Yankees hitters against fly ball pitchers

An old storyline for a new season
Looking at minor league defense

On Monday we looked at how Yankees hitters fared against ground ball pitchers. In 187.1 innings, the Yankees’ offense hit ground ball pitchers hard, scoring 4.80 runs per nine innings. The sample included the top 13 ground ball pitchers in the AL, of which the Yankees faced 12. There are a few problems with this analysis, including the small samples against individual pitchers, and that many of the pitchers on the list can be defined by more than just their ground ball tendencies. Still, I’d like to get through one-dimensional pitcher types, then plot them and see how the Yankees fare against, say, ground ball pitchers with low walk rates.

Continuing the series, today we’ll look at how the Yankees fared against the top fly ball pitchers in the American League. Since the AL pitcher with the 10th highest fly ball rate, Jeff Niemann, sits at just around 40 percent, and since A.J. Burnett ranks 11th, we’ll go with the top 10 this time. These pitchers include, in descending order: Jered Weaver, Scott Baker, Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Verlander, Jarrod Washburn, Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, John Danks, Zack Greinke, and Niemann. Reluctantly, I’ll include Kevin Millwood, since the Yankees did not face Greinke, and also because Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia rank 13th and 14th.

The initial problem with this analysis is evident by looking at the FB% column. There’s an over three percent drop-off between Weaver and Baker, and a nearly four percent drop between Weaver and Guthrie. Further, there’s a nearly 12 percent difference between Nos. 1 and 10. And then there’s the sample size issue, but we’ve already noted that.

Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson both murdered the Yankees in a similar number of innings. I wonder if this is an effect of them pitching in the same series, perhaps catching the Yankees hitters in similar trends. Both had good seasons, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that they pitched well against the Yankees. In Jackson’s case, however, we see more extra base hits than singles. That seems curious, and I think it might be a little luck-involved. True to that, Jackson posted a .194 BABIP agains the Yanks.

Niemann presents another odd case. The Yankees sent 70 men to the plate against him and put 26 of them on base, a .371 OBP. They also swiped four bases and got caught only once. Yet just five of those 26 base runners came around to score, 19 percent. Overall, 769 batters faced Niemann this season and he allowed 253 of them to reach base, a .329 OBP. Yet 84 of those 253 came around to score, 33 percent. Again, it seems like Niemann got lucky with men on base against the Yankees.

Against Weaver it appears the Yankees got lucky, since his 6.05 RA against the Yankees sits far above 3.75 ERA (and, for equal comparison, 3.88 overall RA). He allowed 26 of 81 batters to reach base, an OBP of .321 (though B-R for some reason has it at .325). Of those 26 baserunners, 13 came around to score, 50 percent. Overall he allowed 266 of 822 baserunners to reach, a .302 OBP, and allowed 91 of them to score, 34 percent. The Yankees did have the top offense in baseball, which can account for this. But to score 50 percent of your base runners seems a bit high, especially when the pitcher — and a good pitcher at that — usually allows 34 percent to score.

(Oddly enough, Weaver held the Yankees to a .226 BABIP, against his .281 season-long total.)

Now that I’m getting more into this data, I’m more interested in the breakdowns than how the Yankees actually scored against these guys. It shows that it’s tough to find correlation in small samples, of course, but it also has led me to break down some of these guys further.

As for the fly ball stuff, the Yankees performed worse against the top fly ball pitchers than the top ground ball pitchers, though in about 40 fewer innings. Surprisingly, they hit more home runs against ground ball pitchers, 1.63 per nine innings, than against fly ballers, 1.36 per nine. Against ground ball pitchers they put 204 men on base and brought them around to score 100 times, or 49 percent. Against fly ball pitchers they put 153 men on base and scored 68 of them, or 44 percent.

Next up, we’ll look at the best strikeout artists in the league. Apologies again to Zack Greinke for his omission.

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An old storyline for a new season
Looking at minor league defense
  • pat

    What I’m learning is that unless you’re really good, the Yankees will f*ck your sh*t up.

    • Steve H

      And if you’re really good, they’ll at least see a ton of pitches in hopes of getting to your bullpen, which they will proceed to destroy.

  • A.D.

    Surprisingly, they hit more home runs against ground ball pitchers

    Unexpected

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Reverse psychology, bro.

    • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

      Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Fear and surprise. And ruthless efficiency. And an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.

    • pat

      If a sinkerballer makes a mistake usually it is left up in the zone. Belt high mistakes usually get pounded.

  • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

    Eh, I’d omit Verlander and Garza. I consider them strikeout pitchers, not “flyball pitchers.”
    Just my 2 cents.

    • whozat

      there’s a continuum from groundball -> flyball, low walk -> high walk, low K -> high K. You can’t really define any pitcher on just one of those axes.

      • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

        Yeah it’s more of a personal view I guess. A K/9 > 7 or 8 is pretty significant and I consider those pitchers K guys, rather than FB or GB pitchers.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

          Yeah it’s more of a personal view I guess.

          pppppppppppppppppppppppffffhtt

          See that? I just pooped all over your personal view.

  • pete

    **takes one look at the numbers-filled chart, mutters something about actually picking up a bat, and returns to the last thread to talk about joba being a natural reliever**

    • Steve H

      Can I interest you in a spreadsheet?

      • pete

        NERD

      • pete

        evidence doesn’t convince me, I convince me. and people who agree with me, too. sometimes.

  • pat

    How exactly does one induce fly balls as opposed to ground balls?

    • pete

      high FBs, mostly

      • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

        Probably less movement on secondary pitches too.

    • Ed

      My personal theory not backed by anything:

      Pitches with greater than typical vertical drop would lead to more ground balls, as hitters are more likely to misjudge the movement and swing over the ball.

      Also, I would expect more fly balls from pitches at the top of the strike zone and more ground balls from pitches at the bottom of the zone. There’s going to be more vertical movement in those swings, which would influence the direction the ball goes if it’s not hit dead on.

      • JMK aka The Overshare’s Garden Apartment Complex

        Physics? Physics? C’mon now, that’s all pop science. Did physics enable Leonardo DaVinci, myself and Master Splinter to pain the Sistine Chapel? No, it was pure willpower.

        /theoreticalSteveLombardi’d

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

          Physics?

          Pull-ease.

          /Lombardi’d

  • JMK aka The Overshare’s Garden Apartment Complex

    Just throwing this out there:

    Do fly ball pitchers rely more on control and less on “stuff” than ground ball pitchers? The opposite? The ground ball pitcher list contained more power-arm types like Lester, Beckett, Halladay, Hernandez.

    Just wondering aloud if there’s any correlation.

    • whozat

      Verlander, Jackson, and Garza are all on this list too, so I don’t think you can make that correlation.

      • JMK aka The Overshare’s Garden Apartment Complex

        Perhaps. Those three definitely have good stuff. Weird thing about Jackson is his career k-rate of 6.3. I probably can’t make the correlation anyway, but he’s not really a big strikeout pitcher.

        It just seemed that first glance of the GB list had a lot more of guys throwing power fastballs in the mid 90s with a good off-speed pitch, whereas this list seems like more guys with (for the most part) good stuff relying on control.

        I could totally be wrong.

    • Steve H

      I doubt there is. Look at some of ground ball pitchers of the last ten years, Wang, Webb, Lowe, none of them were overpowering. Even Wang, who could get it up (TWSS) to the mid 90’s was never overpowering. If I were to guess at correlation either way, I would think it’s the other way around. Having less stuff forces a guy to get by without blowing guys away, so maybe he finds a way to put sink on a ball at 91 mph, while the guy throwing 97 mph can succeed without it. With Lester/Beckett/Felix, etc. they are the creme de la creme, so it’s the best of both worlds.