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)

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