Boone Logan’s Ineffective Slider

It has not been a good year for Boone Logan, who has “held” the 46 left-handed batters he’s faced to a .350 wOBA this year. He’s only struck out seven of those guys as well, which is an an unfathomably bad rate (15.2%). The Yankees were apparently concerned enough about Logan’s ability to repeat his success from the second half of last year that they signed Pedro Feliciano to a (not cheap) free agent deal. Feliciano’s injury has again thrust Boone into top LOOGY status, a job he really doesn’t deserve at the moment.

The root cause of Logan’s struggles appears to be his slider, a pitch that went from being 2.50 runs above average (per 100 thrown) in 2010 to 1.71 runs below average this year, a swing of more than four runs. He’s throwing the pitch almost exactly as often this year as last, but batters have gone from swinging and missing at it 25.6% of the time to 12.7% of the time, so the slider’s whiff rate has been cut in half. Part of the problem is just location, which you can see from the heat maps above (what’s a heat map?). Logan did a good job of burying the pitch down and away to lefties last year, but this season it’s ending up in the middle of the plate entirely too often.

The characteristics of the pitch are different that last year as well. Boone has actually picked up about an inch and a half of horizontal movement while losing a mile an hour of velocity. A slower pitch with more break is loopier; the 2010 version of the pitch came in harder and had shorter, sharper break. Leave a loopy slider out over the plate … well that’s just a meatball, even to a same-side batter. Logan’s release point is no different (here’s a gif comparing 2010 to 2011), at least not different enough to worry about (could just be a PitchFX issue). Since his fastball velocity is also down noticeably, it could just be a mechanical issue. Or maybe he’s hiding an injury (or doesn’t even know about it) Both theories make sense, as do countless others.

Given the injuries to the rest of the bullpen, the Yankees need Logan to pitch better than he has just to provide depth. He has to improve against lefties at the absolute minimum, since the only reason he’s on the team in the first place is to neutralize the Adrian Gonzalezes and Adam Linds and Matt Joyces and Nick Markaki of the league. Getting back to burying that slider down and away, preferably just out of the strike zone, is step one of that process.

Scouting The Trade Market: Michael Wuertz

Ugly hat is ugly. (Photo Credit: Flickr user ztil301 via Creative Commons license)

Injuries have really done a number of the Yankees’ bullpen of late, taking away both Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano for a while, though there’s some hope that Soriano will be able to start throwing this week. Some of the minor league reinforcements like Amaury Sanit (hah), Tim Norton, and Mark Prior are also on the disabled list, so the well is starting to run dry. Even if Soriano comes back relatively soon, the Yankees will still have to go outside the organization for help anyway. They’ve lost that much depth.

One team that could be a trade match is the Athletics, who are sinking like a stone after losing a dozen of their last 13 games and firing their manager. They have a full five man rotation on the disabled list, as Brett Anderson recently joined Dallas Braden, Brandon McCarthy, Rich Harden, and Tyson Ross on the shelf. Bigger names like Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes are sure to be mentioned, but perhaps the best fit is slider specialist Michael Wuertz. Let’s break it down…

The Pros

  • Wuertz is death on right-handers thanks to one of the game’s best sliders. He’s holding same side batters to a .103/.167/.205 batting line this year and .192/.258/.306 with 32.7% strikeouts since the start of 2009.  Batters have missed with 13.4% of their swings against him this season, which is insanely high but actually down from 15.4% last year and 17.9% two years ago.
  • Although his calling card is his ability to shut down righties, Wuertz is also more than serviceable against lefties. They’re hitting .242/.353/.345 off him this year and .212/.291/.389 since the start of 2009. His slider is so good that he uses it against lefties as well, which is not something you usually see.
  • He has experience in a variety of roles, including middle relief work and setup man duties, plus he even spent some time as Oakland’s closer when Andrew Bailey got hurt last year. For what it’s worth, he’s also pitched in the postseason (with the Cubs back in 2007). I don’t put much stock in that, but it doesn’t hurt.
  • Wuertz’s contract contains a club option for next year, so it would not necessarily be a rental. He currently projects as a Type-B free agent, so the Yankees could get a draft pick should they let him walk.

The Cons

  • As great as that slider is, Wuertz uses it 51.5% of the time, a very high rate. Slider usage that extreme usually leads to elbow trouble, with Brad Lidge, Justin Speier, and Manny Corpas being recent and notable examples.
  • Sure enough, Wuertz has dealt with some injuries over the last two years. He missed all of April with shoulder tendinitis last season, then missed a few weeks with an oblique strain this April. Thumb issues also shelved him for some time last September (no DL trip because of expanded rosters though).
  • His strikeout rate is trending downward, though it’s still more than respectable at 7.91 K/9. It’s just not as good as 9.08 batters he struck out per nine innings last year, or the 11.67 he struck out per nine in 2009.
  • The club option proves for some nice flexibility, but it’s not exactly cheap. Wuertz is making $2.8M this season (about $467,000 per month, pro-rated) and the option will pay him $3.25M next year ($250,000 buyout). The Yankees can obviously afford it, but that’s pricey by middle reliever standards.

It’s tough to come up a player similar to Wuertz that’s been traded in recent years just to get an idea of the likely cost, plus we can’t forget that Billy Beane always seems to ask for the moon. The Twins gave up a C-level prospect to get Jon Rauch from the Diamondbacks two years ago, but that was part of a waiver trade a month after the deadline. Kyle Farnsworth was traded to the Braves along with Rick Ankiel last year, so that doesn’t help us either. Matt Capps had the Proven Closer™ tag last year, so that doesn’t work either. Anyway, Wuertz makes some sense for the Yankees just because he’s a veteran arm with a standout pitch and experience in high-leverage spots. He’s really not all that different from Joba when you think about it.

The offense at three intervals

(Photo Credit: Flick user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Even though we do it constantly, checking baseball stats every single day is as useful as checking your weight every day if you’re on a diet. It fluctuates so much that the data rarely tells you anything useful, especially early on in the process. It’s best to break things down into larger segments, like checking your weight on the first of every month or something. We’re not deep enough into the baseball season to break things down by month, but we’re at a convenient point in the season where we can break things down into three 21-game segments. Obviously these are team games and not individual player games, but we can definitely see some interesting trends. Let’s dive in…

Derek Jeter
After 21 Games: .262/.330/.286
After 42 Games: .257/.309/.327
After 63 Games: .259/.324/.324

The good news is that the extra base power is starting to show up even though it’s almost all doubles. That’s fine, Jeter’s real job atop the lineup is to simply get on base, and he’s really doing a very poor job of it. His walk rate (8.1%) is right in line with his career numbers, he’s just isn’t hitting for average anymore. Some of that is BABIP luck (or unluck, really), but we all watch the games, Derek just doesn’t make much hard contact these days.

Curtis Granderson
After 21 Games: .270/.325/.635
After 42 Games: .270/.339/.610
After 63 Games: .279/.353/.611

Curtis is a bad man. A bad man with a rising walk rate as pitchers begin to show him more respect. Don’t go changin’, Curtis.

Mark Teixeira
After 21 Games: .253/.387/.560
After 42 Games: .253/.373/.500
After 63 Games: .252/.366/.539

Well, at least his batting average is consistent. Unfortunately Tex’s on-base percentage is trending in the wrong direction because he hasn’t been walking much lately, at least relative to his usual walk rate. The power numbers really had nowhere to go but down after he hit six homers in the team’s first 15 games, and they’ll probably continue to go down because a .287 ISO is still crazy high.

Is Tex just a .250 hitter now? It’s entirely possibly, he’s certainly gotten pull happy from the left side in Yankee Stadium, but frankly he should. Play to the ballpark man. I think the other team would rather see him lay down two or three bunt singles (to beat the shift) a game than take a normal at-bat. I know I’d rather see David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez do that whenever they face the Yankees, anyway. Teixeira’s hit more and more fly balls since coming to New York, and more fly balls means more homeruns but also more outs. It shouldn’t be a surprise that his BABIP has also dropped. It would be nice if the $180M first baseman hit for average, but I’m happy as long as he maintains a .380-ish OBP and a .250-ish ISO with his usual stout defense, which he’s close to doing.

Alex Rodriguez
After 21 Games: .317/.442/.667
After 42 Games: .261/.348/.486
After 63 Games: .288/.363/.518

The start of A-Rod‘s season was very 2007-ish, he was just tearing the cover off the ball and it looked like nothing could stop him. Then he had that stiff back/oblique and fell into that brutal slump he’s since rebounded from. Alex’s 9.6% walk rate and .231 ISO combination is still crazy good (just 17 other players in the game have both) but both are below his career averages (10.9% and .268, respectively). We can’t ignore what he did (or didn’t do) following that little injury, but A-Rod started the season hot and is hitting .314/.367/.568 over the last 31 days. That’s All-Star production, just not what we’ve come to expect from Alex.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user jcantroot via Creative Commons license)

Robinson Cano
After 21 Games: .299/.303/.586
After 42 Games: .288/.313/.519
After 63 Games: .281/.324/.500

Is it fair to call the guy with the third highest wOBA among AL second baseman (and fourth best overall) a disappointment? I don’t think I would go that far, but I am disappointing in the complete deterioration of Cano’s plate discipline. His walk rate is right back down to where it was before last season, but the real problem is that he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone than ever before. It’s not a coincidence that his strikeout rate is a career worst (though still way better than league average). He’s been better about that of late, but come on man, Robbie ain’t no .280 hitter.

Nick Swisher
After 21 Games: .208/.326/.236
After 42 Games: .223/.337/.317
After 63 Games: .225/.350/.350

Okay, now this guy has been a disappointment, there’s no way around it. Swisher really didn’t pick up the pace until the west coast trip started about three weeks ago, but he’s still struggling against righties. I suppose the good news is that he’s drawing a freaking ton of walks, as in a top ten walk rate (15.7%) in all of baseball, and that his batted ball profile is relatively unchanged. Like I said, Swish has started to turn it around, but we’re now 63 games into the season and he just finally cracked a .700 OPS. Ouch.

Jorge Posada
After 21 Games: .138/.233/.415
After 42 Games: .183/.299/.374
After 63 Games: .226/.323/.378

It’s been … uh … an eventful season for Posada, who was hitting so poorly that he was supposed to hit ninth one game, at least until he pulled himself out of the lineup. All of the improvement has come in the last six games or so, in which Jorge has simply destroyed the ball. His power continues to disappear (he hasn’t hit a homerun since April 23rd) though at least he’s drawing some walks. Aside from the last week, it’s been a brutal season for Posada, the kind of season that gets non-legacy players released.

Russell Martin
After 21 Games: .292/.370/.597
After 42 Games: .268/.371/.480
After 63 Games: .232/.338/.429

When you hit six homers in the team’s first 17 games, there’s just nowhere to go but down. Martin crashed back to Earth a little harder than expected, but he continues to provide value with his ever-increasing walk rate alone. A 2-for-31 slump (with some games missed due to injury mixed in) has dropped his batting average almost 40 points in his last ten games, though he isn’t striking out much and that appears to be some dumb BABIP luck more than anything. Russ doesn’t have to hit for huge power to be valuable, just keep getting on base at a decent clip and play solid defense. Expectations were pretty modest coming into the year and a hot start shouldn’t change them.

Brett Gardner
After 21 Games: .145/.197/.306
After 42 Games: .266/.343/.411
After 63 Games: .276/.353/.425

Now this guy, this guy’s been an adventure all season. Gardner’s early season slump was among the worst I’ve ever seen, but the statistical correction was glorious. I can buy his current batting average and OBP as his true talent level, but I do think the power numbers are a touch high. Seven total bases in four at-bats yesterday really gave him a nice boost in that department anyway (came into the game with a .395 SLG). For a nine-hole hitter that plays top of the line defense in the outfield for the low, low price of approximately league minimum, it’s hard to be disappointed with Gardner’s overall production to date. Now, if only he could get back to stealing bases like he did last year…

Fan Confidence Poll: June 13th, 2011

Record Last Week: 3-3 (37 RS, 33 RA)
Season Record: 36-27 (330 RS, 255 RA, 39-24 pythag. record), one back in loss column
Opponents This Week: vs. Indians (one game, Mon.) vs. Rangers (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), @ Cubs (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

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Yanks pound Tribe again, win third straight

This past week has been a story of two extremes. The Yankees were completely and utterly dismantled by the Red Sox during that three game series, but they’ve turned around and completely shellacked the Indians this weekend. Aside from the win, the best news of Sunday was that no one got hurt. Phew.

Off to the races.

Too Many Not Enough Homers

The Yankees pounded out a season high 18 hits on Sunday afternoon (previous high was 16 in Derek Jeter‘s two-homer game against Texas), but not a single one of them left the yard. Go figure. Most of the damage came in the five-run fifth inning, when the Yankees turned a one-run game into a six-zip laugher. Six of the first seven men in the inning picked up hits, starting with Brett Gardner‘s hustle double to put the wheels in motion and ending with Nick Swisher‘s seeing-eye ground ball through the right side. Josh Tomlin doesn’t have spectacular stuff and he simply didn’t get ahead of anyone that inning, a recipe for disaster.

You can take your pick of either Gardner or Curtis Granderson for the offensive star of the game. Gardner went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a triple, and three runs scored while Grandy went 4-for-4 (all three singles and a double) with a sac fly, two runs scored, and two driven in. The 9-1-2-3-4 hitters combined for a dozen hits (four doubles and a triple), a walk, and eight runs scored in 24 plate appearances. Mark Teixiera was the only one not to get in on the hit parade, instead going 0-for-4 with the walk.

For all the talk about the Yankees’ relying so much on the homerun, they’ve gone from averaging 1.6 homers per game in their first 44 games to 1.3 homers per game in their last 19 contests (the AL average is 0.93 HR/G). As for their runs scored per game, it’s gone from 5.14 to 5.47 during those same time periods. They’ve been scoring more runs while hitting few homers per game for more than three weeks now, and remember they faced some pretty good pitching as well.

That's right, you just struck out looking at an 84 mph pitch.

Freddy Dances Out Of Danger

Last time out was not pretty for Freddy Garcia, who didn’t make it out of the second inning against the Red Sox because his slop was high in the zone and out over the plate too often. He was better today, but it also helped that he was facing a slumping lineup that had exactly zero hits off him in their dozen chances with men on base. Garcia did not have a single 1-2-3 inning, and the Indians even took advantage of his slow delivery by stealing five bases. Russell Martin didn’t even bother to make a throw on several of them, their jumps were that good.

Sweaty Freddy stranded a man on first in the first, a man on second in the second, men on the corners in the third, a man on third in the fourth, a man on second in the fifth, a man on second in the sixth, and handed a runner on first over to Boone Logan with two outs in the seventh. His six strikeouts were very well timed, three ended an inning and two others recorded the second out, meaning it would have taken a hit for the Tribe to score a run. Games like this are Garcia’s calling card, keeping a struggling offense in check while dodging bullets for six-plus innings.

Minka approves.

Leftovers

Jeter had two singles and two well hit balls to the warning track, but the latter doesn’t count for anything. The Cap’n is seven hits away from 3,000 with four games left in the homestand. He’ll get them, don’t worry. Alex Rodriguez had three hits, while Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher,  and Jorge Posada each had two. Jorge’s got 13 hits in his last 22 at-bats, raising his average 57 points in the last week. Russell Martin looked pretty awful (0-for-4 with a strikeout and two GIDP’s), but he just missed a bunch of time with the back issue. I’ll cut the dude some slack this game.

Frickin’ Boone Logan man. Grady Sizemore came into the game hitting .121/.194/.303 against lefties this year, so what happens when Logan comes into face him with two outs in the seventh? He walks him on five pitches. Seventeen of the 45 lefties Boone has faced this year have reached base, a .378 OBP that is just straight up not acceptable for a guy who’s only the roster to get lefties out. Randy Flores is pitching well against lefties in Triple-A, you have to wonder if he’ll be brought up sometime soon. I’m not saying they’ll cut Logan completely, but getting a new primary lefty seems inevitable right now.

It was good to see Joe Girardi go right back to Kevin Whelan two days after his ugly big league debut. He looked much better this time out even though he walked a batter, doing a better job of spotting his fastball down in the zone (even getting a called strike three on one). Hopefully the first time jitters are out of the way and this is what we’ll be seeing more of in the future. While on the subject of relievers, I sure hope Frank Herrmann’s nickname in the Indians’ clubhouse is Pee Wee. I would be greatly disappointed if it isn’t.

Remember when the Indians were 30-15? They’ve won just four of 18 games since then. They’re 1-9 in their last ten games, and the one was a 1-0 win over punchless Twins. Cleveland’s run in the seventh inning snapped a 15.1 scoreless innings streak for the Yankees’ pitching staff, but the Tribe have still scored just 15 runs in their last eight games (1.88 per game). Seven of those runs came Friday night. Oh well, I’m sure it was fun for Clevelanders while it lasted.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score and no highlights.

Up Next

The Yankees moved back to nine games over .500 with the win, tying their season high. They’ll look to move to ten games over on Monday night, when A.J. Burnett and Carlos Carrasco wrap up this four games series.

Yankees close to agreement with Dante Bichette Jr.

Via K. Levine-Flandrup, the Yankees are close to reaching an agreement with 51st overall pick Dante Bichette Jr. He’ll be in Tampa to take a physical on Tuesday. No word on the money, but I can’t imagine it’s far above slot (which is approximately $695,000), if it is at all. Bichette didn’t figure to be a tough sign or anything, but it’s always good to get the deals done as soon as possible so the kid can get some playing under his belt. Assume the physical goes well, I imagine he’ll report to the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees in time for their season opener next Monday.

Igawa sets SWB franchise records in win

Gene Michael was in Trenton to watch Manny Banuelos last night. He told Ken Rosenthal that Banuelos was 93-95 with his fastball but struggled with command, also showing a “plus” curveball and changeup. A Yankees’ executive with a good report on a Yankees’ prospect? Stunned.

Triple-A Scranton (5-4 win over Syracuse)
Austin Krum, CF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B
Ramiro Pena, SS: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB – six for his last 16 (.375) with three doubles
Jordan Parraz, DH: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB – four of his last six hits are doubles
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K
Kevin Russo, 2B-LF: 0 for 3
Greg Golson, LF-RF: 2 for 4, 2 RBI, 1 K, 1 SB – 11 for 33 (.333) since coming off the disabled list
Dan Brewer, RF: 0 for 1, 1 K – left the game after robbing a homer in the fourth inning … hopefully he didn’t tear his labrum like Justin Maxwell
Luis Nunez, 2B: 1 or 3, 1 K
P.J. Pilittere, C: 1 for 3, 1 BB
The Ghost of Kei Igawa, LHP: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 7-5 GB/FB – 56 of 93 pitches were strikes (60.2%) … record setting day for Igawa, he broke the SWB franchise career records for innings pitched and homers allowed
Josh Schmidt, RHP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K2-0 GB/FB, 1 E (throwing) – 15 of 25 pitches were strikes
Ryan Pope, RHP: 0.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 14 of 22 pitches were strikes (63.6%) … not today
Randy Flores, LHP: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1-1 GB/FB – five of eight pitches were strikes

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