The RAB Radio Show: May 10, 2011

The Royals come to town this week, and it won’t be just another Royals series. They’ve actually been good in the early going, and they have a crop of young players who are helping fuel the run. Mike and I talk about how they’re playing and how they’ll play the Yankees.

Podcast run time 26:51

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.

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

Not too many homers, too many double plays

(Bill Kostroun/AP)

Home runs produce runs. Double plays prevent them. This the story of the Yankees first 32 games this season. They have hit 54 home runs, 13 more than the next closest team, despite having played only 32 games, fewest in the league. At the same time they have grounded into 41 double plays, which is second most in the league. The only team ahead of them, the Cardinals, have played three more games (and have grounded into three more double plays). Anyone can see that cutting the latter will do wonders for the offense, but I’m far more interested in the why. Why are the Yankees grounding into so many double plays?

The most obvious explanation is that they simply find themselves in more double play situations than other teams. We know the Yankees as a team that gets on base at a healthy clip; they have led the league in OBP the last two seasons. This year they’re second, and first in the AL. Their 265 hits and 130 walks (leading the league) in 1210 PA make it more likely that they’ll have have a man on first with zero or one outs. But we can rule out this explanation right away. If you go to Baseball Prospectus and check out their Balls In Play data, you can see that the Yankees are fourth in the league with a double play in 17.6% of their situations. That is, the Yankees might get into more of those situations, but they still ground into double plays more often than the others, too.

Are they hitting the ball on the ground more, then? That would go some way in explaining why they’re hitting into so many double plays. This year they’ve hit the ball on the ground 46.4 percent of the time, which ranks 11th in the majors. This is slightly higher than last year, when they were at 44.9 percent (14th) and 2009, when they were at 43.1 percent (19th). Yet the Yankees hit ground balls less frequently with runners on base. That rate is only 44.7 percent, which ranks 19th in the league. So while their ground ball rate is a bit higher, the increase comes mostly with the bases empty.

At The Yankee Analysts yesterday, William made an interesting observation: perhaps it’s the teams lack of willingness to run that is causing their double play totals to flourish. To quote: “In order to maximize home runs, the team has stopped running, which in turn has led to more double plays that have left fewer chances to hit a home run.” This is certainly plausible, but I’m not sure it works out. The Yankees have attempted 26 steals this season in 32 games, or 131.6 per 162 games. They attempted 133 last year and in 2009 they attempted 149. That’s not to rule out the possibility, since there is more detail to be examined here. But it’s a pretty quick way of showing that it probably isn’t the main reason.

What is it, then? What is causing the Yankees to hit ground balls to infielders in those precise situations when a ground ball hurts the most? Much as I hate to say it, luck has to play a predominant role here. Just as the Yankees are getting lucky in some regards with their 17.3 percent home run to fly ball ratio, they’re getting unlucky with their double play rate. As one evens out I expect the other will, too. Which is perfectly fine. They’re not in 1:1 proportion, but as they slow down creating runs via the homer, so they will create more runs via double play avoidance. That’s good news for a team that leads the league in runs per game.

Once again, Yanks are tops at working the count

(AP Photo/Matt Strasen)

It’s been kind of a weird season for the Yankees offensively, in that they’ve often looked sluggish and still have the best statistical performance around. They’re first in the game with 5.31 runs per game, and they lead baseball in OPS (.800) and wOBA (.352). Their .252 team batting average is being held back by a .266 BABIP, something that should correct itself as the season progresses, but they still lead the league in OBP (.339) thanks to a gaudy 10.7% walk rate, the best in all the land. They’re a power and patience club, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they swing at the fewest pitches out of the zone (23.7%) and have the largest ISO (.209) in the game. Once that BABIP gets back to normal, it’ll be glorious.

As a team, the Yankees have seen 3.92 pitchers per plate appearance, the third most in the AL. Curtis Granderson has seen the second most pitches per plate appearances in the game (4.51, behind only Carlos Santana at 4.53), and Brett Gardner isn’t too far behind him at 4.30. Nick Swisher (4.22) and Mark Teixeira (4.09) are also over four pitches per trip to the plate, then you’ve got Russell Martin (3.93), Alex Rodriguez (3.90), and Jorge Posada (3.90) right behind them. Considering that the league average is 3.83 pitches per plate appearance, that’s pretty good. Robinson Cano is the only real eye sore on the team, he’s seeing just 3.20 P/PA. That ranks 193rd out of the 194 batters that qualify for the batting title (only Orlando Cabrera is worse at 3.07). I believe the word is: Yikes.

The concept of working the count isn’t just about drawing walks or getting the starting pitcher out of the game early. The point of the game is to score runs, and the easiest way to score runs is by getting hits. Batters that take pitches are waiting for a good pitch to hit before pouncing, essentially trying to get themselves into hitter’s count (2-0, 3-1). The more pitches they see, the better the chance of getting their pitch, i.e. a mistake. Walks are just a byproduct, or they should be, anyway. Of the Yankees’ 1,210 team plate appearances this year, 503 of them have ended when the batter was ahead in the count, or 41.6%. The other 13 AL teams average 35.8%. They’ve ended a plate appearance in a pitcher’s count 305 times (25.2%, 31.0% lg avg) and the other 402 times when the count was even (33.2%, exactly lg avg). It’s not a coincidence that the Yankees lead the league in offense and are the best at getting into hitter’s counts.

That graph (click for larger) shows the team’s wOBA by pitch of the plate appearance vs. the league average. The big difference comes on the third pitch of the at-bat, which has a lot to do with the Yankees working themselves into a 2-0 count 4.13% of the time, far greater than the league average (2.87%). They’ve also been surprisingly productive in 0-2 counts, hitting .243 with a .122 ISO compared to .157 and .063 for the AL as a whole, respectively. That will probably even out as we get deeper into the season though. The dips on the third and fourth pitches have to do with players simply taking pitches in 3-0 and 3-1 counts more than anything else. The old saying is that the longer the at-bat, the more it swings into the hitter’s favor, and judging by the performance of the both the Yankees and the league on the 6th+ pitch of the encounter, that certainly holds true.

The last two weeks haven’t always been pretty offensively, but that has more to do with some drastic slumps (Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada in particular) than the team being flawed as a whole. They’re not going to hit .242/.336/.453 with men in scoring position all season (that, by the way, is 18% better than league average) just because a .242 BABIP in those spots is pretty unsustainable. The Yankees just have to stick with their game plan of taking pitches and getting into the good hitter’s counts, and the rest will take care of itself.

Ticketmaster now allows fans to pick their own seats

On a tip via Twitter from Ross at NYY Stadium Insider comes some intriguing news about purchasing Yankee tickets online. As seats have become plentiful this spring and the secondary market already allowing fans to select their seats down to the row, Ticketmaster has unveiled an interactive seat map on that allows fans to pick out specific seats for games they want to attend. The screenshot above features a glimpse at seats in Sec. 417 available for tonight’s game against the Royals.

While this technology is new for fans turning to the team’s official site to pick out tickets, Ticketmaster has long been able to use it to sell seats for a variety of other events including concerts and other sporting events. It is, in my opinion, a change to the baseball ticket buying landscape that is long overdue. For years now, we’ve been able to choose our rows on StubHub, and allowing fans the opportunity to select seats makes the process more personal.

“This is a really important step in drawing people back in from the secondary market,” Ross said via Twitter this evening. “Having full control of seat choice is important.”

It’s interesting to take a scan around the ballpark with the new technology as well. As we can see from the overview below, numerous sections — those shaded in darker blue — have plenty of seats available.

Meanwhile, as the shine of the new park wears off, the Yanks are finding that thousands of seats — including some very expensive ones — remain open as game time approaches. Take a look at this screenshot from the Mohegan Sun seats and the batter’s eye tickets, both of which run upwards of $100 a pop.

Pricing aside, I’d say this is a very welcome addition to the way we can buy Yankee tickets online.

JoVa & Maxwell power SWB to win

Apparently Alan Horne is ahead of schedule as he comes back from his latest shoulder ailment, and will face live hitters for the first time tomorrow. I wish him luck, but it’s hard to think that he’ll contribute much if anything at this point. In much more interesting news, Mike Ashmore says Damon Sublett has been throwing side sessions. Yes, the same Damon Sublett that’s played second base and some outfield since being drafted in 2007. Sublett played second and closed at Wichita State (31.2 IP, 11 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 16 BB, 54 K before not pitching much as a junior), and I actually thought he was a better prospect as a pitcher than a hitter at the time of the draft. He was 91-94 with a curve back then, not sure what he has now though.

Triple-A Scranton (6-2 win over Buffalo)
Dan Brewer, DH: 1 for 4, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 CS – nine game hitting streak
Chris Dickerson, CF: 0 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 5, 1 K, 1 PB – sad face
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K – up to eleven homers
Justin Maxwell, LF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K – that’s a dozen for him
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 R
Jordan Parraz, RF: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 K – quietly raking, but it’s easy to fly under the radar in his lineup
Luis Nunez, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 K
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 12-4 GB/FB, 1 E (missed catch) – 54 of 87 pitches were strikes (62.1%) … one earned run or less in three of his five starts
Jess Todd, RHP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K – just four of his ten pitches were strikes … the command, it doesn’t come naturally for this one
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – ten of 19 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

The Boss Files: George Steinbrenner, FBI informant

Updated (Tuesday, 12:51 a.m.): In order to gain a pardon for his 1974 conviction stemming from illegal political campaign contributions, George Steinbrenner helped the FBI on “certain highly confidential national security and criminal justice matters” throughout the 1970s and 1980s, documents released today show. As the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press reported, the documents were released in response to a FOIA request at the time of Steinbrenner’s death, and they highlight how Steinbrenner worked with the Bureau and NYPD over the span of 11 years to help clear his reputation. Anyone interested can read them all right here.

One of the more intriguing files released was a memo from a discussion Steinbrenner had with the FBI about his conviction. Steinbrenner in the late 1970s, blamed his lawyers for “advising him to make the illegal campaign contributions.” He thus tried to secure the pardon for business purposes. He wrote in a letter that his felony record “has adversely affected my business and professional activities [and] limited my participation in civic, charitable and community affairs. A pardon would, I believe, substantially reduce or eliminate that effect and would permit me to contribute more of my services to my community.” The Yankees had no comment on the documents.

Open Thread: Melky’s on his way

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

It’s amazing how much better an off day feels after the Yankees win, especially a win like yesterday’s. We’re waiting for the Royals to come to town tomorrow, which will be the first time Melky Cabrera will play in the Bronx as a visiting player. Melky was a fan favorite and occasionally productive, and although I wasn’t exactly his biggest fan, I will certainly give him a round of applause*. If you’re part of a World Series Yankees team, you’re cool with me. Rock on, Melky.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. You can watch the Twins predictably lose to the Red Sox on ESPN (Blackburn vs. Beckett) or the Mets and Rockies on SNY a little later on (Capuano vs. Chacin). There’s also NHL and NBA playoff action going on as well, I’m sure of it. Talk about whatever your heart desire, so have at it.

Note: A reader by the name of Bethany emailed to let us know that her she** and her boyfriend signed up for the Runyon 5K at Yankee Stadium this summer, and they’ve placed a little wager on the results of their pledges. She’s a Yankees fan and he’s a Mets fan, and if she wins he has to run in a Yankees hat, if he wins, she has to run in a Mets hat. Simple enough. Anyway, you can help her out and pledge here.

* Assuming I was actually going to the game, of course.

** Grammar nazi’d. Refund check’s in the mail.