Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sizing Up the Yankees

As I have said already, I don’t put a lot of stock in Spring Training statistics as indicators of how players will perform during ‘the regular year’. So, when I see that Hiroki Kuroda has brought his ERA down from over 14.00 to just 3.07 I take into consideration the fact a lot of the hitters he’s facing may never play in the Major Leagues. It will be interesting to see how Kuroda does going from a big park in a low scoring division to a hitters’ park in the highest scoring division in baseball. He is credited as having worked hard to improve himself while with the Dodgers (and again this Spring) and his ERA did go down in each of his years in America.

Phil Hughes allowed six hits and two runs over six innings in a minor league game on Monday. His March ERA is 2.03. Hughes slumped from 18 wins in 2010 (in spite of a 4.12 ERA – sure is nice to have run support) to 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA in 2011, but he was pitching with shoulder problems. Apparently his changeup is showing improvement and he should be better this year.

Joba Chamberlain, who was coming back from elbow ligament replacement surgery and wasn't expected to pitch until June anyway, hurt his ankle bouncing on a trampoline last week and will be in a cast for six weeks. Who knows how he'll do when he returns.

David Robertson’s bruised right foot (he missed a step walking down the stairs on March 7) is apparently okay after running and fielding drills. He threw ten pitches in one inning of work the other day and then threw some more in the bullpen afterwards.

Michael Pineda apparently did not report in top notch condition after the winter off. He allowed one run and five hits in five innings in a split-squad game on Sunday and got his fastball up to 94 mph for the first time this Spring. He says he is not throwing full throttle yet and is working on pitch placement. His slider looked good in the 87-pitch outing. Russell Martin said he “seemed like he was putting it all together” – but then what else is he going to say about a second-year pitcher whose confidence he is trying to boost?

Andy Pettitte is already throwing well (though not in actual games of course). As for having too many starters with him returning, the Yankees are apparently trying to deal Freddy Garcia. He is on a one-year contract and cannot be traded before June 16 without his permission – which he says he would consider giving. The Yankees apparently offered him to the Miami Marlins in return for a reliever but the fish wouldn’t bite. (Sorry, I could not resist.)

It was a surprise to me that the Yanks were going after a reliever. They already have Rafael Soriano (7th inning), Robertson (8th inning), and Rivera (9th inning). It’s possible that Chamberlain may get back in form and they could use Garcia himself in long relief. (Not Pettitte though.) There are other priorities if you ask me. (See below.)

Derek Jeter is apparently fine after missing a week because of a stiff left calf. He had a homer and a double on Sunday but isn’t running full tilt yet. (Do any of the regulars go full tilt in Spring Training? I wouldn't.)

Alex Rodriguez, who is fine after getting drilled in the ribs with a pitch, is hitting well in Florida and the Yankees are hoping for a 2007 type season from him,. But he hit well last Spring (.388 with 6 HRs) before having an injury-plagued regular season. Look for Eduardo Nunez to get lots of at bats again this year as the Yankees rotate Jeter, Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano through the DH spot to keep them rested and healthy.

Nick Swisher has had just one at bat since pulling a groin on March 7. The 39-year old Raul Ibanez, who is slated to be the DH against right handers, was hitting .051 before ripping a home run last Sunday. Joe Giradi thinks he may have been pressing in an effort to make a good impression.

Mark Teixeira is reportedly trying to hit the other way more in an effort to negate the shift and raise his batting average – though his home run and RBI totals have been excellent since he came to the Yankees. Whether he hits the other way more or not, I think it's time to move Cano, who’s hit over .300 five of his six years and is one of the best hitters in baseball, into the number three slot and move Teixiera to fifth.

More importantly – for me at least – the Yankees need to get stronger in left and right field. Swisher's numbers over the last three years are okay – 29, 29, 23 home runs; 82, 89, 85 RBI; and .249, .288, .260. But he has hit .128, .176, and .211 in the playoffs. Ouch.

Brett Gardner is just as big a weakness, whether he’s leading off or batting second. He’s a great outfielder but he plays left, not center. Gardner can worry pitchers with his base running but his average in his four years with the Yanks is .264, and his on base percentage is a less than remarkable 353.

As any Yankee fan will know, Gardner takes a lot of pitches and was getting awfully predictable. At least he went after a few more last year. He swung 35% of the time as opposed to 30% in 2010. Only Bobby Abreu swung less often. (The league average is 45%). Sure he made contact 91% of the time, sixth in the league, but with what results?

If you're really into statistics you definitely want to know that his IFFB% (infield flyball percentage) was crazy high, the third highest in baseball. At least his home run totals are improving though – 0, 3, 5, 7! At that rate he should be into Ruth – Gehrig – Dimaggio – Mantle – Jackson – Rodriguez type bomb numbers by the time he’s 100.

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