As they entered last night’s game, the Yankees were no worse than second in any of the slash categories (second in BA/OBP) and paced the AL in SLG (.467) and OPS (.806). Regardless of the Yankees’ poor performance against left handed pitching, the overall production has been there, even if it’s looked a bit different at times. The lineup hasn’t been full strength. Francisco Cervelli (!) has hit well. Vernon Wells apparently isn’t dead. Travis Hafter isn’t injured. There is one more somewhat strange thing, though, and that’s that the Yankees are seemingly seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance thus far.
Going into last night, they were seeing 3.75 P/PA, below the league average of 3.89. Last year, they saw 3.89 P/PA, above the average of 3.84. In 2011 and 2010, they were also better than the average. This is nothing new–the Yankees have always prided themselves on seeing lots of pitches and working counts. Now, it seems that they’re jumping on pitches earlier in the count. This isn’t to say that some guys aren’t working counts. The usual suspects are all seeing a lot of pitches. Cervelli leads the way with 4.04, followed closely by Hafner (4.02). Brett Gardner (4.00) and Kevin Youkilis (3.96) are the other two hitter seeing more pitches than the average AL batter. So has this new “approach” been productive? Yeah, it has. We can see it in the aforementioned numbers, but it’s also fleshed out by the team’s splits by count.
Baseball is hardly the first thing on my mind as I write this, and I doubt it’s the first thing on your mind as you read it. But, hopefully, this post can serve as a little bit of distraction from the horrific news coming out of Boston. If you’re reading from Boston, we sincerely hope that you and your loved ones are safe. Please know that our thoughts, prayers, hearts, and minds are with you and your city.
Yesterday morning, Brad posted an article about the lineup against left-handed pitching in light of the Yankees so-so offensive performance against Baltimore’s Wei-Yin Chen. To expand on his point, overall, the Yankees have hit very weakly against lefty pitchers in the early going; their line sits at just .214/.296/.274/.570 (!). As Brad pointed out, the injury to Eduardo Nunez has made things against lefties less-than-ideal, and that’s without mentioning the missing bats of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez who all eat lefties for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Also as Bad mentioned, we’ve already seen Joe Girardi tinker with the lineup this season, so let’s assume he’ll do some more tinkering (and that he’ll read and listen to me).
As you probably know by now–thanks to last night’s canceled game thread–the Yankees will be skipping Ivan Nova‘s turn in the rotation, opting to go with Phil Hughes tomorrow; Nova will work out of the bullpen in between starts.
Nova struggled in his first start. Though he struck out five batters, he didn’t finish five innings, tossing just 4. in Detroit on the fifth. He also gave up four runs (all earned) and allowed seven baserunners (five hits, two walks). Something else of note, though, happened in that game and Mike explained it the other day: Nova was throwing a sinker at the Tigers’ batters. If we head over to BrooksBaseball and check out Nova’s player card, we can see that he threw the sinker 15% of the time, his third most used pitch behind his fastball (46%) and his curveball (25%). It would seem that goal number one would be for Nova to use that sinker when he’s brought in for a relief outing. As it will be a relief outing, Nova (likely) won’t need to worry about going through the order twice. So, he can use his sinker without having to adjust or think about it too much. Working in a new pitch is all about feel and if Nova’s in a game in relief, chances are it’s a game that won’t be too pressure packed–long relief usually means a blowout one way or the other. A low-leverage situation could be just what he needs to start perfecting a pitch that could be effective going forward. Last season, Nova’s groundball rate dropped over 10% (45.2% in 2012 down from 52.7 in 2011) and despite a big uptick in strikeouts, Nova got hit all around the park last year. Adding a sinker will force Nova to work down in the zone and hopefully allow him to regain some grounders, which are always helpful. He’s got a fastball to beat batters upstairs and get swings and misses. A low, grounder inducing sinker would be a perfect complement.
To be fair to him, Phil Hughes probably wasn’t 100% healthy when he suited up and took the mound for the Yankees on Saturday in Detroit. And to be honest, it wasn’t that awful of a start. One of his four runs allowed was unearned and he didn’t walk anyone; he also managed four strikeouts in as many innings, and that’s always encouraging. But on the flip side, Phil gave up eight hits in those four innings, and threw 87 pitches in the process.
On a general note, the more things change with Hughes, the more they stay the same. Despite being a veteran pitcher now, his first start of 2013 showed something we’ve seen from Hughes for his entire career: inefficiency and an inability to put hitters away once he gets the batter to two strikes. And despite relatively strong stuff, Hughes still isn’t getting a lot of swings-and-misses. He had only seven on Saturday and Detroit batters fouled off 18 of Hughes’s pitches.
Little, if anything, on Opening Day is predictive. The Astros probably aren’t going to beat the Rangers many more times this year and I don’t think there are going to be many innings when CC Sabathia coughs up four runs at a time. To break my own rule, though, there are things that may give us a bit of an indication as to how something will unfold over the course of the season. In the case I’m about to present, it has much more to do with process than it does with results.
As time has passed and the other big name players on the Yankees have waned in terms of talent or health–think Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira–and with Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson injured to start the season, Robinson Cano is, even more obviously (if possible) the focal point of the offense. And even though there are (semi) brand names backing him up–Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis, and Vernon Wells–they’re not shining like they used to. To wrap this all up succinctly, it’s not a stretch to say that for the first part of the season, Robbie isn’t going to get many pitches to hit.
Per Buster Olney, Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano has fired his agent, Scott Boras. This definitely comes as a shock and out of no where, especially considering that Cano fired his previous agent before signing with Boras. We’ll have more on this situation as it develops.
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The NL East has a fairly abundant collection of talent. However, it’s safe to say that said talent is not evenly distributed in the least. While the Marlins have the most powerful player in the division in the person of Giancarlo Stanton, there isn’t much else in the way of talent on their roster. The Mets, meanwhile, have some nice potential in their starting rotation with Matt Harvey and the seemingly ever-ready-to-break-out Jonathan Niese. Then there are the Phillies, who boast three of the very best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball. The Braves have the finest outfield in the game and Washington has a great rotation and arguably the best young talent in the game. How’s this all going to shake out?
Over the last half decade or so, the American League East has been, without question, the strongest division in baseball. Home to the perpetually competitive Yankees and (until recently) Red Sox, it has also seen the Rays and Orioles share the spotlight. Last year, it was the only team to have three teams win 90+ games (though the ALW came close). However, the sure thing that is the ultra-powerful AL East is a bit less sure this year. Each team has one big question nagging it. Let’s jump in.