All posts by William Tasker

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at since 2003.

Kuroda spanked. Offense tanked. A Yankees loss in the dome

In the game thread before the game, it was mentioned that Hiroki Kuroda needed to keep the ball inside the ballpark. Mission so not accomplished. Kuroda, who has struggled in the first inning, set the Blue Jays down in order in the first and struck out two. But in the second inning, Edwin Encarnacion singled, was forced out at second by Brett Lawrie. After Colby Rasmus struck out and Lawrie stole second, J.P. Arencibia hit a 3-2 pitch just over the wall in left. That was just the beginning.

In the third inning, Kuroda easily got the first two outs. A two-out double to Eric Thames was followed by a walk to Jose Bautista. That brought Edwin Encanacion to the plate. Kuroda left a 1-0 fastball over the plate and Encanacion belted it into the second deck in straight away center field. The Yankees were down, 5-0 and the game was essentially over.

Jose Bautista completed the scoring against Kuroda with one of the hardest hit balls I have ever seen. It was a meatball change up from Kuroda and Bautista hit it on a line to the second deck in left. The ball could not have taken two seconds to leave the park. Kuroda’s final line was: five innings, eight hits, seven earned runs, two walks and six strikeouts. Not very good.

Ironically, in a game that featured so little Yankee offense, two Yankee batters reached milestones during the game in the same inning. Robinson Cano hit his 300th career double and scored moments later on Mark Teixeira‘s 1,500th base hit. That was the sum of offensive highlights for the Yankees in the game.

There is no sense listing the good and the bad in this game as it was almost all bad. Cody Eppley pitched an inning and two-thirds of scoreless ball in mop up duty. This game was all Blue Jays.

These two teams will go at it again Thursday night. Phil Hughes will try to continue his improved pitching performance and he will square against Drew Hutchison, a good-looking young starter for the Blue Jays.

What is Cory Wade’s magic?

Perhaps magic is a poor word choice and I am already regretting using it. “Stuff” is closer to what I am looking for and why Wade has been so successful. Part of the answer is fairly simple: Control. During Wade’s Triple-A career, he walked only 1.8 batters per nine innings. That pattern has definitely been evident in his time with the Yankees as he finished with a 1.8 walks per nine innings last year and is only sitting at 1.1 per nine this season. As Rivera proved, the less  fewer base runners you put on with freebies, the easier it was to get the other team out. But what is more perplexing is the strikeouts.

Cory Wade was never a big strikeout guy in the minors. His career Triple-A strikeout rate was 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings. While that isn’t overly dominant, combined with his walk rate, the rate gave him a really nice strikeout to walk ratio. Suddenly, in 2012, Wade has become a bit of a strikeout machine as he has struck out 20 batters in just 17 innings pitched. His 10.0 strikeout to walk ratio is downright nasty and as such, his ERA may be a terrific 1.59, but his FIP is unreal at 1.13. And then you watch him pitch and a bunch of head scratching occurs.

Cory Wade is averaging less than 89 MPH on his fastball. He can’t keep up with Robertson’s 94, Logan’s 95, Soriano’s 94 and others. And yet, he has been the Yankees most effective reliever and with the injuries, perhaps now the most important. But where are the strikeouts coming from? His swinging strike percentage is actually half of last seasons. Batters are not swinging at his pitches out of the strike zone as much. You would think those two facts would lead to less fewer strikeouts instead of more. But more it is. His BABIP is higher this year than last year and his strand rate is lower. And yet all his peripherals are better than last year. Perhaps magic was the right word after all.

Wade has come at batters with a lot of different pitches. He throws a four and two-seam fastball. The two-seam or sinker is a pitch he is throwing more often this season. Wade also throws a cutter, a slider, a curve and a change up. He mixes in all of his pitches which does not allow the batter to sit on one. Wade also throws every one of them for strikes more often than balls. His strikeout pitches have been his slider and change up.

All of this kind of makes Cory Wade the Greg Maddux of Yankee relievers. Wade doesn’t overpower you. He simply outfoxes you.  That said, the lack of power stuff leads one to keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Will baseball catch up to the relative soft tosses of Cory Wade or can he bob and weave and continue to stay ahead of the batters who as of now cannot seem to be able to get the barrel of the bat to the Wade pitches? That is becoming more of an important question as injuries keep pushing Wade up the flowchart that is the Yankees’ bullpen.

Cory Wade seems a bit of a high wire act. But that act has been a big help to the Yankees to this point.


Is Granderson that bad a center fielder?

According to Fangraphs, currently, Curtis Granderson is the worst fielding center fielder in baseball with a UZR of -9.7. pretty much agrees and assigns him a -6 runs lost in fielding thus far. Baseball Prospectus has him at -2.7 thus far but rated him in the “horrendous” category last year. In fact, Fangraphs rates only Angel Pagan worse than Curtis Granderson if you combine last year with this one. What gives here? Is Granderson that bad?

A loss of range seems to be behind a lot of the B-R evaluation. That site says that Curtis Granderson’s range in center field was 2.81 as recently as 2008 and was above 3.00 in years previous to that. This year, Granderson’s range is rated at 2.16 or below league average. Has he lost that much of a step as a player? But then you get a play like this. Granderson’s stolen base totals are down and he only has one triple. So maybe his wheels aren’t what they once were.

But what are the rankings based on? According to B-R, Granderson has had 75 chances in center field and has converted them all to outs. They also have him making eleven plays outside his zone. This 100% of plays compares to his 91% last year. And yet his fielding is rated worse. B-R has a ranking system of holding runners on singles and doubles with runners on base. If the runner doesn’t advance further than the two bases of a double, for example, then that is considered a hold  for an outfielder. Granderson has his lowest percentage of holds for base runners this season in his career.  Okay, perhaps that does make sense. You haven’t often seen Curtis Granderson come up firing.

But still. Is he the worst in baseball? That’s what Fangraphs is telling us. In a season that is only a fifth complete, that site is telling us that Granderson has already lost the team a win with his fielding? It doesn’t make sense. While Granderson is not an elite fielder, it becomes hard to believe that he is currently the Yankees worst defender and easily the worst one in the outfield. That doesn’t make sense from watching the games every day. Balls hit in Granderson’s direction are either caught or over his head or easily in the gaps. The eyes are certainly no substitute for science. I get that. But at some point, you want the measurements to make sense too.

Is there any relationship to these fielding metrics and the kind of contact pitchers allow? For example, the Yankees currently give up 18.83 percent of their batted balls as line drives. The Blue Jays’ pitchers are only giving up 17.8 percent of their batted balls as line drives. Would that batted ball type mean less chance for Granderson to get to a batted ball? I don’t know. Colby Rasmus rates much better in the field than Granderson. But then again, so does Alejandro De Aza and the White Sox have a higher line drive percentage than the Yankees’ pitchers.

If Granderson is really that bad of a fielder and Brett Gardner is that good. Then it is foolish that when Gardner is healthy he doesn’t play center. If Granderson is that bad, it should be Granderson in left.  Make no mistake about this. This is serious business. In a world where front offices in baseball are increasingly cognizant of metrics, when Curtis Granderson hits the open market, he will find that these fielding metrics could cost him upwards of three to four million a year. Granderson’s fielding rankings hurt him in MVP voting last year. These metrics now cost or gain players real money. Granderson is on the losing end when it comes to defense.

I do not yet fully trust fielding metrics. And thus, I do not fully trust WAR rankings because of suspect fielding metrics. That said, I do not know enough of what I am talking about to come to a solid conclusion here. I don’t see Curtis Granderson as a terrible center fielder. Yet the world of fielding metrics does. I can tell that he is not an elite fielder. But I cannot accept that he is as bad as his numbers are painting him. Perhaps such an uninformed piece published on an important site like this one is not a good idea. But part of the learning process for all of us is asking questions. And the answer still hasn’t been fully resolved for me here. Is Curtis Granderson really that bad in center?

Happy Andy Pettitte Day

We all know what the heart wants. The heart wants this to be a festival for Mothers Day with nostalgia meeting current needs. Heck, if Phil Hughes can pitch seven-plus innings and only give up a run, anything seems possible. But this is the Andy that gave the Yankees nineteen post season wins. He was there for every one of the five championships since 1996. Now he is back like the return of an old war hero. His return is like putting on your favorite pair of jeans. The heart wants the outing to be a celebration of all those good times and all those memories.

But this is not Old Timers Day. This is not a guy trotting out to the mound so that we can get misty-eyed and nostalgic. This is a guy going to the mound when every game counts in a tough American League East where at least two teams and possibly more are going to give the Yankees every run for their money they can devise. The Yankees do not need Pettitte to bring nostalgia and good feelings. The Yankees need Pettitte to deliver wins.

So yes, there are a lot of confusing feelings going on today. Andy Pettitte’s worst season in the majors was in 2008 when he won half his games and had a 97 ERA+. He was basically a league average pitcher that season. He would go on to post a 25-11 record over the next two seasons. There is no expectation here that he will be any better than 2008. But he should be as good as 2008. And league average will do just fine from a fifth starter.

There is a warm smile at the thought of  Number 46 being on the back of the pinstripes again. The eyes can be closed to see Pettitte peering over his glove to see the sign. Pettitte is a part of Yankee history. His place is unique and ubiquitous. But those warm feelings will trade all of that stuff for a winning season for a team that needs pitching to get to the promised land. Hope wins out for today before the outing. The reality will be discovered soon enough. Welcome back, Andy Pettitte. But pitch well.

Two straight aces – Yankees beat Felix Hernandez

It did not take long for Kuroda to give up his first run of the game. On his third pitch, Dustin Ackley lined an impressive shot to the opposite field that easily cleared the left field fence for a lead off home run. It was Ackley’s second homer of the season.

The Yankees scored a run of their own in the bottom of the first. Derek Jeter led off and hit a soft liner to right. Ichiro Suzuki got a good jump on the ball and made a nice sliding catch. Curtis Granderson then singled and stole second as Alex Rodriguez struck out looking. With two outs, the hottest hitter on the East Coast, Robinson Cano singled and drove in Granderson. Cano assumed Ichiro’s throw would go to the plate and headed toward second. But Justin Smoak cut the ball off and Cano was a dead duck between first and second. Fortunately, Granderson scored before Cano was tagged or the run would not have counted.

Kuroda started the second inning by allowing a single and a walk with no outs. But the Mariners’ rally died with two outfield flies and a ground out. Both pitchers settled in nicely after that.

The Yankees had an opportunity in the bottom of the fourth. Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano started the inning with singles. And then Mark Teixeira singled to the opposite field. Seriously. Mark Teixeira as a left-handed batter went to left field for a hit. There is proof. There is video. Unfortunately, left fielder, Mike Carp handled the ball perfectly and threw a strike to home to punch out A-Rod trying to score. He might have been safe. But he was ruled out. Nick Swisher than hit a slow roller to Hernandez and Ibanez struck out to end the threat.

The Mariners had Kuroda a bit on the ropes in the top of the fifth. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases with one out. But Kuroda struck out Brendan Ryan, who should not be batting second (though we aren’t complaining). Kuroda then got Ichiro to ground weakly to third and A-Rod stepped on the bag to end the inning.

The score stayed 1-1 until the top of the sixth. The first batter of the inning was Jesus Montero and it was sort of a deja vu moment when he flicked his bat out on an outside pitch and sent it over the wall in right for the second Mariner run of the night. It was a bittersweet moment.

But then the Yankees pulled out the game in the bottom half of the inning. A-Rod walked and Cano singled to make it first and second. Those two players went six for seven on the night with a walk. Teixeira then grounded to first. Smoak got Cano at second, but a hustling Teixeira beat the return throw and was safe at first. That was huge because Nick Swisher then was called out on strikes on a pitch that looked like a ball to make it two outs. It seemed that another rally was going to pass the Yankees by.

But then Raul Ibanez did his hero act once again and hit a fat Hernandez fastball into the right field seats. A-Rod was clearly pumped at the plate after scoring and Michael Kay and David Cone spent the rest of the night comparing Ibanez to Yul Brenner. The Yankees led, 4-2.

Kuroda walked Michael Saunders to start the top of the seventh, but Russell Martin gunned him down trying to steal and Kuroda easily finished the seventh to leave with a two run lead.

The Yankees knocked out Hernandez in the bottom of the seventh with a single by Jeter that almost decapitated the pitcher, a double-play ball hit by Granderson followed by a single by A-Rod. Eric Wedge brought in Charlie Furbush to face Cano and Cano is in one of those stretches where nobody can get him out. He doubled, but A-Rod stopped at third. Teixeira ended the threat with a ground out.

The Yankees used three pitchers to get an out apiece in the top of the eighth: Clay Repada, Cory Wade and Boone Logan. On a night where Tony La Russa was honored in St. Louis, Joe Girardi honored him by imitation. But it was a one-two-three inning.

Nick Swisher opened the bottom of the eighth with a single and moved to second on a ground out. Andruw Jones pinch hit for Eric Chavez to face the left-handed Furbush. But Wedge brought in a right-hander named Delabar and Jones proved he can still hit a 97 MPH fastball, hitting it into the Seattle bullpen in left for a bomb of a homer. The two runs pushed the lead to 6-2 and gave the Yankees a nice cushion heading into the ninth.

Boone Logan started the night against the lefty swinging, John Jaso, and struck him out. When Girardi did not come and get him, it seemed as if Girardi was going to let Boone get a save since he got the last out in the eighth with the score within two runs. But Justin Smoak hit a dribbler that A-Rod had to let die on the infield grass for a gift single. That was enough for Girardi who then brought in David Robertson in a non-save situation. Robertson easily got the last two outs to end the inning.

The Orioles beat the Hellickson and the Rays and are back in first place. The Yankees are two and a half games back and a game and a half behind the Rays. They will either be a half a game behind or ahead of the Blue Jays, who are playing the Twins tonight and are currently behind by a run.

Hiroki’s heroes:

Robinson Cano: Went four for four in the game and is on fire. His average is up to .308. Cano also made a nice, diving stop to rob Jesus Montero of a hit.

Alex Rodriguez: Two for three with a walk. His average is now up to .297

Raul Ibanez: Ibanez only went one for four, but his one was the big blow of the game.

Andruw Jones: That guy can hit a fastball.

Hiroki Kuroda: It wasn’t and “awesome” outing. He gave up six hits and three walks and only struck out two (he missed only six bats all night). But he went seven innings and only yielded the two solo homers.

Kuroda’s crashers:

Russell Martin: Had another great game behind the plate and another terrible one at the plate. Zero for four with two strikeouts. He is now batting .179.

Next Up:

These same teams go back at it tomorrow and 4:05. It must be the Fox game of the week. Phil Hughes and Hector Noesi will be the match up as both pitchers try to prove they belong in the rotation.