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 117 – Indians haven’t a Kluber today

Sometimes you just have to tip your cap and play another day. Corey Kluber was too much for the Yankees yesterday and there is no shame in that as Kluber has had a real breakout season. But today is that other day and the Yankees face a pitcher not nearly as talented in Carlos Carrasco. But I probably shouldn’t sell Carrasco short. He has some good peripherals this season.

You have to like the Yankees’ chances, however, with Hiroki Kuroda pitching a day game at YS3. That is usually a pretty good formula. Plus, the Indians will be missing Nick Swisher and David Murphy due to injuries. The way Swisher’s season has been going, that might not be much of a miss.

The Yankees will see Zach Walters who called up today. Walters is a power-hitting, high strikeout, low walk kind of guy that the Indians got back as part of the Asdrubal Cabrera trade with the Nationals. Walters is a switch-hitter and not a guy you want to groove a fastball against. He hit 29 homers in Triple-A last season.

Mark Teixeira is back in the lineup, which is a pleasant surprise. Continue reading Game 117 – Indians haven’t a Kluber today

Ichiro’s roster spot

Ichiro Suzuki is not a player that is easy to categorize or capture in words of objectivity. He carries himself like a proud Japanese warrior from a different time. And despite the sometimes one-dimensional side of his hitting, he has had a great career. He is nearly the same age as Derek Jeter and should be venerated for the career he has compiled. Instead, he has become the last man on the New York Yankees’ 25-man roster and it is up for debate if he should even be in the pecking order at all.

Ichiro has not been a good player since 2010. He still shows flashes of his old self like when he joined the Yankees in 2012 and the first month of his 2014 season. The rest is a whole bunch of mediocrity that rests more on his reputation than on his play.

His 2014 is playing out very similarly to his 2013–except that it might be worse. He started both seasons being fairly productive and then tanked right about the same time. In 2013, Ichiro put up a mediocre but decent .714 before the All Star Break and then crawled to the finish at .547 after it. In 2014, he put up a .684 OPS before the break and has been a dismal .396 after. He often looks over-matched at the plate and swings through pitches he would have hit solidly before. And he looks stiff and uncertain in the field. Continue reading Ichiro’s roster spot

Game 111: T-i-single Gah-Errrs

Forgive the Winnie the Pooh reference in the heading. The Tigers visit the Bronx starting tonight for a four-game set. The Yankees will face Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello. No problem, right? Hubboy… Game 111 has a nice solid ring to it. Yankee fans just hope that doesn’t end up being the line score. Max Scherzer will rock the house. Maybe he’ll think about how nice it will be to pitch in the Bronx next season. Maybe the Yankees will hit three homers against him and he’ll sign somewhere else. Whatever the case, he is an Continue reading Game 111: T-i-single Gah-Errrs

The young Al Downing was filthy

The 1963 New York Yankees won 104 games that season and finished over ten games in front of its nearest American League rival. And it wasn’t the offense that propelled them that season. Mickey Mantle only played 65 games due to injury and Roger Maris‘ run of greatness with the Yankees had ended as he only played 90 games himself. It was the pitching that propelled that team. Along with Whitey Ford and Jim Bouton having their best career years, a 22-year-old Al Downing was mowing down hitters at a league-leading rate.

Alphonso Downing, a kid from Trenton, was only twenty when he was signed by the Yankees in 1961. Assigned to the A-level Binghampton Triplets, he proceeded to go 9-1 for that New York State club with a 1.84 ERA. The success led the Yankees to give him a cup of coffee on that powerhouse 1961 Yankees team and in a handful of games, proceeded to strike out twelve batters per nine innings. Unfortunately, he walked just as many. Continue reading The young Al Downing was filthy

Game 103 – Winning is addictive

The New York Yankees host the Toronto Blue Jays and the Blue Jays are desperate to break this seventeen game losing streak they have put together at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees, meanwhile, would very much like to keep that streak going and also keep what has been a terrific home stand chugging along. Winning is addictive after all. It sure beats the alternative.

Drew Hutchison starts for the Blue Jays and this will be his fourth start this season against the Yankees. He has lost all three…another streak the Yankees would like to continue. Hutchison has great stuff but has thus far not been able to string together impressive performances. That said, he is capable of shutting down a team if he harnesses his power pitching. It’s funny how baseball works. He has the exact same WHIP as Mark Buehrle and nearly the same FIP but with completely different stuff.

The Yankees start Chris Capuano. Brad told you some information about Capuano earlier today that is worth the read. But here is some more information you won’t get anywhere else: The surname, “Capuano,” is a habitation name for people from the southern Italy town of Capua. “Capuano” is also a urban slang word for an addiction you can’t kick. Yeah, that’s where all this addictive talk is coming from. It’s a stretch, but Saturday is a slow day. Continue reading Game 103 – Winning is addictive

Rolling the dice with David Robertson

Until today, there has been very little discussion of the impending free agency of David Robertson. Which seems strange considering that the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera has had a brilliant first go of it as the Yankees’ primary closer. To be frank, not a lot of discussion has occurred in my own household which features two diehard fans of the team. But then ESPN.com’s Buster Olney dropped this bomb in his daily Insider (requires subscription) column: David Robertson hasn’t had any talks with the Yankees about a long-term deal even though he’s months from becoming a free agent, but it Continue reading Rolling the dice with David Robertson

Game 98 – Lats, bats and those Rangers cats

When you looked at a schedule for the coming season way back in March, you might have circled this series against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium III. You (nor I) never would have guessed the Rangers would have the worst record in the American League when they arrived in the Bronx. The Rangers have given up more earned runs as a pitching staff than any other American League team. This is like the Rick Helling Rangers much more than any of their teams in recent seasons.

Take tonight for example. The Rangers are starting Miles Mikolas who sounds more like a Tolkien elf than a big league pitcher. Mikolas has made three starts and has given up 24 hits in 14+ innings. He has great control, but has been getting cuffed around so far. But as the Yankees have shown this year, beware of mediocre pitchers!

The Yankees have their own question mark on the mound in Shane Greene. Sure, he has been terrific so far with a 1.32 ERA but a 3.65 FIP. Is he the next Chase Whitley or Mel Stottlemyre? Time will tell, my friend. Time will tell.

As you have been informed earlier today, Mark Teixeira has a balky lat muscle. I haven’t heard what caused it, but swinging at that high, 102 MPH fastball from Aroldis Chapman couldn’t have helped. He won’t be available today meaning the Yankees have to play with 24 players.

The Lineups:

Texas Rangers:

  1. Shin-Soo Choo RF
  2. Elvis Andrus – SS
  3. Adrian Beltre – 3B
  4. J.P. Arencibia – 1B
  5. Leonys Martin – CF
  6. Jake Smolinski – DH
  7. Jim Adduci – LF
  8. Geovany Soto – C
  9. Rougned Odor – 2B

SP – Miles Mikolas

New York Yankees

  1. Brett Gardner – LF
  2. Derek Jeter – SS
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  4. Carlos Beltran – DH
  5. Kelly Johnson – !B
  6. Brian Roberts – 2B
  7. Ichiro Suzuki – RF
  8. Francisco Cervelli – C
  9. Zelous Wheeler – 3B

SP – Shane Greene

Arencibia batting cleanup!? Whuh? A lot of new names in the Rangers’ lineup. Not the A-lineup for the Yankees either. The game starts at 7:05. The game will be on The YES Network for you locals and on ESPN for us diaspora. Enjoy! Continue reading Game 98 – Lats, bats and those Rangers cats

Seven (straw) arguments for Ellsbury leading off

I am saving you folks a bunch of time making comments by admitting up front that I am creating a flawed statistical argument to support a personal bias and belief. I want Jacoby Ellsbury to lead off for the Yankees. That is what he was signed to do and that is not what he is doing. And since I am not a statistical genius like many of my colleagues here, I can only create weak statistical arguments to support my biased belief. I bet you have never seen an opening paragraph like this one before.

At least I am being honest here. Like many Yankee observers in 2014, I am extremely surprised by the offensive efforts of this team. Offense was not supposed to be a problem this year. And yet it is. The team is 22nd out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored. The team has a 93 OPS+. The offense more resembles last year’s ragtag outfit than a team that was “fixed” in the off season by some key upgrades.

And everyone has different opinions on what exactly is the problem. Frankly, there are many as has been written oft times by our fabulous team of writers. Carlos Beltran hasn’t exactly worked out. Brian McCann has shown recent glimpses of life in what has been a disappointing first campaign with the team. Some blame Derek Jeter batting second. And don’t get started on that one. Jeter is going to bat second all season. Get over it.

Some point to Brian Roberts playing second base. Alfonso Soriano was awful and let go. Third base showed some early results but has faded into Jayson Nix territory.There are lots of things we can point to. But I haven’t seen many point to Jacoby Ellsbury batting third instead of first.

Somewhere about the fifth game of the season, Joe Girardi started experimenting with batting Brett Gardner in the lead off position in the batting order. Most people like him there. Many of our staff voted Gardner as the Yankees’ best offensive player the first half of this season. I picked Mark Teixeira and wOBA seems to back me up. But yes, Brett Gardner is second of the regulars behind Teixeira, so point taken. Girardi’s experiment has become permanent.Call me the exception to the rule on liking Gardner in the lead off spot.

Okay, so here are my statistical (cherry picked) statistics to support my bias:

  1. Gardner strikes out more than Ellsbury. Gardner, in the lead off spot has struck out 21.6% of the time. In a smaller sample size (24 games), Ellsbury struck out 19.1% of the time as a lead off batter. Gardner has struck out 21 more times than Ellsbury this season in a similar amount of plate appearances.
  2. Gardner is too tentative in stealing bases. Ellsbury gets on base and off he goes. Gardner waffles and stalls and then maybe gets around to attempting to steal. Of nine of Derek Jeter’s grounded into double plays (GIDP), only one of them occurred when Ellsbury was the lead off batter. How’s that for a weak stat?
  3. Ellsbury’s on-base percentage as a lead off batter was .354. Brett Gardner’s as a lead off batter has been .341. For their respective careers, Ellsbury is a lifetime .346 OBP guy as a lead off batter, Gardner, .343.
  4. Jacoby Ellsbury is not thriving in the third spot. Is the batting order change that much of a problem for him? Maybe not. But it sure seems to be a problem good enough for my cherry picking. Ellsbury’s OPS as a lead off batter was .834. In the third spot, his OPS has been .714.
  5. In 24 games with Jacoby Ellsbury leading off, the Yankees have averaged 4.5 runs per game. With games not led off by Ellsbury, the Yankees have averaged 3.8 runs per game.
  6. The Yankees have scored eight or more runs only seven times all season. Five of those came in games when Jacoby Ellsbury led off.
  7. The Yankees are 13-11 in games where Ellsbury was the lead off batter and 34-36 when he was not.

Okay, there are obvious flaws in all those statistical arguments. Many factors can come into play (including small sample sizes) for each of those stats. Here is a stat I did not add to my cherry picked stats. The very first plate appearance of the game? Gardner has been sensational. Ellsbury, not so much.

The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to lead off games. But I have already mentioned that Brett Gardner has the second best wOBA of the Yankee regulars. So it would not do to drop him to the bottom of the order again. That would be a waste of good wOBA, so to speak. So what to do then? Flip them. Bat Ellsbury first and bat Gardner third.

The strategy is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Brett Gardner also has the second highest slugging percentage of Yankee regulars. His nine homers are third on the team. His slugging percentage is 24 points higher than Ellsbury’s. So why is Ellsbury third instead of Gardner?

Jacoby Ellsbury has been a bit of a disappointment for the Yankees. His best positive so far is that it made the Red Sox’ center field problem a mess. But he is not the player the Yankees hoped he would be. Sometimes, you have to change things up. Ellsbury is not thriving batting third. Try something else. Try putting him where you hired him to be. But more than anything else…right or wrong…it’s what I want. Continue reading Seven (straw) arguments for Ellsbury leading off

Tanaka out of whacka

[caption id="attachment_67729" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports[/caption]Perhaps our expectations were too high. There were all kinds of predictions about what kind of pitcher Masahiro Tanaka would be once the Yankees pulled the trigger and signed the Japanese ace. Certainly, Brian Cashman tried to temper expectations by insisting he signed a Number 3 starter. But then Tanaka was lights out for his first fourteen starts and was 11-1. And expectations suddenly turned to the belief he would win every time he pitched.

Instead, Tanaka has lost three of his last four and fans are left with an expression of watching a fireworks display with no big finale. Naturally, not all of those losses were his fault. If you give up only two or three runs, you should have a reasonable chance to win and the Yankees’ offense wasn’t there for him. But the last two games have been concerning as the hits are starting to pile up and the strikeouts are trending down.

In Tanaka’s last two starts, he has given up more earned runs than he has recorded strikeouts. In his last two starts, he has given up 12.51 hits per nine innings. In his last two starts, he has a strikeout rate of 5.25 per nine innings. And he has not been above a strikeout per inning in his last four starts, something he did with regularity before.

One thing the numbers show is that his fastball has not been an effective pitch for him. David Cone mentioned something on the air last night that made sense when he said that it looked like batters were waiting for the first fastball they could see and were hacking at it. Fangraphs and PitchF/X both have Tanaka’s fastball in the negative worth category.

The numbers also show that batters who don’t wait around and put his first pitch in play are rewarded. When a batter puts the first pitch in play against Tanaka, he has a 1.036 OPS. So perhaps those “get me a strike, first pitches” are being belted around.

While it is true that Tanaka’s BABIP against in his two July starts is an extremely inflated .362, watching the two games hasn’t seemed like he is giving up a lot of cheap hits. On the contrary, bad luck does not seem to be a part of his late problems at all.

Advanced scouting in the Major Leagues has probably never been as thorough or as scientific. To be sure, teams have been studying Tanaka for trends and weaknesses. Both the Twins and the Indians seemed to have a very good plan of attack heading into their games against Tanaka. The Yankees will have to study those tendencies just as much to keep Tanaka ahead of the adjustment curve.

It has been a roller coaster ride of expectations for Yankee observers ever since the news was announced that the Yankees won the bidding war to get Masahiro Tanaka. At first, the expectations were kept low to not be disappointed when he was not some sort of savior. Then he won eleven of his first twelve decisions with an amazing strikeout rate and expectations went through the roof every time he pitched. It has been that ride that makes these last four starts a bit of a stomach punch. So what should our expectations be? Even when he is bad, he’s not overly bad and at times he is going to be very good. He is just not going to repeat that 11-1 start. That’s all. Continue reading Tanaka out of whacka