Off-speed pitches have thrown the Yankees off at the plate.
Among the most notable occurred during back-to-back home losses against the Chicago White Sox' Phil Humber and Gavin Floyd last month.
Humber he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his first outing against the Bombers as 59 of his 100 pitches were of the off-speed variety. The next night, Floyd shut down the Yankees by throwing 38 off-speed pitches and during the final three innings 35 of his 40 pitches were either off-speed or cutters, which is designed to act like a slider.
“It’s hard to hit all pitching,” Derek Jeter said before last night's 5-4 win over the Blue Jays. “It depends, not all off-speed pitching but if a guy throws really, really hard and he has an off-speed pitch it makes it more difficult than someone who doesn’t throw as hard and has as an off-speed pitch.
“The difficulty is the difference in velocity from a fastball to whatever that off-speed pitch is.
Monday, Carlos Villanueva became another unfamiliar pitcher throwing off-speed stuff that shut the Yankees down. In five innings, he allowed hits and 43 of his 75 pitches were off-speed with a significant difference in velocity.
Villanueva’s 31 four-seam fastballs averaged 89.7, but his changeup averaged 81.3, his slider averaged 82.7 and his curveball averaged 73.5.
"He did a good job of keeping guys off balance," Brett Gardner said Monday. "A lot of guys, when you're 2-0, 3-1, you're going to get a heater, and he did a good job of throwing off-speed pitches in hitters' counts."
For example, Villanueva’s first three strikeouts were all on a similar formula. That was an at-bat starting with fastballs and ending with sliders or changeups.
Teams often take batting practice against those pitch types but hitting those in the minors to get to the majors is quite different once a major-league off-speed pitch is thrown, especially from the likes of Pedro Martinez or Johan Santana, who Jeter said were the toughest two off-speed pitchers he faced.
Jeter would not reveal which pitch was the toughest out of all the off-speed pitches, but available numbers show that he is a .217 hitter against sliders, which he has seen 90 times. Numbers also indicate that out of the 70 changeups thrown to him, Jeter is a .309 hitter and a .301 hitter on curveballs.
Other Yankees have shown different numbers against off-speed pitches.
Alex Rodriguez is a .249 hitter against all changeups, but a .284 hitter against sliders. Curtis Granderson is a .271 hitter against changeups but hits .195 against sliders and .221 off curveballs – numbers that are diminished by struggling against those pitches from left-handed pitchers.
Perhaps the most varied numbers against off-speed pitching belong to switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira.
Teixeira has struggled against all curveballs (.217 from lefties, and .165 from righties) but hits sliders decently from left-handed pitching (.264). The biggest disparity is against changeups (.341 from lefties; .242 from righties.).
Even with all the video work and advanced scouting hitting off-speed pitching comes down to having an idea and many players struggle with it.
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