Rothschild emphasizing the bottom of the zone

Remembering when the Yankees had the best infield in baseball
Long was out of line with comments about Cano
(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The new Yankee Stadium has been open for five full seasons now, more than enough time to definitively say it is a hitter’s park, especially for left-handed hitters. The short porch in right is shorter than it was across the street, so we’ve seen plenty of balls that looked like routine fly outs go over the fence for the cheap homer. Anecdotally, I think the short porch has benefited the Yankees much more than it’s hurt them since 2009.

Because of that potential for the cheap homer, the Bombers have emphasized getting ground balls since the new park opened. The staff has gradually progressed from a 42.3% ground ball rate in 2009 to a 44.9% ground ball rate last year. Ground balls will again be a focus this year, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild has his staff focusing on the bottom of the zone early in camp. From Joel Sherman:

In bullpen sessions this year, pitching coach Larry Rothschild has introduced a technique he used in previous locales, but not with the Yankees — he has a yellow string that crosses the bottom of the strike zone and he actually is encouraging his pupils to hit the string.

Pounding the bottom of the zone should lead to more ground balls just because it’s tough to lift a ball at or below your knees, though the occasional golf shot is unavoidable. Whether this new drill actually leads to an increased grounder rate during the regular season remains to be seen, but hey, at least they’re trying.

In addition to an increased ground ball rate, emphasizing the bottom of the zone may also have a side effect: more called strikes. In a long but must read piece, Jon Roegele explained last month that the shape of the strike zone has changed during the PitchFX era. The zone is increasing in overall size but the corners are coming in while the bottom of the zone has expanded downward. Here are two heat maps from his post:

2008-13 Strike Zone Changes

Grey means no change in the percentage of called strikes from 2008 (first full year of PitchFX) to 2013 while white means fewer called strikes and black means more called strikes. Again, the corners are coming in while the bottom of the zone gets bigger and bigger. You can click the image for a larger view, or, even better, click the link and read Roegele’s post for the entire analysis. It’s great stuff.

Anyway, Rothschild has emphasized the bottom of the zone this spring and it figures to help the Yankees both get ground balls and called strikes. Throwing strikes is hard though, especially to precise locations. It’s unlikely the entire pitching staff will suddenly start throwing everything right at the knees, but all it takes is one pitcher taking advantage of the bottom of the zone for this work to be worth it.

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Remembering when the Yankees had the best infield in baseball
Long was out of line with comments about Cano
  • dkidd

    rothschild > stottlemyre >>>>>>> eiland >>>>>>>>>> guidry

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      I loved me some Mel. Don’t know if I’d go that far.

    • Joe

      Should have done this with Phil Hughes !!!!!

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        OK.

        Mel > Rothschild > Eiland > Guidry > Hughes.

        • Havok9120

          Alas, reply fail once again getting the best of an over-exuberant poster.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

          This amused me far more than it should have.

  • Dalek Jeter

    I don’t know how I feel about this…sure it’s impossible to hit a groundball over the fence…but its also a lot easier for a ground ball to find outfield grass. Especially when your infield is going to be average at best in 3 out of 4 positions.

    • Dalek Jeter

      average at best defensively****

      #weneedaneditbutton

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        I still think it’s a much less risky philosophy to try to induce the ground ball, no matter how potentially leaky your infield is.

        • Havok9120

          Agreed. Good positioning will still put a lot of those groundballs firmly to bed. Plus Tex will still be turning a lot of bad throws into outs.

          Give me ground balls, singles, and double plays (and maybe K’s!), over anything in the air to right field.

          • jjyank

            Also agreed. I’ll take my chances with the seeing eyed groundballs over the high flies to right field.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      #shakyInfield

      Definitely. No change we’re better than shaky. Doom and whatnot.

      • Dalek Jeter

        Can’t we just train them to pitch towards contact to center and left?

        #BestDefensiveOutfield

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Magnets.

          • Dalek Jeter

            God damn magnets, how do they work?!

            #ICP’d

          • Havok9120

            I like it.

    • mitch

      Is the infield really that bad defensively? Tex is above average. Unless Nuney somehow wins a job, whoever plays 2B and 3B should be adequate. Jeter is the only statue, but i’m sure Ryan will get his share of starts and late-inning replacements.

  • TWTR

    I love this. It’s similar to Dave Duncan’s philosophy.

  • http://www.draftstreet.com/register.aspx?r=Jedile Jedile

    Apparently the Yankees are trying to acquire Elvis Andrus?

    http://www.latinopost.com/arti.....retire.htm

    I just doubt this is legit considering it is latinopost. But ?

    • Dalek Jeter

      This is the first time I’ve heard that the Rangers are/were “aggressively shopping” Andrus during the 2013/2014 offseason.

    • I’m One

      I see that article as more of the writer’s opinion of what might work than the Yankees actually trying to acquire him.

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

      This has nothing to do with the post.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Funny how that little detail didn’t occur to any of us until now.

      • Havok9120

        I’ve heard he’s got some great encouraging lines for groundball pitchers.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          “Heet eet too mee.”

          • Havok9120

            You self-hating racist, you.

            • Jorge Steinbrenner

              I always assume all latin players have incredibly thick accents. Vidal Nuno shocked the piss out of me.

    • ALZ

      Rangers wouldn’t have traded Kinsler if they didn’t plan on keeping him and Profar.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    I watched the Pirates do this drill in ST a few years ago–its very interesting. It was surprising how often they hit the string.

    • Havok9120

      I would really like to see big leaguers do this kind of exercise at some point. One of the few drills I’ve heard described where I’ve said “that might be fun to watch.”

      • Dalek Jeter

        I’d like to see this and K-Long’s pull drill. I might not like the philosophy, but it sounds like a cool drill to watch.

      • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

        The biggest surprise was how many catchers they carry the first month of ST. I want to say there were six or eight mounds in the pitching pen, and 3-4 were in use at any given moment. It was also the best view of an MLB fastball I’ve ever had, and it was amazing. I have 15/20 vision and I couldn’t see shit.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Big leaguers are really really good.

      • jjyank

        Yep. I remember one time a few years ago, I paid in an 18+ statewide baseball league in NJ during one summer. This one pitcher was some former prospect who flamed out in AA somewhere. And he just swiped the floor with our line up all day. And that was a failed prospect.

        • Dalek Jeter

          Remember I said I know the kid Rob Kaminsky, the LHP who got drafted by the Cardinals, at age like 14 he could strike me and all his other older brother’s friends out like it was nothing and we were all in our late teens early 20s. He was only going at like 75% and was only throwing fastballs and changeups. I made contact (literally just a foul tip) and I felt good about myself.

          • jjyank

            Yup. I actually got on base against the guy, but it was a walk on a full count and it was really more “I can’t hit his stuff so I’m not gonna swing and hope he misses the plate” than it was “I have a good eye”.

        • jjyank

          *played in

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Cashman obviously failed there.

  • OldYanksFan

    I wonder if Pitching to the bottom of the zone also makes the ‘high hard one’ more effect.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      The TWSS is strong with this one.

    • Havok9120

      One would think. If nothing else, it’d mean that hitters need to keep an eye on part of the zone they might otherwise largely ignore (since they can’t do anything with a pitch there anyway).

  • Eddard

    I’m a big fan of pitching to contact. Pitchers like Nova who have great sinking fastballs should be trying to induce the groundball. Allows the pitcher to go deeper into games and isn’t prone to the cheap HR. CC and Hughes were the biggest culprits last year in giving up HRs and need the most work on this.

  • JGYank

    Grounders are great, but with YS dimensions and Gardy and Ells in the outfield I wouldn’t have a problem with fly balls being hit to left or center.

  • I’m One

    Strikeouts >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> contact of any kind, especially when compared with ground balls and this infield as currently constructed. That said, if there’s contact, I still prefer ground balls to other types.

    • Dalek Jeter

      The one quality I like about this drill, is if the PitchFX data is right (I’m just going to take Mike and Mr. Roegele’s word that it is) it should lead to more strikeouts due to the expanded bottom of the zone.

      • jjyank

        We can hope. That’d sure be a nice side effect.

      • vicki

        the data concerns called strikes. don’t you throw a high fastball to get the swing-and-miss?

    • I’m One

      Should have been a response to Eddard (I’ve got to stop responding to him, although his comment wasn’t completely out in left field this time).

      • Dalek Jeter

        I like it as a comment on it’s own as opposed to a response to Eddard. The less he’s responded to the better everything else is.

      • jjyank

        I think the universe is trying to tell you something :)

        • I’m One

          I’ll keep these 2 comments in mind for the future. :-)

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Which is why I didn’t trust the comment one bit. Still trying to look for hidden messages in it.

    • TWTR

      Maybe more weak GBs.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Chien-Ming Wang was a groundball pitcher. We should beware of any our pitchers rounding third base during interleague games moving forward.

  • pinch hitter

    In a related note, MLB will announce at the end of spring training that in the interest of competitive balance the strike zone will be raised 6 inches this year. Also, all Yankee mound visits will have to be conducted in Sanskrit.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    Can anybody steal Girardi’s binder so I can replace Jeter or Roberts with Ryan in the 7th?

  • RHP

    college teams do this all the time, this is nothing new.