Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weird Series

What a strange series. On Friday, the Yankees won a game they should have lost. On Saturday, they lost a game that, on paper at least, they should have won. On Saturday they were held at bay by an emergency starter they should have beat up on. On Sunday they hung a career high 9 ER in 3 IP against one of the top starters in the game.

Two innings were key to this afternoon's game. In the bottom of the second, with the game still scoreless, the Yankees had runners on first and third with two outs and #9 hitter Francisco Cervelli at the plate. Cervelli took a 1-2 change-up and dropped a blooper into short right field to plate the first run of the game. Derek Jeter followed with an RBI single, then Johnny Damon singled in both Cevelli and Jeter. The inning may had carried on, but Damon was called out at second for knocking the ball out of SS Alex Cora's glove. Replays showed it to be a borderline call, but it too closely resembled A-Rod in the Series That Shall Not Be Named.

Spotted to a 4-0 lead, A.J. Burnett responded by sandwiching two walks around a single to leave himself with a bases loaded, no out jam. He wriggled out of it, striking Alex Cora out with the benefit of two borderline calls, whiffing Fernando Martinez, and getting a Carlos Beltran liner right to Jeter.

It was all over from there. The Yankees added nine more runs in the third and two in the seventh en route to a 15-0 victory. Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano both hit 2 run homers. Jeter had four hits; Cano and Cervelli three each; Damon and Melky Cabrera two each. Every starter had a hit save for Nick Swisher, who walked twice and scored twice. The game got so good for the Yanks that Angel Berroa was allowed two plate appearances. Ramiro Pena also got into to the game and started a beautiful double play to end the top of the seventh.

Burnett recovered from his rocky third inning to turn in seven shutout innings, allowing four hits, four walks, and striking out eight. The walks are a little higher than you'd like to see, and he still needed 110 pitches (60% strikes) to get through seven, but overall he gave the team just what they needed: length. He was followed by David Robertson and Phil Hughes both of whom struck out two in working a scoreless inning.

It's been a rough week in Yankeedom. They were swept in brutal fashion by the Red Sox to fall to 0-8 against them on the year. They played two lackluster games against the Mets. They got into verbal spats in the papers in near physical spats on the field (more on that tomorrow). They needed a game like this. It'll certainly make tomorrow's off day all the more enjoyable and leave them in a good spot as the lowly Nationals come to town Tuesday.

Game 63: Soul Sacrifice

Before you even tune into the YES broadcast today, you know what the storyline will be shoved down your throat. Hey fans! The Yankees could have traded for Johan Santana!

Get ready for Michael Kay to frame the struggles of Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Melky Cabrera as clear reasons for why the Yankees should have jettisoned these pieces to acquire Johan Santana when they had the chance. It will be interesting to see whether anyone on the broadcast takes a deeper look into the divergent paths of the trade.

I think we can safely assume that if the Yanks had traded the package mentioned above, or at least something similar, to the Twins in exchange for Santana, they would have had to sign him to an almost identical extension that the Mets did. Santana had a no-trade clause and was ready to veto the deal if a contract with the Mets was not negotiated. He signed for $137M over 6 Years, an AAV of $22.8M. That essentially amounts to free agent money and in addition to that, the Mets parted with Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guera.

Instead of trading for Johan, the Yankees opted to wait a season and sign CC Sabathia on the open market, for $161/7, an AAV of $23M and a first round draft pick. Would the Yanks have been in play of CC if they had already signed Johan? I think it's fairly safe to assume not. Locking over $45M into two starting pitchers would be a pretty disproportionate allocation of funds, even with a $200M+ payroll like the Yankees have.

I think Sabathia and Santana are pretty similar pitchers. Both are dominant lefties who register a lot of strike outs without allowing many walks and accumulate a lot of innings. Both have won AL Cy Youngs and we're traded just before reaching free agency. Santana is two years older, but they will both be 35 when their contracts expire. If you go by last year, Santana logged an ERA of 2.53, which is amazing, but CC finished at 2.70 after making 18 starts in the American League and throwing nearly 20 more innings. This year Santana is decidedly better, but has also started 7 games at pitcher-friendly Citi Field whereas CC has started 6 games at what is easily the best home run hitting park in the majors.

The difference really boils down to this: If the Yanks traded for Santana, they would have had him last year, a season in which they really could have used some stabilization at the front of the rotation. However, the Yankees finished six games out of the Wild Card. FanGraphs pegs his Wins Above Replacement last year at 4.8. If the Yanks still didn't make the playoffs, would it really have been worth sacrificing the arbitration eligible years of Hughes, Kennedy and Cabrera? If they had snuck in but lost in the first round, would it have?

The point is that even right now, in hindsight, it's not an obvious move to trade for Santana and Hughes still has years to find his way as a starting pitcher. Melky has been a valuable piece to the club this year, and has had several walk off or game winning hits this year. Kennedy is gone for the year after surgery to remove an aneurysm from his shoulder, but is by no means worthless to the club. And all three as still cheap, controllable (and possibly tradeable) parts moving forward. So when you hear the decision not to trade for Santana referred to as a "mistake", keep those things in mind.

Speaking of "mistakes", A.J. Burnett looks to rebound his last one in Boston today. Burnett has taken on the opposing team's ace three times this year, once against his former teammate, Roy Halladay and twice against Josh Beckett. Twice Burnett has been beaten quite handily and his other start against Beckett in April, he was spotted six runs which he ultimatley gave back, and then some. Here's to hoping that he can buck the trend against Santana, although that might take some drastic measures, with consequences that could echo into the afterlife:

A Frustrating Afternoon

In yesterday's game preview, I theorized that Saturday's game couldn't possibly be sloppier than Friday's. It may not have been worse, but it was just as ugly. And to make matters worse, this time there was no deus ex machina to deliver the Yankees a last minute win.

Andy Pettitte struggled again. Following Joba Chamberlain's lead from the night before, he needed 104 pitches to get through just five innings, including 23 in the first and 31 in the second when Pettitte reportedly had trouble breathing. He exited having surrendered 12 hits and 5 ER.

Equally as frustrating, the offense was unable to get anything going against Fernando Nieve, further fueling the theory that the Yankees struggle against unknown pitchers. True or not, Nieve cruised through 6.2 innings, allowing only six base runners and surrendering just two runs.

Perhaps the only silver lining was Jose Veras' two scoreless innings of mop-up work. He struck out two and even managed not to walk anyone. You have to figure either Veras or Tomko will be DFA'd when Bruney is activated within the next few days. Based on their most recent performances as well as past history, I think Veras should have a leg up.

In the end, it was a bad Saturday. What I thought would be a nice day featured a steady and consistent rain. What I hoped would be a bounce back start for Pettitte turned into the latest in a string of bad ones. What I thought should have been an easily winnable game turned into an exercise in frustration.

We'll back later as the Yankees try for two the hard way in attempting to take the series against Johan Santana.