Long, Granderson working to revamp swing

Hitting coach Kevin Long told reporters this afternoon that he is working on a “total reformation of the swing” with Curtis Granderson. The centerfielder’s struggles this season are well-documented, so this is obviously good to hear. Something had to be done. Remember though, wholesale changes like this can take time, it’s not like flipping a light switch.

Granderson is out of tonight’s lineup despite surprisingly good career numbers against Cliff Lee as he and K-Long do their thing.

Update: Just to clarify, it sounds like Granderson went to Long and asked for help, not the other way around.

Yankees agree to terms with third rounder Rob Segedin

Via Jim Callis, the Yankees have agreed to terms with third round pick Rob Segedin on a $377,500 bonus, which is about $108,000 over slot. I’m actually pretty surprised that he signed at that number, it seems pretty low. Maybe that’s just an indication of where the market is at.

A draft eligible sophomore with extra leverage, the Old Tappan, NJ native hit .373/.463/.625 during his time at Tulane (.434/.518/.788 last season) with more walks (68) than strikeouts (49). Segedin was drafted as a third baseman, but back and shoulder injuries could push him to the outfield. The righty swinger can definitely hit, and is the most polished player selected by the Yanks this year. Here’s some video.

Would the real Brett Gardner please stand up?

Credit: AP Images, Julie Jacobson

As the AL East tightens up a bit and the Yankees look to get back to their winning ways, a few glaring holes in the team’s lineup has emerged. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on how Francisco Cervelli has gotten far more playing time than he deserves, but the Yanks’ catcher isn’t the only source of outs these days. Another key player — a speedy outfielder — went from an early season catalyst to a summer slumper. He is none other than Brett Gardner.

It’s a dangerous exercise to split a player’s season into smaller bits and pieces and then draw conclusions from them. Small sample size issues abound, and a player is generally the overall sum of his parts by the team the season ends. That said, Gardner’s recent play presents a stark contrast to his early season success.

The Yanks’ left fielder opened the season on a tear. Through May 9, he had 108 plate appearances and was batting .344/.425/.419 with 12 strike outs — or one every nine plate appearances. He had also stolen 14 out of 15 bases. From May 10 to June 21, his numbers underwent a regression. In 37 games, 34 starts, he enjoyed 149 plate appearances and hit a very respectable .310/.389/.434, but he struck out 21 times, once every 7.1 PAs. He was safe on nine out of 12 baserunning attempts.

In his last 39 games, the bottom has fallen out. Over 141 plate appearances, he’s hitting .195/.321/.280 with 35 strike outs or one very four times up. He has stolen just eight of ten bases, and since August started, he’s 2 for 26 with 11 strike outs.

It’s hard to stress just how bad Gardner has been since the start of July. He has a .290 wOBA, and his .601 OPS barely trumps that of Francisco Cervelli. At a time when the Yanks desperately need base runners who can wreck havoc, Gardner has disappeared from the scene, and his late-season swoon is raising questions about his Yankee future.

In the long-term, the team has a few options. They can market Gardner as a 2-3 win player who is cost-controlled for a few more years and has shown the ability to get on base at a high rate and steal bases. We know that his base-runner skills are suspect, but we also know that he has the speed to outrun his lesser running instincts. To replace Brett Gardner, the Yankees can throw money at Carl Crawford. The Ray’s outfielder is a free agent this winter, and he’s already put up a 5-win season with seven weeks to go. Gardner is very expendable, and the Yanks could probably get a high return for him.

In the short-term, though, the team has a problem. The team needs his outfield defense. Gardner has been the Yanks’ best outfield defender with a 7.0 UZR and an arm slightly below average. He has eight assists and has muffed just one play. But his glove work can’t mask his offense, and to that end, the team must consider Austin Kearns the other half of a left field platoon.

Kearns isn’t an All Star. So far this year, he’s been worth only 1.3 wins above replacement to Brett Gardner’s 2.8. His left field UZR puts him below average in the field, but he has a decent stick. With the Yanks, he’s hitting .273/.429/.364, and overall, he’s at .272/.357/.417. Unlike Gardner lately, Kearns isn’t an automatic out. It’s less than ideal, but unless Gardner can put the ball in play and get on base again, his playing time should dwindle.

We’ve seen this year what Brett Gardner can do and what he can’t do. He has approximately a quarter of the season left to send the Yanks a message that he, and not Carl Crawford, should be the left fielder of the future. Austin Kearns is here to put pressure on Gardner, and how he responds will impact both the Yanks’ pennant race and their long-term outlook. I like Brett, but lately, he’s making a doubter out of me.

Posada’s achy shoulder could present a big problem

Just a little over a week shy of his 39th birthday, the Yankees have enjoyed another solid season out of stalwart catcher Jorge Posada. His .361 wOBA is second best among American League catchers, and other than a few fluke injuries (hit by pitch on the knee, foot fracture on a foul tip) and some nagging soreness that’s cost him a day here and there, Posada has largely defied the typical catcher aging curve. At least until now.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

After catching three straight games, including a day game after a night game, it was obvious that Posada was going to receive a day off yesterday. Throw in Joe Girardi‘s stated catching rotation, and it’s even less surprising. What did come as a surprise was the news following yesterday’s game that Posada’s surgically repaired right shoulder was “barking,” something that first popped up when he threw to second on a stolen base attempt during Monday’s game. Perpetually optimistic, Girardi downplayed the issue, saying that he hoped it would clear up and his starting backstop would return to the lineup soon. Whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen.

What we do know is if the Yanks lose Posada for any length of time, or even see his playing time reduced to cope with the ailment, they’re in big trouble. Frankie Cervelli, the target of much ire this summer, is far from an everyday catcher. Even with last night’s run scoring single, he’s still hitting just .197/.269/.237 in his last 175 plate appearances dating back to mid-May. Take away three hit by pitches and that on-base percentage shrinks to .250. On top of that, Cervelli has thrown out just seven of 39 attempted basestealers, a 15% success rate that is lower than Posada’s (17%) and the worst by a Yankee backstop with at least 500 innings caught in a season since Johnny Blanchard threw out 14% of basestealers in 1962. Who knows, perhaps regular playing time will help get Frankie in a rhythm and allow him to rediscover that BABIP luck from April, but things don’t usually work like that. The extended playing time during Posada’s disabled list stint in May is what brought Cervelli back to Earth in the first place.

In his Under The Knife column today, Will Carroll says the Yanks would like to add a catcher (according to his sources), which tells you a few things if true. First of all, the team is not seriously considering a Jesus Montero call-up regardless of his .413/.473/.775 batting line since the All Star break. That could be for any number of reasons, but it probably has something to do with them either a) not wanting to rush him, b) not feeling his a big league catcher defensively, or c) both. It was a long shot to begin with, as far as I was concerned.

Secondly, it tells you the Yanks aren’t all that comfortable with Cervelli as an everyday backstop down the stretch in a division race. Should the situation arise, finding a backup catcher on trade waivers shouldn’t be tough, though you’re not going to land anything special. Maybe the Mets are willing to move the presently injured Rod Barajas (.266 OBP, yuck) or Henry Blanco. The Jays could dump either John Buck or Jose Molina with J.P. Arencibia setting the world on fire, and I’m sure the Tigers would love to get of Gerald Laird to free up playing time for Alex Avila (and some salary). Point being, the trade options aren’t great, but they’re out there.

Either way, if Posada’s shoulder becomes enough of an issue to limit his catching to a game or two a week, the Yankees are in some pretty big trouble. Having his offensive production come from a premium position is part of the reason why the team has been so successful for the last decade-plus, and now if you’re replacing that with essentially a replacement level hitter who can’t control the running game, you’re talking about a one or two win swing down the stretch, if not more. In the ultra-competitive AL East, that could be difference between playing the Twins at home in October or going on the road to face the Rangers.

Yankees sign 12th rounder Dan Burawa

Via Aaron Fitt, the Yankees have signed 12th round pick Dan Burawa to an double-slot $300,000 bonus. The righthander from St. John’s was a draft eligible sophomore, so he had a little more negotiating leverage than most draftees, though the bonus isn’t outrageous. Keith Law wrote a glowing report after seeing Burawa a few weeks ago, saying “it’s a premium arm that would play pretty quickly in a late-game, one-inning role.” Here’s the only video I could find, nothing special though.

In 23.2 innings with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League this summer, Burawa struck out 25 and walked 17, so he’ll have to tighten up that control. He’s going to report to Short Season Staten Island, where he’ll join recently signed fifth rounder Tommy Kahnle in the bullpen. Here’s a list of the Yanks’ signed draft picks.

Recapping the RAB/FanGraphs Live Discussion

This past Saturday, as we’ve advertised for weeks, the three of us joined the crew at FanGraphs for a Live Discussion at Florence Gould Hall on 59th Street in our very own New York City. From the reactions it didn’t seem like anyone had a bad time. And if they did, they forgot about it as we drank ourselves silly watching the Yanks topple the Red Sox.

Since the three of us participated in the event, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to review it ourselves. Thankfully a number of the participants took care of that. There will be pictures to follow for sure, and I heard something about video highlights, though that’s something I can’t confirm. For now we’ll turn to Amanda Rykoff, Carson Cistulli, and Brian Cartwright for the reviews.

Friend of RAB Amanda Rykoff, a/k/a OCD Chick, is one of the most prolific tweeters you’ll ever come across. I recommend you follow her on Twitter, @amandarykoff, for not only baseball stuff but also for her social media content. That, and, of course, her general humor. If you’ve ever read OCD Chick you understand Tale of the Tweets, a daily feature she posts that recounts the day 140 characters at a time. Unfortunately there was no Tale of the Tweets for the Live Discussion, mainly because there was no Wi-Fi or cellular reception at the hall. Oops. But she does run down the event in a similar fashion, starting with some bigger thoughts and then moving to the bullet pointed review. She focuses on the media and stats panels, which were really the main events.

At a site like FanGraphs, humor comes at a premium. That’s why Carson Cistulli is on board. The man can add a touch of lightness to any subject, including, apparently, baseball analysis. He served as moderator for the statistics and the New York baseball panels, and then recounted his experience on FanGraphs. I particularly appreciated this line: “Observation: saber-oriented Yankee fans, just like all other kinds of Yankee fans, are disgustingly confident.” Hell yes we are. Carson also brings to light some interesting conversation points from the after-party. His bullet pointed list complements Amanda’s well.

Brian Cartwright of The Hardball Times sat front row center for the event, and even got his wife to come along with him. He wrote a more traditional review on THT Live. There is more than one interesting anecdote in there, including ones that involves Brian “fumbling for [his] narcotics.” I think that’s an ample teaser.

I would like to thank everyone who came out to enjoy the morning with us, and then to those who came downtown and made the Yanks-Sox game that much more enjoyable. I’m certain we’ll do this again.

Burnett, Wilson both effective with different approaches

Normally in this time slot I’ll present a pitching breakdown of the previous game using MLB’s PitchFX data. There are plenty of great PitchFX resources out there, including Brooks Baseball and Texas Leaguers, so I can always find the information I’m seeking. These numbers are most useful, I think, for home games, since we have a large body of comparison. When we start crossing parks we run into calibration differences that can skew analysis. There’s a chance we saw that last night.

The PitchFX readings suggest that A.J. Burnett‘s fastball averaged 91.5 mph, topping out at 93 mph. That’s clearly not the Burnett we’ve seen in the past year and a half. He might not have that upper 90s speed any more, but he has averaged 93, 94 mph. So was this Burnett slowing things down to compensate for his back issues? Or is it a PitchFX calibration issue? I’ll suggest that it’s the latter.

Rangers starter C.J. Wilson had similar velocity numbers to Burnett. He averaged 90.3 mph with his four-seamer and ramped it up to 93. In his previous start, up in Seattle, he averaged about a mile per hour faster with his four-seamer, both average and max. I’ve heard before that the PitchFX data in Texas is a bit slow, and while this observation doesn’t confirm it we can see that there easily could be differences between parks. That makes it difficult to break down Burnett’s start by comparing it to his previous ones.

What we can do is compare Burnett to his counterpart. Both Burnett and Wilson pitched well, allowing just five runs between them in 12.1 innings. There was a curious balance there, with Burnett, despite being over 100 pitches entering the inning, finishing the seventh, while Wilson was lifted in the middle of the sixth. That helps bridge the one-run discrepancy. But other than the results, Burnett and Wilson aren’t that alike at all.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

By this point we understand Burnett’s arsenal. He’ll normally rely on the four-seamer and move to the curve or the two-seamer for a change of pace. Last night he threw 57 four-seamers, 23 two-seamers, 25 curves, and he even snuck in six changeups. Best of all, it looked like he might have rediscovered something he’d been missing in previous months. The four-seamer generated five swings and misses, the curve three, and even the changeup led to a strikeout. It’s nice to see the fastball fooling the Rangers hitters. We put a lot of emphasis on the curve, but without his fastball the curveball becomes that much less effective.

(As an aside, just to hammer home how effective Burnett’s fastball was last night, remember that David Murphy hit his home run on a first-pitch fastball. It wasn’t a bad location, down and in, so it’s tough to kill A.J. for that. But even with the resulting homer, Burnett’s fastball was still rated as excellent. In other words, I think we saw Good A.J. get some bad results last night.)

Yet even with the effective fastballs last night — his two-seamer didn’t have that tail that we noticed in his last start — the curve was again not that effective. The Linear Weights score on Brooks Baseball, which assigns run values to each pitch based on its outcome, had the curve as ineffective as the fastball was effective. Anecdotally, that sounds about right. It did generate three swings and misses, but all three came in a single at-bat against Vladimir Guerrero in the fourth. Burnett threw him four straight curves, and then went for a fifth when Nelson Cruz came to the plate. Cruz had grounded out on a curve in his first PA, so Burnett went back to it. This time it produced poor results, an RBI double that gave Texas a 1-0 lead.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

On the other side, Wilson attacked the Yankees with a mixed arsenal. He threw all six of his pitches 11 times or more. That was his changeup, and he even got a swing and miss on it. Wilson also featured 15 curveballs, on which he got four swings and misses. As Ken Singleton noted on the broadcast, Wilson didn’t even flash this pitch the first time through the order. He really didn’t have to. With five other pitches, he could keep that one in his back pocket until he needed it. That proved effective, as he dropped 10 of 15 for strikes, including four swings and misses.

One thing I love about Wilson’s arsenal is that he employs fastballs that move in two directions. That would be the two-seamer, which breaks towards a left-handed hitter, and the cutter, which bears in on a righty. That must make it tough for opposing hitters, since a fastball can move in any direction (or come in straight). I’m guessing that makes his changeup, and even his curveball, more effective. The two-seamer wasn’t working that well last night — he threw just seven of 16 for strikes and got no swings and misses — but I do wonder how well it worked as a setup tool for his other pitches.

This isn’t how Wilson attacks every lineup. In Seattle for his last start he went heavy on the four-seamer and cutter, throwing them 44 times out of 85 pitches. The changeup, four times, and the curveball, five times, were afterthoughts. Apparently Wilson thought he needed those weapons to attack even a depleted Yankees lineup. It worked well enough, though the Yanks did a good job of driving up his pitch count and forcing Ron Washington’s hand. Wilson threw 15 pitches in the sixth, leaving runners on first and second with one out.

While we didn’t get the best look at Burnett by the PitchFX numbers, what we can glean suggests that we did, in fact, see Good A.J. last night. Finishing seven innings while only giving up three runs is almost always a positive. That two of those runs came from a fairly good pitch makes it look a bit better. In other words, the process was good but the results didn’t match. That happens plenty in baseball. Give credit, too, to the Yankees lineup, a ragtag bunch that forced Wilson from the game before the end of the sixth. It was a tough loss, but there was plenty that went right in this one.