Yankees will play simulated games on Tuesday and Wednesday

Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees will play a pair of simulated games on Tuesday and Wednesday once they reconvene from their two day break tomorrow. It will consist of basically every non-Mariano Rivera reliever (Kerry Wood, Boone Logan, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, Dustin Moseley) throwing to the four non-designated hitter platoon bench players (Frankie Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Austin Kearns, Greg Golson).

There is no announced plan for the regulars and the four starting pitchers, but they’ll assuredly throw bullpens and take batting practice to stay sharp. The relievers need regular work given the nature of the job, hence the simulated games. A.J. Burnett hasn’t pitched since starting on October 2nd, so you have to figure he’ll do plenty of work in advance of his ALCS start.

Clutch Yanks pitching, unclutch Twins hitting key to the ALDS

(Peter Morgan/AP)

There are always two ways to frame a baseball argument. Since a run scored is also a run surrendered, we can frame it as the offense succeeding or the defense failing. Bias usually determines how we view it; if the Yankees go 2 for 15 with RISP, we normally assign the offense blame rather than crediting the opponent’s pitchers. In the ALDS it wasn’t the Yankees failing with runners in scoring position. It was the Twins. However it unfolded, the Yankees pitchers put on their best performances with runners on base (with one notable exception), while the Twins just couldn’t bring home their runners.

In the series’ three games the Twins had 29 hits and walks, but managed to score just seven of them. More than half of those runs came in the first game. Yet even when the Twins did score four runs on 13 base runners, they still failed when they had chances to tack on. They went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. The Yankees, on the other hand, made the most of their chances. They had 12 base runners and brought six around to score, which included going 3 for 11 with runners in scoring position. That’s not stellar, but it’s far better than they were performing in September.

In Game 2 the Twins were short on chances thanks to some excellent work by Andy Pettitte. They put just seven men on base all game, and had two of them erased by double plays. That left them just three at-bats with runners in scoring position; they failed each time. In Game 3 they had a few more chances, with nine base runners, and they actually had eight at-bats with runners in scoring position. But they succeeded just twice, one of which didn’t even plate a run. They ended up leaving seven stranded on base.

For the series the Twins went just 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position — and again, one of those hits didn’t even bring in a run. That’s a stark change from the regular season, where the Twins’ .285 average with RISP led the American League . The Yankees’ pitching staff ranked near the middle of the pack with runners in scoring position, allowing a .261 batting average against. On offense the Yankees ranked seventh in the AL with runners in scoring position, .258, but went 9 for 25 (.360) in the series. This is just another example of why situational stats aren’t predictive, especially when applied to a short series.

What’s also odd about the Twins’ numbers with runners in scoring position is that they didn’t have more of them. Six times in the series they had a decent runner on base (Span, Hudson, Repko) with second base open. In none of those situations did they attempt to steal. Instead they once sacrificed and twice grounded into a double play. In an additional six instances they had a non-stealing runner (Mauer, Thome, Young) in that situation. Jorge Posada‘s arm is a known problem, but Gardenhire and the Twins chose not to exploit it. Doing so would have given them more chances with runners in scoring position. Going 1 for 9 instead of 0 for 7 in Game 1 would have made a huge difference.

Were the Yankees pitchers clutch? Did the Twins choke? You can spin the narrative either way, but I’d lean towards the Twins failing. They had the best average in the league with RISP during the season, but couldn’t deliver when it counted. They also weren’t aggressive when on base, which cost them a few RISP opportunities. Other issue helped bury them — it’s tough to win when your Games 2 and 3 starters combine for 9.1 innings and nine runs — but failure with RISP was a big part of it.

A.J. to start in ALCS as Yanks go with 4-man staff

The Yankees will go with a four-man rotation in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, and A.J. Burnett will be the team’s fourth starter, GM Brian Cashman said today. Burnett, 10-15 with a 5.26, had a disappointing regular season and did not make an appearance during the ALDS. Outside of Game 1 starter CC Sabathia, the Yanks have not said in which order Phil Hughes or Andy Pettitte will follow him or what game Burnett will start. The Yanks could have Sabathia throw Games 1, 4 and 7 all on three days’ rest with Burnett tossing Game 5 or the club could opt to hold Pettitte back until Game 3 so that the lefty is lined up for a potential Game 7 start. Either way, the Bombers won’t be facing David Price or Cliff Lee in Game on Friday as those two pitchers are set to go tomorrow in Game 5 of the ALDS.

In other expected news, the Yankees are shutting down Damaso Marte. His shoulder is not strong enough for him to pitch in the playoffs, and Cashman says the reliever probably needs surgery. Boone Logan will just have to continue throwing strikes and getting lefties out.

ALDS Game Three & Wrap-Up Chat

Yanks’ depth picked up the slack in ALDS

It's a team effort. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

One of my favorite baseball truisms is that your best players have to be your best players if you want to succeed in the postseason, and there’s no better example of that than the 2009 Yankees. Alex Rodriguez got big hit after big hit, CC Sabathia took the ball as often as possible and dominated each time out, and Mariano Rivera nailed down every win along the way. If a team’s best players aren’t doing what’s expected of them, it’s very difficult to win in a short series. Unless, of course, you’re talking about the 2010 Yankees.

The Yanks more than doubled up the Twins during their three game ALDS sweep, outscoring them 17-7 (10-3 after the fifth inning). Other than the first six or so innings of the first game, the series really wasn’t all that competitive, as the Bombers imposed their will on the Twinkies pretty much every step of the way. Surprisingly, they did that with minimum production from three key players: Derek Jeter, A-Rod, and Brett Gardner.

Jeter, the leadoff hitter and supposed spark plug for the lineup, reached base a total of four times in 14 trips to the plate, all on singles. His batting line was an uninteresting .286/.286/.286, and he never even reached third base, let alone score a run. In fact he only made it as far as second base twice, the first time on Curtis Granderson‘s bunt in Game Two, the other on a stolen base in Game Three. Jeter did single in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning of Game Two, but that was pretty much the extent of his offensive contribution during the series.

Gardner led the team in on-base percentage during the season (.383), but he only reached base a total of three times during the ALDS, picking up two singles and a walk in a dozen plate appearances. Both hits came in Game Two, the walk in Game One, and he stole just one base. So right there, you have the two key offensive cogs, the two guys that are supposed to get on base for the meat of the order, falling short of expectations.

More surprising than the lack of production out of Jeter and Gardner was A-Rod’s rather quiet series. He finished the season on a torrid hot streak (.306/.375/.649 with 12 homers in his last 28 starts), but  singled just three times and walked once in the ALDS, driving in the first Yankee run of Game Two with a sacrifice fly. That’s the only run he drove in during the series, and even though his mere presence in the batter’s box and on-deck circle changes the game, Alex certainly didn’t have the same impact in the ALDS that he did last year.

And you know what? None of that was a big deal. The Yankee lineup has no soft spots, so they were able to absorb the struggles of Jeter, Gardner, and A-Rod and not miss a beat. Granderson had five hits including a huge triple in Game One and a big double in Game Two. The designated hitter platoon of Marcus Thames and Lance Berkman combined to go 4-for-11 with a double, a walk, and two homers. Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira put their subpar 2009 postseasons behind them and combined for a .320/.371/.680 batting line, and Robbie Cano picked up A-Rod with a .333 batting average and zero single strikeouts. When one guy struggled, two others picked up the slack.

Most teams would have been dead in the water if their leadoff hitter and cleanup man failed to produce, not to mention their top on-base guy and basestealer. The Yanks have tremendous offensive depth and a circular lineup that can hurt you one through nine, certainly strong enough to offset three poor performances in a five game series. At some point, hopefully soon, Jeter, A-Rod, and Gardner will get back to doing what they’re capable of, and that should scare the crap out of the rest of the league.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 11th, 2010

Record Last Week: 3-0 (17 RS, 7 RA) swept Twins in best-of-five ALDS
Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card
Schedule This Week: ALCS Game One (Friday @ Rangers or Rays), ALCS Game Two (Saturday @ Rangers or Rays)

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Cutting out the cutter the key to Game Three

Right at 'em. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

All season long, one of the staples of Phil Hughes starts were complaints about him relying too much on his fastball and cutter. Batters seemed to foul the pitches off at will, yet he continued to throw them deep in the count instead of trying to get swings-and-misses or weak contact on offspeed pitches. The changeup that supposedly won him the fifth starter’s job in Spring Training all but disappeared until a late season cameo. It worked fine for the first few weeks of the season, but after that it was a bit of a struggle.

Hughes threw his four-seam fastball 63.6% of the time this year, the cutter 16.4%, and the offspeed stuff the remaining 20%. He was even more predictable with two strikes, throwing either a four-seamer or cutter almost 85% of the time (I have it at 84.75%, unofficially). When you’re throwing some kind of fastball four out of every five pitches, it’s easy to see why hitters fouled off more than a quarter of his total pitches this season. Hughes simply got predictable, even more so the second and third times through the league.

On Saturday night though, Hughes and catcher Jorge Posada changed up their plan, but not by incorporating more offspeed stuff. They threw more four-seamers and fewer cutters, go with straight power over deception and movement. Just seven of the 99 pitches Hughes threw were cut fastballs, and five of those came in the first four innings (two in the same at-bat).  The 18 curveballs he threw equals his regular season usage of the pitch for all intents and purposes, ditto the two changeups. It was a very straight forward attack plan, go right after them with the four-seam fastball and dare them to hit it.

There’s two reason why this approach worked. One, Hughes’ fastball was just that good that night, both in terms of life and location. That was obvious from the very first inning. Second, the Twins are nothing more than a league average hitting team against the old numbero uno, clocking in at just 0.05 runs above average for every 100 fastballs they see. In fact, they’re essentially league average against cutters (+0.36) and curveballs (-0.25) as well, so when the opponent has no discernible weakness against the specific offering, just stick with the pitcher’s strength. No reason to over-think things.

I think that Game Three was a bit of an outlier for Hughes with regards to his pitch selection. You certainly don’t want him or any pitcher to throw 70% four-seamers or more on a consistent basis, but for that one night it just all came together. He had plenty of oomph on it, was able to command it to both sides of the plate, and he was staked to a big enough lead that he could be fearless with the pitch when needed. He’ll be well rested for his first ALCS start, whenever that may be, so with any luck he’ll show the same kind of crispness next time out.