It's easy to be pessimistic after a team suffers a crushing loss, mostly because fans and broadcasters alike like to zone in on intangibles like momentum and the players' psyche. But if you are a New York Yankees fan and looking for reasons to be worried, there are some perfectly logical and tangible ones to focus on.
From the performance of Joba Chamberlain, to many of the Yankee hitters' struggles against the breaking ball, to the decision most New York fans will be screaming about, the removal of David Robertson from the game in the 11th inning in favor of Alfredo Aceves, there are more than enough tangible reasons to be concerned about the Yankees. And from a scouting standpoint, there are certainly points of intrigue in New York's weaknesses.
Those watching Monday evening saw the shot of Joe Girardi hurrying to his book of matchups and scouting reports in the dugout and soon after deciding to lift Robertson in favor of Aceves. The obvious question is what exactly was in that book? Well, let's take it from the top. Robertson, a right-hander, throws a fastball at 91-94 mph with what scouts like to a call late hop. He likes to change eye levels and gets swings and misses up with the fastball, and down with his plus 12-6 curveball. He has back-end-of-the-'pen type stuff.
Aceves, on the other hand, has more of a starter's approach, pitching to contact with a number of pitches to which he can turn. He has mostly been working at 89-91 with the fastball in recent outings, but what is concerning is the feel for his secondary pitches. In his playoff outings, his breaking balls have been elevated, often backing up on him over the plate.
So, what was Girardi's line of thinking? He's unlikely to read off his scouting report to the media, but it obviously came down to the advanced scouting. The Yankees have had fits with Howie Kendrick since he arrived in the big leagues, mainly because they just can't seem to be able to get inside on him. With that in mind, it looked like with Aceves they were hoping to get him out away with soft stuff on pitches moving to the outside. Keep in mind that, just innings earlier, he had pounded a 96-mph fastball off of Joba Chamberlain for a triple.
Kendrick is a hitter that needs to be attacked with patterns and a mix of speeds. He pounds the fastball, and especially against New York, doesn't seem to let many mistakes get by him. All three of his hits on Monday came off some kind of fastball -- cutters from Pettitte and Aceves and straight heat from Chamberlain. Robertson tends to let the fastball ride high with his four-seamer, and with Kendrick's approach it's likely the Yankee manager sensed a repeat of his at-bat against Chamberlain.
Regardless of the scouting report favoring Aceves' style against Kendrick, it's questionable whether a scouting report should trump the consideration of recent performances. Robertson has been free and easy of late, getting through his fastball, getting to the outside corner on righties, and commanding his sharp breaking ball. Aceves has been quite the opposite, looking tentative in recent outings and appearing to push his breaking ball. Many will call out Girardi for relying on the scouting report rather than having a feel for how his current pitcher is looking and conversely how shaky Aceves has looked lately.
For all the talk of Vladimir Guerrero's demise, the man sure can still turn on an inside fastball. More specifically, it was a cut fastball from Andy Pettitte that Guerrero launched into the left-field bullpen on Monday. There are a few good rules to live by against Guerrero. If you go up, it better be way up. And if you go low, the pitch better be very low. But most importantly, if you are going inside you better proceed with some great caution.
The Yankees might have gotten a little too bold with Guerrero in this case, as Pettitte went in with fastballs or cut fastballs on the inside part of the plate with five out of the six pitches in the at-bat. With his free-swinging style and Pettitte's assortment of secondary pitches, you have to wonder why Guerrero did not see a pitch that was bounced in the dirt. But, as Jorge Posada said in his post-game interview, it was a location mistake with the cutter. The pitch was intended to be inside but not around thigh high where it ended up. He may not be quite the same, but Vlad proved once again how dangerous it is to pitch him inside and how small the margin for error is.
• Throwing 96-97 mph, the concern right now about Joba Chamberlain is not velocity. He has not quite gotten back to the 98-99 mph range we saw to in 2007, but the drop in speed is still not the central issue. Whatever the root mechanical issue is, Joba continues to struggle to get the fastball to the outside corner against right-handed hitters. The biggest concern, though, is the slider. Chamberlain looks late with his arm right now and is getting around the slider. The result is those spinning breaking balls with lateral movement but little tilt. It's a mechanical issue that the Yankees will need to get sorted out.
• The Angels are loaded with right-handed pitchers with quality breaking balls. In particular, John Lackey and Jered Weaver possess big, 12-6 curveballs. When they've had command of those pitches, they have given New York fits. You can bet that the the big breaking ball to their left-handed hitters diving down and in is in their book of advanced scouting reports. Melky Cabrera, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher, three of the Yankees' switch-hitters, have been unable to capitalize against Los Angeles' right-handed pitching primarily because of those pitches. All three of those hitters have been passive early in the count, as they typically are, and have gotten burned late in the count with the breaking ball. They may need to alter their approach as the Angels' seem to have seized on a weakness and have the personnel to exploit it.
Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.