Brett Gardner, now with 17% fewer stolen bases

When the season started some four months ago, basically everyone in the lineup had a defined role. Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson had to get on base in front of the big bats. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez had to drive them in. Robbie Cano, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher, and Curtis Granderson were supposed to tack on as much as possible. And then there was the other guy, Brett Gardner.

Gardner looks weird without the high socks. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Gardner stood out from the pack because he wasn’t a power hitter and hadn’t already established himself in the big leagues. Not technically a rookie but basically still new to playing every day in the show, his job was pretty simple: catch everything within shouting distance and try to get on base as much as humanly possible. We spoke amongst ourselves about how thrilled we would be if he got on base 35-36% of the time, because that would mean something like 30 or 40 steals. Well, it’s now August 3rd and the Yankee leftfielder has a .391 on-base percentage to his credit through 376 plate appearances. The only other outfielder in baseball to reach base at a higher clip is Josh Hamilton, who sports a .409 OBP.

As fantastic as he’s been at getting on base this year, there is one thing Gardner’s not doing as well as he has earlier this season: he’s not stealing as many bases. Gardner attempted 11 steals in April out of 28 total times reaching first base, or 39.3%. In May those numbers dropped to 11 attempts in 42 times on first (26.2%), then dropped again to seven attempts in 30 times on first in June (23.3%). Gardner bottomed out at seven steal attempts in 32 times on first in July, or 21.9%. For comparison’s sake, Rajai Davis has attempted a steal 44.3% of the time he’s reached first base this year, Carl Crawford 39.2% , B.J. Upton 38.2%, and Juan Pierre 36.7%. Even though he has the fifth most steals in baseball, Gardner is not among the league’s elite basestealers because of his 27.2% attempt rate. He simply doesn’t run as much as the other guys.

As it turns out, Gardner may have simply worn himself down earlier in the season. Here’s what he told the incomparable Chad Jennings the other day…

“Early in the season I was getting on base a lot and running a lot, and my legs just got a little tired,” he said. “With Curtis (Granderson) out, I didn’t want to push the issue. I need to start running more. I wish I had been running more recently in the last several weeks, but I will. When we need me to try to get into scoring position, I’ll try to. I’m healthy, and I was healthy, it’s just a matter of trying to be smart.”

Stealing bases is a rather grueling chore. Your body takes a beating from sliding into the bag; fingers get jammed, hands get stepped on, legs tire out, it’s really tough on the body. Gardner wears some kind of plastic brace on his left hand to support the thumb he broke last summer, the same thumb that caused him to miss two games back in June because of soreness. Add in the fact that he’s generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 lbs. and makes all sorts of jumping and sliding and diving and sprinting grabs in the outfield, and it’s to see how he tired himself out early on.

Even with that rather pedestrian attempt rate Gardner is still on pace to swipe 46 bases, which would be the most by a Yankee since Rickey Henderson stole 93 bags back in 1988. Alfonso Soriano was the last player the Yanks had on the roster that could impact the game with his legs the same way Gardner can, but it’s important to remember that bulk stolen base totals are nice but not imperative. If Gardner’s legs are truly tired, then he should absolutely be a bit more careful and do a better job of picking his spots. Stealing bases for the sake of stealing bases is a good way to get hurt (and improve his arbitration case, but that’s besides the point).

It goes without saying that Gardner has exceeded every possible expectation this year. When your primary nine-hole hitter rocks an on-base percentage in the .390’s and is if nothing else a distraction to the pitcher when he’s on the bases, then you’re already way ahead of the game. I’d like to see Gardner boost his stolen base rate back up to where it was earlier in the season, but I’d much prefer to have him healthy the rest of the way. Hopefully he learns what the right pace is for him so that in the future he can be a consistent stolen base threat over 162 games rather than run himself into the ground in April and May.

Burnett mixes pitches, but with no success

In his previous start against Cleveland, A.J. Burnett turned in one of his better performances of the season. He allowed a few too many baserunners, 10 in 6.1 innings, but he managed to keep them from coming around to score by inducing grounders and striking out hitters. He did this by mixing his pitches well, throwing 45 four-seamers, 30 two-seamers, and 37 curveballs. He went with a similar strategy last night, but it produced far, far worse results.

The breakdown was similar. Burnett threw 29 four-seamers, 30 two-seamers, and 26 curves, though this time he mixed in eight changeups. The addition of the change was excellent; he threw it for six strikes, including one swinging. It was on the other pitches that he got beat, specifically the two-seamer and the curve. Let’s see how exactly the Blue Jays hitters attacked him last night.

Vernon Wells in the 2nd: Curveball well below the zone followed by a belt-high two-seamer that didn’t quite catch the outside corner. Home run.

Travis Snider in the 5th: Started him with a changeup he fouled off, and then followed with a fastball up that he again fouled away. He then threw a two-seamer that looked close to the low-inside corner but was ruled a ball. Then came a curveball well outside, but Snider hit it into the gap for a double.

Edwin Encarnacion: A first-pitch curveball looked good but was ruled a ball. Then A.J. came back with two two-seamers off the plate inside. The first Encarnacion fouled away. The second, which was a bit further inside than the second, went over the left field fence.

That’s two straight batters who with extra base hits on pitches outside the strike zone. Then, of course, he walks Jose Molina after going up 0-2, which is as inexcusable as it gets.

Fred Lewis: He had the right idea. Burnett had just walked Molina, and so Lewis took four straight pitches, all high in the zone, putting the count, mercifully, at 2-2. The two strikes barely looked like strikes, but it worked. Lewis then fouled away a sinker right down the middle. Still 2-2, Burnett went with the curve and again delivered one outside. It looked off the plate, but Lewis slapped it down the line for a double.

Second and third, still no one out. Burnett mercifully got an out on the curveball, a grounder that gave A-Rod enough time to fire home and get Molina and keep it a one-run game.

Jose Bautista: Burnett started with a curve over the plate for strike one. He then came back with the fastball, a bit up and in, which, as we’ve before seen, is Bautista’s wheelhouse. That’s a two-run double.

Vernon Wells: Burnett goes back to the two-seamer again, and again it gets hit hard. This one seemed to tail a bit inside, giving Wells an opportunity to turn on it. A double down the line gives the Jays another run.

Then we get the strikeout of Overbay via the changeup.

Aaron Hill: A nine-pitch at-bat, all fastballs. By my count five of them were pretty centered. The ninth was a two-seamer belt-high and basically right over the center. Another rip, another double. That was it for A.J., though as you can see he should have gotten the hook a bit sooner.

Clearly the two-seamer was a huge issue for him. For the season he’s averaging -9.8 inches of horizontal movement — that is, movement towards a right-handed hitter. During his two good starts against Kansas City and Cleveland it was at -9.22. Last night it was -10.60. The extra movement might seem like a good thing, but that isn’t necessarily the case. It can also indicate that the pitch is tailing a bit, which appeared to be the case last night. It made the pitch a bit more hittable for the right-handers, as the pitch was moving towards them.

The worst part about A.J.’s start was that it started off relatively well. The only blemish was the Wells homer, and even that was forgivable. It went right over the 314 sign in right. The Yanks take advantage of that enough that there’s no use complaining when an opponent does. Beyond that, through four he had struck out three and walked one. It made me quite optimistic that he’d finish with a decent line and set up the Yanks to win. Instead the entire night was a disappointment thanks to one inning.

We know the deal with Burnett at this point. Some night he’ll shine, and some nights he’ll throw a clunker. Usually when it’s going to be the latter we see signs of it earlier. It’s two runs this inning, a run the next, three a bit later. Last night it looked like a good start, but quickly morphed into one of his worst this season. It’s these types of starts that hit you hardest.

Burnett blows up as Yanks fall to Jays

After a 4-3 road trip that ended with the Yankees dropping two of three to the Rays, everyone was understandably looking forward to coming home for a week. Well, the homestand didn’t exactly get off on the right foot, as the Blue Jays took the screws to A.J. Burnett in a seven run 5th inning and a few late inning rallies by the Yanks amounted to little. With Tampa beating Carl Pavano and the rest of the Twins, they are now tied with the Yanks atop the AL East. Boston sits 6.5 games back for the Wild Card.

That pretty much sums the night up. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Biggest Hit: Swish Sends Two Out

Considering all the big names and multiple time All Stars in the lineup, I don’t think anyone would have guessed that the Yanks’ two best and most consistent offensive performers this season would be Robbie Cano and Nick Swisher. Swish was a one man wrecking crew tonight, launching a 1st inning homer off Brandon Morrow to give the Yankees a two-zip lead before the Jays’ starter even recorded an out.

Twenty five Yankee outs later, Swish came to plate in the 9th inning with the Yanks down three. His second homer of the game wasn’t as meaningful as the first (.031 WPA vs. .141 WPA) because of what had transpired in the interim, but it was just more of the same out of the team’s no worse than second best hitter this season. Imagine where they’d be without this guy having the season he’s having.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Oh So Bad A.J.

It started out so wel. A nice quick 1-2-3 inning on eight pitches to start the game, and even after Vernon Wells poked a homer around the rightfield foul pole in the 2nd, Burnett settled down and retired eight of nine going into the 5th inning. And that’s when the wheels came crashing off the bus.

Travis Snider doubled into the right-centerfield gap.
Edwin Encarnacion smacked a pitch into the leftfield stands for a two run homer.
Jose Molina drew a walk after being down 0-2 in the count.
Fred Lewis doubled down the third base line.
Yunel Escobar grounded to third, Molina out at the plate.
Jose Bautista doubled over Brett Gardner‘s head in left.
Vernon Wells doubled down the third base line.
Lyle Overbay swung over a changeup for strike three.
Aaron Hill doubled down the third base line.

Burnett was removed after that, only to watch Sergio Mitre surrender Travis Snider’s second double of the inning. You’d think Joe Girardi would have yanked him after the fourth extra base hit of the inning, maybe the fifth. But no, they had to let that sixth one sneak in there. Either way, it’s all on A.J. He simply has to pitch better than that, and he needs to start doing it soon.

Gallimaufry

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Bigs up to the bullpen tonight. Mitre, David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain nailed it down with four and third innings of scoreless ball, which is exactly what the Yankees needed if they had any plans of getting back in this one. Very quietly, the relief corps has posted a 3.41 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 3.95 xFIP since the start of June.

Shall we recap the recent offensive ineptitude? Yes, we shall. Derek Jeter is four for his last 20 and now has a .336 OBP. Alex Rodriguez is three for his last 25 and now has a .337 OBP. Mark Teixeira is three for his last 24, but did homer on Monday. Curtis Granderson is four for his last 20 and got pinch hit for in the 6th inning. That wouldn’t be too bad if those first three guys didn’t take up three of the first four spots in the lineup and combined to make $73M this season.

Meanwhile, Lance Berkman went 1-for-3 with a walk, and has now reached base in three of his last six plate appearances, so he’s starting to come around. I have to say though, I’m surprised at how much venom there is towards this guy. I guess people take some funny defense at first to heart.

Oh, and how about that throw by Jorge Posada to catch Fred Lewis stealing in the 3rd? Breaking ball in the dirt right into his mitt, quick transfer, out by a good two feet. B-e-a-utiful.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Not such to see here, folks. MLB.com has the box, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Same two teams manana, when Dustin Moseley takes on Ricky Romero. Oh joy.

Laird goes deep twice in Triple-A debut

Tim Redding is your Triple-A International League Pitcher of the Week. Too bad he’s old for the level.

Triple-A Scranton (6-5 win over Syracuse) faced a rehabbing big leaguer
Kevin Russo, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 CS – threw a runner out at second
Colin Curtis, CF, Juan Miranda, 1B & Eric Bruntlett, 2B: all 0 for 4 – Curtis drew a walk … Miranda K’ed twice, Bruntlett twice
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 0 for 5 – he’s 0 for his last 16 and two for his last 24 (.083)
Brandon Laird, 3B: 4 for 4,3 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI – now that is one hell of a AAA debut, congrats to the young man … hit a homer on his first AAA swing
Jorge Vazquez, DH & Chad Huffman, RF: both 1 for 4 – JoVa doubled & K’ed … Huffman homered & drove in two
Chad Moeller, C: 2 for 3, 2 2B, 1 BB - seven for his last 13 (.538) with three doubles
David Phelps: 6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 9-5 GB/FB, 1 E (pickoff) – 52 of 88 pitches were strikes (59.1%)
Romulo Sanchez: 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 4-2 GB/FB – 14 of 23 pitches were strikes (60.9%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – just eight of his 18 pitches were in the zone (44.4%)

[Read more…]

Game 105: Win it for Thurman

(AP Photo, File)

Thirty-one years ago today, Yankee captain and icon Thurman Munson passed away when he crashed his plane practicing take-offs and landings at home in Ohio during an off day. This all happened a few years before I was born, so all I know about Munson is what I’ve heard in stories, read in books, and seen on video, but his legacy is still prominent even today. His image is all around the New Stadium, his locker in the Yankee Museum, and of course, there’s tonight’s annual celebration of his life and career.

Although I have not heard anything official, I’m certain the Yankees will have some kind of tribute planned for tonight. They always do.

Here’s tonight’s starting nine, otherwise known as the A-lineup…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Berkman, DH – Joe Girardi said he wanted to take some pressure off him
Granderson, CF
Gardner, LF

And on the bump, it’s A.J. Burnett.

It’s good to be home. First pitch is scheduled for just after 7pm ET, and can be seen YES. Enjoy.

The A-Rod effect on the Blue Jays’ tickets

As A-Rod sits on 599 home runs, his daily ABs seem to be driving Yankee ticket prices. Overall, for this routine early-August three-game set against a struggling Blue Jays club, ticket prices, according to our partners at TiqIQ, are selling for 26 percent less than they usually do. However, since A-Rod didn’t homer yesterday in Tampa, today’s tickets have seen a spike of 44 percent overall with likely home run destinations enjoying increases of around 100 percent. We could see the same happen tomorrow night and, if this drought lasts long enough, Wednesday afternoon too.

After the jump, a snapshot of this series ahead. I’d imagine this weekend’s set against the Red Sox will be far more costly than three games against the fourth-place Toronto club. As always, use RAB Tickets for your Yankee Stadium needs. [Read more…]

A-Rod’s swing hindering his quest for 600

Photo credit: Duane Burleson/AP

For the past week and half we’ve experienced the mystique of a round number. To almost everyone, it has grown old. Alex Rodriguez has not homered in his last 43 plate appearances, leaving him at 599. I’d repeat the tired phrase, stuck on 599, except it doesn’t seem true at all. This isn’t like 2007 when A-Rod hit 54 homers but experienced a lull between Nos. 499 and 500. In 2010 a home run drought doesn’t seem as out of place — or wouldn’t, if everyone understood the type of year Alex has had.

Earlier in the season I looked at some interesting A-Rod trends from the first 33 games. That’s an incredibly small sample, so I expected some things to change. For the most part they have, though it hasn’t produced better results. At the time A-Rod was swinging at fewer pitches, making contact more often, and striking out less. While those numbers are for the most part still off of his career totals, they’ve clearly regressed towards that mean. The effect is clear. He’s been swinging more than he did earlier in the season and is therefore walking less. He’s also striking out a bit more, which probably results from a longer swing. That shows up in his power, which is up considerably.

Even considering the increased power production — a .168 ISO in the first sample and a .228 mark since — we’ve seen A-Rod experience a home run drought during that second stretch. From June 3, when he hit a home run in his second PA, until June 22, when he hit a homer in his first PA, A-Rod went 53 PA without a home run. No one, of course, claimed that he was stuck on No. 591, because 592 isn’t a a round, easy to digest number. Being somehow stuck on 599 is just a narrative created because of our obsession with round numbers.

Still, it hasn’t been the greatest 43 PA stretch for A-Rod. He started it off well, following up No. 599 with a double. Since then, though, he’s just 8 for 37 with three walks and only two extra base hits. That might be a result of him pressing, sure. Just because we can’t definitively pin down psychological aspects of the game doesn’t mean they don’t exist. But since we’ve seen this kind of stretch from him this season it’s difficult to determine the cause of this current slump.

Today at FanHouse, Frank Piliere discusses the mechanical side of A-Rod, noting that he’s not generating power from his lower body.

If you look back at his playoff home runs when he was driving the ball out to right-center field, A-Rod’s swing looked effortless mainly because of his strong base. He had what every hitter strives for, and that’s a lower half providing the power and the ability to let his hands fly through the zone. The swing we see from Rodriguez now is one more reliant on his upper body, with far less explosive torque and his hips following his stride. It’s more spread out and far less compact in every way. Obviously, with all that said, questions about whether his now famous troublesome hip has anything to do with his problems immediately arise, but there’s really no way to know for sure.

There’s plenty more to it, including the problem with A-Rod’s leg kick, a problem that has hurt him from time to time in the past, but which has seemingly been a problem for most of this year. That leads to problems in all parts of his swing. “Now, he’s more upright and not sitting on that back leg, losing that power on his front side,” Piliere writes.

A-Rod did miss time in June with tendonitis in his hip, though he and the team claimed that it was not related to the surgery he had last March. After a five-day rest A-Rod returned to the lineup, but he hasn’t been at all the same since, hitting .238/.312/.470 in those 173 PA. The power, a .232 ISO, is still there, but it comes at the cost of contact and discipline (9.8 percent walk rate). This is not the A-Rod we’ve come to know; it’s not even the A-Rod who hit .290/.361/.482 in his first 255 PA of 2010.

It hasn’t been the greatest year for A-Rod in 2010, and that extends far beyond his long journey to No. 600. His vital numbers are down across the board. Whether this is a correctable issue or just a general sign of decline remains to be seen. We know A-Rod will work hard to overcome these problems. But for 2010, I wonder how much he can do.