Game 60: Just win

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Jay?? via Creative Commons license)

The Yankees can’t keep losing to the Red Sox, not if they plan on making some noise this season. CC Sabathia is on the mound, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera are rested … no excuses tonight. Show up and do this thing. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Brett Gardner, LF
Frankie Cervelli, C

CC Sabathia, SP

The game will start in a delay because it’s raining, but they’re expected to get this one in. Tonight’s game can be seen on My9 locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy, if you can.

Good News, For Once: Russell Martin had an MRI on his back, and it came back clean. He’s just day-to-day for the time being … Pedro Feliciano has starting throwing, but there’s still no timetable for his return.

Joba diagnosed with torn ligament, TJS likely

Joba Chamberlain has a torn ligament in his throwing elbow, Yankee manager Joe Girardi just announced in his pre-game press conference. While the Yankee pitcher hasn’t shown any symptoms of a serious injury or pain, the MRI, Girardi said, showed a tear that will “likely” require Tommy John surgery. It is unclear how much time he will miss, but it seems as though we’ve seen the last of Joba for 2011.

Joba, according to Peter Botte, is “sending [his] MRI results to [Dr. James] Andrews but not visiting him yet.” The right-handed who, said he “shed a few tears,” repeatedly said that he had no pain. “I’m not giving up,” he said.

With $17.75 million worth of relievers already on the disabled list, this news is a huge blow to the Yankees’ bullpen depth. They have posted the best bullpen in the American League so far this year, but the club will be stretched to the max as Brian Cashman works to fill some holes. Joba, 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA, had seemingly embraced his relief role this year. He had struck out 24 while walking just seven and was powering fastballs past hitters with a confidence not seen since mid-2009.

With Rafael Soriano out for a while, Joba had emerged as the club’s primary set-up role. That job will now be handed to David Robertson, and in the short term, Luis Ayala and Boone Logan will be expected to pick up the slack. The club still has Mariano and a potential ace in the hole.

Along with the Joba news, the Yanks announced that Phil Hughes was consistently hitting 92 on the radar gun and will begin his arduous Spring Training-like rehab process. He’ll start next week for the Gulf Coast League Yankees and will likely need most of the 30-day rehab clock to get his arm strength and stamina back up. While the Yankees’ starting rotation is skating on thin ice these days, the Yankees may decide to keep Hughes in the bullpen for depth. I believe that decision will depend upon whether Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman can more easily procure a starting pitcher or a reliever on the trade market.

For the Yankees and their fans, this news will inevitably be viewed through the lens of Joba’s ever-changing roles. He was a starter, a reliever, a starter, a reliever and a starter again before moving into a relief spot seemingly permanently. He suffered a mysterious shoulder injury in 2008 and was an injury risk when he was drafted in 2006. The Yanks say they kept him as a reliever to better manage the load on his shoulder, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Joba’s, and I’m more saddened by this news than I thought. While this development represents a blow to the Yanks’ bullpen, the Yanks can weather another bullpen injury far better than they can ineffective pitching from A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia or Ivan Nova. I will still trot out the 62 t-shirt this year and know that Brian Cashman has a tough task ahead of him.

All those extra swings not helping Cano

It’s something we all noticed at the start of the season, but Mike laid out the numbers last month: Robinson Cano is swinging at a ton of pitches this year. Yes, he’s always swung a lot, and has never been one to take many walks. Even his career high mark in 2011 was at least in part due to the 11 intentional walks pitchers issued him. But since then it seems as though, at least sometimes, he’s taking more pitches. Maybe that heart to hear with Kevin Long did pay dividends. Alas, checking back in on the data, nothing much has changed. Cano is still swinging at more pitches than ever, and it’s affecting his game in nearly every way.

Cano’s greatest asset has always been his ability to hit the ball hard. Pitchers can throw him anything they want, but eventually he’s going to hit it on the nose, and that’s going to make things happen. This year, however, he’s been swinging so frequently that pitchers have been able to exploit this tendency. His swinging strike rate of 7.3% is the highest of his career, and is higher than his 2010 mark by more than a half point. The rate is understandable, because he’s swinging in general more than ever: 56.7% of the 772 pitches thrown to him. That has led to the additional swinging strikes, which leads to his career high 15.4% strikeout rate. It also leads to shorter at-bats. Cano has seen just 3.15 pitches per PA this year, the same rate he had when Mike wrote about the issue last month.

The extra swings have also had a seeming effect on his BABIP. His balls in play rate is exactly on par with last year, 75 percent, but far fewer of them are dropping in for hits. That is, his .273 BABIP is miles off his .319 career mark, and even further off his 2009-2010 average of .325. The automatic reaction here is normally bad luck, and to an extend that’s true. The league average BABIP on line drives is .713, while Cano’s is .649. Of course, the difference there isn’t even a matter of a single hit; one more line drive dropping in would have raised Cano’s BABIP on liners to .737, or above the league average. The difference has been on flies and grounders, which makes it tougher to remove the luck factor. That is, weak grounders are necessarily going to produce a lower BABIP. Last year Cano had a .269 BABIP on grounders, while this year that’s just .186. They might be hard shots that found fielders, but the eyeball test sees more weak ones that make for easy outs. That would signal poor contact, more than poor luck, depressing Cano’s numbers.

That’s not to say Cano always makes poor contact. In fact, his ISO is up a bit this year thanks to a greater percentage of his hits going for extra bases. Clearly, a hitter with his skill is going to run into a few. In fact, Cano’s extra base hits to hits percentage — that is, the percentage of his hits that have gone for extra bases — is 42 percent this year, which is seven points higher than his career total and five points higher than his averages from 2009 to 2010. Could Cano actually be getting lucky in this regard? I’m not sure how much luck and how much skill goes into that, but given his swing profiles this year, it has to be at least somewhat lucky that the balls he is hitting well he’s hitting really well. That’s just spitballing, though, to be clear. The overall point is that Robbie has hit some balls tremendously hard this year, and yet his overall numbers are still down.

If Cano’s swing numbers all lined up and his BABIP were way down, I’d be inclined to write it off as luck and move onto the next topic. But it’s tough to ignore how much more frequently he’s swinging at pitches. It is leading to poorer at-bats and deflated numbers. I’m not sure there’s much of a cure; for some guys it’s tough to consciously change when you’re standing at the plate and a 95 mph fastball is headed in your direction. But if the process doesn’t change, it’s hard to see the results changing. We’re past the 1/3 point in the season, and there has been little positive movement in this regard for Cano. There’s still a chance for a turnaround, but it’s becoming less likely with each day. That doesn’t make Cano an unproductive hitter — he is tied for 3rd in wOBA among second basemen — but does mean he’s not producing to his potential.

2011 Draft Review: Part Two

Earlier today we looked at Day Two of the draft, which featured a lot of power hitters and (physically) big pitchers. Now let’s focus on Day Three, which followed a completely different theme entirely.

Rathjen's the big dude with the bat. (Photo Credit: The Houston Chronicle)

Day Three: Signability

Signability is a great little catch-all term that definitely has some connotations to it. It typically refers to a player that falls in the draft because of a strong college commitment and the likelihood that it’ll take an above-slot bonus to get them to turn pro, so guys like Dellin Betances and Austin Jackson and Bryan Mitchell are perfect examples. The primary connotation stuck to it is that the player also has high upside, which is not always the case. The Yankees loaded up on signability types on the final day of the draft, some of whom legitimately own big time potential.

The best of the bunch is high school hurler Adam Ravenelle (44th round), a 6-foot-3, 185 lb. right-hander touted as one of the best prep arms in New England. His fastball consistently sits in the low-90’s despite the need for sharper mechanics, and he’s shown the ability to spin a tight breaking ball and also fire off a quality changeup. It’s the kind of package you can dream on. Ravenelle is very raw and also very committed to Vanderbilt, so much so that Conor Glassey said (rather matter-of-factly) he will attend college in the fall in Baseball America’s review of Day Three.

The Yankees also landed a non-traditional signability guy in Jeremy Rathjen (41). The Rice center fielder took a medical redshirt this spring after tearing his ACL, and he has the added negotiating leverage of being able to go back to school as a fourth-year junior and re-enter the draft in each of the next two years, when he’d be coming off a (presumably) healthy year. Rathjen is a physical specimen at 6-foot-6 and 190 lbs., offering bat speed and plenty of power potential to go along with above-average foot speed and defense in center. A monster performer in wood bat summer leagues, he was expected to be a fourth or fifth rounder before the injury, though I’m guessing it’ll take more than a fifth round bonus ($200,000 or so) to get him to sign on the dotted line.

Another New England high schooler, right-hander Joey Maher (38), sports a heavy upper-80’s sinker that figures to add a tick or two as he fills out his 6-foot-5, 200 lb. frame. The secondary pitchers are still a work in progress, but you can’t teach that kind of natural movement on the fastball. Illinois righty Tyler Farrell (43) owns a 6-foot-2, 190 lb. frame that delivers fastballs up to 93 with a power curveball from a refined, old school drop-and-drive delivery. It was arguably the best two-pitch combo available out of the state this year. Chris McCue (35) has already figured out a changeup, a huge step in any pitcher’s development, and the right-hander also throws low-90’s gas and a downer curveball while standing just 6-foot-0 and 170 lbs. Commitments to Northeastern, Western Illinois, and North Carolina stand in the way of these three, respectively.

Outfielder Spencer O’Neil (33) apparently wants $1M to sign, which probably means the Yankees will wish him luck during his career at Oregon. He fills out a uniform well (6-foot-4, 185 lbs.) but still needs plenty of development on both sides of the ball. Righty Skylar Janisse (34) works in the 80’s with his fastball and is mostly a projection pick (6-foot-4, 200 lbs.). He’s committed to Oakland and isn’t a priority sign. Lefty Wes Benjamin (48), outfielder Ethan Springston (47), and shortstop Kevin Cornelius (42) are more lottery ticket types; the Yankees will follow their progress in the various summer showcase events before deciding on their true worth.

36th rounder Ryan Thompson. (Photo Credit: The Nashua Telegraph)

The Yankees also did a fine job grabbed some small/junior college players. Franklin Pierce righty Ryan Thompson (36) was born in Canada, grew up in the Bahamas, and spent two years at UConn before transferring this spring, a good move since his goal was to gain more exposure rather than be buried on a deep pitching staff. The 6-foot-3, 190 pounder throws a two-seamer fastball anywhere from 88-92 and also offers a slider and changeup. Thompson still has room to fill out and already has a reputation as being a guy that hold his velocity deep into games. He was expected to be more of a early-double digit rounds pick, so the Yankees got good value with the pick and will get better value if they sign him. Navarro Junior College righty Tyler Maples (49) has run his fastball up as high as 93. And as usual, the Yankees did select some college players to fill out rosters in the lower levels of the minors, namely LSU shortstop Tyler Hanover (40) and Missouri third baseman Connor Mach (46).

Following what seemed like a concerted effort to address the organization’s lack of power in Day Two, the Yankees followed a more traditional path and went for more upside in the final 20 rounds on Day Three. Aside from Ravenelle and Rathjen, the two real standouts of Day Three, Farrell and McCue are the two big upside picks. Farrell has a knockout two-pitch combo already in his back pocket and McCue has already shown three legitimate pitches with potential (rare for high schoolers) even if his size isn’t ideal. UNC doesn’t screw around either, that’s a powerhouse baseball program that only goes after the best, so that’s another feature in McCue’s cap.

The draft is like the regular season in that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. There are fifty rounds, fifty names, and fifty door number threes. One player or bad pick can’t sink a draft class, but one player sure can make it. The Yankees did a fine job of targeting upside yesterday while other clubs were filling out minor league rosters, but they lost out on the consensus best of the best by waiting until Day Three to go for that upside. Some of their early picks were reaches, so they’re going to need to sign some of these late guys to have a chance at some real impact players.

The RAB Radio Show: June 9, 2011

Nothing causes more frustration than allowing a ton of runs to the Red Sox. Add in some big time mistakes, and it has many of us flipping off the game before it’s over. While the Yanks did put up a five spot last night, it doesn’t nearly tell the story of futility that dominated the game. Mike and I talk about that, plus some changes — not reactionary, but necessary — that could come in the next few days.

Podcast run time 24:20

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  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

2011 Draft Review: Part One

It was a tale of two drafts for the Yankees. They started it off with a curious pick, taking Dante Bichette Jr. with the 51st overall selection after rumors swirled about their interest in several high-priced players that were still on the board at the time. What happened after that was a bit out of the norm. Day Two (rounds 2-30) and Day Three (31-50) had entirely different feels and apparent philosophies, so it doesn’t make sense to lump them into one recap. This is the first of two parts, the second will be along a little later.

Fourth round pick Matt Duran. (Photo Credit: Vincent DiSalvio, The Journal News)

Day Two: Power & Size

Let’s rewind to early-March, when John Sickels of Minor League Ball interviewed Yankees’ VP of baseball ops Mark Newman…

SICKELS: What about your weaknesses?

NEWMAN: Corner players with power. We have (Brandon) Laird who is a solid prospect, but we are thin for corner bats otherwise in the system. We always try to take the best players available in the draft and on the international market, and doing that can result in positional imbalance. We’re aware of it, but we would rather get as many high-end athletes as we can and worry about the rest of it later. In a perfect world you get both, of course, high-end guys who fill up the slots you need to fill.

It was pretty obvious during the first 30 rounds of the draft that the Yankees were trying to address that lack of corner power bats, just like they tried to address the lack of up-the-middle athletes in 2010. In addition to Bichette, the Yankees also took high school power hitters in first/third baseman (and local kid!) Matt Duran (4th round) and catcher/first baseman Greg Bird (5). Both are bat first players that can hit and hit with authority, but they aren’t expected to provide much value elsewhere. Prep first baseman Austin Jones (7) and Arizona State first baseman Zach Wilson (21) also fit that mold. JuCo outfielder Tyler Molinaro (15) offers pop from the left side, but he also has some athleticism and can contribute with the glove.

The two big position player prizes from Day Two are high school outfielder Jake Cave (6) and JuCo outfielder Justin James (13), son of Dion. The Yankees were connected to Cave pretty much all spring, opting to take him as a hitter rather than as a left-handed pitcher, where he’s also a quality prospect. He has some bat speed but also some swing question marks, projecting as more of a doubles guy. James shows huge power in batting practice and high-end foot speed, but he’s raw because he quit baseball to focus on basketball late in his high school career. Cave has to be bought away from LSU and James is just risky, but both offer upside and the ability to provide value on both sides of the ball.

When they weren’t taking power hitting players at corner positions, the Yankees were selecting pitchers, and big ones. Lefty Sam Stafford (2) joins righties Jordan Cote (3), Phil Wetherell (8), Jonathan Gray (10), Hayden Sharp (18), Jordan Foley (26), and Scott Hoffman (29) as hurlers that stand 6-foot-4 or taller, with Sharp topping the group at 6-foot-6. Four others check in at 6-foot-3. In addition to size they all share velocity, all capable of throwing in the low-90’s. Sharp again tops the group in this category; he’s run it up as high as 98 this spring.

However, despite all of these big pitching prospects, many of them are just relievers. Zach Arneson (9), Ben Paullus (19), Nik Goody (22), Brooks Belter (25), John Brebbia (30), and Wetherell were all relievers in college while Gray and Brandon Pinder (16) project to be the same in pro ball. That’s eight of the 21 pitchers they selected on Day Two. The best of the bunch is Wetherell, who sits 92-95 with a legitimate swing-and-miss splitter. Arneson sports a big time fastball (up to 96) but little in the way of secondary pitches, while the others are generic high-80’s/low-90’s guys trying to figure out a second pitch.

Second round pick Sam Stafford. (Photo Credit: Bill Calzada, The San Antonio Express-News)

Now that I’ve had some time to look things over, I consider Stafford the best pitching prospect the Yankees selected in the entire draft. Southpaws that have shown 95-96 mph velocity with a curveball that can be unhittable at times are a rare breed, he just has to figure out a way to have both at the same time and work on his overall consistency. Starter Corey Maines (23) is a garden variety sinker-slider guy and Matt Tracy (24) was a two-way player at Mississippi, so his mound experience is limited.

The starting pitchers are going to have to come from the high schoolers, a group led by Cote, Sharp, Mark Montgomery (11), Rookie Davis (14), Matt Troupe (17), Dan Camarena (20), and Chaz Hebert (27). Cote is the best prospect of the group in terms of projection and upside, but it’ll take an above-slot bonus to pry him away from Coastal Carolina. He’ll sit in the low-90’s and show two distinct breaking balls, though finding consistent mechanics and turning some raw tools into baseball skills is the challenge that lies ahead. Camarena is the best prospect of the bunch in terms of present day ability; he’s a legitimate three pitch left-hander with command of a low-90’s fastball and an advanced changeup. A San Diego commitment must be bought out to get him to turn pro. Davis has garnered some attention as a low-90’s fastball/developing slider righty, but there’s some Melky Cabrera Syndrome going on here. He’s getting hyped up because he has a cool name.

From here, it appears that the Yankees went into Day Two with an agenda to find power hitters and power relievers, and that’s exactly what they did. Most of the big bat guys figure to wind up at first base though, which could lead to a logjam, but we’re a long way from worrying about that. Cote, Sharp, and Camarena are three very interesting arms that may or may not sign (I’m guessing they get Cote and at least one of the other two), but they’re all several years off. The college relief crop is deep enough that one or two of those guys will end up viable big league options down the road. The glaring weakness here is the overall lack of significant upside outside of James, Stafford, Cote, and Sharp.

Day Two of the draft wasn’t great for New York but by no means was it a total loss or anything like that. I don’t necessarily agree with hoarding useful pieces that appear to fit an organizational need more than anything else instead of gunning for players with star potential, but that’s what they did. As always, we can begin to really evaluate the talent influx once we see who actually signs, but the early returns from Day Two are somewhere between “okay” and “decent.”

The Alfredo Aceves Mistake

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

Last night’s loss to the Red Sox sucked for a million different reasons, and Al Aceves recording the final eleven outs was just salt on the wounds. He wasn’t great by any means, serving up singles to the first two men he faced before Derek Jeter* took the wind out of the Yankees’ sails with the bases loaded double play to end the sixth inning, but he was effective. We’re used to seeing that from Aceves following his stint in New York, and now ten weeks into the 2011 season, it’s pretty obvious the Yankees completely screwed up by letting him walk.

As you probably remember, Aceves’ final game as a Yankee came against the team he pitches for now, the Red Sox. The Yankees were in Fenway Park when he threw both a pitch and his back out all in one motion last May, an injury that kept him on the shelf the rest of the season. It was eventually diagnosed as a herniated disc, and two different attempts at rest and rehab resulted in setbacks. Then after the season, Aceves fractured his clavicle when he fell off his bike, an activity that may or may not have been against his back rehab regime. We have no idea and it’s unfair to speculate one way or the other.

That broken clavicle was supposed to keep Aceves on the sidelines for three months, meaning he would be a few weeks behind the other pitchers in Spring Training. The right-hander was non-tendered the very next day (relative to when we found out about the injury, not when it actually happened), and Brian Cashman explained the decision like so…

“Because of the back issue, we could not give him [a major league contract]. He was throwing off the mound for us and he always hit a wall,” Cashman said. “So we ultimately continued to fail throughout the entire process to get him off the DL and active. He had a lot of success for a period of time, but then ultimately we’d had to take steps back and we’d have to shut him down and re-do the treatment.

“We decided to non-tender him and offer him a non-guaranteed deal. But obviously when healthy you certainly know what he can do.”

Aceves sat in the free agent pool for a while, reportedly drawing interest from the Rockies, but it wasn’t until early-February that he signed a big league deal with Boston worth $650,000. He reportedly to camp completely healthy on the first day, showing that he was well ahead of schedule with the clavicle rehab, and he’s been healthy ever since. In 41 big league innings this year, he owns a 3.29 ERA and a 4.25 FIP. He also threw another eight innings in Triple-A.

I don’t know who it was and we probably won’t ever know for sure, but someone on the Yankees’ made a big mistake here. Maybe it was the medical staff that evaluated Aceves, maybe it was Cashman, maybe it was someone else we don’t even know exists or maybe it was all of them. Whoever it was, Aceves’ condition was misevaluated and the Yankees foolishly let an asset walk away. That he joined their biggest rival, both historically and with regards to the 2011 AL East title, just adds insult to injury.

The facts of the matter are this: Aceves was still in his pre-arbitration years (so the Yankees could have renewed his salary for something close to the league minimum), he had four years of team control left, he had two minor league options remaining, and he also had (has, really) a history of back trouble. Remember it kept him on the shelf a few times in both 2008 and 2009 as well. At that point of the non-tendering, the Yankees were still unsure about Andy Pettitte‘s status for 2011 and they still appeared to be the front-runner for Cliff Lee. But still, Aceves’ experience working both as a starter and as a reliever is nothing but a plus. I don’t put much stock into the whole “he can pitch in New York” thing, but we all knew he could do that as well.

The risk was minimal. We’re talking about a 40-man roster spot (and there were seven or eight open at the time of the non-tendering) and a six-figure salary, which is peanuts to pretty much every club, especially the Yankees. It’s not like they had to keep him in the show no matter either; he has options and could go down if he was performing poorly or something. That flexibility is something you usually something you don’t get from free agents. Instead of assuming that little bit of risk, they got cute and tried to bring him back on a minor league deal when they would have been able to sent him to the minor leagues anyway. It essentially boils down to the 40-man spot and the salary, which is a little ridiculous.

It’s not a massive, franchise crippling blunder or anything like that, but the Yankees absolutely screwed up by non-tendering Aceves. That he went to the Red Sox only makes it worse, but it would have been bad even if he joined those Rockies or another team. Even if he blows his back out tomorrow, the evaluation of his condition was obviously wrong and a potentially valuable piece was let go for nothing. With $19.15M worth of relievers on the disabled list and the likes of Amaury Sanit, Jeff Marquez, and Lance Pendleton in the bullpen, the Yankees really could use a multi-inning option with experience in the late-innings right now.  There’s no other way to put it, they straight up screwed the pooch by non-tendering Aceves.

* Brett Gardner gets an assist.