RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Just a reminder, my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 4:05pm ET today. You can listen in on either FOX Sports 1030 AM or WOBM 1160 AM, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to stream it online via one of those links as well.

Chan Ho Park: A lesson in unpredictability

No matter how much we preach, it’s easy to fall into the trap of basing too much on small sample sizes this early in the season. We’ve already seen the Joba Chamberlain 8th Inning Machine rear it’s ugly head after two-thirds of an inning, and many fans had already written off Chan Ho Park by Monday morning. Instead of relegating him to mop-up duty like his predecessor may have, Joe Girardi ran CHoP out there again last night in the 7th inning of a tied game, receiving more than acceptable results.

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa, AP

It’s clear that Park was better last night, and a large part of that has to do with pitch selection. The former starter broke out everything but the kitchen sink during his three innings of work, throwing two types of fastballs, two types of breaking balls, and a changeup for good measure. There’s no better way to use a pie chart than to graphically depict pitch selection, so let’s have a look…

(click for a larger view)

Again, small sample size comes into play, and we’re also at the mercy of PitchFX’s pitch classifications. There’s not much we can do about it, so we have to run with it.

On Sunday night, 13 of CHoP’s 21 pitches were fastballs, including the one Dustin Pedroia lifted over the Monstah for a two-run homer. Tack on six sliders, and more than 90% of the pitches he threw on Sunday were either fastballs or sliders. Jumping ahead to Sunday, and it’s clear from the pie chart that he used everything in his arsenal pretty evenly.

Marco Scutaro, the first batter Park faced, was retired on two breaking pitches, which was followed by Jacoby Ellsbury getting four fastballs and three offspeed pitches. Dustin Pedroia got two breaking balls and a fastball before making an out. In that first inning of work, CHoP threw just one four-seam fastball, but three two-seamers, three sliders, three curveballs, and a changeup. If you were standing in the box, you were playing a guessing game.

Park’s second inning of work was much of the same. He started Victor Martinez off with a curve, then threw a change, slider, and a two-seamer before putting him away with another curve. In a five pitch at-bat, Boston’s catcher saw four different kinds of pitches. Kevin Youkilis made a first pitch out on a four-seamer, and David Ortiz went down swinging on a curve, change, and slider. Through two innings of work, CHoP had thrown two four-seamers, four two-seamers, five sliders, six curves, and three changeups.

In his third inning of work, Park sat down Adrian Beltre on a slider and a four-seamer before J.D Drew singled on a two-seam fastball. Mike Cameron was due up next, and he was set down on the V-Mart Plan: four different pitches in a five pitch at-bat. Facing Scutaro for the second time, Park threw him a curve, a two-seamer, and two consecutive sliders to get him to line out to Brett Gardner.

CHoP started Drew off with two straight changeups, the first time he doubled up on a pitch all night. After mixing in a four-seamer, he threw another changeup, the only time he threw the same pitch three times to one hitter on Wednesday. The back-to-back sliders to Scutaro to end his night was the only other time Park doubled up on a pitch.

When a pitcher is throwing five different pitches, that means there’s a total of 25 different combinations of a two pitch sequence. Park used 17 of those 25 different sequences last night, and only one of them more than three times (see right). He had no pattern whatsoever, he gave the Red Sox nothing to pick up. By the third inning, you can usually tell if a guy likes to follow a fastball with a changeup or a slider or whatever, but not last night.  It was a clinic in keeping hitters off balance.

(Note that the chart only reflects sequences thrown to one batter. So it doesn’t include the last pitch of one at-bat and the first pitch of the next.)

The job Park did with mixing his pitches up was clearly the story of his outing last night, but it’s also worth nothing that he had a little more giddy up on his stuff as well. On Sunday, his four-seamer topped out at 92.8 mph, but last night it didn’t dip below 92.96. The slider also jumped from 85-88 to 88-89. CHoP was reportedly battling some kind of stomach bug earlier in the week, so maybe that came into play somehow on Sunday. Either way, being unpredictable and throwing hard is quite the combination.

Obviously, it was just one outing. Park’s not always going to be as good as he was last night, but he’s also not going to be as bad as he was Sunday. He’ll likely settle in somewhere in the middle, but if he keeps mixing his pitches like he did last night, especially in bursts of short relief, he’s going to one helluva weapon out that pen. It’s not always about pure stuff, keeping hitters off balance works just as well.

Posada and Swisher save the Yanks in the seventh

The Yanks didn’t get much off John Lackey last night. They managed just three hits and drew a couple of walks, and it seemed like the only chance they got to score was when he was tiring in the sixth. A-Rod took care of that, though, grounding into a double play with runners on first and second with one out. Thankfully, Andy Pettitte did his part, pitching six innings of one-run ball to keep the Yanks in it. This led to the decisive seventh inning.

Schoeneweis vs. Posada

After striking out Robinson Cano, Scott Schoeneweis had to face Jorge Posada, hitting righty. This would take a different approach, though Martinez and Schoeneweis seems to stick with a plan. He missed inside with a fastball for ball one, and then went back to the fastball but missed high. Jorge took a rip but could only foul it off.

Then Martinez set up low and in for the slider. Schoeneweis hit his spot, or at least came close enough that Martinez didn’t have to move the glove. Jorge was ready for it and got the barrel of the bat right on it, maybe a little under. It was good enough, though, and a faster runner might have been standing on third with one out.

The slider worked the previous at-bat against Cano. After missing with a fastball inside Schoeneweis threw another one and hit a nice spot low and inside. Cano could only foul it off. In a 1-1 count he turned to the slider and dropped it through the back door. He then went outside with the slider and Cano bit on a pitch he had only a small chance of even fouling off.

One batter later, Schoeneweis threw the same sequence to Jorge, fastball-fastball-slider. Perhaps he was going to switch the slider sequence if he got strike two, trying for the backdoor to end the at-bat. This one went right through the zone, though, and it looked like that was the plan. Jorge swung almost like he knew it was coming. Did the sequence to Swisher inform him?

Adding a bit to his predictability, Schoeneweis also went fastball-fastball-slider-slider to Granderson. The first slider he slung across the upper part of the zone for a called strike. The second was the same as the strikeout pitch to Cano, down and away in the dirt. After he missed with a fastball inside for ball two, he backdoored Granderson, dropping in yet another slider for a called — and probably swinging, too — strike three.

Bard vs. Swisher

With the two lefties retired, Francona went to his setup man Dan Bard to get Nick Swisher. He started off throwing inside gas, a good choice on the first pitch. Swisher reacted late and just barely fouled it away for strike one. Bard and Martinez did the same for the second pitch, though that one caught a bit more of the plate. Swish put another swing on it, this time making better contact but still only managing to foul it away into the left field seats.

An 0-2 count is not a pleasant place to be with Dan Bard on the mound. The next three pitches he can basically do whatever he wants. He can gas you with another fastball, he can drop a curve on you, buckling the knees, or, as he has done a few times this series, he can throw that changeup. It’s not a great pitch, and from what I’ve seen Bard misses with it frequently. He did, however, manage to drop it over the plate to Johnson the next inning.

Bard and Martinez decided to stick with ol’ No. 1 on 0-2, this time going outside. Martinez set up a bit off the plate, as you can see in the screen shot below, and Bard missed by a little. The ball ran back over the plate enough for Swisher to again foul it away. He swung conservatively at it, as he should with two strikes against a hard thrower like Bard. For his own part, Bard reached back for this one, hitting 99 on the gun after hitting 97 on the previous two fastballs.

With the count still 0-2, and with Swisher just having seen a 99 mph fastball, he might have been looking for something off-speed. In the booth, Al Leiter thought Bard could try something else. In an 0-2 count he’d have that luxury. This is what makes Bard tough to hit. At 0-2 it’s impossible to ignore the possibility of a breaking ball, but at the same time you can’t expect it or you’ll whiff terribly on the fastball. With a runner on second it was impossible to decipher what Martinez called for. Here’s where he set up.

It was a similar spot to the pitch before, and against the lefty a curveball away would have made enough sense. Yet it was neither straight fastball nor curveball. Pitch f/x registered the pitch at just 91 mph. It had the vertical break of Bard’s normal fastball, but it had an additional three inches of horizontal break. I’m not sure if Bard meant to throw this or not. The pitch tailed right over the plate, and instead of fighting it off, as Swisher had Bard’s previous three fastballs, he was able to get the barrel on the ball, grounding it through the hole between first and second for a base hit.

To miss an opportunity with Jorge standing on second with one out would have been a huge disappointment for the Yankees. The Sox, however, seemed set up. They had the lefty still on the mound to face Granderson, who has looked a bit frazzled against fellow lefties. It seems like he’s working on his batting eye in those situations at least, so we’ll see how he progresses in that regard. He’ll have David Price as his next test.

Bard against Swisher presents a favorable matchup for the Sox. Swisher has some power in his swing, but it comes at the cost of a little bat speed. Or at least it seemed to last year. Maybe that’s why Bard and Martinez went to the fastball in all four pitches. It took a mistake pitch, but Swish capitalized and tied the game. Unfortunately, Gardner stood little chance against Bard, but that didn’t much matter in the end. Swish did the most important thing, tying the game.

Forbes: Yanks now worth $1.6 billion

The Yankees, baseball’s World Champions, are now worth nearly twice as much as the next most valuable franchise, according to Forbes Magazine. In its annual Business of Baseball report, released last night, Forbes pegged the value of the New York Yankees at a cool $1.6 billion, and more surprisingly, the business mag claims the team turned a profit of nearly $25 million in 2009 after six straight seasons of operating in the red.

Hot on the heels of the franchises’ 27th World Series title and with a new stadium raking in the bucks, the Yanks saw their value increase by more than seven percent over 2009. The Red Sox, at $870 million, are ranked number two, and the Mets ($858 million), Dodgers ($727 million) and Cubs ($726 million) round out the top five. The Pirates and A’s, both valued are under $300 million, are MLB’s two cheapest clubs right now.

According to Forbes, the Yanks’ valuation breakdown is as follows: The Yanks’ sport value — that aspect attributable to revenue shared among all teams — is $146 million. The team’s position as New York’s leading franchise lends it $839 million in value. The new stadium contributes $287 million, and brand management — that famous interlocking NY — is worth $328 million on paper. The team, wrote Forbes, also “boast[s] the richest cable deal in baseball and have begun to make money from their new concession business, Legends Hospitality Management, a partnership with the Dallas Cowboys and Goldman Sachs.”

On the revenue side, the Yanks enjoyed great success at their new home. With player obligations, according to Forbes, totaling $240 million, the team enjoyed $319 million in gate receipts and $440 million in overall stadium revenue used for debt payments. The team’s reported profit before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization checks in at a healthy $24 million, good for tenth in the game. Overall, the Marlins again led the field with a profit in excess of $46 million, and the Red Sox were second at $40 million.

For the Yankees, this report paints a rosy picture. The team had been operating at significant deficits for much of the luxury tax era in the 2000s, but with a new stadium and more success, the franchise has managed to turn a profit. There is however a cloud to this silver lining: The team’s debt/value ratio is 89 percent, second only to the debt-riddled Texas Rangers. The Yankees owe debt on stadium construction bonds and on previous years’ revenue outcomes.

So as we delve into these numbers, it’s worth revisiting the Yanks’ claims of a budget for 2010. For much of the winter, we heard talk about the Yanks’ attention to the bottom line. Brian Cashman adhered to the budget set by the team’s Front Office, and with an eye toward flexibility closer to the July trade deadline, the team was unwilling to stretch that budget.

With a profit, it is possible that the Yanks could have invested more in the team this winter, but at the same time, the franchise owes payment on a significant chunk of debt. As baseball is definitely a business, the team has to keep an eye on both the product on the field and its balance sheet. With the information from Forbes, we have a snapshot of the Yankees as they play out the start of the 2010 season and a better understanding of the economics behind it. The team has never been more valuable, and you can bet that the rest of baseball is well aware of this economic reality.

The new guys pitch in to beat Sox in extras

There were a few moments in the ninth when it didn’t seem like the Yankees would see extra innings. The Sox nearly ended it a couple of times, but the Yanks hung in there and took advantage during Papelbon’s second inning of work. I’ll take a win against the Sox any way it comes, but it’s so much sweeter when Papelbon is the goat.

Biggest Hit: Curtis Granderson‘s 10th inning jack

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

After a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth inning, Jon Papelbon got the call to face the bottom of the Yankees’ order in the 10th. He had already taken care of the heart of the order, retiring A-Rod, Cano, and Posada in the ninth, so he had a seemingly easier task ahead of him. With the Yankees’ order, though, there is no soft spot. Every hitter can do serious damage. Curtis Granderson, the No. 7 hitter, proved that almost immediately.

Papelbon opened the at-bat with a fastball low in the zone, his 10th in 11 pitches. Granderson fouled it off. Once again Papelbon went with the fastball, this time leaving it up in the zone. Victor Martinez set up low, but it looked like Papelbon just missed his spot. Granderson sent it well over the right field wall, giving the Yankees the lead and leaving the game up to Mo. That’s never a bad thing.

Honorable Mention: Nick Swisher‘s RBI single

Photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP

For three full innings the Sox held a 1-0 lead. John Lackey didn’t exactly work efficiently, but the Yanks couldn’t get anything going off him. Then, in the seventh, with Lackey’s pitch count at exactly 100, the Sox went to the bullpen. With two lefties and a switch hitter due up, Francona went to Scott Schoeneweis. He did his job against the two lefties, striking out both Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. His trouble, however, came from Jorge Posada, who doubled on a slider right in his wheelhouse.

With another switch-hitter, Nick Swisher, due up, Francona went to Dan Bard to finish the inning. He started Swisher with a 97 mph fastball on the inside edge, which Swisher fouled away. The next pitch was similar, though it caught a bit more of the plate. Same result. The third pitch had a bit more zip, registering at 99 mph, but again Swisher fouled it off. For the fourth and final pitch, Bard took a little bit off. The pitch registered at 91, but it featured a bit more movement than the previous three pitches. Movement or not, though, it was right over the heart of the plate and Swisher slapped it on the ground to right.

The ensuing play would have been more comical if 1) it wasn’t close and 2) if Jorge hadn’t hit the ground hard. J.D. Drew’s throw home was a bit up the line and Victor Martinez had to reach out to get it. Jorge was just about at the plate by that point, and the two got a bit tied up trying to avoid a big collision. The ball rolled away and Jorge touched up to tie the game.

Biggest Pitch: Ortiz finally gets a hit

Photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP

David Ortiz gave us all a chuckle with his expletive laden rambling last night, but in the third inning last night he was no laughing matter. Dustin Pedroia doubled down the left field line to open the inning, but Andy Pettitte came back to retire Victor Martinez and Kevin Youkiis. To escape the frame without damage all he had to do was retire David Ortiz, 0 for the season at the time with just one walk.

Pettitte started the at-bat with a low fastball called for strike one. Then he went to the cutter, throwing it three straight times and getting one swing and miss, bringing the count to 2-2. For the fifth pitch he went back to the fastball, this time looking inside. This one didn’t have as much life on it as the first pitch, which allowed Ortiz to extend his arms and smack it to right. Were Jesse Barfield in right he probably would have gotten Pedroia at the plate. Nick Swisher, however, didn’t get nearly enough on the throw and the Sox took an early 1-0 lead.

Biggest Blunder: A-Rod’s DP in the 6th

As John Lackey’s pitch count rose it looked like the Yankees were finally getting to him. Derek Jeter led off the sixth by working a 2-2 count, reaching base when Lackey hit him in the back. Nick Johnson, looking for his first hit smoked the seventh pitch of the at-bat to right. It was within J.D. Drew’s range, though. Teixeira then walked, putting runners at first and second with one out for A-Rod, hitless so far on the night.

It looked like the Yanks had Lackey on the ropes. He had already thrown 17 pitches in the inning and his first pitch to A-Rod would be his 99th. Yet A-Rod swung at the first pitch. It was somewhat in his wheelhouse, a 91 mph cutter on the inner half. He only managed to foul it away, though. Lackey came back with another hittable pitch in about the same location, this time a four-seamer, but A-Rod didn’t put a good swing on it. A grounder to third meant an around the horn double play, ending the threat.

In addition to having the biggest negative WPA play for the Yankees, A-Rod also had by far the lowest total WPA, -.279, more than 10 percent worse than Cano’s -.137.

Don’t judge him by one appearance

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

Chan Ho Park faced his share of criticism after serving up a home run to Dustin Pedroia on Sunday night. He got the night off on Tuesday while Al Aceves worked his multi-inning magic. Park found himself in that same role last night. He took over in the seventh after Andy Pettitte battled through six innings, but this time he didn’t disappoint.

He didn’t exactly pitch his three innings gracefully. He did face only 10 batters, with Marco Scutaro batting twice. Of the nine outs he recorded seven were in the air, and a few of them came a little close to the wall for my liking. But he did get the job done. J.D. Drew collected the only hit of the outing, and while Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre gave us a bit of a scare, well, no harm no foul. Also, no one would have even left their seat at Yankee Stadium on Cameron’s fly.

It helped, too, that as soon as Park finished his job Granderson gave the Yankees the lead, thus giving Mo the ball. I hope to see more instances of Park and Aceves pitching multiple innings. Why take the ball away if they’re pitching well?

Things that made me smile

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

Victor Martinez. After hitting Burnett hard last night, he was the last guy I wanted to see up with runners on first and second with none out in the fist. Pettitte got him to ground to third, though, and A-Rod tossed it around the horn for two outs. I wondered if he would take it to third, killing Ellsbury, before throwing across the diamond. With Martinez running he had a chance. Best, though, to take the surest path to multiple outs.

Pettitte’s final inning start off annoyingly, with Adrian Beltre singling, but it ended wonderfully. J.D. Drew grounded an 0-1 curveball to Cano, which started a double play. After he struck out Mike Cameron I did a little fist pump. So did Pettitte.

I never want to see someone get hit in the head, but if it’s going to happen at least let it be like Pettitte’s fastball off Youkilis’s head. The 90 mph fastball seemed to get away from Pettitte. Youkilis was in the process of ducking, so he was moving away from the impact. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been a laughing matter. All I could think at the time was, “schtoink!”

Then I smiled some more when Pettitte struck out Ortiz to end the inning.

Mo for the second night in a row.

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

Things that annoyed me

A-Rod. His fly outs in the first and fourth didn’t look to bad, but from the double play on he took some weak hacks. None, of course, was as costly as the DP.

Dustin Pedroia and his tiny strike zone. It would annoy me a lot less if he wasn’t a damn good hitter.

Adrian Beltre hitting the ball hard almost every time up.

Next up

Friday night at 7 the Yanks head into Tampa. Javy Vazquez goes for the Yanks against David Price for the Rays.

WPA Chart

Check out the full WPA breakdown at the FanGraphs box score.

Game Three Spillover Thread

Runs. We want runs.

Game Three: The first rubber game

Photo Credit: Julie Jacobson, AP

The opening series of the season naturally brings plenty of firsts, and the Yankees and Red Sox were able to beat everyone else to punch for a lot of things because they played Sunday night. Jorge Posada picked up the 2010’s first hit, homerun, and run all on one play, then one batter later he and Curtis Granderson became the first teammates of the year to go back-to-back. Nick Swisher, of all people, hit the season’s first single, impressive since he had more extra base hits (65) than singles (59) last year. Nick Johnson (who else) drew the first walk. David Robertson blew the season’s first save, and an inning later Chan Ho Park blew the second. Getting to the point, tonight will the season’s first rubber game, as these bitter rivals will both try to win the series tonight.

Andy Pettitte will take to the mound after a Spring Training filled with rainouts and simulated games, making his first start that counts since the day he won the World Series clincher. The 37-year-old is no stranger to Fenway or the Red Sox hitters, so there’s no surprises on his end. He’ll be opposed by Boston’s latest bargain bin pickup, former Angel John Lackey. The Yankees are certainly familiar with the righty, having hung seven runs on him in 12.1 innings (two starts) in the ALCS last year. Mark Teixeira (.388-.464-.551) and Jorge Posada (.414-.469-.586) completely own Lackey, and you’ve got two other players with .900+ career OPS’s against him in Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson.

As much as we bemoan Joe Girardi‘s non-stop bullpen tinkering, the advantage is that everyone is fresh and ready to go tonight. That includes Al Aceves, who threw just 23 pitches in his two innings last night. If push comes to shove in the late innings, I’m all but certain we’ll see Joba Chamberlain out there again.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s lineup…

The Cap’n, SS
OBP Jesus, DH
Robo-Tex, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Can’t hit with RISP, 2B
Old catcher who can’t block a pitch to save his life, C
The new guy who can’t hit lefties, CF
He’s just a fourth outfielder, RF
The fastest white guy in America, LF

And on the mound, the Demon from Deer Park, Andrew Eugene Pettitte.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET, and can be seen nationally on ESPN2. In the NY area, it’ll be on YES. Enjoy.