Feliciano advised to start shoulder rehab program

Via Bryan Hoch, left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano was advised by Dr. James Andrews to begin a conservative treatment program for his torn shoulder capsule. It’s a six-week shoulder strengthening program that Feliciano will begin immediately, and he’ll remain with the team throughout the process. Feliciano went to Andrews for a second opinion today, and that he didn’t recommend surgery is the first bit of good news the Yankees have received regarding the lefty in quite some time. I guess not all hope is lost for a return this summer.

In praise of the 87.5 mph heat

(Frank Franklin II/AP)

What can a man do with a mid-80s fastball? Not much, if recent history is any guide. A few pitchers have sat in that range — Jamie Moyer most prominently — but few have experienced success. The hope with Freddy Garcia was that he could get his fastball into the upper 80s. Early in spring training he said that he was effective when his fastball was around 88, but got hit around when it dipped below that. And so it might not have seemed like a good sign that his fastest pitch on Saturday was 87.5 mph.

Yet we know that he pitched as well as he did in any start last season, allowing no runs on just two hits and a walk while facing one of the league’s most potent offenses. His fastball averaged just under 86 mph, and he hit that 87.5 speed maybe three times all game. Garcia went to his heat 35 times and generated no swings and misses, yet it still represented his best linear weights score, per Brooks Baseball (just combine the top two rows). Yes, that’s 35 fastballs, 24 strikes. He complemented that by mixing in 24 changeups, 16 sliders, 6 curves, and something that PitchFX classified as a splitter. It all made for a nice mix of pitches and speeds.

This is exactly how Garcia will need to approach every start if he’s going to succeed for the Yankees. Fastballs in pitchers’ counts, off-speed stuff in hitters’ counts — overall, a near-random selection of pitches that will keep hitters guessing. That’s how Garcia can succeed while throwing in the mid 80s.

It’s early still, and there’s a chance that Garcia’s fastball ramps up as the weather warms, but that’ no guarantee. Last year he averaged 88.5 mph on his fastball in April, but then just 87.5 mph the rest of the way. He did adjust then, though, leaning on his changeup far more often than his fastball, and mixing in the slider more prominently. I can see similar changes this year, especially if his velocity follows a similar trend.

Today on the podcast I asked Mike whether he believed that Garcia could continue getting hitters out with the general slop he threw on Saturday. He gave the answer that I’ve been wrestling with: heart says yes, head says no. How can anyone succeed throwing mostly off-speed junk? I’m not sure, but we not only saw Garcia do it on Saturday, but we saw him do it against one of the league’s best offenses — one that tagged up his rotation mates Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia.

Chances are Garcia can’t sustain this. But that’s not my concern right now. All I want to do is heap a little praise on a guy who, without any semblance of a major league fastball, spun, tilted, and palmed his way through a tough lineup. It was an impressive debut, and an important one, too. With Hughes on the DL, CC getting off to a slow start, and Nova struggling, the Yanks needed that from Garcia.

Has Cano’s plate discipline taken a step back?

See ball, hit ball. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

It’s not often that you can look at a player hitting .310/.322/.621 (.403 wOBA) and feel like his performance has stepped back from last year. Maybe it’s just me and/or maybe Robinson Cano has spoiled us all, but there’s one part of the second baseman’s game that has taken a nose dive during the first 14 games of the season: his plate discipline. At least superficially anyway; Cano has drawn just one walk this season and his 3.14 pitches per plate appearance ranks 197th out of 200 qualified big leaguers. The only three below him are noted hackers Orlando Cabrera (3.10), Miguel Tejada (2.97), and Vlad Guerrero (2.97).

Cano set career highs in walks (57), unintentional walks (43), walk rate (8.2%), and unintentional walk rate (6.2%) last season, but he did so while swinging at 36.5% of the pitches he saw outside of the strike zone. That was also a career high, and ranked 184th out of the 205 players with 400 or more plate appearances. So given Robinson’s utter lack of walks this year, you’d think that he’s swinging at even more pitches out of the zone, right? Wrong.

The table above is taken right from Cano’s player page on FanGraphs, and you can click for a larger (and easier to read) view. Cano is actually swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone this year, albeit but a very small amount, but the real change comes on pitches in the zone. He’s hacking at four out of every five pitches over the plate, and making contact at his usual (and absurdly high) rate. This suggests that he simply isn’t getting into many deep counts, and the data backs it up.

Baseball-Reference shows that Cano has not worked a single 3-0 count this season, not once in his 59 plate appearances. Furthermore, he’s only been in two 3-1 counts and two full counts. Two (each)! That’s four three-ball counts all year, or 6.8% of his plate appearances. Last season Robinson worked a three-ball count 113 times (that’s removing the 14 intentional walks), or in 16.6% of his 682 plate appearances. In 2005 and 2006, his first two years as a big leaguer, it was 9.2%. It hasn’t dipped below 11.8% since, so clearly this is completely out of the norm for Cano.

So you know what that tells me? That this utter lack of working the count is just an unsustainably bad pace for Robinson. It’s more of a small sample size issue than a definitive regression in his plate discipline. I haven’t seen anything in his at-bats to suggest otherwise, he’s still very productive and hasn’t turned into an easy out. Cano has established himself as a .320 BABIP guy over the last few seasons, so he’s got a tiny little bit of a rebound coming there (he’s at .304 at the moment) plus what should be a huge correction in his walk rate. A .322 OBP is not good by any stretch of the imagination, at least not for a middle-of-the-order guy, but Cano is underperforming his career norms and looks poised to bounce back into the .350+ OBP range once we get a little deeper into the season.

The RAB Radio Show: April 18, 2011

The Yanks faced their biggest challenge of the season, facing the Rangers and their high-powered offense. They came out of it well, though, taking two of three. They are now the only AL East team over .500. Mike and I discuss the main points of the weekend, including Eric Chavez replacing A-Rod, the bullpen, and Phil Hughes‘s trip to the DL.

Podcast run time 29:55

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

This week’s annotated box score

Last week I pointed you towards Sam Miller’s annotated breakdown of the Yankees-Red Sox game, and since the Bombers played in last night’s ESPN game, they are again featured in the annotated box score. This week Sam looks at the then-prospect status of both Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera, which is a blast. Like I said last week, it gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so check it out.