Game 135: Stay hot

The Yankees kicked off their longest homestand of the season in style, pummeling the A’s in all four games the two teams played. Things get a little tougher today, when the Blue Jays come to town for the first of six times the two clubs will meet this month. Jose Bautista will surely try to hit his homers, but the Yanks can’t let him or his theatrics bother them, they simply need to win. They’ve won six straight and don’t have time to waste on a fourth place team.

Brandon Morrow will be making his final start of the season for the Jays today; they’re shutting him down to control his innings. We still have nightmares about how he’s dominated the Yanks this season, but it’s worth noting that he’s got a rather massive home/road split. He’s pitched in the Bronx twice already this season, giving up five runs in six innings and then again in five-and-a-third innings. Fingers are crossed.

Here’s the lineup, with the Cap’n getting a regular day off…

Gardner, LF
Granderson, CF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Berkman, DH
Kearns, RF
Pena, 3B
Nunez, SS

And on the bump, it’s the rookie Ivan Nova.

It’s a bit overcast in the Tri-State Area and there’s a chance of rain during the game, but as far as we know they plan on starting this one on time.

What purpose September baseball?

As the East Coast awakens this morning to news of a hurricane making its way up the coast, nothing in the American League East can rival that storm for excitement. The Yankees and Rays are locked in a pennant race that almost doesn’t matter, and while October might be more exciting with the top teams involved, the suspense of a race where the second place team goes home empty is gone.

Right now, the Yankees are in the driver’s seat. They’re 84-50, 34 games above .500 for the first time this year, and the Rays are nipping at their heels, 82-51. Even though Tampa Bay’s schedule remains easier, the Yankees, according to Cool Standings, have an edge in the race for the AL East crown. The Red Sox remain eight games out, and although their schedule gives them a slight opportunity to get back in it, they’re nearly dead.

But it all doesn’t matter. Because of baseball’s grand experiment, both Tampa Bay and the Yankees, division rivals to the end, have a better than 98-percent shot at October. If either team misses the playoffs right now, it will be due to a nearly historic collapse. Outside of the New York Mets, teams just don’t easily relinquish eight-game leads on playoff spots with 28 left to play.

For baseball purists, this 1990s development still rankles the soul, and in his column in the Wall Street Journal today, Jason Gay bemoans the division race that isn’t. “Feel the passion!” he writes. “Aren’t you just riveted by back-and-forth Yanks-Rays suspense? Either the Yankees will begin the playoffs at home or—hold on, just wait for it—the Rays will.”

What bothers Gay most is how the Wild Card — admittedly, as he says, a positive development for the game — has robbed baseball of what should be an exciting story line. “It’s hard not to feel a little cheated,” he said. “The two best teams in baseball—with amazingly paradoxical story lines and operating philosophies—have been playing each other razor-close for weeks (they recently spent eight days tied for first, a record this late in the season) and meet seven more times this month. Had this been the 1950’s, it’d be the kind of race they’d write show tunes about. Or books you buy in airports. But it’s not. It’s not a meaningless September in the Bronx. It’s just not as meaningful.”

It’s not as meaningless because the two teams are playing for something. As I noted earlier this week, home field advantage remains up in the air, and it’s tough to understate the importance of that advantage in the playoffs. In five of the past six seasons, the AL team with home-field advantage won the championship series and advanced to the World Series.

The problem though with playing for home-field advantage is that it’s an obtuse goal that doesn’t play well in marketing campaigns. Come see the Rays and the Yanks duke it out for home-field advantage! Come watch a potential playoff preview three weeks before the games truly count! The draw just isn’t there.

For the Yankees, September is important because the club has to get healthy. They have to align their rotation; they have to secure that playoff spot. There will be no Bucky Dent moments here, no situation where two teams win over 100 games and one goes home, no winner-takes-all moments. It’s just a September to get ready, not one to remember.

Mailbag: Montero, Jeter, Injuries, Stats, Mets

Time for another edition of the RAB mailbag. This week we’ll tackle questions about Jesus Montero‘s future power, Derek Jeter‘s future everything, pitching injuries, ways to measure a pitcher’s volatility, and how I’d fix the Mets. If you ever want to submit a question, just send it in via the Submit A Tip box underneath The Montero Watch in the sidebar.

Sheepmeister asks: Guys, why all the hype around Jesus Montero. Everyone tabs him as a 40 HR guy but this year he has 18 in 417 ABs (Ed. note: this was sent in a few days ago, he’s at 19 HR in 438 AB now), what makes him so special with the bat (other than the C position)?

You’re looking at this entirely the wrong way. He’s 20-years-old, he hasn’t physically matured yet. Montero will add power naturally that way, and also by benefiting from a big league coaching staff, a big league training and conditioning program, big league advanced scouts and video, all of that. Albert Pujols played one year in the minors and hit 19 homers. Miguel Cabrera never hit more than ten homers in a minor league season. I could go on all day. You don’t want players to peak down in the minors.

Montero is also a .314 career hitter in 1,560 plate appearances, and he has a good enough approach at the plate to draw his fair share of walks (though I don’t think he’ll ever be a 90-100 walk guy). He’s a complete hitter, not just a mindless brute that will club 40 homers while hitting in the .220’s with 200 strikeouts. He’s a very natural all-around hitter, and that’s extremely exciting.

Shai asks: Is there any chance that Jeter’s pride will make him decide to retire and not have anymore of these embarrassing seasons? He doesn’t need the money, so whats in it for him?

Zero. He’ll play next year to get his 3,000th hit at minimum, and probably play a few years beyond that. I doubt it’s just about money, Jeter was set for life financially before he signed this soon-to-expire monster contract, there’s probably a huge part of him that just wants to win.

Also, I certainly wouldn’t call his season embarrassing. Disappointing yes, but not embarrassing. Cesar Izturis is embarrassing. Chone Figgins is embarrassing. Jason Kendall is embarrassing. Jeter’s just been a letdown compared to his lofty standards.

Anonymous asks: It was disappointing and alarming to see Stephen Strasburg go down. What really hit me was that they say it was a sudden thing – i.e the elbow was 100% fine for one pitch, then the next pitch, hello Tommy John. No lingering problems building up over time, no mismanagement of his young arm by the Nats, nothing. My question is: are all pitchers essentially time bombs that could go off at any instant? We all take for granted that CC has been in perfect health during his Yankee career – is he somehow at less risk for the next pitch being his last?

Yeah, pretty much. It can go at any moment. Some guys are lucky with health, others aren’t. It really is that simple. A guy could have fine mechanics, good genetics, be in great shape, and it still might not matter. All it takes is one pitch, one mistake with his delivery, to pop that UCL.

That said, some guys obviously manage to stay healthier over the long term like Sabathia, but I have no idea what makes him less of an injury risk than say, Rich Harden. It could be his size, but Roy Oswalt’s skinny as a twig and he’s been a horse all these years as well. If I knew the answer to this question, I’d auction the info off to whatever team offered the most money for it.

Wade asks: Do any of the advanced pitching metrics take into account volatility? I assume (certainly for a team like the Yankees) a pitcher who goes out and gives you 7 IP and 2 or 3 ER every single time is more valuable than one who goes 9 shutout innings in half his starts and 5 IP with 6 ER in the other half. I couldn’t find any metrics that consider this, so maybe I’m just wrong in assuming it matters over the course of a year.

Not that I know of, everything’s generally based off the big picture. If there was such a thing as a stat that measured volatility, I’m guessing A.J. Burnett would lead the league in it. I suppose one way you could do it is by have something that’s the opposite of a Quality Start, say a Weak Start at 6 IP, 5 ER, then use a +/- system. A guy gets +1 for a Quality Start, and -1 for a Weak Start. The closer a guy is to zero, the more unpredictable he is.

Looking quickly at the Yanks’ rotation, I come up with this:

  1. CC Sabathia, +20
  2. Andy Pettitte, +12
  3. Phil Hughes, +8
  4. Javy Vazquez, +4
  5. A.J. Burnett, +4

For the fun of it, I get +23 for Felix Hernandez and +2 for Kevin Millwood. I took a quick glance at the bottom of the ERA leaderboard and couldn’t come up with anyone in the negatives (that made 20-something starts). Last year Sabathia was at +17, Burnett +16, and Pettitte +11.

My arbitrary definitition of a Weak Start could be tweaked (you could say the same for Quality Starts), but I guess this general approach works as a way to attack the volatility question. I’m not sure how useful a stat like this would be for analytical purposes, but it is a nice reference number and obviously you’d prefer a more consistent starter.

Tom asks: Congratulations! You have been given a job in the Mets organization (Maybe I should have said “My condolences”) your task is to clean house and fix the broken organization. What steps do you take to fix it? Who do you fire? Who do you hire to take their place?

Oof, I don’t even know where to start. Since you can’t fire the owner(s), I guess I would start by cleaning house with the field staff (Jerry Manuel, Howard Johnson, all of ’em) and re-assigning Omar Minaya. He’s pretty bad as a GM, but he’s actually got one hell of a scouting background. He’s the guy that found Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Ryan Church, and a bunch of others with the Expos and Rangers way back when. Just make sure he’s not in a position to trade them away. With something like four years left on his contract, some kind of advisory role works. He can be an asset when used in the right capacity. Bring in a new scouting department (both pro and amateur) and a new(er) school manager. Call me crazy, but I’d at least consider David Cone.

As for the player personnel, the first step is figuring out who is part of the team’s core going forward and who isn’t. David Wright absolutely is, he’s your franchise cornerstone. Johan Santana is. Ike Davis, Jon Niese, and Bobby Parnell probably are. Carlos Beltran and the one year left on his contract aren’t, ditto the dreck like Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. A decision will have to be made about Jose Reyes, who has just one year (an option year at that) left on his deal. I’d probably take advantage of a barren shortstop market and trade him, but that’s easier said than done, especially with no obvious replacement available.

It all starts with strength up the middle, and frankly the Mets have very little of it. Josh Thole is a nice young catcher, but very few project him as an every day player. Is this Angel Pagan’s career year, or his true talent level as a centerfielder? Who plays second? What about short if Reyes is dealt? Lots of questions, almost no answers. Finding those answers will not be easy, but that’s where you have to focus your efforts. Acquire as many young up-the-middle players as humanly possible, then sort it all out later.

I’d also at least try to do something with CitiField. Bring the walls in, shorten them up, do something. Part of the problem are getting people in the seats, and a more offense friendly environment helps with that problem a little bit. I’m not saying you turn the place into Coors East, but league average is a nice start. At least make an effort.

Fixing the Mets will take some time and patience, but thankfully it doesn’t have to be a total rebuild given their above average financial flexibility. You could probably turn this team around the “right way” and compete by 2013, maaaybe even 2012. The Phillies aren’t getting any younger, ditto most of Atlanta’s key pieces. Ownership needs to be convinced to go big on the draft and international market, which is where it all starts. When you spend big bucks on free agents, spend it on complete players capable of impacting the game in multiple ways and power pitchers that miss bats. Quite simply, I’d just follow the Yankees blueprint.

CC on the money again as Yanks complete sweep

Every five days the Yankees have one of the top five pitchers in the league take the mound for them. It’s not only a great feeling, but after the pitching drought of 2004 through 2008 it is a privileged feeling. Sabathia again worked his magic, holding the A’s to just one hit in eight innings. That was easily enough for the Yankees to win this game and complete their second straight sweep of the A’s.

Biggest Hits: Yard

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Did the Yankees players really care about Dallas Braden’s antics in April? Even if they did then I doubt they do now. We’re months removed from the incident. Even if it had happened yesterday, it’s still just a pitcher who embarrassed himself by acting like a clown over some nonsensical unwritten rule that many former players can’t even recall. So whatever. Maybe the Yanks wanted to pound the kid more than usual. Maybe they just approached the game like they would any other game.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Braden did pitch well through five innings, allowing just one run on two hits and two walks while striking out four. The one run came in the second when Braden made a big mistake to Jorge Posada. Gameday lists it as a sinker at 83 mph, and it was right down the middle. Jorge blasted it to the biggest part of the park, but it went out anyway. That was the only run they’d actually need, but in the second inning you always want to tack on. The Yanks wold have to wait three more innings for that to happen.

Curtis Granderson was supposed to get the day off, but Nick Swisher went and injured his knee in the first. That set up Granderson to face a lefty. He grounded out on the first pitch in his first trip, but the second Braden-Granderson meeting got cut short. Braden appeared a little uncomfortable after delivering a pitch and had to leave the game. A’s manager Bob Geren opted to go with another lefty, Jerry Blevins, as his replacement. He started off well, picking Derek Jeter off first. But his at-bat against Granderson got a bit drawn out.

On the seventh pitch Blevins dealt a fastball belt high inside, and Granderson crushed it to double the Yanks’ lead. He came up again the next inning, this time with a runner on first and two outs. The righty Mike Wuertz got a called strike on the outside corner, but then came in with his third best pitch, a changeup. Wuertz, as you might recall, has a nasty slider that he normally throws more than half the time. He didn’t go there this time, and Granderson punished a high, inside pitch for his second homer of the game. That again doubled the lead, which was in good hands with CC on the mound.

Biggest Pitch: CC stifles the threats

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

It’s hard to believe given the game’s result, but this game wasn’t as well at hand in the early innings. The Yanks weren’t putting many men on base, and when they were they weren’t advancing them. They had the lead and their ace was on the mound, but even an ace gives up runs here and there. The A’s had some opportunities, but Sabathia gave them nothing.

In the third the A’s had their first chance to get on the board. Posada had an easy play to get Cliff Pennington on his way to first, but he made a terrible throw that got far enough away that Pennington could take second. Coco Crisp advanced him to third on an out, giving the A’s a chance to tie the game without a hit. It was up to Rajai Davis. That should tell the entire story. He swung at the first pitch, a slider breaking towards him, and popped it up to the first base side. Kurt Suzuki then struck out, leaving Pennington standing on third.

The A’s went quietly in the fourth, but then finally got a runner on base again in the fifth. Landon Powell walked with one out. It might not seem like a big deal, but considering Sabathia had allowed just two balls to reach the outfield at that point it was relatively significant. That brought Pennington back to the plate. He quickly fell behind 0-2 and then grounded a slider right to Eduardo Nunez. It went around the horn and ended the inning.


In case you missed it between the game and now, Swisher hurt his knee and is day to day.

The outfielders had a boring day. Sabathia allowed just three balls to reach them all day. Albaladejo gave them a reprieve in the ninth when he induced two fly outs, one to left and one to right. No Yankee center fielder touched the ball yesterday.

Granderson went 1 for 2 with a homer against lefties. That was his 31st hit in 137 PA against left-handed pitching this year. Last year he had 33 hits in 199 PA against LHP. Last year he hit .183/.245/.239. This year he’s hitting .246/.285/.365. That’s not great — not good, even — but an unquestionable improvement. Since the swing tweaks he’s hitting .288/.366/.603.

You know who else has been on a little tear? Jorge Posada. He’s 17 for his last 50 (.340) with eight walks (.450 OBP) and eight extra base hits (.680 SLG).

CC Sabathia certainly is making a Cy Young push. With yesterday’s performance he lowered his ERA to 3.02 and his FIP to 3.54. He also crossed the 200-inning mark for the fourth consecutive season. The fewest number of innings he has pitched in a season is 180, when he was a 20-year-old rookie.

Graph and box

More at FanGraphs. The box score, too, looks pretty.

Up Next

Day Game 2 of 5 tomorrow afternoon as Brandon Morrow makes his final start of the 2010 season. Ivan Nova goes for the Yanks.

Brandon Laird’s big day

Brandon Laird was named not only the MVP of the Double-A Eastern League today, but also the Rookie of the Year as well. Pretty big day in the Laird household, so congrats to him. He was quiet awesome (.371 wOBA) with the Thunder this season.

Meanwhile, Gary Sanchez, Ramon Flores, and Anderson Feliz were named to the Rookie level Gulf Coast League postseason All Star team.

Triple-A Scranton (9-2 win over Buffalo)
Reid Gorecki, CF: 0 for 5, 1 K
Kevin Russo, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 HBP
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 2 K – 11 for his last 34 (32.4%) with three doubles and three homers
Robby Hammock, C: 0 for 1 – replaced Montero with SWB up by 9th in the late innings … they had a doubleheader yesterday, nothing wrong with giving the kid a little rest
Juan Miranda, 1B: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 K – just six hits in his last ten games, but five of them have gone for extra bases (three doubles, two homers)
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K – nine of his 17 walks have come in the last eight games
Colin Curtis, RF: 0 for 3, 1 HBP
Chad Huffman, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R
Brandon Laird, 3B: 3 for 4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 E (fielding) – breaks out of his slump of his big day
Eric Bruntlett, SS: 3 for 4, 3 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI – big night
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 6-5 GB/FB – 65 of 94 pitches were strikes (69.1%) … two runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts
George Kontos: 2.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 4-0 GB/FB – 19 of his 30 pitches were strikes (63.3%)

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Six in a row and ready for more

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Don’t cry, Dallas. Maybe one day you’ll be good enough to pitch on CC’s mound.

Seriously though, how awesome was the big guy today? It looked like Sabathia was throwing a low intensity bullpen session most of the afternoon; he could probably start again on Saturday. Six wins in a row and the magic number for a playoff spot is down to 21, which a chance to drop to 20 tonight if the Red Sox fall to the Orioles.

Here’s your open thread for the night. The Mets are going to get their asses kicked in Atlanta again, plus the Tigers and Twins will be on the MLB Network (depending on where you live). There are also various college football games going on as well. Chat about whatever you want; just don’t be a dick.

Aceves scratched from tonight’s rehab appearance

Update (7:50pm): Yep, he’s back in New York to see the doc about his back. Not good.

6:19pm: Via Mike Ashmore, Al Aceves has been scratched form his rehab outing with Double-A Trenton tonight and has instead returned to New York. It’s possible that he’s going to have his back re-examined, which is what’s had him on the shelf basically all season. Aceves’ rehab schedule hasn’t been going very well – 11.2 IP, 14 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 6 BB, 11 K with various minor league affiliates – so this news isn’t terribly surprising. Like I’ve been saying, whatever the Yanks get out of Aceves this season is a bonus, and it’s entirely possible he contributes nothing the rest of the way.