A-Rod hits homer No. 599 as Yanks trounce KC

Whenever a team as perennially awful as the Royals come to town for a four game set and aren’t scheduled to throw their Cy Young Award winning ace, it’s easy to start thinking about a sweep. Of course the first step toward that sweep is winning the first game, and the Yankees did exactly that on Thursday night. With Tampa Bay enjoying a scheduled day off, the Yankees picked up a half-game on their division rivals and now lead the AL East by three full games.

A new mural at the Stadium. It'll be up through the end of the season. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Biggest Hit: Posada Doubles In The Go-Ahead Run

The first few innings of this game went back and forth. The Royals stayed true to form as the game’s premier bloop single outfit (lead the majors in batting average, third worst in isolated power), pushing a pair of runs across in the top of the 1st before the Yanks answered back in the bottom half. They scored another run in the 2nd, and the Yanks answered in the 3rd. With the score tied at three in the 5th, Robbie Cano singled with one out to start the rally, and two changeups later the Yankees had the lead for good.

Jorge Posada, who had himself a rather interesting night (more on that later), took the first pitch in the dirt for a ball before unloading on a hanging changeup, sending it deep into the leftfield corner and scoring Cano from first. He later came around to score himself on a Marcus Thames sac fly, though looking back it’s hard to believe that these were the two runs that would effectively decide the game. This one had 10-8 or 9-6 written all over it early on.

Biggest Out: Guillen Kills The Rally

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Before the Yankees broke things open in the bottom of the 8th inning, Joba Chamberlain once again found himself in trouble in the top half. In fairness, it wasn’t entirely his fault. Scott Podsednik and Jason Kendall beat out a pair of infield singles with one out that traveled a combined 100-ft or so, and the inning should have been over when Posada threw Podsednik out stealing third. Instead third base ump Chad Fairchild called him safe, and the inning continued.

Joba poured a first pitch fastball into the zone that Billy Butler took for a strike. Butler then took a slider out of the zone for a ball before swinging over another slider for strike two. Butler is one of the game’s best young hitters (.306/.369/.483 in close to 1,100 plate appearances since the start of last year), and he fought off two more sliders and another fastball for a full count. Joba then challenged him with a fastball, but the pitch rose out of the zone and the bases were loaded with two outs.

It was a two-run game at the time, so the typical uneasiness of a Joba outing was compounded about a million times over. His first pitch to the hacktastic Jose Guillen was wide for a ball (gulp), but Joba got Guillen to roll over on the next heater for an inning-ending ground out. It was a stressful inning, no doubt, and the first two baserunners weren’t entirely Joba’s fault. Still, would it kill the guy to have a 1-2-3 inning once in a while? I’m not sure how much more I can put up with this, .401 BABIP or not.


(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Alex Rodriguez took another step towards history tonight, clubbing career homerun No. 599 in the 7th inning. It was an opposite field job off reliever Robinson Tejeda, and the three pitch at-bat really allowed A-Rod‘s greatness to shine. Consider the sequence:

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

First Pitch: 92 mph fastball, swing and a miss
Second Pitch: 94 mph fastball, fouled off
Third Pitch: 94 mph fastball, gone

If you throw a hitter as smart and physically gifted as A-Rod the same pitch three times in a row, you’re asking for trouble. He saw it the first time, adjusted the second time, and locked in on it on the third try. Might as well have put it on a tee.

Although he merely doubled in his final at-bat of the game and first shot at No. 600 in the 9th, Alex is now one swing away from history. My money’s on a first inning three run homer off Kyle Davies this Saturday, just like No. 500. Baseball is weird like that sometimes.

A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit Of That

Posada had what we’ll call an adventurous night behind the plate in this game. He lucked out in the 5th when home plate ump Eric Cooper called Butler out on a play at the plate even though Jorge didn’t even tag him. Replay showed he wasn’t close to tagging him, either. An inning later, he made what might have been the dumbest decision in baseball history. The unparalleled Yuniesky Betancourt struck out on a breaking ball in the dirt, and instead of throwing to first for the sure out, Posada threw to third to try and catch Willie Bloomquist napping. The throw was offline and went into leftfield, Bloomquist scored and the YuniBomber ended up at second. CC Sabathia bailed him out, but goodness. Bloomquist struck out on a ball in the dirt the next inning, and Posada lobbed the ball to first for the out, except he almost chucked it into rightfield. Mark Teixeira bailed him out that time. Definitely not a night they’ll relive on Jorge’s Yankeeography, go-ahead double or not.

CC Sabathia wasn’t especially sharp on Thusday, but he did take the ball into the 7th inning as usual. The 15 combined hits and walks he allowed are a new career high, but he limited the damage thanks to nine strikeouts. The big guy did what aces do, kept his team in the game even without his best stuff or command.

Big ups to David Robertson for another fireman act in the 7th. He entered the game with a one run lead and two men on base with just one out, but a pop-up and a strikeout later the Yankees were out of the inning. I can’t imagine either he or Joba will be available tomorrow after pitching in each of the last two games. I guess that makes Boone Logan and Jon Albaladejo the de facto setup men tomorrow. It’s better than Chad Ho Moseley.

Brett Gardner had two outfield assists in this one: one on Wilson Betemit at second to end the 1st (before Guillen crossed the plate, saving a run), and another on the Butler play at home. The replay showed that both guys were safe, Butler by a mile, but I’m not complaining. Kinda makes you forget that he’s had just one hit in his last 19 at-bats.

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Tex went 3-for-4 with a double off his personal whipping boy Bruce Chen, extending his streak of reaching base safely to 38 consecutive games. They should invite that guy to Spring Training every year just so Tex could face him and hopefully get off to a hot start.

David DeJesus sprained his thumb and will miss the rest of the series, but it could have been a lot worse. It looked like he messed up his wrist crashing into the fence on a Derek Jeter fly ball that turned into an inside-the-park homerun, but apparently the wrist is fine. Hopefully DeJesus gets well soon, he’s a good player that deserves to be traded to a contender before next week’s deadline.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Not as jumpy as the actual game felt. MLB.com has the box, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Same two teams, same time tomorrow. A.J. Burnett gets his shot at redemption against Brian Bannister.

Another day, another extra base hit for Montero

Baseball America posted a list of the 15 largest bonuses ever given out on the International market. The Yanks are on there twice, for giving Gary Sanchez $3M (third most) and Wily Mo Pena $2.44M (eighth most). Just eyeballing it, the four bonuses listed from 2006 and earlier were busts, though you could make a case Byung-Hyung Kim wasn’t.

Also, MLB is going to start blood testing for human growth hormone in the minors. That’s kind of a big deal.

Triple-A Scranton (5-2 loss to Gwinnett)
Kevin Russo, LF: 0 for 5, 2 K
Reegie Corona, 2B & Eric Bruntlett, RF: both 0 for 3 – Bruntlett walked & K’ed
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 K, 1 SB – 11 for his last 33
Chad Tracy, 3B: 0 for 4, 1 K – remember that hot start? he’s five for his last 28 (.179)
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K – one of those outs was loud
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K – third homer in his last seven games
Chad Huffman, DH & Greg Golson, CF: both 1 for 4 – Huffman K’ed twice, Golson once
Zach McAllister: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HBP, 8-3 GB/FB – 57 of 92 pitches were strikes (62%) … picked a runner off first … 127 H in 102 IP
Eric Wordekemper: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-2 GB/FB – 12 of his 21 pitches were strikes (57.1 IP)
Zack Segovia: 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 16 of his 25 pitches were strikes (64%)
Royce Ring: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 13 of 21 pitches were strikes (61.9%)

[Read more…]

Game 94: Bring on the Quarter Pounders

I love that movie. If you’ve never seen it (see it!), the dialogue in the scene above involves John Travolta telling Samuel L. Jackson that people in France call a quarter pounder a Royale. Ever since I’ve heard that, I’ve referred to Kansas City’s baseball club as the Quarter Pounders. Perhaps I should grow up.

Anyway, back to something relevant. Tonight’s game features a pair of lefties that were both ranked among the best lefthanded pitching prospects in the game by Baseball America at one point. Bruce Chen, who gets the ball for KC, was ranked as the fourth best prospect in the game way back in 1999, and two years later his counterpart CC Sabathia was ranked as the seventh best prospect in the game. Obviously their careers have taken very different paths, with CC living up to his promise while Chen has gone to play for ten different big league teams and in the minor league system of one more. He’s got half decent numbers this year (4.35 FIP, 5.01 xFIP, 7.34 K/9), but still, it’s Bruce Chen.

Here’s your starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixiera, 1B – he’s 7-for-11 with a double and six homers (!!!) off Chen in his career
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Thames, DH
Granderson, CF
Gardner, LF

And on the mound, the Big Stoppa, CC Sabathia.

The Royals traded third baseman Alberto Callaspo the Angels earlier this afternoon, so we’ll see old buddy Wilson Betemit man the hot corner for KC tonight. Who did they get for Callaspo? Sean O’Sullivan (and a minor leaguer), who beat the Yankees the other night. Lots of Yankee ties in that move.

The first game of this very welcome four game set with the Royals (no Zack Greinke, woo!) starts at 7:05pm ET. The game is on YES as (almost) always, and it’s also part of MLB Network’s regional coverage tonight. Depending on where you live, you’ll either get Yanks-Royals or Twins-Orioles. Enjoy the game.

RAB on Bloomberg Sports, Fangraphs

As River Ave. Blues continue its quest to take over the world, we’ve made a few appearances in other sports media outlets worth exploring. Over at Frangraphs, Joe took a top examination of the Yanks’ deadline needs. He says the team could stand to find a platoon partner in center field and needs some obvious help on the bench and in the bullpen. Sergio Mitre too remains an unknown.

Yesterday morning, at the bright and sunny hour of 8 a.m., I recorded a video segment with Bloomberg Sports’ Ballpark Figures. The piece a five-minute bit with Bloomberg TV host Michele Steele and Bloomberg Fantasy Sports Analyst Rob Shaw, and we talked about A-Rod‘s 600th home run, the team’s deadline needs and other sundry stories swirling around the Bombers. Catch the video at the link above or watch it below.

To need a DH or not to need a DH

When Nick Johnson went down with a wrist injury in early May, the Yankees found themselves with a lineup problem. As with any team, they had no back-up plan for the designated hitter spot, and although Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi had spoke of their desires to use the DH as a rotation half-day spot for their aging veteran core, that move meant far too many at-bats for the likes of Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Pena. It does the team no good if having an above-average designated hitter for a day leads to, in the cases of Pena and Cervelli, a combined 307 plate appearances of well below-average hitting.

As Johnson’s injury morphed into something that will probably be season-ending, the Yankees have scrambled a bit to fill the DH spot. Jorge Posada has earned the bulk of at-bats over the last few weeks, and while Marcus Thames can hit against lefties, his production against right-handed pitcher leaves him on the bench until the late innings. And so a meme emerged: The team needed a more permanent solution to the DH hole.

Recently, those rumblings have turned into full-fledged dissent by the Yankee faithful. Even with the arrival of Juan Miranda — a career minor league slugger with little Major League experience or success — commentators believed the Yankees would look to upgrade the designated hitter spot before the July 31st trade deadline. Adam Dunn could be had for the right price, and if the Yanks got creative, a few other hitters could wind up on the open market.

A funny thing happened on the way to trade deadline though. Down in Scranton, Jesus Montero got hot. His streak isn’t just your average hot streak; it’s a blistering, sweltering, Yankee Stadium-on-Old Timers’ Day hot. In 50 at-bats since the start of July, Montero is hitting .420/.531/.740 with four home runs. He’s walked 13 times and struck out just seven, the last K coming 10 days ago. After a horrendous cold stretch, Montero has, since June 1, poured it on. He’s hitting .329/.402/.584. He’s 20. He’s at AAA. Chew on that.

The drumbeat grew louder. Bring him up to DH, they say. He’ll hit at least as well as Juan Miranda and probably better. He’s truly the real deal, they say. I’ll admit it: I’m very, very tempted by the idea.

Yet, promoting Montero may just be an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist. It’s true that the Yankees could use a more permanent solution at designated hitter, but their offense isn’t suffering. As their positional splits reveal, the Yankees have been above average at every position this year except three: 1B because of Juan Miranda and Nick Johnson’s production while in the field; 3B because of Kevin Russo and Ramiro Pena’s inability to hit; and CF because Curtis Granderson is having a disappointing season. Notice that for two of these positions, the rotating DH actually drags down the overall production to below-average totals. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez individually are both putting up above-average OPSs relative to the league average at their positions.

At the DH spot, the Yankees aren’t suffering. Their make-shift DHs are putting together an sOPS+ of 111, far above the league average. (Considering the combined batting line of .244 with a .779 OPS for Yanks’ DHs, that’s a sad commentary on the state of American League DHs, but I digress.) Take a look at the positional breakdown:

On an individual level, the numbers are too small to draw many conclusions, but Juan Miranda’s and Marcus Thames’ production doesn’t look bad when we isolate their DH totals. In fact, both hitters are faring better than average in very limited plate appearances. At the very least, this platoon deserves an extended look.

This DH/Jesus Montero conundrum doesn’t end there. Right now, I have little doubt that Montero will be a productive bat in the Majors. I’m not sure the Yankees are convinced he’ll be a catcher, and I’m not sure there’s much to gain keeping him behind the dish at AAA for the sake of appearances. The Cliff Lee dealings illustrated how the Yankees value Montero, and if they truly saw him as the catcher of the future, he wouldn’t have been included in that trade. That title will be reserved, for now, for Austin Romine.

But the compelling reason to keep Montero in AAA is one of track record. Take a look at the list of 20-year-olds in the expansion era who had at least 200 PAs at the Major League level. With a few notable exceptions, these players all put up below average numbers. It’s just not easy to be 20 and a Major Leaguer. The Yanks need Montero to be great in the long run; they don’t need him to be merely adequate in 2010.

Barring a big deal, the DH spot will remain in flux for the Yankees. If Montero’s torrid stretch continues throughout August, we can reconsider the issue for September. But the Yanks keep winning, Montero keeps mashing, and we’ll patiently await a designated hitter and eventually Jesus Montero too.

Reminder: RAB and FanGraphs Live Discussion in NYC on August 7

Mark your calendars for August 7. That’s the day that FanGraphs invades New York City to bring you the first, but hopefully not last, FanGraphs Live Discussion. It’s going to be an eventful morning of baseball talk that will feature a number of top baseball minds discussing and analyzing the game. Best of all, RAB will be a big part of it.

Ben, Mike, and I will lead the New York baseball discussion, one of the many panels at the event. We talk baseball with you guys every day, but this format will allow for a more intimate, more guided discussion. We’ll be led by FanGraphs’s Carson Cistulli, who hosts and produces FanGraphs Audio. Check that link for an example of Carson’s inimitable discussion-guiding skills. They are, as I’m sure he’d say himself, white hot.

(Also, check back at that link soon; I’ll be on the pod in its next appearance.)

In addition to that we’ll have a riveting discussion of baseball media that will feature former Deadspin editor and current New York magazine contributor Will Leitch, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald, Alex Speier of WEEI, and Wall Street Journal contributor David Biderman. Best of all, RAB fave Jonah Keri will moderate the discussion.

There will, of course, be plenty of nerd stat speak going on, featuring Mitchel Litchtman, better known as MGL, from The Book blog. And then there are all the FanGraphs notable, including founder David Appelman, Dave Cameron, and Bryan Smith.

You can catch the event at The Florence Gould Hall, which is up on 59th Street between Madison and Park, which is close to 4, 5, 6, N, R, and Q subway stops. You can buy your tickets here for $15, plus $1.37 processing fee.

If you miss this you’d better be dead or in jail. And if you’re in jail, break out!