Results tagged ‘ Andy Pettitte ’
One of the most vital tasks for any veteran pitcher worth his salt to master is the ability to will his team out of losing streaks. That means taking the mound knowing the bullpen is overworked and in need of rest and delivering a big performance. It means efficiently working through 7 or 8 innings while shutting down the opposing lineup. It means throwing everything plus this kitchen sink to get your team the win. On Thursday night a couple of crafty lefties in Andy Pettitte and Cliff Lee were able to do just they. They were able to be the veteran stopper, putting both the Yankees and the Phillies among the ranks of the victorious. Let’s take a look at each pitcher’s performance:
When the Washington Nationals selected Bryce Harper 1st overall in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, the only questions anybody seemed to have were how quickly will this kid develop into a superstar and what position will he play. The D.C. brass answered question #2 fairly quickly, deciding to move Harper from catcher to the outfield in hopes that his power, speed, and bazooka arm would hold up better without the rigors of working behind the plate daily. After 130 largely successful minor league games (only 21 at Triple-A) and with the need for another outfielder at the big league level, Washington called the 19-year-old prodigy up to the show.
The Yankees have now won 9 games in a row, and 21 out of their last 31 games. The team has surged to the front of the AL East pack by decimating the top of the NL East. In the last 10 days the Yanks have swept the 3rd place Mets, 2nd place Braves, and 1st place Nationals, putting together the most impressive streak of victories in all of baseball this season. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons the Yankees dominated the NL East:
The New York Yankees, losers of 6 of their last 7 games, currently have some major issues right now. The team has fallen in to a last place tie with the Boston Red Sox at 21-21, 5.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees have had a rough season on the injury front as well, losing many expected key contributors for the remainder of the season. During their recent losing streak the Yankees have been outscored 34-15 and have been unwatchable when hitting with runners in scoring position, batting 6-73, for a .083 batting average. At some point the law of averages says New York will have to start hitting with runners on so what are the team’s real issues? And is any of this fixable for a ballclub that many, myself included, thought would be a World Series contender at best and a playoff team at worst? Let’s break down some of the issues in the Bronx:
The most impactful injury to date for the Yankees hasn’t been the loss of Mariano Rivera, it’s been the loss of Brett Gardner for the past month. Gardner hasn’t played since April 17th and was off to a fantastic start. He was hitting .321/.424/.393 with 2 steals while playing his trademark excellent defense. Gardner’s defense rated by most defensive metrics to be the best in baseball during the 2011 season, and without the speedster, the Yankees have been forced to choose between Raul Ibanez terrible glove and Dewayne Wise’s all-around useless game. The sooner Gardner gets back in the lineup and starts stealing bases and taking away hits the better for New York.
The Yankees are one of the many teams that have been cruelly bitten by the injury bug. The pitching staff has seen more quality arms go on the disabled list than any other franchise in the league. Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain, who the Yankees were counting on to throw around 240-260 combined innings in 2012, probably won’t throw a pitch this season. The greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, was horrifyingly lost for the year after slipping on the warning track in Kansas City. Rivera had thrown at least 60 innings for 9 consecutive seasons, a streak that will come to an end this year. David Robertson will be out for at least another week after straining his oblique against the Mariners on May 11th. All of those injuries will cost the Yankees 300+ combined innings, which is tough for any team, even the wealthiest, to overcome.
The good news is that the Yankees bullpen has still been strong despite missing 3 of its 4 best arms. David Phelps has thrown 29.1 innings of quality baseball, allowing only 9 earned runs. Cory Wade has given the Yankees 20 quality innings as well, and has a 190 ERA+ with a WHIP below 1. The highly paid Rafael Soriano has been worth some of his contract this season, throwing for a 172 ERA+ in 14.1 innings and earning 2 saves.
The Yankees probably won’t have the top rated bullpen in baseball like they did in 2011, but the team still has plenty of talented fireman, and will probably rank as one of the best in the American League again. The bigger problem will be overcoming the loss of Michael Pineda, which will thrust Andy Pettitte into a larger role, and forces Phil Hughes to step up.
The Yankees pitching has been downright abysmal this season, after ranking 10th in baseball in 2011. The Yankees currently rank 23rd in baseball in run prevention, and have given up the 2nd most long balls. The entire rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes has been homer-happy, allowing 38 of the 54 total. The Yankees tiny ballpark has something to do with those homeruns, but as Hiroki Kuroda said a few days ago “The homeruns I’ve been giving up are homeruns everywhere.” That, more than anything else, has been the Yankees biggest problem this season. Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Hiroki Kuroda all have allowed more than 10 hits per 9 innings, which means their all being hit like piñatas at a birthday party. Each pitcher has had issues locating the ball over the plate up in the zone, which are correctable going forward and could lead to some big improvement.
In better news, the Yankees rank 3rd in baseball in strikeouts, behind only the hard-throwing pitching staffs of the Nationals and Tigers. New York also has the 5th best strikeout-to-walk rate in the Majors, tied with the Cincinnati Reds. If Yankees pitchers can cut down on the homeruns allowed, their ability to strike hitters out should begin to result in quality starts, which lead to victories.
Currently every major team defensive metric available rates the Yankees defense as terrible. The outfield has been absolutely porous when Raul Ibanez plays. This issue will be alleviated by the return of Brett Gardner, the best defensive player in baseball, but only he can do so much for the team as a whole.
Derek Jeter’s bat may be looking spry, but his range in the field is certainly showing signs of age. Jeter has never been very good going to field balls hit up the middle, but this season he is reaching fewer of those than ever. Alex Rodriguez rates among the worst 3rd basemen in the American League on defense, leading to a very leaky left side of the infield, and a lot of seeing-eye singles. Eric Chavez has been valuable off the bench, but is injury-prone and should only be counted on in a limited role. Eduardo Nunez, another alternative on the left side of the infield, is even worse defensively, requiring a demotion to work on his defense. This is the risk you take when your long-term left side of the infield is over 35 years old, and there is no real solution this season.
The Yankees have tried to remedy some of the problem by playing the 5th most shifts in baseball. The Yankees have historically only shifted on big left-handed sluggers like David Ortiz, but Joe Girardi is showing some fortitude and shifting more frequently. As of May 11 the Yankees had shifted 55 times, just 15 short of last season’s total. Its difficult to say whether this is working, because the Yankees rank 26th in baseball in defensive efficiency (which measures the percentage of balls put into play that are turned into outs), tied with the Detroit Tigers, who play two poor-fielding 1st basemen in their infield.
Before the season I thought the Yankees had one of the deepest roster’s in baseball, which would serve them well over the long, arduous season. The Yankees’ depth has been severely tested this season, and outside of Raul Ibanez’s hitting and the bullpen, they have come up short. The offense has been elite so far and ranks 3rd in the majors in all 3 triple slash categories. Once they start hitting with runners on base, the runs will start flowing again. The Yankees have one of the elite offenses in baseball, which will keep them around .500, the bigger, more pressing issue is if the pitching that New York currently has is good enough to capture a playoff spot in the ferocious AL East. I’m not quite sure the Yankees have the caliber of pitching to make the postseason, and I fully expect Brian Cashman, annually one of the most active GMs in baseball, to make some sort of play to add a few wins to the overall total.
With the 1st 10% of the Major League regular season in the books, let’s take a look at some of the burning questions from around the league.
Can Matt Kemp hit .400? Or how about 60 homers?
Matt Kemp launched another homerun last night, his 10th of the year, and he is currently hitting a robust .449 at the plate. Kemp is on pace to smash over 85 homeruns and post a batting average that would stand as an all-time record. Regression will inevitably set in at some point however, so his performance will inevitably decline, but does he have a shot at history. Kemp had a sizzling start a year ago, hitting .368 the 1stmonth of the season, with 6 homers before average declined, but he continued hitting homers at the same rate. While I don’t think Kemp can legitimately hit .400, I do believe that this start will enable him to bat above the .375 mark, a very difficult feat. I think Kemp has a better chance at hitting 60 dingers, because he would only need to hit a homer about 1 in every 11 at-bats the rest of the year, which would be a decline in his current 1 per 7 rate. Last year he hit 1 homer per every 15 at-bats, so he would have to continue to slug better than he did a year ago, but it is possible and I think Kemp will do it.
Do the Yankees have a pitching problem?
What was once thought to be the deepest rotation in baseball, with 7 major league caliber starters, is now treading on thin ice due to poor performance and injury. The Rangers bombed Phil Hughes yesterday, being chased after allowing 4 runs on 5 hits in 2.2 innings. His season ERA now stands at an ugly 7.88 and his biggest problem is the home run ball. Hughes has given up an unsightly 5 homers in the 16 innings he’s pitched, while allowing 13.5 hits per 9 innings. Batters are just teeing off on Phil right now. The news got worse yesterday for the Yankees and Michael Pineda, as they learned the young righty has a partially torn labrum, which requires surgery and will end his season before it began. Freddy Garcia has also been unsightly in the rotation, and now the Yankees are viewing the return of Andy Pettitte as a need, rather than a luxury. Pettitte is 40-years-old and didn’t pitch a season ago, so he should be counted on for nothing more than back of the rotation help. If Garcia can put together one good start his next time out, Hughes will probably be sent to the bullpen. CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova make up a solid top of the rotation, but the Yankees will need someone else to step up in the 3rd spot if they want to improve what has been their biggest problem so far in 2012. That pitcher will probably have to be Hiroki Kuroda, who has been mediocre for the Bronx Bombers so far. If he steps up the Yankees pitching woes will be a thing of the past. But if he continues to struggle and posts a mid-4.00 ERA or worse, New York could be watching baseball in October, because the AL East is a meat grinder this year.
Are the Nationals for real?
Most definitely yes, the Nats are for real. Washington has the best pitching staff in baseball so far. They rank 1st in runs allowed, hits allowed, homeruns allowed (only 4!!!), average fastball velocity and they rank 2nd in baseball in strikeouts. Before the season manager Davey Johnson said he would take his staff over any in baseball, including the vaunted Philadelphia rotation, and so far he’s been proven right. The top-3 of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez all possess ERAs under 2.00. Strasburg, in particular, has been untouchable, posting an absurd 336 ERA+ while striking out 10.3 batters per 9. The offense could use a little boost, ranking 22nd in baseball so far, but many of their best hitters are struggling or on the DL. Michael Morse has yet to play, and he was the team’s best hitter a year ago. Morse will probably return to action around the end of May. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington’s star 3rd baseman, has also struggled hitting only .224/.324/.345. Expect the offense to improve when the weather really heats up and expect the Nationals to keep on winning.
Should Yoenis Cespedes be your new favorite player?
Yes. The guy is a treat to watch. Cespedes swings with all his might, hits with massive power, steals bases, has a rocket launcher for an arm, and plays the game with passion. And if that isn’t enough for you how about this?
Oh, and he will probably be a 30-30 player for years to come. He already has 5 homers and 4 steals on the young season and his plate discipline is improving. And the scary part is how good Cespedes will be in a year or two, once he adjusts to living in America and gets a better grasp of the strike zone. He’s a fantastic player who is breathtaking to watch.
Where has Albert Pujols gone?
The Machine has not been the same since leaving St. Louis for the sunny shores of California. He’s having the worst April of his entire career and is also currently stuck in the worst slump of his career, a 0-19 bender that has many pundits baffled. He is now hitting .222/.282/.319 and still hasn’t hit his 1st homerun. Last night against the Tampa Bay Rays, Pujols looked downright uncomfortable at the plate, striking out twice, and pulling into the shift once. Two or three years ago, a manager wouldn’t have dared to use a shift on Pujols, because he would punish it by immediately taking the 1st good pitch to the opposite field for a base hit. The Rays shifted on Pujols for every at-bat, showing either a lot of conviction out of Joe Maddon or knowledge that Pujols is trying to pull everything. If Albert relaxes a little more at the plate and starts to use the whole field again, he will once again take his place as one of the 3-5 most feared hitters alive. Pujols should recover in time to hit around .280-.300 with 25 homers, a far cry from the production expected out of him when he signed in LA for $240 million. The bigger concern should be going forward, because if Pujols’ production is already declining, the Angels are in big trouble.
With baseball’s all-time leader in pickoffs, Andy Pettitte with 99, returning to pitch for the Yankees this season it’s a good time to take a look back at the history and origin of the pickoff move. My source for the history of the pickoff move and from where all quotes were extracted is the excellent book A Game of Inches: The Stories Behind the Innovations that Shaped Baseball by the award winning Peter Morris.
The pickoff move has been in recorded existence since the 1800s when in 1860 “the Brooklyn Eagle recorded: ‘(Mattie) O’Brien played finely, both pitching and watching the bases; in the latter respect he kept his opponents well on the bases when they reached them. He caught (Frank) Pidgeon napping at first base in capital style.’” Since baseball in the 1860s was still played by pitching the ball underhanded, a pickoff would not resemble anything like baseball today. “Much of the interplay that now exists between pitchers and base runners did not exist. Most base runners began to take modest leads, and pickoff tosses accordingly became scarce in the 1870s” according to Morris. A pickoff became a rare sighting and until the 1880s the move was considered an unused novelty.
By the 1880s, overhand pitching had taken hold of baseball and would help reintroduce the move into the sport. The pickoff began to take shape and look similar to what we now know of today. Windups began to evolve to hold base runners with “the most extreme approach employed by Philadelphia’s Con Murphy. Although Murphy was a right-hander, with a runner on first he stood facing the base runner until he suddenly pivoted and threw to the plate.” Another famous early pickoff artist was Matt Kilroy, a left-hander who employed an illegal move in today’s game. He “made the same step forward as though he was going to pitch, but would shoot the ball underhanded to first base, instead of ‘putting it over the plate.’” In today’s game once a pitcher moves toward the plate he must follow through with the pitch, otherwise it is considered a balk.
Other forms of pickoffs inevitably developed, such as pickoffs to second, ambidextrous pickoffs (which “was surprisingly frequent in the days before it was common for pitchers to wear gloves” via Morris), and the fake to third, throw to first pickoff variant. The first real step taken toward slowing a running game and implementing the modern pickoff was in 1889 when Tim Keefe pitched out of the stretch. This would change baseball completely, and today every single pitcher from Little League to the Big Leagues is taught to pitch out of the stretch. The pickoff would undergo very little change or invention until the 1960s.
By the 1960s base runners were begin to dominate baseball as they never had before. Managers were learning the benefits of stealing a base tended to outweigh the risks. In 1962 Maury Willis stole 104 bases, which hadn’t been done since 1894. Teams were stealing on average ten more bases a year than in the previous decade. Something needed to be done to slow down base stealers.
The slide step, which had been sparingly used in the 1800’s made a comeback. This involves a right-handed pitcher quickly removing his back foot from the rubber and wheeling around and throwing to first. According to Morris, Pud Galvin in 1891 is credited with inventing a crude version of the move. According to most text it is difficult to tell who refined the move, as it seems most of the league started employing the tactic around the same time.
One of the best right-handed pickoff moves in use today belongs to James Shields. He caught 12 base runners last season, a huge total, and only allowed 6 steals on 11 attempts. Nobody ran on him and his move, shown here, involves him sitting in a low stance in order to see the runner as best he can. Shields then removes his back foot from the rubber while wheeling around and firing low and to the outside corner of the base. Its the gold standard for the sidestep.
In the last two decades, as further response to the increase in base running, lefties began refining an old technique as well. Mat Kilroy’s old technique of faking to the plate and throwing to first was brought back to life by guys like Jim Kaat and particularly Andy Pettitte. Mark Buehrle is another modern master of Kilroy’s ploy. The modern version of the pickoff entails that a pitcher bring his leg directly up and then move it toward first base. If the pitcher moves his leg back or forward in any way he must go to the plate or be called for a balk. Pettitte and Buehrle in particular are excellent at the feign because they can keep their eye on the plate while throwing toward first. This pickoff move also controls the opponent’s running game, allowing more time for double plays to be turned and stealers to be caught. Base runners need to keep small leads and stay alert against pitchers like these, unless they want to be cut down in their prime.