Tag Archives: NY Yankees

ANATOMY OF A PHIL HUGHES/YANKEE LOSS

                                                                                       Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

You’ve probably read and/or seen by now that Phil Hughes pitched a gem on Friday against the Rays – except for that one pitch, a three-run homer hit by Matt Joyce to provide the winning margin in a 3-2 Rays win over the Yankees. Rarely do you have such a clear-cut example of a pitcher (catcher? pitching coach?) making a game-losing mistake on pitch selection. But make no mistake: Hughes inability to throw (or want to throw) a curve ball for a strike with two strikes on Joyce was the reason the Yankees lost and the Rays won.

THE HOME RUN ITSELF

Matt Joyce hit a 2-2 fast ball for a three-run homer to win the game for the Rays. But, as often happens, there was a lot going on before the pitch to set up Joyce’s home run. In Joyce’s first at-bat, Jorge Posada put his target down and in to the lefty Joyce for a 1-1 fastball that was thrown up and slightly away. Joyce couldn’t get around on it and hit a pop foul back behind home to Posada. The second time up, Joyce swung at a first-pitch curve ball and grounded out weakly to first.

So, in his third at-bat, when Joyce swung at a 2-1 curve ball for strike two and then blasted the 2-2 fastball into the right field seats for a three-run homer, both Yankee announcers Tino Martinez and John Flaherty noticed that Posada called for it down and in and Hughes missed his spot and threw it up and slightly away. They both commended Matt Joyce for hitting a homer on a high fastball, both saying it’s a difficult thing to do.

And they were both right. But it was almost the identical pitch that Joyce had popped up (foul) to Posada in his first at-bat. So, what was the difference?

THE BEAUTY OF BASEBALL

This is just another reason why baseball is the most fascinating, most nuanced game. In the prior inning, Tampa Bay’s Reid Brignac was facing Hughes and, with the count 3-2, Hughes threw him FOUR fastballs in a row, striking him out (called, very close pitch) on the final fastball. Next batter, Jason Bartlett, with the count 2-2, saw FOUR fastballs in a row, flying out to center to end the fifth inning. If you didn’t know by then that Phil Hughes was throwing fastballs with the count 2-2 or 3-2 to Rays’ hitters, you did after those two batters. So, what do you think Matt Joyce was looking for when he was facing Hughes in the next inning with the count 2-2? That’s why he was able to turn on a pitch he couldn’t turn on in his first at-bat.

Fascinating stuff, no?

WHAT ABOUT THE EARLIER PART OF THE GAME?

Excellent question. If you followed this the whole game, you would have come to the same conclusion. With the count 2-2 or 3-2 to Rays’ hitters prior to the Joyce home run, Phil Hughes threw fastballs on 13 of the 15 pitches he threw in that situation. Overall, with two strikes and any count (0-2, 1-2, 2-2 or 3-2), Phil Hughes threw fastballs on 19 out of 26 pitches. But EVERY curveball he threw with two strikes on a batter was a ball, in the dirt and/or out of the zone (Carl Crawford swung at one for a strikeout in the third inning).

So, you didn’t have to be a brain surgeon or a batting coach to have a real good sense of what Phil Hughes was going to throw Matt Joyce on a 2-2 count in the sixth inning on Friday.

WHAT DID JOYCE AND HUGHES SAY ABOUT THE PITCH?

More interesting stuff. Joyce was very subtle, simply telling MLB.com that “I just put a good swing on a pitch that was up.”

Hughes spoke in more detail to MLB.com: “It leaked over the plate and he didn’t miss it. To a lefty, lower is better for him, so I wanted to get it [near the] belt … . I’ll be thinking about that pitch for a while. I had some success earlier in the game going in there and I had thrown him a pretty good 2-1 curveball the pitch before that and I felt like it was the right pitch. HE GUESSED RIGHT. That’s the bottom line.” (emphasis supplied).

Ah, but WHY DID HE GUESS RIGHT? You know why – because Phil Hughes had thrown very few curveballs with 2-2 or 3-2 counts the entire night. And NONE for strikes. So Phil Hughes and the Yankee coaching staff will have to look at this game and see the pattern – and fix it.

INTERESTINGLY, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE NEXT BATTER?

Willy Aybar was the next batter after the Joyce homer and would be Phil Hughes’ last batter. With the count 3-2, Phil Hughes threw an excellent hook right over the plate that froze Aybar for a called strike three. A tremendous pitch and the first two-strike curveball that Hughes had thrown for a strike all night long.

While one can never know what would have happened if Hughes had thrown a 2-2 hook to Matt Joyce, suffice it to say that it would have been virtually impossible for him to hit such a pitch out of the park.

WHERE DOES PHIL HUGHES GO FROM HERE?

If Phil Hughes wants to get to that next level as a major league pitcher (stardom), he’s going to have to have the ability (guts? confidence?) to throw a breaking ball with two strikes on a hitter over the plate for a strike, not in the dirt hoping that someone will swing at it. When he starts to do that consistently, he will win games like Friday’s against the Rays, rather than losing them.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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YANKEES OFF TO A GREAT START, BUT …

                                                                                       Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Not surprisingly, the Yankees are off to a wonderful 7-3 start and are in first place in the ultra-tough A.L. East. Even more impressive, they did it by winning series from the Red Sox, the Rays and the always-tough-on-the-Yankees Angels. After losing two of the toughest, clutch lefties ever, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, the Yankees seem to have not missed a beat – they are well on their way to another playoff berth and World Series appearance.

Or are they?

WHAT’S UP WITH MARK TEIXEIRA?

All the alleged experts who attributed Mark Teixeira’s great turnaround after a miserable start in 2009 to the return of A-Rod into the Yankee line-up didn’t know what they were talking about. It had virtually nothing to do with A-Rod. If you knew what you were talking about last year (that is, that Teixeira is (historically) a notoriously poor starter in April with or without protection in the line-up), you wouldn’t be shocked by Teixeira’s slow start this year.

The problem this year, with A-Rod batting behind Teixeira from Day 1, is that Teixeira’s not cold, he’s frigid. Batting under .100 has to at least give the Yankees pause. But it says here, even though this start is worse than cold, Teixeira will do what Teixeira does – become an excellent hitter/RBI man. Teixeira is a guy who must pray it’s going to be May rather than April from the get-go. To his credit, of course, no excuses (and look what the Yankees have done while he is in his offensive – not defensive – funk).

WHAT’S UP WITH A-ROD?

Maybe you could argue that part of Teixeira’s slump is due to a lack of production from his “protection,” A-Rod. That would be unfair, of course, because A-Rod is still A-Rod and ten games isn’t going to change that.

But say what you want, A-Rod has no homers in ten games. And while that is too small a sample to get worried about and one would expect that A-Rod will bust out of it sooner rather than later, maybe these are tiny chinks in the Yankee armor.

Of course, the flip side of that is that, without much offensive contribution from their two best offensive players, the Yankees are still in first and rolling over their toughest opponents. But questions remain and they can’t possibly be answered until the playoffs.

SO, WHAT’S THE “BUT” IN THE TITLE OF THIS ARTICLE?

The “but” still remains: how will the Yankees replace the clutchness and lefty-on-lefty talent of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon IN THE PLAYOFFS? Of course, no matter what happens during the regular season, that question can’t be answered, by definition, until the playoffs.

How’s Curtis Granderson doing? Well, he’s doing great overall and his numbers against lefties are OK in a small sample: 4-15, one triple, .267 against lefties. Better than his .183 against lefties in 2009 or his .211 against lefties lifetime.

But the questions remain and there are two of them: Can he do it against lefties IN THE PLAYOFFS and can he hit in general in the clutch in the playoffs? Nobody knows.

The other part of the “but” is Nick Johnson. Hitting under .200 but with an OBP of .432 (astounding!), there are a lot of “buts” with Nick. Can he stay healthy? If the Yankees let Matsui go (remember, he only signed with the Angels for $6.5 million) because they wanted to “free up” the DH for Posada and once-in-a-while for Teixeira, A-Rod, Jeter, you fill in the blank, how is it that Johnson is now essentially viewed as a full-time DH?

It’s preposterous, but that’s where we are.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Well, the Yankees are off to a great start and, with their excellent pitching staff, seem like a cinch to make the playoffs. But questions still abound. It will just be a number of months until they can possibly be answered.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

YANKEE GREED HURTS YANKEES

                                                                                       Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

If you are a Yankee fan, you expect the absurd ticket prices, the ridiculous prices for parking, programs, food, etc. It comes with the territory – you are at Yankee Stadium. And while it may never replace the aura of the old Yankee Stadium (Question: “Hey, dad, where did Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle play? Answer: “Across the street, son.”), it’s a nice new facility with many more amenities than the old one.

But, surprisingly, in 2010, Yankee greed may hurt the Yankees. On Saturday, the Yankees had a made-up game between the Yankees and their “Future Stars,” whatever that means. Played in Tampa, it seems like a made-for-TV event. What, the Yankees need more money? What, the rookies and future stars couldn’t have played with or against them before?

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

Here’s the big deal: according to published reports, some of the Yankee players are very upset at playing this game in Tampa the day before the season opener against the Red Sox up in Fenway. Presumably, the intelligent players who are upset would rather get into Boston earlier and workout at Fenway on Saturday. George King of the Post quoted Andy Pettitte as saying, ”[f]or the position players, it would have been ideal to get a workout there.”

Once upon a time, decades and decades ago, players had to play these kinds of games: glorified scrimmages that were a waste of time. Arguably, once upon a time, teams had to play these kinds of games to defray expenses or expose professional baseball on the way north when there weren’t major league baseball teams in the Deep South.

But to do it today, in 2010, to the New York Yankees, the day before they open against the Red Sox?

That’s preposterous.

Hopefully, nobody got hurt. Hopefully, the fans and “future stars” (how many of them really are future STARS) had a good time. But to make the defending champions delay their arrival in Boston to play a scrimmage is beyond stupid.

Wouldn’t it have just been more intelligent to let the team (especially the new guys who haven’t felt Yankees-Red Sox first-hand) acclimate itself to Fenway Park and Opening Day?

The article about the game on the Yankee web site was entitled, “Bombers Teach Future Stars a Lesson.”  Here’s hoping the Yankees themselves learn a lesson from their own stupidity.

The Yankee organization already hurt the Yankee team by upsetting a number of players with a meaningless exhibition game.  We’ll see if it hurts the team on Sunday.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

THE YANKEES REALLY SHOULD BRING HIDEKI MATSUI BACK NEXT YEAR

                                                            Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

If you live in New York, you’ve heard it all season long and as recently as last week:  Hideki Matsui won’t be back next year, he’s too old and hurt, there’s “no room” for him on the 2010 roster and/or the Yankees have to “get younger.”

Possibly valid points at the beginning of the season with a guy, formerly indestructible, who was coming off two knee surgeries and couldn’t play in the field, especially in the expansive left field of Yankee Stadium.

But have any of these “experts” been watching this year?  Matsui has been a legitimate star and clutch player on a team loaded with stars.  To cut this man loose now (unless he wants to retire) would be, in this writer’s opinion, both bush league and a mistake.

WHY WRITE THIS ARTICLE NOW?

Well, it seems that this is already a done deal (or, at least, presented by some “experts” as such).  Matsui is having a stunning season for the Yankees and his numbers against lefthanders are staggering.  You don’t find guys like this hanging off of trees or even on the free agent list. 

Hopefully, this can sway the conversation to at least become an objective one:  this isn’t a cripple on his last legs who’s slogging through the final year of his contract as he’s just about to ride off into the sunset.  This is a very valuable player to the top franchise in baseball trying to win its first World Series in nine years.

LET’S LOOK AT THE NUMBERS

While baseball has been overrun (and overanalyzed) with statistics in the last 20 years or so, they still tell you plenty and, combined with some baseball knowledge, can help give a complete picture of a player and his worth.  Matsui is off the charts in intangibles (hard worker, great guy in the clubhouse, great teammate by all accounts, perfect citizen, never says or does anything stupid, and a quiet, lead-by-example guy).  He’s also off the charts in his money-making ability for the Yankees – he’s opened up a cottage industry for the Yankees, making inroads into the Japanese market as baseball (and the Yankees) looks to go international (plus, he’s a lot more likeable than Ichiro).

But it’s what he does with a bat in his hands that, as always, is the final decision-maker for success or failure – or, it is submitted here, for bringing him back or not.  The overall numbers are terrific:  28 homers, 90 runs batted in and a .280 batting average are all excellent.  The power numbers, however, are awesome when you understand that they came in only 443 at-bats.

It’s deeper than that, however.  In 130 at-bats against lefties, Hideki Matsui has 13 homers and 46 runs batted in with a .285 average.  His on base percentage (OBP) against lefties is .361 and his slugging percentage is .623.  That makes his OPS .984.  Hello, hello, is anybody listening?

A lefty who hits a homer in one out of every ten official at-bats against lefties?  Do these guys actually exist?  And, if you have one, do you just let him go away?  I don’t think so.

Of course, there’s more.  I think even old-timers will like this stat at baseball-reference.com.  It’s called Late & Close.  It’s defined as “plate appearances in the seventh inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck.”  How are Hideki Matsui’s numbers there?  Well, his batting average in 91 plate appearances (81 actual at-bats) over 69 games is .321.  His OBP is .396 and his slugging percentage is .617.  That’s a staggering OPS (on base plus slugging) of 1.013.  Amazing.

With two outs and runners in scoring position, the man has 26 RBIs in 65 at-bats.  His average is .277 but he’s been walked 18 times in his 84 plate appearances (.440 OBP) in this situation.  That’s a combination of a good eye (his is excellent) and pitchers not wanting him to beat them (although he beat the Red Sox on Sunday with a two-out, two-run single to clinch the AL East).

Some of these numbers are video-game numbers.  And the Yankees are just going to let him walk?

WHAT IF THE YANKEES WIN IT ALL?

With good pitching (still unclear but better of late), the Yankees, of course, can win it all.  And if Hideki Matsui wants to ride off into the sunset with a World Series ring, good for him.  But that should really be his choice.

It says here that the Yankees should offer Hideki Matsui a one or even two-year deal.  The money won’t be a big problem because Matsui, if he wants to play next year (why wouldn’t he?), probably wants to remain a Yankee. It’s weird to picture him in any other AL uniform (not Joe-Namath-in-a-Rams-uniform weird, but weird nonetheless).

Maybe, with a winter of rehab on his knees, Matsui could play 20 games in leftfield.  But even if he can’t, he could DH in 95-100 games (giving Joe Girardi 65 or so games to use others at DH) and be available for pinch-hitting duties in the rest.  Remember, it’s hard to calculate what it does to the opposing manager when you have a lefty in the line-up or on the bench who hits lefties as well as (better than?) righties.

Did I mention Hideki Matsui’s 2009 pinch-hit, video-game numbers?  His average is .381.  His OBP is .500.  His OPS is 1.119.  These are, of course, off the charts. 

Here’s hoping that the Yankees do the right thing and bring back a true professional, Hideki Matsui.  He’ll only help the team win.    

 © Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.

OF COURSE DEREK JETER WAS WRONG TO TRY AND STEAL THIRD

                                Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

       

By now you have seen or heard about the play.  Bottom of the first, nobody out, Blue Jays – Yankees at the Stadium in the final game of a four-game series.  Derek Jeter walks, goes to second on a Randy Romero balk and then, inexplicably, with the count 2-1 on second batter Nick Swisher, Jeter tries to steal third.  The throw from catcher Rod Barajas easily beats Jeter to third.  But Jeter makes a nifty move with his hands on his head-first slide and Jays’ third baseman Scott Rolen misses the tag.  Nevertheless, third-base umpire Marty Foster calls Jeter out.    

      

Jeter correctly argues that he wasn’t tagged and, according to Jeter, umpire Foster inexplicably told Jeter that since the ball beat him to the base, he was out.  That’s pretty funny, because if you’ve played a lot of baseball or even watched a lot of baseball, you know that happens, especially at the lower levels.    

        

But that in no way takes away from the stupidity of the play itself.

         

DON’T MAKE THE FIRST (OR THIRD) OUT AT THIRD BASE    

         

Again, if you played or watched baseball and have any knowledge of the game, you understand why you can never make the first out at third.  You’re already in scoring position.  The plus you get by getting to third is minimal versus the huge minus you get by getting thrown out.  That was particularly true in this case, when the Yankees had Swisher, Teixeira and A-Rod coming up, two-three-four in the order.    

         

It’s not that you can never steal third with nobody out.  It’s that you have to make it easily, you have to make it virtually standing up.  There can be no doubt as to whether you are out or safe.    

           

And that’s where Jeter misses the boat.  While he was safe, the issue on this play is not whether you are out or safe.  The issue is whether you can make it to third EASILY.  Anything short of that is a huge base running mistake (in other words, even if Jeter was called safe, it was a dumb play).  

         

WHERE’S JOE GIRARDI IN ALL OF THIS?    

        

Well, Girardi did the right thing in going out to protect his captain.  Everybody who watches the Yankees knows that Jeter rarely argues that kind of call.  Girardi didn’t have to get thrown out (the pointing finger at the ump was the clincher).  But Girardi also knew that this was a base running blunder.    

           

After the game, he called it a “base running error.”  Jeter acknowledged that but, according to MLB.com, Jeter said, “In that situation, you try to be aggressive.”  Well, Jeter mostly gets a pass for this mistake from the media but, “in that situation” (man on second, nobody out), you absolutely do NOT have to be aggressive.  You have to be smart, you have to understand the situation, you have to be confident in your teammates, you have to think that the two-three-four hitters of the New York Yankees can get you two more bases so you can score.    

                 

It’s hard to believe, given the same situation tomorrow, that Derek Jeter would make that big of a mistake again.

                     

DON’T BE FOOLED BY SWISHER’S SINGLE    

                            

After Nick Swisher followed Jeter’s out with a single, one announcer said, “now that looms larger, getting thrown out at third.”  Well, not exactly.  It was a big mistake whether the next three guys struck out or the next three guys hit homers.  The game is completely different if Jeter stays at second.  For just one example, Randy Romero would have worked from the stretch if Jeter’s on second.  With him in the dugout, Romero used the full wind-up to pitch to Swisher.    

                       

That’s just one of many different variables that can never be duplicated.  We’ll never know what would have happened if Derek Jeter stayed at second

                  

DID IT REALLY MATTER?    

                                 

Well, again, that was a dumb play no matter what the later batters did in the inning.  But it would become really important if it turned out to be a close game.    

                           

Final score:  Toronto 7, Yankees 6.    

                        

You get the point.           

                                       

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.