Burnett, Wilson both effective with different approaches

Normally in this time slot I’ll present a pitching breakdown of the previous game using MLB’s PitchFX data. There are plenty of great PitchFX resources out there, including Brooks Baseball and Texas Leaguers, so I can always find the information I’m seeking. These numbers are most useful, I think, for home games, since we have a large body of comparison. When we start crossing parks we run into calibration differences that can skew analysis. There’s a chance we saw that last night.

The PitchFX readings suggest that A.J. Burnett‘s fastball averaged 91.5 mph, topping out at 93 mph. That’s clearly not the Burnett we’ve seen in the past year and a half. He might not have that upper 90s speed any more, but he has averaged 93, 94 mph. So was this Burnett slowing things down to compensate for his back issues? Or is it a PitchFX calibration issue? I’ll suggest that it’s the latter.

Rangers starter C.J. Wilson had similar velocity numbers to Burnett. He averaged 90.3 mph with his four-seamer and ramped it up to 93. In his previous start, up in Seattle, he averaged about a mile per hour faster with his four-seamer, both average and max. I’ve heard before that the PitchFX data in Texas is a bit slow, and while this observation doesn’t confirm it we can see that there easily could be differences between parks. That makes it difficult to break down Burnett’s start by comparing it to his previous ones.

What we can do is compare Burnett to his counterpart. Both Burnett and Wilson pitched well, allowing just five runs between them in 12.1 innings. There was a curious balance there, with Burnett, despite being over 100 pitches entering the inning, finishing the seventh, while Wilson was lifted in the middle of the sixth. That helps bridge the one-run discrepancy. But other than the results, Burnett and Wilson aren’t that alike at all.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

By this point we understand Burnett’s arsenal. He’ll normally rely on the four-seamer and move to the curve or the two-seamer for a change of pace. Last night he threw 57 four-seamers, 23 two-seamers, 25 curves, and he even snuck in six changeups. Best of all, it looked like he might have rediscovered something he’d been missing in previous months. The four-seamer generated five swings and misses, the curve three, and even the changeup led to a strikeout. It’s nice to see the fastball fooling the Rangers hitters. We put a lot of emphasis on the curve, but without his fastball the curveball becomes that much less effective.

(As an aside, just to hammer home how effective Burnett’s fastball was last night, remember that David Murphy hit his home run on a first-pitch fastball. It wasn’t a bad location, down and in, so it’s tough to kill A.J. for that. But even with the resulting homer, Burnett’s fastball was still rated as excellent. In other words, I think we saw Good A.J. get some bad results last night.)

Yet even with the effective fastballs last night — his two-seamer didn’t have that tail that we noticed in his last start — the curve was again not that effective. The Linear Weights score on Brooks Baseball, which assigns run values to each pitch based on its outcome, had the curve as ineffective as the fastball was effective. Anecdotally, that sounds about right. It did generate three swings and misses, but all three came in a single at-bat against Vladimir Guerrero in the fourth. Burnett threw him four straight curves, and then went for a fifth when Nelson Cruz came to the plate. Cruz had grounded out on a curve in his first PA, so Burnett went back to it. This time it produced poor results, an RBI double that gave Texas a 1-0 lead.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

On the other side, Wilson attacked the Yankees with a mixed arsenal. He threw all six of his pitches 11 times or more. That was his changeup, and he even got a swing and miss on it. Wilson also featured 15 curveballs, on which he got four swings and misses. As Ken Singleton noted on the broadcast, Wilson didn’t even flash this pitch the first time through the order. He really didn’t have to. With five other pitches, he could keep that one in his back pocket until he needed it. That proved effective, as he dropped 10 of 15 for strikes, including four swings and misses.

One thing I love about Wilson’s arsenal is that he employs fastballs that move in two directions. That would be the two-seamer, which breaks towards a left-handed hitter, and the cutter, which bears in on a righty. That must make it tough for opposing hitters, since a fastball can move in any direction (or come in straight). I’m guessing that makes his changeup, and even his curveball, more effective. The two-seamer wasn’t working that well last night — he threw just seven of 16 for strikes and got no swings and misses — but I do wonder how well it worked as a setup tool for his other pitches.

This isn’t how Wilson attacks every lineup. In Seattle for his last start he went heavy on the four-seamer and cutter, throwing them 44 times out of 85 pitches. The changeup, four times, and the curveball, five times, were afterthoughts. Apparently Wilson thought he needed those weapons to attack even a depleted Yankees lineup. It worked well enough, though the Yanks did a good job of driving up his pitch count and forcing Ron Washington’s hand. Wilson threw 15 pitches in the sixth, leaving runners on first and second with one out.

While we didn’t get the best look at Burnett by the PitchFX numbers, what we can glean suggests that we did, in fact, see Good A.J. last night. Finishing seven innings while only giving up three runs is almost always a positive. That two of those runs came from a fairly good pitch makes it look a bit better. In other words, the process was good but the results didn’t match. That happens plenty in baseball. Give credit, too, to the Yankees lineup, a ragtag bunch that forced Wilson from the game before the end of the sixth. It was a tough loss, but there was plenty that went right in this one.

Yanks fall to Texas in rare Mo meltdown

Coming off an unspectacular homestand in which they went 3-4 against a pair of division rivals, the Yankees rolled into Texas to take on the league’s best team outside of the East. A.J. Burnett returned to the mound after his little bout with back spams, and was surprisingly effective save for one bad pitch. The back-and-forth affair ended in an unfamiliar way, with the opposing team celebrating a walk-off hit against the great Mariano Rivera.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Nickeled And Dimed

Most of us understand the concept of using your best reliever in a tie game on the road, after all there’s no point in saving your closer for a save situation that may never come. With the game tied at three in the 10th inning, out came the Sandman to hold it down against the Rangers’ four best hitters. We were all very happy to see him, but what followed wasn’t exactly expected.

Michael Young, the Rangers’ all-time hit leader, led the inning off with an infield single, a tapper deep into the 5.5 hole that he barely beat out at first. Josh Hamilton, arguably the best player in baseball this season, followed up with dinky little single of his own, scooting just beyond the reach of a diving Robbie Cano. The two runners moved over on a game-saving play by Alex Rodriguez, a diving play to his right to keep the ball in the infield. As a bonus, he was able to throw out Vlad Guerrero at first for the first out of the inning.

The bases were intentionally loaded to create the force at any base, but in what was an off-night for the game’s best reliever ever, David Murphy took three straight balls and was one pitch away from driving in the winning run without so much as lifting the bat off his shoulder. Mo worked it back full, but in the end Murphy ripped a solid single to right and ended the game. Two hits on weak contact set up the winning rally, which is usually what happens when Mo blows a game.

Like I said, it was an uncharacteristic night for Rivera, who didn’t exactly get smacked around. At least the Yanks went down with their best on the mound. I can sleep a little easier knowing that.

The Big Hit That Never Came

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

That little title is misleading, because the Yanks certainly came through with some big hits in this one. Nick Swisher doubled Jeter home in the 5th, Frankie Cervelli singled in the tying run in the 6th, and A-Rod blasted a game tying homer in the 8th, but once again we’re left wondering about what could have been.

Right off the bat, the Yanks threatened by putting men on first and second against C.J. Wilson in the 1st inning, but Austin Kearns (more on him later) bounced into a fielder’s choice to end the threat. Fast forward to the 4th, and you’ve got A-Rod on third and Kearns at second following an error, single, and another error (on a double steal) with one out. Lance Berkman, still trying to find his way as a Yank, went down swinging for the second out of the frame before Frankie Cervelli flied out harmlessly to center to end the inning.

Two innings later in the 6th, Kearns was standing on second with one out following a Cervelli run scoring single, but Brett Gardner and the pinch hitting Robbie Cano went down on a strikeout and ground out to end yet another threat. Two innings after that, Curtis Granderson stood on third with one out after he pinch ran for Kearns, but again Cervelli and Gardner could not bring him home.

Cano led off the 9th with a single, though he was erased when Jeter managed to ground into a double play on a hit and run. He’s really finding new ways to hit into those twin killings. At that point you felt like it just wasn’t going to be the Yankees’ night, and sure enough it wasn’t. Perhaps things would have been better with Jorge Posada and Mark Teixeira in the starting lineup, but sometimes guys need rest or (gasp!) have something more important than baseball to take care of. Take solace in the fact that the Yanks were pretty close to winning this one with the lineup they trotted out there.

Men Of Steel

Prior to Mo’s meltdown, the Yanks got two innings of simply (ugh, I hate this word, but I guess it applies) clutch relief work out of Boone Logan and David Robertson, the new setup tag team. Logan struck out Hamilton to start the 8th, then handed the ball off to D-Rob, who struck out Vlad and got Nellie Cruz to bounce out harmlessly to first. Robertson came out for another inning of work and immediately walked the leadoff hitter, who was sacrificed over and into scoring position.

At this point a base hit wins the game, but Robertson coaxed a fly out from Bengie Molina before intentionally walking pinch hitter Mitch Moreland to create the force at any base. Elvis Andrus, who caught basically everything hit within 30 ft of him on the night, worked the count well and was on the cusp of drawing a walk, but he ended up flying out to Nick Swisher in right to end the threat.

I don’t know about you, but it was probably the most stressful inning of the 2010 season so far, which means we’re getting down to crunch time. That’s not a bad thing though, I’ll take meaningful baseball over the alternative every day of the week. Great job by Logan and D-Rob in this one, but it’s too bad they probably won’t be available tomorrow.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Misc.

I’d write more about it if it wasn’t so late, but you gotta hand it to Burnett. Seven innings and just three runs against a team as good as Texas is no small feat. He made that one terrible pitch to Murphy for a two-run homer, but otherwise he was very strong and more than kept the team in the game. You can blame plenty of people for this loss, but A.J. isn’t one of them. We’ll take this kind of outing from him every five days, no questions asked.

We were all clamoring for Jorge Posada to pinch hit for Cervelli in that8th inning, but it turns out Georgie’s surgically repaired right shoulder was barking and he was unavailable for anything but an emergency. Hopefully this latest ailment goes away rather quickly, the less Frankie the better.

Can we start to get on Brett Gardner yet? He’s now two for his last 30 (.067) and ten for his last 66 (.152), and is hitting .233/.347/.315 over the last two months plus a day. It’s been a tale of two seasons for him; 55 games of awesomeness followed by 49 games of utter crap.

On the bright side, give it up to Kearns in this one. He went 2-for-3 with a double, a walk, and a run scored. Big time job as the day’s number five hitter.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Swish got thrown out at the plate (by a mile) after Marcus Thames singled in the 5th, but I have no problem with the send there. Murphy made a strong, accurate throw and Molina made a great scoop at the plate and held on. Force them to make the perfect play, and they did. That early in the game, I have no problem being aggressive.

Joe Girardi and various other folks on the bench were barking at home plate ump Mike Estabrook all night, and with good reason. He and first base ump Paul Emmel got together and changed a call at first after conferencing it out early in the game. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that before.

Both the Rays and Red Sox won tonight, so the Yanks’ lead over each fell to half-a-game and five games, respectively.

WPA Graph & Box Score

A little too jumpy for my liking. MLB.com has the traditional box, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Same two clubs manana, when Yankee Javy Vazquez takes on almost-a-Yankee (and hopefully, future Yankee) Cliff Lee. That should be a quick one.

Montero & Sanchez go deep as Aceves rehabs

Jesus Montero got some love in Kevin Goldstein’s Minor League Update today. His write-up isn’t behind the pay wall, so give it a click and check it out. Also, here’s video of Montero’s walk-off homer from last night.

Triple-A Scranton (6-5 loss to Pawtucket in 11 innings)
Kevin Russo, 2B & Greg Golson, CF: both 0 for 5, 2 K – Russo drew a walk
Colin Curtis, RF: 1 for 6, 1 RBI, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI – 13 for his last 30 (.433) with four doubles & three homers … that’s his third homer in the last four games … was pinch run for in the 8th, when they were down a run
Reid Gorecki, PR: 0 for 0, 1 R – and pinch running worked
Chad Moeller, C: 0 for 2, 1 K
Juan Miranda, DH: 2 for 4, 1 BB
Brandon Laird, 1B: 1 for 5, 1 R, 2 K
Eduardo Nunez, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB – just his fourth homer of the season
Chad Huffman, LF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Eric Bruntlett, SS: 1 for 4, 1 BB, 1 K
Al Aceves: 0.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 0-1 GB/FB – ten of his 19 pitches were strikes … he topped out at 90, but mostly sat a touch below that … nothing to be alarmed about, it’s his first time facing batters in nearly three months
Lance Pendleton: 3.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 3-5 GB/FB – 60 of 92 pitches were strikes (65.2%) … AAA debut … he served up a homer to the greatest hitter of all timeK
Amaury Sanit: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 5-2 GB/FB – 27 of 42 pitches were strikes (64.3%)
Eric Wordekemper: 2.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2-2 GB/FB – 18 of his 31 pitches were strikes (58.1%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 Balk, 0-2 GB/FB – 19 of his 35 pitches were strikes (54.3%)
Romulo Sanchez: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K – five of his eight pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 112: Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the division lead

Inverted-W FTL. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Even though the Yankees tack a half-game onto their division lead during their ten game stretch against the Rays, Blue Jays, and Red Sox, it’s hard to really characterize that stretch as a success. They went just 4-6 and were outscored 36-39, but I guess in the end all that matters is that the Yanks increased their lead and knocked a handful of games off their magic number, which now sits at 50.

Unfortunately things won’t get easier tonight, with the Yanks in Texas to take on the first place Rangers. Not only are they seven-and-a-half games up in an otherwise unspectacular AL West, but they’re throwing one of the game’s breakout starters tonight. C.J. Wilson, one of the few athletes worth following on Twitter, is holding opponents to a .216/.318/.316 batting line this year (lefties just .105/.190/.133), generating close to 50% groundballs. The former setup man and closer has walked more batters (66) than any other pitcher in the league, so if the Yanks are patient Wilson work himself into trouble. Doesn’t mean it’ll be easy though.

I guess the good news is that the Rangers are just 17-16 in their last 33 games, and just 3-4 over the last week. Still, they’re a very dangerous team with a great offense and a deep, dominant bullpen. With Mark Teixeira home tending to his knocked up wife, things don’t figure to get any easier. Here’s the um, lineup…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Thames, DH
A-Rod, 3B
Kearns, LF
Berkman, 1B
Cervelli, C
Gardner, CF
Pena, 2B

And on the bump, it’s A.J. Burnett.

Unfortunately the Rangers play in the Central Time Zone, so this one doesn’t start until a little after 8pm ET. The game can be seen on My9 locally, or the MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Was Nick Johnson really the wrong choice?

A post this morning on Baseball Time in Arlington got me thinking about the DH situation. There were four big DH free agents heading into the offseason — Nick Johnson, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jim Thome — and it looks like the Yankees made the wrong choice. Nick Johnson is out for the year and is providing the team no value. Meanwhile the other three remain healthy. Throughout the season I’ve seen fans complain about the team picking Johnson over Matsui, since it was such an obvious mistake. Yet when I looked at it, the result isn’t so obvious.

Johnson has been out since early May, having produced 0.1 WAR before hurting his wrist. That’s not a great return on $5.5 million. Matsui has been healthy enough to accumulate 411 PA, more than four times the number Johnson managed. Yet Matsui has produced an identical 0.1 WAR. In other words, while Matsui has stayed healthy he hasn’t done much to help his team. Hell, even Juan Miranda has produced 0.1 WAR this season.

The big winner among the foursome is obviously Vlad, who has produced 2.1 WAR despite a recent downturn. Yet Jim Thome, in 212 fewer plate appearances, has produced 1.8 WAR. If the Yanks were looking for a left-handed DH, he gets the hindsight award for the pick I’d endorse.

Pettitte, Moseley and Phil Hughes’ innings

After tossing six innings yesterday afternoon against the Red Sox, Phil Hughes had accrued 128.2 innings on the season in 21 starts. He’s averaging just over six innings per outing, and as his current pace, as ESPN’s Ian Begley noted, he’ll reach his soft innings limit of 175 at around September 18 in Baltimore with two weeks of the regular season and the October slate remaining. The Yankees will have to be creative to get the most out of the right-hander who has emerged as the team’s third best starter.

Already this year, we’ve seen how the Yankees plan to get the most out of Hughes. They’ve skipped his starts twice but with less than stellar rests. On four or five days’ rest, Hughes is 12-3 with a 3.35 ERA in 113 IP. In just three starts following six or more days of rest, Hughes is 1-2 with an 8.04 ERA, and in those 15.2 innings, batters are hitting .367/.451/.650. Notwithstanding the small sample size, those results are like night and day.

The Yankees, we know, would love to skip Hughes a handful of times. His start against the Royals next weekend, for one, seems largely unnecessary because the Yanks could beat the Royals without Hughes on the mound. They’d rather just use him for the key starts down the stretch. Hughes, though, prefers to be a creature of habit. “That’s what I’m used to,” he said of pitching every five days. “Just going out and getting the ball and doing my normal schedule. But if they feel like something needs to be adjusted in that way then that’s up to them.”

He doesn’t, however, think his struggles were anything more than a coincidence. Nothing, he said, felt physically wrong when he was pitching on extended rest. Still, the narrative runs strong here, and the results, so far, have been widely divergent. Hughes, as with any starter, thrives on regularity.

How then can the Yankees limit Hughes’ workload without giving him too much rest? The answer should lie with Dustin Moseley and Andy Pettitte. Yesterday prior to the Yankees/Red Sox affair, Pettitte threw a simulated inning in the bullpen. He threw 20 pitches and felt only fatigue and not pain in his injured groin. He’ll throw another simulated game on Thursday before heading out on a rehab assignment for one start. He could be back by the time the Yankees play the Mariners at home next weekend, but the Yankees are going to be cautious with Hughes.

And then, we have Dustin Moseley. Through 30 innings with the Yanks, Moseley has been more than adequate. His strike out totals — 16 with a K/9 IP of 4.7 — are low, but opponents are hitting just .239/.303/.413 off of him. His 1.50 ground out-to-fly out ratio allows him to succeed without a high strike out total, and the Yankee scouts have been high on his sinking pitches. He’ll draw the Royals later in the week.

With these three pitchers in play, the Yankees have six legitimate starters, and the opportunity to use them all. They could employ an abridged six-man rotation, giving Hughes and Pettitte extra days when necessary but keeping Sabathia and Burnett on track. Moseley would act as the swing man, and Hughes’ innings could be stretched out by another week or so.

What the Yankees can’t do, however, is shut down Phil Hughes. There isn’t enough time to ramp down his innings and then ramp them back up before the playoffs, and as Joba Chamberlain showed last year, that strategy wasn’t quite effective. So the team will have to get creative with the rest. With Moseley, the team has the flexibility to rest Hughes or extend his time between starts, and that’s a luxury that could be a key factor come the stretch drive.

Linkage: Aceves, Melancon, A-Rod, Triple-A

Let’s round up a few afternoon links…

Aceves Begins Rehab Tonight

At long last, Al Aceves is going to begin his rehab assignment tonight as he tries to come back from the bulging disc that’s had him on the shelf since May. He is scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton, and will throw just one inning, pretty standard stuff. Assuming that goes well, he’ll presumably make a few more appearances and get stretched out to something like 50-60 pitches. Hopefully he stays healthy and can contribute down the stretch, but I’m not counting on it. Back problems are tricky.

Melancon Gets The Call

A little over a week after the Yanks sent him to the Astros as part of the Lance Berkman deal, Mark Melancon was summoned to the big leagues for what I believe will be his fourth stint. He told Alyson Footer that the Yanks wanted him to get the ball down in the zone more, so he ended up changing him arm slot which led to his struggles in Triple-A this year. My first reaction was that this is a cop out, but it certainly sounds legit. Either way, I wish him the best.

A-Rod‘s First Big Contract

Believe it or not, there was once a time when Alex Rodriguez was underpaid. That was quite a long time ago, when he was a 20-year-old behemoth hitting .357/.414/.631 with 54 doubles, 36 homers, and 15 steals. R.J. Anderson at FanGraphs recapped A-Rod’s first big payday, a four contract that bought out some of his arbitration eligible seasons for just $10.6M, which is what the Yanks’ paid him for their first 54 games of the season.

Overlooked Players In Triple-A

Baseball America posted an article today on players that are being overlooked at the Triple-A level (sub. req’d), and naturally a few Yankee farmhands are mentioned. “He’s a very athletic-looking shortstop,” said Triple-A Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh of Eduardo Nunez. “I saw him early in the year and really liked him. I saw him last year (in Double-A), too, and really liked the way he played the game.” Even though he’s noted for his ability to make solid contact, the article acknowledges that Nunez will provide almost all of his value through his speed (77% stolen base success rate the last two years) and defense (though his TotalZone scores are consistently negative).

Reegie Corona, who is out for the rest of the year after breaking his arm in a collision a week or so ago, also gets a mention. “[I]n the end he doesn’t have the bat to profile as even a reserve big leaguer.” That sounds promising.

Anyway, let’s wrap up with a video of a guy ducking out of the way while his girlfriend gets hit with a foul ball. He must have been making sure his hat had the proper 60-degree reverse tilt.