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Girardi needs a faster trigger finger

Two nights in a row, Joe Girardi stuck with his starting pitcher for too long, and two nights in a row, the Yankees lost. As this afternoon’s contest is the last game of a three game set, the Yankees have now lost the series. This isn’t the end of the world, and the Yankees are bound to lose the occasional series (cough! Red Sox! cough!), but now, the Yankees have lost a series to the Oakland Athletics. The 59-70 Oakland Athletics – that’s just shameful.

This series has been marked by a disproportionate amount of RISP failures, but that’s going to happen. Hitters are going to go through good and bad stretches, and take you take your lumps while you’re not administrating them to the opposition. But the manager needs to do the little things he can do to push the team toward a win when he can, because for an AL manager, those opportunities are few and far between. Sure, having Derek Jeter bunt in the 9th on Tuesday was ridiculous (as he’s one of the hottest hitters in baseball since returning from the DL two months ago), but we all know Girardi is addicted to bunting and that is probably not going to change.

The management of the starting pitching, however, must improve to guarantee the success of the Yankees going forward. If Girardi is going to keep leaving starting pitchers in games late (Bartolo Colon on Tuesday, CC Sabathia on Wednesday) when they’re either clearly tired or in a bad situation, the Yankees’ bullpen, bench and position players are going to continue to feel the pressure from it. Colon was clearly tired in the 6th inning and should not have come out for the 7th. Sabathia, while he did right the ship after a shaky start, had no business facing a batter who hammers lefties such as Scott Sizemore (.341 avg, .437 obp, .511 slg, .948 ops against lefties and already had… two or three hits against Sabathia at that point) in the 8th inning while protecting a 1 run lead. Ace or not, it just doesn’t make sense.

The Yankees RISP problems of late are a slump, not the standard – we could say Girardi’s poor decision making is the product of the same limited sample size. You could also argue with 5 games in four days looming, he’s trying to protect the bullpen.. but those games are against the Baltimore Orioles, who have an even worse record than the Athletics at 50-77, so you would think you don’t need your elite bullpen guys in too many of those games. Anyway, for the sake of my sanity and hairline, let’s hope Girardi gets faster on the trigger when it’s clearly time to pull the starter.

Let's not make the same mistakes to Hideki Matsui

The last time Hideki Matsui faced the Yankees, he supplied nearly all of the Oakland Athletics’ offense. He went 7 for 13 with two doubles and a home run in three games – wow. Since the All-Star break, Matsui has been a monster – his triple slash is 372/.424/.543 in 33 games! That’s crazy.

We also need to remind Joe Girardi not to bring in a lefty to face Matsui – sure, Boone Logan may need some reps, but against Godzilla is not the time to get them in. Matsui has always hit lefties well and as far as I can recall, he dominated Logan last time they faced each other.

So lets give Matsui a porno-sized welcome as he returns to The Bronx, but we don’t need to serve up any felafel balls to him.

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A.J. Burnett to Luis Ayala: I could have done that!

Although A.J. Burnett was friggin horrible (again) against the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, Luis Ayala didn’t exactly come in and put out the fire, stop the bleeding – whatever analogy you want to use.

Burnett left the game after 1.2 IP and 4 ER, leaving the bases loaded and saying some parting words over his shoulder that have already been discussed ad nauseam, so I will spare you further analysis on that. The runners on base were Burnett’s responsibility, and Luis Ayala allowed them to score – all of them. With two outs. I think you could argue that Ayala might not be the best man for that particular situation (when a strike out is needed – not that there aren’t a lot of ways to get one out in a bases loaded situation…), but this pretty much killed any chances the Yankees had to get back into the game – granted, as much as (or more so than when) your starting pitcher getting knocked out in the 2nd inning.

Still, any time a starting pitcher gets removed with runners on base and a reliever comes in and blows it up, the starting pitcher has to be thinking, "I could have done that!" and in the case of Burnett, he probably would have. I don’t know what Burnett’s pitch count was up to, and obviously, his command was bad (umpiring aside)… but who knows. Obviously, you don’t want to use David Robertson in that situation (although you might in a playoff game – not that Burnett is going to start a playoff game this year), so it’s hard to second guess Joe Girardi, especially when the root of the problem is that Burnett sucks. Still, the Yankees have over $30 million reasons to do everything they can to help him figure out his fastball command, and leaving him in the game to try for one more out would have most likely resulted in either a better or the same result. Well, we know what they say about hind site.

Maybe Burnett won’t stink next year… or the year after.

A.J. Burnett: Too BIG to fail

He’s got electric stuff. He’s 6′ 4″ and 230 lbs. He’s got blonde hair dyed to commemorate the 2011 Iowa straw poll. He’s AJ Burnett, and he’s too big to fail.

a j burnett blonde hair

"My hair looks like this on purpose."

By now, the yelling for A.J. Burnett’s role to be diminished in some way (the fan base and sports media pundits recommendations range from sending him to the bullpen to blaming him for the Crucifixion) has grown to a near deafening roar. While most ideas concerning Burnett are worthless, let’s review the crazy options that the advent of six healthy starting pitchers produces:

  1. Send him to the bullpen. This six man rotation nonsense just isn’t a good idea as its throwing everyone out of their rhythm. If someone (Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia) needs rest down the stretch, then let them skip a start. Also, I don’t think Burnett has ever pitched out of the pen and his WHIP is too crappy for relief work.
  2. Let him work his troubles out in the minors. Pretty sure his contract and status as an MLB Player won’t allow that – the only way he can go to the minors is if he gets hurt and he needs rehab appearances.
  3. Trade him/Put him on the waver wire. It’s getting late, but there is still time to trade him – but who would want to add that kind of salary at this point in the season? Only a contender would, and it’d have to be one that could afford him .  (I don’t think the Red Sox are interested.)  Plus, he has two years left on his deal, so that’s another $33 million.
  4. Leave him off the post season roster. I think this is a given. He hasn’t earned a start in October and there is no room for him in the pen, not to mention his WHIP sucky-ness.
  5. Release him. He’s that bad.  This isn’t going to happen.  Make piece with it.

The last option does remind us all the craziest thing about this situation: AJ Burnett is not too big to fail. It’s an awful business and baseball decision, but the Yankees could easily eat his contract and ask for seconds – their financial resources are just that big. Still, it’s a ridiculous idea.

The best thing you can say about A.J. Burnett‘s Yankee tenure is that he’s always been available to take the ball. Before the Yankees finished up the agreement to put Burnett in pinstripes, I was complaining that he was a two pitch pitcher and he got hurt too often, but he’s actually been the picture of health as a Bomber. So, he at least has that much going for him.

Lets take a look at Burnett’s 2011 game log (see the table below) and, using the incredibly low-bar metric of ‘quality start’ (that’s an appearance lasting 6 innings and allowing no more than 3 runs… earned, one presumes, but who knows) -I know, ‘quality start’ is an awful metric as it works out to a 4.50 ERA, which doesn’t sound like quality to me… still, it’s better than wins).  Lets break it down by month:

Quality Starts in April: 2 for 6
Quality Starts in May: 3 for 5
Quality Starts in June: 3 for 6
Quality Starts in July: 0 for 5
Quality Starts in August: 0 for 3 (as of Aug 17)
SEASON:
8 for 22 (9 wins, 9 losses)

The thing we learn from this little exercise is that Burnett is not necessarily giving the team a chance to win every time out – any time you can’t go six innings and/or give up four runs or more… that’s just not getting it done. And that’s what Burnett usually does. It’s the meltdowns that are so troubling – he just can’t get through a batting order three times – that third time, the dude keeps imploding.  (As per RAB, Burnett opponents have a .900 OPS the third time through and a .918 OPS in the sixth inning, which friggin blows.)  He’s better at not succumbing to the big inning this season than he was last year, but not much – he’s been consistently mediocre this year; at least in 2010, I saw flashes of a good pitcher in April (2.43 ERA in 33.1 IP) and July (2.00 ERA in 27 IP) – this year, he’s the very essence of blah.  Maybe we wouldn’t be so down on him if we expected him to be a bottom of the rotation starter instead of a top of the rotation pitcher who makes $16.5 million dollars per year.

a j burnett 2011 stats

Read 'em and weep.

But is he awful? No. He is, however, the worst starter on a team with six starting pitchers (when Phil Hughes is healthy), and we all know that for all practical intents and purposes, the Yankees only need five. Yet, the Yankees keep sending him out there. What else can they do? He’s too expensive to trade and I doubt his stuff will translate well to the bullpen as he doesn’t throw enough strikes, and no team would pay someone $16.5 million dollars to sit around and wait till they’re either slaughtering or getting slaughtered – not even the Yankees. But would the Yankees release him if he was making a million dollars this year and didn’t have a contract for two more years? Hmm… no, I don’t think they would – but I bet he’d of been sent to the bullpen some time ago.

In the Yankees eyes, Burnett is too big too fail – for now. Come post season roster time… I don’t see Burnett coming with the Yankees on the march toward another championship.  Look for a four man rotation of Sabathia, Colon, Garcia and Nova.

Kevin Kernan, please step down from the ledge

On August 10, 2011, Kevin Kernan (whose hair actually looks worse than mine) of The New York Post wrote the following:

If Mo goes south, the Yankees have no chance.

Joe Girardi’s club can live with A.J. Burnett being the Mediocre Man just trying to have fun. They can survive for a time without Alex Rodriguez and they can weather Jorge Posada’s struggles that cost him his DH job.

But if Mariano Rivera falters, the Yankees might as well call it a season. They go as Mo goes.

The New York Post is a tabloid – I get that. It’s a News Corp publication, which means you have to crank up the crazy dial to 11, and that’s fine, too – yet their sports reporting is usually OK – at least, in comparison to the rest of the paper. (Page 6 not withstanding.) But lets not lose our minds completely. Let’s take it piece by piece, statement by flawed statement:

"If Mo goes south, the Yankees have no chance."
I take that to mean either the Yankees won’t make the playoffs or the Yankees will immediately falter in the playoffs without Mo. According to sportsclubstats.com (as of today), the Yankees currently have a 97% chance of making the playoffs. That sounds pretty good to me, and Mo has not been throwing his best ball of late.. (As of today, baseballprospectus.com has them at 99%.) Oh, and they just took two out of three from the closest wild card contender and their 26 games over .500, so yeah… probably going to the playoffs. But maybe that’s nto what Mr.Kernan means – maybe he means that without Mo being Mo, the Yankees can’t win a playoff game… although, as we all know, there are games a team can win without using a closer – they’re usually called blowouts. For example, if the 9th inning roles around (home or away) and the Yankees are up by 7 runs, they’re probably not going to bring in the closer. Why waste an outing? Let’s look at it this way: suppose Mo’s recent struggles are the beginning of a trend and not a deviation from the norm; if that’s the case, then obviously the Yankees won’t use Mo as their closer – they’ll turn to David Robertson or the grossly overpaid Rafael Soriano, who lead the league in saves in 2010.

Joe Girardi’s club can live with A.J. Burnett being the Mediocre Man just trying to have fun.
Sure, I guess they can… although when your starting pitcher gets smacked around, its pretty hard to overcome, and if you’re losing in the 9th inning, it doesn’t really matter who your closer is, because you won’t need him.

They can survive for a time without Alex Rodriguez and they can weather Jorge Posada’s struggles that cost him his DH job.
The Yankees have done a lot more than surviving since A-Rod went down – he’s been gone for over a month now and again, the Yankees are 26 games over .500! Jorge Posada (who I have the utmost respect for… well, taking himself out of the line up that day kinda hurt my image of him) has essentially stunk all year and, again, not to keep waiving their record around, but his performance isn’t exactly killing them, and now that he’s relegated to off the bench duties only, he’s really only guilty of taking up a roster space, which won’t even matter when rosters expand in September. So yeah… ‘survive’ – ‘weather’ – gotcha.

But if Mariano Rivera falters, the Yankees might as well call it a season. They go as Mo goes.
Again, the Yankees bullpen has been a strength this year… imagine if they still had Joba Chamberlain? They lost that guy and his regained velocity, biting slider and swagger and didn’t skip a beat. Mo is great, and he’s still my first choice for closer (above any guy in baseball), but he’s not the only reliever on this team, and the job that David Robertson (cough 2011 all star cough!) has done this year is totally overlooked when you say something like ‘They go as Mo goes" – not to mention the presence of Rafael Soriano, who has been a beast since coming off the DL.

I understand that Mr. Kernan needs to help The Post sell papers and writing "relax, everything is fine" probably isn’t the best way to do that, but at least it would be true. And, at least he wouldn’t look so foolish, not to mention that reporters have been writing this particular ‘Yankees can’t win without Mo’ article for nearly 10 years (specifically after any time he struggles), and Mo always reverts back to himself and proves him wrong. With no drop in velocity and the fact that he doesn’t completely implode (see yesterday’s save for more details), the only other thing that I think Mr. Kernan could be suggesting is that there is a chance that Mo has forgotten how to pitch, and that seems unlikely.

Look, nobody believes in Mo as much as I do (I cross out "God" on all my greenbacks and write ‘Mo’), and it’s always shocking to see him not be perfect, never mind fail at saving a game. But the fact is, the guy is over 40 and he’s not actually God – he’s a human being, and he’s defiantly not a machine. I saw him and Jorge Posada do an interview on "Yankess on Deck" during which he forgot the English word for toothpaste… he’s just a man, all be it an extraordinary one.

Mo saves… just not every time, and that’s OK. He’s still the best there is.

Night of Blunders decreases Yanks wildcard lead

MLB.com’s headline, "Abreu torches Yanks with homer off Mo" might be hyperbole (the game was tied, after all; it wasn’t a save situation), but it’s general sentiment sums up the Yankees performance during the evening well enough.

This season, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have scored 447 runs – that might sound like a lot, but when you compare it to the Red Sox’s league leading 629 or the Yankees own 607, you realize that you’re dealing with a team that has trouble scoring runs – at least compared to the superior teams in the league. So of course, A.J. Burnett promptly gives up the big hit and allows 4 runs in 6 IP… did I mention he allowed all 4 runs in the 6th inning? The guy has won some big games for the Yankees (game 2 of the 2009 world series), but these days, Burnett often folds like Superman on laundry day – faster than a speeding bullet. I think it’s time to admit that Burnett can’t start a game in the playoffs.

Yes, Mariano Rivera gave up the go ahead 2 run home run, and boy, did he look shocked. Mo usually goes through a phase where he gets hit hard around this time of year, so it’s no concern – but it couldn’t of happened at a worse time.

Curtis Granderson, who started things rolling with a solo home run, ended the scoring just as suddenly when he he got picked off with two outs in the bottom of the 9th as the Yankees tried to rally back from a two run deficit. I know it happens to everyone, but it looked HORRIBLE.

The Yankees need to put last night’s blunder behind them and rally behind Ivan Nova, who gave the Chicago White Sox a tremendous beating his last time out. They still retain a 6 game lead in the wild card, but the Yankees are a decidedly better team than the Angels, and there’s no reason to let things get interesting.

Mercer County Waterfront Park – Home of the Trenton Thunder

I’ve always wanted to go see a minor league game (particularly double AA), and I never have. If you ever want to see a minor league team functioning like a team (rather than a weigh station for players waiting to get called up), AA is the way to go, and if you’re a Yankees fan, then it’s all about the Trenton Thunder.

Since I’ve never been to Mercer County Waterfront Park (the Home of the Trenton Thunder), get the straight dope from somebody who has – specifically Josh Verlin of StadiumJourney.com – his review is here. I think it’s safe to say the place didn’t blow his doors off, but to each his own, right? It sounds like the biggest problem with the park is that its in Trenton, and, if you’re from New Jersey like I am, when you hear somebody say, "We’re going to Trenton," it’s usually followed by, "Do you have to?" I’m sure the city has some lovely aspects, but… uhm… there are downsides. Let’s leave it at that.

In any case, check out the Thunder – it’s where Yankees grow from boys to men!

A Sox by any other name…

After a four game sweep of the Chicago White Sox, the Yankees headed to Boston to end a road trip with three games against the Red Sox – to determine the fate of the division!

Well, we all know how it turned out – Boston took two of three and reclaimed their hold on 1st place in the American League East. After the previous road trip and the beating the Yankees gave the White Sox, you might have had high expectations with the Yankees going into Fenway, and that would be fair – the Yankees are certainly playing better ball of late, even without A-Rod.

It just didn’t happen for the Yankees this weekend, and, as usual, the prime suspect was starting pitching. If the Yankees have had a theme over the last decade (minus a year or two), it’s been the starting pitching putting too much pressure on the bullpen, and this series was no different. On Friday, Bartolo Colon just didn’t have his best stuff (as has been the case through most of his starts since returning from the DL), CC Sabathia was just bad from the first inning (any time you see Fransisco Cervelli doing that half split catcher’s stance in the first inning, you know you’re in trouble) and Freddy Garcia through a zillion pitches in such a short while (98 pitches in 5 IP) that I’m shocked Sweaty Freddy didn’t dehydrate.

But whatever; the Yankees are one game back in the east now, and seven games up in the wild card – they’re going to the playoffs.

The Red Sox are inside CC’s head?
I heard people saying the Red Sox are inside CC Sabathia’s head before and after Saturday’s game… I don’t buy it. I know he hasn’t beaten them in four tries this year, but that’s they way it goes sometimes. He’s certainly had success against them before, and since coming to the Yankees, even if his lifetime numbers aren’t dominant against the Red Sox. And, it’s not like he had his best stuff on Saturday and the Red Sox beat him – he was bad right from the start. You can say that’s some sort of Red Sox hangover, but I don’t buy it.

Posada to ride the pine
Jorge Posada is going to be a pinch hitter for the rest of the year instead of part of a DH rotation with Andruw Jones as Eric Chavez takes over for him. It’s just another phase out of Posada’s Yankee career, which will be even more pronounced when Jesus Montero makes his appearance as part of September call ups Frankly, I’d rather see Montero in the roll full time, but I guess we’re stuck for a few more weeks.

Mo is human
It would have been nice for Mo to nail down the save last night and win a series at Fenway against the Red Sox, but it didn’t happen – a near home run that turns into a lead off double is pretty hard to pitch around, even for my savior. Oh well.

Yankees stand pat, win home stand

After a 7-3 home stand that ended with the Yankees standing pat at the trade deadline, the Bombers head out on the road to play four games in Chicago with the White Sox and then 3 games in Boston with the Red Sox. When reached for comment, Don Henley remarked, “Hmph… .”

I’d hoped that the Yankees would have managed one sweet during the home stand that features competition including the Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and the American League bottom rung in wins Baltimore Orioles and go 8-2, but you can’t have everything. After winning the first game of the road trip against the White Sox, the Yankees were able to gain a game on the Red Sox and are now only one game behind in the division – although at this point, it seems like a foregone conclusion that both teams will make the playoffs.

I can’t remember the last time the Yankees did nothing at the trade deadline, but I guess it just wasn’t in the stars. As Ubaldo Jimenez seemed to be the most likely candidate to be acquired, the YES Network reported during last night’s game that the Colorado Rockies weren’t willing to let the deal be finalized after Jimenez passed a physical. That’s a little suspicious, no? Oh well – it sounds like the Yankees were willing to give up the farm for him, and after reviewing his declining numbers coupled with the no physical clause, I’m OK with passing on this opportunity.

So that’s where the Yankees stand – we’re going to war with the team we have. And hopefully, there are more reinforcements coming from the disabled list in the persons of Alex Rodriguez and Damaso Marte; the latter has been gone so long that I don’t think I could pick him out of a line up.

So can the Yankees win the World Series with the pitching rotation they have? I’m not sure about that. If Bartolo Colon is healthy and throwing well in October, that certainly increases their chances. I’d say that Ivan Nova is on the verge of taking Phil Hughes‘ rotation spot, and if he’s throwing well come late September, Joe Girardi is going to have some tough decisions about who starts, who relieves and who gets left off the roster. Let the competition begin!

If the Yankees acquire a pitcher, who is out of the rotation?

Unless you’ve been living under a pinstriped rock, you know that the Yankees have been searching the trade market for elite starting pitching since… well, since before the trade deadline last year. Now that the 2011 season trade deadline is almost upon us, the rumor mill is spinning again with names like Ubaldo Jimenez of the Colorado Rockies and Ricky Nolasco of the Florida Marlins. But if the Yankees did acquire someone, who would they banish to the bullpen? Or, could that starter be part of the trade?

CC Sabathia is not worth discussing in either bullpen or trade scenarios. Besides being one of the best pitchers in baseball, he’s the team ace and the Yankees can’t go anywhere without him. If you’re looking at his opt out clause and thinking that makes him tradable, you’re very wrong.

A.J. Burnett might be frustrating to watch, but the guy takes the ball every five days and soaks up some innings. Burnett seems to have regained some form after last year’s debacle and now finds ways to wiggle out of jams instead of imploding. Plus, like Sabathia, he makes a ton of money, and most teams are not looking to add salary at this point in the year, nor would the Yankees be will to pay Burnett $16.5 million dollars to just sit in the bullpen.

Bartolo Colon has to be the most surprising story of the year, and Yankee fans know that he has been straight up dominant fairly often in 2011. Whether or not he can keep that for the rest of the season is a huge question, but the Yankees may as well keep rolling the dice and seeing how the fall.

Freddy Garcia is another guy who continues to shock the baseball world, but at least he pitched last year – making him just slightly less remarkable than Colon. I wouldn’t want to have Garcia on the mound with the season on the line against a powerhouse like the Red Sox’s offense, but Garcia can get it done.

Finally, we come to Phil Hughes, the organizational favorite. For me, the choice is obvious – if someone will take Hughes in a trade for a high end starter, you do it and you don’t think twice. If you still have Hughes and you get a high end starter, you send Hughes to the bullpen and you congratulate yourself for bolstering your pen while getting Hughes out of your rotation. I know the guy won a bizillion games last year, but let’s face it – he’s never really been dominant, and he can’t get through two consecutive seasons without missing major time. I don’t know what happened, but he’s a mess this year – since coming back from the DL, he cutter and change up are practically worthless (not that they weren’t before he went on the DL; I mean in comparison to 2010) and although his curve ball has improved, it doesn’t look like the same pitch that earned him the nick-name “Little Rocket.” Remember that? When people were comparing him to Roger Clemons? Those days are long gong and I don’t see a lot of promise going forward, but I could be wrong. Who knows, maybe it was the big bump up in workload from 2009 to 2010 that is impacting is 2011 ability? I don’t know and I don’t care, but if the Yankees can get Ubaldo Jimenez for a not totally unreasonable deal, they should do it and either include Hughes in the trade or just send him to the pen.

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