Thursday, May 13, 2010

Injuries, Pitching, And Scheduling

The Yankees are 22-11, and nearly 20% of the way through the season they continue to play .667 baseball. They have lost only one series of their first 10, and they send their ace, C.C. Sabathia, to the mound tomorrow to try to keep that streak going by getting a split in Detroit. The continued winning has been even more impressive across the last two weeks or so, as the Yankees have been hit by the injury bug. Thankfully nothing overly serious where any player is anticipated gone for more than a month or so, but a lot of those types of injuries can have a cumulative effect.

That effect started to show itself ever so slightly with the Yankees losing three straight games for the first time this season between Sunday and the first game Wednesday. That was bound to happen at some point, and may have anyway, but the injuries certainly did not help. Most notably on offense. There is no way around it, the Yankees' offense is short right now by their standards. That's even the case when you play all of the healthy regulars, so when you rest one, let alone two, regulars, it is even more noticeable. This hasn't become a huge problem yet. The Yankees offense still has a lot of horses relative to other teams. But they aren't playing according to the same expectations as most other teams, and they aren't in the same division as most other teams. They are going to have less games where they score major runs while Granderson and Johnson or out, and that typically results in less winning. Which is a problem.

The Yankees upcoming schedule adds wrinkle of intrigue to this. Their next 14 games are vicious. One more at Detroit, three at home vs. Minnesota, two at home vs. Boston, two at home vs. Tampa Bay, three at NYM, and three at Minnestoa. One off day. However, their next 15 games are soft on paper. Four at home vs. Cleveland, three at home vs. Baltimore, three at Toronto, three at Baltimore, and three at home vs. Houston. One off day.

If the Yankees can get through these next 14 games without tanking, they could put themselves in a very good position. They've given themselves a cushion for a change, and if they can maintain or increase that against a tough part of the schedule they should be in good shape. Not just because they will have weathered a difficult two weeks schedule-wise, but because the start of the weaker part of the schedule should coincide with a return of some of the injured players, which would be a nice extra boost. So right now it's really all about getting through these next 2.5 weeks. You may think this is an over analysis for mid-May, but after these combined stretches totaling 29 games, we'll be 19 games from the halfway point of the season. That is not insignificant.

So with an offense that is potentially not as reliable or as powerful as usual, how do you navigate this part of the schedule? With pitching. In that way the double-header yesterday has put the Yankees in an interesting position. Originally, Javy Vazquez was scheduled to next pitch Sunday against the Twins at Yankee Stadium. That's probably the toughest lefty lineup in baseball in a stadium that favors lefty hitters. That's a bad match-up for any righty, let alone one that has mostly struggled as Vazquez has. With the rainout, the Yankees now need a different starter for Sunday, and it will likely be Sergio Mitre. That's not a much better match-up for him (although he does a better job of keeping the ball on the carpet, which should help against a lefty heavy team in stadium with a short porch in right), but you'd rather have Mitre in a tough match-up than Vazquez right now, because the results are not under a microscope. That would set Vazquez and Hughes to pitch against Boston, Sabathia and Burnett against Tampa, Pettitte, Vazquez, and Hughes against the Mets, and then Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte against Minnesota.

But I'm wondering if a slight adjustment doesn't best benefit the Yankees and one of their players who they are trying to get right, Javy Vazquez. He pitched very well today. One good start does not erase two average ones and three atrocious ones preceding it. It was more the way he did it, however. Attacking the zone, particularly with his fastball, throwing 66 of 97 pitches for strikes. Aggressive with his stuff, particularly with his fastball, inducing 16 swings and misses, 10 on the fastball, both of which I believe are his best marks of the season. It was still only one start, though. The key now is to build off of it.

The Red Sox Monday really isn't such a bad match-up for him. There two most dangerous hitters are right-handed, and Yankee Stadium has a huge left field to work with. He's going to have to pitch against a good team at some point. But the Yankees won't see the Red Sox again until August, and after the good start they've had it would be a shame to give anything back in the standings those two games. If they were to bump Javy again a few days, it would allow them to go Hughes and Sabathia against Boston, Burnett and Pettitte against Tampa Bay, Vazquez, Hughes, and Sabathia against the Mets (who play those games like it's the World Series, by far the most annoying part of the regular season), and then finish up the tough part of the schedule with Burnett, Pettitte, and Vazquez in Minnesota.

What you accomplish here is getting your four best pitchers in the two short series against Boston and Tampa Bay. This is important because all of those games count twice in the standings. It's a slight risk in the short-term by taking a shot at Vazquez's confidence, especially coming off a strong start. But you have to think about the team, and it also goes back to the notion of building off today's start. Having Vazquez go out and get lit against Boston in front of a packed Yankee Stadium isn't going to help the team or the player. Pushing him back a few days to spacious city field, and against a team from a league he has had decidedly more success again, could be a win-win for the team and the player. It could also be a key to getting the Yankees through this tough part of the schedule.

Phil Hughes has allowed 6 earned runs total in his 6 starts to start this season, good for 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA. He has allowed 22 hits in 39 innings, striking out 39 against only 14 walks. He has a 0.92 WHIP and batters are hitting .165 against him. 20% of the way through the season, he's probably been the best starter in the American League. If he can stay healthy, and continue to do anywhere close to this, the Yankees are watching a high-end starter develop right before their eyes. That's beyond huge both for this season and moving forward. At 23 years-old, this is why you have to show patience. We still don't know what he's going to end up doing, you have to wait and see. But the 2010 season has been encouraging to an incredible extent thus far, and is certainly evidence of why you should be willing to wait and see with guys who have this much talent, even if there are struggles early.

5 comments:

from the bronx said...

hughes has been tremendous. has to be the favorite to start the all star game at this point. it is great to see him develop into the front line talent so many of us believed he could be.

good outing by vazquez yesterday, but he still has only 1 win and an ERA north of 8.

one thing i've noticed the last few days is cano is back to his old self wasting at bats by swinging at the first pitch. thank goodness brett gardner is still carrying this team on his back.

the gm at work said...

Pat,

First of all, nice timestamp. You have received a lot of flack for your work ethic on here lately, but I know that if the timestamp says 1:42 AM, that means you STARTED writing at 1:42 AM. And considering this post is three pages long, you either finished after 3:00 AM or you worked a lot more efficiently than you ever did at school.

Second, throwing JV against the Red Sox is by far the best idea. This is because the Red Sox can't hit.

Patrick said...

i'm sure some people thought i was crazy talking about the yankees' offense. even if they lose a few guys for a few weeks, they should have enough talent to score, right? wrong. after getting shutout 0.0 times across the first 31 games of the season - actually, after scoring less than 2 runs 0.0 times across the first 31 games of the season - they have now been shutout twice in two days. if this team doesn't continue to get nearly unsustainable starting pitching or have 1-2 of their bats put the team on their back, this team isn't going to be doing a whole lot of winning for the next few weeks until they can (try to) get healthy.

the gm at work said...

Pat,

Step back from the ledge. I think by now we all know about the ebbs and the flows of a baseball season. Sometimes, if you've got a good team, the pitching can suck and the offense will carry the team. Other times, it will be the other way around, when you get "nearly unsustainable" pitching. And, yes, sometimes they will both suck and you will lose games.

However, I don't know if you've heard this already, but the standings are going by Pythagorean W-L this year, so as long as they can ride off of those first 31 games, they'll be good.

Okay, that's sarcastic. But let's get serious here. Even if the Yankees do have a really crummy second half of May, the Rays are going to inevitably suck for a while and the Red Sox are already borderline irrelevant. The Yankees sucked for an entire month last year and you were used to it. Maybe this year the suck month is just coming six weeks later than it usually does.

the gm at work said...

Also probably doesn't help the Yankees that they faced Porcello and Verlander. That's like when you're in the playoffs and you're used to running up the score against the Royals and suddenly you're shut down by a few good pitchers. Relax.