Saturday Open Thread

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The Yankees got themselves a win as well as a new pitcher today. Carlos Silva isn’t great or even good for that matter, but Phil Hughes has been awful and Kevin Millwood apparently looks like crap in Extended Spring Training, so it’s good to add the depth. Anyway, here’s the open thread for the night. You’ve got baseball all over the place due to the Extra Innings free preview, plus the Islanders are playing their last game of the season. If you feel like scoreboard watching, keep an eye on the Hurricanes and Lightning; anything but a Canes’ win gets the (NY) Rangers into the playoffs. Talk about whatever your heart desire, go nuts.

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The Chavez-Rodriguez-Posada connection

One of the downsides to Wednesday’s rainout against Minnesota in New York was that fans were prevented from getting their first glimpse of the new Yankee bench, particularly Eric Chavez. Fortunately Chavez got the nod today at DH and took advantage. As of post time, Chavez was 3 for 4 with two doubles, an RBI and a run. Brian Cashman signed Chavez this offseason to be a backup infielder, and his role on the team is to stay healthy and spell Rodriguez at 3B whenever Alex needs a day off. He can also DH, a role he took on today against Boston. When the Yankees signed Chavez, some criticized the move based on his extensive injury history. It’s hard to argue with these critics. Click here to navigate to Baseball Prospectus’ player card for Chavez (free for non-subscribers), and scroll down to his Injury History. It’s incredible. Regardless, no one can deny the fact that Chavez managed to stay healthy throughout Spring Training and now occupies a role on the 2011 New York Yankees. Indeed, not only is Chavez healthy but Mark Prior is currently healthy as well. Cats, dogs, living together as one. Presuming Chavez can stay healthy enough to play 1 or 2 games a week an interesting question arises: are the Yankees better on the days in which Chavez plays 3B and Rodriguez DHs than they are on the days in which Rodriguez plays 3B and Posada DHs? The answer is no, but it’s probably closer than most realize.

There are two questions that must be answered. The first is how much value the club receives, if any, by replacing Rodriguez on the field with Chavez. Chavez has long had the reputation of being a defensive wizard. As Mike noted when the Yankees brought him to camp on a minor-league deal, his best days in Oakland were days of double-digit UZRs at the hot corner. Now, whether some of this defensive skill has eroded over time due to injury, age or loss of flexibility remains to be seen. It’s logical that he won’t be as agile as he’s been in the past, or have the same arm strength. He at least has the pedigree. Rodriguez, on the other hand, doesn’t grade out particularly well at 3B. He’s shown increased mobility this spring, likely due to his hip injury finally healing all the way, but even before that they only time he showed a positive UZR at 3B was in 2004. Every year since then the grades have been below-average. This isn’t a case in which the defensive metrics disagree with what fans see, like how UZR and fans disagree on Teixeira. Most fans would likely agree that Rodriguez’s defensive pedigree is more or less average. Certainly none would label Rodriguez a plus defender. In the past, Chavez has been a plus defender. If he’s able to regain some of that defensive form at third, it’s likely going to be a bit of a defensive upgrade when Chavez is in the game.

The second question is how much value the club loses, if any, by replacing Posada at the plate with Chavez. In his heyday, Chavez was a very productive hitter. From 2000 to 2004 (arbitrary start/endpoint alert) Chavez hit .280/.357/.513, averaging exactly 30 home runs per year. Unfortunately, his offensive production and his ability to stay healthy started to decline after that. In 2005 and 2006 Chavez put together an OPS of .791. This would be the last time Chavez would play over 100 games, and since then his inconsistent health has prevented him from getting back on solid offensive ground. He is fully healthy, for now, but it remains difficult to know what to expect from him offensively. His playing-time adjusted PECOTA projection is .231/.300/.379, a line that not-coincidentally mirrors his 2010 line of .234/.276/.333. Marcel has him at .237/.292/.365. Given how these systems are constructed, weighting past performance heavily, such a pessimistic projection isn’t at all surprising. Yet, there’s considerable upside there. As Mike put it back in March, the number one question is the health:

His 3-or-3 effort in yesterday’s game bumped his admitted small (18 PA) spring line to .471/.500/.529, and based on the radio broadcasts, many of his outs have been hard hit as well…

Anyway, as good as the early camp stats are, the bat really isn’t the question with Chavez. I mean yeah, it kinda is since he’s hit just .233/.290/.399 in 628 plate appearances spread out over the last four seasons, but the biggest challenge he has to overcome is his health.

Chavez has a gigantic platoon split. In his career against lefties he has batted .237/.305/.392, but he’s hammered righties to the tune of .279/.359/.514. While no one expects him to regain his .875 OPS form, if he’s used exclusively against righties it perhaps wouldn’t be a surprise to see him settle in around .750. For his part, Jorge Posada can likely outproduce that by a decent margin. He’s a lifetime .855 OPS hitter and doesn’t have to bear the physical toll of catching this year. Posada can focus exclusively on his craft. He’s slumping right now, and spent today’s game on the bench, but would anyone be surprised if he cleared his 2010 OPS of .811 in 2011? It’s a reasonable bet that Posada will outproduce Chavez at the plate this year. By how much largely depends on proper usage (Chavez should face only RHP), whether the two of them will stay healthy, and whether Chavez’s lefty swing can take advantage of the dimensions of Yankee Stadium.

Ultimately this is a moot point. It’s not as if Chavez is going to suddenly supplant Rodriguez as the every day third baseman, forcing Rodriguez to the DH position and Posada to a bench role. However, thanks to his past defensive prowess and skill against right-handed pitchers Chavez has the potential to be better than your average defensive replacement. Yankee fans have become accustomed to bench players who either can’t hit (Pena, Nunez) or can’t field (Thames). In Chavez the team has a guy with the potential to do a little of both. Of course, potential has always been and will always be the operative word with Eric Chavez. But hey, hope springs eternal.

Note: I’ve had this post in the hopper all week. As I mentioned on Twitter, I’m well aware that it probably looks like I wrote it in the past hour after Chavez’s big day today. You’ll just have to take my word for it :)

Yankees sign Carlos Silva

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees have signed Carlos Silva to a minor league contract that has an opt-out date. The Cubbies are on the hook for his entire 2011 salary after releasing him ($11.5M), so the only thing the Yankees will have to pay him in the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. The Yanks, says Sherman, will send him down to extended Spring Training in Tampa in an effort to ” get [him] in shape” before shipping him off to a farm club.

Late last month we heard that the team had no plans to pursue the right-hander, but apparently they changed their mind (probably after seeing Phil Hughes‘ awful start to the season). Larry Rothschild was his pitching coach in Chicago, so I’m sure he had some input here. I’m not a Silva fan because of the whole pitch to contact thing, but I’m not going to complain about a deal that costs the team next to nothing. The depth doesn’t hurt.

Game Eight: Super Nova

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Yesterday’s loss was frustrating but that’s life. Games like that happen over the course of a season. The Yankees managed to score five runs without the benefit of a homer and non-Phil Hughes/Boone Logan pitchers kept the Red Sox bats at bay. Those are pretty much the only positives.

The ball goes to Ivan Nova today, who is facing most of Boston’s hitters for the first time. He made one start and one relief appearance against the Sox last year, but the only holdovers from those lineups that are starting today are J.D. Drew, David Ortiz, and Jed Lowrie. Like most pitchers, Nova thrives on facing batters than haven’t seen him before, but then again this Boston lineup isn’t filled with normal hitters. Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis … those are stars of the first order, it might not matter that they’ve never seem before.

Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Eric Chavez, DH
Russell Martin, C

Ivan Nova, SP

It’s a 1:10pm ET start, and the game will be broadcast by FOX. Two FOX games in the first two weeks of the season just isn’t cool, man. Try to enjoy the game.

Yankees Attendance No Catastrophe

The following post is written for commenter Ross in Jersey, who told me he would donate $1 for every Tex RBI to the RAB Pledge Drive if I wrote an entire article without periods or ending punctuation and still had it make sense, and I figured  the flame comments I’d get from people lacking in reading comprehension were a small price to pay for helping inner city kids

"It's April, so I can only hit home runs when 40,000 no ones are here" (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

One of the reasons the Yankees are such amazing winners is that they have the financial power to make up for a lacking farm or surround the farm talent with high-powered free agents like CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, and one of the places that that virtually unlimited cash flow comes from are the droves and droves of fans that pour through the gates of Yankee stadium to see these people play – the “Yankee Universe,” as it’s been coined by the Yankees organization, is one of, if not the biggest fan following in professional sports, and plenty of fans are at home ready to shell out cash, hop on a subway, train, car or bus and head to the House that Ruth (or perhaps Jeter, nowadays) Built, and people take notice when the seats aren’t filled in the stadium in the Bronx – no matter what the reason is for that and regardless of the numbers that count or the rest of the stadiums around the country, and quite frankly, the attention that has been drawn to the record-setting lows in the new stadium (sounds scary now, huh?) is pretty absurd

The record-setting low that was set for attendance in Yankee Stadium 3 was 40,267 – only 40,267, really – and that seems like a decent number of fans to turn out for one game in any sport, in any organization, and keep in mind, it doesn’t matter to the Yankees how many people actually show up to a game, just how many people buy tickets, because even if you make the stadium look empty on TV (and on a cold day, Legends needs no help with that, zing), you’re still contributing to the massive Yankees cash flow, and honestly the bottom line is all that matters when we get down to the nitty gritty of the whole thing, because looking embarrasing on TV does not pay Mark Teixeira, but buying a season ticket package and deciding not to go to a game does

Those people with season tickets who decided not to come are not, by default, Yankee haters, nor does that make them terrible fans, especially because a usual April day in New York is chilly, with a cold breeze and often rain and the third game of the year has no leverage for people to brave the weather to show up, such as is the case during Opening Day – that record low was set on a cold (average 49°F, with a low of 41°F), rainy, windy day – just the kind of day no one wants to be outside for an extended period of time for, and if you have season tickets and don’t mind blowing the money, the perfect day to skip a ballgame or StubHub your tickets, and unless you’re desperate to see the Yankees, no one on StubHub is flying to pick up tickets for such a miserable day, and that’s really what it comes down to after all – people go to ballgames to have fun, after all, and sometimes the weather just makes having fun impossible, and so there’s no reason to show up

For a little perspective on the matter, a table:

Obviously, small sample size applies, but all of these teams have played two different teams at home, and I’m fairly sure that the oh-so-terrible showing of 40,267 fans will not lead the Yankees to become bottom feeders or force them to start shedding salary – what matters to the team’s wallet is how many tickets are sold, not how many people show up, and the wallet is the most important part of an organization that uses its massive financial might to help itself win

Moral of the story: no one likes going to a baseball game when it’s miserable out, even if your team is amazing, even fewer people are interested in low-leverage April games that happen to fall on those miserable days, and the Yankees, once again, have the power to make something that means absolutely nothing newsworthy

Red Sox rough up Hughes for first win of 2011

It was bound to happen at some point, it’s just unfortunate it had to happen against the Yankees. The Red Sox won their first game of the 2011 season on Friday, eight days after New York captured its first W. It was a fairly typical Yankees-Red Sox game in that it featured a lot of offense, a lot of pitching changes, and lasted about four hours.

The Phil Hughes Problem

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

For the second straight start, Hughes was simply awful. He was actually worse than his first start against the Tigers, both in line score (2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 0 K) and overall look. Phil’s fastball was fast in name only, topping out at 91.9 mph (one of just eight pitches over 90) and averaging just 89.84 mph. His breaking balls just tumbled, they didn’t have any sharp break and were just spinning in place it seemed. Of his 47 pitches, 30 (!!!) were cutters, and that’s no way for a non-Mariano Rivera pitcher to live.

“[I was] just trying to find a way to get [batters] out,” said Hughes after the game, essentially admitting that he has no answers for his troubles. He pitched defensively, afraid to come near the zone and challenge hitters, and he paid dearly. The Yankees can talk all they want about not being worried because they believe he’ll find the missing velocity, but they should be concerned. You almost hope he’s hurt in some way (not seriously, of course), because at least then we’d have some kind of explanation. I assume the team will have Phil checked out medically (MRI or whatever) just to be certain; they’d be foolish not to.  Their prized 24-year-old right-hander looks like a shell of his former self.

What’s the solution? I wish I knew. In my completely amateur opinion, I think they should let Hughes take another turn or two just to see what happens, because maybe it is something as simple as building up arm strength. If that doesn’t work, then you consider a disabled list stint or a trip to minors since Kevin Millwood’s opt-out date will be fast approaching. The Phil Hughes that was on the yesterday was not a Major League pitcher, and there has to be concern.

Like a boss. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Bartolo Colon Solution

Hughes was relieved by a guy who knows all about losing stuff and fighting back, and boy, was Colon sharp. He worked both sides of the plate with two fastballs, a straight four-seamer and a running two-seamer that resulted in quite a few called strikes. Colon used the Greg Maddux pick rather effectively a few times to strike out lefties, throwing that two-seamer inside and having it dart back over the inside the corner. For my money, I don’t know if there’s a prettier pitch in baseball. Here, look. Gorgeous. (thx Rich Iurilli)

Colon threw 62 pitches over 4.1 innings, striking out five against just two hits and one walk. He allowed an unearned run in the fifth then one earned run when he wasn’t even on the mound, but we’ll get to that in a bit. After Hughes’ awful two innings, Colon gave the Yankees plenty of time to get back in the game, and frankly he looks like he belongs in the rotation. It was only one outing of course, but if the Yanks do end up having to yank Phil from the rotation at some point, Bartolo made a fine case for a starting spot today. Give that man a round of applause.

The Boone Logan Problem

With Pedro Feliciano on the shelf for what I’m just assuming is indefinitely at this point, Logan is the guy Joe Girardi is going to turn to to get out tough lefties. Three appearances into the season, he hasn’t come close to doing that. With a man on first in the seventh, Logan ran a 3-1 count to David Ortiz before allowing a double off the monstah. A full count to J.D. Drew and an RBI single followed that, a run that was charged to Colon. Logan allowed the first five left-handed batters he faced this year to reach base before retiring Jacoby Ellsbury to end that inning.

I saw some people jump on Girardi for lifting Colon, but I don’t agree with that for a second. That’s all on Logan, he’s got to get the job done there, plain and simple. For a guy whose track record of success in the big leagues consists of like, 20 innings at the end of last season, Logan needs to improve his performance and fast. He’s not exactly an indispensable cog in the machine.

General Awfulness

Mark Teixeira went 0-for-4 with a walk and is now hitless in his last eleven at-bats. Jorge Posada took an 0-for-4 as well and is hitless in his 14 at-bats. That dates back to his second inning homer off Scott Baker in the first game of the Twins’ series. Russell Martin has two hits (both singles) in his last 13 at-bats, and Curtis Granderson has just three singles in his last 20 at-bats, though one came in this game. That’s a lot of slumping bats in the lineup at one time.

Derek Jeter‘s 1-for-5 effort was marred by sixth inning double play that ended the inning. The Yankees had men on first and second at the time and were down by just a run, and former Yank Al Aceves was asking for trouble, missing his spots badly. Jeter let him off the hook though, the double play checked in at -.143 WPA. The only play that decreased New York’s chances of winning more was Dustin Pedroia’s two-run single in the second (-.176 WPA). If that wasn’t bad enough, the Cap’n popped up a first pitch bunt after John Lackey walked Brett Gardner to lead off the game. Lackey walked two batters in the inning and the Yankees ended up scoring two runs despite Jeter gift-wrapping Boston an out.

For the second straight game, Tex let a playable ball slip under his glove for a run scoring hit. Maybe we’ve set our standards too high because of his glovework over the last two years, but those are balls he’s got to scoop up to save some runs. Just knock it down at least.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Bright Spots

We’ve talked enough about the bad stuff, let’s make sure we mention the silver linings as well. Brett Gardner was awesome, reaching base four times thanks to a double, a triple, and a pair of walks. He also stole a base and saw 23 pitches in five trips to the plate, and has reached base in six of his last eight plate appearances. That’s more like it.

Alex Rodriguez clubbed a solo homer to lead off the fifth, and he also reached base on a walk and a hit-by-pitch. A-Rod scored half of the team’s six runs because Robbie Cano was doin’ work behind him. The second baseman had two doubles, the first clear over Ellsbury’s head in center and the second off the big green wall. Only he could start the season with multiple hits in nearly half his games and still make it appear as if he’s slumping.

Believe it or not, David Robertson did not get dry humped. He warmed up and actually pitched in the game, working a scoreless eighth inning after Logan let things get out of hand. The Red Sox mustered very little offense against non-Hughes and Logan pitchers in this game, which I suppose bodes well for tomorrow, right?

WPA Graph & Box Score has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score and no video highlights.

Up Next

Game two of the series will be broadcast on FOX tomorrow afternoon (boo) at 1:10pm ET, not the usual 4pm start FOX throws at us. Ivan Nova gets the ball against Clay Buchholz.

Heathcott goes deep twice in Charleston loss

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. They’ll make this one up as part of an April 18th doubleheader.

Double-A Trenton (8-7 loss to New Hampshire, walk-off style)
Austin Krum, LF: 0 for 2, 2 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 1 SB – led the system in walks last year, I guess he’s looking to do the same this year
Jose Pirela, SS: 1 for 5, 3 E (all throwing) – that’s four errors in two games
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 5, 2 R – didn’t throw out any of the four guys that attempted steals
Bradley Suttle, 3B: 0 for 5, 2 K
Cody Johnson, DH: 3 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 K – surprised it took him until his second game to strike out … he’s the Mark Reynolds of minor league baseball
Melky Mesa, CF: 1 for 4, 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Corban Joseph, 2B: 3 for 5, 2 2B, 2 RBI – hopefully some of the doubles will start clearing the fence soon
Ray Kruml, RF: 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 K, 2 SB
Shaeffer Hal, LHP: 5 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 7-2 GB/FB
Wilkins Arias, LHP: 0 IP, 0 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 0 K – egads
The Ghost of Kei Igawa, LHP: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 0-4 GB/FB – he walked in an inherited runner
Pat Venditte, SHP: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0-2 GB/FB – gave up a walk-off single

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