Hughes’ Underlying Performance

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Last night the Yankees won a very well-played game and outplayed Minnesota in every part of the game for the second straight day. Russell Martin hit two homers, Derek Jeter had two hits and scored two runs, and Robbie Cano had another big game as well. But probably the biggest part of this one was Phil Hughes outing. He allowed one run on two hits and three walks while striking out two over seven frames. But was he as dominant as the line shows?

The answer is no. I saw some writers on Twitter saying how good he looked and one in particular went on to say that it was the best he has looked in over a year. I could maybe get on board with the former comment, but the latter is a bit ridiculous. I think he looked a lot better in his start in Chicago a few weeks back. In that outing, he struck out four, walked none, and probably would have gone more than six innings if it weren’t for the rain.

Back to last night’s start, a look at the peripherals will show that Hughes was playing with fire, for lack of a better term. He posted a GB% of around 30%, an unsustainable BABIP of around .045, only recorded two swinging strikes, and was only sitting at around 92 mph with the fastball until it dipped as the game went on.

Don’t get me wrong, Hughes still worked efficiently, only needing 106 pitches to get through almost eight frames, but he wasn’t dominant against a Jim Thome-less Minnesota lineup that I think he should have begging for mercy (only two guys in last night’s Twins lineup had an OBP over .300!!).

There are definitely good things we can take from this start and maybe it gave Hughes some confidence, but we should approach his next start with skepticism and not expect another game of almost eight innings of one-run ball.

Derek Jeter’s Hot Streak

The Yankees are currently in first place in the American League East, but that’s not what fans are talking about at the moment. They’re not talking about how the Yanks are playing better than the heavily favored Red Sox or about Curtis Granderson’s MVP-caliber season or even Jesus Montero being stuck in Scranton. They are talking about Derek Jeter.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Heading into 2011, I was expecting a bounce back year from Jeter. He was coming off a career low slash line of .270/.340/.370 and even though I had no reason to believe that the aging captain just had a flukey season, as a die-hard Yankee fan, I just wanted to dream. And through the first half of the season Derek gave people a reason to think that he was certainly declining.

In April, he hit .256/.313/.278, in May he hit .274/.338/.371, and in June he was at .239/.314/.304 until getting injured and hitting the 15-day disabled list. While rehabbing in Tampa, he made a slight tweak to his swing, according to the DJ3K documentary that aired on HBO. Jeter did look much better when he came off the DL as he was hitting balls with more authority and to the gaps, kind of like he did in the good old days.

After the All-Star Break and after he got his 3000th hit, he continued to hit. So far in the second half, he is hitting .336/.393/.443 with a wOBA in upper .300’s as opposed to one hovering around .300 as it was in the early part of the season. The answer clearly lies deep within the numbers. If we take a look at the captain’s stats this year as opposed to 2010, one can see that he is hitting more line drives and less ground balls, something that backs up the fact that he is hitting the ball with more authority.

The thing that is so crazy about this is that he hasn’t really changed his approach at the plate. He is being just as aggressive as ever, walking around the same amount, and is swinging through the same amount of pitches. Instead, I think it lies with the way he is hitting the fastball. Last season, he posted the wFB of 1.4 and that is now up to 3.7 this year. With that, his runs above average have gone up with almost every other pitch. I don’t know if he is quicker to the ball or what or if he’s reading pitches better, but whatever it is, it’s working.

What’s going to be interesting to see is whether or not Jeter can sustain this type of performance. He is no doubt red hot right now (.395 BA in last ten games), but can he keep his current season average (.290) through the rest of the season, the playoffs, and beyond 2011. A lot of people thought the Bombers would have a dead weight at shortstop for the next two plus years and that might still be true, but at least this little hot streak will give us something to dream on for the time being.

Should Sori Get His Job Back?

The Yankees were supposed to have arguably the best bullpen in the Majors heading into this season. Rafael Soriano and his big contract were supposed to counter the non-acquisition of Cliff Lee by solidifying the back end of the pen along with Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain. We are now in August and a lot has changed – Soriano has been on the disabled list and for the early part of the season, he was not living up to the money he was being paid. Now he’s healthy and pitching better, so should he get the eighth inning back?

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Soriano had thrown one perfect inning before going on the disabled list with some sort of elbow issue and that was on Opening Day. Besides that, David Robertson and Joba have proven that they are every bit as good as Sori if not better. People weren’t sure if it was the new role that was getting to him, if it was that he was pitching New York or what, but nobody liked it. Even when he went on the DL, the pen thrived thanks to Robertson and Cory Wade.

The supposed eighth inning guy made his first appearance off the shelf on July 30 against the Orioles to pitch the ninth inning of a complete blow out. Since then, Joe Girardi has been trying to work him into more pressure-filled situations. He has pitched a total of five innings since coming back and hasn’t allowed a run, a hit, or a walk while striking out five. I know it’s a small sample, but it is encouraging.

The most encouraging sign was probably last night when he entered a 7-2 game with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh inning and threw four pitches to induce a ground ball double play and then a fly ball. It was great to see him get out of a big jam and it might be the last test he is given to prove he is back to normal.

A healthy and effective Soriano should definitely re-claim the eighth inning role. That would allow David Robertson to go back to the seventh inning or even better, maybe his fireman role. If a Yankee starter can go six strong innings and hand the pen a lead, the game will be essentially over. The strength of the back end of the bullpen will make up for a weaker starting rotation.

Musings On AJ

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

I was not happy when the Yankees signed AJ Burnett to that five year deal worth $82.5 million, in fact, if you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know that already. The Yankees brass saw an 18-win pitcher who struck out over nine per nine innings and threw over 200 innings and posted a 4.07/3.45/3.51 ER/FIP/xFIP line. They also saw a guy who dominated their team and the Red Sox. I saw something different though. I saw a guy who had trouble staying healthy was very inconsistent and coincidentally had a good season on the last year of his contract.

Now we are almost three years deep into this new contract, and AJ has performed well in 1 plus seasons as a Yankee. He had a good 2009, but has fallen off big time since. He had a horrible 2010 campaign and he has stepped it up a little bit in 2011. But for what AJ can and should be, fans and management should not be content with AJ being able to go five innings every start and keeping his team in the game.

Now the Yanks have six starters and if Phil Hughes is able to build on his last performance this coming Saturday, Burnett will be the weakest link. People have been bringing up the fact that he seems to run out of the steam after the first few innings (see last night) so why not try him in the bullpen. His stuff would probably play up in the bullpen. He would have a fastball probably in the mid-nineties and his power curveball would probably have more bite than ever.

His two pitch arsenal would probably fit much better in the pen, but with the amount of money he is making and his pride, I’m sure management will try to keep him in the rotation for as long as possible. But it will come to a point (if Hughes and Ivan Nova keep pitching well) where AJ’s pride will be pinned up against putting the best team on the field and in that case, it’s bad that we don’t know which one will win out.

Jorge Posada’s Roster Spot

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Through the month of July, Posada wasn’t supposed to be hitting.230/.309/.372 with a .299 wOBA. He wasn’t supposed to have only nine homers and 31 runs driven in. He was going to be the full time designated hitter in order to stay healthy and take away the mental and physical strain of catching. This was supposed to be a big year for him. Instead, he has been stripped of his starting spot and his dignity.

(CBS Sports)

I am not writing this post to debate about whether this was the right move because it clearly was. Posada’s age is showing badly and he just isn’t producing the way they need him to. Sure he has a legacy with the Bombers, but the team is also trying to win games and Jorgie just wasn’t getting the job done. The problem is what this move does to the bench.

As we all know the Yanks have six starters on their team which is causing them to carry thirteen pitchers overall and only twelve position players. With Posada going to the bench, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones will combine to handle the designated hitter duties, Chavez against righties and Jones against lefties. So this means that the Yankees bench on any given day will consist of Jorge, Francisco Cervelli, and Chavez or Jones. That’s not the most flexible group of guys.

Cervelli is a catcher, Chavez covers the infield corners, Jones the outfield corners, and Posada is basically dead weight. He can play some first base and can pinch hit, two things that Chavy can also do. Now we know they won’t cut Jorgie because of his pride and he won’t just retire because of the same reason so now the Yankees have two options. They can send down one of the pitchers in their bullpen (ie. Hector Noesi) and bring up a bench guy like Ramiro Pena or they can just wait it out until September when rosters expand. I would prefer the former.

A lot of people have been saying that since the Bombers have a big lead in the wild card that they can take it easy for a couple of weeks and give some guys some rest. Well, I’d personally would like to win the division and get home field advantage and with a three man bench as weak and inflexible as this one is, they aren’t gonna be able to go on a tear down the stretch. I just can’t wait until this entire Posada episode is over.

Posada Benched

Via Mark Feinsand, Jorge Posada has been benched and Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones will handle the designated hitter role for the time being. Posada said he is unhappy with it, but that he brought it on himself. Girardi did say that his roster spot is not in trouble though. It’s a tough move, but the right one to make and hopefully we’ll see Jesus Montero soon.

MLB Investigating A-Rod

Via ESPN NY, the MLB is going to investigate Alex Rodriguez for partaking in a few illegal, underground poker games. There was apparently a half million dollars to be won in said games and the MLB is taking it “very seriously.” This shouldn’t be as big of deal as the media is making it out to be and if he gets suspended for this, I would be very shocked and disappointed at Major League Baseball. Maybe a fine, but that’s it.