Game 50: What’s the opposite of a lefty killer?

The Yankees need a win today. It’s not a season-defining game by any stretch, but the best cure for yesterday’s meltdown is a decisive win. If they do that, we can forget yesterday and look to tomorrow. If they don’t, the harping over yesterday’s loss will only amplify.

In part one, A.J. Burnett needs to be more like Phil Hughes than CC Sabathia. He was rolling along in Minnesota last time out before the sky opened up. He was at a good pace pitch-wise, and had struck out five Twins in five innings. The biggest thing from him was the adjustment on the curveball. The big, looping, power curveball wasn’t working, so he went with a more subtle one. It acted as an off-speed pitch, which was all he needed it to do. If he does have that power curve today, watch out.

On the hill for the Indians is the former Red Sock Justin Masterson. The Indians acquired him in the Victor Martinez deal, and have had him in the rotation ever since. This year hasn’t gone too well for him, as he has allowed 37 runs, 32 earned, in 47 innings. The book on him says that lefties hit him hard. This year that has been his biggest weakness. Teams have stacked lefties against him — 122 of the 229 batters he has faced have been left-handed. They have hit a collective .386/.483/.545 against him, striking out just 14 times to 18 walks.

Masterson actually gets a bit lucky here. Normally the Yankees would have the switch-hitting Jorge Posada behind the plate, which would leave the lineup with just two righties, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Instead they’ll have a third righty, Chad Moeller. That still means six left-handed hitters, with two of the righties representing two of the best hitters on the team.

In Chad Jennings’s pregame notes he notes that Joe Girardi will stick with Joba Chamberlain in the eighth inning. He’s had a rough stretch lately, but all relievers will. If this is the worst of it, Joba will be fine. But he has to continue pitching if they’re going to find out.


1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Curtis Granderson, CF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez. 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Juan Miranda, DH
8. Brett Gardner, CF
9. Chad Moeller, C

And on the mound, number thirty-four, A.J. Burnett.

What’s up, ZZ?

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Remember when the year started? We began in Boston with Yankee ace Sabathia throwing the first game. Well, CC didn’t do so hot. He was bludgeoned with 5 runs in only 5 1/3 innings. We saw him struggle to start the year in 2009 as well. No reason to panic, right? By the end of April, fans and sportswriters were calling for Sabathia’s head on a pike. Well, as you may also remember, after the Boston series, Hey ZZ did fairly well, blowing out the Rays in April with an oh-so-close no-hitter that wasn’t. He followed it up with a gem of a game against the Rangers with nine strikeouts in 7 2/3rds of 3-hit ball. Things were looking good. And then the outings started to drop a bit. Oakland saw him issue six walks, Baltimore hit him 11 times and each successive game seemed to feature Sabathia “gritting” out a victory but not looking too sharp, or getting tagged for 5 runs in 5 or 6 innings. Over his last five starts, Sabathia has only had a positive WPA in one of them (the start against Boston on the 18th).

Let’s take a look at CC’s peripherals and see if we can figure out what’s at least changed, even if there’s nothing to worry about. What exactly has gone wrong?

The first thing you’ll probably notice with CC’s year thus far is his strikeouts and walks. He’s striking out less than seven batters per game (6.81 k/9) while giving up more walks than we’ve seen since 2004 (2.90 BB/9). His groundball rate is an oddly high 49% on the year, up 7 percentage points from 2009. Still, he threw up a GB% of 49.5 in 2004, so it’s not completely unheard of. And we’ll get to more of that later. He’s also benefited from fairly good defense and luck. His BABip is .272, which is the lowest it’s been at any point in his big league career.

CC's K/BB ratio taken from

He’s currently outperforming his peripherals with his ERA, which comes in at 4.16 on the season. His FIP in 2010 is a decidedly un-CC-like 4.46. The rub here though is his xFIP, which basically normalizes home runs and adjusts the FIP. Here we see CC fall in line closer with his ERA, notching a 4.11 xFIP. Why would this be? Well, his HR/FB rate is a wacky 13%, easily a career high by a fairly wide margin. This is not to say CC’s pitched like the guy we know he can, but he’s definitely been burned by the home run, and trends suggest it likely won’t continue at such a rate.

But here’s where it gets weird: you know how we talk about pitchers using all of their pitches effectively and mixing up counts to stymie hitters? Sure you do! Generally we say it about Hughes and his proclivity to  go fastball-cutter-fastball-cutter. Or Joba and the guess-what-3-2 slider. Well, Sabathia hasn’t fallen down that path. No, he’s gone the other way. Generally a guy known to throw his potent four-seamer 60% of the time, Sabathia has been throwing it 48% of the time this year. Instead, he’s been relying on his two-seam fastball 18% of the time, up from 3% last year. Unfortunately, no data is available (that I’m aware of) to suggest a trend or an outlier, but whatever the case, it’s clear that CC isn’t as comfortable with his primary fastball this year, unlike that of the recent past. Could it be that he’s feeling some tiredness due to his extreme workload the past few seasons?

On the year his velocity has been down by about 1 mph on the fastball. We’re only on the doorstop of June so as the weather heats up, we should expect it to rise in line with what we’ve seen in the past. Take a look at his average velocity through this point last year and in the two previous seasons. He’s been consistently higher in velocity, even in his first 10 starts of the season (where we’d expect the weather to be of similar natures). But it hasn’t been by concerning numbers. Remember, we’re talking about 1-2 mph and many pitchers go through periods of variation. Luckily, CC doesn’t seem to have much issue with velocity. He was consistently hitting 95-96 yesterday, though many of them were fouled off and the pitch count ran high. So the velocity issue may be overblown.

From March to June in ’08, Sabathia averaged 93.4 on the fastball, threw it 60% of the time and saw hitters swing at the pitch 45% of the time, whiffing 5% of swings. He had great movement, too. His fastball had 9.11 inches of vertical rise and it moved horizontally 6.66 inches. In ’09 in the same time period Sabathia averaged 93.9 on the fastball, threw it in 57% of the time, saw hitters swing 46% of the time and miss 5.3% of the time. He averaged 9.41 inches of vertical movement and 5.45 horizontally.

In 2010, he’s averaging 93.1 on the fastball, throwing it for less strikes and getting less whiffs on the pitch, down to 4.6%. The movement has registered at 9.28 inches vertically and only 3.81 horizontally. Slower and less movement.

So according to this, his fastball hasn’t been what it should be, even when only looking at the colder beginning months of the last two seasons (where PitchFX data is available). And I think he knows it, which is why he’s throwing it less often. Well, what about other data points we can get by the pitches themselves? Fangraphs has a nifty little pitch values chart, which essentially rates how effective pitchers are with their offerings and how hitters fare against them. His fastball this year rates as a negative pitch (-1.8) while his slider and changeup both rate as positives (3.2 and 3.5 respectively). So what about that two-seamer he’s been so fond of lately? Well, I believe that’s included in the overall fastball rate. Per Texas Leaguer’s Pitch FX data, it seems like it’s been effective for him. He’s getting 8% whiffs on it, has thrown it for strikes and often elicits groundballs.

The two-seamer seems to explain the uptick in groundballs, now approaching 50% on the year, as I previously mentioned. We know that pitchers need to evolve as they get older, so getting more groundball outs could be a way for CC to put less strain on his arm and adjust to hitters that see him many times over the years. Or it could be that he’s thrown it in the past but they haven’t classified the pitch as a two-seamer (or in TX Leaguers, a sinker). Hard to say.

Another odd point in the year is that lefties are hitting an extraordinary line against the big Californian, known to be death to lefties. A career .236/.297/.358 against southpaws, he’s been lit up for a line of .283/.377/.472. That absolutely cannot continue for the big fella to be a successful ace in New York. That’s almost Gaudin-ian.

Lastly, the plate discipline. CC isn’t getting batters to chase as many pitches he’s thrown but they’ve made contact at higher rates than we’ve seen in a while, checking in at a 79% contact percentage. His swinging strike percentage is also down to 8.5% – he’s usually in the double digits.

Now this could all be nothing. Again, when he got off to a poor start last year, people echoed similar concerns. “He’s thrown too many innings,” “stuff just isn’t the same” and the like.  But it’s too early to say anything is awry. Sure, we haven’t seen his struggles extend so far into the season yet, but CC has never been known as a 1st half pitcher. Maybe he just needs an extra month (like Teixiera?) to get hot and he’ll start looking like the CC we saw last year. The home runs will come down, the velocity should move up and it looks like he’s now relying on a pitch more to get grounball outs. How he approaches left-handers and the look of his four-seam fastball should be large factors in how CC does moving forward. He needs to be the ace on this staff.

Yanks blow a pair of six run leads, fall to Tribe

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

The Yankees broke out of their offense slumber on Friday night, and there was plenty of reasons to feel good about Saturday’s game with CC Sabathia on the mound against one of the game’s worst teams. The offense was there again, putting 11 runs on the board, but the pitching staff completely blew this one, especially the bullpen. This might have been the Yanks’ worst loss of the season, but it feels like we’ve said that half a dozen times in the last two weeks.

What’s This … A Rally?

The game was very much in the Yankees’ favor early on, with Sabathia cruising and the offense pushing three runs across in the first three innings. The last place Indians wouldn’t go quietly though, putting a three spot on the board in the top of 4th to tie things up. Despite the eight run outburst on Friday, the Yanks’ are still trying to find some some consistency with the bats, so coughing up an early three run lead really stung.

Thankfully, the offense showed what made it the game’s base last season. Kevin Russo singled to left-center but ended up on second when Austin Kearns muffed the play, and 11 pitches later the bases were loaded following walks to Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter. A fly ball to bring in a run would have sufficed, but Nick Swisher got greedy, battling back from 0-1 and 1-2 counts to draw a walk and force in a run. Reliever Aaron Laffey then plunked Mark Teixeira after getting ahead 0-2 to bring another run in, but the big hit didn’t come until two batters later.

Alex Rodriguez swung through an 88 mph fastball for out number two, but the Yanks’ hottest hitter came to the plate with a trio of ducks on the pond. Laffey started him off with three straight fastballs, all off the plate for balls. Cano was taking all the way as Laffey threw a slider over for a strike, but he jumped all over the next pitch and drove it to the opposite field for a two run double.  Cervelli, up for the second time in the inning, bounced a ball back through the middle for two more runs after Marcus Thames walked, putting the Yanks up by six.

It was the team’s first sustained rally in who knows how long, probably going back to the 1st inning against Daisuke Matsuzaka 12 days ago. It was the first time the Yanks scored in the double digits since that game, so I feel good about my guess.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

The Bullpen Of Doom

Entering the 7th inning, the Yankees had a still comfortable five run lead and Joe Girardi was probably thinking about which veteran to pull for some extra rest in the late innings. David Robertson started the frame, but left after just seven pitches with a minor back strain. Sergio Mitre inherited a 1-0 count and threw three wide ones to put two men on with one run already in. Damaso Marte did his job by getting pinch hitter Russell Branyan to fly out, but then Girardi brought in Joba Chamberlain.

Ever since he exploded onto the scene in 2007, we’ve all expected to see great things from Joba. More than two full years later, those expectations still haven’t been met, and he’s not much more than another guy with a great arm failing to deliver on his promise. He entered today’s game with men on first and second, two outs, and a four run lead, and he yet he couldn’t preserve it. Let’s recap…

  1. Mark Grudzielanek singled in a run.
  2. Matt LaPorta walked on five pitches to load the bases.
  3. Lou Marson doubles in two after being behind in the count 0-2.
  4. Jason Donald doubles in two on a 0-1 count.
  5. Trevor Crowe singles in a run on a 1-2 count.
  6. Shin-Shoo Choo struck out to the end the inning.

Four hits and a walk scored six runs for the Indians, all with Joba on the mound and all with two outs. Three of the four hits, including the two doubles, came after Chamberlain got ahead of the hitter. His PA for the contest? How about -.701. This is the the third lead he’s either blown or contributed to blowing in his last five outings.

Joba’s been up and down all season, and given his performance in recent weeks, I can’t see how the Yankees could trust him in the late innings of a close game right now. At the very least, they should perhaps move him down in the pecking order into some lower leverage spots, but I also hope they’re seriously considering a demotion to Triple-A Scranton. You can’t keep running him out there if he’s going to keep blowing big leads, and you can’t let him sit around and think his job is safe.

If nothing else, hopefully this outing shows people who are hung on velocity that it isn’t everything. Joba was throwing 96-97 this afternoon, but it didn’t do him any good.

The Good

Cano and Swisher continue to mash, mash, and mash some more. They combined to go 6-for-9 with four runs driven in and three runs scored. Add in Jeter and A-Rod, and those four batters combined to go 11-for-18 with eight runs driven in. Tex was the only one of the top five batters in the lineup without multiple hits (or a single hit, for that matter), though he did reach twice on a walk and the hit by pitch mentioned above. When the top of your lineup does that, you should win.

It was good to see Shelley Duncan play in the game, he’ll always be a fave.

The Bad

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

CC Sabathia wasn’t good Saturday afternoon, continuing a trend that goes back four starts now. After cruising through the first three innings on just 31 pitches while allowing just a lone hit, Sabathia really had to labor over the next three frames, needing 82 pitches to record to the next nine outs. Five runs in six innings is pretty bad, and it’s certainly not what we’ve come to expect from CC. He flirted with a 4.00 ERA until early August last year, so there’s no cause for concern. But when you start your ace against the third worst team in baseball, you have to win that game. Period.

Brett Gardner getting picked off first in the 5th inning. Can’t do that Brett, especially not with a righty on the mound. He now has one stolen base in the last 16 days. One! If he’s not stealing bases, then what is he good for?

The Ugly

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

No, not the bullpen, this was much more serious. With men on first and second and one out in the 3rd, A-Rod took a first pitch changeup up in the zone from Indians’ start David Huff, and smacked it right back up the middle. Huff couldn’t get out of the way, and the ball hit him above the left ear and deflected all the way down the rightfield line. It was a double and a run for the Yanks, but no one seemed to care about that.

Huff laid on the mound faced down for a few minutes before being taken off the field on a stretcher. Updates after the game said that he never lost consciousness or experienced memory loss, and that the CT Scan came back negative. He was kept in the hospital for a few hours as a precaution, but has since been released. It sounds like Huff will be okay, but still, that was a really scary moment.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Brutal. Just brutal. has the traditional box score, FanGraphs the nontraditional box score.

Up Next

Another day game tomorrow, with A.J. Burnett taking on former Red Sox Justin Masterson. First pitch of the third game of this four game set is scheduled for 1:05pm ET. The Yanks need a big outing from their number two starter.

Montero vs. Strasburg, Montero wins

Sorry folks, had some technical difficulties and lost DotF with four of the five games done. Going to bullet point it now…

Open Thread: Swish settles down

The happy couple at last year's World Series parade. (Photo Credit: Mike Coppola, FilmMagic)

We’re fashionably late on this one, but it’s worth posting nonetheless. In between hitting homeruns and drawing walks as the Yankees’ rightfielder, Nick Swisher managed to find the time to trick some chick into marrying him propose to his girlfriend, actress  Joanna Garcia (I’ll save you the time, here’s a Google Images search). You’ve seen her in Gossip Girl, Reba, Family Guy, American Pie 2, Dawson’s Creek, Party of Five, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Swish actually landed an older woman, he’s about a year younger than the missus. Congrats to the both of them, we wish them nothing but the best.

Now that we’ve brought you up to date on Mr. Nick Swisher-Garcia, it’s time to turn you loose on this open thread. The Mets are in Milwaukee, plus the Dodgers and Rockies will be on MLB Network at 8pm ET. Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals starts at the same time on NBC, and a little later on you have Game Six between the Lakers and Suns. Whatever you choose, enjoy it and chat about it here.

Robertson leaves game with minor back strain

Update (5:52pm): Girardi said during the postgame that Robertson’s day-to-day, and he believes it stemmed from the Mauer shot the other day.

4:43pm: Robertson left a minor back strain. The replay showed him bent over to the side and cringing after he threw his final pitch. Not sure if it’s related to the ball that Joe Mauer hit off him last series in Minnesota. I’m not sure how I feel about this, as we’ve seen with Al Aceves, a minor injury can turn into a major one very quickly.

4:05pm: After throwing just seven pitches in the 7th inning of today’s game, David Robertson walked off the mound with the trainer apparently due to injury. He had thrown nothing but fastballs to that point, all in the 91-92 range, and there wasn’t an obvious issue. I’ll update this post with more info as we get it.

Game 49: Taking it easy on Curtis

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Curtis Granderson returned to the lineup with a bang last night, reaching base three times thanks to a walk, a double, and a hit by pitch. Alas, he won’t be in the lineup this afternoon as the team coddles in him back from the groin injury. It doesn’t hurt that the Indians are throwing a lefty out there today, so if you’re going to give Grandy a day off, might as well be on a day a southpaw’s starting. Here’s the starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Thames, DH
Cervelli, C
Russo, LF
Gardner, CF

And on the mound, C.C. Sabathia.

First pitch is set for 1:05pm ET, and can be seen on YES.