Where did Burnett’s changeups go?

Remember back about three weeks ago, when the Yankees were winning games and A.J. Burnett was throwing his changeup rather frequently? It was glorious, wins rained down from the heavens like champagne and the changeups flocked to the plate like the salmon of Capistrano. Well, the Yankees have lost three games in a row coming into today and guess what? Burnett hasn’t been throwing his change as much since then.

The table to the right shows a few things, but most importantly the number (and percentage) of changeups that A.J. has thrown in each of his seven starts. After throwing 32 in his first three starts, he’s thrown a total of 14 changeups in four starts since. For all intents and purposes, he went back to using the pitch as little as he did last year (about 2.4%) after throwing it more than ten percent of the time early on. The effectiveness of the pitch has dropped; it’s had a negative run value in each of his last three times out, so maybe it’s just not working and a) the catcher isn’t calling it as much, b) Burnett isn’t comfortable throwing it at the moment, or c) a combination of a and b.

I looked at the number of left-handed batters in the other team’s starting lineup of each game just to see if that had something to do with it since the changeup is a pitch used to neutralize batters of the opposite hand. That didn’t bring any potential answers; aside from that April 7th game against the Twins, when they loaded the lineup with seven lefties/switch-hitters, Burnett has faced either three or four guys swinging from the other side of the plate in his other six starts. I don’t have an answer, I have no idea why the changeup has suddenly been put back on the shelf.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. A.J. had a 4.67 ERA and a 4.47 FIP in his first three starts but a 3.08 ERA with a 4.03 FIP in the four starts since. Super small sample size caveats apply, that goes without saying. We hear stories about guys trying to add a pitch all the time in March and April, and for a while it looked like Burnett was making a concerted effort to incorporate the changeup in his repertoire. Maybe he said the hell with it and went back to 98% fastballs and curveballs, maybe he’s just struggling with the pitch at the moment and isn’t comfortable using it in games, maybe it’s just a PitchFX classification problem. Whatever it is, it’s worth paying attention to as the season goes on.

Errors, lack off offense lead to third straight loss

Another day, another offensive struggle. On top of that, this game featured an injury to a semi-important player and two errors on plays a high school kid should make. The Yankees actually led Thursday’s game for five-plus innings, but the end result was the same as the previous two games. The Tigers came into the four-game series on a six-game losing streak, but they leave it on a three-game winning streak.

Maybe one of the mascots distracted him right before the throw? Twice? (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Eduardo Knoblauch

Eduardo Nunez has always had a strong throwing arm, so strong that there were some rumblings of moving him to the mound as he stumbled through the 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons. But a strong arm is only half the battle, maybe less. Nunez committed 167 errors in 636 minor league games (one every 3.8 games), and most of them were on throws because his arm is highly inaccurate. We saw that a little last year, and it was on full display this game.

The first error came in the bottom of the fourth inning, with the Yankees up by one. Brennan Boesch grounded to short, a completely routine and otherwise forgettable play, but Nunez threw the ball in the dirt and Mark Teixeira was unable to scoop it at first. Luckily that didn’t lead to a run, but the second error did. That one came with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning, with the Yankees down by one. Don Kelly slapped a ball to short, and although I wouldn’t call it routine, it wasn’t exactly the toughest play in the world. Nunez threw the ball high, over Tex’s head at first, and two runs came around to score on what should have been the third out.

We’re not asking for miracles here, those were two plays a Major League caliber shortstop needs to make. Nunez did go 2-for-4 and is now hitting .385/.429/.538 in limited playing time, but who cares? Those were his fourth and fifth errors in 22 defensive innings at shortstop. A backup infielder has to be able to catch and throw the ball without a problem, that’s the first item on the job description. I don’t break out the word “unacceptable” often, but I’m using it now: Nunez’s defensive play has been unacceptable for a utility infielder.

Might be time for a new haircut, Swish. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

More Offensive Struggles

Ten hits, three walks, and heck, the Yankees even went 3-for-8 (.375) with runners in scoring position and plated all three runs with two outs, fun situational hitting type of stuff, but they still scored just three runs. It’s the third straight game they’ve scored three or fewer runs, and the seventh time in their last eleven contests.

Know how many times they got the leadoff man on base in this game? Twice. Robinson Cano singled to open the fifth but was erased on a Tex double play ball three pitches later. Alex Rodriguez then opened the ninth with a single and eventually came around to score. But that’s it, just two leadoff runners on. In fact, only thrice did the second runner of the inning reach base. Eight of their 13 baserunners came with two outs in the inning, when they’re least likely to come around to score. The offense is straight up sucking right now, and boy is it frustrating.

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

A.J. Deserves Better

The first inning as a little rocky, but A.J. Burnett undoubtedly gave his team a chance to win on Thursday. He allowed just two earned runs (three unearned) on three hits and a walk in seven innings, hitting another batter with a pitch (when he was trying to bunt, grumble grumble) and striking out five. Two of the unearned runs scored on Nunez’s second error, but the first came when Burnett threw the ball into foul territory on a pickoff play. The runner went from first to third and later scored on a sac fly. Such is life.

This is the second time in three starts that A.J. allowed three hits and two or fewer earned runs in seven or more innings of work, and yet he lost both games. Go figure. The Yankees’ pitchers have really turned it around of late, with the last three guys each going seven innings with four earned runs or less. Those are winnable games given this team’s bullpen and offense, but it’s just not clicking right now. Earlier in the year the offense was carrying a suspect pitching staff, now the pitching is carrying the offense. Too bad they aren’t winning games like they did last month.

Leftovers

Someone's happy they allowed a run in a non-save situation. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Eric Chavez tripled in the Yankees’ first run of the day (a missed dive by Kelly helped), but he managed to break a bone in his foot between second and third. No timetable for his return has been announced, but it won’t be anytime soon. Ramiro Pena is expected to take his spot on the roster tomorrow. It’s been fun Chavy, but we all knew it wouldn’t last.

Brett Gardner continued to do good things by picking up two hits in five trips to the plate, and Cano snapped an 0-for-9 skid with two hits. Curtis Granderson singled and walked, and A-Rod went 2-for-2 with two runs scored after replacing Chavez. Russell Martin and Nick Swisher went hitless but walked once each. Tex and Jorge Posada were the two most unproductive batters on the day, combining for nine outs in eight plate appearances. It’ll click soon, right? Right?!

Lefty specialist Boone Logan‘s first three batters: homer by left Brennan Boesch, strikeout of righty (and the monster hitter) Miguel Cabrera, and a 3-0 count to lefty Alex Avila. He managed to allow just the one baserunner in his inning, but yeah, not how you draw it up. Boone’s been good for a few weeks now, so he gets a pass.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Oh you teases. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Time to get the hell outta Detroit. Too bad Texas is next; the Yankees open a three game series with the Rangers on Friday night when Ivan Nova faces lefty Matt Harrison.

Pena bails on Scranton in loss (for good reason)

Update: Trenton’s game is over, I added it to the post.

Triple-A Scranton (4-1 loss to Pawtucket)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 1 for 3, 1 BB
Chris Dickerson, CF & Gus Molina, DH: both 0 for 3 – Dickerson walked, whiffed, and got picked off first … Gus struck out all three times
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB – eight for his last 22 (.364) with three walks
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 E (fielding)
Justin Maxwell, LF: 0 for 4, 2 K – threw a runner out at the dish
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 3, 1 2B
Jordan Parraz, RF: 2 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (throwing)
Ramiro Pena, SS: 0 for 0 – he was pulled after the first inning, so that means he’s on his way to join the big league team
Luis Nunez, SS: 0 for 4, 1 K
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 4 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 3-2 GB/FB – 55 of 96 pitches were strikes (57.3%) … strikes Andrew, challenge them in the zone, you’ll win more often than not
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 3-0 GB/FB – 15 of 22 pitches were strikes (68.2%) … he was supposed to start Tuesday, the game that rained out, so they skipped his start … this was just one of those “stay sharp” outings
Luis Ayala, RHP: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3-1 GB/FB – 15 of 29 pitches were strikes (51.7%) … Buddy Carlyle better start watching back
Amaury Sanit, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 14 of 19 pitches were strikes (73.7%)
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0-2 GB/FB – 12 of 20 pitches were strikes, but the walk was intentional

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Open Thread: 0, 2, 3, 12, 3, 5, 5, 5, 2, 0, 3

How can you expect to get a hit when you're not even using a real bat? (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

You know what that is in the headline? That’s the number of runs the Yankees have scored in each of their last 11 games. That dates back to the first game of the White Sox series, and is an average of 3.64 runs per game. That’s terrible. The 2010 Mariners scored 3.17 runs per game, and they were the worst offensive team of the DH era. The Yankees are hitting .232/.322/.364 during that time, which is bad but not completely horrific. Part of the problem is that they’ve grounded into 13 double plays and stranded 70 runners on base (77.0% strand rate) during that time, ungodly rates. Bah, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. They suck right now.

So here’s your open thread for the night. MLB Network will carry a game (teams depend on where you live) and I’m sure there’s some NBA and NHL playoff action on somewhere. You all know what to do, so go nuts.

Yankees tried to trade Kevin Russo

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees apparently tried to trade utility man Kevin Russo late in Spring Training. That must have been after they decided on Eduardo Nunez and Eric Chavez as the reserve infielders with Ramiro Pena stashed in Triple-A. Given Chavez’s injury, they’re probably glad they held onto him/couldn’t find taker.

By no means is Russo great, but he’s versatile (can play three infield spots and left field) and has shown the ability to get on base in the minor leagues (.351 OBP). He is hitting just .227/.299/.299 in 24 games for Triple-A Scranton this year, but he’s a career .285/.358/.371 hitter at the level, which is where he’s spent the vast majority of the last three seasons. In a brief (54 plate appearance) cameo with the big league team last year, he hit .184/.245/.224 with one really big hit.

Link Dump: Granderson, 2008 Draft, Eiland

The Yankees are done playing and the workday isn’t quite over, so here’s some links to help you pass the time…

Man of the people. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Granderson Steps Up

New York City banned the use of aluminum bats in high school leagues about four years ago, making the game safer but much more expensive to play. Curtis Granderson stepped in to help out last week, donating 300 Louisville Slugger bats to baseball and softball programs in the Public Schools Athletic League according to Mitch Abramson of The Daily News. The contribution is valued $50,000 or so, which means those are some seriously expensive bats. Good job by the Grandyman, we need to hear more about this stuff.

Aside: If you’re feeling charitable, consider participating in our pledge drive.

Reviewing The 2008 Draft

It’s already been three years since the Yankees drafted and failed to sign not only Gerrit Cole, but second rounder Scott Bittle as well. Cole is in the mix for the first overall pick this season, but concerns about Bittle’s shoulder proved prophetic as the right-hander missed all of last season after blowing out his shoulder. The Yankees turned the compensation picks for the failed signings into Slade Heathcott and J.R. Murphy the next year, which is better than nothing.

But what about the rest of the draft? Marc Hulet at FanGraphs reviews the 2008 AL East draft haul, noting that the Yankees added depth to their farm system with David Adams, Corban Joseph, David Phelps, Brett Marshall, and D.J. Mitchell among others. Mikey O’Brien is starting to make a name for himself at the lower levels, though Jeremy Bleich (the team’s highest signed pick) blew out his shoulder and over-slot signing Garrison Lassiter has fizzled. The jury is still out on Matt Richardson, another over-slot guy. Failing to sign two of your top three picks is a recipe for a disaster draft, though Phelps, Adams, etc. could still salvage the class if they prove useful in some way, even as trade bait.

What’s Dave Eiland Up To?

It’s not quite a case of Where Are They Now?, because we already know that former Yankees pitching coach hooked on with the Rays over the winter in some front office capacity. This is more like: What’s He Doing Exactly? Buster Olney has an update on Eiland today (Insider req’d), reporting that he is cross-checking amateur pitchers for the Rays in advance of their should-be ridiculous draft. The Next Joe DiMaggio Rocco Baldelli is cross-checking position players. A cross-checker is essentially one level up from an area scout, they go in a little later in the spring just to verify previous reports and get a second set of eyes on a player, stuff like that. Tampa holds 12 of the first 89 picks in this June’s draft, so I’m sure those two have been keeping busy.

Yankees Daily Briefing

Just a heads up, friend of RAB Rebecca Glass is doing some work with ESPN New York this summer, posting a daily recap of news and notes from around the Yankees. Here’s today’s entry. There’s no dedicated RSS feed as far as can tell, so you’ll have to schlep though the blog each day, but it’s worth it.

Chavez leaves game with small fracture in left foot

Update (3:28pm): Chavez has a small fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his left foot, which is the bone adjacent to his little toe. No idea how long he’ll be out, but it’s obviously a disabled list thing. Maybe they’ll call up a utility infielder that can actually make a throw to first.

Just FYI, Ramiro Pena has not played since fouling a ball of his foot on Monday, though Triple-A Scranton hasn’t played in either of the last two days because of a rain out and a scheduled off day. If he’s not healthy enough to come up, the other 40-man roster options are Brandon Laird and Kevin Russo, but neither has done much with the bat this year (.230 and .224 wOBA’s, respectively).

Original Post (2:07pm): Eric Chavez left today’s game with an apparent left foot injury after legging out an RBI triple in the fourth. He pulled up lame about halfway to third and called the trainer out. After a consultation that focused around Chavez’s left foot, the Yanks’ medical staff had to help Chavez off the field. Alex Rodriguez replaced him at third base. We’ll update with more as it comes.