Drawing by Moebius.
Drawing by Moebius.
Miguel Cabrera has been a one-man wrecking crew against the Yankees this season. In 39 plate appearances, the third baseman has cranked out 5 home runs and 11 RBI to go along with a scary slash line of .314/.385/.857. Among players with at least 20 times to the plate against the Yankees, Cabrera’s OPS ranks fourth this season, which has led some to suggest Joe Girardi should put up four fingers every time he comes to bat. Unfortunately, following him in the lineup is Prince Fielder, whose OPS against the Bronx Bombers isn’t that far behind. For Yankees’ pitchers, at least, the season series against the Tigers can’t end soon enough.
Note: Based on minimum of 20 plate appearances.
After the Yankees were shutdown by Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander within three days, many lamented the team’s perceived inability to hit great pitchers. However, based solely on observation, it seems as if great hitters have caused a much greater problem. It’s difficult to test such a hypothesis because of the subjective criteria involved, but we can give it a try anyway.
Note: Top hitters based on OPS since 2010 and a minimum of 1,200 plate appearances. Robin Cano excluded.
tOPS+ is OPS of this split relative to the player’s overall OPS, with variance from OBP and SLG determined separately and added together.
Using OPS+ over the past two-plus seasons as a gauge, the Yankees record against the 10 best hitters in the American League is presented above. Not surprisingly, Cabrera ranks as the best hitter in the game, so the Yankees have not been his only victim. However, Cabrera has posted an OPS versus New York that is 46% higher than his season rate, which is in line with the premium he has enjoyed over the Yankees for his entire career.
As great as Cabrera has been against the Yankees, his performance is pedestrian compared to David Ortiz, who is batting an astounding .619 against the pinstripes. In much smaller samples, Evan Longoria and Jose Bautista have exceeded their typical production by an even greater percentage than Ortiz, but based on the number of at bats, Big Papi has been hands down the most deadly offensive weapon used against the Yankees this season.
Although most of the top-10 hitters have managed to exceed their already high baseline against the Yankees, Josh Hamilton, Billy Butler, and Mike Napoli have all been below par. Keep in mind, however, that the samples for Hamilton and Napoli are very small, so the Yankees shouldn’t enter next week’s four game showdown against Texas with a false sense of security.
Note: Based on minimum of 200 plate appearances.
Fans who are one generation older probably immediately think of Edgar Martinez when it comes to ranking top Yankee killers from the recent past. However, the Mariners’ DH only ranks ninth in OPS against the pinstripes, and his .965 rate versus the Yankees is only marginally better than his career output. Instead, one of his former teammates owns the distinction of being the most prolific tormentor of the Yankees over the past 25 years. You may have a heard of him…his name is Alex Rodriguez. In 372 plate appearances versus New York, Arod’s 1.037 OPS ranks just ahead of Manny Ramirez (who had more than twice as many chances). Maybe that’s why some Yankee fans still refuse to accept him?
Confirming our earlier suspicion, the Yankees do seem to have trouble with great hitters. Of the 10 hitters with the highest OPS against them since 1988, nine were All Stars and at least six have borderline or better Hall of Fame credentials. Then, there is Geronimo Berroa. The journeyman outfielder was a solid player for 11 seasons, but his career OPS of .798 belied the monster he was against the Yankees. In 244 plate appearances, Berroa’s line of .328/.430/.598 added up to an OPS that was 56% better than his career rate. In particular, Berroa enjoyed facing Andy Pettitte, against whom he compiled an OPS of 1.317 in 29 plate appearances. Perhaps the most resounding evidence of his Yankee domination, however, is his .896 OPS against the immortal Mariano Rivera (the 17th highest rate by any player with at least 14 PAs against the great closer).
By the end of the next season, Miguel Cabrera should have enough plate appearances to take his place among the top Yankee killers of recent vintage as presented in the chart above. Of course, if the Yankees can finally find a way to get him out, maybe his OPS won’t be high enough to qualify? That’s probably wishful thinking, but for one more game this afternoon, is it too much to ask for an 0-4?
It was almost the West Coast trip from hell. After dropping five of six in Oakland and Seattle, not to mention losing Alex Rodriguez to a broken hand, the Yankees were poised for another defeat on Wednesday afternoon. However, Jayson Nix’ bases clearing double in the eighth inning wiped away a 2-1 deficit, and with it, some of the sting of a difficult road trip.
If not for Nix’ heroics, the Yankees would have recorded their second lowest winning percentage on any West Coast trip of at least six games. By squeaking out a win, the Bronx Bombers also nudged their all-time record in the Pacific timezone to just over .500 at 385-384. Although Yankees’ fans are seldom satisfied with mediocrity, that record might come as a pleasant surprise because trips out West have always seemed to have more than their share of misadventures.
Note: Includes trips involving two or more cities.
The Yankees’ first regular season game on the West Coast took place on May 5, 1961, when the Bronx Bombers traveled across the country to face the expansion Los Angeles Angels. Media accounts expected the Yankees to romp over the Angels, especially considering the friendly confines of Wrigley Field (there was one in Los Angeles too). Although the AP compared the mighty Yankees’ visit to “letting a channel swimmer work out in bath tub”, Casey’s crew wound up losing two of three in the series and six of nine against the Angels in Los Angeles overall.
Since the Angels joined the American League, the Yankees have played 769 games in the Pacific Time Zone as part of 126 distinct trips. Until the Athletics moved to Oakland in 1968, visits to the West Coast were basically three game stopovers amid longer road trips that included cities like Cleveland, Minnesota, and Kansas City. Then, when the Pilots landed in Seattle for the 1969 season, the jaunt became a lengthy swings up or down the coast. In 1970, East Coast teams were given a bit of a reprieve when the Pilots relocated to Milwaukee, but the three-city circuit became a staple when the Mariners joined the A.L. in 1977.
With Seattle back in business, the three-city trip along the Pacific became a rite of passage for A.L. teams until the next round of expansion in 1998. Since that time, the Yankees have only made one trip covering all three cities. In fact, with the exception of the nine-game jaunt in May 2011, last week’s seven-game trip out West was as long as any other from the past 14 seasons.
Note: Includes all games played in the Pacific timezone.
So, if this most recent West Coast swing almost qualified as the second worst in Yankees’ history, what was the worst? On May 23, 1995, the Yankees, who trailed the Red Sox by 1.5 games at the time, lost the first game of a three-city tour in a 10-0 blowout at the hands of Chuck Finley and the Angels. However, there was a silver lining, albeit one that wouldn’t pay off until the following year. In need of a spot starter, the Yankees promoted a skinny Panamanian kid named Mariano Rivera. Although the loss presaged the kind of trip the Yankees would have, Rivera’s debut turned out to be the more important omen.
The Yankees wound up losing the first five games of the trip before finally getting a win in Oakland behind, you guessed it, Rivera, who, this time, allowed only one run over 5 1/3 innings (the losing pitcher was present day Yankees’ bullpen coach Mike Harkey). Unfortunately, the losing resumed as the Yankees were swept in three games at the Kingdome. By the time the Bronx Bombers limped onto the plane to head back home, the team had dropped seven games behind the Red Sox.
Incredibly, the Yankees followed up the disastrous trip to the West Coast with another epic failure when the team returned in August. This time, the Yankees eked out one more victory to finish the 10-game trip at 2-8. Combined with the three losses the team suffered to the Mariners in the ALDS, the Yankees ended 1995 with 3 wins against 19 defeats on the banks of the Pacific.
Note: Based on winning percentage; minimum six games.
One season before the Yankees’ nightmarish Western experience in 1995, the team compiled its most glorious visit to Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle. Following the All Star Break in 1994, the Yankees opened up the second half in the Kingdome, and, for eight innings, looked headed for defeat. Trailing 8-6 in the ninth, the Yankees’ rallied for seven runs and then seemingly never stopped scoring after that. In total, the Bronx Bombers scored 90 runs on the 10-game trip, culminating in Don Mattingly’s first and only pinch hit home run, which helped the Yankees erase another ninth inning deficit in the final game of the trip. The 9-1 stretch allowed the Yankees to build a 5 1/2 game lead in the A.L. East, putting the team in line for its first full season division title since 1980. However, it was all for naught. Less than three weeks later, the players went on strike and the season never resumed.
Yankees’ Best West Coast Trip: July 14-24, 1994
Note: Based on winning percentage; minimum six games.
Superman had his kryptonite. Mariano Rivera had Edgar Martinez. In 23 plate appearances against the immortal closer, the Mariners’ prolific DH batted an incredible .579/.652/1.053. When there’s a clash of the titans, someone has to win, and in this rare instance, the great Rivera was usually on the wrong side of the battle.
If Martinez was Rivera’s kryptonite, Ray Durham was his spinach. In 26 plate appearances against the closer, the former All Star 2B never got a hit. Although extreme in his level of futility, Durham has plenty of company among hitters who have been dominated by Rivera. Over 40% of the 83 players with at least 15 plate appearances against the all-time saves leader have posted an OPS below .600, so, just like a real life superhero, the Yankees closer is accustomed to getting his man.
Kryptonite and Spinach for a Selection of Top Pitchers
Note: Based on hitters with a minimum of 25 plate appearances (15 PAs for Rivera) against each starter. Includes post season results.
The chart above lists the five hitters with the most and least success (i.e., the kryptonite and spinach) against Rivera as well as a selection of top starting pitchers from both the present and past. As you can see, the chief nemeses for an elite pitcher are often hitters of equal renown. For example, Bob Feller had Ted Williams, Randy Johnson had Albert Pujols, and Sandy Koufax was made human when facing the immortal trio of Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Willie Mays. However, there are some anomalies, such as Steve Ontiveros’ success against Tom Seaver. In 28 plate appearances, the former corner infielder for the Giants and Cubs, who had a career OPS of .731, managed to more than double that rate when facing Tom Terrific. The same relationship also existed between Greg Maddux and Javier Valentin, a light hitting catcher who somehow managed to solve the riddle of the Braves’ right hander.
The Seaver/Ontiveros and Madduz/Valentin pairings are probably the most surprising from the chart above, but that doesn’t mean the other elite pitchers haven’t had their share of unlikely antagonists. Marco Scutaro has been one of Rivera’s more frequent tormenters, while teammate CC Sabathia has found Rod Barajas to be one of his toughest outs. Two light hitting infielders, Jose Lopez and David Eckstein, have given Roy Hallday headaches, while Jerry Hairston Jr. is on a very small list of hitters who had Pedro Martinez’ number. Very few pitchers have been more intimidating than Bob Gibson, but that didn’t stop one of the worst hitters in baseball history from dominating the right hander. No hitter with at least 4,750 plate appearances has an OPS+ lower than Tim Foli’s 64, yet, somehow the journeyman managed to bat .483/.516/.586 against Gibson. Not to be outdone, Neifi Pérez, who matched Foli’s infamy by posting an OPS+ of 64 in over 5,500 plate appearances, also picked on one of the game’s greatest pitchers. In 42 plate appearances against Randy Johnson, Pérez raised his game exponentially, batting .333/.333/.619 against the Big Unit.
Note: Hitters selected based on a combination of plate appearances and OPS+. Includes post season results.
The chart below displays the distribution of OPS rates compiled by batters with a minimum number of plate appearances against our selection of great pitchers (see note for explanation of criteria used). Rivera and Clemens are the only two pitchers from the group to keep a hitter under an OPS of .100, while Clemens also scored the lowest percentage of hitters who racked up an OPS over 1.000. Among the starters, only Pedro matched Rivera in terms of the number of hitters with an OPS against below .700; Tim Lincecum is the leader of the actives. Finally, all but Feller, Sabathia, and Hernandez have more “blue” than “red” on their charts, but it should be noted that trio pitched more seasons in a higher run environment than all others but Rivera and Halladay.
“OPS Against” Distribution for Select Group of Top Starters
Note: Based on hitters with a minimum of 25 plate appearances (15 PAs for Rivera) against each starter. Also, a 7% OPS adjustment (based on a crude comparison of league OPS in the different eras) was used to approximate the lower run environment that existed during the careers of Seaver, Ford, Gibson, and Koufax. Includes post season results.
Over at the Captain’s Blog, William Juliano explains what this 2014 payroll tax business is all about and I, for one, am grateful.
[Photo Credit: Alice Kokaine]
Baseball used to be just the National Pastime, but now, America’s greatest game belongs to the world. Official Opening Day rosters haven’t been decided upon yet, but there’s a good chance the percentage of players born outside the United States could top 30% for the first time in history, further cementing baseball as the most diverse of the three major American sports (if Canadian and U.S. players are considered “domestic”, baseball’s international participation is also greater than the NHL’s).
Comparison of International Participation Among Major Sports
Note: For NHL, domestic includes the U.S. and Canada.
Source: baseball-reference.com (2011); profootball-reference.com (2011-12); NHL.com (2010-11); rpiratings.com (NBA: 2011-12)
For much of its first 100 years, baseball was mostly composed of American born players. However, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, that started to change. Soon after Robinson’s debut, an increasing number of international players, particularly those hailing from Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, began filtering into the league. As a result, the percentage of foreign born players increased from 3.6% in 1947 to 9.0% in 1961, the first year of expansion.
Domestic vs. International Participation in MLB, 1901 to 2011
Note: Data is not continuous, but based on five-year segments.
With more teams came the need for a deeper talent pool, so over the next decade, international participation continued to trend up, reaching 12.5% by 1976, even though the number of Cuban born players was significantly curtailed by Fidel Castro’s revolution. Filling the void left by the absence of Cuban players was an influx of talent from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic as well as even greater participation from Mexico and Puerto Rico.
For the next 10 years, the number of international players remained stagnant. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was also the first decade of free agency. With a ready of supply of proven major league talent now regularly available, perhaps teams became less inclined to spend on international scouting? Whatever the reason, the number of foreign born players began to increase again in the mid-1980s, right around the time free agent salaries began to skyrocket. Since that point, the trend toward greater diversity has continued unabated.
Percentage of International Players, By Country
Note: Data is not continuous, but based on five-year segments. Percentages are based on international segment only.
In 2010, the international presence in the major leagues peaked at 28.2% (the all-time high based on Opening Day rosters was 29.2% in 2005). Considering the increasing number of high profile international free agent signings and gradual development of foreign born prospects, both of those rates could be eclipsed in 2012, but for how much longer will the trend continue?
One of the key components of baseball’s new CBA is a provision that effectively creates a salary cap for amateur international free agent signings. Although not as extreme as folding foreign born amateurs into the Rule IV draft, this new system could have similar effects. In particular, there has been concern expressed about whether budgetary restrictions placed on international signings will discourage teams from investing overseas (i.e., why fund an academy if the ability to sign the prospects is limited?). Worth noting in relation to this concern is that since Puerto Rican players were added to the draft in 1990, the number of major leaguers hailing from the island has declined from 3.4% of all players and 24.3% of international players to 2.2% and 8%, respectively, in 2011. Needless to say, if a similar effect results from the new CBA, the percentage of foreign born players in the majors could reverse course.
Not only has there been a significant increase in the number of international players, but baseball has also experienced demographic shifts within the domestic population. For the first 30 years of the modern major leagues, the Rust Belt contributed the highest percentage of players, with Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and New York leading the way. By the 1930s, however, warmer weather states like California and Texas, which not coincidentally hosted some of the best minor leagues circuits in the country, began to take over.
Domestic Participation in MLB, 1901-2011
Baseball’s state demographics remained relatively stable from the 1930s to the 1960s, at which point the number of players hailing from California and abroad began to take its toll on the rest of the country. More recently, however, the Golden State’s share of the player population has started to abate, dropping from nearly 25% in the mid-1980s to the current rate of 16.1%. This decline allowed the number of foreign born players to surpass the individual rates of every state for the first time in 1996.
Over the past five years, there has been an uptick in the percentage of players born in Texas and Florida, which seems like a trend that will continue. On the other hand, every other state now falls below the 3% level, meaning nearly one in two American born players is a native son of California, Texas, or Florida. Of course, it should be noted that those states have three of the four highest populations, but even on a per capita basis, they rank among the leaders.
Per Capita Domestic Participation in MLB, Top- and Bottom-10, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com and 2010 U.S. Census data
Despite the increased concentration among domestic players, baseball’s international presence has fueled its unprecedented diversity. This melting pot has been a recipe for success, not only on the field, but in the board room as well. So, the next time someone tries to argue that baseball is no longer the National Pastime, just smile and nod your head. They’re right. Baseball is now the International Pastime.
Now that A.J Burnett has been forced to walk the plank, the 2012 Yankees’ starting rotation has begun to take its final shape. Although Joe Girardi has promised a battle between the veteran Freddy Garcia and one-time top prospect Phil Hughes for the fifth slot, the young right hander seems to have the inside track. Then again, Hughes isn’t really that young any more, at least not by the standards of the Yankees’ 2012 rotation.
If Phil Hughes breaks camp as the fifth starter, he’ll no longer be the baby of the staff. Along with Ivan Nova (25) and Michael Pineda (23), Hughes would give the Yankees three starters no older than 26, providing a youthful complement to the 31-year old CC Sabathia and 37-year old Hiroki Kuroda. At an average age of 28.4, the 2012 rotation would represent the team’s youngest starting staff since 1995 and fourth youngest in the last 30 seasons.
*A weighted average based on the number of innings pitched as a starter only.
Note: Red data points indicate years the Yankees won the World Series.
Sometimes the best laid plans go astray, so there’s no guarantee that the Yankees’ rotation will retain its youthful appearance throughout the entire season. After all, in 111 years, the Yankees have only had 25 pitchers start at least 30 games before their age-27 season, so, it would be remarkable if the team had three in 2012. Should Pineda, Hughes, and Nova all reach that plateau, however, it would be only the second time in franchise history that a trio of young pitchers accomplished the feat. The only other occasion took place in 1966, when Al Downing, Fritz Peterson, and Mel Stottlemyre combined to start 97 games. However, that group went a dismal 34-42, and the team lost 89 games. So, needless to say, Brian Cashman is probably banking on greater success from his trio of young starters.
Note: Red data points indicate years the Yankees won the World Series.
The chance of Hughes, Nova, and Pineda all surpassing 30 games started is probably slim, but even if the barometer is lowered to 25, the 2012 rotation would still become only the sixth in franchise history to have three pitchers age-26 or younger qualify. What’s more, with at least 75 starts from the baby faced trio, you’d have to go all the way back to 1982 to find another season in which more games were started by pitchers no older than 26 years.
For most of the past decade, the advanced age of the Yankees’ rotation has been looked upon as a concern, but the team has enjoyed considerable success with older starting pitchers. In fact, in 2008, the only recent season in which the Yankees failed to make the playoffs, the team tried to inject youth into the rotation with Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy (Joba Chamberlain joined the starting staff in June), but a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness limited the trio to only 29 starts. That’s why there should be at least a little trepidation about entering this season with such an inexperienced rotation. Although the potential in the Yankees’ young starting staff is encouraging (not only for this season, but beyond), the promise of youth is often broken. Besides, at the end of the season, the only stat that will count is the number of wins, not how games are started by the youngest members of the rotation.
Take a trip back to the Yankees spring training camp in 1986 with our man William Juliano.