The Pettitte problem

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No matter what happens today, the Yankees will head into the All Star Break with the third-highest win total in the Major Leagues. They are holding down a playoff position and have played some of the best baseball I’ve seen this team play in a few seasons.

All however is not wine and roses. While we looked at Joba’s recent struggles yesterday, today we are faced with the reality of Andy Pettitte. He may have eight wins, but they haven’t been pretty. Lately, he’s barely been keeping the Yanks in the game. Handed a 4-0 lead yesterday afternoon, Pettitte gave it all back and more before the 5th inning was out. Similar to Joba on Friday, Pettitte was showered by the end of the 5th.

This start caps off a bad end to the first half for Pettitte. After going 5-1 with a 4.10 ERA through the end of May, Pettitte has tanked. He’s 3-4 with a 5.93 ERA. He has allowed 51 hits over his last 44 innings while walking 21 and striking out 36. That’s a 1.66 WHIP for those keeping score at home. Opponents have an OPS against Pettitte well over .800 now.

More alarming, in a way though, are his innings totals. Those 44 innings span eight starts. He’s averaging just 5.5 innings per game. When the season started, Pettitte was billed as a solid back-end guy. He’d throw to a mid-4 ERA but would give the Yanks some length. He’s not really doing that anymore.

Overall, Pettitte heads into the break with an 8-5 record and a 4.85 ERA. Since the 2008 All Star break, Pettitte is 12-12 with a 5.06 ERA. He just turned 37 last month, and we’re unlikely to see Pettitte improve.

When I saw the results of the game yesterday, I sent Joe and Mike an e-mail. “The Yanks have a bit of a pitching problem on their hands,” I said, and my two co-writers agreed. What we’re seeing is what we’re going to get from Pettitte right now. He throws 88 or 89 with flashes of 90 but can’t push a ball by too many hitters anymore. He hasn’t yet reinvented himself a la Mike Mussina 2008 but is showing why I was reluctant to bring him back this past winter.

The Yankees can feel good about themselves after today’s game, and we should too. They’re a very good team right now, but they have some holes. For better or worse, Andy Pettitte is one of those holes, and with Wang out and Joba struggling as a youngster breaking into the Bigs, the Yanks should be pondering how to address this Andy Pettitte problem.

Categories : Pitching
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For the second straight night, the Yankees starter could not get through the fifth inning. Friday night it was inexperienced starter Joba Chamberlain. Saturday it was well-experienced starter Andy Pettitte. His short start exposed the weaknesses in the bullpen. It was more than the powerhouse Yankees offense could overcome.

Pettitte allowed six runs, all earned, and all in the fourth and fifth innings. A double and a single to lead of the inning accounted for the sole run in the fourth, but Pettitte recovered to get the next three and keep the game at 4-1. In the fifth, it would all come undone.

Even with the shaky start to the fourth, Pettitte had still allowed just two hits through four. In the fifth it was amazing that he managed even one out. That was on a Chone Figgins grounder into a fielder’s choice. Everyone else Pettitte faced in the inning either singled or homered.

David Robertson didn’t help matters, coming into the middle of an inning and again let those inherited runners score. He added a run of his own, and in the end was bailed out when Howie Kendrick slid past second base on what would have been a successful steal attempt.

He actually recorded three outs in the sixth, but he buried a curve for strike three so deep to Reggie Willits that it went all the way to the backstop. That led to a run when Eric Aybar, who had a .325 OBP and .374 SLG heading into the series, tripled, his third hit of the day. It took Brett Tomko to finish off the side.

Another dropped third strike allowed the Angels to cushion their lead in the bottom of the eighth. With Reggie Willits on second — due to a sloppy throw over to first by Phil Coke — Chone Figgins swung and missed at a ball in the dirt. Jorge didn’t get all the way down, and the ball bounced through his legs and to the backstop, putting runners on first and third.

This set the stage for Bobby Abreu to drive in an insurance run with a sac fly to deep center. That made it 11-8 Angels, but it would end there. The umps blew yet another call when Chone Figgins slid in safely to second. The replay showed Cano tagging Figgins on the helmet before he touched the bag, but that apparently doesn’t matter any more. That would have been the third out, but the blown call led to three more Angels runs.

As an aside, these blown calls are getting a bit ridiculous. They’re not the reason the Yankees are losing games, but they’re sure not helping. While it’s unlikely they’d overcome an 11-8 deficit in the ninth, it’s almost impossible to come back from 14-8. The only thing keeping them in the game at that point is the old Yogi saying that it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

A big — nay, astronomical — part of the problem is that the bullpen has been overexposed lately. Bullpens, as we all know, are volatile, and to give them four, five innings per game is going to hurt you. Here are the starters and their innings over the past three games:

7/9: Aceves 3.1 IP
7/10: Joba 4.1 IP
7/11: Pettitte 4.1 IP

The Yankees bullpen had been great in June and the start of July, but there are few, if any, bullpens in the league which could withstand such a toll. The key to the bullpen before this stretch has been riding the hot hand. The more they have to pitch, the less able the manager is to do that.

It’s sad, really, that poor pitching overshadowed the Yanks jumping out to an early lead. Not only that, but they put up some runs even when the game got out of hand — started to get it back in hand, even, until the eighth. The offense did more than enough, even though Teixeira, Posada, and Damon went hitless.

There is no silver lining to this game. The Yankees lost and they lost bad. The only saving grace is that they have their ace taking the hill heading into the break. That, and they’re still in good position, even if they lose the game. CC Sabathia vs. John Lackey tomorrow.

Categories : Game Stories
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Zach Kroenke was added to the International League All Star Team. That’s what a 0.95 ERA will get you.

Jesus Montero was place on the temporary inactive list since he’s in St. Louis for the Futures Game. He’s going to start the game behind the plate for the World Team and bat fifth tomorrow. Jonathan Mayo says the starting pitchers will be Chris Tillman (O’s) and Junichi Tazawa (Red Sox).

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 loss to Buffalo)
Kevin Russo: 1 for 5, 1 R
Ramiro Pena: 2 for 5 – he was supposed to play CF tonight, but the outfield was wet so they held him back … he’s supposed to be out there tomorrow
Austin Jackson: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 K – 11 for his last 24 (.458)
Shelley Duncan & Frankie Cervelli: both 1 for 4 – Shelley threw a runner out at second from RF … Cervelli doubled & K’ed twice
Juan Miranda: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K
Colin Curtis & Yurendell DeCaster: both 0 for 4 – DeCaster K’ed twice
Doug Bernier: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 K
Ivan Nova: 8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 15-3 GB/FB – 58 of 98 pitches were strikes (59.2%) … just keeps on mowin’ ‘em down
Zach Kroenke: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 4 of 6 pitches were strike … wait, is it too late to take back that All Star spot?
Jon Albaladejo: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K – 11 of 16 pitches were strikes (68.8%) … allowed the lone inherited runner to score

Read More→

Categories : Down on the Farm
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  • A-Rod now 10th on all-time HR list

    Amid the muck of this game, Alex Rodriguez hit his 569th and 570th career home runs, tying him and then moving him past Rafael Palmeiro for 10th all-time. Three more and he’s tied with Harmon Killebrew. A-Rod could reach seventh all-time this season: he needs just 17 more to pass Frank Robinson. · (34) ·

So what do the Yankees do now that they’re down to two reliable pitchers?

Categories : Game Threads
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Yesterday’s game seemed pretty well at hand in the early goings, but the pitching slipped up after the fourth. They’ll look to rebound as a unit today and force a rubber game against a (what should be, considering their injuries) reeling Angels team. Andy Pettitte will seek some redemption on his own, as well. He pitched poorly last time out, and really needs to give the Yanks a solid start today.

The offense will have to do it against Jered Weaver, brother of forsaken former-Yank Jeff. The future of the Yankees could actually rest on Anaheim’s decision to select Jered with the 12th pick of the 2004 draft. Pre-draft word was that they had their eyes on a So-Cal high schooler named Phil Hughes. They opted for Weaver instead, and the Yankees took Hughes with the 23rd pick, one they received from the Houston Astros in compensation for, guess who, Andy Pettitte.

Weaver came up guns blazing in 2006, and actually took the rotation spot of his older brother, whom the Angels would eventually release. He had an over 3:1 K/BB ratio, and pitched to a 2.56 ERA over a few stints. He hasn’t been quite as good since, though given his solid peripherals his 4.33 ERA last year might have been a bit out of line (his FIP was 3.90).

This year Weaver has been by far the Angels’ best starter, though he’s had some trouble recently. The pinnacle of his season is his complete game shutout against San Diego on June 14. Since then he’s pitched 23.2 innings and allowed 19 runs. I always note recent trends for pitchers in the game threads, and after a half season of looking at it in hindsight, it appears to have no bearing on how he starts against the Yankees. So while Weaver has been getting slaughtered, it really means nothing insofar as today’s start is concerned.

Weaver throws a fastball that mostly sits high 80s and touches around 92 at times. That doesn’t sound like much, but he mixes it with a changeup that has about 10 mph separation. He’ll also drop a curve or a slider to mix things up, though not with as much frequency as the change.


1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Johnny Damon, LF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Hideki Matsui, DH
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Robinson Cano, 2B
8. Eric Hinske, RF
9. Brett Gardner, CF

And on the mound, number forty-six, Andy Pettitte.

Categories : Game Threads
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  • Burnett’s curve among the toughest pitches to hit

    In the Wall Street Journal, Darren Everson takes a look at the toughest pitches to hit in baseball, based on the swing and miss percentage on them. Strangely, A’s reliever MIchael Wurtz holds the highest percentage with his slider, which batters miss almost half the time when he buries it low and away. Zach Grienke’s slider and Rich Harden’s changeup are next up, and fourth on the list is A.J. Burnett’s curve, low and in. The article’s pretty short, but make sure to check out the expanded data at Beyond the Boxscore. CC Sabathia generates plenty of swings and misses on his changeup, but in all the other analyses they run the Yanks don’t show up. Both are neat reads on some of the nastiest (and easiest-to-hit) pitches in the game. · (11) ·

Most of the baseball world looked on last night as Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez polished off a perfect game no-hitter (thanks, Juan Uribe) against the punchless Padres, returning to the rotation with a bang. Sanchez struggled as a starter earlier this season, posting a 5.62 ERA and a .836 OPS against in 65.2 IP before being shifted into the bullpen. After two effective relief outings, an injury moved him back into the starting rotation and the rest is history. I think you know where I’m going with this.

Phil Hughes posted numbers similar to Sanchez while working as a starter (5.45 ERA & .868 OPSA), albeit in a smaller sample, then was moved to the bullpen where he’s been wildly successful in a bigger sample. Yet when the opportunity came to move him back into the rotation due to injury, the team didn’t act. Instead he remains in the bullpen indefinitely, with no apparent plan to move him back into a more valuable role. Al Aceves, who was just as effective as Hughes in the bullpen, got the call for Thursday’s spot start because “he was more stretched out.” Aceves lasted just 3.1 IP thanks to his pitch count.

Now, am I saying Hughes would throw a no-hitter if they moved him back in to the rotation? No, of course not. That’s crazy. All I’m saying is that there’s precedence for a starter shifting to the bullpen, gaining confidence and honing his craft, then moving back into the rotation and being effective. Sanchez is just the latest example.  Dan Haren also did it. So did Zack Greinke. And Adam Wainwright and Chad Billinglsey and countless others. Why can’t Hughes?

Phil may or may not be able to translate his success as a reliever into success as a starter, but how will you ever find out if you don’t try?

Categories : Rants
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Following a stellar eight-inning appearance in Cleveland on June 1, Joba Chamberlain seemed to be on the verge of a run. He had allowed just four hits and two walks while winning his third decision of the year. His ERA sat at 3.71, and he had reached the 8th for the first time this year.

The run he went on was not the one we expected. Since then, Joba has thrown 35.2 innings, and he has been awful. He has allowed 27 runs — just 20 earned — while giving up 47 hits and 15 runs. That’s a WHIP of 1.74 and an ERA of 5.05. Opponents are hitting nearly .300/.400/.450 during this stretch. It’s ugly.

As I’ve said a few times, I don’t know what’s wrong. Joba has no approach on the mound. He has no pattern; he has not rhythm; and he has no velocity. His stuff — once electric even as as starting pitcher — is simply average. His breaking pitches have less bite than they once did, and his fastball isn’t even all that fast.

Joba doesn’t seem to have a clue about it. “I made great pitches throughout,” he said after the game, seemingly in denial. I can’t even begin to guess what that was all about.

A good number of Yankee fans feel that the bullpen will magically restore Joba to the pitcher we saw in 2007 and 2008. That, though, just won’t happen. The Yankees will be left with another ineffective reliever who can’t locate his pitches and can’t find an out pitch when things, as they did in the 5th inning last night, start to go bad.

The bullpen may have been the worst thing to happen to Joba. Where the Yanks go from here with the once-heralded phenom struggling as a 23-year-old in the Majors will be both telling and vital to the team’s future.

Categories : Musings
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For four innings, Joba Chamberlain didn’t look too bad. He’d allowed five hits and a walk in that span, but worked out of trouble well enough, surrendering just one run. But it all came undone in the fifth. After two singles and an A-Rod error, Joba hung a breaking ball to Kendry Morales and the Angels tied the game. Joba didn’t settle down afterward, and he left after just 4.1. The Yankees wouldn’t recover, and the Angels took the opener 10-6.

The Yanks looked good early, striking three times in the first five innings to take a 5-1 lead. The pitching imploded from there, though, as Joba, Melancon, and Bruney combined to blow the game. There’s really not much else to say about it. They all pitched to varying degrees of crap, and the Yanks offense couldn’t muster enough support. Not that we should expect them to. Six runs is plenty.

Joba had some zip on his fastball, averaging 93.5 and topping out at 97. As you can see in his histogram, he was sitting around 94 frequently. So, like most pitchers in the league, he needs more than his velocity to pitch well and deep into games. That could mean some more variety in his pitch selection. Of his 94 pitches, 87 percent were fastballs or sliders. He’s going to have to drop that curve — which he threw only five times last night — a bit more. He’ll have a long time to go over what’s wrong; he won’t start again for another nine days, and the Yankees could push that to 10 if they wanted.

Again, not much to this one. Another poor start for Joba, some sloppy work out of the bullpen, and surprise surprise, it ended in a loss. All they can do is come back tomorrow. Andy Pettitte tries to redeem himself against Jered Weaver at 4:10.

Categories : Game Stories
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