Pitching staff fails Yanks in opener

The Yankees and Red Sox played just one game last night, but it felt like two. It’s not because it was a typically drawn out Yankees-Sox game, though it did clock in at three hours and 46 minutes. Instead, it felt like two games because while the Yankees looked solid through five innings, they fell apart later in the game. That rests mostly on the pitching staff, but there were also failures to capitalize in critical situations.

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

Biggest hit: A-Rod‘s 7th inning double

The Yankees scored seven runs last night, but the biggest positive swing in their WPA came on a hit that did not score a run. After the Red Sox tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees sent the heart of their order to bat in the seventh to answer. Mark Teixeira drew a leadoff walk, setting up Alex Rodriguez. He was clearly looking fastball on the first pitch, and Ramon Ramirez served him one, straight and on the inside part of the plate.

The ensuing hit would have left just about every other ballpark in the league, but at Fenway it was just a dent in the Monster. Still, it left the Yankees in an excellent position to take the lead, which they did one batter later. Robinson Cano took a weak hack at the second pitch. Teixeira, already with a poor lead, didn’t get a great jump toward the plate. Thankfully, Dustin Pedroia double clutched, allowing Tex to slide in safely.

Biggest out: Swisher’s double play

Later that inning, after Jorge Posada singled home A-Rod and Curtis Granderson drew a walk, Nick Swisher came up with two on and one out. Hideki Okajima was pitching pretty poorly and the Yanks had him on the ropes. Swisher took two close pitches for balls to start the at-bat, putting him in good position. He hacked at a high fastball on the next pitch, fouling it off. Then he swung at a pitch in a similar location and grounded it sharply to third. Around the horn, inning over.

This is when the Yankees really needed to strike. Yes, the bullpen should have been able to hold the lead, but with Boston’s reliever pitching so poorly they had an opportunity to make the endgame moot. Swisher’s DP killed that rally. It didn’t take the Red Sox long to erase what the Yanks had done in the seventh.

Biggest pitch: Pedroia’s homer off Park

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

From the moment Chan Ho Park entered the game it was clear that he was having trouble controlling his pitches. His first three pitches, all fastballs, missed the target. Marco Scutaro sat on two more fastballs before slapping a 3-2 slider to center for a base hit. Jacoby Ellsbury, thankfully, looked at strike three. Then came Pedroia

Here’s the sequence: Changeup low, called for a strike. Slider inside, ball. Fastball, high and in, ball. After the two straight inside pitches Jorge set up low and away, waiting for a fastball. Park delivered, but the ball sailed toward the spot of the previous pitch. So, in essence, Park delivered a second straight 90 mph fastball to the same spot. It’s no wonder that Pedroia got his bat around on the ball, sending it high and over the monster for the tying runs.

Park allowed no home runs last season once he moved to the bullpen. There was no way that would last. I’m just stunned that he broke his streak so quickly.

Why leave in Sabathia?

It’s easy to second guess a manager, so I won’t say Girardi was wrong to leave in CC to face Youkilis in the sixth. But after Pedroia walked and Victor Martinez doubled to set up the Sox, I’m not sure CC was the guy to face Youkilis. Under normal circumstance he would be, but these weren’t normal circumstances. It was the first game of the year, CC was up around 100 pitches, and Youkilis had already scorched one off him earlier in the game.

After the game Girardi said that the plan was to have Sabathia go through Ortiz, but at some point you have to make adjustments. Robertson could have come in at that point. Youkilis strikes out his fair share, and Robertson can deliver the strikeout pitch. He also fares well against lefties, lessening the concern of him facing Ortiz. Considering CC looked gassed and wasn’t hitting his spots, I would have thought a call to the bullpen prudent there.

It’s tough to argue with leaving in the ace, and again I don’t think it was necessarily the wrong move by Girardi. But I did wonder why CC stayed in to face Youk, all circumstances considered.

Annoying moments

While plenty of moments annoyed me in this game, none was as frustrating as Youkilis’s triple. Not because CC stayed in to face him, but because it would have been a double had Swisher not misplayed the ball. It was a complete misread. There was no chance he was catching it, but he still pursued it that way, rather than cutting backward and trying to stop it before it got to the wall. Pedroia and Martinez still would have scored, but Youk would have been standing on second, or maybe even first, rather than third. That loomed large two batters later.

Small quibble with Beltre’s at-bat there. He’s pretty bad at hitting breaking pitches. Over his career he’s shown a much greater ability to hit fastballs than sliders and curves. So why serve him high heat on the first pitch? It seemed like a situation where dropping a curve for strike one would have worked. Did the Yankees have a different scouting report?

Who can forget Gardner’s horrible throw on Scutaro’s single to left? With two outs he didn’t have much of a chance to get Drew at the plate, though it looked like he might have known that. I’m not sure where he actually tried to throw the ball, but it ended up where no one was standing. That allowed Mike Cameron to take third and Scutaro to take second. A hit from Ellsbury would have tied the game for the Sox. Thankfully, CC dropped a slider on him and ended the inning.

Joba in general was annoying. He pitched just 1.1 innings, but threw 32 pitches. He predictably went to the slider on a 3-2 count to Mike Cameron, and it dropped below the zone for ball four. Also, Joba’s lucky that Pedroia laid off the first-pitch slider that got called for a strike. That was a hanger, and might have been Pedroia’s second big fly of the night.

Finally, while Marte wasn’t hitting his spots at all, Jorge has to catch that high fastball that allowed Youkilis to score.

Things that made me smile

Photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP

Not to get too negative here, there were a number of moments that made me smile. Clearly, Jorge’s homer off the Pesky Pole, followed by Granderson’s long home run were great moments. Granderson’s catch on Beltre’s sac fly also brought a smile to my face. Yes, it cut the lead in half, but it was a fine play in center by Granerson.

Brett Gardner‘s at-bat against Josh Beckett in the fourth was, dare I say it, gritty. He took five straight pitches to draw a 3-2 count, fouled off two, and then slapped one to left to plate a run. The five straight takes to start the AB ended up working in Gardner’s favor, though I do wonder why he didn’t slap that 3-1 pitch to left.

The most enjoyable play of the game came just moments later. After Jeter singled home Swisher, the Yanks pulled the classic double steal. Jeter broke for second, and Victor Martinez bit, firing the ball down to second. Did he not know who was on third? Gardner broke for the plate immediately and scored without a throw. That’s the kind of play we look out for in high school.

Next up

Day off today, though there’s plenty of baseball to enjoy as the other 28 teams open their seasons. The Yanks are back against the Sox. This one’s at 7:05 on YES.

WPA graph

Just because I love these things. You can check out the player breakdown at the FanGraphs boxscore.

Game One Spillover Thread II

One more thread for the last few innings.

Game One Spillover Thread


Game One: Opening Night

The last time the Yankees played in a game that mattered, they walked off the field as World Champions. Following an offseason of trades and free agent signings, plus a Spring Training completely devoid of major controversy, the boys in pinstripes are ready to step out onto the field to defend that World Championship. The 2010 season isn’t going to wait around for any drama, it’s kicking things off with a good ol’ fashioned Yankees-Red Sox matchup in Fenway Park the night before the other 28 teams play their first games.

The new season means a new beginning, and all of that magic from 2009 will have to be recreated. We don’t know if CC Sabathia will be able to ward off his April demons, but we know he’s the guy we want on the mound in October. We don’t know who’s going to pitch the almighty eighth inning, but there’s about three or four guys out in the bullpen that we’re comfortable seeing out there. We don’t know if this is the year that age catches up to Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada or Andy Pettitte or Mariano Rivera, but if it is, then damn, it sure has been one hell of a ride.

Here’s the first lineup of the new season…

Derek Jeter, SS
Nick Johnson, DH
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, C
Curtis Granderson, CF
Nick Swisher, RF
Brett Gardner, LF

And on the mound, the Villain from Vallejo, CC Sabathia.

First pitch is scheduled for 8:05pm ET, and the game is being broadcast nationally on ESPN2. If you’re in the NY area though, that broadcast is being blacked out and we’ll have to watch on YES. Same deal if you’re in enemy territory, NESN will have the game in New England.

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the 2010 season.

YES to debut new in-game graphics

When the Yankees and the Red Sox face off in a few hours, those watching in the New York area will tune into the YES Network as the Yanks begin their title defense. Instead of the familiar YES graphics, however, we’ll see something new. For just the third time since its launch in 2002, the YES Network has overhauled its in-game graphics, and the network – RAB’s partner – gave us a sneak peak at the new look.

The new starting lineup graphic with an extrusion effect. (Click to enlarge)

Designed by the Venice, California-based design firm MFactor, the new graphics carry with them a more sophisticated look and incorporate 3-D effects. MFactor and YES worked together over the off-season to redesign the in-game presentation while retaining familiar elements, such as the Yanks’ colors, in the broadcasts. “We wanted to try to separate ourselves from the rest of the pack,” Jared Boshnack, a YES producer, told me.

The most obvious change in the interstitials will be the 3-D look. As the lineup at right shows, the names of highlighted players will now extrude as the announcers discuss these players. It’s a far cry from the two-dimensional focus of YES’ old graphics package. “The graphics,” Boshnack said, “essentially pop out at you.”

Another obvious change that viewers will notice right away are the changes to what those in the industry call the lower thirds. While the interstitials ? the lineup, the defense array, scouting reports ? are on the screen for 15-20 seconds, the lower thirds are either on the screen for much longer or just a few seconds, and as such, three-dimensional graphics would be both distracting and unnecessary. Instead, YES and MFactor have streamlined the score bar and batting line elements.

The image atop this post shows the new scaled-down score bar. Boshnack called it “totally sleek and much more efficient and streamlined.” It will no longer occupy the entire length of the non-HD broadcast and will instead be off to one side. It will also include a new “Pitches” category that will tally pitchers’ pitch counts after the tenth pitch. When the Yanks are up, the opposing team’s pitcher will have his count there; when the Yanks are in the field, the Bombers’ starter will be inch ever upward. As fans are more attuned to importance of pitch counts, this addition will enhance at-home viewing.

The hitter's stat line gets a new look. (Click to enlarge)

For the hitters, the batting line gets a refresh as well. It’s not nearly as drastic an overhaul as the score bar received, but it does offer a more condensed look. I’d like to see a players’ slugging percentage added to the line as well, but the presence of on-base percentage in TV broadcasts has been a step in the right direction.

Of course, as with any graphical overhaul, MFactor and YES, with Rick Deutschman managing the graphics team, considered the way sponsorships will be front and center in the look as well. Boshnack said the design teams asked, “How do we give them the exposure they’re looking for and integrate them into the look?” Such are the demands of baseball economics.

Overall, I think the graphics are an improvement. I’d love to see more information available during the broadcast, but I realize that I watch many games with the Internet at my fingertips. TV stations face a balancing act between a good look for their graphics and the right amount of information. After the jump, a few more screenshots. Click to enlarge. [Read more…]

Gardner’s just a regular guy

Photo credit: Julie Jacobson/AP

On the morn of his second Opening Day start for the Yankees, Brett Gardner must feel on top of the world. Last season he started in center field, beating out Melky Cabrera in spring training. This year the left field job was all but his, and while he hit only .200 this spring his competition actually fared worse. We don’t know how long a leash the Yankees will have with Gardner, but it will likely be longer than last year’s.

Thomas Grant of the Times and Democrat profiles Gardner and his rise to the majors. A third round drat pick in 2005, Gardner was initially denied a place on the College of Charleston baseball team. It took plenty of effort not only by Gardner himself, but by his father, to secure a place on the team. They didn’t regret it, of course, as Gardner broke the school record for runs scored, among other achievements.

Gardner answered the call by rushing through the minors. He showed a pattern from AA through the majors, struggling during his first stint but excelling in the second. In 2007, with 207 PA in Scranton, Gardner hit .260/.343/.331, but upon his return trip he hit .296/.414/.422. Similarly, he hit .228/.283/.299 during his first 141 PA in the majors, but came back last season to hit .270/.345/.379 in 284 PA. There’s hope for the undersized Gardner to succeed at the majors. After all, he did post a .389 career minor league OBP despite initial struggles at higher levels. He knows, though, that the same approach might not work in the majors.

“With the Yankees, obviously, I was probably the weakest bat in the lineup,” Gardner said. “The last thing guys are going to do is be careful around me and pitch around me and wanting to put me on base for (Derek) Jeter and Nick Johnson and those guys on the top of the order like Alex (Rodriguez) and Tex (Mark Teixeira). Those guys can drive in runs. The last thing they want to do is put me on base for those guys. So I’m going to get pitches to hit. It’s just a matter of being consistent with my swing, being consistent with my approach and going up there and having good at-bats.”

He’ll get his chance starting tonight. Yesterday Sucka Got No Juice wrote that the Yankees “could be in the market for outfield help quickly” if Gardner gets off to a slow start. I’m not so sure, though. They know that their problem amounts to the No. 9 spot in the lineup, so perhaps they’ll extend Gardner more leeway than last year. In fact, I’m almost certain they will. If Gardner, Winn, and Thames don’t produce the team will surely look for an alternative, but I wouldn’t expect any such movement until June at the earliest.

On the brink of the start, thinking of repeating

Precisely five months ago to the day, the New York Yankees downed the Philadelphia Phillies on a Wednesday night to claim the 27th World Series championship in franchise history. Today, the title defense begins, and no one wants to see the Yankees repeat more than the 25 men who make up the 2010 Yankees.

Over the last month, as the Yanks have played through their Grapefruit League schedule, we’ve previewed the individual pieces that make up the 2010 club. We haven’t, however, offered up an overview of the team. Instead of running through the typical tropes — the Yankees need to stay healthy, the team has to hope that its aging core can stave off the inevitable decline — let’s just enjoy the day.

The last time the Yankees had a chance to repeat when Opening Day rolled around was in 2001. It was the middle of my senior year in high school, and in a pre-Sept. 11 world, the Yankees were flying high as back-to-back-to-back World Series champions. That team knew that Paul O’Neill would probably be playing his final year in pinstripes and that Tino Martinez would perhaps wind up elsewhere in favor of soon-to-be free agent Jason Giambi. We didn’t care though because the Yankees had beaten the Mets just a few months before. They were kings of New York and lords of baseball.

Today, we’re back there again after nearly a decade away. The rest of baseball hates us; Boston’s fans are itching at the chance to stick to the World Champion Yankees tonight; and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s always great being on top.

The next six months are going to be a marathon of baseball. We’ll see, yet again, the ins and outs of the regular season. We’ll see the team win some games, lose games. We’ll nitpick pitching changes and offensive decisions. We’ll bemoan the at-bats given to Marcus Thames or the innings giving to some bad reliever at the expense of the Next Big Thing down in Scranton. We’ll scream at Derek Jeter when he squares around to bunt, and we’ll sigh in exasperation as Brett Gardner takes a mighty hack and hits a pop up. We’ll watch A-Rod strike out; we’ll see Mariano Rivera blow a save or two. We’ll see Bad A.J. and Good A.J., Home Run Javy and Untouchable Javy. It’s all just the nature of the game, and it’s all baseball.

In ten hours, the title defense begins. In ten hours, Josh Beckett will deliver a pitch to Derek Jeter, probably a fastball, probably a pitch Jeter will take, and baseball — honest to goodness regular season, this time it counts baseball — will be back. I can’t wait.