Romine goes deep again in Trenton loss

Triple-A Scranton (12-4 loss to Norfolk)
Kevin Russo, CF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 2 BB – played center for the first time in his life … there’s no true CF on the roster now that Golson’s in the bigs & Curtis is on the DL, so I guess he’s the guy for the foreseeable future
Reegie Corona, 2B: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K
Eduardo Nunez, SS, David Winfree, RF & Chad Huffman, LF: all 0 for 4 – Nunez drove in a run & K’ed twice
Juan Miranda, 1B: 0 for 3, 1 K, 1 HB, 1 E (throwing)
Jon Weber, DH: 1 for 4, 1 2B
Robby Hammock, 3B-C: 0 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB
Chad Moeller, C: 1 for 3, 1 R – not sure why he left the game in the 9th … probably just because it was a blowout … if they were going to call him up, he wouldn’t even have played considering the risk of injury
Matt Cusick, 3B:  0 for 1
Zach McAllister: 3 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1-4 GB/FB, 1 E (throwing) – 41 of his 58 pitches were strikes (70.7%) … 28 baserunners (4 HR) & 14 ER allowed in his last 15.1 IP
Amaury Sanit: 2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 3-0 GB/FB – 25 of 37 pitches were strikes (67.6%)
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 2-1 GB/FB – 18 of 26 pitches were strikes (69.3%) … three baserunners & zero runs allowed in his last 5.2 IP after putting 19 men on base & allowing ten runs in his previous six innings
Tim Norton: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 12 of his 20 pitches were strikes (60%)

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Game 26: Good A.J., or Bad A.J.?

Photo Credit: Nick Wass, AP

Between Phil Hughes‘ dominance and Javy Vazquez‘s suckiness and Andy Pettitte‘s awesome April and CC Sabathia just being the man, it seems like A.J. Burnett has been the forgotten man in the rotation. Hard to imagine when there’s only six pitchers in the game making more money than him, but that’s what’s going on.

Burnett has been pretty damn good in his first five starts, posting a 2.43 ERA, 3.37 FIP, and 4.33 xFIP in 33.1 innings. His strikeout rate is way down at 5.40 K/9, but so is his walk rate at 2.43 BB/9. Burnett’s ground ball rate is back up to 48.5%, his pre-2009 levels. The strikeouts (and sadly, the walks too) will regress back to the mean and he’ll finish with close to one an inning as he always does, but right now A.J. seems to be flying under the radar.

Here’s the lineup, which will face Brian Matusz and thins about pretty quickly after the five-spot…

Jeter, DH
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Thames, LF
Gardner, CF
Cervelli, C
Pena, SS

And on the mound, Allen James Burnett.

Despite some afternoon drizzle, the weather looks fine for tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, and will be broadcast on YES. Enjoy the game.

2010 Draft: MLB announces draft coverage

Via Conor Glassey, MLB has announced it’s official plans for coverage of the 2010 Draft. The event will again span three days, from Monday June 7th to Wednesday the 9th, though Day One will only feature the first and supplemental rounds. Day Two will run through round 30, and Day Three will wrap up the remaining 50 rounds. MLB Network will air a draft preview show at 6pm ET on Day One before broadcasting the draft when it starts an hour later. Days Two and Three will not be broadcast on television, but the conference call audio will be available online as always.

Unlike last year, the Yankees are off during Day One of the draft, so we can actually devote our full attention to it.

Record low attendance at last night’s game

Via Ross, last night’s game against the Orioles was seen by just 41,571 fans, a record low for the New Stadium. The rain earlier in the day probably had a little to do with it, and I can’t imagine many Orioles’ fans made the trip up to see their 7-19 club either. The previous low was set last April, when just 42,065 fans watched the Yanks beat the A’s.

Ticket sales for the 2010 season are ahead of last year’s pace, so last night’s game was probably just a blip on the radar.

The unnecessariness of a 12-man bullpen

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Before the Yankees called up Greg Golson this afternoon they boasted a 13-man pitching staff. Granted, it was in reaction to a free roster spot and a slightly short bullpen, but that doesn’t make it any more necessary. The staff is now down to 12 men, but even that seems like a bit much when considering the Yanks’ starters. While I understood the necessity of a 12-man bullpen through the mid-00s, I just don’t get why they’re doing it this year.

The staff has pitched 217 innings this year, 158 of which have been handled by the starters. That’s good for fourth in the AL, though the Yankees have played fewer games than most of the teams surrounding them. They also had that rain shortened game, which deprived them of up to three starter innings. The staff ERA sits at 3.36, third best in the AL. These stats also include Javy Vazquez, which further illustrates just how dominant CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes have been this year.

Unsurprisingly, Yankee relievers have pitched the fewest innings in the AL. Even further to the point, the Yanks have seen CC Sabathia negate the need for the bullpen in two games, so the bullpen innings per game drops even further. In the Yankees 25 games the bullpen has thrown 59 innings, just over 2.1 innings per game. This means that the late-inning relievers, Joba Chamberlain most prominently, eat up most of the remaining innings. He leads the team with 12 appearances.

One of Joe Girardi‘s strengths is his ability to spread the work among all the pitchers in his bullpen. Yet with the team’s starters pitching out of their minds, he’s had few chances to deploy many of his bullpen weapons. David Robertson, for instance, has alternately struggled and thrived this season, but he’s never gotten a real chance to get into a groove. He has lasted just 5.2 innings in eight appearances. With more consistent work perhaps his results would start to reflect his excellent peripherals: 8 K and 2 BB.

This might seem like a good problem to have, and for the most part that is the case. I’ve long said that the best way to build an effective bullpen is to assemble a top-flight starting staff, and the Yankees have done just that. In fact, it makes me further wonder what this situation would look like if Vazquez had some semblance of a fastball. Would Sergio Mitre have ever gotten into a game? He’d have maybe an inning or two in a Yanks blowout, but not much more than that.

Might the Yankees be better off carrying just 11 pitchers? The 12th pitcher is, in essence, an insurance guy. He’s there in case the starter flops. The Yankees starters, though, haven’t been known for flops. Javy accounts for almost all of the rotation’s poor performances, meaning Mitre is only necessary on those days. If Javy ends up pitching well, he might not even be needed then. True, one of the top four is likely to throw a stinker at some point, but Al Aceves can cover multiple innings if necessary.

For now, we likely won’t see the Yankees stray from their 12-man staff. This is not only because it has become standard operating procedure to carry 12 pitchers, but also because the added spot on the bench doesn’t seem necessary. Does having Greg Golson or Kevin Russo on the bench present a more valuable option for the Yanks than a 12th pitcher? At this point probably not. Later in the season, however, perhaps the Yankees can use that flexibility to pick up a bat off the bench and eschew the 12th pitcher. Hell, if the Braves continue to founder maybe they can even get back Eric Hinske.

Because the team doesn’t have much need for a 12th pitcher, and because it has even less a need for a long man in non-Javy starts, maybe Girardi will start trying Mitre as a short reliever. He’s not going to sustain his current hit rate, just 2.1 hits per nine, but with consistent work maybe he can prove a serviceable part of the bridge to Mo. If Girardi keeps Mitre and Aceves on different schedules he can then keep one free for long man duty if need be. That ability increases even more once Chan Ho Park returns.

The Yankees essentially have a free 25th roster spot. They don’t need it for a 12th pitcher, and they don’t really need another player to hit off the bench. It does allow them flexibility, something Cashman has preached for years. At this point, though, it seems more like a dormant spot that is waiting for a need to arise. We haven’t quite seen one yet, and considering how well this first month has gone I think I’d be fine if one never did.

The two sides of making contact

Over the winter we showed that it was essential for pitchers to strike batters out if they want to be successful long-term, but that batters could get away with high strikeout rates because they could make up for it in other ways. A pitcher with a low strikeout rate is at the mercy of his defense and the BABIP gods, while hitters with high strikeout rates can hit the ball with power and get on base in exchange. None of us like watching a Yankee strike out, but it happens.

At the root of strikeout rates are contact rates. The more contact a hitter makes, the less they’ll strike out. It’s that simple. For some batters, the speedy guys that can’t threaten a pitcher with power, it’s imperative to put the ball in play to make stuff happen. For others, the kinds of players that trade strikeouts for extra base hits, the need to make consistent contact is a bit more relaxed.

Photo Credit: Gail Burton, AP

One of the surprises in the first month of the season has been Brett Gardner, who woke up this morning sporting a .415 wOBA and eleven steals, good for second in all the land. The reason Gardner has been so successful is simple: he’s putting the ball in play on the ground more than he ever has before, and is using his top of the line speed to turn bouncers into hits. We all saw that game against the Rangers a few weeks ago when he beat out three infield hits and nearly a fourth. It’s not something Yankee fans are used to.

Despite that moonshot off Mark Buehrle, Gardner’s not ever going to hit for power and needs to play the slash-and-dash game. His minor league career featured a particularly high 19.8 K%, but he made up for it by hitting ground balls 55% of the time and taking advantage of neophyte minor league defenders. Gardner continued to strike out once he got the big leagues (23.6% in 2008, 16.1% in 2009), but he wasn’t hitting the ball on the ground as frequently (47.9% in ’08, 49% in ’09). You can see the slight upward trend, and that’s something that has continued into this season.

Through 25 games, Gardner has struck out in just 12% of his at-bats and put the ball on the ground 56.9% of the time. He’s not striking out as much because he’s simply making much more contact. Believe it or not, Gardner has yet to swing and miss at the pitch in the strike zone this season, and he’s the only player in the game that can make that claim. Marco Scutaro is second in baseball with a 99.1% contact rate in the zone. If the ball was over the plate and Gardner hacked at it, he’s gotten at least a piece of the ball every single time. His overall contact rate is 91.7% (73.5% contact rate on pitches out of the zone), which is tied with Ichiro for the tenth best in the game. A player like Gardner can’t make up for strikeouts by hitting for power, so he needs to slap the ball around the infield to be successful. So far this year, he’s done exactly that.

Photo Credit: Nick Wass, AP

On the other side of the coin you have Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod is off to a slow (.334 wOBA) start even though he’s made more contact than he ever has before. After making contact on about 75% of his swings from 2002-2009, Alex is up to 86.5% this year thanks to a 97.5% contact rate on pitches in the zone, well above the ~83% he posted from ’02-’09. It’s not like he swinging at more pitches either, actually quite the opposite. A-Rod offered at close to 44% of the pitches he saw from ’02-’09, but this year that’s down to 40.9%.

For a guy like Alex, you’d think the more contact the better because of what usually happens when he connects with a pitch. However, his batted ball rates are a little off kilter this season, particularly his line drive (17.3% in ’10 vs. 18.2% career) and fly ball (37% in ’10 vs. 40% career) percentages. The more balls he sends to the outfield, the better. Those LD and FB decreases have resulted in more ground balls (45.7% in ’10 vs. 41.8% career), and Alex isn’t a speedy guy like Gardner, who thrives on that stuff.

Is it possible A-Rod is making too much contact? He’s offering at a few more pitches off the plate than he usually does (22.7% in ’10 vs. 20.5% career), but because he’s putting the bat on the ball more than usual, it’s resulting in more weak contact. That would explain the uptick in groundballs. It might also have something to do with his newfound knee issue: perhaps it’s preventing him from really driving through the ball with his lower half. Either way, A-Rod’s not going to maintain a 6.7% HR/FB rate all year (23.4% career), and at some point (hopefully soon) he’ll go on a Mike Stanton-esque binge and club ten homers in ten games.

So far this year we’ve seen two Yankees making a whole lot of contact with the ball at the plate, but they’ve gotten different results. Their vastly different skill sets are the primary reason why it’s working for Gardner and not A-Rod, but there’s no cause for concern. Brett the Jet can keep it up for as long as he wants, and Alex is too talented to hit .258-.336-.430 over 162 games.

Yankees recall Golson, option Melancon

Update (6:01pm): Melancon has indeed been sent to Triple-A.

12:46pm: Via Donnie Collins, the Yankees are expected to call up outfielder Greg Golson (who is already in New York) today to replace the injured Curtis Granderson. Mark Melancon will likely be the 25-man roster casualty following Sunday’s two inning, 27-pitch outing. Golson’s call up is an unsurprising move not just because we heard it was coming over the weekend, but because the Yanks don’t have another true centerfielder on their roster beyond Brett Gardner.

The 24-year-old Golson is crazy fast and a defensive whiz, but he’s not much with the stick. In 21 Triple-A games this season, he’s hitting .253-.289-.430 with twelve strikeouts, four steals, and just three walks. He won’t be used for much more than pinch running and late-game defense.