Ike Davis’ Small Adjustments at the Plate Has Led to His Improved Results

June 18, 2012

With the New York Mets surprising most people around the game by playing solid baseball and using mostly young kids who are making minimum salaries, one hitter who wasn’t up to the standards of Mets fans was first baseman Ike Davis.

All the frustration on the talk radio shows and in the online media was that Davis should be sent down. The biggest reason was that the Mets were competing for first place, and after Davis slumped through a 1-18 stretch (8 Ks) which lowered his slash line to .158/.234/.273/.507 OPS, fans wanted Ike sent down to the minor leagues.

New York fans usually smell blood in the water towards a player after an 0-4 game in spring training, so this Davis futility was like a True Blood movie premiere.

The talk of sending Davis down had been around for a couple of weeks, but the Mets brass insisted Davis was staying with the parent club.

Since that 1 for 18 slide, Davis has gone on an eight game hitting streak, going 11-23 with two doubles, a home run and 7 RBI. He has had big hits within this span, including the double in the final game of the series against the Yankees and last Thursday’s RBI single against Tampa Bay which gave the Mets a 4-3 lead.

Hitting takes talent, but all hitters can improve if they do the correct things necessary for hitting. These include not drifting, keeping the hands “quiet,” having a short/quick swing and staying balanced. What Ike was doing for the majority of the early season was exactly the opposite. He was moving to the ball, excessively hitching his hands and pressing forward with his upper body.

During his hitting streak Ike just didn’t “start hitting.” He changed his approach to what he was originally doing, one that gives him a greater chance for success. This proper approach makes hitters successful at every level, from the major leagues all the way down to the Little Leagues.

When the ball is about to be released by the pitcher, the hitter begins his “load” to begin his swing. You have to go back in order to go forward. This is similar to having to bend your legs and squat down before you jump up in the air. The load could be a very slight weight shift to the back leg and small movement of the hands back, or it can be just a small toe tap and slight inward turn. An example of a near perfect load is what Curtis Granderson does or what Albert Pujols does.

DRIFTING

The hitter then takes his stride forward, gets his foot down (hands must stay back), recognizes the pitch and if he likes it, takes his swing. This process is so fast (less than a half-second), that all the movements must be in synch to make it work. If any part of the timing is off, hitting the ball hard will almost never happen.

The front leg must be solid, giving a sturdy base and the hitter’s weight must be against the front leg, not on top or over the front leg.

What Ike was doing was moving his body too far forward over his front foot, with his upper body pushing forward over his front leg. When the hitter moves forward towards the ball onto the front leg, it is known as drifting.

When many hitters get into a slump, drifting to the ball is one of the main reasons.

The more a hitter stands tall and almost upright in the batter’s box, the more susceptible he is to drifting. Ike used to be really tall in his stance, with no flex or bending of his knees. Now his knees are more flexed and his stance is slightly wider.

Just as important is that a hitter needs to wait on the ball and not move towards the pitch. I tell young hitters all the time to “wait for the pitch to get to you” and don’t go out to hit it. The ball will eventually get to your hitting zone. Ike was going out to get the ball and was not waiting for the ball to get to him.

Moving towards the ball forces the head to move, in essence making the ball appear faster.

Ike began to wait on the ball and hit against his front leg, not on it over it. Drifting to the ball curtails a hitters power.  Since the hitters weight is already forward, his legs are taken out of the swing. A hitter can’t rotate his hips as much, and power is derived primarily from hip rotation and lower body force. The force won’t be with you if the hitters weight is already forward.

With Ike drifting forward and not waiting on the ball, it led to a very weak swing, using mostly his arms, and not using his hands and legs. Good hitters hit with their hands, not their arms. With Ike not staying back and him having to reach for the ball (especially the ball away), Ike’s hands were extended away from his body and he began to roll over the ball.

That is why so many pitches turned into harmless ground balls to the right side. Robinson Cano did the same “rolling over” early in the season, too, when he was slumping.

A hitter needs his hands tight to the body to generate more power. Think about the last time you performed dumbbell curls for your biceps. Did you have your elbows away from your body or close to your body? They were close to the body, allowing you more strength to lift more weight. A hitter who keeps his hands tight to the body (think Cano and Granderson), generally have more bat speed, use their legs more and have more power. This is the hitting process incorporated by Kevin Long.

This is a video of Granderson’s home run against the Washington Nationals this past weekend. Contact is made at the four-second mark of that video on MLB.com. Pause it there. Check out how tight the hands (and back elbow) are to his body, allowing the Grandy Man (who also uses great lower body torque) to get on top of and drive a high fastball. His balance is perfect and there is no drift of the weight forward.

EXCESS HAND MOVEMENT

Ike had a pretty severe hitch in his swing, a pre-swing up and down movement with his hands, exacerbated by a circular motion. While hitches are mostly bad, all hitches aren’t necessarily problematic. Barry Bonds had a hitch, but he ended up getting his hands in the power position when the ball was on its way. Granderson has some excess movement, too, but like Bonds he has his hands set when the pitch is released.  

Davis rarely got his hands set before the ball arrived.

Slight hand movement is good as it helps ease tension in the upper body, but excess movement is often not good. Ike’s hitch led to a timing issue where his hands were still moving when the ball was released and he wasn’t able to get the bat to the ball quickly enough.

Combined with his drifting, Ike was in no position to drive the ball.

With these hitting issues, the only pitch you can hit is the pitch over the plate, as hard stuff inside “gets in your kitchen,” and the result is a swinging strike or jam shot. Hitters then tend to look for only pitches over the plate and take those inside pitches.

At the beginning of his career, Ike had movement but not the severe hitch he had earlier this year. Now, while some up and down movement is still there, Ike has lessened his hitch and his hands are mostly finished moving when the ball is released. I would still rather have Davis eliminate the hitch completely (its one of the easier “faults” to fix), and like Granderson does, having only a slight movement back. This would allow his hands to be even quicker on fastballs up and on the inside part of the plate.

BALANCE

When Ike was drifting out forward and had his arms move out over the plate, many times his upper body bent forward at the waist, leaving Davis is an unbalanced position. Hitting coaches call this “a forward press with torso.”

This forward movement, which is different from drifting, further deceased his ability to hit for power. When a hitter takes his stride, whether it be an actual movement forward of a couple of inches or a lifting of his front foot up and down (like Granderson and Pujols), the upper body must be on top of the lower body. This allows the hitter to be balanced before, during and after the swing.

Balance, in addition to not drifting, is important to help generate power with the legs.

In proper balance, think of the hitter as a building with a steeple (upper body) on top of the foundation (the legs). The midpoint is the waist. Throughout the swing, the steeple always needs to stay on top of its foundation. If it doesn’t, the foundation cannot support the steeple, and the building becomes weak.

If the hitter doesn’t stay balanced, the body is not strong throughout the swing.

As mentioned earlier, Ike is more flexed in his knees to help stop his drifting. Staying balanced is also easier if the knees are flexed. Ike now has a slightly wider stance with his knees flexed (like Granderson and Pujols) which helps control drift and balance, leading to better contact and more power.

See how precise hitting a baseball is? One hitting fault can create more faults, which creates havoc with the chain of events a hitter needs to have success.

I remember when I was in the last years of playing baseball ( I was 42). I found myself always drifting to the ball and getting chewed up inside and had to “cheat” with my swing to hit the good fastball. With the help of Lenny Webster, former major leaguer and hitting instructor, he helped me widen my stance, sit down more (like Pujols does), which eliminated my drift. I could then wait on the ball more, and I began to hit for more power.

Just like Ike Davis has done, I made adjustments to be a better hitter.

Good hitters really don’t change anything major to their swings; they just make little adjustments along the way.

Look at Ike earlier this season against Tim Lincecum. (He is shown at the 15 and 25 second marks.) Remember this game of two Ks and the big double play? Ike was taller, drifted forward and although he was balanced, he took inside fastballs for both Ks which he couldn’t handle with the excess hand movement. He was looking for pitches over the plate he could handle.

Now look at Davis last week against Tampa Bay: The adjustments are slight, but the knee flex is there, as is a slightly wider stance, improving his balance and helping eliminate the drifting.

How about this game-tying double against the Yankees?  The hand movement is there, but the hands get set in time, he doesn’t drift forward and his swing balance is perfect.

I am surprised the Mets hitting coach, Dave Hudgens, didn’t change these faults with Davis earlier, but it is very difficult to change hitters from their lifelong habits. Especially major league hitters who have had success doing what they “have always done.” Hudgens is a well-respected hitting coach. In addition, as the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

The reason why Long has had success with guys like Granderson, Cano, Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez is they were likely willing students receptive to making changes. These changes do not happen overnight.

It might be that these slight adjustments made by Davis were weeks in the making, which would be a credit to both he and Hudgens. I still would like to see Davis eliminate more hand movements and get his hands tighter to his body to generate a shorter bat path to the ball. But right now, Davis is moving in the right direction, which will help him produce more in the Mets lineup.

And keep him out of Buffalo.

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Why Work The Count When Attacking the First Pitch Yields Better Results?

June 15, 2012

In watching yesterday’s New York Mets – Tampa Bay Rays game, one big part of the game was when Lucas Duda came up against Jeremy Hellickson in the fourth inning of a tight game. The Mets were already leading 6-4, runners were on first and second with two outs. Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to not bring a lefty from the bullpen to face the lefty hitting Duda, whose OPS is 170 points better facing RHP.

After a brief mound trip by the Rays pitching coach, Duda launched Hellickson’s first pitch of the at bat over the center fielders head for a two-run double, essentially icing the game. Even in the fourth inning, this double gave the Mets an 89% expectancy of winning.

When attacking the first pitch of an at bat in 2012, Duda is hitting .556/.455/1.667/2.121 OPS, with a BABIP of only .250. Yes, those are correct numbers. Main reason is that Duda has banged out three HRs (and yesterday’s double) when attacking the first pitch of an at bat. In those situations, Duda produces no BABIP, but great slugging percentages. Granted it is only 11 PAs, but Duda also has an OPS of 1.128 in his career (47 PAs) when going after the first pitch (4 HRs, 3 2Bs).

When Johan Santana made his first start after his no-hitter, he gave up six runs on four HRs to the cross-town New York Yankees, a game the Mets lost 9-1. Two Hrs were hit by Robinson Cano, who blasted both two-run HRs on the first pitch seen from Santana in each at bat.

When putting the first pitch of any at bat into play this season (41 PAs), Cano is hitting .425/.415/.725/1.140 OPS, with 3 2Bs and 3 HRs. In his career on the first pitch (822 PAs), Cano has an OPS of .953, over 100 points higher than his career OPS and 200 points higher than his career OPS after he is down 0-1 in the count.

So, why do I constantly see many hitters taking a first, very hittable pitch right down the middle? Why do they do this?

Automatically taking strike one might boost up a starters pitch count over time, but is it better to take pitches to add to a pitch count in order to put yourself in a hole you may never get out?

The saber stat crowd constantly talks about good hitters as those who take pitches, work the count, driving the starters pitch count up and “take their walks.” However, the best method of putting up good numbers is attacking the first good, hittable pitch you see in the at bat. I believe it is better to knock out a pitcher based upon hitting them hard as opposed to working their pitch counts up. Plus, the first pitch of an at bat is many times the best pitch you might see in the entire at bat.

After they are down 0-1 in a count (usually by taking the first pitch for a strike), Duda’s slash line is a less robust .243/.287/.375/.662 OPS and Cano’s drops to .283/.304/.462/.766 OPS. Cano’s is not horrible (better than a lot of hitters overall) but is still almost 200 points lower.

Over their careers, the numbers are great for virtually every player who puts the first pitch of any plate appearance into play. Over their careers, the current Yankee lineup averages 278 points higher in their OPS when hitting the first pitch, over when they start out 0-1 in the count.

What is horrible is when these two hitters (and, in fact, ALL hitters ever), get two strikes on them. Over his career with two strikes on him, Duda hits .184/.245/.291/.536 OPS although his BABIP is an above average .311. Cano plummets to .234/.274/.378/.652 OPS with a BABIP of .320.

With two strikes on him, Duda is 270 points less than his career OPS and over 600 points less than his OPS when he hits the first pitch! With two strikes, Cano is almost 200 points less than his career OPS, and 300 points less than when he hits the first pitch.

Widely considered the two best hitters in baseball, Josh Hamilton has an OPS of 1.189 on the first pitch and .629 with two strikes, while Joey Votto’s numbers are 1.166 and .676.

Those are huge differences with even the best hitters in the game.

So, again, why do hitters take good, hittable strikes right over the middle of the plate? The pitcher is trying to get ahead in the count and wants to throw strike one. So why don’t hitters want to attack the first pitch more often?

I call the 0-0 count the attack count, the 0-1 count is the guess/defensive count and the two strikes count are the salvage counts, except maybe 3-2. When taking the first strike and getting down in the count, a hitter then becomes a defensive hitter. After two strikes, unless a major mistake is made by the pitcher, a hitter basically needs to put the ball in play and hope for the best. At this point, the pitcher can throw any pitch he wants, anywhere he wants. The pitcher doesn’t have to throw a strike to get a hitter out. And strikeouts galore happen when hitters get behind in the count.

Why allow the pitcher to get one half of the way (strike one) on the first pitch towards your worst chance for being productive, which is the two strike count?

Hitters are told to “work the count” and try to “get on base.” Getting on base is great and high OBPs are huge benchmarks for quality offenses, but there is a reason why batting average comprises the far biggest component of the OBP stat. Attack pitches which give you the best chance to get on base, which are many times the first pitch of an at bat.

Many people have derided the 2012 Yankees for their inability to hit with runners in scoring position. This goes to show that the RBI is still the most important offensive stat in the game of baseball. I don’t care how many times you get guys on base, it is absolutely important to have hitters who can drive those runs in. It is always much tougher to hit with runner on base than it is to get on base.

This plays into a hitters (and pitchers) mindset during a particular at bat. Nervousness, too many thoughts in the head and an overall “big moment” syndrome can overcome hitters, even a major league veteran. Do you think that David Freese wasn’t feeling it during the 9th inning of Game 6 in last year’s World Series? I don’t care what the results were; the guy was feeling major pressure. With only 100 million people watching, the entire World Series outcome was resting on his shoulders.

Yeah, that might be pressure.

Those pressure factors in a big plate appearance are dismissed by the saber crowd, likely because these variables cannot be tabulated, valued and quantified.

But to become a productive hitter, it is vitally important to be ready to hit and attack the first good strike you see, not work the count to get in a deep hole, especially when a hitter is in a slump. When a hitter is ready to swing, he becomes a more productive hitter. Hitters who go up to the plate looking for the first pitch they can drive and get that pitch, usually do drive the ball. Most slugging percentages of hitters who attack the 0-0 count pitch are substantially higher than their career rates.

See, most (like 99.9%) of all major league hitters have better numbers when they put the first pitch of a plate appearance into play. Almost all of them…..in the entire history of the game.

Look at the numbers of the player which sabermetricians completely agree is the worst player in modern times: Yuniesky Betancourt. Yuni has a career slash line of .269/.293/.392/.684 OPS in over 3700 PAs. That equates to an OPS+ of 83. Betancourt has never had a season which his OPS is completely league average, or 100.

But when Betancourt puts the first pitch in play (likely a pitch down the middle or where he was looking for the ball), his career slash line is .302/.300/.462/.762 OPS. When going after the first pitch, Betancourt’s OPS is almost 80 points higher. That may not seem like much of an improvement, and it’s really not relative to most other hitter’s improvements when going after the first pitch, but Yuniesky is such an overall bad hitter. However, he is much better (especially his SLG percentage) when attacking the first hittable pitch in a PA.

Even teams who attack the first pitch have better overall numbers in this situation. The 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates are considered the worst hitting team this season. They have overall numbers of .226/.279/.361/.640 OPS, but these numbers are .282/.287/.487/.774 OPS when hitting the first pitch of an at bat.

I am not advocating swinging incessantly at the first pitch for the sake of doing so. These productive numbers shown above are due to getting a good pitch to hit on the 0-0 count, looking to hit in this count, and driving the ball when you get your pitch. If the pitcher is trying to throw strike one, why let him get it unopposed? I understand sometimes getting fooled on a pitch (looking fastball, then getting curve) or fouling off the first pitch can get a hitter in a hole, but a hitter should attack a pitch he can drive.

Hitters can be selective and work a count, but it should be done to benefit your at bat rather than trying to drive up a starter’s pitch count. One of the reasons Mark Trumbo of the Los Angeles Angels is having a much better year is because he is more selective at the plate, not swinging at everything, but when he gets a 0-0 count pitch in his zone, he attacks. When going after the first pitch this season, Trumbo is hitting .458/.480/.958/1.148.

I’ll take that slash line over “working the count” every time. Seems like Trumbo’s OBP is pretty good.

Although sometimes going after the first pitch even if it is out of the strike zone**can have good results, Trumbo is not swinging at first pitches off the plate anymore, forcing pitchers to come back over the plate early. And that is another major positive of attacking first pitches. Pitchers will adjust and throw balls off the plate. When a hitters takes pitch, it puts him in eaven a better position to produce.

**In fact, Cano’s second home run off Santana in that game was a high slider out of the zone. But Cano was looking for something to hit, got it and pounced. Even when the pitch is out of the zone, Cano hit a bomb. Why? Because he was looking to hit and was aggressive on a pitch he could drive.

Best plan of attack might be to look at a smaller location WITHIN THE STRIKE ZONE and then hitting that pitch. When a hitter is looking for a pitch in a certain location, it is much easier to turn on an inside fastball, or go the other way on a pitch on the outer third. If the pitch is not in your location, then let it go. Looking location then swinging at a pitch outside this location is when swinging at the first pitch likely gets you out.

Swinging the bat, and not looking for walks, drives in runs. So when runners are on base, and you have the chance to drive them in, look for the first pitch in your zone which you can drive and attack. Being an aggressive hitter on the 0-0 count at pitches in your zone produces tremendous results, which helps your statistics and your team win games.


The New York Yankees are at a Crossroads

May 6, 2012

Well, the New York Yankees are at a crossroads.

And that was well before Mariano Rivera tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee.

I was talking with Mike on Saturday, saying how this Yankee team was in a serious situation. They have a veteran team, aging superstars and aging bench players. Guys right now are playing every day that weren’t signed this season to play every day.

An aging and expensive team in a young man’s game. And the team is only getting more aged and will be getting more expensive.

So, these Yankees are at that crossroads and there are several reasons for this.  

First, there are the exorbitant salaries paid to aging players whose careers are on a decline. You see the decline already. Alex Rodriguez and especially Mark Teixeira are in their decline phases of their careers, former top of the line talent now slowly sinking down the rope to the floor below.

I wrote about Teixiera here, saying if he doesn’t change his approach (not trying to pull every pitch), his carrer as we had known it is effectively over. And over and over again I see Alex beaten inside with moderate to advanced fastballs, indicating his bat speed is further slowing.

Two guys, who play the infield corners for the Yankees, earning a total of $51.5 million this year, are in slow to moderate declines. They are owed a combined $204 million over the next 4/5 years. I bet the Kansas City Royals wouldn’t trade their current infield corners, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer (who had all four RBI in last night’s game) for Alex and Teixeira, even if the Yankees paid upfront to the Royals all of Alex and Teixeira’s salaries for balance of their careers.

Second, there is the self-imposed salary cap of $189 million for 2014.

It is this number which the Yankees owners have said they want the team payroll to be in 2014. This number will allow the Yankees to avoid huge luxury tax monies required to be paid to MLB. Not that the Yankees couldn’t afford higher salaries and additional luxury tax monies. They could even get a rebate if they remain under that amount for 2015 also.

With the $78 million tied up in Alex, Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Derek Jeter ($8 million player option) for 2014, the Yankees would “only” approximately have $111 million available for 21 other players. And they still have to re-sign Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano to extensions likely to cost $15 million each on an annual basis. Then by 2014, players such as Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Eduardo Nunez and Ivan Nova will all be eligible for arbitration or will be locked up for “below market” multi-year contracts.

That’s a lot of players important to the roster who will be making mucho more cash.

Third, the Yankees will very likely lose Russell Martin and Nick Swisher to free agency after this year. During every long Yankee run of titles, the team has a high quality catcher and right fielder. The Yankees have had such a history at catcher with Wally Schang (an OBP machine), Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada. In right field they had Babe Ruth, Bob Muesel, Tommy Henrich, Hank Bauer, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson and Paul O’Neill. But now, two important starters in highly Yankee-fabric positions of catcher and right fielder need to be replaced.

Both Martin and Swisher will likely command three year deals for $8-12 million per year. That might be too rich even for the 1% Yankees.

These open spots lead to the fourth reason the Yankees are at a severe crossroads. They have a severe lack of quality position player depth at their higher levels of the system. They have ZERO, repeat ZERO help on the way to fill any open starting position players for at least the next two seasons.

And I hope you aren’t saying to yourself, what about Zoilo Almonte, who impressed the spring training? Well, he wasn’t that good the first time playing at Double A, and it is a stretch to see him seriously contributing at the major league level until at least 2015. Other strong players such as Austin Romine (remember him?), David Adams, are always hurt, with Romine having chronic back issues. That isn’t good for a major league starting catcher.

All the other position players are three years away, and with the Yankees patient nature in developing young players, it may be even longer.

Yankee fans are now suffering through injuries, lack of production and, even though the playoffs were expanded, a feeling that they just might not be strong enough to make this postseason, let alone make a run to the World Series. New York fans, in particular most Yankee fans, have what have you done for me now relationship with their players.

Many have written that maybe the Yankees should have traded Gardner before last season when his value was highest; saying his success in 2010 was never going to be improved upon. But now they miss his OBP skills, speed and quality defense on an everyday basis.

After Swisher struggled again last October, almost all Yankee fans wanted to trade Swisher this past off season. But you see how Swisher and Gardner are very important to the Yankee lineup. Along with Jeter, they are the only two Yankee hitters who consistently go the away with pitches, opening up the field and therefore, getting more hits.

Now these same Yankee fans seriously wish both could come back from their injuries quickly. The New York fans love to react to those small sample sizes.

What the Yankees have done by playing the Ponzi scheme method of long term deals to players who are now aged and much less productive is coming home to roost. There is now dead money for guys, who aren’t producing up to their salary levels, will continue to decline and because of their salaries, would be blocking any young players the organization might have developed.

So, what to do?

The Yankees could continue with what they have always done and go with the veteran presence at most positions, eschewing young talent in their system and paying big dollars to players who are getting older, and will decline over time.

Let’s all admit it right now; the 2009 World Series title was bought with shelling out over $400 million to Sabathia, Teixeira and AJ Burnett. It sucks that the rules were changed in the middle of playing the game, and the luxury tax threshold was inserted. But that is the hand you are currently being dealt. Try to think of it as the Turn card in Texas Hold ‘Em improving the odds for your opponents.

The key for any team is to constantly work in young players with established veterans, letting certain veterans go free agent when they have kids ready for the majors. But the Yankees have not produced enough young players or given them a serious chance before pulling them, benching them or having fans ridicule them every time they make a mistake (like Nunez).

I say continue with letting David Phelps get starts, let Robertson now close and bring up another reliever (Chase Whitley) if they need a one inning type arm. I wrote about Whitley here. Since there isn’t a great need in the bullpen even with Mariano out, let Phil Hughes continue to start and get his innings in and see what you have over a full season.

You really don’t know what Hughes can do. Let the guy throw the ball as a starting pitcher. Starting pitching is the largest annual expense for teams, especially if you have to go out on the free agent market and attempt to sign a Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke type starter. Except for a game here and there, Hughes can barely make it out of the fifth inning most games because that he what he is used to throwing. That is the way he has been developed. Hughes has made 77 career starts and pitched 7+ innings only 13 times, most recently in his last start when Joe Girardi finally let Hughes throw 115 pitches, only the second time he has reached this plateau in his career.

In regards to the veterans on the team, offer Cano and Granderson semi-long deal of 4-5 years at $15 million each. First one to take it gets his money, the other needs to re-evaluate. With the self-imposed $189 million payroll, this is more important than ever. You can’t let a player dictate what the team can afford.

But if the Yankee brass decides they can withstand higher salariesand go over the $189 million threshhold, all bets are off. Sign away and watch the aging team get even older. The only way the Yankees survive is letting their kids play and develop. You know how the other way works now.

They might not make the postseason each and every year via development, but then again, this 2012 team is no lock right now either.


If Mark Teixeira Doesn’t Change His HItting Approach, His Career As We Know It Could Be Over

April 14, 2012

After their 0-3 start to the 2012 season, the New York Yankees have now won four straight and are tied for first place in the AL East. These wins happened even without the expected quality pitching of ace CC Sabathia (he of the new five-year, $122 million extension), and without any production from middle of the order hitters Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.

Robbie will come around soon as he adjusts his pull now/roll his wrists over approach, but it is Teixeira’s lack of production which should be very worrisome to Yankee fans. I will get it out quickly:

If Teixeira does not change his approach to hitting, his career is finished.

Oh, he will still be playing first base for the Yankees, but his usually offensive production will significantly decline. And that massive contract won’t be looking so good anymore. His playing time will be based upon his contract and defense, and less upon his ability to hit.

And this is not some random “small sample size” garbage either. Teixeira has been on the down slope since he signed with the Yankees, especially in the areas of batting average* (ooh, that terrible stat), and on base percentage* (the really good stat, right?).

*It’s funny how many sabermetric guys discount batting average and how it is “meaningless.” But doesn’t batting average compose the largest portion of hitters’ on base percentage? Usually, when formerly productive hitters OBP declines, it is usually due to a lower batting average, rather than walk rates, which are pretty consistent for established major leaguers. But if players become LESS FEARED by the opposition, then pitchers will attack these hitters and his avearge and walks will both decline.

Teixeira’s decline actually began during the World Series title year of 2009, a title which Teixeira was a big part. His batting average has declined from .292 in 2009 to .256 in 2010 and .249 last season. Subsequently, his OBP have been .383 (2009), .365 (2010) and .343 last season. He hit over .300 with a .400 OBP the prior two years, so the decline did start in 2009. Teixeira’s walk average** is consistently around .090. His slugging percentage shave also dropped, with his last two seasons being the only years since his rookie campaign where Teixeira has not slugged over .500.

**This is calculated by subtracting batting average from OBP.

Currently, Tex is hitting a meager .179, with a Yuniesky Betancourt like .303 OBP and ONE RBI!

It is unbelievable that the Yankees No. 5 hitter, who hits behind Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter, has ZERO home runs, one RBI.  That one RBI, though, is the key to his future.

Everybody is saying “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. At the end, the numbers will be the same.”

No they won’t. Not if Teixeira doesn’t change his approach.

Teixeira has always been an upper body hitter. He collapses his back side and opens his hips early, but rarely uses his legs to generate power, relying on his bat speed and upper body strength. The result is an off balance swing using only his arms. That upper body strength allows Tex to overpower balls, even if he tries to pull outside pitches. I have viewed dozens of Teixeira home runs over his career where he pulled a pitch on the outside corner into the seats.

That is not easy to do.

But now that Teixeira is 32 years old (didn’t think he was that old, did you?), his bat speed has slightly declined and those pitches his used to be able to “rip” over the fence are now harmless fly balls to the outfield. That is if he actually gets under the ball.

See, most times when a hitters tries to pull an outside pitch, whether the hitter is fooled by an off speed pitch or, like Teixeira, they try and pull everything, seven times out of ten the hitter will roll his wrists over and generate a harmless ground ball to the pull side. If they do get under it somewhat, the result usually is a harmless fly ball or popup.

It’s an easy out.

Also, when a hitter attempts to pull an outside pitch, the hitter’s arms fly away from the body, limiting the chance for the legs to come into play. Remember when you used to hear, “The hitter wants to extend his arms?” and “the pitcher is throwing inside so the hitter can’t extend his arms.” That is a misnomer.

A good hitter DOESN’T want to extend his arms away from the body, at least not until well after impact. Good hitters want to keep his elbows tight to the body, which helps allow them to use their legs to help generate power. The extension of arms actually comes after the ball is struck and the bat comes through the hitting zone, and is extended towards the pitcher, not by pulling off the ball.

For an analogy, think in terms of power while lifiting weights. If you are doing dumbbell or barbell curls, can you left more wight when your elbows are tight to your body or when they are extended away by 6-12 inches?

Perfect example of this is Robinson Cano, who keeps his elbows tight to his body. This is how Cano can hit lefties so well, especially pitches inside. Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols also keep their hands in tight to the body, and all three use the strength in their legs to complete the swing and generate power.

Over the years, however, Teixeira has gotten away with bad hitting mechanics and used his uncanny eye-hand coordination and immense strength to hit for average and power, including 111 home runs in three plus years as a Yankee.

But those days are likely over.

Teixeira has always been a pull hitter. When he collapses his back side like that, there is no other type of hitter to be. You can’t collapse your back side and hit the ball the other way with any authority. Try hitting off a batting tee the other way after you collapse your back leg. It’s virtually impossible.

Really good hitters use the entire field, but at the very minimum, on pitches out over the plate and on the outer third, they try and hit the ball through the middle. They wait a little longer on the pitch, and then drive the ball through the middle. The only time Teixeira did that this season, he generated a line drive RBI single to right center in Baltimore, his only RBI. Tex stayed balanced in his swing, waited and drove the ball the other way.

When Teixeira tries to pull outside pitches, especially as a left-handed hitter, he hits “outside the ball,” where his arms come away from the body and the ball is struck. The hands are not used properly, but go out and around. Good hitting mechanics require the hands to say “inside the ball,” where the hands lead the bat straight and down to (and through) the ball. Wait and be quick.

When the hands go out and around, the hitter is susceptible to “rolling over” his wrists, lessening the time the hitter has the bat head in the hitting zone. As I mentioned earlier, the result is usually a ground ball to the pull side.

And when teams shift on a hitter, the results can be disastrous. The game is different now. Everything is on video and computers, with every team using spray charts and extensive advanced scouting. If you pitch certain hitters a certain way, that hitter will almost always hit the ball in the same spot***.

***I remember a time when I was managing in a college level and above men’s league in North Jersey. I used to go “scout” other teams when we didn’t have a game. There was a right-handed hitter on one team who I noticed always hit rockets into the right center gap when he swung at up and away fastballs. Nothing but line drives to right center. Know what we did? We gave him what he liked. We threw him fastballs up and away, the pitch he looked for and liked. But we also pinched our center and right fielder into the right center gap, and caught all those line drives he hit there. Oh, we would throw him “waste” pitches to change things up, but when we wanted to retire him, we did. He said to me after one game, “Man, I never seem to get any breaks against you guys.” No being lucky, but playing smart baseball. Point is that hitters are creatures of habit, who usually do with certain pitches what they always do.

Hitters need to adapt to how teams play them. Mark Teixeira needs to adapt to how the Tampa Bay Rays and other teams play him. Tex needs to begin to hit the ball the other way, by waiting a little longer on the outside pitch and begin to drive it the other way. That means eliminating the backside collapse, and hitting balls the other way. After a while of that, teams will have to move out of their shifts, which open up the entire field for Tex.

Tex will continue to be pitched outside, and if he doesn’t change his approach, he will continue to hit ground balls and some lines drives into the teeth of the defense. His averages will then continue to decline.

It is tough for major league hitters to adjust, especially if they are as established as Teixeira, but in his case is imperative that it gets done. It is obvious Tex doesn’t put much time into hitting sessions with Kevin Long, as Tex would have already eliminated the back side collapse, begun keep his hands inside the ball and using his legs more.

Recently, I used a drill for a left-handed high school hitter who had the same problem Teixeira has. He hands moved away from his body and he hit around the ball. I can’t even tell you how many times he grounded out to second base. We set up an L-screen about 15 -20 feet away and I quick flipped balls underhand to him on the inside half of the plate. But I had him hit the ball right back at me or the other way. No pulling of any pitches. This forced the hitter to bring his hands and elbows inside closer to his body in order to try and hit the ball the other way. It begins to help you get quicker to the ball on inside pitches.

After some time with this drill, the next game saw the kid line a shot right at the first baseman, then triple over the left fielders head in his next at bat. Both at bats prior his drill work would have likely ended up with a weak pop up and a weak ground ball to the second baseman.

This (and other drills) would work for Teixeira, too, but only if he wishes to change his approach.  

There have been many hitters who have been successful without using good hitting mechanics. I can’t even believe all the major league hitters who fail to use their lower half when hitting. Lance Berkman had a HOF caliber career, but never used his lower half until he came to the Yankees in 2010. George Brett was very successful using another formerly popular hitting method. It is a testament to these players overwhelming ability to hit at that level doing what they did.

I know Teixeira has had a pretty darn good career thus far, with 314 home runs and 1,108 RBI. But if he doesn’t begin to change, he will not be adding to these totals like he has in the past. Batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, home runs and RBI will all decline. Do you realize that Tex only had 26 doubles last year, the lowest of his career?

If he doesn’t work to change things, Tex will still get his big hits, and will likely hit 20 homers solely based upon his strength. He will do this when pitchers make mistakes with their location and get the ball over the middle of the plate. But when they stay outside, Tex will continue to watch his BABIP erode.

I predicted demise for another New York corner infielder two years ago, when I wrote this piece about David Wright and how he shied away from inside pitches after getting hit in the head by a Matt Cain fastball. I said that if Wright was forever shying away, then his career would be over as pitchers would bust him in early then get him out away. But Wright improved his ability to stay in the box and once again he became fearless at the plate.

I just hope for Yankee fans that Teixeira can adjust his approach like Wright did and stay productive long term.


Derek Jeter: Why All The Concern Over His Current Play?

September 6, 2010

A recent article by John Harper of the New York Daily News quoted two former players saying that Derek Jeter will play hardball with the Yankees over his next contract.

I am asking why would Derek Jeter need to play hardball?

Is he going anywhere else?   No.

Will he ever wear another uniform?   Of course not.

Jeter has said he eventually wants to be a part owner of the Yankees. Do you think that will ever happen if he ever play for another organization? I have said countless times that he is today’s Joe DiMaggio. Great on the field, a multiple World Series winner and quiet icon off the field.

So what is the worry? Is it that Jeter has been in a 5 for 47 slump over the last dozen games? If so, what have the Yankees done in those 12 games? They have won eight of those 12, and now have a 2.5 game lead over the sturdy Tampa Bay Rays.

The idea is to win games, and the Yankees are winning games. In fact, they have won more games than any other team in baseball – even with a slumping Jeter and little consistency in the rotation after CC Sabathia.

Jeter is now hitting .264 on the season, a full 70 points lower than he did last season, and his OBP is 75 points lower. People are now claiming Jeter is on the downside, because he is older and most other non-steroid hitters have all suffered the same fate.

It is one season. Infact, it is really only a couple months. Besides not having his share of home runs and opposite field singles this season, everything else is pretty much the same offensively. Jeter is on pace for the same amount of runs scored, doubles, RBI, and almost as many walks.

It is mainly his lack of his trademark singles, that liner into right field or the hard ground ball which gets through the infield. Those extra hits have wreaked havoc with Jeter’s OBP and SLG. Yes, singles hurt slugging percentages. 

Jeter is second among active players with 2,139 singles, and has been first of second in the AL insingles eight times in his 15 full seasons.

I have seen the articles and heard the talking heads discussing Jeter’s demise, how is on the downside and how the Yankees can not give him a long-term deal and big money after a “terrible” season like this*.

*No matter what Jeter’s season ends up as, and he could still have a great September and postseason, I give Jeter what ever he wants money wise. As I wrote earlier this year, I give Jeter a 10 year deal for $180-$200 million.

As I have said many times, Jeter is a prideful guy and would want Jeter-type money, even if he is continues to hit like he has so far this season. But, Jeter is also like DiMaggio, in that he will leave this game on top and not with his skills clearly eroding for everyone to see, even if millions of dollars are still on the table. 

Guys like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays suffered at the end of their careers. Mantle stuck around for a  year too long trying to help the Yankees fill seats at the Stadium. Mickey stayed on a year plus after he hit his 500th HR and eventually saw his career average fall below .300. Letting that average fall below that magic .300 number was always one of Mantle’s big regrets after his career ended.

Mays was a shell of himself when he played in New York for the Mets. Yes, he did play in one more World Series, but the last thoughts of many baseball fans was Mays floundering around in that 1973 Series, showing his true age. For all intents and purposes, Willie’s last season should have been 1971. Lucky for him his career average stayed above .300 after his final seasons.

Jeter will leave the game well before he is toast. It could be two years or could be five years, but either way he will not stay around just for the money. And playing baseball for a living is not like other occupations.  People in most other occupations do not have their skills erode to the detriment of millions of fans.

If YOU were guaranteed a 10-year deal with your company, you would definitely stay on the job because you DO need the money and have no pride to stay around if you couldn’t do the work anymore. You would be George Costanza staying on at the playground ball company Play Now

Jeter is not like that, he does not need the money and will not stay around just to collect a check.

And when Jeter does leave the game, the Yankees will not be liable for the balance of his contract. (Although I believe the Yankees will have Jeter on a personal services deal immediately after he retires) It is the only time a MLB players contract is NOT guaranteed. Salomon Torres retired two years ago from the Milwaukee Brewers and left $3.75 million on the table.

What I haven’t seen or heard (especially from sabermetric guys) is how Jeter might be UNLUCKY this season. You know that thing saber guys use when they can’t explain why things happen on the field of play?

Why isn’t Jeter just plain unlucky? I showed above how all his other stats (besides HRs) are the same.

You see, Jeter’s BABIP has always been over .300 and last year it was an incredible .368, but this season it is only .298, below the norm of .300 and well below last season. His career BABIP is .356!

That means he is unlucky compared to last year and pretty much his entire career. So this year it will “even out,” to what Jeter’s norm is, right? LOL.

So why I haven’t read or heard about how Jeter is unlucky? Is it because since Jeter’s BABIP this season is around the norm, this is what Jeter really is, a .265ish type hitter with little power? In fact, the Jeter detractors would probably argue that Jeter might considered extremely lucky for his career!

Yeah, most guys who have 15 plus year Hall of Fame careers are always lucky when their BABIP’s are higher than .300, the major league average on balls in play. But it is only an average and many guys do have higher BABIP’s and some have lower ones.

But what I have seen that for the most part, guys who are really good hitters usually have higher BABIP’s. They have better approaches and hit the ball harder more often.

 Sure, hard hit balls are sometimes right at fielders and little bloop hits fall in and “find grass.”

But good hitters do not get themselves out on the hard inside pitch by getting jammed all the time, they don’t swing at too many pitches outside the zone on the inner half and don’t flail-swing at many bad pitches on the outside part of the zone trying to compensate for a slower bat.

Three things Jeter is doing this season, more often than he has before.

Good hitters, however, adjust their swings according to how they are performing and how they are being pitched, but Jeter does NOT do that and it is causing him problems.

I have seen him all season. He still hits the same way he has his entire career, and has not changed a thing**. He leans over the plate too much with his upper body. He is out on his front foot much more this season, and when your bat slows down (and Jeter’s has), leaning over the plate and being out on your front foot is not a good combination.

**Unbelievably, Jeter even uses the exact same model bat, same length and weight, that he did his first year in the majors.

The swing is two distinct parts, working in tandem. First you step and then you swing. When I mean step, it could be an actual step, a toe tap or just an inward rotation of the front foot. When this happens, the hands move back to gain some separation. Then the hips turn, the hands bring the bat forward and through. 

The back side and front side are working together, but the bottom and top also need to work together. Think of your stance as a building with the waist as the midpoint, with the legs being the foundation and the upper body the steeple. The steeple needs to stay directly on top of the foundation for control and power.

Jeter is too much out of control when he swings as he brings his upper body forward and too far over the plate. That is causing all the weakly hit ground balls.

What you do not want to do is lean forward when you begin the swing process as this brings the hands forward with the upper body. A hitter can jam himself on inside pitches by doing this. When hitters “can’t catch up with the fastball,” bringing the hands forward with the upper body is one of the faults which contribute to that.

When pitchers are pounding you inside early in your career, your quick hands can guide the bat through the zone and you will get those extra hits to right field and up the middle. But when your hands and bat slow down, those extra hits become dribbling ground balls and weak pop ups.

When I played in my late 30’s – early 40’s, my bat became slower and I had to compensate for my slowness by being more of a location hitter and starting my swing early. Since these college pitchers (and catchers) were throwing me inside, I had to “cheat” by looking inside and committing earlier than normal.

In college and up into my mid 30’s, I was a gap-to-gap guy, but ended up more of a pull hitter later in my career.

While it will not happen this year, Jeter needs to change his hitting approach after this season.

Jeter needs to begin to alter his swing and keep his upper body back more. That will help him become a better hitter by using his legs more to get around on that inside pitch. Early in the count, Jeter might want to begin to become a “location hitter.” When he is looking for an inside pitch, Jeter usually gets around on it and makes better contact.

And Jeter will not be dropped in the batting order, either. Joe Girardi is NOT like Joe Torre. If Girardi did not drop Mark Teixeira in the lineup earlier this season, there is no way he drops Jeter. You play with the guys who have gotten you here (best record in baseball) and you let them play.

There have been stories that Jeter still wants to hit his way, and does not seek much guidance from Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long. Guys like Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano eat up all the info from Long, but Jeter goes about things on his own.

That will change.

Seeing the effect that Long has had on all the above guys, and with the recent quick results with Curtis Granderson, I bet Jeter works with Long over the off-season and comes back strong again next year.

Just like he got better two seasons ago with his defense by getting in better playing shape. Jeter’s pride to become better and not fall off will be too much not to seek Long’s help. Jeter has his pride, but is too smart to continue to let that get in the way of improving.

He will improve his game over the winter, the same way he has done it over the years. He is the perfect player, not doing much anything incorrectly.

He is so good at being a professional that the media took to having to rip him for not showing up to Bob Sheppard’s funeral. There was nothing else…until now with this late season hitting slump.

I believe it is that many people really want Jeter to fail, to have his skills erode so they can write him off. Jeter is the perfect player who has succeeded at most everything his entire life. He is a winner, a guy you can’t quantify via “advanced” statistical analysis.

Derek Jeter is a guy who has many big hits and great moments in his career, but according to his critics might have been nothing more than a singles hitter with limited range on defense.

Overrated they say. But overrated players do not help their organization win five World Series titles, get to two others and compile over 3,000 career hits over a 15 plus year HOF career.

As Yankee fans our BABIP has been high because we are “lucky” Jeter played in pinstripes all these years.

He will continue to do so in the future, for as many years as he wants.

Just let him play, finally adjust, and do his thing.


The New York Yankees: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Segment No. 5

June 28, 2010

This is the latest installment of the 2010 New York Yankee progress, honoring the epic Clint Eastwood movie of the same name.

MOVIE TRIVIA: Given that the Italian Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo literally translates to the English: The Good, the Ugly, the Bad, reversing the last two adjectives, advertisements for the original Italian release show Tuco (Eli Wallach – the Ugly) before Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef – the Bad) , and, when translated into English, erroneously label Angel Eyes as “The Ugly” and Tuco as “The Bad”.

Now I know why beat reporters who work on deadlines get very frustrated.

I had the following paragraph all ready during the 9th inning of last night’s Yankees – Dodgers clash.

“Since my last installment (No. 4), the Yankees have played 12 games, resulting in a 6-6 record. What is more important is that the Yankees still have themselves the No. 1 record in the major leagues at 46-29, a game up on the pesky Boston Red Sox.”

After the stunning comeback last night over the Dodgers, correct that to a 47-28 record and two game lead over the injury-depleted Red Sox.  

The Yankees have been 16-8 in June, with a split of their just completed, six game West coast Inter-league trip through Arizona and Los Angeles. During the last 12 games, the Yankees lost three in a row once (two to Philadelphia and the opening game versus the New York Mets).

All numbers are from the last 14 days, unless noted.

THE GOOD

CC Sabathia – with all the hub-bub over AJ Burnett’s disastrous June, have you noticed that the only pitcher the Yankees should have signed two season’s ago, is 5-0 in June? Sabathia became the third pitcher this season to win five straight starts while going seven plus innings in each?

The other two? See below.  

CC was 3-0, 1.57 ERA over the three starts the past two weeks. Simply dominant.

Phil Hughes – because of his innings limit skipped start out west, he only made one start over the last weeks. Phranchise made it his 10th win, going seven strong over the New York Mets, avenging his only loss to the Mets and Mike Pelfrey.

Robinson Cano – hit .298 BA/.365 OBP/.489 SLG/.855 OPS with two runs, which isn’t exactly Canoesque as we have been programmed to see. But he continues to come through with huge hits, culminating in last night’s extra-inning, game-winning home run off of left-handed reliever George Sherrill.

He also has a string of 60 errorless games. Interestingly, his throwing error was during Dallas Braden/Alex Rodriguez “don’t cross my mound” game.

Alex Rodriguez – starting to get the power stroke back with three home runs this past week. He slashed .256/.362/.564/.926 with the three HR’s and 11 RBI. All three home runs were huge, giving the Yankees the lead in this game and this one.

His home run last night got the Yankees on the board with his fifth inning two-run shot off of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

I am concerned with Alex’s hip/groin issue as it has made him much slower in lateral movement. It also has eliminated his ability to steal a base.

Brett Gardner – until getting hurt last night, Gardner was hitting .342/.419/.395/.813 while continuing to play great defense. He still leads the other New York left fielder, Jason Bay, in OPS this season (.821 vs. .791), while making considerably less money.

Colin Curtis – due to inter-league games in NL parks, he made his major league debut this past week. When Jorge Posada was catching, Curtis was the primary left-handed bat off the Yankee bench.

He had a few hits in six at bats, driving in four runs. His great at bat last night led to a RBI ground ball.

He has shown a good knowledge of the strike zone, takes great swings and can play better than average defense.

Read more about Curtis here in my 40 man roster advice from last season.

Good video of Curtis here on the biggest challenge of his life.

Good deal for Curtis, who is a very likable guy, cancer survivor and all.

He also played his college baseball at Arizona State. I remember in 2008, after the Trenton Thunder won the Eastern League title, I asked Curtis if that title was bigger than starring in the College World Series his junior season.

He smiled, took a few seconds, and said “the College World Series was awesome.”

In that Series, he faced Joba Chamberlain and former Yankee Zach Kroenke of Nebraska in Game 2, doubling off Kroenke in the 8th.

Chad Huffman – like Curtis, Huffman got his first major league hit within the last two weeks. He also had that big two-run single in Sunday night’s stirring comeback against the Dodgers.

And he hustles all the time.

Mariano Rivera – A great move by Joe Girardi in bringing in Mo into a tie game on the road again last night.

Two times in one road series, and two wins. I guess Girardi can learn from his mistakes when he did not use Rivera in that June 5th extra-inning road game at Toronto.

As I tweeted last night, Rivera is like an elite piece of real estate – location, location, location. When he hits the corners, he is unhittable.

David Robertson – he continues his really good pitching after a disastrous beginning to 2010.

In 5.2 innings over the last two weeks, he allowed a single cheap run. His overall ERA is now 5.04 (it was over 14 in early May!), but in June he has pitched to an ERA of 1.00.

People wanted to dump him to the minors in early May, but he is now the most consistent bullpen arm not named Rivera.

Yankees rookies – very interesting, but four Yankee young players have gotten their first major league hit this season; both Curtis and Huffman, plus Greg Golson and Kevin Russo. And Ivan Nova and Romulo Sanchez pitched well earlier when the bullpen needed a few new arms.

Sure, the team’s payroll is around $200 million, but the organization is doing a much better job at bringing up their young players and letting them play.

Joba, Phranchise, Gardner, Francisco Cervelli, David Robertson, and even when they started this new trend by bringing up Cano and Chien-Ming Wang in 2005.

THE BAD

Mark Teixeira – I am sorry, but Teixeira needs to change his approach from the left side to stop being a complete pull hitter.

But from what I hear, Teixeira is not a willing participant in the adjustment game, and thinks “he will come out of it on his own.”

He won’t by continuing to try and pull every pitch when he hits left handed.  

With pitchers getting better, Teix getting older and the usual big shift, Mark’s split against RHP is a terrible .228/.333/.386/.719.

I do not see him improving unless he makes some changes.

Jorge Posada – he is beginning to look old, with a slower bat. But it might just be him getting back into the groove of playing every day.

Posada will get more consistent at bats as the Yankees are finished with the National League parks and Jorge can DH a few days a week.

Last night’s 9th inning ten-pitch at bat against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton was the Posada we know.

If he hits the way he can, the lineup can withstand the continued year-long slump from Teixeira.

Joe Girardi – even though I am a big fan of his Mariano Rivera move, Girardi still tries to show everyone that he is a National League manager. Too many double switches by pulling Swisher out of games, and leaving his bench very vulnerable.

But the NL park games are over.

He was gong to pinch hit Ramiro Pena at Arizona in the Mariano game. I would rather see CC Sabathia pinch hit then Pena, especially after using both catchers. Pena is the emergency backup.

Then with first and third, with one out in LA, and Gardner on first base, Girardi elects to have AJ Burnett bunt over the runner to second.

Why not have Gardner steal second instead? If he gets thrown out, and AJ makes an out (very likely), then Derek Jeter leads off next inning.

I am a big fan of the bunting game, but with one out, giving away an out when AJ isn’t moving over two runners is a big mistake.

THE UGLY

Derek Jeter – whew! That three strikeout performance Saturday night was brutal. His slash line over the 12 games is worse – .244/.358/.289/.647 with ZERO extra base hits and no RBI.

Chan Ho Park – a .400/.444/.680/1.124 slash line is great if you are a hitter, but just brutal if you throw the ball for a living. Many have pointed out that it is usually his second inning which causes lots of damage, but some of his single inning appearances aren’t great either.

I do not believe it is Park’s durability which is an issue, as he was a starter and has several successful multi-innings appearances this season, including April 7th at Boston and June 5th at Toronto.

But after a really good 2009 season, maybe Park isn’t that good this season. This is typical of many relief pitchers.

But if the Yankees only pitch Park for a single inning, then he needs to go. Other pitchers can go the one inning route, but an effective bullpen needs lots of guys who can go multi-innings.

When Alfredo Aceves comes back, Chad Gaudin is gone, but Park is not far behind. The Yankees have lots of patience with ineffective relievers (see Damaso Marte last year), but if Sergie Mitre comes back, too, Park could be gone.

AJ Burnett – it is not Dave Eiland’s month off, lack of in your face, walk-off cream pies, or Jorge Posada catching him.

It is AJ Burnett. He is not that good.

I was against him coming here in the first place, and have never wavered off my thoughts. I still believe he will eventually be on the disabled list.

He can not throw strikes to specific spots, thus leaving the ball out over the plate, where it gets roped all over the park. Except for his really good 2008 season, Burnett is basically a .500 career pitcher. There is a reason for that.

He is not that good. When you can not command your pitches, you will never pitch well. And it does not appear he concentrates on every hitter in every situation.

Never a good combination.

ANSWER: The other two pitchers in 2010 besides Sabathia with five straight starts, five straight wins and each win going seven or more innings is Ubaldo Jimenez and Nick Blackburn.

Jimenez was the easy choice, but Blackburn was tough. He has had a terrible April and June, but sandwiched them around an amazingly dominating May.

I guess he is destined for a really good July?


The New York Yankees: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Segment No. 3

May 19, 2010

We are here with our third installment of the Clint Eastwood crusade regarding the New York Yankees. If you missed the first installment, click here .

Second installment? Click here .

The Yankees record is 25-14, three games behind the American League East leading Tampa Bay Rays. And the Yankees are home against Tampa for the next few games, then have a short road trip (across the river) to face the New York Mets for three games, and then on to Minnesota.

While the Yankees did not get into first place after Tampa’s dominant nine-game West Coast road trip earlier in the month, they have a chance to make up two games quickly.

After the Yankees, the Rays head to Houston where they luck out against the worst team in baseball.

THE GOOD

Brett Gardner

He has been really good in his time as a starter . Gardner has put up a line of .280 BA/.345 OBP/.380 SLG/.725 OPS with two doubles, a homer, 3 RBIs and 4 stolen bases. He also scored 10 runs. In February, Yankee fans would have signed on the bottom line for those slash numbers for the entire 2010 season. Currently at .321/.399/.412/.811, Gardy has surpassed all of our expectations.

Alex Rodriguez 

After there was talk about his lack of power, he comes up and wins one game with a grand slam , and ties another with a two-run shot in the bottom of the 9th. Even if he wasn’t hitting home runs, I remember lots of stinging line drives ripped all over the field. His OPS is 1.064 over the last two weeks.

Mark Teixeira

The three and four hitters are finally cranking. Tex has raised his season average to .219 with a two-week spurt of .300/.375/.640/1.015 OPS with five homers and 16 RBI. Although, during the last two Yankee losses, he has come up in the last inning with runners on base and made out both times.

Francisco Cervelli

A total pleasure to watch play the game. No HR’s so far (tied with Ben Zobrist in that category). Enthusiasm, ability to call a game, sets up hitters well, and really comes through with RISP. He slashes .647/700/.882/1.582 in that situation with 15 RBI.

I like his aggressive hacks at pitches in the strike zone. Good to see that aggressive nature in this take a pitch down the middle world we live in.

Juan Miranda

Huh? Why? Well, despite his .231 average, Miranda has a .872 OPS with a long double and booming home run. I love the way he attacks the baseball, looking to hit. But while he is aggressive, he does not swing at too many bad pitches.

I have noticed his tendency of being pull happy, trying to pull fastballs on the outside corner. Even the HR he hit last night was on an outside fastball, but he did try and pull a similar pitch in the 9th inning, too.

He must only like the pitch over the plate because he takes too many fastballs on the inner half.

I truly believe the Nick Johnson signing was a waste of $5 million, when Damon or Miranda could have been had for about the same money.

Young pitchers

Because of injuries to Chan Ho Park and Alfredo Aceves, the Yankees had the Chris Britton memorial shuttle to Scranton working overtime. They needed arms and brought up Romulo Sanchez and Ivan Nova to the majors.

Both players responded very well, combining for 6.2 innings of no run ball, allowing five hits, a walk while striking out four.

Nick Swisher

I was not a huge fan of the trade for Swisher , not because of his talent, but when the Yankees got him they had a glut of 1B/DH/RF types already on the roster.

But since the injuries to Curtis Granderson and now Swisher, you really see how Swisher’s presence is missed in the lineup and in the outfield. His new mentality in the batters box really lengthened the Yankee lineup.

Phil Hughes

Despite the not so bad start Monday, Hughes still had a good two weeks. He made three starts, going 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.105 WHIP. He only walked three batters in 19 IP, a very impressive number.

Andy Pettitte

One start after being skipped and it was more of the same from Andy. 6.1 IP, no runs, good stuff and his fifth victory.

Javy Vazquez

He is moving up the charts quicker than a Taylor Swift single. He was impressive in his two outings, one a start, and one a relief appearance. He pitched seven solid innings in Detroit (but lost a tough one), and entered Monday night’s game to face Kevin Youkilis, and got him swinging with two men on.

His curve appears to have that good break and location, but he needs to keep the fastball on the corners, not in the middle of the plate.

THE BAD

Robinson Cano

He is beginning to swing at non-hittable pitches, getting himself out in the process. His last two weeks have produced .239/.327/.326/.653 OPS with six strikeouts.

CC Sabathia

Three starts, no wins, 5.09 ERA. I know he was ripped off by the bullpen last night and should have gotten the win in Boston before the rain fell, but he is the ace and he can not go three straight starts without a victory.

If I were him, I would sit down with Joe Girardi and tell him, “Unless I am getting knocked around, I want to go eight or nine innings every start. No more of this seven inning garbage.”

AJ Burnett

Two starts, 0-1 record and 8.18 ERA. He is back to Bad AJ, issuing seven free passes and 16 hits in two starts. Almost Ugly. If he has no control of the curveball, he is useless.

David Robertson  

He is improving, but he still walks too many. Six walks in five plus innings, but seven whiffs. He should throw his curveball more for strikes early in the count. No one swings at it and if they do, it isn’t a hittable pitch.

Marcus Thames  

I really would not care if this guy hit five game winning home runs last week, he stinks. The only reason he is not part of the ugly group is the one game-winning home run.

He obviously can’t field, can’t throw and can’t hit righties. He is the ultimate one-dimensional player.

And with a team beset by injuries, that is the worst type of position player to have on the roster.

THE UGLY

Derek Jeter

If I see one corpuscle of blood come across the hall…I mean one more weak ground ball to short, I am going to freak out. FREAK OUT!  

Last night, I had more confidence in Juan Miranda coming through in the ninth inning than I would have if Randy Winn got on base and Jeter came up with a chance to win the game.

He takes too many fastball strikes, can’t hit with authority with the ones he does swing at, and flails at WAY TOO MANY breaking pitches outside the zone.

Jorge Posada

He needs to play or go on the DL. It is a waste to have him on the roster without using him.

If a limping Kirk Gibson can go to the plate in the 1988 World Series against Dennis Eckersley, then Posada could have pinch hit for Winn in the bottom of the 9th inning in Tuesday night’s game.

Posada is showing his age with all the nagging injuries. As I said, either DL him or play him.

Boone Logan  

Boone Logan stinks. Why is Girardi the only one who does not see this? In 6.1 innings this season, Logan has allowed ten runners! Lefties are hitting .357 off him with a .500 slugging percentage.

Send him out and bring up a versatile position player like Kevin Russo, who is now playing outfield in Scranton.

Joba Chamberlain

Whew! Not much to say, we all saw the two games.

Joe Girardi

I pretty much said a couple things about Joe already, but for him to need another pitcher by sending down a speedy outfielder like Greg Golson when Nick Swisher is unavailable, this might be the dumbest move I have seen all year. 

Except when Girardi brings Logan into a game.

Girardi has this penchant for resting certain guys as DH’s, giving them a half day off. That is stupid. Either give them the full day or play them in the field. Have a set DH.

The revolving DH has pushed the Yankees into a non-DH situation three times recently where the pitcher would need to hit, one which was Monday night when there were no bench players left. If the game went into extra innings, then Vazquez would have had to hit.

And if Posada can not play, then Cervelli is the only catcher with Ramiro Pena as the back-up. But when Pena was removed from the game the other day (Alex went in), the DH was lost and not only did the Yankees have no one to pinch hit, they had no backup catcher at all!

Girardi needs to have much better roster management. With too many guys unavailable, but still on the roster, they need versatile guys and a set DH.