Does Taijuan Walker have a fastball problem?

Taijuan Walker might have a fastball problem. Perhaps “problem” is too strong of a word. A predicament? A quandary? At the very least, he’s managed to confuse yours truly.

Walker threw 31 heaters on Sunday as he struck out 10 Los Angeles Angels. He was able to command it consistently at the top of the zone and earned a called strike or whiff a dozen times over his six innings of work. It’s the best his fastball has looked all season, and, not-so-coincidentally, the hardest, too.

Heading into his next start, Walker may be inclined to continue his season-long quest to elevate his fastball. I’m not so sure it’s the right call.

What is Taijuan Walker trying to do with his fastball?

Major League Baseball has fully entrenched itself in the era of the high four-seam fastball, Walker included. 

Walker’s game plan on Sunday, as it’s been for much of the season, was to litter the letters with strikes. It’s helped him earn early strikes and set up the secondaries that are crucial to his game; namely, his splitter. However, he’s not generating as many whiffs (20.5%) as the guys that throw as many high fastballs as him, such as Dylan Cease or Michael Kopech.

The art of throwing up in the zone is more than just location. Velocity and spin are important, too, and among other factors, help optimize one’s Vertical Approach Angle (VAA). This determines how “flat” a pitch is. Regarding fastballs, flatter is better due to the rising illusion it facilitates. Furthermore, VAA is best utilized when adjusted for pitch height, contextualizing the metric (Vertical Approach Angle Above Average, VA AA).

Essentially, good high fastballs work because hitters are swinging under them. They swing under them because they perceive the pitch to be lower than it actually is. 

At this point, we’ve established two things. One, Taijuan Walker really likes the high fastball. Two, he probably shouldn’t.

How concerned should we be?

So far, the 2022 season has been pretty kind to Walker. He’s pitched to a 3.08 ERA and his peripherals don’t suggest significant regression. Since returning from injury, he has gone five or more innings in eight of nine starts. 

What bothers me is the vulnerable state of his heater and a waning ability to generate strikeouts. 

Fastballs up in the zone are nice when they garner swings and misses, but they come with the built-in launch angle risk. If guys aren’t swinging and missing the barrels are bound to come eventually. Out of pure caution, it may be worthwhile to lower some of those four-seamers. 

As Mike Petriello pointed out, Walker’s seen a rather sharp decline in strikeouts recently. A lack of a quality fastball has dampened his ability to put guys away, and it shows. Likewise, he’s getting virtually zero production from his breaking pitches. 

Walker has featured a slider about 20% of the time during his two-year tenure as a New York Met. Last year, its 24.4% CSW% ranked 177th in the bigs. A year later and that mark has dropped to 22.1%. In 2022, it’s been barreled up twice as often as the league average and is garnering whiffs at an incredibly poor 8.4% clip.

Additionally, there is not a remarkable curveball to fall back on. It’s used almost entirely as a “get me over” pitch early in counts. While successful (35.5% CSW%), he is yet to record a strikeout with it in 2022.

Is Walker’s splitter a saving grace?

Subsequently, Walker relies on a splitter he’s throwing 30% of the time. To his credit, it’s been phenomenal. The only two pitchers with more negative run value on splitters this year are Tony Gonsolin and Kevin Gausman, a testament to Walker’s early effectiveness. 

Yet, I find myself hesitant to buy-in. Splitters are notoriously inconsistent, even for guys that truly feature their splitter (hi, Chasen Shreve). Walker has already had four starts this year with a swinging strike rate below 12% on his splitter. Gausman is yet to have one. Gonsolin has four but has two great breaking pitches to lean on.

Thus, we have a pitcher with an uninspiring fastball, a strong splitter, and no other out pitch. The dark clouds of a tough summer schedule are rolling in, and such a repertoire may not weather the storm.

Walker’s peculiar pitch mix decisions

Perhaps the most confusing aspect of Walker’s season is his choice to abandon his sinker. Now thrown a mere 6% of the time, Walker’s increased splitter usage came at a direct cost to his best pitch from 2021. 

Walker’s breakers likely pushed him towards this decision. If he could not count on them to generate whiffs, he had to double down on his splitter. But to break up with it for a fastball that I’ve spent 800 words criticizing? By CSW%, it was the 24th best sinker in baseball! He commanded it really well! At its best, it was the out pitch he needed! 

Yes, Walker’s sinker hasn’t performed as well this year in its small sample size. Still, it should see more usage than it is right now. Preferably, replacing some fastballs and sliders. There isn’t much from a spin direction standpoint to suggest it tunnels with his splitter any worse, especially to right-handed hitters. 

Filling up the inside and outside borders of the plate with sinkers feels like an easy way to mitigate some concerns. Allowing Walker to throw fewer fastballs and sliders might be the “do more good things, do less bad things” approach that rights the ship before the waters get too rocky. At the very least, we’d get the aesthetic value of a front-door sinker.

Does Taijuan Walker have a fastball problem? Probably. But it’s the choices that surround the pitch that will define his season.

Yankees Wild Card game preview

THIS IS IT Y’ALL. The 2021 Yankees have been a roller-coaster. From triple plays to no-hitters, and even locker room turtles. This team has had it all. They have been easy to love but hard to watch, that will be true tonight too. The season is on the line tonight. Beat Boston.

Yankees Wild Card Preview

This is what we have all been waiting for. Postseason baseball: Yankees and Sox. This is the type of stuff that makes legends. Let’s get into it with a Yankees wild card game preview:

Yankees Wild Card Preview:

The Yankees have their ace on the mound. Today is the type of game you pay Gerrit Cole for. Cole has a 4.35 ERA in his last 7 games, which isn’t what we are used to with Cole. However, in his playoff career Cole has a 2.68 ERA. That is the number the Yankees want tonight.

On the other side, The Yankees take on Nathan Eovaldi — who they have notoriously struggled against — touting a .250 batting avg. against him. However, Anthony Rizzo has owned Eovaldi during his career batting at a .556 avg. Judge has also had success vs Eovaldi batting at a .400 mark with a 1.079 OPS.

Batting-wise, look for a big game from Giancarlo Stanton. Red hot at Fenway, Stanton had 10 RBIs and 3 HR in the last series there. Higgy will likely catch, Gary Sanchez may DH as Cole is pitching. Gleyber Torres will likely be leadoff per Aaron Boone filling in for the injured DJ Lemahieu. Expect Stanton, Joey Gallo, and Aaron Judge in the outfield. 

Narratives to Watch:

Cole isn’t Clutch:

Cole has struggled down the stretch when the Yankees have needed him most. People have begun saying Cole isn’t clutch because of this. I believe he will prove them all wrong tonight. 

Gardy and Gary’s last games as Yankees?

With Brett Gardner aging and Sanchez struggling, their time as Yankees is seemingly coming to an end. Gardy is not going to go out to the Red Sox in his final game. Look for big games from them, if either end up playing.

Judge is Bad in the Postseason:

After a rough postseason, people have forgotten how good a playoff Judge can be. Look for Judge to put the team on his back. Judge has 8 go-ahead hits in the 8th inning or later this year, tying a Yankee record. The most important of which was the walk-off Sunday vs the Rays. Hopefully, he can carry that momentum over to the Wild Card. 

Last Word:

THIS IS IT Y’ALL. The 2021 Yankees have been a roller-coaster. From triple plays to no-hitters, and even locker room turtles. This team has had it all! They have been easy to love but hard to watch. That will be true tonight, too. The season is on the line tonight. Beat Boston.

Yankees Trade Deadline Grades

The Deadline has come and gone and the Yankees made a plethora of trades. The ATB Yankees team is here to give you their thoughts on Cashman’s week. Luke, Sanket, and Peter will all be grading every trade made by The Yankees this week.

Yankees receive RHP Clay Holmes from Pirates for Hoy Park and Diego Castillo.

Luke’s Grade: B+

Listen, Hoy Park is my guy, but this was a great move. With rumors that the analytics department hates him, it was best for him to get move. I hope Hoy Park succeeds with he struggling Pirates. Holmes is a contact manager, something the Yankees needed, Holmes will thrive in our bullpen. This is a great trade for the Yankees

Peter’s Grade: B-

This is not the most exciting trade the Yankees have made, but it adds an arm with a good potential to the pen. Holmes, who is 28 will not be a free agent until 2025. Holmes has struggled this year but has a SIERA of 3.72 on the year and 3.78 FIP. His high groundball rate of 73.1% is what stood out to the Yankees the most as they try to stock up on arms that keep the ball on the ground. The Yankees sold high on Park, who is 25 and hitting .327 at AAA Scranton prior to the trade. As for Castillo he is a 23-year-old lower-level prospect who has a .682 OPS in his 6-year minor league career. Overall, the Yankees traded two players who likely did not have a future in New York for a controlled reliever who can offer immediate help.

Sanket’s Grade: B

I know many fans were upset to see Hoy Park leave considering the fact that’s he’s been raking in the minors. However, there was no place for him on the major league infield. He has some experience in the OF, but not enough to where he can be trusted. Getting back Clay Holmes, who has the highest ground ball percentage in MLB, was great especially considering the next move that the front office made.

Yankees trade LHP Justin Wilson and RHP Luis Cessa to the Reds for a player to be named later.

Luke’s Grade: B-

This trade its self, stunk. However, if you look at it with the Holmes trade this is a good move. The Yankees wanted to trade Wilson, Cessa is collateral. A PTBNL is a clear sign of a salary dump. This opened up room for the rest of the trades the Yankees made. Cessa’s goodbye message made me tear up a bit not going to lie.

Peter’s Grade: C-

This trade looks to be a pure salary dump of Wilson’s $2.6M AAV and attaching Cessa to make it worthwhile for the Reds. There is not much to say about this other than it allowed the Yankees more flexibility to make moves and stay under the luxury tax number. Hal Steinbrenner has been adamant about resetting the tax penalty this season and this allowed them to do that. The only reason this is a C- and not a D or F is because of the moves that followed.

Sanket’s Grade: B-

Getting rid of the contract of Justin Wilson was a huge plus for Brian Cashman. Wilson had been struggling this year and had a player option for next year. This trade gets a B because the Yankees had to throw in Cessa to get the Reds to accept but it is a price worth paying. The addition of Holmes helps to cancel out the loss of Cessa. 

Yankees acquire OF Joey Gallo and LHP Joely Rodriguez from the Rangers for RHP Glenn Otto, 2B Josh Smith, SS Ezequiel Duran and 2B Trevor Hauver. 

READ MORE: YANKEES GET GALLO

Luke’s Grade: A+

I have been peddling the Gallo wagon for a long time. Finally it happened and we gave up a lot less than I thought. Gallo was in a slump before he got traded so it’s going to take him some time to get going. As for the prospects the Yankees gave up, none were super amazing, it only hurts because of how many there were.

Peter’s Grade: A

The Yankees did not have to part ways with a top 10 prospect and got the Rangers to eat money in the deal. Gallo has a wRC+ of 135 which would rank 2nd of Yankee starters while adding phenomenal outfield defense providing 14 DRS on the year. Gallo will slot into the top of the order nicely with his .374 OBP and provides a lefty bat the Yankees desperately need. The Yankees also acquired Joely Rodriguez who has struggled this year with a 5.93 ERA. Much like Holmes the Yankees are counting on him bouncing back and look to his groundball rate of 63.9% and a 3.41 SIERA. He will also fill the role of a lefty specialist after Justin Wilson’s departure. As for the prospects given up, they all have solid potential, but it is a win for the Yankees.

Sanket’s Grade: A+

Brian Cashman did not hesitate when trying to acquire Joey Gallo. He got the much needed left handed power bat for the Yankees. A huge plus is also that Gallo plays exceptional defense in the OF and has a great arm. The Yankees also get back Joely Rodriguez, a LHP that can be an option for them in the bullpen. They gave up 4 prospects who were buried down in the system, but are thought of very highly by executives and scouts. A balanced trade for both teams.

Yankees trade for 1B Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs for RHP Alexander Vizcaino and CF Kevin Alcantara.

Luke’s Grade: A-

This trade is as fair as fair gets. Yankees get a veteran who has been to the big show, the Cubs get 2 guys to start their rebuild. Rizzo’s defenses is a consistency the Yankees needed, and is first weekend has made him a cult hero in NYC. People are already calling for him to be extended and I agree.

Peter’s Grade: B+

Rizzo is slashing .256/.358/.470 with 16 home runs and a 124 wRC+ on the season and should only improve playing in Yankee Stadium. The addition allows them to give some players more rest down the stretch and DH Luke Voit and move Stanton to LF which is a position the Yankees have lacked production from. To get Rizzo the Yankees parted with RHP Alexander Vizcaino and CF Kevin Alcantara. Vizcaino is a 24-year-old starting pitcher with a career minor league ERA of 4.95. As for Alcantara he seems to be the main piece Chicago wanted. The 19-year-old OF is slashing .357/.455/.500 in the minors and had drawn attention from fans and teams in 2021. Rizzo has made quite the impression this past weekend by playing a big part in all 3 wins, but I will grade this a B+ because as of right now Rizzo is a true rental.

Sanket’s Grade: A

Wow. Almost nobody saw this coming. Throughout the week it seemed as if Rizzo was headed for BOS due to their need of a 1B. Instead, the Yankees swooped in and nabbed the lefty first baseman. Having two powerful left handed hitters is a huge plus for a Yankees lineup that’s been right hand dominant for the past few years. The Yankees likely shifted to Rizzo after talks with the Rockies for Trevor Story weren’t progressing anywhere. Great job by Brian Cashman. 

Yankees acquire LHP Andrew Heaney from the Angels RHP Janson Junk and RHP Elvis Peguero.

Luke’s Grade: C-

I mean. I’ll give the guy a chance… but a guy with a high ERA for two decent prospects feel wrong. I really have nothing to say other than we need Heaney to step up with Cole and Monty out now.

Peter’s Grade: C+

This is another case of the Yankees buying low on an arm they think will bounce back down the stretch. Heaney has a 5.27 ERA in 94 innings in 2021, but his SIERA is 3.72 and his FIP is 4.05 so there is reason to believe he will improve. Heaney will be slotted into the rotation for the time being and will likely stay in a spot starter or long relief role once Luis Severino and Domingo German return from injury. Peguero and Junk are both having solid seasons in 2021, but they still rank below several Yankee pitching prospects and were not highly touted arms. The Yankees added someone who can eat innings at the least and could even develop into an effective arm down the stretch at a low cost. It is not a fancy move, but one that fans might look back on in a few months.

Sanket’s Grade: C+

Many fans thought the Yankees would make a splash move for a high end starting pitcher or another bat. Instead, Brian Cashman gets Andrew Heaney. Heaney does not have a good ERA this season but he does have some potential to be a quality starter in the Yankees rotation until Severino and Kluber come back. I would expect him to become a long reliever for the Yankees later in the season. The Yankees likely had their eyes on Jose Berrios, but weren’t willing to one up the Toronto Blue Jays who gave up their #2 and #4 prospects to get him. 

The trade deadline was a success. Now the Yankees make look to make a playoff push as the season comes to a close.

State Of The Yankees: June 2021

Let’s be Frank… not great. For the first time in a long time, the Yankees are in the bottom half of the league in total offense. Everyone came into the year worried about pitching, and even without Kluber the rotation has not been bad. Luke Krumich talks about how to fix it.

Let’s be Frank… not great. For the first time in a long time, the Yankees are in the bottom half of the league in total offense. Everyone came into the year worried about pitching, and even without Kluber the rotation has not been bad. Let’s get into what’s wrong and how to fix it.

The Yankees Big Issue:

Yes, hitting is an issue. Yes, we spend a lot of money on hitters. We don’t need new bats, we need good baseball players. The outfield rotation of Miguel Andújar, Clint Frazier, and Brett Gardner just does not work. If you can’t field, you should not be starting for an MLB team. Baserunning outs kill an offense and so do double plays, to things that are all too common for New York this year.

Aaron Boone keeps saying we need to “turn the corner” and then continues to make the same mistakes. Stanton did not play in the finale of the Red Sox series… TWO DAYS after Boone said he would be playing every game this week. Not only did Boone say this and then went back on it, but the Yankees did not play the next day so he got 2 days back to back of rest. Boone is seemingly making lineups out of nowhere however he pleases.

How to fix the Yankees

People will say “Fire Cashman and fire Boone”, It is not going to happen. If the Yankees can make a trade for a guy like Ketel Marte, a utility guy for the DiamondBacks, who is amazing on defense we would be in a much better spot. Andújar, has been improving quickly for a guy who has only been in left for a year and a half so I believe in him. By the end of June the Yankees expect to have Voit, O’Day, Severino and Britton back. Those 4 drastically change this team and if the Yankees can be 5 or less games back of first in the AL East, they might be able to make a run at the title.

Now if this year is a wash, then you have to bring up Jasson Dominguez. He will be 19 in February and is the most hyped prospect in MLB history. The Yankees could blow it up but it feels like the wrong move for New York at this point. I still have hope.

Yankee fans need to see something in order to stay positive. If that doesn’t happen, then Yankee fans will very hard to win over as we come down the stretch, but hey, Go Yanks.