Are the Yankees susceptible to offspeed pitches?

Yankees top ChiSox behind Colon, Cano
The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Nick Swisher
Have a heart, throw Jorge a fastball. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Prior to last night’s game against the White Sox, hitting coach Kevin Long told Marc Carig that pitchers have been throwing the Yankees a ton of offspeed pitches lately, and in fact just one of Gavin Floyd’s final 32 pitches on Tuesday was a fastball. As Long said, pitchers are going to keep throwing the Yankees soft stuff until they prove they can hit it. We know from watching the games that Jorge Posada is helpless against anything that breaks and that Mark Teixeira is the king of swinging over top of changeups, but what about the team as a whole?

Thankfully we can look at this using something more than our eyes. That’s not to say observation is meaningless, it obviously isn’t, but getting some cold hard facts about how players have performed against certain pitches is the way to go. I’m going to use the pitch type run values at FanGraphs, which essentially tells you how much offense a player created on a given pitch. Here’s a list of run values for each event, though that might be a little out-dated by now. Tex hits a fastball for a single? That 0.47 runs. Flies out a curveball next time up? That’s -0.28 runs, he just hurt the team. Simple enough.

The table on the right shows the Yankees’ run values per 100 pitches (as a team) against certain pitches this season. Zero is league average. I also listed their rank against the other American League teams (the NL is different because of pitchers batting and stuff, so let’s leave those teams out). So far this year the Yankees are either the best or second best team in baseball against fastballs, cutters, sliders, and changeups, but they’re dead last against curveballs. It’s not really close either, the Twins are the next worst at -1.51 runs per 100 pitches against the yakker. It’s obvious the Yankees are susceptible against the curve, at least they have been during the first 20 games of the season. That’s just one kind of offspeed pitch though, there’s also sliders and changeups, and the Yanks have been very good against those offerings.

What about an individual level? Let’s look at how the eight regulars (sorry Brett Gardner, but platooning with Andruw Jones leaves you on the outside looking in) have performed against fastballs and offspeed pitches both this year and over the three previous years.

“Fastballs” is a combination of regular old fastballs and cutters. “Offspeed” is basically everything else, curves, sliders, and changeups. I left splitters and knuckle balls out because those pitches are thrown less than three percent of the time around the league.

A few players (Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Russell Martin) have been positive performers against both the heat and offspeed while Derek Jeter is the only guy negative against both. Everyone else has been good against one but not the either. “FB-OFF” is the fastball run value minus the offspeed run value, and that essentially tells us how “balanced” a player is. Zero is ideal, that means they perform just as well against slow stuff as they do hard stuff. A positive number means they feast on fastballs, negative means they’ve done better against offspeed. The further from zero, the more extreme it is.

Posada, holy schnikees, he’s all about the fastball, but you knew that already. Same with A-Rod, Cano, and Martin, just to a lesser extent. Only three of the eight have performed better against offspeed than fastballs (Jeter, Tex, Nick Swisher) so far this season, and that supports the claim that the team as a whole is at a disadvantage against pitches that break. Look at the data for 2008-2010 though, it’s much more balanced. A-Rod, Cano, Posada, and Martin all performed better against offspeed pitches in that time, and both Curtis Granderson and Tex had FB-OFF dangerously close to zero, so it’s not a huge split for them. Based on recent history, the Yankees have an offense that does well against both fastballs and offspeed, but for whatever reason that has no held true in 2011.

So now the question becomes this: are other teams exploiting this weakness against offspeed pitches? The table on the right shows the rate at which the Yankees have seen each pitch this year, as well as the league average and their AL rank. So far this year the Yankees have seen basically an average amount of fastballs and sliders and a slightly below average amount of changeups and cutters, but look at those curveballs. Only the Blue Jays at 13.0% have seen more curves than New York, so yeah, the other clubs are trying to exploit that weakness against the hook when they take on the Yankees.

Why are the Yankees having this trouble against curveballs and offspeed pitches in general? Damned if it know, that’s for K-Long to figure out. Could be a small sample size, could be that some players have seen their skills decline, could be something else entirely. When you’re talking about a team doing something as a whole, there’s bound to be more than one factor in play. Given the disparities between the 2011 and 2008-2010 data for the individual players, I suspect this is something that will start to even out as the season progresses and we’ll see the team perform more in line with their norms. Even with the deficiencies against the curveball, the Yankees still have a great offense. There’s just a little weakness at the moment.

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Yankees top ChiSox behind Colon, Cano
The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Nick Swisher
  • Monteroisdinero

    5 infielders and here comes the fastball Derek! Catch up to it if you can.

  • Rey22

    Maybe they’ve run into an unusual amount of good curveball pitchers? I can’t recall others, but Floyd’s was moving pretty well. We also faced Verlander, etc etc

    • Ted Nelson

      Yeah, it’s a pretty small sample still.

  • http://www.123blawg.blogspot.com LawStudent

    Straight ball come, Yankees hit very far. Curveball? Bats afraid. We must call on Jobu to come.

    • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

      Bring them cigars, and rum.

    • jon

      you tell me jesus cant hit a curve?

    • MannyGeee

      - Hey Yankees, I think Joba needs a refill!!!

      – Is bery bad to drink Joba’s run… is bery bad

    • Tom

      Don’t they just need a chicken to fix that?

  • Tank the Frank

    Oh hell yeah. The changeup is the bane of Teixeira’s existence. The same can be said about Jorge, Swish and Teix with the curveball.

    The data seems to disprove what my eyes tell me about Teixeira. I think that’s just a perception one gets when you watch him go through a prolonged early season slump; when he can’t hit much of anything.

    And yes we have seen some great curveball pitchers this season. Floyd’s was devastating the other night.

  • Chris

    I think it’s somewhat telling that 7 of the 8 regulars have reversed their performance when comparing 2008-2010 numbers vs the 2011 numbers (i.e. previously good fastball hitters are now good off speed hitters). It doesn’t seem likely that this sort of change would be real and sustainable.

    • Tank the Frank

      +1

  • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

    Maybe they’re just missing the hangers? Anyone throws enough curves they’re going to leave one up in the zone and usually the Yankees will pounce. I’m sure it’s more of a SSS issue than anything, but their opponents might as well take advantage while they can.

  • imposter

    Who isn’t susceptible to offspeed pitches anyway? This blog or article isn’t telling me,a baseball fan ,something I don’t know all ready .

    • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

      Who isn’t susceptible to offspeed pitches anyway?

      The 2008-2010 Yankees.

    • Mister Delaware

      Holliday, Braun, Miggy, Hanley, Adrian Gonzalez have all hit changeups better than fastballs over the last 3+ seasons.

  • MannyGeee

    A few players (Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Russell Martin) have been positive performers against both the heat and offspeed while Derek Jeter is the only guy negative against both.

    so yeah, I am feeling better about 3.5 more years…

    • Mister Delaware

      Are you predicting a late July 2014 retirement?

      • Dan

        I am praying that Jeter gets 3000 this season, plays out the year, and walks away. He won’t leave 3 years, millions of dollars, and his image on the table, but boy it’d be nice.
        He is looking less and less like an everyday Major league player…

        • Jericho Spade

          If he gets his 3000 hit and is still clearly declining for the rest of the year to keep his image intact he may walk away. I never saw him as someone who would stick around while his skills so obviously declined, however who knows.

          • Dan

            I hope you’re right, but his idea that he should get a 5+ year contract worth what he was making when he was an elite offensive player leads me to think his sense of self is a bit skewed…
            But like I said, I hope youre right

  • MikeD

    What were Tex’s numbers against changeups last year? I would agree that he seems to miss a lot of changeups, but I thought I saw data that basically said it wasn’t true.

    • Mister Delaware

      Value per 100 pitches …

      Slider: 1.97
      Fastball: 1.21
      Split: 0.78
      Change: 0.33
      Cutter: 0.20
      – – – – – – – – – – – –
      Curve: -1.02
      Knuckle: -1.10

      (Which is weird because when I think of Bad Teix, I think him swinging over a slider headed towards his back foot.)

  • Jerry

    Just wondering if there is any info on trends early in the season, are the players numbers this year in the first month different then in the first month of previous years? Just wondering how players change their approach as scouting reports improve during the year with more current information, things like that, probably no way to really tell.

  • Tom

    The other factor (which is kind of mentioned) is the pitch mix… If teams are throwing a lot of fastballs, then the offspeed stuff is more disruptive.

    While Danks was effective throwing mostly non-FB stuff (he also has a good curve which kind of helps a bit!), if pitchers simply move to a greater mix of curve/change the effectiveness of those pitches may start to drop rather quickly (especially for those pitchers who may not have plus type secondary stuff)

  • KyleLitke

    Is that correct that from 2008 to 2010, Cano pretty much can’t hit a fastball to save his life but absolutely demolishes offspeed pitches?