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Archive for July 1st, 2010

Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, as the old adage goes, so this afternoon’s matchup of C.C. Sabathia and Ryan Rowland-Smith seemed to favor a big swing in favor of the Yankees. Despite the perceived mismatch, it still took late inning heroics by Alex Rodriguez to help the Yankees avoid being swept at the Stadium for the first time since last July.

Alex Rodriguez prepares for contact on his game winning HR in the bottom of the eighth inning (Photo: AP).

From the first batter, Sabathia seemed to be in complete control, firing mostly fastballs at the Mariners’ hitters over the first three innings. Then, in the middle innings, Sabathia started mixing in his slider and change-up with equal success. Through the first six innings, Sabathia eased through the game with only 75 pitches, allowing only three hits along the way. He was so efficient, that it didn’t seem to matter that the Yankees couldn’t solve Ryan Rowland-Smith, who entered the game at 1-7 with an ERA of 6.18. The only real damage against Smith came thanks to Robinson Cano’s team leading 16th home run in the fourth inning. The blast increased the Yankees lead to 2-0, the other run coming in the first inning on an RBI groundout by Mark Teixeira.

In the seventh, Sabathia showed his first signs of vulnerability. After walking Jose Lopez with one out in the inning, Sabathia fell behind 3-0 to Josh Wilson before battling back to induce a shallow fly ball to left. Sabathia’s command eluded him again in the eight inning when he walked leadoff batter Josh Bard on four fastballs. Before the start of the frame, Sabathia had the grounds crew fill in a hole near his landing spot on the mound, so perhaps poor footing contributed to his late game wildness. In any event, Sabathia eventually found himself facing Russell Branyan as the go ahead run with two outs and runners on first and second. Three more wayward fastballs (one of which was generously called a strike) again put Sabathia in a hole, so the big left decided to drop a slider over the plate. The pitch looked to nestle into the strike zone, but unfortunately Posada failed to catch it. The passed ball now put the tying run in scoring position and Branyan promptly made the Yankees pay for the mistake by lining a two run single to right. Branyan was thrown out attempting to advance to second on the throw, but the damage had been done.

After sleepwalking behind the dominant pitching of Sabathia, the offense was once again pressed into action, this time off Mariners’ closer David Aardsma. With one out, Mark Teixeira injected some life into the inning by lining a single to deep right center field, setting up another late inning opportunity for Arod. The first pitch was a 95mph fastball that Arod just missed, so when a second one leaked over the plate again, the Yankees’ third baseman was ready. Arod lined the pitch into the right field seats, and in the process reclaimed the Yankees two run lead, put Sabathia in line for his league leading 10th victory and added to his growing list of late inning home runs. Once maligned for not being able to get a big hit, it seems as if Arod has spent the better part of the last three-plus seasons coming through when the team has needed him most.

Building on a perfect June, Mariano Rivera came on to slam the door in the ninth by effortlessly retiring the side in order. The victory was an important one because it not only snapped the Yankees two game slide, but also eliminated the need for AJ Burnett to be a stopper in his start on Friday afternoon. Having said that, the win was also somewhat hollow. The meager performance by the Yankees’ offense in this series could be excused when Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez were on the mound, but failing to score more than two runs of Rowland-Smith is somewhat concerning. As discussed earlier, the Yankees have managed to win despite an underperforming offense, but it doesn’t seem likely that they can continue to rely on such a formula.

The Yankees three main weaknesses were on display in this game: Posada is now a poor defensive catcher, the team has one reliable reliever and the lineup hasn’t hit for a month. The last concern is probably the most pressing because so many members of the lineup have struggled since the start of June, and the bench has proven to be abysmal. Ironically, the very man who tied today’s game with an eighth single, Russell Branyan, was available on the market until being acquired by the Mariners on Monday. A lefty bat with power, Branyan would have been an ideal player to come off the Yankees bench and serve as a DH when Posada and Arod are both playing field. The Mariners beat the Yankees to the punch on Branyan, but there is still a month before the trade deadline passes. Hopefully, Brian Cashman is not fooled by the Yankees’ record and is able to add another piece or two to help out during the stretch drive.

C.C. Sabathia’s Pitch Breakdown

  Avg. Speed Max Speed Count Strikes Percentage
Changeup 85.6 87.3 22 12 54.5%
Curve 79.6 82 3 0 0.0%
Sinker 92.9 92.9 1 1 100.0%
Slider 80.6 83.6 23 13 56.5%
Four Seam Fastball 93.5 95.6 68 45 66.2%

 

Inning Pitches Strikes Percentage
1 7 5 71.4%
2 16 11 68.8%
3 12 8 66.7%
4 14 9 64.3%
5 16 9 56.3%
6 10 8 80.0%
7 21 11 52.4%
8 21 10 47.6%
Total 117 71 60.7%
  • With an infield single in the first inning, Derek Jeter passed Charlie Gehringer for sole possession of 43rd place on the all-time list with 2,840.
  • Robinson Cano’s fourth inning home run was his 10th against southpaws, the most by any left handed hitter in the majors.
  • C.C. Sabathia recorded his 10th win before the All Star Break for only the second time in his career, the other being 2007 when he went 12-3.

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The Yankees look to avoid a rare home sweep and couldn’t ask for a better matchup in which to do it.

As the temperatures have warmed, so too has C.C. Sabathia. In June, Sabathia won all five starts while posting an ERA of 2.19. The Yankees hope July starts off in a similar vein.

For three days, I have been suggesting that the weak Mariners’ offense should prove to be fodder for the Yankees’ starters, but that notion has been proven wrong over the last two games. Perhaps the pressure of facing top-notch aces like Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez contributed to the Yankees yielding seven runs per game to a team averaging half as much? If so, Sabathia will not have that excuse today against Ryan Rowland Smith, who enters the game with a 1-7 record and 6.18 ERA. However, the Mariners’ starting lineup has had success against Sabathia. In particular, Ichiro and Chone Figgins have posted an OPS 1.128 and 1.046, respectively, against the big lefty. One key for Sabathia will be keeping both speedsters off the bases, especially with Jorge Posada (who has caught only 19% of attempted base stealers) behind the plate.

Brett Gardner returns to the lineup to help ensure the Yankees take advantage of this afternoon’s favorable matchup. Also inserted into the lineup for the first time in the series is Ramiro Pena, who will play 3B and allow Arod to shift to DH. The Yankees are coming out of a month that saw their offensive production decline precipitously, so Rowland-Smith may be just the thing to get the bats back on track in July. Should the lineup fall silent again, however, it could serve as a negative harbinger as the season transitions to the dog days of summer.

vs. Ryan Rowland-Smith PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 6 0.200 0.333 0.200 0 1
Nick Swisher RF 5 0.000 0.200 0.000 0 0
Mark Teixeira 1B 12 0.182 0.250 0.455 1 2
Alex Rodriguez DH 3 0.000 0.333 0.000 0 0
Robinson Cano 2B 9 0.222 0.222 0.333 0 2
Jorge Posada C 3 0.333 0.333 0.667 0 0
Curtis Granderson CF 5 0.333 0.600 0.333 0 0
Brett Gardner LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Ramiro Pena 3B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 43 0.189 0.302 0.324 1 5
             
vs. C.C. Sabathia PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Ichiro Suzuki RF 50 0.396 0.420 0.708 3 6
Chone Figgins 2B 20 0.313 0.421 0.625 1 1
Russell Branyan 1B 7 0.000 0.143 0.000 0 0
Milton Bradley DH 12 0.364 0.417 0.455 0 1
Jose Lopez 3B 17 0.125 0.176 0.125 0 2
Jack Wilson SS 18 0.133 0.278 0.133 0 0
Ryan Langerhans LF 4 0.667 0.750 1.000 0 0
Josh Bard C 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Michael  Saunders CF 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 132 0.286 0.341 0.471 4 10

 

Yankees vs. Mariners    
Season: 2010 Season: 2009 Season: 2008 All-Time
SEA: 2-0 NYY: 6-4 NYY:7-2 NYY:197-159
  • Franklin Gutierrez was originally in the starting lineup, but was scratched with flu-like symptoms.
  • With a base hit, Derek Jeter will pass Charlie Gehringer for sole possession of 43rd place on the all-time hit list.
  • Chone Figgins has stolen a base in seven consecutive games, and has nine over that span. Figgins streak is the longest since Carl Crawford stole a base in nine consecutive games at the start of last season. Since 1920, the longest consecutive SB streak belongs to Bert Campaneris, who swiped a base in 12 straight games in June 1969.
  • Only Mike Sweeney (21) and Torii Hunter (20) have had more hits off Sabathia than Ichiro (19).
  • Derek Jeter has not had an RBI in 14 consecutive games, the longest such drought of his career.
  • Courtesy of Elias by way of the LoHud Yankees Blog, the Yankees have not had a losing July since 1992, a 17 year span that marks the longest consecutive string of being over .500 in the month.

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Despite finishing the month with a respectable 16-10 record and turning a two game deficit in the loss column into a two game lead, June was a time of contradictions for the Yankees.

On the surface, the Yankees appear as if they had a strong start to their summer campaign, but a closer look at the schedule reveals some disappointment. Of the 26 games played in the month, 14 were against last place teams (Arizona, Baltimore, Houston and Seattle) whose combined record exiting June was 119-193. Against those teams, the Yankees went 10-4, meaning they were only .500 against better competition. What’s more, their +12 run differential for the month suggests a more modest 14-12 record in June. Considering the relative softness of the schedule, the Yankees ultimate performance in the month can be seen as an underachievement.

AL East Snapshot: June

  W L W-L% RS RA pythW-L%
Red Sox 18 9 0.667 166 117 0.655
Yankees 16 10 0.615 124 112 0.546
Rays 11 14 0.440 124 118 0.523
Blue Jays 9 17 0.346 80 122 0.316
Orioles 9 17 0.346 98 157 0.297

The biggest reason for the Yankees’ disappointing June was a stark decline in offensive production. After leading the major leagues with a whopping 5.9 runs per game in May, the Yankees lineup suffered deep declines in both OBP and SLG during June. The loss of production translated into a drop of over one run per game, putting the team’s offense on par with the likes of the Astros for the month and just a tick above the American League average in OBP, SLG and R/G.

Yankees’ Monthly Offensive Production

  G HR OBP SLG R/G
April 22 27 0.362 0.454 5.4
May 29 30 0.371 0.451 5.9
June 26 29 0.333 0.401 4.8

Although a small part of the team’s June swoon with the bats can be attributed to having the pitcher bat during interleague play (Yankee hurlers tallied only two hits and two walks in 22 plate appearances), the decline in production was really the result of a more pervasive slump. With the exception of Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner, who have emerged as two of the Yankees most important offensive and defensive players, the rest of the lineup hovered around mediocrity. Of most concern is the lack of production from Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriquez, two players who suffered injuries during the month. Aside from the lack of power from both players, their respective OBPs of .337 and .308 are particularly disturbing. Even on base stalwart Nick Swisher has started to make outs at alarming rates, but the most disappointing player in that respect has been Curtis Granderson, whose OBP for the month was below .300.

Compounding the Yankees failure to reach base as often as they did early in the season has been a corresponding decline in power. With only five home runs, both Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson led the team for the month. In fact, only Cano and Gardner topped .500 in slugging percentage, making for a less than explosive attack.

The Yankees depth, or lack thereof, was also exposed in June. After starting the season with lofty offensive numbers, the clock struck midnight on Francisco Cervelli, whose youthful exuberance is suddenly not as appealing with an OPS just above .500. The likes of Kevin Russo, Ramiro Pena and Chad Huffman have also offered very little contribution from the bench. Unless Brian Cashman addresses this glaring weakness before the trade deadline, there is little reason to expect an improvement off the bench, aside from Marcus Thames’ return from the disabled list. Where have you gone Eric Hinske?

Yankees’ June Batting

Name PA HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG wRAA wOBA
Nick Swisher 119 4 13 19 0.240 0.319 0.423 -0.3 0.322
Derek Jeter 118 3 18 8 0.243 0.339 0.379 -0.5 0.32
Mark Teixeira 116 5 19 14 0.250 0.353 0.460 2.6 0.353
Robinson Cano 113 4 19 13 0.333 0.398 0.510 6.1 0.392
Curtis Granderson 101 5 13 15 0.239 0.297 0.457 -0.1 0.324
Jorge Posada 92 3 10 14 0.203 0.337 0.351 -1 0.311
Alex Rodriguez 91 4 12 13 0.244 0.308 0.463 0.7 0.335
Brett Gardner 72 1 13 7 0.383 0.472 0.533 7.5 0.455
Francisco Cervelli 70 0 4 6 0.180 0.275 0.246 -4.4 0.247
Kevin Russo 27 0 1 0 0.130 0.231 0.130 -2.8 0.196
Ramiro Pena 26 0 0 2 0.136 0.240 0.136 -2.6 0.204
Chad Huffman 17 0 0 2 0.200 0.294 0.200 -1.2 0.241
Marcus Thames 15 0 0 0 0.071 0.133 0.071 -2.6 0.107
Colin Curtis 10 0 0 4 0.333 0.400 0.556 0.7 0.414
Chad Moeller 6 0 2 0 0.200 0.333 0.400 0 0.329

While the offense has struggled, the Yankees pitching staff has helped compensate…except for AJ Burnett, of course. Excluding Burnett’s disastrous June, the Yankees pitching staff posted an ERA of 3.33, which would be good enough to lead the American League. Amazingly, Burnett gave up 27% of all earned runs yielded by the Yankees in June. Considering that the Yankees were pretty much saddled with five automatic losses in the month, maybe the team’s record really wasn’t so bad after all? Unfortunately, Burnett has not yet proven that his June disaster was only a one month event, so such an optimistic interpretation may only be wishful thinking.

Yankees’ Monthly Pitching Performance

  ERA WHIP K/9 HR/9
April 3.55 1.22 6.96 0.76
May 4.25 1.33 7.16 1.24
June 4.11 1.27 8.04 1.1

While Burnett’s struggles have been well chronicled, Phil Hughes’ also regressed a bit in June. Even setting aside his last outing, which may have been impacted by extended rest, Hughes saw his ERA in the month climb to just a shade below 4.00. Although not exactly cause for alarm (especially because he went 4-0 during that span), the Yankees will need Hughes to maintain his early season form throughout the summer months. Otherwise, the only real cause for concern during the month stemmed from the continued inconsistency of the bullpen, and in particular the erratic outings of Joba Chamberlain. Unless Girardi can figure out how best to align his corps of relievers, Cashman may also have to dip into the trade market to supplement that group.

Yankees’ June Pitching

Name W L ERA IP K/9 WHIP BABIP ERA FIP
Javier Vazquez 3 2 3.23 39 8.08 0.97 0.21 3.23 4.42
CC Sabathia 5 0 2.19 37 8.51 1.00 0.25 2.19 3.08
Andy Pettitte 2 1 3.18 34 8.74 1.18 0.28 3.18 3.79
Phil Hughes 4 1 5.17 31.1 6.89 1.44 0.34 5.17 4.03
A.J. Burnett 0 5 11.35 23 7.43 2.26 0.36 11.35 9.18
Mariano Rivera 2 0 0.00 13 11.08 0.46 0.16 0.00 1.37
Chad Gaudin 0 1 4.97 12.2 4.97 1.50 0.26 4.97 5.98
Chan Ho Park 0 0 5.40 11.2 8.49 1.29 0.31 5.40 3.40
Joba Chamberlain 0 0 4.22 10.2 8.44 1.50 0.37 4.22 2.39
David Robertson 0 0 1.00 9 9 1.33 0.33 1.00 2.47
Boone Logan 0 0 2.35 7.2 8.22 1.57 0.32 2.35 3.27
Damaso Marte 0 0 6.75 5.1 5.06 1.31 0.08 6.75 7.26
Sergio Mitre 0 0 0.00 2 9 1.00 0.22 0.00 2.64

Analyzing the Yankees can be difficult because the standards against which they are judged are lofty. Although it might sound absurd to suggest that a 16-10 month was a disappointment, for a team with 100-win expectations, such a statement is not far from reality. As the half way mark in the season fast approaches, the 2010 Yankees have still not established a true identity. At times they have been an offensive juggernaut and at others they have been a pitching powerhouse. Rarely have they been able to put both phases together, however, giving the team the appearance of struggling despite posting the league’s best record. It remains to be seen whether the Yankees can maintain their success with such inconsistency. One way or the other, we should find out in July.

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