Back-to-back homers not enough; Yanks fall to Twins

For only the sixth time in the Ron Gardenhire era, the Twins beat the Yankees in the Bronx. That does not include the playoffs but does date back to the old Yankee Stadium. The 7-3 loss was the Yankees’ second loss in the last three games.

(REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

Back-to-Back

It’s always yucky with the starter gives up a run(s) in the first inning of a home game, putting his team in a hole before they even come to the plate. Freddy Garcia looked to be on his way to having a smooth top of the first with two quick outs — one on an incorrectly called caught stealing — but the Twins strung together five straight two-out hits to plate a pair of runs. It was the first runs Minnesota scored in the first inning all season.

The lead didn’t last very long. Disgraced former Yankee Carl Pavano fell behind in the count 1-0 to both Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson, and both guys hit a homerun on the second pitch of their at-bats to open the bottom half of the first. Jeter’s ball was an opposite field shot to right, Granderson’s was yanked down the line and into second deck. After four pitches, Pavano had surrendered the lead and tied the game. Three batters later, the Yankees took a 3-2 lead when Mark Teixeira singled in Alex Rodriguez, who reached on an infield single and moved to second on a throwing error.

Pavano Settles In

(REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

Things looked great early on, but Pavano quickly settled down and retired 17 of the final 21 batters he faced. The four exceptions were a legit single by A-Rod, a walk by Robinson Cano, and infield singles by Teixeira and Jeter. Pavano did exactly what a veteran soft-tosser has to do, and that’s expand the zone. Home plate ump Gerry Davis was calling a 24-inch plate by the time the seventh inning rolled around, and the Yankees played right into it. They were swinging at soft stuff outside and chirping when pitches off the plate were called strikes. That’s good way to get the umpire on the other team’s side.

Pavano needed 23 pitches to navigate that three-run first inning, but he threw just 15, 10, 12, 9, 17, and 10 pitches in the next six innings. The Yankees really didn’t make him work, and in fact only three of the 21 hitters he faced after the first inning hit the ball out of the infield. It was pretty gross, the Yankees didn’t much of an answer. I hear the Twins are going to rub it in by starting Jaret Wright on Tuesday.

Freddy Settles In … Then Loses It

Like Pavano, Freddy settled in a bit after that adventurous first inning. He retired the next eleven men in a row, but the wheels started to come off in the fifth. Alexi Casilla doubled to the wall with one out, then came around to score on Jamey Carroll’s single two batters later. Joe Mauer drove in Carroll with a double. Two batters later, Justin Morneau hit a solo homer into the Yankees’ bullpen to lead off the sixth. Following that stretch of eleven in a row retired, Freddy allowed hits to four of the final eight hitters he faced, including three extra-base hits.

Garcia was unable to do what Pavano did, and that’s expand the zone with soft stuff. He didn’t have the wild pitch issues that sabotaged him in Baltimore last week, but Freddy left a few too many pitches over the middle of the plate and paid for it. No walks and five strikeouts is good, but nine hits against one of baseball’s worst offenses is not. With Michael Pineda and Andy Pettitte on their way, it would behoove Garcia to get himself back in gear and soon.

The Grandyman can ... and did. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Leftovers

It’s unfortunate the Yankees couldn’t rally and make a game of it, because Granderson’s inning-ending catch of Morneau’s fly ball in the seventh will be forgotten. The Twinkies had a man on second and the ball looked destined for a date with the left-center field wall, but Curtis — who was shaded towards right with the lefty batting — managed to run the pitch down right in front of the Minnesota bullpen. T’was a gem.

Jeter (homer and a single), Granderson (homer and a single), A-Rod (two singles), and Teixeira (two singles) all had multiple base knocks. Cano drew the walk and Raul Ibanez chipped in a single, rounding out the night in offense. The 6-9 hitters went a combined 1-for-16 with four strikeouts.

The Yankees’ bullpen has been really good this season, so they were due for a stinker. Boone Logan got two outs, but not before walking two batters and hitting another. Cory Wade allowed four hits and two runs in his 1.2 innings of work while Clay Rapada managed a scoreless frame despite facing a righty or two. The B-relievers B-relievered it up, basically.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some additional stats, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Game two of this four-game set will be played Tuesday night, when CC Sabathia gives it a go against fellow southpaw Francisco Liriano. RAB Tickets can help get you in the door if you want to catch the game in person.

Turley & Campos throw gems in wins

In not-so-shocking news, Tyler Austin had the best offensive performance in the minors this weekend. He reached base ten times in 15 plate appearances, including three doubles, a triple, a homer, and two walks. That earned him a spot on Kevin Goldstein’s Monday Morning Ten Pack (subs. req’d). “He has nowhere near the tools of some of his Riverdog prospect brethren, but the bat stands out, and is very much for real,” wrote KG. Austin has been raking all season and came into today with a .438/.471/1.031 batting line and a .604 wOBA.

Austin and DeWayne Wise were named the Offensive Players of the Week for the Low-A South Atlantic League and Triple-A International League, respectively. In case you missed it earlier this afternoon, Tim Norton is making the transition to coaching following his latest shoulder injury.

Triple-A Empire State (5-3 loss to Rochester) first “home” game in Rochester, where they will play the majority plurality of their displaced home games
LF Kevin Russo: 1-3, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 BB
RF Colin Curtis, 1B Steve Pearce & SS Ramiro Pena: all 1-4 — Curtis drove in a run and struck out twice … Pearce struck out … Ramiro hit a homer (!), drove in two, and struck out
DH Jack Cust: 1-3, 1 BB, 2 K
CF Dewayne Wise: 2-2 GB/FB — left the game in the sixth after twisting his ankle running the bases in the fourth, we’ll know more tomorrow … for an unknown reason in the sixth … Ray Kruml replaced him and went 0-2 with a strikeout
3B Brandon Laird: 2-4, 1 K
C Frankie Cervelli: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K — threw out two of three attempted base stealers, including one from his knees
2B Doug Bernier: 0-3, 1 E (fielding)
RHP Dellin Betances: 4.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 2 WP, 2/1 GB/FB — only 44 of 96 pitches were strikes (45.8%) … 11 walks in 13 IP so far
RHP Manny Delcarmen: 2.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 24 of 38 pitches were strikes (63.2%)
RHP Cody Eppley: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 11 of 18 pitches were strikes (61.1%)
RHP Kevin Whelan: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — just a dozen of his 27 pitches were strikes (44.4%) [Read more…]

Game Ten: Bring on the Twins

"Guys, we're going to get beat, and we're going to get beat good." (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Not many things in life are guaranteed, but the Yankees beating the Twins is one of them. They’ve simply manhandled the Twinkies over the last decade or so, winning 63 of 80 total games, playoffs included. One of these days I’m going to dig up the run differential, I bet it’s over a hundred runs in favor of New York. Now expecting any team to sweep any team in a four-game series is a bit unfair, but it’s reasonable to be very confident about the Yankees’ ability to raise some hell this week. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Nick Swisher
DH Raul Ibanez
Russell Martin
LF Brett Gardner

RHP Freddy Garcia

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

On Russell Martin’s importance to the pitching staff

After the season the Yankees will have a tough choice to make. Do they allocate the payroll to sign Russell Martin, or do they let him walk and hope that Austin Romine can jump into the job? Since they do have the $189 million payroll goal, signing Martin might be difficult to justify. But, given his value to the team, especially on defense, they might find that a necessary investment. Just how valuable is Martin on defense? Anna Martin at ESPN’s Sweet Spot has a story today examining the various ways Martin works with his pitching staff. It includes the pitch-framing data we’ve discussed at length since last year, but it also talks about the more subtle aspects of the pitcher-catcher relationship. It’s definitely a quality read.

Tim Norton trying to “make the transition into being a pitching coach”

About a week ago we learned that Tim Norton was placed on the minor league DL despite reports that he was “throwing bullpens and feeling fine,” and now we finally have something resembling a real update. Brendan McGair reports that Norton is currently serving as an interim pitching coach in Extended Spring Training, and there’s a chance he’ll work in a similar capacity for the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League team once the season starts in June.

“He wants to stay in the game, but I don’t think his arm was responding like he wanted it to,” said Pat Roessler, the Yanks’ director of player development. “He just didn’t come around like we had hoped … Right now Tim is trying to make the transition into being a pitching coach for us.”

Norton, 28, was the team’s eighth round pick out of UConn in 2006. He’s battled significant shoulder problems as a pro, though last season he was on the cusp of the big leagues after striking out 46 and walking just eight in 30 IP for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. The shoulder acted up again, ending his season. Norton’s injury is part of the reason why the Yankees had to pick up Cory Wade. It’s too bad his right arm betrayed him, he definitely had big league ability out of the bullpen.

The Teixeira Analysis: The Right-Handed Batter

Over the next few days I’m going to spend some time analyzing Mark Teixeira‘s offensive performance, one of the most polarizing topics in Yankeeland. We’re going to start with the piece of the equation that actually isn’t a problem.

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

During his three full seasons with the Yankees, Mark Teixeira’s overall offensive performance has declined each year. He put up a .410 wOBA with the Braves and Angels during his walk year in 2008, then put together a still stellar .402 wOBA during his first year in New York. That dropped to a .367 wOBA in 2010, then again to a .361 wOBA in 2009. Now a .361 wOBA is still really good — more than 20% better than the league average — but it’s not up to the lofty standards Teixeira has set for himself with his past production and contract.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of Teixeira’s declining offense, the very first thing we have to understand is that we’re dealing with two different hitters. As a switch-hitter, there’s a right-handed version of Teixeira and a left-handed version of Teixeira. They’re two different hitters with two different swings and two different sets of tendencies. Lumping the two together doesn’t help us identify the problem.

Overall Performance

Here’s a look at the right-handed hitting version of Teixeira over the last five full seasons, the guy that tees off against left-handed pitchers…

AVG ISO wOBA BB% K% HR/CON BABIP
2007 0.357 0.208 0.430 11.9% 18.6% 4.9% 0.422
2008 0.303 0.179 0.393 16.5% 11.4% 3.6% 0.321
2009 0.305 0.207 0.389 12.2% 12.7% 6.0% 0.312
2010 0.278 0.250 0.403 17.0% 14.8% 6.8% 0.290
2011 0.302 0.286 0.410 10.2% 11.6% 9.0% 0.278

HR/CON is homers per plate appearances with contact, the most accurate way to measure over-the-fence power.

Aside from the typical year-to-year ebbs and flows, Teixeira has been a consistently elite producer as a right-handed hitter since 2007. His strikeout and walk rates are both much better than the league average, he’s a .300 hitter (.306 to be exact), and his power output has actually increased each year. Because he’s hit more and more homers against lefties in recently years, his BABIP has dropped. Homers don’t count as balls in play because the defense never gets a chance to actually field them. That’s why his batting average has remained steady despite the BABIP drops; he’s traded some singles and doubles for homers. I’ll take that trade every day of the week.

Batted Ball Profile

Outside of a pretty big outlier in 2008, Teixeira’s batted ball profile as a right-handed hitter hasn’t changed much in the last half-decade (and dating back even further than that)…

GB% FB% LD% IFFB% HR/FB%
2007 39.3% 36.9% 23.8% 2.5% 13.3%
2008 50.9% 29.6% 19.5% 3.0% 14.0%
2009 41.3% 38.0% 20.7% 6.0% 15.8%
2010 41.2% 38.5% 20.3% 3.4% 17.5%
2011 37.3% 42.8% 19.9% 4.8% 21.1%

Remember, the batted ball information we have these days isn’t perfect, especially when it comes to balls right on the fly ball/line drive bubble. Teixeira hit a few more air balls against lefties last year, but nothing insane. The continued rise in his HR/FB% jives with his increased homer rate, but otherwise there hasn’t been much of a change through the years. That’s a good thing, because Teixeira is a monster from the right side and any change at this point is unlikely to be positive.

Pitch Profile

Whenever you’re successful at something, the opposition is going to adjust. Here’s a look at how pitchers have attacked the right-handed hitting version of Teixeira over the last four years…

Fastballs Changeups Curveballs Sliders Misc.
2008 64.7% 16.6% 12.3% 6.1% 0.3%
2009 61.0% 14.5% 10.5% 13.8% 0.1%
2010 62.2% 18.5% 7.2% 11.7% 0.3%
2011 61.3% 17.4% 10.0% 11.1% 0.1%

PitchFX data only goes back so far, and anything pre-2008 is unreliable. Even 2008 is pretty sketchy, but anything from 2009 through today is a-okay. Pitchers haven’t been approaching Teixeira any differently in recent years, he’s still seeing the same amount of fastballs and just a touch more changeups.

Teixeira is a difficult guy to pitch to because he always has the platoon advantage. Most left-handed pitchers are fastball-slider guys, and the slider typically isn’t as effective against batters of the opposite hand unless you’re talking a Randy Johnson, CC Sabathia, Madison Bumgarner type of slider. Teixeira has only seen one breaking ball out of every five pitches as a righty over the last few years, and the league hasn’t shown much inclination to adjust. Perhaps that’s a sample size issue, perhaps most left-handed pitchers just aren’t good enough to mix it up any more than they do.

* * *

Teixeira’s offensive problems over the last two years are exclusively limited to his left-handed swing. He still hits for a high average with light tower power from the right side while also drawing walks and avoiding strikeouts. It’s the lesser used half of the platoon, but righty Tex isn’t a problem. Tomorrow we’ll begin breaking down the left-handed hitting version of Teixeira, starting with his overall performance before figuring out where exactly the decline is coming from.

4/16-4/19 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

(REUTERS/Eric Miller)

Having watched the Twins play over the last week and a half, I’m pretty sure they’re not going to win 62 games this season. They’re that bad. The Yankees also completely own them, winning 63 of 80 games during the Ron Gardenhire era (including playoffs). They’re also 10-2 in new Target Field, but this series will be played in the Bronx.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Twins have won just two of their nine games this season, both against the same Angels team that just left the Bronx. They were swept by the Orioles in the season-opening series, and they were just swept by the Rangers over the weekend. Their 28 runs scored are the fewest in the league and their 48 runs allowed are the fourth most. That -20 run differential the worst in baseball. Yeah, they’re awful.

Offense

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Only twice in nine games have the Twins managed to score more than three runs. They’ve mustered no more than two runs in six of ten games, and their team .311 wOBA is the fifth worst in the league. Joe Mauer (.307 wOBA) and Justin Morneau (.276 wOBA) are shells of their former selves due to injury, though they recently homered in the same game for the first time ever at Target Field. Jamie Carroll (.276 wOBA) is either going to walk or make an out, while Chris Parmalee (.262 wOBA), Danny Valencia (.238 wOBA), Ryan Doumit (.212 wOBA), and Alexi Casilla (.182 wOBA) have contributed next to nothing.

Only two regulars in Minnesota’s lineup are doing anything with the sticks. Josh Willingham (.579 wOBA) has four of the team’s seven homers while Denard Span (.433 wOBA) has been setting the table as the leadoff hitter. Recent waiver claim Clete Thomas took over the right field job from Ben Revere (.160 wOBA) and hit a homer in his first game as a Twin yesterday. You still have to respect Mauer and Morneau because of what they were, but this lineup isn’t scaring anyone.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. RHP Carl Pavano
Pavano has a special place in the hearts of Yankees fans thanks to his hilariously injury-riddled and ineffective stint in pinstripes back in the mid-aughts. Ironically enough, he’s turned into a innings eater since leaving New York, though he hasn’t always been effective. He owns a 4.39 ERA (4.05 FIP) over the last three years, ranking 12th in innings (656) but 35th in fWAR (9.8) among all starters. Pavano’s velocity has dropped off in a big way recently, as he now sits in the mid-80s with his sinker and low-80s with his slider, changeup, and splitter. He relies on ground balls and not strikeouts per team philosophy, and he is stingy with ball four. At 36 years old, Pavano is a junkballing righty.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Tuesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Francisco Liriano
The Twins have one guy in their rotation — really on their entire pitching staff — that can miss bats consistently, and that’s Liriano. He’s injury prone and enigmatic, two traits that are very likely to be related. On any given night he’s capable of a ten-run stinker or a two-hit shutout. Liriano relies very heavily on his offspeed pitches, specifically his wipeout mid-80s slider and mid-80s changeup. His two fastballs — two and four-seamer — are more low-90s now than the mid-90s they average two years ago. Liriano has traditionally piled up a ton of strikeouts and ground balls, but walks have been an issue in recent years. He’s been very hit or miss against the Yankees, with a few strong games and a few duds.

Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. Jason Marquis
Marquis, a Staten Island-native, will be making his first start of the season after leaving the team to be with his family after his daughter suffered a near-fatal injury in a bicycle accident. She is recovering well, thankfully. Marquis threw a simulated game as a tune-up on Tuesday, and believe it or not, this will only be his second career start against the Yankees in his 12-year career. That’s what happens when you spend all 12 years in the NL. Marquis is a classic Twins pitcher, getting ground balls with an upper-80s sinker and no strikeouts with his mid-80s slider and low-80s changeup.

Thursday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Nick Blackburn
It’s a matchup of disappointing right-handers in the finale, though at least the Yankees don’t owe Hughes over $10MM from 2012-2013 like the Twins owe Blackburn. Like Pavano and Marquis, Blackburn is the prototypical pitch-to-contact back of the rotation dreck the Twins love so dearly. He gets ground balls (career 48.3%), doesn’t miss bats (career 4.33 K/9), and rarely walks anyone (career 2.20 BB/9). I feel like I’m repeating myself here. An upper-80s sinker, low-80s changeup, and mid-70s curveball are Blackburn’s weapons of choice. The Yankees have hit him very hard just about every time they’ve faced him through the years.

For what it’s worth, Blackburn left his last start due to shoulder discomfort, but the tests came back clean and he’s not expected to miss a start. There’s always a chance he could, however.

Bullpen Status
Minnesota’s bullpen has taken a bit of a beating over the last two days, with standout setup man Glen Perkins getting spanked for three runs in two-thirds of an inning over two games. He threw 23 pitches on Saturday and ten pitches yesterday, so it’s unlikely he’ll be available tonight. Right-handers Alex Burnett and Jared Burton have each pitched in three of the last four days, so I wouldn’t count on seeing either guy tonight barring an emergency.

The rest of the Twins’ bullpen is pretty well set. Closer Matt Capps is both terrible and well-rested, plus they have righty Jeff Gray and lefties Matt Maloney and Brian Duensing in reserve. Overall, their bullpen ranks 23rd in baseball with a 4.50 ERA, though their 3.83 FIP paints a rosier picture (13th in MLB). For the latest and greatest on the Twins, we recommend Aaron Gleeman and Twinkie Town.