CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Purpose Pitches: A New... (04/01)
<< Previous Column
Prospectus Hit and Run... (03/25)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Hit and Run... (04/05)
Next Article >>
Divide and Conquer, AL... (04/01)

April 1, 2011

Prospectus Hit and Run

Off to the Races

by Jay Jaffe

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

"I've been petitioning the league to start in March for years," laughed Mark Teixeira, a career .235/.342/.411 hitter in April, but .294/.382/.557 the rest of the year. "Finally they let us start in March because everyone knows about my Aprils."

Teixeira had plenty of cause for joviality. Not only did he launch a towering three-run homer off Justin Verlander in the third inning of Thursday's Opening Day tilt between the Yankees and Tigers, but he put some distance between last year's horrendously slow start and this season. Teixeira didn't collect his first hit of 2010 until the season's fifth game and his 22nd plate appearance, didn't connect for his first homer until the 12th game, and ended April hitting an abysmal .136/.300/.259 with just two homers.

While Teixeira finished the year with 33 homers, 108 RBI, and a league-high 113 runs scored, he hit just .256/.365/.481, setting a career low in batting average and his lowest marks in the other two categories since his 2003 rookie campaign. Those numbers could pass muster for most first basemen; indeed, Teixeira's .294 True Average ranked 12th among the 22 first sackers who qualified for the batting title. When you're coming down from a league-high 39 dingers, a .292/.383/.565 line, and a world championship in your first year in pinstripes, that's not enough, particularly when you're earning $22.5 million per year.

"Last year was awful," said Teixeira of his slow start. "There's no other way to put it. It was embarrassing when you have that bad of a start. And last year overall for me wasn't good. I expect a lot out of myself. Personally and as a team we didn't accomplish our goals, so this offseason [Yankees hitting coach] Kevin Long and I talked a lot and just said, 'Okay, what are we going to do?'"

Teixeira realized that he was neglecting an essential part of the equation in his spring preparations. "I swung a lot more," he said when asked what he'd done to prepare differently. "Being a switch-hitter, I have to swing about twice as much anyway. So with all the work that we put in defensively and in the weight room and running sprints in spring training, sometimes your swing is the last thing you think about because you just figure, 'I've always been able to hit, I'll be ready.' This spring I really made sure that my swing was right. Kevin Long and I spent a lot of time in the cage, and hopefully it's going to pay off."

Curtis Granderson isn't a stranger to getting his season off on the right foot. For the third year in a row, he homered on Opening Day. While his previous season-starting shots came in losses for the Tigers (2009) and Yankees (2010), his seventh-inning solo homer on Thursday broke a 3-3 tie and put the Yankees ahead to stay.

Even more notable was the fact that Granderson's home run came against Phil Coke, not only a player for whom he was traded in a three-way swap in December 2009, but also a lefty. Coming into the day, the lefty-swinging Granderson had hit just .215/.274/.346 in his career against southpaws, a stark contrast to the robust .287/.363/.527 he'd hit against righties. Mired in a slump last August, he shored up his approach against southpaws with the help of Long. While the sample sizes were small, the results offered promise: After hitting just .206/.243/.275 in his first 107 PA against lefties, he crushed them at a .286/.375/.500 clip over his final 64 PA.

While Granderson was wary of dismissing his big hit as carryover from last season, he credited Long with helping to simplify his swing. "I definitely am more confident, partly from the things we worked on with Kevin Long in terms of eliminating the moving parts," he said. "When I got them all aligned, it didn't matter if it was a lefty or a righty. It was always a little issue of getting everything in the right spot. What Kevin Long and myself decided to do was to eliminate some of those things. This is where we want to be, let's go ahead and get you right there with fewer steps than you had before."

The home run may not have been the most remarkable part of Granderson's day. After straining his right oblique on March 22, he spent more than a week with the threat of a season-opening stint on the disabled list hanging over his head. But after facing live pitching on Tuesday and playing in a minor-league exhibition on Wednesday once the rest of the 25-man roster had broken camp, he flew to New York Wednesday evening, and was in center field for first pitch.

What's more, Granderson made an outstanding catch in the ninth inning that threatened to overshadow his home run. With Mariano Rivera—resplendent in high socks, a new look for the venerable closer—facing Brandon Inge with one out in the ninth and a three-run lead, Granderson made a running over-the-shoulder grab in deep center field. He also made a diving catch of a dying quail off the bat of Will Rhymes in the first inning, and saved a run in the sixth when he chased down a shallow blooper off the bat of Alex Avila with two outs and Inge at second base.

Granderson wasn't quite sure he would be physically capable of such feats even after Wednesday's test: "I played, but a lot of things didn't happen. For example, after I was on my way to the airport someone said, 'How do you think you'll feel on a dive?' I hadn't even thought about that, because it didn't come up in any of the games. It's one of those things that just kind of happens, and sure enough, the first ball today, I had to dive for—and it felt fine. Anytime you hit the ground it's never a good thing, but I got up, was able to go. I'm sure adrenaline added a little bit to it, the first ball and all that good stuff."

Granderson was positioned in shallow center for all three of his notable catches. The first two were against Rhymes and Avila, among the less powerful hitters in the Tigers' lineup. "It all started this spring. We talked a lot, like, hey, let's keep pushing and see how shallow you can play, and trust that you can get to that ball. The first test today we proved that it worked out." For Avila, Granderson was shaded towards left-center. "[Avila] tends to go the other way with some of the best left-handers in the game. So we were shifted that way. The fact that Inge had made it to second base caused me to move in even shallower. I just wanted a chance to make sure I could possibly make a play at the plate if the ball was hit to me."

As for his ninth-inning grab, Granderson said, "What Mariano likes to do especially when he has a lead when he comes into a ballgame, he doesn't want balls to fall in, in front. So Gardner, myself, and Swisher will play a lot shallower than we might throughout the whole course of the game. Then when the ball was hit where it [was], the wind helped me a bit, giving me a chance to get a good read."

Teixeira and Granderson weren't the only Yankees getting off to the races. Catcher Russell Martin, playing in his first game in pinstripes, collected the team's first hit of the season via a sharp single to left to lead off the third inning. Martin took second on a sacrifice bunt down the first base line by Brett Gardner (whom manager Joe Girardi said was bunting for a base hit, so mind those pitchforks). On the heels of a Derek Jeter walk, he stole third base, much to the shock and amazement of a crowd which has looked to lead-footed Jorge Posada—who has one career steal of third—as the Yankees' primary catcher for the last 13 seasons. And to Jeter as well; the captain's statuesque pose at first base let there be no doubt that this wasn't a play put on by Girardi. Three pitches later, Teixeira hit his home run to put the Yankees on the board.

For a player whose 2010 season ended with a pelvic fracture and one who underwent off-season surgery to repair a torn meniscus, Martin demonstrated that his wheels were in good shape again in the seventh inning. Immediately following Granderson's homer, he reached on a throwing error by Inge, took second on another Gardner sacrifice, went to third on a wild pitch, and boldly bolted for home on a very shallow sacrifice fly by Jeter, executing a neat hook slide around Avila to cap his adventurous tour around the bases.

Furthermore, on a frigid 42-degree day, Martin was spry behind the plate and had no trouble handling Yankee starter CC Sabathia and the three relievers who followed. Meanwhile, Avila struggled mightily to handle the Tigers' pitchers, and was unable to prevent wild pitches from Verlander, Rick Perry, and Daniel Schlereth, who uncorked one in the ninth inning that led to the Yankees' sixth and final run.

Sabathia, though not at his sharpest, whiffed seven hitters over six innings, working around six hits, two walks, and a Robinson Cano error to hold the Tigers to three runs. He netted 14 swings and misses among his 106 pitches, generating at least one swinging strike three with his fastball, sinker, slider, and changeup.

Verlander wasn't at his sharpest, either. The Yankees worked a pair of two-out walks off of him in the first, forcing him to throw 31 pitches in the inning. He issued two more walks on the day, the one to Jeter which came back to haunt him, and one in the sixth, when he walked Cano following a long Alex Rodriguez double. Verlander escaped the jam by striking out Nick Swisher looking and Posada swinging, but after needing just 20 pitches to get through the previous two innings, the 28 pitches he threw in the sixth spelled the end of his day.

 The Tigers' bullpen didn't help Verlander's cause, while the Yankees' pen backed Sabathia with a scoreless inning apiece from Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano and Rivera. "It's how you draw it up," said Girardi, and just like that, the Yankees were 1-0 for the season. 

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

Related Content:  First Hit,  First Career Hit,  The Who,  Kevin Long

22 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

irussma

Huge SSS alert, obviously, since we're talking about 64 PA last year and one game this year, but if Granderson really has improved against lefties, that Yankees lineup just got a *lot* scarier. Terrible splits are the only thing keeping Granderson from being an elite player.

Apr 01, 2011 02:12 AM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

The Grandy Man can!

Apr 01, 2011 07:53 AM
rating: -2
 
Matt Kory

I hate those dumb Sterling-isms so so much.

Apr 03, 2011 12:49 PM
rating: 3
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

It's nearly impossible to root for the Yankees. Ridiculous salary. A massively spoiled, social-idiot owner. Extreme money-grubbing players. A cheater batting fourth.

If you look at their win Thursday basically every positive result was from a player NOT from the New York, but rather sold to them. Gross.

Apr 01, 2011 11:54 AM
rating: -6
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

But they're the underdogs this year! Don't you get it?

You're obviously entitled to feel however you want about the team, but "Extreme money-grubbing players" is a bit, shall we say, extreme. Simply having the skill to command Yankee dollars does not make a player any more money-grubbing than one who chooses to sell their services to the highest bidder in any other market. And with regards to Thursday's stars, it's not as though Granderson or Martin came to the team via nine-figure free agent deals. Flawed but fascinating players both, they may wind up being relative bargains.

Apr 01, 2011 12:03 PM
 
thenamestsam

What team do you root for? I'm sure they're a beacon of integrity, but in spite of that, guess what? I find it impossible to root for them. Fans root for their teams not for logical reasons, and fans root against other teams because they're not their team, despite all the "logical" reasons you provide for your distaste. Why would you begrudge someone else their fandom?

Apr 01, 2011 13:52 PM
rating: 2
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

The Yankees franchise really is a disgrace to the sport. An unsolvable problem of how to balance the competition despite no salary cap or salary floor. In other sports, new teams come up from the dungeons and basements almost every year - in MLB, those teams are perennial banished from competing for years or decades at a time (Bal/Pit/KC/Hou/etc.). The evidence that money strongly correlates with winning only further suggests that a team like NY(or Bos for that matter), isn't winning via good coaching, good team chemistry, clutch play or strong management but rather due to running their opponents over with dollar signs. If you think this is good, you must have a different set of values then most. If your team operates through this method, how can you proudly root for them?

Frankly, something should have been done about it a decade ago, but now they've just become the embarrassing uncle that no one knows how to get rid of.

Apr 01, 2011 14:03 PM
rating: -6
 
vockins

I don't have a problem rooting for the Yankees for the same reason that you don't have a problem living in America.

(Assumption about you there, obviously, but I don't think it's that bold.)

Apr 01, 2011 14:20 PM
rating: 0
 
Travis G.

I'm sure the players for your team (and every other team) play purely for "the love of the game," right?

And to says it's "nearly impossible" to be a Yankee fan because of the owner... if this was true, most pro teams wouldn't have ANY fans. FYI, we don't root for the owner.

Apr 02, 2011 22:28 PM
rating: 0
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

That's a *close* assessment(sure I live here), but America was also formed on bravery, hard work, ingenuity, innovation a strong morale base and good fortune, very few things that can be said for the *current* Yankee regime.

I don't know baseball history well enough to say whether the first 15 championships were bought, but I know the last 4-5 were for sure.


The easiest analogy I can give you is if you think how the Yankee's franchise is good for the sport, I encourage you to join my local softball league on a very mediocre team and we'll pound you back to the dugout game after game. We may even let you win once in a while. The exception is that in future years, my team will be allowed first dibs on the best local players and then your team can pick through the scraps. How long are you going to keep playing?


Even if I was born and raised in NYC, I'd still see inherant problems with the sport and I'd be much more likely to root for the Mets or another team then the team playing by a different set of rules.

Apr 01, 2011 14:35 PM
rating: -5
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Yes, those plucky Mets sure have plenty of small-market credibility with their miniscule payroll. The forward-thinking ways of the Minaya regime so impressive that Michael Lewis will write his next book about them. They're David to the Yankees' Goliath. Yeesh.

Anyway, it's worth remembering that most of us don't sit down and make a rational choice in choosing a team to root for, it just happens that you find yourself swept up in following a team at some point, generally through their success on some level. To borrow a phrase that I learned from Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, "you don't pick your club, your club picks you."

Apr 01, 2011 16:28 PM
 
Brian24

Go Yankees!

Apr 02, 2011 22:56 PM
rating: -1
 
GDAVIS8848

hyprvypr:

You mean the country that slaughtered the natives, enslaved Blacks and defined them as less than human?

Please, please let's stick to baseball. Please.

Go Yanks!

Apr 01, 2011 15:45 PM
rating: 1
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

ALl superior civilizations have done that to all lesser civilzations throughout time.

I concur though that generally you don't pick the team you root for, they pick you. That said, my argument that the Yankees are bad for the sport stand, regardless of what team you root for. It's bad for the game when the largest factor in who makes the playoffs and who doesn't is money.

Apr 01, 2011 16:40 PM
rating: -10
 
Ogremace

If you think the gap between team payrolls is too big, why is your problem with the Yankees and not with the other teams? Few teams have small payrolls because they're "poor", they just don't want to spend so much. The Steinbrenner's are not the richest baseball owners, just the one's who spend the most on their team. If that's spoiled and money-grubbing, maybe all teams should be this way.

Apr 01, 2011 21:38 PM
rating: 2
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I *do* have a problem with other teams outspending and buying all their wins. Philly, Boston, Anahiem, etc, it's all a bad thing for the sport.

When fans look at the predicted standings every year and the same 8-10 teams are ALWAYS favored, it's bad for the sport. You folks are really ignorant if you don't understand that.

Apr 03, 2011 10:18 AM
rating: -4
 
Matt Kory

You should look at the standings the last ten years. I think you'll be surprised at what you see.

And if by "bad for the sport" you mean "good for the sport" than I agree completely.

Apr 03, 2011 12:52 PM
rating: 0
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Here are your AL playoff teams the last nine years:

2002: Yankees, Minnesota, Oakland, Angels
2003: Yankees(2), Boston, Minnesota(2), Oakland(2)
2004: Yankees(3), Boston(2), Minnesota(3), Angels(2)
2005: Yankees(4), Boston(3), Chicago, Angels(3)
2006: Yankees(5), Minnesota(4), Detroit, Oakland(3)
2007: Yankees(6), Boston(4), Cleveland, Angels(4)
2008: Tampa Bay, Boston(5), Chicago(2), Angels(5)
2009: Yankees(7), Boston(6), Minnesota(5), Angels(6)
2010: Tampa Bay(2), Yankees(8), Minnesota(6), Texas

14 teams, 9 years, 36 playoff spots would yield on average 2.57 playoff spots per team over those 9 years yet the Yankees, Boston, Minnesota and the Angels *earned* 26 of those playoffs.

During those nine years, Toronto, Baltimore, Kansas City and Seattle ALL failed to make the playoffs once.

Nope, no surprises there Mattymattymattymatty... Like your name, the AL playoff list is repeatative on a nauseating level.

Apr 03, 2011 15:31 PM
rating: -5
 
Matt Kory

Its odd that I said ten years and you only looked at nine, which conveniently left out the Mariners 102 win season in '01, ultimately it doesn't much matter. Despite the Yankees and Red Sox and Angels grabbing most of the spots most teams in the AL have made the playoffs over that time period. I'm not sure that it dis-proves you're great morality play, but there it is.

As for the rest of your comment, I'm not sure why you have to say my comment and my name are nauseating. There's really no reason for person attacks here. I don't recall insulting you. Making unkind statements with no provocation is a good way to get your comments justifiably minused.

Apr 03, 2011 15:56 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Not to say that you don't have a point or two amidst your hostility, but...

If the system as is is so bad for baseball as a whole, how do you account for the fact that prior to the post-2008 economic downturn, attendance grew from 2001-2008? That is, grew despite the concentration of playoff spots among a relatively small number of teams in the AL, and despite decreasing capacity in ballparks due to the move towards smaller facilities?

Furthermore, do you honestly think that owners like Jeffrey Loria, David Glass and Bob Nutting are any better for the game than the Steinbrenners?

Apr 03, 2011 19:08 PM
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Your argument is bad and yet like a windup doll pulling your own chain, you keep running out the same nonsense. Even though 4 teams made the playoffs at a 70% share and 5 teams didn't make it at all, you're somehow still defending it. It's like the guy on fire at a NYC intersection on the twelth straight 110 degree day in Summer saying there is NO such thing as global warming.

You're a true believer. No logical person would say baseball has competetive balance. The system is flawed and the results only reinforce the notion.

I attack true believers because I'd prefer if they stayed off think-tank forums in the first place, babbling nonsense despite enormous evidence against them.

Apr 03, 2011 16:23 PM
rating: -4
 
Matt Kory

You need to learn the difference between an argument and a discussion.

Apr 03, 2011 23:19 PM
rating: 1
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Purpose Pitches: A New... (04/01)
<< Previous Column
Prospectus Hit and Run... (03/25)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Hit and Run... (04/05)
Next Article >>
Divide and Conquer, AL... (04/01)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of April 24-26, 2...
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Monday, April 27
Fantasy Article The Buyer's Guide: Jimmy Nelson
Pebble Hunting: Scott Boras Has Baseball's M...
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: The Worst Holes On Contenders
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Nuts To Strasburg!
Premium Article Monday Morning Ten Pack: April 27, 2015

MORE FROM APRIL 1, 2011
Premium Article On the Beat: Two Twins Are Better Than One
Baseball ProGUESTus: Answer Me These Questio...
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Value Picks in the Rotation
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Three Tips for Surviving April
Premium Article Prospectus Q&A: Bobby Jenks
Team Injury Projection: Los Angeles Dodgers
Team Injury Projection: Los Angeles Angels

MORE BY JAY JAFFE
2011-04-11 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: First Flight
2011-04-08 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: AL Bullpen Blowout
2011-04-05 - Prospectus Hit and Run: NL Bullpen Blowout
2011-04-01 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Off to the Races
2011-03-31 - Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: Five Bold Prediction...
2011-03-28 - Prospectus Hit List: NL Pre-Season Hit List
2011-03-25 - Prospectus Hit and Run: Are the Cubs a Sleep...
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS HIT AND RUN
2011-04-14 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Up the Middlemen
2011-04-08 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: AL Bullpen Blowout
2011-04-05 - Prospectus Hit and Run: NL Bullpen Blowout
2011-04-01 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Off to the Races
2011-03-25 - Prospectus Hit and Run: Are the Cubs a Sleep...
2011-03-22 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: I Don't Wanna Go Dow...
2011-03-18 - Prospectus Hit and Run: Wake of the Quake
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2011-04-11 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: First Flight
2011-04-01 - What You Missed: 3/28-4/1