Thursday, July 2, 2015

Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello: A Tale of Two Pitchers

Before this season began, both the Yankees and the Red Sox acquired young right-handers whom they hoped would provide long term help for their starting rotations. Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello both had histories of early-career struggles, but both of them clearly had positive upsides, which was cause for a lot of optimism, for fans and personnel of both teams.

Eovaldi, 25, and Porcello, 26, each took the mound yesterday in games whose outcomes were very important in this year's extremely tight AL East. Eovaldi kept the Angels scoreless, giving up five hits in 5.1 innings, while Porcello gave up seven runs, including three home runs, in just two innings pitched against the Blue Jays.

Eovaldi is 8-2 this year with a 4.52 ERA. Porcello is just 4-9 with a 6.08 ERA. Going into the season, the pitcher to bet on would have been Porcello, whose career up to that point was a bit more successful than Eovaldi's. The Red Sox apparently thought the same, giving him a four-year contract extension worth $8.25 million, with a $500,000 signing bonus. Eovaldi's reputation consisted largely of being the pitcher who gave up the most hits in the NL last year.

Granted, some of Porcello's troubles are due to his team's offense, which has been less than stellar this season. But a 6.08 ERA doesn't lie. On the flip side, Eovaldi has received his fair share of run support this season. However,  his 4.52 ERA is very respectable in this day and age.

Of course, I'm not saying that Eovaldi will go on to be one of the best pitchers the Yankees ever had. Neither am I saying that Porcello will continue to be a bust for the Red Sox. But so far, the Yankees have had better luck. For the Yankees sake, I hope that this luck will continue.

Now watch, Porcello will dominate the Yankees in Boston next weekend, while Eovaldi won't make it out of the first inning. You can't predict baseball.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The 2015 vs 2009 Yankees: Looking back at the 2009 ALCS

One of the many perks of being a Yankees fan is that, when the team is struggling in a series, it’s usually always possible to look back to a happier series against that same opponent.

With the Yankees struggling against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a flashback to 2009, when the Yankees beat the Angels 4-2 in the A.L.C.S, on their march to the their most recent World Series win, is a welcome relief.

It feels like yesterday but it has been almost six full years. The Yankees current roster has just four players from that last championship. (the Angels have just two.)

The 2015 Yankees, compared to that 2009 powerhouse. makes for an interesting comparison:

The main changes in the infield are at SS, where Didi Gregorius is trying to replace a Yankee legend and future Hall of Famer in Derek Jeter who, even in his worst offensive year, exceeds Sir Didi’s production, and at 2B, where Stephen Drew can’t even match Mario Mendoza let alone the prolific production of Robinson Cano. Jorge Posada had a great 2009 regular season and a decent A.L.C.S. McCann is doing better in his second year as the Yankees main backstop, but has yet to match the offensive output of Posada

The ’09 A.L.C.S outfield of Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner and Johnny Damon all batted over .300 in six games and played flawless defense. Brett Gardner, if possible, has upped his game, especially recently when he won A.L. Player of the Week. He has shifted over to LF to make room for Jacoby Ellsbury, who has replaced Damon as the former Red Sox on the Yankees roster. The oft injured Ellsbury is a revelation when in the lineup and his defense is an absolute improvement (although you can see his arm heading the way of Damon’s), but the Yankees just have to hold their breath that he’s healthy enough to return.  The '09 A.L.C.S. Cabrera is probably better than the 2015 regular season Beltran. Beltran has a reputation as a post-season savant, but he needs to be consistent in the regular season to get the team back there.

Starting Pitching
CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes were the starting four that carried the Yankees through the 2009 post season. Sabathia was the A.L.C.S. MVP with a 1.13 ERA, earning 2 wins, even pitching on short rest for the 2nd start. In 2015, Sabathia is struggling with almost a 6 ERA, only 3 wins on the season and none since his June 7 start. Burnett and Hughes are long gone, neither seemingly cut out for the NY Cauldron. Where the key word for the 2009 post-season rotation was resilient / dominant, the corresponding word for the 2015 rotation is inconsistent.

The 2009 post-season bullpen was defined by, of course, Mariano Rivera and the surprising Damaso Marte who, despite his checkered injury history, earned every bit of the money the Yankees paid him for his A.L.C.S and World Series performances. Mariano Rivera picked up two saves and David Robertson established his worth as a dominant set-up man, giving up only 1 hit across 2 innings. The 2015 pen has an injured closer and overworked set-up men but, if healthy, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances can be as dominant as Robertson and Rivera. The missing piece is the flash in the pan dominance of Marte. The 2015 Yankees bullpen has its share of lefties, but it remains to be seen whether they can step up in truly key situations.

The 2015 Yankees will try to avoid the sweep against the 2015 Angels tonight. If both can perform the way the 2009 teams did, New York will have a good chance to do just that.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Loss Of Warren Weakens A Yankees Rotation Already Weakend By Sabathia

Before each Yankee series begins, I post the pitching match-ups on the blog's Facebook page. I posted them yesterday evening with the comment, "Definitely not liking the fact that CC Sabathia pitches the opener." Sabathia did nothing to take away my fears, as he pitched poorly again, leading to the Yankees 4-1 loss to the Angels.

Then I wake up this morning to even more bad news: According to a report, Adam Warren is headed back to the bullpen. If Sabathia already weakens the rotation, the absence of Warren weakens it even more.

Granted, Warren has already pitched more innings than he pitched last year, so the move to the pen was inevitable. However, had that not been an issue, the pitcher to remove from the rotation should have been Sabathia. No matter how much money he's making, no matter how much seniority he has, no matter how much of a leader he is, he doesn't belong in the Yankees rotation.

Speaking of being a leader, I would like to think that Sabathia volunteered to go to the bullpen in the best interests of the team. Or, that Girardi would have put his foot down for the same reasons. Of course, we'll never know.

Get your act together, big fella.

Brett The Jet
Congratulations to Brett Gardner on winning his third career AL Player of The Week Award. Gardner is essential to the Yankee lineup, as is Jacoby Ellsbury, who is set to begin a rehab assignment this week. Having that one-two punch at the top again will go a long way toward strengthening an already pretty strong lineup.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Yankees Drop Winnable Finale To Astros, Drop To Third In AL East

The Yankees dropped Sunday’s finale against the Houston Astros and, although they were able to split the series despite a terrible opener on Friday and an absolute mess of a start on Saturday from Masahiro Tanaka, the best way to describe Sunday’s game was disappointing.

Michael Pineda, the good version, showed up in a big way on Sunday, giving the team 8 innings and 8 strikeouts while giving up just 2 ERs. He saved a bullpen that had already thrown 9+ innings in the first three games of the series. Big Mike deserved better. His offense (mustered just 2 hits, 2 BBs and 1 run) and his defense (key error by Brett Gardner led to a run) saddled him a loss on Sunday afternoon.

This was a game the Yankees needed to win. With the rest of the A.L. East springing to life around them, the Yankees high powered and expensive offense needs to do better than the lackluster and inconsistent performances they have delivered as of late. The feast or famine approach of the offense puts strain on a pitching staff that is already facing its own problems of ineffectiveness (CC Sabathia), inconsistency (Tanaka, Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi) and lack of recent history (Ivan Nova and Adam Warren).

In the past two weeks the Yankees have fallen out of first place and currently stand in third place with only 0.5 games (1.0 in the loss column) separating them from fourth place. With three games against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim next on the list, followed by an off day, then three against the division leading Tampa Bay Rays, now would be a great time for the Yankees to settle back into a groove.

The good news is that Jacoby Ellsbury, out over a month with a knee sprain, looks like he could return in a week. It’s unfair to expect him to immediately resume his torrid pace (.324 BA, 14 SBs) but his mere presence makes the lineup longer, and the hope is he and Brett Gardner, who is turning in the best performance of his career, can eventually go back to wreaking havoc at the plate and on the base paths.

The bad news is, as good as Ellsbury has been, he can’t pitch for this team. The Yankees need length from their starters and need key pieces of their bullpen to step up while Andrew Miller lingers on the sidelines.

With just 12 games until the All-Star Break, the Yankees have a chance to climb back to the top of the heap. With a little more consistency and health, that’s definitely not out of the question.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Astros School Yankees With Youth Movement

Just two takeaways from Thursday's Yankees showing in Houston, a 4-0 loss:

1. Adam Warren is the Yankees' third best starting pitcher (out of six).
Despite the loss and a decent but not great start, Warren may be the odd man out. Even though he has pitched better than everyone not named Tanaka and Pineda, Warren may be a victim of the 2015 Yankees version of the  "Joba Rules" in which the Yankees think it's a good idea to limit innings on young pitchers. Another take is Warren was asked to come to spring training prepared to be a starting pitcher, just in case. Starting pitchers, who give no reason to be switched to the bullpen, should reasonably expect to pitch 175 to 200 innings for the season. It worked out that Warren has pitched well and does deserve to retain his starting gig. Yes, Ivan Nova is back and pitched magnificently in his first start back, but it is still only one start, so don't rank Nova ahead of Warren just yet. And while we know Warren would give the Yankees a lift in the 7th inning the rest of the season, soon enough, Andrew Miller will return to the bullpen and he and Dellin Betances may again dominate the 8th and 9th inning. Both Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve have shown they are  capable late inning pitchers, so you have at least four solid pitchers for the seventh inning on, once Miller returns. Warren deserves to stay in the rotation. It's that simple.

2. It's a young man's game.
The Houston Astros were one of baseball's worst teams, seemingly like a week ago Wednesday. In truth, the Astros have been good all year. Thursday,  the Yankees were dominated by a young pitcher named Dallas Keuchel. The Astros are all young and talented. Despite 35 year old Mark Teixeira and 39 year old Alex Rodriguez having great years,  both of which are pleasant developments, the Yankees need to get younger, the sooner the better. Their top two prospects, in no particular order are pitcher, Luis Severino and right fielder, Aaron Judge and both were recently promoted to AAA Scranton, one step from the majors. Though their ETA's for the Bronx may not be until 2016, dealing them for guys like Cole Hamels, makes no sense. The rotation has five of its six starters (for now) well under 30 years old. Best to keep it as young as possible. And that brings us to CC Sabathia. Andy Pettitte was present at the game in Houston and said Sabathia can still turn his season and career around. Certainly, it's not out of the question, but unlike Teixeira and A-Rod, CC has not had what can be described as a strong comeback season. For that reason, perhaps it is time to consider a move to a long relief role for Sabathia, cutting ties with ineffective Chris Capuano in the process. No, it doesn't have to be a permanent move for CC. The Yankees pitching staff has been subject to change at a moment's notice. It you don't believe that, just check the transactions of the New York Yankees the last week to ten days.

Just two takeaways, but they add up to a lot of issues for the New York Yankees.