The RAB Radio Show: September 9, 2011

We’re creeping up on playoff time, and the Yankees are in the driver’s seat right now. They’re up three on Boston in the loss column with 20 games (19 for Boston) to go. Mike and I spend the bulk of the show talking about how things can play out.

  • Of the 20 games left, 11 are against the Rays and the Sox. Mike and I talk about how this alters the outlook.
  • Pitching, pitching, pitching. Who’s going for the Yanks, how they’ll pare down the rotation, and how everything will line up.
  • Plus: Might offense dictate postseason success this year?
  • The AL playoff picture: Who’s in, who’s out, who’s hot, who’s fading. Also, why the Yankees opponent shouldn’t scare the Yankees as much as the Yankees scare their opponent.

Podcast run time 55:33

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

RAB Live Chat

Series Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

(Photo Credit: Flickr user redheaded_pirate via Creative Commons license)

These September west coast trips are always the worst. It sucks having to stay up late for games, it sucks that the Yankees have to make two cross country flights so late in the season, and it really sucks having to stay up late for games. I think I said that already. The Yankees are in the Pacific time zone for the next six games, starting with three in SoCal against the Angels.

What Have The Angels Done Lately?

Life in the AL West means the Halos have played seven of their last ten games against the Mariners. In between the four-gamer and a three-gamer with Seattle was a three-game set with the Twins, and Angels went 6-4 during that ten game stretch. They have won four of their last five though, and remain 2.5 games back of the Rangers in the division. They’re seven games back for the wildcard, so that’s not really an option.

Angels On Offense

First Tim Salmon, now Mike Trout. Something fishy is going on in the Angels outfield. (Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Despite having some pretty big names in the lineup, the Angels are a slightly below-average offense with a .313 wOBA. Bobby Abreu has essentially been reduced to platoon status of late, even though he’s the team’s top OBP (.356) threat. His power (.110 ISO) is gone, though. Torii Hunter (.330 wOBA) still plays everyday, and Vernon Wells (.282 wOBA) is out there most days as well. Mark Trumbo is the Angels’ top power threat (26 homers and a .225 ISO), but that .295 OBP is atrocious. Howie Kendrick (.353 wOBA) has probably been their best hitter all year.

The rest of the lineup is subject to change by the day. Maicer Izturis (.322 wOBA) and Erick Aybar (.315 wOBA) have been tag teaming the leadoff spot, though the speedy Peter Bourjos (.339 wOBA) has seen time atop the order as well. Megaprospect Mike Trout (.328 wOBA in limited time) has been forcing his way into the lineup more and more each day, and if you think Brett Gardner is fast, wait until you see this kid run. Alberto Callaspo (.322 wOBA) and Russell Branyan (.328 wOBA) might show their faces as well. The catching trio of Jeff Mathis (.211 wOBA), Bobby Wilson (.239 wOBA), and Hank Conger (.277 wOBA) is just awful.

Overall, the Angels can do a little bit of everything but nothing outstandingly well. They’re top ten in steals (116 with Aybar, Bourjos, Abreu and Trout being the biggest threats) and middle of the road in power (.146), but they’re not very patient (just 7.4% walks) and aren’t great at avoiding strike three (17.8%). Not a scary offense, but not a total pushover either.

Angels On The Mound

Friday, RHP Jered Weaver (vs. Bartolo Colon): The Yankees missed Weaver the last time these two clubs faced because the right-hander was serving a suspension for throwing at Carlos Guillen. He’s having a great season (2.49 ERA and 3.02 FIP), but he’s also got a 6.67 ERA over his last five starts, including three absolute disasters. The recent death of his grandfather surely has to be considered a factor. Weaver legitimately throws five pitches, including two high-80’s fastballs (both two and four-seamers), a high-70’s slider, a high-80’s changeup, and low-70’s curveball. He excels at limiting walks (2.22 BB/9) and gets plenty of strikeouts (7.68 K/9), but he is an extreme fly ball pitcher (just 32.6% ground balls). The Yankees have seen Weaver once before this year, when he held them to two runs in seven innings back in early-June.

Saturday, RHP Dan Haren (vs. CC Sabathia): As good as Jeff’s kid brother has been this year, Haren has been even better. He doesn’t walk anyone (1.21 BB/9) and gets a decent amount of grounders (42.1%), and his strikeout rate (7.20 K/9) is tolerable. The 2.93 FIP and 3.20 ERA are pretty good representations of his true talent level. Haren features four different fastballs: a four-seamer, a two-seamer, a cutter, and a split-finger. All of them reside in the mid-to-high-80’s. A high-70’s curve and a mid-80’s change will also make an appearance. In his only start against the Yankees this year, Haren gave up four runs in six innings.

"I'll give you the ball as soon as you tell me why skip keeps putting you in the lineup." (Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Sunday, RHP Ervin Santana (vs. Freddy Garcia): Another low walk (2.58 BB/9) starter, Santana lags behind Weaver and Haren in the strikeout (6.95 HR/9) department. A 3.18 ERA and 3.72 FIP certainly indicate quality though. Amazingly enough, Santana’s basically a two-pitch pitcher, relying on his low-to-mid-90’s heat and low-80’s slider while throwing a mid-80’s changeup about once every 33 pitches. You’d expect a big platoon split with that repertoire, but Santana doesn’t have one this year. He does have one over the course of his career, however. The Yankees scored three runs in seven innings off him earlier this year.

Bullpen: Every team’s bullpen is packed to the gills with call-ups this time of year, but Mike Scioscia’s three primary bullpen guys are closer Jordan Walden (2.34 FIP), righty setup guy Fernando Rodney (4.55 FIP), and lefty setup guy Scott Downs (3.39 FIP). The versatile Hisanori Takahashi (4.06 FIP) and underrated Rich Thompson (3.28 FIP) are the next tier of relievers. A bunch of call-ups like Trevor Bell (3.48 FIP), Bobby Cassevah (3.61 FIP), and Horacio Ramirez (5.31 FIP) fill out the rest of the relief corps. Oh, and there’s Joel Pineiro (4.64 FIP). Here’s their long reliever after pitching his way out of the rotation.

Recommended Angels Reading: True Grich.

Mailbag: Darvish, Felix, Nova, Wang, Banuelos

Just four questions this week, but they’re good ones. We’ll look at where the money for Yu Darvish would be coming from, bad blood between the Yankees and Mariners, an Ivan NovaChien-Ming Wang comparison, and comps for Manny Banuelos. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you send a question in.

(Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

Mark asks: In regards to your recent post on Yu Darvish, can you explain how any team, let along the Yankees, can afford to pay a one-time posting fee of $40 million in these current economic times? I always thought the Steinbrenners ran the Yanks at break-even or at a slight loss. Unless MLB allows them to borrow from their YES broadcast subsidiary, I cannot imagine any owner, even the Steinbrenners, having that kind of cash lying around in a liquid investment, but I could be wrong. Or are posting fees paid out over the life of the contract? If not, I wonder why it doesn’t make more sense financially for the Yankees to boost their payroll by say $10-15 million as a way of spreading the wealth around to more players versus just one.

The posting fee is a one-time payment that has to be made when the player signs his contract, so the Red Sox had to cut the Seibu Lions a $51.1M check for Daisuke Matsuzaka back in December of 2006. If the team and the player don’t agree to a deal, like what happened with the A’s and Hisashi Iwakuma this past offseason, then the team doesn’t have to pay the posting fee.

I have no idea what the Yankees’ finances look like, but I’m certain they have $40M+ lying around somewhere to make a payment like that. With a $200M payroll, they’re making ~$17M payments for player salaries twice a month (just salaries, doesn’t not include benefits and non-player personnel), so I’m sure the cash is somewhere in Yankee Global Enterprises. I hear the New Stadium comes equipped with a cash printing press in the basement*, actually. I know I kinda danced around the question but like I said, I haven’t seen their books, but I have to think there’s $40M on reserve somewhere, likely much more than that.

* This may or may not be true.

Elliot asks: While this is very speculative, do you think that Jack Zduriencik getting a two-year extension with the Mariners hurts the Yankees ability to trade for King Felix? Do you think there is still bad blood between Cashman and him because of the failed Cliff Lee Negotiations? 

Felix Hernandez is not getting traded anytime soon, with or without Zduriencik’s extension. He’s only 25 and is under contract for four more years (three more after this season), he’s absolutely going to be part of the next winning Mariners team. They’re not some small-market outfit, they have tons of cash to throw around and a pretty strong young core with Felix, Michael Pineda, Justin Smoak, and Dustin Ackley. They could turn that team around in a year.

As for possible bad blood, yeah I do think there is some, but I don’t think it’s enough to get in the way of a potential Felix trade. He’s a very special case. When it comes to bit pieces though, a spare reliever or a bench bat, then forget it, you can find that stuff anywhere. Zduriencik did what he felt was best for his team, but I have to believe he burned some bridges with that maneuver. I’m sure other teams noticed too.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Mark asks: Do you think Ivan Nova compares favorably to Chien-Ming Wang at this point of his career?

Yes, I do think Nova now is better than Wang then, but they are different pitchers. Yeah, both rely on ground balls, but Wang relied on them to the extreme, I mean he never struck anyone out (3.3 K/9 from 2005-2006) and was regularly over 60% grounders before his foot and shoulder gave out. Nova is more of a 50-55% ground ball guy with 5.5 K/9 or so, and I’d happily trade about ten percentage points of ground balls for one extra strikeout every four innings. Wang was also a year older than Nova is now when he debuted, and although it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s not insignificant.

I will say this, Wang generated more consistently weak contact than I can remember ever seeing out of one pitcher. The history of baseball says it should not have worked for a guy allowing that many balls to be put into play (especially for a team as defensively awful as the 2005-2007 Yankees, man were they terrible with the glove), but it did because he never seemed to let the ball out of the infield. Wang was a 3.60-4.00 ERA guy before getting hurt, and that’s pretty much what I think Nova can be most years, with a little more at his peak.

Patrick asks: Who’s a good comparison for Manny Banuelos? I’d love to say Johan Santana but that’s unfair. What about Ricky Romero?

This question was sent in just a few minutes after Sweeny Murti said a scout dropped a Romero comp on Banuelos, and I’m guessing that’s not an accident. Looking strictly at the whole low-to-mid-90’s fastball/knockout changeup/third pitch curveball thing, then Romero’s a very good comp. The Blue Jays ace uses a two-seamer as well, plus he’s an inch or two taller than the Yankees young southpaw, but otherwise it fits. Of course when Romero was Banuelos’ age, he was a sophomore at Cal State Fullerton, a year away from being drafted (sixth overall in 2005), and four years away from making his big league debut. The two have had very, very different development paths.

Johan’s third pitch was always a slider, and plus his changeup was one of the best we’ll ever see. That’s an unfair comparison to slap on anyone, nevermind just Banuelos. Cole Hamels, Jaime Garcia, and John Danks are also fastball-change-curve, but all three of those guys have added cutters in recent years and are a few inches taller as well. They’re better comps than Santana, but still not perfect. Jeff Francis, Jason Vargas, and Mark Buehrle have the same repertoire, but none of them throw as hard as Banuelos.

That Romero/Hamels/Garcia/Danks group is pretty damn good, and I’m sure the Yankees would be absolutely thrilled if Banuelos develops into any one of them. They’re all well-above-average starters with strikeout stuff, and with the exception of Garcia (who’s in just his second full year as a big leaguer), they’ve shown the ability to stay healthy and eat up innings year after year. Getting that kind of value from Banuelos would be a major player development win.

Same teams, different day, different cities, same result: Yanks lose to O’s in extra innings

It’s been a whirlwind 48 hours for the Yankees, who played deep into the night/morning on Tuesday, lost an extra innings day game in Wednesday, then traveled to Baltimore for a day game on Thursday. Although they started the season 9-1 against the Orioles, they finished the last eight games of the season series at 4-4. That’s pretty frustrating, especially against a terrible team.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

One Foot In The Batter’s Box, The Other On The Plane

The game started out pretty well for the offense. The Yankees loaded the bases with no outs in the first, pushing three runs across thanks to an Eric Chavez infield single and a Derek Jeter two-run single back up the middle. Alfredo Simon was very wild, walking six guys in just four innings, and the Yankees scored another run in the third when Chavez singled in Mark Teixeira. With a 4-1 lead in the third inning, the offense got a head start on the flight to Southern California and went right to sleep.

After the Simon left the game, the Yankees put exactly two runners on base. Curtis Granderson got hit by a 3-2 pitch to lead off the seventh, and Alex Rodriguez drew a two-out walk in the tenth. That’s it, no hits and no runners past first base. Between this game and Wednesday’s extra innings loss, the Yankees picked up just four hits, three walks, and the one hit-by-pitch in a dozen innings against the Baltimore bullpen, striking out 14 times. This is the same bullpen that came into the game with a 7.42 K/9 (24th in MLB), 1.27 HR/9 (29th), 4.20 ERA (27th), and a 4.36 FIP (28th). You can’t win if you don’t score, and the Yankees didn’t score after the starter left the game two days in a row.

Eighth Inning Guy

Despite their offensive ineptitude and Ivan Nova‘s struggles (more on that a bit), the Yankees still maintained a 4-3 lead into the eighth inning. David Robertson had made two appearances in the span of about 13 hours the day before, so he was understandably unavailable. No big deal, big money setup guy Rafael Soriano was available and he came into to bridge the gap to Mariano Rivera. No problem, right? Wrong.

Mark Reynolds opened the inning with a single that turned into a double because Brett Gardner had a rare defensive miscue for the second day in a row. The ball bounced in front of him and he just missed it on the hop. Nolan Reimold flew out to right, but then Chris Davis singled to center. Granderson came up throwing and gunned Reynolds down at the plate, Frankie Cervelli‘s second home plate collision in as many innings (more on that in a bit). Davis advanced to second on the throw, but the lead was safe. At least until Robert Andino singled one batter later, allowing Davis to score.

The game was tied, and the inning ended when Andino stupidly got thrown out trying to steal third. Soriano faced five batters in the frame and retired just one on his own, Reimold on the fly ball. The second out came on the play at the plate, the third on Andino’s caught stealing. Rafi’s allowed at least one baserunner in his last eight outings and in ten of his last eleven, and there’s been a number of loud outs lately.

(Steve Ruark/Getty Images)

The Great Wall of Cervelli

The Orioles did eventually win the game, but they would have won it a whole lot sooner if it wasn’t for a pair of plays at the plate. The first came in the seventh inning, after Aaron Laffey walked leadoff man Nick Markakis and Cory Wade retired Adam Jones. Wade left a pitch up to Vlad Guerrero (who was raking all game) and he crushed it to dead center. Granderson made a nice play to cut the ball off before it hit the wall, and he fired to the infield. Robinson Cano fielded the ball as the cutoff man and made a perfect relay throw to the pltey. Markakis came in hard and laid Cervelli right out, but the Yankees backstop held onto the ball for the out. It was a pretty rough collision, Cervelli took a shoulder right to face, but he stayed in the rest of the game.

Because one collision wasn’t enough, there was the second play at the plate in the eighth inning thanks to Davis’ single off Soriano. The second collision with Reynolds wasn’t as hard as the first one, not even even close really, but it was still a great play by all involved, not just Cervelli. Neither Markakis or Reynolds even touched the plate, and after the game Frankie said he was a dizzy, but “that’s my house, man.”

Death By Bullpen

Nova was off pretty much all game, showing little ability to command his fastball and get it down in the zone. That’s why nine of the 14 non-strikeout outs he recorded were in the air. He just wasn’t right, and Vlad tagged him for a solo homer in the second and a double off the right-center field wall in the fourth. Nova did wiggle out of some jams and pitched into the sixth, but he was clearly not at his best. Once the bullpen got involved, things got really messy.

Boone Logan came in to face Davis with a runner on second in the sixth, and for some reason he threw the whiff machine just one slider in a seven-pitch at-bat. Davis turned a 3-2 fastball right around for a run-scoring double, ending Logan’s day. He’s now faced 102 lefty batters this season and has given up eleven extra base hits (six doubles, a triple, and four homers). Last year he gave up just one extra base hit (a triple) to the 91 same-side hitters he faced. Logan’s overall strikeout (10.2 K/9) and walk (2.4 uIBB/9) numbers are fantastic, but his job is to get lefties out and he’s been pretty bad at it this year (.261/.314/.478 (.478!!!) against).

Luis Ayala replaced Logan and did his job, getting the two men he faced to end the sixth without anymore runs scoring. The Laffey/Wade stuff happened in the seventh, Soriano happened in the eighth, and then Scott Proctor escaped certain doom in the ninth before coughing things up in the tenth. An infield single (Reimold), a walk (Davis), and a single (really a double under normal circumstances) past a diving Chavez down the left field line (Andino) ended the game. Pretty terrible effort by the pitching staff in this one.


There’s really nothing else left to recap, which I guess is good. It is worth mentioning that Nick Swisher was seen flexing his left (throwing) arm/hand basically all game after making a throw in the fourth, but he stayed in the game. Ken Singleton mentioned during that sometimes your arm will cramp up after a big throw, so hopefully that’s all it is.

The Rays were idle on Thursday, so the lead on the wildcard dropped half-a-game to nine games. The magic number for a playoff berth remained at 12 games. The Red Sox lost to the Blue Jays again, so the lead in the AL East remained at 2.5 (three in the loss column) with 20 games left for the Yankees and 19 for the Boston.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Box Score has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

The Yankees are going going, back back, to Cali Cali. A three-game series against the Angels in Anaheim starts at 10pm ET on Friday night, when former Halos ace Bartolo Colon takes on current Halos ace Jered Weaver.

Staten Island shuts Brooklyn out in Game One

Twenty-fifth rounder Adam Smith was ranked as the eighth best prospect in the Texas Collegiate League by Baseball America (subs. req’d). There’s no real scouting report in the write-up, they just note that he was an infielder and a pitcher at Texas A&M, but the Yankees took  him (and paid him $157k) as a pitcher. Unsigned 33rd rounder Spencer O’Neil was ranked as the fifth best prospect in the West Coast League (subs. req’d), and the high school outfielder was said to have a “beautiful lefthanded swing” with “good feel for hitting and some power potential.” He’s off to Oregon.

Just a heads up if you plan on going to Friday’s Short Season Staten Island game (in Staten Island), it’s been moved up to 1:05pm ET to avoid the upcoming rainstorm. It was supposed to be a 7:05pm ET start.

Short Season Staten Island (2-0 win over Brooklyn) SI leads the first round series one game to none (best-of-three)
Mason Williams, CF: 1 for 4, 1 3B, 1 K – opened the game with leadoff triple and they couldn’t get him in, so at least we know RISPFAIL it preached throughout the minors [/sarcasm]
Cito Culver, SS: 1 for 4, 1 K
Ben Gamel, RF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 2 K, 1 SB
Tyler Austin, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 SB – singled in Gamel for the second run in the eighth, though a throwing error helped get him into scoring position
Reymond Nunez, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 K
Casey Stevenson, 2B:  1 for 4, 1 K
Zach Wilson, DH: 0 for 4, 2 K – finished the regular season on a 14-for-32 (.438) tear (two doubles, three homers)
Cody Grice, LF: 1 for 4, 2 K
Nick McCoy, C: 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 K – the number nine hitter opened the scoring with an RBI single to plate Nunez
Matt Tracy, LHP: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 8-4 GB/FB – retired a dozen batters in a row at one point … Bryan Mitchell had been lined up to start the first game, but that was two rain outs ago
Phil Wetherell, RHP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HB, 1-1 GB/FB
Branden Pinder, RHP: 2 IP, zeroes, 4 K, 0-2 GB/FB – dominant, but I have to imagine Ben Paullus is tomorrow’s closer

Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all failed to qualify to the postseason. The Rookie GCL Yankees have already won their league title.

Open Thread: ‘We’re trying to win a ring around here’

Any of you folks watch Entourage? I don’t have HBO, haven’t for years, so I’ve never gotten in it. Same deal with The Wire, The Sopranos, all those HBO shows. I know, I know, I’m missing out. Trust me, I’ve heard it before. Anyway, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez (and Amar’e Stoudamire and Michael Strahan) made a cameo in last week’s Entourage, which you can watch above. Fair warning, the clips contains some foul language.

Once you’re done watching that, use this as your open thread. Light baseball schedule tonight, but the MLB Network will be carrying a game (teams depend on where you life). The NFL season also starts tonight, I’m sure of it this time, and you’ll be able to watch the Saints and Packers on NBC at 8:30pm ET. Use the thread to talk about whatever you want, go nuts.