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May 11, 2006

More Moose Madness
by SG

The Yankees beat the Red Sox 7-3 last night behind another solid outing by Mike Mussina. I'll admit it. Despite his success this season, I'm constantly waiting for Bad Moose to show up. I feared that he did in the first inning last night. After falling behind David Ortiz 3-1, Moose got him to foul off four pitches. Unfortunately, the next pitch was an 89 mph fastball right in Ortiz's wheelhouse, and he hit a shot off the third deck to put the Red Sox in front 2-0. He recovered to get Manny Ramirez to strike out looking, and from there basically cruised, aside from a hanging curveball to Mike Lowell in the third. After pitching a quality start (6 IP or more, 3 R allowed or fewer) in just 53% of his starts last season, Moose has pitched a quality start in all eight of his starts this season.

In some respects, Mussina is pitching than he ever has. Here's a look at some of his career stats.

He's striking out batters at a better rate than he ever has. He's also held opposing hitters to a lower average, on base percentage, and slugging against, than he ever has over a full season, even with the two HRs he surrendered yesterday. I've heard some theorize that it's just a salary drive, but I think it's a borderline Hall of Famer who just happens to feel healthy for the first time in a few years and who has adjusted to some loss of velocity by refining his changeup and adding some other pitches.

Thankfully, unlike Gary Sheffield, Moose won't pout about his option being picked up, but if this continues the Yankees should definitely consider bringing him back, although they should try to renegotiate an extension at a lower cost. Not just for Moose's pitching, but for what I think can be a mentoring role for someone like Shawn Chacon, who pitches similarly to Moose in many respects.

Mussina was just one story out of several good ones last night. Jason Giambi hit another HR yesterday, in the third inning. While his defense leaves a lot to be desired, Giambi is having a monster season so far. He's now hitting .314/.531/.779. Here's a look at the most valuable players in the American League so far this season when compared to the average players at their position. RAA at Pos is the runs above average at their position compared to the league.

The much-maligned Alex Rodriguez finally delivered in a clutch situation against Boston, hitting a soaring tie-breaking HR off Curt Schilling in the fifth inning after Schilling had struck out Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi and appeared to be settling down. Hopefully the guy who's "tracking a-rod's stats!!111!" will be by with an update as well as a reminder of how much Rodriguez is earning.

Schilling unraveled at this point, walking Hideki Matsui and then allowing another HR, to Jorge Posada. Quietly, Posada's rebounded a bit from last year's disappointing .262/.352/.430, now hitting .284/.398/.453. Posada's K rate is way down this year. He's struck out in 11.5% of his plate appearances, compared to about 17% in 2004 and 2005. So far, he's been the second most valuable catcher in the AL. Posada's OPS+ in 2005 was 105, this season he's up to 124 which is right around his 2002 level.

Has anyone else noticed how well Robinson Cano hits against Boston? .421/.431/.579 over 58 plate appearances in his career.

Scott Proctor put a punctuation on his displacement of Tanyon Sturtze on Joe Torre's notorious trust list, fanning Manny Ramirez with 96 mph heat with two runners on, although he got away with a hanging breaking ball earlier in the count. He pitched a perfect eighth as well. While I still don't think he should be used in very high-leverage situations, I think he's going to be useful.

By the way, what's up with the shift the Yankees are playing on Ortiz? Shouldn't the fielders be close enough to first base to actually throw the guy out if he hits it to them?

Mo closed it out and looked a little better, although I'm still a little worried about his missing Ks. His location was better last night, and his velocity was also fine, so I think it's just a case of getting sharper.

Good game all around. The rubber game is tonight, with Shawn Chacon facing Tim Wakefield. Wakefield always gives the Yankees problems, but hopefully Chacon is up to the task.