Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Too Many Extra Base Hits

You can basically name any part of the game of baseball and the Yankees aren't doing it well right now.  It's hard to remember a time when the team has collectively played this poorly for an extended period of time, and for once I'm actually glad I don't have the ability to watch them on TV every night.  Whether you accept them or not, there are some quasi-viable excuses for the poor performance from certain groups.  The lineup as a whole is old and dealing with the un-fixable problem of age-related decline, and the bullpen has been decimated by injuries and burdened by a heavy workload.

The starting rotation, however, really doesn't have an excuse to fall back on to explain themselves.  Losing Michael Pineda's services before they even had a chance to see them sucked, but they still have a healthy CC Sabathia, a healthy Hiroki Kuroda, 2 young guys in their primes in Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, and the recently-added Andy Pettitte, who looks like he's got plenty left in the tank.  And yet the Yankee rotation currently ranks 26th in MLB in team ERA at 4.93 and 28th in FIP at 4.60.  I've touched briefly on the fact that Nova and Kuroda are getting absolutely killed on balls in play going for extra bases when they miss in the strike zone in a couple posts, but in looking at the bigger picture it seems that the XBH problem is a rotation-wide one.

The chart above shows the combined efforts of the starting rotation over the past 3 seasons.  The XBH% represents the total percentage of hits allowed that have gone for extra bases, and the HR% represents the percentage of those extra base hits that have been HR.  As you can clearly see, the spike in XBH allowed this season is what is crippling the Yankee rotation.  Keep in mind that the numbers from 2011 include those of everybody's (myself included) favorite former rotational whipping boy, and that 2010's numbers include that same whipping boy and Javy Vazquez's disastrous season (hence the much higher HR%).  The 2010 and 2011 totals also include innings from immortals like Sergio Mitre, Dustin Moseley, and Brien Gordon.

This year's starting rotation, with or without Pineda, was expected to be better than the previous 2 versions, and to a certain degree it has.  The BB rate is right in line with where last season's was, and the K rate is way up.  In general, the Yankee starters are doing a better job of keeping runners off base, at least when hitters don't make contact.  But when they do make contact, it's been a disaster.  Teams aren't just going station to station on the basepaths against the Yankee rotation; it's a goddamn merry-go-round out there and it's absolutely killing the rotation's bottom line and countering all the good they're doing by striking out more batters.

I'm sure if I dug a little deeper I would find a pocket of bad BABIP luck that led to some of these XBH, and at some point, the high HR rates of each of the individual starters has to come down.  But from what I've seen on highlights and PITCHf/x, a lot of this XBH damage is self-inflicted through poor pitch location in the strike zone.  1 strike, 2 strikes, or no strikes, the Yankee starters are not consistently hitting their spots and are handing out too many good pitches to hit.  They haven't been getting away with it thus far, and rather than wait for their BABIP luck to change it would behoove them to tighten up their command and location.

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