Mailbag: Offense, Soriano, Nova, Pitching, Situational Hitting

Travis asks: How does this NY Yankee team (lineup and rotation/bullpen) stack up against the 2009 team? I feel like this team is better, which makes it also feel like the other American League teams are getting better, but at a quicker pace.

In terms of hitting relative to the league — which is really the only thing that matters — the 2011 Yankees are a bit better than the 2009 team. They have a 121 wRC+ (21 percent better than league average), while the 2009 team had a 118 wRC+. Of course, the 2009 team also did that in a whole 162-game season, while the 2011 season is still playing out. By the end I expect they’ll end up in a similar spot.

It might not be that the AL is getting better. The run environment is much lower this season. Since fewer runs have scored overall, things might seem a bit closer. Regardless, the Yankees do have a top two offense in the league. The only real difference is that Boston has an offense that’s just as good. That was missing in ’09.

The real difference comes from the pitching staff. In 2009 they had a 4.28 ERA and 4.32 FIP, and had the seventh lowest runs allowed per game. In 2011 they have a 3.64 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and have the third lowest runs allowed per game. So even after adjusting for the lower run environment, they’re still out-pitching the 2009 team by a decent margin.

Paul asks: What are the chances Soriano decides he doesn’t want to be the 7th inning guy next year and opts out? How bad would that really be, considering what he gets paid (yes, he is obviously talented)?

I’d put his opt-out chances at slim to nil. Not only does he now have another injury red flag, but he has the two more expensive years of his contract ahead. That is, he’s made $10 million this year and would be leaving $25 million on the table by opting out. Could he do better than 2/25 on the open market? There’s a decent free agent class of closers, including Heath Bell and K-Rod, but the more I look at it the more I’m convinced that Soriano would be a better option than them. But they’d have to know they could get more than $25 million, and I don’t think that’s guaranteed right now. Expect Soriano in pinstripes next year.

John asks: Can Ivan Nova win the Rookie of the Year?

Stephen actually covered Ivan Nova’s chances at the AL Rookie of the Year Award this past weekend. Make sure to give that article a read. He has quality numbers, sure, but the wins are really the thing that the voters will focus on. There are some more deserving candidates, in my opinion. But if Nova pitches well down the stretch and ends with 17 or 18 wins, the old school voters could place his name atop the ballot.

Biggie asks: With Weaver off the board who do you prefer coming out of the 2012 class?

I’ve always been a big fan of John Danks. It’s hard not to think of Andy Pettitte when watching him, and it’s always palatable to have a lefty in Yankee Stadium. Cole Hamels is another swell option, not only because he’s a lefty but because he’s a lefty with good control and excellent strikeout numbers. The class kind of fades a bit from there. The Yanks probably won’t consider Zack Greinke, and Matt Cain allows a few too many fly balls for comfort (and wouldn’t have the spacious confines of AT&T Park to aid him).

Ranking them in terms of desire, I’d probably go Hamels, Danks, Cain, Greinke. I suspect at least two will have signed extensions by then, though.

Paul asks: The Yankees are seemingly historically bad at small-balling in a run from 3rd with 0 or 1 outs. How bad are they really?

This notion, I suspect, is merely frustration from the first two games in the series. Entering play yesterday the Yankees were hitting .356/.362/.663 with a runner on third and less than two outs, with 44 sac flies. That OPS is the best in the league, and the 44 sac flies is second best. With a runner on third and two outs the Yankees are hitting .314/.406/.522, again leading the league in OPS (by a wide margin). They also lead in batting average in those situations, by 40 points.

In other words, the Yankees are absolutely stellar when a man stands on third base, regardless of how many outs there are. And, again, that doesn’t even count yesterday’s game. (Baseball-Reference hadn’t updated when I did this, and plus it’s awesome to see the numbers before yesterday, anyway.)

Willie asks: With Tabatha getting a new contract, can we use his value to see what an extension for Brett Gardner would be worth?

The two aren’t really comparable, because of service time. Tabata didn’t come up until mid-2010, and so has a few more reserve clause years before he even hits arbitration. Gardner, on the other hand, will reach arbitration after this season, so he will necessarily make more than Tabata. As Mike mentioned in a previous mailbag, Gardner might not make a lot in an arbitration hearing. I’m not sure if that favors the Yankees signing him to an extension or letting him go year-to-year.

Giants slam Raiders 22-9

At around 6 p.m., I had to leave my apartment in Brooklyn to head to Manhattan for the evening. When I left the house, the Yankees had just begun their half of the 7th inning. Already, the team had hit two grand slams to overcome a 7-1 deficit, and they weren’t finished. So in the amount of time it took me to walk to the 7th Ave. stop, take the Q to Herald Square and walk to the bar, the Yanks didn’t even finish their half of the 7th. It was one of those games that ended with a football score, and to think that a few hours earlier, we had been bemoaning the Yanks’ lack of hitting with a runner on third and less than two outs.

The good in this game far outweighed the bad. The Yanks set a Major League record with three grand slams in one game. They went 10 for 21 with runners in scoring position. They walked 12 times in three innings. They mashed away two games worth of frustrating losses to a mediocre Oakland club, and Derek Jeter boosted his average to the .300 mark for a few innings. And to think I was rooting for a rainout in the third inning. That should teach me a lesson.

For the Yankees, it’s tough to pick a true hero. Russell Martin‘s grand slam — his second longball of the day — gave the Yanks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, and it was one of the better comebacks of the season. We’ll get to Phil Hughes in a minute, but after being down 7-1, I had nearly given up on the game. I couldn’t shut the TV, and my personal perseverance paid off. Martin, by the way, finished the game 5 for 5 with 6 RBI and is now hitting .243/.332/.429 with 17 HR. If he can shake off his mid-season slump and finish strong, the Yanks will be thrilled. Robinson Cano‘s grand slam brought the team back into the game, and Curtis Granderson‘s was the icing on the cake.

There were, of course, a few negatives. Despite his 3 for 6 day, Jeter, who may have broken up with Minka Kelly, stranded nine runners. Mark Teixeira failed to pick up a hit and seems mired in a slump. Brett Gardner left the bases loaded twice, and Joe Girardi probably should have pinch hit for him in the 5th with lefty Craig Breslow on the mound and Andruw Jones on the bench. Those bumps seemed minor when the dust settled four and a half hours after this marathon began.

That’s mostly just nitpicking though. The true negative was Phil Hughes. He couldn’t last the third, and through the first 1.2 innings, he had thrown 50 pitches with just one swing-and-miss strike. He was sitting in the low 90s again with no out pitch and no real strike pitch either. He ended up striking out five in 2.2 innings, but he also allowed six runs on seven hits. Cory Wade allowed both inherited runners to score, but after Hughes’ solid outing against the Twins, this was a clear step back.

So the Yanks’ bats work. After two and a half games of frustration, they overcame the demons of driving in runners from third with less than two outs. They pounded a vulnerable pitching staff and did what we expected them to do all along. Of course, their starting rotation remains in flux, and their starters’ ERA in August is well over 5. At some point, someone will have to step up to be that second starter behind CC Sabathia, but if the bats are going to explode more often than not, the starters don’t need to be quite that good yet. It was a very good day.

For more on this ridiculous game, check out Chad Jennings’ recap. He has a great slew of notes from this game. Also, props to Boone Logan for holding down the A’s at a key moment. He recorded four outs and all by the strike out. His work was overshadowed by the offensive explosion, but he earned that win today. Also, Jorge Posada at second base. That’s a good one.

Montero’s two bombs power Scranton

Thanks to RobertJGreco on Twitter, we have video of Jesus Montero‘s two bombs. One is embedded above; here’s number two.

Triple-A Scranton (4-1 win over Rochester)
Chris Dickerson, CF: 3 for 5, 1 R, 1 K – 7 for his last 17. (.412)
Kevin Russo, 2B, Mike Lamb, 1B: 1 for 4 – Lamb K’d once.
Jesus Montero, C: 2 for 3, 2 HR’s, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – No grand slam? He must be bored. 7 for his last 18 (.389) with 2 doubles and 4 home runs, boosting his home run total to 17 on the season. This is the perfect time to get hot, and his OPS for August is well over .900.
Brandon Laird, 3B, Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 4
Jordan Parraz, RF, Raymond Kruml, LF, Gustavo Molina, DH: 0 for 3, 1 BB – Kruml K’d once, and Parraz twice.
DJ Mitchell, RHP: 6.2 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K’s, 9-3 GO/FO – 70 of his 106 pitches were strikes.
Scott Proctor, RHP: 1.1 IP, 2 K’s, zeroes
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1.0 IP, 2 K’s, zeroes
[Read more…]

With Irene looming, O’s torpedo DH switch

After the Yanks and A’s wrap up their game this afternoon, the Bombers will head to Baltimore for a five-game set which includes a Saturday double header. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irene is also heading to Baltimore, and it’s likely to arrive on Saturday with rains through Sunday. To ensure that the two clubs could get in as many games as possible, the Yankees asked the Orioles and Major League Baseball to switch the double header to tomorrow, but Baltimore and MLB both declined to do so.

According to Jack Curry, who spoke on the topic during the Yankee broadcast, the club and the Commissioner’s Office believe that Monday can be a “cushion.” If any games are rained out this weekend, the two teams can play a double header on Monday instead. In my opinion, that ignores the weather forecast. It’s possible that three games will be rained out this weekend. Had they rescheduled the DH for tomorrow, they could have gotten ensured four games with a potential DH on Monday. Now, if Irene hits as predicted, they may get only three games in. Silly Orioles.

Game 128: Delayed by Rain

(Photo Credit: Flickr user notladj via Creative Commons license)

Whoo-pee. The game isn’t going to start on time, because it’s raining. Which it will do all weekend. Also, apparently the Yankees talked to the Orioles about playing a doubleheader tomorrow, to get a bit ahead of the rain. The O’s reportedly refused. I get why they wouldn’t want to help the Yanks, but why not be a bit more accommodating when there is a known weather issue in the area? I guess you can be a dick when the games are meaningless to you.

(May the Orioles have many more meaningless games in their future.)

In good news, A-Rod is tentatively in the lineup, though he has to get through a pre-game workout. I haven’t seen anything that suggests he’s been removed, so it looks like he’ll actually play today.


1. Derek Jeter, DH
2. Curtis Granderson, CF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Russell Martin, C
8. Eduardo Nunez, SS
9. Brett Gardner, LF

And on the mound, number sixty-five, Phil Hughes.

Every start a big one for Hughes

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Anna Moony via Creative Commons license)

In about 90 minutes Phil Hughes will deliver his first pitch of the afternoon to the A’s. It will be an important pitch; so will every pitch he throws for the rest of the season. Given the current state of the rotation, the Yankees absolutely need Hughes to step up down the stretch and play a prominent role in the playoff rotation.

As Ben wrote yesterday, Bartolo Colon has faded of late. He hasn’t been bad, per se, but he hasn’t been the model of efficiency that we saw from April through June. Who knows how much he has left in the tank at this point. Maybe the Yankees can get him some rest in the next month and have him ready again for the playoffs, but that’s no guarantee. Knowing what we do about his age and history, it’s tough to pencil him in at this point for a playoff rotation spot.

Then there’s A.J. Burnett, who needs no further description. He’ll have to pitch impeccable ball in the next month in order to even sniff the playoff rotation. The Yankees appear to be in the same position as last year, where they simply can’t afford to start him in the postseason unless absolutely necessary. If, in fact, they can’t start Colon, that would necessarily move Burnett up in the pecking order. This is why Hughes is so important.

Since his return from the DL Hughes has been generally effective, though not entirely convincing. He’s had one serious clunker, which coincidentally came against the A’s at home. He also looked shaky in his next start against Seattle, though due to their horrible offense he escaped relatively unharmed. All told he’s produced a 3.70 ERA in 41.1 innings since his July 6th return. The only issue is that in that time he has a 25:14 K/BB ratio, which is pretty terrible. The walks are OK, but the strikeouts are way down from the level we’ve come to expect from Hughes.

Things have gotten a bit better in August. Hughes has started three games and has thrown 19.2 innings, allowing just three runs while striking out 12 and walking four. Again, the strikeouts are a bit low, 5.49 per nine, though he’s kept his walk rate low enough to help mask that. He’s also allowed only two homers. This is important for Hughes, because he’s still recovering from his early season — I’m not even sure what to call it. But he had just a short rehab stint, and really had to spend his July starts getting back into shape. It doesn’t excuse his poor performances, but it does put them into better perspective.

Today he needs to build on what he’s been doing and continue to progress towards being the pitcher he was in the first half of 2010. It’s crucial for the Yankees now, as they need a few healthy and effective pitchers to help mask the foibles of Colon and the ineffectiveness of Burnett. But more importantly, they need Hughes to work his way into the playoff rotation. They need four men for that, and right now he’s on the brink. Making progress in his next few starts, which will include missing more bats, is crucial to the Yankees chances when they reach the postseason.

This brings up the all-important question: what will it take for the Yankees to fully trust Hughes? Clearly the results have been there lately, so that provides one level of assurance. But what else will it take? Will they be satisfied if he continues to produce results without missing bats? How many bad starts can he afford before they lose confidence? What will it take for him to solidify a spot in the postseason rotation? These are all big questions that he will have to answer down the stretch. It all starts today at 1 p.m.*

*Weather permitting.