Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cleveland at New York

The Yankees begin an important series tonight against the Indians. I use the word “important,” because it feels like the season has come to another fork in the road. With the team on a four-game skid for the first time since early April, there is a growing sense of urgency to get things back on track.

New York has gone from their high point of the season (1.5 games in first, 13 games over .500 after last Tuesday’s win) to their symbolic low point: coming off a loss to Curt Schilling on Thursday and a sweep at the hands of the A’s on the weekend. The boat, which has been springing leaks for quite some time, seems to have taken on too much water at this point.

The positives:

The Yankees are 1 game out of first place. None of the three top contenders in the A.L. East have surged ahead of the pack. While the Yanks, Sox and Jays all have tremendous areas of strength, all three have noticeable areas of weakness. The Yankees have been able to maintain a good showing in the standings not only with their own good play at times, but because of their division rivals’ inconsistency.

The Yankees, despite all the injuries, still have impressive run totals, hence an impressive run margin (RS-RA).

They are currently tied for 1st with Cleveland in runs scored in the American League, and are 4th in the AL in runs allowed.

Runs Allowed (AL)

1. Detroit: 249
2. Oakland: 283
3. Chicago: 288
4. New York: 293

For as much as the Yankees pitching staff and defense suffers the slings and arrows from the media and general public, the defensive side of things hasn’t been that bad.

What have they been doing well from the pitching side of the ledger?

The noticeable area they’ve excelled, beyond the runs allowed and ERA (which ranks 2nd in the league behind Detroit), is they are keeping the ball in the ballpark.

They are tied with the Rangers, interestingly enough, for fewest home runs allowed in the American League with 60. In fact, they are tied with Cleveland for 2nd in home runs allowed per game at 1.0.

This is somewhat surprising as one of the most enduring images of the season so far is Randy Johnson craning his head back as another big fly is on its way to leaving the park. Johnson has given up 15 dingers.

The neutralizer in this category has been Chien-Ming Wang. Wang, in pitching the 2nd most innings on the team (81.2), has yielded just four homers. It’s one of his two saving graces as his pitcher, not counting his cool-as-ice mound demeanor, which is hard to quantify. His other strong suit, of course, is his ability to induce a ground ball. Among regular major league starters, his 2.72 GO/FO ratio is 5th behind Webb, Lowe, Westbrook and Mulder.

The negatives:

The most glaring deficiency on the Yankees is the lack of innings they’re getting from the starting pitchers. At 355.2 IP, they rank 3rd from the bottom in the American League. Only the Jays’ and Royals’ starters have pitched fewer innings.

This hasn’t necessarily hurt them yet, but it could be a factor as the season progresses, and the bullpen has then logged an inordinate amount of work.

The bullpen, and I believe it’s one of the most unreliable that Torre has had to work with in his time here, has actually pitched to pretty good stats:

Its 3.80 ERA is third in the AL, behind the Twins and Tigers

It has allowed 17 home runs, 2nd fewest in the league; this is a major reason for a league-best .373 SLG against, tied with Texas.

But it also has its weak spots:

An OBA of .332 is ranked 7th in the league.

And what I believe is an important stat for a bullpen, because of the late inning situations and inherited baserunners, the Yanks’ bullpen ranks 11th in the AL in K/9.

The hot-and-cold nature of the bullpen’s two most used middle relievers (Proctor and Farnsworth) also has contributed to the roller coaster feel of the Pen.

Yesterday on a radio during a radio spot on WFAN (New York), Joe Torre was asked if it was up to him would he rather pick-up another starter right now, or a reliever. His answer, with only a slight hesitation: starter.

I tend to agree with him.

I think the easiest thing to get at this point would be a mid-level outfielder/utility player, i.e. a poor man’s Dave Roberts. And I think it’s imperative to give support to one of the corner outfield spots, if not grab an extra infielder to reduce Cairo’s work load.

As far as the current roster, the Yankees need to get more innings out of their 4th and 5th spots in the rotation. Specifically, they need Jaret Wright to muster some attribute that allows him to pitch more than 5 innings effectively.

Here is the breakdown of IP and pitches thrown in his starts this season:

3 IP : 81 pitches
5 : 84
6 : 81
5.1 : 96
6 : 82
5 : 73
5.1 : 94
6 : 89
5 : 87

Hey, at least he’s been consistent. Just when we thought we’d seen the last of Al Leiter…

The question(s) is/are:

Can Leiter push himself to 100+ pitches and still be relatively effective? I don’t know if he has the arm strength or endurance to do that.


Can he make an adjustment towards efficiency? I doubt this, as control is just not a strong suit of his.

Shawn Chacon is a similar case to Wright, the recent injury notwithstanding. He is eminently hittable (10.26 H/9 in eight starts this year) and he doesn’t rack up a lot of strikeouts. Worse than that is that his walks are up to over five per nine innings.

What the Yanks need is a 2005 version of Shawn Chacon (who pitched to a 2.85 ERA in 12 starts last year in the 2nd half) to replace Shawn Chacon. A 2005 version of Aaron Small to replace Wright wouldn’t hurt either.

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