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Opening Week Jitters For The Yankees

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Opening Week was what many suspected, but as the Yankees come out of that leg of the marathon, they are alive and kicking.  The question will be as it always was: Can the pitching keep the team in the game?

Opening Week was what many suspected, but as the Yankees come out of that leg of the marathon, they are alive and kicking. The question will be as it always was: Can the pitching keep the team in the game?

By Nicholas Rossoletti (Yankees Correspondent/Trade Correspondent): 

As winter turns to spring, anyone who loves the game of baseball begins to become anxious.  The season is almost here becomes a rallying cry for those fans who spend the cold winter missing the boys of summer. 

Opening Day is a borderline holiday for we baseball fans.  It marks the beginning of our six (6) month journey.  A time of renewal and rebirth.  A time of hope as spring turns to summer and our favorite teams return to their ballparks.  The Yankees headed north to begin the season and immediately entered their traditional role in the spotlight of New York.

For over 100 years, there has been no bigger ticket in sports in the Big Apple than the Yankees.  Sadly enough opening day was as bad as many of the naysayers expected.  CC Sabathia, a traditional slow starter, was beaten badly by the Red Sox.  

Sabathia’s largest weakness was the frequency with which runners reached base.  Allowing 12 base runners over the course of only five innings, Sabathia provided the Red Sox with opportunity after opportunity.  

Much has been made of Sabathia’s decreasing velocity.  It was the hot topic after the outing.  Sabathia topped out at around 92 MPH on his fastball, which seemed ultimately much more hittable.  

Equally worrisome to the loss in velocity is the inability to control the strike zone with 4 Walks during the start.  All in all, it made for another horrid opening day from a pitcher that has traditionally been poor on opening day.

Ivan Nova: Back When It Was Working:

Sabathia has been a traditionally slow starter in New York and the 2013 Opening Day was no different.  Luckily for Yankee fans, CC bounced back and brought his A game to the Motor City

Sabathia has been a traditionally slow starter in New York and the 2013 Opening Day was no different. Luckily for Yankee fans, CC bounced back and brought his A game to the Motor City.

I would love to say, especially given my general optimism, that the lineup picked up CC.  It did not.  No one looked particularly good against Jon Lester, and for the first time in a very long time, the Yankees lost a season opener in the Bronx.

It certainly seemed that based upon Opening Day that the Yankees were suffering from some opening week jitters. Sadly enough, game two confirmed that it would not be a particularly fun return to the Bronx for the Bombers.

An early freak injury to Hiroki Kuroda led to a long night for Yankees pitching in-game two, which was generally the theme of opening week.  If we remove Andy Pettitte‘s quality start, which was the highlight of the early week as Yankee fans got a taste of what life at the end of a championship window feels like.  

The Yankees allowed 62 base runners in four games excluding the Pettitte start.  If you want a feel for how badly the first week went, the 1.72 WHIP that the pitching staff provided in those games should give you a pretty clear picture.  Leading into CC’s Sunday start in Detroit, nothing seemed to be able to go right for the Stripes in their first week of the season.

Thankfully enough for both the ball club and the fan base’s sanity, the Yankee ace came to play during a Sunday match-up with Justin Verlander, who may have a red flag early into the season as he is, also, showing decrease in fastball velocity and a decrease in willingness to throw the fastball. 

Or these “red” flags might just be early season bumps for traditionally consistent veterans. Only time will tell.

It was a strange opening week to be a Yankees fan.  There was a general mix of normal overreaction to the small sample size of the opening week along with some legitimate concerns for the future of the ball club mixed in with the hysteria.  

One such concern that I feel it is necessary to point out is the future of Ivan Nova and the fifth spot in this rotation.  Nova continued a disturbing trend that began after the All-Star break last season.  The end of 2012 was a house of horrors for Nova.

In his final 11 starts, Nova held a 7.05 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP as he just could not manage to provide the Yankees anything close to his first half of 2012.  Coming into spring training, we discussed Nova’s changing trend in 2012 as his Strike Out Rate increased while his Ground Ball Rate decreased.

Nova needed to get that Ground Ball Rate back in line to limit earned runs. Sadly, enough start one of the season showed very little emphasis on change as Nova again relied on the Strike Out as his “dominant” weapon.  With that reliance came the same increase in base runners that we saw last season.  The most concerning thing for me were the reports that Nova felt like he pitched well.

There is no land where failing to hit 5 Innings Pitched and allowing 7 base runners is pitching well.  I appreciate that Nova has pitched well in the past and his leash will be at least a bit longer, but the questions has to be asked: when do the Yankees give David Phelps a turn?

How long is that leash? I, for one, was not convinced that Nova won the Spring Training competition with Phelps so I can’t help but wonder.  For now, Nova will take his turn this week, but Phelps, and to a lesser extent Adam Warren, are waiting in the wings should he struggle moving forward.

The team walked out of Detriot with a win and has handled the Indians team fairly well through two games.  

With Phil Hughes and Nova coming up in the rotation, it will be dependent on both pitchers to give the team better outings then their last starts.

As the Yankees have moved into Week Two, there is one thing that is certain.  The sky has not fallen.  The show is going on despite some of the leading men being out.  The team, particularly the pitching, started out very slowly, but a good trip to Jacobs Field so far has done wonders for the outlook. 

Robinson Cano and the Yankees have bounced back from a slow start.  They have managed to take the first two in Cleveland, and the Yankees are at .500 for the first time this season.

Robinson Cano and the Yankees have bounced back from a slow start. They have managed to take the first two in Cleveland, and the Yankees are at .500 for the first time this season.

Before I wrap, I’ve decided that in most of my pieces throughout the season, I’m going to do a short section called “Down on the Farm” where, as the title would indicate, we are going to take a look at the system and how it is moving through the 2013 campaign.

This week down on the farm, a familiar face started out the season hitting for a high average but developing a disturbing trend.  Austin Romine, who many thought would compete to break camp with the team, has started the season 7/18 at the plate, which translates to a terrific .389 average.  

The problem with that is that after the Triple-A game today, Romine is striking out at 38% clip,  has not had one extra base hit and his BABIP is astronomical.  All of this suggest that the .389 average is not long for this world.  Don’t get too excited about Romine knocking on the door in the Bronx until those numbers normalize. 

On the pitching side of Triple-A, Vidal Nuno has looked like someone who could contribute out of the bullpen or in a spot starting role.  Nuno has 12 K’s to 0 BB’s so far this season and is averaging slightly more than a K per Inning pitched.  That could be mighty useful in the bullpen in case of injury or if there is some upheaval in rotation due to performance.  

Even more impressive than Nuno is Mark Montgomery, who is a true reliever.  Montgomery in 5 IP to this point has 9 K’s while also not allowing a BB.  Montgomery might be a more natural call up for the ‘pen as he is a true reliever versus Nuno, who still has a chance to be a potential back-end starter in the big leagues.  Both guys could offer depth this season.

In Double-A, the bats have gone live with four players opening the season Slugging in excess of .500.  Tyler Austin is the biggest name of the hot starters in New Jersey as he has started out mashing extra base hits, but again, cautioning patience is important as Austin has also started out the season with a 27.8% K rate.  

Meanwhile, in High-A both Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams are off to pretty good starts.  Based on plate patience stats, Sanchez’s start seems a bit more sustainable at this point.  

Most likely position for promotion: Catcher- Depending on team health and performance, I could see several catchers being promoted by early to mid June.  

Clearly, Romine’s numbers seem to be highly inflated, but I think it is a fair assumption that a failure by either major league catcher or injury would lead to his promotion.  

If JR Murphy hits well at Double-A, he could slide in for Romine, and I think its clear that barring some major disaster that the Yankees would want Gary Sanchez at Double-A at some point in the season.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if a team in need of a catcher comes knocking on the Yankees’ door when the trade deadline comes around.  

Austin Romine has an eye catching Batting Average to open his 2013 season. The other statistics may indicate a correction in that number as Romine is striking out at a disturbing rate while also failing to hit for any power.

Austin Romine has an eye catching Batting Average to open his 2013 season. The other statistics may indicate a correction in that number as Romine is striking out at a disturbing rate while also failing to hit for any power.

 *** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com and their partners***

A big thank-you goes out to Our ‘Trade and Yankees Correspondent’ Nicholas Rossoletti for preparing today’s featured article. Nicholas is a young professional living in downtown Miami. He is a lifelong baseball fan and an avid Yankee supporter. Having grown up during the last two decades, he counts Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as his favorite ball players of all time. He believes in sabermetrics and that new stats have already changed the way the baseball industry sees players.

He was for Trout over Cabrera, he thinks RBIs tell you a lot more about a team than a player and that defense and pitching, ultimately, win championships. Rational thought and introspective analysis over the narrative is how we come to understand the game we love. The narrative is just a way to keep those who don’t really love the game watching. Feel free to follow Nicholas on twitter and talk the game of baseball

“There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem – once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit.” ~ Al Gallagher, 1971

a    nicholas rossoletti

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Posted on April 9, 2013, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis, The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Opening Week Jitters For The Yankees.

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