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August 31, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

When you're in first place by 3½ games, there's no such thing as a must-win, but yesterday's win was important nonetheless. The Red Sox no longer control their own destiny, and even if they win the remaining games they have against the Yankees, they still need help from someone else to make the playoffs. It also puts them in a position where they almost have to win today's game, otherwise facing the alternative of having to sweep the Yankees next weekend in the Bronx, which seems very unlikely.

There were many heroes yesterday afternoon: Jorge Posada had a .475 OPS in 45 PAs against Pedro Martinez entering this season, but so far this season is 3 for 5 with 2 HRs against him, one of them coming today (which proves Voros' Law...on both ends). Nick Johnson was 4/5 with 4 RBI, and his 10-pitch at bat versus Martinez in the fourth inning is required viewing for certain managers who think it's a good idea to pinch-hit for him. Enrique Wilson continued his curious domination Pedro, getting two more singles, the second tying the game at 4. Andy Pettitte struggled in the first inning, giving up 3 runs, but when Pedro proved mortal, he was able to shut the Red Sox down through the 7th inning, only giving up two singles and a home run to David Ortiz.

Really, the Yankees won the game because Pedro was not Pedro. His breaking ball wasn't sharp, his fastball was not fast, and his location was not pinpoint. Perhaps still ailing from last week, Pedro was hittable, and the Yankees hit him. Still, a great relief performance by Bronson Arroyo kept the Red Sox in the game, and after the Yankees apparently broke the game open in the eighth, Jeff Nelson let them right back into the game in the bottom of the eighth.

I have to admit that I may be wrong about Jeff Nelson. I seem to recall him having struggled in late August in his previous Yankee tour, but lately he's been very unreliable. I still think he's a good relief pitcher, and Torre should still bring him into close games, but he should have a much shorter leash with him, especially now that they have Gabe White in the bullpen. If Nelson continues to pitch like he has in his last couple of outings, the Benitez/Nelson trade may turn out to be worse than the Boone trade (because of the draft picks).

But the Yankees came back in the ninth inning and pulled away again when Jorge Posada hit another HR, a 2-run shot off of Byung-Hyun Kim, who like Pedro, has an inexplicable problem against the Yankees, although with Kim, it's his own doing. Rivera--who struggled a bit himself in the eighth--finished the deal in the ninth, and the Yankees had their 4½ game lead back.

And now today is the finale, the final regular season game for Roger Clemens at Fenway Park, where he had so many great moments, where he became the greatest pitcher of his generation, and where he is now vilified for leaving and going to, of all places, the Yankees. Red Sox fans tend to be a bitter bunch, and while Clemens hasn't done anything much to heal his relationship with the Boston fans, they have taken their hatred of him a bit far. Today is probably their last chance to see him, and they will booing him mercilessly. There's a part of me that believes in all sorts of silly notions about class, and that part of me has a silly hope for today's game, that when Clemens is taken from the game by Torre, and walks back into the Yankees' dugout, the Red Sox fans will give him an ovation, and that, no matter what reaction he gets, Clemens will tip his cap. It's a silly, old-fashioned gesture, but it would be nice to see. But I don't expect it to happen.

August 30, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

For the third time in four games, the Yankees' pitching got torched, and this time it was at the hands of the Red Sox, which makes it twice as damaging.

But let's not go overboard here. Yes, the Yankees pitching has been awful in this past week, but starting pitching hasn't suddenly become the Achilles’ heel. If you pick up one of the New York papers today, you might think that the Yankees suddenly have a horrible rotation, and nobody they can depend on in the big games against the big teams. Don't believe it.

Mike Mussina has the 5th lowest ERA in the AL, Roger Clemens is 16th, Andy Pettitte is 17th. Mussina has a 2.76 ERA in August, 3.15 since the break. Before Tuesday's disaster, Clemens had a 2.70 ERA in August--3.35 since the break, and Pettitte has a 2.48 ERA in August, 2.78 since the break. With Mark Mulder out for the season, that's the best 1-3 rotation in the American League (Seattle has 3 pitchers in the top 15 in ERA, Moyer (12), Pineiro (14) and Franklin (15), but they also play in Safeco)

The rotation's weaknesses have been Boomer, whose back is ailing him, and might not be in the postseason rotation, and Weaver, who has had a combination of bad luck and bad pitching, and will certainly not be in the rotation. And then there's Contreras. Well, I guess he sucks after all, huh? I mean, you can tell so much from one start, especially one where he's not throwing strikes. Let's totally disregard those previous 21 innings where he gave up 2 runs, because they don't really count.

It was a bad start--a REALLY bad start--and it happened to be the fourth start of his career, and the first against a really good hitting team, and how bad it was is magnified by how important it was. There still isn't enough information, either statistically or visual, to decide that he's not a good pitcher or is a great pitcher. He had a really bad game, and we'll take note of it. There's no reason to drop him from the rotation, or to not consider him for the postseason rotation, where he'll be, at best, the fourth starter.

The fourth starter is, of course, not irrelevant in the postseason. Without Orlando Hernandez, the Yankees wouldn't have gotten to Game 5 of the 2001 ALDS, or Game 7 of the World Series. But the fourth starter will usually start only one game per series, and three in the entire postseason--you can do without a good one, and the Yankees might not have to.

It's been a bad week for the Yankees, and going against Pedro Martinez this afternoon, it might get worse. But bad weeks happen, and I'd rather it happen in August than October. The Yankees' rotation is fine, the press just needs something to write about, and this week gave them something to write. But Derek Jeter, who knows exactly what he's out there to do, and is the last person who would try to rationalize a bad situation (he called 2001 a failure), put things in perfect perspective last night:

"We're in first place. I'm sure Boston would like to be in first place."

And no matter what happens this weekend, on Monday morning, they won't be.

August 29, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

And so, once again, it comes down to the Yankees and the Red Sox. These two teams have finished 1-2 five years in a row, about to be six. In the history of this rivarly, this has been the longest stretch of mutual competitiveness these two team have had. The Yankees have finished on top five years in a row, and enter this weekend's matchup 4½ game in front.

With six games remaining between the Yankees and Sox, there is only one scenario that puts the Red Sox in first place without any help from anyone else--two three game sweeps, something that seems about as likely as Alfonso Soriano walking four straight times on 16 close pitches. A split of the six games leaves the Yankees 4½ up, a lead that will be difficult for the Red Sox to make up with the easy schedule the Yankees have in September, and the Yankees winning the overall series in any way gives them a lead of at least 6½, which probably puts the final nail in the Boston coffin. Really, to have a decent shot at the division, the Red Sox need to win at least four of the six.

Those who believe in curses, or at least the details of "The Curse", will say that the division title is fait accompli, because the Red Sox always fold down the stretch, and they will again.

It's fine for a fan to think that way, it saves them from worrying, because feeling confident in the result, they don't stress themselves out watching the games unfold. However, for a journalist, this is an unforgivable sin, because it involves no analysis of the current situation, and even worse, it is not factually correct.

What is factually correct is that, in the last 80 years, the Yankees have usually come out on top when both teams are competitive. Several times, the Red Sox have remained close until late in the season, and faded down the stretch. In 1978, they blew a 14 game lead, in 1949 they lost the last two games of the season to lose the pennant to the Yankees (when one win would have clinched). In 2001, they went 18-32 in their last 50 games to fall from 2½ back to 13½ back at season's end.

Of course, in 1949, the Red Sox had come back from 3 back on 9/20 to take a 1 game lead into the final series, and in 1978 the Red Sox battled back to tie the Yankees and force a playoff game, and in 2001, the Red Sox would have had to have gone 32-18 to catch the Yankees. And of course the Red Sox have also had good Septembers to win pennants and divisions, or to stay close in the race, or to pull in close--and have knocked the Yankees out of contention several times themselves. Usually they haven't, but usually does not mean always, and have does not mean will. Just because the Red Sox usually have collapsed in September, doesn't mean the Red Sox always will.

The other part of the equation that always gets left out is the Yankees themselves. The Yankees haven't been backing their way into titles, they've earned them. In 1978 they went 51-21 down the stretch to tie the Red Sox, whose 37-35 record after 7/19 wasn't that unusual for a team leading their division by 9 games in late July. In recent seasons, the Red Sox have been knocked out of the race by disastrous late series' against the Yankees, but to put all the blame for that on the Red Sox takes away all the credit to the Yankees. The Yankees haven't won because the Red Sox didn't, they won because they're good, and it's hard to win a title from a good team.

If the Yankees win this year, they have to do it on their own, they can't expect the Red Sox to fade. I'm sure that the Yankees don't expect that to happen, but I can't say the same about most Yankees fans, or the New York media.

I do expect the Yankees to finish on top, but it's because I think that they have the better team, and the odds favor them. But I don't think the Red Sox are going away any time soon this year, and I'm positive that they'll be back and stronger next year, and the years to come. The Yankees will have to compensate for that, they'll have to get stronger to.

If there is a Curse, it's that the Red Sox won't win the World Series, not that the Yankees will always beat them. I don't much care if the Red Sox don't win the World Series, I care about the Yankees winning it. And if they don't, it doesn't really matter who wins the World Series, the failure of my team is the same.

As for this series, I think the matchup is about as even as it can get. Contreras starts against a good team for the first time tonight, and Derek Lowe has pitched far better at home than on the road. Martinez has been the best pitcher in baseball this year, but Andy Pettitte is one of the hottest right now. And Roger Clemens makes his last start in Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon against Tim Wakefield, who has been a bit schizophrenic this year. Either team can sweep this series if the breaks go right, and overall, I have to give a slight edge to Boston in the three games.

Now see, there's a column that Michael Kay would never write.

August 28, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Now don't get me wrong, I'm just as pissed off about the last two games as any of you, but lets not blow this out of proportion again. They got smacked around in two straight by the Red Sox at home on Fourth of July Weekend (with Rocket and Boomer going in those two, as well), and they did just fine after that. They got crushed by the White Sox at home in 2000, and won the World Series. Two blowout losses in front of your home crowd in late August is certainly a frustrating experience, but it doesn't mean that the Yankees are doomed. (*Smashes chair*) There. I got that out of my system...

Going into the postseason, the Yankees will have to overcome several weaknesses. The one that's not going away is their defense--Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano and Bernie Williams are not getting to balls that they should, and Bernie's play in center the last two nights led directly to two triples. One solution to Williams' defense is to move Hideki Matsui over to center while shifting Bernie to left. Godzilla's not going to win any Gold Gloves in center, but he doesn't embarrass himself. As for the middle infield, there's nothing that can be done about that, which adds a second advantage to Matsui in center, his arm is stronger than Bernie's. Not a cannon by any stretch, mind you, but much better than the limp noodle hanging off of Williams's right shoulder. A better arm in center will mitigate some of the damage from singles grounded up the middle.

David Wells's back is also a concern. Back injuries, particularly problems with the sciatica, don't go away easily, if at all, and the pain is likely having a significant effect on Boomer's pitching. Wells won't start until Game 4 of the playoffs, and probably won't pitch more than three games in a title run, but you'd feel much more confident with a starter who won't leave you without a shot to win if his spine isn't up to it. Jose Contreras is a possible solution, he's had three good starts against weak teams, but his pitching was impressive in all three, regardless of the opponent. If he pitches well in Boston on Friday, and continues to do well in September, that might be enough to convince Torre to start him in the postseason. It's tough to earn Joe's loyalty after a poor first impression, and even tougher to lose it after a good one, but if Boomer is hurt and pitches poorly in September, I really doubt Joe's enough of a fool to stick with him in October.

We were all prepared to hate Aaron Boone right from the start for taking Brandon Claussen away from us, but the depths of his suckiness have astounded even the most pessimistic of us. We thought he'd be an average hitter, instead he's been the Monica Lewinsky of MLB. But despite our hatred of Aaron, he's not really a bad player, and what we should expect in the postseason is a decent hitter with a great glove. His OPS since August 15th, when he hit the HR, has been .770, which isn't great from a 3B, but acceptable. His OPS since that game is only .695, but his OBP is .342. The point is, while Ventura's stats in Los Angeles are far more inspiring, Boone probably won't drag the Yankees under in the playoffs. Of course, he still sucks.

Other problems include the performance of the bullpen, which sjohnny tonight compared to Ishtar--"A lot of names, terrible results."

But the bullpen isn't just names. I'll admit right now that I was wrong about Chris Hammond, he's a valuable reliever, though overpaid. Jeff Nelson has had precisely one bad outing with the Yankees, and while it was a VERY bad outing, he's had quite a few excellent outings, as well. Gabe White is coming of of an injury, made a poor first impression on Tuesday, but I think it's not unreasonable to expect late-90's Stanton quality out of him in October. For whatever reason, Antonio Osuna has struggled in the second half, and it's not unlikely to cost him his job in the second half. Felix Heredia is the LOOGY, but unless he pitches well in September, I'm not confident that he'll make the postseason roster. Jeff Weaver might make it onto the roster if he pitches well out of the bullpen next month, and to top it all off, you've got Mariano Rivera. I made my defense of Rivera last week, they're fine there.

The bench is pretty bad. Right Field is a three-way, and not the fun kind. Juan Rivera and Karim Garcia will spend most of the time out there, while David Dellucci will get a bit of time too. He can also spell a defensive replacement for Bernie in the late innings. Garcia can go on a very good hot streak, and Rivera's probably getting his last shot to earn a regular job in the majors before being exiled to outfielder limbo. Really, this is the area where the Yankees should have spent their Claussen Card, but instead they used him to make a lateral step at third, which is always worthwhile. Ruben Sierra shouldn't get any time in the outfield, but his hitting when he first came over to the Bronx this year has Torre convinced that he can get a big hit instead of say, popping it up. Of course, he's far more likely to do the latter.

Infield depth is a real concern, as was made clear when Aaron Boone slipped on a banana peel in the dugout Monday and had to leave the game. If you don't count DH Giambi, the Yankees' only backup infielder is Enrique Wilson. It's assumed that Erick Almont-E is going to get the call up for the postseason, but Joe Torre has been toying with the idea of bringing Luis Sojo back, just to erase any doubt that his "genius" reputation isn't entirely deserved.

But really, the bench shouldn't be a major issue in the postseason, unless the Yankees get to the World Series and need some pinch-hitters for the pitchers. Jorge Posada is going to play every night, so having John Flaherty on the bench is more or less irrelevant, barring an injury.

This is all assuming, of course, that Joe Torre doesn't try to be cute. His tactical decisions this year leave one worrying about that, as he constantly pinch-runs for his top hitters in late innings, writes irrational lineups, pinch-hits for Nick Johnson with Ruben F. Sierra with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning down by one run. Grrrr. He's incapable of seeing, or at least acknowledging, Bernie's decline in center and moving Matsui over to mask that weakness. It's likely that Torre will make a forehead-smacking decision at least once in the postseason, but hopefully, it won't cost the Yankees a game or a series.

The Yankees lost to the Angels in the first round last year for several reasons. The first, and most important, is that the Angels played unbelievably well last season, and seemed to always explode at just the right time. Torre leaving El Duque in to give up the lead in Game 2 may have cost them that game and perhaps the series, and the Yankees' defense was undoubtably exposed as well, as the Angels refused to walk or strike out, and put the ball in play with predictably positive results. Poor performances by the Yankees' entire pitching staff is largely to blame, too.

But in many ways the 2002 postseason was flukey, and while you don't want to ignore what happened, it doesn't seem likely to me that it will happen that way again this year. If the Yankees are going to lose this season, I think it'll be on the strength of their starting pitching.

And that's something I feel very confident in. With better run and bullpen support, Roger Clemens would be a Cy Young Candidate, and probably a favorite in his last season. Andy Pettitte has been spectacular the last two months, and Mike Mussina has been just as good in August. As I said before, the fourth spot will be filled by Wells or Contreras, and while my preference is Contreras, if Boomer's back isn't ailing him in a month and a half, he's not a bad choice for Game 4.

Last season, Mike Mussina had an off year, and was dropped down to Game 3 in the first round, and he couldn't get the job done, partially because of an injury. This year, he's a legitimate Cy Young Candidate, and the probable Game 1 starter in the ALDS, unless Joe gets cute again and gives it to Rocket out of some stupid lifetime achievment standard. With Moose and Rocket in the first two games, I feel the Yankees are capable of matching up evenly against any 1-2 punch, and with Mark Mulder out for Oakland, they probably have an edge with Pettitte in Game 3 over any team, too. Of course, you don't know how these guys will pitch, but on balance you can usually expect a solid performance from any of them.

The offense is a more curious matter, though. The Yankees have one of the top hitting teams in baseball, but curiously, they haven't played like that at home. Their .836 road OPS is tops in the majors, but their .776 home OPS is decidely average. While they can still win at home with good pitching, they don't seem likely to pull out victories in a Stadium slugfest. Bernie Williams' .612 at home is the most disturbing number, but most of the Yankees' big hitters--Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano--have seen some dropoff in their numbers that Park Factors don't quite explain, as Yankee pitchers have held opponents to a .723 OPS both at home and on the road.

Perhaps this is just a fluke, slumps just happening to occur at home, rather than on the road. It's something the Yankees should hope for, because it's more likely than not that they'll have home field advantage in all three rounds on the playoffs.

So there's serious concerns about the Yankees in the postseason, and they got humiliated by the White Sox in two games at home. But don't let what happened the last two days cause you to distort the Yankees' defects into fatal flaws that prevent them from moving forward in October. It's just two games in late August against a possible postseason opponent, and they don't really mean much more than any other game. You can get off the ledge, now.

August 27, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

A big loss always feels worse than a run-of-the-mill 5-3 loss, like it counts double. But tonight's loss didn't really expose the Yankees in any way, and it doesn't mean very much about the next two games. Roger Clemens threw a few pitches in bad spots at bad times to good hitters and paid for it. He's just as likely to shut the White Sox out the next time around.

Really, the Yankees were going up against a pitcher that has performed as well as any this season, and needed him to pitch below his current level of performance, while hoping that Clemens could shut down the Sox. Neither of those things happened, and the Yankees didn't get into the White Sox bullpen until late in the game, when it was already decided. In the end, they lost a game they probably should have expected to lose, they just lost it very badly.

Tomorrow, David Wells tries to even the series, going up against Bartolo Colon--a matchup of hefty, sore-backed pitchers. If either pitcher struggles with their back injuries, this game could turn ugly fast. Mike Mussina goes Thursday against either Mark Buehrle or Neal Cotts, a matchup that certainly favors the Yankees.

No matter how the Yanks do in the next two, they will go into Boston this weekend with at least a 3 game lead, and all three games feature pretty good pitching matchups--capped by Sunday's Clemens/Pedro matchup, Rocket's last start ever in Fenway. I am mystified as to why ESPN hasn't moved that to 8:00.

August 26, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Reader Mail

Once again, I can't think of anything to write about, so I decided to answer some of the email I get from my readers. Unfortunately, most of the emails from my readers ask me to add their page to my links, telling me I'm an idiot, or are are replies to My Details and My Application. So I decided to make some up.

Davey from Bayport, NY asks:
Should Andy Pettitte win the Cy Young Award this year?
God, no. I don't want to live in a world in which a pitcher with a 4.01 ERA wins the Cy Young Award. Even if you assume he pitches the way he has in the past month the rest of the season, his ERA will still be about 3.60, and that's way too high for my tastes, especially when there's a few pitchers under 3.00

However, if you're asking, "CAN Pettite win the Cy Young," the answer is, "Probably not, but he might".

You see, Davey, the Cy Young Award Voters are enamoured with a pitcher's won-lost record, and like many fans, think that how many games a pitcher wins in a season is a good indication of how well he pitched. Which is, of course, ridiculous--you're essentially handing out a pitching award based upon how good the offense the pitcher played with was. ERA is a much better indication of how good a pitcher has pitched, and DIPS is probably even better than that, because it takes defense out of the equation at the small expense of removing whatever ability a pitcher has to prevent hits on balls in play, which isn't very much.

But I digress. Pettitte's 16 wins are tied with Chicago's Esteban Loaiza for 2nd in the AL, behind only Roy Halladay. If Pettite can win the rest of his starts, he'll have 22 wins, and if nobody else wins 20, that might be enough. Pettitte's remaining starts are against Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Tampa Bay twice and Chicago. He's got a good shot at 20, but he'll likely have to go past that for the Cy. Still, there's an outside shot.

Really, if you want a Cy Young Award candidate from the Yankees, Mike Mussina is your guy. He'll need Loaiza to slip down the stretch and to pitch well himself, but his numbers are worthy of consideration all around.

Billy from Sayville, NY asks:
The Yankees suck. Your website sucks. YOU suck.
That's not a question, Billy.

Geoff from Wyomissing, PA writes:
What's the deal with this Alfonso Soriano Wager Watch thing, Larry? How could you possibly call yourself a Yankees fan while wagering that a Yankee will do badly?
Well, Geoff, I'm not wagering that he'll do badly--I mean, how much can a player who hits .299 with 39 HRs and 113.98 RC suck? That would have put him in the top 25 players last season, and he's a second baseman! The point of the wager was to show that Soriano's 2002 probably wasn't the start of something historic, and that's as good as he'll ever be, and probably better than he'll be the rest of his career, unless he greatly improves his walk rate. To some degree he's done both of those things, but not to the degree I think he needs to.

Of course I want Soriano to cost me the wagers, I just don't expect him to. And if he doesn't, I'll have $30 worth of food to console me.

Kenny from Newark, NY writes:
Should Japanese players like Hideki Matsui be considered for the Rookie of the Year after playing in Japan
Of course they should, Kenny. The only qualification to win the Rookie of the Year is that you enter the season with fewer than 130 ABs, 50 IP, and 45 days on the ML roster. That Matsui played for years in a highly competitive league shouldn't really be important, because he's never played in the majors. He has to adjust just like everyone else, and even though he's been playing against higher-quality competition than other rookies, he still has to adjust to new pitcher and ballparks, just like them.

Besides, the award is named after Jackie Robinson, who came to the majors after playing in the Negro Leagues. Now, Jackie was a victim of discrimination, but Matsui and other Japanese players were never really considered by the majors until a few years ago, either. He's a first-year Major Leaguer, and so he should eligible.

Now, should he win? That's another issue entirely.

Aaron in New York writes:
Why do you say such horrible things about me? What did I ever do to you? I'm trying as hard as I can!!!
If that's as hard as you can try, then you REALLY suck, Aaron.

Randy in Bay Shore, NY asks:
What's with the hatred of Derek Jeter?
I don't hate Derek Jeter, I think he's a very good ballplayer on the offensive side of the ball, though some fans still give him too much credit there. He's great at getting on base and is usually a spectacular baserunner. However, his defense is horrid, and there's no escaping that. It really does need to be criticized repeatedly, because it really has hurt the Yankees in ballgames. If anything, I'm too easy on Alfonso Soriano's defense, which in combination with Jeter, has made every ground ball hit up the middle an almost certain hit. One or both of them need to be moved.

Don in York, PA asks:
Why don't you ever call us? Your mother and I are so proud of your writing, but we'd like to know what's going on in your life besides baseball for once!
Oh, come on, I saw you a week and a half ago!

Kristen from Fairport, NY asks:
Ooh, you look so sexy in your picture there, throwing that chair. I want to do unmentionable things to you, but I also need a place to live... would you know of anyone who is renting out a room at an affordable price?
Sure thing, Kristen! What a coincidence that you'd fake email me to ask that! As a matter of fact, I'm renting out the other room in my sweet apartment right now! And it's cheap, too! If you're not interested, maybe someone else in the Rochester area would be, and I guess they could email me. They don't even have to be a girl, they could be a guy. Although I'd prefer if they didn't do unmentionable things to me if they're a guy.

Billy from Sayville, NY responds:
WHY do you suck?
That's better, Billy. But, unfortunately, I don't have enough time to answer that question, I've got to work on Thursday.

That's all for now, maybe next time I'll have some real mail! You can email me your questions at

August 25, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

There's a reason I wasn't ready to declare the pennant race over last week--because it isn't over. The Red Sox fell 7½ back because they had played so miserably against the Orioles going into a tough stretch, and while 5 games back isn't quite close enough to say they're right back in the thick of things, they were able to keep from falling out of playoff contention by playing fantastic ball against excellent teams. In fact, Boston ended the stretch from hell with exactly the record projected, 8-6, and the Yankees have to beat Baltimore tonight to meet their projection, and gain the two games in the standings that they should have been expected to.

Boston's sweep of Seattle this weekend places an enormous amount of importance on the next two weekend matchup between them and the Yanks. The Red Sox probably have to win both of those series, and maybe sweep one of them, but it is quite possible for them to do that. By not declaring the race over, I was able to prevent myself, for once, from looking like an idiot.

However, with Mark Mulder out for the remainder of the regular season, at the very least, Oakland's playoff chances have decreased. The A's aren't falling out of the race any time soon, of course, but it should give the Yankees another safety net if disaster strikes and they start losing games left and right, or as is more likely, Boston goes on a hot streak and takes over first place on merit. I'll go out on a bit of a limb and say this: the Yankees are going to make the playoffs.

Going into the playoffs, they have their first three starters set, Mussina, Clemens and Pettitte. Considering how well Pettitte has pitched in the past month and a half, that's a 1-3 I'm comfortable taking into any series, even one against Oakland with a healthy big three. The fourth starter will likely be Wells, but his sciatica has been bothering him for over a month now, and if it doesn't improve by October (or at least cease to be a problem), the Yankees should probably strongly consider starting someone else. Of course, until yesterday, there wasn't anyone to consider, because you'd rather have a sore-backed Wells out there than Jeff Weaver, but Jose Contreras's start yesterday afternoon against the Orioles made him a viable option.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not putting El Titan de Bronze on a pedastal, but I will say that he was unfairly maligned to some degree earlier this season (I don't know if I did it, feel free to check the archives). He had an awful spring, and his first two relief appearances (and one in Boston) were horrendous, but I don't think that's enough to throw him on the garbage heap. His two starts before getting injured, and his start yesterday, while against mediocre teams, were still impressive. He's given up only 2 runs in 21 innings, and only 3 hits yesterday. Which one is the real one? Well, there isn't really enough data to make a firm judgement about that, but I think what we saw yesterday is closer to the genuine article than what we saw in March and April.

And if what we saw yesterday is the genuine article, that's absolutely huge for the Yankees. It means that they've added an excellent pitcher to their rotation, one who you can throw out in the postseason and feel confident of victory with, and most importantly, one who they have under contract next season. With Mussina, Weaver and Lieber the only other pitchers locked up for next season, the Yankees' rotation is looking pretty shallow. It seems likely that Pettitte will be back, which will fill out the slots, and if they pick up Boomer's option, they might look to ship out Jeff Weaver.

That, I think, would be a mistake. On one hand, if Contreras pitches well the rest of the way, Weaver shouldn't see the rotation again this season, but I think he should get one last shot next season. He's not that bad, and can be very good. Unless the Yankees go out and sign Kevin Millwood or Bartolo Colon, I think they'd be fools to dump Weaver--particularly because his trade value is about as low as it's going to get right now.

August 24, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Beyond The Box Score by Art Martone: Here's a few more out-of-site diamond sites -- even for Yankee fans

Art emailed me to let me know about this earlier in the week, and I was so thrilled about it then that I STILL haven't been able to come up with the right words to thank him. And then, reading what he, I wasn't expecting that. Thank you so much, Art.

In other news, I'm still pissed off about Friday's game. I mean, would it have killed Ruben to take a couple of pitches, maybe get ahead in the count?

by Larry Mahnken

Yesterday, the Yankees retired Ron Guidry's #49, making it the 16th number to have been retired by the Yankees.

On one hand, I can see the merit in Guidry having his number retired. He was not a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher, but he was a great pitcher for a couple of seasons, and a good one for a decade, and played his entire career with the Yankees. On merit alone, compared to others who have had their numbers retired, including Yankees, he is absolutely worthy.

The problem I have with retiring Guidry's number has nothing to do with Guidry at all, but those who have gone before him. Like the Hall of Fame, players of questionable merit have had their numbers retired, and unless a team is willing to insult the player and many fans by unretiring their number, there's nothing you can do about it. And because you've retired the numbers of undeserving players, you have to retire the numbers of most of the players who are clearly more deserving of the honor. #2, #6 and #51 are are likely to be retired by the Yankees in the future, and that's probably not even all of them.

I've never been a "small Hall of Fame" person, but I do think that teams should be a little less enthusiastic in retiring numbers. There's the practical reason, that eventually you'll run out of numbers, but there's also the dilution of the honor. Some argue that having your number retired is a lesser honor than induction into the Hall of Fame, but I think it should be a greater one. Think about it, when you're inducted into the Hall, it's a way of saying, "this is one of the great players of all time, a player that you should remember." But when you retire a player's number, you're saying, "This player was so great, that no player can ever be good enough to wear the same number as him." I think that's a step up, not down.

The first player to have his number retired was, of course, Lou Gehrig. After all these years, it's amazing that Lou Gehrig is still underrated. He was overshadowed by the Babe in his playing days, and has since been overshadowed by ALS and The Streak. We all know he was a great, great ballplayer, but we often forget how great he was. He was one of the top five hitters of all time, perhaps only surpassed by Ruth, Williams, and Barry. The 1927 Yankees had a pair of players hitting 3 and 4 that has not only never been matched, but which it is probably impossible to match. Take Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols this year and put them on the same team--they're still not as good as Ruth/Gehrig. Lou was that good, and if there was ever a player whose number deserved to be retired, especially considering the character of the man, it was Lou.

Babe's turn came in 1948, and there can be no argument about Ruth, either. One can even argue that, considering the greatness of the player and his impact on the sport to this day, that Major League Baseball should retire #3 for all teams, as they did for Jackie Robinson (and rightfully so). Babe Ruth was probably the greatest player that ever lived.

Next was DiMaggio, who is probably the most overrated player in Yankees History (that oughta get some email!). But Joe DiMaggio was also a truly great player who personified everything the Yankees organization wants to represent. Ruth and Gehrig were the giants who pummelled your brains out, but DiMaggio was a great player who quietly went about the business of winning, did it consistently, and didn't rub your face in it. He was great, and he was classy--at least for the public. And he deserved to have his number retired.

Mickey Mantle followed DiMaggio in center field, and followed him into immortality when #7 was retired in 1969. Like Gehrig, Mantle was overshadowed by DiMaggio's legend, but unlike Gehrig, he was actually greater than the player he was unfairly compared unfavorably to. DiMaggio had a 155 *OPS+, Mantle's was 172. Retiring #7 was a no-brainer.

Next year was Casey Stengel, who had led the Yankees to ten pennants and 7 titles. If the Yankees didn't retire his number, than no manager should ever have his number retired.

In 1972, the Yankees retired #8 for Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra, and considering that they were two of the greatest catchers that ever lived, it's hard to argue with that decision.

Whitey Ford in 1974 is where the line between legendary and great begins to blur. Ford was the greatest pitcher in Yankees' history, and one of the greatest of all time...but was he so great that no player should ever wear his number again? In my opinion, unlike the Hall of Fame, the big four are the standard, and to have your number retired, your place in Yankees history should be comparable.

The next number, of course, was Thurman. Thurman is the exception, a player wholly undeserving of the Hall of Fame, but wholly deserving of having his number retired, because of how beloved he was, and how we lost him.

After that it got a little ridiculous, as the Yankees started retiring the numbers of players who couldn't hold a candle to Gehrig, Ruth, Joe D. and the Mick. Ellie Howard was the first black Yankees, Roger Maris had a couple of really great years. Phil Rizzuto is a really great guy and was a good SS and a borderline HoF candidate before they finally put him in. Billy Martin was a pretty good manager. Reggie Jackson was Mr. October, but was only here for five years, and put up only one truly great season, the rest were merely very good (except '81). Don Mattingly was a fan favorite who was great for a couple of years, and Ron Guidry had, perhaps, the single greatest season as a pitcher since the mound was lowered.

The Yankees are retiring numbers like this because it sells tickets, and brings people to the park earlier (selling more concessions). It's a money-maker, adn until it becomes passe (if it ever does), teams are going to keep doing it as long as they have players who they can justify honoring. If you want to push it with the Yankees, assuming that they continue with precedence, you could ultimately retire #21, #22, #36, #42 and #46 along with #2, #6 and #51.

Of course the team with the greatest history should have the most retired numbers, it's likely that they'd have the most great players But they should leave some numbers for the players yet to come, otherwise, when I'm an old man, the numbers the Yankees starting lineup wears will remind one of an early spring-training game.

But, congratualations, Ron. I don't want to take anything away from you (I know you're an avid reader!). You were a great player, and although I don't agree with how things are, you are fully deserving of this honor in view of the precendent set before you.

* * *

My condolences go out to the family of Bobby Bonds, who passed away yesterday of cancer. Bobby was a very good player who will, unfortunately, probably be remembered more for his son than anything he did on the field.

I lost my grandmother to cancer when I was a toddler, I have a young cousin who is battling it now, and I lost a dear friend, Sue Rogers, a couple of years ago. Baseball Prospectus put up this link for readers to make a donation to the American Cancer Society, and I will do the same. If you can spare the money, I ask you to give a little in memory of Bobby and the other millions of people who have been stolen from us.

August 23, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Ailing Wells can't lift Yankees in loss (North Jersey Media Group)
Torre said Sierra was used because of the outfielder's previous success against Groom - 6-for-11 prior to Friday's at bat.

"When I see 6-for-11 starring me in the face," said Torre, "it's hard to ignore that."
"Anyone can hit just about anything in 60 At Bats."

by Larry Mahnken

Clueless Joe

I am a stathead.

I'm fairly positive that a lot of my readers are not statheads, particuarly because I've been referenced and linked to on websites that one would not expect to be frequented by statheads. Those readers will, in many cases, look at the above statement as if it were some confession of sin. To those readers who are statheads, or those who understand what being a stathead entails, it is a declaration of the fact that I seek objective information about baseball, rather than taking things on faith. As I've become a stathead in the past year and a half, one of the most amazing things that I've learned is that most people who are fans of baseball, a large percentage of people who write or report on baseball, and a substantial number of people who run baseball teams don't know nearly as much about baseball as they think they do, and in many, many cases, don't know very much at all.

I have a friend, Rob, who is an ardent defender against criticism towards Derek Jeter. Today he said to me that he doesn't object to me saying that Derek Jeter isn't a good defensive player, just that I say he's a lousy defensive player. Why? Because Rob played shortstop in high school and at junior college, and he knows what it's like to play shortstop, and he can tell by watching Derek Jeter that he's not a bad defensive player.

Bullshit. First of all, Derek Jeter is not a bad defensive shortstop, he's a bad defensive shortstop for a major leaguer. I'm sure he would be awesome playing for a junior college team. Just because you played shortstop at some level doesn't mean that you can evaluate, on sight, a major league player. They're all better than you ever were. Second, just because you played the game doesn't mean you know what makes a good player, or wins ball games. Joe Morgan was perhaps the greatest second baseman that ever lived. I rest my case. And third, at the major league level, seeing is not believing. There are great players who look awful in the field, and awful players who look wonderful. To tell the difference between them, you have to observe what they do vigilantly for weeks and weeks, by which time your memory will likely become subjective and mislead you.

Unless, of course, you keep a detailed record of what you see. Which is what statistics are.

And the statistics tell us that Derek Jeter is a lousy defensive shortstop for a major league baseball player. Sure, there are tremendous deficiencies in defensive statistics, but if you understand what they're saying, and the degree of accuracy with with they say them, you can see that there is no way to pervert the statistics to tell you that Derek Jeter is anything better than an average shortstop--and that's only if you assume that the statistics overvalue everything that Jeter does poorly and undervalue everything that Jeter does well. That's quite an assumption.

But I've also learned that people have a hard time letting go of their beliefs, even in the face of irrefutable evidence. This is true of all people, including statheads. For people that don't understand baseball statistics, their initial reaction is to attack the entire concept of baseball statistics.

You can make statistics say anything you want. There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics!

You can't make statistics say anything you want, they will always say what they say. You can, however, tell people that the statistics say something that they don't, and perhaps convince people to believe you more readily than they would if you didn't show numbers. This is the worst kind of lie, the lie backed up by apparent proof. Stats don't lie, people lie by taking statistics out of context, and removing all meaning from them.

"Ruben Sierra has a .545 batting average against Buddy Groom."

If you tell somebody that, you're going to get their attention. It tells them, if Buddy Groom is in the game, bring Ruben Sierra in! He's batting .545! Apparently, someone told Joe Torre that last night, and when the Orioles brought Buddy Groom in to pitch to Nick Johnson with the bases loaded, two outs and the Orioles leading 4-3, out went Johnson and in came Sierra! After all, he was batting .545 against Buddy Groom. .545!

Add to that the fact that Johnson was a left-handed batter--and had batted .200 against Groom, and you've got a perfect pinch hitting situation!

And so goes the lie.

The truth: Ruben Sierra was 6 for 11 against Buddy Groom with five singles, one triple, and no walks. Nick Johnson was 1 for 5 against Groom with 1 double and no walks. If there was ever a sabermetric principle to come into play here it is the one called "Voros' Law":

Anyone can hit just about anything in 60 At Bats.

See: Spencer, Shane.

That Sierra was hitting .545 against Groom was irrelevant. That Johnson had hit .200 was even more so. Far more relevant was their past record against left handed batters.

Sierra's career OPS against lefties is .815, Johnson's is .738. Of course, if you just take Sierra's last four seasons, Sierra's OPS against lefties drops to .761. Still, it's quite a bit higher than Nick Johnson's, so going with Sierra was the right move there, right? Dear God, no.

Another thing sabermetrics has taught me is that the MOST important thing for a batter to do is to NOT MAKE AN OUT. Everything after that is a different degree of good, but any type of out is always a bad thing. With the bases loaded and two outs, it becomes even more important that a batter NOT make an out, because while an out loses the game, getting on base in any fashion ties it. While a hit would probably win the game, merely getting on base is of such a high importance that OBP almost completely outweighs SLG, to the point where it's not worth mentioning anymore. Nick Johnson's OBP against lefties is .373, Sierra's is .339 for his career, .328 since 2000. Even further, Nick Johnson's OBP vs. lefties this season is .396 (in 48 PAs), which still falls under Voros' Law, but the fact that Johnson's overall OBP has risen from .347 last year to .431 this year would indicate that the .373 against lefties is probably a little low.

With the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning, down by one run, there are two players on the roster that the Yankees should want to see at the plate: Jason Giambi, and Nick Johnson. They had Nick Johnson at the plate. The situation was absolutely perfect. And Joe Torre took him out, and one pitch later, the game was over and the Yankees had lost. But that wasn't the worst of it.

No, it wasn't. The worst of it was that Joe Torre didn't think he had done anything wrong. Ruben Sierra was the man they wanted up there, a righty hitter against Groom who had batted .545 against him! It didn't occur to him that he had just pinch hit a mediocre hitter who was poorly suited for the situation for the second best hitter on the team--and a hitter perfectly suited for the situation.

Joe Torre has won four World Series as the manager of the Yankees, and two Manager of the Year Awards. He won 125 games in 1998, a record 14 straight World Series games, and eleven straight postseason series. His team has the best record in the American League. And yet, sometimes, it appears that he has no idea what he's doing.

- He bats Alfonso Soriano, with the worst OBP on the team and the third highest Isolated Power, leadoff.
- He pinch-runs for Jason Giambi, the best hitter in the American League, in tied games.
- He brings his ace relief pitcher into the game anytime there is a save situation, without fail.
- He loses faith in young relief pitchers quickly, and gains faith slowly, as was the case with Jason Anderson and Randy Choate.
- He wastes roster space on players with no value, like Todd Zeile, Clay Bellinger and Luis Sojo.

Joe Torre is not a numbers guy, he's said that. He usually ignores the numbers, unless they really stand out, and then he might make a decision based upon them. .545 is a number that might stand out to Joe Torre, and might have motivated him to bring Ruben Sierra to bat for Nick Johnson, regardless of the fact that the .545 was in only 11 ABs and was mostly singles--a telltale sign that it was pure luck. Well, the only thing worse than a manager who makes decisions that the numbers say is clearly wrong is a manager who uses the numbers wrong. If you don't understand statistics, you're better off just ignoring them altogether.

Of course, maybe Torre did ignore the statistics. Maybe he really thought that Ruben Sierra was a better option in that situation than Nick Johnson. And if he did, he's an idiot.

To be fair, the Yankees were likely to lose that game even with Nick Johnson up, because he was still more likely to make an out than not. Only Barry Bonds would have swung the odds in the Yankees favor. But putting Sierra in the game over Johnson decreased the Yankees' chances of tying the game by at least 4.5%, and maybe as much as 8%--a signficant swing. It was a stupid, stupid move that was made unforgivable by Torre's failure to see its stupidity.

Managers don't win games, players win games. A great manager can make his team play a little better, and can utilize his players in the most efficient manner to maximize their chances of winning. But if a manager tries too hard to make moves, he can cost his team many games, so the smartest managers know that it's best to stay out of the way, and let the players play. Right now, the Yankees have a 6 game lead, they can afford to take some chances, they can afford to lose some games. But in the postseason, and in future seasons, they won't have that luxury, and they'll need a manager who understands that those trophies weren't because of him, but because of the 25 guys he's getting paid to direct. They'll need a manager who understands that Alfonso Soriano is the worst leadoff hitter in baseball, and that Nick Johnson is one of the best hitters in baseball. Someone who understands that a slight increase in a baserunner's ability to advance an extra base on a hit is not worth removing the best hitter in the league from your lineup.

I'm not talking about someone who has read Moneyball and Bill James, or uses statistics to decide everything they do. I'm talking about someone who realizes that if a managerial decision does not clearly increase your chances of winning, then it's not a decision that should be made. Casey Stengel was that type of manager, Earl Weaver was that type of manager. Joe Torre is not that type of manager. I'm not saying that he should be fired, and I'm not saying that the Yankees should let him go in the offseason. But I am saying that if they do, I'm not going to shed any tears over it.

He's just not worth it.

August 22, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

El Titan de Bronze makes his return to the Bronx Sunday in a start against the Baltimore Orioles, replacing El Enano de Papel de Estaño in the rotation. Weaver was diplomatic about the move, telling reporters, "Oh man, I have no idea what's going on."

In all seriousness, this was a move the Yankees had to make. When Weaver first got bumped from the rotation, his ERA was 5.17, although his peripherals were much better than that. He had been pitching unspectacularly, but not poorly, in bad luck, and a baseball world that evaluated with its eyes or a quick glance at the wrong stats couldn't see that. All they saw was a pitcher who was doing nothing good that stood out, and had poor results. From his last start in June through July, Weaver pitched well, except for one start in Toronto. Unfortunately, he couldn't keep it up in August, and has, for the most part, been mediocre in bad luck. He's been given a fair chance to keep his spot in the rotation, and he didn't come through.

On the flip side, Jose Contreras might have deserved Weaver's spot anyway. Before getting injured, Contreras had been given two starts, against Detroit and Cincinnati, and in 14 innings, had struck out 12, walked 4, and given up only 2 runs. Okay, so one of those starts was against the Tigers, but he still pitched well.

Contreras hasn't pitched enough this season to evaluate with any confidence. His 4.62 ERA in 25.1 innings is distorted by disastrous results in his first two major league appearances in Toronto, and a terrible inning in Boston which was made worse by Sterling Hitchcock allowing both inherited runners to score in relief of Contreras. I can't say that Contreras is going to be an ace, but you can't say for sure that he can't be, either. What we do know is that he strikes out a lot of batters, and has done a good job of keeping the ball in the park--and his 1.88 G/F ratio makes one believe that he can keep that up, too. His problem is that he walks far too many men, which might keep him from ever being an effective short reliever.

But a pitcher who can strike out 9 men per nine innings is valuable to the Yankees, whose defense is horrible. If he continues to strike men out and keep the ball in the yard, and can cut down the walk rate, he could be a great pitcher for the Yankees, and answer a lot of questions for next season. The Yankees have a 7 game lead on Boston right now, putting them in a position where they can afford to try Contreras out for a few starts. I think this is a good move. If Contreras pitches poorly, it's not going to knock them out of the playoffs, and if he pitches well, it might help them advance--and make it back next season.

* * *

Alex Belth posted his interview with Jim Bouton today (heard last month on Baseball Prospectus Radio), talking about his new book, "Foul Ball", his acting experiences, and more.

August 21, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

I'm not gonna do it. Not yet. 7½ up, 8 in the loss column. But I'm gonna be one of the last people to say it.

* * *

Hey, what's up with Mariano Rivera? I mean, the guy made a career out of inducing ground balls that turned into outs, and now he's inducing ground balls that turn into hits! He must be washed up!

Mariano Rivera is fine. Mariano Rivera will be fine. Let's take a trip back in time, to the beginning of Rivera's "slump".

July 25th, Boston. This was the great game in Boston--perhaps the best of the season. In the bottom of the 8th, the Yankees had a 3-2 lead, and Armando Benitez was on the mound. After striking out Kevin Millar, Benitez walked David Ortiz, and gave up a stolen base to Damian Jackson. Benitez then induced a popup to third by Bill Mueller, but fell behind 2-0 on Trot Nixon--the second being a passed ball by Jorge Posada. Rivera came in and walked Nixon, and after getting ahead of Jason Varitek 0-2, gave up a weak single to shallow left-center, and then struck out Johnny Damon. After the Yankees took the lead in the top of the ninth, Rivera gave up a double to Nomar Garciaparra and a walk to Ramirez, but struck out Millar and got Giambi to hit a soft liner to Soriano.

A week later, in Oakland, the Yankees had a 2-1 lead in Oakland, and Benitez was on the mound again in the 8th. With two outs, Benitez gave up a single and a walk, so with two outs and two on, Rivera came on again--a day after pitching an inning in Anaheim--and did his job, inducing an easy ground ball between first and second. But Alfonso Soriano butchered the ball, and Ellis came around to tie the game.

The next day, Torre brought Rivera into the game with a four-run lead, but two on and nobody out. They didn't need to bring him in, but they did anyway. A fly ball and a ground ball, and the game was over.

The Yankees took at 1-0 lead into the ninth on Sunday, but when Andy Pettitte walked Ellis to lead off the inning, in came Rivera for the fourth straight day. He struck out Guillen, but a single by Chavez and a double by Tejada, and the game was over.

Rivera got a couple of days off after that, but was back in action on Wednesday against Texas, pitching with a 1 run lead in the ninth. Rafael Palmeiro pinch hit and walked, and the next batter Donnie Sadler, bunted back to Rivera, who threw it past Nick Johnson, putting runners on second and third. A single to Hank Blalock gave the Rangers the lead, and Rivera then proceeded to sandwich three groundouts around an intentional walk to A-Rod. The next two days Rivera came in and got the save, giving up a run on two singles on Thursday, and putting down the M's in order on Friday.

A three-game losing streak gave Rivera some days off, but Torre brought him in to finish Tuesday's 6-0 win. Rivera gave up two singles that night, one of them an infield single. He also struck out the last batter and induced two groundouts.

Wednesday's 11-0 loss gave Rivera another day off before he was called in to get four outs on Thursday with a 6-5 lead, with two outs and nobody on. Rivera got a groundout to short, and after the Yankees scored two in the top of the ninth, he finished the game with a strikeout, groundout, single and pop out. And then, on Friday, Torre called on Rivera with a 3 run lead again. This time, Rivera was not sharp, giving up a leadoff homer, and then a single, groundout, single and two more groundouts. It was, however, his third game in four days, and the gametime temp was 95 degrees--I don't think there'll be too many 95 degree games in October.

They needed him again on Saturday, with a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth, but he gave up a leadoff home run to Luis Matos to tie the game. But he retired the rest of the Orioles in order, and the Yankees went on to win on a freak play.

Two straight blowouts gave Rivera another two days off, but on Tuesday, Torre brought him into a 3-run game again. A single, strikeout and groundout and Rivera had another save.

And then there was today. Today, Rivera was brought in on short notice, as soon as it became a save situation, and not getting enough time to warm up properly. Still, he gave up a grounder to third base which was fumbled by Boone, and then the ball kept getting past Soriano and into the outfield. Finally, Rivera was able to keep the ball out of play, striking out Desi Relaford, and ending the game.

Rivera hasn't been knocked around once during his "slump". He's had bad defense, and bad luck, and one game his own defense did him in. He's given up big hits to good hitters, but most of the time, he's been fine. The times he's struggled the most have been after pitching three or four days in a row. That's something that might happen in the postseason, but it's unlikely to. More importantly, five or six of his appearances have been unnecessary, usually a result of Joe Torre bringing him in as soon as he's eligible for a save. It's a foolish way to manage, and the Yankees are fortunate that it hasn't hurt them much.

It's understandable that Torre doesn't trust his bullpen, they haven't done much to inspire confidence lately. But the Yankees have a lot of talent out there, pitchers who can get the job done, even if they're not getting the job done right now. What Torre needs to stop doing is using the one pitcher he can trust in situations where he doesn't need him, forcing him to pitch tired in situations where they DO need him.

There's nothing wrong with Mo. He's a victim of high expectations, an expectation of invulnerability. He's pitching fine, but he's getting used horribly. There are a few spots on the roster the Yankees should be concerned with--closer is not one of them.

August 20, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Because the New York Yankees franchise has had such a ridiculous amount of success in the past, and particularly because they've been so successful in the past decade, the Yankees are held to a higher standard. 2001 was a bad year, 2002 a humiliation. Winning is not good enough in and of itself, to recieve credit in New York, you have to win titles. It's not fair, but that's the way it is.

In holding the Yankees to such a high standard, they are often looked at in terms of what's wrong with the team, rather than what's right with the team. I am guilty of focusing on the negative like this, but it's not because I hold the Yankees to a ridiculously high standard, but because I'm naturally pessimistic. It is undeniable that the current Yankees squad is flawed. Right Field was a black hole from May through July, and although Karim Garcia has been brilliant in less than 80 PAs, it is less than 80 PAs, and he's likely to revert to his mediocre self. Robin Ventura was mired in a slump for two months before the Yankees replaced him, and his replacement, Aaron Boone, has played at a level that would get him cut by the Tigers. The bullpen was rebulit in the offseason, and proceeded to implode in the first months. Through several trades the Yankees have reorganized their pen, but the new and improved version has struggled as well. Mariano Rivera, obviously fatigued from being overused by Joe Torre, has had recent struggles as well. Alfonso Soriano continues to bat leadoff, despite being about the least suited player in baseball to bat leadoff, and his free swinging ways have caught up to him, as his OPS has dropped into the low .800's. Jeff Weaver has struggled, David Wells has a bad back. Derek Jeter's defense continues to regress, as does Bernie Williams's.

But despite all this, the Yankees have the best record in the American League. They're on a pace to win over 100 games, and have a 6½ game lead over the Red Sox, 7 in the loss column. Barring an unlikely collapse by the Yankees, an epic hot streak by the Sox, or a double sweep by Boston in their last two series, the Yankees are likely assured of winning of their sixth straight AL East title. Mike Mussina's pitching has been fantastic this season, as has Roger Clemens. Andy Pettitte has had struggles with consistency, but Bad Andy hasn't shown very often in the past two months. Despite his struggles, Mariano Rivera is still having one of his best seasons, and the bullpen likely has enough talent to help in the postseason. Derek Jeter has become a dangerous hitter again, getting on base at nearly a .400 clip in front of Jason Giambi, the best hitter the Yankees have had since Mickey Mantle, and the best hitter in the American League. Jorge Posada has shaken Jason Varitek and established himself as the best catcher in the American League, and perhaps the best in baseball. Nick Johnson has been every bit as good as advertised, and is already one of the more dangerous hitters in baseball. If the division lead gets to ten games, the Yankees might want to start trying him out in the outfield, just in case they make it to the World Series.

And they have a great shot to do that. Every team is flawed, except the '98 Yankees. And there's the problem, the 2003 Yankees are being measured against a legend, and they don't measure up. But compared to the rest of MLB this year, they measure up fine. This Yankees team can't look forward to any likely postseason series and see a cakewalk, but there is also no opponent out there that they should feel lucky to beat, they can beat all of them--and in most cases, should beat them. It's not a level that management should be satisfied to stay at, but it is one that their fans should be thrilled to be at. Don't let what you want spoil your enjoyment of what you have, because it's not always going to be this way. Boston may be fading right now, but they'll be back, as will the Blue Jays.

So go ahead and complain about Aaron Boone and his bat full of suck, or Alfonso Soriano and his bat full of hack. Tear your hair out over Jeff Weaver, and throw furniture over Derek Jeter's range. Bitch and moan all you want, but at the end of the day, look at the standings, and appreciate it.

We are Yankees fans. We are the luckiest fans in the world.

But suck, Boone.

August 19, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

I've said this before: I don't read other peoples' weblogs very often, because I usually end up thinking about whatever they wrote when I try to write my stuff, and I really don't want to plagerize anyone else. Of course, I do have a few regular blogs that I always visit when I do read other people, and one of these is Mike's Baseball Rants. If it was just for his brilliant, and usually hilarious breakdowns of Joe Morgan chats, Mike's blog would be a must-read, but Mike's analysis and writing is worth the trip, as well.

Yesterday, Mike described Rule 6.07 and its impact on Friday's game, and this morning, he clarified it after a correction I made on Baseball Primer. Of course, being the gentleman that he is, Mike did not mention that I came across as a jackass when I corrected him, and further, he provided some examples of the rule being used in the past, including once in the World Series, and once intentionally! From the examples he gives, it appears that neither one of my proposed exploits has been attempted (Nor has Phillies-Fan's). Anyway, go check that out today, it's really interesting (and the new Joe Morgan Chat is up!)

by Larry Mahnken

The Yankees trounced the Royals last night, extending their lead in the AL East to 5½ games over the Red Sox, 6 in the loss column. Don't look now, but the AL East race might soon be over.

Jeff Weaver pitched like Jeff Weaver once again--not terrible, but not good--giving up four runs in 5 2/3 innings, the last two in the sixth with a 9-2 lead. As my understanding of DIPS increases, it becomes easier to understand why Weaver has had mostly poor starts and regularly has awful starts despite having a 4.08 DIPS. Someone with a DIPS around 4.00 isn't likely to win a Cy Young Award (well, unless they're Barry Zito, 3.97 in 2002), but you don't expect them to stink. A closer look reveals why Towelie does:

First of all, the name of the statistic is Defensive Independent Pitching Statistic, it takes defense out of the equation. With the Yankees, this is an important factor--their defense is awful. The Yankees rank 25th in MLB in defensive efficiency (which is the reverse of BABIP) at .6975; their BABIP against is .011 higher than the AL Average, and .039 worse than the AL's (and MLB's) best defensive team, the A's. And Jeff Weaver's style of pitching isn't very good for the Yankees' defense, he's only struck out 83 men, and 77.7% of the batters he faces put the ball in play, compared to 67% by Roger Clemens and 68.3% by Mike Mussina. Essentially, he's allowed 71 more balls to be fielded by the Yankees' defense than Clemens would have, about 22 of which the Yankees' defense would be expected to allow to fall in for hits.

But the Yankees defense hasn't peformed normally behind Weaver. While they've allowed hits to fall in at a .3025 rate overall, the Yankees have allowed balls to fall in at a .342 rate for Weaver! DIPS projects that Weaver would give up 162 hits in a normal ballpark with a normal defense, and 166 hits with the Yankees' defense. But Weaver has given up 187 hits--25 more than projected (Replace the DIPS projected BABIP with Weaver's actual, and his projected ERA is 5.16--a lot closer to what it is). Part of this is because he gives up more ground balls than fly balls, and ground balls end up as hits more often, but as extra base hits less often. But Weaver has given up 47 extra base hits on balls in play this season, a sizeable total.

So what does this mean? Well, it could mean that Weaver has been laying pitches over the plate and getting hit hard. But if that was the case, you'd expect him to be giving up more HRs, and he's only given up 11. Another explanation is that Weaver isn't a "clutch pitcher" (a more palatable concept than clutch hitter), and that he pitches worse under pressure. There is some support in the statistics for this, his DIPS with the bases empty is 3.90, and 4.10 with runners on. The last explanation is that he's been just plain unlucky; balls are finding spaces between fielders, and hits are coming at the most inopportune times. A pitcher like Weaver, who allows such a high percentage of balls to be fielded by the defense, is especially susceptible to this happening, and particularly so in front of an awful defense like the one fielded by the Yankees. Mel Stottlemyre can spend all the time he wants to working on Weaver's mechanics, but it's never going to change this fact: Weaver puts himself at the mercy of his defense.

All three of these factors have likely contributed to Weaver's poor season. He has appeared at times to allow frustration to have an effect on his pitching, like in the opening game of the doubleheader against the Devil Rays. As for clutch pitching, he's consitently pitched worse in the past with runners on, so this might be the case, and the luck factor is almost certainly true. None of this takes Weaver off the hook, but it does tell us something about who he is as a pitcher. He's not bad, but he'll never be great. He's the type of pitcher who you stick in the middle of your rotation, but not at the top, and he's the type of pitcher you probably want to avoid starting in the postseason, especially when your offense is as good as the Yankees, and a dependably mediocre pitcher is more valuable than an inconsitent pitcher who is slightly better on average. In other words, he's perfect for the Yankees this season, but if he's their #2 in 2004, they're in trouble.

August 18, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

What a bizzare weekend. On Friday, Aaron Boone hit a three-run home run to win the game, and on Saturday, Jack Cust fell down on the way to an unguarded home plate to end the game. Today, the weekend was capped with the most bizzare thing of all: Alfonso Soriano walked. Unintentionally. It boggles the mind.

Actually, today was just about the perfect day for the Yankees. They released Designated Game-Shortener Todd Zeile, swept the Orioles, got a complete game shutout out of their ace, resting their spent bullpen, and with Seattle's 3-1 win, they extended their lead in the AL East to five games--six in the loss column. All of the sudden, things are looking really, really good, even though Aaron Boone's OPS looks like a bad SLG, the Yankees' right fielders hit like second baseman, and Alfonso Soriano hasn't been a good player since April. It's still looking good.

The dropping of Zeile from the roster comes after he complained that he no longer had a role on the team, but more importantly, after the Yankees bullpen was spent over the weekend. Needing to add an arm for long relief, the Yankees considered Zeile to be the most expendable player on the roster, and cut him loose to make room for Jorge DePaula, who will likely be sent down soon and replaced by GIDP Jesus, Juan Rivera--likely Rivera's last shot to prove himself to be a major league quality ballplayer.

I was thinking at work today about the lineup rules, and I realized a couple of ways a team could exploit another team's failure to understand the rules. The key part of the rule to me is that the proper batter is always the batter whose name appears in the lineup after the last proper batter, regardless of the order in which previous batters have come to the plate. It is obvious that Joe Torre did not know this, and I'm not sure if anyone else noticed this either, specifically that the proper batter to follow Batista in the bottom of the first was Fordyce, and the proper batter to lead of the second was Batista.

Exploit 1:

This one will probably require deception, and probably ruin a manager's reputation among other managers. It would take someone like Billy Martin to pull this off, someone who doesn't care what anyone else thinks about him, just winning. And, of course, there comes a sizeable risk with it, so it might not be worth trying.

The problem with yesterday's game seemed to arise from the Orioles lineup posted in the clubhouse being wrong, and the press recieving the wrong lineup, which led to Batista and Gibbons batting out of order in the first. A manager could intentionally decieve the other team and the press (or perhaps, if it's a home game, have the scoreboard operator in on the plan), by presenting them with this lineup before the game.


But then, hand the umpire this lineup:


Now, in the bottom of the first inning, Jeter and Johnson bat, and lets say that Jeter grounds out and Johnson walks. Now you send up Giambi, and after him, you bat Williams. Since the scoreboard says that it's the proper order, and the lineups courteously exchanged ahead of time say that it's the proper order, there's a chance that the other team won't notice this. Once a pitch is thrown to Williams, the at bat by Giambi is legal, and there's almost no chance that a manager not wholly familiar with the rules will be able to derail this exploit. Now, if Giambi gets on base, and there is an appeal before Williams sees a pitch, you've wasted an out, and Giambi getting on base is negated (and Johnson goes back to the base he was on before Giambi put the ball in play). Are you following me so far? Well, wait a second, it gets trickier.

After Williams' at-bat, if the inning is still going, you send Posada up to the plate. Now, if Giambi is on base, well, then your plan failed to do anything of substance, and you let Posada bat. But if Giambi is NOT on base, well, you send Posada up with explicit orders to TAKE THE FIRST PITCH. No matter how good it is. After that pitch, Bernie's at-bat becomes proper, and you call time, tell the umpire you accidentally batted out of order, and send the proper batter up to the plate..............Giambi.

(If Williams made the last out of the inning, you don't have to do the whole Posada thing, Giambi is the proper batter as soon as a pitch is thrown in the top of the second, but if you send Giambi up in the first, well, that'll arouse suspiscions, they'll appeal Bernie's AB, Posada will be called out, and Soriano will be up).

Now, of course the opposing manager will raise holy hell about this, and probably appeal the game. A sensible Commissioner would throw out the appeal, but Bud Selig would probably go the MacPhail route, say the ruling was "not in the spirit of the rule", change it, and uphold the appeal. Of course, the rule specifically say that this is the spirit of the rule, that if you don't pay attention, you have to pay the penalty for it. Not that it would stop Bud, he'd be much more concerned about fans who don't know anything about the rules who "think" it's unfair--after all, a guy batting two out of three times CAN'T be right--and he'll change it.

Now here's the second exploit, which does not involve deception, or much risk, merely the right circumstances and confidence that the opposing team doesn't know the rule. If a manager was to try this, and get away with this, they would be properly viewed as a genius.

Exploit 2:

It's the bottom of the 8th inning, and your team is trailing. There are two outs, nobody on, and your seventh hitter is coming up to bat. Your seventh hitter sucks. Your eighth hitter is worse, and your ninth hitter is Bill Bergen. In all probability, you'll go to the ninth with your eighth hitter and ninth hitters leading off, and likely get to your leadoff man with two outs and nobody on.

You could pinch-hit for these guys, or you could try this strategy: Send your ninth hitter up to bat for the seventh hitter. What's the worst that could happen? The umpire can't say anything--he's forbidden by rule. If the other team says something before he bats, then your seventh hitter comes up, and nothing has changed. Send him up with explicit orders to make an out. The other team will probably let him bat, preparing to appeal it if he does something other than make an out, but if he makes an out, they'll probably let it slide. If they do appeal before the top of the ninth, then all that happens is the seventh hitter is called out, and you're in the situation you expected to be in anyway. But if they don't appeal, then in the bottom of the ninth the proper batter to start the inning guessed it...Frank Stallone! No wait, it's the leadoff hitter! And there's nothing the other team can do about it, you've successfully jumped over two of the worst hitters in your lineup without penalty, getting to your best hitters when you needed them up the most. And you're almost certain to get away with it, too.

Really, I'm surprised that nobody has ever tried these strategies...have they?

August 17, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Friday night, the Yankees won the game in bizzare fashion, with slumping third baseman Aaron Boone hitting a three-run home run in the top of the ninth to erase a 3-2 deficit, and ultimately give the Yankees the win. This result was so unbelievable that I could only respond with a "tall tale", which unexpectedly earned me a Clutch Hit, perhaps the most bizzare result of the night.

Well, that game had nothing on this one. From start to finish, this game was about as bizzare as they come.

I, for one, looked at the game pessimistically. With David Wells' sciatica acting up, the Yankees were forced to start Sterling Hitchcock. On one hand, Sterling Hitchcock is not a horrible pitcher, but on the other hand, he's not a particularly good one, either. If the Yankees didn't score runs off of Orioles' starter Pat Hentgen, it seemed that the Yankees would have little chance of winning.

And they didn't score runs off of Hentgen, at least not very many. In six innings, they were only able to get five hits, and push two runs across. Going into this game, it appeared that this would be nowhere near enough to stay in this game. Surely the Orioles would score far more than two runs off of Hitchcock.

They certainly got off to a good start in the first inning, putting runners on second and third with one out. At this point, things turned bizzare, though it would take a while for it to become apparent. Batting fourth for the O's, Tony Batista flew out to center field, scoring Deivi Cruz and giving the Orioles a 1-0 lead. Jay Gibbons followed with a groundout to first base, and the inning was over.

One problem: Tony Batista was listed as the fifth hitter in the Orioles lineup, and Gibbons was listed as fourth. But Joe Torre was not paying proper attention, and did not appeal, legalizing the result. Nothing was said until Mike Hargrove acknowledged the error to the umpires in the third inning (the umpires were forbidden by rule 6.07 (d) (2): The umpire shall not direct the attention of any person to the presence in the batter's box of an improper batter). Later in the game, Gibbons would bat fourth as originally listed, and at this point, Joe Torre piped up. Should not the order in which the Orioles originally batted be the legitimate order from that point forward? No, the umpires said, the lineup on the lineup card was official, regardless of what happened. Rule 6.07 says:

(a) A batter shall be called out, on appeal, when he fails to bat in his proper turn, and another batter completes a time at bat in his place.

(b) When an improper batter becomes a runner or is put out, and the defensive team appeals to the umpire before the first pitch to the next batter of either team, or before any play or attempted play, the umpire shall (1) declare the proper batter out; and (2) nullify any advance or score made because of a ball batted by the improper batter or because of the improper batter's advance to first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter or otherwise. NOTE: If a runner advances, while the improper batter is at bat, on a stolen base, balk, wild pitch or passed ball, such advance is legal.

(c) When an improper batter becomes a runner or is put out, and a pitch is made to the next batter of either team before an appeal is made, the improper batter thereby becomes the proper batter, and the results of his time at bat become legal.

(d) (2) When an improper batter becomes a proper batter because no appeal is made before the next pitch, the next batter shall be the batter whose name follows that of such legalized improper batter. The instant an improper batter's actions are legalized, the batting order picks up with the name following that of the legalized improper batter. The umpire shall not direct the attention of any person to the presence in the batter's box of an improper batter. This rule is designed to require constant vigilance by the players and managers of both teams. There are two fundamentals to keep in mind: When a player bats out of turn, the proper batter is the player called out. If an improper batter bats and reaches base or is out and no appeal is made before a pitch to the next batter, or before any play or attempted play, that improper batter is considered to have batted in proper turn and establishes the order that is to follow.

APPROVED RULING To illustrate various situations arising from batting out of turn, assume a first inning batting order as follows:

PLAY (3). Abel walks. Baker walks. Charles forces Baker. Edward bats in Daniel's turn. While Edward is at bat, Abel scores and Charles goes to second on a wild pitch. Edward grounds out, sending Charles to third. The defensive team appeals (a) immediately or (b) after a pitch to Daniel.

RULING: (a) Abel's run counts and Charles is entitled to second base since these advances were not made because of the improper batter batting a ball or advancing to first base. Charles must return to second base because his advance to third resulted from the improper batter batting a ball. Daniel is called out, and Edward is the proper batter; (b) Abel's run counts and Charles stays on third. The proper batter is Frank.

PLAY (4). With the bases full and two out. Hooker bats in Frank's turn, and triples, scoring three runs. The defensive team appeals (a) immediately, or (b) after a pitch to George.

RULING: (a) Frank is called out and no runs score. George is the proper batter to lead off the second inning; (b) Hooker stays on third and three runs score. Irwin is the proper batter.

PLAY (5). After Play (4) (b) above, George continues at bat. (a) Hooker is picked off third base for the third out, or (b) George flies out, and no appeal is made. Who is the proper leadoff batter in the second inning?

RULING: (a) Irwin. He became the proper batter as soon as the first pitch to George legalized Hooker's triple; (b) Hooker. When no appeal was made, the first pitch to the leadoff batter of the opposing team legalized George's time at bat.
When Batista batted in place of Gibbons, had the Yankees appealed after the sac fly, but before the next pitch, Gibbons would have been out, and Batista would have to bat again, with two outs. But the Yankees did not appeal, and the sac fly counted.

Now, here's the interesting part. Once the play by Batista was legalized, the proper batter was NOT Gibbons, it was Fordyce. Had Gibbons singled, the Yankees could have appealed that HE was batting out of order. But they didn't appeal, and Gibbons became the proper batter.

Wait, that's not all. In the top of the second, Brook Fordyce came up, and popped out to third. But HE wasn't the proper batter--Batista was. Had Fordyce gotten on, the Yankees could have appealed THAT, and Batista would have been out, and Fordyce would have to bat again. When the Yankees did not appeal that, Fordyce's at bat became legal, and Leon was the proper hitter after the first pitch he saw. From that point on, there was nothing more to appeal.

(Insert criticism about Joe Torre not knowing the rules despite getting paid millions of dollars to manage the team)

Had the Yankees lost by one run, or lost in extra innings, this failure to pay attention could have cost the Yankees the game (assuming Batista didn't get a hit in his second shot in the first). But Sterling Hitchcock never imploded, he pitched quite well, giving up only three runs through six. But Hitchcock's was not the only unexpected performance of the game. John Flaherty, catching in place of Jorge Posada, hit not one, but TWO home runs, the second to tie the game in the top of the seventh. The Yankees took the lead in the eighth when Hideki Matsui's single scored Jason Giambi, and took a 4-3 lead, and a chance to win the first three games of this series, into the bottom of the ninth. But the bizzareness continued, as Luis Matos hit Mariano Rivera's third pitch into the left field stands, tying the game at four.

In the tenth, the Yankees and Orioles both went quietly, but in the top of the eleventh, the Yankees mounted a rally. Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui walked, to lead off the inning, and Joe Torre sacrificed Aaron Boone to move them to second and third (which, despite Boone's HR and two hits in this game, might not be a ridiculous play in this situation). But the decision Torre followed this with was odd, pinch hitting Ruben Sierra for David Dellucci, depite the fact that the Orioles were certain to intentionally walk whoever was up, as they did. Torre then pinch-ran Karim Garcia for Sierra, making Sierra's apppearance in the game wholly pointless (and yet, it would pay off in the end).

John Flaherty had hit two home runs, but Joe Torre knew that his chances were greater with Jorge Posada in the game, and pinch-hit him. The Yankees announcers talked about how it was Jorge's birthday, and how he had a great chance to celebrate his birthday with a game-winning hit. Except his birthday is Sunday. Must be a night for clerical errors.

Anway, the point was moot, because Posada struck out, and Alfonso Soriano (whose OBP is .220 in his last 123 PAs) grounded out to third. Fortunately, the Yankees avoided losing the game in the bottom of the 11th, and in the top of the 12th, Jason Giambi his a long home run to center to give the Yankees the lead.

But the most bizzare thing to happen was yet to come. After retiring the first two Orioles in the bottom of the 12th, Jeff Nelson walked pinch-hitter Jack Cust. CBS Sportsline describes what followed:
Larry Bigbie: Ball, Strike looking, Strike looking, Bigbie doubled to center, Cust out at home.
So, there you go.

Of course, it was much more bizzare than that. Bigbie's ball was cut off in the gap by Karim Garcia, who threw the ball into Alfonso Soriano in shallow right. Cust was running hard to third, and the Orioles' third base coach waved him home--but then stopped him late. Cust slipped while trying to stop, and Soriano threw behind him to Boone. But Boone couldn't handle the ball, knocking it back towards the pitcher's mound, and Cust got up and ran home. Boone fielded the ball and threw it to Posada at home plate, who then chased Cust back towards third.

At this point, the Yankees made a serious error. Nick Johnson had moved to the middle of the infield to cut off a throw home, and moved to cover third base, and Derek Jeter was standing in shallow right with Soriano, rather than covering second base (what prescence!). Johnson ran to back up third base, but Jeff Nelson, who should have been backing up home plate, also ran towards third ahead of Posada. When Posada threw the ball to Boone, home plate was completely uncovered, and there was nobody on the field closer to home plate than Cust, and while Boone is faster than the Orioles' young slugger, the distance between them was too great for Boone to catch him before the game was tied.

But fate saved the Yankees, as Cust slipped and fell on the grass just short of home plate, and tried to crawl home on his hands and knees. Rushing in to catch him, Boone fell to his knees as well, slapping the glove with the ball in it against Cust's side, ending the game in one of the most bizzare--and idiotic--fashions I have ever seen. The Orioles paid for the poor decision making of Tom Treblehorn, the third base coach, and the Yankees nearly paid for the foolishness of Jeff Nelson and Derek Jeter.

But in the end, it was a win, and the Yankees retained their four game lead in the AL East. With Mike Mussina facing Rodrigo Lopez in the series finale Sunday afternoon, they have an excellent opportunity to sweep the series. However, they really need Moose to pitch deep, because their bullpen is somewhat spent, and they do not have an off day for several days. But today, they came away with a win they should not have expected, and provided one of the more entertaining games of the season.

August 16, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Many years from now, when I'm old and gray and, my grandchildren will gather around my feet.

"Grandpa! Grandpa! Tell us about the time that Aaron Boone hit the three-run home run in the ninth inning to win the game!"

"WHAT!?" I'll shout, because I'll be deaf then, too.

But then I'll turn on my aural implants, which convert sounds into a text format before my eyes, closely resembling an AIM chat. And I will tell them how the Yankees wasted many opportunities to blow the Orioles out, and pushed only two runs across in the first eight. And I'll tell them about Old Man Clemens, who had pitched so much better than his 11-7 record, and how he held the Orioles to a single run going into bottom of the eighth. And then, after retiring the first man in the inning, Joe Torre lifted him for Old Man Orosco.

"Jesse Orosco!" my grandchildren will say, "doesn't his grandson play for the Yankees now?"

"No," I'll reply, "it's the same guy."

And I will tell them how Orosco, brought in to retire two lefties, instead gave up a double and a single, and the Orioles tied the game. And then I'll tell them that the Yankees brought in Jeff Nelson, who they had traded for Armando Benitez, who had a reputation for melting down in big games, even though Nelson wasn't really any more reliable.

"Armando Benitez!" my grandchildren will gasp, "He's history's greatest monster!"

"Yes," I'll nod knowingly, "But we didn't know about that then. But I digress."

And I'll tell them how Nelson gave up the lead, and the Yankees went to the ninth trailing 3-2. And my grandchildren will weep, and break chairs, and say many swear words that they have no business knowing at that age, for they are truly my grandchildren. But I will raise my hand and hush them, and tell them how, in the ninth inning, after Hideki Matsui grounded out yet again, Jorge Posada singled past the second baseman, and was pinch-run for by Enrique Wilson.

"Why did Joe Torre do things like that?" My grandchildren will ask, confused. "Did he not understand that he was taking out one of his best hitters?"

"Ah, but Wilson would then steal second, avoiding a double play and getting into scoring position," I will explain.

"Okay," they said, "It worked out that time."

And then I will tell them how Nick Johnson (and they will sigh at that name) battled Orioles closer Jorge Julio after falling behind 0-2, and drew a walk.

"But, but," they will sputter, "doesn't that make the stolen base irrelevant?"

And Joe Morgan will enter the room and explain how the stolen base changed the nature of the at-bat, and how having a great base stealer is the most important part of a championship team. He will then deny ever saying that, and then leave.

"What happened then, Grandpa?" they will ask.

And then the room will turn dark. I will tell them about the 2003 trade deadline, and how the Yankees accquired Aaron Boone from the Cincinnati Reds, and how he was the suckiest suck that ever sucked. And I will tell them how they traded top prospect Brandon Claussen for Boone.

"The Brandon Claussen who won ten Cy Young Awards?" They will ask.


"The Brandon Claussen who pitched five perfect games?"

"The same."

"The Brandon Claussen who cured cancer, found Osama bin Laden, and opened communications with intelligent life on the other side of the galaxy?"

"Well," I'll say, "They weren't that intelligent. They still thought that it was a good idea to sacrifice a runner to second in the first inning."

And I will tell them how Aaron Boone hit the ball down the right field line, and how it landed inches in foul territory. And then I will tell them how he hit a fly ball down the left field line, and it hooked, and hooked, and was called foul by Jeff Nelson.

"The pitcher?" they will ask.

"No, the third base umpire," I'll reply. "Now stop asking questions, because I suck at writing dialouge!"

And they will stop. And I will tell them how the home plate umpire, who positioned himself perfectly on the line, overturned the call, and gave Boone the home run, and the Yankees the lead. And I will tell them how the Orioles fans booed and booed, and how they later taunted the umpire, saying that a ball that was fifty feet foul was a home run. And my grandchildren will wonder openly how they could be so stupid, as the ball was clearly fair. But I will explain to them that they didn't know this, because it happened before the government installed chips in our brain that tracked our thoughts, and told us whether a ball was fair or foul.

"And that was the time Aaron Boone hit the three-run home run in the ninth inning to win the game," I will say.

And my son will come in the room, and tell me to stop telling the kids made up stories. And then he'll pump me full of tranquilizers.

August 15, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

For the past few weeks, I've harped on the fact that the Red Sox are, right now, entering "The Stretch From Hell". While the Yankees aren't playing particularly easy competition, the Red Sox are playing exceptionally good opponents over the next two weeks, Seattle and Oakland. By entering this stretch three games behind the Yankees, it seemed that the Red Sox were on the ropes. If things went like I expected them to, they might be out of contention in two weeks. But things don't always happen like you expect them to, and sometimes, what you expect happen isn't what you should.

Baseball Prospectus made a few new stats available this week, and fabricated a report about Pete Rose to bring attention to them*. I'm not sure how to use all these stats, but one that appealed to me was the Postseason Odds Report. Prospectus projects the number of games a team will win the rest of the season by A) Establishing each team's quality by adjusting their Equivalent Runs Pythagorean Winning Percentage for opponent quality (I'm SURE my mother is going to call me know to explain what the hell that means), which is called "third-order winning percentage", or W3%, B) Establishing the strength of each team's remaining schedule from their opponents' W3% is, and C) using Bill James' log5 formula to project how many of those games they will win. This system projects that the Yankees will have the best record in baseball the rest of the season, and finish with the best record in the American League, and second-best overall. And it says the Yankees have a 94% chance of making the postseason.

Of course, this doesn't take into account injuries or roster changes, and is consequently a flawed metric, but it's still interesting.

Using Baseball Prospectus's method, the Yankees should expect to gain two games in this stretch, and considering that the Red Sox roster has gotten better in the past few weeks, a reevaluation of the Yankees' expectations may be in order. It is apparent that the Yankees shouldn't expect to put the Red Sox away in these two weeks, though they should expect to pad their lead a little. What these two weeks offer to the Yankees is an opportunity to put the Red Sox away, if they win a couple more games than should be expected, or the Red Sox lose a couple more than should be expected, and that it's VERY unlikely that the Red Sox will be in first place by the end of the stretch, or even three games back. But it could happen, it is just 14 games.

Last night, Bad Andy showed up for the first time in a while, although the heat might have had something to do with it. Still, while Pettitte pitched poorly, he and the Yankees got the win, so you can't complain too much. Oakland blew a win against Boston in the afternoon, so the Yankees lost an opportunity to expand their lead to four again. I really am starting to feel that this will go down to the wire, but it's also possible that it could play out just like the past few seasons, with the Red Sox facing a do-or-die series against the Yankees in early September.

Looking ahead to those two series versus the Red Sox, the matchups appear to slightly favor the Yankees--and the August 29th game appears to be Pedro vs. Clemens in Rocket's last regular season game at Fenway, or versus the Red Sox. Cool.

Here's how the rotations seem to work out

8/29 - Clemens/Pedro
8/30 - Pettitte/Burkett
8/31 - Wells/Lowe

9/5 - Pettitte/Burkett
9/6 - Wells/Lowe
9/7 - Mussina/Wakefield

I think if it works out this way, Pedro might get pushed back to pitch in the Stadium on the fifth, which actually makes the other two matchups in that series much more favorable to the Yankees. This all assumes that Boomer's back will be good enough to pitch well, or that Jose Contreras will pitch well when he comes back in his place. A pretty big assumption, I would say.

*I'm KIDDING. They didn't fabricate the report to bring attention to those specific stats, just the site in general.**

**I'm kidding about that, too.