Mariano Rivera’s Road Woes

Mariano Rivera blew his fourth save of the season yesterday, nearly as many as he blew last year (five) and more than he blew in 2008 and 2009 combined (three). All four blown saves have come on the road and three of the four have been one-run leads, the other a two-run lead. Unsurprisingly, Rivera’s home/road splits are pretty drastic this season…

Of course stats like ERA and opponent’s AVG/OBP/SLG don’t tell the whole story. Those are output stats, they just tell us about the results and not what led to them. The process is what is really important, and Rivera’s underlying performance shows us there’s nothing to be concerned about…

The sample size is essentially the same in terms of batters faced, and Mo’s strikeout and walk numbers on the road are for all intents and purposes identical to his career numbers (8.21 K/9 and 1.80 uIBB/9). His ground ball rate is right in line with his rate since 2002 (53.4%), when the data started being recorded. The only significant difference between his home and road performance this year is the number of balls that are dropping in for hits, an astronomically high 43.9% away from Yankee Stadium. That’s almost 18% higher than his career average.

Furthermore, let’s look a little deeper at those four blown saves. Other than the first one against the Blue Jays on April 19th (a legit blown save that featured a double into the gap and some hard-hit singles), they were all of the death by a thousand cuts variety. The ninth inning on April 24th went walk, strikeout, strikeout, bloop single, ground ball past a diving Mark Teixeira into the corner for a double. The tying run scored but the second runner was thrown at the plate by several steps. One hard hit ball, and it was beat into the ground.

The May 18th blown save went ground ball out, single up the middle, single on a ground ball through the right side, sacrifice fly to tie, pop-out to end the inning. And then there was yesterday, which went strikeout, ground ball out, walk, single off the handle of the bat, single on a ground ball through the right side, ground ball through the shortstop’s legs, runner out at the plate. If Mo was giving up rockets all over the field and balls over the fence, I’d be concerned. Right now it’s just a case of sample size and dumb luck with ground balls having eyes more than anything.

It’s worth noting that Rivera’s trademark cutter is completely unchanged this year. The velocity is the same as it’s been over the last few seasons, comfortably in the low-90’s, and the pitch is still getting three-plus inches of horizontal break and just north of five inches of vertical “drop.” Batters are swinging and missing at Mo’s cutter 7.8% of the time this season after whiffing at it 8.0% of the time over the last two years. There are no red flags here, so don’t bother worrying.

Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

(Photo Credit: Flickr user leadenhall via Creative Commons license)

It feels like the Yankees just got done playing the Indians, doesn’t it? That four-game series ended three weeks ago today with a 1-0 win for the Tribe, but that was a little easier to swallow after the Yankees won the first three games.

What Have The Indians Done Lately?

Their molten hot start is a distant memory, but Cleveland has rebounded to win four of their last six games, all against NL competition (Diamondbacks and Reds) in NL parks. They’re six games over .500 at 44-38, and their +16 run differential is actually one of the better marks in the league.

Indians On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

The Tribe were struggling big time with the bats the last time these two clubs met, scoring just nine runs in the six games before that series started. The offense has come back to life though, and Cleveland has scored four or more runs in five of their last six games and five-plus runs in four of six. Travis Hafner is now off the disabled list, and he adds a huge bat (.341/.419/.563) to their middle of their lineup at designated hitter. The Indians lost the underperforming Shin-Soo Choo (.244/.333/.353) to a long-term thumb injury and benched the underwhelming Jack Hannahan (.213/.303/.333), replacing them with a Travis Buck (.272/.312/.398 vs. RHP)/Austin Kearns (.236/.286/.261 vs. LHP)/Shelley Duncan (.241/.293/.389 vs. LHP) platoon and top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall (.300/.300/.400 in five games), respectively. Otherwise it’s the same cast of characters we saw three weeks ago.

Michael Brantley has come back to Earth a bit as the leadoff man (.266/.330/.361), but Asdrubal Cabrera has assumed number three hitter duties and is still hitting the snot out of the ball (.291/.341/.496). Carlos Santana has started to add some power (.352 ISO in his last 15 games) to his OBP skills (16.4% walk rate, third best in baseball), and he’s being protected by the powerful (.222 ISO) but suddenly undisciplined (5.5% walk rate, half his career mark) Grady Sizemore. Those four plus Hafner represent the meat of their order, the guys Manny Acta relies on to produce runs night after night.

Matt LaPorta is on the disabled list, so Santana has been playing first while Lou Marson (.226/.272/.302) handles catching duties. Cord Phelps (.200/.280/.333 in limited time) and Orlando Cabrera (.262/.292/.353) are sharing the second base job. Overall, the Indians are essentially league average with a .319 wOBA, and they rely more on power (.145 ISO) and patience (8.3% walk rate) than speed (just 48 steals). Hafner and Santana are a scary 1-2 punch in the middle of the order, and you can’t ignore Asdrubal and Sizemore either. The other five guys can be pitched to, though.

Indians On The Mound

Monday, RHP Josh Tomlin (vs. A.J. Burnett): The clock struck midnight on Tomlin last month, as he’s followed up the 2.41 ERA in his first nine starts with a 5.86 ERA in seven starts since. The Yankees contributed to that 5.86 ERA by tagging him for six runs and a dozen hits in five innings a few weeks ago, though it’s worth noting he’s allowed just six runs total in three starts since. Tomlin isn’t flashy (88-91 mph fastball with a changeup and curve) and other than his walk rate (1.05 BB/9), nothing about his underlying performance stands out (5.08 K/9, 1.23 HR/9, 37.6% grounders).

Tuesday, RHP Carlos Carrasco (vs. CC Sabathia): Carrasco was the author of that 1-0 win three weeks ago, stymieing the Yankees with his four-pitch mix (low-90’s fastball, slider, changeup, curveball) over seven shutout innings. His 3.54 ERA is right in line with his 3.46 FIP and 3.65 xFIP, though his strikeout rate is unimpressive (5.74 K/9) and he gets by on limiting walks (2.20 BB/9) and keeping the ball in the park (0.67 HR/9, 49.8% grounders). Carrasco has a pretty drastic platoon split, especially in terms of strikeouts and walks, and he’s on a nice little roll at the moment (more than one run allowed in just one of his last five starts). Hopefully seeing him for the second time in three weeks gives the Yankees a bit of an advantage.

(PHoto Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Wednesday, RHP Justin Masterson (vs. Phil Hughes): Masterson is one guy the Yankees didn’t see three weeks ago, but they’re certainly familiar with him from his Red Sox days. He’s a low arm slot sinker (low-90’s)/slider (low-80’s) guy with a considerable platoon split, and he relies way more on ground balls (55.2%) than strikeouts (6.33 K/9). After a rough stretch at the end of May, Masterson has allowed no more than two earned runs in his last five starts, though high pitch counts kept him from going deep in the game.

Bullpen: Cleveland’s bullpen is sneaky good. Closer Chris Perez is actually their worst late-game reliever (3.64 FIP thanks to a K/BB ratio hovering around 1.00), and they just welcoming him back off the bereavement list. Right-hander Vinny Pestano (2.26 FIP, 12.62 K/9) and left-handed Tony Sipp (7.68 K/9, 4.77 FIP because of homer issues) are death on same-side hitters (.123/.240/.200 vs. RHB and .095/.191/.238 vs. LHB, respectively), and Rafael Perez gives them another solid option against lefties (.219/.250/.250). Side-arming righty Joe freakin’ Smith (.302 FIP) has a fluke reverse split this year (.293/.369/.320 vs. RHB but .138/.212/.172 vs. LHB) that is nothing like the rest of his career. It’s more sample size than anything, he spent some time on the disabled list earlier this year.

The rest of the pen is filled out with righties Chad Durbin (3.93 FIP), Frank “Pee Wee” Herrmann (4.22 FIP), and Josh Judy (just three innings so far). It’s a relief corps best used in matchup situations (especially late in the game) considering the platoon splits that Sipp, Smith, and the lefty Perez are rocking. Pestano is effective against everyone, and the righty Perez is the definition of a cardiac closer.

Recommended Indians Reading: The DiaTribe and Let’s Go Tribe

Fan Confidence Poll: July 4th, 2011

Record Last Week: 5-1 (35 RS, 10 RA)
Season Record: 50-32 (433 RS, 312 RA, 54-28 pythag. record), two up in loss column
Opponents This Week: @ Indians (three games, Mon. to Weds.), vs. Rays (four games, Fri. to Sun.)

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Mo blows the save as Yankees fail to sweep

It started with an hour-and-a-half rain delay (exacerbated by Freddy Garcia‘s slow trot from the bullpen to the dugout), and it ended with a disappointing walk-off loss. It’s tough to complain after seven straight wins, so I’ll try not too.

Tie game.

Rally To Tie

R.A. Dickey handcuffed the Yankees already once this year, and he carried that performance into Sunday. The first ten Yanks were retired in order and just one of them (Robinson Cano) managed to hit the ball out of the infield. Curtis Granderson gave them their first baserunner with a one out walk in the fourth, but the next two batters made outs (with a Grandy stole base mixed in), so Dickey’s no-hit bid was still alive.

Then something changed, and Dickey’s control started to betray him. Not that it’s easy to control a knuckleball, but he suddenly got a little more wild than usual.  Cano drove a hanging knuckler to the opposite field to lead off the fifth, then Nick Swisher jumped on a 3-1 fastball (84 mph) for a game-tying, RBI single. Russell Martin flew out and Ramiro Pena tried to end the inning with a ground ball double play, but Justin Turner over-shot Ruben Tejeda with the flip and everyone was safe. A four-pitch walk to Brett Gardner loaded the bases and brought Granderson to the dish.

At the time, Granderson’s at-bat was the biggest of the game, a ridiculously high Leverage Index of 3.99. He fouled off three pitches as part of an eight pitch at-bat before grounding to second, ending the inning and the threat. The Yankees had a chance to blow it open and didn’t, and we later learned that Dickey was battling a sore left glute. Apparently he originally hurt himself in batting practice a few days ago, then re-aggravated it when he slipped while delivering a pitch in the fourth inning. That would explain the sudden control issues, and gutting it out for another inning cost him the lead.

The Chief

Garcia was basically the opposite of Dickey in this game. He allowed four consecutive hard hit balls to open the game (the first two were caught by Granderson on the run), resulting in a quick one-zip lead for the Mets. That was it though. He retired seven of the next eight and 16 of the next 20 men he faced, and not a single Met advanced past first base against him the rest of the way.

It’s games like this that ensured Garcia remained in the rotation instead of the now demoted Ivan Nova. He allowed just the one run in seven innings, and only one of the 24 batters he faced saw a three-ball count. Daniel Murphy went 3-for-3 off Freddy but the rest of the Mets’ lineup went 3-for-21, making as many outs on the bases (three) as times on base. To say Garcia has exceeded expectations would be selling him short. He’s basically hit on the best case scenario, agreed?

The slide was for style points.

A Temporary Lead

The two New York teams played to a one-all tie until the top of the eighth inning, which started with a Gardner triple into the right field corner off Jason Isringhausen. Granderson drove in the run with a sacrifice fly after falling behind0-2 in the count, though the odds of the run coming in were pretty good since Grandy and Mark Teixeira are two extreme fly ball hitters (just 29.5% and 36.4% grounders, respectively). A fly ball seemed inevitable. The one run lead seemed like enough with David Robertson and Mariano Rivera ready to pitch the next two innings, so it wasn’t the end of the world when Tex’s double was wasted. Little did we know.

Blown Save

It doesn’t happen often, so it’s always a surprise when it does. Mariano Rivera didn’t just blow the save, he retired the first two batters then allowed the rally to happen with two outs. That’s rare. First he walked Jason Bay, almost pitching around him, then Lucas Duda singled into shallow right on a pitch in on his hands to put men on the corners. Mo got ahead of pinch-hitter Ronny Paulino 0-2, but the Mets righty backstop reached out and punched an outside cutter through the right side to drive in Bay from third, tying the game. The lead was gone, but that’s not even the crazy part.

Runners were now at first and second with two outs, and the usually punchless Tejeda grounded a pitch towards short. Ramiro Pena rushed to the spot and let it get through his legs, and right there it looked like the game was over. Duda was rounding third with a full head of steam, but Gardner charged the ball well and uncorked a one hop throw to the plate, beating Dude by a few steps and allowing Martin to apply the tag for the inning-ending out. It was very similar to that play in Chicago against the Cubs a few weeks ago, though the stakes were much higher this time. Pena goofed, big time, but the Yankees got away with it anyway.

:-(

And The Loss

With Robertson and Rivera gone from the game, it was time to the second tier relievers, and that’s usually a problem. Luis Ayala started the tenth inning off by walking Scott Hairston, a cardinal sin. Angel Pagan gave up an out with a bunt to move the runner to second, but Ayala went ahead and hit Turner with a pitch. He faced three batters and two reached without swinging the bat, which is straight up awful. Boone Logan came in to face the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran and the left-handed hitter Daniel Murphy.

For all this talk about Alex Rodriguez‘s conversation with Logan about having a plan on the mound, I don’t think a hanging slider was part of the discussion. Boone got away with the pitch as Beltran hacked at it for strike three, which was a total gift. That shouldn’t happen. Logan then jumped out ahead of Murphy with two quick strikes, and he tapped a ball to Pena at short. This one apparently jumped up and hit off the heel of his glove, so everyone was safe and the bases were loaded. Out came Logan, in came Hector Noesi.

What happened next was fairly predictable. Noesi had zero margin for error and Bay made him pay with an 0-1 single into center, plating the winning run. The kid was not put into a position to succeed, and he’s pretty much the last guy I blame for the loss. Ayala is the primary culprit in my eyes, just because he gift-wrapped the Mets the rally with the walk and hit-by-pitch. Make them earn their way on base, if they hit a walk-off homer, fine. At least they earned it. That was a free rally. Sigh.

Leftovers

Granderson’s stolen base was hit 15th, and I’m kinda hoping he can get to 20-20 before the All-Star break. He’s got the 22 homers already, and now he needs five steals in the next seven games. That won’t be easy, but I’d love to see him go for it. Cano had a double and a triple, his third triple in five games. I love me some homers, but it would be fun to see guys like Gardner and Granderson play 81 games in CitiField. Think of all the three-baggers.

Martin led off the seventh with a double but got caught in a run down between second and third one play later. Not his fault, Pena hit a bullet back up the middle that Pedro Beato unexpectedly fielded. He broke for third, as he should have. Just a bad break, that’s all. Too bad it likely cost them a run, and who knows what happens after that. Certainly a noteworthy play late in a tie game.

No record breaking attendance on Sunday, but the three game series drew 125,575 fans. That’s a three-game series record for CitiField. You’re welcome, Fred and Jeff. The loss was the Yankees first since the opening game of the Rockies’ series, when Jason Giambi hit that monster homerun. It was only their fourth loss in the last 22 days. I’ll take it.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Eventful, but for all the wrong reasons. MLB.com has the box score and video score, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Time to get back to the American League. The Yankees are off to Cleveland for a three game set starting Monday, when A.J. Burnett faces Josh Tomlin. If you’re in the area, RAB Tickets can get you into the game.

Jeter rehab ends with a Trenton loss

Shaeffer Hall has been promoted to Triple-A Scranton as Kei Igawa goes back down to Double-A Trenton.

Double-A Trenton (8-1 loss to Altoona)
Derek Jeter, SS: 1 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) – played six innings in the field, and the one hit was a bunt single … the Yankees announced that his rehab is over, and he will rejoin the team tomorrow
Yadil Mujica, SS: 0 for 1
Ray Kruml, LF & Rob Lyerly, 1B: both 1 for 4 – Krum drove in a run … Lyerly struck out twice
Corban Joseph, 2B, Bradley Suttle, 3B & Melky Mesa, CF: all 0 for 4 - Suttle struck out twice, Mesa thrice … Suttle also committed a throwing error
Jose Pirela, 2B: 2 for 4
Damon Sublett, LF: 0 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB
Jose Gil, C: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K – remember when he was tearing the cover off the ball? not so much these days
Manny Banuelos, LHP: 4.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 1 WP, 6-0 GB/FB – 68 of 98 pitches were strikes (69.4%) … that’s way too many pitches for 14 outs, he’s gotta sharpen that up, been a problem almost all season … he was up to 94 though, so that’s good
Brad Halsey, LHP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 2-1 GB/FB
Alan Horne, RHP: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 2 HB, 2-1 GB/FB
Pat Venditte, SwP: 1.1 IP, zeroes, 3 K

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