Was the pine tar helping Michael Pineda pitch better?

After a rough first inning in Wednesday night’s game against the Red Sox, Michael Pineda apparently decided he needed a little sumthin’-sumthin’ to aid his performance. The following inning, Pineda emerged from the dugout with a smattering of pine tar on his neck, and not long after, was tossed when umpire Gerry Davis discovered the pine tar. Continue reading

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Ichiro appears to be embracing the fourth outfielder role

After posting a career-worst 71 wRC+ and only 1.1 fWAR in 2013, it was evident that Ichiro no longer deserved to be a starting outfielder (this was really known sooner). Reacting accordingly, the Yankees brought in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran to compliment Alfonso Soriano and Brett Gardner in the outfield, thereby relegating Ichiro to the bench when Beltran or Soriano DH. It must be hard for a 10-time all-star, MVP, and future Hall-of-Famer to accept such a role, but it seems Ichiro has embraced it. He’s made no complaints about his playing time, and has performed well in his opportunities at the plate and in the field. Continue reading

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Brett Gardner’s disappearing walks

Back in 2010, nearly 14% of Brett Gardner‘s plate appearances ended in a walk, significantly more than the MLB average of 8.7%. Gardner’s walk rate was among the highest in baseball, ranking 10th out of 151 players with at least 500 plate appearances. 

Most players with high walk rates are power hitters who rarely get anything good to hit, but Gardner earned his free passes by simply not swinging. In 2010, he swung just 31% of the time — lower than any player in baseball. Opposing pitchers have always pounded the strike zone against Gardner, but he let most of those strikes go by, essentially hoping that he’d see four balls before he saw three strikes.

That’s not Gardner’s game anymore. Last season, Gardner swung at a career-high 40% of the pitches he saw, which caused his walk rate to plummet to an uncharacteristically league-average 8.5%. This year’s brought more of the same. So far, he’s swung at 40% of the pitches thrown to him and walked just 5.5% of the time.
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How predictive can April hitting stats be?

Every year, there are a few players who come out of the woodwork to tear the cover off of the ball for the first few weeks of the season. Most end up being nothing more than a flash in the pan, like Chris Shelton who belted 10 homers back in April of 2006, but some actually maintain their April successes: Edwin Encarnacion broke out in April of 2012 and hasn’t stopped hitting homers since. Alternatively, there are also those players who get off to uncharacteristically poor starts. Adam Dunn (2011), Derek Jeter (2004), David Ortiz (2008), and Albert Pujols (2012) have all had seasons like this in the last decade. Jeter and Ortiz returned to form without missing a beat, but Dunn and Pujols have never quite been the same.

Early season stats stand out more so than any other months since, at the end of the month, “April stats” is synonymous with “season stats.” We’re less likely to notice when a player goes on a hot or cold spell in the middle of the season simply because we don’t see those numbers on the TV broadcast or that player’s Baseball-Reference page. Everyone knows that one month of data shouldn’t drastically change your outlook of a player. There’s just too much random noise in such a small amount of games. Things out of a batter’s control, like BABIP, can cause wild variations in small samples. But what about if we drill down into specific statistics? Should we take it seriously when a hitter seems to have changed something he has a decent amount of control over? Like how often he strikes out? Continue reading

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Ivan Nova’s injury: Did we miss the warning signs?

After he left Saturday night’s game with an elbow injury, the Yankees officially placed Ivan Nova on the disabled list yesterday with a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament. Nova’s likely to be out of action for at least a few months — possibly much longer if he needs to undergo the dreaded Tommy John Surgery. In any event, Nova’s injury is a devastating and unexpected blow for the Yankees.

Pitcher injuries are quite possibly the flukiest aspect of baseball: They happen frequently and often with little notice. But in Nova’s preceding starts, there were some signs that something may have been amiss. For one thing, he wasn’t throwing quite as hard as he was last season. Nova lost 1 MPH off of his four-seam fastball between this year and last, averaging 93.3 MPH this year, compared to 94.3 in 2013  and 94.2 last April. Continue reading

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Comping Dellin Betances’ fastball

Early on, one of 2014′s pleasant surprises has been reliever Dellin Betances, who’s followed up an impressive spring with five scoreless outings to start the season. Betances throws gas, which is why was thrice ranked as one of the game’s top 100 prospects by both  Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. Betances’ bread and butter is his mid-to-high-90′s four-seam fastball, which he’s thrown 56% of the time per Baseball Savant. The balance of Betances’ pitches have been knucke curves (39%), and cutters (4%).

Using PITCHf/x data for Betances’ 40 four-seam fastballs from this year, I pulled minimum and maximum ranges set by Betances so far in 2014 for velocity, vertical and horizontal movement, break angle, break length, and spin rate. From there, I compiled a list of pitchers with the highest percentage of their four-seam fastballs falling within these thresholds. This list includes all pitches thrown since 2008, when PITCHF/X first became available. Only pitchers who have thrown at least 200 fastballs are included. Continue reading

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How have the Yankees hitters performed against sliders?

Tonight the Yankees square off against the Chris Archer. With both Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Jeremy Hellickson on the shelf, Archer’s easily the Rays’ best starting pitcher on the Rays not named David Price. One notable characteristic of Archer is that he throws more sliders than the average bear, turning to the slide piece 33% of the time both this season and last. Of all pitchers who have thrown at least 200 pitches in 2014, only three have thrown the pitch with a higher frequency. Tomorrow, the Rays will give the ball to lefty Cesar Ramos, who’s also thrown a slider one third of the time this year.

Ted Williams once called the slider “the best pitch in baseball.” No doubt, a good slider can be unhittable at times and between Archer and Ramos, its probably safe to say the Yankees batters will receive a steady diet of them this weekend. Does this bode well for the Yankees hitters? Going back to 2008, here’s how Yankees hitters have fared in plate apearances in which they saw at least one slider:

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Playing with fire: David Phelps

At this juncture, it’s hard to complain about the Yankees’ bullpen. Despite Mariano Rivera‘s retirement and David Robertson‘s early stint on the disabled list, the previous concerns about the relievers have been quieted for now. As a whole, the bullpen has posted a 2.95 ERA and 3.83 FIP in just under 40 innings. There is some indication of luck with FIP being higher than ERA, but I think everyone would have signed up for this performance before opening day. One contributor gaining Joe Girardi‘s trust has been David Phelps, who has seemed to take over the “seventh-inning role” after Robertson was put on the shelf. Should Phelps be trusted? Continue reading

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Mike Ford is tearing up the Sally League — Who is he?

While perusing the Yankees’ early-season minor league stats, I came across Mike Ford, who’s hit .347/.421/.510 so far for the class-A Charleston, good for a 177 wRC+. With just 57 plate appearances, the sample size is obviously microscopic, but numbers like that are pretty hard to ignore. Although Ford’s performance is partially driven by his .405 BABIP, his strikeout and walk numbers  have been impressive both this season and last. So who the heck is this guy? Continue reading

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Why playing Kelly Johnson at first base is not ideal

Mark Teixeira‘s hamstring injury left the Yankees without a true first baseman on their roster, forcing them to get a little creative to fill the void. In Teix’s absence, Joe Girardi has mostly penciled in Kelly Johnson at first, save a couple of starts by the now DL’d Francisco Cervelli. Starting Johnson at first is not ideal, and that’s not because Johnson’s an inferior player. In fact, Johnson’s a fine player, but he’s not a fine first baseman. Continue reading

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