The last time the Yanks and Rox faced off was during the 2007 season in Colorado, culminating in the Rockies administering an incredibly frustrating sweep that dropped the Yankees to 35-35 on the season, and a whopping 10.5 games out of first place. Of course, that entire stretch of road Interleague games that season did not go particularly well for the Yankees, who went just 2-7 against the Senior Circuit away from home, and stumbled into July looking pretty shaky. In fact, the 2007 Yankees didn’t get over .500 for good until July 14, when a win against the Devil Rays brought them to 45-44. The team of course managed to kick off yet another one of its seemingly annual second-half hot streaks to leapfrog several competitors into the Wild Card slot, where they were promptly dismantled by the Indians in the ALDS.
Fast-forward to the present-day, and the Yankees’ Interleague schedule really does not let up. Coming off a series with the 4th-best wOBA in the NL Reds, tonight’s kick-off set with the Rockies marks yet another strong offensive foe for the Bombers, as the Rox own a .324 wOBA, also good for 4th-best in the NL. Though we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, the Yankees then get to play a top-three NL offense in the Brewers next week at the Stadium.
One season removed from receiving career years from Troy Tulowitzki (whose .408 wOBA, 6.6 fWAR season netted him a massive contract extension in the offseason) and Carlos Gonzalez (whose .416 wOBA and matching 6.6 fWAR also resulted in a long-term contract extension this past winter), Colorado’s 2011 offensive attack is actually being paced by three others — a resurgent Todd Helton (.382 wOBA), outfielder Seth Smith (.398) and Chris Iannetta (.370 wOBA). That’s not to say that Tulowitzki (.359) and Gonzalez (.352) aren’t doing their share of damage, either. CarGo started out the year in a pretty wretched slump, though a scorching hot May (.402) and still-hot June (.382) have brought his numbers up, and he’s as dangerous a bat as any in this Rockie lineup. Tulo’s been incredible (.416 in April), uncharacteristically bad (.281 in May) and back to red-hot (.397 in June).
Even old friend Jason Giambi‘s delivered a .451 wOBA in limited action (7 home runs in 68 PAs). Heck, Ty Wigginton‘s chipped in a .344 wOBA. The only soft spots among players that have appeared in more than 55 games for the Rocks are Dexter Fowler (.303 wOBA), Ryan Spilborghs (.294) and Jonathan Hererra (.290), and all three have apparently been dealt with, as Fowler’s back in AAA, and Charlie Blackmon (.338 wOBA) and Chris Nelson (.342) appear to have wrested starting duties away from the latter two.
Needless to say, the Yankee pitching staff is going to have its work cut out trying to contain this Colorado lineup. Of course, the same can be said for the Rockie pitching staff and the Yankee offense.
In tonight’s opener, the Yankees get to face 2010 breakout superstar Ubaldo Jimenez (6.3 fWAR last season, tied for 2nd in the NL) for the (gasp!) FIRST TIME EVER. Ubaldo appears to have taken a bit of a step back since posting a 2.88 ERA/3.10 FIP/3.60 xFIP last season, and is currently carrying a 4.68/3.84/3.80 triple slash. A quick glance at the peripherals reveals that this appears to be due in part to losing nearly a full K/9 from last season — though maintaining virtually the same walk rate — and allowing quite a few more longballs. Ubaldo allowed 10 home runs during the entire 2010 season; he’s already given up seven this year and we’re not even halfway through. His BABIP is also more than 30 points higher than it was last season, which has led to what would be a career-low strand rate.
It looks like the primary culprit behind Ubaldo’s regression in 2011 is a considerably more hittable fastball. Last season his heater was the fastest in the league by a healthy margin, with an average velocity of 96.1mph(!), and was the 2nd-most valuable in the NL, worth 30 runs above average. This season he’s mysteriously lost three mph off his fastball, and is throwing it at 93.2mph on average. While this is the second-fastest fastball in the league, it’s getting touched up to the tune of -0.3 runs above average. Without running the numbers, that’s likely one of the steeper drops in fastball value across all of Major League Baseball. Unfortunately for Ubaldo, he hasn’t been able to make up for it with secondary stuff, as his only above-average pitch is his change, currently worth a mere 0.7 runs above average (last season it was 9.3).
That all being said, I wouldn’t expect Ubaldo to be a pushover by any stretch, but unless he can find the missing three mph he lost on his fastball, his brief status as an elite MLB pitcher may be over. A.J. Burnett (4.05/4.35/3.83) and his resurgent curveball get the start against Jimenez.
In the Saturday afternoon matinee (1:05pm), Aaron Cook (4.67/3.36/4.28) takes on CC Sabathia (3/39/2.95/3.49). From 2006-2008, Cook was probably the ace of the Rockies’ staff, but he’s fallen off a bit since those heady days. Cook had been on the shelf for much of the season, and has three mostly middling starts under his belt. Cook throws a super-slow fastball (87.5mph avg. velocity), slider and occasional curve. Thankfully Cook is righthanded, as you know what would happen if the Yankees were facing a lefthanded junkballer they’d never seen before. Though for as much as I get on the Yankees for seemingly being stymied by offspeed stuff, the truth is they’ve actually hit finesse pitchers better than any other variety this season, and so hopefully Cook’s Never-Having-Faced-the-Yankees- before voodoo is offset by the team’s penchant for hitting the slower stuff. And anyway, they have Sabathia on the mound, who’s actually coming off three straight “meh”-ish starts, but always represents the Yankees’ best chance to win on any given day.
And in the Sunday afternoon (an unusual 2:05pm start time) finale,
Jhoulys Chacin (2.71/3.86/3.25), Colorado’s best pitcher this season, Juan Nicasio (4.71/3.94/3.35) faces Ivan Nova (4.05/4.15/4.21). I was certain Chacin would be getting this start, to the point that I’d written up a full paragraph on him in an early draft of this post:
Chacin’s third-most valuable slider (11.4 runs above average) and curveball (5.9) in the NL has led to the third-best GB% (a stellar 61.1%) in the NL, which have led to the lowest BABIP in the league by a healthy margin (an unsustainable .217) along with the 4th-best strand rate (81.2%). If that weren’t enough, Chacin also boasts a sparkling K/9 (7.95). However, Chacin does have a couple of weaknesses, notably a relatively high BB/9 (3.61) and a home run problem (0.99 HR/9), which have led to that inflated FIP. Additionally, his fastball only averages 90.7mph and has gotten smacked around to the tune of -5.4 runs above average, so he’s not exactly invincible. But that’s still a pretty impressive stat ledger, and — combined with being yet another Pitcher-the-Yankees-Have-Never-Seen-Before — could spell trouble for the Bombers.
Now that that’s useless, here’s what you need to know about Nicasio: He has the best K/BB of the Rockies’ starting rotation, but when opponents do put the ball in play it’s been a problem — his .352 BABIP would be the worst mark in the NL had he had enough innings to qualify, and his 1.26 HR/9 would be in the bottom ten. Somehow Nicasio is the only Rockies’ starter with a positive run value on his fastball, but it’s only 1.5 runs above average. It’s also currently the fastest on the staff, with an average velocity of 94mph. Nicasio appears to be cut from the Alexi Ogando mold, as another hard-throwing fastball-slider righty, although Nicasio throws his fastball even more often than Ogando does, and also features his change a bit more frequently. Still, the Yankees haven’t exactly had trouble with Ogando, so hopefully that bodes well for the team in facing Nicasio.
With Colorado trotting out three straight Pitchers-the-Yankees-Have-Never-Seen-Before (not to mention that prior to this series the Yankees faced three additional Guys They’ve Never Seen Before™ in the last six games, though to their credit they actually won all three of those contests), I really have no idea what to make of this weekend’s series. I could see the Yankees knocking Ubaldo and his depleted fastball around, and nothing about Cook’s repertoire seems overly impressive. Nicasio and his fastball/slider combo would also appear to a good matchup for the Yanks on paper. On their home turf, I’d expect the Yanks to find a way to take two of three this weekend.
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