Hughes ineffective, Yanks drop first of season, 10-7

Back and forth, and back and forth. The Yanks and Tigers exchanged shots on Sunday, but the Tigers landed more of them. The teams combined for 26 hits, 11 of them for extra bases, and five of them for home runs. That made for an eventful game, but it seemed that the Yankees could never fully recover from the Tigers’ strikes. It was a valiant performance on offense, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Tigers’ onslaught of extra base hits. The Yankees found themselves losers for the first time in 2011, 10-7 in the series finale.

Let’s talk about Hughes

(Kathy Willens/AP)

There was no mitigating factor to Phil Hughes‘s start. Plenty went wrong, as his pitching line — 4 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 HR — indicates. Sometimes we can find a few aspects of the game that make a line like that look a bit better. Maybe one of the homers just barely landed over the wall. Maybe a few bloops dropped in. Maybe it was just one pitch that was giving him trouble. But for Hughes there were no positives to take.

We had heard late in spring training that scouts were shocked at Hughes’s lack of velocity. That seemed like an odd concern, since we hadn’t heard anything about it previously. Yesterday he showed that the reports were real. Last year he averaged 92.5 mph with the fastball. Even in his first start it was at 92. Yesterday he maxed out at 91.1 mph, and averaged 89.25 mph. There’s clearly time for him to amp up the velocity, but for now it remains a concern going forward.

A diminished fastball is a problem for Hughes, because it was one of two pitches on which he generated swings and misses in 2010. He had a 9.3 percent whiff rate on the four-seamer last year, but generated no swings and misses yesterday. In fact, of his 90 pitches, he got a swing and miss on just two — both cutters. The cutter was really the only pitch he had working. That’s the only thing resembling a positive we can take from this.

Yet the most frustrating, and probably most concerning, aspect of the game was Hughes’s inability to do anything once he got two strikes on a hitter. This is a problem that played a large role in his 2010 season, and it reared its head in a major way yesterday. Of the 19 batters Hughes faced, 12 faced two-strike counts. It took him 34 pitches to get to a two-strike count on those 12 hitters. Once he got a two-strike count, he threw 36 pitches. Ten of the hitters he faced saw five or more pitches in a plate appearance.

This isn’t to say that Hughes needs to strike out all these guys. Far from it. It might be that he needs to stop trying to strike them out. We know that Hughes can throw strikes. Thirteen of nineteen batters saw first-pitch strikes, and only two saw a 2-0 count. But once he gets two strikes he seems to go into a different mode, where he nibbles and nibbles, and it leads to a deluge of fouls and taken pitches. This wouldn’t have been as frustrating if we hadn’t seen it all last season. It is probably Hughes’s No. 1 area of concern in terms of having a successful career.

My hypothesis is that Hughes needs to start working backwards. Last year he didn’t get many swings and misses with the curveball or the changeup. Perhaps if he starts throwing those pitches earlier in counts he can generate some more poor contact and retire hitters with fewer pitches. That would also set up his two swing-and-miss pitches better. That’s not to say he always has to work this way, but it might be worth changing things up and holding his putaway pitches for putaway situations, rather than setting guys up with them and then having nothing different to show them.

Gardner adjusting to a new role

The Yanks have put plenty of runs on the board in the early going — 23 in three games — so there’s not much to complain about on offense. Yet after this game it’s tough to avoid noting Brett Gardner‘s rough start. We’re dealing with just a handful of plate appearances, so drawing conclusions is foolish. But he hasn’t exactly looked good at the plate.

Yesterday’s first at-bat was a portend for the rest of the game. Max Scherzer dealt him three pitches, all strikes. Gardner didn’t remove the bat from his shoulder. In his second at-bat he grounded out weakly on the second pitch. In the fourth he struck out swinging, and it didn’t really look like he knew what he wanted to do with the pitch. The same goes for his last-at bat. In total he saw 17 pitches in 5 PA, which is hardly what we saw from him last year.

It does appear that he’s working on something with Kevin Long, because he’s swinging — harder, I guess is the easiest way to describe it. On outside pitches last year he basically stuck out his bat and hoped to slap it past or over an infielder. Yesterday it looked like he was trying to drive more pitches. It might be good for the long run, but in the short run he looks kind of lost. No, it’s not time to pull the plug on the leadoff experiment, but he’s certainly looked worse than any of his teammates at the plate.

The Swisher of old, the Swisher of new

Last year we saw a bit different look from Nick Swisher. In 2009 we saw the guy who had established himself in Oakland as a low-average, high-OBP, good power guy. Last year things changed a bit. He got more aggressive earlier in counts. It led to a slightly lower OBP, but a much higher batting average. Those added hits where he previously walked led to a higher total output (as measured by wOBA). Yesterday we saw a mix of the two.

Swisher came to the plate five times and failed to make an out. That includes two walks, two singles, and a double. That included a first-pitch single, a second-pitch single, a six-pitch walk, a six-pitch double, and a five-pitch walk. He did everything he could to help the Yankees win, scoring two runs and driving in another. Unfortunately, he was left stranded in three of the five times he reached.


(Kathy Willens/AP)

Colon seemed to go hot and cold with each new batter. Sometimes, as with Brennan Boesch, he put the ball on a tee. Other times he gassed guys with some 94 mph heat, leading to five strikeouts. If he stays healthy I think he can be a solid contributor. Let’s just chalk this one up to the haven’t-pitched-in-a-while jitters.

Can’t do a recap and not note Posada’s two-homer, four RBI day. When the Yanks were down he tried to bring them back. I am kinda ticked, though, that he swung 3-1 in the 9th, when it was clear that Valverde had no control.

How ’bout that Russ Martin? His contributions yesterday went largely unrewarded, in that his three hits, including a double, didn’t drive in a run, nor did they lead to him scoring. But he’s looked like the Martin of old on opening weekend.

RISP fail alert: Yanks were just 1 for 8 in those situations yesterday. And yet they still scored seven runs.

Stats and such

Here’s the box score and the nerd score

Up Next

Ivan Nova makes his 2010 debut against Scott Baker and the Twins tomorrow night. Hey, first 7 p.m. game of the season.

Open Thread: First series in the books

Hip hip. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The first series of the year is officially in the books, and the Yankees did all you could ask them to do: they won it. Win a lot of series, and you’re going to enjoy a very successful season. The pitching hasn’t been very good, but that appears to be an epidemic around the league at the moment. I blame El Niño. The offense is kicking ass and taking names, except for the the two guys batting first and second, ironically enough. The Twins are coming into town next, and we all know how those series tend to play out. Just keeping winning series, that’s all we ask.

Anywho, here is tonight’s open thread. The ESPN Sunday Night game has the Giants at the Dodgers (Zito vs. Kuroda), plus the Knicks and Nets are in action. Talk about whatever you want, go nuts.

Site Update: Just so you don’t miss it, The Banuelos Watch is now up in the far right sidebar, right underneath our names and email addresses. The four full-season minor league affiliates kick of their seasons on Thursday.

Touring the Yankees clubhouse, sorta

I haven’t had a chance to take a tour of the New Stadium yet, but if it’s anything like the tours of the Old Stadium, they take you into the clubhouse but you weren’t able to roam around. They roped you off close to the door and that was it. The new clubhouse is apparently gigantic, which isn’t surprising, and Marc Carig recently took us on a little tour of the place. The veterans get the prime real estate near the door to the player’s only lounge, etc., and Phil Hughes moved into Andy Pettitte‘s locker while Ivan Nova took Hughes’ old spot. If those two can fill those pair of shoes, it would be amazing. Anyway, check it out, gives you a nice little visual of the clubhouse.

Game Three: FTS(weep)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees pounded Tigers’ pitching in the first two games of the series/season, and they showed up to the park today looking to complete the sweep. Phil Hughes gets his first start of the new campaign, his first chance to show us if he really intends to throw his changeup more than once out of every 50 pitches. Detroit has two lefties (Brennan Boesch & Don Kelly) and two switch-hitters (Ramon Santiago & Victor Martinez) in the lineup, so he’ll certainly have plenty of opportunities to throw it. He’s also got that new cutter-slider hybrid to show off. Stephen already told you everything you need to know about Max Scherzer this morning, so I’ll spare you the details. Here’s the starting nine…

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

Phil Hughes, SP

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm, and the game can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Mad Max

Max Scherzer (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

This afternoon the Tigers will attempt to avoid being swept by the first-place Yankees (never too soon to flaunt that) when they send right-hander Max Scherzer to the bump against Phil Hughes. Scherzer is an interesting story in terms of health, development and projection. Originally drafted by the Cardinals out of high school in the 43rd round of the 2003 Amateur Draft, Scherzer declined to sign with St. Louis and ended up going to the University of Missouri. When he was drafted again in 2006 his stock had improved a great deal, and the Diamondbacks took Scherzer with the 11th pick of the 1st round. Scherzer debuted in the minors in 2007 and on the whole pitched well, striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings, walking 3.9 batters per nine, and posting a 2.87 ERA over 106.2 innings. As David Golebiewski noted, Baseball America named Scherzer the fourth-best prospect in the Diamondbacks system after the 2007 season, a system that at the time included Carlos Gonzalez and Brett Anderson.

In 2008 Scherzer didn’t make the team out of Spring Training but didn’t stay in AAA for long. The Diamondbacks brought him up in late April. Scherzer came in on relief of Edgar Gonzalez and pitched splendidly, not allowing a single baserunner over 4.1 innings and striking out 7 batters. The Diamondbacks responded by slotting him in the rotation the next time around and he made three starts, throwing 15 innings of 3.00 ERA ball and striking out 16. However in late May lefty Doug Davis returned to the Diamondbacks rotation after recovering from thyroid surgery. In doing so, he claimed Scherzer’s rotation spot and sent Scherzer to the bullpen.

Scherzer pitched in the bullpen for a solid month before the Diamondbacks sent him down to Triple A on June 13th to rebuild his arm strength. Unfortunately, Scherzer only made one outing before going to the disabled list with shoulder fatigue. He didn’t return for nearly a month, but when he did he looked like the Scherzer of old. The Diamondbacks rewarded his recovery with a late August promotion, and he made 6 starts to end the season in the D-Backs rotation. He hurled 25 innings over those 6 starts, with an ERA of 3.24, striking 33 batters, walking 7 and allowing 3 home runs.

In 2009 the Diamondbacks gave Scherzer a rotation slot, but he began the year on the disabled list with shoulder tightness. When he returned to the rotation fully healthy he didn’t disappoint. Making 30 starts, Scherzer pitched to a 4.12 ERA and 3.87 FIP over 170.2 innings. He boasted an elite strikeout rate at 9.19 K/9 and his walk rate was a respectable 3.33 BB/9. Despite shoulder injuries, and getting bumped back and forth between the minors and the majors, the bullpen and the rotation, Scherzer was blossoming into a very solid starter.

Yet the growth he exhibited in 2009 ultimately meant that his time in Arizona would come to a close. That winter the Diamondbacks shipped him off to Detroit as a part of the three-team trade that saw Curtis Granderson come to New York, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Dan Schlereth go to Detroit, and Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson go to Arizona. Unfortunately for Detroit, Max Scherzer got off to an absolutely horrific start. In 8 starts and 42 innings he pitched to a 7.29 ERA, allowing 54 hits and walking 16 batters, striking out only 26 batters. He allowed nine (!) home runs, and batters hit .323/.392/.563 against him. Clearly something was wrong with Scherzer, and the Tigers sent him down to AAA in mid-May.

He spent only two weeks in AAA, but whatever he tinkered with clearly worked. When he returned he faced the Oakland A’s and was dominant, going 5.2 innings, walking 4 batters and striking out 14. This began an incredible streak of performance for the young righty. For the remainder of the year he threw 153.2 innings of 2.46 ERA ball with a 9.25 K/9 and a 3.17 BB/9. Thus despite the fact that his first seven starts of the year left him with a 7.29 ERA, Scherzer finished with respectable numbers: 3.50 ERA over 195.2 innings, 3.71 FIP, 8.46 K/9, 3.22 BB/9.

Max Scherzer leans heavily on his fastball, and for good reason. It hums in at around 93 mph, but he’s been known to dial it higher. According to Texas Leaguers, Scherzer threw this pitch almost 65% of the time in 2010. He complements this with a very good changeup, a pitch that comes in at around 84 mph, and a slider that he throws at roughly the same velocity. Perhaps because of his high-quality changeup, Scherzer barely had any platoon split in 2010:

Scherzer vs. LHB: 8.42 K/9, 3.42 BB/9, 0.79 HR/9, 3.55 FIP

Scherzer vs. RHB: 8.52 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 1.06 HR/9, 3.89 FIP

He struck out a few more righties and walked a few more lefties, but gave up more homers to righties than lefties. For his career, his FIP vs. lefties is nearly a half run higher than it is against righties, but it’s possible that he gained more feel and command for the pitch in 2010, thereby enabling him to be more effective against lefties.

One of Scherzer’s biggest weaknesses is his inefficiency. In 2010 he had the tenth-highest pitch per inning total at 16.8. This means that, on average, Scherzer was over 100 pitches by the end of the sixth inning. If the Yankees approach him with patience and grind out their at-bats then they may be able to get to the soft underbelly of the Tigers’ bullpen early in the game.

As a side note, Scherzer is a bit of a stat-head. Click through to this interview with Eric Seidman at Baseball Prospectus to read him discuss mechanics, release points, BABIP and Pitch F(x). It’s fascinating stuff.

Bombs away as Yankees top Tigers again

They don’t call them the Bronx Bombers for nothing. Two days after relying on a pair of homers to win the first game of the season, the Yankees clubbed three more en route to a 10-6 win on Saturday afternoon. The game was never really as close as the score implies; they jumped all over Brad Penny early and often, and it wasn’t until the later innings that the Tigers mounted a threat, when the third tier relievers let things get slightly out of hand.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Biggest Hit: A-Rod opens the scoring

The Yankees haven’t been particularly kind to Penny in recent years, and they took the screws to him again in this one. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira followed Brett Gardner‘s leadoff fly out with a single and a walk, respectively. Alex Rodriguez wasted no time getting his team on the board, lacing the first pitch he saw (a 93 mph fastball outside) into the right field corner to score Jeter and put two men in scoring position with just one outs. It was early, but at +.124 WPA, it was the biggest play of the game for the Yankees. A Robbie Cano single and a Nick Swisher sac fly followed, and New York had a three-zip lead before the second inning.

Honorable Mention: Tex & Martin each add three with one swing

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Mark Teixeira wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to get off to a fast start this year. He clubbed a three-run homer for the second straight game, taking Penny deep on a 1-0 fastball in the second inning to put the Yankees up by six. The Tigers drew to within three by the fifth inning, but Russell Martin effectively put them away with a three-run shot of his own in the bottom half (with two strikes on him and two outs in the inning), his first homer in pinstripes. He’s looked pretty good behind the plate, blocking balls and framing pitches and what not, but his offense has been a pleasant surprise in the two games so far. Martin’s homer was worth 9.4% of the win, Tex’s 9.0%.

Biggest Out: A.J. gets Magglio

The half-inning before Martin’s blast, Detroit mounted a little rally off what had been a cruising A.J. Burnett. The right-hander retired eight of the first nine he faced (four strikeouts) before Austin Jackson took him deep for a solo homer, his lone blemish to that point. The fifth inning rally started rather quickly. Brennan Boesch lined a first pitch fastball back up the middle for a leadoff single, then Jhonny Peralta singled to left on the first pitch of his at-bat. Alex Avila also put the first pitch in play, grounding to Derek Jeter’s right to score Boesch. It looked like a tailor made double play ball off the bat, but Jeter couldn’t reel it in.

After three straight hits on first pitch fastballs, Burnett and Martin went to the hook against Brandon Inge. He ended up bunting the runners to second and third, then A.J. loaded the bases by walking Jackson. It was a classic Burnett meltdown, the kind we’ve seen plenty of times before, so Joe Girardi had David Robertson warming up in the bullpen. With lefty Will Rhymes up with a chance to tie the game with one swing, Burnett did something I don’t ever remember seeing him do: he threw three straight changeups. The first was over the plate for a called strike, the second down below the zone for a ball. Rhymes made contact with the third, grounding it towards first. Tex didn’t have enough time to start the 3-6-3 double plate or get the force out at home, so he just took it to the bag for the sure out.

The heart of the order was due up and two men were still in scoring position, so A.J. was hardly out of the woods. He started Magglio Ordonez out with a curveball for a strike, when got him to foul off a fastball for a quick 0-2 count. Ordonez has always been a high contact guy, never striking out as many as 90 times in a single season and only once striking out more than 80 times. He fouled off a curveball to stay alive, prompting a meeting on the mound between pitcher and catcher. Burnett gave Magglio another curve, the third of the at-bat, but he swung over top of it for the strikeout. A.J. had a tendency to let innings like that unravel last year, but holding Detroit to two runs in that spot was fine work. The strikeout improved the Yankees’ chances of winning by 6.2%.

Curveball. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Same Ol’ A.J. (on the surface)

Three earned runs in five innings is nothing special. It’s a 5.40 ERA, which is worse than A.J.’s 2010 mark (5.26), so in that regard it was the same old Burnett. However, the real issue last year was the sudden decline in strikeout rate, so it was good to see him fan six guys in those five innings. Of his 86 pitches, 55 were fastballs, 25 were curves, and the remaining six were changeups. Detroit batters swung and missed at eleven pitches total (seven fastballs and four curves), a well-above-average 12.8% rate. Burnett has been around 8.0% swings-and-misses in his two years with the Yankees after being close to 10% with the Blue Jays. One game isn’t enough of a sample to say anything definitive, but it was good to see A.J. get those strikeouts and swing-throughs.

And just to follow up Thursday’s recap, Burnett started five of 21 batters he faced with curveballs (23.8%) and just two with changeups (9.5%). Last year he threw a first-pitch curveball 19% of the time and a first-pitch changeup 2% of the time. After the game, Jim Baumbach reported that Burnett was pitching with a throat infection, a sinus infection, and clogged ears. Give him some points for fighting through it, but sheesh, get that man away from the rest of the team.


(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Whenever you score ten runs, it takes a total team effort. Brett Gardner and Jeter combined for four hits (two singles each), and Tex narrowly missed his third homer of the year when a ball just curved foul in the ninth. He also drew a walk and is hitting .286/.444/1.143 on the year. Hooray for small sample sizes. A-Rod drove in the first run of the game with that double, and also greeting Brayan Villarreal to the big leagues with a solo homer to left-center. Cano had a single and a double, Jorge Posada singled and walked twice, and Curtis Granderson singled as well. The only one who didn’t get in on the party was Swisher, who is 1-for-8 with three strikeouts so far. That’ll correct itself. Gardner and Grandy each stole a base too.

Eric Chavez and Eduardo Nunez came in as defensive replacements once the score got out of hand while David Robertson, Luis Ayala and Boone Logan threw garbage time innings, so the only players that still haven’t gotten into a game yet are Andruw Jones, Gustavo Molina, and Bartolo Colon. Of course Nunez made a throwing error on the routine play that would have ended the game, forcing Mariano Rivera into the contest. He retired Miggy Cabrera on three pitches, the only man he faced, for his second save in as many games.

ESPN has the attendance at 41,462 (79.4% of capacity), but I have a hard time believing that. The Stadium looked maybe half full on television and based on those at the game and on Twitter. Yeah, it’s cold and the weather wasn’t great, but show up and support your team people!

Believe it or not, the Yankees are 2-0 for the first time since 2005. Ayala and Logan made it more interesting than it needed to be during the last few innings, but a win is a win is a win.

WPA Graph & Box Score

I love it when they’re nice and boring like this. has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other cool stuff.

Up Next

The Yankees will look to complete the sweep tomorrow afternoon, when Phil Hughes and Max Scherzer each make their first start of the season. YES will carry that one at 1:08pm ET.

Saturday Night Open Thread

Granderson showed Will Rhymes how to get down. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Solid win today, and now it’s time to relax with friends/family and/or our open thread. The Extra Innings package is still in the middle of a free preview, so all of tonight’s baseball games are on television somewhere. The Devils and Islanders are also in action, plus there’s the Final Four. Chat about whatever, enjoy.