Archive for 2012 ALDS
For the last 15 years or so, Camden Yards has been a home away from home for the Yankees. Fans always made the trip down while the Orioles were cellar-dwellers, and the park was always filled with more Yankees fans than hometown fans. It was the same way for the Red Sox as well. That wasn’t the case in the first two games of the ALDS though, the first two playoff games in B’more in a decade and a half. Now the series shifts to the Bronx.
The Yankees, like most teams, are a far better club at home and that should give them an advantage for the remainder of the series. The Bombers are also throwing their most reliable starter in Game Three tonight, reliable in the sense that Hiroki Kuroda performed well all season while his rotation-mates got hurt and/or struggled. He’ll become the first Japanese pitcher to start a playoff game in team history. Here are the lineups…
LF Nate McLouth
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
DH Jim Thome
1B Mark Reynolds
2B Ryan Flaherty
3B Manny Machado
RHP Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25)
RHP Hiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32)
It was drizzling in New York earlier this morning, but the weather has cleared up and we’ll have our first rain delay-free game of the series. First pitch is scheduled for 7:37pm ET and can be seen on TBS. If the Giants and Reds are still playing, the start of this game will air on TNT. Enjoy the game.
During his pregame press conference, Joe Girardi said that Phil Hughes will start Game Four of the ALDS tomorrow regardless of what happens in Game Three tonight. That means the Yankees will not use CC Sabathia on three days’ rest if they are facing elimination. I don’t really see the point in announcing it; it would have been nice to have the option of starting Sabathia tomorrow without making it look like a panic move.
The Yankees and Orioles are down to a best-of-three series now, and I’m not sure Buck Showalter would rather have anyone on the mound in Game Three tonight than the man scheduled to start: right-hander Miguel Gonzalez. He embodies the Orioles, the out of nowhere surprise that continues to look more and more like he belongs with each passing week.
Gonzalez, 28, signed with the Orioles as a minor league free agent after spending a few seasons in the Red Sox’s farm system. They originally claimed him from the Angels in the Rule 5 Draft back in 2008. Gonzalez took advantage of the opportunity the Orioles gave him by pitching to a 1.61 ERA (1.79 FIP) in 44.2 innings with their Triple-A affiliate. With their pitching staff in need, Baltimore called him up in late-May and he has since emerged as arguably their best starter. Funny how that works.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
The Yankees saw Gonzalez as a starter twice, and he pitched pretty well both times. Done let those four runs in 6.2 innings in late-July fool you, he held the Bombers to just two runs on four hits and zero walks in the first six innings of the game before tiring out in the seventh. Those 111 pitches were the second most of his career, and both numbers 110 and 111 were hit out of the park for homers. If Buck Showalter had gone to the bullpen two batters sooner, Gonzalez would have finished with a much prettier 6.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 8 K line.
The late-August start was the best of his season by Game Score (74), a seven-inning masterpiece in which he retired 15 of the first 16 batters he faced. Gonzalez’s two highest strikeout and swinging strike totals of the season came at the hands of the Yankees. Those 111 pitches in July generated 20 (!) swings and misses, one of the highest totals in all of baseball this summer. He pitched extremely well against New York in New York during the regular season.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
Gonzalez uses three offspeed pitches and will use them a lot, especially early in the count. Right-handers will see his low-90s fastballs and mid-80s slider while left-handers get the whole kitchen sink, including the low-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball. The changeup has splitter movement, meaning it tends to dart down rather than fade away and off the plate. Hitters come up empty on more than 40% of the swings they take against the pitch (42.8%, to be exact), so if he has that working, it could be a long night for a Yankees lineup that figures to feature four lefties and two switch hitters.
Performance & Results
The effectiveness of the changeup shows up in Gonzalez’s strikeout splits, as he whiffed nearly twice as many left-handed batters as right-handed batters this season. The wOBA split is zero for all intents and purposes, but it’s worth noting that righties had a .214 BABIP against Gonzalez while lefties were at .310. Give him another couple hundred batters faced, and those ball-in-play results will even out. Very few pitchers (as in basically zero) sustain a near-100 point BABIP split.
Gonzalez seems like a candidate to show a reverse split going forward because of the changeup, but that is unlikely to happen all at once in Game Three. The Yankees have not just seen the Baltimore starter twice, they were dominated by him in their own building both times this season. Saying they need to be ready for the changeup, specifically the lefties, is much easier said than done. Considering how often Gonzalez likes to go to his offspeed pitches early in the count, the best approach might just be to sit on something soft earlier and swing away if he catches too much of the plate. Working the count and taking a strike or two didn’t work during the season, that’s for sure.
From Opening Day through Game 162, Hiroki Kuroda was the Yankees’ best and most consistent starting pitcher this year. He served as the staff ace for a big chunk of the summer while CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were on the DL, and he didn’t just get the title by default. From late-May through mid-August, a span of 16 starts and 113.2 innings, Kuroda pitched to a 2.22 ERA and a 2.78 FIP. Overall, his season included a 3.32 ERA and a 3.86 FIP in a career-high 219.2 innings this season.
That workload appeared to be an issue coming down the stretch, as the 37-year-old right-hander began to look fatigued during his starts, particularly in the later innings. He closed the season out with a dynamite seven-inning, two-run outing against the woeful Red Sox, but prior to that he’d allowed 22 total runs in his previous six starts and 37.2 innings. Eight of those 22 runs were scored after the fifth inning in those starts. As expected though, Kuroda said fatigue was not an issue while speaking with reporters on a conference call yesterday.
“I really haven’t thought anything about (being worn down),” he said. “You know, I don’t really feel fatigued, or I don’t think I can afford to think like that because I always prepare myself for the next game, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
The Yankees slightly juggled their rotation for the ALDS in an effort to not only give Kuroda extra rest, but to also make sure Andy Pettitte didn’t get too much rest and lose his rhythm. Pettitte allowed three runs in seven innings in Game Two on eight days’ rest while Kuroda will get the ball in Game Three tonight on seven days’ rest. Had he started Game Two, which seemed to be the plan basically all season, he would have been on normal rest.
Like basically every pitcher ever, Kuroda has pitched better with an extra day or two of rest both this year and throughout his career. In 15 starts with normal rest this year, he posted a 3.56 ERA (3.68 FIP) while averaging 6.2 innings per start. With at least one extra day of rest, he pitched to a 3.14 ERA (3.82 FIP) while averaging exactly seven innings per start. If Kuroda did tire down the stretch, it didn’t show in his fastball velocity, which actually ticked up late in the season. If the fatigue showed up anywhere, it was in his command.
Tonight’s game is, obviously, the most important game of the season to date. The difference between being up 2-1 or being down 2-1 in a best-of-five series is enormous, and Kuroda’s playoff history is short and spotty. He twirled two gems with the 2008 Dodgers (6.1 scoreless in the NLDS, six-innings of two-run ball in the NLCS) before allowing six runs in 1.1 innings in the 2009 NLCS after an injury kept him out of the NLDS.
“In ’09, I didn’t have all my stuff and I wasn’t feeling good,” added Kuroda on the conference call. “I had an injury to my neck and I couldn’t throw in the divisional series … Until now, I haven’t really thought about ’09. I’m focused on now.”
The Yankees signed Kuroda to little fanfare this offseason mostly because the deal happened on the same day of the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade, and nothing was stealing attention from that. He went on to serve as the team’s most reliable starter all summer, cranking out quality outing after quality outing. The Yankees are going to need that kind of effort from Kuroda again in Game Three tonight, if not something better given their struggles against Miguel Gonzalez this season.
This goes without saying, but tonight’s game is monumentally important. The Yankees and Orioles have split the first two games of their ALDS matchup down in Baltimore, and now they’re in the Bronx to wrap this thing up one way or the other. Playing the next few games in Yankee Stadium is advantage Yankees even though the O’s won six of nine there this season, simply because the Bombers are a better team at home than on the road.
By my unofficial count, 26 of the 64 total ALDS series from 1995-2011 were tied at one after the first two games. Of those 26 series, the team that won Game Three went on to win the series 21 times. The Yankees have been on both sides of that ledger, both the winning and losing. That 21-5 series record for Game Three winners doesn’t guarantee anything for anyone going forward, but it goes to show how much of a boost a Game Three win will be for whoever gets it.
Beyond the numbers, just look at how much more difficult things will be for the loser of tonight’s game. If the Yankees do drop the game, they would have to seriously consider starting CC Sabathia on three days’ rest in Game Four tomorrow rather than run Phil Hughes out there with the season on the line. No offense to Phil, but you have to start your ace out in a win or go home situation if at all possible. Sabathia has been on a roll of late and we all know he can handle starting on short rest. That would bump Hughes to a potential Game Five, but you have to win Game Four before worrying about that.
Furthermore, if the series winds up going five games, the winner will have to use their fifth starter in Game Two of the ALCS because there is no off-day between rounds this year. That’s really just a minor nuisance compared to having your season end this week, but at this point of the series you can afford to look ahead and think yourself “that’s something I really want to avoid.” The most important game is the next game, but as fans we can’t help but peek ahead and hope this series wraps up as soon as possible.
The Yankees and Orioles have been neck-and-neck since early-September, except now a trip to the ALCS is on the line rather than a division title. Baltimore is just not going to go away quietly as much as I wish they would, so Joe Girardi & Co. are going to have to hope Hiroki Kuroda is on point tonight while the offense actually capitalizes on some opportunities. Game Three is the most important game of the season, at least until Game Four tomorrow. I hope that game can be a little less stressful thanks to a win tonight.
Tuesday: The Giants beat the Reds in extra innings tonight, so the Yankees and Orioles will play Game Three at 7:37pm ET on Wednesday.
Monday: Earlier this afternoon, MLB announced that Game Three of the ALDS will begin at 7:37pm ET on Wednesday unless both the Reds-Giants and Tigers-Athletics series end on Tuesday. If they do, Yankees-Orioles will be pushed back to 8:37pm ET. Gotta fill those prime time hours, I guess.
MLB announced today that Game Four of the ALDS begin at 8:37pm ET on Thursday unless the Tigers and Athletics have to play a Game Five. In that case, the game will begin at 7:37pm ET. Game Five, if necessary, will begin at 7:07pm ET on Friday unless the Nationals and Cardinals have to play a Game Five. If they do, the Yankees and Orioles will have their game bumped up to 5:07pm ET. Got it? Good.
As I said this morning, splitting the first two games of the ALDS in Baltimore isn’t ideal but it’s far from the worst case scenario. Game Two was eminently winnable — the final 13 Yankees to bat could have either tied the game or given the team the lead with one swing — and the Yankees were a lot closer to finishing the first two games of the series up 2-0 than down 0-2. Now they get to come home for the rest of the ALDS thanks to MLB’s convoluted scheduling.
Like almost every other team in the history of baseball, the Yankees are a better team in their own building. They hit better at home this year (119 vs. 109 wRC+), they pitched better at home this year (3.67 vs. 4.06 ERA), and they won more games at home this year (.630 vs. .543 winning percentage). The Yankees were a really good team on the road this season, but they were even better at home. As much as I dislike this year’s playoff schedule, it does work in New York’s favor for this series.
I’m sure that by now, you’ve already been reminded that the Orioles actually won six of nine games in the Bronx this year. I don’t put much stock regular season performances carrying over to the postsason, but I know there are a lot of people who think it’s meaningful. The piece of the pie that’s missing is the fact that four of those six wins for Baltimore came against pitchers who aren’t even on the Yankees’ playoff roster — Ivan Nova (three) and Freddy Garcia (one). Seriously, in three starts against the Orioles at home, Nova allowed 19 runs in 16.2 innings. That information has been ignored while that “six wins in nine games” stat has circulated.
Anyway, the Yankees are coming back home for the rest of the series and only need to win two of three to advance to the ALCS for the third time in four years. I really, really hope they win the next two to ensure an off-day between the two rounds, but the most important thing is simply advancing. We can give out style points later. Hiroki Kuroda gets the ball in Game Three tomorrow night, and he’s an offspeed machine who works the edges of the zone well enough to take advantage of Baltimore’s middling walk rate (7.8%) and high strikeout rate (21.3%, third highest in the league). Splitting the first two games isn’t great, but the Yankees are still setup well for the remainder of the series in their own park.
The first two games of the ALDS have been similar but different. Similar in the sense that both were extremely close games for almost all nine innings, different in the sense that the Yankees had the big ninth inning in Game One but not Game Two. As thrilling as Sunday night’s win was, the Orioles weren’t just to roll over and give New York the rest of the series. They were hot on their tails for the division in September and aren’t going to go away quietly.
One similarity between Games One and Two of the series is that Chris Davis has really put a hurting on the Yankees. He went 2-for-4 in both games (all singles), and all four hits came off lefties CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. The 26-year-old Davis actually didn’t show much of a platoon split in the regular season, posting a 121 wRC+ against righties and a 111 mark against lefties. For his career, those numbers are 104 and 86, respectively, but there are sample size issues (only 416 plate appearances against southpaws).
Davis performed well against same-side pitchers this year (and last year for that matter), so he shouldn’t be considered a platoon bat despite his strikeout woes. He hits for big time power and as we’ve seen these last two days, he can also slap some singles. If you go back to the last three weeks of the regular season, Davis hit .352/.418/.746 with eight homers in Baltimore’s final 20 regular season games. The guy finished the season on fire and he’s carried it over into the postseason, and right now he’s making the Yankees pay.
In the first two games of the ALDS, Davis has seen a total of 18 pitches in his eight plate appearances. Ten of those 18 pitches were sliders, the other eight some kind of fastball (four-seamer, cutter, etc.). Davis has taken just six pitches in the series — three fastballs on the inner half and three pitches in the dirt (two fastballs and a slider). Here is a plot of the dozen pitches he’s offered at (via Texas Leaguers)…
The two hits in Game One came on fastballs — the red square and upside pink triangle, to be exact — while the two hits in Game Two came on sliders, including that one just hanging up near the top of the zone. That was the two-run third inning single off Pettitte. Davis has swung and missed three times in the series, all three times on those down-and-away sliders. Based on his heat map against lefties (blue is good for pitchers, red is bad), throwing him fastballs up-and-in and sliders down-and-away is a pretty good plan of attack for left-handed pitchers. Pettitte hung some sliders and got burned while that inside fastball Davis hit for a single was actually just a broken bat bloop. Can’t really blame Sabathia for that.
With both Clay Rapada and Boone Logan in the bullpen, the Yankees should have no trouble matching up with the Orioles’ big left-handed batter in the later innings. Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes are scheduled to start the next two games though, so the whole fastball up-and-in and slider down-and-away approach goes out the window for the right-handers. Here is Davis’ heat map against righties (via Baseball Heat Maps)…
As I said before, blue is good for the pitchers and red (or in this case, green) is bad. What the map is telling us is how Davis performs on pitches in these locations compared to the league average, so he’s been effective on pitches up in the zone but not so much down at the knees, particularly away. Kuroda should have no trouble getting the ball down with his splitter, but it will be a challenge for Hughes. He pitches up in the zone with his fastball, which is why he gets so many fly balls and swings and misses. Phil will have to be careful with Davis come Game Four.
The Yankees have done a pretty good job of keeping Adam Jones (1-for-8), Matt Wieters (also 1-for-8), and J.J. Hardy (1-for-7 with a walk) in check during the first two games of the series, but Davis is the one guy who has really given them trouble each time through the lineup. He will strike out a bunch (30.1% strikeouts this year), so going after him with offspeed pitches down in the zone will be important these next two games. Catching too much of the plate like Sabathia and Pettitte did could result in big problems given Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch.
If you’ve been reading my stuff for the last few years, you know I’m a big fan of tinkering with the lineup throughout the season. Mark Teixeira stinks in April? Fine, drop him down a spot or three and give the hot hand a few more at-bats. Raul Ibanez is hitting well? Great, maybe bump him up so he gets a chance to do damage with more men on-base. Lineups aren’t all that important in big picture, but they can very important in one individual game or, by extension, a short playoff series.
The Yankees have used almost the exact same lineup for the first two games of the ALDS, which means a top six of Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira. Jeter and Ichiro have done a swell job of setting the table, going a combined 7-for-17 (.412) with a double in the two games. They generated a first inning run in both games and outside of the Cap’n’s inning-ending ground ball to third with the bases loaded in the fourth inning last night, they’ve come up with some timely hits.
Teixeira has also produced well in the ALDS, with a pair of two-hit games (plus a walk thrown in). All four hits are singles, though at least two would have been doubles for someone with even average speed. Tex isn’t the fastest guy in the world to start with, but his calf injury has him in the Jorge Posada and miscellaneous Molinas pantheon of slowpokes. Cano has a run-scoring double in each game and Swisher reached base three times in Game One before coming up empty in Game Two.
And then there’s A-Rod, the most polarizing player in recent Yankees history and everyone’s favorite whipping boy. He drew a walk and struck out three times in Game One, then singled in struck out twice more in Game Two. Robert Andino stole a surefire run-scoring single away from him in the first inning last night with a diving stop at second, a hard-hit ball just hit to the wrong place. A-Rod is a career .271/.380/.484 hitter in the postseason, including .254/.381/.463 with the Yankees, but his failures get magnified more than anyone else’s.
So, naturally, after two disappointing games to open the playoffs there is talk of moving him down in the order or even benching him for the Eric Chavez. That second idea is a little ridiculous but the first one isn’t, yet Joe Girardi maintains that he won’t change the lineup because he “(believes) these guys are going to come through.” It’s the standard stock answer he’s been delivering all year, and on a number of occasions he switched up the lineup despite indications that no moves were coming. There’s no reason for Girardi to be truthful about this stuff, announcing that any hitter will be moved in the lineup serves zero benefit.
Now, there are valid reasons to move A-Rod down in the order for Game Three of the ALDS (and beyond), but you don’t need to focus on his recent playoff performance (.169/.282/.203 since 2010) for evidence. Frankly, what he or anyone else did in 2010 is pretty irrelevant in 2012. The case for moving A-Rod down comes from his performance since coming back from the hand injury, which features a .261/.341/.369 batting line in 129 plate appearances. I’ve mentioned this before, but hand injuries tend to linger. If he doesn’t have enough strength in that left hand following the broken bone, he won’t be able to grip or swing a bat properly. That certainly appears to be the case now as Alex just isn’t hitting for any power.
So the question now becomes where do you move him? Flip-flopping him and Teixeira seems like a fine idea if you buy into Teixeira turning it around following his slow return from the calf injury, or they could just move A-Rod down to sixth and bump everyone up a peg, allowing Cano to bat third. The generic lineup optimization answer is that the best hitter should hit fourth because the number three hitter will come up with the bases empty and two outs quite often, but as I said earlier, Jeter and Ichiro have been a two-man wrecking crew atop the lineup for the last four weeks or so.
Moving Cano up to third makes sense and it really doesn’t matter who the Yankees have hitting behind him because it won’t prompt the Orioles to pitch to him in a big spot anyway. Unless the Yankees reanimate the corpse of Babe Ruth, Robbie will be pitched around no matter what in a big spot. Finding someone to take advantage of those situations behind Cano is important and I have no idea who that is — Teixeira? Swisher? Ibanez? Russell Martin? Who knows. It’s not A-Rod at this point, who simply is missing hittable pitches and not really driving the ball when he connects. There are valid reasons to move him down in the batting order, and they stem from his hand injury and his performance since coming off the DL. Not his recent playoff history.