A brief musing on the starting pitching

Pettitte, offense come up empty in loss
Joba, Posada acknowledge communication issues

Heading into this season, the Yanks’ starting pitching was all the rage. Having spent gobs of money on CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and with Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Petitte and Joba Chamberlain returning to the team, the Yanks’ pitching seemed set for take off. They even had Phil Hughes, Al Aceves and Ian Kennedy in the wings.

While Kennedy is injured, the picture remains the same. The colors however have dimmed significantly. A.J. Burnett has alternated between greatness and awfulness. Joba Chamberlain hasn’t found his efficiency or velocity. Chien-Ming Wang is trying to find himself. And steadfast Andy Pettitte has been terrible lately. How did this come to pass?

Over the next few days, we’re going to examine the state of the Yankees starting pitcher, but for now, I offer up one statistic. Below is a table of four Yankee starters and their pitches per plate appearance. CC Sabathia and, surprisingly, Chien-Ming Wang are the only Yankees better than league average in that category.

[TABLE=15]

So what can this tell us? Well, on the surface, we can see that Yankee pitchers are not making the most of their pitches. While it’s true that some of these differences are rather small, an increase of 0.3 pitches per plate appearances adds up to 30 extra pitches per 100 plate appearances. The Yankees’ starters therefore do not go deep into games, and the bullpen, full of lesser arms, is overtaxed.

For now, I am loathe to draw conclusions based on just these numbers. But chew on them. They do not portend success for a pitching staff expected to excel.

Pettitte, offense come up empty in loss
Joba, Posada acknowledge communication issues
  • Doug

    amazingly enough, you know who’s first in P/PA….timmy wakefield!

  • ARX

    Interesting. I wonder how much one can read into these tho, Hughes’ and Joba’s numbers are high, but given their inefficiancy/learning process, thats not a shock. Wang is below average, but he’s gotten hammered this year, so why would batters take many pitches? Petitte and AJ tho? Ugh.

  • jonathan

    Alright, I know I am gonna get hammered for this but I think that we need to put joba in the pen….again. I am sorry but I would like to know how many games we would have won if we had him as a stablizing force in the bullpen (plus the shine has come off Mo as of late). I am gonna put this out here just because it is eating me up inside:
    Rotation
    -CC
    -AJ
    -Petitte
    -Hughes
    -Mexican Gangster/Sergio Mitre/Pedro Martinez/Paul Byrd/Trade??

    Pen
    -Wang and Veras longman/mopup
    -Coke Robertson 6th and 7th
    -Joba Bruney/Marte 8th
    -Mo Closer
    Jeez if our starters could get to the 6th inning game f-ing over.

    • ChrisS

      why not put CC in the pen? Or Pettitte?

      It’s a dumb idea because Chamberlain is the 2nd best starter on this team right now. I’d rather 5 up and down innings from Joba every fifth day than 3 IP every 5 days. Not to mention his present and future is as a starter.

      • jonathan

        Why not put CC in the pen he is a proven starter…Petitte same thing…Joba not so much. Joba being the 2nd best starter on this team isnt saying much, I would argue that Hughes or Aceves could be just as successful as Joba has been.
        “I’d rather 5 up and down innings from Joba every fifth day”
        The problem is he just averaging less that 5 1/3 inning per stat and 4 of his 12 starts were for less than 5 innings. I dont disagree that he is a good starter NOW, but he would be the BEST setup guy in the league and would instantly solidify our pen.

        • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

          ANDY PETTITTE??? ANDY PETTITTE IS A STARTING PITCHUH!!!

          /Francesa’d

          • Jill Santana

            CC in the pen? Don’t think so.

            • http://farm1.static.flickr.com/153/413671602_daded72a81_m.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

              You missed the point and the sarcasm. The point is that putting CC in the pen is wrong for the same reason putting Joba in the pen is wrong – they’re more valuable as starters.

        • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

          Because if you moved him to the pen, he would start throwing 97 again, instantly. I’m not sure why you think he would be that much better in the pen.

          • JackC

            Because his mindset — i.e. trying to constantly miss bats seems better suited to the pen than the starting rotation. Long term, it’s clearly in the Yanks interest to keep Joba, if they want him as a starter, to stay in rotation. It’s tough to believe their team isn’t better served this year by shoring up the pen

            • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

              You cant have both- you hurt him long term as a starter if you put him in the bullpen. And he was a 2.2 ERA guy in the pen last year at 96. At 92, if he is at 3.1 ERA, I’m pretty sure no one would be pleased.

      • YankeeScribe

        That’s not saying much. All of our starters except for CC pretty much suck right now. If they can’t give us at least 6-7 innings per start, they are overworking the bullpen and hurting the team…

    • thebusiness

      WHITE NOISE

  • ChrisS

    and, surprisingly, Chien-Ming Wang

    Throwing first pitch meat-balls will go a long way towards reducing a pitcher’s pitches/PA.

    The high P/PA for Joba and Phil are to be expected for young strikeout pitchers. Lester’s p/pa is 3.99, Verlander’s is 3.87, and Felix Hernandez’s is 3.67.

    As much as we’d all like the starters to perform like Greinke (with a ridiculous 6:1 K:BB ratio), it’s not like the end of the world. Joba and Phil are young and learning the game.

    The bigger problems are expecting Cy Young seasons from AJ Burnett and CMW throwing batting practice. Andy Pettitte is a 37 year old innings eater at this point. More than anything Hughes needs to be in the rotation.

    • jonathan

      I agree completely, I would love to see hughes in the rotation on a more consistant basis….Wang needs to get his *bleep* together working mopup and blowouts. I think that Phil has got a good weapon with that cutter to induce bad contact, he needs to buy into his stuff.

    • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ The Artist

      Hitters’ approach toward Wang (or any other sinkerballer) has always been to swing the bat. He throws strikes and is hittable, so there’s no point in taking pitches. That’s nothing unusual, except in relation to how bad he’s been this year. Wang’s problem this year has been his strikes have been too good, and his velocity is down and the sinkers not sinking. But he’s always around the plate.

  • Ellis

    Where can we look up the leaderboard in P/PA? I’m not sold that it’s indicative of poor performance – I bet strikeout pitchers, who make up the most dominant starters in the game, throw more P/PA than the league average.

  • alan

    The most frustrating thing is, Hughes hasn’t been nitpicking this year like last year. The hitters simply foul off a lot of his pitches.

    And speaking of pitching, we finally hear some thoughts about Venditte from the front office. Seems like they’re not half as impressed by him as us.
    I feel for him, though. They shouldn’t give up on him simply because of the outlook of his stuff. There’re tons of pitcher who throws hard that sucks.
    They should at least give him a chance to prove them wrong, or why sign him in the first place?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/sports/baseball/14pitcher.html?_r=1&hp&ex=&ei=&partner=

    • V

      Agreed – that’s ridiculous.

      Promote him until he fails.

      • Accent Shallow

        Disagree. He’ll get promoted at some point, but it certainly makes sense for the org to try and harness guys with better stuff before rushing Venditte up the ladder.

  • Yankee1977

    As much as i love Posada. I believe it has something about his calling behind the plate with pitch sequencing. IMO, in my observations that pitchers do better in games when posada is not calling the game. There has been history with starters in the past preferring not to throw to posada in a game. With Joba and Posada not in the same page, could this be a problem with Posada’s game calling? It would be interesting if someone can do research for the starters success with posada vs. other yankee catchers. (it seems to me that pitchers has less K’s / more disagreements/less success/ with posada behind the plate)

    • Frank

      While I agree with you there may be some issues between Posada and Joba, there is no reason it can’t be resolved given the fact the manager and bench coach are former catchers. If it’s Posada’s pitch calling or Joba’s stubborness, Girardi and Pena should be able to get it straigheded out.

    • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

      The numbers for Jorge’s career do not support this argument. Pitchers over Jorge’s career have done no better with the backup.

      • YankeeScribe

        The Yabkees’ pitchers went on a pretty good run when Jorge went on the DL this season and went back to their April forms since he’s been back. Coincidence?

        • FL Yank

          Yes.

  • josh

    i really am not a huge fan of posada. i may be have some sort of weird bias but i cant remember many big hits for him in the post season, the bloop against pedro is all that comes to my mind. i can be way wrong however and will go look up his postseason stats after this post. i fel like for a guy with such a huge sample size he should have way more memorable playoff moments.

    that being said i dont know how much of the game he “calls” vs. the dugout but as for receiving and blocking the ball and plate he has always annoyed me. maybe i am a sucker but the idea that he is not a good defensive catcher is not mine alone and much has been made of pitchers dislike of thowing to him in the past. i dont think it is fair to make light of it by saying 3 vets in 12 or so years have had issues with him.

    the fact is that he is old (especially for a catcher), his arm has become a joke, he is coming off surgery, and it would probably serve his offense/health better if he were primarily a dh. not that i think cervelli is johnny bench but i like the energy and feel he deserves a shot. molina is a good defender as well and if you could work posada into a game every week or so it might benefit the team. during the errorless streak they won a lot of games, since posada has been back he seems to make a lot of errors.

    • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

      He is not great behind the plate with blocking balls, but his arm has not been a liability this year. His CS%, if he had enough innings to qualify, would be 6th in baseball. And I dont think much has been made about pitchers not liking to throw to him in the past. There were a few vets that had a problem, and it became a convenient excuse used to rationalize bad pitching. The numbers over his career show that he calls a perfectly fine game.

      • josh

        moshe, i agree with you on the called game comment but it definitely feels like baserunners are trying more since he has been back. i realize a lot of that is on the pitchers but it feels like more attempts that when he was out. do you know what the # of attempts have been in the games since he is back compared to when he was hurt. the errors are definitely on him, no?

        • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

          Oh, they definitely are running more. They are also getting caught at a fairly high rate, high enough that teams are not reaching the break even rate where a steal attempt is a good idea.

          • josh

            hopefully this will stop them from running in the future and take some of the pressure off the pitching

  • Reggie C.

    Is it really surprising that Wang is below league average in Pitches per PA? ML hitters are going to swing at meatballs, and Wang has thrown a ton of meatballs in each of his starts.

    The CC signing looks great. He should have another win or two to his name, but it just goes to show you that W/L cant be solely determined on a starter’s performance. I’m still counting on AJ to have a strong finish to this season very much like last season. So going down the stretch i EXPECT the Yanks to have an imposing 1-2 punch. Unfortunately, my confidence doesn’t extend to 3-4-5.

  • Jill Santana

    Doing a daily review of the starting pitcher is a great idea. I am very concerned right now about the pitching situation and hopefully this will help the fans get a better understanding of what is happening. However, as you do this, please also do comparisons with the other Yankee pitchers and continue to do comparisons with other pitchers in the league. Again…this is a welcome service for the fans.

  • misterd

    Thank you. This has been the main problem for weeks now. The starters aren’t going the distance, which puts more demands on the pen, and yet everyone is surpised when the relievers fail or when Joe G is reluctant to pull a pitcher. The more any bullpen is exposed the less effective it is going to be, and the less flexibility the manager will have.

    What I want to know is why is it 4 MLB starters (3 with significant experience) can’t find the plate? I’m beginning to think Eiland needs to go.

  • josh

    i dont think this CMW bashing is fair at all. in april he was obviously not ready and he hasnt had a full rehab yet. i fully put this on the organization. if he does not find himself in the second half i dont think this team is all that great. one of the things i was looking forward to this year was cc and wang eating innings and resting a young and overworked(last year) bullpen for joba and pettitte. has pettitte really been that far from what we have expected. i think we all knew he was the 5th best goign into the season

  • josh

    i know this is a bit off topic but has hughes abandoned the change-up or is he still working on it? just curious.

  • Dave

    Pete Abe just quoted Eiland saying the HRs at NYS are one reason his pitchers are afraid to throw strikes.

  • Joseph M

    The time has come to wave the white flag (for now anyway) on the Joba debate. The team has to place him in the pen and be prepared should it come to that this season to move him into the closer’s role. Make no mistake about it, it might come to this.

    Move Hughes into the rotation and hope that Wang can find his way back (I think Wang the best of Wang has already happened, I’m hoping I’m wrong).

    The really bad news in all this is settling case of Cano, he’s a good player but nothing more. He’s not going to be a star and the sooner that’s acknowledged by all parties the better.

    The Yanks also have to begin thinking about the Posada issue, Joba is not the first pitcher who has had issues with Posada and his declining defense can not be ignored. Time to start thinking of Jorge as the teams DH for the next two years.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      The time has come to wave the white flag (for now anyway) on the Joba debate. The team has to place him in the pen and be prepared should it come to that this season to move him into the closer’s role. Make no mistake about it, it might come to this.

      No, it hasn’t. Why would you wave the white flag for now? Because you personally don’t like it? Joba’s been the team’s second most effective starter. There’s no reason — none at all — that would warrant moving him to the pen.

    • misterd

      The Joba situation has not been settled.

      Wang is still unsettled, neither Joba nor Hughes have stepped up to show us they belong in the rotation, Pettite’s health has been iffy, and Burnett has been woeful AND has a history of injuries.

      That means while we have 6 starting pitchers, we only have one that is reliable. Banish Joba to the pen, and we have a good chance of being a starter or two short.

      Now, if we trade for another starter? Fine. But we need a starter right now far more than a reliever.

  • NaOH

    an increase of 0.3 pitches per plate appearances adds up to 30 extra pitches per 100 plate appearances. The Yankees’ starters therefore do not go deep into games, and the bullpen, full of lesser arms, is overtaxed.

    I don’t want to diminish the validity of this statement (though I’m not certain where the 0.3 figure came from), but there are a few other key issues, many of which I trust will be addressed as this topic is explored further. For one, measuring things per 100 plate appearances isn’t really a solid way of giving perspective. Better, I think, is to look at the fact that an average pitcher faces 25-30 plate appearances per game. Taking the high end, that’s about two fewer batters per game based on the 0.3 extra pitches per PA. While that’s an additional toll on the bullpen, I don’t think it’s the greatest problem facing the team’s pitchers.

    Greater, I think, is the WHIP. The team WHIP of 1.45 is 25th in the Majors. The starters are at 1.48 and the relievers are at 1.39.

    Pettitte’s WHIP is up 0.23 over his career rate.
    Chamberlain is up 0.16.
    Burnett is up 0.19.
    Hughes has basically matched his career level.
    Wang is way off the charts, essentially doubling his career rate.
    Sabathia is the only starter exceeding his career rate, and that’s by 0.11.

    Look at the relievers, and there the problem continues.

    Tomko and Rivera are up.
    Ramirez was way up.
    Albaladejo is decently up.
    Veras is up, but basically matching his norm.

    Bruney was doing very well and Marte very poorly, but they’ve only pitched 14.1 innings between them this season.

    For Aceves (1.13), Coke (1.1) and Robertson (1.27) we basically have no baseline for comparison, but they have been above average compared to the league (1.4).

    Basically, of all the pitchers who have a track record and have pitched a reasonable amount this year, only Sabathia, Hughes and Veras are meeting or exceeding their past level of performance.

    All in all, the WHIP problem predominantly stems from a terrible walk rate. The team is fifth worst in the Majors in walks yielded, and they are averaging 4 per game. Were the team giving up 3 per game instead of 4, the overall WHIP would be 5th in the Majors.

    And from looking at the team’s performance through 63 games, they’re 20-9 (.690) when walking 3 or fewer and 16-18 (.471) when they walk more than three. Considering the high number of strikeout pitchers the team has (2nd in the AL in K/9, 7th in the Majors), plus a roughly league average defense, simply cutting down on the number of free bases should have a significant impact on game outcomes, the number of innings thrown by the starters, and a corresponding decrease in the number of innings thrown by the bullpen.

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