Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Horse Keeps On Galloping

Screw the unimportance of Spring Training stats.  Screw conventional wisdom.  Screw basic baseball logic.  Screw everything.  The A-Horse is flat out crushing the holy hell out of the ball this spring, he's been doing it since the day he stepped foot on the team facility in Tampa, and he's well on his way to having a monster rebound season in 2011.  Consider these facts:

- He has 16 hits in 37 ST at-bats.

- 11 of those 16 hits have been for extra bases (6 2B, 5 HR).

- He has at least 1 hit in each of the 13 ST games in which he has played.

- He's scored 8 runs, driven in 11, and played damn good defense on the hot corner.

- His tripleslash for the spring?  .432/.475/1.000

- He's already being talked about as the early odds-on favorite to win the 2011 Kentucky Derby.

Alright, so maybe I made that last one up.  But that doesn't change the fact that this is the best A-Horse we've seen, both physically and from a baseball standpoint, in a few years.  His hip is healthy, he's in great shape, his swing looks immaculate, and he's set to hit the ground running on March 31, instead of still nursing injuries or trying to find his balance at the plate like he has been the last couple of years.  We can all get excited about the likes of Cano, Jesus Montero, and ManBan, but don't sleep on A-Rod.  The dude still has some serious tread on the tire.

Joe Names A.J. #2 Starter

Well we can all stop speculating about whether Phil Hughes deserves the #2 spot in the rotation.  Joe made it official yesterday, announcing after the game that A.J. will be the #2 starter in the rotation and Phil will take the #3 spot.

“That’s what we brought A.J. here to do,” Girardi said. “He struggled last year, but we believe he’s going to be back.” (via LoHud)

So what's the bigger deal here?  A.J. getting the spot behind CC or Phil getting the spot behind A.J.?  On the surface, this looks like an easy situation to figure out.  A.J. is more experienced than Phil, and when he's on his fastball-curveball combo plays up to the type of stuff you want a top-of-the-rotation starter to have.  Phil is still learning to master his offspeed stuff, especially his changeup, and really needs to lock down that reliable 3rd pitch before he can be considered a true top shelf starter.

But then consider how awful A.J. was last year and how important that 3rd starter spot became behind him.  That spot was taken by Andy Pettitte, and between A.J.'s struggles and Javy Vazquez's equally disappointing results in the 4-spot, that 3rd spot in the rotation became very important.  The Yankees were always confident in CC at the top, but if they lost a game in his start and then A.J came out and bombed the next day, the 3rd starter was the stopper of the rotation, somebody Joe could turn to for a big outing if and when the team needed a win, and before he got injured Andy performed that role for the team incredibly well in 2010.  Now with Andy gone, that role gets passed on to Phil in the 3-spot.

So does Joe giving A.J. the 2-spot and Phil the 3 show that Joe has seen enough good stuff from A.J. this spring to make him feel confident in A.J.?  Or does Joe have more confidence in Phil to be able to step up in a pinch and deliver a 7-8-inning, 1-2-run gem after a rough couple of games than he does in A.J.?  Either way, each guy now knows where he falls in the 2011 rotation and we can focus the rest of our energy on the 4th and 5th starter spots from here on out.