UPDATE: PETTITTE JOINS HIM THERE
All posts for the month June, 2012
UPDATE: PETTITTE JOINS HIM THERE
Posted by jfs360 on June 27, 2012
An arbitration win for the players’ union is huge for the Knicks
Posted by jfs360 on June 22, 2012
The Yankees finally fall, and Curtis Granderson plays exhausted.
Posted by jfs360 on June 20, 2012
For once this month, timely hitting is the key
Posted by jfs360 on June 19, 2012
The suddenly unhittable Nova shuts down the Nats for a road trip sweep.
Posted by jfs360 on June 18, 2012
Hot streaks in baseball are perhaps the most fickle of sports runs. Unlike football or hockey, a team cannot ride a single player (like a QB or a goalie) to win after win after win. Unlike basketball or any other American team sport, a different key figure plays every day, and a bad start is all it takes to derail a winning streak. And because the opponent changes every fourth game or so, a team rarely goes on a tear just by beating up on its most hapless opponents.
So how do MLB teams capture lightning in a bottle and win 10 in a row, or 18 of 20, or 35 of 40 (a la the 1984 Detroit Tigers)? Put simply, everything goes right. Most or all of your starting pitchers get hot at the same time. The middle of the lineup consistently produces runs. A different role player has a huge game seemingly every night. Your opponents make boneheaded mistakes that turn a certain loss into a come-from-behind win. Above all, the breaks just go your way when they need to, night in and night out.
The Yankees have benefited from all those factors during their current hot streak. Take their last two wins. On Sunday, the Yankees fell in an early 3-0 hole to the Mets and could not get anything going of Mets’ starter Jon Niese. With two outs and no one on in the bottom of the seventh, the Bombers had an 8% chance of winning the game. When Andruw Jones hit a weak ground ball to third baseman David Wright, that percentage surely dipped lower — but only for a second, because Wright short-hopped an easy throw to first that skittered away from backup first baseman Vinny Rottino. Just like that, the inning was still alive, and three pitches later Russell Martin hit a line drive to right field that hit the top of the wall, popped straight up into the air and fell into the outstretched arms of a Yankee fan in the first row. Just like that, 3-0 became 3-2 on two random strokes of luck. Martin eventually won the game for the Yanks with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth, and the Bombers had their Subway Series sweep.
Then came last night, when Ivan Nova put up a beautiful line (7IP, no runs, 5 hits, 1 walk) despite pitching a pedestrian game. Gold Glove-caliber plays by Nick Swisher and Robbie Cano (Swisher’s was a leaping catch at the wall that prevented a two-run HR) kept the Braves off the board in the fourth inning. The Braves also missed on a boatload of fat pitches in big moments, prompting Grantland’s Jonah Keri to wax eloquent about luck and baseball:
The truth is, randomness is all around us, especially in baseball. Over the course of a year, much of that randomness tends to even out, for players and especially for teams. But in the course of a single game, random chance can and often does decide the outcome. Once in a great while, a moment of luck can decide an entire season, the way two incredibly unlucky bad hops swung the 1924 World Series. Far more often, we get games like Monday night’s Yankees-Braves tilt, which the Yankees won 3-0 thanks to early offense, spurts of effective pitching … and Ivan Nova being a lucky SOB.
Randomness has certainly been a big factor in the Yankees’ current 9-2 stretch, which has catapulted them all the way back into a tie for first in the AL East. On the other hand, this is the YANKEES we’re talking about — dumb luck is not the reason Keri ranked the Yanks No. 1 in his most recent MLB Power Rankings at Grantland.
So what exactly has propelled the Yankees to the best record in the AL? The first reason is the simplest: a regression to the mean by the middle of the Yankee lineup. Below are the splits for Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano on April 30, and their splits now:
All three men have raised their batting average, OBP and slugging percentage over the last six weeks. The power resurgence by Teixeira and Cano (a combined 18 HRs and 50 RBIs since May 1) has been particularly impressive.
Despite the middle of the lineup returning to form, the Yankees’ offense has actually regressed since May 1. The Bombers averaged 5.45 runs per game in April but have managed just 4.32 rpg since. That’s a nearly 20 percent drop-off, and yet the Yankees are 22-16 since May 1.
The team has survived the lackluster offense with starting pitching that simply put has been ridiculous. Staff ERA fell from 4.33 in April to 3.97 in May to just 2.11 so far in June. Much of that was accomplished without bullpen leaders Mariano Rivera (tore his ACL in early May) and David Robertson (on the DL since mid-May).
Recently, though, the Bombers have hardly needed their bullpen. Seemingly all at once, Andy Pettitte channeled his 1996 self, Hiroki Kuroda calmed down his erratic delivery and Phil Hughes began pitching like the ace the team thought he was way back in 2006. The Yankees knew they were set at the top of the rotation, and C.C. Sabathia has not disappointed, going at least seven innings in nine of his last 10 starts. But the rest of the rotation was a clusterfuck going into the season, and it only got worse when the team lost Michael Pineda for the year because of shoulder problems.
In the last two weeks, that script has completely flipped. Each of the Yankees’ starters has pitched twice in June, and the quintet is 7-1 with a 1.63 ERA. Using the quality start barometer (at least six innings pitched, three or fewer earned runs), the rotation is 10-for-10 in June. That’s obviously not sustainable, but it is certainly heartening to see.
Even Nova, who is routinely maligned as “the luckiest pitcher in the league” has put up big numbers this year. Though his ERA is a balmy 4.64, his xFIP (a fielding-independent pitching metric, definition here) is a much more respectable 3.80.
Lucky bounces, fluke breaks and general serendipity have unquestionably been part of the Yankees’ sizzling start to June. But the team is in first place because of a decidedly anti-luck strength that has been the key to every Yankee championship team since I’ve been alive — starting pitching.
Posted by jfs360 on June 12, 2012
“And they say by 21 I was supposed to die / so I’m out here celebrating my post-demise” –Jay-Z, “Murder to Excellence“
The biggest sign of the times at the 144th Belmont Stakes on Saturday was an actual sign. Hanging over the rafters of the second-level bleachers at Belmont Park, the sign was a tribute to the great moments of Belmonts past. “Saw Slew, admired Affirmed,” it read. “Now we say: I’ll Have Another.”
Seattle Slew and Affirmed, of course, won the last two Triple Crowns in 1977 and 1978. This year, it was supposed to be I’ll Have Another’s turn — until the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was pulled out of the Belmont 24 hours before post time and retired due to front leg tendonitis. The sign stayed virtually the same, though, except for the word ‘not’ inserted between “I’ll… Have” the same way an English teacher would include a missing word in a poorly proofread high school paper.
Posted by jfs360 on June 11, 2012