Archive for CC Sabathia
The Yankees enjoy a much needed — for the bullpen, anyway — day off today before heading to Boston for a four-game set this weekend. They’ll play one tomorrow, two on Saturday, one on Sunday, then will have four days off for the All-Star break. Everyone will get to recharge the (physical and mental) batteries before getting into the dog days of summer and the stretch drive. The break gives everyone a rest and just as importantly, it gives the Yankees a chance to manipulate and optimize their roster in the short-term.
It seemed like a curious move at the time but the picture became clear once we had a second to sit back and think about it. The Yankees claimed outfielder Darnell McDonald off waivers from the Red Sox yesterday, adding a right-handed bat known for hitting lefties (career .345 wOBA vs. LHP) and capable of playing all three outfield spots. He’ll be in uniform at Fenway Park tomorrow.
The move wasn’t made to replace Dewayne Wise or Andruw Jones, the move was made to add McDonald to them. Although the team has not confirmed their plans, they’re almost certainly going to option David Phelps to the minors and roll with a five-man bench over the weekend. Phelps started yesterday and wasn’t scheduled to pitch this weekend, so the Yankees won’t miss him. With Boston scheduled to thrown three southpaws — Franklin Morales, Felix Doubront, and Jon Lester — in the four games this weekend, expect to see McDonald in left and Jones at DH with both Wise and Raul Ibanez available off the bench.
Once Phelps goes down he is ineligible to return for ten days, but that won’t be an issue since Sabathia is expected to come off the DL right after the break. The big left-hander played catch yesterday and will throw his first bullpen session since hitting the DL tomorrow, and so far all indications are that he’s a go once his 15 days up. Phelps will be able to continue to work as a starter in Triple-A, accumulating innings and threatening to take Freddy Garcia‘s roster spot.
The Yankees can push Sabathia back to the fifth game after the All-Star break, which is Tuesday the 17th. They play three games against the Angels and will likely see C.J. Wilson at some point, so McDonald should be useful for at least one game that series. They’ll then play the Blue Jays, who have three lefties — Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, and Aaron Laffey — in their rotation. Odds are in favor of them seeing one of those guys in the series opener, which McDonald could start before being released to clear a roster spot for Sabathia in the second game, getting the Yankees back to a 12-man pitching staff and four-man bench.
The 26th Man
Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Yankees (and Red Sox) will be allowed to carry a 26th man for both games on Saturday. It has to be the same player for both games and he must be sent back to the minors the next day. George King says the Yankees will bring back Cory Wade for the day, giving them seven available relievers on Saturday. Wade threw a perfect inning on nine pitches in his first Triple-A outing yesterday as he tries to get his location back to where it needs to be.
The Yankees will still have the option of swapping out a regular 25-man reliever between games if they want. Say Cody Eppley ends up throwing 30 pitches in the first game, they could then send him down before the second game for someone like Justin Thomas — who was going to be recalled prior to the Chad Qualls trade — for the nightcap. The third lefty reliever could come in hand against the Sox, but it also may be overkill. It is an option though, and I figure they’ll at least have an extra Triple-A arm waiting at the hotel in case they need to make a between-games move.
* * *
These four games in three days against the Red Sox are happening in isolation, at least as much as any early-July series could happen in isolation. Both teams are off today and the All-Star break follows next week, so both clubs will be rested with the opportunity to manipulate their roster. It’s almost like a little playoff series, but between a first place team and a last place team. The Yankees added a right-handed bat to combat Boston’s three lefties and won’t have to worry about the pitching staff being short-handed this weekend, which is pretty sweet. There would also be something deliciously ironic about McDonald getting a big hit or two this weekend after Boston him cast him aside.
- CC Sabathia (groin) played catch prior to last night’s game and will throw a bullpen session — his first since going on the DL — on Friday. The team still expects him back right after next week’s All-Star break.
- Pedro Feliciano (shoulder) threw a bullpen session in front of the braintrust yesterday. He’s currently throwing every three days but the plan is to bump him up to every other day at some point. Joe Girardi said there’s a legitimate chance the southpaw will help the team this season, but I wouldn’t count on it. Anything they get out of him is gravy.
- Eduardo Nunez (thumb) is on the Triple-A disabled list and has just started taking batting practice. “He hopes to play in a couple of weeks or so,” said Girardi.
- David Aardsma (elbow) went for various test following his recent setback, but the results aren’t available yet.
SS Derek Jeter, 2B Robinson Cano, and OF Curtis Granderson will all start in the All-Star Game later this month after winning the fan voting at their respective positions. Other AL starters include C Mike Napoli, 1B Prince Fielder, 3B Adrian Beltre, OF Josh Hamilton, OF Jose Bautista, and DH David Ortiz. No word on the reserves yet, but I’m not sure any other Yankees will be selected for the game.
NL starters include C Buster Posey, 1B Joey Votto, 2B Dan Uggla, SS Rafael Furcal, 3B Pablo Sandoval, OF Matt Kemp, OF Carlos Beltan, and former Yankee OF Melky Cabrera.
Update: CC Sabathia has been selected to the pitching staff, but he obviously won’t participate in the game given his injury. It would have been neat if Hiroki Kuroda was named his replacement, but the spot went to C.J. Wilson instead. Here are the full rosters and the Final Vote ballot.
In the span of about five hours yesterday, the Yankees lost their two best starting pitchers to injury. First CC Sabathia was placed on the DL with a left adductor strain, then Andy Pettitte was struck by a batted ball and suffered a fractured left ankle. Brian Cashman said Sabathia could have pitched through his injury if this was the stretch drive or postseason, but they decided to play it safe. Obviously they didn’t have the same choice with Pettitte.
“CC is due back right after the (All-Star break),” said Cashman after yesterday’s game. “Andy, you’re talking about a minimum of six weeks of healing, and as a starter you have to get him going again, so I’ll throw two months in there in Andy’s case. We’ll just have to figure it out and see what happens. I would prefer not to go outside. Obviously if we do go outside, we’ve done that before. This is part of the process. You have to have alternatives. This gives opportunities for people to step up. Just like some guys in the bullpen have allowed us to step up and withstand some injuries — that’s what Boone Logan, Clay Rapada, and [Cody Eppley] have done — we’re going to have to ask for some other guys to do that for the rotation, as well. Let’s play it out and see where it takes us.”
The plan right now calls for Adam Warren to start in Sabathia’s place on Friday — he started for Triple-A Empire State on Sunday and lines up perfectly for tomorrow — and for Freddy Garcia to take Pettitte’s place on Monday. Ryota Igarashi is coming up from Triple-A to take Garcia’s spot in the bullpen, leaving the team without a true long reliever for the time being. In the short-term, the rotation shakes out like this…
- Thursday, 6/28 vs. White Sox: Ivan Nova
- Friday, 6/29 vs. White Sox: Warren
- Saturday, 6/30 vs. White Sox: Hiroki Kuroda
- Sunday, 7/1 vs. White Sox: Phil Hughes
- Monday, 7/2 @ Rays: Garcia
- Tuesday, 7/3 @ Rays: Nova
- Wednesday, 7/4 @ Rays: Warren
- Thursday, 7/5: scheduled day off
- Friday, 7/6 @ Red Sox: Kuroda
- Saturday, 7/7 @ Red Sox (doubleheader): Hughes and Garcia*
- Sunday, 7/8 @ Red Sox: Nova
* Garcia will be on regular rest for the July 7th doubleheader thanks to that scheduled day off.
That takes the Yankees right to the All-Star break, after which Sabathia is scheduled to return. Assuming all goes well with CC, he’ll take either Garcia’s or Warren’s spot depending on how each guy performs in their two-start audition. If both guys are performing poorly, the Yankees will also have the option of bringing David Phelps back, who will be five starts into his minor league stint by then and presumably able to throw 95+ pitches. There’s always D.J. Mitchell as well, but he could wind up taking Igarashi’s spot sooner rather than later if the braintrust feels a long man is needed. Given Garcia’s short leash due to his time in the pen and the general unpredictability associated with a young guy like Warren, having a long man would probably be a pretty good idea.
The Yankees don’t rush into panic moves, at least not under Cashman in recent years. They have enough arms to get them to the All-Star break, then they can re-evaluate things once Sabathia returns. If neither Garcia, Warren, Phelps, or Mitchell distinguishes themselves in the rotation, they’ll still have plenty of time to explore the trade market. They could go big (Cole Hamels, Matt Garza or Zack Greinke), go medium (Ryan Dempster or Wandy Dempster), or go small (Jeremy Guthrie or Francisco Liriano). I suppose it depends on Pettitte’s rehab and how Hughes is holding up because frankly, we have reason to doubt his ability to remain effective over the course of a full season.
The Bombers have the makings of a really strong rotation on the DL with Sabathia and Pettitte joining Michael Pineda, so their big league staff has been compromised. The starters have been carrying the team for the last six weeks or so and now the offense is going to have to return the favor a bit, simply because there is no reasonable way to expect anyone to replace the two guys the Yankees lost yesterday. The good news is that they’re in a better position to absorb these losses than at any point in the last like, ten years really. For a while there were no internal options — hence Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon and Sidney Ponson– now there’s several. The Yankees will cycle through them and tread water for a few weeks, at least until Sabathia gets healthy and maybe until the trade deadline.
The Yankees have placed CC Sabathia on the DL after an MRI showed a Grade I strain of the left adductor. That’s a big muscle in his upper leg, near his hip and groin. Sabathia first felt a “twinge” during Sunday’s start against the Mets but did not say anything until after yesterday’s bullpen session. This will be just the third DL stint of his 12-year career — he missed 23 days in 2005 and 29 days in 2006, both with right oblique strains.
Joe Girardi said Sabathia will miss just two starts and return after the All-Star break. Freddy Garcia will start Friday in his place, though Brian Cashman said the team is leaning towards calling up Adam Warren from Triple-A. As our Bullpen Workload page shows, Warren started on Sunday and would lineup perfectly for Friday’s start if they want to go that way. No word on today’s roster move, they may just play with 24 guys this afternoon.
I didn’t see last night’s game, but based on what I’ve seen and read this morning, it sounds like CC Sabathia was on point. The box score — 9 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 10 K, 13 GB, 4 FB — certainly backs that up as well. The Yankees’ tenth win in a row will obviously grab the headlines, but Sabathia’s best start of the season (by Game Score) is the more important development.
“Through his, what we would call struggles — most guys would probably be happy with what he’s doing — he hasn’t had a consistent sinker, and I thought tonight it’s been as consistent as its been,” said Joe Girardi after the game. “I could sense he was a little bit frustrated. It’s a great start for him.”
Sabathia’s season-long problem had been his fastball command, which he seemed to fight start after start. He’s been behind in the count to 126 of the 427 batters he’s faced this season, a 29.5% rate that is a bit worse than last year’s (28.7%). The AL average is 34.9%, keep in mind. Sabathia’s thrown a first pitch strike 62.1% of the time in 2012, 16th best out of 49 qualified AL starters. The long counts have hurt him a bit. He’s been off just a touch, nothing major.
Prior to last night’s game, pitching coach Larry Rothschild indicated that CC had picked up a mechanical flaw during a video session and would correct it going forward. “He can see it, what he needs to do,” said Rothschild. “It’s not like he hasn’t done it. It just has to be consistent.” Sabathia simply described the problem as “(just) not getting through my front side and finishing pitches,” whatever that means in PitcherSpeak.
The Yankees have won ten straight and 20 of 24 largely on the strength of their pitching staff, which has allowed just 2.79 runs per game during the stretch. Sabathia hasn’t been pitching terribly — 3.55 ERA with a 3.21 FIP in 101.1 IP this year — he just hasn’t been especially sharp. He had still been pitching deep into games — 7+ innings in 11 of his last 12 starts — but wasn’t overly dominating. The rest of the staff really picked things up and if last night’ outing was any indication, Sabathia is about to do the same as well.
Four earned runs in seven innings isn’t the worst start in the world but we’ve all come to expect more from CC Sabathia. The left-hander owns a 3.80 ERA with a 3.41 FIP through his first 13 starts of the season, solid numbers but hardly ace-like. “You limit the damage and try to get the team a win, but it’s frustrating when you have good stuff and can’t dominate a game,” said the southpaw after last night’s start. “I’ve been grinding all year. There hasn’t been a stretch where it has been easy.”
The most obvious problem with Sabathia has been his command, or lack thereof. His strikeout (8.97 K/9 and 23.4 K%), swing-and-miss (11.7%), walk (2.53 BB/9 and 6.6 BB%), and ground ball (47.5%) rates are more than fine and almost exactly match last season’s rates, but anecdotally he seems to miss his spot more than anytime I can remember. That’s led to Sabathia’s highest hit (8.87 H/9) and homerun (0.97 HR/9) rates as a Yankee despite a perfectly normal .309 BABIP. His 12.0% HR/FB ratio is a touch high but that’s already started to correct itself — he’s allowed just one dinger in the last three starts and 26 IP.
The first inning last night was a perfect example of Sabathia’s command issue. He fell behind in the count to three of the first four men he faced, but look at the pitch Michael Bourn hit for a leadoff single …
… and the pitch Matt Diaz hit for the bases-clearing double …
Chris Stewart set up down-and-away for both pitches — both fastballs — but Sabathia missed up both times, plus he caught too much of the plate to Bourn. Those two pitches are a microcosm of CC’s season to date; he’s missing but not by a ton, just enough for the hitter to do damage.
“It’s just at times his fastball cuts,” said Joe Girardi prior to yesterday’s game. “When that happens, he seems to get in a little bit of trouble. When he doesn’t command the down and away to right handers, he seems to get in a little bit of trouble.”
Usually when a fastball cuts unintentionally, the pitcher is dropping his arm a bit and it has to “catch up” to the rest of his body. The PitchFX data shows that for the most part, Sabathia’s release point this year (right graph) is the same as last year (left graph)…
The PitchFX system uniformly records release points at 55-feet from home plate, so not precisely out of each individual pitcher’s hand. Sabathia’s right where he was last season for the most part, maybe down an inch or two but nothing drastic. I would be a much better red flag if he was off six inches or something. It’s possible that little one inch different — if it even really exists — is causing his fastball to cut, in which case the solution might just be a simple mechanical tweak. No way to know definitively, of course.
I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but I do wonder if Sabathia’s weight has led to his command problems early this year. Thirty-ish pounds may seem like a drop in the bucket for a guy his size, but he could be having trouble adjusting to his slimmer body and it’s throwing his delivery off a tad. CC had similar command issues early last season before gaining the weight back and getting locked in. If that’s the case, the solution isn’t to pack on some pounds obviously, he just has to figure out how to pitch with less weight on his frame. I dunno, just thinking out loud here.
Sabathia hasn’t been bad this year but he hasn’t been dominant really. He ran off a real nice six-start stretch a few weeks ago but otherwise continues to be dogged by the fastball command. Ivan Nova dealt with a similar problem earlier this year and he’s starting to get on the right track these last two times out, so hopefully Sabathia does the same and soon. The Yankees have been getting some stellar starting pitching over the last three or four weeks, and it’s very odd to see CC as the weak link right now.
Five questions and four answers this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, especially mailbag questions.
John asks: Hey guys, I wanted to ask if you are worried about CC Sabathia? I watched his start [on Wednesday] and am worried about his fastball (his change and slider looked fab), his velocity is down to 90 – 91. It seemed to me that he was throwing a cut fastball – is this something he is trying to do or a flaw?
I wouldn’t worry about the velocity, Sabathia always starts the year a little slow before cranking it up once it gets a little warmer out. Here are the PitchFX start-by-start plots. Plus, I suspect he was taking a little something off the other night in an attempt to improve his command, which has been awful. I didn’t see much of a cut fastball, though Sabathia has been saying he throws one for a few years now. The manually classified PitchFX data disagrees, but if the guy says he throws it, he probably throws it.
Like you said, the changeup and especially the slider have been sharp so far, CC just can’t seem to get his heat under control. I do wonder if it’s a weight thing, because he had the same issue early last season before everything clicked during that ridiculous mid-summer run. Perhaps losing 30-something points during the winter is the best thing for him physically but a bad thing for his command. Maybe it speeds up his delivery just enough to throw him off. Who knows, just a cracked theory. I wouldn’t worry about Sabathia until we get a few weeks into the season and we start seeing more upper-80s than low-90s.
Suchin asks: Could you add Brandon Phillips to the Kinsler:Cano graph? With both those deals manageable for Cano, would be instructive, so long as the Yankees don’t overpay.
Here you go…
You can also see the data plotted cumulatively and by season.
I don’t love WAR — FanGraphs or otherwise — because I don’t have enough faith in the defensive component, but it is useful for comparing players like this. Cano is the best of the three, both in terms of overall production and medical history. That last part is very important, because these guys won’t give you anything if they’re on the DL. Stuff like RBI totals and finishes in the MVP voting will factor into Cano’s next contract as well, and he blows Kinsler and Phillips away in both categories.
As I’ve said before, I fully expect the Yankees to re-sign Cano to something outrageous after next season. I just hope the Kinsler (five years, $75M) and Phillips (six years, $77.5M) extensions have established the market and help keep it in the six-year, $100M range.
Brian asks: Are there any prospective 2B that the Yankees could target if they decide to let Robinson Cano walk because of money, contract length, and doubts about decline years? Similar to how they gave up a young prospect (Jesus Montero) from a position with depth for a young prospect (Michael Pineda) from a position of need. Obviously, not necessarily of that magnitude.
Legit second base prospects are very rare only because most big league second basemen are failed shortstops. Off the top of my head, the only big leaguers that came up through the minors as second basemen are Dan Uggla, Orlando Hudson, and Howie Kendrick. That would be the place to start, looking at shortstops who could slide over.
There’s actually a shortage of quality middle infield prospects in baseball around the moment, especially beyond the big two of Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar. Someone like Nick Franklin of the Mariners could fit the bill with Dustin Ackley ahead of him, though his ability to remain at the middle of the diamond is in question. Jean Segura of the Angels is another possibility, but they might need him with Erick Aybar due to become a free agent soon.
Remember, the Montero-Pineda trade was a big time anomaly. You just don’t see trades like that — a true baseball trade filling needs involving young players going each way — made every day, so I wouldn’t expect anything like that again should the Yankees let Cano walk and need a replace second baseman. Even on a smaller scale, prospect for prospect trades are rare because everyone loves their kids more than everyone else.
Paul asks: What’s the deal with Robertson’s pitch selection? Is PitchFX classifying differently or is he making his best case for ‘heir to Mariano’ by throwing exclusively cutters?
Tucker asks: Here’s a question for all Yankee fans: would you be comfortable with David Robertson as the closer next year?
Might as well lump these two together. Yes, Robertson has been throwing a cutter since the start of last season. He threw it about a quarter of the time last year but nearly 80% of the time this year so far, though that’s probably just a sample size thing. We’ll see more curveballs in due time, remember he’s a little behind other pitchers because he missed three weeks in Spring Training with that foot injury. Robertson definitely throws a cutter though, and it’s a really good pitch for him.
As for being comfortable with him as the next closer … sure. Don’t get me wrong, he makes things very interesting, but he’s better than the vast majority of the relievers out there. Trust me, it’s going to be a total shock to the system when Mo is gone, we’ll all have a newfound appreciation for just how easy he makes it look. I do think you’d rather be the guy who replaces the guy who replaces Rivera though; whoever takes over as closer will be asked to live up to impossible standards. Let Rafael Soriano do that so Robertson could have the clean slate the next year. Anyway, this is begging for a poll…
The good news is that the Yankees have two and a half weeks to sort the final three spots in the starting rotation. The bad news is — really, there is no bad news. The difficult news, if it can even be called that, is that they don’t have a spot for everyone. Right from the start someone is getting traded, optioned to the minors, or sent to the bullpen. Then, a few weeks later, assuming Andy Pettitte‘s comeback goes according to plan and schedule, they’ll have to make another similar move.
Given the guys on the roster, the Yanks could move in a number of directions. They face a few restrictions, but few enough that they can both populate their rotation with five high-quality arms and retain depth. They might even find upgrades in other spots along the way.
While it was seen as meaningless banter when he said it, Joe Girardi did reveal a truth when he talked about his rotation earlier this spring. In discussing his starters, he said that only CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda were guaranteed spots. Yeah right, people said in reaction. As though they’re going to send Ivan Nova or Michael Pineda to the bullpen or to the minors. Yet right now the possibility of just such a move has increased.
Without reading too far into Girardi’s statement, he did make one thing clear: Sabathia and Kuroda are unmovable. Kuroda secured a no-trade clause when he signed on with the Yankees. Given his desire to stay in LA last season, despite having no prayer of making the postseason, there is a close to zero chances that he waives it at any point this season. He committed to New York, and given everything we’ve heard about him, he intends to honor that commitment. Sabathia, of course, is the team’s ace and is essentially irreplaceable. We don’t need to forget about the idea of moving him, because it was never there in the first place.
If the Yankees would like to retain their depth, they could take advantage of the three pitchers on staff who have minor league options. Phil Hughes, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova can head to AAA if the Yankees feel that is the best course of action. Chances are, however, that AAA isn’t the best option for these guys, for a number of reasons.
1. A full AAA rotation. The Yankees already have D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, and Manny Banuelos in the AAA rotation. There have long been talks of Mitchell and Betances going to the bullpen, but it appears the Yankees would prefer for that move to come of necessity. Optioning one of the big leaguers to AAA would mean bumping someone at AAA, which causes a chain reaction across the organization.
2. The AAA road show. As we know, the AAA Yankees — the Empire State Yankees — will have no home turf this year. They will essentially be a traveling roadshow. That makes life a bit tougher, and it might make them think twice before optioning one of their more highly regarded pitchers. Then again, they do plan to have Betances and Banuelos travel all season, so perhaps it’s not that big a deal. In any case, it seems like an unideal situation to force someone into.
Along with those two general points, each pitcher has something going himself. It seems unlikely the Yankees would trade their up-and-coming slugger, and 2012 full-time DH, for a guy they’re going to stash in AAA. Last year Nova was one of the Yankees’ more reliable starters, and even earned the call in Game 2 of the ALDS. Finally, how silly would it look if the Yankees optioned Hughes to AAA a month after Brian Cashman referred to him as a “top-of-the-rotation starter”?
To the bullpen
Before the Pettitte news broke, it was pretty much assumed that the Yankees would move the odd man out of the rotation into the bullpen. From the start of the spring it appeared that Freddy Garcia would head that way, since the Yankees want to continue giving Phil Hughes chances in the rotation. Since Pettitte won’t be back to start the season, the Yankees could simply continue on this path and table their decision until Pettitte forces the issue.
Eventually the Yankees will have to make another rotation decision. Once Pettitte is ready, someone will get bumped. By that point, things might work themselves out. Someone might get hurt, someone might pitch horribly, whatever. That would give them a chance to shuffle things around and make room for Pettitte in the rotation.
Still, the Yanks could decide to get out in front of this issue and make a trade now to keep the picture a bit clearer. Chances are Garcia would agree to a trade — they need his permission if they want to trade him before June 15th. Otherwise, would they trade Nova for the right package? Hughes? It seems as though it’s Garcia or bust when it comes to a trade. That lessens the chance that one will happen.
All of this is predicated on the idea that Pettitte will indeed come back in good form. There is always the chance that he does not, which is why the Yanks might want to avoid the trade route. Then again, they do have considerable depth in the minors, so losing Garcia might not hurt that much, even if Pettitte does not return.
Looking at it from a wider angle, there doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. The Yankees can proceed as normal through the final weeks of spring training. Pettitte only complicates things a bit further down the road. Maybe this increases the chances the Yankees look to trade someone, but for right not it’s unlikely that they do anything too drastic. Seven starters for five spots seems like excess, but that can chance in a heartbeat. Despite possible complications, the Yanks are in a great spot right now.
Only 10% of the population is left-handed, and I don’t think any industry rewards southpaw-ness more than baseball. Lefty hitters are typically at the platoon advantage 65-75% of the time while lefty pitchers will get chance after chance to contribute something, anything at the big league level. It’s good work if you can get it.
Given the short right field porch at both the old and new Yankee Stadium, the team’s history has been dominated by power left-handed bats like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson, and Don Mattingly. Left-handed pitchers are also at a premium to help prevent the other team from capitalizing on the right field dimensions, which is why the club’s all-time best pitchers are southpaws like Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez, Ron Guidry, and Andy Pettitte. The current incarnation of the Yankees is no different, with a group of left-handed guys who do their very best work against same-sided players.
The best hitter on the Yankees also happens to be one of the very best left-handed hitters against left-handed pitching in all of baseball. Since the start of the 2009 season, only Joey Votto (.402 wOBA) and Chase Utley (.390 wOBA) have outhit Cano (.371 wOBA) against same-side pitchers (min. 500 PA). His 31 homers against southpaws over the last three years are the third most in baseball among all hitters, regardless of hand. Only Albert Pujols (40) and Mark Teixeira (34) have more.
Cano’s ability to hang in against left-handed pitching stems from his freakish contact skills, which allows him to get the fat part of the bat on both fastballs in and breaking balls away. He uses the entire field and is basically un-matchup-able. That’s why he’s one of the game’s most dangerous hitters.
Once upon a time, Granderson was completely useless against left-handed pitchers. From 2006 through mid-August 2010, Curtis hit just .208/.264/.326 with a 24.5% strikeout rate in 767 plate appearances against lefties. That all changed 20 months ago, when hitting coach Kevin Long revamped the center fielder’s setup and stroke. Since then, Granderson has hit .275/.354/.575 in 275 plate appearances against lefties, which is almost identical to his .255/.366/.545 line against right-handers.
No hitter — right-handed or left-handed — hit more homers off lefty pitchers in 2011 than Granderson, who had 16. Teixeira had 15 and no one else had more than a dozen. Jay Bruce had the next highest total by a left-handed hitter at 11, so none of those fellas was particularly close to Curtis. Granderson’s transformation from platoon player to MVP candidate has been just remarkable, and there are going to be a lot of opposing managers tricked into using inferior LOOGYs in the late innings when Grandy and Cano are hitting back-to-back in the 2-3 spots this season. It will be glorious.
One of the two or three best left-handed pitchers on the planet, Sabathia has been tormenting same-side hitters with his fastball-slider combination for a decade now. He’s held lefty batters to a .221/.272/.322 batting line with a 30.3% strikeout rate in 692 plate appearances during his three years in New York, which looks a whole lot like the old version of Granderson. Only eleven of the 55 homers he’s given up since the start of 2009 have come off the bat of lefties.
Because of his dominance of left-handed hitters, opposing managers often stack their lineups with right-handers whenever Sabathia starts. Only 22.3% of the hitters he’s faced in pinstripes have been lefties, well below the ~50% league average*. Thankfully Sabathia is very effective against right-handed batters as well — .249/.308/.371 over the last three years — thanks to his knockout changeup. CC’s best work comes against his fellow southpaws though, and he’s one of the best in the business.
* The RH-LH split for pitchers is approximately 75-25, but it’s just about 50-50 for hitters when accounting for switch-hitters.
Pettitte’s surprise return last week will give the Yankees a second left-handed starter assuming he comes through his preparation fine and wants to see this comeback thing through. He’s held lefty batters to a .246/.286/.352 batting line with a 25.5% strikeout rate during the New Stadium era, which obviously includes no data for 2011. Andy is a bit more saavy than Sabathia, relying on three different 80-something mile-an-hour fastballs — four-seamer, sinker, and cutter — and a curveball to neutralize same-side hitters. Whether or not he retains that effectiveness after a year-long hiatus remains to be seen.
The Yankees only true lefty specialist at the moment, Boone’s performance against lefties last season wasn’t exactly special. They tagged him for a .260/.328/.462 batting line in 2011, far worse than his career performance coming into the year (.248/.322/.355). The good news is that his underlying performance was very strong, featuring a 28.8% strikeout rate, a 5.9% walk rate, and a 40.6% ground ball rate. That will typically lead to excellent results, so Logan really doesn’t have to chance much going forward. Keep missing bats and limiting walks, and the results should fall in line.
There are a number of second lefty reliever candidates in camp, highlighted by Clay Rapada at the moment. He’s stood out the most from a group that includes fellow non-roster invitee Mike O’Connor and Rule 5 Draft pick Cesar Cabral. With one bullpen spot up for grabs, Rapada is the favorite right now should the Yankees decide to take a second southpaw given their April schedule. Even if they take another righty, the Yankees will have plenty of left-on-left firepower in 2012.