The difference between passivity and discipline

The Oakland A’s lead the American League in a non-trivial offensive category. They swing at the fewest pitches of any other team. That might not seem like a huge surprise; after all, Moneyball is loaded with anecdotes that convey the A’s stance on plate discipline. Yet they haven’t turned that discipline into results. Their 92 wRC+ ranks 11th in the AL, and their 8.3 percent walk rate ranks only fifth. The results raise the question of whether the A’s are actually disciplined. Could they actually be merely passive?

Unsurprisingly, the evidence points towards passivity. It’s not as though Oakland hitters lay off only the bad pitches and swing at the good ones. While they have swung at the fewest pitches outside the strike zone, just 25.6 percent, they also have swung at the second fewest percentage of pitches within the strike zone. At the same time, they’re fed more pitches inside the strike zone than any other team. It comes as even less of a surprise, then, that they have the highest percentage of looking strikes in the league. They simply do not swing the bat as frequently as other teams.

The Yankees have the second lowest swing rate in the league, but they’re not nearly as passive as the A’s. They swing at more pitches within the zone than the A’s, they draw more walks, and they see more pitches per plate appearance. At the same time, they see the fewer pitches in the zone than any other team in the AL. On one hand, then, the A’s see more strikes than anyone and they swing at the fewest pitches, while the Yankees see the fewest pitches in the zone and they swing at the second fewest pitches. It doesn’t take much more than that to illustrate the differences between discipline and passivity.

Here’s another difference between the Yankees and the A’s. The Yankees lead the league in 3-1 counts, having seen them in 11 percent of all plate appearances. The A’s have seen 3-1 counts in 9 percent of their PA, which is right around the league average. The Yankees also lead the league in 2-0 counts seen, while the A’s are 13th. What’s the point of taking so many pitches if you’re not eventually working yourself into a better count? It’s hard to do, though, when pitchers simply feed you more strikes. That means more looking strikes, which leads to worse hitters’ counts.

There is no one stat that defines plate discipline. All we can do is look at a number of stats that relate to the concept and try to grade teams. When looking at overall swing rate and out of zone swing rate, it might seem as though the A’s are one of the most disciplined teams in the league. But when we dig a bit deeper, we see that they simply don’t swing the bat. The Yankees, on the other hand, swing infrequently because they’re fed fewer strikes than any other team. They for the most part lay off pitches outside the zone, they work favorable hitters’ counts, and they take their walks. It’s something we’ve seen them do for decades now, but it will never get old.

CC & Frankie help Yanks grind out win over Sox

It was hard, it was tough, it as stressful, it was long, it was a Yankees-Red Sox game and it was a win. Just think, we’ve got two more of these to go.

This is what an ace looks like. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The Big Man Does Big Things

Sometimes being an ace means giving up two hits in eight shutout innings, and sometimes being an ace means grinding out six innings on 128 pitches with a short bullpen. This was a big boy start for CC Sabathia, who had to work hard every single inning and fight through a tight strike zone against disciplined hitters. He allowed ten hits but also struck out ten, four of which ended innings with men on base. He struck out Adrian Gonzalez three times and got him to ground out weakly the fourth time. Sabathia didn’t have a single 1-2-3 inning and half of the time he had runners in scoring position, but damn man, he gave up just two runs despite all that trouble.

The 128 pitches are Sabathia’s most as a Yankee and the second most of his career, trailing only a 130-pitch effort with the Brewers back in August of 2008. He was starting on extra rest and I have to imagine he’ll get an extra day off before his next start (Joe Girardi indicated he’ll “see how he feels” next time around). That means the six-man rotation figures to stay in tack for one more turn. I don’t have a problem with it, the big guy earned the extra rest. This is was a big performance tonight, the definition of ace-caliber. Pretty? No. Effective? Damn straight.

Yes we did, Mr. Red Sox beat writer. Yes we did.

The King of the Fist Pumps

It’s pretty amazing that Frankie Cervelli has three career homeruns, and all three have really meant something. His 2009 shot in Atlanta was basically the turning point of that season, and his grand slam in Texas earlier this year helped end an offensive malaise and a rather sizable losing skid. The homer in this game wasn’t that dramatic, but it tacked on an all important insurance run in what had been a one-run game. Cervelli hit the ball clear out of the ballpark too, over the monster and off some dude’s hands and into the parking lot behind the park. This wasn’t a cheapie, it was a legit blast, and as he crossed the plate, Frankie clapped his hands with his usual enthusiasm.

Apparently John Lackey didn’t like the clap, so he hit Cervelli with a first pitch fastball right between the numbers his next time up. The benches cleared but it wasn’t anything serious, though Larry Rothschild did get himself ejected for yapping at the crew chief. I can’t remember ever seeing a pitching coach getting tossed like that. Anyway, Cervelli eventually came around to score on a Derek Jeter double play, providing another important insurance run. It’s okay though, Lackey really taught him a lesson (/rolls eyes). You gotta hand it to Frankie, this was quite a game from the backup backstop.

Big out, or biggest out? (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Ahhhh Bullpen!!!

Once Sabathia got through his six innings, it was time for the bullpen to take over. One problem though: David Robertson was unavailable after pitching in each of the last two games. That meant Cory Wade in the seventh with a 5-2 lead, and he gave up two hits and got just one out before Boone Logan came in to face Carl Crawford. The former Ray singled to load the bases with one out, and two right-handers were due up. Well, one switch-hitter and a right-hander.

Logan ran right over Jarrod Saltalamacchia with three straight sliders, getting the strikeout to bring Darnell McDonald to the plate. He ran the count full to Boston’s right fielder, but escaped the jam by getting him to swing through a 95 mph heater upstairs. Huge pitch in a huge spot, and although he did it backwards again (gave up a hit to the lefty, retired the two righties), Logan got the job done in a big way. Rafael Soriano handled the eighth inning in Robertson’s place, and pitched around a walk with some help from a fantastic running grab by Brett Gardner in left. That was one for the ol’ UZR, I’ll tell you that much.

Mariano Rivera closed the door in the ninth, but he had to work for it. David Ortiz doubled down the right field line to open the frame and Jarrod Saltalamacchia was awarded first on a hit-by-pitch even though replays showed that he clearly offered at the pitch. The resulting tirade got Girardi tossed. Anyway, Mo struck out Jed Lowrie and got Crawford to pop out in between baserunners before getting a game-ending fly ball out of Josh Reddick. Yankees pitchers did not have a single 1-2-3 inning all game, but you gotta hand it to these guys, they got the job done when they needed too. Gritty, gutty, all of that applies. The Sox went just 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position (seven strikeouts) and stranded 13 runners.

One of these days Joe just needs to rip his jersey off Hulk Hogan style and really go nuts. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)


Unsung hero: Eric Chavez, who drove in the first and third runs with RBI singles back up the middle. Robinson Cano doubled off the wall in left to drive in Curtis Granderson for the second run, setting the tone for the offense. Nick Swisher remained en fuego, picking up three hits and a walk in his four trips to the plate. Brett Gardner had a bunt single that set up Jeter’s run-scoring double play. The Cano-Swisher-Chavez trio combined to go 7-for-9 with two walks, pretty much driving the offense. Meanwhile, Jorge Posada really has this rally killing thing down pat, eh? A pair of poorly timed double play balls from the DH tonight.

One gripe with Sabathia: the pitch selection with Crawford. He started him off with two fastballs for strikes in his first at-bat, then threw four sliders for balls and ended up walking him after the 0-2 count. Next time up, he hung a first pitch slider and gave up a solo homer. Crawford has been a great player for a long time, but he came into the game with a .285 OBP overall and a .234 wOBA against left-handed pitchers. He’s been garbage this season. They have to stop nibbling and instead show the guy zero respect, give him fastballs until he shows he can hit it consistently.

Fighting with the mask on runs in the organization, I see. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Also, I highly doubt Sabathia hit Jacoby Ellsbury on purpose to leadoff the first inning. Yeah, Granderson kinda sorta got hit in the top half of the inning, but Ellsbury’s one of the game’s best basestealers and he was in a two-strike count to lead off the game. If it was intentional, it was incredibly stupid. Also, CC is over 200 strikeouts for the first time as a Yankee, and there’s a month left in the season. He whiffed 197 guys in both 2009 and 2010.

The Yankees are a Mo blown save away from taking three of their last four at Fenway, though I suspect we won’t hear too much about that in the morning. The win moves them into a tie with Boston in the loss column atop the AL East, but more importantly the Rays lost to the Rangers. That gives the Yankees an 8.5 game lead for the wildcard and dwindles their magic number for a postseason berth down to 21, good old Paul O’Neill in the sidebar.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

I for one do not believe this WPA graph accurately portrays how I felt during the game. has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other neat stuff, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

Same two teams on Wednesday night, when Phil Hughes starts against Josh Beckett. RAB Tickets can get you into the game dirt cheap if you’re going to be up in New England and want to catch the game.

JoVa saves the season with a ninth inning homer

Jorge Vazquez was the only Yankees farmhand to make the Triple-A International League All-Star Team, and they had no representatives on the Low-A South Atlantic League All-Star Team. The Arizona Fall League rosters were released, in case you missed it earlier.

Triple-A Scranton (4-1 win over Lehigh Valley in 14 innings) the win keeps their playoff hopes alive, a loss to Lehigh and they’re officially out of the postseason contention
Chris Dickerson, RF: 1 for 4, 2 BB, 2 K
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 6, 1 2B, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C & Mike Lamb, DH: both 1 for 6 – Montero struck out … Lamb scored a run and struck out four times
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 3 for 6, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K – saved the season with a game-tying solo homer in the top of the ninth … he also singled to start the game winning rally in extras, though Luis Nunez pinch-ran for him and eventually came around to score
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 6, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (fielding) – go-ahead three run homer in the 14th, a rather huge hit
Ray Kruml, LF: 0 for 5, 1 BB, 2 K
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 5, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 SB
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 6, 3 K
David Phelps, RHP: 7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 8-6 GB/FB – 61 of 88 pitches were strikes (69.3%) … third start off the DL, and he’s gotten better and better each time out
Aaron Laffey, LHP: 1.1 IP, zeroes, 1 HB, 1-1 GB/FB – eight of his 12 pitches were strikes
Scott Proctor, RHP: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HB, 2-2 GB/FB – 17 of 27 pitches were strikes (63%)
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 12 of 22 pitches were strikes (54.5%)
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 22 of 37 pitches were strikes (59.5%) … two big innings to preserve the tie, then close out the win [Read more…]

Game 133: Back to Boston

This was in our image uploads under "Red Sox," and I couldn't not use it. Remember that? Insane. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Biggest series of the season? Eh, I don’t thinks so, not at all really. The Yankees have a big lead on a playoff spot so they don’t need to sweat that, the only thing this series is about is getting in better position to win the division. SG ran the numbers, and pretty much the only thing the Yankees can do to drastically improve their chances at an AL East crown is sweep. That would be unlikely even if they had Key, Cone, and Pettitte lined up to pitch. Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Jorge Posada, DH
Frankie Cervelli, C

CC Sabathia, SP

The game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Alex Rodriguez Update: A-Rod got a cortisone shot in his sprained left thumb today and it would not be surprising if he missed the entire series. For shame.

Four Yankees heading to Arizona Fall League (so far)

Rosters for the Arizona Fall League were released today, though not in their entirety. David Phelps, Corban Joseph, Rob Segedin, and Ronnier Mustelier are the four Yankees farmhands named to the Phoenix Desert Dogs roster so far, but they still have two or three spots to fill. Those will almost certainly be pitchers, but one will not be Graham Stoneburner.

Phelps’ assignment is completely expected after he missed all that time with the shoulder issue, he’s got innings to make up. CoJo’s been hitting well this year and it’s worth getting him the extra at-bats. Interestingly enough, Segedin’s on the roster as an outfielder, so perhaps a full blown transition is going to take place soon. Mustelier is the interesting guy. He’s an older dude (just turned 27) that signed out of Cuba this year, he’s been mashing nonstop since signing (.374/.421/.553 in 134 PA), and he’s played five positions (second, third, and all three outfield spots). It’s unlikely they’d send filler to the AzFL, and I wonder if he’s got a chance to a righty bench bat in the future. We’ll see.

Past Trade Review: Robin Ventura


The dust had barely settled after the end of the 2001 World Series, but the Yankees knew they were already going to have to replace several key pieces of the roster in the offseason. Everyone knew that Paul O’Neill was retiring and it was no secret that the aging Tino Martinez was going to be pushed aside as the team prepared to go all out for free agent Jason Giambi, but Scott Brosius’ retirement seemed to catch everyone off guard. By no means was he great, but he was a steady third baseman and suddenly the Yankees had an empty spot at the hot corner.

That’s when something unusual happened. The Yankees and Mets actually got together for a trade, a rare exchange of legitimate big leaguers. On December 7th, two weeks after Brosius called it a career, the Yankees shipped David Justice across town in exchange for Robin Ventura. Justice had been acquired a year-and-a-half earlier for some minor leaguers, a deal that worked out tremendously in 2000. The Amazins’ were set to acquire Roberto Alomar and shift Edgardo Alfonso to third, so they had a spare part and the pieces of the trade puzzle fell into place.

Ventura, 34 at the time, was coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons, a .237/.359/.419 effort in 2001 and .232/.338/.439 in 2000. His glovework at third was second to none though, and the Yankees were just looking for a short-term stopgap until Drew Henson was ready to take over the position for the next decade. Don’t laugh, Baseball America ranked Henson as the ninth best prospect in baseball just a few weeks after the trade, one spot ahead of some kid named Mark Teixeira. The Yankees only needed a band-aid third baseman, and that’s exactly what Ventura was.

Batting fifth behind Bernie Williams and ahead of Jorge Posada on Opening Day, Ventura drew a walk in four trips to the plate. It was an unspectacular debut, but he made his mark in pinstripes in the following weeks. Ventura hit a solo homer two days later, the only run of the game in the team’s first win of the 2002 season. He hit a three-run homer the very next day, chipping in three of the team’s four runs in the win. Another homer followed four days later. Then another. And another and another and another. Before you knew it, Ventura had gone deep six times in the team’s first 14 games and a dozen times in their first 39 games. That was more than half of his season total (21) from the year before.

Ventura cooled off a bit after that but remained productive, hitting .240/.372/.419 with 15 homers the rest of the way to finish the season at .247/.368/.458 with 27 homers, the third highest total of his then-14-year career. The left-handed power he provided was a nice compliment to righty Alfonso Soriano and the two switch-hitters, Bernie and Posada. Ventura made the All-Star Team for the second time in his career and for the first time in a decade. The Yankees lost to the Angels in the ALDS, though Ventura doubled twice and drove in four runs in the final two games of the series.

With Henson not developing as hoped in 2002, the Yankees kept Ventura around in 2003 but had him platoon at third with Todd Zeile. Seriously. Ventura went on another April homerun binge (five in the team’s first 16 games), but his power started to disappear and his season batting line bottomed out at .236/.326/.386 on July 11th. His defense also deteriorated as well, and the Yankees had a bonafide hole at third base on their hands.

The fixed that hole at the trade deadline, sending two minor leaguers and cash to the Reds for Aaron Boone. The 30-year-old was hitting .273/.339/.469 with Cincinnati at the time and was obviously going to play third base everyday in New York. Ventura was a man without a job, but Brian Cashman managed to flip him to the Dodgers just before the deadline. In return for a declining player everyone knew he had to move, Cashman received Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor, two young players that proved to be useful (to varying degrees) in pinstripes.

Ventura never really had a signature moment with the Yankees, at least not that I remember, but he was certainly a solid contributor on a 103-win team in 2002. All told, he hit .249/.359/.433 with 36 homers in 888 plate appearances in pinstripes, and he retired the season after the trade. As for Justice, he never actually played for the Mets. They traded him to the Athletics a week after acquiring him, getting relievers Mark Guthrie and Tyler Yates in return. Justice hit .266/.376/.410 as Oakland’s DH in 2002, and retired the following offseason. It was a deal with little impact for both sides, but Ventura bridged the gap between three very significant players in recent Yankees history – Brosius, Justice, and Boone.

CC Sabathia vs. The Red Sox

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Yankees will be in Fenway Park tonight for their final road series against the Red Sox tonight, and they’ll have their ace on the mound. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last for months, you’re well aware that CC Sabathia has yet to beat Boston this year, a big part of the reason why the Yankees have lost ten of twelve to their biggest rivals. He’s 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against the Sox but 17-3 with a 2.40 ERA against everyone else.

In his four starts against Boston this year, Sabathia has given up 20 runs in 25 innings. He has given the team length, failing to complete at least six innings just once (his first start on April 10th, when he went 5.2 IP), and his FIP (~3.70) looks a lot better than that ERA, but 20 runs in 25 IP is 20 runs in 25 IP. Here’s the weird thing though: 15 of those 20 runs have been scored in just three innings. Look…

April 10th: one run in 5.2 IP overall
May 14th: two runs in six innings, then a four-run seventh
June 9th: six scoreless innings, then a seven-run seventh
August 6th: five-run third inning, but two runs in five innings otherwise

That June 9th game is particularly annoying. Sabathia cruised through the first six innings on just 82 pitches, allowing just two singles and two walks while striking out five and getting six other outs on the ground. He then gave up six hits to the next eight batters and allowed four runs to score before giving way to David Robertson. Robertson allowed all three of the runners he inherited to score before recording the final out of the inning. How often does that happen? As I said, annoying*.

The three big innings, one in each of his last three starts against Boston, suggest an anomaly more than anything. Sabathia’s never had trouble beating the Red Sox before, going 4-2 with a 3.04 ERA and a ~3.30 FIP in eight starts against them in 2009 and 2010, and it would have been 5-2 had the bullpen not coughed up a four-run lead in the eighth inning of this game last May. The Yankees are 5-3 in those eight starts, and it would be 6-2 if not for that bullpen meltdown. The “can’t beat Boston!” shtick is isolated to 2011.

Sabathia’s been just a little off with his command in his last five starts, giving up 46 hits and eight homers in 36.1 IP. His strikeout (35) and walk (five) totals are still stellar, but he’s been just a bit less awesome than usual. Obviously the Red Sox offense will be a tough matchup with or without his usual command, but hopefully he manages to avoid that one big inning tonight. That’s been the biggest problem for Sabathia against Boston this year, bar none.

* I seem to remember some defensive funny business in another one of the big innings as well, but it’s honestly not worth the effort to confirm.