In Episode 2 of the River Avenue Blues Podcast I’m joined by Jay Gordon. We run down the weekend series, which included some great baseball. Then it’s onto the Mariners series – and there’s a lot to say about them.
To add additional insight, we talk to Zach Sanders, writer for FanGraphs and noted Mariners fan. We touch on topics such as:
- First impressions of Robinson Cano
- Failures of the off-season plan
- How a team known for pitching has been so bad
- Things that will go better as the year goes on
Podcast run time 56:22
We’re still awaiting approval from iTunes, but we do have this fancy player that lets you play the podcast in your browser or download it.
Update: Instead of making things too complicated, we’re just going to use the old iTunes feed, which you can find here. The new episodes should populate soon.
Again, audio feedback is appreciated. Jay will have a better mic for the next episode hopefully.
1B Kyle Roller and LHP Caleb Smith were named the Double-A Easton League Offensive Player of the Week and Low-A South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week, respectively. Roller went 10-for-19 (.526) with two doubles and four homers last week while Smith struck out 13 in a six-inning start.
In other news, LHP Manny Banuelos has apparently left High-A Tampa, according to Nicholas Flammia. He is probably heading up to Double-A Trenton after five pretty excellent starts with Tampa. Banuelos is slowly working his way back from Tommy John surgery as you know.
Triple-A Scranton (10-8 win over Durham in 13 innings)
- RF Ramon Flores: 2-6, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 SB — ten hits in his last 25 at-bats (.400)
- 3B Zelous Wheeler: 3-6, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K — just off the DL … hit the go-ahead solo homer in the top of the 13th
- SS Dean Anna: 1-5, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP
- LF Zoilo Almonte: 3-7, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 K — second straight game with a homer and third in the last four games
- CF Adonis Garcia: 2-7, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 SB, 1 E (fielding)
- 1B Russ Canzler: 1-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K — singled in an insurance run in the 13th
- DH Ronnie Mustelier: 0-7, 1 RBI, 3 K, 1 SB
- RHP Al Aceves: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 5/2 GB/FB — 56 of 94 pitches were strikes (60%), and Josh Norris said he was working at 92-93 mph in his first inning
- RHP Matt Daley: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 3/1 GB/FB — 25 of 37 pitches were strikes (68%) … allowed a game tying two-run homer to former Yankee UTIL Wilson Betemit with two outs in the ninth
The Yankees are off today, resting up for Robinson Cano‘s return to the Bronx tomorrow. That’ll be fun. Fun and weird at the same time. In the end though, it’s just another game against just another team. Anyway, Masahiro Tanaka sat down for a chat with Buster Olney this weekend and the video is above. I got a kick out of who Tanaka said gave him the best advice in Spring Training.
Here is the open thread for the night. The Athletics and Rangers will be on ESPN at 8pm ET though (Gray vs. Darvish), and that should be fun. There’s also a bunch of NHL and NBA playoff action as well. Talk about Cano’s return, the Tanaka interview, those games, or anything else right here. Have at it.
In his worst start of the season last night, Masahiro Tanaka struck out eleven and held the best offense in baseball (by runs per game) to two runs in 6.1 innings. He did that thanks in large part to his trademark splitter, which has generated an insane 58.02% swing-and-miss rate so far. That’s unreal. Johan Santana’s changeup peaked at a 50.86% whiff rate in 2007, for comparison.
How did Tanaka learn that splitter? Jorge Castillo looked into the pitch’s history and it turns out a magazine article about a journeyman American-born pitcher you’ve probably never heard of was the inspiration. I don’t want to give away too much (read the article!), but Tanaka modified the forkball he had been throwing into his current splitter and his career took off. “I probably might not even be here,” he said when asked what would have happened had he never seen the magazine. Here’s the link again. Make sure you check it out. Castillo’s article comes with RAB’s highest recommendation. · (18) ·
The Yankees came into 2014 with some very real infield concerns, both in terms of production and durability, and sure enough those concerns manifested themselves within the first week of the season. Just not necessarily in the way I expected — Mark Teixeira caught a spike in the turf in Toronto and landed on the 15-day DL with a hamstring injury. Just like that, the team without a backup first baseman lost their starting first baseman.
Teixeira returned after the minimum 15 days and the Yankees managed to win seven of 12 games during his absence because the replacement infielders played well. Kelly Johnson was adequate (not great, not awful) at first base and Yangervis Solarte did a mean Bernie Williams impression for a few weeks, which made life a lot easier. Derek Jeter has been getting on base a bunch early on as well, and while Brian Roberts has been better of late, he’s been not so good overall. Three out of four ain’t bad, I guess.
Now that the Teixeira has returned, the Yankees have five infielders for four spots. Jeter and Teixeira are going to play no matter what because of who they are. That’s not something worth debating. That leaves Solarte, Johnson, and Roberts for second base and third base. Solarte has hit the skids lately and has seen more time at the bench, but Johnson has seen his playing time take the biggest hit. He’s started only three of seven games since Teixeira came off the DL. Roberts has started every game since Teixeira returned, though he was supposed to sit last night before Solarte’s shoulder acted up.
Because it has been only seven games, it’s unclear how the Yankees are going to squeeze all these guys into the lineup on a regular basis. I mean, yes, Roberts should probably sit because he is the worst player of the bunch, but that seems unlikely to happen right now. The Yankees appear to be determined to give him a chance to show he can have an impact from the bottom of the order. I don’t agree with that — is there even anything left to reclaim at this point? he hasn’t been good in a while now — but that seems to be the plan. Whatever.
Because Solarte and Roberts and switch-hitters, platoon problems don’t really exist and the Yankees have more flexibility. Johnson has been sitting against lefties given since Teixeira returned and I would bank on that continuing going forward. All three of these guys are part-time players to me. Guys who likely get exposed playing everyday but can be productive in say, 400 plate appearance roles. Except Roberts. I’m still not very optimistic about him. But, like I said, he’s going to play so they might as well make the best of it.
Juggling these three will be a difficult situation for Girardi. Maybe difficult isn’t the right word. It’ll be a juggling act though, that’s for sure. Solarte has swung the bat well overall, Johnson has legitimate left-handed power, and Roberts is the proven veteran. There is a reason to keep all three in the lineup. This isn’t a bad thing, mind you. Three players for two spots is better than being short a player or two, but keeping everyone happy and productive is not easy. This isn’t a video game; sitting on the bench a few days a week and being productive right away when pressed into duty is pretty tough.
In all likelihood, this will be one of those “it’ll sort itself out” situations. Someone will play themselves out of regular at-bats or someone will get hurt. Heck, Roberts’ back and Solarte’s shoulder have already acted up. That’s usually how this stuff goes. Until that happens, Girardi will have to juggle Solarte, Johnson, and Roberts between second and third base. The two switch-hitters and the versatility of Solarte and Johnson give the manager lots of options. No one is married to position and Johnson is the only one who will see the platoon disadvantage. That we’re even having his conversation is good news. Three useful pieces for two infield spots was not something I expected to see this early in the season.
Thanks to Friday night’s beatdown at the hands of the Angels, Hiroki Kuroda is sitting on an unsightly 5.28 ERA (4.26 FIP) in 29 innings through five starts this year. Obviously one disaster outing like that one will skew numbers this early in the season, but Kuroda did go into that start with a 4.07 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 24.1 innings. The runs allowed are a bit higher than what we’re used to seeing from the right-hander, the fielding independent stuff right in line with past years.
Kuroda faced 25 Angels on Friday night and ten had hits, including six in two-strike counts. He allowed just seven two-strike hits total in his first four starts. Kuroda was having problems with his offspeed stuff in his previous start against the Rays, but he worked through that and turned in a representative outing (three runs in 5.2 innings). He had the same issue against the Angels but couldn’t limit the damage.
“Overall my command was bad and all my pitches weren’t good,” said Kuroda to Brian Heyman following Friday’s game. “Right now, there are certain pitches that are inconsistent. I need to make an adjustment and get them back. The biggest thing is to improve the quality of my breaking ball.”
Kuroda does throw the occasional curveball but his slider is his go-to breaking ball. Has been for years. He uses the pitch mostly against righties (duh) while relying on his splitter against lefties (also duh), so it makes sense the righty-heavy Angels smacked him around on Friday. Same-side hitters have tagged Kuroda for a .351 wOBA in the early going this year, up from .266 last season. When the finish pitch isn’t there, it’s tough to put batters away. Same applies to every pitcher ever.
Here are the details on Kuroda’s slider:
|% Thrown||% In Zone||% Swings||% Whiffs||Horiz. Mvmt||Vert. Mvmt||mph|
|2012||30.0%||33.6%||45.4%||16.5%||1.3 in.||3.2 in.||84.3|
|2013||25.1%||33.2%||46.0%||16.1%||0.5 in.||3.3 in.||84.5|
|2014||14.0%||36.9%||40.0%||13.9%||1.3 in.||3.3 in.||84.1|
The movement and velocity of Kuroda’s slider is right in line with his first two seasons as a Yankee — the 0.5 inches of horizontal movement last season is the outlier compared to the rest of his career, according to Brooks Baseball — but he’s throwing considerably fewer of them this year, which suggests a lack of faith in the pitch. Kuroda admitted his slider hasn’t been good and pitchers tend to shelve pitches they are struggling to execute. When he has thrown it, he’s catching more of the plate and hitters aren’t swinging and missing.
Kuroda is not overpowering and he uses his slider as a chase pitch, both to get swings and misses and weak contact. He outperformed his FIP and posted a below league-average BABIP every year from 2011-13, classic signs of a guy who generates weak contact. Kuroda is a unique pitcher in more ways that one. Now that his slider isn’t behaving as it normally does, he isn’t getting those whiffs and certainly isn’t getting weak contact. When he’s been hit, he’s been hit hard.
The question now is why is his slider being so fickle? It could be any number of reasons and there’s no way we could possible know from where we sit. Could be mechanics, could be the cold weather, could be something else. Age is an obvious concern — “I don’t know. This is the first time I’ve been 39,” he quipped to Andrew Marchand when asked if he’s getting to be over the hill — but Kuroda’s stuff doesn’t appear to be diminished at all. His velocity and movement are fine, he’s just not executing and locating. When he struggled late last year, Kuroda was making his pitches and still getting beat. He just isn’t making his pitches right now, especially with the slider.
Kuroda doesn’t lack a good fastball but he is definitely more of a crafty pitcher than a power pitcher. He needs all three of his fastball, slider, and splitter to be effective, and when one or more of those pitches doesn’t behave, he’s in for a real grind. The inability to locate his slider juuust off the plate to righties has left him without one of three primary weapons, and that’s no way to succeed in the AL East. Kuroda has to make an adjustment — it’s entirely possible he won’t be able to make that adjustment at his age, but I’m not going to say that is the case after five starts — and get back to being a true three-pitch pitcher, otherwise he’s in for more rough outings.
Record Last Week: 4-2 (32 RS, 31 RA)
Season Record: 15-10 (107 RS, 115 RA, 12-13 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Mariners (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Rays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)
Top stories from last week:
- The week started with an off-day, then the Yankees headed to Boston for three games with the Red Sox. The Bombers took the first game from the Sawx with relative ease but got blown out in the second game after Michael Pineda was ejected for having pine tar on his neck. The Yankees blew Boston out in the series finale.
- The Angels came to town for a three-game weekend set and blew New York right out of the water in Friday’s opener. The Yankees hung on for a one-run win on Saturday, then they did it again yesterday.
- Injury Updates: Ivan Nova (elbow) will have Tommy John surgery tomorrow. Bruce Billings (forearm) was placed on the 15-day DL with a strain. Tyler Austin (groin) was placed on the minor league DL with a strain. Ty Hensley (groin) is throwing bullpen sessions. Jose Campos (elbow) had Tommy John surgery. Bryan Mitchell (elbow) was placed on the minor league DL with inflammation. Luis Torrens (shoulder) should return soon.
- Pineda was suspended ten games for his pine tar infraction, forcing the Yankees to play with a 24-man roster for the time being. MLB will consider revising the foreign substance rules after the season.
- The Yankees made a series of roster moves last week. David Robertson was activated off the DL, and, long story short, Billings, Preston Claiborne, and Chris Leroux joined the bullpen while Mitchell, Matt Daley, and Dean Anna were sent down. Nik Turley was released.
- The expansion New York City Football Club of the MLS will officially play in Yankee Stadium next season.
- MLB came to its senses and eliminated the new transfer rule.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Considering how poorly things started on Friday night, this series against the Angels went pretty well for the Yankees. They followed up Saturday’s one-run win with another one-run win on Sunday, coming from behind (twice!) and taking the lead late. The final score was 3-2. The Yankees have now won ten of their last 14 games.
Bad Tanaka Is Still Pretty Good
For the first time in his brief big league career, Masahiro Tanaka really struggled with his command and did not appear to be on the same page as catcher Brian McCann. It got to the point that, in the fourth inning, McCann had to call pitching coach Larry Rothschild and translator Shingo Horie out of the dugout to make sure the message was clear. I thought the Angels did a good job of laying off some splitters down and out of the zone with two strikes. Here’s the PitchFX from Brooks Baseball, if you’re interested.
Tanaka walked four batters on the night after walking two total in his first four starts. He also failed complete seven full innings of work for the first time. And yet, he held the best offense in baseball (in terms of runs per game) to two runs in 6.1 innings with a season-high eleven strikouts. If that’s a bad start, I’ll take a season full of ‘em. Tanaka allowed those two runs on a J.B. Shuck ground out and a David Freese solo homer, and four of the Halos’ five hits came on the first pitch of the at-bat. It was clear they wanted to jump on something in the zone early in the count. In addition to the eleven strikeouts, Tanaka got six outs on the ground and two in the air. Not bad for a guy who labored early.
Good Starter, Bad Bullpen
Angels righty Garrett Richards was the better starting pitcher in this game. He held the Yankees to three hits and two walks in seven innings, and it wasn’t until Mark Teixeira‘s game-tying solo homer in the seventh inning that Richards actually allowed a hard-hit ball. Even Brian Roberts‘ double down the left field line in the fifth inning wasn’t hard hit, it was just well-placed. That led to the team’s first run by pushing Teixeira to third, allowing him to score on Ichiro Suzuki‘s ground out. Did you know Teixeira
leads the team with has a .386 OBP? Sneaky. (Forgot about Yangervis Solarte, who has a .400 OBP.)
Anyway, the Yankees turned back the clock a few years and used the old “wait out the starter, jump on the bullpen” strategy. They took the lead in the eighth inning thanks to a no-hit rally. The inning went walk (Jacoby Ellsbury), strikeout (Derek Jeter), walk (Carlos Beltran), passed ball (runners move up), and wild pitch (run scores, runner to third). Ellsbury did try to steal second, but it was spoiled by a Jeter foul ball. Does that rally qualify as smallball? I guess so. Righty Michael Kohn faced the first three batters while lefty Nick Maronde faced McCann and uncorked both the passed ball (that was on catcher Chris Iannetta, it was awful) and wild pitch. Alfonso Soriano grounded into a double play to kill the rally, but the go-ahead run had already scored and that’s all that mattered.
David Robertson issued an umpire-aided walk — Iannetta took what should have been strike three, at least according to ESPN’s strike zone thing, but the ump called it a ball — but otherwise struck out a pair and shut the door in the ninth to preserve the win. He is a perfect 4-for-4 in save chances. Ninth inning ain’t no thing. Adam Warren got five pretty big outs between Tanaka and Robertson, most notably getting through Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. He gave up a single to Trout and coaxed a ground ball double play from Pujols. Just like they drew it up.
The Yankees only had three hits on the night: homer by Teixeira, double by Roberts, ground ball single through the shift by Kelly Johnson. They drew four walks, including two by Beltran and one each by Ellsbury and Teixeira. That’s all. They did a good job of clustering this stuff together for runs in the fifth and eighth innings. Timing is everything, folks.
Ichiro made a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad play in left field that resulted in a Howie Kendrick triple with two outs in the fifth. It didn’t come back to bite them because the bases were empty and Tanaka struck out the next batter, but Ichiro got twisted all around and flat out missed a very catchable fly ball. I think it was a passive aggressive dig at Tanaka because he is now the most popular Japanese player on the team.
Tanaka is only the third pitcher in history with 7+ strikeouts in his first five starts, joining Jose DeLeon and Stephen Strasburg. Hat tip to @BRefPlayIndex for that one. He is only the second pitcher ever with three 10+ strikeout games in his first five starts, joining Mark Prior. The hat tip for that one goes to @yestoresearch.
Solarte was a late scratch because of a sore shoulder, and after the game Joe Girardi confirmed he was sent for tests. Everything came back clean and they are hopeful he will be ready to play on Tuesday.
The Yankees are off on Monday and then they’ll welcome Robinson Cano back to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Robbie will bring his new Mariners teammates for a three-game series. CC Sabathia and Chris Young is the pitching matchup for Tuesday night’s opener. If you want to see Cano’s return in person, RAB Tickets can get you in the door.
The Angels were said to be one of several teams with interest in Masahiro Tanaka this past offseason, but their financial limitations — they didn’t want to go over the luxury tax threshold and only had a few million to spend — prevented them from getting seriously involved in the bidding. Tonight they will get their first look at the right-hander, who has been everything the Yankees could have possibly imagined in his first four starts. Probably more, really.
Tanaka’s worst start of the year was his last start, though even that was pretty good (two runs in seven innings). This Angels team came into Sunday averaging 5.57 runs per game with a team 113 wRC+, the highest and second highest marks in baseball, respectively. They can mash and this will be Tanaka’s biggest test to date. With all due respect to tandems like Jose Bautista/Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Jones/Chris Davis, and Dustin Pedroia/David Ortiz, the Mike Trout/Albert Pujols duo ain’t nothin’ to mess with. Here is the Angels lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- SS Derek Jeter
- RF Carlos Beltran
- C Brian McCann
- DH Alfonso Soriano
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- 3B Kelly Johnson
- 2B Brian Roberts — Yangervis Solarte was a late scratch due to a sore shoulder
- LF Ichiro Suzuki
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
It is a cool and cloudy night in New York with no threat of rain. Nice night for baseball. The game is scheduled to begin at 8pm ET and you can watch on ESPN. Enjoy.
Triple-A Scranton (6-4 loss to Durham)
- RF Ramon Flores: 2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 E (fielding) — 14-for-45 (.311) with four doubles, one triple, nine walks, and nine strikeouts in his last eleven games
- 3B Scott Sizemore: 0-4, 3 K
- SS Dean Anna: 0-3, 1 HBP, 1 E (throwing)
- LF Zoilo Almonte: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — fifth dinger
- C Austin Romine: 0-4, 2 K, 1 E (throwing)
- RHP Brian Gordon: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 3/3 GB/FB — 59 of 97 pitches were strikes (61%)
- LHP Cesar Cabral: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 1/0 GB/FB — 18 of 31 pitches were strikes (58%)
- RHP Mark Montgomery: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 16 of 26 pitches were strikes (62%)