Thursday, June 17, 2010

Game 66 Recap

[WE data via FanGraphs]

When the seventh inning began, the game was still in reach for the Yankees with the score sitting at 3-1. Andy Pettitte was facing Carlos Ruiz - who hadn't had a hit since last year's World Series, I believe - and gave up a double to start the inning. Wilson Valdez bunted Chooch over to third and Pettitte walked Shane Victorino (already 2-3 with a homer and another hard hit ball on the night) to get to Chase Utley. Andy proceeded to walk him as well to load the bases.

The game looked to be spiraling out of control for Pettitte and the Yanks but Placido Polanco hit a weak grounder to first that, unlike the one in fourth inning on Tuesday night, Mark Teixeira threw home to get the force. Ryan Howard then came to the plate and after starting him out with a ball, Pettitte got him to foul off a curve, then a change before striking him out swinging on a cutter down and in.

Pettitte and Cervelli both let out fistpumps after they wriggled out of the jam and for a moment it felt like the Yankees were about to come back. The offense, aside from Robinson Cano, had been largely dormant to that point, but the optimist in my thought they could pull together a rally and salvage a series victory.

Brett Gardner led off the bottom of the seventh and took four pitches, two of them balls and two of them strikes. He then fouled back three straight before ripping a line drive almost directly at Ryan Howard. Francisco Cervelli then worked another excellent at bat, running the count full before pulling a rocket down the left field line that only missed the foul pole by a couple of feet. He ultimately hit a sharp grounder to third that Placido Polanco snared and threw to first for the out. And it was all downhill from there. Kendrick fell behind Ramiro Pena 3-0 but got him to ground out to end the inning.

Both teams went down 1-2-3 in the eighth and Joba Chamberlain took the hill to start the ninth. He gave up a double, and single and a walk and was pulled from the game before he could record an out. Damaso Marte was next and allowed two walks and two sac flies but was removed despite left hander Raul Ibanez due up and the Yanks already down five runs. Chan Ho Park was summoned but only fanned the flames, allowing an RBI double to Ibanez. The Yanks only got out of the inning because Ibanez may or may not have been hit by a ball off the bat of Ben Francisco in the process of advancing to third.

All told, the Phils plated four runs in the ninth, and what was an insurmountable deficit heading into the frame was now essentially impossible to overcome. The Yanks went down in order anyway to complete the loss and give the Phillies the series victory.

After winning the first game of this set, the Yanks' offense in particular spit the bit in the final two. They managed only seven baserunners last night and six tonight, for a grand total of four runs - half of them driven in by Cano. That's just not enough support to give your pitching staff.

The second installment of the Subway Series starts tomorrow night and the Yanks welcome the Mets to the Bronx this time and Javy Vazquez squares off against Hisanori Takahashi.

Game 66: Old Man

Andy Pettitte takes the mound tonight for the first time since last Friday and he finds himself a year older, having completed his thirty eighth revolution of the sun on Tuesday. Originally, Pettitte was to square off against Jamie Moyer tonight, but the Phillies decided to shuffle their rotation earlier in the week, starting Moyer last night and pushing Kyle Kendrick to tonight.

That of course robs us of a whole host of paint by number story lines for the game, as at some point since his return to the Bronx more than three years ago, the veteran Pettitte has officially graduated to crafty lefty status, and veteran lefties don't come any craftier than the 47 year old Moyer.

Tempting as the Pettitte-Moyer comparisons may be, in truth the two have little in common other than their handedness and their relatively advanced ages. Pettitte reached the Majors as a 23 year old and virtually immediately presented himself as a front of the rotation workhorse. Moyer debuted at the same age, but scuttled through six seasons, four organizations, and several stints as a minor leaguer (including the majority of 1991, the entirety of 1992, and the start of 1993), before finally establishing himself as a 30 year old number five starter on the 1993 Orioles. As a point of comparison, by age 30 Pettitte had logged nearly 1,500 Major League innings and appeared in five World Series.

But as two of the three oldest starting pitchers in Major League Baseball and two of the three with more 3000 career innings pitched, the comparisons are inevitable. And as Pettitte's late career renaissance produces his best season in at least five years and a likely All-Star appearance, it's tempting to look at Moyer and see a guy who made his only All-Star appearance and had arguably his best season at age 40 in 2003 and has won 101 games since.

Of course, Pettitte's pitching arsenal is a little flashier than Moyer's slow-slower-slowest fastball, cutter, change routine, but it's tempting to look at Pettitte's repeated Houdini acts in pitching himself into and out of jams over the past few years and wonder why he couldn't continue to pull it off for another five or eight years. But considering that he's seriously contemplated retirement in each of the previous four off-seasons, a Moyer-esque forties just doesn't seem to be in the cards for Pettitte.

Be that as it may, of far greater to concern to Pettitte and the Yankees tonight is the rubber game against the Phillies. After improbably knocking around Roy Halladay on Tuesday night, the combination of a clunker from A.J. Burnett and Moyer's best Gandalf the White routine last night left the series tied at one. It seems as if Pettitte finds himself in more than his share of these rubber games, but he hasn't pitched a true rubber game since the season's opening series. He tossed six innings of one run ball in Boston that night, but didn't factor in the decision as the Yanks won in extra innings. He last start before that came at Yankee Stadium, in Game Six of the World Series, when he closed out the Phillies. Here's hoping he can pitch a lot like Moyer last night, stymie the Phillie bats, and close out a successful series against them once again.

Old man look at my life
I'm a lot like you were
Old man look at my life
I'm a lot like you were

[Song Notes: From his 1972 album Harvest, Neil Young wrote "Old Man" as a tribute to the old rancher who take care of his Broken Arrow Ranch in northern California. The studio recording featured both James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt]


Alex Rodriguez is in the lineup for the second straight night and remains the DH. After catching for just the second time in a month, Jorge Posada gets the night off.
Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Brett Gardner LF
Francisco Cervelli C
Ramiro Pena 3B

LHP Andy Pettitte

Shane Victorino CF
Chase Utley 2B
Placido Polanco 3B
Ryan Howard 1B
Jayson Werth RF
Raul Ibanez LF
Ben Francisco DH
Carlos Ruiz C
Wilson Valdez SS

RHP Kyle Kendrick

Changes To Stadium Football Schedule

This homestand marks the first games at Yankee Stadium since the first non-baseball event at the park, the Miguel Cotto - Yuri Foreman fight on June 5th. While the boxing ring is long gone, the Stadium has a few souvenirs from the event, including noticeably worn patches of grass in center field, where the ring was located.

The Stadium will host another in-season, non-baseball event before 2010 is over, as Jay-Z and Eminem will perform the venue's first concert on September 13th. Following that, the next non-baseball event will occur on November 20th, when Army hosts Notre Dame in the first football game at the new Stadium.

Lost amongst all the potential conference realignment news that shook the foundation of college football last week were a couple notes relating to future football games at Yankee Stadium. First, last week Notre Dame quietly canceled their scheduled 2013 game against Army, which was penciled in as being a Yankee Stadium game. That cancellation may or may not be an indicator that the long-independent Fighting Irish were positioning themselves to finally join a conference in the event of a BCS superconference armageddon.

While one of the linked articles above speculates that Syracuse could replace Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium on Army's 2013 schedule, it's also possible that one of the principle movers and shakers in last week's conference realignments could be Army's opponent. Prior to leaving the Big XII to join the Pac-10 last week, Colorado made it clear that they wanted to play Army at Yankee Stadium. The Buffs' non-conference schedule had been booked through 2015, but with their move to the Pac-10 altering future schedules and with Army now having an open date in 2013, they may be able to get their wish sooner rather than later.

After hosting Notre Dame this fall, Army will host Rutgers at the Stadium in 2011, Air Force in 2012, and Boston College in 2014. In addition to the annual Army game, Yankee Stadium will also host the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for at least the next four years. The game will take place between Christmas and New Year's, and will match the third selection from the Big East against the sixth selection from the Big XII. No word yet as to how the Big XII's reduction to ten teams will impact the bowl's future. The inaugural game will take place on December 30th this year, with tickets already on sale.

New AJ, Same As The Old AJ

Back on April 30th, A.J. Burnett was sporting a nifty 2.43 ERA and had picked up three wins in his first five starts. After a dominant outing against the Orioles he talked about learning to pitch to contact, so we asked if he had altered his approach:
Traditionally a guy with a propensity to both strikeout and walk a lot of batters, A.J. has seen both of those rates drop to roughly 2/3 of their career norms. At the same time, he's given up more hits, is throwing slightly more strikes and is getting more outs on the ground.

About 3/4 of the pitches Burnett has thrown in 2010 have been fastballs, a proportion that he hasn't approached since his days with the Marlins.
Despite discovering his curveball somewhere along the way and tossing 7 1/3 strong innings his next time out, in his nine starts since then, Burnett's ERA is 5.50 and his record is 3-5. He's had four starts in which he's surrendered more than six runs, while in his first five outings the most he allowed in any outing was four.

A.J.'s still throwing over 70% fastballs, about 60% of all his pitches for strikes, inducing ground balls and allowing line drives at roughly the same rates (just under 50% and around 17%, respectively). So what has the difference been? Let's take a look at his rate stats:

Burnett's strikeout and walk rates have unsurprisingly returned close to his career norms and a slightly higher BABIP has led to an increase in hits per nine. But even all of those things in conjunction shouldn't cause his ERA to more than double. The real culprits (highlighted in red on the chart) are his home run and strand rates.

In 31 1/3 innings at the beginning of the season, Burnett had allowed just one long ball. In the 54 innings he's pitched since then, he's given up nine of them. To put it another way, he gave up home runs almost six times more often during his last nine starts than he did in his first five.

The league average stand rate is 72%. Burnett was very fortunate in that department early in the season but has been rather unlucky since. Of course, the fact that runners have stolen 19 bases off him and only been caught three times certainly isn't helping in that department.

Clearly, Burnett hasn't pitched as well since the beginning of May as he did before that. Home runs involve a certain amount of luck but a six-fold increase tells us that Burnett has been leaving plenty more balls out over the plate and hitters have been capitalizing on his mistakes. His strand rate has also been dragged down by all those long balls as well.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Burnett caught a lot of breaks early in April and saw his luck even out in a major way in the past month and a half. His home run rate won't stay as high as it has been and his strand rate will regress towards league average as the season continues. If you look at his expected FIP (based on batted ball types allowed) on FanGraphs, it's just about the same during his great stretch as it is throughout his awful one.

It's boring to say, and again this is pretty self-evident, but the true A.J. Burnett lies somewhere between the Cy Young candidate that showed up in April and the replacement level scrub that has been serving up 'tater salad since then. If he can lean just a little towards the former from here on in, he and the Yankees will be just fine.

Game 65 Recap

[WE data via FanGraphs]

This game was pretty much the inverse of last night's. The biggest hit was an second inning triple by the center fielder and the losing pitcher gave up six runs before being yanked. Each game was close for about two-thirds of a second later on but was pretty much decided by the end of the third. The difference was that last night A.J. Burnett wasn't getting unlucky, and unlike Roy Halladay, had to be pulled from the game in the fourth.

There's no sugar coating it, Burnett was terrible last night. Just about half of his pitches were out of the strike zone - 39 of them in 3 1/3 innings, to be exact. He allowed more men to reach base (11) than he retired (10) and gave up a triple and two homers. He couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with his curveball.

A.J. dug his own grave in the second inning as he walked two guys and gave up two singles before running the count to 3-1 on Shane Victorino. Since Burnett's aforementioned Uncle Charlie didn't show up, he ended up and feeding Victorino a meatball smack dab in the middle of the plate, about dinner table-height. All that was missing was a fork, some spaghetti and some spicy tomato oil and some bread to mop up after it.

The coupe de grace came during the fourth inning when Chase Utley smoked a ball down the first base line that Mark Teixeira fielded and got ready to toss to first - except Burnett wasn't there to cover the bag. The crowd erupted in a loud chorus of boos and Burnett was yanked before he had a chance to face another batter.

There were some good pitching performances last night as well. The only baserunner Boone Logan allowed in his 2 2/3 innings was an intentional walk to Jayson Werth, which was a direct result of him having to clean up A.J. Burnett's mess. Chad Gaudin was just as good, pitching perfect 7th, 8th and 9th innings.

Of course, Jamie Moyer was excellent as well. He gave up only three hits and a single walk in eight innings, but two of the hits were solo homers by Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada, so it doesn't look quite as dominant in the box score as it actually was. The Yanks brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth against Brad Lidge but Posada struck out on a slider to end the game.

Andy Pettitte faces Kyle Kendrick tonight as the Yanks try to salvage a series victory and forget about the turd A.J. Burnett just laid.