Is The Annual Hiroki Kuroda Late-Season Fade Underway?

Hirok vs CLE

Courtesy of Getty Images

Hiroki Kuroda did not look good yesterday.  His command was off, hitters were squaring him up, and he seemed to tire very quickly around the 80-90 pitch mark in the 5th inning, an inning he was unable to complete.  Paired with a similar failure to close an inning in the 7th on Tuesday night against the Tigers, the talk of Hirok slowing down in August as he did last year is quickly picking up.  Is it warranted?  2 starts is hardly enough to say definitively, but there are some SSS numbers worth considering for either side of the argument.

Case For:

The Contact Rates- The split in Hirok’s 2 August starts is 30.6% LD/38.9% GB/30.6% FB.  That’s by far the worst monthly split he’s had all year.  It’s the first time his LD % against has been over 22.0% and the first time his GB rate has dipped below 44.0%.  This isn’t guys sneaking seeing-eye singles through holes in the infield.  …

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McCarthy Mixes Fastballs Brilliantly To Tame The Tigers

Last Tuesday was Brandon McCarthy‘s worst start as a Yankee.  Against a weak Texas lineup he didn’t have good command of his stuff and got hit around for 9 hits and 4 ER in 6 innings.  The Yankees eventually won that game, as they’ve won all 5 games he’s started since being acquired.  The 5th win came last night, when McCarthy was back on the hill and back in full command of his entire fastball arsenal.  He featured all 3 in different situations against different hitters and completely held the Detroit Tiger lineup at bay with the way used them.

Before we get to that, just a quick counting stats recap for those who either missed the game or didn’t fully appreciate how good McCarthy was last night.  He threw 116 pitches, his highest pitch count of the year and the 3rd straight start in which he threw 108 or more, and pumped in 81 strikes (69.8%).  He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 25 batters he faced and had 11 swinging strikes (13.6%).  …

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Ellsbury Is Finally Starting To Pull The Ball

The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury with the idea of putting him on top of the lineup to pair with Brett Gardner. At least, that’s what the front office told us. To pay someone over $150 million, most teams expect more than speed and defense, they expect some top-notch hitting tools.

Ellsbury has a history of hitting well, particularly for average. If you go back to 2011, you’ll see that he’s more than just a contact hitter, he has some very exciting power. Since his 32 home run season, the power has been quieted by some injury-plagued seasons. Ellsbury went nearly 1,000 plate appearances with just 13 home runs in Boston between 2012 and his free agency.

Despite what the Yankees say, part of their $20 million plus annual commitment to the center fielder is in the hopes that he regains his power stroke, particularly in Yankee Stadium. Left-handed hitters already have an advantage in the Bronx, but when you combine that with Ellsbury’s history, it’s not hard to see why the Yankees took a huge gamble on him.…

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Whitley Mixes It Up Against Lefties

Whitley vs SEA

Courtesy of the AP

When I was giving props to Chase Whitley earlier in the week, I made reference to the 2 approaches he’s featured against right and left-handed hitters.  His changeup had been his biggest weapon against lefties and he was setting it up well with his 4-seam fastball.  Seattle stacked their lineup with lefty hitters for last night’s series finale, putting them in the top 4 spots in the batting order as well as 6th, 7th, and 9th.  In response, Whitley mixed up his routine a little to counter them and keep them at bay.

 

That’s Whitley’s pitch location plot against all the Seattle left-handed hitters last night.  He threw 64 of his uber-efficient 82 pitches to lefties and in a slight variation to what had been his norm, featured the slider more prominently.  He threw it 28.1% of the time, up from his lower 20s average, and scaled back the usage of his 4-seamer and changeup a tad.  …

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Appreciating Brian McCann’s defense

Brian McCann's defense has been elite this season. (Photo credit: www.myyesnetwork.com)

Brian McCann’s defense has been elite this season. (Photo credit: www.myyesnetwork.com)

Brian McCann‘s struggles at the plate are well-documented and represent a real problem for the offensively-starved Yankees.

Yet you cannot ignore the fact that he’s quietly putting together one of the best defensive seasons among catchers this season, and the success of the Yankees pitching staff owes a great deal of credit to the work by McCann behind the plate.

Pitch Framing
Thanks to the terrific research by Baseball Prospectus’ Dan Brooks and Harry Pavlidis, we can now quantify the impact of catcher pitch framing and blocking. This is measured in both raw numbers (extra strikes gained and passed balls/wild pitches prevented), along with runs saved via framing and blocking.

According to this method, McCann has been the best defensive catcher in terms of framing pitches this season, with 11.3 framing runs saved. He has gained 73.5 extra strikes when behind the plate, second only to Miguel Montero among all catchers.…

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Has The Solarte Party Come To An End?

After a hot start in Tampa this March, I was one of Yangervis Solarte‘s biggest doubters. A career minor leaguer rarely starts hitting major league pitching out of no where, and the small sample size of spring training wasn’t enough to disprove over 2,800 plate appearances in the minor leagues. But the infielder kept hitting, and by the second week of the regular season, I stopped doubting him and enjoyed the show. Solarte showcased bat speed, contact, an eye at the plate, and he was extremely versatile with his ability to switch-hit and play nearly anywhere on the infield.

None of this has changed. Solarte still has the same ability he did in April, but my fear was that we’d quickly learn something about Solarte that would finally expose a weakness. Either that didn’t happen or he made adjustments quicker than it could catch up to his statistics, because Solarte kept up his hot bat for two and half months between March, April, and mid-May.…

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What Makes Betances So Good?

Bill Kostroun

Bill Kostroun

There are many ways to get a batter out, and while some pitchers rely on sheer stuff to blow away a batter, most other pitchers rely on a combination of their pitch movements, velocities, and location to methodically confuse hitters. A pitcher like Mariano Rivera didn’t rely on a repertoire of disorienting pitches, he simply threw a cutter with incredible late horizontal break over and over again. Meanwhile, when a pitcher like Andy Pettitte lost velocity, he learned to throw with different movements and speeds to play up some of his declining pitches. Today, Masahiro Tanaka uses both styles, throwing a high-rising four-seamer, a hard breaking sinker, and a brutal splitter that make each subsequent pitch look like they’re moving even more than they really are.

Unlike Rivera, and much more like David Robertson, Dellin Betances uses more than one pitch. When a reliever, the right-hander used to throw a sinker and a changeup, but as a reliever he’s stuck with his two strongest pitches in his four-seamer and slurve.…

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Can Chase Whitley Save The Rotation?

Mike Stobe/Getty Images North America

Mike Stobe/Getty Images North America

With CC Sabathia out until July and Ivan Nova recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Yankees have two of their projected five starting pitchers out for the foreseeable future. Michael Pineda could be back in two weeks, but despite a hot month of April, questions still linger about the state of his shoulder, velocity, control, and now his teres major.

The rotation is left in the hands of a dominating Masahiro Tanaka and scuffling Hiroki Kuroda. David Phelps and Vidal Nuno have each had their good and bad starts, and it looks like Phelps might be able to contribute something above average. Chase Whitley is the final piece to the puzzle, and as the season goes on, he could prove to be the most important.

Susan covered Whitley’s interesting amateur and minor league history last week, and the biggest takeaway from Whitley’s minor league numbers is that they’re very good. He owns a low 2.64 ERA, an 8.6 K/9, and a low 2.9 BB/9, both of which have improved in 2014.…

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Dellin Betances Says Hello

 

Get a gander at that right there.  That’s Dellin Betances‘ pitch location plot from last night.  In case you missed it and somehow started reading this post before any kind of game recap, Betances was brought in with 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the 5th inning.  He got a groundball out to finish that inning and then proceeded to strike out the next 6 batters he faced in order to get through the 7th.  It was downright murderous.

By the simple counting numbers, Betances’ 2.1 perfect innings worked out to 27 pitches, 20 strikes, and 8 swings and misses.  Most of those were on the curveball, which Betances used to register all 6 of his strikeouts, and that location plot gives you an idea of how they were moving last night.  The Mets hitters were so baffled by it that they almost couldn’t swing.  4 of the 6 Ks were looking.  It was like Betances had the ball on a string.  …

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