At Pinstriped Bible, I’ve got a look at the Yankees’ backup catcher situation, the post-trade deadline success of the bullpen and the trials and tribulations of Javier Vazquez, who hasn’t lasted five innings in any of his last three starts. From the bullpen piece:
The Yanks spent the first half of the season largely fumbling for the right combination of relievers in front of Mariano Rivera, who’s been as remarkable as ever at the age of 40. Joba Chamberlain didn’t have much to pump his fist about as he struggled to assert a claim on the eighth inning setup role. David Robertson looked like a nervous teenager on a first date instead of a seasoned October veteran. Chan Ho Park showed that without a scruffy beard or a locker at Chavez Ravine, his superpowers were completely neutralized. Alfredo Aceves hit the disabled list due to back woes. Chad Gaudin… well, he pitched like the second coming of Chad Gaudin. Damaso Marte faked a shoulder injury and took up residence in the south of France, just as he did last summer.
The result was a bullpen that ranked in the middle of the pack according to a pair of Baseball Prospectus’ key metrics designed do a better job of measuring reliever performance than traditional ERA, not to mention the execrable holds statistic. WXRL (reliever expected wins added) incrementally credits and debits every reliever with a fraction of a win based upon the game state in which he enters — inning, out, runners on base, relative score — and when he departs. A reliever who allows a run in the eighth inning of a one-run game has done more to cost his team a chance at winning than a reliever who yields one in the sixth inning of a blowout. Fair Run Average is a pitcher’s runs allowed (earned and unearned) per nine innings, adjusted for inherited and bequeathed baserunners and the number of outs; a pitcher who departs with a man on first base and two outs is charged with a smaller fraction of a run than one who fleees with a man on second and nobody out.
The Yankees ranked ninth in the league with 2.7 WXRL in the first half, 4.8 wins behind the Rays; with a better bullpen performance, they’d have built themselves a bigger cushion atop the standings. They were a slightly better seventh in reliever Fair Run Average at 4.30; the Twins paced the Junior Circuit with a 3.22 mark.
Since the All-Star break, however, the Yankees have been tops in the league in both categories, with 3.6 WXRL and a 2.42 FRA.
From the Vazquez piece:
This is not the first time this year Vazquez has been bumped back, and the Yankees can only hope this time around pays similar dividends to the last. Rocked for a 9.78 ERA through his first five starts of the season (a performance I examined at Baseball Prospectus), he was pulled from the rotation, making just one start between May 2 and May 21. He got his groove back, making 10 quality starts out of 14 from the time he was pulled until the end of July, good for a 3.29 ERA. But just when it looked as though he had joined the ranks of the reliable, he was tagged for an 8.10 ERA and seven homers in four starts August totaling just 16.2 innings. On Saturday he tied his season high by allowing three homers in his three frames, two of them to Ichiro Suzuki, who’d hit just three all season long. So it goes.
As Girardi noted, Vazquez has indeed been lacking velocity this year, likely the result of mechanical woes which make his delivery hard to repeat and prevent him from getting on top of his pitches. According to the Pitch f/x data at Fangraphs, Vazquez’s average fastball (four-seamers and two-seamers combined) has clocked in at 88.7 mph, down from 91.1 last year and roughly three MPH lower than his 2005-2008 mark; it’s also getting less movement, at least relative to last year. He’s throwing fewer fastballs than in 2009, getting more fouls but fewer whiffs (swings and misses) and more balls put into play… Furthermore, the whiff percentage on Vazquez’s offspeed stuff (curve, slider and changeup) has plummeted more dramatically…
If it weren’t for the fact that Vazquez has been helped out to an almost absurd degree by the Yankee defense — his .271 BABIP is 12 points below the team average, best in the rotation and 43 points better than Burnett — he’d have an ERA even higher than his 5.05 mark, which is still his worst since his 1998 rookie campaign.
Add it up and Vazquez is striking out just 7.1 hitters per nine, his lowest mark since his first tour of duty with the Yankees in 2004 (such wonderful memories that produced) and a full strikeout below his career mark. That wouldn’t be so problematic if the rest of his peripherals weren’t taking a bath as well. He’s walking a career-worst 3.7 per nine, over a 50 percent increase on his career mark (2.4), leaving him with a strikeout-to-walk ratio below 2.0 for the first time in his career. He’s also yielding 1.8 homers per nine, the product of him combining his lowest-ever groundball-to-flyball ratio (0.72) with a ballpark where teams have racked up an MLB-high 1.4 homers per game. That’s a towering 400-foot homer above his career rate of 1.2 per nine innings, a rate which ranks as the ninth-highest among pitchers with at least 2000 innings, a hair higher than that of Jamie Moyer, who earlier this year surpassed Robin Roberts on the all-time leaderboard for homers surrendered. We get it: the guy has a gopher problem.
Meanwhile, over at Baseball Prospectus, I had a piece on the Yankees’ performance through the dog days of August, one which keyed the PB bullpen piece::
The Yankees’ Playoff Odds briefly topped an MLB-best 90 percent in late July and stood an eyelash below that as of August 1. After Monday’s loss, those odds had fallen to 82.9 percent (46.1 percent division, 36.8 percent wild card), just the fourth-highest mark in the league behind the Rangers (96.7 percent), Twins (84.2 percent), and Rays (83.3 percent). While their run differential and third-order winning percentage are higher than those of Tampa Bay (+140 to +134 and .577 to .568, respectively), their remaining opponents have a slightly better record, averaging a 60-57 mark, compared to 58-59 for the Rays, which is why the odds slightly favor the latter. More on that below.
The Yankees’ rotation is in disarray thanks to the combination of Phil Hughes‘ mid-season slump, the sub-par performances of A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez, and the continued absence of Andy Pettitte due to a groin strain; lately, only CC Sabathia has thrown well with any consistency. Consider the contrast between the unit’s first- and second-half performances:
Period IP/GS K/9 HR/9 ERA QS% DS% 1st Half 6.3 7.3 1.0 3.68 60% 11% 2nd Half 5.8 5.8 1.3 4.79 50% 20%
QS% is the percentage of quality starts (six innings or more, three earned runs or less), while DS% is the percentage of disaster starts (more earned runs than innings pitched). The Yankees’ tendency towards the latter has nearly doubled since the break, as the rest of their numbers have suffered.
Fortunately, their bullpen has rounded into shape during that stretch with Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson stringing together several solid outings, Boone Logan emerging as a reliable lefty option, and deadline acquisition Kerry Wood providing another live arm for the late innings. At the break, the Yankees ranked ninth in WXRL (2.7) and seventh in reliever Fair Run Average (4.30); they’ve been tops in the league in both since then (3.6 WXRL, 2.42 FRA). Robertson, Logan, Wood, the amazing Mariano Rivera, and mop-up man Sergio Mitre all have FRAs below 2.00 in the second half, while Chamberlain’s 3.28 is more than 1.5 runs per nine below his engorged first-half mark.
Beyond that, travel led me to try an experiment with the Hit List: follow Twitter rules and limit myself to 140 characters per team, including shortened links. Working within those limitations wasn’t too dissimilar from writing haiku, except with a computer doing the counting. The formant wasn’t universally loved — nor did I expect it to be — but it was fun to try and enough readers did enjoy it. That plus the fact that it took about 1/4 of the time the two league Hit Lists do make it an option which I reserve the right to use in the future:
I’ll have more on the Twins in my next BP piece, as I paid a visit to Target Field over the weekend.