What pitches do the Yankees starters throw?

Following Larry’s examination of the best pitches in the Yankees’ rotation, we received an email from a reader who asked an excellent question.

I was wondering if you guys could do some kind of guide to what pitches each of our pitchers throw and how often.

Thanks to FanGraphs, identifying these pitches and frequencies becomes much easier. Previously, to identify a pitcher’s entire arsenal would require quite a bit of video watching, and would likely also require an outside resource. Frequency was out of the question, unless you had a paid subscription to a service such as Baseball Info Solutions. Now FanGraphs aggregates all of that data.

Today we’ll look into what the Yankees’ seven starters throw, and how frequently they throw it. But before we do, a few disclaimers. First, we’re going by Pitch f/x data here, since it’s captured on high-speed cameras. The Baseball Info Solutions data, also available on FanGraphs, gets recorded, from videos, by stringers. There’s much more room for human error there. Also, the Pitch f/x data includes more pitches, so there’s a more accurate breakdown.

At the same time, Pitch f/x isn’t error-free. It often misclassifies pitches, and consistently. For example, before 2010 it didn’t do a good job of separating different types of fastballs. I’ll try to combine personal knowledge of arsenals with the Pitch f/x data in order to provide a clearer look at each pitcher’s repertoire. Remember, too, that you can look into this yourself; the data is available on every FanGraphs player page.

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The best pitches in the Yankees rotation

(Sabathia by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty; Pineda by Leon Halip/Getty)

Inspired by the excellent Red Sox blog Over the Monster, today I’m going to take a look at which Yankees starting pitchers throws the “best” pitch among each pitch category. As there are a variety of factors involved in determining a given pitch’s overall effectiveness, “best” in this instance is going to be subjective. In the interest of simplicity, I’m ranking the hurlers by their respective Whiff rates, as the ability to generate a swing-and-miss is probably the most transparent indication of pure stuff.

All of the data in the tables you’ll see below is from the 2011 season, and should be mostly self-explanatory. I’ll be the first to admit that a one-year sample is less-than-ideal, but I tried to run a three-year search and TexasLeaguers.com didn’t take to that request too kindly. The columns headed by “w” and “w/100” are the pitch type’s linear weights (representing the total runs that a pitcher has saved using that pitch) and linear weights per 100 pitches (the amount of runs that pitcher saved with their fastball over the course of 100 fastballs thrown), which provide some level of insight into a pitch’s relative level of effectiveness but should not be analyzed in isolation, as they are subject to the whims of both sequencing and BABIP.

Four-Seam Fastball

And right off the bat we have a prime example of the problems one can encounter with pitch type linear weights. If you sorted this table by wFF, Phil Hughes would come out on top. How on earth is that possible, you are likely asking yourself. I’m not entirely sure myself, as I don’t think anyone that saw Hughes pitch last year thought much of his fastball. However, he did get some people out, and presumably the vast majority of those outs came via his four-seamer, because, as you’ll see later on in this post, everything else he threw last season was pretty awful, at least by pitch type linear weights. Lending further credence to this notion is the fact that Hughes yielded a .282 BABIP on ground balls on his heater, compared to a .360 BABIP on ground balls on the curve, .444 on the cutter and .556 on his changeup.

As far as Whiff% goes, it should be quite heartening to see that the Yankees’ two newest rotation acquisitions outperformed everyone else in the rotation by a rather substantial margin. While both will likely see a decrease in their Whiff rates with the move to the AL East, at least they’re starting from a high baseline.

Slider

We know Ivan Nova threw a slider more than 3.9% of the time last season and so this table is a bit misleading. However, the pitch did become one of the keys to his improved second-half performance, and so there may be a case to be made for Nova having one of the better sliders on the team. Of course, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia might have something to say about that. In any event, the Yankees’ front four in the rotation all boast pretty big-time sliders; bad news for opposing lineups.

Sinker/Two-Seam Fastball

While Pineda probably threw some two-seamers last season, I’d surmise that some of his four-seamers may have been misclassified, as a 10.6% Whiff% rate on a two-seamer/sinker is pretty damn high when you consider league average is 5.0%-5.4%. Not to mention the fact that the player with the best wFT/100 in MLB last season (Doug Fister), had a 5.4% Whiff% on his two-seamer. Sabathia probably has the best sinker on the team, although Kuroda is in that conversation as well if he can get his GB% back above 45%.

Changeup

It should surprise no one that Sweaty Freddy had the best changeup on the team given his slow-slower-slowest approach, although Sabathia’s is also pretty great. No one else in the rotation has a particularly effective one, although Burnett’s did generate a slightly above-average Whiff% last year. Surprisingly, despite a rather diverse arsenal, Hiroki Kuroda is the only starter on the team that doesn’t throw a change at all. However,  in his case he presumably partially makes up for it with his splitter, which can function like a hard change.

Curveball

No surprises here; Burnett’s curve is the only thing keeping him away from the glue factory, but as everyone knows you can’t get very far with one working pitch. Nova’s curve is probably best described as a work-in-progress; while there were times in the second half that Phil Hughes looked like he was employing a harder (and more effective) curve and other times where his curve looked terrible. Stop me if you’ve heard the one about Hughes needing to improve his curveball to become an effective Major League starter.

Cutter


Still not sure how Hughes’ cutter went from well above-average (11% Whiff% in 2009; 11.5% Whiff% in 2010) to nonexistent last season. No one on the team really employs the cutter with any regularity.

Split-Fingered Fastball

The splitter is a fun pitch that Yankee fans don’t get to see too often, and this coming season we may have two members of the rotation featuring one (albeit in very different forms). Prior to Freddy Garcia, the last Yankee starter I can think of off the top of my head that threw one is Roger Clemens (Ed. Note: Jose Contreras threw a forkball, which is kinda like a splitter but slower). Per linear weights, neither Freddy nor Kuroda fared all that well with their splitters last season, but they still generated plenty of whiffs with the pitch.

So who boasts the best pitch in the Yankee rotation? Probably either Sabathia, with his heater or slider, or Pineda and his heater. I certainly wouldn’t argue against any of those three.

It’s Official: Montero & Noesi for Pineda & Campos is a done deal

Ten days after we learned that an agreement was in place, the trade is finally official. The Yankees announced this afternoon that they’ve acquired Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi after all four players passed their physicals. During the conference call, Brian Cashman said Montero “may very well be the best player I’ve traded,” while Pineda said “I never thought I would become a New York Yankee so early into my career.” It’s pretty funny that he assumed it was an inevitability.

The Yankees now have an open spot on the 40-man roster, but that will be filled rather quickly. We’re still waiting on the Hiroki Kuroda signing to be finalized, but last we heard he was still in Japan enjoying the offseason. His physical might not happen for a while. Andruw Jonesnew contract still isn’t official yet either. Make sure you check out our Depth Chart to see where the team’s roster stands. So long Jesus and Hector, and welcome to the Boogie Down, Michael and Jose.

Pineda speaks for first time since trade

Jesus Montero is finally in Seattle for his physical, meaning the four player trade that will bring Michael Pineda to the Yankees should become official within a day or two. Christian Red of The Daily News caught up with Pineda in the Dominican Republic recently, the first time the young right-hander has spoken publicly since the two sides agreed to the deal.

“It’s a tremendous team,” he said. “It’s very exciting for me … I’m not scared. I’m always focused, working very hard every day. I don’t think about anything else on game days. I’ve never pitched in New York or at Yankee Stadium, but I’m dying to. We’ll see what happens. I’m going to work very hard to do my job.” Pineda said he feels “good about [his] changeup,” and is well aware of the short porch in the right field at Yankee Stadium. “I’ll just keep it low. Keep it low and everything will be fine,” he said. Easier said than done, my friend. Check out the entire article, it’s worth your time.

Vetting out some thoughts on ‘the big trade’

Farewell Jesus, greetings Michael (Yahoo.com)

Like some of you (and some of us here at RAB), my head is still swirling from last Friday’s trade escapades. Cashman, in vintage ninja-like fashion, redefined the Yankees landscape in what seemed like a matter of hours when he elected to ship Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi off to Seattle in return for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.  Not only could the trade drastically influence the 2012 season, but it may reverberate for years to come on a number of different levels.

Frankly, I have not completely sorted out my thoughts on the trade yet; although, my initial response was some combination of bewilderment and panic. On the surface, the deal seems to make a great deal of sense for both teams though – the Mariners obtained a potential middle-of-the-lineup threat to aid their otherwise meager offense, while the Yankees theoretically acquired another potent arm to complement a rotation comprised of CC Sabathia and a bunch of question marks. Incidentally, both organizations received players that are very young and cost-controlled to boot.

While Hector Noesi and Jose Campos are certainly not the feature pieces of the deal, both offer some honest upside as well. Noesi will probably slot into the Mariners rotation and should deliver some decent production, especially in spacious Safeco Field. Similarly, Campos, a 19-year-old right-handed pitcher with a dazzling fastball, will likely qualify as a top ten prospect within the Yankees organization upon arrival. High-end bullpen pitching depth is never a bad thing, right?

Yet, general consensus here in Yankeeland seems to be that the deal was “good but not great” despite the fact that it clearly addressed some of the franchise’s obvious concerns. Some of the luster of the move was certainly dulled by the fact that we, as fans, have been captivated by Montero for quite some time now. He was supposed to be the next homegrown superstar after all, who would grow up donning pinstripes and ultimately retire to the Hall of Fame as a True Yankee™.  So as great as Pineda could potentially be, the loss of Montero is still bittersweet.

As if sentiments weren’t hazy enough already, Brian Cashman did his part to complicate the discussion further as he went on the record stating, “I gave up a ton [for Pineda]. To me, Montero is Mike Piazza. He’s Miguel Cabrera.”  Assuming for a moment that Montero does have that kind of ceiling at the MLB level (and boy that is a lofty assumption), what’s that worth to a team exactly?  I suppose it depends on the team’s needs first and foremost.  For what it’s worth, WAR tells us that Miggy has been been an outstanding player (only once in the past seven seasons has he delivered a fWAR value below five).   There’s only a handful of players in all of baseball who can deliver similar production consistently.

Even if Montero was relegated to designated hitter role early on in his career, at that level of production, he’d still contribute some serious value going forward. Consider David Ortiz; in 2011, he was valued at 4.2 WAR according to FanGraphs.  Also keep in mind that in 2011, there were only 24 pitchers total who could claim a WAR above four, and only 16 topped five.  Last season, Cabrera eclipsed the seven fWAR plateau —  a feat only pitchers Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, and Justin Verlander could claim.  So in the spirit of gross over-simplification, our hearts and eyes told us Montero carried huge clout, a point which Cashman reiterated right after trading him to the Mariners for some kid not named Felix.

Now, I generally tend to value very good pitching beyond very good hitting simply because of supply and demand, a philosophy which makes it easier for me to accept Cashman’s decision to pull the trigger (not that he needs my official endorsement). However, I also contend that elite talent (regardless of the role) should hold trump. The reason why elite talent is so tantalizing is because, by very definition, it’s a rarity.  If Cashman was serious about Montero becoming a generational talent, I sure hope he has similar aplomb in Pineda’s future as well.  Trading future Miguel Cabrera away for, say, Ricky Romero just doesn’t satisfy me.*

Realistically speaking, at this point, Montero’s a highly touted prospect who is still in the process of transitioning into the bigs. Although he had an exciting September, it’s probably unfair to label him the next big deal until he showcases some consistency. As for Pineda, his strengths are obvious but he’s also not without his flaws. We’ve all heard by now about his gaudy strikeout ratio.  We’ve also heard about his fly ball tendencies and the changeup that needs to develop. Nevertheless, he is definitely a very talented kid, and the Yankees were not likely to obtain that caliber of a player without giving up something comparable in return. Considering the value of other young cost-controlled quality arms, it would appear Cashman gave up a reasonable amount relative to the haul.

Cashman said that the trade will likely be a bust for the Yankees if Pineda doesn’t develop a viable changeup and become a number one starter. Those are some hefty expectations (that we all probably feel in the pit of our stomach to some extent or another). Then again, I’m sure Seattle is saying the same thing. Montero needs to live up to the hype in order to justify the loss of a pitcher who could become a bonafide ace; moreover, he’ll likely need to do it behind the plate for some folks to be truly content.  The uncertainty is the rub.  It’s the reason I flinched at the trade initially, and it’s also the reason I completely support the reasoning behind it now.

I know I wasn’t alone in wondering whether the Yanks could have had the proverbial cake and been able to eat it too. It’s plausible that the Yankees would still be dubbed the AL East favorite at this juncture if they had just signed Hiroki Kuroda and not made the trade additionally. Although the rotation would not have been as appealing in 2012 without Pineda’s services, perhaps the differential in run support would have made up for it.  I think we were all prepared to face that reality with open arms.

In the long run, hopefully we’ll wind up thanking Cashman for his foresight. Unfortunately, because baseball isn’t played in a vacuum, such hypotheticals are not only abstract but at times haunting. Only Cashman truly knows the true game plan, and he gets to make the tough decisions while only we get the benefit of being able to scrutinize his moves without the torments of accountability.

In any event, the wheels are in motion and there is no real option other than to embrace the future. Hopefully, the team does not lose interest in some of the other quality arms on the free agent market come next season **. There’s nothing more we can do but wait and see how this will pan out for the Yankees. For now, I’ll trust in Cashman’s judgment with optimism, say a fond farewell to the superstar-in-the-making we barely knew, and welcome with open arms the future face of the rotation.

* Please know that I’m not comparing Michael Pineda to Ricky Romero here.  The example was simply the first name that popped into mind for the sake of discussion.

** Just for the record, I do not expect the Yankees to skip out on elite pitchers next offseason should they be made available.

*** Apologies for my hiatus the past two months. Between work and wedding planning, my life has been rather chaotic. That said, I hope to regain normalcy in my daily routine soon and get back to posting at my typical frequency.  Cheers!

PINEDAf/x (and some projections)

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr./Getty)

There has been no lack of Michael Pineda PITCHf/x analysis in the aftermath of the Big Trade, and if you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out Lucas Apostoleris here, Whelk at DRays Bay here and our pal Matt Imbrogno here. With these fine fellows having already done some of the legwork I was planning on doing, I thought I’d shift my focus to a compelling comp:

Feel free to guess in the comments, or find out what we’re looking at after the jump.

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Mailbag: Manny, Burnett, Andruw, Pineda, Joba

As you can imagine, we got approximately ten million mailbag questions this week following the Michael PinedaJesus Montero trade. Oddly enough, no one really wanted to talk about Hiroki Kuroda. Poor guy. Anyway, I tried to answer as many as possible this week, which is why the answers are shorter than usual. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in sidebar.

(REUTERS/Brian Blanco)

Ben asks: I can’t believe I’m even writing this, but would you take a flier on Manny Ramirez now that Montero has vacated the DH spot? Or is the baggage not even worth a minor league deal at this point?

I wouldn’t even bother. That’s a lot of baggage, plus he still has to serve his 50-game suspension for last year’s failed drug test. Jon Morosi confirmed that he has to sign a contract before he can begin to serve a suspension, so he wouldn’t even be available until late-May or so. Maybe he can still hit, but I don’t think it’s worth the trouble to find out.

Den asks: Do you think the probability of A.J. Burnett being traded increased significantly after the deals with Kuroda and Seattle?

I do not, at least not significantly. It’s not a matter of the Yankees and their willingness to move Burnett, we know they want to, it’s whether or not another team is open to taking him while assuming some portion of his contract. So far all we’ve heard is that other clubs want the Yankees to pay basically everything, and if you’re going to do that you might as well keep him. The Pineda and Kuroda stuff won’t make A.J. any more desirable to other teams, unfortunately.

J.R. asks: How did Andruw Jones fair against RHP in the second half in 2011 (after the widened stance)? Did he do well enough that he could be the full time DH (or at least 400 AB)? Do injury concerns prevent this?

To the statcave!

Jones vs. RHP pre-ASG: .091/.167/.091 in 24 PA
Jones vs. RHP post-ASG: .214/.365/.571 in 52 PA

That works out to a .172/.303/.406 overall line in 76 PA, but the sample size is so small that we shouldn’t take it seriously. For what it’s worth, Andruw hit .215/.310/.477 in  403 PA vs. RHP with the Rangers and White Sox in 2009-2010. I don’t know of any injury concerns that would prevent Jones from playing regularly against right-handers (though he did have his knee scoped at the end of the season), but there are obvious performance concerns. I think using him as the full-time DH would be a last resort, or at least a second-to-last resort behind Jorge Vazquez. Also, statcave is totally going to be a thing now.

No LoMo for the Yankees. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Daniel asks: Due to the pitching depth that the recent moves create for the Yankees, could we see a move to get a young cost-controlled bat that could DH and play other positions (i.e. LoMo, Dominic Brown)? I would include Billy Butler, but he would keep the Yankees from using the DH for veterans needing a half-day.

I would love to see it, but I’m not counting on it. The Yankees have pitching depth but it’s not like they have a rotation full of aces and a few to spare; their depth is Burnett, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, and a bunch of MLB-ready back-end types in Triple-A. That won’t net a whole lot in a trade, certainly not a Brown or Logan Morrison type. Look at what it took to get Montero, it’ll take a similar package to get someone like those two. Unless they plan on turning around and trading Pineda, I don’t see it.

Greg asks: Everybody is focused on Pineda’s extreme fly-ball tendencies, but we’re all thinking about it in a vacuum.  How many of those fly balls at Safeco would have been out at NYS?

You can toy around with Katron, which SG already did. Click the link and you’ll see that none of the fly balls Pineda gave up in Safeco would have been homers in Yankee Stadium except for the ones that were homers in Safeco. There aren’t even many balls hit to the warning track. Obviously this isn’t a perfect analysis because it doesn’t take into account things like different wind directions and altitude and all that, but the point is that just because a pitcher gives up a lot of fly balls doesn’t mean they’re all hit deep.

Kevin asks: Outside of the box idea: if David Adams or Corban Joseph can prove to be a decent enough prospect this year, any chance of moving Robinson Cano to third and sending Alex Rodriguez to DH? Second basemen tend to age horribly, so it could preserve his career a little longer.

I do think that’s a possibility, but obviously it won’t happen anytime soon. I think Adams has a chance to be an above-average second baseman in the big leagues, or at least moreso than CoJo, but he lost so much development time over the last two years due to the ankle problems. His probability nosedived.

I’m really curious to see what the Yankees are going to do with Cano long-term, because second baseman do tend to age horribly as you said, and his contract will be up in two years at age 31. That’s a year or two before you’d expect him to fall off a cliff, but unfortunately he’ll be in line for a massive contract if he keeps doing what he’s been doing. I’ve been saying it for months, give him a six-year deal right now and knock out the first half of the contract before he enters the danger zone for middle infielders.

Brian asks: Would it be fair (in a general sense) to say that if Jesus Montero was a pitching prospect, he’d be Michael Pineda?

That’s interesting, and I do agree. The primary tools are huge, meaning Montero’s bat and Pineda’s fastball/slider/control. The secondary tools are a big question mark however, specifically Pineda’s changeup and Montero’s defense/long-term position. They’re both physically huge — though that’s good for one and potentially bad for the other — and approximately the same age (Pineda’s ten months older). Position players are less risky though, just due to general attrition rates and pitching being such an unnatural thing. They are similar to a certain extent though, at least as far as pitchers and position players can be similar anyway.

Nik asks: When Joba is healed and ready to pitch again, where does he fit in? And what would you guess the bullpen sequence to look like?

I expect the Yankees and Joe Girardi to ease him back into things at first, meaning a low-leverage inning here and there for the first few weeks. Once he’s settled in and back in the swing of things, I have to assume he’ll be right in the seventh and eighth inning mix with Rafael Soriano and David Robertson. Those guys aren’t available every day, so adding Joba will provide some depth and allow him to fill the gaps every so often.