Soriano not worried about missing velocity

As Rafael Soriano was busy retiring the likes of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in the eighth inning of last night’s game, you may have noticed that his fastball wasn’t buzzing in with it’s usual oomph. The pitch averaged just 90.99 mph last night, down from the 93.0 mph he averaged last season. “I’m not 100% with my fastball,” he told Marc Carig after the game, adding that he doesn’t get all of his velocity back until May. He’s right; he started in the low-90’s before creeping up in the middle of the summer in each of the last two seasons. Ultimately, Soriano doesn’t seem concerned.

Missing velocity has been a hot topic in the early goings of the season, with most of the attention on Phil Hughes. He and Soriano are not alone though. Ivan Nova averaged 91.45 mph last night after sitting 92.9 last year. Jon Lester’s fastball averaged 93.5 mph in 2010 but sat just 91.19 on Opening Day. Felix Hernandez lost a full mile-an-hour when he sat 93.67 in his first start. Maybe everyone’s shoulder is hurt. Maybe it’s just the weather. Either way, there’s little use in getting worked up after one regular season start.

Ivan Nova’s approach against the Twins

Ivan Nova made his first start for the 2011 Yankees last night, limiting the Twins to just three runs in six innings of work. He threw only 83 pitches (50 strikes, 60.2%), so I’m sure he had enough in the tank for another inning, but with there’s no sense in pushing him this early in the season given the team’s bullpen. Just like last September, Nova looked like a hero the first time through the order but had to fight his way through the lineup after that, a problem not uncommon for young pitchers.

Despite apparent claims of “four plus pitches” from Rick Sutcliffe on the ESPN broadcast, Nova actually threw three different pitches last night: a fastball (55), curveball (15), and changeup (13). The Twins loaded their lineup with left-handers – Delmon Young and Danny Valencia were the only non-lefties/switch hitters to start the game – so it’s no surprise that he didn’t use his new cutter/slider at all. It’s just not a pitch designed to attack righties lefties. As you’d expect, Nova was pounding the ball to his arm side all night, or away from lefties in plain English. All he was trying to do was prevent those guys from getting around on a pitch and hooking it into the short porch in right:

Update: Apparently some sliders were misclassified as changeups by PitchFX, and he threw nine total on the night.


I was a bit surprised to look back and see that four of the six hits Nova allowed were doubles, and that they all came in just two innings (the fourth and fifth). Justin Morneau sent a 1-0 fastball into right-center for the two-bagger in the fourth, and two batters later Jim Thome doubled to almost the exact same spot on a 3-2 changeup to plate a pair of runs. It actually wasn’t a bad pitch at all, Thome just went down and got it…

Sorry for the crappy quality, but you can see that the ball is well down in the zone. That’s just straight up good hitting by a guy (that should be) headed to the Hall of Fame. Alex Casilla slashed a double past Mark Teixeira at first on a 1-1 fastball in the fourth, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka dunked a gapper to left-center on a 1-0 heater two batters later. The first time through the order, Nova allowed just one baserunner, a walk to Valencia (Thome also reached on a Derek Jeter error, which I’m not holding against the pitcher). After that though, he faced 15 batters and six of them picked up hits, including those four doubles.

As you’d expect, Nova was fastball heavy the first time through the lineup, throwing 22 of them out of the 28 pitches (78.6%) he needed against the first nine hitters. He scaled it down to 24 heaters out of 38 total pitches (63.2%) the second time through the order, and just nine of the final 17 pitches he threw were fastballs (52.9%). The third time he faced Joe Mauer and Morneau, each batter saw nothing but curveballs (only two pitches each, so SSS). The table on the right shows the distribution of pitches each time through the order, just so you can see the actually breakdown. Remember, Nova only faced six hitters the third time through the lineup.

Although he generated just six swings and misses (three on fastballs, three of curveballs), a dozen of the 18 outs Nova recorded last night were on ground balls (counting two double plays). He’s never been much of a strikeout pitcher (just 6.3 K/9 in the minors), but grounders are the next best thing and he’s always gotten plenty of those (53.5% grounders at High-A and above). If he keeps that up and finds a way to keep the opponent at bay after the third inning, he’s going to be a quality starter in this league for quite some time. The lefty-heavy Red Sox are going to be one hell of a test next weekend, but the Twins were a fine tune-up on Monday.

A-Rod & Posada back Nova as Yanks drop Twins

Is it possible that we’re taking the Yankees’ dominance of the Twins for granted? Like I said earlier, they’re 57-18 against Minnesota (regular season and playoffs) in the Ron Gardenhire era, and only twice (!!!) in that span have the Twins won a game in the Bronx not started by Johan Santana. That’s insane. So when New York jumped out to an early four-run lead on Monday, I think we all just sat back and relaxed. The Twins tried to mount a comeback, and they came close to completing it at times, but Ivan Nova did some fine work for six innings and the bullpen took care of the rest.

Crushed. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Old Reliables

The Yankees (and pretty much every other team for that matter) have put on a fireworks display early in the season, clubbing homers left and right like it’s nobody’s business. Alex Rodriguez got the party started in the very first inning, taking Scott Baker deep on a 1-0 fastball inside. It wasn’t a big fly in the literal sense of the term, it was a line drive right into the left field stands, one of those old school Gary Sheffield lasers. Mark Teixeira was hit by a pitch in his right foot one batter earlier (he’s fine), so Alex’s blast gave the Yanks a two-run lead seven total batters into the game. In case you’re wondering, this homer was the biggest WPA swing of the game at +.167.

That wouldn’t be all though. One inning later, Jorge Posada hit his third homer in the last two days, a more traditional fly ball into the right-center field stands. Baker pumped fastball after fastball – in succession of the at-bat, they clocked in at 90, 89, 91, 89, 89, 91 – and eventually Jorge locked in. The homer put two more runs on the board (Nick Swisher walked one batter earlier), giving the Yankees a comfortable four-zip lead. Posada and A-Rod have done a lot of great things during their time in pinstripes, and they came through once again on Monday. Jorge’s blast swung the WPA +.125 in the Yankees’ favor.

Strikeouts & Grounders

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Those are the two best results a pitcher can coax out of any given at-bat, and tonight Ivan Nova supplied plenty of them. The young right-hander completed six innings of work for just the second time in eight career starts, generating all but four of his 18 outs on the ground or on strike three. That includes two double plays, one by Denard Span to end the third, and another by Delmon Young to kill a potential rally in the sixth.

That last double play was probably the biggest out(s) Nova got all game (WPA says it was at +.123), since the Twinkies had just crept to within one the inning before and were again threatening when Justin Morneau singled to open up the sixth. Nova’s pitch count was a very manageable 75 at the time, but he was again struggling the second and third time through the order. He started Young off with a fastball in on the hands, the same pitched he used to retire him in the second (routine fly ball to right) and generate a ground ball in the fourth (single through the right side), but Delmon fouled this one off for strike one. The next pitch was a changeup down, the pitch that got the double play. After failing to put away Jim Thome two innings prior (resulting in a two-run double),  Nova got him to swing through a fastball for the strike to end the inning and his night of work.

We’ll have more on Nova’s night in the morning, but the rookie gave the Yankees the kind of start they’ll take from him every time out. Six innings and three runs, a quality start by the definition of the stat (but the same 4.50 ERA he had last season), the kind of game New York will win with their offense and bullpen more often than not. He still has to work on doing a better job once the lineup turns over, but that’s something that will come in experience. You can’t work on that in the bullpen.

MFIFKY. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Bullpen From Hell

The late-game trio of Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano, and Mariano Rivera were perfect in three innings of work on Opening Day, and they again did the job tonight. Joba set down the three men he faced in order while Rivera pitched around a two-out Jason Kubel single for his third save, but Soriano was the real star out of the pen. Why? Because he’s the guy that was handed the ball against the heart of the order.

Denard Span led off the eighth, he of the .538 OBP (yes, SSS) coming into the game, but Soriano sat him down on a perfect strike three on the outside corner. Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka dunked a single in front of Curtis Granderson reached on an infield single after a comebacker deflected off Soriano’s glove and away from Derek Jeter, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Joe Mauer and then Justin Morneau. Rafi fed the 2009 AL MVP a steady diet of cutters and sliders, getting him to lift a fly ball to Brett Gardner in left on a full count for the second out. Soriano went after the 2006 AL MVP the same way, cutters and sliders, getting him to pop up harmlessly to third in a 1-2 count. Yes, Rivera ended the night with the highest WPA of the trio (+.183), but Soriano was the most important reliever in my book just because he retired Mauer and Morneau with the tying run on base in a one run game. Hooray for deep bullpens.


(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Although they combined to go 0-for-7, I thought Gardner and Derek Jeter looked much better tonight than they did against the Tigers. Gardner drew a walk in the second, had a surefire extra base hit taken away when Young made a sliding catch in the fourth, and then laced a line drive right at Morneau in the seventh. No hits, but he hit the ball hard twice and saw 21 pitches in four trips to the plate. That’s more like it. Jeter, meanwhile, actually looked mobile in the field, and hit a few balls hard that either landed foul or in the glove of a defender. Some of them were actually in the air too. The results sucked, the process looked much better.

Teixeira remains en fuego, shaking off that first inning hit-by-pitch to go 1-for-2 with a walk, narrowly missing his fourth homer of the year when the ball hooked foul. A-Rod grounded into a pair of double plays in his last two at-bats, but I’m not complaining after the first inning homer. The five through nine hitters combined to reach base seven times, highlighted by a pair of Robbie Cano singles.

How nice is it to have a catcher that actually frames pitches? We haven’t seen much of that in recent years. I don’t want to say that Russell Martin stole some strikes with the way he framed some offerings, but he definitely … helped make sure the ump got the call right. Yeah, that works. He singled once in three trips to the plate and stole second on a delayed steal in the fourth. He’s on a 0.1 fWAR per game pace in the early goings.

David Robertson has warmed up in all four games this year, but he’s only pitched in one. Joe Girardi needs to chill with that, the guy’s going to be burnt out by June with like, 15 IP to his credit. Robertson and Joba should be interchangeable in my opinion, but Girardi said after the game that Chamberlain is his set seventh inning guy. I don’t see the need to announce it to the world, but whatever.

The two RBI tied A-Rod with his former teammate Rafael Palmeiro for 15th place on the all-time career list at 1,835 steaks. That’s the good news. The bad news is that for the third straight game, we have a new record-low attendance at Yankee Stadium. Just 40,331 fans showed up tonight.

WPA Graph & Box Score brings you the box score and video highlights, but FanGraphs has everything else.

Up Next

Same two teams mañana, when CC Sabathia takes on fellow lefty Brian Duensing. That one will start at 7:05pm ET.

Game Four: Under the lights for the first time

"Sorry we're going to kick your asses again, Ron." (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

There’s nothing quite like a night game. Yeah, baseball was meant to be played under the sun, yadda yadda yadda, but there’s just something about a night game at Yankee Stadium that I love. After three afternoon affairs against the Tigers, the Yankees are playing their first night game of the season tonight against the Twins.

Oh the Twins. The same Twins that couldn’t beat the Yankees if their collective lives depended on it. Minnesota is just 18-57 against New York in the Ron Gardenhire era (regular season and playoffs), a .240 “winning” percentage. That’s a 39-win pace over 162 games. A team of replacement level players would have won something like 46 games last year. Furthermore, the Twinkies are 6-30 in the Bronx since 2002, and four of those wins came in games started by Johan Santana. So yeah.  The Twins certainly aren’t a bad team, but for whatever reason their formula just hasn’t worked against the Bombers over the last nine years.

Here’s the starting lineup…

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

(The fearless) Ivan Nova, SP

The YES Network is broadcasting this one as (almost) always. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET. Enjoy.

Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

Until it stops, we’re going to continue talking about it. During the Ron Gardenhire era, which began in 2002, the Yankees have downright dominated the Minnesota Twins. Of their 75 games in that span, including playoffs, the Yankees have won 57. As FanGraphs’s Jack Moore explains, the probability of that happening is 0.021% — and that’s not a misplaced decimal point. That dominance really shines in the Bronx, as CBS’s Danny Knobler notes. The Yankees are 30-6 there against the Twins since 2002, and four of those losses came during Johan Santana starts.

Tonight marks the first of four games the two teams will play at the Stadium this week. For the Yankees to continue their string of dominance would only extend a vast statistical anomaly. But, since we’ve already seen some crazy trends this weekend, maybe the Yanks will keep things going.

What Have They Done Lately?

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)

We have only one series in the books, so this section is even less meaningful than it normal. (I.e., we know that momentum can change at any time, without notice.) But if the opening series means anything, the Twins are in a heap of trouble. Their Nos. 1 and 2 pitchers got bombed during their starts, and their closer nearly blew Sunday’s game. In total they were outscored 21-8 by the Blue Jays. Now they come into New York and face another hot offense, but this time they’re putting their Nos. 4 and 5 starters on the mound to start the series.

The team’s lack of offense to this point has been a bit startling. They’ve gotten some quality production from the top of the lineup in Denard Span and from Jason Kubel, but after them the rest of the team hasn’t done a lick. It’s early, of course, and that will change. But will it change as the Twins face the team that has cursed them for the past nine seasons?

Twins On Offense

(Charles Krupa/AP)

In the past it wasn’t difficult to note the Twins’ strengths as a team. They’ve always had contending clubs — even in 2008, after they traded Johan Santana, they came within a few games of a playoff spot — but this year they appear to have more weaknesses. For the moment, though, we’ll look at where the Twins are strong.

Clearly, at catcher they have an advantage over most of the league. From 2008 through 2010 Joe Mauer led all catchers in fWAR by no insignificant margin. His wOBA was 30 points higher than his closest peer, Brian McCann. In the same period another of the Twins up-the-middle player, Denard Span in center, ranked among the best at his position.

Then there’s Justin Morneau at first base. He’s off to a slow start, but the concussion he suffered last July kept him out for the entire second half. He still has some rust to scrape off, but once he has that worked out he’ll rank among the league’s best hitters. (In fact, he was an MVP candidate last year before he got bonked on the head.) In the outfield corners the Twins have a trio of solid hitters in Delmon Young, who stepped up last year, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer. And at DH they have Jim Thome, who, even at his advanced age, continued to mash taters last season.

Twins On The Mound

(Tom Olmscheid/AP)

Game 1: Scott Baker. The past two years have not been kind to Scott Baker. In 2008 it appeared that he was reaching his peak, with a 3.45 ERA and 3.79 FIP. But then this fly ball propensity caught up to him. His home run rate jumped. It appeared that he had been granted a reprieve when the Twins moved to spacious Target Field, but his home run rate stayed around the same level. (

Since 2008, only Ted Lilly and Jered Weaver have a higher fly ball rate than Baker — though his teammate, Slowey, would also rank higher if he qualified. That is not a good mix with Yankee Stadium, especially given the way the Yankees opened the season. Baker does mitigate that rate with a low walk rate and average strikeout rate. There’s a good chance he bounces back this year, as his peripherals last season were good overall. But against the Yankees, at Yankee Stadium, he doesn’t appear a good match.

2010 numbers: 29 starts, 170.1 IP, 4.49 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 3.82 xFIP

Game 2: Brian Duensing. The Twins pretty clearly prefer their pitchers to induce contact and avoid walks. In that way, Duensing is the consummate Twin. Even in the minor leagues he didn’t manage an average strikeout rate. During his season and a half in the bigs he has a 5.49 K/9, which is among the lowest in the league. (His teammate, Nick Blackburn, owns the lowest strikeout rate in the last two years.) Yet he produced some excellent results last year, thanks to a low home run rate, low walk rate, and high strand rate.

Despite the low strikeout rate, Duensing does have excellent peripherals. He avoids handing out free passes, which should match-up well against the patient Yankees. He also keeps the ball in the park, in part due to a ground ball rates that eclipses 50 percent. Duensing might not be a top of the rotation pitcher, but he’s the type of guy I can see giving the Yankees fits.

2010 numbers: 53 games, 13 starts, 130.2 IP, 2.62 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.96 xFIP

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

Game 3: Carl Pavano. The story you’ll hear throughout this game is how the Yankees nearly signed Pavano this off-season. It didn’t happen, which pleased many fans who can’t stand to look at him. Those fans would have been doubly pissed if Pavano pitched for the Yankees like he pitched on Friday for the Twins. It was an ugly, ugly drubbing in which he allowed eight runs, seven earned, in four-plus innings.

Last year Pavano re-established himself as a solid MLB pitcher. His strikeouts dropped, but he made up for it with an uptick in ground balls. And, of course, he always seems to do well against the Yankees.

2010 numbers: 32 starts, 221 IP, 3.75 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 3.86 xFIP

Game 4: Francisco Liriano. The Liriano-to-the-Yankees rumors ran rampant this spring, but nothing came of it. The two sides could come together for a deal later this year, but if the Twins are contending they have little reason to trade their most dominant pitcher. That is, he’s the only arm in their rotation with an above-average strikeout rate. He combines that with a high groundball rate to give them one of their most complete pitchers.

As with Pavano, Yankees fans would have been steaming mad if the team had traded for Liriano and he turned in a performance like Saturday’s, in which he allowed four runs, on five walks and two homers, in 4.1 IP. Chances are, he’ll turn in a better performance this time around.

2010 numbers: 31 starts, 191.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 2.95 xFIP

Bullpen. For years the bullpen had been a strength for the Twins, but this past off-season they lost a number of key contributors. Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, and Matt Guerrier all departed. That might not hurt too too much, though, as the Twins got back Joe Nathan and will have a full season of Matt Capps. They also now have Slowey in the bullpen, who should prove a solid option — until they need him in the rotation, at least — and Jose Mijares, who picked up the pace after a terrible start in 2010. The real loss for the Yanks here is Guerrier, off of whom Alex Rodriguez has hit four home runs.

Record low attendances at Yankee Stadium this weekend

The Yankees previous low attendance at the new Stadium isn’t much of a surprise. On May 3, 2010, the Yankees drew only 41,751 against the Orioles. An early season games against a non-contender will always draw fewer people, so this is to be expected. What’s surprising is that it is now the former low. Both of the games this weekend against the Tigers drew fewer fans. Ross at Stadium Insider examines the trend. While I don’t agree that “casual fans got their first chance to catch the 2011 Yankees live” on Saturday — countless casual fans made it out for Opening Day — Ross does bring up some interesting information about the weekend games.

Of particular note is his point about dynamic ticket pricing. On the primary market, tickets cost the same whether you’re going to a July game against the Rays or an April game against the Indians. The secondary market helps correct for this, but the tickets hit the primary market before the secondary. In other words, someone’s taking a loss here. Maybe it was just the ominous weather forecasts that had everyone staying home — after all, snow was originally predicted for Friday/Saturday. But it’s still a bit of a disturbing trend.

2011 Draft: Catching up with Gerrit Cole

The Yankees knew they had landed themselves a gem in 2004 when they selected a high school kid by the name of Phil Hughes out of Southern California in the first round of the amateur draft. Four years later, they thought they had done it again. Baseball America called Gerrit Cole, a right-hander who could throw in the high 90s, the best high school pitcher since Hughes, and the Yanks picked him 28th in 2008. We knew the signing would go down to the wire, but Cole, a lifelong Yankee who went to the 2001 World Series as an 11-year-old, seemed likely to land in the Bronx.

On August 14, 2008, the bottom fell out. Word broke that Cole had opted for UCLA over the Yanks, and a three year mourning period began. In the intervening years, I’ve followed Cole closely.

For a young arm to opt for college over a lucrative deal from his favorite team is nearly unprecedented. First, it’s a very risky move. College coaches don’t pretend to care as much about their top pitchers’ arms as Major League organizations do, and they are more willing to overwork their youngsters to win now. If Cole got hurt at UCLA, his earnings potential would drop precipitously. Second, by eschewing the Yanks, odds were good that Cole wouldn’t have a chance to return to his favorite team until he’s a Major League free agent. If he becomes truly as good as advertised, he would become a top-five draft pick, and if he were to collapse, the Yanks would be entirely out of the picture all together. No small amount of emotion enters the picture.

Of course, in those intervening years, Cole has indeed been as good as advertised, and it stings. At UCLA, Cole, now a junior, has made a total of 41 appearances — 40 of those starts — and has been absolutely stellar. He has a 3.16 ERA in 256 IP and has given up 100 walks and 17 home runs while striking out 313. Barring an injury between now and June, either the Pirates or Mariners will take Cole as one of the first two picks of the draft. It stings.

In The Times today, Tyler Kepner profiled Cole, and it’s a fantastic read once Yankee fans get past the punch to the gut. “He’s a big C. C. Sabathia guy,” UCLA catcher and Cole’s former roommate Steve Rodriguez said. “He still is a huge Yankee fan. He gets intense when he watches their games.”

Kepner rehashes the negotiations:

Knowing they would exceed the recommended bonus for that slot, the Yankees waited until August to open negotiations with Cole’s adviser, Scott Boras. But by then, Cole and his family had decided that he would enroll at U.C.L.A. They told the Yankees not to make an offer, so the Yankees never did. Cole became the first high school pitcher in seven years to be drafted in the first round but choose college instead.

“The interesting thing is, everybody says he’s going to come out this year and make more money,” said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ amateur scouting director. “How does anybody know what we would have gone to?”

…In 2009, Cole told The Los Angeles Times that he and his family had done “just an absurd amount of thinking” about the decision, comparing future earnings of players who sign out of high school to those who choose college. Cole’s father, Mark, has two graduate degrees and a successful consulting business. Unlike most families of drafted players, financial considerations were a lower priority. The Cole could afford to take a long-term view.

To me, it’s still a strange equation. The Cole family never, as Oppenheimer notes, heard an offer from the Yanks because they didn’t want to. Furthermore, had baseball not worked out, Cole could have gone back to college. Thousands of players have gotten their degrees after or even during their careers. Instead, the family gambled and, depending upon what happens in June, just might come out ahead.

It’s clear that the Yanks still regret missing out on Cole and still feel misled. “We knew it was going to be a tough sign, but we also were told in predraft meetings with the family that he was willing to play pro ball and forgo college,” Brian Cashman said to The Times. “We rolled the dice and took our chances. Everybody has a right to change their mind.”

I’ve long wondered where Cole would fit in with the Yanks’ plans, and I asked Keith Law that question a few months ago. He believed Cole would be ready for the Major League pen right now and would be the organization’s second best pitching prospect behind Manny Banuelos. Instead, Cole, who thinks he could pitch in the majors by September, will wind up as the key piece to a club hoping to rebuild.

No matter where he goes, though, the Yankees expect to see big things. “At some point in his life, maybe he wants to become a Yankee again,” Oppenheimer said to Kepner. “I don’t want to ruin that by having some bitter attitude toward the guy. I do think he really likes playing baseball, and genuinely he’s a good kid.”