About Last Night: CC Sabathia

CC Sabathia did something that a Yankee starter hadn’t been able to accomplish all season. He kept the opposition from crossing home plate. This may seem like a silly thing to say because most people with a brain know it to be true, but when your starting pitcher can keep the other team from scoring early, it helps your offense immensely. Especially the Yankees’ offense which only seems to come alive later in games. Another thing that helps? Shutdown innings. After the Yankees scored three in the sixth inning, Sabathia came out and first got Adam Jones swinging on a Continue reading About Last Night: CC Sabathia

About Last Night: The good, the real ugly, and what’s wrong with Betances?

Last night’s game was frustrating, maddening, and pathetic to watch. The Yankees’ offense, which had been the bane of the team’s existence for most of this young season, actually broke out in a good way in Fenway Park against Red Sox starter David Price, but Nathan Eovaldi decided to follow up his near no hitter performance in Texas last week with a positively dreadful performance in Fenway that ruined the Yankees’ chances of snapping a four-game losing streak, and instead, extended it to five. The Good Alex Rodriguez is suddenly not dead, you guys! It’s amazing how 35 plate appearances Continue reading About Last Night: The good, the real ugly, and what’s wrong with Betances?

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

About Last Night: Betances and Miller. Holy s%^&!

An extensive number of articles have been written about the construction of the New York Yankees’ bullpen leading into the season and in most of them, they’ve made mention of the appearance of the ternary of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman and how it would mean bad things for opposing batters. Yesterday afternoon against the Seattle Mariners, Yankee fans finally saw what two of the three ternary members are capable of when the Yankees’ starter lasts through the seventh and has handed them a lead going into the eighth inning. To say it was incredible would almost be an Continue reading About Last Night: Betances and Miller. Holy s%^&!

Monday Morning Musings: 4/18/16

Two weeks down, many more to go.  The Yankees snapped their pesky losing streak yesterday with a 1-run win over the Mariners.  They’ve got another off-day today before welcoming the A’s and Rays to town for the rest of this week.  6 games this week, all at home.  That’s a helluva good opportunity to turn this recent offensive slump around and get back over .500.  Here are some thoughts on the happenings over the first 2 weeks:

– It was good to see Alex Rodriguez get off the schneid with his 2-run homer to left to get the scoring started yesterday.  It was even better to see him do it against a fastball, which has given him plenty of problems over the first 10 games.  According to Brooks Baseball, A-Rod has seen 44 4-seam fastballs so far and has swung and missed at over 20% of them.  He’s also swung and missed at over 13% of the 2-seamers he’s seen, so clearly the heat is giving him some trouble.

Last year he surprised a lot of people by showing good bat speed and squaring up a lot of good fastballs.  This year it’s been the exact opposite.  Iwakuma doesn’t exactly throw smoke either, so I’d still like to see A-Rod do some damage against something moving 94, 95, 96 like he did so often last season.  Hopefully he can use yesterday as a springboard to correct whatever’s been causing the early fastball struggles.

– Speaking of fastballs, it was better than good to see the return of Masahiro Tanaka‘s FB velocity yesterday.  He threw 10 4-seamers and averaged 93.2 MPH on those pitches, maxing out at 94.5.  He also hit 93 with his sinker a few times, both of those values far above what he was throwing in his first 2 starts.  We heard Larry Rothschild say recently that Tanaka needs to stop thinking so much on the mound and trust his arm and his stuff.  Perhaps yesterday was the first instance of him taking that advice and letting it go with the heater.  He looked like a much different pitcher yesterday than he did in his first 2 starts, like he wasn’t holding anything back.  If he can consistently stay 92-94 with his fastball, it’s going to make the rest of his offspeed stuff that much more effective.

Carlos Beltran certainly looks like he’s picked up right where he left off last year.  After hitting .292/.364/.513 in the second half, he’s off to a .341/.357/.610 start in his first 11 games.  He’s not going to sustain that line over the whole year or even the rest of this month, but the hot start and the positive eye test is an encouraging sign that he can remain productive in this final year of his deal.  He looks completely relaxed and balanced at the plate, and his at-bats more than anybody else on the team’s seem to end with hard contact.

– On the opposite end of that spectrum, the bench production has been lacking in the early going.  Dustin Ackley doesn’t have a hit in 8 plate appearances, Aaron Hicks only has 1 in 13, and Austin Romine hasn’t made anybody forget that he’s Austin Romine.  The only player swinging a decent bat off the bench is Ronald Torreyes, who is 6-12, and he was expected to be the weakest offensive link of the bench group.  It could just be a matter of adjusting to irregular playing time and I’m sure Joe is going to start working Hicks in more to keep his outfield starters fresh, but it would be nice to see these guys hit a little bit when they’re in the game. Continue reading Monday Morning Musings: 4/18/16

Can CC Sabathia be 2013 Andy Pettitte?

The Detroit Tigers were about as bad a matchup on paper as CC Sabathia could have possibly gotten for his opening start of the 2016 season. Eight of the Tigers’ nine batters were righties, including sluggers Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. Sabathia’s splits against righties and lefties were drastic last season with righties having a .370 wOBA against Sabathia compared to a .231 wOBA for lefites.

The Yankees were desperate for a six inning start since neither of their first four starting pitchers achieved that. Since you can’t predict baseball, Sabathia was able to do it as he allowed three earned runs over six innings, including retiring the first nine Detroit hitters. It was extremely clear that Sabathia was trying to reinvent himself as a new pitcher trying to follow what Andy Pettitte did with great success at the end of his career. Continue reading Can CC Sabathia be 2013 Andy Pettitte?

Profiling the (Probable) Opening Day Bullpen

With just under seventy-hours separating us from Opening Day, the Yankees bullpen is mostly settled. Andrew Miller will be the closer (assuming he can pitch through his injury). Dellin Betances will be the fireman (assuming that Miller is able to pitch; if not, he’ll be the closer). Chasen Shreve, Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, and (probably) Kirby Yates will be the bridge from the starters to Deldrew Millances one-two punch. And Ivan Nova will (probably) be the long man.

There are still several issues to be sorted out, it seems, but CC Sabathia, Nova, and Yates are the only pitchers remaining in camp that do not have a set role with the team at this juncture. The smart money is on Sabathia being named to the rotation, so the rest is simply an educated guess.

Earlier today, Twitter user @detectorsarcasm asked that we offer a bullpen breakdown – and we aim to please. However, given the above, I felt that we needed at least a bit of exposition before getting underway. With that out of the way, let’s dive right in.

Andrew Miller

Miller was light’s out in his first season with the Yankees, posting a 2.04 ERA (2.16 FIP) while striking out 40.7% of the batters he faced, converting 36 of 38 save opportunities along the way. Surprisingly (insofar as fastball/slider LHP are concerned), he was far more effective against RHH, limiting them to a .130/.227/.217 slash line – though, to be fair, lefties only hit .227/.277/.326. Miller is a two pitch reliever, working with a fastball that sits around 94 mph and an 84-ish mph slider. As per PITCHf/x, batters hit only .092/.172/.123 against his slider last year … so it’s probably a reasonable that his dominant breaking ball represents 54.1% (!) of his offerings.

Dellin Betances

Would it be too much of a cop out to call Betances a right-handed version of Miller? Dealin’ Dellin’s fastball has more velocity, averaging 97 mph last year per PITCHf/x, and he struck out slightly fewer batters (39.5%) – but their pitch usage was virtually identical, and both are big, intimidating presences that flamed out as starters and found great success in the bullpen. And, most importantly, both are among the very best relievers in all of Major League Baseball.

Chasen Shreve

Acquired last off-season (along with David Carpenter – remember him?) in exchange for Manny Banuelos, Shreve was excellent for most of his rookie season. Through the end of August (52.1 IP), he posted a 1.89 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 2.4 K/BB. His last month, however, looked like this: 6.0 IP, 16 H, 8 BB, 5 K, 4 HR, 13.50 ERA, .500 BAA. To say that Shreve struggled down the stretch would be putting it very, very lightly. The 25-year-old lefty is a true three pitch reliever, working with a low-90s fastball, splitter (possibly his best pitch), and a slider. The reasoning behind Shreve’s struggles can’t easily be explained, as his stuff (at least in terms of velocity) was there throughout the season. The best case scenario is that it was a small sample size and/or fatigue related issue, which doesn’t seem unlikely.

Johnny Barbato

Barbato was also acquired last off-season, in exchange for Shawn Kelley. The 23-year-old righty has worked his way through the minors slowly but surely, spending at least half a season at each level since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft. He missed time in 2014 and 2015 due to an elbow injury that did not require surgery, else he may have made it to the show already. Barbato features a mid-90s fastball and a big breaking curveball in the upper 70s (a legitimate swing and miss pitch). His command and control are more good than great, but he tends to keep the ball down which mitigates his occasional bouts of wildness. He fits the Yankees mold of flamethrowing relievers to a T.

Luis Cessa

Cessa and fellow RHP Chad Green came over from the Tigers in this off-season’s Justin Wilson deal. The soon to be 24-year-old was signed by the Mets as a shortstop in 2008, but was converted to pitching in 2011 due to his inability to hit a baseball. Cessa has surprisingly solid mechanics and a consistent delivery that belies his relative inexperience, and he has three usable pitches in his low-90s fastball, change-up, and slider. No one pitch stands out as a plus offering, but he commands all three fairly well, and keeps the ball on the ground. Cessa profiles best as a middle reliever or back of the rotation starter, but he has shown incremental improvements over the years, so the best may be yet to come.

Kirby Yates

I first heard of Kirby Yates (which I was certain was a made-up name) in this FanGraphs post, which explores some potential bargain-level relievers. Despite some disconcerting numbers in 56.1 IP at the big league level (including a 5.27 ERA, 5.51 FIP, and 2.24 HR/9), Yates has posted excellent strikeout numbers throughout his career on the strength of a low-90s fastball and a couple of big breaking balls. He’s a flyball pitcher, which may not play well in Yankees Stadium – but he has big time strikeout potential and has earned a shot at the last spot in the bullpen (particularly with Bryan Mitchell shelved for three months or so).

Ivan Nova

Nova has only 16 relief appearances in his professional career, so coming out of the bullpen will be a fairly new experience for him. He has averaged just under 93 mph on his fastball for his career, so there’s a good chance that that plays up significantly in relief, and his curveball is a legitimate strikeout pitch when it’s working. Stacey already predicted that he would pull a 2009 Phil Hughes, and he certainly has the stuff to do so. For the time being, though, I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up as a handcuff for Sabathia so that he can remain stretched out in case the Yankees need a spot start. Continue reading Profiling the (Probable) Opening Day Bullpen

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

CC Sabathia has a home run problem

CC Sabathia has given up a lot of home runs the past few years. In this post, we’re going to look at how many he’s given up, what the projections say about 2016 and we will try to figure out what will actually happen this season. (Maybe.) Yankee fans hoping for a renascent CC Sabathia in 2016 could be in for a rude awakening When Sabathia signed with the New York Yankees in December 2008, he had already logged nearly 1,660 career innings with his career high of 253 occurring during earlier that year when he split his time between Continue reading CC Sabathia has a home run problem