Thursday, August 19, 2004

Hate to say I told you so 

I don't think I could have called last night's game any more accurately.

For the record, the Yankees demoted Phillips as expected. Alex Rodriguez will be back at third tonight.

Two interesting bits of injury news: Gary Sheffield has been officially diagnosed with a "slight separation" of the left trapezius muscle, which is actually a muscle in the upper back. The diagnosis was made by Dodgers team physician Dr. Frank Jobe based on Sheffield's June X-rays and MRI. According to Sheffield, Jobe said that the muscle had separated from the bone. This is actually good news as there is no a tear, meaning he will not require surgery in the shoulder. Rather, it should heal on its own with a minimum of a month's rest, which Sheffield says he will take after the postseason. This should put to bed all of the wolf cries of retirement. Sheffield expects to get a pair of cortisone shots in the shoulder this weekend during the homestand against the Angels, but will likely not take any further action with regards to the injury for the remainder of the season.

Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte's season has come to an end as he goes under Dr. James Andrews knife to have a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow repaired. Pettitte supposedly injured the elbow on a checked swing in his first start as an Astro and is expected to be at full strength for spring training, but with all of the problems Andy has had with an elbow that raised eyebrows in New York, you tend to wonder how predisposed he was to such an injury, how much the Yankees knew, and how much it factored into their apparent lack of enthusiasm for resigning him. Pettitte made just 15 starts for the Astros this year, but pitched well when healthy, posting this line: 3.90 ERA, 8.57 K/9, 3.36 BB/9, 1.23 WHIP, 6-4.

Less compellingly, Jason Giambi's rehab has been stalled by a groin pull. Shades of Jon Lieber and Nick Johnson for very different reasons.

One housekeeping note: the new search bar at the top of this page allows you to search exclusively within the BRB. It's very handy to find out what I've had to say about certain topics, teams or players in the past, or to find bits of information lost to the archives. It also means you can call me out on just about everything I've said over the life of this blog. It should come in very handy for September call-ups.

posted by Cliff at 12:12 AM

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Vazquez! Rusty. 

I'm chalking Javier Vazquez's poor performance last night up to rust. Javy's had some poor outings this year that weren't due to long rest, but only four times this season have his total runs allowed equaled or surpassed his raw innings pitched (sans thirds). In two of those four games Javy was pitching on extended rest (in Boston in his second start of the season and in Detroit following the All-Star break) and in a third he allowed five runs in five innings in LA, but only two of those runs were earned (that was the game in which Vazquez threw three wild pitches and made a throwing error). It's also worth noting that Vazquez has not had such a start at home this year as he has a rather extreme home/road split:

Home: 3.36 ERA, 7.05 K/9, 1.73 BB/9, .201 BAA, 9-2
Road: 5.07 ERA, 6.72 K/9, 2.88 BB/9, .288 BAA, 4-4

Mike Mussina, who is notorious in this space for pitching poorly on extended rest, starts for the Yankees tonight for the first time since July 6 (you'll remember that was a short-rest start he took to try to avoid pitching on long rest after the All-Star break - oh the irony!). Moose also has a noticeable home/road split, though his is not as extreme as Javy's:

Home: 4.80 ERA, 7.45 K/9, 1.33 BB/9, .303 BAA, 6-1
Road: 5.60 ERA, 5.09 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, .301 BAA, 3-5

What's most striking here are those batting averages against. Moose has been killed by balls in play this year as you'll notice his defense-independent rate stats are easily better than Vazquez's at home this year (add in HR/9 and Moose is still on top 1.16 to a dismal 1.41 for homer-happy Javy). On the road things are closer as Javy is way out ahead in K/9, but Moose leads in BB/9 and HR/9 (numbers too ugly to print here).

With all of that said, don't expect much from Moose pitching on monstrous rest on the road tonight. But don't get flustered when he does poorly either.

The Yankees are expected to send Andy Phillips, who did not play in either of his two games with the big club, back down to Columbus to clear a roster spot for Mussina. That means that if Wilson, Cairo or Jeter is forced to leave the game (be it injury or ejection) the Yankees will have to move Sheffield and his wounded wing in from right field or get Jorge reacquainted with the middle infield in a hurry. Personally, I'd rather see them demote Proctor and ride Tanyon Sturtze to an ugly loss if need be, demoting Phillips for an extra pitcher tomorrow when Rodriquez is once again eligible. After all, they're going up against Johan Santana tonight. If that doesn't scare you, Santana has put up this line since June 1: 1.89 ERA, 11.66 K/9, 2.14 BB/9, 10-3 with some sick sub-.200 BAA. Better luck with El Duque vs. Carlos Silva.

posted by Cliff at 3:46 PM

Monday, August 16, 2004

Travel Day 

Since last we met, the Yankees picked up the final two games of their series against the Rangers behind some strong pitching that included six innings from the bullpen in which they allowed just one baserunner. They then flew up to Seattle where they took the first two games before dropping yesterday's contest when the first two men out of the pen (Nitkowski and Quantrill) failed to retire any of the four batters they faced.

Other highlights from those games include grand slams from Miguel Cairo (his first ever) and Ruben Sierra, John Olerud's first Yankee home run, yet another strong start from El Duque (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 7 K), a solid effort from Jon Lieber (8 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 4 K, 68% strikes), and some hot hitting from Bernie Williams (7 for his last 18 with a pair of homers, one a three-run shot on Friday night).

Bernie's monthly splits tell most his season's story:

Apr: .194/.310/.292
May: .271/.352/.438
Jun: .341/.434/.538
Jul: .184/.322/.327
Aug: .315/.377/.593

What's hidden here is that August has seen Bernie tie his 2004 monthly high for homers and pass his 2004 monthly high for RBIs despite there being 14 games left to play in the month. More curiously, Bernie's 2004 monthly high for walks came in his dismal July. He's walking about half as often in August, at a rate similar to his season low monthly rate in May.

Getting back to the bullpen, Quantrill's failure yesterday saw him face three batters in the heart of the Mariner order and surrender singles to all three. This followed five scoreless innings over Quantrill's previous four appearances and led to just the second (and third and fourth) earned run he's given up all month (thanks to Scott Proctor, who walked home the first and allowed a Miguel Olivo single to plate the other two). There's no cause for alarm here. In fact, thanks to Quantrill, Edgar Martinez's final at-bat against the Yankees was an RBI-single, which seems fitting. For all the Yankee killers over the years I've hated (including Kevin Brown), I've always had a great deal of respect for Martinez, even despite his devastating performance in the 1995 ALDS.

Nitkowski has been acceptable thus far. He's retired 12 of 17 batters faced and had three strong outings following a shaky debut appearance. He twice entered a game to face Carlos Delgado and got him to ground out both times, the second time into a double play. As a matter of fact, Sunday was his first appearance as a Yankee in which he did not retire the first batter he faced, walking Ichiro Suzuki, whom he had gotten to line out to begin his outing on Saturday. After walking Ichiro, Nitkowski was immediately pulled for the single-happy Quantrill, but Suzuki was the go-ahead run so Nitkowski was handed the loss. Curiously, he was also handed a hold.

At least acording to ESPN's box score. If that is to be believed, Nitkowski entered the game, walked the only man he faced, that man later came around to score the winning run, and yet C.J. still earned a hold. We saw something like this with Jeff Nelson on opening day. Looking back:
First the hold rule: "A Hold is credited any time a relief pitcher enters a game in a Save Situation, records at least one out, and leaves the game never having relinquished the lead." Nelson entered the game with a one-run lead. He got one out then gave up two singles before getting the second out, at which point he was pulled in favor of Ron Mahay. Mahay gave up a two-run double, allowing both of Nelson's baserunners to score, thus handing Nelson the loss, but since Nelson left before the lead change, he earned a hold.
So you see, Nitkowksi, having not recorded an out, could not have earned a hold (indeed, he's not credited with one in the box score. Still, as the Nelson example suggests, for those who want to rewrite the save rule, be sure to get this one fixed up as well.

Looking back at the last five games, one man I failed to mention is Tanyon Sturtze. Sturtze started for the highly contagious Javier Vazquez on Wednesday and went five innings while holding the potent Rangers offense to two runs on five hits and a walk. I must say, I've been nothing but cruel to Sturtze since the Yankees picked him up in mid-May, but, although he's not been much better than his awful career numbers, Sturtze has been useful to the Yankees. Basically he's done what they expected him to do, which is eat innings and give the team a chance in spot starts. He's made three such starts thus far, winning two of them (Wednesday's and a 6 IP, 3 R outing against the D-backs). The third came prior to the Rodriguez-Varitek boxing match in Boston. Although he lasted only three innings in that game, in his defense (imagine!), he pitched two perfect innings before injuring himself in the brawl.

There is still no excuse to use Sturtze in a close game, and ideally a healthy stable of starters will keep him off the post-season roster, but Sturtze trails only the Yanks original five starters (with El Duque sneaking up on him) and the Big Three in the pen in innings pitched on the season, and that's his job, to suck up the least valuable innings, be it after an aborted start by another pitcher, or in a blow out in either direction. All of which makes the fact that his ERA is more than a half-run higher than the staff ERA less significant.

Speaking of Sturtze and the Red Sox brawl, both Sturtze and Rodriguez were given three-day suspensions for their featured roles in the Fenway fisticuffs. Both appealed, which essentially allowed them to decide when their suspensions would take place as they could start their suspensions by dropping their appeals. Sturtze dropped his after starting on Wednesday, which made him unavailable for a good three days regardless of the suspension. He served his time on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Rodriguez missed the first two games of the Mariners series due to the flu, then dropped his appeal following Saturday's contest so that he could recover from his illness during his suspension. He should be back in action on Thursday. In the meantime, the Yankees demoted Bret Prinz (who was called up to give the Yankees some extra bullpen depth for Sturtze's start, forcing Bubba Crosby to Columbus), in order to add Andy Phillips to the roster to give them a reserve infielder with Cairo and Wilson both starting during Rodriguez's suspension.

I've recently pushed for the Yankees to call up Felix Escalona to fill the futility infielder spot. This had less to do with Escalona's hitting .313/.379/.435 in Columbus than with a desperate attempt to Wally Pip Enrique Wilson and give Miguel Cairo all of the starts at second base for the remainder of the season. Despite the fact that Andy Phillips has hit .294/.368/.537 in triple-A this year, I had chosen Escalona over Phillips because Phillips has played 68 of his 82 games in the field this year at first base (the other seven have been split evenly between second, his natural position, and third). Phillips, who was the Yankees Minor League Player of the Year in 2002 before suffering an injury in winter ball that kept him on the shelf for most of 2003, is likely only here until Mike Mussina is activated on Wednesday. That is, he's here for two of the three games that make up Rodriguez's suspension. There's a solid chance that he won't even see any action in this brief call-up. Still, its good to see a fresh face from Columbus on the Yankee bench, and it foreshadows a likely call-up for Phillips once rosters expand in September.

For what it's worth, while both were starting during the Seattle series, Wilson and Cairo have put up these numbers:

Wilson: 3 for 12, 2 2B, 2 R, 1 K
Cairo: 3 for 14, 1 3B, 1 R 1 RBI

Of course, Cairo hit that grand slam in the final game of the Texas series.

What was that I said about Mussina? Oh yeah, he'll be starting on Wednesday with Javy Vazquez starting on Tuesday. With those two back in action, the Yankees will go with a six-man rotation at least for the next twelve games, which come without an off-day and include three-game series against the Twins, Angels and Indians and the start of a four-game series against the Blue Jays. All but the Angels series this weekend are on the road.

Right now I'd expect Esteban Loaiza to be the odd man out when the rotation returns to its normal size. Brown, Vazquez and Mussina, regardless of performance, are safe from the bullpen demotion and Hernandez has pitched too well to be taken out of the rotation. Loaiza has made 33 appearances out of the bullpen over the course of his career most recently making six in 2001 for the Blue Jays. Jon Lieber has not pitched out of the pen since a lone relief appearance in 1998 when he was with Pittsburgh. Thus, regardless of his performance, Loaiza is the best candidate of the six for Sturtze's long-relief role. On Saturday, Loaiza made his third start since coming over from the White Sox, allowing 4 runs in 5 1/3 innings as the Yankees won 6-4. The Yankees are now 2-1 while scoring an average of six runs in Loaiza's three starts (Loaiza's only decision was the loss), thus lending support to my 6-IP/5-R thesis.

posted by Cliff at 12:06 PM

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