Appreciating Robinson Canó

With the Yankees’ victory last night over Tampa (and losses by the Dodgers and the Red Sox), the Yankees are now tied for the best record in baseball (with LA), and sit 3.5 games ahead of Boston in the AL East.   While the additions of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and AJ Burnett have made a tremendous difference to the Yankees this season (Moshe already discussed the impact of Derek Jeter), another important reason for the Yankees possessing the best record in baseball is the resurgence of Robinson Canó.

At age 23 in 2006, Canó just missed out on winning the batting title, hitting .342/.365/.525 with 15 homers and 62 RBI’s in an injury-shortened 122-game season.  He looked like he could be a perennial all-star and regular contender for the batting title, and he was compared to a young Rod Carew.  In a full, healthy 2007, Canó was not quite as impressive, but still had a great season, going .306/.353/.488 with 19 homers and 97 RBI.  He made great strides in plate discipline, increasing his walk rate by more than 50%.  Canó’s defense, slightly below average in 2006, made great strides in ’07, posting a UZR/150 of 11.3, compared with -3.1 in 2006.

In 2008, Canó took a big step back in all facets of his game.  With a horrific beginning to the season (hitting around .200 in April and May), Canó ended up with a .271/.305/.410 line with 14 homers.  His plate discipline suffered, as his walk rate dropped from 5.9% to 4.2%, and his defense was also atrocious.  His UZR/150 was -7 in 2008, and his struggles in the field were attributed to his frustration at the plate.

In 2009, Canó has so far looked more like the player he was in 2007 rather than the frustrating, undisciplined hacker we saw in 2008.  In 100 games, Canó has a .306/.343/.498 line, and has 16 homers so far.  His walk rate is up to 5%, which is not quite at the 2007 level, but is a significant improvement over last season.  He is also showing more power than he has at any time in his career, with an isolated power of .194 thus far, and is on pace to hit surpass 20 home runs for the first time in his career.  Canó’s defense has also improved this season, as his UZR is 1.6.

For the season, Canó has been a 2.8 WAR (Wins above replacement) player.  Let’s see how that stacks up against the top 2nd basemen in the league:

Ian Kinsler: 2.8
Dustin Pedroia: 3.2
Aaron Hill: 2.9
Chase Utley: 5.3
Brian Roberts: 2.1
Brandon Phillips: 2.0
Ben Zobrist: 5.1

While Utley is on another planet and Zobrist is having a ridiculous season, Canó’s season stacks up nicely against the other top 2nd basemen in the league. At 26, Canó is at the beginning of what is likely his offensive peak, and we could see more impressive seasons from him. It seems that as long as he is hitting well, he is capable of playing good defense. With a lineup filled with expensive, over-30 stars, a young, relatively affordable Canó playing at the level he has been is a significant reason for the Yankees’ success.

All stats from Fangraphs.

Wait, he still IS Roy Halladay

Allow me summarize a few thoughts:

  • He’s Roy Halladay. Perennial Cy Young candidate. Horse. The guy who helped AJ grow up and mature as a person and a pitcher. AL East tested.
  • Adding Halladay keeps him out of Boston’s hands, too. Last time I checked, that team is still a darned good one and capable of getting hot and not cooling off. I don’t think Tampa can absorb Halladay’s contract but if they decide to deal from their bevy of prospects, they will continue to scare me.
  • I would be really, really bummed to lose either Joba or Hughes, along with Jesus Montero and at least two other prospects. I think home grown pitchers are so much more fun to root for and we haven’t had many in the last 2 decades (Pettitte, Wang?).
  • Like many Sox fans feel about possibly losing Buchholz, that’s how I feel about losing either Joba or Hughes. I’m afraid that they’ll haunt the Yanks for years if dealt. But if not dealt, they’ll be only OK, not the superstars we want them to be.
  • Joba’s been doing well lately, but as we noted earlier today, 2009 hasn’t exactly been a breakout season.
  • Hughes has established himself as a late inning stud, though most (including himself) see him as a starter.
  • Montero can hit, but is he a catcher, longer term? He’s a really big guy. He’s not going to be a full time DH on the big club and 1B is blocked by that Teix dude. Plus, with Cervelli and the newly drafted Gary Sanchez, we’ve got catching depth on the farm once Posada retires.
  • He’s ROY HALLADAY! If you add him to Sabathia, Burnett, Joba (figuring Hughes would be the one to go) and Pettitte, that’s a ridiculous rotation. For the rest of this year and all of next year. That’s potentially two post-seasons of lining up Halladay, CC and AJ as your 1-2-3 in the playoffs.
  • Salary issues? Damon’s contract ($13m) is coming off the books next year. So is Matsui’s ($13m). So is Pettitte’s ($5.5m). So is Nady’s ($6.7m). Wang ($5m), due to his surgery, will sadly be gone, too. Maybe Damon and Pettitte come back for more reasonable dollars (Pettitte’s already been beaten down to reasonable). But that’s about $43 million of salary coming off the books next year. Halladay is scheduled to make $15.75m next year.
  • There’s a big difference in Halladay’s situation versus Santana’s. Santana was requiring a long term extenstion; Halladay’s planning on exploring free agency after 2010. Short term versus long term. Would I like to have Halladay longer term, sure. But I don’t HAVE to sign him now.

So, despite the machinations and teeth-gnashing, I really don’t think Halladay’s going anywhere. Which is fine by me. So long as he doesn’t wind up in Anaheim, Boston or Tampa.

Irony alert: Joba's struggles

The results are a bit disappointing, but it is important to see if this is just random bad luck, or a slight regression of Chamberlain’s skills. One disturbing sign is that his line drive rate is up. Over 20% of the balls put in play off of Chamberlain are line drives, compared to 14.2% last season. Another warning flag is opponents contact. Opponents are chasing less pitches outside of the strike zone (a 3% drop from 2008,) and making more contact on pitches in the zone (a 6% increase.) A rise in line drive rate and better pitch recognition from the opposition are often traits of worsening stuff: either his off speed is flattening out, or his fastball is losing velocity. In Chamberlain’s case, it’s a little of both. His average fastball velocity is 92.5 MPH this season, down 2.5 MPH from 2008. Velocity on his slider is down almost an entire tick as well. His breaking pitches aren’t moving as much this season as opposed to last season either. Particularly troubling is that Chamberlain’s slider on average has a full four inches less of vertical movement (.9 feet last season, .5 feet this season.) Nearly half the bite on his out pitch has vanished.

It seems clear that Chamberlain is not the pitcher he was last season. I don’t believe that he’s completely recovered from his shoulder injury he suffered last August against Texas. All of the warning signs present in his velocity drops this season were there in the few relief appearances he made after rejoining the team last September. Unfortunately, we have no starts from that time period from which to make a comparison, but it does not seem like he ever regained the mojo he had going last year. He is still a functional major league pitcher with his current arsenal, but if he doesn’t get back the snap he had on his slider, or the pop on his fastball, Joba Chamberlain might be looking at a much less stellar career.

Post Script:

Tonight might not have been the best night to create a piece on Joba Chamberlain’s struggles. He had one of his better starts, throwing eight strong innings against a very capable Tampa Bay Rays team. That said, the criticisms above are still valid. It would ridiculous to extrapolate one start to either say ‘he’s great!’ or ‘he sucks!’ For what it’s worth, Chamberlain’s velocity is still down, and his break wasn’t as sharp. I’m not trying to take anything away from a good overall performance, but the process he is going through right now just isn’t as good as it was last season. As good as his start was, that shouldn’t be enough to distract from the larger picture.

Ortiz and Manny tested positive for PED’s in 2003

Michael Schmidt at the NY Times has the story. Apparently, both David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were on the same list that A-Rod was on in 2003.

The information about Ramirez and Ortiz emerged through interviews with multiple lawyers and others connected to the pending litigation. The lawyers spoke anonymously because the testing information is under seal by a court order. The lawyers did not identify which drugs were detected.

Unlike Ramirez, who recently served a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy, Ortiz had not previously been linked to performance-enhancing substances.

Scott Boras, the agent for Ramirez, did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

Asked about the 2003 drug test on Thursday in Boston, Ortiz shrugged. “I’m not talking about that anymore,” he said. “I have no comment.”

Now, let’s all wait calmly while heads explode in Boston…

Garza Admits Hitting Tex On Purpose

From the Yes Network:

“They can take whatever they want from it from it, but I just kind of got tired of people brushing him back. It’s about time someone made a statement,” Garza said, noting that Longoria was hit by a pitch in the opener of the three-game series on Monday night.

“I hate to be that guy, but someone had to take a stand and say we’re tired of it,” the right-hander added. “You can go after our best guy. Well, we’ll make some noise, too, and that’s what happened.”

Longoria, who was hit by Yankees reliever Jonathan Albaladejo on Monday, did not take issue with Chamberlain.

“That’s just the way the game goes. I don’t know if it was intentional, unintentional or if it was a way to kind of stir up our dugout,” Longoria said. “I don’t have any hatred or negative feelings. It’s just part of the game.”

I have no problem with Garza hitting Teixeira. Joba’s actual intent is really irrelevant, as his reputation precedes him and teams have the right to assume that he is throwing at their players. Garza was therefore within his rights to take action against a Yankee star. As Joba himself noted:

“That’s just the game, man,” Chamberlain said. “Longoria is great, there’s no getting around it, so you’ve got to be aggressive with him. If that’s what he feels, then he did what he needed to do. At the end of the day, we won the ballgame, and that’s really all that matters.”

However, Garza was pretty stupid in admitting to hitting Teixeira on purpose. He had gotten away with the retaliation, and would likely have gone unpunished. Instead, he probably will miss a turn for a team that really needs him in the rotation if they are going to make a run. Garza’s actions show a bit of desperation. Winning teams let their play do the talking, while struggling teams make plenty of noise and talk about sending messages. Garza did not want to get away with it, and chose to inform everybody that he was taking a stand. It comes off as a sorry attempt to try and motivate his team, and will likely hurt them more than it helps them in the long run.

In search of another OF

From Joel Sherman (NY Post):

Corey Patterson was recently put on outright waivers by the Nationals and the Yankees are considering signing him to fill in as the backup center fielder until Brett Gardner recuperates from his hand injury, the Post has learned.

Patterson is a notoriously frustrating player who never really delivered on his promise, though we’ve been treated to glimpses. He’ll always have offenisve “upside,” even at 30, but the Yankees don’t really care about that since his playing time would be limited. Instead, with Gardner on the DL, what they care about is defense and speed, which Corey Patterson offers in spades. The Yankees are interested in Josh Anderson for the same reason. Whether these moves occur or not, the rumblings regarding Patterson and Anderson signal Brett Gardner’s importance to the Yankees. He’s really been a key player for them in 2009.

Game 101: Yankees 6, Rays 2

Bad News:
Bruney: It was evident right away that there is just something not right about Bruney these days. He faced off against Crawford to start the ninth and gave up a triple. Next, Bruney served up a 2-run bomb to Longoria, giving the Rays some life. His final line: .1 innings pitched, 3 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 homerun. His ERA is sitting at 6.16.

Damon: He went 0-4 and was the only Yankee who went without a hit tonight. He also stranded 3 runners in the process. Damon had some trouble seeing the ball against the Trop’s dome, but he still made the plays.

A-Rod: Alex went 1-5 and stranded 4 runners. He still scored a run and made some solid defensive plays, but in both the first and fifth he hit into inning ending plays when the Yankees were starting to rally.

Good News:
Joba: In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve always been in the Joba should start camp. Tonight was the kind of game that proved that line of thought. In his last three starts he has given up only 8 hits, 2 runs, 8 walks and struck out 19. Tonight, he had 8 innings of scoreless, dominant pitching. In the seventh inning, he was still hitting 95 mph. It is clear that whatever had him struggling in the first half is just a memory. Joba is not wasting time on the mound, seems to trust Jorge’s pitch selection and is going after batters like the kid we first saw when he first broke into the Majors.

Teixeira: Teix went 2-3 with 2 RBIs and took one for the team when Garza plunked him. On top of that he made some fantastic defensive plays, including stealing a hit away from Navarro by plucking the ball out of the air.

Melky: He went 2-4 and his homerun in the ninth was his ninth of the season, a career high. He is the strongest fielding outfielder the Yankees have right now and has his average up to .290.

Longoria: Joba, who had great control all night, threw a fastball that ‘slipped and buzzed Longoria in the fourth inning. The Rays infielder was clearly not happy, as this has been happening to him frequently. He was even more upset when he popped up the next pitch to end the inning. Longoria slammed the bat to the ground – perhaps he thought that he could at least outdo A-Rod in that? In the next inning, Garza retaliated by hitting Teixeira in the arm. These extra storylines can make a great game even more exciting, adding some extra suspense. Still, I don’t know why Garza would choose to put Teix on base in a 2-0 game when A-Rod is coming up. He could easily have been facing a 5-0 deficit.

The Boss: Love him or hate him, these days it’s always nice to see George Steinbrenner. He made a rare appearance, chatting with the players before the game, and had to be pleased as he observed a stellar performance from his team.

In the On Deck Circle:
Next up, the Yanks go north to U.S. Cellular, where they will face off against the White Sox. Andy Pettitte (8-6, 4.67) will take the mound against Clayton Richard (4-3, 4.65), in search of his first victory since July 1. Andy showed good signs in his last outing, when he threw six scoreless innings, but he gave up 4 runs in the seventh and picked up another loss. Richard steps up for Bartolo Colon who is headed back to the DL with a sore elbow. The young lefty has allowed only one earned run in each of his last starts, where he faced the Rays and the Tigers.

The Yankees have taken 9 of their last 10 series. Even more impressive is that they’ve won 23 series already this year, while they won 24 series last season. We are moving over a time zone, so first pitch is scheduled for 8:11.

Update: Gavin Floyd (8-6, 4.24) will actually be starting tonight and Clayton Richard will pitch tomorrow.

Minors Recap, 7/30

Scranton’s game against Durham was postponed

Trenton’s doubleheader against Harrisburg was postponed

Tampa shuts out Charlotte, 7-0

  • David Phelps started for the Yankees, giving up 2 hits and a walk in 6 scoreless innings, and striking out 6.  He has given up just 1 earned run in 2 starts since being promoted to Tampa.
  • Pat Venditte did his thing, striking out 4 in 2 perfect relief innings.
  • Dan Brewer was 2 for 4 with a walk and a steal.
  • Matt Cusick was 2 for 5 with a stolen base.
  • Damon Sublett was 3 for 4 with a triple and a steal.
  • David Adams was 0 for 2 with 2 walks.
  • Brandon Laird was 0 for 4.
  • Seth Fortenberry was 2 for 5 with a triple.
  • Luis Nunez was 3 for 4.
  • Jose Gil was 2 for 4.

Charleston defeats West Virgninia, 8-7

  • Brandon Braboy started, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits and a walk in 4 innings.  He also struck out 6.
  • Jose Pirela was 3 for 4 with a triple, a steal, and a walk.  This brought his average up to .311 on the season.
  • Ray Kruml was 2 for 5 with 3 strikeouts and a steal.
  • Corban Joseph was 1 for 4.
  • Melky Mesa was 1 for 4 with a double.
  • Taylor Grote was 1 for 5 with a double.
  • Garrison Lassiter was 3 for 3 with 2 doubles and a walk.
  • Neall French was 1 for 3.
  • Chase Weems was 1 for 3 with a double.

Staten Island’s game against Brooklyn was postponed

GCL Yankees fall to Pirates, 3-1

  • Alan Horne, rehabbing, was the starter.  In 3 2/3 innings, Horne gave up a run on 4 hits, while striking out 7.
  • Nik Turley took the loss, but pitched well.  In 4 2/3 innings, Turley gave up 2 runs (1 earned) on 4 hits and 2 walks, and struck out 8.
  • Eduardo Sosa was 2 for 4 with a steal, but also got picked off.
  • Ramon Flores was 1 for 4 with a triple.
  • Kelvin De Leon was 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts, and had an outfield assist.  His average dropped below .300 for the first time in a while.
  • Jose Mojica was 1 for 4, was caught stealing, and made an error.
  • Chris Smith was 1 for 4 with a double.
  • Mitch Delaney was 1 for 2 with a triple and a walk.

Yanks looking at Josh Anderson

From Steve Kornacki (

Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland confirmed today that the New York Yankees have interest in outfielder Josh Anderson, whom Detroit has 10 days since Friday to assign to another team via trade or have clear waivers before possibly sending him out-right to Triple-A Toledo.”It’s a possibility,” Leyland said. “They are interested. I think one other club is interested.”

Anderson is basically a fourth outfielder that can play center, right and left. He’s got good range and is a very capable defender. His biggest asset is his speed, though, as he has stolen 13 bases this year and has only been caught twice (his speed is also a big part of his defensive game). He’s like Brett Gardner except Gardner is a better player from both a defensive and offensive standpoint. I’m not sure what the Yankees would have to give up in order to get Anderson, nor do I think he is necessary. However, with Gardner out, this could indicate that the Yankees are worried about their outfield defense, especially late in games, as well as their lack of bench speed, which Girardi likes to have at his disposal.