Archive for Pitching
The new playoff schedule has the Yankees playing five games in five days — spanning the final three games of the ALDS and the first two of the ALCS — which means they’ll have to do something creative for their Game Two starter tomorrow night. It’s not ideal but it is what it is, nothing anyone can do. Thankfully the Bombers have a number of viable options to start that game, some better and more practical than others. Joe Girardi indicated that he will announce his Game Two starter during his pre-Game One press conference this afternoon, but first let’s run through the candidates…
Hiroki Kuroda on three days’ rest
Kuroda started Game Three of the ALDS, the first of this five games in five days stretch. He threw 105 pitches across 8.1 innings on Wednesday and would have to start Game Two tomorrow on short rest, something he has never done in his MLB career. Considering his age (37) and how his career-high workload (219.1 IP) seemed to be catching up to him in September, starting Kuroda on three days’ rest seems like a risky proposition.
It’s worth noting that if the Yankees bring CC Sabathia back on short rest of Game Three (which I am absolutely in favor of doing) and do not pitch Kuroda in Game Two, he would get pushed back to Game Four and therefore only make one start in the series even if it goes the full seven games. That is not ideal at all. Kuroda is too good to limit like that.
Although he threw 27 pitches out of the bullpen on Thursday, it shouldn’t be a problem to bring Phelps back tomorrow. He started and threw 86 pitches last Tuesday, so giving the team 80 pitches if needed in the spot start doesn’t feel like too much to ask. Phelps shouldn’t worry anyone considering how well he closed out the season, with just six runs allowed in his final 21 innings. The problem here is that if the Yankees use him for the start, he won’t be available out of the bullpen until at least Game Four and maybe even Game Five. That could be problematic, especially if Joba Chamberlain‘s bruised elbow keeps him out of action for even just the first few games of the series.
Ivan Nova or Freddy Garcia
No offense to these two, but I don’t think I can make a decent case that either should start. Both pitched so poorly down the stretch that they lost their rotation spots late in the season, and it would be wishcasting to run either of them out there expecting a full 100-ish pitch start that gives the Yankees a chance to win. They are options because they’re stretched out and have experience in the postseason, but they’re more “break glass in case of emergency” options that anything else.
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The Yankees announced earlier this morning that Cody Eppley took Eduardo Nunez‘s spot on the ALCS roster, giving the team a full 12-man pitching staff. That may be an indication that they’re leaning towards Phelps for the Game Two start but it’s not a guarantee; they could have easily added the extra reliever knowing both Kuroda and Sabathia will start on short rest and might not throw as many pitches as usual.
It’s worth noting that since Monday is a travel day, running through the entire bullpen in Game Two won’t be a concern since everyone is guaranteed rest the following day. It should also be a throw day for Phil Hughes, who could pitch in relief if needed. Bringing Sabathia back for Game Three means Phil would not start until Game Four on Wednesday at the earliest. Using him for an inning or two on Sunday has to be on the table.
Both the Yankees and Orioles will throw their Game One starter in Game Five tonight, which means a CC Sabathia-Jason Hammel rematch. Here is the pitching preview I wrote for Hammel earlier in the series, which won’t change one bit. He didn’t do anything unexpected in his Game One start other than throw a handful of sliders more than usual. Not enough to think it’s anything meaningful. No point in re-inventing the wheel, so check out the linked preview for tonight.
One thing I do have to add is that Hammel wore a brace on his right knee in Game One and will do so again tonight. He had surgery at midseason and soreness in September, which is why he missed basically the entire second half. The Yankees should test him out with a bunt early on, specifically Ichiro Suzuki. After that scorching hot September run, Ichiro has gone 4-for-20 with a sac bunt in the ALDS, hitting just three (three!) balls out of the infield. He’s not the greatest bunter in the world, but it’s worth a shot in the first inning to see how Hammel is moving.
The Orioles started left-hander Joe Saunders in an elimination game last Friday, and they’ll do the same tonight in Game Four of the ALDS. The 31-year-old southpaw was acquired from the Diamondbacks in late-August, and he went on to allow just one run in 5.2 innings against the Rangers in the AL wildcard play-in game last week. As bad as Texas had been swinging the bats, that was an unexpected;y strong performance.
The Yankees have seen plenty of Saunders over the years thanks to his time with the Angels, and in fact he made two playoff starts against the Bombers in the 2009 ALCS. He held them to two runs in seven innings in Game Two before getting hammered for three runs in 3.1 innings in the decisive Game Six. Saunders walked five and struck out zero in that game. He’s been in the NL the last few years though, so recent experience against the Yankees is limited.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
Saunders’ second start following the trade to Baltimore came against the Yankees in Camden Yards, and he pitched admirably despite allowing a run in the first (Alex Rodriguez sacrifice fly) and a run in the second (Ichiro Suzuki double). Saunders retired ten straight after the double and 12 of the final 15 hitters he faced overall. That was the Jerry Meals game, when the first base umpire called Mark Teixeira out to end the game even though he obviously beat the throw on what would have been the game-tying fielder’s choice.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
Saunders is a ground ball guy who won’t miss many bats, so it’s not a surprise that he throws a ton of upper-80s sinkers. His comfort zone is down-and-away to righties, as he’ll pound that corner of the zone with fastballs, low-80s changeups, and upper-70s curveballs. I’m not kidding, he’ll live down there all game and rarely come inside to batters of the opposite hand. Lefties get just the sinker and curveball and Saunders absolutely dominates his fellow left-handers. He’ll bust them inside with the fastball and go out of the zone with the curve for swings and misses.
Performance & Results
Like I said, he dominates left-handers. In fact, Saunders has the biggest wOBA split among qualified starters this season, turning all righties into Nick Swisher and all lefties into Marlon Byrd. Seriously, those strikeout, walk, and ground ball numbers against lefties are top notch.
So, obviously, the Yankees have to stack their lineup with righties tonight. As bad as he’s been swinging the bat, Alex Rodriguez should start and hit right in the middle of the order. He hit lefties far better than righties this year (151 vs. 94 wRC+), and Saunders is exactly the type of pitcher he needs to face right now — a finesse left-hander who won’t come inside. If A-Rod is going to have some impact this series, Saunders is the guy you would expect him to do it against.
Derek Jeter‘s new bone bruise might relegate him to DH, which I assume means Jayson Nix at shortstop. Joe Girardi will also have the option of playing Nix in left and Eduardo Nunez at short for a few innings, at least while Saunders is in the game. He could lift Nunez for defense and a pinch-hitter (Raul Ibanez?) as soon as a right-handed reliever is called upon. The Yankees didn’t do very much against Wei-Yin Chen in Game Two, but he went after them with low-to-mid-90s fastballs on both sides of the plate. Saunders won’t do that.
During his pregame press conference, Joe Girardi said that Phil Hughes will start Game Four of the ALDS tomorrow regardless of what happens in Game Three tonight. That means the Yankees will not use CC Sabathia on three days’ rest if they are facing elimination. I don’t really see the point in announcing it; it would have been nice to have the option of starting Sabathia tomorrow without making it look like a panic move.
The Yankees and Orioles are down to a best-of-three series now, and I’m not sure Buck Showalter would rather have anyone on the mound in Game Three tonight than the man scheduled to start: right-hander Miguel Gonzalez. He embodies the Orioles, the out of nowhere surprise that continues to look more and more like he belongs with each passing week.
Gonzalez, 28, signed with the Orioles as a minor league free agent after spending a few seasons in the Red Sox’s farm system. They originally claimed him from the Angels in the Rule 5 Draft back in 2008. Gonzalez took advantage of the opportunity the Orioles gave him by pitching to a 1.61 ERA (1.79 FIP) in 44.2 innings with their Triple-A affiliate. With their pitching staff in need, Baltimore called him up in late-May and he has since emerged as arguably their best starter. Funny how that works.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
The Yankees saw Gonzalez as a starter twice, and he pitched pretty well both times. Done let those four runs in 6.2 innings in late-July fool you, he held the Bombers to just two runs on four hits and zero walks in the first six innings of the game before tiring out in the seventh. Those 111 pitches were the second most of his career, and both numbers 110 and 111 were hit out of the park for homers. If Buck Showalter had gone to the bullpen two batters sooner, Gonzalez would have finished with a much prettier 6.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K line.
The late-August start was the best of his season by Game Score (74), a seven-inning masterpiece in which he retired 15 of the first 16 batters he faced. Gonzalez’s two highest strikeout and swinging strike totals of the season came at the hands of the Yankees. Those 111 pitches in July generated 20 (!) swings and misses, one of the highest totals in all of baseball this summer. He pitched extremely well against New York in New York during the regular season.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
Gonzalez uses three offspeed pitches and will use them a lot, especially early in the count. Right-handers will see his low-90s fastballs and mid-80s slider while left-handers get the whole kitchen sink, including the low-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball. The changeup has splitter movement, meaning it tends to dart down rather than fade away and off the plate. Hitters come up empty on more than 40% of the swings they take against the pitch (42.8%, to be exact), so if he has that working, it could be a long night for a Yankees lineup that figures to feature four lefties and two switch hitters.
Performance & Results
The effectiveness of the changeup shows up in Gonzalez’s strikeout splits, as he whiffed nearly twice as many left-handed batters as right-handed batters this season. The wOBA split is zero for all intents and purposes, but it’s worth noting that righties had a .214 BABIP against Gonzalez while lefties were at .310. Give him another couple hundred batters faced, and those ball-in-play results will even out. Very few pitchers (as in basically zero) sustain a near-100 point BABIP split.
Gonzalez seems like a candidate to show a reverse split going forward because of the changeup, but that is unlikely to happen all at once in Game Three. The Yankees have not just seen the Baltimore starter twice, they were dominated by him in their own building both times this season. Saying they need to be ready for the changeup, specifically the lefties, is much easier said than done. Considering how often Gonzalez likes to go to his offspeed pitches early in the count, the best approach might just be to sit on something soft earlier and swing away if he catches too much of the plate. Working the count and taking a strike or two didn’t work during the season, that’s for sure.
From Opening Day through Game 162, Hiroki Kuroda was the Yankees’ best and most consistent starting pitcher this year. He served as the staff ace for a big chunk of the summer while CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were on the DL, and he didn’t just get the title by default. From late-May through mid-August, a span of 16 starts and 113.2 innings, Kuroda pitched to a 2.22 ERA and a 2.78 FIP. Overall, his season included a 3.32 ERA and a 3.86 FIP in a career-high 219.2 innings this season.
That workload appeared to be an issue coming down the stretch, as the 37-year-old right-hander began to look fatigued during his starts, particularly in the later innings. He closed the season out with a dynamite seven-inning, two-run outing against the woeful Red Sox, but prior to that he’d allowed 22 total runs in his previous six starts and 37.2 innings. Eight of those 22 runs were scored after the fifth inning in those starts. As expected though, Kuroda said fatigue was not an issue while speaking with reporters on a conference call yesterday.
“I really haven’t thought anything about (being worn down),” he said. “You know, I don’t really feel fatigued, or I don’t think I can afford to think like that because I always prepare myself for the next game, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
The Yankees slightly juggled their rotation for the ALDS in an effort to not only give Kuroda extra rest, but to also make sure Andy Pettitte didn’t get too much rest and lose his rhythm. Pettitte allowed three runs in seven innings in Game Two on eight days’ rest while Kuroda will get the ball in Game Three tonight on seven days’ rest. Had he started Game Two, which seemed to be the plan basically all season, he would have been on normal rest.
Like basically every pitcher ever, Kuroda has pitched better with an extra day or two of rest both this year and throughout his career. In 15 starts with normal rest this year, he posted a 3.56 ERA (3.68 FIP) while averaging 6.2 innings per start. With at least one extra day of rest, he pitched to a 3.14 ERA (3.82 FIP) while averaging exactly seven innings per start. If Kuroda did tire down the stretch, it didn’t show in his fastball velocity, which actually ticked up late in the season. If the fatigue showed up anywhere, it was in his command.
Tonight’s game is, obviously, the most important game of the season to date. The difference between being up 2-1 or being down 2-1 in a best-of-five series is enormous, and Kuroda’s playoff history is short and spotty. He twirled two gems with the 2008 Dodgers (6.1 scoreless in the NLDS, six-innings of two-run ball in the NLCS) before allowing six runs in 1.1 innings in the 2009 NLCS after an injury kept him out of the NLDS.
“In ’09, I didn’t have all my stuff and I wasn’t feeling good,” added Kuroda on the conference call. “I had an injury to my neck and I couldn’t throw in the divisional series … Until now, I haven’t really thought about ’09. I’m focused on now.”
The Yankees signed Kuroda to little fanfare this offseason mostly because the deal happened on the same day of the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade, and nothing was stealing attention from that. He went on to serve as the team’s most reliable starter all summer, cranking out quality outing after quality outing. The Yankees are going to need that kind of effort from Kuroda again in Game Three tonight, if not something better given their struggles against Miguel Gonzalez this season.
The Orioles shocked the baseball world this year by winning 93 games and advancing to the ALDS, and they did it while using a dozen different starting pitchers. Seven different pitchers made at least 15 starts, including the 30-year-old Jason Hammel. He emerged as the club’s ace early in the season and wound up pitching to a 3.43 ERA and 3.29 FIP. After years of mediocrity with the (Devil) Rays and Rockies, something seemed the click after moving to Baltimore in the Jeremy Guthrie trade last offseason.
Hammel was announced as the team’s Game One starter for tonight even though he battled knee problems throughout the second half. He had surgery on the knee in mid-July and then dealt with post-surgery soreness in September. Although he threw 118 total innings this season, only 8.2 came after the All-Star break. He made his final regular season start on September 11th, but did made a lengthy rehab start in Instructional League last week and threw a regular between-starts side session on Friday, saying that it “was outstanding.”
So yeah, there is an awful lot of uncertainty surrounding Hammel coming into tonight’s start. How will the knee hold up while pitching in an adrenaline-filled playoff start? Will his pitch count be limited? Will his command or stuff suffer as he favors the knee, perhaps subconsciously? It’s not an easy position to be in, but Buck Showalter felt Hammel was the best man of the job and is giving him the ball.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
Despite the knee injury, Hammel was still able to make three starts against the Yankees this season, the third of which was his first start following the knee surgery. As you can see, two of the three starts went well for the Orioles while the other was pretty rough. Hammel owns a 6.20 ERA (~5.80 FIP) in 45 career innings against the Yankees, but his performance against the Bombers in past years is relatively meaningless. Not only has he changed his pitching style since then, but the Yankees have turned over most of their roster as well as moved into a new ballpark.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
Prior to this season, Hammel was predominantly a four-seam fastball/curveball pitcher who would mix in the other pitches on occasion. He’s reinvented himself as a sinker/slider guy, especially against right-handed batters. The slider takes a back seat to the curve and changeup against lefties, which is typical. The two fastballs sat anywhere from the low-to-mid-90s this season, continuing a slight upward trend these last two or three years. Hammel’s slider is a hard mid-80s breaker, the curveball a softer upper-70s offering, and the changeup a hard upper-80s pitch. Power changeups from right-handed pitchers are the new black, apparently.
Performance & Results
The knee injury knocked out a significant portion of his season, so our sample size of the “new” Hammel is only 500 batters or so. When he was healthy this year, the right-hander did perform considerably better against left-handed batters because he was able to keep them in the park while enjoying some BABIP love (.258 vs .325). His true talent level is likely something in the middle of those numbers, maybe a touch higher for righties given his ground ball tendencies.
It’s really unfortunate that we don’t more data on the Orioles’ version of Hammel, a guy that had changed his pitching style and shown very real improvement. This isn’t a case of a career back-end starter having a fluke career year … well, maybe it is, but at least there is some tangible evidence for Hammel’s improvement this season. The knee injury and how he returns from it after such a long layoff is the great unknown here, especially since it’s his push-off leg. If he doesn’t have full confidence in it yet, he could end up losing some velocity or movement on his breaking pitching. The Yankees have seen the new Hammel a few times this year, so by now they are surely aware that he isn’t the same guy they used to beat up on years ago.
The Yankees and Orioles will open their best-of-five ALDS matchup tomorrow night in Camden Yards, which will be the first playoff game in the ballpark since 1997. The two teams split the season series 9-9 with the O’s scoring two more runs overall (92-90). They finished two games apart in the standings and were locked in a tight division race right down to the final game of the season. It should be a blowout on paper, but Baltimore has continued to exceed expectations all summer.
When the series opens Sunday night, left-hander CC Sabathia will be on the mound for the Yankees. It’s unclear who the opposing starter will be at the moment, but we’ll find out soon enough. Sabathia closed the regular season out with three dominant starts, allowing four runs total on 13 hits and four walks in 24 innings while striking out 28. He went exactly eight innings in all three starts. Sabathia made just three starts against Baltimore this season, allowing four runs in six innings twice (once in April, once in May) and five runs in 6.1 innings once (in September). He has dominated the Orioles throughout his career, pitching to a 3.12 ERA (~3.40 FIP) in 25 starts and 176 innings. These aren’t your older brother’s Orioles anymore though.
One of the biggest keys to Game One for Sabathia and the Yankees is stopping Adam Jones, Baltimore’s 32-homer center fielder. Stopping the other team’s best player is like, Captain Obvious stuff, but this is a little deeper than that. Jones is one of just six active players with at least 30 career plate appearances and an OPS over 1.000 against Sabathia, so he’s given him some problems in recent years. One of the remaining five players in Sabathia’s teammate, and only one other is on a postseason team…
Those three homers have come in each of the last three years. Jones took Sabathia deep this past May (solo shot in a 1-0 count), last April (three-run shot in a 2-1 count), and two Junes ago (solo shot in a 0-1 count). Notice the strikeout and walks totals, just six whiffs (13.3%) and four free passes (8.9%). They’re far better than Jones’ career rates (19.3 K% and 4.8 BB%) in the admittedly tiny sample size. Let’s take a look at a strike zone breakdown of where the Baltimore center fielder does his damage and where he struggles against southpaws, courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz’s site…
You can click the link for a larger view, but the gist of it is that Jones murders fastballs on the inner half and up in the zone. Catch too much of the plate with an offspeed pitch and he’ll crush that too, though most big league hitters will make pitchers pay for a hanger. The Baseball Prospectus Matchup Page shows us how Sabathia has pitched Jones in their 45 career matchups, and it’s pretty basic Sabathia stuff. Sliders down-and-in, changeups down-and-away, fastballs to both sides of the plate.
Given Jones’ strengths within the strike zone, Sabathia and the Yankees are better off pounding him away with fastballs before coming down-and-in with the slider (or burying a changeup). His spray chart against lefties over the last two years (via Texas Leaguers) suggests that Jones will reach out and poke outside pitches to right for a base hit, but he doesn’t hit for much power to the opposite field…
That career walk rate I mentioned earlier (4.8%) is an indication that Jones is not the most patient of hitters. Even this year, the best year of his career (to date), his walk rate was just 4.9%. Jones will help pitchers get him out, and in fact he’s swung at 40.4% of the pitches he’s seen out of the strike zone in each of the last two seasons. That’s the fourth highest rate in the game among qualified hitters, behind noted hackers Vlad Guerrero, Delmon Young, and A.J. Pierzynski. He will get himself out at times, but Jones isn’t an idiot. He’ll sit on the pitch if the Yankees keep throwing fastballs away, so expanding the zone and intentionally throwing some off the plate, especially later in the count, will be important.
Outside of Jones, two of the Orioles most productive hitters in the last month are left-handed — Chris Davis (190 wRC+) and Nate McLouth (125 wRC+). Sabathia should be able to handle both guys thanks to the left-on-left matchup and his vicious slider, but stopping Jones (and switch-hitter Matt Wieters for that matter) won’t be so simple. Sabathia has had some trouble with him throughout his career, and Jones’ tendencies suggest that staying away with the fastball before coming inside with the slider is the way to approach him tomorrow night. Much easier said than done obviously, location will be very important.
Via Mark Hale, the Yankees will consider using Hiroki Kuroda as the number three starter in the ALDS and sliding Andy Pettitte in behind CC Sabathia as the number two. We’ve been assuming it would be the other way around for much of the season. “That’s something that we’re going to have to talk about, absolutely,” said Joe Girardi when asked about starting Pettitte over Kuroda in Game Two. “[Kuroda] had an unbelievable season, and that’s something we’ll definitely consider.”
Pettitte was lined up to pitch today in a potential tie-breaker game, which thankfully was not needed. He would be on eight days’ rest for Game Two and ten days’ rest for Game Three. Kuroda, on the other hand, would start Game Two on normal rest and Game Three on seven days’ rest. Giving him two extra days seems like a pretty good idea given his age (37) and career-high workload (219.2 IP), plus he actually pitched better at home than on the road this year. Unsurprisingly, Kuroda said he would do whatever the team asked.