Look for Swisher to break out in the coming weeks

More of this, coming soon. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

It appears as though Mark Teixeira didn’t simply buck his trend of slow Aprils. Instead, he might have handed them off to Nick Swisher. Through the team’s first 27 games Swisher is hitting .231/.348/.297, with just one home run among his 17 hits. This isn’t anything new, really. Swisher finished last April at .250/.345/.434, hitting only two home runs and four doubles in the month. What’s the difference, then, between .250 and .231 at this point in the season? Probably two measly hits. And we all know how Swisher turned it around last year.

Amid the weak outs, there are signs of encouragement from Swisher. For instance, he has 17 walks already, which is nearly a third of his total from last season. That’s in large part because he’s laying off more pitches out of the zone, both compared to last year and compared to the league average (which is important, because the league average spiked last year). That allows him to remain somewhat productive when he’s not hitting, and it will come in much more handy when he is hitting.

On area where Swisher has lagged this season is in his performance against fastballs. Even during his horrible 2008 season he produced a positive pitch type value score on fastballs. In the last two years he has been at 25.3 and 21.9 runs. This year, though, he’s a -4.2. It could be, then, that this is just a timing issue. He has also hit a disproportionate number of infield pops, which further points to a timing issue. He’s just missing on some pitches, and it’s hurting his line. There’s little reason to think this will continue, given his career numbers.

You know what else stands to improve? His BABIP. It is currently at .267, which doesn’t seem all that out of line for Swish. He did, after all, finish 2009 with a .272 BABIP. But in order to get a grasp of BABIP we need a baseline for comparison. Swisher’s current xBABIP is .309, which is far ahead of his current pace. This could again be tied to the timing issue, where he’s just making poorer contact on pitches he’d otherwise drive. It’s frustrating for now, but it’s not likely that it will continue for much longer.

We know that Swisher, like many other players, is prone to slumps. Yet he has always seemed to rally after them and put up big numbers. This year his slump is a bit more noticeable because it started early and has lasted a few weeks. Last year he had a similarly slow start, and then broke out in a big way. In a span of eight games in early May he went 14 for 32 with a double and five homers. Maybe his breakout this year won’t be quite as dramatic, but it will happen. And it doesn’t seem as though it’s that far off.

The Unlucky Offense

Band-aid power? (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees have the best offense in the league (and second best in all of baseball) thanks to a .352 wOBA, but they’ve actually been pretty unlucky through the first 27 games of the season. Their .272 BABIP is well below the ~.300 league average, so they’ve been robbed of some hits along the way. Of course it’s not that simple, they’ve hit a lot of homeruns and those don’t count as balls in play (since the fielder doesn’t have a chance to make a play on them), but we can find out just how unlucky the offense has been using xBABIP, or expected BABIP. I’ve introduced you to xBABIP before.

The table above shows the team’s actual performance as well as expected performance using xBABIP. I calculated the same for some other situations, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Right now the Yankees have a .321 xBABIP, 49 points higher than the actual number. They’ve managed to lose 43 hits somewhere along the way, and if we assume all 43 are singles, their team wOBA would jump from .355 to .392. That’s pretty nuts.

Now about those homers. The Yankees lead the league in homerun-to-fly ball ratio at 17.4%, far ahead of second place Texas (just 11.4%). That’s not a sustainable pace, even in Yankee Stadium with a lineup built to hit the ball out of the park. The other 13 teams in the AL have an 8.4% HR/FB, and the second row of numbers in the table assumes the Yankees were hitting homers at that pace instead of their current one. They’d lose 19 (!!!) homers if they were hitting them at the league average pace, which is just insane. It’s almost half their season total. They would lose 17 homers if they hit them at 9.1% HR/FB rate of the other 29 MLB teams. Either way, they’re still missing over 40-something hits according to xBABIP, even adjusting for the extra homers.

Of course the Yankees aren’t an average team; their ballpark is conducive to homers as is their regular lineup. Using last year’s pace of 12.1% HR/FB, they’d lose just 11 homers overall. That’s still a ton, just not as much as before. I also ran the numbers assuming that the nine Just Enough homers they’ve hit this year according to Hit Tracker were outs (a Just Enough homer is one that clears the fence by less than ten feet). Those numbers come eerily close to the numbers generated using last year’s HR/FB%. So maybe the difference between this year and last year is just some homerun luck. Maybe the weather has helped so far, maybe playing so many home games did the trick. It’s probably both, plus other factors.

Two things to note: First, all those homeruns that disappeared in each data set? They don’t automatically become outs. Fly balls have a .223 BABIP this year, so in each situation they would have lost 10+ homers but gained about four (theoretical) singles. It’s not much, but it changes the BABIP and xBABIP numbers slightly. Secondly, ten homeruns have come on line drives this year, and those stay put. Our sample of fly ball homers is 36, that’s the number that has been changed.

Now that you’re sufficiently confused, all you need to know is that the Yankees have been screwed out of 40 base hits this year. Don’t ask me how, but based on their batted ball tendencies, they should have a much higher BABIP than what they do now. Even adjusting for the absurd homerun rate, they’re still missing a ton of hits. Regressing to the expected results isn’t a given for an individual player, but at a team level, when you’re talking thousands of plate appearances and balls in play over the course of a season, it’s almost inevitable. The Yankees’ offense has been really good so far, but it should have been better. That’s good news for us and the Yankees, bad news for everyone else.

Event Reminder: Watch with RAB and Jonah Keri at Foley’s

Update (1:55 p.m.): Just a brief reminder about our event tonight: RAB and Jonah Keri, author of The Extra Two Percent and Canadian extraordinaire, will be at Foley’s in Midtown tonight to watch the Yankees take on the Tigers and chat baseball. Due to a last-minute cancellation, we still have three seats left for our 5:30 p.m. discussion on American League baseball with Keri. For more info or to reserve a ticket, head on over to the Eventbrite listing. If you can’t make the early talk, you can join us at the bar at 7 to watch Freddy Garcia and Max Scherzer square off in Detroit. Foley’s is at 18 West 33rd St. between 5th and 6th Ave.

The RAB Radio Show: May 4, 2011

It was just a sloppy game last night, but those can lead to productive conversations, too. Mike and I talk about things you can do to make things happen with runners on base, the idea of giving away outs (and why baserunning mistakes are even more costly), and other managerial gadgets.

Podcast run time 18:54

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.

The Yankees have a curveball problem

That's a split, but I can't find a picture with a curveball grip. So sue me. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

I wrote this post late last week, after hitting coach Kevin Long made some comments about pitchers throwing the Yankees a lot of offspeed pitches and their need to adjust. He was right of course, the Yanks were getting a ton of soft stuff, but that wasn’t a problem when it came to sliders and changeups. They were still hammering those pitches. The curveball though, that was a different story.

At the time, the Yankees were dead last in the American league at 2.22 runs below average for every 100 curveballs thrown their way, and after last night’s game that number sits at 2.24, still last in the AL by a mile (the Twins are second worst at 1.50). Other teams are aware of this weakness and have been pretty much all year (at the time of last week’s post, the Yankees saw more curves than all but one other AL team), and it was on full display last night. Brad Penny threw 19 curves out of 98 pitches on Tuesday (19.4%) compared to just 15.8% curves in his first six starts. Same deal with Justin Verlander on Monday; he threw 24 curveballs out of 127 pitches (18.9%) after throwing just 16.8% curves in his first three starts. This goes back through the weekend and last week as well.

Luckily the Yankees face Max Scherzer tonight, and he doesn’t throw a curveball at all. He’s a fastball (63.3%), changeup (21.3%), slider (15.3%) guy and the Yanks’ still rank among the league’s best against each pitch. As I showed in the post last week, these struggles against curveballs are not an ongoing thing with his group of players, it’s been isolated to this season. So I guess it’s time to ratchet up the pitching machine, set it for curveballs, and go to town in the cages. They just have to work their way out of it, that’s all.

2011 Draft: High School Arms

CC's done pretty well for himself without a college education. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

If you’re not new to the site, then you’re probably aware of my infatuation with high school pitchers come draft day. I like seeing them get into the organization and under professional training programs, instructions, diets, the whole nine, as soon as possible. Most college coaches aren’t concerned with long-term development, so pitchers can fall into a lot of bad habits in school (like not pitching inside because of aluminum bats), not to mention the insane workloads. UCLA righty Trevor Bauer is expected to be a first round pick this year, but he’s averaging over 120 pitches per start this year. Texas righty Taylor Jungmann, another expected first rounder, has thrown 89.2 IP in eleven starts this year, or 8.1 innings per start. That’s crazy.

The best college-drafted pitcher in baseball right now is probably Tim Lincecum, though Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, and Jered Weaver have a case as well. But the high school draftees, you’re talking Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, Josh Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, John Danks, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Chad Billingsley, the list goes on and on. Even international signees like Felix Hernandez and Ubaldo Jimenez fall into the “weren’t ruined by a college coaches” category. Anyway, that’s just my two cents. Here’s a few high school arms I’ve got my eye on…

Ricky Jacquez, RHP, Franklin HS (Texas)
Jacquez doesn’t necessarily pass the eye test at first glance, since he’s listed at just 5-foot-9 and 155 lbs. The best right-hander to stand no taller than 5-foot-10 in expansion era is Tom Gordon (by far), so the recent history of guys that size isn’t great. Of course Jacquez is still just a teenager and could easily tack on a few inches and pounds, so there’s no sense in writing his baseball obituary just yet. His stuff is very real though, he’ll sit in the low-90’s and touch 94 on most days, getting swings and misses with a hammer curveball that’s allergic to bats. Jacquez challenges hitters and pitches aggressively, and he’s expected to be a third to sixth round selection. If he doesn’t sign, he’ll head to Texas.

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Tigers rough up CC, take game two of the series

The Yankees have pounded Brad Penny time after time, including once already this year. Since he was on the mound for the Tigers and CC Sabathia was starting for New York, we all felt pretty good about this one on Tuesday afternoon. I guess it’s not easy to foresee the reverse jinx when your team is involved. The Yankees’ bats were silent for much of the night, and Detroit ended its seven game losing streak.

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

No Good CC

It was bad from the start. Austin Jackson doubled on the first pitch Sabathia threw, then Scott Sizemore did the same two pitches later. The first run came around to score on a Magglio Ordonez ground out, the second on a Miguel Cabrera sac fly. The Yankees finally wised up later in the game and intentionally walked Miggy with a base open, and sure enough they escaped that jam unscathed. The whole “don’t pitch to one of the best hitters in the world if you don’t have to” thing took a game-and-a-half to sink in I guess. But I digress.

Tells you what kind of pitcher Sabathia is when seven innings and four runs is a bad start, but the Yankees probably win that game six or seven times out of ten. He threw a season high 119 pitches (76 strikes, 63.9%) and really just got burned by the top of the order. Jackson and Sizemore combined to go 5-for-6 with two doubles and a triple before Sabathia struck each out the last time he faced them. The rest of Detroit’s lineup went 5-for-21 (.238) off the Yankees’ ace. Oh well, CC’s allowed a stinker every once in a while, and this wasn’t even that bad.


Although the box score says they only had five at-bats with men in scoring position (Russell Martin had the only hit, a double), the Yankees left two men on base in the first, two in the second, and one in the fourth. They had chances (plural) to get to Penny early but just couldn’t capitalize. The right-hander allowed six hits and walked two in six innings, striking out just one with an unspectacular 8-6 GB/FB ratio. I mean come on, he should have been begging for mercy after three.

Almost Andruw. Well, not really. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Three, Three Outs On The Bases

There’s nothing quite like giving away a full inning’s worth of outs on stupid baserunning plays. Andruw Jones, representing the tying run, got thrown out at the plate on a would-be sac fly to end the fourth inning, not even making it to the plate. If the bases were 75-feet apart, he would have juuust made it in under the tag. Then in the sixth inning you had not one, but two runners get caught in rundowns between first and second. Three Yankees reached base in the inning, but they somehow managed to not score a run and leave the bases empty. I don’t know what Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada were thinking there, but yeah, stupid. Lesson for the kids out there: if you ever get caught in a spot like that, just keep running to second. Don’t stop. At least you have a chance that way.


Oh yeah, Tex hit a garbage time homer. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Brett Gardner is the hottest hitter on the team right now, and it’s not all that close. He went 1-for-2 with a walk in this game, and has now reached base safely in eight of his last ten and in 16 of his last 19 plate appearances. He went from .145/.197/.306 to .219/.337/.411 in six games. Is it time to give him another shot leading off? I say no, not yet, but it’s good news that we’re even discussing the possibility. Right behind Gardner is Posada, who went 2-for-4 on Tuesday and now has five hits in his last 11 trips to the plate (plus another taken away on a great defensive play). Good stuff from those two.

The four-five hitters combined for one hit (a ten-hopper through the left side) in eight at-bats, which isn’t exactly middle of the order production. Despite that single, Alex Rodriguez is in a definite slump, has been since he left that game with a stiff back/oblique. Is he playing hurt maybe?

I’m not sure that David Robertson is comfortable pitching without a runner in scoring position. He gave up a double on the first pitch he threw, then escaped the inning like he always days. I guess D-Rob is just a fireman at heart, it’s what he does.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score and no highlights for you!

Up Next

Alright, that’s it. Frustrating loss, but that’s baseball. Move on and focus on Wednesday night’s game, which will feature Freddy Garcia and Max Scherzer. ‘Til then…