Jesus Montero & Expectations

Montero's run for Scranton's mayor seat is coming to an abrupt end.

Unless Joel Sherman is wrong (and his reporting almost never is), the Yankees will call up Jesus Montero today as the rosters expand in the season’s final month. Some poor sap will lose his 40-man roster spot, but that’s part of the business. I wanted to see Montero earlier this season, but whatever. Better late than never. He’ll reportedly get “opportunities to play and specifically hit,” which I guess means spot starts at DH and maybe even behind the plate. I highly doubt he’s going to just sit on the bench to “soak it all in,” he’s ready for the next challenge.

ZiPS pegged Montero for a .276/.334/.503 batting line in the big leagues before the season, which frankly would have been a miracle. Exactly eight players have slugged .500 or better in their age 21 season over the last 50 years, and only 24 players have managed a .330 OBP with a .450 SLG at that age and in that time frame. It’s not often a player that young hitter comes up and has an immediate impact, but that won’t stop us from expecting one from Montero. Therein lies the problem. What’s a reasonable expectation and what isn’t?

Honestly, I have no idea. I expect Jesus to look overmatched at times, to look right at home at others, to hit a ball or five over the fence, to fail to block a curveball in the dirt, to throw a ball into centerfield, to flick his wrists and clank one off the right field wall … all sorts of stuff. That’s the thing about young players, you never have any idea what you’re going to get. Regardless, the magnifying glass will be him, for good or bad. In this age of instant reaction, start-to-start and plate appearance-to-plate appearance changes of opinion, we’re probably going to see a lot of good and bad this month. A lot more bad I’m sure, just because the game is all about failure.

Montero’s status as a top prospect is going to work against him as well, because come on, top prospects are scrutinized most heavily while the underdogs get praised. That’s why everyone loves Ivan Nova and Melky Cabrera and hates Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. It’s natural to root for the underdog, the ones that surprise us, and it’s also natural to come down hardest on those we expect the most from. Montero is no underdog, he’s one of the very best prospects in baseball and will have a target on his back the first time he steps into the batter’s box. Just wait until he takes an 0-for-4 this weekend or fails to get the runner in from third or something. There will definitely be people calling him a bust based on that, I guarantee it.

I can’t help but think of Justin Upton here, not that Montero will be that kind of player. But just look at how the first few years of Upton’s career shook out. He was a huge, huge prospect that got a brief cup of coffee in 2007 and was below replacement level. He managed to keep his head above water (.347 wOBA) in 400+ plate appearances in 2008, then broke out in 2009 (.388 wOBA). Upton took a step back in 2010 (.349 wOBA), got shopped around on the trade market in the offseason, and now he’s an MVP candidate. Lots of ups and lots of downs, which is usually how it goes. It’s not isolated to the Yankees and their stupid player development strategies or whatever people want to blame it on. It’s just normal career progression. Young players rarely reward their teams right away.

Unless we’re talking serious injury, there’s nothing Montero can do this month to change his stock either way. A Shane Spencer month (.421/.476/1.105 with eight homers) might help the team win some games and land him a spot on the playoff roster, but it won’t change his long-term outlook. At the same time, neither will an 0-for-37 with 23 strikeouts and ten double plays. It doesn’t work like that, one month just isn’t enough time to change anything in a meaningful way. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Some fans will write Montero off if he struggles in September and others will start erecting a monument beyond the center field wall if he does well. I expect good things and I’m hopeful that we’ll see them, but Jesus Montero’s career will not be defined by September 2011. That much I’m certain of.

Yankees calling up Montero, three others today

Today’s the day, the day that teams can expand their rosters and the day Jesus Montero finally joins the big league team. Mark Feinsand reported late last night that three others will be getting the call: Brandon Laird, Chris Dickerson, and … wait for it … Scott Proctor! I’m dead serious. The Yankees must have promised him a call-up when they signed last month, and remember, he spoke about wanting to rejoin the team two summers ago, when we learned about his alcoholism.

Proctor made a handful of appearances with Triple-A Scranton, but he was below replacement level in 29.1 IP with the Braves earlier this year (6.44 ERA, 6.04 FIP, 5.80 xFIP). Despite all his arm problems, Proctor still has a pretty decent fastball. I’m pretty surprised they’re only calling up one pitcher though, I figured a Lance Pendleton or Aaron Laffey or Raul Valdes would also join the team just to soak up any garbage innings. They’ll certainly add a few more players once the minor league season ends on Monday, like Pendleton, Hector Noesi, Greg Golson, and Ramiro Pena. Probably a few others as well.

Laird and Dickerson will just fill out the bench, allowing the Yankees to rest the regulars in blowouts and what not. Dickerson figures to serve as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner. The Yankees will need to free up two 40-man roster spots to accommodate Montero and Proctor, and I’m guessing Justin Maxwell will be one of the moves. He’s done for the season with a shoulder injury and will be out-of-options next year, they can just outright him no problem. Steve Garrison and Kevin Whelan could also be roster spot casualties.

Yanks can’t hang on to one-run lead, fall to Sox

Tuesday night’s series opener against the Red Sox was one of those “get the lead and hang on for dear life” games, but Wednesday’s game was a back-and-forth affair that ended with the Yankees on the wrong side of a 9-5 score.

Hooray for BABIP luck. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

An Early Lead

Josh Beckett has crushed the Yankees this year, absolutely buried them, but this game was different. The Yankees jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Eduardo Nunez hustled out a double to leadoff the inning and moved to third on Frankie Cervelli‘s ground out. He scored on Derek Jeter‘s bloop single. The ball was in Jacoby Ellsbury‘s glove, but not in the pocket and it flopped out as he hit the ground on the slide. Jeter kinda willed the ball onto the ground as he ran down to first, and sometimes you need a lucky little bounce like that against a really good pitcher like Beckett.

Giving It Back

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Unfortunately, the 1-0 lead lasted all of eight pitches. Phil Hughes threw the ball pretty damn well in the first two innings, but Marco Scutaro (Mah-co Scutah-ro in Boston) led the bottom of the third off with a single and Ellsbury followed with a double. When you have men on second and third with no outs against a team like the Red Sox, escaping with no more than two runs allowed allowed is a minor miracle. Dustin Pedroia drove in a run with a ground out, then Adrian Gonzalez flew out to center for the second out.

That brought David Ortiz to the plate, but the Yankees chose to walk him intentionally. I usually hate putting runners on base on purpose, but in this spot I actually didn’t mind it. Ortiz came into the game with a .467/.500/.867 batting line against Hughes in 18 career plate appearances while Jed Lowrie sported a .256 wOBA against righties. The plan would have worked if Phil didn’t leave a changeup up in the zone that Lowrie drove to right for a run-scoring single and a 2-1 run. Shutdown innings, they’re a son of a bitch.

Hughes rebounded with a 1-2-3 fourth inning (the first and only perfect frame by a Yankee in the series), but he gave up a two-run homer to David Ortiz with two outs in the fifth. It was a 3-2 count and frankly it wasn’t a terrible pitch, a 92 mph fastball right at the knees, but Ortiz golfed it out to dead center for a 4-1 lead. If the pitch has one more mile of an hour on it or is just half-an-inch further outside, it’s off the end of the bat for a routine fly ball. Game of inches, you know? Hughes was thisclose to allowing just two runs through five innings, which I think was a lot more than we all expected coming into the game.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

Answering Back

The homer was deflating, but there’s a reason games don’t end after deflating moments. Beckett started the top of the sixth at just 75 pitches, but he gave the Yankees some life by hitting leadoff man Mark Teixeira with a curveball in the foot (clearly not intentional for all the blood lusters out there). Robinson Cano jumped all over a 2-1 fastball for an RBI double to left center (yes, Tex scored all the way from first I’m an idiot, he moved to second on a wild pitch first), then Nick Swisher worked a hard fought walk to put two men on with no outs.

After four straight curveballs to end the encounter with Swisher, Zombie Eric Chavez came back from the dead and jumped all over a first pitch fastball from Beckett. It was down the line into right, but Josh Reddick completely misplayed the ball and it rolled by him, all the way back to the wall. An average runner would have had an inside-the-park homer, rather easily I think, but Chavez settled for the two-run triple (the official scorer ruled it a double and error, which I don’t agree with) and a 3-2 lead. Nunez drove him in with a sacrifice fly one batter later, and just like that, the Yankees had scored more runs in the sixth inning off Beckett than they had the entire season up to that point. They were up 5-4 all of a sudden, but one run leads in Fenway Park are never safe, not when there are twelve outs left.

Nope, Nevermind

LNOGY. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Hughes went out to start the sixth, and I figured Joe Girardi had him on a real short leash. Things looked pretty grim when he fell behind Carl Crawford 3-0 to open the inning, but Phil rebounded to run the count full and get a weak pop-up. Hughes then got ahead of Reddick 0-2, but he got a little too cute and ended up walking the Red Sox right fielder. That was a pretty big no-no, especially since the hacktastic Reddick came into the game with just five unintentional walks in his last 117 plate appearances.

Hughes remained in the game to face the reanimated corpse of Jason Varitek, who he’d already blown away twice in the game. With the hit-and-run on in a 1-1 count, Varitek threw his bat (not literally) at an outside curveball, and managed to slap the ball fair down the third base line. It was a total defensive swing, he was bailing pretty badly and hacked at it only because the runner was in motion. Brett Gardner misplayed the ball in left (it looked like he expected it to carom off the sidewall and out into left, but it didn’t), allowing Reddick to score and Varitek to move to second. The lead was gone and the go-ahead run was in scoring position.

Girardi left Hughes in to face one more batter, and his faith in his starter was justified when Scutaro flew out harmlessly to center for the second out. At 100 pitches on the nose, Phil’s night was done, his final pitch a 92 mph heater. Earlier this year he was topping out at 92, now he’s hitting that with his 100th pitch. By no means was it a great outing, but it was world’s better than what we all expected. Yeah, I just told you what you expected. Deal with it.

Anyway, Boone Logan was brought in to face Ellsbury, who came into the game with three hits in five career at-bats off the Yankees’ lefty specialist. Logan fell behind in the count 3-1 then caught a little too much of the plate with a 95 mph fastball, which Ellsbury drove it out to left center and over the monster for a 7-5 lead. Shutdown innings, eh? They’re a son of a bitch.

(Elsa/Getty Images)


Ellsbury’s dinger was the game-winning hit, but Luis Ayala served up a two-run homer to Varitek in the bottom of the eighth to put it even further out of reach. Ayala has now put eight men on base and allowed seven runs in his last three outings (4.2 IP). It’s the world’s most deceptive 1.97 ERA, I’ll tell you what. Ayala did a fine job this summer as the last guy in the pen, but he might be in danger of losing his 40-man roster spot sometime this month. The last thing a team needs to worry about in September (and potentially in the postseason) is the last guy in the bullpen, a mop-up guy. If he keeps pitching poorly, he might not be around much longer.

Tagging Beckett for five runs in seven innings is a pretty big accomplishment given how he pitched against them earlier this year, but the Yankees had some chances to score early. Brett Gardner led the game off with a single to right, but for reasons that defy logic and common sense, Jeter bunted him to second. I mean, I guess anytime you have a chance to bunt away an out against a pitcher like Josh Beckett in the first inning, you have to take it. It’s just good baseball, playing the game the right way, you know? Unsurprisingly, the Yankees didn’t score in the inning. They also left runners on first and second in the third, a man on first in the fourth, and a man on first in the fifth. The final dozen men they sent to the plate in the game made outs.

Jeter was the only player on the team with two hits (he also stole a base), though Nunez, Cano, and Chavez all had extra base hits. Gardner had the leadoff single. Curtis Granderson, Swisher, and Chavez drew walks while Teixeira got hit by the pitch. Frankie Cervelli had nothing to clap about, he went 0-for-4. The Yankees actually went 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position, which is a .375 average but I’m guessing still complaint worthy.

I was watching on YES, but apparently the ESPN booth for the broadcast was Curtis Schilling, Nomar Garciaparra, and Dave O’Brien. O’Brien, in case you don’t know, is the Red Sox’s regular radio play-by-play guy. No bias in that booth, of course. At least Michael Kay called them out on it.

The loss moves the Yankees back to 1.5 games behind the Red Sox for the top spot in the AL East, and the Rays beat the Rangers to move to within 7.5 games of the wildcard. The magic number to clinch a playoff spot remained at Paul O’Neill, number 21 in the sidebar.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

That WPA graph had so much potential, it’s a shame it didn’t reach it’s ceiling. has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

The rubber game falls into the hands of … A.J. Burnett. Even better, he’ll be opposed by Jon Lester. Reverse lock, right? Right?!? Seriously though, look at the bright side: Jesus Montero is coming, and that is the most exciting news of the season, bar none.

GCL Yankees take home league championship

Triple-A Scranton (6-2 win over Lehigh Valley) stave off elimination for another day, they’re still mathematically alive in the wildcard race
Chris Dickerson, CF, Jorge Vazquez, DH & Greg Golson, LF: all 0 for 4 – Dickerson walked and struck out … JoVa and Golson whiffed twice
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 K, 1 SB
Mike Lamb, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 3, 1 R, 2 RBI
Jordan Parraz, RF: 2 for 3, 1 R, 2 RBI – just his ninth homer of the season … feels like it should be more
Gus Molina, C: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI , 1 K, 1 E (throwing) – nice first day on the job in the post-Jesus Montero era
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SB
Hector Noesi, RHP: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2-3 GB/FB – 28 of 39 pitches were strikes (71.8%) … he was limited to three innings or 45 pitches tonight
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 7-3 GB/FB, 1 E (pickoff) – 51 of 83 pitches were strikes (61.4%)
Pants Lendleton, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R<  ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 12 of 16 pitches were strikes … kinda surprised he pitched tonight, I figured he’d be the long man behind A.J. Burnett tomorrow

[Read more…]

Game 134: Can they make it two?

They're comin'. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Last night was a good win for the Yankees. They manufactured some runs, got a gritty (gritty!) performance from their ace, and finished up with some big time bullpen work. Now they have to do it all again, and this time against Josh Beckett. Yay. Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, DH
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Frankie Cervelli, C

Phil Hughes, SP

It’s another 7:10pm ET start, and you can watch this one on YES locally or ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Yankees continuing to look for pitching

Via Buster Olney, the Yankees continue to look for pitching (particularly left-handed) before tonight’s midnight trade deadline. As I explained earlier today, a player has to be in the organization by 11:59pm ET tonight to be eligible for the postseason roster, and there are no loopholes to get around that one. The Rangers acquired Mike Gonzalez from the Orioles earlier today, and that’s about as good as the trade help gets this time of year. I don’t expect the Yankees to do anything, and in fact Olney says they aren’t particularly optimistic about getting a deal done. Still got another six hours to go though.

Which Hughes will it be?

If you’re not into pessimism I suggest skipping this post.

The good news is that the Phil Hughes facing the Red Sox tonight is not the same pitcher who faced them in April. At that time Hughes had no zip on his fastball, no bite to his breaking ball, and no command of either. Through two innings he threw 47 pitches to 14 batters, allowing six runs on seven hits and two walks. That performance provided the Red Sox with their first win of the 2011 campaign. After one more horrific start Hughes hit the DL, and he’s been quite better since returning.

The bad news is that Hughes resembled his early season self in his last start. While he did pitch into the third, his results weren’t much better than his outing in Boston earlier this season: six runs on seven hits. His only saving graces were the five strikeouts and zero walks. Even still, he used 78 pitches to record eight outs. Even worse, he again failed to put batters away, generating strings of foul balls on two-strike pitches. That’s the Hughes the Yankees can’t afford to have on the mound tonight and for the rest of the season.

For a while it appeared that Hughes was turning a corner. While he failed to put away batters in his first four starts back from the DL, something changed when he faced Chicago in early August. He didn’t miss many bats — just 14 swings and misses out of 267 pitches thrown in three starts — but he also didn’t struggle to finish at-bats. He needed just 65 pitches to get through six innings in Chicago, and followed that up with 96 pitches in six innings against Tampa Bay. That’s not efficient, but it’s an improvement. Then against Minnesota it appeared he cared nothing for the strikeout, recording just two while allowing 22 of 27 batters to put the ball in play. The result was his best start of the season, 7.2 innings of one-run ball.

That strategy won’t play as well against the Red Sox, though. While Hughes can work through weaker lineups such as the White Sox and the Twins by pitching to contact, the Red Sox are a completely different beast. They lead the majors in average and BABIP. At the same time, if Hughes tries to miss bats again he can fall into an even worse trap. The Red Sox are still a patient and disciplined team that will foul away flat, borderline pitches while waiting for something to hit or else taking a walk. It leaves Hughes with little room to maneuver. Command or perish. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much from him in terms of command this season.

In this way it’s hard to see Hughes succeeding against the Red Sox this evening. It’s certainly possible; we have seen him spot his fastball low and away at times, and his curveball isn’t always as bad as it was last week. At the same time, his start is of the utmost importance. The Yankees will use only five starters the next time through the rotation. If Hughes fails tonight then the Yankees have a no-win situation in the fifth spot. They’d have to rely on A.J. Burnett to turn around his season, which is about as likely as Hughes suddenly finding his command against the Red Sox tonight.

No one should count out a pitcher before a game starts, not even A.J. Burnett. But that doesn’t mean we can’t set reasonable expectations. With the way he’s pitched lately, it’s difficult to reasonably imagine Hughes faring well this evening, just as it’s difficult to imagine Burnett doing the same tomorrow. Their recent history suggests that they’re primed for a beating against one of the league’s most powerful offenses. It might matter little in the immediate future; the Yanks have a comfortable lead in the playoff race, after all. But in the long term it’s certainly an issue. While Hughes has succeeded at times this season, his skill set just doesn’t seem to play up against the Bostons and the Texases of the American League.