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Tanaka Looks to Carry Impressive Spring into Regular Season

“So far, so good” says Masahiro Tanaka on his transition to Major League Baseball. The early numbers seem to agree with him. With two starts and one relief appearance under his belt, Tanaka has impressed so far. He’s given up just two runs over nine and a third innings, while striking out ten batters. During those innings he’s allowed only seven hits and produced 9.6 K/9 and 5.0 K/BB ratios. Of course they’re not his NPB numbers, but very solid nonetheless.

I’ve had the privilege of being able to watch a couple of Tanaka’s outings thus far, and sure enough he passes the eye test too. While his fastball, only gets up to the mid 90s when he reaches back, it seems to have some good movement on it. It appears as though he likes throwing 2 seamers more than the typical 4 seam fastball, which makes sense given the velocity. On to the pitch everyone has been hearing about, Tanaka’s splitter. It has the makings of a devastating pitch at the Major league level, capable of generating a lot of swing and misses. Tanaka also throws a slider and a curveball. The slider has looked surprisingly good so far, making a couple Atlanta Braves look silly yesterday. The curveball though has not been as impressive, and may even be a pitch that he scraps at some point.

Tanaka’s looked a little rusty during Spring Training, but that is understandable.  With his money splitter and overall strong command, I believe he will flourish in his first season in the Bronx. My amateur prediction is 16-8 W-L,  3.34 ERA,  1.21 WHIP, and a 8.4 K/9 ratio. If Tanaka can come close to these numbers, then Yankee fans will have something special to watch for years to come. On the Japanese pitcher scale, think way closer to Yu Darvish than Kei Igawa, thankfully.

The New Era Yankees

New York Yankees

The Yankees of past years with young and energized players is a figment of every fans imagination. No longer do the Yankees rely on their young up and coming prospects to grow into the potential greats that they were once viewed as being by the organization. For the first time in decades, the Yankees were not projected to finish first in the division or even second for that matter, behind the new and improved Toronto Blue Jays and the revamped Boston Red Sox. With the 1,2,4, and 5 batters (Jeter, Granderson,Teixeira, and Rodriguez) of the Yankees lineup being put on the disabled list, they were forced to make several signings to stay in the pennant race. New comers to the team include, Vernon Wells (34), Travis Hafner (35), Lyle Overbay (36) who have all surprisingly made contributions to the teams success, despite having their “hey-days” in the rear view mirror, along with past Yankee rival Kevin Youkilis (34) who stirred up some drama before the season even started. The Yankees are just hoping that their season doesn’t pan out the same way that fellow New Yorkers of the New York Knicks season did, whom also took the seasoned veteran route this past year.

To all of the fans surprise, they have been able to pull it together despite the loss last night to cross town rivals, The New York Mets, who always seem to put up a fight despite their division standing, and are actually sitting in second place giving the Red Sox’s a fight for first place, with a crucial series with them coming up this weekend. Who knows how long the veterans can keep this unexpected success going for, but for any Yankees fan they must be happy with the efforts being put forth, especially with players consistently being on and off the disabled list, because I sure am. One can only hope though that the young blood of Granderson and Teixeira with the wisdom of Jeter, can come back ASAP to give some players a rest and make that final push for first place in hopes of pulling away and putting the other teams in the dust.

by Andrew Benzenberg
of the Sports Fan Blog Network

Our Yankees Blog has a new home

Our New York Yankees blog has a new home. We are excited to officially merge with today. Click here for our new Yankees Blog Home Page.

The Yankees lineup this season would have been one of the best of all time in 2006. Check out Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, Lance Overbay, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano’s stats that season. Unfortunately for the Yankees this is 2013! The pitching staff is very average and the lineup is old and injured. With such an even division from top to bottom this season, the Yankees could easily miss the playoffs for only the second time since 1994. With that being said; the Yankees still have a lot of pride, they want to win for Mariano Rivera in his final season, Cano has a new contract to play for and injured stars such as; Teixeira, Jeter and Curtis Granderson should return at some point this season. If some of the old timers such as; Hafner, Wells or Kevin Youkilis can relive their glory years, then the Yankees can certainty compete for the AL East crown, but that is a big if.

Supernova should stay when Hughes/Colon return

With Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon returning to the New York Yankees in the coming week, the question going forward for the bombers will be to either keep Ivan Nova or Freddy Garcia in the starting rotation. Nova’s spot in the rotation going forward is said to be linked to his performance tonight against the cross-town rival New York Mets. However, it shouldn’t be when comparing Nova to Garcia at this point in the season. Nova is pitching to the very respectable tune of a 7-4 record with a 4.26 ERA. Garcia counters with a 7-6 record with a 3.28 ERA. Both players are very similar when comparing across the board (quality starts, innings pitched, strikeouts per 9 innings, WHIP, walks, etc.), with the slight edge belonging to Garcia. One might say that because Garcia is the more seasoned veteran that he should remain in the starting rotation when Hughes returns, but Nova- at only the age of 24 and really in his first full major league season- has the better overall stuff and two less losses to his name than Garcia. Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, has always known that Nova has the potential to be a successful pitcher in the big leagues and knows that it has always come down to whether the young righty can learn to be consistent with his repertoire. “I’ve said all along he has a lot of talent, it’s just learning to harness that talent and use all his pitches and continue to develop his pitches as he moves forward,” Girardi said. “This kid has shown in some games that he can be really, really good.” With the Yankees surging along right now, it doesn’t make sense for Nova to be demoted to the bullpen in a long relief position or sent down to Triple-A, when Hughes and Colon are activated off the disabled list. Girardi already knows what he has in a guy like Garcia for the long haul. Garcia is an end of the rotation pitcher who relies on changing speeds and limiting the damage over six innings, hoping that his offense will put up enough runs to come away with the victory. This has always been the case with Garcia and will not change in his tenure in pinstripes. Nova, currently slated as No. 4 starter in the Yankees starting rotation, has the potential to be a solid number 2 or 3 pitcher in a rotation-someday, if he’s able to develop his talent over the course of this season and going forward with the Yankees. With pitching for the Yankees, Nova actually finds himself in the perfect situation for his career. He’s on a team that can provide adequate run support for him each time he takes the mound, teammates who’ve have had success pitching in the big leagues and whom he can learn from i.e. CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, AJ Burnett, and a playoff bound team that he can be a big contributor to. If Nova can continue to pitch to his abilities, starting tonight against the Mets, and continues to pick up victories along the way, then the Yankees should stick with him in the starting rotation. If not? well then there’s always Garcia waiting in the wings or an all-star break trade to be made.

Written By, Mike Durnin @ Sports Fan Blog Network

Derek Jeter….Where’d you Go ?

If you were to sum up Derek Jeter’s offensive decline in one at bat, his plate appearance in the 6th inning of last night’s loss to the Red Sox would take the cake. With the sold out crowd of 47, 863 screaming Yankees fans on their feet, Number 2 stepped up to the plate with 1 out and the basses loaded, and the tying run only 270 feet away, Jeter had the chance to get his team back in the ball game. Yankees fans were praying the Jeter of old would appear, and get a clutch hit, even a sac fly would suffice at this point in the 37 year olds career. But none of that happened. Instead Jeter swung at a 3-2 changeup from former teammate Alfredo Aceves, and hit a groundball to Kevin Youkilis at third. 5-4-3 double play. Rally Over. Inning Over.

Yankees Fans were on the verge of getting a vintage Jeter Moment, instead that opportunity diminished as quickly as Jeter’s bat speed has. So this is what the aging Jeter has become, a groundball hitter. He is batting just .261 with two homers, 17 RBIs, a .326 on-base percentage and a .328 slugging percentage. Jeter did have a RBI double last night, on one of the hardest balls he has hit all season, moving him 11 hits away from 3,000, but right now that chase is the only thing Jeter has going for him. The classic Jeter is gone. Now this is in no way shape or form an attempt to diminish all that he has meant to this franchise, but the truth of the matter is after last season’s .270 year and this season’s lifeless .261, Jeter isn’t the same player. It is a scary truth when you consider he has two years and a player option for a third left on his contract. Cashman played hardball this off-season, daring Jeter to test the free-agent market. Jeter stayed and the Yankees cut his pay significantly (to $17 million per year), but it still looks as if they got crushed in the negotiation. Jeter’s inning ending double play was his fifth of the season, tied for the team lead with Alex Rodriguez. This used to Be Derek Jeter’s Moment to shine; Key words….Used to be.

Yankees take Dante Bichette JR. in First Year Player Draft

The Yankees only had 1 pick on day 1 of the Major League Baseball first year player draft, which took place yesterday. They used it to select infielder, Dante Bichette Jr., the son of former Colorado Rockies All Star Dante Bichette. Bichette (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) plays shortstop and pitches for Orangewood Christian High in Orlando Fla., and has committed to the University of Georgia. The Yankees are expected to convert him to the outfield at some point.

Bichette, who is one of the top power hitters in all of high school ball, is batting .640 with 10 home runs, 40 RBIs, 58 runs scored, a .723 on-base percentage and a 1.198 slugging percentage. Bichette, just like his dad is a very aggressive hitter with excellent bat speed. He hits from an exaggerated open, spread stance that concerns some scouts because he often doesn’t come close to closing his hips at contact, or becoming directional to the pitcher. Few pitchers at the high-school level can spot the ball consistently to the outside corner, especially with off-speed stuff, to exploit Bichette’s apparent vulnerability to pitches on the outer half. But it could prove to be a challenge for Bichette at the next level that may demand adjustments in his approach. On the other hand, throw something middle-in on Bichette, especially with some velocity on it, and he’ll destroy it. Balls typically explode off his barrel and he can easily reach the fences to all parts of the field.

Tha Yankees Top MLB’s Most Overrated Poll

So who is the most overrated player in the major’s? According to 185 anonymous players, its the man who cashes the biggest paycheck in the game; Alex Rodriguez. What a surprise. Rodriguez laughed off Sports Illustrated’s findings, as 18 percent of the 185 players polled listed A-Rod on their ballots to earn the dubious honor. “I think it will be like that for the rest of my career. It’s been like that for a long time. I think it’s pretty amusing,” Rodriguez said. The Yankees also filled the top 3, with Joba Chamberlin (last years…winner?) and Derek Jeter coming in second and third respectively. “I guess I passed the torch on to Al,” Chamberlain said. “Everybody is entitled to their opinion; that’s why this country is so great. … I could care less, as long as I’m still getting outs and doing the things I need to do. I’m doing my job and that’s all that matters.” Jeter wasn’t as amused by the poll though. Approached by reporters in front of his locker Jeter said, “We’re doing this again? I’m focused on more positive things, I’ve never understood those anonymous polls.” According to SI, Jayson Werth of the Nationals was fourth and the Red Sox’s Jonathan Papelbon was fifth.

P.S. All five players own World Series Rings. Jealously?

Bartolo Colon… The Biggest Surprise in Baseball

As Bartolo Colon was putting the finishing touches on his Memorial Day masterpiece yesterday in Oakland, one could only wonder, is this real life? The big man hasn’t pitched a full season in the big leagues since 2005, the year he won the AL CY Young Award, and didn’t even pitch in the majors last season. So when the Yankees decided to roll the dice and invite him to spring training as a non-roster invitee on a cut-rate minor league deal, no one thought twice about it. But when Colon out pitched every younger, stronger, higher-priced arm on the roster during spring training, everyone around baseball starting turning their heads, and started to ask how the seemingly out of shape of 38 year old was doing it?

Well for starters you’d have to think Dr. Joseph Purita ’s phone has been ringing off the hook lately. Earlier this month, it was reported that Colon underwent a unique type of stem cell treatment performed by Purita, to heal lingering shoulder injuries. The treatment involves extracting cells from the patient’s bone marrow and fat cells and injecting them into the area of concern. In this case, it was Colon’s injured shoulder. Every Since this operation, Colon has been a completely different pitcher. So far this season the $900,000 man is 3-3 with a 3.26 ERA. What’s even more amazing is how Colon is doing it. He’s striking out more than eight men per nine innings and racking up four K’s for every walk, ratios that bode very well for continued success. At this point in his career, Colon now has a pretty clear understanding of how to best use his stuff. Yesterday he needed only a 103 pitches , 71 of them strikes and most of them nasty two-seamers on one edge of the plate or the other. Colon allowed just four hits, walked no one and struck out six as the Yankees cruised to an easy 5-0 victory in the opener of a three-game series against the A’s. The only question that remains is, how long can he keep pitching at this high of a level? “None of us really know,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s thrown a lot of innings before in his career but he hasn’t done it in a while and he is 38. So you have to be careful, but we haven’t really seen his stuff drop off at this point.” This shows a change in Girardi’s attitude toward the pitcher since the only reason Colon wasn’t awarded the 5th spot in the rotation coming out of camp was because of durability concerns. But now, with Phil Hughes not expected to pitch before the all-star break, a healthy, effective Colon is no longer a bonus but practically a necessity.

Posada Needs To Stop

The Yankees are playing pretty well. It is a good time to get New York Yankees tickets. But one distraction lately was Jorge Posada. Recently, Posada was unhappy about batting ninth in the lineup. This certainly made the news round. Posada is now batting a whopping .169. Someone batting that average, and making over $10 million should not be one to complain. There is loyalty, but there is no need to keep someone who is an overpaid nuisance.

Kevin Long….The Hitter’s Repair Man

Behind every great hitter, there’s a great hitting coach. For the Yankees that man is Kevin Long. To understand why Long is so successful at what he does, you have to understand who Long is as a person. Lets flash back to the University of Arizona in 1989. This was a team that was stock full of future major league stars, including Trevor Hoffman, JT Snow, and Scott Erickson. The leader of this team though was a 5-foot-7 center fielder named Kevin Long.

As the years passed and his friends became stars in the big leagues, Long’s confidence sustained him through eight minor league seasons. Though those player’s glory days are long over, those days are just beginning for Long. He is now considered one of best if not the best hitting coach in all of baseball. He has been most notably been credited with fixing both Curtis Granderson’s and Nick Swisher’s Swings. Much of Long’s work is done outside of public view — in batting cages, where he trusts his eyes, and in film rooms, where videotape confirms what he sees. In those moments, Long taps into his understanding of his hitters to communicate his message…when they want it. He has learned not to push himself onto his players, going back to the old adage “When the student is ready, the master appears.” This was the case last year with Curtis Granderson. Granderson was struggling, only hitting around .240 when he came to Long during a series in Texas asking for help. Long suggested shorting his swing. Ever since that day when they went into the batting cages, Granderson has been a completely different player. Since then he is second in the majors in home runs, only trailing Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays. “If you’re going to fix somebody’s swing, you better know what you’re doing because you’re putting your name and reputation on the line,” the 43-year-old Long has said. “One of the criticisms I heard was how I could teach this caliber of player when I never played at this level. That doesn’t matter. It matters what kind of educator and teacher I am that I can get these guys to compete at an optimal level.”

So how could a man who never made to the majors himself, become one of the best hitting coaches in the game. Good old-fashioned hard work and determination, that’s how. When Long was in college he dreamed of having a successful major league career. But he also studied charts and trends at such a high that players on his team wondered if he was actually preparingfor his current job. Drafted in the 31st round by the Kansas City Royals, Long retired at age 29 in 1997, frustrated by what he considered a lack of good hitting instruction. So he decided to teach himself. When asked to describe his hitting philosophy , Long says he believes a hitter’s lower half plays a bigger role in the swing than the hands. Mostly, though, he believes in explaining a difficult skill in ways his players can understand. All of them retain information differently. For example, Long knows that Robinson Cano is more of an auditory learner and prefers a step-by-step breakdown. Granderson and Jeter rely on feel, avoiding video analysis. Long said Rodriguez knows his swing better than any player he has worked with, so he often uses one- or two-word trigger phrases to get the desired result.

But it’s not only Yankees who have such admiration for Long. Carlos Pena of the Chicago Cubs, who previously worked with Long back in 2006, has said “His strength is not actually all he knows, but how he teaches, how he can relate to a single player and make the player comfortable and confident and make the player trust him. Regardless of the stage or the level of the hitter, they start to feel they are the best in the world without ever even realizing it.”