Vazquez gets in the win column as Yanks take fifth straight

The Yankees arrived on the West Coast on a high note, having won their last four games and seven of their last eight overall. The team enjoyed a nice moment before the game, presenting  Chad Gaudin and Edwar Ramirez with their 2009 World Series rings, but there was no mercy to be found once everybody took the field.

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

Biggest Hit: Nick Swisher‘s two run single

Before the game even got underway, I said Gio Gonzalez was exactly the kind of pitcher that the Yankees should destroy. He throws way too many pitches out of the zone, and this lineup isn’t going to help him out at all. Sure enough, they made him pay before starter Javy Vazquez even came out of the dugout.

Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson started the first inning off by making two very quick outs (just five pitches between the two of them), but Mark Teixeira doubled them up by taking four straight fastballs for a 3-1 count before ripping the fifth into the corner for a double. Alex Rodriguez and Robbie Cano followed with walks, and Jorge Posada reached base with a little help from Daric Barton’s stone hands at first. The Yanks were up a run, but they had a golden opportunity to cash in more.

At the plate was Nick Swisher, who coming into the game had made outs in his last nine plate appearances and hadn’t picked up a hit since tripling off Joel Pineiro last Wednesday. He had become anxious at the plate, hacking at the first more than a few times in the previous series against the Rangers. Gonzalez poured a first pitch fastball in for a questionable called strike, then two more for balls and a 2-1 count. Gonzalez had thrown Swisher three fastballs clocked at 93, 93, and 94, and he went right back to the well for another 94 mph heater, which Swisher promptly deposited into centerfield for a two run single. The Yankees had an early three run lead, and never looked back.

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

Biggest Out: Travis Buck’s 1-3 double play

After the Yankees staked Javy to a three run lead, he did his best to try and hand at least part of it back in the second. With runners on first and third and one out, Travis Buck worked himself into a full count before squaring up a hanging curveball out over the plate. The ball was ticketed for centerfield, but Vazquez stuck his glove out and picked it off as it went by. Mark Ellis was running on the play, so Javy lobbed it over to Teixeira to double him off first for an easy third out.

Combined with A-Rod‘s heads up play to get the lead runner at the plate for the first out, it was one of the best escape jobs we’ll see all season. When you’ve got men on second and third with no outs, you hope to get out of the inning with just one run scoring. But to get out with the shutout intact? That’s big.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Kouzmanoff’s strikeout

The Yankees seemed to be in control of this one of this one all game long, but it almost got away from them for a bit in the 7th. Boone Logan, making his Yankee debut, recording two quick outs before a poor throw by Jeter extended the inning. Barton followed up with a single to right, and Logan couldn’t put the lefty swinging Ryan Sweeney away, loaded the bases on a free pass, all with two outs.

Out came Joe Girardi from the dugout, and in came Joba Chamberlain from the bullpen to face Kouzmanoff, the A’s cleanup hitter. Joba started him off with a slider off the plate for ball one, but he picked up two strikes when Kouz fouled off a fastball and another slider. The fourth pitch was yet another slider, the third of the at-bat, though the A’s third basemen couldn’t hold up in time and went down on a check swing strikeout. Obviously a grand slam is the worst case scenario, but even if Joba had allowed a ball to get into the gap, all of a sudden we’re looking at a one run game with seven outs to go.

Vazquez grinds it out

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

With the memory of his two first starts fresh in everyone’s minds, Javy Vazquez went out tonight trying to pick up not just a win for the team, but also a win for his confidence. Staked to a three run lead before he even threw a pitch, Javy fired off four shutout innings before serving up garbage time homers to Travis Buck and Kurt Suzuki, but more on that later.

It was clear from the start that Vazquez didn’t have his best stuff, and he struggled to put hitters away all night. Sixteen of the 23 batters he faced saw at least four pitches in their plate appearances, and ten saw at least five. The A’s are a patient team, but it’s not a lineup that should require just under a hundred pitches for five innings of work.

Vazquez threw 107 pitches on the night, mixing it up with 51 fastballs, 24 curveballs, 19 changeups, and 13 sliders. His fastball didn’t start to crack 90 mph with regularity until the third inning, and he put at least one batter on base in every inning he pitched. Vazquez helped himself out with some fine defense, starting a pair of double plays while adding a nice play on a comebacker that hit him in the leg to record an out.

That two run homer to Suzuki to cap off Javy’s night makes his pitching line (5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 K) look worse than it should be, but overall he battled throughout the game and made some big pitches when he had too. It’s nothing to write home about, but I’m sure he feels good and now has something to build off of.

Happy Moments

That first inning was a treat. After Jeter and Johnson made those first two outs on five pitches, the guys behind them proceeded to load the bases, push three runs across, and force Gonzalez to throw another 31 pitches in the frame before recording the last out. Also, Javy getting out of that second and third with no outs jam in the 2nd. It wasn’t textbook, but it worked. Disaster was imminent, but the A’s got nothing out of it. Alex just never seems to make a bad decision on the field, the guy is a baseball robot.

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

Speaking of A-Rod, holy schnikees was that a bomb off Craig Breslow in the 5th. It was one of those homers that he didn’t even bother to watch in flight, he knew it was gone as soon as it left the bat. A-Rod’s now one homer behind Frank Robinson for seventh place on the all time list.

Patience. The Yankees’ lineup is just devastating if the opposing starter does anything less than pound the zone; only once in the last five games has a starter completed at least five against against the Yanks. They scored seven runs on just five hits tonight, coaxing ten walks out of A’s pitching. Even Cano got in on the act, drawing three walks to bring his season total to five. Overall, the Yankees have scored at least three runs in every game this season, and at least five runs in ten of the 13 games. That’s getting it done with the stick.

Joba looked fantastic tonight. PitchFX had him topping out at 96 with the fastball, and overall he just looked very sharp. Best he’s looked all season, and probably the best he’s looked since 2008.

Oh, and hey look, it’s Edwar! Glad to see he hasn’t changed one bit.

Annoying Moments

That two run homer by Kurt Suzuki in the 6th. Not so much the homer, but the non-play on the lazy fly ball to shallow center before that. Someone has to make that play, and it’s on Curtis Granderson and Robbie Cano for failing to communicate. The homer to Buck in the 5th didn’t bother me. Vazquez had a six run lead and full count on the leadoff batter, just throw a fastball over the plate and hope this is part of the 65% of the time or so that Buck makes an out.

I know injuries are a serious thing, but damn. Home plate ump Ed Rapuano takes a foul ball off the face mask, staggers around for a bit, stays in the game, then has to leave a few batters later. Logan got up in the bullpen, warmed up, came into the game, threw his warmup pitches, then makes one pitch to Mark Ellis before he has to wait out a 13-minute delay after Rapuano leaves. I mean, come on. Could’ve timed it a little better.

WPA Graph

You can find individual player breakdowns at FanGraphs’ box score.

Up Next

Another late West Coast game tomorrow, as these two teams are back at it for game two of the series. Phil Hughes vs. Ben Sheets. Should be a good one.

Game 13: Streakin’

Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP

The Yankees have won their last four games, and start the first of three 2010 West Coast trips tonight against the A’s in the rather bland Oakland Coliseum. Their second West Coast trip goes through Arizona and Los Angeles as part of the interleague schedule, and the final one comes right before the All Star Break. It’s good to get them over with in the first half, no one likes those September trips across the country.

On the bump for the A’s is Gio Gonzalez, who, frankly, should get his brains beat in. His strikeout rate is very good at 9.67 K/9 career (143.1 IP), but he’s thrown just 46% of his pitches in the strikezeone, which is not going to get it done against this offense. Then again, the Yanks are prone of being shutdown by these young lefties for no reason, so who knows.

Here’s the lineup…

Jeter, SS
Johnson, DH
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Swisher, RF
Granderson, CF
Gardner, LF – glad to see him in there against the lefty

And on the mound, a guy who could really use a win, Javy Vazquez.

First pitch is scheduled for 10:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy the game if you’re staying up for it. Oh, and don’t miss tonight’s DotF.

Montero goes deep again as Scranton falls

Kevin Goldstein called Jesus Montero the best hitter in the minors today, and rated him as the second base prospect in the minor behind Stephen Strasburg. Praise doesn’t get much higher.

Triple-A Scranton (11-7 loss to Buffalo)
Kevin Russo, 2B-3B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 K, 1 SB
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 3 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 SB – 8 for his last 14 (.571)
Juan Miranda, 1B: 1 for 3, 2 BB
David Winfree, DH: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – 7 for his last 21 (.333) with a double & two jacks … w00t
Chad Huffman, LF, Colin Curtis, RF & Robby Hammock, 3B: all 1 for 4 – Huffman got hit by a pitch, hit a two run jack & K’ed … Curtis got plunked & K’ed
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 K
Romulo Sanchez: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 11-5 GB/FB – 50 of 83 pitches were strikes (50.2%) … 11 BB & 9 K on the year … that’s not going to get it done
Zack Segovia: 0.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 16 of 27 pitches were strikes (59.3%) … that’s 19 baserunners & 10 runs allowed in six innings … yikes
Kevin Whelan: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 WP – 18 of 32 pitches were strikes (56.3%)

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Open Thread: CC goes home

The Yankees are in the Bay Area, so that means CC Sabathia is back in his old stomping grounds. The Yanks’ ace threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the first night game in the history of North Vallejo Little League’s Thurman Field on Monday night, which he helped rebuild. This certainly isn’t the first time Sabathia has gone back to his hometown and helped out, just Google “CC Sabathia Vallejo” and look at what comes up. He’s clearly a world class athlete that gets it.

Anyway, here’s the open thread to hold you over until tonight’s game, which starts at 10pm ET. The Cubs and Mets are back at it, plus the Phillies and Braves are on the MLB Network. You’ve also got a ton of NBA and NHL playoff action. Enjoy.

Twelve games in, All Star balloting opens

It never fails to amaze me that Major League Baseball’s All Star Game counts for something. Voting is but a popularity contest, and a glorified exhibition game determines home field advantage in the World Series. I shouldn’t complain because the AL has a dominant lock on the Mid-Summer Classic these days, but it rankles me nonetheless. To that end, it seems absurd that, on April 20, nine games into the season, we can now vote for the 2010 All Star team. Perhaps we should Scott Podsednik to the Small Sample Size All Star team for hitting .457 over 46 ABs or Vernon Wells for bashing six dingers in the early goings, but I don’t want either of them anywhere near the AL All Star team come mid-July.

Derek’s Odd Start

Today at ESPN’s TMI blog, I looked at Kosuke Fukudome’s hot starts. During his first two seasons in America he has set a high bar for himself in April, but then has failed to live up to those lofty marks. Part of the reason relates to his ground ball percentage. In his two (now three) Aprils he holds a 41 percent ground ball rate, while that jumps to 50 percent from May through September. To show why this was a problem I cited some ground ball and fly ball numbers for the National League. Rather than quote, I’ll look at those numbers for American League hitters.

We often hear, and sometimes repeat, the adage that ground balls go for hits more frequently than fly balls. While that is true, the difference isn’t as pronounced as you might think. In 2009 the American League as a whole hit .239 on ground balls. That mark dropped to just .224 on fly balls. Fly balls, of course, bring many more advantages, including a much higher slugging percentage. To wit, the slugging percentage on ground balls was .259, while it was .821 on fly balls. Furthermore, keeping the ball on the ground also precludes line drives, the best of all hit types. AL hitters batted .739 with a 1.015 SLG when hitting the ball on a line.

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

During the season’s first dozen games, it seems as though Derek Jeter has hit a ground ball to shortstop in nearly every at-bat — that is, except the two doubles and three homers he has hit so far. Whether it’s a single up the middle or just a routine grounder to the left side, it seems like he’s always hitting it there. His groundball rate does bear this out. Of the 45 balls he has put in play so far, 33 have been on the ground. Yet, despite this high ground ball rate, Jeter’s ISO sits at .220, which rates higher than any full year of his career. Unsurprisingly, so does his 73.3 percent ground ball rate.

As we learned last night, these numbers do not hold predictive value for Jeter at their current sample sizes. He has come to the plate just 52 times, so the only statistic that might have stabilized is his Swing% — and even then I expect it will come down from its 54.6 percent rate, which would rank by far the highest in Jeter’s career. We can’t expect his ground ball rate to tell us anything for another 150 PA, and you can forget about his ISO until August. These stats have a tendency to fluctuate in small samples, and that’s just what we’re seeing right now.

Most of the discrepancy in Jeter’s numbers comes from extremely good luck on his fly balls and liners. Of the five balls he has hit on a line, four have gone for hits, including one of his three home runs. Of the seven balls he has lifted enough to be considered flies, he has collected another four hits, including two doubles and the other two home runs. In other words, when Jeter lifts the ball he’s hitting .667 with a 1.333 SLG. This will not remain consistent throughout 2010, of course, but it’s quite a nice start. Even as Jeter hasn’t looked his best at the plate he has still produced excellent results.

2010 Draft: College Targets

Yesterday we looked at some high school players that could interest the Yankees, so let’s switch it up and go with college players today. In his five drafts as scouting director, Damon Oppenheimer has selected 192 college players and just 58 high schoolers, so a little more than three-fourths have come from the college ranks. Those 192 college players are broken down into 153 from a four-year schools and 39 from two-year junior colleges. Clearly, Oppenheimer favors guys who a little further along in their development.

Personal fave Brandon Workman has seen his stock take a hit not because he hasn’t performed (2.89 ERA, 56-12 K/BB ratio in 62.1 IP), but because he hasn’t sustained the mid-90’s velocity and knockout breaking ball he flashed last season and in the Cape Cod League. He’s still considered a top 50 draft prospect, but now he’s more towards the back of that list. Here’s four other players to keep an eye on…

Photo Credit: UT-Arlington

Michael Choice, OF, Texas-Arlington
One of those always fun late bloomers, Choice started the year as a 3rd-5th round kind of player, but he’s slugging his way into first round consideration. He’s hitting an absurd .395-.563-.758 with 12 homers and a 31-47 K/BB ratio in 124 at-bats, and he’s running down everything in centerfield.

Choice has the tools to back up the performance, but he’s already big at 6-foot-0, 215 lbs, so a move to a corner outfield spot is probably in the cards. He’s big but athletic, so it’s not like he’s going to become a detriment defensively. Choice definitely takes advantage of the metal bat, which is what he should do, but with wood he’s more likely to be a doubles machine than a homerun hitter. The Yankees are unlikely to have a chance to land him because Choice is a great candidate for the Tony Sanchez Plan; a high probability college player that could go early because he’ll sign quickly for at-or-below slot money.

Bryan Morgado, LHP, Tennessee
The name might sound familiar, and that’s because Morgado was a highly touted prospect for last year’s draft that the White Sox were unable to sign in the third round. The draft eligible sophomore returned to Tennessee and has continued to same trend that has plagued him throughout his career: less than stellar stats (5.88 ERA, 60-28 K/BB ratio in 52 IP) but premium stuff.

Morgado’s fastball sits in the low-90’s but he’s run it up as high as 97 in the past, and his power slider is a put-away pitch at times. In a way, he’s very similar to Caleb Cotham, the Yanks’ fifth rounder last season. Like Cotham, Morgado has a chance to start long-term, but more than likely he’ll end up in the bullpen. A lefthander with that kind of stuff is more than a specialist, though not a first round pick. If he falls into the third round again, then you’ve got yourself good value.

Photo Credit: Flickr user dbadair

LeVon Washington, OF, Chipola JC (Fl.)
Like Morgado, the Washington was a highly touted prospect in last year’s draft, but the Rays were unable to sign him out of high school as the 30th overall pick. By attending perennial junior college power Chipola, he’s again eligible for this year’s draft.

Washington has dealt with a wrist injury this season after a labrum issue in 2008 that basically sapped all of his arm strength. He’s athletic enough to play centerfield on an every day basis, but we’re talking about a Johnny Damon/Bernie Williams kind of arm. His swing is good and the ball comes off his bat well, so Washington can definitely hit, and his foot speed gives him the potential to be an exciting power-speed guy down the road. He’s still pretty raw, so whoever drafts him is going to have to be patient.

Again like Morgado, he’s unlikely to be a first round pick. The second or third round is much more likely, though he’d be wise to sign since his stock has dropped slightly since last year because of the injury troubles. Tampa Bay’s scouting and player development program is as good as it gets, so if they were willing to take Washington in the first round, that tells us there’s some serious potential here.

Austin Wates, 1B/OF, Virginia Tech
Wates is one of the most intriguing players in this entire draft class. He’s hitting .412-.500-.632 with 12 doubles and 13 steals in 14 attempts, but what makes him so interesting is that he’s athletic enough to handle centerfield, which he’s done on the Cape. For now, his coach has him playing first because he claims Wates is the team’s best defensive player at the position. That doesn’t make one bit of sense, but it is what it is.

More of a gap-to-gap line drive hitter, Wates’ game offers a lot of patience and a lot of speed. He’s one of the best baserunners in the class, and he’s got more than enough bat to keep pitchers honest. Whoever drafts Wates will (should) immediately stick him in center, but even if he can’t hack it there he should be able to handle right, which is still a more valuable position than first base. If he was playing center everyday, he’d be a surefire first round pick, but because he’s stuck at first he’s sliding down draft boards. The talent is there, it’s just not being showcased properly.