Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola
11 wins to defend that title.
11 wins to once again reach the pinnacle of the baseball world.
Five down, six to go.
The march to championship #28 continues tonight.
In my 2010 ALCS preview of Cliff Lee and Colby Lewis, I noted that Lewis is has a fairly typical arsenal of fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. We learned that he unsurprisingly takes a different approach against righties and lefties. Against righties he relies throws his fastball and slider almost exclusively:
To right-handed batters, Lewis uses his fastball around 53% of the time and then relies heavily on the slider, throwing it on 35% of the time. To right-handed batters, Lewis is throwing a fastball or a slider on almost 9 out of every 10 pitches. He mixes in the curveball (7.5%) and the changeup (4.3%) from time to time, but righties can expect a heavy diet of fastballs and sliders. Righties have had a very tough time with his slider in 2010, whiffing on it nearly a quarter of the time.
To lefties, however, Lewis preferred in 2010 to take a more diverse approach with his offspeed pitches:
With left-handed hitters Lewis takes a more varied approach. He still throws his fastball with frequency (60%), but throws his slider, curveball and changeup at nearly the same rate (14.3, 13.5 and 12.6, respectively). Lewis prefers to start batters out with his fastball. If he gets ahead 0-1 he still relies on his fastball but also introduces the curveball. At 0-2 he throws more offspeed stuff, relying on the fastball only 40%, throwing a slider 37% and a curveball 20%. Note the difference between lefties and righties. When up 0-2 on righties he’s big on the fastball and lighter on the slider. When up 0-2 on lefties he relies way more on the slider and the curveball.
In Game 2 of the ALCS, Hunter faced off against Phil Hughes and pitched fairly decently, going 5.2 innings and allowing 6 hits, two runs, three walks and six strikeouts. How did his approach match up with the scouting report?
Against right-handed pitchers Lewis was extremely predictable. The only two right-handed hitters in the lineup, Jeter and Rodriguez, saw a total of 15 pitches. Eight of these pitches were sliders, and the other seven were fastballs. Jeter went one for three off Lewis, striking out twice and getting an infield single off Lewis. Rodriguez was worse, going 0-3 with a flyout, groundout and popout. Lewis did exactly as advertised against the two of them, feeding them both fastballs and sliders and getting great results.
Against left-handed pitchers, Lewis relied a bit more on the curveball in Game 2 than he did in 2010. He threw 37 fastballs, 24 curveballs, 14 sliders and only 3 changeups. He commanded the fastball, curveball and slider well and got good swings and misses on the slider in particular. Both of the runs were caused by lefties. In the fourth inning, Cano doubled on an 88 mph fastball down in the zone. After Swisher struck out on a fastball and Posada on a slider, Berkman singled home Cano on a slider (and was promptly thrown out at second base). In the sixth inning Cano again hit Lewis hard, knocking a hanging slider into the upper deck in Arlington.
Lewis’ patterns are fairly clear at this point. Right-handed hitters can expect virtually nothing but sliders and fastballs. Even though this is predictable, it’s difficult because Lewis’ slider is a very good pitch and comes in only 4-5 mph slower than his high-80s, low-90s fastball. To lefties Lewis is slightly less predictable, mixing in a curveball and a slider to complement the fastball. The Yankees have now seen everything Lewis has to offer. Unfamiliarity is not an obstacle in Game 6. The question will be whether predictability translates into runs this time around.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about this team right now. Well, I do, but it mostly comes out in short bursts of basic emotion. There’s a lot of anger: at Girardi for leaving Burnett in a batter or two too long; at fans for calling for Girardi’s head because he used Mitre in the 9th inning; at the offense for the constant RISP fail; at smug, self-righteous pundits who harp about the crowd leaving early; at the offense and the pitching. There’s some sadness too: that Teixeira’s season is over and that this team has looked truly awful in every single one of the ALCS games. Yet, we all know that anything can happen in the playoffs. When we’re on the outside looking in we have to accept it, and with that comes a vague bit of peace.
For that reason I’m not interested in giving the FJM treatment to people like Peter King, Bill Simmons, Will Leitch, Rob Neyer, Ian O’Connor, or Wallace Matthews. Those individuals are going to say what they say regardless of the outcome of the games; their dislike of different parts of Yankee organization precedes everything and won’t ever dissipate. Some of it will be well-written, but that won’t change the underlying fact that it’ll be predictable and boring. To me this is a crime worse than being a homer, but it’s hard to muster the effort to care anymore.
This may be the end of the road for the Yankees. They could come back. They could win the ALCS, and they could win the World Series. But it sure doesn’t look likely. This team hasn’t been cheated out of anything this series, and if they go down this afternoon they will have gotten what they deserve. But rather than focus my anger on them, on the smugness of Yankee foes, or on the stupidity of bridge-jumpers I’m going to focus what remaining time I have left with this team on the game and the players themselves. I get nine more innings of baseball with the Yankees. I get to watch one of my favorite pitchers pitch again. I get to watch Alex Rodriguez step into the batter’s box and tap the plate with his bat. I get to experience the roller coaster of emotions one last time for a solid six months.
I’m going to enjoy it, and say a proper goodbye if it becomes necessary. When it’s January and bleak and the hot stove has gone cold and Spring Training is weeks away I’ll try to remember this afternoon. When it’s February and those first pictures of CC and AJ throwing on the green grass in Florida start popping up on Daylife and I start really craving seeing the team in their uniforms on the field and in a game, I’ll think back and remember CC toeing the rubber for the first pitch today and Derek stepping into the box a half inning later. If it goes poorly, so be it. If CC is wild and we get blown out, you won’t hear me criticize him. If Girardi makes a dumb bullpen move you won’t hear me call it gross negligence. If Derek grounds into another double play you won’t hear me whine about his next contract. I’ll be soaking it in. This has been a very good team this year, and it’s been a fun team to watch. This may well be the end of the road. I understand that. I’ve enjoyed the ride. My only request is that the team show a little fight, a little self-respect, and go down like men.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’
-William Shakespeare, Henry V
“Sorry for knocking your mask off with a wild pitch, man”. Photo courtesy of daylife.com
Earlier today I speculated that the Yankees would stack a lefty-heavy lineup against Tommy “Canada’s Country Gentleman” Hunter, using Swisher in the two-hole and featuring Posada, Berkman, Granderson and Gardner at the bottom of the lineup. That dream came to an end a few hours ago when it was announced that Cervelli would be catching Burnett tonight and batting in the nine hole. The new lineup is as follow:
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Lance Berkman DH
Brett Gardner LF
Francisco Cervelli C
There are plenty of reasons to be upset about this. It takes Posada’s bat out of the lineup until Burnett’s done pitching. Of course, if Burnett pitches fantastically then the Yankees might not need Posada’s bat, but that’s a doubtful proposition (and by the same token, if Burnett bombs they’ll get Posada back sooner than ever! Everyone wins!). Further, Cervelli’s best offensive attribute is his ability to hit left-handed pitching. He has an OPS of .846 against lefties and an OPS of .617 against righties. Hunter is a righty. He’s not a very good righty, but he is one nonetheless. More to the point though it’s generally annoying to see a bench bat get a start in the midst of a very crucial game and it’s annoying that Burnett has a personal catcher when he’s been such a very poor pitcher for the lion’s share of the year.
Mentally I had prepared a load of snarky comments about why this is a dumb move, but I don’t think that ultimately helps anyone. I think this is the wrong move, but there’s a tiny part of me that wants to be OK with it. AJ Burnett needs all the help he can get at this point. If he imagines he has chemistry with Francisco Cervelli, if it gives him confidence and enables him to pitch a great game, then more power to him.
But if he bombs I will call down the hammer of Thor upon his crown.
It’s time to forget about Cliff Lee, about RISP, about 13:1 K/BB ratios, about a 2-1 series deficit, about Cliff Lee, about a Game 7 started by Cliff Lee, about the 9th inning bullpen implosion, about the Yankees’ starter this evening and about, of course, Cliff Lee. Let’s focus on Tommy Hunter. There are a few things about him that you’re gonna want to know.
1. There were 71 pitchers in the American League in 2010 who threw more than 100 innings. Of those pitchers, Tommy Hunter had the 9th highest FIP. This is bad. FIP is an acronym for Fielding Independent Pitching. It examines the pitcher’s strikeouts, walks and home runs and tells you how well a pitcher pitched regardless of his fielding. While there’s legitimate dispute about whether a pitcher can control his home run rate, FIP cuts down on a lot of the noise present in ERA due to fluctuations in BABIP and defense. What I’m trying to tell you is that Tommy Hunter does a poor job at controlling the things he’s supposed to control.
2. Of the 71 AL pitchers with 100 innings in 2010, Tommy Hunter’s strikeout rate is eleventh worst. He was beat out in the race to the bottom by such luminaries as Nick Blackburn, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Joe Saunders. Maybe next year, Tommy.
3. This is a real-life picture of Tommy Hunter when he was pitching for the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate, the Frisco Roughriders:
4. Tommy Hunter had the 2nd highest strand rate of the 71 AL pitchers with 100 innings or more. The first highest was Brian Duensing. Hunter’s strand rate was 10% higher than the average of 71%. It’s probably safe to bet that he won’t replicate these results in the future.
5. Tommy Hunter’s nickname is “Canada’s Country Gentleman”. Oops, wrong Tommy Hunter. I was thinking of the 73 year old Canadian country music performer, best known for hit singles such as “Bill Jones General Store”, “Born to be a Gypsy” and “Walk with Your Neighbour” (note the Canadian spelling). There was another Tommy Hunter from North Carolina known for his fiddlin’, but sadly he passed away in 1993. According to Wikipedia, this Tommy Hunter doesn’t have a cool nickname like Canada’s Country Gentleman. However, Wikipedia does provide this lovely picture of him:
6. When I said that Wikipedia doesn’t list a cool nickname for Hunter, I didn’t mean that he doesn’t have one at all. He has one but Wikipedia, and presumably the world, doesn’t know it yet. If you check out his Baseball Reference page you find that it’s sponsored by two individuals known as “Joe and Dan”. Unfortunately, Joe and Dan didn’t link to any website, so I’m left to assume that they’re just two dudes with a love for high FIP pitchers. Regardless, they say his nickname is “Big Game”. Big Game Tommy Hunter. Tommy Big Game Hunter. Either one just rolls right off the tongue.
7. Tommy Hunter had the 2nd lowest ERA-FIP discrepancy and the third lowest BABIP. So if you happen to wander into a 7-Eleven at the same time as Tommy Hunter be sure to ask him to buy you a lotto ticket before his good luck train runs out of fuel, careens off the tracks and explodes and melts in the white hot flames of statistical regression.
8. Per Aaron Gleeman, Hunter gave up 21 home runs in 128 innings. Gleeman notes how bad this is: “Among all the AL pitchers who threw at least 120 innings this season only Javier Vazquez and Brian Bannister had a higher home run rate. And he’ll be facing a Yankees lineup that was one of just three MLB teams to smack 200 or more homers this season.” Yes, yes he will.
9. Tommy Hunter is worse against left-handed batters than righties. In fact, he’s somewhat terrible against lefties. Maybe it’s his sub-par arsenal, maybe it’s his inexperience, but lefties make Canada’s Country Gentleman sing the blues. Here’s Gleeman again:
“During his 250-inning career left-handed batters have hit .285 with an .832 OPS against Hunter, compared to .241 with a .678 OPS by right-handed batters. Not surprisingly in two previous starts against the Yankees he’s 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA, allowing seven runs on 14 hits in 9.1 innings. He also lasted just four innings against the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS, taking the loss.”
Lovely. My best guess for tonight’s lineup is Jeter-Swisher-Teixeira-Rodriguez-Cano-Posada-Berkman-Granderson-Gardner. That’s Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and seven lefties. If they’re going to pound a starter in the playoffs, tonight’s the night to do it.
10. AJ Burnett has a better FIP, xFIP, strikeout rate, ground ball rate, tERA and SIERA than Tommy Hunter. He also doesn’t have a fluky BABIP or strand rate. It’s not much, but I’ll take it.
Over at Fangraphs, Dave Cameron weighs in on the “AJ Burnett in Game 4″ question. This is an issue that gets more play and interest than I would deem reasonable. I haven’t read a tenth of the hand-wringing over the Phillies’ decision to run with Blanton in Game 4 of the NLCS, but maybe I’m not looking in the right places. Since this is the Yankees, I suppose it’s to be expected. Regardless, rather than have Burnett start Game 4 Cameron proposes two ideas. The first is the “bullpen” game. Cameron says:
You could piece together a complete game using Ivan Nova, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Royce Ring, David Robertson, Kerry Wood, and Mariano Rivera, splitting up the innings so that no one throws more than 30-40 pitches and you get as many platoon advantages as you can. If the early game relievers get bombed and the game gets out of hand, you can just use Sergio Mitre to soak up the end-game innings and save your setup guys for Game 5.
Yikes. Well for one, Ivan Nova and Royce Ring aren’t on the playoff roster. As such, it’s going to be very difficult to get them game action. Here is the list of possible relievers: Mitre, Moseley, Logan, Chamberlain, Robertson, Wood and Rivera. Aside from that, there are serious obstacles to the success of the bullpen game. Cameron recognizes at least one of them:
Yes, you’d end up working your bullpen pretty hard and wouldn’t be in the best of shape for Game 5, but you have Sabathia going the next day and can expect him to pitch at least six innings and hope for seven or eight.
Here is a list of questions I have about this idea. One, if the idea of having the bullpen pitch the game is to maximize platoon advantages, wouldn’t this advantage be reduced by having each reliever face more than 3 batters (i.e. pitch more than one inning)? In other words, if relievers pitch multiple innings, they’re likely to face batters from both sides of the plate. Secondly, if each good reliever is only going to pitch an inning and you’re going to attempt to maximize platoon advantage, this would leave 4 innings for Mitre and Moseley, who are at least of the same talent level as Burnett if not worse. Why not just put Burnett on a short leash? Thirdly, if you consider Mitre and Moseley to be a superior talent level to Burnett, why not have one of them start the game? Fourthly, is burning the bullpen really a great idea knowing that Sabathia may not pitch a complete game the following afternoon? Finally, is Game 4 of the ALCS the best time to try out this idea?
Altogether, one could probably make the case that having the bullpen start a game has merits. Right now, with this crew, with the high likelihood of important innings pitched by Mitre and Moseley, with the specter of a day game the following day, it’s probably not the time to try it out. But that’s not even the worst of it. The main problem is Option 2. Take it away, Dave:
This essentially boils down to match-ups and attempting to leverage the most winnable games. With Cliff Lee going tonight, the Yankees are going to be underdogs no matter who takes the hill. They could have chosen to start Burnett against Lee in Game 3, lowering their chances of winning a game where they are already likely to lose, and then using Pettitte in Game 4. Rather than having a disadvantage on the mound in both Game 3 and Game 4, they could have consolidated their problems in tonight’s game in order to increase their odds of winning tomorrow’s.
The problem with this strategy is that the Game 3 starter is then on track to start Game 7, and they clearly don’t want Burnett pitching twice in the ALCS. They’d have to bring Pettitte back on short rest for Game 7, which is still not a great option. However, with three days off after the ALCS ends before the start of the World Series, they’d theoretically have all hands on deck for that final game. Sabathia could be available for a couple of innings, as it would be his normal throw day, and they could simply ask Pettitte to throw fewer pitchers to compensate for the reduced rest.
The problem with this strategy is not that Burnett would be on track to start Game 7. The problem with this strategy is that punting a playoff game because the opposing pitcher is really good is a bad idea. Option 2 is merely a regurgitation of the “the Yankees should punt Game 3″ line of thinking. Do we really need to rehash why this is a bad idea? Apparently so. Here’s what I’ve come up with: Cliff Lee is not unbeatable; Andy Pettitte is a good pitcher; the Yankees have a good offense; the Yankees have a great bullpen; if Pettitte keeps the team close and the Yankees grind out a run or two, this could very well be a game decided in the later innings. I’m sure I’m missing more. The wider point though is that a Game 3 loss for the Yankees is not a fait accompli. Treating it such, and managing the roster accordingly, is unwise.
I have a great deal of respect for the work done at Fangraphs and the work done by Dave Cameron. Frankly, though, I’m surprised to a writer and thinker of his caliber deal in this line of reasoning. Cameron concludes his piece in this manner:
I’m not sure that either of these options are clearly better than keeping everyone on their normal workloads and starting Burnett tomorrow night, but there are arguments to be made for considering them. If Burnett blows up and the Rangers (sic) find themselves down 3-1 on Wednesday, expect that decision to be the one that get second guessed all winter.
If the Yankees lose to Lee and if Burnett loses to the equally-bad Tommy Hunter (who apparently doesn’t merit a mention), the decision may indeed get second-guessed all winter. However, it won’t be because the team failed to run with either of Cameron’s two options. Fairly or unfairly, it will be about the reliance on Vazquez and Burnett and the failure to acquire another starting pitcher in July or August. Lee could dominate the Yankees in Game 3 and Burnett could blow up in Game 4, and the Yankees could find themselves in a huge hole. But burning out the bullpen and giving important innings to Mitre and Moseley, or simply punting Game 3, is not the way to go.
11 wins to defend the title.
11 wins to once again reach the pinnacle of the baseball world.
Four down, seven to go.
The march to championship #28 continues this afternoon.
Let’s get another one, baby. Bring it home strong.
Well, that was…Wow.
Off the top of my head that has to be my favorite game of the 2010 campaign for the Yankees. It was so ugly for so long. Sabathia looked so bad at times and got blooped to death at others. The offense would get rallies going and hit the ball hard and then run into bad luck. Then Gardner beat out an infield single and the offense rolled from there. Jeter doubled down the line, scoring Gardner and bringing the score to 5-2. Then Swisher worked a walk and Teixeira walked to load the bases. Alex Rodriguez then came to the plate and promptly hit into a double play, thereby validating his reputation as a choke artist.
Oh wait, I got confused. He scorched a ball down the left field line to score Jeter and Swisher, bringing the Yankees to 5-4. Up next was Cano, who drilled a ball up back the middle, tying the game 5-5, and Thames would single next to give the Yankees the lead. They wouldn’t surrender it.
It was just one game, but this was a great moment for the team. It looked like all was lost and they snatched a victory out of thin air. Tomorrow’s a new day, and the Yankees can look to go up 2-0 in the ALCS, but for now I’m happy to enjoy what Girardi called “a huge win”. My two favorite moments:
Go Yanks go.
11 wins to defend the title.
11 wins to once again reach the pinnacle of the baseball world.
Three down, eight to go.
The march to championship #28 continues tonight.