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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Yanks Win First Of Season

Yankees fans rejoice. After being swept by the Rays to the start the season, the Yanks finally pulled out their first win of the season, beating the Orioles 6-2. Although the Yankees only went on a three game slide, Yanks fans were nervously awaiting their teams first win. The Yankees hadn't started a season with a three-game skid since 1998.

But on the strength of a solid outing for Ivan Nova, and a 4 for 4 game from Jeter, the Yanks cruised to their first win of the season. Nova went 7 innings, allowing 2 runs on 10 hits. Impressively, Nova struck out 7 batters and didn't walk one. Jeter drove in a run and scored a run, boosting his average to .412. Andruw Jones also contributed, jacking his first homer of the season on a laser into the left-field seats. Tonight, the Yanks look to continue their good play and win their second straight. Veteran Freddy Garcia takes the mound against Wei-Yin Chen in his major league debut.

After the game, Jeter talked about his team getting their first win. " A lot of times the first of everything is the most difficult to get in a season. Whether it's the first hit, first RBI, first win". Now with that all out of the way, the Yanks can focus on getting some more wins.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Song Remains the Same With Rivera

When it comes to bullpen pitchers, most are short-lived. Their performance will fluctuate from year-to-year, and even the best relief pitchers, closers, cannot consistently lock down games.

Mariano Rivera is different.

Mariano Rivera has been a model of consistency for the past decade-and-a-half. Last season was no different. At forty-one years of age, he had one of the best seasons of his illustrious career. Rivera posted a stingy 1.91 ERA and 0.897 WHIP en route to his 12th All-Star appearance. His control was pinpoint as usual, walking only 8 batters in 61.1 innings, leading to his staggering 7.5 K/BB ratio.

On September 13th of last season in Seattle, Rivera enjoyed the 600-save milestone that only Trevor Hoffman had previously reached. Six days and two saves later, Mo broke Hoffman's all-time saves record by notching his 602nd career save against the Twins at the Stadium. The save was Mariano-esque (he pitched a perfect ninth-inning), as was the humble reaction. Saves certainly are not a great measuring stick for closer success, but it does speak for Rivera's longevity.

There is no reason to expect anything less than the typical Rivera in 2012. Every game he appears in at Yankee Stadium, he will jog in to Metallica's Enter Sandman. The raucous crowd will bellow its chorus while Rivera takes his warm-up pitches. The rest can be predicted fairly easily. Soon thereafter, the final out of the game is recorded, typically from a strikeout looking on a two-seamer on the black, or a dribbler back to the slick-fielding Rivera. As New York, New York is blasted on the stadium's speakers, Rivera does not perform any antics. He simply takes the ball with which he recorded the final out, high-fives his Yankee teammates, and steps on second base before returning to the clubhouse.

On the road, the scene is much less enthusiastic, but it typically ends with the same result.

And in 2012, just as it has happened during each recent season, there will be a stretch lasting about a week in which Rivera is just as vulnerable, just as human as everyone else. There will still be the critics that claim that Mariano can't pitch anymore, that he's getting too old. And just as always, Sandman will resurrect and find his way back to his typical near-perfection.

Rivera has been reliably stellar since he was the setup man to John Wetteland in 1996. The same flawless performance can be expected of Rivera, who turned 42 in November. In a game that is imperfect by design, Mariano Rivera is as close to perfect as they come.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What to Expect from Derek Jeter in 2012

Derek Jeter struggled mightily in the first half of 2011. He batted .270 before the All-Star break and, worse, slugged only .353. Sportswriters called for his demotion to the bottom of the Yankees order, and mournful fans prepared to acknowledge the end of The Captain's illustrious career. 

Then came July 9 and Jeter's 3,000th hit, a deep home run to left-field that highlighted a 5-5 day at the plate. It was his third home run and 16th extra-base hit of the season (he would also collect his 17th, a double, later that afternoon) but more importantly, the beginning of a new season.

Derek Jeter flourished magnificently in the second half of 2012. He batted .327 after the All-Star break and, better, slugged .428. Sportswriters hailed his worthiness of batting atop the Yankees order, and overjoyed fans geared up for another chapter of The Captain's illustrious career.

And so 2012 begins with guarded optimism for Jeter. We hope that he will continue off his second half momentum but are aware that, while the 12-time All-Star may have staved off decline for a few more months, most 37-year olds are closer to retirement than they are to their primes. Jeter hit .388 on balls in play during the second half of 2011, well above his career average of .355, after posting only a .294 BABIP before the All-Star break. Since variation in BABIP is usually attributed to luck more than anything, it's safe to predict that 2012 Derek Jeter will hit safely somewhere between his pre- and post- All-Star break rate.

More concerning to Jeter and the Yankees is the total depletion of the shortstop's power. Isolated Slugging (ISO) is calculated by subtracting hits from total bases and measures a hitter's ability to knock extra-base hits. Jeter's .092 ISO in 2011 was easily the lowest of his career, supporting the anecdotal evidence of his inability to get past first base in one swing. Ignoring the seemingly anomalous 2009 season (.131 ISO, 3rd in MVP voting), Jeter's ISO has dropped every year since 2004, which is to be expected from an aging ball-player but which augurs poorly moving forward.

There's also the issue of Jeter's defense, which has always scored poorly in advanced defensive metrics. Over the last two years alone, Jeter has produced -2.2 defensive WAR according to baseball-reference.com, and the lack of range this figure reports fuels the suggestion that his days as a middle-infielder are numbered (although it's worth noting that Jeter's dWAR totals were at least as ugly in his prime). Eduardo Nunez doesn't look like the answer at shortstop defensively, but the moment a credible replacement for Jeter emerges, expect heightened calls for the veteran's removal from the position he has played exclusively in his big league career.

Despite the abounding questions facing Jeter and the Yankees, Mr. November will be stationed between second and third base and atop the batting order to begin 2012, looking to prove that he still has much to contribute to the Yankees on the field. How long he remains in his comfortable and prestigious slots depends on which 2011 Jeter proves closer to the real one. Here's hoping he hits like it's August 2011 and not like it's June. Long live Derek Jeter.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Yankees Trade For Backup Catcher Stewart

The Yankees have just completed a deal, sending right-hander George Kontos to San Francisco in exchange for catcher Chris Stewart. Stewart, 30, posted a .204/.283/.309 triple slash in 67 games with the Giants in 2011, catching a good chunk of their games in Buster Posey's absence. His defense, specifically how he handles the running game, is his most valuable asset. He gunned down 22 of 56 prospective base stealers, good for a 39% caught stealing rate, 11 percentage points higher than the league average.

Stewart will be the backup catcher on the Opening Day roster. After Wednesday's exhibition victory against the Mets, catcher Francisco Cervelli was sent down to AAA to make room for Stewart. "It's not my decision, and that's it," Cervelli said.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yankees Prospects Impressing

The spotlight in Yankees camp has been the arrival of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, as well as the competition for the remaining spots in the Yanks starting rotation. Since Pineda will be starting the season on the DL, the Yankees have their five starters out of camp and the rotation puzzle can be set aside for the time being. Now, attention can be turned to the Yankees wealth of prospects that have been impressive this spring.

2011 draft pick Dante Bichette Jr. has played well this spring despite limited playing time. In an away game against the Astros, Bichette Jr. traveled with the team because his family lives 20 minutes away from the Astros spring training complex in Kissimmee, Florida. With his parents and brother in attendance, Bichette Jr. belted two home runs in two at-bats after coming in as a defensive replacement at third base. Although he is hitting well in insignificant exhibition play, professional success isn't foreign to Bichette Jr. After being drafted by the Yanks in the second round last year, he hit .342 including a 16-game hitting streak, helping him win the Gulf Coast League MVP. Bichette Jr. looks to join a promising Class A team this year featuring other top prospects such as catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Mason Williams, shortstop Cito Culver, and pitchers Jose Campos and Bryan Mitchell.

Some AAA players have also impressed this spring. Dellin Betances pitched three scorless innings in a relief appearance against the Red Sox, striking out four. Betances is yet to allow a run this spring over 8 innings pitched. Banuelos also had a nice outing against the Braves, striking out three in two scorless innings of work. Banuelos looks to improve upon a subpar spring, sporting a 7.20 ERA over 5 innings. David Phelps pitched well against the Red Sox, allowing one run over 2 2/3 innings pitched. He also struck out five. Over 16 innings pitched, Phelps has a solid 2.25 ERA. All three of these pitchers look to contribute to the Yankees in the near future; possibly even this year.

With Hal Steinbrenner's motives to cut payroll, these prospects will have to be the future of the Yankees so the organization can avoid signing hefty paychecks to big-name free agents. The dynasty of the late '90s was built on success from within, when the Yankees farm cultivated future stars, such as Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera. If the Yankees can field more homegrown talent, they will be able to win without dipping as deeply into their pockets.

Pineda with Tendinitis

After an MRI on Saturday, pitcher Michael Pineda has been diagnosed with tendinitis in his right shoulder.

Pineda complained of shoulder soreness after his spring training appearance Friday. His numbers clearly suffered, as he allowed six earned runs without getting out of the third inning.

As a result, Pineda has been sent to the 15-day DL. This leaves Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Hughes, and Garcia as the five starting pitchers to break camp with New York.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Discussion: 2012 Yankees Preview

Michael: The 2011 Yankees had the AL's best record, even with a lot of question marks behind CC in the rotation. They certainly addressed their needs this offseason, bringing in Pineda and Kuroda, even signing Pettitte out of retirement. Even with a division with competition as stiff as ever, the Yanks have been picked by many to run the table in the AL East.

Let's start with that revamped rotation. Who's the X-Factor here?

Alex: I'm happy to say that I think this rotation is deep enough to be without a true X-factor. Assuming that Sabathia pitches like the ace he is, the Yankees have three guys who could be legitimate number-two starters if all breaks right. Pineda struggling like he did during the second half of last year wouldn't be crippling as long as Nova and Kuroda pitch well. Nova could suffer a sophomore slump and Kuroda could have trouble adjusting to Yankee Stadium and the New York pressure, but neither would be devastating if the rest of the rotation meets expectations. And if Hughes gets hit, Garcia and Pettitte are waiting around to take his place. The Yankees don't need career years from everyone. They'll be fine as long as all of those guys don't all under-perform simultaneously. It's a true credit to Cashman that the rotation is so sound after being so fragile only a few months ago.

Michael: Absolutely, it's amazing how quickly a weakness became a strength. It also takes a lot of pressure off of Pineda to be the X Factor, assuming we take Sabathia for granted. Then again, we know Pineda will be booed if he doesn't perform, especially if Montero hits well in Seattle. That's New York for you...some pitchers thrive, and as we know all too well, others falter. Only time will tell how Michael and Hiroki respond.

Alex: There are certainly a lot of variables that affect any baseball season, and no matter the talent a team is always prone to injuries and unexpected ineffectiveness (just ask our buddies from Beantown), but it's been a while since I've been this confident on opening day. Unlike last year, when we kind of knew all along that the Yankees pitching wasn't World Series-worthy, the 2012 Bombers seem to lack any glaring flaws. They have their usually impressive line-up, one of the five or six best rotations in baseball, an adequate bench, and a strong bullpen. Things can always go wrong of course, but I really like how the Yanks look right now.

Michael: Even I can't help but feel good about 2012, and I'm always cautious as to not jinx the Yankees. They haven't been this strong in every area for the last few seasons.

During last season, I always felt that Rodriguez and Teixeira are the biggest difference-makers in this stacked lineup. A-Rod was too injury-plagued in 2011 to make a big impact, only playing in 99 games. While he's getting up there in years, I still consider him one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. Tex has kept his power numbers up, but he has become too much of an all-or-nothing hitter from the left side. I might as well add Granderson to the mix. I'm taking Cano for granted.

Alex: Like in the starting rotation, I think the Yankees have enough lineup strength to withstand a bad year from a guy or two. I'm expecting some sort of regression from Granderson, but hopefully A-Rod can stay on the field and Teixeira can bounce back from last year. If one of those guys can regain his old form that takes the line-up to a different level. I think Jeter is somewhat of a wild card. He's going to bat first whether he deserves to or not, so he's going to need to get on base to avoid leaving an ugly hole atop the order.

Michael: It's a luxury that this team has, in both the hitting and pitching department, but I'm greedy. As you alluded to, if everything goes right, this lineup is probably best in the league.

I don't like Jeter at the top, I'd rather have Gardner leading off. That's just a pipe dream though. The lineup will probably look like:

Jeter SS
Granderson CF
Cano 2B
Rodriguez 3B
Teixeira 1B
Swisher RF
Ibanez/Jones DH
Martin C
Gardner LF

Alex: Jeter can hold his own against lefties (.349/.423/.523) but struggles pretty mightily against righties (.277/.329/.338), and I think the line-up should reflect those splits. I think if politics weren't an issue Jeter would lead off against lefties and bat 7th or 8th against righties. You have the Ibanez/Jones DH platoon batting 7th, but my expectations are very low for that pair, especially Ibanez. I don't really want my DH posting a 91 OPS+ as he did last year. It's also worth noting that, since A-Rod, Jeter, and Teixeira are going to be getting semi-consistent half-days off, Chavez and Nunez will be filling out the order almost as much as Ibanez and Jones, playing the field while the regulars DH.

Michael: It's almost a blessing from the sky that Montero was traded away, or else the DH spot would be clogged for a large part of the games. Now, it can be a position where each of the vets can be spelled once in a while.

I'm not crazy about the bench, but we do have some useful players. A super-utility man would be convenient; Nunez is the closest we have to one of them.

Alex: We've got to hope Nunez is out taking ground balls right now, because he's a decent glove away from being a good MLB player. The bat is there for a middle-infielder, but he can't field, and if he ends up moving to the outfield, as some think is inevitable, his hitting loses all value. Still a helpful guy to have around though. The rest of the guys on the bench (besides Cervelli) are up there in age and provide little in the field. I don't see any sort of late-game defensive replacement anywhere on this roster, unless they choose to carry only 11 pitchers, which doesn't seem likely. Then again, if the lack of a defensive-oriented bench player is your team's biggest concern, you're in pretty good shape.

Michael: I was thinking the same thing. I look up and down the roster and see strengths all around, and bench is obviously the last aspect of a team that a general manager should try to improve.

I'm looking at this bullpen and thinking, "Damn, if Soriano pitches somewhat like he used to, the back of this bullpen is insanely good." It could be 1996 all over again, with a near-lock to win the game with the lead after six innings. Many say that the bullpen is overrated, but I find a lock-down back-end to be a great luxury to have. Lefties are my only concern, as Logan and Rapada are less-than-desireable. Luckily, Robertson was better against lefties last season than righties. If I were Girardi, I'd sometimes move Robertson out of the eight inning in order to face lefty-heavy parts of the order. I don't really see him doing that, though.

Alex: I agree that the bullpen is a strength, but relievers are fickle, and it's no guarantee Robertson repeats 2011. Then again, Soriano should only improve after adjustment to New York. I still think that was a terrible signing, but he makes the 'pen better this year.

What we need to remember, in relation to the bullpen and to all other aspects of the team, is that things don't usually go as planned. Guys get hurt, have bad years, decline sooner than expected. Before last year you wouldn't have expected Granderson to out-hit Teixeira or Garcia to out-pitch Hughes. We can figure the team out, identify strengths and weaknesses, and make predictions, but things will inevitably turn out opposite of what we expect.

That said, I have to ask, what do you see as the fate of the 2012 Yankees? How many games will they win, and how far into the playoffs will they go?

Michael: I feel terrible when we talk so well about this team. Kina Hora! To add to that, you're killing me, Alex. They improved, while the other AL East teams didn't take big steps forward. They won the division last season, so...

I can't say how far they go, but I will be disappointed if this team can't get out of the first round. I probably speak for both of us when I say that only a championship will make us content. All I will say is that I believe this team has a better chance than they've had in the past two seasons.

Maybe you're not as cautious as I to anger the baseball gods. What do you see in store for 2012?

Alex: I feel pretty comfortable saying they're the best team in the division. But the playoffs are largely a crap-shoot, and the American League has a lot of great teams. A division series match-up with the Angels, Rangers, or Tigers is a really scary proposition, especially since all three of those teams have knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs at least once in the last decade. So I'm going to refrain from a concrete prediction, while saying that this team absolutely has the potential to win the World Series. I'm not so fanatical that I'll be angry with anything less, but title number 28 is clearly a reasonable goal.

Michael: I'll be real. They aren't head-and-shoulders above everyone else as they were in 2009. I can't even call them the best team in the American League. I don't really know how to say this; I can't predict them to win it all, but I can't hope for anything less.

Opening Day is April 6th, and we're as ecstatic as ever to see the Bronx Bombers in action again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pettitte's Return Crowds Yankee Rotation

When the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett to the Pirates on February 18, their rotation calculus appeared simple; CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Hiroki Kuroda would hold down the top four spots in some order, and Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia would battle for the remaining opening. Well, consider that equation confounded. Andy Pettitte, third on the Yankees all-time wins list and owner of five World Series rings, will abandon his year-old retirement, returning to the Bronx for $2.5 million over one year. It's yet to be seen whether Pettitte is capable of pitching at a high level after a year away from the diamond, but the left-hander wouldn't be back if he didn't think he could perform. For the Yankees, this means three starters pursuing one rotation spot, and Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman and co. will need not only to choose a fifth starter but to determine if/where to stow the other two in case of injury. We'll be watching the delicate situation carefully, but, as the adage goes, you can never have too much pitching, and when a borderline Hall-of-Famer and franchise legend comes asking for a job at a bargain-basement price, no one will fault you for enlisting him.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Robertson With Mid-Foot Strain

David Robertson is probable to miss the next few weeks of spring training with a mid-foot strain on his right foot. He suffered the injury as he "missed a step" on a staircase Wednesday.

Oy vey.

X-rays were negative on Wednesday, but he's undergo a MRI (results pending). Robertson uses his right foot to push off of the rubber.

"I’m concerned,” manager Joe Girardi said. “By the way I saw him walking today – it hurt him to walk – you assume he’s going to be down a little time, even if everything comes back OK. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have time to get ready for the season, but he’ll have to start over a little bit. Not totally, but a little bit.

“If you’re going to miss him for a substantial amount of time, you’re going to be concerned. If he’s going to be out a week or 10 days, you’re probably not going to be too concerned about that.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pineda Makes Yankees Spring Debut

The highly touted, 6-7, 280-pound right-hander Michael Pineda made his Yankee debut today, taking the mound against the Phillies and Joe Blanton. Pineda got in two solid innings of work, allowing no runs on one hit and two strikeouts. Despite Pineda's nice pitching performance, the Yankees lost their first game of the spring 9-3.

Asked after the game if he was nervous, Pineda replied, "Hell, no"

Which A-Rod Will Show Up This Year?

Throughout history, the Yanks have always had one of the best offenses in the bigs. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about the Ruth years, or the Mantle years, or even today. The Yanks aren't nicknamed the "Bombers" for no reason.

Last year, the Yankees did not disappoint. They were in the top ten in runs scored, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. But like previous years, this was no surprise. How could a team sporting players like Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano hit poorly?

The real surprise was Alex Rodriguez. Despite having many nagging injuries, A-Rod had a somewhat successful 2010 campaign with 30HRs and 125RBIs. He was elected to his 13th All-Star appearance, and finished 10th in the voting for the MVP. Compared to his other seasons this wasn't spectacular, but he still put up good production for a clean-up hitter, helping the Yanks reach the ALCS.

After a much needed offseason, A-Rod looked like he was in great shape to come out and hit like he did in previous years. He was finally healthy (or so we thought), and it looked like his problems of the past were behind him. And of course, A-Rod came out and mashed the ball in spring, not lowering our expectations one bit. A-Rod hit .388 with 6HRs 15RBIs in 18 games in Florida, giving some people the urge to award him his 4th MVP already.

But, from there everything seemed to go wrong. A-Rod started off with a sub-par 2011, hitting .295 with 13HRs and 52RBIs prior to the All-Star break. Despite not having awful production, A-Rod experienced a lack of power. He had a slugging percentage of .485 and went through a stretch of not hitting a homer for 82 at-bats.

It only got worse. Despite being elected to his 14th All-Star game, A-Rod was forced to skip the game and undergo surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee, forcing him to sit out for over a month. To make matters worse, A-Rod was also accused off playing in illegal underground poker games, although it was immediately shook off. A-Rod was never able to regain his form after coming back, hitting a measly .195 in 68 at-bats with only 3HRs and 10RBIs.

But this year it could all change. Taking the advice of Kobe Bryant, A-Rod flew to Germany to have a procedure done on his knee to help him regain his power and end his lingering injury problems. Rodriguez says he feels really good about his knee, and feels like this is his time to return to hitting like he did when he won 3 MVPs. Looking to slot into the cleanup spot like always, we'll get to see if A-Rod can provide the middle of the lineup pop the Yankees pay him for and lead the Yanks to a 28th World Series title.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Offseason Recap: Yanks Bolster Rotation

The Yankees didn't spend like the Yankees. They didn't throw money at Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, or Jose Reyes. While other teams made headlines this offseason, the Yanks quietly had one their best offseason in a while.

The 2011 ALDS ended with a dismal performance by the Yankee lineup. After a 10-1 thumping of Detroit in Game 4, Game 5 brought woes at the plate with runners in scoring position, as the Yanks managed to only go 2 for 9 in those situations. However, scoring runs wasn't a problem for New York in the regular season. The Bombers lived up to their nickname, finishing first in the league in home runs (222). They also crossed home plate 867 times, good for second in the Junior Circuit.

The Yanks looked to improve upon their rotation, and improved it they did.

The number-one task on the agenda was to resign staff ace CC Sabathia, who opted out of his gargantuan contract in search of a raise and extension. Sabathia was his old self as usual in 2011, posting a 19-8 record with a 147 ERA+. His HR/9 (0.6), BB/9 (2.3), and K/9 (8.7) were the best in his three-season Yankees career. Without Sabathia, the Yankees rotation would have been left in shambles. CC ended up with what he wanted, a five-year contract worth $122m with a vesting option in 2017.

The Bombers remained rather dormant until mid-January. After silent trade talks, top prospect Jesus Montero  and Hector Noesi were shipped off to Seattle for second-year fireballer Michael Pineda and prospect Jose Campos. Pineda, 23, was a huge addition to a pitching staff that was oldest in the American League (average age: 31 years old). Standing in at 6'7", he finished 2011 with 28 major league starts under his belt and a 103 ERA+. His 9.1 K/9 rate was also second in the American League. It will be interesting to see how his stuff translates to the Big Apple.

Just as that trade was being finalized, the Yankees struck again, this time in free agency. New York locked up starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda with a one-year, $10m deal. Kuroda, 37, pitched to the tune of a 121 ERA+ and 3.29 K/BB ratio.

With so much pitching, the Yankees had the luxury to unload AJ Burnett. Projected as their seventh starting pitcher, he was traded to Pittsburgh for not much more than a song and a dance. The Pirates took on $13m of the pitcher's salary ($5m in 2012 and $8m in 2013). This was a classic case of addition by subtraction. Yankees fans can thank AJ all they want for Game 2 and walk-off pies, but there was not much else to be desired from him.

The Yankees also managed to tweak their already-potent lineup. After resigning outfielder Andruw Jones and third baseman Eric Chavez, the Yanks wanted to partially fill the void at DH left by Jesus Montero. Former Phillie Raul Ibanez was signed on by New York on a incentive-laden, one-year, $1.1m contract. Raul isn't the hitter he used to be, hitting a subpar 91 OPS+. He still managed to slug 20 home runs and drive in 84 runs. Expect the lefty to be used almost exclusively against right-handed pitching.

This offseason wasn't the money-throwing party that most Yankee fans have come to expect. This was even better. The Bombers managed to turn a weakness into a strength without decimating their lineup or farm system. This team is one of the most well-rounded Yankee teams in the past decade and is primed to do damage in 2012.