Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Series Wrap - @ Orioles 4/9-4/11

The three day long nightmare ended, as the Yankees won the first game of the series against the Orioles. Coming into Monday Baltimore was 3-0, after sweeping the Minnesota Twins in their opening series. Every position player to enter the game for the Yankees reached base (Swisher and ARod were hitless, but both reached base thanks to drawing walks), led by The Captain. Derek Jeter was 4-4, with a double, a run scored, and an RBI. On the run prevention side of things Ivan Nova threw 7 innings, giving up 10 hits, 2 runs (both earned), and a home run, while striking out 7 with 0 walks. David Robertson and Mariano Rivera each threw scoreless innings to finish off the Orioles.

I want to take a moment to talk about Eduardo Nunez. In the bottom of the 3rd inning Nunez was playing in on Nolan Reimold. With Robert Andino on 2nd base after a lead-off double, I guess Girardi thought a bunt may be on, so he had Eduardo move about 5 feet in front of the base line from 2nd to 3rd. Reimold ended up hitting the ball fairly well to Nunez's left, so that Eduardo couldn't get into a good fielding position, allowing the ball to come out of his glove. Eduardo tried to complete the play, but thanks to Reimold being fairly swift-footed, the throw was too late. After that play Twitter blew up with NunEz comments, basically pointing out another error by Eduardo. Nevermind that it was scored a hit, but it wasn't an easy play seeing as how Nunez was playing up like he was. Chances are that if the batter/runner had average speed Nunez would have thrown him out anyway. There will be plenty of chances to point out Eduardo's fielding woes, but that wasn't one of them.

Anyway, it was good to finally get a win in the standings. But what happened next?

Game 2 started off nicely, as Jeter took the 5th pitch of the game out of the park, giving the Yankees a quick 1-0 lead. That was followed by a double by Nick Swisher, as things looked like a high scoring game was coming. Unfortunately that was not the case, as the offense stalled after that. Wei Yin Chen is in his first season in MLB, having moved from Nippon Professional Baseball (Japanese pro league) for this season, and in typical first-time-the-Yanks-see-a-guy fashion he retired the next 10 batters (5 by strikeout). While all of that was going on Freddy Garcia was throwing the ball everywhere but over the plate. Sweaty Freddy put up a line of 4.2IP, 4H, 4R (3 earned), 3BB, 3K, 1HR, along with 5... that's right... 5 wild pitches (2 of which led directly to runs). Thankfully David Phelps came into the game and shut down the Orioles. In fact, Phelps, Robertson, Logan, Wade, and Rapada threw 6.1 innings, giving up only 2 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, and struck out 10. On top of seeing the bullpen do an excellent job, the Yankees were able to score 3 runs in the 6th inning to even things up, and without the use of the long ball. The game stayed at 4-4 until the top of the 12th when, with runners on the corners and two outs (ARod and Teixeira failed to drive in Cano after a lead-off double), Raul Ibanez earned his pinstripes (well, they were away and wearing the gray uniforms, but stay with me) by hitting a ground-rule double. That was the game winning RBI after Mo was Mo in the bottom of the inning, locking down the Yankees second straight win, and second win of the season.

I already posted about Nick Swisher being thrown out at home, so I'm going to just move on. The question now is... are we going to have another "moment" in Game 3?

Nope. Although some people were questioning Girardi pinch-running Eduardo Nunez for Alex Rodriguez in the 8th, it wasn't a big deal to them at all. The game started off hot again for the offense, as Derek Jeter doubled, followed by Curtis Granderson's first homer of the season. Jake Arrieta retired the next 11 Yankee batters. The Orioles took the lead in the bottom of the 5th, thanks to a two-run double by Mark Reynolds, but the Yankees answered that run in a couple innings later, when Granderson singled home Russell Martin. After ARod opened the top of the 8th with a single, Nunez came in to pinch run. Nunez then stole 2B, but a throwing error by Wieters allowed him to advance to 3B with only 1 out. Unfortunately that was followed by a strikeout by Swisher, an intentional walk to Ibanez, and a strike out by Martin. The bullpen came through again in this one, throwing 3 innings of 1 hit ball, before Nick Swisher came through with a 2-run bomb to put the Yankees ahead by 2. Mariano Rivera came into his third straight game, and besides a single by Ronny Paulino, and saved another one.

Although it wasn't easy, and the bullpen was spent by the end of the series, the Yankees were able to bounce-back from being swept in their opening series against the Rays to sweep the Orioles, heading home for the 2012 Home Opener with a .500 record. Let's just pretend the season is only 156 games long, and not drop a single series this year.

Series Awards

Jake Taylor Award*
Derek Jeter - 7/14, 4 R, 3 RBI, 1 HR

Gentry Award*
Alex Rodriguez - 1/13, 1 BB, 5 K, 9 LOB

Rick Vaughn Award*
Ivan Nova - Game 1: 7IP, 10H, 2ER, 7K, 0BB, 1 HR

Kelner Award*
Freddy Garcia - Game 2: 4.2IP, 4H, 3ER, 3BB, 3K, 1HR, 5WP

Next Series
vs. Angels 4/13-4/15
Click here to talk about the series at the Daily Sports Pages Yankees forum.


*The awards are named after one of the best baseball movies of all time... Major League.

Jake Taylor Award - Awarded to the most valuable position player. Named after the hard-nose veteran catcher that, despite making the league minimum, was the heart and soul of the 1989 American League East winning Cleveland Indians.

Gentry Award - Awarded to the least valuable position player. Named after the very first man cut from the 1989 Cleveland Indians, #47 Gentry. A man so insignificant he wasn't even given a first name.

Rick Vaughn - Awarded to the best pitcher in the series. This one is, of course, named after the "Wild Thing". The man that made Clu Haywood look silly in the division deciding game.

Kelner Award - Awarded to the worst pitcher in the series. Named after the Opening Day starter for the '89 Indians. Not a good game for Mr. Kelner, as Indians' announcer Harry Doyle famously quipped "thank God" after Kelner left the game. And yet another bad player without a first name.

Jorge Posada To Throw Out First Pitch Friday Night

Jorge Posada will be honored with the "Pride Of The Yankees Award" Thursday during a homecoming dinner and Friday night will through out the ceremonial first pitch on the home opener for the Yankees against the Anaheim Angels. 

This is obviously a great gesture to give Posada the honor to do this and no one is more deserving for this season. I look forward to seeing Jorge in the Bronx one last time.

Yankees @ Orioles 4/11/12

Tonight CC Sabathia and the Yankees look to sweep the series before going home against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park in Camden Yards. CC Sabathia will be the key piece of tonight's game because David Robertson, Mariano Rivera, Cory Wade, and I will also assume David Phelps will all be unavailable to pitch. Also Rafael Soriano has a split finger nail and may also be unavailable as he was yesterday for the same reason. If we ever needed CC to go seven or eight innings then tonight would be the day. Anyway, here is tonight's lineup for the game at 7:05 pm on YES.

Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Nick Swisher RF
Raul Ibanez DH
Russell Martin C
Brett Gardner LF

Rob Thomson Did The Right Thing

Ever since Nick Swisher was thrown out at home plate in the top of the 7th of last night's game, people have been shaking their fists at Rob Thomson.

Swisher was leading off the top of the 7th of a tie ballgame, and was hit by a slider from Matt Lindstrom. The pitch got him in the right foot, and after hobbling around a bit Nick went to first. The hobbling would leave one to believe Swisher was hurt, and therefore was going to be more station to station (a la Hideki Matsui) than a pest on the basepaths (a la Brett Gardner). I believe he was fine after shaking it off, just like after one stubs their toe. Sure, it hurts like hell when it happens, but after a minute you're fine and walking around as if nothing happened. After all, if Nick had done any real damage, then he would have been removed from the game... even as a precautionary thing, as we've seen happen numerous times early in a season. But Nick remained in the game until the end.

So after a short delay for the hit-by-pitch, Robinson Cano came to the plate. After three pitches, which brought the count to 1-2, Robbie drove a slider down the right field line. Swisher was on his way to 3rd and Thomson was waiving him home. The throw from Endy Chavez wasn't right on line, but it was a strong throw. JJ Hardy then made a perfect relay throw home to nail Swisher on a bang-bang play. Replay showed that the throw being to Wieter's left helped him to block the plate, making it extremely difficult for Swisher to reach all the way around Matt's leg and touch the plate before the tag (make a mental note of this for later).

So not only was Swisher not injured after the HBP, but JJ Hardy's relay throw was as good as you can possibly ask for (hence the bolded and italicized "perfect" in the previous paragraph). If the throw was a little less than perfect Swish likely would have scored, giving the Yankees the lead, resulting in the the vast majority of Yankee fans saying Thomson made a great call. At worst, some Yankee fans would have said Thomson's decision was questionable, but they wouldn't be lambasting the guy.

And let's not forget that Swisher slid head-first into home plate, something that I believe is flat-out stupid. First and foremost, the chances of injury are really good. Nick was reaching out with his fingers, a part of the body that is not exactly tough to injure thanks to no muscle surrounding a bunch of tiny bones. Then, soon after his fingers is his face, all of which could slam into hard plastic shin guards wrapped around really stable legs. Even if a runner sliding head-first into home was able to avoid injury, a lot of momentun would be lost if there was any sort of collision, as one's arms are not nearly as strong as one's legs. Push somebody with your arms, and then push somebody with your legs. Did the victim fall away more with your arms pushing or your legs pushing? It's why MMA fighters don't immediately go after an opponent laying on the ground, whose legs are aimed at him. A runner should slide feet-first as to help avoid injury, as well as be able to hold onto as much momentum as possible, should a collision occur.

Oh, and by sliding feet-first directly at the plate, it probably would have led to Wieters not being able to get the tag down and in front of him (remember, Matt tagged Nick on the foul side of the base line... right where the throw went). Especially seeing that Wieter's legs were spread to get to the throw, creating a nice "5-hole" for Nick to put his feet through and get directly to the plate.

The point is, a lot of things had to go right for Swisher to be thrown out after being sent home by Robbie Thomson... and they did. The vast majority of the time the run scores, Yankee fans rejoice, and Mariano Rivera would have locked down win #2 at the end of 9 innings instead of 12.

Maybe my feelings simply come from coaching third base, and my belief in being aggressive on the basepaths. I don't like the "what if"s that come with holding the runner, and waiting for another batter to get him home. Of course my team doesn't have Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira batting 4th and 5th in the order, but as we saw after Swisher was thrown out (leaving Cano at 2B with one out), having the heart of the order coming up is no guarantee of a runner scoring. Either way, though, I strongly believe that most of the time Yankee fans are applauding Thomson's decision instead of berating him for it.

The "Rock" of the Rotation

No... not that guy. This guy...

The more I read about Ivan Nova's demeanor, particularly when Girardi said "I don't really think he gets rattled", I wonder if Nova will be the next "rock" of the Yankees pitching staff. You know... the guy in the rotation that's very consistant, and seems to always give the team a chance to win. Not that he can't have a bad start every now and then, but you're hardly ever going to look back at his start and think "the Yankees had no chance to win that game".

In 13 seasons with the Yankees, Andy Pettitte was that guy. It's not his career 3.88 ERA (ranked 723rd all time), or 1.357 WHIP (ranked 722nd all time), that's going to blow people away when they look back at his career. But it's his Win Probability Added (WPA) of 23 (ranked 50th all time) that can turn heads (note, only 16 of the pitchers ahead of Andy in WPA were around for as many or less seasons in MLB). In case you're not familiar with WPA, it's basically attempting to measure a player's win contribution. So going by WPA alone shows that Pettitte was indeed a "rock" in the Yankee rotation.

So going back to Ivan Nova I decided to compare some pitching stats of the two, to see if this idea that Ivan Nova could be the next Andy Pettitte (aka be the "rock" of the Yankee rotation). What I found pleased me.

After looking at this comparison I don't just think Nova could be the next Andy Pettitte for the Yankees... he could be better. And that's really saying something, as many believe Andy Pettitte has a shot at being a Hall of Famer. Then again, every person that says Pettitte should be considered for the Hall points out Andy's 19-10 record, and 3.83 ERA, in the postseason. Not to mention that Pettitte failed to go at least 6 innings in only 9 of 42 postseason starts (note- he was one out away from a quality start in one of those starts).

Their ERA, WHIP, Hits/9, HR%, XBH%, and Triple-Slashes are virtually the same. All of which is a great sign for Nova. However, what really excites me is that this kid could be better than Pettitte was. Seeing as how Nova's GB% (ground ball percentage) is higher, and his LD% (line drive percentage) is lower, there's reason to have high hopes for Mr. Nova. All it would take for Nova to reach that level is striking out more batters and walking less, both of which he was able to do Monday night (7 Ks to 0 walks). Granted, that was against an Orioles lineup, which is composed of players whose career average OPS+ is 101 (the Yankees lineup has a career average OPS+ of 116). But expecting Ivan to strike out 1.1 more batters per 9, and walking .3 less batters per 9, is not a tall order at all.

For obvious reasons Yankee fans will be closely watching Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, and Michael Pineda this season. Two of those players have top of the rotation potential for years to come, while another one is being looked at as a "rock" in the 2012 rotation. But we should pay quite a bit of attention to Ivan Nova as well, because while Andy Pettitte was that "rock" in New York for 13 years, Nova could be that "rock" for the next 10.