Robinson Cano’s ground ball problem

Miss the good version of Cano. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Given how dominant he’s been the last two seasons, I think it’s fair to say Robinson Cano has been the most disappointing player on the Yankees this season, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Expectations were relatively low for Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Russell Martin, but I think everyone assumed Cano would continue to be the hitter he’s been over the last two years. Needless to say, a .255/.308/.367 batting line (.297 wOBA) after the first month of the season is a surprise.

Everyone is going to have a theory about why a player is slumping when they’re slumping. Some resort of old diatribes like “he can’t hit good pitching” or “he can’t hit breaking balls” while others write it off as part of the typical ups and downs of the 162-game season. Occasionally we’ll get an actual answer, whether it be a nagging injury we didn’t know about or a mechanical issue or something else entirely. During last night’s broadcast, Jack Curry he spoke to hitting coach Kevin Long about Cano, and he indicated that he’s not getting his hands in the right place before swinging. Sounds reasonable, who am I to disagree?

Whether or not the hand issue is the root cause of the problem isn’t for us to decide. Whatever’s ailing Cano is causing him to hit a ton of ground balls, 52.9% to be exact. That is the 30th highest ground ball rate out of 184 qualified hitters and comes after a four-year stretch with a 46.2% ground ball rate and a two-year stretch with a 45.4% ground ball rate. Just to drive home the point, here’s the day-to-day graph…

Grean is grounders, red is line drives, blue is fly balls.

A 6-8% difference isn’t a huge red flag, but it does help explain why Cano has hit for so little power — .112 ISO — this season. Robinson’s not a ground ball/singles hitter, he’s a guy that rips line drives all over the field for extra bases. We’ve been watching hi do it for years, but he we have yet to see that guy in 2012 and who knows why. Maybe he really can’t hit good pitching or maybe it’s just some stupid little mechanical issue that will be ironed out in time. Your guess is as good as mine.

The Yankees scored just three total runs during a three-game series at home against the Orioles, and part of the reason why is Cano’s anemic bat. He’s gone 30 plate appearances without an extra-base hit — since the Yu Darvish game — after averaging one extra-base hit for every 8.9 plate appearances during the last two seasons*. For whatever reason, he simply has not been hitting the ball with much authority in recent weeks and it’s incredibly frustrating. We all want to assign blame when the Yankees lose, and right now some of that blame definitely falls on Robinson’s shoulders.

* He also hasn’t drawn a walk in 38 plate appearances after drawing eight in his first 70 plate appearances of the season, but that isn’t terribly surprising. Cano’s never been a fan of ball four.

5/3-5/6 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

(Tim Umphrey/Getty Images)

Man, talk about a trap series. The Royals remain winless at home this season, sporting an unsightly 0-10 record at Kauffman Stadium on May 3rd. It seems inevitable that they’ll win their first home game at some point during this four-game weekend set with the Yankees.

What Have They Done Lately?

As expected, the Royals are pretty bad. They wrapped up a 12-game losing streak about ten days ago and have won four of six games since. At 7-16 with a -24 run differential, Kansas City has the second worst record and run differential in the American League.


Ummm, Eric? (REUTERS/Dave Kaup)

One year after finishing in the top ten in runs scored and runs per game, the Royals are bottom five in the league in runs (89) and runs per game (3.87) this season. Their team 103 wRC+ is tenth in baseball though, and I would put more stock in that than simple runs scored. The Royals are middle of the pack in both team homers (20) and steals (16).

Mike Moustakas (146 wRC+) and the underrated Billy Butler (140 wRC+) have been the club’s two most productive hitters while Eric Hosmer (74 wRC+) and Jeff Francoeur (57 wRC+) haven’t provided much support. Alex Gordon’s follow-up to his breakout season has not gotten off to the start he would’ve liked (112 wRC+). Most of the players who are hitting — Alcides Escobar (111 wRC+), Mitch Maier (112 wRC+), Yuniesky Betancourt (109 wRC+), and Chris Getz (139 wRC+) — are not guys you’d expect to maintain that level of performance over a full season.

Center fielder Lorenzo Cain (-20 wRC+) is currently on the DL with a hip strain and catcher Salvador Perez has not played at all this season due to a knee injury. Jarrod Dyson (102 wRC+) has helped the depleted outfield while Brayan Pena (80 wRC+) and Humberto Quintero (103 wRC+) handle catching duties in Perez’s stead.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday: RHP David Phelps vs. LHP Danny Duffy
Duffy is coming off a ten-day layoff after having his last start skipped due to some elbow tightness. He threw 113 pitches in just 4.2 IP in his previous start, so I guess give the Royals credit for being smart enough to give him the extra rest. The 23-year-old southpaw has struck out 20 batters in 17.1 IP but has also walked ten, getting a ground ball just 34.1% of the time. Duffy throws very hard, legitimately sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball. An upper-70s curveball is his primary secondary pitch and a mid-80s changeup is a third show-me offering more than anything. The Yankees crushed him the only time they saw him last year — eight runs in three innings — though that doesn’t mean much as far as I’m concerned. It’ll be interesting to see if the elbow gives him any trouble, specifically with his control.

Friday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Bruce Chen
Kansas City’s version of Freddy Garcia (the 2011 version, not 2012), Chen has revived his career as a low-strikeout (5.86 K/9 and 16.1 K%), low-walk (1.95 BB/9 and 5.4 BB%), low-ground ball (35.6%) finesse lefty. He’s a true five-pitch guy, sitting in the upper-80s with his four-seamer, the mid-80s with his sinker, the low-80s with his slider, the upper-70s with his changeup, and the low-70s with his curveball. It’s a much different look than the guy the Yankees will be running out there. Chen is going to force hitters to put the ball in play, so the Yankees have to punish his mistakes and avoid chasing his junk off the plate.

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Saturday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Felipe Paulino
Paulino will be making his season debut after starting the year on the DL with a forearm strain. He was arguably the team’s most effective starter last season after being claimed off waivers from the Rockies, posting strong strikeout (8.59 K/9 and 22.4 K%) and ground ball (45.1%) numbers in addition to a mediocre walk rate (3.47 BB/9 and 9.0 BB%). Paulino throws pretty hard, sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball and backing it up with an upper-80s slider. His mid-80s changeup is a usable third pitch more than a true weapon. Paulino is the kind of guy the Yankees can make work hard and throw a lot of pitches, but a mid-90s fastball is a pretty good way to escape any potential jams.

Sunday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Luke Hochevar
The former number one overall pick, Hochevar has developed into a sturdy mid-rotation type. That has value but isn’t the kind of return you’re expecting from the top pick in the country. His 7.36 ERA is the result of two four-inning disasters (seven runs against the Indians and nine runs against the Tigers) and three otherwise strong starts. He doesn’t miss bats (6.31 K/9 and 15.7 K%) and his walk rate is high (3.86 BB/9 and 9.6 BB%) compared to his career numbers (3.05 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%), but his shiny 2.94 FIP is buoyed by the zero homers he’s allowed. Anyway, Hochevar throws three different fastballs — low-90s four-seamer and sinker, upper-80s cutter — and three different offspeed pitches — mid-80s slider, upper-70s curveball, mid-80s changeup. The changeup and curveball are seldom-used, but they’re there if needed.

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
The Royals had a strong bullpen last season (3.75 ERA and 4.07 FIP) and reason to be optimistic for 2012, but their relief corps has suffered two massive injuries in the early going. Closer Joakim Soria went down with his second Tommy John surgery during Spring Training, then setup man extraordinaire Greg Holland (2.21 FIP in 2011) hit the DL with a rib cage problem after seven ineffective appearances (eight runs in 6.1 IP). The solid but unspectacular Blake Wood (3.69 FIP in 2011) hasn’t thrown a pitch this season due to an elbow problem.

As a result of all the injuries, former Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton (3.06 FIP) now handles ninth inning duties for KC. He was one of the two or three best relievers in baseball from 2006 through the middle of 2010, when the Yankees broke him with a four-run, 48-pitch outing that June. Broxton hasn’t been the same since, and although his 2012 performance is encouraging, he’s no longer the dominant late-inning force he once was. He threw eleven pitches yesterday after not pitching since last Friday.

Anyway, two rain outs in the last five days has the Royals’ bullpen is relatively good shape. Setup man Aaron Crow (3.44 FIP) threw a dozen pitches yesterday afternoon, his first appearance since last Thursday. Right-hander Kelvin Herrera (5.94 FIP) and left-hander Tim Collins (2.73 FIP) have each appeared in the last two games and are probably the only question marks for tonight. Lefty Jose Mijares 2.67 FIP) threw nine pitches yesterday after a long layoff. Long men Nathan Adcock (3.50 FIP) and Luis Mendoza (5.55 FIP), side-arming righty Louis Coleman (7.23 FIP), and lefty specialist Tommy Hottovy (2.94 FIP) are all fresh. Someone from this group will get send down for Paulino at some point before Saturday’s game.

There are a number of great Royals’ blogs out there, including Royals Review and Royals Authority. As for the Yankees, check out our Bullpen Workload page to see who may or may not be available tonight.

Yankees to recall Jayson Nix

Via Sweeny Murti, the Yankees will recall utility man Jayson Nix today. No word on the corresponding move, but I have to think Eric Chavez will be placed on the DL after leaving last night’s game with whiplash and a possible concussion. Michael Pineda, Joba Chamberlain, and Cesar Cabral are all 60-day DL candidates, so clearing a 40-man roster spot is a non-issue.

Nix, 29, posted a .311 wOBA in just 31 plate appearances for Triple-A Empire State after starting the season on the DL. He owns a .286 wOBA in 869 big league plate appearances, though he’s actually hit lefties decent enough: .321 wOBA with a .204 ISO. The Yankees could use some versatility on the bench, and Nix has experience at every position other than pitcher, catcher, first base, and center field. He is out of options though, so they won’t be able to send him to the minors once everyone gets healthy without first sending him through waivers.

David Phelps’ Big Chance

(Elsa/Getty Images)

It’s kinda funny how a few weeks ago, after the Yankees signed Andy Pettitte, there didn’t appear to be any room at the inn for guys like David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell. They were the numbers eight, nine, and ten starters in some order. Now we’re not even one full calender month into the season, and two of those guys are on the big league roster and one is scheduled to start tonight’s game. Amazing how quickly pitching depth can disappear.

Phelps, tonight’s starter, has impressed in six long relief outings even though his 5.66 FIP in 17.2 IP is rather unsightly. He gave up three homers in 6.2 IP against the Red Sox and Rangers late last month, which will do a number on the ol’ FIP this early in the season. I honestly think his 3.57 ERA more accurately portrays his performance at this point, but maybe I’m just being a homer. Phelps has struck out 14 batters in those 17.2 IP, a solid but unspectacular 7.13 K/9 and 19.7 K%. Two of his seven walks were intentional and his 42.6% ground ball rate is decent enough.

Obviously six long relief appearances do not tell the whole David Phelps story, but that doesn’t change the fact that tonight’s start is a big opportunity for him, legitimately the biggest opportunity of his career (to date). Freddy Garcia has already pitched himself out of the rotation and Phil Hughes is on a similar path, so there’s a chance for Phelps to seize a full-time starting spot even though Andy Pettitte’s return is on the horizon. Saying he just has to pitch better than Phil is an oversimplification because a 7.00 ERA would represent an upgrade and still stink. In order to keep a rotation spot, Phelps is going to have to show the ability to a) go 5+ innings each time out, and b) not let things get out of hand like it has for Garcia and Hughes so many times. It’s so horribly cliche but true.

I don’t think Phelps has forced the Yankees’ hand — his performance has been solid but not overwhelmingly so — it’s more about getting Garcia the hell outta there. Phelps happened to be in the right place at the right time more than anything, but give him a lot of credit for doing what he had to do in Spring Training to win a job and then again in long relief to get noticed. The St. Louis native will have lots of friends and family in the stands tonight, so I’m sure his excitement level will be through the roof. The first career start is always a big one when it comes to nerves and stuff, but the evaluation process starts now and Phelps has to show he has what it takes to be a starter in this league if he wants to keep his rotation spot on more than just a temporary basis.

Yanks shut down by Arrieta, drop rubber game

Boy do the Yankees suck right now. Losing two games to the Orioles in the first half of the season is usually considered a disappointment, but two in one series? That’s rough.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Too Much Nova

Did you know that coming into this start, hitters had tagged Ivan Nova for a .343/.378/.619 batting line 111 plate appearances? That’s unbelievably bad. I knew he was giving up lots of fly balls and extra-base hits in the early going, but good grief, I didn’t realize it was that bad. I haven’t done the math, but chances are those numbers climbed even higher following Wednesday’s game.

Now don’t get me wrong, Nova was actually really good for the first six innings, holding the Orioles to just two runs and executing big pitches in big spots to escape jams. The only problem is that he went back out for the seventh after laboring through the sixth with his pitch count nearing 100, and Baltimore promptly tagged him for three more runs. Matt Wieters took him deep for a solo homer earlier in the game before hitting another ball off the top of the wall to end Nova’s night. The final result was five runs and 13 baserunners in 6.1 IP, raising his ERA to 5.58.

Two runs isn’t a huge deal, the Yankees were by no means out of it at that point, but the game was over after those three tack-on runs in the seventh. The worst part is that I’m 100% certain Joe Girardi tried to squeeze another inning out of Nova just to see if they could extend his win streak, a streak that officially came to an end at 20 starts. I’m sure Ivan appreciates the gesture, but let’s not make a habit out of managing to stats or milestones, mmmkay?

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

LOLffense, Still

In three games against the Orioles at home, the Yankees scored a total of three runs. All three came on two homers — a two-run shot by Eric Chavez on Monday and a solo number by Curtis Granderson on Tuesday. Pretty much everyone other than Derek Jeter and Granderson is in some kind of slump, either recent or extended, though Alex Rodriguez did contribute two singles in this game. As a team, the Yankees struck out ten times against zero walks to bring their K/BB for the series to 32/4. Ugly.

The Yankees didn’t get a single hit with runners in scoring position tonight and you know why? Because they didn’t even get a runner past first base. Five singles and nothing more, they didn’t advance even one runner. They scored the two runs on Monday, the one run on Tuesday, and zero runs on Wednesday. I can only assume David Phelps will get -1 runs of support tomorrow. With all due respect to Jake Arrieta, who really did pitch a helluva game, this offense is pathetic right now. Seriously.


I’m willing to take at least some of the blame for the loss given my pre-game proclamation. At least the NY Rangers held up their end of the bargain.

Three days after being banished to the bullpen, Freddy Garcia resurfaced in this game with two scoreless innings in garbage time. He allowed a pair of hits and walk without striking out a single batter. Hard to see him being trusted in anything other than a blowout right now. Clay Rapada and Cory Wade both pitched as well, with the latter recording an out on the only pitch he threw. Hooray for efficiency.

On a serious note, Eric Chavez left the game with whiplash and a possible concussion after attempting to make a diving stop at the hot corner. He went for more tests after the game and will not travel with the team to Kansas City. Brandon Laird is the obvious call-up candidate when Chavez is placed on the DL tomorrow. Hopefully he’s okay, concussions are nothing to mess around with. Just ask Brian Roberts or Justin Morneau.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

The game wasn’t nearly as close as the WPA graph suggests. has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees are off to Middle America for a four-game series against the Royals, where right-hander David Phelps will make his first career start on Thursday night. He’ll be opposed by southpaw Danny Duffy.

Banuelos strong in return from DL

Got some more minor league notes than usual, so let’s break out the bullet points…

  • Remember Juan Carlos Paniagua? The Yankees signed him for $1.1M last year but the deal was later voided due to falsified documents. The 22-year-old will be eligible to sign again this July, and Conor Glassey got a fresh look at his live arm yesterday. Paniagua will be subject to the new spending restrictions and it’ll be interesting to see if the Yanks pursue a new deal.
  • Local columnist Gene Sapakoff says the current Low-A Charleston team is the best in franchise history. The River Dogs came into today leading their division with a 16-7 record.
  • D.J. Mitchell’s two-hit gem last month was the second best pitching performance in all of Triple-A during April. By Game Score (84), it was the sixth best performance in all of minor league baseball during the season’s first month.
  • Pat Venditte was placed on the DL with right arm soreness, which explains why he had been pitching exclusively left-handed of late. Triple-A Empire State also activated two players following last night’s game: OF Cole Garner (DL) and RHP Cody Eppley (demotion).

And now to the games…

Triple-A Empire State (2-1 win over Rochester)
LF Kevin Russo, CF Dewayne Wise & DH Jack Cust: all 0-4 — Wise and Cust each struck out twice
2B Jayson Nix: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K
1B Steve Pearce: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K — 16 for his last 33 (.485) with six doubles and three homers
C Frankie Cervelli: 2-3, 1 R — 13 for his last 38 (.342)
3B Brandon Laird, RF Cole Garner & SS Ramiro Pena: all 1-3 — Laird doubled … Garner struck out … Pena doubled, drove in a run, and struck out
LHP Manny Banuelos: 3.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 3/2 GB/FB — 38 of 60 pitches were strikes (63.3%) and he was up to 94 on the stadium gun … very nice first start back from the lat problem, and he should get it up to 75 or so pitches next time out
RHP Jason Bulger: 3.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 4/2 GB/FB — 26 of 39 pitches were strikes (66.7%)
RHP Cody Eppley: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 20 of 38 pitches were strikes (52.6%)

[Read more…]

Update: Eric Chavez leaves game with whiplash and possible concussion

9:11pm: Chavez left the game with whiplash and a possible concussion. He hurt himself while diving for a ball an inning prior to leaving the game. Chavez will undergo more tests, but I can’t see any way he’ll avoid the DL. It’s worth noting that MLB instituted the 7-day DL for concussions last season, just in case you forgot (I did).

8:31pm: Eric Chavez left tonight’s game for an unknown reason in the middle of his fifth inning at-bat. He appeared to get dizzy all of a sudden and had to be helped off the field. Very weird. Eduardo Nunez replaced him at third base, leaving the Yankees with just Chris Stewart on the bench. Update(s) to follow.