The marginalization of David Robertson

The Yankees’ 2009 season started to turn around once they remade the bullpen, and part of that remake was permanent arrival of David Robertson. The then-24-year-old righty stabilized the middle innings thanks to a nifty fastball-curveball combination with a penchant for inducing swings and misses and retiring batters without the aid of the defense. He got some big outs in the postseason, and was poised to assume even greater responsibility in 2010.

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa, AP

In the early going, Robertson seems to have morphed into Joe Girardi‘s fireman – the guy who enters the game in the middle of an inning to escape a jam. It probably has something to do with his astronomical strikeout rate, which is perfectly fine. It’s a smart way to deploy a valuable reliever. However, more often than not, Robertson finds himself out of the game after escaping said jam, often despite throwing very few pitches.

In three of his six outings this year, Robertson has thrown no more than six pitches. The most egregious example came during Friday’s loss to the Angels, when he was brought in to face Torii Hunter with a runner on first and one out. He escaped the inning by striking out Hunter after Bobby Abreu was caught stealing, needing just six pitches to get the job done. Robertson was fresh and in most cases would have been sent back out to start the next inning. But no, it was the almighty 8th inning, so Joe Girardi summoned Joba Chamberlain, who eventually cost the Yanks the game with a meatball pitch to Kendry Morales.

There really was no reason why Robertson couldn’t remain in the game. There was no difference in platoon advantage, and he was well-rested after not working in eight days. Instead, a highly valuable asset was removed from the contest after just a marginal gain for what amounts to nothing more than a job title.

Although I bitch and moan about Girardi’s bullpen maneuvering on a game-by-game basis, he obviously does a very good job with handling his relief corps over a 162 game season. However, he doesn’t seem to have full confidence in Robertson, using him in a way that strikes me as “let’s quit while we’re ahead.” He did what we asked of him, now let’s make a change before he has a chance to get into trouble, something like that. Maybe it’s just me.

Robertson is a high quality reliever, yet his usage appears to be limited. He’s capable of getting five or six outs during one appearance, but is often used for an inning or less. Sure, his ERA stands at an ugly 7.71 because of that grand slam Abreu hit during the home opener, but even that shot only decreased the Yankees’ chances of winning by just 2.6% because of the situation. The two run homer Joba allowed to Morales was in a much higher leverage spot, and reduced the Yankees chances of winning by a whopping 25.4%.

Robertson’s strikeouts are very real, and they’re what make him so valuable. I don’t think he’ll strike out 13 guys for every nine innings pitched forever, but there’s no doubt he’s a double digit K/9 guy for the foreseeable future with that curveball. The walks are a bit high but they’re trending downward, and he’s just as effective against lefties as he is against righties. On any other team, Robertson would be pitching later in the game in high leverage spots, but because of the Yankees’ bullpen depth and pecking order, he’s stuck working middle relief duty. That doesn’t mean Girardi and the Yanks couldn’t give him a little more responsibility and ask him to get some bigger outs after cleaning up someone else’s mess.

Or course it’s still early, so right now my observation of Robertson’s usage comes from a tiny sample. The Yankees have a tremendously valuable asset in Robertson, and they would be wise to use him more judiciously.

Yanks offense still waiting for Teixeira and Johnson

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Through the season’s first 18 games the Yankees’ offense, as a unit, has performed around expectations. The team has scored 5.33 runs per game, second in the AL to the Rays. Yet when looking at the AL rankings, something stands out. The Yankees have a 124 OPS+, which leads the league by a decent margin. Why, then, do they not lead the league in runs scored? The answer lies atop the lineup.

Derek Jeter has done his job this season. Through 80 PA he’s hitting .316/.350/.474. It’s not up to his career standards, particularly in the OBP department, that will likely change as we get further into the season. His OBP sat at .363 through 80 PA last season, and was as low as .333 in 138 PA. It’s the man who follows him, Nick Johnson, who has been struggling. Through 72 PA he’s hitting .135, though his frequent walks boost his OBP to .375. While no one is happy with Johnson’s BA, it’s not a huge concern. That will surely rise as the season progresses. Meanwhile, his main task is to get on base for Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, and so far he has done an admirable job.

Why, then, has Johnson scored only seven runs if he has been on base 27 times? For that we need a bit more context, which comes from Mark Teixeira’s poor start. Like Johnson, Teixeira is currently taking a cruise down the interstate. His .119 through 82 PA is nothing short of a disaster. Again, this is something we probably have to get used to. Through 134 PA last year he was hitting .191. We know, however, that the payoff will prove worthy. From May 13 through the end of the season Teixeira hit .315/.396/.597 and was an integral part of the Yankees’ mid-season burst.

In addition to their poor batting averages, Teixeira and Johnson have also hit for little power. Teixeira’s ISO sits at .134, Johnson’s at .096. Of the other seven regulars, only Brett Gardner ranks below them. This obviously decreases their run-producing potential. Both Gardner and Jeter have gotten on base at an above-average clip, but with the two hitters behind them not producing base hits, and also not hitting for power, they’re not coming around to score as often. Likewise, even though Johnson is getting on base via the walk, Teixeira is making enough outs that he’s leaving Johnson stranded. Unsurprisingly, Johnson ranks second to last on the Yanks with a 23 percent run scored rate. Only Nick Swisher, the No. 8 hitter, ranks lower. Teixeira, on the other hand, has A-Rod hitting behind him, and despite getting on base far less frequently than Johnson, has scored 38 percent of the time.

Once the top of the order starts hitting, we could see the Yankees offense take off just like it did last season. Other factors will obviously change along the way: Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner will surely settle down, but their decreased production won’t nearly off-set the gains we should soon see from Teixeira and Johnson. No one wants to hear “just be patient” when players on their favorite team have struggled, but that’s the only thing to do right now. This is a clear case of a slow start. The payoff will be worth the wait.

The new and (slightly) improved Boone Logan

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

It’s been clear since the start of Spring Training that the Yankees are pretty excited about lefty Boone Logan, the other guy they acquired in the Javy Vazquez trade. Considering his awful big league performance coming into the season (5.78 ERA, 4.69 FIP), most of us figured it they were just blowing smoke and trying to pump up their latest acquisition. There’s nothing wrong with that, every team does it.

Logan then went out and had a strong showing in camp, allowing just four hits and a pair of walks against eight strikeouts in 10.1 spring innings. That caught our attention, but we still disregarded it until the old “Spring Training stands mean nothing” axiom. After being assigned to Triple-A to start the year, the 25-year-old southpaw from Texas allowed just four baserunners with nine strikeouts in 6.2 innings before the Yankees recalled him to take the place of the injured Chan Ho Park. Again, it’s a small sample, so most of us didn’t put any stock in it. The prevailing thought was that Logan got the call just because CHoP wouldn’t be out very long, and there was no point in summoning Mark Melancon only to have him go stale as the 7th man in the pen for two weeks.

So far, Logan has justified the team created hype, and it appears there’s more to his success than just “he’s figured it out.” Buried in the middle of this trade rumor piece, Ken Rosenthal mentions that the reason the Yanks are so excited is because of the results he’s gotten from a minor mechanical adjustment. Pitching coach Dave Eiland suggested to Logan that he should simply lift his leg a little higher during his delivery, allowing him to get his arm out in front and use his height (he’s 6-foot-5) to his advantage.

The results were almost immediate, as Logan noticed that his fastball picked up some armside run, his slider picked up some more break, and his changeup came back from the dead. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Logan’s delivery this year and from his time with the Braves last year.

It’s a subtle difference, but it’s there. His knee isn’t any higher, but the front of his leg is. You can also see that he’s a little slouched over in the shot on the left, but with the Yanks he’s a bit more upright. Seeing the difference is great, but these days we have the means to verify if their effects match up with what Logan says is happening. We’re in ridiculously small sample size territory here, but we have nothing else to go off of right now, so let’s examine the PitchFX data…

Right away, you see the difference in the horizontal break of both his fastball and slider. The fastball has 1.58 fewer inches of break than it has in the past, meaning it is in fact running back in on lefties, albeit slightly. The slider now features 1.74 more inches of break, which is pretty significant. It’s the difference between squaring a ball up and hitting it off the end of a bat. I’m not going to bother to look at the changeup, because you could probably count the number he’s thrown this year on one hand.

Let me remind you that we’re talking about dangerously small sample sizes here, but at least the data we have supports the claims Logan is making about how adjusted his leg kick has effected his pitches. Whether or not these changes will translate into positive results is another story all together. For all we know, the added break on his two primary pitches could make him even less effective. I wait to pull the wait and see card, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do. We have to wait and see.

Logan’s success in Spring Training and in Triple-A has been one of the more welcome surprises of 2010, and it’s encouraging to know that there’s at least a tangible reason such improvement is possible.

White House trip caps off 2009 World Series celebration

Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

One of the many perks of winning the World Series is getting an all expenses paid trip to the White House, where hanging out and mingling with cut throat politicians in awe of their favorite players is one of the many items on the day’s agenda. Just imagine big CC Sabathia towering over Hilda Solis when the two were introduced. Or Alex Rodriguez and Hillary Clinton. I should stop there, but you get the idea.

"When I live here, I'm going to tell Dallas Braden it's an unwritten rule that he has to pick up my dog's poop. Bwahaha!" (Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

President Barack Obama gave a six-plus minute speech (full transcript here) during which he cracking jokes about the Cubs and singled out Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Mark Teixeira, and Jorge Posada for their work beyond the baseball field and the way they carry on the Yankee tradition. Sabathia, A-Rod, and Andy Pettitte apparently haven’t met the President’s criteria for True Yankeedomâ„¢ yet. Chad Jennings has more on Teixeira, who was honored for starting a scholarship in the name of a friend killed in car accident just days after cashing his first big paycheck back in 2001.

Other than that, Obama gave the usual shtick about being a champion and persevering and all that. I’m sure it’s a day that everyone in attendance will remember forever – I know I would – but more importantly, this trip basically concluded the World Championship tour. There are no more ring ceremonies, no more openers, no more trips to see the President. It’s all in the past, and the pursuit for the 2010 World Series crown now begins in earnest.

For those who missed it while at work or school today, the White House has made the video of the Yanks’ appearance available on YouTube. Check it out:

Ramirez outduels Vizcaino in Charleston win

The Scranton Yankees are going to get a shot at Aroldis Chapman on Wednesday. Trenton isn’t scheduled to play Harrisburg until July, so it’s unlikely they’ll get to step in against Stephen Strasburg. Scranton plays Columbus from May 10th to the 12th, so there’s a chance they could see Strasburg then if the Nationals decide to bump him up. They won’t play again until August, so that’s really they’re only chance to face last year’s top overall pick.

Corban Joseph was named the Florida State League Offensive Player of the Week while Graham Stoneburner took home South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week honors. Congrats to both.

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. They’re going to make this one up as part of a July 10th doubleheader. Meanwhile, both Double-A Trenton and High-A Tampa had scheduled off days.

Low-A Charleston (5-0 win over Rome)
Zoilo Almonte, CF: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K
DeAngelo Mack, LF: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 CS, 1 HBP
Jimmy Paredes, 2B, Kyle Higashioka, C, Taylor Grote, RF & Garrison Lassiter, DH: all 0 for 3 – Paredes drew a walk, scored a run & K’ed … Higashioka walked & K’ed … Grote & Lassiter each K’ed twice
Luke Murton, 1B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HBP – 12 for his last 33 (.364) with six doubles & two jacks
Rob Lyerly, 3B: 1 for 4, 2 RBI, 2 K, 1 CS
Jose Ramirez: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 3-5 GB/FB – matched up against Arodys Vizcaino, who you surely know the Yanks traded to Atlanta in the Javy Vazquez deal … Arodys went 3 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, serving up Almonte’s homer … Ramirez now has a 29-6 K/BB ratio in 23.1 IP … he’s crushing this league
Michael Solbach: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-3 GB/FB
Ronny Marte: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB

Open Thread: Slow-Rod

With some help from Larry at Wezen-Ball, the Wall Street Journal took a look at how quickly seven of the Yankees’ regulars rounded the bases after whacking the ball out of the park last year (h/t Neyer). As you can see, Alex Rodriguez is the slowest, at nearly 25 seconds to go 360 feet (roughly 9.8 mph). A-Rod is three seconds slower than the league average, which will give some more reason to the hate guy, but in reality it isn’t much of anything. Give the guy a break, he’s got a bad hip.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. There’s both NBA and NHL playoff action on, but I’ll be watching the new episodes of House and 24. Chat about whatever you like, just be cool.

2010 Draft: KLaw’s Top 100 Prospects

Keith Law posted his updated list of the top 100 draft prospects this afternoon (subs. req’d), topped of course by Bryce Harper. He’s followed by prep shortstop Manny Machado, Ole Miss lefty Drew Pomeranz, and high school righties Jameson Taillon and Karsten Whitson. “It’s a strong draft for right-handed pitching and for catching, and weak in the middle infield and in college bats,” says Klaw. “It’s a good year to draft in the top 5, but not a great year to draft 6-20 unless some more top players pop up between now and the draft.”

The 32nd player (when the Yanks pick) on the list is Georgia high school outfielder Chevez Clarke, which is who Baseball America had 32nd overall in their latest set of rankings. The Yanks’ second pick is 82nd overall, and that’s where KLaw ranks Georgia Tech shortstop Derek Dietrich. A third round pick of the Astros in 2007, Dietrich is expected to move to the hot corner as a pro, but he’s hitting .356-.469-.731 with 14 homers this year. I’m not a fan, there seems to be a lot of questions about his ability to hit with wood.