Thursday, May 20, 2010

Game 40 Recap

[Slight change of format for the recap for tonight. Because there is no way I'm doing a full blow-by-blow synopsis of this shitshow, the numbers within the chart represent the score at that point, with the Yankees total listed first.]

The first game of this series may have been the worst loss of the year, but this one wasn't too far behind. It had the triumvirate of suck, as the Yanks 1) fell behind early, 2) squandered a great chance to take the lead in the third inning and 3) captured our attention just long enough to let us down in the ninth.

Let's start with the good stuff.
  • David Robertson pitched a fantastic two innings, striking out four without allowing a baserunner.

  • Derek Jeter had three hits and drove in two runs.

  • Juan Miranda had a homer and a triple in his first two at bats, but the triple was on a high fly ball that B.J. Upton lost in the lights would have been easily caught otherwise.

  • I didn't see the first inning because I was doing yardwork. (Does that count?)

  • Seriously, that's it.
And now for the bad:
  • Just like last night, the Yankees gave up a run before recording an out. This time it was actually three runs, plunging their WPA to 24.8% before the offense had a chance to take a hack.

  • The Yanks tied this game twice - at 3-3 and 4-4 - only to give the lead back to the Rays in the next half inning.

  • Entering the third inning, the Yanks were trailing 3-2. Randy Winn led of with a base hit and Derek Jeter dropped one down for a bunt single. Brett Gardner followed with a bunt that he probably would have beat out but James Sheilds did the Yanks a favor by throwing it over Carlos Pena's head at first base, allowing Winn to score and the runners to advance to second and third with the heart of the lineup coming up. However, Mark Teixeira bounced one back to the pitcher and A-Rod and Cano both struck out swinging, leaving the runners stranded and the game tied.
  • The Rays hit four home runs, two by Pena, who was six for his last sixty with two extra base hits heading into this game, and one by Ben Zobrist - his first of the year.

  • Despite the fact that Andy Pettitte had thrown 101 pitches and allowed six runs through 5 innings, Joe Girardi let him come out for the sixth, apparently to match up with lefty Pena. And of course, Pettite promptly gave up Pena's first homer in 78 plate appearances.

  • Chan Ho Park entered this game with a 30.8% HR/FB rate actually increased it in his first inning of work. After allowing two deep fly balls to Zobrist and Evan Longoria that necessitated pretty good defensive plays to stop them, Park grooved a changeup to Pena, who smacked his second longball of the evening.

  • The Yanks showed some life in the 9th inning, but it was only a tease. Derek Jeter knocked in two runs with a double, bringing the tying run to the plate, but Brett Gardner grounded out to end the game. On a night like this, if you knew they weren't going to win, you might just wish they had went down in order and got it over with instead of getting our collective hopes up again, only to crush them for the third straight game.
The Yanks have now lost three in a row (all to divisional rivals) and four of their last five (all at home). They travel crosstown to face the Mets at Citi Field tomorrow night, but not before everyone in the New York media proceeds to jump to conclusions and start writing stories about how these two games prove how much better the Rays are than the Yankees. Can't wait.

Game 41: Mr. Big

Somewhere along the line, tonight's Tampa Bay starter, James Shields, picked up the nickname "Big Game James". Apparently started as a joke during his minor league days, the handle has stuck on Shields, even if no less an authority than JoePos himself questioned if it was really deserved.

Deserved or not, it's a pretty cool nickname, and one that Shields is doing his damndest to grow into. He was the top starter on Tampa Bay's 2008 pennant winning team, got the win in the first post-season game in Tampa Bay history, and threw five shutout innings in Game Two of the 2008 World Series, the first, and thus far only World Series game ever won by the Rays.

Shields took a small step back in 2009, seeing increases in his ERA, FIP, as well as jumps in his BABIP, walk and home run rates. Still it's splitting hairs. Despite a sub-.500 record, he was still worth 4.1 WAR, his xFIP was right in line with what he'd done in previous years, and he led Tampa Bay pitchers in innings for the third consecutive season, finishing in the top ten in the AL for third straight year.

He's off to an outstanding start this year, leading the AL in strikeouts and K:BB. There are a handful is statistical anomalies in his overall line: his HR rate has jumped up, but his walk rate is down, his strand rate is up, but he has an insanely high BABIP. All in all, they balance out as his ERA (3.00), FIP (3.45), and xFIP (2.94) all seem to indicate a pitcher who's quietly become amongst the twenty or so best in the game over the past three plus years. He may not have fully earned his "Big Game James" nickname just yet, but if Shields keeps pitching this way the Rays will be playing in plenty of big stage games in which he can prove his mettle.

Shields will be opposed by a pitcher who lacks the Big Game nickname, but certainly has the Big Game reputation. Through fifteen Major League seasons, Andy Pettitte has appeared in the post-season twelve times. Though his 3.90 ERA through 40 post-season starts doesn't stand out as overwhelmingly ace-like, he's won twice as many as he's lost (18-9), and his big game reputation extends from his 1-0 Game Five masterpiece against Atlanta in his second season, to winning the clincher in all three rounds of the 2009 post-season. Yes, he's tossed a clunker or two along the way, but when the stakes are highest, you'd be hard-pressed to find another pitcher Yankee fans would rather have on the mound.

Tonight's contest isn't exactly a Big Game, but a typically solid Pettitte performance would go a long way towards calming the nerves of a suddenly on edge fan base. The Yankees suffered bullpen meltdowns in three straight games to start the week, then followed that up with their worst overall performance of the season last night. They're a Jonathan Papelbon implosion away from having lost four straight against three teams who figure to have a good a chance to be playing when the Big Games come along in October.

Compounding matters is the seemingly never-ending string of injuries that adds to the-sky-is-falling sentiment that's starting to crop up. Pettitte himself was part of the leading edge of those injuries, exiting his May 5th start after five innings due to tightness in his elbow. He was skipped next time through the rotation, contributing to some of the pitching staff woes from which the club is just now emerging. He returned to the mound last Saturday, tossing 6.1 shutout innings during the last game in which the Yankee bullpen allowed fewer than four runs. Pettitte's strong performance in that game did much to quell concerns about him having lingering elbow issues. A similar performance tonight will go along way towards talking some fans back from the ledge and reminding folks that all is not lost after a rough patch in May.

So we'll see two Big Game pitchers take to the hill tonight. Much like Thunderdome, only one of them can emerge victorious. Will it be the wily veteran or the up-and-comer? Just remember, if the Yanks can't bury Big Game James tonight, a five game deficit with four and a half months to go isn't the end of the world.

So Mr. Big, you'd better watch out
Don't you come hanging around
Because for you, I will dig
A great big hole in the ground
[Song Notes: "Mr. Big" was initially recorded by Free in 1970, but Gov't Mule immediately made it part of their repertoire upon forming in 1994. And while Free is a fine band, I'm not choosing them over the Mule. YouTube has several excellent Mule versions of this tune, including one featuring Chris Robinson and Marc Ford of the Black Crowes during their joint tour in 1996. That tour took place in the fall, and that performance took place in Atlanta. The same time and place that Andy Pettitte established his big game reputation.

The video above is of better quality than the one featuring Robinson and Ford, but is of the same vintage, coming from Martyrs in Chicago on 6/7/96, one day after Andy Pettitte threw a one run complete game gem against the Blue Jays in the Bronx. It features the late, great Allen Woody on bass - the above video that is, not the complete game.

Lastly, the cheesy pop rock band Mr. Big also covered this tune, and presumably took their name from the song as well. I'll be damned if I ever embed a Mr. Big video here, but I bring this up if only to mention that 17 years later I still can't believe that my buddy Arty got the out-of-his-league Becky to slow dance with him to Mr. Big's "To Be With You" at the junior high Halloween Dance. But I digress.]


First, the roster moves. Jorge Posada has been placed on the DL. Kevin Russo has been recalled to take his place. Nick Johnson has been shifted to the 60 day DL, opening a spot on the 40 man roster. Chad Moeller's contract was purchased from Scranton, thereby placing him in that open 40 man spot. Mark Melancon was optioned back to Scranton, and Moeller was recalled to take his place. In terms of roles Moeller is clearly replacing Posada, but because Kevin Russo hasn't been down for ten days yet, he can only be recalled in place of a DL'd player. As such, he is technically taking Posada's spot on the roster, with the Melancon/Moeller move happening independently. Meanwhile, Boone Logan lives another day.

Russo is a bit of interesting choice as he isn't a pure outfielder, but he's seen a lot of action there in Scranton recently, with four appearances in center field and one in both corners. As the nagging injuries heal up though, the need for a strict outfielder will diminish and Russo's versatility will be an asset heading into interleague games in NL parks.

The lineup is currently on hold thanks to Nick Swisher. He is expected to play tonight, but Joe Girardi wants to watch him take BP before penciling him in officially. Nick Swisher returns to the lineup. I wouldn't call 6 through 9 formidable, but it's far better than what we've seen for the past three games.

Please note tonight's game is on MY9, not YES
Jeter SS
Gardner CF
Teixeira 1B
Rodriguez 3B
Cano 2B
Swisher RF
Miranda DH
Cervelli C
Winn LF

Jason Barlett SS
Carl Crawford LF
Ben Zobrist 2B
Ecan Lognoria 3B
Carlos Pena 1B
B.J. Upton CF
Willy Aybar DH
Dioner Navarro C
Gabe Kapler RF

Thursday Afternoon Linkarooski

Like seemingly everyone on the Yankees, these links are day-to-day.
A recent calculation by Forbes determined that the Yankees have the most valuable brand of any sports franchise in the world. At least internationally, I think this has more to do with this association with New York than their history as a baseball team.

I'm sure others who have traveled abroad have had the similar experiences, but I've talked to a good amount of people in counties like China and South Africa who were wearing caps with the interlocking NY and had no idea what the Yankees even were. To them, the hat stands for New York City and not the Yankees as a baseball team.

On Monday, Curtis Granderson wrote about his road to recovery - which included a case of strep throat - at Big League Stew.

Thanks to everybody who sent this one in: the NC State baseball team's media guide had a fantastic misspelling of "Wolfpack" that us Fackers were all too happy to see.

Apparently Matt Garza hasn't stopped being a complete cock between last July and now.

Still down about last night's loss? The first comment on this page should cheer you up.

Both Larry from the Yankeeist and frequent commenter Jimmy suggested the same thing this morning: moving Derek Jeter out of the lead off spot. As Matt said in the comments, it wouldn't be worth the media backlash and given how many balls Jeter has hit on the ground, particularly to short, he would be on a record setting pace for double plays this year.

So it appears that Josh Beckett is really hurt, unless putting him on the 15 day DL is just another part of the Red Sox elaborate ruse.

The Yankees are purportedly interested in Yunesky Maya, a 28 year old, right handed Cuban pitcher who has recently been unblocked after defecting nine months ago.

Ross from NYYSI discovers the seedy underbelly of Yankee Stadium's Bat Day.

Here's a puff piece from USA Today about George Steinbrenner and his contributions to the city of Tampa.

Joe Posnanski wrote a post explaining his contention that it's "just barely above possible" that Derek Jeter will break Pete Rose's hit record and then made some more predictions about which career numbers players including A-Rod, CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera will reach.

The WSJ says that Rivera is the best Yankee pitcher of all time. I don't agree with their methodology because Mo has a distinct advantage in categories like ERA and I'm not sure how they are isolating his "impact on attendance", but it's hard to argue with their conclusion. Mo is the man.

By now you know that Hanely Ramirez was benched for jogging after a ball that he booted into left field and was back in the lineup last night after apologizing to his team. Morgan Ensberg took him to task for it, David Ortiz told him to apologize, Bert Blyleven thinks how he dealt with it in the media was the real problem, and Posnanski mined some comments from his readers who imagined what Derek Jeter would have done in that situation, such as:
Jeter wouldn’t have chased the ball. The ball would have chased Jeter.
Plenty of words have been spilled about Ramriez think already, and it's basically over, but very quickly, I think it's kind of amazing amazing that we expect athletes to give maximum effort (or at least act like they are) on every single play, and for the most part, they do. We are imperfect as humans but we are capable of trying pretty damn hard.

Theo Epstein went to a Pearl Jam concert during a Red Sox game. Wearing a disguise. No big deal, Matt did the same thing when he saw them in Hartford. Gotta find a way to deflect all the attention from the roving hoards of Fack Youk Floozies, you know?

Ryan Wilkins explored what exactly the addition of historical WAR to means for the future of baseball history.

Dave Cameron wonders why the respect for Ken Griffey Jr. is a one way street.

Ultimate Zone Rating just got a facelift. Over at FanGraphs, MGL lays out the updated primer and David Appelman announces the introduction of home/road splits for UZR (which unfortunately will be a small sample size minefield and probably only useful for outfielders).

Carson Cistulli's series at FanGraphs rolls on with Why Tommy Bennett Writes. It's both incredibly well-written and a veritable tour de force in one downsmanship. Here is Will Leitch's installment as well.

Ben Jacobs from THT was at the game Stephen Strasburg started against the Rochester Red Wings last night and wrote about the phenom's performance.

Roster Moves Coming Today

Good morning Fackers. As we mentioned in last night's recap, Jorge Posada's MRI revealed a hairline fracture on the bottom of his right foot. He's expected to be out three to four weeks, though in typical Posada fashion, he said he'll be back sooner than that.

In some ways, his upcoming DL stint could be a blessing in disguise. While the last thing the Yankees need right now is another injury, the soon to be 39 year old Posada hasn't been healthy in three weeks. Nagging injuries to his knee, calf, and foot, have kept him out of the starting lineup for 11 of the past 20 games. He's only started seven games behind the plate in that time. Placing him on the DL for at least the next two weeks should allow him the time he needs to heal up. But obviously, this will necessitate some additional roster shuffling.

Let me throw some cold water on two of the hotter suggestions that will be bandied about today. As much as we'd like to see either top prospect, neither Jesus Montero nor Austin Romine will be brought up to take Posada's place. Neither is Big League ready. Both need to be playing, and catching, everyday as a critical part of their development right now. It would be a disservice to either to call them up; they aren't ready. Montero has struggled a bit offensively this year, for the first time in his career, and is just now starting to come out of his slump. Romine has been hitting very well at AA, but recently missed several games behind the plate due to a period of dead arm. Patience. We'll see them soon enough.

Who we will see is veteran catcher Chad Moeller. Moeller was released by Baltimore at the end of Spring Training, and the Yankees quickly grabbed him up for this express purpose: to serve as the veteran emergency catcher at AAA. Moeller is currently not on the 40 man roster, which is full, so room will have to be made for him. Nick Johnson will likely be transferred from the 15 day to the 60 day DL to open a spot.

Moeller had a brush with the Yankees in 2008, joining the club when Posada went down with a shoulder injury, then being pulled from team once Ivan Rodriguez was acquired at the trade deadline. Moeller had little impact on the roster during that time; he'll try to take a bite out of the competition this time around and give the team something to chew on. (Ok, that's enough teeth jokes from me. I wouldn't want Rick Reilly to accuse me of stealing his schtick).

The Moeller for Posada swap likely won't be the only move made today. The Yankee bench has been woefully short the past two nights, due to Posada's injury, Nick Swisher's nagging biceps problem, and the 13 man pitching staff. With Marcus Thames adding his name to the list of the walking wounded last night, another outfielder will be needed. Low men on the bullpen totem pole Boone Logan and Mark Melancon soaked up all the necessary relief innings last night, and Sergio Mitre now has had three days rest following his Sunday spot start. As such, the bullpen should be sufficiently fortified and rested moving forward, allowing a return to a more manageable 12 man staff.

With Posada heading to the DL, the Yankees have the option of recalling Greg Golson, who was sent down Tuesday. Since he'd be replacing a DL'd player the ten day demotion requirement would be waived. The same applies to Kevin Russo, who was demoted last Thursday, and has been playing all over the field since heading back to Scranton. And as we mentioned yesterday, it appears that Scranton has been prepping outfielder/first baseman Chad Huffman, hitting .274/.344/.460 on the season and .317/.457/.548 over his last ten games, for a potential recall.

So it appears we'll see a series of roster moves today. Nick Johnson will be transfered to the 60 day DL so that Chad Moeller can be added to the 40 man roster. Jorge Posada will be placed on the 15 day DL, and one of Golson, Russo, or Huffman will be recalled to take his place. And the extra pitcher, either Boone Logan or Mark Melancon, will be optioned back to Scranton allowing for Moeller's recall. We'll update you on the finalized roster moves in today's preview.