitch swinger. It seemed like he was swinging at all of them and, for the most part, grounding them all to shortstop. Yet through his first 23 games he was hitting .333/.367/.510. The lack of walks was a bit concerning, but as long as Jeter was hitting all was well. Unfortunately, his torrid start ceased right there.

In the course of just a few weeks Jeter saw his average tumble to .266, a span during which he was 12 for 71. He then climbed back over the .300 mark for a bit, but has steadily declined since. He peaked on June 1, when he was hitting .307 after a 2 for 3 day. Since then he’s hitting .221/.319/.321.

Why are we citing Jeter’s batting average above all else? Because his game seems so dependent on it this year. Or, at least, it was. Since the April in which he walked in just 3 percent of his plate appearances, Jeter has steadily improved, walking 6.4 percent of the time in May before walking in nearly 13 percent of his PA in June and July. His BABIP has fallen off in these months, so if he can just put it all together I think he can have a fine second half. It won’t look like last year, but it should look a bit better than 2008 if all goes well.

Alex Rodriguez

Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP

Again, this is not a guy I wanted to put on the list, but with his subpar first half numbers I couldn’t leave him off. A-Rod has had some shining moments for sure, including three grand slams and a few game-changing hits. Still, on the whole he’s been something of a disappointment, probably in part because of his hip issues.

Everything is down for Alex this year, even his strikeout rate. His defense has been fine, but suffered a bit when his hip hurt him the most (just before he sat out against Philly and Houston). Since June 1 he is hitting .232/.298/.464, which is nice from an isolated power perspective, but even then it’s sub-par for A-Rod. Hopefully his proclamation at the Home Run Derby, that he felt stronger, holds true in the second half. The Yanks will need his production.

Curtis Granderson

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

One thing we knew when the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson is that he’d need to work with Kevin Long in order to correct the problems that plagued him last year. They went beyond mere bad luck on balls in play; Granderson was putting the ball in the air more often, and had been especially pull-happy. While lefties pulling the ball at the Stadium can produce quality results, it doesn’t usually make for a well-rounded player.

Granderson’s first half results can be rated as nothing but a disappointment. He has produced even less than he did last year, a .319 wOBA. His walk rate and power are down, which doesn’t go well with his .280 BABIP. The good news is that he’s putting the ball on the ground and hitting it on a line more often, so maybe he’s working out of it.

Unlike the others on the list I don’t have as high expectations for Granderson in the second half. It took Long a year to transform Swisher, just like it took him time to get Robinson Cano into a good spot. I imagine that we might see some improvement from Granderson in the second half — he can’t really do much worse at this point — but I don’t expect it to be revelatory. I will still maintain faith, however, that we’ll see a different Granderson in 2011.

A.J. Burnett

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

In April and May Burnett killed opponents, a 3.28 ERA and 3.37 FIP. He had a few bad games in there, notably a nine-run performance against Boston, but for the most part he was pitching very well despite a curveball that wasn’t working like normal. So his strikeouts were down, but he made up for that by keeping the ball on the ground more often than last year. But then June came and ruined everything.

Burnett’s June totals: 23 IP, 35 H, 29 R, 29 ER, 17 BB, 19 K, 9 HR. He had allowed four home runs in his previous 77.1 IP. That’s the entire reason he comes in below expectations. Even with his two excellent starts in July he still has a 4.75 ERA and 4.73 FIP. That’s not what the Yankees are paying $17.5 million for. Burnett will have to hold up his end of the deal in the second half. Thankfully, everyone surrounding him is picking up the slack.

The non-Mo bullpen

Photo credit: John Froschauer/AP

The list could go on forever if we listed all of these guys individually, so it’s best to just lump them together. In terms of peripherals the unit has been adequate. They rank 4th in the AL in OBP against, 5th in SLG against, and 4th in WHIP. The strikeouts could be better, 7.43 per nine, 7th in the AL. But as a unit they’re simply giving up too many runs, a 4.14 ERA that’s good for 9th in the league.

Here’s a quick rundown of the individuals in the pen and their deficiencies:

Joba: Too many hits allowed. Not sure if this is luck or him just trying to not walk guys. He has walked only 14 in 37.1 IP, a decent rate, but one he’s going to have to eventually bring down if he’s going to be a success in the setup role.

Robertson: Still trying to work off that Abreu grand slam. He walks way, way too many guys, though his strikeout numbers are again impressive, 32 in 29.2 IP.

Park: Hits, homers, and a lack of velocity. He’s dialed it up recently, but with few positive results to show for it. His time is running short.

Marte: Again, too many walks. Lefties are hitting just .146 against him and he has allowed just one extra base hit to the 31 righties he’s faced, but those walks — eight to righties — will hurt plenty. Especially with no one else in the pen to pick up for him.

Gaudin: Again with the walks. I see little reason to keep him around. He won’t once the next guy returns.

Mitre: Very good all considered. His WHIP is 1.00, fueled by a low hit rate, but maybe that’s something he can capitalize on in the pen. Once he returns from his batting practice injury I think he’ll get a shot in one-inning stints.

Lyerly helps Charleston walk-off with a win

Triple-A Scranton is off until tomorrow for the All Star break. The International League defeated the Pacific Coast League 2-1.
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 0 for 2 – started the game & batted third … he saw a total of four pitches on the night
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 2, 1 K – entered the game in the 5th inning … same deal as Nunez, saw four pitches all night, he looked pretty overmatched during the strikeout, two weak hacks … he replaced Eric Kratz, who exited the game because he found out he was being called up to the big leagues for the first time in his career … cool story
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB – got the save in the 9th … ten of his 11 pitches were a strikes, and the one ball was borderline … he’s definitely a different guy than the one we saw the past few years, threw a ton of four seamers & a few curves, used to be sinker-slider … I can’t see why they wouldn’t give him a try, they have nothing to lose

Double-A Trenton is also off until tomorrow for the All Star break. The West All Stars beat the East All Stars 10-3.
Austin Romine, C: 0 for 2 – started the game & batted third
Brandon Laird: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K – started & batted cleanup … the good news is that his ankle’s okay
D.J. Mitchell: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – eight of his 14 pitches were strikes (57.1%) … pitched the 5th inning
Josh Schmidt: 0.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-0 GB/FB – nine of his 17 pitches were strikes (52.9%) … pitched the 9th, or at least part of it

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Triple-A All Star Game

Photo Credit: Flickr user tjperr

All 30 big league teams are off today, with the Yankees even getting to enjoy one extra day off before returning to work on Friday. That doesn’t mean we’ll have to go without real live baseball though, because the Triple-A All Star Game is being played this evening in b-e-a-utiful Allentown, PA.

Three Yankee farmhands made the International League squad: Jesus Montero (right), Eduardo Nunez, and Jon Albaladejo. Nunez was voted in as a starter by the fans, Montero was selected as a reserve. The Yanks’ top prospect is hitting .312/.380/.550 in his last 30 games, helping erase any concerns about his slow start to the season. It just took the 20-year-old Montero a little time to adjust to Triple-A pitching, that’s all.

Albaladejo has been nothing short of fantastic this season, but I’m willing to bet he’ll handle the all important 8th inning tonight while Scott Mathieson of the hometown Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs gets the 9th inning glory. The game doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a matter of deferring to the hometown guy. I’m actually looking forward to seeing Albie again, just to see how much he’s changed since we last saw him. Supposedly he’s scrapped the sinker/slider approach and has gone with a four-seam fastball/curveball approach. Curious about how true that is.

Here is the rest of the roster, and here’s the team the Pacific Coast League is sending. The game starts at 7pm ET and can be seen on the MLB Network. You can talk about it here, or anything else you want in tonight’s open thread. You guys know what to do, so have at it.

Secondary market prices up 77 percent for Friday

Our partners at TiqIQ have put together the following graphic on ticket prices since George Steinbrenner passed away yesterday. With the Yanks out of action until Friday, tickets for the game have increased by 77 percent since Tuesday morning. Those seats that are generally the least expensive have seen the biggest increase with Grandstand prices spiking by nearly 200 percent. For those looking to buy and those looking to sell, the market strikes me as capitalism the Boss would have loved.

Cashman: A-Rod dealing with ‘minor’ thumb injury

When Alex Rodriguez didn’t appear in the All Star Game yesterday, Yankee fan and foe wondered if the slugger was injured. Today, Brian Cashman said to ESPN New York that A-Rod is dealing with a minor thumb injury. Despite saying that “it’s not even worth talking about,” Cashman talked about the injury with Wallace Matthews. The sore thumb was not, he said, the reason why Girardi didn’t use A-Rod in last night’s game, but it is an injury that has been nagging the Yanks’ slugger for a few games. The team doesn’t expect Rodriguez to miss any time.