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.