Vazquez’s bullpen session goes well, will start Thursday

Via Mark Feinsand, Javier Vazquez‘s bullpen session went swimmingly this afternoon, and he will indeed start Thursday against the Twins. Joe Girardi was adamant prior to Sunday’s game that Vazquez was going to make that start, but given the Yanks’ recent run of injuries, none of us were confident in that actually happening until his side session went well. Finally, some good luck when it comes to an injury.

Aceves reaggravates back injury

On the disabled list with a bulging disc in his back for two weeks now, Al Aceves suffered a bit of a setback today when he felt more pain while working out in Tampa. He cut his work on the field short, and he’s heading back to New York for what I presume is more tests and what not. Aceves felt better after receiving a cortisone shot last week, but apparently it didn’t do enough. The more time he misses and the more setbacks he has, the more likely surgery becomes. Simply as that.

Yankees to scout Asher Wojciechowski

Via Josh Norris, the Yankees are sending “high-ranking scouts” (Kevin Towers?) to watch The Citadel righty Asher Wojciechowski start the first game of the Southern Conference Tournament tomorrow. “He’ll work at 92-94,” says Keith Law, “but regularly runs it up to 96 or better over the course of a typical start.” He also mentions that he throws a sharp slurve at 80-82 mph, but has an underdeveloped changeup. At 6-foot-4, 235 lbs., Wojciechowski’s got a nice big frame. Here’s his scouting report, which includes video.

Baseball America ranked Wojciechowski as the 22nd best prospect in the draft while KLaw had him 28th. Big college righthanders that won’t demand a way over-slot bonus are a hot commodity come draft day, so there’s a good chance he’ll be off the board before the Yanks’ first pick comes at #32 overall.

Series Preview: Yankees at Twins

If this format looks familiar, it’s because I’m ripping off riffing on the style of Matthew Carruth of Lookout Landing (and FanGraphs). Last Friday we discussed the idea of series previews, and Matthew’s are top notch. I’m going to try to bang out one of these for each future series in 2010.

New York Yankees (26-18) vs. Minnesota Twins (26-18)

The Yankees, as we are painfully aware, have struggled lately, going 4-6 in their last 10 games. Even still, they feature one of the best all-around attacks in the league. Their pitching has been very good, if not frustrating lately. Their rank in FIP is mostly due to the bullpen and its homer-happy ways, though the starters have had a rough go the last pass or two through the rotation. The offense continues to top the league despite injuries and ineffectiveness.

The Twins are on equally cold footing, also having gone 4-6 in their last 10. That counts two losses to the Yankees in the first two games of their previous series. In a stretch where they played Toronto, Boston, and Milwaukee, Minnesota went 3-4, dropping both games to Boston. Prior to that they spit a short series with the White Sox and split a long series with the Orioles.

This series figures to be a well-fought battle among two of the AL’s best teams. The Yankees won the first round, but had home field advantage. The Twins will look to even things up, at the least, at their brand new ballpark.

Pitching matchups

The series features rematches of the last series in the first two games, followed by a should-have-been matchup in the finale, with Javier Vazquez taking the place of Sergio Mitre.

Tuesday: A.J. Burnett (3.86 ERA, 3.98 FIP) vs. Scott Baker (4.88 ERA, 3.72 FIP)

Last time against the Twins Burnett had trouble finding his control early in the game, but he settled in nicely and left the game with a lead. Damaso Marte promptly blew that, but that doesn’t overshadow how well Burnett pitched from innings three through seven. It’s another game where he didn’t have his curveball and therefore had to work more with his two fastballs. He still managed to strike out four Twins, though. In his last start the Rays lit him up, though again he settled down after a rocky start and pitched into the seventh.

Baker had a tough assignment last week. After the Yankees shelled him for five runs on 10 hits in six innings, he had to go out and face the Red Sox. He fared a bit better, again lasting six innings but this time allowing just three runs. That was more about timing, though, as he allowed eight hits and struck out just four. Against the Yanks he struck out nine. His season peripherals look right in line with recent years, so chances are he’s due for a correction.

Wednesday: Andy Pettitte (2.68 ERA, 4.02 FIP) vs. Francisco Liriano (3.25 ERA, 2.67 FIP)

Pettitte’s last start against the Twins was his first after sitting out with elbow inflammation. He was up to the task, though, allowing just two hits and walking three in 6.1 innings. The Twins didn’t record a run off him, and ended up losing the game 5-0. The next time out, though, Pettitte was not nearly as sharp. That much was evident from the first pitch, and it resulted in a five-inning, seven-run performance against the Rays.

Liriano’s talent is undeniable. He’s a hard-throwing lefty with a nasty slider that can flummox hitters. He put that talent to good use in April, allowing just three runs all month — all of them coming during his first start. He did not allow any in his next three starts, pitching 23 innings and striking out 24. Once the calendar flipped, however, he became much less effective. Against the Yankees he allowed three runs on nine hits through six innings, and last time against Boston he allowed five runs through 4.2 innings. In May he has allowed 19 runs in 23.2 innings.

Thursday: Javier Vazquez (6.69 ERA, 5.76 FIP) vs. Nick Blackburn (4.50 ERA, 5.33 FIP)

It’s tough to imagine a start to the season rougher than Javy Vazquez‘s. He got smacked around in his first few starts, got skipped, and then finally got back on track. He has allowed just two runs in his past two starts, including a six-inning shutout against the Mets on Friday that would have gone longer if not for him taking a pitch off the index finger on a bunt attempt. He’ll head right back out there and try to continue it against the Twins offense, which ranks better than any other offense he has faced since his first start against Tampa Bay.

Nick Blackburn has never been a strikeout pitcher, though this year he has struck out even fewer hitters than before. His total sits at 15 right now, 2.5 per nine innings. He’s also walking a few more, though it’s not a terribly significant difference. Everything else seems to be in line. The extra balls in play, though, have seemingly affected him. Hitters have slugged .498 off him, so the extra damage has come in the form of extra base hits. He has turned it around a bit in May, though, allowing just nine runs in 30.1 innings.

Sergio Mitre cleaning up starters’ messes

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

A sure sign that you’re the mop-up man in the bullpen: you’ve pitched in just two winning efforts all year. That pretty much defines the season for Sergio Mitre. He’s the long man and spot starter, which means he comes in only in the direst of situations. When Andy Pettitte had to miss a start, Mitre was the man. When a rain delay caused a schedule kerfuffle, Mitre took a turn. When the Yanks are down big, or when the starter doesn’t go long, Mitre’s the guy. He’s done rather well in these roles, perhaps well enough to earn himself a spot in higher leverage situations.

Mitre’s most recent appearances, both against the Mets this weekend, have impressed for a number of reasons. First, he held the Mets to just one hit in three innings, striking out two and walking none. Second, he didn’t allow them to make quality contact, as none of the hitters he faced hit the ball on a line. Third, he was replacing pitchers who had seen little luck facing the same hitters. On Saturday both Phil Hughes and Chan Ho Park allowed many more baserunners than innings pitched and each let the Mets extend their lead. On Sunday, after the Mets rocked CC Sabathia, Mitre tamed them with two perfect innings.

These performances have me wondering if Mitre might be an option of sorts for short relief. The Yankees have had some bullpen troubles, and could certainly use an effective arm. Why not ride the Mitre wave? He’s been a bit lucky so far — he won’t sustain his current .193 BABIP — but part of effective bullpen management is finding the pitcher who has everything working. That appears to be Mitre right now. Hitters just aren’t making great contact off him.

The biggest concern would be with his propensity to allow home runs. He has allowed three so far this year in 22 IP. That might be an improvement over his 2009 rate, but it’s still far too many for a high-leverage reliever. The mitigating circumstance here is that two out of the three came during starts, one of them coming off the bat of Justin Morneau on what appeared to be a decent pitch. The first, off the bat of a super-hot Ty Wigginton, came during Mitre’s third inning of work. While this doesn’t eliminate the home run threat, it certainly puts it in a bit more context. In high-leverage, short stints perhaps it wouldn’t be much of a problem.

We just don’t know, though, how Mitre would respond to high leverage at-bats. His pLI — the average Leverage Index (LI) of his appearances — is just 0.51. Of the 86 batters he has faced, only one has been in a high leverage situation. He did retire that batter on a grounder, but that’s meaningless in determining how Mitre would perform when faced with more of these situations. The only way to tell is by putting him into those situations in live games.

Will Girardi give him a shot? I doubt it. He clearly values having a long man in the pen, as he expressed when he explained why the team skipped Javier Vazquez‘s start last week. I’d like to see him get a shot, though. Mitre went through some tough times last year, but this year he has done his job and done it admirably. While some of the other guys struggle, and while Al Aceves sits on the DL, maybe the Yankees could find strength in their bullpen by using Mitre in short relief.

A historical look at the Yankees’ 2010 draft selections

AP File Photo

One of the greatest things about baseball is it’s history, and the record of that history. Especially now in the internet age, where we can go back and look up almost anything our heart desires. Like this box score, for example. There’s nothing overly exciting about that game, other than the fact that it’s 90-years-old. Just having that kind of information at our fingertips is amazing, no other sport can make that claim.

Nowadays we use all of this historical info for more than just entertainment. Just as an example, we reference those fancy WPA graphs each day, and those are based on nothing but historical record. We’re looking at what happened in the past to try and get an idea of what can happen in the future. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly useful information.

Let’s apply the same concepts to the draft and the Yankees’ top ten selections this season. Using B-Ref’s draft database and it’s new WAR data, let’s go back and see how the players taken at these spots have historically performed to get an idea of what kind of players the Yankees can expect to land. Granted, the draft has evolved thanks to introduction of agents and the relatively new concept of signability, so this exercise is in no way a prediction of what will happen.

The 2010 Draft Order can be found here, as always. The Yanks didn’t gain or lose any picks as free agent compensation, so they have a pick per round this year. Nice and easy. And off we go…

First Round, 32nd overall
The best player ever taken with this pick is former Met first/third baseman Dave Magadan, who produced 22.2 WAR over a 16-year career that featured a .288-.390-.377 batting line in close to 5,000 plate appearances spread across the late-80’s and 1990’s. After that comes utility guy Lee Lacy, who played every position under the sun and hit .286-.336-.410 with four teams, leading to 18.2 career WAR.

Overall, the 32nd overall pick has produced 22 big leaguers (out of 45 total picks), though just 13 of those 22 managed to post a positive WAR in their careers, and just 11 produced more than 2.0 WAR. Those 11 players averaged 9.1 WAR in their careers, so they were definitely productive players. However, you’re talking about one solid regular for fewer than every four picks made.

[Read more…]

Joe on the Pinstriped Podcast w/ Craig Mahoney

For those of you who don’t know Craig Mahoney, he’s turning into something of a podcast star. He’s got quite a few of them, including the Pinstriped Podcast. He and I sat down yesterday to talk everything Yankees. We even tackled some sabermetic topics, from an enthusiast to a skeptic. You can also catch Craig on Twitter at @CraigMahoney.