Via Bryan Hoch, left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano was advised by Dr. James Andrews to begin a conservative treatment program for his torn shoulder capsule. It’s a six-week shoulder strengthening program that Feliciano will begin immediately, and he’ll remain with the team throughout the process. Feliciano went to Andrews for a second opinion today, and that he didn’t recommend surgery is the first bit of good news the Yankees have received regarding the lefty in quite some time. I guess not all hope is lost for a return this summer.
What can a man do with a mid-80s fastball? Not much, if recent history is any guide. A few pitchers have sat in that range — Jamie Moyer most prominently — but few have experienced success. The hope with Freddy Garcia was that he could get his fastball into the upper 80s. Early in spring training he said that he was effective when his fastball was around 88, but got hit around when it dipped below that. And so it might not have seemed like a good sign that his fastest pitch on Saturday was 87.5 mph.
Yet we know that he pitched as well as he did in any start last season, allowing no runs on just two hits and a walk while facing one of the league’s most potent offenses. His fastball averaged just under 86 mph, and he hit that 87.5 speed maybe three times all game. Garcia went to his heat 35 times and generated no swings and misses, yet it still represented his best linear weights score, per Brooks Baseball (just combine the top two rows). Yes, that’s 35 fastballs, 24 strikes. He complemented that by mixing in 24 changeups, 16 sliders, 6 curves, and something that PitchFX classified as a splitter. It all made for a nice mix of pitches and speeds.
This is exactly how Garcia will need to approach every start if he’s going to succeed for the Yankees. Fastballs in pitchers’ counts, off-speed stuff in hitters’ counts — overall, a near-random selection of pitches that will keep hitters guessing. That’s how Garcia can succeed while throwing in the mid 80s.
It’s early still, and there’s a chance that Garcia’s fastball ramps up as the weather warms, but that’ no guarantee. Last year he averaged 88.5 mph on his fastball in April, but then just 87.5 mph the rest of the way. He did adjust then, though, leaning on his changeup far more often than his fastball, and mixing in the slider more prominently. I can see similar changes this year, especially if his velocity follows a similar trend.
Today on the podcast I asked Mike whether he believed that Garcia could continue getting hitters out with the general slop he threw on Saturday. He gave the answer that I’ve been wrestling with: heart says yes, head says no. How can anyone succeed throwing mostly off-speed junk? I’m not sure, but we not only saw Garcia do it on Saturday, but we saw him do it against one of the league’s best offenses — one that tagged up his rotation mates Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia.
Chances are Garcia can’t sustain this. But that’s not my concern right now. All I want to do is heap a little praise on a guy who, without any semblance of a major league fastball, spun, tilted, and palmed his way through a tough lineup. It was an impressive debut, and an important one, too. With Hughes on the DL, CC getting off to a slow start, and Nova struggling, the Yanks needed that from Garcia.
It’s not often that you can look at a player hitting .310/.322/.621 (.403 wOBA) and feel like his performance has stepped back from last year. Maybe it’s just me and/or maybe Robinson Cano has spoiled us all, but there’s one part of the second baseman’s game that has taken a nose dive during the first 14 games of the season: his plate discipline. At least superficially anyway; Cano has drawn just one walk this season and his 3.14 pitches per plate appearance ranks 197th out of 200 qualified big leaguers. The only three below him are noted hackers Orlando Cabrera (3.10), Miguel Tejada (2.97), and Vlad Guerrero (2.97).
Cano set career highs in walks (57), unintentional walks (43), walk rate (8.2%), and unintentional walk rate (6.2%) last season, but he did so while swinging at 36.5% of the pitches he saw outside of the strike zone. That was also a career high, and ranked 184th out of the 205 players with 400 or more plate appearances. So given Robinson’s utter lack of walks this year, you’d think that he’s swinging at even more pitches out of the zone, right? Wrong.
The table above is taken right from Cano’s player page on FanGraphs, and you can click for a larger (and easier to read) view. Cano is actually swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone this year, albeit but a very small amount, but the real change comes on pitches in the zone. He’s hacking at four out of every five pitches over the plate, and making contact at his usual (and absurdly high) rate. This suggests that he simply isn’t getting into many deep counts, and the data backs it up.
Baseball-Reference shows that Cano has not worked a single 3-0 count this season, not once in his 59 plate appearances. Furthermore, he’s only been in two 3-1 counts and two full counts. Two (each)! That’s four three-ball counts all year, or 6.8% of his plate appearances. Last season Robinson worked a three-ball count 113 times (that’s removing the 14 intentional walks), or in 16.6% of his 682 plate appearances. In 2005 and 2006, his first two years as a big leaguer, it was 9.2%. It hasn’t dipped below 11.8% since, so clearly this is completely out of the norm for Cano.
So you know what that tells me? That this utter lack of working the count is just an unsustainably bad pace for Robinson. It’s more of a small sample size issue than a definitive regression in his plate discipline. I haven’t seen anything in his at-bats to suggest otherwise, he’s still very productive and hasn’t turned into an easy out. Cano has established himself as a .320 BABIP guy over the last few seasons, so he’s got a tiny little bit of a rebound coming there (he’s at .304 at the moment) plus what should be a huge correction in his walk rate. A .322 OBP is not good by any stretch of the imagination, at least not for a middle-of-the-order guy, but Cano is underperforming his career norms and looks poised to bounce back into the .350+ OBP range once we get a little deeper into the season.
The Yanks faced their biggest challenge of the season, facing the Rangers and their high-powered offense. They came out of it well, though, taking two of three. They are now the only AL East team over .500. Mike and I discuss the main points of the weekend, including Eric Chavez replacing A-Rod, the bullpen, and Phil Hughes‘s trip to the DL.
Podcast run time 29:55
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Last week I pointed you towards Sam Miller’s annotated breakdown of the Yankees-Red Sox game, and since the Bombers played in last night’s ESPN game, they are again featured in the annotated box score. This week Sam looks at the then-prospect status of both Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera, which is a blast. Like I said last week, it gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so check it out.
Record Last Week: 4-1 (27 RS, 21 RA)
Season Record: 9-5 (77 RS, 68 RA, 8-6 pythag. record), 2.5 games up
Opponents This Week: Monday OFF, @ Blue Jays (two games, Tues. & Weds.), Thursday OFF, @ Orioles (three games, Fri. to Sun.)
Top stories from last week:
- The week started with two days off; one scheduled and one due to rain. Homeruns and A.J. Burnett gave the Yankees a win on Wednesday, then Nick Swisher did the honors with a walk-off sacrifice fly on Thursday for a quick two-game sweep.
- The Rangers were the next team to come to town, but the Yankees hit into a franchise-record six double plays in a loss in the opener. Freddy Garcia was pretty damn good in Saturday’s win, and Eric Chavez stepped in for Alex Rodriguez to provide the game-winning hit yesterday.
- Following his third straight ugly start on Thursday, the Yankees stuck Phil Hughes on the disabled list due to a “dead arm phase.” Hughes didn’t think a trip to the minors would help with his missing velocity/poor location despite some mechanical adjustments. He was placed on anti-inflammatory medication and started a throwing program over the weekend.
- Injury Zone: A-Rod left Saturday’s game with a stiff back/oblique, and he sat out Sunday’s game as well. An MRI came back clean. Pedro Feliciano was diagnosed with a torn shoulder capsule, effectively ending his season before it even began. Luis Ayala was placed on the disabled list with a strained lat. Dellin Betances (blister), Manny Banuelos (blister), and Gary Sanchez (oblique) all hit the DL on the minor league side.
- Hector Noesi took Ayala’s spot on the roster while Lance Pendleton got Hughes’ spot. Kevin Millwood was okay in a start for Double-A Trenton, though the reports on his stuff are still terrible.
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The Texas Rangers have proven to be quite a pain in the ass over the last year, but that doesn’t make them unbeatable. Sunday night’s rubber game was a reminder that the Yankees are never quite out of any game because of their power, their bullpen, and their deep bench, all of which they used to secure the series win.
Back From The Dead
Over the last few years, the drop-off from Alex Rodriguez to his replacement has always been massive. It didn’t matter if it was Cody Ransom or Ramiro Pena or Morgan Ensberg or whoever, it’s always been a huge loss of production. The Yankees sought to deepen their bench this past offseason, and although it’s still extremely early, it looks like they hit the nail on the head with Eric Chavez. The former Athletic stepped in for Alex on Sunday night and although he’ll never fully replace him, the Yankees didn’t miss a beat.
When Chavez stepped to the plate in the eighth inning against the Rangers on Sunday, a back-and-forth affair that featured homers and errors and thunder (literally) came down to essentially one at-bat. The Yankees had runners on first and second with two outs against noted Yankees’ whipping boy Arthur Rhodes, someone Chavez had already faced 25 times in his career. He took two straight sliders for a 2-0 count, but then Rhodes went after him with fastballs. The first was fouled back, the second on the outside corner for strike two. Chavez, standing at his locker with his throwing shoulder wrapped in ice after the game, said he was looking for the slider all at-bat, but that 2-2 count brought a fastball, and A-Rod‘s fill-in adjusted to the pitch and took it right back up the box. Mark Teixeira did his puffy faced hustle around third to score the go-ahead run on Chavez’s single, which may have earned him True Yankee™ status. At +.265 WPA, it was the biggest play of the game for New York.
As if the game-winning hit wasn’t enough, Chavez also turned a sweet 5-4-3 double play in the third and assisted on the game-ending ground out. Zombie Eric Chavez, back from the dead and raising hell. Hooray for a deep bench.
Too Many Homers!
If you watched and listened to ESPN’s broadcast of the game, then I’m sure you heard their announcing crew bemoaning the fact that the Yankees have hit a lot of homeruns. They acted like it was a bad thing; creating runs with one swing is ruining baseball, apparently. Well the long ball kept New York in this game before Chavez had a chance to do his thing whether ESPN liked it or not.
Robinson Cano got the got the party started right in the second inning, pulling an inside slider deep into the second deck in right for the Yankees’ first run. Russell Martin followed up three innings later with a two-run shot, his fourth of the season. He had five all of last year and seven in 2008. Curtis Granderson went deep an inning later, putting two more runs on board. It was his first homer off a right-handed pitcher this season, believe it or not. Alexi Ogando allowed two dingers all of last year, but he paid dearly for being a pure two-pitch pitcher facing this lineup multiple times.
CC Sabathia wasn’t great tonight, but really it was only Michael Young and Adrian Beltre that cost him. Those two combined to go 5-for-6 with two doubles and a homer off the Yankees’ ace while the rest of the Texas lineup went 3-for-19 with two walks with six whiffs. The big guy took the ball into the seventh and although four runs in 6.1 IP won’t win him any Cy Young Awards, it was enough to keep his team in the game. More often than not, they’ll win those contests.
Joba Chamberlain, working for the second day in a row and the third time in four days, relieved CC and immediately walked Ian Kinsler on four pitches. Young drove him in two batters later, which is annoying because that guy really isn’t as good as he looked this weekend. Joba escaped the inning without further damage, and Rafael Soriano did a nice job of redeeming himself for Saturday’s debacle with a scoreless eighth inning in a tie game. Mariano Rivera, of course, was his usual self in the ninth, nailing down the 6-5 win.
Jorge Posada‘s assault on the three true outcomes continued with a pair of walks in four plate appearances, and now 22 of his 50 trips to the plate this year have ended with ball four, strike three, or a slow trot around the bases. Derek Jeter picked up a hit and even hit another ball with authority to the opposite field, his third hard hit ball in the air over the past two days. Progress! Chavez and Martin each had two hits, and Nick Swisher chipped in a single as well. It was a total team effort offensively tonight, the six runs were scored by six different players.
The Yankees sent 108 players to the plate in this series, and just nine struck out. Nine! Nine others walked and six homered. Everyone else had a .226 BABIP. If you’re not missing bats against a lineup like this, well you’re not going to win games. It’s that simple. Texas, if you’re wondering, sent 110 batters to the plate. Eighteen struck out, 12 walked, one homered, and everyone else had a .253 BABIP.
How about that thunder and lightning? It felt like my entire building shook, so yeah, that was pretty intense.
WPA Graph & Box Score
The Yankees are off on Monday, then they’ll head to Toronto for a quick two-game series against the Blue Jays. A.J. Burnett squares off against Kyle Drabek on Tuesday.