Winning Sabathia’s Starts

(Winslow Towson/AP)

Marco Scutaro’s two-run double in the seventh inning Sunday night marked the first point in the series when I comfortably thought that either team was going to win a game. Before that no lead felt safe, because the pitching had been so haphazard. But with Josh Beckett mowing down Yankee after Yankee, the game certainly felt over. My first thought after that was, “Great, another loss in a CC start.” There’s not much the big man could have done about it, since the offense didn’t provide even the minimum one run required to win any game. But it was a disappointment nonetheless. Those CC starts are of great importance to the Yankees this year.

The Yankees clearly share this view of their workhorse ace. Last Tuesday we saw Girardi go to Rafael Soriano in the eighth inning of a four-run game after Soriano had pitched the previous day. This isn’t too out of the ordinary, but it’s not something we’re used to seeing. For whatever reason, the setup man/closer cutoff comes at three runs. With a four-run lead in the eighth we’re far more likely to see Robertson or Chamberlain take the mound. But Girardi clearly wasn’t going to take a four-run lead for granted. Hence, his setup man takes the hill to protect it. That is, he took the mound to protect the lead in a Sabathia start.

That move, of course, backfired in the worst possible way. Soriano had nothing that night, and the Twins took full advantage. It spoiled a CC win in a game that the Yankees absolutely should have won. It’s akin to Sabathia throwing seven strong against Boston last May, only to have the bullpen, and Marcus Thames, completely blow the ending. Yes, there’s plenty of time to recover from it. But with an expected tight race with the Red Sox this season, the Yankees need to hold on in those situations, especially when Sabathia takes the hill.

Still, it’s too early to get too worked up about the Yankees losing two out of three Sabathia starts. After all, last year they dropped two of his first five, and six of his first 11. In that context, two of the first three doesn’t seem that bad. But in another way, with the Yankees’ rotation concerns coming to fruition, it becomes a bigger concern. Last year the Yankees had A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes pitching well in the first two months. This year they might have Burnett, but without Pettitte and with a shaky, at best, Hughes, winning CC’s starts becomes even more important.

Right now we’ve basically seen one instance where the Yankees failed to hold a lead for Sabathia, and another where they failed to support him with adequate runs. The only game they won for him, really, was the one in which he pitched the poorest. (You can make an argument for last night, but the only damage the Sox did was constantly singling up the middle.) Surely this will get better. It did in both 2009 and 2010, when Sabathia was almost unbeatable from June forward. But this season the early games mean a bit more, because of the relatively weaker supporting cast. There is no such thing as a must-win at this point in the season; there really won’t be until September. But when Sabathia takes the mound this weekend against the Rangers, the Yankees have to come out and support their ace. He’s their key to another AL East crown.

Offense explodes for Scranton & Charleston

Both Wilkins Arias and Damon Sublett were placed on the disabled list today to make room for Manny Banuelos and Myron Leslie. One or both of those could be phantom DL trips, though I suspect Sublett might be legit injured. He’s good at doing that.

Triple-A Scranton (11-0 win over Rochester)
Greg Golson, DH: 3 for 4, 3 R, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB – he’s been on base 11 times in four games
Dan Brewer, PH-DH: 0 for 1, 1 K – it’s a shame there’s no room for him to play every day
Chris Dickerson, CF: 1 for 5, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI – up to a .450 AVG
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 5, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 1 K – three homers in the last two games
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 4, 1 RBI, 2 K – he isn’t exactly coming out of the gate on fire like he did last year
Jordan Parraz, RF: 3 for 5, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 E (fielding) – at least two hits in all four games
Justin Maxwell, CF: 0 for 3, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 K
Kevin Russo, 2B: 1 for 4, 2 K, 1 HBP – and he finally gets into the hit column after 17 at-bats
Ramiro Pena, SS: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 3B
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 3.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 3-2 GB/FB – 42 of 81 pitches were strikes (51.9%) … picked a runner off second … definitely the weak link in the SWB rotation despite this okay performance
Amaury Sanit, RHP: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 0-3 GB/FB – 29 of 42 pitches were strikes (69.0%)
Buddy Carlyle, RHP: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 17 of 29 pitches were strikes (58.6%)
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 1-0 GB/FB – ten of 14 pitches were strikes (71.4%)

[Read more…]

Open Thread: The M&M Boys, 50 years later

Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle pose with Babe Ruth's widow during their record-setting 1961 season. (AP Images/File Photo)

In the mail last week, I received Phil Pepe’s latest book. The long-time sportswriter has penned a memoir entitled 1961* about the Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris home run race and his experiences covering it. Although the Yanks are going to host a Roger Maris night in September, Pepe’s book is one of the few pieces noting the 50th anniversary of that historic season.

For the Yankees and their fans at the time, it was a magical year. The Yanks were coming off of their crushing seven-game World Series loss to the Pirates and were still the Big Apple’s only team. Yet, changes were afoot. The league expanded and added eight games to the schedule. The AP called the “unique” 162-game slate a new era in baseball.

So on this day in 1961, the Yankees opened up their season in the Bronx by hosting the brand-spankin’-new Minnesota Twins. The franchise had just jetted from Washington to take up shop in Minneapolis, and while they would go 70-90 that year, it didn’t show on Opening Day. Pedro Ramos, a Cuban hurler who had led the AL in losses in 1960, pitched a three-hit shut out as Whitey Ford gave up three runs in 6.1 innings to draw the loss. (Of course, trade rumors swirled after the loss.)

Mantle and Maris did absolutely nothing that day, and just 14,607 fans were on hand in the Bronx to see it. The M&M Boys went a combined 0 for 7 with 3 strike outs, and few would have predicted the epic season that would follow. We’re going to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that season with a Mantle/Maris home run tracker that follows their progress in 1961. We’ll often glimpses back into the past as well. The Yankees won 109 games that year, a fact often overshadowed by the home run race, and emerged as World Series champions. It was a very good year.

Sports Night: While the Yankees are off, the Mets are not. The New York’s representative to the National League play host to the Colorado Rockies tonight. Since Mike Pelfrey is facing a good team, this one could be a high-scoring affair. In New Jersey, the Bobcats are visiting the Nets in a game for die-hards only while on ESPN, the 1-8 Rays are facing the 2-7 Red Sox.

Site Notes: Please consider participating in our 2011 Pledge Drive … Also, please take our completely anonymous reader demographic survey if you haven’t already … Lastly, please vote for Alex Kresovich’s “The Reader” track for the NBA2K12 by clicking “Like” on Facebook. Alex put together the intro music for our podcast.

Youngest players by league

Via J.J. Cooper of Baseball America, he have a list of the youngest player in each professional baseball league. The two youngest big leaguers are Starlin Castro of the Cubs and Mike Stanton of the Marlins, two of just six players younger than 22. Jesus Montero is the sixth youngest player in Triple-A this year at 21 years and four months, trailing only Julio Teheran, Jose Iglesias, Jordan Lyles, Brett Lawrie, and Tyler Chatwood (who was called up the big leagues today).

Manny Banuelos is the fourth youngest player in Double-A, Scottie Allen is the sixth youngest in High-A, and Gary Sanchez is the second youngest in Low-A. The Yankees have a tendency to promote their top prospects aggressively, but in the cases of Montero and Banuelos, it’s certainly warranted.

An annotated breakdown of Yankees-Red Sox

Like everyone else, there are certain writers and analysts I just straight-up like more than others. My favorites, if you will. Sam Miller of the Orange County Register is one such writer. Every Monday he breaks down ESPN’s Sunday Night game with an annotated box score, sometimes talking about the game itself, sometimes going off on wild tangents, sometimes falling in between. Here’s this week’s breakdown of last night’s game, which features commentary on pistachios, a super YankSox team, Brett Gardner‘s plate discipline, green hats, cheesy shirts, and much more. It gets RAB’s highest recommendation, so make sure you check it out.

Sabathia’s minor changeup problem

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The season is still young, very young in fact, especially for starting pitchers who’ve made two, maybe three starts. CC Sabathia is one of the guys that has made three starts, and if there’s been one thing giving him trouble so far, it’s right-handed batters. Eight of 15 right-handed batters he faced last night reached base (three walks, five hits), and on the season, 18 of the 52 righties he’s faced have reached base, a .346 OBP. That’s noteworthy only because he held RHB to .295 OBP last year and .305 in 2009.

Sabathia relies on his changeup to combat batters of the opposite hand just like every other pitcher in the history of the universe. I don’t think many of us realized how good that pitch was for him until we starting seeing him pitch every five days, but there’s no denying it’s a quality offering. In fact, it’s been the third best changeup in baseball since the start of the 2009 season at 31.2 runs above average, trailing only Felix Hernandez (+35.3) and Tim Lincecum (+53.9, yikes). For whatever reason, the pitch hasn’t been cooperating with CC so far this season. To the heat maps!

(what the frack is a heat map?)

As you can see, the vast majority of Sabathia’s changeups were down-and-away from right-handers but in the strike zone last year. The handful of changeups he’s thrown this year are still down-and-away, but now they’re down below the zone and not strikes. That’s good to a certain extent because at least he’s not hanging them, but the entire point of a changeup is to get batters out in front thinking the pitch is a fastball. If it’s not a strike, they won’t swing no matter what kind of pitch is coming at them. At least good batters won’t, anyway.

Fortunately we have no reason to believe this is anything more than the normal randomness a pitcher will experience throughout the season. Pitches are like swings, they come and go every so often and are prone to slumps. Changeups are feel pitches according to the zillions of baseball announcers I’ve listened too over the years, and it’s tough to get a good feel for the ball when it’s been like, 40-degrees out as it has been early in the season. Right-handers won’t continue to get on base 34+% of the time against the Yankees’ ace, especially not once he gets back to commanding his changeup the way he has in the past.

The RAB Radio Show: April 11, 2011

It was another wild Yanks-Sox weekend that, unfortunately, found the Yanks on the wrong end of a 2-1 series loss. Mike and I look at the weekend that was, while peeking ahead to what could be a bumpy week ahead.

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