Archive for What Went Wrong
The Yankees went into the season thinking Andruw Jones was going to be their designated left-handed pitching masher, and for the first half of the season he was. Things went horribly wrong for Jones in the second half, and when coupled with Alex Rodriguez‘s hand injury in late-July, the Yankees were suddenly very light on right-handed power and thus susceptible to lefty pitching. They acquired two players to help fill that void, neither of whom worked out.
Acquired from the Pirates for Chad Qualls (!) just prior to the trade deadline, the 30-year-old McGehee brought with him a track record of hitting southpaws and an 86 wRC+ in 293 plate appearances for Pittsburgh. He bounced between first and third bases in his first few starts with New York, and he actually hit well early on: 6-for-21 (.286) with three doubles, three walks, and the team’s third longest homer of the season. McGehee looked like a shrewd deadline pickup, but instead things fell part.
He went 2-for-22 (.091) with six strikeouts and no walks in his next seven games, and fell so out of favor that the Yankees sent McGehee all the way down to Low-A Charleston. It was a procedural move that allowed the team to recall him sooner than the usual ten days. All told, McGehee hit just .151/.220/.264 (28 wRC+) in 59 plate appearances with the Yankees, including 7-for-37 (.189) against lefties.. He was obviously left off the postseason roster, and after the season he elected free agency after being removed from the 40-man roster.
The Yankees originally signed Pearce way back at the end of Spring Training, and he spent two months absolutely mashing in Triple-A (173 wRC+). Pearce exercised an opt-out clause in his contract in early-June, forcing the Yankees to either release him or trade him to a team willing to place him on their 25-man big league roster. A few days later he was dealt to the Orioles for cash, but nearly three months after that he was back in pinstripes — the Yankees acquired Pearce from the Astros for cash after Houston claimed him off waivers from Baltimore earlier in the summer.
Pearce, 29, made his debut with the team as the cleanup hitter against the Blue Jays on August 28th, and he responded by scoring the winning run on a walk, wild pitch (move to second), ground out (move to third), and sacrifice fly. Pearce hit a two-run homer against the Orioles two weeks later, but that was pretty much it. He hit .160/.300/.280 (66 wRC+) in only 30 plate appearances with the team, including a 4-for-24 (.167) mark against southpaws. The Yankees designated Pearce for assignment when Brett Gardner came off the DL in late-September, and the Orioles subsequently claimed him off waivers. That was that, neither he nor McGehee contributed much to the team’s cause in 2012.
The Yankees didn’t have much need for a utility infielder a few years ago, back when Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Cano were locks to play 150+ games every season. Things have changed in recent years as A-Rod has started to breakdown and Jeter started to receive more and more rest. Ramiro Pena did the backup infield thing for a while, but Eduardo Nunez wrestled the job from him by hitting .301/.350/.421 with three homers and 13 steals in 200 midseason plate appearances last summer while Jeter (calf) and A-Rod (knee) were on the DL.
Nunez, 25, opened 2012 as the utility infielder for the second year in a row, and he hit a solid .294/.356/.373 with six steals in the team’s first 31 games. He was playing primarily against lefties while either Jeter or A-Rod would spend the game at DH or even on the bench entirely. Nunez was contributing enough with the bat, but the problem was his perpetually sketchy defense.
He committed four errors in those first 31 team games: one at short, one one at second, and two at third. We’re talking routine plays too, like this throw. There were several other botched plays as well, including two on ground balls to third in the first two innings against the Rays on May 10th. Tampa scored two unearned runs as a result, plus they tried to bunt towards Nunez several other times throughout the game. Joe Girardi lifted him for defense after the fifth inning, and a day later the Yankees sent Eduardo down to Triple-A to work on his defense.
The plan was to limit Nunez to the middle infield in hopes that consistent playing time at the same spot would improve his glovework, but he responded with two errors in his third Triple-A game. Five days later he jammed his thumb and had to be placed on the DL. Nunez missed close to two months with the injury, so he only managed to play in 44 minor league games. He made five errors in those 44 games, all at shortstop. The Yankees recalled Nunez when rosters expanded in September, and he hit .289/.293/.421 with five steals in 41 sporadic plate appearances. He also committed three more errors, all at short.
Nunez served as the team’s primary DH against left-handers in the postseason, though he took over at shortstop full-time after Jeter fractured his ankle in Game One of the ALCS. He went 3-for-11 (.273) in five postseason games, most notably taking Justin Verlander deep in the ninth inning of ALCS Game Three. In three playoff games at short, he made one error that was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Girardi, as he had done during the regular season, lifted Eduardo for defense late a few times.
All told, Nunez hit .292/.330/.393 (93 wRC+) with one homer and eleven steals in exactly 100 plate appearances for the big league team in 2012. Anecdotally, most of his defensive issues seemed to come on routine plays. Whenever there was a hot shot or he had to range far for a ball and make a quick throw, he seemed to do fine. The defensive problems seemed to pop up most when he had time to think. The Yankees continued to give him chances and Brian Cashman says he views Nunez as a shortstop long-term, but he had an opportunity to cement his place in the team’s long-term plans this year only to throw it away. (Pun completely intended)
The Yankees came into this season knowing Russell Martin was going to be their full-time catcher, but the backup job was up for grabs. Frankie Cervelli was the incumbent and Austin Romine was the high-ish profile prospect who broke into the show as a September call-up a year ago, so the best man in Spring Training was going to win. As it turned out, neither had what it took.
Romine, 23, wound up with taking exactly zero plate appearances in Spring Training. He dealt with back inflammation — an injury that caused him to miss time last summer as well — in camp and suffered a setback towards the end of March. Romine didn’t get into minor league rehab games until July and it wasn’t until late-August that the Yankees activated him off the DL and send him down to Triple-A. He wasn’t brought back for a September call-up.
All told, Romine batted just 195 times between the minor league regular season and the Arizona Fall League in 2012. Instead of possibly spending the year cutting his teeth as the big league backup, it was a lost season in which the Yankees were unable to find out anything about Romine at the Major League level. Pretty much the only good news was that they never actually burned a minor league option this year, so he still has all three left. Some consolation prize.
The Yankees were concerned about their upper level catching depth in the wake of Romine’s back injury, so at the end of Spring Training they swung a somewhat surprising move, sending right-hander George Kontos to the Giants for the 30-year-old Stewart. Just like that, the team had a new backup catcher and the competition in camp was rendered moot.
Stewart, true to his reputation, didn’t hit a lick this year. He got on everyone’s good side with a handful of timely RBI singles in April, but overall he produced just a .241/.292/.319 (65 wRC+) batting line in 157 plate appearances. I thought his defense was solid but not as good as advertised — he threw out only eight of 35 attempted base-stealers (22.9%), for example — so Stewart struck me as a classic Nichols’ Law catcher. Considering the team’s midseason bullpen woes, Kontos (2.47 ERA and 2.80 FIP in 43.2 innings for the Giants) would have been a nice piece to have around.
There was no more room left at the inn after acquiring Stewart, so the Yankees demoted Cervelli to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training. As if that wasn’t bad enough — Cervelli hadn’t spent extended time in the minors since 2009 — the Triple-A squad had to play on the road all season due to extensive renovations at PNC Field in Scranton. Frankie went from being the team’s backup catcher to a full season’s worth of bus rides in about five minutes.
Cervelli, 26, was supposed to go down and show the team what a huge mistake they had made, but instead he hit just .246/.341/.316 (89 wRC+) in 417 plate appearances. The Yankees recalled him as the third catcher in September but only got him into three games due to the tight race with the Orioles. To Cervelli’s credit, he worked a hard-fought two-out, six-pitch walk in his first of two big league plate appearances, coming around to score the game-winning run in the 12th inning against the Red Sox in Game 161. Nice moment, but hardly a season worth remembering.
The Yankees opened the season with what appeared to be an enviable amount of relief depth, plus there was more on the way at midseason. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the best laid plans…
When the season started, everyone knew the 27-year-old Chamberlain was going to be a non-factor until at least midseason. The right-hander blew out his elbow in early-June of last year, and the recovery time for Tommy John surgery is typically 12 months. He talked about coming back in May while the team cautioned that it might not be until July, but all of the speculation became moot when Joba suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle while jumping on trampolines with his son at a children’s play place in late-March.
Surgery and a lengthy rehab process followed, and it wasn’t until mid-July that he pitched in his first minor league rehab game. The Yankees weren’t counting on him to return this year but Joba insisted he would be back, and sure enough he was activated off the DL on July 31st. He was scheduled to make one final Double-A rehab start that night, but the club had traded Chad Qualls for Casey McGehee earlier in the afternoon and didn’t want to play with a short bullpen.
Joba was terrible early on. He allowed two runs in 1.2 innings in his first appearance and ten runs in his first eleven appearances (10.1 innings). His fastball hummed in around 94-96 and his slider was sharp, but his command was non-existent. That’s pretty typical for guys coming off elbow reconstruction. The good news is that Joba finished very strong, allowing just one unearned run in his final eleven appearances and 10.1 innings while striking out 13 and walking just one. He got hit hard in the postseason and I mean literally — the barrel of a broken bat hit him square in the right elbow and kept him out for a few days.
Although the Yankees did get 20.2 late-season innings out of him, 2012 was essentially a lost year for Joba. The ankle injury delayed his return and when he did get back on the mound, he wasn’t anything special (4.35 ERA and 4.01 FIP). It’s encouraging that he finished well and I suppose it’s good news that missing all that time due to injury will keep his salary down next year, but I think the Yankees would have preferred to have Chamberlain healthy as soon as possible and contributing to the bullpen.
Joba’s injury last season opened the door for Wade, who pitched to a 2.04 ERA (3.76 FIP) in the second half after being plucked off the scrap heap. The 29-year-old Wade was expected to be an important middle innings cog coming into 2012, giving the club solid right-handed depth behind Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano. He was stellar early on (1.46 ERA and 1.15 FIP in his first ten outings and 12.1 innings) and took on a setup role when Rivera and Robertson went down with injuries in early-May.
Wade pitched fairly well as the de facto right-handed setup man, allowing just six earned runs (3.60 ERA and 4.30 FIP) in his next 17 outings and 15 innings, but the wheels came completely off the bus in mid-June. He allowed one run in three straight appearances from June 16th-22nd, then got hammered for four runs in 0.2 innings by the Indians four days later. Three days after that, the White Sox crushed him for six runs in 2.1 innings. Joe Girardi let him wear that one, leaving Wade in to throw a career-high (by far) 58 pitches.
The Yankees had little choice but to send the soft-tossing right-hander to Triple-A, and outside of one-game appearance as the 26th man during a doubleheader against the Red Sox (three runs in 0.2 innings), he didn’t return until rosters expanded in September. Wade’s solid work in the minors (2.27 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 31.2 innings) was unfortunately not an indication that his command/mechanical issues were a thing of the past. He surrendered four runs in 5.2 innings during the season’s final month, but he deserves props for throwing a perfect 14th inning in the crazy extra-innings comeback win over the Athletics.
All told, Wade pitched to a 6.46 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 39 innings for the Yankees this year. His strikeout (8.77 K/9 and 22.2 K%) and walk (1.85 BB/9 and 4.7 BB%) rates were dynamite, but batters absolutely punished him whenever he caught too much of the plate with his soft stuff. That happened far too often once the calendar flipped over to June. The Yankees designated Wade for assignment in early-October and the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers a week later, ending his brief tenure in New York. Between get picked off the scrap heap last summer and falling apart in the middle of this season, he gave the team about a full season’s worth of solid relief work (2.28 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 67 innings).
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.