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September 16, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Way back in April, when I started this blog, I wrote about Alfonso Soriano. Okay, I've been doing a lot of that since I started writing this blog, as well as writing about Derek Jeter's defense, the Bullpen of Horrors, Joe Torre, Aaron Boone, Raul Mondesi, Juan Acevedo and violence against inanimate objects.

But at the time, I wrote about Soriano's defiance of all that statheads had predicted would happen to him. Now, at the time, Soriano was hitting .371, on a pace to hit 54 HRs, had an OPS of 1.088, while having only drawn 5 unintentional walks in 138 PAs. Players who walk so few times and strike out so often simply don't put up those numbers. It's not just rare--it's never happened.

Of course, it still hasn't happened, and it won't happen this year. Soriano hit two homers today to enter the 30/30 club for the second straight year, but his production has dropped off considerably, and is, in fact, very close to what statistics projected at the start of the season. Baseball Prospectus' new projection system, PECOTA, expected these numbers before the season:

2003 Pace6861973743437130379.287.334.501.835

He's walked a bit more, hit fewer doubles, and been far more effective at stealing bases than PECOTA thought, but those numbers are really close. Does that mean that the statheads were right? Well, no--an .835 OPS is still pretty good for a second baseman. It's more a validation of PECOTA than anything else--and surely something you'll see as a prime example of it's quality in next year's Baseball Prospectus.

What Alfonso Soriano represents to me is the crux of the differences between traditional analysis and sabermetric analysis. Traditional analysists look at Alfonso Soriano and see that he is a player with tremendous power combined with great speed--a rare combo, too be sure. They see that he is more talented in more ways than almost any other player, and for that they number him amongst the elite.

Sabermetric analysists look at Soriano and see his value. They don't care how he did it, but what he did. For all his talent, Alfonso Soriano is still an .835 OPS hitter, which is good, but not great. But traditional analysts, when they look at the stats, don't care for OPS or even OBP. They see a man hitting .287, 31 HRs and 78 RBI with 33 SBs, and they see an elite player.

30/30 is an impressive feat, to be sure, but it is similar to hitting for the cycle. While all the parts are crucial to the acheivement, they are not equally important to winning ballgames, which is, obviously, the point of playing. That Alfonso Soriano could hit so many home runs and steal so many bases is notable, but it doesn't make him better than any other player with an .835 OPS. The problem is that Alfonso Soriano's acheivement isn't viewed objectively, it's viewed as proof of his greatness. People are afraid to change his approach at the plate because of the HRs he hits, afraid that by tinkering they'll break him. What he is now is good, but he could be great. But the price of complacency isn't just the loss of potential greatness, but the risk that if his approach remains the same, he'll collapse completely, and become worthless. The Yankees should be proactive with Soriano, dropping him down in the lineup, insisting that he work the count and look for his pitch, slapping him around a little in the dugout after he swings at three pitches in the dirt. By remaining complacent, they've developed a hitter who is incredibly streaky, and makes more outs than any other player in baseball (making him, of course, the ideal leadoff hitter).

Alfonso Soriano is still only 25 years old, he's not an established veteran, he's a young player not yet in his prime, and he has much to learn. All he needs is someone to teach him.

September 13, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

What a difference a week makes. A week ago today, the Yankees were coming off of a second straight humiliating defeat at the hands of the surging Red Sox, their lead was down to a measly 1½ games, and it seemed that everything was going wrong. David Wells wasn't merely struggling, he was pitching miserably, Jason Giambi wasn't just slumping, he was an out machine. Bernie Williams had struggled to find his power since returning from knee surgery in May, the bullpen was pouring gas on whatever fire they came near. Aaron Boone was failing to merely suck, he was exploring whole new levels of suckiness, perhaps trying to test the theory that baseball value is circular, and that if you suck enough, you will eventually pass the lowest levels of suck and enter the elite levels of greatness. It's an interesting theory, but one best tested on a team that can afford the risks inherent in the "Suck a Lot" strategy.

It was, a week ago, possible to see the end coming. One could imagine the Red Sox pounding the Yankees once again, and Toronto coming in and beating the Bombers in a makeup game while the Sox beat Baltimore to take over first place. Maybe the Yankees were too old, too flawed, maybe even too complacent. Sometimes great teams fall suddenly and precipitously, and sometimes they fall down the stretch while in a pennant race. A week ago, you could imagine that happening to the Yankees, and even though you knew it probably wouldn't happen, you still thought about it.

But only a week later, that kind of thinking seems silly. It seemed almost silly after the Yankees stopped the Red Sox dead in their tracks Sunday afternoon, and as the Yankees built up an eight game winning streak against inferior competition, they virtually assured themselves of a playoff spot, are perhaps a week away from clinching the division, and have an excellent chance at Home Field Advantage--thanks to Hank Blalock--throughout the postseason. The questions now asked about the Yankees are the same ones that every fan is asking about their team: are they good enough to win the World Series?

While this eight-game streak does not inspire awe for the quality of play it has produced, there are positive signs. Jason Giambi started having better plate appearances at the beginning of the week, and launched Home Runs in the last two days. Bernie Williams hit the decisive homer on Sunday, struck again versus Detroit, and celebrated his birthday in style, clubbing two more in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, giving him an impressive 4 home runs for the week. Even Aaron Boone was good (perhaps the strategy worked), as he posted a 1.042 OPS with 2 HRs. They got strong performances out of Roger Clemens and David Wells, and the bullpen started to come together, particularly once Joe Torre realized that he could trust Gabe White just as much, if not more than Jeff Nelson.

An aside for a moment about Gabe White: There are many guys in baseball with a "Porn Star" mustache, and a few of them on the Yankees (as their facial hair policy pretty much limits you to that look or, as sjohnny said, the Hitler). But Gabe White takes it so much further--he's got the whole package working. The tan, the build, the bald half expect to see him in a postgame interview with his shirt off, all oiled up. I dunno, maybe he's moonlighting (and nice work if you can get it!), but I can't look at him without thinking Porn Star. Maybe I'm just a pervert.

But back on topic, the Yankees haven't been playing great, and the way they played against Detroit probably would have resulted in a series loss or a sweep to any decent team. But there have been several individual performances worth noting, not merely for their value, but for what they mean to the team going forward.

Bernie's two home runs today, for instance, were mighty pokes, not a result of the short porch at The Stadium. It means that Bernie can still drive the ball, and that he might continue doing it this season, and in October. They weren't fluke home runs, they were the real deal. And if Bernie--who despite his lack of power hitting was still getting on base at a good rate--can start driving the ball for doubles and homers, the Yankees have vastly improved their chances in the postseason.

Similarly, Giambi's recent at bats remind even the most reactionary of fans that this is a player who is capable of Bondsian performances when he is swinging the bat well, and if he plays like that in October, the Yanks will be halfway to the title already.

I'm still skeptical about Boone; his great performance lately haven't yet brought his overall numbers up to replacement level. His defense is quite good, his baserunning is above average. But I don't have faith that he'll be of any use in the postseason.

I'm also skeptical of Wells, but for one reason only: his back. He's obviously been feeling better, perhaps completely comfortable in his last two starts, but a bad back doesn't just go away for good, and when it's bad, he's awful. I still think the Yankees should start Contreras in October, despite his struggles in Fenway and against Detroit on Tuesday. I still think he's the safer bet.

I said earlier this week that no team needed a three game series against Detroit more than the Yankees did. They played poorly, and they got away with a sweep. Playing three games against such an awful team helped build some confidence for struggling players, who were finally able to get back to muscle memory and focusing on pitch-to-pitch strategy, instead of thinking about their mechanics, and trying to do something to get things working right. Slumps are usually statistical anamolies, a series of unsuccesful at bats in a row that is bound to happen from time to time. But the people who play the game are prone to wonder whether it's something that they're doing wrong that's causing the slump (sometimes it is, but usually it isn't), and they start to tinker, and lose sight of the bigger picture, decrease their ability to succeed, and end up making things worse.

The Yankees are winning again, so in that sense, the slump is over. They haven't played as well as their record would indicate, but they've played better than they had, so I think the slump is, at least, ending. The slumps of Giambi and Williams--and maybe even Boone--are almost certainly over. As the season draws to a close and the Yankees become more assured of their postseason position, that is probably the most important thing of all.

September 11, 2003

Inbox and Outbox
by Larry Mahnken

The Yankees finished a sweep of the Tigers tonight, extending their winning streak to five games and their lead to an even four games. I'm prepared to say that the Yankees have the American League East just about wrapped up, and their spot in the playoffs is assured. They aren't going to blow a 6 game lead to Seattle in 17 games--not with the schedule the two teams have remaining.

Of course, the Yankees' 5-game winning streak has been about as unimpressive a winning streak as can be had. David Wells was brilliant to start the streak on Sunday, but the Yankees were not playing their best baseball against Detroit, and against most other teams, they would have lost two of three, if not been swept. Three wins against Detroit is like losing your virginity to a prostitute--you're not going to go around bragging about it, but it still counts.

A reader of mine, Bob sent me an email this evening:
you were 100% correct when you said yanks don't need 3 left handed hitting 1st basemen RE: david ortiz, but right now i wish we had johnson and ortiz down the stretch, seeing that your a know it all, tell me what giambi has done good for the yanks in the last month, one or two key hits (not homers) and the yanks magic number would be about nine, you know the yanks and you know them well and thats to your credit, but when it comes to the "game" you seem to be very imature and show a lack of knowledge of baseball "the game", did you ever play ball if so up to what level, don't tell me little league now that every one makes a team and must play, when i played you had to MAKE THE TEAM, that was true in babe ruth league, jr circuit league jr high and high school also american legion ball as well as college i played, started and made all star teams at all of the mentioned levels
Ahh yes, the old, "You never played the game, so you can't know anything about it" argument. Actually, it's its cousin, "I played better than you, therefore I know more than you," which is probably sillier.

First of all, no, I never played organized baseball past Little League, which I only played one year of (although our team lost only two games all season!). Why? Well, for one, I wasn't particularly talented. Or maybe I was, I'll never know. I didn't have very many friends as a kid--okay, I didn't have any friends as a kid--and baseball was something I could only play in the back yard with my big sister, and the moment I was able to play as well as her, well, she didn't really feel like playing anymore. I was shy, I was an outcast, and nobody ever played with me (and when I rule the world, they will pay for this! I will crush them all!!! MUAHAHAHAHAHA!!!....ahem...). But I have loved baseball for as far back as I can remember. As Bill James said, there is not a waking moment when I am not thinking about baseball, and most of the sleeping moments are spent thinking about it, too.

I played Little League for that one season, got only one infield hit--and the umpire screwed it up, signaling safe and yelling "out", and I was tagged out as I ran back towards the bench. I also struck out to end the only game we lost during the regular season, which took me a very long time to get over. And I think I got hit by a lot of pitches--like I said, I wasn't very popular.

I simply had no skills, and no talent to make up for it. I considered trying out in high school to establish some type of social interaction with other kids, but I was too afraid of failure and humilation, and never did it. It's one of a thousand things I wish I had done differently as a kid, but that's in the past, and it must be let go.

There is a bias in professional baseball against outsiders, against people who haven’t played the game. That bias is what kept sabermetrics out of the game for so many years, because the people who had put it forward had not played baseball, so they couldn’t know about baseball. Baseball needed someone like Billy Beane--an intellectual who had played the game--to finally bring objective analysis into the front office. To the establishment, if it was put forward by an outsider, it could not be right, but if the same information was put forward by an insider, then maybe it was.

I’m not a know it all, Bob, I’m a writer. It’s my job to say things with confidence, if I waver in my resolve, then I lose credibility in the eyes of my readers. To put forward this confidence, I try to only write about things I have absolute confidence in, and I try to back it with data. If I hold a belief, and the data I check contradicts that belief, I won’t write about it. I may be right, but I don’t want to put my credibility on the line for a “maybe”.

But to answer your main point, no, the Yankees would not be better off had they signed David Ortiz. Yes, Jason Giambi is in a terrible, terrible slide. He is not only not hitting with power, he’s not hitting at all. And unlike April, he’s not even getting on base, so yes, his presence in the middle of the lineup is hurting the Yankees.

But you can’t judge a player’s skill, or even his overall value for the season, by one month. This is Jason Giambi we’re talking about here, who won the 2000 MVP, was robbed for the 2001 MVP, and was a legitimate MVP candidate last season. David Ortiz is having a great season, but his previous seasons were nowhere near as good, his highest OPS was .839, which isn’t that great for a first baseman, and his career EqA is .278 entering this season.

And he’s not even better than Giambi this season. His OPS of .961 is higher than Giambi’s, but not by very much, and it’s inflated by Fenway, where his OPS is 1.022 (and .897 elsewhere). EqA, which adjusts for park, says that Ortiz is .316 while Giambi is .324.

And you’re also ignoring the reality of the situation. If the Yankees had Ortiz, he would be DHing, and playing instead of Nick Johnson. Nick Johnson, with a .964 OPS, .445 OBP and a .335 EqA, second in the American League. Had the Yankees signed David Ortiz, and played him, and he had played as well as he had, the Yankees would be further ahead of the Red Sox in the division (because the Sox wouldn’t have him), but they would be a worse team.

But maybe Ortiz has really established a new level of performance--this is his age 27 season--and maybe Giambi has begun a precipitous decline--he is 32, and both of those possibilities fit sabermetric theory very well. Or maybe David Ortiz is having a great season in a good hitters park while Jason Giambi is struggling with a knee that needs surgery and, for a while there, a badly bruised hand--and still having a better season than Ortiz.

Speaking of Nick Johnson, those of you who have Baseball Prospectus Premium may have read Joe Sheehan’s “Lineupectomy” article on Tuesday. On Friday, Joe had chatted with BP readers, and his final answer was that his optimal Yankee lineup would be:
which in turn generated an email:
I saw in your recent chat that your ideal lineup includes Nick Johnson as the seventh hitter, ahead of only Aaron Boone and Karim Garcia. But your own numbers show Johnson as one of the elite hitters in the major leagues. I don't get it. Is there some underlying logic behind this lineup con(s)truction?

- L.M.
Guess who “L.M.” was?

Well, anyway, his response was basically that a)the Yankees have 7 good hitters and you have to bat someone 7th, and b)Johnson would be his choice to bat 7th to not put a slow runner ahead of a ground ball hitter (okay), split up lefty and righty hitters to avoid effective LOOGY usage (okay), and to not rock the boat by moving some guys down the order.

Well, I’m not okay with that. He didn’t say that this was the best lineup that he felt Joe Torre could put out there, but his “optimal” lineup. He used the “rocking the boat” reasoning to help justify batting Bernie second and Soriano 4th, though there were other reasons for his decisions to do that. But I think that Soriano shouldn’t be treated with kid gloves, he needs to learn that his approach at the plate is not even close to being acceptable: he seems to go to the plate only wanting to hit, not bat. If you have to offend him by batting him 6th or 7th, then so be it.

Anyway, having read Joe’s justification and thought about it (and you should sign up for BP Premium, too--the PECOTA cards alone make it worth the money), here’s my optimal Yankees lineup, integrating Joe’s points (don’t bat slow runners ahead of Jeter and Matsui, break up lefties and righties):
I'd like to say one final thing. Today was the second anniversary of 9/11. It was a horrible, horrible day that none of us can ever forget. But I'm reminded of something Abraham Lincoln said in 1862:
In great conflicts, each side claims to be acting in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, but one must be, wrong.
We know that Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden are wrong, there is no disputing that. But that doesn't make us right. I'm not saying that we aren't right, but that our national attitude in the past two years has seemed to me to be "we got attacked on 9/11, so we're justified in doing whatever we decide to do." We are not. 9/11 does not justify war in Iraq, or rolling back our civil liberties, or a tax cut. Those things must find their own justifications.

September 9, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

If there ever was a team this season that needed a three game series at home against the Detroit Tigers, it's the Yankees right now.

And if there ever was a team this season that you felt nervous about going into a three game series against the Detroit Tigers, it's the Yankees right now.

Yesterday's 9-run outburst excepted, this is a team very much in a slump, and they need a series against a team that they can sweep, they need some good starts, and they need to hit the ball hard. And they need to win a couple of games without relying on their bullpen, and if the bullpen does come into the game, they need to be able to shut a team down. And the opponent that fits that description is the Detroit Tigers.

But a series loss here would possibly be more devastating than two or three losses, it could send the Yankees into a spiral that knocks them out of the postseason. Losing this series would be worse than getting swept by the Red Sox at the Stadium by a wide margin. Simply put, they have to win this series, and even further, they really need a sweep.

The series does line up pretty well for the Yanks--they've got Jose Contreras, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens going for them in the three games. If they get good starts out of all three, which I expect they will, they are almost certain to win all three games. As for the offense, yesterday's 16 hits included only 2 doubles and no HRs--it was a very quiet 16 hits, and it did nothing to convince me that the Yankees are out of their offensive slump, but rather, that the Blue Jays pitched really poorly. But nothing bad came out of yesterday--Jason Giambi got two hits, Hideki Matsui had three, and if nothing else, it might make them feel like they're out of their slumps, and the psychological aspects of the slump will be removed, and they can just go back to hitting. I guess we'll find out in the next couple of nights.

The Red Sox got back into the race on merit, by playing .800 ball against great teams for two weeks. But if they finish the comeback and overtake the Yankees for the AL East title, it'll be because the Yankees gave it to them. There are only three games left on the schedule against a team that offers a serious challenge to the Yankees, and that's not until the very end of the season, where hopefully it won't matter. The Red Sox are good, but they're not so good that they can expect to keep winning 80% of their games against even the weakest competition. If the Yankees win 2/3 of their games like they should expect to, it would take a miracle for Boston to win the division--a miracle that seems even more unlikely after last night's collapse. But if it were to happen that way, I don't think you can blame the Yankees for blowing the East (they'd be in the playoffs anyway), you'd have to give the Sox the credit they deserve.

But I don't want to give the Sox any credit, and I don't want to give them any chances. The Yanks have to win these games.

September 8, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

CART MASTER: Bring out your dead!
MEDIA: Here's one.
CART MASTER: Ninepence.
YANKEES: I'm not dead!
MEDIA: Nothing. Here's your ninepence.
YANKEES: I'm not dead!
CART MASTER: 'Ere. He says he's not dead!
MEDIA: Yes, he is.
YANKEES: I'm not!
CART MASTER: He isn't?
MEDIA: Well, he will be soon. He's very ill.
YANKEES: I'm getting better!
MEDIA: No, you're not. You'll be stone dead in a moment.
CART MASTER: Oh, I can't take him like that. It's against regulations.
YANKEES: I don't want to go on the cart!
MEDIA: Oh, don't be such a baby.
CART MASTER: I can't take him.
YANKEES: I feel fine!
MEDIA: Well, do us a favour.
MEDIA: Well, can you hang around a couple of minutes? He won't be long.
CART MASTER: No, I've got to go to Kansas City. They've lost nine today.
MEDIA: Well, when's your next round?
CART MASTER: Thursday.
YANKEES: I think I'll go for a walk.
MEDIA: You're not fooling anyone, you know. Look. Isn't there something you can do?
YANKEES: (singing) I feel happy! I feel happy!
MEDIA: Ah, thanks very much.
CART MASTER: Not at all. See you on Thursday.
Nice job, Boomer.  Now get rid of the soul patch.Bernie Williams get his biggest hit of the year in the seventhReports of the Yankees' demise have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, it was an awful weekend, and only a masterful performance by David Wells prevented a sweep, but lost in all the finger-pointing and eulogizing of the Yankees, people lost sight of the tiny detail that, win or lose Sunday, this miserable disastrous embarrassment of a team had THE BEST RECORD IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE. They're not eeking by in a weak division, they're fighting off what may be the best team in baseball. But, by all means, let's judge them by two weeks.

To be honest, I did panic a bit after Saturday's debacle. Those who know me (and most who read me) know that I take my Yankees seriously--probably too seriously--and invest myself emotionally in their successes and failures. When they lost in the Series in 2001, my grief was had to shake, and their unceremonious exit brought out an unhealthy burst of frustration and rage, as my coffee table can attest to (it can also tell you what it's like to fly). But in a regular season game, in a slump, I'm much more capable of using reason to soothe my nerves and de-panickify myself. I was able to do that Saturday, and it made me more comfortable going into Sunday's game. Even if they lost, they were still in first, even if they lost, they still had the best record in the AL.

Of course, I had to work, and was forced to wait until 8:00 to come home and watch the game, though my pleasure was greatly decreased by a coworker who decided it would be a good idea to tell me that they won at about 5:30 (services are Tuesday, in lieu of flowers, please don't tell me the outcome of the game unless I ask). Still, I didn't know how they won, was hoping for a blowout, but instead got to see David Wells bounce back from an extended slumpto stop the surging Sox in their tracks. Boomer's back was obviously not ailing him as much today as in recent starts, but I'm still uncomfortable with him starting in the postseason. But today, in as close to a must-win game as the Yankees have had this season, he was fantastic.

But, of course, you can't say that they Yankees have turned it back around yet. Despite Bernie's homer, the Yankees' offense is still slumping, and they need to get that turned around by October--it's their bread and butter, and I'm sure that come the ALDS, they'll be putting runs on the board again at an acceptable rate. More satisfactory is the Mariners' loss to Baltimore (you wanna talk collapse? Try 6-12), which puts the M's five behind the Yankees' in the loss column, and--I'll say it--makes the Bombers a lock for the postseason. Another Oakland loss in Tampa Bay gives the Yankees a 3 game lead in the loss column for Home Field Advantage, though a quick look at the Home/Away splits for the Yanks makes one question if that's a good thing.

As Grady Little said after the game, there's a big difference, especially this late in the season, between a 1 game lead in the loss column and a 3 game lead. This win by the Yankees' was big, there's no doubt about that. It greatly improves the Yankees' chances of holding the Sox off for the division title in what is certain to be a spectacular which the loser will almost certainly get in anyway. Ahh yes, the Wild Card, one of Bud Selig's good moves, if by good, you mean not a totally idiotic one. It's had its good side (making late season baseball more interesting for more teams) and its bad side (destroying great pennant races by giving the second place team a back door). I'd be more in favor of an expanded 32-team league (Expos in Washington, and expansion teams in Portland and New York/New Jersey) with eight 4-team divisions, but that's probably something to talk about in the offseason.

And, completely unrelated to baseball or the Yankees, both of the football teams I root for--the Giants and the Bills, won Sunday. So it was a good day all around.

September 7, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Kinda reminds you of last year's ALDS, doesn't it?

The Yankees got burned by the Red Sox again yesterday afternoon; they didn't get the Rocket, the Red Sox got him. Trends being what they are, 1½ games looks very small, especially with the struggling David Wells on the mound against the Red Sox.

But it's still a lead, and once again, they're still going to be in first place tomorrow morning, win or lose. And they have a 3 game lead on Seattle for the Wild Card, which isn't the division title, but if I'm not mistaken, both pennant winners last year were Wild Cards, were they not? If I'm not mistaken, the Yankees won the World Series in 2000 with the 5th best record in the American League, and the pennant in 2001 having to play a 102 win team and a 116 win team to do it. Backing into the playoffs is not the end of the world.

And they're really not in a lot of danger of losing their playoff berth right now, either. Yes, that lead could be cut to 2 games today, but while the Yankees play 10 more games against Tampa Bay and Detroit (and really only 5 more games against good teams), the Mariners and A's play every single remaining game against the AL West--and 6 against each other. Barring a collapse, the Yankees don't have to worry terribly about playing in October.

This ISN'T a collapse. This ISN'T 1978 in reverse. The Yankees didn't take a 7½ game lead because of how well they played, they took that lead because Boston lost 5 of 7 to Baltimore in early August and 4 of 5 to Seattle and Oakland in mid-August, while the Yankees put together a 7-game winning streak with a lot of close games in it. Boston cut 6 games off the lead by going 12-3 since then, the Yankees have been 6-9, which is bad, but not a collapse. Really, the Yankees have played the last two weeks like they have played all season, even when things were going good, they weren't going great.

George Steinbrenner is ready to panic, though. He said on Friday night that he ordered Cashman to sign David Ortiz in the offseason (a claim which Cashman corraborated). Yeah, that would have been a good idea--sign a third lefty-hitting first baseman to take playing time away from our two superior lefty-hitting first basemen. That's the same kind of thinking that screwed up the Yankees in the 80's: sign a player not because he helps us, but because he would help our rivals! On the Yankees, David Ortiz would be a waste of a roster spot, and that money would have been better spent on decent bench players.

Sure, there's reason to worry. Giambi has one single hit (Wednesday's HR) since getting hit in the hand by Chicago, and while his hand will probably be fine by October, that knee won't be. Bernie still hasn't gotten his power back since his surgery, and it probably won't return until next season. Aaron Boone has been "better" in the last couple of weeks (in the sense that he hasn't been as bad as he was), but has shown hardly any power. The bullpen has been unreliable, and the rotation is completely hit or miss. There is a lot going wrong for the Yankees all at once, but things never are as bad as they look when you're slumping, and never as good as they look when you're hot. Boston isn't going to keep playing 12-3, New York isn't going to keep playing 6-9. The Yankees won't lose first place this weekend, and they're not going to fall out of contention this week. Take a deep breath, and look at reality. It's not time to panic yet.

Unless they lose two of three to Detroit. I'll hang myself then.

September 6, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Well, if you're going to lose, you might as well lose big. The Yankees weren't going to beat Pedro tonight--his stuff was far too good--and by the time Andy Pettitte left in the third, it was 7-0, and the rest of the game was spent getting used to the Red Sox being 2½ out.

The headlines will all say how the Red Sox pounded Pettitte, and how the Yankees' winningest pitcher couldn't come through in what may have been the most vital game of the season. Pettitte didn't pitch well, he was solely responsible for the runs that scored in the second and third innings, runs that put the game out of reach. But the nature of the game changed in the first inning, when Boston put three runs on the board. None of those runs were Pettitte's fault, all three baserunners who scored reached base because of poor defense or bad luck, not the pitching of Pettitte. Last night's game highlights the weaknesses of traditional defensive statistics, for though the Yankees' defense failed on several occasions, they were charged with not a single error on the evening.

By fielding this bunt by Damon, Johnson eliminated any chance the Yankees had to retire him (click for larger image)
In the first inning, Johnny Damon turned and drag bunted a 1-1 pitch past Andy Pettitte. Nick Johnson fielded the ball on the infield grass about a third of the way towards second base. With Alfonso Soriano still halfway between first and second, and nobody on first, Damon was easily safe. On the CBS 2 Broadcast, Kay and Kaat both said that Andy Pettitte was the only player with a chance to field the ball and throw Damon out, but the replay shows that had Johnson stayed at first base, Soriano could have gotten to the ball on the lip of the grass, and had a good chance to throw Damon out. It wasn't a certain out, but it wasn't a certain hit, either. Johnson is a good defensive first baseman, but on this play he suffered a lapse of judgment, and cost the Yankees a baserunner.

A bad angle of approach threw Enrique Wilson out of balance, cost the Yankees a sure out at second, any shot at a double play, and ultimately any outs at all (click for a larger image)
Pettitte then struck out Bill Mueller on a 2-2 for the first out of the inning, bringing up Nomar Garciaparra. Pettitte got ahead 1-2, and induced a slow ground ball to shortstop. Wilson came towards the ball at a bad angle, and was forced to field it backhand at his feet. Had he fielded it properly, a double play was possible due to his close proximity to second base, but the speed of the ball made it uncertain Soriano could have gotten Garciaparra at first. However, the out at second would have been certain. Instead, Wilson threw off balance and high to first base, and the runners were both safe. Again, not an error, but a defensive failure.

Garcia's throw beat Ramirez to the bag, but Boone would bobble the ball and fail to make the play (click for a larger image)
Again, Pettite got ahead of Ramirez 0-2, but Manny took a high fastball the other way, past Soriano who was in on the dirt to cover Damon at second. This was not the fault of Pettitte, and not the fault of the defense beyond the fact that Damon should not have been on second base, but simply bad luck. Had Wilson been covering second base, the ball would have been hit right to Soriano for the inning-ending double play, but the right decision was probably made (as batters tend to pull ground balls). Had Damon not been on base, the inning would have been over as well, but instead, it was 1-0 Boston with 1 out. David Ortiz followed with a sharp base hit between Johnson and Soriano (nothing that could have been done about that), scoring Garciaparra from second, and Manny Ramirez headed towards third. Karim Garcia fielded the ball and threw it on one hop to Boone, who tried to make the tag before closing his glove on the ball and dropped it. 2-0 Red Sox with 1 out, and the Yankees had given Boston 3 outs. Pettitte then struck out Millar, then gave up a solid single to left to Varitek, and it was 3-0.

And this is what defense is about. These weren't horrible plays, but they weren't terribly difficult plays, either. An average defensive team would have gotten out of the inning with no runs, an excellent defensive team would have retired the side in order. Instead, the Red Sox pushed across 3, and it changed the entire game, it changed the way Pettitte pitched, and forced him to throw as many as 15 more pitches in the first inning.

This is not to take Pettitte off the hook. He wasn't "Bad Andy" tonight, but he did not pitch particularly well after the first inning, giving up solid hits, falling behind batters and walking them. The other 5 runs he earned were absolutely his own, but one has to wonder how he would have pitched had the Red Sox gone down in order in the first. This isn't to take credit from Boston, either, which took advantage of opportunities handed to it by the Yankees' defense, which is what good teams do--which is what the Yankees did for years. Rather, this is to point out a deficiency in the Yankees' makeup that casual observers have a vague awareness of, but often miss the results of. The Yankees' defense killed them last night.

But like I said, it was unlikely the Yankees could have won this game anyway: they couldn't touch Pedro until the game was out of reach, and he was pitching to get the game over with rather than to shut the Yankees down. But the weakness that cost them three in the first will rear its head again, and cost them again. It's something that can't be fixed now, but when the Yankees look to retool in the offseason, they should take note of it. It's time to move either Derek Jeter or Alfonso Soriano, and to shift Bernie Williams to left. The struggles of Hideki Matsui may make the Yankees wary of chasing another Japanese star, but if Kaz Matsui's glove is all that is advertised, it might be worth the offensive risk. When you're a good team playing other good teams, it's the little things that often make the difference, and defense is one of the most important.

And so Boston is now only 2½ games back, which is most definitely within striking distance, and they're 1/3 of the way to a huge sweep. But if they had never fallen 7½ back, the Yankees' lead would feel a bit more comfortable, and a lot less ominous. The Yankees still have the advantage, but a big loss and a hot streak by the Red Sox has made things uncomfortable. To get that comfort level back, the Yankees need a stop, they need a big pitching performance. They need the Rocket.

(Cue dramatic music...)

September 5, 2003

New Comments Appearance
by Larry Mahnken

I've been fiddling around with the look of my comments today. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Anybody but Ichiro
by Larry Mahnken

Bustzilla?The Yankees beat the Blue Jays last night on the strength of another strong start from Jose Contreras, while Alfonso Soriano and Karim Garcia provided the runs for the slumping Yankees' offense. The Yankees' offensive impotence has been caused in part by facing quality pitchers several times in the last two weeks, but is mainly caused by the sudden lack of productivity by the middle of their lineup. Sure, there are excuses, Bernie Williams is still recovering from knee surgery; Jason Giambi is suffering from an injured knee that will need surgery, and he also bruised his hand last week, while Hideki Matsui is struggling with...gravity. I don't know why Matsui suddenly turned into a ground ball hitter--only Ichiro! has hit more (261-259, and Ichiro! has hit more fly balls), but he's had the whole season to make adjustments to Major League pitching. His only success came against National League pitchers in June and early July, his performance the rest of the season has turned him into a bottom of the order hitter. Of course, having been in the middle of the order all season, he's collected an enormous number of RBI, which will keep him in the middle of the order, and might win him the Rookie of the Year.

Several players have picked up their production since mid-August, which has made up somewhat for the slumps by the middle of the lineup. Soriano his hitting .300 with power and a few walks in the last three weeks, and Karim Garcia is hitting .400 with 3 HRs in that time. Aaron Boone hasn't been particularly good, but he's hit at about his normal level since the home run, and has pulled his numbers up from being unbelievably bad to almost believably bad. Nick Johnson has finally gotten Joe Torre's attention and his now firmly entrenched atop the lineup, where he should stay. And Jorge Posada had his first productive August since 2000, posting a .995 OPS and getting his name thrown around as an MVP candidate.

sjohnny fired off an email to Rob Neyer asking him to support the "Posada for MVP" movement ("If not A-Rod, Why not Posada?" is their motto). I doubt Rob will take up the cause, he's more likely to write columns arguing why A-Rod should win MVP than supporting the most deserving candidate who meets the ridiculous standards of the AL voters.

And the standards are ridiculous. What a writer thinks value means is irrelevant to how they should be voting, as Baseball Prospectus 2003 pointed out:
The most frustrating thing is that, for all those writers who are tempted to engage in Clintonian meaning-twisting to justify a vote for their pet player, the BBWAA spells it out: the instructions sent to all MVP voters state that "value" is equivalent to "strength of [a player's] offense and defense."
The only thing up for interpretation is whether his value is absolute or compared to his position's replacement level. Either way, A-Rod is far and away the MVP of the American League, and he should be unanimous. Of course, I don't expect him to get a single first place vote, because he played for a last place team, which as you can see from the above quote, is what defines value. Oh wait, it doesn't.

Anyway, if I had a vote, this would be my ballot:
1) Alex Rodriguez
2) Carlos Delgado
3) Esteban Loaiza
4) Bret Boone
5) Jorge Posada
6) Tim Hudson
7) Nomar Garciaparra
8) Jason Giambi
9) Frank Thomas
10) Manny Ramirez

I figured value by looking at EqA, VORP, OPS, ERA and Win Shares. You can quibble with my selections, they're not final, and they don't count for anything except the Internet Baseball Awards next month. However, lets play a game. Let's pretend that I'm a voting member of the BBWAA, and further, that I'm a mediot. Don't try this at home kids, it's difficult and dangerous, and I'm risking permanent brain damage.

First things first is to put a couple of other names on the list of contenders, Ichiro! and Garret Anderson, who has a lot of RBI, which we voters love.

Alex Rodriguez is right out, of course. The Rangers are in last place with Rodriguez, and they would be in last without him, so his performance has no actual value. Plus, he's actually the reason that the Rangers are in last, because if they didn't spend $25 million on him, they could have spent it on other players who wouldn't actually improve the Rangers any, but at least they wouldn't be as rich. So, unless you have a truly legendary season and there's nobody else we like, you're not going to win the MVP playing on a last place team. Take a seat, A-Rod. You, too Garret, your RBI don't make up for the Angels sucking almost as much as the Rangers.

The other big rule is that pitchers don't win the MVP, because they have their own award, and they only play every fifth day. Sure, pitchers can have more impact on the outcome of a game than any other player on the field, but without actually putting any real thought into it, we've decided that it doesn't balance out. Of course, just like with bad teams, if you have a truly awesome season, like winning a bunch of games or entering with a lead in the ninth inning and not blowing it 50 times, and there's nobody else we like, then maybe we'll give it to you. But there's legitimate candidates on the offensive side this year, and nobody is blowing us away on the mound, so Loaiza and Hudson are gone, too.

Next on the list is Carlos Delgado. Carlos already has one strike against him in that his team is a .500 team. His 97 RBI in the first half made him a strong contender for MVP, but as the team faded, he stopped driving in RBI, too, and only has 26 since the break. The fact that he only hits .264 on the road seals the deal, and he's not a good enough MVP for us, either. Adios, Carlos.

Nomar Garciaparra has been awesome at home, crap on the road. That should be enough to disqualify him--an MVP needs to get it done everywhere. He's also been very streaky, and was most productive in May and June. An MVP needs to get the job done in August and September. No more Nomar.

No more Manny Ramirez, either, because he left his room when he was sick, but not to go to the ballpark to see a doctor. And he didn't look sick when I saw him, so that means he wasn't really sick. Which makes him not valuable.

Giambi gets the boot, too, because his streaky performances have made him very valuable when he's hot, and not so much when he's cold. He's batted under .250 three months of the season, and under .210 in two. His .250 batting average leaves a bad taste in our mouths, and if that wasn't enough, he plays DH almost half the time. And if we didn't like Giambi playing DH half the time, we'll hate Frank Thomas DHing all the time. He's also batting .266, and his performance has been up and down all year. So no Giambino and no Big Hurt.

Which leaves us with three candidates: Ichiro!, Bret Boone, and Jorge Posada.

Ichiro! is a truly special player, who helps his team in so many ways. He hits for high average, especially with runners in scoring position, steals bases, has a cannon arm, and is a great defensive player all-around. Plus, like Ty Cobb, he can hit a home run when he wants to, which makes him that much more valuable--not that he needed to be.

Okay, okay, I admit it, I can't justify a vote for Ichiro! in any way. Maybe if I lobotomized myself with a salad fork, I could think down to the level of Jay Mariotti, but it's simply not worth it to me. It would have been easier when the Mariners were actually in the playoffs and Ichiro! was still leading the AL in batting average, but now...I think some sportswriters support Ichiro! for MVP just to show how you don't actually have to know anything about baseball to write about baseball.

So really, it's two, Boone and Jorge. Boone is a great candidate, he's put up fantastic offensive numbers, and he plays a tough defensive position exceptionally well. His numbers: .293, 32, 104 aren't park-inflated, either. Posada is similar, with great numbers that aren't park-inflated, playing at a tough position to get offense from, and he'll probably break 30 HRs and 100 RBI, too. His defense isn't very good, though (though he does rank highly in Win Shares...I mean...what are Win Shares?).

However, some other things stack up in Posada's favor:
Boone has hit .281/9/33 in 217 ABs against AL contenders--Posada is .306/10/30 in 147 ABs
Boone has hit .264/0/6 against Oakland--Posada is .373/5/10 against Boston
Boone has hit .251/8/28 in the second half--Posada .326/10/28

Throw in the fact that Posada has walked a lot more than Boone, and you've got your MVP, Jorge Posada.

Okay, so maybe the voters won't think exactly that way, but you can conclude that Posada is MVP through a process of elimination that might appeal to voters. They probably would be turned off by his low batting average (.273), but if he gets in up into the .290 range, can can get over 30 HRs and 100 RBI, he might get some first place votes--and not be an unworthy non-A-Rod MVP.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and see a neurologist, as well as go to Blogger headquarters and administer a beatdown for screwing up my posts all day.

September 4, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

The Yanks just can't seem to finish the Red Sox. To be fair, the Yankees have played mediocre ball, not bad baseball since holding a 7½ game lead, and a 5-7 stretch isn't that unusual, or anything to panic about on it's own--particularly considering that the Yankees have played three good teams and the Orioles, who are getting better. What got the Red Sox back into the AL East race so quickly was the Red Sox themselves, who have gone 10-3 since the Yankees' high water mark, 9-1 against the Mariners, Jays, Phillie and White Sox, teams that one would expect to give them a difficult time.

Because of the Red Sox great play, they're only 3 games out (4 in the loss column) as the Yankees try to avoid the sweep in Toronto, and will have a shot to take over first with a sweep if the Yankees can't get it done--no sure thing with Jose Contreras on the mound tonight.

But the Yankees lost two games in the last two weeks they should have had a chance to win, the game against Baltimore where Sierra pinch hit for Nick Johnson, and last night's game.

Last night, while the bullpen was not blameless in its role in bringing defeat down on the Bombers, it was bad defense and bad baserunning that did the Yankees in. Nick Johnson was thrown out in the first trying to stretch a single to left into a double, and Ruben Sierra made the same mistake again in the ninth, when the Yankees deperately needed a baserunner. Alfonso Soriano's failure to tag second base in the 6th led directly to the Jays scoring the tying run, and Bernie Williams couldn't reach a deep fly to center in the 7th, which bounced over the wall for an automatic double. A healthy Bernie probably could have reached that ball, and it appeared from earlier in the season that Hideki Matsui has at least as much range as a healthy Bernie. The time to swap Williams and Godzilla in the outfield came long ago, but Joe hasn't realized it yet.

The Blue Jays deserve credit for battling Moose and forcing him out of the game after six, and Kelvim Escobar did well to get into the seventh giving up only three runs, but the Yankees really should have won that game last night.

Since Oakland and Seattle have such difficult schedules down the stretch, including six against each other, and the Yankees and Red Sox have soft schedules this month, it's unlikely that the Yankees will miss the playoffs, and probable that the Red Sox will get in. Of course, the Yankees still might collapse down the stretch, they finished 2-13 in 2000, and might have lost the division if Boston hadn't gone 7-8 at the same time. I don't think that's going to happen, and if the Yankees win tonight, this weekend is probably Boston's last chance to catch the Yankees. While they no longer have to sweep, having gained 2½ games this week, a Yankees win tonight means that Boston has to win 2 of 3. By starting Contreras tonight instead of Pettitte, the Yankees probably have their best chance to do that. Contreras vs. Lidle is a matchup of unpredicatble pitchers, but Pettitte/Pedro, Clemens/Wakefield and Wells/Suppan matches up a lot better than if they threw Clemens and Contreras in the first two.

A lot rides on the outcome of the next four games, and the Yankees need to play them like they're playoff games. They can't make outs on the bases, they can't give outs to the other team. They need good starting pitching, the middle of the lineup needs to hit again, and Joe Torre needs to manage more with his intellect and less with his gut, or his heart. He says it's not fun for him anymore, that he's getting too much criticism from Steinbrenner. Maybe someone should point out to him that this is the first time since he took over as manager that the Yankees have been in serious danger of missing the playoffs at the start of September. Maybe someone should point out to him that with a $180 million payroll, missing the playoffs is not even close to being acceptable, and until the Yankees have a comfortable lead, it doesn't matter if you're having fun.

September 2, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

I've upgraded the RLYW to a Blogspot Plus site, which aside from being ad-free, allows me to upload pictures that (shouldn't) dissapear. I made today's post with some images, hopefully it adds a little to the site. Let me know what you think.

by Larry Mahnken

Human beings are, by nature, selfish creatures. On most issues, they'll advocate the position that is most beneficial, or the least harmful to themselves, unless some other motivation--love, faith, morality, justice--overcomes their instinctual self-centeredness. It's just the way we are.

Sports--all entertainment, really--are one of those trivial aspects of life that most people don't apply reason to, and let their passions sway their judgments. We want our team to be the most successful team, and we want to keep our favorite players. There is no "good enough" for your team--just the other guy's team. When we see our favorite player leave town for more money, and see the other team win, it is, to us, extraordinarily unfair. It is of no concern to us that going to the other city was the best thing for the player, or that the fans of that team were happy--it's not what we wanted, and so it's unfair.

And so most fans hate free agency. It "ruined" baseball, because their favorite players leave at will. Fans rue the lack of "loyalty" in sports today, as if their perverted idea of loyalty--in which past players were subjugated to the whims of owners who were exempt from the laws that protect us all--was somehow a good system, just because it made you happy.

Spending a lot of money on stars doesn't always ensure success.In fact, the current system--or rather, the system in place before revenue sharing and luxury taxes--was an extremely fair system that promoted competitive balance, fair compensation for players, and a degree of stability that appealed to fans. The owners, whose greed has blinded them to the long-term economic impact of their actions, have focused entirely on limiting player compensation through revenue sharing and payroll caps, and after forcing the players into a season-ending strike in 1994, nearly caused another one last year before the players submitted to their demands. Of course, the owners have done this all in the name of "competitive balance", trying to appeal to the fans, while the players can only tell the fans that the owners' demands are unfair and wrong. The average fan sees the massive paychecks of the elite players (ignores the massive paychecks of every owner), and fails to see the injustice. The owners claim to be working for something that benefits the fans, and the fan thinks, if the players would only cow to the owners' demands, I would get to see baseball, they would get their money, and I'll be happy. If they go on strike, I don't get baseball, and I don't care if it's right or wrong, I don't like it.

Last year, of course, the fans were able to see, for the most part, that the owners were full of crap. This brought a great deal of hostility down on the owners, but alleviated none of the pressure on the players, not that one would expect it to. The fans will never be on the side of the players, because there is no benefit to them in it. If they were in the same position as the players, they would of course go on strike, too--but they're not, and most don't care enough to think about what they would do if they were in that position. They just want to see baseball.

If fans did spend more time thinking about where the MLBPA is coming from, not only would they be more likely to support their actions, but they would probably take it a step further, and see the benefits of the system in place.

While the Yankees are able to use their enormous financial power to sign elite free agents year after year, they still have to give up top draft picks to sign those players--leaving the Yankees' farm system looking like South Carolina after General Sherman passed through. The system also allows teams to keep their young players for six seasons below market value--six seasons which are often the best of the players' career. No matter how much money the Yankees have, they can't pry players with less than 6 years of experience from teams unless the team lets them go. The A's have been so enormously successful largely on the strength of the their pitching, and when people use that fact to chalk the A's success up to luck, and say that their run will eventually end when the pitchers leave, they ignore that the A's will get draft picks in return for those pitchers, which they can use to draft other pitchers, which they will in turn control for the first six years of their career. With smart drafting, smart player development (and careful treatment of young arms), and of course, luck, the A's can keep churning out excellent players to keep at the top of the success cycle.

The core of the Yankees' championship teams was home-grownOf course, sometimes the system fails, and players get hurt or don't pan out, and you have to start all over again. But the "buying a championship" route often fails, too (see: late-90's Orioles and 2002-03 Mets, among many, many others). But the difference with this system is that when it fails, you're not left with a $100 million fifth-place team.

The ideal system, of course, is a combination, where you develop your own players and fill in the holes from free agency. This is the system that the Yankees used in the late 90's. The core of those championship teams was home-grown: Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. The Yankees then used their vast financial resources to fill in the blanks with quality players all around, but had they been forced to acquire a shortstop, centerfielder, catcher and starting pitcher as well, they would have had to spend far more, and probably would have gotten lesser production. As it was, they got All-Star caliber production at a cheap price, and it won them four World Series.

If the Yankees are going to stay at the top, they're going to have to replicate that success in player development. Giambi and Mussina are elite players, but they're also getting old, and when their contracts run out they'll likely be average players, but still making elite salaries. Derek Jeter is also dramatically overpaid, and when his contract runs out, he'll likely have as much defensive range as second base. The Yankees can go out and sign Vlad and Colon and Carlos Beltran and Kaz Matsui and Eric Chavez--and whoever else they feel they need--but eventually, they'll have an average team with a massive payroll and they'll collapse, just like the Orioles, just like the Mets. They need to develop stars from within.

Hackzilla is sure fun to watch, but he's not as good as most fans think.Alfonso Soriano is a good second baseman--at least on offense. He's horribly unsuited to his role as leadoff hitter, but he has tremendous power for a middle infielder and is a great baserunner. But he's not a superstar ballplayer, and without a dramatic change in his approach at the plate--a la Sammy Sosa--he'll never be one. Because his traditional stats make him look more valuable than he is, he is almost certain to be tremendously overpaid when he becomes a free agent, although, just like with Derek Jeter, the Yankees are better off overpaying him than having someone else overpay him. But he's not the player the Yankees should build around.

"He's turning into a mini-Giambi, which is what everyone thought he was.  It's not going to be fun facing two Giambis. One is bad enough." - Billy BeaneNick Johnson might be, however. Although he's a first baseman--which are fairly easy to find--he is already one of the best hitters in the game.

Now, to those of you who are still stuck on AVG and RBI, .305, 11 HR and 42 RBI in half a season are nice looking, but hardly elite. But his OPS--.967--if he qualified, would be ninth in MLB, 5th in the AL--and most of the players ahead of him play in hitters' parks. His OBP of .447 is 3rd in MLB, 1st in the AL. He is a dangerous weapon in the Yankees' lineup, and its about time that Joe Torre started batting him second. Johnson is only 24, and he'll probably develop more power in the next couple of years, become Don Mattingly with a much higher OBP. He's good with the glove, and although he suffered his third wrist/hand injury in four years, it could be more bad luck than something inherently wrong with him physically.

It's not ideal to build around a first baseman, but Johnson is good enough to do it with. While it's only his second season, the Yankees should avoid making the same mistake they made with Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter, and sign him long-term now, to avoid having to pay a superstar salary when he's an MVP candidate in a few years.

There's not much else in the Yankees' farm system to build around. Brandon Claussen was really the last good prospect the Yankees had in the high minors, and he's in Cincinnati now. Dioner Navarro, a 19 year old catcher, was excellent in A and AA this year, and might be ready to take over for Jorge Posada in a couple of years. But really, there's nobody else close enough to see as a major leaguer yet.

It may seem unfair that the Yankees can buy up the players they want in the offseason and trade for the ones they want in the regular season, but the cost to the Bombers isn't just money, which isn't much of a cost at all. They lose payroll and roster flexibility down the road, they lose prospects who could help them in a couple of years for a player who can help them now, and they lose draft picks that get those prospects that they were trading. Maybe Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter and Mike Mussina won't decline as much as expected, and maybe Alfonso Soriano will learn to control the strike zone and turn into Sosa, and earn the huge paychecks he has coming to him anyway.

But the Yankees would be lucky to have that happen, just like the A's would be lucky to have all their top prospects turn into stars. And I think that the A's upside is more likely to happen--and the Yankees' downside is worse.

September 1, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

There are a lot of Yankees fans who excel in being obnoxious. They are loud, in your face, and arrogant. They are not the majority, but they are the loudest ones, the only ones you hear. The rest of us are there to watch a game, but no matter, we get painted with the same brush as the obnoxious fans, who know less about baseball than George Bush knows about the early seventies.

Of course, every team has those types of fans, and so do the Red Sox. They're the ones who chant "Yankees Suck!" when the Red Sox are leading, tied, trailing by 15, or home during the offseason while the Patriots celebrate a Super Bowl Victory. They are losers, but just like the Bleacher Creatures at Yankee Stadium, they're fun, and often times the entire stadium gets into whatever chant they've begun.

But yesterday, in the seventh inning, the real Red Sox fans made more noise than the obnoxious ones. As Roger Clemens walked off the mound at Fenway for possibly the last time, the crowd rose to its feet and applauded perhaps the greatest pitcher in Red Sox history. They're upset that he left, and bitter that he went to the Yankees, but they also knew that this was perhaps their last chance to show how grateful they were for 13 spectacular seasons, and they took advantage of the opportunity. Clemens came back out of the dugout to acknowledge the fans, and say thank you. And I do the same, I tip my cap to the Red Sox fans who, either at the park or at home, gave a warm farewell to The Rocket. It was, perhaps, the classiest thing I've seen a crowd do this season.

Of course, yesterday's game was important for reasons other than Clemens' farewell and 100th Fenway win. By defeating the Red Sox 8-4, the Yankees have the AL East title firmly in their grasp, and only a Boston sweep at the Stadium next weekend is likely to keep them in the race. The loss also put Boston 1½ out of the Wild Card, making their postseason chances extremely precarious. I do expect Boston to win the Wild Card, but they have a tough road ahead of them.

What this weekend showed is that the Yankees' top starting pitchers are fine, that Boston is a very strong team, but just as deeply flawed, if not more so, than the Yankees, and they can be beaten at their own game. It boosted APNY's Jorge Posada for MVP campaign, as well as elevating Nick Johnson to the level of Red Sox Killer. Jeff Nelson continued to suck, Aaron Boone showed glimpses of not sucking, and Gabe White gave Joe Torre a good reason to stop keeping Nelson out there so long.

The Yankees won Saturday because Pedro Martinez was ill, they won today because they were able to get to Tim Wakefield early. They put 3 runs on the board in the first inning, and were in a position to score more before Juan Rivera was inexplicably picked off first base with the bases loaded. I don't know a lot about Juan Rivera, but I do know this:

1) Juan Rivera is an outfielder.
2) Juan Rivera grounds into double plays ALL the time.
3) The purpose of Juan Rivera is ground out and kill rallies.

And that's what I call REAL Ultimate Power!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry, it needed to be done...

Wakefield was able to hold the Yankees down until the Red Sox got back in the game, but gave up another two runs in the fifth thanks to some bad plays by the outfield (a dropped catch in center field and an off line throw home from Trot Nixon). Three more runs in the seventh, thanks to poor pitching by Scott Sauerbeck put the game out of reach for Boston, and probably the division.

All in all, it was an enormously successful weekend for the Yankees, the only bad things coming from Jose Contreras's lousy start on Friday, Jeff Nelson's hideous performances, and Derek Jeter's injury yesterday, which appears minor, and considering the position the Yankees are now in, they will likely be able to give him enough rest to let it heal fully for the postseason.

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