Archive for June 16th, 2010

Tonight’s result was solely a product of the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the starting pitchers. As soon as AJ Burnett was removed from the game, the slumping Phillies resumed having unproductive at bats, while the Yankees lineup came alive once Jamie Moyer exited the mound. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Moyer dazzled the Yankees for eight innings, while Burnett’s three-plus were a complete disaster.

Jamie Moyer puts every ounce of effort into one of his pitches (Photo: AP).

The maddening inconsistency of AJ Burnett was evident once again as the erratic Yankees righty allowed 11 base runners and six runs in 3 1/3 innings. Burnett has now lost his last three starts while pitching to an ERA of 9.00. Not only did Burnett walk four batters in his brief outing, but he constantly pitched from behind, barely throwing half of his pitches for strikes. After setting up a four run second inning with his wildness, Burnett then surrendered back-to-back home runs to Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth in the third. Finally, after failing to cover first base on what would have been an easy ground out, Girardi mercifully ended Burnett’s evening.

Like or not, AJ Burnett is never going to be consistent. More than most starting pitchers, Burnett runs hot and cold, and right now he is in the midst of another frigid stretch.  More frustrating, however, is Burnett’s tendency to throw in the towel when faced with adversity. His failure to cover first base in the fourth inning was further evidence of Burnett’s lack of concentration, and it earned him a well deserved chorus of boos when he walked off the field.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were flailing away at Jamie Moyer’s slow and slower approach. Moyer’s arsenal ranged from a 69mph curve to an 81 mph sinker, yet somehow the Yankee batters seemed to behind on just about every pitch. The Yankees did manage solo home runs by Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano, but otherwise could not sustain any pressure against the Phillies’ aged lefty.

If there was any doubt about whether Burnett pitched poorly or the dormant Phillies lineup had finally been revived, the combination of Boone Logan and Chad Gaudin combined to pitch 5 2/3 perfect innings (not including one intentional walk). Even the most optimistic Yankee fan would have to concede that the bullpen’s sterling effort was the result of a still struggling Phillies’ lineup, which makes Burnett’s bad start all the more alarming.

The Phillies also came away with some cause for alarm as Brad Lidge was once again very shaky in trying to close out a 6-2 lead. As they seem to always do, the Yankees rallied to bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but the comeback fizzled when Posada swung over a slider in the dirt (one pitch after taking a hanger right over the plate). Even though he was able to finish out the game, the Phillies can’t be too confident in Lidge’s ability to close.

Although maddening, Burnett’s implosion really isn’t a long-term concern. However, the Yankees do need to be a little concerned about Arod, whose base running in the ninth didn’t suggest a fully healthy player. Even though the offense has compensated for his absence over the past few games, the Yankees need Arod in the middle of their lineup. Burnett will eventually hit a hot stretch, but a lineup without Arod would be a major blow.

AJ Burnett’s Pitch Breakdown

Avg. Speed Max Speed Count Strikes Percentage
Four Seam Fastball 93.2 95.7 37 21 56.8%
Knuckle Curve 81.6 84.1 23 13 56.5%
Sinker 93.1 94.8 26 14 53.8%
Inning Pitches Strikes Percentage
1 19 13 68.4%
2 33 17 51.5%
3 22 12 54.5%
4 12 6 50.0%
  • Jamie Moyer (47 years 210 days) surpassed Phil Niekro (47 years 122 days) as the oldest pitcher to beat the Yankees.
  • Ryan Howard’s and Jayson Werth’s home runs represented the first time the Phillies went back-to-back all season.

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With names like Teixeira, Jeter, Arod and Cano, it’s easy to see that the Yankees’ offense revolves around its infielders. For much of the early season, it hasn’t been uncommon to see all three outfielders positioned at the end of the lineup. However, as Joel Sherman outlines in his recent column, the Yankees outfield has not been the weakness that most thought it was going to be. In fact, it has not only been one of the team’s greatest strengths, but also one of the most productive units in all of baseball.

Top 10 Offensive Outfields (ranked by wOBA)

Cubs .291 .359 .509 .868 .218 .327 .378
Yankees .283 .371 .446 .818 .163 .332 .366
Tigers .303 .368 .453 .820 .150 .357 .366
Cardinals .284 .357 .485 .842 .201 .332 .365
Brewers .272 .331 .483 .814 .211 .301 .357
Rangers .295 .335 .487 .822 .191 .333 .354
Dodgers .288 .348 .478 .826 .190 .329 .354
Blue Jays .256 .328 .487 .816 .232 .283 .350
Mariners .284 .365 .412 .777 .128 .347 .349
Reds .270 .338 .464 .801 .194 .330 .348

As evidenced by the chart above, the Yankees’ outfield ranks second to only the Cubs’, which is pretty incredible when you consider the amount of time missed by Curtis Granderson, who entered the year as perhaps the most productive cog. Since the start of the season, however, that distinction has belonged to Nick Swisher, who ranks sixth among all outfielders with an wOBA of .400. Despite being shuffled throughout the lineup, Swisher has maintained a level of consistency that has helped anchor a Yankees lineup compromised by injury for most of the season.

Not too far behind Swisher in terms of production has been Brett Gardner, whose wOBA of .390 ranks 11th in all of baseball. Gardner entered the season as a quasi-starter sitting against some lefties, but has since emerged as a key component of the everyday starting lineup. Gardner has not only improved both his plate discipline and power stroke, but also substantially increased his line drive percentage from 16% to 22%. To the naked eye, Gardner has made the necessary adjustment to turn on a good fastball, allowing him to evolve from his bail and slap approach that led to many anemic at bats.

Although he has yet to really catch fire, Curtis Granderson has been a relatively productive offensive player in his limited time in the lineup. His .246/.331/.449 line almost exactly matches his .249/.331/.449 output in 2009, but the Yankees still have to hope he can regain his form from 2007-2008. Even if he remains at his current level of production (OPS+ of 111 and wOBA of .343), however, Granderson is still a productive option in center field.

Marcus Thames, who filled in admirably with the bat (although definitely not the glove) when Granderson missed most of May with a groin injury, is also worthy of an honorable mention. Despite playing a very poor left field, Thames did contribute a wOBA of .362 during his time in the outfield, not to mention one very big home run off Jonathan Papelbon to win a game.

Snapshot of Yankees Key Contributors in the Outfield

Nick Swisher 253 0.301 0.389 0.530 0.919 149 0.357 0.400
Brett Gardner 236 0.322 0.406 0.436 0.842 131 0.367 0.390
Marcus Thames 94 0.276 0.394 0.408 0.802 120 0.358 0.362
Curtis Granderson 158 0.246 0.331 0.449 0.780 111 0.290 0.343

In addition to being potent on offensive, the Yankees outfield has also performed well in the field. Although the unit’s UZR/150 (usual defensive metric disclaimers inserted here) of 1.1 ranks right in the middle of all 30 major league teams, that includes the many below average innings contributed by Marcus Thames and Randy Winn. On an individual basis, Swisher’s rate of 8.7 ranks 10th among all right fielders, while Granderson’s rate of 16.7 would rank sixth among center fielders if he had enough innings to qualify. Only Brett Gardner rates as below average, but his -2.4 UZR/150 hardly qualifies as a liability.

Past results are not necessarily an indication of future performance, so it remains to be seen if the Yankees outfield will maintain its impressive pace. Despite making a noticeable adjustment in his approach at the plate, Swisher is probably a good bet to regress to a more normal wOBA plateau of .370, where he has resided in three of his previous four seasons. On the other hand, Granderson could in fact rebound to his 2007-2008 form, which would more than make up the difference. That leaves Brett Gardner as the big question mark going forward. If he can come close to maintaining his current output, the Yankees outfield should continue to lead the majors in terms of production. If not, the unit could still remain a relative strength, especially if they are able to maintain their defensive performance.

Having said that, the trio’s performance will not necessarily preclude the Yankees from being players in the Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth sweepstakes this off season. If all three outfielders are able to put up good seasons, it would certainly alleviate the need, but that has never stopped the Yankees from swimming in the deep end of the free agent pool.

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