Quick Pitch

During last night’s Yankee game, Joel Peralta of the Rays tried to quick pitch Jorge Posada in the 9th inning. Quick pitching is an attempt by the pitcher to deliver the ball before the hitter is set in the box and catch him off guard. Ed Rapuano -the home plate umpire- immediately called a “no pitch” and warned Peralta not to do this again.

I was unfamiliar with the official rule regarding this, and after conducting some researching on MLB.com, I believe that Ed Rapuano was also confused. Per rule Rule 8.05(e)

A quick pitch is an illegal pitch. Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.
 
There was no one on base in this situation, so the pitch should have been called a ball rather than not counting. No telling if this would have changed the outcome of the game, but it isn’t often that you see a veteran umpire make a mistake with the rules.

Great Outfield Defense

When I was in Tampa earlier this year for Spring Training, I watched Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner go through a workout focused on outfield defensive drills. What stood out to me was their intensity and focus. They were committed to improving their play, getting better reads, taking more efficient routes and executing proper footwork.  This dedication has been apparent during this season.

Most Big League outfielders do not  execute the correct fundamentals on a daily basis. A common example is when a batter hits a fly ball, and a runner is on base and attempting to tag up. The correct way for an outfielder to play this to to get behind the ball on an angle in line with his intended target.  As the baseball comes down from its trajectory off the bat, the outfielder should begin running toward the ball, getting his body and momentum moving in the direction of his target line as he makes the catch. This will then lead to a stonger throw. Unfortunately, most outfielders in this situation get caught flat-footed, and then try to compensate for the lack of power by using arm strength. The end result, more times than not, is the throw does not reach the infielder in time and the runner advances to the next base.

That being said, it is really refreshing to watch the Yankee outfield carry these lessons from the spring over into the regular season and display sound fundamentals; think Brett Gardner throwing a runner out at the plate, Nick Swisher taking a proper angle and making a running catch in right center, or Curtis Granderson executing a correct drop-step, allowing him to outrun a ball deep into Death Valley.

These are not stats that appear nightly in box scores, but most definitely seperate mediocrity from Championship caliber baseball.

Beanball War

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but coaches and instructors in professional baseball do not do an adequate job of teaching young pitchers how to intentionally hit a batter. In tonight’s Yankee game Fausto Carmona gave up an absolute laser to Curtis Granderson in the bottom of the second. Carmona’s primary pitches are a two-seam fastball and a change-up (both run away against lefties). If he felt that Granderson was cheating and diving a little to cover the outside corner, he has every right to send a message to Yankee batters and keep them honest (he wants to stop them from aggressively covering the outside corner of the strike zone by coming inside, accomplishing this with either a knockdown or hit by pitch).

The action is not the issue, it is the location of the ball thrown that is the problem. Drilling a player in his leg or back is acceptable; anything above the shoulders is not. Compare this to how CC Sabathia delivered a message to the Red Sox when hitting David Ortiz in Thursday’s game.

The Yankee pitchers will take note of the incident and retaliate. It might not be in this series, but when an appropriate situation presents itself ( two outs and hitting the batter will not bring the tying run to the plate or force the ejection of the pitcher and tax a decimated bullpen further), a counter-message will be sent.

Stealing Slump

I’m watching the Yankees game and just noticed Eric Aybar clearly block Brett Gardner with his foot from getting to second base on a steal attempt in the 9th. Have you ever noticed that Brett Gardner always slides head first when stealing a base? I think the other teams in the AL have also picked up on this pattern. No middle infielder would do this if there was any chance the runner would slide feet first; the potential of getting spiked and sustaining an injury would be too high. Clearly mired in a base stealing slump, a few feet first slides might keep more middle infielders honest and get him back on track.

All-or- Nothing

Last night’s win against the Mets was a great example of the Yankee offense one quarter of the way through the season. This is a team that has lived and died with the long ball. Today’s NYTimes had a very interesting stat; 52.2 percent of the Yankees runs scored this year have come via the home run.

A great baseball axiom is that home runs tend to come in bunches. The Yankee season to date has shown this to be true and explains the streaky performance of the team. In March\April (24 games) the Yankees came out firing on all cylinders, hitting 43 home runs and scoring 134 runs, which led to a solid 15-9 record. In May (20 games), the hitters have gone deep 27 times, scored 92 runs and have played .450 baseball (9-11).

Situational hitting is key for any team to find consistency in scoring runs. Three stats that I think define a good team are hitting with runner’s in scoring position, hitting with runner’s in scoring position and two outs, and how a team hits from the 7th inning on. It is no surprise that the Cleveland Indians are in the top 10 in all three. The Yankees are ranked 15th, 18th and 27th respectively.

During Spring Training, if anyone had predicted it was going to be the hitters that would struggle at times and not the starting rotation they would have been laughed at. If this team expects to start consistently winning, the offense is going to have to wean itself off of its addiction to the home run. It will also help prevent a few anxiety and heart attacks amongst the fans!

Stats sourced from http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/NYY/2011-batting.shtml

Tipping Pitches

Most people assume that only pitchers do this, but catchers can too. A catcher falling into the bad habit of tipping pitches most commonly occurs with runners on base. Catchers will sit low when the pitcher is going to throw a fastball (provide a nice target down in the zone) and get their rear-end up in the air after calling for a breaking ball. This is because they have been taught to anticipate the breaking ball in the dirt and want to get in a better position to block it and prevent the runner for advancing. Typically with no one on base they won’t differentiate their setup, because a passed ball has no impact. 

Just like a pitcher who is taught to use the same arm angle and release when throwing all of his pitches, catchers must also be consistent when setting up after calling different pitch types. Successful baseball players and teams attempt to stay away from patterns. Opponents  pick up on these and utilize them to their advantage.
I attended tonight’s Yankees game, and was sad to see Russell Martin tipping AJ Burnett’s pitches. Sitting in the stands, I was able to call every fastball and breaking pitch. With runners on base, Martin was setting up late (attempting not to give location away), but noticeably different depending on if either a fastball or breaking ball was called.  With no one on, he fell into the same pattern. Making matters worse, he was setting up early enough to provide either the first of third base coach ample time to signal the hitters. Burnett had good stuff tonight, however  I can’t help but to wonder if someone in the Baltimore dugout noticed the different setups that Martin took during the 7th and this helped contribute to their four run outburst.

Derek Jeter

After listening to Tim McCarver attempt to explain Derek Jeter’s new hitting mechanics (No Tim, taking a long stride does not cause the hands to come forward resulting in diminished power) I thought I would take a stab. Basically, the actual swinging of the bat cannot begin until the stride foot lands. Last year, Jeter had a long stride, which caused him to start his swing late and as a result get jammed. This resulted in many weak ground balls (explanation for all the double plays). By getting that stride foot down early ( and in addition to taking a long stride, no longer striding across toward home plate) Jeter is able to square more pitches by getting the barrel to the ball.

Listening to McCarver makes me wonder if he forgot everything he learned as a player.