About William Tasker

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

Game 148 – ESPNing

The Yankees try to delay the inevitable with the Baltimore Orioles on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

The Lineups:

New York Yankees:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  2. Derek Jeter – SS
  3. Brett Gardner – LF
  4. Martin Prado – 3B
  5. Brian McCann – C
  6. Mark Teixeira – 1B
  7. Chris Young – DH
  8. Stephen Drew – 2B
  9. Antoan Richardson – RF

SP – Hiroki Kuroda

Baltimore Orioles:

  1. Nick Markakis – RF
  2. Alejandro De Aza – LF
  3. Adam Jones – CF
  4. Nelson Cruz – DH
  5. Steve Pearce – 1B
  6. J.J. Hardy – SS
  7. Kelly Johnson – 3B
  8. Nick Hundley – C
  9. Jonathan Schoop – 2B

SP – Chris Tillman

Enjoy the game! Continue reading Game 148 – ESPNing

First pitch does not exist for Mark Teixeira

Diagnosing a problem happening with a member of the Yankees is pretty much a moot point right now. But sometimes, an observation has to be tested simply out of curiosity. My observation is that Mark Teixeira never, ever swings at the first pitch and it is usually the best pitch he sees in an at bat. The numbers back up the observation and they are not pretty.

Most assume correctly that Mark Teixeira’s batting average has shriveled up like a cold cut left out in the open air because he has not adjusted to the shifts deployed against him. His .237 BABIP attests to his inability (or lack of interest) in adjusting to the shift. But the shift being deployed in baseball is just the most visible sign of how much statistics and the trending they bring has changed the game. Number crunchers working for teams look for any trends that can be exploited. With Teixeira, it’s not just the pull tendency, but also his first pitch strategy.

Let me illustrate with numbers. In 2008, Mark Teixeira put 13.3% of first pitches in play. It worked out well for him and he had a 1.009 OPS when he did so. In 2009, his first year with the Yankees, Teixeira put 12.2% of first pitches in play and had a 1.157 OPS when he did so. Even as late as 2011, when Teixeira’s batting average started sinking, he put 11.2% of first pitches in play and had an .817 OPS when he did so with a slugging percentage over .500.

Fast forward to this year. This year, Teixeira has only put 35 balls in play on the first pitch. That is only 8.2% of the time. And when he has done so, nothing good has happened. His OPS on those 35 balls in play is .283! Yikes. Pitchers are aware of this tendency and are grooving pitches right down the heart of the plate against Teixeira on a regular basis with the first pitch of his plate appearance.

Why is that important? It’s important because Mark Teixeira is virtually helpless when he gets behind in the count. After Teixeira is in an 0-1 count, he has a .638 OPS. After an 0-2 count, he has a .320 OPS and has an OPS of .430 after a 1-2 count.

I was watching the first game of yesterday’s horrid double-header and Teixeira came up with two runners on base in a scoreless game. The first pitch was a grooved, batting practice fastball right down the heart of the plate. 0-1. The final result was a pitcher’s pitch for strike three. The Yankees would fail to score.

Today’s statistics exploit tendencies. That is what they do. Mark Teixeira has developed a strong tendency not to have any plan on the first pitch other than to watch it go by. Pitchers are exploiting this tendency for an easy strike which puts Teixeira in a position of failure.

I get that a big part of Mark Teixeira’s game is his walk percentage. It is the major difference from him being a total non-offensive entity to one with at least a wRC+ over 100.  But in the past, it is obvious that he had a zone he was looking for with the first pitch and if he got a pitch in that zone, he took advantage of that pitch to great success. There is no such plan now other than to hope the first pitch is a ball.

If there is one thing to be learned from this sad season of offense, it is that the Yankees have not adjusted or responded to what pitchers are trying to do against them. Due to scouting and the numbers, teams are exploiting Yankee tendencies and the Yankees have not responded or adjusted at all. Mark Teixeira has become an easy out and is a symbol of the entire Yankee season because teams can throw him a first pitch strike and bunch up the infield.
Continue reading First pitch does not exist for Mark Teixeira

Game 146 – Big day for Bryan Mitchell

After a brutal eleven innings of Yankee baseball this afternoon, at least the nightcap of the double-header will feature the first Major League start for Bryan Mitchell. If you love prospects getting their first real opportunity, then this game is for you. Bud Norris will go for the Orioles.

The bad news is that the Yankees will not have David Robertson or Dellin Betances available out of the bullpen. They both threw a lot of pitches in the first game as Girardi tried for the Hail Mary that fell harmlessly in the end zone. There is much more bad news, but let’s just let it be and root for the kid to pitch well.

The Lineups:

New York Yankees:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  2. Derek Jeter – SS
  3. Brett Gardner – CF
  4. Brian McCann – 1B
  5. Chris Young – LF
  6. Stephen Drew – 2B
  7. Ichiro Suzuki – RF
  8. Zelous Wheeler – 3B
  9. Austin Romine – C

SP Bryan Mitchell

Baltimore Orioles:

  1. Alejandro De Aza – LF
  2. Steve Pearce – 1B
  3. Jimmy Paredes – 3B
  4. Nelson Cruz – RF
  5. Delmon Young – DH
  6. David Lough – CF
  7. Caleb Joseph – C
  8. Ryan Flaherty – SS
  9. Jonathan Schoop – 2B

SP – Bud Norris

Not exactly a crack lineup there on either side. No matter what, we will all be watching Mitchell. Good luck, young man. Enjoy the game. Continue reading Game 146 – Big day for Bryan Mitchell

Koji Uehorror – Yankees walk it off in the ninth

The Yankees appeared to be heading to another frustrating loss and Koji Uehara trotted in from the bullpen to protect a 4-3 lead. Three batters later, Mark Teixeira had tied it with homer and after a Brian McCann (hard hit) line drive out, Chase Headley hit a bomb to the third deck to win the game in walk-off fashion. Headley was met at home to a frenzied celebration and a Gardner Gatorade bath.

Uehara is really struggling right now and his big out pitch, the split-fingered fastball, is just not sinking and when that pitch doesn’t work, it becomes a batting practice fastball. Living in Maine with the blackout rules, I had to watch the game on NESN and the post game show featured Dennis Eckersley savaging Uehara. Hey, the guy won them a World Series last year, lighten up!

The game to the ninth inning was pretty tough to watch. Stacey Gotsulias was hurling epithets all over Twitter and who could blame her. Red Sox’ starter, Brandon Workman, sat in the middle of the plate most of his outing and the Yankees could not put anything together. Derek Jeter was one of the few Yankees that squared Workman up consistently and hit some 1,100 feet worth of fly balls and only one of them fell in safely.

But that one safety for Jeter was a double over the head of Mookie Betts who was playing shallow for Jeter. The double drove in two runs and erased two of the three runs the Yankees were behind at the time. Jeter then scored on a Carlos Beltran single to tie the game, 3-3. In typical 2014 Yankee fashion, that was it for the offense for the rest of the game…until the ninth.

Meanwhile, Yankee starter, Chris Capuano, committed the cardinal sin of not only giving up a home run to David Ortiz in the first inning, but a two-run bomb to the Red Sox’ slugger during his next at bat. Another homer allowed to Brock Holt in the fifth ended Capuano’s night short of five innings worth of work. In somewhat of a defense for Capuano, Ortiz’s first homer and Holt’s just barely cleared the short porch in right.

Even so, Joe Girardi is going to have a decision to make on whether to keep running Capuano out there when every game is important.

Anyway, the Red Sox had the lead, 4-3, after the top of the fifth and it stayed that way until the bottom of the ninth.

The outcome of the ninth inning would not have been possible without the work of the Yankee bullpen which pitched four and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief. Rich Hill, Esmil Rogers, Josh Outman, Shawn Kelley and Adam Warren really saved the day.

The Yankees did have more adventures on the base paths, the offense was again frustrating but as the old saying goes, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. And the Yankees finished with two bombs into the night off a clearly struggling relief pitcher.

Oh! And before I wrap this up, something amazing happened in this game. Mark Teixeira innings before his game-tying homer hit a ball to the left side of the infield as a left-handed batter. I do not know if he did it on purpose and it sure looked like an excuse me kind of thing, the fact that Mark Teixeira beat a shift was truly shocking..

The Yankees will begin hosting a series with the Kansas City Royals tomorrow and they are all playoff games at this point. Michael Pineda will face James Shields in the opener.

Until then, the Yankees kept their fragile hopes alive with a huge bullpen effort and two big swings in the ninth by Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley.

Continue reading Koji Uehorror – Yankees walk it off in the ninth

The expandables: Who will the Yankees call up for September?

We are two days away from that wacky time of year when team active rosters can expand from 25 to any amount from 26 to forty. If your team is out of the chase, you can call up a bunch of prospects you want to look at, but as Joe Girardi has said in the past, September is not the time for auditions when in a race to make the playoffs. While the Yankees are currently racing like Jeff Gordon trying to make the last four laps on bald tires, they are still giving it their best shot. That said, don’t expect any fun prospect porn from the Yankees.

First of all, you can only bring up players from your 40-man roster (I’ve read the actual MLB rules here and they are a bit ambiguous). So those of you hoping for a fun glimpse of Rob Refsnyder or even Pat Venditte will be disappointed unless the Yankees clear room on the 40-man roster. If Masahiro Tanaka gets switched from the 15 to 60-day DL, then that opens up a spot.

Let’s look at the pitching, the infield, the outfield and catching to predict what the Yankees will do:

Pitching

Pitchers not on the active 25-man roster but are on the 40-day roster include: Manny Banuelos, Jose Campos, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Bryan Mitchell, Jose Ramirez and Chase Whitley. Last year, the Yankees only called up three pitchers. I do not think you will see Banuelos and you definitely won’t see Campos. Bryan Mitchell is a long shot at best. Most likely, you will get relief help that has already seen some Major League action. That said, my prediction would be: Daley, Ramirez, Whitley and Claiborne.

Catching

Catchers on the 40-man roster include John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez. Sanchez would be fun to see but he would be the most unlikely of guests with the first two mostly likely to get the call.

Infielders

There are no infielders not already on the active list. Zelous Wheeler is already with the club.

Outfielders

The three outfielders on the 40-man roster and not currently with the club include Zoilo Almonte, Ramon Flores and Slade Heathcott. You can rule out Heathcott. Zoilo Almonte is sure to get a call up and Flores might as well with Jacoby Ellsbury hurting. Neither seem like they add much to the team heading down the home stretch.

The conclusion here is that for those who follow the Yankees, September will not bring additional excitement with an infusion of young talent. Backup catchers, back of the bullpen fillers and 4-A outfielders are not all that exciting. But at least there will be a few more hands to slap after the occasional Yankee homer. Continue reading The expandables: Who will the Yankees call up for September?

Game 127 – Here we go a-Carrolling

The Yankees need to win on Joe Torre Day, right? Well, they didn’t win on Paul O’Neill Day. But the team does have a two-game winning streak thanks in part to some of the parts Brian Cashman brought in at the trade deadline. Once the Torre festivities are over, it will be Hiroki Kuroda versus Scott Carroll.

Once upon a time, a day game with Kuroda on the mound at home meant nothing but good things. But Hirok has not been quite the same pitcher. He sports the 16th lowest strikeout percentage of 96 qualified starters this season. Not being able to finish off batters compared to past years has been a problem.

Scott Carroll continues to be a nice story of a guy who pitched for years and years in the minors and finally got his shot. His actual performance has been up and down and he has been lit up pretty well in his last three starts.

Derek Jeter gets the day off and Stephen Drew will handle short. Jacoby Ellsbury will lead off. Yessss!! Finally! But Brian McCann batting third is a surprising choice. Oh yes, and Carlos Beltran is in the lineup (polite clap). Betances will not be available after pitching 1.2 innings yesterday.

The Lineups:

Chicago White Sox:

  1. Alejandro De Aza – LF
  2. Carlos Sanchez – 2B
  3. Jose Abreu – 1B
  4. Adam Dunn – DH
  5. Avisail Garcia – RF
  6. Conor Gillaspie – 3B
  7. Alexei Ramirez – SS
  8. Jordan Danks – CF
  9. Adrian Nieto – C

SP – Scott Carroll

New York Yankees:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  2. Brett Gardner – LF
  3. Brian McCann – C
  4. Mark Teixeira – 1B
  5. Carlos Beltran – DH
  6. Martin Prado – 2B
  7. Chase Headley – 3B
  8. Stephen Drew – SS
  9. Ichiro Suzuki – RF

SP – Hiroki Kuroda

The weather looks fine with clouds breaking into some partial sunshine with temperatures in the mid-70s. The game starts at 1:05 and the bottom line is that Joe Torre deserves a winning day! The game will be shown on the YES Network. Enjoy the game.
Continue reading Game 127 – Here we go a-Carrolling

1994: The Yanks coulda been a contenda

I really enjoyed Domenic’s piece yesterday about the 1994 Expos and Yankees playing each other in the 1994 World Series. As Domenic mentions, much has been written about the 1994 Expos and how the labor stoppage not only killed the Expos’ greatest chance at post season history, but perhaps killed the franchise as well. While the Yankees franchise has survived the labor unrest quite well, the team was poised to erase twelve years of post season inaction and it is quite possible the Yankees great dynasty at the turn of the millennium might have started two seasons earlier. What if the 1994 Yankees were able to complete that 1994 season?

The more I thought about this piece, the more variables I came up with. I am not going to present simulations. Number one, I’m not that savvy. Number two, Bill James did that for us back in 1995. What interests me more is the individual seasons it cut short and whether the team would have actually made it to the World Series.

Paul O’Neill

There is no doubt that Paul O’Neill was having his best season in 1994. His OPS of 1.064 and wRC+ of 177 were easily the best of his career. He had his highest walk rate that season, his highest ISO and had compiled 4.9 rWAR in just 106 games.

Most would think that O’Neill might have have regressed if he had played his last fifty games that season. Bill James‘ projections had O’Neill finishing with a .361 batting average (.359 when the season was halted) and a .448 on-base percentage.

Why would there be an expectation that Paul O’Neill would play even better in those last fifty games? For one, the offensive climate in 1994 was explosive. The combination perhaps of two expansion teams in 1994, the proliferation of PEDs and other factors led to a jump in OPS starting in 1994 and lasted through 2009. Conditions were ripe for O’Neill to continue his torrid hitting. He probably would still have finished behind Frank Thomas, Albert Belle and Kenny Lofton in the MVP vote.

But the key point here is that O’Neill’s season is given an asterisk because it wasn’t a complete season.

Jimmy Key

Speaking of keys, Jimmy Key had an amazing season going in 1994 which followed another great season in 1993 for the Yankees. When the season was shut down, Jimmy Key was 17-4 and in 1993 and 1994 combined, Key went 35-10. According to James’ season projections, Key would have finished with a 23-6 record.

As it stood, Key finished second to David Cone for the Cy Young Award in the American League that season. Along with Cone, there were two other pitchers (Mussina and Johnson) who had better peripherals than Key, but a 23-6 record would have been hard for voters to ignore, especially if the Yankees won the division.

If 1994 had been completed, it may have been the only season Jimmy Key won twenty or more games. He was a terrific pitcher that history has passed by. Perhaps a 23-win season, post season coverage (to add two what he did in 1996) and a Cy Young Award would have led to a more lasting impression.

There is one other “what if” concerning Jimmy Key’s 1994 season. If the season had finished normally and the 1995 season had not been delayed in starting, would Key have gotten injured in 1995? It’s hard to say because Key had an injury-prone career. But it is interesting to think about.

Wade Boggs

The 36-year-old Wade Boggs was in vintage form in 1994. When the season was terminated, he was hitting .349. James projected that Boggs would have finished with a .353 average that season with a .439 on-base percentage. His OPS was the highest he had reached since his 1988 season.

If Wade Boggs had been allowed to finish his 1994 season, he would have jumped perhaps three spots higher on the all-time hit list and walk list. He finished 26th all-time in both. Plus, if he had been allowed to finish the season over .350, it would have been his sixth such season tying him for fifth place for the most times doing so. That would have tied him with guys like Lou Gehrig and Tony Gwynn.

Don Mattingly

Don Mattingly was seriously broken in 1994 and would finish his career in 1995 with his only post season appearance. He was one of the few Yankee icons who never won a World Series title. Perhaps 1994 would have been his season.

Buck Showalter

Buck Showalter was managing arguably the best team in the American League in 1994. He would then lead the Yankees to a tough LDS in 1995 that the Yankees lost in the fifth game of the series. What if the Yankees were able to finish the 1994 World Series and get to the World Series and a championship? Would 1995 have been such a disappointment to the front office which let him go before the 1996 season?

In other words, if Buck Showalter had been allowed to finish the 1994 season, would he have been at the helm throughout the dynasty and championship years instead of Joe Torre?

Derek Jeter

In 1994, Derek Jeter was only twenty-years-old and just two years removed from being drafted. He was promoted three times in 1994 after starting at A+ in Tampa. By the end of the 1994 season, Jeter was in Triple-A and Jeter killed it at every level. He also cut his error level by half that season and seemed to get a grip on his fielding.

What if the 1994 season, Jeter ended up his three-level odyssey with a September call up in 1994? While unlikely, the possibility remains that Jeter could have fought for the shortstop job in the 1995 Spring Training after giving a glimpse of what he could do in 1994.

And what if that had occurred and Jeter made the kind of impact for the 1995 Yankees that he did for the 1996 Yankees? Maybe that team would have then gotten past the LDS and Buck Showalter again had a different reason to keep his job.

If that scenario had a chance to occur with a full season, then Derek Jeter might have 150 or more hits, and 200 more times on base pushing him up a couple of notches in the all-time lists for those categories.

Was the World Series a lock in 1994?

As much as I loved Domenic’s piece, it was assumed that the Yankees made it to the World Series that season. That assumption was quite a challenge. The Texas Rangers were going to win the West Division even though the 1994 Texas Rangers were ten games under .500 and had absolutely the worst pitching around. So you can pretty much discount them.

The Central Division had two tough teams in the Indians and the White Sox. When the season ended, the White Sox were up by a game. The Yankees had lost four of the six meetings they played against the White Sox that season. Frank Thomas was in another world that season and the White Sox had the best pitching in the American League.

If the Indians had won the Central Division, the Yankees seemed to match up better. The Yankees won all nine games they played against the Indians that season. But the Indians were loaded with Belle, Murray, Thome, Manny, Baerga, Sorrento and Lofton. They could rake. The Indians had very good starting pitching and a lousy bullpen.

Both teams would have posed problems for the Yankees in a short series. The Yankees, for all their record, did not have dominant pitching. They finished first or second in all batting categories but were much more mundane on the mound. The rotation was iffy beyond Key and the bullpen was led by Steve Howe. Let that sink in for a second. Bob Wickman was as overworked as ever but mostly successful.

There is certainly no guarantee the Yankees would have gotten to the World Series. They had just as good a chance as any, but no guarantee.

What ifs are fun and sad at the same time. Just at a time when everything seemed to come together for not only the Expos but the Yankees after long droughts for both, the season was snuffed. While fun to think about what might have happened, the sad reality is that it never happened at all. Continue reading 1994: The Yanks coulda been a contenda

Game 122 – Another pop at the Trop

One more day looking at the muted tones of that ballpark in St. Pete means another game between the Rays and Yankees. I would call it the rubber game of the series, but I hate cliches. Today features a match-up between Hiroki Kuroda and Jeremy Hellickson.

Kuroda has not been reliable the past month and in his last four starts he is sporting a 4.81 ERA and a 1.397 WHIP. Hellickson, in his first five starts since coming off of the disabled list has a pretty 2.05 ERA, but in typical Hellickson fashion, sports a much higher FIP at 3.88.

There is good news for the Yankees as Brian McCann is back from his seven-day concussion DL stint. Well…I think that is good news. The Yankees activated McCann and sent Austin Romine (we hardly knew ya) back down to the minors.

Carlos Beltran is back in right field, Prado is at second. Stephen Drew is at short and Derek Jeter is again at the designated hitter position.

The Lineups:

New York Yankees:

  1. Brett Gardner – LF
  2. Derek Jeter – DH
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  4. Mark Teixeira – 1B
  5. Carlos Beltran – RF
  6. Brian McCann – C
  7. Chase Headley – 3B
  8. Stephen Drew – SS
  9. Martin Prado – 2B

SP – Hiroki Kuroda

Tampa Bay Rays:

  1. Desmond Jennings – cF
  2. Ben Zobrist – 2B
  3. Matt Joyce – LF
  4. Evan Longoria – 3B
  5. James Loney – 1B
  6. Yunel Escobar – SS
  7. Vince Belnome – DH
  8. Jose Molina – C
  9. Kevin Kiermaier – RF

SP – Jeremy Hellickson

The game starts at 1:40, which is a weird time. Yahoo Sports does not list a local television outlet showing the game, but that can’t be right.  Anyway, enjoy the game. Continue reading Game 122 – Another pop at the Trop

Yankees individual clutch hitting

Yesterday, Katie Sharp had a terrific piece on the historic fail of the Yankees in the clutch hitting department. Like all great writing, the post made me think and it also confirmed (judging by the comments) what most of us have been seeing with our eyes all season. To call it bleak has been an understatement. The first question it raised was: Is this a total team breakdown or just certain segments of the lineup? So I decided to piggyback on Katie’s work and take a look.

Katie focused on three statistics: Runners in Scoring Position (RISP), Runners in Scoring Position with Two Outs (I’ll shorten that to RISP2) and Late and Close. She found the Yankees as a team to not only be way below league average in all three of these categories, but historically bad for Yankee teams since 1973 when this sort of data started to be compiled.

I took a look at the twelve players with more than fifty plate appearances that have only played for the Yankees this season. Someone like Yangervis Solarte would be too difficult to pull apart these stats from the two teams he has played with this season.

Of the twelve, the Yankees only have one player who is above league average in all three of Katie’s categories: Jacoby Ellsbury. He has a 139 OPS+ compared to the league with RISP, a 178 on RISP2 and 115 in Late and Close situations. Not only is Ellsbury above average in all three of these categories, but all three are above his 112 OPS+ overall.

The rest of the Yankees do not fare so well (stats listed below). Five of the twelve players were above league average in two of the three categories. Three were above league average in one of the categories and three were below average in all three categories. Those three are Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Francisco Cervelli (even after last night). These three are the rally killers.

Ken Singleton has said several times during the YES broadcasts that the Yankees are not hitting as well as they are capable of hitting. The numbers bear him out. With twelve players on my list and three categories, there are 36 possible times one of the players can be either above or below his career average in a category. There are 22 instances of Yankee players not faring as well this year as their career averages in these three categories.

As you can probably guess, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are the only two of the twelve that have better numbers in all three categories this year than in their careers. Only one other Yankee has better results in two categories this year over his career numbers: Carlos Beltran.

The three mentioned above (Jeter, Suzuki and Cervelli) are below their career averages in all three categories. Jeter and Ichiro are both at the end of their careers and these numbers show the appropriateness of those assessments.

I had also wondered if the Yankees have had less chances than the rest of the league in these categories than the league average. But the difference is not statistically relevant. For example, with thirty teams, the average RISP opportunities this season per team is 1,144. The Yankees have had 1,123 opportunities. The same holds true with RISP2 with the league average at 523 opportunities and the Yankees at 509. What makes extra sense with all the close games the team has played, The Yankees have had 910 Late and Close opportunities compared to the league average of 775.

Katie Sharp showed what our souls have been groaning about all season and her post was an eye opener. With a few exceptions, the individual team members have fallen down according to their career averages in Katie’s three clutch categories. The opportunities pile up and go unrequited. With the exceptions of Gardner and Ellsbury and perhaps Beltran, this is a team failure and should exonerate Brian Cashman a bit because the team members were historically better.

Whether it is approach (Kevin Long), age (Ichiro, Jeter) or just bad luck (.286, .257 and .274 BABIPS in the three categories), the Yankees just can’t seem to get that big hit or put together more than one scoring inning a game together. Crooked numbers have been far and few between. And the results are pushing the Yankees further and further behind the Orioles.

Yanks Ind Clutch Continue reading Yankees individual clutch hitting