Monday, June 6, 2011

Offensive Concentration

This post has been in the makings for a few weeks. Over that time it has changed slightly in tenor. Even 10 days ago, it would have been a total rip job. Things have changed (for the time being), and for the better.

Further, despite facing some of the toughest starting pitching you can face this past month (especially this most recent roadtrip, where the Yankees went 6-3 despite not facing one starter with an ERA above the high 3's), the Yankees lead the AL in runs, and lead all of baseball in run differential...by a lot. Anyone who has read this blog knows I don't view run differential as conclusive, but rather a general analytical tool. In this case, the analysis is pretty clear through two months. The Yankees are at +71, and the next closest team is Texas at +51. There are only two other teams (St. Louis and Philadelphia) north of +30. This may seem hard to believe to someone who watches the Yankees every day like me, but the Yankees are scoring a lot of runs. It's tough to rip them under those circumstances, and I certainly have no interest in doing it. They have been playing really good baseball.

Still, this general point stands. DV talks a lot about concentration, and while he makes a lot of good points with certain players, other times I have to admit to rolling my eyes and thinking "if only it were that easy". What I have seen from the Yankees offense at times this year, however, is opening my eyes further to a little bit to this issue.

Concentration (or lack thereof) goes hand in hand with impatience in this instance. Let's look at some data:

May 15 vs. Boston: 4 runs off Jon Lester in 6 innings, 1 run (and only 1 hit, 4 baserunners!) off the Boston bullpen in 3 innings. Yankees blow 4-1 lead.

May 16 vs. Tampa Bay: 5 runs off David Price in 5 innings, 0 runs (and only 1 baserunner!) off the Tampa Bay bullpen in 4 innings. Yankees blow 5-1 lead.

May 27 vs. Seattle: 3 runs off Michael Pineda in 5 innings, 0 runs (and only 3 baserunners!) off of the Seattle bullpen in 4 innings. Yankees blow 3-0 lead.

May 28 vs. Seattle: 4 runs off of Felix Hernandez in 7 innings, 0 runs (and only 3 baserunners!) off the Seattle bullpen in 5 innings (including extras). Yankees blow 3-1 lead.

I understand that pitching is up and offense is down around the league. One of the big trends on that front is that bullpens are deeper and better, with more quality arms across the board in Major League bullpens. But I don't care how much better those middle-relief arms are, they are not Lester, Price, Pineda, and Hernandez. They just aren't.

In each of those games, the Yankees offense showed up clearly focused and determined. Not only were they scoring runs, but in all but in all but the Felix game, they were grinding at-bats and working the pitcher to the point where he was out of the game by the 5th or 6th. Unless you've been living under a rock, this has been the Yankee way for years. Get starters - especially the best starters - out of the game early, whether you do damage to them or not. Then feast on the soft underbelly that is the middle-relief of most clubs. Even if those groups are collectively better, not enough for their to be this much disparity between performance against starters and relievers.

This is due, at least in part, to a lack of concentration and patience in my opinion. Case in point, with the exception of the Boston game (where they drew 3 walks in 3 innings off the bullpen) the Yankees drew one walk in 13 innings in the other three games combined. ONE! I know it's only three games (the definition of a small sample), but given their performance against elite starters in those very games, the shift in approach and performance is too much to ignore. This is especially true given the fact that the Yankees blew leads in all four games, which is the most important part. Of course part of this gets pinned on the pitching (no doubt), but it also has to do with the Yankees seemingly wanting to show up, work hard and get runs up early, and then get complacent the rest of the way.

This has changed recently. The offense is tacking on after scoring early, whether it is off a starter still in the game or once they get into the bullpen. Hopefully this continues, because most of May was very frustrating on this front, and the Yankees probably gave away a few games as a result.

A big reason for the change is Mr. Mark Teixeira. Interesting timing, as I can remember thinking 3 weeks ago when the Yankees were busy losing 6 straight and 8 of 11 while the Red Sox surged that Teixeira needed to step up, and step up big. His numbers were good, but that had a lot to do with a hot start. Seeing how badly he was getting outplayed by Adrian Gonzalez only made it worse.

Since then, Teixeira has been a star the way he was in 2009, carrying the offense the way he did in 2009. "Carrying" is of course a relative term with the Yankees, as he has plenty of help now the way he had plenty of help in 2009. But he, along with Granderson, have been the most impactful bats in the lineup. I wrote before the season about Teixeira the difference maker vs. Teixeira the very good player. This has been Teixeira the difference maker, and the Yankees have been reaping the benefits.

Now it's time to show up against the Red Sox. The Yankees are 1-5 against the Sox, 32-19 against everybody else. The Sox are 5-1 against the Yankees, 28-25 against everybody else. You could make a decent case that the Yankees have helped soften the blow of the Sox inconsistencies more than anybody else, because head to head games between these teams count twice. Especially the sweep in the Bronx 3 weeks ago. If the Yankees even split those 6 games, they are up 6 games in the loss column. Instead it's 2. It's early, but that's a sizable difference, and a big favor the Yankees have done for the Sox. It would be helpful if they stopped doing them favors this week.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

PF

Yankees have pitching match up advantages in two of the three games. And I never have completely jumped on the Jon Lester bandwagon. Not because he isn't good. He certainly is. But he's a guy who will be awesome for six straight starts and then get lit up by the White Sox. I never completely trust him just like I never completely trusted Derek Lowe.

The Sox just need to win one game in New York and it will be a successful trip. That said, I think we're going to see something crazy--a 14 inning game, a 12 run game, I don't know. But I think something is coming.

Also, good luck with Barbri.

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

your second point is well taken here. i don't care what the match ups look like, i'm always happy to get out of fenway with 1 win in a 3 game set. at yankee stadium i like to take 2 of 3. at the end of the year these two teams usually end up playing each other pretty evenly. but they don't usually arrive there by going back and forth. each team usually gets hot against the other for a short stretch, and once they get that momentum it becomes difficult for the other team to stop it. while it may even out in the end, in the moment it is very frustrating to deal with. hence your and my willingness to just get 1 game. just don't get swept, as i like to say.

from an opposition standpoint, it is very difficult to see what you are saying about lester. he has been a model of consistency against the yankees, with his 3.49 era against them strikingly similar to his career 3.58 era. that said, i do notice that when lester struggles, it tends to be in bunches, and when he's lights out, it tends to be in bunches.

still, i have always been high on lester, and continue to be so. i wouldn't be ready to put him in the lowe category, but that's easy for me to say as a non-fan of the team. you have a much more acute awareness of their nuances. just seems to me like lester, while inconsistent at times, is one of the best and most dominant pitchers in the game. adrian gonzalez is certainly challenging him now, but prior to his arrival i have stated in this space that lester is also the sox best player.

-pf

Anonymous said...

PF

I'm certainly in the minority on Lester. His career winning percentages/ERA/ERA+ all suggest that he's an excellent pitcher. And I think that's accurate. He is excellent. But he's not great. And there is a difference. It's not fair to compare him to Pedro Martinez or Curt Schilling, but those guys, in their primes for the Sox were ALWAYS going to give you the start you needed. And that's my gold standard for trusting a pitcher. Lester isn't there. And he probably won't ever get there because so few do. I'm not trying to pick on him--as I've said, he's excellent. I just don't ever look at his name on the probables list and say, "we got this one."

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

that's fair, i didn't realize we were discussing such a high standard (which is both fine and welcomed). pedro is one of the best pitchers ever, and schilling was a big game guy. it's relevant to discuss lester in this light because he's certainly one of those guys that has the talent and therefore ability to rise to that level. i agree that, while he has the chance to get there, he probably won't. not because of anything to do with him, but because, as you said, so few do. of all the pitchers in the game right now, however, i think he's one of the few that has the best chance. he's only 27, has dominant stuff, extremely clean mechanics, and is very physical at 6'4"/240 (he had no problem making a huge innings jump from 07 to 08 and coming right back in 09 with a big season). he's also shown an ability to persevere and overcome courageously in other more important aspects of his life (beating cancer), and that attribute transfers over to easier mountains to climb like the baseball field. it would not surprise me at all if in 8 years we are looking at jon lester and saying "hall of famer". we also may not, but i think there is a really solid chance.

-pf