A Baseball Weblog

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Putting Greinke's clunker in context

The Yankees knocked around Zack Greinke last night, scoring seven runs against him in only two innings.  Probably the most unusual thing about Greinke's brief (shortest start since 2007) outing was the number of free passes he allowed.  In his 2 innings and 16 batters faced, Greinke allowed three walks and hit a batter - all of this without striking out a single batter.  This coming from a pitcher with a K/BB near 9 coming into yesterday's game.  Strikeouts and free passes are two things that are directly in the pitcher's control, so it's a good (albeit incomplete) thing to look at for evaluating a pitcher's success.  Tom Tango's kwERA (strikeout-walk ERA) is an ERA estimator that only uses strikeouts and free passes (walks - intentional walks + hit batsmen) as inputs and converts the differential into an ERA-like number.  The chart below shows Greinke's kwERA by start, with the horizontal axis being the NL average ERA.

You can see that before yesterday, Greinke hadn't had a worse-than-average game by this measurement all season.  Greinke's still leads his league in kwERA by a lot at 2.12; Clayton Kershaw is next at 2.54.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nova slides to success

Ivan Nova just wrapped up the best start of his career a little while ago.  He pitched eight shutout innings (a career best), striking out seven (tying a career best), and most impressively, not allowing a single free pass (another career best).  In addition, he allowed 16 of his 21 balls in play on the ground (the other five were line drives).  He went to work with a different approach than in previous starts - for only the second time all year (and the first time since April 9th), Nova used his slider as his primary off-speed pitch.  He threw 26 sliders this evening, making up 25% of his 105 total pitches.  He used it in different situations, throwing it on the first pitch (five times) and in strikeout counts (eight times, including once on a full count).  Most of them were thrown to righties, though lefties saw two.  The breakdown for all of Nova's pitches is below:

     Ball      Called    Foul      Swinging  In Play     
FF   17        11        15        1*        15
SL   11        6         3         6         0
CU   7         0         3         3         1
CH   0         0         1         0         5

*missed bunt

What's very encouraging is that Nova was able to get both called and swinging strikes with his slider.  After tonight's performance, Nova's slider whiff rate (per swing) for the year is at a gaudy 60%.  That will almost certainly go down, but while it's working, it's good to see him increase usage of it. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A slightly different Ramiro Pena?

Ramiro Pena was recalled from Triple-A on Tuesday following Derek Jeter's calf injury, and got his first start of the season at third base on Wednesday.  He had a big day, collecting two hits and a no-doubt, 401-foot home run, his first homer since September of 2009.  You might have noticed that he looked different this year than in previous years - mostly, that's due to a new batting stance.  Click the links (2009, 2011) to see how Pena's stance has changed since his last major league home run.  You can see that previously, Pena had a much more open batting stance, and now both feet are pretty much equidistant from the plate; he might even be a little bit closed.  This is much more speculation, but Pena looks like he's gained some weight since last year, adding to the feeling of "who is that guy?" when he stepped up to the plate yesterday.

I don't know enough about batting stance and mechanics to qualify my comments on this, but one can't help but wonder if this new stance is paying previously unseen dividends for Pena.  In 215 plate appearances at Triple-A Scranton this year, Pena hit 4 home runs - by no means a big number, but interesting considering he'd never hit more than two in a full season.  His isolated power of .135 is also career high; he's never been above .100 for a professional season.  I don't think it's logical to make a big deal out of it yet, but combined with Pena's new swing, the power increase is certainly something to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Yanks face Holland in game two

Southpaw Derek Holland will be on the mound for the Rangers tonight.  Like yesterday's starter, Alexi Ogando, Holland is young and throws hard.  After being with the team in different roles since 2009, Holland, who is now 24, is finally getting his first chance to start consistently.  He's had mixed results, posting a 4.41 ERA but a much more impressive 3.52 xFIP in his 81 2/3 innings so far.  Graphs and metrics for his five pitches are below.




Holland's slider is probably his best strikeout pitch, though is fastball looks pretty good too.  Some of this is camera issues (pfx_x in Texas is shifted by a few inches), but the slider does appear to back-up most of the time (it moves gloveside as opposed to armside).  His curve moves more like a typical slider but is thrown in the 70s; it doesn't get whiffs, but he can drop it in for a called strike.  Also noticeable is that while he throws all five pitches to righties, he's really only four-seam/two-seam/slider against lefties.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ogando preview

After a successful series against the Indians, the Yankees will welcome the Texas Rangers to town for a three-game series beginning tonight.  For the second time this year, the pitching matchup will be Alexi Ogando versus CC Sabathia.  Ogando's story has probably been told a lot by now - converted outfielder, debuted in the bullpen last year, moved to the rotation, and has yet to lose a game all year.  He seems like a pretty tough customer.  Some bulletpoints on his stuff and pitching style:

  • Ogando is one of the hardest throwers in the game, averaging about 94.4 with his four-seam fastball. This puts him behind Michael Pineda, Justin Verlander, and David Price as the hardest-throwing starter in the game. 
  • He's all about that four-seamer, as he'll throw it a little under two-thirds of the time (62% against lefties, 66% against righties).  He'll throw an 80 mph slider as his offspeed pitch (26% LHB, 32% RHB) as well as the occasional changeup or two-seam sinker.
  • He'll get swings-and-misses on his fastball about 15% more often than the league average pitcher would.  However, his slider whiff rate of .264 is well below the league average of about 32%. 
  • He's below average at getting groundballs with both his fastball (36%) and his slider (32%), so he's prone to the home run ball.
  • His control is excellent, as he's maintained a walk rate of 2 per 9 innings by being able to throw strikes consistently with both his fastball (35% balls per pitch) and slider (37%). 

Given his power arm, Ogando might seem like he'd be more of a strikeout pitcher, but he's making the control thing work well for him so far.  His BABIP is .210, so his ERA probably won't stay in the low 2s for long.  Even if you throw in some regression, he still looks like a top-flight starting pitcher. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Joba, I'm gonna miss you

The news is official now, and Joba Chamberlain will have Tommy John surgery next Thursday with Dr. James Andrews.  I don't really have a whole lot to say on the subject, but I thought I shouldn't just let it go by without saying anything here.  

I'm sure most of you have some sort of "special connection" to a ballplayer, whether it be somebody from your hometown, somebody you've watched from early on in his career, etc.  I've been following the Yankees for ten years, but I only really got into all the minutiae a few years ago.  Joba Chamberlain might've been the first guy that I really studied closely from his first major league season.  Between that, my love of pure power pitchers, and his fun personality, I became a huge fan of Joba's, while being wary of the occasional transgression.  Even after his move to the bullpen in 2010, I'd make attempts to arrange my schedule so that I could see him pitch (such as asking myself, can I get home in time to watch the last three innings of the game?).  It goes without saying that it won't be the easiest thing for me to not see him out there for at least another year.  For him, I hope he has a flawless recovery and can get back out there as soon as possible.  

Get well soon, Joba; we'll be pulling for you. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hello again, Jeffrey

This was supposed to go up yesterday, but the Joba Chamberlain news pushed me back a bit.  

Jeff Marquez was claimed off waivers by the Yankees on Wednesday, making that Nick Swisher deal look even more silly.  This is kind of a blast-from-the-past, as Marquez was making his way through the Yankees' system as a starter (along with Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy) in the mid-2000s.  Now 26, Marquez's stock has fallen a lot in the past five years, and this acquisition is nothing more than a depth move.  

Marquez was touted as a sinker-ball pitcher, though his groundball rates dropped a lot from his early professional career (mid 50% ground ball rate 2005-2007, down about 10 percentage points 2008-2010).  From his one inning, 18-pitch stint with the White Sox last year, we have some PITCHf/x data on Marquez.  He showed five pitches that formed five distinct clusters; below is horizontal spin deflection plotted against vertical spin deflection (in inches):

This one shows horizontal spin deflection and speed:

I don't know how (if at all) Joe Girardi plans to use Marquez in the now-depleted bullpen, but it sure would be nice for him to contribute and get his career going again.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Joba's injury

The Yankees announced this afternoon that Joba Chamberlain is headed to the DL with a strained elbow flexor, and I'm not the least bit surprised that something is wrong with him.  Below are the average velocities for his fastball, slider, and curve over each 2011 appearance.  Take a look at the last two:

This one is all fastballs:

You can see that in his past two games, his velocity was down about 3 mph from where it usually is.  It looks like he won't throw for two weeks, so I wouldn't be shocked if we don't see him back on the team until July.  That's disappointing news.   

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A (mostly) two-pitch pitcher

Dan Haren, who was scheduled to start game two of the series, has a mild back injury, which means that the Yankees will face Ervin Santana instead.  After breaking in with the Halos in 2005 and turning in a clutch long relief effort against the Yankees in the playoffs (filling in for who but Bartolo Colon), Santana has put together some strong campaigns (2008, 2010) and some that would better be described as "clunkers" (2007, 2009).  He's a power pitcher, but he's not throwing as hard as he was a few years ago.  He's got four pitches, but his low-90s fastball and low-80s slider make up over 95% of his repertoire.  Some 2011 charts and graphs are below (only 33 changeups and 18 sinkers this year, so no individual pitch metrics for them).

mph#vs RHBvs LHBSwing Whiff Zone Ball nsCall GB%


The slider is effective at getting whiffs (anything over 40% is impressive), the fastball is not.  He's a flyball guy, so he can be homer-prone.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Yankees' first-pitch swing rates

I noticed a question in a River Ave. Blues mailbag session from earlier today, asking about the Yankees and first-pitch swing percentage.  I've looked at that stat a few times before, so it's not too much trouble to load it up for 2011 data.  The league average so far in 2011 for swing percentage on the first pitch of an at-bat is .265.  Using a 150 plate appearance limit, leaving 207 qualified batters, Vladimir Guerrero leads the majors with a first-pitch swing rate of .423; Jamey Carroll is last at .014.  The table below shows where the Yankees fall on the list.

RankBatterFP Swing Rate
6Robinson Cano.409
72Russell Martin.291
101Nick Swisher.263
103Derek Jeter.262
112Alex Rodriguez.252
134Jorge Posada.232
160Mark Teixeira.209
193Curtis Granderson.138
200Brett Gardner.110

Andruw Jones, the only other Yankee batter with more than 50 plate appearances, has a rate of .338. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Might Nova start throwing more sliders?

Two things about Ivan Nova: he's struggling, and he hasn't thrown a slider since April 15th.  I've recently discussed both of those things here.  I noticed an interesting Joe Girardi quote in an Avi Zaleon MLB.com article from this evening:

"I think he got to where he was a two-pitch guy, and this is a guy that has four pitches.  He's had some ups and downs. There's been some inconsistency, he's walked more people than he's accustomed to walking. It all is part of a learning process for him. We're trying to get him back to using all his pitches."

So what does that mean?  Nova's repertoire is dominated by fastballs and curveballs, but he has thrown at least one changeup in each of his starts this year.  Anyway, Joe mentioned four pitches, which would imply that he sees the slider as missing in his repertoire.  I would agree wholeheartedly with Joe's suggestion; for a guy who's struggling to miss bats, it can't hurt to try another breaking pitch.  

UPDATE, 6/2: In a George King column, he says that Nova "vowed to use his slider tomorrow night with a fastball and curve."  I'll be on the lookout. 

Say hello to Gio

After taking the first two games of the series against the Athletics, the Yankees will go up against Gio Gonzalez in the Wednesday matinee.  Gonzalez is not as young as Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, as this is his age 26 season.  He's another groundball pitcher, though not as extreme as his younger rotation mates.  He'll walk more guys and get more strikeouts.  His strikeout pitch is an 80 mph power curveball that has a huge groundball rate.  I'm going to make this one quick, so here are your Gio Gonzalez spin charts, pitch results table, and plate locations (in tabular form this time) for 2011.

mph#Swing RateWhiff RateZone RateBall RatensCall RateGB Rate


High OZ10.9%20.3%5.6%1.8%11.7%
High IZ22.6%24.6%11.8%8.8%19.1%
Low IZ23.1%13.8%19.9%36.8%19.9%
Low OZ10.0%5.7%34.8%35.1%17.9%


vs LHBInside OZInside IZMiddleOutside IZOutside OZ

vs RHBInside OZInside IZMiddleOutside IZOutside OZ

His curveball is probably his best pitch, but his fastball also gets a lot of whiffs.  He can be wild, as he's walked four and a half per nine innings over his career, but he's still got nasty stuff.  The way this series has gone so far, though, facing good pitchers means nothing to the Yankees