Sherman: Yanks still looking for an utility infielder

With their designated hitter and fourth outfielder issues solved, the Yankees are still on the hunt for a backup infielder according to Joel Sherman. They’re obviously looking for a guy that could handle shortstop and third base without a problem, plus someone who could outhit Ramiro Pena. That last part won’t be so difficult, Pena’s got a .223 wOBA this season.

The trade deadline is just over two hours away (4pm ET), but remember that deals can still go down in August after some waiver shenanigans.

It’s official: Lance Berkman is a Yankee

The 24-hour grace period is over, and according to a press release the Yankees have officially acquired Lance Berkman. The Astros receive minor leaguers Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes in the deal while kicking in $4M to help cover for the $7M still guaranteed to Berkman through the end of the season. The Yanks’ new designated hitter will be in uniform tonight, and presumably in the starting lineup.

Welcome to the Boogie Down, Lance.

Deadline Day Open Thread

The Yankees acquired both Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns yesterday, fortifying their lineup and bench. Both are expected to be in uniform tonight, and I assume Berkman will start at designated hitter. They’re reportedly still working on some moves, though nothing as major as what they did yesterday. Might as well start the day off with a latest rumors, with more sure to come throughout the day.

In semi-related news, the Rays acquired Chad Qualls, probably the best reliever available on the market. Don’t be fooled by his 8.29 ERA (.434 BABIP, 51.4% strand rate), the peripherals are strong.

Feel free to use this thread to talk about any trade chatter throughout the day, but if the Yanks make any moves we’ll be sure to have up new posts. Also, make sure to check out Steve’s latest on Joba and Robertson, and come join me at the FanGraphs chat at 1.

Two pitchers, two perceptions

Look at the lines above (stats thru 7/28).  They are very similar.  Both pitchers are doing a fine job of missing bats with strong strikeout rates.  Both are struggling with walks, though pitcher B is much worse off.  Both are doing a good job of keeping the ball in the park.  And both have been terribly unlucky on balls in play.  As you can see by their FIP and xFIP numbers, the walk rate of pitcher B is the biggest difference between these two pitchers.  So why is Pitcher B replacing Pitcher A in the 8th inning?

Cleary Pitcher B, David Robertson, is trending up and Pitcher A, Joba Chamberlain, is trending down. With the limited sample size is this really shocking?  Is Joba really trending the wrong way or just hitting a rough patch?  Almost all middle relievers and non-Mo closers are going to have a few bad outings in a 4 or 5 game stretch that can completely skew the numbers with only 30-40 innings pitched.  For Robertson this happened early in the season and for Joba it has happened lately.  Is this really a reason to flip their spots in the bullpen?  If the intent is to ride Robertson while he’s hot and go back to Joba when he gets in gear I have no problem with it.  If it is set in stone however, I can’t agree with the decision.

Even though they have been similar pitchers this year, I think if both are pitching well Joba should be in the 8th inning.  Not because he’s necessarily a better pitcher, but I believe he’s more suited for the role.  8th inning guys across baseball have developed, much like closers under Tony LaRussa, into one inning guys who come in with bases empty.  While Joba has primarily been a starter in his college, minor league and major league career Robertson has been a reliever thru college and the minors.  As a starter Joba opened every inning with the bases empty.  Robertson, on the other hand, in his short time in the majors established himself as a guy who can put out fires.  In fact, Robertson has faced more batters with runners on than not.  Despite his scary walk rates, Robertson does a fine job of pitching with men on base which better suits him for a role in the 7th (or even 6th) inning when runners are on.  To make sure this wasn’t just anecdotal; I decided to take a look at Chamberlain and Robertson’s numbers with runners on:

As you can see, both in 2010 and in their career Robertson has been better with runners on.  Considering their career OPS’ against are within 1 point of each other it’s a pretty smooth comparison.  Joba’s career OPS against with runners on is 13 points worse than with the bases empty.  Robertson’s OPS against with runners on is 46 points better than with the bases empty.  While Joba doesn’t show much of a difference whether runners are on or not, Robertson clearly pitches better when the bases are occupied.

While Joba hasn’t been great lately, if you told me now the Yankees had a 1 run lead in Game 7 of the World Series (after 7 strong from CC) and needed to choose between Joba and Robertson to come in for the 8th, I’m taking Joba.

For more of my work head over to Mystique and Aura.

Yanks drop a nail-biter as Rays escape 3-2

Before Wade Davis had recorded an out tonight, the Yanks had a 2-0 lead, and as Phil Hughes sailed through 5.2 innings, it seemed as though those early runs would help. But one bad pitch doomed the Yanks, and the King of the Comebacks could not mount much of anything tonight. They fell to Tampa Bay 3-2 as the Rays moved to within one of first place in the AL East.

A loud start followed by silence

AP Photo, Mike Carlson

After bashing the Indians for the last few nights, the Yanks’ offense seemingly picked up where it left off. Derek Jeter lined a single up the middle, and then Nick Swisher powered a home run — his 19th of the year — to right. The Yanks had their 2-0 lead, and Wade Davis would not, it seemed, be long for this game.

Despite throwing over 20 pitches in the first inning though, Davis stuck around while the Yankee bats did not. Davis allowed another hit in the first inning, and the Yanks eked out just one more of the game’s final eight innings. He didn’t overpower the Yanks; after striking Mark Teixeira, A-Rod and Jorge Posada in the first, he recorded just three more Ks. But he kept the Bombers off balance. He retired 11 Yankees via the fly ball, and a few nascent threats were quashed before the Yanks could do much with the baseball.

On a night like that, it’s tough to do much more than tip your cap to Davis. He made one mistake, and the Yankees couldn’t capitalize on anything else. The two runs held through the first 17 outs, but after 27, two would not be enough.

One pitch dooms Hughes

That one is not coming back. Credit: AP Photo, Mike Carlson

Tonight, Phil Hughes was the no-luck winner. Throwing his sharpest game since early July, Hughes held the powerful Rays at bay through 5.2 innings. He struck out six in his six innings of work, and Hughes had his sharp hook working him for him. But after running through the Rays for five innings, the third time through the lineup was deadly.

To lead off the sixth, catcher John Jaso singled back up the middle on a 1-2 pitch. Ahead in the count, Hughes threw a 92-mph cutter that didn’t cut after wasting a breaking ball in the dirt. Jaso went with it and delivered a single. After Carl Crawford flied out, Evan Longoria walked, and the Rays had something going.

Then, the Yankees made a costly choice. With Carlos Peña up, the team positioned Robinson Cano at double play depth instead of in the extreme shift as they usually do for Peña. The lefty slugger hit a bouncer in the hole, and Cano made a great play to nail Longoria at second. Because the team hadn’t put on the shift though, they couldn’t turn two. Had Cano been in the hole, Hughes would have escaped the jam with a 2-0 lead still in tact.

Instead, the right hander, nearing 100 pitches, had to get through Matt Joyce. It was Joyce though who got through the baseball. Hughes threw two fastballs to start the AB, and although both were outside, one was called a strike. After a curve ball out of the zone, Joyce swung over a nasty hook to even the count. Then, Hughes again went with this cutter, and again, it didn’t cut. This was a 93-mph pitch in Joyce’s wheelhouse, and the Yanks were losing. That was Hughes’ mistake. He didn’t go for a hook low and away; he didn’t turn to his two-seamer. As Hughes matures, he’ll learn that he must get beaten on his best pitches, and tonight, he let the lesser ones lead to a loss. It was one of the few bad pitches of the night, and with two runners on base, it was a costly one.

Jorge’s bad luck and slow legs

Poor Jorge. He is by far the slowest Yankee, and his legs cost the team dearly tonight. In the sixth inning, with Davis tiring and the Yanks trying to build on what was then a 2-0 lead, Posada came up with runners on 1st and 2nd and one man out. He hit a shot down the first base line that Carlos Peña speared. The Rays turned a 3-6-1 double play mostly on the speed — or lack thereof — of Posada.

Then in the 9th, Jorge’s legs struck again. This time he bounced a ball toward the second base hole, and Peña laid out to stop it. The ball ricocheted off of the Rays’ first baseman and bounced around for a second or turn. Peña gobbled it out, read War and Peace and made a throw to first that beat Jorge by a good two steps. He could have prolonged an inning, but in both cases, Carlos Peña made nice plays, while keeping in mind the runner, to save the game. Them’s the breaks when it comes to baseball.

Odds & Ends

Three cheers tonight for Joba Chamberlain. He came in with a 3-2 deficit and dominated the Rays for two innings. He threw 16 of 24 pitches for strikes and struck out three — including Evan Longoria. The mercurial reliever might yet have a role to play on on this team.

Alex Rodriguez is still sitting on 599 home runs. He seemed visibly frustrated tonight as he had a few good pitches to drive but came up empty each time up.

The bottom four hitters in the Yanks’ lineup went 0 for 11, and only Brett Gardner reached base. Having Colin Curtis DH remains a very curious choice even if Joe Girardi did like how he’s swinging the bat. I’d imagine the arrivals of Austin Kearns and Lance Berkman will spell the end for Juan Miranda, but the Yankees never seemed willing to give him a chance.

For whatever it’s worth, the Yankees fouled off 21 pitches from Wade Davis tonight. They just couldn’t do much with the hittable ones.

The chart and the boxes

I don’t like this WE chart.

Check out the Fangraphs box or the ESPN box.

Up Next

Tampa Bay and the Yankees continue their AL East battle for the top spot tonight at 7 p.m. Javier Vazquez will face Matt Garza, who is coming off of a no-hitter against the Tigers. Right now, both teams are sitting in playoff spots, but I’d love to see the Yanks stick it to Garza in his first start against the Bombers this year.

Yanks in on Lilly, asked about Theriot

Despite making two moves already on Friday, the Yankees remain interested in former Yank and current Cub Ted Lilly according to Jayson Stark. They also asked Chicago about infielder Ryan Theriot. While the Yankees could always use another starter to fill in while Andy Pettitte is injured, I’m not sure Lilly is the answer. His already-low velocity has disappeared following offseason shoulder surgery, and his defense independent pitching stats are well into the 4.00’s. Thankfully it looks like he’s heading to the Dodgers.

As for Theriot, while he would represent an upgrade over Ramiro Pena, it wouldn’t be a huge one. His offensive performance has decreased for three straight years, bottoming out at a .292 wOBA this season. He’s also nothing to write home about defensively with negative UZR‘s across the board, and there’s about a million bucks left on his deal for this year. Yes, he’s an upgrade over Pena, but so is just about anyone.

Murphy goes deep as Charleston ekes out a win

Fifth rounder Tommy Kahnle signed for $150,000, about $14,000 over slot. Meanwhile, VP of baseball operations Mark Newman said that Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances will remain in High-A Tampa all season, which is unsurprising.

Andy in Sunny Daytona was at the Rookie GCL Yanks’ game today and took a bunch of photos. Two things: First, you can see some kind of brace on Gary Sanchez‘s right wrist, though he did some catching in the bullpen today. Swinging a bat is more of an issue with a wrist injury than catching, remember. Second, Chris Garcia was chilling in the press box. There’s been talk about the Yanks re-signing him to a minor league deal, and this only adds fuel to that fire.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Norfolk)
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 4, 1 K
Eric Bruntlett, RF: 0 for 4, 3 K – threw a runner out at first
Eduardo Nunez, SS, Chad Tracy, 3B, Jesus Montero, DH & Reegie Corona, 2B: all 0 for 3 – Nunez missed a catch for an error … Montero scored a run & K’ed … Corona K’ed twice & was injured on the last play of the game when he ran into Bruntlett … no word on the severity yet
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI – all the offense they would need
Chad Huffman, LF: 2 for 3, 1 CS
Chad Moeller, C: 1 for 2, 1 BB – he’s reached base in six of his last ten plate appearances (four hits, two walks)
Ivan Nova: 7.1 IP, 9 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 13-4 GB/FB – 65 of 102 pitches were strikes … picked a runner off first
Royce Ring: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 2 K – seven of his 12 pitches were strikes (58.3%) … very nice
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0-2 GB/FB – ten of his 18 pitches were strikes (55.6%)

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