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 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...

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