Dipping into the depth

Remember that time in February and March when it looked like the Yankees had too many starting pitchers? There were CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda who were obviously guaranteed rotation positions. Then, there was the return of Andy Pettitte. Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia were all in play, as was (for at least a short period of time) trade acquisition Michael Pineda. David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell, already on the 40-man roster, were knocking on the door to the Majors and Adam Warren was just behind them. Our prospect-loving hearts were, of course all a flutter, thinking that Manny Banuelos, or even the electric-if-hair-pulling-inducing Dellin Betances could get a start. Then, like it always does, the “problem” began to work itself out.

Starting from the bottom, Betances and Banuelos have been some combination of unhealthy and/or ineffective for most of the AAA season. Freddy Garcia was just awful for the first month of the season and needed to be replaced by Phelps until Pettitte came back. Neither Phelps nor Mitchell has had an extended shot at starting, though I’m sure each one will get starts as the year progresses, especially with the recent injuries to Sabathia and Pettitte. Oh and Pineda had year-ending, major shoulder surgery. Let’s not forget that. Ugh. Anyway, the Yankees have already had to test their depth at the starting pitcher position and will continue to do so.

CC’s minor injury won’t make the team stretch itself two thin, as he’ll miss just two starts, but the Pettitte one might. While Freddy Garcia has been solid in the last few weeks, it may not “re-translate,” so to speak, back into the rotation. Or, perhaps Adam Warren will wow the organization in his two starts and he’ll get to take over for Pettitte while Garcia shifts back to a long role. Or maybe David Phelps will reemerge and eclipse both Warren and Garcia. And, yes, even D.J. Mitchell could get in on the action. Regardless of what happens over the next six to eight weeks in the Yankee rotation, their already-tested depth should be enough to hold them. At this point, it doesn’t make sense for them to attempt to fill the void in the rotation via trade.

As you read this, there’s a little over a month left before the trading deadline and in that time, the Yankees will be able to evaluate not only their own pitchers, but everyone else’s. While the season isn’t in its infancy anymore, the trade market certainly is. There’s no sense in making a rushed move to acquire a pitcher when the Yankees have plenty of in-house options available to them. Garcia, Warren, Phelps, and Mitchell may not have the biggest upsides or the highest ceilings, but they’re all capable of holding down the fort while CC and Andy rest up and get healthy. They’ll also be backed up by a superb lineup and a spectacular bullpen. Like the “problem” of too much pitching, this problem will–as all things in the baseball world do–work itself out. Considering the depth they have, the Yankees are well equipped to weather this storm. And if by some stroke of bad luck or poor performance they find that they do need to seek other shores for pitching riches, they’re well equipped with assets (money and/or prospects) to acquire what they need. The Yankees will be just fine.

Freddy Garcia could surprise us

Unlike Rapada and Eppley before him, Freddy Garcia looked like a professional pitcher the moment he stepped on the mound. Suddenly, the game had possibilities. It was those thoughts that led to another thought: Perhaps having to fill one of the gaps in the rotation with Freddy Garcia is not a bad thing. Maybe it is a good thing. Could that be possible?

Garcia has been the butt of so many Yankee jokes this season that such a thought seems inconceivable. This is the same guy that threw five wild pitches in one game. This is the same guy who might have had the worst April as a Yankee pitcher since Chien-Ming Wang‘s disastrous 2009 version.  Garcia’s ERA at the end of April was 12.51. His game scores in his four starts in April were 42, 36, 21 and 22. In 14.2 innings of work, Garcia gave up 31 base runners. You cannot get much worse than that.

But June has been an entirely different story. Freddy Garcia has made five relief appearances in June. Granted, they were relief appearances. But still. Those outings covered eight innings. In those eight innings, he has allowed only four hits and no walks while striking out eight. He has allowed only one run in those innings.

And you have to give the guy a lot of credit. He is a fourteen year veteran who has won sixty percent of his career decisions. But he took his demotion to the bullpen without pouting and without mouthing off. He has apparently worked on his stuff and when called upon, has made it work. There is a lot to be said about a player who handles a bad situation like that.

And that leads us to the situation the Yankees are in now. There were all kinds of calls for Freddy Garcia to be DFA’d. Perhaps that thought left these lips once or twice too. But then a funny thing happened. Appearances by Freddy Garcia started to become good things…comforting things. And that culminated in yesterday’s outing when his appearance brought comfort and gave the Yankees a chance to win a game. He followed two wing-and-a-prayer pitchers to give a big league performance.

Who knows what will happen when Garcia starts Monday in Tampa against the rival Bay Rays. Perhaps these warm, fuzzy feelings will go up in smoke. But Freddy Garcia could surprise us too. He could provide the kind of insurance policy that looks brilliant once it is needed. For this observer, the miracle is that his outing will be anticipated and not dreaded.

The Farm Report: 6/27/12

Trenton beat New Britain 9-4:
The Thunder got off to a good start, as Jose Pirela singled and David Adams followed with his first homer of the year.  They rallied again in the second, as Luke Murton started with a single and Jose Gil doubled.  Yadil Mujica loaded the bases with a walk and a grounder from Damon Sublett scored Murton.  Pirela singled in Gil and Zoilo Almonte singled in Sublett and Pirela for a 6-0 lead.  Murton homered in the third, but New Britain finally got on the board in the bottom of the inning.  Nathan Hanson doubled and scored on a single from Aaron Hicks.  They added runs in the fourth and the sixth, but the Yankees added some more insurance in the ninth, as Adams hit his second homer of the day, once again with Pirela on base.  The Rock Cats managed one run in the bottom of the inning, but the Thunder held on for a 9-4 win.

Pirela went 3-5 with three runs scored and a RBI.  Adams went 2-4 with a pair of homers and four RBIs.  Murton went 3-4 with two runs scored, a homer, a double and a RBI.  Brett Marshall went six innings, gave up three runs on seven hits, a walk and three Ks.

Tampa lost to Fort Myers 6-2:
The Miracle scored all their runs in the first three innings, taking a 4-0 lead before the Yankees got their first run across the plate.  Ramon Flores and JR Murphy hit back-to-back singles and Flores scored on a force out from Slade Heathcott.  Fort Myers came back with two more runs and Tampa got one more run in the fourth.  Tyson Blaser drew a walk and scored on a single from Jose Mojica.  Unfortunately, that was all the Yankees had in their bats, losing 6-2.  Murphy was the only hitter with more than one hit, going 2-4.  Rob Segedin had the only extra base hit, with a double.  Blaser went 0-1 with a run scored and three walks.  Sean Black lasted only 2.1 innings and gave up six runs (three earned) on seven hits, no walks and three strikeouts.  Aaron Dott pitched 3.2 innings without a hit or run, walking one batter and striking out four.

Charleston beat Savannah 8-5:
The Sand Gnats scored two runs on a homer by Camden Maron in the top of the first.  The RiverDogs tied the game in the third, as Cito Culver drew a walk and Ali Castillo homered.  The game stayed tied through five, but Savannah took a 5-2 lead in the sixth.  Tyler Austin started the rally for the RiverDogs in the seventh with a double.  Gary Sanchez followed with a single and Dante Bichette doubled them both in.  A sac fly from Culver plated Bichette and the game was tied 5-5.  Mason Williams and Ben Gamel singled to start the eighth and Austin walked to load the bases.  Sanchez reached on an error, plating Williams.  Another error allowed Gamel and Austin to score and the RiverDogs took an 8-5 win.

No one had more than one hit for the RiverDogs.  Austin went 1-3 with two runs scored, a double and a walk.  Bichette went 1-4 with a run scored, a double and two RBIs.  Wilton Rodriguez made the start, going five innings and allowing five runs on eight hits, a walk and three Ks.

Staten Island lost to Aberdeen 7-2:
The IronBirds scored two runs in the second for the early lead and held a 6-0 edge by the sixth inning.  The Yankees finally scored in the seventh.  Saxon Butler singled and moved to second on an error.  Exicardo Cayones doubled to left, plating Butler.  The Yankees drew three straight walks in the eighth, as Claudio Custodio, Taylor Dugas and Jose Rosario took bases on balls.  Butler grounded out, bringing Custodio home, but that was all the Yankees could manage as they took the 7-2 loss.  The Yankees only managed five hits on the day, with Cayones’ double the lone extra base hit.  Tim Flight took the loss, going 3.1 innings and giving up three runs on four hits, a walk and two Ks.  Adam Smith went two innings and gave up three runs (two earned) on three hits and two walks.  

GCL Yankees beat GCL Pirates 8-6:
Mikeson Oliberto started the scoring with a solo homer in the top of the third.  Jerison Lopez singled to start the fourth and a homer by Ericson Leonora put the Yankees up 3-0.  The Pirates scored their first run of the day in the bottom of the fifth, but the Yankees responded with a pair of runs to start the sixth, as Lopez doubled and Austin Jones drew a walk.  A single by Leonora plated Lopez and Jones scored on a passed ball.  The Pirates got another run in the bottom of the inning and three in the seventh, tying the game 5-5.  The Yankees retook the lead with a run in the top of the eighth, but the Pirates tied the game again and they were destined for extra innings.  The Yankees put together a rally in the top of the eleventh.  Oliberto and Eduardo de Oleo drew back-to-back walks.  They moved over on a sac bunt and the bases loaded as Lopez took a free pass.  A single from Miguel Andujar plated Oliberto and de Oleo scored on a wild pitch to give the Yankees the 8-6 victory.

Lopez went 3-5 with two runs scored and a double.  Leonora also went 3-5 with a run scored, a homer and three RBIs.  Oliberto went 2-3 with a pair of runs, a homer, two RBIs and two walks.  Rony Bautista went 3.2 innings and gave up two runs on no hits and five walks.  He struck out six.

Yanks win game, lose Pettitte

After finding out that they were to lose CC Sabathia for two starts, the Yankees definitely needed a win, if for no other reason that spirit lifting. They got that, thanks to some timely hitting by Eric Chavez and Robinson Cano, but there’s no way this win lifted the team spirits.

In the fifth inning, the Yankees were up 2-1 and Casey Kotchman was batting. He ripped a ball that bounced once on its way through the infield and unfortunately, it found Andy Pettitte’s leg. He fell to the ground, not even attempting to go for the ball. Manager Joe Girardi and staff came out to check on Pettitte and he apparently convinced them to let him stay in the game, though he didn’t last long. After throwing one pitch, a strike, he was lifted from the game. Later on, we found out that Andy has a fractured left ankle and he will miss at least six weeks. Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada came in to attempt to finish out the fifth, but couldn’t. Freddy Garcia eventually got the final out of the inning, but not before the Indians took the lead, 3-2.

The Yankees went down quietly in their ensuing half-inning, but they were able to strike in the sixth. Alex Rodriguez looped a ball down the right field line for a leadoff double and Robinson Cano followed with a two-run home run to left field on a pitch that didn’t look like it would yield a homer. The Yankees added an insurance run via Eric Chavez in the eighth, and Rafael Soriano came in for the save. Soriano, however, did not make it look easy as he loaded the bases and walked in a run before untucking his shirt and notching the heart-wrenching save.

The Yankees swept the Indians and that’s great, but losing Sabathia to a groin injury (even if it’s only two starts) and Pettitte to an ankle injury for an extended period of time is disheartening to say the least. Adam Warren and Freddy Garcia will be bumped to the big league rotation and will need to step up in order to keep the Yankees’ strong play going.

Starting tomorrow, the White Sox are in town for a four game series, including Old Timer’s Day at the Stadium.

Dellin Betances takes a big step backwards, headed down to Trenton

Betances had an ugly April, but looked like he was making some progress in May.  He had an ERA of 3.86 over six games and was allowing only a .220 batting average from opposing hitters.  June, however, has made Betances’ April look nice.  Over five games, Betances has a 9.00 ERA and is getting smacked around for a .284 average.  On the season, he is giving up 8.32 walks per nine innings, just slightly under his 8.56 strikeouts per nine.

Consistency has long been the problem for the hard throwing, big righty.  He has plenty of potential, but allowing free passes has dogged him throughout the upper levels of the minors.  It is widely assumed that Betances destiny is as a reliever, yet the Yankees have yet to move him out of the starting rotation (perhaps trying to use him as trade bait?).  While I am sure that Betances is disappointed to be heading back to Trenton, it may be for the best.  He needs to prove himself and work on his consistency.  It may be easier a little further away from the majors and playing for a team that has an actual home ballpark this season.  Then again, maybe he will continue to be a source of prospect watching frustration.


Sweep of Tribe a bright spot on a gloomy day

To add insult to the injury, Pettitte was pitching very well when before the injury. Through four innings, Pettitte had seven strikeous to one walk, and had allowed just three hits. The one run he allowed was of the unearned variety, and came when Shelley Duncan doubled in Carlos Santana after the latter reach on a throwing error by Ale Rodriguez in the second inning. Meanwhile the Yankees new found clutch hitting abilities struck again, as the Yankees were able to make hay in the fourth thanks to a two out, two RBI double off the bat of Eric Chavez gave them the lead, 2-1. Even better? Raul Ibanez had drawn a two out walk in the proceeding at bat. Clutchitude!

That’s when disaster struck, as Casey Kotchman led the fifth inning offf with a line drive that hit Pettitte hard in the right ankle, bring Pettitte to his knees and leaving him incapable of even going after the ball. Pettitte was immediately checked on, but he was obviously unable to put his weight onto the ankle and limped off the mound, at which point Joe Girardi went to the bullpen. Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada came in first, and combined to give the lead back to Cleveland, with a defensive miscue from Jayson Nix sprinkled in for good measure. Freddy Garcia was brought in to get the final out, which he did on the way to getting seven outs without allowing a baserunner. Honestly, Garcia might have been the hero of the game,effectively bridging the gap between the last out of the fifth all the way until David Robertson came on in the eighth.

If not Garcia, the player of the game was definitely Robinson Cano, who delivered a  two run home run in the bottom of the sixth to put the Yankees back on top 4-3. Cano actually appeared to be slightly out in front of the pitch from Ubaldo Jiminez, but was able to keep his hands back and drive the ball the other way. Far from being a cheapy wall scraper, however, Cano bounced the ball off of the State Farm sign behind the first section of left field seats. It was a really impressive display of power from the Cano who, with 18 home runs on the season and seven in his last 10 games, is putting his early season power outage well into the rear-view mirror. The Yankees got an insurance run in the eighth thanks to another two out RBI from Chavez, to push their lead to 5-3 entering the final frame.

That insurance run would prove to be more important than anyone realized at the time, as Rafael Soriano did not have his good stuff on this afternoon. Soriano allowed the first two men he faced to reach base via a single and a walk before recording the first out of the inning, but then allowed another single to left field that thankfully didn’t result in a run as the lead runner was held up at third base. Johnny Damon was then called on to pinch hit, but Soriano was able to strike him out for the second out, giving himself a chance to keep the Indians from getting any more runs. It wouldn’t be that easy on this day, however, as Michael Brantley worked a walk to force in a run and put the tying run at third with Asdrubal Cabrera at the plate. Cabrera got a good swing on a 1-0 fastball from Soriano and drove it the other way, but didn’t quite get enough of it as Dewayne Wise settled under it to end the game and at least save the Yankees the ignominy of blowing the game in addition to everything else that went wrong today.


Are Power Hungry Yankees Better Off as Bronx Bunters?

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog; follow me on Twitter at@williamnyy23).

The Yankees homer today, they win today.

Although not as elegant and universal as Mariano Duncan’s rallying cry during the 1996 season, this year’s version of the Bronx Bombers have done just fine relying on their powerful lineup. Not only are the Yankees on pace to surpass the single season home run mark of 264 established by the Seattle Mariners in 1997, but they are also in line to establish a new record for most games with at least one home run.

Most Home Runs and Games with a Home Run, by Team

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Even though the Yankees are on course to shatter numerous records in the power department, not everyone is applauding their effort. Instead of marveling at team’s prolific ability to hit the longball, some pundits have chosen instead to focus on the Yankees’ poor showing when they fail to go deep.  To be fair to the critics, if prorated over the entire season, the Bronx Bombers’ 1-13 record in games without a homerun would easily rank as the worst in franchise history. It also represents a significant drop-off from the recent dynasty years. However, to focus on this shortcoming really requires a glass half full mentality. After all, isn’t the fact that the Yankees have failed to hit a home run in only 14 games much more remarkable?

Yankees Historical Winning Percentage in Games With and Without a Home Run, Since 1918

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Another statistic that seems to bother critics of the Yankees’ power-laden offense is the number of runs the team has scored via the longball. After last night’s 6-4 victory over the Indians, exactly 52% of the team’s runs have been driven in by a home run. Based on that figure, which not only dwarfs the league average of 36.4%, but would also easily rank as the franchise’s highest single season percentage since at least 1973, it’s hard to deny that the Yankees are, in fact, heavily reliant on the homer. Of course, there are two sides to every story. Even though the Yankees are on pace to drive in 13% more runs via the longball when compared to their previous 10-year average (404 versus 357), the real reason for the dramatic imbalance is the 30% decline (532 versus 373) in runs produced without a homerun. Unless you believe that scoring runs is a zero-sum game, and the Yankees’ power is the reason the team has suffered through a historic period of futility with runners in scoring position, the high percentage of runs that have come by way of the homer is really the result of the team’s failure to cash-in more of its scoring opportunities.

Yankees’ and MLB’s Historical Rate of Runs Scored Via the Home Run, Since 1973

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Because the Yankees’ poor performance with runners in scoring position has led to an over one-half run per game decline in offense versus last year, it has become convenient to draw a connection between the drop-off and the team’s home run explosion. However, since 1973, the Yankees offense has exhibited only a slight correlation between the two data sets, and since 1996, the link is basically zero. What’s more, on a league-wide basis over the same time period, there is actually a significant positive correlation between the number of runs scored per game and the percentage that come via the home run. Although that link hasn’t applied to the Yankees, perhaps because they have consistently operated at the margins in terms of offensive production, it seems as if being “too reliant on the homerun” is a good thing.

Correlation Between Runs Scored Via the HR and Total Run Production, Yankees and MLB: 1973-2011

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Those who lament the Yankees’ overabundance of home runs really aren’t that concerned about the regular season. According to their argument, the long ball works just fine from April to September, but once October rolls around, small ball reigns supreme. Once again, this theory is not supported by data. Not only does anecdotal evidence from 2010 suggest that ace pitchers are as prone to giving up runs via the homerun as an average pitcher, but a more comprehensive look at postseason run derivation indicates teams with better home run capability experience less of an offensive drop-off in October. Furthermore, looking only at the Yankees’ postseason performance from 1996 to 2011, we find that the decline in the team’s runs scored via the home run is almost equal to the drop off in all other runs. What about just those years when the Yankees won the World Series? Well, during the five most recent championship seasons, the number of runs the Yankees scored via the home run declined by 13.6% in October, compared to an 18.5% dip for all other types of runs.

Yankees’ Reliance on the Home Run: Postseason versus Regular Season, 1996-2011

Note: Yellow markers indicate years in which the Yankees won the World Series.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Note: HR Runs are runs scored via the home run. Non-HR Runs are those scored by all other means.
*Postseason period excludes 2008; World Series period includes only 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Bronx Bombers or Bronx Bunters? No matter how you frame the question, hitting home runs is a good thing. In fact, the more, the better. Although those who are enamored by the romantic qualities of playing small ball (or, perhaps, exhausted by the steroid-era suspicion of power) probably can’t be convinced, the supremacy of the home run is undeniable, regardless of whether it’s April or October. So, as long as the Yankees keep hitting home runs today, they stand a good chance of winning today. As Mariano Duncan might say in summing up the debate, “Das-sit”.