Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Game 83: The Arrival

The last time the Yankees entered a series against the Twins, they were sitting at 17-17 and the hand-wringing among Yankees fans was reaching a crescendo. It was getting a little late in the season to be at .500. That night marked was A-Rod's first night back in the Bronx and the last time they would see that winning percentage (hopefully for the season). The game was highlighted by a Brett Gardner inside-the-park homer and a walk-off hit by Melky. It was the first of three walk-offs by the Yankees in that series, one in which they swept all four games by a grand total of 5 runs.

Minnesota actually came into that game a half game ahead of the Yanks, but that series sent them spinning in opposite directions. With three games decided by one run, and the other by two runs, it could have easily gone the other way. Instead, the series was a major part of a 9 game winning streak for the Yanks whereas the Twins lost 6 in a row and were at .500 as recently as June 29th. At 43-40, the Twins are 1.5 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central but 5.5 games behind the Bombers in the Wild Card standings.

Taking the hill tonight and looking to avenge his poorest start since Opening Day will be CC Sabathia. Despite striking out 8 in 5 2/3, the big fella got tagged for 6 earned runs and the loss last Thursday against the Mariners. He followed up that clunker on Opening Day with 7 2/3 of shutout ball, so perhaps he's got another bounceback in him.

Twins righthander Scott Baker is coming off a strong June, during which he produced quality starts in five out of six tries, and went 4-0 with a 3.20 ERA and a 0.966 WHIP. That might be slightly less impressive when you consider those starts came against the Indians, A's ,Cubs, Brewers, Astros and Royals, but you've still got to get the job done. He's at 6-6 with a 4.99 ERA on the year and in his two previous starts against the Yankees (both in 2006), he's 2-0 with a 1.50.

Frankie Cervelli gets the start behind the plate tonight. Sabathia has a 51 to 14 K/BB ratio in 8 games with Cervelli as opposed to 23/19 in 7 games with Posada back there. Brett Gardner gets the start in center with Damon and Swisher on either side.

The Yanks arrive the HHH Metrodome having won 8 of their last 10 against the Twins and hoping they can catapult themselves to another winning streak. They've had their struggles in the building, however, going only 8-11 there since 2004. Barring a meeting in the playoffs this will be the last series the Yanks play there, so John Sterling will no longer have to refer to the outfield wall as "the baggy".

Don't forget that the game starts at 8, like I did until just now.

[Tonight's song comes to you from the Minneapolis-based hip hop group Atmosphere. They've got a pretty extensive song catalog, so if you are a fan of the genre, I would highly recommend checking it out.]

They've arrived, with the excitement of a newborn,
Came to join the main event and fight against the lukewarm.
They've arrived, with nothing but their word and their history,
Take a can of paint and try to decorate the dignity.

First Half Projections - Pitching

[The day game yesterday pushed these projections back a bit, but we wanted to take a look at the numbers at the half season mark. Data does not include yesterday's game.

We've done three things here: first we've taken statistics from the first half of the season and done a simple extrapolation for a full season. Below that, we've taken ZIPS (Updated) projections from the awesome FanGraphs right now, and on the bottom, for comparison's sake, we've included what the ZIPS were at the one-third mark of the season. ZIPS, specifically the half season update, are going to be the most reliable, as they take into account what each player has already done this year as well as historical performance to project what the end of season numbers will look like.

Here are the four constant members of the starting rotation along with the four bullpen guys who have sufficient sample sizes for analysis

You can click on the tables for a larger view.]

CC Sabathia isn't having one of his best years, but it's still pretty damn good. In 2007 and 2008, he had K/BB ratios of 5.65 and 4.35, while this year he is only at 2.53. His strikeouts are down and his walks are up, but his WHIP is in line with his previous two seasons. Averaging just over 6 2/3 innings with a 3.85 ERA (ZIPS thinks it will be lower) on a potent offensive team should net you more than 14 wins in a full season, and he could easily go on a tear where he takes down 4 or 5 decisions in a row.

A.J. Burnett's last four starts have dragged his ERA down from 4.89 to 3.83. He's won 5 of his last seven starts and has proven to be the front end starter the Yankees had hoped they were signing this offseason. But he, like Sabathia has a low K/BB ratio. He hasn't gone as deep into games as CC, so his innings projections are lower.

This year Andy Pettitte is walking more batters than any other year of his career, which explains his tiny K/BB. He's publicly said that he is afraid to make a mistake at the New Stadium for fear that it might get taken deep. This is probably because 12 of the 14 home runs he's allowed have come at home. Yesterday was the first start of the second half and a 6 inning outing with 6 earned runs (including two homers) probably isn't the best way to head into the home stretch.

Oh, Joba. Much has been said about the young man lately, including the fact that in 28 career starts, he's factored into the decision only 10 times. Part of it certainly has to do with flukey run distributions in the games he's started, but he's also been unable to consistenly go deep into games. He's gone over 6 innings only 3 times in 16 starts this year and those accounted for 3 of his four wins.

The way Phil Hughes' numbers end up this year will have everything to do with the way he is used. Since transitioning to the bullpen, he's watched his ERA drop from 5.30 to 4.20, and he hasn't given up a run in his last 7 outings. It's great that he's adapted to the role successfully, but Girardi hasn't utilized the fact that Hughes is not your typical bullpen guy and rarely pitches him more than just an inning.

Mo's ERA is inflated by a rough couple of outings, but he has a microscopic WHIP and cartoonish K and BB numbers. He's got 21 saves so far, on pace for 42 which would be his highest total since 2005. Girardi has used him for more than one inning six times, which may not be the greatest thing for a 39 year old coming off of a shoulder procedure.

Phil Coke has emerged as valuable reliever who Joe Girardi is starting to trust in the last innings of close games. He's given up just one earned run in 17 outings dating back to June 4th and his ERA has dropped from 4.50 to 2.97. His ZIPS numbers may be a bit skewed as it still projects him to make seven starts. That ain't happening.

Our boy Alf has been one of the more pleasant surprises on the team this year. He's been used in close and late situations as well as longer appearances like the time CC had to leave the mound in in the second inning against the Marlins. He doesn't have blazing stuff, but his great control gives him the best K/BB ratio on the team, this side of Mo. His ZIPS has him making ten starts before the season's out, and with the recent injury to CMW, that may happen.

First Half Projections - Offense

[The day game yesterday pushed these projections back a bit, but we wanted to take a look at the numbers at the half season mark. Data does not include yesterday's game.

We've done three things here: first we've taken statistics from the first half of the season and done a simple extrapolation for a full season. Below that, we've taken ZIPS (Updated) projections from the awesome FanGraphs right now, and on the bottom, for comparison's sake, we've included what the ZIPS were at the one-third mark of the season. ZIPS, specifically the half season update, are going to be the most reliable, as they take into account what each player has already done this year as well as historical performance to project what the end of season numbers will look like.

Here are the 10 most prominent Yankee hitters. For the extrapolation part, adjustments were made to both Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez to account for the time both lost to injury

You can click on the tables for a larger view]

Since returning from the DL in late May, Posada's hasn't hit quite as well as he had before getting injured. Still, his numbers are great for a catcher, great for a thirty-seven year old, and arguably historic for a thirty-seven year old catcher. For all the gnashing of teeth over his contract and his abilities behind the plate, Jorge Posada is still as valuable as any catcher this side of Joe Mauer. ZIPS predicts his AVG and OBP will hold at their current levels, but expects the SLG to drop off a bit. It'll be interesting to see if the veteran catcher can maintain his current levels of production as the season wears on him.

Despite his recent power outage and RBI drought, Teix is on pace to drive in well over 100 runs and score around 100 as well. ZIPS has picked up on his recent struggles and all of three of his slash stats, HR and RBI projections have declined since the third mark, but his doubles and walks are up.

All three of Cano's predictors are very similar. His ZIPS have hardly changed, while his extrapolations aren't too far away in any category. His career slash stats are .302/.335/.470, which align almost perfectly as well. He might be streaky in the short term, but over time Cano is freakishly consistent.

This has been an interesting season for Alex Rodriguez. Batting slumps have left him with an extremely low AVG by his standards. ZIPS still sees him bouncing back, but his slumps between games 54 and 81 have caused ZIPS to drop their end of season number by 13 points. What's really interesting though is A-Rod's OBP. Despite the low AVG, his current OBP is the fifth highest of his career, and 22 points above his career mark. His walk rate is 5% greater than his previous career high, and his K rate is his career best by 1.7%. His low AVG has taken a toll on his SLG, as both the extrapolation and ZIPS have him well below his career mark of .577. Yet his HR% of 6.2% is a tick above his career average of 6.1%, meaning that his HRs as a percentage of his total hits are way up. As a result his Isolated Power of .279 is slightly above his career mark of .272. His counting stats for both ZIPS and the extrapolation may be a bit high if the Yanks keeping resting him as they say they will.

Like Cano, Jeter's current batting line (.316/.390./.460) is a mirror image of his career line (.316/.387/.458). He already has 6 more stolen bases than he did all of last year, with three fewer caught stealing. Sitting at 99 hits, he's got a good chance for 200 and even though he's hitting leadoff this year, both ZIPS projections have him exceeding his RBI total from last year (69).

ZIPS doesn't buy Brett Gardner's recent improvements at the plate. This is one spot where I'm going to side with the extrapolations over the projections. I think Gardner's recent offensive successes are indicative of his finally figuring out the league. He was a solid on-base guy throughout his minor league career, and it looks like he's learning how to get on in the majors as well. As his OBP improves, so too should his stolen bases.

The Melk Man had a terrible June, hitting only .225/.312/.375 and hasn't yet recovered in July (3H and 1BB in 16PA). His BABIP dropped significantly, from .356 in May to .242 in June, which begins to account for his struggles. With him and Gardner both moving towards the mean, they should be seeing closer to equal playing time this month.

Johnny Damon's career slugging percentage sits is .438, but this year it's .530. ZIPS makes an attempt to reconcile those two, without taking into consideration that the New Yankee Stadium has helped Damon as much as anyone this year. Twelve of his sixteen homers have come in the Bronx and every single one has gone to right field. Last year, 10 of his 17 jacks came on the road.

After a torrid April, Swish had a terrible May and an average June. Average those out and he's pretty close to his career line of .243/.355/.454. All three lines project 28 HRs. His 162 game average? 28. But 11 of his 14 have come on the road, so perhaps he is due to take advantage of the short porch.

Due to interleague play, Matsui's extrapolation on his counting stats are a little bit low. Those aren't great numbers for a DH, but if he can notch 25 homers and slug over .500 that's pretty respectable. It promises to be Matsui's final year in Pinstripes, so hopefully he can end on a good note.

I'm Pretty Sure That's Not What It Says In The Rule Book

I try to steer clear of talking about bad umpiring in this space for the most part. Poor officiating is a part of every sport (except maybe golf) and regardless of all the technology that could be installed, incorrect calls are still going to be made. It will always be a part of athletic competition and it's really not worth getting upset about. They aren't going to go back and start games from the point of a umpire's mistake.

That said, what happened in the first inning yesterday is worth bringing up, because it wasn't your typical blown call and as Cliff at Bronx Banter beautifully detailed, it wasn't the only one of the day.

[Most of you know the story, but if you aren't familiar, check out Rob Neyer, River Ave. Blues or Pete Abe.]

First of all, although replays conclusively showed that Jeter was safe, it was an extremely close play. You can't fault Marty Foster for thinking Jeter had been tagged.

[This is as close to a smoking gun as I could get. The video replay all
together is conclusive, but there wasn't really one decisive freezeframe.]

You can, however, fault him for telling Jeter he didn't have to be tagged if the ball beat him to the bag.

[Gotta love the look on Jeter's face here. "Are ya fuckin' kidding me?"]

That part of the story hasn't been officially confirmed, but Crew Chief John Hirschbeck admitted that incorrect calls were made yesterday, didn't deny words to that effect were said and did not make Foster available to the media. Instead, Hirschbeck took the questions.
“The best way I can answer it is to talk to Marty about it. Not here at the ballpark, but if I see him tonight, or if not, we’ll have lunch tomorrow and we’ll discuss it. Getting a play right is one thing, but how you handle it is also important. Nowadays, with the cameras, ESPN and the reporters, I say the media, I actually mean television — it used to be if the ball beat you, you were out, but it isn’t that way anymore. It’s not a reason to call someone out. You have to make a good tag.”
It's admirable of Hirschbeck to insulate one of his guys from the media like this, because especially in New York, it would have been a difficult spot for Foster. It's not the Crew Chief's spot to discipline one of his umpires, so keep that in mind as he tries to downplay the severity of the error. There is nothing that irks me more than an umpire using his own interpretation of the rules.

Having a quirky but consistent strike zone is one thing, but not giving a pitcher a strike because the catcher had to reach across the zone for it another. Missing a bang bang play on the basepaths is okay, but willfully ignoring the rules because of some arbitrary adage ("because the ball beat him...") is a crime of the highest order, in my opinion.

What's the appropriate action here? Suspension? Worse? Something has to be done. Not because of the impact on the game, but for what Foster's bold and foolish proclamation says about his objectivity and trustworthiness as an umpire.

I think a suspension sends an adequate message and will be heard loud and clear by umps. It might not keep them from abiding by their own rules, but it will certainly keep them from telling the players that's what they are doing.