A grand reopening

    Thursday, August 12, 2010, 10:48 AM [General]

    “The trick is to grow up without growing old.”
    - Casey Stengel

    The Pinstriped Bible has a new look! Veteran baseball writer Steven Goldman and his colleagues present a site with more frequent updates, and added features including video and audio podcasts. Click here for your new home of all things Yankees and varied interests that on any given day could include the worst Beatles song, the best Hitchcock film, or a guide to the best places to grab a taco in Brooklyn.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Good, but not great in August

    Monday, August 9, 2010, 8:17 PM [General]

    The Yankees are 12-8 in the their last 20 games, a .600 winning percentage. For most teams, even for the Yankees, that would usually be considered a very successful record. Why, then, does it seem like they have been slacking? First, the Yankees have mostly played better than .600 this year. In every April, June and July, they were winning more often. Only in May did they slip, and just slightly, to .552. Last month, they went 19-7. If you go 19-7 often enough, folks will start comparing you to the 1927 or 1998 Yankees. In contrast to July’s dominance, in their last ten games, the Yankees are 4-6, which is not just winning less often, it’s also not winning. They haven’t won more than two games in a row since the third week of July. But for two games in Toronto (starts by A.J. Burnett and Dustin Moseley), the pitchers have continued to perform quite well, but Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter aside there is no member of the offense who truly deserves to be called “hot.” Six-hundredth home run or not, Alex Rodriguez has been ice cold, Curtis Granderson has been less than grand, and Lance has been a real Berkman. Jorge Posada is still hitting less than .225 since coming off the disabled list, and Brett Gardner has dropped to .192 since hurting his wrist. Even Robinson Cano has hit just .279 (albeit with a .533 slugging percentage) since the end of June.

    Phi Hughes was inefficient in Monday’s game, but ultimately effective, allowing just two runs in six innings. The bullpen backed him up with three scoreless innings of relief. You can’t ask for much more than that. The problem is that the offense is sleeping. This should be transient; some of these players should wake up. Note I say “some,” because there are many things that we don’t really know about, and that is whether some of the oldsters will snap back.

    We’re still dealing with this year’s championship pursuit, so it is not only premature but almost perverse to talk about next year, and yet there are so many interesting questions that would arise if some of these players finish out the year in lethargic fashion. In my mind, I imagine the Yankees’ internal dialogue would go something like this:

    Q: What if A-Rod finishes with the worst production of his career?
    A: You try to pretend it’s a fluke and carry on, because he’s signed for the rest of eternity.

    Q: What if Derek Jeter does the same?
    A: Same thing. You re-sign him and let him pursue his 3,000th hit, because that will be a nice gate attraction. Besides, his numbers are still good by the standards of his position, and if we didn’t worry about his glove when he was 27, we’re not going to be too bothered at 37.

    Q: If Brett Gardner doesn’t recover, do we blame the injury or reclassify him as a fourth outfielder?
    A: Irrelevant; either way, we try to sign Carl Crawford.

    Q: What about Posada?
    A: He’s signed, too. We try to brazen things out with him and that Cervelli kid through about June and we hope that by then Austin Romine has pulled out of his two-month slump and has maybe also thrown out a runner or two.

    Q: You’re an optimistic guy, ain’tcha?
    A: And handsome, too. Watch me juggle these five smartphones!

    At the risk of engendering more reader mail that says that I have an irrational prejudice against Jeter, celebrating his passing Babe Ruth in total hits is a bit like cheering him for passing Ruth in stolen bases, something which happened back in 2001. Despite being a .342 hitter, in most seasons Ruth couldn’t put up huge hit totals because he was pitched around so much. When nearly 2100 of your plate appearances end in ball four, you just have fewer opportunities to make hits. He also wasn’t focused on that. Ruth said that he could have been a .400 hitter had he choked up and concentrated more on making contact, but he knew that he was paid to hit home runs, not singles. Given that in his best years he hit .372 to .393, it seems as if he had a point. Finally, add in that Ruth didn’t start playing regularly until he was 24, and you have less of an opportunity to pile up the singles than a 22-season career would seem to suggest.

    The Captain (Ruth was Yankees captain as well, for about two minutes) is a different hitter, generally focused on hitting to the opposite field for singles rather than hitting the ball a country mile. For his 2,875 hits, Jeter has 2,122 singles -- and in 719 more at-bats than Ruth had. Of the Babe’s 2,873 hits, just 1,517 hits went for one base. The outfielders had to chase the other 1,356. This is no knock on Jeter -- he is his own player and a wonderful, Hall of Fame-worthy player at that. It’s just a matter of apples and oranges. There is no direct comparison to be made between the two, except to say that both players had careers that were long and very successful. Jeter’s hit record is a measure of that longevity.

    The new Pinstriped Bible is coming this week!

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Considering Guillen

    Friday, August 6, 2010, 3:23 PM [General]

    Here is the first thing you have to know: from the beginning of 2009 to this point in 2010, Jose Guillen has hit .198/.281/.305 against left-handed pitching.

    Now we can start.

    Over in the New York Post, the impressively grizzled reporter George King writes that the Yankees are “eyeing” Jose Guillen, designated for assignment yesterday by the rebuilding Royals. King writes:

    With switch-hitting Berkman struggling against lefties it's likely he will DH against right-handed pitchers. That leaves Marcus Thames and Kearns from the right side and the question the Yankees have to ask themselves is Guillen better than either one of them because the hamstring problem has turned him into a DH.

    If Guillen isn’t going to play the field, then the question for the Yankees is not whether he’s better than Austin Kearns, who gets to wear a glove, but if he’s better than Marcus Thames at hitting left-handers. The short answer is, almost certainly not, and not just because of the poor hitting mentioned above. Thames is a career .263/.336/.509 hitter against left-handers, and he’s hitting .328/.412/.431 against them this year, albeit in very limited playing time. I’m less concerned about small sample sizes with Thames and left-handers, because even if the batting average is up and the power a bit down, he’s still doing something that is consistent with his overall abilities.

    Guillen is a career .271/.328/.461 hitter against left-handed pitching, but we shouldn’t care too much about the career numbers because the old man has not only been around forever, but was rushed to the Majors by the Pirates and really didn’t do anything useful until he was 27. Guillen hit .260/.305/.398 in his first 600-plus games in the bigs and then started to figure things out. What we want to ask is, if Guillen’s 2009-2010 results against lefties are some kind of injury-inflected fluke, (1) is he ready to recover and do what needs doing, and (2) what did he do over a more relevant time-span, say the last five years?

    The answer to (1) is pretty easy: there is no real reason to think he’s going to suddenly wake up upon arrival in New York—no physical reason, anyway. Guillen’s reputation for anti-professional behavior is pretty strong, and while he might get psyched with something to play for, he’s famously sulky when he doesn’t play. As a platoon guy against left-handers, he’s going to sit often enough that there’s going to be a black cloud over his part of the clubhouse. You don’t really need that. Nor do you need the attitude that my BP colleague Rany Jazayerli described on his respected Royals blog:

    The following day, as the trading deadline passed and every other member of the team was in uniform in preparation for the game, Guillen alone sat at his locker with his jeans still on, and only after it was clear that he hadn’t been traded did he grudgingly decide to get dressed. You don’t have to be Einstein to understand the implication.

    As for (2), he was a bit better than Thames. From 2004 to 2008, Guillen hit .287/.349/.510 against left-handers. Is that so much better that the Yankees would want to cut bait on Thames, who has done his job all year long, and then endure Guillen’s cheerful comportment for the next eight weeks? In real terms, it is not. Again, given the player’s recent performance, injuries, and age, a bounce-back seems unlikely… So, why are we even taking about this?

    Stay tuned for details!

    A quickie as we wait for the Red Sox and the Yankees to take the field and possibly settle Boston’s hash for 2010. Reader “Nevada Yank” thinks I was trashing on Derek Jeter yesterday, though that was far from the case. It’s a long note, so I’ll break it up and jump in here and there. You can see the full comment here.

    Considering Steve again rants about Jeter's abilities after 5 yrs of reading him, I would suggest Steve focus on the middle of the Yankee order which until recently with Tex's rejuvenate has been a negative almost year long. How is it that you expect Jeter to get good pitches when Tex and Arod until recently have been targets for pitchers to get outs. Why pitch to Jeter and Cano when you can avoid them by pitching to Tex, Arod, Posada and Granderson.

    I appreciate your taking the time to comment, Nevada Yank, but this is just illogical. If Jeter isn’t getting good pitches, isn’t being pitched to, as you say, then why is his walk rate way down? Shouldn’t he be taking those bad pitches, as he has done previously? Instead, he’s gone fishing. If Jeter were really being pitched around, his OBP would be higher, not lower. Besides, as I suggested yesterday, the kind of lineup synergies you suggest either don’t exist or have a minute effect. Even if they did, whatever has happened lower in the order, Jeter has had Nick Swisher hitting behind him for 50-plus games this year, so there is really no benefit to passing him—solo shots stand a better chance of becoming two-run homers. No, Jeter is getting himself out more than pitchers have changed the way they’re dealing with him.

    As far as being a leadoff batter Jeter may not have his historic OBP but yet he is batting .280 and has 125 hits, those hits are second to Cano who most are considering a MVP candidate this year.

    Batting average isn’t the best measure of offense, or the third-best. It doesn’t tell you how often a player reaches base, which is, if not the only thing we should care about, pretty darned close. As for raw hit totals, you know that’s not why Cano is an MVP candidate. No one really cares how many hits he gets, but how often he hits them and where they go. You’re giving us ice cream toppings, but no ice cream, information that doesn’t really tell us anything about the quality of the batter’s season.

    In other words Steve get over your dislike for Jeter and start focusing on actual changes that could help the Yankee batting order.

    Jeter is a Hall of Famer. One would have to be an idiot to dislike him, especially one, as I have often said, who grew up with Bobby Meacham as the Yankees’ shortstop. Further, I said the Yankees should not move him down right now. I don’t mind arguing about things I said, but let’s not argue about things I didn’t say.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Praising Joe Girardi's managing

    Thursday, August 5, 2010, 6:05 PM [General]

    In our last entry, I went on at great length about the untimely manifestation of Coffee Joe earlier this week. I meant to provide perspective by also mentioning some praiseworthy things that Joe Girardi has done this year. In the heat of the moment, I lost track of that goal and didn’t go beyond my indictment of Coffee Joe. I want to correct that now. He has, within certain limitations, constructed an excellent batting order this year. The main innovation has been batting Nick Swisher second. This is an untraditional choice, since nine times out of ten managers will still bat a banjo-hitting middle infielder second instead of a power bat. Swisher has completely changed his approach this year. He’s walking less but hitting for a higher batting average and more power. Ironically, even the old Nick Swisher, the one that hit .249 last year, would have been a good choice to bat second. He gets on base, he hits for power. In short, he’s a hitter who can make things happen.

    As I’ve often said in this space (and on street corners, barstools, doctor’s waiting rooms, and sometimes with the blankets pulled up to my nose at 4:21 in the morning), the batting order is not about creating synergies between hitters that will allow scoring events to build to a climax like a set of dominoes that gets knocked over. That happens a little bit, but not so much that it’s worth raising up a bad hitter over a good one. All raising a bad hitter in the batting order does is give that bad hitter more times at the plate over your good hitters. The number-two spot in the batting order will have the second-most turns at bat in a given year. The Yankees don’t have any truly bad hitters other than when Francisco Cervelli (.190 since the end of May) plays, so there are only so many ways a manager could screw up the batting order even if he wanted to. Yet, Girardi could have been suckered by speed, insisting on batting Curtis Granderson (normally not a bad choice) and the effective but powerless Brett Gardner higher up in the order. Instead, he’s emphasized power, which far more than speed wins ballgames.

    Now, I said “within certain limitations.” That limitation is Derek Jeter, who is having what might turn out to be the worst season of his career. His walk percentage is the lowest of his career as his plate judgment setting has apparently been flicked to “off.” He’s seeing 3.5 pitches per plate appearance, tied for the lowest rate of his career. Since his batting average is also down -- and no doubt the two are related -- his on-base percentage is currently a career-low .341. He has been far from the ideal leadoff man this year.

    Jeter’s performance is connected to the word “limitation” because Girardi is almost certainly hamstrung in the way that he deals with Jeter in the same way that Casey Stengel had to be careful before he dropped an aging Joe DiMaggio out of the cleanup spot. Not only would it be a political issue, it isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. Jeter had a .400 OBP as recently as last year. It’s entirely possible that at 36, the Jeter going forward is the Jeter we’re seeing now. It is also possible that Jeter suddenly wakes up -- perhaps his 4-for-4 on Wednesday is the beginning -- and finishes the year with a terrific, Jeterian two months. Given the inevitable distraction that would ensue if Girardi dropped Jeter to, say, seventh, which wouldn’t be unjustified in this lineup, and the real possibility that Jeter will bounce back, making a move just isn’t worth it.

    We should also credit Girardi’s handling of the pitching staff. Six American League managers have had 10 or more blown quality starts, which is to say that after six innings their starter had allowed three or fewer earned runs, but they left him in long enough to give up more runs. Ozzie Guillen has blown 18 percent of his quality starts. Girardi has blown five, or seven percent. Wednesday’s game was a good example of his touch in this regard. Rather than forcing Phil Hughes to labor on a 100-degree day (one wonders if this kind of weather is going to be the summer norm around here from now on, a depressing thought), he pulled him after 5 1/3 innings and 99 pitches. Sometimes it’s not just the pitch count that matters to a young pitcher’s health (not to mention the game outcome) but the pitching conditions, and Girardi was wise to take the heat into account.

    No, it’s not Coffee Joe all the time, just every now and again. If Girardi can keep his caffeinated nemesis down in the hole (to borrow from “The Wire”/Tom Waits) during the playoffs, the Yankees should only have to fear their opponents, not their skipper. Speaking of which, the playoffs became that much more of a possibility today when the Yankees were able to back into first place thanks to a Rays loss to the Twins. There is much more conflict to go before anything is settled, and this weekend’s Red Sox series will tell a great deal. If the Sox can sweep, the Yankees have to contend with two teams instead of one. If they do anything less than that, it’s curtains for them. With Kevin Youkilis out for the season, you’d think the odds would be against them, but the pitching matchups are pretty nicely balanced and may even slope towards the Red Sox.

    •Yesterday’s chat transcript—debating odd rules about catch the ball in the outfield, plus relationship advice.
    New column about why the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    One too many moves

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010, 12:49 PM [General]

    Two small matters to discuss regarding Monday night’s game, and let’s not make too big a deal of this because the game was lost in the seven-run fifth, not because of anything Joe Girardi did later.

    Coffee Joe made an unfortunate appearance yesterday. Those who have been reading since last year know that Coffee Joe, Joe Girardi’s over-managing alter ego, first manifested during last year’s playoffs, when Joe started making MOVES! BIG moves, running pitchers in and out of the game like he had a 43-man staff. Since then, Coffee Joe has largely been quiet, but every once in awhile he creeps out. It wasn’t when he yanked Curtis Granderson for Marcus Thames. That was a measured decision, even if it did distort the defense. No, the caffeinated action came in the bottom of the eighth when the tying run came to the plate in the form of Brett Gardner.

    Cito Gaston reacted to having runners on first and second and Gardner, a singles hitter at the plate by calling for lefty David Purcey. Former starter Purcey has been rough on lefty hitters this year, holding them to .148/.258/.185, albeit in a grand total of 31 plate appearances. It may not be a fluke; despite right-handers beating on him like schoolyard bullies last year, lefties hit only .156/.291/.222 against him (55 PA). No doubt this information was percolatin’ in Joe’s brain, causing Coffee Joe to rouse himself from his dormant state and pinch-hit for Gardner with Austin Kearns. Probably sealing the decision was Gardner’s current slump—from July 1 on, Gardner has hit .210/.360/.321. This cold snap dates almost precisely to the right wrist contusion that Gardner suffered on June 28.

    Even if Gardner is playing with one hand tied behind his back, note the on-base percentage—in his last 101 plate appearances he has taken 18 walks, a pace for over 100 bases on balls in a full season. The patience is still there, which makes Gardner’s turns at the plate valuable even if his hitting isn’t currently all that it can be. It should also be noted that Gardner is hitting a respectable .263/.388/.379 against southpaws, retaining his patience against same-side pitchers. Given his slump and general lack of power, Gardner was probably the least likely Yankee to hit a three-run home run to tie the game (other than Alex Rodriguez, I mean), but he was also one of the Yankees most likely to reach base and continue the inning and get Derek Jeter to the plate—a situation which has its own problems, but that’s a subject for another day.

    Other than being right-handed, Kearns had little to recommend him in the situation. Since the end of April, he has hit .249/.336/.372 with six home runs, or only one more than Gardner has hit. He has drawn 29 walks, or only 11 more than Gardner has drawn in the last four weeks. He doesn’t hit left-handers well at all. In that same May 1-present span of games, Kearns has hit .249/.336/.372 against right-handers, .225/.303/.338 against lefties. The Yankees got him to take some platoon at-bats away from Curtis Granderson because almost anyone would be better, but that’s not the same thing as saying that Kearns is good against left-handers, and just because he’s better than the helpless Granderson doesn’t mean that he’s better than the patient Gardner.

    Kearns struck out, but even if he had hit a game-tying three-run shot, Coffee Joe would have been lucky, not correct. Sometimes the old baseball clichés are correct, and in this case, “You dance with the one that brung ya” holds sway: Girardi needs to keep faith with his .390-.400 on-base percentage man Gardner and forget about trying to force magical Earl Weaver home runs from the bench. It only works if you have the players, and neither Joe Girardi nor Coffee Joe has then.

    The other manifestation of Coffee Joe in the game: calling on his pet, Sergio Mitre, who allowed inherited runner Aaron Hill to score. Oh yes, and the other reason I worry: A.J. Burnett in the clutch. That’s not a Coffee Joe thing, it’s just a Yankees thing. The playoff rotation is going to be interesting.

    …Do you have your Rangers bid in?

    After many delays and unplanned rescheduling, I will have my next live chat on Wednesday at 1 p.m. As always, if you can’t make it at that time (hard to imagine why you wouldn’t, really) you can get questions in at the link and I’ll see answer as many of them as possible during the chat.

    There’s a new BP bit up on Buck Showalter and the possible futility of his quest to redeem the Orioles.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Sunday break not a bad gamble

    Monday, August 2, 2010, 12:57 PM [General]

    Or as Cole Porter wrote, it was just one of those things. Normally, Wallace Matthews of ESPN.com would have a very good point: why would Joe Girardi rest his regulars against their top division rival?

    No Alex Rodriguez? No Brett Gardner? Berkman at first in place of Mark Teixeira? Kearns starting in left? If it wasn't for the name "Jeter" appearing where it is just about every day, at the top of the list, it would have been difficult to determine at first glance that this was a Yankees lineup card at all.

    Thus did the Yankees go down quietly in the rubber game of a key series. The problem with getting exercised about this is that it really wasn’t all that key. Sure, the Yankees are now at greater risk of swapping places in the standings with the Rays, but they are also still 6.5 games ahead of the Red Sox for the wild card spot. In the worst of worst-case scenarios, the Yankees will still play on into October. There was no reason for Girardi to treat Sunday’s contest like a World Series game because, as much as we’d like to pretend it had that kind of import, thanks to the wild card scheme it just wasn’t as important as it otherwise would have been.

    Besides, Girardi was taking a pretty good gamble in picking Sunday’s game. As good as James Shields was yesterday, that’s how bad he was in the 11 starts preceding it. On May 25, he pitched eight innings of two-run ball against the Red Sox. Thereafter, he made a habit of getting shellacked on a regular basis. His ERA for the 12 games between then and yesterday’s start was 6.68. Girardi had at least a reasonable basis for thinking he might be able to finesse this one with his B squad.

    This year we have good races in two of the three American League divisions and all three of the National League divisions. Two of those races are going to be rendered moot by the wild card, but that’s the way it goes -- unless baseball goes to a four-division format in each league, which would require a round of expansion and realignment that just isn’t economically feasible in these deprived days, the wild card is the best way for keeping up fan interest in the teams on the fringes of the race. The price paid is that some good races are robbed of their tension. That’s the case in the AL East this year -- although if you’re a Red Sox fan you’re plenty tense. The Yankees and the Rays can’t take anything for granted, but as of right now they’re safe. If Girardi would rather keep his powder dry for a postseason confrontation, you can’t blame him. It’s no fun, but that’s the way it is.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Wood deal just tra la la

    Saturday, July 31, 2010, 6:03 PM [General]

    As I said on Twitter earlier, having acquired Kerry Wood, the Yankees now stand an excellent chance of winning the 2001 World Series. Kerry Wood has been fairly miserable the last couple of years. As a closer in 2009-2010, he converted 28 saves and blew nine, which is an unacceptable conversion rate. Last year, he had pitched at least somewhat effectively, unlike this season which has been marred by injuries. Still, if you put the two seasons together you get 81 games and 75 innings with 39 walks (too many) and 10 home runs (too many). You also get 81 strikeouts, which is nice but less than what Wood used to be capable of. Wood’s ERA for the last year and a half is 4.80, but that’s not representative; when you consider inherited runners he’s allowed to score that were charged to other pitchers, a more representative ERA would probably be creeping towards 6.00.

    All of that said, this acquisition is much like that of Austin Kearns: it doesn’t cost much and it’s worth a try given the miserable production that the player is replacing. In Kearns’ case, that’s Curtis Granderson’s at-bats against left-handers. With Wood, his place on the roster comes at the expense of Chan Ho Park, who was designated for assignment in order to make room for him. Ironically, Park had pitched about as well as he had all year in July, but apparently his vanishing act against Cleveland two days ago, in which he initially pitched well and then did his level best to turn a blowout into a competitive game, apparently sealed his fate.

    Park should never should have been signed, and in taking him off the roster, Brian Cashman tacitly admits to his mistake. Note I didn’t say “releasing him,” because he’s merely been designated -- given what the Dodgers gave away for Octavio Dotel, Cashman might even know be on the phone to Los Angeles getting two decent prospects for the shell of a reliever who has rarely been good when not wearing blue letters on his chest.

    When Casey Stengel would coach hitters, he would sometimes say that they shouldn’t try to do too much, “just tra la la.” This is a just tra la la deal. It probably won’t make that rickety bridge to Mo-where any more reliable than it has been, but it might, which is more than you could have said for “They can take him deep in any” Park. The cost seems to have been negligible, the risk low -- Wood’s option for 2011 won’t be picked up, and the player to be named won’t be Jesus Montero and might not even be a player, but just more money. Cashman didn’t mortgage the future for transient relief help and he didn’t stand by his failed acquisition either, just tra la la.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    What to make of the Lance Berkman trade

    Saturday, July 31, 2010, 3:51 PM [General]

    Now that the Berkman trade is official, a couple of words on the price paid to get him:

    Mark Melancon was treated strangely by the Yankees this year and in general. His resume entering the season as excellent. They signed Chan Ho Park despite possessing a kid who threw in the low-90s, a cruel curve, and ground-ball tendencies. In both the minors and the majors, he was very difficult to take out of the park; in 232 processional innings, Melancon has allowed just 15 home runs. His control was also good in the minors, at least until this season. He struggled with walks in the majors, and seemed to take that problem back to Scranton with him, so we will never know if he would have licked the problem with more patient handling.

    The stranger part of Melancon’s Yankees years was the way the organization piled on the innings. He was coming off Tommy John surgery in 2008, yet he pitched 95 innings, dangerously near the 100-inning, Killing Scott Proctor mark. This year, between the Major Leagues and the Minors he was already near the 50-inning mark at the halfway point. One wonders if between being blocked by an extra-organizational non-entity like Park and being worked like he was Mike Marshall ’74 we have the explanation for the right-hander’s current bout of overthrowing. Whatever the cause, however curable, it is clear that the Yankees did not believe in him. If they didn’t give him a real chance to make this mess of a bullpen, they weren’t going to give him a chance, period.

    Jimmy Paredes is a 21-year-old middle infielder playing down in the Sally League. Anything can happen in the next few years, but it’s a stretch to consider him any kind of prospect. He can hit for a bit of average, but lacks power, has drawn 39 unintentional walks in 1,112 career plate appearances, and lacks sure hands at any position—his career fielding percentage at third is .858, at shortstop .899, and at second .926. With those kinds of results, he’s begging for a move to the outfield. He has the speed but lacks the bat. If he doesn’t move, he wasn’t going to push Robinson Cano, so like Melancon he won’t be missed.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Few quick words on Austin Kearns

    Saturday, July 31, 2010, 10:14 AM [General]

    Google around and you will see that Austin Kearns was a guy I was thinking of as a possible platoon partner for Curtis Granderson going back to the center fielder’s acquisition. In truth, beyond being right-handed and being more capable with the glove than Marcus Thames, he’s not an ideal fit. First, after a very promising beginning to his career with the Reds back in 2002, he idled along at an offensive level that wasn’t terribly good for a guy playing right field, hitting .256/.350/.441 from 2003 to 2007. Then the injuries hit, elbow problems in 2008 and thumb surgery in 2009. Between the two wounds, his hitting ability disappeared almost altogether. He got in about a full season if you add the last two seasons together (568 plate appearances) and hit .209/.320/.312.

    As Kearns’ contract expired last fall, it seemed unlikely he would ever again be a regular. The Indians were in a desperate phase, so they took a chance. Kearns rewarded them amply in April, hitting .373/.429/.627. There were visions of the guy who hit .315 as a rookie making an unexpected return. It was not to be. Since cooling from that hot start, Kearns has hit .247/.336/.368, firmly back in the land of insufficient results for a corner man. But wait! What are his qualifications as a platoon man, since all the Yankees are going to ask him to do is stand in against left-handers. Well, I’m sorry you asked that. He’s hitting .250/.330/.390 against southpaws, and his career rates against them are only .261/.383/.416, with just 26 home runs in 843 at-bats. When you consider that the average American League hitter is averaging .269/.346/.422 against southpaws, it is clear that Kearn’s is a subpar performance.

    However, not all of those average AL hitters are capable of playing the outfield with greater aplomb than Thames, and those that can might not have been available to the Yankees. Kearns plays the position the Yankees needed to fill if they are to protect Granderson and themselves from those pesky lefties. A career .211/.267/.336 hitter against same-side pitchers, Granderson is batting .214/.252/.286 against them. Kearns is far from the ideal substitute, but he is indisputably an upgrade at the plate.

    The same sort of mixed message applies to Kearns’ glove. His defensive play in right field has always been highly rated, but a comparison of defensive metrics suggests that he hasn’t shown the same ability in left. Whether that represents a true decline in defense remains to be seen; players frequently have fluctuations in their defensive performances just as they do at the plate or on the mound. Kearns has also played 68 career games in center, but it has long since been clear that he’s a player of last resort for the position.

    Brian Cashman has said for the last month or so that his goal has been to upgrade the bench. He has done so here, however flawed and disappointing Kearns has been. Best of all, the terms are for the Yankees to give up a player to be named or cash, so it seems unlikely that any prospect of real value will be lost as a result of the transaction. They didn’t get an ideal lefty-masher, but they have at least begun to address a nagging weakness.

    1.9 (2 Ratings)

    Tired of singing the Berkman blues

    Friday, July 30, 2010, 5:42 PM [General]

    Still no Yankees pick-ups as the team hordes its prospects for the day that Boston makes Babe Ruth available. If you’re not going to use these players at the Major League level, they only have value as trade chips. They’re a bit like sushi: you can’t put it in the fridge and use it a month from now. Still, things are apparently happening. The twitterverse says that the Yankees are out on Adam Dunn, are now dogging Lance Berkman’s footsteps. For those that missed the first few minutes of the film, here’s the Berkman recap (naturally, I am alluding to the great Swedish film director, Ingmar Berkman): He’s a career .296/.410/.549 hitter, but though he bats from both sides of the plate, most of the damage has been done from the left side. Batting against southpaws, he has hit only .262/.366/.415, which is worth playing in the absence of a better alternative. However, if we’re talking DH-only, then you would probably rather sit for Marcus Thames.

    We probably are talking about a player who would be restricted to designated hitter, because although Berkman has played nearly 900 games in the outfield, the majority of them in left, he was never known for his mobility and hasn’t gotten away from first base in three years, and last started even 30 games in the pastures back in 2006. He’s not going to make it easier to rest Curtis Granderson against lefties.

    Berkman missed the first few weeks of the season with a strained groin and didn’t hit much out of the gates. In fact, he hasn’t hit much at all by his standards. He’s at .245/.372/.436 for the season, .188/.278/.281 against lefties, .261/.395/.479 against righties. Put together his last two months and you get .259/.385/.465 in 48 games, eight balls jumping the fences in 170 at-bats. Away from his cozy home field, he’s hit .194/.357/.343, though he has not always been a product of Minute Maid Park.

    So, will he help? Well, he’s a patient hitter. His walk totals have been inflated by 15-20 intentional walks a year, free passes he won’t get in the AL, but he’s no hacker. His home run totals have been on a steady downward slide—45, 34, 29, 25, 13 (and counting) this year, but he’s only 34, which makes him a young Yankee—he could find a second wind. Either way, it’s the on-base percentage that’s important. If he does what’s been doing, he’ll approximate what Nick Johnson would have done had he not been built by the same engineers who constructed the Titanic. Yankees designated hitters have hit .250/.358/.424 this year—Juan Miranda, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher, and Thames have given decent value when they have rotated through, everyone else, not so much. Again, if Berkman can just do what he’s been doing, that’s a minor upgrade, perhaps an insignificant one. If he can rediscover his essential inner-Berkmanness then the Yankees would obviously get a major upgrade at the position. Again, Thames should still be part of the rotation there.

    Berkman’s contract would require the Yankees to either pick up his $15 million option for 2011 or buy him out for $2 million at the end of the year. He will almost certainly be bought out regardless of how he does, and both he and the Yankees can proceed in any direction from that point. He would just be a three-month rental, August, September, and with luck all of October. If the Yankees aren’t going to give up much in the way of prospects in return for taking on what remains of Berkman’s $14.5 million this year and the $2 million buyout, well, it’s just money and they will still have all of those lovely prospects to use at some point. When? We’re still not sure. Maybe next year, maybe in trade for someone even better for Berkman, say Cliff Lee or Dan Haren. Or maybe not.

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    OK, so maybe not

    Thursday, July 29, 2010, 4:23 PM [General]

    Wednesday’s speculation on Roy Oswalt proved to be the merest Hail Mary into the night after the stadium’s lights were turned out, as the Astros and Phillies have now come to terms on a deal; Oswalt has apparently given his blessing to the deal. The sad aspect of this whole business is that if Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. had merely hung on to Cliff Lee instead of dealing him to the Mariners for what he claimed was a prospect reload, they never would have had to trade for Oswalt in the first place.

    I expect that someday we will find out that ownership ordered Amaro to trade Lee and he has been forced to grin through a deal that was 99 percent likely to backfire. Roy Halladay and Lee was always going to be better than Halladay or Lee, particularly when the Phils had such a thin rotation to begin with. I’m working on a longer consideration of the following for tomorrow: you can almost never trade a Cliff Lee-level talent and get proper value in prospects, just because very few prospects achieve that level of greatness and, taking things a step further, very few prospects achieve any level of greatness at all.

    Meanwhile, we wait on the Yankees and have a greater mystery to ponder. Did the Yankees withdraw Joba Chamberlain from trade talks for Dan Haren? As much as I think that Chamberlain will improve, a Haren in the hand is worth a lot more than hopes pinned to Chamberlain’s peripheral stats and radar gun readings.

    As I completed this section, the prospects included in the Oswalt deal were apparently revealed and they aren’t any better than what the D’backs got for Haren. They may be worse. At these prices, the Yankees should be able to trade a real prospect like Jesus Montero for two future Hall of Famers and a year of backrubs from the supermodel of their choice, or to put it another way, they shouldn’t have to trade Montero at all to get real talent, especially if that talent makes money. Heck, the Astros apparently are paying $11 million to ease the sting of Oswalt’s salary and they’re still not getting much back—a league-average starter type in J.A. Happ and two middling prospects. Reportedly it appears that the Astros didn’t get much at all. Bring on Adam Dunn—the Yankees offer a bag of onions.

    Buck Showalter will take over as the Orioles’ manager next week. He will be the first strong-willed, personality-driven manager they have had since Davey Johnson. Showalter has opinions about how an organization should be run, which the Orioles probably need after so many years in the wilderness. He also tends to wear out his welcome with the intensity of his feelings, and I recall that whatever the controversy in the media when George Steinbrenner canned him for Joe Torre after the 1995 playoffs, those within the organization weren’t at all conflicted. In this, Showalter has a bit of the old Billy Martin in him. The question will be whether ownership stays out of his way enough to let him do what needs to be done, and if he will get to stick around long enough to finish the job instead of getting terminated the year before his club wins a World Series. On the other hand, the Orioles have so far to go that if he gets fired with the club on the precipice of a championship he might have put in 20 years on the job.

    No manager can take a club as hopeless as the current O’s and make them a winner, but in Matt Wieters, Ada Jones, Nick Markakis, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and others the team had young talent that was expected to give a better accounting of itself than it has to date. That talent remains waiting to be tapped, and sometimes a new manager can find ways of helping those players take a decisive step forward. If Showalter can get just a few of those guys to do things in the majors that are more consistent with their minor league performances, the Orioles could get better in a hurry—not Yankees/Rays/Red Sox better, but they can at least reach the outer country of “respectable.”

    • Continuing my just-for-fun run of managerial best-of teams, I have the Chuck Tanner All-Stars up at BP. Tanner was rumored to be taking over the Yankees at one point during the annual Lou Piniella-Billy Martin rotation. Be thankful it didn’t happen.

    • As always, you can follow me on Twitter at PB_Steve.

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    We fear the unknown

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 5:22 PM [General]

    As Matthew Pouliot writes, the Yankees lose disproportionately to pitchers they’ve never seen before. YES also had this as a graphic during last night’s game. Including Josh Tomlin, 11 pitchers have made their Major League debuts against the Yankees since 2000. For the most part, these pitchers are now well-established fringe types or have never been heard from again, with the exception being Josh Peavy. The Yankees have gone 3-8 in those games.

    I haven’t done the research, but I also have the distinct impression that the Yankees have hit good pitchers better than bad ones, which is to say that if a pitcher comes into a game against the Yankees with an ERA of 3.30, he’s more likely to get thrashed than a pitcher who comes in with an ERA of 5.30. This is purely an uninformed impression I have from years of looking at the daily pitching matchups and seeing things like Andy Pettitte vs. Joe Kickmesign of the Orioles and thinking, “Tonight’s score is going to be 11-1,” but in actuality it ends up being 2-1. Rob Neyer says that this would be an example of a confirmation bias, and he’s probably right. He also says that those 11 pitchers have been more lucky than good, and he’s almost certainly right about that as well. It’s still frustrating to watch.

    One wonders if the Yankees are lying in wait on Roy Oswalt. Having been outbid/cheated out of Cliff Lee and been caught napping (or something) on Dan Haren, Oswalt remains the only game-changing starter available. The Cardinals are supposedly out, the surging Phillies supposedly in, but that seems to be it in terms of prominent bidders. The hang-up, as it has been, are twofold: Oswalt has a full no-trade clause and he has a poison-pill option for 2012 at $16 million (or a $2 million buyout). To get him to bypass one, you probably have to agree to the other. The Yankees are one of the few teams that could swallow the money if they felt like doing so. Oswalt will be 34 in two years, which is old but not frighteningly old. The bigger question in my mind is whether he would be comfortable in New York. He’s from a one-horse town in central Mississippi, and the Bronx is about as far from there as you can get in terms of cultural and physical environment. I’ve been to Mississippi several times—my wife is from there—and what’s surprising is just how empty and rural much of it is compared to the Northeast. If New York is the city that never sleeps, Mississippi is the state that’s in a coma.

    Given those obstacles, what remains is Ed Wade’s asking price. Given the inflated contract and the inevitable push on the option, the Astros can expect salary relief or prospects but not both. Given that the Cardinals just publicly slammed the door on a deal, the Astros, to paraphrase W.S. Gilbert, do not yet have their eyes open to their awful situation. You don’t get Jesus Montero in return for taking on roughly $40 million in unanticipated salary. The alternative for the Astros is that they keep paying an ace pitcher to lose games for a bad team, not getting anything for him when he leaves as a 35-year-old free agent, and they don’t get to add anything at all to their system. The perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good, especially when your club is 41-59 and your farm is as likely to bloom as the Sahara desert in summer.

    Assuming that Houston does not lessen its intransigence, I remain intrigued by big Prince Fielder. The Brewers are reportedly deciding if they are out of it or not, but given that they are eight games out in their division and 9.5 games behind the wild card leader, it’s not clear exactly which scales have to fall away for them to get the picture. Fielder, currently hitting .262/.400/.504, is the kind of big left-handed power hitter who would give the Yankees their own version of David Ortiz for awhile. Sure, it would lock up the designated hitter position, but the Yankees aren’t doing anything with it anyway. Failing that, jumping in on the .292/.349/.568 Corey Hart as a split outfielder-DH wouldn’t be a bad idea either, though no one has whispered the word “Yankees” in connection with him as of yet, but as we’ve seen, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Pinstriped Big Brother isn’t watching. The main problem with Hart, as opposed to Fielder, is that with Prince you know that he is what he is. Hart’s Major League career consists of 1.5 good years and 2.5 that aren’t helpful when coming from a corner outfielder. Buy at your own peril, but in the short-term, and with careful benching against select right-handers and extensive use at DH (probably his best position), he could help.

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