Yankees having trouble in two-strike counts

Good signs abound in blowout win over Orioles
The Favorable Road Ahead
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The Yankees split four games with the second-place Orioles this weekend, and other than homers and high-scoring affairs, all four games had one thing in common: Baltimore did an awful lot of damage in two-strike counts. Thirteen of their 31 hits during the series came in two-strike counts, including four doubles and three homers. You can add two hit batsman on top of that, which bother me just as much as hits in two-strike situations. Maybe even more since the batter didn’t really earn it, so to speak.

Anecdotally, it feels as though the Yankees have given up a lot of baserunners in two-strike counts all season, at least relatively speaking. As you’ll see, the league as a whole does a poor job of reaching base when the pitcher is one pitch away from a strikeout. Here is a quick breakdown of the pitching staff’s performance in various two-strike counts this season…

0-2 Count 450 73 17 1 8 0 233 .164 .171 .261 .432 116 4 .317 127
1-2 Count 779 121 23 3 8 0 382 .157 .163 .226 .389 174 6 .295 89
2-2 Count 757 125 30 2 16 0 351 .166 .168 .275 .443 207 2 .281 85
Full Count 619 98 23 2 11 186 160 .227 .460 .367 .827 158 1 .333 102
Two Strikes 2605 417 93 8 43 186 1126 .174 .236 .273 .509 655 13 .302 96
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/10/2012

sOPS+ is the opposing hitter’s OPS+ relative to the league average in these counts, so while holding hitters to a .164/.171/.261 batting line in 0-2 counts looks fantastic, it’s actually 27% worse than the .150/.158/.220 AL average. That’s the glaring problem here, 0-2 counts. The Yankees do fairly well in 1-2 and 2-2 counts (and in two-strike counts overall), but they really give it up in what is supposed to be the worst possible count for a batter.

The biggest culprit, by far, has been Phil Hughes. Hitters have tagged the right-hander for a .239/.239/.406 batting line in 0-2 counts, an unfathomable 234 sOPS+. In two-strike counts overall, it’s a .188/.241/.309 batting line (111 sOPS+). Ten of the league-worst 33 homers he’s surrendered have come in two-strike counts, including two in 0-2 counts. Hughes does strike hitters out at an essentially league average rate (7.57 K/9 and 19.8 K%), but he’s gotten clobbered when unable to miss bats with two strikes.

The rest of the starting staff has done fairly well in two-strike counts. Ivan Nova is the worst of the rest of the bunch with a 143 sOPS+ in 0-2 counts and a 90 sOPS+ with two strikes overall. CC Sabathia has struggled a bit in 0-2 counts (104 sOPS+) but otherwise shuts hitters down in two-strike counts overall (64 sOPS+). Hiroki Kuroda is the opposite, burying hitters in 0-2 counts (39 sOPS+) but performing at about the league average rate with two strikes overall (99 sOPS+). Andy Pettitte was fantastic in two-strike counts before getting hurt, holding hitters to a 14 sOPS+ in 0-2 counts and a 47 sOPS+ in two-strike counts overall.

The Yankees’ pitching staff has the third best strikeout rate in the league this year (8.16 K/9 and 21.5 K%), and that holds true both for the starters (7.82 K/9 and 20.6 K%) and relievers (8.96 K/9 and 23.7 K%). The Rays are the only club with better strikeout rates as both starters and relievers this season. So yeah, the Yankees have done a very good job of missing bats and recording outs without the help of the defense, but otherwise haven’t done a great job of retiring hitters in these situations overall. Whether it’s poor pitch-calling/planning or poor execution (likely both), the Yankees aren’t haven’t stood out for their ability to put hitters away in two-strike counts this season and it was really noticeable this past weekend.

Good signs abound in blowout win over Orioles
The Favorable Road Ahead
  • Frank Messer

    finally a well written analysis of this 2012 plague

  • Better off Eddard

    They fall in love with the fastball. When Phil gets 0-2 he needs to go to his change or his breaking ball. Robertson needs to go to his curve. Nova needs to go to his slider. None of them can throw a Verlander fastball so they need to use their other pitches, especially against Mark Reynolds.

  • Monty Capuletti

    I’m going to Hawaii!
    I’m going to Hawaii!

  • http://www.twitter.com/brandonholley B-Rando

    0-2 has to be approached as a setup pitch. You want to put the ball in a spot thats impossible to put good wood on and will also set you up for a 1-2 pitch. That could mean burying a curveball in the dirt on the outside corner and then coming back with a fastball off the plate, changing eye levels, changing speeds.

    All of these things Hughes especially struggles with doing.

  • tommydee2000

    Here’s a neanderthal thought: how about moving someone off the plate every now and again?

    • Bill White

      Yeah, really. When a pitcher is getting clobbered on what should be the least likely pitch to get clobbered (0-2), then something is wrong. Push the batter back on 0-2.

  • Hoss

    There also seems to be a trend to work backwards, ie getting behind 3-0 in the count and then throwing strikes. And it’s not just the Yankees. What’s up with that? Is the philosophy: You get 3 chances to nibble big time, one automatic strike and then 2 pitches to really work?

  • Hall and Nokes

    Hughes goes from 234 sOPS+ with an 0-2 count to 62 sOPS+ with a 1-2 count. Now I’ll know to scream for a ball next time this situation comes up.

    • http://yankeesblogtbnl.blogspot.com Derek

      Haha that’s pretty strange. I guess it goes to show he isn’t trying to get anyone to chase out of the zone on 0-2.

      • Hall and Nokes

        It’s hard to say because the splits only tell you what happened if the PA ended on an 0-2 pitch. It doesn’t tell you how many times he threw a ball.

        This is how it breaks out in raw numbers:

        67 PAs ended on an 0-2
        31 K’s
        34 balls in play
        9 singles
        5 doubles
        20 in play, out(s)
        2 home runs (this is better than his normal HR rate)

        Would probably be more interesting to see a pitch chart of his 0-2 pitches.

      • Hall and Nokes

        Someone who is smart can check my numbers, but here is a comparison of percentages of PA’s resulting in a strikeout once the pitcher has gotten ahead 0-2:

        AL in 2012: 44.2% strikeouts
        NYY in 2012: 48.5% strikeouts
        Hughes career: 40.5% strikeouts
        Hughes in 2012: 37.7% strikeouts

        Hughes has a pretty average K/9 in general and he’s at his career average this season, so maybe there’s something to be said here.

  • Jay

    What about shut down inning stats? It seems like the Yankee pitchers are immediately giving runs right back. Is that the case?

  • Zack

    That has been the case this year from what I’ve seen. Maybe that’s why the offense slumped. Why put up runs when the pitchers will give it right back?

  • Arnold Palmer’s Putter

    Well how do you like that, Suzyn?
    In baseball you just never know

  • Anthony

    Great article, Mike! The 0-2 counts have been so frustrating, lately.

  • smurfy

    So, it is the youngest guys that are victimized. They probably have not yet reconciled the dictum, “don’t give him anything good to hit,” with the desire to get rid of the batter.

    Phil, especially is aggressive, and we get fouls, hits, and k’s from the fastballs. Nova and Joba are more sensitive to criticism, so they always aim their breaking balls absurdly out of the zone, true “waste” pitches.

    Setup pitches would be much better, except those sliders in the dirt probably set the batter thinking fastball, so a good example slider next might get him. (but I probably got so disgusted at the one in the dirt that it doesn’t register when it works.)

    The better way to say it would be, “make sure it’s nasty.” Something with a lot of break, surprise or difficult location.