The year of magical pitching

You could almost taste it. Cliff Lee was going to sign, Andy was going to come back, Hughes would take a step forward, the bullpen would stay healthy and the Yankees would have one of the most dominant pitching staffs in baseball and march towards a 100-win season. It sounds idealistic in retrospect, but at certain junctures this winter it didn’t seem all that far off. Of course, it didn’t quite play out that way. Cliff Lee signed up for the inferior transit system and culture of Philadelphia, Andy retired, and Hughes got hurt and took half of the bullpen with him. And then something funny happened. Brian Cashman made a bunch of little moves, earning screams from the haters, and a lot of them actually worked. I say this tongue-in-cheek, but in 2011 the new market inefficiency has been whatever Cashman says it is.

In the bullpen, Cashman picked up Luis Ayala on a minor-league deal, and while Ayala did make a brief trip to the disabled list in April he’s pitched very well out of the pen. He’s given the Yankees 22.2 innings, giving up 19 hits, 8 walks and striking out 18. He’s getting groundballs at a very nice rate, almost 50%, and he has an ERA of 1.25. Even though his BABIP is relatively normal he has a super-high strand rate and a lower HR/FB ratio, which means his xFIP of 3.77 is likely more predictive of his future performance than his ERA. Regardless, he’s been a useful cog for the team so far nonetheless. The other surprising reliever has been Cory Wade, profiled extensively by Mike here. As Mike noted, he has obvious limitations but he’s a very nice minor league depth move at this time of the year. He’s found his way to the major league roster and he’s pitched perfectly so far, allowing no hits over 3 innings and striking out 3.

In the rotation the hot story right now is Brian Gordon, who pitched 5.1 innings of two run ball against Texas on Thursday, walking three and striking out three. Some wanted Hector Noesi to take this spot, but the organization didn’t feel that he was able to provide the necessary length for a starter given that he has been pitching in relief. Others wanted one of David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell or Adam Warren didn’t get the opportunity to start the major league level. In a piece reviewing Gordon’s performance at Baseball Prospectus, Jay Jaffe quoted his fellow Pinstriped Bible author Steven Goldman as getting quite upset about this, saying, “The only possible message is that they will never be good enough, that the Yankees are so deeply suspicious of their own prospects that they would rather take someone else’s trash over their own treasure.” Yet as Jaffe so aptly noted, this isn’t the only possible message the organization is sending the young bucks:

The glass-half-full take on Gordon’s addition is that at no cost, Cashman alertly added another arm to the organizational larder at a time when the Yankees have two starters and two key relievers on the disabled list, with zero guarantee that Colon, Phil Hughes, and Rafael Soriano will be effective and bulletproof the rest of the way

The other two scrap heap rotation pickups are obvious. The first is Freddy Garcia. Despite the fact that he always seems on the verge of getting lit up, Freddy Garcia has been an entirely serviceable fifth starter for the Yankees this year. He has a strikeout rate of 6.38/9 and a walk rate of 3.25/9 to go along with his ERA of 3.63. He doesn’t get a lot of fly balls, and so he lives and dies by his ability to command the ball well and command it low in the zone. He’s managed to throw 72 innings for the Yankees so far this year, and he threw 157 for the White Sox last year, so Sweaty Freddy may be able to keep chugging along all summer long.

And of course there’s Bartolo Colon, arguably the best pitcher on the Yankees until he got hurt. That isn’t meant as disrespect to staff ace CC Sabathia, but it’s remarkable how similar their lines have been. Sabathia has a 3.28 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 3.50 xFIP, a 2.89 K/BB ratio and a 47.3 GB%, whereas Colon has a 3.10 ERA, a 3.34 FIP, a 2.99 xFIP, a 4.00 K/BB ratio and a 47.3 GB%. Colon has struck out more than a batter per nine innings more than Sabathia, but Sabathia has an obvious edge on innings over Colon. But whether or not he compares favorably to Sabathia only demonstrates how spectacular Colon has been on the year. For $900,000 the Yankees have gotten some of the best pitching in baseball this year. To say that he’s exceeded expectations is an understatement. He’s been the $2 scratch-off ticket that wins you a cool grand.

After an offseason that saw the Yankees throw yet another gigantic contract at yet another highly regarded free agent, only to see him go elsewhere, Brian Cashman has shown a remarkable ability to create and preserve depth in the rotation and the bullpen by picking up starters on the cheap and snatching other extraneous pitchers off the lower rungs of the depth charts of other teams. 2011 is a season in which a lot could have gone wrong so far. At times it feels like this team is walking a high wire. But it’s also a season in which a lot of what Brian Cashman has touched has turned to gold. It’s true that you don’t count on these things lasting forever. Is Cory Wade really a shutdown reliever? Is Brian Gordon anything but an organizational arm capable of filling in for a few starts? Will Sweaty Freddy’s stream of junkballs really baffle hitters for another hundred and forty innings? It doesn’t seem likely, and that’s why it’s good to hear that the front office isn’t resting on its laurels and counting on the current crew to take them into October. But it shouldn’t obscure the fact that the contributions of the cast-offs have proven vital to this team’s early season success.

2011 Draft: Yankees sign Dante Bichette Jr.

Update (9:34am): Sweeny Murti hears that the signing bonus will be around $750,000, so just a little bit above slot. Marc Carig confirms.

Original Post (9:03am): Via K. Levine-Flandrup, the Yankees have officially signed top pick Dante Bichette Jr. No word on the signing bonus, but I can’t imagine it’s far off from MLB’s slot recommendation of $694,800. The signing wasn’t expected to take very long at all and it didn’t, so now he’ll likely join the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees when their season begins on Monday. Alright Dante, time to make the Yankees look smart.

Yankees’ bats go silent in loss to Cubs

Ah interleague play, baseball’s annual money and attention grab. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand why they do it and why they’ll continue to do it, but I just don’t like it. The novelty wore off a few years ago. Anyway, Friday’s loss to the Cubs was a fairly standard “lack of offense loss,” meaning the Yankees had no answer for a crummy pitcher and couldn’t overcome an early but generally small deficit. Such is life.

Where was that Doug Davis?

Doug Davis? Really???

Pretty much all you need to know about this game is that Davis batted for himself in the seventh inning. A pitcher like that shouldn’t bat for himself in the fourth inning, nevermind the seventh. His slow, slower, slowest approach kept the Yankees off balance until the very last pitch he threw, number 111 that Nick Swisher clanked off the left field wall for a double with one out in the eighth. That was just their third hit off Davis, who walked three, struck out four, and got ten ground ball outs compared to eight fly ball outs. The only reason he was charged with a run was because reliever Sean Marshall allowed Swisher to score on a Mark Teixeira single. I really can’t explain it, Davis threw “fast”balls and changeups and curveballs and the Yankees simply couldn’t do anything. It was pretty gross.


Despite getting shutdown by Doug Davis – I can’t even believe I’m writing that – the Yankees did have the tying run on base in the late innings. Carlos Marmol came out of the bullpen and blew Alex Rodriguez away to end the eighth, but the ninth inning was a little more interesting. Robinson Cano‘s would-be leadoff bloop single (maybe even double) was turned into an out thanks to a great catch by Reed Johnson, but then Russell Martin drew a walk to bring the tying run to the dish. Jorge Posada struck out look at a total meatball (grrrr), then Brett Gardner slashed a single to put the tying run on base. Alas, pinch-hitter Chris Dickerson (who has two plate appearances in the last two and half weeks) struck out on three pitches to end the threat and the game. For shame.

Freddy Settles Down

Two weeks ago we saw Freddy Garcia come out of the gate against the Red Sox and everything was up. It was up and over the heart of the plate, and that predictably led to disaster. Garcia started Friday’s game much the same way, and the Cubs made him pay for it to the tune of three runs in the first three innings. They were up two runs before he even got the second out of the game, and it looked like one of those games where we would see a whole lot of Jeff Marquez. But then Freddy settled down.

After Aramis Ramirez singled in Chicago’s third run of the game, Garcia got on a bit of a roll and retired the next eleven batters he faced before Tony Campana beat out a bunt infield single that was more the product of bad defense than good hitting. Freddy stranded Campana and sat down the side in order in the seventh, so he retired 15 of the final 16 men he faced. Six hits, two walks, and three runs in seven innings is usually enough to win with this kind of offense, but it wasn’t meant to be on this day.

Robinson Cano: Also good at baseball.


Swisher, Tex, and Gardner were the only Yankees’ batters to reach base twice. They each had a hit and a walk. Cano, Martin, and Eduardo Nunez each reached once in some form or another, and Garcia had two sacrifice bunts in his two plate appearances. The three pinch-hitters – Posada, Dickerson, and Andruw Jones – all struck out. Sad face. Robbie did make a great defensive play on a ground ball though, flipping it to first with his glove. That was pretty cool.

Great exchange during the fourth inning…

John Flaherty: “I like [NL baseball], this is exciting.”

Doug Davis takes called strike three right down the middle.

Ken Singleton: “There’s your excitement.”

Excellent, go Kenny. In a related note: Am I the only one that can’t stand Michael Kay’s manageable/unmanageable game stuff? Who is he to decide if the game was too long or just right? Bah, whatever.

WPA Graph & Box Score has the box score and video, FanGraphs has everything else.

Up Next

Same two teams tomorrow afternoon in a (ugh) FOX broadcast. Those always suck. A.J. Burnett gets the ball against Ryan Dempster at 4pm ET.

Williams opens SI season with a bang

Ready for some injury news? Low-A Charleston placed Slade Heathcott, Jose Ramirez, Eduardo Sosa, and Kyle Roller on the disabled list either today or within the last few days. No idea what’s wrong with any of them, but that’s three of their five best hitters and a top three starter. Yikes.

Baseball America has some more draft signings, and many of those guys are on the Short Season Staten Island roster. Their season started today, so we’ve got another team to track. The Rookie Level GCL Yankees start their season on Monday. Also, Gary Sanchez got some love In The Team Photo of this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet.

Triple-A Scranton (6-5 loss to Columbus)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 RBI
Greg Golson, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 2 K – nine for his last 18 (.500) with two doubles and the two troubles
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 BB
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K
Brandon Laird, 3B, Jordan Parraz, RF & Gus Molina, DH: all 0 for 4 – Laird and Molina struck out once each, Parraz twice
Austin Krum, CF & Luis Nunez, SS: both 1 for 4, 1 R – Krum struck out … Nunez committed a throwing error
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 4.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 6-2 GB/FB – 52 of 90 pitches were strikes (57.8%) … yuck
George Kontos, RHP: 2.2 IP, zeroes, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 19 of 26 pitches were strikes (73.1%)
Randy Flores, LHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – eight of 11 pitches were strikes (72.7%)
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K – 11 pitches, 14 strikes (.786) … caps off a perfect night by the bullpen

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Moneyball

So apparently they finally did go ahead and turn Michael Lewis’ Moneyball into a movie. I remember hearing that the idea got shelved a few times before I stopped caring (not that I did much in the first place), but apparently it got the green light at some point and there’s a trailer. I dunno, seems a little too dramatic for me. Slow motion bat flips after drawing a walk? Magic Scott Hatteberg homers? And is that David Justice playing himself? I don’t know about you guys, but I’ll stick this one in the Netflix queue rather than run out and go see in theatres. I suspect the book will be far better than film, which is usually the case.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets are at home playing the Angels (Pineiro vs. Capuano) plus the MLB Network will carry a game (teams depend on where you live). It’s Friday night though, I suggest getting the hell out of the house. Use this thread to talk about whatever you want in the meantime.

Gammons: Yankees tried to tamper with Andrew Miller

Update (6:12pm): Via Marc Carig, Brian Cashman responded to the accusation by saying it was simply “not true.”

Original Post (5:30pm): Via Peter Gammons, the Yankees and other teams tried to convince lefty Andrew Miller to use his June 15th opt-out clause presumably so they could sign him, which would be considered tampering. The Red Sox agreed to call Miller up and put him in the rotation, so the opt-out never came into play anyway. Still, accusing teams of tampering is a pretty serious accusation even though it probably happens all the time. I’m sure a bunch of Gammons-Red Sox cracks will follow, but this is something MLB will probably look into.

International Free Agency Preview

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Although the draft gets most of the attention and rightfully so, the lifeblood of the Yankees’ farm system has long been international free agency, particularly Latin America. The top three and six of the top ten players on my preseason top 30 prospects list were acquired via international free agency, a talent market the Yankees can dominate with just money and not have to worry about draft position or slot recommendations. Ben Badler of Baseball America covers the IFA market like no one else, and this week he rolled out his early coverage of the International Signing Period, which officially begins on July 2nd each year. All of his preview content is behind the subscriber wall and can be found here: top talents, outfielders, shortstops, and pitchers.

Three Dominican outfielders highlight this year’s crop of talent, which is headlined by Ronald Guzman. He’s the best pure hitter and top offensive talent on the market this season but is likely to be relegated to left field down the line. Elier Hernandez is the tools freak with big time foot speed and huge batting practice power. Nomar Mazara also puts on displays in batting practice, but he doesn’t carry the same swing into games and is prone to swinging and missing, always a red flag with amateurs. Guzman has been connected to the Rangers, Red Sox and Blue Jays, Hernandez to the Royals. All three are expected to command seven figure signing bonuses.

The top two arms are righties Victor Sanchez (Venezuela) and Roberto Osuna (Mexico). Sanchez stands 6-foot-1 and has run his fastball as high as 94 while showing decent offspeed stuff, but the concern is that he doesn’t miss as many bats as someone with his stuff should against the competition he’s been facing. Osuna is the nephew of former Yankee Antonio Osuna, and he’ll offer low-90’s fastballs with a curveball and changeup. He turns 16 on July 2nd (so he just made the cut off), but he’s already pitching in the Mexican League and holding his own as a 15-year-old playing against guys ten years his senior. Sanchez could command as much as $3.5M, Osuna less than that but still seven figures.

We’ll hear much more about the Yankees and specific players in the coming weeks, but here’s a quick recap of the guys connected to the Yankees according to Badler. Also check out the Dominican Prospect League’s site for more info on way more players…

Manny Marcos, OF, Dominican Republic
A center fielder with a wiry strong 6-foot-0, 175 lb. frame, Marcos figures to stay at the position long-term and has good speed. He does have some power, but it’s more to the gaps than over the fence right now.

Yairo Munoz, SS, Dominican Republic
Munoz is a “shortstop” more than a shortstop, meaning he’s likely to wind up at another position down the road. Perez trains with former Yankees’ infield coach Rafael Perez, and he’s a switch hitter that has shown power from both sides of the plate, though his best tools are above-average speed and arm strength. Here’s video.

Luis Reynoso, SS, Dominican Republic
Another “shortstop,” Reynoso doesn’t have one true standout tool according to Badler and is instead solid at everything. He has some athleticism and projection, and his offensive game relies more on contact from the right side than power. Here’s video.

* * *

I recommend clicking through and watching the videos for no other reason to see how young and physically immature these kids are. They’re just babies, and yet scouts and teams are trying to project who will grow into a big league body and develop big league tools. Much respect to all the scouts out there.