Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Close But No Cigar
2005-08-02 19:37
by Cliff Corcoran

Despite droping the opening game of their series in Cleveland 6-5, the Yankees should feel good about the way they played last night. Everyone but Al Leiter that is.

Leiter was up to his usual tricks, but to a disastrous degree. He threw 21 pitches in the first inning, allowing a run on a Jhonny Peralta double that wedged in between the warning track and the padding of the left field wall and a Victor Martinez RBI single. He then threw 34 pitches in the second, walking Aaron Boone with one out, then walking ninth-place hitter Jason Dubois (who, along with first baseman Jose Hernandez, got the start with the left-handed Leiter on the mound). That brought up lead-off man Grady Sizemore who singled Boone home to make it 2-0 Indians.

The Yankees got one back when Cleveland starter Scott Elarton floated a 2-0 breaking ball to Tino Martinez to start the third and Tino deposited it in the right field stands.

Then came the bottom of the third. Having thrown 55 pitches through the first two innings, Leiter started the third with three balls to lead-off hitter Jhonny Peralta, then proceeded to walk the bases loaded, finishing the job with a four-pitch walk to Hernandez. He then got ahead of Ronnie Belliard (who's a dead ringer for a younger, smaller Manny Ramirez, by the way) 0-2 only because Belliard fouled off three balls before taking a fourth. Leiter's fifth pitch to Belliard was high and over the inside part of the plate and Belliard tatooedit into left for a a bases-clearing double to make it 5-1 Indians and drive Leiter from the game.

Leiter's final line was a hideous 2 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 2 K, 5 BB with just 53 percent of his 78 pitches going for strikes. After the game, Leiter talked about his lack of confidence in his fastball (though not in those words, saying instead "I don't have an overpowering fastball" then apparently tring to convince himself that that was okay) and his refusal to "give in" to the hitter, the plate and the umpire. Throughout his conversation with YES's Kim Jones, Leiter seemed to be trying to convince himself that he still had something left to offer, but appeared unable to do so.

With Leiter having recorded just six outs, Joe Torre turned to Scott Proctor, who retired three men in order on eleven pitches to end the third, then retired the top three batters in the Cleveland order on ten pitches in the fourth. After a full-count homer by Victor Martinez to start the fifth, Proctor then allowed just two singles over the remainder of the fifth and sixth innings. All totalled, it was the longest outing of his young major league career, and quite nearly a game-saving performance. Perhaps best of all, following Leiter's outing in which he walked a full third of the batters he faced, the frequently wild Proctor didn't walk anyone, throwing 64 percent of his 59 pitches for strikes.

With Proctor having stalled the Indian offense, the Yankees began to chip away. With one out, Gary Sheffield creamed a 2-2 pitch off the foul line high up on the left field wall of Jacobs Field only to have it take a Fenway Park bounce right to left fielder Coco Crisp who was able to hold Sheffield, who momentarily watched what he thought was a solo homer, to a single. On the very next pitch, Alex Rodriguez picked up his teammate by clearing that same left field wall, and, curiously, also admiring his shot for a momement before circling the bases to cut the Indians' lead in half.

In the seventh, Eric Wedge tempted fate once again by brining in Arthur Rhodes. Rhodes promply gave up a clean single to Posada. He then snagged a hot shot back through the box by Tino Martinez only to rush his throw to second, despite Posada being nowhere near second base, short arming it and sending the ball tailing toward the first base side of the bag, away from both middle infielders, turning a would-be double play into runners at the corners with no outs. Bernie Williams then hit for Tony Womack--who was rewarded for his game-winning hit on Sunday with the start last night and went 0 for 2--and popped out. Derek Jeter followed with a grounder off the left side of the pitcher's mound that knocked Rhodes on his keester and bounded to short for an RBI fielder's choice to make it 6-4. Rhodes then struck out Robinson Cano on a pitch that was several inches outside but pulled back into the zone by Victor Martinez for a stolen called strike three to end the inning.

Wedge then turned to Bobby Howry in the eighth only to replace him with lefty Scott Sauerbeck after Gary Sheffield reached second on a single and a groundout. Matsui, who has actually been murdering lefty pitching this year (.349/.384/.627, .330 GPA), only managed to ground Sheffield over to third, but it would be enough as Sauerbeck's first two pitches to Giambi were wild. The first, low and away, did not get far away enough from catcher Victor Martinez to get Sheffield home, but the second, intended to be a breaking ball, floated several feet above and behind Giambi going all the way to the backstop. The ball actually ricocheted right back to Martinez, who threw to Sauerbeck covering home in time to catch the charging Sheffield, but Sheff made a perfect slide, staying low and away from the play, to run the score to 6-5.

With Felix Rodriguez and Tom Gordon having pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings respectively (the former thanks to a nice pick of a hot shot near second base by Jeter that turned into an easy double play to erase a five-pitch lead off walk), the Yankees were in position to complete their third comeback in as many games.

With Cleveland closer Bob Wickman on to close it out, Jorge Posada scorched the first pitch of the ninth into the glove of Jose Hernandez at first. Tino then got ahead 3-1 only to top an off-speed pitch to second for a ground out. Getting a similar pitch from Wickman, Bernie, knowing what to expect, lined it off the left field wall for a double that put the tying run on second. Derek Jeter followed by getting ahead 3-1 only to poke a game-ending groundout to second off the end of his bat.

Close, but no cigar.

A couple of random notes from the game:

  • Don't look now, but Jhonny Peralta could be the next great American League shortstop. After having been rushed as a 21-year-old rookie in 2003, Peralta, still just 23, is hitting .298/.357/.529 (.294 EQA) with a 112 rate in the field in his first full season.
  • Speaking of future of a position in the American League, every one--including the Indians, who put their money where their mouth is--was ready to anoint Victor Martinez AL catcher of the future after his .283/.359/.492 (.285 EQA) performance last year, but many of them were scared off when he was hitting just .212/.294/.341 in mid-June. Well since June 19, Martinez has hit .343/.416/.569 (.329 GPA) and he's now up to .268/.348/.444 (.268 GPA) on the season, which puts him hot on Joe Mauer's heels (.298/.374/.433 - .277 GPA)
  • Jason Giambi creamed three pitches last night. One was a upper deck foul home run. The other two he got under, turning them into towering fly outs to right. His swing looks as powerful as I've seen it since the first half of 2003.
  • In addition to Matsui, the other lefties in the Yankee line-up are holding their own against their own kind. Robinson Cano, after struggling against southpaws earlier in the year, is now hitting .293/.341/.373 (.248 GPA) agaist the wrong-handed, which exchanges some power for more patience than he has shown against righties. Jason Giambi meanwhile is weaker across the board against portsiders, but is still hitting .256/.383/.513 (.301) against them. Tony Womack has actually faired better against lefties across the board (though everything's relative with Mowack). Tino Martinez, however, has a mere .208 GPA against lefties (which is of course almost exaclty Tony Womack's "better against lefties" GPA).
  • I've always had mixed feelings about Jorge Posada. I find him to be tremendously likeable as an individual. He was the best offensive catcher in the American League from 2000 to 2004. Yet, I've never had a huge amount of faith in him in clutch situations and his defense absolutely infuriates me. Cheif among my complaints about Posada has been his refusal to block the plate, a shortcoming that reared it's head in the sixth game of the current season:
    With Paul Quantrill on in relief of Tanyon Sturtze . . . the Orioles have the bases loaded and one out. Jay Gibbons lifts a fly out to Gary Sheffield in medium right field and Miguel Tejada decides to tag and come home. Sheffield fires a strike to home plate in plenty of time to catch Tejada but, as is his wont, Posada catches the ball on the first-base side of home instead of on top of it and misses Tejada, who comes in with a nice evasive head-first slide, when lunging back for the tag. Here's hoping Joe Girardi had a few words with Posada about this play.

    Indeed, one of the reasons I had so welcomed the idea of Joe Girardi becoming the Yankee bench coach was that I had hoped that he would break Posada of his fear of blocking the plate, as I wrote in the comments to that post:

    In 1994, Posada's first year at triple-A Columbus and his third as a catcher, Jorge suffered a broken left leg and a dislocated left ankle in a collision at the plate (you can deduce from the injuries that he had blocked the plate with his left leg while receiving the throw), which ended his season six weeks early.

    According to "Though he recovered from the physical damage of the injury, the psychological imapact stayed with him for years. Never before shy about blocking the dish, he became hesitant to put himself in harm's way with a runner bearing down the line."

    On a certain level it makes sense, the Yankees can more easily afford to give up an extra run in the sixth game of the season then they can to be without Posada in the line-up for a prolonged stretch. At the same time, such injuries are very rare, and he not only fails to block the plate in meaningless mid-season games, but in key games and the playoffs as well.

    What really gets me, is that if he's not going to block the plate, he should catch the ball, behind the plate, not in front of it. It's the exact same thing as taking the ball behind second on a stolen base attempt. No human can make a swipe tag as quickly as the ball is already moving. Let the ball's velocity do the work, catch the ball behind the bag.

    At any rate, with Joe Girardi in the house on yesterday's play at the plate, I'm hoping we'll see something different the next time such a play occurs.

    Then, in a 6-3 victory over the Red Sox on May 27, Posada blocked the plate twice in one inning:

    With one run already home to make it 3-1 Sox, one out, and men on first and second, Edgar Renteria singled to left. Dale Svuem, the much maligned Boston third base coach, sent Bellhorn home from second. Womack delivered a sharp one-hop throw to the plate that bounced in a way to put Posada in perfect position to block the plate, which he did, hitting Bellhorn with and elbow and the ball as he tried to slide around the Yankee catcher. Two outs.

    Let me repeat that. Jorge Posada blocked the plate!


    Although there was not a significant collision between Posada and Bellhorn, Jorge looked somewhat shaken after the play. In his defense, I'm sure he has a legitimate and deep-rooted fear of home plate collisions because of that minor league injury. But then something even more amazing happened.

    Womack's throw had bounced in such a way that Jorge had almost no choice but to block the plate. But then the next batter, David Ortiz, hit a single up the middle that Robinson Cano was able to stop behind second base, but unable to come up with cleanly. As the ball trickled away from Cano, Svuem sent Damon (who had moved to second on the Renteria single) home. Cano scrambled after the ball and fired a low one-hopper home which Posada fielded and then again set-up to block the plate. With no where to go, Damon made a half-assed attempt to go over Posada's left shoulder only to get tagged out for the third out of the inning.

    What would turn out to be Randy Johnson's last inning of work on the night went: ground out, double, single, single, single, single. But the Red Sox only scored one run thanks to a strong throw by Womack, impressive range and heads-up play by Cano, and Jorge Posada blocking the plate twice in one inning.

    Since then it's become clear that Girardi did indeed correct this glaring flaw in Posada's defensive game. I bring this up now because last night in the first inning, with Peralta charging home on Victor Martinez's single, Posada again blocked the plate.

    Unfortunately, his doing so didn't result in an out. Although the throw from Matsui beat Peralta to the plate, it bounced in front of Posada and kicked off his chest protector. Posada still had time to grab the ball to force out Peralta, who was coming straight for him, but, still displaying a nervousness about being in the runner's path, Posada looked up at Peralta as he began his slide and lost track of the ball. A lot of fans might criticize Posada for failing to make that play, but considering that it's been just a few months since he started blocking the plate at all, I'm willing to give him a pass. Still, it's sad to think that Posada may finally be fixing this essential part of his defensive game at a point in his career when his offensive production looks to be slipping.

2005-08-02 22:42:48
1.   jdasilva
The non-block I remember from Posada was in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series. With the score 1-0, Posada stayed as far away from the plate as possible on a throw home. Now, I don't know if the runner would have been safe anyway. But he had absolutely no obstacle toward home, and in a series where Beckett was absolutely unhittable, that 2nd run basically ended things right there.
2005-08-02 23:02:24
2.   Cliff Corcoran
Ah yes, I remember it well. Here's how I described it on the BRB:

"Then the top of the fifth. With two outs, Alex Gonzalez singles. Juan Pierre falls behind 1-2 then singles himself, putting runners on first and second and bringing Luis Castillo to the plate. Andy gets two quick strikes on Castillo, who then fouls off the next two pitches. After a pair of balls brings the count even at 2-2, Castillo lines a single into right. Ozzie Guillen sends Gonzalez home and Karim Garcia fires to the plate. Garcia's throw is strong and fairly accurate, but it tails slightly toward foul territory on the first-base side. Posada, who has an infuriating habit of playing in front of the plate and making sweeping tags, rather than blocking the plate, has somewhat of an excuse this time as that is really the only place that he can field Garcia's throw. No matter, the throw beats Gonzalez to the plate, but, as Jorge spins to put the tag on him, Gonzalez slides to the right of the plate, just out of Posada's reach, and touches home with his hand once he's almost past the dish. DiMaggio would have been proud. 1-0 Marlins."

2005-08-02 23:17:46
3.   Rich
Posada's play this season underscores how mindlessly short-sighted it was to trade Navarro. His heir apparent must be identified over the winter. Ideally, they also neeed to acquire a back up, whether or not that player is his eventual successor, who can play 50 games. Perhaps reducing Posada's playing time can reignite his offense. His defense is what it is.
2005-08-03 04:40:25
4.   jdrennan
Can someone please explain the "Scouting Report" reference to Mark Leiter during last night's broadcast of the game?
2005-08-03 05:11:07
5.   rbj
I started cheering when Arthur Rhodes came into the game, we should've gotten more than one run off him. I guess Wedge didn't read the warning label.
2005-08-03 06:17:53
6.   Dan M
At this point I might prefer Mark Leiter.

Did any Indian swing and miss? I missed chunks of the first 2 innings, but it seemed like the Indians were able to foul off pitches at will. Seemed like evidence that he has nothing in the tank.

2005-08-03 06:18:29
7.   Dan M
Sorry, I meant swing and miss against Leiter.
2005-08-03 06:57:47
8.   rbj
Leiter (Al) is trying to nibble at the corners and get hitters to chase bad pitches. That's doable if you have a blazing fastball and can fool hitters. He doesn't, and can't. He needs to come up with a new game plan; until he shows that he can throw strikes nobody is going to swing at his pitches.
2005-08-03 07:28:54
9.   Alvaro Espinoza
Unfortunately, I missed the game last night. (In aristocratic voice): I had theatre tickets.

Few things infuriate me more when guys making $20 mil/year hit weak ground balls in favorable counts particularly when the pitcher isn't over-powering anybody. Sounds like Jeter did exactly that w/ the game on the line. Sigh...

2005-08-03 07:29:39
10.   Cliff Corcoran
jdrennan, I was going to mention the Mark Leiter thing, but it was so random that I couldn't even figure out how to include it in my post.

In a way it was a very Chris Farley moment: "And here's the scouting report on Al Leiter . . . Hey! Remember Mark Leiter? Mark Leiter is Al Leiter's brother. That was awesome."

Could also be a Harry Caray moment: "And here's the scouting report on Al Leiter . . . Hey! Remember Mark Leiter? Mark Leiter was Al Leiter's brother. I wonder how you say Leiter backwards."

2005-08-03 07:42:15
11.   Rich
From The Record:


At times, "I refuse to give in to the plate and in some cases, I don't give in to the umpire,'' Leiter said.

But plate ump Andy Fletcher didn't see enough strikes to widen the zone.

As a result, "We didn't have any sides of the plate, away or in,'' catcher Jorge Posada said.

2005-08-03 07:51:19
12.   Ben
I'm glad to hear Jorge is addressing this part of his game. I saw a game early this season, I think it was the throw from Sheffield in right, where he had the plate nicely blocked with his left leg, the throw came and he actually removed his blocking leg and tried for a swipe tag. I thought to myself, he can't help it. I'm sure he knows about blocking the plate, he even set up to do it, but at the last moment, some kind of spooked muscle memory took over and got him the fuck-out-of -the-way.

Reading now that he broke that leg in the minors makes a great deal of sense. Sounds like he was traumatized, which doesn't mean it was a terrible injury, just that he never really delt with the aftermath jitters. Glad to see he's tackling the problem now, both as a ball player and as a human being.

2005-08-03 08:24:50
13.   singledd
I, for one, am tired of HR trots turing into singles. Can these guys run (relatively) hard for the first 6 seconds to determine in a ball in still in play if not?

Am I imagining it, or is Jetes making a LOT of outs to end games. Anyone know his RISP?

Alex - I'm not sure how you can be happy with 6 hits against average pitching. We have average pitching (if that) and usually give up a lot more then 6 hits. 2 HRs, a very long single and Bernies blast were nice... but that was it.

When you add up these close loses, where our O could have turned it around, I see the Post Season fading away.

I am glad that Cashman did not give away the farm. I'm not conserned about CF. We can stand one Bubba-like guy in the lineup. But I am surprise we could not manage to get ONE above average pitcher (unless you consider Chicon above average). Pavano and Wright might help (if they ever play again this year), but it won't be enough unless our O can pour it in 3 out of 4 games.

National TV tonight.

2005-08-03 08:32:46
14.   aboveavg
Quick note:

Went to see the Nats play the Dodgers last night. Dioneer Navarro started @ catcher w/ Weaver starting. Of course Weaver pitched great, because thats what he does now. I hheard some good things about Dioneer and I was pissed that the Yanks traded him but I wasn't too impressed with his play last night. Three groundouts and a pop up to the outfield facing Loaiza and Gary Majewski. He did look pretty good on defense, saving a few wild pitches and showing a strong arm. Unfortunately one of his throws sailed into center field. Obviously a small sample, nerves could have played into it as well.

2005-08-03 08:40:06
15.   JVarghese81

Jeter's at .238 w/ RISP, which is actually a bit higher than where it was a little while ago.

Here's the rest of the team:

Posada (.218), Cano (.211) and Tino (.169) make up the bottom three, just below Jeter.

Also, I was actually impressed with what Proctor did for the time that he was out there. Who knows, maybe he can be better than I thought he was...which incidentally was pretty bad.

2005-08-03 08:48:38
16.   JohnnyC
"We can stand one Bubba-like guy in the lineup." Yes, but apparently Torre can't. Womack in 3 of the last 4 games. I'm beyond blaming Torre...he is what he is, which is "clueless." But Cashman has got to take control of the roster here. What is the point of not trading our prospects if the frigging manager won't play anyone under 35 anyway? It took dire circumstances for Cashman to impose Cano and Wang on Torre earlier this season. Apparently the "resurgence" of the team has emboldened Torre once more to play his "trust" games again. With the team hanging on for dear life in both the division and the wild card races, the man decides to "see what he can get out of Womack?" Puh-lease! Cash should call up Henn and force Torre to use him...his performance, good or bad, is more important to the longterm future of the Yankees (and, maybe, even short term future if he pitches better)than giving Al Leiter more opportunities to demonstrate his utter done-ness.
2005-08-03 08:55:21
17.   uburoisc
OK, I think I was wrong about Leiter. Perhaps he needs to follow Moyer and learn to just throw junk (with enough strikes tossed it) and drop the fastball he can't throw or get out. I hope the Red Sox do not get another look at him. He doesn't appear to have the control or the off-speed stuff to get batters out.
2005-08-03 09:44:50
18.   Shaun P
JohnnyC, I don't know if Torre is clueless or not, but I think there are TWO holes in the lineup. Not just CF, but also 1B whenever Giambi DHs and DH when Giambi is at 1B or isn't playing. (If Giambi's sitting, then its THREE holes, which is unacceptable.) Tino's recent solo HRs aside, since June 1 he's hit a Woemackian .178/.245/.367. Bernie's nice double aside, he's only doing somewhat better: .243/.341/.395 (since June 1). Given the amount of mostly-free talent around AAA, there's no way we should have games where our 1B/DH is "hitting" like Bernie and Tino have.

I love those guys, but its time to make Andy Phillips Giambi's 'partner' at 1B/DH. If the FO/Torre won't go with Phillips, then drudge up someone who they will play. (Ruben Sierra does not count.) Then it'll be OK to carry whomever in CF.

2005-08-03 10:56:21
19.   Cliff Corcoran
Shaun, I like the way you think. It's also worth mentioning that Giambi, both throughout his career and in 2005, is a vastly improved hitter when he plays the field, thus the upgrade to Tino's glove at first actually costs the Yankees runs by putting Giambi at DH where he tends to struggle.
2005-08-03 11:23:58
20.   Shaun P
Thanks Cliff, and you're right on about Giambi in the field (.350/.484/.683!!!) vs. DHing (.229/.416/.435). The most amazing part is that, as far as I can determine, Tino has not once started at DH this year - despite his glove not being what it once was (94 Rate2, -4 fielding runs above average), and Giambi's superior hitting when he plays first. Is Joe T just protecting Tino's fielding ego, or is he not aware of Tino's decline with the glove? Admittedly Giambi's fielding numbers aren't great (82 Rate2, -6 FRAR), but that 1.176 OPS as a 1B more than makes up for it.

Just for giggles, note while Tino hasn't started at DH once, he has been a pinch-runner three times. Okay . . .

2005-08-03 11:40:12
21.   Cliff Corcoran
As you point out, despite falling off considerably, Tino remains the superior defensive first baseman. The reason he's never DHed is likely that Torre is either unaware of Giambi's 1B/DH splits, or doesn't place any credence in them.

In his defense, before Giambi busted out it would have seemed undefensable to have started Giambi in the field in a game in which Tino was the DH. How, however, it's become clear that Giambi needs to play the field as often as he can without wearing down, defense be damned.

2005-08-03 11:58:30
22.   rilkefan
Could the Giambi 1b/DH effect just reflect a correlation between his improvement over the year and more 1b starts/non-replacements lately?
2005-08-03 12:02:34
23.   rbj
I think you don't DH Tino, because you'll need him as the late-inning-defensive-replacement-when-the-game-is-close.
At least, I'm assuming that that's Torre's reasoning.
2005-08-03 12:21:05
24.   Cliff Corcoran
Andy Phillips is also on hand to play 1B, though I think Shaun and I would rather see Andy get the DH start and Tino be the defensive replacement.

Rilke, that is certainly a factor, he hit his way into more 1B starts rather than the other way around, but this is a trend Giambi has exhibited throughout his career, proving that it's also much more than that.

2005-08-03 13:04:26
25.   Shaun P
I hadn't considered that, rbj - but you're probably right. Better to have Tino around for defense work in late innings. And I'm with Cliff - let Phillips play 1B, dammit.

rilkefan, just because, here are some numbers:

Giambi as 1B: .277/.441/.592/1.034 OPS
Giambi as DH: .220/.377/.452/.829 OPS

Giambi as 1B: .344/.461/.674/1.135 OPS
Giambi as DH: .271/.397/.489/.886 OPS

Giambi as 1B: .346/.482/.652/1.133 OPS
Giambi as DH: .316/.443/.737/1.180 OPS
*note Giambi only played 17G at DH this year

I seem to recall that Frank Thomas showing a similar split over time . . .

2005-08-03 13:05:19
26.   Shaun P
Err . . . let Phillips DH so Giambi can play 1B, so he continues his torried hitting, dammit . . . is what I meant.
2005-08-03 13:35:24
27.   rbj
Good thinking Shaun.
You can't use Phillips as a pinch hitter in an important situation if the guy hasn't seen live pitching in 2 weeks.
To borrow from Deadheads:
Let Phillips Play.
2005-08-03 14:01:32
28.   rilkefan
Shaun, I'm still not entirely convinced. First, I'd like to see the # of games in your above categories. Second, I'd like to know if he was at DH because of injury or other cause which might affect his fielding and hitting, or if he's given DH starts when seen to be in a bit of a slump in order to rest him then returned to 1B when he starts hitting better. Third, how about 2000 if 2001 doesn't give a good sample?
2005-08-03 14:25:30
29.   JohnnyC
That's not why we're losing games as mindlessly numbing as last night's. It's getting crappy starts and crappy relief outings that's killing us. We scored 5 runs last night. That should win you the vast majority of games...except we continur to give up more than 5 a game all too often. We need to stop wasting our time with the Al Leiters of the world. At some point someone is going to have to account for the dismal performance of our pitching staff the last 2+ seasons. Cleveland has the lowest bullpen ERA in the AL and they cart out league-average or worse pitchers such as Wickman, Howry, Rhodes, and Sauerbeck. And Jacobs Field is a hitters' park!
2005-08-03 15:52:26
30.   Knuckles
Shaun P-

Torre probably thinks Rate2 is the price of a loge level ticket, and FRAR (Tuck) is a character from Robin Hood.

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