Friday, April 30, 2010

Game 22 Recap

1. The first two batters Andy Pettitte faced were Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham and both reached on soft bloops to shallow right field. Andy got Alex Rios to fly out but Paul Konerko took advantage of the Sox's good fortune and lifted a slider on the outside half of the plate just over the right field wall. The ball was nearly caught by Nick Swisher, but for some reason, a fan attempted to catch it with his jacket and blocked Swish's glove. It wasn't technically fan interference because the guy wasn't leaning over the wall but it very might have been a catch if he wasn't there.

2. The Yankees didn't waste any time in rebounding. After a Jeter single and a walk by Mark Teixeira, A-Rod broke out of a 0-19 slump with an RBI double to left. Up next, Robinson Cano poked a single through the left side and drove in Teixeira. The Yanks had runners on the corners with one out but Nick Swisher grounded into a double play to end the threat, and left the Yanks down 3-2.

3. Pettitte gave up a double to Donny Lucy to start the second inning and followed that up with a walk to the anemic-hitting Juan Pierre. Lucy advanced to 3rd on a fielder's choice and scored on a sac fly to make it 4-2 White Sox.

4. Brett Gardner singled to lead off the bottom of the 5th, stole second but had it rendered moot by a long blast by Derek Jeter to left field. Freddy Garcia tried to sneak a curveball past Jeter but Derek turned on it for a rare pulled home run and tied the game at 4.

5. In the 7th, after Francisco got hit with an 0-2 pitch by the left handed Matt Thornton, Joe Girardi elected to stick with Brett Garnder instead of calling on Marcus Thames to pinch hit. The decision paid off as Gardner battled through an 8 pitch at bat, finally poking a single up the middle. Jeter came to the plate next and after slicing a ball just foul down the right field line, took a 2-2 pitch just inside the line just past the diving try of Jason Nix, a back up infielder filling in the the scratched Andruw Jones. Cervelli and Gardner both scored and Jeter slid safely into third with a go-ahead triple, making the score 6-4 Yankees.

6. Damaso Marte, Joba Chamberlain (more on these two below) and some fellow who goes by the name of Mariano Rivera nailed down the final 6 outs withouts giving up a baserunner and that was that. Yanks win 6-4 and close out the month of April 15-7.

IFs, ANDs & BUTs
  • Andy Pettitte gave up as many runs in the first two innings of this game as he did in his other four starts this season.

  • Pettitte only had 98 pitches when Alfredo Aceves took over during the top of the 7th. Andy had gone 114 pitches in Anaheim and the first couple of innings were pretty stressful for him so I thought it was probably a good decision.

  • Considering that all of the damage came so early in the game and much of it was fairly cheap, this was a pretty successful start for Pettitte. It's going to bump his ERA up significantly but he did a good job playing hand he was dealt after the rocky start.

  • Jeter didn't hit a home run to left field until his 13th of last season but since then, five of his last nine have gone left of center.

  • In addition to ending up a double short of the cycle, the Captain also drove in four runs for the first time since September 10, 2006 against the Orioles.

  • Damaso Marte came in to get Mark Teahen in the 8th, retired him and with the devastating Jayson Nix (career OPS+ 68) on deck, was pulled in favor of Joba Chamberlain. The White Sox had two legitimate pinch hitting options, Mark Kotsay and A.J. Pierzynski, both left handed and both significantly better hitters than Nix. Girardi essentially forced Oxzie Gullein to have Kostay pinch hit for Nix, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Pierzynski was probably going to hit for Donnie Lucy anyway and Marte could have still been in to face him. Joba got both of those Sox to ground out softly, so it ended well, but I don't see how pulling Marte after one batter makes any sense. Either let Joba start the inning or let Marte go until he gives up a baserunner.
We're back at it tomorrow at 1:00PM as Javy Vazquez has to face his detractors both in the stands and in a hooded sweatshirt in the opposing dugout.

Game 22: Old Man River

After an up and down 9 game road trip, the Yankees find themselves back in the Bronx tonight to begin a six game homestand, starting with a three game set against the White Sox tonight.

The Pale Hose send reclamation project Freddy Garcia to the mound this evening. After having surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff back in June of 2007, Garcia pitched only 71 Major League innings over the next two years in stints with the Tigers and White Sox. In between those two, was signed to a minor league deal by the Mets but was released after just two starts. The White Sox swooped in after that with another minor league deal and he pitched 56 slightly better than average innings for them last year.

Six of those frames came against the Yankees at the Stadium at the end of August. Garcia pitched reasonably well and only gave up three runs but got tagged with the loss anyway.

Sox GM Kenny Williams shrewdly included a $1M option on Garcia's minor league deal so that the Sox control him at a reasonable price this year as well. Garcia has made two solid starts (both 7IP, 2R) and one pretty terrible one (3IP, 7R) and he will certainly have his work cut out for him tonight against a lefty-heavy line up in the Bronx.

The ageless Andy Pettitte ascends the mound for the Yanks. In four starts so far, Pettitte has pitched 28 innings and allowed just four runs, picking up three victories along the way. Andy has given up about 10 baserunners per nine innings and is still sporting equally unsustainable home run and strand rates (no homers and 87% runners left on base), but that's what I said last time he pitched and he's continued to defy the odds. Why not one more time? Let's hope he can keep rolling along against a fairly punchless White sox squad.

Rolling along, rolling along, rolling along,
Hm, old man river, that old man river,
He don't say nothing, but he must know something,
For old man river, he just keeps rolling along.
[Song notes: This is an old standard so there are plenty of options to choose from, but I went with soul legend Sam Cooke who grew up in ChiTown. I've been listening to a lot of Sam lately and you can expect to see him make several more appearances in these previews this season.]


Yankees: Jorge Posada is still out with a contusion on his knee from the pitch that Jeremy Guthrie hit him with, but aside from him, everyone else is in action.
Jeter SS
Johnson DH
Teixeira 1B
Rodriguez 3B
Cano 2B
Swisher RF
Granderson CF
Cervelli C
Gardner LF
Alexei Ramirez SS
Gordan Beckham 2B
Andruw Jones Jayson Nix RF
Paul Konerko 1B
Alex Rios CF
Carlos Quentin DH
Mark Teahen 3B
Donny Lucy C
Juan Pierre CF

Friday Morning Link Party

We are five for five: a linkaround everyday this week. Some may feel that's excessive, but Michael Phelps is totally down with it, brah! Wait, what were we talking about?
During her recap of last night's game, Emma Span at Bronx Banter got all anagrammy on your asses. Examples - A.J. Burnett : A Burnt Jet; Curtis Granderson : Transcends Rigour; Michael Kay : Lama Hickey.

There was plenty of talk about Robinson Cano's bat after his performance last night but Maric Carig collected some quotes about his defensive abilities.

Ian O'Connor talked to the infamous Ed Whitson - the first time the former Yankee granted an interview to a New York reporter about his time with the team since he left them in 1986. Whitson's name has been invoked frequently in attempts to frame the struggles of Javy Vazquez and he offers some advice on handling the vitriol to Javy at the end of the article.

Soxenfredue! FanGraphs Audio breaks down the panic in Red Sox Nation.

FJM founder, former writer for The Office and co-creator of Parks & Recreation Michael Schur just signed a multi-year deal with NBC.

Brain Hoch asks what the matter with A-Rod is and Joe Girardi answers.

Phil Musnick is bitching about how visible John Sterling was in the photos of the Yankees trip to the White House. I have to agree with him on this one and mentioned to a few people that I thought the players and coaches should have been together in the middle behind the President with everyone else out of the picture on the sides. I'm sure that was what they were hoping for, but these are probably the kind of logistical kerfuffles that happen when you are the lowly World Champions getting squeezed into the President's schedule.

Will Leitch and Joe DeLessio began their tour of New York area minor league baseball stadiums with a trip out to Long Island to see the Ducks.

Lahhhs Anduhson is in fackin' Pawtucket! It's only a matter of time until his name with be comically mispronounced by the Fenway Faithful.

R.J. Anderson juxtaposes the takes of Jonah Keri and Greg Doyel on the Ryan Howard signing and explains what Jonah's has in spades that Doyel's has almost none of at all.

I can't decide which I want more, this shirt, these shoes or this cake.

What the fuck should you make for dinner? Find out.
And finally, again via Mr. Gleeman, this may be my favorite mashup ever.

Has A.J. Burnett Changed His Approach?

It's common to hear baseball players talk about altering some element of their personal strategy but not have the numbers back up their story. The tasks that both pitchers and batters have to perform occur on a razor's edge with tons of variables and are complicated by the fact that there is someone else on the other side of the equation who wants the exact opposite thing they do. So a player can say they are taking a different tack, try very hard to do it, but struggle to get quantifiable results.

So far this season, A.J. Burnett has fallen on the opposite end of the spectrum. He's hasn't done much talking about adjusting his approach, but he's been pitching great and gotten it done a way that runs counter to the type of pitcher he's been in the past.

Traditionally a guy with a propensity to both strikeout and walk a lot of batters, A.J. has seen both of those rates drop to roughly 2/3 of their career norms. At the same time, he's given up more hits, throwing slightly more strikes and is getting more outs on the ground.

About 3/4 of the pitches Burnett has thrown in 2010 have been fastballs, a proportion that he hasn't approached since his days with the Marlins - and back then he was a different kind of pitcher. Burnett has admitted that in those days he was overly concerned with trying to light up the radar gun, but one of the reasons that Brian Cashman was impressed by him during their free agent courtship was that he claimed that Roy Halladay has instilled in him that pitching was about much more than velocity. So far this season, Burnett has been pitching like a poor man's version of his old mentor - with a two-seamer instead of a cutter and a curve instead of a slider -which is still pretty damn good.

Why the increase in fastballs this season? According to Burnett, it's partially because he's still not comfortable using his curveball.

On paper, it doesn't make sense that Burnett would benefit from throwing more heaters. Last year, his fastball was one of the worst in the Majors and his hook one of the best. So far (working with small sample sizes obviously) both pitches have been pretty close to average.

If you believe the PitchFX data from FanGraphs, Burnett has thrown more two-seamers than in years past. Like, a lot more. Since 2007, only about two percent of his pitches were classified at two-seamers, but this year that proportion is nearly 1/4. It's worth noting that Joe from RAB thinks that this could be a result in a change in the PitchFX system, but based on Burnett's results and comments, I'm inclined to believe there is something there, even if the change isn't as drastic as the the numbers seem to indicate.

In last night's postgame interview, A.J. said that his two-seamer "was running all over the place". He also talked about letting batters hit the ball more than once:
I don't have to strike everybody out. I can let them put the ball in play - here it is, hit it - and more times than not, they'll make plays behind me.

...I’m learning more and more how to throw the ball to both sides of the plate with movement, and trusting my defense. We've got Hall of Famers everywhere behind me playing, so just let them hit the ball.
To distill this into a neat little cliché, he seems to be talking about pitching to contact. And the fact that he's walked fewer batters, struck out fewer and allowed more hits than in the past backs that up.

Perhaps putting the ball over the plate and trusting his defense wasn't something Burnett had planned on, but a place he's found himself in somewhat accidentally because his hook wasn't there for him yet. He's been forced to mix in his two-seamer and found that it could be an effective out pitch - except it's useful for inducing ground balls instead of tallying up strikeouts.

I don't mean to imply that Burnett has reinvented himself as a pitched on a whim at age 33. Of course, everything we are talking about in this post comes with a small sample size caveat and could be nothing more than a fuzzy memory when July rolls around. But he seems to be pitching differently and getting positive results and when he finally finds his curveball, he could be even more dangerous. One way or another, he's not going to finish the season with a 2.43 ERA. But it's hard not to be encouraged by what we've seen so far.