Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Game 47: Texas Flood

Tonight matches the best home run hitting offense in the American League with its 4th least effective pitcher at keeping the ball in the park. In 9 games, A.J. Burnett has been tagged for 10 long balls, including three in his last start against the Phillies. The Rangers have hit 76 dingers in 45 games, three more that the Yankees in one fewer outing. What are chances A.J. can keep the flood gates closed?

Burnett has always worn the tag of "inconsistent" but with each passing start, he's inching closer and closer to "bad". He hasn't sported an ERA under 5.00 since his third start of the season and hasn't been on the winning end of a decision since his second. He's allowed at least two runs in every start this year, but has given the Yankees something they've sorely needed: over 6 1/3 innings per start. 

The Rangers counter with 22 year old lefty Derek Holland. This is only Holland's second start of the year, after making seven appearances in relief. He needed only 76 pitches to get through 5 2/3 innings in his last start, and based on his GM's attitude towards starting pitchers, he should be looking to take this one a little deeper. 

Lately, much has been made of Nolan Ryan's philosophy concernign managing the Ranger's pitching staff. Ryan has been amping up their pitcher's training regiment with the intent having them throw more innings and cope with the sometimes oppressively hot nights that accompany Summers in Arlington:
Pitchers, Ryan said, would be expected to last deeper in games. To handle the Texas heat, they would train harder, emphasizing sprinting over distance running and throwing live batting practice all through camp. Pitchers would do more long-tossing and coaches would pay more attention to the stress of each outing, not simply the number of pitches.
It sort of sounds like your typical crowing from old timey baseball folks who say that pitch counts are for pussies, but this has seemingly worked so far, even in one of the better hitter's parks in all of baseball. The Rangers lead the league in innings from their starting staff and were the last team in the AL to ask for 100 innings from their bullpen. Maybe that tough talk from Ryan, a Refugio, Texas native is really starting to pay off. 

When fellow Texan (Dallas born, to be exact) Stevie Ray Vaughan wrote the lyrics to the song below, he was probably talking about a night like last night. May is the rainiest month in Dallas, but if there's any "floodin' down in Texas" tonight, the radar indicates it will be contained to the San Antonio area. 

Well there's floodin' down in Texas... all of the telephone lines are down.
And I've been tryin' to call my baby... Lord and I can't get a single sound.

Joba's Off Night

"I could go on for days and days to tell you how bad I was. Plain and simple, I was terrible. There's no getting around it. I've got to do a better job of keeping my team in the game and not try to battle myself the whole time." ~ Joba Chamberlain, talking about his performance last night
If you want to take a pessimistic look at what happened last night, there's plenty to get riled up about. Coming off of a game where a line drive hit his shin, Joba's fastball velocity was down, and he gave up nine baserunners in four innings. Scarsely more than half of his 84 pitches went for strikes. For the sixth time in nine starts, he allowed a home run. 

On the bright side, however, just as his career line would have predicted, Joba struck out more than one batter per inning. Joe Girardi could have very easily let Joba come back out for the bottom of the 5th, but chose the cautious route, allowing critics to point to the fact that he only lasted four frames. It wasn't like he was getting torched or had already hit 100 pitches. 

What's important to note is that Joba's bad outings are rarely that bad. He gave up 5 runs in 4 2/3 innings in his second start of the year and 4 runs in 5 2/3 against the Red Sox. Of course, neither of those two are going to pass for solid outings. But if you are going to have a bad start, it's obviously better not to give up many earned runs, regardless of how few innings are thrown. That way, the bullpen theoretically has a chance to keep the other team from scoring, even given how unlikley the Yanks' relievers have made that seem recently.

It's also heartening to hear a 23 year old take responsibility for a bad performance like he did in the quote above, something one Yankee prospect seemed to have quite a bit of trouble with. He didn't make excuses about the rain delay, the umpires' strike zone or bad luck. Even when things go wrong, Joba says the right things. After last night, his ERA is still 3.97 and he's been the second best starter on the Yankees. 

Deconstructing Roster Construction

As I did last week when I ripped into Joe Torre, I'm going to start off positive. I like Brian Cashman. I think he's the right GM for this franchise. I think he does a good job with his resources, has revitalized the farm system, handles the media well, and has maintained both a level head and his dignity through eleven plus years in one of the most demanding jobs in sports. I think he has a vision for the future of this franchise and has a plan for how to execute it.

I also like Joe Girardi. Sort of. When it was clear that Torre was gone, Girardi was the guy I wanted to get the job. Despite his hokey "aw-shucks" routine, penchant for dishonesty with the media, a sometimes prickly relationship with his players, and his making of head-scratching moves on a nightly basis, I still think he's the right guy for the job. No sense changing horses mid-race - he still needs time to accomplish what he's here to do.

That said, I'm reaching the point of exasperation with how these two are constructing both the 25 and 40 man rosters and how Girardi is utilizing the former. These things are easy to miss when they're winning, but tough not to ignore when they're losing.

So without further ado, here's a look at some of the fat taking up precious roster spots. For an detailed explanation on how the 25 and 40 man rosters work, check here.

Honorable Mention: 40 Man Roster Division
Andrew Brackman and Juan Miranda

I'm not suggesting that neither Andrew Brackman nor Juan Miranda isn't valuable or isn't good. The problem however is that both these individuals were given Major League contracts when they first signed, meaning that they immediately had to be added to the 40 man roster.

Andrew Brackman is currently pitching in Low A-ball after missing all of last year following Tommy John surgery. I can't see him reaching the Bronx until September 2010 at the earliest, and likely later than that. Which isn't to say that he can't be good, because he certainly can. But right now he's taking up a precious 40 man spot. Had Brackman not been signed to a Major League deal, he wouldn't need to be added to the 40 man until after the 2010 season. Thank you, Scott Boras.

Had it not been for his Major League contract, Juan Miranda would not need to be added to the 40 man roster until after this season. The guy can hit, posting .275/.366/.468 over his minor league career. He cannot field however, being a first baseman exclusively and not a very adept one at that. Since the Yankees are set at that position for the next eight years or so, Miranda is stuck. He can't play the outfield, hasn't been tried there even, and the Yankees already have two guys who are exclusively DHs at this point. Miranda has value; why he isn't being actively shopped for a more usable player doesn't make sense to me.

The 40 man roster allows you a reservoir of 15 reserves for replacements and injuries. These two men represent greater than 13% of that. So right off the bat, the Yankees are in a hole. Add to that the five guys currently on the 15 day DL and the Yankees have exactly 8 of their 15 reserves that they could reasonably use right now.

Active Roster Division
Listed in Order of Ascending Value to the Roster
1) Brett Tomko
Brett Tomko has no business being on a Major League roster. None. Yet here is, representing 4% of a team that's supposed to be contending for the World Series.

He's terrible. He's 36. He's been in the majors for 13 years. He's turned in 9 different stints with 7 different organizations. He's been released three times in the last twenty-one months, each time by a team far, far out of contention. He's turned in an ERA better than league average only twice in 12 seasons, and not once since 2004, despite playing the majority of his career in pitcher's parks. What in the world makes the Yankees think he's a more compelling option than any number of younger pitchers they have in AAA? Because he can fool minor league hitters that he has a dozen years of Big League experience on?

Not only is he awful, he has no defined role. The former starter apparently can't be used as a long man because he's been a short stint reliever this year. Yet he couldn't be trusted to pitch the ninth in a laugher against Baltimore last week, or hold an 11 run lead for an inning against Texas Monday. What the hell do you call the guy who's lower than the mop-up man? Meanwhile the Yankees cut loose Eric Hacker to add Tomko to the roster. Great work guys.

2) Angel Berroa
Angel Berroa is quite possibly worse than Brett Tomko. The only reason Tomko is worse on this list is that the organization has any number of better options to do what Tomko does. They don't have those players who can do what Berroa does. Or what Berroa is supposed to do, at least.

Let's recap. The Yankees wisely chose Ramiro Pena over Angel Berroa to be the utility infielder coming out of spring training. When Cody Ransom went down with a torn quadriceps, Berroa was added to the roster. Not ideal, but I could at least understand why they move was made. Another IFer was needed, even if he had hit .231/.272/.322 (54 OPS+) over his last 772 MLB PA. The Yanks didn't really have any other viable options in the system. Maybe Kevin Russo, but he can't play short. Neither can Berroa - but at least he has played short.

"What's the worst that could happen?" I figured. Berroa was added to the roster on 4/25. A-Rod returned to the roster on 5/8. I figured Berroa was gone. Nope. Both catchers went down necessitating a 40 man move. I figured Berroa was gone. Nope. Brett Tomko was inexplicably added to the roster necessitating a 40 man move. I figured Berroa was gone. Nope.

The company line is that the Yankees want another infielder around until they're sure A-Rod is healthy. A-Rod has not looked 100% in the field nor on the bases. Yet, he has started all 18 games since returning, 16 of them at 3B. He's completed all but 5 of those games, never being removed before the 8th nor before the outcome was all but settled. Are you sure yet?

Meanwhile, the biggest thing of value Berroa has done has been to warm up the pitcher when the catcher makes the last out of an inning. Since May 4th, he has appeared in five games, never earlier than the eight inning. He has zero plate appearances in that time. Zero. In that same time frame Brett Gardner has been used as a pinch hitter four times.

So basically the Yankees are saying that saving A-Rod 5 innings in the field over the past 3+ weeks has been worth sending Brett Gardner up as a pinch hitter rather than Shelley Duncan, John Rodriguez, Todd Linden, or Juan Miranda. The Yankees value their washed-up second back-up infielder more than they did the careers of young pitchers Stephen Jackson or Eric Hacker.

Pete Abe likes to joke about how old Berroa looks. I think the guy may actually be a cockroach, because it appears it'll take a nuclear winter to get him off the roster.

3) Jose Veras
Here's the thing about middle relievers: There's a reason they're middle relievers. They're not good enough to start and they're not good enough to close. With a few exceptions, anyone below the third guy in a pen is essentially a replacement level player. If he's not doing the job, chances are you have someone else behind him in the pen or below him in AAA who can.

Despite a high WHIP (1.41) and high BB/9 (4.5) last year, Veras was pretty effective over 57.2 innings, with a 124 ERA+ and a K/9 of 9.8.

This year he is not effective at all. The WHIP is up (1.45), the BB/9 is way up (6.1), the ERA+ (82) and K/9 (7.0) are significantly down. He's worse in every conceivable way and seems to go 3-0 on the first batter every time he's entered a game.

Yet the Yankees won't get rid of him because he's out of options. They can't send him down without exposing him to waivers and are afraid they'll lose him for nothing. I say "so what?". They got lucky, catching lightning in a bottle with him last year. He's no good this year. Relievers are volatile like that. That's how it works. Meanwhile Mark Melancon, Anthony Claggett, and until yesterday, David Robertson, rot away in Scranton.

As with Berroa and Tomko, Veras is a waste of a 40 man spot that could be better used on someone else who could give them more roster flexibility and at least equal performance.

4) Kevin Cash
Here's the catch-22 about being the Yankees. When you trot out a waste of a uniform like Kevin Cash and his career OPS+ of 36, people say things like "You're the Yankees. How in the world can you spend $200M and still have to resort to Kevin Cash?". And in a way, those people are right.

But at the same time, if you're the Yankees, how do you lure a decent catcher to sit in AAA and be an insurance policy behind Posada and Molina, and maybe even Cervelli, without paying him an arm and a leg, and having everyone bitch about how much money you spend?

With Posada coming off surgery and Molina being a zero offensively, Cashman should have had a better insurance policy lined-up, preferably one who wasn't a worse hitter than Molina. But I can understand at least, why that may not have happened.

This shouldn't matter much longer. Posada could be back by the weekend and Cash should immediately be DFA'd. If they send Cervelli down first I'll flip my lid. Who cares if they lose Cash? Number 1, he's awful. Number 2, what are the chances of needing a fourth catcher again this year? Number 3, they still have Chris Stewart and PJ Pilittere at Scranton if such a situation arises. And Number 4, last year's emergency catcher, Chad Moeller, will likely be DFA'd Friday when Baltimore activates uber-prospect Matt Wieters. I would not be surprised at all to see Moeller sign a minor league deal with the Yanks.

I can't wait to be rid of Cash.

5) Chien-Ming Wang
I almost feel bad putting him on this list. I'm very confident that Wang can return to form. However, as I stated last week and as RAB put far more eloquently, I think the Yankees have botched his return very badly.

He is clearly not right yet. But in order to get right, he's going to have to do it at the Major League level, because there's no way he gets through waivers and there's very little chance of DLing him again after the first one was kind of suspect. But because Joba took a liner and the Yankees apparently hate the other pitchers on their 40 man, they panicked, deviated from a course of action they had planned just the day before, and foolishly rushed Wang back into a role for which he is neither suited nor ready.

What's more is he has to fix his problems working out of the pen despite having relieved just four times in his entire professional career. And much like Tomko, I have no friggin' clue how Girardi intends to use him. Last night Joba was pulled after four innings and Girardi went to Aceves for the second straight day. If you're not going to use Wang when your starter only goes four, when are you going to use him?

Now, Wang has gone four days without pitching. He's a sinker baller. Sinker ballers need work and they even tend to pitch a bit better when slightly fatigued. Wang's sinker is not sinking, which is a big cause of his problems right now. I have no clue how he's going to get straightened out. I fear 2009 may turn out to be a total loss for him.

If you're keeping score at home, that's five of the twenty-five men on the active roster. Twenty percent of the active roster offering little or no value to the club right now. Throw in an injury that will likely sideline Melky for a few days and the Yankees essentially have a 19 man roster. A lot of this can be fixed by players getting healthy, but much of it is of Cashman's and Girardi's own making. I hope that once players start returning, the Tomkos, Berroas, Verases, and Cashes of the world are finally exiled and some players that offer a little more flexibility are added to the roster.

The Jackson Report: 5/27

(Picture via Chad Jennings)

After Melky Cabrera was taken out in the first inning of last night's game, Matt and I pondered the implications of a DL stay for Melky. Obviously, one of the first courses of action that we discussed was whether or not the Yankees should call up Austin Jackson.

(Click to enlarge) 

Jackson has had a great deal of success against AAA pitching this year. His BA, OPB, and SLG are all higher than his minor league career numbers (which all of, save for one game, were accumulated at AA or lower). He's hit safely in 34 of 41 games, had 15 multi-hit efforts and is currently riding an 8 game hitting streak.  Since we last checked in, Jackson has raised each of his slash stats and tacked on 5 more doubles and 5 more RBIs. His numbers are better with men on base than with the bases empty, and better yet with runners in scoring position.

There are some glaring holes in his game, however. During that stretch, he struck out 11 times (more than once per game on the year) and still has yet to register a home run at AAA. Both of those weaknesses project to be exacerbated by a jump to the Bigs. 

Being that a couple weeks without Melky would leave Brett Gardner as the only competent defensive CF on the roster it seems as though Jackson would at least have to be considered for a promotion. Matt and I agreed on this assessment but differed on the course of action. 


Jay says: I'm favor of the promotion, provided that it would only last until Melky was able to come back. Just in terms of a roster move, the alternative would be keeping only one capable CF on the 25 man roster, thus hamstringing Joe Girardi pretty severely. Damon or Swisher could play center in a pinch, but neither have manned the position at all this year and represent significant defensive downgrades. Jackson's offensive numbers project to be better than Gardner's at the MLB level and it would be had to imagine someone this side of Little League hitting worse that Swish is right now. 

In terms of Jackson's development, I feel like in most aspects of life, taking on a challenge is usually a positive thing. I wouldn't want him to languish on the bench, but one would assume that making his debut on the big stage and getting some at bats against major league pitching would probably make AAA seem a little easier by comparison when he went back down. 

Matt Says: I'm opposed to a promotion. There's no question Austin Jackson has been playing well at AAA. He's 4th in the IL in AVG and 2nd in OBP. However, he has not yet accomplished what he needs to in AAA in order to move on. While his slugging percentage is good, he's yet to homer. He's shown continued improvement with his BB rate (up to 11%), but his K rate has also jumped up to 28.4% after being under 22% each of the last two years.

I agree with Jay in that you need to challenge players, but Jackson is already being challenged. He's been fast-tracked through the system. This is only his fourth year of full-season pro ball and he is one of the youngest players in the IL. Give him the full year in AAA and don't make another ill-advised knee-jerk reaction.

Further, 40 man roster spots are in short supply right now (more on that later). I'd hate to DFA another player to add AJax for a quick fix. If a CFer is needed in Melky's absence, add Todd Linden. AJax needs to play everyday; Linden could be a usable bench piece. If he isn't, there's no harm in cutting him loose and adding someone else. Once AJax is added though he isn't going anywhere. And once he's called up that arbitration clock starts ticking.

In Melky Cabrera, the Yankees already have a CFer whose development may have been stunted by rushing him to the Big Leagues. I hope they don't repeat that mistake with AJax. 

The commenters say: (...leave your thoughts below)

That Was Kind Of Painful

When Kevin Millwood threw out the first pitch of last night's game, it was already 10:30 EDT and there was still a faint drizzle coating the field. Ken Singleton first estimated that the delay would only last about an hour when the game was scheduled to start and a thunderstorm cell was moving through the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but as I periodically refreshed the radar, it seemed to have stalled out right over the park. It didn't start raining for more than an hour, but when it did, chunks of hail and bolts of lightning caused the Rangers to ask fans to clear the upper decks. The final length of the delay: 2:24.

Derek Jeter busted a single to left-center to start the game, but the Yanks failed to get anything going in the first. The bottom half of the inning was significantly more eventful, and not in a good way for the road team. 

Ian Kinsler, the first Ranger to come to the plate, took a 2-2 pitch out to deep center field. Melky Cabrera tracked it, came close to making a nice catch, but couldn't slow down and face planted into the wall. 

He came away clutching his shoulder as his right arm hung limp. He still managed to throw the ball back towards the infield with his left hand, but Kinsler had already reached third with a stand-up, lead-off triple. It seems as though the Yankees simply can't make it through a series in the state of Texas without suffering an injury. Brett Gardner came in as a replacement, and the latest word on Cabrera is that he had sprained his shoulder and is day to day.

With Kinsler standing on third, Michael Young came to the plate and pulled one to A-Rod, who was standing about 10 feet from thrid base. Alex looked at Kinsler, who stutter-stepped over towards home, and instead of throwing to first, A-Rod made a dash and narrowly tagged out Kinsler at third. 

The aggressive, heads up play gave Joba some breathing room, but it was short lived.

There were two outs and a man of first after Chamberlain retired Michael Young on a force out to second base and it looked like Joba was poised to escape the inning unscathed. But Nelson Cruz laced a double to left, then David Murphy worked a walk. With the bases loaded, Marlon Byrd knocked a base hit and the Rangers grabbed the lead 2-0. 

In the second, Brett Gardner hit a one out single and proceed to steal second and third with Hideki Matsui at the plate. Matsui stuck out, Swish worked a walk and Gardner was stranded after Frankie Cervelli grounded out to second. 

The Rangers plated another run in the bottom of the 4th via a Chris Davis homer, his tenth of the year. True to his nature, Davis also struck out twice last night, bringing his league-leading tally to 66 in only 162 plate appearances. Joba made it through the fourth, but that was where his night would end. He had only thrown 84 pitches, but the combination of having to wait out the rain delay and his obvious ineffectiveness (4H, 4BB) cut his night short.

Mark Teixeira finally put the Yankees on the board with a deep blast in the the right field upper deck in the bottom of the fifth that the announcers somehow estimated at only 391ft. I demand a recount. It was his 14th of the year putting him in second place in the AL

Trailing 3-1 entering the 6th inning, Brett Gardner led off with a single and promptly swiped second, Gardner's third and Yankees fifth base nabbed from the battery of Millwood and Saltalamacchia last night. 

Matsui capitalized on this robbery and drove Gardner home with a double. Godzilla scored two batters later on a Cervelli single. 

Appearing for the second night in a row, Alfredo Aceves came on in relief of Chamberlain. He worked a scoreless fifth inning, but coughed up the lead in the sixth. AA allowed a single and a double to begin the 7th and was replaced by Phil Coke, who allowed both inherited runners to score. Coke served up Chris Davis' 11th homer of the year in the 8th before David Robertson pitched a scoreless frame in his first outing since being recalled from Scranton. Final score: Yanks 3, Rangers 7.

Between the rain delay, the injury to Melky and Joba's struggles, this was a particularly excruciating contest to sit through. Play was sloppy and the contest didn't wrap up until 1:39AM, although the outcome felt like it was decided when Coke couldn't clean up for Aceves about a half hour earlier. You win some, you lose some, and some kind of suck. I think we know which two apply to this one.