Mailbag: Working The Count

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Roy asks: Given the emphasis put on pitchers’ pitch counts in today’s games, what do you think about the idea of a player who bats below the Mendoza line, but has somehow mastered the skill of fouling off pitches and consistently puts up at-bats that take up 10+ pitches to a point where he could waste anywhere from a quarter to a third of the starting pitcher’s total pitches?

Two things jumped to mind when I first read this question. One, if the player is that bad with the bat and draws his offensive value from working the count, then he better be fast and awesome on defense. He’ll draw walks just by working the count so much, so he needs to be able to steal bases efficiently to maximize his value. The extra-bases won’t come from swinging the bat. The defensive part is self-explanatory, you can’t have a guy providing that little offense and be even average on defense. He’s got to be a stellar gloveman.

Secondly, here is something Joel Sherman wrote last month

Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long mentioned to me several times this year how good the arms were that the Yankees were seeing regularly in the middle innings. It messed a bit with the Yankees philosophy of work the starter hard to get to a weaker middle reliever. Long talked about a ton of arms throwing in the mid-90s now throughout bullpens with a strong secondary pitch that a lineup has to adjust to on one look. The underbelly did not feel as mushy.

Bullpens are getting more and more specialized these days, and more importantly, managers have gotten better at deploying them. Specialists are starting to be used more properly, which has added a whole new group of players to the talent pool because have begun to appreciate what guys excel at rather than dwell on their faults. Middle relievers are still the weak spot of pretty much any club’s roster, but they’re just not so weak anymore.

This player would basically be Brett Gardner to the extreme. Phenomenal defense, baserunning, and plate discipline, but zero ability to hit the ball for authority. The one thing we have to remember is that players don’t work the count to draw walks; walks are a byproduct of patience. They work the count to get a pitch to hit, and this theoretical player won’t be able to do much of that. It’s a radical idea, but I’m not sure it would work. I’m almost certain no team would ever try it though.

Cashman: We’ll talk to C.J. Wilson

Via Dan Martin, the Yankees will talk to C.J. Wilson at some point this offseason according to Brian Cashman. “We haven’t talked to him yet, but we will,” said the GM. “They have won a lot and he’s been a big part of that, so we’ll certainly talk to him.”

This shouldn’t be a surprise at all. The Yankees need pitching and Wilson is the best starter on the market, so they’d better at least put in a phone call to see what’s up. There’s no harm is asking, it’s just due diligence more than anything. I took a detailed looked at Wilson earlier this week, listing both the good and the bad.

Rough day for Yankees farmhands in AzFL

The full list of minor league free agents is out, and here’s who the Yankees lost…

New York Yankees (21)
Francisco Castillo (Hi A), Noel Castillo (Hi A), Grant Duff (AA), Logan Kensing (AAA), Jeff Marquez (AA), Kelvin Perez (Lo A), Mark Prior (AAA), Josh Schmidt (AA), Kanekoa Texeira (AA), Eric Wordekemper (AAA)
LHP: Wilkins Arias (AA), Steve Garrison (AA), Brad Halsey (AA), Kei Igawa (AA), Jose Quintana (Hi A), Josh Romanski (Hi A)
C: P.J. Pilittere (AAA)
1B: Mike Lamb (AAA)
SS: Doug Bernier (AAA), Luis Nunez (AAA)
OF: Jordan Parraz (AAA)

The biggest loss is easily Jose Quintana, who I hope the Yankees re-sign. The 22-year-old southpaw broke out with a 2.96 FIP in 102 IP for High-A Tampa this year. Here’s a mini-scouting report. Parraz, meanwhile, has already signed a minor league contract with the Braves. He had a pretty nice year for Triple-A Scranton in 2011 (.358 wOBA), but it’s not a surprise the outfielder left for a team that offered him a great opportunity once he hit free agency.

Also, Mason Williams and Dante Bichette Jr. were named the Topps Players of the Year in the NY-Penn League and Gulf Coast League, respectively. Congrats to both.

AzFL Phoenix (8-7 win over Mesa, walk-off style) Thursday’s game
Corban Joseph, 2B: 1 for 2, 1 CS – left the game after getting thrown out trying to steal third to end the fourth inning … hopefully he didn’t get hurt
Dan Burawa, RHP: 1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 21 of 30 pitches were strikes (70%) … brutal stint out here continues
Preston Claiborne, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1-0GB/FB – 14 of 24 pitches were strikes (58.3%)

Open Thread: Two years ago today…

Good times, good times. Here’s a link to the video archive, so you can relive all the glory of Game Six. Once you’re done with that, use this as your open thread. Game Three of the Taiwan All-Star Series will be on MLB Network at 9pm ET, but the game is on a delay and I can’t find a recap, so I have no idea what happened. Hopefully no one got hurt. Talk about whatever you like here, the thread is yours.

Discussion Topic: Rank the 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009 World Championships by awesomeness.

Ivan Nova hires new agent, but don’t worry, it’s not Scott Boras

Via Tim Dierkes, Ivan Nova has hired Greg Genske of Legacy Sports to be his new agent. He had previously been represented by SFX. CC Sabathia is also a Genske client, and I wonder if he steered Nova in that direction since we know they’re pretty close. The Yankees don’t have to worry about a new contract for their young right-hander anytime soon; Nova can not become a free agent until after the 2016 season. They still have two more years until he’s even arbitration-eligible, so the switch isn’t of much consequence right now.

An updated look at the Yankees vs. Fangraphs’ five primary pitch types

Back on August 16 I took a look at how the Yankees were faring against the five major pitch types captured by FanGraphs compared to the previous four seasons, and with the season over I wanted to follow up to see how the team finished the year out. Of course, there are a couple of caveats: I’ll be the first to admit that given the already wide gulf between the BIS data collection that FanGraphs uses and the PITCHf/x data that powers Brooks, and — not to mention the fact that the latter three sites have their own classification issues — these numbers are not a 100% perfect representation of what occurred.

Another issue I have with FanGraphs’ BIS data is that four-seamers and two-seamers are all binned under one catch-all “Fastball” category, which seems inherently result-skewing given a two-seamer/sinker’s increased likelihood of generating a ground ball over a four-seamer. You also end up with things like Ian Kennedy — no one’s idea of a particularly overpowering fastball-thrower (avg. vel. 90.3 mph) — leading all of MLB with a 28.7 wFB, due in part to the fact that he threw more two-seamers (36.7%) than four-seamers (29.8%), while Justin Verlander — who probably has the best four-seamer in the game — ended up coming in 3rd, at 25.5 runs above average.

So now that I’ve spent 200 words telling you why you should be wary of the numbers, let’s dive right in, shall we? Until someone comes along with a more reliable freely available system that tallies how teams/players fared against specific pitches, these should at least represent a close approximation of accurate pitch type linear weight results.

The 2011 Yankees creamolished fastballs, but you already knew that. Interestingly they only saw a fastball ~56% of the time, which is a five-year low. At the time of the August 16 post they led all of MLB in wFB/C, but in September the team posted their second-worst monthly wOBA out of the last 66 months dating back to the beginning of the 2001 season, enabling the Rangers and Red Sox to slug past them. The Yankees who performed best against the fastball were Jesus Montero, Andruw Jones and Curtis Granderson. The only member of the everyday lineup with negative run values against the fastball was Jorge Posada.

The team hit sliders well for a second-straight year, and this shouldn’t be a surprise, as they generally seemed to fare pretty well against the heavy fastball-slider types (think Alexi Ogando, Juan Nicasio, Felipe Paulino, etc.) they faced during the season. Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter had the three highest run values against the slider in 2011. Of the lineup regulars, Nick Swisher was the least successful against the slider.

This may be the most surprising chart. The Yankees haven’t posted positive run values against the cutter during any of the last five seasons, and are on a three-year decline against the cut fastball. Unsurprisingly, opponents’ deployment of the cutter is on a five-year increase. I’d imagine that both the decreased effectiveness against and uptick in cutters seen is at least due in part to the fact that the Yankees have to see Jon Lester — who threw the 7th-most cutters in MLB last season and had the 7th-best wCT/C — and Josh Beckett — 16th-most cutters in MLB; 9th-best wCT/C — approximately 8,000 times a season. Also high on the cutters-thrown list are Dan Haren (1st), Gavin Floyd (5th), Josh Tomlin (6th) and John Danks (9th). Despite this cutter issue, Robinson Cano annihilated the pitch, while Posada and Jeter also fared well. As we saw on Wednesday, the cutter has not been kind to Alex Rodriguez of late, and in fact he got positively destroyed by the cutter in 2011, coming in at -3.03 wCT/C — a mark that would have been 7th-worst in baseball had he had enough plate appearances to qualify.

On August 16th the Yankees’ wCB/C was -0.30, but they managed to finish the year at 0.26, representing their biggest improvement of the five pitch types in this post. They also saw a five-year high in curve% this season. Jeter, Nunez and Russell Martin fared best against the curve. Of everyday players, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Tex (-0.35 wCB/C) was the least effective member of the lineup against the hook.

If you were to poll a swath of Yankee fans and ask “which pitch do the Yankees have the hardest time with?” I’d imagine the changeup would be the most popular answer. Though they posted positive run values against the change in 2009 and 2010, anecdotally it feels like we see them flail away at changeups to no avail quite frequently. That said, my view may be somewhat distorted due to the fact that two of the game’s very-best changeup-throwers — Felix Hernandez and James Shields — have owned the Yankees seemingly forever. Though they did shockingly get to Felix for the first time in eons this September, he and Shields have been the Yankees’ greatest foils these last few seasons. Going back to the beginning of the 2008 season, Felix and Big Game James have the top two lowest ERAs (2.82 and 2.91, respectively) against the Yankees among pitchers who have made a minimum of eight starts against the Bombers. That’s insane. Even crazier is that Shields’ mark is across 15 starts to Felix’s eight. Additionally, Shields pitched to a 2.33 ERA over 38 2/3 innings against the Yankees in 2011, the third-lowest ERA among starters that made at least three starts against the team this year.

Gardner, Cano and Granderson were the team’s most effective everyday players against the change, while Russell Martin, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter got destroyed by it. Alex Rodriguez also posted negative run values, so basically if you’re a right-handed pitcher with a great changeup, you’ve got three auto-outs when facing the Yankees. Hopefully Kevin Long can do some work with the Yankees’ right-handed bats to help them combat their offspeed difficulties.

The RAB Radio Show: November 4, 2011

And they’re off. Free agency officially opened this week, and teams are free to negotiate with whomever they please. Of course, we probably won’t see any major moves for another month or so. But we still have plenty to talk about.

  • We start with CC Sabathia, who did not become a free agent. Mike and I talk about why this was huge for the Yankees.
  • From there there’s a lot of free agent talk. Do any fit for the Yankees?
  • Warning: John Danks talk ahead.
  • There’s also a decent segment on trading Burnett and what it would take. The chances don’t look great, you guys.
  • And there’s a bit on Brackman, plus some optimism about the coming season.

Podcast run time 45:48

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  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.