Quick Hit: Bryan Mitchell, Reliable Righty Middle Reliever

[caption id="attachment_80641" align="aligncenter" width="575"]B Mitchell ST 2016 Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption]

Sorry, guys and gals.  Short posts are about all I have time for these days.  But I wanted to touch on Bryan Mitchell and his quiet dominance thus far in Spring Training.  Mitchell followed Ivan Nova in yesterday’s game, the second straight time he’s done that after getting the start in his first 2 ST appearances.  He was very effective, throwing 2.2 perfect innings with 2 strikeouts, and this comes after he pitched 3 scoreless innings with 1 hit and 1 K last Tuesday.

Mitchell has thrown 10.2 innings across 4 appearances so far this spring with only 1 earned run against him and 7 strikeouts.  He’s been far less hittable than we’ve seen in the past (only 5 in those 10+ IP) and more importantly, his command has been better.  Mitchell has only walked 1 batter in his 4 appearances and that was in his first start on March 4th.  Since then his command has been spectacular.  According to the stats I’ve seen, he’s thrown nothing but strikes in each of his last 2 appearances and only 8 out of 58 pitches for balls in all 4 outings.

Now some of that surely is a direct result of facing less-than-MLB-level hitting competition and guys who are still trying to get in the swing of things as they go through their ST routine (pun totally intended).  It’s much easier to rare back and fire strikes when you’re facing hitters who aren’t in full regular season mode and aren’t even average MLB hitters to begin with.  Mitchell most likely can’t get away with throwing all strikes when he’s facing a full big league lineup and pitching in a higher-pressure situation in a game that matters, and his ability to effectively handle those situations is still out for judgement.

But there’s a clear method to what the Yankees are trying to do with him in these last 2 outings and it’s not getting him prepared to be stretched out as Triple-A rotation depth.  Mitchell is being used as a middle reliever and you can bet Joe and the rest of his coaching staff are paying close attention to how he performs in that setting.  There’s an obvious need for another reliable right-handed reliever and Mitchell has stood out head and shoulders above the rest of his Triple-A competition in the role.  He’s always had the stuff for the job, now he’s starting to show that he may have figured out the command and the finer points of pitching to be successful in the job.  If he’s able to translate these early strong performances into regular season success, the Yankee bullpen could be scary good. Continue reading Quick Hit: Bryan Mitchell, Reliable Righty Middle Reliever

It’s Not a Blip: McCann is Old and Declining

[caption id="attachment_80021" align="aligncenter" width="525"]McCann HBP 2015 Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption]

Every off-season, you get emptily hopeful pieces like this one that must’ve taken Newsday reporter Steven Marcus several minutes to write:

McCann wasn’t satisfied with his .232 batting average. “I don’t like looking up there and seeing I’m hitting around .230,’’ he said Friday from Orlando, Florida, where he was participating in a charity golf tournament. “I’ve got to get better. I’d like to hit .300 with 30 [homers].

Don’t scoff yet at Marcus cobbling an “article” out of a 5-minute call Brian McCann returned during a slow moment of charity golf: maybe Marcus got a real scoop on McCann’s new strategy to skyrocket his hit rate after seasons of .230, .256, .232, and .232? Here’s the money quote he grabbed from McCann: “‘I think Tex says it the best: walk more and hit for extra-base hits. The game today is about getting on base and driving runs in.’” So the Marcus scoop is that McCann plans to raise his batting average by improving the non-batting-average components of his OPS: his walk and extra-base-hit rates. In related news, I plan to lose weight by putting lifts in my shoes. Publishing dreck like that is an important part of how, when you put up a paywall for online access to your major-market newspaper, you get only 35 (!) paying subscribers.

Ok, enough easy shots at lazy journalists who deserve it. Onto the real question, which is multiple-choice: McCann in 2016 is –
…(a) likely to improve, because Teixeira shared his secret plan, “hit more better”;
…(b) likely to improve, because it’s just a blip that his 2014-15 was worse than his 2008-13;
…(c) unlikely to improve, but that’s ok because batting average is just one component of value, and overall he’s still a strong player;
…(d) unlikely to improve, because he’s in real decline;
…(e) I love Newsday, so STF up, Scott.

Let’s not take (a) and (e) seriously, because if you believe those, then your name is Mrs. Marcus and I’m very sorry for insulting your husband. So the title of this post gave away my punch line: it’d (d); there’s a big bucket of evidence McCann is in real, long-term decline, not suffering a random drop in performance that he’s likely to recover from in 2016.

(1) He’s not hitting the ball as much, or as well. In 2015, his K rate reached a new high (18.1%, after a prior career rate of about 14.6%), his line drive rate reached a new low (16.7%, after a prior rate of just over 20%), and both his 2014 and 2015 hard contact rates also reached new lows (31.0% and 31.5%, after about 35%). It’s easy to say a one-year decline in outcomes (lower BA, fewer HR, etc.) is a blip if the hitter is making as much good contact as ever and not striking out more; in that case, the outcome decline probably reflects bad luck, like fielders happening to be in the right place 10-20 more times than last year. But with McCann, we have a very consistent picture of a hitter in real decline: striking out more, while hitting fewer line drives (the contact most likely to yield hits), and making less hard contact generally. Continue reading It’s Not a Blip: McCann is Old and Declining

About Yesterday Afternoon: #TANAK

Tanaka vs BAL III

The Yankees needed to win yesterday’s game to avoid falling 5 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays in the division race and to avoid an embarrassingly awful four-game sweep at home. Luckily they had Masahiro Tanaka on the mound, and while he didn’t last as long as he did in his last start against Toronto , he was just as great. Tanaka kept most of the power hitters off balance, and helped shut out the Blue Jays lineup for the first time since the All-Star Break.

In his last two starts against Toronto (16 innings pitched), Tanaka is 2-0. He has walked three batters, struck out 15, has held the potent Blue Jays lineup to a paltry .164 BA and he has not allowed a home run. That last one is important because that team likes the long ball and hits it often.

So how do you shut down a team with such a potent offense? You don’t allow them to feast on fastballs. You pitch to your strength which is your splitter and Tanaka’s splitter was on yesterday.

Here’s the breakdown of all of his pitches courtesy of Brooks Baseball (as of late last night):

  • 12 four seamers: 93.3 mph (95.3 max), 9 strikes, 5 swings, 4 of them were a first pitches
  • 11 sinkers: 91.6 mph (93.2 max), 7 strikes, 4 swings, 2 of them were first pitches
  • 19 sliders: 83.6 mph (87.5 max), 11 strikes, 9 swings, 6 of them were first pitches
  • 11 curveballs: 78.2 mph (81.7 max), 7 strikes, 4 swings, 4 of them were first pitches
  • 11 cutters: 88.6 mpg (90.1 max), 9 strikes, 7 swings, 1 was a first pitch
  • 44 splitters: 88.1 mph (90.2 max), 33 strikes, 26 swings, 7 were first pitches

Here’s the results breakdown (hits, foul balls, balls in play, etc.) courtesy of Baseball Savant:

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Tanaka gave up four hits. Three of them were doubles that obviously didn’t amount to anything because Toronto never scored. And all three doubles were hit by righty batters. He also gave up a single to lefty Josh Thole on an 89 mph splitter. That was the only splitter that didn’t quite work for Tanaka yesterday.

Here’s how that pitch looked most of the day:

tanakapitchfrequencysplitter

Here’s the splitter that didn’t quite work:

tholessingle

According to Brooks Baseball (again as of late last night when this post was written), Tanaka threw the splitter 19 times to lefty batters – 15 of them were strikes (10 were strikes not in play) and he generated 13 swings. Five balls were in play and one, the Thole single, fell for a hit. He threw the splitter 28 times to righty batters – 20 of them were strikes (18 were strikes not in play) and he generated 13 swings.

Here’s how Toronto’s four hits looked in heat map form. The 1-1 at the low end of the zone is Thole’s single and the 1-2 just below the 2-2 in red is Bautista’s double:

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Here’s a spray chart of all of the balls in play (outs in included):
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It was another ace-like performance from the staff ace when the team needed it.

Tanaka mentioned to Meredith Marakovits in his postgame interview on YES that he felt he had the right mindset going into the game. He told her that he said to himself he wasn’t going to let Toronto sweep the Yankees. Maybe Tanaka should talk to the other members of the starting rotation and even some guys in the bullpen and help them with their confidence against Toronto.

Happy Monday!

[Heat maps courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info. Pie chart and spray chart courtesy of Baseball Savant. Other numbers courtesy of Brooks Baseball]
Continue reading About Yesterday Afternoon: #TANAK

Checking in on Didi Gregorius

Back on July 15, I wrote about the slow and steady progression of Didi Gregorius so I thought in light of last night’s performance and his performance against the Braves this past weekend, we could take a look at how he has been doing since the All-Star break.

In 147 at bats (42 games), Gregorius is hitting .327/.365/.435/.800. He’s batting .233/.273/.315/.588 at home and batting .419/.451/.554/1.005 away from Yankee Stadium.

Here’s his overall spray chart since the All-Star break:
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And here’s the heat map:
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Some numbers:

  • Gregorius has gotten three singles off the cutter – two off David Price – and he’s batting .375/.375/.375/.750.
  • He’s gotten one single off the splitter. .286/.286/.286/.571
  • He has trouble with the changeup, batting .111/.190/.167/.357, but he hit a double in Saturday’s game against the Braves.
  • He’s hit five singles and a double off the slider and he’s batting .259/.259/.296/.556.
  • In six at bats against the knuckleball, he has three singles – two off R.A. Dickey and one off Steven Wright. (.500/.500/.500/1.000)
  • In 67 at bats against the fastball, Gregorius is batting .403/.461/.567/1.028

Since he’s having so much success against the fastball, let’s take a closer look at that.

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As you can see in this heat graph, Gregorius likes the upper part of the strike zone. And while looking at the individual at bat results, I noticed that the majority of his hits on fastballs come within three pitches. There’s an occasional four-pitch at bat but most of the hits are occurring on pitches 2 and 3.

Breaking it down further, Gregorius is batting .435/.491/.565/1.056 in 46 at bats against fastballs that fall between 90 and 95 m.p.h. In 12 at bats against fastballs 95 m.p.h and up, he’s batting .167/.167/.167/.333.

Narrowing it down again, Gregorius is batting .380/.432/.519/.951 in 79 pitches that are considered hard – fastball, sinker, cutter.

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More numbers:

  • With the bases empty he’s batting .333/.371/.381/.752/.
  • With men on .317/.357/.508/.865.
  • With a runner on .256/.319/.419/.738.
  • With two on .333/.353/.533/.886.
  • With the bases loaded but in only 8 at bats he’s batting .800/.667/1.200/1.867.
  • With runners in scoring position .364/.395/.545/.940.

So what does this all mean? It means that the people who were pooing pooing the move probably feel pretty silly right now. Gregorius is a solid player (.269/.318/.364/.682) who has improved as the season has gone on and he’s becoming fun to watch.

[Numbers and images courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info] Continue reading Checking in on Didi Gregorius

The Yankees’ One-Dimensional Offense

The game last night between the now-second place New York Yankees and the Houston Astros was a glaring look at the flaws of this 2015 team. I am not really talking about the pitching because every team’s pitching staff will get blown out like that occasionally (although the Yankees’ love affair with Chris Capuano is stunning). The real weakness of the 2015 Yankees is the one-dimentional offense. If they do not homer, they do not score.

The Yankees have now played 34 games in which the team did not hit a home run. The team is 10-24 in those games. In those games, the Yankees have averaged 2.184 runs scored a game. In one of those games, they managed to score ten runs. If you throw that game out, the average goes down to 1.94 runs per game. Just imagine the standings if the Yankees could have managed to be five or six wins better in those games.

To be fair, the Blue Jays, who never seem to lose these days, are even worse with a record of 6-25 when that team does not hit a homer. But the Blue Jays’ run scoring average is better in those games than the Yankees and for the Blue Jays, the pitching (before this streak) wasn’t that good.

The difference between the two teams this month is that the Blue Jays have hardly gone a game or two without hitting a homer. The last two times were the two games the Yankees beat them in Toronto. Those were the only two games the Blue Jays have gone without a homer this month. The Yankees have gone without a homer six times this month and are 1-5 in those games.

I have several observations concerning the inability to score unless there is a homer in the game. The first is that before Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt, he and Brett Gardner were creating havoc at the top of the order. Since Ellsbury’s return, that is no longer the case.

Secondly, after Ellsbury and Gardner, the Yankees have four of the slowest quartet of base runners in baseball with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. You have to string together a lot of hits to get those turtles around the bases.

Thirdly, the bottom of the order is a wasteland. If you do manage to get some of the turtles on base, the odds of them getting batted in by Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan, et al, are slim. The non-pitcher batters in the 7-9 positions in the Yankee batting order have combined for this glowing triple slash line: .236/.284/.368 with only 132 runs driven in. When a full third of your lineup is nonexistent, it is tough to manufacture runs.

Lastly, the Yankees continue to be pull happy no matter the situation and what the fielders are giving them.

I have seen very few instances of people putting numbers behind the pull tendency other than listing the number of shifts employed against their batters. Here is a right-handed and left-handed breakdown of batted ball trajectories for the Yankees this year. We will start with the left-hand batters which we know are a pull happy bunch:

Yankees (league average) Left-handed batters:

  • Pull percentage – 36% (34%)
  • Up the middle – 49.4% (50.12%)
  • Opposite Field – 14.9% (15.9%)

Yankees (league average) Right-handed batters

  • Pull percentage – 31.2% (24.5%)
  • Up the middle – 53.1% (54.6%)
  • Opposite Field – 15.7% (20.8%)

I can somewhat understand the mindset of the left-handed batters where Yankee Stadium has a short porch in right field and that will make you want to pull the ball. But what is the deal with right-handed batters when left field in Yankee Stadium is death valley?

I admit that I am old-fashioned. I believe in the old “hit-em-where-they-ain’t” philosophy. I can understand trying to jack the ball when it is middle in. But if the pitch is outside and the situation can benefit from it, hit it where it’s pitched and pick up the run. I admit to getting very jealous of teams that do this regularly. I miss Hideki Matsui who would do it regularly. Of today’s Yankees, only Beltran and A-Rod make an effort to use what the pitcher and the fielders are giving them.

The predictability of the batted ball trajectory has its consequences with today’s shifts. When Yankee RHB hit the ball up the middle, their BABIP is .267, ten points lower than the league average (and the Blue Jays’ average). When LHB hit the ball up the middle for the Yankees, the BABIP is .277 compared to the league average of .296.

It also explains why the Yankees are terrible against ground ball pitchers. Against such pitchers, the Yankees have a .280 total BABIP and a .665 OPS. The league average is a .300 BABIP and a .718 OPS.

My last observation is harder to measure (at least for me). My observation is that the Yankees–particularly Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew and ,Chris Young–like to get themselves 0-1 and many times 0-2 and thus put themselves at the mercy of the pitcher because they refuse to swing at two middle-of-the-plate strikes earlier in the count.

Brett Gardner has put the first pitch in play only 21 times this season with over 500 plate appearances. But when he does (SSS), he has an OPS of 1.145. Stephen Drew has done it only 35 times and has a .286 average when he does. Chris Young has a .178 BABIP after getting into an 0-1 count this season.

The New York Yankees are too predictable, too intractable and that is fine as long as the homers are flying. But when they are not, the offense gets very ugly. I will leave you with one more observation. When the Yankees hit only one homer in the game, they are 23-22, a mediocre team. Combine them and when the team hits one homer or less, the team is 33.46. When the team hits more than one homer in a game, the team is 36-10. Can you tell which one happens more often?

The Yankee offense seriously needs to diversify when old habits are hard to break. That’s not to say it cannot happen with stressing and concentrating on making the offense more dynamic. I doubt that happens and if/when the Yankees make the playoffs, they will have an offense that can be handled by big-time pitchers that can keep the ball in the park..
Continue reading The Yankees’ One-Dimensional Offense

An Evolved Eovaldi

William has been knocking Nathan Eovaldi‘s evolution out of the park the last few weeks, but I’m going to steal his gimmick for a quick post illustrating just how much Eovaldi has changed with a small sample comparison.  You could argue that the last 2 starts have been Eovaldi’s best of the season. They’ve certainly been the starts in which his stuff has looked the best and they’re a far cry from what he showed in his first 2 starts.  How far?  See for yourself.

Eovaldi Pitch Plot First 2 Starts

 

That’s Eovaldi’s pitch location plot for his first 2 starts of the season, 4/10 against the Red Sox and 4/15 against the Orioles.  The pitch selection breaks down to roughly 45% 4-seamers, 31% sliders, 15% curveballs, and a handful of changeups.  In those 2 starts, Eovaldi’s line was 10.1 IP, 16 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 10 K.

 

Eovaldi Pitch Plot Last 2 Starts

 

That’s the pitch plot from his last 2 starts.  It breaks down to about 46% 4-seamers, 32% splitters, 15% sliders, and a few curveballs.  Eovaldi’s line in these 2 outings is 15 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 15 K.

Those results are pretty far apart and they’re really representative of 2 completely different pitchers.  Eovaldi’s gone from no splitters at all to the split being his most used offspeed pitch and primary out pitch.  The slider has essentially replaced the curveball as the “get me over” offspeed pitch, from 61% strikes in April to almost 70% over the last 2 starts, and you’ll notice a much tighter concentration of slider locations in that second plot.

You’ll also notice that Eovaldi has shifted his fastball location from a balanced, both sides of the plate approach to one that’s decidedly more focused on working inside to righties and higher in the strike zone.  This is obviously to set up the splitter and the general distribution of those pitches very closely matches that of the 4-seamer.  After going into the season with no clear out pitch and no real plan of attack with his fastball other than “throw it hard”, Eovaldi now has a clear strategy he’s trying to employ and a better ability to execute that strategy. Continue reading An Evolved Eovaldi

Quick Hit: What’s Up With Brett Gardner?

Brett Gardner went 0-4 at the plate last night, his second straight 0-4 game and the continuation of what has become a prolonged second half slump.  Gardner is hitting just .200/.288/.215 in August after a .247/.369/.341 July that was his worst offensive month to date.  Gardner has a history of wearing down physically and seeing his production level drop in the second half, and Matt called out that drop in production last Monday.  So what’s up with Gardner?  Is he hurt?  Is he tired?  Is he just slumping?

Gardner Spray Chart 4-6 15

Gardner Spray Chart 7-8 15

Those are Gardner’s spray charts from April through June and July through today of this season.  In terms of BIP distribution, there hasn’t been a noticeable difference.  Part of what has made Gardner a better offensive player is his ability to hit to all fields.  His power is almost exclusively to the pull side, but he can go the other way for hits with the best of them.

What really jumps out in comparing the 2 samples is the dramatic drop in pull power from the first 3 months to the last 2.  Look at that cluster of home runs to right field from April to June, and then look at that cluster of outs from the last 2 months where the ball is dying just short of the warning track.  Gardner definitely doesn’t appear to be hitting the ball with the same authority today that he was a few months ago.

The contact splits support that claim as well.  Gardner’s July and August line drive rates of 18.5% and 17.0% are his 2 lowest monthly rates of the season.  His 23.9% August hard contact rate and 22.0% August rate are also his 2 lowest monthly rates of the season in that category.  Overall, Gardner hit .302/.377/.484 with a 22.0% LD rate and 28.6% HC rate in the first half of the season compared to .207/.315/.252 with an 18.1% LD rate and 21.6% HC rate so far in the second half.

Gardner has 495 plate appearances on the season, tops on the Yankees and tied for 27th most in MLB this year.  That puts him on pace for 668 PA, which would exceed last year’s career high by over 30 and could be the explanation for this second half fade.  We’ve seen it happen before, and the on-field results, major drop in power, and negative shift in contact rates all add up to a tired player.

(Spray charts courtesy of Texas Leaguers) Continue reading Quick Hit: What’s Up With Brett Gardner?

Quick Hit: Continued Appreciation Of The Shreve/Wilson Lefty Tandem

Way back in the middle of June, I wrote a post about the changing of the bullpen hierarchy and heaped a bunch of praise onto Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson for the work they had done up to that point.  They’ve been rewarded for those strong performances by having their spots in the Joe Girardi Circle of Trust solidified and continuing to get regular high-leverage work.  Shreve and Wilson are probably the 2 and 2A setup relievers behind Dellin Betances, and Shreve turned in a nice 8th inning yesterday in which he struck out Miguel Sano on a nasty changeup.

Since July 1st, Shreve has a 2.65 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 17.0 innings pitched over 17 appearances.  He’s been a tad more homer prone and has walked a few more batters in that timespan, but he’s still got a 2.05/3.75 ERA/FIP split for the season with a 28.8% BB rate.  In 8.2 innings of high leverage work, batters are hitting .111/.207/.115 against him.

Wilson has been even better since 7/1, with a 2.16 ERA, 1.49 FIP, and 23 strikeouts to just 2 walks in 16.2 IP.  He continues to be effective as a lefty specialist – lefties are hitting .222/.311/.259 against him this year – and also as a 3+ out reliever when called upon.  In 13.0 high leverage innings, opposing batters are hitting .146/.195/.154 against Wilson.

There were people that questioned the trades that brought Wilson and Shreve to the team this offseason, but I’d like to think the performance of these 2 has changed all those people’s opinions.  Wilson and Shreve have been consistently excellent in a variety of different middle relief scenarios, they’ve been almost equally effective against both right and left-handed hitters, and they’ve been the backbone of the middle relief corps charged with getting the game to Betances and Miller. Continue reading Quick Hit: Continued Appreciation Of The Shreve/Wilson Lefty Tandem

Quick hit: The Yankees’ offense is offensively bad

Unless you’ve been stuck in a place with no internet or TV, you know that the Yankees have fallen off a cliff offensively the past seven days.

And last night was more of the same. Sure, the Yankees were able to score four runs, but they weren’t able to score more than that and ultimately lost the game in 16 innings. A big reason for that failure? It wasn’t Stephen Drew. It was the top of the order.

So how bad was the top of the order last night? Read this tweet from ESPN Stats and Info and weep, my friends:

And here’s what ineptitude that looks like in spray chart form:

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Alex Rodriguez, the oldest hitter in the lineup, had the only hit among the first five batters in 16 innings of play last night. And the offense as a whole batted .148/.193/.278/.471 in 16 innings.

That is not good.

Even worse?

  • Since last Wednesday, the Yankees are batting .159/.230/.242/.472. Look at that “slugging” percentage.
  • In 61 at bats with men on base, the Yankees are batting .180/.231/.197/.427. Again, that slugging percentage.
  • In 24 at bats with a man on second, they’re batting .083/.154/.083/.237.
  • In 7 at bats with a man on third: .143/.250/.143/.393.
  • in 45 at bats with a man on: .200/.250/.222/.472
  • In 12 at bats with two men on: .083/.154/.083/.237
  • In 4 at bats with the bases loaded: .250 /.250/.250/.500 (Chase Headley‘s two-run single is their lone hit.)
  • In 25 at bats with runners in scoring position: .080/.148/.080/.228.

So what the heck happened to these guys? Could the problems stem from facing two knuckleball pitchers in three days? Are guys playing hurt? (I’m looking at you, Jacoby Ellsbury.) Or is this just some horribly-timed slump that was bound to happen after the hot July the Yankees had?

Whatever it is, it needs to pass, and quickly.
Continue reading Quick hit: The Yankees’ offense is offensively bad