Random musings on a Wednesday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

1. As Mike noted in the recap, Andy Pettitte has been the most reliable starter for the Yankees for several weeks now, and it hasn’t even really been close.  On the off chance the Yankees somehow find their way into the play-in game, you’d have to give Andy the nod at this point.  Right?  It’s pretty nuts how the oldest pitcher in the game is basically the stalwart of the rotation once again, but baseball is weird like that.  Plus, as we all know, Andy is a True Yankee™ and knows how to get it done.  (Now if only the rest of the damn team were capable.)  Unfortunately, even if the Yankees manage to squeak into the playoffs, they aren’t exactly geared for a run.  Even in a crapshoot environment, having one capable starting pitcher and Robinson Cano is generally not enough to win a series.

2. I typically don’t put too much stock into a manager’s influence on a team other than the in-game decisions that he makes.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s great that some of the managers are able to deflect the media off the players or deploy a shift appropriately, but ultimately, I’ve always kind of put the burden on the players at the end of the day.  I have to give Joe Girardi some major credit this season though.  He’s had to cope with far more challenges than most of his peers I think.  The team had a disappointing offseason heading into the year, and has been saddled with injuries ever since.  Despite a (-17 run differential, 74-77 Pythag. record), the Yankees have miraculously managed to retain hope of playoff contention (though that’s rapidly fading) late into the season.  Many of us (including me) didn’t see that happening when they were having that awful stretch in August.  It’d be pretty cool if he won the Manager of the Year Award this go around.  Well done, Joe.

3. Last night on Twitter, I somewhat sarcastically stated that the team had more non-hitters in its lineup at this point then hitters.  The more I thought about it though, the more my sentiments kind of rang true.  Here was last night’s lineup along with their respective wRC+.

  1. CF Curtis Granderson (109 wRC+)
  2. DH Alex Rodriguez (131 wRC+)
  3. 2B Robinson Cano (140 wRC+)
  4. LF Alfonso Soriano (108 wRC+, 122 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
  5. 1B Lyle Overbay (90 wRC+)
  6. 3B Mark Reynolds (98 wRC+, 121 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
  7. RF Ichiro Suzuki (72 wRC+)
  8. SS Brendan Ryan (45 wRC+, 75 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
  9. C Chris Stewart (56 wRC+)

Having Overbay batting fifth hurts a lot, though probably not as much as the offensive void that is Suzuki, Ryan, and Stewart.  It’s tough to score runs when five of your players are below-average hitters overall.  I suppose, if there is silver lining to be seen here, it’s that some of these castoffs have been offensively revived a bit since joining the Yankees.  So, kudos to you New York for maximizing talent from sub-par or aging players.  Also, please stop putting the team in the position of having to depend on so many sub-par or aging players at once.

4. This has definitely been the season of “what ifs,” at least for me anyway.  What if the Yankees had a capable catcher all year?  What if CC Sabathia didn’t fall off a cliff?  What if Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira were around all season?  Could the Yankees have that elusive Wild Card spot locked up already if they caught a break, anywhere really?  Possibly.  Probably.  I don’t know.  Unfortunately “what ifs” are just that.  Useless hypotheticals.  That said, it’s incredibly frustrating that in spite of the circumstances, the Yankees have had more than a fair opportunity to make the playoffs.

The Rays and Rangers have gone out of their way to play miserable baseball for weeks now.  Meanwhile, the Orioles and Indians seem to be more than willing to concede their playoff berth as well as they’ve both had plenty of timely losses.  I don’t know where I’m going with this last point other than if the team winds up missing the playoffs – and they probably will – they have no one to blame but themselves.  Unfortunately, as Mike noted in his rant the other day, if they do make the playoffs, it’ll probably further mask some of the more serious underlying concerns surrounding the team heading forward.

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Yankees push Phil Hughes back to Monday

Thanks to yesterday’s off-day, the Yankees have pushed Phil Hughes‘ next start back from Sunday to Monday. That allows him to start against the last place White Sox rather than the wildcard rival Orioles. Andy Pettitte, who was scheduled to start Monday, will instead start against Baltimore on Sunday on normal rest. Not surprising at all. The Yankees can’t run Hughes out there against a good team and expect to win.

Cano, Mo, Pettitte, Gardner make Baseball America’s Best Tools survey

Baseball America published their annual best tools survey today (no subs. req’d), and four Yankees placed among the various AL categories. Mariano Rivera was voted best reliever, Brett Gardner the best bunter (!), Robinson Cano the second best defensive second baseman (behind Dustin Pedroia), and Andy Pettitte as having the best pickoff move.  I’m pretty sure Gardner isn’t even if the best bunter in the team’s outfield, let alone the entire AL. That gives you an idea of the validity of the survey, I suppose.

The minor league best tools surveys are here: Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, and Low-A. The Yankees did not place a single prospect in any category at any level. Completely shutout. That hasn’t happened as long as I’ve been following prospects. Josh Norris did the legwork and found the Yankees were the only team to be completely unrepresented at all four minor league levels. I’m … uh … sure they had a lot of guys who ranked fourth and fifth in the various categories. Yeah, that’s it.

2013 Midseason Review: Grade C’s

No, it’s not the literal midway point of the season, but we’re going to use the four-day All-Star break to review the Yankees’ performance to date. We’re handing out letter grades, A through F. We’ve already tackled the A’s and the B’s, now it’s time for the C’s.

(Jeff Gross/Getty)
(Jeff Gross/Getty)

I guess that, by definition, a grade C is average, right? It is right in the middle of the A through F scale, but I’m not sure that really applies to baseball though. For every A there are a hundred F’s and for every B there are a couple dozen D’s. Grade C is closer to the top than the bottom, I think, slightly better than average.

Anyway, the Yankees sit in fourth place and three games out of a playoff spot at the All-Star break because they’ve gotten a lot of mediocre performances and very few really good ones. Some guys have wound up C’s because they’re disappointments, but others are here because they’re doing pretty much exactly what’s expected. Heck, some are even here because they’ve been surprisingly good. I’m trying to keep this objective and not look at performance vs. expectations, however. Easier said than done, obviously.

Enough rambling, onto the grade C’s.

Preston Claiborne
It happens almost every year. A known but not necessarily highly-touted young arm comes up from the farm system and impresses in relief for the Yankees. Claiborne has followed in the footsteps of David Phelps (2012) and Hector Noesi (2011) by posting a 2.43 ERA and 3.03 FIP in 29.2 innings. He was excellent early on but has faltered a bit of late, which is not atypical of young relievers. Claiborne stepped in when Joba Chamberlain hit the DL and didn’t just temporarily fill the hole, he upgraded the bullpen.

Ivan Nova
This has been a tale of two seasons for Nova, who owns a very good 3.63 ERA and an excellent 3.00 FIP in 52 overall innings. He was awful before going down with a triceps issue (6.48 ERA and 3.11 FIP in 16.2 innings), good in two brief relief appearances after getting healthy (one run in six innings), and outstanding since coming back up from the minors (2.45 ERA and 2.65 FIP in 29.1 innings). Which Nova will the Yankees get going forward? Who knows. He’s gone from excellent to awful and back again so many times in the last two years. Right now he has a rotation spot thanks to the Phelps’ injury and will get an opportunity to show this latest version is the real Ivan Nova.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Andy Pettitte
Emotions are a tricky thing. They make you say things that aren’t true just because they once were and you want to believe they still are. “Andy Pettitte is still a reliable mid-rotation starter” is one of those things. Pettitte, who has a 4.39 ERA and 3.75 FIP in 16 starts, has had a season very appropriate for baseball’s oldest starting pitcher. The 41-year-old battled nagging back and lat problems early in the year and has been pretty hittable of late, pitching to a 4.96 ERA and 3.28 FIP in eight starts since coming off the DL. Older finesse pitchers are exactly the kind of guys who underperform their peripherals. Andy has been a dandy number four or five starter, but he hasn’t been particularly reliable or durable this year.

Ichiro Suzuki
Supposedly team ownership — or at least someone above the baseball operations level — brought Ichiro back on a two-year deal this past winter, a definite head-scratcher of a move. A recent hot streak has raised his season line to .283/.320/.393 (92 wRC+), which is almost identical to the .283/.307/.390 (91 wRC+) line he put up last season. He’s no longer a true burner (on pace for 22 steals) or an elite defender (especially considering how he wastes his arm strength by taking forever to get rid of the ball), but he’s an above-average contributor both on the bases and in the field. A below-average offensive player and above-average defender in right field is a serviceable player, but not exactly a world-burner. Ichiro didn’t completely fall off a cliff this year, and that’s about the best thing you can say about his 2013.

Adam Warren
Warren was in a weird place coming into this season, mostly because he appeared to be ticketed for a third trip to Triple-A Scranton since there was no big league opening for him. That’s how careers stall. Phil Hughes started the year on the DL with a back problem though, opening the long-man role for Warren. When Nova went down, that spot stayed open. Warren took advantage of that opportunity and has pitched to a 3.09 ERA and 3.84 FIP while averaging more than 2.2 innings per appearance. He’s had some real bullpen savers this year, including 5.1 innings on April 3rd (one run), four scoreless innings on both May 13th and May 22th, and six scoreless innings in the 18-inning marathon against the Athletics on June 13th. Long reliever is a mostly thankless job, but Warren has excelled in that role and put himself in position to be considered for a starting job next season, or maybe even in the second half of this year.

Keeping Pettitte healthy a must for rest of 2013

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees welcomed Andy Pettitte back to the rotation last night after he missed 18 days with a strained trap muscle. It was the first time he had to be placed on the DL this year but the second time he had to miss starts — a stiff lower back sidelined him for more than a week back in April. Rainouts and off-days allowed the Yankees to skip his turn without much of a problem early in the season.

Less than two weeks away from his 41st birthday, Pettitte is the oldest regular starter in the big leagues by almost one full year — former Yankee Bartolo Colon won’t turn 41 until next May. With age comes injury concerns, and not just the increased risk of getting hurt. It takes older players a longer time to recover as well. In an effort to stay healthier, Andy has considered modifying his between-starts routine a bit.

“He’s talked about backing off a little bit,” said Joe Girardi to Dan Martin over the weekend. “But it’s hard when you’re a creature of habit. When you’ve had as much success as he’s had, it’s hard to change what you do, but I think it’s important that he does it.”

Pettitte usually throws two bullpen sessions between starts, which is something he would look to change. That said, he is concerned about how it would affect him on the mound every five days. He might feel stronger physically, but it could come at the expense of losing rhythm and feel for pitches. That would be very bad since he’s a finesse pitcher.

“Truthfully, I don’t know,” said Andy when asked how he would react to changing his routine. “I’m used to doing two bullpens. We’ll just how it goes … I know what I’ve got to do mentally to prepare for this game and I understand where they’re coming from, of course, because of my age and how much time it takes and the adjustments you have to make as you get older.”

Regardless of how they do it, one of the Yankees’ top priorities for the rest of the season should be keeping Pettitte healthy and in the rotation. If that means cutting back to one bullpen between starts or even limiting him to 90-100 pitches per start instead of 100-110, so be it. The team lives and dies with its pitching, and Andy is one of their three best at worst. Obviously keeping him on the field is much easier said than done regardless of his age.

Hiroki Kuroda, the third oldest starter in the big leagues at 38, modified his offseason routine in an effort to stay fresh deeper into the season after hitting a wall last September. I don’t know if Pettitte did anything differently this winter, but he’s clearly thinking about doing something differently during the season. As good as Vidal Nuno looked in his three spot starts, Andy is the guy the Yankees want in their rotation right now and they need him to stop missing starts every month. He’s too vital to the team’s success to be a 20-22 start guy than a 30-32 start guy.