Poor Jorge. He certainly is getting a bum rap these days, and it’s a largely undeserved one.
Over the weekend, Yankee fans watched as Jorge and his starting pitchers struggled to be on the same page. Joba Chamberlain and Posada were clearly out of sync, and that was but one anecdote of trouble between the Yanks’ All Star catcher and the team’s pitching staff. The Yanks’ hurlers have struggled to throw strikes and avoid the base-on-balls, and A.J. Burnett no longer pitches to Posada.
Today, the debate seemingly exploded into the open. As I noted late last night, Tyler Kepner questioned Posada’s game-calling skills through a look at Catcher’s ERA, and Dan Amore used CERA as well as anecdotal evidence to critique Jorge.
To me, though, this is all just finger-pointing and scapegoating for a problem that rests with the pitchers. As more Yankee fans begin to question Posada’s game-calling ability, let’s take a look at his historical CERA. The chart below tracks four elements: Posada’s CERA; the total percentage of Yankee innings he caught; the team’s overall season ERA; and Posada’s CERA+, a normalized look at how his numbers stack up with the team’s overall performance. As with ERA+, 100 is average or identical while anything higher is above-average and anything lower indicates below-average performance.
|Year||CERA||% Innings Caught||Team ERA||CERA+|
As you can see, Posada has, by and large, been right there with the team. Never much worse and never much better, his CERA has tracked the team ERA. Of course, the obvious problem is that Posada has been the Yanks’ primary starting catcher since 1999. The team ERA weighs heavily toward his CERA, and I didn’t weight the CERA+ numbers.
The other problem is that, as Keith Woolner explained in 1999, CERA is not a very rigorous stat. It’s prone to wide swings due to sample size issues; it’s not correlative on a year-to-year basis; and it’s not a predictive measure of future success or failure. It’s greatly impacted by the pitchers as well.
In the end, then, we’re not really left anywhere. Jorge Posada has been a fine, if unspectacular, defensive catcher for much of his career. He’s throwing out 32 percent of would-be base-stealers this year, a mark higher than his career average. His awful CERA could just be a matter of sample size or it could be a matter of something else.
I’ll end then with some speculation on that “something else.” While Amore’s anecdotal story doesn’t provide us with statistical answers, it gives us the sports psychology point of view. Amore notes that scouts believe his pitchers — especially Joba Chamberlain — should listen to Jorge, but he also explains how some pitchers don’t seem comfortable with Posada. Therein lies the rub. If the guys on the hill aren’t comfortable with the catcher behind the plate, no amount of statistical finessing will fix that issue.
I don’t believe Posada’s game-calling is the real issue with the Yankees’ staff relative ineffectiveness. But if some of the starters feel better throwing to someone else, the team might have to consider obliging.
Just a heads up, Yankees fourth round pick Adam Warren is on the mound for UNC right now in their College World Series game against Southern Mississippi. You can see the game on ESPN2, but if you can’t watch, here’s the flippin’ sweet GameTracker. It’s an elimination game, so loser goes home.
Oh, and Yanks scouting director Damon Oppenheimer is chatting at MLB.com right now. · (44) ·
Mike Fast at THT took another look at Chien-Ming Wang’s Pitch f/x data to try to figure out what’s wrong with the guy. Inlike everyone else, he actually adjusted for differences in PFX cameras at the New and Old Yankee Stadiums. His data is more accurate, but the problem is that he still comes to same conclusion: Wang’s releasing ball from a different spot than he has in the past. Why? Who knows? But Fast’s analysis shows that it is indeed happening. Check it out. (h/t dan)
Meanwhile, Wanger became a dad for the first time today. Justin Jesse Wang was born this morning, and in the Taiwanese culture a new baby brings good luck to the parents. Congrats to Chien-Ming and his wife. · (41) ·
When the Yankees welcome setup man Brian Bruney back later today, it will be the first time they can go into a game knowing who will pitch the 8th inning in a close game in nearly two months. Well, I guess CC Sabathia counts every five days, but I digress. As much of an eyesore as the bullpen has been this season, Tyler Kepner points out that the Yankee relievers have quietly pulled it together in June thanks to the work of four men: David Robertson, Phil Hughes, Phil Coke and Al Aceves. They’ve combined to allow just 25 baserunners and 5 earned runs in 23 innings this month, striking out 23. Of those four, only Coke broke camp with the team out of Spring Training.
As I was wont to point out in April, the bullpen at the end of the year will look nothing like the bullpen that started it. Edwar Ramirez and Jon Albaladejo have been banished to the minor leagues in favor of Robertson and Hughes, kids with upside that can actually put a fastball by a hitter once in a while. Jose Veras has gone from trusted setup man to janitor (get it, mop up man? haha … okay fine I stole that one from Joe). Damaso Marte‘s injury thrust Al Aceves into high leverage spots, and Brett Tomko has been serviceable while keeping Bruney’s seat warm (before Friday’s meltdown he had a 2.53 ERA). As of this very moment, only three members of the Opening Day bullpen are still on the active roster: Mariano Rivera, Phil Coke, and the aforementioned Mr. Veras.
This isn’t anything new either. Last year’s Opening Day bullpen consisted of guys like Albaladejo, Billy Traber, LaTroy Hawkins, Kyle Farnsworth and Ross Ohlendorf. By the time September call-ups rolled around, Mo and Bruney were the only relievers left standing from the Opening Day squad. The year before that you had Mike Myers and Scott Proctor and Sean Henn start the year just beyond the right left-centerfield fence, none of them lasting the season. That’s the beauty of not spending big money on volatile relievers: flexibility.
The 2009 bullpen has gotten progressively better each month as bodies were shifted in and out until the right mix was found. They went from a 6.46 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP in April to 4.04 & 1.39 in May to 3.29 & 1.17 in June. With Brian Bruney coming back today, expect those June numbers to get even better, because frankly the dude’s been money since the start of last season. Yeah yeah yeah I know it’s only 43.1 IP with two pretty serious injuries mixed in, but in those 43.1 innings he’s allowed just 21 hits and struck out 46. He also cut his walk rate down to 3.7 BB/9, hardly eye popping, but worlds better than the 6.9 mark he put up in his three seasons prior to that.
As Joe pointed out yesterday, one of the current members of the bullpen will go bye bye to make room for Bruney. Bryan Hoch confirmed with Joe Girardi yesterday that will in fact be a pitcher-for-pitcher move, so any worries about the 13-man pitching staff should end. It would be absurd to option David Robertson given his work during his latest call-up (13.5 K/9, .472 OPS, SSS warning), and such a move would have me seriously questioning the front office’s desire to field the best team. That leaves Tomko and Veras as the two candidates to go, and as bad as he’s looked at times, Veras is ten years younger than Tomko. It really doesn’t matter who they keep and who they cut, because whichever guy stays will be working super low leverage mop up innings anyway. Keep Veras, he’s younger and has a better arm.
Earlier this season Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi repeated time and time again that they would ride it out and see if the bullpen corrects itself before doing anything drastic. While no one would be opposed to adding a Huston Street at the right price, the relief corps seem to finally be headed down the path towards effectiveness.
Photo Credit: Jarrett Baker, Getty Images
When the Yankees acquired Kyle Farnsworth prior to the 2006 season, he was coming off one stellar 2005 campaign. It started off in Detroit, where he tossed 42.2 innings to a 2.32 ERA. He was then traded to Atlanta, where he proceeded to mow down the Senior Circuit, striking out 32 and walking just seven in 27.1 innings, amassing a 1.98 ERA and a 0.805 WHIP. With the loss of Tom Gordon and a generally meager setup crew, the Yanks needed an arm and Farnsworth was on their list.
The results, as we saw, were terrible. Farnsworth walked too many guys and was seemingly incapable of turning in a 1-2-3 inning in a big spot. Unsurprisingly, we are now seeing more of the same in Kansas City. The Royals, in a moment when reason abandoned them, signed Farnsworth this winter to a two-year, $9 million contract. They later signed Juan Cruz for less than that.
You might look at Farnsworth’s BR page and think, “What’s wrong with that?” After all, he has a 3.43 ERA and a 1.095 WHIP through 21 innings, not to mention a 4.2 K/BB ratio. Those are sterling numbers for sure, ones the Yanks thought they were getting when they signed Farnsworth. However, as in most cases, the numbers don’t show everything.
We turn to the world’s foremost expert on the Kansas City Royals, Joe Posnanski. After marveling at Farnsworth’s career, JoPo turns to his performance. The reason Farnsworth has been so good is that, for the most part, he’s pitched in the lowest of low-leverage situations. That’s for good reason, though. He kind of blew a few games early on, much to everyone’s surprise.
On Opening Day, Farnsworth came into a 2-1 game, Royals leading, and he gave up a three-run homer to Jim Thome. So, as they say, he announced his presence with authority.
A week later, he came into a 2-2 game … gave up a double, a single, balked, another walk and came out of the game with a loss. Four days later, he came into a 5-5 game in the ninth in Texas and promptly gave up the walk-off homer to Michael Young.
Of course, between the Thome homer and the balk game, Farnsworth managed to strike out the side against the Yanks. Go figure. After these three blown games he was inserted into 13 straight situations of the lowest possible leverage, games where the Royals were down 8-3 and 10-0. He did get one decently big spot, with runners on second and third with a 5-2 lead and pitched out of it. Go Kyle! It did fall apart last Thursday, though, when the Royals inserted Farnsworth into a tie game only to have him promptly blow it, recording no outs before the game-winning run crossed.
I do not miss Kyle Farnsworth. Despite the stretch last year where he actually pitched well, he was nothing short of disaster for the Yanks. That shouldn’t have been surprising, though. The Yanks had to have known when they signed him that he wouldn’t live up to the contract. There was no way he could. He was an every-other-year guy, and with the Yanks he couldn’t even pull that. It’s a bit of schadenfreude, of course, to talk about him now. The whole situation just highlights exactly why I’m glad the Yanks will never have him in the bullpen again.
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.