Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Game 65: Slow Train Coming

I'm not sure what's more mindboggling, the fact that Jamie Moyer is still pitching in the Major Leagues at age 47 or that, ever since they've been tracking with PitchFX, his fastball has been clocked at speeds roughly between A.J. Burnett's curveball and slider.

In a lot of ways, Moyer is the inverse of what Burnett used to be. When he was with the Marlins, Burnett used to throw hard for the sake of throwing hard and lighting up the radar gun, strike a lot of guys out but also walk a ton of them too. He was a young, tall, menacing presence on the mound for a team in Southern Florida. Meanwhile, Moyer was already well over a decade into his MLB career, an average-sized and easy-going type, pitching in the opposite corner of the country, left handed, throwing in the low 80's and just trying to hit his spots.

Still, their level of performance was pretty similar. From 1999-2005, Burnett had an ERA+ of 111. Moyer? 110. They both struck out about twice as many as they walked, but Burnett was giving out four free passes per nine innings while Moyer was allowing just 2.2. Their WHIPs during that span were a very similar 1.284 and 1.258.

Before last Friday, Moyer and Burnett each had six wins and ERAs under 4.00 on the season. However, Moyer got absolutely hammered in Fenway, allowing nine runs in 1+ IP and raising his ERA a full run in the process.

Burnett hasn't exactly had a smooth go of it as of late, either. He's given up 13 runs in his past three starts against Cleveland, Toronto and Baltimore and hasn't turned in a so-called quality outing in over a month (the five shutout innings he threw in the rain-delayed affair against the Twins not withstading). After sporting an ERA under 2.00 through his first six starts, Burnett has tallied a 5.61 mark over his next seven, raising his overall tally to a much-higher-but-still-respectable 3.86. The lefty-heavy Phillies lineup - as anemic as it has been lately - isn't likely to provide much of a relief for A.J.

The same could be said for the Yankee hitters in relation to Moyer. The Bombers tagged Roy Halladay for three homers and six runs last night but are going to be seeing a wildly different look from the crafty lefty on the hill this evening. Look out boys, the slow (and slower) train is coming.

They say loose your inhibitions, follow your own ambitions
They talk about a life of brotherly love,
show me someone who knows how to live it,
There's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.
[Song Notes: Matt here with the song notes. "Slow Train Coming" is a Bob Dylan song, and was the title track to his controversial 1979 album of the same name. The album was Dylan's first release since announcing his conversion as a Born Again Christian, and most of the songs on the album have some element of spirituality to them. The above performance comes from the North Mississippi Allstars at the 2007 Newport Folk Festival.

As Jay detailed last year, it was at Newport where Dylan became embroiled in the first major controversy of his career, as he played his notorious first electric set at the 1965 Festival. The 2007 Festival was also distinctively un-folk, as the NMA set was sandwiched after the John Butler Trio, and before Gov't Mule and the Allman Brothers Band. Perhaps as a nod to the non-traditional line up that year, but certainly as a nod to Dylan, NMA wove a mini-Dylan set into their performance that day, playing Dylan's "Masters of War", "Oxford Town", and "Slow Train Coming"

I was at that show, and if I recall correctly, I was standing just to the right of the guy filming it (and no, I am not of the shirtless hippy dancers in the video). This was the second of seven NMA shows I saw in a ten day period that summer, and it was a very cool trip. Newport was great - right on the water, excellent views, a great line up. That was also the day Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th career HR.]


Yankees: A-Rod comin', yo. After five games out of the lineup, A-Rod's groin or thigh or whatever injury has apparently healed up enough for him to return. He'll be eased back into action with an appearance at DH as Jorge Posada tries catching after being removed a bit early from Sunday's game. Kevin Russo is playing third base and hitting eighth but this is the closest the Yanks line up has been to Opening Day form in quite some time.
Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada C
Curtis Granderson CF
Kevin Russo 3B
Brett Gardner LF
Victorino CF
Polanco 3B
Utley 2B
Howard 1B
Werth RF
Ibanez LF
Dobbs, DH
Schneider C
Valdez SS

The Merits Of A Pitcher's Stats Against One Team

Mike from The Yankeeist has some strong words for the way media built up the return of Roy Halladay last night:
The problem wasn't the hype itself, but how it was justified. There should be pregame excitement anytime the Yankees face a pitcher who is having the kind of season Doc is having. But the game was sold to fans on the basis of Halladay's career numbers against the Yankees. This kind of sloppy journalism is prevalent in the baseball media, and should be criticized.
I think not citing Halladay's career numbers would have been a far more egregious error. It's a valid storyline. He'd pitched more than a full season's worth against the Yankees in his career and had great results. How do you not bring that up?

Of course, as Mike goes on to explain, even though Doc had thrown a ton of innings to the Yanks, the numbers he compiled don't really mean anything:
The baseball media frequently cites a player's career performance against a given team to provide insight into how that player should do right now against that same team. This makes no sense. Sticking with the current example, Roy Halladay has been logging time in the AL East since 1998. How, exactly, do his numbers against Scott Brosius or Jason Giambi help understand what he can be expected to do when he faces the Yankees in 2010? The answer, of course, is that they can't, but baseball struggles to grasp this.
In addition to the Yankee lineup fluctuating, the defense behind Halladay has constantly shifted, the turf underneath him in Toronto has changed, he's thrown to tons of different catchers and most importantly, he's evolved as a pitcher. Essentially, what you are looking at when you try to analyze Halladay's career stats against the Yankees (or any pitcher's line against a certain team) are a bunch of very small samples, recorded over a very long time, and smushed together to look like one big one. And, by the way, looking at his career numbers against the Yankees tells you the same thing that looking at his overall numbers tell you - Roy Halladay is like, really awesome at pitching.

But there's two parts to this - the validity of the stats and how they are being used. Mike calls it "sloppy journalism", but that strikes me as a sort of hollow, straw man argument. Its' not like it's factually incorrect. Halladay has owned the Yankees and you can bet that the players in the clubhouse are keenly aware of it. Why then shouldn't the media talk about it? It doesn't have predictive value, but no one I care to read was trying to predict what the outcome of the game would be anyway. It was one of things that was ubiquitously noted because, well, it was worth noting.

Did anyone guarantee that Halladay was going to turn in a great game? I'm not aware of such a proclamation. I think most Yankee fans sort of braced for impact (like Mike's co-author at the Yankeeist, Larry did) simply because after seeing it happen so many times, it's a natural reaction.

So why do we fans have the desire read about games before they happen? Why do we bother to write a preview for all 162 of them here? It's rare that something your read beforehand will manifest itself in the game in a meaningful way, isn't it?

In general, we are all probably a little anxious for the game to start and reading about it helps pass the time. We love the team and find that harnessing some of that anticipation and reading up on an impending game helps us look forward to it.

More specifically, when I write a preview or read one that someone else has written, it's because I want to have an understanding of any trends and storylines coming in and try to develop some sort of a framework that will make what's unfolding on the field a little more coherent and interesting to me. Some of those things might be statistical, but the personalities and rivalries and the who-owns-who are compelling in their own way, even if they don't pass the statistical smell test.

Game 64 Recap

[WE data via FanGraphs]

On an ordinary night against Roy Halladay, the rough patch that CC Sabathia hit in the fourth might have been enough to put the Yankees behind for the rest of the night.

The Big Fella had allowed only one walk and struck out six the first time through the order but things started going awry when Chase Utley chopped one right back over Sabathia's head that he could only deflect with his pitching hand out of reflex (he seems to do this more often than most pitchers, no?). Placido Polanco then looped a soft flare up the middle just out of CC's reach, Ryan Howard got hit with a 1-2 pitch and the Phillies were in business - bases loaded with no one out. Jayson Werth poked the first pitch he saw through the left side to get the Phillies on the board. Raul Ibanez fell behind 0-2 before fighting back bring the count full and ground one to right field to give the Phils their second run.

With the bases still loaded, Ben Francisco grounded a ball softly to Mark Teixeira in what looked like enough time for Teix to come home with the throw and get the force out. Instead, he went to second base apparently looking to start a double play but Sabathia didn't make it to first to cover, seemingly surprised that Teix didn't try to stop the runner from scoring. That third run was all the Phillies would get across in the game or the inning as CC struck out Juan Castro and Carlo Ruiz grounded out to end the threat.

On many nights, three runs seems like an impossible task against Halladay. Fortunately, the Yanks offense had already spotted Sabathia five in the first three innings. Brett Garnder slashed a two run triple in the second and Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher both took Doc deep in the third. Mark Teixeira also went yard in the fifth on a sky high pop up that kept carrying towards the right field foul pole and snuck out right by the camera stand.

Halladay had allowed just three home runs all year long and the Yankees doubled that total in a span of three innings. It's not like he was just throwing meatballs - the pitch Granderson went deep on was well down and in - but he left an inordinate number of fastballs over the middle of the plate. His typical movement just wasn't there and the Yanks went to town. Due in part to a 29 pitch second inning, Halladay was at 100 through six innings and that was it.

The Yanks were lucky to catch a great pitcher on an off night and if it wasn't for some tough breaks for CC in the fourth, this one never would have been in doubt. The Yanks look to keep the ball rolling tonight as the significantly less intimidating Jamie Moyer squares up against A.J. Burnett.