Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Game...Of....The Week! [Air Horn Sound]

Apologies to Sportscenter on the title, there. But I've got a new gig over at Baseball Prospectus, which yesterday had me watching the Yanks and Tigers battle it out in Motown. I'm referring to Jonah Keri's brainchild, the Prospectus Game of the Week. The idea is, every week I'm going to take on one game, reporting and commenting on game of baseball within the context of that one ballgame. I know that's a lame description of something that I hope is really cool, so maybe giving you a taste is the answer.

To set up, I picked yesterday's game because the Tigers have come forward as one of the powerhouses of this young season, because the pitching matchup between Randy Johnson and Jeremy Bonderman was likely to produce a compelling story (for good or for ill) and because I had a weekday off and wanted to celebrate by writing about baseball. To my shock and surprise, Randy Johnson had a zero in the hit column going into the sixth inning. I thought this was a wonderful omen for my new venture, so we pick up the action in the sixth:

With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Johnson loses control of the fastball and walks Thames. This brings up Ivan Rodriguez, a fine person to face when you’re experiencing control problems. While Rodriguez is nowhere near as ball-four-phobic as he was last season (with nine walks so far, Pudge is only two away from matching his 2005 walk total) he still loves to hack. Johnson gets ahead 0-2 as Rodriguez swings at balls high and out of the strike zone to start the at bat. After taking a ball, Rodriguez fouls off ball four, high and inside. Rodriguez takes again to bring the count to 2-2, then swings at ball six, taking a low and away pitch to right field, for a single. Thames forgets the number of outs, and fails to advance to third on the play. This mental mistake is rendered moot when Magglio Ordonez strikes out to end the inning.

The Yankees go quietly in the top of the seventh. After the seventh inning stretch, and singing of “God Bless America,” Johnson is just finishing his warmup pitches at 2:59, Eastern, just in time for the game to be interrupted by the Congressionally-mandated National Moment of Remembrance, scheduled for 3:00 PM on each Memorial Day.

Now, no one should begrudge the men and women who have given their lives in service of the United States a minute of silence and reflection in gratitude for their sacrifice. But suddenly I’m relieved that someone broke up the no-hitter an inning earlier. If the no-hitter were still going, I would probably be going nuts about Johnson having warmed up, only to have to sit a few minutes while we listen to a song written by the guy who wrote Annie. While we’re at it, who should be considered responsible for having Johnson warm up, then sit for three minutes before throwing his first pitch of the inning, Joe Torre, or the umpires?

I thought that moment--momentarily reflecting on my love of my country and those who serve it, then snapping to my senses and hoping this patriotic display didn't disrupt the Big Unit's rhythm--says just about all there is to say about being a baseball fan. Please check out the article here. (Yes, it's a subscription article on the Prospectus website, but c'mon..you really should be subscribing to BP by now. It's cheap, it's fun, and all the cool kids are doing it. Well, some of the cool kids, I hear.)

A couple of notes on the game, not in my article. Despite six shutout innings of two-hit ball, I'm not convinced that this is a corner that Randy has turned, yet. Three walks and four strikeouts in six innings is not impressive, and there were a few times that the Tigers made very solid contact with the ball, only to be thwarted by Gary Sheffield or Alex Rodriguez.

Also, this Tigers team matches up badly with lefthanders, and as an added bonus, they have the league's lowest walk rate against lefty pitchers. Sounds like a good recipe for a southpaw with control problems. I say give it a few more starts before we declare that the Unit is "back."

Monday, May 29, 2006

Week In Review: Teams With an "R"

Record for the Week: 4-2, 36 runs allowed, 47 runs scored
Overall Record: 28-20 (2nd Place, 2 games out)

Player of the Week: Alex Rodriguez (.435/.500/1.000, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 26 PA) was the straw that stirred the offense this week, after a week in which every Red Sox and Mets fan alive claims to have silenced the room by calling an inning-ending double play for him against the Mets. Sure, whatever, guys. Kelly Stinnett (.308/.357/.615 14 PA) showed a little somethin' in his week as the number 1 catching option, and Johnny Damon (.318/.318/.636, 22 PA) deserves an honorable mention. On the pitching side, Jaret Wright (10.3 IP, 2.62 ERA, 1.55 WHIP) started and won two games, prior to coming down with an owie in his groin, and Mariano Rivera (3.7 IP, 3 SV, 0.55 WHIP) did the job everyone expects him to do, closing out three of the four victories this week.

Dregs of the Week: Scott Proctor allowed eight runs, all earned, in three and two thirds innings this week, overshadowing the four runs Kyle Farnsworth surrendered in four and a third, or the five runs Randy Johnson gave up in his five innings. On the offensive side, Robbie Cano (.158/.190/.263, 21 PA) and Terrence Long (.235/.278/.235, 18 PA) showed nothing last week.

Miscellaneous Stats: the C/P ration stands at 7/5 on the week, overall 52/54. The B/E Ratio stands at 1/2 on the week, 2/6.7 overall, and for good measure, Bean was designated for assignment to make sure he won't catch up. In all fairness, Erickson's two innings were scoreless, and Bean got roughed up for two runs by the Red Sox.

Story of the Week: I'll be ultra-brief this week. The Yanks started the week battling the cream of the AL, and finished it against the bottom of the barrel. They won't have that comfort level for the next few weeks, with a four game set against the Tigers and a four game set at home against the Red Sox are interspersed with series against the Orioles and A's--two teams who are dangerous despite their losing records.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A Hair's Breadth

After taking 2 of 3 from the Red Sox, the Yanks come home to face the Royals--the 13-losses-in-a-row Royals. The Yanks had Mike Mussina against Scott Elarton, a once promising, then injured, now mediocre and itinerant pitcher. The elements all seemed to be together for a win on Friday night.

Not at all, it turns out. Moose turned out another quality start, but just barely--allowing three runs in six innings. "Everyday" Scott Proctor got slapped around, allowing Kansas City to tie the game at four in the seventh inning. In the eighth, the Royals went ahead on a hit parade against Kyle Farnsworth, Angel Berroa slamming a three run shot to deep left, which was almost--and the key word is almost--caught over the fence by a leaping Melky Cabrera. The ball actually glanced off that cesta Cabrera calls a glove on its way to the Monument Park walkway. A quarter of a second earlier, Melky catches that ball, and the inning is over.

This was a remote-control-slam and shut off the TV moment. Then, once I calmed down, I remembered these were the Royals. The Yanks scored one in the eighth, and then the top of the ninth inning was played in a driving rain. Once that was over, the umps ordered the tarp be placed on the field.

Not willing to watch the normal Channel 9 programming (the ten o'clock news, where it seemed that four out of the first five stories presented were about bus accidents) I tuned in the Yanks on MLB.com's audio feed, while La Chiquita and I sat around in the warm, sticky night, my computer's tinny speakers giving the feel of listening to a rain delay on a transistor radio.

La Chiquita gave up about an hour in, and I was about to head to bed when the radio feed announced that Yankees programming would resume in three minutes. Two hours after the delay started, the game resumed, with bases empty, none out, and a pitcher not the Royals' proclaimed closer on the mound.

Terrence Long, pinch-hitting for Kelly Stinnett, blooped one to center for a hit. One out later, the Captain--who earlier collected his 2000th and 2001st hits, keying the Yanks' earlier rallies--walked. Gary Sheffield, whose swing is not yet back in sync after his two week plus layoff, roped one to center, which converted infielder Esteban German dived for and almost caught. Here, the Royals caught a break from the rain, because the ball did not roll far on the soggy grass. Usually, plays like that in the Yankee Stadium outfield go to the wall, and Jeter ties the game. As it was, it was first and third, one out, for Jason Giambi, with the tying run 90 feet away.

The Royals turned to lefty Andy Sisco to save their first win in two weeks. With a 2-1 count, Sisco grooved a fastball to Giambi, which Jason sadly hit on the ground. The Royals might have gotten another break from the rain, as Giambi slipped getting out of the batter's box. Still, given how slow the lumbering firstbaseman is, it probably wouldn't have mattered. Double play, 4-6-3, game over.


So here's where the Yankees' health stands right now. On the DL: Hideki Matsui (broken arm, maybe back in September), Tanyon Sturtze (torn rotator cuff, out for year), Bubba Crosby (strained hamstring), Shawn Chacon (hematoma), Octavio Dotel (recovering from elbow surgery), Carl Pavano (total corporeal breakdown). On the roster, unable to play due to injury: Jorge Posada (torn hamstring), Jaret Wright (pulled groin). Injured but playing: Gary Sheffield (wrist, able to DH but not take the field), Johnny Damon (foot, needs rest and/or time at DH), Bernie Williams (bad knee, last I heard).

While some of this stuff sorts itself out, Koyie Hill is the #2 catcher, Terrence Long the #4 outfielder, and Colter Bean is waiting to see if he cleared waivers. Did I miss anything?

(Actually, looking at the Yanks' transaction logs, I did. Last weekend, Mitch Jones had a day with the big club, and then was optioned right back to Columbus.)

Waiting in the wings to be Yankees are Dotel, Durazo, Carlos Pena, and possibly Richard Hidalgo and Jason Romano. The Boss can't complain that Brian Cashman isn't working hard for his raise.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Cardiac Kid

This was pool night, so I got to witness another typical Randy Johnson start from a great remove--about four tables over, and at an angle that made it hard to see the screen. The one thing I could sense was that both teams were scoring easily and often. The one time that I interrupted my match to check out the game, the score was 5-4, Red Sox, which means it must have been some time in the fourth inning.

What is it with Randy and surrendering five runs? It feels like that's all he does anymore (ed note: a quick check of Randy's starts on MLB.com shows he's only allowed 5 runs in a game twice this season). At least last year, when he was pitching badly, Johnson ate innings. These days, you get five or six innings out of him, and they're crappy innings to boot.

By the time I was done with my match, the Yanks were up, 8-6, and Kyle Farnsworth was on the mound, facing the bottom of the Red Sox lineup. Willie Mo Pena had reached on an error by Kelly Stinnett, and Alex Gonzalez singled on Farnsworth's slider. And I was beating my head on the poolhall bar because why on Earth would Farnsworth throw his slider at the #9 hitter?

Farnsworth must have heard my loudly-muttered curses, because the next batter, Kevin Youkilis, got nothing but heat, and went back to the dugout extra-crispy. But then, against #2 batter Mark Loretta, things went nuts again, as Farnsworth now lost control of the fastball. Full count walk, to bring Big Papi to the plate, bases loaded.

Nothing like that to give a Yankee fan a sense of his own mortality.

Ron Villone had been warming in the Yankee bullpen, in preparation for Ortiz coming to the plate. He was standing, ready to come into the game. But, incredibly, Joe Torre made no move to remove Farnsworth. The most fearsome lefty batter in the American League, and Torre was going to let blockhead Kyle face him.

Farnsworth's first pitch was a slider, which Ortiz took for a strike. After Farnsworth missed the strike zone trying to replicate that pitch, Ortiz waged a battle against Farnsworth's heater, fouling off pitch after pitch, until Farnsworth froze him again with the slider.

That was the game. La Chiquita, who waited with me through this sequence, smiled at the end and said, "Well, that was exciting!" She calls it exciting. I nearly needed a defibrilator. Mariano took the mound the following inning, with Ramirez leading off--and therefore unable to tie or win the game on his own. It turned out to be a 1-2-3 inning, the Yanks taking the rubber game of the series against the Sox. Thus, they earn their first off-day in 16 days, before returning to the Stadium to face the Royals.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Week In Review: Don't Call It A Comeback

Record for the Week: 3-4, 41 runs allowed, 36 runs scored
Overall Record: 24-18 (2nd Place, 1 1/2 games out)

Player of the Week: Jorge Posada had the thing won before he got injured, batting .364/.471/.636 with seven RBI and a huge homer in the Yankees' comeback win against Texas, but Hip-Hip-Jorge had to sit out the weekend against the Mets, and Derek Jeter (.419/.455/.581) showed up to work all seven days of the week. On the pitching side, we get an honorable mention goes to the one Yankee starter to win his start last week, Chien Ming Wang. Wang put in eight innings and only three runs against the Rangers last week in their split against the Yanks. Oh, and a special honorable mention to Bernie Williams, who hit well this week, .318/.423/.500, with a rare infield double in last night's game.

Dregs of the Week: It starts with Randy Johnson, who got rolled by the Mets, six runs, all earned, in five innings pitched. That even overshadowed Shawn Chacon's nightmare appearance (eight runs in an inning and a third) and Alex Rodriguez's .241/.333/.310. Worse than Rodriguez on the week, by OPS at least, was Johnny Damon (.242/.306/.273) but you can't award a guy Dregs when he's only in the lineup because the rest of the outfield is shot to pieces.

The C/P Ratio: Stands at 12/11 on the week, overall 45/49. At least, this week Phillips merited his playing time, getting the game-winning hit on Saturday and hitting .364/.364/.545 for the week. We're also on the verge of inaugurating a new stat around here, the B/E ratio--yes, you guessed it, the ratio of innings pitched by Colter Bean against those registered by Scott Erickson. B/E stands at 1/3 on the week, 1/4.7 overall.

Story of the Week: Comeback wins are nice. They're also, however, a symptom that something isn't right with your ballclub. We look at the Yanks right now, obviously depleted, and it's easy to identify that what ails them is health. Diagnosis, however, is not the same thing as remedy.

Treatment right now involves Terrence Long. The same Terrence Long who washed out with the Royals. The whole thing makes me wonder what we have done to anger Brian Cashman? First Scott Erickson, and now this?

With so many things having gone wrong--devastating injury to Matsui, Pavano being the man of a million ailments, Sheffield not quite the "warrior" he used to be now that he's in a walk year (although, to be fair, it seems like he ultimately opted for the cortisone shot, and is now on the path to return)--the Yanks are looking harder than ever at the "free" talent market. It's a long-awaited decision, but one which has been undertaken with a bit of last-minute desperation. Most teams collect this type talent in Spring Training, not mid-season. In addition to Long and Erickson, the Yanks have brought on Carlos Pena and Erubiel Durazo, as well as all-or-nothing former prospect Rob Stratton. The question now is, is this too little, too desperate and too late?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Condense My Pain

This morning, La Chiquita comments that I'm a baseball junkie.

"You wake up, and the first thing is not where's my coffee, but where's my baseball!" She says with a mix of disapproval and admiration. Thing one for her is the coffee.

She doesn't understand that I have an excuse. Family stuff last night meant that I paid no (as in none, as in zero) attention to last night's game. Luckily, thanks to MLB.tv, I can wake right up on Saturday and see Friday's game--in less than ten minutes.

Now, MLB.tv doesn't work very well for anyone who wants to preserve the surprise of a sporting event--so far, I haven't found a way to access last night's game without knowing what the score was before I clicked the link. In contrast, if you TiVO a game, the TiVO entry doesn't tell you the final score, or include a list of surprise-ruining "highlights." For example, just to call up the video of yesterday's game, I have to face a box that gives me the options of re-playing: "Wright's walk-off single," "Valentin Erases A-Rod," "Beltran's 3-run HR," "Posada Strains Back," "Illegitimate Daughter Chops off Unit's Left Arm," and "Nady's Game-Tying HR." Only one of those isn't real.

It's hard to express optimism for this team right now, even though they're only 2 games out of first. At my family event last night, I was constantly talking to Yankee fans who are friends of the family. Dr. B, who treated us to a Winter League game when we were in D.R. Christmastime before last, also felt kind of silly worrying about Bubba Crosby's injury--but agreed that worry we must. Yankee fan/Piano Man Kenny Davidsen also felt the anxiety of the Yanks' depleted roster, and the fact that so much now relies on a too-young Melky Cabrera. Kenny also gave me the news about the bone chip above Carl Pavano's elbow. Kenny doesn't think that Pavano will ever pitch again, and I think that we should be so lucky. I think we look forward to two more years of Pavano collecting George's checks and hanging out at the periphery, his arrival awaited like Louis Prima's in Big Night.

Having seen the game in condensed, strat-o-matic style (the condensed game gives you results without the setup, for the most part), a few notes:
  • The whole point of getting Randy Johnson was that a 4-0 first inning lead was supposed to hold up. Big Unit versus Jeremi Gonzalez should be one already in the pocket. Two years ago, I think I was saying the same about Javy Vazquez. Ugh.
  • By the way, there should have been more damage in that first inning, since Alex was safe at second base. It was an amazing play and throw by Jose Valentin to make it close, but Matsui just didn't tag his lead foot.
  • Rodriguez has slowed in the last few years. When first I saw the play, I thought that Alex had loafed to second, or taken a wide turn. Nope--I actually cued up the full game just to watch this play--he ran hard the whole way, he just isn't as fast as he used to be. And he was still safe.
  • Whenever the first thing you hear in a Mets inning is "...and Reyes draws a walk," you're in trouble. If this guy could draw seventy walks per season, he would be (in the words of Burgess Meredith) a "very dangerous poyson!"
  • Off-season before last, Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran were available on the free market, and the Yanks picked up Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano (...and Jaret Wright and Tony Womack) instead. How are we feeling about those decisions right now, as Beltran goes yard?
  • OK. Matsui and Crosby and Sheffield on the DL. Now Posada and Farnsworth are having "back tightness" and Bernie Williams is experiencing a Buck Showalter...er, I mean, tightness in his backside. Yeah, this we need...
  • We've been worried about Randy Johnson getting old, but the same concerns have to be aimed at Mariano Rivera, I would think. Not that this is anything new: over the last several years, Rivera has often had stretches which made you wonder if this was the end, and each time he's pulled himself out of it, made an adjustment, whatever. Right now, it just doesn't look like his cutter is working anymore--the man used to make more work for Louisville Slugger than anyone in the league, breaking people's bats. So teams that are able to lay off Rivera's fastball outside of the strike zone are having a jamboree.
The two concerns are that age has finally caught up to Rivera, or that he's hiding an injury (which he's prone to do, particularly with the Yanks playing short like they are now). Again, we've been through this before with Mariano. He's always bounced back, often better than ever. But the one certain thing in baseball is, that the day will come when he doesn't bounce back. It could be next year, or three years from now. Or it could be last night. No way to know, yet.
On that uplifting note, it's the Yanks best pitcher (indeed, perhaps the best pitcher in the AL right now) against Pedro this afternoon. I'll be watching.

Friday, May 19, 2006

True Commuters

The Yanks get on the Subway to Shea Stadium this weekend, like most New York commuters--grouchy, tired, a bit depleted. We're used to these strange interleague tilts more closely resembling prom--young party people riding limosines and acting like big shots.

But you're not a big shot when you're signing Terrence Long, even if it's to a minor league contract. You're not a big shot when an injury to Bubba Crosby is enough to make you curse. You're not a big shot when Scott Erickson gets to pitch in a game whose end result is still in doubt.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Oh, Ye of Little Faith

You see the game is 9-0 in the second inning, you get discouraged.

When I left the office, the title of this piece was going to be "Chacon: It's What's for Dinner."

So far, Shawn Chacon's 2006 has been bad to good to bad again. At least, I think it's fair to say that after he was run out of the Red Sox game in the fifth last time out, and tonight giving up eight runs, seven of them earned, in one and a third. Aaron Small was better, only two runs through four and a third.

And somehow, the Yanks came back.

For most of this, I'm just going off the MLB.com Gamecast. Jeter's got four hits, four ribbies, and is the triple away from the cycle; Posada and Cairo have three RBIs each. The Yanks actually had the lead before Joe Torre brought in his new favorite toy, Scott Proctor. Memo to Torre: You might be leaning on a guy too much when Jim ("Back in the old days, we didn't believe in pitch counts. We used to pitch nine innings, then throw a few hundred pitches in the bullpen to cool off afterward.") Kaat is saying "That Proctor's seen a lot of work lately, looks a little tired."

That's kind of like a normal person saying "Oh my God, his arm's about to fall off!" If you need some context, that is.

Speaking of Torre's favorite toy, the last guy to hold that title, Tanyon Sturtze, got some bad news yesterday. Not only does he have bursitis in his pitching shoulder, but there's a small tear in his rotator cuff, as well.

I'd previously suggested that Sturtze's injury was a fake by the Yanks, keeping Tanyon on the roster while keeping him away from the mound in the Bronx. Turns out instead that Sturtze, like some other rocket scientists out there, may well have been hiding a serious injury all along.

My bad, yo.

Speaking of my bad, no sooner do you open a blog entry with "Ye of Little Faith" than the Rangers manage to rake Mariano Rivera. After a year of unhittability last year, Mariano looks mortal this season. In May, at least. It's one run that scores, and the damage could have been much worse.

Last licks for the Yanks, who haven't won any games in their last at bat at home this season, and (according to the announcers) have never come back from a 9-0 hole. Can that possibly be right?

Damon lashes a ball off of Teixeira--er, Texiera, or, um, Tiexera...I give up. Anyway, the tying run's aboard with no outs, and Jeter's up with a shot for the triple to tie the game and get the cycle...OK. How about a tapper to the mound, instead? High praise for advancing the runner from Kitty and Singleton, no mention of the potential for a cycle.

Rodriguez first-pitch swings, putting decent wood on the ball, but the catch is made in short left-center by Gary Matthews Jr. Two outs.

Up comes Posada, the Yanks' last hope. He takes three straight balls, and one strike from Akinori Otsuka. Then, on 3-1, Otsuka throws a fat one, middle-in. Jorge's eyes light up, then his bat connects for the walk-off two run homer.

I can't wait for tomorrow so that I can see this thing on MLB.tv (damn local blackout restrictions...)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Week In Review: Hurtin'

Record for the Week: 3-3, 31 runs allowed, 20 runs scored
Overall Record: 21-14 (1st place tie, for real this time)

Player of the Week: Chien Ming Wang did a great job in his one start of the week, eight shutout innings without the benefit of a strikeout. He's the PotW, rare for a starter who only started once. Posada and A-Rod kept the offense running this week, although both had defensive lapses that aided Randy Johnson meltdowns: Rodriguez had two errors in Tuesday's loss against the Red Sox, and yesterday the A's ran at will against the Posada/Johnson battery.

Dregs of the Week: Things aren't perfect with the Yankee offense. Johnny Damon is banged up after yet another outfield wall collision, he only managed a .519 OPS for the week. Bernie Williams's OPS was better (.582) but his performance was worse (.182 OBP) at a time when the club needs him to step up. He did hit a big home run, however. As much as I complain about the Yanks not giving Andy Phillips a shot, Phillips is showing nothing in the scattered at bats he's able to scrounge up. Fans around the blogosphere have gone to the matt for Phillips, it'd be nice if he met us half way by getting a few hits in his half-dozen plate appearances per week.

But the dregs story isn't about the dead horse (Williams) or the banged-up mule (Damon). It's not even about the fishy injury to Tanyon Sturtze (20.25 ERA last week) or the sneaking suspicion that the faerie tale is over for Aaron Small (8.10 ERA last week). It's about the pitching staff's titular ace, Randy Johnson. Given two starts last week, Johnson rolled up two losses, surrendering a total of 11 runs (six earned) in nine and two-thirds innings of work on the week. Every indicator on Johnson is down--his strikeouts are down, his walks are up, he's hittable. For a guy who reigned for a decade with intimidation, batters have looked terribly comfortable at the plate during Johnson's Yankee tenure.

There are three options here. The one we discuss most often around here is that Johnson is injured. Since the Unit's got chronic back issues, and bone-on-bone in one knee, "hurt" might be an adjective that always applies to him, and will for the rest of his career. Johnson's had problems with his glove shoulder, and had a supposedly precautionary MRI on his $13 million left shoulder.

If Johnson's hurt, that might just be the best-case scenario. At least we'd have some idea what he's up against, face the possibility that rest and rehab, or perhaps some form of surgery can repair Johnson to his previous form. If there is no cure, at least the Yanks might get some insurance dough for the tens of millions of dollars still owed on his contract.

Option two is what I call the Contreras Situation, or "It's Not You, It's Me." In the Contreras situation, a player has special coaching needs to keep his mechanics in order, or his emotions in check, or both. Jay Jaffe mentions this possibility over at Futility Infielder. I say it's too soon to condemn Ron Guidry's tenure as pitching coach; but it's possible that Johnson and the Yanks simply are a bad match, like the Yanks and Jose Contreras were, or the Yanks and Javier Vazquez.

In that case, things are bad, but at least there's the possibility of mitigating the damage. It's unlikely that the Yanks will make the changes necessary to make an underperforming player great again, but if the Randy Johnson who dominated the game in 2003 is still in there, somewhere, some other club might approach the Yanks in trade, to try to get a future Hall of Famer on the cheap.

Option three, which is broached by Mike Celizik over on MSNBC (and which I mentioned in comments early last week) is that Johnson is simply old. According to Celizik, Johnson's velocity is consistently down 4 MPH, which looks about right. Now, that's plenty more velocity than many pitchers have, certainly more than most lefties. But it's probably not enough speed to be Randy Johnson. We've seen with Mike Mussina this season that a pitcher can re-invent himself to stay effective with age, but Johnson's a different animal than the analytical types, like Mussina, Maddux, or even Curt Schilling.

Johnson finally got his act together in the majors when he stopped trying to hit spots while simultaneously throwing the ball as hard as humanly possible. By easing off the gas pedal, he found better control and movement. Maybe what's the matter with Johnson now is that he's lost velocity, and the only way he can get back up to the mid 90's is by overthrowing the ball, like he did back in his 100 walk-per-season days.

Any way, the Yanks have to hope for Options One or Two, because to date, no one has found a cure for getting older.

The C/P Ratio: Stands at 5/7 on the week, overall 33/38. Only facing one lefty this week will do that, but it's also that the introduction of Melky Cabrera, as well as the renewed importance of Bernie Williams and Bubba Crosby, has changed the Cairo/Phillips dynamic. The team needs to find out which--if any--of the three outfielders can step into Matsui's shoes, immediately. The only way to find out is to give the outfield candidates plate appearances by the bushelful, and hope that one or more of them step up.

Story of the Week: Yeah, after reading all that, we still have a story of the week. Of course, it's the injury to Hideki Matsui.

Let's be brief. Despite 120 good plate appearances in Columbus this season, nobody's a Melky Cabrera believer; ditto for Bubba Crosby. Nothing that Bernie Williams has done this season suggests a resurgence. Even if one of those players was able to deliver the goods, the Yanks would still need help somewhere in the lineup.

Realizing this, folks are already complaining about the names that the Yanks are rumored to be interested in to replace Matsui, who can't be counted on to return (and be effective) this season. They're talking about Shannon Stewart (God, no...), Torii Hunter (woulda been nice before we got Damon), Bobby Abreu (even more of a pipe dream than the others).

This preemptive crying has got to stop. First of all, this is all just talk, and some of those names look to be more matters of reporters' imaginations than anything else (we were hearing these names within hours of Matsui hitting the turf on Tuesday. Second--since we're talking trades, here--it's only fair to point out that the Yanks still don't have much of anything the Twins or Phillies would want. Eric Duncan's got a .533 OPS at AAA. Philip Hughes should be untouchable, and might not be enough to land Abreu all on his own. Because just about everyone on the major league roster has such high price tags, you really don't have many tradeable chips--there's Cano, Wang, maybe Cabrera. Possibly Sheffield if you ate some salary. What else?

The point is, the Yanks couldn't make a trade this winter, when they were desperate for an outfielder and Coco Crisp and Jason Michaels were available. Now that things are much worse, do you think it's going to be any easier? Do you think the Sox won't do whatever's necessary to block the Yanks from making a move?

The fact is, the Yanks don't need to acquire a star outfielder. They, of all teams, would do pretty well picking up a complementary-type player. Think the Royals are having buyer's remorse about Reggie Sanders? Or Matt Stairs? Maybe if Craig Wilson's batting average dips another ten points, the Pirates might be willing to deal him at an affordable price? Maybe Raul Ibanez is available?

Are any of these great players? Heck no, all except Wilson are pretty old, and each is flawed. But they'd fit with this team, which doesn't need a great leftfielder to succeed. What this team, which is old and injury prone, needs is some versatility, the type you don't get from a star player. It needs folks who can play a role, and who aren't so expensive that you're forced to play them if they don't work out.

Hideki Matsui's games played streak never really resonated with me, for the reason that nobody cares how many consecutive games Cal Ripken or Lou Gehrig played in the minors before starting their major league streaks. But his reliability made it easy for Yankee fans to take him for granted--kind of like he was a left field public utility.

Now that he's gone, his absence will be felt. But the Yanks can certainly survive this, so long as they don't panic.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

When the Heck Did You Sneak Back In?

Missed today's game, for which I had tickets, because 1) mom takes priority over baseball and 2) today was a rare double-feature, with Mother's Day falling on my brother's birthday.

So I've been busy. I didn't blog about yesterday's win--the A's managing to make Jaret Wright look like a decent pitcher--or Friday's gem of a game by Chien Ming Wang. I didn't even get to see today's matchup, yet another bad loss for Randy Johnson. But when I looked at the box score at the end of the day, I saw a presence that I thought banished from the Major Leagues.

Yes, Scott Erickson "contributed" to the A's Mother's Day 7-1 win, which took the brooms out of the hands of the Yankee Stadium faithful. Erickson pitched an inning and two thirds in the game, didn't allow a hit but was charged with a run after turning the game over to Ron Villone with two on and two out in the eighth.

How the heck did Scott Erickson get on the roster? I remembered that he'd gotten an NRI to Spring Training, but had the impression that he'd sucked. What gave me that impression? Only the fact that Scott Erickson has sucked for many, many, years.

Here's some stats on Erickson, starting as of his age 30 season:

Year Team(s) IP ERA ERA+ WARP
1999 BAL 230.3 4.81 100 5.0
2000 BAL 92.7 7.87 60 -0.3
2002 BAL 160.7 5.55 79 1.0
2004 NYM/TEX 27.0 6.67 72 0.0
2005 LAD 55.3 6.02 67 0.3

Now, he lost 2001 and 2003 to injury. Still, what part of this record makes anyone think this guy can hold down a major league job? In addition to the 55 plus bad innings Erickson put in with the Dodgers last year, he pitched another 40 innings in the Pacific Coast League--with an ERA of 7.20.

What'd Erickson do to merit a call-up this time? Well, first of all, Tanyon Sturtze went on the DL with a sudden case of shoulder tendonitis. You'll pardon a little cynicism, but over the course of the past six weeks, nobody mentioned Sturtze being injured. He just sucked. So it might be a case where he's suffering from "he sucks" and he's willing to go on the DL rather than getting released.

Back to Erickson. Looking at the pitchers at AAA Columbus, let's play a little game called "Player A, Player B":

Player A 23.3 14 2 2 11 30 0.77
Player B 20.3 20 7 6 3 21 2.66
Player C 17.0 11 10 8 11 11 4.24

The player who gets called up to replace Sturtze is (no surprise here) Player C. Player B is Mark Corey, a former major leaguer who's the Clippers' closer. Player A, of course, is the perennially-disrespected reliever, Colter Bean. Just based on their performance in the minors, both Players A and B should get a call-up well before the ballclub gives Player C a shot.

But obviously, the Yankees organization doesn't want anyone to think that it's a meritocracy. What on earth they think Erickson can do, that Bean can't, I have no idea. Bean's on the 40 man roster, he's pitching well--if he doesn't get the call in this situation, then when will the call come?

Back tomorrow with the Week in Review.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Review: Mission: Impossible: III

There's two stories here, one about the mid-career crisis of a Hollywood star, and the other about the summer's first big blockbuster film.

The first story is kind of stupid. Tom Cruise always enjoyed a charmed existence in that his personal life was never a bigger story than his career; his publicists always kept the public eye fixed on Cruise on the screen--even as he married and divorced Nicole Kidman (albeit, before Kidman became a perennial Oscar contender), converted from Catholicism (he was once going to be a priest) to Scientology, and suffered all sorts of rumors that he's gay.

Now, like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, and Jennifer Lopez, Cruise is points in the Bill Simmons's Us Weekly Fantasy League first, a superstar actor second. And not in a good way. "Jumping the couch" may just replace "jumping the shark," in our cultural vocabulary.

None of this has any relevance to Mission: Impossible: III, a film more offensive for its overuse of colons than for Tom Cruise's views on Scientology. Actually, the colons might be the only offensive thing about M:I:III, which is a bit of faint praise. The film's a competent popcorn diversion, consisting of chases, gunfights, explosions, and stunts. As they say on the shampoo bottle, "Lather, rinse, repeat." M:I:III exists entirely in the moment, and is forgotten almost as soon as the end credits start to roll.

The requisite plot summary: Cruise's super-spy/aerialist, Ethan Hunt, has gone all Maverick-at-the-end-of-Top-Gun on us, and given up the field for a job training recruits at the Impossible Missions Academy. He's even gone domestic, and gotten engaged to a nurse who thinks that he's a civil servant traffic consultant. Going back to the world outside the movie for just one second, it's a bit unfortunate that Michele Monaghan, who plays the nurse, is a dead ringer for Cruise's baby-momma--just a bit sexier, for certain.

If we simply count the number of summer action films about spies (lots) against the ones about teachers (few) and traffic consultants (none, I think), we get a fair feeling that this won't last. Needless to say, up shows Cruise's spy middle manager, Billy Crudup, to tell Hunt that even though he tries to get out, they keep pulling him back in!

It's not even as dramatic as that, but it brings up a question: if you're constantly meeting with your superiors, what's the point of receiving those mission briefings that will self-destruct in five seconds? Throughout the Mission: Impossible series, Cruise has always brought in Hunt's bosses, usually getting pretty high-profile actors for those roles (Henry Czerny in the first film; Anthony Hopkins in the second; Crudup and Laurence Fishburne in this installment). Now I know that all pretense that this Mission: Impossible has anything to do with the classic TV series went out the window in the second film; all that's left now is the self-destructing tapes, latex masks, and occassional use of the Lalo Shifrin theme music.

But one of the cooler things about the Mission: Impossible TV series was that Jim Phelps was pretty much his own boss. The Impossible Missions Force was America's introduction to freelance work: your employer communicates just by sending you notes; if you screw up, they'll put it all on you; if you need any help, hire it yourself, and they're your problem--the employer isn't going to be withholding social security or paying workers' comp for your guys. I'm not the world's foremost expert on the original series, but I don't remember Jim's superiors ever coming by to chew him out or tell him how to do his job.

Another cool thing about the original series was that they relied less on guns and violence than on deception and cunning. Usually, the gang didn't actually kill anyone, but rather tricked various bad guys into doing each other in. But you can't have the typical summer blockbuster action set pieces that way, so subtlety's out the window in M:I:III.

Most of the gunfire revolves around, but doesn't actually involve, a hammy and vengeful arms dealer, played by 2005 Best Actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and a super-secret...something. The fact that we never discover what the secret thing does is part of director JJ Abrams' contribution to the film, as M:I:III is constantly winking at the audience. We have a scene where Cruise rides a motorcycle onto an airfield that is straight out of Top Gun, a character laughing aloud over the absurd name of Hunt's super-secret agency, and the film's best action sequence involves an aerial assault on a bridge straight out of James Cameron's True Lies.

In the end, Abrams seems to say, what does it matter what the McGuffin everyone's fighting over actually is? It's really just an excuse for an action movie, chases and explosions. And that about says it all. Very mild recommend.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

[Expletive Deleted]

At one point tonight, I just started dropping f-bombs. It was an f-carpet-bombing.

La Chiquita looked at me and said, "What's going on, you're scaring me."

"[Expletive deleted]" I replied, apologetically. I was like Hugh Grant at the beginning of Four Weddings and a Funeral. All I could say was the f-word; it had to stand in for all the rest of my vocabulary.

It started shortly after I got home from work. I worked late, so that was around the fifth inning.

No sooner had I walked through the door than Shawn Chacon loaded the bases, which meant Joe Torre had to go to the bullpen way early.

"[Expletive deleted]," I said, pensively. The man Torre summoned from the bullpen was Scott Proctor, once a feared option, but now, because he struck out Manny Ramirez in last night's game, and because Tanyon Sturtze is on the Joe-Torre-wants-to-wring-your-neck list, Joe's go-to guy. Like anyone else, shortly after the manager decides that Proctor's one of Torre's guys, Proctor will now be thrown out there every other day, whenever there's a tough moment, until he spits the bit or his arm falls off. Proctor got out of the jam, which meant he and Torre were happy, but his right arm was probably sad.

At that point, the Yanks led, 3-1.

At the end of the inning, they show the next three batters up, and I see that Bernie Williams is hitting between A-Rod and Posada. It doesn't really click, it just sounds like a picked out of a hat lineup.

During the largely impotent Yankees half of the inning, I see the MLB.com headline, which says, Matsui Injured, Streak Ends. It says that Matsui was injured in the top of the first inning, but seems more interested in the fact that Matsui's consecutive games streak--the one he began in Japan--had come to an end (since a player has to play a complete half-inning for a streak to continue, Matsui's game tonight counts as the game when the streak was broken.

Then, in the top of the sixth, with Proctor still in the game, the new ace in the bullpen gave up three consecutive hits, causing the Yanks to expend three more pitchers--Mike Myers, Sturtze, and Villone, just to escape the sixth. If you think that didn't earn a few expletives, you simply don't know me.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Yanks' C-boys--Cano, Cairo (starting at first, naturally), and Crosby--went down in order before Tim Wakefield's knuckler. In the top of the seventh, for some reason, the Yanks decided to show the video of Matsui getting injured.

The video is sickening. Matsui runs full-bore, trying to make a catch low against the grass. As he does so, he tumbles, falling on his glove hand with all his body's weight. As Matsui lies on the grass, he lifts up his arm, and the glove hand just hangs, flopping limply for a moment before Matsui braces his wrist with his throwing hand.

The YES Network is showing this over and over and over again, injury porn, as it were, and I'm watching with the sound off, so I have no idea what point they're trying to make by playing this clip on continuous loop. While the YESmen are showing Matsui writhe, the Red Sox are rallying, Alex Gonzalez--the much-maligned, former Marlin Gonzalez, hitting a ground rule double on a ball misplayed down the rightfield line by Bernie Williams. With two out and two on, secondbaseman Mark Loretta grounds one to the shortstop hole, which the Captain fields from his knees. Holding the ball means accepting the tying run scoring, so Jeter unleashes an off-line throw, which Cairo almost saves with a catch-and-tag up the first base line. The runner, however, knocks the ball out of Cairo's hand and the go-ahead run scores.

That's when I lost control of the f-bomb. There was simply nothing else I could say. The game, at least those parts of it I caught, was played by the Yankees with an air of desperation, despite the fact that they were the home team, with an alleged advantage. With the lead gone, the game went down the tubes. Mariano Rivera gave up another run in the ninth for a 5-3 final.

[Expletive deleted] it all.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I Guess We're Un-Tied Now...

MESSENGER: Mr. Johnson, I have a package for you.

RANDY JOHNSON: Who sent it? Not to sound paranoid, but a lot of people aren't fans of mine.

MESSENGER: It's from the Red Sox, sir. I'm sure they're not what you'd call fans, but I'm pretty sure you'll want what's in this package.

JOHNSON: I will, will I? Well, don't be shy, tell me what it is!

MESSENGER: I didn't want to have to say it aloud, but it's your backside, sir.


MESSENGER: Your backside. Your rump, sir. Your butt.

JOHNSON: Y'know, I thought my pants felt a little looser than usual. Well, just leave it on that chair, and I'll take care of it.

MESSENGER: I'm sorry, sir, but the Red Sox said I had to put this in your hands, personally.

JOHNSON: My ass? I'm getting my ass handed to me?

MESSENGER: Yes, sir. By the Red Sox.

JOHNSON: Well, you gotta do what you gotta do. [Accepts package.]

MESSENGER: Mr. Johnson, could you tell me where I can find Aaron Small and Tanyon Sturtze? I've got packages for them, too.


I'm sure, just once Melky Cabrera would like to be called up by the Yankees, when they're facing the Royals, or the Devil Rays. Last year, the young outfielder was brought up during a four-game set against the Indians, started all four games, was a big leaguer for the All Star Break, then went with the Yanks to Boston, where he was promptly declared "not a major leaguer" as he made mistake after mistake in center field.

Now, he's up again, after hitting well again, in Columbus, this time, brought to the majors by an injury. Again, it's the Red Sox. And again, he's making fielding errors.

I hope this time they have some patience with Melky, because they need an outfield boost right now. Gary Sheffield's down, has-been Bernie Williams is the next option in right, followed by never-was Bubba Crosby. So if Joe Torre can just pull out one more mind trick, and convince Cabrera that he's with the team, thick or thin, and maybe get the kid to believe that he's not going back to AAA immediately after the next mistake he makes...well, he'd be doing the Yankee Faithful a service.

Not every rookie has the good fortune of a Derek Jeter, to hit right off the bat, save their first bad spell for after they've won a big league job.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Week In Review: That's More Like It

Record for the Week: 5-1
Overall Record: 18-11 (1st place)

Story of the Week: There is no tie for first place right now in the AL East. Typically, we think of the standings as a matter of how many games behind the leader each team is. The second-place Red Sox are 19-12, so they're zero games behind the Yankees. Zero games, but eight percentage points behind.

Last week, at Fenway, the Yanks came in under the same circumstances, and the Fenway scoreboard operator listed the Red Sox in first place and the Yanks in second. It was a pathetic display of mathematical ignorance. Last year, at the end of the season when the Yanks and Red Sox had identical records, and the Yanks "won" based on tiebreakers, you could argue that who should be listed at the top of the standings was a matter of opinion. Not last week. Not this time.

With three games scheduled at the Stadium this week, one way or another, the AL East should be "untied" by Thursday, clear enough that even a Red Sox fan will be able to tell who's actually in first place. The Yanks will probably have to play the series without Gary Sheffield, who's had a stiff wrist for nearly two weeks.

Player of the Week: Hideki Matsui got off the slide .348/.464/.696 week, two homers and six RBI. He was the only Yank to slug .500 on the week, a week when the Yanks scored over six runs per game despite a .360 team slugging percentage (the team OBP was .362). On the pitching side, Mike Mussina added another excellent start to his record allowing two runs off three hits and no walks in seven innings on the week. Every season Scott Proctor has a week or two where it looks like he's finally put it all together. Just because it never lasts doesn't mean that his performance last week should be ignored: four and a third scoreless innings, three hits, one walk, four strikeouts.

Dregs of the Week: Aaron Small went undefeated, 10-0 last season. Small collected his first Yankee loss this season (his first regular season loss, anyway) and has gotten completely slagged in each of his appearances so far, giving up five runs in two and two thirds, good for a 16.88 ERA. Tanyon Sturtze is another pitcher the Yanks picked up from the scrap heap, and it looks like back to the scrap heap he should go. Over four appearances this week he only pitched one inning, which shows how well he was doing. On the offensive side, Derek Jeter had a week to forget, .154/.241/.154. In a performance that doesn't really merit "dregs" consideration--but is just plain weird--Jason Giambi batted .118 last week, and had a .464 OBP. Oh, and of his two hits on the week, one was a homer.

The C/P Ratio: On the week it was 5/3, to bring us to an overall 28/31. If these guys are wondering where the playing time went, they should look at their pals, Bernie Williams and Bubba Crosby, and they should credit the hot bat of Robinson Cano (.360/.385/.440 on the week).

Saturday, May 06, 2006


The Yanks won last night, 8-7, almost managing to blow a big 7-1 lead in the 8th inning when first Aaron Small and then Kyle Farnsworth couldn't hold the Rangers offense down. Finally, Mariano Rivera had to be summoned with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, Yanks up 8-4.

Rivera, who hasn't really hit his stride this season, yet, allowed two singles to Hank Blaloch and Kevin Mench to bring the score to 8-7, and then hit a batter with a pitch to load the bases, before the Yanks got out of the jam.


Anyway, the title of the piece comes from an odd detail about last night's game. Between the Yanks and the Rangers, in the confines of the Ballpark at Arlington (I know, it has some stupid corporate name now, right?) there were 19 hits in last night's game...and 16 singles. One Texas batter hit a single, and two Yanks doubled.

Overall, it was a nice job by Mike Mussina to hold the Rangers to one run through seven innings (Moose left on a batter in the 8th, who came 'round to score). Alex Rodriguez, dropped to fifth in the lineup just as he returns to his old haunts (but on the road, and prior to the Yanks' big mid-week series against Boston) capped the Yanks' 5-run 4th inning with a 2 run single.

So Shawn Chacon goes today, with Chien Ming Wang pitching tomorrow. That sets things up for Boston with Randy Johnson, Mussina and Chacon going against Beckett, Clement, and Schilling. But it's important not to look past the next two games, despite all the temptations. More on this tomorrow.


Meanwhile, I've been busy over at the Baseball Prospectus website. Yesterday, my take on the Marlins went to press. Here's the taste:

As a May 15 deadline approaches for the Marlins to commit to San Antonio, and the Florida legislature mulls a tasty bit of subsidy swag to keep the team from moving, it would be easy for folks to forget that they’re still playing ballgames and not just politics in southern Florida. Judging by the attendance, many have forgotten.

For those few who have braved a trip to Pro Player/Dolphin/Wayne-Huizenga-Sucks-Away-All-Your-Profits Stadium, the Marlins have certainly put a forgettable product on the field. The team is 2-9 at home, 8-18 overall, a hair below the Washington Nationals for the bottom spot in the NL East, just above the Pittsburgh Pirates for worst record in the league.

What’s gone wrong? It starts with the pitching. Going into last night’s game, the Marlins had the worst pitching in the league, by RA+ (0.87) and VORP (9.0), despite ranking 12th in the league in ERA (4.67). The Marlins also ranked last in strikeout to walk ratio (1.35), a far cry from last season, when Marlins pitchers struck out two men for each one given a free pass.

Last week, I forgot to mention, I covered another one of my semi-regular teams, the Pirates:

Well, this hardly feels like progress, does it? Last year, through 23 games, the Bucs were 8-15. This year, carrying a payroll that is some $8 million higher, the Pirates have started 5-18. They have already had two long losing streaks--six games to start the season, seven games and counting as we go to press.

Perhaps some of this can be chalked up to a punishing schedule. In contrast to most teams in April, the Pirates didn’t have an off-day until April 20, after their 17th game. No other National League team went through the second week without a scheduled off-day. All but two of their opponents have been in the top half of NL teams per the PECOTA-powered preseason Hit List rankings.

Some of it has been bad luck. Sean Casey was posting a solid .296 EqA prior to fracturing two vertebrae in a collision with the Cubs’ John Mabry. Depending upon how you look at things, the Pirates’ 2-6 record in one-run games and .334 BABIP--second worst in the league, after the Phillies--could also be considered symptoms of misfortune.

However, a much larger portion of it has been plain old bad baseball. While Casey was doing well prior to his injuries, new arrivals Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa have each contributed to the teams’ .313 OBP (13th in the league) with on-base percentages below .260. The Pirates’ offense has no middle class, with four players sporting EqAs over .290, and eight players under .240; among the position players, only catchers Ryan Doumit (.286) and Ronny Paulino (.276) fall in between.

Part of what is appealing to me about covering the Pirates and Marlins (as well as the Yanks) for Notebook is that it serves as a bit of a reality check. Whenever I feel like getting too wound up about the number of at bats Bernie Williams is getting, or the C/P Ratio, or Jaret Wright starting, or anything like that, I am reminded that many teams wish they had these kind of problems, and many fans as well. Even when the Yanks were at their worst, the talk was only ever of them moving across the river to New Jersey, not moving thousands of miles away to Texas.

It's something to keep in mind.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Bits and Pieces

For the most part, I've missed out on the last couple of games, which meant I didn't get to see Jaret Wright hold his own against the Devil Rays Wednesday night, or Randy Johnson fail to do so last night, yet still escape with a win due to some immense run support.

The only moment of the last two games I actually caught, live, was Alex Rodriguez stepping in to the batter's box in the 10th inning of Wednesday's game. He still looked so uptight that I was worried he might explode, but he was able to loosen up enough to loop a single, enough to drive in the go-ahead run.

While I'm glad for him, I'm worried about Randy. Basically, Johnson is the pitching staff. Without Johnson in good order, things will get ugly in Yankeeland, quick.


Elsewhere, I'll admit that I'm no opponent of the death penalty, but I applaud the Moussaoui jury for showing a sophistication no one credits American juries with. The story was that the jury, simple minded and impressionable, would abandon reason when presented with emotional testimony of 9/11 phone calls and family witnesses. Emotion, racism and xenophobia would inexorably cause them to have the would-be terrorist put to death.

But the Federal jury convened to determine if Moussaoui would live or die saw through the emotions and came to the conclusion that Moussaoui was only a minor player in the September 11 attacks. In contrast to the stereotype of the bloodthirsty Americans, jurors questioned "whether the death penalty was the appropriate punishment for lying."


In the United States, we treat juries like children--we're awfully concerned that they might hear or see things which we believe will cloud their impressionable judgment. The problem is, jurors are adults, and they tend to want to think for themselves. Sometimes, the self-enclosed, artificial world of information created for them at trial is woefully incomplete, and they reach outside of that world to decide the case. That, by the way, is bad. Sometimes, as in the Moussaoui case, they use their judgment to cut through tangles of emotion and politics that would daunt anybody.

Because of the jury's good judgment, Moussaoui is denied his wish, his fanatasy, of being a martyr for the anti-American cause. He doesn't get to die, and thus perhaps inspire others to terrorism and violence. Instead, he gets to rot. That's never inspirational.


By the way, the idea that the U.S. should transfer Moussaoui to France, to serve his life sentence there is cracked. It's straight out of the Bad Idea Jeans commercial.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

No Solution for Big Papi

...Except, Maybe, the Rain.

We here in Yankeeland have been suffering a plague; the name for our pain is David Ortiz.

Ortiz has punished the Yanks since he joined the Sox in 2003. He's batted .317/.390/.618, in about 225 regular-season PA against the Yanks, with 14 homers, 16 doubles, and 44 RBI. The rate stats aren't much higher than what he's averaged over that span, but it sure hasn't felt that way.

It became apparent as the 2004 playoffs approached that the Yankees needed a pitcher who could get Ortiz out. They thought Felix Heredia was the man. By the time they figured out that was a bad idea, they tried to convince themselves that Tom Gordon's curveball was so good, it didn't matter if the hitter he faced was lefthanded or righthanded.

Um, no.

In 2005, the lefty parade included Buddy Groom, Mike Stanton, Wayne Franklyn, Alan Embree, and Al Leiter. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong.

The latest in the line of Ortiz-killers brought on by the Yanks is Mike Myers, a guy with the devil's own platoon split, and a funky submarine motion that lefties just can't pick up. Surely, this would work against Ortiz, a guy who the Sox used to hide against lefties when he first joined the team?


Yesterday, I watched the Yankees try the shift on Ortiz, with the groundball machine, Chien Ming Wang, on the mound. Knew from the jump it wouldn't work, even before Ortiz punched a looping liner right over the place Jeter normally would've been standing. Boston took a 1-0 lead.

Maybe it was a hit regardless of the shift. Maybe if the Captain was at his usual post, he would've used his mad hops to pluck the liner out of the air. Dunno. All I know is the next time Ortiz came up, the shift was still on. Again, he stroked the ball into left field.

The point is that Ortiz isn't Jason Giambi. He won't ground ball after ball into a crowd of fielders lined up on the right side of the field. He won't beat himself. The only time the Bombers have gotten the best of him, he was betrayed by his glove. Now he doesn't take the field anymore, and you never hear any complaints from him about it. He won't beat himself that way, either.

So when you saw Ortiz come up to the plate against Myers in the 8th inning, Boston ahead by one, a couple of runners on, you kind of knew the Yankees didn't have the solution for the Papi problem. If you didn't think it when he came to the plate, you were pretty darn sure as he was rounding the bases.

How do you beat someone like that? Maybe you don't. Maybe you just hope for rain.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Month In Review: April, 2006

The Week of April 24-30

Record for the Week: 4-2

Player of the Week: Mike Mussina went 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two games started this week. In 12 innings pitched, the Moose allowed two runs on 11 hits and two walks and 14 strikeouts. While some may decry the death of the complete game, noting that the Yanks' player of the week went only six innings in each of his starts, there is something old-school to the way Mussina pitched--changing speeds, changing the batter's eye level, and occasionally blowing 88 MpH heat past them. In Sunday's game, Mussina waged an epic battle in the fifth inning, loading the bases prior to striking out Shea Hillebrand in an at bat that showed off every trick in Mussina's arsenal. Watching that fifth inning, you had the feeling that Mussina was walking a highwire, after having a couple of Bailey's with Brother Joe. Sure, he's terrifying, but watching Mussina has gone from a pretty boring experience back when he was at his best, to a very exciting experience now that Moose's margin of error has worn down to nothing.

Lost in my waxing rhapsodic about Moose: a powerful comeback performance by Johnny Damon, .429/.552/.810 with ten runs scored, five steals, and two homers in Saturday's game; continued excellence by Derek Jeter (.458/.552/.708) and Jason Giambi (.400/.615/.867 with a team-leading ten RBI and nine walks).

Dregs of the Week: Pitchers first. Sometimes even when you win, you lose, and that was Randy Johnson in his start this week--allowing six runs in five innings in Saturday's game. He was just brutal, and was saved from further damage by a few good defensive plays, including one great one by Jorge Posada. We've already talked about the Great Mistake, Jaret Wright.

On the hitting side Alex Rodriguez gets first mention because he's been hearing the boos, although his .182/.357/.227 isn't that bad (I mean...at least he got on base). Worse job by Robbie Cano (.188/.235/.250 in 17 PA) and Bernie Williams (.133/.188/.333, 1 homer in 16 PA), and Matsui's not much better (.208/.296/.292 in 27 PA). But when you're the reigning MVP, the highest-paid player in the game, and whatnot, people don't want to hear about your .357 OBP.

The C/P Ratio: The Ratio stands at 8/10 on the week, implying that perhaps Phillips and Cairo can coexist peacefully...

Story of the Week: Probably the news from last week that has the largest on-the-field impact is Gary Sheffield's injury. Sheff apparently injured every single piece of his body in a first base collision with Shea Hillebrand on Saturday. It's here that the Yanks' lack of depth afield comes into sharp relief. With Sheffield out, either Bubba Crosby or Bernie Williams is forced to take the field, and possibly both forced into the lineup, if Joe Torre wants to continue hiding Jason Giambi's glove. Hopefully, Sheff at 37 maintains the recuperative powers he's shown in his last two seasons as a Yankee, where he's consistently played in pain. Hopefully, this will be the situation that convinces the Yanks to start looking for some depth, preferably righthanded and able to play all three outfield postitions.


Record for the Month: 13-10, 1st Place (virtual tie with Boston)

Player of the Month: Giambi. He batted .344/.554/.852 with 9 homers and 27 RBI for April. Giambi's .416 EqA leads the majors, pitchers are back to tip-toeing their way around Jason during his at-bats. Very nice. Honorable mention goes to Derek Jeter, whose .359 EqA is 14th in baseball.

The Pitcher of the Month: Mussina. With a 4-1 record and 2.38 ERA, Mussina is fifth in the majors in support-neutral value added--third in the American League behind former Yankees washouts Jose Contreras and Kenny Rogers.

Dregs of the Month: Bernie Williams's .209 EqA in April is 65 plate appearances the team will never get back. Jaret Wright's allowed 12 runs in his 10 innings, working very hard to virtually cement losses in all three of the games in which he appeared. Tanyon Sturtze has allowed three homers in less than nine innings, which one hopes would put the gloss off of him as a go-to man in the bullpen. Sadly--as you can probably tell by the fact I post a C/P Ratio here, I want Andy Phillips to do well--all he has managed in sporadic duty (28 PA) is a .172 EqA. That just won't do.

Story of the Month: The death of Steve Howe. For all I criticize him usually, Bill Madden has a pretty good piece on this in the Sunday Daily News--I'd forgotten all about Fay Vincent's threats to ban Buck Showalter, Gene Michael, and Yankee VP Jack Lawn when they decided to testify on Howe's behalf at the hearing on Howe's 1992 drug suspension. Howe's a reminder of the bad old days--the love-hate relationship Yankees fans had with the players on those losing teams.

Howe could hardly warm up in the bullpen or take the mound without catcalls about him possibly sniffing up one of the foul lines--one guy who sat in my and Brother J's section back when we were on the Sunday plan used to think it was the height of humor to yell, "Hey, it's snowin'!" whenever Howe took the mound.

I'll admit, J and I used to call Howe "Cokehead!", although it was an ironic, affectionate shout-out. Howe was the posterboy--more than Doc Gooden, more than Darryl Strawberry or Keith Hernandez and even more than Tony Phillips--of the days when MLB's drug policy meant a crack-down on partying, moreso than performance enhancement. Steve Howe failed to stay sober so often, and was suspended so frequently, you almost wondered why Howe kept on coming back.

Of course, the obvious answer was "money." Cocaine ain't cheap, after all. The fact was, also, that Howe had a live left arm. In twelve seasons spread out over sixteen years, Howe posted a 3.03 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 129. When the Yankees acquired Howe, after more than three years out of baseball, in 1991, Howe responded with 48 innings and a 1.68 ERA. In 1994, in his last good year, Howe was the Yankees' closer, with a 1.80 ERA and 15 saves--good for ninth in the league--at the time of the strike that ended the '94 season. After the strike, Howe was 37, and his pitches seemed to have lost their zip. When the players returned for 1995, John Wetteland had been acquired to close for the Pinstripers, and Howe had a pretty weak season (4.96 ERA, 92 ERA+) as the primary lefty in the pen. He failed badly in games 3 and 4 of the ALDS, against the Mariners. The Yanks signed him to a make-good deal after the season, but by June he was out of baseball.

When news came last week, that almost ten years after the Yanks showed him the door, that he was dead, in a single-vehicle truck accident, there was one question--were drugs or alcohol involved in Howe's death? At this point, we don't know, and it isn't terribly relevant. Regardless of what the toxicology screens show, drugs dominated his life, and his career, and now will dominate all discussion of his death. In the game, and possibly without, drug abuse is his legacy, and his epitaph. Still as someone who was once a great fan of Howe's arm, I feel very sad at his passing, and pass my condolences on to the family he left behind.

NEXT: The Red Sox...