Archive for Ramiro Peña

The games are always more fun when the offense comes alive. Last night’s game wasn’t perfect, but every time the Tigers even tried to make it interesting the offense came back and put it further out of reach. Chad Gaudin, in what is probably his last appearance for the Yankees, tried to make things interesting, but Robertson bailed him out. After the dust settled and the bullpen was emptied, the Yanks had secured their second win of the series.

Biggest Hit: Don’t give Teixeira a pitch like that…

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

…He might just crush it. Jeremy Bonderman didn’t look so hot at the start of this one. His first pitch caught Brett Gardner on the calf, though that might have been retaliation for Gardner’s slide on Monday night, which put Carlos Guillen in a bodybag on the DL. Bonderman then got Jeter to strike out swinging, though the two called strikes were pretty borderline and Jeter took a poor swing at ball two. That brought up Teixeira, who took two pitches that looked out of the zone, though the first was called a strike. I dunno, maybe that angered him or something.

Or maybe Bonderman just threw a horrible pitch. It was a changeup that didn’t get down far enough. Tex clobbered it, sending it into the second deck for his 27th home run of the year. That’s not a bad total for a guy who is hitting far below his normal level on the season. Robinson Cano wasted little time in extending the lead, hitting an inside fastball over the right field wall for his second home run in as many games. Offense? Game on.

Honorable Mention: Pena triples

If Ramiro Pena triples, chances are it’s going to feature prominently in the recap. It helps that it was the second-largest WPA swing of the game, giving the chances a 13 percent better chance of winning the game. That came in the fourth, after the Tigers, on the power of two Miguel Cabrera home runs, had cut the lead to 3-2. Pena came up with Austin Kearns on first base and hit the ball with precision. It landed and rolled in a way that prevented both Ryan Raburn and Austin Jackson from fielding it before it rolled to the wall. Combine that with them rightfully playing Pena shallow and it was an easy triple and RBI.

The very next batter, Brett Gardner, did something similar, splitting the center and left fielders for a double of his own. This is one reason I like the Yankees offense so much: precision and power. They can manufacture runs and they cudgel a team. Either way they score more runs than any other team in the league.

That Miguel Cabrera

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Thankfully, neither of Miguel Cabrera’s home runs hurt the Yankees tonight. Which is perfect. Before the season I did a FanGraphs podcast with Dave Cameron where we exchanged predictions. He had Josh Hamilton as AL MVP, I had Miguel Cabrera. His pick was more of a reach at the time, and he’s probably winning. I just thought Cabrera was going to have a monster comeback year, creating an excellent story following his drunken antics at the end of last season.

After his 2 for 3, two-homer night Cabrera sits at .340/.433/.644, which trails Hamilton only in BA. He also now leads the AL in RBI with 98; A-Rod has 97. In many years a .340 BA with 30 HR and 98 RBI might start a Triple Crown watch, but Cabrera is seven homers behind Jose Bautista and is 16 points behind in BA. He could still take the triple crown of, I dunno, RBI, walks, and OBP. In any case, it’s always nice to watch a player like that at work when he’s not causing your team to lose.

Miscellany

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Gaudin again brought into question why he’s on this team. Aceves could be back tomorrow. Roster move? I’m not sure, only because of the depth issue.

Could Ivan Nova, who had another excellent game in AAA, take Moseley’s next turn in the rotation? They’d line up.

Another game, another homer for Curtis Granderson. That’s three now since the Kansas City series. That’s now 9 for 26 (.346) with three walks (.414 OBP), two doubles, and three homers (.769 SLG).

Two more walks gives Cano 44 on the season. He’s already five up on his previous career high, and in 160 fewer PA. That puts him on pace for 58 walks, which would be more than his last two seasons combined.

Austin Kearns and Kerry Wood: good deadline pickups.

Graph and box

A couple of dents, sure, but man is that line moving in the right direction.

More at FanGraphs. And here’s the box score.

Up Next

Getaway day, which only happens when the Yanks are home. Phil Hughes could use a good start after the Yanks emptied the bullpen. He’ll face Rick Porcello at 1 tomorrow afternoon.

Categories : Game Stories
Comments (42)
Jun
20

A modest proposal

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With legitimate concerns regarding Teix (is he possibly turning the corner or just showing a “hot flash”?), the health of A-Rod and Posada, and the volatility of the bullpen, it seems silly to harp on an under-performing bench. Make no mistake, like all teams, the 2010 New York Yankees aren’t going to be sending up world-beaters off the bench. They’re bench players for a reason. Any tinkering will ultimately have minimal impact on the team and its win-loss record.

Nevertheless, a few changes to bring in some fresh blood may yield some positive dividends for the team. This doesn’t mean promoting Jesus Montero or Austin Romine to the big leagues – that would be foolish. It means taking a hard look at Kevin Russo, Chad Huffman, Ramiro Pena and some of the weaker links in the bullpen. In short, the guys that haven’t “earned the right” to keep their spot when they aren’t performing and better options may be looming. On this beautiful morning, we’ll focus on the hitters.

I’ll admit I’ve never been a true believer of AAA SS Eduardo Nunez. He walked less than Stephen Hawking, was reported to have poor defense, had a BABip 60 points higher than anything he’d been at in his previous two levels (Charleston, Tampa) and I wasn’t sold on his power being more than a fluke. Yet he still threw up a combined line of .313/.343/.421 in just under 500 PA’s between Trenton and Scranton in 2009, so he couldn’t be entirely ignored, either. This year he’s largely shut me up. Offensively, at least. On the year in Scranton he’s posting a line of .320/.359/.410. That’s damn good. He’s hitting more line drives this year (up six percentage points to 17.6%) and his HR/FB rate is crazy low at roughly 2.5%, suggesting power should rebound a bit. (Last year’s rate was 8/150 – around 5%.) While I don’t know much about his defense, Nunez, 23, might just be ready for a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

As of now Ramiro Pena is the backup shortstop and the team (appropriately) seems to value his glove’s versatility. He can capably man all of the infield positions and can also play the outfield in a pinch. Herein lies the problem – for a guy hitting .190/.235/.210 (and little indication he’ll ever be even an average hitter), he really hasn’t been very good with the glove this year. Granted, it’s an extremely small sample, but even the eye test seems to indicate Pena’s been fairly pedestrian with the leather. Per UZR at Fangraphs, he’s negative at all positions thus far. Using B-Ref’s metrics, he’s also been underwhelming. On the year, Pena’s RAR is -4.8, his WAR -0.5 and he’s had a negative WPA in almost half of his games (12 out of 30).

Do I think he’s a poor fielder? No, not at all. But when as a player you’re all-glove, no bat, playing in limited bench time, it’s important that you reach defensive expectations. That hasn’t happened and given that he has options, I can’t think of many reasons to keep him around. Yes, he’s been victimized by an extremely low BABip of .220 and his defense should be better, but how much can he reasonably contribute? Nunez contributing average offense and below-average defense in limited time would be more valuable to the team than above-average defense and well below-average offense from Pena.

You’ll probably get poor defense with Nunez. I’ve heard a few Nunez fans say he’s much improved with his glove this year. He has good tools (and a great arm) but it’s never quite come together. Maybe he has; I’ve yet to hear anything myself, but it’s totally possible. He does, however, lead SWB with 7 errors. Even if his defense is poor, I think it’s reasonable to expect he could give you .270/.300/.350 in the big leagues. Of course, I also thought that Russo would provide that, so perhaps that expectation is unreasonable. Still, if nothing else, with Russo and Cervelli often in the lineup due to apprehension to push Posada and A-Rod (justifiably so), having a Nunez at least provides a better shot that there won’t have a complete black hole when an infielder needs a rest. Because I have no doubt Pena will always be a black hole in the lineup.

While Kevin Russo was a fan favorite early on for his “clutch hits,” he’s been dreadful offensively for the team. For the Bombers Russo is “hitting” .196/.260/.239 and even worse in June, checking in at a paltry .136/.240/.136. The good news is he’s been really hurt (like Pena) by a BABip of .225, has what appears to be solid hitting skills (if the minors are any indication), has been good with the glove and there’s really no one in the high minors that can play a utility role like he. There aren’t better options available in house. With Pena, I think there are.

As I’ve said, the difference between Pena and Nunez in the grand scheme of things –as a backup infielder getting spot duty– is likely to be small. This doesn’t mean you stand pat. If the move is made and Nunez is the inverse of Pena (average hitting, unbelievably poor defense), you probably end the experiment and return to the previous set-up. There’s really not much downside to a switch. With both players having options, the bottom of the lineup very often being an automatic out with injuries and necessary rest for starters, and Nunez potentially having some value to the Yankees (or another team via trade) in the future,it’s a move I think needs investigating.

Categories : Bench
Comments (28)
Jun
13

Mike Lowell in pinstripes?

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So the word in Boston is that Mike Lowell is on the outs, and could be gone within a week.  Since he made his displeasure with his semi-platoon with David Ortiz known on May 19th, he has been buried on Terry Francona’s bench.  While some of that can be attributed to  Ortiz’ resurgence at the plate, he has been struggling lately, yet Lowell hasn’t gotten much of a chance to contribute.  In 11 games in June, Ortiz has a .158/.333/.316 line with 1 HR.  Considering Ortiz is also hitting just .217/.315/.326 vs. LHP on the year, they surely could have found more at-bats for Lowell, no?

I bring this all on up on the slight chance that the Sox just release Lowell in the next 10 days or so.  I assume, by eating the rest of Lowell’s contract, the Sox will be able to find a trade partner.  In the offseason, before failing a physical, the Sox had agreed to trade Lowell to Texas for intriguing catcher Max Ramirez.  I expect a trade soon, while the Sox will likely get less of a return, they are in more dire need to rid themselves of a potential problem.

But………………

If the Sox can’t work out a trade, and Lowell is soon released, how would Lowell look in pinstripes, returning to his original organization?  Is there room for him in New York?  Would he be happy with the playing time?  Would he even consider crossing to the other side of the rivalry?  My answers are yes, yes, and yes.

The recent injury to Alex Rodriguez, however minor, has shown what a huge hole is created when he is out of the lineup.  While Curtis Granderson, Jorge Posada and Nick Johnson have all missed time this year, there were sufficient backups in place which allowed the Yankees to tread water at those positions.  At third base, it’s a different story.  Not only is A-Rod better than the aforementioned trio, his backups are worse.  Ramiro Pena simply cannot hit at the major league level.  Kevin Russo has shown nothing with the bat and has seen limited time at 3rd base.  If A-Rod were to even go on the 15 day DL, it would be a huge blow to the Yankees.

If A-Rod remains healthy, is there a role for Lowell as a DH?  While Lowell is (or was) being used in Boston as a DH against LHP, in his career he has OPS’d .797 against righthanders, so he doesn’t exactly have Marcus Thames type splits.  That .797 OPS of course came primarily as a strong fielding 3rd baseman, and not a DH, so there was a ton of value in that type of offensive production.  Could you bring in Lowell as a backup at the corners, and give him 60-70% of the at-bats at DH?  You could still work Posada in at DH, and have Thames (or now Huffman) DH against lefties.  If you are comfortable with Ramiro Pena in the OF, you can send Kevin Russo to Scranton.  If you are comfortable with Russo at SS, you can send Pena down.  If bringing in Lowell would provide enough of an upgrade, you can make it work roster-wise.

To address my second and third yes votes above, why would Lowell be happy as a part-time player in New York if he’s not happy in Boston?  Lowell, frankly, has been bitter since soon after resigning with the Sox after the 2007 World Series.  He took a hometown discount as the Phillies were offering him a longer deal, but Lowell wanted to stay with the Sox and took fewer years and total dollars.  It wasn’t long before the rumors started about the Sox acquiring new players that would have pushed Lowell out of his starting role.  This displeasure was strongly evident when the Sox made the hard push to sign Mark Teixeira after the 2008 season, which would have moved Kevin Youkilis to 3B, and Lowell on the trade block.  Lowell was pissed.  After winning the World Series MVP and taking a hometown discount, he felt he deserved better.  Lowell’s feelings were only compounded this offseason when the Sox signed Adrian Beltre (after many Adrian Gonzalez rumors) to play 3rd, pushing Lowell to the bench.  This, a nearly two-year-old chip on his shoulder, just might be enough for Lowell to not only accept a reduced role for another team, but also to do it for the Yankees, just to spite the Red Sox.

There are a lot more questions than answers, and at the end of the day I don’t think the Sox will cut Lowell knowing that he could end up in pinstripes.  We don’t know whether Lowell can play even a passable 3rd base anymore.  He was terrible in 2009, but was struggling with a major hip injury.  We don’t know how much is left in his bat; in 2008 and 2009 he was about league average, and he has just 74 ABs this year.  We don’t know if he would consider a part-time role — or any role — with the Yankees.  If the Yankees had the opportunity to get Lowell for the minimum, I think it’s something they would have to look into, and see if they can catch lightning in a bottle.  If not, they can cut him themselves, no harm, no foul.

For more of my work head over to Mystique and Aura.

Categories : Guest Columns
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On May 1, Curtis Granderson injured his groin in a game against the White Sox, and the Yankees fell to 15-8 on the season. Since then, the Yankees have gone just 13-11, and even though Granderson is hitting just .225/.311/.375 on the young season, he brings depth to the Yanks’ lineup and bench. His return from the disabled list — rumored to come tonight — is a welcome development indeed.

When Granderson is activated, the Yanks will have their center fielder back. Granderson told reporters that he is at around 90-95 percent. “The groin is actually good. I haven’t felt anything with it,” he said. “If you dig in and touch it, it’s still tender to the touch. But I don’t feel anything with it.”

The Yankees, notoriously tight-lipped, haven’t yet decided on a corresponding roster move. As far as I can tell, the team has three options. Because Joe Girardi prefers a full bullpen, they will ship Kevin Russo back to the minors, designate Randy Winn for assignment or send Ramiro Pena down to AAA. Let’s evaluate.

1. Send Kevin Russo back to AAA

Our first option remains both most likely and least popular with the fans. By virtue of a few clutch hits and some solid work in left field, Kevin Russo has turned himself into a household name. He could still find himself ticketed to Scranton.

Why Russo will go: With Granderson’s return, the Yankees will have their three starting outfielders, Randy Winn, and — gulp — Marcus Thames as their five outfielders. For his defensive capabilities, Russo is a better long-term option than Thames ever will be, but he’s hitting just .250/.286/.350 and has a career Minor League OPS of .763. By sending him down, the Yankees can give him some every-day experience and work on his infield and outfield skills. He’ll remain under team control and would probably be the first guy up in case of emergency.

Why Russo could stay: Randy Winn looks like toast. Ramiro Peña, not known for his offense, hasn’t hit a lick this year. If anything, Russo is the best of three less-than-desirable choices.

2. Designate Randy Winn for assignment

I have to admit that I’m no fan of Randy Winn. I expected him to be a decent enough outfielder with some bat, but he’s shown no ability whatsoever this year. He hits like Melky and seems to throw like Johnny Damon, and his bad play in the Citi Field games did little to endear him to fans. The Yanks are paying him a guaranteed $1.1 million with some performance bonuses, and they could easily just cut him loose.

Why Winn will go: Handed the left field job when Curtis Granderson went down, Winn did everything in his power to lose it. He’s hitting a weak .213/.300/.295 this year and can’t seem to get around on a fastball. On the bright side, he has a 1.4 UZR in left field but with an arm below average. He is easily replaceable.

Why Winn will stay: With that positive UZR, the Yankees could utilize Winn as a late-innings defensive specialist. They don’t particularly need his bat with Granderson’s return to the lineup, and once the team cuts Winn, they won’t be bringing him back. With Russo or Peña, the team can simply summon either player from AAA and be none the worse for it. The Yankees like their old veterans, and Winn fits that bill — at least for a few more weeks.

3. Send Ramiro Peña to AAA

The Yanks’ final option would involve sending out their lone back-up middle infielder to AAA. The all-glove, no-hit 25-year-old could head back to Scranton to take some innings at the corner outfield positions with an eye toward replacing Randy Winn if he can handle the job.

Why Peña will go: If you thought Randy Winn’s bat was slow, get a load of Peña’s. He’s appeared in just 18 games this year and has come to the plate 42 times. Whatever offense he might have is just withering away, and he’s hitting .211/.244/.237. He somehow managed to hit .287 last season, but his minor league career triple slash — .255/.315/.320 — is more in line with his 2010 numbers than his 2009 campaign. In a very small sample, his defense has been nothing spectacular this year, and he is, simply put, dead weight on a roster with too much dead weight.

Why Peña will stay: Only one trait is keeping Ramiro in the Bronx: He can play short stop. The Bombers do not appear to believe that Kevin Russo could man short should Jeter go down, and the team would prefer to keep their only versatile back-up infield at the big league level. It’s flimsy reasoning at best, but it should be enough to save Peña’s job for the next few months as Russo learns short.

As roster moves go, the one the Yanks must make later today is rather inconsequential, but it certainly provides us with a glimpse into the inner workings of a GM’s mind. Someone will have to go, and while three candidates could be shipped out, which one goes will have an impact on the make-up of the current Yankee roster.

Categories : Transactions
Comments (106)

Taking two of three always represents a favorable outcome. That works out to a 108-win season, excellent by any standard. But when the opportunity to sweep a team arises, I always find myself a bit disappointed if they don’t deliver. For instance, not sweeping the first three series was fine because each featured a rubber game. In this weekend’s series, however, the Yankees had a chance to walk away perfect. They delivered in their first opportunity, defeating the Rangers 5-2.

Biggest Hit: Ramiro Pena‘s two-run single

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Rangers’ starter Rich Harden lived up to his reputation yesterday, showing good stuff and poor control. The Yankees took advantage, working the pitch count an driving Harden from the game in the fourth inning. The greatest damage came in the third, when eight Yankees came to the plate and saw 35 pitches. They also erased their only deficit of the game in quick, impeccable fashion.

Walks to A-Rod and Curtis Granderson, sandwiching a Jorge Posada single, set the Yanks up with bases loaded and one out. Nick Swisher failed in his attempt to capture the lead, striking out on three pitches. That left the inning up to Ramiro Pena. Harden started the at-bat with a low changeup, which Pena swung over. He came back with a fastball, slightly off the plate inside, but Pena kept his hands in and got a good part of the bat on the ball, sending it over Ryan Garko’s head for a single.

With Andy Pettitte dealing, the Yanks didn’t need any more than this. They got more, which is always appreciated, but they didn’t need it. The pitching has just been that good this season.

Honorable Mention: Teixeira’s jack

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

For the second straight season Mark Teixeira has started the season in a slump. It seems like he’s just missing some of these pitches, which is both encouraging and frustrating. Encouraging because it means that he’ll surely be in mid-season form before long. Frustrating because he’s so close to making an impact. Yesterday he took a step forward, hitting his first home run of the season and tying the game after the Rangers had taken the lead in the top of the inning.

Harden did not come out throwing gas in the third. His first pitch registered only 86 mph, and while it looked like a fastball PitchFX classified it as a changeup. The next pitch was similar in speed, just 1 mph faster, and break, but it was classified a fastball. In any case, neither of them were particularly impressive, and they both ran right down the middle. Teixeira jacked the second one, about thigh high, into the second deck in right.

Tex didn’t pick up a hit the rest of the afternoon, and it’s quite possible that his slump continues a bit longer. Still, it was nothing but encouraging to see him tie the game with his first homer of the year.

Biggest Pitch: Andrus and Young give Texas the lead (tie)

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

While Pettitte pitched well for most of the game, he still ran into a bit of trouble in the third. Matt Treanor opened the inning with a single, and after a sacrifice bunt found himself on second with one out. On a 1-2 count, Pettitte threw a cutter inside to Elvis Andrus, and the latter hit one sharply down the line for an RBI single. It wasn’t a bad pitch by any means. The pitch was in on Andrus’s hands, but he reacted quickly enough. It was much like Pena did in the bottom of the inning, though Pettitte’s pitch had a bit more movement than Harden’s.

Pettitte then delivered three fastballs off the plate outside to the next hitter, Michael Young. After a fastball strike on the outside corner, Pettitte again went away with the fastball, this time catching a bit of the plate. Young lined it to right, which all but assuredly would score Andrus. Swisher, possibly overestimating his own arm strength, gave it the ol’ college try, but all it did was allow Young to advance to second.

The situation nearly got worse when the next batter, Josh Hamilton, smoked one toward right field. Mark Teixeira made a leaping catch, though, and nearly got Young going back to second. One batter later, Vlad Guerrero popped one up to the infield, leaving the Rangers with their one-run lead.

Cano’s impatience can be frustrating

We’ve gone out of our way to praise Robinson Cano, the new fifth hitter, for his hot start. At times he’s seemed a bit more selective at the plate, even if he drew only his second walk today. During other at-bats, though, he still seems like the hacking kid who came up in 2005. This is what his at-bat in the third felt like.

After Teixeira’s game-tying homer, Harden lost control a bit. He walked A-Rod on five pitches, the four balls all high pitches. What does Cano do to follow-up? He swings at the first three pitches he sees. Harden went down the well, starting Cano with a fastball low in the zone, which the latter fouled away. He fouled the next pitch, a changeup that fell below the zone. The final pitch, a changeup in the dirt, drew a futile swing.

Cano will do this from time to time. The key, I think, is that these incidents are spread further apart than in the past. So far we’ve seen that, an encouraging sign. It’s tough to not be frustrated after watching that at-bat, though.

Happy thoughts

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Andy’s continued April brilliance. It seems like he’s been excellent to start the year since returning in 2007. He ran into a bit of rough patch early in 2008, but other than that he’s been money in the early goings. He’s not going to pitch like this every time out, but it’s nothing but encouraging to see Pettitte at the top of his game in April.

Brett Gardner’s big day. As Mike said, this isn’t going to be a regular occurrence, but it’s a nice reminder of what Gardner adds to the team when he gets on base. At very worst, his willingness to take pitches works right with the Yankees’ M.O.

The Yanks continue to work opposing pitchers like few other teams. Not only did they force Harden to throw 94 pitches in his 3.2 innings, but they also put a dent in the Rangers’ bullpen. Dustin Nippert threw 40 pitches in 2.1 innings, though Darren Oliver used just 23 to complete the final two. I wonder, though, if by the time Oliver came in everyone was just racing to the finish.

Jorge’s home run was a think of beauty. Nippert opened the AB with two curveballs that missed, and then went exclusively to the fastball. He reached back for something extra on the 3-2, hurling it at 94 after sitting mostly 91-92. It caught all of the plate, though, and Jorge sent it on a line over the right field wall.

Annoyances

Other than Cano’s three-pitch strikeout after A-Rod’s walk, I had few complaints about this one. I had few complaints about the series in general, and seeing how it resulted in a sweep I think I’ll back off the annoyances section for now.

WPA Graph

It dips and rallies.

You can check out the player breakdowns at FanGraphs.

Up Next

The Yanks take the day off today as they travel to start a six-game tour of the AL West. Thankfully, only half of those games start at 10 p.m., with the schedulers cutting us a break on Wednesday with a rare road getaway game. The A’s are up first, 10 p.m. on Tuesday.

Categories : Game Stories
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Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

The days of the 11-man pitching staff seem behind us. Bullpen specialization, combined with managers employing a slightly quicker hook for starters, makes teams more comfortable with seven available bullpen arms rather than six. This becomes a big deal when creating a 25-man roster. In the AL it means a shallow bench. Eight position players plus a DH leaves just four sports for reserve players, one of which must be a backup catcher. Teams must be cautious, then, when choosing their bench players.

Thankfully, the Yankees have the personnel to make the bench work. While both Nick Swisher and Nick Johnson start at other positions, they can fill in for Mark Teixeira at first if needed. They also have a number of players in the system who can play the other three infield positions, making only one of them necessary for the 25-man roster. That leaves one spot for a reserve outfielder and one spot for a pinch hitter. The bench need not necessarily work that way when the team breaks camp, but it should end up that way soon enough.

Photo credit: Charlie Riedel/AP

Last season the Yankees started the year with a heavy bench, even with A-Rod sidelined with his hip injury. The only consequence was a downgrade from Cody Ransom to Ramiro Pena, not a huge one at all even considering Pena’s rookie status. In the outfield they had Melky Cabrera and Nick Swisher, both starters the previous year. It’s tough, actually, to build a better bench than that. It was probably the Yankees’ best in five or more years. Xavier Nady‘s injury thinned it out in April, though, and the team had to react. They later traded for Eric Hinske for pinch hitting purposes. The bench, again, seemed strong.

Photo Credit: Steve Senne/AP

This season the Yankees’ bench doesn’t appear as strong as 2009, but it still provides the Yankees with what they need. Ramiro Pena or Kevin Russo will serve as the all-purpose utility man, Brett Gardner or Randy Winn will serve as a reserve outfielder and possibly half of a platoon, Francisco Cervelli will back up Jorge Posada, and Marcus Thames will get at-bats late in games mixed with the occasional start against a lefty. That doesn’t seem too bad at all. Perhaps the Yankees will seek a better pinch hitter than Thames come mid-season, but he’s a serviceable option to start the season.

Even though solid, the bench doesn’t come into play a lot, especially the utility infielder. Robinson Cano played 161 games, Derek Jeter played 153, and Alex Rodriguez, a year removed from his surgery, likely won’t take as many days off. This should limit the utility infielder to 100 plate appearances or so through August (there’s no telling what happens in September when rosters expand). If the winner of Pena/Russo doesn’t hit, or has problems in the field, the Yanks can swap them. The actual difference it makes, though, will be marginal. There will be chances in the outfield, as the left field situation doesn’t seem quite settled. Also, since neither Brett Gardner nor Randy Winn carries a heavy bat, a pinch hitter could get late-game opportunities.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Just how do the projection systems view the Yanks’ four bench players? Mike already covered Winn in his left field preview, so here are the remaining three.

Cervelli:


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Pena:


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Thames:


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The average projections seem fairly reasonable. Thames, as we know, is all power and not much else. That could make for a good bench player, at least to start the season. If he doesn’t prove effective, the Yankees can go shopping in June. That yielded Eric Hinske last year and could easily net them a similar player this year should the need arise. Pena and Cervelli appear perfectly reasonable for their roles. Cervelli could see more playing time, depending on Jorge’s situation.

Again, the Yankees’ advantage is that they don’t need the bench for very much. Pena will give the infielders a day off, while Winn will spell the outfielders. Thames will come up when the team needs a long fly and Gardner or Winn is due up. Those all seem like very limited roles. Cervelli is the only one who figures to play regularly, though we hope not too regularly. He’s fine as a backup. Hopefully that’s the only role he fills this season.

Categories : Offense
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Over the next week or so, we’ll again break down what went wrong and what went right for the 2009 Yankees. The series this year will be much more enjoyable than the last.

Ramiro Pena & Frankie Cervelli

The Yankees lost a major piece of their team before the season even started, as Alex Rodriguez went down with a torn hip labrum that would keep him out for well over a month. Some people (who shall remain nameless) actually thought the team would be better off without him, but after a three week stretch of seeing Cody Ransom hit .180-.226-.320, everyone was singing a different tune. But I digress.

Ransom, slated to begin the year as the backup infielder, was pushed into every day duty, and taking Ransom’s place as the utility infielder was young Ramiro Pena. The Yankees could have gone with the easy move and taken the veteran Angel Berroa out of Spring Training, but Pena made a strong impression in camp thanks to all the extra playing time he received while Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano were away at the World Baseball Classic.

The then 24-year-old infielder had hit just .266-.330-.357 with Double-A Trenton in 2008, but his outstanding glove work meant he could still contribute something positive to the team. Ransom went down with a quad injury in late April, which meant Pena would have to hold down the fort at third base until A-Rod returned. The kid from Monterrey went on to hit .333-.375-.367 in nearly two weeks of playing time, and put up a crazy good +12.5 UZR/150 at the hot corner. Against the Angels on May 1st, Pena’s two run single in the eighth helped the Yanks overcome a five run deficit with just five outs remaining.

Unfortunately, A-Rod wasn’t the only prominent Yankee to miss time with injury in 2009. Jorge Posada missed most of May with a hamstring injury, and if that wasn’t bad enough, backup catcher Jose Molina also missed most of the month with a similar injury. The Yankees were forced to turn to the unproven Francisco Cervelli, who at the time was hitting just .190-.266-.310 in Double-A. Cervelli hit .286-.302-.310 in Posada’s and Molina’s stead, flashing some serious defensive skills behind the plate.

With the Yanks’ lineup struggling immensely in mid-June (13 runs in their previous six games), Cervelli hit the first homer of his career in Atlanta, tying the game and helping wake up the dormant offensive monster. The Yanks were just 38-32 at that point, but after Cervelli’s jack helped get the offense back in order, they went 65-27 the rest of the way.

Both Pena and Cervelli started the year as the third best option at their respective positions, but both performed when the team needed them most. Cervelli gunned down 10 of 13 potential basestealers, and Pena gobbled up everything hit within shouting range of him at three infield positions. Their youthful energy was a joy to watch and also a welcome addition to a team that can be a little uptight at times.

Photo Credits: AP and AP

Categories : Analysis
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Last night the Yanks played the first of six meaningless games to wrap up the season. I’ve heard fans gripe about this and that meaningless game in May, but that’s not truly meaningless. It’s just that the payoff is so far down the road that you can’t see it yet. These games, they’re meaningless. The organization meets tomorrow to hash out the ALDS roster; in other words, they’re not even going take these games into consideration when deciding the postseason roster.

For some players it means a tune-up for the postseason. For others, like most of the Yankees starting lineup last night, it’s an opportunity to get some big league at bats. All but one of the starters took advantage. Juan Miranda sat out the hit party, but each of the other Yankees starters, from Gardner down to Pena, collected at least one hit. The Yanks put 15 men on base, pummeling the Royals in an 8-2 win.

Chad Gaudin did his job and then some. He allowed just six baserunners through six and two-thirds, which resulted in just two runs. In the only real jam he faced in the evening, second and third with one out in the fifth, he escaped after allowing just one run, a sac fly. That was the last time a runner would reach scoring position for the Royals. Damaso Marte and Al Aceves got the final seven outs without allowing another hit.

The stories of the night were on the offensive side. WIth the game tied at one in the fifth, Ramiro Pena took a big hack and sent his first career home run just beyond the right field fence. It’s been quite the year for Ramiro. He came out of nowhere in camp to win the utility infield gig, has already recorded 113 major league plate appearances, and has an outside shot of making the playoff roster. Strangely, Pena’s 2 for 4 night brought his SLG up to .388, which is higher than he slugged in AAA this year (.327) and AA last year (.357). Hopefully some asshole won’t demand a ransom for the ball.

The other offensive moment came in the seventh. Luke Hochevar, having only thrown 73 pitches through six, came out to face the 8-9-1 hitters. Four batters later he had surrendered a run and loaded the bases for Robinson Cano. Why Trey Hillman left him in there I have no idea. But it wouldn’t take him long to regret it. Robinson Cano, who was 6 for 26 with runners in scoring position coming into the game, belted one out to right, putting the Yanks up 8-2.

It’s always nice to see the backups get their shakes. We’ll see Damon, Jeter, A-Rod, Swisher, and Teixeira will return tomorrow, but there will still be a few bench guys in there. A.J. Burnett, whose dad had successful triple-bypass surgery yesterday, will be back to take the hill against Anthony Lerew.

*Alternate title: Yanks actually maintain a six-run lead over Kansas City.

Categories : Game Stories
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Eric Hinske finally escaped Pittsburgh yesterday and made it to the Bronx in time for the Yanks’ evening affair against the Mariners. When Hinkse donned number 14 and was activated, the Yankees optioned Ramiro Peña to Scranton for his AAA debut. This is, though, a demotion with a purpose.

Peña, a little guy at 5’11″ and 165 lbs., is not your typical middle infielder and doesn’t yet profile to be one. He’s a scrawny glove man with no power and little on-base ability. In 2008, playing his age 22 season, he experienced a second stint at AA. During an injury-free season after making it through just 52 games in 2007, he OPS’d .687, a good .050 points higher than his Minor League average. A hitter he is not.

Peña’s value lies on the other side of the ball. Not really a highly-regarded Yankee prospect, he is a glove man who can play second, third and short at a high level. During his three-month stint on the Yankee bench, he displayed his aptitude in the field, and the Yankees walked away impressed.

He may have hit .267/.308/.349 with 17 strike outs in 92 plate appearances, but the Yankees don’t mind. They want him for his glove. To that end, they have sent him down to AAA to become a super-utility player. “They told me I have a chance to be here for a long time,” Peña said to MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo on Wednesday.

What then do the Yankees expect from Peña, who will play some center for Scranton? In an ideal world, the Yankees are looking for their own version of a Felipe Lopez. They want a guy who can come off the bench, handle the bat, run a bit and, more importantly, play anywhere on the field.

It sounds like a great idea, but can it work? Lopez made his Major League debut at 21 and has played for five different teams. He owns a career OPS+ of 90. For what he is, he’s not terrible. Yet, he’s not a comp for Peña. In similar Minor League experience, Lopez turned in an OPS of .771. He’s a vastly superior offensive player than Peña is and a seemingly better base runner also.

I don’t mean to knock Peña. He certainly filled in admirably after both A-Rod and Cody Ransom went down. He can bunt; he can run; he can field. As Joe Girardi said, with more than a little hyperbole behind it, “He did more than what we expected. He was great.”

Yet, without the final component — that ability to hit just a little bit more, to get on base a little more frequently — the Yankees might be chasing something that doesn’t exist. Ramiro Peña is a glove man backup infielder. Maybe they should just keep him that way.

Categories : Musings
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With Xavier Nady out for the rest of the season, the Yankees’ roster picture has become clearer. Whereas before they were awaiting the return of a player who would add depth, now they know that player is not coming. The Yankees have a number of options moving forward, both for the immediate future and in preparation for the July 31st trade deadline.

Starting in the present, PeteAbe reports that Jose Molina will return in about a week. The Yankees could do one of three things:

  1. Carry three catchers and option Ramiro Pena to Scranton
  2. Option Cervelli to Scranton
  3. DFA Jose Molina

Let’s rule out the third option, since it’s not at all likely. If they release Molina and Posada gets hurt, they’d be stuck with Cervelli and Cash instead of Cervelli and Molina. The latter is preferable. Cervelli isn’t that much better than Molina, anyway — if he’s better at all, which at this point I’m not about to declare.

Carrying three catchers would mean Jorge Posada is the de facto DH. Pete says that Jorge isn’t “going to be the DH because the Yankees aren’t releasing or trading Hideki Matsui.” Yet this scenario would allow them to start one of Cervelli and Molina, use Matsui as a pinch hitter, and then substitute the other, with Posada still available as an emergency. It’s certainly not the most efficient use of roster space. This option is also unlikely, unless the Yankees are more concerned about Jorge’s health than they let on.

This leaves optioning Cervelli to Scranton. By all appearances, this is what will happen. He’ll get regular reps at AAA in preparation of taking over for Molina in 2010. Meanwhile, he serves as an insurance policy in case either Molina or Posada go down again. Yes, it’s nice to have him around, and I can see why everyone is high on him, but let’s not let his personality overshadow his ability. Right now, there’s no harm in having him in AAA.

Pete also brings up another notion: option both Cervelli and Pena, and opt to bring up a better bat off the bench. Once Molina returns, the bench will be him, Cody Ransom, Gardner/Cabrera, and Ramiro Pena. There’s not exactly a bopper in there. True, Pena can serve as a late-inning pinch-runner, especially if Gardner starts. Pete suggests recalling Shelley Duncan or John Rodriguez. I’m not so sure.

Over whom in the starting lineup would Shelley Duncan be an upgrade? In other words, for whom would he pinch-hit? Maybe Gardner or Carbera, but even that’s debatable. The league seemingly figured out Shelley after 32 plate appearances — he started his career .321/.406/.857 in 32 PA and finished the season with a .217/.280/.370 run in 51 PA, plus his .175/.262/.281 in 65 PA last year. In theory it would be nice to have Shelley Duncan on the bench — if Shelley Duncan would actually represent an upgrade. Maybe he can provide a short-term burst of production, but he’s not someone who should be on the roster August 31.

As it stands, the Yankees might just be better off keeping both Cody Ransom and Ramiro Pena on the bench. Pena can play multiple positions and has some wheels. Ransom also plays many positions. They have four outfielders, and Matsui in an emergency situation. Since they don’t have someone on the farm who can provide an upgrade in a pinch-hitting situation, it’s tough to call on such a move. Again, since the team has some flexibility with Pena they could give it a shot, but they shouldn’t expect much from either Shelley or J-Rod.

This leads to the longer-term lookout, i.e., the rest of the season. Could the Yanks pull a trade for an outfield bat? Someone who could, perhaps, provide a platoon partner for Matsui against tough lefties and buy some days or half-days off for the other outfielders? Perhaps. Steve Lombardi wants a more consistent alternative to Nick Swisher. Says he:

Don’t get me wrong. I know that Swisher works counts and gets walks. And, when he’s hot, Swisher can hit the ball out of the park. But, when he’s cold, he’s beyond ice cold. And, at times, Swisher takes some curious routes on fly balls. Basically, when he’s bad, the Swish Hawk is “T-Long Like.”

While I’m an unabashed Swisher fan, I’m not going to stick my fingers in my ears and ignore his shortcomings. He does have some pretty bad cold streaks, and it would be nice to have someone to give him some time off during them. What’s that worth, though? Can the Yankees get the import (because the answer is not in the system currently) at a reasonable enough price? Can they get him enough playing time to justify the price? Those questions will be clearer as the Xs mount in July and we get closer to the 31st.

For right now, the Yanks can afford to stand pat. There is no pressing need to make a roster move. If the Yankees want to give it a whirl with Shelley or J-Rod, they can do so with minimal risk. If they want to keep things how they are and have two multi-position players, one who can run, on the bench, they can do that. It just goes to show that when you have a solid starting nine, a bench becomes far less important.

Categories : Musings
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