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, 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.