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.

Thin Hope And Acceptance

The 2016 season of the New York Yankees has not gone well. Those of us who watch the games every day have a sense of doom every inning, every pitch, every at-bat and every bullpen decision. Nothing has gone right and everything has gone wrong. Joe Girardi‘s body language in the dugout looks like a man being leeched by some 19th Century doctor. For this generation of Yankee fans, this is unprecedented and shocking. Perhaps, what is needed is a new perspective to get us over these troubled waters.

First of all, this is a fan generation that has not seen a Yankee team with a losing record since 1992. That first season under Buck Showalter saw a team finish ten games under .500 and twenty games back from first place. This is also a fan generation that has not only seen consistent above .500 teams but also teams that only failed to make the playoffs three times since 1995.

You all know that such sustained success is impossible right? You understand it is also unnatural, right? That kind of run doesn’t happen in sports. Perhaps the closest thing to that kind of sustained success would be the New England Patriots. And sooner or later, that run will come to an end too. It has to. Continue reading Thin Hope And Acceptance

Going to the Headley

How bad have things become with Chase Headley? Men have a rather impolite saying when going to the men’s room. Perhaps you have heard of, “Going to the Head.” Lately, I have been saying that I am going to the Headley. And there is much about his first month of the season that sings the Ty-D-Bol theme song. His stats are clean, man, clean as a whistle. Looking for doubles? Nope. Triples? Nope. Homers? Nope. Hits with two outs with runners in scoring position? Hits with men on first and second? Hits with men on first and third? Hits with men on second and third? Nope, nope, nope and nope.

Chase Headley has gotten off to bad starts in his career. But never this bad. And, it would not be too much of a concern if it did not bookend how he finished 2015. September of last season was nearly as bad. That month, Headley played in 31 games and had twenty hits with only three extra base hits. Mind you, that is three more than this April. But even so, his triple slash line last September was, .179/.252/..223. That only looks good against this April’s .148/.277/.148.

I was really bullish on the Yankees getting this guy. I bought into that outlier of a season he had in 2012. To my embarrassment, in our IIATMS previews in 2015, I selected Headley as my biggest surprise to be in 2015. It did not exactly happen that way. I always loved his glove. And then last year happened and I cringed every time he threw the ball (as did Mark Teixeira). I was so wrong. According to Fangraphs.com, Headley was the seventeenth best third baseman in baseball last year. Even Yangervis Solarte was better. At least his fielding has been solid to great this season.

So what has happened to Chase Headley? His line drive percentage is comparable to seasons past. His strikeout rate has been stable with his history. There are two major differences. First–and I know everyone is sick of hearing about this stat–the velocity of balls off his bat are down. Second, he is taking many more pitches and swinging less often.

Let’s start with the second one because it sounds counter intuitive. It is good to be patient, right? Maybe. His overall swing percentage this season is at a career low of 35.5%. Compare that to his lifetime rate of 43.8%. There is a dramatic difference in the amount of pitches he swings at out of the strike zone. This year, that percentage is 18.2% compared to a career norm of 25.6%. That all sounds good, right? So far, yes. But then we come to the percentage of strikes.

In that latter category, Headley is swinging at 58.3% of pitches in the strike zone compared to a career average of 67.7%. In his monster year of 2012, Headley swung at 70% of strikes. My theory on this is that he is not as aggressive as he used to be and I believe I have observed this watching every game thus far. He should be mashing balls in the middle zone of the plate and too many pass by unchallenged. Then he is forced to swing at a pitcher’s pitch. He seems far too passive at the plate. This is my theory. Debunk at will. I fully admit that I am not as good a stat guy as my colleagues.

I also believe the above information bleeds into his amount of hard hit balls. Starting with his season in 2012 and covering the two following seasons, the percentage of balls he hit hard were near 35% or higher. Then last season, it went down to 28% and this year is at 23.8%. His home run to fly ball percentage took a big dip last season and, of course, is nonexistent so far this season.

Can Chase Headley recover? Sure, anything is possible. He won’t be THIS bad all season. That said, I am not sure he will become a productive hitter again for the Yankees. His offense had a negative value last year and we are now talking a season and a month of not being productive. His last two full months of play have been alarming. How patient the Yankees are will be interesting to see. The organization will probably be a lot more patient than I. Continue reading Going to the Headley

Kneejerk Foment

[caption id="attachment_81089" align="aligncenter" width="525"]A-Rod K vs OAK When you strike out with the bases loaded during a brutal RISP slump. Courtesy of the AP[/caption]

I fully realize that I am falling in Wallchand territory here but I can feel the angst and brine rising within me. You have been watching these games along with me, right? This version of the New York Yankees has been such a drag to watch. I know Stacey wasn’t as impressed as I was, but Michael Kay’s “Groundhog Day” line the other night just felt so right. Each game has bled into the next with the same ineptitude and similar losses. It is like going off Broadway and watching the same bad production for fourteen straight days.

My rational mind is shouting to my emotional Italian side chiding the latter with reminders of sample size and season length. In the immortal words of Frank Sinatra, my heart ain’t gonna buy it. My inner Yankee is foaming at the mouth.

This is what my mind has watched thus far this season. I qualify this statement knowing full well that observations are faulty and I will look at some stats a little later:

  • It seems that every fat mistake pitch thrown by a Yankee pitcher gets hammered while the Yankees take such pitches for strikes when they are batting.
  • You can squeeze more appeal from our front-running presidential candidates easier than the Yankees can squeeze runs out of a potential rally.
  • I wish Aaron Hicks could hit so he could play the field every day.
  • How long do we wait out Alex Rodriguez before doing the Soriano-Jones?
  • The Yankees’ offense is the easiest team to defense in the history of baseball.
  • Why does Mark Teixeira have to stink every April?
  • How many of you are like me and start to get afraid every time a Yankee starting pitcher starts a game with two or three scoreless innings?
  • I would take four errors a week from Rob Refsnyder over watching Chase Headley every night
  • Austin Romine is no John Ryan Murphy. But he is like a J.R. Murphy. Maybe he should insist on being called, “Austin Allen Romine.”

Okay, somehow, I need to pull this rant out of the gutter of my mind and put some data in here to at least make it sound respectable. I know full well that this is a lost cause because any stats I cull will be cherry picking and a rant is what this is and there seems to be no turning back. But here goes a few cherry picks to at least make it look like I’m trying. Continue reading Kneejerk Foment

Game 10 – CC vs The King

The New York Yankees are in a bit of a slide and can use a win. Facing the ace of the Seattle Mariners’ staff doesn’t seem to help. If the Yankees can make Nathan Karns and Vidal Nuno look like All Stars, how will they compete against Felix Hernandez? The beauty of baseball means anything can happen.

CC Sabathia goes for the Yankees.

The Lineups:

Seattle Mariners:

  1. Nori Aoki – LF
  2. Ketel Marte – SS
  3. Robinson Cano – 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz – DH
  5. Franklin Gutierrez – RF
  6. Chris Iannetta – C
  7. Dae-ho Lee – 1B
  8. Leonys Martin – CF
  9. Luis Sardinas – 3B

Felix Hernandez – SP (0-1, 0.69 ERA)

New York Yankees

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  2. Brett Gardner – LF
  3. Alex Rodriguez – DH
  4. Mark Teixeira – 1B
  5. Carlos Beltran – RF
  6. Starlin Castro – 2B
  7. Chase Headley – 3B
  8. Didi Gregorius – SS
  9. Austin Romine – C

CC Sabathia – SP (1-0, 4.50 ERA)

The game starts at 1:05 and can be seen on The YES Network and on The MLB Network. Enjoy the game! Continue reading Game 10 – CC vs The King

Tanaka Needs To Show Us Something

Stacey mentioned in her open thread yesterday that Joe Girardi stated that Masahiro Tanaka had to show Girardi something in Tanaka’s last Spring Training game to get the nod for the Opening Day Starter. And while Girardi dismissed the importance of such an “honor” during an in-game interview over the weekend, I cannot help echoing Girardi’s thought and expanding it for all of 2016. Masahiro Tanaka needs to show us something.

There is expectation that Tanaka is an ace…a top gun…an elite starter in the American League. The reality is that Tanaka has not been that guy since June 28, 2014. There have been stretches on the disabled list, concerns about his elbow–and most importantly–middle of the road pitching ever since that complete game loss to the Red Sox.

At this point, you can forget about the elbow. Yes, it might explode any time. But that can be said of every pitcher in baseball. He says he has been fine and so has everyone else. But his pitching has not been that fine..It has been adequate. For starters with at least 150 innings in 2015, Tanaka finished 57th in fWAR and 54th in FIP. That compares closest to Mike Pelfrey. Mike Pelfrey.

My observation is that it all starts with the fastball. So that is where I started when looking up data. I have no problem acknowledging that Tanaka has a devastating split finger pitch. But that pitch is most effective when set up by other pitches, especially the fastball. According to Fangraphs.com, Masahiro Tanaka’s fastball rated 86th in baseball last year. To get a full gauge on that placement, 87 pitchers were rated as having thrown 150+ innings. The only fastball that was rated lower in baseball last year was Jered Weaver who throws his fastball these days at about pony league speed.

To make sure I wasn’t being overly jaded here, I went further with those numbers. Fangraphs tends to lump all fastballs together including two-seam, four-seam, sinkers and cut fastballs. Using PitchF/X, they rate Tanaka’s four-seam fastball as 82nd out of 87. That’s not much better. According to PitchF/X, Tanaka also throws a sinker and that pitch was rated 15th. BUT, only twenty pitchers throw a sinker.

The bottom line is that Tanaka’s fastball has become somewhat akin to Phil Hughes‘ when Hughes was starting for the Yankees. And it shows because either Tanaka has become more loathe to use the pitch or McCann is more loathe to call it. Again, according to Fangraphs, Tanaka’s total fastballs as a percentage of his pitches went down in 2015 to 32.5%, eight percentage points lower than the year before. According to PitchF/X, only twelve pitchers with 150 or more innings threw less fastballs as a percentage than Tanaka.

I need other, more talented writers on this staff to look at spin rates, zone charts and the like to see if location is a problem or a lack of spin and movement. The only thing I see is that his fastball often gets crushed on the batter’s sweet spot. That would lead to more homers and indeed, Tanaka’s rate rose last year from 0.99 per nine innings in 2014 to 1.46 per nine.

It should also be noted that Tanaka’s strikeout rate went down from 26% in 2014 to 22% in 2015. Without an effective fastball, it is harder to set up the split ahead in the count. It also might account for a slight rise in walk rate if Tanaka does not have confidence in the pitch.

Projection systems don’t see a big improvement in 2016. Of the four I checked, only one was optimistic that Tanaka’s 2016 will be better than his 2015. Time will tell. But I am inclined to agree.

Many fans and analysts point to CC Sabathia as being the weak link and the worry in the Yankees’ rotation and rightly so. In my mind, Masahiro Tanaka is in the same category and is a part of the rotation that is causing me some serious doubt. Continue reading Tanaka Needs To Show Us Something

Do Not Trade Andrew Miller

[caption id="attachment_79693" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Miller vs TOR II Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption]

There have been rumors for weeks that the Yankees were having conversations with teams about Andrew Miller. A lump built in my throat. What!? Rumors fly around all the time so I did not take it all that seriously. And then there was this sentence from Buster Olney in his ESPN blog (behind a pay wall): “The Yankees got very deep into conversations about Andrew Miller with the Houston Astros, before Houston’s acquisition of Ken Giles.” Very deep into conversation seems a bit beyond a rumor. My knee-jerk, unprofessional reaction is, “Please say it ain’t so!”

There is some logic behind my emotional leap. While I have often echoed a former ESPN SweetSpot leader that relief pitchers are fungible, great relievers are not. The Astros, one of the most stat driven front offices around, made it clear this winter that good relief pitchers were the big area of need after bowing out of the playoffs last year. The Royals have basically followed a Yankee (and before that, Tony La Russa) strategy to make the game a six inning game and get lots of strikeouts in those last three innings.

The one-two punch of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances was as good as it gets last year in the late innings. Betances did prove that he can close games if needed. But Miller, in his first year as a closer, was stellar. The Yankees have already traded away Justin Wilson and Adam Warren. So the sixth inning, seventh inning guys are up in the air right now. Trade away Andrew Miller and then you have the eighth inning to worry about too.

Sure, you could get lucky with a home-grown guy or with a spring training invitee. If this is about money, Miller’s $9m salary is not that big of a deal–or at least it shouldn’t be. And yes, we’ve been hearing that 2016 is a transition year and you don’t really need two great relief pitchers for that. I don’t see a whole lot of separation in the AL East, so competing is not out of the question. If the Yankees fall hard, then the trade deadline can revisit the idea.

But if there is a chance to compete–and I believe there is–then having a strong bullpen is essential these days. And by a strong bullpen, I mean guys who can miss bats regularly.

Perhaps it can be stated that Betances deserves to be able to take the next step. I do not think the “closer” title is as important as it was even a couple of years ago. Plenty of non-closing relievers have been picking up nice paychecks lately. Darren O’Day is just one example this past week. Betances, to his credit, has not made such demands. But it goes even beyond this reasoning.

Many thought that Dellin Betances was the Yankees’ MVP the last two seasons. It is scary to think of where the Yankees would have finished the past two seasons without him in his role. He wasn’t the closer. Similarly, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera have shown the value of relief pitchers not labeled as closers. A point can even be made that Davis, Herrera and Betances were more valuable than the closers. Let’s look at that for a second.

In 2015, Dellin Betances pitched in 39 high leverage situations and 21 medium leverage situations. Miller (in fairness, he did miss some time) pitched in 30 high leverage situations and 15 medium leverage ones. There is a stat called RE24 which is runs saved in bases occupied situations. Betances had a RE24 of 24.7 and Miller was at 16. Betances had an 11.8 WPA score and Miller a 9.

There are two observations you can make about those numbers. First, Betances in his role was every bit (and perhaps more) important as the closer. Moving Betances to the closer position would greatly diminish the ability of the Yankees to fill his current role effectively. And his role saved a lot of forest fires.

I am not exalting Betances over Miller. Miller has earned his salary not from being a closer in the past, but by being the kind of before-ninth inning relief pitcher that Betances is. Miller’s role was super important to the Red Sox and then the Orioles in what they accomplished the years Miller was with them.

What I am saying is that Miller and Betances together are a formidable duo that improves the Yankees’ chances of winning significantly. And since I still believe the Yankees have just as good a shot in the AL East as their competition, keeping them intact is certainly my preference. Continue reading Do Not Trade Andrew Miller

The House Is Not A Home

The New York Yankees are now only one game over .500 since the last day of July and it has been tough watching the team crawl to the finish line. This really isn’t the way you want to watch a team eek into a playoff spot (if you still consider the wild card game a playoff spot). And just two things are on my mind this morning:

  1. I remember Buster Olney doing a column on favorable schedules after the All Star Break and the Yankees having one of the most favorable because of the number of home games..
  2. I have to watch Yankee games against the Red Sox on NESN because of blackouts and one of the text questions on their broadcast last night was: “Does the new Yankee Stadium give the Yankees the same home field advantage.”

Olney’s conclusion did not work out, obviously, because of the nearly .500 clip the Yankees have played the last two months. And if I would have texted my answer to NESN’s question, I probably would have said no.

I haven’t been to the new stadium. All my memories of going to games were in the old place. That place always seemed to rock. Since I cannot really tell now as I have not actually been there. Watching the games on television, the crowds a the new stadium just seem different…quieter…pensive….reserved.

Jerry Remy answered NESN’s question with an unequivocal NO. That doesn’t mean he is necessarily right, but he has seen games in both places, so I feel stronger about his response than mine. But what do the numbers say?

I tracked the winning percentage of the team’s overall performance versus the home record for all the years in the new stadium and the last few years of the old stadium. At the bottom of the post you can see my results.

One thing easily seen is that the Yankees still had a big advantage at home the first few years of the new stadium. There was a healthy difference between the overall record and the home record. But the last two years have been a different story.

I don’t have time to dig into the differences right now, nor do I probably have the skills to discuss this intelligently. But something is different the last couple of years and home has not been as wonderful a place to be as it was in the past. Whether it has to do with the make ups of the teams or the way they are fielded, I have no idea without digging further.

I simply wanted to show what I found and open the discussion. And while these numbers are not as comforting as you would want knowing the one-game-wild card-play-in-Russian Roulette is at home (we hope), it is still more comforting than having to have that game be played away.

yankees home record Continue reading The House Is Not A Home

The Yankee Offense Drives Me Insane

I know. You are tired of me writing about the Yankees’ offense. I have railed all year about it and I don’t blame you for being sick of it. It’s just that misery loves company. If I have to watch this team hit every night and drive myself to distraction, then I might as well take someone with me. Frankly, I hate this offense.

As thrilling a win as Monday night was with Slade Heathcott‘s three-run dinger to win it, the Yankees had just four hits. Last night they had five. Just a random couple of games? Hardly. The Yankees have had five or less hits in a game 29 times. That is tied for sixth most in the Majors. That is also 20% of their games or a fifth of them. Is that a lot? Well…the 2009 Yankees did that only fourteen times all season. Which is also how many times the Blue Jays have done it this season.

So what, exactly, drive me crazy? The approach to hitting drives me crazy. If you face a guy with a good change-up (which describes everyone on the Rays), then the best approach is to think away and then you are still back enough to hit the change up hard. It is my observation that the Yankees give away more outs that most teams and certainly less than their closest opponents. But is that an accurate observation?

I think the numbers back it up. Which team has the lowest BABIP in baseball? You guessed it. The New York Yankees at .284. BABIP is the batting average of balls in play. An average BABIP is considered around .300 and fluctuates a percentage point from year to year.

We have eye evidence that nearly every Yankee batter has a shift employed against him. And, gosh, that makes so much sense. Why? Because the Yankees easily have the highest pull percentage in baseball at 44.8%. At the same time, the team has the lowest opposite field percentage in baseball. Of course the teams are going to shift! Of course, the Yankees are going to keep doing what they are doing and the result is an offense that (outside of homers) drives me crazy.

The Yankees of 2015 also rank tied for seventh for the highest percentage of soft contact. The Yankees have only two batters in the top fifty players (with 300+ at bats) in hard contact percentage. Alex Rodriguez comes in at 37th and Mark Teixeira is 41st. The Yankees’ oldest offensive player leads them.

The Yankees have three players in the top fifty with the lowest percentage of hard contact. Jacoby Ellsbury is 16th lowest and leads the team in that dubious statistic. He was supposed to be good, right? See Brad’s post yesterday for more on that wayward notion.

Three of the Yankees’ homers in the last two games have not been pulled. Heathcott’s dramatic homer was to the opposite field. A-Rod’s from last night was opposite field and Greg Bird’s blast was to center. It’s a beautiful thing. Take what the pitcher gives you. Hit it the other way. Make it harder to defense you. Why is this such a difficult concept?

I can see how it would be hard to have much leverage talking to a Mark Teixeira about his 55+% of pulled baseballs and Brian McCann about his 51.5%. But seriously? It’s okay with you that Chris Young pulls the ball 60.5% when he makes contact!? A guy that close to the edge of having a job cannot be convinced to try something different?

Yes, this team can bop the homers. They do it more often than all except two teams. That’s great. You cannot beat a homer for effectiveness. But what about the rest of the at bats? Wouldn’t it be nice to have Ellsbury on base in front of A-Rod’s homer? Wouldn’t it be great if your two top guys in the lineup could get on base once in a while?

I can’t help it, folks, and I apologize. This offense drives me batty. Except for the occasional homers, the team cannot string together hits, it has no desire to fight what the defenses are doing and they just keep thinking they can hit that slow stuff thrown on the outside corner by rolling over on it. It is infuriating. But, gosh, a playoff spot is still well within reach. So I should just shut up. Continue reading The Yankee Offense Drives Me Insane

Tanaka Is Still An Ace

[caption id="attachment_78237" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Tanaka vs BAL III Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption]

Before watching the sadness of what was a lousy offensive performance by the Yankees last night, I watched a little bit of Baseball Tonight on The MLB Network. Pedro Martinez and Dan Plesac were discussing the Matt Harvey situation. Plesac talked about every team having a “pecking order” with its starters and relief pitchers. The point made was that Harvey was #1 on the Mets’ pecking order and they needed him. Masahiro Tanaka is still at the top of the Yankees’ pecking order.

During this season, two other pitchers have been handed that spot by the fans and the media. Earlier in the season, Michael Pineda was dominant and he was the ace of the staff. In the second half of the season, that title went to Nathan Eovaldi (sigh). But all along–except for the seven starts he missed–Tanaka has been right there giving the Yankees a chance to win.

I will admit up front that I am going to “cherry pick” some numbers. I feel it is necessary because the current ways we have to rank pitchers are WAR and FIP. Both are skewed heavily by the three supposed outcomes a pitcher can control: homers, walks allowed and strikeouts. Tanaka’s walks allowed, strikeouts and strikeout per walk ratios are all still in the elite category. But homers are another story. He has given up a ton of them. His 1.5 homers per nine rate (over 16% homer to fly ball ratio) is very high.

That one fact alone–and I am not dismissing its impact–drags Tanaka down, puts his FIP over four and knocks his WAR down a few pegs. Tanaka has a bit of a Phil Hughesian problem at Yankee Stadium III. On the road, Masahiro Tanaka has a 0.80 homer per nine rate. But at home, that rate jumps to 2.0 per nine. White giving up only six homers on the road, he has allowed fifteen at home.

All of his other stats both home and the road are nearly the same. But the homer rate pushes his ERA to over four at home and 3.26 on the road. And yet, here’s the thing: He has won six of his twelve starts at home. Mike Mussina was once asked what defined a great pitcher and his answer was winning half of games started. That certainly works for Tanaka at home despite the homers.

But there are more numbers to (cherry) pick. The Yankees have won 66.6% of the games Tanaka has started this season (14 of 21). That is the exact same rate as Eovaldi and we all know about Eovaldi’s run support. And that percentage makes sense since a full 71% of Masahiro Tanaka’s starts have been quality starts. That is easily the best on the team*. Pineda is second at 50%.

*Luis Severino has a higher rate, but I cannot jump on that ship until he has 20+ starts instead of six.

Quality starts is not the most popular statistic around because you can have a 4.50 ERA and have a quality start. But it does give the team a chance to win by keeping things from getting out of hand. But perhaps I can give you a stat you’ll like more.

Actually, I can give you several. Let’s start with Game Score. Bill James and others came up with a way to rate a start with a 50 being average, below 50 as below average and above 50 as above average. The higher the number the better. Masahiro Tanaka’s average Game Score is 57.4. Only Severino is higher among the starters. Pineda is at 52.3 and Eovaldi at 49.6.

Then there is WHIP, which is walks plus hits per innings pitched. Tanaka’s WHIP is 1.015. Would you guess that rate is better than Chris Sale‘s? It’s also better than Corey Kluber, Matt Harvey, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Archer and David Price. The next Yankee starter closest to Tanaka is Pineda at 1.230. A lot of Tanaka’s success there is due to a hits per nine rate of only 7.4 per nine. Add that to his low walk rate and it’s easy to see why.

Lastly, there needs to be a discussion of bullpen saving. One of the stories that goes a little under the radar is that the Yankees’ bullpen gets pretty dicey before the eighth and ninth inning. The more those sixth and seven inning pitchers are exposed, the harder it is on the team. The deeper a starter can go, then, the better. Tanaka leads Yankee starters with 6.48 innings pitched per start. Pineda is at 6..09 and Eovaldi at 5.71.

With the instant stats and news during the season, it is easy to get wrapped up in what is happening lately. I have always felt that you cannot take a part of the season to sweeten the entire season. Stephen Drew might have been better this past month, but his SEASON has not been pretty at the plate. Eovaldi and Pineda have carried the team in flashes of brilliance that lasted a month or more. But if you look at the season as a whole, Masahiro Tanaka has been the consistent presence the Yankees have needed. All things considered health-wise, he is still the guy I give the ball to in Game One of a playoff series or wild card winner take all. Continue reading Tanaka Is Still An Ace