Hector Noesi’s Big Chance

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Prior to last night’s game against the Blue Jays, the Yankees got some troubling news about their $35M setup man. Rafael Soriano continued to feel soreness in his twice-surgically repaired elbow, and a third MRI “showed enough” that he’ll see Dr. James Andrew today. It’s not often that a pitcher comes back from Andrews’ office with good news, especially not guys with a history of elbow trouble and a problem that has lingered for two weeks now. Regardless of what Andrews says, the Yankees will likely be without Soriano for the foreseeable future.

David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain will now have that much more responsibility heaved onto their shoulders, and they’re Joe Girardi‘s key late-inning right-handers ahead of Mariano Rivera. Luis Ayala has been surprisingly effective in a limited amount of work, and chances are he’ll be pressed into some tight spots in the coming weeks. He has setup man experience (with the ExpoNats), but that was several years ago. If he maintains this level of performance, it would be a pleasant surprise to all. The Yankees are going to need someone to step up and solidify the middle innings in Soriano’s absence, and they have someone on the roster that just might be able to do that. His name? Hector Noesi.

Although he’s been in the big leagues for (a total of) three weeks now, Noesi has just two appearances to his credit. The first was his heroic (but not exactly picture perfect) four innings of relief in extra innings against the Orioles, the second some garbage time innings earlier this week. The seven innings of work featured four strikeouts, three intentional walks, and just four ground balls, but those numbers don’t really tell us anything. The kid was nervous, and 30 batters faced just isn’t all that meaningful.

There are three things that make Noesi seem (operative word here) like a good candidate for short, possibly even leveraged relief work. First is his fastball command, which has long been his calling card. It’s not just about strikes, it’s about quality strikes, and Noesi’s track record and scouting report have long touted his ability to provide them. The second thing is a swing-and-miss changeup to battle lefties and a slider for righties. Okay, that’s probably two things, but let’s combine them anyway. Noesi has gotten 14 swings-and-misses out of his 101 big league pitches (13.9%) so far whereas Ivan Nova has gotten 15 whiffs all month (481 pitches, 3.1%), for comparison’s sake. The third thing is his demeanor, which we can’t really quantify. He came off as very poised in that Baltimore game, making pitch after pitch when he needed too. If nothing else, it looked good.

The Yankees and Noesi would be sacrificing some development time in this arrangement, yes, but we’re not talking about someone that projects to be a frontline starter. Noesi’s profile has always been more back-end starter because his stuff is good but not great, and if he proves capable in one-inning bursts, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they kept him there indefinitely. I know we’re all scarred by the Yankees’ recently handling of some of their top pitching prospects, but Noesi’s exactly the kind of guy that ends up a reliever or trade fodder for New York.

In a perfect world, Noesi would transform into the 2009 version of Phil Hughes, the long-time starter that shifted to the bullpen in part because he didn’t want to go back to the minors, but also because the team needed him there. Is he going to be as dominant as Phil was two years ago? Almost certainly not, that would be a tough act to follow, but all the team needs Noesi to do right now is settle in as a capable middle reliever and give Girardi another option for sixth and seventh inning work. He doesn’t have to step right in for Soriano, the Yankees have people for that. Just be somebody that can lighten the load on the three right-handers on the end of the game, that’s it. And if it doesn’t work, well at least it was low risk.

Yanks mount a successful late-inning rally, stifle Blue Jays

(Kathy Kmonicek/AP)

For the bulk of last night’s game, it felt like one of those dreary, run deficient games we’ve seen so many times this year. The Yankees put runners on base, but couldn’t follow up with anything meaningful. Already down three, it felt as though they’d just swing their way to the 27th out. But then things turned around, and in the ninth the Yankees delivered one of the best endings of the season.

The deficit

(Kathy Kmonicek/AP)

With the game tied at one heading into the fourth, CC Sabathia melted down. He allowed a leadoff double to Juan Rivera, which was the second ball he’d hit well in two at-bats. J.P. Arencibia then knocked him home with a single to center. Two bloop singles to right resulted in another run, and then John McDonald laid down a safety squeeze — predictable, yet apparently unstoppable. Worse, Robinson Cano forgot to catch the ball at first base. Everyone’s safe.

The Yanks did catch a break, which seemed impossible at the time. Yunel Escobar, who has a .341 OBP this year and .338 for his career, laid down a sac bunt. It went right back to Sabathia, thankfully, so Rajai Davis could not score from third. But the snake came right back with another bite, as Sabathia walked Corey Patterson — Corey Patterson — to load the bases for Jose Bautista. Bless that man for swinging at the first pitch and grounding it right to Jeter.

When the dust had settled the score was 4-1 Blue Jays. The Yanks put runners on base in the fifth, sixth, and seventh, but blundered their way to zero runs. That leads us to.

The setup (you need this)

While Curtis Granderson had contributed to the cause with a pair of singles, he equally contributed to the frustration when he got picked off in the fifth (though he had the right idea by just dashing for second and not looking back). He redeemed himself by doubling to lead off the eighth. The optimism ran high for a moment, though it was replaced by defeatism when Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez both made outs. Only Robinson Cano could save them.

To everyone’s surprise, he took a pair of pitches in the at-bat before doubling deep into the right-center field gap. Granderson jogged home, and Cano put himself in position to score. That happened on the next pitch, as Russ Martin, whose homer accounted for the first run, grounded one right back up the middle. Nick Swisher had the same idea, to swing at the first pitch, but that won’t work as well for slumping hitters. He ended the rally with a routine pop up.

The finish

(Kathy Kmonicek/AP)

Jorge Posada got the night off against the lefty Romero, but with the righty Frank Francisco in the game, he was primed to pinch hit. The opportunity came with one out, in Eduardo Nunez‘s spot. It seemed like a somewhat curious decision, since Nunez has been a-ok with the bat in his limited time this season. Of course, Jorge has the track record, and he’s a lefty, so he gets the call. Plus, it’s not as though he was going to pinch hit for Jeter, anyway.

Posada answered the call on the first pitch, smacking one into the right-center field gap. Jose Bautista did the Yanks a solid by fumbling with the ball, and Posada snuck into second because of it. That was big not only because it put the tying run in scoring position, but it took off the double play. With Derek Jeter at the plate, that becomes all the more important. He did work a quality at-bat, but ended up grounding out to short — probably a double play if Chris Dickerson, pinch-running for Posada, was standing on first and not second. Then again, he might have been running, as he was when Jeter put the ball in play. He thought about dashing home, but played it safe.

Then came the hero, Curtis Granderson. Even when the offense is having a bad game, he’s still doing his thing. He came through in a big way in this at-bat, singling home Dickerson to tie the game, and then swiping second base. That made all the difference, as Mark Teixeira hit one that glanced off first baseman Juan Rivera’s glove and into the outfield, which gave Granderson all the time he needed to score the winning run. Funny, how Teixeira won the game with a ball in play that he himself almost certainly would have nabbed for an out.

CC’s big-time performance

Other than the fourth inning, CC Sabathia was marvelous last night. In fact, he was perfect from the fifth on, using just 102 pitches to complete nine innings. He struck out only three, and he walked four, but the 14 ground balls he induced made the game a bit more manageable. It also kept his pitch count down. The bullpen got another night off, and Sabathia recorded the team’s first complete game victory since he did it against the Orioles in May, 2009.

Also, there are no leftovers. This game pretty much sucked until the end.

Box and graph

So check it out. FanGraphs has this new, super awesome box score this year. It has the WPA graph, followed by the traditional box, then the play-by-play, and then the detailed stats. It has basically everything you could look for. I recommend clicking on the Standard tab, since it breaks down all the standard happenings. If you still like the traditional box you can check it out at MLB.com, but the FanGraphs boxes are just killer.

Up Next

The Yanks wrap up this series and homestand at 1 p.m. tomorrow, with Freddy Garcia going against Jo Jo Reyes.

JoVa goes deep again, SWB wins again

Double-A Trenton has officially activated reliever Warner Madrigal, sending lefty Naoya Okamoto to the phantom DL to clear a roster spot.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 win over Indianapolis)
Austin Krum, CF: 1 for 4, 1 K – got picked off first
Ramiro Pena, SS & Jesus Montero, DH: both 1 for 4, 1 K
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 2, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB – that’s his minor league leading 17th homer
Justin Maxwell, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 K
Brandon Laird, 3B: 1 for 3, 2 RBI, 1 K – just 23 K in 151 AB this year after 27 K in 122 AB with SWB last year
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 SB, 1 E (throwing)
Dan Brewer, RF: 1 for 4, 1 SB
Gus Molina, C: 0 for 3, 1 K, 1 HBP
Adam Warren, RHP: 8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 5-9 GB/FB – 68 of 100 pitches were strikes … he was consistently in the low-90’s and hit 93 in the first
Amaury Sanit, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 1-1 GB/FB – 13 of 19 pitches were strikes (68.4%)

[Read more…]

2011 Draft: Nick Ahmed

The draft is just 13 days away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some players individually rather than lump a few together in one post.

Batting gloves in the pocket and on the hands? You know he

Nick Ahmed | SS

After a decorated high school career at East Longmeadow High School just north of the Connecticut-Massachusetts border, Ahmed has been a three-year starter at UConn, one the country’s rising baseball programs. He doesn’t get the attention that teammates Matt Barnes and George Springer (two projected first rounders) get, but Ahmed put himself on the map this spring after packing some muscle onto his now 6-foot-2, 205 lb. frame over the winter. After hitting just .295/.350/.371 in his first two years at school, he is hitting .322/.422/.450 as a junior.

Scouting Report
Ahmed’s total package is greater than the sum of the parts. His best tools are his legs and arm, as he has very good running speed and a strong, accurate, and reliable throwing arm at short. Ahmed isn’t a textbook defender and won’t wow you with the glove, but he has solid range and turns everything he gets to into outs. He has little power and knows it, so his offensive game relies on bat control, getting on base, and stealing bags. Everything plays up because Ahmed plays very hard, almost to a fault. He suffered a collapsed lung in a collision at first base late last month, but the injury is not a long-term concern. Here’s some video.

Players that figure to stick at shortstop and be at least average there have big time value, even if the offensive package is nothing to write home about. There are definite concerns about Ahmed’s ability to handle upper level pitching, especially since a 2010 stint in the wood bat Cape Cod League did not go well (.212/.308/.253 in 161 PA), but it’s risk worth taking in the middle rounds. He did not crack the latest prospect rankings from either Baseball America or Keith Law and is expected to go somewhere in the third or fourth round. Some think he’s a utility player down the road.

Game 47: Ace vs. Ace

A win would be pretty cool. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

This is the kind of game that makes baseball fun. We’ve got two of the game’s top pitchers facing off in CC Sabathia and Ricky Romero. The two lefties are near equal in terms of ERA (CC: 3.08, Romero: 3.10), but the Yankees’ ace has a big edge in FIP (2.80 vs. 3.59) thanks to his homerun rate (0.40 HR/9 vs. 1.09), and on average he faces about three more batters per start. That’s big when it comes to keeping the ball out of the hands of crummy middle relievers. Romero has already flustered New York once this season (six innings, two runs last month), but the Blue Jays have only seen Sabathia twice in the last two years (8 IP, 2 R in 2009 then 8.1 IP, 1 R in 2010) and never at Yankee Stadium. Weird, huh? Anyway, here’s tonight’s lineup…

Derek Jeter, DH
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Nick Swisher, RF
Brett Gardner, LF
Eduardo Nunez, SS

CC Sabathia, SP

The game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Shameless Plug: Need to rant after the game? Listen, or better yet, call into Take On Russ at myfoxny.com (201-330-3466) after the final out is recorded. Salzberg’s a friend of Ben’s family, so we’re just helping spread the word.

Soriano shut down with more elbow soreness

Update (6:08pm): Via Mark Feinsand, Soriano is going to see Dr. James Andrews tomorrow. The Yankees won’t release the MRI results until then, but the team acknowledged that they “showed enough for him to see Andrews.”

Original Post (4:45pm): Via Jerome Preisler, Rafael Soriano has been shut down indefinitely after feeling more soreness/stiffness in his elbow following a throwing session today. He was sent to have his third MRI shortly thereafter, and the results are not yet known. Joe Girardi told reporters that he is concerned about the setup man’s elbow, and there’s obviously no chance Soriano will be coming off the disabled list when eligible (a week from tomorrow). Given the workloads on their current setup crew, it would probably behoove the Yankees to try some of their in-house relief options in something more than mop up duty.

Sabathia primed for his best year in pinstripes

Amid the turmoil surrounding the Yankees’ starting rotation this winter, one constant remained. CC Sabathia still stood at the helm, ready for his third season as the Yankees ace. It figured to be his most important. Behind him was A.J. Burnett, who had an up-and-down, but mostly down, 2010; Phil Hughes, whose performance slipped considerably after a phenomenal start to the 2010 season; and a smattering of fourth and fifth starter candidates that included Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, and, if in name only, Sergio Mitre. Without an ace, the Yanks would have been sunk before they started.

In the aggregate, CC has done his job. Through 10 starts he’s averaging 6.2 innings per outing and has a 3.06 ERA and 2.80 FIP. He’s kept the ball in th epark a bit more frequently than in recent years, but even if we adjust his HR/FB ratio it still works out to a 3.24 xFIP. That is, he’s doing quite an excellent job all around, even if some of his starts have been less than ideal. The Yanks could use him pitching deeper into games, of course, but that will come with time. In fact, a better performance altogether could be in the cards.

During Sabathia’s first two seasons in pinstripes, we’ve grown used to decent starts followed by downright domination. Here are his numbers through his first 10 starts in each of his seasons with the Yankees.

There seems to be an early season problem in each year, whether it be inordinately low strikeouts (09) or high home runs (10). This year he has a hit rate higher than normal. Now, here’s how Sabathia has fared from start No. 11 through the end of the last two seasons.

In each instance his walk rate has slightly improved, while his strikeout rate has jumped at least one per nine. His home run rate jumped a bit in 2009, but, as in 2011, it’s not at a sustainable level. This isn’t too uncommon for Sabathia. In his career he has a 3.75 first half ERA, which slides to 3.31 in the second half. This includes a jump in strikeouts, by, yes, about a batter per nine innings. Things seem to get better for Sabathia. If that happens in 2011, he could finally find himself atop that Cy Young ballot.

This isn’t to say that Sabathia will necessarily improve. It’s tough to ask for much more than he’s given through his first 10 starts this year. But to see his hit rate improve wouldn’t come as much of a surprise. He’s had one small problem area during his first 10 starts in the past two years, and has improved them in both instances. Just imagine, though, if, as was the case in the last two years, he starts striking out an additional batter per nine innings. That would put him right around where he was at during 2008, the best season of his career.

In a season when the Yankees have needed Sabathia to step up, he’s done so. While some of his starts haven’t inspired praise, in the aggregate he’s been a bit better than in his first 10 starts in the past two years. If, as has been the case in nearly every season of his career, he gets into a groove this summer, we could be in for something special. We know that Sabathia is capable of it.