What to do against Marcum?

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

For the second straight day the Yankees will face a pitcher who features a changeup. As Mike noted in the recap, Marcum’s change ranks fifth among major leaguers in pitch type value, and even though we know the stat has its flaws, we also know that Marcum has a very good changeup. I wrote about it after his Opening Day start, and Marcum has continued to use it effectively this year.

It just seems like the Yanks can’t break through on pitchers who feature quality changeups. James Shields on Sunday, and then Romero yesterday, flat dominated the Yanks by making them chase pitches in the dirt. That’s the idea, of course. The changeup, executed properly, might be the most devastating pitch in baseball. The Yanks simply play into it by displaying an inability to lay off it.

Earlier in the season Joe Maddon got some people thinking when he started running same-handed batters out against changeup-heavy pitchers. Mike wrote about it in the context of Mark Teixeira, who had been swinging over nearly every changeup thrown to him at that point. Yet the idea stretches across the entire lineup. A good changeup, the devastating kind that Shields and Romero feature, not only travels slower than a fastball despite using the same arm action, but it also tails. For the most part, a changeup will tail to the pitcher’s throw side. That means that Romero’s changeup would tail away from righties. Since it’s easier to hit a pitch breaking towards you than a pitch breaking away from you, doesn’t that change the platoon situation?

For Maddon it did. When the Rays faced Marcum earlier in the year he stacked his lineup with righties, and even had his switch-hitters bat right-handed. There’s plenty of randomness in baseball, so it’s tough to attribute the Rays’ success that game solely to Maddon’s lineup decision. Still, it’s tough to ignore the 10 hits and seven runs the Rays scored in four innings against Marcum. They had also scored five runs in 8.1 innings against him the time before. His ERA went from 2.59 heading into those two games with the Rays to 3.38 afterward.

Does this mean that Girardi should employ a similar tactic? After last night it might not appear likely. Against Romero he went right-heavy, so why would he change tactics with Marcum? If he really is a numbers guy, as he proclaims, he might have reason. Righties have actually fared a bit better against Romero both this year and during his career. They hit home runs less frequently, but they also strike out less often and walk more often. Stacking the lineup with righties, then, made a degree of sense. It seems to make less with Marcum on the mound.

When looking at his career it looks like Marcum fares worse against opposite-handed hitters, despite his heavy changeup usage. Yet he seems like a different pitcher this year. He’s throwing the changeup a bit more often, 24 percent of the time, but he has also almost completely stopped throwing his slider. After throwing it between 12 and 15 percent of the time from 2006 through 2008 he has thrown it just 3.8 percent of the time this year. That’s the pitch that breaks away from righties. It seems, then, that he might be susceptible to a righty-heavy attack.

I’m not sure Girardi would have Teixeira, Swisher, Posada, and Berkman go up and bat right-handed, but he could mitigate some of Marcum’s threat by leaving, say, Brett Gardner on the bench and giving Kearns another start. Looking at it, that’s the only real substitution they could make. Which is a shame. It does seem like Shaun Marcum is having a bit tougher time against same-handed hitters this year.

Romero drops Yanks, Yanks drop to second place

When things are going well, no one wants to think about the bad times. When things are going poorly, no one can remember the good times. At least that what it seems like. The Yankees won 18 of 24 prior to the losing streak that hit three games on Tuesday, but all that good seems like a distant memory. The at-bats are now more ugly than productive, the pitches often hung, and the frustration apparent. With both the Rays and Red Sox winning, the Yankees are now in second place in the AL East for the first time since June 12th. They’re still five and a half games up in the Wild Card, if you want to look on the bright side.

Who invited him? (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Big Hit: Tex Puts Them Up Early

It’s become a familiar scene. For the third time in the last five games the Yankees have been on the business end of a two run first inning homer, but the caveat is that they’ve lost all three games. Mark Teixeira did the honors tonight following a Derek Jeter leadoff walk and a Nick Swisher line out, crushing a hanging changeup deep into the leftfield stands. I guess that’s really it, there’s not much to add about this homer. Or the offense in general.

If You’re Going To Lose, At Least Lose Efficiently

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Dustin Moseley wasn’t great in this game by any stretch of the imagination, but all things considered he wasn’t terrible. He took the ball into the 8th inning on just 85 pitches, so if nothing else he was efficient. Moseley needed more than 13 pitches in an inning just once, when he used 17 to navigate the three run 4th, and he generated 16 of his 22 outs either on the ground or via the strikeout. That’s straight up Chien-Ming Wangian.

The big problems came with two outs, which seems to be an ongoing theme for the last, I don’t know, two or three years. Four of the five runs charged to Moseley came with (you guessed it) two outs, including all three in the 4th when the Jays had no one on and two away. The two run homer to Travis Snider was actually a pretty decent pitch off the plate, but the young Jay just hooked it into the bullpen. Dude’s rather strong.

I’m not going to get on Moseley for this one, frankly he was way better than I thought he would be. No one expects greatness out of Andy Pettitte‘s replacement, and limiting the other team to five runs in seven-plus innings is usually a winnable game for the Yanks. Usually.


(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Ricky Romero had started against the Yankees twice already this season, once dominating them for eight innings and once getting smack around for eight runs. I expected something in the middle on Tuesday, but instead he turned in his best performance of the season. After the Yanks took the lead on Tex’s first inning homer, Romero retired 26 of the next 27 men he faced, straight through the final out of the game. That one exception was a Marcus Thames infield single to lead off the 5th. Just one of the final seven batters he faced managed to hit the ball out of the infield, so it’s not like the Jays’ ace ran into trouble as his pitch count climbed into the 110’s.

Even though he generated just four swings and misses all night, Romero kept the Yanks off balance by mixing his pitches like a fiend. He threw 56 fastballs, 30 changes, and 26 curveballs with a few sliders added in for good measure, and threw no more than nine pitches in four different innings. There was just nothing the Yankee bats could do, they got shut right down.

The bad news is that Shaun Marcum starts tomorrow, and at 2.89 runs above average per 100 pitches, he’s got the fifth best changeup in baseball. That pitch seems to be the Yanks’ kryptonite this season. They just can’t do anything with it.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)


Forget about hitting his 600th career homer, Alex Rodriguez just needs a hit now. Any kind. He hasn’t picked up a knock since the last game of the Cleveland series, nearly 20 plate appearances go. His OBP is all the way down to .335, the lowest mark in any full season of his career, majors or minors. I’ll take a broken bat blooper tomorrow, please. Just to take the edge off.

Kerry Wood hung something, looked like a cutter, to Aaron Hill, who did what he was supposed to do and put it in the people. Wood then struck out the next two batters to end the 8th inning and has a nice and clean 27.0 K/9 as a Yankee.

Austin Kearns doesn’t get cheated up there, does he? Dude swings with a purpose, that’s for sure.

I’m kinda sick of Frankie Cervelli, what about you? He’s got a sub-.500 OPS since May 23rd and threw a ball into rightfield when he tried to a pick a runner off first with a snap throw in the 5th. If Jorge Posada is only going to be able to catch four out of every seven games going forward, they have to get something more out of their backup catcher, it’s that simple.

The Yanks have lost three in a row for the first time since June 16-18th. That was the Jamie Moyer-Kyle Kendrick-Hisanori Takahashi suckfest, which I’m sure you remember. They haven’t lost four in a row all season.

WPA Graph & Box Score

It started out oh so promising. Here’s the box, here’s the nerd.

Up Next

A three game losing streak in early August isn’t the end of the world, but the natives are getting restless. Phil Hughes will try to get the Yanks back on track tomorrow afternoon when he faces Marcum on a get away day. Thursday’s off day can’t come soon enough.

Sanchez returns, and it’s like he never left

Both Dellin Betances (“With a fastball that is all the way back (94-98 mph) and control that we’ve never seen before, the 22-year-old has whiffed 68 over 57 innings while allowing just 31 hits and walking 15.  Only an ugly track record when it comes to staying healthy prevents him from being labeled with an elite tag.”) and Brandon Laird (“… now considered one of the better offensive prospects in the system.) got some love in Kevin Goldstein’s Minor League Update today (subs. req’d).

Triple-A Scranton (5-3 win over Syracuse)
Kevin Russo, 2B, Eduardo Nunez, SS, Juan Miranda, 1B & Jorge Vazquez, DH: all 1 for 4 – Russo doubled & drove in a run … Nunez doubled … Miranda scored a run … JoVa drove in a run & K’ed
Chad Huffman, LF: 0 for 4, 2 K
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K – dude’s six for eight with two doubled & two homers in AAA
Greg Golson, CF: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 3B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K – got picked off first
Jason Hirsh: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2-7 GB/FB – 48 of 80 pitches were strikes (60%)
Zach Segovia: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 1-3 GB/FB – 16 of his 28 pitches were strikes (57.1%)
Eric Wordekemper: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 16 of 25 pitches were strikes (64%)
Royce Ring: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1 HB, 2-0 GB/FB – just two of his six pitches were strikes … he gets the save with Jon Albaladejo unavailable because he’s pitching in four of the last five games

[Read more…]

Game 106: Keeping pace

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Yankees fell into a tie for first place in the AL East last night for the first time since June 19th. They haven’t been a full game out of first since June 12th, but that could happen tonight if they don’t beat the Blue Jays and Ricky Romero and Tampa takes care of business against the Twins.

Romero, a changeup specialist (+1.39 runs above average per 100 thrown this year), has a reverse split this season. Lefties are hitting .267/.327/.404 off him, righties just .247/.325/.342, which is what you expect. Changeups are used to neutralize batters of the opposite hand, after all. So, naturally, Joe Girardi blindly loaded tonight’s lineup with righty batters, probably looking no further than what arm Romero throws with when setting the order. Danks Theory, baby. Learn it, love it, use it.

I haven’t complained about the lineup in the while. That felt good, I needed that. Anyway, here’s the order…

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

And on the bump, it’s the immortal Dustin Moseley.

The game starts just after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. It’s kinda overcast here in the Tri-State, but it’s not supposed to rain or anything. Try to enjoy the game.

Swisher set for E:60 appearance

During the 7 p.m. SportsCenter — airing unfortunately at the same time as tonight’s Yankees/Rays game — Nick Swisher will take center stage. The Worldwide Leader plans to profile the Yanks’ Swisher success story in an E:60 piece. He arrived at the Yankees as an insurance policy and has emerged as one of the team’s great offensive threats at the plate. Yet, the segment will delve into more than just his on-field play. Says the press release, “Into a clubhouse that was known for its seriousness, Swisher injected some much needed joie de vivre. His relentless energy and enthusiasm initially encountered some resistance in the business-like atmosphere in the Bronx–but eventually his teammates were won over by his attitude and performance. With Swisher, the Yankees won the World Series for the first time in nine years and, for the first time since perhaps long before then, they’ve been having fun.” I bet there will be pie.

In other Swisher news, as part of the piece I wrote last week tracing the evolution of the Swisher trade from Hideki Irabu to the present, I mocked up a flow chart of this convoluted series of transactions. I still have some work left to be done, but the initial draft is ready for public consumption. It’s here on flickr with a large version available as well.

Details for the RAB/FanGraphs Live Discussion this Saturday

We’re just a few days away from the first ever FanGraphs and River Ave. Blues Live Discussion in New York City. It will be held at the Florence Gould Hall, which is at 55 E 59th Street (between Park and Madison). The event starts at 9 a.m., and you’ll want to get there early. Ben, Mike, and I (and a few others) are the opening act.

NY Baseball (9:00am – 9:40am)

Joe Pawlikowski, Mike Axisa, Benjamin Kabak (All RiverAveBlues.com), Matthew Cerrone (MetsBlog.com), and Mark Simon (ESPN) will be discussing all things baseball in NY. Moderated by Carson Cistulli.

Baseball Media (9:45am – 10:30am)

Jonah Keri (Bloomberg Sports) will host a panel comprised of Will Leitch (Deadspin, New York Magazine), Michael Silverman (Boston Herald), Matthew Cerrone(MetsBlog.com), Alex Speier (WEEI.com), and David Biderman (WSJ) to discuss how baseball media coverage has changed in recent years and will continue to evolve.

Baseball Stats (10:40am – 11:15am)

Jon Sciambi (ESPN), Mitchel Lichtman, Sky Kalkman (Beyond the Boxscore), Dave Cameron, and David Appelman will discuss where advanced baseball stats are right now and where they’ll be headed. Moderated by Carson Cistulli.

Bloomberg Sports Presentation (11:20 – 11:35)

Bloomberg Sports will make a presentation of a brand new product.

FanGraphs Q&A (11:40 – End)

Dave Cameron, Carson Cistulli, Bryan Smith, Joe Pawlikowski, Mike Axisa, and David Appelman will take questions until we’re officially kicked out (a little after 12:00).

Afterparty (3:30pm – Game Over)

Additionally, we’re going to host a game-watching party for attendees to gather at a local watering hole and view that afternoon’s Boston-New York match-up together. Those who make it to the event will be invited to join us for several more hours of fun later in the afternoon. Details and directions will be given at the event.

You can get your tickets for $15 plus $1.36 surcharge in advance, or risk a sellout and pay $20, cash only, at the door.

We hope to see plenty of RABbers there.

The battle over just getting there

As is often the case, Yankee fans are in a tizzy for no good reason at all. Today’s panic-inducing moment came when Alex Rodriguez grounded out to end the game last night, and the Yankees slipped into a first-place tie with the surging Tampa Bay Rays. Over the last four games, the Yanks had lost three of them, and their once-lofty three-game lead was all but gone. Never mind the 88 percent playoff odds, second only to the AL West-leading Rangers; it was time to panic.

Of course, this panic is a distinctly New York-centric panic. The Yankees must be the best at everything. The must win the AL East decisively. They must steamroll their way through the playoffs. They must win the World Series. It comes with the territory, and it creates some awfully depressed fans when the Yanks lose — something they’ll do around 60-66 times this year.

The truth is that getting there is the main goal. If the Yankees win the Wild Card, it will be a disappointing outcome, but if they’re the first to 11 wins in October, it doesn’t matter how they got there. No one in Boston thinks less of the Red Sox for winning the Wild Card in 2004, and no one in New York discounts the Marlins’ 2003 victory since they were “only” the Wild Card team. Since 1995, the Wild Card teams have been making waves, and quite frequently, the fourth seeded playoff team is better than the two other division winners.

That said, I want the Yankees to win the East for a pair of reasons. First, I want the bragging rights. The Yankees are the Yankees, and the East should be theirs. It’s a part of the arrogance of being a Yankee fan that I readily embrace. Second, with the way things are shaping up, the second best division winners will probably be the Texas Rangers, and I’d rather not see the Yanks face Cliff Lee twice in a five-game series. That, it appears, is the fate that awaits the Wild Card winners.

So how will the Yankees get there? The path is not an easy one. I’ve compiled the remaining schedules for the Yankees and Rays (and, for good measure, the Red Sox). Using a weighted winning percentage — a rather simple formulation — as well as the three teams’ season results against their opponents, I’ve found that the Ray have the easiest schedule to fill out the season and have performed best against their opponents. To win the division, the Yanks will have to get hot and stay that way against good teams.

We’ll start with the Yankees. In the following table, the two columns on the left show how many games the Yanks have remaining against their opponents and the winning percentage of those opponents. The right-most columns show how many games the Yanks have played against those opponents and the winning percentage in those games. The two totals on the bottom are the weighted averages of each.


So the Yankees have 57 games left, and their opponents have a winning percentage of .509. So far this year, the Yankees are beating the teams handily with a combined winning percentage of .631. The Orioles, in particular, have played dead for the Yankees this year.

Next up, we have the Rays:


As I mentioned before, Tampa Bay has a very easy go of it. Their opponents combine for a .491 winning percentage, and the Rays have played .676 baseball against these teams this year. Their final 57 games could be a cakewalk.

Finally, let’s take a peak at the Red Sox. More so than the Yankees and Rays, Boston controls its own destiny. The Red Sox are 6.5 games back, not really in it but not really out of it, and they still have 16 games left against the Yankees and the Rays. They haven’t played well against these two teams yet this year, but a few key wins could see them enter the AL East mix.


The Sox face some tough opponents and haven’t played particularly well against these teams so far. Of course, past performance isn’t indicative of future success, but the Red Sox will have to show improvement to overcome a large gap. The playoff odds report has them in the playoffs just 22 percent of the time.

So to just get there, the Yankees have to do what they’ve been doing all season. To get there on top, they’ll have to do even better. It won’t be an easy fight, but what would August and September be without a thrilling pennant race between two good teams and a third that just won’t go away?