The increasingly impatient offense

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Power and patience. Those two traits have defined the Yankees’ offense for more than two decades now. They work deep counts and force pitchers to throw a ton of pitches, then take advantage by driving the ball all over the field and homers over the fence. It’s brutally effective, but lately the Yankees seem to have gotten away from the patience part. They’re still hitting for a ton of power — second in baseball in homers (61) and fifth in extra-base hits (135) — but the at-bats don’t seem to be as long as usual.

Anecdotally, we’ve seen a whole lotta first pitch swinging of late. Heck, Alex Rodriguez saw a total of six pitches (!) in four trips to the plate just yesterday, so this isn’t completely a case of my mind playing tricks on me. Bronson Arroyo started the eighth inning with a pitch count of just 83 on Friday and a day later Homey Bailey needed 97 pitches to navigate seven innings. When right, the Yankees have the opponent’s pitch count up in the 80s by the fourth or fifth inning, so clearly something has been amiss during this recent offensive slide.

At the moment, the Yankees average 3.83 pitches per plate appearances and that is actually below the league average. Granted, it’s below average by one-hundredth of a pitch per plate appearance, but below average is below average. The Yankees as currently constructed should be far above the league average in terms of seeing pitches. I was floored when I dug this up. It just doesn’t make sense. Worst of all, they’ve been hovering right around the league average all season…

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Other than a short climb in late-April and early-May, the Yankees have sat right around the league average in pitches per plate appearance since things stabilized about ten games into the season. That coincides with Brett Gardner‘s injury and he’s obviously a guy that will work counts and see a ton of pitches each time up. One guy isn’t enough to explain the huge difference from what the Yankees have established as the norm. They saw 3.92 pitches per plate appearance in each of the last two seasons and that’s right around where they should be in 2012 even though Jorge Posada has been replaced by Raul Ibanez.

It stands to reason that fewer pitches seen would result in a decline in walk rate, and sure enough…

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The Yankees have walked in 9.0% of their plate appearances this season, above the 8.4% league average. That walk rate has steadily declined as the season has progressed, particularly in the last 15-20 games. Last season they had a 9.9% walk rate and the year before it was 10.4%, and that’s right around where they were sitting this year until this ridiculous offensive slump set in about three weeks ago. Obviously hits are better than walks but this isn’t an either/or situation, the Yankees have dominated offensively for years because they’ve done both, hit and walked. Lately they haven’t done much of either.

The run production has been dreadful of late, like throw your remote at the television awful. The Yankees have scored two runs or less in half of their last 20 games and it’s no surprise given some of the at-bats. Maybe they’re pressing, maybe it’s irreversible decline, maybe it’s bad coaching, maybe it’s just small sample size noise, maybe it’s all of that and more. The Yankees have gotten away from being patient and waiting for the pitcher to make mistakes, and although we can’t definitively say it’s the root cause of their offensive problems, it sure seems to be a contributing factor. The sooner they get back to grinding out at-bats (in all situations!), the better.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 21st, 2012

Record Last Week: 2-5 (23 RS, 33 RA)
Season Record: 21-20 (189 RS, 182 RA, 21-20 pythag. record), 5.5 games back in AL East
Opponents This Week: vs. Royals (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Athletics (three games, Thurs. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

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 interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Lead gets away from Sabathia, Yanks lose again


Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees just plain old suck right now. There’s really no other way to put it and there’s no sense in sugar-coating it. They suck and it’s rather annoying to walk. I suppose it’s a good thing they’re headed to the West Coast in a few days so most of the fanbase will be asleep while they’re busy sucking on Pacific Standard Time. Let’s recap…

  • Better Than Johnny: The Yankees are struggling so much offensively that their only hope for scoring multiple runs is getting guys on base in front of Raul Ibanez and hoping he runs into one. Kinda like the 2008 Mariners. Ibanez hit a mammoth two-run homer in the sixth to give his team a two-run lead on Sunday afternoon, his latest timely hit in a season full of them.
  • Better Than This: After six really strong innings to open the game, CC Sabathia let things get away in the seventh. Ryan “65 OPS+” Ludwick homered on the first pitch of the inning, then Ryan Hanigan homered in an 0-2 count a few batters later to tie the game. Things really fell apart after that, and CC eventually walked Brandon Phillips with the bases loaded to give the Reds the lead. It was his third consecutive walk and frankly he should have been out of the game after walking Joey Votto one batter earlier. Sabathia had walked two straight to load the bases and was over 100 pitches on the afternoon and over 30 in the inning. Still, a two-run lead with your ace on the mound in the seventh? The lead should last more than two outs.
  • Insurance Runs: A one-run deficit isn’t the end of the world, but it became a three-run deficit when Rafael Soriano allowed a bullet into the corner by that Ludwick guy with two men on in the ninth. Dewayne Wise made a valiant diving attempt but came up empty. Boone Logan allowed the two baserunners on a legit single and an infield single that probably should have been an error — it was hard-hit but a big league shortstop should make that play. Wise’s diving attempt will have people pining for Brett Gardner, but how about not letting Ryan freakin’ Ludwick hit two balls hard in the span of two at-bats? He’s terrible.
  • Leftovers: The homer to Hanigan was the first 0-2 homer Sabathia has allowed since 2007 and the bases loaded walk was his first since 2010 … it looked like Alex Rodriguez hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth, but the wind knocked the ball down* and it was caught at the track … A-Rod went 0-for-4 and saw a total of six pitches … Robinson Cano, Ibanez, and Chris Stewart each had two hits while Curtis Granderson and Eric Chavez had one … Grandy and Cano had the two walks.

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score, and ESPN the updated the standing. The Royals are coming to town for a three-game series, and I look forward to watching the Yankees make Felipe Paulino look like a Cy Young contender on Monday night. Hiroki Kuroda gets the ball for the good guys.

* A-Rod’s not hitting for power these days anyway, but it was windy as hell at the park and that sucker looked long gone off bat.

Injury Updates: Gardner, Robertson, Jeter

Got some injury updates on a pair of Yankees who are sorely missed these days, courtesy of Dan Martin and Chad Jennings

  • Brett Gardner (right elbow strain) will be re-evaluated today and if all goes well, he could pick up a bat as soon as tomorrow. “It feels close,” said Gardner, who suffered the setback ten days ago. “There’s no way to tell until I swing.”
  • David Robertson (left oblique strain) still has some pain in his side and hasn’t performed any baseball activities since being placed on the DL five days ago. The plan called for him to be shut him down for 7-10 days anyway, so he’s not behind schedule or anything.

Update: Err, scratch that Gardner note. He has not yet seen the doctor today but Joe Girardi said he won’t pick up a bat until Thursday at the earliest. That will be exactly two weeks after he suffered the setback. They’re playing it safe, it seems.

Update Part Deux: Gardner went to the doctor today and will have an MRI in two or three days just to make sure everything’s okay. He’s headed to Tampa later in the week and will start swinging a bat soon thereafter if this latest round of tests comes back clean.

Meanwhile, Derek Jeter took a hot shot ground ball off his left wrist in the ninth inning this afternoon and was in obvious discomfort, but he downplayed the injury and is expected to play tomorrow.

Rutckyj dominates in Low-A debut

Triple-A Empire State (4-1 loss to Columbus)
CF Kevin Russo & 3B Brandon Laird: both 2-4
2B Matt Antonelli: 1-4, 1 K
1B Steve Pearce & C Gus Molina: both 0-4, 1 K — Molina allowed a passed ball
DH Jack Cust: 0-3, 1 BB — 32 walks in 39 games
RF Ronnie Mustelier: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K — hitting .348/.401/.584 with just 25 strikeouts in 40 total games this season
LF Cole Garner & SS Ramiro Pena: both 0-3 — Garner struck out twice
RHP Dellin Betances: 4.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 4/3 GB/FB — 47 of 87 pitches were strikes (54.0%) … 39/38 K/BB in 44.2 IP
LHP Mike O’Connor: 3.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 2/5 GB/FB — 38 of 68 pitches were strikes (55.9%)

[Read more…]

Sunday Night Open Thread

Could you imagine baseball players doing that these days? Four guys like CC Sabathia, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira going on Leno or Letterman or something and singing Take Me Out To The Ballgame? Man, things sure were different in 1958, eh?

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. The ESPN Sunday Night game is the Dodgers and Cardinals (Billingsley vs. Lohse), plus there some NBA playoff action going on a little later tonight. You folks know what to do by now, so have at it.

(h/t to reader Ben K. for emailing the video … not our Ben K., a different one)

2012 Draft: Mason Melotakis

The 2012 amateur draft is just about two weeks away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some prospects individually rather than lump them together into larger posts.

Mason Melotakis | LHP

Background
A Texas kid who wound up playing for Northwestern State in Louisiana, Melotakis has settled in as the Blue Demons’ relief ace over the last three years. His prospect stock really took off when he shined with the Bourn Braves of the Cape Cod League last summer, striking out 22 and walking just two in 18.2 IP across 14 appearances.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 205 lbs., Melotakis went undrafted out of high school because he was undersized and could barely crack 90 mph. He’s since gone through a growth spurt and has developed into a legitimate power arm from the left side, sitting 94-96 mph in relief. His power slider is a true put-way pitch. Melotakis doesn’t have a third offering and there is some effort in his delivery, which is why he’s shown the propensity to wear down after a few innings when working as a starter. He’s a true relief prospect with two strong pitches, exactly the kind of guy who could zoom up the ladder and contribute to the big league team sooner rather than later.

Miscellany
Keith Law and Baseball America recently ranked Melotakis as the 63rd and 88th best prospect in the draft, respectively. The Yankees have a pair of second round picks (#89 and #94 overall) and he’d fit best there, not as their first rounder (#30 overall). I’ve never been a fan of drafting relievers in the first round, feels like a waste. Anyway, the Yankees have done a splendid job of turning late-round picks into a valuable relief arms under Damon Oppenheimer, so drafting one relatively high seems to go against the grain. In fact, they’ve only drafted three pure relievers in the top five rounds since Oppenheimer took over in 2005: J.B. Cox in 2005, Scott Bittle in 2008, and Tommy Kahnle in 2010. Melotakis would be an atypical pick for New York but not a bad one after the first round.