As The Rotation Turns: Leveraging the situation

Throughout most of the mid- to late-00s we grew used to the Yankees having mediocre pitching staffs. Some of those staffs had promise — 2007 comes to mind, when we dreamed of a rotation that included Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Phil Hughes. That year, as was the case for all years from 2004 through 2008, the hopes never manifested. Something always went wrong, as we should have expected given the pitchers on the staff. That changed in 2009 with the additions of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. The Yankees ranked third in the AL in ERA and fourth in FIP. Finally, a pitching staff we could be proud of.

The rotation seems to be even better this year. The Yanks are still third in ERA (though they are sixth in FIP), but this time it feels different. It feels like that one poor stretch in mid-May has put a dent in the record. Outside that blip, the staff has kept the score close for an offense that has, at times, sputtered. That’s the biggest difference, at least as I can remember, between this year and last. The staff seems a bit more dominant, and I think that will really show up in the numbers once we get closer to season’s end.

The last two turns through the rotation have put this on display. The Yankees are 7-3 in that stretch and the rotation, outside a couple of iffy starts from A.J. Burnett, has been stellar. One particular aspect I noticed these times around: the offense and the starters have kept the high-leverage situations away from the middle relievers. In fact, during this stretch only Joba, Mo, and the starter has faced a Leverage Index of above 2.00 — in regulation, that is. That’s not good bullpen management. That’s the starter pitching deep into games and the offense keeping the pressure off.

6/3 vs. Baltimore: CC Sabathia – 7 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 K

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

The Leverage Index got above 2.00 just twice. Both came in the ninth inning when Mo allowed the first two batters to reach safely. The Orioles then got three chances with the tying run at the plate, but couldn’t bring anyone home.

Credit this one to the offense, which scored five runs by the third. Combined with a solid effort from Sabathia, the Yanks never let this turn into a high-leverage affair.

6/4 @ Toronto: A.J. Burnett – 6 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 2 K

Burnett got off to a poor start, surrendering a pair of homers to Jose Bautista and one to Edwin Encarnacion. The Jays were up 3-0 in the fourth and 4-0 in the fifth, so we didn’t see many high leverage situations. The only one above 2.00 came during A-Rod‘s at-bat in the fourth. The Jays were up only 1-0, and the Yanks had first and second with none out. A-Rod grounded into a double play, which was the illustrative moment of this game.

6/5 @ Toronto: Andy Pettitte – 7.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 10 K

Credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Darren Calabrese

Andy was great, the offense was not. They somehow gave him a 2-1 lead, but he allowed a home run late which put the game into extra innings. That meant there were plenty of high-leverage situations. This is the only time during this stretch in which a middle reliever pitched in a high leverage situation. During regulation, however, the only pitchers who faced situations with a LI over 2.00 were Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain. Chan Ho Park faced the highest leverage situation overall. That came in the 13th, when the Jays had runners on first and second with two outs. He got John Buck to ground out to shortstop.

6/6 @ Toronto: Javy Vazquez – 7 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 9 K

As we knew he could do, Javy carved up the Jays’ heavy swinging offense, using a mix of breaking and off-speed pitches to keep them from turning on an inside fastball. The game was close, thanks to another poor offensive performance, so we saw a few LI situations above 2.00. The only Yankees pitchers to face these situations were Joba and Mo. Joba allowed the only run there, but on the next hitter he induced a double play. That brought the LI down to 1.27, which made Tony Pena’s decision to go with Damaso Marte over Mo a bit more justifiable.

6/8 @ Baltimore: Phil Hughes – 6 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

Hughes had a bit of trouble facing the Orioles for the third time this season, though it came mostly on dinks and dunks that found holes. The Yanks offense came alive for this one, scoring 12 runs. There were only two situations where the LI rose above 2.00. The first came in the second inning, when the Orioles were down 2-0 but had runners on first and second with one out. Phil Hughes induced an inning-ending double play. All those singles came when there wasn’t much at stake. The zero walks was also encouraging.

The other? That came in the third, when Curtis Granderson came up with the bases loaded and two outs. That situation ended just a bit differently than Hughes’s just a half inning before.

6/9 @ Baltimore: CC Sabathia – 7 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 8 K

Once again the Orioles got hits, but they didn’t hit for many extra bases and they didn’t bring around many to score. The offense wasn’t quite as good in this one, scoring just four runs, which means a few higher leverage situations. Sabathia himself faced five batters with the LI above 2.00, but he allowed no runs in those situations. In the highest leverage situation, when the Orioles had bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, Sabathia delivered by striking out Luke Scott. Joba and Mo each faced LI situations above 2.00 as well.

6/10 @ Baltimore: A.J. Burnett – 6.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

A decent but not great, or even really good, start by A.J. Burnett, in which he was wild early, settled down, but couldn’t finish the job in the seventh. He faced just one situation with the LI over 2.00, and that came in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled to put the O’s ahead.

Orioles pitchers faced nine situations with the LI above 2.00 and three with it above 3.00. They recorded seven outs and two walks, one intentional.

6/11 vs. Houston: Andy Pettitte – 7.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K

It is unbelievable how good Pettitte has been this year. The Yanks needed him in this one, as the offense scored just four runs. He faced two situations with the LI above 2.00 and pretty much succeeded both times. With a runner on first and no outs in the eighth he induced a double play ball that Derek Jeter botched. The next hitter, Michael Bourn, sacrificed, which Pettitte couldn’t do much about. Joba came in and faced two high leverage situations, above 3.00, and recorded outs in both. Mo also faced two high leverage situations in the ninth, retiring the hitter both times.

6/12 vs. Houston: Javy Vazquez – 7 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 6 K

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

Other than a couple of home runs, both solo shots, this was an excellent outing for Javy. He’s really come around lately. He pitched so well, and the offense picked up so many runs so early, that there were no situations where the LI crept above 2.00. There was one situation where it hit 1.99. Jorge Posada, however, is a high-leverage kinda guy.

6/13 vs. Houston: Phil Hughes – 5.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

Maybe he tired down the stretch — he was over the 100 pitch mark and he’s been at or above that for plenty of starts this season. Remember, too, that in 2006 Hughes rarely pitched more than five innings, and he didn’t throw too many innings in any of the following years. So fatigue is a concern. That’s a topic for another post, though.

Hughes faced two situations where the LI got above 2.00, and he recorded outs in both, a strikeout and a fielder’s choice groundout. Again, score this one for the offense, which scored enough runs to cover for almost anything, including Hughes’s sixth-inning meltdown.

Fan Confidence Poll: June 14th, 2010

Record Last Week: 5-1 (41 RS, 24 RA)
Season Record: 40-23 (355 RS, 252 RA, 42-21 Pythag. record), tied for first in AL East
Schedule This Week: Monday OFF, vs. Phillies (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Mets (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:98}

Posada powers Yanks to sweep of lowly Astros

Following a down stretch in May, everyone associated with the team was looking forward to this 16-game stretch that just ended today. All but three of those 16 games were played against teams with sub-.500 records, and the Yanks capitalized by going 12-4. They started that stretch with a 4.5 game deficit in the AL East, and ended it Sunday tied for first with the Rays. Sweeping the Astros was merely the second best part of the win.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Ain’t Life Grand?

Prior to yesterday’s game, Jorge Posada had just four singles in 37 plate appearances since returning from the disabled list, but Wandy Rodriguez was able to cure what ailed him. He reached base three times in four plate appearances, including a 3rd inning grand slam that seemed to lift the weight of Posada’s struggles off everyone’s shoulders. Starting behind the plate for the first time in just about a month, Posada put on an encore performance every bit as grand as the day before.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

The Yankees had already staked themselves to a two run lead with a Robbie Cano solo shot and a Ramiro Pena (Ramiro Pena!) two run single in the 4th, erasing Carlos Lee’s 1st inning sac fly that temporarily gave the Astros the lead. Houston starter Brian Moehler looked very much deserving of the 6.12 ERA he started the day with, walking the second batter of the 5th inning before giving way to Gustavo Chacin, who walked two more guys to load the bases. Posada stepped to the plate with a chance to break things open, and new pitcher Casey Daigle  promptly started him off with two straight balls.

It’s easy to see why the Astros have the third worst record and run differential in baseball; their pitchers just keep working themselves into trouble. After putting nine men on base via a walk or hit by pitch in the first two games of the series, Houston’s pitchers walked ten Yankees on Sunday and hit another, and that doesn’t include the non-call on Mark Teixeira‘s hit by pitch in the 1st inning. When you give anyone – but especially good teams – free baserunners, you’re going to lose. End of story.

Daigle’s third pitch to Posada was an absolute meatball, an 87 mph fastball right out over the plate in a 2-0 count. It was such a terrible pitch, I decided to screen cap it:

They might as well have put the ball on a tee. Daigle had last appeared in the big leagues back in 2006 before the Astros summoned him from the minors a few weeks ago, and it’s no surprise why. It was a terrible pitch in a terrible location to a great hitter in a terrible situation. Posada put the ball into the people for his second salami in as many days, making him just the third player in franchise history to hit four run homers in back-to-back games. Babe Ruth did it twice, Bill Dickey once. It’s been that long.

A single or even another walk would have sufficed, but a grand slam is always appreciated. It put the Yankees up by six, and showed everyone that the demise of Jorge Posada has been greatly exaggerated. He again reached base three times in four plate appearances today, and his season batting line is an amazing .288-.395-.544.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Hughes Can’t Finish The 6th

With a steady rain coming down, Phil Hughes stood on the mound with two outs in the 6th with a man on first and his pitch count at a very manageable 92. Geoff Blum, he of the 56 OPS+, represented the final out of the frame, but Hughes fell behind in the count before Blum doubled to center. He had battled back to even the count at 2-2, but the Astros’ first baseman (of the day) spoiled a 92 mph high fastball before picking up the hit. Granderson dove for the ball and made a valiant effort, but it was just off the end of his glove and the inning continued.

That’s okay, the ground was wet and Granderson probably catches that standing up in friendlier conditions. It happens. The next batter was shortstop Tommy Manzella and his 47 OPS+, so Hughes was hardly in trouble. Manzella managed to foul off five fastballs as part of a ten pitch at-bat before slapping a ground ball off Derek Jeter‘s glove in the 5.5 hole for a single. Two runs came across to score, cutting the lead to a still comfortable four.

Former Yankee Kevin Cash, another guy with a terrible OPS+ (39) was up next, and he jumped all over a hanging 0-1 cutter and sent it into the leftfield corner for a two run homer to bring the Astros into two. Three below average hitters, each progressively worse than the guy before him, but Hughes couldn’t get any of them out and for all intents and purposes let Houston back in the game. Yes, the homer was the only ball more well-struck than well-placed, but it’s shouldn’t take ten pitches to put away guys Tommy Manzella.

Hughes threw just 18 curveballs today, only seven for strikes, so it’s clear the pitch wasn’t cooperating. If he manages to put either Blum or Manzella away, we’re talking about a stellar 6 IP, 1 R outing as opposed to a mediocre 5.2 IP, 5 R outing, but such is the life of a young starter. The Yanks’ phenom has now allowed 40 baserunners and 20 runs (4.95 ERA) in his last six starts (36.1 IP), with four of those starts coming against sub-.500 teams.

Phil Hughes probably wasn’t going to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA in the AL East all season, we understand that, but he’s noticeably had trouble putting guys away lately. The season is old enough for the book to get out, and throwing fastballs and cutters 85% of the time doesn’t seem to be as effective as it was a month or so ago.

Miscellany

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Big ups to Chad Huffman (right) on many career firsts. With his family in the stands, he recorded his first hit (a pure hustle infield single after working the count from 0-2 to 3-2), his first walk (again with the count full), and his first strikeout (but he reached when the ball got away from the catcher) in his first start in his first game. Huffman saw 23 pitches on the day, more than Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, or Nick Swisher. Congrats, yo.

Cano’s homer was the 100th of his career, but I’m more impressed by his two walks. They were his 18th and 19th free passes this year, putting him on pace for 49. His career high is 39 (back in 2007), and last year he drew just 30 walks. Maturation is a wonderful thing.

How about Ramiro Pena’s bases loaded, two out single? It’s a line drive in the box score, but it was simply a well-placed blooper between the charging rightfielder and the retreating second baseman. The kid is now six-for-nine with the bases juiced in his career, and if you’ve learned anything from this site, it’s that there’s no such thing as too small a sample size (I may or may not be kidding).

Home plate ump Ted Barrett was simply atrocious in this game. First there was Teixeira’s hit by pitch non-call in the first, then there was this sorry excuse for a strike zone. Swisher struck out on pitches in the other batter’s box twice. Robots, people. Robots.

Tex committed his first error of the season on a hard hit ground ball by Michael Bourn, and his first since last October. It was a play we’ve seen Tex make literally hundreds of times, but I thought he rushed it a bit, perhaps trying to turn two with the speedy Bourn running.

Damaso Marte struck out the only batter he faced to end the 6th. Bet you didn’t know that since April 25th, Marte’s allowed a grand total of two singles and two doubles. Six total bases allowed in the last 49 days. Six.

Remember when it looked like Mariano Rivera was toast last month? Me neither.

WPA Graph & Box Score

It’s been an entire series of these, which I approve of. MLB.com has the box, FanGraphs the nerd.

Up Next

The first place Yankees will enjoy a scheduled off day tomorrow before welcoming the team they beat in the 2009 World Series to the Bronx for a three game set starting Tuesday. The Phillies are sending Roy Halladay to the mound (just can’t get away from that guy, huh?), the Yanks CC Sabathia. That should be a blast.

Noesi goes the distance in Trenton win

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 win over Indianapolis)
Reid Gorecki, RF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 K – threw a runner out at third
Colin Curtis, DH: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K – still just five for his last 37 (.135)
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 3 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 SB – eight for his last 15 (.533)
Juan Miranda, 1B: 2 for 4
Jorge Vazquez, 3B: 0 for 3, 1 RBI – drove in a run with a GIDP in his first Triple-A at-bat
Jesus Montero, C, David Winfree, LF & Reegie Corona, 2B: all 0 for 3, 1 K – Winfree threw a runner out at first
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 3, 2 K
Tim Redding: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 5-7 GB/FB – 59 of his 92 pitches were strikes (64.1%)
Royce Ring: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HB – 12 of his 18 pitches were strikes
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1-1 GB/FB – just eight of his 15 pitches were strikes (53.3%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-0 GB/FB – all six pitches he threw were strikes

[Read more…]

Open Thread: You wouldn’t like it when I’m angry

"OMFG u moron." (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

I don’t think we’ve ever seen Mark Teixeira get as fired up as he did during the first inning today, on that hit by pitch non-call in the 1st. It doesn’t matter though, because the Yankees won the game and wrapped up a stretch of 16 games in which they went 12-4. That’s exactly what they had to do, and because the Rays lost to the Marlins, the Yanks are now tied for first in the AL East. Good times.

Here’s your open thread for the evening. The White Sox take on the Cubs in the ESPN Sunday Night Game (Gavin Floyd vs. Ted Lilly), and you’ve also got Game Five of NBA Finals as well. That series is tied at two. Chat about whatever you want here, just be cool.

Posada leaves game with soreness in right foot

Update (6:26pm): For what it’s worth, Posada said “soreness” was the wrong word, and that he was just fatigued. That was his first attempt at catching nine innings in a month, so that’s understandable.

5:06pm: Via Marc Carig, Jorge Posada left today’s game in the 9th inning with soreness in his right foot, though it’s on a different part of the foot than the hairline fracture that landed him on a disabled list in the first place. Today was Posada’s first time behind the plate since May 16th, so it’s a shame he couldn’t get through a full nine innings. I’m sure the Yankees will be extra careful with him, and tomorrow’s off day will give him a little bonus rest.

Aceves feels no pain during throwing session

Via LoHud, hobbled reliever Al Aceves threw off flat ground today and felt no pain in his lower back. “Nothing hurt,” he said. “Everything was normal.” Aceves has been on the disabled list since early May with a bulging disc in his back, and he received an epidural after suffering a setback last month. He threw for about eight minutes at 60% effort, and believes he could throw again tomorrow. Of course, it all depends on how the back feels in the morning.

Hopefully this is the first step back for Aceves; his absence has really made his importance to the team obvious. We knew he was important before, but good grief.