The Swisher of our discontent

IMG_1399_2

In just one season, Nick Swisher has fast become a fan favorite in New York City. Last night, he again displayed his antics in a moment that Amanda Rykoff caught on camera. She posted the above image to her Posterous site and called Swisher’s bow to Hideki Matsui during lineup introductions a sign of the Mohawk Godzilla Nation.

Tonight, Nick Swisher will rest though. After going 0 for 3 with a strike out against Cliff Lee last night, Nick is mired in a terrible slump. He is just 3 for his last 35 with 12 strike outs. Considering his 7-for-42 end to the season, Nick is now hitting just .130 since mid-September with 12 walks. No lucky Mohawk can save him for that.

When the Yanks released the lineup about 45 minutes ago, Nick Swisher found himself a part of the Yankee bench. On a night when Jose Molina will bat ninth and catch, Jerry Hairston will hit seventh and play right field. Apparently, it is a part of the Yankee strategy to put two inferior hitters into the lineup one night after scoring just one run. Hairston, for what it’s worth, has played just one game in right field all season. I could rant about this lineup forever, but back to Swisher.

As an aside, it appears as though Joe Girardi has opted for Hairston over Brett Gardner or Eric Hinske because of Hairston’s career numbers against Pedro. Although Hairston is 10 for 27 against Martinez, all but eight of those ABs came in 2002 and 2003. Hairston hasn’t faced Martinez since July 26, 2004. If Girardi is making his decision based upon numbers that are at least five years old, that is, honestly put, a stupid move.

I would never have advocated for benching Nick Swisher. He’s just off right now. Fack Youk, in a Nick Swisher futility report, summed it up best using a PitchF/x chart and some observations from the game:

Swish was even given a generous ball on the second pitch of the at bat – the green square which was clearly high enough and right down the pike. So what did Swisher do with the five (really 6) pitches that were in his – or Major League hitter’s – wheelhouse? He took three for strikes (and one for a ball) and fouled the other two off.

You don’t take four strikes in those respective locations in one at bat unless you are completely lost at the plate and are simply resorting to guessing. You don’t foul the other two off unless your rhythm and timing are out of whack. It was as if Lee & Ruiz had figured out that Swisher wasn’t going to hit the ball no matter where it was and decided to just lay it right down the middle…

Swisher is prone to extended slumps and he picked a pretty terrible time to have one of his worst of the year. The sporadic schedule has probably negatively affected as a switch hitter since he has two swings that he needs to keep working and both have seemingly fallen into a state of disrepair.

The best way for Swisher to move beyond this slump is more ABs, but the Yankees don’t really have the luxury of more at-bats. If they lose three more games, their season is over, and if they lose tonight, they face longs World Series odds on the road. And so Nick Swisher will sit, and I won’t mind.

Joe Girardi shouldn’t be employing a lineup without both Swisher and Jorge Posada, but tonight, he is. He should have used Brett Gardner or even Hinske over Hairston, but the ink has dried on that one. The top of the order can overcome some poor decisions at the bottom, and hopefully, Nick lets his head clear on this one. After an unexpectedly good season from Swisher, the last thing we want is a fade into oblivion after a bad postseason.

The at-bat that sealed the game

For seven innings last night, CC Sabathia kept the Yankees in the game. After a rough first inning he settled down, hurt only by a pair of Chase Utley home runs. But, because he’d done such a good job of keeping the Phillies off the base paths, they were both solo home runs. Unfortunately, with Cliff Lee in his groove, it would take a serious offensive effort just to make up those two runs.

What the Yankees needed was for the bullpen to keep it a two-run game so that maybe, just maybe the offense could pull off a late-inning rally. That did not happen. Phil Hughes walked the first two batters he faced, and while Damaso Marte did his job, David Robertson failed to record the inning’s final out without allowing the Phillies to extend the lead.

His first opponent was Jayson Werth. With a righty on righty matchup, this is the guy the Yanks wanted to retire. Robertson started him with a fastball that ended up a bit low for ball one. To the fastball he went, and he missed three straight times for a four-pitch walk. But did he really miss? As pitchf/x records it, the second and third pitches of the at-bat were strikes. The second pitch was debatable, hanging up at the top of the zone, a place where umpires don’t always call strikes. But the third pitch was right there, a 93 mph fastball that came in a bit high, but certainly within the zone’s confines.

Robertson then missed badly for ball four, a fastball low, loading the bases for Raul Ibanez. Girardi could have gone to Phil Coke, but with three righties following Ibanez, and considering Robertson’s favorable splits against lefties, it was probably the right move to leave him in the game. Robertson then went to work, and he set up Ibanez nicely.

The first pitch he kissed the low, outside corner with a fastball for strike one. He then tossed another low fastball that missed the bottom of the zone to even the count. Keeping the ball low again, Robertson placed his third pitch, a 93 mph fastball, on the inside part of the plate for strike two. With Ibanez down in the count, he had to be prepared for the curveball, but Jorge and Robertson went back to the fastball, this one high and outside. It was a nice change of pace, and that’s going to get a swing and miss sometimes. Ibanez, though, managed to foul it off.

With the count still 1-2, and with Ibanez having seen four straight fastballs, Posada and Robertson went to the curve. It missed by a decent margin, though, evening the count at 2-2. I’m not sure if they were going for the swing and miss, or just poor contact, but again Posada called for the curveball and set up on the low outside corner.

Robertson delivered, and Ibanez bounced one through the hole on the right side for a two-run single that opened up the game for the Phillies. The pitch was supposed to stay away, but as you can see below, Posada had to move his glove towards the middle of the plate. That allowed Ibanez to get enough of his bat head on it to get it into the outfield.

Just how much of the plate did that curve get? The pitch sequence strike zone plot from Brooks Baseball shows us.

It was low and kind of away, but not where Robertson and Posada wanted it. It was still a decent pitch, but not a great pitch. Ibanez, a good hitter, did what he could with it. Cano, playing a bit to his right, had no shot.

Had Robertson placed that pitch just slightly further outside, perhaps Ibanez would have bounced it right to Cano. He might have even swung and missed. But, because the ball was towards the middle of the plate Ibanez could handle it, and while it wasn’t the difference in the game it certainly changed the tone. Instead of being down two with six outs remaining, the Yankees were down four with the bottom of their lineup due up in the eighth.

“A game of inches” is a cliche for a reason. Robertson had done a good job setting up Ibanez, but made a small mistake on one pitch and it ended up costing them big. It’s the nature of the game, and it happens to the best of them. Just ask CC Sabathia who, after throwing three good pitches to Chase Utley in the sixth, left a fastball right over the middle of the plate.

After all this, I can’t help but wonder how the game would have unfolded if Robertson got even one of those strike calls against Werth. If he’d retired him, our moods might be different right now.

Yankee profits, World Series taxes and steak

It’s a three-for-one special this afternoon on RAB. You get three mini-posts about the Yankees’ business and rolled up into one.

Yanks break even in ’09
Generally, the New York Yankees with their gaudy $200 million payroll, don’t turn a profit. According to team officials, the club operates in the red due to the $100 million in revenue sharing and luxury tax payments it must make each year. In a way, that figure is a bit of an accounting slight of hand because it doesn’t count numerous other Yankee business ventures, including the YES Network, but that’s what the books read.

This year, though, the economics of the Yankees are different. As CNBC’s Darren Rovell reported yesterday, the Yankees are breaking even this year, and the team can thank the generosity and largesse of the City of New York for it. Reports Rovell:

But thanks to higher ticket prices, crowds filling the new Yankee Stadium seats to almost 94 percent of capacity and, perhaps most importanly, the tax shelter associated with new stadium costs that can be deducted from the team’s net revenues, sources say that the Yankees organization will make break even or perhaps even make money this year.

Sources say the savings on the tax shelter are expected to be at least $40 million.

I’ve long contended that taxpayers got a raw deal with the new Yankee Stadium. The city forewent far too much tax revenue and handed out far too many tax subsidies at a time when it could least afford it. The Yanks, though, are benefiting from it. The team has talked about maintaining or reducing payroll for 2010, but with this tax shelter, it appears as though the Yanks could add payroll next year and still come out fiscally stronger than they were a year or two ago.

World Series nets New York $40-$110 million
The New York City economy has long been sagging. Saddled with rising costs and a decreasing tax base due to the current recession, the city is in danger of running a deficit that would trigger state control of municipal finances. Perhaps, though, the World Series can alleviate some of the pain.

According to the Daily News, the World Series is very, very good for the economy. Each game brings in approximately $20 million in added revenue. From taxes on merchandise sales to bar tabs and crowded restaurants, business and the government enjoy the benefits of the Fall Classic. Even the MTA which sees 20,000 more riders per game gets in on the act.

For the Yankees and the City, the ideal outcome too would be a parade. A World Series victory would mean an additional $30 million economic activity. Here’s to No. 27.

NYY Steak roots for rain delays
Finally, we arrive at food. Crains New York spoke with David Miller, the COO of NYY Steak, about running a steak house in a stadium. While fans root for clear skies and warm weather, Miller says his restaurant benefits from rain delayed games and cool winds. “Rain and cold drive up business at the restaurant by at least 20 percent,” he said to Lisa Fickenscher.

According to Miller, the average tab at the steak house runs to around $98, and the place fills up pretty quickly once the game wraps up. It will be interesting to see how both NYY Steak and the Hard Rock Cafe do over the winter. These two establishments will keep their doors open all year long but won’t enjoy the benefits of 48,000 fans traipsing past their doors 81 times as they do during the summer.

World Series Game One chat

For the right price, Phil Coke will sweep your chimney

I’ve said it before, but I kind of enjoy reading an article, knowing I have to link to it on RAB, but having nothing to add. This Gordon Edes profile of Phil Coke speaks for itself. As he says, “I’m a normal person. I really am a normal person. I don’t know any other way to be than a small-town, backwoods kind of guy.” It’s definitely a good read at time when some of us are feeling down.

A Second Look: Managing the 8th inning

Before moving on entirely from last night’s Game 1 loss to a dominant Cliff Lee, I want to take a few minutes this morning to delve in depth into a potential turning point of the game. Specifically, I want to see how the 8th inning unfolded and why while offering up a potential alternative. I hate to call it a second-guess of Joe Girardi because I think he made the right moves, but he could have a made a move that was perhaps more right than the ones that didn’t work out last night.

With CC at 113 pitches through seven and the Yanks eying him for a Game 4 start on short rest, Joe Girardi had to go to the bullpen. To start the inning, he went to Phil Hughes. At that point, the leverage index — a measure of how critical a particular situation is — made Hughes’ appearance a logical one. Down 2-0, Girardi wanted to keep the game close, and he went with the guy who has been the second-best reliever.

Hughes, though, couldn’t deliver. His mechanics seem out of whack, and he walked both Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. Back to the pen went Joe Girardi and into the game came Damaso Marte. With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard due up, this move sorta kinda made sense. Utley had homered twice off of a lefty, and he hit southpaws this year to the tune of a .288/.417/.545 line. His OPS against lefties is .085 higher than it is against righties. Howard, on the other hand, hits .207/.298/.356 off of left-handers.

Marte did his job as Chase Utley struck out and Ryan Howard flew out. Again, Girardi went to the pen, and again, he made the move that, on paper, seemed to be the right one. Jayson Werth hit .302/.436/.644 against lefties but just .256/.348/.457 against righties. Although Girardi had the option to intentionally walk Werth and keep Marte in to face Raul Ibañez, another lefty bat, Ibañez had .139 points higher against lefties than against righties. Despite calls for Phil Coke, despite the populist movement to match up lefty-lefty, here, using a right-hander against the Phils’ lefty DH simply made more sense.

David Robertson, though, ran into a problem. He walked Jayson Werth on four straight pitches (even if PitchF/x disagrees). At this point, with the game on the line, David Robertson was pitching in the highest leverage situation the Yanks had faced since the Phillies had bases loaded in the first inning. They desperately needed an out, but Robertson allowed a seeing-eye two-run single into the hole between first and second. The game became officially out of reach.

Here, then is my almost-second guess: With the game in danger of being blown out, you almost have to hand the ball over to the reliever you want most for high leverage situations. The Yankees needed the game to be saved right there to have a shot at coming back against Cliff Lee, and Mariano is the guy who gets saves. This wasn’t a save situation by rulebook, but it was a save of a close game. Robertson faltered in the high leverage situation, and the Yanks let Game 1 get out of hand.

Of course, the Yankees can’t use Mariano Rivera in every late-inning high-leverage situation. He can’t pitch seven times in a seven-game series. He has, however, once appeared four times in a five-game series (2000) and five times in a seven game series (2004). Just last week, he made five appearances in the six-game ALCS. To keep the game close, the Yanks could have asked for four outs from Mariano after two days off.

In the end, it didn’t matter. The Yankees couldn’t plate two runs against Lee. Maybe the 9th shakes down differently with Mo instead of The Brian Bruney Experience and Phil Coke; maybe not. Furthermore, if the Yanks have to go to Mo for every high-leverage situation this week, they have far deeper bullpen problems than they can afford to have right now. Still, I have long challenged the use of closers in save situations as compared to leverage situations. Tonight, the Yanks rolled the high-leverage dice with someone not named Mariano and lost.

Yanks have no answer for Lee, drop series opener

For the first time in six Octobers, a World Series game was played in the Bronx tonight. Given how things unfolded, maybe the Yankees wished it had just kept raining. That’s about the only thing that could have stopped Cliff Lee tonight.

The game started in rather ominous fashion, when CC Sabathia loaded the bases in the first on a walk, a double, and another walk with two outs, only to escape unscathed when Raul Ibanez bounced a 3-1 pitch to second for a routine groundout. It was apparent from the get-go that Sabathia was going to have to be on his game tonight to match Lee, who was dealing right from the very first pitch.

Working at a feverish pace and pounding the zone, Lee struck out seven batters through the first four innings, and needed less than three pitches per batter (2.86 to be exact) to record his first twelve outs. After dominating the Rockies twice in the NLDS and the Dodgers once in the NLCS, it didn’t look like coming back to face an AL lineup affected the southpaw from Arkansas at all.

Sabathia, on the other hand, clearly wasn’t his usual self tonight. He still gave his team seven good innings and a start that on most nights would have secured him a win, but on this particular night four hits and two runs was just too many. His two most costly pitches of the night came against the same batter, Chase Utley, who drove each pitch into the rightfield seats for a solo homer.

In the third inning, Utley fouled off five pitches as part of a nine pitch at-bat before driving a fastball that drifted too far out over the plate into the people, and in the sixth he turned around a similar fastball down 0-2 in the count for his second jack. The last time Sabathia served up two homers to a lefty batter in the same game is also the last time he gave up two homers to one batter in the same game, Opening Day 2008 when Jim Thome got him twice.

Despite Utley’s heroics, the story of the night was clearly Cliff Lee, who for nine innings kept the Yankees off balance with a hearty mix of fastballs, cutters, changeups, and curveballs. He threw first pitch strikes to just half of the 32 batters he faced, but it seemed like he was constantly ahead of the Yankee hitters all night. Only one batter reached second base prior to the ninth inning, and no batter drew a walk after the Yanks took 47 of them as a team in their first nine playoff games. Lee was dominant in every sense of the word, allowing just the one garbage time unearned run and striking out ten against just six baserunners.

In a lineup noted for it’s patience, no Yankee hitter saw more than 18 pitches in Game One. The two through four hitters went a combined 2-for-16 with seven strikeouts, three by playoff hero Alex Rodriguez. The Cap’n was the only player able to muster consistent offense, going 3-for-4 with a double from the lead off spot.

Outside of Damaso Marte, the Yankees bullpen just flat out did not get the job done. Phil Hughes walked both batters he faced – two guys with a combined .327 OBP on the year – in the eighth, and Brian Bruney was nothing short of atrocious in the ninth. The tack on runs hardly mattered in the grand scheme of things, but Joe Girardi seems to be running short on trustworthy arms out there.

The good news for the Yankees is that the Paul O’Neill theory is in effect for Game Two, and the even better news is that Cliff Lee can’t pitch every game. Old buddy Pedro Martinez will come back to the Bronx tomorrow, pitching against an AL lineup in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. He’ll be opposed by AJ Burnett, who has lost just once at home in the last two months.

The winner of Game One has won 11 of the last 12 World Series, with the lone exception being the 2002 Giants. But remember, the Yankees dropped the first two to Atlanta in 1996, including the first game by a 12-1 score. This thing is far from over.