Can CC Sabathia be 2013 Andy Pettitte?

The Detroit Tigers were about as bad a matchup on paper as CC Sabathia could have possibly gotten for his opening start of the 2016 season. Eight of the Tigers' nine batters were righties, including sluggers Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. Sabathia's splits against righties and lefties were drastic last season with righties having a .370 wOBA against Sabathia compared to a .231 wOBA for lefites. The Yankees were desperate for a six inning start since neither of their first four starting pitchers achieved that. Since you can't predict baseball, Sabathia was able to do it as he allowed three earned runs over six innings, including retiring the first nine Detroit hitters. It was extremely clear that Sabathia was trying to reinvent himself as a new pitcher trying to follow what Andy Pettitte did with great success at the end of his career.

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Quick Hit: Two-Strike Mike

[caption id="attachment_80873" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Pineda 2-Strikes vs HOU Courtesy of Brooks Baseball[/caption] It's foolish to make too much out of one start, but take a look at that pitch plot from Michael Pineda's start last night.  That's pitch location broken down by strikes in the count and the yellow dots indicate where his 2-strike pitches were thrown.  Unless you have some kind of color blindness, you can see that a lot of those 2-strike pitches are located in the strike zone and too many of those pitches in the strike zone are in the middle portion of it.

As I discussed in the game recap, poor 2-strike pitch location was a problem for Pineda again last night.  It wasn't his downfall, as all the home runs off him came early in the count, but it perfectly exemplifies the command and location problems that have hounded him during his time in pinstripes.  We should be seeing a lot more of those yellow dots down and out of the strike zone, in places where hitters either can't make contact and strike out or make weaker contact that leads to easy outs from the defense.  I only count 3 of those such pitches, compared to 13 in the strike zone.

I'm sure the cold weather had something to do with Pineda's location struggles last night, especially when it comes to his slider.  It would be a gross over-reaction to say that last night's poor showing is a predictor of things to come this season.  At the same time, this is not a new problem for Pineda and it is one that he needs to correct regardless of what the weather is.  We know he's got the stuff and the command to be a very good starting pitcher.  That's reflected in his K and BB rates and we've seen him be dominant in a few starts.  But he needs to be better with 2 strikes and the best way to do that is to throw more pitches out of the strike zone.  2-strike counts are not the time to let a hitter square the ball up.

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Current State of the Yankees' Rotation

[caption id="attachment_79339" align="alignnone" width="594"](NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    in action against the at Yankee Stadium on October 1, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Red Sox 4-1. The Yankees clinched a wildcard playoff position and won their 10,000th regular season game. .[/caption] The awfulness of the New York Yankees offense down the stretch got most of the attention and blame for the downfall of the second half, but the starting pitching played a role as well and the Yankees are in an interesting spot this offseason when it comes to their rotation.

The Yankees finished 18th in starters ERA at 4.25, but eighth with a 3.75 xFIP. The biggest issue was a lack of innings, as the Yankees finished 21st in MLB in starters innings and it felt worse than that. CC Sabathia of all pitchers led the team with 167.1 innings. This really manifested itself down the stretch when the bullpen performance fell off due to too many innings.

The things with the Yankees starting rotation is that it's tantalizing with potential, almost like a tease. We've seen Masahiro Tanaka perform like an ace at times. We've seen flashes from Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi that suggest they can be good second and third starters. The problem is that between injuries and their own inconsistencies it hasn't been shown enough.

Tanaka's peripherals were better than his overall numbers last year and he fell victim to some bad home run luck. Tanaka held opposing batters to a .217 average in 2015 grounders were slightly up, his hard contact given up fell by four percent and his soft contact given up lowered by two percent. The velocity was a non-issue, as he threw harder in 2015 than in 2014, but the effectiveness of his fastball remains a big issue. It's hard to be a top of the line starter without having an effective fastball. He allowed nine homers and a .318 average against his four-seam fastball last season.

Pineda is definitely the most baffling player on the Yankees. His 2.95 xFIP far outweighs his 4.37 ERA. His 8.74 K/9 ratio compared to his 1.18 BB/9 ratio is terrific, as is his 48.2 percent ground ball rate. Was it just horrible luck for Pineda with his .332 BABIP? It seemed like when things went bad for Pineda they snowballed. That seemed to happen when he didn't have his good slider. Obviously, developing the changeup more would be big to help that. Maybe it's a case of Pineda being around the plate too often since he doesn't walk anybody. Larry Rothschild usually has pitchers overachieving for the Yankees and not underachieving. Pineda underachieved, so it needs to be figured out what exactly happened after his awesome start to the season.

Eovaldi definitely improved greatly over the second half of the season with his splitter, but you want to see it for longer to be completely convinced. Luis Severino made a great impact down the stretch, but outperformed his peripherals a little bit and should the Yankees rely on what will be a 22-year old at the top of the rotation?

The depth is pretty good if both Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchel are considered starting pitchers. If Sabathia is the fifth starter by default again than Warren, Mitchell and Ivan Nova are some talented arms and  form a pretty good 6-7-8 to put in when the inevitable injuries hit.

This all screams for an ace pitcher who you could depend on for over 200 innings. It would make such a huge difference to slide everybody back a spot. You could conceivably have Eovaldi as your fifth starter. How awesome would that be? There are certainly guys like that available from David Price to Zack Greinke to Johnny Cueto. Of course the Hal Steinbrenner Yankees are much more likely to trade or sign a mid rotation innings eater pitcher and try to convince Yankees fans that Tanaka, Pineda and Severino will lead the rotation at the top based off flashes. That's a risk that didn't really work out last year, but since it's the cheaper option it probably won't stop the Yankees from doing it again.

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Quick Hit: Severino's Changing Approach?

In the recap this morning, I hinted at a potential change in Luis Severino's approach over his last few starts.  He's been much lower on strikeouts and higher on GB contact, and he made a comment about being more of a pitcher than a thrower before his last outing against Toronto in reference to that one bad outing earlier in the month.  It all adds up to a guy who's starting to realize the differences between what does and doesn't work when you go from Triple-A to the Majors and adjusting his approach accordingly. A quick look at the differences in pitch usage provide some supporting evidence to this theory.  Here's the breakdown of pitches over Severino's first 8 Major League starts, courtesy of Texas Leaguers (Brooks hasn't added their pitch data from yesterday's start):

Severino Pitch Breakdown 8-9-15

TL reads more cutters and 2-seamers than Brooks, but it's a real heavy dose of fastball-slider with a small side salad of changeups.  Compare that to his pitch usage in his last 2 starts:

Severino Pitch Breakdown Last 2 Starts 15

That's a little more balanced.  About 10% fewer fastballs, a few more sliders, and an over 7% increase in changeups.  That certainly fits the narrative of a pitcher who is becoming more mindful of navigating lineups multiple times and mixing things up to keep hitters honest and off-balance, and I could see the on-field results fitting in with this change in approach as well.  The changeup is the weakest of Severino's 3 pitches, but more of them mixed in and fewer fastballs to hit would explain the increase in weaker contact and could explain the decrease in strikeouts.  Severino's fastball is a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch when he locates it well.

Of course, all of this could be nothing more than overreading a small sample size.  Part of what inspired me to look this up is the fact that Severino threw 6 shutout innings yesterday.  But let's be honest, he's probably not going to get 4 double plays in 1 start again this season, maybe never again in his career.  If one or 2 of those plays don't happen yesterday and the White Sox put a few more hits together and multiple runs on the board, suddenly Severino's performance and related potential changes aren't as big of a talking point.

What we know based on these numbers is that it appears as though he is starting to make some meaningful changes to how he pitches to Major League lineups and that's a good thing.  What we need to see is him sustain this approach and find a way to bring back that swing-and-miss strikeout ability that he showed over his first 8 starts.

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An Evolved Eovaldi

William has been knocking Nathan Eovaldi's evolution out of the park the last few weeks, but I'm going to steal his gimmick for a quick post illustrating just how much Eovaldi has changed with a small sample comparison.  You could argue that the last 2 starts have been Eovaldi's best of the season. They've certainly been the starts in which his stuff has looked the best and they're a far cry from what he showed in his first 2 starts.  How far?  See for yourself. Eovaldi Pitch Plot First 2 Starts


That's Eovaldi's pitch location plot for his first 2 starts of the season, 4/10 against the Red Sox and 4/15 against the Orioles.  The pitch selection breaks down to roughly 45% 4-seamers, 31% sliders, 15% curveballs, and a handful of changeups.  In those 2 starts, Eovaldi's line was 10.1 IP, 16 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 10 K.


Eovaldi Pitch Plot Last 2 Starts


That's the pitch plot from his last 2 starts.  It breaks down to about 46% 4-seamers, 32% splitters, 15% sliders, and a few curveballs.  Eovaldi's line in these 2 outings is 15 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 15 K.

Those results are pretty far apart and they're really representative of 2 completely different pitchers.  Eovaldi's gone from no splitters at all to the split being his most used offspeed pitch and primary out pitch.  The slider has essentially replaced the curveball as the "get me over" offspeed pitch, from 61% strikes in April to almost 70% over the last 2 starts, and you'll notice a much tighter concentration of slider locations in that second plot.

You'll also notice that Eovaldi has shifted his fastball location from a balanced, both sides of the plate approach to one that's decidedly more focused on working inside to righties and higher in the strike zone.  This is obviously to set up the splitter and the general distribution of those pitches very closely matches that of the 4-seamer.  After going into the season with no clear out pitch and no real plan of attack with his fastball other than "throw it hard", Eovaldi now has a clear strategy he's trying to employ and a better ability to execute that strategy.

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Nathan Eovolving - Part 2

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees Looking at most leader boards on statistic sites, you cannot find a Yankee starting pitcher anywhere. They are not present in any of the big categories like FIP, ERA+, WAR or pretty much anything else. Yankee starters are deemed serviceable but not able to go long into games and at least most of the time, give the very good offense a chance to win the game. So imagine the glee of sorts to find a Yankee starter on top of one of a big-time writer's lists--Keith Law's list..

In a post last week, Keith Law ranked pitchers with the best pitches in various categories. For example, Law ranked Clayton Kershaw's curve as the best in baseball. Well, duh. Then we get to the split-fingered fastball and sitting on top of Law's list is Nathan Eovaldi!

This is remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, Nathan Eovaldi did not have a split-fingered fastball before 2015. It's a brand new baby of a pitch.'s Nathan Eovaldi. But is Keith Law correct?

I decided to look up the numbers on PitchF/X which keeps track of such things. The first thing I noticed is that only 26 MLB starters use the pitch. Compare that to the 85 starters that throw a curve as an example. This is a little like me having the best fried chicken in town when there are only two chicken dives.

But still, of all qualified starters, Nathan Eovaldi's splitter has been worth 8.9 runs above average this season good for first place. Law doesn't mention whether he used these stats to compile his lists or scouting. Either way, in this case, he is correct in that Eovaldi's splitter is highest among qualifying starters in total value. The key word here is, "Qaulifying."

Eovaldi has a teammate who hasn't pitched enough innings to be considered a qualifying starter. He is, of course, Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka's split-fingered fastball has been worth 10.2 runs above average. That would put Tanaka on top, qualified or not.

There is another way of looking at this statistic and that is the value of the pitch per a hundred thrown. In other words you take the total thrown and divide that into the total value and multiply that figure by 100. This changes our view a bit because all pitchers who throw a splitter do not throw them as often.

When viewed this way, the winner is Chris Sale, but Sale doesn't throw the pitch nearly as often (maybe he should). Eovaldi comes in fifth when looked at this way. He throws the splitter 14+% of the time. Tanaka comes in sixth and throws it 24+% of the time. Tanaka throws it more, but Eovaldi comes out ahead of him on the value per pitch.

I would say that Keith Law's rating, if based on statistics, would only be correct from one point of view. The bottom line is that Nathan Eovaldi has added a weapon and it has been a good one for him. The pitch has been a bit transforming and could really aid in his Eovolution.

Just to give you an idea of how far he has Eovolved this season, in April, May and June, Eovaldi pitched 82.1 innings and gave up 105 hits. Yeesh. In July and August, Eovaldi has pitched 46.2 innings and has given up 49 hits. That is much better. His batting average against has gone down every month this season.

And the pitch is very important because his other pitches all rate below average except for the two-seam fastball which is slightly above average.

All I know is that earlier in the season, I cringed at the prospect of an Eovaldi start. Now, I sort of look forward to them. I am looking forward to watching him today as the Yankees attempt to sweep the Twins!

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About Last Night: That Last At-Bat

Miller vs Tulo That's the sequenced pitch plot from the Andrew Miller-Troy Tulowitzki showdown that ended last night's game.  I'm still buzzing from the stress and excitement of that at-bat, and writing the recap made me want to go back and look at it again. It was such a great battle, both in terms of execution and strategy.  Regardless of what side you're rooting for in this division race, you have to tip your cap to both guys in this case.

When you look at the pitch location and pitch result breakdown, this clearly was a case of the batter knowing what was coming, the pitcher knowing that the batter knew what was coming, and the pitcher finally throwing a pitch good enough to get the swing and miss he needed.  Miller starter Tulo off with a called strike slider down and in and he kept pounding away at that area trying to get Tulo to swing over one.  The 3 balls way outside were the only fastballs Miller threw in the at-bat, and none of them were even close.  All 9 sliders were strikes, 8 of them were swung at, and the last one was missed.  Give Tulowitzki a lot of credit.  Most of those are really good pitcher's pitches.  The 10th pitch was up and over the plate, and that was the one he should have hit.  Hell of an AB for him, though, just to get it to that point.

And keep in mind that this at-bat took place after Miller had to buck up and strike out Ben Revere with runners on second and third and 1 out.  As weak an offensive player as he is, one thing Revere is great at is not striking out.  He came into the game with a 9.2% K rate on the season.  He makes a ton of contact and Miller got him to chase and miss 2 straight sliders down and away.  That's big time work right there.

Miller had to give it everything he had last night, and he definitely earned his paycheck and his day off this afternoon.  It was incredibly stressful to watch, but it was an equally incredible job of high-stress pitching by Miller to get out of huge trouble and close out the win.

(Pitch plot courtesy of Brooks Baseball)

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About Last Night: A Tale Of Two Severinos?

Lost in all of last night's late-inning festivities was an underratedly good second start by Luis Severino.  He looked very much the part of a 21-year-old making his second start in the early innings, but righted the ship and finished up with a 6-inning, 2-run no decision performance.  The outing was not as flashy as his debut in terms of results, but in showcasing Severino's ability to work through trouble and still provide length it may have been a better outing. The prevailing thought after the game was that Severino made some mid-game adjustments to fix things and that's how he was able to survive.  That was the narrative I was selling in my game recap, so I figured it was worth looking into a little more to see what those adjustments were.  Severino's 6 innings split up nicely into 2 equal 3-inning samples.  A comparison of the counting statistics shows a drastic difference in results from the first sample to the second.  Over the first 3 innings, Severino gave up 2 runs on 6 hits, 1 walk, and 1 hit batsman, and threw 60 pitches.  Over the final 3, he gave up no runs on 1 hit, no walks, and no hit batsmen on 37 pitches.  It goes without saying that a pitcher is going to throw more pitchers when he has to face more batters, but surely there had to be something he did differently that contributed to the turnaround, right?

[caption id="attachment_77625" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Severino Location Plot 1-3 Courtesy of Brooks Baseball[/caption]

There's his pitch location plot for the first 3 innings.  If the blues and blacks look too similar to you, that breaks down to 28 4-seam fastballs, 23 sliders, 8 changeups, and 1 cutter.  The first thing that jumps out to me here is how much Severino was missing to both sides of the plate with all of his pitches.  His changeup was all over the place, which wasn't forcing Cleveland hitters to respect it, and he missed up and in the middle of the strike zone with just many fastballs and sliders as he did way off the corners.

[caption id="attachment_77626" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Severino Location Plot 4-6 Courtesy of Brooks Baseball[/caption]

Now there's innings 4-6.  That's 19 fastballs, 15 sliders, and 3 changeups.  You'll notice that Severino really tightened up his command on the corners of the zone.  Only a handful of pitches missed way off the corner, which helped Severino get more strike calls and throw more strikes (59.4 strike % innings 4-6 compared to 58.3% in 1-3).  Severino also ditched the changeup in favor of a few more sliders, not a bad decision considering how poorly he located it in the first 3 innings.

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About Last Night: CC Sabathia

Well, last night's result was unexpected, wasn't it? While I realize the 2015 version of the Boston Red Sox doesn't have the scary lineup that the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays currently pencil in every night, when CC Sabathia is pitching, he can make just about any lineup seem like those formidable Jays for at least an inning. Thankfully for us, and for the Yankees, that didn't happen last night. He had his scary inning - the fifth - but it didn't result in five unanswered runs. Progress!

I think it's safe to say that he pitched his best game in a long time last night.

So how did Sabathia actually pull off that feat? By pitching like the CC of old. Mr. Sabathia was dialing it up to 94 in some spots. Specifically during his bases loaded strikeout of David Ortiz to end the fifth inning. He needed to get the out and he did by pitching Ortiz inside and hard.

Here's his velocity throughout the game: CCspeed86

The highest point, which was clocked at 94.9, was the pitch that struck out Ortiz to end that frightening fifth inning. Brooks baseball is saying that pitch was a sinker.

Here's how they broke down his pitches:

  • Fastball: Avg 93.1 - Max 94.5
  • Sinker: Avg 93.0 - Max 94.9
  • Changeup: Avg 85.5 - Max 86.6
  • Slider: Avg 81.1 - Max 82.3

Sabathia was pretty economical, with the exception of that fifth inning.

Here are his pitch totals by inning:

  • 1: 12
  • 2: 18
  • 3: 14
  • 4: 13
  • 5: 32
  • 6: 10

He threw 99 pitches, 63 of them were for strikes.

Here's what the fifth inning Ortiz at bat looked like from the catcher's point of view:


And here are the pitch speeds: pitchspeedortizatbat

CC had good reason to be pumped up after that strikeout. He only needed four pitches and got Ortiz to miss that 94 mph sinker to end the scoring threat.

Here's the spray chart: export (63)

It was nice to have a game that wasn't a "death by singles" game for CC. Quite refreshing actually.

His final line for the night: Six innings, three hits, one run, three walks, eight strikeouts.

The three walks were frustrating. Especially the walk to Jackie Bradley Jr. that led to the Red Sox scoring their only run of the game. I'm not sure how someone batting .100 can walk two times in a game but it happened. Good thing the second walk, which happened in the ninth inning with Andrew Miller on the mound, didn't come back to bite the Yankees like that first one did.

But enough negativity. CC Sabathia had a strong outing, the Yankees won the game and they took two of three from the Sox.

Have a nice Friday, everyone!

[Graphs, spray charts and numbers courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info and Brooks Baseball]

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Quick Hit: The Return Of Nova's Sinker, For One Day At Least

Just wanted to touch on an observation I had during yesterday's game.  I don't know how much we can take from one start, but it's worth noting that Ivan Nova's sinker looked really good yesterday.  He's struggled to command the pitch since coming back, and that lack of command has contributed to his hittability and low strikeout/swing-and-miss rates.  Not yesterday.  Here's where Nova's 43 sinkers were located: Nova Sinker Plot 8-2-15

Of those 43 sinkers, Nova threw 26 of them for strikes.  He drew swings on 20 of them and swings and misses on 5.  3 of those 5 whiffs came on strikeouts, which might be the best part about Nova's outing yesterday.  He struck out 7 batters overall, 6 of them swinging, and got the 6 swinging Ks on 3 sinkers and 3 curveballs.  That's the type of stuff we're used to seeing from Nova when he's on his game.

Compare yesterday's results to the 202 sinkers Nova threw over his first 6 starts:

Nova Sinker Plot 6-7-15

The overall location distribution looks very similar, and it is.  But the big difference is that group of pitches located in the right half of the strike zone.  You'll notice that there isn't a single pitch that crossed anywhere in or near the right side of the zone and beyond yesterday.  Nova was locating his sinker to one side of the plate all day yesterday, like he wanted to, and he was able to use the pitch more effectively as a result.  He could throw the pitch inside early in a count to move a batter's feet and better set up the 2-strike sinker out of the zone or the curveball down and away.  Because he kept pounding that side of the plate, the hitters had to honor it and change their approach in response.

Again, it was just one outing, so no way to draw any major conclusions from this.  But it was a good thing to see after the arm fatigue scare earlier in the week.  Life is much easier as a pitcher when you can locate where you want to and execute your game plan.  Nova was able to do that yesterday and his results speak to how effective his execution was.  If he can keep this up and keep pounding his sinker down and in to righties/down and away to lefties, Nova could become a big help to the rotation.

(Images and stats via Texas Leaguers)

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