Fan Confidence Poll: May 24th, 2010

Record Last Week: 2-5 (38 RS, 46 RA)
Season Record: 26-18 (246 RS, 181 RA, 29-15 Pythag. record), 6.0 games back
Schedule This Week: Monday OFF, @ Twins (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Indians (three games, Fri. to Sun.

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.


Once again, Yanks’ late inning rally falls short

Last season spoiled us all. The Yankees amassed so many come from behind wins with late inning theatrics that it we came to expect it. This year’s team has shown the same propensity to battle back in the late innings, but with a lineup shortened due to injuries, they just haven’t been able to cash in over the last six days.

It was that kind of game. (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

CC stands for C(an’t finish off) C(ora)

Well that was lame, but then again Sabathia didn’t deserve much of a headline after this one. The Yanks’ ace, just like Phil Hughes last night, struggled to put Mets’ hitters away, most notably Alex Cora (!!!) in the 2nd inning. The Mets’ fill-in second baseman fell behind 0-2 with men on second and third, but Sabathia just couldn’t get that third strike. After a fastball inside for ball one (that was probably a strike), Cora fouled off another heater and a rare curveball to stay alive before spitting on a slider to even the count at two.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Sabathia and catcher Frankie Cervelli had had enough by that point, so they went right back to the old number one to try and finish him off. CC’s offering was clocked at 95 and was on the inner half, but Cora pulled his hands in and muscled the ball into center for a single. Both runs scored, and just like Saturday night the Mets jumped out to a quick lead. They never looked back.

Gardner makes two outs with one swing

With the Mets staked to a four run lead just three innings in the Yankees were looking for any way to get themselves back in the game. Sabathia of all people singled to lead off the Yanks’ half of the 3rd, and Derek Jeter followed that up with a single to right to put men on first and second with no outs. A normal baserunner would have been able to go first to third on the play, but there’s no reason to push CC, especially not after the Chien-Ming Wang episode of 2008.

Up came the struggling Brett Gardner, who squared around to bunt in the 1st inning of not just this game, but Saturday’s as well. Instead of doing that, he might as well have “I’m struggling and I know it” tattooed across his forehead. Santana got ahead with a fastball before going to work with his world class changeup, the second of which Gardner slapped right to Cora at second. It was an easily turned 4-6-3 double play despite his speed, and the Yanks’ chance to get back into this one basically went down the toilet.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Slumping Yanks

Oh let us count the ways…

Prior to his 8th inning single, Mark Teixeira had one hit in his last 29 plate appearances. Hopefully that – along with his 9th inning chopper – will get him going, because holy cow has he looked absolutely dreadful of late.

Meanwhile, Gardner’s regression to the mean is in full effect. Dude is a capital OH for his last 16, and as you’ve already read, has added grounding into double plays to his repertoire. His batting average dipped under .300 tonight for the first time since April 18th, and his OPS has fallen a hundred points in the last two weeks. Joe Girardi said during his postgame press conference that he doesn’t plan to do a “whole lot” of lineup rearranging next time out, but with  Nick Swisher back and healthy, it’s time to move him up to the second spot in the order to try to generate some more offense at the top of the lineup.

Cervelli, starting his seventh game behind the plate in as many days on Sunday night, is five for his last 23. To his credit, he hit what might have been the longest single in the history of baseball tonight with that shot off the top of the wall in the 7th. Of course, he should have been standing on second as Girardi acknowledged after the game, but that’s another topic for another time. He also singled again in the 9th.

Bad Stuff

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Jason Bay with not one, but homers after coming into the series with one all season. I hate to say it, but I totally called that on Friday. That dude just kills the Yankees. Kills ’em. Let’s be glad he’s in the NL now.

Johan Santana was excellent, but seriously, he threw 27 pitches combined in the 4th, 5th, and 6th inninsg. I know it’s tough to do against a pitcher of that caliber, but at least try to work the count. Hats off to him for a fine performance.

How about home plate ump Marvin Hudson warning both benches after Sergio Mitre hit Bay with a curveball with two outs in the 6th? How can the umps be so out of tune with what’s going on?

The Yankees haven’t hit a homerun since Juan Miranda took James Shields deep on Thursday. Bronx Bombers? Bronx Flyouts is more like it. (I keed, I keed) (Sorta)

Good Stuff

Hooray for Sabathia getting a hit. And Swisher for scoring from first on Cervelli’s single. He’s a hustler baby, he just wants you to know.

The late inning rallies once Santana was out of the game give me hope that the offense is starting to click. Kevin Russo, Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez in particular worked some good at-bats. Once they get a few more healthy bodies in there, they should start converting some of these rallies into wins.

WPA Graph & Box Score has the box score, FanGraphs the more in-depth box score.

Up Next

The Yankees are off tomorrow and they could probably use a day away from a baseball field. They’ll head to Minnesota to play in new Target Field for the first time starting Tuesday evening.

Warren continues getting grounders in Tampa win

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 loss to Louisville)
Greg Golson, LF-CF, Reid Gorecki, RF & Reegie Corona, 3B: all 0 for 4, 1 K – Corona committed a fielding error
Curtis Granderson, CF: 1 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K – he was scheduled to play only five innings, which he did … he apparently was running well in the outfield … faced a lefty on the Reds’ 40-man roster, so today was a nice test after a few weeks off
P.J. Pilittere, 1B: 0 for 1, 1 K
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 2 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 K
Jesus Montero, DH: 0 for 3, 1 BB
Chad Huffman, 1B-LF: 1 for 4, 1 K – 7-for-16 (.438) during five game hit streak
Rene Rivera, C:  for 4, 1 2B
Jeff Natale, 2B: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 BB – doing what he does best, get on base
Jason Hirsh: 5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 3-9 GB/FB – 68 of 92 pitches were strikes (73.9%) … gave up three homers after allowing one in his last 24.1 IP
Kevin Whelan: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – nine of 13 pitches were strikes (75%)
Grant Duff: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB – 14 of his 21 pitches were strikes (66.7%)
Royce Ring: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 11 of his 15 pitches were strikes (73.3%)

[Read more…]

Game 44: What could have been vs. what is

Photo Credit: Paul Sancya, AP

We never try to make too much of a big deal about one game in these parts of the interweb, but we’re going to make an exception today. Not that tonight’s game means more than yesterday’s or tomorrow’s, but because of the theater involved. It’s Johan Santana vs. CC Sabathia, the ace the Yankees passed on to get the ace they wanted.

Rewind back to the 2007-2008 offseason, when the Twins make a 28-year-old two-time Cy Young Away winning lefthander available on the trade market. It was a natural fit for the Yankees – a star player who could front what was then a patchwork rotation – and they were willing to trade the prospect version of Phil Hughes. The three of us even started a campaign to keep all of the Yanks’ young pitchers in pinstripes.  After a winter of he-said-she-saids, Santana finally landed in New York at the end of January, but with the Mets. Ironically enough, that was less than two months after the lefty declared he would only accept a trade to the Yanks or Red Sox. Funny how that works.

So Johan went off to Queens, and quite simply had a stellar season. He threw 234.1 innings of 3.66 xFIP ball and finished in the top three of the Cy Young voting for the fourth time in the five years. The Yanks, meanwhile, missed the playoffs for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, and the second-guessing of the non-trade started before the season was even half over. Santana’s declining peripheral stats (his BB/9, K/BB, AVG against, and xFIP all dropped for the fourth straight year) be damned, the was the guy the Yanks were supposed to have, and his absence is why they missed the postseason.

But, to be mind-numbingly cliche, GM Brian Cashman had an ace up his sleeve. Granted, it was a gamble of epic proportions, but passing on Johan was all by design. Another 28-year-old, Cy Young Award winning lefthanded ace was soon going to be available, except not in a trade, on the free agent market. CC Sabathia, the long-time Cleveland Indian was unlikely to return to the team given the fortune awaiting him on the open market, so Cashman decided to hold onto one set of assets (players) while using the team’s greatest resource (dollar dollar bills, y’all) to bring in a frontline starter.

Out of the race by mid-season, the Indians sent Sabathia to the Brewers for four prospects, and the fans in Cleveland thanked him for everything he’d done. Milwaukee, also unlikely to retain the big lefty beyond the season, rode CC right into the franchise’s first playoff berth in a quarter-century. He took to the mound 17 times and threw 130.2 innings for the team overall, but that’s not what he’ll be remembered for. Sabathia’s time in Cleveland will be remembered for taking the ball four times in the Brewers’ final eleven games with complete disregard for his health and impending free agency. With the season literally on the line in Game 162, CC threw a four hit complete game shutout against the Cubs, the National League’s best team by six games. The entire city of Milwaukee climbed about Sabathia’s broad shoulders, and he carried them right into the postseason.

After the season, Cashman put on the full court press. He had passed on Santana by choice, but he couldn’t let CC get away, so his opening bid was $140M on the very first day of free agency. It was a message to the rest of the league: don’t even think about it, he’s ours. Cashman dragged Reggie Jackson to dinners, wore his World Series ring(s) to meetings, flew coach to California in the middle of the night, he did everything that needed to be done to get Sabathia in the pinstripes. In the end, it took the largest contract ever given to a pitcher, but we know that was coming regardless of who he signed with.

One year and one World Championship later, Santana and Sabathia meet tonight for the first time as a Met and Yankee, respectively. It’s your guy, the one who wasn’t good enough for us, versus our the guy, the one with the ring and three fan bases in love with him. As far as May baseball goes, this is as good as it gets.

Here’s the starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Gardner, CF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, RF
Cervelli, C – seventh game in seven days
Kevin Russo, LF – yay
Sabathia, SP

First pitch is scheduled for 8:05pm ET, and the game can be seen on ESPN. Enjoy.

Pregame Notes: Vazquez, Granderson, Teixeira

The main topic of Joe Girardi‘s pregame press conference was Javy Vazquez and his bruised finger, as you can imagine. The news is basically all good: Javy feels better and is scheduled to make his next start. They did decide to push his regular side session back from Monday to Tuesday just to give the finger that extra day, but Girardi was adamant that Vazquez was his starter for Thursday. The only thing that could derail it right now is trouble during his bullpen session.

Here’s the rest of the good word…

  • Girardi spoke to Curtis Granderson and said he felt good after playing in his first rehab game yesterday. He did not, however, speak to him after he went 1-for-2 with a walk while playing five innings in centerfield today. You’ll read more about that in DotF later on, of course.
  • When asked if he was concerned about Mark Teixeira and the mother of all slumps, the Yanks’ manager said he was worried about him getting frustrated more than anything. He basically chalked it up “that’s baseball, and people go through slumps.”
  • Chan Ho Park is still rusty after spending a month on the DL, so right now they’re just trying to get him back on track. Girardi did say David Robertson‘s command has come together, “he’s pitching on the corners (of the plate) rather than the middle.” Who knew it was that simple?
  • Someone asked Girardi about the whole interleague thing, and he gave a stock answer: it’s good for baseball, good for the city when he Yankees play the Mets, etc. He did say that he likes having the DH in one league and not the other, but he would like to see NL pitchers bat while they’re in the minors. All of minor league baseball uses a DH.
  • Girardi said the best hitting pitcher he’s ever seen is Micah Owings, but he couldn’t remember his name. “The guy from Arizona that went to Cincinnati,” was his response. He also mentioned Don Robinson and Carlos Zambrano.

In case you missed it, I took some photos during batting practice and posted them on our Twitter feed. This one’s my favorite.

AA prospects: a status report – what Trenton makes

Last week I took a look at how some of the better AAA prospects were doing over the course of the season, but more importantly, how they’d performed over a 10 game sample, their long-term prospects of helping the big club and some things they need to work on. One important thing I learned: for some inexplicable reason, people just love Eduardo Nunez. He’s sort of like Michael Cera to me. Nice potential and has some good strengths but ultimately is overhyped and inconsistent.

Anyway, this week we head down to lovely Trenton, New Jersey to check in with Austin Romine, David Adams, David Phelps, Hector Noesi and D.J. Mitchell. We’re going to leave out Jeremy Bleich, who’s likely getting shoulder surgery, but I’ll simply note here that he’s been a huge disappointment this year. Feel better, Jeremy!

Austin Romine, C

Much has been written about Romine’s hot start. It’s easily one of the best developments of our higher-end players in the system. From what I’ve read, Romine’s defense has already been called “big league ready” and has improved in each of the past three seasons. He has a very strong arm and he’s improved his footwork and receiving skills. This isn’t very shocking – he already had a good defensive reputation, so enough of that. Let’s get to the offense. Romine was considered to be a good-contact hitter with a solid eye but more of a gap power hitter than someone expected to pop over 20 home runs a year. In 2010, he’s increased his contact skills, hitting .323, far above last year’s mark of .273 in Tampa. Unfortunately, his BABip this year is an Austin Jacksonian .392, or close to 90 points higher than last year’s mark. That won’t continue, but there are promising signs. Romine, not fleet of foot, is knocking in a line drive rate of 20% (up from 12.8 last year) and decreased his groundball rate to 38%.

But it would be nice to see Romine bring his walk rate up and his strike out rate further south. On the year he’s striking out 21% of appearances and walking 9% of the time, but overall, it’s hard to have much to complain about Romine’s season. His power is again looking pretty good (.512 slugging percentage) and he’s sprayed 6 doubles in his last 10 games. The Yankees can afford to take things slowly with Romine, and if he hits this well and continues to improve his defense at catcher, we could very well be watching the team’s future backstop sooner than we might expect, perhaps as early as 2012.

AA Season: .323/.386/.512

Last ten games: .308/.341/.462

David Adams.

David Adams, 2B

Aside from Austin Romine, Adams is easily my favorite player to keep tab on in Trenton. According to Mike’s Prospect Profile of Adams, the second baseman was rated as the top prospect in Virginia and the 102nd best overall in the 2008 draft (per Baseball America’s list), eventually signing with the Yankees as their 3rd round pick. He started 2009 off in Charleston, where he hit .290/.385/.393, displaying a good approach at bat but not showing much in the power department. A promotion to Hi-A Tampa quelled power issues – he knocked in 7 home runs in 67 games, posting a slugging percentage of .498.

Interestingly, it seems Adams may have changed his hitting approach with the move up to Tampa (or simply went back to his old approach in Virgina – couldn’t find college splits to see GB/LD/FB numbers). His ground ball rate dropped from 46% to 38%, his line drive rate from 22% to 16% and he knocked fly balls at a 44% rate, which explains the uptick in home run. It looks like he went from a gap-to-gap hitter to a swing with a bit more loft, and it was largely effective. He also maintained a solid walk rate and lessened strikeouts.

In Trenton – a jump that usually weeds out guys who took advantage of less advanced pitchers – it’s been fun seeing Adams continue his success. His power has remained (.510 slugging percentage) and his on-base skills still look good (.395 OBP), though he’s benefited from a high BABip rate of .373 (his career rate is .339). I’m a bit concerned he isn’t hitting line drives at a percentage you’d like to see (it’s at 11% currently) and striking out 21% of his plate appearances against right-handers is a tad high. But it’s still early and these are knit-picky things. Adams is mauling lefties (.400/.489/.650) and might already be prepared for Scranton offensively. The question is if he’s progressed with his defense. Adams should have the defense to stick at 2B, and his contact and on-base skills certainly make him the best middle infielder in the high minors with a good chance to contribute to the (or a) big league club. I’d put him above Kevin Russo, whom he has a higher ceiling than, though less versatility. Adams was recently injured sliding into a base but assuming this is a minor thing, he should be back in no time. He’s struggled a bit of late, but he’s looking every bit the possible 1st round pick he was hyped to be after finishing his sophmore season at UVA.

AA Trenton this year: .311/.395/.510

Last 10 games: .212/.366/.333

David Phelps, SP

Not considered one of the team’s high-impact pitchers down the farm, Phelps has continued to throw up really impressive numbers. A groundball-inducing extraordinaire, Phelps isn’t afraid to throw any of his pitches in any count, keeping hitters off balance, according to a scouting report at Yanks Daily. He doesn’t give many walks, issuing only 11 in 42 innings, and has pretty good strikeout rates for a finesse pitcher with 37 in 41.2 innings. A 14th round pick out of Notre Dame in 2008, Phelps has been one of the best players of the class (a class that includes Jeremy Bleich, David Adams, Corban Joseph, Kyle Higashioka and Brett Marshall), and 2010 is no different.

Hitters have been stymied by an FIP of 2.80 (and a corresponding ERA of 1.73), a groundball rate of 46.5%, and as already mentioned, an improved K-rate. Unfortunately, Phelps is outpeforming some of his peripherals. Hitters are unlikely to continue hitting only 2.8% of flyballs for home runs and his .256 BABip is significantly lower than last year’s mark of .317, though there’s certainly a correlation with his grounball rate from a year ago being 52%, compared to this year’s 46.5%. Phelps will need to work on his off-speed pitches to compliment his low-90’s fastball and some of his peripherals seem unustainable, but he’s been a very good find and hasn’t had any problem with AA hitters.

AA Trenton this year:

41.2 IP, 1.73 ERA, 29 hits, 37 K, 11 BB, 1.34 GO/AA

Last two starts: 12 IP, 3.00 ERA, 9 hits, 9 K, 5 BB

[Update: Phelps pitched today and threw 7 innings while giving up 6 earned runs. He had 5 strikeouts and 2 walks.]

Hector Noesi (Photo Credit: Ashley Stephenson)

Hector Noesi, SP

After blowing through Hi-A Tampa in eight starts this year, the brass decided to jump Noesi to Trenton, where he’s received one start. Noesi definitely has the stuff to succeed; the question has always been about his health. He’s been sidelined by injury a few times but rebounded to slice up Sally League hitters with a SO/BB rate of 7.09. He then hit Tampa and worked in an eye-popping 10.00 SO/BB rate and an FIP of 2.69. Frankie Pilliere, scout for AOL Fanhouse thinks Noesi has the chance to be a #3 in the big leagues, noting that Noesi had an improved curveball that could develop as a true out pitch. He’ll still need to work on his changeup and stay healthy, but he’s an unheralded guy with good upside (although he’s a bit old even for AA at 23).

His first start in Trenton wasn’t fantastic (he gave up 5 runs in 6 innings), but Noesi may move quickly if he resembles the guy we’ve seen in 2009 and 2010. There’s not a whole lot of data I can pore through that will really expose issues Noesi has had this year or last. His peripherals were all very encouraging, his BABip wasn’t freakishly low, his FIP and ERA were reasonable. He was just really good, though his HR/FB rate was low at 4.9%. So, instead, I’ll simply stress that the key to Noesi will be working on his off-speed pitches and not injuring himself. Otherwise, he could be a good edition to the team sometime in 2011 or 2012, probably the bullpen if he can’t develop a changeup that will keep big league hitters honest. His command and good-but-not-great stuff would be quite welcomed in such a role.

Hi-A Season: 43 IP, 2.72 ERA, 35 hits, 53 K, 6BB, 1.08 GA/AA

AA Season: 6 IP, 7.50, 7 hits, 4 K, 2 BB, .075 GA/AA

D.J. Mitchell, SP

Mitchell was one of the arms the Yankees took in the 2008 draft out of Clemson University. While Mitchell can certainly hold righties’ heads below the water, he gets decimated by left-handers. They hit .287/.381/.316 against Mitchell last year and took 20 walks in 58 innings. D.J. didn’t get enough strikeouts on lefties to limit the damage, either, knocking 5.59 per nine down on strikes. So here’s where it gets weird. Remember how I just said that Mitchell can’t get lefties out but he’s really good with righties? You should, it was mere lines ago. Here’s a fun one, guess which side Mitchell has thrown this line against: 19.1 IP, 2.79 ERA, 15 hits. Ok, how about this one: 22.0 IP, 7.36 ERA, 32 hits. The former is against left-handers, the latter against righties. I don’t understand. It’s just…what? Anyway, his numbers against lefties aren’t really that fantastic beyond the surface. He’s issued 11 walks to them with 9 strike outs and not a single fly ball has gone for a home run. So there’s no reason to get too optimistic – he won’t be a LOOGY out of the bullpen.

The utter collapse against right-handers is perhaps more interesting. He’s helped his strikeout rate against them a bit with 18 in 22 IP, but the walks are still persistent. He’s issued 11 to righties, and they’re hitting him for an average of .344. Good news is the BABip is .423 and that will almost assuredly go down, plus the stats are skewed a bit by one really poor outing (4.1 IP, 9 earned runs and five walks). He’s still getting guys to hit the ball on the ground at a very impressive rate (60%) and he’s limited the big fly. Armed with a fastball that sinks more than Derek Bell’s houseboat, a Nardi-fied curveball and a poor changeup, with only four years of total pitching experience, Mitchell has had a very strange season, full of great luck and terrible luck. How he does against left-handers with his changeup will be very interesting to watch as the season progresses.

AA Season: 41.1 IP, 5.23 ERA, 47 hits, 27 K, 22 BB, 2.07 GA/AA

Last two starts: 10.1 IP, 5.80 ERA, 17 hits, 8 K, 6 BB

More foul balls for Hughes

After Phil Hughes‘ start against the Red Sox last Monday, Joe observed that the young righty was having trouble putting Boston’s hitters away with two counts, and I noted all the pitches the Red Sox were able to foul off (17 total). Well that problem continued again last night, when the Mets were able to spoil a whopping 41 pitches, the most by any pitcher in nearly five years. 41! They swung at just two of the nine curves Hughes threw, so book might be getting out on his fastball heavy (85.3% four-seamers and cutters thrown this year) ways, and the hitters are just sitting on it.

I’m far from an expert in this stuff, but maybe it’s time to start incorporating the curveball a little more, and maybe even (gasp!) the changeup.