Looking at two defensive plays on opposite ends of the spectrum

You might remember that a few weeks ago the Yankees blew a 4-0 lead against the Twins thanks in part to a bloop three-run double that eluded a sliding Nick Swisher, and you surely remember that Brent Lillibridge robbed the Yankees of two game winning hits just two nights ago. Mark Simon at ESPN took a look at those two balls in play using hang time, and found that within the last year, hits like the bloop double have fallen in for a hit approximately 56% of the time. The ball hung up in the air for 4.4 seconds, but it was just perfectly located. Swish wasn’t the only one unable to get there.

The ball Robinson Cano hit for the final out on Tuesday? That sucker had a hang time of just 2.5 seconds, and there have been 61 balls hit to that spot with that little hang time in the last year. Lillibridge was only the third outfielder to turn that ball into the out. That’s a .951 BABIP, but somehow the Yankees unlucked into small piece of the pie. Go figure.

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Nick Swisher

The other day I stated the obvious and showed that no fewer than four of the nine Yankees’ regulars were slumping, though for the most part those slumps aren’t completely shocking. Derek Jeter‘s performing poorly? Well there haven’t been many shortstops that were productive in their age-37 season throughout baseball history. Jorge Posada has all those years of catching taking a toll on his body, plus he’s 39 years old. Brett Gardner doesn’t exactly scare pitchers with his skill set either. But the fourth guy, now that one doesn’t really make sense.

We need Happy Swish back. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Through the first 21 games of the season, Nick Swisher his hitting just .208/.326/.236 (.272 wOBA) with just two measly extra base hits, neither of which are homers. His .028 ISO ranks 181st out of 189 qualified players, putting him in the company of noted slap hitters like Juan Pierre (.029), Alcides Escobar (.032), and sadly, Jeter (.024). “The past week I have been caught up in the home run a bit,” said Swisher on Wednesday, essentially admitting that the zero in the HR column is weighing on him. “Once I start gearing up and I try to do too much, that’s when I [suck]. I need to try to do less, and really slow down the game.”

Like the rest of the team, Swisher has been fed a healthy diet of offspeed and breaking pitches this month. Just 51.1% of the pitches he’s seen this year have been some variant of fastball (two- or four-seam), down from 53.6% last year, 56.3% the year before, and 56.0% for his career. Pitchers have thrown Swisher a slider or curveball 29% of the time this year, up from 22.5% last year and 20.7% for his career. Like many players, the Yankees’ right-fielder does most of his damage against the old number one, checking in at 1.04 runs above average against the pitch for every 100 seen in his career. That number is -0.74 for sliders and -0.67 for curves.

The interesting thing is that Swisher’s batted ball profile has barely changed, certainly nothing that raises a red flag. We’re talking 19.7% line drives (19.6% in 2010, 18.7% career), 36.1% ground balls (35.5%, 36.0%), and 44.3% fly balls (44.9%, 45.2%), so nothing is out of whack there. What is out of whack is that almost one out of every five fly balls (18.5%, to be exact) has been an infield pop-up, compared to 7.8% last year and 10.6% for his career. Obviously you’re not going to hit the ball out of the park when you aren’t hitting it out of the infield as often. Most of Nick’s struggles have come against right-handed pitchers (.196 wOBA vs. RHP, .428 vs. LHP), but again his batted ball profile from the left side of the plate is pretty normal (12.8% LD, 35.9% GB, 51.3% FB, 10.0% IFFB) compared to the rest of his career (17.5%, 35.9%, 46.6%, 8.8% respectively).

If Swish was all of a sudden beating the ball into the ground or hitting a negligible amount of line drives, I’d be more concerned. A 0.0% HR/FB rate is pretty unsustainable for a guy like Nick, so that first homerun will come at some point, it’s inevitable. The hard part, as he admitted, is staying within himself and not pressing, which will only lead to more struggles. The good news is that his strikeout rate (19.4%) is down from the rest of his career (25.2%, 24.6% in 2010), and his walk rate (14.6%) has returned to pre-2010 levels (9.1% last year, 13.3% career), so everything on the surface looks pretty good. As we (well, White Sox fans anyway) learned in 2008 however, there’s no guarantee his .246 BABIP will regress back to his career norm (.285) this season. Perhaps a day off is in order as he comes to the end of an ugly month, but at 30 years old and in the prime of his career, there’s every reason to expect Swish to snap out of his horrid 0-for-18 skid and be a very productive player this season.

Are the Yankees susceptible to offspeed pitches?

Have a heart, throw Jorge a fastball. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Prior to last night’s game against the White Sox, hitting coach Kevin Long told Marc Carig that pitchers have been throwing the Yankees a ton of offspeed pitches lately, and in fact just one of Gavin Floyd’s final 32 pitches on Tuesday was a fastball. As Long said, pitchers are going to keep throwing the Yankees soft stuff until they prove they can hit it. We know from watching the games that Jorge Posada is helpless against anything that breaks and that Mark Teixeira is the king of swinging over top of changeups, but what about the team as a whole?

Thankfully we can look at this using something more than our eyes. That’s not to say observation is meaningless, it obviously isn’t, but getting some cold hard facts about how players have performed against certain pitches is the way to go. I’m going to use the pitch type run values at FanGraphs, which essentially tells you how much offense a player created on a given pitch. Here’s a list of run values for each event, though that might be a little out-dated by now. Tex hits a fastball for a single? That 0.47 runs. Flies out a curveball next time up? That’s -0.28 runs, he just hurt the team. Simple enough.

The table on the right shows the Yankees’ run values per 100 pitches (as a team) against certain pitches this season. Zero is league average. I also listed their rank against the other American League teams (the NL is different because of pitchers batting and stuff, so let’s leave those teams out). So far this year the Yankees are either the best or second best team in baseball against fastballs, cutters, sliders, and changeups, but they’re dead last against curveballs. It’s not really close either, the Twins are the next worst at -1.51 runs per 100 pitches against the yakker. It’s obvious the Yankees are susceptible against the curve, at least they have been during the first 20 games of the season. That’s just one kind of offspeed pitch though, there’s also sliders and changeups, and the Yanks have been very good against those offerings.

What about an individual level? Let’s look at how the eight regulars (sorry Brett Gardner, but platooning with Andruw Jones leaves you on the outside looking in) have performed against fastballs and offspeed pitches both this year and over the three previous years.

“Fastballs” is a combination of regular old fastballs and cutters. “Offspeed” is basically everything else, curves, sliders, and changeups. I left splitters and knuckle balls out because those pitches are thrown less than three percent of the time around the league.

A few players (Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Russell Martin) have been positive performers against both the heat and offspeed while Derek Jeter is the only guy negative against both. Everyone else has been good against one but not the either. “FB-OFF” is the fastball run value minus the offspeed run value, and that essentially tells us how “balanced” a player is. Zero is ideal, that means they perform just as well against slow stuff as they do hard stuff. A positive number means they feast on fastballs, negative means they’ve done better against offspeed. The further from zero, the more extreme it is.

Posada, holy schnikees, he’s all about the fastball, but you knew that already. Same with A-Rod, Cano, and Martin, just to a lesser extent. Only three of the eight have performed better against offspeed than fastballs (Jeter, Tex, Nick Swisher) so far this season, and that supports the claim that the team as a whole is at a disadvantage against pitches that break. Look at the data for 2008-2010 though, it’s much more balanced. A-Rod, Cano, Posada, and Martin all performed better against offspeed pitches in that time, and both Curtis Granderson and Tex had FB-OFF dangerously close to zero, so it’s not a huge split for them. Based on recent history, the Yankees have an offense that does well against both fastballs and offspeed, but for whatever reason that has no held true in 2011.

So now the question becomes this: are other teams exploiting this weakness against offspeed pitches? The table on the right shows the rate at which the Yankees have seen each pitch this year, as well as the league average and their AL rank. So far this year the Yankees have seen basically an average amount of fastballs and sliders and a slightly below average amount of changeups and cutters, but look at those curveballs. Only the Blue Jays at 13.0% have seen more curves than New York, so yeah, the other clubs are trying to exploit that weakness against the hook when they take on the Yankees.

Why are the Yankees having this trouble against curveballs and offspeed pitches in general? Damned if it know, that’s for K-Long to figure out. Could be a small sample size, could be that some players have seen their skills decline, could be something else entirely. When you’re talking about a team doing something as a whole, there’s bound to be more than one factor in play. Given the disparities between the 2011 and 2008-2010 data for the individual players, I suspect this is something that will start to even out as the season progresses and we’ll see the team perform more in line with their norms. Even with the deficiencies against the curveball, the Yankees still have a great offense. There’s just a little weakness at the moment.

Yankees top ChiSox behind Colon, Cano

It’s only been three relief appearances and two starts, but Bartolo Colon has turned into must see television. The 38 going on 29-year-old hurler brought the pain again on Wednesday, giving the Yankees eight innings and a sorely needed win.

Like a boss. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Bartolo Gets The Last Laugh

Before his year long hiatus in 2010, Colon last pitched for Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox in 2009, though not very well. Ozzie had some fun at the right-hander’s expense during his pre-game press conference, poking fun at him for being back in the big leagues. A few hours later, Colon was the one laughing while Guillen sat helplessly in the clubhouse.

Simply put, Bartolo was brilliant. He dominated the ChiSox hitters with the hard stuff, throwing 88 fastballs out of 99 total pitches. He didn’t just top out at 96 mph, he hit that with his 94th pitch of the game. The Spring Training concerns over his ability to hold velocity over multiple innings seems silly now. Of the 24 outs he recorded, six were strikeouts and 13 (!!!) others came on plays made on the infield (ground ball or pop-up). Bartolo threw nine or fewer pitches in four of his eight innings, so he was effective and efficient.

Colon’s biggest jam came early, right in the second inning when the White Sox loaded the bases with no outs. He struck out Gordon Beckham looking for the first out, then sat down Omar Vizquel and Juan Pierre on routine fly balls to escape the inning. Granted it wasn’t exactly the most formidable of batters, but it’s tough to escape bases loaded and no outs in the big leagues regardless of who you face. That was it, Bartolo retired the next nine men he faced before allowing a run on dinky ground balls with eyes in sixth. There’s no other way to put it, Colon was masterful. Regardless of what happens from here on out, he’s been worth every penny of his contract.

That poor baseball. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

A Homer, Then A Dormant Offense

After the previous two games, the Yankees needed to do something early in this one to put everyone at ease. Robinson Cano did just that with a first inning three-run homer, giving Colon breathing room and fans a reason to unclench their fists. After that hit though, the bats went back to sleep. Mark Buehrle used his slow, slower, slowerer, slowest approach to retire 19 of the final 24 men he faced, allowing a mix of harmless singles and walks in the meantime.

Aside from Cano (1-for-4 with the homer), Andruw Jones (2-for-3), and Derek Jeter (1-for-3 with a walk), the rest of the team combined for just two hits (singles by Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez) and a walk in 20 plate appearances. Buehrle completed seven innings on just 106 pitches, not nearly enough for a finesse pitcher against the Yankees. They’ll bust out of it, but it’s always frustrating to sit though.

u mad?


I don’t think I’ve ever seen a manager get kicked out of a game as early as Guillen did on Wednesday, getting run up for arguing balls and strikes between the top and bottom of the very first inning. He got angry, went to the clubhouse, and tweeted what you see above. Patetic indeed.

During the last turn through the rotation, the five Yankees starters combined for this line: 36.1 IP, 23 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 8 BB, 26 K, 50 GB, 33 FB. That’s a 1.49 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP. Too bad they’ve only won two of those games because of the offense, but that will definitely do. Keep up the good work, fellas.

What’s Wrong With Mo™ Week is over, and there was much rejoicing. One-two-three went the ChiSox in the ninth, and neither of the two balls in play were particularly threatening. That’s how we like it.

At two-hours and 11 minutes, this was the shortest game in New Yankee Stadium history. Oh, and congrats to Joe Girardi on his 300th win as Yankees manager.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has your box score and video highlights, FanGraphs everything else.

Up Next

The Yankees will attempt to salvage a split of this four-game series with CC Sabathia on the mound tomorrow. The new version of Edwin Jackson gets the call for Chicago, and if you’re interested in going, check out all the still available and dirt cheap tickets on RAB Tickets.

Maxwell goes deep two more times in SWB win

It’s been a busy night, so scroll down for injury updates on Mark Teixeira (shoulder) and Phil Hughes (possible thoracic outlet syndrome), plus news about a personal info leak regarding Yankees season ticket holders.

Jesus Montero‘s groin is healthy enough that he caught in the bullpen today, so … progress! Hopefully gets back into a game by the weekend, but no sense in rushing it. Not with that kind of injury. Project Prospect, meanwhile,  has a scouting report of Manny Banuelos from Monday’s start.

Triple-A Scranton (8-5 win over Charlotte)
Greg Golson, LF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K
Frankie Cervelli, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K – not sure what the plan is now, though there’s a chance that we’ll see him back in the Bronx by the weekend
Jorge Vazquez, 1: 2 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Justin Maxwell, CF: 2 for 5, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 1 K – dude is absolutely on fire right now … that’s three straight games with a homer, four in the last three games, and seven in the last ten games … he’s also drawn 14 walks in 18 games (but has struck out 30 times)
Jordan Parraz, RF: 0 for 3, 1 BB
Kevin Russo, 3B & Doug Bernier, SS: both 1 for 4, 1 R – Russo struck out once … Bernier drove in a run and whiffed twice
Ramiro Pena, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 K
P.J. Pilittere, C: 2 for 3, 1 BB – yay P.J.!
Hector Noesi, RHP: 3 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 1-2 GB/FB – 41 of 71 pitches were strikes (47.7%) … that is a new career high in walks, the previous high was three, done several times … blame it on the long layoff, that’s not a typical Noesi start at all
George Kontos, RHP: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 3-1 GB/FB – 26 of 41 pitches were strikes (63.4%) … 16-5 K/BB ratio in 16 IP
Amaury Sanit, RHP: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 27 of 41 pitches were strikes (65.9%)
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 12 of 18 pitches were strikes (66.7%) … just 2 K, 3 BB in 9.2 IP

[Read more…]

Hughes may have low-level thoracic outlet syndrome

Joe Girardi said in his post-game press conference that some of the tests run on Phil Hughes show that the right-hander may have a low-level amount (is that the right word? not sure how to phrase it) of thoracic outlet syndrome. Hughes will go to St. Louis to see a specialist who will determine a) if he has it, and b) the necessary treatment. I’m not a doctor (Girardi said it was a circulation problem), so I have no idea what the hell that means. I do know this: Jeremy Bonderman had thoracic outlet syndrome in 2008, and he was never the same again.

Update: Some other players that have had it: Matt Harrison, Noah Lowry, Kenny rogers, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Update Part Deux: Turns out someone I know has TOS, didn’t even know they had it. It’s basically a “cluster of pinched nerves,” and the recovery time depends on the severity. It could have been caused by something like a herniated disc, for example. My buddy had to stop bowling, which is obviously a lot less strenuous than throwing a baseball in the big leagues.

Teixeira leaves game with sore shoulder

Update (9:37pm): Tex woke up with a sore shoulder after diving for a ball last night, and it started to bother him after he dove for another ball tonight. He’s just sore, there are no tests scheduled. Phew.

Original Post (9:07pm): Eric Chavez pinch hit for Mark Teixeira in the bottom of the eighth inning tonight, though it’s unclear why the Yankees’ starting first baseman left the game. There was no obviously play where he might have injured himself, though he did get pulled off the bag by an errand throw in the previous half inning. That’s the only thing I can think of. We’ll update this post once we learn more.