Yankeemetrics: No sweep for you (June 12-14)

Welcome to The Show, Mason. (AP Photo)
Welcome to The Show, Mason. (AP Photo)

Orange crushed
So maybe that plan to skip Michael Pineda’s last start in order preserve his innings this season wasn’t the best idea. Sure, it might pay off in the long run, but in the short-term, it was really costly for the Yankees.

Pineda was rocked for six runs (five earned) on nine hits in Friday night’s 11-3 loss, and was pulled after getting one in the fifth inning. He is now 1-7 with a 4.23 ERA on six-plus days’ rest in his career, more than a full run higher than his ERA in all other games (20-11, 3.00 ERA).

The lone highlight of the game was the debut of Mason Williams, who joined a few notable names when Joe Girardi wrote his name on the lineup card as the starting center fielder for his first major-league game. The other Yankees to do that in the last 30 years were Melky Cabrera (2005), Bernie Williams (1991), Deion Sanders (1989) and Roberto Kelly (1987).

Williams wasted little time in showing why he deserved the call-up, getting his first big-league hit and home run with one swing of the bat in the fourth inning. His two-run blast was a historic one, making him just the ninth Yankee to homer in his first major-league game.

Only three others in that group, though, hit their milestone homer with at least one guy on base like Williams did: Marcus Thames (June 2, 2002 off Randy Johnson!), John Miller (Sept. 11, 1966) and Yogi Berra (Sept. 22, 1946).

Wild, wild, wild Martin
Somehow, someway, the Yankees keep finding new ways to lose games. On Saturday night, the goat was Chris Martin, who entered in relief of CC Sabathia in the sixth inning when the teams were locked in a 4-4 tie.

Martin then uncorked three (!) wild pitches in the frame and allowed three runs, and the Yankees could never recover in the 9-4 loss. Martin had thrown only one wild pitch in his career before this game … because, of course, baseball.

Oh, and he is just the second Yankee reliever in the last 100 seasons to throw at least three wild pitches in a game. The other was Ken Clay on July 28, 1979 against the Brewers.

Sabathia’s recent struggles at Camden Yards continued (4 R, 8 H, 5 IP) as he got the no-decision and is 0-5 in his last eight starts in Baltimore. That is tied with Stan Bahnsen (1968-71) for the longest road winless streak by a Yankee starting pitcher against the Orioles since the team moved to the Charm City in 1954.

The Orioles pounded all the Yankee pitchers for the second straight night, with 15 hits to go along with their nine runs. It is the first time the Yankees have allowed at least nine runs and 15 hits in back-to-back games against the Orioles since 1932 — when the team was known as the St. Louis Browns.

Losing streak is Ooooooh-ver
The Yankees avoided the series sweep on Sunday afternoon with a come-from-behind 5-3 win. John Ryan Murphy’s tie-breaking two-run double in the fifth inning was the game-winning hit, and the bullpen pitched 4 1/3 hitless innings to secure the victory.

Murphy is the first Yankees catcher to have at least three hits and two RBI in a road game against the Orioles since Thurman Munson on Sept. 5, 1976.

Once again, a Yankees starter failed to give them length, yet they still managed to win the game thanks to their dominant relief corps. It was the fifth time in 2015 the Yankees won a game despite their starter pitching fewer than five innings. No other team in baseball has won more such games this season.

Game 61: Sabathia the streak-stopper?

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

So, let’s just forget about last night’s game, okay?

Good.

Even with this mini two-game slide, the Yankees have won seven of their last nine games and are 11-5 since May 25. The only AL team with a better record in that span is the red-hot Toronto Blue Jays. Everyone feeling a little better now?

CC Sabathia is on the mound tonight, and is on a bit of a roll right now, with a tidy 3.09 ERA in his first two June outings. He’s pitched into the sixth inning and hasn’t allowed more than two runs in each of those games. That’s great, but Sabathia hasn’t had much luck recently pitching in Baltimore. He’s 0-5 with a 5.48 ERA in his last seven starts in the Charm City, including a loss on April 14 this season. Time to right the ship!

Here is the Orioles lineup and here is your New York Yankees lineup:

1. Brett Gardner LF
2. Chase Headley 3B
3. Alex Rodriguez DH
4. Mark Teixeira 1B
5. Brian McCann C
6. Carlos Beltran RF
7. Didi Gregorius SS
8. Stephen Drew 2B
9. Mason Williams CF
LHP CC Sabathia

It was hot and humid today in Baltimore, and it looks like the possibility of showers and thunderstorms should hold off until midnight. Tonight’s game will start at 7:15 pm ET and can be seen nationally on FOX. Enjoy the broadcast and the game, wherever you are.

(Not)Milestone watch: A-Rod is now one RBI away 2,000 for his career, and six hits away from 3,000. #AROD3K

Roster Update: The Yankees signed Sergio Santos to a major-league contract this morning and added him to the bullpen. He will take the spot of Esmil Rogers, who was outrighted to Triple-A last night. Also, Jose Ramirez has been recalled and is listed in the Yankees bullpen; Jacob Lindgren was sent back down to Scranton to make room for Ramirez on the roster.

Chase Headley, the clutch Yankee

(Richard Perry/The New York Times)
(Richard Perry/The New York Times)

There are a ton of ways you can slice-and-dice Chase Headley’s first full season in the Bronx. Unfortunately, most of them paint the picture of a player having one of the worst statistical seasons of his career, both offensively and defensively, and performing well below preseason expectations.

He’s on pace to post the lowest walk rate, on-base percentage and OPS of his career (excluding his cup-of-coffee season in 2007), and is just a few ticks away from career-worsts in batting average and slugging percentage. Overall, his park- and league-adjusted production is 16 percent worse than the average major-league hitter, a stunning reversal from both last season with the Yankees (21 percent better) and his career entering this year (14 percent better). Yuck.

And that’s just what he’s done this season at the plate.

In the field, he’s already matched his career-high in errors (13) — barely one-third of the way through the schedule — and he’s cost the team a whopping eight runs on defense (per Defensive Runs Saved). This surprisingly sloppy glovework comes on the heels of being ranked as one of the best fielding third baseman in baseball last year, and is really shocking given his stellar defensive reputation throughout his career.

But there’s a very good reason why every Yankee fan should thank Brian Cashman for signing Headley this winter:

Headley has performed better in clutch situations than any other Yankee hitter this season, and has raised his game when the stakes are the highest.

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First let’s take a look at the most basic “clutch” situation — hitting with runners in scoring position. Headley boasts a .308/.350/.635 in those plate appearances, one of the top three slash lines on the team. That’s pretty darn good.

Then, let’s add a little pressure and look at “close and late” at-bats, which is defined as the seventh inning or later with the batting team ahead by one, tied, or has the tying run on base, at bat or on deck. Headley checks in with the team’s second-best batting average (.290) and on-base percentage (.389), and third-highest slugging percentage (.387). Bravo, Chase.

Finally, let’s see Headley performs in all high-leverage situations. Leverage is basically an attempt to quantify how tense and suspenseful any single at-bat is in a game. For example, there is a lot more on the line — in terms of winning or losing — when a batter steps to the plate trailing by a run in the ninth inning with two outs, compared to a similar at-bat in the third inning or if you are ahead by five runs.

Headley has the highest batting average (.333), slugging percentage (.625) and OPS (1.010) in high-leverage situations on the team. Boom! He’s producing at a level 83 percent better (!) than the average guy, a top-25 mark among all qualified players in the Majors this season.

It’s not only that Headley had performed really, really well in these high-pressure situations. The other part of the story is that Headley is also having perhaps the worst offensive season in his career, yet he’s come up huge for the Yankees in the biggest spots. Hitting .333 in high-leverage at-bats when you are hitting .245 overall is not the same as doing that when you are hitting .333 overall. The first guy is, by this definition, clutch; the second guy is … just awesome. How clutch, though?

FanGraphs has a statistic that attempts to measure this nebulous “Clutch” term, by comparing a player’s production in high-leverage situations to his context-neutral production. Headley has by far the highest Clutch score on the Yankees, and also one of the top-15 marks in baseball.

Sure, you can lament the fact that he’s been pretty mediocre overall; but you can also celebrate the fact that Headley has contributed positively in the most critical at-bats this season.

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Now, the big caveat in this whole discussion is that while these various clutch metrics do a good job of describing what’s happened in the past, they do very little to predict the future.

So instead of trying to analyze why Headley has performed like Bryce Harper in high-leverage situations, or debate whether he can sustain his clutch hitting, let’s just sit back and enjoy the ride. There are a lot of reasons to be disappointed in how much Headley has under-performed this season, but there’s also one big reason to be happy he’s on the team and his bat is in the lineup every day.

Yankeemetrics: So good, so bad (June 9-10)

(Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News)
(Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News)

Another Cy Young winner? No problem
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Yankees recent seven-game win streak was the list of starting pitchers they beat along the way. After a 6-1 victory over the Nationals in the series opener, it included:

• two former Cy Young winners (Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez)
• two guys that have thrown a no-hitter (Hernandez, Jered Weaver)
• a couple recent top-25 prospects (Taijuan Walker, Mike Montgomery)
• a pitcher with the fifth-best ERA in the AL last season (Garrett Richards)
• a guy that started Game 1 of the World Series four years ago (C.J. Wilson)

On Tuesday night the Yankees countered with their own Cy Young hopeful, Masahiro Tanaka, who outdueled Scherzer in a battles of aces. Tanaka scattered five hits across seven innings, and his only mistake was a Bryce Harper solo homer in the fourth inning.

This was his fourth straight outing of at least six innings and no more than five hits and one run allowed, matching the longest such streak by any Yankee over the past 100 seasons. The last guy to do it was Orlando Hernandez in August 1998.

Stephen Drew book-ended the Yankees scoring with two solo homers, one in the third inning and one in the eighth inning, for his second multi-homer game in the past week. Each of his last four hits has been a homer; his last non-homer hit was June 2 in Seattle.

Drew joins Tony Lazzeri as the only Yankee second baseman in the last century to have two multi-homer games in a five-day span. Lazzeri did it in back-to-back games in 1936.

Extra, extra trouble
The Yankees longest win streak since 2012 came to end on Wednesday afternoon with a 5-4 loss in 11 innings to the Nationals. It was the first time the Yankees lost an extra-inning game at home to a Washington DC-based team since May 2, 1964 when the Washington Senators beat them 5-4 in 10 innings.

Fun fact: Don Zimmer was the leadoff hitter for the Senators in that game!

Not-so-fun fact: Yankees are now 1-4 in extra-inning games this season, the second-worst record in the AL, and have yet to record a walk-off win.

Even worse not-so-fun fact: Gio Gonzalez entered this game with a 7.30 ERA in seven starts against the Yankees, the highest ERA vs. the Yankees by any active pitcher who had made at least six starts against the team. So, of course, he held them scoreless for the first six frames.

The Yankees, though, rallied from a 2-0 deficit with four runs in the seventh inning. The key hit was a two-out, tie-breaking double delivered by Alex Rodriguez. It was A-Rod’s third go-ahead hit in the seventh inning or later in 2015 — the same number as all other Yankees combined this season.

But the bullpen faltered late in the game and the Yankees suffered a loss like none other this season. Before Wednesday, the Yankees were 15-0 at home when holding a lead entering the eighth inning.

A closer look at Nathan Eovaldi’s splitter

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Nathan Eovaldi’s most recent start last Friday night against the Angels was a game most Yankee fans would like to forget — that’s what happens when you nearly blow a seven-run lead in the ninth inning — but it’s one that could potentially be an important milestone in the development of the 25-year-old right-hander.

As Mike mentioned in his recap, the key takeaway from Eovaldi’s outing was his surprisingly heavy splitter usage. According to the (revised) numbers from Brooksbaseball.net, 18 of his 93 pitches were splitters, the most he’s ever thrown in a game and his highest percentage (19.4) as well.

Eovaldi had never before thrown more than 14 splitters in a game, so the question is whether this is a one-game blip or a new trend. Prior to his start on June 5, he told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch that he had “been working on” the splitter and that he’s “built up a lot more confidence in it, the last few outings.”

That last part of the quote is key — regardless of how nasty the pitch might be in terms of velocity or pure stuff, before a pitcher can really commit to using it, he has to be able to throw the offering with conviction. It’s a two-step process, really, where the mind and the arm have to be in sync before you are able execute the pitch successfully on a consistent basis.

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During the first two months of the season, Eovaldi showed he can get the results he wants with the splitter, throwing it primarily when he’s ahead in the count. It has been a really strong pitch for him, generating whiffs, grounders and outs at a high rate.

Eovaldi has thrown 90 splitters this season and batters have whiffed on nearly four out of every 10 swings against the pitch. When they do manage to make contact, it’s usually been either a foul ball (13), grounder (13) or harmless pop-up (1). Eovaldi has yielded just three singles off his splitter, which has also netted him 25 outs, including 12 strikeouts.

As you can see in the chart below, it has been arguably his most effective out-pitch this season, albeit in a very limited sample size.

stats22

The key to the success he’s had with the pitch is two-fold. First, his location — he’s kept the splitter down and away to both righties and lefties — making it difficult for hitters to get solid wood on the ball.

image (6)

Second, his ability to get swings on the pitch, even though nearly three-quarters of his splitters have landed out of the strike zone. Batters have chased 40 percent of his out-of-zone splitters, indicating that the pitch has a ton of deception and good movement. More often than not, when a batter swings at a pitch off the plate, he’s going to either come up empty or make weak contact. Curtis Granderson took the swing-and-miss route on this filthy 2-2 splitter in late April:

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So we’ve seen that Eovaldi’s splitter definitely has the “stuff” to get batters out and be an effective weapon for him in favorable counts. But, before this week, the missing ingredient was the confidence to be able to execute the pitch in a put-away count on a consistent basis.

While 43 of his 90 splitters have been thrown in two-strike counts, that still represents only 15 percent of his two-strike pitches this season. Instead, he’s been heavily relying on his four-seamer (42 percent) and slider (38 percent) when getting to two strikes. That makes sense for Eovaldi — since he is very comfortable throwing those pitches — but it really hurts him when he’s trying to finish off batters, because it makes him way too predictable in those situations.

If its true that he now has more trust in his splitter, he needs to also start throwing it more often — perhaps increasing its two-strike usage to 20 or 25 percent — and relying less on his fastball, which has been crushed this season. Batters have hit .375 and slugged .531 off his four-seamer, and the numbers are just as ugly in two-strike counts (.325/.550).

Armed with a blazing fastball and plus breaking ball, Eovaldi has often been labeled as a high-upside pitcher with limitless potential — if he could harness his raw talent and (among other things) add a third out-pitch.

That’s why the recent development of this much-needed confidence in his splitter is so important, and could be the difference-maker in whether remains a back-end starter or can grow into a top-of-the rotation guy.

Yankeemetrics: Heavenly sweep! (June 5-7)

This is how you celebrate when you almost blow a 7-run lead in the 9th inning (USA TODAY Sports).
This is how you celebrate when you almost blow a 7-run lead in the 9th inning. (USA TODAY Sports)

Is it okay to breathe yet?
Yes … but it wasn’t okay for about 30 minutes on Friday night when it looked like the Yankees might do the impossible and blow an 8-1 lead in the ninth inning. Esmil Rogers and Dellin Betances combined to allow six runs in the final frame before the Yankees were able to escape with a 8-7 win in the series opener.

How rare was this near-loss? The last time the Yankees gave up six-or-more runs in the ninth inning and still won the game was June 20, 1986 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Before Friday, the Yankees had allowed a total of four runs in the ninth inning in their first 54 games combined, the fewest of any AL team.

Rogers let the first five baserunners he faced to reach base and was pulled before retiring a batter. He was charged with five runs, becoming the first Yankee to allow at least five earned runs without recording an out in a game since Steve Howe on April 8, 1993 vs. the Indians. The last Yankee to manage that feat without allowing a home run was Tom Underwood on July 11, 1980 against the Rangers.

Dellin Betances finally has a non-zero number next to his ERA after allowing an earned run for the first time in 2015. His streak of 26 straight appearances to begin a season without giving up an earned run was the third-longest by any major-league pitcher in the last 100 years. Only Mike Myers (33 appearances in 2000) and Brad Ziegler (29 in 2008) had longer streaks.

First things first
The Yankees wasted no time in trying to erase the bad memories from Friday’s ninth inning debacle, scoring six runs in the bottom of the first inning and cruising to a stress-free 8-2 win on Saturday night.

It was the fourth time they plated six-or-more runs in the first inning, something that the Yankees hadn’t done in a season since 1948, according to STATS, Inc.

Adam Warren continued to state his case to remain in the rotation, pitching into the seventh inning for the fifth straight time and allowing just two runs on four hits. He’s the only Yankee pitcher this season with five consecutive quality starts and his ERA during this stretch — 2.70 since May 13 — is easily the best among the starters on the team.

Chris Capuano pitched a perfect ninth inning to secure the win, but he had to work hard for the final out as Carlos Perez fouled off seven pitches before Capuano got him swinging on the 13th pitch. It was the longest game-ending strikeout by any major-league pitcher since Billy Wagner on June 13, 2004 against the Twins’ Matt LeCroy.

Bronx broom-ers?
The Yankees finished off their second sweep in a row with Sunday’s 6-2 win at the Stadium. It was the first time the Yankees swept the Angels in New York since August 1995. How long ago was that? The winning pitcher for the third and final game in that series was Sterling Hitchcock!

CC Sabathia won his first game at home in nearly two years, despite getting ejected at the end of the sixth frame. His six-start losing streak in the Bronx was tied for the longest by any Yankee over the last 100 seasons.

It was the third time Sabathia had been ejected in his career. The others came with the Indians, on July 21, 2006 and July 4, 2003. Before Sabathia, the last Yankee starting pitcher to be ejected for arguing balls and strikes was Randy Johnson on Sept. 16, 2005 against the Blue Jays.

Jose Pirela hit his first career homer in the seventh inning off C.J. Wilson, and is now 14-for-25 (.560) vs. left-handed pitchers as a major-leaguer. That’s the best batting average against lefties by any player since Pirela’s debut last season on September 22 (min. 10 PA).

The ‘extra’ flaw that could be costly for Yankees

mark-teixeira running
If there is one thing we’ve learned from the first two months of the season, it’s the AL East is probably the toughest division in the majors to handicap and try to predict a champion. Every team seems capable of both winning and losing the race, and there’s little separation between the top and bottom.

How do you explain a division where every team has spent at least five days in first place and no team has had a lead of more than four games? The current third-place team has by far the best run differential in the division, and the first-place team is less than two weeks removed from losing 10 games in an 11-game span.

What it all means that even the smallest statistical edge a team can gain over its rivals during the course of the season could be the difference between making the playoffs and playing golf in October.

Sure, a good rule in life is “don’t sweat the small stuff” — but in baseball, sometimes the “small stuff” can have a big impact on a team’s season.

Let’s take a look at one “small” weakness in the Yankees offense — a flaw that might end up only costing them a win or two, but could ultimately be a deciding factor in a division race that likely will come down to the final days of the season.

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Although the Yankees have tried to inject some much-needed youth and speed into lineup over the past few years, they still have the oldest average batters’ age in the major leagues this season (31.7 years old).

And, while those aging bats have largely been productive and healthy this season (hooray for 35-year-old Mark Teixeira and 39-year-old Alex Rodriguez!), one consequence of putting them in the lineup every day is that the team’s baserunning has suffered somewhat.

There are several aspects of baserunning — it’s not just about stealing bases, it also includes advancing on outs and taking the extra base on a hit. While the Yankees are above-average compared to the rest of the league in the first two components, they are among the worst teams in taking the extra base on a hit.

Per data at baseball-reference.com, the Yankees have taken an extra base — i.e. advancing more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double — just one-third of the time. The only team with a lower rate this season is the White Sox (31 percent).

The biggest culprits on the Yankees are no surprise, with the lead-footed Mark Teixeira at the bottom, taking an extra-base on just six percent (!) of his opportunities. (MLB average: 40 percent.)

xbt stats

The Yankees also rank 27th in the majors in Baseball Prospectus’ Hit Advancement Runs metric, which estimates the number of runs above/below average that a baserunner contributes by advancing (or not advancing) on the basepaths via singles and doubles.

According to the stat, this “small” weakness has cost them 3.2 runs in 54 games this season. While that number might seem inconsequential now, it adds up to approximately 10 runs — equal to one crucial win — over the course of a 162-game season.

And that one win might end being the difference between first and second place in the AL East, the majors’ most competitive and up-for-grabs division race in 2015.