Montero goes deep while SWB splits doubleheader

Various notes…

  • So it turns out the Tzu-Wei Lin signing will not happen. Apparently the kid never bothered to sign the contract. Go figure. (h/t MLBTR)
  • Melky Mesa, Bradley Suttle, and manager Torre Tyson were all named to the High-A Florida State League postseason All Star Team.
  • Meanwhile, Rob Lyerly was the only Yankee farmhand named to the Low-A South Atlantic League postseason All Star Team. Congrats to everyone.

Triple-A Scranton
Game One (4-3 loss to Buffalo in 7 innings)
makeup of an August 12th rain out
Reid Gorecki, RF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 E (throwing)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 3 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB – second straight game with a two-bagger
Jesus Montero, DH: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K – just three away from tying his career high of 34 doubles, set back in 2008 … he’s already set a new career high with 18 homers
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 K
Colin Curtis, CF, Brandon Laird, 3B & P.J. Pilittere, C: all 1 for 3 – Curtis drove in a run & K’ed twice … Laird K’ed
Chad Huffman, LF & Eric Bruntlett, SS: both 0 for 3 – Huffman K’ed
Hector Noesi: 6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HB, 1 WP, 6-5 GB/FB – 71 of 99 pitches were strikes … 147-27 K/BB ratio in 153.2 IP

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Game 133: Surviving A.J.

You can do this, A.J. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Yankees have managed to win four games in a row, a streak spanning from one A.J. Burnett start to the next. They’ve won games started by a pair of kids barely old enough to drink (legally), a forgettable journeyman, and a bonafide ace in the interim, and now it’s up to the enigmatic righty to get the job done. All we need is a crafty lefthander and a knuckleballer and we’d have hit on all the key demographics.

The Athletics are a good matchup for A.J. because they’re not going drive the ball out of the park or even to the wall that much, so he needs to make sure he doesn’t help them out with walks and let rallies spiral out of control. Easier said than done, but Burnett’s capable of doing it, and he really needs to start doing it tonight. New month, fresh start.

Thankfully the Yanks have really ramped things up offensively, scoring 20 runs in the past two nights and 84 runs in their last dozen games, an average of exactly seven runs per game. With any luck, they’ll give A.J. and the rest of the pitching staff a little breathing room. Here’s the lineup that’ll go to work against Brett Anderson, a great young starter having an injury riddled year…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Thames, DH
Kearns, LF
Granderson, CF
Nunez, 3B
Cervelli, C

And on the bump, it’s that Burnett guy.

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Get ready for some good A.J. bashing on the four-letter. Enjoy the game.

Rotation Shuffle: Moseley out, Vazquez back

Javier Vazquez will take a turn in the starting rotation, replacing Dustin Moseley on Saturday against the Blue Jays, Joe Girardi announced this afternoon. The decision came as little surprise as Moseley has gotten hit around over this last four outings while Vazquez has made two impressive bullpen appearances, flashing better stuff and velocity. Since beating Boston on August 8, Moseley is 2-1 but is averaging fewer than five innings a start. He’s walked 13 and struck out 11 while giving up five home runs en route to a 6.41 ERA. Meanwhile, since losing his rotation spot amidst a dead-arm period, Vazquez has thrown nine strong innings in relief. He’s allowed two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out eight. We questioned whether Vazquez truly tweaked his mechanics or was experience the placebo effect of a new role role, but no matter the answer, the Yanks feel comfortable enough to move him back to the rotation after a two-week stint in the pen.

One year later, the same Jeter conundrum

Yankee history, personified. Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Derek Jeter picked a bad time to get old.

For nine years, Derek Jeter made the Yanks’ 10-year, $189-million contract they gave him after the 2000 season look like a great deal, and then he turned 36. With one month left before Jeter’s final regular season game under this deal, the Yankee Captain is having the worst season of his career. Mired in a 2-for-30 slide, Jeter is now hitting .266/.332/.376 on the season, and he’s on pace for career lows in every triple-slash category. His OPS is .130 points below his career average, and although he’s out-pacing the average American League short stop, he may put up an OPS+ below 100 for the first time he was just a 21-year-old rookie.

It hasn’t been easy for the Yanks to diagnose Jeter’s problems this year. His isolated patience — on-base percentage less batting average — is .066, not far off from his career norm of .071, but his .298 BABIP is well below his lifetime .356 mark. He’s not striking out, and he’s not really walking. Yet, he’s also not hitting the ball with authority as his ground ball rates are up and his line drives are down. He’s swinging at way too many pitches out of the strike zone and is making bad contact with those pitches. In other words, he’s having a very bad, no-good, rotten season (for him, at least).

We can talk about Jeter’s swing, his personal frustration and his poor approach at the plate — as Frankie Piliere has this afternoon — but for the Yankees, the future matters more than the present. Jeter is a free agent, and as we’ve explored in the past, he wants to get paid. Now, he doesn’t just want a token contract for a reasonable-but-still-high amount; he wants to be recognized as the face of the Yankees. He wants, in other words, to be treated like A-Rod.

The tabloids today tackle just that subject. In his 3UP column, Joel Sherman ponders the nature of Derek Jeter. “If his name were not Derek Jeter,” Sherman writes, “the Yanks would have definitely moved him to eighth or ninth in the lineup and possibly considered playing Eduardo Nunez at shortstop more.” I disagree with playing Nunez more, but Jeter shouldn’t and wouldn’t be batting at or near the top of the Yankee lineup if he were any other short stop with a .332 on-base percentage.

Sherman eventually broaches the delicate topic of money. He doesn’t believe Jeter would get more than a one-year, $7-million deal on the open market — in other words, Marco Scutaro money. Jeter, according to John Harper’s anonymous sources, will expect more. The Daily News columnist rounded up some people who wished to remain nameless, and surprisingly, none of them had nice things to say. “”Knowing Jeet,” one player said to Harper, “he’s not going to let an off-year, if it turns out to be an off-year, play a role in what he thinks he should get paid. He just doesn’t think like that. He’ll be more convinced than ever that he’ll come back and hit .330 next year.”

Another of Harper’s supposed former teammates echoed those concerns: “The question is whether Cashman and the others think this is the start of a decline, and if so, are they going to factor it into the negotiations or just pay him for being the face of the franchise all these years? Knowing Derek, he’ll say all the right things, but he won’t give an inch based on his numbers this season.”

I grew up with Derek Jeter, and it’s tough for me to admit that he’s getting old. No one likes to come face-to-face with their own mortality and their own aging, but that’s very likely what’s happening with Derek Jeter. His eye isn’t as discnering; his bat speed not as quick; his fielding more suspect. But age is not on his side.

Take a quick gander this:

That list represents every single short stop in Major League history who, at the age of 36 or older, played 75 percent of his games at short stop and played at least 200 games before calling it quits. It isn’t a very long list, and it isn’t one filled with successful players. Now, few of these guys could approach peak-era Derek Jeter in terms of offensive production, but history and age aren’t on Jeter’s side.

Any agreement the Yankees and Derek Jeter reach this winter will set the tone for the immediate future of the franchise. They can risk overpaying Jeter for the good will of his 3000th hit and the end of his career. They can play hardball with Derek and risk ill will from everyone. But they can’t expect to pay Derek Jeter $18 million and A-Rod north of $25 million in 2013 and 2014 and compete at a high level. Even the Yankees’ resources are limited, and poor investments at such high levels are tough to overcome.

The easy answer is one of hope. We have to hope Derek Jeter can kick in gear as the Yanks head for October. We have to hope he can defy age. We have to hope he can battle back the question marks. And we have to hope he’ll reach an amicable deal with the Yankees. Anything else might just be too depressing to ponder. After all, none of us are getting any younger.

Jonathan Albaladejo’s big chance

Today’s September 1st, so that means dozens of prospects, former big leaguers, has-beens, never will-bes, and more will join the 30 big league teams as they expand their rosters down the stretch. For most of the clubs, it’s a time to give some youngsters a look or back off their young starting pitchers, stuff like that. For a guy like Jon Albaladejo, who the Yankees will activate before tonight’s game, it’s an audition for a future job.

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Albaladejo, the portly 27-year-old righthanded reliever, failed to make the Yanks’ Opening Day this season for the first time since joining the organization following the 2007 campaign, and that’s because he was simply atrocious in Spring Training. He appeared in five games, recorded just eight outs, and allowed 16 (!!!) hits and 11 runs. He walked a pair and struck out just one. With last year’s stellar relief corps intact (plus some new additions), it was going to be tough enough for Albie to crack the bullpen to start with, but his performance in camp cemented his trip to Triple-A Scranton.

With his sinker-slider approach apparently no longer doing the trick, Albaladejo decided to reinvent himself as a more traditional power pitcher. The sinker was replaced with a more traditional four-seamer that has registered in the mid-90’s, the slider with a 12-to-6 curveball. Well, he still throws the sinker and slider on occasion, but they’re nothing more than his third and fourth pitches right now. That’s pretty good for a reliever.

The results of the change were staggering. Albaladejo struck out 82 batters and walked just 18 in 63.1 innings this season, and opponents hit just .170 off him. A mere 22 of the 113 righthanded batters he faced with Scranton this year reached base, and exactly double that number went down on strike three. Along the way he saved 43 games, setting franchise and International League records. Clearly, the new Jon Albaladejo was a force to be reckoned with, and it’s just a matter of proving himself against big league competition now.

Albie showed off his new approach in a brief late-July call-up, when he allowed a run and struck out three in 2.2 innings of work spread across a pair of appearances. Basically a one inning pitcher all season, he appeared to fatigue in the second inning of his first appearance, when he allowed a single (the baserunner was then erased on a caught stealing) and a walk before giving way to Chan Ho Park, who of course allowed the inherited runner to score when he served up a homerun ball on the second pitch he threw. It wasn’t much to judge the new Albaladejo by, but it was obvious that all the talk of his new fastball-curveball combo was more than just talk, it was reality.

September, like Spring Training, isn’t the best time to evaluate players because of the diluted talent pool, but sometimes we’re forced to do it. That’s what the Yankees are going to have to do with Albaladejo, who’s going to be out of options next season. He’s either going to have to stick with the big league club out of Spring Training in 2011 or be placed on waivers before going to the minor leagues. Given the dearth of quality relievers and Albie’s kick-ass Triple-A performance, there’s a pretty good chance someone will give him a whirl. Hell, someone claimed Chan Ho freaking Park off waivers, Albaladejo’s not making it through.

David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Kerry Wood figure to remain Joe Girardi‘s primary righthanded setup relievers down the stretch and rightfully so, which means Albaladejo’s going to have to make the most of whatever playing time he gets. That’s probably going to be sixth and seventh inning work in close but probably still trailing games or blowouts. And remember, Albie’s not just pitching for a job with the Yankees next year, he’s basically auditioning himself for the other 29 clubs as well. Perhaps the Yanks could net something in a trade after the season than risk losing him for no return off waivers.

Jon Albaladejo’s reemergence this year was just one of several pleasant pitching surprises in the farm system this season, but unlike the rest of the guys down there, the Yanks don’t have the luxury of time in this case. Surely they’ve been evaluating him all season long, but this month they’re going to get a crash course look at what he can do against Major League hitters and use that to make a decision on his future with the organization. Hopefully he takes advantage of it.

Lilly still an option for the Yanks?

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Yesterday it seemed as though the idea of acquiring Ted Lilly came and went. We learned that the Yankees won the waiver claim on Lilly, but also that the Dodgers pulled him back. That seemed like the end of it. The Yankees clearly had interest in re-acquiring Lilly for the stretch run, but the Dodgers apparently didn’t want to deal with just one team — if they wanted to deal with any teams at all. It’s a shame, since Lilly could have helped, but with the August 31 waiver trade deadline in the past, that notion is dead.

Or is it? According to a Daily News report, the Yankees think they can not only acquire Lilly, but also can add him to their postseason roster. This does strike me as a bit odd, because yesterday’s report indicated that the Dodgers pulled back Lilly from waivers. That means, as I understand it, that they can’t trade him without again exposing Lilly to waivers, at which point any team could claim him and the Dodgers could not again pull him back. But the Yankees, “believe there is a loophole that because they were awarded the claim before the first of the month, they could use Lilly on their postseason roster.”

This claim appears out of line with what we know about postseason eligibility rules. The general rule is that any player on the 25-man roster, disabled list, bereavement list, or suspended list can be added to a team’s roster in any round of the playoffs. For the Yankees that includes the 25 active guys plus Damaso Marte, Andy Pettitte, Alfredo Aceves, Lance Berkman, Nick Johnson, and Alex Rodriguez. If any of those players is still hurt come playoff time, the Yankees can substitute him for another player who was in their organization on August 31. Since Lilly can’t have been in the organization by that date, it seems that he would be ineligible for the postseason.

I did ask ESPN’s Keith Law about this. He’s not certain about the rule, but he doesn’t think such a loophole exists. He then asked a front office guy and got a similar response. Again, neither Law nor the front office guy is certain, but they both believe that the Yankees would not be able to pull off such a move. To be certain we’d probably have to leaf through the MLB rulebook, which is not available online (though if you’re a super geek you can find a copy on eBay). But from most indications the Yankees will not get their way here.

We’ve seen some strange things happen, and maybe the Yankees have done their homework and have found the loophole they need. Lilly would be a welcome addition to a staff that has hit something of a rough patch. But he’s not necessary, so it’s not the end of the world if theYankees can’t pull of this maneuver. It’s an interesting thought, but it looks like the Yanks will go to war with the guys they’ve got.

Glove slap to Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.

The low expectations for A.J. Burnett

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

With a patchwork rotation that includes a struggling Phil Hughes, a journeyman pitching way over his head and a 23-year-old with two Major League starts to his name as well as their ace, the Yanks have made it from one to A.J. Burnett start to another without a loss. It’s the first time since early July that the Bombers have won four in a row, and few fans expect Burnett to continue the streak.

We know how bad A.J. has been lately. The glow of his World Series duel with Pedro Martinez has long since faded into Yankee lore, and right now, we’re stuck with a guy who’s 3-10 with a 6.86 ERA since the beginning of June. We’re stuck with the innings eater who’s averaging under six frames a start. We’re struck with the strike-out pitcher whose K rate has dropped to 6.75 per 9 innings. And we’re stuck with the guy making $16.5 million a year through 2013. It isn’t a comforting thought.

Yet, the Yankees have little choice but to hand the ball over to Burnett tonight, and it’s in the club’s best interests to get A.J. straightened out. If we look beyond the numbers to the stuff as presented by MLB’s pitch f/x data, we can begin to see what ails A.J, and it seems to be a combination of a less effective curveball and a fastball without bite. What many have noticed about Burnett’s fastball this year is its velocity. He averaged over 94 miles per hour last year but has been sitting at 93 this year. The velocity chart shows a downward trend too, but a mid-90s fastball thrown thrown with proper movement would still be tough to hit.

Rather, Burnett’s problem appears to be just that movement. The horizontal movement on his fastball is nearly two inches less than what it was last year while the vertical movement is approximately an inch and a half more. So instead of tailing fastballs then run away to lefties and in on righties, his fastball seems to be moving less to the corners. Thus, Major League hitters will tee up on it.

The deuce seems to be giving Burnett problems as well. Last year, Fangraphs rated his curve as a plus pitch, 16 runs above average. This year, they rate it at -4.2 runs below average, and the pitch f/x data says the curve too hasn’t been moving horizontally as much as it has in the past. While Fangraphs didn’t smile upon Burnett’s fastball last year, without the movement on the fastball and with a stale curveball, the results have been, as we’ve seen, disastrous lately.

Right now, though, there are no other options. The Yanks could skip Burnett and hand the ball over to Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre for a turn, but they could also do that with Phil Hughes to give him some rest. They can’t take both Burnett and Hughes out of the rotation, and the Bombers need both ready to go come the American League Division Series. Without Andy Pettitte around, then, Burnett will get the ball every five days sink or swim, and to me, the data suggests that an adjusted release point and not more rest could solve some problems.

As a Yankee, Burnett has been an enigma. He signed an inflated contract because the Yanks desperately needed some power arms for their rotation, and his strike out numbers haven’t been where they were when he was in Toronto. He hasn’t been hitting his spots, and his walk rate over those last 15 starts is touching 4.5 per 9 innings. There is no Bad A.J. or Good A.J., only Infuriating A.J. Tonight, as the Yanks hold onto first place and try to ride out a winning streak, some A.J. will get the ball, and I’d be happy with next to nothing. Give me 6 innings, and give up 4 runs. That will satisfy my low expectations.