Are the Yankees being too passive at the plate?

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

It seems one of the biggest universal pet peeves in baseball is swinging at the first pitch when the pitcher is struggling to throw strikes. In the second inning two nights ago the Yankees had runners at first and second with no outs after Martin Perez walked Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, then Brian McCann swung at the first pitch and grounded into a double play. That took the wind out of everyone’s sails.

As fans, seeing McCann swing at the first pitch in that spot was frustrating, but players will tell you the first pitch might be the best one to hit in those situations. The pitcher doesn’t want to fall behind in the count again, so they lay a first pitch fastball in the zone, figuring the hitter might take it. They try to steal a strike when they’re struggling to locate. Unfortunately McCann hit into the double play and that was that.

The Yankees have struggled to score runs this season, and following Wednesday’s game I noted 12 of the 34 men they sent to the plate saw two pitches or less. They were swinging early and often that night. On the season though, only one team has swung less often than the Yankees. The Yankees have a 42.3% swing rate in 2016. The Brewers are at 41.4% and the MLB average is 45.6%. Let’s break it down a little further.

Z-Swing% Z-Contact% O-Swing% O-Contact%
Yankees 58.9% 91.4% 27.2% 62.7%
MLB AVG 63.4% 85.8% 29.3% 61.9%
NYY MLB Rank 30th 1st 6th 14th

Do you see what’s going on there? The Yankees have the highest contact rate in baseball on pitches in the strike zone (Z-Contact%), but they also swing at those pitches (Z-Swing%) less than any other team. They also don’t swing at many pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%). This is good! You want your players to a) make contact when they swing, and b) not chase stuff off the plate.

But dead last in swing rate on pitches in the zone? Those are the pitches you’re supposed to swing at. Last season the Yankees swung at 62.6% of the pitches they saw in the zone with largely the same lineup. The only difference is Starlin Castro instead of Stephen Drew. The Yankees were still a bottom five team in Z-Swing% last year — they were also top three with an 88.8 Z-Contact% — but the gap between 2015 and 2016 is pretty substantial.

The obvious caveat: it’s still early and this stuff can change in a hurry. (For what it’s worth, swing and contact rates do stabilize fairly quickly.) That said, I do wonder if the Yankees are perhaps being a bit too passive as a team, and are letting hittable pitches go by on occasion. Let’s look at some individual players really quick:

2015 Z-Swing% 2016 Z-Swing% Change from 2015-16
Mark Teixeira 65.8% 56.3% -9.5%
Brett Gardner 52.8% 44.0% -8.8%
Chase Headley 61.6% 54.5% -7.1%
Alex Rodriguez 66.6% 62.2% -4.4%
Jacoby Ellsbury 64.5% 60.7% -3.8%
Carlos Beltran 64.3% 61.0% -3.3%
Starlin Castro 64.9% 63.6% -1.3%
Brian McCann 56.5% 55.5% -1.0%
Didi Gregorius 71.7% 71.7% 0.0%

Every single player in the starting lineup except Gregorius is swinging at fewer pitches in the zone this season than they did a year ago. Most of them are swinging at considerably fewer pitches too. We’re talking a difference of three percentage points or more for most guys.

Now, again, the 2016 season is only 20 games old, and weird stuff happens in samples of 20 games. But the entire team has a lower Z-Swing%, so I wonder if that has something to do with the new hitting coaches. The Yankees replaced Kevin Long with the Jeff Pentland/Alan Cockrell tandem last year, then replaced Pentland/Cockrell with Cockrell/Marcus Thames this year. Cockrell was promoted to the main hitting coach to replace Pentland with Thames taking over as his assistant.

Is it possible for a new hitting coach(es) to instill a philosophy like “swing less?” I suppose so, but the Yankees are a pretty veteran team. These guys know what they’re doing at the plate. And even if the new coaches did preach swing less, what’s to be gained? A few more walks? Believe me, I know how important on-base percentage is, but the goal first and foremost is to get a hit, and letting hittable pitches go by is no way to do that.

The Yankees have the highest Z-Contact% and the lowest Z-Swing% in baseball, so it’s easy to say they should simply swing more often and the offense will come. I don’t think it’s quite that simple though. If they start swinging for the sake of swinging, their Z-Contact% rate is going to come down in a hurry. You want to swing at pitches in the strike zone but not necessarily every pitch in the strike zone.

I don’t have an answer to the question in the title. I’m inclined to say this is all small sample size noise and eventually the team’s Z-Swing% will climb upwards. I do think it’s fair to wonder whether the Yankees are taking too many hittable pitches. The players know they’re struggling to score, they feel the pressure, and sometimes you can overthink things and let good pitches go by. They’re not going to walk their way out of this slump though. A few more swings on pitches in the zone can’t hurt.

Mailbag: Trades, Braun, Hicks, Gallo, Judge, Eovaldi, Myers

Got a dozen questions and eleven answers in this week’s mailbag. As always, send any questions or comments to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. We can’t answer them all, but we’ll try our best.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Eric asks: This will never happen but it’s strangely fun to think about. If the Yankees are out of it and decide to be sellers at the deadline, who could the Yankees realistically sell off? What teams would these pieces fit? Easiest answer is Chapman who we could easily flip for a package better than what we gave up.

Yeah, Aroldis Chapman is the big one. Assuming the off-the-field stuff doesn’t get in the way — it very well might — pretty much every contender out there would have room for him. The Nationals reportedly had interest even after the domestic dispute, so they’re a possibility. The Cubs, Giants, White Sox, Rangers, Astros, Mets … pretty much any good team in the race in July. (The Dodgers nixed their trade for Chapman after the incident, so they might not be interested.)

Two years ago Andrew Miller was traded for Eduardo Rodriguez at the deadline, which is good framework for a Chapman trade. Instead of taking two or three prospects, the Yankees could shoot for the one high quality young player. Chapman for Joe Ross? Chapman for Phil Bickford? Chapman for Joey Gallo? Rangers GM Jon Daniels has been known to pay big for rentals at the trade deadline.

Here are the other players the Yankees could market at the trade deadline, as well as some potential landing spots:

I’m sure the Yankees could find a taker for Starlin Castro, but he seems like someone they’ll keep and build around. Same with Didi Gregorius. Those two are keepers unless you get blown away with an offer. Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury are a tad too pricey to be moved, I think. It would be different if they were rentals, but they still have multiple years left on their contracts.

As I said yesterday, the Yankees need to be honest with themselves and trade away players at the deadline if they’re out of it. Chapman, Teixeira, and Beltran are the obvious candidates to go because their contracts are up after the season. They shouldn’t stop there though. See what teams are willing to give up for Gardner and Miller again. Same with Pineda and Eovaldi. Even Betances. It doesn’t hurt to listen.

Anonymous: Not a question, but you forgot one possible bad-contract trade (that will never happen because of Ell’s no-trade provision + the public relations fallout). Ellsbury + prospects for Braun. If Milwaukee could get Ells playing well, they could possibly flip him to another team for even more prospects.

The money is about the same — Ellsbury ($110M) and Ryan Braun ($100M) are both under contract through 2020 — but Braun is the better player right now. He’s not the perennial MVP candidate he was a few years back, but he hit .285/.356/.498 (129 wRC+) with 25 homers and 24 steals last year, and he went into yesterday’s game with a 183 wRC+ in the early going this year. Even with his terrible defense, give me Braun over Ellsbury.

The Brewers aren’t getting enough out of this, not unless the Yankees kick in some quality prospects. It’s not just that they’d be getting the inferior player, they’re also getting a player the fans have no attachment to. Brewers fans still love Braun and he helps the team sell tickets and merchandise. Ellsbury wouldn’t do that. This one doesn’t make sense for the Brewers. The Yankees would either have to eat a bunch of cash or kick in some good young players to make it work.

Jon asks: If Aaron Hicks doesn’t end up hitting much, Could it be worth it to test that arm out as a pitcher?

It is nowhere near time to consider this. Hicks hit .256/.323/.398 (97 wRC+) with eleven homers and 13 steals in 97 big league games just last year. Plus he plays great defense. So he’s gotten off to a 2-for-22 (.091) start in sporadic playing time. Big deal. If a few years down the line he continues to not hit — and I mean really not hit, like an 70 wRC+ guy — then maybe consider a move to the mound. That is a very long way away though.

Anonymous: Now that Beltre is blocking him for another 2 years, what do you think it would take to get Joey Gallo? Can you imagine how many HRs he’d hit in Yankee Stadium? Obviously this would require unloading Headley, maybe back to SD for another bad contract like Upton Jr.

Gallo is absolutely someone the Yankees should target. The Rangers could always play him at first base, so it’s not like they have nowhere to stick him, but right now he’s blocked at third base and even in the corner outfield. Chase Headley shouldn’t stand in the way of a Gallo trade. Get him and figure the rest out later.

The 22-year-old Gallo is the best power hitting prospect in the game. It’s true 80 power. He has that Giancarlo-esque “he’s going to hit 40 homers no matter what park he plays in” pop. Enjoy:

Gallo is going to strike out a ton — he had a 39.5% strikeout rate in Triple-A last year, though it is down to 23.8% in the early going this year — but even if he hits .220 in the big leagues long-term, he’s going to wind up hitting about 500 home runs. The power is unreal. Gallo’s can also run a little and is pretty good defensively at the hot corner. Between the lefty pop and the long-term need at third base, he’s an obvious fit for the Yankees.

What would it take? Well, Gallo is a top ten prospect in all of baseball, and he’s MLB ready, so he won’t come cheap. What about Miller for Gallo, straight up? Betances for Gallo? My trade proposal sucks. I have a hard time thinking the Rangers would be interested in a prospect for prospect trade. Those rarely happen. Otherwise I’d say trade pretty much anyone for him. Aaron Judge or Jorge Mateo and others? Sure. The “what would it take” question is always the hardest. Clearly though, Gallo’s a fit for the Yankees.

Joe asks: When a player (Rumbelow) has season ending injury in the minors vs. the majors (Pinder) – what are the rules surrounding their 40 man status and benefits? Does Pinder benefit from service time accrual while Rumbelow doesn’t?

Yep. You get to collect service time and MLB salary when you’re on the MLB DL. Players like Nick Rumbelow and Branden Pinder sign split contracts, so they make one salary in the big leagues and a lower salary in the minors. Rumbelow got hurt in the minors, so he’s stuck with his Triple-A salary — usually in the low six figures — and won’t accrue service time. (He does still get the healthcare, licensing money, etc.) Pinder got hurt in the show, so he gets MLB salary and service time. Getting hurt sucks, but if you’re a fringe player and you’re going to blow out your elbow, you’d rather do it in the show than in the minors.

Andrew asks: What would have to happen to see Aaron Judge get called up this year?

Bobby asks: If Judge came up, would the Yankees lose a year of team control? When Sanchez’ promotion was discussed, the date of his future free agency was a main part of the conversation but it hasn’t been the same thus far with Aaron.

Going to lump these two together. No, the Yankees would not lose a year team of control if they called Judge up now. At this point of the season any player who is called up to the big leagues for the first time will not be able to pick up a full year of service time. The Yankees would control Judge through 2022 regardless of whether they called him up tomorrow or September 1st.

As for an actual call-up, there are only two scenarios I see. One, the Yankees do sell at the deadline and Beltran and/or Gardner are moved, and they want to give Judge an audition. Two, a September call-up. Ben Gamel and Slade Heathcott are already on the 40-man roster and are presumably first in line to be injury replacements. That’s about it. I don’t think the Yankees will call Judge up to try to spark their offense or something like that.

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

Anonymous asks: What would a trade for Wil Myers look like? Next year with Beltran and Teixeira most likely gone the Yankees will have holes at 1B and RF. Wil Myers can play both 1B and RF while playing primarily RF with Greg Bird at 1B. I know Myers has his own injury history too but this does seem like a good fit.

I do like the idea of Myers. He’s healthy now — he’s had a lot of wrist problems in recent years — and he’s been rather productive this season. Myers is hitting .303/.333/.506 (122 wRC+) in the early going after hitting .253/.336/.427 (116 wRC+) around the wrist injury last year. The Padres are playing him at first base full-time, but he is only 25, so you could always stick him back in the outfield too. He seems like a nice fit.

Again, the “what would it take” question is the toughest. Myers has been traded twice before, once as the headliner for an ace (James Shields) and once for a big package of prospects (Joe Ross, Trea Turner, and others). The Padres are looking to add prospects and shed payroll, but Myers seems like someone they could keep and build around, right? You trade for prospects and hope they turn into Wil Myers, basically. He’s pretty good, he’s cheap, and he’s under team control through 2019. If San Diego wants to flip this guy for prospects, say Judge and some others, I say go for it.

Deren asks: Eovaldi was only(!!) 95-96 last night with his fastball. Do you think that can be tied into his success against the rangers? Many hard throwers often come up and quickly find out that fastball velo isn’t everything anymore. I believe even King Felix had to make a similar adjustment when he first arrived. He settled into 92-95 before long (With nasty movement and location). How much of last nights success was because Eovaldi wasn’t trying to throw as hard as he can and focus on changing speeds, location, and movement?

I noticed this during the broadcast too, but it seems the TV gun was off. PitchFX says Eovaldi averaged 97.4 mph with his fastball Tuesday, which was his second highest average velocity in a game so far this season. His velocity was right where it normally sits (via Brooks Baseball):

Nathan Eovaldi velocityI hate to be a buzzkill, but this seems like a “the TV gun was off” thing and not a “Eovaldi took a little off and located better” thing. The PitchFX data says it was the same old Eovaldi. He was throwing hard.

David asks: With how dominant (and efficient) Betances and Miller have been until now, and assuming they stay way, does Chapman automatically assume the closers role upon his return? Or does he have to earn that spot now?

I could see Joe Girardi easing Chapman back into things at first. Maybe one or two lower leverage appearances before giving him important innings. I think their perfect world scenario is Chapman comes back and they use him to protect a four or five run lead that night, just to get his feet wet. After that, I think he’s going right into the closer’s role. That’s fine with me. It doesn’t seem to bother Betances or Miller at all and I have no reason to think it’ll be an issue. Now, if Chapman comes in and blows his first save, the second-guessing will be epic.

Dan asks: Let me preface this with saying, I think the Yanks will be in contention all season (they’re better than they’ve played in April). But, assuming the Yanks perform like they’ve done in April for the whole year, and that this results in a protected draft pick (currently they’d pick 7th), would the fact that they wouldn’t give up first round compensation alter the Yanks approach to Free Agency next year?

It could. I still think the main factor is going to be money. The Yankees don’t seem interested in handing out a big money long-term contract anytime soon. The protected pick could result in them having more interest in players who get caught up in the system and are sitting there unsigned in February, like Dexter Fowler and Yovani Gallardo this year. No one likes giving up a draft pick, but giving up a second rounder instead of your first is a much easier pill to swallow.

Noa asks: I feel like I am in the minority and I just think Aaron Judge’s strikeouts will always be way too high for him to be productive. He doesn’t seem to hit for enough power or even be enough a productive all-around player to justify the strikeouts. This would be bold, and I’m sure you oppose this, but could the Yankees trade him while he still has lots of prospect value and if so, what could they possibly get back for him?

That’s very possible. Judge is certainly a risky prospect. He’s a classic boom or bust guy and the strikeouts are definitely a red flag. As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees don’t have an untouchable prospect. They could trade anyone in the system and I wouldn’t be heartbroken. That doesn’t mean I’d give them away, of course. The Yankees have traded away players at the peak of their prospect status before — Jesus Montero, most notably — and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it with Judge.

Baseball America had Judge at No. 76 in their annual top 100 list, which was his lowest ranking in the various lists this spring. Some other prospects in the No. 76 range who have been traded in recent years include:

  • Billy McKinney, No. 83 in 2015: Second piece in the Jeff Samardzija/Addison Russell trade.
  • Jake Marisnick, No. 79 in 2014: Second piece in the Jarred Cosart/Colin Moran trade.
  • Avisail Garcia, No. 74 in 2013: Main piece going to White Sox in three-team Jake Peavy/Jose Iglesias trade.

I definitely understand why some folks are skeptical of Judge’s long-term potential, and like I said, I’d definitely put him on the table in a trade. He’s not untouchable. The Yankees really need some fresh blood in their lineup and Judge has the most offensive potential in their system, and the guy is in Triple-A and close to MLB ready. He seems like someone worth holding on to, not a chip you cash in.

DotF: Andujar and Avelino homer in Tampa’s win

Got some notes to pass along:

Both Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton had scheduled off-days.

High-A Tampa (5-4 win over Dunedin)

  • SS Jorge Mateo: 2-5, 1 3B, 1 CS — 13-for-34 (.382) with a triple and two homers in his last nine games
  • DH Mark Payton: 1-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 1B Billy Fleming: 2-5, 1 R
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 2-5, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI — four homers in 18 games this year … he didn’t hit his fourth homer until his 33rd game last year
  • 2B Abi Avelino: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB — his ninth career home run was a grand slam
  • LF Zack Zehner: 0-2, 1 BB, 1 HBP
  • CF Michael O’Neill: 1-3, 1 BB
  • C Francisco Diaz: 1-4, 1 K
  • LF Jake Skole: 1-4 — the 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft is hitting .216/.241/.333 with 19 strikeouts and one walk in 14 games
  • RHP Jose Campos: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 3/4 GB/FB — 56 of 87 pitches were strikes (64%), plus he picked a runner off first … 26/12 K/BB in 28.2 innings so far
  • LHP Caleb Frare: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K — 21 of 32 pitches were strikes (66%)
  • RHP Matt Marsh: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 15 of 26 pitches were strikes (58%)

Low-A Charleston was rained out. The game was cancelled and will not be made up. Seems like it’s a little too early in the season for that, but whatever.

Thursday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have an off-day today and it comes at a good time, because I think we could all use a night away from the team given the way they’ve been playing. In the meantime, I command you to read Billy Witz on elbow injuries and John Harper on the shift. Harper spoke to Brian Cashman about the team’s shifting and why they continue to do it even though the perception is they result in more hits allowed than hits saved.

Here is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network is showing regional games at both 7pm ET and 10pm ET, plus the NBA and NHL playoffs are ongoing. Also, the NFL Draft starts tonight too (8pm ET on ESPN and NFLN). Remember, you’re not a true fan unless you boo your team’s pick. Talk about anything and everything here.

2016 Draft: Josh Lowe

Josh Lowe | 3B/RHP

Background
Lowe attends Pope High School in the Atlanta suburbs and is committed to Florida State. He played fall ball with the East Cobb Yankees last year, though they’re not affiliated with the New York Yankees. They’re a very prestigious prep travel team for Atlanta area players that happens to be named the Yankees. Brian McCann is a former East Cobb Yankee.

Scouting Report
Lowe, 18, is the best two-way player in the draft, though he’s a better prospect as a position player than pitcher. He’s a left-handed hitter with tremendous raw power thanks to his bat speed, strong hands, and lower half leverage. Lowe is a big guy — he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 190 lbs. — with long arms and that leads to some swings and misses, though his swing is level and he knows the strike zone. He’s not a true all or nothing hitter. Although he’s a third baseman now, there’s some thought Lowe will end up in the outfield long-term because his hands are a bit clunky. He runs well, so center field is a possibility. If not, right field it is.

On the mound Lowe works in the 90-92 mph range and touches 94 regularly. His breaking ball is somewhere between a curveball and a slider, and his changeup is rudimentary as well. Lowe’s a good athlete with good body control, so he repeats his delivery fairly well. Here’s video of him on the mound:

All in all, Lowe is a classic projection high school player. Put him on the mound full-time and he could be living in the mid-90s with a sharp breaking ball in a year or two. Stick with him as a position player and you dream of that power potential developing into in-game power and 30+ homers down the line. Lowe is not short on tools. No siree.

Miscellany
Baseball America, MLB.com, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) rank Lowe as the 11th, 17th, and 18th best prospect in the 2016 draft class in their latest rankings, respectively. The Yankees hold the No. 18 pick. Lowe figures to begin his career as a position player — most two-way guys start as a position players because it’s easy to go from hitter to pitcher down the line than vice versa — and his power is a great carrying tool. Lefty pop is a Yankees trademark for sure. He’s right up their alley.

Michael Pineda, Nate Eovaldi, and the struggle to manage contact

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three nights ago Nathan Eovaldi threw the best game by a Yankee this season. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and finished the night with two hits allowed in seven scoreless frames. Eovaldi has dazzled at times earlier this season, but it was always followed by the One Bad Inning. He avoided that bad inning Tuesday night.

“Uncomfortable swings. You can tell how good a guy is by the reaction of the hitters. They were swinging at pitches in the dirt. They were swinging at pitches over their heads,” said Mark Teixeira to Randy Miller after the game. “It’s just an uncomfortable at-bat. He’s throwing 97-98. When he needs to throw a strike on the corner, he does. But when he needs to put guys away with tough offspeed pitches in the dirt or high fastballs, he did that as well.”

Eovaldi’s raw stuff and potential are obvious. He’s one of the hardest throwing starters in baseball, and he’s developed a pretty nasty splitter over the last year or so. On Tuesday he mixed in a quality slider as well. Eovaldi’s impressive stuff has not yet translated to consistently impressive results, but every so often he has a game like Tuesday that reels you back in. Most of his starts are spent pitching around hits and trying to find a way to put guys away with two strikes.

Over the years we’ve learned things like strikeouts, walks, and home runs — stuff the pitcher can directly control — are more predictive than traditional stats like wins and ERA and WHIP. That’s DIPS Theory, something the Yankees buy into big time. They targeted Eovaldi because from 2012-14, he whittled his FIP down from 4.13 to 3.59 to 3.37. The team likes high strikeout rates and low walk rates, and the more velocity, the better. Intuitively that’s a no-brainer, but not every team emphasizes it as much as the Yankees.

As valuable as FIP (and xFIP and SIERA and all that) can be, there are exceptions to the rule. Guys like Bronson Arroyo and Mark Buehrle proved over hundreds and thousands of innings they can outperform their FIP. They did a better job preventing runs than their peripheral stats would lead you to believe. On the other side of the coin, guys like Ricky Nolasco and Edwin Jackson underperformed their FIP. They didn’t prevent runs as well as their strikeout, walk, and homer rates suggested they could.

The exceptions exist because pitchers do have some control over the quality of the contact they allow. Some pitchers, like Arroyo and Buehrle and Mariano Rivera, were able to consistently miss the barrel of the bat and generate weak contact. They did it through location, late movement, and general craftiness. The Nolascos and Jacksons of the pitching world struggle to miss the sweet spot.

Based on what we’ve seen the last few years, Eovaldi and rotation mate Michael Pineda fit into the Nolasco/Jackson category. They’ve underperformed their FIP because have a hard time managing contact:

Eovaldi: 4.22 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 179 innings from 2015-16
Pineda: 4.68 ERA and 3.61 FIP in 182.2 innings from 2015-16

Their strikeout and walk rates are great! But when they make a mistake, hitters square it up and drive the ball with authority. Pineda and Eovaldi don’t get weak contact. Not like Buehrle and Arroyo and other guys.

Here’s a plot of the 99 pitchers who have thrown at least 150 innings since the start of last season. You’ve got FIP on the x-axis and BABIP on the y-axis. BABIP tells us how often the ball falls in for a hit when hitters do make contact, so it covers all the at-bats that don’t end in a strikeout or walk (or homer). You can click the image for a larger view.

2015-16 BABIP vs FIP

“Luck” has become such a crutch word in sabermetric writing — nowadays it’s “sequencing,” which is usually code for “I can’t explain this” — but there absolutely exists some element of plain ol’ luck in baseball. We’re talking about a round ball and a round bat and a big swath of grass. Sometimes weird stuff happens. That’s what makes it fun.

Pineda and Eovaldi, as you can see in the plot, find themselves among a group of pitchers who have posted low FIPs but high BABIPs since the start of the last season. They’re right next to A.J. Burnett, which is a tad disheartening. Those guys have the sexy strikeout and walk rates, but when hitters make contact, the hits are falling in. The true greats — Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, etc. — run low FIPs and low BABIPs.

No one in their right mind is asking or expecting Pineda and Eovaldi to be Kershaw or Arrieta. It would be cool if they were, but come on. What the Yankees do want, however, are those two to do a better job managing the contact they allow. Mistake pitches happen. It’s part of baseball. Not every mistake should be hit 500 feet though. That’s the problem. When they miss their spots, they pay for it and pay big.

Eovaldi and Pineda are classic examples of good control/bad command pitchers. They throw plenty of strikes, we can see that in their low walk rates (7.0% and 3.4% since 2015, respectively), but they are unable to consistently locate on the edges. They’re throwing strikes, and unfortunately sometimes those strikes are right down the middle. Look at the heat map of Pineda’s fastball location since last season, via Brooks Baseball:

Michael Pineda fastball location

Good grief. There should not be that much red down the middle Michael! Eovaldi has a similar problem. He can throw strikes, but far too often they’re in hittable locations, and the batters make them pay. There’s a very fine line between a pitch being squared up and a pitch being nubbed off the end of the bat for weak contact. Eovaldi and Pineda have shown they can’t miss the sweet spot consistently. We see it pretty much every five days.

Command is one of those things that can be taught but is very difficult to learn. And really, there’s more to managing contact than command. Movement and deception play a huge role as well. The very best pitchers have all three. Pineda and Eovaldi have live arms. They’re also missing that something that allows them to be truly great, the thing that makes their run prevention numbers match their peripheral stats. Nolasco, Jackson, Burnett, and others had the same problem.

Because they’re still young and have power stuff, Pineda and Eovaldi are going to continue to get chances and big contracts as long as they stay healthy. It’s good to throw in the upper-90s like Eovaldi and it’s good to have a wicked slider like Pineda. Until they are able to do a better job managing contact and missing the barrel, either through improved command or increased movement or whatever, they seem destined to be the kind of pitchers who always leave you wanting more.

Yankeemetrics: It’s getting late early [April 25-27]

Nasty Nate (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports Images)
Nasty Nate (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports Images)

Near No-No Nate
Nathan Eovaldi‘s chance to make history fell just short on Monday night, but he still established a new level of pitching dominance for Yankee starters this season and helped the team start its road trip with a 3-1 win over the Rangers.

Eovaldi dominated the Rangers lineup, holding them hitless through six innings until Nomar Mazara led off the top of the seventh with a single. He finished with a stellar line of seven-plus innings, no runs, two hits, six strikeouts and one walk, becoming the lone Yankee starter to produce a scoreless outing in 2016. His Game Score of 77 also set a new benchmark for the rotation.

He consistently got ahead in the count, and while pitching with the advantage, was able to get hitters to chase his diving splitter out of the zone. The Rangers went 0-for-12 in at-bats ending in his split-fingered fastball; six of those outs were swinging strikeouts, and five were harmless grounders. His command of his slider was just as impressive: he threw 19 of them, 17 for strikes, and none resulted in a hit.

Although Eovaldi missed out on etching his name in the record books, he did put himself on a couple lists with some pretty good names. The last Yankee to throw at least seven shutout innings while giving up no more than two hits against the Rangers in Texas was Ron Guidry (1980). It was also his eighth straight game with at least six strikeouts, the longest streak by a Yankee right-hander since Roger Clemens in 2001.

From best to worst
One day after Eovaldi spun a gem, Luis Severino produced the exact opposite – a terrible performance in which he was pummeled by the Rangers’ bats and allowed twice as many runs (six) as innings pitched (three). Severino’s Game Score of 20 was the worst for any Yankee starter this season, and it was also the shortest outing for any pinstriped starter.

The Rangers ultimately cruised to a 10-1 victory, handing the Yankees their worst loss in Arlington since a 13-3 beating on August 21, 2001.

The most frustrating part was that numerous times the Yankees seemed thisclose to escaping an inning with no harm done, but were stung by several crushing two-out hits. Nine of the 10 runs allowed by the Yankees came with two outs, continuing a troubling trend for the team.

After Tuesday’s disaster, they had surrendered 49 two-out runs, by far the most of any AL team (the Tigers were second with 39), and the Yankees easily led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS allowed with two outs.

Dead Bats Society
Following their 3-2 loss on Wednesday night, there are few words left to describe the magnitude of the Yankees’ near-historic offensive struggles this season, so let’s just recap with some facts (because numbers never lie):

• Yankees have scored 72 runs, their fewest thru 20 games since 1990. And that season ended … um, not good.
• They’ve tallied two runs or fewer in 10 of 20 games, the most for any Yankee team this early into the season since 1966. Yuck.
• Yankees are the only major-league team this season that’s scored two-or-fewer runs in at least half of their games. Disgusting.
• They’ve scored three runs or fewer 15 times this season. Over the last 100 years, no other Yankee club has ever done that more times in the team’s first 20 games. Ugh.
• Since their game in Detroit was postponed on April 10, the Yankees have played 15 games and scored more than four runs just once. Gross.

On a more positive note, A-Rod returned from his oblique injury and produced his best game of the season, going 3-for-3 with a homer, double and single. It was his 543rd career double, tying Tony Gwynn for 32nd place all-time. Next up on the list is The Captain, Derek Jeter, with 544. A-Rod also scored his 1,000th run as a Yankee, the 12th player in franchise history to reach that milestone, and is one of nine players to total at least 1,000 runs and 1,000 RBIs in pinstripes. The other guys? Mattingly, Bernie, Jeter, Yogi, Mantle, DiMaggio, Ruth and Gehrig.