The Mockingbird

Posts Tagged ‘New York Yankees

Bolting the Barn Door on Burnett

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So the lip service from both the Blue Jays and A.J. Burnett is finally over and the Jays’ biggest free agent splash of the last decade has duly shuffled over to the Evil Empire just over halfway through his contract, for a boatload more money and time than the Jays were ever seriously considering. Well those grapes were sour anyway! Here is a rundown of the top 5 most statistically similar pitchers to Burnett according to Baseball-Reference through this point in his career, and where their careers went for the next five years from the age of 32 on.

Please note: this is purely meant for Toronto fans suffering through a cold, barren offseason and is in no way an attempt to be particularly scientific or predictive.

1. Pete Harnish

Coming off a career year, Pete put in another quality season at 32, logging 198 innings with an ERA of 3.68. His strikeout rate dropped, bu he won a career-high 16 games. Then his career totally went to hell – he only pitched another 166 innings over two seasons and logged a 5.09 ERA. Pete would tell you it was because he quit chewing tobacco and became clinically depressed, but we know better. He hit his expiry date.

2. Stan Williams

Stan was sent to the bullpen after a lousy April at the age of 32. He bounced back and forth and wound up salvaging a 3.94 ERA on the year, but would only start only one more game in his career after that. He had one year as a lights-out reliever (1.99 ERA), but was again mediocre at 34 and retired 3 games into the next season.

3, Juan Guzman

As I am sure you all remember, Juan’s career was already pretty seriously in the tank at this point. Except for a bizarre AL-leading ERA of 2.93 at 29, he hadn’t done anything since winning two world series in his first three years with the Jays so they dumped him to Baltimore. He managed to pull it together for one full season of 200 innings with a 3.74 ERA and then his career was toast (he was picked up the next season by the Rays, gave up 8 runs in his first 1 2/3 innings, and never pitched again).

4. Erik Hanson

Another familiar face! His velocity was already shot in his first year with the Jays (at 31), which sent his ERA up by about a run. By 32 his ligaments were well and truly spaghettified. After averaging 190.4 innings over the previous 7 seasons, he threw just 15 innings at the age of thirty-two, 49 the next season, and then done.

5. Kirk McCaskill

Similar to Stan Williams, McCaskill went from a really good starter at 31 to bullpen fodder at 32 after a lousy start to the season. And it prolonged his career a few more years as well – but he didn’t get that one more good year to show for it, posting a 5.05 ERA over three seasons in middle relief until retiring at age 35.

The next 5 aren’t much better than that horror show, but you get the idea. Except for a few high-profile automatons pitching into their 40’s lately, power pitchers in their 30’s aren’t really such a great investment. Of course this isn’t such an issue for the Yankees, who just want the cream of the free agent crop right now and can afford to swallow some major busts down the road. But I don’t need some stat dork to tell me that paying A.J. Burnett 16.5 million dollars to pitch when he’s 36 is going to be a farce.

And I’m actually kind of glad Nuke stuck around in the AL East, too – the Yanks would have gotten someone comparable like Derek Lowe anyway, and now we get front-row seats once A.J’s heater starts to lose a few mph and he trots out the old chestnut about how he’s going to start “pitching” instead of “throwing”, promises to bring his changeup out once in a blue moon, and maybe even mixes in his legendary cut fastball as the Bronx Zoo goes positively mental on him.

Written by halejon

December 18, 2008 at 3:46 am

Nerd Fight!

with 4 comments

You know you’ve made the big time when you start getting taken down by blogs. I feel like making an acceptance speech or something, because the Southpaw just called B.S. on me calling B.S on the myth of the Jays playing to the level of their opponents.

Now normally I would just take the high road by invoking Hitler to wipe the offending blog off the face of the earth, or rage into an indignant huff at how anyone could question my authority after so many, errr…months of experience, but I actually had some more to say on this but figured two posts on the subject had driven it sufficiently into the ground. Rebuttals are cool and edgy, though, no?

First, there’s a reason I didn’t generalize into teams above and below below .500 like you often hear. An overall average doesn’t show if the Jays have trouble against ALL good and bad teams, or are just extremely skewed against a select few. As I showed, it’s the latter. Here’s the Jays 2005-2007 record against +.500 teams:

Team Winning %
Seattle .571
Kansas City .608
Baltimore .553
Tampa Bay .581
Texas .384

When you see that, do you still think that the Jays have to find a way to beat up on the cellar dwellers, or that they have to find a way stop losing to @#$@#$ Texas constantly? Split things up by team and while the overall average might be low, there’s no trend across the entire group- and that’s what people are talking about.

You also end up lumping in disasters like 2005’s Kansas City (.346) with an average Texas (.488). Meanwhile, an almost identical Minnesota (.512) team gets the “winner” label. So it ignore very significant differences between some teams while creating others that aren’t there. A .500 team like the Jays could be doing just fine against legitimately bad teams but lose a bunch of coin flips to other .500 teams (and vice versa) and this kind of wide-brush analysis would not show the difference.

So with all due respect to my friend Jon, yes, it is a legitimate complaint to observe the Jays do not run up the win total against vulnerable teams, collectively, in the same way that the Yankees and Red Sox do.

This is 100% true- but also self-fulfilling. What if the Jays have not run up the wins against lousy teams as much as their rivals because they have simply not been as good a team, instead of the other way around? I mean, Tampa Bay has not run up the win total against sub .500 teams as well, but that is clearly not their problem. On its own, this doesn’t really mean anything. What would be significant is if while failing in this regard, the Jays do play against the good teams the way playoff teams do…

The interesting thing I found when it came to how the three teams played versus teams with winning records was this: over the three years in question the Jays have a slightly BETTER record against those teams than do the Red Sox. That is the case because in 2006, the Jays did MUCH better than the Red Sox against those teams. Collectively, on the three seasons, the Yankees were at .553, the Jays at .498, and the Red Sox at .479 against AL teams with winning records.

Also true- but does it really tell you anything about the Jays? Which number really looks out of place here?

Team Overall Below .500 Above .500
Boston 0.569 0.620 (+51) 0.479 (-90)
New York 0.588 0.629 (+41) 0.553 (-35)
Toronto 0.514 0.537 (+23) 0.498 (-16)

The world champions, one of the most dominant teams over the last three years, have a losing record against teams over .500, a huge difference from their overall record. Intuitively, that’s just bizarre, and logically it must be the exception to the rule- it’s hard to have too many great teams that can”t beat good teams. There is a flaw with just comparing the Jays to our rivals- the Red Sox aren’t the model for a playoff contender, they are a highly unusual exception.

So, again, as Jon rightly observes the Jays do not play great against winning teams. However, it can be fairly stated that they win enough of those games to be a contender IF they would rack up wins against the weaker sisters of the league.

At an unusually high rate, yes. But losing more than you win to + .500 teams is not enough to be a contender for most teams (and certainly not in the AL East). Boston has proved that it’s possible, but that doesn’t mean that this is what is holding the Jays back, which is how the (still a) myth goes.

Written by halejon

April 19, 2008 at 2:28 am

Canada Sends Troops to Sabotage Yankee Dynasty

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In a brazen attempt at revenge for either the war of 1812 or the Yankees breaking baseball’s fiscal system and dominating the AL East since the last time the Blue Jays won a world series, on Friday night Joba Chamberlain was attacked on the mound by “Canadian Soldiers” in the bottom of a critical 8th inning.

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Coming into the game to bail out Andy Pettite with one out in the 7th, Chamberlain seemed his usual invincible self in his first post-season appearance, retiring the two batters he faced with runners on first and second in dominant fashion. But as the next inning started, the northern troops descended onto Jacob’s field and turned the tide of a pitched battle in favour of the Native Americans. Although Chamberlain did not allow a hit, he walked two, hit one, and threw two wild pitches, the second of which allowed the tying run to score.

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In the 9th, the troops began to fall back, allowing Fausto Carmona to strike out Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez to end the Yankee threat and complete his 9-inning masterpiece. There was one unfortunate friendly-fire incident when a Canadian dive-bombed Kenny Lofton’s eye, mistaking him for an elder US stateman. The Cleveland Indians took advantage of the turn of events and went on to win the game with a bases loaded single by Travis Hafner in the bottom of the 11th.

US reaction to the Canuck agression was swift. Fighter Jets were scrambled in an attempt to counter the aerial invaders, and a reported 3,781,542 Canadian casualties were reported, most coming in vicious hand-to-hand combat in the bleachers. Reports of chemical warfare were also reported, although the use of the controlled substance DEET against civilians was quickly denied. Fearing retaliation, the Toronto Blue Jays have been evacuated to a secret heavily reinforced concrete bunker code-named “The Rogers Centre”.

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Written by halejon

October 6, 2007 at 12:49 am

Dustin McGowan – Dissection of a Masterpiece

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Now that the time of year has come where all that’s left to do as Toronto Blue Jays fans is look back at the season wistfully and cheer for whichever team is facing the Yankees, the best play/moment/game lists are making the rounds. Sure Aaron Hill’s steal of home was a great moment of jubilation, but for me everything pales in comparison to Dustin McGowan’s one-hitter.

After years of disappointment and questions about his mental composure during a rough start to the year, Dustin finally put together a series of quality starts only to get demolished by the Dodgers, blown out in under than 2 innings after 8 hits and 3 walks. But he bounced back in stunning fashion his next start and officially announced his arrival as an elite pitcher by taking a no-hitter into the 8th against a powerful Rockies lineup. Let’s take a look at how he did it.

First, here’s a another really good McGowan start for comparison. It was his first win this season (and his first in over a year), where he shut down a struggling Yankees squad for 7 2/3 innings, the only blemish a 2-run home run by Hideki Matsui that ended his night. (0,0) on these graphs are how a pitch that was not affected at all by spin would move, from the hitter’s perspective.

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His pitch movement looks a lot like A.J. Burnett, except his fastballs are tailing even more. The blue dots are his curveball, the green his slider and on the other side his change-up. (If you haven’t seen one of these charts before, the middle is where a pitch with “no spin”, only gravity, would go- fastballs are up and to the left because backspin keeps them up). I was watching this game and noticed a few pitches that started inside, froze a left-handed batter by starting right at him, and then broke over the plate like a reverse slider. It was no trick of TV- his best change-ups have about as much break sideways and down as his slider (compared to his straight fastball). I hope he teaches Burnett how to throw that thing. Otherwise, pretty typical results for a power pitcher. And now here’s his “no-hit stuff”.

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WOW. Not exactly the fingerprint I was expecting. His two-seamer isn’t tailing as much. His Curveball is downright terrible. His slider is breaking about as much as Jesse Litsch’s cutter. His velocity wasn’t great (coming later). So what the heck was so great about this day?? Location, location, location.

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What he had was absolute command over the inner half of the plate. He threw his two-seamer almost exclusively and it broke in on the hands of righties and away from lefties. All those pitches just slightly off the plate started as strikes and then broke about 6 inches to be almost unhittable. He also threw almost all of his sliders for strikes.

The only blemish? See that arrow on both graphs? That was the one hit. After the game, Gregg Zaun said:

“He put a good swing on a really good pitch and he was able to break up the no-hitter with a legitimate line drive,” Zaun said. “I’m still kind of fighting my emotions right now, because I really wanted it for [McGowan].

Good thing to say to a disappointed young man, but it was a terrible pitch. It didn’t tail at all, though it was thrown at the speed of a 2-seamer. Zaun had not called a 4-seam fastball since the 46th pitch in the 4th inning and McGowan had thrown 6 all game to that point, so there’s not much chance that’s what it really was. Dustin was trying to go back inside with the 2-seamer that had worked all game and for whatever reason (read: nerves), it flattened out and stayed over the plate. That’s why it was a solid line drive.

So what caused this great command and loss of breaking ball? Maybe it was his release point. In his first win (and most of his other starts since then are around there), he was dropping down and to the side a lot more (although some of that vertical difference could be due to variations in where f/x has been measuring it throughout the season).

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That would make sense- sometimes pitchers try to get movement on their pitches by throwing a little more sidearm, and he certainly had it in spades against the Yankees. Also notice that his curve and fastball are coming from noticeably different Horizontal spots (though I’m not sure how much an inch of difference is going to make to a batter trying to pick up a pitch). However, during his one-hitter, he was coming more over the top and all his pitches were coming from the same location:

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One last thing I wanted to look at was his disaster of a start (5 innings, 6 runs, 8 hits, 3 HR) against Boston after a 10-day layoff for the all-star break. His pitches weren’t really that bad, but his velocity was way down. Here are the fastballs he threw in the last two starts mentioned as compared to his shelling at the hands of Boston. And no, that spike way downwards is not a mistake. Those were fastballs at the end of an inning that prompted a visit form Brad Arnsberg. He got out of the inning by inducing contact and came back in the next frame throwing harder.

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Written by halejon

September 29, 2007 at 12:33 am

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