The 2010 New York Yankees vs. starting pitchers who don't crack 90mph with their fastballs

If there’s one topic I’ve potentially spilled more digital ink on than the Yankees getting beaten by pitchers they’ve never seen before/starters making their Major League debuts, it would be the team seemingly routinely getting shutdown by starting pitchers with fastballs that top out around 89-90mph, pinpoint control and an uncanny ability to change speeds. In particular, we’ve seen Dallas Braden, Brett Cecil and Brian Matusz — the latter both beating the Yankees in the last two days — each stymie the Yankee lineup during the past week.

Though Braden took the loss in his game last Thursday, he still only yielded one run on two hits over five innings before departing with an injury. Cecil and Matusz of course picked up wins, each limiting the Yankees to three earned runs. While neither was outright dominant, and the Yankees had beaten Matusz the three previous times they faced him, both pitchers figure to be continuous thorns in the Yankees’ sides for a good while what with being young, very good and residing in the AL East. With Matusz coming on strong of late and Cecil being particularly brutal against the Yankees — not to mention the rest of the division — these last few games got me wondering if the numbers actually back up the perception I (and some of my fellow fans) have developed with regards to the Yankees always struggling against changeup artists who don’t throw particularly hard.

Here’s a look back at all of the games this season in which the Yankees faced a starter whose fastball has averaged 90mph or less during the course of his career (per Fangraphs’ data). A fairly arbitrary number, I know, but using 90mph as a cutoff was fairly significant, as it turned up 44 games as opposed to 75 if I widened the criteria to include pitchers who top out at 91mph. Of course, 44 games is still a pretty wide swath of the season — 32% of the team’s 138 games to date, to be exact.

2010 Opp. Opp. Starter Avg. FB NYY Result
April 14 LAA Joel Pineiro 89.8 L, 5-3
April 22 OAK Dallas Braden 87.3 L, 4-2
April 24 LAA Joel Pineiro 89.8 W, 7-1
April 29 BAL Brian Matusz 90.3 W, 4-0
May 2 CHW Mark Buehrle 86.3 W, 12-3
May 4 BAL Brian Matusz 90.3 W, 4-1
May 21 NYM Hisanori Takahashi 88.7 W, 2-1
May 29 CLE David Huff 90.3 L, 13-11
June 1 BAL Brian Matusz 90.3 W, 3-1
June 2 BAL Brad Bergesen 89.5 W, 9-1
June 4 TOR Brett Cecil 90.4 L, 6-1
June 12 HOU Wandy Rodriguez 89.4 W, 9-3
June 13 HOU Brian Moehler 87.9 W, 9-5
June 16 PHI Jamie Moyer 81.6 L, 6-3
June 17 PHI Kyle Kendrick 89.8 L, 7-1
June 18 NYM Hisanori Takahashi 88.7 L, 4-0
June 21 ARI Rodrigo Lopez 89.4 L, 10-4
June 23 ARI Dontrelle Willis 89.7 W, 6-5
June 29 SEA Cliff Lee 90 L, 7-4
July 1 SEA Ryan Rowland-Smith 88.9 W, 4-2
July 2 TOR Brett Cecil 90.4 L, 6-1
July 6 OAK Trevor Cahill 90 W, 6-1
July 8 SEA Jason Vargas 87.5 W, 3-1
July 9 SEA David Pauley 88.8 W, 6-1
July 11 SEA Ryan Rowland-Smith 88.9 W, 8-2
July 20 LAA Sean O’Sullivan 90.2 L, 10-2
July 21 LAA Joel Pineiro 90 W, 10-6
July 22 KAN Bruce Chen 86.9 W, 10-4
July 23 KAN Brian Bannister 89.1 W, 7-1
July 25 KAN Sean O’Sullivan 90.2 W, 12-6
July 27 CLE Josh Tomlin 89.2 L, 4-1
Aug. 4 TOR Shaun Marcum 87.3 W, 5-1
Aug. 11 TEX Cliff Lee 90 W, 7-6
Aug. 12 KAN Bruce Chen 86.9 W, 4-3
Aug. 14 KAN Sean O’Sullivan 90.2 W, 8-3
Aug. 21 SEA Jason Vargas 87.5 W, 9-5
Aug. 22 SEA Luke French 87.1 W, 10-0
Aug. 24 TOR Marc Rzepczynski 88.4 W, 11-5
Aug. 25 TOR Brett Cecil 90.4 L, 6-3
Aug. 30 OAK Trevor Cahill 90 W, 11-5
Sept. 2 OAK Dallas Braden 87.3 W, 5-0
Sept. 4 TOR Marc Rzepczynski 88.4 W, 7-5
Sept. 5 TOR Brett Cecil 90.4 L, 7-3
Sept. 6 BAL Brian Matusz 90.3 L, 4-3

The Yankees are, believe it or not, 29-15 in games started by pitchers who top out at 90mph. The opposing starters are a combined 13-23, with eight no-decisions. As you know, Brett Cecil leads this particular group with a 3-0 record in four starts. No other starter has more than one victory.

My frustration at yet another Cecil win on Sunday led me to question why the Yankees never seem prepared for pitchers with off-speed stuff. It would seem that, as great a hitting coach as Kevin Long purportedly is, shouldn’t he be able to prepare the team for an off-speed repertoire? With the majority of opposing pitchers featuring 91mph-and-higher fastballs, I suppose adjusting the patient Yankee lineup’s approach on a game-by-game basis is perhaps more trouble than it’s worth?

Then again, perception is once again greater than reality in this instance, given the Yankees’ .660 winning percentage in this sample, and I have to imagine Kevin Long does everything he possibly can to ready the offense for slower speeds. Clearly the losses whereby the opposing pitcher has not-overpowering stuff but seems like a starter the Yankees should cuff around (see Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick, for two) stick out in our minds much moreso — especially when you attend one of those losses — than the myriad wins that have seen the Yankees actually get to the opposing starter, such as the Bruce Chens (0-2 in two starts vs. NYY this year), Trevor Cahills (0-2), Sean O’Sullivans (1-2) and Joel Pineiros (1-2) of the world.

Ultimately, the moral of the story is that Brett Cecil, Dallas Braden and Brian Matusz are all excellent pitchers, and it shouldn’t be that surprising when the Yankees lose to them. Given their impressive off-speed repertoires, I can’t help but wonder why the Yankees themselves don’t typically develop these types of pitchers. I’m sure the answer is that (a) these types of pitchers that can actually get Major Leaguers out with relatively diminished stuff are low in supply to begin with, and likely don’t make it out of the first round if the talent is obviously there; and (b) systemwide the Yankee organization typically focuses on strengthening the fastball/cutter and slider as opposed to developing off-speed stuff. Seriously, when was the last time a Yankee rookie made it to the Majors with a worthwhile changeup?

For what it’s worth, Cecil himself was still available (Toronto selected him 38th overall) when the Yankees drafted Andrew Brackman in 2007. Dallas Braden didn’t go until the 24th round in 2004. Of course, Matusz was nowhere even close to ever being available for the Yankees, having been drafted by Baltimore fourth overall in 2008.

Regardless, I’d love to see the team one day produce a Brett Cecil-type who can routinely wear lineups out with an 89mph fastball and 80mph changeup. I suppose we had our own Cecil in the 2008 version of Mike Mussina, but I’d rather have a young, up-and-coming guy do it than a seasoned veteran at the tail end of his career.

6 thoughts on “The 2010 New York Yankees vs. starting pitchers who don't crack 90mph with their fastballs

  1. Hats off to the research here, Lar. There is NO way I'd go to such trouble as quickly as you did for this post.

    I'd like to add a few points:

    1. I'm guessing you're missing a variable. The 90mph fastball alone doesn't explain a phenomenon I too believe I see. It could be a plus changeup, or some other measure of control, combined with a crappy fastball that really messes with the Yankee bats.

    2. The Yankees don't develop any pitchers, let alone guys with changeups. Look at every other team in our division as an example. The Jays, Sox and Rays have far more young pitchers than we do. The O's seem to have about as many. The Yankees are bad at developing starters, anyway, if not also relievers.

    3. I'm guessing guys who can't top 90 with their fastballs, but have good control, take a long time to develop in the minors, and may even seldom make the pros. We may only be seeing the really good: Dallas Braden, etc, and not seeing the guys who last 10 years in A ball with an 89-90mph fastball, great control, but not enough else to make it to the show. The Yankees as a team don't seem to give those kinds of players enough time to develop.

    After his stinker last year against the Rays (an outing that I believe may have cost him the Cy Young – not that he deserved it, but it made it clear that the guy with the most wins wouldn't get it) I'm curious to see how CC does going for 20 this year.

  2. Thanks Mike.

    With regards to your first point, I guess I assumed the "topping out at 90mph" thing implied that they also possessed a good changeup, because otherwise these guys would be worthless if all they could do was chuck 89mph fastballs.

    As to point two, while the Yankees' track record of developing pitchers is pretty horrendous, they have made significant strides these past few years, between Phil and Joba, etc. Not everyone has panned out, but it hasn't necessarily been for lack of trying.

  3. The Yankees have yet the play the first game and they’re already down 0-3. As a Mets fans, tells us again how the Mets were going to win the World Series this year. New York Yankees tickets will go high sky. 28th title just 8 wins away.

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