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January 28, 2004

One in 1,654
by Larry Mahnken

I got an email from a reader Monday about the postseason and luck, and I'll reprint most of it here:
I just have one statistical tidbit that you might want to consider.

You know how sabermetricians always claim that the postseason is just a matter of luck? No? Well here's a sample (the bold type is mine):

But the truth is that winning the World Series isn't about being the best, it's about being the luckiest.
--Rob Neyer ESPN column, 4-2-2003

"Four postseason series is like two weeks in the regular season, and anybody can go through a rough couple of weeks." In other words, Dierker thinks the Astros were unlucky. And I happen to agree with him.
--Rob Neyer ESPN column, 7-8-2003

All [baseball fans] care about was how you fared in the post-season crap shoot.
--Michael Lewis, New York Times Magazine, 3-30-2003

Nobody ever said that it's ALL luck. Nobody.
--Rob Neyer via e-mail, 7-22-03

That last quote was for irony. Anyhow, as a casual Yankees fan - as you were a casual Blue Jays fan in the early 90's, I'd noticed a certain magic about the Yankees team that was, of course, unquantifiable but impossible to ignore. So then I start going to all of these websites that dismiss the postseason as if it were some appendage for retards, like putting a shiny cover on a DVD or something, useless and dismissable. I recalled many declarations that the postseason was all luck, in addition to the easy-to-find quotes printed above, and I was bothered by it.

Bothered by these snobs because I believe that there is such a thing as the heart of a champion. I believe that Jason Kidd, while statistically inferior, is a better point guard than Stephon Marbury. Lots of these beliefs that I really hadn't even doubted were, I realized, being spasmically mocked by the emerging powers. Maybe I haven't the time and creativity to totally defend my beliefs, but I'd certainly do something.

So, I thought, if the postseason is all luck, that the odds of one team winning a given series would be 50%, right? Well, the odds of, for example flipping a coin and having it land on heads X times in a row is .5^X. The odds of a 40% three-point shooter making three consecutive is (.4)(.4)(.4).

Well, the Yankees had won 11 straight postseason series between 1998 and 2001. If the sabermetric guys were right - and they seem to have little desire to debunk themselves - then the odds of the Yankees achieving that would be .5^11, or (approximately) .00049. That's one in 2,041. Once every 2,041 years should the Yankees feat be duplicated.

Well, I mean, maybe I'm easy to please but those odds seem too ridiculous to be true, so, by my standards, this proves that the postseason isn't luck.

Moreover, why would they want to believe that the whole objective of baseball - winning a championship - is based on chance? I mean, if that were true and they'd figured out this great secret, then why not just get out from following baseball and pick a hobby more based upon reason, ya know? It just seems like they hate their own sport, so get another, that's all.

-David B.
Thanks for the email, David, but your premise is wrong:

Rob Neyer's last quote wasn't ironic, it was correct. Neyer never claimed or implied that the postseason was all luck, he implied that it was mostly luck, which is something I agree with.

Here's how it goes: the odds of any team winning a postseason series are NOT 50%. These aren't evenly matched teams we're talking about, they're all good teams. The worst team the Yankees played during their streak was the 1998 Texas Rangers, who had a .543 winning percentage, the best team they played was the 2001 Mariners, with a .716 Winning Percentage, and the worst team the Yankees put out there was the 2000 team, with a .540 winning percentage.

So, what are the odds of the Yankees winning any particular series? Wouldn't you know it, Bill James figured that one out for us. James' log5 formula* tells us the Yankees should have been expected to beat the '98 Texas Rangers 2/3 of the time. The entire expected Winning Percentages are:
'98 Yankees vs. '98 Rangers   : .666
     "      vs. '98 Indians   : .661
     "      vs. '98 Padres    : .608
'99 Yankees vs. '99 Rangers   : .519
     "      vs. '99 Red Sox   : .526
     "      vs. '99 Braves    : .467
'00 Yankees vs. '00 Athletics : .475
     "      vs. '00 Mariners  : .478
     "      vs. '00 Mets      : .460
'01 Yankees vs. '01 Athletics : .462
     "      vs. '01 Mariners  : .367
Now, outside of the '98 Yankees and the 2001 Mariners, these numbers are all pretty close to 50%. The '98 Yankees dispatched their first and last opponents without a single loss, and took care of the Indians in six games (which was almost exactly the expected winning percentage, interestingly, but meaninglessly).

Now here's the thing (</John Madden>), none of those expected winning percentages mean anything. Even the ones for the '98 Yankees or the 2001 Mariners. Now, if the '98 Yankees played the '98 Rangers 162 times, they'd win the series 108-54. But in a five game series, they'd be expected to win 3-2. A margin of one game.

And that's what statisticians mean when they say "luck"--that the sample size is too small to draw a conclusion. The Detroit Tigers beat the Yankees in one game last season. Would you look at that game and say that the Tigers were better than the Yankees last season? Of course not, the sample size is too small. The '98 Anaheim Angels went 6-5 against the '98 Yankees. Would you look at those eleven games and conclude that the Angels were better than the '98 Yankees, and if so, are you on crack? Or are you Shredder?

If eleven games is too small a sample to draw a conclusion about which team is better, which it clearly is, then how can five or seven games be enough of a sample size?

Yes, the odds of the Yankees winning eleven consecutive series' is one in 2,041, but their odds of winning under their particular circumstances was much higher--one in 1,654. That's still very long odds, but...

Has anyone else done it? Has anyone else come even close to doing it? The Yankees did win 8 consecutive postseason series' over a 13 year span in the twenties and thirties, but the odds of that happening were much better--1/256 in evenly matched series', 1/93 in the matchups they actually had. The long odds of the Yankees' streak don't prove anything, they merely show how incredible a feat it was.

And it was incredible, and saying that they were lucky to do it is not taking credit away from them, but rather not giving them credit for things they weren't responsible for. The Yankees were lucky that the '99 Boston/Cleveland ALDS went five games, so they only had to face Pedro once instead of twice, they were lucky that the 2001 Seattle/Cleveland ALDS went five games so they were able to get the favorable pitching matchups. They were lucky that Jeremy Giambi didn't slide, they were lucky that strike three to Tino Martinez was called a ball, they were lucky that Jim Thome's HR got blown back in by the wind, they were lucky that Timo Perez stopped running hard when Todd Zeile's ball hit the wall. Luck is anything good that happens that you don't have any personal control over, and the Yankees didn't have control over any of those things. They were lucky.

Baseball games are played by two teams, and the outcome is decided by the performance of both teams, not one. The Yankees could play their best possible game, with the heart of a champion and clutchness and all that stuff, and still lose because the other team played better--or just becuase you got unlucky. You can do everything right and still fail, the perfect pitch that saws off Luis Gonzalez could still drop over the infield and win the World Series. That's how it works.

So, if we know that the playoffs don't decide who the best team is, why do we still watch?

Are you serious? Because we don't know what's going to happen. We watch because baseball is the greatest game ever invented, and seeing the best teams in the game playing each other every October is one of the most fun things we could do with our time, even if the best team doesn't always win. It's just fun to see who will win. If we already knew that, if we knew going into the '98 postseason that the Yankees would win, it wouldn't be fun, and we wouldn't watch.

* Bill James' log5 formula is:
A = Team A's Winning Percentage
B = Team B's Winning Percentage
C = Team A's Expected Winning Percentage vs. Team B

C = (A-A*B)/(A+B-2*A*B)

January 27, 2004

Well, that was worth Brandon Claussen
by Larry Mahnken

The biggest question about the 2004 Yankees is whether or not they'll stay healthy. If the Yankees can keep away from injuries, they'll have one of the very best teams in baseball.

Well, so much for staying healthy. Now, the loss of Aaron Boone probably isn't going to cost the Yankees a playoff spot, or the pennant, or a World Championship, but it's definitely a major hit.

Wait...what? This is Aaron Boone we're talking about, right? You know, the suckiest suck that ever sucked? Well, yeah, but here's the thing: compared to the Yankees' other options, he looks like Mike Schmidt. As things stand, the Yankees will be forced to go most, if not the entire season, with either Enrique Wilson or Miguel Cairo at third base. Mmmm...outs.

Boone at least has the virtue of being able to hit a home run every now and then, and is pretty good with the glove. Wilson and Cairo don't get on base, they don't hit for average, they don't hit for power, and they don't play particularly good defense, but at least they do it at multiple positions!

When evaluating the Yankees' roster a few weeks ago, I didn't see this as much of a problem, but now it is. Wilson and Cairo clearly aren't viable options to play third, nor is Drew Henson. Brian Myrow had great numbers in AA, and could do an adequate job with the bat, but his defense at second base was poor, and his ability to adequately play third is very much up in the air. He's also a 27-year old who's never played above AA, putting not only his skill into question, but making it unliely that he'll ever get a serious look from the Yankees.

It's far more likely that Boone's replacement will come from outside the organization. The Yankees are not going to move Derek Jeter to third base, because, as sjohnny said:
Jeter won't move to third for anyone short of a resurrected Jesus Christ.
And even then, Joe Torre would make them compete in Spring Training. The Yankees are NEVER going to move Jeter, because they don't think anything's wrong with his defense.

The remaining free agent choices aren't inspiring: Jose Hernandez, Ron Coomer and Mark McLemore. The Yankees might try to make lemonade from those lemons, but a trade seems more likely. Some of the expensive options out there who could be had for practically nothing (which is pretty much what the Yankees have to offer) are not much better than the free agent options. Rotoworld floated a rumor that the Giants might be looking to dump Edgardo Alfonzo to free up money for Greg Maddux, and if that's the case, I'd jump on that.

David Pinto threw out the idea of signing Pudge Rodriguez and converting him to third base. Now, while this isn't a bad idea, A) There's no way Rodriguez goes for it, and B) it wouldn't feel right to have Pudge and Posada on the same team and catch Posada, even though you wouldn't really have any other choice.

I really don't have any idea who's going to start the season at third base for the Yanks, but I do know it almost certainly won't be someone in the organization right now. They might get lucky and get better with a player like Alfonzo, but I think they'll likely suffer some dropoff in production from the position. Hopefully, this will send a message to the front office for next offseason, that the bench is not a place to stock toys for Joe Torre like Wilson, Cairo, Bellinger and Sojo. The Yankees should be stocking up on backup players who can adequately fill in when someone goes down, as they inevitably will. Someone who would otherwise be starting on a second-division team. That's what the Yankees' money should be buying.

January 26, 2004

Automatic For The People
by Larry Mahnken

If you've read Moneyball, or visit sites like Baseball Primer and Baseball Prospectus, you probably have heard of Vörös McCracken. McCracken, now a consultant for the Boston Red Sox (Booooo!), came up with a new way of evaluating pitchers a few years back (or, if you're RossCW, concocted an elaborate hoax that has taught us nothing about nothing).

The problem with evaluating pitchers has always been the relationship between pitchers and the defenders behind them. Whether a ball put in play is converted into an out or falls in for a hit has an enormous impact on the number of runs a pitcher gives up, and determining how much credit should be given to the pitcher and his fielders was seemingly an insurmountable barrier to seperating pitching and defense. The two could not be distinguished from one another once the ball was put in play, so statistics used to evaluate pitchers would always be inaccurate.

At this point, it had always been assumed that a pitcher had control of where a ball put in play was going to go. Vörös decided to test this assumption, looking at the year-to-year correlations of pitchers' HR rates, BB rates, SO rates and Batting Average on Ball in Play. What he found shocked him. While the defense-independent stats, HR, BB and SO correlated very well, BABIP (or $H) correlated so poorly to not be particluarly significant statistically.

Further, McCracken looked at the individual $H for pitchers, and saw that many players who were among the league leader s in $H in one season were near the bottom the next, though the park and their defense didn't change. Vörös came to a radical conclusion: that pitchers did not appear to have any impact on the result of a ball put in play, that whether it was a hit or not was a result of defense, park and--more importantly--luck.

From this conclusion, McCracken devised DIPS (Defense Independent Pitching Statistic), which used only statistics not impacted by defense to determine a pitcher's value and skill. DIPS correlated year-to-year much better than ERA or Bill James' Component ERA did, an indication that it was measuring a pitcher's skill better than the previous stats.

Well, it turns out that Vörös was wrong, some pitchers did have the ability to control $H, most notably knuckleballers, and Vörös released a second version of DIPS, which adjusted for the handedness of the pitcher and whether or not they were strict knuckleballers. Further refutation of Vörös' $H conclusion was a study by Diamond Mind's Tom Tippett, which concluded that as you increased the sample size, the correlation for $H became stronger statistically, and further, that some pitchers demonstrated a clear ability to impact $H, though for the most part it didn't become clear until the pitcher had played for many seasons, and was usually not sizable anyway.

This doesn't make DIPS irrelevant, of course, it still measure's a pitchers' skill better than ERA, because all Tippett's study did was show that you probably can't completely distinguish pitching from defense. But, since including $H in the equation adds more noise than it does useful data, a defense-independent stat like DIPS is useful. But it's flawed, just like the rest of the stats, because it doesn't measure all of a pitcher's useful skills.

Anyway, Vörös used to post DIPS stats on his site after each season, until he was hired by the Red Sox (Booooooo!), when the cause was taken up by Jay Jaffe, who has released DIPS numbers for each of the past two seasons.

Well, there's people out there like me who don't want to wait until season's end (or January, in this case) to find out what the numbers are. To make it easy to figure out DIPS, Vörös came up with a "Quick and Dirty" formula to use one the fly:


Which gives an anwer that's close enough. Problem is, for people like me, that's like saying that pi is 3.14. It's close enough, but it's not pi. The other problem is that the actual formula for DIPS, if written out like the Quick DIPS formula, is about as long as pi. There's several calculations that need to be made, as well as the inclusion of Park Factors, and it makes the calculation of just one player's DIPS ERA quite a task, let alone everyone on your team's.

So, the only solution was to make a spreadsheet. I took Vörös' instructions, entered all the formulas into an Excel spreadsheet, and was able to churn out DIPS in seconds, not minutes. I'm sure dozens of other losers, er, statheads like me have done that, too.

I thought about distributing it a few times, there might be some interest in being able to calculate DIPS on the fly, but I wasn't confident that my numbers were right, so I held onto it, except for sending it to a couple of friends. Well, with Jay Jaffe releasing the 2003 numbers today, I decided a couple of weeks ago to send my worksheet to him and ask him to take a look at it. He checked it over, said it looked good to him, so now I'm ready to pass it on to you.

You can download the workbook here, it includes Regular DIPS version 2.0, Quick DIPS, and Park Factors for the past five seasons, plus a worksheet to calculate Park Factors for other seasons, if you wish. I made it on Excel 2000, so it might not work for past versions.

I think the workbook is pretty straighforward and easy to use, but if you have any questions, feel free to email me and I'll help you out as best I can. I've got a few ideas for making the workbook better, too, and if you have any suggestions, go ahead and email those to me, too. Feel free to distribute this file to anyone you want, as long as the credits and links remain on the page. Enjoy.

* * *

The file is also available in my Yahoo! group, here.

January 13, 2004

Houston Rocket
by Larry Mahnken

2003 was supposed to be Roger Clemens' last season. All year long he professed his intention to retire, and as the year wound down, he got the obligatory standing ovations as he left each mound for the last time. Every time someone asked, he reaffirmed his intentions, this was it, he was going home.

Well, he went home, but he didn't retire. Yesterday, Clemens signed a one-year deal to pitch with the Houston Astros, joining his friend Andy Pettitte.

Because the Yankees didn't offer Clemens arbitration, they lost out on two draft picks: a supplemental first round pick and a second round pick, both of which would probably have garnered quality prospects, players who could have helped in a few years.

The Yankees have nobody to blame but themselves for not offering arbitration, Clemens didn't betray them, he didn't plan all along to sign with Houston, this isn't some malicious scheme he hatched in mid-summer to make the Yankees look like fools. He just changed his mind. Everybody has the right to change their mind, and I really don't see how Clemens can be blamed for changing his mind in this situation.

He gets to pitch at home, and he probably won't have to go on road trips where he's not pitching, or pitch that many games on the road, either, so he gets to spend most of his time with his family. The offer Clemens is getting from Houston is one that the Yankees could not have matched.

What's frustrating is the Yankees' decision to not offer arbitration. Perhaps they didn't do it because they thought there was no point in it with Clemens retiring, but I think it's more likely that they didn't want to take the chance that he would accept the offer and they'd be "stuck" with Clemens for another year at a price they didn't want to pay, and that he'd disrupt their offseason plans for restructuring the team. But I don't think there was any more than a 5% chance that Clemens would have accepted arbitration, if that, and if he had, it's not such a bad thing having Roger Clemens as your 4th starter. Maybe it's just karma paying the Yankees' back for not having to give a draft pick to Atlanta for Sheffield.

For baseball fans, this is a good thing, we get to see the greatest pitcher of our generation for another year, and watch him move up the recordbooks. He hasn't left the Yankees any worse than they expected to be next year, and I can't hold any ill will against him.

This, on the other hand, is just insane. Calm down, Jim. He didn't bet on baseball, he just signed with another team.

January 12, 2004

The New Face of Evil, Part Two
by Larry Mahnken

As they say, pitching wins championships. It doesn’t--not anymore than hitting does--but someone said it long ago, it seems somewhat true, and people have just repeated it unthinkingly ever since. We statheads often do the same thing, but we’re really condescending about it.

That being said, having good pitching is crucial for a team that wants to contend for a title. Not great pitching, just good pitching. But just good pitching is hard enough to find in and of itself, and because of that, teams will often pay a premium for an unexceptional pitcher, because they simply can’t afford the alternative.

The Yankees have long had the reputation of being sluggers--the Bronx Bombers. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Jason Giambi. Their great teams have been built around great hitters, but they’ve also been built around great pitching. Not always the best pitchers, but collectively they’ve had one of the best staffs in baseball when they’ve won their titles. They haven’t won 26 titles because they hit well, they haven’t won because they pitched well, they’ve won because they did both well.

In 2003 the Yankees hit and pitched well, and it won them a pennant. Their lineup wasn’t as good as Boston’s, but their pitching staff was again one of the best in the league, despite a dreadful bullpen for most of the season, and one of the very worst defenses in all of baseball. Indeed, taking that defense into account, the Yankees probably had not only the best pitching staff in baseball, but one of the truly great rotations of all time.

Starting Rotation:

RHP Mike Mussina (214.2 IP, 3.18 dERA)
LHP Andy Pettitte (208.1 IP, 3.50 dERA)
RHP Roger Clemens (211.2 IP, 3.71 dERA)
LHP David Wells (213 IP, 4.16 dERA)
RHP Jeff Weaver (159.1 IP, 4.33 dERA)

2004: (3-year averages)
RHP Mike Mussina (219.2 IP, 3.27 dERA)
RHP Kevin Brown (130 IP, 3.34 dERA)
RHP Javier Vazquez (228 IP, 3.34 dERA)
RHP Jose Contreras (71 IP, 3.37 dERA)
RHP Jon Lieber (124.1 IP, 3.77 dERA)

Unfortunately, outstanding as last season’s rotation was, change had to happen, if not to the degree that it actually did. Roger Clemens spent the entire season professing his desire to retire (HA!), and Jeff Weaver had pitched so poorly that the Yankees were eager to send him to any team that would take him. The Yankees claimed that Andy Pettitte was their #1 priority in the offseason, but made feeble efforts to resign him, and he ultimately left for Houston. David Wells had back surgery earlier in the offseason, had struggled in midseason with back problems, and had to leave the most important game he pitched all season after one inning because of back pain. When the Yankees demanded that he condition himself better, he went home to San Diego.

That left Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras and Jon Lieber.

Mussina is one of the top 10 or 15 pitchers in baseball, but he doesn’t quite seem like it. He’s got a good fastball, but not a great one. He’s got good breaking stuff, but nothing knee-buckling. He’s got good control, but not pinpoint. He strikes batters out, but not a tremendously large number. He’s never won 20 games, never won a Cy Young Award, never Won a World Series. Never thrown a no-hitter, though he’s come close multiple times. He’s a great pitcher who isn’t great at anything, and has never done anything particularly great. He’s just really good, almost every time out. A few more quality seasons and Mussina will be assured of a place in Cooperstown, where he’ll deliver the most boring induction speech ever.

The only other starter left from last season is Jose Contreras. The Yankees signed Contreras out from under the Red Sox for less money last offseason, provoking the famous “Evil Empire” remark from Larry Lucchino. At the time it seemed like overkill, even to me, but in hindsight it seems clear that the Yankees were acting with 2004 in mind, using 2003 to see what they had in Contreras, and what they’d need to do this offseason.

They still don’t know what they’ve got. Contreras struggled with his control early in the season, was sent down to Columbus to work things out, was plugged into the rotation to replace the struggling Jeff Weaver, had a couple of strong starts, and then got hurt. After missing over two months, he came back to the rotation, had a brilliant start against Baltimore, a horrible start against Boston, and was then untouchable for the rest of the regular season.

But in that last month, he had only two starts against quality lineups, and as excellent as they were, they’re still just two starts. As a reliever in the postseason, he seemed untouchable at times, but when hitters became familiar with him, he became more hittable. Can Contreras become an ace? That’s not a question that can be answered yet. He’s got a good fastball and splitter, but not very good movement on his fastball or control of his splitter. I’d guess that he’ll be much like he was last season, brilliant at times, frustrating at others. If he was the Yankees’ second starter, that would be a problem, but as the fourth starter, who’ll get three postseason starts at most, he’s more than good enough.

Jon Lieber is the other pitcher the Yankees signed last offseason with 2004 in mind. Coming off of Tommy John Surgery in 2002, there’s no way to know what the Yankees will be getting out of Lieber. Before surgery, he was a control pitcher, not a power pitcher. If his control isn’t back this year, he’s going to get pounded, and we’ll all be getting familiar with Mr. DePaula, but if he’s hitting spots and getting good movement on his breaking pitches, he could be the best #5 starter in baseball.

To fill out the rotation, the Yankees had to get a little creative. There were quality pitchers available on the market, but both Bartolo Colon and Kevin Millwood have better reputations than what they’ve done on the mound, and with the Red Sox bringing in Curt Schilling, the Yankees had to make a bold move.

That move was trading for Javier Vazquez. The Yankees had to give up one of their best hitters for Vazquez, Nick Johnson, as well as Juan Rivera and Randy Choate, but in return they got one of the very best pitchers in baseball, though one of the least known, and he’s just entered his prime.

Vazquez is a strikeout pitcher with good control, and in the past couple of seasons he’s turned into an extreme flyball pitcher, which should minimize the impact of the Yankees’ middle infield on his numbers. There are concerns about his health, not because he’s missed time, but because he is considered to have poor mechanics, and has had heavy workloads in his career. On the Yankees, he’s unlikely to pitch much more than 200 innings, so some of those concerns may be alleviated by the end of the 2004 season.

In Nick Johnson, the Yankees may have had one of the best hitters in baseball, though he had injury concerns of his own. But Johnson played a position filled by another great hitter who couldn’t be moved, and by moving him the Yankees were able to improve their defense, and they replaced his offense with Gary Sheffield. The trade of Johnson didn’t hurt the Yankees’ offense seriously, if at all, and the acquisition of Vazquez gives the Yankees another pitcher who ranks among the best 15 in the game, and who is now locked up through his prime years, at what seems to be a very good price. I can’t see how that trade was anything but a positive for the Yankees, even if Nick Johnson becomes a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.

Had the Yankees resigned Andy Pettitte, that would have made for a fine rotation, maybe one of the best or the best rotation. But on December 11th, Pettitte signed with the Astros, and the Yankees were forced to either find another starter, or face another season with Jeff Weaver in the rotation.

Now, Jeff Weaver is not a bad pitcher. Towelie actually pitched quite well early in 2003, but wasn’t supported by his offense or his bullpen, and not being a strikeout pitcher, was very poorly served by the Yankees’ defense. As the season wore on, his luck got worse, and frustrated by his inability to get batters out, Weaver started to pitch poorly. By season’s end, there was no reason for him to pitch another inning for the Yankees. But he was brought in to lose a game in Chicago, and in October, was brought in to lose a game in Florida. Weaver wasn’t as bad as he looked, but when Alex Gonzalez’s ball flew over the wall, it was fairly obvious that Jeff Weaver had thrown his last pitch as a Yankee.

There aren’t many front offices in baseball that truly appreciate Voros McCracken’s theories about a pitcher’s ability to prevent hits on balls in play (essentially, it’s not worth trying to measure), and rather than seeing a pitcher who had pitched with a bad defense and bad luck, who could be quite good with better luck and a better defense, teams saw a pitcher with an ERA one hundredth of a point below 6.00, a pitcher with a bad attitude, and a pitcher with a bad contract. The Yankees should have considered themselves lucky to find someone willing to give up a B-level prospect for Weaver.

But trades in baseball aren’t only about the players being traded, and the Yankees were able to find value for Weaver because one team saw the possibility of saving over $17 million by trading for him. That team was the Dodgers, and the player they sent over was Kevin Brown, one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball.

In some ways, Brown is a great fit on the Yankees, and in others, he’s a poor one. He strikes out a lot of batters, doesn’t walk a lot, doesn’t give up many HRs--he keeps the ball away from the defense. However, when he does put the ball in play, he gives up a LOT of ground balls, playing right into the Yankees’ weak spot. The shift from the National League to the American League, Dodger Stadium to Yankee Stadium, and Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora to Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano could--rather, likely will--cause his ERA to rise considerably. However, his ERA could rise 1.61 runs per nine innings and still be lower than that of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Wells last season. As significant as the changes Brown will be experiencing are, the quality of his performance is not a question for the Yankees: he’ll either be good or he’ll be great.

The question about Brown is whether he’ll be healthy. Brown is the guy in the red shirt on Star Trek, he’s the one who’s going down first. He has a very violent pitching motion that over the years has taken it’s toll, causing injuries to his elbow and injuries to his back. Now that he’s 38, he becomes even more of a risk, as everyday injuries will take longer to heal, and nagging injuries that will cause him to miss a start or two will become more common. The Yankees had two middle-aged pitchers in their rotation last season, but Kevin Brown has neither Roger Clemens’ conditioning, build or mechanics, and if you’re going to compare a pitcher’s health to David Wells, you’re already in trouble. Brown may well stay healthy all season, he may throw another 200 innings. Really, what the Yankees need from him is to be healthy in October, when the games count, and a pitcher like Kevin Brown can, and in the past has made a difference.

That’s a fine rotation, the best rotation in baseball if healthy. As a whole, there is a concern about the lack of a lefty pitcher in the rotation, something the Yankees have not won without since 1947. But then, the Red Sox don’t have any lefty starters, and got only 16 starts from lefties last season, and none in October. You don’t hear anything about that, do you?

Well, that’s because Fenway Park has a deeper right-field fence than Yankee Stadium, and Yankee Stadium has a deeper left-center field fence than Fenway Park (though a shorter wall out there). But right field at Yankee Stadium isn’t as short as it used to be, and left-center isn’t as deep as it used to be, so many of the beliefs about what type of player will succeed at The Stadium are outdated. A lefty is at an advantage over a righty there, but not so much so that the Yankees should pass up a superior righty for a mediocre lefty.

Where having an all-righty rotation will hurt the Yankees and the Red Sox is in matchups. There are several strong lefty batters on contending teams that are not only superior against right-handed pitching, but so mediocre against lefties that they’ll sit against even average ones. I’m looking at you, Trot Nixon. Getting a player like that out of the game can in some cases be a significant enough advantage that it is worthwhile to start the lefty over a superior righty.

The Yankees had good reasons for cutting ties with Andy Pettitte; they didn’t want to overpay him, and he’s had a poor health history. But they cast him aside a bit too hastily, and it does put them in a tricky spot. The need for a lefty has been overplayed in the media, but one thing it does do is put a lot of pressure on the two weakest links in the bullpen, Gabe White and Felix Heredia. If they can get lefties out consistently, then it won’t matter quite as much that the Yankees don’t have a lefty starter, they’ll be able to take those lefties out of the game in the late innings.

Incidentally, Brandon Claussen is a lefty. That Boone trade is the gift that keeps on giving, ain’t it?


RHP Mariano Rivera (70.2 IP, 2.57 dERA)
RHP Jeff Nelson (55.1 IP, 3.03 dERA)
RHP Jose Contreras (71 IP, 3.37 dERA)
RHP Antonio Osuna (50.2 IP, 3.29 dERA)
LHP Chris Hammond (63. IP, 3.28 dERA)
LHP Gabe White (46.2 IP, 4.16 dERA)
LHP Felix Heredia (87 IP, 4.61 dERA)

2004: (3-year averages)
RHP Mariano Rivera (65.2 IP, 2.54 dERA)
RHP Steve Karsay (58.2 IP, 3.07 dERA)
RHP Tom Gordon (54 IP, 2.73 dERA)
RHP Paul Quantrill (79 IP, 3.10 dERA)
LHP Gabe White (56.1 IP, 4.33 dERA)
LHP Felix Heredia (58 IP, 4.75 dERA)

One of the great strengths of the late 90’s Yankees teams was the bullpen. Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson would come into a close game, shut down the opponent, and more often than not, Mariano Rivera would come in to close the door, and would almost always dispatch the opponent quickly and efficiently. Free agency, age and injuries gradually chipped away at that dominance, and at the beginning of last season, with Rivera and Steve Karsay on the DL, nobody in the pen struck fear into the heart of opposing hitters. When Rivera came back, he was his typical dominating self, but the loss of Karsay for the entire season was felt acutely, and by mid-June, “Acevedo” was a swear word.

All season, the Yankees worked to rebuild the pen, trading for Armando Benitez, then trading him to Seattle to bring back Jeff Nelson. They even brought in the 2000-year-old man, Jesse Orosco, to walk lefty batters for a couple of weeks. Finally, in late summer, they brought in a couple of useful lefties from Cincinnati, Gabe White and Felix Heredia. Neither was anything special, and Torre took a liking to the lesser of the two, Heredia, but if they were unspectacular, at least they weren’t Acevedish. By season’s end, and with the move into the pen by Jose Contreras for the postseason, the Yankees had a strong bullpen.

Or so it seemed. Things were going quite well for the pen until Game 6 of the ALCS, when the bullpen wasn’t able to hold the lead against the Red Sox, and Game Five of the World Series, when they weren’t able to hold the Marlins close enough for the Yankees’ late comeback attempt to succeed. Some of the problems were from overwork, some were from underwork, but rather than go into 2004 with the same basic pen with a few minor changes, the Yankees decided to overhaul, and assembled the most expensive bullpen ever.

Did the Yankees get their money’s worth? No, they overpaid for both Quantrill and Gordon, just as they overpaid for Karsay two years ago. It won’t be the best bullpen ever, probably won’t be the best bullpen in baseball, but it should be much stronger and more reliable than last year’s pen.

The cornerstone of the Yankees’ bullpen is, at it has been for the better part of the last decade, Mariano Rivera. While the election of Dennis Eckersley to the Hall of Fame is somewhat questionable, especially with the exclusion of Goose Gossage, and it’s likely that some of the top closers of this era will be kept out of Cooperstown, Mariano Rivera is almost certain to be inducted, probably on the first ballot. Not only has Rivera been the most dominant reliever in postseason history, he’s possibly the most dominant pitcher in postseason history, and can make a claim at being one of the more dominating players in postseason history. But he has also been excellent in the regular season. He perhaps has never been the best relief pitcher or closer in the game in any season, but he is always one of the very best, year after year.

Joe Torre has never been keen on young players, usually waiting way too long to accept that they can contribute significantly to the team, and is especially wary of young relievers. He’s been given a lot of credit for turning Mariano Rivera into a relief ace in 1996, but doing so was not out of character. Torre is usually willing to use a young relief pitcher soon after getting him, usually in a meaningless situation. As soon as the pitcher fails, however, Torre loses faith in him and uses him sparingly, and never in a crucial situation. With Rivera, Torre never got the chance to bury him. He never failed. He didn’t even get in trouble, he came into the game and got everybody out. By the time Mo was giving up the occasional run, Torre was sold, because it was apparent not only that Rivera was good, but that he was special. Ever since then, Torre has had absolute faith in Rivera, perhaps to the detriment of the team in recent seasons. Whenever there’s a save situation, Torre brings in Rivera. If the Yankees have a 3 run lead going into the ninth, in comes Rivera, almost every single time. If they have a six-run lead with the bases loaded and two outs, in comes Rivera. There are plenty of pitchers who can get three outs without giving up three runs, you don’t need to use your best pitcher in those situations. But Torre only trusts Rivera to get the save, and if Rivera’s available, in comes Rivera, wasting his arm.

But that’s Torre. As for Rivera, you know what you’re going to get. Broken bat, grounder to second. Thanks for playing, please come again.

It’s Rivera’s job to finish the games, it’s up to everyone else to get it to Rivera. The primary setup man in 2004 looks to be Tom Gordon, who served as closer for the White Sox at the end of last season. Gordon’s been around for a decade and a half, but still has one of the very best curveballs in the game. Just like any righty with a dominant breaking pitch, Gordon owns righties, holding them to a .202 GPA over the past three seasons, but he also does very well against lefties, with a .228 GPA against.

Of course, all those curve balls take a toll on a pitchers’ arm, and Gordon has long been susceptible to injuries. He had Tommy John surgery in ’99, and missed the first half of the 2002 season with a shoulder injury. Healthy, he’s a dominant reliever.

The other free agent reliever the Yankees grabbed was Paul Quantrill. Like Gordon, Quantrill has a great breaking pitch which he dominates righties with (.206 GPA in last three seasons), but Quantrill strikes out fewer men and walks fewer men than Gordon, and is less effective against lefties (.252 GPA). He also gives up a lot of ground balls, always a dangerous habit for a Yankees pitcher, but he may be the pitcher to bring in when there’s a runner on first and less than two outs--the old Ramiro Mendoza role.

Steve Karsay will hopefully be back and healthy this season, and will probably pitch the 7th and 8th innings with Tom Gordon, and do pretty much just as good a job. Karsay has good stuff and good command of it, and like Quantrill makes batters pound the ball into the ground. When he last pitched with the Yankees in 2002, he started to struggle late in the season, something that seems to have been a trend with him. If Gordon and Quantrill are as effective as the Yankees hope they will be, Torre might give Karsay some time off in mid-summer, keeping him effective for the stretch drive and playoffs.

The other two holdovers are the lefties, Gabe White and Felix Heredia. Neither is a dominant lefty, Heredia is barely average against them, and Quantrill is the only Yankees’ reliever who has been less effective against lefties in the past three season than Heredia. White will likely settle into the role of lefty specialist, having held them to a .229 GPA in the past three seasons, while Heredia should be the long reliever, coming in to face lefties when White is tired, or eating innings when a starter gets bombed.

I could talk about the Yankees’ options in Columbus if someone gets injured (and someone certainly will), but other than Jorge DePaula, nobody in the Yankees’ farm system is likely to see significant time filling in for a regular. The Yankees are more likely to trade for overpriced veteran mediocrities to fill holes, players who aren’t likely to do much better than the mediocre players in AAA.

There’s very good reason to be optimistic about the Yankees’ World Series chances in 2004. The AL East has improved, but the Yankees and Red Sox should still finish comfortably ahead of the pack--the Orioles have likely been spending their money in vain, buying their way into a slightly better fourth place. The Blue Jays’ pitching is better, and their lineup is excellent, but they’re not quite ready to run with the lead pack, though they’ll be ready to pass either team if they slip. The AL Central is almost certain to be a non-factor in the Wild Card race, leaving the second place team in the AL West to contend with for the last playoff spot if Boston wins the division, likely Anaheim or Oakland. The Yankees are better off playing the Devil Rays than the Angels and A’s are playing the Rangers, so a playoff berth seems certain.

If they do make the playoffs, they have three, potentially four starters capable of shutting down any lineup, and a lineup capable of scoring as many runs as any other lineup. They’ll have four excellent relief pitchers, and an improved outfield defense, too. If they get to the World Series, they can adjust to the NL games without taking a significant offensive hit, and will likely be better than any team coming out of the NL.

If they stay healthy, that is.

If they’re healthy, I don’t see any team other than Boston being able to stop them, and I expect that’s what the season will come down to once again, an ALCS vs. Boston. I know that for fans of every other team it’s incredibly frustrating to see these two great teams making themselves better while everyone else scrambles to keep up, let alone catch up, but it really has to be this way. Boston improved their rotation, they improved their bullpen, they had the best lineup in all of baseball last season. They finally have the team they’ve wanted to end 86 years of broken dreams. And standing in the way of that are the Yankees, with a team just as strong, ready to break Boston’s dreams once again, as it seems they always do. It's what makes the Yankees evil, and what make the Yankees good. They’re relentless.

January 8, 2004

Contacts and Updates
by Larry Mahnken

My old email address is getting about 200 spam emails a day, so when I don't go online for, say, ten minutes, my mailbox fills up and I can't get any email. So, I've changed my address to this one, so direct your viruses and porn there.

Also, since my updates are fairly inconsistent this offseason, I've set up a mailing list (actually, at the request of TVerik a couple of months ago) at It's different from my other group, this one actually sends you the articles when I post them. Sometimes four times!

The New Face of Evil, Part One
by Larry Mahnken

The difference between the Yankees team that lost the World Series last season and the Yankees team that will win the World Series in 2004 is dramatic, and if you were a fan that stopped paying attention after Game Six and didn't hear anything about the team until Spring Training, the turnover in the roster would be jolting.

12 of the 25 expected players for the Yankees next season were not on the Yankees' roster at the start of 2003. Two more players, Steve Karsay and Jon Lieber, were injured for the entire season. Only one regular starting pitcher from last season, Mike Mussina, is in the rotation in 2004. The bench and pitching rotation are dramatically different not only from Opening Day, 2003, but from Game Six, and the lineup will feature two entirely new players, as well as the likely shift of the Yankees' center fielder of the past 11 seasons to DH. Only five players remain from the Yankees' last Championship in 2000, and one of those, Alfonso Soriano, was a 22-year old rookie who wasn't on the postseason roster.

These aren't your twin brother's Yankees.

In many cases when a good team turns over it's roster as dramatically as the Yankees have, it marks the end of the team's run, not because of chemistry, but because the players that are coming in are often not as good--and sometimes dramatically worse--than the players they are replacing. The end may well be near for the Yankees, but the changes that they made to their roster seem as likely to delay that eventuality as they are to bring it about. Most of the moves the Yankees made were good moves, although risky ones, and seeing as how the team is coming off of 101 wins and a pennant, a fall from contention seems unlikely this season, barring disaster.

The one area of the diamond where the Yankees remained completely stable is at catcher. Both the starter and his backup are precisely the same as last season.


Jorge Posada (588 PAs, .312 GPA)
John Flaherty (111 PAs, .248 GPA)

2004: (3-year averages)
Jorge Posada (581 PAs, .292 GPA)
John Flaherty (228 PAs, .224 GPA)

In Jorge Posada, the Yankees have one of the most valuable catchers in baseball, on the same level with Ivan Rodriguez, Javy Lopez, Mike Piazza and Jason Varitek--assuming he stays healthy, something that you'll hear a lot of in this team rundown. 2003 was above his career and 3-year average, but it wasn't his best season. But it's more likely that he'll experience something of a decline than repeat his performance. Nothing dramatic, but something more in the .850 OPS range than .920.

As for John Flaherty, he's pretty much a replacement-level player personified. Last season's numbers looked pretty good for a backup, but a 2 HR game in Baltimore skewed the numbers, without that game, his GPA was .229. He's unexceptional defensively, doesn't play anywhere else on the field, and is a useless tagalong on the postseason roster. But Joe Torre likes him, so the Yankees have brought him back for another season, rather than seeking out a better option. A team can do just fine with a replacement-level backup catcher, but having a backup with some pop is a very useful addition. A team with a $170 million payroll should be stocking their bench with players like that, but instead the Yankees have brought in Flaherty, Enrique Wilson, Miguel Cairo, and paid them several hundred thousand dollars more than what they're worth. I'm all for charity, but it still seems unnecessary to me.

First Base:

Jason Giambi (690 PAs, .317 GPA)
Nick Johnson (403 PAs, .308 GPA)

2004: (3-year averages)
Jason Giambi (683 PAs, .347 GPA)
Tony Clark (358 PAs, .252 GPA)

A lot of the Yankees' offense last season came out of their first basemen, which created a bit of a problem, and not just in the World Series. You could play one at first base and the other at DH, but moving one to any other position involved a rightward shift along the defensive spectrum, one that neither was likely to pull off successfully. From the above, it would appear that the Yankees replaced Nick Johnson with Tony Clark (which isn't official yet, but is pretty much so), but he was really replaced with Gary Sheffield--the Yankees shifted that offense to right field. It makes things a little more flexible, it allows the Yankees to move some players around from day to day without hurting their offense, and might even help.

If Jason Giambi stays healthy, that is. Jason Giambi was hampered by injuries all last season, but didn't miss time, possibly because the other serious injuries the Yankees suffered in their lineup last season made his presence in the lineup crucial. The eye infection and hand injury he played through last year are hardly causes from continuing concern, but the knee injury that required offseason surgery is cause for serious concern. Other players coming off of similar surgery have suffered extreme drop-offs in performance, and difficulty staying healthy, so the Yankees need to be concerned about what they're getting out of their top hitter next year. Unlike Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi has the benefit of being able to DH, so if he's not 100% healthy, he can stay in the lineup.

If he's healthy, the Yankees will probably get better production than they did in 2003, when they still got one of the better hitters in baseball. It's unlikely that they'll get the 2000-01 version of Giambi, but the 2002 model is not out of the question. If he's healthy, that is.

But Jason Giambi is 33 today, and even without the knee injury, injuries are something that will have to be planned for from now on, as is decline. Several players in recent seasons have been able to sustain their peak performance into their late 30's, but they're still the exception, and Giambi's recent injury history would indicate that he won't be one of them. I don't expect it to happen in 2004, but Jason Giambi's days as an elite hitter may be numbered.

Tony Clark isn't a starter, he's a backup, but unless Giambi can stay healthy and play first base regularly, or Bernie Williams can learn how to handle first base, Clark will be a part-time starter. He's not good enough to start, and when he was healthy and in his prime, he wasn't a superstar. He's no longer in his prime, and he's had health issues, so the Yankees are hoping that Giambi is healthy, so he can be used in the narrow role that he's suited for.

If Tony Clark plays almost exclusively against left-handed pitchers, shifting Giambi to DH and Bernie Williams to the outfield (preferably left field), he helps the Yankees. Kenny Lofton is a fairly good hitter against righty pitchers, but against lefties, he's not just bad, he's horrible--sub replacement-level. Tony Clark is a solid hitter from the right side, and replacing Lofton's bat against lefties with Clark makes the Yankees' lineup better--better than it would be with Lofton playing every day, better than it was last year.

But if Giambi can't play the field, and Bernie can't take his glove, the Yankees' lineup become worse-not necessarily worse than last season, but worse than it can be, and worse than the Yankees hope it will be.

If that happens, the Yankees would probably have been better off getting a player like Jeremy Giambi, who despite a terrible season last year, is, in my opinion, a much better offensive player than Tony Clark. Fernando Seguignol could have filled the role Tony Clark is filling this season, and if Clark struggles or is injured, perhaps he will. The Yankees are taking a risk in bringing in Clark rather than a better hitting first baseman, but if Giambi stays healthy, I think they're better off for making that decision. And, of course, there's the possibility that Clark can rediscover his offensive prowess for one season, and be a tremendous asset no matter what the role.

He's not Nick Johnson, he's not going to be Nick Johnson. But Tony Clark should be more than good enough.

Second Base:

Alfonso Soriano (734 PAs, .283 GPA)
Enrique Wilson (145 PAs, .215 GPA)

2004: (3-year averages)
Alfonso Soriano (696 PAs, .273 GPA)
Miguel Cairo (227 PAs, .236 GPA)

Overrated by the mainstream, underrated by statheads. The impression of Alfonso Soriano is starting to change on both sides of the spectrum, as traditional analysts are seeing past Soriano's immense talent and understanding how his approach at the plate is keeping him from being an elite player. His Batting Average, HRs and RBIs are still high, so he'll always look better than he is at first glance, but even without looking at OBP and SLG, it's becoming clear to everyone that he's not the second coming of Hank Aaron.

But he's not the second coming of Juan Samuel, either. He's not the second coming of anyone, he's the first coming of Alfonso Soriano, a very unique player, and a good player. There was cause for encouragement last season, his walk rate increased, his strikeout rate decreased. His defense improved somewhat, and with the hiring of Don Mattingly as batting coach, there is some hope that he can be taught to control his aggressiveness, and stop swinging at awful pitches. Soriano's hope is in decreasing his strikeouts, not increasing his walks. The latter is probably never going to happen to a significant degree, but the former may, and if he's not striking out too much, then there is reason to believe that he can keep his Batting Average and Home Runs at their current level, and remain a good player.

During the early part of the offseason, there was some talk of moving Soriano to the outfield, or trading him to Kansas City for Carlos Beltran. While trading Soriano for Beltran might have been a good trade in terms of talent, the lack of a quality option at second base for the Yankees would likely have made it a poor move overall, as would the move to the outfield. Instead, the Yankees brought Kenny Lofton in to play Centerfield, and will make do with Soriano at second. With Derek Jeter's defensive shortcomings, it would be nice to have a Gold Glove caliber second baseman, but the loss of Soriano's offense would likely hurt the Yankees more than a Pokey Reese would have helped the defense.

Enrique Wilson was the backup at second base last season, as he was at shortstop and third base. He's still a backup option at second, but I've listed him elsewhere, and labeled Miguel Cairo as the Yankees' backup second baseman, because that's what he is. Second base is the position that Cairo plays with the least ineptitude. He can also play shortstop, third base and the outfield, in the sense that he has the gloves in his locker and can find his way there from the dugout, but he's not going to make anyone forget Randy Velarde, and is more likely to bring back some unpleasant memories of Clay Bellinger. He's Enrique Wilson without the ability to hit from the left side or the unnerving resemblance to John Sterling. He even has a contract disproportionate to his talent.

Steven Goldman has been harping on the uselessness of Cairo for several columns, because A) he's fairly useless, and B) there's not really much else to talk about, but as useless as Cairo is, he's also irrelevant. He's not going to take playing time away from anyone except when they need a day off, and he's not likely to make a significant negative impact on the Yankees' postseason chances by himself. The virtue of having him on the team is that he can at least theoretically play three infield positions and the outfield, which allows the Yankees to add Tony Clark, who will certainly be more useful to the Yankees than a ballhawk backup outfielder who pinch-runs and starts ten games.

Cairo is unlikely to draw the type of backlash that Todd Zeile drew last year, because unlike Zeile, Cairo is unlikely to be taking playing time away from actual baseball players. If Joe Torre decides to be Tony LaRussa and plug Cairo in every other day, then you're sure to hear screams from this fan, but I don't see it happening. It's something to bitch and moan about during the dead part of the offseason, but in July, Miguel Cairo is going to be just another guy at the end of the bench.


Derek Jeter (539 PAs, .290 GPA)
Erick Almonte (109 PAs, .232 GPA)

2004: (3-year averages)
Derek Jeter (653 PAs, .284 GPA)
Enrique Wilson (169 PAs, .189 GPA)

On Opening Day last season, the Yankees got one of the worst scares they've had in years, as Derek Jeter's shoulder was separated by a shinguard driven into it as he slid into third base. The Yankees were suddenly facing a season without one of their best players, without a viable option to replace him. Going into the day, the 2003 season looked promising, and after it, things looked bleak.

Fortunately, Jeter only missed a little more than a month, and indeed went on to have possibly the best non-1999 season of his career. Going into 2004, Jeter is healthy again, perhaps for the first time since the Yankees last won the World Series, and the question has to be asked: is he going to start putting up great offensive numbers again?

It's not as though his offense has been dreadful since 2000, but from 2000 to 2002, he experienced a clear decline in value. It was getting to the point where some were questioning how valuable Jeter really was, as his defense was suffering from a steep decline as well, and was perhaps negating the value of his offense.

That defensive decline does not seem to have stopped. It's become so poor that the difference between him and a good defensive shortstop is visible to anyone willing to look, and the difference between a good defensive player and a poor one is usually too subtle to see without the aid of statistics. What the statistics say is that Jeter is about the worst defensive shortstop in baseball, and while the reliability of defensive statistics is light years behind that of offensive statistics, it takes a very myopic fan to deny that Jeter's range is, at the very least, poor. It's easily poor enough that objections to trading for Alex Rodriguez and moving Jeter to third on the basis that Jeter shouldn't be moved are patently ridiculous. Indeed, the Yankees should have explored the possibility of trading for Rodriguez, and if the trade was not pursued solely on the desire to keep Jeter at shortstop, then there is a great deal of ineptitude in the Yankees' front office.

But I am of the opinion that the Yankees can live with Clutchy Clutch McClutch at shortstop even with his Glove of Lost Dreams. I do think that the defensive statistics overstate the negative impact of his defense, though his apologists vastly understate it, and I do think he is one of the best shortstops in baseball. I like Derek Jeter, I really do. He's a good ballplayer, and a good guy. But he's not all he's made out to be, and I can't stand to hear people speak of him as a Golden God.

As for his backup, Enrique Wilson will be one likely to play short when Jeter needs a day off, though Cairo can find his way to that space between third and second, too. Wilson isn't any more valuable than Cairo, though he can switch hit, and he's not likely to see much more than 100 PAs in 2004, either, and a couple of oh-fers against Pedro during the regular season will hopefully keep him on the bench in an ALCS rematch.

Erick Almonte filled in for Jeter when he was hurt last season, and would probably be called up to do so again if Jeter is DL'ed in 2004. He's not a good hitter, and his defense at short made Jeter look good, though he probably wasn't actually any worse than Jeter, he just made mistakes when he got to the ball.

As long as nobody gets hurt, the Yankees will be fine in the middle infield. Fortunately, Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter aren't the Yankees who we should be concerned about when it comes to health. It's a good thing, too, because if one of them goes down for a significant period of time, the fear that arose last Opening Day will come to fruition. The Yankees will be screwed.

Third Base:

Aaron Boone (648 PAs, .260 GPA)

2004: (3-year averages)
Aaron Boone (589 PAs, .261 GPA)

Last year, Aaron Boone threw away more goodwill faster than George W. Bush. His pennant-winning HR made me for a time forgive his generally crappiness during the regular season games that mattered and the playoffs, but his World Series suckfest made me and many other Yankees fans bitter again, and and the words of Joe Sheehan spoke true: "It was a home run, not diplomatic immunity."

Of course, Aaron Boone isn't the suckiest suck in the history of suck, he's an okay ballplayer. As his GPA shows (though it isn't adjusted for park, which would bring it down), he's an average hitter, and maybe a little above average for a third baseman. His defense is pretty good, if unspectacular, as well. Having Aaron Boone at the bottom of your lineup is hardly a bad thing; indeed, when your worst hitter is a league average hitter, you're doing quite well.

The problem with Aaron Boone, aside from the fact that the Yankees traded Brandon Claussen, who they could very much have used this upcoming season, for him, is that he's not the type of player who keeps things going. His value is in his home run power, not in getting on base. He'll make a lot of outs, taking Plate Appearances away from the Yankees' best hitters, although the number of outs he creates will be minimized by his batting ninth, and be less damaging to the Yankees' offense than Alfonso Soriano was batting at the top of the lineup last season.

Had there been any available third basemen better than Boone this offseason--had Mike Lowell been non-tendered, for instance, then the Yankees would have been better off cutting ties with Boone and upgrading the position. Had a Soriano for A-Rod trade been made, and Jeter shifted to third, Boone might have become more useful to the Yankees, potentially upgrading their defense at second and being an acceptable hitter for the position. As it is, he remains at third base for another season, after which the Yankees will likely move on and add a superior player at the position, perhaps an All-Star like Eric Chavez, who seems certain to become a free agent. For 2004, Boone will do.

Left Field:

Hideki Matsui (695 PAs, .267 GPA)

2004: (3-year average {using Japanese League stats--take with a spoonful of salt})
Hideki Matsui (639 PAs, .332 GPA)

Godzilla turned out to not be as great as he was hyped to be, not even close. He was a quality player, though below average for the position, and hardly a crucial part of the Yankees' lineup. After the season, he was robbed of the opportunity to rob Angel Berroa of the Rookie of the Year by writers who decided that clearly defined rules were open to whatever interpretation their prejudices wanted them to make, but at least they gave the award to the right man.

Matsui had an uncanny knack for hitting in the clutch that was more than selective memory. In 198 PAs with runners in scoring position, Matsui's GPA rose to .301 (.297 when SF are turned into ABs), enough PAs to create a reasonable sample size, and a large enough increase to turn heads.

There may be some connection between Matsui's clutch hitting and the one month of the season he was a special hitter, when the Yankees played the National League in June. Matsui's offense against the NL was vastly better than against the AL, leading to questions as to whether there is a difference in how he's pitched to by NL pitchers than by AL pitchers. But a mechanical change in Cincinnati may also explain the improvement.

The Yankees aren't going to give up Hideki Matsui, or even bench him, unless his performance becomes a significant drag on the offense. His nationality alone makes him profitable to the Yankees, and having a Japanese player in the lineup every game makes the Yankees a very attractive team to Japanese fans. Because the Yankees are going to stick with him, they have to be hoping that his performance improves greatly in 2004.

I think that his performance will improve at least somewhat, if not greatly. Matsui was one of the most pronounced groundball hitters in the Majors last season, and I've said before that you can't hit 50 HRs in any league by hitting the ball on the ground, no matter how close the fences are--unless the walls are really short. His struggles with gravity would imply, to me, that there was some problem either with his mechanics, or adjusting to the pitching patterns of MLB pitchers. Matsui seems to be a hard-working player who doesn't suffer from excessive pride, and I think he can make the adjustments he needs to this offseason to get better. Will he hit 50 HRs? I highly doubt it, but 25 HRs and 40 2Bs seems realistic to me.

Center Field:

Bernie Williams (521 PAs, .268 GPA)
David Dellucci (246 PAs, .229 GPA)

2004: (3-year averages)
Bernie Williams (618 PAs, .298 GPA)
Kenny Lofton (599 PAs, .259 GPA)

With the signing of Kenny Lofton, the era of Bernie Williams as the Yankees' centerfielder is likely over. Joe Torre has said that Williams and Lofton will compete for the job, and that diplomacy in easing a player out a position they're no longer able to play is one of Torre's greatest strengths. Unfortunately, one of Torre's great weaknesses is being blinded by excessive loyalty to players who have done great things for him in the past, and he may be inclined to keep Williams in center if his play out there is not awful, even though Lofton is certain to be a better defender.

And let's be clear, Lofton is clearly a better defensive player than Bernie Williams at this point in his career. Bernie always got poor jumps on fly balls, and took poor routes to them, but his long legs and speed allowed him to outrun the ball and play good defense. Not defense worthy of the Gold Gloves he won, mind you, but he was an asset out there. Now, his speed is all but a memory, and his poor defensive instincts are exacerbated by his weak arm. The triple he allowed to roll past him in Game One of the ALDS last season may have opened everyone's eyes to the problem, but Bernie's been a liability in the outfield for the past couple of seasons.

Putting Kenny Lofton in center makes the Yankees defense much better. He's not much more than an average centerfielder, at best, but he is a huge improvement over Williams, at the outfield position responsible for covering the most ground.

And perhaps key to the decision to move Bernie is the injuries Williams suffered last year, in large part because of his playing the outfield. Williams injured his knee running into a wall, and before having surgery on it, suffered an excruciatingly long hitless streak, and after missing significant time following surgery, was drained of much of his power. Moving Williams to DH to keep him healthy is a wise decision.

I don't think the drop in performance Bernie suffered last season is a permanent one. It's too much to ask for more All-Star seasons out of him, but his power seemed to return in the World Series, and I think he'll be good for at least 20 HRs in 2004, and his OBP will be over .380. He shouldn't be batting fourth, and won't, thanks to Gary Sheffield, but in the 6th or 7th spot in the lineup, he'll help the Yankees score runs.

As for Lofton, his coming will lead to two important changes to the Yankees' lineup. The first is moving Bernie to DH, but the other change is to get Alfonso Soriano out of the leadoff spot, which he has always been horribly unsuited for. Lofton doesn't walk much, nor is he an OBP God, but he does both more than Soriano. The real benefit is in moving Soriano down in the lineup, where his power is utilized best and he'll make fewer outs.

On his own, Lofton is unexceptional. He's not a great hitter, though he put up a solid .271 GPA last season, and is best utilized in a platoon. He's not a great fielder, he doesn't have a good arm, but in both he's better than Williams, and in that sense is an asset. Two years might be a bit much for Lofton, but if it doesn't prevent the Yankees from getting a real centerfielder in 2005, it won't hurt, and if Lofton can be a fourth outfielder next year, that'll be a plus, too.

Right Field:

Karim Garcia (262 PAs, .241 GPA)
Juan Rivera (184 PAs, .254 GPA)
Ruben Sierra (336 PAs, .252 GPA)

2004: (3-year averages)
Gary Sheffield (625 PAs, .328 GPA)
Ruben Sierra (386 PAs, .261 GPA)

Although the front office did a fine job of creating a black hole at third base in midseason, the real hole in the Yankees' lineup last season was in right field. After a torrid start by Raul Mondesi, he fell in love with the rally-killing double play, and the Yankees were ultimately forced to turn to a platoon of Karim Garcia, Juan Rivera and David Dellucci, with Ruben Sierra tagging along as a pinch hitter. It worked well enough, Rivera was best against lefties and Garcia best against righties, and the result was an almost adequate right fielder. The Yankees didn't lose the World Series because they didn't have a star playing right, but it sure could have helped if they had one.

Gary Sheffield is a star. Now, I would much have preferred Vlad Guerrero, but Sheffield is one of the best hitters in baseball, and helps the Yankees' lineup.

There have to be concerns about his signing, though. He's 35, and a decline wouldn't be a surprise, even in 2004. Indeed, before his huge 2003 season, Sheffield's numbers were in a 3-year decline. He's not a good defensive player, he's not a fast runner, and his reputation is that of a selfish player, and the curious circumstances of his signing have to raise questions.

But let there be no doubt that Gary Sheffield is a great hitter. Aside from the huge numbers he put up in Atlanta last season, his walks and strikeouts show how disciplined a hitter he is, not swinging at bad pitches while making contact and crushing hittable pitches.

I think Nick Johnson may have been a better hitter in 2004 than Gary Sheffield, but he has yet to be in any season, and Johnson has a long history of injuries. I said before that with the signing of Sheffield and Lofton, the Yankees have taken a giant step sideways with their lineup, but upon further review, I've changed my tune. The Yankees will probably be a better hitting team in 2004 thanks to these moves if they can stay healthy, even if Bernie and Giambi don't perform any better than they did last year.

As for Sierra, he's nothing special, but he can handle the job. He won't be taking PAs away from Nick Johnson next year, and in his role as pinch-hitter, he is capable of providing what is requested, which is the occasional dramatic HR or double.

That's it for the lineup. In Part Two, I'll of course run down the pitching staff. I'm shooting for tomorrow on that, but let's keep in mind, I'm very lazy.

January 6, 2004

"OK Dad, I admit that I came back from the party at 3am when you saw me come in, and I'm sorry that I got caught. Am I still grounded for a month?"
by Larry Mahnken

The big story in baseball Monday wasn’t the extension the Yankees signed with their new pitcher, Javier Vazquez, but the fact that Pete Rose, after a decade and a half of shamelessly lying to everyone who asked him for a straight answer, has finally admitted that he bet on baseball, and while I haven’t found a quote where he admits to betting on the Reds, his statements quite clearly spell out that he did--though he didn't think he was being corrupt, which makes it all okay.

None of this is particularly surprising. I have not doubted for an instant that Pete Rose bet on baseball--why would a compulsive gambler neglect the sport that he was an “expert” at--and felt it very likely that he bet on his own team, as well. A large number of Rose’s supporters believed that Rose bet on baseball and his own team prior to yesterday, so Rose’s admission of guilt was not a surprise to very many people, and as most people have argued against the reliability of the Dowd Report rather than the possibility that Rose wagered on baseball, there aren’t many people with egg on their face right now. Just because the conclusion of the Dowd Report was right doesn’t mean it was enough to convict Rose.

All that Rose’s admission does is bring to the forefront the question as to whether Rose should be reinstated. Many felt he should be reinstated even without an admission, and certainly there are many more who feel he should be reinstated now. But as in all things, and especially in sports, most people are guided by their passions and a desire to see things the way they want them to be, rather than being guided by reason and desiring things to be just and proper. And so, I ask the question, should Pete Rose be reinstated, now that he has admitted betting on baseball?

I can’t see how you can let him back in. The most common argument I hear for reinstatement is that Rose has been punished long enough, that 14 years out of baseball is more than enough penalty. This actually has some merit, but far less than it’s supporters would argue.

Just as with crimes against society, the penalties for crimes against baseball may be reduced, if there is cause. A murderer sentenced to life in prison may be paroled, and a person placed on the permanently ineligible list can be reinstated. But the sentence can’t just be reduced because the criminal has been punished “enough”, it also has to be demonstrated that they are no longer a threat to society--that they aren’t going to kill someone else, that they’ve been rehabilitated. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were declared permanently ineligible when they worked for casinos, and after Bowie Kuhn was no longer commissioner, and they no longer worked for the casinos, they were reinstated. They were no longer a threat to the integrity of the game, which was good enough reason to keep them away from it forever, if need be.

Since it’s not generally believed, and there’s no evidence to indicate that Rose threw games, wagered against his own team or provided insider information to gamblers, it’s reasonable to believe that Rose has been punished long enough for his crimes. However, since Rose has yet to show that he’s sorry for anything other than having been banned from baseball, and that it hasn’t been demonstrated that he’s no longer involved with gambling or people who gamble, it seems clear to me that he is still a danger to the integrity of baseball. Letting him in doesn’t mean that he’ll do it again, or that he’ll do worse than bet on his team, but there’s a high risk of it happening, and for that reason, Rose’s sentence should not be reduced. If he can clearly demonstrate that he’s no longer involved with gambling, then and only then should it be considered.

Another argument--one that Rose has harped on--is that there are a lot of bad people in the Hall of Fame, cheaters, drug users, racists, thugs, and generally disagreeable people. If they’re allowed in baseball, and in the Hall of Fame, Rose should be, too.

This argument doesn’t hold water. Pete Rose was not banned from baseball for being a jerk, he was banned for…well, he was banned because he agreed to be banned, but had he not agreed, he would have been banned for betting on baseball games in which he had a duty to perform. It’s not a crime against society, and it’s not as bad from a general moral perspective as the things Ty Cobb did, but it is a crime against baseball, and about the worst crime one can commit. It’s clear that he should not be allowed any involvement with baseball, and additionally, the Hall of Fame exists to recognize a persons contributions to the game of baseball, not just numbers. Peter Gammons said yesterday that he would vote for Rose because he had to vote on Pete Rose the player, not Pete Rose the manager. But they’re the same person, and if you induct Pete Rose the player, you’ve also inducted Pete Rose the manager, and you’ve inducted everything he did as a manager, and everything he was banned for. A player’s accomplishments on the field can be negated--Joe Jackson has no business being in the Hall of Fame, regardless of what Ted Williams thought--and it can be argued that Rose’s crimes negated or at least reduced his contribution to the game of baseball, and he may no longer be worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame.

Of course, I think he is worthy of being in the Hall of Fame, but the question becomes whether an ineligible player should be in the Hall or not. Most players seem to think not, but I can live with Cal Ripken, Jr.’s suggestion, that he should be inducted but not reinstated. I think the Rose situation is more akin to the Mantle/Mays situation than the Black Sox, and I don’t think that Mickey or Willie should have been kept out of the Hall of Fame for it. At the very least, it should be left up to the voters, even the eight Black Sox were allowed to be voted on.

But at the same time, I see no grave injustice in keeping Pete Rose out. The Hall of Fame would not be damaged by his exclusion as much as it is damaged by the inclusion of several horribly unworthy players. Nobody’s going to stop going to the Hall of Fame because Pete Rose doesn’t have a plaque, and people who say they would didn’t really intend to go anytime soon, anyway.

In the end, I think the status quo has to be maintained. All Rose has done is admit guilt for to a crime for which he long ago accepted the maximum penalty. He hasn’t said he’s sorry for gambling, and he hasn’t given a very strong apology for lying. He hasn’t demonstrated that he’s rehabilitated; he hasn’t given any reason to be reinstated. While serving the sentence, he admits the crime, and asks for the sentence to be reduced because of it. It doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t work that way. Keep him out until he’s no longer a threat, and keep him out of the Hall of Fame until he’s reinstated or dead. But don’t reinstate him now.

January 5, 2004

This just in...
by Larry Mahnken

O.J. Simpson has admitted to murdering Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. Following this admission of guilt, the courts have decreed that he should be given back all of his stuff.

January 4, 2004

Hack hack cough cough cough hack cough hack hack cough
by Larry Mahnken

What a crappy couple of weeks it’s been for me. I won’t bother you too much with the details, but to sum it all up, I’ve been very ill since before Christmas, missed more work than I could afford to, and then had to work ill just before Christmas, because, after all, I work retail, and you can’t call in on Christmas Eve. So, I’m exhausted, having serious financial problems, and feeling a little depressed for no good reason.

Now, you think being ill would be great for a sports nut like me, I’d get to watch all the NFL games and bowl games and catch up on hockey, but I’ve been really too sick to do anything. I didn’t watch much TV, didn’t read much, didn’t go on the Internet. For all intents and purposes, for two weeks I’ve been living in a cave, and now I’m trying to get my bearings, and see what’s changed since I’ve been gone.

Well, David Wells is gone, there’s one thing. Now the Yankees are left without a lefty starter, and will be forced to use Jon Lieber in the rotation right from the start, and should he struggle--not an difficult scenario to imagine, the Yankees will be forced to call up Jorge DePaula from the Minors to start, and ultimately, I suppose, some enterprising GM will take Dioneer Navarro off of the Yankees’ hands for some mediocre starter in mid-summer, who will be of little help in the pennant race, and irrelevant in the playoffs. Wells was unlikely to be a crucial element for the Yankees in 2004, but he would probably have given the Yankees a couple dozen good starts if he was healthy.

As you can see, I didn’t resolve to be more optimistic this year. ;-)

Well, on the bright side, they do get a sandwich pick and a second-round pick for Wells, which will probably be ultimately of more use to the Bombers than Boomer. After picking up a couple of picks for Pettitte and losing a couple for Quantrill and Gordon, the Yankees will have four picks in the first two rounds next season, which is certainly a positive development. If the Yankees make wise picks, the farm system could look a lot healthier in a couple of years.

And then there’s Steven Goldman’s throwaway comment about bringing in Greg Maddux to fill out the rotation. Maddux is hardly the pitcher he was a decade ago--he’s now not unlike a right-handed David Wells, without the extra baggage (in more ways than one), but he’s still a quality pitcher. Of course, Scott Boras probably thinks he can still get $15 million for him, so cost is certainly a concern, along with age and health. It’s not likely to be an issue anyway, I doubt that George Steinbrenner is shedding any tears over losing Wells, and doesn’t see any reason to make a blockbuster response more like he did with Pettitte. They’re fine as they are. If they just stay healthy, they’ll be playing in October, and they’re more than good enough to win three straight series. I highly doubt that Jon Lieber or Miguel Cairo is going to cost the Yankees dearly in the playoffs, and while the Yankees could have done much better in filling those spots, I’m really only complaining because there’s nothing else to write about.

Which is really a pain in the ass. I’m not a professional writer, either in terms of my profession or my skill, and the most frustrating thing about this offseason is that I have no idea what to write about. Should I talk about steroids? Nobody really cares, though the media apparently thought for a while that we would, or at least should. Pete Rose? I don’t want to even write about him, any more than you want to read about him, and I think we’d all be a little happier if they just put him in the Hall of Fame already without lifting his ban. I mean, I don’t think he should be in until he’s six feet under, but I’d rather everybody just shutup, and I’d much rather see him in the Hall than being reinstated.

Oh crap, I just wrote about Pete Rose. Sorry about that, everybody.

So, that’s all from here, until, well, who knows when? Maybe I’ll think of something worth saying tomorrow, and pop it up, or maybe it’ll be another week or two. I’ll be back on a regular basis eventually, but I’m really hating the offseason. I’d much prefer if they played most of the year, and started Spring Training a couple of weeks after the World Series. You know, like hockey.