clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Lost Sunday in Baltimore, But Let's All Sing

Andy Pettitte returns, gives hope, brings your dead ancestors back to life. (AP)

Sunday’s game was a vivid demonstration of a Yankees offense that still isn’t working up to its full potential. The club had six walks in regulation play, three more in the 10th inning, and yet couldn’t put more than three runs up on the scoreboard. Altogether, the club stranded 25 runners. Derek Jeter, hitting .218 with men on this season and .247 with runners in scoring position, left six runners on base. Lance Berkman marooned five. Ramiro Pena, who is deadlier than smoking, abandoned four.

A word on Ramiro Pena. Pena is very smooth in the field. As defensive replacements go, he’s all you could ask for. Unfortunately, he’s not being used as a defensive replacement, he’s being used as a part-time starter. It’s understandable that he’s played as much as he has, getting 26 starts at third base, nine at shortstop; Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are getting up there in years, have aches and pains to deal with, and so we should expect a Yankees utility infielder to play a lot. If Pena was really as good a hitter as he seemed to be last year, when he hit .287/.317/.383 …Well, things would still be really bad, but not as bad. This year he’s been less than half the hitter he was last year, and he’s going to finish the season with something like 180 plate appearances, which is a lot to give to a guy with a 515 OPS.

This may seem like a classic second-guess—some of you are probably saying, "Hey, Steverino, Pena seemed plenty good enough last year! Where were you then?" Saying the same thing right here, actually, and in the Baseball Prospectus annual, where I wrote, "given career minor-league hitting rates of .255/.315/.320, Pena almost certainly hit over his head last year." You can do a quick and dirty translation of those minor league rates, something like deducting 10 percent. You get .230/.284/.288, which is better than Pena is actually doing, but still miserable. Pena was extremely unlikely have even a .300 on-base percentage this year, and the Yankees had to know that. They also had to know that given a 34-year-old third baseman and 36-year-old shortstop, someone was going to pull something this year. Positing Pena as the solution to those injuries was too passive, too optimistic an approach.

On Sunday, Pena was symptomatic of the rest of the offense, which disappeared against the Orioles bullpen. Every team is going to have days like this one, but the Yankees have had quite a few of them of late. Even having scored 11 runs on Saturday and eight three days before that, they were hitting only .249/.349/.391 in September going into the game. Combine that with a bullpen having an off-day and you have a recipe for a disappointing conclusion to an already-troubling 3-6 roadtrip.

Having said that, let’s not lose the forest for the broccoli au gratin. Three very promising things happened over the weekend. A.J. Burnett had a solid start, which gives him a shot at having consecutive quality starts for the first time since August 10 and 15. CC Sabathia pitched well again on Saturday and won his 20th game, another milestone in a very solid season. Finally, Andy Pettitte returned on Sunday after a layoff of roughly two months and held the Orioles to one run in six innings.

Now, the Orioles have one of the weaker lineups in the American League. Since Buck Showalter came around they’ve improved, hitting .267/.318/.402 as compared to .256/.315/.384 before, but that still isn’t even league-average hitting (the real improvement has been to the pitching; the Orioles have shaved about 1.5 runs off the team ERA on Showalter’s watch). That Yankees’ starters pitched well against them is in some ways the least we should expect. Still, that the likely top three starters pitched well, pitched well consecutively, gives one a bit of hope for the playoffs. As I said last week, a rotation without Pettitte was really down to CC Sabathia and pray for… Well, any kind of divine intervention, really. Rain. Locusts. Disco. Now it’s Sabathia, Pettitte, and the realistic possibility that Burnett might do something useful. Phil Hughes’ last start was quite good as well, until Joe Girardi left it on autopilot for a batter too long. Nothing is guaranteed, but even with the sour outcome on Sunday, for the first time in two weeks there is a glimmer of hope for a good outcome in October.