Javy's homer rate

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010, 2:07 PM [General]

    IT’S THAT EASY!
    You’ve heard this from me before, but I’ve been trying to lose weight. I’ve been successful this time around and am down a nice handful of pounds, though I have gotten so zeppelin-like that it’s difficult to tell—though I was accosted by a professional sushi vendor the other day and told that I could bring $250 a pound at auction in Tokyo. He was so disappointed when I convinced him I wasn’t a carp.

    Yesterday, as I made my usual rounds of doctor’s offices, I spent the time listening to Sirius/XM’s MLB Radio, a channel I quite enjoy and have been fortunate enough to occasionally appear as a guest. The commercials, though, were hard on a man who hasn’t eaten, or eaten as much as he might like to, in about six weeks. “Presenting the fantastic new diet product, STUFF-U-SHAKE! We’ve impregnated each glass of STUFF-U-SHAKE with alphaprobathyominedroxyl™! This revolutionary new compound is not only delicious, but it accelerates your metabolism to a place that nature is incapable of achieving on its own, helping you shed pounds while standing stock still, as if a bear were stalking you. And because alphaprobathyominedroxyl™! is derived from industrial packing materials, you will feel as full as if you had just eaten a spring-fattened buttered boar! No more feeling hungry, ever! Just one dose of STUFF-U-SHAKE and your appetite will permanently cease to exist! Yes, you will be a mere ghost of yourself in days with STUFF-U-SHAKE! (Warning: Stuff-U-Shake is not FDA approved, nor has it been reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Do not consume if pregnant. Do not even look at Stuff-U-Shake if your name is Alex Rodriguez as there will be hell to pay when the media finds out. Weight loss is dependent on your actual diet and not guaranteed by Stuff-U-Shake.)

    When a man is driving down the highway, knowing that at home he will tuck in to a dinner of lettuce, tomato, and aspirin while the rest of his family dines as if it’s Orson Welles Day on TCM, these commercials are hard to take. There are no shortcuts. I’ve had enough surgeries, thank you, so I’m not bypassing anything voluntarily. I shouldn’t have gotten here in the first place, and while I feel like I have some legitimate excuses, medically speaking, it doesn’t change the fact that I earned it and now the only way out is that I have to pay it back, bit by bit until it’s all gone. No pain no gain. Also, no apple pie a la mode no gain. Calories in, calories out, and no magical elixirs—but, oh, how I want one!

    VAZQUEZ AND THE SCARY, SCARY HOME RUN RATE
    The average American League pitcher allows about one home run per nine innings pitched (.94), which is about 20 in 200 innings. Javier Vazquez, scary-yet-effective fly ball guy, allows 1.5 home runs per nine innings, or about 34 in 200 innings. While Vazquez has mostly pitched well (3.11 ERA) since mid-May, or about the same moment that Phil Hughes started pitching badly, and the home run rate has declined a bit as the year has gone on, but remains above average and probably will, as home runs are just the way the guy rolls.

    Vazquez’s home runs are what makes him such a bad bet in the postseason. He doesn’t discriminate as to who gets to knock one over the wall. Real power hitters like Andruw Jones, Hideki Matsui and Carlos Pena have taken him deep this year, but so have Travis Buck, Bobby Wilson, Mark Kotsay and Willy Aybar. This is one reason why his career postseason record, brief though it is, is so miserable: facing better lineups, the home run rate jumps up. In 15.2 postseason innings, he’s allowed six home runs, or 3.4 per nine innings. At that point he’s not pitching, he’s throwing batting practice. He may be the quintessential example of a pitcher who can give excellent value to a team in the regular season but none once they get to October.

    The Yankees almost certainly won’t see the two teams with the most home runs in the AL in the postseason, as the Red Sox and Blue Jays seem certain to go home. The White Sox (if they hold on in the central) and the Rangers also have their share of power hitters, and the latter plays in a ballpark more than a little conducive to home run hitting. This brings us back to the postseason question we’ve been asking throughout the July trading-fever period: after Sabathia and Pettitte, if Pettitte, who?

    MORE FROM ME
    • Forgot to mention that over at Baseball Prospectus as part of a just-for-fun look at manager’s best-of teams, I have the Whitey Herzog All-Stars. One former Yankee on there, one should-have-been-a-Yankee (or at least a Yankees property that should have been given away for more. I have Ralph Houk and Joe Torre coming up next in the series (free).

    • After a layoff due to all my recent family medical fun, I have a new original tune up at Casualobservermusic.net, a true story about my meeting a girl who talked to the animals and felt certain that they talked back. I had to call it “Twilight Bark.” I hope you enjoy.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Coming up empty in trade talks

    Monday, July 26, 2010, 5:23 PM [General]

    LET’S NOT MAKE A DEAL
    Having been forced to the sidelines when the best pitcher on the trade market went to Texas, the Yankees were again outbid, at least in someone's perception, for the second-best. In a trade that has been almost universally panned by the cognoscenti (baseballscenti?), the Diamondbacks picked up Joe Saunders, a let-‘em-hit-it lefty who will only be as good as his defense and his luck, as well as an undistinguished middle relief candidate, a 20-year-old lefty starter whose stuff suggests a future at the back of a rotation, and a player to be named -- widely assumed to be 2009 supplemental first-round pick Tyler Skaggs, a teenage lefty with a big curve ball. He’s far enough away that what he turns out to be is anyone’s guess, but his stuff is currently less than electric and anyone who says that he will someday be a No. 1 or 2 starter is indulging in an act of uninformed projection, blind faith, or team boosterism.

    The Angels had better prospects than they gave away in this deal. They still possess catcher Hank Conger, who they don’t seem to have much interest in for their own team despite a long DL stint for Jeff Mathis and the injury to Kendry Morales forcing Mike Napoli to first base. They have centerfielder Peter Bourjos, who may not hit all that much but has, according to Baseball America, “game-changing defensive ability.” And they have New Jersey’s Mike Trout, possibly the best player in the Minors this year. The 18-year-old centerfielder was recently promoted to the California League after hitting .362/.454/.526 with 45 steals in 81 games for Cedar Rapids. That’s just the top three; it’s hardly an exhaustive list. For a pitcher of Haren’s quality, you’d think the Angels might have to dig a little deeper, but no.

    For the Yankees, the question is, were they given the opportunity to top the Anaheim offer, and if so, why didn’t they? As we discussed here a few times over the past month or so, a Haren trade would have served the Yankees in two ways, bolstering the rotation for the stretch run in 2010 and filling one of the empty spots that might arise for 2011, be it Andy Pettitte’s or Javier Vazquez’s. Ted Lilly doesn’t offer nearly the same benefits. As I wrote the previous sentence, Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the Yankees “aren’t on Lilly at this time,” so perhaps they see it the same way -- which makes the lack of a push for Haren all the more perplexing. It’s a problem that must be reckoned with, because even if Andy Pettitte comes back in a hurry and picks up exactly where he left off, this isn’t necessarily a rotation built for the postseason.

    It should be said that this same question, “Why didn’t you top that shoddy offer?” could be asked of about 20 other organizations, not just the Yankees. Almost every team has a Joe Saunders. Almost every team, with the possible exception of the Diamondbacks, has a fistful of might-be-decent right-handed middle relievers. As for two lower Minor League left-handed pitchers who might someday staff out the back of a rotation, new versions of that prospect materialize in every draft, particularly if you’re shopping in the “Less than 95 mph” aisle of Prospects ‘R’ Us.

    As for the bullpen, it’s not built for next Tuesday, let alone October. Mariano Rivera has done his usual fine job, but consider that he has pitched all of 36.2 innings. Sure, they were 36.2 important innings, but they represent just four percent of the total innings available to the team this year. Joba Chamberlain has pitched more innings, and David Robertson and Chan Ho Park aren’t too far behind him. The great Mo is on a pace for 60 innings, which would be his lowest total since 2002, a season in which he made three trips to the DL. In protecting their 40-year-old Hall of Fame closer, the Yankees have minimized his impact and shifted innings onto the shoulders of pitchers who aren’t half as capable. No wonder then that they “dangled” (according to Jayson Stark) Jesus Montero to the Royals for Joakim Soria, one of the best closers in baseball. Righties can’t touch him, lefties don’t do much better, and you would effectively have “shortened the game to seven innings,” as they said of Rivera and John Wetteland back in 1996.

    Soria is only 26, the same age Rivera was when he was doing all that shortening, and he’s signed through 2011 with a series of options extending through 2014, so the Yankees would be getting some extended value out of the move, not to mention closer insurance for whenever Rivera wants or is forced to hang up his guns. The Royals apparently weren’t interested, and while you would think they wouldn’t mind turning their closer into 2.5 good players (or whatever the price is now that the Haren deal so devalued real talent), you can see why they wouldn’t jump at Montero. They already have a Montero equivalent in Billy Butler, who, as the old saying goes, has gloves that never get old because they so rarely come in contact with the ball. With two of those players, you’re forced to DH one and put one in the field, whereas the optimal usage pattern might be to take away the gloves from both. That being the case, given that the Yankees don’t have any prospective non-pitchers who can be mentioned in the same breath as Montero, the dance reverts back to pitching, pitching, pitching, and one imagines the Yankees aren’t too eager to part with a Hector Noesi or Manny Banuelos for a reliever, no matter how good. One, maybe. Two…

    A COUPLE OF QUICK NOTES ON THE INDIANS
    They’re a different team than when the Yankees last saw them, maybe not a substantially better one, but a younger one with so many younger players in the lineup. On most nights, they have four players 25 or younger in the starting lineup, with a couple of others not much older than that. Travis Hafner aside, the oldest player in their lineup Sunday was Jayson Nix, and he’s 27.

    Some of them are starting to perform. Since coming back from the Minors, Matt LaPorta has hit .320/.386/.560 in 21 games, though a good deal of that was in his first week back; he’s got an 11-game homerless streak going. Catcher Carlos Santana has been a bit cold of late, though he has been very patient, just as he was in the Minors. As a switch-hitter, he seemed to do more from the right side in the Minors, but the opposite has been the case so far in the bigs, with the kid hitting just .154 in 51 plate appearances against southpaws (take those numbers with a grain o’ salt given the small sample). The Indians are also eagerly waiting for Trevor Crowe and Michael Brantley to justify their playing time. It might be a long wait in Crowe’s case; he’s going to be a fourth outfielder on a good team one day, but Brantley should hit eventually, despite averaging an almost-literally powerless .162 so far this year in enough plate appearances that it could legitimately bother you.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Haren another egg for basket

    Friday, July 23, 2010, 3:51 PM [General]

    599 EH
    Craig Calcaterra has a fine post up about the lack of excitement regarding Alex Rodriguez’s imminent home run No. 600. Now, when you write a post talking about the general lack of excitement about something, you run the risk that you are projecting your lack of excitement on the rest of the populace. Since I share said lack of excitement, I have no problem with presuming universal home run fatigue, A-Rod fatigue, or fatigue in general. In this case, I don’t think it’s Rodriguez, though his frequently observed anti-charisma probably has something to do with it. No, it’s that in modern baseball, home runs have become so cheap that it feels as if all of the 500 and up guys of recent years—Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Thome, A-Rod, Junior Griffey, Barry Bonds—didn’t quite earn their way up the list.

    My saying that has nothing to do with the fact that there have been PED associations with everyone on that list except Thome and Griffey. I am still skeptical that PEDs had a lot to do with what we’ve been seeing. Rather, the overall level of home run hitting was so inflated in this period that historical 20-homer guys became 30-homer guys and 30-guys became 40 guys and so on. It’s not that they necessarily did anything wrong, particularly Junior and Thome, but simply that, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, in the currency of home runs, 10 cents wasn’t worth a nickel.

    That said, Rodriguez deserves some credit. He’s a legitimately great player, and it wasn’t just the environment; not every player from the last 15 years has popped 600 home runs, or 500 for that matter, or 400. He had the ability to prosper in the low-gravity/friendly ballpark/rabbit-ball years that we just went through. We call that ability “talent.” Maybe, then, it comes down to the lack of emotional attachment after all. I despite all of that arbitrary “true Yankee” stuff—if your paycheck says “Yankees” you’re a Yankee—but Rodriguez is one of those players will go into the Hall of Fame with a blank cap, or should. If the deal with the Red Sox had gone through, he’d be a true Red Sox. It didn’t, so it happens that he’s a Yankee.

    Again, there’s a risk of projection in that evaluation, but it’s not about Rodriguez’s personality or lack thereof. It’s just an inevitable fact of his three-team history and the manner in which he was acquired from the Rangers.

    THE HAREN FLEA MARKET
    The asking price on Roy Oswalt is apparently painfully high—the Astros are rumored to want to reboot their whole roster on the basis of this one deal, a dubious notion given that Oswalt has no-trade rights that he’s trying to leverage into the activation of his $16 million option for 2012. This isn’t a bad thing for buyers because Arizona’s Dan Haren is the better target. He’s younger, has a track record of pitching with excellence in the American League, and is more of a strikeout guy. At least superficially, he has also not pitched as well as Oswalt—defense-independent ERA estimators suggest they’ve been quite comparable—and that might mean a somewhat lower asking price. Like the Astros, the Diamondbacks need a bit of help everywhere except perhaps catcher, so the price is going to come down to whether Jerry DiPoto’s illusions are as grandiose as Ed Wade’s. On the positional front, a solid outfielder or second baseman couldn’t hurt (Kelly Johnson is having a good year but isn’t long for that position or Arizona), and as far as relievers go, you name it, they need it.

    I’m still a bit iffy on the whole trading-for-a-starter thing, but with Andy Pettitte on the DL for an indeterminate amount of time, Phil Hughes putting up a 5.51 ERA since mid-May, A.J. being A.J., and Javier Vazquez being a scary-fly-ball free agent, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to go for a Haren, he being a good piece not just now but for next year and the year after (at least as much as you can tell with pitchers). If such a deal happens, it would go a long way towards making the postseason results more predictable, but it wouldn’t necessarily solve every problem. The bullpen still needs more help, Curtis Granderson—“hot” against lefties all the way to .223/.263/.298 still needs a platoon partner. Eggs need to be in multiple baskets.

    Complicating the eggs/baskets solution is the age of players like Derek Jeter, A-Rod, and Jorge Posada. The Yankees need ready replacements for the next wave of injuries and declining production. Since coming off of the DL, Posada has hit .226/.355/.395, and those catchers the Yankees have need to stay in the organization lest the club get stuck with a full season of Frankie Cervelli hitting .250/.330/.330 or worse.

    THE PICTURE OF DORIAN MOYER
    I’m depressed about (a lot of things, but also about) Jamie Moyer, who is going on the disabled list with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and strained flexor pronator tendon in his left elbow and probably won’t be rejoining us for the rest of his life. As long as Moyer continues to pitch, I’m still young. Please, please, get well soon, Jamie!

    2.3 (1 Ratings)

    My favorite Ralph Houk story

    Thursday, July 22, 2010, 4:24 PM [General]

    It has been a depressing month if you’re a Yankees fan. A lot of history has left us, with Ralph Houk being the latest. Rather than write a full-on obituary profile of the player, manager, and general manager, which you can find elsewhere, I would just relate a few vignettes that seem characteristic or revealing.

    Houk was best known as a Yankees manager and general manager, and subsequently for managing the Tigers and Red Sox, but I tend to think of him for an event that took place late in the heated pennant race between the Yankees and the Red Sox in 1949. Houk was a permanent third catcher, and you can count the number of starts he received from September, 1949 (when he moved into the role) until 1954 on your fingers without getting too far onto the second hand. He was the “break glass in case of emergency” guy, and the glass almost never was broken—in this, he is a great argument against wasting a roster spot on a third catcher. The Yankees realized this to some extent and would sometimes give his spot to a more needed player. They liked having him around, though, for his leadership skills, and at those times Houk would not go down to the Minors like a Kevin Cash or Chad Moeller, but would stay on the roster as an unofficial coach.

    Houk hadn’t yet established this bifurcated role in 1949. He had spent most of the season in the Minors when one of those rare third-catcher emergencies occurred. Yogi Berra was out with a thumb injury, and on September 25, in an absolutely crucial game against the Red Sox, his capable backup Charlie Silvera went out as well—a Dom DiMaggio foul tip had hit him in the groin and he had to be carried from the field. The Yankees lost that game, allowing the Sox to tie the race with just six games to play.

    The next day, September 26, the Yankees played the Sox again. As the only ambulatory catcher on the roster, Houk got the start. If a meteor had struck behind home plate—or another Little Professor groin-ball—the Yankees were going to have to pick someone off the bench. Years later, in an extra-inning game in which Stengel had already lost Berra and had gambled by pinch-hitting for Silvera, he had turned to Hank Bauer. The move led directly to a loss as a passed ball allowed the winning run to move around the bases. The Yankees couldn’t afford that kind of loss; Houk had to stay alive.

    Credit home plate umpire Bill Grieve with keeping him there. Playing at Yankee Stadium, the Yanks led 6-3 through seven. The Sox rallied in the top of the eighth. Relief ace Joe Page, in since the fifth (that’s how the top relievers were used in those days), gave up a hit and a walk to open the inning. Dom DiMaggio ripped a high line drive to short. Phil Rizzuto leaped, seemed to come up with the ball, but it tipped off his mitt and went on into the outfield for a run-scoring single. At that point, the Yankees’ defense let down. Johnny Pesky grounded to second, but Snuffy Stirnweiss couldn’t hold on, allowing Pesky to reach and another run to score. Ted Williams came up. The Yankees put on a shift. Williams managed to rifle the ball past first baseman Tommy Henrich, but that shouldn’t have been a problem because Stirnweiss was there in short right field to pick up the ball. Unfortunately, Page forgot to cover first; Snuffy had to eat the ball. The bases were loaded with no outs—Dom DiMaggio on third, Pesky on second, and Teddy Ballgame on first. Two runs were in.

    Page succeeded in retiring the next batter, Red Sox cleanup hitter Vern Stephens. The problem was that it came on a fly to deep right field. DiMaggio scored to tie the game, and Pesky was able to advance from second to third. Another fly ball would give the Sox a one-run lead. Second baseman Bobby Doerr was at the plate. The squeeze was on. Doerr sent the ball rolling towards first base as Pesky broke for the plate. Henrich fielded, fired home to Houk, who put down the tag. Grieve made the call: safe.

    Houk lost it, sure that he had blocked the plate and gotten the tag down in time. He leapt up, bumping the umpire, screaming. Grieve had every reason to thumb him out of the game, but to his immense credit he did not, knowing that the Yankees would have had to play someone out of position had he done so. Casey Stengel continued the protest, earning himself the same $150 fine that Houk would later receive, but to no avail. Grieve later said, “The runner slid under Houk’s arm and that’s all there is to it. Sure, I could have made the easy call, giving it to the home club, but in my heart I know I made the right call.” One Yankee would receive an even larger fine and the threat of suspension, outfielder Cliff Mapes. Seeing Grieve under the stands after the game, Mapes said, “How much did you bet on the game, you [expletive].” A near fistfight ensued, the two being separated at the last moment.

    I find it amusing somehow that Houk, 29 years old, a decorated officer in World War II, a soldier brave enough to earn a Silver Star for courage under fire at the Battle of the Bulge, could get exercised enough about a baseball game to assault an umpire (or get near enough in baseball terms). You would think after war experiences like Houk’s—even aside from the Bulge, one of the most harrowing battles in American history, he did advance reconnoitering of enemy positions, essentially acting as a lure to bring the Germans out of hiding—that he might have been philosophical about anything else that might have happened. What’s a baseball game when you’ve faced down the Panzers?

    MY SECOND-FAVORITE RALPH HOUK STORY
    Houk managed fireballing reliever Ryne Duren at Denver and then was a coach for the Yankees when Duren was closing for Stengel. I’ve spoken to Duren; he is an intelligent, thoughtful man. Duren is a recovering alcoholic, but during his career he battled the bottle and frequently lost, and when he did, that intelligence was replaced by belligerence. Late in 1958, the Yankees clinched the pennant and were on a train en route to Chicago. The team was celebrating in a private car. Stengel had gathered the players and was warning them not to get too wild as they didn’t want another public incident—this was just a year after the “Copacabana incident” had cost Stengel the services of his favorite player, Billy Martin.

    As Stengel was giving this warning, Duren stumbled into the car. Stengel didn’t see him, but Houk did and recognized the signs of inebriation. He moved to intercept the reliever before he could disrupt the party. Words were exchanged. Duren pushed Houk’s ever-present cigar into his face. The fight was over quickly; Houk hit Duren, catching him above the eye with his World Series ring, and the big reliever went down. Stengel probably didn’t know what had happened until after it was over.

    AND A THIRD
    This from Graig Nettles’ 1984 book Balls, relating the end of Houk’s long tenure with the Yankees, which but for wartime service lasted 33 years:

    Ralph said to me, “This owner is giving me a lot of trouble so far with all these phone calls, but one thing about him, he isn’t afraid to spend some money and buy some players when we need them. Ralph loved that, and so did I, because I had just come from Cleveland where they would never have made a move like that. In Cleveland they were worried most about saving a dollar…

    But Ralph kept complaining that George was calling him on the phone all the time. He’d call during the game, in the middle of the night… Ralph had never had to put up with that from an owner before. George was telling him who to play, what to do. Ralph would pick up the phone in the dugout during a game, and George would be on the other end. It still goes on.

    […]

    As we sat around on the stools by our lockers [after the last game of the 1973 season], Ralph came out and said, “I got to tell you guys something. I’ve had enough. I’m quitting.” And he broke down into tears.

    I spoke to him afterward and Ralph said, “I have to quit before I hit the guy.” Ralph said, “I don’t want to leave the game of baseball by punching an owner. But if he keeps on bothering me like he does, I’ll end up hitting him.”

    Houk was the first manager to leave George Steinbrenner’s employ. He was, I think the only one to walk away rather than be pushed out, and he never came back.

    AND A FINAL WORD
    What was the best Ralph Houk team? Many would snap, “1961” and walk away. I don’t accept that, because that was a continuation of the teams designed by Stengel and George Weiss. Houk made some changes that were ultimately more cosmetic than structural, such as going with a set lineup and pitching rotation. The team subsequently collapsed under his watch, though that was in part due to the reluctance of the owners to invest in the farm system at a time when they were planning to sell the team, as well as Weiss’ prejudices towards African Americans.

    The best team that could be reasonably called his was the 1970 club. His bullpen management was inconsistent, but in 1970 he had one of the best Yankees relief staff not to contain a Lyle, Gossage, or Rivera. He had two closers, Lindy McDaniel and Jack Aker, and used one-hit wonder Ron Klimkowski in middle relief. The rotation was solid but a bit short after Mel Stottlemyre and Fritz Peterson, and a lot of credit for the team’s second-place, 93-69 showing (four games above their projected record) has to go to the ’pen.

    Like many of Houk’s later teams, the ’70 squad didn’t have much in the way of offense, just Roy White, Thurman Munson, and Bobby Murcer (in order of productivity that particular year). Houk, as was a career-long habit, exacerbated the team’s deficiencies. He tended to structure his batting orders with the worst hitters on top, so that in 1970, second baseman Horace Clarke (.251/.286/.309) led off and third baseman Jerry Kenney (.193/.284/.282) batted second. In the second half, he moved Munson up to the second spot, but he never did move Clarke.

    Later in Houk’s career he had better, more obvious leadoff men such as Ron LeFlore and Wade Boggs. He used LeFlore appropriately, but second baseman Jerry Remy had to experience a career-ending injury before Boggs got to lead off. Houk’s idée fixe was that his second baseman was his leadoff hitter, and LeFlore was the only time that he got over it. In general, he underemphasized patience. One of the reasons the Yankees collapsed in the mid-1960s, in addition to general neglect, is that they became a team of hackers. Mickey Mantle was always patient. White and Murcer were above-average when it came to taking ball four. Most other members of the team swung away. In the Houk years (1961-1973, a period which includes his time as general manager while Yogi Berra and Johnny Keane ran the team on the field), seven of 13 teams were below average in on-base percentage, and of the ones that finished in the black, just three (1962, 1971, 1972) were significantly above average.

    Still, I tend to forget about all of that when thinking of Houk. I think not of the manager but of the Major, of the decorated soldier. Baseball is a wonderful diversion, but it’s not an act of patriotism. Houk helped end the greatest evil in human history, and what he did in baseball doesn’t matter a great deal beside that. While we like to laud those who served in World War II as “the Greatest Generation,” the truth is that most soldiers in that war did not go eagerly into danger. Most of them were doing their best to get home in one piece. In every unit, there were only a handful of men who willingly, repeatedly exposed themselves to the risks necessary to win the war. Houk was one of those men. He was a credit to baseball and to his country.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Joba-be-gone? Not now

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010, 11:19 AM [General]

    The big topic of discussion on Monday, and for the foreseeable future, was Andy Pettitte’s injury. Would it motivate the Yankees to go after a starting pitcher? The Yankees were quick to issue a denial. Nope, said Brian Cashman, we want to bulk up our bullpen and bench.

    Now, it is swell for the Yankees to make statements like this, but you have to consider them with skepticism because this was the same team and the same general manager that wasn’t in on Mark Teixeira, nuh-uh, no room at the inn or the budget, we can’t even squeeze another locker into our super-sized new clubhouse, no way. More recently, the same front office, despite possessing a rotation that would seem full up by the standards of even great teams, made a stealth run at Cliff Lee. Thus, though it is clear that the Yankees do need to upgrade bench and pen, it is far from certain that they aren’t trying to do more.

    Having acknowledged that anything is possible, the question then becomes, “Who and how?” We talked a bit about the who on Monday. As for the how, that’s more complicated, because although it’s not easy to visualize how to fit prospects like Jesus Montero, Brandon Laird, and David Phelps into the present roster, you don’t want to just give them away if it can be avoided. However, in order to acquire a Roy Oswalt, Dan Haren, Prince Fielder, Adam Dunn, or Jayson Werth, just to name a few intriguing possibilities, a buyer is really going to have to spend. This is especially true for rebuilding teams like the Astros, Diamondbacks, and Nationals, who have to bring back an exciting package so as to justify the loss of a star to their fans (I watched Monday night’s Mets at Diamondbacks; official attendance was 18,000, but it seemed more like 1,800). That means that the ol’ Fernando Seguignol-and-cash-for-John Wetteland isn’t going to fly here. It’s going to take the proverbial package, not a bag of old groceries.

    I would suggest that one way to ease the pain of parting with potential is to include a player whose potential is seemingly already spent, Joba Chamberlain, but I don’t intend to imply, in naïve, call-in show fashion, that if the Yankees dangle the great and powerful Joba that general managers will faint and come stampeding into Cashman’s parlor to offer up their best and most potent players (those callers inevitably overvalue their trash and undervalue the other guy’s treasure). Joba’s performance has seemingly declined to a level where trading him now would make little sense. His value is at low ebb, and he’s going to need to show better results before he recaptures any of the mystique that surrounded him back in the pre-“A Bug’s Life” days.

    Joba may never be that good again, but it’s a safe bet that he’s going to finish the season in better form than he’s shown to date. Don’t think about his ERA or his won-lost record and just consider the basics: he’s pitched 39 innings. He’s allowed just two home runs—good. He’s walked just 14. That’s not Lee, but it’s also not Craig Kimbrell, so—good. He’s struck out 43, or 9.9 per nine innings—very good.

    What the heck is going on, then? Well, hitters are averaging .391 on balls in play. Whether that’s a result of bad luck or bad mechanics on Joba’s part I don’t know, but I do know that it should be fixable. The stuff is still there; with the return to the bullpen, he’s letting his fastball go at higher speeds than last year, if not the 100 mph form of 2007. The things that Joba can control—walks, strikeouts, keeping the ball in the park—are still there. The rain of hits is very likely transient. The one thing we can’t say for certain is when it will end, only that it should.

    Additionally complicating any trade is Chamberlain’s upcoming eligibility for arbitration. He’s making just under $500,000 this year, but that figure is going up. Few, if any, teams will want to be on the hook for a big raise given his performance so far. It’s just another reason why those that are so angry and disappointed by Joba’s performances of late had better holster their hate and count to 10; it’s going to be very difficult for Cashman to get something like real value for him right now. Battered AND expensive? That’s not going to bring a starting pitcher of position player, and as my wise Baseball Prospectus colleague Jay Jaffe says, “trading him for another reliever is a recipe for sitting next to Bill Bavasi and Dave Littlefield at the next winter meetings banquet.” The Yankees need a solid reliever, but he doesn’t want to be the guy who replaces Lou Gorman in the annual, “Which GM traded a coming star for one month of Larry Andersen?”

    So please, hang up the phone. Joba is a problem, part of a bullpen gone awry, but at 24 years old and with a fastball that has averaged 94 this year, it’s spectacularly premature to give up on him. He’s not the new Rob Dibble, sorry. He’s not an ace starter. Again, sorry. He’s been through a great deal in a short career, and the least the Yankees can do—for the team, not for him—is to leave him alone and figure out what they’ve got. They should be rewarded. Now, if Jerry DiPoto is reading the same numbers I am, if his scouts are telling him that the stuff is still there, and he calls up Cashman and says, “Hey, I’ll give you Dan Haren and Justin Upton for Joba and a prospect,” you can throw the foregoing out the window, but that isn’t going to happen. Failing that, holding on is the best choice.

    MORE FROM ME
    I’ve got a brief (free) bit up at Baseball Prospectus on the Lou Piniella All-Stars, a group that includes Don Mattingly. There is also the announcement of a live chat with yours truly on Friday at 1 p.m. Finish up your lunch (no fast food!) and come talk some baseball and what-have-you with your slightly dinged-up host. As usual, if you can’t make it then, you can input your questions at anytime.

    4.1 (3 Ratings)

    Pettitte's heirs

    Monday, July 19, 2010, 2:00 PM [General]

    On Sunday, David Phelps, 23, threw six innings for Scranton, allowing seven hits, one run, and no walks while striking out 10. In Trenton, D.J. Mitchell took the loss as Reading shut out the Thunder, but he allowed only three runs in seven innings. Somewhere around the same time, Andy Pettitte was leaving the mound at Yankee Stadium with a strained groin, gone for perhaps a month or more.

    In the short term, Pettitte’s spot will be taken by journeyman Sergio Mitre. In the long term, who knows? By “long term” I mean two things simultaneously: the next half-dozen starts and the next half-dozen years. Pettitte is 38 years old, playing year to year. For the Yankees, that’s an advantage—no extended commitment to a pitcher who might suffer a permanent loss of effectiveness at any time—and a disadvantage in that they don’t know how aggressively they need to try to fill that rotation spot. There are a few other things the Yankees don’t know: how reliable A.J. Burnett will be both for the rest of this year and for the remaining three years of his contract; who fills Javier Vazquez’s rotation spot next year, or, in case of a reversion to April form, the rest of this one; which Phil Hughes shows up the rest of the year, and just how many innings they’re prepared to give him even if he’s all aces from now on. You can see why Brian Cashman went so far to acquire Cliff Lee.

    With the Yankees’ most valuable starter so far now on the DL and the rotation aside from CC Sabathia seeming so fraught with uncertainty and the trade deadline rushing up like the ground floor towards a falling elevator, the question now will be whether the Yankees will try to make a deal for a starter. The argument here is that they don’t have to, even with so many question marks, even if Mitre fails, if Alfredo Aceves doesn’t come back, even if right now they have to look at Dustin Moseley as filet mignon instead of hamburger. There are internal options that should be pursued first.

    Phelps is one of those options. The right-hander pitched his way to Triple-A recently after putting up a 2.04 ERA at Trenton. The 2008 14th-rounder has good stuff and his secondary offerings, questioned before the season, have obviously been good enough for him to pitch quite well at two levels. Ivan Nova, whose name sounds like a character on “Babylon 5” (or maybe “Star Blazers”—“Derek Wildstar, you and Ivan Nova go polish the Wave Motion Gun”), doesn’t have the same kind of stuff but is having the best season of his career at Scranton, with a 3.21 ERA. His 3.5 walks/6.8 strikeouts per nine don’t inspire confidence, but remember, the Yankees don’t need to find peak-production Andy Pettitte here, but someone who is good enough that they can spend their trading capital on other goods. Moreover, just as Hughes and Joba Chamberlain made themselves integral parts of the team (perhaps transiently in Joba’s case) by pitching well at moments like this one, a Phelps, Nova, or, looking further into the system, a Hector Noesi, can distinguish themselves as possibilities for the Yankees’ future—or some other team’s right now.

    The Yankees’ untried options may very well be better than those available on the trade market. Pettitte was one of the top 20 pitchers in baseball this year. Those ahead of him aren’t going anywhere. Those below him who might be available are not of such guaranteed quality that they are worth giving up items of likely value. Perhaps Roy Oswalt would be an exception, perhaps not—there is a big difference between the NL Central and the AL East, although the Orioles are striving to erase the difference by out-Pirating the Pirates. He’s also expensive. Dan Haren might be another exception, but he too is expensive and hasn’t pitched all that well this year; his ERA in his last 10 starts is 4.41. He pitched well against the Yankees during interleague play, though the Red Sox thumped him a start earlier. Neither the Arizona defense nor the Arizona ballpark has done him any favors, so a buyer could get a nice turnaround, but you can’t know that for sure.

    The overarching point here is this: American League starting pitchers put together a quality start a little over half the time, say 16 times in 30 starts. They allow 4.67 runs per nine innings (4.33 ERA). The question here is how likely is a Mitre or Phelps to meet or exceed that standard compared to Oswalt, Ted Lilly, Ben Sheets, or Ricky Nolasco? Choose your pitcher, factor in what he will cost the Yankees in terms of talent and treasure, then make your decision. Consider also that the Red Sox have played so poorly of late that even if the Yankees somehow fell past Tampa Bay (which this weekend’s two-out of three made that much less likely), they currently have another 3.5 games to play with before they would be in any danger of losing the wild card spot. Then think about the future, and if any of the pitchers you might acquire would be a better choice than one of the youngsters to take Vazquez’s—or Pettitte’s—spot next year.

    It’s not easy, is it? No doubt the Yankees will take the next couple of weeks to see how Pettitte heals up so as to see how much urgency they need to feel about making a move. In the meantime, they might audition a kid or two, not just Mitre, to get a sense about the future. After all, they need a middle man as much or more than they need a starter, so it’s not like the righty will go to waste whatever his role is. That’s a suggestion that I imagine won’t be followed, but it seems like a prudent way to go, as the club has nothing to lose but the odd game and a 40-man roster spot. You can’t find out what options you really have until you go looking for them, and like I said, it’s cheaper than sending half the farm system to the Diamondbacks.

    PARTING SHOT ONE
    On the other hand, what if you just sent them Joba? Would that do the trick?

    PARTING SHOT TWO
    I’ll be back more later with some notes from the most depressing Old Timer’s Day since the Babe Bowed Out.

    Follow Steven Goldman on Twitter.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    The beast rises

    Friday, July 16, 2010, 2:49 PM [General]

    It’s only nine games, but Thursday night’s 3-for-4 with a home run and a walk against Toledo boosts Jesus Montero’s rates for the month to .333/.488/.567. More importantly, if my figurin’ is right, since the beginning of June, he’s hit .295/.372/.519 with 10 doubles, two triples, and five home runs. It’s not the .337/.389/.562 of last season, but it’s headed in the right direction. I might have suggested that the near-trade to Seattle for Cliff Lee played in role in Montero’s awakening, but he was already on his way before the Yankees dangled him over the Safeco Field abyss.

    It seems spectacularly unlikely that Montero will get any real Major League action this year given that he’s not on the 40-man roster, and that’s certainly defensible given his age and inexperience. Still, the DH situation needs a solution. Of late, the upshot of the lack of a regular at the position has meant semi-regular action for Colin Curtis in right field. While I applaud the Yankees giving any of their young players a chance, Curtis’ record is not one to inspire confidence in his ability to carry a corner spot, or any spot. There has got to be a better way.

    Remember, teams can hunt for pitching, but one solution to a shortage of hurlers is to increase your chances on offense. If you can’t raise the bridge, lower the river.

    600 LINES ABOUT 30 TEAMS, PART 2
    Cincinnati Reds
    Scott Rolen: I figure him for the Hall of Fame eventually, especially if he can maintain this good season all the way through, keeping up his production and staying off the disabled list. He should finish the year with close to 2000 hits, his next home run will put him over 300 for his career, and he’s also got six All-Star selections and seven Gold Gloves. Next year, he should break into the top 10 for career games at third base. The only thing stopping him is… Ron Santo.

    Bronson Arroyo: Arroyo epitomizes the problem the Reds will have even if they hang on to win the NL Central. He has pitched reasonably well, but his strikeout rate is only 4.3 per nine innings. The Reds as a whole are K-ing 6.5 per nine innings, but that’s on the low side in a league where the top teams are whiffing eight batters a game. The Reds are third from last in this category, and that’s a dangerous thing—in the playoffs, you face the best offenses. When a good-hitting team puts the ball in play, bad things happen. The more batters walk back to the dugout holding their bats the better the outcome. The Reds are going to have to it the hard way.

    Cleveland Indians
    Shelley Duncan: Good to see him get another chance and make something of it. It’s that bad teams that are normally willing to take a chance on a journeyman like Duncan, figuring they have nothing to lose. See Garrett Jones last year in Pittsburgh. If they perform well, the Jones and Duncans of the world can make themselves attractive to the contenders and have a few years as a role player for a team that actually goes somewhere.

    Jhonny Peralta: In a world in which shortstops who can hit with reasonable competence are suddenly scarce, one wonders what the Indians could get for the 28-year-old from a team like the Tigers, which is essentially shortstop-less. Peralta wouldn’t make anyone in Detroit forget Alan Trammell with the glove, but he might make them forget Danny Worth, which would be an accomplishment. Given that the Tigers are trailing a fairly weak White Sox team, some kind of move needs to be made, the team acquiring Peralta can buy him out of his 2011 option for $250,000 if they feel like it, and Peralta won’t be part of the next great Indians team, not as a light-hitting third baseman.

    Colorado Rockies
    Dexter Fowler: The Rockies have five outfielders on their active roster, plus Eric Young, Jr. on the 15-day disabled list. They’ve also stuck old Melvin Mora in the pasture a couple of times. Jim Tracy likes to mix and match and platoon out there. This seems like a surplus to be exploited, and while Fowler, just back from the minors, is unlikely to go anywhere, there might be some small market for Ryan Spilborghs as a platoon/fourth outfielder or Brad Hawpe, whose contract can be bought out after the season, as a DH type…

    Jason Hammel: Nothing deep to say, except that a pitcher who couldn’t pitch for the Rays but has been strong for the Rockies proves that the universe is a wonderfully capricious place.

    Detroit Tigers
    Austin Jackson: Since April ended, he’s hit .271/.322/.360 with no home runs. Folks were ready to bury the Yankees for the Granderson trade at the beginning of the season, but by time it’s all over that notion is going to seem ludicrous.

    Phil Coke: Of course, the trade wasn’t only Jackson. The Yankees gave up Ian Kennedy, who has pitched well for the D’Backs, as well as the Pause That Refreshes. Not many spot lefties go 5-0, although that’s a bit flukey. He hasn’t dominated lefties (.254/.324/.313) but he’s been solid against everyone and has allowed only one home run this year despite a high fly ball rate. The Yankees could use an everyday middle man like Coke, or like VegitaBeta for that matter.

     

    0 (0 Ratings)

    600 lines about 30 teams (Part I)

    Thursday, July 15, 2010, 11:37 AM [General]

    Arizona Diamondbacks
    Stephen Drew:
    You hear the shortstop brought up in trade rumors from time to time. The problem with J.D. Drew’s little brother is that with a trade from the generous Chase Field he will disappear. This year, he’s hitting .291/.372/.464 at home, but only .259/.323/.367 on the road. His career home/road split is .288/.353/.481 at Chase, but only .253/.305/.402 on the road.

    Chris Snyder: In the offseason, I talked about him being a good add for the Yankees, and he still would be one given that he is signed through 2012—though he can be bought out for that last year. He would be able to augment Jorge Posada, or spell him when he’s only hitting, and perhaps hang around after Posada’s contract ends in 2011 to tutor (and provide competition for) the Romine or Montero who comes after. One would expect the Yankees to be easily outbid for his services by a team in more dire need of catching—the Tigers, perhaps?—but keep this in mind: Posada, 38, has hit .215/.348/.336 since coming off the disabled list; Frankie Cervelli has hit .200/.274/.236 over his last 37 games, a total which includes 30 starts.

    Atlanta Braves
    Yunel Escobar:
    I wrote this comment on Escobar earlier this week, intending to run this section on Tuesday. Instead, we had more urgent news to deal with. Here’s what I said prior to Escobar’s trade to the Blue Jays: age 27 is supposed to be a batter’s peak. Last year, Escobar seemed to establish himself as one of the top shortstops in baseball, hitting .299/.377/.436 with 14 home runs. He’s retreated from that like the Union at Manassas, hitting .238/.334/.284. His glove would seem to have held up, and his walk rate has been solid, so his season has been a positive one for the first-place Braves. Still, he can’t have much competition for “Year’s Biggest Disappointment, 2010.”

    The Yankees will now get to witness firsthand whether the trade works out for the Jays. Escobar’s slump, coupled with problems of professionalism, concentration, and communication, made dealing him for reliable-but-unspectacular ol’ Alex Gonzalez a palatable option for the Bravos, who in doing so took the unusual step of tinkering with a first-place outfit. The Jays gave up a couple of minor prospects and a 33-year-old shortstop to get a 27-year-old with loads of upside, so there is less risk for them; perhaps Cito Gaston can reach the lad where Bobby Cox failed. Thing is, Gaston isn’t supposed to be the manager once this season is over.

    Billy Wagner: The closer that Bobby Cox has needed since John Smoltz went back to starting but didn’t have—and they’re both retiring.

    Baltimore Orioles
    Ty Wigginton:
    A versatile player, yes, but since the end of May he’s hit .205/.289/.265 with one home run (149 plate appearances). Sure, we all have our faults, but the Orioles shouldn’t expect much more than a token for an imminent free agent journeyman. Andy MacPhail waited too long.

    Chris Tillman: The O’s have been strangely impatient with Tillman this year, sending him out to start the year, then demoting him after just four starts once he came up. Given his overall Minor League record, you’d think that giving him some time to sort things out in the Majors might be more important than, say, preserving Mark Hendrickson’s place in Orioles lore. Three days ago, he held the Rangers to one run on two hits in 7.1 innings, part of the Birds’ utterly unexpected four-game sweep. You’d think they might be more patient now.

    Boston Red Sox
    Mike Cameron:
    Since coming off of the disabled list, the venerable center fielder has hit reasonably well, batting .300/.333/.444 in 96 PAs. However, with just three home runs in that span, Cameron’s production hangs on the positioning of opposing fielders. As for his own fielding, it’s not what it once was. Boston has Cameron under contract for another season, lucky them. His decline makes a divorce from Jacoby Ellsbury somewhat more difficult.

    Michael Bowden: Presently pitching for Triple-A Pawtucket for the third season in a row, Bowden isn’t a coming ace, but with the problems the Sox have had with the back of their rotation and middle relief, one wonders why this right-hander hasn’t gotten a call. His aggregate record at Pawtucket is only 10-12 in 50 games, but in 256.1 innings he’s allowed but 213 hits, walking 81 and striking out 178. His ERA is 3.34. His strikeout rate seems to be dropping, a bad sign, but we’re talking about rolls in which you wouldn’t expect dominance anyway—Boston seems well into the take-what-you-can-get mode, and Bowden is freely available to the Sox since they own him. Short of his making an indecent proposal to a sheep and/or the wife of a Sox executive, there isn’t an obvious reason why they haven’t tried him.

    Chicago Cubs
    Starlin Castro: Hitting .239/.317/.358 since the end of May, and though he’s a far superior fielder to Ryan Theriot, the Cubs aren’t achieving much more than running up his arbitration clock. He’ll be expensive at 22 or 23 and a free agent at 26, leaving the Cubs looking for yet another shortstop assuming they haven’t parted ways with him before then.

    Ted Lilly: The big trade target that everyone seems to be aiming for, for what he’ll cost they should really be aiming for Carlos Marmol. The Cubs have far less reason to trade him, though he is arbitration-eligible. His slider combination has made him almost as hard on left-handers as on right-handers, meaning that if you had him in a setup role could forget about platoon issues. His walks would probably provide many a nail-biting moment, particularly in the postseason, but he’s all but unhittable, so as long as you pull him once the bases are loaded...

    Chicago White Sox

    Juan Pierre:
    Despite having just lost Jake Peavy for the season, the Pale Hose are in first place in the AL Central, holding the top spot with a slim half-game lead. As hapless as the Tigers and Twins can be, they’re probably not going to stay there without making some moves. With Peavy gone, Kenny Williams will be looking at the pitching staff, but it’s their offense that can really use some new additions or a TARP bailout. The latter might be easier, because the Chicago farm system is a depressingly barren place. Their worst bat, Gordon Beckham, should rebound at some point—which will be almost like making a trade given just how bad he’s been—but there’s less hope for several other positions, especially left field, where Pierre is killing the Sox on a daily basis.

    Despite a career .298 batting average, Pierre is a brutal hitter, especially now, when he’s not hitting .298 but .257. Imagine if Williams could make an offer on B.J. Upton and try to jump-start his career with some Windy City leadoff action, but no—the White Sox have perhaps three strong prospects. Two, catcher Tyler Flowers and pitcher Dan Hudson, who they need, and outfielder Jared Mitchell who is both far from the Majors and of a type that the Rays already have in Desmond Jennings.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Good-bye, George Steinbrenner

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 1:21 PM [General]

    George Steinbrenner, if he could look back at the moment of his own passing from some celestial vantage point, might smile at the notion that it came on the day of the All-Star Game, when other news is not supposed to upstage the big event. Steinbrenner loved to grab the back pages, to get the headlines for his efforts, be it with a managerial firing, a big free agent signing, or even a Spring Training victory over the Mets. Getting that attention for his ballclub was important to Steinbrenner, sometimes disproportionately so, and I think the notion that he had had done it again, made the news at the expense of the rest of baseball this one last time, would have pleased him.

    Steinbrenner was a notoriously difficult and changeable person, and yet could be kindhearted and generous. His treatment of Billy Martin epitomizes the man’s many sides. He could be unduly harsh with Martin, a man who was ill-equipped to battle the owner on anything like equal terms, but also tolerated some of the latter’s boozy indiscretions. Some looked on his fivefold hirings and firings of Martin as cruel; they were, I think, also charitable. Martin was popular and effective, and Steinbrenner reaped benefits from both qualities, but he also employed and re-employed a man whose weaknesses made him untouchable to other organizations. When Martin burned his bridges in Oakland, that probably ended his chances with anyone except George Steinbrenner, but in spite of the frequent animosity between manager and owner, he always had a home with the Yankees.

    Steinbrenner was impatient by nature. A Yankees front office employee once told me of his first contact with the owner. On his first day on the job, his office phone rang. He answered. “Who the [bleep] is this?” a familiar voice said. It seems that Steinbrenner hadn’t bothered learning the office phone numbers around Yankee Stadium, but simply dialed an office at random and then asked to be connected to the person he really wanted to speak with. Attempting to effect the requested transfer but nervous and unfamiliar with the phone system, the new hire accidentally hung up on the Boss. He spent the rest of his first day fearful that he would be summarily terminated.

    That impatience was most obvious in the way Steinbrenner ran the baseball side of his team. As he and Gabe Paul built the moribund Yankees back into a contender, free agency arrived. Through the addition of Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, and others, Steinbrenner found that he could accelerate the historical maturation process of a team. Forget scouting, drafting, player development, and patience with inconsistent kids: you could buy your stars off the rack. Further, by subjecting the group to the full force of his personality, both in person and in the papers, he could help goad them, football-style, to greater heights.

    In the short run, these were valuable lessons that produced postseason teams in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, and 1981, with championships in two of those years. In the long term, the lesson was disastrous. The 1970s Yankees had a unique mix of personalities that could thrive under pressure, even though they might greatly resent it. Subsequent Yankees players and managers would not react so positively. When Steinbrenner called Dave Winfield “Mr. May” and criticized the rest of the team in mid-September, 1985, as they fought a close race with the Blue Jays for the division title, rather than win the club went on an eight-game losing streak.

    Worse, the steady stream of free agents would fall from the level of future Hall of Famers like Hunter, Jackson, and Gossage as the team grew steadily less discriminating, signing anyone whether they were a good fit or not. Nor could the parade of newly wealthy stars and mediocrities be purchased in sufficient volume to make up for Steinbrenner’s distaste for young players, or for the impulsive trading of the few good prospects the Yankees did manage to produce in those days.

    It took a long time and some lost year to unlearn the lessons of the 1970s, but unlearn them Steinbrenner did, allowing cooler baseball minds like Gene Michael and Brian Cashman to have more leeway in running the franchise. Occasionally the old impulsivity would return, such as in the August, 1997 deal that returned Mike Stanley to the Yankees in exchange for Tony Armas, a pitching prospect of no lasting importance except that he later was used by the Red Sox to acquire Pedro Martinez, a pitcher who might otherwise have been a Yankee. The acquisition of Raul Mondesi in 2002 and the owner’s reported insistence on Gary Sheffield in 2004 instead of Vladimir Guerrero demonstrated that time had only mellowed the man to a degree.

    Still, he clearly had changed. Managers, general manager, and media relations directors used to come and go with dizzying speed, but Joe Torre stayed on for 12 years. Brian Cashman is now in his 13th year as GM; the previous leader was Gene Michael with five years—or maybe it was seven, Michael having had the job, and been relieved of it, after the 1981 season. Indeed, anyone who could name all of Steinbrenner’s 15 general managers deserves some kind of Yankees Trivia-God citation. The long runs that Torre and Cashman put together would have been impossible just a few years earlier. Even Buck Showalter’s four-year run would have been unthinkable just a few years before (and Showalter was let go for good reasons, despite his success in rebuilding the team).

    Steinbrenner’s legacy is obvious: a team which he bought for relative peanuts is now the most valuable sports property in America, if not in the world; a beautiful new ballpark; seven championships and 19 postseason teams. More than those things, Steinbrenner understood something that should have been an object lesson to his fellow owners decades ago: the best way to build a successful franchise is to put an exciting, winning team out on the field. To compete for the New York City entertainment dollar, Steinbrenner knew his team had to be a compelling, can’t miss entertainment. He spent money to get eyeballs, be they on television, on the newspaper pages, in the stands. He knew that in the end those eyeballs would translate into revenue for his team, be it in demand for seats, merchandising, or the most lucrative cable deal in the business, and, ultimately, his own regional sports network. If that meant that he and his limited partners sometimes took home less money at the end of the year, so be it. Comparatively few owners have had such a firm grasp on the basics of baseball: nothing succeeds like success.

    About 12 years ago, I first entered George Steinbrenner’s office at the old Yankee Stadium. I had read things about that office over the years, that Steinbrenner had had inspirational mottoes on display there: “Show me a man with guts.” “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” I didn’t see any of those things. What I did see surprised me: countless awards from charitable institutions, many of which benefitted police and firefighters. I was looking for words and I found deeds. I think that gets at the essence of the man: there were words, sometimes too many words, words you would not have had him say. There was anger, frustration, bluster, and yes, sometimes cruelty. But there was also accomplishment. There was an identification with and pride in his team that in these days of transient ownership, corporate ownership, or both, you just don’t see anymore. His was a unique and complex personality, but beyond that, he was the last of the old-time baseball owners, the men who lived and breathed baseball. We won’t see his like again.

    Condolences to the family and the many friends of George Steinbrenner.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Remembering Bob Sheppard

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 12:11 PM [General]

    I have but one personal Bob Sheppard story, and it’s not really mine, but it’s a nice one to think about now that he’s gone. One of my best friends used to work in a high position with the Yankees. He was married during his time there. Working for the Yankees comes with a few perks, and here was his: at the reception after the ceremony, when it was time for the newly married bride and groom to make their first entrance as man and wife, there was a silence as the band quieted. A very familiar voice then echoed from the PA system. “Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please: presenting Mr. and Mrs. John and Mary Smith.” Enter the bride and groom, introduced by the Voice of God. How nice, and apparently how typical, of Mr. Sheppard to take the time to make that recording.

    The first time I truly appreciated Bob Sheppard was on a trip to the departed and unlamented Metrodome to see the Twins around 1983. “Now batting,” their announcer nearly shouted, “Kent… Hrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrbek!” That overwrought introduction seemed appropriate for that place and those fans, who maybe needed a little artificially-added adrenaline to help them. Sheppard’s way seemed so much more respectful of the game and the fans at Yankee Stadium who, we flatter ourselves to think (and might be right) know why they’re there and what they’re seeing and don’t require any added fanfare or foofaraw.

    This reminds me of the way Red Barber, later a Yankees broadcaster, called Bobby Thomson’s “Shot heard ‘round the world” in 1951. When that game is recalled, one always hears the famous call by Russ Hodges, the sound of a broadcaster coming unglued: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” etcetera, etcetera. In contrast, Barber said, “Branca pumps, delivers… a curve, swung on and belted, deep shot to left field…it is…  a home run! And the New York Giants win the National League pennant and the Polo Grounds goes wild!” Even more efficient was the late Ernie Harwell, calling the game on WPIX. “It’s gone!” No violent paroxysms for the Hall of Fame broadcasters, just the business of telling the story without histrionics. Sheppard was like them.

    I like to think of the times that he had to step out of the role of public address announcer, when the fans didn’t quite live up to their high self-estimation, occasions such as the game in 1978 when fans showered the field with Reggie bars and children ran on the field to pick them up, or other occasions when the crowd grew rowdy and he would remind them of how the Yankees stood for “sportsmanship.” When Sheppard said “sportsmanship,” it sounded like it meant something akin to “honor.”  

    In my trips to old Yankee Stadium, I would sometimes see Sheppard in the press dining room, eating alone. I never introduced myself, feeling that it would be wrong to intrude. I have greatly regretted my shyness for a number of years, never more so than now.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Without honor?

    Friday, July 9, 2010, 8:59 PM [General]

    WAIT A MINUTE
    MAYBE MY EARS ARE CLOGGED OR SOMETHING
    MAYBE I’M NOT UNDERSTANDING THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

    I’m a bit reluctant to come down on a guy without knowing all the details, but if the Yankees had an agreement in principal and then the Mariners backed out because they were “concerned about David Adams’ ankle,” as Joel Sherman (who has been all over this story like yellow feathers on Big Bird) reported, then Jack Zduriencik is without honor. First of all, just how severe an ankle injury was it? Was his foot separated from his leg? Hell, was it such a high sprain that his head was separated from his neck? Short of something really radical like that, an ankle injury seems like too transient a cause to derail a trade. In addition, the Yankees had other infielders in the system -- Corban Joseph is one level lower than Adams and two years younger, but in all other respects seems like the exact same player, a second baseman with the ability to hit for a nice average but whose defense is questionable enough that his future is murky. You don’t want Adams or Joseph, then take Eduardo Nunez (please). If the ankle was really what killed the deal, then it was a pretense pure and simple.

    It seems that Zduriencik made a calculation that having a Major League-ready player in Justin Smoak was more attractive than having the potential of Jesus Montero. It’s his right to come to that conclusion, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with it, although my Baseball Prospectus colleague Jay Jaffe makes a good point when he says that Smoak is a first baseman and that is all he will ever be, while with Montero you still have the chance, however remote, that he’ll turn into Roy Campanella. You can understand, though, the Seattle GM’s desire to show his fans something NOW rather than at some point in the future.

    Whatever the case, it’s still bad form to accept someone’s offer and then shop it. Again, we don’t know if that’s what happened, but the Yankees seem to have dropped some hints that that was what happened (Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the “Yankees are livid with Mariners”). Essentially, he used the Yankees as a tool to leverage the Rangers. It worked, so good for him, but he probably burned a bridge in doing so.

    Meanwhile, the Yankees still have a solid, though as I suggested earlier, playoff-problematic rotation. There are still other places they can turn if they want to do that, though none of the choices will be Cliff Lee. On the plus side, none of them will cost as much. The Yankees get to hold on to some good prospects, including Montero, who is still very special. As I said earlier, so what if he’s a DH? Team’s need productive designated hitters, and there’s no rule that says they have to be fat old guys. If Montero turns out to hit like Vladimir Guerrero but can’t play the field, well, I don’t see too many people complaining about what Vlad can’t do.

    That’s for the future. In the meantime, the Yankees having been used and thrown away. Brian Cashman can exact revenge in one simple way: he must pick up a right-handed bat to play the outfield and/or DH against lefties. This takes on an added urgency, because that righty, whoever he is, stands a very good chance of facing Cliff Lee in a big playoff spot. Magglio Ordonez is a .373 career hitter against Lee. Paul Konerko has killed him, hitting .362 with six home runs in 47 at-bats, but doesn’t figure to be available. Juan Rivera has hit three home runs off of him in just 15 at-bats. Jose Guillen has hit .360/.407/.640 against him. Jayson Werth would be a good investment for the reasons I related in the last entry.

    Cashman got knocked down. As the old Fields-Kern song goes, you pick yourself up, dust yourself up, and start all over again. The Mariners won’t be in a position for the Yankees to beat them in any meaningful way. The most appropriate, best revenge might come in the postseason against the Texas interlopers who upset the deal. The Yankees aren’t set up to beat Lee yet (not to mention C.J. Wilson, the likely second or third starter in a playoff series), but they can be once the Yankees GM gets back on his feet.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    The Pinstriped Lee Bible

    Friday, July 9, 2010, 2:07 PM [General]

    When I wrote in the last entry that if the Yankees acquired Cliff Lee prior to Friday night they could avoid facing him, I was entirely joking. And yet, here we are, apparently on the precipice of just such a deal.

    If the deal comes down as is being reported, with Jesus Montero and David Adams in the package, the Yankees will lose two quality prospects, albeit two that don’t have an obvious place to play. Second baseman Adams, 23, is having a terrific year for Trenton (he’s presently sitting out with an injury), hitting .309/.393/.507. Adams hitting has always been solid, and when someone hits that well for Trenton, you take notice. With Robinson Cano an immovable object at second, there is nowhere for him to play—second baseman don’t make good utility infielders because they’re usually challenged at short, and as well as Adams is hitting, his isn’t the kind of bat that’s going to play at any of the four corners due to a lack of longball power.

    Montero you know all about. He’s a special hitting prospect, his difficulties at Triple-A likely being transient. However, if the Yankees have determined he’s not a catcher, he was limited to DH with Mark Teixeira also being a brick wall. There is nothing wrong with making a kid your DH, though teams are highly averse to doing so. That said, DH is the easiest position to fill, the Yankees’ Nick-Johnsonian problems this year notwithstanding, and letting a player who you perceive as a pure DH block you from acquiring an ace starting pitcher would be foolhardy. The Yankees also have Austin Romine coming up right behind Montero; you could see him in Triple-A if the deal goes through. Despite a slump-y June, he’s still a solid prospect and a better defender than Montero, if unpolished.

    Lee is 31. Montero is 20. Even if the Yankees re-sign Lee, Montero will be playing long after Lee’s “Yankeeography” is in repeats. Still, as the old saying goes, flags fly forever. While the acquisition of Lee should have very little impact on the division race, the Yankees swapping out a competent pitcher for a competent pitcher (whoever goes to the pen or another team; that’s still not clear), it could have a major impact on the postseason. Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett struggled last October, while Javier Vazquez owns a 10.34 ERA in four postseason games, including some decisive thrashings at the hands of the Red Sox in 2004. Contrast that with Lee’s 2009 postseason: five starts, 4-0, 1.56 ERA. Instead of having to hit their way through Lee, since he might have gone to a team the Yankees would face in the playoffs or World Series, instead of having to rely on CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte and prayer, they’ll have this weapon on their side.

    As I write, details keep coming: Sweeny Murti tweets that Eduardo Nunez and Hector Noesi may be in the deal as well. Nunez’s bat is nothing special, and since the Yankees apparently don’t plan on relieving Derek Jeter any time soon (a discussion for another time, but for now suffice it to say that they’re probably right), his presence is not urgently required. Noesi looks like a heck of a young pitcher, but he’s more of an Ian Kennedy type than a Hughes-Joba Chamberlain; his velocity is nothing special. You can use a pitcher like that—there are only so many Hughes-Chamberlain arms out there—but the Yankees have been successful in building pitchers of this type and should be again. Joel Sherman is speculating that Zach McAllister is in the deal, and what goes for Noesi goes for him, too—he’s a feel guy, not a stuff guy. Again, there are feel guys in the Hall of Fame; you can’t take them for granted. You also shouldn’t hold them too closely to get an ace.

    In short, whatever you think of Adams, McAllister, Noesi, or whoever else is in the trade, the deal really comes down to Montero plus replaceable parts for Lee. That seems like a deal worth doing.

    It remains to be seen who moves out of the starting rotation. Sabathia and Pettitte obviously aren’t going anywhere, and given that Burnett is signed at $16.5 million a year through the end of time, messing with him doesn’t seem like a particularly productive idea. That leaves Vazquez, who could be traded, be it for prospects, bullpen help, or bench players, and Hughes.

    Hughes hasn’t impressed lately. Since his ERA dropped to 1.38 after his sixth start on May 12, he has a 5.56 ERA in nine starts, having been very hittable (.286/.329/.484) including allowing a ton of home runs. Sending him to the bullpen seems like a self-defeating move, especially in the long term—if you’re the Yankees you want to nurse him through his and help him find consistency as a starter—but trying to kill two birds with the same Lee seems like a possibility; you drop the weakest non-billionaire link out of the rotation and bolster the pen at the same time. Add in (overblown) concerns about Hughes’ innings limit and you can see how the trade might affect the rotation. Such a move with Hughes would eliminate the need for further trades, at least for the pen. It would still leave the weak DH situation unresolved, and the lack of platoon/bench strength against left-handers.

    Jayson Werth, anyone? He’s supposedly available, and though he would lose quite a bit of value moving out of the Phillies’ friendly ballpark and to the harder league, he’s a career .295/.397/.555 hitter against lefties, a terrific defender, and an excellent percentage base stealer. Do the Yankees have the bullets left to grab him?

    0 (0 Ratings)

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