Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Derek, Lou, And The Other Guys Too

The Yankees completed a four game sweep of the Rays tonight, using yet another comeback win to continue their dominant run through the season's second half and further crush the Rays now nearly non-existent post-season hopes. That wasn't the story of the game.

Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Jorge Posada came to the plate as a pinch hitter with one out and runners on the corners. He worked a full count, then blasted a go-ahead three run homer to right, giving the Yankees the only lead they would need all night. That wasn't the story of the game.

Derek Jeter, as you may have heard, came into this homestand needing just three hits to tie Lou Gehrig atop the Yankees' all time leaderboard. In the three games since, Jeter has gone 0 for 12, allowing that story to linger. And that was the story of tonight's game.

Jeter led off the bottom of the first. With Evan Longoria playing back, Jeter resorted to an old slump buster, dropping the first pitch down the third baseline for a bunt single. After grounding out in the third, Jeter came up again in the fifth, driving a 2-2 slider to deep center field for a ground rule double and bringing him within one of the Iron Horse.

In the seventh, Jeter came up with two outs, no one on, and the Yankees trailing 2-0. For the fourth time on the night, Rays starter Jeff Niemann threw Jeter a first pitch fastball. Jeter pounced on it, with his familiar inside-out swing, and punched a basehit through the right side. The ballpark and both dugouts erupted with a standing ovation. In a subtle, but poignant moment, YES showed Yankees Head Athletic Trainer Gene Monahan, in the Yankees organization since 1962 and in his current position since 1973, standing at the top of the dugout steps, applauding with the rest of the team.

Johnny Damon followed with a single of his own, making it appear that Jeter's historic hit might also be the start of a rally. But Mark Teixeira fanned to end the threat.

Aside from giving the Yankees the lead, Posada's one out homer in the eighth ensured that Jeter would get another plate appearance on the night. Jeter stepped in for his fifth plate appearance of the night with no one on and two outs. Jeter worked a seven pitch walk, much to the chagrin of the crowd and more the disappointment of Yankees' play-by-play man Michael Kay who has been painfully wringing ever last possible ounce of drama out of this chase. Hyperbolic even by his lofty standards, Kay called it "the most underrated walk in the history of baseball". Sure it is.

As for the rest of the game, Joba Chamberlain turned in a start that was rather representative of his 2009 season. He needed 32 pitches to get through the first inning, surrendering a leadoff home run to Jason Bartlett, two singles, a walk, a wild pitch, three strikeouts and leaving the Yanks in a two run hole before they even picked up a bat. Appropriately, a mound visit midway through the first from the man of evening seemed to change Joba's approach. Chamberlain settled down from there, throwing a perfect second and third inning and retiring the last eight batters he faced after the Captain's visit. With his pitch count at 55 through three, Joba's night was over, marking his third consecutive start of just three innings.

Alfredo Aceves followed and turned in an outstanding performance, going three shutout, hitless innings in which he allowed just a walk and K'd three. The Yankees still dormant bats prevented Alf from getting his 11th relief victory of the year. Jonathan Albaladejo then tossed two perfect frames to pick up the win, and Brian Bruney and Phil Coke combined to close out the ninth.

Derek Jeter is deservedly the man of the hour with his historic achievement coming tonight. However, this game, like so many other this year, was an impressive team effort in which several players - Jeter, Posada, Alf, Albaladejo, A-Rod, Hideki Matsui - all made important contributions to another Yankee victory.

Jeter will take his swings at the record on Friday night. Rest assured that tomorrow's off day will be flooded with talk about the impending accomplishment. We'll be here for you to discuss that and more. See you in the morning.

Game 141: Four Until Late

The Yankees go for a four game sweep of the Rays tonight in what looks to be the toughest pitching match up on paper of the series.

Joba Chamberlain takes the mound for his third start under the latest version of the Joba Rules. He pitched three innings and gave up two earned runs in the last two, however in his more recent outing, he needed 59 pitches as opposed to just 35 the first time around. Since the Yanks are attempting to stretch him out for the playoffs, he figures to have a higher pitch/inning limit, something in the neighborhood of 70 pitches and 4IP, perhaps.

Joba has been headed in the wrong direction for a while now, putting up exactly zero quality starts in his last 6 and his two capped outings didn't project to end up that way either. In 26 innings over that span he's given up 23 ER, 37 H and has a K/BB of only 20/17.

Surprisingly, Jeff Niemann has the lowest ERA and best record of any Rays starter this year. He's thrown 38 fewer innings than James Sheilds and has struck out 61 fewer batters than Matt Garza, but his record is 12-5 and his ERA 3.67.

Niemann is a Houston native, but not your typical Texas fireballer. His fastball sits around 92 and he works in a curve, slider and a change. He was drafted fourth overall by the Rays in 2005 and due in part to injuries, he didn't have the meteoric rise through the minors like his opponent tonight and his teammate who started last night, David Price did. In his last two years in AAA he pitched 260 innings but had a marginal 3.78 ERA. Somehow, he's been better than that in the Big Leagues this year and even better in his last 7 starts, going 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA.

He's a big boy, at 6'9", 280 so expect that to be noted breathlessly during the broadcast tonight as if a pitcher's height is an important statistic.

The Yanks are at a season-high 40 games over .500 and have the chance to pull off the always difficult four game sweep of the Rays, thereby pushing them even further out of playoff contention. Blues legend Robert Johnson can relate to their predicament. So as the tykes from Tampa leave town for the last time this year, let's hope the Yanks bid them a fare, farewell.

When I leave this town, I'm gon' bid you fare, farewell.
And when I return again, you'll have a great long story to tell.

I'll Show YOU Overmanaging!

During the 7th inning last night, after Chad Gaudin had been pulled and the Yankees' lead contracted to one run, Joe Girardi and Joe Maddon engaged in a managerial pissing contest of epic proportions. I detailed it in last night's recap, but as usual, left the editorializing for another post.

Both Matt and I have been critical of Joe Girardi's bullpen tinkering for a variety of reasons, but not because they haven't been successful. He's been pulling the strings and things have worked out well for him this year. That's terrific and all, but manager can deploy too many resources at once. It's called overmanaging, and we've discussed this before.

Let's roll the tape:

Once Girardi called on Marte with men on first and second and no one out, Maddon pinch hit for journeyman first baseman Chris Richard with righty Gabe Kapler. Fair enough. It would only have been Richards' fourth plate appearance of the year and Kapler is an upgrade at the plate. Those two moves essentially made themselves.

Due up next for the Rays were catcher Greg Zaun and lefty outfielder Gabe Gross, with the obvious pinch hitting candidates being two switch hitters, catcher Dioner Navarro and outfielder Willy Aybar.

Joe Girardi knew this, and had surely noticed that Marte had given just one baserunner (via a walk) in his 4 1/3 IP since being recalled from the DL. On three recent occasions Marte has pitched a scoreless inning or more, so despite the fact that Girardi said he thought of him as a LOOGY upon recall, he has undeniably been more than that. But rather than test Marte in a game that had the atmosphere and set up but not the import of a postseason one, he brought in Brian Bruney to face one of two guys who were just going to spin around and bat left handed against him anyway.

Even more questionable, Joe Maddon was the fact that called on Dioner Navarro who has a 53 OPS+ in 363 plate appearances this year, to hit for Zaun who was at 95 in 235. Navarro was slugging .266 against righties this year. Bruney got Navarro out, but was it really worth burning Damaso Marte after just one out to get Bruney face a guy who has been far, far, FAR below replacement level as a hitter this year?

Due up next was Gabe Gross, who about as strict of a platoon player as you will see in the majors today with about 9 times as many plate appearances against RHP than LHP. Girardi saw the opportunity to force Maddon's hand, and he did. Phil Coke came on, and Maddon went with Willy Aybar, who spun around to bat from his slightly weaker side, the right. Coke walked Aybar to load the bases but then got lefty Akanori Iwamura to ground out to end the inning.

All is well that ends well, right? Well, not really.

First of all, with two switch-hitting players on the bench, does it really make sense for Girardi to match up with them? Neither Navarro nor Aybar have significant platoon splits and neither are great hitters to begin with. If Girardi had just left Marte in, Maddon would have had to make the same moves.

Secondly, by burning through three pitchers who are all capable of throwing a scoreless inning or more each, Girardi fired three bullets and got only 3 outs. The security blanket of Hughes and Rivera were there, but as we saw last night, it's not fool proof. Thanks to Nick Swisher, the Yanks didn't have to go to extra innings, but if they did, their 5 of their best available relief pitchers would have already been used, as Jason pointed out in the comments, leaving a rather unappealing slew of possibilities for the later innings, when the game theoretically becomes increasingly important.

One of the reasons that this excessive matching up doesn't make that much sense to me is that it happens most often in close, low scoring games, a.k.a. the ones that are most likely to go into extra innings. Yes this was a September game with the safety net of expanded rosters, but every guy Girardi used projects to be on the 25 man for the playoffs, meaning that he wasn't treating it like one.

Ripping through a total of four pitchers and three pinch hitters in one inning is a luxury only afforded to managers one month out of the season and they are more than willing to use that option to prove to everyone how smart they are. Not only does it create even more commercial breaks and annoy the shit out of me personally, it's not really great strategy, even for games in September.

If someone could prove to me that bringing in three pitchers to face one batter each is somehow better than leaving in one pitcher (who is better than the other two) I would be open to that idea. However, given the fact that excessive pitching changes waste capable relievers after only a fraction the service they are capable of performing, leaving the bullpen exposed if the game goes into extras, I question it every time it happens.

Last night's game had a playoff feel to it and if that's what Girardi thinks is going to be proper strategy when the rosters contract and the games start to really matter, color me a little concerned. The fact that this hasn't backfired on Girardi yet is scary in that it very well might in October.

Robertson To Visit Dr. Andrews

Just before game time yesterday came the news that David Robertson was off to see Dr. James Andrews. As the news trickled out, it was reported that Robertson has been battling "tightness" in his elbow for about two weeks. It doesn't appear to have had any effect on Robertson's pitching over that time, as he's been getting better as the season wears on. However, Robertson apparently has pain after pitching, and at this point, the prudent thing to do is to have it checked out.

After the initial shock of the news the passed and more details leaked out, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic. D-Rob has already had an MRI on the elbow and it came clean. He has no history of elbow problems. He's been able to pitch effectively and uninhibited since this issue cropped up. He told Peter Abraham "I'm confident it's going to be nothing". Interestingly, Robertson will be traveling to Andrews' Pensacola, FL office rather than seeing him in his native Birmingham, AL.

In my opinion, Robertson sits behind only Mo and Hughes in the bullpen pecking order at present. He's steadily improved over the course of the season and his current 13.39 K/9 is tops in the American League and second in MLB (behind Jonathan Broxton).

Robertson will be the third Yankee pitcher to visit the famed orthopedic surgeon this year, following Brian Bruney in May, Damaso Marte in June, and Chien-Ming Wang in July. Bruney and Marte left with clean bills of health; Wang had shoulder surgery the day after his visit. Let's hope Robertson winds up in the same group as Bruney and Marte.

I had initially planned to take a look at the state of the Yankee bullpen without Robertson, but in light of the semi-positive outlook and in the interests of good karma, I'll put that off unless it becomes necessary.

Another Perk Of Home Field Advantage

One of the ancillary benefits of having the best record in either league is that the team gets to select which of the two schedules it plays its ALDS on. Both of the options have their final 4 games scheduled for October 9th, 11th, 12th & 14th, but the ALDS "A" schedule begins on October 7th, while "B" starts on the 8th. The upshot is that "A" allows for the participants to use only 3 starting pitchers on regular rest if they so choose.

The implications for the Yankees are pretty obvious. Their top three starters are pretty clear-cut: CC Sabathia and then, in whatever order, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett. It's the guy who slots in for the fourth game that makes the decision a little more complicated.

Steve from the Yankee Universe says it depends on how Joba Chamberlain pitches down the stretch and who the Yankees are playing (almost certainly the Tigers). Since both teams will be operating on the same schedule, if the Yankees have a bigger advantage over the Tigers when comparing their top 4 starters as opposed to their top 3, Steve thinks that would be the optimal choice.

David Pinto of Baseball Musings suggests that the Yankees should opt for the extra day of rest, and as a result the 3 man rotation, almost always, unless the opposition has a very poor fourth starter.

The Tigers top four are Edwin Jackson (147 ERA+), Justin Verlander (139), Jarrod Washburn (124) and Rick Porcello (107). Although Washburn has been terrible since joining the Tigers (6.81 ERA in 6 starts), I'm guessing his postseason experience would bump him ahead of the rookie Porcello. Verlander will probably start game one as well, but that's beside the point.

Either way, they match up favorably against the Yankees' quartet, Sabathia (131), Pettitte (109), Burnett (107) and Joba (101).

Minor detail, however: the Tigers staff is going to be facing the best offense in all of baseball: 1st in runs scored, 1st in OBP and in 1st in SLG. Conversely, the Tigers offense is 10th, 10th and 9th in those categories, respectively. I'm not sure there is a scientific way to account for that, but it would seem to tip that equation on it's head completely.

Given the choice, I would probably opt for the early start and the extra day of rest. Given that the Yankees will be able to align their rotation however they choose when the season closes down, they might as well bank that extra day of rest. Regardless of how Joba pitches throughout September, he will still be a major question mark as a starting pitcher in the postseason.

And of course, since one team is going to be down 2-1 if Game 4 does indeed occur, they could just choose to throw their ace anyway.


It's 9:09 on 09/09/09. What else did you expect to see here?

After seven outstanding seasons, five pennants, two championships, two MVP awards, and one single season home run record, the Yankees sent Roger Maris to the Cardinals in a rather poor trade following the 1966 season. The Cardinals were owned by the Busch family, as in Anheuser-Busch. When Maris wanted to retire after the 1967 season, Gussie Busch promised Maris a distributorship if he would return for one more year. He did, helping the Cardinals to their second consecutive NL flag, allowing him to play in the seventh World Series of his career.

True to his word, Gussie Busch set Maris up with a Budweiser distributorship in Gainesville, FL. Maris would operate it until his untimely death from cancer in 1985. Unfortunately for Maris, the Busch family didn't have a stake in Magic Hat.

That's our numerical history lesson for the morning. Now grab your self a Magic Hat #9, sit back, relax, and listen to this one.

My Morning Song

Good morning Fackers. So I skipped last night's game to go see The Black Crowes. All I missed was the Yankees 13th walk off win of the year. The Yanks are 48-20 at home. More than 25% of those victories have been walk offs. That's pretty impressive.

Last night's hero was Nick Swisher, who in one evening, increased his Yankee Stadium home run total by 66.7%. Hopefully last night makes his Yankee Stadium home run haze blow away.

It's Wednesday. The good news: it's not as much of a hump this week. The bad: thanks to the holiday, you gotta make it all the way through rather than just to lunch for the work week to be half over. We'll be back to help you on your way.

Dizzy found me last night,
Saw some kind of new light,
I woke up in a whirlwind,
Just you watch my head spin.

The spectacle that made you cry,
It's a thrill a minute plane ride,
It's over time at ring side, no lie.

March me down to the seven seas,
Bury me with a ruby ring,
Kiss me baby on an Easter Sunday day,
Make my haze blow away.

Swish Steps Up, Yanks Walk Off

Even though both the Yankees and the Rays have increasingly less to play for with each passing regular season game, it wasn't apparent last night. The game had all the trimmings of a postseason match-up, save for the fact that Chad Gaudin was starting.

Like he did in his previous two starts for the Yankees, Gaudin fizzled out at a certain point. Unlike his previous two, he went deep into the game, holding the Rays scoreless up until Evan Longoria came to the plate in the top of the seventh inning. Longoria ripped an 0-2, lined shot over the wall in left field. Gaudin then gave up a single to Ben Zobrist and a walk to Pat Burrell prompting Joe Girardi to go to the bullpen.

He first called on Damaso Marte causing Joe Maddon to pinch hit for lefty-hitting first baseman Chris Richard with Gabe Kapler. Marte retired Kapler on a fly ball to right on only two pitches, but then with switch hitting Gregg Zaun due up, Maddon summoned switch-hitting Dioner Navarro, who spun around to bat left handed. Girardi countered by signaling for the righty Brian Bruney who got Navarro to ground into a force out at third. The managerial meddling didn't stop there as Girardi tapped his left arm for Phil Coke and Maddon deployed the switch-hitter Willy Aybar. Coke walked Aybar but got Akanori Iwamura to ground out to short, ending the inning.

Ironically, it was the most obvious move to the bullpen of the night that backfired on Joe Girardi. Phil Hughes was given the ball to start the 8th inning and was taken deep on his very first pitch to Jason Bartlett, a no-doubt shot to left field. It was Hughes' first blown lead as a relief pitcher. He gave up a single to the next batter but induced a flyball and a double play grounder to get out of the inning.

Even though lefty sidearmer Randy Choate has massive platoon splits, he was left in to face Derek Jeter in the bottom half of the inning. Jeter ripped one to right, but Gabe Kapler was standing right where it was headed. Johnny Damon then dragged a surprise bunt towards first base that got past Choate and looked to be a single until Choate flipped it to first with his glove, beating Damon by a half of a step.

The score remained knotted at 2 when Mariano Rivera took the hill for the top of the 9th. Mo knocked the Rays down 1-2-3, setting the stage for the Yankees 13th walk off win of the year.

Before his massive blast off of David Price in the second inning, Nick Swisher hadn't hit a home run at Yankee Stadium since June 8th. He had hit only three there all season. He had hit only one other walk off jack in his career. But he lifted his second round-tripper of the night just barely over the right field wall, and continued along with the obligatory jog around the bases, helmet toss and pie in the face. Predicatably giddy, Swish had a giant smile on his face right on through the post game interviews on TV.

Maybe it was the spunky newcomer conquering the demons that had sapped his power at home all year. More likely though, it was a statistical correction that Swisher's 25th and 26th homers on the year were lofted into the New York City night. Either way, it was just another game that the Yankees could have easily lost but seemed destined to win.