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Posts Tagged ‘Brett Gardner’

I can’t count how many times I watched ‘The Sandlot’ as a child. Whatever number it was, it was an unhealthy one. With some time to burn in spring training, some players on the Yankees roster re-enacted the classic scene in the movie when Smalls realizes the ball he handed over to “The Beast” was autographed by the greatest ballplayer who ever lived, Babe Ruth (and not some wimpy deer). The video stars: Dellin Betances, Brian McCann, CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury. McCann deserves an Oscar nomination for playing Ham Porter.

Click here to watch the video.

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Here’s some terrific footage from last night’s Yankees/RedSox rain delay, in which some intense thunder rocked Yankee Stadium. Brett Gardner and Jarrod Saltalmacchia’s reactions were absolutely priceless. It just goes to show you that everyone gets scared of a little thunder.

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Have the Yankees upset Jobu? If last night’s game is an indicator, than maybe they have.

The other day I posted about the Yankees all-or-nothing offense and pointed out who I think are the three main culprits behind the inconsistency: Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner and Jorge Posada. As I mentioned, I’m not so worried about Jeter and Gardner is fine in the 9th spot in the order. However, Posada is positively killing the team right now. Mike Axisa at RAB also has a piece on Posada’s horrible season thus far.

Since that article posted, I’ve received numerous comments through Facebook
and Twitter
about other Yankee sluggers who haven’t done the job lately. Their lack of production is, as far as I can tell, more due to messed up mechanics than anything else. Has Alex Rodriguez slumped terribly over the past ten games? Sure – and if you watch his at-bats, you notice his head flying open before the bat head on breaking balls. Nick Swisher? From the left-hand side, Nick is holding his bat lower and diving into the plate too much; he can’t get decent wood on anything on the inner half.

The point is, every major leaguer in history has had slumps. 98% of them make their peace with Jobu and resume hitting. The rest end up behind the counter at your local Wendy’s.

I strongly suspect that the Yankees principle culprit is plain old exhaustion. They’re in the middle of a stretch where they will play 32 games in 33 days. That kind of grind will take its toll on anyone. Which brings up a point not totally off kilter that I’ll expand on in a later post, the decline in offense generally (overall AL OPS is at .714, 20 points lower than last season and 62 points lower than in 2006). I personally think it has to do with two things: the number and quality of pitchers each team carries –and the number of quality reserves on each team’s bench. Stay tuned…

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The Yankee offense has been both exciting and frustrating over the first 5 weeks of the season. Exciting, because they’re mashing home runs like it’s 1961 again. Frustrating, because they seem to leave runners on the bases every inning.

Three players have particularly drawn attention due to their offensive liabilities: Brett Gardner and two Yankee stalwarts, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Of the three, Jeter is the one I’m least concerned about. First, if you look at him in terms of playing his position, he still rates as a top 5 shortstop. Yes, the numbers this season (.276 BA, .331 OBP) are far from the numbers Jeter has put up over his career. But if anyone honestly thought he was still a .320 hitter at age 37, they probably need a good psychiatrist. Here’s how Jeter stacks up with other AL shortstops right now:

Jeter is 2nd in batting average, 4th in on-base and 5th OPS. This list also represents only those AL shortstops who have amassed at least 100 plate appearances – something has to be said about durability. Note that none of the other players on the list have hit their 30th birthday yet. The other reason I’m not worried about Jeter is who knows how the chase for 3000 is affecting him? I doubt the added stress is helping. Let’s see how he does after hit #3000 is in the books before passing judgment.

We may be seeing all we’re ever going to see out of Gardner: a guy who can fly but lacks aggressiveness, both at the plate and on the basepaths. Working a count is one thing, but taking strike one on fastballs down the middle is ridiculous. As is his approach on the bases: great basestealers don’t read pitchers; they force pitchers to read them. Maybe the Yankees can hire Rickey Henderson as a special instructor and have Gardner hang out with him for a couple of weeks. If he doesn’t go completely insane, he may just pick up some of Rickey’s attitude.

That leaves us with Jorge. I’m afraid that Posada may be done and we’re seeing the death throes of a terrific career unfold before our eyes. I wouldn’t be so worried about him except for this: Posada has always demolished pitchers in April and May during his career; slumped badly in June and July and then picked it up as the playoffs approached. But this year’s numbers look nothing like a typical Jorge Posada April and May:

The drops from a typical Posada season to this one are alarmingly extreme: he strikes out more often and when he hits the ball, it’s without much authority. The result is the 130 point drop in batting average and 261 point decline in OPS. While he is homering more frequently, this looks more like the career of Rob Deer than Jorge Posada. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look so lost at the plate, lunging at breaking pitches and unable to catch up to fastballs. Maybe the switch to full-time DH this year affects him more than he lets on. Regardless, I doubt either Joe Girardi or the front office will put up with this for too much longer, and I would hate to see one of the all-time greats go out on such a sorry note.

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Jeter and Gardner celebrate a win

The Yankees entered Spring Training this year with several questions: who would be the 4th and 5th starters? Who would be the back-up catcher? Will any of the “Killer B’s” make the Opening Day roster?

One question that was largely overshadowed by the others is: who is the Yankees lead-off hitter for 2011? As in the past two seasons, will Yankee legend and future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter get the nod? Or does up-and-coming speedster Brett Gardner get a chance to set the table?

We’ll start to get the answer tonight, as the Daily News reports that manager Joe Girardi plans to trot out his regular line-up during tonight’s tilt against the Orioles. But until we tonight’s line-up is announced, we can have fun discussing it. Personally, here’s the line-up I would like to see:

Gardner, LF; Jeter, SS; Teixeira, 1B; A-Rod, 3B; Cano, 2B; Swisher, RF;  Granderson, CF; Posada, DH; Martin, C

With this line-up, you have speed and power balanced, the high OBA guys at the top, and never have the lefties and righties together. (Good luck managing against that!)

So, what do you think? What is YOUR preferred line-up?

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The Yankees stated that this spring they intended to experiment with different lineups. One of those experiments is that Jeter may not lead off. However, Kevin Long had this to say about where Derek is to land in the batting order:

If Derek Jeter gets moved in the batting order, the Yankees captain won’t be bumped out of the upper-third of the lineup

If Jeter were to move down to the 2 hole, Gardner would be the hands on favorite to take over as leadoff. In 2010 Gardner had a triple slash of .290/.412/.376 from the leadoff spot in 115 PA’s. Career wise from the same spot he is .279/.364/.374 in 222 PA’s. Jeter in the 2 hole, if history holds up, would do just fine as he has a career triple slash of .314/.384/.456.

Girardi said that he would begin tinkering with the lineup after the team’s off day on March 15.

 

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There can be no doubt that the American League East is easily the best division in baseball. In fact, this year could wind up being historic in terms of division play, as my projections show 4 of the 5 teams capable of winning 90+ games this season – a feat that’s never been accomplished before. Is the talent level in the East really that much better than the rest of the AL? In a word, YES.

Both the Boston Red Sox and Yankees look to be the class of baseball this year. I project both teams to win 105 games this year and finish tied for the division crown. How evenly matched are the two juggernauts? The projections also have them splitting the season series, 9-9. Many prognosticators are giving the edge to the Red Sox this year, based on their starting rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. While the Yankees rotation is known to be unsettled, relying on a return to form by AJ Burnett, Phil Hughes avoiding regression from his 18-8 2010 season, and a collection of rookies and reclamation projects to fill the 4 & 5 spots, the Sox rotation also has question marks. Can Lackey reclaim his form? Can Beckett come back from an injury plagued season? Will Buchholz ever deliver on his promise? Can Matsuzaka come back from injuries and inconsistency? In short, both teams could have excellent rotations – or horrible ones, once you get past the aces. But offensively, both squads are loaded 1 – 9. The Yankees projected line-up of Derek Jeter, Nick SwisherMark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner may actually be better than the team that led the league in runs scored last season. Boston counters with Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, JD Drew, Marco Scutaro, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury. Both line-ups are capable of scoring 1,000 runs. The real differentiators between the teams are in the bullpens and on the bench. The Yanks have a slight edge in the bullpen, with the 1 – 1a tandem of Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano. The Sox have a slight edge on the bench.

As for the rest of the division, Tampa Bay suffered some tremendous free-agent losses. Despite that, they come into the season with their only real question being the strength of the bullpen, where the oft-traveled Kyle Farnsworth heads a makeshift relief corps. The additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, along with new shortstop Reid Brignac and rookie Desmond Jennings, should actually make the offense better. And Tampa’s rotation remains one of the game’s best, led by David Price. But while good enough to win pretty much any other division in the game, this year’s Rays aren’t in the same class as either New York or Boston.

The same goes for the Orioles, although Baltimore may have the most improved team in the league. The infield was completely remade, as Mark Reynolds, Derek Lee and JJ Hardy join Brian Roberts. The O’s also brought in veteran slugger Vladimir Guerrero and closer Kevin Gregg. Add in what looks to be the league’s best young rotation and proven winner (and old friend) Buck Showalter as manager, and Baltimore is poised to shock people the same way Toronto did last year.

As for the Blue Jays, this team lost too much – and replaced those parts with questionable signings – from last year’s overachieving squad to compete this year. They’ve brought in pitching guru John Farrell to lead the team, but this team will suffer from losing Cito Gastons “let-’em-fly” attitude on offense. Include a rookie catcher, changes at 1st, 3rd and all three OF spots and it will prove to be too much turnover to overcome. One bright spot for the Jays this year could be rookie starter Kyle Drabek, one of the game’s more hyped young pitchers.

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Fourth in a series

2010 was the tale of two offenses for the Yankees: there was the offense that could explode at any moment; that led the league in runs scored and struck fear into opposing teams. And then there was the offense that could go days without getting a clutch hit; that lived and died as it waited for someone to hit the mythical 5 run homer. Both offenses were evident in the 2010 ALCS. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the latter offense was the one that spent most of the time on display. Injuries to key players like Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada robbed key players of time in 2010 and 2011 doesn’t figure to offer much improvement on that front. Of the 9 projected starters, 3 (Derek Jeter, Posada and Rodriguez) are older than 35. Additionally, the only projected regulars under 30 next season are Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner. This isn’t meant to be pessimistic – the emergence of Cano as an MVP caliber player and Gardner as a solid corner outfielder were huge positives for the team in 2010. There’s also a crop of intriguing minor leaguers nearly ready for the jump to the Big Ballclub in the Bronx. Once again, players highlighted likely won’t be back in 2011.

Under Contract (9):

2B Robinson Cano, C Francisco Cervelli, LF Brett Gardner, CF Curtis Granderson, IF Ramiro Pena, C Jorge Posada, 3B Alex Rodriguez, RF Nick Swisher, 1B Mark Teixeira

Free Agents (6):

1B Lance Berkman, SS Derek Jeter, 1B Nick Johnson, OF Austin Kearns, C Chad Moeller, OF Marcus Thames

Minor Leaguers to Watch (9): Note – this group includes players who received a call-up during the 2010 season

IF Reegie Corona, OF Colin Curtis, OF Greg Golson, 3B Brandon Laird, 1B Juan Miranda, C Jesus Montero, IF Eduardo Nunez, C Austin Romine, IF/OF Kevin Russo

Infield:

Derek Jeter may be a free agent this offseason, but nobody honestly expects him to sign elsewhere. GM Brian Cashman may have pulled some idiotic maneuvers in the past, but if he fails to re-sign the Captain I would fully anticipate his head being hoisted on a pole outside gate 4. That said, all four infield starters from last year – A-Rod at 3B, Cano at 2B, Teixeira at 1B and Jeter at SS look to be back next year. The key for this group in 2011 is health, as age, injuries and lack of rest caught up to them. Jeter had what is easily the worst season of his illustrious career, and at times seemed to have a slow bat. Teixeira battled nagging injuries throughout the season, as did Rodriguez. Cano finally realized his incredible potential and had his best season ever, but tailed off towards the end of the season – although he did seem refreshed by October. Despite their troubles, the infield combined for 102 HR, 401 R and 409 RBI. Getting the regulars some rest on occasion can only help their production, especially down the stretch. To that end, the Yankees need to decide what to do about reserve infielders. Ramiro Pena has a sure, if unspectacular glove but tends to get his bat knocked out of his hands, managing a meager .504 OPS despite garnering 167 plate appearances. Eduardo Nunez got a look late in the season, but displayed shaky defense with a middling bat. Kevin Russo got a look early in the year, but proved to be another Cody Ransom. Expect Reegie Corona to get a look this spring, but I expect he’ll spend a year at Scranton as the Yanks look to see if he might be able to fill in for Jeter in 2012. Another option is the free agent market, which is loaded with career utility types. One in particular, Willie Bloomquist, has piqued the Yankees interest in the past. As for Nick Johnson, 2010’s big offseason free agent signing: I don’t think he can pack his bags fast enough for the Yankees or their fans.

Catchers:

This was a definite weak spot for the Yankees in 2010. Neither Jorge Posada nor Francisco Cervelli proved to be worth much defensively. To make matters worse, Posada not only battled an assortment of injuries during the season, but suffered through a decidedly sub-par season offensively. Cervelli finished with decent numbers for a catcher (.694 OPS), but disappeared for the entire summer, hitting only .147 in June, July and August. Fully expect touted rookie Jesus Montero to make his Bronx debut in 2011, although that will crowd the situation behind the plate. If the Yankees do keep 11 pitchers on the roster, as is generally the case these days that only leaves room for 14 fielders – carrying three catchers is probably a luxury the Yankees can’t afford. Expect the Yankees to give Cervelli a look at third before making a final decision, to see if he can field the position defensively. Whatever the future holds for Cervelli, fully expect Posada and Montero to split the catching duties, with Montero getting the bulk of the starts behind the plate as the season progresses. The reviews on Montero’s defense have not been kind, but the Yanks hope that he can learn on the job, similar to another young, power-hitting catching prospect from 15 years ago. Some kid named Jorge Posada.

Outfield:

The Yankees seem to be set, with all three of 2010’s starters returning. But here’s the catch: there are two FA outfielders the Yanks have long coveted, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. Should the Yankees sign one or the other, a stable outfield situation suddenly becomes crowded. Do you sit Brett Gardner, who had a very respectable .762 OPS and stole 47 bases? Do you trade Nick Swisher, who is a fan favorite in the Bronx and posted a .288/29/89 line? Do you trade Curtis Granderson, a former all-star who found his stroke towards the end of the season? The most likely scenario has the Yankees signing Crawford (.307,19 HR, 90 RBI, 47 SB), if for no other reason than to keep him away from Boston, starting him in left and sitting Gardner. Also expect the Yankees to make an effort to re-sign Thames, who proved to be a valuable bat off the bench. But since 2011 looks to offer him even fewer opportunities than 2010, Thames will likely look elsewhere first.

That means the projected opening day line-up in 2011 would be:

SS Jeter, LF Crawford, 1B Teixeira, 3B Rodriguez, 2B Cano, RF Swisher, C Posada, DH Montero, CF Granderson

Current MLB players on 40 man roster:

Position Name Age Avg OBA SLG 2010 Salary 2011 Contract
2B Robinson Cano

28

0.319

0.381

0.534

$ 9,000,000.00 $ 10,000,000.00
C Francisco Cervelli

25

0.271

0.359

0.335

$ 410,800.00 Under Team Control
LF Brett Gardner

27

0.277

0.383

0.379

$ 452,000.00 Under Team Control
CF Curtis Granderson

30

0.247

0.324

0.468

$ 5,500,000.00 $ 8,250,000.00
IF Ramiro Pena

25

0.227

0.258

0.247

$ 412,000.00 Under Team Control
C Jorge Posada

39

0.248

0.357

0.454

$ 13,100,000.00 $ 13,100,000.00
3B Alex Rodriguez

35

0.270

0.341

0.506

$ 33,000,000.00 $ 31,000,000.00
RF/1B Nick Swisher

30

0.288

0.359

0.511

$ 6,850,000.00 $ 9,000,000.00
1B Mark Teixeira

31

0.256

0.365

0.481

$ 20,625,000.00 $ 22,500,000.00
1B Lance Berkman

35

0.255

0.358

0.349

$ 15,000,000.00 Free Agent
SS Derek Jeter

37

0.270

0.340

0.370

$ 22,500,000.00 Free Agent
1B Nick Johnson

32

0.167

0.388

0.306

$ 5,500,000.00 Free Agent
OF Austin Kearns

31

0.235

0.345

0.324

$ 750,000.00 Free Agent
C Chad Moeller

36

0.214

0.267

0.429

Unknown Free Agent
OF Marcus Thames

34

0.288

0.350

0.491

$ 900,000.00 Free Agent

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Second in a series

Yesterday, I covered the current state of the Yankees front office and coaching staff. Today, let’s look at the players often referred to as the “Core Four”: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Jorge Posada. They’re called the Core Four for good reason. The Yankees have, over the past 15 years, won five World Series and seven AL pennants – and these players have been integral parts of all of them. Significant? Prior to the Core Four’s arrival in 1996 (Posada had a cup of coffee in ’96), the team hadn’t won anything since 1981. It’s likely that these players will go into Yankees lore alongside the great Yankee dynasties of the 20’s, 30’s 40’s and 50’s. All are aging now and three of them are free agents – but it’s almost impossible to imagine a Yankees team without them. That leaves the front office in a quandary: how to address the Core Four going forward.

Derek Jeter: The Captain is the face of the franchise. He holds the Yankee franchise record for career hits and 200 hit seasons and is on the cusp of doing something nobody has ever done in pinstripes: collect his 3,000th career hit. From the iconic dive into the stands aganst the Red Sox, to his backhanded flip to nail Jason Giambi in the 2001 Divisional Series to the improbable Jeffrey Maier home run, it seems Jeter has been a part of every Yankee memory since his arrival in 1996.

As hard as it is to fathom, Jeter is 36 and will be 37 in June. He enters free agency coming off what might be his worst all-around season in the big leagues, with career lows in batting average (.270), slugging (.370) and on-base percentage (.340). He also banged into 22 double-plays in 2010 and only stole 18 bases. In the field, Jeter logged his most innings at shortstop since 2007 – and the results weren’t pretty, with decreasing range as the months went along. While it is unfathomable that the Yankee brass would shove Jeter out the door, there are two very real issues with resigning him. The first is how much do you pay an 11 time all-star and future Hall of Famer, who has meant more to your team than any other player over the past twenty years – and how long do you pay him? Jeter is coming off a contract that paid him in excess of $120 million over the past 6 years; it seems likely he’ll see the same average annual salary, but my guess is it will only be for 3 years and with some of the money deferred. The other question is how the Yankees approach asking Jeter to give up his death grip on short – and where/when they move him. Left field seems out of the question, with Brett Gardner there now (and the very real possibility of Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth signing this offseason). Jeter has never wanted to move to second, and Robinson Cano is there, anyway. Third is manned by Alex Rodriguez. The most likely scenario has Jeter the regular shortstop through 2011 – let’s face it, there aren’t any real replacements in the system, anyway – and potentially moving to splitting time at short with a young SS and DH with Jesus Montero after that.

Mariano Rivera: Who is the greatest failed starting pitcher in major league history?

The longest tenured of the Core Four, most fans forget he came up in 1995 as a string bean skinny starting pitcher with a good fastball, but not much else. And he got hit hard, posting a 5.51 ERA that year. If for no other reason, Joe Torre
deserves to be in the Hall of Fame for moving him into the bullpen in 1996, as John Wetteland‘s set-up man. By ’97, Rivera was the closer – and the definition of the role changed forever after the move. Unlike Jeter or Posada, Mo shows few signs of slowing down or letting age affect him – other than the slightly more frequent muscle strains. He remains baseball’s ultimate weapon, since every team realizes if you let the Yankees get to the ninth with a lead, you’re done. The big questions with Rivera remain how long can he continue defy Father Time and how much longer will he want to? Rivera made $15 million last year. It seems unfathomable that any team would pay a 40 year old closer that kind of money in today’s market, but the Yankees very well might. And then cross their fingers that Mo has more Satchel Paige in him. In case you never heard of him, Paige is famous for the quote, “Never look back. They might be gaining on you” in reference to his longevity. (Although nobody knows for certain, it’s generally accepted that he pitched in the majors until he was 59).

Andy Pettite: Perhaps the greatest post-season pitcher in history, this is the one member of the Core Four with the most uncertainty about his status for 2011. Will he retire or will he come back for one more hurrah? Pettite is taking some time to mull over his decision and has often said that it ultimately rests on his family. Yankee fans everywhere are hoping his Yankee family can pull him back for one more season. How good has Pettite been? He is the all-time leader in post-season wins, starts, innings and has pitched some of the most memorable games in Yankee history, including the deciding games in all three series in 2009. He is a three-time all-star and borderline Hall of Fame candidate, with 240 career wins. More importantly for 2011, the Yankees need to know if Pettite is coming back before they can finalize next year’s starting rotation. There is some concern regarding his age and injuries, since he’s missed significant time each of the past three seasons with injuries. But there is little doubt that the Yankees would be a better team with him in 2011 than without.

Jorge Posada: At 39, Posada is the only member of the Core Four signed for next season. Another borderline Hall of Famer, Posada suffered through one of his worst seasons in 2010. He drove in only 57 runs in 2010, tying with 1999 for a career low when garnering at least 400 AB’s. His .248 average was 27 points below his career average. Age is a real concern with Posada, who plays a position known for taking a toll on players. Few catchers age gracefully, and when they decline, it tends to be a rapid descent. Defensively, Jorge was never known as a smooth fielder – but this past year was painful to watch, with Posada throwing out only 15% of attempted base stealers and charged with 8 passed balls. The injuries of the past few seasons have taken their toll, and Posada no longer moves with anything resembling grace behind the plate. So the question going forward is how to begin easing him out of the regular catcher role? The team tried to insert Francisco Cervelli into more starts this year, but all that did was prove that Cervelli is likely a career backup. 2011 promises the long-awaited arrival of Jesus Montero, but all of the reports regarding Montero’s defensive prowess hardly make him out to be the next Thurman Munson. Will Posada accept more DH time and less catching time for younger version of himself? Posada has long taken pride in his defensive game and is known for stubbornness. It’s served him well in the past – but the question is, how well it serve the Yankees going forward?

Yesterday: Front Office/Management

Tomorrow: Pitchers

Thursday: Fielders

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Tonight, the Yankees start the second leg of the Chase for 28 in Arlington, Texas. The game is on TBS and coverage begins at 8pm ET.

The Yankees got to this point by disposing of the Twins in 3 straight, while the Rangers are coming off a much more grueling 5 game victory over the Rays. The teams split their regular season series at 4 wins apiece – but this is the postseason, where the Yankees have historically owned the Rangers. But these aren’t your father’s Rangers. Those teams tried to club you into submission; this one features some pitching and speed in addition to the power.

During the regular season, the Rangers cruised to the AL West crown, finishing 9 games ahead of Oakland. Still, they would have finished third in the AL East, only one game ahead of Boston – and Boston was never really in the race after the All-Star break.

Let’s break it down.

Rotations:

Each team is planning on going with a four man rotation, although if either is down 3-0 the smart money is the game four starter will change.

Game 1: CC Sabathia vs. CJ Wilson

In the battle of Starters With Initials For Names, Sabathia is the Yankee ace and won 21 games this year. Wilson is the Rangers version of Phil Hughes, emerging from the bullpen to realize his potential this season. In their respective starts in the ALDS, Sabathia worked through 6 innings, demonstrating why he’s an ace: even without great command or life on his pitches, he kept the Yankees in the game until the team solved Francisco Liriano. The guy just finds a way to win, especially in prime-time. Wilson dominated the Rays in Game 2 of that series.

Game 2: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis

Hughes gets the ball in Arlington, where he’s pitched well in the past. Lewis is a reclamation project, being rescued from Japan. Hughes went 18-8 while Lewis parked a 12-13 record. Each pitcher is relatively inexperienced in the postseason and will be making their second start, although Hughes also pitched out of the pen in last year’s postseason run to #27. In their previous starts, Hughes dominated the Twins in winning the clincher. Lewis was nearly as effective in game 3 against the Rays.

Game 3: Andy Pettite vs. Cliff Lee

The marquee matchup of this series pits Pettite, the all-time leader in starts and wins in the postseason against the Rangers ace – who has been dominant the past two years in October. Prepare for one of those classic 1-0 type games.

Game 4: AJ Burnett vs. Tommy Hunter

Burnett is basically like the lost lamb trying to find his way back, after a season in which he posted career highs in hit batters and ERA while posting a career worst WHIP. It was an ugly year for AJ and is pretty much getting the start only because the Yanks don’t want to burn out CC before the World Series. However, the Rangers may be the perfect team for AJ to get his groove back – the only teams he was statistically better against in 2010 were the Royals and Indians. Hunter posted career highs in wins, starts and innings pitched, but he’s very much a pitcher who relies on guile and command. Yankee Stadium in October isn’t exactly conducive to easing rattled nerves for opposing players (just ask the Angels from last year).

Because the Rangers had to go the distance with Tampa Bay, the Yankees catch a huge break: Rangers ace and Yankee-killer Cliff Lee will, at best, get 2 starts (games 3 & 7). But the odds are this series won’t go the full 7 games. Edge: Yankees

Bullpens:

The Yankees have the ultimate post season weapon in closer Mariano Rivera, and set him up rather nicely with Kerry Wood, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and lefty Boone Logan. Despite the Rangers being primarily right-handed offensively, Logan still figures to be an important weapon out of the pen against Josh Hamilton.

The Rangers feature first-year closer Neftali Feliz and veteran lefty swing-man Darren Oliver. After that, it’s a hope, a prayer and somebody getting thrown to the wolves. The primary set-up man this year is Darren O’Day, but expect lefties Michael Kirkman and Derrek Holland to see plenty of action, as well. The Rangers also added another lefthander, Clay Rapada, to the roster for this series. Edge: Yankees

Offenses:

The Yankees led the league in scoring and the lineup is so deep that veteran All-Star Lance Berkman hits 8th. MVP candidate Robinson Cano is joined by perennial All-Stars Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in the 100RBI club, and 5 Yankees went deep 25 or more times in 2010. When future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter is the weakest link in your lineup, you’re pretty set offensively. The Yankees also have speed in Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner (3rd in steals). Marcus Thames adds a proven power bat off the bench. The key to holding the Yankees down is hoping that Joe Girardi goes insane and starts IF Ramiro Pena and OF Greg Golson.

The Rangers boast some serious offense with the likes of CF/LF Josh Hamilton (also an MVP candidate), RF Nelson Cruz, DH Vladimir Guerrero, 3B Michael Young and 2B Ian Kinsler. SS Elvis Andrus and CF Julio Borbon add speed, but not much pop and not much in the way of getting on base. OF Jeff Francouer was brought over from the Mets to add a RH bat off the bench and pair with lefty OF David Murphy. The Rangers are offensively challenged at C and 1B, although C Bengie Molina can turn on a mistake. Still, the Rangers are only a real force offensively in positions 2-6. Edge: Yankees

Defenses:

The Rangers are a solid team defensively, particularly in the outfield, where the speed of Hamilton, Cruz and Borbon lets them get to a lot of balls and both Hamilton and Cruz feature excellent throwing arms. On the infield, Kinsler and Young don’t make many mistakes, but both have been compared to statues in the past. Catcher Molina is a weapon against opponents running games, but more importantly works well with the pitching staff. Reserve C Matt Treanor also figures to get at least one start. SS Andrus has terrific range and a good arm, but can be erratic at times. Manager Ron Washington has done a terrific job in shoring up what was once one of the worst defenses in baseball, but the Rangers aren’t on par with 1976 Reds yet.

The Yankees feature Gold Glove defense at 1B, 2B and LF. The greatest weakness is behind the plate, where C Jorge Posada had a sub-par year both throwing and blocking balls. Reserve C Francisco Cervelli seems destined to get the game 4 start, but has only been marginally better. Edge: Yankees

On the whole, the Yankees are clearly the better team. Watch out if the Yankees win the first two in Texas – this series could be over before Cliff Lee even takes the hill in game 3. Pick: I was originally going to say Yankees in 5, but I talked myself into it…

Yankees in a sweep.

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There’s been quite a bit of discussion lately about where Derek Jeter should hit in the Yankee line-up, and some of you have asked for my opinion (I’m flattered, by the way, and flattery will get you everywhere). It’s certainly an interesting topic. The last time the Captain regularly hit anywhere other than lead-off or second was 1997, when he made 33 starts as the 7th place hitter. But his abysmal (by Jeterian standards, anyway) 2010 has quite a few fans grumbling that it might be time to slot Jeter 8th or 9th.

For starters, I can understand wanting to move Jeter out of the leadoff spot, particularly given his sub-par year. But there are two big factors working against hitting him in the 8 or 9 holes. First, and while statistical purists may not want to hear it, Jeter is the face of the current Yankees. Much the same way that Mickey Mantle or Don Mattingly were never going to hit at the bottom of the order, even after it was evident that their skills had eroded, the same can be said of Jeter. Secondly, putting Jeter down that low means shifting somebody else to leadoff.

The first thing that has to be asked if contemplating that move is, has Jeter been effective as a leadoff hitter? The most important statistic for anybody in that spot is their ability to get on base, especially leading off the game. Everything else is secondary. In that regard, Jeter is well ahead of the league average:

Leading Off Game
BA OBA SLG OPS
Jeter 0.322 0.381 0.374 0.755
Amer. League 0.258 0.317 0.352 0.669

Ok, so Jeter – even in the midst of a season long slump – has been much better than the league average lead-off hitter. Jeter’s struggles this year haven’t come when leading off the game. He has 126 plate appearances in that situation, among the league leaders and his performance is among the best. In fact, Jeter hits 61 points higher leading off the game than his overall season number, which indicates hitting him lower in the order would probably have him with even worse numbers than he currently does. Unless you’re going to permanently bench Jeter, he would seem to be most effective leading off.

But is there anyone on the team who can surpass Jeter’s leadoff ability? Well, Brett Gardner has been remarkably effective when leading off games. The biggest argument against him is the limited sample size (only 21 plate appearances thus far). However, if comparing leading off any inning, where sample sizes are more equal, things look better for Gardner vs. Jeter:

Leading Off Inning
BA OBA SLG OPS
Jeter 0.311 0.367 0.409 0.776
Gardner 0.349 0.367 0.491 0.939

An argument can be made that Gardner should hit lead-off, particularly when looking at both players peripherals in hitting with men on base and with more than one out in an inning. In both of those situations, Jeter outperforms Gardner, indicating that you could switch their spots and probably improve the offense. Except, when Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Pena are semi-regulars, hitting Jeter behind either of those two would be more than a perceptual insult.

So, if you move Gardner into the leadoff role, where do you hit Jeter? The line-up position would have to take advantage of Jeter’s ability to lead off innings (that .367 OBA leading off an inning is one of the highest in MLB). You also would need a spot where Jeter’s abilities with men on base could come into play (he’s produced a .286 BA with RISP in 2010). That all adds up to hitting Jeter 7th, sliding Lance Berkman to 8th and Curtis Granderson to 9th. Why 7th? Traditionally, that position leads of the second most innings of any in the line-up, behind the leadoff hitter and the Yankees are no different. The 7th place hitter also tends to get a reasonable number of RBI opportunities. Finally, if you hit Jeter 7th, between Jorge Posada and Berkman, you’re hitting him between two switch-hitters, preventing opposing managers from lining up a top right-handed reliever to face him in late innings.

So, there you have it: the best possible line-up for the Yankees would look like this:

  1. Brett Gardner, CF
  2. Nick Swisher, RF
  3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
  4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
  5. Robinson Cano, 2B
  6. Jorge Posada, C
  7. Derek Jeter, SS
  8. Lance Berkman, DH
  9. Curtis Granderson, CF

So, what do you think? Should Jeter move out of the leadoff spot or hit somewhere else in the lineup? If somewhere else, where? Let me know!

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I thought this piece written by David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal was very interesting, so I thought I would share it with you guys:

From the Wall Street Journal: (Click here for the full story)

“Mr. Gardner has an amazing ability to lay off most of the pitches he sees and make contact with almost everything he swings at. These two factors drive pitch counts sky high and seemingly delay games for hours. They also put him atop our Patient Batter Index.”

“This metric, which averages four plate-discipline rankings—% of pitches swung at outside of the strike zone, % of pitches swung out in general, % of times a batter makes contact when swinging at pitches inside the strike zone, and % of times a batter makes contact when swinging at any pitch—shows Mr. Gardner is the most patient batter this season”

(more…)

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