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September 30, 2005

Mission: Possible
by Larry Mahnken

Last night I was thinking that the Yankees' win last night didn't matter, because Boston won. Had the Yankees lost, they'd need to win 2 of 3 this weekend. Having won, they need to win... 2 of 3 this weekend.

Well, I was wrong. Last night's win does matter, a lot.

Let's go through the scenarios:

Yankees win 3 of 3 or 2 of 3. These are the simple one: Yanks win AL East, if Chicago gets swept, the Yanks have HFA in at least the first scenario, and possibly the second. Also, Boston would be out.

Yanks win 1 of 3. The "ugh" scenario. This clinches, at the worst, a one-game playoff for the Yankees on Monday at Yankee Stadium.

But if the Indians lose just one game this weekend, and the Yankees win just one game this weekend, then they've clinched both a tie for the AL East and Wild Card, setting up a one-game-playoff between the Indians and the loser of Monday's game on Tuesday. And if the Indians lose two games, all the Yankees need to do is win one game this weekend, and they clinch the AL East outright by virtue of their record against Boston.

If the Yanks get swept -- guh -- the Red Sox are AL East champions, period. In that case, the Yankees need Chicago to win 2 of 3 to set up a Monday playoff for the Wild Card between the Yanks and Indians, or sweep for the Yanks to win the Wild Card.

Here's the scenario that appeals most to me: if the Yankees win tonight, and the White Sox win tonight, the Yankees, at the worst, have clinched both a tie for the AL East and Wild Card, leaving them with two games this weekend, and two playoff games next week. To miss the postseason, the Yankees would have to lose four straight games (which of course has happened in more crucial spots), which they haven't done since June 25th, when they lost 4 straight to Tampa Bay and the Mets. They haven't lost 4 out of 5 since July 27th, when they lost 4 of 5 to Anaheim and Minnesota.

They did lose 3 of 4, which could knock them out of the playoffs, to Seattle and Oakland Between August 30th and September 2nd, though they haven't lost three straight since losing the first three in Anaheim in July.

So basically, what last night's win did is make it so the Yankees don't need to play over their heads to win make the playoffs, they just need to not completely collapse. It still could happen, but assuming the White Sox can take just one game in Cleveland (which is a very reasonable assumption, considering that Chicago doesn't want the Indians in the playoffs), the Yanks only need to win 2 of 5 to make October.

It's all in their hands now, and they'd have to fumble pretty badly to lose it. But don't count your chickens, because they've done it before. And they've done it even worse.

September 28, 2005

Which performance is more valuable?
by Larry Mahnken

Here's why it's stupid to use Win Probability charts to determine value.

Extreme situation #1:

Visiting team's leadoff hitter leads off with homer, the rest of the lineup goes down in order, their only baserunner being that leadoff homer.

The starting pitcher pitches a shutout, and wins 1-0.

Extreme situation #2:

The first 25 batters for the visiting team go down in order, then the #8 and #9 hitters single, putting runners on first and third with one out. The leadoff hitter flys out and the #8 batter scores from third.

The starting pitcher pitches a shutout, and win 1-0.

Now, in Situation #1, the leadoff batter went 1-4 with a homer, a run scored and an RBI. He was literally the entire offense for his team. His Win Probability added for the game is .022, and the WP added for the homer is .060.

In situation #2, the leadoff batter went 0-3 with a sac fly, 0 for 4 PAs, with an RBI. His Win Probability added for the game is .060, the WP added for the sac fly is .179.

The fly ball was worth three times as much as the home run. This is not a home run being worth three times as much as another homer, it's an out being worth three times as much as a homer. In a game that finished exactly the same.

The starting pitcher in Situation #1 had a WP added of .887, pitching the entire game with a 1-0 lead.

In Situation #2 the starting pitcher did exactly the same thing, only this time he was pitching in a 0-0 game in every inning except the ninth. A run allowed in Situation #1 in any inning would have merely tied the game, a run allowed in any inning but the ninth in Situation #2 would have put the team behind.

In Situation #2, the pitcher had a WP added of .763.

So, somehow, the pitcher was less valuable pitching in a tied game than with a lead. Nifty stat this is.

Here's a stupid stat: In Situation #1, the seventh batter never got on base. He went 0-3. Three outs. Was the last out in every inning he batted, in fact.

He added .007 WP with his bat.


See, recording the changes in Win Probability doesn't record the value of a player's performance, because value is the number of runs he created. The initial basis of tracking game states is noble -- a run in a 5-4 game is obviously far more valuable than a run in a 15-4 game. But the 5th run is not more valuable than the first run. They're worth exactly the same amount.

Win Probabilty measures leverage. It's not the same thing. If you're going to weight the value of performance by the leverage of the situation they occur in, then you have to weight games that way, too. A win in April doesn't have as much leverage on the outcome of the season as a win in September, so why should they count the same?

Because they do count the same, that's why.

Bullpen Blues
by SG

Mike Mussina failed the Yankees yesterday, and the bullpen could not pick him up. The offense scored 9 runs, and lost. The performance of the bullpen this year has been atrocious. Some numbers for the statistically inclined, from Baseball Prospecus:


Mariano Rivera 69 76.3 2.996 3.353 4.596 4.925 22.8 29.5
Tom Gordon 76 78 1.55 1.837 2.827 3.067 17.4 9.9
Buddy Groom 24 25.7 0.339 0.34 0.373 0.373 -0.4 0.5
Shawn Chacon 1 1 0.128 0.143 0.153 0.165 0.5 0.6
Chien-Ming Wang 1 4.7 0.06 0.071 0.084 0.091 0.6 0.7
Colter Bean 1 2 0.001 0.001 0.002 0.002 0 0.1
Steve Karsay 6 6 -0.054 -0.052 -0.037 -0.036 -1.6 0.4
Jorge DePaula 3 6.7 -0.053 -0.053 -0.038 -0.038 -2.4 -1.2
Darrell May 1 2.7 -0.107 -0.087 -0.08 -0.067 -4.3 -6.5
Ramiro Mendoza 1 1 -0.096 -0.096 -0.085 -0.085 -1.6 -1.5
Felix Rodriguez 32 30.3 -0.122 -0.099 -0.017 0.005 -0.5 -5.4
Alex Graman 2 1.3 -0.118 -0.117 -0.095 -0.095 -1.3 -2.6
Tanyon Sturtze 62 73.7 -0.265 -0.123 0.559 0.682 1.9 11.3
Paul Quantrill 22 32 -0.154 -0.132 -0.061 -0.047 -6.9 -5.9
Jason Anderson 3 5.7 -0.225 -0.218 -0.186 -0.18 -1.8 0.5
Aaron Small 6 16.3 -0.218 -0.225 -0.13 -0.13 4.5 1.4
Al Leiter 4 12.7 -0.384 -0.372 -0.32 -0.311 -3.9 -4.7
Mike Stanton 28 14 -0.556 -0.397 -0.415 -0.294 -3.3 -1.7
Alan Embree 23 14 -0.588 -0.593 -0.5 -0.508 -6.5 -6.7
Scott Proctor 25 36.7 -0.696 -0.668 -0.457 -0.436 -6.3 -2
Wayne Franklin 12 12 -0.881 -0.755 -0.763 -0.636 -3.3 -0.4
Totals 402 452.8 0.557 1.758 5.41 6.447 3.6 16.3

The probability of winning the current game, given some information about how many runs each team has scored to a certain point in the game, how many outs there are, whether there are runners on base, and the strength of each team. Keith Woolner outlined a method for computing Win Expectancy given all of these parameters in BP 2005.

Expected wins added over a replacement level pitcher. WXR uses win expectancy calculations to assess how relievers have changed the outcome of games, similar to WX. However, instead of comparing the pitcher's performance to an average pitcher, he is compared to a replacement level pitcher to determine WXR.

Expected wins added over a replacement level pitcher, adjusted for level of opposing hitters. WXRL combines the individual adjustments for replacement level (WXR) and quality of the opposing lineup (WXL) to the basic WX calculation.

Expected wins added over a replacement level pitcher, adjusted for level of opposing hitters. WXRL combines the individual adjustments for replacement level (WXR) and quality of the opposing lineup (WXL) to the basic WX calculation.

Adjusted Pitching Runs (a la Thorn & Palmer in "Total Baseball").

Adjusted Runs Prevented from scoring.

As a team, the Yankees WX is .557, their WXR is 1.758, their WXL is 5.41, and their WXRL is 6.447. Their APR is 3.6 and their ARP is 16.3 However, take out Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon, and you get a totally different picture. Without those two, their WX is -3.989, their WXR is -3.432, their WXL is -2.013, and their WXRL is -1.545, their APR is -37 and their ARP is -23.

This is all a fancy way of saying that the Yankee bullpen outside of Gordon and Rivera has cost the Yankees anywhere from 2 to 4 wins this season. This was painfully apparent last night as Mike Mussina tanked in his biggest start of the year and the parade of relievers who followed him were unable to do their jobs.

Obviously, the biggest problem is that the pitchers are not performing, but is there something more to it?

I've called into question Joe Torre's usage of his bullpen many times here, and I think it is at least partially responsible for the lack of performance by the bullpen. There is a fine line between getting a reliever enough work and overworking them, and Torre does not seem to be a good judge of this. A case in point is Tanyon Sturtze. Sturtze has never been a great pitcher, but appeared to rejuventate himself with a new role as a reliever with an added cutter. Torre used Sturtze, who had never pitched in more than 46 games in a season in 24 of 50 games from May 5 through June 28. To that point, Sturtze had a 3.43 ERA, but was on pace to pitch 66 games, and 162 innings as a reliever. Since then, Sturze has put up a 5.86 ERA, as his usage has returned to a more reasonable pace, but likely too late to help the Yankees this year.

It's very possible that Sturtze has just regressed to his career ability, but we can't rule out that his usage has been a problem.

With the loss of an effective Sturtze, Torre has not adapted. Scott Proctor, Felix Rodriguez, Wayne Franklin, and Alan Embree have not produced. For some reason the Yankee braintrust is reticent to use Colter Bean, who has pitched 2 reasonably effective major league innings, something that most of the current bullpen HAS NOT DONE. I tend to think that more regular work for Proctor and Rodriguez may have helped them be more effective, but there's no question that neither is doing their job right now.

For those who think Torre is not at least part of the problem in building an effective bullpen, I present the following list of names:

Joe Borowski
Todd Williams
Jay Witasick
Carlos Almanzar
Al Reyes
Armando Benitez
Juan Padilla

All relievers who have had success away from Torre.

It was a frustrating loss, especially when all the other teams that are fighting for a playoff spot with the Yankees also lost, but at least they did not lose ground. Let's hope for 7 strong from Shawn Chacon today.

September 27, 2005

So far, so good
by SG

Last night's game with Baltimore was just what the Yankees needed as they try to push to the postseason. Randy Johnson was solid, the Yankee offense exploded, and no Yankees reliever of note had to even warm up, although Alan Embree continued his lousy pitching in blowing the shutout.

All indicators are that Embree cannot help the team. He's pitched in 22 games as a Yankee, and allowed runs in 9 of them. He's put up a season ERA of 7.82 and has allowed 10 HRs in only 50.2 innings. If the Yankees get into the playoffs, he should NOT be on the postseason roster, but I have a fear that Joe Torre's thought process will be:

1) He's lefthanded
2) He's a veteran
3) He's throws with his left hand
4) He's been to the postseason
5) He's a southpaw
6) He has a World Series ring
7) He wears his glove on his right hand

Randy Johnson has finally stepped up his game to pitch dominating baseball at a time when the Yankees needed it most. I was very critical about the Johnson trade, as I felt the cost in talent and money was too high. However, at this point the trade has to be considered a success, particulary with Javy Vazquez's struggles and the resurgence of Johnson.

Here are the numbers in Johnson's last 7 starts (including the ejection in Toronto)

44 innings
24 hits
8 runs
1 HR
10 BB
36 K

1.63 ERA

Take out the ejection start, and the ERA drops to 1.06.

That's ace quality stuff, when the Yankees have needed it most.

Most importantly, by winning last night, the Yankees guaranteed that they would head to Boston with a shot at the division still alive. Ideally they'll keep their foot on Baltimore's throat here, but will head to Boston no worse than 3 games back in the worst case scenario.

Boston got rained out last night and will play two today. In theory it should be good news, but I doubt it will have much meaning.

For those who follow such things, Baseball Prospectus's playoff odds report currently give the Yankees a 42% chance at the division and a 7% chance 50.5% chance at the division and a 10.9% chance at the wild card.

September 25, 2005

The Home Stretch
by SG

If not for Jaret Wright, the Yankees may have won their last 14 games in a row. Instead, they are 12-2 in their last 14, still a very impressive run. Unfortunately for them, the Red Sox and Indians are also keeping pace, so they are all in a virtual heat for two playoff spots.

I have a lot of issues with the wild card. First of all, it cheapens division races. Of more concern to me is that teams do not compete for it on an equal playing field. Given the unbalanced schedule and interleague play, the quality of opposition faced by the contenders for the wild card can vary significantly. A lot of people have complained about the Indians getting to beat up on KC while the Yankees had to play stronger teams in the AL East. I decided to look at the records of all the playoff contenders vs. teams over .500 and under .500. I did not include interleague play in these numbers because let's face it, the National League is the equivalent of AAAA. Teams over .500 as I write this are Boston, the White Sox, Cleveland, Anaheim, Minnesota, the Yankees, and Oakland.

Games vs. teams over .500 (as of 9/25)

Anaheim: 68
White Sox: 65
Cleveland: 65
Oakland: 62
Boston: 55
Yankees: 54

Interestingly, the Yankees have played the fewest games against AL teams over .500.

Winning percentage vs. teams over .500 (as of 9/25)

Boston: 56.4 %
Yankees: 55.6 %
Anaheim: 54.0 %
White Sox: 50.8 %
Oakland: 48.4 %
Cleveland: 44.6 %

The Red Sox have the best winning percentage against teams over .500. Cleveland has been terrible against good teams.

How about vs. teams under .500?

Games vs. teams under .500 (as of 9/25)

Yankees: 82
Boston: 81
Oakland: 74
Anaheim: 73
Cleveland: 72
White Sox: 71

Winning percentage vs. teams under .500 (as of 9/25)

White Sox: 67.6%
Cleveland: 66.7%
Oakland: 60.8%
Yankees: 59.8%
Anaheim: 59.8%
Boston: 58.0%

The White Sox and Indians have really fattened up on the below .500 teams.

All teams above/below .500 are not created equal, so I don't know how meaningful these numbers are, but I think the fact that the Yankees have played the fewest games against good teams should calm down the cries of unfair scheduling a bit.

Back to the Yankees, hopefully Jaret Wright has thrown his last pitch of the season. At this point, he does not belong in the rotation, and given his early inning struggles it is doubtful that he is much of an option out of the bullpen. It was good to see Gary Sheffield finally play the OF again, not so much for his defense, but to free up the DH spot for some people who really need it or to get Bernie out of CF.

Right now, I would say that Boston has the advantage over the Yankees, with their final seven games at home. The Yankees have to go to Baltimore to play four games, then finish out the season in Boston for three games. Baltimore has now lost 8 straight games, which scares me. Again, I think it is imperative for the Yankees to pick up a game on Boston before going to Fenway. Hopefully Toronto will help out.

September 22, 2005

Hip Hip Jorge
by SG

The disappointing season of Jorge Posada has been lost amidst a season of disappointments. Posada's still one of the better catchers in the league, but has been surpassed by several players. Tonight was his night, and it was huge for a Yankee lineup that was missing Jason Giambi. Posada hit two HRs and drove in 4 runs, as the Yankees opened up a 7-1 lead in what looked like it was going to be a laugher.

Mike Mussina was brilliant. His defense cost him at least four outs and one run, but he looked sharp with a fastball in the 89-91 range and excellent command, throwing 58 of his 76 pitches for strikes. The Baltimore offense has struggled in the second half of the year, but what we saw out of Mussina is very encouraging, and having him backing up a suddenly resurgent Randy Johnson makes the Yankees a tough draw in any short series.

Al Leiter was the opposite of brilliant. He pitched a solid 7th, but then imploded in the eight, as he walked the first two hitters he face. I have zero tolerance for walks with a big lead, much less two of them. I can understand giving Leiter a chance to see if he can serve in the role of lefty out of the pen, particularly with the ineffectiveness of Alan Embree, but I felt he should have been pulled after the second walk. Instead, he was kept in to give up two more hits and two runs, and make a 7-1 game a 7-3 game. Tanyon Sturtze was brought in and looked pretty good aside from a groundout and a Javy Lopez double that plated two more runs.

With Mariano Rivera unavailable, the closer's job was Tom Gordon's. I felt that Sturtze looked good enough to start the ninth, but Gordon did his job, with Melvin Mora's short porch HR the lone exception, and the Yankees had another win over Baltimore, completing the four game sweep.

The Yankees have now opened up a full game lead on Boston, which gives them a little cushion. I still think it is imperative that the Yankees go to Boston up by at least one game, because it is a tough place to go and try to win 2 out of 3. It's too far ahead to worry about that yet, they just have to keep on doing what they're doing, and win, whether it's pretty or ugly.

It sure would be nice for the Yankees' mopup relievers to do their jobs at least once in a while and rest Gordon and Rivera though.

September 21, 2005

At last, the mountain top
by SG

Since their 11-19 start, the Yankees have played at a 63.6% winning percentage, which would equate to a 103 win season if spread over 162 games. It hasn't seemed like it, due to the hole they dug themselves. However, with tonight's 2-1 win over Baltimore and Boston's 7-4 loss to Tampa, the Yankees find themselves in sole possession of first place, 1/2 game in front of Boston.

Getting there is nice, but staying there won't be easy. The Yankees have 4 games left at home, then hit the road for 7 games. I'm a little concerned about Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield's injury situations, but at this stage they've got to fight through it.

Randy Johnson has saved his best for last this season, and is pitching his best baseball of the season at the time when his team needs him most. There's been a lot of criticism about Johnson's pinstriped tenure, but that can all be erased if he keeps on doing what he's done over the last month (excluding the game where he got ejected, of course.) He was strong today, helped by some stellar defense by the man who should be the MVP in Alex Rodriguez. Today's game was a perfect example of why just looking at hitting when voting for the MVP is foolish and short-sighted. Rodriguez made some very good plays that could very well have been the difference in a 2-1 game. He won't get credit for it in the box score, but anyone who watched the game knows that he made a tangible difference in the outcome, despite not getting a hit and striking out all 3 times.

When a team is going well, people like Bubba Crosby and Matt Lawton contribute when their big players are not. Derek Jeter has been the antithesis of clutch lately, on offense and defense. His bad throws at first are directly responsible for Giambi's back injuries, which is not a good situation. Hopefully he can get that under control, and soon.

The Yankees can't afford to let up now. The wild card looks like it's not going to be a fallback for the AL East runner-up, and Boston will be heading to Baltimore for 3 games before finishing up at home against Toronto and then the Yankees. The next 2 weeks are going to feel like the playoffs.

And down the stretch they come...
by Sean McNally

Tom Durkin would be having a field day with this race ladies and gentlemen.

The Yanks, down a half game in the division and the wild card races needed to win. The Indians were battling their division foes the White Sox. The Red Sox were in Tampa, facing a dangerous Devil Rays team.

The Bronx Bombers scored all the runs they'd need in the second when the much-maligned Matt Lawton strode to the plate with Hideki Matsui on first.

Lawton had been sat down in favor of Bubba Crosby, Ruben Sierra and Hensley Muelens I think since coming over to the Yankees. He got a spot start tonight in right as Sheffield continued to need to DH due a gimpy groin and Joe Torre gave Bernie Williams a well-deserved day off.

Mired in an 0-19 slump, Lawton had yet to have his "Pinstripe" moment.

The first pitch Lawton saw, he reached up and grabbed his stripes, launching a Rodrigo Lopez pitch deep in the Bronx air.

Those two runs would be the only ones the Yankees would score, but they'd be the only ones Randy Johnson would need.

Eight innings. Three hits. Six strikeouts. One walk. One run. One hundred and twenty pitches. It was vintage, overpowering Randy Johnson, and it was a sight to see.

Rivera came in, hit the first batter he saw, then settled down to slam the door on Baltimore.

At the same time, Boston's bullpen, more accurately Mike Timlin, was imploding as Tampa hung five runs on the board in the eighth inning on their way to a 7-4 win.

In June, some folks said Boston would end up looking Secretariat in the Belmont. Clearly it is too early to hand out any white carnations, but the Red Sox are stumbling as they make the final turn, and Joe Torre seems to be going to the whip at just the right time.

September 19, 2005

Unlikely Heroics
by Larry Mahnken

If the Yankees are going to make the playoffs, they're going to have to win their way in. Boston's not going to help them, Cleveland's not going to help them. They can't coast into October. They need to win.

Pat Kelly was one of the things that seperated the late-90s Yankees from the early 90s Yankees -- a middle infielder who hit like a middle infielder and wasn't very good on defense. He came into the ninth inning on September 29th, 1995 with a career OPS of .675, and .622 for the season. The Yankees came into the ninth inning that night trailing 3-0, leading the California Angels of California by only 1 game in the Wild Card race, having not made the postseason in 14 years...

Pat Kelly came to the plate with the Yankees down 3-2. Pat Kelly came back to the plate with the Yankees leading 4-3.

It was the only real highlight of Pat Kelly's career, his moment of Pinstriped Immortality. It was his Aaron Boone moment, a big hit from a bad player in a moment that didn't just mean a lot -- it meant everything.

Bubba Crosby didn't have one of those moments last night, but he had a big one, ending a crucial September game with a homer to right-center in the bottom of the ninth. And the Yankees are in a tighter spot now than they were in 1995 -- they led the race at the time, and would have, in fact, won the Wild Card had they lost that night anyway, thanks to MLB's stupid tiebreaker rules at the time. Last night, they trailed both the Wild Card and AL East race by 1½ games, and losing a game in the standings could have made their task all but impossible.

But while more crucial than Kelly's homer, Crosby's wasn't as big. Kelly essentially clinched a playoff spot for the Yanks, Crosby just kept them close. They're still not in the playoffs, but they're still alive.

With Boston's loss, their task is now simple: hold serve, win when Boston wins. Do that, then win 2 of 3 in Fenway, the AL East is all theirs, no playoff game. If they can take the division lead before then, then all they need to do is avoid a sweep in Boston, and they get at least the playoff game -- or the division title outright if they pass the Indians.

Step one: win tonight.

A Lost Opportunity
by Larry Mahnken

Would the Yankees have won yesterday if they'd played Matt Lawton instead of Ruben Sierra? Would they have won if they hadn't used Alan Embree? I don't know.

The loss was frustrating because the Red Sox lost to the A's so quickly yesterday, and while the Yankees were playing you knew they had a chance to get within half a game. Had Boston not given up 12 runs so quickly, then it would have been more a relief, because the Yankees actually did what they needed to this weekend. They kept pace.

If the Yankees had won yesterday, they'd have been tied in the loss column. If they kept pace with the Red Sox for the rest of the way, and won the extra game, they'd need to win two of three games to win the division. Now, they'll need to keep pace, win the extra game, and win two of three to force a playoff game. Except for the playoff game, losing yesterday doesn't change their task much.

Anyway, I'm impressed with what the Yankees did last week. They should have, of course, won 2 of 3 from Tampa Bay, they swept them. They should have, of course, beaten the Blue Jays, and they did. Now they need to keep meeting and exceeding expectations, because Boston probably will, too. And with Cleveland winning like they have, and now tied with Boston in the standings, the division is probably the only way into the postseason, unless Chicago collapses completely.

September 17, 2005

The Problem with Win Expectancy
by Larry Mahnken

I've been sent a couple of Win Expectancy charts purporting to indicate that Ortiz is more valuable than A-Rod because of his clutch performance. There' s a couple of problems with this:

A) It doesn't account for defense. If a pitcher gives up a line drive into the right-centerfield gap, what would normally be an easy double or possible triple, and the centerfielder makes a fantastic running catch for the out, the pitcher is credited with an out, and all the Win Expectancy points. That overrates the pitcher, underrates the fielder, and gives an unfair advantage to players on the left side of the defensive spectrum. Some systems take points from a fielder for errors, which only increases the disadvantage some good defenders have.

Of course, more complicated systems account for the likely outcome of a ball in play by where it's hit, and credit the pitcher for that, and the difference between that and the actual outcome to the fielder who played it. None of the numbers I've been sent do that, but some teams, like the A's, have those numbers available in-house.

B) It doesn't account for replacement level. What would have been the Win Expectancy of the Red Sox if they had a replacement-level DH instead of Ortiz, or for the Yankees instead of A-Rod? Again, this is vital, because real value is not the change you make in the game, but rather the difference between the change you make and what the worst possible option would have made.

This also causes relief pitchers to be vastly overrated, because Win Expectancy changes much more rapidly in the later innings. This is because they are higher-leverage, and thus have a greater direct impact on the outcome of a game, but any pitcher would end up with a higher Win Expectancy in these innings. That they count more towards the game doesn't mean the player is better, or necessarily more valuable -- what would a replacement-level reliever do in that situation? The difference between that and what the reliever did is the reliever's actual value.

There are other problems, I'm sure, but these two in particular are a large part of the reason why WE rates Ortiz over A-Rod, when it shouldn't. Purely as a hitter, Ortiz appears more valuable than A-Rod, but they aren't purely hitters.

Someone emailed me to say that the voters never cared about defense, so it doesn't matter. Well, it does matter, because the rules of the MVP vote themselves define value, in part, as defense. We can now measure defense reasonably well, so we can determine the impact A-Rod's defense has on his value.

And just because voters ignored the rules in the past doesn't mean that they should. If A-Rod is the most valuable player in the league, then that's all there is to it. If the voters vote for Ortiz based on their past voting tendencies, ignoring defense and position, they still chose the wrong man. Making the same mistake many times does not make it no longer a mistake.

September 16, 2005

Hope Lives
by Larry Mahnken

The season was over. Down 5-1 in the sixth inning, the Yankees were once again about to suffer an inexplicable, unacceptable and unforgivable loss to the Devil Rays, one of the worst teams in baseball. Regardless of what Boston did, this was death for the Yankees. At least 2½ games out of first, 1½ games out of the playoffs, with just 17 games left. To make it to October, the Yankees would have to play incredible baseball, or hope one of their competitors slipped up big-time, something that there was, and is, little reason to expect.

With the loss the Yankees would have lost 12 games to the Devil Rays, the first time they'd done so to any team in the regular season since the A's went 12-0 against them in 1990. But those A's won 103 games and the AL Pennant, and those Yankees won 67 games and Brien Taylor. Going 7-12 against the Devil Rays in '05 would be just as bad as going 0-12 against the A's in '90.

The comeback that saved hope for the Yankees was sudden and complete. A double by Matsui down the leftfield line, a walk to Bernie, a single to left by Posada, and the bases were loaded with nobody out.

And Robby Cano unloaded them, launching a monster grand slam home run to right field on the second pitch, tying the game at 5. 3 batters later, A-Rod untied it with a two-run homer to left.

And the Yankees held on. Tampa Bay loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but Mariano Rivera got out of it, and with two extra runs tacked on in the ninth, sent them down 1-2-3 in to end the game.

With the A's winning in Fenway, the Yankees moved to only 1½ games out in the East, ½ game out in the Wild Card, and their task became clear: match the pace of the Indians the rest of the season, and win the one extra game, and they get at least a playoff game for the Wild Card. Match the pace of the Red Sox, win their extra game, and win 2 of 3 in the final series of the year, and they get at least a playoff game for the AL East -- and if they pass the Indians along the way, they'd be the AL East winners if they tie the Sox without getting swept in Fenway (thus winning the season series).

Nobody has to slip up for the Yankees to make the playoff now. They're in complete control of their own destiny, and they don't need to sweep anyone to make it happen. That doesn't mean their task will be easy -- the Red Sox play the Devil Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays the rest of the way, and while they've struggled against Toronto, they haven't struggled like the Yankees have against the D-Rays. There's no reason to expect Boston to lose any of their remaining series, which means the Yankees are probably going to need to win 8 of 11 to keep pace. Doable, but not to be expected.

That was a bigger win than it should have been last night, but it was a big win nonetheless. The Yanks are still very much alive, after looking like they were very much dead a week ago, after losing 2 of 3 to these same Devil Rays. But they're not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot.

by SG

When luck appeared to finally catch up to Aaron Small, courtesy of a two-out three run homerun off the bat of Johnny Gomes in the bottom of the fifth inning, it looked like the Yankees were on their way to a loss they could not afford.

Seth McClung had stifled the Yankee offense through five innings, allowing just one run. However, the Mega Super Optimal Lineup had other ideas in the sixth. Hideki Matsui singled and Bernie Williams walked. Jorge Posada hit another single that loaded the bases for Robinson Cano, who's been spectacular and awful at times.

Cano hit the first grand slam of his career, to continue what's been a torrid September.

In May, Cano hit .253/.273.398 for an OPS of .670.
In June, he hit .310/.343/.520 for an OPS of .863.
In July, he hit .319/.331/.466 for an OPS of .796.

Then came an August that was awful, .207/.252/.261 for an OPS of .513.

In September, Cano is now hitting .455/.478/.659 1.137.

His hitting in the 8th or 9th spot has helped strengthen the weakest part of a potent Yankee lineup. One of the posters had asked that we discuss the Yankee lineup, and I personally love the one that Torre has been running out there right now.

Jeter, SS
Rodriguez, 3B
Giambi, 1B
Sheffield, DH
Matsui, LF
Bernie, CF
Posada, C
Cano, 2B
Crosby, RF

The one issue is Bernie in CF, but with Sheffield hurt it's defensible. With Sierra not doing much since his return from the DL, Crosby's defense makes up for his bat, 3 hits yesterday notwithstanding. He'd be better in center, but Bernie can't play RF I guess. The main thing is putting your five best hitters up as often as possible, alternating lefties and righties, and getting baserunners on for Sheffield and Matsui, who seem to be great at driving them home.

And for those who want to talk about Alex Rodriguez as unclutch, that tie-breaking two run homerun in the sixth seemed to be pretty clutch.

So despite losing 11 of their first 16 games with Tampa, the Yankees salvaged some dignity by sweeping them when they needed it badly. With Boston falling to Oakland last night, the Yankees are just 1 game out in the loss column for the AL East lead.

Next up are three games at Toronto, fronted tonight by the rejuvenated Randy Johnson. I've certainly bashed Johnson a fair amount here, but since he started throwing a bullpen session between starts he is now 3-1 with a 1.27 ERA, and has looked absolutely dominant for the most part. With Boston playing Oakland, this could end up being a good chance to pick up more ground against them.

September 14, 2005

by Larry Mahnken

Alex Rodriguez should win the American League MVP. Barring a total collapse in the next 19 games, it would be a crime if he didn't win it. But he might not -- he's been robbed of the MVP before, and writers are already touting wholly undeserving candidates like Jason Varitek, not that Varitek wouldn't be deserving in an ordinary season, but not this season.

In 2003, I half-seriously advocated Jorge Posada for MVP in a generally weak year for MVP candidates. He finished third, which was more than fair. Last season, I advocated Gary Sheffield, who would have won it and deserved it if his shoulder injury hadn't caught up to him late and ruined his September. He finished second, again, deservedly so.

This season, I advocate another MVP candidate who won't win, and probably doesn't deserve to. I know he won't win, and he might not even finish in the top 5. His counting stats aren't up to snuff, particularly his RBI totals, but his rate stats are right there, particularly in the last two months. If it wasn't for Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees would have been eliminated in May. If it wasn't for this guy, they never would have gotten back into the race.

I'm talking of course of Juicy McRoids: Jason Giambi. Last night he hit his 30th home run, which is 8th in the American League. But since June 15th he's led the AL in homers, and since July 4th he's led all of baseball. Since July 4th, his batting line has been .322/.483/.770 -- a 1.254 OPS, over 242 PAs. If Giambi had hit as well during the other 80 games as he had over those last 63, he'd have 57 homers and 129 RBI right now, and be within 8 batting average points of the Triple Crown.

But he didn't hit that well over those 80 games, and the Yankees went only 41-39. Since Giambi's Independence Day explosion, they've gone 40-23, 39-21 in games Giambi's played in. Certainly you can't attribute all that success to Giambi, but a great deal of it is him.

When Giambi homers, the Yankees usually win. That's because he hasn't hit many meaningless homers this season, he's hit homers that keep the Yankees close, tie the game or give them the lead. It's not a skill, but it increases the value of his numbers even more.

But this MVP argument is not about that. Giambi's numbers, on their own, are MVP-worthy. The fact that he won't reach 100 RBI kills any chance he would have, though the steroids scandal gave him little chance in the first place. But his OPS is second in the American League to A-Rod, and his GPA is first. A-Rod gets the advantage of the position adjustment, but Giambi's numbers since waking up this summer somewhat balance that out, I'd say.

Anyway, that's my vote for MVP. They won't count it, I know, but if the press insists on putting forth candidates other than A-Rod, Giambi's the best of them.

Last night he helped save the Yankees' season with a great game, though pretty much everyone else on the team had a great game (except Mr. Vento). The Yanks came out of last night's game 1 game out of the Wild Card (tied in the loss column) and 2½ out of first place in the division, both of which are erasable deficits, but a two-game Wild Card deficit would have been hard to make up, considering Cleveland schedule, and had the Sox won, a 4½ game division deficit would have put the AL East out of reach, if Saturday's loss hadn't done that already.

The Yankees probably need to sweep this series to make the playoffs, though sweeping hardly guarantees that. They do need to win every series left, most likely.

It's easy to make too much of the Baseball Prospectus Postseason, which has the Yankees finishing a game out of the Wild Card and 3 out of the division, with a 39% chance of making the playoffs. Even a straight log5 projection has the Yankees finishing 3 out of the division and 4 out of the Wild Card with BPro's adjusted standings and 2 out of the Wild Card with the regular standings.

But those projections are just a percentage of the games each team should win. If you round up the Yankees' projected wins in every series (2.1 wins becomes 3 wins, etc.), they'll win 95 games, which would win the division, and that's assuming Cleveland and Boston match their projection -- if either slip up, the Yankees don't need to exceed their projection as much.

But the Yankees do need to exceed the projection in any case. Winning against Tampa Bay doesn't do that, sweeping does, losing kills them. If they win these next two games, all they need to do to exceed their projection is win series. They play Toronto twice, who they're 5-2 against in the second half, Baltimore twice, who were in free-fall until the last few games, and Boston in Fenway, where they're 4-3, and won 3 of 4 in July. They can win these games. This is possible.

But they need to take care of Tampa Bay. Last night was awesome, but if the Yankees lose either of these next two, last night will increase the frustration of that loss. Winning big is nice, but only the first half of that means anything.

by SG

When Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez led off last night's game with singles, and Jason Giambi ripped a line drive homerun to make the score 3-0 before an out had been recorded, we got a glimpse of just how good this team can be at times.

Lineup order has typically been debunked in analysis as having any significant impact over the course of a season. There is just something about sending up the top two players in the league in OPS up in the first inning that seems right. No easy inning in the first, and the first is often an inning that pitchers struggle in.

What looked like a sample size blip in July is now 4 months of good performance by Giambi. If you pro-rate Giambi's numbers from May 15 to last night over 155 games, you get the following batting line:

AB: 480
R: 89
H: 150
2B: 20
3B: 0
HR: 45
RBI: 123
BB: 120
HBP: 19
K: 110
GDP: 12
AVG: .312
OBP: .465
SLG: .639
OPS: 1.103

That's not just good, that's MVP good.

Gary Sheffield came back yesterday. He doesn't look like he can run much, but the bat looks good.

Happy birthday to Bernie Williams, who may have had his best overall game of the season offensively and defensively. He still probably doesn't belong out there on a regular basis, but with Sheffield restricted to DH and Matt Lawton hitting like Tony Woemack, the defensive hit is probably worth the offensive upgrade. If this is indeed Bernie's last season in pinstripes, I'd like to see him go out strong.

Lost in the offensive explosion was another decent start by Jaret Wright. After a shaky first inning in which he allowed two runs and looked like he was ready to give back the lead that the Yankees fought for in the first, He settled down to allow just an unearned run over his last six innings.

In 6 starts since his return from the DL, Wright is 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA. The BB rate is a high, the K rate is low, but the results have been good so far. He has done an excellent job of keeping the ball down, which has resulted in a very low HR rate of .24 per nine.

A laugher like this was great for a team that needs to win a ton of their remaining games. With Boston losing in Toronto, it keeps the division in fighting distance(2 games in the loss column). It also allows the regulars to get some rest and the bullpen to use some back-end people. Let's just hope the Yankees don't do what they've done the last two times they've scored 17 or more runs against Tampa and lose the next day by scoring 3 runs or fewer. I'm a little concerned about Chien-Ming Wang facing Tampa again today. They've hit him pretty well this season.

Against Tampa, Wang is 0-3 with a 6.88 ERA. Against the rest of baseball he is 6-1 with a 3.28 ERA. Hopefully he can pitch well today, and the Yankees can remember the 7th inning they had against Mark Hendrickson in his last game against them, and forget about the prior six.

September 12, 2005

by Larry Mahnken

I'm inclined to believe at this point that the Yankees are better than the Red Sox, although just a little better. As flawed as the Yankees are, I think the Red Sox are just a little more flawed. Boston's rotation has been more stable and is more balanced, but none of their pitchers is as dominant as Randy Johnson has finally become. The Yankees have nobody in their bullpen other than Rivera and Gordon, but the Red Sox, at this point, don't have much other than Timlin, either. Both lineups are fantastic, but I'll take the Yankees' over Boston, assuming Sheffield comes back.

Still, all that's irrelevant, because the Red Sox have a three game lead with only 20 games left in the season, and that's a fair margin this late. Of course it can go away very quickly, and hopefully the A's can help the Yankees out there. But let's not get our hopes up.

The reason the Yankees are in second is their failure against the weak teams. They're 3-0 against the Pirates, but 8-14 against the Royals and Devil Rays, a combined 11-14 against the three worst teams they've faced this season. Conversely Boston has gone 18-7 against those same three teams, a 7-game swing. Against teams over .500, the Yankees are better than the Sox are (39-30 to 38-33), but it's those 22 games against Tampa Bay and Kansas City that have killed them.

There's no good reason for it. The Yankees have made the Devil Rays look good. Eduardo Perez has nearly doubled his OPS against the Yankees -- he's batting .837 against the rest of baseball, 1.584 against the Yankees, with 4 HRs in 16 ABs. Jonny Gomes has a .888 OPS against everyone else, 1.274 against the Yanks. Carl Crawford's OPS goes up from .750 to .968, Nick Green from .660 to .826, Alex Gonzalez from .703 to .817. The whole team's OPS jumps from .749 to .818 against the Yankees.

Overall, Tampa Bay's pitching is worse against the Yankees, but take away two 13-run innings, and the Devil Rays have a 4.60 ERA against the Yankees, compared to a 5.30 ERA against everyone else. Casey Fossum drops his ERA from 5.06 to 2.66, Doug Waechter from 5.34 to 3.38, and Mark Hendrickson from 6.38 to 4.61. This is pathetic.

Predictably, there have been people applauding Joe Torre for the "great job" he's done this year, some have said that it's been his best managerial job. Um, why? What exactly has he done to give anyone the impression he's done a great job this year? Sure, there have been injuries, but the guys who've stayed healthy haven't been doing that good a job, and the Yankees still have a very talented roster. There have been some games this year that have been lost due to a bad decision by Torre, and none that I can think of that have been won because of a great decision. Is he responsible for this? Not necessarily, but when this roster is playing like this, and especially this badly against teams this bad, it's stupid to say that the manager is doing a great job.

Tomorrow, the Yankees face the Devil Rays for the last time. They haven't won a single series against the last-place team in the division, and just winning isn't going to do it this week, they really need to sweep. They need to win every game they're supposed to the rest of the way, they have to win games they're not supposed to. They have to hope Boston and Cleveland slip up a little bit. If Joe Torre's doing such a great job, he's going to have to do a little better, or this team won't make the playoffs. Time is running out.

3 back, with 20 to go
by SG

After splitting the first two games of a three game set with the Red Sox behind a decent outing by Aaron Small and a lousy outing by Shawn Chacon, the Yankees faced their most important game of the season.

Trailing by four games in the division, and 1.5 games in the wild card, a loss to Boston today would have been crippling. Instead, the Yankees and Red Sox played what may have been the best game of the season. Randy Johnson, who has been inconsistent for the Yankees, vs. Tim Wakefield, who has often given the Yankees fits.

Johnson began the game in fine form, striking out Johnny Damon on his way to a scoreless first inning.

In the bottom of the first, Jason Giambi lifted a short fly ball that likely would have been an out in any other stadium over the 314 ft sign in the RF corner, and the Yankees took a 1-0 lead.

Johnson's fastball was thrown consistently from 94-97 mph and hitting 99 a few times, with a snapping slider in the 86-88 mph range. This was his best stuff of the season. He looked like a man posessed, snarling at the Boston hitters and the home plate umpire, as he basically played catch with John Flaherty for 7 innings, allowing just a soft single by Kevin Youkilis in the fourth, walking 2, and fanning 8. In Johnson's last four starts, he's pitched 28.1 innings, fanned 26, walked 6, given up just 4 runs, and 0 HRs, for a 1.27 ERA.

On the other side, Tim Wakefield was almost as good, despite throwing about 30 mph slower than Johnson. Wakefield pitched 8 dominating innings, allowing only 3 hits, walking just 1, and striking out 12.

A 1 run lead against a team as potent as Boston is hardly comfortable, which helped make this game dramatic and tense for eight great innings. When the Yankees failed to bring in Bubba Crosby from third with one out in the third, it looked like it would come back to bite them in the ass.

After 100 pitches, Joe Torre decided to pull Johnson for Tom Gordon. I personally would have stayed with Johnson, but it's possible that he was spent and without knowing how he was feeling physically it's tough to criticize this move(It turned out that Johnson had a cramp in his calf during the seventh inning, which means pulling him made sense). With Tony Graffanino, Doug Mirabelli, Bill Mueller, and potentially Gabe Kapler (3 righties, 1 switch-hitter) due up, it may have made sense to bring in a righty on the surface, but Boston had a stocked bench, with David Ortiz, Trot Nixon, and Jason Varitek all lurking.

Gordon gave up a leadoff single to Graffanino to start the 8th on a ball that just eluded a diving Alex Rodriguez. Surprisingly, Terry Francona stuck with Doug Mirabelli instead of going to one of his bigger bats. Mirabelli popped up on the infield, but no one caught it. The Yankee broadcasters speculated that it may have been intentional, as it allowed a forceout of the faster runner at second, but it just looked like no one took charge of the play to me and the Yankees were fortunate that they got a true hop that allowed them to make the play.

Bill Mueller then flew out for out number two, and the stage was set for one of those matchups that makes baseball my favorite sport. David Ortiz pinch-hit for Gabe Kapler. Ortiz has killed the Yankees in the past. This season he has hit 5 HRs against them in 63 AB, and over the last 4 years he's hitting .321/.380/.609 against them, with 14 HR and 43 RBI.

I'm never afraid to criticize Joe Torre when he makes the wrong move, so when he makes the right move, he deserves all the credit for it. Rather than take the chance of his second-best reliever making a bad pitch to Ortiz, and ignoring the inning, Torre went to his best reliever with the game on the line. Mariano Rivera came out to face Ortiz in what looked like the key point in the game. Rivera toed the mound against a man who may weigh twice as much as he does.

The first pitch was a cutter up and just in off the plate for ball 1. The second pitch was a 93 mph 4-seam fastball a bit higher and over the plate, called for ball 2. Pitch three was a 94 mph cutter down and in that Ortiz swung over for strike 1. Pitch four was another 94 mph fastball in the same spot as pitch two, for ball 3. Pitch five was a 94 mph cutter aroung mid-thigh that was fouled off. Pitch six was an up and in cutter that broke Ortiz's bat in half as he fouled it off, and pitch seven was a neck-high 96mph fastball that Ortiz laid off for a walk.

That brought up Johnny Damon, with the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on first. Rivera got ahead with a called strike, then missed with two balls, one away, one inside(Damon checked his swing on both). Damon fouled off two pitches before taking ball three. Damon fouled the next pitch straight back, then blooped a foul ball down the RF line that almost dunked in for a hit that would have at least tied the game, then pulled another foul down the line before finally grounding out to Jason Giambi on a broken bat to end the inning.

Rivera got the first two outs in the top of the ninth, before walking Manny Ramirez and allowing a single to Kevin Millar. That brought up former Yankee John Olerud with runners on the corners and two outs. Rivera got Olerud swinging to end it.

It was a great game. Unfortunately for the Yankees, due to their inconsistent play all year, particularly against inferior teams, it may not end up being as meaningful as it could have been. The Yankees' elimination number is now 18, which means any combination of Red Sox wins and Yankee losses totalling 18 will eliminate them from the division title. Cleveland is on fire, although hopefully some combination of Oakland and the White Sox will cool them off. The Yankees are basically at a point where they can't afford to lose. Winning 2 out of 3 against Boston was nice, but it would have been nicer if it followed the same feat against Tampa Bay.

At this stage of the season, worrying about what got the Yankees to this situation is pointless. With 3 more games against Boston remaining, if they can keep it within 3, they can still control their destiny. It would be nice to get Gary Sheffield and Mike Mussina back soon. The Yankees head to Tampa next, which shouldn't be a problem, but you just know it will be.

September 9, 2005

by SG

When the Yankees fail to make the playoffs remember this fact. Against the worst team in their division, who despite a good second half are 59-82 on the year, the Yankees are 5-11.

The Yankees have played 42 series against Tampa in their history. Entering this season, they were 34-4 and those series. This year? 0-4.

Chien-ming Wang started, and was shaky in the first inning, allowing 4 hits and two runs. He settled down and got through five innings, allowing only three runs, but left trailing 3-0. Joe Torre, with a wealth of options in his bullpen, decided that Wayne Franklin was his best choice.

Three batters later, and there were runners on second and third and one out.

Scott Proctor relieved Franklin and got a big strikeout, then gave up a double that plated the two runners.

I want to know where Felix Rodriguez was in that inning? I know he gave up a run in the ninth, but he has been criminally underused by Torre. I guess that his 3.38 ERA in 17 games since July 1 means he hasn't earned Torre's trust.

The Yankees showed a little life when they got 4 runs off Mark Hendrickson in the bottom of the seventh, but the previous six inning were one of the worst displays of offensive ineptitude that I've ever seen. Opposing hitters this year are hitting .316/.355/.522 against Hendrickson. Picture an entire lineup of Gary Sheffields, with a few more singles and a few less walks. The Yankees instead got one freaking hit, and saw a pathetic 67 pitches over the first six innings.

They then went out meekly in innings 8 and 9.

I did not see what I needed to see from this team in this series. Good teams going for the playoffs sweep teams like Tampa at home.

I will say that if the Yankee do not sweep Boston this weekend, they will not make the playoffs. And if they don't, they don't deserve to go anyway.

September 8, 2005

Fading Hope
by Larry Mahnken

I don't know why the Devil Rays have the Yankees' number this season. The Yankees are superior to Tampa Bay in pretty much every facet of the game, and while the D-Rays should be able to put up a good fight every now and then, it shouldn't be a constant battle for the Yankees like it has been.

The Yanks won the first game they played against the Devil Rays this year, scoring 13 runs in the second inning and winning 19-8. They lost the next day.

Heading into St. Pete for a four-game series in early May, the Yankees were looking forward to rebounding from their 10-15 start against a team that had lost 7 straight. They had to score 3 runs in the eighth to break open a 6-2 win, and the next day they lost 11-4, then 11-8 and finally 6-2. The Yankees would have to salvage their season against Oakland and Seattle.

They next faced the Devil Rays at home, coming off of a 6-0 run, and were promptly shut down by Casey Fossum, losing 5-4. They had to come back from 10-2 down in the fourth and score 13 runs in the 8th to win 20-11, but it had no carryover -- they lost the next two games 5-3 and 9-4.

It looked like they were finally going to get it done in St. Petersburg when they won behind Jaret Wright on August 15th and took a lead into the bottom of the ninth with Rivera on the mound on the 16th. But a guy in Yankees gear pulled a double over the wall for a home run, and the Yanks went on to lose in extra innings 4-3, and fell 7-6 the next day as a burnt-out bullpen was unable to hold onto the lead.

Tuesday the Yankees again blew it, losing a game they should have walked away with 4-3, and last night it appeared that once again, they were going to lose to a team they had no business losing to. Jason Giambi pulled their asses out of the fire, and they won 5-4 after trailing 4-0 two outs into the game.

5-10, that's what the Yankees have done against the second-worst team in the American League, a team that would be the second-worst in all of baseball if not for the Yankees. If you want to point to a single reason why the Yankees won't win the AL East, that's it. It's not their failure to hit in clutch situations, though they have failed to do that, it's their failure to beat the teams they should beat. Against the best teams in baseball, they've played like an elite squad, against the worst teams they've played like an average squad. It's wholly unacceptable.

And the Yankees won't win the AL East, not that it matters much. Their battle is to get into the playoffs -- simply to hold their ground. Catching the Red Sox requires the Yankees to play spectacular baseball down the stretch. If they go 14-10, then Boston has to go 10-14, which isn't likely considering Boston's schedule, or the fact that the Yanks have 4 left against the Devil Rays. It could happen, but don't count on it.

It'll be hard enough holding off the Indians, who play the Royals 7 times down the stretch, as well as 3 games against the Devil Rays. Oakland and Anaheim could also threaten the Yankees' playoff chances, but Cleveland is the biggest threat. And making the playoffs is all that matters. Division titles are nice, but all it wins you is home field advantage for no more than two games that you may never need to play. As the Wild Card, the Yankees would face the White Sox rather than A's or Angels, and match up much better against the White Sox than they do against the two West Coast teams, particularly the Angels. What does winning the East garner the Yankees? Bragging rights? You really think Red Sox fans care that they didn't win the division last season? Or would have cared had they won the division in 2003? That's not what they're playing for.

It'd be nice to win the division. It's nice enough to know that Dan Shaughnessy was wrong, that this race is not a runaway, but then Dan Shaughnessy is always wrong. It's important to make the playoffs. In fact, that's the only thing that matters.

by SG

After dropping their 10th of 14 games to Tampa Bay on Tuesday night, I was about ready to write off the Yankees this season. The division title is starting to look a bit out of reach, and the difference has been Boston and New York's respective records vs. the Devil Rays. Boston is 12-4 against Tampa, the Yankees are 5-10. That's 6.5 games in the standings, and to me it's unacceptable.

Then came a disastrous first inning yesterday, where Jaret Wright got banged around and gave up 4 runs, and even contributed to Gary Sheffield getting injured chasing down a first inning fly ball. Sheffield is listed as day to day with a tight hamstring, but the Yankees can ill afford him to miss even a single AB, so hopefully he'll be back soon.

Wright finally settled down, and pitched well over his remaining 5.2 innings.

Hideki Matsui hit his 400th professional HR with one out in the fourth to finally get an inept Yankee offense on the board. Bernie Williams, who was subbed into the game for Sheffield doubled, but Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi both failed to bring him in.

In the sixth, Robinson Cano led off with a single and Derek Jeter followed with a double. Hideki Matsui then doubled to left and the Yankees had the tying run in scoring position with no outs. After a Bernie Williams groundout, the Rays walked Rodriguez to face Giambi, who hit the ball hard but right at Travis Lee for an unassisted double play.

In the seventh, after Ruben Sierra fouled out (should Sierra really be playing every day?), Matt Lawton was hit by a pitch and Jorge Posada singled. Robinson Cano WALKED, and that brought up Captain Clutch, Derek Jeter. Jeter had grounded into a game ending double play on Tuesday night, and has generally been pretty poor in these spots all year.

This season:
with runners in scoring position, Jeter is hitting .254/.379/.369
With a runner on second, Jeter is hitting .200/.304/.250
With runners on first and third, he's hitting .211/.273/.368
In innings 7+, he's hitting .234/.333/338

Jeter hit into another double play, and this one looked like a killer.

In the eighth, Matsui and Bernie went down meekly. Alex Rodriguez fell behind 1-2 before singling sharply up the middle. That brought up Jason Giambi, who'd had a miserable game to this point, 0 for 3 with 3 runners left on base. Giambi took a strike, then ripped a low line drive down the right field line that just stayed inside the foul pole, to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead.

Mariano Rivera closed it out, and the Yankees finally got off the snide.

It was a nice comeback win, but given the Yankees' horrendous performance against Tampa this year I didn't get much joy from it. The fact that it took a comeback like that to beat Tampa is very frustrating.

Chien-Ming Wang makes his return today. I'm cautiously optimistic, but I hope the Yankees are not rushing him back. It's looking like Mike Mussina could very well miss the rest of the season, so Wang's return could be huge.

September 3, 2005

by SG

It's been a long hard road for Aaron Small. It began as a 22nd round draft pick out of high school by the Blue Jays in 1989.

After 7 years, he was called up to Toronto, where he pitched once. He was then traded to Florida, for PTBNL who never made the majors.

From there, he was released by Florida and signed by Seattle. Six days later, Seattle released him and Oakland picked him up off waivers. After 2.5 years in Oakland, primarily in relief, he was waived again. This time, Arizona picked him up. After 1/2 season they waived him. He signed with Milwaukee on April 12, 1999, and was released on May 23, 1999 having not pitched once for them.

As a free agent, he then signed with Tampa Bay. He was let go the following year, again without seeing any major league time.

The following offseason, he signed with Colorado.

The offseason after that, he signed with Anaheim. Anaheim released him in May, and Atlanta picked him up. He pitched once for Atlanta, then got cut again. This time he went to the Cubs. The Cubs released him next, and he went back to Florida. He left Florida in October 2004, and signed as a minor league free agent with the Yankees in January of this year.

Along the way, Small pitched for 22 different professional teams.

Atlanta Braves
Az Diamondbacks
Colorado Springs
Florida Marlins
GCL Braves
Medicine Hat
Myrtle Beach
New York Yankees
Oakland Athletics
Salt Lake
Toronto Blue Jays

Small's basically been an organizational filler. Never quite good enough to stick in the majors, and unimpressive in his time in Columbus this year. The Yankees, desperate for arms and running through 14 different starters, gave him a chance.

The transaction history tells you that he's not considered much of a talent. The minor league career ERA of 4.37 says the same. The career major league ERA of 5.52 also confirms this.

However, this season, he's been pitching brilliantly for the Yankees. With today's five hit complete game shutout, Small came up big for a Yankee team that had lost 3 of its previous 4 games and got embarrassed on Friday night by a team they are fighting with for the AL wild card.

It's not really likely that Small has discovered a new talent level at age 33. He's fanning 4.2 men per nine innings. He's walking 3 per nine. There's no questioning his determination though. Anyone who's hung around organized baseball for 16 years just trying to get back to the majors is definitely tough.

Regardless of his peripherals, he's now 6-0 with a 2.42 ERA. It's an open question how well he will pitch going forward, but right now there can't be any reason that he should not be one of the Yankees' five starters for the rest of the season, particularly with the news that Mike Mussina's return is an open question. Al Leiter got bombed on Friday, and it was not a surprise. With the expanded roster, there are enough arms in the pen now that losing Small from there shouldn't be a huge issue. I also think the risk that Leiter presents of burying his team early is not worth taking the chance. Unfortunately, with Chien-Ming Wang struggling in tonight's rehab start in Columbus, the Yankees may not have the luxury of moving Leiter out.

Tomorrow's game looms large, with Shawn Chacon trying to shake off his first bad outing as a Yankee against Oakland's Barry Zito, who is pitching extremely well after a rough start. A win tomorrow will make up for splitting with Seattle, and knock one more road game off the schedule.

September 2, 2005

Road "Warriors"
by SG

In what has been a frustratingly inconsistent season for the Yankees, one thing has been fairly consistent. The Yankees are one of the best teams in home.

The Yankees are 44-24 at home, for a .647 winning percentage, which is second in the league. At home, the Yankees are hitting .294/.374/.482 for an OPS of .856, which ranks second in the majors. They are scoring 6.1 runs per game at home, which also ranks second in the majors.

On the pitching side, they have a 4.26 ERA at home, and opponents are hitting for a .748 OPS.

The problem has been the road. With last night's loss to Seattle, the Yankees are now 31-34 on the road. Away from the Bronx, the Yankees are hitting just .253/.330/.412 for an OPS of .742, which ranks thirteenth in the majors. They score 4.7 runs a game on the road, which ranks ninth in the league. It's not always unusual for teams to hit better at home, but the Yankees' differential of 1.4 runs per game is the highest in the AL. Their OPS difference between home and road is .114, which is second highest in the AL.

Historically, Yankee Stadium has played as a pitcher's park. There's no logical explanation for this, but with the Yankees having 13 games left on the road this season, it's a big concern.

Last night's loss was a disappointment. In addition to falling to a bad Seattle team and only spliting a 4 game series, the loss dropped them 4 games behind Boston in the loss column with only 29 games remaining. Granted, they play Boston 6 times, but to expect anything more than 4 wins out of those six games would be unreasonable. If Boston goes 15-15 over their last 30 games, the Yankees will have to go 19 and 10 to beat them out. If Boston goes 17-13, the Yankees would have to go 21-8.

The Yankees can wipe out yesterday's loss by taking 2 of 3 against Oakland this weekend. Given their performance on the road this year, how likely is that?

September 1, 2005

As Advertised
by Larry Mahnken

I have seen the future, and it is Felix Hernandez.

The Mariners unleashed their 19 year old ace against the Yankees last night, and he was every bit as good as they said he was. Featuring an overpowering fastball and a devastating breaking ball, Hernandez got 22 of 24 outs via the groundball or strikeout. The Yankees generally went down quietly, and when they did start to put together a rally, it would be quickly snuffed out -- Hernandez induced three double plays.

But Randy Johnson was every bit as good as Hernandez, and a little better. He recorded 17 of 21 outs via strikeout or groundout, and didn't allow a single hit until the bottom of the sixth. The difference in the game? Johnson walked two fewer batters than Hernandez, who walked four, gave up one fewer hit, and two fewer home runs.

Indeed, the homers were the entirety of the difference between Johnson and Hernandez, as the AL leader in homers allowed gave up none, and the rookie gave up a shot to right by Robinson Cano and a bomb to left-center by Gary Sheffield. That was all the Yankees needed, with Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera finishing things off in the last two innings.

It's an encouraging sign to see Randy Johnson dominant again -- he did throw a couple of pitches at 97 mph, too -- but let's not get carried away. These last two starts, where Johnson has given up 7 hits, 1 ER, 13Ks, 2 walks and no homers in 15 innings were against the Royals and Mariners, the lowest scoring and third-lowest scoring teams in the league. He didn't blow away the Red Sox, or even the Rangers, these are the lesser offenses in the league he's shut down. His next start is against the Devil Rays, and then comes his real test: a Sunday afternoon start against Bronson Arroyo and the Red Sox.

It was a good month for the Yankees. Only the Red Sox and Indians had better winning percentages, nobody had more wins. Their pitching was good, only Leiter, Sturtze and Mussina posted an ERA over 4.00 for the month. The hitting wasn't so good: Matsui, Posada and Cano all struggled terribly, and nobody other than A-Rod and Giambi had a particularly excellent month -- and the value of Giambi's month was almost entirely in three games (he had a .580 OPS in the other 26 games). If the Yankees had hit just a little better, they would have won 5 more games, and be in the position Boston is now in.

But that's been the story all season. Get great hitting, get lousy pitching. Get good pitching, get lousy hitting. Unbeatable one week, unable to win against the Devil Rays the next. It seemed in April and May like it was just a phase, and the Yanks would start pounding on everyone, good or bad, before you knew it. But as soon as they started doing that, they'd get swept by the Royals, or lose 3 of 4 to the Devil Rays at home. And then they'd have to scramble to regain all they'd lost before they could get back to chasing the Orioles, and now the Red Sox.

It's amazing that the Yankees are still in the AL East race, and leading the Wild Card, and if they should make the playoffs, it's a team you can just as easily see sweeping their way through the playoffs as you can see them getting beaten badly in three straight in the first round. Neither outcome would surprise anyone.

It's probably too much to ask now for some consistent baseball, for the team to play up to its potential and start beating the crap out of everyone. It's now September, and if they haven't done that yet, they're probably not going to do it at all.

This last month will be exciting. The Yankees are in a pennant race that means something, they can't rely on the Wild Card if they can't catch Boston, they have to try for both to win either. The six games against the Red Sox are going to be as intense as the last two ALCS's were, and mean almost as much. It's going to go down to the wire.

Not yet Kid
by SG

Most of the time when a compelling pitching matchup is drawn up, it fails to deliver. Tonight, the Randy Johnson vs. Felix Hernandez matchup lived up to the hype.

Hernandez and Johnson matched high 90s fastballs and filthy breaking pitches for seven great innings. In the third, Robinson Cano pulled a breaking pitch over the wall in right CF for a quick 1-0 lead. In the fourth, Gary Sheffield hit a bomb off a 96 mph fastball to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. That was all the scoring they would do, but it was more than enough.

Featuring perhaps his best fastball of the season, Johnson worked from 93-96 for most of the game, getting as high as 97 a few times. He took a no-hitter into the sixth despite a high pitch count, helped by some tremendous defensive plays by Alex Rodriguez at third base, including a backhanded pick and jump throw on a ball hit down the line by Ichiro that was incredible.

Johnson's final line of 7 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks and 7 K was what this team needed, because his opponent tonight was nasty. Featuring a 96-98 mph fastball and one of the nastiest breaking pitches I've seen this year, Hernandez was very impressive. He seemed to struggle a bit with his command against the most disciplined team he's faced yet, but I was very impressed with his stuff and poise. He's only 19, and I would worry about his long term health as long as Mike Hargrove keeps making him throw 115 pitches a game, but he was fun to watch.

Flash Gordon has looked much better since his return from an E. Coli illness. The rest he got from that may be a huge factor in his performance down the stretch, but it's pretty clear that he suffers when used too frequently. Mo looks to be back to being Mo, and the Yankees will go for the series win tomorrow, with Jaret Wright facing Joel Piñeiro.

Today being September 1, the Yankees are about to get some reinforcements for the stretch drive. According to Joe Torre, the Yankees will call up RHP Ramiro Mendoza, LHP Wayne Franklin, C Wil Nieves and activate DH Ruben Sierra from the DL on Thursday. No Colter Bean or Andy Phillips yet, although they could come up when Columbus's season is over.