On Sunday morning, I published a post about the ineffectiveness of the Yankees starters. Looking at the number of pitchers per plate appearance for four of the Yanks’ starting pitchers, I noticed that Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes were all throwing more pitches per plate appearance than the league average. Only CC Sabathia and Chien-Ming Wang were more effective than the league.
Following Sunday’s A.J. Burnett start in which he used far too many pitches to give up no runs in 7 innings, I re-ran the numbers. The following is the updated chart:
|Pitcher||Pitches Per Plate Appearance|
While I’ve been turning over the problems that plague the Yankee starting pitchers in my head, I haven’t yet come to a conclusion. However, something on Fangraphs has attracted my attention. R.J. Anderson examined how a few young pitchers are suffering from a put-away problem. Chamberlain along with Clayton Kershaw and David Price, three highly-touted pitchers, are not doing a very good job finishing hitters off.
Anderson doesn’t really have a real explanation for it. Price, he says, is struggling in terms of pitch efficiency because hitters aren’t chasing pitches out of the zone. Based on the percentages, Joba is having the opposite problem. With just 43.9 percent of his pitches in the zone, he’s not getting nearly enough straight-up strikes and is generally throwing too many pitches out of the zone.
But Joba is not the only Yankee pitching having problems. A.J. Burnett, sneaking up the list at 3.90 pitches per plate appearances, has suffered through efficiency problems all season. So far, he’s gone to three balls on 75 of the 351 batters he faced. That rate — 21.4 percent — is nearly double Roy Halladay’s three-ball percentage of 11.1. The extra pitches add up. Joba’s rate, by the way, is a whopping 26.4 percent. That’s way too many three-ball counts.
Right now, all we have are a bunch of numbers without much of an explanation. In The Times today, Tyler Kepner points his finger at Jorge Posada. Relying on the shaky catcher’s ERA stat, Kepner wonders whether Posada is partly to blame for the pitchers’ struggles. So far this season, Jorge’s ERA is 6.31 — 5.47 without Chien-Ming Wang — while the Yanks’ other catchers are at 3.81. Considering Jorge’s track record of at least a team average CERA, I’m skeptical of a one-year difference.
In the end, we’re left with data and evidence pointing at no obvious conclusion. The Yankees’ pitchers need to be more effective and economic with their pitches. They have to go deeper into games. They have to avoid putting on too many base runners, and they have to wean the team off its reliance on a bullpen that, while better of late, still doesn’t inspire much confidence. Whether the cause be youth, a less-than-stellar defensive catcher, or the coaching staff, it matters little. Right now, the Yankees have to make a strong push to solidify their playoff status. That will begin and end with better starting pitching.
Two years ago today on DotF, Eric Duncan went 2 for 4 after battling a bruised thumb, and I foolishly thought it could be the start of something big.
Melvin Croussett was named Dominican Summer League Pitcher of the Week for the second straight week.
Triple-A Scranton (1-0 win to Toledo)
Kevin Russo & Eric Duncan: both 1 for 3 – Russo drew a walk & K’ed … E-Dunc scored a run
Austin Jackson: 3 for 4, 1 2B – 14 for his last 27 (.519)
Shelley Duncan & Juan Miranda: both 0 for 4 - Shelley K’ed once, Miranda twice
Justin Leone, Kevin Cash & Doug Bernier: all 0 for 3 - Leone & Cash each K’ed once, Bernier twice … Cash also allowed a passed ball
Chris Stewart: 2 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Josh Towers: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 10-3 GB/FB – 57 of 93 pitches were strikes (61.3%)
Anthony Claggett: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 4-0 GB/FB – just 13 of 30 pitches were strikes (43.3%) … you ain’t throwin’ two scoreless innings in the big leagues with that strike to ball ratio, kid
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 5 of 8 pitches were strikes
FanGraphs is great, and it just keeps getting better. Just a few weeks ago they added a feature showing the Linear Weights Run Value (explained here) for each pitcher and their pitches. In short, it expresses the actual effectiveness of each pitch by comparing the change in expected number of runs scored after the pitch to before the pitch. It’s similar to how WPA is calculated for individual players, but each event is a pitch rather than a plate appearance.
Anyway, with the off day I figured it was a good time to take a look at the best (and worst) individual pitches on the Yankees staff. Each value is expressed in runs saved per 100 pitches; big numbers are good, small and negative numbers are bad.
Three Best Curveballs: Al Aveces (3.45), AJ Burnett (1.79), Jon Albaladejo (1.77)
Three Worst Curveballs: CC Sabathia (-3.48), Phil Hughes (-0.45), Jose Veras & Andy Pettitte (both 0.64)
Three Best Changeups: CC Sabathia (3.07), Phil Coke (2.85), Al Aceves (2.71)
Three Worst Changeups: Jon Albaladejo (-70.05), Chien-Ming Wang (-8.21), Joba Chamberlain (-3.79)
I limited the data to guys with at least 20 IP to eliminate the Anthony Claggetts and Nick Swishers of the pitching gene pool. For comparison’s sake, the best and worst value for each kind of pitch in the league generally registers around 3.70 and -3.70, respectively. Some of the big numbers – Burnett’s slider, Albaladejo’s change – are sample size issues, meaning the data came from a sample of like, two pitches. If you want to see the data for the entire Yanks’ staff, click here.
As cool as this data is, it’s far more interesting to look at the team values. For example, the staff with the most effective fastball belongs to the Giants (0.58), and the worst belong to … drumroll please … the Yankees! Yep, with a pitch value of -0.90, the Yanks’ staff has thrown the least effective heaters in the game. They do rank middle of the pack when it comes to sliders (0.70, 14th overall) and changeups (0.49, 11th), and are near the top with curveballs (1.04, 7th), but why do the Yanks rank so poorly with the heater? I don’t know, but it’s kinda troubling when you have power arms like Sabathia, Burnett and Chamberlain on the staff.
Any theories? If so, drop ‘em here. If not, then talk about whatever you want and use this as an open thread. The Brewers face the Indians on ESPN, and Arkansas plays LSU in the College World Series on ESPN2. Other than that, there’s not much going on in the world of sports tonight. Anything goes here, just be nice.
Mark Feinsand tweets that Dr. James Andrews gave Damaso Marte’s left shoulder two thumbs up, and the pitcher will return to Tampa. He’ll continue his rehab there, but there’s still no timetable for his return. As poorly as he pitched earlier this year, a healthy and effective Marte would go a long way to improving any bullpen, not just the one in the Bronx. · (17) ·
Nothing attracts attention quite like a circus sideshow. Luckily for the Yanks, they have their very own baseball oddity pitching in Charleston. His name is Pat Venditte, and as most RAB readers know, he is in professional baseball’s only switch-pitcher.
I’ve always been intrigued with Venditte and so have our readers. In fact, Joe’s short post with a video of the switch-pitching/switch-hitting conflict remains RAB’s most popular. The Yankees too have long liked Venditte. They drafted him in back-to-back years, and novelty aside, he is putting up some eye-opening numbers at Charleston.
As the Charleston closer this year, he is 2-1 with 0.64 ERA in 25 games. He has 20 saves and has an astounding 38:1 K:BB ratio. Now, Venditte is 24, far too old for the Sally League, and was a 20-round draft pick last year. The expectations for him are clearly not too high.
This weekend, Alan Schwarz profiled Venditte. While much of the earlier coverage has focused around Venditte’s ambidexterity, Schwarz looked instead at his baseball future. While we love Pat, the Yankees and scouts aren’t as high on the lefty-righty.
National news organizations travel to Charleston, S.C., to revel in his uniqueness. Fans see his statistics and dream of matchup mayhem. But experienced talent evaluators see not just one underwhelming fastball, but two. Sorry, kid.
“It’s fair to have some skepticism,” said Mark Newman, the Yankees’ senior vice president for baseball operations. “The uniqueness only has value in terms of how it translates into getting big-league hitters out. This isn’t a freak show, it’s a get-hitters-out show. We’re looking for New York impact — not Charleston impact.”
Scrooge as it may sound, Newman’s outlook would be shared by most professional scouts. South Atlantic League history is strewn with right-handers who thrive with 87-mile-per-hour fastballs like Venditte’s. His left-handed stuff is roundly (if not flatteringly) described as slop. Just because it is all thrown by the same guy does not mean it will not get hammered at higher levels.
Venditte doesn’t let the negative assessments get to him though. “I know I’m not a big prospect,” he said to Schwarz. “I have to work my way into becoming someone who the organization sees as maybe one day helping the big club. I’m just happy to have a job. No one here knows where they’re going to be next year or next week. You have to look at it as you’re playing a game for a living, and enjoy it while it lasts.”
That last quote sounds as though it came from the Nuke LaLoosh/Crash Davis School of Talking to Reporters. But anyway, Schwarz delves deeper into the Yanks’ organizational approach to relief pitchers as well:
The Yankees have not promoted Venditte this season because they prefer giving higher-level relief innings to hard-throwing pitchers they believe have higher potential: Kevin Whelan and Mike Dunn at Class AA Trenton, and Adam Olbrychowski and Tim Norton at Class A Tampa. Newman said, “You’re trying to keep these balls in the air, and big tools usually trump lesser tools plus performance.”
…After he earned his 20th save Wednesday night by pitching for the sixth time in nine nights, a scout evaluating him said: “You look at him as a little short. But I’m wondering why he’s still here.”
Newman acknowledged that at some point, perhaps when Charleston’s first half ends later this month, the Yankees will have to find out if Venditte can retire more mature hitters.
I side with that scout. Night after night, Venditte pops up in Mike’s Down on the Farm recaps, and night after night, I wonder why the wait. Venditte is old with amazing peripherals. His ceiling could be AA or it could be as a journeyman relievers. It’s certainly higher than Charleston, and at 24, Venditte isn’t getting younger. The Yanks might as well push the Venditte novelty act as far as it can go.
Photo by Pat Venditte courtesy of Hilton Flores/Staten Island Advance.
Word came down this morning that Yanks 13th round pick DeAngelo Mack has opted to skip his senior year in order to sign with the team. He’s headed down to Tampa to work out, presumably until the Staten Island season starts. Mack led the SEC in hits for the 2009 season, and is particularly famous for this monster, monster home run:
Good night nurse! (Seriously, when was the last time you heard someone say that?)
By all accounts, the Yankees had a very successful weekend at the gate. They averaged 47,988 fans per game and drew 143,966 over the weekend. Those figures represent the highest three-day total and best three-game average in the short history of new Yankee Stadium.
Yet, as the Subway Series unfolded, I couldn’t help but think about the 21,000 fans who didn’t get to see the Mets and Yankees in person this weekend. Prior to this weekend, the Yankees and Mets were averaging around 55,522 fans per Subway Series game at Yankee Stadium. Just once — a make-up game on a Sunday in June 2004 — did the teams fail to draw at least 54,978 fans.
On its surface, the low attendance numbers aren’t surprising. After all, new Yankee Stadium has a capacity that is 4500 seats fewer than the ballpark across the street did. What is surprising though is that the three games against the Mets weren’t up to that capacity. The Yankees didn’t draw the 52,325 fans they claim can fit into the new stadium, and even omitting the 2000 standing room-only tickets, they weren’t even within 2,000 fans of the 50,325 non-SRO capacity crowd.
Prior to the weekend showdown, Mark Feinsand published a short piece on this very issue. He wrote:
Through the first 29 games in the Bronx, the Yankees have had only one sellout in their new $1.5 billion palace, all the way back on Opening Day. Last season the Yankees sold out 58 of their 81 home games. Even that crowd was announced at 48,271, well short of the stadium’s listed capacity of 52,325. The team said that the remainder of the tickets had been given out as comps, so they didn’t count toward the official total…
“Since the price was dropped, sales have been good, combined with the fact the team has won,” a person familiar with the Yankees’ ticket sales said. “Sales have gotten better day to day. It (the price reductions) did work. Plus, the team is winning and that helps.”
The person added that 88% of all seats available to be sold for the entire season have been sold, though the remaining 12% presumably include many of the most expensive seats. Still, if Yankees-Mets can’t bring a full house, what series can?
The real issue remains, of course, the high-priced tickets. The Yanks won’t hit a capacity crowd until all of the luxury suites and all of the Legends Suites tickets are accounted for. We’re still waiting for that day to come this year, and if I had to bet, I’d put money those seats costing less next year.
For now, the Yankees continue on in the economic experiment in sports ticketing that is new Yankee Stadium. The seats for key series will be empty, and those of us who didn’t have the chance to buy tickets will just have to live with the jarring sight of empty Yankee Stadium seats when the Mets (and Red Sox) are in town.
On Tuesday Brian Bruney will make his second return to the Yankees bullpen, this time hopefully for good. In limited action this year and last Bruney has been lights out, striking out 46 and allowing just 10 runs over 43.1 innings. The problem, of course, is that he’s been off the field more often than he’s been on. A healthy Bruney can make a world of difference in the Yankees bullpen.
When the Yankees activate Bruney tomorrow they will have to make a roster move. To some this move is obvious. The Yanks have a number of ineffective arms in the pen, and removing one of them would make the most sense, since it would be subtracting from where they add. There are a few other factors, though, which might make this decision a bit tougher. Here are the five moves the Yankees could make on Tuesday:
DFA Brett Tomko: The 36-year-old Tomko was never really good over his now-13-year career. He’s had two years with a league average ERA, and one of them came in his 1997 rookie campaign. His current 5.56 ERA is inflated due to his horrible performance on Friday, so he’s been decent in stints for the Yankees (including three innings of shutout ball against Texas two weeks ago). The question now is of whether Tomko can help this team going forward. Given his track record, it’s tough to expect it.
DFA Jose Veras: Fans have been clamoring for this move all season, and they might finally get their wish. It seems Veras walks the leadoff hitter every time out, which is one of the most frustrating things a relief pitcher can do. The Yankees don’t wan to give up on Veras because he has electric stuff, but at some point you have to consider the good of the team. His only saving grace right now, beyond his uncontrollable stuff, is his performance in multi-inning stints. When called upon for two or more innings, Veras has been much better: 5 G, 12.1 IP, 3 ER, 3 BB, 10 K. In outings of 1.2 innings or fewer, he’s pitched in 20 games, 13.1 IP, 14 ER, 11 BB, 8 K. So perhaps he’s just too amped up for the shorter outings — or perhaps this is yet another failing of a small sample.
DFA Angel Berroa: This would leave the Yanks with 13 pitchers yet again. It would represent a stay of execution for either Tomko or Veras, but not much more. With Xavier Nady due back in about two weeks, the Yanks could be waiting to DFA Berroa until then. Count me among those who would rather keep Berroa for two more weeks, if for no other reason than to give the infielders some time off in blowouts, than carry 13 pitchers again.
Option Ramiro Pena: This is probably the least likely move, but there’s a chance the Yankees want to get him some regular playing time in the minors. Again, this would be a more likely move upon Xavier Nady’s return. In any case, I’d much rather DFA Berroa, but the front office has a few more factors to consider than fan preference.
Option David Robertson: While optioning Pena would be the least likely, optioning Robertson would be the worst. D-Rob has been a solid option for the Yanks since his latest recall, though most of his innings have come in low leverage situations. Still, it seems Girardi will call on him more often. He was the de facto third option out of the pen over the past week or so, and will move into solid fourth option starting tomorrow. Since his return to the big league club in late May, Robertson has thrown 7.1 innings, striking out 11, walking three, and allowing just three hits and one run. It’s a teeny tiny sample, of course, but the results are there. Also encouraging is that he’s thrown 65 percent of his pitches for strikes in that span. The Yanks absolutely need guys in the bullpen who can throw strikes.
The best options, to me, are either the designation for assignment of Tomko or Veras. Tomko seems to make the most sense, since he’s old and hasn’t been very good throughout his career, while Veras is young and has electric stuff. We often preach playing for the long-term, but that’s not to the complete detriment of the short-term. Concerning the bullpen, the Yanks might want to make the short-term move here. That might be keeping Tomko around.
It sounds silly. I say it to myself and think, “you’re going to sound like an idiot for possibly advocating Tomko over Veras.” Maybe I will. I just don’t see that it’s clear that Veras can ever be trusted in a low-leverage situation. Then again, as the numbers indicate, perhaps he has fixable problems. At worst he can be a quasi-long man, going two and three innings at a clip. Maybe that pacing will get him back on track. If it does, he’d be a lot more help than Tomko.
After two paragraphs of stream-of-consciousness ramblings, I think I come down on the side of DFAing Tomko. He’s old, he’s never really been good, and chances are he won’t provide more than Veras for the rest of the season. I also think that the Yanks are too seduced by Veras to give up on him in order to keep a 36-year-old on the roster. We’ll find out tomorrow, but the more I ramble, the more clear the decision becomes.
Record Last Week: 3-4 (39 RS, 30 RA)
Season Record: 36-27 (360 RS, 324 RA), 2.0 GB
Opponents This Week: vs. Washington (3 games), @ Florida (3 games)
Top stories from last week:
- The Yanks started the week off by wrapping up a series victory over the Rays, a mere formality before heading north to take on their chief rivals.
- In what was supposed to be a statement series, the pitching staff crapped the bed on Tuesday before Chien-Ming Wang did the same on Wednesday. CC Sabathia did his best to keep the Yanks in the game on Thursday, but the bullpen gave it up late and the Bombers headed home on the wrong end of a three game sweep.
- After the disappointing showing in Fenway, the Yanks returned home to take on crosstown rivals, the Mets. Friday’s game was all but tucked away in the loss column until Luis Castillo got butterfingers, but the team couldn’t carry the momentum in Saturday and came up empty. They finished the weekend off with a bang, pounding the Mets for the biggest shutout win in Subway Series history.
- The 2009 amateur draft was also held last week, and the Yanks took outfielder Slade Heathcott with their first pick, and catcher JR Murphy with their second. They also landed some solid talent in the later rounds.
- Brian Bruney is set to be activated on Tuesday after pitching in a rehab game on Saturday, but Xavier Nady is still two weeks away.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
During his last outing in Boston, Chien-Ming Wang couldn’t escape the third inning. He threw 29 pitches in the first inning, and while his fastball was up in the mid-90s, his sinker had no sink. Boston tattooed him, and the Yanks would go on to lose 6-5.
After the game, Joe Girardi didn’t commit to another start for the Yanks’ erstwhile ace. “I’m not ready to make that decision right now,” he said.
Less than 24 hours later, though, Girardi was ready to make that decision, and he did so in the form of an ultimatum. Wang would get one more start this week against the Nationals. If he falters against Washington, the Yankees will need to come up with a new plan, Girardi seemed to intimate. With Al Aceves and Phil Hughes both on the 25-man roster, the Yankees could easily find someone to take Wang’s place in short order.
Yesterday, following the Yanks’ victory over the Mets in the most lopsided Subway Series game in Interleague history, Brian Cashman sat down for a short state of the organization chat with Newsday’s Arthur Staple. While Staple and the Yanks’ GM chatted about the importance of Brian Bruney, Cashman’s need of Steinbrenner approval for any payroll increases and the vague state of the trade market, Cashman’s most pregnant words were reserved for Wang.
Cashman said Wang’s start Wednesday against the Nationals would be a big factor in determining what happens next.
“We need Chien-Ming Wang,” Cashman said. “This is an important step. We know what he’s capable of. The velocity and the sink are there. Maybe his confidence isn’t there.”
After Wang flamed out again in Boston on Wednesday, Cashman, Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland met to decide Wang’s future. They chose to give him one more chance at starting before demoting him and returning Phil Hughes to the rotation. Hughes pitched a scoreless ninth inning yesterday.
“Clearly, our bullpen and our team can’t continue to deal with this issue,” Cashman said, “especially when we have someone who can do the job better.”
That’s a very public way of dealing with an internal matter that would have short- and long-term ramifications. As the Yankees have evaluated their pitching prospects, Wang has always been a big part of their plans. He along with Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Al Aceves and Ian Kennedy made up the internal, cost-controlled pitchers who would complement the big free agents. With Wang lost, the Yanks’ plan relies very heavily on young talent.
Meanwhile, I don’t see the need to put so much emphasis on one start. Four days ago, I was ready to throw Chien-Ming Wang to the wolves. I couldn’t bear to watch the Yanks spot their opponents to four runs and have to rely on the bullpen to get 15 or 18 outs. Yet, after reading the comments on my game recap and having a few other discussions, I don’t believe the Yanks should be so easy to give up on Wang.
It is certainly important the Yankees field the top five guys who can best put them in a position to win right now. They’re two games out of the AL East and lead a hard-charging Tampa Bay Rays team (as well as the Angels and Blue Jays) by three games in the Wild Card. They need victories, and they can’t really afford to write off at least one out of every five games.
All things considered, though, if the Yankees believe that Wang’s problem is not physical and is only mechanical in such a way that confidence impacts his approach, they are doing themselves no favors in limiting their evaluation of him to one start. Chien-Ming Wang was 54-20 with a 3.79 ERA prior to this year. That isn’t talent readily available anywhere, and while I don’t believe the Yanks owe it to Chien-Ming Wang to let him pitch, they owe it to the team now and the team next year to straighten him out.
Removing him after one more sub-par start and exiling him to the bullpen or the scrap heap isn’t really a stellar solution. Finding the cause of the problem and fixing it is. That is, after all, why the team has a coaching staff.