Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Discussion: May 2012

Michael: The Yankees have finished another mediocre month. With a 13-13 record in May (26-22 overall), the Yanks sit in third place in the American League East. We've reached the Memorial Day benchmark and we can officially kvetch about the team with two months of sample size to back it up.

Let's begin with the pitching. There was some good, and there was some bad. First, we'll focus on the good. Of course, the headline for the month was Pettitte's return in pinstripes after coming out of retirement. So far, he's been the best Yankee starter.

Well, first of all, thank God for the Oakland Athletics, because that easy three-game sweep sure makes the month look better. You're certainly right about the inconsistent starting pitching though. Kuroda, Nova, and Hughes are all total wild cards when they go out there. All three guys had outings in May when they allowed two or fewer runs over seven or more innings and outings in May when they allowed four or more runs less than six innings. That kind of undependable performance creates uncertainty and can result in losing streaks if bad outings are strung together, more so when even Sabathia is merely good, not great, as he has been through two months. Pettitte has been impressive two starts in a row, but we might need a bigger sample size before we crown him savior.

I think the Yankees' bigger problem throughout May was their offense and lack thereof. The bats have woken up recently, but for a long stretch in the middle of the month, the Bombers could buy a base-hit, especially with runners in scoring position.

Michael: The pitching has given up 60 homers, third in the AL. They've managed to deal with that problem better, but it's still there.

Even when they score runs, they've been depending on the long ball. They lead the AL in AB/HR (22.2). However, they are second-to-last in the league in scoring runners from scoring position with less than two outs (42%). They are also third-to-last when it comes to scoring baserunners overall (13%). That's a problem.

Alex: You wonder how much of the RISP problems are a fluke and how much of them are an intrinsic problem. Did the struggles get into the players' heads? I assume the RISP stats will regress positively back toward the mean, but the Yankees can't afford such extended streaks with lack of scoring in general. In seven games from May 15 to May 21 (of which the Yankees lost six), this supposedly fierce line-up scored only 15 runs.

Teixeira has finally started to hit after eight awful weeks, while A-Rod's power has been absent, Granderson has been good but not 2011 good, Swisher has slumped, Jeter has come back to Earth, and Martin has been horrible. Only Cano had a consistent and productive May. But seasons ebb and flow, guys slump and thrive, and those struggling now will be excelling two months from now.

With the team 2.5 games out of first and in the second wild card spot if the season ended today, I don't think Yankee fans have too much to be concerned about.

Michael: Girardi was talking a few days ago, and he commented on the slumping lineup. He said something along the lines of, They have been great hitters for a long time. They didn't just learn how to hit overnight. I know, Joe is supposed to say that, but he does bring up a good point. These hitters are too good to struggle for an entire season collectively.

The Yankee bullpen has had two gigantic injuries to cope with, but they've managed to ramble on without the absence of their two best relievers hindering them. Of course, Rivera went down early in the month with a torn ACL. Robertson's injury isn't as serious (strained oblique), but he has been shelved for a while now. Soriano isn't as dominant as Mo (he has a 1.500 WHIP this season), but he gets the job done most of the time. Wade has been solid again this season. I'm very happy with the job that they've done.

Alex: With the Yankees playing from behind so much the bullpen hasn't had too many chances to screw up, but Soriano, Wade, and Logan would be a pretty satisfying top three relievers for most teams and are getting the job done for the Yanks. Robertson's eventual return will only strengthen what I already consider somewhat of a strength.

If we had had this chat a week ago I might have been freaking out and pronouncing this season a lost cause, but instead I'm fairly optimistic and confident with the team's odds going forward. Third place doesn't sound good, but I'm not expecting the Orioles to stick around the top of the division, and the second wild card makes everything a bit less stressful.

Michael: It's all about timing. I could have been right there with you, screaming irrationally about every facet of this Yankee team. The Orioles don't strike me as a legitimate threat; their pitching seemingly cannot hold up for four more months. We will see.

I'm looking at next month's schedule at the moment. It doesn't look as challenging as April once did, but there are some tough teams on here. I'd argue that this could be the toughest month yet. All of the teams on the June schedule have played good baseball in the first two months, even the Mets and White Sox.

Alex: Well hopefully the White Sox and Mets' regression begins against the Yanks. It's difficult to look at the schedule and know what's coming. Going into this season a month that includes series against the Nationals, Mets, Indians, and White Sox wouldn't have looked too daunting. Now, it does to some degree. And who knows about the Braves, who have struggled of late. The Bombers just need to play how we know they can. There won't be many days in June when they're not expected to win.

Michael: This is a swing month. If they can play .700 baseball, they'll be in very good shape going into July. Another mediocre month and they'll have some catching-up to do in all likelihood.

Hopefully, Gardner and Robertson will come back next month to help the team. I'm not really sure when Aardsma is supposed to return, but I've heard that he can return before the All-Star break. I expect these Yankees to heat up with the temperature and putting themselves in a good position for a pennant run.

Alex: It's certainly not easy to play .700 ball for an entire month, but I agree that the Yankees are well-positioned moving forward. Some guys will come back, others will go down. Some teams ahead of them in the standings will fall off while others might come on. As always, we'll have to wait and see, but the panic of a week ago has subsided, and all again appears well enough in Yankeeland.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Replacing The Best of All Time

Back in February, when every player in the MLB was reporting to spring training, the Yanks had a few big decisions ahead of themselves. The obvious one was what to do with their surplus of starting pitching. Of course, Kuroda and Sabathia were easy choices going in, but we all sat on the edge of our seats, trying to figure out which SPs were going to be in the rotation. I remember multiple times when I googled "Yankees News", trying to figure out who that unlucky man was who would be sitting in the bullpen, the man that would end up praying that he would get a chance to pitch. But that eventually resolved itself, and kept Girardi from making what looked to be a huge decision. Girardi's troubles had finally passed...or so he thought. No one could have guessed the decision that he would have to make later during the season.

Mariano Rivera has always been the rock that has never moved for the Yankees. He has been the closer since 1997, and has been available in the 'pen almost every game since then. Whenever Yankees fans heard the song "Enter Sandman", they knew the game was over. Mo was unstoppable, he would just put every batter to sleep.

But then this year the unthinkable happened. Mo sprinted back to the wall in deep center at Kauffman Stadium with a fly ball in his sights. He approached the warning track, gracefully running for the ball as he was Curtis Granderson making one of his typical running catches. But the outcome was different that any Granderson play. The ball went over his head, and Mo was on the ground writhing in pain.

So we all now know what happened, and if you didn't someone may think you were on the show "Survivor", spending his or her days eating bugs and sleeping in huts on the sand. As great as a the prize of 1 million dollars is, I, along with many other baseball lovers, couldn't bare to spend my time apart from the game of America. When Mariano went down, tearing his ACL during batting practice, some may have thought it was the end of a beautiful era. An era of seeing the most dominant closer in baseball set records like it was his job (well actually, it was his job). Mo eventually decided to come back, the best news a Yankees fan could hear and news that probably made Red Sox fans almost cry. But that was the least of Girardi's worries at the moment, the real problem was replacing the relief pitching god.

First it was Robertson, but his job as the closer was short lived. Robertson pitched two games as the CP, notching a save in the first one and blowing a 1-0 lead in the second one, before going on the DL for a strained oblique. The next in line was Soriano, and he has been very impressive. He already has four saves since Robertson went down, and boasts a 2.20 ERA. With Robertson coming back in early to mid June, a question is raised in the Yankees organization. Who will be the closer for the rest of the year.

My vote is for Soriano. He was a closer, if none of you remember, for the Rays only two years ago. As a matter of fact, he led the league in saves with 45 that year, and he is pitching like that again. Robertson is a great option to close games, don't get me wrong. He has nasty stuff, and is at times unhittable. But I believe he is almost like Tyler Clippard: too good to be removed from the SU role. Now that may sound stupid, as a closer is more important the a setup man, but both options for closer are very good for the Yanks. I like Robertson as a SU man better, and I like how Soriano has had experience finishing games. The Yanks really can't go wrong either way, but all the signs right now are pointing to Soriano, and I feel he is a better candidate for the job. We'll have to wait and see if Joe agrees.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pettitte Looking Good, Offense Looking Bad

Yes, just like Mike, I got to see good ol' Andy start a game this year. Except my game was a tad bit different. Pettitte was absolutely dominate. No one could touch him. He struck out nine batters in eight innings of work and barely exceeded the 100 pitch count. I personally was rooting for him to come out in the ninth, but still it was an epic outing.

It looked good for the Yankees to get a win, with their old horse on the mound. The Yanks have had continuous struggles in both the hitting and pitching category this year. It seems that after a huge offseason of stocking up on quality pitchers, the only reliable one that remains is C.C. Sabathia. Kuroda has shown excellence at times, but has been wacked around too. Hughes pitched terribly to start and looks to turn it around. Nova has been shaky, Pineda is injured, Garcia has been demoted, and Burnett is gone! (Oh, wait that's a good thing). The Yanks pitching has been very disappointing this year, and I didn't even talk about how Rivera is done for the season and how Robertson is on the DL right now.

But, that's still not the worst of the Yanks worries. The new problem is scoring runs. The Yankees through history have been good at this, all the way from Ruth to Rodriguez. But this year, they have been plain awful at getting runners home. The Yankees went 0-13 with RISP on Monday. No, you're not on the wrong page. I'm not talking about the Mets, or the Pirates, or the Mariners. I'm talking about the Yanks. And yes, the Yanks did get a good win against the Reds last Friday winning four-zip, but the Yanks only drove in one runner who was in scoring position. I cheered for the long balls by Ibanez and Cano, but it was hard not to think about how that's the only way the Yanks can score...other than a weak groundout and an RBI by A-Rod.

So the Yankees did make me happy by showing me a win in my first trip to the stadium this year. But I'm still concerned about the team. I expect the hitting to pick up, as the lineup is to star studded to stay like this, but in such a tough American League East it makes me worry about the Yanks playoff chances altogether. I still have confidence that the Yanks will do well, but every loss makes me cringe even more.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pettite Loses in Return to Bronx

Sunday, May 13, 2012. The day that Andy Pettitte pitched again in the Bronx.

This day was the first game of Andy's third stint in pinstripes. A grateful crowd was on hand at the Stadium to see him back in action.

Pettitte has been a consistently reliable pitcher over the course of his career. His rate statistics are solid and he has logged north of 3000 innings in his career.

I was in attendance for the Mother's Day matinee. There was already an eager buzz about the ballpark as I arrived. I was eating lunch at around 12:30 when I saw the Yankee players on the big scoreboard, sticking to a simple script and welcoming the fans to the park. After Girardi, Andy Pettitte's face appeared on the screen. After saying "Hey fans, this is Andy Pettitte, and welcome to Yankee Stadium," he received a fairly large response from the fans already in the park. Soon thereafter, he started making his way from the dugout to the bullpen in right-center, received sparse amounts of clapping from each section that he passed.

After a live rendition of God Bless America, the lineups were being announced. Anxiousness arose as the names passed. As Andy's name, number, and position boomed over the speakers, the crowd expoded in a huge standing ovation. Once some people started to sit after ten or fifteen seconds, Pettitte's name was chanted continuously.

An-dy Pe-ttitte clap clap clap clap clap

An-dy Pe-ttitte clap clap clap clap clap

An-dy Pe-ttitte clap clap clap clap clap

The bleacher creatures resumed the chants just minutes later as the final stop of their role call. Pettitte never acknowledged them, and the call carried on for maybe four or five pitches before it lost steam.

Not a surprise, Pettitte received a very large cheer (and standing ovations from some) after he completed the first innings. During the inning, he reached as high as 90 MPH on the gun.

Pettitte was extremely effective and economical into the seventh inning. He had not given up his first hit until the fourth, and he had cruised his way through the previous innings with the help of many ground-ball outs. Then, following a walk, Smoak took out Pettitte, a two-run homer in the first row over the auxiliary scoreboard. Two innings later, Casper Wells clunked a two-run shot off of the right field foul pole. After an out in the seventh was recorded, Pettitte exited with another standing O around him.

Millwood was successfully crafty in seven innings. The Yankees only pushed across one run from a Martin bases-loaded walk. They later tacked on another via a Robby Cano base on balls.

Clay Rapada surrendered two more in the ninth, reaching the final 6-2 score.

I did happen to notice that Andy was slow to get off of the mound when grounders were put into play. On one instance, a drag bunt was dribbled past Pettitte, rolling toward the second baseman. Teixeira fielded the ball because he was close to the infield grass. As he slid to his right to field the ball, there was nobody covering first. On another play, Tex was playing deeper when a grounder came his way. He was able to race to the bag to record the out, but it was a closer play than it had to be.

Andy Pettitte may not be as effective as he once was, but he can certainly still be an innings-eater. In his first start since the 2010 playoffs, he managed to record nineteen outs. With Rivera done for the season and Robertson on the 15-day DL with an oblique strain, the starters need to go deep.

“I thought it was so awesome." Nick Swisher commented afer the game. "I was so excited. I know we lost today and that’s what a lot of people are going to focus on — I could really care less about that. We got our boy back.”

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rivera Out For 2012 With Torn ACL

Approximately 48 hours have passed since the injury has suffered, yet the shock waves that followed have yet to dissipate.

The rewind button cannot be hit. Mariano Rivera will not pitch again in 2012, according to the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. To add injury to injury, he also suffered a partially torn meniscus.

The Yankees will miss their closer. Last season, Rivera continued to dominate in the ninth. At age 41, Rivera pitched 61.1 innings to the tune of a 1.91 ERA and 0.960 WHIP. Of course, his 7.50 K/BB ratio was exceptional. Marvel at the rest of his statistics here when you get the chance.

There are a few questions that arise. Will Rivera hang it up before throwing another pitch, or will he want to leave the field under his own power? Mo hinted at retirement during the offseason, but all bets are off after this injury. According to the man himself, he will be back in pinstripes.

"I am coming back. Put it down. Write it down in big letters. I'm not going down like this. God willing and given the strength, I'm coming back."

Regardless of what happens in 2013, the bullpen in 2012 will be without Sandman. Another large question is posed: Who replaces Rivera? Actually, I worded that incorrectly; nobody can replace Rivera. Who will be the new Yankee closer?

Nobody will be.

Girardi is yet to define either David Robertson or Rafael Soriano as the closer. Hopefully, if Girardi is gutsy enough, it stays that way. 

In the most-crucial late-game situations, Robertson should be pitching. Plain and simple. He's the best pitcher in the Yankee bullpen. Soriano has excelled in the closer role in the past, but he is perfectly capable of pitching in any late-game situation.

The Yankees get to breathe a collective sigh of relief because of their extremely strong bullpen. The majority of the middle relievers are effective. Even if it is weaker without Rivera at the back-end, the tandem of Robertson and Soriano is still very good. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Discussion: April 2012

Michael: The Yankees are typically slow starters, and this season has been no different, illustrated by their mediocre 11-9 record.

Let's start with the rotation, which has not exactly lived up to expectations. After Pettitte makes a few more starts in the minors, he'll join Sabathia, Nova, and Kuroda in the rotation, while the fifth rotation spot is still up in the air. While Hughes is in the rotation for now, the Yankees aren't going to keep going with Garcia. Instead, they are dipping into the pen and giving Phelps a few starts.

Alex: Well the first thing to remember is how hard the Yankees schedule has been to this point. Less than a months in and they've already played a series against each of the other pre-season consensus five best teams in the American League (Angels, Rangers, Rays, Red Sox, Tigers). With four of their next five series against the Orioles, Royals, and Mariners, there's a pretty strong chance that the Yanks' record will be better on May 15 than it is today.
That said, the pitching is a problem. Sabathia hasn't been as good as he needs to be, while Nova and Kuroda have been inconsistent. Yes, Hughes is a disaster, but he has to keep going out there for lack of better options. Garcia, of course, was terrible, and the rotation won't miss him. A 12.51 ERA, 2.20 WHIP and an average of fewer than four innings per start is not acceptable. Phelps will get his next start or two, probably auditioning for Hughes's spot in the rotation, assuming that Pettitte comes back and takes over what was Garcia's spot in the rotation.

Do you think they made the right call replacing Garcia with Phelps, and what would you do when Pettitte returns?

Michael: You put it perfectly. Hughes is the lesser of the two evils, so the Yanks have no choice but to keep letting him toe the rubber. Garcia has been completely ineffective and has not been economical either, so he is now being delegated to a mop-up role. He hasn't shown me anything - control-wise or stuff-wise - that proves that he can turn it around. Give Phelps a start, and maybe he steals the fifth rotation spot from Hughes. Hughes has been great in the bullpen before, so I don't think that a middle relief role would be a total lost cause.

The Yankees offense and bullpen have had to dig the Yankees out of some deep holes. The game that first comes to mind is the one in Boston on April 21. Garcia got shelled in 1.2 innings, giving up 5 runs on 7 hits. As the rest of the bullpen held the Sox to four additional runs in 7.1 innings, the Bombers had back-to-back seven-run innings in the seventh and eighth en route to a 15-9 victory.

The offense surely hasn't been the problem. They are top-three in the AL in Runs, HR, AVG, OBP, and SLG, among other notable statistics. The team leader in OPS+ is currently 37-year-old Derek Jeter (172 OPS+). While Swisher and Granderson are also putting up numbers, the rest of the lineup has been sub-par.

Alex: Over the course of the season guys are going to get hot and cold. Jeter has cooled down a little bit after boasting a batting average over .400 as recently as April 27. Meanwhile, A-Rod and Granderson have started to heat up. We haven't seen anything resembling a hot streak from Cano yet, but you can bet that's coming soon. There's no question this line-up will hit. It's the pitching we have to worry about. And by that I mean the starting pitching, because the bullpen has been fantastic.

Michael: I couldn't ask for anything more from this 'pen. After the blown save on Opening Day (the one that I jinxed), Rivera has bounced back to his usual greatness. Wade and Logan have done very nicely so far. Along with Robertson, they all have K/9 rates over 10 in April. Robertson has repeatedly pulled his Houdini act; he has yet to give up a run. Soriano has a concerning BB/9 rate, but he's been very effective as well. Phelps has been able to stop the bleeding for many struggling Yankee starters.

Boy, am I glad that Cashman resigned Pettitte. I hope he comes back and pitches like the Pettitte of old. In addition to the struggles of the healthy starters, Pineda tore his labrum, so he's out for the remainder of the season.

Alex: Dare I say we're getting to the point where it might be nice to have A.J. Burnett around? When they signed Pettitte I wondered (on this blog in fact) how they were going to manage the apparent excess of starters. Now they don't have enough quality arms to fill the rotation.

A lot of pressure on Pettitte to come in strong and hold down a rotation spot. Everyone assumes he'll be alright, but the minor league results, while not terrible, aren't mind-blowing either.

Michael: Now it's apparent that the adage, "You can never have enough pitching", is absolutely true.

Maybe Pettitte is just bored in the minors. For a pitcher that's been a staple in the majors since 1995 (discounting last year), he's probably hungry to get to the majors.

Alex: Let's hope so. In the meantime let's talk a little bit more about Phelps. Expectations weren't particularly high for him entering spring training, but he pitched his way onto the roster, performed well in a long-relief role and will now get an opportunity to start games. He doesn't have terrific stuff, and he got knocked around a bit in Texas, but the guy knows how to get hitters out and seems to feel like he belongs. We're probably not looking at an future star, but he looks like a potential quality big league starter, don't you think?

Michael: Sure, I'd say he has a future as a #4 or #5 starter with the Yankees. I'm always impressed with pitchers, not throwers, at 25 years old. He doesn't get by with great stuff, rather, he's smart enough to get out batters. That's why I like seeing him in a starting role.

I'm looking at the May schedule and thinking that the Yankees have a great chance to pick up a lot of wins next month. The only very good teams on the schedule are Los Angeles and Tampa Bay. They also get a West Coast trip out of way at the end of the month.

Alex: Indeed. The league is so tough this year that the schedule can never get too easy. Going into the season a lot of people were looking at these teams on paper and predicting 95 wins for four or five AL team. Nobody seemed to remember that all these great teams have to play each other fairly frequently. The entire AL East is at or above .500, and two days from now the Yankees could find themselves in first place, last place, or anywhere in between. It's shaping up to be a crazy season.

Michael: Well, it should be entertaining to say the least. Whenever we learn the date, all Yankees fans should circle the day of Pettitte's return on their calendars, as that's certainly a game to watch. Even after a shaky April, I'm still confident in the pieces that the Yankees have. It should be another hot summer in the Bronx.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pineda Done Before He Began

Michael Pineda was acquired via trade this offseason, sending top prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle. He had just come off of a solid rookie campaign, throwing 170 innings to the tune of a 3.74 ERA and 1.099 WHIP. He also had an impressive 9.1 K/9 rate.

The Yankees have yet to reap any benefits from the trade.

The team announced that the right-hander has a labrum tear in his pitching shoulder. He will undergo arthroscopic surgery Tuesday in New York. The typical time for rehab is one full year.

General Manager Brian Cashman certainly did not sound pleased. "This is a massive decision gone wrong right now," Cashman said Friday. "So all scrutiny is fair."

Shoulder injuries can be detrimental to a pitcher's ability. Players with a history of such injuries show a decrease in range of motion. However, all shoulder injuries should not be treated the same. Pineda is lucky that the tear doesn't affect the rotator cuff. Injury to that part of the shoulder is much costlier in terms of velocity and performance.

As it stands right now, there are six pitchers for five rotation spots. Barring another injury, either Freddy Garcia or Phil Hughes will need to exit the rotation once Pettitte returns.