Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lack Of Grinding

My father and I talk a lot about the importance of depth in baseball, specifically relating to the Yankees obviously. Not just in the context of protecting against injuries (although that is important to have too), but relating to baseball's nature as a game of failure as well as an extremely long season. When you pair those two things up, it makes it difficult for an individual players, or even a small group of players, to carry a team the way they can in other sports. The best teams are those that have enough depth to deal with the ebbs and flows every individual goes through over the course of the season. When one guy is down, another is usually up. If you don't have this depth, or are overly reliant on one player or small group of players, when they are down you have a tough time winning baseball games.

The Yankees have really had this in the rotation so far this year, where they are incredibly complete. Each of the five starters has spent at least half of the season to date pitching like a #1 or #2 starter. When you have five guys all capable of getting to that high of a performance level, it is unlikely that all will go through inevitable down cycles at once. These period of brilliance have helped them to absorb abysmal stretches from Vazquez and Burnett, as well as a period of mediocrity from Sabathia (by his standards), and still have a 3.80 ERA as a rotation, 3rd best in the American League (9th in baseball, and they've been higher than that for most of the year). The Yankees have not had this kind of depth in the rotation for a long time, and you just hope they all stay healthy. I'm very happy to see them getting out in front of Hughes' innings limit, and skipping him this time through the rotation. Better to deal with it now than later.

The Yankees have almost always had this offensively in recent years. They'd sometimes have lineups where every single batter was capable of taking games over on a regular basis. Not only did this enable them to deal with down cycles from individual players, but it also made it a very tough lineup to get through. A pitcher could give up no runs and be out after the 5th inning because he was over 100 pitches already.

You might look at the overall numbers this year and assume this is the case again. Second in runs, fourth in average, first in OBP, fourth in slugging, second in OPS, it's one of the best offenses in all of baseball. I'm not complaining about this. But just looking at the overall stats can be a little misleading. This offense has been slightly boom or bust. They will rock pitchers - both good and bad - and then go into a funk against pitchers - both good and bad. No example is better than this last week. They beat Roy Hallday, Mike Pelfry, and Johan Santana, and lost to Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, Hisanori Takahashi, and Rodrigo Lopez (with all due respect to them). This type of ebb and flow is going to happen to every team, but it has been happening to the Yankeees a lot this year.

Most teams would love to trade places with the Yankees' offense, and I understand that. But the Yankees also don't have the same expectations as most teams. Where most teams would be happy with great overall offense no matter how it comes, the Yankees are trying to defend a title. That means being as complete as possible. Where they are currently incomplete is that they don't consistently grind pitchers. They'll do it one night and then not the next. They don't get starters' pitch counts up and into opposing bullpens as quickly as usual. They just don't make opposing staffs work on a night in night out basis the way they are capable, as they are showing right now putting a 6 spot on the Arizona bullpen in the 8th, turning a 3-2 game into a 9-2 rout.

It isn't because they aren't talented. It's because they just don't grind every night. I don't want not grinding to get confused with not trying. They are different things. The effort is there, the approach isn't. Too many bad/quick/soft at bats. The good news is this is correctable. You'd rather have talent that needs a tweak in approach than an approach that needs a tweak in talent. I know this is correctable because earlier in the year I was raving about the way they worked counts, and while he was a big part of it, I don't think it all has to do with not having Nick Johnson. People have been in and out of the lineup, and that's a part of it too. Now they are getting healthier, and it's a matter of getting there more consistently. You might be able to get away with this - big overall offense but by doing it in bunches - but if it looks like there is going to be one theme this year it is: "Not this year, not in this division." And that's why I'm saying all of this. The Yankees offense has by no means been a problem. In a tough division you simply have to look at every way to get better. A little more grinding of at bats on a game to game basis would go a long way. They are definitely capable.


Anonymous said...


When you mentioned that the Yankees are skipping Hughes I couldn't help but think of Joba Chamberlain. Like Hughes, the Yankees were concerned about Chamberlain's innings. Unlike Hughes, the Yankees had no idea what the hell they were doing in limiting his innings and yanked him around all over the place.

Hughes, to date, has been the Yankees best pitcher. Skipping him for a start every once in a while is probably no big deal. It appears to be a safe approach.
However, if all of the sudden they start sending him out for three innings one start, then letting him pitch seven the next, then cutting him back to 65 pitches the start after that, watch out. Because the Yankees run the risk of doing what they did to Joba Chamberlain--turning an incredibly talented reliever into a relatively successful starter, then ultimately into an unsuccessful reliever.

--the Gunn

jason said...

I just wanted to throw this out there that I am going to be watching the usa game, I attribute this largely to the fact that every other commercial/segment that has been on espn the past week has been telling me to watch soccer... I have no desire to watch it, but for some reason I will be watching it regardless

TimC said...

Good to hear that from Jason! But let's hope yet another disallowed goal does not derail the USA...

PF said...

Gunn -

I think that avoiding what happened with joba last year is exactly what the yankees are trying to do here. Instead of waiting until he's close to his cap and then getting creative, they are being proactive early. The one good thing about innings limits is that they add up quickly. If you need to save about 30-40 innings, as the yankees do with hughes, that's 5-7 starts. The yankees skipped him the first 2 weeks of the season and again now, so that leaves them only 2 starts away from reaching the low end of hughes' limit. Its not ideal when he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball to date, but its also not the end of the world when you think about it, especially because the team is playing well. To be fair, jobas innings needed to be limited by almost double hughes', so it was going to be more complex no matter what. But this is a better way to handle it in my opinion.

On joba, I think its a bit premature to say he's the yankees have turned him into an unsccuessful reliever, despite seemingly making it difficult on him at times. I'm sure you - or anybody - would tell me that a pitcher with a 5.34 era cannot be deemed successful. And ultimately if that occurs for more than 30.1 innings you'd be right. But he's given up 13 of his 18 runs in 4 of his 32 outings, or roughly 70% of his runs in 12% of his outings. While those 4 outings are not what your looking for, its better to be really bad a little bit of the time and dominant a lot of it than to be bad a lot of the time. And the peripherals bear that out. 10.5 k/9, 3.5 k/bb, one homer allowed all season and only 25% of hits allowed going for extra bases just don't add up to a 5.34 era unless you're running into some hard luck. And that joba is, .380 babip against, .55 points above his career average. All of this despite a lower line drive %, lower fly ball %, and higher ground ball % than his career levels, all of which are good things and usually lead to less hits, which means he has been extra unlucky. There is nothing that says these things have to normalize soon, so joba may well have a tough season in terms of era. But eventually they will normalize if he keeps putting up the insane peripherals that he is, which means he'll likely be effective in the long term. His 2.25 FIP and 3.17 xFIP bear that out. Assuming he stays healthy of course.

jason said...

guess i made the right decision in watching this.. it was relatively exciting but mostly due to the importance of the game

TimC said...

With people probably getting sick of "reaction", here are some big-picture comments after USA-Algeria.

-The USA wins its first-ever World Cup group. Incredible.

-By winning, the USA plays the second place Group D team while England is stuck with the group winner.

-Given how tight the group is, this "advantage" may not manifest itself in the next round. However, if the USA do advance, the quarterfinals are stacking up nicely. The winner of the USA match gets the winner of Uruguay-South Korea while the winner of England's match gets the winner of Argentina-Mexico. No need to think too much about that one.

-Projecting to the semi-finals is risky business and will likely not matter to the USA, but for reference the USA is now on the same side of the bracket as the winners of Group E (likely Holland) and G (likely Brazil) and the runners-up of Group F (possibly Italy, but wide-open) and H (possibly Spain, but also open).

-By winning the group, the USA is on schedule for a Saturday-Friday schedule as opposed to the Sunday-Saturday schedule for England. Probably would have been better for the latter, but I'm not complaining. I also don't run ABC.

-Group D is very close. The winner of Ghana-Germany is likely to win the group while Serbia can nip in with a win AND a better goal difference than Germany given a German win OR a draw. All four teams could take second and play the USA. All four teams will present major problems. Here is a quick rundown of some interesting potential plot lines.

-Germany knocked the USA out of the 2002 World Cup at the quarterfinal stage, helped largely by a dubious refereeing decision (so, this WC has been nothing new). Torsten Frings, I think, used his hand to knock a USA goal off the line and the ref did not make the call. Germany won, 1-0.

-Ghana knocked the USA out of the 2006 World Cup in the final group stage game, helped largely by a dubious refereeing decision. Onyewu came back to head a ball in the box and was called for a penalty despite making a clean play on it. However, the failure to advance cannot be blamed on officiating here as the USA were guilty of multiple poor decisions and needed to win, anyway. Ghana 2, USA 1.

-Serbia has no recent history with the USA but they do have a potential starter in Neven Subotic who, in an alternate universe, is starting at center-back for the USA. He was part of the U-17 and U-20 programs but was cut from the U-20 World Cup team (featuring Bradley, Altidore, and then-star Freddy Adu). It is believed this snub was in part the reason for his decision to try to play for first Germany, then Serbia. This is potentially the most annoying subplot for casual fans as die-hards (like me, here) will insist on boringly discussing this despite no one really knowing anything about Subotic's decision.

-The USA beat Australia, 3-1, a week before the England match in a friendly.

-Bob Bradley's performance in this group stage has put a big hole in my theory that the USA is being hurt more by losing quality coaching minds to other sports than they are by losing quality athletes. His decisions were all spot-on and he cannot be blamed for the Slovenia first half as he basically had to start Onyewu, who stunk up the place. Despite Donovan's heroics, it is Bradley who gives the USA the best chance to move forward into the quarterfinals.

jason said...

This wimbledon match that has been going on for 7 hours is ridiculous, it has become a battle of attrition