A statistical look at Kevin Long’s years as Yankees hitting coach

As of this writing, we don’t yet know who the Yankees hitting coach will be in 2015. What we do know, however, is that it won’t be Kevin Long, who the Yankees fired a couple of weeks ago. The 2015 season will mark the first time the Yankees will have a new hitting coach since way back in 2007, when Long took over for Don Mattingly prior to Joe Torre‘s last season as manager. Yeah, it’s been that long.

In his eight years as Yankee hitting coach, Long presided over some of the most dominant offenses in recent memory. The bombers scored the most runs in baseball three times (2007, 2009, and 2010) under Long’s watch, and only the Red Sox outscored them over that eight-year span. But it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine, as there were a few disappointing seasons mixed in as well. And unfortunately for Long, a couple of them took place in 2013 and 2014. The Yankees offense was among the worst in baseball each of the past two seasons, which was the biggest reason why the team missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 20 years.

On the aggregate though, Yankee hitters performed pretty darn well during Long’s tenure. Of course, Long’s had a solid cast of hitters to work with. Guys like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Hideki Matsui were great hitters before they had anything to do with Long, so it’s no surprise that these players continued to hit like All-Stars. Anything less would have been labeled a disappointment. But while most Yankee hitters were already good, many performed even better than expected under Long’s tutelage. From 2007-2014, 2,681 major league hitters with pre-season Marcel projections came to the plate at least 200 times in a season. On average, these players under-performed their projected wOBA’s by .011 points, but the 80 Yankee hitters fell short by just .005.

You can ignore the fact that both of these wOBA differentials are negative. This is simply a byproduct of the declining offensive environment across baseball. What matters here is that — relative to projection — the average Yankee hitter performed about .006 wOBA better than the average non-Yankee.

Rplot03

Whether or not Long had anything to do with this differential is up for debate. After all, .006 is a pretty small delta, even over eight years. Either way, Yankee hitters outperforming expectations is something that happened over Long’s tenure. Unfortunately, it stopped happening after the 2012 season.

wOBA

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But what was behind this drop-off? Let’s take a deeper dive into these players’ performances, keeping in mind that linking any of these trends directly to Long is probably a bit of a stretch. The recent Yankees’ failure to meet expectations was largely due to two factors: 1) higher than expected strikeouts and 2) lower than expected power output.

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Here’s a look at this data for members of the 2013 and 2014 Yankees.

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Let’s dig a little deeper. Fangraphs uses PITCHf/x data to track how often each player swings at pitches inside of the strike zone (Z-Swing%) and pitches outside of it (O-Swing%). These metrics aren’t typically subject to much random variation, so any observed changes would be more likely to be attributable to Long.

Long2

Not a heck of a lot going on here. Maybe a few Yankees got a little more aggressive on pitches outside of the zone in 2014, but nothing ground-breaking. And that certainly wasn’t the case in 2013, when many more Yankees hitters cut down on their out-of-zone hacks.

Longy2

So was it Kevin Long’s fault that Curtis Granderson‘s power evaporated in 2013? Or that Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran crapped the bed last year? We obviously can’t know for certain, but I’d say probably not — or at least not in any significant way.

All else being equal, these under performances imply that Long’s instructions hurt more than they helped. But in reality, so much else comes into play. A player’s health, his willingness to improve, and plain old luck all play a role in a player’s offensive trajectory, and have little to do with his hitting coach. For all we know, Long may have made Alfonso Soriano’s and Carlos Beltran’s wOBAs .005 points better, but this was outweighed by a confluence of other factors that made them ~.050 points worse.

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that several Yankee hitters fell short of expectations over the last couple of seasons. And as the hitting coach, it’s Long’s job to prevent that from happening by being a resource for hitting advice. So deserving or not, Long was the obvious scapegoat when an the Yankees hitters stopped hitting. Maybe he’ll have better luck with the Mets.

This article originally appeared on Pinstripe Alley.

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Yankees 2014 Roster Report Card: Martin Prado

Grade: B+

2014 Statistics: .282/.321/.412, 103 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR

2014 Statistics with Yankees: .316/.336/.541, 146 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR

2015 Contract Status: Under Contract

The ever versatile Martin Prado posted a solid .282/.333/.417 (104 wRC+) showing with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013, but saw his line dip to .270/.317/.370 in 106 games in Arizona last season. Prado’s across-the-board decline was largely due to his strikeout rate jumping from 8% to 13%, along with the vanishing of his previously modest power. In spite of these newly-formed warts, the Yankees brought Prado aboard at the trade deadline, hoping to upgrade a lineup that relied far too heavily on the likes of Brian Roberts, Ichiro Suzuki, and Zelous Wheeler.

Prado didn’t disappoint. The 30-year-old played mostly second base, but also spent time at third base and the corner outfield spots for the bombers. And despite only logging 37 games with the team, was worth over 1 WAR. Prado played sound defense all around the diamond, all while hitting at a .316/.336/.541 clip. Prado got off to something of a slow start, hitting just .163/.217/.256 in his first 13 games as Yankee, but then preceded to go on a tear. Despite dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, Prado was easily the best hitter on the team — and possibly all of baseball — from mid-August to mid-September, before a bout of appendicitis ended his season on September 15th.

Prado was great for the Yankees down the stretch, but his performance actually looks a little concerning when analyzed with a finer-tooth comb. His 146 wRC+ was fueled by his power output (.226 ISO) and luck on balls in play (.340 BABIP). Both of these things tend to be flukey in small samples, and were uncharacteristically high for Prado. Meanwhile, Prado’s plate discipline seemed to take a turn for the worst upon arriving in the Big Apple. He swung at way more pitches out of the zone than ever before, which lead to disappointing strikeout (17% K%) and walk (2% BB%) numbers. This approach seemed to work for Prado over this small sample, but it’ll be something to keep an eye on going forward.

Prado’s under contract for the next two seasons, and will surely be an integral part of the Yankees lineup in 2015, but it’s not clear what position he’ll play. That’ll likely depend on how the Yankees address their third base situation this offseason, and also on the development of second base prospect Robert Refsnyder. However things shake out defensively, Prado should be good for about a league-average offensive season. His full-season 2014 stat line of .282/.321/.412 (including his games with Arizona and New York) is probably a decent predictor.

This article originally appeared on Pinstripe Alley.

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Yankees 2014 Roster Report Card: Ivan Nova

Grade: F

2014 MLB Statistics: 4 GS, 20.2 IP, 8.27 ERA, 6.91 FIP, 13% K%, 6% BB%, -0.4 fWAR

2015 Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible

Things were looking up for Ivan Nova heading into the year. The 27-year-old was coming off of a breakout campaign in 2013, where he posted a very respectable 3.10 ERA across 139.1 innings around two triceps injuries and a brief demotion to triple-A Scranton. This was a significant improvement over his disappointing 2012 campaign, where he pitched to a disappointing 5.02 ERA and 4.60 FIP. Nova’s overall numbers were pretty solid in 2013, but he was nothing short of dominant in the time between his two triceps injuries, reeling off 11 starts of 2.28 ERA ball, while posting a 3.15 FIP.

Unfortunately, Nova’s 2014 campaign was a complete disaster. Not only did his season come to an end in April following a torn elbow ligament and Tommy John Surgery, but he pitched dreadfully in the four starts he did make. Nova never seemed quite right from the get-go. In addition to his putrid 6.91 FIP, his release point was about inches lower than it was at the end of 2013, which may or may not have had something to do with his poor performance and/or injury. In any event, Nova’s injury marked the first blow of many to the Yankees starting rotation in 2014.

Brooksbaseball-Chart

Recovering from Tommy John Surgery usually takes around 13 months, so it’s unlikely that Nova will be healthy in time to break camp with the Yankees in 2015. But barring any setbacks, he should be ready to don the pinstripes again sometime in the first half of the season. But how he’ll perform is anyone’s guess. Not only will he be coming off of major surgery, but he also has a history of being unpredictable. His ERA’s from the last four years read like a heart monitor: 3.70, 5.02, 3.10, 8.27. Even so, there’s reason to be hopeful about Nova’s prospects in 2015. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball for a stretch of 2013 — possibly the last time he was fully healthy — and hopefully he’s able to re-capture some of success once his elbow heals up.

This article originally appeared on Pinstripe Alley.

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Yankees 2014 Roster Report Card: Hiroki Kuroda

Grade: B+

2014 MLB Statistics: 32 GS, 199 IP, 3.71 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 18% K%, 4% BB%, 3.5 fWAR

2015 Contract Status: Free Agent

Hiroki Kuroda entered the year as a 39-year-old who ended his age 38 season on a very sour note. Over his last eight starts of 2013, he went 0-6 with a pitiful 6.56 ERA. On the surface, it seemed like the antique righty wore down over the course of the long season; but, his peripheral stats suggested his slump was mostly due to bad luck. Even so, any sort of downturn from a pitcher in his late 30’s is cause for worry.

Despite these concerns, Kuroda managed to defy age for yet another year, and was easily the most reliable member of the Yankees rotation. Kuroda’s 32 starts were by far the most on the Yankees, where no other pitcher even broke 20. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the veteran righty. Although he put up a rock-solid 3.71 ERA on the year, Kuroda actually got off to something of a rocky start to the season. He had some trouble keeping the ball in the park early on, allowing nine dingers in his first 10 starts, which contributed to a 5.28 ERA and 4.30 FIP in the month of April. But rather than falling off of a cliff like he did in 2013, Kuroda got progressively better as the season wore on. His monthly ERA’s were 5.28, 4.00, 3.52, 3.38, 3.45, and 2.81, and that last number may actually understate his September, when he posted a dominant 34:0 K:BB ratio in 32 innings.

Overall, Kuroda was everything the Yankees could have asked for in 2014. There aren’t very many 39-year-olds who hold up for 200 innings, and even fewer who do it while maintaining a sub-4 ERA. Yet despite all of his success, this very well may be the end of the road for Kuroda, who’s toyed with retirement after each of the last few seasons. He’ll be 40 in February, and while he’s managed to defy age these past few years, you have to figure he doesn’t have too many bullets left in his arm — even following his impressive late-season performance. Even so, some team would certainly find a spot for him if he does decide to pitch next year, and I wouldn’t mind at all if that team were the Yankees. He’s been a joy to watch these past three seasons.

This article originally appeared on Pinstripe Alley.

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Are the Yankees eyeing Ian Desmond?

The Yankees need a shortstop for the 2015 season. Long-term or stopgap, the solution will likely be from an external source. The one candidate under contract, Brendan Ryan, is unlikely be tabbed as Derek Jeter‘s replacement. Fortunately for the Yankees, it had appeared this winter’s free agent crop would be lush with capable shortstops. However, after the Orioles locked up J.J. Hardy to a three-year extension, arguably the best target, things look a bit bleaker in free agency.

Sure, there’s the very talented Hanley Ramirez, but is he really a shortstop? I suppose the Yankees could tolerate his defense at the position given the fact that the organization managed with Jeter’s below average glovework, but there’s also the question of Ramirez’ health. After Hanley, the talent drops off precipitously: there’s Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, and Stephen Drew. Furthermore, there’s always the trade route, where perhaps the Yankees could pry, for instance, Starlin Castro from the Cubs. I’m not sure they have the pieces for such a deal, but he might be available. If we want to focus on long-term options, like Ramirez or Castro would be, perhaps the Yankees would actually be better off eyeing next year’s free agent crop, featuring the Nationals’ Ian Desmond. Continue reading

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Factoring playoff performance into the greatest Yankees of all-time list

About a week ago, in an attempt to find where Derek Jeter fits into the Yankees’ hierarchy of excellent players, I came up with a scoring system to rank the franchise’s best players in its history. My metric weighed total WAR and three different measures of peak WAR — only as a member of the Yankees — to generate a total score one can find here. My model is similar to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, as I briefly discuss in the first version.

One of the qualms I had with my own work was that it only utilized regular season results, as replacement level statistics do not exist for the postseason. There is certainly some place for playoff performance in this ranking, but I had to figure out how to do so. I chose to incorporate Win Probability Added, WPA for short. In my mind, context is vital in the postseason, and WPA accounts for the leverage/pressure of any player’s performance. I wanted to credit those who rose to the occasion, and debit those who didn’t. However, there are a couple of reasons using WPA isn’t particularly fair, which is why I ignored it for the regular season: (1) players cannot control the base-out situations they hit or pitch in and (2) every player will have a different basis of base-out states they perform in. But as I mentioned, delivering or failing in key postseason situations is where a player derives the majority of the postseason value. Thus, even though using WPA to compare players can be unbalanced, I decided to use it here with only a weight of 4%. The other four weights were reduced equally (96% of the first version weights).

Enough words, I’ll explain the updated weights after the updated ranking (it’s scrollable):

Continue reading

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Yankees 2014 Roster Report Card: Stephen Drew

Grade: F

2014 Statistics: .150/.219/.271, 3 HR, 32 wRC+, -1.3 fWAR

2015 Contract Status: Free Agent

This time last year, Stephen Drew was coming off of a solid .253/.333/443 season with the Red Sox, which coupled with his strong defense at shortstop, made him roughly a 3 win player. All in all, Drew looked like an above-average shortstop who was about to sign a semi-lucrative, multi-year contract. That never came to be, however, as the market for Drew’s services completely dried up after the Red Sox extended him a qualifying offer, which he declined. Any team wishing to sign Drew would have needed to cough up their top unprotected draft pick to the Red Sox, which was enough to scare many teams away. Drew received some interest from a few teams — including the Yankees — last winter, but he ultimately opted to sit out the start of the year, hoping that a market would eventually develop for his services.

After originally deciding to role with rookie Xander Boegaerts as their shortstop, the Red Sox had a change of heart in late May, and resigned Drew to infuse some life into their struggling lineup. Drew didn’t hit a lick in Boston, managing to hit just .176/.255/.328 in 39 games, and was dealt to the Yankees for the equally-useless Kelly Johnson at the July 31st deadline. Drew immediately replaced Brian Roberts at second base, and at the time, it seemed like he had a shot at being the future at shortstop for the Yankees. Although he’d struggled at the plate in 2013, he had a decent offensive track record and was still a solid defender at short.

Unfortunately, Drew never did turn things around, and actually hit even worse upon arriving in New York. He followed up his 57 wRC+ in Boston with a 32 clip in 46 games with the Bombers, and ended the year with a disgraceful -1.1 fWAR. Bad luck certainly played a role, as Drew’s .175 BABIP with the Yankees was markedly lower than he (or nearly anyone else, really) has posted in the past.

But unlucky or not, Drew almost certainly played himself out of a starting gig in 2015. He’ll latch on somewhere, but probably won’t be returning to the Yankees, who already have Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela under contract as viable utility infielders. A rebound’s certainly not out of the question for Drew, but it’s also easy to envision his dismal 2014 campaign being the beginning of the end.

This article originally appeared on Pinstripe Alley.

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Finding comps for Brandon Finnegan using PITCHf/x

Twenty-one year old Brandon Finnegan put his name on the map in Tuesday night’s epic wildcard game, when he tossed scoreless 10th and 11th innings before leading off the 12th with a walk to Josh Reddick, who would eventually come around to score against Jason Frasor. Drafted by the Royals with this year’s 17th overall pick, Finnegan made quick work of the minor leagues, making his big league debut on September 6th at Yankee Stadium, just 81 days — and 27 minor league innings — removed from his last appearance with TCU in this year’s College World Series. Continue reading

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Tale of the tape: Rivera’s 1996 vs. Betances’ 2014

A couple weeks ago, Dellin Betances struck out Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier to break the Yankees’ single-season strikeout record for a relief pitcher. Mariano Rivera was the previous record holder, punching out 130 batters in 1996 as the bridge to John Wetteland. Betances was one of the few bright spots for this season’s team, and his performance has drawn nostalgia for Rivera’s emergence as a relief ace nearly twenty years ago. Obviously, we can’t compare the two pitchers’ campaigns on results-based statistics like strikeouts for a few reasons, namely because it would ignore the difference in era played. Using rate and environment adjusted stats, we can get an idea of how the two seasons compare.

Dellin has Mariano beat in ERA and FIP, before accounting for league and park adjustments. However, the differences are close enough that I thought ERA- and FIP- (both via Fangraphs) might tilt the scale back into Rivera’s favor. This was only the case for FIP-, albeit by a mere 3%. Incredibly, Rivera allowed just one home run in 107.2 innings in a time when power was up. Home runs allowed are a key component of FIP, and not allowing home runs in a year such as 1996 will go a long way in a league adjusted stat like FIP-. ERA- is another story, in which Betances has a 7% advantage. Not even the hitter-friendy ’96 could make up for the pitcher-friendly ’14 in this case, although Betances’ ERA advantage (0.69) is a bit larger than his FIP advantage (0.24).

In terms of strikeouts, Betances is not only king in total, but also far ahead in punchouts per batter faced. Dellin has fanned 39.6% of opponents, outshining Rivera’s mark of 30.6%. It took Betances 327 batters to reach the franchise record-setting 131 Ks — Rivera faced 425. This isn’t to discredit Rivera’s performance, as 30.6% is an incredible mark as well. It also helps Rivera’s case to point out the fact that league-wide strikeout percentage was 16.5% in ’96, while it now stands at 20.4%. Continue reading

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What should we expect from A-Rod next year?

Other than an impromptu stint with a mariachi band and an Ice Bucket Challenge video, we haven’t heard merely a peep from Alex Rodriguez these past few months. Since Major League Baseball settled on a 162-game suspension back in January, A-Rod’s dropped his lawsuits against MLB, MLBPA, and Bud Selig, and also dropped his malpractice suit against Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the Yankees doctor who allegedly failed to disclose MRI results on A-Rod’s hip back in 2012.

The beleaguered slugger spent the entirety of the 2014 season on the restricted list, and aside from his name being listed on the team’s 40-man roster, there was little indication that he was even a member of the Yankees organization. But with his suspension set to expire at season’s end, we have every reason to believe that he’ll be a piece of the Yankees lineup in 2015, whether as a third baseman, a designated hitter, or some combination of the two.

Its hard to know what to expect from A-Rod next year. It’s not very often that we see any 39-year-old baseball players at all, let alone ones that sat out an entire year of play. He’d be only the seventh hitter since 1990 to record at least 100 PA’s at age 38 or older after abstaining from organized baseball for an entire season. Here’s a look at how these players fared compared to their season from two years prior. Continue reading

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