Archive for Pitching
If you haven’t headed over to our Depth Chart page in a while, you might not have noticed that as of right now, the Yankees currently sport a five-man pitching rotation of…
If you’re optimistic, you can say Michael Pineda will take Warren’s spot sometime in June. If not, then I don’t know what to tell you. Either way, that’s not a championship-caliber rotation. The Yankees have some work to do this winter, and for the most part I think the pitching plan involves waiting for Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte to declare their love of pinstripes and sign nice little one-year deals to rejoin the team in 2013. That would be ideal.
What if that doesn’t happen though? It doesn’t take much effort to envision a scenario in which Kuroda decides to return to Japan and Pettitte decides to stay home with the wife and kids. The Yankees would really be in a bad spot if that happened because … well … look at that rotation above. Luckily this free agent class offers some solid rotation options, so the Yankees would have plenty of alternatives if things don’t go according to plan. Some of those options are better fits than others, however.
The undisputed best pitcher on the market, Greinke is probably looking at a contract worth $120M+ across five or six years. Matt Cain type of money. Fair or not, the Yankees are concerned about how the 29-year-old would fit in New York though. Greinke met with Brian Cashman face-to-face during the 2010 Winter Meetings in an effort to convince him that he wanted to pitch in the Big Apple, but no dice. Cashman wasn’t having any of it. There isn’t a team in baseball that couldn’t use a pitcher of this caliber in their rotation, but the combination of asking price and other concerns make Greinke almost a non-option for the Yankees.
There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t want their team to take a one-year flier on Haren this offseason. He’s been an ace-caliber pitcher for the last half-decade or so and he’s still relatively young (turned 32 in September), which is all you could ask for from a free agent. That said, there are major red flags here. Haren has battled back trouble through the years and they caused him to hit the DL for the first time in his career this season, plus his fastball velocity has been declining for years.
The Angels were trying to trade Haren before having to make a decision about his option last Friday, but ultimately they came up with nothing and had to decline the net $12M deal ($15.5M option with a $3.5M buyout). The combination of the Cubs pulling out of the Haren-for-Carlos Marmol trade talks and the fact that no other club made a viable trade offer makes me think his medicals are looking pretty grim. You also have to look at it this way: if Haren is looking for a one-year, “re-establish my value” contract, why would he come to New York? A fly ball heavy pitcher in a small stadium in the AL East is no way to rebuild value. The Yankees should look into him because of his track record, but I don’t see Haren as a slam dunk no-brainer they should go all out to sign. Lots of risk here.
I’m a pretty big Anibal Sanchez fan and I consider him the best non-Greinke free agent pitching option this winter. He offers the best combination of youth (28), performance (3.70 ERA and 3.40 FIP since 2010), and durability (major shoulder surgery in 2008, but 195+ innings in each of the last three years). Sanchez made a brief cameo in the AL this season following his trade to the Tigers and he handled himself well, plus he impressed in his three postseason starts. Not the sexiest name but a rock solid pitcher. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about an appropriate contract, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a team gets an aggressive and offers the A.J. Burnett/John Lackey contract (five years and $82.5M). I highly doubt the Yankees would offer that much, but Sanchez would be my first target if Pettitte and Kuroda decline to come back.
Keith Law said it best this weekend: “It’s time to accept that this is almost certainly what Jackson is going to be. He looks like an ace, holding mid-90s velocity or better for 100 pitches, but just turned in another season of good-not-great performance, this time entirely in the National League.” There’s nothing wrong with that at all, especially at age 29 and with his track record of durability (180+ innings in five straight years). I’m just not expecting Jackson to get any better even though he’s yet to hit 30. He would be my number two target behind Sanchez if Kuroda and Pettitte don’t come back, number three if Haren’s back checks out okay.
Kyle Lohse & Ryan Dempster
Lohse is going to get a significant contract this winter, maybe the biggest behind Greinke, but I wouldn’t touch either him or Dempster unless they’re willing to come real cheap. They’re two guys who have had most (all?) of their success in the NL and don’t operate with much margin for error. It’s also worth noting that Lohse received a qualifying offer from the Cardinals and would require draft pick compensation. Solid pitchers for sure, but not guys I would consider impact additions for the Yankees.
Jeremy Guthrie, Brandon McCarthy & Shaun Marcum
All three have their warts, but all three have some kind of track record of success in the AL. Guthrie is probably the safest bet while McCarthy is both the riskiest (very long injury history) and has the highest upside. Marcum’s kind of the in the middle. I prefer any of those three to Lohse and Dempster and would consider them solid additions on one-year contracts. Anything more than that is really pushing it.
Because he doesn’t really fit anywhere else, I’m going to mention Carlos Villanueva here. I’m a big fan (perhaps too big), but I like him best as a sixth starter/swingman. I wouldn’t want the Yankees to sign him with the idea of him making 30 starts and throwing 200 innings. I can’t see how anyone could expect him to do that in 2013.
Francisco Liriano, Joe Blanton, Joe Saunders, Scott Feldman & Roberto Hernandez
I wouldn’t trust any of these guys with a starting spot, at least not right out of the chute in Spring Training. To be honest, Liriano is the only one who is remotely intriguing to me. He’s still on the right side of 30 and has a year of ace-caliber performance in the not-too-distant past to his credit (2010). I consider guys like Jeff Francis, Erik Bedard, Scott Baker, Kevin Correia, Dustin Moseley, and Jason Marquis to be minor league contract only options for the Yankees. This is the bottom of the pitching barrel right here, but thankfully there are plenty of other options out there.
For the first time as a Yankee and really for the first time in his career, CC Sabathia battled pitching mortality in 2012. He is one of the game’s preeminent workhorses, throwing at least 230 innings every year from 2007-2011 and at least 190 innings in ten of his 12 seasons as a big leaguer. His career-low was 180.1 innings back in 2001, when he was a 20-year-old rookie. He hit the DL twice this year, including once with an arm injury. After the season, Sabathia had surgery to remove a bone spur from his left elbow.
During a recent radio interview, pitching coach Larry Rothschild discussed his ace left-hander’s workload and the team’s intent to scale it back at various times. Here’s the quote passed along by the fine folks at MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM…
“Joe and I talked about (lightening Sabathia’s workload) even going back to last year. This year we talked about it even more. Not only lightening the load but the pitch total during the game, because he’s a guy that almost thrives on working the pitch totals, and when he doesn’t have them, it has an effect leading into the next start. Unlike a lot of guys where if they get a little more rest they’re more effective, he works more and throws more pitches he seems to get on rolls a lot quicker. And what happened, I think, part of this year is he didn’t do it. We didn’t let him get to that point, and then with the groin at one point and the elbow at the other, we just never got to that point until towards the end and then he got on another roll when he did throw the pitches. So it’s kind of a Catch-22 with him. We do have to watch it, and we’re going to probably have to watch a few guys on this staff. We’re aware of it and back off. When he had a chance to pitch with extra rest we did that. In the past he would pitch on the fifth day almost all the time.”
Despite the two DL stints, Sabathia still threw 200 innings (exactly 200, in fact) this year because he threw eight innings in his final three starts. He seemed to hit his stride in September as Rothschild said, dominating in those final three starts and twice again in the ALDS. At age 32, Sabathia has over 2,500 regular season innings on his arm, more than the career totals of Bret Saberhagen and Doug Drabek, for example. Within two years he’ll be in the top 150 all-time in innings pitched.
I mentioned this to Joe at some point late in the season, but perhaps the Yankees have to start treating Sabathia as more of a 200-inning guy than a 230-inning guy. That means giving him the extra day once in a while or not sending him out for the eighth when his pitch count is sitting at 105. His velocity did decline this year and it’s easy to say they should take their foot off the gas to “save bullets” so to speak, but as Rothschild notes, it’s easier said than done. CC does seem to be a rhythm pitcher, particularly with his command. Reducing his workload even slightly could mean a big adjustment has to be made on his part. I think it is something worth discussing though — the Yankees have already had these talks, obviously — especially with Sabathia approaching his mid-30s with another four (potentially five) years left on his contract.
Rothschild also discussed a number of other pitching topics during the interview, including Michael Pineda‘s injury and possible returns by Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. Chad Jennings has the full recap.
Yesterday we looked back at the five biggest hits of the Yankees’ season using WPA, and today we’re going to flip the coin and look at the five biggest outs recorded by the pitching staff. This list may not be as sexy or dramatic as Raul Ibanez‘s many mega-clutch homers, but a pitcher escaping a jam can feel pretty awesome in its own right.
June 27th: Rafael Soriano vs. Asdrubal Cabrera (WPA graph & box score) (video)
The Yankees were still very much in “destroy everything” mode come late-June, and they were on the verge of sweeping the Indians on this Wednesday afternoon. Soriano was pitching for the fourth time in five days though, and the workload started to show. Staked to a two-run lead with three outs to go, the first two hitters of the ninth inning (Lonnie Chisenhall and Shin-Soo Choo) reached base via a single and a walk to put instant pressure on the New York closer. Casey Kotchman lined out to left for the first out, but Lou Marson punched a single through the left side of the infield to load the bases. Johnny Damon pinch-hit for Aaron Cunningham, though Soriano was able to retire him with a hard-fought seven-pitch strikeout. The Yankees were one out away, but the tying run was in scoring position and the go-ahead run was on-base.
With his pitch count already up over 20, Soriano walked Michael Brantley on five pitches to force in a run and move the tying run to third. All of his pitches were missing up in the zone and he looked completely gassed. Asdrubal Cabrera, arguably Cleveland’s best hitter, stepped to the plate with a chance to not just tie the game, but give his team the lead with a base hit. Soriano started him off with another pitch up and out of the zone, but the second pitch — a 92 mph fastball — was ticketed for the outside corner until Cabrera lifted the ball out to left. Dewayne Wise caught the can of corn about 10-15 feet in front of the warning track for the final out of the game, a stress-free catch to end a stressful inning. WPA: +0.23
August 9th: Soriano vs. Detroit Tigers (WPA graph & box score) (video)
I have to cheat a little here, because three of the biggest outs of the five biggest outs of the season all came in the same inning. The Yankees were mired in their second half slide and had already lost the first two games in Detroit, but they rebounded to take the third game and the duo of Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez put the club in position to steal game four as well. They hit back-to-back solo homers off Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead.
David Robertson was unavailable due to his recent workload, meaning eighth inning duties fell on the shoulders of David Phelps that afternoon. He managed to retire Miguel Cabrera with fly ball to leadoff the inning, but Prince Fielder followed with a single and eventually moved to second on a balk. After Phelps got Austin Jackson to fly out to right for the second out, Joe Girardi went to Soriano for the four-out save. He ended the inning with a Jhonny Peralta fly ball.
After the Yankees went down 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, the bottom half got instantly messy as Alex Avila doubled down the left field line on Soriano’s second pitch of the frame. Two pitches after that, Omar Infante lined a single to right and moved pinch-runner Gerald Laird (!?) to third. The Tigers had men on the corners with no outs and the tying run was on third. The Yankees were looking at another tough loss in a stretch of games that already had way too many of them.
Rather than wilt, Soriano bore down and managed to escape the jam with the lead. Ramon Santiago slapped a little line drive right at Robinson Cano for the first out of the inning, a ball that wasn’t crushed but was hit hard enough to fall in for a hit had Robbie not been positioned perfectly. Quintin Berry worked the count to 2-2 but popped up weakly to shortstop, a harmless play for the second out. With the tying run still at third, Andy Dirks hacked at Soriano’s first pitch and flew out to shallow center to end the game. It was a huge escape job featuring three of the five biggest outs of the season to give New York a much-needed win. WPA: +0.20 (Dirks), +0.26 (Berry), +0.20 (Santiago).
June 13th: Cody Eppley vs. Martin Prado (WPA graph & box score)
Bet you weren’t expected to see Eppley here, were you? We’re going to have to cheat again and for a slightly different reason this time: the biggest out of the season was actually two outs on the same play.
The Yankees were on the NL park leg of their interleague schedule, and they still had not yet welcomed Robertson back from his oblique strain. Cory Wade had just slipped into full meltdown mode and Clay Rapada had appeared in each of the last four games, leaving Girardi with a very short bullpen in the series finale against the Braves. Curtis Granderson‘s two-run homer off Tim Hudson in the sixth inning gave the Yankees a one-run lead, and Girardi (wisely) went to Boone Logan against Atlanta’s middle of the order bats in the seventh inning.
That left a one-inning gap to bridge between Logan (24 pitches in the seventh) and Soriano in the ninth. The ball went to Eppley, who was only recalled a few weeks prior when Mariano Rivera blew out his knee. He immediately allowed a single to leadoff man Andrelton Simmons, putting the tying run on-base. Pinch-hitter Jack Wilson botched two bunt attempts but still got the job done with a weak ground ball to third, which moved Simmons to second in exchange for the out. Michael Bourn swung at the first pitch of his at-bat and singled through the left side. The Braves had men on the corners with one out and the tying run at third base.
Now, men were on the corners but they weren’t necessarily going to stay that way. Bourn is one of the game’s great base-stealers and it was a foregone conclusion that he would try to steal second and get himself, representing the go-ahead, in scoring position with less than two outs. Eppley threw over a few times but the hitter (Prado) couldn’t be ignored forever. The first pitch of the at-bat was a botched squeeze attempt that was fouled off to the first base side. The second pitch was a regular old swing and another foul ball for strike two, this one off towards third base.
Eppley was still throwing over to first and stepping off between pitches to keep Bourn close, and it paid off. The 0-2 pitch to Prado was a sinker on the outer half that he reached out and tapped to short for the tailor made 6-4-3 double play. Prado was out by at least a full step, maybe even two. The Yankees and Eppley — making just his 27th career appearance in the show — escaped the jam and Soriano went on to nail down the save in the ninth to finish off the sweep. MLB.com doesn’t have a highlight video of the double play, but don’t worry. Here’s a .gif. WPA: +0.33
* * *
The Yankees recorded just one (really two) other out worth +0.20 WPA this season, and that was CC Sabathia getting a 5-2 double play with the bases loaded against the Blue Jays on August 29th. Kinda random, but you might remember the play because Jayson Nix made a real sweet turn at the hot corner. Here’s the video, and that play checked in at exactly +0.20 WPA.
Personally, I think the biggest out(s) of the season didn’t even register as a blip on the WPA radar. I think they were Nate McLouth and J.J. Hardy in the eighth inning of Game Five of the ALDS. The Orioles had the bases loaded with one out and the tying run in the scoring position against a tiring Sabathia, who then struck out McLouth and got Hardy to ground out to end the threat. Both outs checked in at +0.13 WPA, but c’mon. They were enormous because the season was as close to being on the line as it gets right there. If you’re going to force me to pick a regular season event, I’ll go with that Soriano inning against the Tigers. Sabathia’s outs in the ALDS Game Five were far, far more important however.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
As we discussed earlier today, the Yankees as a team basically hit like a pitcher in the postseason. They put together a collective .188/.254/.303 batting line in their nine postseason games and scored just two runs in the final three games of the ALCS. It was tough to watch and just flat out pathetic, there’s really no other way to describe it.
The pitching staff, on the other hand, was absolutely stellar up until ALCS Game Four. The starters churned out quality start after quality start, and the bullpen did all it could to preserve leads and keep deficits close. After posting a 3.86 ERA (3.98 FIP) during the regular season, the Yankees received a 2.76 ERA (~3.45 FIP) in 88 postseason innings from the pitching staff.
Unfortunately, Sabathia’s season will be remembered for ending on a sour note as the Tigers battered him for six runs on eleven hits (!) in just 3.2 innings in ALCS Game Four. It was an ugly start in a generally ugly postseason showing by the Yankees as whole, but it was also the exception rather than the rule for the pitching staff.
Sabathia, of course, helped get the Yankees to the ALCS with a pair of dominant outings against the Orioles in the ALDS. He allowed two runs in 8.2 innings in Game One against Baltimore, then followed it up by allowing just one run in the decisive Game Five win. All told, Sabathia struck out 19 batters and walked just five in 21.1 playoff innings including the ALCS disaster. He set a new ALDS record with 17.2 innings pitches, nearly two full innings more than the previous record.
A year ago Pettitte was retired back home, but he got the itch to pitch and came back to the Yankees early in the season. He slotted in as their number two starter in the postseason due in large part to the schedule, as the club tried to optimize the amount of rest for each of their starters. Pettitte made two playoff starts, one in each round, and he tossed up a quality start in each. He held the Orioles to three runs in seven innings in ALDS Game Two and the Tigers to two runs in 6.2 innings in ALCS Game One. As per his norm, Andy did allow a lot of baserunners but continually pitched out of jams. For a guy who was out of baseball a year ago, allowing five runs in 13.2 postseason innings is a minor miracle.
Kuroda was New York’s best starting pitcher from Opening Day through the end of the season, and he turned in a pair of gems in the postseason. Following Sabathia and Pettitte, the first-year Yankee held the Orioles to two runs in 8.1 innings in ALDS Game One before allowing three runs in 7.2 innings in ALCS Game Two. That second start came on three days’ rest, the first time he’d ever done that in his career. Kuroda struck out a season-high eleven in that game, and it would have been eight innings of one-run ball had second base ump Jeff Nelson not blown an obvious out call on Omar Infante at second base. The bullpen allowed two inherited runners to score (charged to Kuroda) after the error. Sixteen innings (really 16.1) of five-run (really three-run) ball from the number three starter? Sign me up for that every day of the week.
Like Sabathia, Hughes ended his season on a down note as a stiff back forced him out of ALCS Game Three after just three innings of work. That shouldn’t erase his ALDS effort however, as he held the Orioles to one run in 6.2 innings while striking out eight in Game Four. Hughes only allowed one run in the ALCS start before exiting with the injury as well, so all told his postseason performance featured just two runs in 9.2 inning of work. As far as number four starters go, you can’t do much better.
Eight of the nine postseason games were very close into the late innings, and the bullpen stepped up in support of the starters in a big way. They allowed just eight runs (seven earned) in 27.1 total innings (2.30 ERA) while walking just four (!), including one intentionally. The late-inning duo of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson allowed just one run in 9.2 combined innings, striking out seven against zero walks and five hits. The lone run was a solo homer off Robertson in ALCS Game Five, when the game was already out of reach. Boone Logan and Clay Rapada combined to retire 11 of 12 left-handed batters faced, with the one exception being a walk by Prince Fielder. David Phelps, who allowed four runs (three earned) in 3.1 total innings, was the only clear negative on a pitching staff who was absolutely dynamite overall in the postseason.
The season is officially on the line tonight, as the Yankees are one loss away from an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Tigers in the ALCS. CC Sabathia will be on the mound on regular rest and that’s exactly who the Bombers want out there, but pitching hasn’t been the problem. The hitting has been, and tonight the batters will see hard-throwing right-hander Max Scherzer.
Scherzer, 28, went to the Tigers in the trade that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, and he’s shaken off concerns about his durability by throwing at least 185 innings in each of the last three seasons. He’s got a little A.J. Burnett in him in the sense that he’s enigmatic and is more hittable than his stuff indicates he should be, but Scherzer is still pretty good. He just happens to be the fourth best starting pitcher in his own rotation.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
Just the one ugly start back in April, that’s it. Andruw Jones went 2-for-2 with a homer and a walk off the bench in that game, that’s how long ago it was. Those seven walks are a career-high for Scherzer, who struggled big time in April before pitching very well the rest of the season. Despite only the one meeting this year, both sides are certainly familiar with each other though after the ALDS last season and various regular season matchups (four total, to be exact) since the trade that brought Scherzer to the AL.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
Scherzer is a three-pitch pitcher who acts like two two-pitch pitchers. Right-handers get the fastball and slider while lefties get the fastball and changeup. That’s pretty much it, he’s very straight forward. The fastball usually sits comfortably in the mid-90s, but Scherzer has been battling some shoulder fatigue lately and he’s been sitting the low-90s more often than not. We really don’t know how much that will help the hitters if it continues tonight, but I can’t imagine it’s a bad thing for the Yankees.
Performance & Results
Unlike Justin Verlander yesterday, Scherzer has a significant platoon split. The guy eats up right-handers but has his struggled against left-handers because he doesn’t strike them out nearly as often and will walk them more frequently as well. It’s worth noting that some poor ball-in-play luck (.378 vs. 273 BABIP) plays a part in the huge split.
Regardless, it goes without saying that the Yankees have to take advantage of that, perhaps by again sitting Alex Rodriguez in favor of Eric Chavez even though neither guy is really hitting. Joe Girardi could trot out a lineup with only two true right-handed hitters — Russell Martin and Eduardo Nunez/Jayson Nix — and those guys could easily bat eighth and ninth. Last night’s ninth inning mini-rally was encouraging if nothing else, and today the Yankees have a chance to build on it and actually generate some offense by stacking lefties against Scherzer.
Up two games to none in a best-of-seven series with the best pitcher on the planet scheduled to start Game Three is one hell of an enviable position. Unfortunately the Yankees are on the other side of that coin, down two-zip in the ALCS and slated to face Justin Verlander in his home ballpark tonight. That ain’t pretty.
Verlander, 29, put together another brilliant regular season — 2.64 ERA and 2.94 FIP in 238.1 innings — and seems to have gotten the postseason monkey off his back with a dominant ALDS showing. He came into 2012 with a 5.57 ERA in eight starts and 42 playoff innings but held the Athletics to one run in 16 total innings last week. Verlander was the worst possible matchup for the free swinging and strikeout heavy A’s, a description that unfortunately fits the Yankees’ offense at the moment as well.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
The Yankees saw Verlander in all three series against Detroit in the regular season, beating him twice before that career-high strikeout total-tying performance in August. That game broken a stretch of six consecutive starts (playoffs included) against New York in which the right-hander allowed at least one first inning run.
The Yankees have actually hit Verlander harder than any other AL team in his career, a span of 13 starts and 345 batters faced. The problem is that his career started in 2005 and most of that information is irrelevant. The Yankees managed to hang five runs on him twice this year, but that still isn’t encouraging. Even if the offense was clicking on all cylinders at the moment, beating Verlander would still be a tall order. Now that they’re mired in a team-wide mega-slump, it seems like generating offense off him with take a miracle.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
There is no mystery here. Verlander gets ahead with his mid-to-high-90s fastball (he famously adds velocity in the later innings) and puts hitters away with his knee-buckling upper-70/low-80s curveball. He’ll also throw a mid-80s slider to righties that breaks more down-and-away (like Joba Chamberlain‘s) than side-to-side. Verlander’s mid-80s changeup has morphed in a knockout pitch against lefties because he throws it with the same arm speed as his fastball. Felix Hernandez might have something to say about it, but there’s a very strong case to be made that the Detroit right-hander has the best pure stuff in the business. Two top of the line pitches in the fastball and curveball plus two other above-average offerings in the slider and changeup. Just filthy.
Performance & Results
Well, I hope you weren’t looking for a platoon split because Verlander dominates everyone. Maybe right-handed batters have a slightly better chance against him because he strikes out a touch fewer, but … nah. The guy is a machine and any team that faces him should run their very best lineup out there and forget all about platoon splits. The problem is that the Yankees don’t have a very best lineup right now, at least nothing outside of Mark Teixeira and Raul Ibanez in the middle of the order. The only thing I have to add here is that Verlander will let you steal a base, so anyone who reaches base tonight should be thinking about a stolen base as soon as possible.
The season is not on the line tonight, but it might as well be. The Yankees are down two games to none in the best-of-seven ALCS, so a loss in Game Three tonight might as well be the final nail in the coffin. Yeah, a comeback is always possible, the Yankees and their fans know that first hand, but it would extremely unlikely. A baseball miracle if there ever was one.
The Yankees opted not to bring CC Sabathia back on short rest for the start tonight, meaning Phil Hughes will get the ball against Justin Verlander. It’s a matchup so lopsided that you hope the theory of “reverse lock” comes into play, and in fact the Yankees did win a Hughes-Verlander meeting in Comerica Park earlier this season. That was Phil’s complete game in early-June, his best start of the season. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean anything now as much as I wish it did.
“I don’t really feel like I can feel any added pressure just because of the circumstances,” said Hughes yesterday. “I just have to go out there and pitch, that’s all it boils down to, not really worry about being down 0-2; that Verlander is on the mound; that we don’t have our captain. Those sort of things are going to be wasted energy, and all I really want to focus on is the Detroit Tigers lineup and doing the absolute best job I can do … Obviously we don’t want to go into the series over there down 0-2, but there’s nothing we can do about that now. I just have to go into Detroit, put together a good start and trust our guys are going to score some runs. I do enjoy that pressure and the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Hughes turned in a rock solid start against the Orioles in the ALDS last week, allowing just one run while striking out eight in 6.2 innings. He was on nearly two weeks rest though, which may have put some life back into this right arm after throwing 191.1 innings in the regular season. If he turns in another performance like that against the Tigers tonight, the Yankees might lose. Their offense has been struggling that much and Verlander is that good. Hughes is really going to have to come up huge in what amounts to the second biggest start of his career behind Game Six of the 2010 ALCS.
One way or another, the Yankees have to win four of their next five games to advance to the World Series, and at least one of those four wins will have to come in a game started by Verlander. There’s no way around it. If they want to have a realistic chance at making this a competitive series, Hughes has to steal tonight’s game against Verlander and hand the ball off to Sabathia with a chance to tie things up tomorrow. The odds are against it and everyone is (really) down on the club right now, but stealing Game Three behind Phil would be a major lift going forward. Some much-needed faith would be restored.
While everyone was focused on Ryan Dempster and Zack Greinke at the trade deadline, the Tigers swooped in and acquired Anibal Sanchez (and Omar Infante) from the Marlins for a package of prospects headlined by right-hander Jacob Turner. It’s a pure rental since Sanchez is due to become a free agent after the season, but the still only 28-year-old right-hander is now in position to help Detroit get to the World Series.
A bit of a sabermetric darling for his work last season (3.67 ERA and 3.35 FIP), Sanchez pitched to a 3.74 ERA (3.68 FIP) in a dozen starts for the Tigers following the trade. His strikeout rate predictably dropped (no more whiffing the opposing pitcher twice a game) following the move to the AL, but he finished the season with eight dominant outings (2.15 ERA and ~2.60 FIP) before holding the Athletics to two runs in 6.1 innings in Game Three of the ALDS last week.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
I had completely forgotten that the Yankees faced Sanchez this season, but they did see him in his third start following the trade to the Tigers. They obviously hit him pretty hard, including a two-run first inning (run-scoring singles by Eric Chavez and Curtis Granderson) and a three-run homer by Granderson in the third. Nick Swisher ended Sanchez’s night with a single in the fourth. Eleven of he 20 men he faced in the game reached base, which is the exception and not the rule. It’s great they hammered Anibal the only time they faced him this summer, but I wouldn’t assume they have his number, not by any means. Casey McGehee starting that game for cryin’ out loud.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
Sanchez uses five pitches regularly and he’s very offspeed heavy, throwing his low-90s four- and two-seamers less than 50% of the time overall. Most of them come on the first pitch as well. Right-handers will see his mid-80s slider more than any of his other secondary pitches while lefties will get the full complement — mid-80s changeup, upper-70s curveball, and slider. There is a little bit of Hiroki Kuroda in Sanchez, meaning he’ll break out any one of his many pitches at any time.
Performance & Results
Given how he uses all of pitches against lefties, it’s not a big surprise that Sanchez has a reverse split. BABIP plays a part in that (.331 vs. .292) but it isn’t everything. The strikeout and walk rates hold steady against batters on both sides of the plate, but right-handers really hammered him whenever they did make contact. Not just homers either, he gave up a lot of doubles as well. That slider is his least effective offspeed pitch, hence all that hard contact by righties. I’m not saying the Yankees should trot out as many right-handed hitters as possible, but Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez (if he plays) could end up playing a major role in Game Two.
Like Game One starter Doug Fister, Sanchez is pretty efficient with his pitches (3.73 pitches per batter faced), so driving up his pitch count in an effort to get to that shaky bullpen won’t be easy. Given how often he’ll throw a first pitch fastball, it might be worth it to jump on him early in the count if Anibal is consistently in the zone. Five of the seven hits he allowed to the Yankees in that August start came within the first three pitches of the at-bat, which might not be a coincidence.
4:39pm: Girardi confirmed that Kuroda will indeed start Game Two tomorrow, and he’ll be followed by Phil Hughes in Game Three and CC Sabathia in Game Four (on normal rest) regardless of the series score. If there’s a Game Seven, I assume Sabathia would start on short rest.
Kuroda, 37, will be starting on three days’ rest for the first time in his career after throwing 105 pitches in Game Three of the ALDS on Wednesday. Pretty much the only other option was pulling long man David Phelps out of the bullpen. The Yankees added an extra reliever (Cody Eppley) to the roster today and will have Monday off, so there will be a full complement of relievers backing Kuroda up.
Because the Athletics pushed the Tigers to the full five games in the ALDS, it will be Doug Fister and not Justin Verlander on the mound in Game One of the ALCS tonight. Verlander threw a complete game in the Game Five win over the Tigers and will instead have to wait for Game Three to face the Yankees. That’s a break for New York, but Jim Leyland is still running a quality starting pitcher out there to open the series.
The Yankees actually drafted the 28-year-old Fister with their sixth round pick back in 2005, but the 6-foot-8 right-hander did not sign and instead returned to Fresno State for his senior season. The Mariners drafted him in the seventh round a year later and traded him to the Tigers at last season’s trade deadline. Fister made two starts* against the Yankees in last year’s ALDS, allowing six runs in 4.2 innings in Game One and one run in five innings in Game Five.
* Technically he pitched in relief of Verlander in Game One, which was suspended due to rain in the middle of the second inning. That whole thing was just a mess.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
Fister dealt with an oblique injury (and a subsequent setback) early this season and it caused him to miss Detroit’s first two series against the Yankees, though he did pitch in that four-game series in Comerica Park in early-August. He left his start in line for the win, but Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez hit back-to-back homers off Joaquin Benoit in the eighth before Rafael Soriano pitched out of a first and third with no outs situation in the ninth. The Yankees had just started their second-half slide and I remember that win being a real nice lift.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
Guys like Fister are basically 4.5-pitch pitchers, meaning a sinker-baller who will throw the occasional get-me-over four-seamer but not use it as a regular weapon. He’s very textbook in the sense that he’ll go sinker early in the count and offspeed late, especially against left-handers. Fister is huge and lanky, creating a lot of deception with his delivery and it makes his upper-80s sinker play up. The slider (mid-80s), changeup (low-80s), and curveball (mid-70s) sit right where you would expect them to. Fister has a generic repertoire but is very unique due to his size and deception, if that makes sense.
Performance & Results
For the first three seasons of his career, Fister was a pure ground ball guy who didn’t walk anyone and didn’t miss any bats. He reinvented himself a bit this season, his first full year with the Tigers, by throwing some more changeups and curveballs instead of just pounding away with the sinker. His overall walk rate (2.06 BB/9 and 5.5 BB%) remains phenomenal and he’s still getting a ton of grounders (51.0%), but now he’s striking out more batters than ever (7.63 K/9 and 20.4 K%). Grounders, strikeouts, and no walks sure is a great recipe for success.
As you can see from the table, Fister is really tough on right-handers. They have a hard time elevating the ball against him, but he will make the occasional mistake and let it be hit out of the park. Left-handers have an easier time getting the ball airborne, but Fister has been extra stingy with the free passes against batters on the other side of the plate. The Tigers have a very sketchy infield defense that has come back to bite the sinker-balling right-hander a few times this season, and the Yankees figure to have more lefties than righties in the lineup regardless of whether Alex Rodriguez starts. Part of me wonders if starting Brett Gardner would be a good idea given his left-handedness, his speed, and his ability to slap the ball on the ground and into that defense. Then again, he hasn’t started a game in over six months now.
I mentioned this morning that the Yankees really need to be patient and work the count against Detroit’s starter so they could get into that questionable bullpen as soon as possible, but that will not be easy against Fister. He ranked 25th out of 65 AL pitchers (min. 100 IP) with 3.74 pitches per batter faced this year, which is identical to Hiroki Kuroda for some perspective. The guy pounds the zone, so working the count is going to be tough.