Can Michael Pineda rebound against the Royals?

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Michael Pineda was the model of consistency for the first 20 games of his pinstriped career. He never gave up more than three runs in consecutive outings, and he’d never had a “disaster” start where he allowed more runs than innings pitched (except for his pine tar-shortend game last year).

Until May 15 (5 1/3 IP, 5 R, 10 H, 1 K) and May 22 (6 IP, 7 R, 8 H, 4 K) happened.

It’s definitely not time to press the panic button after just two poor starts, but this (extremely) mini-slump is somewhat noteworthy because it’s the first time Pineda has struggled in back-to-back outings since joining the Yankees.

With Pineda facing the Royals again this afternoon — the same lineup that clobbered him less than two weeks ago — let’s take a look inside the numbers to see what’s gone wrong for the right-hander in his last two turns, and how he can get back on track against the best team in baseball on Wednesday.

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Here’s a quick overview of his first seven starts this season compared to his last two:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% HR
Last 2 11 1/3 7.15 4.82 9.3% 1.9% 2
First 7 46 1/3 2.72 1.91 29.5% 1.6% 3

The most shocking number in the table above is the huge drop in his strikeout rate. Sure, that 30 percent figure is skewed a bit by the 16-strikeout game. But the fact that he’s had his two lowest strikeout totals of the season in his last two games is really hard to ignore.

Predictably, batters are making more contact against Pineda in his past two games (83 percent) compared to his first seven (77 percent), but that doesn’t completely explain the lack of whiffs. Almost all of the increase in that contact rate is on pitches outside the zone — the pitches that he normally uses to get strikeouts.

Contact % O-Swing % O-Contact % Z-Contact %
Last 2 82.9% 34.8% 71.0% 87.5%
First 7 76.5% 32.3% 56.9% 86.5%

So while Pineda is still generating above-average swing rates on those out-of-zone offerings, hitters haven’t been fooled by his stuff and he’s not missing as many bats with those pitches.

Over his last two games, his signature slider has hardly been the wipeout pitch that made Pineda such a dominant force on the mound to start the season. He’s lost about an inch of horizontal movement on his slider, making it easier for hitters to square up on the pitch. After getting batters to whiff on 19 percent of his sliders in his first seven games, that rate has plummeted to just nine percent since then.

pineda whiffs animate

Another concern related to this lack of strikeouts is his inability to finish off hitters when ahead. Pineda is actually getting into more favorable counts now, but he hasn’t been able to execute those put-away pitches.

Opponents are 5-for-8 against him in pitchers’ counts over the last two games, a situation that the Royals really took advantage of when they crushed Pineda on May 15. The game was decided in the sixth inning as Pineda allowed two doubles and a triple to three of the first four batters he faced — unsurprisingly, each of those extra-base hits came on a 1-2 pitch from the right-hander.

The other obvious problem for Pineda recently is that he’s simply been more hittable, and he’s given up nearly as many runs in his last two outings (12) as in his first seven (14). Let’s break it down, good-bad-ugly style:

• The good: he’s still generating ground balls at the exact same rate (53 percent);
• The bad: he’s traded a few fly balls for line drives;
• The ugly: he’s really struggled when pitching from stretch:

After limiting batters to a .230 average with runners on base in his first seven starts, they are 8-for-20 (.400) over the last two games. Even worse, Pineda has stranded just 43 percent of baserunners during this mini-slump, a drop of more than 30 percentage points from the first month of the season (78 percent). Not being able to get that big strikeout in those key scoring situations has really hurt him recently.

******

While there are some reasons to be optimistic that Pineda will be able to rebound today against the Royals — he’s still getting a ton of grounders, showing excellent control and limiting walks — he will definitely be challenged by Kansas City’s high-contact lineup and powerful lefty bats.

Pineda, who held opposite-handed batters to a .200 average in his first seven outings, has been hit hard by lefties in his last two starts. They are a combined 10-for-24, and he’s allowed identical 5-for-12 lines against both the Royals (May 15) and Rangers (May 22).

If Pineda can’t contain the Royals’ quartet of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon and Kendrys Morales — three lefties and a switch-hitter — it could be another long afternoon for the Yankees and their budding staff ace.

DotF: Severino strikes out nine in five innings for Trenton

LHP Jordan Montgomery was named the Low-A South Atlanta League Pitcher of the Week, so congrats to him.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Pawtucket)

  • CF Mason Williams: 2-4, 1 R, 2 2B
  • RF Ramon Flores: 1-5, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 1 BB, 2 K — he’s actually in a 2-for-25 (.080) slump
  • 1B Kyle Roller: 2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 BB, 1 K
  • C Austin Romine: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
  • DH Tyler Austin: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB
  • LF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • RHP Joel De La Cruz: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 10/0 GB/FB — 53 of 86 pitches were strikes (62%) … well, not letting them hit the ball in the air works
  • RHP Danny Burawa: 0.1 P, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 18 of 29 pitches were strikes (62%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K — seven of nine pitches were strikes … he’s been working shorter outings of late, seems like they’re grooming him for left-on-left work
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 14 of 26 pitches were strikes (54%) … only three strikeouts in his last seven innings, which is weird

[Read more…]

Warren, A-Rod, and Teixeira lead Yankees to 5-1 win over Royals

So the Yankees lost six in a row and ten of eleven, then the best team in baseball comes to town, and the Yankees … win the first two games? How about that. They followed up Monday’s blowout win over the Royals with a solid, just how they drew it up 5-1 win Tuesday. Good pitching, good hitting, the works.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Dreaded Two-Run First Inning
Once again, the Yankees scored two runs in the first inning. That’s supposed to be a good thing! But lately though, that’s been bad news for the Yankees, who have developed a habit of scoring two runs in the first then never again the rest of the game. Thankfully, that was not the case Tuesday night. They scored their two runs and then tacked on later. It was fun. I like that. Do that more.

The two first inning runs came on a walk and a blast — Jason Vargas walked Alex Rodriguez and left a changeup right out over the plate for Mark Teixeira, who sent the ball into the visitor’s bullpen. The Yankees didn’t score again until the fifth inning — they stranded two runners in both the third and fourth innings — when back-to-back one-out singles by Chris Young and A-Rod started the rally.

Both runners scored on what appeared to be a rare Teixeira triple, but alas, it was ruled a double and an advance on the throw. He ripped a Joe Blanton pitch — Vargas was on a 75-pitch limit in his first start off the DL, so Blanton took over in the fifth — into right-center and Paulo Orlando missed with his dive. It rolled to the wall and boom, three bases. Young scored and A-Rod scored all the way from first. Five-zip Yankees.

Lorenzo Cain robbed Carlos Beltran of at least a double — it wasn’t going to be a homer, but Cain made a leaping catch to grab a line drive before it clanked off the center field wall — for the final out of the fifth, but Teixeira had already scored on Chase Headley‘s sac fly. That kinda sucked, though it was a nice play. A-Rod and Teixeira were in the middle of both rallies, as has been the case for much of the season. It’s been at least two years since the Yankees had two legit middle of the order hitters like this.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Starting Pitchah
Adam Warren seems to be getting the hang of this whole starting pitching thing. He’s done it before in college and the minors, but starting in MLB is a different animal, and Warren’s last three starts have been pretty darn good. He delivered his best start of the season (and thus his career) on Tuesday afternoon, holding the Royals to one run in 6.1 innings.

Warren allowed just two hits, one an infield single and one a Yankee Stadium semi-cheapie solo homer by Orlando, the number nine hitter. It was the first homer of Orlando’s career. Warren didn’t walk anyone, so just two base-runners on the night. The Yankees gave him an early lead and he cruised until Joe Girardi somewhat surprisingly pulled him at 88 pitches. Warren’s shown a tendency to fade around the 90-pitch mark this year, and the middle of the order was about to see him a third time, so Girardi was pro-active. I get it. Either way, excellent start by Warren.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Justin Wilson took over for Warren and finished the seventh, sandwiching a soft line drive single between a ground out and a line out. The single glanced off the glove of a leaping Stephen Drew. Dellin Betances struck out the side in order in the eighth — he threw 14 pitches and got five swings and misses — and then Andrew Miller pitched around a single and an error (Headley) in the non-save situation.

Oh, by the way, Betances has thrown a hidden no-hitter. When he struck out Omar Infante for the second out of the eighth, hitters were in an 0-for-27 against him. See? A no-hitter, but one that spanned multiple appearances. Betances also had an 0-for-26 stretch earlier this year. Remember when we were all worried about him in Spring Training?

A-Rod and Teixeira went a combined 4-for-7 (.571) with a walk while the rest of the lineup went 3-for-24 (.125) with two walks. Young had an infield single, Beltran had a single to left, and John Ryan Murphy singled as well. Gardner and Chase Headley drew the walks.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. We’ve also got a Bullpen Workload page to help you keep tabs on the relievers and an Announcer Standings pages for some still unknown reason. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees will look to complete the sweep on Wednesday afternoon, when Michael Pineda and Chris Young square off for the second time in 12 days. It’s a day game because the Yankees have to fly out to California for a seven-game West Coast trip starting Thursday night in Oakland.

Game 46: Build on the Blowout

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees snapped their ugly six-game losing streak with a 14-1 blowout win over the best team in baseball yesterday afternoon. That was a game everyone needed. That sort of win is an anomaly though, especially against a club like the Royals. It’ll never be the norm.

The good news is a win like that can be major confidence booster. Hopefully it’ll springboard the club towards another extended stretch of winning. The 2015 Yankees seem to be pretty streaky — they started terribly, got crazy hot, then went cold in an instant — and it’s time for another round of winning. I hope it is, anyway. Here is Kansas City’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 2B Stephen Drew
  8. C John Ryan Murphy
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Adam Warren

It’s starting to feel like summer around here. The temperate is again in the 80s today and there are only a few clouds in the sky. Nice night for baseball. Tonight’s game will begin just after 7pm ET and you can watch live on WPIX. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) is still getting treatment and has not yet resumed any sort of baseball activity. “He’s walking around in a brace every day and doing treatment. We have not progressed past that yet,” said Joe Girardi to George King yesterday.

All-Star Voting Update: MLB released the first AL All-Star Game voting update today and boy oh boy are Royals fans stuffing the ballot box. See it here. No Yankees lead at their positions but McCann (fourth), Teixeira (third), A-Rod (third) are among the top five at their respective positions. Ellsbury (7th), Gardner (11th), and Beltran (12th) are among the top 20 outfielders. A-Rod needs more support, folks. He’s nearly a million votes behind Nelson Cruz! Here’s the ballot. The last All-Star Game without a Yankee in the starting lineup was 1999, by the way.

Start Times Updates: The Yankees announced their games on June 21st (Tigers), August 23rd (Indians), and September 27th (White Sox) will all start at 1:05pm ET. They had been listed at TBA. They’re all Sunday games, so ESPN didn’t flex them into the 8pm ET slot, basically. Hooray for that.

2015 Draft: Cody Ponce

Cody Ponce | RHP

Background
The 21-year-old Ponce was not a big pro prospect out of high school and went undrafted in 2012. He wound up at Division II Cal State Pomona, where he spent his freshman year as a reliever (2.23 ERA in 48.1 IP) before moving into the rotation as a sophomore (2.48 ERA in 72.2 IP). Ponce has a 1.44 ERA with a 67/14 K/BB in 52.1 innings this year. He is likely to be the highest drafted player is school history, beating out Mark Wiley (46th overall in 1970).

Scouting Report
Ponce is a big kid — he’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 lbs. — and he has one of the deepest repertories in the draft. He generally sits 91-94 mph with his fastball and also throws a cutter, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. The cutter and slider are two versions of the same pitch — Ponce can vary the break to make it short like a cutter or sweepy like a slider. He uses his size well by pitching downhill. Ponce’s delivery isn’t textbook but he repeats it well enough and his strike-throwing ability has improved greatly in college, though he isn’t as refined as the typical college arm. There’s still some rawness in his game. Ponce missed a month with shoulder fatigue earlier this year but has had no trouble since and has been able to hold his velocity deep into games.

Miscellany
Ponce was ranked as the 26th, 34th, and 36th best prospect in the draft class by MLB.com, Baseball America, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) in their latest rankings, respectively. For what it’s worth, Ponce was connected to the Yankees in a recent Baseball America mock draft, and he fits scouting director Damon Oppenheimer’s preferred profile as a Southern California pitcher with a deep arsenal. The Yankees pick 16th and 30th this year and Ponce may still be on the board for the second of those two picks.

Aaron Judge ranks 16th on Keith Law’s updated top 25 prospects list

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today, Keith Law published his updated list of the 25 best prospects in the minors (subs. req’d). With Cubs 3B Kris Bryant now in MLB, Astros SS Carlos Correa takes over as the number one prospect in baseball. Dodgers SS Corey Seager, Twins OF Byron Buxton, Phillies SS J.P. Crawford, and Indians SS Francisco Lindor round out the top five.

The Yankees have one player in Law’s updated top 25: OF Aaron Judge ranked 16th, up from 23rd in Law’s preseason top 100. Here’s the blurb on Judge:

Judge is prone to strikeouts — he had 11 in a recent four-game stretch — but he also is doing so much damage when he does make contact that he projects as an average regular even if he doesn’t improve his contact rate. He’s also an above-average to plus defender in right. Most scouts I’ve talked to share my belief that he’ll continue to close some of the gaps in his plate coverage, especially if he backs off the plate a little.

The “especially if he backs off the plate a little” comment made me chuckle because here’s where Judge was standing in the batter’s box in Spring Training:

Aaron Judge

If he moves back any further he’ll be in the on-deck circle.

Anyway, Judge, who turned 23 late last month, is hitting .288/.356/.469 (134 wRC+) with nine doubles and six homers in 180 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton this year. He hit .283/.411/.442 (149 wRC+) with nine doubles and eight homers in 285 plate appearances for High-A Tampa in the second half last year, so his raw power is starting to show up in games.

Despite a recent slump — Judge is 2-for-20 (.100) with 14 strikeouts (!) in his last five games — Judge has a 26.1% strikeout rate this year, which isn’t too far off from the 23.3% strikeout rate he had with Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last year. (He had a 21.4 K% before this recent five-game slide.) Given his size and his long arms, Judge is always going to be prone to strikeouts, but when he makes contact, he does major damage.

The Yankees don’t have any other top 25 caliber prospects in the system right now. I’m not even sure they have another top 50 caliber prospect either. RHP Luis Severino didn’t make Law’s preseason top 100 but that was an outlier — Severino was on every other top 100 list out there. 1B Greg Bird was 86th on Law’s preseason list but he’s been just okay (122 wRC+) and hurt (shoulder) with Double-A Trenton this year. No surprise he didn’t shoot up the list.

Bullpen and defense, supposed strengths, must improve for Yankees going forward

Uh, guys? (Presswire)
Uh, guys? (Presswire)

Yesterday’s blowout win notwithstanding, the Yankees are in the middle of a really bad stretch, having lost ten of their last 12 games. A stretch that awful features bad everything — bad pitching, bad hitting, bad defense, bad base-running, bad everything. More than one-quarter of the way through the season, we’re still left wondering what exactly the Yankees do well other than hit homers.

During the offseason the Yankees focused on improving their team defense — specifically the infield — as well as the bullpen, essentially trying to copy the model the Royals used to surprise the world a year ago. On paper it all made sense. We saw firsthand how good Chase Headley and Stephen Drew are in the field last year, and Didi Gregorius came with a strong defensive reputation, plus the team brought in power relievers by the bushel. The pieces were there, in theory.

So far this season neither the bullpen nor the defense have been strengths. Far from it, really, and this latest stretch of awful play has made it plainly obvious. The bullpen as a whole has a 3.23 ERA (3.51 FIP) compared to the 3.54 ERA (3.71 FIP) league average, but the relief crew is top heavy — Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have been fantastic, combining for a 0.42 ERA (1.62 FIP) in 43.1 innings. The Yankees have a lot of problems. Those two aren’t among them.

The rest of the bullpen, however, has a combined 4.36 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 107.1 innings, which is just turrible. David Carpenter has been a massive disappointment and is beyond untrustworthy after allowing at least one run in six of his last eight appearances. I feel like Justin Wilson has been better than his 5.79 ERA (3.22 FIP), but what I feel doesn’t matter, those runs are scoring. Esmil Rogers leads all MLB relievers with 29 innings and has allowed 14 runs in his last 12.2 innings. Yikes.

The Yankees made minimal bullpen changes through the first 45 games, doing nothing more than shuffling fresh arms in and out of the last spot as necessary until calling up Jacob Lindgren on Sunday. Lindgren might actually be a solution to the middle relief problem, but that remains to be seen, and besides, he is just one reliever. Carpenter hasn’t given anyone a reason to think improvement is coming and Wilson’s career-long strike-throwing problem suggests he’ll never be truly reliable.

The non-Miller/Betances portion of the bullpen has been a major eyesore, though we all understood that was a possibility this year. Bullpens are like that. Relievers are so unpredictable. The defense though? Those issues were completely unexpected. Headley’s had trouble throwing and getting caught in between hops on more than a few occasions, so while he hasn’t been a total disaster, he hasn’t been as good as the Yankees have needed him to be defensively.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Gregorius’ defensive problems are almost entirely related to decision making. He clearly doesn’t lack physical tools — Didi has a quick first step, good range, and an effortless rocket of an arm — but he has a knack for really poor decisions, whether it’s trying to flip the ball behind his back the other day or taking his time underhanding the ball on that potential double play in Detroit. The bad decisions seem to come at inopportune times too. I suppose the good news is that this is ostensibly correctable, but it hasn’t been corrected yet.

Drew has been fine at second base — the other second basemen, Jose Pirela specifically, have not — and of course Carlos Beltran has been a total negative in right field. Beltran actively hurts the team with his defense. He’s worse than a zero in the field. Even Brian McCann has not been up to snuff, mostly because he’s struggled to keep balls in the dirt in front of him. Only the Blue Jays have allowed more passed pitches (wild pitches plus passed balls) than the Yankees this year and Toronto has a full-time knuckleballer on the staff.

Outside of benching Beltran (never gonna happen), the Yankees don’t have any ways to improve their defense. Even doing something drastic like, say, sending Gregorius to Triple-A, just shifts the defensive problem to second base, where Pirela or Rob Refsnyder would take over with Drew moving to short. The Yankees can’t do much more than wait for Headley and Didi to correct their issues. I’m far more confident in Headley doing it than Gregorius, but that’s just me.

The bullpen is another matter because the Yankees don’t have to wait for anything. Carpenter has been given time yet has shown no improvement, so we’re at the point were finding someone else has to be considered. Rogers is the very definition of replacement level but the long man isn’t really deciding games. He’s just soaking up outs. Still, it’s a sore spot and if a better option comes along, so be it. Maybe Chris Capuano is the answer when Ivan Nova or Masahiro Tanaka gets healthy. Who knows.

The Yankees have bullpen options in the minors. Lindgren was just one. Bryan Mitchell — another long man candidate — and Nick Rumbelow are two of the most notable, though Danny Burawa and Tyler Webb should be considered options as well. Chris Martin is inching closer to a return from his elbow issue and that may also solidify things. He showed flashes of being useful earlier in the season and didn’t lose effectiveness until his elbow started barking.

Right now, the middle of the bullpen and defense has been disappointments, massive ones compared to expectations coming into the season. They were supposed to be strengths and they’ve been anything but. This recent 2-10 strength is the result of the defense giving opponents extra outs and the middle relievers either blowing leads or failing to keep games close. Those are things that are not supposed to happen and yet it’s happened game after game.

The Yankees were going to have a hard enough time contending this season, even if the bullpen and defense were performing as advertised. Now that they’ve developed into a problem, well, something like ten losses in the span of a dozen games happens. This stuff is fixable, at least I think it is, and it’s not going to fix itself overnight. For now the Yankees just need to see things start to improve and move in the right direction to remain competitive.