Hitting Aces

Yankees’ ace CC Sabathia faced off against Red Sox ace Josh Beckett tonight/this morning for the third time this season, and for the third time the Yanks came out on the losing end. The Red Sox won this most recent battle by an 8-3 score, sweeping the Yankees for the second straight time in the Bronx.

Sabathia and Beckett dueled in a classic pitcher’s battle for the first six innings until the game fell apart for the Yankees in the seventh. The Red Sox torched Sabathia for seven runs in the seventh inning, on eight hits (two allowed by David Robertson in relief). Beckett was not quite as good in this encounter as he was in the previous two — both 4-0 Red Sox victories — but his effort this time around was more than good enough for the win.

The Yankees had the fourth best team E.R.A. in the American League coming into last night, more than half a run better than the Red Sox. But the Red Sox had no trouble solving the Yankees’ pitching in this series, scoring 25 runs in three games despite the Yanks throwing three of their top four starters — including their ace Sabathia — against their biggest rival.

Getting back to Beckett, he is having a terrific season so far. Beckett leads the American League with a sizzling 2.01 E.R.A. (not including tonight’s-this morning’s game). As good as Beckett has been against everyone else, he’s been even better against the Yankees. This raises an important question: is it just Beckett that gives the Yankees fits, or do the Yankees struggle against all elite hurlers?

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Faltering Freddy

Earlier this afternoon, I previewed a few possible storylines for tonight’s game. Then Yankees’ starter Freddy Garcia preempted my plan, lasting only 1-2/3 innings and allowing four runs on four hits, walking an additional three, and allowing a leadoff home run to Jacoby Ellsbury, a huge triple to Adrian Gonzalez and a double to Dustin Pedroia. Even the fly ball outs hit off Garcia were clobbered. The Yankees were lucky to have emerged from Garcia’s short stint with only four runs allowed. But those four runs gave the Red Sox a lead that the Yanks could not overcome.

Tonight was Garcia’s worst start as a Yankee, by far. Garcia’s prior three starts were all “quality starts”, where he pitched at least six innings and allowed three runs or fewer. We might write off this start as an aberration. But there are warning signs on the horizon: the Yanks may continue to rely on Garcia at the team’s peril.

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Tonight’s Recap: A Preview

Brien has assigned me the job of writing the recap of tonight’s Yankees – Red Sox game. But what fun is it to write a recap after the game is over? It’s more of a challenge to write a recap in advance.

Not that I know what’s going to happen. But after looking over some relatively obscure statistics, I came up with four factors that could shape tonight’s game. They’re not exactly rational or scientific factors; they’re more factoids than factors. If the game is a blow-out, then none of these factors should come into play. But maybe I’ll be prescient, and I’ll just need to add an annotation or two below to write my recap. THAT would save some time. C’mon, Yankees! Make me look good!

Here goes (after the jump):

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The Rational Guide To Bunting (Curtis Granderson Edition)

Here at IIATMS, we have two favorite topics: Derek Jeter and bunting. As Jeter has just completed a nice series against the Mets (5 hits, 3 runs scored, 2 RBIs for the series, his “sweet” May slash line up to .286/.327/.396), let’s begin a rational look at bunting. We’ll start with yesterday’s game against the Mets. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Curtis Granderson came to the plate with the score tied 3-3, runners on first and second, and no one out. Granderson is probably the Yankees’ best hitter at this moment, and with the game on the line, Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi ordered Granderson to …

BUNT!

Yes. At what was (arguably) the most critical juncture in yesterday’s game, Girardi chose to take the bat out of the hands of (arguably) his best hitter. Ignore that the Yankees scored 6 runs following Granderson’s bunt. How could it possibly be the right strategy to have Granderson bunt at that moment? Ken Tremendous at Baseball Nation appears to have hated the strategy. ESPN’s Andrew Marchand called it “a questionable move, to say the least.” Larry Koestler at Yankee Analysts diplomatically called it “eyebrow-raising” and “rather unfortunate”; Mike Axisa said “I still don’t get it”. Girardi’s move was ripped on Twitter and comment boards throughout the Yankee internet. (Evidently a dissenter, ESPN’s Wallace Matthews called the bunt “refreshing”.)

You’re probably expecting me to rip Girardi too. Do you imagine that we’re all bunt-haters here at IIATMS? Not so! We go by the numbers. Some bunts are defensible. Others, not.

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Yankees Not Finishing Strong (UPDATED)

Credit to Suzyn Waldman for pointing this out during last night’s radio broadcast, for whatever it is worth and with a caveat for small sample sizes: so far in 2011, the Yankees’ bats have grown quieter as the game grows longer.

Consider these 2011 statistics derived from Baseball-Reference.com. Looking solely at runs scored during innings 1-9, and adjusting for the number of innings played, the Yankees have scored 31% of their runs in innings 1 and 2, 35% of their runs in innings 3 – 5, and 33% of their runs in innings 6 – 9. In rough terms, during 2011 the Yankees’ offensive productivity has dropped by half from the beginning to the end of a typical game.

Further analysis and an update for today’s game follows after the jump.

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A Rational Guide to the Slump (Glass Half Full Edition)

The Yankees are officially in a “slump”, defined as a patch where the team plays a lot worse than expected, loses a ton of games, and it feels like it’s never going to end. The Yankees were 17-9 on May 2 (just two weeks ago) and have gone 3-10 since then. The team has lost 6 straight, their worst losing streak since 2007.

I’m here to offer a rational guide to the slump. When I started this piece, it was my intention to dive deep into everything: the little bit of good news and the plethora of bad. But strangely, the more I looked the more I found things to cheer me up. I’m SO not the sunshine kind of guy! So indulge me, as I try (with rose colored glasses on) to temper this slump with rational factoids of positivity. (No, I’m not proud of that last sentence, but I’ll let it stand until one of my bosses insists that I delete it.)

The first piece of good news is the most obvious: no slump lasts forever. The Yankees will come out of this. They’re not going to lose three games out of four for the rest of the year. This is not the 1962 Mets we’re dealing with.

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Better News On Posada Affair (UPDATED)

There are some positive developments in the Jorge Posada affair, according to the Twitter feed of Jack Curry at the YES Network.

According to Curry, Posada has apologized to manager Joe Girardi. “I had a bad day yesterday,” Posada reportedly stated. Curry reports Posada as being very contrite and having realized he made a mistake. “I let some people down,” Posada stated. Posada plans to speak to Brian Cashman as well.

Curry reports that Posada sought advice from a number of people, including Derek Jeter, before speaking to Girardi. Curry reports that Jeter is offering a strong defense of Posada. Jeter called Posada “a brother” and said that he doesn’t see “anything wrong” with Posada asking for a day off. It sounds like Jeter is saying the right things, that he’s supporting his teammate without criticizing his manager.

Updates follow after the jump.

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Bartolo Colon, Stem Cell Pioneer?

Bartolo Colon has provided Yankee fans with one of the most interesting stories of 2011. Colon was an elite pitcher up until 2005 with teams such as the Angels and Indians, but he suffered a partially torn rotator cuff in a 2005 playoff game against the Yankees, and he hasn’t pitched a complete season since. When the Yankees signed Colon to a minor-league contract this winter, few of us thought that he’d even make the team. But a funny thing happened: Colon has been pitching effectively for the Yankees. As a starter, Colon has the best xFIP, strikeout rate and walk rate in the starting rotation. Colon is not only pitching well so far, he’s pitching with legitimate major league “stuff”: in his May 2 start against the Tigers, Colon’s four seam fastball averaged 92.8 miles per hour, and peaked at 95.6 miles per hour.

All this from an overweight, soon to be 38 year old pitcher that most of baseball thought was washed up.

Colon’s story got a bit more interesting yesterday, when the New York Times reported that Colon had received a “disputed treatment” in 2010 for his ailing right elbow and shoulder. The “disputed treatment” consisted of the injection of fat and bone marrow stem cells into Colon’s elbow and shoulder. The Yankees did not learn about this treatment until recently; the team has passed what it knows about the treatment on to Major League Baseball. Reportedly, MLB is now “looking into” the treatment.

Did Colon break any rules? Did he do something wrong? Will there be repercussions? Here’s what we know.

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A Sweeter Jeter?

Is Derek Jeter snapping out of his prolonged slump? If you’re a Jeter fan – and there are still a few of us out here – there are reasons to feel a bit optimistic.

I’ll start with Jeter’s performance yesterday – four hits, including his first home run (two, in fact – back to back) in 259 at-bats going back to last August 24. Even better (if you read the comments on this site): no infield singles! Every Jeter hit reached the outfield, or beyond.

But Jeter’s improved performance goes past yesterday, all the way back (!) to the beginning of this month. Jeter has improved his slash line for 2011 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) to .276/.331/.350. Yes, those numbers are inflated by yesterday’s terrific game. But before yesterday’s game, Jeter’s slash line for May was .280/.333/.320. Neither slash line is Silver Slugger material, but they’re both a lot better than Jeter’s .250/.311/.272 April slash line. Before yesterday, Jeter’s May OPS+ was 94, a bit below average (100 is average), but much better than his April OPS+ of 67.

If we include yesterday’s game, Jeter now has six hits in his past 11 at-bats, and 11 in his past 28. As Wallace Matthews points out, all six of his hits the past two games have been hit hard.

Things just might be getting better for the Yankees’ captain.

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