Saturday, June 13, 2009

Why The Yankees Need Texiera

There is no question that the New York Yankees signed Mark Texiera for his outstanding bat and his superb fielding skills. This is a quality player who has been very consistent over the years and shows no sign of being anything else for a long time. That, however, is not where the real value of Tex lies. In addition to being a gifted athlete, Texiera is the guy who shows us what giving 100% really means.

In last night's game against the New York Mets, the game was won by Mark Texiera. Not by A-Rod's pop-up nor Luis Catillo's ill-fated drop. One of the slowest guys on the team scores from first base on a shallow pop-up to the second baseman. There was a lot of ground to cover and by all means the routine play looked like a sure game ender to put the Yankees away. Like every kid is taught in little league, the play is not over until it's over and Texiera took a good jump off first and kept running, despite the 99.9% chance that A-Rod was making the final out. Not looking up from the baseline, Tex continued to hustle with his head down, running the bases just like every other time. When he approached third and saw Robby Thompson waving him home, he was surprised to say the least and the adrenaline kicked in as he sprinted toward and slid into home.

In contrast, Alex Rodriguez saw where his ball was going, concluded that he was going to be out and his team would lose and doggedly trotted to first after throwing and breaking his bat in frustration. In a game at Fenway a few nights ago, David Ortiz convinced himself that a deep fly ball was going to be caught and barely jogged to first when instead it was dropped, leaving Ortiz so far behind that he had to settle for a single instead of a sure double. I can't count the number of times over the year when guys didn't even bother running to first after a sure out, only to have the ball mis-played but then quickly thrown out because of their lack of running.

Mark Texiera has always been known as one of the good guys. A hard worker who keeps his nose clean and sets a good example for those around him. Teammates, take notice. Aspiring young baseball players, take notice. Anyone with a love of the game, take notice.

Rodriguez's own "I'm too good for this game" strut was a sad display compared to Texiera's "Giving it my all on every play" hustle. Thank you Mark Texiera for showing us what it really means to be a star and how this game is supposed to be played.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Texiera Comes Alive - Thanks to A-Rod or Tino?

Mark Texiera has come on strong lately, scoring runs, driving in runs, hitting home runs and basically acting like the player everyone knew he was. The question is, what happened?

The emotional answer is that Texiera loosened up a bit and got out of his mental funk after a brief discussion with Yankee great Tino Martinez. Tino has been on salary with the Yankees as a special consultant, which basically means that when the Yanks need him, he stops by and gives some advice and pep talks. At the start of the Twins series, Tino did just that and had a little chat with Texiera. Shortly afterward, Tex started hitting.

The more scientific answer is that pitchers approached Texiera differently when A-Rod came back in the lineup right behind him. Walking Texiera was no longer as attractive of an option with Rodriguez backing him up. Instead of throwing a lot of balls hoping to get Tex to chase, pitchers had to put more pitches over the plate to challenge him more and being a good hitter, Tex took advantage of the situation. Texiera himself said that since A-Rod has come back, he’s been seeing a lot better pitches to hit.

So which is it? A little veteran advice to pop him out of a mental funk or the presence of an all-star backing Tex up in the lineup? Personally, I think it’s both. The easy answer is to say yeah, he’s getting better pitches with Rodriguez in the lineup but there is more to it than that. A-Rod has been back for a while and when he first came back there was no noticeable difference in Texiera. Sure, once Alex started hitting better he probably changed the way pitchers thought about Tex, no doubt, but hitting in baseball is all about being in the right frame of mind. A little too much tension, being a little out of synch or being slightly off with your timing can kill a good hitter and cause a downward spiral of performance anxiety of a sort. Never underestimate the value of a good pep talk to put a guy in a different state of mind and drastically change his performance.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Small Ball Paying Off

One thing Joe Girardi is doing that I like is trying to get this team to manufacture runs. Paying small ball, getting guys on base, advancing the runners then driving in runs is something that you don’t often see in the power-hitting American league.

When Joe Torre took over as Yankees manager a years ago, there was a fundamental shift in the team’s playstyle, which they slowly got away from over the years. When Girardi took over, the term “small ball” started popping up again, but at times it still seemed sporadic. Watching the series against the Twins really brought this to my attention again, and it’s a good thing.

Ideally, with no outs, you get someone on base with either a hit or a walk and then they steal second. A sacrifice bunt can advance the runner over to third, now with one out. At this point a decent drive into the outfield will score a run even if it’s caught for an out. Get runners on base, move them into scoring position, drive them home.

It sounds easy enough to do but can be tough.  Bunting takes practice and discipline, and a big ego needs to take a back seat to a smart play. Always swinging for the fences doesn’t jive well with trying to get on base or advance the runner. Having speed on the bases is often overlooked in today’s game and besides Brett Gardner, is rather lacking on the Yankees roster.

If you can do it though, putting up a run is always a good thing. Think of all the games where the Yanks have gone scoreless until the 7th, 8th or 9th inning, or ended up going to extra innings. How much of a difference would one extra run make in those instances. It can definitely boost a team’s confidence early on. A run is a run, but a manufactured run can be more encouraging for a team than a solo home run because it’s a group effort – a bunch of guys chipping in and doing their part, rather than just one guy crushing one out of the park.

Lastly, to me it just feels like baseball. Hitting, running, stealing, bunting, driving the ball deep all make me stand up and say “Now that’s how you play the game!”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Damon Bails Out Gardner

The Yankees earned their 3rd straight walk off win thanks to a 10th inning homer from Johnny Damon. Despite all the cheers from the fans in attendance, you could still hear the sigh of relief coming from Brett Gardner.

In the bottom of the 9th, sitting on 2nd base, Francisco Cervelli dropped one down to the right causing Twins catcher Joe Mauer to come up and field the ball. Cervelli would have beat out the throw and so Mauer held on. Brett made the turn at third and was tagged out by Mauer at home. If Gardner had help up, the Yankees would have had 1st and 3rd with 1 out. Robbie Cano popped deep into left and would have scored a tagging Gardner for the win. Instead, we went to extra innings.

There’s no room for stupid in the bottom of the 9th. Yankees 3rd base coach Rob Thompson clearly called for Brett to hold up at 3rd. You have to love young guys with enthusiasm, but there’s a fine line between being eager for a win and costing your team a victory. In the end, Johnny Damon made it all a moot point, but Girardi still needs to have a talk with Gardner.

That play aside, hats off to the Yankee bullpen. Tomko, Aceves and Rivera all were sharp. Burnett struggled at times, but gave up very few runs and lasted deep in the game. Albaladejo made things interesting, loading up the bases, but afterward Yankees pitching was lights out. In a tie game, late innings, the bullpen pitched extremely well in a high pressure situation. Given enough balls to swing at, the offense is going to produce a run eventually and the bullpen bought the team enough time to do it.

Aceves, Tomko, and Coke are the go-to guys in the bullpen right now in my book. Albaladejo is streaky and Veras and Ramirez are dangerous (Farnsworth type dangerous). Let’s see what Girardi does in the future once Bruney comes back. Hopefully he’ll stick with what’s currently working. I’d like to see Melancon back in the majors also, giving him some more big league experience.

This was another big win for the Yankees, who now have a nice win streak going, and have given the home town fans some memorable moments in the new stadium. Hopefully they can keep it up and do even better once guys start coming off the DL.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Injuries Mount Up

Derek Jeter was out of the lineup and Matsui had to leave the game. Every injury hurts with this team, which has been behind the injury eight ball for most of the season.

The Baltimore series was a bit of a pick-me-up as “two out of three aint bad”. Halladay just had much better stuff than Burnett, who wasn’t sharp but and the lack of run support didn’t help matters any.

Yankee pitchers still haven’t found their groove. Chamberlain has posted the best ERA so far, but lately he’s been getting shelled in the first inning before he settles down. Sabathia is getting better, Pettitte is solid but Burnett has been an enigma. At times his stuff looks wicked, but in the end, he just doesn’t get results.

This is a team that needs to stay healthy. There are a lot of guys who can hit the ball but it seems virtually impossible for the Yankees to get them all on the field on the same day. RISP performance also kills this team. 1 for 5 tonight and the Yankees are currently one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to driving in runs.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with pitching. Phil Hughes can’t pitch in NY. He had one good game and then he’s back to his old tricks. Last year we blamed it on a stress fracture in a rib but so far I haven’t heard any excuses for this years abysmal outings. It could very well be that guys like Burnett and Sabathia have peaked or just can’t adjust to the pressures of pitching in NY. They wouldn’t be the first superstars who couldn’t make it in the Big Apple.

This team is in shambles right now. Starting pitching, relief pitching and offense is all struggling. Until everyone starts stepping up and doing their job, and getting healthy again, this is a .500 team for the duration of the season.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Things Are Getting Ugly

The injuries keep piling up. Here's my brief list

Closer - Rivera
Set up man - Bruney
Lefty specialist - Marte
Number 2 pitcher - Wang
Catcher - Posada
Backup catcher - Molina
Right fielder - Nady
3rd baseman - Rodriguez
Backup 3rd baseman - Ransom

A-Rod should be back today. Let's also not forget other guys who have not been 100% but haven't missed a lot of time like Mark Texiera.

With this many injuries to so many key positions - the biggest bat on the team, the greatest closer of all time, the decade's leading offensive catcher, it's no wonder the team is below .500 and far out of first place.

Still, all things considered, this is the Yankees and fans (who were spoiled by the success of the late 90s and early 00s) expect more from a team, even one riddled with injury.

There's still hope. When A-Rod comes back the offense should pick up. Texiera will find his stride before long and hopefully the starting rotation will settle in a bit more. Then again Nick Swisher is fading, Damon and Jeter and mandy others are getting old and finally there really aren't any bright spots in the bullpen.

Losing Posada and Molina could be very troublesome. Posada has a devastating bat and Molina has a great arm. Both know the pitchers well and have plenty of big league experience. Anyone brought up to fill in will be a young, unproven talent which is not what a struggling pitching staff needs at the moment.

Injuries aren't the fault of the manager, but it's his responsibility to keep everyone at the top of their game. If a guy isn't performing well, it's about 70% the fault of the player and 30% the fault of the manager. I've called for Girardi to be fired and I stand by that. It won't happen anytime soon though. There aren't any suitable replacements ready to fill in mid-season. Toward the end of the year, if the Yankees are doing poorly, Girardi will be canned and an interim coach named. If the team is still in contention, the firing won't come until after the season. If the team makes the post season and does well in the fall, Girardi could still save his job.

The season is still young and there is a lot of time for the Yankees to find their rythm and hit their stride. Then again, that's what most of us were saying all of last season. I try looking for the silver lining in this cloud, but lately all I'm seeing is an old team of overpriced veterans failing to live up to expectations. Par for the course with a New York franchise.

So what do we have to look forward to? A-Rod coming back is big. Hopefully Posada is just out for the short term and will return. With both Alex and Jorge in the lineup, the offense should start tacking on a lot more runs. You just have to believe that Sabathia and Texiera will start playing better. Even if they don't live up to their star potential, it's almost certain they will elevate their games from the pitiful point they are now. The bullpen is a big questionmark and no one, including Rivera, can be relied upon. If the starting rotation gets on track then hopefully the bullpen will be used less and less and this won't be such a big issue. Upcoming series like the one against the Orioles can go a long way to boosting a team's confidence and may provide the spark the Bombers need.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Suprising No One, Hughes Bombs

Phil Hughes took the mound again last night against the Boston Red Sox and quickly reverted to 2008 form. Namely, he couldn't even get past the fourth inning. Hughes was either trying to paint the corners all night, or else just had no control over his pitches. The umpire had a narrow strike zone and made some erratic calls, but Phil was all over the place.

In his first outing this year, Hughes challenged batters right away, and had a small degree of luck on his side. This time, lady luck was nowhere to be seen and neither was Hughes' control.

Temporary roster addition Alfredo Aceves had a bit more success and managed to eat up a few more innings. It wasn't spectacular, but it got the job done. I'm sure Girardi will send Aceves back down soon but to anyone with a modicum of common sense, this team needs a long reliever.

Lester managed the bizzarre strike zone a bit better and took advantage, shutting down the Yankees when he needed a big out. Yankee hitters had limited success but they were haunted by a complete inability to hit with RISP.

Meanwhile, controversey was brewing outside the stadium. Several Yankee employees told fans the game had been rained out and was cancelled but come time for the first pitch, no one was allowed to get back in to watch the game. The Yankees have a strict no re-entry policy but the disaster created by employees incorrectly telling people the game was cancelled will go down as yet another PR disaster for the team that absolutely, positively doesn't give a hoot about it's fans.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Jorge Delivers

For all of my Posada bashing, the guy can still hit when the chips are down. Last night he delivered a big hit in the bottom of the ninth to seal a dramatic come from behind win for the Yankees. Jorge’s hitting extremely well from the right side of the plate and last night’s late inning heroics were no exception.

Relief pitching is a huge problem. Pete Abraham said that Girardi and Cash were having a meeting and speculated that roster moves were on the way. Veras was horrible and Melancon struggled in yesterday’s game, but consistency has been a big problem with just about everyone in the pen. I’m not sure what moves are going to be made as I don’t really see anyone else ready to step in. Brett Tomko perhaps?

With losses by Boston and Toronto the Yankees are only 2 games out of first at the moment and things are generally looking a little better. With A-Rod likely to return very soon, you have to feel good about the offense.

My two main concerns for now are:

1. Hitting with RISP. Not sure why this statistic is so abysmal for the Yanks. Not dealing well with pressure? Regardless, with a few well-timed hits this offense could explode.

2. Relief pitching. Mo is going through a rough patch. The only consistent pitcher is Bruney and he’s on the DL. Coke is a work in progress. Ramirez, Veras and Albaladejo all seemed to have lost something since last  year. Marte has been awful and probably needs to go back to being a situational guy only.

Still, with the recent wins, Yankee fans should probably be feeling a lot better about the team than there were a few days ago. Hopefully the trend will continue.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Posada Dogs it as Yanks Lose Again

I’ve had enough of Jorge Posada, the biggest prima donna on the Yankee roster, vastly outstripping egos of guys like A-Rod (and this is in no way defending A-Rod).

Let’s take a step back to last year when Jorge was struggling with injuries yet still managed to put up a stink about the possibility of playing at first base where he could actually help the team. Nope, he’s a catcher and would rather take the Carl Pavano route of sitting on the bench collecting a fat paycheck than actually helping out the team. Yes, I just compared Jorge Posada to Carl Pavano.

Next we have the whole clubhouse captain mentality that’s gone to his head as Jorge has a little talk with Nick Swisher about how a Yankee should act. Give me a break. Swish was just what the Yankees needed to maintain some vestige of sanity, not the dour faced “my feelings are more important than the team” Posada.

Lastly we get recent play by Jorge – typical big star behavior of “too good out forth effort”. Did anyone watch the game last night where Jorge had a a chance to drive in some runs and tie up the game? What did he do – hit into a double play. More specifically, he hit into a force out at second and gave the defense ample time to get him out at first. Now I understand he’s no Brett Gardner, but if you watched carefully, Jorge had his head turned to the left watching the play unfold as he jogged to first. Look straight ahead, put on a little extra speed, and you’ll be at first well before the throw, keeping the inning alive and advancing one runner. This is just one example of the way Posada’s been playing lately, head not in the game (stealing home?) and lack of effort.

Jorge has been a great player but somewhere long the way he became too caught up in his own stardom and has become an embarrassment. At this point I’m just fed up with seeing his half-hearted efforts, selfish focus, and lack of respect for the team.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Frustrating Stretch

The Yanks have lost the first two games to the Red Sox in heartbreaking fashion. Mariano Rivera blew a save and the next night Burnett blows a 6-0 lead. Despite all the horrific losses, the Yankees are still in a decent position considering they’ve been without Alex Rodriguez. The injuries are piling up and could be a problem soon.

The bullpen just plain stinks right now. Mariano Rivera does not have his good stuff right now. He has given up quite a few hits and has been lucky to get out of as many jams as he has. Mo got off to a similar start 2 years ago before settling down for one of his best seasons ever, but watching him get worked over still makes me cringe a bit.

The rest of the pen is even worse. Bruney was the one bright spot and he’s out with an injury. Everyone else has their good days and their terrible days. There are no go-to guys in the pen right now.

Joe Girardi doesn’t keep a long reliever around, and likes to over manage the pen and so the carousel of relievers continues to go round and round and the players just look wearier by the day.

Offensively we’re seeing the same thing as last year – poor clutch hitting with little to no success with RISP. A few scattered home runs here or there but very little in the way of  “production” when it comes to runs. The number of players LOB is too high for my liking as well.

Injuries are going to kill the Yankees soon. Chien Ming Wang isn’t 100% and doesn’t have his stuff (OK, calling this an injury is a stretch). The Bronx Bombers will definitely miss his usually consistent arm. Bruney is the biggest loss currently, as he’s the only reliever able to get outs on a regular basis. Ransom’s injury was a blessing in disguise as his offense was horrendous and his defense wasn’t up to par either. I’d much rather see Berroa and Pena get a shot at some regular playtime until A-Rod is back.

Center field is currently a bust as well. Brett Gardner just can’t get on base enough to justify a starting spot with the Yankees. He’s a great bench player, pinch runner sort of guy, but not a starting CF. Melky has come alive a bit lately but I don’t really think he’s the answer either. Currently, I’d start Melky over Gardner, but look seriously at making a trade or bringing up Jackson.

The Yankees have quite a few prospects who don’t really fit in to the overall plan of the club right now. If the right offer came along for a reliever or center fielder, I wouldn’t be suprised to see the Yankes pull the trigger.

Lastly, I’d fire Girardi without hesitation today. Objectively speaking though, I think he’s on the hot seat right now. The question will be, how patient will new management be? Will they let Joe finish out the year or are they willing to make a statement and let him go early?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Early Ups and Downs

The Yankees had their home opener yesterday afternoon and it was ugly. There wasn’t much to cheer about and the new stadium has drawn a great deal of criticism.

The team is currently sitting on a 5-5 record at the moment and that’s about the way I feel about the team and season overall right now. There have been quite a few positives so far this year, but there have been a great deal of negatives as well.

Starting pitching has been a mixed bag. Burnett has looked increadible, Pettitte solid, Chamberlain fine, Sabathia has been shaky and Wang horrible. I’m not worried about Chien Ming Wang, and am confident he’ll turn things around soon. Remember the horrible start Mike Mussina got off too last year before going on to 20 wins? Likewise Sabathia will be the dominant pitcher that we all know he is.

Relief pitching has been a disaster. For a short stretch they were lights out but the bullpen is crippled by Girardi’s poor pen management. The lack of a long man continues to pummel the Yankees. Damasao Marte can’t play in New York. He’s another Latroy Hawkins in that he’s horrible in the Big Apple but will likely be a star the second he leaves. Using him for anything other than a situational lefty against single batters will cost the Yankees dearly. The other lefty, Phil Coke, clearly isn’t ready for the majors yet. Maybe he’ll come around in time but for now he needs to be used in the lowest leverage situations only. A few guys in the minors like Melancon might make their way up and be able to contribute. Maybe Tomko will come back. A trade isn’t out of the question either. I think things will get better, but only if there is change.

The infield is slow coming out of the gates. Texiera is off to his usual slow start despite the fact that he looked on fire in the spring. His wrist injury isn’t helping matters any. Jeter gets older every year with both his defense and offense dipping down further and further. He’s still a solid player, but not the star he used to be. Ransom has been a huge disappointment. I thought he’d be halfway decent this year despite other’s criticism of him but it looks like I was wrong. The pressure got to him at the plate and to say he’s in a slump is putting it mildly. His defense, normally a big strong point, has been terrible. He had one spectacular play yesterday, followed up shortly by an error. Robinson Cano has been unstoppable at the plate. He’s made a few defensive mistakes but he’s really turned this around offensively.

The outfield is doing admirably well. Xavier Nady has been a flop and with his recent elbow injury may have played his last games as a Yankee. Nick Swisher is returning to 2007 form and beyond, looking like an all-star. I’m sure his numbers will return to the realms of mere mortals before long, but hopefully he’ll continue live up to his potential and clueless YES announcers like John Kay will back off with their criticisms of Swisher’s smiling during games. Gardner can be a weapon when he gets on base but unfortunately he hasn’t been doing that enough. I think he’s only a temporary solution at center and will eventually be replaced next season. With Nady’s injury, we might see someone called up or possibly have Melky fill in more often.

The manager won’t be around long. Two embarrassing losses and poor bullpen handling will cost Girardi his job. The possibility of him getting fired before the end of the season are looking pretty good to me right now.

The future still looks good. Wang and Sabathia will settle down. A few minor leaguers will come up to help out the bullpen. Alex Rodriguez will be back soon to provide more offensive pop. The Yankees still have an excellent chance to win the division and the kind of team that can win the World Series this year, but boy, has it looked ugly at times.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Just Fire Girardi Already

I’ve had enough of the Joe Girardi era in New York. Last night’s loss was downright embarrassing and I can’t imagine any Steinbrenner being able to let that one go lightly.

Who’s to blame here? Wang, the once staff ace who can’t throw a pitch to save his life? The dicey bullpen? Nope. It’s the coach.

My personal soapbox for a long time has been the long reliever. The Yankees desperately needed one last year when Hughes and Kennedy were unable to give quality starts. This year we’re having the same problem with Wang. A long reliever would ideally be able to come in and pitch 3 or 4 innings in the middle of a game, hopefully keeping things from getting too out of hand.

Girardi likes to micro-manage his bullpen. He over maneuvered 2 nights ago by bringing in the late innings and cost his team the game. When a reliever comes in and pitches well, leave him in for a full inning. If a guy is struggling, then you can pull in someone else who has a more favorable matchup. When you’re in a high leverage situation, the youngest guy in the pen is not your go-to guy. Phil Coke is not ready for the big time and is certainly not ready for the high pressure situations.

Albaladejo and the rest of the bullpen were almost as bad as Wang last night and before long, Joe had used up all the arms he had. The end result – Nick Swisher comes in to pitch. Throwing innings as a pitcher can wreak havoc with a fielder’s arm and is something you should hope never to see. Swish handled it well, kept a smile on his face and sadly, was the most effective pitcher the Yankees had all night.

Meanwhile Dan Giese is long gone, claimed off waivers by Oakland, Brett Tomko is throwing shutout innings as a closer in the minor leagues and I’m scratching my head as to why we chose to have Albaladejo in the pen over one of these long men.

Another aspect of the Yankees’ play that really bothers me lately is the poor defense. The large number of errors and bonehead plays seem to be a big part of the last few games. These guys just aren’t playing like a focused, disciplined team. Again, Girardi is my whipping boy here. It’s the manager’s job to get these players in line and ready to play good baseball. Joe Maddon had his guys giving 100% long after the game was officially a blowout, meanwhile Girardi had players bumping into each other and dropping easy pop ups.

The season is still young, and the Yankees have plenty of time to turn things around. I think Girardi is definitely on the hot seat and don’t see him lasting very much longer this year. He’s been an absolute disaster during his (hopefully short) managerial stint. Last year he had a complete inability to motivate the team and players, an embarrassing relationship with the media giving him no credibility in the eyes of the fans and the press, and his handling of the pitching staff has been rampantly unsuccessful.

At this point, the only thing that is going to keep Girardi in New York for the rest of the season is the availability of other suitable managerial candidates.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Getting Things Going With Good Pitching

AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte have calmed some of the early histeria surrounding the Yankees season. After horrible starts by Sabathia and Wang, the new ace and the cagey veteran delivered superb performances in the third and fourth games of the Yankee’s season. AJ Burnett just has some wicked stuff and if he can stay healthy, he’ll be a dominant pitcher for the Yankees. Pettitte was all around solid and no matter what happens with the rest of the rotation, we’ll still have Andy to fall back on.

The bullpen finally got its groove on and has gone from atrocious to lights out. They’ll be good days and bad days for the late inning guys, but hopefully we’ll see a little more of the good stuff in high leverage situations.

A few players have been noteworthy so far. Nick Swisher has really impressed. He had a few key hits when brought in to pinch hit in tight situations. He made one bad play last night in the field but has really stepped up when called in to play. His enthusiasm is off the charts and the Yankees need to hold tight to this guy regardless of the trade offers that may start coming in. Xavier Nady, on the other hand, hasn’t done much and needs to get on track if he expects to stay in NY very long.

Brett Gardner has been a pleasant surprise, hitting well early on, showing the speed that we all knew he had, and covering lots of ground in center field. He might not have the best arm, but he’s made some good throws and some smart plays. If he can keep up his average at the plate, he’ll stick.

Cody Ransom has likewise been satisfactory and will keep things going until A-Rod gets back. It’s sounding like Alex is making good progress with his therapy and might return sooner rather than later, but for now Ransom won’t cost you any games and comes a lot cheaper than anyone else on the market.

Robinson Cano has been downright awesome. I was a big Cano basher last year, and I stand by my criticism at the time but he’s a changed man. He’s worked on his hitting and shown definite improvements. His defensive play has been excellent this year and so far, we’re seeing the Robbie that a lot of guys knew was there, but wasn’t coming out last year. I’m very impressed with his turnaround so far but am a little wary as to whether or not he can keep it up when things get a little down for a stretch.

With the two nice wins, the majority of NY fans are breathing a little easier. If Sabathia and Wang get have better starts with their next outings, then we’ll be even more relieved.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Ugly Opener

The Yankees two biggest offseason acquisitions came up empty in their Yankee debuts and the pitching staff was abysmal. CC Sabathia had no control over his pitches and had frequent communication issues with Posada.

8 hits, 6 runs over 4.1 innings for CC with no strikeouts. Albaladeho lasted 1.1 innings without giving up a run but Coke and Bruney got shelled. Mark Texiera went 0 for 4.

The offense had it’s moments. Brett Gardner had some flash, and with Jeter hitting behind him moved around the bases allowing Damon to drive in the run. Swisher came through in a clutch pinch hit. Posada provided some pop reminding us all why he was missed so much last year.

In the end, a 10-5 loss is not the way you want to start out the season and fans will have to wait to see the fruits of their offseason spending. It will be interesting to hear what CC has to say. I have no idea why Sabathia had a heating pad on his abdomen and right side between innings. The Yankees kept trotting him out there so I doubt it is anything serious.

I get the impression, despite the fact that these guys are all major leaguers, they still get opening day jitters. That’s what I’m chalking everything up to – jitters.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bring on 2009

The finishing touches have been put on the roster with Pena getting the final spot. Berroa, who I thought could be the surprise utility infielder, was sent back down along with Dan Giese. Giese will likely see play time in NY at some point if injuries pop up and Girardi does his famous bullpen dance. Berroa still has a little gas left in his tank and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him included in a trade package to another team.

Joba looked good in his final spring outing, Sabathia looks solid and Texiera is showing signs of getting off to a good start as well. Ransom and Gardner have people’s hopes up that they can contribute and almost every story coming out of spring training was positive. Sure, A-Rod will be missed, but he won’t be gone long and I predict his replacement will have just enough success to keep fans from screaming for trade and won’t cost the team any games.

For the first time in a while, these two new faces really have me excited about the upcoming season. Fine, to be more accurate I should say “even more excited than usual.”

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Girardi Starting To Come Apart. Again.

According to Pete Abraham over at LoHud , Girardi is thinking of not having a long reliever on the squad, allowing him to keep someone like Albaladejo instead of Aceves, Giese or Tomko.

This may sound like a small deal but it has got me up in arms. This was a bad move Girardi made last year in his disastrous coaching debut with the Yankees and it’s starting to look like he’s just going to go back to his losing ways once again. At the beginning of the season, I had high hopes for Joe. He seemed to realize that he made a lot of mistakes last year, handling the media, handling the players and handling his roster. Most of the reports out of spring seem to show that Joe knew the spotlight was on him and he was ready to make needed changes.

Now this. Yes, it’s just a minor issue, but one that I thought doomed that Yankees for a large chunk of last season. The lack of a long reliever coupled with the complete failures of Kennedy and Hughes along with Mussina’s slow start, strained the bullpen and cost the Yankees quite a few runs and games early in the season. All signs this spring pointed to the team actually carrying a long reliever on the roster, which gave me a lot of hope for avoiding some of last year’s hiccups, and renewed some of my confidence in Girardi.

Taken by itself, this issue is just one bad decision. What really worries me, is that all the other things I was hoping to see a change in will fall by the wayside as well.

As an aside, if you’re wondering who my pick is to fill the reliever spot, I’d give Tomko a chance.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Right Field: Nady vs. Swisher

Joe Girardi came out and announced that Xavier Nady would be the starting right fielder. Nick Swisher said all the right things in response. There has been a bit of discussion about Joe’s decision and many people have opined that Swisher is the strongest candidate.

Doing a quick review myself, Nady seems to have the better bat, with a better average and more power. Swisher is by far the better baserunner. The Bill James Handbook rates Nady as the better defensive fielder. Fans of the Baseball Prospectus will note that they give Swisher a slightly higher projection for 2009 in the VORP and WARP categories.

Just looking at the various stats makes me thing Nady is the best man for the job, with better hitting and better fielding. There’s more to the story than that, however.

We haven’t fully established where these players are going performance-wise. Swisher had an off year last year and it’s up in the air whether he can re-establish the success he had in 2007. Likewise Nady slumped a bit for the Yankees compared to his performance in Pittsburgh. Both of these guys have big question marks as to what direction they are heading. Getting back to the level of play they are capable of or continuing to decline.

The final factor that may get overlooked is the clubhouse effect. From what I gather, Nick has made an impression on the other guys including Girardi, and it would be tough to see him go. This kind of thing doesn’t show up in the stats, but I think really goes a long way to helping a team.

My overall impression is that Nady is probably the better player at the position, but you need to keep Swisher around to platoon at RF and 1B as a solid backup and overall morale booster.

If the right offer comes along, however, don’t be surprised if one of these guys gets moved.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Much Can We Tell In Spring?

I get excited when spring training rolls around. I try to catch a few spring games on TV when I can, and always check the box scores to see who is doing well. Then I reach a point where I stop and ask myself, what do these numbers really mean? What can you really tell by watching someone in spring training?

So far this year, I’ve been excited by the performance of a lot of people on the Yankees, especially some of the newer faces. There’s nothing wrong with a little unbridled enthusiasm as a fan, but when I take a step back I start thinking that I’m being a little overly optimistic.

Some of the Yankees best players have had horrible outings. Joba Chamberlain and CC Sabathia each had rough starts. Kei Igawa, on the other hand, has looked absolutely brilliant. Does this mean Igawa is going to be our new ace? The answer is an emphatic “no” but it illustrates the point that spring numbers and the results of a limited number of outings can be very deceiving.

CC and Joba are concentrating on tweaking their delivery, working on mechanics and fine-tuning themselves for the regular season. They’re likely to throw more of their worse pitches in order to work on the weakest parts of their game. These two are also starting the early innings, and facing some of the better hitters. Igawa is likely taking a different approach. He’s likely going out there and throwing everything he’s got at a hitter to try and impress people and show off his stuff. He’s also coming in in the later innings and facing more backups than the starters are.

Hitters vary their approach in spring as well. Some work on different things like bunting more than they normally would. Some will sit on more pitches to get a better feel for a player they will have to face later in the season.

The average fan like me probably misses most of the important stuff that should be looked at in the spring time. More experienced coaches and scouts can pick out particular things that a player is doing well or poorly and can get a better idea of a player’s progression. The numbers in the box score are by and large useless while watching a player firsthand can give some useful information. That doesn’t mean that following every statistic and scrap of information can’t be fun, but we need to put it in perspective.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Time for a Trade?

It’s not so much about the positions the Yankees need to fill, but rather about the players that need to go, and soon.

Melky Cabrera is battling for the starting center field spot with Brett Gardner. Right now, Gardner is hitting a bit better than he has in the past and his speed on the bases is making him the early favorite. Scouts seem to think that Cabrera has a higher ceiling, but last year he didn’t deliver. The problem is, Melky is out of options. If he doesn’t make the squad, he’ll likely be picked up on waivers. Is it worth a spot on the roster to keep him around as a back up outfielder? With Swisher, Nady, Damon, Gardner and Matsui there as well, probably not. So if the Yankees give the starting job to Gardner, Melky could be gone. Now might be the time to try and trade him for a prospect.

Ian Kennedy is candidate number two to be traded. He looked good at the end of the year in the minors and in the fall leagues but early results this spring have been poor. My instinct is that the kid could be a number five starter somewhere,  just not in New York. The Yankees might be able to trade Kennedy to a small market team in return for a prospect or possibly pair him with Cabrera in a package for something a little more substantial.

Other than center field, I don’t see a big hole for the Yankees right now and a trade would be more about moving players out than needing to bring someone in. For the record, Cody Ransom will be just fine at third until A-Rod gets back. There is no reason to trade anything of value to get a short term replacement third baseman. In all likelihood, Ransom is just about as good as anyone out there.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cause for Concern

Spring training has only recently begun and most Yankee fans have reason to be worried about the upcoming season. One of the main reasons for last year’s troubles was a plague of injuries and that slowly looks to be happening again this time around.

The biggest news of the pre-season is A-Rods upcoming hip surgery which will take him out 6-9 weeks. The idea is that he’ll have arthroscopic surgery to get him mostly healed and able to play the vast majority of season and then he’ll have another procedure in the offseason. If all goes well, they should only miss him for about 1 month of the actual season. If all goes well.

In the meantime, Cody Ransom is the everyday backup to start in his place and Cashman is probably exploring other options and thinking about making a trade to pick up another third baseman. This would be an unfortunate move if the Yankees had to give up anything significant, which they likely would. Moving Cabrera or Kennedy wouldn’t bother me, but giving up an actual prospect would be a big setback to the depleted Yankee farm system, especially if you’re only acquiring a guy who will likely only see a month or two of work as a Yankee.

The second area of concern is Jorge Posada, who had a bit of shoulder stiffness early in the spring and sat out a while. While his replacement Molina might be a fine defensive backstop, he is an offensive liability. The Yankees surely missed Posada’s bat last year and will do so again if he’s not up to snuff. The idea of DHing Posada doesn’t quite work out because of Matsui.

Which brings up the last area of concern, Hideki Matsui. Yes, he’s looking somewhat healthy this year and is expected to be able to DH, but there’s no talk of him returning to the outfield any time soon. The reason this is a concern is that the Yankees now have 3 guys who may end up being nothing more than DH when the people actually playing the skill positions have significantly lower offensive outputs. If A-Rod can move back to third and Posada can’t throw from behind the plate, the Yankees are going to be in a world of hurt.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Up and Comer: Alfredo Aceves

Alfredo had a remarkably successful stint in the majors last year. Moving from the Blue Jays to the Mexican league to the Yankees, Aceves quickly climbed the ranks of the organization when given the chance by New York.

In six games with four starts he had an ERA of 2.40 in the majors last year and looking impressive in his end of the year major league appearances with a WHIP of 1.17. He has four serviceable pitches including a fastball, curve, slider and a very good changeup, but the scouting reports say that he lacks the go to pitch to get strikeouts when needed.

The question is how will he be used this year. He strikes me as a solid 5th man in the rotation, a guy who can give you quality starts but won’t dominate hitters like someone higher up in the rotation. The Yankees have few spots available on the roster for young pitchers and right now he would fit in as a long reliever – available to throw multiple innings if necessary and ready to make a spot start if someone needs to miss their day in the rotation with a minor injury. Baseball prospectus compares him to Ramiro Mendoza, which seems like a fair comparison to me, but I think Aceves might actually have a little more starter potential than Mendoza. Baseball America calls him a  more talented version of Ian Kennedy, which I think is a little more accurate description. Never going to be an ace, but has potential as a solid back end of the rotation guy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Returning Pitchers: Wang, Pettitte, and Chamberlain

Chien-Ming Wang looked like the rotation’s ace last year until he was sidelined with an injury and the early-struggling Mussina rose up into the limelight. Thankfully the injury didn’t involve his arm or shoulder and he should return to form again this year. The published projections for Wang aren’t that hopeful. Both sources (the Bill James Handbook and Baseball Prospectus) are counting on Wang to make 30 appearances, but while Bill James predicts 200 innings, the Baseball Prospectus guesses 126, suggesting another setback might be on the way. BJ predicts an ERA of 3.70 while BP predicts 4.39. Obviously here one is looking for a solid season from Wang while the other is forecasting a big slide. Personally I think Wang will be back on his game and will produce numbers similar to his 2007 season. If he doesn’t, the injury prone and depleted rotation could be in big trouble.

Andy Pettitte was last season’s workhorse, the guy who would eat up innings and deliver stuff that was good enough to keep the team in the game. He had his off days and he had good days but in the end the innings went by and the team was still in a position to win. BP suggests a dropoff in Andy’s innings, games played and wins, but also a drop in ERA. BJ predicts a full workload of games and innings, a drop in wins and also an improvement in ERA. Pettitte’s deal with the Yankees took a while to iron out, but hopefully he stayed on top of his offseason conditioning. I’m looking for Andy to be Andy. Not the pitcher he once was, but still a reliable guy to go out there every five days. The media attention about his past PED use has all but disappeared and hopefully he can concentrate fully on the season ahead and deliver the goods.

Joba Chamberlain was impressive in everything he did last year. For the most part, people seem to be accepting the argument that  his talents are best used in the rotation rather than the bullpen. The big concern is his durability. The Yankees need to enforce a strict pitch count and innings limit for him from day one and need to be able to rest him every so often, skipping his start (by using him as the 5th man or having a 6th starter ready).  The only projections available are from Baseball Prospectus which seem to think his status is up in the air, making a bunch of starts but also getting some bullpen work while seeing 126 innings total. His ERA is predicted to be a mere 3.09, up from last year but still impressive. I personally don’t have a strong feeling about what’s going to happen with Joba. Starting him is the right thing to do, but he’s going to need rest, and he might not be able to hack it. If anything does happen, he’ll quickly be back in the bullpen where he’ll spend the rest of his career as a set up man and closer.

The Rest of the starters, well, there really aren’t any. I don’t have faith or hope for Kennedy or Hughes. The two of them need an entire year in the minors before I’d want them back. They will see time in the majors, however, because it’s inevitable that someone on this rotation is going to have at least a minor injury that will require a spot starter. Traditionally, a long reliever on the roster can fill in in these instances, but despite Girardi saying he wants a long reliever on the team, I don’t see it happening. I’d be willing to give Giese a shot and we should get a look at him in spring training.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

AJ Burnett

New arrival AJ Burnett landed himself a decent contract from a team that needs stability in the rotation and is going out on a limb hoping he stays healthy.

Burnett had a career year last year, getting 18 wins, a significant increase over the previous years mainly because it was one of the few years he was able to start  a decent number of games (34 to be precise).

There are two big knocks against AJ, the first is his injury history and the second is that his best performances come in those critical years right before his contract is up.

The Bill James Handbook and the Baseball Prospectus have AJ penciled in for 13-14 wins this season with an ERA between 3.62 and 3.82

Burnett still has the stuff, and if he can remain healthy should be able to match or even surpass last year’s success. The problem is: that’s a big “if”.  The Yankee’s don’t have the problem of unproven starters that they did last year with Hughes and Kennedy, but Chamberlain might not be ready for a full season of starts and the Yankees could be in big trouble if Burnett succumbs to injury. Remember last year, when Igawa, Ponson and Pavanno all got starts? Let’s hope we don’t sink to similar depths this year.

Maybe the injuries of the past were just flukes. Let’s hope so. If that’s the case and AJ makes all his starts, he should be a reliable arm for the Bombers.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Expectations for Sabathia

So the big man has a big contract. What can New York fans expect? If there is anything close to a crystal ball in this sport it’s a few choice publications, including the Bill James Handbook and the annual Baseball Prospectus guide. They provide predictions for a player’s overall statistical performance that is surprisingly accurate on a consistent basis.

Both of these peg CC as a 16 game winner with an ERA in the range of 3.40 – 3.5 which should please Yankees fans.

The one shortcoming of these predictions is they can’t predict big, season altering injuries and so we’re working on the assumption that Sabathia stays healthy.

They also neglect the idea that some people aren’t ready for the pressure of playing in New York. Milwaukee and Cleveland aren’t the same as the Big Apple. Although he’s played in smaller markets, he’s been in the spotlight for a while and after his trade last season, he know the pressure was on and he delivered.

I think the Yankees have a very good shot at making a strong post season run and CC will eat it up.

I’m going out on a limb to say that the projections are a tad on the conservative side and that CC will get 18 wins. The Yankees defense will be improved compared with last year, and their offense should be improved as well. These things make for a happy starting pitcher. I’m looking for Sabathia to live up to expectations and be the consistent top man that the Yankees paid for.

Spring is Here

Spring training is upon us and it’s time to get the Pinstripers blog back into action. The first thing to look at is the roster and what the projected rotation, bullpen and positions will look like. The current roster is workable, but in my opinion there is still a move or two to be made. Since things are in good enough shape, there is no pressure and Cashman is holding all the cards in his mind.

Coming up soon we’ll take a look at some of the new additions, and what the lineup, bullpen and rotation will look like.

Day one and two of training camp are in the books and Pete Abraham of the LoHud blog has a full wrap-up. A few key highlights were that Matsui was looking healthy behind the plate. The other news was Girardi’s proposed rotations.

  1. Sabathia, Burnett, Wang, Pettitte, Chamberlain
  2. Sabathia, Wang, Burnett, Pettitte, Chamberlain

That’s pretty much what we’d expect to see and personally I think the #2 rotation makes the most sense.

CMW and Andrew Brackman both threw on day one and the early reports sound promising on both fronts.

Lastly, Girardi said he wants a long reliever this year, and I don’t believe him. Maybe by the end of the season he learned his lesson, but when Girardi needed a long reliever the most, he refused to keep one on the roster.

More to come.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Avoiding Arbitration

There hasn’t been much news on the Yankees front recently. We still need another starting pitcher and could use an upgrade in center field.

Brian Cashman has been listening to offers for Nick Swisher, Xavier Nady and Robinson Cano, but so far the asking prices have been too high for anyone to give serious consideration to a trade.

Melky Cabrera and Xavier Nady have both settled on one year deals with the Yankees, although this doesn’t mean that they won’t be traded before the start of the season. Brian Bruney is still negotiating with the team.

Who knows what will happen at this point. Getting another starter most likely will happen and a trade may or may not go down, depending on the needs of other clubs. The Yankees have a few guys they could get rid of, but at this point they’re not going to let them go cheap.