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June 4, 2013

What You Need to Know

Petite Outfield Behind Pettitte

by Zachary Levine

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The Monday Takeaway
As the time ticked away toward Andy Pettitte’s return to the Yankees, they had plenty of options for which hitter they’d have to send down to make room. And it was as much a philosophical question as it was one of performance.

Remove Lyle Overbay and you’d probably lose him to waivers, but it was the position-prudent thing to do. Mark Teixeira was back, and how many first basemen do you need? Send down David Adams and at least you’re preserving a roster with four outfielders.

The Yankees did neither, though. Unwilling to part with an offense-only player like Overbay, they went all in on offense, sending Brennan Boesch to Triple-A Scranton. As a result, Overbay became an outfielder for the first time in his major-league career and the first time since he was a 24-year-old El Paso Diablo in 2001.

He hadn’t played right field since his professional debut in 1999 with the Missoula Osprey, but he didn’t embarrass himself Monday night. The most anxious moment came in the fifth inning when Yan Gomes lofted a bases-loaded fly ball to shallow right, but Overbay came in on it fine.

If there was a perfect time for the Yankees to try this, it was Monday night. They were facing a right-handed pitcher in Justin Masterson, and getting the extra lefty power in the lineup was ideal especially in Yankee Stadium. Also, the Stadium features a short right field and Brett Gardner, who is a 22.5 FRAA player in the equivalent of 3 ½ seasons, was right next door.

Having three outfielders will hurt the Yankees at some point, perhaps as soon as tonight when they face a lefty (Scott Kazmir) and it’s Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki, and Gardner with no backups. Or maybe when they leave tiny Yankee Stadium and Overbay would have to navigate Safeco Field, The Coliseum, and Angel Stadium on the next trip.

Eventually, they’ll probably need to re-evaluate this. But a team that has really one strength—left-handed power—made a high-stakes play to that strength and lived to tell about it for a night.

Matchup of the Day
In perhaps his toughest challenge of what appears to be a breakout year, Matt Moore will try to continue his stunning run of success against right-handed hitters when he faces one of the game’s best in Miguel Cabrera. While Moore is a lefty, he’s yielded little to right-handed hitters, holding them to a BABIP-suppressed .153/.249/.287 slash line this year with 11.0 percent walks and 26.0 strikeouts. (Lefties are hitting .232/.329/.406 with 11.3 percent walks and a much lower 15.2 percent strikeouts.)

The reverse split isn’t really a fluke. While he didn’t carry one through a full season in the majors last year, a lot of that was BABIP, and his walk and strikeout numbers illustrated a reverse split. Moore is certainly susceptible to one without a slider in his repertoire to use on same-side hitters. He uses a changeup plenty against righties, as you would expect. This year, he has pumped up the use of his curveball from 15 percent of all pitches against righties to 22 percent.

He’s faced Cabrera before, and those three plate appearances were very different than Moore’s usual. For one thing, he was extremely careful, walking him twice and throwing this array of pitches mostly out of the strike zone before giving up in the last one and intentionally walking him after two fastballs that weren’t close.

But Moore threw almost exclusively fastballs, whether four-seam or two-seam, and those accounted for 14 of the 15 pitches before the intentional walk.

Moore is due for some regression simply because humans cannot sustain a .206 BABIP, and facing Cabrera tonight will be a fascinating test for how soon that will come.

What to Watch for on Tuesday

  • If start No. 2 in any way resembles start No. 1 for Michael Wacha and Tyler Skaggs, then the Cardinals-Diamondbacks game in St. Louis is a must-watch. Wacha employed his fastball-changeup combination in keeping the Royals off balance for six innings with only one run on the scoreboard. Skaggs, meanwhile, struck out nine Texas Rangers in six shutout innings in his season debut, throwing a little bit harder than he did in his six-start introduction to the big leagues last year (8:15 p.m. ET).
  • The extra day of rest was no good for David Phelps, who will look to put the worst outing of his career behind him in a tough matchup with the Indians. Phelps retired just one batter in the Yankees’ loss to the Mets on Wednesday. Of course, he struck him out. Look for a lot of strikeouts in this one, as Phelps has 50 in 50 1/3 innings, and the powerful Indians are the third-most strikeout-prone team in the American League. (7:05 p.m. ET)

Also the three that Daniel Rathman noted yesterday

  • How does a rehabbing player convince his club that he’s ready to come off the disabled list? Well, collecting multiple hits in three straight games, and then topping that stretch with a two-homer effort, is a rather infallible strategy. And that’s precisely what Jayson Werth did over his past four contests for High-A Potomac, leading manager Davey Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo to reinsert him into a Nationals lineup that badly needs a boost. After dropping the last two games of their three-game set in Atlanta, four of their last five, and 10 of their last 15, the 28-29 Nats are below .500 for the first time since April 24, when they were 10-11. Werth will try to get the dormant offense, which is now without Bryce Harper, going in the game-one matchup with Mets righty Jeremy Hefner (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • If you’re not on the West Coast, you may need to stay up late to watch the night’s best duel, which could come in the middle match between the White Sox and Mariners at Safeco Field. Jake Peavy, eager to bounce back from the six-run hurting put on him by Travis Wood and the crosstown Cubs, gets the ball for the visitors. Felix Hernandez, who tossed eight innings of one-run ball at Petco Park in his last start and has no bouncing back to do, tackles the assignment for the home team (10:10 p.m. ET).
  • Melky Cabrera received his World Series ring from Giants manager Bruce Bochy during San Francisco’s visit to Toronto, but tonight, he’ll face the AT&T Park fans for the first time since his season-ending, 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Cabrera, who inked a two-year, $16 million deal with the Blue Jays, amassed a .332 TAv over 113 games for the Giants, and is off to a comparatively slow, .259 TAv start in Toronto. He’ll try to back Josh Johnson, who missed more than a month with inflammation in his triceps, while doing battle with former teammate Tim Lincecum in the opener (10:15 p.m. ET).

Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Zachary's other articles. You can contact Zachary by clicking here

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