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2010 Draft: Yankees sign first rounder Cito Culver

Via Sweeny Murti, the Yankees have signed first round pick Cito Culver. The team has confirmed the deal. He shortstop from Irondequoit High School in Rochester will head to Tampa soon, and join the rookie level Gulf Coast League squad when their season begins next week. Buster Olney says the deal is for slot money, which Marc Carig reports is $954,000.

The Yanks reportedly reached an agreement with Culver earlier this week, but had to wait until he graduated from high school on the 20th to make it official. I suspect he actually graduated today, and it’s just the ceremony that will take place this Sunday. It’s nice to have a first rounder signed early, the last time the Yanks did that was 2005. Welcome to the family, Cito.

Some scoring distribution inefficiencies

The Yankees, as we know, are in first place. They lead the league in runs scored and are third in runs allowed. This makes for an excellent combination that should allow the Yankees to keep up their winnings ways throughout the summer. In fact, because of a few inefficiencies that have cropped up early in the season, we might even expect more winning from the Yankees in 2010.

One thing that stands out so far this season is how the Yankees have fared when scoring or allowing six runs. When they’ve scored six or more runs they’re just 4-4. That seems like an awfully low record for sigh a high-run-scoring environment. In 2009 teams that scored six runs had a .725 win percentage. The 2009 Yankees had a .786 win percentage, 11-3, when scoring six runs. Yet when the Yankees have allowed six runs this season they’re 0-6. No one expects a winning record when allowing six runs, but in 2009 the Yankees were 5-8 in those games. They stand to pick up a few games on both ends of the six-run spectrum.

As a testament to the improved pitching staff, the Yankees are 33-2 when the staff allows three or fewer runs. That’s not just an improvement in record, but also an improvement of occurrence. It means that in 35 of the team’s 66 games, or 53 percent of their games, they’ve held their opponent to a level where their offense should give them the game. The Yanks only held their opponent to three or fewer runs in 45 percent of games in 2009, and went 67-6. The offense comes into play when the pitching staff allows more runs. When allowing four, five, six, or seven runs the Yankees are 7-15, .318, this season. Last year they were 32-32 in those games.

The distribution of these games will change, I think, because it seems that the offense has been just a bit inconsistent so far. They’re only a tenth of a run per game behind last year’s pace, while the pitching staff is better than a half run per game better this year. These overall results should eventually even out and give the Yankees a better breakdown. They’ll eventually score more runs when the pitching staff gives up a bunch. At the same time, the staff appears improved over last year, which should also give the Yankees more wins in low-scoring games.

The lack of walk-off wins might be concerning, but I think blown leads in the middle innings has had a greater effect. This year the Yankees are 33-5 when leading after six innings. Last year they were 66-4. They’re quite excellent when leading after seven or eight, so it looks like this middle-inning lead changes have not favored them to this point. And yes, the comebacks have been concerning. They’re just 3-18 when trailing after six. Last year they were 16-52. Yet they’re still scoring late, averaging 2.11 runs from innings seven through nine compared to 2.21 last year. The problem, it seems, is that this year’s comeback attempts have been futile while last year’s resulted in whipped cream pies.

In a way it’s unfair to compare the 2010 team to the 2009 team. They have a number of different players, and while the 2009 team was special, the 2010 team, because of the improved pitching staff, has a chance to be better. They’ve run into some oddities early in the season, though they did last year too. I think many of those will even out — they’ll win some games when allowing six runs and will win more than half the game in which they score six. It’s a good thing we’re just two-fifths of the way through the season. Plenty can happen from now until October.

Amidst some uninspired games, a tie for first place

The standings say first place, but do the results?

After beating Roy Halladay on Tuesday night, I figured the Yankees would have an easy go of it against the Phillies. Yet, the team’s offense could not oblige. The A.J. Burnett/Jamie Moyer mismatch came out the wrong way, and although Andy Pettitte threw seven strong innings, Kyle Kendrick made himself out to be an NL Cy Young award contender. By all accounts, it was a trap series.

As the usual post-game reaction unfolded on Twitter, Mark Feinsand of the Daily News let slip an interesting comment. Constrained by the medium’s 140-character limit, he said, “Tampa Bay has lost, so the Yankees will remain in a first-place tie if they lose. Not that they deserve it – or that it matters on June 17.” It seemed to be an overreaction at first by someone in the media who knows that the Yanks are under pressure to steamroll their way to the AL crown ever year, and the fans grew defensive. Yet, after some back-and-forth with Feinsand, I began to understand what he’s saying.

In essence, no team has played “deserving” baseball yet this year. Through that phrase, Feinsand didn’t mean that the Yankees were a bad team; he simply meant that they’ve not been an impressive team yet. They haven’t made a statement against teams they will need to beat to reach the World Series. With the best record in baseball, they’re not a bad club, but they haven’t shown the ability to dominate as the club did during its second-half run in 2009.

The Yanks have seemingly reached first with the highest win total by beating up on the little guys. In their 25 games against teams currently under .500, the Yanks are a whopping 20-5. As the Mets learned last weekend, it’s good to play the Orioles. Against teams that are currently over .500, the Yankees are just 21-20. Comparatively, the Tampa Bay Rays, co-leaders of the AL East, are 17-13 against teams currently over .500 and just 24-12 against teams under .500. The good teams will, as the Yanks have done, beat up the bad teams, but the great teams should also beat up the good teams.

But the question isn’t actually one about deserving first place. Rather, the question is a little more meta than that. Should we, on June 18th, care that the Yankees aren’t playing particularly well against good teams? Perhaps not surprisingly, the answer is no. Last year’s World Series championship Yankees went 51-24 against teams under .500 and an impressive 52-35 against teams that finished over .500. Getting there was the hard part.

As Joe detailed in a post on a similar topic in mid-August, the Yankees were just 24-29 against teams that were, at that point, over .500 and 40-13 vs. teams under .500. (Some of the teams that were over .500 in August ended the season below .500, and thus, the team’s total losses vs. .500 teams actually declined from August to October.) Joe noted that of the nine previous World Series winners, only four had winning regular season records against .500 teams. The Wall Street Journal had inspired Joe’s post, and the relevant piece of information remains so today: “The typical profile of a World Series champion in recent times is a club that cleans up on the weak and breaks even against everyone else.”

Right now, the 2010 Yankees fit that profile to a tee. They’re playing .512 baseball against the good teams and .800 baseball against the bottom-feeders. If those trends keep up, the Yankees should have a date with the dance in October, and at that point, as we know, all bets are off. The current club may suffer from bullpen problems, and it may have a weak bench. But today, they deserve a share of first place.

Yanks drop rubber game, fall 7-1 to Phillies

The Phillies came into this series having lost 14 of their last 20 games, getting outscored 98-48 in the process. They had two largely mediocre starters lined up to pitch after the great Roy Halladay, so everything looking to be in line for to the Yankees to take the series. Of course, everything went backwards. The Yanks pounded Halladay, got shut down by Jamie Moyer, and then got shut down by Kyle Kendrick. Something about not being able to predict baseball applies here.

Biggest Blow: Victorino Goes Deep

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

Andy Pettitte was on his game early on Thursday night, cruising through the first three innings without incident. The Phils managed to scratch a run across with a little help from a Ramiro Pena error (more on that later) in the 4th, but Andy wiggled out of the inning with just a one run deficit. Hardly insurmountable.

Philadelphia tacked on two more runs in the next inning on a Shane Victorino homer, which WPA says was the biggest hit of the game. It wasn’t a terrible pitch, an 86 mph cutter in the on the hands that Victorino just hooked into the seats, but the real mistake was walking eighth place hitter Carlos Ruiz on four pitches two batters earlier. Ruiz is a fine offensive catcher with a .401 OBP, but you’ve got to challenge him that early in the game. A four pitch walk to that guy is less than ideal, and it came back to bite Pettitte.

Biggest Out: Polanco Lays Out

Careful, wouldn't want to tear your orange wrist band.

Even though the final score was lopsided, the Yanks had some chances to get right back in this one, none bigger than the 6th inning. Down by three, Mark Teixeira drew a seven pitch walk in front of an Alex Rodriguez single, then Robbie Cano plated what turned out to be the team’s only run on a single through the 3.5 hole. That brought Nick Swisher to the plate with men on the corners, so a solid base hit and we would have had ourselves a ball game.

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

Kendrick’s first pitch was a cutter down and out of the zone, but the second one hung about as bad as a fastball can hang. Is was his pitch, but Swish just missed and fouled it back. Kendrick’s next offering was a 90 mph sinker that he again left out over the plate, but Swisher fouled it off behind third base. Third baseman Placido Polanco ran after the ball, though it looked like the tarp and a row or two of seats would get in his way. Instead, he basically swan dove on top of the tarp, snatching the ball away from the unsuspecting tourists in the front row. I assume they were tourists because any actual fan would have gotten in Polanco’s way. Definitely a weak effort by the silver spooners up front.

The Bullpen Lets It Get Away

The Yanks had themselves a chance in this one until late, when the bullpen came in and let things get out of hand in the top of the 9th. Joba Chamberlain started the inning by allowing a double to Ruiz, a run scoring single to Wilson Valdez (more on that later), and a walk to Victorino. He faced three batters, threw nine pitches, and recorded zero outs.

Joba was relieved by Damaso Marte, who walked Chase Utley to load the bases following a seven pitch battle that included a pitch to the backstop. Polanco again worked the count deep, forcing Marte to throw ten pitches before driving in the Phillies’ second run of the inning on a sac fly to center. Ryan Howard drove in another run with a sac fly, then Jayson Werth drew an eight pitch walk to put men on the corners for the below replacement level Raul Ibanez.

With the deficit up to four and his top lefty reliever having thrown 29 pitches, Joe Girardi brought in Chan Ho Park to clean up the mess. Ibanez doubled to left to drive in two more runs, and it wasn’t until a batted ball hit Ibanez going from second to third that the final out of the frame was recorded. A salvageable game turned into a laugher just like that.

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

Miscellaneous Annoyances

Pena missing that grounder in the 4th. The first thing they teach you in Little League is to get the glove down; you can’t let a ball get under the glove, no matter how weird the bounce.  When you’re hitting just .186-.234-.203, you’ve got to catch everything man.

The wheel play? What is this, 1968? When does that ever work? There’s no reason to get cute with the defense when the batter is WILSON VALDEZ. No only once, but twice they pulled that nonsense! My only hope is that because they got burned on it in the 9th, they’ll shy away from trying it again in the future.

Great call on Valdez’s stolen base in the 9th, Lance Barksdale. Replay showed he was out, but nah. Is Lance Barksdale even a real name? That sounds made up.

This is just the third time the Yankees have been held to one run or less at the New Stadium. They were shutout by the Nationals in the rain last June, then got Cliff Lee’d in Game One of the World Series. Three out of 121 ain’t bad. (h/t Ed Price)

A Little Bit Of Good

There were two semi-historic moments in this one that are worth mentioning. Pettitte passed Ron Guidry for sole possession of second place on the franchise’s all-time strikeout list, and Cano became the first Yankee since Lou Gehrig in 1936 to pick up 97 hits in the team’s first 66 games. Congrats to both.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Grumble grumble. FanGraphs has the WPA breakdowns and more, MLB.com the box score.

Up Next

The Yankees lost two of three to the Phillies in the Bronx last July and lived to tell about it, so this isn’t exactly the end of the world. The Rays lost, so the two teams are tied atop the AL East. The Yanks will look to right the ship against the Mets tomorrow, when they come to town to kick off the second leg of the Subway Series. All three games will feature pitching rematches, so tomorrow it’s Javy Vazquez vs. Hisanori Takahashi.

Heathcott keeps on hitting, but Charleston falls

Make sure you don’t miss all of links from earlier today.

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 loss to Lehigh Valley)
Reid Gorecki, LF & Colin Curtis, CF: both 1 for 4 – Gorecki K’ed … Curtis doubled
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 3B, 1 K, 1 PB – the triple was a bomb
Everyone Else: combined 0 for 19, 1 BB, 9 K – Juan Miranda struck out in each of his four at-bats
Zach McAllister: 4 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 3-5 GB/FB – 50 of his 88 pitches were strikes (56.8%)
Jason Hirsh: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1 HB, 2-0 GB/FB – 15 of his 24 pitches were strikes (62.5%) … had a dead even 9.00 ERA as a reliever coming into this game
Eric Wordekemper: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 11 of his 17 pitches were strikes (64.7%)
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – just nine of his 23 pitches were strikes (39.1%)

[Read more…]

Game 66: Andy for the series win (again)

Photo Credit: Julie Jacobson, AP

The last time Andy Pettitte faced the Phillies, he and his teammates walked off the field a World Champion. He picked up A.J. Burnett that November night, finishing off the series win after the enigmatic righthander couldn’t. Of course there’s not nearly as much on the line tonight, but a win is always appreciated. The Yanks are 15-5-1 in their 21 series this year, so let’s bump that total up to 16 tonight.

Here’s your starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Granderson, CF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, DH
Cano, 2B
Swisher, RF
Gardner, LF
Cervelli, C
Pena, 3B

And on the mound, Pettitte. Andy Pettitte.

It’s a fine evening for a baseball game, and this sucker will kick off at 7:05pm ET. You can watch it locally on YES, and nationally on MLB Network. Enjoy the game.