The Offensive Slumps

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Yankees seem like a relatively close-knit group of guys this year. They always appear to be enjoying each other’s company and whatnot in the dugout and off the field during various public functions. I don’t think the whole “25 guys, 25 cabs” theory applies to this team, just speaking as an outsider. The Yankees are so close-knit that they even slump together, as we’ve seen the offense do for stretches of time this season. There was The Great RISPFAIL Tragedy in May, and more recently a number of players have simultaneously hit the skids.

During this ugly 6-11 stretch, the Yankees have hit just .255/.313/.407 as a team and have averaged 4.4 runs per game. That’s down from their season marks of .264/.335/.458 and 4.8 runs per game. Slumps happen, they’re part of the 162-game season, but when a team plays .780 ball for nearly 50 games and suddenly hits a wall, it’s very easy to notice. Here are some of the top offenders…

PA AVG OBP SLG HR K% BB%
Mark Teixeira 41 0.147 0.244 0.235 1 31.7% 12.2%
Ichiro Suzuki 52 0.240 0.269 0.340 1 5.8% 0.0%
Curtis Granderson 84 0.205 0.262 0.372 4 37.1% 15.8%
Nick Swisher 114 0.213 0.342 0.319 2 30.7% 15.8%

Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and to a slightly lesser extent Raul Ibanez have been carrying their weight during this slide, but otherwise that’s basically half the lineup in some kind of slump. Teixeira’s coincides with his wrist injury (fun!), Ichiro‘s with his arrival in the Bronx. He was supposed to be a platoon player but has instead started every game the Yankees have played since being acquired. So much for that platoon idea.

Now, this is the definition of arbitrary endpoints here. You go back as far as the data lets you prove your point and then stop right there, the laziest kind of “analysis” out there. Teixeira’s is slightly less arbitrary because of the injury, but whatever. The point is that there are a number of players in the lineup right now who just aren’t performing as well as they usually do regardless of how long it’s been going on, and it’s contributing to the losing. Ichiro might not snap out of it because he’s 38 years old and rarely hits anything with authority, but Granderson and Swisher should get themselves right in due time and hopefully Teixeira will do the same as he gets further away from the wrist problem.

As poorly as Ivan Nova pitched yesterday, the Yankees still only mustered two unearned runs against Justin Verlander. He’s a great pitcher and all but the Yankees have gotten to him before, including twice this season. There was no way the team was going to continue to play .780 ball through the end of the season, but the Bombers have lost some very winnable one-run games during this stretch because nearly half the lineup — including three key top-five hitters in the batting order — just haven’t been themselves. I suppose that’s just the natural order of baseball’s balancing act.

The Ivan Nova Problem

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

There were a number of reasons to be optimistic about Ivan Nova coming into this season. The 25-year-old put together a dynamite second half and deservingly served as the Yankees’ number two starter in the postseason last year, leading to some over-sized expectations for 2012. It looked like Nova had a chance to develop into that solid, homegrown starting pitcher both the fans and the organization have been aching to see since even before the days of Chien-Ming Wang.

Instead, Nova has developed into another A.J. Burnett. The New York version, not the Pittsburgh version. He has good stuff but not the requisite command, plus a knack for allowing that big hit … over and over and over again. Like Burnett in 2010-2011, Ivan’s only redeeming quality right now is his ability to take the ball every five days and soak up innings without missing a beat. Through 22 starts he owns a 4.81 ERA (4.54 FIP) and leads the world with 71 extra-base hits allowed*. Starts like last night, seven runs on eleven hits in 5.1 innings, have unfortunately become the norm.

“I’m not the only pitcher in baseball who is going through a bad time right now,” said Nova after last night’s dud. “I know I’m going to get out of this one … I’m not worried about (losing my rotation spot). I’m not worried about ERA or anything like that. I just want to help the team to win games. That’s the most important thing, help the team to win games. I’m not worrying about ERA. The ERA is more like a personal thing. I want to win games, no matter how, just win games for this team.”

Someone should probably tell Nova that ERA correlates directly to helping the team win games, and right now the only team Nova is helping is the one in the other dugout. The only two things he has going for him other than his innings-eating ability are beyond his control — Andy Pettitte‘s injury and the Yankees’ big lead in the division. If Andy was healthy or if the Yankees weren’t six games up in the loss column, there’s a decent chance Ivan would be plying his trade in Triple-A, where he couldn’t hurt the big league team. Brian Cashman & Co. may have pursued a starter more aggressively at the deadline if the division race was closer. Instead, Nova will get a chance to right the ship in games that impact the standings.

Is that a good idea? No, not really. No team wants to start a bad pitcher every five days but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Nova took his demotion like a champ last season and came back a better pitcher because of it, but the Yankees lack alternatives at the moment. Pettitte is hurt, Michael Pineda is hurt, David Phelps is no longer stretched out enough to start — plus it would hurt the bullpen since he’s one of the few non-matchup options out there — and Adam Warren inspires no confidence after he fell on his face in his big league debut. For better or worse, the Yankees are stuck with their young right-hander.

To the team’s credit, they stuck with Phil Hughes through a similar stretch of awfulness in April and he’s rewarded them by pitching pretty darn well since May. Perhaps this is just a rough patch for Nova, though it’s very obvious that his command and location are the problem. We first noticed it back in Spring Training, so this isn’t something that just popped up last week. Look at his month-by-month splits — he’s had one good month this year, and that was against NL lineups during interleague play in June. Nova has, unequivocally, been a major letdown this season.

It seems clear that poor command and location have dogged Nova pretty much all year, but the cause of those command and location problems is unknown. At least to you and me, anyway. Perhaps he’s hurt, maybe it’s a mechanical thing, maybe it’s mental, maybe it’s one of a million other things. Whatever it is, it’s up to Nova and pitching coach Larry Rothschild to get it straightened out as soon as possible because the Yankees can’t really afford to absorb Ivan’s stinkers ever five days with seven weeks to go in the season. He’s the weak link in the rotation and he’s prevented the team from getting on any kind of winning streak of late.

* Just to give you an idea of how bad that is, Nova is only 15 extra-base hits away from tying 1989 Andy Hawkins for the most allowed in franchise history. There’s a chance he could break the record this month, before we even get to September.

Nova rocked again in loss to Tigers

Unfortunately, the laws of reverse lock did not apply on Monday night. The Yankees started their worst pitcher against the Tigers’ best pitcher and things played out exactly as you’d expect. That meant their 11th loss in the their last 17 games.

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

IvAAAn NovAAA

I suppose the good news is that he only allowed two extra-base hits instead of the customary five or six. Ivan Nova was awful yet again, allowing at least six runs for the second straight start, third time in five starts, and fourth time in seven starts. Eight of the last eleven men he faced had base hits and in his last 28 innings, Nova has put 52 men on-base. Fifty. Two. He’s not even giving them a chance to win.

The Yankees aren’t going to pull Nova from their rotation but his performance sure warrants a demotion to Triple-A. Outside of an absolutely stellar month of June (woo interleague play!), he looks exactly like the pitcher he was projected to be while coming up through the minor leagues — good stuff, spotty command, lack of deception leading to lots of contact. As an added bonus, Nova has shown the propensity to let a poor inning snowball into a disaster inning these last two starts. Ivan may “know how to win,” but his team has now lost six of his last eight starts.

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Offense Gets Some Help

The Yankees mustered just two runs off Justin Verlander, and they didn’t come until after the right-hander dropped a flip from Prince Fielder at the first base bag in the fifth. The play would have ended the inning, but instead Curtis Granderson was safe and Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano followed with run-scoring singles. The two runs tied the game until Nova let things get out of hand the next inning.

Other than that, the Bombers didn’t have much of an answer for Verlander, who struck out a season high 14. He whiffed four of the last five batters he faced and retired ten of the last 14 overall. Eric Chavez was the only one to put up much of a fight, going 3-for-4 with two doubles off the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP Award winner. Jeter and Cano chipped in a pair of singles each and that was pretty much it. The Yankees have gotten to Verlander quite a bit over the years — including twice this year already — but it just wasn’t happening on Monday evening.

Tell me about it. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Leftovers

Joba Chamberlain made his second appearance since coming off the DL, allowing just two singles while striking out one in 1.2 scoreless frames. He threw 26 pitches (17 strikes) and averaged 95.8 mph with the fastball while topping out at 97.4 according to PitchFX. Joba again threw all four pitches, something he did last year before getting hurt but not in 2010. I wonder what’s up with that. David Phelps threw a scoreless ninth with a strikeout despite allowing a baserunner and only throwing four strikes total. Hooray double plays.

Ichiro‘s exactly-one-hit streak came to an end in glorious fashion, with three strikeouts in four attempts against Verlander. Those are his first three strikeouts as a Yankee, a span of 53 plate appearances. He’s yet to draw a walk. Granderson and Mark Teixeira — who clobbered a ball to right-center that would have easily been out in the Bronx but was caught in Comerica — also struck out three times apiece. Raul Ibanez drew the club’s only walk of the night and Russell Martin chipped in a single.

Joe Girardi got into a rather heated argument with home plate ump Tony Randazzo in the middle of the third inning — Tony Pena had to literally step between them and bring Girardi back to the dugout — but the fact that he wasn’t tossed indicates that Randazzo knows he made some goofy calls. Verlander was getting called strikes down-and-away to lefties all night and that didn’t change either way after the argument. That strike zone wasn’t the reason they lost, but it was a little ridiculous. Here, look.

It’s just a footnote in that disaster fifth inning, but Martin has to catch that throw from Granderson on Austin Jackson’s single. If he fields it cleanly, Jhonny Peralta was very likely out at the plate to end the inning and keep it to a one-run game. Instead it skipped on by and just added to ugliness. It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for the team’s backstops, either offensively or defensively.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some additional stats, and ESPN the updated standings. Both the Rays and Blue Jays were idle, but both the Orioles and Red Sox won. Baltimore is now six back in the loss column, Tampa seven back, the Sox and Jays each ten back.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Same two teams on Tuesday night in game two of this four-game series. That’ll be Phil Hughes against Rick Porcello.

Calderon homers twice in GCL loss

Got some notes…

  • C Austin Romine has finally made it back to Triple-A after missing half the season with a back injury and playing a few weeks’ worth of rehab games. He’ll join the club tomorrow and presumably split catching duties with C Frankie Cervelli.
  • Hard-throwing RHP Corey Black has been bumped up to Low-A Charleston. I unofficially count four 2012 draftees playing in full season leagues already, which seems like an awful lot. Maybe it’s the new signing deadline.
  • Triple-A Scranton announced their 2013 schedule, with the newly renovated PNC Field set to open on April 4th. All indications are that construction is going well and the park will be ready on time.
  • In case you missed it earlier, we had an injury update on LHP Manny Banuelos and a discouraging report on SS Cito Culver.

Triple-A Empire State (9-2 win over Rochester)
3B Kevin Russo & SS Eduardo Nunez: both 2-5, 1 R, 1 K — Russo walked … Nunez doubled and drove in a pair
DH Chris Dickerson: 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K
LF Ronnie Mustelier: 1-3, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB — 7-for-24 (.292) since coming off the DL
1B Brandon Laird: 3-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI — third homer in the last eight games
C Frankie Cervelli: 1-4, 1 K, 1 HBP
CF Melky Mesa: 1-5, 1 RBI, 3 K
RF Darnell McDonald: 0-5
2B Ramiro Pena: 3-5, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 K
LHP Justin Thomas: 3 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 37 of 61 pitches were strikes (61%)
RHP Chase Whitley: 4 IP, zeroes, 3 K, 6/0 GB/FB — 30 of 40 pitches were strikes … pretty awesome job right there
LHP Juan Cedeno: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 21 of 29 pitches were strikes (72%)

[Read more…]

Mike Newman on Cito Culver

The Yankees made Cito Culver a surprise first round pick in 2010, and the 19-year-old shortstop hasn’t exactly justified their faith in him yet. He does lead the farm system in walks (60), but otherwise he’s hit just .222/.330/.297 (80 wRC+) in 444 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston this season. Over at FanGraphs, Mike Newman provided a scouting report after seeing Cito recently and as you probably suspect, it’s not all that positive. He notes that Culver is solid on defense but can’t really hit, particularly from the left side of the plate.

Newman does make a case for converting the Rochester native into a pitcher — he was 92-93 off the mound in high school — but I’m not sure I’m on board with that. Culver can still play shortstop and there’s value in that, plus he shows plate discipline and a solid approach at the plate. Perhaps some more physical development leads to more production at the plate. Hitter-to-pitcher conversions aren’t the most uncommon thing in the world, even after long layoffs. Another year like this and I’ll probably be singing a different tune. Here are Newman’s scouting reports on Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Gary Sanchez, and Angelo Gumbs.

Game 108: Can they make it seven straight?

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

I’m going to set you up for disappointment here, but did you know the Yankees have scored a first inning run off Justin Verlander each of the last six times and in seven of the last eight times they’ve faced him, playoffs included? That seems kinda crazy and frankly I would be stunned if they made it seven straight and eight of nine tonight. Just seems unsustainable against a pitcher of that caliber, but I’m welcome to being surprised. Here’s the starting nine…

CF Curtis Granderson
SS Derek Jeter
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
LF Raul Ibanez
RF Nick Swisher
3B Eric Chavez
DH Ichiro Suzuki
Russell Martin

RHP Ivan Nova

Tonight’s episode of “All the Extra-Base Hits” starring Ivan Nova game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

X-ray shows A-Rod’s hand healing properly

Via Dan Martin and Larry Brooks, x-rays taken late last week on Alex Rodriguez‘s fractured left hand showed that everything is healing properly. Yesterday we heard that Andy Pettitte‘s ankle is doing well, but this is the first update on A-Rod. I do worry about the lingering effects though, hand and wrist injuries tend to nag for a while even after the break heals. If he doesn’t have enough strength in his hand he won’t be able to swing the bat effectively, it’s pretty simple.