Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jerry Crasnick Answers My Bullpen Questions from Yesterday

ESPN's Jerry Crasnick had some interesting comments about the Yankees' bullpen today in the rumor section of their website. I'll run it as a whole quote:

"The Yankees bullpen has logged 225 innings, fourth most in the American League, so I can see Brian Cashman trolling around for a veteran reliever. David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke and Brian Bruney all have solid numbers, but that's a pretty inexperienced group. Depending on what happens with Chien-Ming Wang, you never know when Phil Hughes might have to slide back into the rotation. The Yankees also aren't sure when or if Damaso Marte will return from shoulder problems this season. So I can see the Yanks being interested if Jose Valverde, Huston Street or someone of that ilk becomes available."

Crasnick goes on to say that the Yankees don't need a bat, because they are first in the league in OPS and second in runs scored even with A-Rod scuffling and Xavier Nady rehabbing. The site also made note of Cashman opting to attend yesterday's Braves/Yankees game. It is significant. When Cashman does this, it often means (in the words of Sam Cooke) that a change is gonna come.

Michael Kay said during last night's broadcast that Cashman had planned to attend Sergio Mitre's start in Scranton until he jettisoned to Atlanta. Mitre could enter the equation soon. He almost certainly has to be better than Brett Tomko.

But, Cashman's presence at the game yesterday has to have a similar feel to Vladimir Putin showing up at a Russian newspaper. Somebody's going to go, but who will it be? Jose Veras was the first bullpen casualty. We'll see who Cashman axes next.

On another note, Valverde and Street are both solid relievers, but trading a lot for them may not be a great idea. It seems like whenever the Yankees acquire a big name reliever (especially from the National League, where both of these guys currently pitch) midseason they implode on arrival. The bandbox in the Bronx can't help. I'd rather see them get an AL arm if possible. Preferrably someone with good numbers in a small ballpark.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Veras Trade Makes Little Sense

The Yankees have had difficulties with their bullpen all season. The problems have been somewhat mitigated of late with the simultaneous emergence of Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves, David Robertson and Phil Hughes. So, with the troubles apparently gone, and Brian Bruney back in the mix, the Yanks did the logical thing and dealt away their depth, Jose Veras. Wrong.

I will keep Phil Coke out of the discussion. He is a lefty with a 3.64 ERA in an overwhelmingly right-handed bullpen. His numbers are all good, if not dominant. He deserves to be in the bullpen, even if Damaso Marte comes back effectively at any point this season.

Robertson has been good. But the sample size doesn't convince me that he is a top-line reliever. He has allowed 19 men on base (including an inexcusable 10 walks) in 15.2 innings, which smells to me like a formula for trouble. His 2.30 ERA and 24 strikeouts are both very impressive, but until he stops walking too many men (about 5.75 per nine innings) there is a real possibility that his numbers will dip substantially.

As for Bruney, his injuries continue to be an issue. He seems to spend about half of his time on the disabled list or battling with his control. The remainder of the time, he is very effective, but he is hard to count upon as a late-inning gun because of the persistent issues mentioned above.

Alfredo Aceves is a bulldog. I'm not going to deny his prowess. His WHIP is 1.00 in 31 innings, and his strikeout to walk ratio is 27-to-6. Fantastic stuff. So fantastic, in fact, that I feel like his future may be in the starting rotation given the difficulties of Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain.

The same argument applies to the emergent Phil Hughes. His ERA has quietly dropped to 4.57 during his stint in the bullpen, and he has looked downright dominant in several recent appearances. His season whip is a respectable 1.30. His BB/9 is just below 3.4, which is acceptable if not fantastic. It puts him closer to CC Sabathia than A.J. Burnett in terms of control this season.

So to recap, the Yankees have Phil Coke and Mariano Rivera locked into a seven-man bullpen. David Robertson has been effective so far, but his command is an issue. Damaso Marte and Brian Bruney are frequently hurt. Alfredo Aceves and Phil Hughes could be pushed into the rotation depending on how Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain's control develop. Edwar Ramirez is a backup plan who has proven to be a one-trick pony with his changeup, and Brett Tomko is a human batting tee with an affinity for turning over leads.

So why on Earth would the Yankees trade Jose Veras to the Cleveland Indians for (wait for it) CASH? Veras was the Yankees' best reliever last season, when he had a 3.59 ERA in 57.2 innings. This year, his control has been seriously questioned, because he walked 14 men in 25.2 innings. This translates to a 4.91 BB/9 rate, or lower than Robertson's. And last year, he walked 29 in his 57.2, or 4.53 BB/9. The number didn't go up as significantly as announcers and columnists seem to think. And they are still considerably better than Robertson's 5.75 this season. True, Veras' ERA was 5.96 so far, but slightly better control could have returned him much closer to his performance last season. I am definitely not sure Robertson is any better control-wise, and the Yankees are now without one of their highest-upside relievers.

I could understand trading him for a different reliever. I cannot understand giving him away. Nice trade, Indians' GM Mark Shapiro. You may have just added a very good piece to your bullpen for years, if you can help him with his control a little bit. And the Yankees may well miss him when they realize that their bullpen still isn't set in stone.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Teixeira Taking Heat off A-Rod

Can anyone imagine where the Yankees would be right now without Mark Teixeira?

Alex Rodriguez is hitting just a shade over .230 with eight home runs in mid-June. Granted he is coming off of an injury that cost him roughly half of the season so far, but without Teixeira's obscene production (he just hit his 20th home run of the season off Livan Hernandez) it is hard to imagine Rodriguez struggling this quietly.

Given the steroids questions, the unflattering mirror-kissing imagery and the nasty Selena Roberts book, the New York media has been relatively forgiving of Rodriguez's sub-par play thus far.

A-Rod's production hasn't been terrible so far. The home runs and RBI's have been coming, but the perennial All-Star has yet to look comfortable at the plate. It is obvious that his pitch recognition isn't where it usually is at this point in the season. It is also clear that he is not yet comfortable enough at the plate to hit the ball to the opposite field. But short of the Yankees' inexplicable inability to beat the Boston Red Sox so far this year, the team has looked dominant without their marquee player.

It is scary to think what this offense will look like once Rodriguez really gets cranking, assuming he does because of his flat-out historical greatness. The Hall of Fame debate is to be held at a later date, but it is hard to argue the supremacy of the enigmatic #13. Hopefully Rodriguez can get his balance in the box before Teixeira slows down and exposes his struggles.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jeter, Yankees fit new park

Don't look now, but Derek Jeter is on pace for 20-25 home runs and 30+ steals. The new Yankee Stadium and Jeter's obsessive new preparation techniques have proven to be a time machine for the Captain, who is playing like it's a decade earlier.

Six of Jeter's eight home runs have come at home so far this year. Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira are all loving hitting lefty at the new park. Their power numbers are all up. Alex Rodriguez and Jeter both have a substantial amount of power to right, which means that nearly every Yankee starter can expect to produce more this year. This team is 18-11 at home so far, and it is perfectly constructed for the new bandbox. Future Yankees' general managers take note. Even an injury-diminished Hideki Matsui has shown some pop thanks to the friendly confines.

But for Jeter, this power surge has extra meaning. After his eighth home run of the season against Tampa Bay last night, Jeter sits at 214 career dingers. He is a couple of 20-home run seasons away from a real chance at 300 career home runs. Now, I didn't think that was anywhere near possible coming into this season, but with the new park, who knows? And if Jeter gets to 300 home runs, his already very good chances of reaching the Hall of Fame become great chances.

Also, Jeter's contract expires at the end of next season, and there have been rumblings for a couple of years now about what the Yankees could do with him in light of his diminished shortstop defense. One of the big concerns was that Jeter's power production was dropping, meaning he could not be a factor at designated hitter or in left field. If Jeter can hit around 20 home runs each of the next two seasons, to go with his usual .300+ batting average, the odds increase that Jeter remains valuable to the team. And like many Yankees fans, it would kill part of my soul to see the Yankees push Jeter out the door the way they did Bernie Williams.

So thanks to the architects, or Babe Ruth's ghost, or wind currents or inexplicable air density anomaly. Your penchant to take balls out to right field at the New House may mean that I get to see Derek Jeter retire as a Yankee, when he's good and ready.

Monday, June 8, 2009

New Yankee Stadium, The National Anthem and Sarah Palin

I had the privilege of attending my first Yankee game at the new stadium on Sunday, and I walked into the ballpark with mixed feelings. On one hand, I was depressed about the death of the old cathedral and the gentrification of baseball in New York. On the other hand, it's where the Yankees play now, it is state of the art and it kept a lot of the feel of the old stadium.

I was overwhelmed by the Great Hall (second image) when I arrived.

I tried to go to the Yankees museum. The line was too long, but the sense of respect for the team's history helped me breathe easier.

But then, before the game, the humongous JumboTron in center field displayed an image of good old Sarah "Barracuda" Palin with her husband Todd, the secessionist, and the Giulianis (first image). The crowd was largely silent at first, but an audible round of boos soon followed. I was upset by her presence, but the stadium always shows the famous people in the audience. But what followed was totally unacceptable to me.

A smiling Palin was shown on the JumboTron a second time during the National Anthem. Now, don't get me wrong. I know how Republican the Yankees' ownership is. John Sterling practically drools every time Rudy shows up at a game. But showing her during the National Anthem rubbed me entirely the wrong way.

Sarah Palin inferred that New Yorkers weren't real Americans during the election. She was in our city and the people in charge of the Yankees saw fit to show her up there, as if to say she is a great American? The woman is, quite frankly, a moron, and she hates anyone who isn't extremely right wing and born-again Christian. She probably would like to see New York wiped off the map. And there are questions about how involved she and her husband were in a secessionist group in Alaska. How is she a great American?

Showing her during that song was such a partisan move that it honestly made me a little sick for the first couple innings of the game. It made me look a little bit closer at the luxury boxes and it reminded me of the negatives about the new home. It's still very impressive, but why, whenever something good appears in New York, do we have to kick out the poor?

My mother booed Palin during the National Anthem, and I was temporarily worried for our safety, but no one complained or looked sideways at her.

In other news, the Yankees won the game 4-3, behind an eighth inning rally/Tampa Bay collapse. The Rays were up 3-1 and proceeded to give up two hits and four walks. They also made an error, and played their way out of an inning-ending double play when Reid Brignac decided to try to tag the lead runner, which allowed Hideki Matsui's gimpy knee to beat the throw to first and let the winning run score.

The stadium was rocking from the first hit of the inning. You get the sense that Yankees fans are starting to expect late-inning drama from this team. There is an undeniable swagger about them right now. Granted, the Yankees didn't come up with a huge hit. Tampa handed the game away. They just don't look like the same team they were last year so far, which is a huge shock considering how young, deep and talented they are.