Thursday, June 29, 2006
After Wang hit the showers, Mariano Rivera threw a couple of scoreless innings, followed by the stylings of Ron Villone, Kyle Farnsworth, and Scott Proctor. These were not overpowering--Proctor did allow Giles's homer--but they did get a measure of redemption for the blown game Tuesday night.
For the Yanks, they get the day off to gear up for the Subway Series coming to the Boogie Down. The Mets get no rest, instead trying to stave off a sweep by the Red Sox today. Weblog will be on shutdown Saturday thru Tuesday, but I'll do my best to post updates if possible. No promises.
Today's also the deadline for All-Star Ballots. Since I'd been lax in filling out my punchcards, I went over to MLB.com to see what my final ballot would look like:
First Base: Ortiz, D., BOS
Giambi should be in this slot, for a Yankee sweep of the infield. But with the All Star Game in Pittsburgh this year, there is no DH (that's a "Top 5 things that make no sense about the All Star Game," for sure), so Ortiz gets the nod at a position he doesn't really play anymore.
Second Base: Cano, R., NYY
It came down to Cano and Brian Roberts, and I voted for Cano, by a nose. Roberts' offensive stats are better, but Cano seems to be having the better season with the glove. Since Robbie's injured, Roberts should probably be the All Star.
Third Base: Rodriguez, A., NYY
Over Troy Glaus. 'Nuff said.
Shortstop: Jeter, D., NYY
For once, a guilt-free Jeter vote.
Catcher: Mauer, J., MIN
.392. That's Mauer's batting average as of this morning.
Outfielder: Ramirez, M., BOS
Outfielder: Sizemore, G., CLE
Outfielder: Wells, V., TOR
I take the outfielders all together here. Manny is Manny, an All Star until he plays his way off the team. Sizemore is a newcomer to this level of production, but we think he'll stick. It's tempting to do like Brother Joe and play "We Won't Get Fooled Again" on Wells (and stick a vote for Damon onto the ballot) but he is the third best performer in the AL. Actually, Ichiro!, Nick Swisher, and Alexis Rios are probably ahead of Damon.
First Base: Pujols, A., STL
If he was healthy, this should be a unanimous vote. Nick Johnson, of all people, is the second guy on the EqA leaderboard, here.
Second Base: Utley, C., PHI
Dan Uggla and Jeff Kent have better EqA's, but Utley's been the man for the past few seasons.
Third Base: Wright, D., NYM
Wins against Miguel Cabrera. Bit of a New York slant, perhaps, but I can live with that. Kid's the real deal.
Shortstop: Reyes, J., NYM
A month ago this pick would have looked silly. Doesn't hurt that the runner-up is Omar Vizquel.
Catcher: McCann, B., ATL
Exception to the "established player" guideline--when a player is by far outperforming the competition. The runner-up is Michael Barrett.
Outfielder: Abreu, B., PHI
Outfielder: Bay, J., PIT
Outfielder: Beltran, C., NYM
Some usual suspects. In the NL, you don't have to get past "B" in the alphabetical listing of outfielders, and for once, that's without Barry Bonds. Brian Giles, Andruw Jones, and Brian Holliday are the next three names on my list, followed by Bonds.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
First, I was interviewed last week for a soundbite on NPR Marketplace, this time doing a phone interview from work on the return of Roger Clemens. It's maybe five seconds of me, but it was still a lot of fun to do. You can listen to it here.
Second, I wasn't able to make the Rocket's return my Game of the Week (I'd just covered the Twins, and it was too soon to do so again) but the Astros did make it into this week's edition, as I covered Game 1 of the 2005 World Series Memorial Series, featuring two ex-Yanks, Andy Pettitte and Jose Contreras. Here's a taste:
As for the starting pitchers, Jose Contreras has been big news, winning his last fifteen regular-season decisions dating back to a start against his old team, the New York Yankees, last August. We need the qualifier "regular season" in there, because Contreras actually broke his lossless streak in Game One of the ALCS last year. For some reason, we don’t count postseason stats when it comes to streaks, or hitter-batter matchups, which never did make much sense to me. Regardless, anyone would be hard-pressed to argue that Contreras hasn’t been experiencing success far greater than anyone could have predicted when the Yankees dumped his salary on the White Sox in 2004.
Houston’s starter, Andy Pettitte, is also a Yankee alumnus. Pettitte’s had a hard 2006 so far, posting a 5.44 ERA, but his last few outings have been promising--seven runs allowed in his last 20 innings. Still, those last three starts have come against some of the weak sisters of the majors--Atlanta (15th in the majors in runs scored), the Cubs (30th), and the Royals (29th). Hardly undeniable proof of improvement.
You can see the whole article (if you're a Baseball Prospectus subscriber, anyway) here.
I know, less about me and more about the Yankees. The Bombers bullpen backstabbed Jaret Wright last night, coughing up four runs from the seventh inning on, and saddling Wright with the loss against his old team, the Atlanta Braves. Horacio Ramirez held the Pinstripers to one run in eight innings of work, for the win. The booing of Alex Rodriguez continues, as does Alex's ragged play. Something's simmerring here.
Randy Johnson's standout effort on Monday, combined with the Yankees loss, means a rubber game at the Stadium this afternoon, John Smoltz against Chien Ming Wang. Quietly, Wang has run his record to 8-3 on the season. Let's hope he can keep it up against the Braves.
In other news, the Mets and Red Sox play tonight, the second match in their three-game set, Pedro Martinez vs. Josh Beckett. No matter who wins, the Yanks win...and lose. Yes, it's confusing.
And on a more sober note Peter Gammons, the most influential baseball writer of our day, had surgery Wednesday to remove a brain aneurysm. Our prayers go out for Peter's swift and complete recovery.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Record for the Week: 4-2, 22 runs allowed, 24 runs scored
Overall Record: 42-31 (2nd Place, two and a half games out)
Player of the Week: Johnny Damon., posted a .409/.500/.682 week, and supplied all the offense in the Yankees' win of the first game of Sunday's doubleheader. Jason Giambi gets a runner-up credit, blasting a couple of homers and posting .300/.391/.600 line for the week, but contributing to the loss in Sunday's nightcap with some malhudeous defense. On the pitching side, Mariano Rivera threw up five blank frames en route to three saves. Jaret Wright and Randy Johnson also had good starts.
Dregs of the Week: Melky Cabrera's funk continues (.227/.227/.273). Overall, Derek Jeter's .685 OPS (.292/.393/.292) last week was more valuable than Jorge Posada's .683 OPS (.261/.292/.391), although Posada might have had the bigger hits.
Other Stats: Phillips 11 PA (1.055 OPS), Cairo 11 PA (1.071 OPS), Bubba Crosby 10 PA (.400 OPS).
Story of the Week: It's easy to take for granted a 4-2 week, especially when the Red Sox are on such an amazing roll. But the fact is, the Yanks' pitching was solid this week perhaps as well as the pitchers have performed, as a unit, since April when the Royals were in town.
There are still some disturbing signs. Robbie Cano came up lame in the doubleheader nightcap, yet another injury the bombers don't need. He goes on the 15 day DL, showing just how thin the organization is at that spot--it's now Miguel Cairo and Nick Green manning the keystone. Melky's troubles continue, meaning that he might not be the short-term solution the Yankees need in the outfield. Again, not much help coming that way, either. Oh, and the booing of Alex Rodriguez continues, after just about every out.
Still, 4-2 is a good week. I'll take the Yanks going 4-2 each week for the rest of the season, and straight on through October.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Needless to say, I was less impressed with Myers when he was arrested in Boston for hitting his wife. Now, I know that all sorts of weird things happen between men and women, and that you can't always know the truth of the matter from the news reports. But Myers is 6'4", 230 lbs, and supposedly is a boxer and martial arts expert. His wife is 5'2" tall.
To put it another way, for Myers to feel the way his wife probably felt while he was (allegedly) punching her in the face and dragging her around by her shirt and hair, Myers would have to take a beatdown from Shaquille O'Neal. Now that Shaq's won another title, can we take up a collection to make O'Neal/Myers happen, and that right soon?
Over at Bronx Banter, Cliff Corcoran has his list of his 25 least-favorite Yankees of the past 20 years, and some of the picks are pretty juicy. Still, Steve Trout's gotta make that list, and Gary Ward is another guy whose production died the instant he hit the Stadium in the Bronx. Hopefully, we'll discuss this in greater detail later in the week.
Speaking of least-favorites, Isiah Thomas was finally able to push out Larry Brown this week completing the most predictable story line in New York sports history. We don't often talk hoops around here, but the battle of wills between Thomas and Brown has been bigtime local drama for the past year. The take has always been that Thomas hired Brown to do the job--coach of the Knicks--that Isiah has long coveted. Thomas looks at Pat Riley with the Heat and thinks that could be him--GM the team to get the pieces into place, and once you have the roster just like you like it, brutally backstab your coach and take his job. You could look a Brown's hiring as a pre-emptive strike, because as long as Brown was out there, he'd always be a media favorite to take over the coaching job.
He's not a favorite anymore. From Brown's perspective, it's hard to understand what he was thinking when he took the job. Maybe he figured he could force Thomas out, get a Brown-friendly GM put in his place, and be the Man over at Garden. Maybe he was blinded by the chance to get the coaching job he'd wanted for so long. Maybe he was just looking to cash out.
It's over now, and the Knicks make a convincing argument for "most incompetent franchise on Earth." I mean, Royals owner David Glass probably looks at the Knicks and says "Whatta bunch of rubes!"
Does this mean that my funeral can end with a chant of "Let's Go Yankees?"
I still miss the "1918" chant.
Tom Tango has an interesting article, at the blog for his book, which is simply called, The Book, pointing out that (so far, at least) Derek Jeter is the God of Clutch.
Requisite Yankees Health Update: Octavio Dotel is delayed, but Hideki Matsui could be ahead of schedule. No word on Carl Pavano, the Larry Brown of this team.
Looks like it's going to be a soggy Old Timer's Day, for first-time oldies David Cone, Darryl Strawberry, Dennis Rasmussen, and Bobby Meacham.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
I've been writing a bit over at Baseball Prospectus, stuff that's cut down on my blogging time. Earlier in the week, the website carried my coverage of Bartolo Colon's return in Interleague action, Padres at Angels on Father's Day:
Colon takes the mound after roughly two months on the disabled list, and he both ended last season and started this season ineffective due to injury. In between, he threw 14 spectacular innings during the World Baseball Classic, the second-most innings thrown by any pitcher in the tourney. I don’t know that there’s any correlation, much less causation. Colon’s a big guy, with an interesting idea of what constitutes proper conditioning, so it’s not exactly shocking if he breaks down.
Meanwhile, Park is still pitching under a contract that will go down as one of the classic blunders of free agency, with lessons almost as clear as "never get involved in a land war in Asia," and "never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line": never think a free agent pitcher will pitch as well in your bandbox as he did in Dodger Stadium, and never pay a guy like he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, just because he’s the best pitcher on the market that offseason. After the Texas Rangers very painfully learned those lessons, and after Park spent years being horribly ineffective, or injured, or both, he’s back to being a league-average innings guy with the Padres, which is probably about where he should be at this point in his career.
Getting to the game, Bartolo Colon’s first pitch is a fastball, taken for strike one. I’m no Will Carroll when it comes to pitching mechanics, but I see Colon’s delivery, and my right shoulder starts to ache in sympathy. It’s just a violent, maximum-effort delivery, which sometimes leaves Colon’s bulk corkscrewing around his stiff left landing leg.
The MLB.tv feed gives us the home team announcers, who make a game effort of minimizing Colon’s girth--a lot of "he’s looking thinner, isn’t he," and "if you see him in the weight room, you’d be surprised by how athletic and nimble he is" comments. Colon doesn’t look as huge as he did during the WBC, but he still doesn’t look like someone who’s going for the salad in the postgame buffet.
Later in the week, I had a Prospectus Notebook piece on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Another requisite taste:
- The Southpaw Jinx: Most people know that the natural enemy of a Pirate is a Ninja, but this season, the Sinestro to Pittsburgh’s Green Latern has been lefthanded pitching. The explanation for this is somewhat mysterious, as the Pirates tend to hit lefthanders pretty well—as a team, they have a .778 OPS against lefties (7th in the league) but only .735 (13th) against righthanders. Nonetheless, the Pirates are 6-19 when a southpaw starts against them. It’s no coincidence that the Bucs’ recent 4-9 slide has featured losses to Jeff Francis, Mark Mulder, Francisco Liriano and Johan Santana.
- Our Long National Nightmare Is Over: In the end, the Chris Duffy situation turned out not to be so much operation Shutdown as Operation Shuteye, with the alleged mutineer returning to the fold after a brief vacation, without much of anything by way of an explanation or apology to the public. Duffy goes to Extended Spring Training (which these days seems to extend all the way through to the Fall Instructional League) and from there back to Triple-A, and all is forgiven.
Duffy might have ended his holdout in time to save his bobblehead day, but too late to remove a black mark on his career. Already, during Duffy’s absence, the centerfield play of converted thirdbaseman Jose Bautista has captured the affections of manager Jim Tracy, and Nathan McLouth has impressed with his attitude, if not with his bat. After time in Brandenton to get back up to speed, and time in Indianapolis to work on the skills that got him demoted in the first place, when is the soonest we’re likely to see Duffy in a Pirates’ uniform? Late July, at earliest; perhaps as late as when the rosters expand in September. Not only has Duffy lost playing time, but what kind of opportunities are going to be available for him in an organization so obsessed with “character” that they’re reportedly working on extending Sean Casey?
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
June 12-18, 2006
Record for the Week: 3-3, 28 runs allowed, 29 runs scored
Overall Record: 38-29 (2nd Place, one game out)
Player of the Week: Bernie Williams was the best in a week that featured comebacks by Derek Jeter (.455/.538/.545) and Alex Rodriguez (.292/.346/.538). Bernie's .417/.440/.813 was as studly a line as we've seen in quite some while, carrying with it 4 doubles and two homers, each a figure that matched or set the team lead. It came in six full games of playing time. This week-by-week stuff is all small sample sizes and whatnot, and I know that I've railed against Bernie's performance in the past, but there's no player I'd rather be wrong about.
Honorable mention to Chien Ming Wang, who put in an awesome week of pitching and came away with mixed results--a 1-1 record and 1.72 ERA in 15.7 innings of work. Randy Johnson also pitched in an effective start prior to getting booted from his game (6.3 IP 4H 1R 1ER 0 BB 6 SO).
Dregs of the Week: Jason Giambi (.150/.227/.300) and Melky Cabrera (.174/.296/.304) are hurtin', the first literally, the latter figuratively. The trio of Jaret Wright, Shawn Chacon and Mike Mussina (17 ER in 15 IP) took beatdowns this week.
Other Stats: Phillips 13 AB (.692 OPS), Cairo 2 AB (who cares what his OPS is, it's only two at bats).
Story of the Week: The death of Aaron Small's dream/the Bernie Williams rennaisance. We all knew that Aaron Small's undefeated 2005 was a short-term thing. Last season, we didn't want to believe, but somewhere inside we knew. A guy doesn't just come out of nowhere like that, to be that good, with such a low strikeout rate and such pedestrian stuff. We knew this last season, but all we could do was hang on for the ride, hope that Small didn't turn into a pumpkin at too crucial a spot.
If you've been reading here, you know how poorly Small did with the Yanks this season, and how I've advocated sending him down. So the DFA he received this week was no surprise. What was a surprise was that, at the same time Small was earning his demotion, Bernie Williams suddenly started hitting like it was 2001 again. Williams, who we'd given up for dead after three bad seasons and a bad April, has been stroking the ball well for the past few weeks.
Let's not get carried away, says our rational mind. It's not like Bernie's vying for the All-Star Game, here. Even with the recent surge, Bernie's OPS for the season is still only .739. More importantly, players don't just recover after playing the way Bernie has the last few years. So we're trying not to get carried away. But some part of us wants to believe in the extraordinary. Some part of us wants to think that Bernie's found some fountain of youth, even if we know that that's not possible.
The key is to enjoy this performance while it lasts, and hope it doesn't run out at a particularly harmful moment. Does that sound familiar?
Friday, June 16, 2006
Nothing like a dose of cynicism to start the day.
In other news, I covered one of the games of the Twins-Red Sox games for Game of the Week. This was the Schilling-Santana matchup which lead off the series, which the Twins swept, catapulting the Yanks into first place. Here's a taste of the Game of the Week:
Coming into this game, Minnesota was 11th in the league in runs scored, and a look at this lineup gives you an inkling why: aside from Joe Mauer and Mike Cuddyer, this lineups brutal. Lets put it another way. Mauers WARP this season is 4.1; the rest of the Twins lineup, put together, is 4.7. And this may well be the Twins best lineup. If youre looking for a reason that the Twins are under .500, this is one big reason, the other being a ridiculously high batting average on balls in play (nattily abbreviated BABIP) of .341. The next highest figure in the AL is .319, so we might have to consider that the Twins have been unlucky in the number of hits theyve allowed so far this year, and perhaps expect their pitching to improve as the year goes on.
On the other hand, in some circles, the fall of the Red Sox from the offensive catbird seat is a surprise. Coming into the game, they were sixth in the league in runs, having flip-flopped with the Rangers over the weekend. As you can see above, the Red Sox feature two different lineupsfive batters which still have the
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Meanwhile, in Twinkie Land, the Red Sox and Curt Schilling had a similar duel going on against Johan Santana. The score was 1-1 through 11 innings, before the Sox broke through for a 2-1 lead, before dramatically losing on a Jason Kubel grand slam.
As they say, ouch.
Tonight, it's a battle of the Johnsons--Randy against Jason--at the Stadium. We know ours is bigger, but the question is, will he pitch better?
(Did you ever think that would be a valid question? Neither did I.)
Monday, June 12, 2006
The Yanks came back a couple of innings later, with a three-run fifth inning keyed by Jorge Posada's two-run home run. This is the closest I've ever been to catching a ball at Yankee Stadium, as the homerun was hit directly in line with mine and J's seats (in fact, if you go to MLB.com and cue up the highlight of the home run, you can see us pretty clearly--he's in a red sweater, and I'm the guy in blue who looks ticked that he missed catching a home run).
Sadly, the 5-4 lead the Yanks took that inning wouldn't hold up. Shawn Chacon, "Everyday" Scottie Proctor, and Alex Rodriguez would conspire to surrender the lead in the sixth. In the eighth, Mariano Rivera was warmed and ready to pitch a couple of innings (three straight losses plus a Monday off-day meant Mo was well-rested for a multi-inning stint). However, after the Yanks blew their umpteenth scoring opportunity of the game in the seventh, Torre decided to send Kyle Farnsworth out there to pitch, rather than bring Rivera into a tie game. The move was defensible--the Yanks were looking at the 5-6-7 hitters in the A's lineup, so bringing in Rivera might mean not having him against the heart of the order in extra innings. Defensible move, but wrong--Dan Johnson connected off Farnsworth for his second homer of the game. And that was all she wrote. In the ninth, I was apoplectic that Torre didn't pinch-hit for Miguel Cairo leading off, but I didn't at that time know that Jason Giambi was not available with various wrist ailments. Huston Street retired the side for the save.
I've got more to say, but I'm saving some of it for below.
Record for the Week: 2-4, 32 runs allowed, 30 runs scored
Overall Record: 35-26 (2nd Place, one game out)
Player of the Week: Robinson Cano was at the top of his slasher game this week, smacking the ball around for a high-contact .458/.458/.708 line, and 11 hits on the week. Runner, up, perhaps the strangest line you'll see on the player of the week ledger .188/.409/.750 for Jason Giambi. All of Giambi's hits on the week went out of the park; he lead the team with three homers and eight RBI. On the pitching side, Chien Ming Wang was sterling in his one start last week, giving up just one run in seven innings, and Mariano Rivera (no runs in 4.7 IP) and Dregs posterboy Aaron Small (four scoreless innings over two relief appearances on the week) were untouched for the week.
Dregs of the Week: Cairo was awful in a full-week gig standing in for the Captain at short. His .150/.190/.150 line for the week may be the worst we've seen so far, in 2o or more PA. Jeter himself didn't help out much when he was able to assume the DH slot, coughing out 15 PA of .077/.200/.154 that makes you think that he really wasn't ready to play, yet. Andy Phillips followed up his thermonuclear week with an Antarctic one, .143/.143/.357. In the pitching staff, the terrible trio of Randy Johnson (4 IP, 11.25 ERA), Scott Erickson (0.7 IP, 13.50 ERA), and Everyday Scottie (3.3 IP 8.10 ERA) particularly failed to distinguish themselves. Erickson even managed to earn himself a nice big DFA, when Chacon came back on the roster.
But the story of this week is not Cairo or the Captain, or even Erickson. Johnson's sucktasticalness is no longer news, and Erickson's now history. The big news is Alex Rodriguez, Dreg of the Week. A-Rod had a .190/.346/.190 week, four singles, a few walks, a couple of runs scored and one sole RBI. It's typical of Alex's slumps that even when he isn't doing well, he gets on base at a decent clip. Sadly, "gets on base at a decent clip" is far less than what everyone expects from A-Rod.
In Sunday's game, Rodriguez was booed lustily at the Stadium, even before his error which allowed the A's to tie the game. It's gotten to the point that any out is a reason to boo him. It's an embarassing bush-league reaction, considering that Yankee fans tend to fancy ourselves the most knowledgeable folks on the baseball scene, but it's also a reaction that isn't going anywhere soon. New York fans resent Alex Rodriguez. They think he's a choker and a loser, an overpaid guy who does nothing but pad his stats with "meaningless" home runs.
And I'm starting to get tired of defending Alex. No, I don't believe the stat-padding stuff. But I'm starting to wonder if the booing of every Alex Rodriguez out might just be a self-fulfilling prophecy, Rodriguez making outs in big situations because everybody, including, eventually, Alex himself, expects him to fail.
I used to think that all it would take would be some clutch performances to change everyone's opinion of Alex. But last season he collected quite a few big, late-inning hits...and it didn't matter, we were told, because David Ortiz collected more. Alex didn't have as many hits in the clutch as Big Papi, so obviously, he sucked--never mind that there's a lot of space between David Ortiz and "sucks in the clutch."
Alex came on the same year as Gary Sheffield, and the difference in how the fans react to the two men has been stark. Sheffield came to town with a bad reputation as a money-grubber with a bad attitude, and won the fans over by hitting the ball hard, and playing through an injury. Since then, he's been outed in the BALCO case, grumbled about money, and had his fair share of scandal, but the fans never said a thing. Alex, meanwhile, can't catch a break--and it doesn't help that he's had bad moments in big spots (2004 ALCS, anyone?) that everyone just can't let him live down.
Now I believe that there's no hope of repairing the relationship between A-Rod and the fans. So if the fans aren't ever going to come around, and Rodriguez is going to continue to underperform, should the Yanks be looking for a trade? The Yankees have a lot of needs right now--at least one starting pitcher and starting outfielder, a reliever or two and some infield depth wouldn't hurt--and no tradeable bargaining chips aside from their few viable farm products.
And Alex Rodriguez. If the Yanks could find a way to make the money work for the other team (HUGE "if") maybe Alex could net the Yankees the depth that they need. The price would have to be steep--the Yanks would need a thirdbaseman in return, as well as outfield and/or pitching help--but you'd have to think it's possible.
I don't want this to happen. I don't even expect this to happen...yet. But I'd be surprised if the Yanks--and maybe even Rodriguez himself--aren't thinking about it.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Trying to keep the losing streak from hitting four, and the A's sweeping the Bombers on their home ground, I'm doing the only thing a fan can do--I'm heading up to the Boogie Down to support the boys in their time of need. Will report back after the game to tell you how that worked out, if at all.
As for the distractions from my baseball time, I caught the new X-Men movie (formally, X-Men 3: the Last Stand). It's a mild recommend, more later on that if I have time.
Friday, June 09, 2006
No better (or worse) illustration of Gregg's on-field shortcomings came during Game Five of the 1997 National League Championship Series. Working behind the plate, Gregg's extra-wide strike zone ("as big as his rear end," according to former manager Dick Williams) enabled Florida Marlins rookie Livan Hernandez to strike out 15 Atlanta Braves, pushing the two-time defending NL champs to the brink of an elimination they couldn't stave off. Coupled with Greg Maddux whiffing nine Marlins that day, the enduring image is of Gregg punching out a seemingly endless succession of bewildered hitters while hamming it up like Leslie Nielsen behind the plate in The Naked Gun. "We don't mind if they want to call four, five inches off, and do it for both sides. That's fine," complained Braves manager Bobby Cox. "From what everybody was yelling at from the dugout and everywhere else, they were a lot further."
It can be argued, I think, that Gregg and the rest of baseball might have been better off if that game hadn't happened. If the Marlins don't win that year (just the fifth season in their short history), the thinking goes, they don't conduct their infamous fire sale, which perhaps forever poisoned the South Florida market for baseball by slapping fans in the face while attempting to strong-arm them into a publicly funded stadium that still hasn't arrived. Owner Wayne Huizenga doesn't escape so easily a year after the championship, and just maybe the odious John Henry-Jeffrey Loria-MLB-as-owners bag-job between the Marlins, Expos and Red Sox never plays out. Major League Baseball stays in Montreal, the Red Sox don't shake the so-called "Curse of the Bambino," and while that means I don't get to write two chapters of Mind Game, it also means I still get to chant "1918!" when the Bostons comes to Yankee Stadium. Sounds like a fair trade.
Makes me want to invent a time machine. As long as I'm pimping the content at Baseball Prospectus, I might as well mention a quick notebook ditty I did on the Texas Rangers. Here's a taste about a guy who played us tough the last time the Yanks took on the Rangers:
Bad News—Gary Matthews Jr.: The last time Notebook checked in with the Rangers, we talked about Brad Wilkerson taking over for the rather unimpressive string of center fielders Texas has deployed over the last ten years, a long list ending with career fourth-outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. It’s now June, and the Rangers’ center fielder is…Gary Matthews Jr. Wilkerson’s been a decent enough left fielder--his .274 EqA is right around his 40th percentile PECOTA projection--but Matthews has been phenomenal with the bat, putting up a .318/.380/.547 line, good for a .302 EqA in 216 PA. Like DeRosa, it’s good that Matthews has performed well, but it could get ugly if and when his bat crashes back to earth.*****
In other news, the Schill chilled the Yankee bats last night, to prevent a rain-shortened series sweep by the Bombers. The game was winnable, and turned on some bad defensive play, and some worse relief pitching. More on this later, since the relief pitching isn't going to get better by tomorrow...
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Oh, like I'm the only one that remembers that eight fingers was the secret gang sign of the Van Buren Boys? 'Cause, y'know, Van Buren was the eighth president...
Anyway, at that point Andy Phillips and Jason Giambi had hit homers to send Josh Beckett to an early shower. With that kind of offensive support, Mike Mussina won ugly (allowing five runs in his six innings of work), 13-5.
Tonight was a completely different animal. Chien Ming Wang outdueled a skinny thing called David Pauley. Wang's sole miscue was a pitch to David Ortiz that looked like it was going to punch it's way straight through the upper deck, and not stop til it hit the Bronx County Courthouse. On the other side, Pauley allowed Bernie Williams to show him the Bronx in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot that tied the game. The margin of victory came in the seventh, when Pauley loaded the bases with two out and Jason Giambi at the plate. Rudy Seanez came in to relieve Pauley, and proceeded to walk Giambi to force in a run. The Red Sox aren't carrying a lefthanded pitcher on their roster right now, and it seems to have cost them there.
The unifying story of these two games is that Melky Mania is sweeping the nation! Last night, Melky captivated everyone's attention by scoring from first after a steal and throwing error by Jason Varitek. Tonight, in the eighth inning with two outs, Melky leapt and snagged a home run away from Manny Ramirez. After the catch Melky bounced off the wall and fell on his face, but held on to the ball. Johnny Damon, who was racing toward the fence along with Cabrera, had a priceless reaction even as Melky was tumbling to the ground, because he saw the rookie had the ball in his glove. Channel 9 also caught a couple of great reaction shots away from the play. Kyle Farnsworth, who'd thrown the pitch to Ramirez, was standing next to A-Rod watching Ramirez's blast fly over the fence, and Rodriguez's face when he saw Cabrera make the catch was priceless. Then, as Cabrera ran into the dugout, Farnsworth grabbed him to give him a big hug.
The Yanks are up 2-0 in the series with Jaret Wright facing Curt Schilling in the third of four games.
Yesterday marked my second Prospectus Game of the Week column, this time covering the Braves and the Diamondbacks' Sunday tilt:
After the Braves strand a runner in the bottom of the first, Sosa’s on the mound again, facing Tony Clark. Clark has some history against Sosa--he’s 4-4 with a walk in his career against him, including three homers in his last three at bats (as an FYI, those at bats came in this game against the Braves, last season, and this 2004 game, when Clark was with the Yankees and Sosa was with Tampa Bay).
Now, matchup data like this is pretty controversial. On the one hand, four at bats is a ridiculously small sample, and it’s seldom that a batter and pitcher will face each other frequently enough over the course of a season--or even a few seasons--that you could draw any serious conclusions from the results of their confrontations. Too often, one good encounter can lead a manager to the fallacious conclusion that such-and-such player “owns” a pitcher.
On the other hand, when anyone has homers in three consecutive at bats against a pitcher, it seems prudent to give them a shot at keeping the streak alive. Facing Sosa in the second inning, Clark crushes a 3-2 pitch to deep right center field. Clark’s slugging percentage against Sosa is now 3.400. That’s pretty good.
We all remember Clark's weird, streaky ways. He wound up having an amazing game--4-5 with two homers, his one out a bullet that bounced off secondbaseman Marcus Giles. As much as I hated his horrible performance in the 2004 ALCS--remember, when Olerud got hurt, Clark took his place, and the Yanks lost four straight with Clark as an anchor sinking the offense?
In other news, the first day of baseball's amateur draft was today, and the Yanks loaded up on pitchers. Their first pick was a finesse guy, Ian Kennedy out of USC. BP Scouting Guru Kevin Goldstein said Kennedy "might be the safest pick of the draft." Even more promising was the Yanks' pick in the sandwich round, a pick they acquired because the Phillies acquired Tom Gordon. Joba Chamberlin, a pitcher out of Nebraska, was thought by some to have the kind of talent to go in the top 10 picks of the draft, until tendonitis derailed his college season. The Yanks got him with the 41st pick, and if the guy can stay healthy, could be a big sleeper.
It's a risk, but also a return to a draft strategy that netted the Yankees Derek Jeter back in the day. Some of you might recall that the Captain had suffered a leg injury prior to the draft, which curbed some teams' enthusiasm for him, and let him drop to the Yanks who drafted sixth(?) that year. There's no comparison between an arm injury for a pitcher and a leg injury for a shortstop, but at least the Yanks realize that they have to try to get some edge in amateur talent acquisition, and that taking a risk sometimes is worthwhile.
Draft day never comes by without my thinking about Brien Taylor, the Yanks' former first overall pick, and basically a Ghost of Draft Day Past for all the Major Leagues. Brother T pointed me to this cool article by Jeff Passan about the lefthander whose golden arm turned to lead.
Give it a look.
Monday, June 05, 2006
Overall Record: 33-22 (2nd Place, half a game out)
Player of the Week: Jason Giambi recovered from his May doldrums with a .348/.400/.826 performance, and three homers on the week. Randy Johnson delivered two good starts on Monday and Saturday for a 2.57 ERA on the week, bettered by Mike Mussina's single unearned run in Wednesday's complete game effort. But the player of the week is the guy who took Giambi's place in the field, and hit an astounding .462/.448/.731 [wait for it...] Andy Phillips. After relentlessly pimping someone for years, it's nice when they give you a week like this, where the hits just kept falling. Phillips even got to play a little third base on Sunday, which should remind Joe Torre that Miguel Cairo is not the only guy on the roster capable of playing multiple infield positions.
Dregs of the Week: Introducing the not-ready-for-prime-time players, Terrence Long! (.105/.227/.158 in 22 PA) Scott Erickson! (13.50 ERA in 4 relief innings) and Aaron Small! (0-1, 11.74 ERA in two starts, seven and two thirds innings pitched)
Seriously, folks, these three guys have got to go, be it to the minors, or back to the waiver wire from whence they came. T-Long does not b-long in pinstripes. I've never really understood Erickson's appeal to so many teams--part of it, I guess, is that he looks like a ballplayer. I don't believe it's anyone's business to tell Erickson when to hang up his spikes--if I had what it took to play major league baseball, I'd make them drag me off the field forcibly, my fingers digging undignified trenches into the sod. But that doesn't mean that anyone should give him a job when he just can't get anyone out, anymore.
Small's being on this list hurts. His was a true Cinderella story--undefeated, humble minor league pitcher earning the minimum on the highest payroll team ever, and whatnot. But the thing is, in sports, the Cinderella stories almost never end with "Happily Ever After." The guy who was so heart-warming in victory almost always comes back until he gets defeated, because you just can't quit when you're ahead.
Maybe Aaron Small has some reason for pitching badly. Maybe the pitcher he was last year is still somewhere within him. But if so, he should go down to the minors and prove it there, rather than mess about in the Yankees' pennant race.
Miscellaneous Stats: the C/P ratio stands at 24/29 on the week, overall 76/83. I've already gushed enough about Andy's performance in the past week, and what it could mean for his playing time. Cairo picked up a lot of playing time last week due to injuries to Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez that aren't expected to be long-term. Miguel's performance in this extended opportunity was less than stellar: .217/.250/.261. Once both A-Rod and the Captain are healthy, Cairo's playing time should go back to more normal levels, while Phillips could be securing himself extensive playing time for the duration of Gary Sheffield's injury, which could mean the rest of the season.
Story of the Week: The Yanks faced one of the toughest teams in the league last week, the best-record holding Detroit Tigers, on the road, and won the series decisively, after doing the same the week before in Boston. In the interim, the Yanks delivered beatdowns to their other opponents, the horrible Kansas City Royals at home and the mediocre Baltimore Orioles on the road, taking two out of three from each opponent. That's nice, specially when we consider that this is all happening at a time when the Yanks are positively ravaged by injuries.
Despite the wonderful results this week and the week before, the Yanks' injuries mean that the team's margin of error keeps getting smaller. The key now is to restock, and to identify the pieces that aren't working and remove them from the roster. In the dregs section, there are some pointed suggestions about omissions. Down in extended spring training, there are once-proven major league parts rehabbing for a chance to contribute down the stretch. Tomorrow, the Yanks have the chance to help themselves in the amateur draft, and they might find an opportunity to grab a Huston Street-type arm, which'll be ready for the bigs sooner rather than later. Home-grown options like Melky Cabrera and Kevin Thompson are showing the Yanks that they can get useful spare parts from Columbus. Darrell Rasner and Matt Smith hope to show them the same for the pitching staff.
The important thing is to leave no rock unturned, and not to panic on the trade market, surrendering something of future value, for a player whose value today is less-than-sterling. This Yankees team could be Brian Cashman's legacy, if he plays his cards right, and gets a few breaks (and I don't mean bones).
Saturday, June 03, 2006
Record for the Month: 18-10, 3rd best record in AL
Player of the Month: Surprisingly, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod batted .330/.416/.615 with 8 HR and 28 RBI. The only one of those categories he didn't lead the team in was OBP (Jorge Posada, in a month where he missed a lot of time, did .323/.429/.565 in 77 PA).
The Pitcher of the Month: Mike Mussina, again. He had a 3-0 record with a 2.53 ERA on the month, in 42.7 IP. Runner up goes to Mariano Rivera, who recorded 7 saves and a 3-1 record, with a 1.53 ERA.
Dregs of the Month: The really bad performances are in the pitching staff--"standouts" in this area are Aaron Small (0-2, 7.78 ERA in 19.7 IP) and Randy Johnson (3-2, 6.62 ERA in 32.3 IP). On the side with the bats, Robinson Cano had an empty batting average month (.273/.302/.339). In a much smaller ration of plate appearances, Terrence Long murderlized the offense (.214/.313/.250 in 32 PA).
Story of the Month: The outfield has been decimated by the injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. Matsui's injury, which feels like it happened an eternity ago, has him out for the season, with an off-chance of returning in the final month. Sheffield's injury has him out for the time being, with a possibility that he could miss the rest of the season. For effective purposes, you can't really count on either man to contribute the rest of the way.
In the meanwhile, some good things have developed from this. Melky Cabrera posted a .318/.392/.394 performance, given playing time in May. Despite the odd defensive hiccup Melky's shown a strong arm in the outfield, and he looks like a keeper. Andy Phillips got some playing time in May and finally started to hit a little, .306/.333/.389. Phillips needs to hit for more power to cement a spot on this club, but at least he's getting a better chance than ever before. Not just that, but the Yanks have started to look at the free talent market more closely, and have signed a few players--Carlos Pena and Erubiel Durazo, possibly Richie Hidalgo, too--who could pay dividends later in the season.
On the downside, we have Terrence Long, rightfielder, a greater role than we'd prefer for Bernie Williams, and as an extension, Scott Erickson, bullpen stalwart. Bernie actually had a nice May (.301/.353/.409), but he'd probably be at his best doing only spot duty in the outfield, DHing and pinch-hitting more. Long and Erickson are a couple of veterans whose main quality is veteran-ness. Hopefully, Octavio Dotel and Bubba Crosby can come off the DL and kick these guy's butts off the roster.
- OK. Derek Jeter comes back from his injury, just in time for Alex Rodriguez to get "stomach disorder." We'd be whining about not being able to catch a break, if the Yanks weren't just a half game out of first place.
- By the way, the Red Sox are having some injury problems of their own, losing the Beast, Willie Mo Pena, to wrist surgery just as they get Coco Crisp back into the lineup.
- That's almost as bad as me writing about Mariano Rivera putting the team on his back, and then the next day, he messes up his back tying his shoelaces.
- Seen a couple of great indie films recently, teen-set noir Brick and the 1969 French film, Army of Shadows. Both are very highly recommended and I hope to have reviews up soon.
Friday, June 02, 2006
Not following baseball, La Chiquita still notes whenever the Yanks win (it’s like a weather report on my moods–an easy win is 75 and sunny, a blowout loss is thunderstorms with a flood warning), and had noticed, after Mussina won on Wednesday, that the Tigers had lost three in a row to the Bombers.
Her comment, at the time, was “They’ve got to win tomorrow. They can’t lose four in a row.”
I pointed out to my darling wife that the Red Sox were coming into town right after the Yankees, and that once the Red Sox were there, the Tigers could win all they wanted. I also pointed out that the Yanks were neck-and-neck with Boston, and needed every win they could get.
“Doesn’t matter. They have to win tomorrow.”
It looked like La Chiquita’s wish had a good chance of coming true. The Tigers had their phenom, Justin Verlander, going in the last game of the series. Verlander was way up in the ERA race; it wouldn’t be shocking if he managed to hold down the depleted Yankee roster.
But as I left work last night, the Yanks had tagged him up, but good. I checked the score as I was leaving the office was 6-3. I was a little worried, since it had been 6-1 only moments before my final check of the day. After a long Long Island Railroad delay, complete with thunderstorm I reached home, and put on the YES Network. The score was 6-5 with the Yankees batting in the top of the ninth. Despite starting a rally, the Yanks were unable to bring in any runs against Fernando Rodney.
Then came former Tiger Kyle Farnsworth out of the bullpen. There went the lead, and then the game.
As it was happening, my tendency to curse at the TV let La Chiquita know that something was going on worth a Tigers fan paying attention to. When Guillen stroked the game winning single, she was jubillant.
The tough part was, she came over to me for a high five. My team just lost. I'm being asked to celebrate that loss.
"I can't" I said.
"C'mon," she said, hand still held up, "they can't win every game."
But they could easily have won this one, I thought bitterly. Her hand was still up.
I've always been leery of inter-team marriages. It's worse than inter-faith marriages, because aside from a few details (like "what religion will the kids be?") religions aren't intrinsically in conflict with each other. I'm utterly convinced that Yankees fans marrying Mets or Red Sox fans is pure folly. When I lived in Boston, the girls wearing their Red Sox caps (few and far between back then, the Sox weren't doing too well) may well have been marked "One Night Stand Only"--and I'm not a one-night kind of guy.
Someone close to me was once married into a Mets fan family. It was OK for a while, everyone got along through trying times, like Armando Benitez beaning Tino Martinez and even Roger Clemens capping Mike Piazza. Then came the Subway (World) Series, and after watching game 1 with his Mets fan brother-in-law in a bar, the two didn't speak for weeks. Their relationship was never the same.
That thought on my mind, and realizing that it isn't the same for her as it is for me, and thinking that three out of four ain't bad, I gave La Chiquita her high five. Some things are just too important.
However, we may be in trouble come playoff time :)
Thursday, June 01, 2006
On Tuesday, after the 6-1 lead to which Aaron Small had been staked was squandered, the Yanks were in a pickle. The pitching staff was short to begin with, since Small was starting in the place of Jaret Wright and his strained groin. Waiverbait Scott Erickson, overused Scott Proctor, and inconsistent Kyle Farnsworth had already been used, leaving only Mariano Rivera, Ron Villone (who'd pitched two innings on Monday) and LOOGY Mike Myers in the pen.
So, with the team short on relief options, Rivera went out there and threw three innings, showing good economy of pitches and his typical strong fielding. He got the win when the Yanks managed to score in the top of the 11th, and closed out the game, too.
Last night, the pressure on the Yanks continued. This time the bad news came from Gary Sheffield, who was sent back to New York because of his wrist problems, Derek Jeter, who's still dealing with a hand injury from Monday's game, and Johnny Damon, who's out of the lineup resting the stress fracture in his foot. Mike Mussina had to be fine, with the likes of Terrence Long, Miguel Cairo, and Melky Cabrera (or should I say Bernie Williams?) starting in place of the team's star shortstop, center fielder, and right fielder.
The results were pretty darned good, and the Yanks came away with a 6-1 victory, and a shot at the sweep of Detroit in Detroit tonight. Mussina pitched a complete game and didn't allow a run, giving everyone a rare moment of humor when, with his shutout broken in the ninth inning with two outs, Joe Torre came to take him out of the game.
Mussina saw Torre coming out of the dugout and emphatically yelled (per my weak lip-reading skills) "you get back in there!" pointing at the dugout. Torre put up his hands, laughed, and obeyed.
I've never really warmed up to Mussina. Even when he's pitched well as a Yankee, he seemed so...restrained, almost limited. Moose's only visible emotion was "sulky," and he wasn'ta fun interview, not even the most fun guy to watch pitch. This season has been different--he's pitching differently, and he's wearing his emotions on his sleeve a little bit more. Maybe it's all an illusion, but I'm certainly enjoying this Mike Mussina more than I ever have before. Once upon a time, he'd have been my last pick among the "name" to just put the team on his back (despite the fact that he did exactly that with a surprise relief appearance in the 2003 ALCS). Now, his starts are appointment television. It's a strange game.
Roger Clemens lands in Houston. No big shock, no big loss. Having a guy like Clemens out there is dangerous, an eternal distraction from what a team like the Yankees needs to do to win this season. Now he's out of the picture, and the Red Sox don't get him. If the Yanks worry about Roger Clemens again in 2006, it'll be because they're playing the Astros in the World Series. All the better.
Word is that a handshake part of the Clemens deal guarantees a call-up for his son, Koby, this September, so that father and son can play together. If Koby has any self-respect, or really any interest in a career after his dad finally hangs up his cleats, he needs to refuse any such call-up (can a minor leaguer refuse a September call-up, I wonder?). The boy's hitting .186 in the Sally League. You get an unearned call-up now, people will remember it the rest of your career.
Barry Bonds gets 715. Good for him. I don't much care because a) it's not the record, and b) as Steve Goldman pointed out a few weeks back, Babe Ruth is much more than a number.