Category Archives: Statistical Analysis

Stats & Sabemetrics

Will Curtis Granderson Regress?

A hot end to Curtis Granderson’s 2010 season gave Yankee fans a lot to look forward to for his 2011 season. However, even the most optimistic Yankee fan could not have predicted how good Granderson would be in 2011. Granderson, who finished 4th in the A.L. MVP voting, finished 2011 batting .262, hitting 42 homers, knocking in 119 RBI, scoring 136 runs, and fishing with an .916 OPS. It was a testament to Kevin Long and Granderson’s work ethic that he could change so drastically after a miserable 2010 season. After having a career year last year a little regression probably should be expected for Granderson in 2012. How big of a regression and how it will affect the Yankees are the real questions.

I think Granderson will have a slight regression, but it’s probably one of the last things the Yankees need to worry about this year. I think that we will see improved years from Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Also, having Jesus Montero be the full time DH will be a major upgrade over the multitude of players the Yankees had at DH last year.  This all would help even out a potential Granderson slippage. Granderson certainly will not regress back into his 2010 numbers. Ever since Long has revamped Granderson’s swing he has been a different player. Long cut out all of Granderson’s pre swing movements to take advantage of Granderson’s quick hands. This lead to a quicker and more compact swing. Also, Long had had Granderson keep both hands on the bat throughout the whole swing, which has also helped him. While Granderson’s power numbers are likely to come down he can offset that by being a more selective hitter.

Granderson’s only issue last year was that he stuck out a little too much. Granderson stuck out 169 times last year, and had a 24.5 K rate.  Granderson got a little impatient because pitchers stopped throwing him a lot of fastballs. Word got around quick that Granderson was crushing fastballs, and pitchers only threw him fastballs 51.1% of the time in 2011. A more patient approach would force pitchers to throw him more fastballs and Granderson could increase his career high walk rate of 12.3% last year.  Granderson swung at pitches outside the strike zone at a 25.7% clip and made contact with pitches outside the strike zone at a 60.8% clip. Both of those numbers were career high’s for Granderson. The fact that he is making better contact with pitches shows how he is improving as a hitter. However, it also leads to a lower BABIP (.295 last year for Granderson) and a lower regular batting average.  This shows that while Granderson had an MVP caliber year improving his plate discipline can help him even further.

Bill James predicts Granderson to go .348/.494/.842, with a .260 average, 31 homeruns, and 84 RBI. If he did that the Yankees would be fine, but I do expect him to do slightly better then that anyway. The Yankees are loaded offensively from the top of their lineup to the bottom. If Teixeira and Rodriguez hit to their potential, Montero hits anywhere close to what he did in Spetember, and Robinson Cano does his thing the Yankees can take a slight regression from Granderson.  Granderson is also one of the most well spoken guys and one of the best clubhouse guys on the Yankees, so he contributes in more ways than just on the field. Curtis Granderson is not in the least bit a concern for the Yankees this year and should have another stellar year.

Would EJax take 2 years?

EJax is eerily similar to Matt Garza

Despite the clear need for a starting pitcher, most Yankee fans want no part of Edwin Jackson.  Despite the fact that he’s been a solid pitcher with great stuff and a chance to improve at the age of 28, he isn’t attractive to the Yankees because of his perceived cost. 

Scott Boras is looking for a 5 yr deal for around $15M per season which based on the contracts given to Burnett, Lackey, D.Lowe, Buehrle & CJ Wilson, is pretty much what the price has been on the Free Agent market.  That being said,  all of those contracts were colossal busts with the exception of Buehrle & Wilson where the stories have yet to be written.  So no one is knocking down the door for Jackson at that price.

If I had to guess I’d say he’ll have to come down to 4 yrs @ $11-12M to find interest.  However, even that is more than the Yanks want to spend because of the payroll flexibility they’d like to maintain heading into 2014.  That being the case, perhaps there’s room for compromise that helps all 3 parties – Yankees, Boras & EJackson.

What if the Yankees offered $15M per season for 2 years?  Boras gets the $15M he asked for, Jackson pockets $30M and re-enters Free Agency at still young age of 30 and the Yanks get a #3 starter with #2 potential while still not touching their 2014 Payroll.

I’m not excited by the prospect of Jackson and $15M is more than I’d be comfortable paying him, but for only 2 years it’s not a bad idea. Let’s do a quick comparison of Jackson and Yankee trade target Matt Garza over the last 3 years:

  W L IP ERA XFIP K/9 BB/9 GB% HR/9 SIERA WAR
Jackson 35 30 623 3.96 3.93 7.08 3.03 44% 0.92 4.06 11.2
Garza 33 32 605 3.73 3.89 7.96 3.05 40% 1 3.85 9.7

 Comparing stuff, Jackson averages 94.5 MPH on his Fastball and throws a nasty 87 MPH Slider, which is his best pitch.  He throws a 2-seamer and mixes in a Change & Curveball about 11% of the time.

Garza is a little more well-rounded but averages 93.7 MPH on his Fastball and throws an 86 MPH Slider as his out pitch.  He also throws a 2-seamer and mixes in the Change & Curve slightly more at 23%, although neither are effective pitches.

So their numbers are nearly identical, they were born 2 months apart and their stuff is very similar too.  What would be the difference in cost?

Garza will likely earn a combined $21M over the next 2 years in arbitration before becoming a Free Agent.  From what we hear, he would also cost 1 or both of Banuelos & Betances plus more in a trade.

If you could get Jackson at a cost of $30M over the next 2 years and KEEP Banuelos & Betances, wouldn’t that be a much better scenario?  You could also even out the costs by picking up$24M of AJ Burnet’s contract to dump him on someone. That would save the $9M difference and make the net cost of Jackson the same $21M that Garza would make.

I like Garza as a pitcher and think he’s tougher and a better all-around pitcher. But Jackson’s stuff and nearly identical numbers as Garza over the last 3 years is hard to ignore.  I know the chances of Jackson accepting a 2 yr $30M deal are slim but if it comes down to accept a 4 yr-$40M deal with Baltimore or a 2yr-$30M deal with New York, which would you choose?  Boras has done the unconventional before and last yr steered Rafael Soriano to the Yanks as a set-up man on a closer’s deal.  It’s not entirely impossible.

I’m not sure this is a good idea but it’s food for thought.  Would you be interested in EJax for 2 years?

Expecting (Hoping For) a Hughes Bounceback

Now that it is looking less and less likely that the Yankees will be able to acquire a number-two starter for at least the first half of the 2012 season, it has become obvious that Phil Hughes must absolutely be back with a vengeance next year. We have seen from the first half of 2010 how dominant he can be – a true number-two starter. However, after a poor second half of 2010 and a miserable, injury-ridden campaign in 2011, it has become hard to picture Hughes at his highest potential. Because confidence in the team’s current pitching situation is quite low right now, what better time to show some optimism about Phil Hughes next year?

Simply put, Phil Hughes’ 2011 season may just have been an outlier. A pitcher who relies heavily on his ability to throw his fastball past hitters, usually does not fare well with decreased velocity. With his mystery dead-arm injury, that is exactly what Hughes had to go through this past year. Phil Hughes’ 2011 campaign exemplifies the belief that 1-2 mph can have a profound impact on a pitcher.

If you look at the fastball column, you can clearly see how effective the pitch was in 2010 (or at least the first-half). At 92.6 mph, he had a 14.6 wFB, which is quite good. All of a sudden, with a drop of 1.3 mph from 2010 to 2011, the value of his four-seamer plummeted. Virtually the same thing occurred with his cutter. With a loss of 1.4 mph in 2011, it became just as ineffective as it was effective in 2010.

Therefore, we can make the argument that if Hughes can recover the 1-2 mph lost on his fastball, he will be a very effective pitcher in 2012. Unless the problem is more serious than we were ever told, I really doubt Hughes will continue to suffer from the same arm issue. With a faster fastball: (1) Hughes’s secondary pitches will become much more deceptive and effective, and (2) he will get more swings and misses (and more strikeouts). Ultimately, Phil Hughes’s problems are much simpler than anyone really thinks. With a pitcher like him, increased velocity = increased success. That’s all it comes down to.

We all know it – Phil Hughes is vitally important to the Yankees’ success in 2012. There is certainly room for optimism. If he can fully recover from the shoulder problems of this past season, and regain the lost fastball velocity, I think he should be very effective moving forward.

Hot Stove Targeting: Edwin Jackson

In Edwin Jackson’s young career he is already familiar with 6 different teams (Los Angeles Dodgers, Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals) which means that he has been thrown around a lot (It would have been 7 teams but Jackson only lasted 2 hours as a Toronto Blue Jay in that bizarre 3 way team trade that occurred in the 2010 offseason, hence never actually playing a game at the Rogers Center). Jackson was a part of the 2011 World Series Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals but he didn’t help much in the World Series getting only a loss in his only start. Now that Edwin Jackson is on the market for free agency we wonder: is Edwin Jackson a right fit for the New York Yankees?

Positives:

Edwin Jackson has a lot of experience in the American League and the National League which means that he will know how to handle certain situations in each league. In addition to that experience, Jackson is 28 years old, and should be in his prime. When Jackson plays as a full time starter he is a moderate strikeout pitcher with his strikeouts ranging from 104-181K’s., and a K/9 around 6-7. Jackson doesn’t give up a lot of HR’s, and is able to get a good amount of ground-balls (43.8 GB% in 2010 and 49.4 GB% in 2011). Jackson has been to the All-Star game once as a Detroit Tiger in 2009, but other than that has not won any other awards. He has great stuff there is no doubt, and he is a good pitcher.                      

Negatives:

This one is a little easier to explain. Edwin Jackson is a carbon

...but his carbon copy numbers like A.J Burnett could prevent the Yankees from signing him

copy of A.J Burnett. Jackson usually has his up and down years, and is pretty inconsistent throughout the season. In his career Jackson is a 60-60 pitcher with a 4.46 ERA. Although, if you look at a year such as 2010, his FIP of 3.86 did not line up with his 4.47 ERA that year. If you look at his postseason numbers, they aren’t that pretty. In the 2011 NLCS, Edwin Jackson had an 8.53 ERA and in the World Series a 5.06 ERA. He started off the 2011 postseason on the right foot, when he had a 3.00 ERA in the NLDS. In his career in the postseason Jackson has a 4.91 ERA with a 1-1 record. You may be wondering why I keep bringing up ERA. Well the answer is very simple; Edwin Jackson gives up a lot of runs (like A.J Burnett).

Year Age Tm Lg Series Rslt W L ERA H R ER HR
2008 24 TBR AL ALCS W 0 0 0.00 0 0 0 0
2008 24 TBR AL WS L 0 0 4.50 2 1 1 1
2011 27 STL NL NLDS W 1 0 3.00 5 2 2 0
2011 27 STL NL NLCS W 0 0 8.53 11 6 6 4
2011 27 STL NL WS W 0 1 5.06 3 3 3 0
2 Seasons (5 Series) 1 1 4.91 21 12 12 5
1 NLDS 1 0 3.00 5 2 2 0
1 ALCS 0 0 0.00 0 0 0 0
1 NLCS 0 0 8.53 11 6 6 4
2 WS 0 1 4.91 5 4 4 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2011.

Is Edwin Jackson A Fit for The Yankees: If the Yankees get Edwin Jackson then that is their decision, but I do not see the Yankees pursuing him as he reminds me too much of A.J. Burnett. The numbers, the strikeouts, the inconsistency are a carbon copy of A.J. Burnett. Yankees fans get frustrated with one A.J. Burnett in New York; do the Yankees really want a second A.J. Burnett?

If the Yankees were really serious about Edwin Jackson they would try to get him as early as possible before another team gobbles him up, but with the Yankees being eerily quiet in the offseason, they may not be as interested as everyone else thought. Then again they could be planning on how to get multiple pitchers during the December Winter Meetings, but as of right now the Yankees haven’t seemed all that interested in Jackson and frankly I don’t think he’s a perfect fit for the Yankees.

Yankees and Braves Trade Rumors Swirling

 

The Yankees offseason rumor mill has officially started. John Harper, of the New York Daily News, wrote an article about the Braves being interested in Eduardo Nunez, and that they were willing to give up Jair Jurrjens. Jurrjens had an excellent year last year going 13-6, with a 2.96 ERA, and a 1.22 WHIP. However, his year ended after experiencing pain in his surgically repaired right knee. According to Wallace Matthews, the Yankees are concerned about that knee. Nunez had a nice first full year with the Yankees hitting .265, with 5 HRs, 30 RBI’s, 22 SBs, and a .698 OPS.  I would be extremely hesitant to trade for Jurrjens and I hope Brian Cashman is smart enough not to.

Jair Jurrjens is not the #2 starter that the Braves will try to sell the Yankees on. They would ask for a lot more than just Nunez for Jurrjens and it would not be worth it. The regular numbers look nice, but they can be a little misleading.  The things that really concern me are his K/9, BB/9, his FB % and GB %, and his fastball velocity.  Here is a chart of those stats over the last three years for Jurrjens.

Year K/9 BB/9

FB %

GB% Fastball MPH
2009 6.36 3.14 39.1 42.9 91.2
2010 6.65 3.25 41.9 39.9 91.1
2011 5.33 2.61 36.6 42.0 89.1

A number 2 starter absolutely cannot only average about only 3 more strikeouts than walks.  That is an egregious number that cannot be overstated. If you are not going to strikeout people, you cannot walk the amount of people that Jurrjens does. He has been able to get away with it in the NL, but in the AL East it will not happen that way. Jurrjens also allows way too many fly balls to pitch at Yankee stadium effectively. Having your ground ball and fly ball percentage almost even at Yankee Stadium, and not striking anybody out is a recipe for disaster at Yankee Stadium. Javier Vazquez rings a bell in that regard. Also, the declining fastball is a concern. Jurrjens never threw hard to begin with and last year his average fastball velocity dipped into the 80’s.  His strikeout numbers will not get any better with that trend.  I know I made it seem like Jurrjens is an awful pitcher but he actually has had a very successful career so far, so you have to give him credit. However, I just do not think the numbers would translate over to the AL East.  A declining fastball, too many fly balls, too few strikeouts, and too many walks just will not work out in the toughest division in baseball.

Year ▴ W L ERA GS IP H BB SO ERA+ WHIP BB/9 SO/9
2008 13 10 3.68 31 188.1 188 70 139 115 1.370 3.3 6.6
2009 14 10 2.60 34 215.0 186 75 152 159 1.214 3.1 6.4
2010 7 6 4.64 20 116.1 120 42 86 84 1.393 3.2 6.7
2011 13 6 2.96 23 152.0 142 44 90 128 1.224 2.6 5.3

I would also be very hesitant to trade for Jurrjens because I am reluctant to give up Eduardo Nunez. I really liked the tools and potential he showed last year.  He obviously has a long way to go in the field, but he has the range, speed, and arm strength to greatly improve.  He showed he has pop in his bat and I think he will eventually turn into one of the better hitting shortstops in MLB. I believe he can be the next shortstop after Derek Jeter. Time will tell on that though and I would like to see more from him.  Nunez would be just the start in a Jurrjens deal because the Braves think very highly of Jurrjens. Some have suggested Nick Swisher would be a fit and I would be highly against that as well. I also would not include Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, or Dellin Betances in a deal for Jurrjens.

Image Detail

While Jurrjens has been good for the Braves he is just not a fit for the Yankees.  You always have to weary of NL pitchers going to the AL East, and really look hard to see if they will translate over.  Jurrjens just does not fit the bill.  I trust that Brian Cashman will see these same issues that I do. Jurrjens would pitch more like Javier Vazquez for the Yankees than like CC Sabathia.

Evaluating the AL Cy Young Candidates

Tomorrow, the AL Cy Young Award will be announced. Justin Verlander is the clear favorite in everyone’s eyes, but let’s see how the overall perception of his candidacy matches up with a purely statistical evaluation of the candidates.

First, I created 8 different categories with 2-3 stats per category:

Each category was worth a certain percent out of the total 100. Command, stuff, and durability were valued the highest, which was 15% each. The outcome of all these categories was added up for each pitcher, giving each a score. Scores were given based on the percent above average, for each pitcher’s stat. The 5 main candidates are C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, Josh Beckett, and James Shields. Here are their point values (percent above/below average) for each stat:

fh

a

b

c

d

e

f

g

As you can see above, those are the point values by stat. Below, are the averaged scores for each category:

Since this is a Yankee blog, we’ll trace Sabathia closely throughout the evaluation.

As far as command goes, Justin Verlander had the best. His K/BB and BB/9 numbers were simply outstanding, outshining the second-best, Jered Weaver by 1.6 points, which is a lot. Sabathia was right behind Weaver, but still slightly above the average of the five starting pitchers.

According to the statistics, C.C. Sabathia in fact had the best stuff this season. So any time analysts talk about Justin Verlander’s tremendous stuff, we know that statistically speaking, C.C. Sabathia had the better stuff. Although his K/9 wasn’t the greatest, he manufactured plenty of ground balls, which is also a sign of “stuff”. In addition, he surprisingly got more swing-and-misses than Verlander. James Shields was close behind Sabathia’s 5% above average, for Swing-Miss%, at 4%.

Although “winning” has become significantly less important in statistics, it still has significance. To please the sabemetricists, I added WPA, win-probability-added to the stat pool for “winning”. Leading this category, of course, was Verlander with 1.9 points. The competition wasn’t even close; Jered Weaver scored 1.5 points lower at 0.4. Despite Sabathia’s 19 wins, his number of losses, along with his lower WPA, resulted in a below-average “winning” score.

Now we’ll move to an un-organized category I called Run Allowance. This was basically to find a spot for ERA and FIP, two very important stats. Verlander and Weaver were the front-runners here with 1.0 and 0.6, respectively. CC was right-on average with a score of 0.0. His stats were quite skewed, as his FIP was the same above average, as his ERA was below average. Maybe xFIP should have been added to the mix, but I’m sure the end result would be similar.

Another example of this “skewed-ness” is CC’s batted-ball category. His BABIP was quite a bit sub-par, while his HR/9 was the best of the five pitchers. This gave him a mere 0.1 points, possibly because of some bad BABIP luck. I find it ironic that the #2 of this category, Justin Verlander, had a worse HR/9 than Sabathia, when the first was pitching in Comerica Park, and the latter at tiny Yankee Stadium. Angels’ pitcher, Jered Weaver led the category with his solid performances in both BABIP and HR/9.

The next category I used was “Pitching Quality”. This enveloped the stats- Quality Starts Percentage, WHIP, and Average Game Score (devised by Bill James). Sabathia did not fare too well here at all, with -1.4 points. He was by 0.8 points, the worst in this category, especially in QS% and WHIP. Like usual, Verlander led this category, with 1.2 points followed by Jered Weaver and James Shields. Beckett remained in between Shields and Sabathia with -0.6 points.

In “Value”, which encompasses WAR (wins-above-replacement) and RAR (runs-above-replacement), CC really came back into the race. He tied Justin Verlander for first  in the category, with 2.4 points. The two out-valued the others by at least 2 points, which was substantial.

The last category, Durability, essential for an ace, was much closer. For the first time, Rays’ #1 James Shields led, with 1 point. Close behind were Verlander with 0.8, and Sabathia with 0.2 points. Beckett was the least durable, and really, the least horse-like, at 3 points behind the leader of the category.

TIME FOR THE FINAL RESULTS:

These are completely according to the statistical evaluation:

1st Place ~ Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers | 10 points

2nd Place ~ C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees | 2 points

3rd Place ~ Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim | 0.6 points

4th Place ~ James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays | -2.5 points

5th Place ~ Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox | -10.6 points

Grading 2011 and Looking Ahead: Rotation

True Aces don't grow on trees....Yanks must keep C.C.

This is Part 3 of 4 in our season wrap-up of the 2011 team.  The Yankees pitching staff was a major concern coming into the year but performed well as a whole finishing 4th in the A.L. with a 3.72 ERA.  They were unable to find the ever elusive #2 starter to take pressure off of C.C. the way Andy Pettitte used to.   Freddy Garcia and rookie Ivan Nova did their best to fill that role but neither is quite equipped at the moment to be that 2nd horse on the staff.

C.C. Sabathia

CC had off-season knee surgery but came into ST in good shape, even 25 pounds slimmer than usual.  He got off to a decent start and got stronger as the season went on.  There was a stretch from late June to early August where he went 7+ IP & allowed 2 R or less in 8 consecutive starts, upping his record to 16-5 with a 2.55 ERA.  He was right there with Verlander in the Cy Young discussion but that is when things changed.  Girardi started going to a 6-man rotation and CC began to have some problems.  Overall, he had a 2.68 ERA, 1.13 WHIP & .600 OPS against in  137 ip on regular 4 days rest.  With 5 days or more rest, he had a 3.46 ERA, 1.37 WHIP & .757 OPS against in 100 IP.

All told, CC had another great yr going 19-8, 3.00.  By all indicators it was actually his best season in pinstripes as his K/9 (8.7), BB/9 (2.3), HR/9 (0.64) & FIP (2.88) were all his best since 08′.  Sabathia continued to be a workhorse as a Yankee with his 3rd straight season with at least 230 IP, 19 W’s & an ERA < 3.37.  Grade:  A

2012 Outlook:  Everyone knows CC can opt-out of the remaining 4 yrs – $92M left on his deal.  The Big Man has been a smashing success in his 3 years going 59-23 and being a true ace.  He must be brought back and hopefully Cashman will be proactive to give CC a raise with some added yrs to get this thing done before he hits the open market.  To me, 6 yrs @ $150 seems logical.

Freddy Garcia

Garcia was everything the Yanks could have hoped for, pitching consistently start after start.  He never posted an ERA over 3.96 in any one month from April through August, posting an impressive 11-7 record and 3.09 ERA.  However after missing 3 weeks in August with a sliced finger, he got roughed up in 3 straight Sept starts to finish the season 12-8, 3.62 ERA/ 4.12 FIP/4.36xFIP.

He didn’t miss many bats (5.9 K/9) and allowed a lot of baserunners (1.34 WHIP) but he had a knack for pitching out of trouble and getting key strikeouts when he needed them. With a fastball that averaged 87.2 MPH, he was successful by mixing his pitches and getting outs with 3 quality off-speed pitches – Splitter, Change Up & Curveball. Often these pitches wound up in the dirt where they were smothered by Russell Martin.  I believe Martin’s presence was a big factor in Garcia having his best season since 2005.  Grade: B+

2012 Outlook:  Garcia is a Free Agent and will attract some attention after his success.  The team is definitely looking to get a strong workhorse to pair with CC at the top of the rotation but if things don’t work out, Garcia could be in play.  However, I think he’ll likely be overpaid based on his 2011 #s and he’ll likely regress some so he wouldn’t be a priority for me.

Ivan Nova

Nova was 12-0 to finish the season

Nova got off to a rough start in his rookie campaign going 4-3 with a 4.59 ERA & 1.59 WHIP in April & May.  He looked ordinary and was dead last among MLB starters with a 4.2% Swing and Miss rate.  However, starting with his June 10th start vs CLE, things began to click.  He started to throw his Slider and saw a slight velocity increase on his Fastball.  These improvements led him to finish the season a perfect 12-0 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.18 WHIP & .665 OPS against.

By the end of the year, he was the team’s #2 starter finishing 16-4, 3.70 ERA/4.01 FIP/4.16xFIP.  Despite just a 5.3 K/9, he was successful by limiting HRs (7th in AL with 0.71 HR/9) and inducing plenty of ground balls.  Nova was 5th among AL starters with a 52.7% Ground Ball rate.  Grade:  B+

2012 Outlook: Nova finished very strong until he had forearm issues in the playoffs.  Assuming he is healthy he will definitely be a part of the rotation at the bargain basement price of about $400,000.  Hopefully, he can continue to progress and improve and not take a step back like Phil Hughes did after his 2010 breakthrough.

Bartolo Colon

Colon was the surprise of the Spring training.  His Fastball seemed to get stronger every outing and he earned a spot in the bullpen to start the season.  By the end of April he was in the starting rotation baffling hitters with his nasty 93-95 MPH moving fastball.  Through July 30th, Bartolo was 8-6 with a 3.30 ERA.  However, he started to lose a little giddy up on his FB and teams were getting used to his 2-pitch arsenal.  As expected from an overweight, 38-yr old who hadn’t pitched a full-season since 2005, he ran out of gas and went 0-4, 5.84 over his final 8 starts.

Overall, the team had to be happy what they got out of him on a minor-lg contract.  He finished 8-10, 4.00 ERA/3.83 FiP/ 3.57 xFip with 7.4 K/9 & 2.2 BB/9.   Grade: B-

2012 Outlook:  Bartolo was a true success story and a big contributor.  However, at 39 yrs old and having faded down the stretch I don’t see a role for Colon on the 2012 team.

A.J. Burnett

AJ got off to another good start, going 4-1 3.96 in April and was still a respectable 8-7, 4.19 through mid-July. But as we have seen too many times, he went through a stretch of 11 terrible starts with a 2-4 record, 7.65 ERA and an obscene .963 OPS against.  So basically, he turned every hitter into Albert Pujols!  He did show some signs of life at the end finishing the regular season with 7.2 strong IP in a win vs BOS and victory against DET in the ALDS.

Burnett has been consistently inconsistent during his 3 years in NY.  Overall, he was 11-11 with a 3rd worst in MLB, 5.15 ERA.  However, his FiP (4.77) and xFiP (3.86) point to a pitcher that had some bad luck.  He had a strong 8.2 K/9 and respectable 49% GB rate which was his best since 2007.  His biggest problem was his league leading 25 Wild pitches and sky-high 1.47 HR/9 (2nd worst in Majors).  And as anyone who watches him pitch can attest to, he seems to always fold up like a cheap suit at the first sign of trouble and tends to give up back-breaking HRs at the worst times.   Grade: D

2012 Outlook:  AJ still has 2 yrs and $33 Million left on his contract.  In order to get someone to take him, the Yanks would likely need to eat $20+M and/or take on another bad contract like Carlos Zambrano, Barry Zito, Derek Lowe, Jason Bay, Chone Figgins, etc.  IMO, I would eat any amount of money to get AJ off the team.  Overall, he has been a detriment for the last 2 seasons pitching to a 5.20 ERA and losing more games than he wins.  Any money another team could assume would be a bonus as the true value of the deal would be to replace him in the rotation with a better pitcher.  Unfortunately he’ll likely be back so hopefully Rothschild can get him to throw the way he did the final 2 starts of the yr which he is capable of.

Phil Hughes

Hughes, AJ, Garcia & Nova...who comes back in 2012?

Coming off a strong 2010, expectations were high for Hughes in 2011.  However, he showed up to ST overweight and looked terrible in 3 April starts.  He had no arm strength and complained of mysterious pain in his arm that the team’s doctors could find no reason for.  After 2+ months on the DL, he returned in July and was mediocre. He regained some velocity in Sept averaging in the 93-94 range when shifted back to the pen. Overall he finished at 5-5, 5.79 ERA with a poor 5.7 K/9.

Hughes has been an enigma in his MLB career with his velocity changing all the time.  Since early 2009, his velocity has fluctuated from the upper 80’s to the mid 90’s. His velo has been the highest when pitching out of the bullpen and that may be the role he is best suited if he cannot maintain a 92-93 MPH average FB that he needs to succeed as a starter.  Grade: D

2012 Outlook:  What to do with Hughes? He is in his 2nd yr of Arbitration so will be getting around $3M next yr.  He was great in the pen in 09 and great in the rotation in the 1st half of 2010.  But since then he’s been mediocre at best.  Hughes seems to hold his velocity best in the pen, however the Yankees pen is loaded with arms.  I’d like to trade Hughes but his value is down so I would likely give him another shot as a starter next yr.  If he looks good, he can be dealt next yr and if he struggles he can always be moved back to relief.

W L ERA GS IP SO WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
CC Sabathia* 19 8 3.00 33 237.1 230 1.226 8.7 0.6 2.3 8.7
A.J. Burnett 11 11 5.15 32 190.1 173 1.434 9.0 1.5 3.9 8.2
Ivan Nova 16 4 3.70 27 165.1 98 1.331 8.9 0.7 3.1 5.3
Bartolo Colon 8 10 4.00 26 164.1 135 1.290 9.4 1.2 2.2 7.4
Freddy Garcia 12 8 3.62 25 146.2 96 1.343 9.3 1.0 2.8 5.9
Phil Hughes 5 5 5.79 14 74.2 47 1.487 10.1 1.1 3.3 5.7

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com:

Is Mark Teixeira’s Decline Concerning?

The issue of Mark Teixeira’s play over the last two years has made some Yankee fans scratch their heads. There are three major questions pertaining to this. How much did his play really hurt the Yankees? What went wrong? Also will he improve in the future? If Teixiera continues this downward spiral the Yankees could have a serious issue.  Teixeira has been given a pass by the media for the most part because he is not a polarizing figure like Alex Rodriguez. He is very respectful to the media and always says the right thing.  However, he needs to go back to being the 2009 version of Mark Teixeira if the Yankees want to win another World Series.

Teixeira has had very good and respectable years the last two years.  He has hit for great power and has played gold glove defense. It is very hard to get on somebody who hits almost 40 HRs a year, knocks in a lot of runs, and plays gold glove defense. The issue is we know he is capable of more. He did more in 2009 when he hit .292, with 39 HRs, 122 RBI, and a .948 OPS. I am not a huge batting average guy and think the stat is overrated. OPS in my mind is the most important stat because it tells your ability to get on base and hit for power.  However, a guy with Teixeira’s ability should not be hitting around .250 for two straight years.  I would not care what his average was if his OPS was around .900.  His OPS as a Yankee has declined from .948, to .846, and to .835. An OPS in the .800 range is very good but elite players like Teixeira should be around .900. It has usually been that way for Teixeira, as his career OPS prior to the last two years was .922.  Where Teixeira has really hurt the Yankees is in the postseason. His career postseason line of .207/.315/.322/.637 is atrocious. That is where needs to take it to a whole other level for the Yankees to win it all. They were able to do it once without much from Teixeira because Alex Rodriguez was a one man wrecking crew. Teixeira is only 31 so he should still be capable of returning to his elite level of play.

Teixeira’s main problem last year was his performance batting lefty. One problem when he batted lefty was the shift that teams were playing on him. His .222 BABIP batting lefty indicates that. That is batting average on balls in play if you do not know. His splits were .224/.325/.453/.779 batting lefty and .302/.380/.587/.967 batting righty. Teixeira did hit for more power left handed, as he hit 24 HRs batting lefty, and 15 HRs batting righty. This is probably a result of Teixeira going after the short porch in left field to much. The upper cut in his lefty swing definitely indicates that. However, his home/road splits of .245/.352./.511/.862 at home, and .251/.331.479/.810 on the road are not drastically different. He also only had only 5 more HRs at home. My theory is that his bad habits at home are translating on the road, so there is not that big of a difference.  From my perspective, he has developed to wide of a base in his batting stance. Look at these two videos:

Video 1 (2009) http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5941183

Video 2 (2010) http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=11106861

The first one is from 2009 and the second is from 2010. Pause each video at around 0:01-0:04 on each video. Right about when the pitchers are about to release the ball,  you can see in 2009 he was standing much more upright and had a much smaller base. In 2010 he had a much wider base and is hunched over more. There is a clear difference and if I can see it, I know Kevin Long can see it. I think he should be able to do something about it, and hopefully Teixeira can see results similar to as when Long fixed Curtis Granderson.

Even with his down last two years Teixeira remains one of the best first basemen in MLB, but for the Yankees it’s not good enough. They need him to start performing at an MVP caliber level again, and not just at a very good level.  He definitely has the talent and potential to make that happen next year. If he does that, especially in October, the Yankees chances to win the World Series increase enormously.  It is time for Teixeira to turn up the heat this offseason to improve, and be the MVP candidate he can be.

Grading 2011 and Looking Ahead: OF/DH Edition

According to Wallace Matthews……..Cashman, on Thursday was set for a second day of organizational meetings with Yankees scouting and player personnel executives.

“We’re addressing every area of need on the team,” he said. “We’re evaluating our own personnel as well as whoever might become available this offseason.”

So, as Cash and his team evaluate the Yankees personnel, it’s time for Part II of our evaluation also – this time we finish the offense with the Outfield and DH spots.

Left Field

Gardner's glove is the best in MLB with an unreal 25.2 UZR!

Brett Gardner

Gardner began the year as the leadoff hitter but had a dreadful April hitting .188.  He quickly got things together and was having an excellent season thru late July, even showing some improved pop at the plate.  On July 20th, Brett was hitting a robust .291/.372/.419/.791 and was in the midst of  a record string of 22 straight successful stolen bases.  Everyone was lobbying for him to get his leadoff job back but he seemed to wear down and for the third year in a row faded badly in August & September to finish at .259/.345/.369/.713.

Brett’s game is always much more than his hitting.  He led the A.L. with 49 SBs in 62 attempts and was again the Majors best defensive Outfielder with a sick 25.2 UZR.  The jumps he gets on balls and the athletic plays he makes save numerous runs.   Grade:  B

Andruw Jones

Jones was brought in to hit LHP and he did it well.  In 146 PAs he hit .286/.384/.540/.923.  he was a non-factor vs RHP with a .172 BA.  He played a decent OF when asked to and hit 13 HRs with an .851 OPS overall so he was exactly what they thought he’d be.      Grade: B

2012 Outlook: Gardner will see a decent raise in his first arbitration year but will still be a bargain for the roughly $2-3 Million he may get. His late season fades are becoming regular.  it seemed to be injuries in his first 2 yrs but this yr he just seemed worn out.  Given his all out, aggressive nature, he may need to be given more off days throughout the yr to stay fresh.  He should probably see more days off against LHP this yr to see if an extra day off every week to 10 days will keep him strong.  Jones could be offered a chance to come back but if he doesn’t there is definitely a need for an OF to play against LHP.

Center Field

Curtis Granderson

Curtis had a career year hitting .262/.364/.552/.916 with 41 HRs and a league leading 119 RBI & 136 Runs.  The key to his improvement was the adjustments he made vs LHP.  He went from one of the most anemic hitters against southpaws to leading all MLB with 16 HRs against them.  The only real knock from an offensive standpoint was his 169 SOs.  Grandy stole 25 of 35 bases and played an above average CF.  His UZR was not good as he often takes false initial steps and takes circuitous routes to the baseball but his great speed, athleticism and solid arm make up for it.    Grade:  A

2012 Outlook: Curtis has 1 year and a team option left on his deal so the Yanks have control over him thru 2013.  He has vowed to work on cutting his strikeouts this off-season and it would be a welcome improvement.  He remarked many times that he is not a power hitter and I’d like to see him be able to put the ball in play more and raise his BA

Right Field

Nick Swisher

Should the OF remain intact in 2012?

Swish got off to a horrendous start in the first 2 months of the season. On May 25th he was hitting .204/.321/.289/.610 and it seemed like he was playing his last season in NY.  But something clicked and he went on a 3-month tear where he hit for a .982 OPS and hit 19 HRs with 58 RBI in 83 games.  Unfortunately, he also wore down to have a poor Sept and his 3rd straight lousy post-season.  Overall his season was slightly down from his previous 2 with a .260/.374/.449/.822 line, 22 HRs & 85 RBI.  Like Tex, he was much better from the right side as he seemed to get to Pull & Fly ball happy as a lefty hitter.  His defensive metrics were good but in my eyes he seemed no better than average in RF and his arm looked weak to me.   Grade:  C+

2012 Outlook:  The club has a $10.25M option on Swisher with a $1M buyout.  So he will cost an additional $9.25M to bring back for 2012.  Looking at his 3-yr tenure in NY, he has averaged .265/.368/.483/.851 with 27 Hrs & 85 RBI.  Those #s are worth picking up the option.  But when you weigh in his career .169 Postseason BA, extreme streakiness, mediocre defense and declining hitting vs RHP, the decision gets harder.  Add in the fact that the rest of the offense is under contract and it seems like RF is the only are to make a change.  The question will be is a FA like Carlos Beltran or Michael Cuddyer worth signing to a multi-year deal?  Or is it worth trading some young prospects for  another OF? Or maybe its worth bringing Nick back on a reasonable 1 yr option and going after someone like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Josh Hamilton, Delmon Young, Carlos Quentin or Shane Victorino as Free Agents next year.

Designated Hitter

Jorge Posada

Hopefully Jorge has a lot of time for leisure activities in 2012

Jorge was told to hang up his shin guards and be the everyday DH this season.  It seemed he never embraced the role and made the best of it, instead choosing to act like he was dissed and pout around all season.  I wish he would have taken the team-first approach Michael Young took when Texas made him DH. But Posada did not and it affected his play.  Like Swisher he was worthless for April and May.  Soon after he refused to bat 8th vs Boston, he got hot for June and hit .382 for the month.  But that didn’t last and he finished with a .235/.315/398/.713 line.  Posada has never been a fast runner but his decision-making and overall base running was so bad that he was an embarrassment when he did get on base.  He had a nice moment  in Sept when he got the winning hit to clinch the AL East and he followed it up with a solid ALDS vs Detroit.   Grade:  D

2012 Outlook: Posada is a Free Agent but I don’t think there is any reason to bring him back.  He’s had a great career and will be remembered as a great Yankee but at 40 he clearly should step aside.  The Yanks have young Jesus Montero ready to take the DH and back up Catcher job.  Montero hit .328/.406/.590/.996 with 4 HRs in his brief 69 PA cameo in Sept and has had comparisons to everyone from Miguel Cabrera to Manny Ramirez to Albert Pujols.  Those are weighty expectations to put on a 21 yr old but the kid can rake and needs to be given 500+ ABs to prove it.

  Age G AB R HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS
                       
Brett Gardner* 27 159 510 87 7 36 49 .259 .345 .369 .713
Curtis Granderson* 30 156 583 136 41 119 25 .262 .364 .552 .916
Nick Swisher# 30 150 526 81 23 85 2 .260 .374 .449 .822
Jorge Posada# 39 115 344 34 14 44 0 .235 .315 .398 .714
Andruw Jones 34 77 190 27 13 33 0 .247 .356 .495 .851
Jesus Montero 21 18 61 9 4 12 0 .328 .406 .590 .996
Chris Dickerson* 29 60 50 9 1 7 4 .260 .296 .360 .656
Stat Insert Provided by Baseball-Reference.com:

Grading 2011 and Looking Ahead: Infield Edition

After every season Brian Cashman brings of all his scouts and decision makers together to formulate a strategy for the off-season.  They will go through every player on the current team to discuss how they fared and if they have a role moving forward.  While the Yankees will start this process after Cashman re-signs some time in the next week or so, I will also go through the current team and evaluate their 2011 season, grading each player.  Like Cashman’s many advisers I’d like input from all the commenters to hear what you agree or disagree with.

We’ll begin with the Infield………

Martin should be brought back in 2012

Catcher

Russell Martin

Offensively, Martin was very streaky with 2 excellent months (April & August) and 4 not so good. Overall he hit .237/.324/.408/.732 with 18 HRs, 65 RBI & 8 SBs.  Where he made a huge difference was defensively.  He brought energy, athleticism & leadership to the position and worked very well with the pitching staff.  Martin consistently blocked pitches in the dirt – inning after inning, game after game  – giving confidence for guys like AJ, Garcia & DRob to throw their off-speed pitches in the dirt in any situation. Yankee catchers in 2010 were last in MLB defensively by almost any metric but Martin made it a strength in 11′ throwing out 30% of runners trying to steal.     Grade:  B

Francisco Cervelli

Cervelli started the season on the DL, missing all of April and ended it on the DL, missing Sept with a Concussion. He had been red-hot at the plate at the time of his injury to raise his final line to .266/.324/.395/.719 in 137 PAs. He improved on his 2010 defense but still only threw out 14% of base stealers and had 6 E’s.     Grade: C

2012 Outlook: Martin is up for Arbitration and I think he must be re-signed (about $6.5M) to be the primary starter.  Montero and Romine got a taste in Sept but I don’t think either is prepared to be the full-time starter.  Cervelli may be traded this offseason as Jesus appears ready to get some time as the backup C and primary DH. With Montero DHing so often there may be a need to carry a 3rd Catcher but I think a veteran defensive type would be sufficient.  This would set Romine up to get a year in AAA.

First base – Mark Teixeira

Tex had his 8th straight 30-100 season but saw another dip in ALL of his offensive ratios, having his worst season since his rookie yr going .248/.341/.494/.835.  He’s still the same dangerous hitter as a Righty, hitting .302/.380/.587/.967 but was a meek .224 batting LH.  He hits too many fly balls/pop-ups and pulls everything into the teeth of a huge overshift.  Mark continues to be magnificent defensively making excellent plays to save runs and errors every game.  It’s hard to give a bad grade to a Gold Glover with 39 HRs & 111 RBIs but he had another disappointing Post-Season (3 for 18, 1 RBI) and I know he’s capable of much more.     Grade: B

2012 Outlook:  Despite all of the big Free Agent 1B, Tex is going nowhere with 5 yrs @ $112.5M left on his contract. Mark & Kevin Long both discussed the need to get more balanced from the Left side and use the whole field more – something we have been saying since the 09′ Post-Season when scouts seemed to have his weaknesses figured out. This off-season & ST are important for him as he must improve his LH mechanics & approach. A lefty hitting bench player who can play 1B along with OF or 3B could be a possible fit.

Second Base – Robinson Cano

Continues to show why he’s the best 2B in MLB and one of the league’s top all-around hitters hitting .305/.349/.533/.882 with 28 HR & 118 RBI.  He went through a tough stretch in May when pitchers were giving him nothing to hit since Swisher & Posada were doing nothing behind him.  Cano swung at too many pitches and saw his strikeouts climb to a career-high 96 after averaging only 68 over the prior 3 seasons.  He wasn’t as flawless at 2B as he was in 2010 but he’s still excellent and turns the double play better than anyone with his quick release and rocket arm.     Grade: A

2012 Outlook:  He has a no-brainer $14M club option that will be picked up. Girardi FINALLY put him in the 3-hole for the playoffs and he should remain there in 12′  He should see better pitches to hit and he just needs to be a little more selective at the plate to be the elite hitter he can be. Although he has a $15M option for 2013 also, it may be cheaper to soon discuss a long-term deal than let him be a Free Agent after 2013.

Third Base – Alex Rodriguez

The IF isn't as strong as it once was.

ARod broke his streak of 13 consecutive 30-100 seasons with another injury-plagued yr. His mid-season knee injury sapped him of his power as he lost his lower body drive.  He had the worst season of his career hitting .276/.362/.461/.823 with 16 HRs & 62 RBI in 428 PAs.  His defense was still solid but he’s had 3 straight seasons of regression due in part to aging & injuries.     Grade: C

2012 Outlook:  We all know ARod is signed for another 6 yrs so he’s going nowhere.  The key is keeping him healthy to maximize his production.  To do so he needs regular days off and DH days.  The team needs to have another 3B capable of starting 40+ games.  Is Nunez that guy…..or perhaps Brandon Laird….or does someone else need to be brought in?

Shortstop – Derek Jeter

DJ clearly had 2 different seasons in 2011. He looked like the same washed up player from 2010 thru June 13th when he went on the DL with a .260/.324/.324/.649 line.  But after working on some things with Gary Denbo in Tampa and getting the pressure of his 3,000th out of the way, he was a new man the rest of the yr hitting .331/.387/.447/.833.  His defense wasn’t great but he is still the same steady, no range SS he’s been the last few yrs.     Grade: C+

Eduardo Nunez

Nunez was a versatile asset who filled in for an inured Jeter & ARod at different times during the yr.  He hit well for the nearly 3 wks he started at SS in June but overall hit only .265/.313/.385/.698. His defense was lackluster to say the least with 14 Errors in 39 starts at SS and 6 E’s in 33 starts @ 3B.  He flashed some promising tools – a quick bat, blazing speed, quick feet and a rocket arm.  If he can play under control and refine his skills, he can become a starting MLB player.     Grade C

2012 Outlook:  Jeter is signed for 2 more seasons and like ARod, needs to be kept fresh at his age.  This means Nunez needs to be given 40-50 starts at SS with Jeter sitting against tough RH pitchers.  The Captain has always beat up on LHP and last yr was no different with a .946 OPS.  For whatever reason, Jete also hits much better during the day the last 2-3 yrs so Girardi needs to rest him in certain night games vs RHP to maximize his production.  Between resting Jeter and ARod, Nunez will be looking at 80-100 starts or more.  Hopefully, he got some of the rookie jitters out of the way and can play more relaxed.

Pos Age G AB R HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
C Russell Martin 28 125 417 57 18 65 8 .237 .324 .408 .732 92
1B Mark Teixeira# 31 156 589 90 39 111 4 .248 .341 .494 .835 117
2B Robinson Cano* 28 159 623 104 28 118 8 .302 .349 .533 .882 129
SS Derek Jeter 37 131 546 84 6 61 16 .297 .355 .388 .743 97
3B Alex Rodriguez 35 99 373 67 16 62 4 .276 .362 .461 .823 116
IF Eduardo Nunez 24 112 309 38 5 30 22 .265 .313 .385 .698 84
3B/1B Eric Chavez* 33 58 160 16 2 26 0 .263 .320 .356 .676 79
C Francisco Cervelli 25 43 124 17 4 22 4 .266 .324 .395 .719 89
Stat Insert Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/16/2011.

Can Yankees Put Faith In A.J Burnett During Postseason?

The Yankees need A.J Burnett to pitch well in the ALDS since this is a critical game for the Yankees

When you look at the ALDS rotation you see some names that you expected to see. CC Sabathia is one. Ivan Nova is another. And of course we can’t forget Freddy Garcia. But one name that might somewhat baffle you when you look at the rotation is A.J Burnett. Sure, A.J Burnett was going to be on the ALDS roster regardless as apart of the Yankees bullpen, but the Game 1 shortened suspended game had put Sabathia in a position to pitch Game 3 and since Nova  isn’t accustomed to pitching on short rest, Girardi had went with Burnett.

When Joe Girardi announced his decision to add Burnett to the rotation, I became curious as to what A.J Burnett’s past postseason numbers were so I did some digging. I was able to find some results via www.baseball-reference.com, so here is the chart of A.J Burnett during the postseason:

Year Tm Series Rslt Opp W L ERA G IP H R HR BB
2009 NYY ALDS W MIN 0 0 1.50 1 6.0 3 1 0 5
2009 NYY ALCS W LAA 0 0 5.84 2 12.1 11 8 0 5
2009 NYY WS W PHI 1 1 7.00 2 9.0 8 7 1 6
2010 NYY ALCS L TEX 0 1 7.50 1 6.0 6 5 1 3
2 Seasons (4 Series) 1 2 5.67 6 33.1 28 21 2 19

Now, looking at A.J’s numbers he has pitched well in the ALDS in the past v.s the Twins but when it came to the ALCS & World Series, Burnett’s numbers staggered and his ERA skyrocketed. Now as you know, the Yankees are playing a critical Game 4 tonight and the Yankees cannot afford to fall behind any further and end their season, which means the A.J Burnett that showed up during the 2009 ALDS needs to show up once again, cause if he doesn’t then the Yankees might have to pack it up and go home. So it will be up to A.J to pitch in a critical situation, and to pitch well.

The New Yankees Batting Order

Joe Girardi finally pulled the trigger on a lineup change that many of us have been pushing for since last year.  I know there has been a lot written about on various blogs suggesting that different batting orders have very little effect on the number of runs scored.  However, moving Cano up to 3rd and Teixeira back to 5th has a lot of merit to it.

Cano is the best hitter on the team and belongs in the 3-hole

First off, I always like to bunch my best hitters and this year, Granderson & Cano have hands down, been the 2 most effective offensive players.  It gives Cano much better protection with ARod and Teixeira batting behind him instead of Swisher and Posada.  More than anyone in the Yankee lineup, Cano is the one that needs the most protection.  Unlike most of the big Yankees hitters, Cano is not a patient hitter.  He is not disciplined enough to take a walk or wait for his pitch when a pitcher is trying to avoid him.  Teixeira in the 5-spot, is more apt to take a walk if he isn’t getting his pitch.

Tex has also lost his claim on the 3-hole. Usually, the third hitter is the best all-around hitter who hits for average and power.  While Teixeira is still a big power threat, he is anything but a good all-around hitter.  He’s no longer the .300 hitter he was a few yrs ago and has now hit a meager .256 & .248 over the last 2 seasons. And he’s even worse against RHP hitting a putrid .224-.325-.453 this season and .244-.342-.457 last season.  Since the Tigers have all righty starters and their 3 top bullpen arms are righty also, having a guy who hit .224 vs RHP in the 3-hole is not a good look.

One part of the change that many feel is a no-no is putting two lefty hitters back to back in Granderson & Cano.  And if you add in Gardner in the 9-hole it creates a L-R-L-L which would seem like a great place to bring in a lefty reliever, especially in Yankee Stadium where lefties flourish.  However, in this series, I think this is a trap that I hope Jim Leyland falls into.  As I mentioned earlier, Detroit has all RH starters and their top set-up men Joaquin Benoit & Al Alburqueque are RH.  The Tigers have 2 lefty set-up mean, Phil Coke & Daniel Schlerth, who the Yankees have roughed up in the past.  I will be ecstatic to see Leyland tap his left arm on his way to the mound in the middle innings.  The L-R-L-L could be the trap that is too tempting for old Jimmy not to fall into and lead him to bring in his 8th or 9th best pitchers.

While Gardner struggles vs lefties, Jeter parties like its 1999 vs LHP, hitting .349/.423/.523 against southpaws this season.  Everyone knows Granderson hit more HRs (16) vs LHP than any hitter in MLB, but does anyone know he even has a better batting average too?  He hit .272/.347/.597 vs LHP and Robinson Cano is also a better hitter versus same armed pitchers going .314/.354/.525.  We already know switch-hitting Tex is much better hitting from the right side and so is Nick Swisher.  In fact the only hitters in the lineup who hit RHP better than LHP are ARod, Posada & Russell Martin.  Posada can be pinch hit for with Montero so I am hoping to see Coke or Schlereth often in this series.  Unfortunately, I think Leyland is a too good a manager to bite on this and will limit the exposure of his lefties in this series.

Tex and Swish need to hit this postseason

In any event, the new lineup puts ARod, Tex, Swisher & Posada hitting 4th thru 7th.  They may be the key to this series. What do the Yankees get out of those 4 hitters? ARod is an enigma at this point.  He’s looked totally out of sync the last few weeks and is clearly not 100% battling knee and thumb injuries.  As I talked about in a previous article, the Yankees usually lose in the playoffs when ARod struggles and win when he hits.

Tex & Swisher are both in their 3rd seasons with NY and have both struggled in the post-season the last 2 years.  Teixeira has hit .170 in 88 post-season ABs as a Yankee and Swisher’s been even worse hitting .148 in 81 ABs.  They need to hit and Posada also needs to produce because he is keeping a very capable bat in Jesus Montero out of the lineup. In my opinion, the key to the series is the production the Yankees get from the middle of their lineup.  On paper, the Yankees biggest edge over Detroit is that they have the deeper and more balanced lineup.  But if these hitters don’t produce like they are capable then they Yanks lose that edge.  So if the Yanks win this series, someone other than the top 3 in the lineup has to come through.

Comparing Tigers vs. Yankees Hitters

Just an article all about stats.   I’m going to show you the stats for the main hitters for both teams thanks to baseball-reference.com   Enjoy

Tigers Team Batting

Pos R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA SLG
C Alex Avila* 63 137 33 4 19 82 3 73 131 .295 .506
1B Miguel Cabrera 111 197 48 0 30 105 2 108 89 .344 .586
2B Ramon Santiago# 29 67 11 3 5 30 0 17 38 .260 .384
SS Jhonny Peralta 68 157 25 3 21 86 0 40 95 .299 .478
3B Brandon Inge 29 53 10 2 3 23 1 24 74 .197 .283
LF Brennan Boesch* 75 121 25 1 16 54 5 35 83 .283 .458
CF Austin Jackson 90 147 22 11 10 45 22 56 181 .249 .374
RF Magglio Ordonez 33 84 10 0 5 32 2 23 41 .255 .331
DH Victor Martinez# 76 178 40 0 12 103 1 46 51 .330 .470
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/29/2011.

Yankees Team Batting

Pos ▴ R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA SLG
3B Alex Rodriguez 67 103 21 0 16 62 4 47 80 .276 .461
LF Brett Gardner* 87 132 19 8 7 36 49 60 93 .259 .369
SS Derek Jeter 84 162 24 4 6 61 16 46 81 .297 .388
CF Curtis Granderson* 136 153 26 10 41 119 25 85 169 .262 .552
2B Robinson Cano* 104 188 46 7 28 118 8 38 96 .302 .533
RF Nick Swisher# 81 137 30 0 23 85 2 95 125 .260 .449
1B Mark Teixeira# 90 146 26 1 39 111 4 76 110 .248 .494
DH Jorge Posada# 34 81 14 0 14 44 0 39 76 .235 .398
C Russell Martin 57 99 17 0 18 65 8 50 81 .237 .408
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/29/2011.

WAR stats for 2011 Yankees

2011 Yankees WAR

Age WAR Acquired
Mark Teixeira# 31 2.2 Free Agency
Nick Swisher# 30 3.3 Traded
Alex Rodriguez 35 2.7 Free Agency
Jorge Posada# 39 -1.0 Free Agency
Eduardo Nunez 24 -0.7 Amateur Free Agent
Jesus Montero 21 0.6 Amateur Free Agent
Russell Martin 28 1.3 Free Agency
Andruw Jones 34 0.9 Free Agency
Derek Jeter 37 0.8 Free Agency
Curtis Granderson* 30 5.2 Traded
Brett Gardner* 27 4.4 Amateur Draft
Chris Dickerson* 29 0.3 Traded
Eric Chavez* 33 -0.1 Free Agency
Francisco Cervelli 25 0.3 Amateur Free Agent
Robinson Cano* 28 4.7 Amateur Free Agent
Team Total 30.6 23.9
Age WAR Acquired
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/29/2011.

Cashman improved pitching by adding Martin

Russell Martin's worked hand in hand with the Yankees rotation to improve to 3rd in the AL with a 3.64 team ERA.

The Yankees have been trying to improve their starting rotation since the middle of 2010. Unfortunately, Cashman has been unable to add that big name starter to turn his staff around. After the 2010 season, he replaced Andy Pettitte & Javy Vazquez with retreads Bartolo Colon & Freddy Garcia.  This didn’t seem like a great way to improve on the rotation’s 10th best in the AL, 4.35 team ERA.

However, in addition to adding pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Cashman also signed a new catcher in Russell Martin.  Cashman took a chance giving the declining & injured former All-Star $4M+ incentives to keep him from signing with Boston. This has turned out to be Cashman’s best move of the 2010 Winter.

Martin reported to camp eager to regain his All-Star form and he endeared himself to his new rotation right away. “The relationship I have with my pitchers,” Martin says, “I want them to have to trust me with their lives.”

Whether blocking Freddy Garcia’s numerous splitters in the dirt or playing Call of Duty with AJ Burnett, Russell has become a catcher his pitchers can trust. Trust that he will call the right pitch or block an 0-2 curveball in the dirt with the winning run on 3rd. Jorge Posada had a great career as the Yankees catcher but he often had a surly demeanor and was confrontational with the pitchers. Martin has brought energy and a positive attitude behind the plate in an effort to work with his staff to get the most out of each pitcher. His preparation & performance has been paramount in the Yankees team ERA improving by almost a half run to 3.64 which is good for 3rd in the A.L. this yr.

Martin's ripping the ball in August

Martin has even won over AJ Burnett who is everyone’s friend except when he is on the mound. “He’ll come out and say, ‘Hey, you got another curveball in you? Because I’ll block it,'” Burnett says. “And that fires me up. I want to throw a hook, he knows it, so he comes out with some confidence that ‘Hey, I know what you want to throw and I’ll block it, let’s go.'”

Last season, the Yankees catchers were dead last in MLB, throwing out only 14.8% of base stealers (22-154).  This year, Martin has nailed 31.4% (32-102) of runners.  Russell’s defense has been a godsend and a bit of a pleasant surprise. He had a reputation as an offensive catcher who’s skills at the plate were eroding at a young age.  In 09 & 10’, he combined to hit .249/.350/.330/.680 with only 12 hrs & 79 rbis in 836 ABs.  During this time he battled injuries on the field and depression off the field as he dealt with failure for the first time in his young career.

From Sucking Wind to Second Wind

Martin started his Yankee career red-hot, hitting .293/.376/.587/.963 with 6 HRs & 19 RBIs in April. He seemed to erase all doubts by basically matching the 5 HRs & 26 RBIs he had in ALL of 2010 in 331 abs.  But after April, Martin really struggled at the plate.  Coming off winter knee & hip surgeries, he was the only catcher in MLB to play every inning of the first 12 games of the season while backup Francisco Cervelli was on the DL.  He endured fatigue and a nagging back injury which sapped his offensive performance as his numbers from May 1 to July 31 were a pathetic .201/.308/.287/.595 with just 4 hrs in 243 PAs.  During this time, his superb defensive performance never waned but it seemed his April hitting success was gone for good.  Martin worked with Kevin Long on some adjustments to his mechanics and approach in June but the results didn’t improve right away.

But Martin is now healthy and has been tearing it up in August.  Following yesterday’s perfect 5 for 5 game, Russell is hitting .318/.356/.697/1.053 with 7 HRs & 19 RBIs in 19 games.   “I feel pretty good right now. I’ve got no issues right now and that’s pretty rare this time of year,” Martin said.  He’s had problems with off-speed pitches this year so lately he it seems he is looking to jump the first fastball he sees and hit it wherever it’s pitched.  All of his HRs this yr were pulled to LF or left center but yesterday he smacked #16 down the RF line and #17 to the bullpen in right-center.  “I’m just seeing the ball well right now, staying aggressive and just trying to hunt good pitches to hit early,” Martin said.

Cashman’s Finest

Martin, Swish & Granderson have been Cashman's finest additions

Martin has turned into Brian Cashman’s best pickup this past off-season and joins Nick Swisher & Curtis Granderson as a trio of starters who he acquired at the lowest points of their careers.  All three have come to the team with great attitudes and have worked hard with Kevin Long to become All-Stars with the Yankees – Swisher in 2010 and Granderson & Martin this season.  Martin, with17 HRs and 8 SBs, is on pace to become the first Yankee catcher since Thurman Munson to get to double digits in both categories and the first A.L. catcher to do it since Varitek in 2004.

Russell arrived here looking like a short-term rental until Jesus Montero & Austin Romine were ready to take the job.  But his all around play – defensively, offensively & on the base paths – may make the Yanks alter their plans and look to keep Martin around long-term.

The Maturation of Ivan Nova

Nova is 9-0 in his last 10 starts!

Based on his minor league career and his performance in New York last year, most people shared a common opinion of Ivan Nova.  He seemed like a big, strong-armed pitcher with above average velocity and movement on his Fastball to induce a lot of groundballs.  However, with his lack of an above average secondary pitch and his inability to get strikeouts, most pundits saw his potential as nothing more than a back of the rotation pitcher.

However, in Spring Training Nova began experimenting with a cutter with the help of organization pitching guru Billy Connors.  The pitch had so much movement it was basically a slider and Nova first broke it out in a March 16th ST game.  The results had everyone excited as the pitch was nasty and Nova went on to throw 6 innings of no-hit ball with 4 Ks, 3 on the slider.

Expectations were high when the season began.  But just like we have seen in past years when Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain worked on change ups all Spring just to scrap them when the games counted, Nova did not use his new pitch.  As a result, he struggled to miss bats with his old FB, Curveball, Change repertoire.

Through April & May, Nova had a 4-3 record but a 4.67 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and hitters had a .283 average against him. His average fastball sat around 92, his K/9 was 4.5 and his BB/9 was 4.0.  He was also dead last among MLB starters with a 4.2 Swing & Miss %.

Things began to click

There were rumbles that Nova was pitching for his rotation spot coming into June.  However, that is where he began to turn things around.   Three things changed for him:

  1. He began to incorporate the slider into his arsenal
  2. He started to throw more strikes and limit walks
  3. There has been a slight 1 MPH increase in average velocity to 93

Since June 10th, Nova has made 10 starts for the Yanks and has a 9-0 record with a 3.48 era, 1.17 whip, and .250 opposition batting average.  He has nearly doubled his Swing and Miss% from 4.2  to 8.2%! That is a drastic improvement to make in the middle of a season and has led to a much healthier 6.26 K/9 and 2.36 BB/9.  His K/BB rate more than doubled from a dreadful 1.13 to a solid 2.65.

What makes things even more impressive is Nova was sent to the minors for 4 weeks in the middle of this streak through no fault of his own.  But rather than sulk when demoted, he used the time to continue improving and returned to the Bronx without skipping a beat. He has turned from a pitcher who could get groundballs but had no strikeout ability to a true 4-pitch pitcher who can get a grounball or a strikeout at any time depending on the situation.

Nowhere was that more evident than in yesterday’s start @ MIN. Twice, he picked up teammates after errors. After Tex made an error on a leadoff grounder, Nova simply induced the next hitter to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play.  Then when Granderson and Swisher failed to catch a pop-up that put runners on 2nd & 3rd with no outs, he calmly struck out 2 lefties and got the 3rd out on a slow roller to keep the score tied at 0-0 in the 6th.

No longer does he lack a Swing & Miss Pitch

The added velo, better command and more diverse pitch selection has improved all of his offerings. During the last 10 starts, he has used his FB to get ahead and get groundouts while the following 3 pitches have been getting swing and misses:

  • Curve Ball – 13.5% Whiff Rate
  • ChangeUp – 14.1% Whiff Rate
  • Slider/Cut – 21.7% Whiff Rate

It isn’t rare to see a pitcher find success after adding a new pitch, but the fact that Nova has been able to make such improvements during his rookie year on a team like the Yankees is most impressive. It bodes well for his future and in my opinion if he can continue pitching the way he has, he should get the ball in Game 2 of the playoffs.  Nova has shown an ability to compete when out on the mound and do what it takes to ensure the team gets a win when he is on the mound.  He is the anti-AJ Burnett. While AJ seems to find ways to lose games, Nova seems to find ways to win them.