Today’s news is powered by a vintage performance from the incomparable Dave Brubeck Quartet, appearing tonight at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan:
- Today, Will Carroll is offering a conversation with Tommy John, and the doctor responsible for saving John’s career, and thereafter the careers of numerous pitchers, Dr. Frank Jobe.
- Also at Baseball Prospectus, they examine the mortal nature of Mariano Rivera (article from last Friday):
The number in his performance so far this season that immediately jumps out is his home-run rate, which sits at 1.8 HR/9. You may think this is easily explained by his new digs, as Yankee Stadium II hasn’t exactly been on friendly terms with pitchers these past two months, but that’s not the case: Mo has three home runs allowed at home in 16 2/3 innings, and a pair on the road in about half as much work. Four of his five homers allowed have come on fly balls, though he isn’t giving up anymore of those than he usually does. Another source of worry is his BABIP, which sits at a career-high .336. It’s not necessarily the fault of the Yankees‘ defense—they are right around the league average in Defensive Efficiency. The problem might be better found in Rivera’s liner rate, which sits at 25.4 percent, nearly a double-digit increase over his career rate, and much higher than anything we have seen from him since this data was first recorded back in 2002. This also means that his ground-ball rate is at its lowest since that time, which isn’t what you want to see when the ball is leaving the yard this often.
Additional homers and plenty of line drives means that Rivera is throwing pitches that the opposition can hit, whether with his famous cutter or pitches identified as vanilla fastballs. Using published velocity data going back to 2002 up through 2008, courtesy of Fangraphs, Rivera has averaged at least 93 miles per hour on pitches described as pure fastballs and, at its lowest, 92.8 mph on those classified as cutters. However slender the real distinction between the two pitches may be, this year Rivera is at 91.6 and 91.2 mph; while it’s tough to pin an exact run value on that missing velocity, the drop does hint that those extra liners and home runs aren’t from mere luck. This also puts some context behind his falling infield fly rate, which went from last year’s impressive 24.5 percent down to his current 14.3; while many pitchers would love to get that many popups, for Rivera it contributes to why his HR/FB rate has jumped from 7.5 to nearly 24 percent.
Rivera is also throwing fewer first-pitch strikes; while 59.6 percent is still above the average, it’s below his career rate and his recent work by a few percentage points. He’s also generating fewer swings and misses—16 percent overall, and just 14 percent when he’s behind in the count. That’s a significant drop from the past two seasons, when he made opponents swing and miss on nearly one-quarter of his pitches, and even more than that while behind the hitter.
[My take: Nice to see some reasonably hard data behind what we’ve perceived with our eyes.]
- Still going with Baseball Prospectus, some minutia:
The Yankees did not lead at any time in four straight games against the Red Sox, on May 4-5 and on Tuesday and Wednesday, only the fourth time that has happened in the 107-year history of the series, and the first time since 1974.
- Brian Bruney will NOT be on Francisco Rodriguez’s holiday card list:
The friction between the players stems from Bruney’s unsolicited comments about Rodriguez on Saturday. Bruney said that he did not like the way the animated Rodriguez acts on the mound and called Rodriguez “embarrassing.”
When Rodriguez was informed of Bruney’s comments on Saturday, he blasted him and challenged Bruney to speak to him face to face.
“Don’t be sending a message to the media,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t even know who that guy is, somewhere in Double-A and not even pitching one full season. He’s always been on the D.L. That’s all I really know right now. He’d better keep his mouth shut and do his job, and not worry about somebody else.”
- Joba . . . meet Jorge . . . Jorge . . . this is Joba:
Saturday, Chamberlain said he lamented not throwing more fastballs. Still, he said wasn’t comfortable throwing pitches that he wasn’t fully on board with.
“You look at it as you want one thing, he wants another,” Chamberlain said. “But like I said, you have to throw it with conviction. That’s kind of the battle. He may see something. But even if he sees it, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to throw it. That may be the right pitch but you may not feel comfortable with it that day, or so on and so forth.”
The veteran Posada said his main goal on Friday was to speed up Chamberlain in hopes of pushing him into a better tempo.
“It’s just one of those days that he was wandering too much,” Posada said. “And I wanted him to speed up a little bit more.”
Instead, as the two went back and forth on which pitches to call, the game slowed and Chamberlain only found more trouble settling into a rhythm.
- A.J. Burnett . . . the early years:
A.J. Burnett was a hard-throwing but struggling young pitcher in the Mets’ farm system in February of 1998 when the team decided to include him in a trade with the Marlins for Al Leiter. The move netted the Mets an ace and, Burnett says, probably saved his own career.
Burnett, who spent the first three years of his career in the low levels of the Mets organization, was so frustrated with his wildness, inconsistency and slow progression through the system that he seriously considered quitting baseball after the 1997 season.
“If I hadn’t gotten traded, I probably would’ve retired,” said Burnett, who pitches today against Johan Santana. “That’s where I was at. After the trade, I talked it over with my dad and he sat me down and said, ‘You can do this.’ I gave it one more chance.”
- Speaking of Burnett, his suspension appeal will be heard Tuesday.
- Is the homer-happy Stadium making for walk-happy pitchers?:
The Yankees ranked second in the American League and fifth in the Majors with 246 walks issued entering play on Sunday, a luxury they cannot afford considering their home park has played much smaller than its predecessor.
“Walks are a big problem, and it’s been a big problem for us this year,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “It’s not like we have a staff that’s a real control staff, top to bottom, but we’re better than this. It’s a concern.”
With 85 home runs allowed in 556 2/3 innings pitched, Yankees hurlers have averaged 1.4 home runs allowed per nine innings, tying them with the Phillies and Orioles for the most in the big leagues.
“I am concerned about it, and it’s something that we need to change,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We talk about it all the time, about pounding the zone. We’ll continue to talk about it. You can’t walk people. The way this ballpark has played a lot of nights, you’d better not walk people.”
- Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte has scouts skeptical:
South Atlantic League history is strewn with right-handers who thrive with 87-mile-per-hour fastballs like Venditte’s. His left-handed stuff is roundly (if not flatteringly) described as slop. Just because it is all thrown by the same guy does not mean it will not get hammered at higher levels.
For all of Venditte’s novelty, his story is in other ways quite routine for the low minors. Great numbers. Bad stuff. We’ll see.
“I know I’m not a big prospect — I have to work my way into becoming someone who the organization sees as maybe one day helping the big club,” he said.
- The GM seems to think the Yankees have their pitching answers in-house:
The general manager said he didn’t have a sense of the trade market yet, with six weeks before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, but he said Sunday that the return of Brian Bruney from the disabled list Tuesday, plus the hoped-for revival of Chien-Ming Wang, would alleviate most of his concerns.
“If we fix ourselves,” Cashman said, “there might not be anything we need to do.”
He said he would run any proposals by general partner Hal Steinbrenner if it meant adding payroll.
Cashman said Wang’s start Wednesday against the Nationals would be a big factor in determining what happens next.
“We need Chien-Ming Wang,” Cashman said. “This is an important step. We know what he’s capable of. The velocity and the sink are there. Maybe his confidence isn’t there.”
- Bret Prinz turns 32 today. Prinz relieved allowed six homers and walked 17 in 30 innings for the Bombers in ’03 and ’04, before being dealt for Wil Nieves.
- Andy Pettitte turns 37 today. Pettitte has compiled a 184-104 record in his 12 seasons with the Yanks, along with a 13-8 post-season log.
- Ramiro Mendoza and Tony Clark also turn 37 today.
- Wade Boggs celebrates his 51st birthday today. Boggs amassed a line of .313/.396/.407 in 601 games for the Yanks from ’93 to ’97.
- On this date in 1976, Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley sold three of his star players. Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers were sent to the Boston Red Sox for $1 million apiece and Vida Blue to the New York Yankees for $1.5 million. Three days later, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn will void the moves, saying they are “not in the best interests of baseball.”
- On this date in 2008, Chien-Ming Wang, who is 8-2 after back-to-back 19-win seasons, suffers a Lisfranc injury in his right foot running the bases in an interleague game with the Astros, spoiling a 13-0 Yankee rout.