Adjustments! Nathan Eovaldi’s splitter and the new-look Brendan Ryan

Eovaldi. (Presswire)
Eovaldi. (Presswire)

Baseball is a game of adjustments, and those who don’t adjust will find themselves out of the league before long. Hitters adjust to pitchers and vice versa. The cat and mouse game never ends. Here are two adjustment related tidbits I felt were worth passing along.

Forkball to Sporkball to Splitter

Since the disaster start in Miami, Nathan Eovaldi has been the most reliable pitcher in New York’s rotation, pitching to a 3.07 ERA (2.84 FIP) in seven starts and 41 innings. No, he doesn’t pitch deep into games at all, but on a rate basis Eovaldi has been pretty good. He has a 4.02 ERA (2.96 FIP) in his last 13 starts including the Miami disaster.

The Yankees have been working to help Eovaldi add the splitter since Spring Training, and he’s certainly been using it more and more as the season has progressed. Some call it a splitter, some call it a forkball, so I dubbed it a sporkball in our Midseason Review. As noted in that post, the sporkball randomly jumped like four miles an hour in velocity a few starts back:

Nathan Eovaldi sporkball velocityThat’s not normal! Pitchers usually do not just add that much velocity to one specific pitch from one start to the next. Something changed at some point along the line, and, according to Billy Witz, that something was the sporkball grip. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Witz they started Eovaldi off with a forkball grip, with his fingers spread far apart so he could get comfortable with it. Once that happened, they narrowed the grip. Eovaldi’s now throwing a traditional splitter, hence the velocity spike. Forkballs tumble, splitters dive.

Game action grip photos are tough to come by, but here’s what I was able to dig up. The grip on the left is from April 15th in Baltimore and the grip on the right is from June 26th in Houston, the first game with the velocity spike.

Nathan Eovaldi grips

I dunno, see anything different? I appears Eovaldi’s fingertips are more on the seams in the June 26th photo. His fingertips are clearly on the white of the ball in the April 15th photo. Of course, that could just be the angle of the photo. Who knows.

Since that start against the Astros, when Eovaldi’s sporkball velocity first spiked, he’s thrown the pitch 27.8% of the time. The pitch’s swing-and-miss (15.5%) and ground ball (73.6%) rates have both been better than the MLB average for splitters as well (14.9% and 47.8%, respectively). It’s a relatively small sample, so don’t get too excited yet, but this split-finger pitch is clearly becoming a big part of Eovaldi’s arsenal. He didn’t even start throwing this thing until very late last year.

The Yankees keep saying Eovaldi is a work in progress and I know no one wants to hear that. It is true though. This splitter business shows it. At the outset of the season, Eovaldi was operating with a forkball grip just to get used to having his fingers so far part on the damn baseball. Once that happened, the team had him start throwing a traditional splitter, and now the pitch is a real weapon. Development takes time, yo.

Ryan. (Presswire)
Ryan. (Presswire)

Ryan’s Little But Noticeable Tweaks

About two weeks ago, the Yankees pulled the plug on the Rob Refsnyder experiment after only four games. Four games with the All-Star break mixed in. It was dumb and the Yankees hate their prospects and they’re costing themselves wins in a close race and oh by the way their second baseman are hitting a combined .345/.368/.582 (~142 wRC+) since Refsnyder was sent down. How about that.

The Yankees have used a Stephen Drew/Brendan Ryan platoon at second the last few weeks and both have hit well of late. Surprising! But I think Ryan has been more surprising. At least Drew was an above-average hitter back in 2013, which wasn’t that long ago. Ryan hasn’t even come close to approaching league average since 2009 with the Cardinals (98 wRC+). This year though, he is 12-for-39 (.308) with four doubles and two triples. He had four extra-base hits all of last season.

Ryan went 3-for-6 with a double against the White Sox on Friday night — he also struck out against Adam LaRoche, but that’s besides the point — and after the game Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings that Ryan has “made a little bit of an adjustment with the hitting coaches and he’s swinging the bat good.” We hear about guys making tiny adjustments all the time but usually they aren’t noticeable. Ryan’s have been. Check it out:

Brendan Ryan

Ryan has almost an entirely new setup at the plate. His hands are lower and his stance is a bit more closed, specifically. Girardi called them “little” adjustments but they look like big adjustments. Who knows what they really mean though. Does this new setup mean Ryan is suddenly a legitimate lefty masher? Maybe! But I’ll bet against it for the time being. After all, he was awarded a double on this:

I’ve come to hate the word luck — yes, there will always be some element of luck involved in baseball, but not everything that can’t be easily explained is luck — though let’s not kid ourselves here, Ryan’s enjoyed some good fortune of late. That was a tailor made double play ball that went for a double because the infielder was doing … something. Who knows what.

Anyway, Ryan has been providing some nice unexpected impact against southpaws of late, and who knows if his recent mechanical changes at the plate have had anything to do that. It is at least somewhat interesting Ryan has already pulled more balls to left field for base hits this season than he did all of last season:

Brendan Ryan spray charts

Perhaps those mechanical changes are allowing Ryan to get the bat head out a little quicker and yank the ball to left field. Who knows? Ryan’s done way more at the plate than expected in an admittedly tiny amount of playing time. He’s also made some mechanical changes this year, so perhaps the changes and improved production are tied together. We’ve seen guys like Ben Zobrist, Jose Bautista, Justin Turner, and J.D. Martinez all make relatively small mechanical adjustments that led to big increases in production in recent years.

Either way, both Eovaldi and Ryan have made adjustments this year that may or may not be having a direct positive impact on their performance. Every player makes adjustments throughout the season, they’re necessary to succeed at this level, but it’s not often we hear about them. Eovaldi’s splitter in particular is interesting because the process of learning a new pitch — using a forkball grip to get comfortable before switching back to a splitter grip, for example — is so foreign to most of us, plus the split is clearly becoming a go-to offering for him.

Game 89: Start of the Second Half

#TrueDetectiveSeason2 (Presswire)
#TrueDetectiveSeason2 (Presswire)

Baseball is back. The All-Star break is over and we’re heading into the dogs days of summer. The Yankees are the team to beat in the AL East right now. They have a nice little 3.5-game lead in the division and have the best combination of offense and pitching among the five clubs, though they’re certainly not without their flaws. The trade deadline is two weeks from today, by the way.

Robinson Cano and the Mariners are in the Bronx to start a three-game series this weekend. I don’t blame Robbie one bit for taking the extra $65M from the Mariners, I would have done the same thing, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t satisfying to see Seattle near the bottom of the standings while the Yankees are in first place. Here is Seattle’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Chris Young
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Rob Refsnyder
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

The weather has been very nice in New York all day. Sunny, a few clouds, temperatures in the upper-70s without much humidity. Pretty great, actually. There is some rain in the forecast tonight but not until the wee hours of the morning. First pitch tonight is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and can be seen live on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Brendan Ryan (back) has been activated off the 15-day DL and Gregorio Petit was sent down to Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees announced. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Carlos Beltran (oblique) is ready to be activated in a day or two.

2015 Midseason Review: Odds & Ends

Time to tie up some loose ends and conclude our Midseason Review series. The second half of the 2015 seasons starts tonight, thankfully. I’ve come to appreciate the All-Star break, but yeah, I am ready for more baseball.

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

G.I. Jones and the Serial Killer

By bench player standards, Chris Young has been dynamite this season. He’s mashing lefties and playing strong defense, which are his two main job functions. Garrett Jones, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a set role. He’s the backup at first base, yeah, but otherwise he doesn’t play regularly against righties or anything. Jones has started just 28 of the team’s 88 games, for example. He batted 28 times in April. That’s it.

Playing that infrequently didn’t exactly help Jones remain productive. He went 6-for-40 (.150) before hitting his first home run on May 22nd, a pinch-hit three-run homer into the Yankee Stadium short porch. That seemed to get him going. Jones is 24-for-89 (.270) with four homers since then, including at least one big one …

… while continuing to play sporadically. Jones is hitting .233/.277/.395 (84 wRC+) with five homers overall — again, he’s been much better since that dreadful start — and all things considered, he’s been really good for his role. That backup first baseman/fifth outfielder/lefty power bat off the bench who rarely plays. This is exactly the kind of veteran dude you want in this role. Not some prospect with an actual future.

John Ryan Murphy, meanwhile, has a total of 85 plate appearances as Brian McCann‘s backup this year, and is hitting .247/.286/.325 (65 wRC+). That’s about on par with the league average for backup catchers. Murphy’s defense has been fine to the untrained eye — he’s thrown out six of 19 attempted base-stealers (32%), so teams have tried running on him in limited action — and for whatever reason the pitching staff has better strikeout (23.4%) and walk (5.6%) rates with him behind the plate than McCann (21.8% and 7.2%, respectively). Could easily be sample size noise.

The Yankees reached the point where something had to happen with their catching depth. Someone had to go, and it was Francisco Cervelli, who was two years from free agency. The Yankees turned him into Justin Wilson, gave Murphy the backup job, and managed to keep Austin Romine in Triple-A as a non-40-man roster player. As an unabashed JRM fan, I’m happy with the way things turned out and I look forward to seeing Murphy continue to develop on both sides of the ball.

Futility Infielders

Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

It feels like more, but the Yankees have had four differential utility infielders this season, not counting the just called up Rob Refsnyder. Gregorio Petit, Jose Pirela, Brendan Ryan, and Cole Figueroa have hit a combined .209/.243/.310 (~53 wRC+) in 140 plate appearances. Pirela (41 wRC+) has exactly half those plate appearances. There’s a decent chance the Yankees will stick with Refsnyder as the regular second baseman and push Stephen Drew in the backup infielder role going forward, which would still be a net upgrade even as bad as Drew has been. Young, Jones, and Murphy have been pretty good off the bench, all things considered. The infielders have … not.

Get Called Up, Get Injured

When Jacoby Ellsbury hit the DL, the Yankees first called up Slade Heathcott, and it was a great story. Slade has dealt with all sorts of on-the-field and off-the-field issues over the years, so much so that he was dropped off the 40-man roster in the offseason, but he came to Spring Training healthy and played well in Triple-A. He earned the call up, went 6-for-17 (.343) with a homer, then blew out his quad and landed on the DL for a few months. Brutal.

Heathcott’s injury opened the door for Mason Williams, who battled mostly work ethic and makeup problems the last few years, but had the proverbial light bulb go on this offseason. He played well in Double-A and Triple-A, got called up to replace Slade, went 6-for-21 (.286) with three doubles and a homer, then suffered a shoulder injury diving back into first base on a pickoff throw. The day-to-day injury turned into a 60-day DL stint. I repeat: brutal.

The only young fourth outfielder to escape the injury bug in the first half was Ramon Flores, who got called up to replace Williams and went 7-for-32 (.219) with a double. He’s been up and down a few times and hasn’t gotten the everyday opportunity like Heathcott and Williams did before getting hurt. Maybe that’s the team’s way of keeping him healthy. I’m glad the Yankees have given their young outfielders a chance. It sucks they keep getting hurt. Seriously hurt too.

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

One Hundred Pitches Or Less

Through 88 games this season, the Yankees have had a starting pitcher throw 100+ pitches only 22 times, tied with the Rockies and Royals for the fewest in MLB. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have both thrown 100+ pitches seven times, Adam Warren did it four times before being put in the bullpen, CC Sabathia has done it three times, and Masahiro Tanaka has done it once. That’s it. The Yankees do have 38 starts of 90-99 pitches, for what it’s worth.

The lack of 100+ pitch starts is the result of many things, first and foremost ineffectiveness. Sabathia and Eovaldi have gotten knocked around a bit at times, Warren struggled in April, and even Tanaka and Pineda went through rough stretches. The Yankees also have a strong bullpen and Joe Girardi has not been shy about going to it early rather than letting his starter go through the lineup a third time. Can’t say I blame him.

That said, the Yankees rank 22nd in innings by starters (510) and eighth in innings by the bullpen (283.1), which is a bit unbalanced. Over the last five years the ratio of rotation innings to bullpen innings is almost exactly 2.0 (1.996, to be exact) in the AL. The Yankees are at 1.80 this year. I’m not saying it can’t work all year, but it would be nice to see Girardi let the starters go a little deeper into games to help avoid bullpen burnout, especially with multi-run leads. I’m not sure asking the relievers to get a dozen outs each night is a built to last strategy.

Game 85: Last Home Game Before The All-Star Break

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s the last home game of the first half. The Yankees are 24-16 with a +34 run differential at Yankee Stadium this season and only 21-23 with a -16 run differential on the road. The offense hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders the last few games, but the Yankees are clearly a much better team in their home ballpark this season. That short porch sure is friendly.

Masahiro Tanaka is making his last start before the All-Star break today and it has been an uneven first half for him. There were times he looked absolutely dominant, times he got smacked around, and off course the month long DL stint. Tanaka’s second half is going to have to be better than his first half for the Yankees to stay in the postseason hunt, I reckon. Hopefully he can finish the first half on a high note today. Here’s the A’s lineup and here’s the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Garrett Jones
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. RF Chris Young
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. 3B Cole Figueroa
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Not the greatest weather day for baseball. It was raining this morning and it’s supposed to rain again this afternoon, but not for another few hours. Shouldn’t be a problem unless the game goes into extra innings or something. This afternoon’s game will begin just after 1pm ET and you can watch live on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy!

Injury Updates: Chase Headley (calf) had an MRI last night and it showed inflammation close to his knee. He feels much better but remains day-to-day … Brendan Ryan (back) will start a minor league rehab assignment today. It was supposed to start Friday but has been pushed up, I guess because the Yankees want to get Ryan back as soon as possible in case Headley’s injury lingers … If you missed it last night, CC Sabathia had his knee drained before the start of the homestand. Second time he’s had it drained since Spring Training.

Roster Move: So, based on the lineup, Figueroa is with the team now. Jose Pirela was sent down and Taylor Dugas was designated for assignment in corresponding moves, the Yankees announced. Figueroa, a left-handed batter, is having a great season with Triple-A Scranton (.317/.372/.415 and 130 wRC+ with 5.0 K% and 7.5 BB%) and he can play all over the infield. Makes more sense for the roster than Pirela with Headley banged up.

Game 84: The Return of Ellsbury and Miller

Yay good players. (Presswire)
Yay good players. (Presswire)

The Yankees made two big trades today! Well, no, not really. People just like to say getting someone back from the DL is like making a trade for whatever reason. Both Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) and Andrew Miller (forearm) have rejoined the team today, so they’re whole again. Or at least closer to being whole. They still have some dudes out with injury.

Miller and especially Ellsbury will be asked to contribute right away because the offense has had trouble scoring more than three runs a game lately and because CC Sabathia is back on the mound tonight. Sabathia has not pitched well at all this year — he’s made 16 starts and allowed fewer than four runs only six times — but he’s staying in the rotation, so the Yankees are hoping he turns in a surprisingly strong performance tonight. Hopefully Ellsbury and Miller can help pick up the slack. Here is the A’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Chris Young
  6. C John Ryan Murphy
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Jose Pirela
  9. 3B Gregorio Petit
    LHP CC Sabathia

Now, the bad news: It’s raining. Has been for most of the afternoon but it’s just light rain at the moment. There’s more rain in the forecast later tonight, though it appears there’s a big enough window to get the game in. We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose. First pitch is scheduled for a bit after 7pm ET. The game will be on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Moves: Both Ramon Flores and Nick Rumbelow were sent down to Triple-A Scranton to make room for Ellsbury and Miller, the Yankees announced. Not unexpected.

Injury Updates: Chase Headley is day-to-day with a sore calf … Brendan Ryan (back) has resumed baseball activities and could begin a minor league rehab assignment soon … Mason Williams (shoulder) has renewed soreness after throwing, so his rehab has been slowed down. Surgery is not being considered at this time … Slade Heathcott (quad) is still shut down. He’s not close to returning.

All-Star Update: According to MLB’s update, Brett Gardner is currently fourth in the AL Final Vote voting. There is basically no chance anyone other than Mike Moustakas wins based on the way Royals fans stuffed the ballots for the starters. Here’s the ballot anyway … No Yankees will be in the Home Run Derby, unsurprisingly. Here are the participants.

Game 72: The Return of Ivan Nova

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

For the first time since April 19th of last season, Ivan Nova will be on the mound for the Yankees this afternoon. The real Yankees too. Not the Tampa Yankees or another minor league affiliate. His rehab from Tommy John surgery is complete and today he returns to the rotation. What to expect? Who knows. Nova was unpredictable even before having his elbow rebuilt.

The Yankees are getting Nova back today but, more importantly, they have to avoid being swept by the Phillies. The Phillies! The worst team in baseball. The worst offense in baseball has scored eleven runs in each of the first two games of the series — the Phillies went from averaging 3.10 runs per game to 3.32 runs per game thanks to the Yankees — and today they’re sending ace Cole Hamels to the mound. Good grief. Here is the Phils’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

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

It’s a gorgeous day in New York. Nice and sunny with temperatures comfortably in the upper-70s/low-80s. Just a perfect afternoon for a ballgame. Today’s series finale will begin 1:05pm ET and you can watch live on YES locally and, depending on where you live, MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Teixeira (neck) took batting practice and felt good, so he’s back in the lineup … Andrew Miller (forearm) played catch today for the first time since being shut down. He made 25 throws and everything went well … Brendan Ryan was placed on the 15-day DL with an upper-back strain. One thing after another with that guy.

Roster Move: Jose DePaula was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot for Nova, the Yankees announced … Ryan to the DL cleared the 25-man roster spot.

Yankees facing tough but welcome roster decisions this month

(Scranton Times Tribune)
(Scranton Times Tribune)

At some point very soon — likely next week — the Yankees will welcome Ivan Nova back to the rotation. He allowed one run in six innings in his second Triple-A rehab start over the weekend, but apparently he had issues with his command and wasn’t as sharp as he had been in previous rehab starts. Joe Girardi confirmed yesterday Nova will make one more minor league rehab start later this week.

“We just feel we want to make sure that he’s finished off,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “It’s not something that’s easy to make an adjustment if you say, we wish we would have had one more start, so we talked about it for a couple days and we just think it’s better that we know that he’s ready to go and ready to handle the rigors of throwing every fifth day and all that … We waited a long time and to give him one more start and to make sure that he’s ready is probably the best thing to do.”

Once Nova is deemed ready to rejoin the Yankees, the team will have to figure out a way to squeeze him back into the rotation, unless of course they decide to use a six-man rotation. Sunday’s subpar start by Adam Warren seems like the excuse the Yankees have been waiting for to plug him back into the bullpen after his recent run of strong starts. Girardi’s somewhat quick hook was telling.

Soon after Nova returns, Jacoby Ellsbury is expected back from his knee problem. Cashman told Erik Boland the team expects Ellsbury back before the All-Star break (which is less than a month away now) and that he could return later this month. Once he does return Ellsbury will slide right back into his usual center field/leadoff hitter slot and the rookie outfielder du jour (Mason Williams, currently) will be send down.

Last week the Yankees had to send Jose Pirela to Triple-A to make room for Brendan Ryan even though Pirela has gone 14-for-27 (.519) against lefties in his very brief MLB career. Jacob Lindgren was dropped in favor of Sergio Santos partly because the Yankees wanted another righty reliever and partly because Lindgren gave up three dingers in his seven innings. Ramon Flores was swapped out for Williams despite his solid showing.

Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

In this recent stretch of games the Yankees have had to make some tough roster decisions and they have some more tough decisions on the way. Keeping Pirela, Flores, and Lindgren around would have easily been justifiable. Warren may move to the bullpen but chances are the Yankees wish they could keep him in the rotation to see what happens. His last six starts as a whole has been very impressive, even including Sunday.

The Yankees suddenly have depth and extra players who belong on the roster. Too many times in the last two seasons the club was left scrambling for players, whether it was shortstops like Luis Cruz and Reid Brignac in 2013 or pitchers like Alfredo Aceves and Matt Daley in 2014, there was always someone on the roster that needed to be replaced. Obviously injuries played a part in that, but the Yankees have had injuries this year too. This season’s crop of replacements has been much more productive.

Right now, Santos is probably the only guy on the roster the Yankees would drop in a heartbeat if a better option presents itself. If Ryan or another outfielder gets hurt, Pirela and Flores are capable replacements. Those internal replacements rarely existed from 2013-14 and Hal Steinbrenner made it clear he viewed that as a problem in the last two offseasons. I know we’re all looking for stars from the farm system, but getting capable fill-ins like Pirela and Flores is very important too. It prevents the Brignacs and Daleys from even being needed.

When the time comes to activate Nova and Ellsbury, the Yankees will have tough decisions to make and that’s a good thing. Having more quality players than roster spots is a plus. The lack of depth and general lack of production from the farm system helped sink the Yankees the last two seasons. Now they have multiple young outfielders and a young infielder waiting in Triple-A, and will probably move a capable starter in Warren to the bullpen to make room for Nova. Figuring out who has to go isn’t so easy anymore. That’s a good thing.