Posts from Maryland about everything MLB, NFL and college sports

New York Yankees

What Are The Mariners Thinking?

The Seattle Mariners’ offensive struggles have been well-documented. The Mariners have scored the fewest runs in baseball for each of the past two seasons and have ranked in the top half of the majors in that category just once since 2004. In 2011, Seattle put together a major-league worst .233/.292/.348 batting line as a team, somehow a step down from the .236/.298/.339 it posted in 2010. So when the Mariners shipped out pitcher Michael Pineda to acquire the New York Yankees’ top prospect in catcher Jesus Montero, their thinking of improving their offense makes sense. But by trading Pineda, Seattle is making a horrible mistake that it will regret for years to come.

Twenty-two year old pitchers who stand at six-foot-seven, can start and touch 100 miles per hour with their fastball do not come around very often. They are the ones who are almost always listed as untouchables when other teams call to make trades. Just those very characteristics make Pineda a potential superstar pitcher, one who figures to dominate the game for years to come. But in his rookie season last year, Pineda proved that he is already at that level.

Pineda possesses the arsenal of a pure power pitcher to match his size on the mound. His fastball was the fourth-quickest in all of baseball last season, averaging 94.7 mph, better than all pitchers not named Alexi Ogando (95.1), Justin Verlander (95.0) or David Price (94.9). A stomach-lurching slurve helped induce the most swings-and-misses of any pitcher in the majors at 11.8 percent of his pitches.

Those whiffs helped Pineda strike out 24.9 percent of opposing hitters, sixth-best in the majors and greater than Price, Yovani Gallardo, Cole Hamels, Jered Weaver and Chris Carpenter. Pineda wound up striking out 9.11 batters per nine innings, seventh-best in all of baseball and more than Verlander, Gio Gonzalez, C.C. Sabathia, Mat Latos, Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay.

While power pitchers sometimes struggle with control, Pineda did not have that issue even as a rookie. He struck out 3.5 batters for every walk he issued, a mark better than Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum and Jon Lester.

Pineda’s electric fastball and plate-sweeping slurve also prevented many opposing hitters from making solid contact. Opponents hit just .209 against him in 2011, tied with Jeremy Hellickson as the fourth-best mark in baseball, behind only Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Josh Beckett. Pineda’s ability to keep opposing teams off the bases helped him earn the eighth-best WHIP (1.10) in the American League, which ranked above Hellickson, C.J. Wilson and Trevor Cahill.

Montero may end up being a great player for the Mariners. He was ranked as the third-best prospect by Baseball America before the 2011 season and has hit .308/.366/.501 in five minor league seasons. But Pineda has already proven that he can be mentioned in the same breath as some of the very best pitchers in baseball. His strikeout numbers show that he will only continue to improve as he learns how to pitch and indicate he has the stuff to dominate the major leagues. The Mariners may be improving their offense with this deal, but trading a 22-year old talent like Pineda will be a move they regret for a long time.


Appreciating Mariano Rivera

How valuable is a closer really in today’s game? The game’s greatest of all-time, Mariano Rivera, has thrown more than 80 innings in a season exactly once in his career, when he tossed 80.2 in 2001. The best starting pitchers throw as many as three times that amount every season. Closers almost exclusively take the ball with the lead and for only one inning in a game. From 1969, when the save was first made a statistic, through 1985, one-inning saves made up just 21 percent of all saves. That number has progressed ever since to a record-high of 85.3 percent this season. How can a pitcher like Mariano Rivera be considered one of the greatest ever when starting pitchers throw as many as three-to-four times the amount of innings every season?

There have been too many times to count when we have heard an announcer say something along the lines of, “Joe Torre (or Girardi) is not going to wait any longer. He is bringing in Rivera right now.” In the era of one-inning closers, Mariano Rivera has defied common logic from managers. He has 116 career saves of more than one inning. Since 1994, when the era of the one-inning save began, Keith Foulke is next on the list with 55 saves of more than one inning.

Mariano Rivera has extinguished more rallies than any other reliever, most often when the stakes are highest, in the postseason. Opposing hitters possess a .176/.213/.229 batting line against Rivera in the playoffs. Fifty-eight of his 94 postseason appearances have been for longer than an inning. Thirty-three of them have been two innings or more. Of his 42 playoff saves, 31 of them have been longer than one inning. Countless times has Rivera come into a ballgame with the Yankees’ postseason lives on the line and countless times has he led them to survive another inning, another game, another series.

The New York Yankees have won four World Series championships since Rivera became their full-time closer in 1997. Without him waiting as a security blanket for the late-innings, when the pressure is highest, it’s impossible to know exactly how New York would have been affected, but there’s a chance that without Rivera, the Yankees might have won none of those titles. The ultimate goal of sport is to win, and Mariano Rivera, reliever or not, is as big a reason as any why the Yankees have been so successful in not only making the postseason, but winning championships.

Rivera not only has great statistics, but he completely dwarfs almost everyone in each pitching category. Obviously, he has 602 saves, the most all-time. The closest active pitcher to that would be Francisco Cordero, who is 279 saves behind him with 323. Another way of looking at it is Mariano Rivera has 86.4 percent more saves than anyone else. The greatest margin over the closest active player by anyone who broke a record at the time player in any category? That would be Walter Johnson, who when he broke the strikeouts record in 1921, had 57.5 percent more punch outs than Grover Cleveland Alexander, who was second amongst active pitchers.

Rivera has also thrown a total of 1,209 regular season innings in his career. He has faced 4,806 batters and allowed only 1,207 of them to reach base. He owns a career WHIP of 0.998. There have been only two pitchers in major league history to throw more than 1,000 innings and have a career WHIP below 1.00; one is Addie Joss (0.97), who last pitched in 1910 and the other is Big Ed Walsh (0.9996), who threw his final pitch in 1917. Including this season, Rivera has eight years with a WHIP below 1.00. Billy Wagner is the only other relief pitcher to accomplish that and Walter Johnson, who has nine seasons with a WHIP below 1.00, is the only pitcher in history to succeed that.

Mariano Rivera has also had 10 seasons in which he has finished with an ERA below 2.00. The next closest relievers to him (in seasons of 50 innings or more) are Wagner and Hoyt Wilhelm, who each had six such seasons. If Rivera can keep his current 1.98 ERA south of 2.00 for the final 10 games of the season, he would tie Johnson for the most seasons ever with an ERA below 2.00 with 11.

Even in more modern statistics, no one comes even close to Rivera. He has a career Adjusted ERA-Plus of 205. The average major league pitcher has an Adjusted ERA-Plus of 100, meaning over the course of his career, Rivera has been twice as good as the average pitcher. The closest to Rivera in career Adjusted ERA-Plus is Pedro Martinez, who has a career mark of 154. Only one active starting pitcher, Zack Greinke in 2009, has had a year in which they’ve been as good as Rivera has for his entire career. Rivera has compiled 12 seasons with an Adjusted ERA-Plus of at least 205. The only active closers who have had at least two seasons with an Adjusted ERA-Plus that good are Joe Nathan (five) and Jonathan Papelbon (three).

The conventional way to measure a closer’s value is by the save statistic. Mariano Rivera has reached the summit of that mark with 602 career saves. However, it’s Rivera’s postseason brilliance, his ability to defy age and the conventional wisdom of how to use closers and statistical dominance in almost every category that prove that relief pitchers can provide an incredible amount of value despite not pitching nearly as often as a starting pitcher. Mariano Rivera may not have started many games on the mound in his career, but his ability to finish them proves he has been just as valuable as any other starting pitcher during his career.


Monday Night Madness Podcast No. 2

Luke Jackson and I begin the show by discussing the Major League Baseball pennant races before moving to Week Two of the NFL season. We close the show by discussing Maryland football and soccer.

You can also download the Monday Night Madness podcast on iTunes or download the show by clicking here!

You can also listen to our brand-new USA-themed introduction by clicking below!


The Best 3-4 Punch In Baseball (And How It Compares Historically)

The third and fourth hitters in a lineup, respectively, are traditionally the most feared batters on a team. There are obviously quite a few exceptions. The Yankees bat Curtis Granderson second when everyone is healthy, and he has 36 home runs and leads the majors with 103 runs batted in this year. Ichiro Suzuki (who, despite a down year, is still the most feared hitter in Seattle’s lineup) and Jose Reyes almost always bat leadoff for the Mariners and Mets, respectively. But for a pitcher, there is nothing worse than seeing a dangerous No. 3 batter step into the box and looking over to the opposing dugout to see another dangerous weapon lurking in the on-deck circle.

Perhaps there is no 3-4 punch in baseball history quite as feared as the Yankees’ Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig duo was from 1926 through 1934 (Gehrig was the No. 5 batter on the 1925 Yankees). On the 1927 Murderers Row team, Ruth hit .356/.486/.772, Gehrig batted .373/.474/.765 and the pair combined to swat 107 home runs and drive in 339 runs. In 1930 Ruth had a .359/.493/.732 batting line, Gehrig hit .379/.473/.721 and the duo combined for 90 homers and 327 RBIs. The very next year, Ruth batted .373/.495/.700 at age 37, his final truly great season, and Gehrig hit .341/.446/.662. They smashed 46 homers apiece and drove in a combined 347 runs with Gehrig driving in 184 of them by himself, the most ever by an American League player in a season. In the nine seasons they batted third and fourth respectively, Ruth and Gehrig combined to drill 771 home runs with 2,748 RBIs. There has been no 3-4 combo that has been feared more or put up better numbers in all of baseball history.

A more modern example of the production Ruth and Gehrig put up from the three and four holes in the lineup, respectively, comes from the 2004 through 2008 Boston Red Sox. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez did not have the same longevity of Ruth and Gehrig, but there were equally as feared by major league pitchers. In 2004, their first season as a 3-4 combo and the year the Red Sox broke an 86-year drought to win the World Series for the first time since 1918, Ortiz hit .301/.380/.603, Ramirez batted .308/.397/.613 and the duo combined for 84 homers and 269 RBIs. The next year, Ortiz had a .300/.397/.604 batting line, Ramirez hit .292/.388/.594 and they combined to whack 92 home runs and drive in 292 runs. In their four and a half years as a 3-4 combo (Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers on July 31, 2008), the duo produced 354 homers and 1,120 RBIs and helped win Boston’s only two modern World Series championships.

No 3-4 combo today comes close to the Ruth/Gehrig standard of excellence. Nonetheless, there are still some very good ones that are very tough to pitch to, despite injuries limiting many of baseball’s most dangerous 3-4 duos this year. Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse don’t match up statistically (combined for 30 home runs and 106 RBIs) with the rest of baseball due to a Zimmerman injury that caused him to miss 58 games, but give the Nationals something to build around with their young and talented farm system. The Phillies have seen a similar problem with Chase Utley missing 51 games with an injury, and as a result, have seen their 3-4 duo combine of Utley and Ryan Howard combine for 36 home runs and 138 RBIs, well below what they normally produce together. The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez has missed 46 games this year, but he and Mark Teixeira have still hit 49 homers and driven in 152 runs combined. Kevin Youkilis has missed 21 games for the Red Sox, but has combined with Adrian Gonzalez to blast 40 home runs and bring home 181 runs. The Rangers have lost Josh Hamilton for 40 games, but he and Michael Young have hit 27 homers and driven in 157 runs. Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday have missed a combined 42 games to injury, but have hit 50 home runs with 145 RBIs. Cincinnati’s Joey Votto and Jay Bruce have stayed healthy, each knocking in 84 runs and combining for 51 long bombs, but have been plagued by Bruce’s inconsistency all year long. However, healthy or not, none of these duos match the Milwaukee’s Brewers 3-4 punch of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.

Braun and Fielder have terrorized opposing pitchers together since Braun reached the big leagues in 2007. Their first year together, Braun hit .324/.370/.634, Fielder batted .288/.395/.618 and the pair combined for 84 home runs and 216 RBIs. The 2009 season was another remarkable campaign for the anchors of Milwaukee’s order, combining for 78 homers and 255 RBIs while Braun owned a .320/.386/.551 batting line and Fielder hit .299/.412/.602. In what is likely their last year mashing together in the lineup because Fielder is a free agent at the end of the season, the duo have smashed 53 home runs and driven in 187 runs together, the most production of any 3-4 duo in baseball. Braun is posting career-highs in batting average (.333) and on-base percentage (.404), and is also leading the National League in slugging percentage (.592). Fielder meanwhile, leads the NL in RBIs with 101, is fifth in slugging percentage (.547), and is close to matching career-highs in average (.298) and OBP (.413).

The pair also has the longevity factor, as they will have been placed as 3-4 batters, respectively, in the Brewers’ lineup for five seasons by the end of this year. They have combined to pound 343 home runs and drive in 1,052 runs in their time as a 3-4 punch. Their production together is the closest baseball has had in a 3-4 duo since Boston’s Ortiz/Ramirez combination, and they are dangerously close to the numbers that Ortiz and Ramirez put up together in the four and a half years they spent destroying opposing pitching in the middle of the Red Sox order. The one thing the Ortiz and Ramirez were able to do together that Braun and Fielder have not is consistently win. The Brewers hold a 9.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, and if they hold on, it would be the first time Milwaukee’s 3-4 punch has won a division and only the second time they visited the postseason. In comparison, the Ortiz/Ramirez 3-4 duo won one division but also two World Series titles together, going to the playoffs a total of three times. While it may end this offseason because Fielder is expected to sign elsewhere in free agency, the Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder 3-4 punch is the most feared in the majors today – and the best in baseball since David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez bludgeoned opposing pitching in Boston’s order from 2004 through the middle of the 2008 season.


Who Is The Best Lefty In Baseball

I had an argument recently with some friends on Twitter (Follow me: @Scott_Kornberg) about who the best left-handed starting pitcher was in baseball. There were a number of different responses. Some people went with arguably the most dominant pitcher of the last three and a half seasons, Cliff Lee. Others, looking towards the future, were very high on the 23-year old strikeout machine Clayton Kershaw. There were some who took the side of power lefties Jon Lester and Cole Hamels. Some even made an argument for David Price to be included amongst the top.

However, I was surprised at how quickly CC Sabathia, playing in the world’s largest market for the most successful team in the history of sports, was disregarded amongst the top. Only one person was adamant about putting him there. He was right. Sabathia has been dominant for a longer amount of time than Lee. He has just as many rings as Lester and Hamels, putting up better numbers than both of those pitchers. He eats far more innings than Kershaw. He has been much more consistent for a longer amount of time than Price. Lee, Hamels, Lester and Price might not even be the best pitchers on their respective teams. CC Sabathia is unquestionably the ace of the New York Yankees and the best left-handed pitcher in baseball.

Sabathia is an intimidating presence on the mound. At six-foot seven, 290 pounds, he has the body moreso of an NFL offensive lineman than of a pitcher. He mixes a fastball that can touch 97 mph (average speed: 93.5) with a killer changeup and stomach-lurching slider. His huge frame, killer stuff and knowhow as a pitcher have given him just as many finishes inside the top five in Cy Young Award voting (four) and Cy Young Awards (one) as all of those pitchers put together.

It is certainly not all about the hardware though. Sabathia pulls on the pinstripes and takes the ball in the hottest pressure-cooker, where the lights shine brightest, with the most eyes are upon him. He has led the league in shutouts three times, complete games twice, wins in each of the past two seasons and innings pitched and strikeout-to-walk ratio once, respectively. However, Sabathia is so valuable to the Yankees, and before that the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers, because he always puts his team in a position to win, no matter what.

CC Sabathia will do whatever it takes to come out on top on the scoreboard when he is on the hill. When he was traded from the Indians to Milwaukee in July of 2008, Sabathia carried the Brewers on his back. In 17 starts, he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, 1.003 WHIP and 5.12 K/BB ratio. He averaged 7.2 innings pitched per outing, going at least eight innings in eight different starts while throwing seven complete games and three shutouts during that stretch. Sabathia even threw on three days’ rest on three separate occasions that year, lifting the Brewers into the playoffs for the first time since they won the World Series in 1982.

Even when he does not have his good stuff, Sabathia still finds a way to do what he does best – give his team a shot to win. There have been countless starts where he has struggled through the first two or three innings, allowing three or four runs. Then you look up and Sabathia is back on the mound in the seventh inning, stopping the bleeding, keeping his team in the game and saving the bullpen. It is no coincidence that he has thrown at least 230 innings in four different seasons and is on pace to throw 267.2 this year. Of the pitchers listed above, only Lee has thrown at least 230 innings in a season even once, when he threw 231.2 between the Indians and Phillies in 2009.

It is also no coincidence that Sabathia consistently wins more than almost every other pitcher. In the era of bullpen specialization, Sabathia’s ability to pitch deep into games has helped him earn 170 career victories. He has won at least 15 games in six different seasons and is on pace to win 24 games this year. Lee, Kershaw, Hamels, Lester and Price have all combined for seven 15-win seasons. Only Lester (.710) has a better career winning percentage than Sabathia’s career .649 mark. If Sabathia finishes the year as projected, he would have 181 wins at the end of 2011, when he will be 31 years old. He has a chance to become baseball’s next 300-game winner, which, similar to a batter reaching 3,000 hits, is the ultimate sign of a long and successful career for a pitcher.

Some people will still point and say 2008, in which Cliff Lee won the American League Cy Young Award by going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, 1.110 WHIP with a 5 K/BB ratio in 223.1 innings, was when Lee became the most dominant lefty in baseball. However, Sabathia’s numbers are eerily similar to those of Lee from 2008 through the first half of this season:

2008-2011 Lee: 112 starts, 57-31, 2.95 ERA, 141 ERA+, 1.111 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 5.43 K/BB

2008-2011 Sabathia: 123 starts, 70-29, 3.01 ERA, 143 ERA+, 1.152 WHIP, eight K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 3.28 K/BB

During the past three and a half years, Sabathia has made more starts than Lee and won more games while having better strikeout numbers and a better ERA+ (adjusted ERA to the pitcher’s ballpark and the league ERA). Even though Sabathia walks about one more batter per nine innings than Lee, their WHIPs are nearly identical. Now let’s look at what they have averaged per season during the past three and a half years:

2008-2011 Lee (average season): 28 starts, 14-8, 201 innings pitched, 192 hits allowed, 31 walks issued, 168 strikeouts

2008-2011 Sabathia (average season): 31 starts, 18-7, 217 innings pitched, 191 hits allowed, 59 walks issued, 193 strikeouts

Keep in mind their averages are weighed down slightly by only just over half a season of baseball in 2011. However, Sabathia’s average year includes more starts pitched to a better record while throwing more innings and striking out more hitters than Lee. While Cliff Lee has been a very dominant pitcher over the past three and a half years, Sabathia has been slightly better during that same stretch.

There may be other lefties who come to mind in the discussion over who is the best southpaw starter in baseball. However, no one has been as dominant for such a long period of time as CC Sabathia has been. Sabathia has continued his claim to the throne with possibly his best season yet through the first half of 2011. In 20 starts, Sabathia leads the league in wins with 13, compared to just four losses. He has a 2.72 ERA and 1.160 WHIP in 145.2 innings. Sabathia is averaging 7.1 innings per start and is striking out 7.8 batters per nine innings while posting a 3.60 K/BB ratio. In a season in which pitching has dominated, no left-hander has been better than CC Sabathia. He is quite simply the greatest left-handed starting pitcher in baseball.


A Great First Half of Baseball

We have officially arrived at the All-Star Break. It has been a memorable first part of the season. Here is a short summary of what has happened so far:

As expected, the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies have proved to be the three strongest teams in baseball this year. However, the Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays continue to shock (most of) the world by being in contention for a playoff spot. The Rays are currently the furthest out of a playoff spot, just five games behind the Yankees in the American League Wild Card race and six games behind the Red Sox in the AL East. The Diamondbacks are just three games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West while the Pirates are just one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central. The Indians currently stand 0.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.

There were two managers who had to be replaced already this year, yet neither was fired. Florida Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez resigned after a horrific 1-18 start to the month of June (the Marlins finished the month 5-23). The Marlins began the month just two games behind the Phillies in the NL East but ended it 14.5 games back. Florida replaced Rodriguez with 80-year old Jack McKeon. McKeon led the 2003 Marlins to a World Series Championship, also taking over the helm in Miami at midseason during that year. Connie Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics from 1940 through 1950 until the age of 87, making McKeon the second-oldest manager in baseball history. Florida was 32-39 under Rodriguez and are 11-8 with McKeon as manager.

The Washington Nationals also had to make a midseason managerial move. Washington was in the midst of an 11-1 run, putting them over .500 for the first time since the team moved to D.C. in 2005 when Jim Riggleman quit on June 23 due to a contract dispute with Nationals’ management over his option for next year. The Nationals tabbed Davey Johnson as his replacement. Washington is 6-8 under Johnson, but was 38-37 with Riggleman guiding the team.

There have also been some notable achievements by players through the first part of the year. Derek Jeter reached 3,000 hits with a home run at exactly two o’clock at Yankee Stadium to become the first Yankee to achieve that milestone. Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander each threw no-hitters within four days of each other, on May 3 and 7, respectively. Liriano walked six hitters and struck out two. Verlander struck out four and walked just one hitter in the seventh inning, beginning a streak of pitching at least eight innings in eight of his next 10 starts. Andre Eithier strung together a 30-game hitting streak that began on the second day of the season. The streak is the second-longest in Los Angeles Dodgers’ history and is the longest in the majors since the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman’s 30-game streak in 2009.

The first half of the season featured many close divisional races. In fact, there is no division separated by more than a 3.5 game lead. There are currently 17 teams, more than half the league, within 6.5 games of a playoff spot. This season is shaping up to have some terrific playoff races that will go down to the wire in September. Here are my predictions from the beginning of the season and how they stack up with what has happened so far this year:

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

My Prediction:

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)

3. New York Yankees

4. Baltimore Orioles

5. Toronto Blue Jays

Actual:

1. Boston Red Sox

2. New York Yankees

3. Tampa Bay Rays

4. Toronto Blue Jays

5. Baltimore Orioles

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

My Prediction:

1. Chicago White Sox

2. Minnesota Twins

3. Detroit Tigers

4. Kansas City Royals

5. Cleveland Indians

Actual:

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Cleveland Indians

3. Chicago White Sox

4. Minnesota Twins

5. Kansas City Royals

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

My Prediction:

1. Texas Rangers

2. Oakland Athletics

3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

4. Seattle Mariners

Actual:

1. Texas Rangers

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

3. Seattle Mariners

4. Oakland Athletics

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

My Prediction:

1. Atlanta Braves

2. Philadelphia Phillies (Wild Card)

3. New York Mets

4. Florida Marlins

5. Washington Nationals

Actual:

1. Philadelphia Phillies

2. Atlanta Braves

3. New York Mets

4. Washington Nationals

5. Florida Marlins

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

My Prediction:

1. Cincinnati Reds

2. Milwaukee Brewers

3. St. Louis Cardinals

4. Chicago Cubs

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

6. Houston Astros

Actual:

T-1. Milwaukee Brewers

T-1. St. Louis Cardinals

3. Pittsburgh Pirates

4. Cincinnati Reds

5. Chicago Cubs

6. Houston Astros

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

My Prediction:

1. San Francisco Giants

2. Colorado Rockies

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

4. San Diego Padres

5. Arizona Diamondbacks

Actual:

1. San Francisco Giants

2. Arizona Diamondbacks

3. Colorado Rockies

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

5. San Diego Padres


Are the Yankees Really in Trouble?

Derek Jeter

            With a 6-5 loss last night to the Tampa Bay Rays, the New York Yankees losing streak has now reached six. More importantly, four of those six losses are against the two most likely challengers to New York in the American League East – Boston and the Rays. Despite a very veteran-laden and talented ballclub, this Yankees team looks like it could be trouble.

            The last time a Yankees losing streak reached six games was 2007. Despite leading baseball in home runs (61) and scoring the second-most runs in the AL, the Yankees offense has really struggled recently. New York has scored more than 5 runs just once in the last 13 games and is averaging just 3.9 runs per game during that stretch.

            With the exception of Curtis Granderson, each regular in the Yankees lineup has a lower batting average and on-base percentage than their career averages. Brett Gardner and Granderson are the only Yankees regulars with higher slugging percentages than their career averages.  However, there has been some degree of bad luck for the Yankee lineup. Brett Gardner’s BABIP is right about at league-average with a .301 clip. Every other Yankee regular has a BABIP lower than .300, indicating that they have been unlucky up to this point of the season.

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter

            Even with the luck factor, it appears age may finally be catching up with some of the great players of this era in Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter’s numbers are in the process of severely dipping for the third straight season. He is hitting .255 with a .312 on-base percentage. Jeter’s problems at the plate are more than getting on base, though. He has just five extra-base hits in 37 games. Jeter’s only two home runs came in the same game. He is slugging just .314 on the season. He is simply not hitting the ball hard, and at age 37, may not have much left in the tank.

            Rodriguez’s numbers are in the process of dipping for the fourth straight season. He is in the midst of a major slump right now, posting a .176/.255/.275 batting line in his last 24 games. He should break out soon, but at age 35, he is certainly not the same player he was during his prime, when he won three MVP awards.

Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez

            Rodriguez’s lack of production has likely had an effect on the players he is surrounded by in the lineup, Mark Texeira and Robinson Cano. As great of a hitter as Cano is, he has struggled with plate discipline this year. Cano posted a career-high .381 OBP last season compared to a .323 mark this year.  The Yankees are still waiting for Mark Texeira to heat up after a typically slow April for him. However, at 31 years old, coming off his worst season since his rookie year, Texeira may already be showing signs of declining. He may never post the .292/.383/.565 line he did in his first season in New York two years ago. Rodriguez’s lack of protection may have a hand in Texeira’s continued decline from his first two seasons in New York.

            The supporting cast has not been much of a help to these aging stars. Despite a strong start, Russell Martin is hitting just .200 with a .383 slugging percentage in his last 19 games. In his last 22 games, Nick Swisher is hitting .179/.297/.308. After a career year last year (.288/.359/.511 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs), Swisher is hitting .218/.331/.308 with just 6 doubles, 2 homers and 14 RBIs for the season.  Jorge Posada is posting a .165/.278/349 batting line and is 0-for-24 against left-handed pitchers this year.

Jesus Montero

Jesus Montero

           While this may be troublesome, the Yankees may be able to find help on the way. With an almost limitless budget, the Yankees are always in the market to take on a player with a big contract. They also have help right in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, their AAA-affiliate. Jesus Montero, rated the #3 minor league prospect by Baseball America, is currently raking with 2 home runs, 12 RBIs and a .336/.369/.443 line in 30 games. Should Posada and Martin continue to struggle, the Yankees could turn to their 21-year old super prospect as their designated hitter and/or catcher. There is also the chance the Yankees trade Montero in a huge trade to land a possible star. Either way, Montero could play a large role in how the Yankees season turns out.

            Currently sitting at 20-19 and 3 games back of Tampa Bay for first place in the AL East, the Yankees offense is surprisingly giving them cause for concern to compete with the streaking Red Sox and Rays for the rest of the season. Barring a big trade, it could be the Yankees lineup, not their pitching staff, that may prevent them from participating in the postseason this year.