Archive for What Went Wrong
For the most part, CC Sabathia had another strong season in 2012. He logged 200 innings and kept runs off the board (3.38 ERA) with peripheral stats to match (3.33 FIP), but it was also the worst of his four years with the Yankees and his worst since 2005 or 2006 with the Indians. Obviously his standards are pretty high, but the step back in performance was both noticeable and a concern going forward given the four (and potentially five) years left on his contract.
The Elbow Injury
For the first time in his big league career, Sabathia spent time on the DL with an arm injury this summer. Elbow inflammation stemming a bone spur was the culprit, though for a while it sounded a lot worse than that …
“After Seattle, I was (nervous),” said Sabathia the other day. “I woke up the next day and my arm was kind of swollen, and I didn’t have any range of motion. So I was really nervous, honestly. So we had the test, and once the MRI came back clean, I just knew it was something I’ll have to deal with. I know there’s nothing structurally wrong with my arm.” [source]
Sabathia spend the minimum 15 days on the DL and didn’t pitch all that well when he first came back, posting a 4.67 ERA and 4.47 FIP in 27 innings across four late-August and early-September starts. He insisted that his elbow was fine and that he felt “good enough to pitch,” but scattered (and unconfirmed) reports indicated that his elbow was still flaring up between starts. A late-season stretch of dominance that carried over into the postseason help assuage some concern.
The Yankees sent Sabathia for more tests after the season, which led to Dr. James Andrews performing arthroscopic surgery to remove the bone spur on October 25th. Tests confirmed the original report that his ligament was fine, but the spur he’d been pitching with since his Cleveland days had to go. Sabathia is expected to be ready in time for Spring Training but he will be on a modified throwing program in camp to help him prepare for Opening Day. I don’t know what that means, but any time your 32-year-old ace pitcher with 2,500+ innings on his arm starts having elbow trouble, it’s a concern.
The Performance Decline
A 3.38 ERA and 3.33 FIP in 200 innings is nothing to sneeze at, but for Sabathia it represented a step down from both 2011 (3.00 ERA and 2.88 FIP in 237.1 innings) and 2009-2011 (3.18 ERA and 3.27 FIP in an average of 235 innings). The performance decline did not occur in either his strikeout (8.87 K/9 and 23.7 K%) or walk (1.98 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) rates, which were both his bests as a Yankee. It also didn’t show up in his ground ball rate (48.2%), which was his second best as a Yankee. All three rates, the strikeouts and walks and grounders, were the third best of his entire career.
Instead, the decline showed up in two places, the first being his homerun rate. The 22 dingers he surrendered this year were a career-high, as was the 0.99 HR/9 and 12.5% HR/FB. It had been six years since he topped even 0.80 HR/9 and 9.0% HR/FB. It wasn’t just a Yankee Stadium issue either, his road rates (1.14 HR/9 and 13.7 HR/FB%) were worse than his home rates (0.84 HR/9 and 11.1% HR/FB). Hit Tracker classified just seven of those 22 homers as “Just Enoughs,” meaning the other 15 cleared the wall by more than ten vertical feet. He wasn’t giving up cheapies.
Secondly, Sabathia’s fastball velocity dropped off noticeably (click to embiggen) …
Fastball velocity isn’t exactly a measure of performance, so maybe it’s unfair to lump this in here, but at the end of the day he wasn’t throwing as hard as he had in the past. His average four-seam fastball velocity was 92.4 mph this year, down from 93.9 mph just a year ago. It had never been lower than 93.6 mph (2010) during the PitchFX era. So yeah, losing a mile and a half an hour off the fastball from one year to the next is a considerable drop-off and a concern when again, you’re talking about a guy with over 2,500 innings on his arm.
Did the reduced fastball lead to homer problems? Perhaps, he did give up ten homers on four-seamers this year according to Brooks Baseball, down from eleven last year (in 37.1 more innings) and up from eight in 2010 (37.2 more innings) and nine in 2009 (30 more innings). I think it’s more noteworthy that he surrendered seven homers off his slider this year after allowing ten total off the pitch in his first three years as a Yankee. Anecdotally, I thought Sabathia hung more sliders this year than at any other point with New York, which could be explained by the elbow problem. The fastball and slider aren’t mutually exclusive, one works off the other. A compromised fastball could easily result in reduced effectiveness of the slider.
It’s also worth nothing that Sabathia didn’t truly dominate left-handed batters like he has in the past. He held them to a .288 wOBA this year after a .248 wOBA last year and a .265 wOBA from 2009-2011, so we are splitting hairs. His strikeout (12.71 K/9 and 35.3 K%), walk (1.24 BB/9 and 3.4 BB%), and ground ball (47.5%) rates against same-side hitters were still off the charts good this season. It could be tied back to the whole fastball-slider thing, because the breaking ball is the pitch he’s used to dominate lefties his entire career.
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Sabathia’s down season was still excellent in the grand scheme of things, but this year he gave the Yankees and their fans more reasons to be concerned than at any other point in his first three years with the team. The elbow injury is obviously a big concern even though his ligament checked out fine (twice), plus the declining fastball velocity is a red flag as well. The two could be related, though bad elbows usually result in poor command (which we saw out of CC at times this year) while velocity loss is typically attributed to a bad shoulder. The Yankees have already spoken internally about lightening Sabathia’s workload going forward, so they are aware of these issues and are looking for ways to address them. Hopefully they can help stave off the inevitable age-related decline.
A year ago, the Yankees somewhat surprisingly won 97 games and a division title despite featuring a patchwork rotation behind CC Sabathia. Rookie Ivan Nova was given a rotation spot and excelled, but behind him you had a struggling/injured Phil Hughes, a junkball specialist in Freddy Garcia, and the definition of a retread in Bartolo Colon. He hadn’t thrown more than 80 innings in a big league season since 2007. Yet the Yankees won and won a lot with that starting staff.
When the offseason came, Brian Cashman & Co. set out to improve that patchwork rotation. They brought Garcia back for depth but otherwise waited the market out. And waited. And waited some more. Then, in one fell swoop, the Yankees swung a four-player trade for Michael Pineda and signed Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract. News of the two moves broke within about an hour of each other, and just like that the rotation was fixed. At least in theory. Kuroda was fantastic this season, but things hardly went according to plan for Pineda.
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Pineda, who turned 23 a few days after the trade, was coming off an All-Star season with the Mariners in which he became the first rookie in baseball history (!) to record a 9.0+ K/9 with a sub-3.0 BB/9 while qualifying for the ERA title. His fastball lived in the 94-96 range and his mid-80s slider generated a swing-and-miss nearly 40% of the time (38.5%, to be exact). He needed to work on his changeup and the Yankees knew that, but pitchers that young who can miss bats and limit walks are rare breeds. With the 2014 payroll plan looming and the club in desperate need of a young, high-end arm, Pineda seemed like exactly what the Yankees needed.
With the media circus circling like vultures and waiting for any slip-up, Pineda came to Spring Training overweight. He said it was ten pounds but Brian Cashman said it was 20. For a kid that big (listed at 6-foot-7, 265 lbs.) gaining 10-20 pounds isn’t a huge deal but it wasn’t a good first impression. The club griped about Seattle’s unconventional offseason workout regime — their pitchers don’t start throwing until a few weeks before Spring Training — but that was mostly just frustration being vented. Pineda did his work and set out to lose the weight.
When the Grapefruit League schedule opened a few weeks later and Pineda made his first start, his trademark fastball was in the 88-91 range. First start of Spring Training? Not a huge deal. Next time out he hit 93 on the gun, but in his third start he was back around 90-91. After three starts you’re expecting to see some improvement as the arm strength builds and the cobwebs are shaken off, but it wasn’t happening for Pineda. His fourth and fifth starts featured more of the same, and what was supposed to be his sixth and final start of Spring Training wound up being his final start of 2012.
The Phillies pounded Pineda (six runs in 2.2 innings) on March 30th and after the game the right-hander complained of soreness in the back of his right shoulder. He had felt it before the game but declined to tell anyone. The Yankees sent Pineda for an MRI, which revealed only shoulder tendinitis and no structural damage to his labrum or rotator cuff. He was to be shut down for 10-15 days and placed on the DL. Pineda gradually worked his way back, first playing catch, then playing long-toss, then throwing a bullpen session, then throwing to hitters in an Extended Spring Training. He felt weakness in his shoulder during that ExST game was shutdown after one inning.
The Yankees sent Pineda back to New York for another MRI and two doctor’s examinations — one by the team doctor and one by a doctor of Pineda’s (and his agent’s) choice per league rules. Both exams revealed the same thing: he had an anterior labral tear and would need arthroscopic surgery. It wasn’t the kiss of death SLAP tear (a full labrum tear, all the way around), but the surgery would cause him to miss then entire season and the start of next season as well. Pineda had his surgery on May 1st.
The Yankees moved on without Pineda and were fine, they won 95 games and another division title. His rehab progressed slowly down in Tampa and various check-ups came back positive, but on August 20th, less than four months after his surgery, Pineda was arrested for driving under the influence down in Tampa. We haven’t heard anything about his sentencing or punishment, but that could still be pending. That really doesn’t matter though, DUI is an inexcusable crime in my book and it reflects terribly on him.
Reports indicated that Pineda was scheduled to start throwing around September and Cashman recently confirmed that Pineda has in fact been throwing off flat ground. Earlier this week the right-hander was cleared to continue his throwing program following another check-up, so his shoulder rehab appears to be going well. He still has a very long way to go though. Cashman said he doesn’t expect him back until June, so he’s not even halfway through the process yet.
Regardless of what happens going forward, Pineda’s first year in pinstripes was a disaster. Within his first eight months as a Yankee he showed up to camp overweight, hid an arm injury, and was arrested, plus he still has to come back from the shoulder surgery. The Yankees don’t know what they’ll get out of him going forward and there’s a chance he’ll never be the pitcher he was in 2011 again. The injury could sap velocity, command, or both. We won’t know until he gets back on a mound in a game situation. Jesus Montero‘s disappointing year (90 wRC+) might have softened the blow a little bit, but you can’t sugarcoat it. This year was pretty much the worst case scenario for Pineda.
A year ago, the Yankees had one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball. Andruw Jones signed a one-year contract prior to the season and hit .247/.356/.495 (133 wRC+) in 222 plate appearances while destroying lefties (152 wRC+) and playing adequate defense in the outfield corners. The Yankees brought him back for 2012 on the exact same contract (one year, $2M) and hoped for similar production. They instead got much less.
Jones, 35, was actually very good in the first half, which I know is easy to forget. He went on a four-homers-in-three-games rampage in Fenway Park in early-July and carried a .244/.326/.535 batting line with eleven homers in 144 plate appearances into the All-Star break. Jones was hitting almost exactly as he had last year for the first three months of this season and for the most part no one paid him much attention. He was doing what he was supposed to do off the bench.
Andruw homered against the Blue Jays in the third game after the All-Star break and then simply stopped hitting. He fell into a 6-for-44 (.136) slump before hitting a big game-tying homer off Derek Holland on August 16th, but that was followed by a 3-for-27 (.111) stretch. Jones hit a pinch-hit homer against the Twins in the 154th game of the season, but at that point he’d lost his job as a designated outfield lefty masher. Ichiro Suzuki was playing left field everyday and Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter were taking turns at DH against lefties.
From July 18th, the day after that homer against Blue Jays, through the end of the season, Jones went just 14-for-99 (.141) with 27 strikeouts, including 11-for-74 (.149) with 18 strikeouts against left-handers. Arguably worse than the offense was the defense, as Andruw looked disinterested and often dogged it on balls hit into the gaps. I’m not normally one to question a player’s effort level, but with Jones it was an obvious problem. No one ever expected him to defend like he did during his days with the Braves, but sheesh. He provided nothing with the glove.
One year after having one of baseball’s best reverse outfielders, the Yankees received a .197/.294/.408 (89 wRC+) batting line out of Jones in 269 plate appearances this season. They left him off the playoff roster in favor of Brett Gardner, who had a total of three at-bats to his credit after coming off a season-long DL stint. After the season, Andruw said he played the second half with a finger injury suffered while sliding for a ball against Toronto immediately after the break, which fits the timetable of his offensive collapse and seems like a completely plausible explanation. It’s not enough to excuse his performance, however.
For the first month of the season, Boone Logan was one of the team’s two best relievers. The Yankees didn’t miss a beat when Mariano Rivera blew out his knee because Rafael Soriano stepped right into the closer’s role, but it was Logan who assumed a big chunk of the setup work when Rivera got hurt and David Robertson strained his oblique. He allowed just eight runs in 28 first half innings while striking out 37. He was dominant.
The second half of the season, really starting at the beginning of July, was a different story though. Logan appeared in 40 of the team’s first 79 games and seemed to tire out just prior to the All-Star break, when he allowed five runs in four appearances (2.2 innings). He got some much-needed time off during the All-Star break and also for about a week after that because the Angels and Blue Jays had right-handed heavy lineups at the time. Logan took a 3.43 ERA into mid-August but that ballooned to 4.07 in the span of three outings, two of which featured multiple runs allowed.
During his final 24 appearances and 16 innings of the season, Logan allowed eight runs and ten walks. In addition to those eight runs, seven of the 26 runners he inherited came around to score, including four of seven in the final week of the season. Opponents tagged him for a .274/.378/.468 batting line during those 24 appearances, but because the Yankees were stuck in tight division race, Joe Girardi had to keep giving him the ball. Before Joba Chamberlain settled down in mid-September, Logan was the de factor seventh inning guy who faced both lefties and righties. He doesn’t fit well in that role.
All told, Boone pitched to a 5.00 ERA (4.62 FIP) with 17 walks in 27 innings spread across 41 appearances after the calendar flipped to July. Even worse, left-handed batters hit .263/.333/.439 during the time after he held them to a .203/.315/.312 line during the season’s first three months. He appeared to be really laboring at times under the career-high workload (55.1 innings in a league-leading 80 appearances), though the fatigue didn’t show up in his fastball velocity. It showed up in his ability to throw strikes …
… and in his slider, which seemed to flatten out far too often down the stretch. At least anecdotally, anyway. Logan was one of Girardi’s very best relievers in the first half and that really was just a continuation of his second half from last year, when he started to curb the walks and his strikeout rate climbed through the roof. The fade down the stretch really hurt the team as they tried to fend off the Orioles, though it doesn’t sting as much because the Yankees still won the division. His end-of-season stats (3.74 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 11.06 K/9, 4.55 BB/9) look fine, but the way he got there wasn’t ideal.
Power is becoming harder to come by these days, and hitting coach Kevin Long turned Curtis Granderson into one of the game’s elite power hitters with some mechanical adjustments back in August 2010. He hit a career-high 43 homers in 2012, joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, and Jason Giambi as the only players to hit 40+ homers in back-to-back seasons for the Yankees. Since the start of 2010, no player has hit more homers than the Yankees’ center fielder.
That said, it wasn’t all good for Granderson in 2012. Expecting him to repeat his MVP-caliber effort from 2011 was a little unrealistic, but seeing nearly every non-power aspect of his game take a step back this year was unexpected. He became a very one-dimensional power hitter in a lineup that featured a few too many of those guys to start with. Maybe having to play the field nearly every day due to Brett Gardner‘s injury — Curtis started the team’s first 71 (and 89 of the first 90 games) in center — wore him down a bit, but that’s not really an excuse. The decline in overall production took a bite out New York’s attack.
I don’t think anyone is realistically expecting Curtis to his .300+ every year, but I also don’t think anyone expected him to hit .232 either. In fact, after topping out at .284 in the team’s 28th game of the season, Granderson hit just .220 in his final 556 plate appearances. He came into the year as a .267 career hitter and a .255 hitter as a Yankee, so he failed to meet even his modest standards. The 30-point drop in batting average from 2011 to 2012 coincides with a 35-point drop in BABIP, which doesn’t really jibe with the minimal change his batted ball profile. I’m not giving Granderson a pass for his inability to pick up simple base hits, but it is fair to say he got a little unlucky with his balls-in-play this summer.
This is partially tied to the whole batting average thing but the correlation is often overstated. That said, Granderson’s strikeout issues — franchise record 195 strikeouts in 2012 thanks to a career-high 28.5 K% — are a career-long issue that have gotten worse in each of his three seasons in New York…
Starting with the four-game series in Detroit in early-August, Granderson struck out 65 times in his final 210 plate appearances (31.0%). He also whiffed an astronomical 16 times in 33 postseason plate appearances. Curtis draws a lot of walks (11.0 BB%) and works deep counts (4.27 pitches per plate appearance, the fifth highest in baseball), which contributes to the strikeout issues, but also he’s just the kind of hitter who will swing-and-miss a bunch. It’s just who he is. When he’s hitting .260-something with 80+ walks and 40+ homers, you live with it. When he’s hitting .220 with a sub-.320 OBP, like he did in 2012, they’re a problem.
On The Bases
In the three seasons prior to coming to New York, Granderson stole 58 bases in 69 attempts (84.1%). This year he stole just ten bases in 13 attempts, both the lowest full season totals of his career. Heck, he only had three steals through the team’s first 69 games. Curtis doesn’t get enough credit for being a superb base-runner overall — he’s taken the extra base a well-above-average 48% of the time as a Yankees — but for whatever reason he just didn’t steal or even attempt to steal many bases in 2012. I wouldn’t call it a problem per se, but it’s a skill he was supposed to bring to the table that just isn’t there anymore.
The various metrics absolutely buried Granderson’s defense this year, as he ranked dead last among all qualified outfielders in UZR (-17.8) and bottom ten in both DRS (-10) and Total Zone (-12). I don’t believe he’s among the game’s worst defensively outfielders as the one-year of defensive data suggests, but he’s certainly a below-average defender in center. He was worse in 2012 than he was in 2011, when he was worse than he was in 2010. The Yankees aren’t oblivious to Granderson’s defensive shortcomings either, which is why they’re considering putting Gardner in center next year. Frankly, it’s a move that has to be made at this point.
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The prevailing thought out there seems to be that Granderson was a flat out bad player in 2012, but that’s ridiculous. It’s almost impossible for a player to hit 40+ homers in this run-starved environment and be bad. He certainly took a step back in all of the above areas and had a miserable playoff showing like most of his teammates, but his overall production was still much better than average and valuable for New York. Curtis just wasn’t nearly as good this year as he was a year ago, and the Yankees missed the lost production.
The Yankees got what amounted to 191.1 league average innings from Phil Hughes in 2012, solid mid-rotation production behind CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and (at times) Andy Pettitte. It was certainly a bumpy right though, as Hughes battled through a miserable April and extreme homer problems throughout the summer.
It’s easy to forget that Phil was the team’s best pitcher in Spring Training and the Yankees rewarded him with the third spot in the rotation ahead of Ivan Nova. Hughes held the Rays to two runs in 4.2 innings in his first start of the season, the only time in April in which he would allow fewer than four runs. He completed five innings just once that month, twice allowing six runs in a start.
After those four April starts, Hughes owned a 7.88 ERA (6.53 FIP) in 16 innings and hitters had tagged him for a .329/.395/.658 batting line (.444 wOBA). You can even carry it over to his first start in May, when he surrendered four runs in 5.2 innings against the Orioles. Through his first five starts of the season, it was a 7.48 ERA (6.14 FIP) and a .298/.365/.617 batting line against. It was ugly. Ugly enough that many fans (myself included) wanted the Yankees to stick Phil back in the bullpen where he’d had his greatest success as a big leaguer. The team stuck with him though, and they were rewarded with 27 strong starts to close out the season.
My goodness, where there a lot of homers this season. The Yankees hit a ton of ‘em and their pitching staff also gave up a ton of ‘em. They ranked fourth in the Majors with 190 homers allowed, eight more than the previous franchise record set in 2004. It wasn’t just a Yankee Stadium thing either; they allowed the sixth most homers on the road this season (96).
Hughes was the team’s biggest long ball culprit by far. He ranked second in the big leagues in homers allowed (35) and homer rate (1.65 HR/9), both behind the recently-traded Ervin Santana. Because he’s such an extreme fly ball pitcher (just 32.4% grounders), his HR/FB was a modest 12.4%, lower than Nova, Kuroda, and Sabathia. The fly balls allowed Hughes to enjoy a relatively low BABIP (.286), and when you combine that with his low walk rate (2.16 BB/9 and 5.6 BB%), you get an awful lot of solo homers (23 of 35). I suppose that’s the silver lining.
As expected, Hughes did give up a ton more homers at home (2.01 HR/9) than on the road (1.26 HR/9) this year even though his ERA was considerably lower in the Bronx (3.74 vs. 4.76). What was really surprising was how much he struggled against right-handed batters (.394 wOBA) compared to lefties (.270 wOBA). That’s the complete opposite of his career track record and is mostly BABIP (.238 vs. .340) and HR/FB (7.5% vs. 17.6%) related. Anecdotally, he seemed to struggled when coming in on righties, often catching too much of the plate. Since this is a one-year thing and not a trend, we should expect the right-left stuff to correct both ways. He’ll probably perform worse against lefties and better against righties going forward.
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Hughes opened the season by allowing at least one homer in his first dozen starts, the longest streak to open a season and second longest overall in franchise history. Only once all year did he go two consecutive starts without surrendering a dinger, and that was a three-game streak immediately prior to the All-Star break. Phil owns a career 1.34 HR/9 as a starter (578.2 innings), and the number of pitchers who survive with a homer rate that high long-term is very small. Hughes will be a free agent after next season and that homeritis is something the Yankees will have to be cognizant of when considering a long-term contract, but for now they should be happy that his awful April and homer-prone ways didn’t sink their season.
For more than a decade, Yankees fans were very spoiled by Jorge Posada. The switch-hitting backstop was a premium offensive catcher who more than made up for his shoddy defense with his bat. A borderline Hall of Famer, Posada hit .288/.381/.497 from 2006-2010, his age 34-38 seasons. Catchers are supposed to turn into pumpkins at that age. The Yankees replaced Jorge behind the plate with free agent pickup Russell Martin last year, and he had a solid first year in pinstripes. Year two was not as kind.
Martin, 29, spent the vast majority of the season below the Mendoza line. He went deep just four times in the team’s first 50 games, so the power wasn’t there either. The only thing that kept Russ from being a total drain on the offense was his plate discipline, which allowed him the draw nine walks in the team’s first nine games and 22 walks in the first 50 games. Immediately prior to the All-Star break, Martin battled through an ugly 0-for-30 slump. He snapped out of it with a double in his second to last at-bat before the break.
Russ carried a hideous .178/.300/.348 batting line into the second half, which was awful production even considering the low standards at the position. Martin was solid on defense as always, but the Yankees thrive on getting above-average production from up-the-middle positions and he certainly wasn’t providing it. After all the years of enjoying Posada’s offense, fans were annoyed and hoping the club would bring in some catching help at the trade deadline. Instead, none came.
The Yankees stuck with Martin in part because they love his defense, but also because the rest of the lineup was strong enough to carry his noodle bat at the bottom of the lineup. His second half started decently, with two homers in his first six games and three homers in his first 11 games, but on July 28th, the date of New York’s 100th game of the season, Martin was hitting just .182/.300/.364 in 283 plate appearances. Add in the fact that he hit just .223/.311/.362 in his final 410 plate appearances of last season, all of the good will he built up in April 2011 was gone. It looked like a mirage.
Now, no matter how much you may dislike a player, I think we can all agree it’s unlikely that someone with Martin’s track record had suddenly transformed into a true talent sub-Mendoza Line hitter. It’s certainly possible, but it seems unlikely. He was still drawing walks (12.4%) and he wasn’t striking out a ton (19.1%) during those first 100 games, so it wasn’t like he was completely overmatched at the plate. Martin did, however, put up a measly .186 BABIP during that stretch, which is so extreme that bad luck absolutely played a part. He isn’t fleet of foot and he does hit a lot of weak ground balls, which is conducive to a low BABIP, but not that low.
The question for the Yankees became this: when will Martin’s luck turn around? It wasn’t guaranteed to happen in 2012. It’s also worth noting that an extremely low BABIP like won’t necessarily be met with an extremely high BABIP when it does correct either. He could have just produced to his true talent level — he had a .275 BABIP in over 1,400 plate appearances from 2009-2011 — and that might not have been good enough to help the team either. Given the lack of deadline activity, the Yankees had faith in their catcher’s ability to maybe not turn things all the way around, but at least contribute more than he had been down the stretch,
Martin did have a signature moment or two in the first half the season — the walk-off homer against the Mets (video) or the game-winning single against the Angels (video) for example — but for the most part he was a non-factor at the plate. With those 100 ugly games under his belt, his season batting line was beyond saving. The Yankees were watching the Orioles draw closer as the division race got tight at this point of the season, and their starting catcher’s lack of production was a big reason why.
The Yankees kicked off their offseason last winter by re-sign CC Sabathia to huge five-year, $122.5M contract extension, but the first true free agent they signed was one of their own. They brought Freddy Garcia back with a one-year pact in early-December, bumping his salary up to a guaranteed $4M. He was rock solid last summer (3.62 ERA and 4.12 FIP) and bringing him back for pitching depth seemed like a fine move.
The Michael Pineda trade and Hiroki Kuroda signing in mid-January appeared to relegate Garcia to bullpen duty — which he was totally cool with — but Pineda’s shoulder injury cleared a rotation spot and Freddy broke camp as the fifth starter for the second straight year. The results were immediate and disastrous. Garcia allowed four runs in 4.2 innings in his first start of the season, five runs in 5.2 innings in his second start, then five and six runs in his third and fourth starts, respectively, while recording a combined ten outs. After four April starts, he owned a 12.51 ERA (5.66 FIP).
The Yankees only had one alternative at the time, so they stuck Freddy in the bullpen and let David Phelps make some spot starts while waiting for Andy Pettitte to rejoin the rotation. They claimed that Garcia lacked arm strength, and that his 84-85 mph fastball wasn’t as effective as his 87-88 mph fastball, which was certainly true but still kind of hilarious sounding. Joe Girardi used the veteran right-hander very sparingly in mop-up relief, calling on him just ten times in the team’s next 57 games.
To his credit, Garcia didn’t make a stink about the demotion and actually pitched well when called upon — 1.56 ERA and 2.98 FIP in 17.1 innings. When Sabathia and Pettitte went down with injuries just prior to the All-Star break, the Yankees put Freddy back in the rotation and he was surprisingly solid. He allowed three total runs in a dozen innings in his first two starts despite being on a pitch count, and only once in his first nine starts back did he allow more than three earned runs. He never failed to complete at least five innings of work in all nine starts either.
The good times came to an end after that. Sweaty Freddy gave up 12 runs in 14.1 innings across his next three starts, only once getting out of the fifth. His leasd was short because of the magnitude of the games being played, which is why he was yanked after allowing three runs in just 3.1 innings against the Orioles on September 9th. That, ultimately, was Garcia’s final start of the season. Ivan Nova returned from his DL stint and took Freddy’s rotation spot.
Freddy allowed three runs in three innings of relief against the Athletics on September 22nd, paving the way for the four-run comeback in the 13th inning. He threw a pair of perfect innings to close out two blowouts against the Red Sox in the final series of the year — including striking out the side in order in the final inning of the season in Game 162 — and that was it. The Yankees left Garcia off their ALDS and ALCS rosters and he wasn’t even first in line to be activated in case of injury. He probably wasn’t even second either.
All told, the 36-year-old Garcia pitched to an ugly 5.20 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 107.1 innings spread across 17 starts and 13 relief appearances this year. His strikeout (19.3 K% and 7.46 K/9) and walk (7.6 BB% and 2.93 BB/9) rates were solid, but he allowed 18 homers (1.51 HR/9) and batters tagged him for a .270/.328/.455 batting line. The Yankees won the AL East despite Freddy and he certainly didn’t contribute to their ALCS exit, but The Chief pitched poorly for most of the year and didn’t provide the kind of pitching depth the team expected.
When the Yankees snuck up and signed Mark Teixeira out from under the Red Sox four winters ago, they thought they were getting an all-around switch-hitter with power, patience, and the ability to hit for average in addition to his great defense at first. They got that guy in 2009 and he helped them win the World Series, but Tex has been on a slow and steady decline since. Considering his age (32), it’s very fair to say that his performance decline was unexpected. He was supposed to have a number of peak-caliber years remaining when he signed.
Teixeira did acknowledge late last year that the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium had screwed him up a bit, as he became overly pull-conscious and tried to yank everything into the seats against right-handers. He came into Spring Training this year and said he intended to get back to hitting all fields, maybe even drop down a bunt or two to beat the shift. That never materialized though. Teixeira did start hitting the ball to all fields though, the only problem was that the hits didn’t fall in. He was hitting lazy fly balls to left, not line drives. In late-June, he told everyone he was going back to his pull-happy approach because going the other way wasn’t working. It was too little, too late.
Overall, Teixeira hit just .251/.332/.475 in 524 plate appearances this season. Not counting his rookie season of 2003, he set new career-lows in homers (24), walks (54), OBP (.332), SLG (.475), ISO (.224), OPS (.807), OPS+ (116), wRC+ (116), and fWAR (2.9). Ten qualified first baseman provided more offense (in terms of wRC+) this year. He did win a Gold Glove and a Fielding Bible Award for his still superlative defense, but the offense took another step backwards.
There are two very troubling aspects of Teixeira’s decline. One is the free-falling OBP, which has more to do with his inability to hit for average than his walk rate. He did draw a walk in 10.3% of his plate appearances this year, which is below his career average (11.4%) but not insanely so. It’s also still above the league average (8.0%). When all you hit is fly balls and pull the ball into the shift, a .250 BABIP and thus a low batting average isn’t unexpected. A .332 OBP from a first baseman is not something you expect to find on a contending team.
Secondly, Teixeira’s performance against right-handed pitchers continues to get worse. He hit just .239/.331/.438 against them this year, which is ridiculous. It’s a 108 wRC+ that is far out of line with his career average (127) and expectations. It’s not a fluke one-time thing either, Teixeira had a 111 wRC+ against righties last year, 116 the year before, and 143 the year before that. It’s a three-year trend in the wrong direction and it ain’t all BABIP luck either — his .243 BABIP as a left-handed batter this year was in line with his overall mark and again, it lines up with what you’d expect from a pull-happy fly ball hitter.
Whenever a team signs a player to an eight-year contract, they do it with the understanding that the last few years were going to be ugly. That said, I don’t think the Yankees expected a .332 OBP and a career-low 24 homers in year four of Teixeira’s eight-year contract when they signed him at age 28. When you see something like this…
…it’s very easy to get frustrated and annoyed with Teixeira’s production. He’s supposed to be a switch-hitting middle of the order threat, but right now does most of his damage on the short side of the platoon and probably fits best as a six-hole hitter.
A huge part of Teixeira’s value is his durability, especially as health has slowly become baseball’s sixth tool and most undervalued asset. Like I’ve said before, it’s not just about having the best players, it’s about having the best players stay on the field for the most games. Teixeira played in at least 155 games in four straight years and six times in seven years coming into 2012, but he managed a career-low 123 contests this season due to various ailments.
First, there was the cough. The unexplained cough that nagged Teixeira throughout the first two months of the season and required Joe Girardi to sit his first baseman for three consecutive games in mid-May. After seeing a number of specialists, Teixeira was eventually diagnosed with nerve damage to his vocal cords and started receiving treatment.
Secondly, there was the wrist. Teixeira originally hurt his left wrist on a swing in late-July but tried to play through it. That didn’t last long. The next day he further aggravating the injury diving after a ball on defense, and tests revealing inflammation in the wrist. He missed three games and returned to the lineup, but two weeks later the wrist was sore again. He missed another three games.
Then, finally, there was the calf. Teixeira first felt something pull in his left calf during a swing on August 27th, though he remained in the game to run the bases before being lifted. He was diagnosed with a Grade I strain that night and was slated to miss a week or two. Teixeira returned 12 days later and lasted just one game before re-injuring the calf, which happened as he ran out the final ground ball in the Jerry Meals blown call game. He missed another three weeks and returned just in time for the final series of the regular season.
It would be foolish to think that the injuries didn’t have some sort of impact on Teixeira’s performance this year, but I just don’t know how much. Like I said earlier, this wasn’t one down year offensively. He’s been trending in the wrong direction for three years now. Hopefully he can rebound a bit next year with the cough, wrist, and calf troubles behind him, but Teixeira’s steady decline from an all-around hitter to an all-or-nothing slugger has become a drain on the offense as a whole.
I think it’s fair to say that the most positive development of the 2011 season was Ivan Nova‘s emergence as a legitimate MLB-caliber starter. The Yankees have had trouble developing starters in recent years and they needed a young, cheap arm to plug into the rotation, and Nova stepped forward to be that guy. He excelled in the second half and pitched well enough overall (3.70 ERA And 4.01 FIP in 165.1 innings) that expectations were fairly high coming into 2012. We wanted to see him take another step forward.
Instead, the 25-year-old Nova took a huge step backwards. It all started in Spring Training too, as Ivan quietly had a miserable showing in camp while everyone was focused on Michael Pineda‘s missing velocity. He allowed 21 runs and 34 baserunners in 22.1 Grapefruit League innings, a precursor of what was to come in the regular season. Nova opened the year with a solid start against the Orioles (two runs in seven innings) but struggled to keep the runs off the board after that. He pitched to a 5.60 ERA (4.90 FIP) through the end of May, allowing at least five runs in half of his first ten starts.
The month of June was much more kind to Nova, and in fact it was arguably his best month as a big leaguer. Four of his five June starts featured at least seven innings and no more than one run, including outings against the Rays, Braves, and Nationals. He closed out the first half with two nice starts, including a six-inning, two-run, ten-strikeout performance in Fenway Park immediately before the All-Star break. Nova carried a 3.92 ERA (4.19 FIP) into the break and was trending in the right direction.
That was pretty much the last time Nova was a reliable starter for the Yankees. He allowed six runs in six innings against the Angels in his first second half start, and ran off a seven-start stretch in which he allowed at six runs four times. After the White Sox tagged him for six runs in six innings on August 21st, the Yankees placed Nova on the DL after the right-hander felt a tug in his right shoulder. He was eventually diagnosed with rotator cuff inflammation that kept him on the shelf for three weeks.
Shoulder injuries are never a good thing, but since Nova’s was minor I had some hope that it would explain his struggles. That appeared to be the case in his first start back, and he held the Rays to two runs in six innings with eight strikeouts on September 15th. It didn’t last though. Nova failed to complete three innings next time out and didn’t make it out of the fifth the start after that, when it was obvious Joe Girardi had a short hook given the division race. Rather than start Game 161 against the Red Sox, the Yankees instead gave the ball to David Phelps in what was then the most important game of the season.
One year after being the number two starter behind CC Sabathia in the playoffs, the Yankees didn’t even bother to carry Nova on either their ALDS or ALCS roster in 2012. He pitched to a 5.02 ERA (4.60 FIP) overall, allowing the most extra-base hits (87), the second most doubles (52), and 12th most homers (28) in all of baseball. When he made a mistake, he paid dearly. Opponents hit .288/.349/.511 off Nova this season, so he basically turned everyone into 2012 Albert Pujols (.285/.343/.516). Yikes. I know Pujols is declining, but that doesn’t exactly make it okay.
The story on Nova coming up through the minors was that he had pretty good stuff, but he lacked command and didn’t miss as many bats as expected because his delivery lacked deception. That sounds an awful lot like the guy he was in 2012, the guy who never seemed to get the hitter to foul off a mistake pitch off or have the ball hit right at some one. Opponents teed off against him whenever he missed a spot, driving the ball to (or over) the wall for big power production. He didn’t just lead the league with 87 extra-base hits allowed, he did it while only throwing 170.1 innings. Josh Beckett had a poor year by all accounts, and he only allowed 58 extra-base hits in those same 170.1 innings.
A year ago, it was easy to consider Nova a major part of the Yankees moving forward. He was their young and cheap starting pitcher who was exceeding expectations and was on his way to becoming a rotation mainstay. Rather than continue on that path this year, he took a huge step back and became a giant question mark. Maybe the shoulder injury was more serious than the team let on and a winter of rest will get him back to normal. Maybe it was just a sophomore slump. Whatever it was, the Yankees have to hope that Ivan’s disastrous second half is not an indication of his true talent level.