Yankees’ rotation is dominating the strike zone early in 2014

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Through the first seven games of 2014, the story of the Yankees’ season has been the offensive struggles of the new-look middle of the order. Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Alfonso Soriano have yet to produce with any kind of consistency, and as a result the team has had some problems scoring runs. Eventually those guys will come around and the Yankees will score more runs. At least I think they will. They’re not hitting early in the season and things tend to stand out during the first week of April.

Those offensive issues are overshadowing another early theme: the starting rotation has been commanding and dominating the strike zone. In the first seven games, the Yankees’ starters have a 35/7 K/BB in 43 innings, which works out to a 5.00 K/BB ratio. Only the Giants (5.14) have been better. Furthermore, Ivan Nova issued five of those seven walks in his lone start, during which he was very wild and had no feel for his curveball. Exclude him, and the other four starters have a 34/2 K/BB in 37.1 innings, or an absurd 17.00 K/BB ratio.

Obviously that’s a small sample and we’re cherry-picking by excluding Nova, yadda yadda yadda. Still, 34 strikeouts and two walks in 37.1 innings is pretty ridiculous. I mean, yeah, a 17.00 K/BB ratio is unsustainable over a full 162-game season, but I’m not looking to draw any conclusions from this. I just wanted to point out how stellar the starters have been at commanding the zone. It’s a real thing that happened and it’s pretty amazing. These guys aren’t giving out free passes at all.

Now, here’s the thing: this isn’t happening by accident. The Yankees have sought out strong K/BB pitchers in recent years. In the three years before coming to New York, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda had 4.51 and 3.36 K/BB ratios, respectively. Masahiro Tanaka had an absurd 7.06 K/BB ratio during his final three years with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Pineda had a 3.15 K/BB during his one season with the Mariners. Nova is the only real exception; he came into 2014 with a career 2.26 K/BB ratio. From 2011-13, the league average for starters was a 2.47 K/BB ratio, for reference.

I think pitching coach Larry Rothschild has something to do with this as well. He came to the Yankees with a reputation for improving strikeout and walk rates — I keep pointing back to these studies, which are definitely due for an update (that’s a post for the offseason, I think) — and he’s continued to do that in New York, for the most part. Sabathia is one example: he had a 20.6% strikeout rate and a 7.4% walk rate in the two years before Rothschild, and a 23.4% strikeout rate and 5.8% walk rate in the first two years with Rothschild. The Yankees target pitchers who command the strike zone well, then they turn them over to their pitching coach, who helps maximize that ability. It’s wonderful.

Two things the Yankees can not change are their ballpark and their division. They’re stuck with Yankee Stadium’s short porch, and they’re stuck playing in the hitter happy AL East. They can control their pitching staff though, at least to some extent, so they’ve targeted pitchers who don’t hurt themselves with walks and generally keep the ball on the ground. (Grounders are actually something of a problem considering the infield defense.) The rotation has taken the whole “no walks” thing to an extreme in these first seven games, and while they won’t keep up this pace all year, this group has pounded the zone early. It’s a big reason why the Yankees acquired these guys, and it’s a big reason why they’ve won four of their last five games.

Categories : Pitching


  1. Yangeddard Soly says:

    I love this rotation and I said before the season it would be one of the best in baseball. They need to be smart about Hiroki and Pineda’s innings but that can easily be managed considering the depth in that pen.

    Tanaka and Nova are going to be the aces. I think when Nova has his curve working he’s the best pitcher on the staff. He induces GBs with his sinking fastball and the curve is his finisher. If CC can be a 4 ERA pitcher then this will be a great staff. If not, then I think he needs to be replaced.

  2. TWTR says:

    Stay healthy!

  3. LarryM Fl says:

    Its an aggressive policy to command the strike zone but these 5 pitchers are quite capable of following this policy. When your starter has to nibble at home plate, mistakes will occur and be hit. The aggressive pitcher makes the hitter swing at his pitch. It is being in charge/command. I like it.

    I do worry about the range on the defense but I’m secure on their ability to catch within their range. I hope this leads to a better infield defense than expected.

  4. will says:

    Banuelos pitches tonight

  5. stuckey says:

    Perhaps McCann’s pitch-framing acumen is an actual real thing???

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

      6 games is not even remotely close to a large enough sample to make judgments on pitch framing.

      • stuckey says:

        Hence, it being framed as a question.

        If Mike can dedicate a blog post the early returns of the staff dominating the strike zone, and postulate they reasons as opposed to simply writing it off as small, random, sampling, I think it’s fair to ASK if perhaps we’re seeing an early manifestation of McCann’s ability.

        The answer to the question, could of course, always be “no”.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

          Yes, you are allowed to ask. And I am allowed to answer with “Not enough information”.

          • Dalek Jeter says:

            No. The answer can be “no.” Or the answer can be “not enough information.”

            It cannot be “no”. Nor can it be “not enough information”.

            This is one of my biggest pet peeves.

            • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

              ? I didn’t answer with “no”

              I answered only with “Not enough information”

            • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

              I think you must have mistyped something because I have no idea what you meant, now. Your first point is the opposite of your second.

            • Cheval Anonyme says:

              Dalek asserted “A is true” in the first line, and “A is false” in the second line. It would be hard to create a purer example of logical contradiction.

              • Cheval Anonyme says:

                Before it got sidetracked, this was an interesting thread. I noticed during ST that the Yankees were giving out very few walks– they were easily first as a team in fewest BB/game and K/BB.

            • Dalek Jeter says:

              I now realize how stupid this looks, I was basically complaining that neither of them put their punctuation inside the quotes and that’s a gigantic pet peeve of mine.

    • LK says:

      While I think McCann is a good framer, so were Russell Martin and (despite not being good at anything else) Chris Stewart. So for CC, Nova, and Kuroda, it’s hard for me to believe the framing they’re getting this year is *that* much better than previous years. I think the rotation is just pitching very well (at least K and BB-wise), though McCann’s prowess certainly doesn’t hurt.

  6. PunkPitch says:

    Houston, Toronto, and Baltimore – I’d hold off on trending until we play something other than doormats.

    • Jersey Joe says:

      Baltimore is one of the teams with the most power in the MLB.

      • pat says:

        Baltimore was 1st and Toronto was 4th in HR last year. 4th and 11th of you choose to go by OPS. Doormats they are not.

      • Mr. Roth says:

        Baltimore is a doormat that finished with the same record as us last year. Toronto was favored to win the division last year. Houston is….well, not good.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

        Power but almost no patience to speak of. Their OBP is terrible.

    • Dalek Jeter says:

      It’s not the mid-2000s anymore. As much as we want them to be doormats, Baltimore and Toronto had the 3rd and 8th highest team slugging percentage and were the 10th and 12th best all around offenses in baseball last season. The Blue Jays will also probably be better offensively this season with a full season a freshly juiced Melky and a fully healthy Bautista.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

        Right but one easy way to curtail walks is to pitch to a team that swings at everything. Baltimore may have power, but their OBP is piss poor.

        • Dalek Jeter says:

          Fair enough, I was just trying to point out that these aren’t the Orioles of Corey Patterson and Kevin Millar and the Blue Jays of Lyle Overbay…these are legit teams that could win 86-88 games and while they may be “doormats” in the east they’d probably give anybody in the AL west a run.

          • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

            Potentially, but this specific version of them was also mostly sans Hardy, and totally sans Machado.

  7. PaulP says:

    First CC, he should be able to regain some form as the weather improves, and he’s gotten better each start (for what that’s worth). Second, who cares about the strength of the early opponents?! Doing well now builds confidence and that can carry over when facing better teams later.

  8. Baked McBride says:

    when the psychos on LoHud start writing happy songs about being 4-3 on April 8, it’s time to quarantine that site like you would a delapidated building

    • Yangeddard Soly says:

      Cervy’s getting the start at 1B today! Good to see him finally getting his due. We need his bat in the lineup.

    • Dalek Jeter says:

      Or a place that has been exposed to a deadly pathogen. Can we send a few commenters from here in first? *Looks at poster right above me*

      • Sweet Dick Willie says:

        Really. I can’t figure out if Eddard tries to says stupid shit or if it just comes naturally to him.

      • The Other Matt says:

        It will be interesting to see Cervelli over at first base today. To his credit, he is a much better athlete than your typical catcher in baseball today. Something to keep any eye on: if Cervelli does look adequate at first will Girardi continue to play him at 1B when they face left handers, while Teixeira is out? In that case, Romine may actually end up getting a game or two behind the plate in the meanwhile.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

          Start ALL THE CATCHERS!!!

          We’ve talked about Murphy at 3rd right(I know I know bear with me)?

          We could have McCann at 1st, Cervelli at 2nd, Murphy at 3rd, Lettuce behind the plate, Gary Sanchez up to DH. I’d love to see an inning of that in spring training.

          • The Other Matt says:

            It seemed as though they were headed that way when the organization was trying to audition the catchers during ST for a possible trade.

          • Dalek Jeter says:

            Or for an entire game during the regular season…you know…whatever.

          • Yankee$ says:

            Have you ever heard the jammy funkster band called “Lettuce?” (Punctuation approved by Dalek.) Truly a great light night music festival highlight,

  9. Wheels says:

    It’s good to have Rothschild as our strike zone guru.

  10. pinedamaybegreata (formerly Monterowasdinero) says:

    Pitch quickly and get strike 1 on pitch one.

    First part easier than the second but I think Tanaka and Pineda having big years is going to make us very formidable even with our lack of Bronx Bombing with the bats.

  11. will says:

    Watch Cervelli Be an unknown Gold glove first basemen.

  12. stuckey says:


    You know, its only a few days into the season, but I’m already tired of all the stories about Jeter desperately trying to find ways to crack his exterior and assure people he feels the same way about the ceremony of this last season as fans and the media do.

    Maybe the simply truth is he isn’t nostalgic and he doesn’t see these things that same way fans do? Would that make him a terrible person?

    I’ve come to suspect Jeter’s exterior is LESS about him going about his business and not showing him how much he cares about ceremony, and more about him showing just enough to not let on he really doesn’t care that much. I sometimes wonder if he’s forced to stop short of just saying out loud he just wants to come to the park, play every game and win, and genuinely isn’t affected by the “firsts” and the “lasts” and the numerous milestones he now passes regularly.

    Yet day after day we get stories explaining away how it all really matters to him, even if he doesn’t show it, because people want him to care. Its about THEM, the people writing and reading the stories, and not about Jeter. It’s trying to turn him into the figure they want, rather than who he is.

    It’s really all pretty presumptuous and and somewhat needy, if you ask me.

    • Mr. Roth says:

      “I sometimes wonder if he’s forced to stop short of just saying out loud he just wants to come to the park, play every game and win, and genuinely isn’t affected by the “firsts” and the “lasts” and the numerous milestones he now passes regularly.”

      Although I’m sure there are certain individual events he really did care about (first Yankee with 3k hits in particular), I agree that he probably couldn’t care less about most of the firsts, lasts, and other individual accomplishments. They’ll probably mean more to him years down the road when he starts to think back on his career.

      I’m sure the final game he plays in Yankee Stadium will mean something to him, though.

  13. will says:

    The yankees won’t skip anyone on the day off and just allow everyone an extra day rest, correct? I’m trying to pick the best 2 games of the Tampa series to go to. I’m thinking if all goes right, Saturday and Sunday will be Nova/Tanaka and i’d rather see them than kiroda or cc, and it looks like Pineda misses tampa… unfortunately.

  14. PunkPitch says:

    Baltimore has looked horrible all spring. Toronto, the same… Houston, well, they’re Houston. We have yet to be tested, and are 4-3. Again, I ‘d hold off on trending the Pitching.

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