The Yankees have a curveball problem

That's a split, but I can't find a picture with a curveball grip. So sue me. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

I wrote this post late last week, after hitting coach Kevin Long made some comments about pitchers throwing the Yankees a lot of offspeed pitches and their need to adjust. He was right of course, the Yanks were getting a ton of soft stuff, but that wasn’t a problem when it came to sliders and changeups. They were still hammering those pitches. The curveball though, that was a different story.

At the time, the Yankees were dead last in the American league at 2.22 runs below average for every 100 curveballs thrown their way, and after last night’s game that number sits at 2.24, still last in the AL by a mile (the Twins are second worst at 1.50). Other teams are aware of this weakness and have been pretty much all year (at the time of last week’s post, the Yankees saw more curves than all but one other AL team), and it was on full display last night. Brad Penny threw 19 curves out of 98 pitches on Tuesday (19.4%) compared to just 15.8% curves in his first six starts. Same deal with Justin Verlander on Monday; he threw 24 curveballs out of 127 pitches (18.9%) after throwing just 16.8% curves in his first three starts. This goes back through the weekend and last week as well.

Luckily the Yankees face Max Scherzer tonight, and he doesn’t throw a curveball at all. He’s a fastball (63.3%), changeup (21.3%), slider (15.3%) guy and the Yanks’ still rank among the league’s best against each pitch. As I showed in the post last week, these struggles against curveballs are not an ongoing thing with his group of players, it’s been isolated to this season. So I guess it’s time to ratchet up the pitching machine, set it for curveballs, and go to town in the cages. They just have to work their way out of it, that’s all.

2011 Draft: High School Arms

CC's done pretty well for himself without a college education. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

If you’re not new to the site, then you’re probably aware of my infatuation with high school pitchers come draft day. I like seeing them get into the organization and under professional training programs, instructions, diets, the whole nine, as soon as possible. Most college coaches aren’t concerned with long-term development, so pitchers can fall into a lot of bad habits in school (like not pitching inside because of aluminum bats), not to mention the insane workloads. UCLA righty Trevor Bauer is expected to be a first round pick this year, but he’s averaging over 120 pitches per start this year. Texas righty Taylor Jungmann, another expected first rounder, has thrown 89.2 IP in eleven starts this year, or 8.1 innings per start. That’s crazy.

The best college-drafted pitcher in baseball right now is probably Tim Lincecum, though Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, and Jered Weaver have a case as well. But the high school draftees, you’re talking Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Josh Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, John Danks, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Chad Billingsley, the list goes on and on. Even international signees like Felix Hernandez and Ubaldo Jimenez fall into the “weren’t ruined by a college coaches” category. Anyway, that’s just my two cents. Here’s a few high school arms I’ve got my eye on…

Ricky Jacquez, RHP, Franklin HS (Texas)
Jacquez doesn’t necessarily pass the eye test at first glance, since he’s listed at just 5-foot-9 and 155 lbs. The best right-hander to stand no taller than 5-foot-10 in expansion era is Tom Gordon (by far), so the recent history of guys that size isn’t great. Of course Jacquez is still just a teenager and could easily tack on a few inches and pounds, so there’s no sense in writing his baseball obituary just yet. His stuff is very real though, he’ll sit in the low-90’s and touch 94 on most days, getting swings and misses with a hammer curveball that’s allergic to bats. Jacquez challenges hitters and pitches aggressively, and he’s expected to be a third to sixth round selection. If he doesn’t sign, he’ll head to Texas.

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Tigers rough up CC, take game two of the series

The Yankees have pounded Brad Penny time after time, including once already this year. Since he was on the mound for the Tigers and CC Sabathia was starting for New York, we all felt pretty good about this one on Tuesday afternoon. I guess it’s not easy to foresee the reverse jinx when your team is involved. The Yankees’ bats were silent for much of the night, and Detroit ended its seven game losing streak.

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

No Good CC

It was bad from the start. Austin Jackson doubled on the first pitch Sabathia threw, then Scott Sizemore did the same two pitches later. The first run came around to score on a Magglio Ordonez ground out, the second on a Miguel Cabrera sac fly. The Yankees finally wised up later in the game and intentionally walked Miggy with a base open, and sure enough they escaped that jam unscathed. The whole “don’t pitch to one of the best hitters in the world if you don’t have to” thing took a game-and-a-half to sink in I guess. But I digress.

Tells you what kind of pitcher Sabathia is when seven innings and four runs is a bad start, but the Yankees probably win that game six or seven times out of ten. He threw a season high 119 pitches (76 strikes, 63.9%) and really just got burned by the top of the order. Jackson and Sizemore combined to go 5-for-6 with two doubles and a triple before Sabathia struck each out the last time he faced them. The rest of Detroit’s lineup went 5-for-21 (.238) off the Yankees’ ace. Oh well, CC’s allowed a stinker every once in a while, and this wasn’t even that bad.

Too Much RISPFAIL

Although the box score says they only had five at-bats with men in scoring position (Russell Martin had the only hit, a double), the Yankees left two men on base in the first, two in the second, and one in the fourth. They had chances (plural) to get to Penny early but just couldn’t capitalize. The right-hander allowed six hits and walked two in six innings, striking out just one with an unspectacular 8-6 GB/FB ratio. I mean come on, he should have been begging for mercy after three.

Almost Andruw. Well, not really. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Three, Three Outs On The Bases

There’s nothing quite like giving away a full inning’s worth of outs on stupid baserunning plays. Andruw Jones, representing the tying run, got thrown out at the plate on a would-be sac fly to end the fourth inning, not even making it to the plate. If the bases were 75-feet apart, he would have juuust made it in under the tag. Then in the sixth inning you had not one, but two runners get caught in rundowns between first and second. Three Yankees reached base in the inning, but they somehow managed to not score a run and leave the bases empty. I don’t know what Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada were thinking there, but yeah, stupid. Lesson for the kids out there: if you ever get caught in a spot like that, just keep running to second. Don’t stop. At least you have a chance that way.

Leftovers

Oh yeah, Tex hit a garbage time homer. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Brett Gardner is the hottest hitter on the team right now, and it’s not all that close. He went 1-for-2 with a walk in this game, and has now reached base safely in eight of his last ten and in 16 of his last 19 plate appearances. He went from .145/.197/.306 to .219/.337/.411 in six games. Is it time to give him another shot leading off? I say no, not yet, but it’s good news that we’re even discussing the possibility. Right behind Gardner is Posada, who went 2-for-4 on Tuesday and now has five hits in his last 11 trips to the plate (plus another taken away on a great defensive play). Good stuff from those two.

The four-five hitters combined for one hit (a ten-hopper through the left side) in eight at-bats, which isn’t exactly middle of the order production. Despite that single, Alex Rodriguez is in a definite slump, has been since he left that game with a stiff back/oblique. Is he playing hurt maybe?

I’m not sure that David Robertson is comfortable pitching without a runner in scoring position. He gave up a double on the first pitch he threw, then escaped the inning like he always days. I guess D-Rob is just a fireman at heart, it’s what he does.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score and no highlights for you!

Up Next

Alright, that’s it. Frustrating loss, but that’s baseball. Move on and focus on Wednesday night’s game, which will feature Freddy Garcia and Max Scherzer. ‘Til then…

Garrison hurt in Trenton loss

Keith Law has an Insider-only post up with updates on the statuses of some top prospects around the league. Here’s what he had to say about Jesus Montero

“Montero didn’t draw his first walk of the season until May 1st, when he drew two, but he’s hit for plenty of average with a .373/.384/.470 line. I’m not concerned about the walk rate, since he has a history of getting on base and showing good plate discipline, but the modest power output is a little more surprising. He’s probably not coming up any time soon unless he’s traded or Jorge Posada gets hurt.”

That about sums up the first four weeks of his season, though the injury of which we shall not speak shouldn’t be forgotten. Speaking of injuries, Greg Golson was placed on the disabled list due to a hamstring issue. Luis Nunez was activated off the phantom DL to take his place on the roster.

Triple-A Scranton got rained out. They don’t go to Gwinnett again this season, so they’re going to play a road game at home the next time these two teams meet in August.

Double-A Trenton (5-2 loss to Portland)
Austin Krum, CF & Dan Brewer, LF: both 1 for 4 – Krum struck out … Brewer scored a run and struck out twice
Jose Pirela, 2B & Cody Johnson, DH: both 0 for 4 – Johnson whiffed to the umpteenth time this year (actually the 37th)
Bradley Suttle, 3B: 2 for 3, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – seven for his last 14 with two doubles, a triple, and a homer
Jose Gil, C: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Ray Kruml, RF & Yadil Mujica, SS: both 0 for 3, 1 K – Mujica committed a throwing error
Addison Maruszak, 1B: 0 for 2, 1 BB
Steve Garrison, LHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2-1 GB/FB - left the game with a groin pull after throwing 30 pitches in the inning
Cory Arbiso, RHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 HB, 2-3 GB/FB
The Ghost of Kei Igawa, LHP: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-3 GB/FB – the trainer came out to see him, but he stayed in the game
Wilkins Arias, LHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-3 GB/FB
Pat Venditte, SHB: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1-2 GB/FB – already 13 runs and seven walks in 14 IP this year, he allowed 19 runs and 15 walks 74.2 IP last season

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Game 27: Swish gets a day

None of this tonight, pls. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The Yankees had two players on their roster that had played every inning of every game this season, at least until Robinson Cano bruised his hand on Sunday. That left Nick Swisher as the lone iron man, but that will change tonight: the right fielder is getting the day off after driving in the go-ahead run in yesterday’s game. If you’re going to sacrifice offense (not that Nick has been hitting especially well), CC Sabathia starts are a good time to do it. You just don’t expect the big guy to give up many runs. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, DH
Andruw Jones, RF
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

CC Sabathia, SP

This game starts shortly after 7pm ET, and can be seen on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.