Friday, May 14, 2010

Game 35 Recap

A.J. Burnett ran into trouble right out of the gate. He stranded two runners in the first inning and then loaded the bases with no one out in the second. Nick Punto stood there while Burnett threw four straight balls to force in a run but up next, Denard Span tapped one back to the mound and allowed Burnett start a 1-2-3 double play and stall the rally. Orland Hudson struck out swinging to end the inning and Burnett escaped relatively unscathed.

Nick Swisher came out of the game after striking out in the second inning, his bicep injury apparently still nagging him. He had an MRI but it was negative and he's day-to-day.

The Yankees took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on a home run by Brett Gardner and a ground rule double to right by Robinson Cano but Joe Mauer hit a solo homer to even the score in the top of the fifth. In the bottom half of that inning, the Yanks jumped ahead once again, this time on a double my Mark Teixeira that scored Brett Garnder from first.

The score remained 3-2 until the top of the 7th. Burnett got two outs and with only 100 pitches and a man on first, Joe Girardi went to the bullpen for Damaso Marte, who promptly allowed a game-tying single to Joe Mauer. Brett Gardner threw the ball home for no apparent reason and allowed Joe Mauer to advance to second. Justin Morneau then ripped a double to center and gave the Twins a 4-3 advantage.

Scott Baker came out of the bottom of the 7th and gave up a single to Francisco Cervelli. Derek Jeter followed with a line drive directly off Baker's knee that deflected far enough away for Cervelli to get to third and Jeter to get to second with a double. Gardner looped out to left but it was caught and the Twins elected to walk Mark Teixeira to load the bases for A-Rod. Looking for the double play, Ron Gardnehire brought in sinkerballer Matt Guerrier, who A-Rod was 4-6 off of with three homers. Impossibly, his line got even better.

After ripping the first pitch down the third baseline (which looked to be fair or very close to it), Rodriguez blasted a fat fastball into the seats just in front of the bleachers in left for the 19th grand slam of his career, giving the Yanks a 7-4 lead. It also put him at 587, one ahead of Frank Robinson. A-Rod's home run was worth 35.9% of WPA which negated Marte's -33.5% implosion and then some.

Joba Chamberlain struck out the side in the top of the eighth inning, Francisco had an RBI triple in the bottom half and Mariano Rivera sat the Twins down in the ninth to wrap things up. The final score was 8-4 as the Yanks temporarily slowed their skid and continued their dominance at home over the Twins.

Tomorrow's game is at 1:00 as Andy Pettitte takes on the resurgent Francisco Liriano.

Game 35: Twenty Five Miles

One day short of one year ago, the Minnesota Twins came into New York for a four game wrap-around weekend series. The Yankees swept, winning the first three games via walkoff. The team had already registered two walkoff wins prior to the start of that series, but the triplet against the Twins was what began to make 2009 the year of the walkoff. It was in the second game of that series, won by an eleventh inning Alex Rodriguez home run, that A.J. Burnett delivered his first pie in the face of 2009. He followed that up with another the next day, when Johnny Damon hit a tenth inning homer to win a game that Burnett had started. A tradition was born.

After taking the fourth game of that series (in non-walkoff) fashion, the teams didn't meet again until a three game series in Minnesota in July. The Yankees swept that series as well, with Burnett getting the win in the middle game. But by virtue of being on the road, there were no walkoffs.

And of course the teams met again in the ALDS, and again, the Yankees swept. The final meeting at Yankee Stadium took place in Game Two, started by A.J. Burnett and ended by a Mark Teixeira walkoff home run in the eleventh inning. All told, the clubs met ten times last year and the Yankees won all ten games, four of them via walkoff.

A.J. Burnett gets the ball for the Yankees tonight, as they open a three game weekend series against the Twins. He was stone wild last year, leading the American League in both walks and wild pitches. This year is a different story, as Burnett's 2010 walk rate sits at just 2.8 per nine innings, 1.4 walks per nine lower than it was last year, and just 0.2 walks per nine greater than his career best of 2.6 walks per nine in 2006. Burnett may have a little more difficulty keeping the walks down tonight. Entering play today the Twins rank third in MLB in both walks (147) and walk rate (10.9%), up from being twelfth in both categories last year.

The Yankees are one of the two teams ahead of the Twins in both walks and walk rate, ranking second to Atlanta in both categories. But they're going to have their work cut out for them tonight if they want to get their free passes. Minnesota starter Scott Baker has a walk rate of just 2.1 per nine through his first 696 Major League innings. He ranked seventh in the AL in BB/9 last year, is currently eighth in the AL this year, and would have been amongst the league leaders in each of his first four seasons had he pitched enough innings to qualify. Since his debut in 2005, Baker ranks twelfth in walk rate amongst all pitchers with at least 696 IP.

After registering fifteen walkoff wins in 2009, the Yankees have yet to have one in 2010. But with four walkoffs in six chances against the Twins last year, perhaps this series will offer the Yankees first walkoff of the season. These two clubs are the two most walk happy in the AL this year, but one may lose their stride tonight since the starters have been so stingy with the base on balls. So what's it going to be: Walkoff or walk on?

I got to keep on walkin'
I got to walk on oh ho ho
I, I, I, I, I'm so tired but I just can't lose my stride
Walk on let me tell you ya'll
I, I, I, I, I, I'm so tired
But I just can't lose my stride

[Song notes: The Yankees may have left Motown yesterday, but I'm still in a Motown Records state of mind. Of course, Edwin Starr's most appropriate baseball song might just be "War", but that meme's been used so many times before.]


One roster note: the Yankees have released Christian Garcia. The talented but perpetually injured pitcher left his first start of the year with pain in his elbow, and has since undergone his second career Tommy John Surgery. With the open roster spot, the club has claimed pitcher Shane Lindsay on waivers from Colorado. This might not ever come into play, but the club has forfeited some roster flexibility with this move. Garcia's season ending surgery made him a 60 day DL candidate waiting to happen. Calling Garcia up and placing him on the DL would have opened a 40 man spot in the event the Yankees needed it later in the year. They no longer have that option, but they must see enough in the Australian Lindsay to feel comfortable giving up that flexibility.

Given Garcia's injury history, it's no sure bet that another organization snatches him up. He may end up back in the Yankees system, much like oft-injured Humberto Sanchez did after he was DFA'd following the 2008 season.

Derek Jeter, slump, sore pinky and all, remains in the lineup. Nick Swisher and his sore bicep return after a one day absence. Brett Gardner remains in the two spot; with Jorge Posada getting the night off the club prefers keeping Swisher's power in the middle of the order. With a righty on the mound Juan Miranda gets the nod as the DH, but interestingly Marcus Thames starts in left field.
Derek Jeter SS
Brett Gardner CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Marcus Thames LF
Juan Miranda DH
Francisco Cervelli C

Denard Span CF
Orlando Hudson 2B
Joe Mauer C
Justin Morneau 1B
Michael Cuddyer RF
Jason Kubel DH
Delmon Young LF
Alexi Casilla SS
Nick Punto 3B

Much Ado About Jesus

It's been a rough week for Jesus Montero. Last Friday night, he was pulled from Scranton's game. Initial speculation was that he might have injured his leg, but it was later revealed that he removed for failing to run out a ground ball. He was held out of the lineup for the next two days as punishment, despite the fact the Yankees daily injuries forced them to dip into the Scranton roster on nearly a daily basis.

That should have been the end of it. But this is New York, and Montero is one of the top prospects in baseball. We have to have a controversy here.

First up is's Jayson Stark with his weekly Rumbling & Grumblings column. File this one under grumblings:
Battle of the catching phenoms: It isn't every year that the International League has two catching prospects as hyped as Jesus Montero (Yankees) and Carlos Santana (Indians). But a scout covering that league says there's "no comparison" between those two. Santana "fits exactly what I want in a catcher," the scout said. "He's 6 feet tall, compact, much more athletic and quicker. He can swing the bat … and he's got the best arm back there I've seen in a long, long time." Montero, on the other hand, "just got benched for laziness, basically [i.e., not running out a ground ball]. And from what I've seen, the [Austin] Romine kid in Double-A is going to pass right by him, and Montero is going to end up as pretty much a right-hand-hitting DH. He's got talent. But his swing is really long, and he has no discipline. So the Yankees are going to have two frontline catchers. But they're Romine and [Francisco] Cervelli."

No one is predicting that Jesus Montero is going to be a Gold Glove catcher. In fact, very few are certain that he'll even remain at catcher long term. That his size (6'4", 225) creates some issues for his throwing mechanics is well-documented. But let's not go writing him off just yet. Montero can mash, and a bat like that is going to get every opportunity to play, be it behind the plate or elsewhere.

Cervelli is unquestionably a better defensive catcher, and Romine might prove to be the most complete player amongst the three. But Cervelli is just 24 and has all of 164 Major League plate apperances to his credit, Romine is 21 and has played just 26 games above A-ball, and Montero is 20 and has yet to play a full season at any level other than low-A. Let's not go jumping to conclusions just yet about who is going to outperform whom.

Speaking of jumping to conclusions, Joel Sherman decided to get it on the anti-Montero fun:
Jesus Montero messed up a great opportunity.


The true sin is that he was removed from a recent game and benched for not hustling and sulking. This came at a time when the Yankees had a couple of injuries that have begun to negatively impact their offense, including to DH Nick Johnson.


However, the Yanks are not going to call up a young player acting like a baby, and so Montero might have hurt himself now and into the near future.

In spring training, I sat in an office at the Yankees’ minor league complex and spoke with Montero. During that interview, Montero told me that Jorge Posada is “my daddy.’ That was his way of saying that while he was in major league spring training he followed Posada around like a puppy dog and hoped to emulate him.

If that were the case, then he learned very little. You could criticize Posada for being a bad baserunner or a stone-handed catcher. But his sincerity of effort has never been in question for one second of his Yankee career. Posada cares about being a professional and being a Yankee, and so he plays with passion.

And if Montero needs to see how far fervor can go then just look at what Francisco Cervelli is doing with the Yankees. He is creating a career with expected defense, unexpected offense and boundless enthusiasm. Cervelli is honoring the legacy of Posada. Not Montero.

Aah, weaving in the concept of sin in a post about a guy named Jesus. Brilliance Sherman! That's Pulitzer Prize material right there. And not only did Montero have the gall to dishonor the legacy of Jorge Posada, but he did it within days of Yogi Berra's birthday!

I'm not excusing Montero's failure to hustle last week. It's not the right way to play the game. But at the same time, he's been disciplined. In fact, he's been disciplined somewhat heavy-handedly, essentially a two and half game suspension for one groundball. I think the message has been delivered. No need to go making mountains out of mole hills.

I respect Posada's approach to the game as much as the next guy. But let's not go deifying him here. There have been occasions in his career where Posada has failed to run out a grounder. The same holds true for Derek Jeter and everyone else who has played the game "the right way". It happens. Let's not get too worked up about who's disrespecting who's leagacy, especially when declaring that the infectiously enthusiastic Cervelli is honoring the legacy of the notoriously red-assed Posada.

Once again, Jesus Montero is 20 years old. He's in just his third season full season of stateside professional baseball. He's spent just a half season at both the high A and AA levels. He's just one rung below the Major Leagues, and he's encountering some difficulty (.233/.295/.359) for the first time in his career. Let's cut him a little slack.

It's easy to look at the unexpected success Cervelli has had, and read all the glowing scouting reports about Montero's bat, and say that Nick Johnson is on the DL yet again and never to return, and want to see Montero come riding in on a white horse to save the season. But that's just not the way it's going to work.

The Yankees are committed to giving Montero every chance to succeed behind the plate. They've already fast tracked his development, bringing him to AAA without completing a full season at high A or AA. Bringing him up to play any sort of meaningful role this season was never in the cards. Making him a DH for part of this year would railroad his development as a catcher. Promoting him when he's slumping for the first extended stretch in his career would be a disservice to his development as a hitter. Making him a Major Leaguer without him completing a full season at any of the top three levels of the system would be extremely short-sighted. Just calm down, relax, and let him spend the year at AAA. We'll reap the benefits in the years to come.

On the bright side, at least Montero's trip to Bradenia last night went better than A-Rod's.

Hillman Fired; What's Next?

In the season's least surprising turn of events thus far, yesterday the Royals sacked skipper Trey Hillman, just days after he was given the dreaded vote of confidence from GM Dayton Moore. In two plus seasons at the helm, Hillman was just 152-207 (.423), including 12-23 this year, good for the second worst record in baseball.

Hillman certainly wasn't chiefly culpable for the mess that is the Royals, but he wasn't doing much to help either. Even with the bad hand he was dealt in KC, Hillman didn't do himself any favors. Perhaps it was his lack of prior Major League experience. Perhaps it was a bad attitude. Perhaps it was his poor relationships with his players. Perhaps it was simply his pattern of questionable or downright indefensible decisions. Perhaps no one could take him seriously while he sported such a badass 'stache.

Whatever the cause, Hillman deserved the axe sooner or later. His contract was set to expire at the end of this season, and barring something wholly miraculous, he had little to no chance of returning next season anyway. It was probably in Kansas City's best interest to make this move now rather than wait until the end of the season. But make no mistake, a change of managers isn't going to magically cure all that ails this organization.

All of this is a far cry from when Hillman was hired following the 2007 season. After a successful twelve year career as a minor league manager, Hillman took over the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan's Pacific League in 2003. In five seasons in the Far East, Hillman's club made three post-season appearances, twice reached the Japan Series, and took home the championship in 2006. He was something of hot commodity when the Royals inked him to a three year deal on October 19, 2007.

The day before, Joe Torre refused the Yankees' one year offer to return as manager in 2008, and for the first time in twelve years, the Yankees' managerial job was open. Had Hillman not already been past the point of no return in negotiations wth the Royals, he likely would have joined the trio of Joe Girardi, Don Mattingly, and Tony Pena as candidates for the Yankees' job.

Two and a half years later, it's easy to look back and be relieved that Hillman never made it into that mix. I certainly wouldn't trade out Girardi for him, or for either of the other candidates for that matter. But that doesn't mean that Hillman isn't a good baseball man, and it doesn't mean that he won't be of some future value, in another role, to a different organization.

Hillman joined the Yankees organization as a minor league coach in 1989. The next year he was promoted to manager of the short-season Oneonta team, where he won the NY-Penn League championship. He spent twelve years as a manager in all levels of the Yankees' system, with stops at Greensboro, Prince William, Tampa, Norwich, and Columbus. He had three first place finishes, three playoff appearances, and one championship. But more importantly, he oversaw the development of future Yankee stalwarts like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada, as well as one-time prospects like Carl Everett, Ricky Ledee, Ruben Rivera, Mike Lowell, and Eric Milton.

He's still well-regarded in the Yankee organization, has a good relationship with Brian Cashman, and prior to getting hired by the Royals, was in regular contact with the Yankees G.M. His time in Kansas City can't be considered anything but a failure, but that doesn't mean he isn't still a good baseball man. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him end back with the Yankees in some sort of roving instructor or player development role.

Friday Grab Bag

Good morning, Fackers. I hope Brain Hoch is right and the Yankees are in fact picking up their bats when they come back to New York.
Ben Kabak from River Ave. Blues made an appearance on the Bloomberg Sports podcast to talk about the site, along with the minor league system, Austin Jackson, Joba's ceiling and more. It's about 15 minutes long and quite enjoyable. LISTEN TO IT.

Mike from The Yankeeist ties a bow around his trip to Detroit.

Is an article with effusive praise for Phil Hughes enough to get you to read Mike Lupica? Nah, probably not...

But over at the WSJ, Scott Cacciola wrote a nice feature on Hughes and some of the things that have helped him be successful this year. Greg Fertel from Pending Pinstripes gets more specific, looking at Hughes' fantastic fastball.

On the same day that Matt from TYU suggested another way to look at how effective pitchers are (runs per 100 pitches), Beyond the Box Score ranked the best pitchers of all time according to Wins Above Replacement per 200 innings pitched. Can you guess the best starter and reliever? Massive hint: both were in the World Series last year.

When you combine all five teams' records, the AL East is 16 games over .500 this year, best in the league by 7 games. Sean Forman at the Bats Blog looks at how the balance of power has shifted to different divisions in recent years.

Mike Ashmore, who does an excellent job of covering the Trenton Thunder, wrote an excellent piece about Alan Horne beginning to recover from the surgery that sought to repair an 80% tear in his rotator cuff. He's receiving Platelet-Rich Plasma treatments and hopes that they will help him heal more fully. Horne is 27 and no longer a prospect, but there are plenty of guys who don't make their Major League debut until they are in their late 20's or 30's and can still have good careers.

When they weren't totally nicking our hooks, Bronx Banter had two excellent interviews this week - one with Dayn Perry and one with Josh Wilker - about their upcoming books.

What do Jonah Keri and Marlo Stanfield have in common? Their names both ring out in the streets. Except I don't think Jonah had to hand out money for it to happen.

The 193 acre farm that contains the Field of Dreams is up for sale. Here are the particulars of the property.

Craig Calcaterra doesn't use too many tags, but when he does, they are downright awesome.

I'm with Bengie Molina here and I think it's excellent that athletes can use blogging to defend themselves against other, larger forms of media. This is the first post of Molina's I've read and while he's not quite Morgan Ensberg on the keyboard, he did a great job of making his point and staying on the high road, something that's not easy to do if you feel you've been offended personally.

I don't listen to WFAN so I had no idea about former New York Football Giant Brad Bensen's ridiculous radio ads until this post on Deadspin highlighted them.

Now that his daughters are watching the show religiously, Joe Posnanski breaks out a bunch of obscure facts about Gilligan's Island. The show was obviously way before my time but I used to get up early when I was in grade school and watch the reruns before the bus picked me up. The episodes are all pretty much self-contained and the only thing you have to know going is conveyed to you by the theme song. It's right up there with Scooby Doo and House as the most formulaic television show of all time, but when you're 9 years old that only serves to make it easier to understand and enjoy.

And finally, here is a video of an octopus killing a shark. To be fair, Spiny Dogfish Sharks aren't exactly the kings of the ocean and the Giant Pacific Octopus is rather massive, but it's still pretty crazy to watch. The narrator almost ruins it so I suggest that you mute it and skip to the 1:30 mark.