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Series Wrap: vs. Cupcakes
2007-08-10 04:43
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

The second half of the Yankees' season breaks into three distinct parts. The first, completed on Thursday, was what I've been calling the "cupcake" portion of their schedule, 28 games against the weaker teams in the league including Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Baltimore, Chicago, and the roughly-.500 Blue Jays. The Yankees went 20-8 (.714) over that stretch to propel themselves into the playoff hunt. Tonight they begin the second leg of their second half, a stretch of 20 games in which 17 come against contending teams, and 14 come against Cleveland, Detroit, and Boston, the teams they are chasing in pursuit of a playoff spot.

With that in mind, here's a look at how the Yankees have performed against the cupcakes, and some thoughts about how that performance might translate against the contenders.

Offense: While the Yankees have risen to the challenge against the weaker teams in the American League, it still remains to be seen if they can continue their success against the contenders. One encouraging sign is that they didn't just defeat the cupcake teams, they destroyed them, averaging 7.64 runs per game over the last 28 games.

Studs:

Robinson Cano .419/.479/.743, 18 XBH
Jorge Posada .385/.505/.692
Hideki Matsui .342/.382/.694, 12 HR, 29 R
Bobby Abreu .350/.409/.612, 33 RBI
Melky Cabrera .368/.405/.604, 10 2B, 3 3B
Shelley Duncan .314/.385/.743 (5 HR in 39 PA)
Wilson Betemit 5 for 14 (HR, 6 RBI, 3 R, BB)
Wil Nieves 4 for 11 (4 2B, 4 RBI, 4 R, 4 K)

Counting stats listed for Cano, Matsui, and Abreu are team bests over the last 28 games.

Duds:

Andy Phillips .279/.309/.356
Miguel Cairo 1 for 8 (2B, 2 BB, 3 K, SB)
Jose Molina 2 for 11 (2B)

Johnny Damon hit .129/.333/.129 and was 1 for 2 on the bases through the first ten games after the break, then hit .371/.444/.532 and went 4 for 5 on the bases over the final 20. He played in nine of those first ten games, but only 15 of the last 20, and his hot-hitting began after his first game off of that stretch. Of course, that game was game one of the double header against Tampa Bay on July 21, so Damon didn't really get a day off as he played in the nightcap, but the obvious conclusion is that Damon is more productive when given regular rest, which is exactly how Joe Torre has been using him over the past three weeks.

One wonders if the presense of Wilson Betemit should prompt Torre to start giving Derek Jeter additional days off as well. Jeter hit .338/.377/.477 with four stolen bases in as many tries over the first 15 games of the cupcake schedule, but just .234/.345/.340 with one steal in two tries since then, picking up just three extra base hits in his last 60 plate appearances. Jeter played in all 28 cupcake games, starting 27 of them.

Alex Rodriguez hit .278/.412/.630 through and including the game in which he hit career home run number 499. He then endured an 0-for-19 slump (though he did walk six times, twice intentionally, and was once hit by a pitch). Since snapping that slump two games before hitting number 500, he's hit .348/.414/.522.

Rotation: Here's where I start to worry. The Yankees only received a quality start in half of the last 28 games. Of the four primary starters, Andy Pettitte was the only one not to have a disaster outing (more runs allowed than innings pitched). Indeed, per the stats below, Pettitte, not Chien-Ming Wang, has been the Yankee ace in the second half. Admittedly, Wang's fluky disaster outing against the Blue Jays on Wednesday soured his numbers considerably, but even before that game, Pettitte had a better ERA over six starts than Wang had over five (though Wang did lead Pettitte in WHIP).

Andy Pettite 6 GS, 4 QS, 3.29 ERA, 4-1, 8.69 K/9, 3.76 BB/9, HR, 1.49 WHIP
Chien-Ming Wang 6 GS, 4 QS, 5.66 ERA, 4-2, 4.89 K/9, 2.31 BB/9, 0 HR, 1.57 WHIP
Roger Clemens 6 GS, 3 QS, 4.45 ERA, 2-2, 5.57 K/9, 2.51 BB/9, HR, 1.42 WHIP
Mike Mussina 5 GS, 3 QS, 4.76 ERA, 3-1, 5.72 K/9, 2.22 BB/9, 3 HR, 1.62 WHIP
Kei Igawa 3 GS, 0 QS, 5.74 ERA, 0-1, 10.34 K/9, 5.17 BB/9, 4 HR, 1.91 WHIP

Phil Hughes and Matt DeSalvo both made one start, neither did particularly well.

The x-factor here, of course, is Phil Hughes. Based on his one start after coming back off the DL, Hughes simply needs to build up his endurance, as he appeared to tire very quickly. If Hughes can start giving the Yankees quality starts out of the fifth spot in the rotation (something that spot failed to do in five tries over the last 28 games), it would not only help the Yankees' chances of winning every fifth day, but would also reduce the bullpen's workload, increasing the Yankees' chances of winning on days the other four starters take the ball.

Bullpen: The Yankee bullpen posted a 3.74 ERA over the last 28 games, but if you factor in unearned runs that number jumps to 4.55, which means this pen has been allowing a run every other inning. That's a problem. The good news is that, as with Cairo and Igawa above, some of the worst offenders have been shown the door.

The Good:

Mariano Rivera 11 G, 0.00 ERA, 6 SV, 12.75 K/9, 0 BB, 0 HR, 0.58 WHIP
Luis Vizcaino 16 G, 1.13 ERA, 4-0, 9.00 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, HR, 0.69 WHIP

The Bad:

Brian Bruney 11 G, 7 1/3 IP, 7.36 ERA, 6.14 K/9, 6.15 BB/9, 0 HR, 1.77 WHIP
Scott Proctor 7 G, 6 2/3 IP, 5.40 ERA, 4.05 K/9, 6.75 BB/9, 4 HR, 2.70 WHIP
Jeff Karstens 2 G, 6 1/3 IP, 7.11 ERA, 4.26 K/9, 4.26 BB/9, 1 HR, 1.74 WHIP
Kyle Farnsworth 11 G, 11 IP, 5.73 ERA, 6.55 K/9, 4.91 BB/9, 4 HR, 1.64 WHIP

Farnsworth is still around, but at least he's being used in low leverage situations now, such as with his team down 11 runs as was the case on Wednesday when he threw just his seventh 1-2-3 inning of the season (in 48 tries). Karstens most recent failure came in the finale of the Toronto series, so I'm holding out hope that he'll be replaced on the roster in the very near future.

Conclusion: Great hitting, questionable pitching. That's not how you beat good teams. Beginning with the promotion of Shelley Duncan on July 21, the Yankees have upgraded their bench (replacing Kevin Thompson, Miguel Cario, Wil Nieves and Chris Basak with Duncan, Wilson Betemit, Jose Molina, and Jason Giambi), their rotation (with the return of Hughes), and their bullpen (mostly addition by subtraction thus far, though Joba Chamberlain looked extremely promising in his one appearance in Toronto). The latter two will have to result in significant improvement, however, if the Yankees want to stay in the playoff hunt over the next 20 games.

Comments
2007-08-10 06:16:20
1.   ny2ca2dc
re: Karstens & the pen, this from Kepner's Notebook article:

RETURN FOR RAMíREZ Reliever Edwar Ramírez could be called up again as early as Friday. Ramírez earned a save for Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday. Since the Yankees demoted him last month, he has allowed 1 earned run in 10 2/3 innings with 17 strikeouts.

2007-08-10 06:57:24
2.   tommyl
Hmmm...wouldn't it be cool if they swapped Ramirez and Britton for Karstens and Brower?
2007-08-10 07:31:00
3.   rsmith51
2 A fan can dream, can't he?
2007-08-10 07:43:39
4.   OldYanksFan
I'm not sure why people think Ramirez is the answer. His change is devastating and I think he can be effective. But I don't think he is a Highes or Joba is terms of being able to possibly offer instant quality appearances.

I want him here and he will help, but I think maybe we expect too much. I believe he will need to develop another quality pitch so MLB batters don't sit on the changeup.

2007-08-10 07:48:16
5.   Knuckles
I think it's put up or shut up time regarding this team, as they head into the meat of their second half. Having Brower on the roster for a day or two made sense, if only to get him eligible for the postseason, but keeping him around at the expense of a logjam of better relievers in SWB is the height of stupidity, even moreso if the reasoning is, "Joe will use Brower, but won't use ____ because of his inexperience."

Just as Cashman took some favorite toys away from Joe in Cairo and Proctor, he needs to dump the scrubs out of the bullpen ASAP. Edwar at this stage of the game, is Joba without the 1st Round pedigree; such has been his complete domination of MiL hitters. Karstens still has upside, but he's coming back from a broken leg, and should probably be starting somewhere, to make sure his YoY innings increase continues, rather than sitting around waiting to be the sacrificial lamb every time a Yankee starter spits the bit (too often lately.)

Matchups for the weekend:

Philthy vs Carmona:
Moose vs Byrd:
Pettitte vs Westbrook:

We should win Sunday. If Phil or Moose can pitch well enough to keep the Tribe in check, then this series is winnable. Cleveland is a tough team- they've been shut down by some average pitchers or late, but have also beat some good ones.
Carmona has been lights out in the second half- not allowing more than 3 ER in any of his last 7 starts (and 11 of his last 12). He does give up some walks, so if the Yanks can force him to burn 100 pitches through 6, rather than 8 innings as he often goes, they have a shot.

2007-08-10 07:51:14
6.   Shaun P
4 Why not? Edwar has dominated AAA just as much as Joba and Hughes did. He can survive on the changeup and a decent fastball (which he already has). And the element of surprise may work in his favor. (1) How many relievers do you know of that rely on a changeup as their out pitch (outside of Hoffman and Gagne)? I can't think of any others; hitters aren't used to it. (2) Imagine hitters who get used to Joba's fastball/slider then having to come in and deal with Edwar's changeup (or vice versa).
2007-08-10 08:12:49
7.   cult of basebaal
4 you mean like how hitters are sitting on Trevor Hoffman's change and beating him around like a red-headed stepchild???
2007-08-10 08:18:04
8.   Raf
4 The reason Ramierez is a short reliever is because he only has one quality pitch. That's all he needs in his current role. If he's starting, or the long man, then I could see the need for a second "quality" pitch. But for what he is now, a changeup-fastball combo will suffice
2007-08-10 08:20:09
9.   Knuckles
7 Howzat? I see a 15 year career with an ERA+ of 151, and a WHIP of 1.03, and even better numbers than that for 2007. If you're going to judge every pitcher on their most recent appearance, then we should DFA Wang now.
2007-08-10 08:22:02
10.   cult of basebaal
i think that the key will be edwar's command of his fastball, if he can command the fastball enough to get ahead without having to come over the heart of the plate (ie, if he can spot his fastball well enough), he will be very successful with only his changeup as an out pitch, especially since he can also pitch backwards (throwing the change to get ahead) often enough to keep batters guessing early in the count

essentially this is how hoffman pitches and at this stage, edwar throws about 3-4 mph on average with his fastball, though i would say hoffman has more consistent control and command with that pitch

2007-08-10 08:23:00
11.   cult of basebaal
9 4 was sarcasm, forgot the tags
2007-08-10 08:23:32
12.   cult of basebaal
10 should be edwar throws "harder" than hoffman ...
2007-08-10 08:24:29
13.   cult of basebaal
aargh ... that was 7 that was sarcastic ... me typee gud sumdays
2007-08-10 08:25:46
14.   yankz
7 That's a great simile.

Those pitchers's WHIPs are unseemly.

2007-08-10 08:26:11
15.   yankz
Wow, I just typed pitchers's. Pitcherzis.
2007-08-10 08:31:40
16.   Matty B
It should be noted that the Yankees did sweep the Indians once this year already, albeit was in April with a noticeably different team. However, this is definitely something positive to think about as this weekend's series approaches.
2007-08-10 08:54:52
17.   NJYankee41
4 I don't think anyone here believes Edwar is going to tear up the record books, but it's not unreasonable to think that him and Britton can be better options than Karstens and Brower. No one said he's THE ANSWER. And even if people are excited for him, who cares? He has some promise and he's easy to root for.
2007-08-10 08:58:49
18.   Shaun P
15 You obviously like adding the letter "z" to words. ;)

This might be the "hard" part of the schedule for the Yanks, but I wonder how hard it will be. Vs the Indians, the Yanks see one of their best starters (Carmona), a so-so starter (Byrd), and one who's been awful (Westbrook). Similar pattern with the O's - one of their best (Guthrie), a so-so (Cabrera), and one's who's been awful (Burres). With Detroit, the Yanks face Verlander, but also get to tee off on Durbin, Robertson, and Bonderman (8.50 ERA in 6 starts post ASB).

2007-08-10 09:02:26
19.   Count Zero
10 Agree 100%. Especially when the other guys people will be seeing a lot of (Viz and Joba) have completely different looks. If only we could have Britton in the mix too...

IMHO, what we've done here is roll the dice. We weren't going to make the playoffs with the pen we had, and veteran help (aka Gagne) was too expensive. So we're going to use Mo and Viz as anchors to a pen of unknown quantities with high potential. If Joba, Edwar and possibly Britton come up Aces and Kings -- this team might have what it takes to go all the way despite some shakiness in the rotation. If the kids come up as fives and eights, well then the Yanks likely miss the playoffs same as they would have with the original pen.

2007-08-10 09:24:48
20.   RIYank
18 Yeah, if you look at what Detroit has done recently, and esp. against Tampa Bay, they don't seem like they're a 'tough part'.
I expect we'll have trouble with Cleveland, esp. Carmona.
2007-08-10 09:25:45
21.   OldYanksFan
Steve at WW has a blurb about the Yankees lack of offense when facing good pitching. SG at RLYW carried it out further, and arrived at the same conclusion. Check out SGs stuff.

This might be cause for some alarm with our schedule ahead, and in the PS.

Read what SG says and voice your opinion.
And if it's true, any thoughts to why?
There are other very good hitters around the league who appear to be less effected by good pitching.

Is our approach wrong?
Is it something that can be corrected?

2007-08-10 09:28:15
22.   RIYank
19 It's too bad Gagne was so expensive. Already, in only two weeks with the Red Sox, he's pitched three full innings, giving up just two runs and six hits plus a walk. I guess if you want a legit 'closer', you have to pay the high price.
2007-08-10 09:42:12
23.   Schteeve
21 My hypothesis is that good pitchers throw more strikes early in the count. The Yankees kick ass when pitchers are forced to throw meatballs because they are consistently behind in the count.

Pitchers with good stuff who throw strikes to the corners early in counts, accomplish two things that tend to foil the Yankees lineup:

1) They don't walk a lot of guys (Lower team OBP, fewer opportunities to score runs)
2) They don't get into a lot of hitters counts.

Perhaps, against better pitchers, the Yankees need to be more agressive early in counts, and not wait for the 2-0, 3-1 pitches that are never going to come.

Again, that's just a hypothesis, based solely on my observation of games. I haven't looked at any numbers to see if it holds water.

2007-08-10 09:43:01
24.   markp
Nice write up Cliff.

In re Yanks vs good starters, that's obviously too small of a sample. I do have a question, though: did we face any other "good" starters over that span? If so, how did we do against them?

2007-08-10 09:43:51
25.   yankz
21 Some of the comments in the RLYW thread attack your questions. I think it's plausible that the Yankees feast on lesser pitchers who don't throw as many strikes. Then they have to change their gameplan when they face a guy who does.
2007-08-10 09:44:21
26.   Schteeve
22 So Gagne has a 2.22 WHIP and a 6.0 ERA with the Sox? Man I wish we had locked that guy up.
2007-08-10 09:51:51
27.   RIYank
26 Yes. And, just as important, at this rate he'll be able to give them another ten or twelve innings this season!
2007-08-10 09:52:35
28.   RZG
21 Except for teams that succeed against certain individual pitchers (like the Yanks used to beat Pedro) ALL teams struggle against good pitchers - that's why they're considered good pitchers.

It's more important your own pitchers bring their game "up" in these situations than hope to do well against the other pitchers.

The Yanks didn't lose against Detroit last year in the playoffs because they didn't hit well against good pitchers, they lost because their pitchers didn't pitch decently and gave up leads.

2007-08-10 10:06:16
29.   RIYank
28 The point of the RLYW entry is that the Yankees fall off much more against good pitchers than the league does in general. (In fact, the Yanks hit below the rest of the league against good pitching.)

Also, having your hitters do well against the opponents' good pitchers is exactly as important as having your own pitchers pitch well when the other team's do. I'm pretty sure. ;-)

2007-08-10 10:32:19
30.   EricSanSan
I know this is a bit off-topic, but has anyone heard anything concerning Dellin Betances' injury from a few weeks ago? I know he went to an MRI and nothing came up, but is he rehabbing at this point? Just wondering if anybody had any new info?
2007-08-10 10:39:24
31.   Zack
30 over at Riveraveblues.com they had a piece maybe yesterday saying that he is hoping to start pitching again fairly soon...
2007-08-10 10:44:51
32.   rconn23
The bullpen needs another arm. Edwar has potential but he has attained Colter Bean like status among bloggers, and for all we know, he may not be much better than the Beaner.

My suggestion is that Cashman make a deal through the waiver wire to get another arm, if a quality arm is avaiable.
I really thought that Cash should have tried to acquire Troy Percival. I heard he was available and he would have likely been much cheaper than Gagne.

Check his stats and his numbers have been on par with Gagne this year. Yes, he's old and an injury risk, but certainly no more of an injury risk than Gagne. That's a lost opportunity if you ask me.

2007-08-10 10:50:43
33.   Shaun P
23 "Perhaps, against better pitchers, the Yankees need to be more agressive early in counts, and not wait for the 2-0, 3-1 pitches that are never going to come."

Ack! No! I couldn't disagree more. The last thing the Yanks need to do against good pitchers is start swinging at the first pitch. Remember Game 6 of the '03 Serious and Games 5 and 6 of the '04 ALDS (among countless others)? That is exactly the kind of behavior that gets the Yanks into trouble.

21 et al - Take a look at that list of pitchers again:

Roy Halladay
Scott Kazmir
Mark Buehrle
Kelvim Escobar
Josh Beckett
John Lackey
Johan Santana
Erik Bedard
Danny Haren
Daisuke Matsuzaka

They might face four of those guys one time each over the next 22 games (Escober, Lackey, Beckett and Dice-K) - so no worries here.

Note too that 4 of those 10 are lefties, whom the Yanks have trouble with in general, good pitcher or not. That gives me a little less confidence in the results, because it decreases the sample size even further.

2007-08-10 10:52:31
34.   DadinIowa
IMO, the best way to help the bullpen is to get rid of Farnsworth. He is just taking up a spot, whose intangibles "appear" to be a negative influence. Any one of a number of arms in SWB could not do worse as a replacement.
2007-08-10 10:59:27
35.   pistolpete
34 Ah, but how?
2007-08-10 11:03:03
36.   DadinIowa
Even though it won't happen, you end up saving money and a roster spot by trading for a bag o'balls and eat as much of his salary as need be. Otherwise, you pay all of his salary while he sits and prevents a (hopefully) better reliever from pitching.
2007-08-10 11:16:58
37.   seamus
"Here's where I start to worry. The Yankees only received a quality start in half of the last 28 games."

I've taken issue with this issue before, but I want to point out, the most teams have less than a 50% Quality Start rate. 50% isn't tops in the league, but it is better than league average.

As a team, over the season, our QS % is well below 50% (51 in 114 games), so we actually are achieving better now than we have on average over the season (though I should point out that APril throws off the season stats a bit).

2007-08-10 11:19:56
38.   seamus
btw, Carmona has the 2nd best QS rate in baseball.
2007-08-10 11:40:12
39.   Shaun P
37 That makes sense, given that the average ERA in the AL is 4.48, and you figure that number will be a little higher for starters.

OH, and the Yanks have finally leapfrogged Detroit into 4th place overall in BP's Postseason Odds:

Red Sox - 99.08331
Angels - 79.93022
Indians - 70.65519
Yanks - 56.16766
Detroit - 46.29768
Seattle - 37.17508

(No other team has overall odds greater than 5.81113, which is the Twins' overall odds.)

2007-08-10 11:42:47
40.   ChrisS
32 Not for nothing, but Colter Bean's numbers are nothing like Edwar's utter dominance of mL hitters. There's no reason to keep him down there except to get regular work in. Could he suck? Yeah, but we already know Farnsworth and Villone suck.

He's not the answer, but he could be an answer.

2007-08-10 11:50:18
41.   Cliff Corcoran
37 Yes, but you're talking league average and I'm talking about a wanna-be playoff team playing the worst teams in the league. They should have done better than 50% quality starts.
2007-08-10 11:54:59
42.   seamus
41 but that is just the point, we weren't league average. I think it is important to not overestimate how good our pitching staff has to be.

Though I do agree that Wang concerns me as he hasn't looked dominant in a while in my opinion. He has been good enough to scrap through most days, but...

2007-08-10 12:20:05
43.   Sliced Bread
Quite the reality check, Cliff. Thanks for the quality info and analysis.

Here's a few more cupcake crumbs.

Over the last 30 days:

- Yanks team ERA of 4.43 is 8th in the AL.

- 9 AL teams gave up fewer runs.

- Only the White Sox surrendered more hits over that span.

- Yanks tied with Detroit for 11th/12th worst WHIP in AL.

However, Yanks pitchers managed to rack up 202 Ks during the cupcake stretch, tops in the league over the last 30 days.

The Yanks pitching shouldn't scare anybody at this point, but it's a serviceable arsenal of arms.

The way the Yanks have been hitting nobody in the league scares me.

Bring on the Wahoos, and let's keep rollin'!

2007-08-10 12:36:47
44.   cult of basebaal
i'm tonite's game right now ...

6 innings for Phil, 2 innings for The Jobanator, 1 for Mo and 1 win for the Yanks ...

2007-08-10 12:37:28
45.   cult of basebaal
that's "i'm calling tonite's game ..."

doh!

2007-08-10 13:49:20
46.   Chyll Will
!Joba!
2007-08-10 13:50:21
47.   Raf
So my co-worker asked me about my opinion of the Clemens suspension, obviously trying to bait me (he's a Mets fan).

Told him it wasn't a big deal. Since Clemens' suspension is only 5 days, that only means that he'll have an extra day's rest. Even less of a deal, if he doesn't travel with the team. As for Torre, it only means he'll be managing from the runway instead of the dugout.

In other words, no big deal :)

2007-08-10 14:21:57
48.   Marcus
47 I just don't get "baseball justice". Not that it really matters in the end because no one got seriously hurt and, as you say, it makes really no difference for Clemens, but the Jays clearly, intentionally threw at A-Rod one day (no warnings) and hit him the next. And the Yankees get the suspensions. The Clemens suspension makes more sense than the Torre one, because you know Gibbons had his fingerprints all over this.

This is all over and done with, of course, and I apologize for bringing it up again, but it's more a criticism of the system. I don't think the Yankees are being singled out here. It's just silly that the Jays get off with a couple of token (undisclosed) fines. If MLB wants this type of stuff to stop, you can't just punish the retaliators.

2007-08-10 14:48:32
49.   standuptriple
48 That's why I (among many, many others) have said, bean first or don't bean at all. Or something similar to that. But Roger did it the right way, in the back. I'd like to see the Yanks strike first blood (so to speak) the next time they face each other.

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