Yankeemetrics: Rocky Mtn. High and Low [June 21-22]

(USA TODAY Sports)
(USA TODAY Sports)

From Super-Nova to Black Hole
The Yankees returned to the Bronx for their final homestand before the All-Star break but gave their fans nothing to cheer about on Tuesday night against the Rockies. This was another sloppy performance with multiple baserunning blunders, two errors committed and poor clutch hitting (0-for-10 with runners in scoring position), resulting in an 8-4 loss.

Yankee pitchers flashed dominance with 13 strikeouts, but also were pounded by Colorado’s lineup, allowing 15 hits. It’s just the fourth time in the last 100 years that the Yankees have reached both of those thresholds in a nine-inning game; the most recent was a 12-8 loss to the Red Sox on Sept. 6, 2013.

The game couldn’t have started worse as Ivan Nova allowed a leadoff homer on the third pitch he threw to Charlie Blackmon. He’s now given up at least one homer in 12 straight starts dating back to last season, matching Phil Hughes (2012) for the second-longest streak in franchise history. The only longer one is a 14-start streak by Dennis Rasmussen in 1986.

Nova’s first couple weeks in the starting rotation looked promising, with a 1.65 ERA in his initial three turns. But he’s really struggled over the past month, posting a 6.88 ERA in his last six starts. The biggest culprit during this poor stretch has been an erratic sinker that’s not doing much sinking lately. Batters are slugging .606 against the pitch over his last six starts, compared to .324 in his first three starts.

Blackmon wasn’t the only Rockie who clobbered Nova; Carlos Gonzalez had a couple hits, including a bullet line-drive double to right field in the fifth inning that left his bat at 118 mph, per Statcast. That’s the fourth-highest exit velocity for any batted ball this season, and the highest mark given up by a Yankee pitcher in the last two seasons (since Statcast began recording exit velocity data).

(AP)
(AP)

A star is born
Welcome to the True Yankee® club, Mr. Castro. Starlin Castro saved the Yankees from another horrific loss on Wednesday afternoon, belting a no-doubt homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Yankees one of their wildest and most dramatic wins of the season.

It was a game that neither team seemingly wanted to win as both teams managed to blow four-run leads, with the Yankees delivering the final blow thanks to the clutch bat of Castro.

It was the 26-year-old infielder’s first career walk-off homer, as he became the fourth Yankee with a walk-off homer in Interleague play. The others are Russell Martin (2012 vs. Mets), Alex Rodriguez (2006 vs. Braves) and Jason Giambi (2005 vs. Pirates).

In the last 50 years, only one other Yankee second baseman has hit a walk-off shot: Robinson Cano did it on August 28, 2009 against the White Sox. Before that, you have to go all the way back to July 11, 1953 when Billy Martin beat the Senators with a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the 10th.

(AP)
(AP)

Chase Headley gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead when he crushed a 97 mph fastball dead-center into Monument Park in the second inning for his first grand slam in pinstripes (fourth in his career), and the first one by a Yankee this year.

The last time the Yankees went this deep into the season (by date) without a bases-loaded homer was 1991, when Matt Nokes hit the team’s only grand slam on September 23 against the Brewers.

CC Sabathia gave that lead right back to the Rockies with his worst performance of the year. He gave up a season-high six runs in 4 1/3 innings, matching the number of runs he allowed in his previous seven starts spanning 44 innings pitched.

Regression came swiftly for Sabathia, but it’s hardly surprising that he faltered against the Rockies. He now has a 6.08 ERA in eight career starts against them, his second-highest ERA versus any team in his career. The highest? A 6.16 ERA in nine starts versus the Yankees.

Despite the win, it is hard to ignore how historically inept the pitching staff was in their four games against the Rockies this year. The 8.74 ERA, .633 slugging percentage and 1.034 OPS allowed were each the highest marks by a Yankee team in a season series against any opponent over the last 100 years.

Yankeemetrics: The terrible Twinkies [June 16-19]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Sabathia heating up
There haven’t been many enjoyable things to watch with this year’s Yankees team, but one of them undoubtedly is the masterful, turn-back-the-clock season of CC Sabathia.

He continued his brilliance on Thursday, working out of several jams to pitch six innings of one-run ball in the Yankees’ 4-1 win over the Twins. He put 10 guys on base but stranded nine of them, consistently generating weak ground ball outs to end rallies and finish off innings. His ground ball rate of 70.6 percent was his highest in a start this season.

Sabathia also dialed up the heat on his pitches and seemed to get stronger as the game wore on. His cutter (91.5 mph), sinker (93.3 mph) and slider (82.4 mph) each had their highest average velocities in a game this season, and he maintained that velocity as he approached 100-plus pitches late into his outing.

The large lefty now has a 0.82 ERA in his last seven starts, the lowest among all pitchers with at least 30 innings since the start of May through Thursday. Sure, that’s an arbitrary endpoint, but consider this: Clayton Kershaw’s best ERA over a seven-start span this year is 0.81 and his best seven-game mark last year was 0.82.

Didi Gregorius provided the margin of victory with a tie-breaking three-run homer in the seventh inning off lefty specialist Fernando Abad. The Twins reliever entered the game having allowed only three hits in 30 at-bats against lefty hitters this season, and had yet to surrender a longball to anyone. Didi, of course, entered the game with the best batting average among left-handed batters against left-handed pitchers in MLB this season — and won the strength-versus-strength battle.

The blast was also his second three-run homer in three games, which gives us this #funfact: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop to hit multiple three-run home runs in a three-game span since Roy Smalley, who hit two of them in a game against the Royals on Sept. 5, 1982.

Tanaka time
There’s nothing like a trip to the Twin Cities to cure those losing-streak blues. The Yankees continued to pound a bad Twins team on Friday night, winning 8-2 thanks a balanced offense that scored early and often to support a stellar performance by Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka bounced back from a rough start last week against the Tigers, throwing eight innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts and no walks. It was his 11th game allowing two earned runs or fewer, the most such starts among all American League pitchers through Friday’s slate.

The outing also marked his fifth straight start on the road with at least six innings pitched and no more than one earned run allowed. Only one other pitcher in franchise history has fashioned a streak like that in a single season: Whitey Ford, who did it in 1950, 1963 and 1964.

(AP)
(AP)

Comeback kids
Down 4-0 heading into the eighth inning, Saturday’s game seemed destined to end in another frustrating loss. But then the Twins remembered who they were (a very bad baseball team), the Yankees remembered where they were playing (Target Field; aka Yankee Stadium Midwest), and their bats came alive to spark another late-inning rally. In the end, the Bronx Bombers had their first win this season when trailing after seven innings.

Alex Rodriguez — who was riding a season-high 11-game homerless streak entering this game — cut the deficit in half with a two-run blast in the seventh inning. That hit gave him 5,795 career total bases, passing Babe Ruth (5,793) for sixth place on the all-time MLB list.

Carlos Beltran then tied the game with an opposite-field homer in the eighth inning off Kevin Jepsen. His 18 homers are the most by any Yankee age 38 or older this early into the season, one more than Babe Ruth had through 68 team games in 1933.

Jacoby Ellsbury capped the comeback win with a bases-loaded RBI single in the next frame. It was the first time since joining the Yankees three seasons ago that he delivered a go-ahead hit in the ninth inning.

Aroldis Chapman made things interesting in the ninth inning as he tried to close out the game. He surrendered back-to-back two-out homers to Eduardo Escobar and Kurt Suzuki, which sliced the lead to 7-6, before he eventually got the save. Suzuki’s shot came off a 102 mph fastball, the fastest pitch ever hit for a home run by any player in the Pitch F/X era (since 2008).

(AP)
(AP)

Sweep-less in Minneapolis
As much as the Yankees have dominated the Twins in Minneapolis recently, they couldn’t complete the four-game sweep this weekend, blowing an early lead and losing 7-4 on Sunday afternoon.

The Yankees entered the final game of this series with a 19-5 record in the regular season at Target Field (and 2-0 in the postseason), a mark that was notable in several ways. It was the:

  • highest win percentage at Target Field by any AL team
  • highest win percentage at any stadium by any team since 2010 (when Target Field opened)
  • highest win percentage for the Yankees at any park over the last 100 seasons (min. 20 games)

The loss was even more improbable given the opposing starter, Ervin Santana, who had a 7.71 ERA in his previous five outings this season and who hadn’t beaten the Yankees since August 1, 2008. His streak of 11 straight starts without a win against New York was the longest active winless streak versus the team by any starting pitcher.

Brian McCann broke out of his hitting slump in style, crushing two homers deep into the right-field seats and beyond; according to Statcast, they traveled 421 and 450 feet. Since 2008 (as far back as Statcast has batted ball distance), the only other Yankee with two homers of at least 420 feet in the same game was A-Rod on July 25 last season, also at Target Field against the Twins.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome back to under .500 [June 10-12]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Vintage CC
They say that Father Time is undefeated … but right now CC Sabathia is giving him a heck of a battle. Sabathia wrote yet another chapter in his amazing renaissance season, shutting down the Tigers with seven scoreless innings in the Yankees 4-0 win on Friday night.

Sabathia dropped his ERA to 2.28, the lowest it’s been through the first 10 starts of any season in his career. The big lefty ended April with a mediocre 5.06 ERA, but has been brilliant since the calendar turned to May. In 38 innings over six starts since then, he’s allowed just 23 hits — only four of them for extra bases — and has a hard-to-believe 0.71 ERA.

Through Friday, that was the best ERA by any pitcher since May 1 (min. 30 innings), just ahead of Madison Bumgarner (0.96) and Clayton Kershaw (0.99). It also marks the best six-start stretch — in terms of ERA — for Sabathia during his entire career. His previous best was 0.76 from June 25 to July 21, 2011.

Sabathia isn’t blowing away hitters with high-90s fastballs anymore, but rather he’s using his cutter and sinker effectively to generate a ton of weak contact.

He got two more pop ups on Friday, increasing his rate of infield fly balls to a major-league-best 19.0 percent. His soft-contact rate of 38.1 percent against the Tigers was his second-highest single-game mark this year, and he now ranks second among AL starters in that metric (25.4 percent). And thanks to such a dominant outing on Friday, his average exit velocity allowed on batted balls fell to 85.6 mph, also the second-lowest by any AL starter entering the weekend.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Goodbye, win streak …
On paper, Saturday’s game seemed like a matchup heavily in the Yankees favor: They were 18-6 vs. the Tigers at the new Yankee Stadium, tied for their best record there against any AL team. Detroit’s Justin Verlander had struggled mightily at this ballpark during his career, going 0-4 with a 4.93 ERA in eight starts (including the postseason). That was his most starts without a win for any stadium he’s pitched at in the majors.

The Tigers and Verlander defied those numbers, Ian Kinsler had a historic day at the plate, and the Yankees five-game win streak was snapped. Verlander shut down the middle of the order with a mix of four-seamers, cutters, changeups and curves — the Yankees’ No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters were a combined 0-for-11 with one walk — and Kinsler provided the scoring punch with a three-run homer and a two-run double.

He became just the third visiting leadoff hitter in the last 50 seasons to have at least five RBIs at Yankee Stadium (old or new). The most recent was Johnny Damon in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, and the other was the Orioles’ Brady Anderson in 1992.

Verlander cooled off the scorching-hot bat of Carlos Beltran, who went 0-for-4 and grounded into a double play against the former Cy Young winner. Beltran is now 1-for-16 (.063) with five strikeouts against Verlander in his career, his worst batting average against any pitcher he’s faced at least 15 times.

Masahiro Tanaka, who came into the game with a 1.33 ERA in his previous four outings, was tagged for five runs on six hits, including two homers. The first of those longballs came after he had gotten two quick strikes on Nick Castellanos in the second inning. It was the first time in his career that Tanaka had allowed a home run on an 0-2 count. Castellanos also had never hit a homer on an 0-2 count before taking Tanaka deep.

First time for everything
Seven times the Tigers had come to the new Yankee Stadium in the regular season, and seven times they left with more losses than wins during the series. They ended that drought with a 4-1 win on Sunday, taking two of three from the Yankees in the Bronx.

Not only had the Yankees never lost a regular-season series to the Tigers at this ballpark, but they’d never even lost back-to-back games against them there … until Sunday. The Tigers were the only AL team that had never beaten the Yankees twice in a row during the regular season at the new Yankee Stadium.

For the second day in a row, a Tigers starter dominated the Yankees lineup. Rookie Michael Fulmer tossed six scoreless innings, allowing only a pair of doubles by Austin Romine and Aaron Hicks. The last opposing pitcher age 23 or younger to go at least six innings without allowing a run and no more than two hits in the Bronx was the Twins’ Scott Erickson, who threw a two-hit shutout at the old Yankee Stadium on June 24, 1991.

Mister “Box of Chocolates” — aka Michael Pineda — continued to do his best to shed that label of inconsistency with another strong performance this month. For the first time this season, he’s put together three straight starts without allowing more than three runs in each outing. Baby steps, Big Mike, baby steps.

His slider continues to be a dominant swing-and-miss weapon for him, with the Tigers whiffing on 14 of their 32 swings (44 percent) against the pitch. During this mini-three-game hot streak in June, batters have swung at 73 of his sliders and come up empty 39 times — a ridiculous whiff rate of 53 percent.

Yankeemetrics: Buried in Baltimore [June 2-5]

#TrueYankee (AP Photo)
#TrueYankee (AP Photo)

Refsnyder to the Rescue
The Yankees halted their mini-three-game skid with a 5-4 win against the Tigers on Thursday night. If not for Rob Refsnyder, the mood on the Yankees flight from Detroit to Baltimore would have been remarkably different.

Refsnyder played a starring role in the biggest moments of the game, starting with his leadoff double in the sixth inning which broke up Matt Boyd’s unlikely no-hit bid. The 25-year-old went on to score the tying run two batters later on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s sacrifice fly, and then two frames later, he delivered a tie-breaking RBI single to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

It was Refsnyder’s first career go-ahead RBI, and the first go-ahead RBI in the seventh inning or later by a Yankee second baseman against the Tigers since Alfonso Soriano on June 1, 2003.

Refsnyder’s heroics might have stolen the headlines, but it was Michael Pineda‘s strong bounceback performance on the mound that made sure the Yankees had a chance to win this game. Pineda entered Thursday with the league’s highest ERA among qualified pitchers (6.92), and in his previous four starts had surrendered a whopping 20 earned runs and 30 hits in 20 1/3 innings.

So, of course, Pineda pitched his best game of the season, allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts and no walks. He dominated the Tigers lineup with his wipeout slider, which generated 14 whiffs on 22 swings, a season-best 64 percent whiff rate for the pitch. Per Statcast data, Pineda now has 97 total swings-and-misses on his slider this season, second only to Clayton Kershaw among all major-league pitchers.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

A trip to the (Not) Charm City
Baltimore has mostly been a miserable place for the Yankees in recent years — they entered this series with a 9-22 record at Camden Yards since 2013, their worst mark at any AL ballpark — and did little to reverse that trend in the series opener.

On a day when the Yankee bats surprisingly came alive, it was their recently-excellent starting pitching and normally-lockdown bullpen that struggled in Friday night’s frustrating 6-5 loss.

Nathan Eovaldi, 5-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his previous five starts, was charged with five runs in 5 1/3 innings; the mortal version of Dellin Betances coughed up the game-winning run in the seventh.

A-Rod and Carlos Beltran did their part in sparking the offense with homers in consecutive at-bats in the fourth inning. They are just the third pair of teammates aged 39 or older to hit back-to-back home runs in major-league history. The others were Ted Williams and Mickey Vernon for the Red Sox on Sept. 21, 1957 and Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzalez for the Dodgers on April 29, 2007.

A-Rod breaks out
The Yankees used another unlikely offensive outburst — yes, it was unlikely for a team that began the weekend with the lowest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in the AL — to beat the Orioles, 8-6, on Saturday night. They piled up 16 hits, their most hits in a game at Camden Yards since Sept. 2, 2009.

A-Rod had his second three-hit game of the season and it was his RBI single in the ninth inning that might have been his most notable swing of the night. Vance Worley threw a two-strike slider that A-Rod sliced up the middle to score Aaron Hicks from second base. That was his first hit off a breaking pitch this season; he was 0-for-17 with nine strikeouts in at-bats ending in a curve or slider before that hit.

Jacoby Ellsbury scored the seventh run of the game on a well-executed double steal with Brett Gardner. It was the second time in 2016 that Ellsbury has stolen home, joining Chris Chambliss in 1977 as the only Yankees in the last 60 years with two steals of home in a single season.

The worst rain delay ever
For the second time in three games, the Yankees snatched defeat from the arms of victory. They had a 1-0 advantage in the eighth inning, and after sitting through a one-hour-and-37-minute rain delay, they blew the lead and suffered yet another brutal loss.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)
This one was different from the others, though equally gut-wrenching. For the first time this season, the Yankees lost a game when taking a lead into the eighth inning; they’re now 25-1 in that situation.

It also clinched their eighth straight series loss in Baltimore, a wholly depressing and unprecedented streak. This is the first time that the Yankees have dropped eight series on the road in the history of this rivalry, which dates back to 1903, including when the Orioles were the St. Louis Browns.

Moving on to more positive notes … CC Sabathia turned in another stellar, though inefficient, effort with just two hits allowed in five scoreless innings. He needed 111 pitches to get those 15 outs, because of several long at-bats and a career-high-tying six walks.

The last Yankee pitcher to walk at least six guys and not give up a run was A.J. Burnett on Aug. 7, 2009 against the Red Sox. (That was the 15th inning A-Rod walk-off homer game.) Ya know, sometimes you can predict baseball.

Sabathia has now pitched at least five innings and given up no more than three runs in each of his last nine road starts, the longest such streak by a Yankee pitcher since Ron Guidry had nine starts in a row like that spanning the 1977 and 1978 seasons.

Yankeemetrics: D’Oh, Canada [May 30-June 1]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Lost in translation
The Yankees crossed the border for another series in Toronto, but the script for Monday’s game was a familiar one: the starting pitching was mediocre while the offense continued to flounder and reach historic lows, producing a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays.

Through 50 games, the Yankees are putting up offensive numbers that resemble some of the weakest squads in franchise history. Their batting average (.233) and on-base percentage (.302) are both their worst at this point in the season since 1969, while they’ve scored their fewest runs (192) at the 50-game marker since 1990.

One glimmer of hope is that twice before in the Wild Card Era they’ve been under .500 through their first 50 games – 1995 and 2007 – and both times they rebounded to make the playoffs that season.

Ivan Nova entered the game with a terrible track record against the Blue Jays and did little to improve it. He now has a 5.66 ERA in 17 games (15 starts) vs. Toronto, the second-worst among active pitchers with more than 10 starts against them.

Nova was pounded by the Blue Jays’ lineup, giving up four extra-base hits and a bunch of loud outs in six innings pitched. The results were hardly surprising, though, despite Nova’s recent solid work in the rotation: he entered the game allowing an average exit velocity of 97.0 mph on line drives and fly balls, the worst mark among MLB pitchers this season (min. 100 balls in play).

cc
Deja Blue
Once again the Yankees squandered another strong outing from their starting pitcher as the offensive struggles deepened in a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

After the losing the first two games, the Yankees clinched their fifth consecutive series loss against the Blue Jays dating back to last year. The last time the Jays won five straight series against the Yankees was a six-series streak spanning the 1992 and 1993 seasons.

CC Sabathia wrote another chapter in his incredible renaissance season, holding the Blue Jays scoreless through six innings before being charged with a couple runs in the seventh. Still, he finished up the month with a sparkling 1.04 ERA, the best by a Yankee pitcher with at least three starts in May since Allie Reynolds (1.00) in 1952.

He hasn’t given up more than three runs in any start this year, the first time in his career he’s begun a season with eight straight starts of three-or-fewer runs allowed.

Deja Blue Part II
Re-read the first sentence of the section above and replace it with a 7-0 score — their worst shutout loss to the Blue Jays since Oct. 1, 2004 — and you’ve got the quick recap of Wednesday’s game.

With the loss, the Yankees were swept in series of three-or-more games at Toronto for the first time since Sept. 19-21, 2000. Their struggles in this city go behind the current season, though. They are now just 24-36 at the Rogers Centre since 2010, easily their worst record at any AL stadium in that span.

It’s not just the string of losses in Toronto; they’ve also been held to two runs or fewer in five straight games here for the first time in the history of this rivalry. The last time the Yankees scored two or fewer runs in five straight games at any road ballpark was in 1996 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.

Masahiro Tanaka‘s performance wasn’t perfect (and that’s basically what he needed to be with this version of the Bronx Bummers supporting him), but he worked out of jams and was good enough to hold the Blue Jays to just two runs — one earned — in six innings.

He owns an AL-best road ERA of 1.36, and has gone at least five innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in each of his six road starts this year. The only pitchers in franchise history with longer such streaks to begin a season are Hideki Irabu (1998) and Whitey Ford (1958).

Yankeemetrics: Fun while it lasted [May 24-26]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Famous Nathan
A cross-country trip and an off-day did little to slow down the Yankees’ momentum as they extended their win streak to six games on Tuesday with a 6-0 blanking of the Blue Jays.

The victory also lifted them to the magical .500 mark for the first time since April 14; that 35-game blip with a sub-.500 record was their longest such stretch since the middle of the 1995 season.

Nathan Eovaldi continued his personal run of excellence with one of his strongest outings of the season. He gave up just two hits in six shutout innings, his second straight start going that deep into the game surrendering no more than two hits, and the third time overall in 2016 he’s done that.

Through Tuesday’s games, the only other pitcher in the majors this season with three games of at least six innings pitched and two or fewer hits allowed was Jake Arrieta. The last Yankee pitcher to compile three such outings within the team’s first 45 games was Bob Shawkey in 1919.

Eovaldi dominated the Toronto lineup with a nasty combo of 98-mph heaters and diving splitters. Of the 87 four-seam fastballs and split-finger fastballs that he threw, the Blue Jays swung at 42 of them and missed 11 times, his second-most combined whiffs on those two pitches in a start this season. Toronto went 0-for-18 in at-bats ending in either a four-seamer or splitter, including five strikeouts, all with the splitter.

Chasen nothing
The Yankees win streak came to a screeching halt on Wednesday after getting pounded by the Blue Jays, 8-4, and once again falling below .500 on the season.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Looking at the final score, you hardly could have predicted that this would be a loss for the Yankees. Entering the game, the Yankees were 17-1 when scoring at least four runs (best record in MLB) and the Blue Jays were 0-21 when allowing at least four runs (worst record in MLB).

The game was tight through the middle innings until Chasen Shreve entered in the seventh … and then things quickly got out of hand as the struggling lefty surrendered two homers and a double to the first three batters he faced. That gave him seven longballs allowed in 19 innings pitched this season, a rate of 3.32 per nine innings that would easily be the highest single-season mark by a Yankee pitcher with at least 15 innings pitched.

The last Yankee to give up at least three extra-base hits, including two homers, in an outing of one inning or fewer was … Shreve on August 2, 2015 against the White Sox. The only other player in franchise history to have two such games in their Yankee career was Catfish Hunter (in 1977 and 1978).

The one-man show
The Yankees wasted a stellar outing from CC Sabathia and dropped the rubber game on Thursday afternoon, 3-1. They’ve now lost four straight series at Yankee Stadium to the Blue Jays, their longest home series losing streak in the history of the rivalry.

Sabathia turned in another dazzling performance on the mound, holding Toronto to just two hits and two runs (both unearned) in seven innings. He’s now allowed three-or-fewer runs in each of his first seven starts, matching the longest such streak to begin a season in his career. He also did it in 2006 as a 25-year-old with the Indians.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Sabathia has quietly been one of the best pitchers in the entire American League dating back to the final month of last season. His 2.56 ERA since Sept. 1, 2015 is the fourth-lowest among AL pitchers with at least 10 starts in that span.

Carlos Beltran returned to the outfield but couldn’t keep up his scorching-hot production with the bat, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. The only other Yankee right fielders in the last 25 seasons to come to the plate at least four times in a game and strike out every time were Paul O’Neill (1997) and Raul Mondesi (2002).

The Yankees and the difference between actual velocity and perceived velocity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the start of last season, Statcast has opened our eyes to all sorts of cool stuff that we knew existed in baseball, but were unable to measure. Exit velocity, outfielder first step quickness, things like that. All this information is new and we’re still learning how to use it — at-bat by at-bat exit velocity updates are the worst thing on Twitter these days — but it’s all really neat and interesting.

One of these fun new Statcast tools is “perceived velocity,” which measures how fast a pitch “plays” when factoring in things like extension and release point. We’ve all seen pitchers with a 92 mph fastball who get hitters to react like it’s 95 mph, and vice versa. Here is the perceived velocity definition from MLB.com’s glossary:

Perceived Velocity is an attempt to quantify how fast a pitch appears to a hitter, by factoring the Velocity of the pitch and the release point of the pitcher. It takes Velocity one step further — because a 95 mph fastball will reach a hitter faster if the pitcher releases the ball seven feet in front of the rubber instead of six.

To attain Perceived Velocity, the average Major League “Extension” must first be obtained. Any pitcher who releases the ball from behind the average Extension will have a lower Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity. On the other hand, if a pitcher releases the ball from in front of the average Extension, he’ll have a higher Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity.

Perceived velocity seems pretty important, right? More important than actual velocity, I think. Since the start of last season the league average fastball velocity is 92.5 mph while the league average perceived velocity is 92.1 mph. That’s not a negligible difference. There’s much more to it than the raw radar gun reading.

So, with an assist from Baseball Savant, let’s look over the Yankees’ pitching staff and compare average fastball velocities to perceived fastball velocities. These are numbers since the start of last season to give us the largest sample possible.

The Starters

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
CC Sabathia 89.96 90.93 +0.97
Michael Pineda 93.42 93.65 +0.23
Luis Severino 95.83 95.47 -0.36
Masahiro Tanaka 91.81 91.03 -0.78
Nathan Eovaldi 97.29 96.43 -0.86
Ivan Nova 93.31 92.32 -0.99

There are some pretty big differences between average velocity and perceived velocity in the rotation. Sabathia is a big man with a long stride, so it makes sense his fastball plays up and appears faster than what the radar gun tells you. He’s releasing the ball that much closer to home plate. Of course, a 90.93 mph perceived velocity is still well below the league average, but that’s what Sabathia has to work with at this point of his career.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nova, who is unable to gain any extra velocity through extension despite being 6-foot-4. His fastball looks a full mile an hour slower to the hitter than what the radar gun says. The ability to see the ball well out of Nova’s hand has always been a knock against him. He doesn’t have much deception in his delivery and the perceived velocity data suggests he lacks extension too. That’s why Nova’s always been more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe.

The same is true of Eovaldi, though he brings much more raw velocity to the table than Nova and most other starting pitchers. Eovaldi is not as tall as most of his rotation mates (6-foot-2) so his stride isn’t as long, which costs him some perceived velocity. He’s the poster child for pitchers with big fastballs and small results. His new splitter has really made a big difference because it gives hitters something else to think about. Before they could zero in on the fastball.

I have nothing to back this up, but the 0.78 mph difference between Tanaka’s average fastball and perceived fastball seems to matter less to him than it would other pitchers. Tanaka is basically a splitter/slider pitcher with a show-me fastball. Nova and Eovaldi rely on their fastballs much more heavily because their secondary pitches aren’t as good. I don’t mean that as a knock. Most pitchers rely on their heater. Tanaka’s an outlier. The lack of perceived velocity could help explain why he’s so homer prone though.

The Relievers

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Andrew Miller 94.60 95.41 +0.81
Aroldis Chapman 99.92 100.32 +0.40
Dellin Betances 97.49 97.65 +0.16
Chasen Shreve 91.85 91.28 -0.57
Kirby Yates 93.16 92.05 -1.11

These five guys have been the constants in the bullpen this season. The other two spots — sometimes it has been three other spots — have been used as shuttle spots to cycle arms in and out as necessary.

The big three all gain some velocity through their release points because they’re all so damn tall. I’m actually sort of surprised the difference between Betances’ average fastball velocity and perceived fastball velocity is so small, relatively speaking. He has such a massively long stride …

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

… that you’d think his fastball would play up. Then again, it’s not where your leg lands, it’s where you release the ball. Miller has those long lanky arms and he seems to sling his pitches towards the batter, and those long limbs and funky angles make his already speedy fastball seem ever faster. Same with Chapman. Good grief. His fastball somehow looks faster to the hitter than the radar gun reading. That can’t be fun.

Yates is pretty interesting. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and he has that compact little delivery, so his fastball looks much slower to the hitter than what the radar gun tells us. That said, Yates is not a reliever who tries to throw the ball by hitters. His key to his success is his slider, which he throws nearly 40% of the time. The fastball may play down according to perceived velocity, but he’s not trying to get guys out with the heater anyway. It’s all about the slider with Kirby.

Miscellaneous Arms

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Branden Pinder 92.25 94.35 +2.10
Bryan Mitchell 95.67 96.57 +0.90
Chad Green 94.43 95.32 +0.89
Nick Rumbelow 93.60 93.90 +0.30
Nick Goody 91.54 91.54 +0.00
James Pazos 94.16 93.59 -0.57
Jacob Lindgren 89.78 89.20 -0.58
Luis Cessa 92.53 91.62 -0.91
Johnny Barbato 95.28 93.54 -1.74

These are the so-called shuttle pitchers, some of whom haven’t pitched in the big leagues at all this season due to injury. The samples are all very small — Mitchell leads the group with 298 fastballs thrown since the start of last year, and in some cases (Green, Pazos, Cessa, Lindgren) we’re looking at 60 or fewer fastballs — so these numbers are FYI only. There’s something to look at that, not something that should be taken seriously right now.

The numbers are on the extremes are pretty fascinating. Statcast says Pinder’s fastball has played more than two full miles an hour faster than what the radar gun says. Barbato is the opposite. His fastball plays down nearly two miles an hour. Pinder is listed at 6-foot-4 and Barbato at 6-foot-1, so there’s a big height difference, but look at their strides too (you can click the image for a larger view):

Barbato (left) via Getty, Pinder (right) via Presswire
Barbato (left) via Getty; Pinder (right) via Presswire

I know this is amateur hour with the photos, sorry. In my defense, it’s really tough to find photos of up and down relievers who have thrown a combined 41.2 innings in the big leagues.

Anyway, you can still kinda see the differences in their strides with those two photos. Both are about to release the ball, yet Pinder is so much closer to the plate that his back foot is already disconnected from the rubber. Look at the angles of their legs too. Barbato is standing a bit more upright, which means he’s not striding as far forward.

Just like regular old velocity, perceived velocity alone is not the key to pitching, but it is definitely part of the equation. Those extra miles an hour — or, to be more precise, the appearance of those extra miles an hour — disrupt timing and give hitters less time to react. Mike Fast once showed a difference of one mile an hour of velocity equates to roughly one-quarter of a run of ERA.

Perceived velocity still doesn’t tell us why Eovaldi’s fastball is less effective than Miller’s, for example. Eovaldi’s heater has Miller’s beat in terms of both average and perceived velocity. I do find it interesting someone as tall as Sabathia can “add” a mile per hour to his heater with his size while a short pitcher like Yates “losses” a mile an hour. Intuitively it all makes sense. It’s just cool to be able to put some numbers on it now.