On Sunday morning, I published a post about the ineffectiveness of the Yankees starters. Looking at the number of pitchers per plate appearance for four of the Yanks’ starting pitchers, I noticed that Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes were all throwing more pitches per plate appearance than the league average. Only CC Sabathia and Chien-Ming Wang were more effective than the league.
Following Sunday’s A.J. Burnett start in which he used far too many pitches to give up no runs in 7 innings, I re-ran the numbers. The following is the updated chart:
While I’ve been turning over the problems that plague the Yankee starting pitchers in my head, I haven’t yet come to a conclusion. However, something on Fangraphs has attracted my attention. R.J. Anderson examined how a few young pitchers are suffering from a put-away problem. Chamberlain along with Clayton Kershaw and David Price, three highly-touted pitchers, are not doing a very good job finishing hitters off.
Anderson doesn’t really have a real explanation for it. Price, he says, is struggling in terms of pitch efficiency because hitters aren’t chasing pitches out of the zone. Based on the percentages, Joba is having the opposite problem. With just 43.9 percent of his pitches in the zone, he’s not getting nearly enough straight-up strikes and is generally throwing too many pitches out of the zone.
But Joba is not the only Yankee pitching having problems. A.J. Burnett, sneaking up the list at 3.90 pitches per plate appearances, has suffered through efficiency problems all season. So far, he’s gone to three balls on 75 of the 351 batters he faced. That rate — 21.4 percent — is nearly double Roy Halladay’s three-ball percentage of 11.1. The extra pitches add up. Joba’s rate, by the way, is a whopping 26.4 percent. That’s way too many three-ball counts.
Right now, all we have are a bunch of numbers without much of an explanation. In The Times today, Tyler Kepner points his finger at Jorge Posada. Relying on the shaky catcher’s ERA stat, Kepner wonders whether Posada is partly to blame for the pitchers’ struggles. So far this season, Jorge’s ERA is 6.31 — 5.47 without Chien-Ming Wang — while the Yanks’ other catchers are at 3.81. Considering Jorge’s track record of at least a team average CERA, I’m skeptical of a one-year difference.
In the end, we’re left with data and evidence pointing at no obvious conclusion. The Yankees’ pitchers need to be more effective and economic with their pitches. They have to go deeper into games. They have to avoid putting on too many base runners, and they have to wean the team off its reliance on a bullpen that, while better of late, still doesn’t inspire much confidence. Whether the cause be youth, a less-than-stellar defensive catcher, or the coaching staff, it matters little. Right now, the Yankees have to make a strong push to solidify their playoff status. That will begin and end with better starting pitching.