Solid win today, and now it’s time to relax with friends/family and/or our open thread. The Extra Innings package is still in the middle of a free preview, so all of tonight’s baseball games are on television somewhere. The Devils and Islanders are also in action, plus there’s the Final Four. Chat about whatever, enjoy.
Once upon a time, A.J Burnett and Brad Penny were teammates taking on the Yankees in the 2003 World Series. Well, Burnett was recovering from Tommy John surgery at the time, so he was nothing more than a spectator. Penny got the Game One start after the NLCS required all seven games, and he held the Yankees to two runs in 5.1 innings, a game Florida eventually won. In Game Five, he held New York to just two runs in seven innings, another win for the Fish. Penny’s recent history against the Yankees isn’t very good though. They tagged him for eight runs over ten innings during his 2009 stint with the Red Sox, resulting in a memorable MLB.com headline. Hopefully today leads to more of the same.
Of course, the real story of today’s game is Burnett getting his first crack at redemption, a chance to show that he’s put last year’s struggles behind him and can be a meaningful contributor to the team going forward. He showed off some revamped (but not overhauled) mechanics in Spring Training, which will hopefully help him find all those strikeouts that disappeared. Here’s the starting lineup, same as Friday’s…
A.J. Burnett, SP
Two games into the season, and we have our first FOX broadcast. How unfortunate. This game starts at 4:10pm ET, enjoy.
Pedro Feliciano Update: Via Peter Botte, the lefty says his shoulder is feeling better after a few days of rest, and he’ll play catch either Wednesday or Thursday. Three days ago we heard that he would be shut down for ten days, but he appears to be ahead of schedule. I just hope they don’t rush things and run into a setback. Brian Cashman said Feliciano was “abused” by the Mets in recent years, which apparently wasn’t enough to stop them from giving him a multi-year deal. How stupid does that sound?
This past off season the Yankees and the Red Sox rarely went head to head on free agent and trade targets. The Red Sox weren’t really ever in on Cliff Lee, and the Yankees didn’t pursue Carl Crawford (except nominally) or Adrian Gonzalez. The Sox snagged Bobby Jenks, but New York’s bullpen was already strong, even without Rafael Soriano. The most important head-to-head battle was over Russell Nathan Jeanson Coltrane Martin. After the Dodgers non-tendered him, the Red Sox and the Yankees both pursued him. The Yankees ended up winning, getting Martin to agree to a 1 year deal for $4M. It’s clear that the Red Sox landed bigger fish this December, but the Martin move was a particularly savvy move by GM Brian Cashman, one that could pay dividends well into the future.
Russell Martin won’t remind fans of Jorge Posada when he’s standing at the plate. The last time he slugged over .400 was in 2007, a year which now seems aberrant in retrospect. Instead it seems more reasonable to expect a mid .300s OBP and a high .300s SLG, giving him an OPS of around .700. PECOTA backs this up, seeing a .360 OBP and a .379 SLG in 2011. While this isn’t the level of offensive production to which Yankee fans have been accustomed, or expect in the near future with Jesus Montero, it still remains a respectable output. As Patrick Sullivan noted last week, AL catchers averaged .245/.312/.374 in 2010. Martin will clear that with ease; the only question is by how much.
The beauty of the situation is that Martin can provide above-average offense while giving the Yankees a level of defense that they haven’t seen from the starting catcher in years, except for when Jose Molina became the starter to fill in for the injured Jorge Posada in 2008. In 2007 and 2009, Martin led the National League in runners caught stealing with 41 and 33 runners caught, respectively. In 2010 he was fourth in the NL in 2010 with 27. He was charged with four passed balls in 2010, and has a bit of a reputation of having a hard time with balls in the dirt in years past. Of course, fielding breaking balls in the dirt requires rapid mobility and flexibility, and Martin has dealt with knee and hip injuries in the past few years. Those injuries have reportedly healed completely.
As a result, Martin looks more agile and limber these days and is even able to flash a bit of speed. This was on display on Thursday when he swiped third base in the 3rd inning against the Tigers. This didn’t come out of nowhere. In years past, Martin has been a speedster on the base paths, swiping 21 bases in 2007 and 18 bases the year after. His totals decreased to 11 and 6 the last two years, but again this was likely the result of the injured hip and knee. As Marc Carig noted, perhaps the Tigers weren’t expecting Martin to flash his speed of old. Carig writes:
Martin wondered after the game if the Tigers have been reading too much into his surgically-repaired knee and his surgically-repaired hip, perhaps assuming that they needn’t worry that much about the surgically-repaired Martin.
They may be wrong, of course, at least that’s what he wants to prove, though he stole his base by playing on the Tigers’ false assumption. He wanted everybody to know he was feeling fine, then changed his mind, figuring that maybe he could catch a few more teams underestimating his health.
“Tell them I feel awful, that I’m super slow right now,” Martin said, after he was anything but those things against the Tigers.
Aside from his offense, defense and agility on the basepaths, Martin provides key flexibility at the most perplexing spot in the Yankees lineup. Despite a embarrassing wealth of riches at the catching position throughout the organization and two players on the 25-man roster with the ostensible ability to handle the position, the Yankees found themselves in a position of need this winter, and reached outside the organization. In doing so, they bought themselves flexibility on three separate levels. The first is with Posada, who checks in at 39 years young this season. Repeated foul tips to the head have both Posada and the Yankees organization worried about the long-term health of his brain. This piece by Bob Klapisch showed that the Yankees had done memory tests on Posada after a September foul-tip to the head, and that Posada had not scored well. Like the 49ers and Steve Young, the organization and the player were both concerned that further injuries could lead to brain damage. Designated hitter was the safe route and the smart route.
Martin also bought the Yankees flexbility with Posada’s immediate replacement at catcher, Francisco Cervelli. While Cervelli excels in enthusiastic fist-pumping, most reasonable observers would agree that he’s best suited as a backup catcher, preferably one employed against left-handed pitchers. The signing of Martin allowed Cervelli to return to that backup role. Unfortunately, Cervelli injured his foot in Spring Training. Having a backstop capable of manning the position in his stead means that the organization can be conservative with Cervelli’s rehabilitation and afford him all the time he needs to recover. This reduces the risk of Cervelli re-injuring the foot, or compensating for it and setting of a cascade reaction injury elsewhere. Martin lets Cervelli return in his own time, and to his own more suitable role as backup.
Perhaps most importantly, Russell Martin allows the Yankees to be patient with uber-prospect, future multiple MVP-winner, future All-Star and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Jesus Montero. How’s that for hype? No matter where you come down on the media’s reading of Montero’s performance this spring, it’s obvious that important people within the Yankee organization thought that Montero wasn’t ready. Both Girardi and Cashman seemed to agree that Montero was pressing, and that his defense wasn’t what it could be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – who doesn’t love a 21 year-old wanting so badly to make the big league roster that he gets over-anxious? – but it is nice that the Yankees don’t have to thrust him into a big-league role right away. Montero can get 100 or 200 at-bats in Triple-A, abuse the pitching, and come up in a few months when he’s nice and hot.
In retrospect, it doesn’t look like Russell Martin and Los Angeles were a good fit. Both Grady Little and Joe Torre seemed intent on Proctoring Martin, overusing him until he broke, and there were times at which he didn’t get along with the front office. That’s all behind him now. Martin is entering the physical prime of his career for the Yankees this season. If it doesn’t work out, no matter. The Yankees’ catching talent pipeline is nearly clogged with talent. If it does work out though the Yankees control his rights through the 2012 season and have gotten themselves quite a bargain at a premium position.
As YES and DirecTV continue to negotiate a renewal deal, the Yankees’ network will not pull its signal from DirecTV until at least Thursday, the YES Network announced this morning. While the package deal expired yesterday, the two sides have agreed to extend their negotiating deadline until Thursday, April 7. The YES Network, a RAB partner, said it granted the extension “in order to continue negotiating with the goal of reaching a new agreement.” Today’s game is on FOX but the next five games are on YES. We will continue to follow this story.
Opening Day has come and gone and there’s lots of serious baseball in front of us. It goes without saying the the Yankees have a terrible team that will in no way make the playoffs and will certainly finish in last place and go under .500, whereas everyone else will have a surging year. Wait, sorry, I was just reading Keith Olbermann’s blog again. Whoops. Anyway, Thursday’s win was, as Mike put it back then, textbook: score runs, have good pitching, hand it over to the shutdown bullpen. While the amazingness of the bullpen may have only gone up over the offseason (despite the price tag involved), there’s one part of that pen that’s been around for a while now. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell this audience who.
Mike posted this graph on Thursday, but in baseball you have to use both a combination of your eyes and the numbers to get a complete feel of the team. This Opening Day is just another example on the 15-year pile of examples of why the Greatest Ever’s name stretches across the top of that graph and no one else can get a lock on the closer role quite like the Yankees. Relievers are volatile creatures, as we all know, and it’s weekends like these where we remember that most closers are just relievers who were good enough last year to close the ninth this year.
Dan Bard, of the Red Sox, was the go-to closer in case of continued meltdown by Jonathan Papelbon. Bard was extremely good in 2010, making 73 appearances and posting a 1.93 ERA, a 3.37 FIP, and a K/9 over 9. Not bad for a 26-year-old, and certainly deserving of a shot at keeping Opening Day tied, right? Bard’s line from yesterday looks something like this: .2 IP, 4R, 4ER, 1BB, 1K. He took the loss in the top of the ninth. Somewhere, Papelbon was feeling just a tiny bit more secure in his job. Or let’s look at John Axford, who inherited the closer roll from Trevor Hoffman: last year, he picked up the job early due to Hoffman’s inability to not blow a game, and showed he deserved it with ERA of 2.48, a FIP of 2.14, and strike out to walk ratio pushing three – with almost 12 K/9. In 2010, he picked up 24 saves in 58 IP. In 2011, he’s already managed to blow his first save of the year, giving up a 3-run last-licks home run to Ramon Hernandez and taking Edison Volquez off the hook for the three homers he himself allowed. Then there’s Brandon Lyon, in the second year of his three-year contract (what have we said about multiyear contracts for relievers?) starting the Astros off to another cellar-dwelling year. He helped out the Phillies’ push to 162-0 by getting only one out and allowing six singles, giving up the game-winner to John Mayberry Jr.
While all these other guys were running around blowing games for their teams, our guy, the guy, if I may, is coming in and getting it done. Thursday was a perfect Mariano performance, a 1-2-3 topped with strikeout looking of Alex Avila. Yes, I know there’s some obvious narrative bias going on here. Yes, I know it’s one save out of what will be many. Yes, I know that this is only one game out of 162, most of which have yet to be played. Yes, I know Mo will almost certainly blow a save at some point during the year even if I’m loathe to admit it. Yes, I know the fact that Mariano Rivera is amazing isn’t breaking news. But there’s a difference between knowing how amazing Rivera is (among other things, he’s all-time ERA+ leader with 205), and having your belief re-affirmed for yet another year. While other teams’ closers melt down, Mo’s presence effectively ends the game in the 8th. While other teams’ rotate through closers, Rivera is the go-to guy every year for the Bombers, and every year he shows everyone – including the fans – why he’s the greatest of all time.
And come on, who wants to say they blew the save on Opening Day?