Surprise, surprise: Nick Johnson’s wrist hurting again

Via Brendan Prunty, Joe Girardi said before today’s game that Nick Johnson‘s surgically repaired wrist is once again barking. The first baseman/designated hitter had resumed baseball activities at the end of last month, though I think it’s safe to assume those have been put on hold for the time being. Even if he was able to come back as a pinch hitter walker in September, it would have been a nice little boost down the stretch. I guess we might as well forget about that now.

I was all for the NJ signing back when it happened, but it was obviously a huge mistake in hindsight. For shame.

Yankees limited Vazquez between-start work

Via Pete Caldera, the Yankees have “sharply limited” Javy Vazquez‘s work since his last start due to concerns about the utter lack of life on his fastball. Pitching coach Dave Eiland referred to it is “less volume, less intensity,” which for all intents and purposes means they had Javy scale back his between-start throwing hoping it would take care of this dead arm phase. The righthander’s velocity has been down all season and even moreso in his last few starts, but with Andy Pettitte on the shelf and a slim lead in the division, they can’t exactly skip him a start or two right now.

Tigers series drawing little secondary interest

As Johnny Damon and the Detroit Tigers stumble into town for a mid-week four-game set, the Motown Nine’s post-season dreams have all but faded. They team is in third place at 57-60, and they find themselves 10.5 games behind the AL Central-leading Twins. As such, as our partners at TiqIQ report, the secondary market for this week’s set is less than robust. On average tickets are selling at 35 percent below season levels, and only Thursday’s afternoon affair sees the average price approach $100. TiqIQ has a bit on the Johnny Damon factor as well.

While the demand isn’t quite up to par, this week presents a great opportunity to score some quality seats for a good price. Check out the stock at RAB Tickets.

A good road trip gone bad

Well that trip sucked. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

“That’s a game that we need to win,” said an agitated Joe Girardi following yesterday’s loss. “It’s not what we wanted, and we need to play better. We need to go home and play well. Start winning series. Tying series is not good enough. We need to start winning series.”

As surprising as it may be, the Yankees haven’t won a series since going to Cleveland at the end of July. They’ve since been beaten in three game sets by the Rays and Blue Jays while splitting against the Red Sox, Rangers, and Royals, so Girardi’s absolutely right. The Yanks aren’t going to be able to coast the rest of the way at a .500 clip in this division, so winning series is absolutely imperitave.

As ugly as the end of last week’s road trip was, let’s not forget how close the games actually were. The Yanks lost three of the six games in Texas and Kansas City, and all three of them were decided by just one run. The opening game against the Rangers went into extra innings after the Yanks tied the game on an Alex Rodriguez homerun in the 8th, but they only lost on a rare Mariano Rivera meltdown. Except it wasn’t much of a meltdown. Michael Young barely beat out Derek Jeter‘s throw to lead off the 10th inning on an infield single, and Josh Hamilton followed that up with a seeing eye single through the right side that was just beyond the reach of a diving Robinson Cano. A-Rod helped record the first out when he managed to get to Vlad Guerrero’s would-be seeing eye single, and the only hard hit ball in the inning was David Murphy’s eventual game winning single to shallow right.

The second loss of the road trip was that rain game against the Royals, when Billy Butler hit the go-ahead homerun off the bottom of the foul pole in the 5th inning before a two-plus hour long rain delay. If the umps don’t let them play for 29 minutes between delays and instead keep the tarp on the field, things may have played out differently. Yesterday’s loss is fresh in everyone’s head, a 1-0 defeat when A.J. Burnett threw eight strong innings and allowed the lone run to score only after a two-base throwing error by the great Frankie Cervelli. Frustrating losses, all three of them for sure, but hardly season halting defeats that exposed fatal flaws. In fact, if you go back to the Red Sox series, the Yankees last four losses have been by one run*. That game against Jon Lester is the one where Brett Gardner seemingly refused to try to steal second after pinch-running for A-Rod in the bottom of the 8th until it was too late.

* Perhaps all this one-run business is just a statistical correction. After playing just 12 one-run games in the first half (basically one out of every seven games), the Yanks have already played ten one-run games in the second half (one out of every three games).

So that’s four straight losses in which the Yankees were no more than one swing away from tying the game, if not taking the lead. On the bright side, keep in mind that with the exception of Mo’s meltdown, the bullpen allowed just six hits in 13.2 innings while striking out 13 during the road trip. Derek Jeter reached base nine times in four games. A-Rod hit four homers and was within maybe three feet of a fifth. Curtis Granderson was demonstrably better at hitting the ball to the opposite field with authority after working with Kevin Long. Lance Berkman, Marcus Thames, and Austin Kearns reached base a combined 19 times during the trip.

The Yankees absolutely had to do better than split a four game series with the Royals when Zack Greinke never touched the mound, no one is arguing that. They didn’t, so we have to move on. The Tigers are coming into the Bronx to start a four game set tonight, and they’re a whopping 9-22 since the All Star break. Justin Verlander starts tomorrow but matches up against CC Sabathia. Jose Valverde is day-to-day with a strained oblique and Phil Coke – Phil Coke! – is Detroit’s de facto closer. Miguel Cabrera is a hitting marvel, but Carlos Guillen (.174 wOBA), Brennan Boesch (.146), Austin Jackson (.255), and Johnny Damon (.260) have all been dreadful this month.

Point being, the Yanks have a chance to turn things right around with this seven game homestand that will bring the woeful Mariners to town after the Tigers depart. We fans can sit and let the frustrations of last week fester, but the players and coaching staff are looking ahead and looking forward to getting this train back on track.

Report: 27th round pick Martin Viramontes returning to school

Via Aaron Fitt, Yankees’ 27th round pick Martin Viramontes is returning to Loyola Marymount for his junior season. Draft eligible as a redshirt sophomore, Viramontes features a big time power arm and is capable of running his fastball up to 96 with a curveball and split-change hybrid. Mechanical issues and a 2009 elbow injury have caused him to be consistently inconsistent over the last two seasons, hurting his stock. A Scott Boras client and top 200 draft prospect, Viramontes was always a long-shot to sign.

In 29.1 innings with the Orleans Firebirds of the Cape Cod League this summer, Viramontes allowed just nine hits, but he walked 18 (and hit a batter) while striking out 19. Nice gamble to take that late in the draft, but it’s not the end of the world that he’s going back to school.

The signing deadline is midnight tonight, and you can see all the Yanks’ signed picks here.

Derek Jeter rebounding from rock bottom

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Every player experiences streaks and slumps during a season. Even players heralded for their consistency, such as Albert Pujols, experience slumps here and there. It feels like the Yankees 2010 season has not only contained streaks and slumps, but has been defined by them. Perhaps no player on the team has embodied this feeling quite like Derek Jeter.

Jeter started off the season hot, hitting .330/.354/.521 in April, which staved off questions regarding his approach. He walked just three times that first month, often swinging at the first pitch and making a quick out. The majority of his balls in play were put on the ground, and it seemed like everything he hit was a grounder towards short. But with largely positive results it was difficult to question the approach. We know that it doesn’t work for most players, but maybe Jeter had figured something out after spending the 2009 season in the leadoff spot.

Then came the slump. After a 6 for 12 series against Chicago Jeter’s production crashed. In his next 106 PA he went 22 for 99 (.222) with five walks and seven extra base hits. It dropped his line all the way to .279/.321/.413. In many ways it felt like his luck evening out, rather than him getting especially unlucky. He maintained the same approach, attacking pitches early in at-bats, but instead of grounding to short he was chopping more balls towards second. That can create the perception that his bat was slower, never a good sign for a 36-year-old shortstop.

Insane groundball rate

During that stretch Jeter hit rock bottom. On May 22 he went 0 for 4 against the Mets, lowing his season line to .267/.313/.385. It was hard to imagine his season getting any worse, but at the same time he made it difficult to imagine wholesale improvement. He was and still is Derek Jeter, of course, and his track record speaks for itself. But his approach was so different than in years past that he put his recovery somewhat in doubt. Of course, as often happens after a player hits rock bottom, he made a swift recovery, going 19 for his next 38 with five extra base hits.

If only that uptick had lasted...

This article would be far less interesting had Jeter sustained his recovery. It would have been the typical instance of a fanbase freaking out over a veteran player slumping early in the season, which makes his season numbers look all the worse. But again Jeter slumped. His numbers dropped all the way through the All-Star break, after which he hit some sort of bottom — not quite rock bottom, but close. After an 0 for 4 night in an ugly loss to the Angels on July 20 Jeter had a line of .268/.332/.380. While he kept his on-base higher than his previous low-point, his power had fallen off precipitously. That’s not too important for a leadoff hitter, but the complete power outage has to be somewhat concerning.

See? A little recovery.

Thankfully, we’re again seeing recovery, though this one has lasted a bit longer than the previous one. Since that 0 for 4 night against Anaheim Jeter has gone 35 for 107 with eight extra base hits and eight walks, which amounts to a .318/.371/.421 line. That’s more in line with reasonable expectations for Jeter’s season. It’s not yet safe to say that he can maintain this for the rest of the season. As we’ve seen, he can hit a slump at any time. But for the past month or so his approach has seemed more Jeter-like than during the first few months. If he keeps it up I think we’ll have little to say about him the rest of the way.

Investing In The Future

Based on the number of questions I get related to the topic in our weekly chats, there’s a ton of people out there interested in minor league economics. I can’t answer those questions, but thankfully Mike Ashmore did in his latest and truly greatest. Speaking with players and execs, Mike hit on everything from how much these guys make to what the Yankees provide for them to housing and healthy food and off-season jobs, the whole nine. It’s a great, great read, and even though it’s long as hell, I give it my absolute highest recommendation. Make sure you check it out.