The RAB Radio Show: April 21, 2011

Bart Colon showed the Yankees something last night with his marvelous 6.2-inning performance. That enabled the Yankees to split the series, a nice consolation after blowing the game on Tuesday. Mike and I talk about the game, from the dominance of Colon to the awesomeness of Granderson to the fundamental execution by Teixeira.

Podcast run time 30:07

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

Colon vs. The Jays: Righties vs. Lefties

No one makes mountains out of molehills quite like baseball fans, so you can be sure that I’m going to write entirely too much about Bartolo Colon’s start against the Blue Jays. However, instead of writing one big post and stuffing it all in there, I’m going to break it up into a few smaller posts this morning just so there’s no information overload and the discussion can remain focused. We’ve already talked about Colon’s velocity, and how he attacked Jose Bautista, but now let’s separate the right-handed batters from the lefties…

Pitching away has long been one of baseball’s old fall-backs. We see pitcher after pitcher pound guys away in an effort to prevent the batter from pulling the ball with authority. Former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone and current Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan have been preaching this for years, especially the down-and-away pitch. It’s a style conducive to ground balls more than anything, and while those tend to go for hits more often that balls hit in the air, the rarely go for extra base hits.

Against the Jays last night, Colon threw pitch after pitch away from right-handed batters, almost to the extreme. Check out the strike zone plot above. That’s nothing new either, click here and you’ll see that Bartolo’s been attacking righties almost exclusively by pitching to the outer third of the plate this season. Although just five of the ten balls put into play by Toronto righties batters last night were on the ground, same-side batters have a 52% ground ball rate against Colon this year, which is a pretty big number. Balls hit on the ground on outside pitches will (theoretically) go towards the right side of the infield, which works for the Yankees since Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira will get a chance to field them instead of the two mid-30-something guys on the left side.

It was a bit of a different story against left-handed batters though…

Obviously it’s a small amount of data, but Colon appears to have thrown a greater percentage of pitches inside to lefties than he did righties. A look at his season graph supports this even further. We’ve all seen him throw the Greg Maddux pitch a bunch of times, the two-seamer that starts inside to lefties and darts back over the plate for a called strike after the batter has bailed out, and that’s what the majority of the inside pitches to lefties have been. Maybe Colon is just more comfortable throwing that two-seamer to his glove side, maybe he commands it better, who knows. But it’s definitely a trend to batters of both hands.

Left-handed batters have done a much better job of not just putting the ball in the air against Bartolo (22.7% ground ball rate), but they’re making hard contact (40.9% line drive rate). Regression is going to come one way or the other; he simply won’t keep giving up that many line drives to lefties and watch them maintain a .261 BABIP. It’s probably correct both ways actually, the line drive rate will come down and the BABIP will still go up. The approach though – pitching away from righties and slightly in on lefties – has worked so far and if it’s what Colon is comfortable with, then by all means he should continue doing that.

Strike zone plots via Texas Leaguers.

Colon vs. Bautista: Strength vs. Strength

No one makes mountains out of molehills quite like baseball fans, so you can be sure that I’m going to write entirely too much about Bartolo Colon’s start against the Blue Jays. However, instead of writing one big post and stuffing it all in there, I’m going to break it up into a few smaller posts this morning just so there’s no information overload and the discussion can remain focused. Earlier we talked about Colon’s velocity, now we’re going to look at how he attacked Jose Bautista…

Bautista’s superman act has been going on for more than 200 games now. He hit ten homeruns in his final 26 games of 2009, 54 homers in 161 games last year, and he’s already knocked four balls out of the park in 15 games this season. That’s 68 homers over the last 20 months. The Yankees’ certainly haven’t solved him; Bautista is hitting .271/.463/.686 with nine homers in 20 games against New York during that time. Heck, he took A.J. Burnett deep in his first at-bat of the season series on Tuesday. Colon shut the Jays’ slugger down on Wednesday night by pitching to his strength, even though it just so happened to be Bautista’s strength as well.

The three Gameday screen grabs above show Bautista’s three at-bats against Colon from last night’s game. The first encounter is all the way on the left, the third all the way on the right. I recommend clicking the image to open a larger and far more easier to read view. As you can see, there’s twelve pitches total, and ten of them of them are fastballs up in the zone. Ten! We’ve seen enough of the guy over the last year and change to know that he usually parks those pitches over the fence. If you don’t believe me though, here is Bautista’s strike zone breakdown against fastballs from right-handed pitchers in 2010…

The guy crushes the high cheese. We’re talking ISO’s ranging between .450 and .720 on fastballs in the upper third of the zone and ISO’s well north of .360 on fastballs in the middle third. And yet, despite all that, here comes 37-year-old Bartolo Colon challenging the reigning homerun champ with low-to-mid-90’s gas up in the zone. After trying to steal strike one with a first pitch slider in the first at-bat, Colon threw four straight fastballs up in the zone before Bautista hacked one of them into the turf for a ground out. The second at-bat was the exact opposite, first came the four high fastballs before the swing-and-miss on the down-and-away slider for the strikeout. Bautista popped up a high fastball two pitches into his third at-bat for an air out that went backwards; Russell Martin caught it in foul territory.

Simple, right? All you have to do is pound Bautista with high fastballs and you’re golden. Well, no, of course it’s not that easy. Executing those high fastballs is much easier said than done, but Colon did it perfectly last night. The Yankees’ right-hander threw the ball with conviction when one mistake would have resulted in instant offense for Toronto, so give him props for that. You definitely can’t say that about about everyone on the staff when Bautista’s at the dish.

Bautista’s strike zone report via Joe Lefkowitz’s site.

Colon vs. The Jays: Bringin’ The Heat

No one makes mountains out of molehills quite like baseball fans, so you can be sure that I’m going to write entirely too much about Bartolo Colon‘s start against the Blue Jays. However, instead of writing one big post and stuffing it all in there, I’m going to break it up into a few smaller posts this morning just so there’s no information overload and the discussion can remain focused. First up, Colon’s velocity…

When Spring Training ended and the Yankees headed north for the regular season, we heard many reasons why Freddy Garcia had beaten Colon in the (supposed) fifth starter’s competition despite their drastically different showings in camp. Garcia was a safer bet in terms of innings given his work with the White Sox last year, his repertoire was better suited for starting, and Colon wasn’t holding his velocity over multiple innings. Well, as the graph above shows, Colon held his velocity and then some last night.

In his first three outings, all in relief, Bartolo had thrown no more than 69 pitches. In fact, his pitches totals declined: 69 on April 3rd, 62 on April 8th, and then 54 on April 14th. And yet his fastest pitch against Toronto, a 94.0 mph four-seamer to J.P. Arencibia, came on his 82th pitch of the night. It’s clear from the graph there was no significant drop-off in velocity as the game progressed, with all the hard stuff comfortably humming in at or above 90. For a guy that’s a month shy of his 38th birthday with major shoulder injuries in the past, that’s damn impressive.

We have to remember that Colon isn’t in typical April form however. He did pitch in winter ball, so he’s (theoretically) closer to mid-season form than some of his peers. As you watched that game though, it was obvious that Colon is still the guy he’s always been, a power pitcher that challenges hitters with his fastball. That’s pretty much the last thing we could say about Garcia, who’s the polar opposite at this point. Bartolo threw just 14 offspeed pitches last night, instead burying the Jays with 39 four-seamers and 36 two-seamers. It was pitching in it’s purest form: here it is, try to hit it. And they couldn’t.

Now the question becomes this: how long will it last? There’s not a person around that could give you that answer, but the Yankees will milk it for all it’s worth. Colon seemed genuinely thankfully to be back in the big leagues after the game, going as far as saying that he thought his career was over in 2009. Is he old with a pitching arm held together by duct tape? Yeah. Is he out-of-shape? Yeah, that too. Is he one of the five best starting pitchers in the organization right now? You bet your ass he is. It’s completely unreasonable to expect a repeat performance of last night’s effort in the future, but hey, Colon has surprised us all by getting this far.

Velocity graph via Brooks Baseball.

Colon leads Yanks to a 6-2 victory

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)

The Yankees needed length from a starter. The bullpen has thrown a lot of innings, and while I might have overstated the case yesterday, it’s pretty clear that the Yankees can’t sustain their current usage patterns. Bartolo Colon didn’t seem likely to be that guy. He appeared to tire a bit as he got around the fourth inning of work in his first three appearances. While he didn’t finish seven, he did last more than six and put the Yanks in a position to win on Wednesday.

Colon’s 6.2 innings were the second most pitched by a Yankee this season. He handled the Blue Jays with authority, using their own aggression against them. Using a pair of fastballs he kept the ball mostly on the ground. When he needed a swing and a miss he went to the slider or changeup. Of the 25 batters he faced, 14 either hit the ball on the ground or struck out. It was just what the Yankees needed. It meant a lot to Colon, too. He’s hanging onto the pair of cleats he wore last night. Hey, first win in almost two years.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)

The Yanks offense looked roughly the same as it has most games this year. They actually scored only one run via the home run, but they cashed in on extra base hits and opened up a 5-1 lead after five. Mark Teixeira doubled three times in three different ways, scoring after two of them. Curtis Granderson added an RBI triple and a solo homer. The only thing the offense didn’t accomplish was scoring four runs in an inning. They remain the only team who hasn’t done that.

(Also, glove slap to MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, who came up with two excellent tidbits that made this recap.)

While Granderson has struggled for short stretches in the young season, he has also come through with a ton of power. His ninth-inning home run was his sixth of the season, tying him with Mark Teixeira for the AL lead. The triple was his first of the season; he hit seven last year. His average (.272) and OBP (.322) aren’t quite up to par, but his power has helped compensate. He also had seen the fifth most pitches per plate appearances in the majors heading into the game. Best of all, his RBI triple came off a lefty. He’s actually hitting better against lefties (.353) better than righties (.237) in the minuscule sample that is this season’s splits.

One thing that became apparent is that the Yankees really want to see if Lance Pendleton is worth keeping around. Hector Noesi has been on the roster longer, but Pendleton already has 3.1 innings of work under his belt. It makes enough sense. Pendleton’s ceiling is probably a reliever in the majors, while Noesi still might have a future as a starter, even if the chances of him winning a long-term spot in the Yankees rotation are slim. Pendleton didn’t impress anyone with his performances, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get another shot if the Yankees get a big lead, or find themselves behind considerably, during a game in Baltimore.

A win heals all wounds after a tough loss. Bartolo Colon came up aces on a night when the Yankees really could have used it. The win gives them a split of the series with the Blue Jays, and while they could have swept it they can put that loss behind them and move onto the next series against Baltimore. It will change soon enough, but once again the Yankees go to bed the only team above .500 in the AL East.

Romine homers twice in Trenton win

Triple-A Scranton (6-0 win over Lehigh Valley)
Greg Golson, RF, Kevin Russo, 2B & Jorge Vazquez, 1B: both 2 for 5 – Golson scored a run and whiffed … Russo scored twice … JoVa scored a run, drove in two, and whiffed
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 5, 1 2B, 1 K – that’s his sixth three-hit game of the season already … he’s played in only 11 games!
Chris Dickerson, LF 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 E (fielding)
Justin Maxwell, CF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 K – that’s four, yes four straight days with a homer
Jordan Parraz, DH: 0 for 4
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 2B
Ramiro Pena, SS: 1 for 4
Adam Warren, RHP: 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 10-6 GB/FB – 55 of 93 pitches were strikes (59.1%) … easily the best start in the system this season, bravo Adam
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 11 of 18 pitches were strikes (61.1%)

[Read more…]

Game 16: A-Rod’s back

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

After two games and three days off, Alex Rodriguez returns to the lineup tonight after dealing with some minor back/oblique stiffness. I’m actually surprised, I figured they’d give him the extra day off with the scheduled off day coming tomorrow just to be completely sure he’s healthy, but hey, I’m not complaining. The Yankees could use the offensive help to back Bartolo Colon, who is making his first big league start in like, two years. Here’s your starting lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Nick Swisher, RF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Andruw Jones, LF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Curtis Granderson, CF

Bartolo Colon, SP

After a brief visit to My9, the Yankees are back on YES tonight. David Cone and Ken Singleton will have the call when this one starts a little after 7pm ET. Enjoy.