Archive for August 17th, 2010

A few weeks back, the Yankees loss to the Indian’s Josh Tomlin prompted The Captain’s Blog (please excuse the obligatory reference in the “third blog”) to take a look at how the Yankees have fared (since 2000) against pitchers making their major league debut. That inspection revealed a level of futility that matched a general perception held by those who have followed the team closely over the last 10 years.

Another frequent lament of Yankees’ fans is the team also underperforms against pitchers it is facing for the first time. As evidence of this undeniable truth, the Yankees current two game losing streak was suffered at the hands of the Royals’ Bryan Bullington and the Tiger’s Max Scherzer, both of whom were facing the Bronx Bombers for the first time.

A look inside the Yankees’ 2010 performance once again reveals that this common perception is dead on the money. In 10 games against pitchers making their first start against the team, the Yankees are an abysmal 3-7 (see chart below). Those pitchers have not only beaten the Yankees, but pretty much dominated by pitching to an ERA of 3.17 with an average Game Score of 57.1, including five outings above 60.

So, it seems as if another myth has been proven true. But wait. How far back does this trend go? In the analysis of the Yankees record against rookies making their debut, the period of struggles extended back until at least 2000. Unfortunately, the small sample size (11 starts) rendered any conclusion far from meaningful, and that included one more game than this year’s performance against pitchers facing the Yankees for the first time. Clearly, a deeper look is required.

Going back to 2000, 233 pitchers have faced the Yankees for the first time in their careers, finally providing a sample meaningful enough to settle the issue once and for all. And, sure enough, this more in-depth look also paints a picture of futility, but this time not on the part of the Yankees. Instead, it is the first timers who take a beating. Beginning with Scott Schoeneweis’ debut on April 5, 2000 and ending with Scherzer’s victory last night, pitchers taking the mound against the Yankees for the first time have compiled a ghastly 90-143 (.399 winning percentage) record with a 5.40 ERA and average Game Score of 44.7. Now, that’s more like it. Myth debunked.

Record of Pitchers Facing the Yankees for the First Time*

2010 7 3 56 2/3 39 20 20 16 37 4 3.18 57.1
2008-2010 30 38 364 1/3 371 198 185 148 226 44 4.57 47.8
2000-2010 93 140 1238 2/3 1386 797 744 560 824 194 5.41 44.7

*Based on first appearance against the Yankees within the first 50 starts of a pitcher’s career. Pitchers facing the Yankees for the first time after 50 career starts were not included in this analysis.
Source: Baseball-reference.com 

Undoubtedly, Yankees fans are probably scratching their heads over such numbers. After all, just about every pinstripe loyalist would swear  they can’t be right. Then again, maybe the struggles in “first time” games are a more recent phenomenon, perhaps confined to the Joe Girardi era? Again, no such luck. Since 2008, pitchers facing the Yankees for the first time are 30-38 (23-35 excluding 2010) with an ERA of 4.57 and an average Game Score of 47.8.

Sometimes, the negatives overshadow the positives, and the shocking leave a more lasting impression than the expected. So seems to be the case with regard to the Yankees’ performance against pitchers staring down the barrel of the Bronx Bombers for the first time. Hopefully, Yankees’ fans can now rest a little easier the next time the team faces a new name.

Best and Worst Games By Pitchers Facing the Yankees for the First Time  

Pitcher Date Team GSc
Billy Traber 7/8/2003 CLE 90
Jon Lester 7/3/2008 BOS 83
Bryan Bullington 8/15/2010 KCR 82
Blake Stein 8/2/2000 KCR 73
Max Schrzer 8/16/2010 DET 72
Pitcher Date Team GSc
Mark Mulder 8/10/2000 OAK -4
Doug Davis 8/15/2000 TEX 9
Nick Bierbrodt 8/8/2001 TBD 9
Mark Hendrickson 4/2/2003 TOR 9
Alay Soler 7/2/2006 NYM 9

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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During last night’s broadcast, John Flaherty, Paul O’Neill and Michael Kay revisited the often debated question of who has been the Yankees most valuable player during their recent extended run of success: Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera?  This topic has often been broached on YES broadcasts, including most recently during Jeter’s pursuit of the all-time team hit record, but last night’s mention inspired Joe Posnanski to delve into the issue head long.

Posnanski’s perspective is a worthy one because he not only isn’t a Yankee fan or close follower of the team (in fact, he admittedly dislikes the Bronx Bombers), but also has an eclectic circle of contacts from which to draw reference. So, not surprisingly, he sums up the debate as being one without a correct position, or has he evocatively put it, “a debate of head versus heart or Ginger versus Mary Ann”.

Within that framework, there are many reasonable arguments supporting either candidate. There is no “case closed”. Having said that, Posnanski’s line of reasoning seems to imply that the case for Mariano can only be made from the heart, and that really isn’t true either.

For starters, Posnanski credits Rivera with only 35.8 wins above replacement to Jeter’s 70.6, but according to Baseball-Reference.com, the gap currently sits at 52.3 to 70.3, respectively. So, off the bat, Jeter’s statistical advantage has been narrowed.

Of course, comparing Jeter to Rivera directly ignores the relative value of each player to the other leading candidates at their respective positions. Although both men lead their positions in WAR since 1996, Rivera’s 150% premium over the average total of the remaining members of the top-10 trumps Jeter’s 97% advantage. What’s more, it should also be pointed out had Alex Rodriguez not moved to 3B when he joined the Yankees, he, and not Jeter, would be the clear cut leader at the position.

WAR Leaders by Respective Position, 1996 to Present

Shortstops WAR* . Relievers WAR*
Derek Jeter 70.3   Mariano Rivera 52.3
Alex Rodriguez 61.7   Billy Wagner 28.8
Nomar Garciaparra 41.5   Trevor Hoffman 25.9
Miguel Tejada 40.6   Joe Nathan 22.1
Omar Vizquel 32.1   Francisco Rodriguez 20.4
Rafael Furcal 31.9   Keith Foulke 20.2
Edgar Renteria 31.5   Francisco Cordero 19
Jimmy Rollins 29.8   Tom Gordon 18.6
Hanley Ramirez 27.5   Armando Benitez 17.7
Barry Larkin 24.9   Jonathan Papelbon 15.8
Average of Rank 2-10 35.7   Average of Rank 2-10 20.9
Jeter’s Premium 97%   Rivera’s Premium 150%

*WAR for shortstops derived by summing individual seasons in which position was played at least 80% of the time. WAR for relievers determined by taking pitchers who served as a reliever in at least 80% of games during defined period.
Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Now that statistical picture has been muddied a little, it’s time to introduce another variable left out of Posnanski’s equation…the post season. Unfortunately, WAR is not a statistic that is calculated for the post season (at least not to my knowledge), so comparing a pitcher and a hitter becomes tricky. Still, it is worth a shot.

Post Season Statistics, 2005 to Present

Mariano Rivera 88 133.1 8 1 0.74 39 82 11 0.773
Derek Jeter 138 637 99 175 20 55 0.313 0.383 0.479

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

The first thing that jumps out about Mariano Rivera’s post season record is that come October he pretty much transforms into an everyday player. In fact, Rivera’s 501 batters faced aren’t that far off from Jeter’s 637 plate appearances, at least not in terms of a reliever/position player comparison. Relative playing time aside, Rivera’s post season statistics absolutely jump off the page. His ERA of 0.74 and WHIP of 0.773 speak for themselves, but the most astounding figure is his 80% out conversion rate (400 outs in 501 batters faced). Meanwhile, Jeter’s OPS of .863 is certainly impressive, but far from the jaw dropping level of performance put forth by Rivera. Does this difference overcome the regular season WAR advantage enjoyed by Jeter? Who knows, but you’d have to think it narrows the gap at least somewhat.

As great as Jeter has been, the case for Mariano Rivera being the most valuable Yankee over the recent dynastic period seems stronger. That’s not to say that Jeter isn’t in the running, but unlike Posnanski, I would suggest his argument is bolstered less by the brain and more by the heart. Regardless of what side one chooses, however, what is abundantly clear is the New York Yankees have been incredibly lucky to have both.

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Despite a very hard slide by Brett Gardner, Carlos Guillen is somehow able to make return throw to first place on Derek Jeter’s game ending double play (Photo: Getty Images).

For the second straight day, it looked as if the starting pitching was going to be the cause of another sleepless night for Yankees’ fans, but once again the team’s slumbering hitters turned out to be the real cause of what has become a reoccurring August nightmare.

About the only chance the crowd had to cheer all night occurred in the first inning when Johnny Damon strolled to the plate at Yankee Stadium for the first time since game six of the World Series. The over 46,000 fans in attendance gave Damon a warm ovation, which prompted the former Yankee to doff his helmet in appreciation. Then, he proceeded to have a 10-pitch at bat before lining softly back to the mound. It was typical Damon as well as an ominous sign of what was to come for Javier Vazquez.

After his last start in Texas, and during the week leading up to this one, Vazquez had expressed concern about his diminished velocity. Yesterday, you could see that concern with just about every pitch. Although only a tick off from the 88.8mph that he has averaged all season, Vazquez seemed unwilling to throw his fastball anywhere but on the edge of the plate, leading to lots of long counts and foul balls. Following a lengthy first inning, thanks in large part to Damon’s pesky at bat, Vazquez allowed a two run home run to Ryan Raburn that seemed to scare him further out of the strike zone. In the inning, Vazquez loaded the bases on two walks and a single before pitching of the jam without further damage, but in the process expended 34 pitches. Already on pace for a short evening, two more maximum effort innings in the third and fourth sent Vazquez to an early shower with 106 pitches thrown, a new Yankee record for outings of four innings or less.

Most Pitches Thrown by a Yankees Starter in Four Innings or Less, Since 1920

Player Date Opp Result IP H ER BB SO Pitches
Javier Vazquez 8/16/2010 DET L 1-3 4 5 2 4 6 106
Richard Dotson 5/24/1989 CAL L 4-11 4 8 5 3 1 105
Jimmy Key 7/2/1994 SEA L 6-12 4 10 6 3 2 105
Sterling Hitchcock 8/20/1995 CAL L 5-10 4 8 8 4 4 104
Tim Leary 5/1/1991 OAK L 4-7 3.2 6 3 7 5 104
Randy Keisler 4/17/2001 TOR L 5-6 4 5 4 7 6 104
David Cone 7/23/1999 CLE W 9-8 4 6 2 4 7 104

 Source: Baseball-reference.com

Despite struggling on just about every pitch, Vazquez was able to keep the Yankees in the game. Matt Scherzer would have none of that though. For six innings, the Tigers’ hard throwing righty dominated the Yankees, surrendering only two walks and two singles to a lineup that slowly became depleted as the night wore on. After a fourth inning fly out, Alex Rodriguez left the game with tightness in his calf, and then in the bottom of the sixth, Nick Swisher’s balky right forearm forced him to depart for Austin Kearns.

Although whittled down, the lineup was able to mount a threat against the Tigers’ bullpen, but each time was turned away. In the seventh, a two out double by Curtis Granderson sent Jorge Posada to third and put the tying runs in scoring position, but Francisco Cervelli was next up, so the rally was basically over before it started. Instead of hitting for the anemic Cervelli, or at least trying a two-out bunt attempt, Girardi once again let Cervelli make a huge out in the ballgame, something he has become very proficient at doing (Cervelli’s WPA of -1.421 is the 22nd worst total in the league).

In the eighth inning, a two out single by Kearns and a walk to Mark Teixeira set the stage for another big hit from Marcus Thames, who was the Yankees last option on the bench. Thames put on a good at bat, but wound up rolling over on a 3-2 fastball that turned the Yankees aside once again.

When Miguel Cabrera took Joba Chamberlain over the wall in the top of the ninth, it seemed to be just salt in the wound, but the wildness of Tigers’ closer Jose Valverde proved otherwise. Pitching with a 3-0 lead to start the bottom half of the inning, Valverde promptly walked Cano on four pitches. Jorge Posada then inexplicably swung at the next two pitches and wound up hitting into a fielder’s choice. Curtis Granderson rekindled the Yankees’ hopes by singling to right and Valverde took it from there. The animated righty walked Cervelli and Gardner to plate the Yankees first run, and then fell behind Jeter 2-0. After finally throwing a strike, Jeter made a crucial mistake by offering at a borderline pitch, which considering Valverde’s bout of wildness had a great chance to be called a ball. The count eventually advanced to 3-2, but the rally went no further as the Yankee captain promptly grounded out weakly into his 17th double play of the year, despite an incredibly hard slide by Gardner in an attempt to break up the turn.

Justin Verlander goes tonight, so runs should be hard to come by once again. The Yankees will need C.C. Sabathia to continue to be their ace, but all around him things seem to be folding like a house of cards.

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