A-Rod takes over as Yanks top Royals

There has been much written about Alex Rodriguez and his substandard season over the last several months, and deservedly so. His triple-slash stats represent career lows across the board and he’s a 35-year-old admitted PED user with a bad hip, so I guess he had it coming it in a way. But for this one August night, Alex reminded everyone that he’s the most talented player on the field whenever he steps on the diamond.

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Easy As One, Two, Three

It’s like he heard me. After A-Rod struck out – swinging through two low-90’s fastballs, mind you – with men on first and second to end the 3rd inning, I took out some frustration on Twitter. “Alex needs to get his shit together,” I ranted. “It’s August already.” Little did I know how much power I truly have.

With the score tied at one, A-Rod led off the 6th against Royals’ starter Sean O’Sullivan, who again befuddled the Yankee lineup with changeup after changeup after changeup. He fed Alex a heavy diet of sinkers down in the zone before accidentally leaving one up in the zone in a 2-1 count, which the Yanks’ cleanup hitter promptly deposited into the leftfield stands to give his team a 2-1 lead. Given the offensive frustration of the first five innings, it felt like a grand slam. Well, not really, but it was good to have the lead.

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

The Yanks were up 4-3 in the very next inning (yeah, a lot happened in that 6th inning), and Alex came to the plate with a man on first but didn’t bother to work the count. Former Yankee farmhand Kanekoa Texeira came right after him with the heater, but Alex turned it right around and hit it into the batter’s eye in dead center. Not only did it give the Yanks a much more comfortable three run lead, but it gave us all some hope that A-Rod is turning back into the hitter we all know he can be.

Not satisfied with just the two long balls, the newest addition of the 600 HR club took out some anger on a 96 mph Greg Holland fastball in the 9th, hitting it clear into the fountains beyond the leftfield wall. The majestic blast gave the Yanks a five run lead, their biggest since last Sunday. It was A-Rod’s first three run homer effort since the Bartolo Colon game back in 2005, and the fourth of his career. His night ended with four hits and five runs driven in, and he raised his season OPS by a whopping 31 points in the span of five plate appearances.

Alex’s 7th inning homer was technically the biggest hit of the game, but all together were talking about a .372 WPA effort from the Yanks’ regular third baseman, pretty remarkable since there wasn’t some kind of walk-off hit involved. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

Not Bad Luck, Terrible Luck

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Yanks’ starter Phil Hughes settled into a groove after the Royals picked up a quick run in the 1st, retiring 13 of the next 17 men he faced heading into the 6th. With a three run lead, Hughes immediately gave one right back when Wilson Betemit, yes that Wilson Betemit, clubbed a pitch into the rightfield stands for a solo jack. What followed was nothing more than bad luck.

Kile Ka’aihue reached on an infield single, barely beating out the throw by Robbie Cano. Alex Gordon then blooped a single over Ramiro Pena‘s head into shallow left, and Yuniesky Betancourt completed the bad luck trifecta by reaching base when Brett Gardner lost a lazy fly ball in the moon. Nothing was hard hit and most of the time two of those plays result in outs, but there was Hughes, starting down a bases loaded, zero outs situation with a two run lead.

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

With his pitch count creeping up towards the century mark, Hughes and catcher Jorge Posada went right to their comfort zone, the fastball. The impatient Mitch Maier hacked at a first pitch heater, flying out to left and not deep enough to score the run. Chris Getz saw five pitches (all fastballs and cutters) in an at-bat that ended with an RBI ground out. As if the bad luck gods were worried that we forgot they existed, Getz’s grounder was hit far too weakly to turn a double play. Gregor Blanco followed that an all-fastball at-bat, ending the inning with another grounder to first on the fifth pitch. The outs made by Maier and Blanco were equal in terms of WPA impact, decreasing Kansas City’s chances of winning by close to 11% each.

A year or two ago, that’s probably a three or four or more run inning for the opposition. The young neophyte pitcher probably tries to get cute instead of trusting his stuff, leading only to more trouble. But Hughes didn’t do that in this one, he went to his strength regardless of the hitter’s weakness, and battled out an inning with some serious ugly potential. Anytime the other team loads the bases with no outs and manages to only score one run, that’s a win for the pitcher and his defense.

Overall, Hughes allowed nine hits over six innings of work, but he didn’t strike out a batter and walked one. He certainly threw strikes (99 pitches, 71 strikes), but I’m encouraged that he was able to grind out six innings against the BABIP happy Royals. Through 22 starts the 24-year-old has a 3.94 ERA, and I’m pretty sure every one of us would have signed up for that coming out Spring Training.


Trust me, that kid just took the ball to the face.

Alex absolutely stole the show, but let’s not forget that Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson also went deep in this one. Posada’s homer hit some dude in the face (above), and Grandy’s was his third career hit off O’Sullivan, all of which are homers. Nick Swisher, Robbie Cano, and Mark Teixeira all hit balls to the wall as well, including another one by Granderson. If this game would have been played in the Bronx, the Yanks probably would had hit six homers as a team.

Speaking of Grandy, he’s hit a few balls hard the other way in this series, which is a good sign. He’s been a dead pull hitter for a few years now. Going the other way will open up some more holes and the hits will start to drop in soon enough.

Apparently white men can jump.

We all know Teixeira is a stud defensively, but he put on a clinic in this one. He made a leaping grab, a diving stop, a few nice scoops, you name it. He was all over the place, and definitely saved a run or two. Tex also picked up a pair of hits, just like Brett Gardner. Everyone in the starting lineup had at least one knock.

Another day, another three scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Those guys have been fantastic for over a month now. I guess the only negative is that Boone Logan actually allowed a lefthanded batter to reach base against him, the first time that’s happened since he hit Ichiro with a pitch at the end of June. But seriously, great work out of him, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson (where’s the high socks, yo?), and Sergio Mitre.

Three homers aside, let’s give A-Rod some props for this being his 1,000th game as a Yankee. Only 42 other players in history have accomplished that. He appeared in 790 games as a Mariner and 485 as a Ranger, yet it still feels like he just got here, no?

The Yanks, Rays, and Red Sox all won, so everything remains status quo in the AL East. Tampa’s two back, Boston six.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Finally, a night without some late inning stress. Here’s the box score, here’s all that other stuff.

Up Next

The Yanks will try for the series win tomorrow afternoon when they send A.J. Burnett to the mound against Bryan Bullington, who I can’t believe is still in baseball.

Phelps dominates in SWB win

Triple-A Scranton (7-3 win over Toledo)
Kevin Russo, 2B & Colin Curtis, RF: both 3 for 5 – Russo stole a base … scored a run … Lil’ CC doubled twice, drive in a run & came around to score twice
Eduardo Nunez, SS, Brandon Laird, 3B & Eric Bruntlett, LF: all 1 for 5 – Nunez drove in a run … Laird K’ed twice, Bruntlett once
Juan Miranda, 1B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 2 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 K – 71 strikeouts and just eight walks … yikes
Greg Golson, CF & Chad Moeller, C: both 1 for 4, 1 RBI – Golson walked & K’ed twice … Moeller got hit by a pitch, plated a run & scored another
David Phelps: 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 4-7 GB/FB – 64 of 97 pitches were strikes (66%)
Eric Wordekemper: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – eight of his 11 pitches were strikes
Romulo Sanchez: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2-1 GB/FB – eight of his 13 pitches were strikes (61.5%)

[Read more…]

Game 116: This guy again?

Ooo scary goatee. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

For the third time in about three weeks, the Yankees are going to face Sean O’Sullivan and his frickin’ changeup tonight. Facing a pitcher three times in the span of three week isn’t all that amazing by itself, but you know O’Sullivan’s story with the trade from the Angels to the Royals and all that. Hopefully seeing him that much in such a short time frame helped them realize that HE’S GOING TO THROW A CHANGEUP.

Anyway, on the mound for the Bombers is Phil Hughes, who squared off against O’Sully in those previous two meetings. He’s been pitching better of late (.230/.272/.356 against in his last four starts), so hopefully he gives them six or seven quality innings before the much improved bullpen goes to work. Here’s the lineup that’ll back him up…

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

And on the bump, it’s St. Philip of Hughes.

I hate Saturday night games, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Javy Vazquez and the arbitration question

I posted the following at MLBTR on Thursday, but it’s relevant to the Yankees so I’m going to syndicate it here for discussion purposes …

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Yankees haven’t offered a single free agent, Type-A or B, arbitration in either of the last two years because they were afraid of getting stuck with an unwanted player at an unwanted price (had they accepted), but it stood to reason that they would make such an offer to righthander Javier Vazquez. As one of the game’s few true workhorses with a long track record, he was all but a lock to decline arbitration after 2010 and seek a multi-year deal (perhaps his last) elsewhere. Now four months into the season, suddenly that scenario doesn’t seem as likely.

Vazquez’s season has been quite the roller coaster. The 34-year-old posted a 9.78 ERA in his first five starts, a 2.75 ERA in his next 11, and then a 6.43 ERA in his last five outings. The team has indicated that he’s currently battling through a “dead arm” period, and last night Vazquez himself acknowledged that he’s got a lot of miles on his arm and they may be catching up to him. Only Livan Hernandez has thrown more innings since the start of the 2000 season, and Javy’s fastball velocity is down noticeably this season.

In the grand scheme of things, Vazquez’s strikeout (7.0 K/9) and walk (3.5 BB/9) rates this season are among the worst of his career, and he’s on pace to throw slightly more than 176 innings, which would be his lowest total since 1999. Still, he’s well on his way to being a Type-A free agent after the season, but given his underwhelming performance and that aforementioned workload, an arbitration offer becomes a much riskier proposition.

With an $11.5MM salary this season, the Yankees would have to consider the possibility of Vazquez accepting arbitration and receiving a salary upwards of $13MM next season. We laugh at the idea of the Yanks having a budget, but that could put a serious dent in the payroll with the team expected to heavily pursue Cliff Lee.

When the Yankees re-acquired Vazquez from the Braves in the offseason, they apparently considered two draft picks part of the package since he comfortably projected to be a Type-A free agent. It’s easy to understand why they’d think that following a season in which he placed fourth in the Cy Young voting, but as it tends to do, time may have changed things.

* * *

That’s the dumbed down version of the situation awaiting the Yankees and Vazquez after the season, but you all know what’s going on. Personally, I wouldn’t offer him arbitration because there’s so much risk involved right now. Javy’s clearly not the guy he was White Sox any more, let along the guy he was with the Braves last year. The velocity’s down, he’s obviously very aware of it, and the potential of getting stuck with him for $13M+ next year (even on a one year deal) is too great for my liking.

I like draft picks as much as anyone, especially when you’re talking about next year’s epiphany draft, but I like not overpaying for declining players even more. If Vazquez can’t find a multi-year deal on the open market, which is not out of the question given the current market and economy, he’ll accept arbitration like Carl Pavano and Rafael Soriano did last year. I wouldn’t risk it, but that’s just me.

Cashman’s best offseason move

Credit: Sipkin/New York Daily News

Brian Cashman had a tough offseason coming into 2010.  While many of his moves made sense at the time, several of Cashman’s offseason trades and signings have not worked out.  Nick Johnson is likely out for the season after less than 100 plate appearances.  Javy Vazquez has at least provided innings, but otherwise has been much worse than expected.  Curtis Granderson, so far, has not rebounded from his poor 2009 and will need to hope Kevin Long can get him straightened out with an overhaul of his swing.  Chan Ho Park and Randy Winn, again signings that made sense, were disasters.  All of this brings me to one move that Cashman nailed in the offseason: Marcus Thames.

Thames was brought in to mash left handed pitching.  Cash likely had some visions of Thames playing the OF, but the injury to Johnson has for the most part left Thames in the DH role.  That’s a good thing.  Thames is a butcher in the outfield, but we knew this before he was signed.  Keep him out of the outfield at all costs. Despite doing everything asked of him and more, Thames has seemed to get no love this year which is unfortunate.

It started for Thames in spring training when he could not buy a hit.  He went 7 for 52 putting up a stunning .135/.182/.269 line.  Just 33 at-bats into spring training people already wanted Thames cut (Ed. Note: Like this idiot).  Small sample size be damned, people were killing the Thames signing and instead wanted the Yankees to keep Jamie Hoffmann, or explore the Jermaine Dye, Gary Sheffield market.  Luckily cooler heads prevailed and Thames made the cut.

Thames shining moment of the season, when he was finally appreciated by the majority of fans quickly disappeared.  On Monday May 17th Thames did the thing that Yankees fans might enjoy most for a regular season game.  Hit a walkoff against Jonathan Papelbon.  It doesn’t get much better than that, and remember, Paps is a right handed pitcher, so it wasn’t what Thames was brought in for.  If Thames had struck out there I would not have been surprised nor pissed at him, it’s not his primary role.  24 hours later of course it all came crashing down as Thames dropped a ball in the outfield that led to a Yankees loss, again against the Sox.  Thames was nearly in tears after the game; probably as much for the reception he would get from fans as he was for blowing the game.  Again though, Thames was outside of his element, he had no business being in the field in the 9th inning of a close game.

Getting back to Thames’ actual role he could not be doing a better job.  He is hitting .343/.416/.448 off left handed pitchers.  More shockingly Thames is even destroying right handed pitchers this year to the tune of a .283/.386/.500 line.  For a guy who was only brought in to hit lefties, could he have possibly brought more to the table than he has?

Yankees sign tenth rounder Ben Gamel

Via Kendall Rogers, the Yankees have signed tenth round pick Ben Gamel for $500,000, though the deal has not yet been officially announced. His bonus exceeds MLB’s recommended slot by $350,000. A pure hitter like his brother (and Brewers’ prospect) Mat, Gamel has a sweet lefty swing that produces line drives from gap-to-gap. He’s not much of a power threat right now, but he has a chance to grow into some as he puts some weight on his 5-foot-11, 170 lb. frame. A corner outfielder in the long-term, his non-hit tools are nothing special, but he’s got a rep of being a big time grinder. Here’s video.

Once Gamel’s signing is made official, the Yanks will have 12 of their first 13 picks under contract.

Yankees sign ninth rounder Taylor Morton

Via Jim Callis, the Yankees have signed ninth round pick Taylor Morton for $450,000, exactly three times over slot. Coming out of a Tennessee high school, the 6-foot-3, 200 lb. righthander was inconsistent with his velocity this spring, though he did top out around 94-95 mph. Morton also throws a really good changeup and a curve, and is arguably the best pitching prospect the Yanks drafted this year based on the total package – present stuff, future projection, and command. Here’s video.

It doesn’t look like the Yanks will hand out a seven-figure bonus this year, but they’ve still gone over slot more than a half-dozen times. That’s good news though, because I’ve been pretty amazed that the Yanks managed to sign a player at the price they did on several occasions, including Morton. They’re getting some serious bargains this year.