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June 30, 2006


Zone Rating by Week - Jeter and Rodriguez
by SG

As has probably been painfully obvious to the regular readers here, I've been obsessed with defense lately. while I still think there is a long way to go with tracking defense and it is almost impossible to quantify a player's true defensive talent, that hasn't stopped many from trying, including yours truly.

One thing that really spurred my interested in defense was last season's performance by Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez had a rough first half before improving greatly in the second half. Unfortunately, that Zone Rating statistic that is free and publically available is not recorded in splits, but as a year-to-date total.

I've talked a lot about Zone Rating in this space over the past few months, but I'm not sure I've ever really give a compete description of it and I am sure many of you are too lazy to click on the links I've provided that give more background on it.

Chris Dial over at Baseball Think Factory wrote the clearest and most understandable explanation of zone rating that I've seen. I encourage everyone to go take a look at it if you want to understand the next part of this post.

So, anyhow, I decided that I wanted to see how players performed defensively over the course of the season, and I wanted this information to be broken down on a weekly basis. Therefore, I've been recording the ZR of all the players in the majors at the end of every week of the season so far. I have no idea how useful this will end up being, but at least I'll have it.

After 12 weeks, I thought I'd look at a couple of Yankees, namely the left side of the infield. I've plotted their ZR by week below in comparison to the league average at their position at the same point.



I thought this was interesting. Jeter started off very poorly and has slowly improved defensively. He's still below average, but not nearly as bad as he started.



Much like his hitting, Rodriguez's defense has been somewhat inconsistent. Right now he's about average, which while better than last year is still a little disappointing.

If anyone finds this useful or wants to see any other players let me know.

Update: Added Melky in LF and Bernie in RF by request from Brent





The Yankees get the "Mighty" Mets now, who are fresh off getting their asses handed to them by the Red Sox. Way to step up Mets. The pitching matchups:

Friday
O. Hernandez (4-7, 5.82) vs. M. Mussina (9-3, 3.28)

Saturday
S. Trachsel (6-4, 4.82) vs. R. Johnson (9-6, 4.84)

Sunday
A. Soler (2-2, 4.68) vs.J. Wright (4-5, 4.18)

Those matchups seem to heavily favor the Yankees, which probably means they'll get swept. 2 out of 3 doesn't seem like enough to me, so let's hope for a sweep by the real Kings of New York.


June 29, 2006


Shut Up Forever
by Larry Mahnken

Hideki Matsui never did it. Gary Sheffield has never done it. Bernie Williams has never done it.

Jorge Posada has done it twice, including once earlier this season. Jason Giambi, well, we all remember when he did it. Ken Griffey, Jr. didn't do it until this May.

Derek Jeter has never done it.

Yesterday, Alex Rodriguez did it, hitting a walkoff home run to erase a 3-2 deficit and give the Yankees an InstaVictory, 4-3. Such a home run is much rarer than you think, in A-Rod's first two seasons as a Yankee it only happened 22 times in the majors -- less than once every 220 games. And yesterday was A-Rod's first time.

In fact, not only was it's A-Rod's first deficit-erasing-walkoff-homer, it was also the very first hit he's ever had as Yankee that turned a deficit into a lead in the seventh inning or later. That's right, even though those kind of hits aren't that common, either, the closest A-Rod has ever come to turning a late deficit into a lead with the Yankees was when Shannon Stewart let his double bounce into the stands to keep Derek Jeter at third base in the 2004 ALDS.

If you really think about it, this wasn't just a clutch hit -- of course it's not, A-Rod's had LOTS of clutch hits, people just act like he hasn't -- but it was THE most clutch hit possible. A hard hit ball to a corner infielder or a grounder up the middle, and the Yankees would lose, but instead they won, and nothing was left to chance. A-Rod didn't even need to run to first to see if it would hit off the wall, that ball was gone the moment he hit it.

This is bigger than a slump-busting homer, and it's bigger than a data point on my spreadsheets that probably won't convince anyone who already thinks they'd have been better off with Soriano. This is the argument-ender -- not for rational argument, which would probably have to conclude that Rodriguez is, at worst, average in the clutch -- but for the sports call-in show types, who like to ignore the double off of Nathan, and the homer off of Schilling, or the ninth-inning tying homer off of Wickman last year. This was supremely clutch. Who cares what team it was against, or what pitcher it was off of? You didn't hear that bullshit when Jeter hit his Opening Day homer off of Ambiorix Burgos of the freaking Royals.

When it comes to clutchness, A-Rod isn't Ortiz. But then, here is a complete list of players who have been as good or better than in the clutch as David Ortiz in the past decade:

1) David Ortiz

Comparing A-Rod to Ortiz and declaring him insufficiently clutch because he comes up short is ridiculous, akin to comparing a hitter to Babe Ruth and declaring him insufficient. Ortiz isn't the baseline, he's the peak, which is all well and good, but it doesn't mean much at all when it comes to evaluating A-Rod.

A-Rod became a "True Yankee" yesterday, whatever that means, like Giambi did when he hit his homer against the Twins -- though Giambi was still never loved until he had his fall from grace last year, then recovered to be everything he once was. But at the very least, the next time a writer implies that A-Rod can't come through in the clutch, at least not in New York, you can make them look foolish without having to pull out more than one number.


June 28, 2006


Redemption?
by SG



Coming into this afternoon's rubber game against the Atlanta Braves, Alex Rodriguez was hitting .212/.351/.325 in the month of June. Not coincidentally, the Yankees had gone 12-12 through this stretch.

Then came the bottom of the twelfth inning of today's game. Facing the Braves' newly annointed closer Jorge Sosa, Derek Jeter grounded the first pitch he saw up the middle to Edgar Renteria for the first out. Jason Giambi fouled off three pitches before drawing a walk, and Rodriguez stepped up with the Yankees trailing 3-2.

It seems that Rodriguez has come up in this situation an inordinate number of times this season, and he has failed in most of them. This time was different. After taking two high pitches, Rodriguez took a called strike. He took another pitch, then hit a towering fly ball to left center field that may not have landed yet.

Rodriguez homered with his team trailing in their last AB and the Yankees won the game, 4-3. It doesn't mean that he didn't fail all those other times that he did, and it doesn't mean that he's going to stop failing in these situations going forward. Enjoy it for what it was, a dramatic hit for one of the most talented players in baseball for a team that needed it badly.




Starting Lineup - Atlanta at Yankees - 1:05 PM
by SG

Damon, CF
Cabrera, LF
Jeter, SS
Giambi, DH
Rodriguez, 3B
Williams, RF
Phillips, 1B
Cairo, 2B
Stinnett, C
Wang, P

I hope Wang has his A game.


June 27, 2006


How to Deal, by Randy Johnson
by SG

Last night, Randy Johnson probably had his best start of the season in the Yankees' 5-2 win over Atlanta. Johnson had a very good slider and threw it a lot. His fastball wasn't particularly overpowering, mostly in the 92-94 range, but he had great command of it and pitched seven innings, walking none and striking out nine. It was a classic exhibit of a pitcher just plain dealing.

Since allowing five runs in five innings against the Tigers back on May 24, Johnson has done the following:

IP: 37.2
H: 24
R: 14
ER: 13
HR: 4
BB: 13
K: 36
ERA: 3.11
FIP: 3.70

He's still been inconsistent, but he looks to be getting better. If he can stay at that level for the rest of the season, it'll be a tremendous help to a team that is fighting the injury bug.

Jason Giambi has apparently put aside all his issues when it comes to hitting as a DH, with two more HRs last night and all 5 RBI. This season, as a "1B", Giambi is hitting .275/.444/.592. As a DH, he's hitting .253/.406/.613. The best thing about this is that it gets Andy Phillips on the field. Phillips has had his struggles at times this season, but they all seem to come after he has not started a few games. When he has gotten consistent playing time, he has produced. With his 3 hit, one walk game last night his season line is now .294/.323/.496 which is a touch below the average 1B. However, he has been one of the best defensive 1B in the league so far, saving around 4 runs above average. Over 150 games, Phillips's glove would be worth 40 runs over Giambi's. That is a massive difference, on the order of four wins. Let's put it in perspective based on zone rating.

The average 1B would see 281 plays in their zone in 1440 innings(a full season). Phillips has a Zone Rating (plays made on balls in his zone) of .915, Giambi's is .724. That means that over 1440 innings, Phillips would make 54 more plays than Giambi. That's the equivalent of eighteen innings that do not have to be pitched by the pitching staff.

Phillips needs to play almost every day from here on out.

From the infirmary, the news is good on Octavio Dotel.
Octavio Dotel was grinning and laughing so often yesterday afternoon, a reporter joked that he needs to smile more. Dotel felt ecstatic after throwing 30 pitches at a distance of 45 feet from flat ground.

The righty reliever, who was shut down last week with tendinitis in his right elbow, said it went "great."

"I was kind of worried about it today," he said before last night's 5-2 victory over Atlanta. "I was like, 'Shoot, how's it going to be?'

"But it feels unbelievable. So now I just have to take my time. No rush."


It's not as good for Robinson Cano.
Following Monday night's game, manager Joe Torre said that while no decision has been made with regards to the DL, it was unlikely that Cano would be on the field in the immediate future.

"It's not too bad, but that doesn't mean he's going to play in the next week or 10 days," Torre said. "We'll have to make a decision."
This is a bad situation made worse by allowing Joe Torre to bat Miguel Cairo second. I like Cairo as a backup and utility man. He's one of my favorite bad players. However, in no way does it make any sense that he gets more AB than Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, or Jorge Posada. Hopefully Torre will come to his senses on this as it looks like he'll playing for a while.

Bold prediction for tonight, Jaret Wright will not pitch a complete game.


June 26, 2006


Wasting Chances
by SG

Over at there's a discussion thread about the inferiority of the National League to the American League this season. This is not exactly earth-shattering news, but the thread was based on research by the Red Sox that there is about a 10 game difference in quality between the two leagues.

Unfortunately for us as Yankee fans, the Yankees have not used this opportunity to build up their record against their weaker sisters. While interleague play is in general a farce and hugely flawed due to the fact that teams do not play to the same strength of schedule, here are the records against the NL for the likely playoff contenders this season.

Boston 10-1
Chicago White Sox 10-2
Detroit 10-2
Oakland 7-5
Yankees 6-6
Texas 6-6
Toronto 4-8

New York's performance against the NL has cost them 4.5 games in the standings this season. Granted, Boston has fattened up on Atlanta and has not yet faced the red hot Mets, but the Red Sox swept Washington, who beat the Yankees in two out of three games, and have gone 4-1 against Philadelphia so far, with one more game today. Now I find myself in the sickening position of rooting for the Mets for three games.

The Yankees split a double-header yesterday, winning the opener 2-1 behind a very solid start by Mike Mussina, who rebounded from a rough stretch of starts to pitch very well. Moose started very strongly then seemed to struggle in the middle innings, but gave the team seven innings of one run ball over 105 pitches, 71 of which were strikes. His curveball was back after a few starts without it, and he used it to good effect.

Kyle Farnsworth continues to be an enigma, as he gave up two hits and and IBB but managed to pitch out of it with a scoreless eighth. Farnsworth is killing me right now. I have no faith in him. Mariano Rivera closed it out in much easier fashion thankfully.

In the second game, the Yankees lost 5-0, becoming the last team in the majors to get shut out. Shawn Chacon had another less than stellar outing, although his defense killed him, primarily Jason Giambi. It didn't end up mattering though, as a lineup with Kelly Stinnett and Bubba Crosby mustered no offense.

More of a problem than the loss was a Robinson Cano injury in the sixth, as he doubled but then pulled up lame going into second. The diagnosis is a strained left hamstring and he'll probably miss at least a couple of games.

The Yankees get a struggling Atlanta team at home now for three games. Anything less than a sweep will not satisfy me.

And if you haven't had a chance yet, please take Larry's clutchness survey below.




The Clutchness Survey
by Larry Mahnken

I'm doing a survey of baseball fans and baseball people about clutch hitting. Clutch hitting, unfortunately, has a very fluid definition. Everyone has a different definition of it from everyone else.

To me, this causes a lot of problems, and makes it generally hard to determine if there really is a skill such as clutch hitting.

Anyway, here's the questionnarie, you can reply in the comments or email me directly at DLMahnken@hardballtimes.com.

Please note that these questions refer to offensive situations and outcomes. Detailed, specific answers are the most helpful, but any answer at all is helpful.

1) Do you believe that certain situations are "clutch"?

2) If so, what are those situations? (Be as general or specific as you desire, so long as all the situations that fit your description would be considered "clutch" by you)

3) Do you believe that certain major league baseball players have ANY specific ability outside of their normal offensive ability to be "clutch"?

4) If so, what players would you consider to be "clutch"? What players would you consider to be "unclutch"?

5) How many clutch opportunities would you need to see a player in order to form a subjective opinion about their clutchness?

6) Is a double play ever clutch? Is a double play ever not unclutch?

7) Should Sac Bunts, Productive Outs, Reached on Error, Hit by Pitch or Intentional Walks be included in any way in a measure of clutchness?

8) Is a Strikeout more unclutch than any other out that doesn't advance a runner?

9) (Optional) What would you consider a "clutch" outcome for the situations described in #2?

10) (Optional) What would you consider an "unclutch" outcome for the situations described in #2?

11) (Optional) Should outcomes that fit neither under your definition of "clutch" or "unclutch" be considered when determining whether a player performs well or poorly in clutch situations?


June 24, 2006


Phil Hughes: June 23rd
by Fabian

(Scroll down and fill out Larry's clutch survey)

So…this is what it feels like to be a fan of the team with the best pitching prospect in baseball. I have to admit, it’s calming. At the same time, it can be nerve-wracking. On this night, I experienced both emotions.

Though the Trenton announcers noted from the first inning that the home plate umpire seemed to have a tight strike zone, this didn’t seem like it would be a problem as Hughes was facing a very weak offensive team and got out of the gates quickly. During the first inning he got 2 strikeouts and a weak groundout on 19 pitches. Despite the relatively high pitch total for the inning, Hughes was dominant as he did get the short end of the stick on a few potential called strike threes; in addition, he also struggled to put away some batters.

In fact, despite the extremely impressive final line of 8-1-0-0-2-10-0 (IP-H-R-ER-BB-K-HR) I think Hughes’ stuff or at least his approach may have been more dominating last time out. While in previous starts during this recent string of dominance, over his last 4 starts Hughes is at 28-13-3-7-33-2, he had begun elevating his fastball as well as getting batters to chase on breaking balls out of the zone, tonight seemed to be all about the fastball. Simply put, the Connecticut hitters were wildly overmatched by Hughes’ fastball. This being the first pitch Hughes establishes in almost all at bats, it quickly became apparent than on this night the best strategy would be to go with good old number 1.

Typically, such a strategy may lead to shorter at bats, but on this night what happened was that Hughes would quickly get to two strikes and then the batter would almost invariably foul off a bunch of pitches, almost all to the opposite field or tapped somewhere around the general home plate area due to getting late swings, and then Hughes would finally catch them for the strikeout. As a result, after 6 innings Hughes had thrown 96 pitches and was in the midst of a no-hitter. At this point, I did not care about the no-hitter and was hoping that Hughes would get taken out of the game, but it was not to be as Bill Masse and the Thunder staff decided to send Hughes back out to the mound to continue his effort.

In the 7th inning Hughes pitched another clean inning on just 9 pitches, but it was not as simple as that. The first pitch of the inning resulted in a fly out, but it was a fly out to the RF warning track. The third and final batter of the inning hit a foul ball home run before grounding out. Since this inning followed 6 innings of weak contact and Hughes was now at 105 pitches and now moved from hoping to assuming that Hughes was out of the game, this was not the case. On his 106th pitch of the game Hughes allowed his first hit, a double grounded past the 3B. Hughes did not come out at this point however, because no one had been warming in the pen. However, during the time it would take for the pitcher, J.B. Cox, to warm up, Hughes would be out of the inning with two ground outs and another strikeout.

In the end, the now 20-year-old (Happy Birthday, Phil) had thrown a total of 112 pitches, 73% for strikes. While I was initially upset at how long Hughes was left in the game, given his position and to a lesser extent his injury history, which IS overblown, I fret daily about Hughes’ health and initially felt the Thunder staff was being reckless. In retrospect and in light of an AIM conversation with Larry, it makes sense to allow him some flexibility above the magical 100 pitch mark when going after something special and as long as the coaching doesn’t regularly extend him. (Fingers crossed) This guy is going to be our ace for years to come and a pitcher in such a position needs to have the ability to reach back on certain outings and give length, the only way to get to be able to do that is to practice on occasion. Now, just don’t trade him.

***

-During trade discussion season, Hughes is really the only Yankee prospect that should be untouchable. The A-ball guys, for all their potential, are still raw/uncertain and many/most of the AA and above guys don’t project well enough that you should shoot your present day contention in the foot to protect them.

-J.B. Cox was very effective in relief of Hughes, working a quick 1,2,3 ninth. With Dotel’s momentary setback (call me pessimistic, but it doesn’t sound good at all) it’s a wonder the Yankees haven’t promoted Cox to AAA yet in order to try and get him in the ML bullpen at some point.

-For those of you who’ve yet to see Jose Tabata. The owner of that video, formerly 38Special of NYYFans.com and PooNani of several other prospect sites, also has a bunch of other videos of Yankee prospects posted that you may want to check out since many of these guys may just be names next to stat lines for you guys.

(Scroll down and fill out Larry's clutch survey)



June 22, 2006


The Book: TangoTiger - Derek Jeter: God of all that is Clutch
by SG

Fangraphs is keeping track of the change in win expectancy for the season. How is Derek Jeter, the clutchest of all clutch players doing? Don’t look now, but he is leading the Yankees in win probability added, with +3.2 wins!

Their best overall hitter (in terms of OPS) is Giambi, and he’s at +1.7 wins. Their next best hitter is Posada at +2.2 wins. Then it’s Jeter, someone else, and then it’s Damon at +1.1 wins and Bernie at +0.4 wins. In the middle of all that is Jeter, and he should be, if he performed the same regardless of the situation, around the +1.5 win level. He’s at +3.2 wins, giving him +1.7 wins of clutch performance, in only 64 games. That’s a +4.3 wins of clutch performance over a season. That is better than David Ortiz did last year. Ladies and gentlemen, we may be witnessing the greatest clutch season of all players, and this will cement Jeter’s status as the God of all that is Clutch.


This entry is from Tangotiger, MGL, and Andy Dolphin's new sabermetric blog. You may remember MGL from the interview he gave us a few months ago.

I knew Jeter was having a very good season, but this surprised me.

Nice win last night, 5-0 over Philly. I'm pressed for time today, so here are my thoughts in bullet form.

- Pulling Jaret Wright after five? Thumbs up. His control was crappy in the fifth.

- Using Ron Villone? Thumbs up.

- Using Scott Proctor? Thumbs in the middle, although he looked ok.

- Using Kyle Farnsworth? Not a big deal, he was already warmed up as the score was 2-0.

- Using Mariano Rivera? WTF? Thumbs way down. This was asinine. I know there's an off day today, but what if Rivera is needed tomorrow? Then he is unavailable Saturday unless you want to pitch him in 4 of 5 games.

- It was nice to see Melky bust out of his slump. His double was a rocket shot line drive that was low enough that the shortstop jumped for it and it still split the OF. I'd like to see more of that Melk.


June 21, 2006


The Best Part of All Star Weekend
by Fabian

Manny Ramirez and Roger Clemens will represent the Yankees at this year's All Star Futures Game.




Staten Island Yankees: June 20th
by Fabian

(Scroll down for SG's take on last night's game)

The score of last night’s Staten Island Yankees-Brooklyn Cyclones game was 13-0 when I left after the fourth inning and 18-0 when all was said and done. As can be expected when an offense puts 18 runs and 19 hits on the board, just about everyone looked good at bat. For those four innings, everything a Cyclones pitcher threw was hit hard. There were line drive singles, doubles, and home runs and when a batter made an out it was usually a hard hit fly ball or a hard hit groundball.

That said, the guys that stood out the most for me, and I tried my best to go into this game with no bias, which wasn’t that difficult considering this is a relatively non-descript SI team at this point, were Wilmer Pino, Wilkins De La Rosa, Kyle Larsen, James Cooper, and Jose Gil.

Of that group, Pino is the guy who I’m least knowledgeable of, but I’m going to keep a closer eye on him following last night’s game. In the at bats that I saw, Pino had two line drive singles and grounded into a double play. He’s said to have good speed and he seemed to do a good job busting down the line on his double play, though it wasn’t stand up and take notice speed. In his at bats Pino appeared to be somewhat of a hacker, but this didn’t hurt him last night as he consistently made good contact with the ball and fouled it off before he got his line drives to drop in fair. Defensively, Pino only had one opportunity while I was in attendance on that opportunity he turned a solid double play. His arm didn’t seem Robinson Cano strong, for instance, but it was one play and I have no idea how hard he was attempting to throw. Clearly, the most impressive aspect of the 20-year-old’s game was his ability to put bat on ball and make good contact. He doesn’t have a large frame, with a listed height of 5’11’’ so it remains to be seen where he can go in the power department, but nonetheless he’s a guy I now want to keep an eye on.

Wilkins De La Rosa was the guy I was most excited to see going into this game as he was a part of last year’s impressive GCL OF featuring him, Tabata, and Jackson, but has been left behind this year due to poor performance during his short time in Charleston as well as a roster crunch exacerbating his situation. De La Rosa, a 21-year-old, grounded out, struck out, walked, and lined out while I was at the game and was involved in 3 plays defensively. At the plate, he demonstrated patience without discipline. To me, an example of this would be when Soriano was on the Yankees and he would get into a slump so he would attempt to “take pitches” to get out of the slump. This consisted of essentially having pitches where he told himself beforehand he wasn’t going to swing and sometimes would even begin stepping out of the box before having the umpire make the call, only to eventually hack away once more. It’s a plate discipline façade. So while De La Rosa certainly seemed more patient than Pino, for example, I don’t think his discipline is superior and in addition his swing seemed a bit loopier/longer than Pino’s swing so while he did have his share of hard hit balls during his at bats, it wasn’t with the consistency of Pino. In the OF, he was never really able to demonstrate what kind of rage he had, so I’m not going to comment on that, but he did demonstrate a good arm in the 1st as he tried to catch a runner advancing from 2nd to 3rd on a fly ball to CF. The throw didn’t catch the runner, but it was a two hopper from relatively deep CF, which is especially impressive given that my life as a Yankee fan has consisted of watching Bernie Williams and Johnny Damon “throw” the ball in.

Kyle Larsen is a guy that some people love for his power potential, but I can’t get myself too excited about a 23-year-old 1B in the NYPL. It was clear why people could like him though. Larsen was 2 for 2 with home runs to RF and RCF as well as a HBP with me in attendance. The first home run was a low line drive that got out of the park in a hurry and the second one was another line drive, but with more arch to it that you knew was gone at the crack of the bat. In addition to performing like one, Larsen looks the part of power-hitter as well with his listed measures of 6’5’’ and 235 pounds. Most days, that wins you the Biggest Baseball Player on the field award, but that was not the case yesterday with the Cyclones behemoth of a 1B, 6’5’’ 262 lb Junior Contreras. Defensively, Larsen’s memorable play involvement was one where he was charged an error on a Tony Roth throw during the 4th inning. I think the play was more Roth’s fault than Larsen’s, and Roth did apologize to the pitcher, but it definitely was a throw most big league 1B handle.

When the Yankees drafted James Cooper last year, my first thought was “organizational filler”. I still think that is the likely future for the 22-year-old, but he has some usefulness. Cooper doesn’t look the part at a stocky 5’10’’ 190, but he does have some speed. Offensively, he didn’t get out of the box quickly, but once he got going he was generating good speed. Defensively, he read the ball well on each of his chances, highlighted by a play in the 2nd inning where he robbed a Cyclones batter of what everyone thought would be a sure line drive double on The Play of the First 4 Innnings.

I’m not sure why the Yankees had such a short leash with him as a member of the Charleston Riverdogs, but Jose Gil was impressive last night. I didn’t see him make any throwing attempts so his arm is still a relatively unknown entity to me. Aside from that he seemed to call a good game as Edgar Soto was able to get through 4 innings unscathed on what the stadium gun, and it could be wrong, had as a fastball topping out at 81 (I’m assuming that MUST be wrong though Soto definitely seemed to be throwing slop). Additionally, he seemed like a leader behind the plate, which is important. What that means is that he was attempting to frame pitches to get calls from the home plate ump as well as heading towards the dugout on borderline 2-strike pitches. This might seem insignificant, but stuff like that does get calls to go your way and is a part of helping your pitcher out as a catcher, especially in situations with less senior umpires. At the plate Gil’s swing was nice and to the ball, which resulted in a line drive single up the middle and into CF as well as a hard hit fly ball to LF.

The SI Yankees seem like a team that should beat up other teams on their way to contending for the NYPL crown once again. Every night won’t be as good as last night, obviously, but they should still be successful. Despite that, they don’t seem to have much in the way of legitimate prospects; they have lots of interesting guys. That’s where you see the effect of the weak ’06 draft class, though the situation in SI could get more interesting if Joba and Kennedy sign and are assigned to that league.

(Scroll down for SG's take on last night's game)





by SG

Despite Joe Torre's best efforts at managing them out of the game as well as another appearance from the notorious Bad Moose, the Yankees edged the Phillies 9-7 last night.

Mike Mussina was good except for when he was facing Ryan Howard, who hit a three run monster shot to RF in the first inning after Mussina got rattled by a questionable ball/strike call to Pat Burrell. Moose gave up another two run blast to Howard in the fourth, continuing a brutal June where he's now given up 20 runs in 23.2 innings.

Torre pinch hit for Mussina in the sixth inning, which I thought was questionable but understandable. He went to the underused Ron Villone who pitched an effective sixth and then retired Jimmy Rollins and hit Chase Utley before striking out Bobby Abreu. The game was tied at 5-5 and Villone had retired 5 of the 6 hitters that he had faced.

Villone throws left-handed, but he has done a good job of retiring righties thanks to his cutter. However, Torre felt the need to play matchups and overmanage by bringing in Scott Proctor, who proceeded to walk Burrell on four pitches. This forced Torre to play even more matchup by then bringing in Mike Myers to pitch to Howard. Myers threw a ball then gave up a triple to the RF corner which scored two runs and gave the Phillies a 7-5 lead. Torre then had to bring T.J. Beam who retired Aaron Rowand to end the inning.

I thought Villone was throwing well and should have stayed in. Instead, Torre burned through four of his relievers in this inning and left the game in the hands of Mariano Rivera and Matt Smith and no one else since Kyle Farnsworth was supposedly not available. He also had to double-switch out Robinson Cano because of this, which cost the team one of their hottest hitters.

Thankfully, the Yankees stormed back in the eighth. Bernie Williams capped a 5-5 day with a leadoff "hit". I've bashed Bernie's playing time in this space a lot this season, so it's only fair for me to say "I'm sorry Bernie".

Bernie Williams is now hitting .294/.332/.445. The average AL hitter is hitting .272/.337/.434. Bernie's OPS+ is now 105.

At the end of April, Bernie was hitting .217/.262/.283. Since then he's hitting .325/.360/.510 in 42 games. He's not walking like he used to, but that is a very productive stretch over a quarter of the season, and makes him an offensive asset, although he's still below average for a corner OF on the season.

Unfortunately his value is still depressed fairly significantly by his defense, but I'm very happy to see his offensive turnaround and hope it continues. Honestly, if he hits .325/.360/.510 with bad defense, he's not much different than Gary Sheffield.

Miguel Cairo then walked. Melky Cabrera, who did not start, got a single that drove in one, and then Johnny Damon cleared the bases with a triple. From there, it was the Mo show, as Mariano Rivera closed the game out with two innings, retiring Ryan Howard with two on and two out to end it.

After several really tough losses, it was kind of nice to win one that the Yankees probably didn't deserve to win.


June 20, 2006


Tyler Clippard: June 19th
by Fabian

I’m not going to lie. I waited and waited for it last night, but Tyler Clippard didn’t do it. He didn’t give up a home run, and in doing so he avoided his maddening bloop and a blast problems to author a final line of 7-3-0-0-2-6-0 (IP-H-R-ER-BB-K-HR). This was easily Clippard’s best game in a while and hopefully, I’m crossing my fingers once more, he starts rolling.

Throughout the course of Clippard’s first inning of work, I was cautiously optimistic for a good game. He was doing a better job of throwing strikes than he had done his last time out, but on his third pitch to the third batter of the game, he threw a hanging curveball to the hitter. Luckily, the pitch hung so much that the batter layed off of it for a ball. As I have previously stated, when Clippard’s curveball is on, it’s his best pitch, when it’s off, and he is inconsistent with it, it leads to a lot of long fly balls. Despite that pitch, as well as a line drive single over the second baseman’s head, Clippard worked a quick and clean frame.

The second inning generated further optimism as Clippard sandwiched an easy one pitch flyout to the CF around two strikeouts, one swinging and missing and the other a called strike on a perfect pitch to the outside corner of the plate. The third inning produced even more dominating results as Clippard continued to throw his fastball with pinpoint accuracy. This led to a strikeout looking on the outside corner at the knees for the leadoff batter and then a strikeout swinging for the second batter of the inning. The third batter fared better as he was able to get bat on ball for a groundball up the middle. During the fourth inning, Clippard continued to roll, he generated a flyout to the LCF warning track on a first pitch fastball, don’t worry the ball wasn’t hit particularly hard, before striking out the next batter on four pitches with the fourth being…a swing and miss fastball. The inning’s final batter was down 0-2 following two fastball strikes and then feebly grounded out to 3B.

Results wise, the fifth inning was continued cause for celebration, as the side was set down in order, but there were two hard hit balls. The first pitch was a fastball ripped to 3B, but caught for an out. The next batter worked the count to 2-2 before hitting the ball to CF, but Brett Gardner was able to track the ball down with his 80 speed and then the last out was a much easier flyball to RF.

Now here’s where there was a little bit of trouble. Clippard started off the sixth inning easy enough, getting a grounball to SS on his curveball for an easy out. He then quickly fell behind the following batter 2-0 before the count eventually went full, but then he walked the hitter on a pitch up high. Clippard then fell behind the next batter 2-0 before getting a fastball over for a strike. He then got the batter to hit into what would have been an inning ending double play, but unfortunately Clippard got to the ball and didn’t make a play so it was slowed to the point where the Thunder defense was only able to pick up the out at 1B. Facing the next hitter in the Fisher Cats lineup, he once again fell behind 2-0. He was then able to get his curveball over for a strike before missing outside with a fastball, which led to the Thunder coaching staff calling for an intentional walk. At the time, I had a problem with this decision as I felt it might not send the best message to someone you value as a pitching prospect to basically let them know you think they can’t get someone out. In retrospect, I agree with the decision as it avoided Clippard giving up a big hit to a guy hitting .317 with an ISO over .200. The pitch following the intentional ball four was a curveball hit hard to LCF, but the LF and former CF, Justin Christian, was able to catch up to the ball for the final out of the sixth inning.

Clippard’s seventh and final inning was much better as he left on a high note by hitting the strike zone more consistently to work around a base hit to CF for an easy 13 pitch inning that featured a strikeout on a changeup.

Of the 84 pitches Tyler Clippard would throw on this night, 68% were for strikes. The difference between this night and previous nights was not in a change in pitch selection, as seemed to be the case with Hughes on Sunday, but rather pitch execution. While he still had a couple hanging curveballs, they were not hangers in the zone, so hitters did not tee off of them. In addition, his changeup was also terrific tonight. Though he did not use it too much, when he did he was able to get guys swinging and missing. In fact, Manuel Mayorson was so out in front of a third inning changeup that he apparently lost his bat towards the home plate screen. I wanted to see Clippard go out for another inning, but that probably would not have been for the best as it’s good to just have him get a solid start under his belt without trying for too much.

***

-As mentioned in yesterday’s comments, Brett Gardner was promoted to AA Trenton. In his first game with the Thunder Gardner showcased his best talent, speed. It was with his 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale that Gardner was able to drag bunt for his first AA base hit and then steal 2nd base on a pitch out before advancing to third on the pitchout’s ensuing errant throw. Gardner also worked a walk in his final plate appearance. Definitely an impressive debut for a guy who could be trade bait given the big league team’s current slide.

-Eric Duncan had a non-descript game. He hasn’t done too much in his AA time, but he’s still only 21, and he’s still had less than 40 Abs since his demotion so nothing can really be said in one direction or the other. If he gets hot enough to convince scouts that the Yankees hurt him by rushing, but the talent is still there, he could be another piece of trade bait.

-With Gardner moved to AA, Shelley Duncan was moved to AAA and did what he does best, which is hit for power, collecting a double and a home run in his debut at the level. Call me crazy, but given the fact that Melky has been slumping and has barely shown any power at the big league level, Shelley Duncan may be a hot streak away from seeing some time at the major league level. Or, perhaps the Yankees just got tired of the lack of defensive support Trenton pitchers were getting and decided to begin fixing that problem, by removing their greatest OF liability (Duncan) and inserting perhaps their best OF defender (Gardner). Hughes and especially Clippard, are thankful.

-Another guy that might be a AAA hot streak away from a big league appearance is Steven White. White pitched 6 solid innings for Columbus, but struggled with his control a bit in the middle of the game, leading to him giving up 3 runs in the 5th inning. On the night White’s line was 6-5-3-3-2-4-0 with 65 of 102 pitches for strikes. In 18 AAA innings he has a 3.50 ERA. As the Yankees most big league ready SP prospect he’s a likely trade chip.

-As far as trade deadline moves, I think any and everyone not named Hughes or Tabata should be considered trade bait. If either of those guys goes, I will be none too happy. Any package of any other set of players is acceptable in the right deal.

-Scroll down for SG's look at the Yankees recent losing ways.




How to Lose 8 of 11
by SG

On June 7, the Yankees were 35-22 and 1.5 games in front in the AL East. Since then, they've lost 8 of 11 games and dropped 3 games in the standing after last night's 4-2 loss to a Philadelphia Phillies team that had lost 8 of its last 10 games.

It's been a stretch of frustrating games and losses, but it's hard to pinpoint exactly where the problem is, so here are the team's splits over that stretch.



Melkymania is no longer running wild, as Melky Cabrera's slumped severely. Robinson Cano seems to be hitting extremely well, until you realize that he has come to bat with 30 runners on during this stretch. He has driven in 3 of them (2 of his 5 RBI are his own runs on HRs that he hit). Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon are hitting for power but not getting on base at an acceptable rate, and Derek Jeter is also basically a singles hitter right now. Alex Rodriguez was slumping through most of this stretch as well and drove in 4 of the 26 runners on base that he has seen.



The starters are averaging 5.9 innings a game, which is killing the bullpen. Wang has been the only starter who's pitched consistently well, although Moose appears to be a victim of bad luck lately.



I was surprised to see that the pen has an ERA of 3.73 over this stretch. Joe Torre continues to overuse Scott Proctor whose performance no longer warrants it, while Ron Villone waits for extra innings that never happen.

It's a bad stretch, but I'm not ready to jump off the ledge yet. Randy Johnson pitched another good game last night, and if he can pitch 7 innings and allow 3 runs most of the time the team will be in decent shape.

Despite what is being described as mild tendinitis, Octavio Dotel is close to joining the Yankees.
Dotel consulted with Dr. James Andrews, the orthopedist that performed the surgery, and Andrews told him that this was normal for any pitcher working his way back from elbow surgery.

That reinforcement was comforting for Dotel, but not comforting enough to erase any concerns from his mind.

"You have to worry about it; you're coming off Tommy John surgery, and it's not an easy surgery," Dotel said. "The day after I pitched, when I woke up and had that feeling, that night I didn't sleep. I kept thinking, 'Now what?'"

Apparently, the Yankees' Minor League medical staff wasn't concerned enough by the tendinitis to send him for any additional tests. He will receive treatment from the Yankees' training staff for the next three days before heading to Trenton on Thursday.


I'm not expecting Dotel to be a savior. I'm just hoping he can be better than Proctor and ease the workload on Kyle Farnsworth.

Interleague play still sucks, too.


June 19, 2006


Balls in Play
by SG

The Yankees lost a couple of brutal games this weekend, both which should have been wins. I didn't get to see Saturday's game thankfully, but did have the misfortune of watching yesterday's. Chien-Ming Wang made his third straight strong start, despite still not missing any bats. With a depleted 12 man pen (I'm not going to include Ron Villone in the count since Joe Torre doesn't), Wang gave his team everything they needed to win. Unfortunately, his offense did not pick him up. He deserved better than he got.

A lot has been made of Wang's inability to strike hitters out. I'm not convinced that this is a huge problem if he can continue to control opponents' extra base hits and continues to show good control. How big of a problem is it to allow the opponents to hit the ball?

The following ten pitchers are allowing the highest percentage of the batters they face to put the ball in play (min of 50 IP).

Wang - 84%
Silva - 83%
Johnson - 82%
Loe - 81%
Buehrle - 81%
Halladay - 80%
Wright - 80%
Janssen - 79%
Westbrook - 79%
Moyer - 79%

A pretty mixed list, with some prettyy good pitchers and some really bad ones. However, as a group, they have collectively provided:

821 innings
4.47 ERA
111 ERA+
144 HR+
159 BB+
66 K+
9.5 Runs above average

As a group, they have controlled HRs and BB, which has allowed them to succeed to this point.

Out of these ten pitchers, Wang has been more valuable than all but Roy Halladay (12 runs above average). He has a better HR rate than any of them. Opponents are hitting .284 against Wang on balls in play this season, which is low, but not as low as Buehrle, Halladay, Janssen, or Westbrook. He's induced more double play grounders than any of them, and has the lowest slugging average allowed amongst this group (.315).

The point is that if you continue to focus on Wang's low K rate, you are ignoring the other evidence that he can succeed doing what he's done to this point. He will probably have more bad games than a pitcher who is less reliant on his defense, but the good thing is when he's in a groove he retire batters efficiently and go deep into games. With the way Torre manages a bullpen, this can only be a good thing.

I hate interleague play by the way. Hate it. Pitchers hitting is an embarrassment and ruins the flow of a game. The sooner this farce ends the better.

And the _____ Watch claims its latest victim, as Aaron Small has been DFA'd. I feel a little conflicted about that, because I personally liked Small very much and cannot ignore the fact that without his outstanding performance last year the Yankees would not have made the playoffs. I'm glad he got a payday for that effort, however, indicators were that it was a fluke, and his performance this season seems to agree. If he clears waivers, he'll go back to Columbus and try to figure things out. I wish him well regardless of what happens from here on out.

I'm actually pretty happy with the roster right now, although I still think Kevin Thompson deserves a spot on the team. I'd also like to see them get down to 12 pitchers, although I'm curious to see Jose Veras in action.


June 18, 2006


Phil Hughes: June 18th
by Fabian

Amidst a frustrating day at the major league level (for the record, given the situation I would have done what Joe did, though were I manager I wouldn’t have managed the way he did Saturday, or the rest of the season for that matter, to place himself in said situation), Phil Hughes was able to continue his dominating run. For the record, this run began when I went out to Trenton to watch him pitch, so I’m going to take all the credit for it. The final line for the 19-year-old right-hander on this day was 7-6-2-2-2-11-2 (IP-H-R-ER-BB-K-HR); so let’s see how he got there.

Despite the fact that he gave up a walk as well as a long solo home run in the first inning, from the start of the game it seemed as though Hughes had his good stuff. The home run, which was hit by the 2nd batter of the game, was followed by a strikeout on a down and in fastball. This was nice to see since Hughes had started the batter off 2-0 and, generally, seems to have some trouble regaining his focus immediately after something goes wrong. The next batter was walked on four pitches, but once again Hughes immediately came back from adversity, as he would strike out the final batter of the inning on 4 pitches with the knockout pitch being a curveball.

By the second inning, if you had any doubts that Hughes would be rolling, they vanished. The first batter of the inning was easily struck out on the 4th pitch of his plate appearance, a high fastball, the second batter was gone after 5 pitches, falling victim to the slider, and the third batter was caught looking on fastball on the outside corner of the plate. Hughes threw 13 pitches in this inning, 9 for strikes, and not once did bat meet ball. He was overwhelming.

The third inning continued the dominance as Hughes sandwiched a swing and miss strikeout on a high fastball as well as a groundout and fly out to the CF warning track around a base hit into RF. Fourth inning, more of the same; an easy fly out to RF, a strikeout swinging, and a pop up to 1B.

The fifth inning was a bit trickier. Hughes was behind in the count 2-1 to the leadoff batter and then gave up a double that was turned into a triple by Bronson Sardinha’s poor job of fielding the ball cleanly (Trenton Thunder OF defense, gotta love it). Hughes then comically overpowered the next batter and he swung and misses on three consecutive pitches. After this strikeout, Hughes’ very next pitch was lifted to RF for what appeared to be a sacrifice fly RBI, but Bronson Sardinha unleashed a good throw home and caught the runner advancing for an inning ending double play, atoning for his earlier misadventure and then some.

The sixth inning opened with the leadoff batter swinging at the first pitch and popping it to shallow CF for an out, except…drum roll please…defensive miscommunication by the 2B and CF led to the ball dropping for a base hit. The next batter sacrificed the runner over to 2nd after two pitches and then the batter after that lined the 3rd pitch of his plate appearance into LF for a base hit. At this point it appeared Hughes was in trouble. However, he called upon his Real Ultimate Power get back-to-back 4-pitch strikeouts. One was swinging and missing on a slider, the other swinging and missing on a fastball.

Hughes’ 7th and final inning was another that started off rough. The first batter of the inning worked Hughes to a full count and then deposited a solo home run over the LF wall. The second batter of the inning worked Hughes to a full count before drawing a walk on a high fastball. Hughes was then able to get his bearings following a sacrifice bunt as he struck out the next batter on three pitches thanks to a high fastball and got the final hitter to ground to SS on one pitch, a curveball, although J.T. Stotts nearly mishandled the ball.

On the day, Hughes threw 102 pitches, 65% for strikes. What was different about this game compared to the other Hughes AA outings I have tracked was that there seemed to be a better job of mixing up pitches. In previous starts it seemed as though Hughes was overly reliant on his fastball in general, throwing it around 70% of the time. Hughes was able to be effective because he located it well down and away and down and in, but even that was a questionable strategy as it allowed batters to get the ball in play because for the most part they could make a guess of the location and type of the incoming pitch. On this day, Hughes kept his number of change-ups and curveballs thrown consistent, but substituted sliders as well as elevated fastballs for some of those low in the strike zone fastballs he is so fond of. This led to an increased amount of strikeouts as batters weren’t able to get as comfortable in knowing what was coming and could not catch up to his high fastball or keep themselves from swinging and missing on his slider in to LH and away from RH.

***

Following Hughes in today’s game was J.B. Cox who was very impressive in his 1 inning of work. He was able to get ahead in the count with his fastball, which set up his slider. The result was one easy shutout inning and a few nice swing and misses on the slider.


June 16, 2006


Tyler Clippard: June 14th
by Fabian

Tyler Clippard pitched on June 14th and once again, the results were awful, but the input leading to that outcome wasn’t as troublesome. Right now, it just seems as if Clippard is having the worst of luck as overall he’s making some good pitches, but whenever he makes a mistake it’s being compounded by his defense as well as playing conditions.

He had the first batter of the game down 0-2 after getting a called strike and then a swing and a miss on a fastball Clippard went back to the fastball. The problem was that this fastball was belt high and hit deep to RF and one-hopped off the wall for a double, which is what should have happened given the pitch. The next batter was put away on a weak fly to shallow left center field off of Clippard’s curveball after being set up by several fastballs. Clippard set up the third batter well with two fastballs for strikes, but he managed to get some wood on a good down and away changeup for an RBI single. At this point, it looked like this start was just going to be a repeat of the last one, but T-Clip buckled down and got a groundball double play after 3 more pitches.

It seemed like recovering in the 1st inning like that gave Clippard some momentum as he was off and rolling utilizing his full fastball, curveball, change-up repertoire to retire the side in order during the 2nd. In the 3rd and 4th inning it was more of the same as Clippard retired the batters in order with one artificial scare. That scare was a deep fly ball for an out to RF during the 3rd, but the ball carried that far due to the wind more so than any good work by the batter or mistake on Clippard’s part. Then came the 5th inning.

In the 5th inning, everything more or less fell apart. Clippard got the first batter down in the count at 0-2 before the batter fouled off some pitches and battled back to 1-2 at which point he hit a line drive over the head of the SS for what would have been a single. The batter then began running for second. With just about any other OF this meant that he was going to be thrown out at 2B. Unfortunately, Shelley Duncan, no offense to him because he’s trying, was out in LF and proceeded to throw the ball offline allowing the hitter to slide into 2nd safely with a double. The following pitch was a good one, a fastball down and away, but the hitter was able to ground it through the left side of the infield for a base hit. The next batter took a fastball down and away, out of the strike zone, before hitting a fastball high off the OF wall for an RBI double. The next batter was down 0-1 after a nice curveball for a strike and then hit a groundball to SS for an easy out…except, J.T. Stotts was at SS and managed to pull Eric Duncan off of the bag with his throw. Clippard blew pumped a series of fastballs by the next hitter for a strikeout. The inning would conclude with Clippard working around a walk for the final 2 outs.

The 6th inning would be a short one for Clippard, as he allowed a standup double off the wall as well as a HR to LF. Both were on mistake pitches, both were definitely helped by the wind as well as Clippard’s pitch execution, and that would close the book on him on this day.

In summation, Clippard threw 81 pitches, 69% of which were strikes. His fastball seemed to better than his last time out, as hitters were consistently late on it. He also did a better job of staying away from rolling curveballs and did a good job with the changeup. Where he messed up was on a couple of fastballs where he missed his spot as well as playing in front of the Trenton defense, hopefully he can correct the one issue out of those that he can control. It seems like as of right now, his changeup is his most consistent pitch; his curveball is his most potentially devastating pitch and his fastball his third pitch though he sets everything up off of the fastball.

I still like him as a prospect; he’s just going through some tough times right now. Hopefully he can right the ship and do so soon so that his end of the year numbers won’t be dragged down too much.




Star Ledger: Yankees Notebook 6/15
by SG

Despite rumors circulating yesterday the Yankees were in hot pursuit of Kansas City outfielder Reggie Sanders, a team official claimed there have not been detailed talks between the teams since the Royals changed GMs two weeks ago. The Yankees last month rejected an offer of Sanders for top pitching prospect Phil Hughes.


I'd never answer a call from the Royals again.


June 15, 2006


Maybe he's not Useless?
by SG

Randy Johnson's schizophrenic season may have had its high point last night, in a 6-1 victory over Cleveland. Johnson had what I felt was his best start of the season, pitching six very strong innings. With an average arm in RF he would not have given up a single run, but he did end up giving up one run over 6.1 innings, allowing 4 hits, walking none, and striking out six. His fastball was consistently in the 94-95 mph range, with a high of 97, and his slider was not as flat as it has been so often this season.

Johnson was ejected from the game after coming up and in on Eduardo Perez with his 77th pitch of the night, ostensibly in retaliation for a plunking of Jorge Posada earlier in the game. I'm pretty sure RJ remembered Perez hitting a few HR off him last year, which may have played into who he chose to throw at.

It was a rare glimpse of the old nasty RJ, the one who instilled fear into hitters. I will not trust that he has turned the corner, probably never again given how many bad performances he's had this season, but at least there's now hope that he can be a positive contributor most of the time.

I thought Jorge overreacted a bit to what didn't seem like an intentional plunking, but it seemed to get in Jason Johnson's head. After retiring Robinson Cano on a double play grounder after the beaning, the wheels came off, as he gave up a deep opposite field RBI ground-rule double to the lefty version of Bernie Williams, followed by the capper, a booming HR by Andy Phillips. Phillips got off his slide with the HR and made two sparkling defensive plays, including the game-ender where he did a Jeter-style face plant on a foul pop out.

It was one of those rare games where everything seemed to go right. Every starter got a hit, every pitcher did well, and none of the key relievers were needed. It was interesting to see the Yankees pull Posada before his next AB to protect him, I thought at the time. I'd never seen that before. However, it turned out he has a sore elbow from the beaning and is now listed as day-to-day. More Kelly Stinnett is the opposite of a good thing.

With Boston falling to Minnesota again (go Twinkies!), the Yankees are back in sole possession of first place. Octavio Dotel made his second rehab appearance for Columbus last night, and it went much better than his first outing, as he pitched a perfect inning, fanning two. Swap Dotel with Small and you've got bullpen that I can get behind. More likely they'll send Matt Smith back down for now since Small gives them an emergency starter and more of a long-reliever. I would think that with Ron Villone and Scott Proctor around that that role is already capably filled, but I guess if Torre doesn't really want to use Smith that much it's better that he gets regular work in Columbus.

Moose goes tonight against Cliff Lee, trying to recover from one of his poorer starts of the season. It's a testament to how good he's been that 3 ER in 7 innings constitutes one of his worst starts. However, there's been some signs of slippage his last two outings, as he's allowed nine runs over 13 innings. Hopefully it was just a little bit of dead arm and he gets back on track tonight.


June 14, 2006


Chien-Ming Wang: June 13th
by SG

When the two highest scoring teams in the AL got together last night, the last thing I expected was a 1-0 pitching duel. However, Chien-Ming Wang followed up a good outing against Boston last time out with an even better outing, hurling 7.1 shutout innings. Wang faced 27 batters and got 14 of them to ground out, walking just one and striking out three.

I didn't get to watch last night's Yankee game since it was not on MLB's Extra Innings package, so I can't give any of my visual observations of the game. However, based on what I heard on the radio and what other people mentioned, as well as the fact that he shut down a team that came into the game with a league-leading OPS+ of 120, it's pretty safe for me to conclude that he pitched damn well. He even hit 96 a few times according to the radio broadcast.

Wang is tenth in the league in innings pitched now, which is a boon to a beleaguered and overused Yankee bullpen. He continues to succeed despite a very low K rate. His K+ (park-adjusted strikeouts per batters faced compared to league average) is 55, which is lower than all but four pitchers who have thrown 50 innings this season.

The good news is his HR+ rate of 280, which is third amongst that same group of pitchers. He's also displayed better than average control to this point with his BB+ of 128.

Wang's been the third most valuable pitcher to the Yankees this season in terms of runs prevented above average, trailing just Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera with his 10.4 runs saved above average.

Speaking of Rivera, it appears that any concerns about him have been mitigated, huh? He pitched around an Andy Phillips error in the ninth, striking out two while cutting through the 3-6 hitters on the Indians. He supposedly hit 96 on his last pitch as well.

Robinson Cano also seems to have remembered how to hit for power lately, which I have been a little concerned about. After his slugging bottomed out to .383 on May 31, Cano has been on fire in June.

On May 31, Cano was hitting .293/.318/.383, "good" for an OPS of .701.

Since then, he's hitting .444/.457/.667 for an OPS of 1.123, which has raised his season line to .322/.344/.438. The hot streak has boosted him up to 4.8 runs above the average 2B, which is the third best total in the AL (behind Mark DeRosa and Ian Kinsler of the Rangers).

In other good news, Phil Hughes dominated in his start last night, and Fabian has a nice thorough writeup about it below.

Today, the Yankees send out Kevin Brown The Big Useless to try and stop sucking. His old friend Eduardo Perez has to be licking his chops at the four HRs he's going to hit.


June 13, 2006


Phil Hughes: June 13th
by Fabian

Phil Hughes had the best start of his AA career tonight, as well as possibly the best start of his year all things considered. Hughes faced off against a middle of the road Eastern League offense, in the form of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and easily worked his way through 7 shutout innings. Over the course of those innings, Hughes permitted just 1 hit and 3 walks while striking out 8.

From the early portion of the game, it was clear Hughes’ stuff was very much there tonight. As usual, he worked heavily off of his fastball, spotting it to both the inside and outside corners. During the first inning, he threw about two thirds fastballs, as he was not getting his secondary pitches called for strikes. This did not present much of a problem though as the New Hampshire hitters were not able to catch up to the fastball at all. Once the second inning rolled around, Hughes had a better feel for his secondary pitches, getting the opposition to swing and miss as well as getting calls from the umpires. As soon as that occurred, the game was just about over for the Fisher Cats.

Hitting Phil Hughes’ fastball is one thing, as it isn’t the most overpowering one in the world, though it IS very good. Hitting his fastball while worrying about his secondary pitches is another matter. I don’t want to rush to judgment and say this is all due to the official minor league umpires being back, but being that this was Hughes’ first start of the year with the real umpires as well as his first AA start where he seemed to be getting his curveball, slider, and changeup over for consistent strikes…it might be. If that’s the case, Hughes is going to roll.

All 3 walks Hughes gave up were on 3-2 counts and in all 3 at bats there was at least one 2-strike pitch where the call could have gone either way. Hughes has always exuded confidence and pride in his control during interviews and this came through in today’s game. During the 5th inning, a batter worked the count to 3 and 2 on Hughes for the third time in the game. The previous 2 times, he had walked the batter and attempting not to do so in this at bat, Hughes laid one in there that was hit hard, but caught for an out. The next time Hughes got to a 3-2 count he tried to throw a pitch that would be a little less hittable, but walked the batter instead. It was interesting to track this development in pitching strategy.

Overall, Hughes threw 103 pitches and 71 for strikes (68.9%). In a departure from previous starts of his at the AA level that I have tracked, Hughes threw a rough estimate of about 60% fastballs as compared to his usual 70-75%. The rest of his pitches were an even distribution of sliders, curveballs, and change-ups. The change-up was particularly effective tonight as the New Hampshire hitters were well ahead of the pitch having just attempted to catch up to Hughes’ fastball, which sat at about 92-93 tonight. Not to be outdone, the curveball and slider were very good pitches for Hughes tonight as well. This was just an all around excellent start, the second in a row for the 19-year-old right-hander.

***

J.B. Cox came on in relief of Hughes and was not nearly as dominant, but still got the job done. Cox worked primarily off of his slider, but struggled with his control after initially throwing strikes when getting into the game. This is a tough position for Cox to be in as the slider is his best pitch and being behind in the count forces him to use his fastball more than he would like, which on this night led to a walk as well as 3 balls being lined hard, though Cox did not allow a run.

***

On the offensive side of things, Eric Duncan had another impressive game. During his first at bat he worked the count to 2 and 1 before hitting a ball hard to LF. His 2nd plate appearance was a 4-pitch walk where none of the pitches were particularly close. During at bat 2, Duncan took a pitch low for a ball before ripping the next pitch down the 1B line, but unfortunately it was foul. The third pitch was low, the fourth high, and the fifth was hit hard, but at the CF for an out. Duncan’s 4th plate appearance was the only unimpressive one of the night as he took a ball low, swung and missed on a changeup, and then popped up to shallow CF.



June 12, 2006


American League Defensive Stats Through June 11
by SG

I don't have much to say about the Yankees right now, mired in a four game losing streak. With the amount of injuries they've suffered to this point, a streak like this was inevitable, but hopefully they can get Jason Giambi back tomorrow and continue dumping the problem people from the roster. With the demise of Scott Erickson, it is time to set up a new watch. I'm leaning towards Aaron Small, since I don't have the heart to disrepect Bernie Williams after all he's done for the Yankees over the year. I must say that I was very happily surprised to see them go with the unproven Matt Smith over the veteran-ness of Erickson. A rare case of talent prevailing over experience in Yankee-land, and hopefully a good sign going forward.

I pretty much write about only the Yankees here, which I suppose makes some sense since this is a Yankee blog and all, but I thought it may be interesting to some to look at how some other players in the AL have been playing defensively this season using the Zone Rating system that I have been using to evaluate defense, which is a combination of the systems devised by Chris Dial and Sean Smith over at Baseball Think Factory. Below are the defensive stats for all players who have played at least 200 innings at a position so far this season for the only league that matters.

In the charts below, YTD INN and Runs are actual innings played and runs above/below average. R/150 is the amount of runs the player would save over 150 games, and Pace INN and Runs are what the player is on pace for based on their playing time to this point.



Not much of a surprise that Jason Giambi is the worst defensive 1B in the AL on a rate basis, although ZR does not measure all the various aspects of playing 1B, primarily scooping ability.



Robinson Cano has fallen off a bit from his earlier pace, when he was around +12, but he's still slightly above average.



Mike Lowell is going to make the Red Sox front office luck into looking like geniuses, isn't he? Alex Rodriguez has had a rough few weeks defensively, he was on a +10 pace last month.



Catcher's defense is not based on ZR, but on a bunch of factors like SB, CS, PB, etc., Jorge Posada's defense was also better earlier in the season. It could be regression or a manifestation of his hamstring injury.



Johnny Damon's been very solid defensively so far, much better than he was last year (around -15).



I miss Hideki Matsui's bat. I don't much miss his defense.



Bernie Williams missed the 200 inning cut off in RF, but he was -4.4 runs in 188.1 innings, which is a -31 R/150 rate.



Take heart Derek Jeter fans. There are three AL SS who are worse defensively.

These defensive stats have some limitations due to the minimal amount of publically available statistics as well as the sample size of 200-500 defensive innings. Also, some people feel that a ZR based stat does not give enough credit to players with very good range, who will often make plays outside of what is typically defined as that defensive position's zone. However, I think it can be a useful thing to look at.


June 9, 2006


Tyler Clippard: June 9th
by Fabian

Well…I put the Yankees on the backburner in order to watch Tyler Clippard perform tonight and I walk away…unimpressed. My opinion of Clippard hasn’t changed much, 1 start isn’t enough for that to happen, but I was able to get a sense of some of the positives and negatives of his game.

The first thing you notice about Clippard is that unlike Hughes who has the supposed ideal pitcher’s build. Clippard is all limbs. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to affect his delivery to the point where his mechanics are out of whack, though his mechanics don’t seem as clean as Hughes (I’m not a scout, take this as well as all my scouty observations with a huge grain of salt). Clippard’s feet are also huge and it looks kind of like he’s wearing clown shoes when he’s on the mound, for whatever that’s worth.

Now, onto what actually took place. If you look at the box score, it’s likely that you’ll come to the conclusion that Clippard was knocked around and abused tonight, which wasn’t the case. In the first inning Clippard was simply a victim of bad luck. He had the first batter of the game on a 2-2 count, but was not able to put him away as he ended up walking him, he then had the second batter of the game behind on the count at 0-1 when his luck went south. Clippard’s 0-1 pitch, a 90MPH fastball up and away was “doubled” to LF. I say “doubled” because it was a play your average LF makes, but unfortunately Shelley Duncan is a very inexperienced LF and despite this was playing way too far in. Adding the fact that he’s not exactly the fastest guy in the world makes this even more absurd. Duncan then compounded things by missing not one, but two cutoff men, that allowed the run to score. Clippard then hit the next batter after having him behind in the count at 1-2; the 1-1 pitch was a particularly beautiful 75MPH curveball for a strike looking down in the zone. Clippard then had the next batter at 0-2 following a well-placed 89MPH fastball for a strike down and away as well as a 79MPH changeup for a swing and miss away. Seeing how poorly the batter reacted to the changeup, Clippard decided to go back to the well and this time the 81MPH changeup was barely connected with and rolled up the 3B line foul…except, it didn’t go foul and everybody was safe. This wasn’t the defense’s fault really, it was just one of those freak occurrences as EVERYONE thought it was headed foul, but it just didn’t go. At this point Clippard showed his frustration with his hands on the hips, probably wondering who he must have pissed off to have this kind of luck thus far. The next batter was at 1-1 before Clippard hung a curveball in the middle of the plate for a single to CF. The ball wasn’t particularly hard hit, but it was terrible execution of the pitch as it screamed, “hit me!” on it’s way to the middle of the plate and belt high. Clippard got the next batter to ground to 3B on a 90MPH 1-1 fastball for the first out of the game. This seemed like it might have settled Tyler down as went after the next batter getting him to swing and miss on an up and away 90MPH fastball followed by swinging and missing on an 80MPH changeup down and away. I was beginning to think Clippard was in the clear for the rest of the game and then he unleashed an 81 MPH belt high changeup down the middle of the plate, which turned into a HR, as it should. The very next pitch resulted in a groundball to 1B for the second out of the inning and then Clippard got the following batter to ground out to SS to end the inning. I thought the horror was over; it was not.

As Clippard came out for his second inning of work rain started to come down and I don’t want to seem like a Clippard apologist, but it clearly affected him. The first pitch of the inning was a fastball that was hit into LF, in my opinion, that ball as well as the HR were the only times Clippard allowed batters to make good contact, which was one of the lone positive things to come out of this outing. After allowing the hit, everything went to pieces, as Clippard would walk the next two batters, consistently missing high in the zone. In the process of this it appeared to me that Clippard was not getting proper push off his front foot and as a result not finishing his delivery as he should, allowing his pitches to sail. You can call me a Clippard apologist if you would like, but the rain clearly led to his early exit in my opinion since the first inning was more a product of bad luck and defense and not Clippard himself.

Overall, Clippard threw 40 pitches and 58% for strikes. In the first inning he threw 30 pitches and 70% for strikes so the 2nd, rainy, inning skews the look of his control numbers. 75% of Clippard’s pitches were fastballs, which primarily came in at 89-90 MPH. None were above that velocity and a couple were below. Clippard threw 15% changeups, at about 80MPH, and 10% curveballs at about 75MPH. The fastball wasn’t particularly hard and wasn’t his best velocity, as I have confirmed reports from people I trust that he has touched 94 on several occasions this year, but batters did not get around on it or attack it in a way that would scream “mediocre fastball”. The changeup and curve were both very effective, when Clippard located them where he meant. In this sense, Clippard pitched to his scouting report, as his control was impressive, 2nd inning aside, doing a good job of painting the corners, but his command, throwing quality strikes, has room for improvement. This was just a very tough outing for Clippard, but not enough to drive your opinion of Clippard in one direction or another.

***

While I did not mention it in yesterday’s report as I was suffering from Phil Hughes overload, Eric Duncan was making his first start back at AA and the only noticeable thing about his game was that he perhaps needs to become a more commanding 1B. What I mean by this is that when taking throws from his infielders, as he would take his foot off the bag he would look towards the umpire for the call rather than quickly proceeding to throw the ball around the infield in order to sell the call. It could have just been a sample size issue though.

In today’s game Eric had a mixed bag first at bat as he showed a good eye on pitches away from the plate, but showed what is perhaps his weakness as he swung and miss on some curveballs middle of the plate and down leading to a strikeout. For his second at bat, Duncan was started off with a pitch chest high and down the middle of the plate, which he promptly deposited over the RF wall for his first home run of the ’06 minor league season, which was nice to season. Duncan’s third at bat saw the opposition attempt to perhaps further expose a potential breaking ball weakness, but the first pitch curveball missed up and in. The pitcher, who was attempting to get through 5 innings to qualify for a win then came back with a fastball down and just off the middle of the plate…that Eric deposited over the RF wall, further than the first blast. In his 4th plate appearance, Eric would take a changeup down and in for a ball and then he was given another changeup, this one further down and close to the dirt, which he bit on and swung and miss. The third pitch of the at bat was grounded out to 2B for a force. It was more of the same for Duncan in his 5th at bat as he grounded into a force out at 2B on the second pitch.

For those who haven’t seen him, Duncan has a somewhat weird timing mechanism that is only REALLY noticeable when sitting behind home plate. As he waits for the pitcher, his back (left) elbow twitches against his side as he taps his foot and then as he’s about to swing he stops the twitching and attacks the ball from his semi-crouched stance. Though he’s definitely got some pop, Eric isn’t an especially impressive physical specimen in the sense that he isn’t huge. I’ve seen him listed as 6’3’’ in some places, but 6’1’’ is more realistic, he has an athletic build to go along with decent speed and is a physically strong individual.




Phil Hughes: June 8th
by Fabian

As I was on my way out of work yesterday, I thought to myself, “Man, I can’t wait to get home and watch the Yankees game and track Phil Hughes’ Thunder game online”. I then thought about it some more “…wait…Jaret Wright is pitching tonight…do I really need to see this? Shouldn’t I take the opportunity to go see Phil Hughes in person?”. And with that, I was headed to Trenton, NJ.

I wanted to have radar gun readings and pitch by pitch details, but that didn’t happen for multiple reasons, such as the rainy weather that delayed the game and hour and 10 minutes, causing me to have to leave after 5 innings. After I left, Hughes would only go on to pitch 1 more inning, within which he allowed a ground ball single, but also got three ground outs. This was somewhat exemplary of Hughes’ night as from the start of the game he pounded the strike zone.

Though I don’t know the radar gun readings, Hughes’ velocity seemed pretty good based on the way he was popping the catcher’s mitt with his fastball. The sound and speed of the pitch was noticeably different than that of opposing starting pitcher, James’ Johnson. For those of you who haven’t seen Hughes pitch, this velocity is also very much effortless. Even in his short-tossing Hughes would kind of just let the ball go with a curl of his wrist and it would hit the catcher’s glove, making a considerable amount of noise in the process. The fastball was by far Hughes’ bread and butter pitch as he did a terrific job locating it down and away to hitters. When he tried to come inside his fastball command was not as precise and he also stayed away from elevating his fastball, which might have led to more strikeouts, but at the same time would have likely led to less easy groundball outs, which seemed to be the plan of action on this night.

For the most part, the Bowie hitters were overmatched by Hughes’ fastball as, subjective memory and all, I can remember very few, if any, occasions where the ball was ripped to the point where you thought “wow, he got that one”. Even the extra base hits Hughes gave up, the triple in the first and the double in the second; weren’t especially hard hit balls. The triple was a low liner past a diving Eric Duncan at 1B that Bronson Sardinha was just painfully slow on recovering from the RF corner while the double was a ball hit to LF that a superior defender than Shelley Duncan may have been able to keep a single.

The vast majority of Hughes’ pitches thrown were fastballs so I didn’t have much of an opportunity to view his curveball, slider, or change. However, as far as my perceived effectiveness of his secondary pitches within this brief viewing, I would say his curveball ranks behind the other two. Hughes was able to get hitters way out in front with the changeup, which made for a couple impressive swing and misses. The slider was used in on the hands of RHB and they would foul it off or take it for a strike as it broke back across the plate. The curveball seemed like somewhat of a show-me pitch at this point as, has been noted by others who have viewed Hughes’ starts, it seemed to be thrown with the intent of throwing it for strike. There were a few times he missed down in the zone with it and I couldn’t help, but think that perhaps if he threw it more when he was ahead in the count and out of the strike zone, he could generate some more swing and misses. Another thing about Hughes when it comes to the strike zone is that overall he is a pitcher who stays around the plate, so when he misses it tends to be on borderline pitches. As a result, I can see him as the type of guy whose numbers increase once umpires become more familiar with him as they will respect his command of the zone and give him those borderline calls.

Overall, I came away impressed by Hughes’ outing. He kept the ball down, threw hard, showed 3 quality pitches, and threw strikes all at the tender age of 19 and under less than ideal game conditions.


June 8, 2006


Sheffield to have surgery; out until at least September
by SG

A week after going on the DL, Gary Sheffield learned he'll be out longer than 15 days.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman said Thursday that Sheffield will have surgery on his injured wrist and is expected to be out until at least September. Cashman said the injury is not career- or season-ending.

Tests last week showed a torn ligament in the wrist, as well as a tendon that continues to dislocate. Sheffield was on the 15-day disabled list from May 6-23 with the same injury.

He was replaced on the active roster by outfielder Kevin Thompson.


Well ain't this a kick in the ---? This is disappointing, but expected. If the Yankees do what they should and use this to upgrade their defense by playing Kevin Thompson or even Bubba Crosby more often, this may not be a bad thing. If they use it to get Bernie Williams 500+ AB, it could be the worst thing ever.

Here's tonight's lineup.

1. Johnny Damon, CF
2. Melky Cabrera, LF
3. Jason Giambi, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Jorge Posada, DH
6. Robinson Cano, 2B
7. Bernie Williams, RF
8. Miguel Cairo, SS
9. Kelly Stinnett, C

Hooray for House Money!


June 7, 2006


2006 Draft Thoughts
by Fabian

Evaluating a draft one year after it has taken place is folly, as most would say you need about 5 years to decide where the chips have fallen, so evaluating it hours after it’s conclusion and prior to any confirmed signings is probably…not the smartest idea. However, I can’t contain my excitement about what the Yankees did, so I’m going to throw caution to the wind.

I went into the 2006 Rule IV Draft with a bleak outlook. Every knowledgeable draft source you could find had no qualms about letting everyone know that the 2006 Draft was likely shaping up as the worst draft since 2000; a draft where Adrian Gonzalez, who might make it as a backup 1B some day, was the number 1 overall pick. Keeping this mind, I set my sights on the Yankees grabbing Chris Marrero in the 1st Round and Dellin Betances in the Supplemental 1st Round on draft day with anything else being gravy. Well, a funny thing happened over the course of the past 36 hours. While Marrero did not fall to the Yankees, they did manage to grab Betances…in Round 8, and in the process have one of their best drafts, all things considered, in quite some time.

While I was initially perplexed with the pick of USC RHP Ian Kennedy as 21st overall, it wasn’t because of any strong feelings for or about Kennedy. Rather, at the time, I really wanted the Yankees to draft Daniel Bard (who ended up going to the Red Sox). In retrospect, Kennedy over Bard makes sense when looking at the overall draft picture for the Yankees. Despite injury concerns centered on a drop in velocity from 88-92 to 86-89 during his senior season, Ian Kennedy is a very safe pitcher. He pitched decently with his decreased velocity and aside from that the injury concern does not seem to be too serious, so hopefully the velocity comes back. Additionally, Kennedy has been on the national spotlight for quite some time, he was drafted in the 14th round out of high school by the Cardinals, and performed exceptionally well throughout his freshman and sophomore seasons of college. This is in stark contrast to the Yankees’ second pick, Joba Chamberlain.

Chamberlain worked through injury concerns in a disappointing junior year, which played a critical role in the Yankees being able to grab a once highly touted player at 41st overall. Unlike Kennedy, the track record that Joba is working on primarily consists of what he did as a sophomore. The key with him is the stuff. Joba primarily utilizes a low 90s fastball that has touched 97 and a slider. Overall, most sources say his pitching arsenal grades out only slightly worse than the top pitchers in this year’s draft. As is likely apparent, despite very good stuff, Joba is no sure thing due to his short track record and injury concerns, as well as concerns about his weight. If things work out, he might be a terrific number 2, but that’s no sure thing. That is why it was so key for the Yankees to pick up Kennedy, who might only become a middle of the rotation guy, but is a very safe choice to get there.

Another factor to consider with these first two picks is that some people are complaining that Kennedy wasn’t an exciting enough choice at 21. However, if these same people were told that the Yankees took Joba at 21 and Kennedy at 41, they would most likely change their tune. This is just to illustrate that the opinion of other teams plays a huge role in deciding when to draft a guy. It is likely that the Yankees realized that teams had Kennedy higher on their draft boards than Joba, meaning that even if the Yankees preferred Joba, they needed to get Kennedy before he was gone.

62 players were chosen between Joba and the Yankees’ next pick. Personally, I was incredibly worried that Dellin Betances would be gone by the next time the Yankees picked. Fortunately, he was not. However, the Yankees passed on Betances for another HS RHP. That pitcher was Zach McCallister. McCallister was not on my draft radar at all, after doing a quick search it turned out that he was/is a good draft prospect. In a nutshell, McCallister is a big right-hander with solid stuff, highlighted by a low 90s fastball that he still has more time to grow into, with a polished approach. Something like a poor man’s Phil Hughes, though I am not saying he is anywhere near that type of prospect at this point.

Despite the fact that I had already been worrying about Betances’ availability for some time at that point of the draft, his name would not be called until the Yankees came on the line for their 8th round draft pick and for the second year in a row (Austin Jackson last year) selected a borderline 1st round talent with that pick. Betances is incredibly raw, being a player from NY as well as having a somewhat awkward frame will do that for you, but has ace potential if he can figure it all out. Between Betances and McCallister, the Yankees were able to pick up a fringy looking OF, an overachieving, but refined college INF, and two hard throwing relievers.

Following Betances, the Yankees picked up Mark Melancon, a big time college closer that slid due to…drum roll, please…injury concerns. Melancon has pedigree to go along with legitimate closer stuff though his stuff doesn’t grade out as well as…Craig Hansen, future HOF, for instance. The Yankees then proceeded to pick up every RHP in the nation for the rest of the first day. A common trait with most of these guys was generally a fastball in the low 90s or very good strikeout rates, two things I love in draft picks. On Day Two, the Yankees did not make any eye-opening selections, instead primarily focusing on drafting older college guys with the likely goal of both filling out rosters at the lower levels of the minor leagues and softening the blow that the company wallet will take from the guys they took on Day One.

When looked at contextually, I don’t think there’s any way this draft can come out as anything less than good, and I for one am enamored with it. If, during Winter ’05/’06, you had told me that the Yankees would have drafted Melancon, Betances, Chamberlain, and Kennedy, I would have told you that I’m surprised that A.) MLB decided to allow the trading of draft picks and that B.) I’m shocked the Yankees were able to scrounge up enough to trade for 4 first round draft picks. At that point, Betances was considered by Baseball America to be the 5th best high school prospect while Melancon (14th), Chamberlain (12th), and Kennedy (5th) were very highly thought of within the college ranks. Yes, these guys slid for a reason, but at the same time none of them slipped for reasons that permanently affect their status and as such I’m encouraged by what took place from June 6th to June 7th, not to mention that in drafting every RHP ever, at least one of them should amount to something. Now, the Yankees just have to sign them and leave enough money in the bank for July 1st.