Thursday, July 16, 2009

Midpoint grades

Well, the All-Star game has come and gone. Derek Jeter has scored two more runs in the Midsummer Classic, and Mariano Rivera has picked up his record fourth save in eight scoreless All-Star innings. But with the schedule ready to resume tomorrow, I'm going to look at the Yankees production thus far and rank their performance.

This is a little harsh considering the fact that they are 2.5 games up in the Wild Card race, 3 games back of the Red Sox and have the third best record in baseball overall. But fans have to be concerned about the streaky tendency that this team has shown so far this year. The inability of this team to beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Boston Red Sox also has to cause fans to chew off some cuticles. And with the massive free agent additions the Yankees made this offseason, the Wild Card simply isn't enough (but I'll take it) for an A. Let's not forget a B+ is a very good grade.

A.J. Burnett: A (8-4, 3.77 ERA, 101 Ks in 107.1 IP, 1.38 WHIP)
My concerns about A.J. Burnett coming into this season were centered around his 4.07 ERA last season. It didn't seem right to me that a guy with an ERA that high could be expected to win 16-18 games regularly. Despite some rough streaks, Burnett has been downright dominant over the last month or so, and has lowered his ERA this season to an impressive 3.77 in the Bandbox in the Bronx. Outperforming your contract year in a tougher ballpark always earns you a nod in my book.

CC Sabathia: A- (8-6, 3.86 ERA, 95 Ks in 128.1 IP, 1.15 WHIP)
I was tempted to drop Sabathia to a B+ even though he has been the obvious ace of the staff so far this year strictly because his ERA is higher than Burnett's at 3.86. Also, if you told me Sabathia would be two games over .500 but the Yankees would be 14 over at the break I would have called you crazy. Sabathia's saving grace is his stellar WHIP. It is pretty clear he has been pitching better than his results so far, so hold out hope that he will dominate the way he usually does down the stretch run.

Andy Pettitte: B- (8-5, 4.85 ERA, 70 Ks in 107.2 IP, 1.53 WHIP)
Ouch! That WHIP is ugly! And the ERA is, too! But he has pitched 0.1 more innings than Burnett, lost one less game than Sabathia and won as many as both of them. You can't be mad at the record, but the peripherals tell me that his second half will not be as positive. And when Pettitte stinks these days, he really stinks.

Joba Chamberlain: D+ (4-2, 4.25 ERA, 78 Ks in 89 IP, 1.56 WHIP)
Chamberlain has lost steam on his fastball with the move to the rotation, taking him from unhittable to just slightly better than average. His location is horrible, and he struggles to make it out of the fifth inning of most of his starts. He walks everyone he doesn't strike out. Worse yet, he has such a big ego that he spends 2/3 of his time on the mound shaking off Jorge Posada's pitch selection. This kid has some serious maturing to do before he can handle starting in the major leagues at the level he is capable of.

Chien-Ming Wang: F (Wish I could go lower) (1-6, 9.64 ERA, 29 Ks in 42 IP, 2.02 WHIP)
What is there to say about Wang's season that hasn't already been said about the Titanic. A repeat 19-game winner has turned into baseball's worst pitcher. He started giving up fly balls to soar over the shorter fences in New Yankee Stadium. He can't locate, he looks alternately scared and lost, his sinker has left him and the Yankees feel he is more valuable on the Disabled List than on the mound. I guess Wang is a lot like most products made in Taiwan: he looks pretty good for a couple of years and then falls apart completely.

BULLPEN: C+ Overall
Alfredo Aceves: A+ (100 percent) (5-1, 2.49 ERA, 36 Ks in 43.1 IP, 0.97 WHIP)
This guy is a pitcher. Plain and simple. He can pitch late in ballgames. He can serve as mop-up. He's lights out as a spot starter. Think Ramiro Mendoza, but somehow better with less stuff. The Yankees should hold onto him for a long time.

Mariano Rivera: A+ (1-2, 2.43 ERA, 23 out of 24 saves, 43 Ks in 37 IP, 0.89 WHIP)
After some early season struggles that had the league saying "Mariano's losing it" for the 50th time, Rivera is back. You get the feeling he could be dominant with his cutter at 57 years old. It is effortless for him. 500 saves only begins to tell his greatness. And he is way better than Trevor Hoffman.

Phil Coke: A (3.99 ERA, 31 Ks in 38.1 IP, 9 Holds, 3 BSV, 1.04 WHIP)
Coke blew up in his last appearance before the break, or that ERA would have been about a run lower. Still, he has been the steady presence in a bullpen in flux all season. The Yankees have found themselves a formidable lefty in the absence of Damaso Marte.

Phil Hughes: A- (3-2, 3.91 ERA, 50 Ks in 53 IP, 1.21 WHIP)
Hughes has had the opposite of Chamberlain's season: he moved to the bullpen and his velocity went from average to plus. His early season struggles in the rotation hide his midseason dominance in the ERA department. Since moving to the setup role, Hughes has been nothing short of electric. I wonder if he can sustain the velocity in the rotation. It might be time to switch him and Joba.

Brian Bruney: C- (3-0, 4.86 ERA, 18 Ks in 16.2 IP, 7 Holds, 1.32 WHIP)
Bruney continues to have injury and control problems and the Yankees continue to see him as a setup man. Blows my mind.

David Robertson: D+ (1-0, 3.57 ERA, 34 Ks in 22.2 IP, 16 BB, 1.41 WHIP)
Robertson strikes out a lot of batters, and that has impressed people. His stuff is undeniably nasty, but he cannot hit the broad side of a barn with it. His numbers will swell as the league gets used to him and as they realize they will get on base if they do not swing. It has already started to happen. Get this kid to an optometrist. He reminds me of Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn from Major League.

Brett Tomko: F (1-2, 5.23 ERA, 11 Ks in 20.2 IP, 1.26 WHIP)
Don't let the good WHIP and only mildly bad ERA fool you. Whenever he is facing a decent team, or the Yankees put him in a close game, he blows up like the Fourth of July. Only should be pitched down ten or more runs.

CATCHER: B+ Overall
Jorge Posada: A- (.285 BA, 11 HR, 40 RBI, 29 R, .369 OBP, .877 OPS)
Posada has compiled nice power and production totals in only 193 AB. The Yankees had to wonder what they would get from him after his injury last year, and what they have gotten is a solid Posada season. His arm isn't what it used to be, and he has had some trouble gelling with some of the new faces in the rotation, but he is still one of the best in the business.

Francisco Cervelli: B (.269 BA, 1 (important) HR, 9 RBI, .284 OBP, .630 OPS)
In Jose Molina and Jorge Posada's absence, Cervelli stepped up big time. For a catcher with no real hitting skills, the guy seemed to get a lot of clutch hits. And his defense, pitch calling and arm are all above league average. His speed is also impressive for his position. His is the feel-good story of the year for the Yankees, and he managed to hold his weight at a time the Yankees were desperate for someone to step up. Too bad Molina's back, this kid's energy is fantastic.

INFIELD: A- Overall
Derek Jeter: A+ (.321 BA, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 56 R, 110 H, 17/20 SB, .396 OBP, .857 OPS)
Derek Jeter found a time machine, and it brought him all the way to starting at shortstop in the All-Star game. In a season where the outfield has been less productive, A-Rod stunk for a portion of the year, and the pitching has had its ups and downs, the captain has had to pick up a lot of the slack. He is in the top-10 in the league in batting average. He is stealing bases and hitting home runs like it was 1999, and he has been more patient in the leadoff spot. Add to that the fact that he is playing some of the best shortstop of his career, and the writers should seriously consider him for MVP if the Yankees overtake the Red Sox this season. What more do you want from a guy?

Mark Teixeira: A (.275 BA, 21 HR, 63 RBI, 56 R, 23 2B, .378 OBP, .913 OPS)
Teixeira has had a great all-around offensive season. He has emerged as the best hitter on A-Rod's team so far this year. His defense at first base has won the Yankees several games this season. He also definitely deserved to start at first in the All-Star game. This is looking like one of the best signings the Yankees have ever made, from an all-around perspective. He would have had an A+ with a slightly better batting average and a little less streakiness.

Alex Rodriguez: B (.256 BA, 17 HR, 50 RBI, 35 R, .411 OBP, .959 OPS)
Rodriguez's production this year is absurd considering he has only had 199 at-bats. He would be on pace for 51-55 home runs if he had not missed time. But what is even crazier about his numbers is that he amassed them while clearly struggling with his timing after returning from injury. He was searing hot entering the break. Expect a monster second half if his hip doesn't collapse under the pressure of proving he can hit without steroids or a mirror to kiss.

Robinson Cano: C+ (.308 BA, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 61 R, .341 OBP, .831 OPS)
I hate it when a good batting average masks a player's bad hitting. Cano only had 17 walks in the first half. He also struck out only 27 times. He gets a lot of hits, but swings at terrible pitches almost every at bat. His strikeout total is less a result of skill than a sheer inability to let a pitch he can reach go by. He could be hitting .340 or .350 if he just learned the strike zone.

OUTFIELD: C+ Overall
Johnny Damon: A- (.276 BA, 16 HR, 50 RBI, 62 R, 19 2B, 3 3B, 8/8 SB, .362 OBP, .872 OPS)
Damon loves that rightfield fence in the New House. His production has been out of this world this year, but his batting average has suffered a little bit. The Yankees needed him to play this way, though, in Alex Rodriguez's absence. I'm rooting for him to hit 30 home runs this year, and in the new park, it's a real possibility.

Nick Swisher: B (.237 BA, 14 HR, 47 RBI, 43 R, 18 2B, .360 OBP, .824 OPS)
As my blog shows, before the year started I was a big proponent of Xavier Nady's. Forget him. The way Swisher works the count has made Bobby Abreu's departure irrelevant. He is a tough out almost every single time, and he has more than a little pop left in his bat even though he is undeniably streaky. Unfortunately, his rightfield defense also reminds me of Abreu, minus the arm. His average is unsightly, but that .360 OBP is stellar for a guy in his position. He gets everything out of his skill set.

Melky Cabrera: B- (.285 BA, 8 HR, 34 RBI, .347 OBP, .786 OPS)
Melky once again looks like a nice little player in this league. His average and on-base percentage have rebounded, and his range and arm in the outfield are nothing to be sneezed at. He is by no means a star, but he's a tough little player and he's hard not to root for. Especially when he seems to be a big piece in every other late inning rally like he did in the first half.

Brett Gardner: C+ (.282 BA, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 36 R, 5 3B, 18/22 SB, .352 OBP, .757 OPS)
Gardner has definitely hit the ball better this year than last year, and his stolen base numbers are very solid considering he only has 188 at-bats. But then there's the issue of on-base percentage. He needs to get it up over .400 if he is going to use his one major league tool to the fullest of its potential. His range in the outfield is very good. His arm is not. He will not stop Austin Jackson from eventually taking this position.

Hideki Matsui: C (.265 BA, 14 HR, 40 RBI, 29 R, .367 OBP, .884 OPS)
This is the one time (besides Cervelli, who succeeded in my book for his guts) in this grading system that OPS has not been a fantastic gauge of the grade a player ends up with. Matsui's power and production have been much better than I anticipated this year. But I attribute all of it to his left-handed pull swing and the short porch. He cannot run anymore. He has to DH because his body is shot. The Yankees would be crazy to bring him back next year. He simply is not the same ballplayer. Someone will overpay him next year, and unless its a small ballpark, they will pay for that in every way except for international merchandising revenue.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Wang Down...Where's the Hughes Love?

I hate being right. Remember when I said Phil Hughes or Alfredo Aceves would probably have to step out of bullpen roles to fill in as starters this year? Brace yourself. Chien-Ming Wang (and his glorious, barely single-digit ERA) has gone down with a strained right shoulder. His MRI also revealed bursitis. Manager Joe Girardi and the organization haven't had much to say about the Yankees' plans to fill the gap in the rotation, but Girardi did mention that he didn't expect Wang to start throwing at least until after the All-Star break.

In response to Wang's injury, the Yankees have recalled Jonathan Albaladejo and his 6.00 ERA through 21 IP.

Now, one thing is for certain. Albaladejo will not be making any starts in Wang's place. ESPN seems to think that the logical move for the Yankees is to call up Sergio Mitre from AAA to fill the hole in the rotation. The New York Daily News says that Phil Hughes has become too valuable to move out of the bullpen. Girardi seems to be fighting with the idea himself. He said Hughes had become "really, really important" in the setup role. With Brian Bruney's recent struggles, it's hard to argue.

I love Sergio Mitre. He has had flashes of brilliance at the Major League level. Two things, however, must be considered before he is called up to fill in for Wang. First, the Yankees also have Alfredo Aceves with the big club right now. He has pitched very well for the second consecutive year, and he showed promise last year as a starter. He has earned a shot with the Yankees, and he could be a starter in the longterm. The thing he has proven is that he is a versatile and talented arm, and the Yankees should consider taking this opportunity to see where he seems to fit best.

Secondly, Phil Hughes' development is more important than the 2009 season. That sentence may be unthinkable to most Yankees' fans. But the reality is that it is true. Hughes has finally begun to pitch with confidence at the big league level. It took years for him to truly command the game. And now he is looking virtually untouchable. The team needs to figure out if the extra velocity on his fastball that has been showing up in relief (it has recently climbed from 91-92 MPH to 95-96 MPH) is a result of the different nature of the workload or if he has simply physically matured at age 23. He does look more solid this season, for what its worth, so that isn't entirely out of the question.

But Hughes is supposed to be our go-to guy of the future. Joba Chamberlain has flashy stuff, and he strikes people out, but he isn't a pitcher yet. He is a thrower with really good stuff that overcompensates for his arrogant attitude on the mound and his lack of command. He is constantly pitching for the swing and miss. That is why he was effective late in games when he came up. He suffers from pre-Roy Halladay A.J. Burnett syndrome. Outs don't matter. Just strikeouts.

Chamberlain will most likely be a very good #2 starter at the Major League level someday, and if he becomes a control pitcher, he will be Roger Clemens (without steroids...and also without pitching into his 60's). But he doesn't have the combination of command and stuff that Hughes does. Hughes can be a #1 starter. He should get this chance to see if he can parlay his new confidence into succesful starts in the bigs. That confidence could be the thing that shows the kid he can be dominant with the big club as a starter. He needs the chance to develop his mentality on the mound.

In an ironic twist, the act of telling Hughes he has earned your confidence in the bullpen may have hurt his feelings. If he (who has probably been working with the hope of sticking with the club and filling in if anyone got hurt) gets rejected because of his success, it may mess with his psyche. Give the kid a big vote of confidence and hand him the ball. He is the future of your franchise. Even if it means that the team loses two more games this year because the bullpen is in flux, we need Hughes to feel important and feel like the Yankees are giving him the chances he so obviously deserves.