With off day, Yanks set to skip Hughes

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Over the winter, when the Yankees announced that Phil Hughes would be a starting pitcher this season, rumblings of the Hughes Rules emerged from those covering the club. We knew the Yanks were going to keep Hughes on a limit of around 170-180 innings, and we knew they weren’t going to be as public with the Hughes Rules as they were with the infamous Joba Rules.

Today, the mystery surrounding the Hughes Rules cleared up a bit, as Joe Girardi said the team will be taking advantage of a pair of off days to skip Hughes’ next start. Instead of pitching on Friday in Los Angeles, Hughes will next get the ball on Tuesday, June 29 when the Yankees return home to face the Mariners. He’ll make three starts before the All Star Break instead of four, and the Yankees will use their four-day break to ensure that Hughes has nearly two weeks off between starts.

If I’m reading the team’s mind correctly, Hughes will make the following starts before the break: June 29 vs. Seattle, July 4 vs. Toronto and July 9 vs. Seattle again. The team can restack its rotation after the break and won’t need a fifth starter until either the 21st or even the 25th of July because of a day off on the Monday after the All Star break. I’d guess the Yanks will use Hughes on the 21st because they don’t want to risk too much time off. He is, after all, their winningest starter.

Moeller DFA’d to make room for Curtis

Following up on Mike’s earlier post about Colin Curtis’ arrival with the big league club, the Yankees have designated Chad Moeller for assignment. Moeller was called up to serve as the team’s back-up catcher while Jorge Posada was hurt and had not played in a game since June 10th. While the decision to bring up Curtis is an interesting one itself, the corresponding move to jettison Moeller is not. Good bye, Chad. We hardly knew ye.

Anyway, feel free to use this as an open thread. We’ll be back with the game thread at 9:30.

Yankees call up Colin Curtis

Via LoHud, the Yankees have called up outfielder Colin Curtis from Triple-A Scranton, presumably because they want to extra position player while playing in NL parks this week. No word on a corresponding roster move, but Curtis will have to be added to both the 25-man and 40-man rosters. This could be the end of Chad Moeller.

The lefty swinging Curtis can play all three outfield spots but is best suited for the corners, and he’s hit ten for his last 28 with three doubles. He is the seventh member of the Yanks’ ungodly 2006 draft haul to reach the majors.

The Year of the Grand Slam

You may or may not have noticed, but the Yankees are hitting an awful lot of homeruns with the bases loaded this season. The team has seven grand slams in just 69 games, putting them on pace to hit a staggering 16 over the full season. The all-time record is 14, shared by the 2006 Indians and the 2000 A’s.

The Yanks hit just three salamis last year and seven the year before, so we’re already in some rarefied air here. In 106 plate appearances with the bags full in 2010, they’re hitting a combined .420/.481/.693 (.498 wOBA) with seven homers and 103 runs driven in. The last individual batter to have a wOBA that high in a single season was Barry Bonds in 2004, when he hit 45 homers and reached base 367 times in 147 games. That’s how stupefyingly good they’ve been when the pitcher has no margin for error.

Let’s take a second to recap all seven…

May 14th: A-Rod vs. Matt Guerrier (video)
Coming off four losses in their last five games, the Yankees had been beaten down by Scott Baker for the first six innings and trailed by one going into the 7th. Frankie Cervelli and Derek Jeter started the inning off with a single and a double, respectively, putting men on second and third with no outs. Not even a slumping Yankee offense could screw this up, but they sure tried.

Lefty reliever Brian Duensing got Brett Gardner to hit a lazy fly ball to left not deep enough to score the run, and the Twinkies decided to take advantage of a slumping A-Rod (had hit .230/.296/.328 in his previous 71 plate appearances) by walking the even slumpier Mark Teixeira (.198/.327/.382 on the season to that point) to load the bases and set up both the double play and the force at any base. You know what happened next.

Matt Guerrier was summoned from the bullpen to face A-Rod even though he was 4-for-6 with three homers off him to that point, and it took all of two pitches for Alex to lift the ball deep into the Bronx sky and into the leftfield stands. Hit Tracker measured the true distance of the shot at 367 ft., so it wasn’t A-Rod’s best. They all count the same, and the Yanks went on to win 8-4.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

May 28th: Robbie Cano vs. Tony Sipp (video)
Batting cleanup for the first time this year, the molten hot Cano came to the plate with no outs and the bases loaded following a Jeter single, a Curtis Granderson double, and a Teixeira walk. As he tends to do, Cano wasted no time and jumped all over Sipps’ first pitch, launching it deep into the rightfield second deck for a good old four run homer and an 8-2 lead. The ball traveled 386 ft., and I’m sure Sipps’ confidence fell just as far.

May 31st: A-Rod vs. Chris Perez (video)
People just never learn. Barely two weeks after the Twins fell victim to old “walk Teixeira to load the bases for A-Rod because he’s so unclutch” trick, the Indians did exactly the same thing. The Yanks had been nursing a one run lead since the 4th when Perez entered with one out in the 7th and the bases juiced after Rafael Perez got singled to death, and he promptly ran the count to 3-1 on the A-Rod. It was a winnable game for Cleveland, so walking in a run would have been pretty awful. Perez grooved a 3-1 heater and Alex did what he was supposed to do, he sent it right back up the middle, except airborne. The ball landed in Monument Park, the Yanks lead went from one to five, and the game eventually ended 11-2 in favor of the good guys. Hit Tracker measured this one at 421 ft.

June 8th: Granderson vs. Kevin Millwood (video)
The Yankees were in the middle of beating Baltimore for the eighth time in a row when Granderson stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the 3rd. Grandy was hitting a nice and clean .300/.333/.500 since returning from the disabled list a week earlier, but he still wasn’t putting together consistent at-bats. Millwood made it easy by starting him out 2-1 before Granderson fouled off a pitch to even the count at 2-2, but it was Millwood’s fifth pitch that he wishes he could have back. The Yanks’ centerfield pulled the ball 382 ft. down the rightfield line, over the scoreboard and into the barbecue pits lining Eutaw St. to give his team a six-zip advantage.

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

June 12th: Jorge Posada vs. Wandy Rodriguez (video)
A stretch of games against last place teams had helped correct the Yanks’ month long slump, but Posada wasn’t out of the woods yet. He was hitting just .133/.297/.133 in 37 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list, and Wandy already made him look foolish in this game by striking him out on a big loopy curveball. Posada obviously put that curve in his memory bank, because the Astros’ hurler went right back to it when the Yanks had the bases loaded and no outs in the 3rd.

A walk, single, walk, and single had already brought one run in, but Jorge plated the rest when he poked that same curveball the opposite way and over the right-centerfield wall. The Astros went from tied at two to down by four in the matter of that one pitch, and they went on to drop the game 9-3. Hit Tracker measures this one at 388 ft.

June 13th: Posada vs. Casey Daigle (video)
Apparently the Astros hadn’t had enough the day before, so the went ahead and loaded the bases for Posada the next day as well. Already down by two, the forgettable duo of Brian Moehler and Gustavo Chacin walked the bases loaded, and Daigle came off the scrap heap out of the bullpen and immediately went 2-0 on Jorge. What resulted was the worst pitch in the history of Major League Baseball. An 87 mph thigh high fastball right out over the middle. Posada put his best swing on it, and 390 ft. later the Yankees had a 7-1 lead. He became just the third player in franchise history to hit grand slams on back-to-back days, joining Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey, who played a long, long time again.

June 20th: Teixeira vs. Johan Santana (video)
With everyone worrying about the April slump that just won’t end, Teixeira started to ease some of those concerns by hitting a game tying two run shot off Mike Pelfrey the day before he victimized Johan. The Yanks’ loaded the bases with no outs on a pair of clean singles by Gardner and Jeter and a somewhat comical bunt single by Nick Swisher, and the Mets’ ace quickly threw a first pitch ball to Tex. The next pitch caught the corner for a 1-1 count, but Johan left a changeup right out over the plate for the money shot, a 386 ft. blast into the left-centerfield stands to give the Yanks the only runs they would score in a 4-0 victory.

The Yankees hit three grand slams as a team on this most recent road trip, reminiscent of the home stretch last May that featured three straight walk-off wins against the Twins, basically announcing to the baseball world that walk-off wins were going to be the team’s trademark. They only have one glorious walk-off win this year, but it seems they entire team has changed their agenda. 2010 is a the year of the grand slam, folks. I assume A.J. Burnett will adjust his pie-throwing scheduled accordingly.

Possible trade target: Jeff Keppinger

It still feels like the season just started, but the trade deadline is already less than six weeks away. The Yankees got an early start on things last year, acquiring Eric Hinske from the Pirates on June 30th. We have a pretty good idea of where the team needs some help now that 42.6% of the season is complete, so over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at some (reasonable) players the Yanks could target in a midsummer trade to reinforce their squad.

Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson, AP

After doing such a fine job last year, Ramiro Pena has basically gone on to perform as his minor league track record suggested he should this year. He’s hitting a weak .190/.235/.206 (.213 wOBA) in 70 plate appearances, putting him on pace for 164 trips to the plate, or 43 more than last season. The reason he’s played so much more in 2010 is quite simply health. Alex Rodriguez has been battling a nagging hip/groin issue for the last month or so, and Derek Jeter has already missed time with minor illness, hamstring, and heel problems. Even Kevin Russo, who quickly became a fan favorite because of big hits against the Mets and Twins, has a .231 wOBA in a sneaky high total of 51 plate appearances.

It’s entirely possible that A-Rod and Jeter shake off the nagging injury bug the rest of the way and turn into the workhorse players they’ve been for the last decade and a half, but the Yanks would be wise to have a more viable backup infield option handy. I like Pena and Russo as much as the next guy, but they’re simply not producing enough, even by bench player standards.

Jerry Hairston Jr. might be the ideal target because of familiarity more than anything, but he’s not hitting either (.271 wOBA) and the Padres are surprise contenders that might not be willing to sell off a useful part. One team that isn’t anywhere near contending and has a versatile infielder to spare is Houston, who has been trotting Jeff Keppinger out as their starting second baseman basically all season.

The former Met and Red gained a little notoriety by hitting .332/.400/.477 (.385 wOBA) in 276 plate appearances for Cincinnati in 2007, though he’s basically established himself as a .267/.318/.365 hitter in 1,110 plate appearances since. He’s enjoying his best season since 2007 this year, with a .284/.330/.374 (.312 wOBA) batting line in 264 plate appearances for the Astros. The one thing he really excels at is getting the bat on the ball; his contact rate on pitches in the zone (97.7%) and on all pitches (93.1%) are among the four highest percentages in the game this year, ditto his absurdly low 2.2% swing-and-miss rate. His contact rates are almost identical to Brett Gardner‘s, for comparison.

Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson, AP

Because he hits for so little power (.091 ISO in 2010, .107 career), Keppinger basically provides an empty batting average, which is fine for a bench guy. You’re not asking him to be an offensive force off the bench, you just want more than an automatic out. Both his AVG and OBP are slightly above the league average (by 25 points and one point, respectively), and the Yankees really couldn’t ask for much more. Perhaps Kevin Long will be able to add a little loft to his swing like he did with Hairston (he went from 42.0 FB% with the Reds to 46.4% with the Yanks, boosting his offensive performance appropriately), adding a little more pop to his game.

Keppinger has played second base almost exclusively this year, though he has plenty of experience at both third and short as well (more than 760 defensive innings at both spots). He’s even logged time at first base and in both corner outfield spots in the past. Going around the horn, his career UZR/150’s at the three non-first base infield spots are -4.2, -12.3, and -1.4, which is quite simply awful. Keppinger’s throwing arm and ability to actually catch the ball is fine, he’s just got zero range. He’s not an asset on the bases either, with just four steals in eight attempts over the last three years, and his non-stolen base baserunning has cost his team 1.77 runs since 2008. Basically he’s a guy that gets the bat on the ball and can fake a bunch of different positions.

On the contractual side of things, Keppinger is still owed approximately $653,000 of his $1.15M salary this season, and he actual has two more years of team control ahead of him. Granted, he’ll be arbitration eligible during both those years, likely pushing his salary north of $2M and then $3M, but the Yanks would always have the option of non-tendering him. Who knows what the Astros would want in return, but I can’t imagine it’s much more than what the Yanks gave up for Hairston, grade-C and low level prospect Chase Weems (.231/.250/.282 as a backup in High-A ball this year). Moreover, owner Drayton McLane first needs to sign off on a rebuilding effort before GM Ed Wade can shop his players around.

It’s worth mentioning that Hairston’s production improved after he joined the Yanks last year (.308 wOBA with the Reds, .325 with the Yanks), but who knows why that happened. Maybe it’s just a small sample size fluke, maybe he was rejuvenated by joining a contender, maybe K-Long fixed him, who knows. Whatever it was, the Yanks can’t count on it happening again. By no means is Keppinger lighting the world on fire, but it’s a clear upgrade over Pena and Russo.

Remember, bench players are bench players for a reason: because they aren’t good enough to start. The only reason Keppinger is getting regular at-bats in Houston is because the Astros are terrible and don’t have a better option. His name is sure to pop up because he fits a need, but I’m not necessarily suggesting the Yankees should acquire him. I’m just laying out the facts for discussion purposes. Keppinger is a moderately productive player with a favorable contract on a team that shouldn’t consider him a long-term building block, ergo a decent trade target.

Credit Posada’s double to the Mets’ coaches

Although the Yankees scored runs in only one inning yesterday, they did put a number of runners into scoring position. But, as we saw most of last week and into the weekend, they’re having trouble bringing those men around to score. From Wednesday through Saturday they were just 2 for 21 with runners in scoring position, and then on Sunday were just 2 for 9 (Swisher’s single and then Tex’s home run). One of those seven misses yesterday came when Jorge Posada doubled with two outs in the eighth.

Normally this would just be trivia, another tally in the column of futility. Yet this particular double caught my attention. When Posada struck the ball it looked like it might fall into the outfield, but it was no sure thing. It was low enough that David Wright could have nabbed it if properly positioned. If anything it seemed like Jason Bay could have gotten to it and limited Posada to one base. Yet none of that happened. The Mets, for some reason, shifted to the right with Posada batting lefty.

For most of the game Posada hit righty against the lefty Johan Santana. As you can see, when he batted with the bases empty against Santana the Mets played in their normal positions. This screen shot comes from Posada’s lead-off fly out in the sixth.

Everything seems in its right place. That should come as no surprise, as Jorge sprays his hits evenly as a righty. The first chart below is his 2009 spray chart as a right-handed hitter. The next is his 2010 chart, which does show a bit of a pull tendency. That, however, is probably due to a small sample size. I suspect that when we hit October Jorge’s righty spray chart will look similar to his 2009 one.


Jorge’s next at-bat came in the eighth, after Santana had left the game. Pitching in his place was the right-handed Fernando Nieve. On a 2-2 count Posada laced that pitch to left. As you can see in the screen shot below, David Wright was playing well off the third base line. You can also see Jason Bay rushing to his right, trying to track the ball down before Posada took second.

It’s tough to judge distances on this, but it appears that if Wright were in his normal position he might have made the play. Surely, if Bay had played Posada straight on he could have made the play. I’m not sure exactly where Bay was positioned, but the spot at which he appears in this screen cap looks like the right spot. I’m assuming he’s already taken a few steps to his right in pursuit of the ball.

Why would the Mets play a shift on Posada? I suppose they had Posada pegged as pull-happy when batting lefty. Looking at his 2010 spray chart below, there’s a definite concentration of grounders to second base. Yet there are also plenty of balls fielded down the left field line. Remember, these spray charts represent where a ball was fielded, not where it landed. There are enough dots, both green and red, to suggest that Posada can take the ball the other way and, therefore, teams shouldn’t play a shift.

While we have a larger sampling of Posada from the left side than from the right in 2010, we can still look back at his 2009 spray chart to get a better idea of what he does while batting lefty.

Yes, there is a concentration of red dots off the third base line. They also happen to be right where the shortstop would be playing normally. Again, I don’t see a reason to shift Wright over that way. There are enough dots directly behind where the third baseman to suggest that Posada can and will take the ball the other way as a lefty.

Teams play the shift against Mark Teixeira, and it actually makes sense. Here’s his spray chart from 2010:

Yes, there are a few dots to the left side. But they pale in comparison to the dots on the right side. Actually, maybe that’s part of the problem. As you can see on his 2009 spray chart, he might have a concentration of hits to right field, but he also has a nice spray of hits to center and left as well.

That concentration just doesn’t exist for Jorge like it does Teixeira. Why, then, would the Mets play a shift against him? I’m not saying that Wright would have made the play had he been in proper position. He would have had a chance, which is far more than he had when he was playing well off the third base line.

Fan Confidence Poll: June 21st, 2010

Record Last Week: 3-3 (21 RS, 23 RA)
Season Record: 43-26 (376 RS, 275 RA, 45-24 Pythag. record), one game up
Schedule This Week: @ Diamondbacks (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thursday OFF, @ Dodgers (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:99}

Yanks pick up finale from Mets

The Yankees needed this one. Not only to take the series, or to tie the season series, but to get on some kind of roll. They ran like a blitzkrieg through the light portion of their schedule before the offense sputtered against the Phillies. It has come alive a bit more over the last couple of days. Maybe the Yanks can use this to rally through their remaining NL schedule.

Biggest Hit: The only big hit of the game

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Though the Yankees managed nine hits yesterday, the onle ones that amounted to runs were the four in the third. Brett Gardner led off with a liner to left, which Jeter followed with a tapper that turned into an infield single. I’m not sure why Nick Swisher decided to bunt in that situation, but it caught the Mets off guard. He pushed it past Johan Santana all the way to Ike Davis. Ruben Tejada ran to cover first, but Santana didn’t see him there. They collided and the ball fell to the dirt. The Yanks had bases loaded and none out.

Looking for a strikeout or a groundball, Santana started working Teixeira with a pair of changeups low. He missed on the first and got Tex to swing over the second. On the 1-1 pitch Santana went to his fastball, trying to run it in on Teixeira. He succeeded, but Tex had enough time to get around on the 91 mph pitch. Just as Michael Kay told us that Santana had allowed two grand slams this year and four in his career, Teixeira made it three and five. The ball went over the scoreboard in left and gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead.

“If it’s 94, 95 he doesn’t come close to doing what he did,” said catcher Rod Barajas after the game.

We’re still waiting for Teixeira to hit consistently. He’s shown signs like this all year long, which means he’s been productive at times. Once he gets in a groove — and yes, I’m still confident he will — we should see much of the same production we did last summer.

Biggest Pitch: Sabathia induces the 5-4-3 double play

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

For his second straight start CC Sabathia was involved in a marquee matchup. He pitched very well on Monday, allowing just three runs through seven innings. Even those came in just one inning, after he took a comebacker off the pitching hand. After that he seemed fine, much better than the starts in which he struggled in May. This time he faced Johan Santana, which of course brings a bit of history. Santana had defeated Sabathia in their Sunday matchup earlier in the year, but he would not complete the sweep.

Before the seventh inning CC had allowed no more than one baserunner per inning. He had walked the leadoff man in the fifth and allowed a leadoff double in the sixth, but both times he stranded him. Then, in the seventh he finally faced a situation with two runners on. It started with an Ike Davis single to lead off the inning and continued when Jason Bay drew a walk. CC alternated fastball and changeup to get Rod Barajas swinging, but the Mets still had two more outs to go.

Fernando Tatis took care of both of them. CC dropped a slider over the outside half for strike one, and then threw a changeup in the dirt. He came back with a changeup on the next pitch, and it actually looked like a decent pitch. But Tatis got on top of it, grounding it to A-Rod, who flipped the ball to Cano, who flipped in turn to Teixeira to complete the 5-4-3 double play and end the inning.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

CC ended with an excellent line: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 66 of 100 pitches for strikes. Had it not been for the rain delay I have to think he’d have come out for the ninth. But there’s no complaining when Mo comes in and works his magic.

Miscellany

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Brett Gardner continues to impress both in the field and at the plate. He led off the rally that led to Tex’s slam with a single, a liner the opposite way on a belt high fastball. He also made an excellent catch on a Rod Barajas fly ball out by the wall in left. His .378 wOBA is not only right around what Johnny Damon posted last year, but is also .001 ahead of Carl Crawford. UZR doesn’t rate his defense particularly well right now, -2.0, but according to John Dewan’s +/- system Gardner has saved five defensive runs.

Teixeira since the five-strikeout game: 13 for 47 with three doubles, four homers, and nine walks. That puts his triple slash at .276/.414/.596.

Posada since the grand slam game: 8 for 22 (.364) with a double and three jacks. That’s an .818 SLG, homes.

Granderson since returning from the DL: .257/.333/.514. Power’s there for sure, but he could stand to get on base a little more frequently.

On a less optimistic note, A-Rod since leaving the Orioles game: 2 for 18 with a double and just two walks.

The only Yankee starters without a hit were Cano and Rodriguez. Cano was hit by a pitch.

Graph, box, highlights

Yeah, I could use a graph like this right about now.

More at FanGraphs. Also check the box score and highlights.

Up Next

They’re flying out to Arizona, where A.J. Burnett will look to right the ship against Rodrigo Lopez. Game, unfortunately, starts at 10.