Burnett mixes pitches, but with no success

In his previous start against Cleveland, A.J. Burnett turned in one of his better performances of the season. He allowed a few too many baserunners, 10 in 6.1 innings, but he managed to keep them from coming around to score by inducing grounders and striking out hitters. He did this by mixing his pitches well, throwing 45 four-seamers, 30 two-seamers, and 37 curveballs. He went with a similar strategy last night, but it produced far, far worse results.

The breakdown was similar. Burnett threw 29 four-seamers, 30 two-seamers, and 26 curves, though this time he mixed in eight changeups. The addition of the change was excellent; he threw it for six strikes, including one swinging. It was on the other pitches that he got beat, specifically the two-seamer and the curve. Let’s see how exactly the Blue Jays hitters attacked him last night.

Vernon Wells in the 2nd: Curveball well below the zone followed by a belt-high two-seamer that didn’t quite catch the outside corner. Home run.

Travis Snider in the 5th: Started him with a changeup he fouled off, and then followed with a fastball up that he again fouled away. He then threw a two-seamer that looked close to the low-inside corner but was ruled a ball. Then came a curveball well outside, but Snider hit it into the gap for a double.

Edwin Encarnacion: A first-pitch curveball looked good but was ruled a ball. Then A.J. came back with two two-seamers off the plate inside. The first Encarnacion fouled away. The second, which was a bit further inside than the second, went over the left field fence.

That’s two straight batters who with extra base hits on pitches outside the strike zone. Then, of course, he walks Jose Molina after going up 0-2, which is as inexcusable as it gets.

Fred Lewis: He had the right idea. Burnett had just walked Molina, and so Lewis took four straight pitches, all high in the zone, putting the count, mercifully, at 2-2. The two strikes barely looked like strikes, but it worked. Lewis then fouled away a sinker right down the middle. Still 2-2, Burnett went with the curve and again delivered one outside. It looked off the plate, but Lewis slapped it down the line for a double.

Second and third, still no one out. Burnett mercifully got an out on the curveball, a grounder that gave A-Rod enough time to fire home and get Molina and keep it a one-run game.

Jose Bautista: Burnett started with a curve over the plate for strike one. He then came back with the fastball, a bit up and in, which, as we’ve before seen, is Bautista’s wheelhouse. That’s a two-run double.

Vernon Wells: Burnett goes back to the two-seamer again, and again it gets hit hard. This one seemed to tail a bit inside, giving Wells an opportunity to turn on it. A double down the line gives the Jays another run.

Then we get the strikeout of Overbay via the changeup.

Aaron Hill: A nine-pitch at-bat, all fastballs. By my count five of them were pretty centered. The ninth was a two-seamer belt-high and basically right over the center. Another rip, another double. That was it for A.J., though as you can see he should have gotten the hook a bit sooner.

Clearly the two-seamer was a huge issue for him. For the season he’s averaging -9.8 inches of horizontal movement — that is, movement towards a right-handed hitter. During his two good starts against Kansas City and Cleveland it was at -9.22. Last night it was -10.60. The extra movement might seem like a good thing, but that isn’t necessarily the case. It can also indicate that the pitch is tailing a bit, which appeared to be the case last night. It made the pitch a bit more hittable for the right-handers, as the pitch was moving towards them.

The worst part about A.J.’s start was that it started off relatively well. The only blemish was the Wells homer, and even that was forgivable. It went right over the 314 sign in right. The Yanks take advantage of that enough that there’s no use complaining when an opponent does. Beyond that, through four he had struck out three and walked one. It made me quite optimistic that he’d finish with a decent line and set up the Yanks to win. Instead the entire night was a disappointment thanks to one inning.

We know the deal with Burnett at this point. Some night he’ll shine, and some nights he’ll throw a clunker. Usually when it’s going to be the latter we see signs of it earlier. It’s two runs this inning, a run the next, three a bit later. Last night it looked like a good start, but quickly morphed into one of his worst this season. It’s these types of starts that hit you hardest.

Burnett blows up as Yanks fall to Jays

After a 4-3 road trip that ended with the Yankees dropping two of three to the Rays, everyone was understandably looking forward to coming home for a week. Well, the homestand didn’t exactly get off on the right foot, as the Blue Jays took the screws to A.J. Burnett in a seven run 5th inning and a few late inning rallies by the Yanks amounted to little. With Tampa beating Carl Pavano and the rest of the Twins, they are now tied with the Yanks atop the AL East. Boston sits 6.5 games back for the Wild Card.

That pretty much sums the night up. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Biggest Hit: Swish Sends Two Out

Considering all the big names and multiple time All Stars in the lineup, I don’t think anyone would have guessed that the Yanks’ two best and most consistent offensive performers this season would be Robbie Cano and Nick Swisher. Swish was a one man wrecking crew tonight, launching a 1st inning homer off Brandon Morrow to give the Yankees a two-zip lead before the Jays’ starter even recorded an out.

Twenty five Yankee outs later, Swish came to plate in the 9th inning with the Yanks down three. His second homer of the game wasn’t as meaningful as the first (.031 WPA vs. .141 WPA) because of what had transpired in the interim, but it was just more of the same out of the team’s no worse than second best hitter this season. Imagine where they’d be without this guy having the season he’s having.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Oh So Bad A.J.

It started out so wel. A nice quick 1-2-3 inning on eight pitches to start the game, and even after Vernon Wells poked a homer around the rightfield foul pole in the 2nd, Burnett settled down and retired eight of nine going into the 5th inning. And that’s when the wheels came crashing off the bus.

Travis Snider doubled into the right-centerfield gap.
Edwin Encarnacion smacked a pitch into the leftfield stands for a two run homer.
Jose Molina drew a walk after being down 0-2 in the count.
Fred Lewis doubled down the third base line.
Yunel Escobar grounded to third, Molina out at the plate.
Jose Bautista doubled over Brett Gardner‘s head in left.
Vernon Wells doubled down the third base line.
Lyle Overbay swung over a changeup for strike three.
Aaron Hill doubled down the third base line.

Burnett was removed after that, only to watch Sergio Mitre surrender Travis Snider’s second double of the inning. You’d think Joe Girardi would have yanked him after the fourth extra base hit of the inning, maybe the fifth. But no, they had to let that sixth one sneak in there. Either way, it’s all on A.J. He simply has to pitch better than that, and he needs to start doing it soon.

Gallimaufry

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Bigs up to the bullpen tonight. Mitre, David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain nailed it down with four and third innings of scoreless ball, which is exactly what the Yankees needed if they had any plans of getting back in this one. Very quietly, the relief corps has posted a 3.41 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 3.95 xFIP since the start of June.

Shall we recap the recent offensive ineptitude? Yes, we shall. Derek Jeter is four for his last 20 and now has a .336 OBP. Alex Rodriguez is three for his last 25 and now has a .337 OBP. Mark Teixeira is three for his last 24, but did homer on Monday. Curtis Granderson is four for his last 20 and got pinch hit for in the 6th inning. That wouldn’t be too bad if those first three guys didn’t take up three of the first four spots in the lineup and combined to make $73M this season.

Meanwhile, Lance Berkman went 1-for-3 with a walk, and has now reached base in three of his last six plate appearances, so he’s starting to come around. I have to say though, I’m surprised at how much venom there is towards this guy. I guess people take some funny defense at first to heart.

Oh, and how about that throw by Jorge Posada to catch Fred Lewis stealing in the 3rd? Breaking ball in the dirt right into his mitt, quick transfer, out by a good two feet. B-e-a-utiful.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Not such to see here, folks. MLB.com has the box, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Same two teams manana, when Dustin Moseley takes on Ricky Romero. Oh joy.

Laird goes deep twice in Triple-A debut

Tim Redding is your Triple-A International League Pitcher of the Week. Too bad he’s old for the level.

Triple-A Scranton (6-5 win over Syracuse) faced a rehabbing big leaguer
Kevin Russo, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 CS – threw a runner out at second
Colin Curtis, CF, Juan Miranda, 1B & Eric Bruntlett, 2B: all 0 for 4 – Curtis drew a walk … Miranda K’ed twice, Bruntlett twice
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 0 for 5 – he’s 0 for his last 16 and two for his last 24 (.083)
Brandon Laird, 3B: 4 for 4,3 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI – now that is one hell of a AAA debut, congrats to the young man … hit a homer on his first AAA swing
Jorge Vazquez, DH & Chad Huffman, RF: both 1 for 4 – JoVa doubled & K’ed … Huffman homered & drove in two
Chad Moeller, C: 2 for 3, 2 2B, 1 BB – seven for his last 13 (.538) with three doubles
David Phelps: 6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 9-5 GB/FB, 1 E (pickoff) – 52 of 88 pitches were strikes (59.1%)
Romulo Sanchez: 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 4-2 GB/FB – 14 of 23 pitches were strikes (60.9%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – just eight of his 18 pitches were in the zone (44.4%)

[Read more…]

Game 105: Win it for Thurman

(AP Photo, File)

Thirty-one years ago today, Yankee captain and icon Thurman Munson passed away when he crashed his plane practicing take-offs and landings at home in Ohio during an off day. This all happened a few years before I was born, so all I know about Munson is what I’ve heard in stories, read in books, and seen on video, but his legacy is still prominent even today. His image is all around the New Stadium, his locker in the Yankee Museum, and of course, there’s tonight’s annual celebration of his life and career.

Although I have not heard anything official, I’m certain the Yankees will have some kind of tribute planned for tonight. They always do.

Here’s tonight’s starting nine, otherwise known as the A-lineup…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Berkman, DH – Joe Girardi said he wanted to take some pressure off him
Granderson, CF
Gardner, LF

And on the bump, it’s A.J. Burnett.

It’s good to be home. First pitch is scheduled for just after 7pm ET, and can be seen YES. Enjoy.

The A-Rod effect on the Blue Jays’ tickets

As A-Rod sits on 599 home runs, his daily ABs seem to be driving Yankee ticket prices. Overall, for this routine early-August three-game set against a struggling Blue Jays club, ticket prices, according to our partners at TiqIQ, are selling for 26 percent less than they usually do. However, since A-Rod didn’t homer yesterday in Tampa, today’s tickets have seen a spike of 44 percent overall with likely home run destinations enjoying increases of around 100 percent. We could see the same happen tomorrow night and, if this drought lasts long enough, Wednesday afternoon too.

After the jump, a snapshot of this series ahead. I’d imagine this weekend’s set against the Red Sox will be far more costly than three games against the fourth-place Toronto club. As always, use RAB Tickets for your Yankee Stadium needs. [Read more…]

A-Rod’s swing hindering his quest for 600

Photo credit: Duane Burleson/AP

For the past week and half we’ve experienced the mystique of a round number. To almost everyone, it has grown old. Alex Rodriguez has not homered in his last 43 plate appearances, leaving him at 599. I’d repeat the tired phrase, stuck on 599, except it doesn’t seem true at all. This isn’t like 2007 when A-Rod hit 54 homers but experienced a lull between Nos. 499 and 500. In 2010 a home run drought doesn’t seem as out of place — or wouldn’t, if everyone understood the type of year Alex has had.

Earlier in the season I looked at some interesting A-Rod trends from the first 33 games. That’s an incredibly small sample, so I expected some things to change. For the most part they have, though it hasn’t produced better results. At the time A-Rod was swinging at fewer pitches, making contact more often, and striking out less. While those numbers are for the most part still off of his career totals, they’ve clearly regressed towards that mean. The effect is clear. He’s been swinging more than he did earlier in the season and is therefore walking less. He’s also striking out a bit more, which probably results from a longer swing. That shows up in his power, which is up considerably.

Even considering the increased power production — a .168 ISO in the first sample and a .228 mark since — we’ve seen A-Rod experience a home run drought during that second stretch. From June 3, when he hit a home run in his second PA, until June 22, when he hit a homer in his first PA, A-Rod went 53 PA without a home run. No one, of course, claimed that he was stuck on No. 591, because 592 isn’t a a round, easy to digest number. Being somehow stuck on 599 is just a narrative created because of our obsession with round numbers.

Still, it hasn’t been the greatest 43 PA stretch for A-Rod. He started it off well, following up No. 599 with a double. Since then, though, he’s just 8 for 37 with three walks and only two extra base hits. That might be a result of him pressing, sure. Just because we can’t definitively pin down psychological aspects of the game doesn’t mean they don’t exist. But since we’ve seen this kind of stretch from him this season it’s difficult to determine the cause of this current slump.

Today at FanHouse, Frank Piliere discusses the mechanical side of A-Rod, noting that he’s not generating power from his lower body.

If you look back at his playoff home runs when he was driving the ball out to right-center field, A-Rod’s swing looked effortless mainly because of his strong base. He had what every hitter strives for, and that’s a lower half providing the power and the ability to let his hands fly through the zone. The swing we see from Rodriguez now is one more reliant on his upper body, with far less explosive torque and his hips following his stride. It’s more spread out and far less compact in every way. Obviously, with all that said, questions about whether his now famous troublesome hip has anything to do with his problems immediately arise, but there’s really no way to know for sure.

There’s plenty more to it, including the problem with A-Rod’s leg kick, a problem that has hurt him from time to time in the past, but which has seemingly been a problem for most of this year. That leads to problems in all parts of his swing. “Now, he’s more upright and not sitting on that back leg, losing that power on his front side,” Piliere writes.

A-Rod did miss time in June with tendonitis in his hip, though he and the team claimed that it was not related to the surgery he had last March. After a five-day rest A-Rod returned to the lineup, but he hasn’t been at all the same since, hitting .238/.312/.470 in those 173 PA. The power, a .232 ISO, is still there, but it comes at the cost of contact and discipline (9.8 percent walk rate). This is not the A-Rod we’ve come to know; it’s not even the A-Rod who hit .290/.361/.482 in his first 255 PA of 2010.

It hasn’t been the greatest year for A-Rod in 2010, and that extends far beyond his long journey to No. 600. His vital numbers are down across the board. Whether this is a correctable issue or just a general sign of decline remains to be seen. We know A-Rod will work hard to overcome these problems. But for 2010, I wonder how much he can do.

Mike Lowell and a possible return to pinstripes

The Yankees walked away from the trade deadline having upgraded three roster spots with Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, and Kerry Wood, and we know they wanted to add a utility infielder as well. They can still do that through a waiver trade in August, so the door isn’t closed on replacing Ramiro Pena, who unsurprisingly was unable to maintain his career best .312 wOBA from last year (seriously, his best full-season wOBA in the minors was .303 with Double-A Trenton in 2008). What is surprising is one of the players the Yanks targeted for that reserve infielder spot: Mike Lowell.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Ken Rosenthal said yesterday that the Yanks tried to pick up the former Bomber indirectly from the Red Sox on Friday. He says it would have been a three team swap involving the Rangers, who have long had interest in Lowell as they searched for a righthanded hitting first baseman, but didn’t elaborate on any other players that would have been involved in the deal. I can’t imagine it would’ve been much. The Red Sox were aware that Lowell would have ended up in the Bronx, and the Berkman trade did not alter the Yanks’ plans at all.

This isn’t the first time the Yankees have had interest in Lowell, as I’m sure you remember. After Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract in 2007, Lowell – that year’s World Series MVP – became an obvious target to fill that third base void. Even after A-Rod re-signed, the Yanks still had interest in Lowell as a first baseman, reportedly offering him a four year deal worth upwards of $60M. Thankfully that ended up being untrue, because it would have been a massive albatross if Lowell accepted (there would have been about $20.4M still left on said deal), assuming his hip issues were inevitable.

I know there have been several studies showing that “contract years” are largely a myth, but Lowell’s 2007 season sure looks like one hell of a salary drive. After 1,189 plate appearances of .319 wOBA ball in 2005 and 2006, he rebounded to post a .377 wOBA in ’07 with his usually stellar defense, a season worth 5.2 wins above replacement. It was the best season of Lowell’s career, surpassing his 4.6 win season back in 2004. He certainly took advantage of Fenway Park during that contract year, hitting to a .426 wOBA at home and just .330 on the road.

Lowell predictably regressed back to a .344 wOBA and 3.0 WAR in 2008, solid numbers but not what he had produced the year before. Following the season he required surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, though he was ready in time for Spring Training and remained productive at the plate, putting up a .346 wOBA. His defense, like we saw with A-Rod, dropped off considerably after surgery, as his UZR dropped to -10.7 because of what FanGraphs has as a 21.7 run decline in his range from 2008. A-Rod’s defense has certainly gotten better as he’s gotten further away from surgery, but Lowell really gotten a chance to show us similar improvement because he hasn’t played much.

This season, with Adrian Beltre and Kevin Youkilis having MVP caliber seasons and David Ortiz finding the Fountain of Youth in mid-May, Lowell simply hasn’t played. He hit the disabled list in June after coming to the plate just 76 times in April and May (.306 wOBA). Sporadic playing time equals sporadic results, though ZiPS rest of the season projection calls for what I think is an optimistic .338 wOBA. One thing to keep in mind is that over the last two years Lowell has a .296 wOBA away from the Green Monster (.383 at home). Even worse than the production are the nagging hip issues, which includes a pair of DL stints due to inflammation and several individual days missed.

Even going beyond the performance issues, Lowell really doesn’t fit the Yanks’ needs in the grand scheme of things. He’s not a true utility infielder because he can’t fill in at short (and less importantly, second base), so Ramiro Pena would have to remain on the roster. The Yanks would essentially be swapping out Marcus Thames (.373 wOBA vs. LHP) with Lowell (.352 wOBA vs. LHP over the last two years), sacrificing a little offense for third base insurance should A-Rod’s hip act up. Insurance with his own hip issues, mind you.

Of course, the only way the Red Sox are moving Lowell at this point is by eating basically everything left on his contract, which is about $4.22M at the moment. Considering that they’re on the hook for $11.15M still owed to Julio Lugo, Alex Gonzalez, Boof Bonser, and Billy Wagner, eating another $12M for Lowell while getting just 0.1 WAR out of him this year seems like it would be a tough pill to swallow, but at this point they have no choice. Jed Lowrie and Bill Hall will be the backup infielders once Dustin Pedroia is healthy, and a smart organization like Boston won’t sit on a dead roster spot with Lowell just to avoid eating his salary.

The Red Sox will try to trade Lowell, but chances are they’re just going to end up releasing him at some point. And that’s what Lowell wants. He wants to be able to choose his next team where he can actually play and audition himself for next year. The Rangers, long considered a perfect suitor, now have their righty first baseman in Jorge Cantu. The Yanks became a more realistic landing spot for Lowell once that trade went down. I’m not saying I want Lowell on the Yankees, but based on their history with him I would not at all be surprised if he ends up in pinstripes sometime this month.