Blaming the stadium for the pitching woesBy
Over the last few days, we’ve tried to explore the problems with the Yankee pitching staff. Yesterday, we looked at both the starters’ issues with pitchers per plate appearance and Jorge Posada’s impact on the pitching staff. It made good fodder for conversation but offered up nothing conclusive.
Today, we have another culprit: New Yankee Stadium. As mentioned by George A. King in The Post yesterday and Michael Kay and John Flaherty during the My9 broadcast, a few Yankee pitchers are wary about throwing in the home run-happy new stadium. King has actual on-the-record quotes about this problem:
“They are pitching away from contact, mostly it is at home,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said yesterday. “For some guys, the ballpark has gotten in their heads a bit.”
Eiland refused to divulge which pitchers are worrying about the cozy confines, but he knows that when pitchers grouse about the $1.5 billion launching pad, the issue is live. “When you hear pitchers talk about it, you know they are thinking about it,” Eiland said.
It was noble but unnecessary of Eiland to refrain from naming names. Last month, Andy Pettitte flat-out told reporters he wasn’t a fan of the new Stadium. “If you leave a ball up and they hit it off the barrel, it’s a home run,” he said. “You can’t make a mistake up in the zone.”
Mariano, King of the Yankee pitching staff, expressed similar concerns. “You can’t give them a chance to put the ball in the air, he said. “It’s risky. You have to pitch to your strengths, but it’s risky. The ball definitely flies.”
And so into the home-road splits we go. Let’s start with Andy Pettitte, the new stadium critic. On the road, Pettitte is 3-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 31.1 innings and one home run allowed. At home, he is 3-2 with a 5.77 ERA. In 48.1 innings, he has surrendered nine Yankee Stadium home runs, and his walk rate is up as well. Score one for the stadium theory.
Next up is A.J. Burnett. On the road, he is 3-2 with a 5.19 ERA in 34.2 innings. He has given up five home runs, and opponents have a .785 OPS against him. At home, he is 2-1 with a 3.91 ERA and has allowed seven home runs in 46 innings. Opponents sport a .775 OPS against. Considering that two of his road starts were the disasters in Boston, this one is a wash.
Joba Chamberlain is another who has struggling at home, but his problems could be sample-size related. His ERA at home is 5.33 in 27 innings. On the road, it is 2.72 in 36.1 innings. His walk rate at home is 5.66 per 9 IP while on the road it is 3.96. Yet, opponents are slugging just .343 against him at Yankee Stadium but .412 on the road. His home run rate is the same.
After last night’s start, Sabathia’s home and road splits are nearly identical. He’s allowed four home runs at home in 49.2 IP and four on the road in 51 IP. His ERA at home is 3.99, and on the road, it’s 3.35. Opponents are hitting him the same at home as they are on the road.
So where does this leave us? Unfortunately for Stadium theorists, nowhere. The Yankees have created a stadium where some pitchers are not as successful or comfortable at home while others are. Some of the differences are due to the small sample sizes; it’s tough to judge anything in 35-40 innings.
Yet, there is a conclusion to draw as well. As with Jorge’s defense, this too is a matter of sports psychology. If Andy Pettitte and perhaps Joba Chamberlain don’t like pitching at home, the Yankees will have to address the home run issue. Considering Joba’s reluctance this past weekend to attack the zone with runners on base, this trend is definitely worth examining over the course of the season. We won’t, though, know whether it amounts to something definite for some time.