Game 32: Yankees 0, Tigers 2

Bronx Cheers:
Top of the Order: Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were all held hitless.  Gardner was the only one to get on base, drawing a walk in the third inning.

Ramiro Pena: Pena had a couple chances to come up big for the Yankees, but instead he went 0-3 with a strikeout and having stranded six baserunners.

Curtain Calls:
Javier Vazquez: Hopefully, we have seen him turn the corner here.  Javy had a strong game, and if not for the utter lack of offense, he could have picked up a win.  Still he went seven innings, giving up just two runs on five hits.  He walked only two hitters and struck out seven.

Randy Winn: The only Yankee to consistently get on base in this game, believe it or not, was Randy Winn.  He went 1-1 and walked twice.

Hughes continues to dominate, picking up fifth win while snapping Yankee losing streak

Several hours after their league-leading offense was shutout by the team with the fourth-most potent offense in the American League, the Yankees returned the favor, blowing the Tigers out 8-0. Of course, the game was a good deal closer than that up until the ninth inning, when the Yankees batted around and dropped six more runs on Detroit.

Thankfully for the Yankees they had Phil Hughes on the mound, who has, quite simply, been one of the best pitchers in baseball thus far. Remember how I said Rick Porcello was brilliant in the day game? Well Hughes was even better in the nightcap, also throwing seven shutout innings and striking out eight. With his latest dominant performance Hughes lowered his ERA to an American League-leading 1.38 (eat it, C.J. Wilson), to go along with a 2.50 FIP and a 3.60 xFIP, not to mention the fact that he’s striking out exactly a batter per inning (good for sixth-best in the AL). Oh yeah, and would you like to know how many runs Hughes has given up against the 2nd- and 4th-best offenses in the AL over his last 14 innings? Two.

Hardcore Yankee fans have been following Hughes’ young career for a long time (I for one have been reading about him since he was drafted in 2004), and as praiseworthy as his reviews have been at one point or another, I’m not sure even the biggest Hughes fanboy could’ve expected that he’d be this good this year. I know it’s only been six starts and that there’s still plenty of season left and he won’t be finishing the season with an ERA under 2, but right now I have more confidence that the Yanks are going to win a given game when Hughes starts than any other pitcher in the rotation (non-CC Sabathia division, of course). And, most importantly, he’s been an absolute blast to watch pitch.

On the offensive side of the ledger the Yanks built an early lead on RBI singles from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. After Hughes exited, Joba Chamberlain came in and tossed a scoreless eighth, and then the Yankees went to town on Detroit’s bullpen. There were no big blasts — it was really more like a slow bleed — as the good guys put the game far out of reach.

My only gripe from this game is that Derek Jeter continues to slump pretty badly and is not doing his job setting the table. His slash line is now down to .270/.311/.411, and he has the lowest wOBA of the Yankee regulars. Obviously Jeter isn’t going to OBP .311 all year, but I do wonder whether it might make sense to try Brett Gardner and his .420 OBP in the leadoff slot while moving Derek down to the two-hole. RAB’s Joe Pawlikowski is a little less trigger-happy than I am re: Jeet’s slump, but I really don’t see the harm in moving Jeter down one place in the lineup to try to get his bat going again.

Mariano Rivera came in to pitch a perfect ninth in his first appearance since April 30, and the Yankees were able to salvage a split of the doubleheader. They go for a split of the series at 1:05pm behind their ace in yet another weekday day game I can’t watch. Here’s hoping for a better outcome than last time Sabath pitched on a Thursday afternoon.

Quick notes after a long day of Baseball

-Phil Hughes is currently the best pitcher in the American League.

Just what we needed. If Swisher needs a day off, then today’s afternoon matinee could feature an outfield of Brett Gardner, Randy Winn  and Greg Golson in what may very well be the weakest Yankee offensive outfield ever assembled. Doesn’t sound serious, though.

Girardi weighed in on Mo’s question from yesterday, and it appears that Sergio Mitre will get the start on Sunday. That pushes Vazquez’s next starts to Monday against the Red Sox at the stadium, and Saturday against the Mets at Citifield. The Red Sox are a tough match up for Javy, but the Twins have some very tough lefty hitters as well. Neither would have been easy, so he’ll just need to build on yesterday’s performance.

-Alex’s slow start with his power numbers have led some to question whether or not he will challenge the all-time HR record after all. While I don’t want to make too much out of a few bad weeks, ones where he was admittedly banged up (knee) it’s always fair to question whether anyone can set an all-time record. They are by definition the rarest of rare events, and we all thought Ken Griffey Jr was going to chase history a few years back.

-Larry over at IATMS is wrapping up his terrific series on salary caps and why they don’t work in Baseball. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend reading all four parts for anyone who wants to get up to speed on the business of Baseball and the inner workings of the team-union issues. These issues will be very prominent when the current CBA expires next year.

-In other blog news, Rational Pastime is the best new Baseball blog I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s a general Baseball blog, but there’s loads of Yankee-related stuff for us pinstripe lovers. Check it out.

-For the folks who think Vazquez doesn’t have the stuff or heart to pitch in the AL, do you know who’s #2 on the active list for Strikeouts? Guess who. Some of that is durability to be sure, the only reason Moyer or Wakefield are on there is they’ve pitched for a very long time, they’ve never been big strikeout guys. Active Leader lists are typically filled with some great players and others who’ve simply hung around forever, which is why modern fans favor rate stats over these aggregate numbers. But it shows the kind of company he’s in, and how rare it is for someone to have the career he’s had. He’s also the fourth youngest out of the top 10, and the other three are named Johan Santana, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay.

-Finally, the last section of the old Yankee Stadium was finally taken down over the weekend. If you look at the site from the elevated train tracks, you will now see nothing but debris and construction equipment.  On this occasion, I’d like to ask our readers for their remembrances of the old facility. Is there any one moment that stands out for you? For me, it was a July 17th, 1990 game where Bo Jackson hit 3 HRs and Deion Sanders hit an inside-the-parker in the same game, in what was an otherwise awful season for the Yanks. Maybe that one stands out for me because it was such a rare event in an otherwise forgettable stretch of teams. What’s yours?

Porcello brilliant as Yankees shutout for first time

Apparently Rick Porcello was struggling prior to his start against the Yankees on Wednesday afternoon. You’d never have known — unless you were unfortunately stuck listening to John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman call the game — given the way he flat-out destroyed the Yankees, tossing 7 innings of shutout ball as the Yankees fell to the Tigers 2-0 in the first game of a day-night doubleheader.

Without being able to watch the game I have no idea if any of the Yankees had good at-bats, but following along via radio made it sound like nearly every single Yankee swung at the first pitch they saw, and grounded out in every single at-bat. Of the 21 outs recorded by Porcello, a ridiculous 15 came via the groundout.

The lone bright spot in this game was the fact that Home Run Javy Vazquez finally authored a quality start after five tries, going seven innings and yielding only two runs, lowering his ERA to 8.10. On most days this would be good enough to win, but when you’ve got Derek Jeter swinging at the first pitch in every at-bat and Randy Winn being unintentionally intentionally walked twice to get to Ramiro Pena (0-3) among other annoyances, it tends to be a long day offensively. Or perhaps more accurately, short, as this game was over in an absurdly quick two hours and 11 minutes. What is it with the Yankee offense absolutely sucking during afternoon road games so far this season?

The Yankees have now dropped three in a row for the first time all year, and the best they can hope for in Motown is a series split. Fortunately they’re in good position to do just that, with Phil Hughes taking the mound in tonight’s nightcap and CC Sabathia chucking the rawhide tomorrow afternoon.

Starting Options For Sunday's Game

With last night’s rainout and today’s doubleheader, the Yankees are now a starter short for Sunday’s contest with the Twins, as slated starter Javier Vazquez just lost a day of rest due to the rescheduling. Jscape2000 over at Pinstripe Alley presents the options:

Option 1: Short rest

They could ask Javy to pitch on 3 days rest Sunday in Minnesota. This would set up Hughes, Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte for next week’s two game sets with the Red Sox and Rays. This also lines up Javy to pitch the first game at CitiField, which Joe G has said he wants.

Option 2: Full rotation

Assume Vazquez pitches well today. They could use a spot starter on Sunday against the Twins, and then give either Hughes (who is on an innings limit) of Javy an extra day of rest.

Option 3: Skip a start

If things go badly, the Yanks could opt to use a spot starter on Sunday, and then simply skip Javy in the rotation again. This puts the aces on the field for the Red Sox and Rays series. Or if things go well, the Yanks may simply use the opportunity to give Hughes a breather and to re-align the rotation.

I would go with option #2. It is way too early to ask any pitcher to throw on 3 days rest, and none of these upcoming games are important enough to justify skipping Vazquez again just to properly line up the rotation for the Sox and Rays. The Yankees should simply use a spot starter on Sunday, and then let Vazquez get a shot against Boston. Skipping him against the Red Sox again will simply tell Javy that they do not believe in him at all, a dangerous message to send a player who has to be doubting himself at this point.

As for who should get the spot start, I think Ivan Nova actually makes the most sense for that slot. With Alfredo Aceves out, the Yankees are missing their regular long man, and Sergio Mitre seemed to be settling into that role over the season’s first month. The difference in expected performance between Nova and Mitre is not drastic, such that the Yankees can give Nova a shot and reward him for his strong performance and drastic improvement over the last 14 months. Furthermore, a good performance could establish him as a solid trade chip should they need to make an in-season move.

What do you think the Yankees should do?

A Closer Look At Mo

J-Doug at Rational Pastime recently noticed that Mariano Rivera’s velocity has been slightly down this April compared to last. He wondered why it was not impacting Mo’s performance, and found two primary explanations (I recommend clicking through to the article to see some nifty velocity and break charts):

Even when Rivera’s cut fastball was coming up short through 8 starts, it certainly wasn’t affecting overall outcomes—Mariano has yet to allow a run this year. Compare this to April 2009 when he had already blown two saves. So why is Mariano still able to compete without the zip on his cutter? Two reasons: break, and luck. While the cut fastball’s velocity is dipping, Mo has added to the already maddening break of his cutter. As you can see in the graph (below), Cut Fastball v.2010 is breaking a full inch more than the 2009 version….

That said, I’m not so sure we can give all the credit to Mo in this case. First off, the strike rate on his cut fastball is down, indicating that the pitch is fundamentally less effective. Second, Rivera’s opponents are only hitting 0.155 against him when they get the ball in play. That’s a full 0.120 below his career average, and 0.230 below where he was this time last year.

I would suggest that the reduced strike rate is probably related to the added break, in that it is more difficult for Mo to be his typically precise self when his cutter is breaking more than usual. As for the overall change in Mariano’s stuff, it is hard to determine what this might mean. His slightly reduced velocity could be a product of his injury, although it is possible that it is simply part of a typical aging process. Mo may be compensating for the loss of velocity by intentionally adding break to the cutter, trying to keep hitters who have more time to adjust to his pitches off balance. I would suspect that as the season continues, his luck will normalize, his velocity will increase, and his strike percentage will stabilize, adding up to more domination from the Yankees ageless closer. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the velocity and break on his cutter.

Previewing the Double Header with Pitch F/X

Later today, the Yankees will square off in a day/night double header.

In game one, Javier Vazquez will oppose Rick Porcello and in game two, Phil Hughes will face Jeremy Bonderman. Let’s examine how the Yanks’ opponents have done so far and see what the Yankees can do to counter Bondo and Porcello.

We’ll start with the guy whose pitches will start the day: Rick Porcello. After a solid rookie season in 2009, Porcello has struggled. He hasn’t allowed fewer than five runs since his second start of the season and has not pitched more than six innings in any of his starts. His ERA is an ugly 7.50, though his FIP is a more respectable 4.41 and his xFIP is at 4.61, so a correction could be coming. His tRA is 3.89 and his tRA+ is 114 so he’s not giving up hard contact. Hopefully, Rick’s recovery doesn’t start tomorrow.

His pitch selection is led by a two seam fastball that he throws 55.5% of the time and averages 89.7 MPH. Next at 21.1% is a four seam fastball that sits at 91.6. He has a slider that goes 81.4 MPH and has gotten swings and misses on 15% of its offerings. However, FanGraphs has that pitch at 4.42 runs below average per 100 pitches. Wrapping it up is a changeup that’s been thrown 11.1% of the time and travels at 80.5 MPH, a good difference from the fastball. Texas Leaguers has also identified a curveball thrown 0.8% of the time. Those pitches are likely mislabeled sliders.

Starting out a plate appearance, Porcello will likely throw some sort of fastball. He’s started batters with a two or four seamer 76.1% of the time. When getting ahead 0-1 or 0-2, Porcello, like most, likes to use his changeup and slider more. When behind 1-0, Porcello stays with the two seamer (63%), but also increases his changeup use (15%). When down 2-0, Porcello has thrown only fastballs.

So, how should the Yankees approach Porcello? As always, they should be patient. Jumping out at pitches won’t help any offense. However, if they get ahead 2-0, they should be looking to swing away. It’s almost a guarantee that Porcello’s throwing a fastball in that count and it’s turned into a strike 70% of the time. When they fall behind, wait some more. Porcello’s not a strikeout guy and with the increased offspeed pitches after strike one, it’s likely that the Yankees could wait the PA out into an even or favorable count.

Jeremy Bonderman has a similar repertoire to Porcello (2/4 seamers, slider, changeup). Bonderman goes to his non-fastball stuff much more (38.1%) than Porcello (23.4%). Most of his first pitches are also fastballs. Unlike Porcello, though, when Bonderman gets ahead 0-1, he uses his fastball more (55%) than in all situations (51%). On 0-2, though, Bonderman’s fastball usage plummets to 44% and his slider usage pumps up to 36%. When behind, Bonderman goes back to the comfort of the old number one.

Bonderman doesn’t throw hard (89.9 MPH average) and his change up is only 5.2 MPH slower than the fastball. This is a good thing for the Yankees. They likely won’t be overpowered and if they can spit on the slider, they can hammer the relatively slow fastball. This is easy for me to say, blogging from my bedroom, but the Yankees are definitely good enough to force Bonderman to throw his fastball. If they can do that, it’ll be a long day for Jeremy.