Cano cleans up as a fill-in

    Monday, August 23, 2010, 12:16 AM [General]

    Hitting cleanup is not something you normally associate with second baseman but it does occur and with Robinson Cano it has taken place 12 times and the Yankees have won 11 of those games. The Yankees are 12-0 without Rodriguez and 11-1 with Cano batting cleanup.  Rodriguez had a day off May 2 and Nick Swisher filled in then, but you get the idea about how well Cano has been playing as a cleanup hitter and his MVP chances.

    Here’s a sampling of active second baseman who have batted there this year and in their careers:

    Dan Uggla 37 games .318 (43-for-135) with 14 home runs, 31 RBI, did it four times before this season.

    Brandon Phillips 22 games .239 (21-for-88) with three home runs, 10 RBI and a .285 OBP, never batted cleanup before this year

    Chase Utley’s career numbers there are .271 (29-for-107) with five home runs and 19 RBI

    Dustin Pedroia’s career numbers there are 13-for-20 with two home runs and seven RBI in six games.

    Aaron Hill’s career numbers there are 3-for-13 in six games.  He went 1-for-5 in one game this season as a cleanup hitter.

     As you can see, does not happen with great frequency even with some of the Hall of Fame second baseman.

     Rod Carew: 14 games, 15-for-37 with four RBI

    Bobby Doerr 211 games, .281 (229-for-815) with 25 home runs and 158 RBI

    Frankie Frisch 139 games, .277 (155-for-559) with 11 home runs and 111 RBI

    Charlie Gehringer 171 games, .334 (218-for-653) with 15 home runs and 134 RBI

    Billy Herman 38 games, .275 (39-for-142) with 0 home runs and 14 RBI

    Rogers Hornsby 1527 games .367 (967-for-2636), 97 home runs, 527 RBI

    Tony Lazzeri 102 games, .335, 9, 93

    Bill Mazeroski 76 games, .248, seven home runs, 35 RBI

    Joe Morgan 51 games, .248, two home runs, 17 RBI

    Jackie Robinson 683 games, .329, 79 home runs, 439 RBI*also played 247 games at third, 147 in left field (156 games at fourth in 1949), (137 games, 1950), (136 1951), (34 1952) (114, 1953), (those were his primary second base years).

    Ryne Sandberg 137 games, .270, 17 home runs, 72 RBI

    So does that mean Cano has a future as a cleanup hitter? 

    On other teams players on pace for 33 home runs and 112 RBI would definitely have a place there but as long as Alex Rodriguez is healthy, the cleanup spot is his. 

    The plus side is that assuming Cano does reasonably well, though .375 might be too high of an expectation in the cleanup spot, at least the Yankees know who the replacement will be when Rodriguez is nicked up or just needs a day.

    What bears watching is how Cano will do hitting cleanup since the competition level is about to improve slightly with the Blue Jays, White Sox and Athletics.  In Cano’s 11 games hitting cleanup that the Yankees have won when Rodriguez has been hurt or getting a day he has faced the following starting pitchers:

    1 – 5/28 vs. Cleveland Fausto Carmona, 3-for-4 with a grand slam off Tony Sipp saw 19 pitches and hit a first-pitch grand slam (slider, same location as French

    2 – 6/11 vs. Houston Brett Myers 1-for-4, 14 pitches

    3 – 6/12 vs. Houston Wandy Rodriguez, 9 pitches 1-for-3,

    4 – 6/13 vs. Houston Brian Moehler 1-for-3, home run (on the first pitch), 27 pitches

    5 – 6/15 vs. Philadelphia Roy Halladay, 1-for-5, seven pitches

    6 – 8/7 vs. Boston John Lackey 2-for-3, 14 pitches

    7 – 8/17 vs. Detroit Justin Verlander 1-for-4, home run 20 pitches

    8 – 8/18 vs. Detroit Jeremy Bonderman 1-for-3 home run 16 pitches

    9 – 8/19 vs. Detroit Rick Porcello 3-for-5, home run, three RBI, 17

    10 – 8/21 vs. Seattle Jason Vargas, 2-for-4, 2 RBI, 14 pitches

    11 – 8/22 vs. Seattle Luke French 2-for-5, six RBI home run grand slam, 20 pitches

    And for comparison to see Cano's improvement in various areas, here are his numbers through August 22 in each of the last four seasons.

     

    2010 – .325, 25 home runs, 86 RBI, OBP. 387, OPS .953, BB 45, SO 58

    2009 -- .314, 18 home runs, 61 RBI, .333 OBP, .756 OPS, 23 BB, 44 SO

    2008 -- .263, 11 home runs, 56 RBI, .303 OBP, .700 OPS, 24 BB, 44 SO

    2007 --. 306, 13 home runs, 71 RBI, .350 OBP, .784 OPS, 32 BB, 68 SO

    These numbers are fairly consistent with the exception of 2008 which is Cano’s well-documented down year.  The items that really stand out are the rise in on-base percentage, OPS and the jump in walks.  Cano’s 45 puts him on pace for 59 which would be his most on any level of pro ball.

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    The incredible sinker-balling Felix

    Saturday, August 21, 2010, 1:50 AM [General]

    Felix Hernandez is very good.

    I know I’m not breaking anything new there, but what I didn’t know until about the end of June is that he is a sinker ball pitcher.  You remember that from when Chien-Ming Wang used to throw those for groundball out after groundball out in 2006 and 2007.

    From what I’m told by a source in the Seattle media, the development of this pitch is something relatively new.  Until this year I remember Hernandez as being a fastball pitcher with a good curve and slider and in the two previous times I saw him in person against the Yankees, here’s how it broke down:

    On May 3, 2008 in a 6-1 loss, Hernandez threw seven sinkers at an average velocity of 89.9 miles per hour. In that game, the Yankees saw 98 pitches and swung and missed four times.  They also tagged Hernandez for six runs and 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings on 98 pitches.

    The next time was Sept. 18, 2009 in a game decided by Ichiro Suzuki hitting a game-ending home run off Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning at Safeco Field.  Hernandez threw a complete game on 104 pitches.  Of those pitches 10 were sinkers, seven were strikes and it produced one swing and miss with an average velocity of 91.28.

    Here’s where you see the big jump in sinker frequency from Hernandez. He pitched a two-hitter on 115 pitches. That night, 58 were sinkers, 39 were strikes and the Yankees swung and missed three times.  The average speed was 93.52.

    On July 10 in Seattle, in a 4-1 win over the Yankees, he threw 48 sinkers, 32 were strikes, three were swings and misses and the average speed was 93.7.

    Coming into Friday, he had thrown an average of 35 sinkers in seven starts since the All-Star break.  The figure is a little lower because he threw 21 August 5 against Texas and 14 against Minnesota on July 31.  In both games, Hernandez allowed three runs and struck out a combined seven as the Mariners did not score.

    Last night, Hernandez produced 41 sinkers, 25 were strikes and the average speed was 94.2.  He also produced two swing and misses out of the whopping 15 from the Yankees.

    If you can get the Yankees to swing and miss 15 times, then you are definitely a CY Young award contender. 

    If your own catcher might struggle to catch a pitch with so much movement, you might also be a CY Young award contender.

     "That’s something that probably not a lot of people have been able to catch," Adam Moore said after catching Hernandez for just the fourth time as a major leaguer.

    "That first pitch to Jeter in the eighth, I was setting up for a backdoor sinker and it started probably the middle of the left side of the batter’s box.  By the time Jeter started his swing, I was reaching almost behind him to catch it.”

    The sinker was not perfect, it resulted in a four-pitch walk to Robinson Cano on sinkers that just missed spots.  The next pitch was also a sinker and Nick Swisher singled to right.  Curtis Granderson saw a sinker and a changeup and then grounded into a force play on a sinker just off the outside corner.

    Francisco Cervelli saw three sinkers, including one near his helmet for ball three followed by an outside corner sinker for ball four. 

    With the bases loaded, Hernandez got called strikes on his sinker and curveball on Ramiro Pena.  The at-bat ended with Pena striking out swinging on an outside corner changeup.

    Brett Gardner saw one sinker that he fouled off on 1-1 and then struck out swinging on an outside fastball.

    In the sixth, he got three outs on three different pitchers, curveball, changeup and fastball.  The inning-ending strikeout of Cano in the sixth was the first of four in a row.  He struck out Swisher on a changeup and fanned Granderson and Cervelli on fastballs.  In the seventh, he threw one sinker but in the eighth he threw six sinkers, including a first-pitch to Jeter that even amazed catcher Adam Moore:

    "That’s something that probably not a lot of people have been able to catch," Moore said after catching Hernandez for just the fourth time as a major leaguer.

    "That first pitch to Jeter in the eighth, I was setting up for a backdoor sinker and it started probably the middle of the left side of the batter’s box.  By the time Jeter started his swing, I was reaching almost behind him to catch it.”

    By the way if you’re keeping count, Hernandez is pitching on a team that has a .236 batting average countered by a 3.86 ERA.  Also if you’re keeping track, Hernandez has pitched 14 of the 72 games Seattle has scored three runs or fewer.

     

     

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    Beautiful People, Beautiful Postgame Scene

    Friday, August 20, 2010, 12:31 AM [General]

    In years of attending games at Yankee Stadium, a number of amazing things have happened.  Those things are mostly baseball-related such as dramatic home runs, a World Series title, milestones for players and tremendous ballgames.

    If you want another thing that did not have anything to do with the game but more to do with the human side of ballplayers, the ones that rarely come out under the glare of microphones and digital tape recorders, then look no further than what took place after today's game.

    While people were writing about Phil Hughes' innings limit, reaction to Roger Clemens' indictment, injury updates to Alex Rodriguez, there was an amazing scene going on below.

    That was because a group of children with special needs called "Beautiful People" were taking the field with Yankee players.  The players were playing the role of fans holding signs and getting them on the center field scoreboard while the Bleacher Creatures chanted their name much like they did hours earlier for the Yankee fielders.

    It seemed appropriate that on the day the Yankees hosted a group called "Beautiful People", that it was a beautiful day and the Yankees put on a beautfiul hitting display in the sixth inning.  It also seemed appropriate that in the half-inning the Yankees rallied, 16-year-old Daniel Fratto filled the role of PA Announcer Paul Olden and announced the hitters.  It was so well-done that you wished the Yankees could have scored nine times.

    "He was outstanding," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I told him, 'You've got a bright future, young man.' HOPE Week is such a great thing. These kids are such an inspiration."

    Last year, the Yankees were 5-0 on HOPE Week.  Even though they've lost once during this year's edition, they are winners just for expanding their community outreach to even more inspiring levels.

    Strictly from observing the scene and reading the coverage of Jon Lane and Jerome Preisler, you truly learn how meaningful these things are and how trivial things such as how many times the Yankees have seen 30 pitches in an inning truly are.

    When you see a woman such as Jane Lang being escorted around the bases by Girardi and reading about what it takes to reach Yankee Stadium, things like the four train going local when it is supposed to be express hardly matter.

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    Welcome Eduardo Nunez

    Thursday, August 19, 2010, 12:18 PM [General]

    About the last thing the Yankees want to do is get caught shorthanded.  For the last few days, they have been playing with a 23-man roster due to injuries by Lance Berkman and Alex Rodriguez.

    In the outfield and at DH there are a few options but in the infield is where there would be trouble if something happened such as Rodriguez trying to play a few innings and getting hurt again or Ramiro Pena getting injured.

    So with that in mind, Eduardo Nunez is here and here's what we know about him:

    He is a 23-year-old infielder from the town of Maca in the Dominican Republic who was not drafted and made his pro debut in 2005 with the Staten Island Yankees.  In his first 2 1/2 seasons, his average went from .313 to .227 and then slowly rose again to .238.  When he reached the Florida State League, he went up to .285 and two years ago his only full season at Tampa produced a .271 clip but last year with Trenton Nunez's average spiked to .322 with nine home runs and 55 RBI. 

    At the Triple-A level, Nunez batted .289 with four home runs and 50 RBI.  He also maintained a decent on-base percentage for the second year in a row, going .340 while walking 32 times.

    At this point, the bat is not the priority with Nunez here.  The Yankees definitely would love it if he hit whenever he plays, but he's here for his versatility which can be used at third, second or short so what the important things are would be errors, fielding percentage etc:

    This year, he has played three positions and made 14 errors in 452 chances.  A year ago, he made 33 in 484 chances.

    Besides the statistics, Nunez was also the sticking point in the attempt to get Cliff Lee last month from Seattle.  Reports had him not included in the original package and when the Mariners requested him, the Yankees declined.

    Earlier today, Nunez was described by GM Brian Cashman as an "asset to have", "tremendous" "always possessed the tools".

    I saw him play once but the only reason I know about it is because of the boxscore.  It was August 25, 2005 at Staten Island against Hudson Valley.  Nunez batted fifth that night and went 2-for-4, produced an RBI single in the sixth and scored the winning run in the ninth of 3-2 victory.

     

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    35 pitches quickly becomes 114

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010, 2:21 AM [General]

    If first innings are the precursors of future events, last night was a good example.

    An offense that scored just once in the previous 18 innings opposed a hard-throwing ace pitcher and theoretically it might be the least desirable type of challenge.

    Sometimes familiarity helps and seven previous times the Yankees saw Justin Verlander.  The last time was a 6-0 loss on a cool Thursday afternoon in mid-May at Comerica Park where Verlander threw 119 pitches in 6 2/3 innings.

    In the previous occasions against Verlander, the Yankees faced him for 39 2/3 innings, which translates to roughly six innings per start.  So in that regard, the Yankees had that going for them.

     If that was not listed on the scouting report, then this likely was printed in bold and possible all capital letters:  an earned run average of over seven and a opponents batting average of .293 in the opening inning.

    Taking that message and applying it the Yankees saw 35 pitches and it was hardly a surprise they knocked him out after five.

    It was the second-most total seen in the first inning since Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez threw 36 and allowed three runs on April 20.  Gonzalez lasted just 4 1/3 innings and threw 97 pitches in losing 7-3.

    It was the sixth time an opposing pitcher threw 30-plus pitches in the opening frame and each time the Yankees have won.

    It was the first time they saw 30 pitches in an opening inning since scoring four on 32 pitches from Kansas City right-hander Brian Bannister.

    They also saw 30 pitches in the opening inning June 23 from Dontrelle Willis but scored one run in an eventual 6-5 win at Arizona.  It also occurred June 11 off Houston’s Brett Myers, who threw 34 pitches and allowed three runs in a 4-3 Yankee win.

    On May 17, Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 32 pitches and allowed five runs before lasting 4 2/3 innings.  The Yankees eventually blew a lead and won on a game-ending home run from Marcus Thames in the ninth.

    To counter the argument that seeing a lot of pitches early bodes well, was that the Yankees simply took what their opponent gave them and last night only 14 of those 35 pitches were strikes.

     In that inning, Verlander faced six hitters and threw two first-pitch strikes.  Of those pitches, nine were made in hitters’ counts and the only time he was ahead 0-2 resulted in a one-out walk to Robinson Cano that loaded the bases for Nick Swisher.

    "This," Verlander said, "is the worst I've ever felt on the mound as a professional baseball player, bar none. I feel like I was so far from where I needed to be."

    Regardless of whether it was patience or captializing on an elite pitcher missing his spots, the Yankees will take it.

     "He's no fun to face," Derek Jeter said. "We took advantage, early on it looked like he struggled with his control, but he's as tough as anyone in baseball. He throws hard, his ball moves. You really don't look forward to facing him."

    In reality the first inning is what won it for the Yankee lineup as Verlander retired 12 of the final 16 hitters.  That makes you wonder if the Yankees would have been in for another tough night had they seen less pitches in the first, allowing Verlander to go six or seven innings.

     

    And in case you’re wondering here is the list of previous Yankee first innings off Verlander.

     

    5/13/10 – 16 pitches, no runs, one hit – 6-0 Tigers win

    7/18/09 – 17 pitches, no runs, one hit – 2-1 Yankees win

    4/27/09 – 8 pitches, no runs, no hits – 4-2 Tigers win

    9/01/08 – 31 pitches, four runs, three hits – 13-9 Yankees win

    8/27/07 – 19 pitches, no runs, one hit – 16-0 Tigers win

    8/16/07 – 34 pitches, one run, two hits – 8-5 Tigers win

    6/01/06 – 14 pitches, no runs, one hit – 7-6 Yankees win

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