An All-Star at Every PositionBreaking down Cano's return and the J.B. Cox interview
The new-look Yankees have played six games since July 31, going 5-1. During that stretch, Cairo went 2-for-11 and Bernie Williams, now misguidedly being used as a left-handed hitter, went 2-for-13. These two slowed an offense that was otherwise hitting on all cylinders with .296/.376/.508 rates overall. It didn't matter against Toronto and the Orioles (neither player can be said to bear any responsibility for Saturday's one-hit loss, in which Williams didn't play and Cairo left after one at-bat).
What a return of Canó means is that the offense has that much more potential than it had on Sunday. Cairo has produced .07 runs per plate appearance this year. Canó had produced .12 (as a point of comparison, Derek Jeter is generating .16 runs per PA). This may be too limited an assessment of Canó. At the time of his injury, the second baseman was playing his best ball of the season, having batted .398/.432/.556 in the month of June. It's impossible to know if he'll pick up where he left off or cool cooling is almost inevitable given just how hot he was.
Still, if Canó remains in the vicinity of his season averages, the Yankees will see a real increase in run scoring potential. The next 100 plate appearances by Cairo would have produced seven runs at best. Canó's should produce roughly 12, giving the Yankees the potential of an added win.
The Yankees' batting order now possesses no weak spots, no places where the opposing pitcher can run and hide. The only exception is the aforementioned decision to use Williams as an occasional left-handed designated hitter. With 211 at-bats under his belt, Williams is batting .251/.286/.384 against right-handed pitching.
The decision to retain Andy Phillips at the expense of Aaron Guiel has pushed the Yankees into using Williams in this way. Phillips no longer has a role on the team, having come to bat exactly twice in the last week, while the Yankees still have a bleeding need for a lefty-hitting reserve. In an ideal world the pitching staff would be reduced from 12 to 11, but with Jaret "The Vanishing American" Wright on staff the Yankees need the extra hands. It's very possible that this will change by the postseason, assuming the Yankees make it, because there is less need to carry the full compliment of arms.
Bubba Crosby got cut this week despite having more of a defined role (pinch-runner, defensive replacement) than does Phillips. Despite the Yankees insistences on Phillips' continued presence with the club, this is something we should expect to change.
J.B. COX: THE PINSTRIPED BIBLE INTERVIEW
The Yankees' second round pick in 2005, the 22-year-old Cox was rated the 11th-best prospect in the Yankees system by Baseball America coming into this season. Cox set up A's closer Huston Street at Texas before taking over the closer's role after he was drafted. In a lot of ways he's a similar pitcher to Street, though his stuff is perhaps not quite as good not that the results hint at that. Last year at Tampa, Cox posted a 2.60 ERA in 28 innings, walking five and striking out 27. He allowed just one home run. This year he's been at Double-A Trenton setting up and, more recently, closing. The righty is 6-2 with three saves and a 1.90 ERA. In 71 innings he's allowed 49 hits, 23 walks, and two home runs while striking out 57. There is every chance he will be in New York's bullpen at some point next season.
The Pinstriped Bible: So do you prefer J.B.? There have been some variations.
J.B. Cox: It's like five different ways. It's messed up 'cause cards came out with Brent, and then they came out with J. Brent. [shakes head] Whatever. J.B. is fine.
PB: So you've had a real good season here. You've set up and closed
Cox: Pope got hurt about a week and a half ago, our closer, so I've kind of been the guy to fill in, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm the closer now 'cause I'm pretty sure if need be I'll be in the sixth inning. Either way it doesn't matter to me. Pitching is pitching.
PB: You closed in college though.
Cox: Yeah. I closed my full last year of college and had a taste of it whenever [college teammate Huston] Street went down the year before that.
PB: Which are you most comfortable doing?
Cox: Like I said, it doesn't matter. Closing's great, but pitching's pitching and if they want me to go to the big leagues and get one out and go back to the dugout it's fine with me. I don't care.
PB: You throw from kind of a low angle, right?
Cox: Yeah, low three-quarters.
PB: That's not what you would call sidearm, right?
Cox: No. Low three-quarters. I often say the most comparable is Street, because I went to school with him and my name is associated with him and we do throw alike. Not sidearm, but low three-quarter. Don't overpower people, rely a lot on movement. Upper 80s, low 90s fastball. Slider, changeup.
PB: You've given up two home runs all year, so you get a lot of groundball action on that?
Cox: Lot of groundballs. Most of the time when I'm behind in the count I can throw it and get a groundball to get out of it.
PB: An interesting thing is that guys who have that lower angle, it seems like lefty hitters pick them up really well. But at least so far that doesn't seem like it's the case for you.
Cox: That was a big worry when they signed me. That's why I started throwing the changeup. That's helped me a lot and it also depends on how I'm throwing. If I can establish my fastball I don't seem to have that much trouble and like I said the change-up has helped me a ton.
PB: Are you on pace with what you want to do?
Cox: Yeah. You'd always like to be a step ahead but what are you gonna do? The Yankees are full of prospects, full of stars, so I just have gotta do what I've gotta do here day in, day out, and let them make the decisions.
PB: Well, they're not so stacked with relievers. There's always a lot of turnover in the major league bullpen. This might be a tough question because your career has just started. A lot of relievers have trouble maintaining consistency from year to year, and that's one of the reasons there's so much turnover. A guy who has an ERA under 2.00 one year has a 4.00 the next year. Why do think that is and how can you avoid that?
Cox: I don't know. One reason I think that is is because most of the guys, unless you're a big-name reliever or a big closer guy, they bounce around a lot. You see a lot of guys getting traded. So say one year you go to the NL and you're facing these guys for a year. It's a good year, the first time they've ever seen you through, maybe you go to the AL the next year, it's supposed to be a better hitting league, maybe they see you a little bit better, hit better off of you. That's just baseball. Consistency is the probably the most important thing to be a constant in the bullpen in the major leagues. That's one thing everybody would like to have even better in their game, to be more consistent, go out there and provide a good outing and know what you're gonna have every time.
PB: Is it harder to repeat your delivery when you're only going out there once a game as opposed to throwing seven innings?
Cox: Oh yeah. Sure it is. When we throw bullpens in between when we don't pitch for three or four days we'll throw bullpens it's tough because you try to take a game attitude into the bullpen, but usually you've done your bullpen before the game and you don't want to waste your best stuff out there. It's tough. That's one thing I've been working on too. My arm slot was varying up and down, and my last couple of outings even though I've gotten roughed up a bit I've actually had a better arm slot.
PB: Next year you'll probably be ticketed to Triple-A to start the year
Cox: I hope so. This year's not over. I don't know what their plans are
PB: Sure. All it takes is a hamstring pull for somebody else. You don't wish for that but
Cox: Exactly. I've just got to keep doing well here and see what happens.
PB: When you do go to spring training, it seems like Joe Torre has room for one younger reliever a year. Depending on how well they earn his confidence they either get this "break glass in case of really bad emergency" role or they pitch a lot. How do you go about getting that big league manager's confidence?
Cox: You just have to prove yourself. It's that consistency thing. That day in and day out you're going to be a constant figure in the bullpen and that whenever your name is called, whether the score be 10-2 in your favor or 10-2 the other team blowing you out that you go out there and continue to get outs. The only job we have is to get outs. Strikeout, groundout, whatever. Just get the outs as quick as possible and get the bats back in our hands.
PB: You hear people talk about how some guys have a closer's mentality and others don't. You've been in both roles, both this year and in college. Do you think that's true, or is that an overrated aspect of it?
Cox: I think it's true in a sense, but it all boils down to everybody's different. It's whatever really works for them. Mo Rivera, you never seem Rivera get pumped up. He's cool as ice and that works for him. You have other guys, guys like Lidge, or Rodriguez with the Angels, who's pumped up, fists pumping all over the place and that works for him.
PB: You ever see films of Al Hrabosky?
PB: Guy who pitched in the 70s. They called him the Mad Hungarian. Between batters he'd go behind the mound and scream at himself, and then he'd slam his fist into his glove. On the field.
Cox: Exactly. That's what worked for him. I pitch angry half the time. The reason that is, I get so anxious to come into a game, that even though it's getting more jacked up it's kind of cooling that nervousness down a little bit, saying, "Hey, I'm better than them."
PB: About the fifth, sixth inning do you start pacing?
Cox: I usually stretch about the fifth inning and then whenever my name is called I get pretty fired up, I get pretty locked in. The guys will tell you in the locker room will tell you I fool around more than anybody, but I get pretty serious when I go into the game. I get pretty tense. That's what works for me. Different folks, different strokes.
PB: Is that anger directed at the batter?
Cox: At college it was more at the batter. I'd work up some hatred for the other team. That's just what got me by. Even if it's my buddy in the box it's the same way. I'd expect him to be the same way against me.
CHAT WITH THE FAT BEARDED YANKEES GUY
Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Baseball Prospectus web site. You can get your questions in now if you can't make it in person. No query too strange, no subject too esoteric. I'm looking forward to talking with you.
THE PLUG ZONE
Be sure to check out Page 2's Jonah Keri and the 10 worst Yankees trades, here at YESNetwork.com. It contains the phrase, "non-scouty gestalt," which I am going to remember and drop in conversations whenever possible from now on. Try it out when trying to pick up members of the opposite sex at the tavern tonight. "Hey... I know what you're thinking. He's a bit slack. A bit flabby. He's not what I normally look for. He's got that non-scouty gestalt. But take another look, kiddo, because I'm a Ken Phelps All-Star. I've got hidden talents that you've only dreamed of."
That wouldn't really work, would it? Let me know if you get anywhere. Or you could always say that you're Derek Jeter.