Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Flippin' Through the Notebook

Just in case you think I've given up on writing about the Yankees, I have a piece up at Baseball Prospectus on the Bronx Bombers. It's about roster uncertainty in the House that Ruth Built, and it goes a little something like this:

A more interesting possibility is that--should the Yankees find sufficient depth in the rotation--Alois Leiter could find his way to the bullpen. Leiter has been effective against lefties over the past several years (664 OPS against), which indicates that he could be effective as a LOOGY in relief.

Like many of the other solutions the Yankees have stumbled across this season, putting Leiter in the bullpen would be more creative than their roster usage has been over the past several years. It’s a cliché to state that necessity is the mother of invention, but it’s only fair to point out that the Yankees haven’t had this much necessity in nearly a decade.

A LOOGY, for those of you new to these shores, is a Lefty One-Out GuY, the reliever you send in to get that critical lefthanded batter (coughDavidOrtizcough) in a tough spot. Right now, the Yankees would probably use Tom Gordon in that spot, because Mariano Rivera is a "closer" and because the rest of the bullpen, particularly the lefties, are rather craptastic.

After my Notebook piece hit the presses, word hit the streets that Leiter is scheduled to be skipped for his next start, with the Yanks starting Chien Ming Wang against Tampa Bay, instead. So it looks like Leiter may have a shot at bullpen glory. And I'm cheering for him, if only because I consider the alternatives.

Alan Embree has looked promising at times, but we have to admit that 50% of the appeal of picking up guys like him and Mark Bellhorn is the off-chance that they will provide an in-your-face moment in the ongoing war against the Red Sox. Steinbrenner has always operated this way, realizing that there is room for a little psychological warfare in the game of baseball. That's why he has always picked up the opposition's discards--in the past ten years, the most prominent ones have been Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden from the Mets, Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens from the Red Sox, but there have been others.

While none of those stars shone quite as brightly in pinstripes as they had for the Yanks' rivals, anything you get out of such players not only helps the home team, but it chips away at the opposition. It killed some of my Mets fan friends to see Doc Gooden pitch a no-hitter in Yankee Stadium. Wade Boggs' horse ride after the '96 World Series win put a knot in the stomachs of my pals in Boston.

There's a chance that Embree gets a key strikeout, or Bellhorn hits a key home run down the stretch, or (if they make it) in the playoffs. And if they manage to do that, Red Sox fans are going to wind up scratching their heads--why exactly did Boston DFA two players at positions (second base, lefty reliever) where their arch-rival needed help? Couldn't they pay off one of the baseball Syberias to take these guys off their hands, and keep them out of Brian Cashman's clutches?

However, aside from the PR benefits of playing Embree and Bellhorn, you can't quite depend on them to carry the team to a pennant. After all, there were reasons the Sox let these guys go, and reasons the rest of baseball didn't snap them up on waivers. So it pays to have a Plan B. In this case, that's Leiter, and the sooner he practices jogging to the mound from center field, the sooner we discover if he can serve the team as a reliever.


Damned Devil Rays. The bad news is that the Devil Rays own Randy Johnson. The good news is that if the Yanks get to the post-season, Johnson doesn't have to worry about facing the Devil Rays. On the other hand, if the Yanks don't make the postseason, Vince Naimoli and the Tampa crew get to say "In your face!" to Steinbrenner and the Yankees.

I'd include Lou Piniella in there, except I think that if the Yanks miss the Playoffs, Piniella will be in pinstripes in short order.

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