A.J.’s approach to lefties

On Friday over at The Process Report R.J. Anderson published a piece noting that the entire Rays rotation is pitching more backward. By this he meant that the staff was throwing more offspeed pitches early in the count than they had in the past. Anderson concluded that this was likely the result of a strategic decision by the Baseball Operations department. The Rays have the luxury of little turnover in the rotation (lost Garza, added Hellickson), so there’s good year to year comparative data there, but in New York the situation is slightly different. Andy Pettitte is out to pasture, Phil Hughes is injured, and Javier Vazquez is currently chucking his 87 mph nothingball for the Florida Marlins. The Yankees currently boast only two members of the 2010 Opening Day squad in the current pitching rotation: CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. By and large, Sabathia is doing what he’s always been doing, but there’s been a subtle change in AJ’s approach this year. It’s for the better.

The biggest anecdotal difference this year for A.J. Burnett is the increased quality of his offspeed offerings. Last year his curveball was flat and ineffective, and this year it’s shown signs of returning to form. Last year he rarely threw a changeup, but this year he’s been breaking it out way more often, albeit less as of late. Greater confidence in his offspeed stuff has enabled him to pitch more backwards this season, especially against left-handed batters. Here’s the breakdown for his pitch data against lefties in 0-0 counts in the past two years:

Like the Rays staff, Burnett is throwing fewer fastballs on 0-0 counts. It’s still his primary go-to pitch on the first pitch of the at-bat, but so far he’s thrown it 17% fewer than last year. Instead, he’s throwing his curveball and his changeup, upping the former by about 6% and the latter by about 11%. In fact, he’s thrown his changeup as a first pitch in 2011 only 4 times fewer than he did in 2010. Clearly he’s showing a greater willingness to deploy the pitch early on.

This usage pattern demonstrates a greater confidence in the quality of the pitches. He’s throwing his changeup for a strike about 58% of the time in 2011, up about 25% from his 2010 mark. This could be sample size noise but it does appear anecdotally that he has better command of the pitch than he did last year. Interestingly, he’s thrown the curveball for a strike on 0-0 only 37% of the time so far this year, down from 44%.

Despite the fact that he throws from the right side, A.J. Burnett has always been tougher on left-handed batters than right-handed batters. He boasts a career average FIP of 3.61 against lefties, with a 8.97 K/9 and 3.77 BB/9. Against righties he’s averaged a FIP of 4.02 with a K/9 of 7.99 and a BB/9 of 3.02. Last year everything fell apart, including his trademark toughness on lefties. A.J. struck out only 6.53 per nine and walking 4.2 batters per nine innings. This year he’s gotten the train back on the track. He’s been slightly less tough on righties (5.61 K/9 and 4.27 FIP), but he’s back to his old ways against lefties, posting an 8.50 K/9 and 3.50 FIP. This is no doubt related to the quality of his offspeed pitches. As he’s able to command one or more offspeed offerings and throw them for strikes early in the count he will keep hitters off balance and put them away via the strikeout. Given the considerable risk in the Yankees rotation, this improvement is a very welcome development.

What Not To Wear (Ballpark Edition)

Official cap of the Gulf oil spill.

I can’t be the only one who likes to look at all the terrible things people wear at the ballpark, right? There should be a law banning bad baseball clothes. Luckily, I’m a girl, so I’m perfectly prepared to make a proper list of fan appropriate attire, and a baseball fan, so I can judge other fans all I want. I could go on for a while with this, but I’ll only cover general stuff and the two most important things.

General Notes

  • You should only be wearing baseball attire of a team in your current ballpark. The lone exception to this is if you are sporting merchandise of a closely affiliated rival. If you’re wearing Red Sox gear at a Yankees/Twins game, I know who you’re rooting for. If you’re wearing Diamondbacks gear, you just look stupid.
  • You should only be wearing the baseball attire of one (1) team that is playing in the ballpark. Anyone who wears both Yankees and Red Sox attire to a Yankees/Sox game should be shot.  The point of wearing team colors is to show your affiliation to a team. Wearing both sides is like admitting you have no rooting interest. Why are you at the ballpark if you don’t want someone to win? Corporate event?
  • Wearing gear of an affiliated minor league team to the major league ballpark (and vice versa) is very cool. Oh, you watch the Trenton Thunder? You must be wise.
  • Don’t wear pink. There are lots of social settings for pink. The ballpark is not one of them.
  • You can tell the SABR geeks from everyone else with their oversized calculators. Avoid at all costs.


The jersey is the ideal shirt for any baseball fan. There are going to be a lot of jersey-wearing folk at any game you go to. Obviously, the people wearing the jerseys are the best fans, so if you have any important questions about the team, they’re the ones to ask. Here are some important rules to follow:

The name/number on the back:

  • Historical players and current players are both okay.
  • The jersey should have the proper name of the player in question. Nicknames are not okay. “Sandman” is for the speakers, not your back.
    • Obscure nicknames will be funny to the four people who recognize them, but I would personally advise against it if you don’t want people giving really strange looks to your back.
    • “Captain Groundballs” and all other witty nicknames are only funny on the internet, not embroidered.
    • Name shortening is not okay.
    • Stealing other players’ nicknames is not okay, even if they apply. A friend of mine once saw a 2 Yankees jersey that had “the Franchise” on it. Take that guy outside and shoot him.
    • Your jersey player shows what kind of person you are:
      • Player working on long, storied career (Jeter, Rivera, Posada): I don’t want to screw up what jersey I have, because I only have one.
      • Player just signed to big contract (Sabathia, Burnett, Teixeira): I like buying jerseys of players that are successful. I probably have a few.
      • Player recently departed (Pettitte, Mussina, Matsui): I have been a fan since before this year.
      • Successful player, but not quite storied (Granderson, Swisher, Hughes): I am trendy, and I’m going to tell people I had this jersey before the player in question got big.
      • Any historically great player (Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio): I have more jersey security and less originality than you could ever have.
      • Pavano jersey: So, what’s a home run, again?

A few additional notes:

  • Do not tuck in your jersey unless you are actually going to play baseball.
  • If you’re going to wear a jersey you found on the internet for $20, at least try to find one that looks close to what your team actually wears.
  • Don’t wear a Pavano jersey.

Baseball Caps

Hats are big. Hats are where most fans go astray, too. The great thing about a hat is that it’s acceptable in virtually every social setting that’s remotely casual, so you can take your visible fan affiliation everywhere you go. While there are lots of different hats (and many you shouldn’t wear), I’m going to focus entirely on baseball caps. I’ve separated this category into some easy Do’s and Don’ts:


  • Wear the hat most like the players of your team. Official caps are simple and classic. If it’s good enough for the ballplayers to be wearing it, you should be wearing it too.
  • The older the cap is, the better. Wear makes hats look better, not worse.
  • Got a cap with an old logo the team doesn’t use any more? Wear it. You’re obviously the best fan.
  • Wear team colors. Again, no pink. The only other acceptable color scheme for a hat is black-on-black. Simple and classic, folks.


  • Wear over-complicated designs. The more stuff going on on your hat, the less sense someone is going to make of it.
  • Leave the sticker on your hat. I don’t know when this became cool, but if you take the tag off your clothes, why wouldn’t you take it off your hat?
  • Wear holiday-baseball hats. There are no holidays (but there is a Holliday) in baseball besides the All-Star Break.
  • Are you a hipster? No? No plaid. Is there a team that wears plaid? No.
  • No pink.

In example form: No. No. No. No. Maybe. Maybe. Yes.

Equipped with this knowledge, you can sally forth as the best-dressed baseball fan around. Even if you don’t actually know what you’re watching, you can certainly look like a long-term fan of whatever team you’re going to just by sticking to some easy rules. And after all, going to a ballgame is all about how you look. Right?

Nova, Grandy carry Yanks to much needed win

Austin Jackson struck out for the 44th and 45th times on Friday. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Three straight losses qualifies as a crisis around these parts, but the Yankees righted the ship tonight thanks to their fourth starter and the guy that was supposed to hit ninth before a head cold befell Nick Swisher. Let’s quickly recap…

  • Give it up to Ivan Nova, the kid just had the best start of his big league career against the defending American League champs. He allowed just one (unearned) run in 7.2 innings, giving up just two singles and a walk. Of his 21 non-strikeout outs, 16 were on the ground. Nova was simply awesome Friday night, you couldn’t have asked for more. He’s now allowed just four runs in 22 innings over his last three starts, when he was probably pitching for his job.
  • How about that Curtis Granderson fella? A two-run homer into the upper deck in the first inning, then an insurance run on a solo homer in the seventh. That’s how it’s done. Grandy’s ten homers lead the AL, and his 24 long balls since last August 14th are the most in baseball by someone not named Jose Bautista (he has 27). He didn’t hit his tenth homer until July 26th last season, so yeah, he’s ahead of that pace.
  • Another inning’s worth of outs just given away in this game. Two stupid sacrifice bunts (neither worked) and Russell Martin got picked off third when he wandered a little too far from the bag. What kills me most about the bunts is that the guy on the mound had walked the previous batter each time (in Matt Harrison’s case, the previous two hitters), and they just gave a wild pitcher a free out. I’ve written more words about dumb bunt attempts this year than I ever thought I would have needed to this season, and it’s only been thirty games. Sigh.
  • Turning Alex Rodriguez loose in a 3-0 count with two outs and the bases loaded in the second? Dumb. Harrison walked three batters in the inning and was clearly laboring, I highly doubt that he could have thrown three strikes before one ball in that spot. I don’t care if 2001 Barry Bonds was at the plate, take the run they’re trying to give you.
  • Rafael Soriano allowed an inherited runner to score on his contractually mandated baserunner, so Nova wasn’t even on the mound when the run came across. Mariano Rivera was flawless in the ninth, just the way we like it.
  • Derek Jeter had a hit and a walk and Martin drew a trio of free passes. The six through nine hitters went hitless in 11 at-bats, but they reached base five times total. The Yankees went 0-for-4 with men in scoring position and did leave seven runners on base, but homers cure all ills.
  • Here’s the box score and video, here’s the WPA Graph.

Same two teams tomorrow night, when Bartolo Colon takes on lefty Derek Holland. Another 8pm ET start, which sucks on a Saturday.

Phelps dominant in Scranton win

Dellin Betances got some love in this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet, being named the sixth hottest prospect in the minors. The High-A Tampa Yankees have the fourth worst record in all of the minor leagues (coming into tonight), so yeah, they’ve been pretty bad. Sorry for the short recap, but it’s been a long day…

  • Triple-A won. David Phelps was the story of the night, he struck out seven and allowed just four baserunners (one hit, one walk, two hit batters) in six scoreless innings. Dan Brewer drew three walks after coming up for Kevin Russo, and Chris Dickerson picked up three hits. Jesus Montero singled in four at bats, and almost everyone else had at least one hit as well.
  • High-A Tampa lost again, their 15th in the last 17 games. DeAngelo Mack and Emerson Landoni each singled, but everyone else in the lineup took a big fat 0-fer. Jose Ramirez gave up five runs in four innings, his fourth straight disaster start.
  • Both Double-A Trenton and Low-A Charleston are still playing, and are only in the middle innings. Click the links to go to the box scores to see what’s happening.

Update: Both Slade Heathcott and Rob Segedin homered, so hooray for that.

Lou Piniella will attend Old Timers’ Day

Via Ken Davidoff, Lou Piniella will attend Old Timer’s Day this summer, his first time in a Yankee uniform since 1988. He’s currently a “special consultant” with the Giants, a cushy job that affords him the luxury of staying home with his elderly mother. I’m too young to have seen Piniella play, and I don’t remember anything about his time as a manager either. I was like, five when he was running things. Either way, it’ll be cool to see him there.

Joe Torre will be there this year as well, in case you missed it over the winter.

Series Preview: Texas Rangers

Deep thoughts with (the since demoted) Pedro Strop. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Thankfully out of Detroit, the Yankees are heading to place of recent heartbreak: Arlington, Texas. They won just one of five games played there last season, and that doesn’t include two losses in three ALCS games. The Bombers’ 2010 season ended in this stadium, as you surely remember. The Yankees already beat the Rangers in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago, and they could really use another series win right now.

What Have The Rangers Done Lately?

Remember when Texas started the season with nine wins in their first ten games and looked like the best team in baseball? They’re 8-15 since then, and have lost eight of their last eleven games. The Rangers have lost five or their last six series as well, so yeah, they’re struggling.

Lots of this, please. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Rangers On Offense

No Josh Hamilton and guess what? No Nelson Cruz either. The outfielder has a tight quad and hasn’t played since Tuesday, and he definitely won’t play tonight. The Rangers are hopeful that he can go tomorrow, but that’s not a given. Considering that he’s hitting just .219/.303/.438, I’m not sure if his absence is a good or bad thing for New York.

Michael Young killed the Yankees earlier in the season in Yankee Stadium, and he comes into the series with a modest six game hitting streak and a .327/.351/.500 line in his last 13 games. Ian Kinsler has been warm of late, with seven hits (four doubles) in his last 25 at-bats. Julio Borbon has five hits in his last ten at-bats following a 12-for-55 start. I’m guessing the last few games are the outlier. Elvis Andrus keeps singling opponents to death; he’s got 13 hits in his last 38 at-bats, but just one extra base hit (a double). Those four make up Texas’ hottest hitters at the moment.

Adrian Beltre has just 13 hits and five unintentional walks in his last 62 plate appearances (.241 AVG, .306 OBP) and David Murphy has hit an empty .235 over the last two weeks or so (.316 OBP, .030 ISO). Certified pain in the ass Mitch Moreland is roaming right field in Cruz’s stead, and he’s cooled down considerably of late: .212/.333/.391 in his last 39 plate appearances. Mike Napoli (two for his last 22) and Yorvit Torrealba (four for his last 22) aren’t doing much of anything, and personal fave (but Grade-A hacker) Chris Davis has five hits in seven games (playing part-time) since being recalled, though two are doubles and one went over the fence. The top of the lineup – Kinsler, Andrus, Young – is the minefield that must be navigated, though the cleanup hitting Beltre is always tough as well. At least against the Yankees.

Rangers On The Mound

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Friday, LHP Matt Harrison: Same three pitchers that we saw three weeks ago, when the Yankees took two of three in the Bronx. Harrison’s scorching hot start (1.23 ERA in his first three starts, including that double play fest against the Yanks) has been followed by disaster: he’s got an 11.12 ERA in three starts since. Last time out against the A’s, he allowed four runs in just 1.2 innings. The start before that featured seven runs in three innings. The Yankees have to be patient, Harrison’s walked five batters and struck out just two in those last two starts. He’s still throwing gas, and backs it up almost exclusively with a changeup.

Saturday, LHP Derek Holland: Two earned runs in seven innings against Oakland followed three starts with exactly five earned runs allowed, including one against the Yankees. I liked Holland as a breakout candidate coming into the year, and his 3.71 FIP with a 50.4% ground ball rate looks a whole lot better than his 4.66 ERA. Another fastball-changeup heavy lefty (with the occasional slider), Holland held the Yankees in check until the late innings a few weeks ago, not getting hurt until his pitch count was well over 100. Will Ron Washington make the same mistake twice? History says yes.

Sunday, RHP Alexi Ogando: Aside from that five run, 6.1 IP effort against the Yankees a few weeks ago, Ogando has yet to allow more than two earned runs or throw fewer than six innings in any start. I don’t get it either. He’s almost exclusively a fastball-slider pitcher, and the Yankees’ lefty bats predictably did damage after seeing his shtick the second and third times through the order. Hopefully they’ll be able to jump on Ogando a little earlier since they’ll be seeing him again in a relatively short amount of time.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Bullpen: Just the Yankees’ luck, Neftali Feliz is expected to be activated off the disabled list in time for tonight’s game. That pushes Darren Oliver out of the closer’s role and back into middle relief, which he shares with Arthur Rhodes. Righty specialist Darren O’Day is out for a while with a torn labrum in his hip, but he’s been replaced with another sidearming righty: Cody Eppley. He’s appeared in four games so far, walked two and striking out three in 5.2 innings of work. Like most guys with that arm slot, Eppley is fastball-slider heavy, with an occasional changeup.

The rest of the bullpen is patchwork at the moment. Mark Lowe is the best of the bunch but he’s nothing special, and Dave Bush handles long relief duties. They also have old buddy Brett Tomko on the roster, which is good news for the Yankees. Hard throwing former top prospect Ryan Tucker is also in the mix, but these aren’t exactly Washington’s go-to relievers in big spots. The more we see of these guys this weekend, the better.

Recommended Rangers Reading: Baseball Time In Arlington and Lone Star Ball.