11:49 PM of the soul

    Friday, June 18, 2010, 9:56 PM [General]


    I come to you this evening from the Critical Care Unit waiting room of a metropolitan area hospital, where my father is attempting to make his way through another stay on the disabled list. I don’t want to give you the impression that the old man is the retired-accountant version of Nick Johnson or a young, frangible Paul Molitor. Until his recent bout with a cascading series of system failures, he’s been fairly solid. I mean, the Iron Horse he ain’t, but he’s been cooking along at a fairly stable pace between incidents until this season. It’s kind of like Rickey Henderson’s 1987, when the hamstring just wouldn’t heal, its intransigence driving Lou Piniella into fits of impotent rage.

    The only kind of fit I’m having is the one that comes on in reaction to a nightmarish situation that can’t be avoided.  It’s that night-before feeling that you get if you’re about to have surgery. It’s not me, not this time, though I’ve been there, but one I’m experiencing vicariously due to Pa’s dilemma. And I’ve never called him “Pa,” because this isn’t “Little House on the Prairie,” but it will do for now.  No one has said that it’s curtains for my father, but he is in a difficult place and all I can really do is root, root, root for the home doctors, wait, watch, and offer my support. Oh, and I can occasionally throw out bits of trivia about old time ballplayers. I’m surprised they don’t offer me a medical degree on the basis of that ability alone. I could be Dr. Irrelevant.

    The CCU kicks all visitors to the curb during a 90-minute shift change. I got to the waiting room a little bit ahead of the throng of similarly worried relatives (no one who has a relative in critical care returns from a visit a-tap-tap-tapping their toes and trilling, “There’s a Rainbow  ‘Round My Shoulder” with Jolsonian brio; that was one of the incongruities that made Dennis Potter’s “The Singing Detective” so effective). Shouldering aside the young and the elderly alike, I seized control of the television set. For the first and, I am hopeful, only time, I am grateful that the game is on My9, for the hospital does not have YES.  Through 1.5 innings, the Yankees are down 1-0, and Javier Vazquez looks, well, Vazquez-y.  Is that better than appearing Joba-ish? I leave that to you. To paraphrase the Beatles, the love you take is equal to the outs you make.


    I had intended to make one of this week’s entries a “To the Mats with Reader Comments,” but of course my honored father’s illness (right after going out of warranty, wouldn’t ya know) delayed that. I had wanted to respond to the fellow who said that Curtis Granderson’s 742 lifetime plate appearances against lefthanders should be considered a small sample that he might conceivably outgrow at the age of 29. I suppose in real world terms it might be, but it is over a season’s-worth of PAs, and he has been reasonably consistent with it. He did well, in a truly small sample, in 2005, and was passable in 2008, but the overall case, especially in terms of his problems making contact, is persuasive. Sigmund Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Similarly, sometimes a .208 average is a .208 average, especially when it comes with 189 strikeouts. I don’t mean to be short about this, but how many times do you have to see the guy swing three feet over an offspeed pitch from a lefty before you can take a hint? Fortunately, the Yankees seem to have taken that hint, hence Chad Huffman’s start tonight.

    Each time I write about this Granderson platoon issue, I get some interesting negative responses, as if Yankeeland is shocked to discover that this guy is a platoon player. He is, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Most players would be better in a targeted 450 PAs than they are in 600, and Granderson is a little more extreme than most in this regard. There shouldn’t be any negative stigma to it at all; some great hitters have been platoon players. We wouldn’t be angry at a great linebacker because he wasn’t a running back, or for that matter, we wouldn’t hate on Andy Pettitte because he’s not Derek Jeter, and vice-versa. You ask players to do only that of which they are capable, and provided they excel where they are able, you should be in good shape.

    If there is any anger or shock at Granderson’s limitations, it should be that the Yankees neglected to have sufficient faith in the record and plan to platoon him from the beginning.


    Career Major-League rates of .231/.303/.330 in 895 PAs. That’s a small sample too, I suppose. He won’t grow out of it either.  Did Oedipus outgrow his fate? Can you tell the mood that writing a column in a hospital has put me in? It’s 11:49 PM of the soul.


    Over at Baseball Prospectus, I have a Red Sox-inspired bit about the best third-place teams ever. Subscribers, I’m afraid.

    And on that note, the hospital TV showing the Yankees-Mets game suddenly and mysteriously lost power. I’m heading back to visit my father. Besides, he’s got a working set in his room.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Cano first in line

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010, 2:27 PM [General]

    With apologies to Alex Rios, Josh Hamilton, Paul Konerko, and Vernon Wells, the line for the AL MVP award starts here:

    1 Robinson Cano NYA 2B 278 .368 .414 .609 2 2 40.8 .344
    2 Justin Morneau MIN 1B 266 .344 .455 .624 0 0 37.5 .371
    3 Miguel Cabrera DET 1B 266 .330 .410 .652 2 2 34.3 .342
    4 Kevin Youkilis BOS 1B 273 .319 .451 .593 2 0 32.3 .352
    5 Evan Longoria TBA 3B 279 .321 .391 .573 10 2 31.8 .326
    6 Vlad Guerrero TEX DH 257 .336 .370 .563 4 2 27.9 .313

    For those not hip to the jargon, “VORP” stands for “Value Over Replacement Player.” It measures how many runs more than the theoretical freely available replacement at his position, by which in Robinson Cano’s case I mean Kaz Matsui, although the statistic is not thinking of Kaz Matsui, or seven-layer cake or womenfolk in various states of undress, all of which tend to flit across my mental view-screen with alarming regularity (especially when the Yankees play the Orioles and there’s not much going on), but rather is using a theoretical fringe major leaguer/Triple-A player who is definitely not wearing lingerie. You will note that even though Justin Morneau’s rates are better than Cano’s, Cano ranks first in VORP. This is mostly due to the greater distance between Cano and a replacement-level second baseman than there is between Morneau and the same at first base.

    That positional difference is why if the season were to end today, Cano would deserve to get the nod for AL Most Valuable Player. While Morneau, Cabrera, and Youkilis are having comparable seasons, or even slightly better ones overall, none play a key defensive position, nor are they great defensive players, whereas Cano plays the keystone like a fiddle (if this be hyperbole, let us make the most of it). It’s also seems likely that Cano will be with the best team of the lot, with the possible exception of Longoria.

    Now, what will happen in the actual voting is anyone’s guess. Traditionally, RBIs have had an almost hypnotic hold on the voters even though they are a team stat greatly dependent on context, by which I mean that Ichiro Suzuki has driven in just 19 runs on a .341 average and 91 hits batting leadoff for the Mariners because he just doesn’t get that many opportunities. Lack of power has something to do with it—he only has two extra-base hits with runners in scoring position—but he is hitting .321 in those situations; it’s just that he’s seen 132 baserunners all season. The top hitters in baseball have seen 200 or more. Cano, who is hitting .373 with runners in scoring position and is a ridiculous 6-for-7 with runners on third and less than two outs (.857!), has seen 195 baserunners.

    Those solid numbers, should they endure, will cadge Cano a few votes despite his RBI totals being somewhere behind the leaders. He currently ranks fourth, nine RBIs behind leader Cabrera, as well as Guerrero, Longoria, and Hamilton, but should still sail past 100 very easily. Still, if there is a baseball’s version of Tolkien’s One Ring, it is the Run Batted In, and MVP voters will always slavishly worship before it.

    The Internet music service I am listening to as I compose these howls (or howl these compositions, something likely to get me thrown out of the Panera at any moment) thinks that Buddy Holly recorded “Earth Angel” and “Johnny B. Goode.” I find this symbolic of the 1950s annexation of African American rhythm and blues by white rock and roll artists. The statue of Little Richard points a finger at Pat Boone, and we all weep for Buddy, gone 51 years now (it was a bad year for the Yankees, too).

    As has been reported all over the place, the Yankees have released Dave Winfree, apparently because he had a “Get Out of Roster Jail Free” card that he could play only on Tuesday. The loss to the Yankees is not great; he was always destined to be a four-corner platoon player at best. His .264/.301/.418 with five home runs was the latest unimpressive line in a mostly unimpressive career, though his small-sample .352 average against lefties leaves hope that he might fulfill that aforementioned platoon role for somebody.

    I wonder if Winfree’s bid for free agency would have happened had the Yankees called him up when Marcus Thames went down instead of Chad Huffman. Huffman is certainly the better all around hitter, so you can’t fault the Yankees’ choice. One suspects that when Huffman got the call, Winfree saw where he rated and knew that he wouldn’t be coming up any time soon, if at all.

    Logan has pitched well in his latest trip back to the sticks, though we’re talking about all of seven innings. Another defrocked reliever, Jon Alabaladejo, seems a much more interesting choice. He’s down to a 1.14 ERA, with 41 strikeouts and 11 walks in 31.2 innings. He has allowed two runs since April and none at all in June. If that doesn’t merit a call-up, I don’t know what does. Hey, Brian Cashman! Here’s your chance to make the Tyler Clippard trade look good! Well, probably not good. How about, “not an entirely lopsided, overly hasty dump of a talented player for minimal return?”

    Tuesday’s chat transcript can be read here.

    Follow Steven Goldman on Twitter @PB_Steve.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Grander plans

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010, 2:19 PM [General]

    Sorry to have missed yesterday’s entry, fellow pilgrims. My father had a bit of a setback and was forced to make a return to the hospital. I spent much of the day sitting with him in the emergency room. The good news is that he’s expected to be okay once they tinker with him some. “Tinker,” that’s not a metaphor for anything.

    I don’t mean to keep harping on this issue—well, I do mean to keep harping on it, because it’s important, especially with the Yankees now tied with the Rays and poised to go past them at some point in the near future (thank you, Houston Astros and your brilliant ownership/management). Their move to the top of the pack just underscores the fact that if all goes on in the present manner, they will be in the postseason, playing big games against big pitchers. In the playoffs, they might see David Price, Jon Lester, Francisco Liriano, Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez, C.J. Wilson, Joe Saunders, or Scott Kazmir. What do all of these cats have in common? They’re all left-handed.

    Do you really want to see Curtis Granderson coming up with runners on second and third and one out and leaving them there as he swings three feet over a changeup from one of these guys? More to the point, do you believe that Joe Girardi, in full Coffee Joe mode, is going to allow him to? Of course not. As such, it’s important that the Yankees establish the alternative now, so Girardi’s response is planned rather than improvised.

    After 54 plate appearances, Granderson is hitting .200/.245/.340 against lefties and he’s struck out in 38 percent of his plate appearances against them, which is a pace for about 230 strikeouts in a 600 at-bat season. Normally we would be dismissive of such a small sample, but these numbers are consistent with Granderson’s .209/.268/.344 career rates. It’s time to accept that this is something he just can’t do (unlike Brett Gardner, who is hitting .295 against same-side pitchers) and set up a platoon arrangement. Now.

    Brett Gardner vs. Carl Crawford: an ongoing observation prior to the latter’s free agency. Things could change, but for now, here’s where they stand.

    Crawford 28 .296 .346 .465 6 19 21 4 .293
    Gardner 26 .317 .400 .422 3 27 22 4 .306

    “TAv” is true average, which used to be called equivalent average. It’s a nice all-in-one stat that sums up overall offense on the same scale as batting average. No further comments at this time, your honor.

    Huffman (or as I think of him, “Chuffman”) came up on a fairly cold streak. Whereas he had hit .330/.414/.433 in May, he was hitting only .256/.310/.359 in 10 June games. If the Yankees can reserve him for work against left-handers, he should be okay. He lacks the selectivity to be a strong everyday player, but they need a right-handed bat off the bench. The prerequisites for that position aren’t terribly high, and Huffman might do as good a job as anyone.

    Azocar, who was one of the “Baby Bombers” of the ill-fated 1990 season, died at the sadly young age of 45. The Yankees, having awoken to find themselves with an aging, pretty much star-free roster in 1990, decided they needed a youth movement. Unfortunately, they had spent the previous 15 or so years neglecting the farm system. A youth movement requires youth, and the Yankees had been burning their draft picks on free-agent compensation and not really developing those players who they did sign. As such, they had to call up what they had. Azocar was one who made it up just because he happened to be there.

    Azocar began his career as a pitcher but was converted to the outfield at 21. As a hitter, he had an incredible ability to make contact, but the downside of that skill was that he never learned to take ball four. Like a more extreme version of Robinson Cano, he would swing at anything because he could. This approach worked well in Azocar’s first two weeks or so in the Majors, before pitchers figured out they could throw him anything anywhere and he’d go fishing. In his first 15 games, he hit .386/.386/.667—four home runs and no walks. After that, it was pretty much straight downhill, Azocar hitting .197 over the rest of the season. He never did hit again.

    That December, the Yankees traded Azocar to the Padres for a more talented player named Mike Humphries, not that they used him—“more talented” being a relative term. Why the Padres thought they needed Azocar remains an open question. He didn’t hit for them either and was let go. No one picked him up and he was done in organized baseball except for a brief Mexican League comeback in 2000-2001.

    Azocar wasn’t a good player, but he will always have a place in Yankees lore for those first 15 games. He, Jim Leyritz, and Kevin Maas provided the tiniest glimmer of hope in that miserable season. It was a false dawn, but it was something.

    No matter how often I tell people, they never believe that the Yankees once had a mascot. “No, really,” I’d say. “He looked something like a furry bindlestiff.” Of course, no one knew what I meant by bindlestiff, so they’d ask, “Is that some kind of animal?” I would explain that the Yankees’ mascot was not an animal but some kind of molting hobo. “But why?” they would ask. I never did have the answer to that. Appropriately, as the mascot had a Muppets connection, they answer would seem to be found in a Muppets line: “Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it.”

    I chatted up baseball at BP, and whatever the heck else you want. While you’re there, you can check out the latest Dead Player of the Day.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Astros resurgent

    Friday, June 11, 2010, 5:20 PM [General]

    It has been a good June for the Houston Astros. With a record of 17-34 (.333) through the end of May, the team seemed dead in the water. It probably still is, but the lifeless body is still twitching with a little June hot streak against the Nationals, Cubs, and Rockies. Over the ten games they’ve played this month, the Astros are 8-2 with a 3.50 ERA. They’ve walked just under three batters per nine innings and struck out 7.6. On the hitting side, the club has averaged about five runs a game and has hit .273/.328/.410, which doesn’t seem like much, except that (A) this year the NL average team is hitting .257/.329/.402, so they’re a bit above-average, and (B) to that point they had been hitting .230/.282/.325 and averaging three runs a game.

    Astros hitters having big months include Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn, and Jeff Keppinger, which are all sort of real and possibly lasting, as well as Humberto Quintero and Pedro Feliz, which are as illusory as a pinstriped hippopotamus and twice as transient a phenomenon. On the pitching side, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, and Felipe Paulino have pitched well, and even Brian Moehler, who is as fringy as they come, has an ERA under 4.00 in two starts.

    Normally, you might say that this series would represent no challenge for the Yankees, but with Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli slumping , Ramiro Pena subbing for Alex Rodriguez, and Kevin Russo spotting for Brett Gardner, the lineup is a bit short. Add in Mark Teixeira’s mixed month and Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher being on the cool side and you have a lineup that’s pretty much down to Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. That could all change tonight, but then again it might not. The Yankees need Gardner back in a hurry so that they can ride out A-Rod’s day-to-day hip flexor problem with a little Kevin Russo on the infield rather than Ramiro Pena. Russo hasn’t hit much, but he should given time.

    One advantage that this series presents is an opportunity to clap your peepers on Lance Berkman, supposed Yankees trade target, if you haven’t done so already this year. I mentioned above that Berkman is one of the Astros that have had a productive June, and it’s true: he’s hitting .317/.364/.439. While keeping in mind that this is only a ten game sample, note that the rates are a god deal south of his career line. If we pull the camera back to encompass the last four weeks’ worth of games, we see rates of only .245/.349/.340 with just two home runs in 94 at-bats. Berkman missed the first few weeks of the season with a strained groin and perhaps his slow start is attributable to a slow recovery, perhaps to his being 34 and an Astro. When last I discussed him, I mentioned his lack of ideal switch-hittery-ness, with vastly reduced production from the right side of the plate. He’s only had 36 plate appearances against lefties this year, but he’s hit a powerless .206 in them.

    If Berkman’s weak performance isn’t enough of a disincentive for the Yankees, Jon Heyman has reported that the acquiring team will have to pick up Berkman’s $15 million option for 2011 in order for the player to give his assent to the deal. In other words, he’s not going anywhere unless the Astros pick up a good deal of the price.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    What to make of prospects around the league

    Thursday, June 10, 2010, 6:36 PM [General]

    His debut won’t get the same hype as Stephen Strasburg’s, but when Jake Arrieta makes his Major League debut, the Yankees will be seeing the pitcher who is perhaps the next-best prospect at the moment. Take that statement for what it is -- there is a huge gap between Strasburg and the next-best guy, but all that means is that Arrieta is just your standard pitching phenom, someone who in any other year you would be very excited to follow. He throws in the mid-90s, with his best non-fastball offering being a slider. Walks are his Achilles’ heel.  

    The 6’4” right-hander has dominated the International League, compiling a 1.85 ERA in 73 innings for Norfolk. He’s walked 34 (high) and struck out 64. The Orioles now have three top pitching prospects in their rotation, but it remains to be seen if they and pitching coach Rick Kranitz can get them established in the big leagues. It has been a long, long time since Baltimore has been able to do this; since Mike Mussina, you can credit them with getting Erik Bedard started, and then after that you have to hold your nose and say, “Well… Sidney Ponson had his moments,” or “Didn’t Rodrigo Lopez look pretty good at one time?” or “Does Jeremy Guthrie count?” If Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and now Arrieta can learn to pitch consistently,  everything would change for the Orioles -- everything but the appalling hitting -- but as the Rays have shown, you can go far with a top pitching staff and an offense that’s no more than satisfactory.

    It isn’t Strasburg, and no doubt the Yankees are grateful for that, but it could be the beginning of a very successful career, if Arrieta’s command cooperates.

    Jesus Montero in April: .247/.313/.384.
    Montero in May: .214/.302/.333
    Montero in June (seven games): .130/.231/.130.

    The questions that must be asked now are, are we seeing the lingering results of last summer’s hand injury, is he simply pressing as one of the youngest players at Triple-A but is otherwise healthy, and does he need to go back to Double-A to get reoriented? This is an interesting question, as Austin Romine could arguably be promoted based on his hitting work at Double-A. He’s hitting .307/.371/.453 overall, but pay more attention to the road numbers that show what he can do away from the cold Delaware River: .368/.417/.558. Neither receiver is exactly considered to be the next Jim Sundberg when it comes to the defensive side of things, but as long as the Yankees are looking at having a third catcher and an ice-cold spell for Francisco Cervelli (he’s 3-for-June), you might as well have everyone where they can do you the most good -- Romine one level away from the majors to see if he can take his Double-A swing a step closer to the bigs, Montero at Double-A, where perhaps he can sort out what ails him, and Chad Moeller… coaching, eventually.

    … It is interesting that CC Sabathia’s ERA is 2.73 against the Orioles (which is what we’d expect) and 4.69 against everyone else. We don’t know if it’s more than a curiosity, but we do know that in his career Sabathia has been a strong second-half pitcher, with a career ERA of 3.90 before the break and 3.32 after, including 2.73 in September. In short, don’t panic yet.

    I have a live chat Tuesday at BP, 1 PM EST.

    As always, all are welcome, I’ll answer questions about just about anything, and if the boss will be watching you like a hawk, you can always enter the questions ahead of time. I look forward to conversing with you, as always.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    The hunt

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010, 4:11 PM [General]

    George King reports in today’s New York Post that the Yankees have scouts prowling after Houston’s Lance Berkman in case that club (which is somehow 6-2 in June after a 9-20 May) decides that it’s not going to make up its current 10-game deficit in the standings. Berkman is an excellent hitter, albeit one having a subpar season, but he’s 34 and the Astros don’t have much in the way of prospects with which to rebuild; trading him, trading almost anyone off the Major League roster would be the smartest thing they could do.

    Berkman is a career .298/.410/.551 hitter with 319 career home runs. A switch-hitter, he’s far better as a left-hander, hitting a fantastic .309/.424/.594 against righties. As a right-hander, he’s hit but .264/.367/.418—the patience is still there, but the power goes away. The club acquiring Berkman would have to pick up the remainder of this year’s $14.5 million salary, plus give him a $2 million buyout for next year or be stuck with a $15 million bill for his 2011 services.

    This discussion may prove to be academic as Berkman has a veto over any trade. He was born in Texas, went to high school in Texas, went to college in Texas, and plays in Texas—there seems to be a pattern there, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he votes to stay in Texas should a trade be put to him.

    King also reports that the Mariners are expecting the Yankees to bid on Cliff Lee. Maybe they will, but barring injury, it’s hard to see a place for him unless they’re going to find a taker for Javier Vazquez, and Vazquez has pitched well of late.

    Here is the reason why Brett Gardner is a terrifically fun player and why he’s also a terrifying player. He’s hitting .314 on 61 hits. Thirteen of those hits are of the infield variety, grounders that he beat out with his speed. Take those out of the equation and his batting average drops to .247. Speed is the player’s most ephemeral tool. A player usually doesn’t lose his batting eye (indeed, the patient often get more patient over time as bat speed slows) and power may ebb but generally doesn’t vanish overnight. Speed is a constantly decaying asset, vulnerable to the slightest injury. If a Gardner loses half a step to a bad knee, can he spare it? If he loses a whole step to age, can he compensate?

    Gardner is not young in baseball terms. Having your first year as a regular at 26 qualifies as a late start. He is likely peaking as a player now. Assuming health, he should be a safe bet for the next few years, his blend of skills making his combination of on-base percentage and defense quite valuable (on offense alone, he is one of the top 40 hitters in baseball at this moment). Beyond that, he may have to find a way to hit the ball to the outfield more consistently if he’s going to maintain his value.

    I campaigned for him to be part of the bullpen during Spring Training, but that was based on the promise contained in past performances, his versatility, and his relative youth. I didn’t anticipate his taking a 4.50 career ERA and nearly doubling it this season. At issue has been a strange inability to keep the ball in the park; eight home runs in 25.1 innings is a rate so high that it should earn you a nickname, like “Mr. Gifty” or “The Human Catapult” or “Cape Canaveral.”

    Tuesday night Gaudin nearly tossed away a nearly unbreakable lead, and perhaps would have if the Orioles’ Adam Jones was not so completely lost at the plate that he’s willing to swing at any pitch that enters his quadrant of the galaxy (Adam Jones: Commander, Human Asteroid Defense Initiative). Whatever ailed him with the A’s has only been worse with the Yankees despite an ERA that is somehow a run lower—his hit rate has stayed about the same, but the home run rate is up and his walk rate has more than doubled.

    The good news is that if the Yankees decide that they can do better for trash-time relief, and they can because any Triple-A pitcher should be able to do better than an 8.53 ERA just by showing up, they can probably pass Gaudin through waivers; if he got to the Yankees on waivers in the first place, it means that other clubs weren’t clamoring for his services, and he hasn’t become any more attractive since then. It’s possible that Gaudin is fixable, but the Major League staff doesn’t seem to have the answers.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Culver City

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010, 4:16 PM [General]

    The Yankees might have violated a fundamental rule of the draft yesterday. I offered the qualifier “might have” because I don’t know Damon Oppenheimer and don’t claim to be able to read his mind or that of anyone else. Still, my first reaction when Cito Culver’s name was called was that the Yankees weren’t drafting the best player available, but rather for need—the need to try to replace Derek Jeter.

    Jeter will turn 36 in about three weeks. No doubt many Yankees fans and the Yankees themselves wish he could go on forever, basic facts of our existence make that impossible. The Yankees have to prepare for a day when the only thing the Captain is hitting is soft tosses on Old Timer’s Day. It seems reasonable to assume that Jeter will be back for at least one more contract; just re-signing him doesn’t provide any insurance against the erosion of his skills. The Yankees have to be ready to move on, and not at the conclusion of the next contract, but any time.

    “Moving on” is easier said than done; it’s almost impossible to replace a Jeter because you can’t just manufacture a Hall of Famer on demand. Outside of Phil Rizzuto’s fluke MVP season in 1950, the Yankees went nearly 100 years before they had a shortstop with Jeter’s offensive abilities who could also, however much Jeter’s glove has been derided at times, could actually play the position, otherwise Mickey Mantle would now be remembered as the greatest offensive shortstop of all time.

    As I observed here recently, replacing Jeter from outside the organization also seems unlikely. The top youngish shortstops—Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, perhaps Elvis Andrus—aren’t going anywhere for years. The candidates inside the organization aren’t promising. If the team is going to avoid overpaying for the kind of outside shortstops they had in the years immediately prior to Jeter—Spike Owen, Mike Gallego, Tony Fernandez—or having to settle for an internal model in the Ramiro Pena mold, they’re going to have to get about the serious business of growing a replacement. Again, it’s very easy to say that, easier still to dream on it, and about impossible to do. You cannot whistle up an MVP or Hall of Fame type whenever it’s convenient. It is a near certainty that the next shortstop will represent a massive fall-off from Jeter, at least offensively.

    With the 32nd pick in the first round, the Yankees were in a difficult position in what has been characterized as a thin draft. However, Monday night’s selections veered as widely from pre-draft predictions as any in memory, and quality players did fall to the end of the round. Even so, the Yankees went for what was clearly a predetermined selection and took local product Culver, a switch-hitting high school shortstop. Prior to the draft, Baseball America ranked Culver as the 168th-best talent in the draft, which is to say that in their educated opinion Culver had no business being picked anywhere near the first round.

    The emphasis in that last should be on “opinion,” because no one can see the future, and it’s perfectly legitimate for Oppenheimer and the rest of the Yankees to look at Culver and see something that others do not. Only Culver’s performance will tell us who was right and who was wrong—168 could prove to be far too low, but it could also prove to be far too high. We can’t know. That said, however enthusiastic the Yankees are about Culver, and however likely it was (as Oppenheimer claimed in interviews today) that the shortstop was certain to be off the board by the time their second-round pick came up, there are problems with this choice.

    The issue is similar to the one posed by taking Andrew Brackman with the team’s first pick in 2007: the draft is speculative enough without taking unwarranted gambles on high-risk/high-reward players. Gambling would be a worthwhile thing to do in a draft situation, but in a case like this year’s, where some strong, well-rounded players fell, going for certainty would seem the smarter thing to do, especially when the Yankees’ system has some promising second basemen and catchers, but not a great deal more in other departments (though if Brandon Laird keeps hitting the way he has for Trenton, the Yankees are going to finish the season with one more third base prospect than they started with).

    Again, if the Oppenheimer were to reply to this argument by saying, “I don’t believe that the available players offered any more certainty than Culver does,” we’d have to take his word for it because there’s no way to disprove him at this time except to say, “Those who selected Nick Castellanos, Bryce Bentz, Stetson Allie, and Brandon Workman might have cause to disagree.” Then, as with all draft arguments, we have to wait (and wait) and see.

    The good news is that the Yankees’ next few picks, including high school shortstop Angelo Gumbs (who may move to the outfield as a pro), college third baseman Robert Segedin, and high school outfielder Mason Williams, inspire more confidence based on pre-draft evaluations. Now we move on to actual test, assuming the Yankees sign them all, including Culver. Developing a star position player remains the challenge. The Yankees’ current lineup contains five home-grown players, but only one of them, Brett Gardner, came out of the draft later than Jeter in 1992 (Robinson Cano and Francisco Cervelli were international free agents).

    This lack of success with bat-swinging types is just another piece of evidence that Jeter’s replacement won’t be easily developed, so better not to force it and make the surest bet you can. Maybe the Yankees just did that, maybe they didn’t.

    • A new bit at Baseball Prospectus on draft compensation picks (like the Angels taking Wally Joyner when the Yankees signed Don Baylor). Subscription required.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Where was Mo?

    Monday, June 7, 2010, 5:27 PM [General]

    It was a tougher weekend for the Yankees than I envisioned when I wrote last Friday’s entry. I expected the batters to adjust to Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero quickly rather than not at all and put Brandon Morrow down for three or four walks, not one. During Sunday’s broadcast, my colleague John Flaherty said, “Good pitching will stop good hitting,” but that eliminates either the chicken or the egg from the poultry farm. I prefer Casey Stengel’s version, “Good pitching will stop good hitting and vice-versa.” It’s not always clear where to draw the line between the pitcher’s stuff and the hitter’s treatment of it, not to mention the various lucky and unlucky bounces you get on balls in play. Still, all credit to the Jays for keeping up their end.

    I have but one complaint about this weekend’s action, and you can probably guess that it has to do with Saturday’s game. After Andy Pettitte was done for the day, Joe Girardi called on Joba Chamberlain, Damaso Marte, David Robertson, Chan Ho Park, and then lost the game with Chad Gaudin, who has been hammered all season long -- he wouldn’t be a Yankee again if he hadn’t been. Conspicuously absent from this parade is the one Hall of Famer in the bullpen, Mariano Rivera. Once again, the Yankees lost a game with their big gun rusting in its holster.

    Here’s what Girardi said about using Rivera:

    "We have a 40-year-old closer. I don’t have a 22-year-old closer. I have a 40-year-old closer that has logged a lot of innings. He’s been down for 10 days already. Closers are used for when you’re winning games or are tied at home. That’s how you do it. If Mo extends the game, then someone else is going to have to close. If that guy gives up a run, then you say, 'Why didn’t you wait to use Mo as the closer?'"

    When someone says “That’s how you do it,” your ears should perk up. There is no “that’s how you do it” in baseball. There are only folkways, mores, received wisdom, traditions waiting for a brave manager to come and break with them. In this case, Girardi actually provides the answer to his own argument when he says, “If Mo extends the game then someone else is going to have to close.” Extending the game is the whole issue here. If you don’t extend it, you head back to the hotel with a loss. If you extend the game, anything can happen. You might score 10 runs in the inning and Mickey Mouse can close and you still won’t lose. As long as the game goes on, there are possibilities. If you use your worst pitcher, there’s a high chance the game will be over and you’ll never get a chance to see what would have happened.

    Managers make these kinds of arguments all the time, but they inherently don’t make sense. The record bears this out. Going back to last season, about 10 percent of games are tied going to the bottom of the ninth. If my figurin’ is correct, about a quarter of them end in regulation. I have a list of who the visiting team used in those ninth innings, and the closer was only used once in 70 games (it was Bobby Jenks last August). As for extra-inning games, the home team is 147-124 going back to the beginning of last year. That’s a little bit worse than the overall home winning percentage for that period, but not by much. Whatever visiting managers think they’re achieving by saving their closer, they’re not doing it.

    Joe Girardi is one of the brightest young managers out there, one with a championship to his credit at 45. He is correct that he has to use his aging closer carefully, but no one was asking him to use Rivera for over 40 pitches, as Jerry Manuel did with Francisco Rodriguez last week at San Diego. All he needed was on inning so he could stay away from the dregs of his pen for one more time at bat. The problem is that he’s succumbed to the conventional wisdom that envisions your best reliever as a “closer” instead of the more appropriate original designation, “fireman.” The Yankees didn’t need a closer in that game, they needed a fireman. Girardi didn’t call one, so the game burned down.

    • Over the weekend, I posted a quick bit on the Orioles and the historical misery of their record over at BP (free).

    • I’ve got a new original song co-written by myself at CO music.net, “Storm Crow”,  about wanting the one who will destroy you. It’s a free download or audio stream, and feel free to leave a comment if you dig it.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    On to Toronto

    Friday, June 4, 2010, 4:24 PM [General]

    The Yankees did what they should have done with the Orioles. Now comes a more difficult test in a surprisingly solid Toronto Blue Jays team. The offense has been very good, with the Jays being one of four AL teams to average more than five runs a game. The pitching has been more of a mixed back due to weakness in the 'pen; three of the starters have been very good, the rest of the staff poor.

    You have your choice of shocking hitters: John Buck hitting .269/.310/.538? Check. Alex Gonzalez slugging .505? Check. Vernon Wells the comeback player of the year at .306/.355/.603? You betcha. Fred Lewis at .310/.344/.518? Unlikely. Jose Bautista leading the majors in home runs? Il est impossible! The good news for the Yankees is that when something seems unlikely to last because it violates the basic laws of the universe, it generally doesn’t. Whether it stops now, I don’t know; the Jays are slugging .504 at home as a team, so they’re more likely to be mastered on the road. I hasten to add “by a left-hander on the road;” despite not  having an overwhelmingly left-handed lineup, they’ve struggled against southpaws, batting just .202/.265/.337 against them—good news for Andy Pettitte this weekend.

    What is better news for the Yankees is that while the Jays lead the league in home runs (by 17!) and slugging percentage, they’re hitting only .248 and rank 13th in on-base percentage. They’re generally an impatient bunch, so welcome to solo homer city. The Yankees have far more patience, a big reason they’ve averaged half a run more per game. The pitchers the Yankees will face are also beatable. Brett Cecil has dominated left-handed hitters (it’s a good night to use Marcus Thames), but he’s also been hit-lucky and has made six of eight starts against the worst offenses in the AL, dominating the Mariners, Orioles, and Indians.

    Ricky Romero is a tougher nut. He’s been unhittable at home, has great stuff, and gets a lot of grounders. That said, the Jays’ schedule has been kind to him as well. Brandon Morrow had a good start against the Rays his last time out (sort of, if you consider two walks and one strikeout  and one run allowed a demonstration of skill more than luck) but struggles with his control. As with Romero, he has been far stronger at home (3.90 ERA) than on the road (8.33). In short, everything is stacked in Toronto’s favor for this meeting and they still aren’t going to take more than one out of three unless the Yankees have one of their periodic lost weekends. In fact, with a road trip to Tampa, Colorado, and San Diego followed by a homestand against the Giants, Cardinals and Phillies, this is where the bubble bursts for the Blue Jays. After that difficult stretch, they pause briefly to visit Cleveland, then have nine games against the Yankees, Twins, and Red Sox. By the middle of July, the “surprising Jays” are very likely to be a distant memory.

    My initial reaction to the Jim Joyce-Armando Galarraga call was that Bud Selig should have overturned it, and despite many arguments to the contrary, it remains that way. Joel Sherman argues that such a decision would put Selig on a slippery slope towards review of everything, while Ed Price said it would set a terrible precedent. Bill Madden, scourge of pointy-headed intellectuals everywhere, writes:

    Baseball has become dehumanized enough by sabermetricians and their mind-numbing statistical analyses and it doesn't need to be made more complicated by having the potential for instant replay on every play. I would hope Selig, after consultation with all his advisers, elects to keep instant replay limited to just the home run calls.

    (I don’t feel like going down this road again in any great detail, but holy moly, Bill—it’s just information, information that leads to a greater understanding of the game. If you don’t want to use it, don’t. I’d rather fully understand what it is I’m seeing. Cripes, have doctors dehumanized medicine with their X-Rays and CT scans and MRIs? Shouldn’t they just be feeling you up and guessing? We’ve lost the artistry of the tongue depressor…)

    I don’t buy any of this. Bud Selig isn’t Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, his calls don’t bind future generations, and a precedent is only a precedent if you allow it to be one. No “Pandora’s box” is opened, as Nick Swisher put it, given that this is a unique set of circumstances. We’re all sophisticated enough that we can understand that the commissioner’s fiat powers should be used sparingly. If fixing Joyce means that a precedent is set that all 27th outs of perfect games can be overturned, I’m willing to risk that. Anyone who asserts that this “precedent” will be construed as opening the door to anything more than that is guilty of exaggeration.  

    All this fretting about what MIGHT happen ignores what HAS happened, which is that an important moment in baseball was destroyed in a way that was obvious and apparent to what rapidly became a global audience (though Sherman is correct that Galarraga will now obtain the same kind of immortality earned by Harvey Haddix). The integrity of the game now is just as important as its integrity in the future, and correcting an inept performance by an umpire in a way that is incredibly unobtrusive given that it would not change the outcome of the game is a no-brainer if you want the public to believe that baseball is competently run.

    Writing about baseball in another context, Bill James (sorry to bring him up, Mr. Madden) referred to the idea that “you have to follow the rules regardless of whether they work or whether they don’t” as “the death of common sense.” “The law,” James wrote, “is a servant of justice; the pursuit of justice is not a servant of the law.” In other words, sometimes you have to just do what’s right. When a glaring error takes place in full view of the world, it is damaging to the sport, and so we are talking about a value judgment here: doing what’s right versus the possibly risk down the road that you’ve set a bad precedent. Justice, or more precisely the integrity of baseball games, the credibility of the contests, is worth that risk.

    As for the larger topic of expanded instant replay in baseball, it seems to me it could be done fairly unobtrusively with the addition of an eye-in-the-sky ump who would be tasked with reviewing a limited set of calls. In order to make game times manageable despite what should be infrequent and brief stoppages, a REAL emphasis on speeding up games—no pitchers holding the ball forever, no changing the pitcher at the start of an inning just after the sides have changed, no batters stepping out. Finally, no apologies to those who will miss “the human element” when replay begins. I don’t feel much sympathy. Why should we ever celebrate inaccuracy, error, and misjudgment? Where else in all of our endeavors do we strive for less than perfection?

    In any case, as long as the fan has a better and more accurate view than the players and officials on the field, baseball will seem to be less of a sport determined purely by athletic performance and more an exhibition overly influenced by the whim of its increasingly obtrusive and inept arbiters. The “human element” provided by the men in blue has become an annoying distraction. It’s time to move on and stop holding on so tightly to the game and technology of 1876.

    …Begins Monday night. Having won the World Series, the Yankees draft last in the first round with the 32nd overall pick . The class is not felt to be strong, so don’t expect the Yankees to come away with a future star unless someone’s negotiating position causes him to plummet. That’s not projected to happen this year, so it’s going to be pot luck for supper.

    Before he came out with his first-round predictions, BP’s Kevin Goldstein told me I would hate the projected pick for the Yankees. Now, with so many teams going ahead of the Yankees, all it takes is one miss to throw off one’s guess for the bottom of the round, so I’m taking this one with a grain of salt—though ESPN’s Keith Law made the same prediction, so maybe there’s something to the Yankees picking up Cal State Fullerton center fielder Gary Brown.

    Kevin knows I’m all about on-base percentage, so that’s why he was sure I wouldn’t be thrilled with Brown, who isn’t. Instead, he’s a speed guy who makes such good contact that he doesn’t walk or strike out. I haven’t seen him play, but the mental picture I get is of an aspiring Carl Crawford. Crawford would be great if that’s who you’d really get, but keep in mind that Crawford is a knee injury away (and I hope he never has it) from being a borderline player. If Crawford were to lose just a tiny bit of his batting average and a tiny bit of his range, he would offer less production than you could get from a more typical left fielder. Think of Crawford’s injury year in 2008, when he hit .273/.319/.400—when the batting average slips, everything else starts to look a bit weak.

    Crawford or not, the Yankees’ system needs position players beyond the catchers and second basemen which seem to be falling out of every cabinet and closet. What they could really use is a shortstop who can someday push Derek Jeter, but it seems as if there is only one real shortstop prospect in the draft, Manny Machado, and he’s expected to vanish somewhere in the first five picks. The hour gets late, and we can be pretty certain that whoever follows Jeter as the Yankees’ shortstop, he won’t be coming from within the organization… Troy Tulowitzki won’t be a free agent until 2013 at earliest, Hanley Ramirez not until 2014.

    April 26, 1990: the game at Yankee Stadium when Griffey ran about six miles and then Spider-Man’d up the center field wall to steal a home run from Jesse Barfield (it would have been Jesse’s 200th; you can see it at about 1:50 here. That play probably did more to make Junior a perpetual Gold Glover in the minds of the fans and voters than any other, but it wasn’t just the catch, but the expression of joy on his 20-year-old mug as he came down and held the ball in the air. I was watching the game, and the play was such a bittersweet thing because although in pure baseball terms it was a wonderful moment, as a Yankees camp follower it was miserable. The Mariners were on their way up and the Yankees on their way down—1989 was bad and 1990 would be one of the worst years in franchise history. I didn’t want to be watching Jesse Barfield, I wanted Al Leiter. I didn’t want Dave Winfield to be dumped, but everyone knew that was an inevitability (it happened about three weeks later, for a sore-armed Mike Witt). I didn’t want Andy Hawkins to get a big free agent deal from the Yankees, but that’s who started on April 26, didn’t want to see Steve Balboni’s sub-.300 OBP in the lineup, or Bob Geren, or Alvaro flippin’ Espinoza. I wanted to see players like Junior Griffey. Unfortunately, I would have to wait until 1996 and Derek Jeter for anyone comparable (though far less exuberant) to establish themselves in pinstripes.

    •    New Dead Player of the Day up at BP, the momentary Yankee Jack Fournier.

    •    New stuff is up at Wholesome Reading with more to come over the weekend. Warning: politics!

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Court the Prince

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 2:51 PM [General]

    In the coming weeks, as the Brewers sink deeper into the misery of their season, it will become increasingly likely that they will attempt to move their great, big first baseman Prince Fielder, heir to the similarly zaftig former Yankee Cecil “Big Daddy” Fielder. Prince, who is making $10.5 million this year, will be eligible for arbitration after this season and free agency the year after. The Brewers, being, to paraphrase Ray Davies, a cut-price franchise in a low-budget land (and who can blame ‘em?), probably won’t want to pay.

    The Yankees currently have a hole at designated hitter; Nick Johnson’s history and the persistent nature of wrist injuries mean that the club can’t bank on his being an effective contributor even after the “official” period of rehabilitation is over. He’s also fairly certain to be bought out of his 2011 option, so he’s not an issue for next year (with just four seasons over 100 games in the last nine years, including one completely missed season, it is hard to imagine Johnson getting much more than a make-good minor-league deal next season). Juan Miranda hasn’t been too exciting thus far, hitting  .217/.294/.435 in 51 plate appearances; his minor league record doesn’t augur a great deal more.

    Fielder is not having a great year by his own standards, though it’s a little difficult to determine precisely what his standards are. Throughout his five years as a regular he seems to have had an even-odd pattern going, his big years coming in 2007 and 2009 with the even-numbers years being just good. He hits for a reasonable average for a power hitter (.282 career), is reasonably patient (though his 20 intentional walks a year will likely disappear if he moves on), and of course has displaced 50-home run power. A left-handed hitter, he has something of a platoon bias, but isn’t so bad against lefties (.258/.336/.484 career) that you would think about platooning him. He’s not a baserunner and his defensive value is nonexistent. Best of all, he’s only 26 years old. You could trade for him, sign him to a contract of most any length, and be fairly safe—for purposes of this discussion, we are going to assume that Fielder is not Mo Vaughn II and won’t be destroyed by his own massive frame at 30.

    If you’re the Yankees and really want to up the ante on what is already a league-leading offense, you might think about making a play for the Hitter Formerly Known As. The difficulty is that for every door you open, you close another. Acquiring Fielder as more than a rental would seem to preclude the offseason acquisition of long-rumored Yankees target Carl Crawford. The Yankees would seem to be well stocked in the outfield to begin with. Brett Gardner hasn’t yet reached arbitration eligibility. Nick Swisher is signed through 2011, and the club holds a 2012 option. Curtis Granderson is signed through 2013, and the club has an option for 2014.

    That’s not to say the Yankees couldn’t get better. As much fun as Gardner is, and as valuable as his combination of singles, speed, patience, and defense might be, Crawford offers more. Whether he offers SO much more that it’s worth paying a massive premium over Gardner’s price, assuming that Gardner finishes the season no worse than his current .299/.378/.379 is an argument I’d like to have at some point, but for now let’s concede the point. If the Yankees sign Crawford, either one outfielder continually rotates through the DH spot or Gardner goes back to being a reserve. Having Fielder around, assuming the Yankees would choose to afford both, would remove the rotating DH option.

    Tying up the DH spot creates other problems for this year and next year as well. Jorge Posada is signed for another year, and the Yankees will want to keep on making use of his bat while reducing his defensive/health exposure while making room for Francisco Cervelli or Austin Romine (.325/.383/.481 after 40 games at Trenton which is very, very  nice given the park—he’s hitting .30/.418/.576 on the road) or even Jesus Montero. Montero has been miserable at Triple-A (.224/.300/.348), but he’s only 20 and has plenty of time to straighten himself out.

    Still, Posada turns 39 in August, and all-time Yankees great or not, you don’t pass on important player acquisitions because of an aging catcher-DH. You don’t get too many chances to acquire a hitter like Fielder in the prime of his career—and Fielder is almost three years younger than Crawford and, and rated purely as a hitter (steals included), Fielder is the better producer—especially when you’re always drafting at the bottom of the list and don’t have a great history of finding diamonds in the rough. The price in prospects will determine a lot, of course, but it’s hard to argue against adding a 40-homer left-handed bat to the middle of your order.

    I don’t claim to know what the right answer is here. The Yankees could also go for a lower-cost acquisition, like trying to pry Russell Branyan away from the down-and-out Indians. He would fit in nicely with Marcus Thames, but as with Posada, you don’t make your plans around Marcus Thames. Fielder or Crawford or neither: just some of many available avenues in Brian Cashman’s Garden of Forking Paths.

    And once again, Rob Neyer beats me to it: umpires need to enforce Rule 6.02, which says NO timeout calls for the batter once the pitcher begins his windup. You want to speed up the games, you have to force the pitchers to pitch on a timely basis and batters to stay in and hit. Once a batter is in the box he stays in the box, period. As for the attempt to ice the batter or pitcher or whatever the heck the waiting game is about, it has no place in the game. Good for Angel Hernandez for calling it on Carlos Pena last night.

    • ... And a lot of other cool people (or people other than me who happen to be cool, which I am probably not): the Yankee Stadium memories book gets a release announcement from the great Alex Belth.

    • More stuff at Wholesome Reading shortly after I’m done here (warning: politics, probably some dead fish).

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Two months in

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010, 4:15 PM [General]

    You can’t say the first two months of the season haven’t brought us fascinating division races. In the AL Central, the Twins have played outstanding baseball at their new home and are on a 98-win pace, threatening to blow out the Tigers, who are just plodding along in their Tigerish fashion. Despite this, with their current starting rotation they have almost zero chance of advancing too far into the playoffs. This is a team that desperately needs a David Cone to complete its mission.

    At season’s outset, the AL West seemed to be the kind of division where you could toss the teams in a hat and pick out a realistic set of standings and that seems to be the case right now. The biggest surprise has been the Mariners, who many picked to win the division. Instead, they are on a pace for 100 losses. The issue for the M’s was always how they would score runs, but at .240/.313/.348 and 3.7 runs per game they’ve actually been far worse than expected. They’ve had subpar production from all but two players (Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez), but they’re really being killed by positions that should be the easiest to fill in terms of offense—first base, left field, designated hitter. Seattle first basemen have hit .200/.289/.339, left fielders .194/.297/.331, and DHs .205/.262/318.

    The Angels seemed to be a pitcher acquisition away from making a run at this soft division until Kendry Morales’ bizarre, possibly season-ending injury. They could still boost their offense by moving Mike Napoli to first base (as they have done, with terrific results) and calling up prospect Hank Conger to catch (Jeff Mathis is out with a broken wrist) instead of playing the light-hitting Bobby Wilson; Conger, the team’s first-round pick in 2006, is presently hitting .280/.375/.441 for Salt Lake of the Pacific Coast League. He’s not a great hitting prospect, but he’s far more likely to provide some added punch behind the plate than is Wilson.

    In the NL East, the Braves just leaped past the struggling Phillies into first place, and it seems as if any of the teams except perhaps the Mets could actually win a division with a good deal of parity. Yes, that includes the Nationals, who have overachieved at .500 thus far—they haven’t hit or pitched that well, and I’m pretty sure that Jim Riggeleman will have burned out their best relievers by the All-Star break. Thing is, a week from now they’re going to promote Stephen Strasburg. Maybe Strasburg won’t instantly be an ace-level pitcher—as I emphasized with Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain and other prospective Yankees over the years, pitchers generally require some time to adjust to the Majors—but if he’s not at least better than Craig Flippin’ Stammen it’s going to be a major disappointment. In a weak division, a change like that could have major ripples.

    It seemed as if the Cardinals would run away with the NL Central, with their terrific pitching staff rendering them bulletproof, but then their bats went cold at the same time that the Reds’ hitters got hot—the latter hit .299/.366/.507 as a team in May. Combine that with a staff ERA of 3.84 in the same month and you have a recipe for a charge at first place. It helped that the Reds spent a good deal of the month playing within the division, which means that except for the Cards they were playing very bad teams, including nine games against the Pirates and six against the Astros. They also played 10 games against the Cards and went 4-6. The Reds may also soon change their outlook by adding prospect Aroldis Chapman, a move which could also bolster their middle relief by bumping a starter to the bullpen.

    All I can say about the NL West is that the Padres will not be winning it. The offense just isn’t there, even if Bud Black has put together a legitimately solid pitching staff. You can make an argument for the Dodgers, Giants, or Rockies, and if forced to guess I would go with the Dodgers, who seem to have stabilized their rotation with the substitution of John Ely for various has-beens and never-weres and also are starting to get their lineup healthy.

    As for the AL East, well, the Yankees spend June spending 17 games against teams at or below .500, nine against teams with winning records, whereas the Rays play 22 games against teams with winning records, three (the Diamondbacks) against teams below .500. That seems fairly promising regardless of what else is going on.

    Just when you thought you might never see Corey Patterson again, the Orioles bring him back for another go-‘round of easy out action. Already trailing the AL in walks, the Orioles have done their best to keep game times down by adding a career .290 OBP hitter and batting him in the leadoff spot. Oddly enough, the Orioles have hit so poorly that Patterson has been an improvement. The Orioles are currently on a pace for 114 losses. The Yankees will see two pitchers with ERAs nearing 6.00 and another, Kevin Millwood, who hasn’t gotten enough run support to earn a win. If Javier Vazquez can’t shut down this lineup, well… he’ll probably keep getting chances, but you’d have to say the odds are stacked in his favor.

    I was going to qualify the foregoing by pointing out that the hitters on the Orioles were better than they currently appear and could break out at any time, but I’m not going to because in most cases I don’t think it’s true.

    • I had a Memorial Day piece up at BP in which I imagine Yogi Berra taking on the Axis, comic book style—which he actually did.

    • Wholesome Reading doth merrily roll along, with more updates coming as the day progresses.

    3.2 (1 Ratings)

    How Whitey Ford got whacked

    Monday, May 31, 2010, 6:40 PM [General]

    With today’s victory, Andy Pettitte tied Whitey Ford for career wins. The two now sit at 60th on the all-time list with 236, sitting just behind a couple of Yankees alumni, Waite Hoyt and Clark Griffith, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame. It’s a nice accomplishment for Pettitte, who seemed to spend years with his arm hanging by a thread. Just a few years ago you wouldn’t have predicted him to have the endurance to get to this point, and you certainly wouldn’t have predicted this season’s dominant start as recently as last year.

    When Pettitte eventually passes Whitey Ford, possibly as soon as Saturday, I’m sure we’ll hear a lot about how Ford could have had more wins had Casey Stengel not made a point of pitching the southpaw out of rotation, saving him for all of the Yankees’ biggest opponents. Those who may say so will be barking up the wrong tree. Stengel didn’t hold Ford back; he saved him. Yes, Ford had it rougher than most pitchers in his choice of opponents, and this makes his extraordinary .690 career winning percentage, the best ever (fellow Yankee Spud Chandler was better but in less than half the starts), even more eye-popping than it already is. Again, that’s not the point. Stengel’s program, as well as his usage of relief pitchers, did hold down Ford’s ability to compile gaudy win totals. First, who cares? The goal for any player and manager is that the team win, not that the pitcher compiles stats, and the Stengel-Ford Yankees won more pennants than anyone else in history. Second, Stengel preserved Ford’s arm for far longer than it would have been under almost any other manager of the time.

    Under Stengel, Ford never led the AL in innings pitched. He rarely even penetrated the top ten, doing so just twice. This was an incredibly fortunate thing for Ford and the Yankees, because even though managers had begun to use relief pitchers at that time, the prevailing mindset when it came to starters was to push them until they bled. Here are Whitey’s innings totals under Stengel contrasted with the AL leader in those seasons (excluding the partial 1950 season):

    YEAR    FORD     IP    AL LEADER
    1953    207       287 (Bob Lemon)
    1954    210.2    271 (Early Wynn)
    1955    253.2    260 (Frank Sullivan)
    1956    225.2    294 (Frank Lary)
    1957    129.1    267 (Jim Bunning)
    1958    219.1    260 (Frank Lary)
    1959    204       256 (Early Wynn)
    1960    192.2    274 (Frank Lary/Pedro Ramos)
    Funny thing about the pitchers on the right-hand side—they didn’t coast to the end of their careers, they just ended. Lemon led the league in innings four times, throwing as many as 309.2. He was finished at 35. Frank Sullivan’s arm was finished at 28. Lary, who had thrown as many as 294 innings in a season, couldn’t stay healthy after 31. Pedro Ramos had one more big innings year in him and then slowly settled into a swingman/relief role beginning at 27. Wynn was able to endure, as was Bunning, though he might have won 250 or 300 games if the Phillies hadn’t asked him to pitch 300 innings a year in his 30s.  

    Note Ford’s 1957 and 1960. Ford had arm problems in both of those seasons. That was public knowledge. The Yankees knew it. Nonetheless, when the Yankees fired Stengel after the 1960 season, what happened? Ralph Houk brilliantly told Ford that from now on he’d be pitching on regular rest. Ford got the big win totals he’d always craved, and also twice led the league in innings pitched, surpassing his totals under Stengel in every seasons and peaking at 283 innings in 1961. It took just four years to pitch his arm off. By 1965, Ford was a league-average pitcher. By 1966, he was, for all practical purposes, gone. His career had an abrupt ending. Ford didn’t pitch until he lost effectiveness or velocity, he simply had to stop.

    We can’t know what would have happened, but had Ford pitched under a more conservative manager, he might have had a few more 20-win seasons than he ultimately had, getting a few more starts against the A’s and few less against the White Sox and Indians, but it’s also possible, and given the arm problems that he had even with handling that was gentle by the standards of the day, that he would have lost effectiveness much, much earlier than he did. By reserving him for the games they had to win, the Yankees deployed him where they most needed him, leaving the work of defeating lesser teams to their lesser pitchers. They also ensured that he would be there for them every year, not just for a few years. Which course would you rather your manager take?

    4.1 (2 Ratings)

    Page 4 of 13  •  Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 ... 13 Next