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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

YES announcer report cards
by TVerik

Hi, it's not Larry. I had an idea for a little post during his sabbatical, but never got a chance to write it. So one night only:

I have been watching YES for almost all of the games this year. Some of their announcers are good, and some not so good. They all have good points. In trying to rate their performance, I found it necessary to give them two "grades". One is for each individual's specific area of expertise - Jim Kaat and pitching, Bobby Murcer and hitting, etc. The other grade is for their overall performance - how much they bring to the broadcast booth. So without further ado...

Joe Girardi is a newcomer to the booth this year. I watched his ESPN work during last year's postseason, and was really impressed. My guess is that he'll be a fine broadcaster for years, as long as he doesn't decide to get into coaching or something. He can be a bit rough around the edges - this past week, he was left to do the play-by-play duties (Ken Singleton was the only other one in the booth that day). Girardi had a bit of a rough time - he stumbled when reading promos, billboards, and scouting reports. But when he's talking about recent Yankee teams from an insider's perspective, it's generally really good for the broadcast. Call me a rough grader - I suspect he'll improve on that second score a great deal, and soon.

In his area: A
Overall: B-
I had been watching Fred Hickman for years on CNN. I think he's very talented, and is used very well. I like his voice a lot. That's about it, though. He hasn't ended up on game telecasts yet (as far as I know), and I feel the unscripted nature of a game showcases a broadcaster's strengths and weaknesses far more than studio updates and pre- and post-game shows. By the way, I think Fred was a significant "get" for YES. He has national noteriety as a sportscaster, and could have undoubtedly found a national job. To get a person with his credentials to go on a local cable network, they must have backed up the money truck to his front door.
In his area: A
Overall: Incomplete
Jim Kaat has been doing this for a long time. I really liked him better prior to this year - his uninformed rants about sabermetrics and Moneyball can get under my skin. He has a nice little sense of humor, and is a really good storyteller. But I wonder if today's Yankee fans can really relate to all of his stories - when he goes on about his experiences with Cap Anson, I often go to sleep. The man knows about as much about pitching as any analyst in the game. Last year, I think his overall score would have been a bit higher. I'm concerned that he might be at an age where his opinions become more calcified - he'll need to prove that he's capable of embracing new streams of thought.
In his area: A-
Overall: B+
Michael Kay. All right, here it comes - many sabermetric types would bash him mercilessly. But I can see good. His voice is adequate. He really reads things well (that sounds like a bit of a backhanded compliment, but it's really not easy to integrate written copy into a broadcast well, and he has this ability). He stays out of some broadcasting traps that might make other play-by-play men look foolish. Also, you just have to like his story - he's a local guy who just loved the Yankees and managed to make a career out of it. I can respect that.
Unfortunately, he has fallen for the Conventional Wisdom philosophy really, really hard. Combine that with his assertiveness and arrogance, and he often can be very harsh to philosophies that don't match his own. I've seen him adopt a "Professor Baseball" mantle, similar to Tim McCarver. But he isn't as good at it as Tim is. Again, I believe that Kay has talent and can be useful. He's skillful at the lesser-noticed minutia of broadcasting. But his presence often annoys me. I think he might be one of the most closed-minded men in the business.
In his area: B
Overall: D
Bobby Murcer was a Yankee broadcaster for most of my youth - I remember him working with Phil Rizzuto, and that's a point in his favor. Full disclosure - I just plain like Murcer. I find his Oklahoma drawl relaxing and his homerism fun. I wouldn't call him the most interesting member of the team, but I'm glad he's on TV doing Yankee games. I had a fairly happy childhood, and a lot of my memories were of Bobby and Scooter talking about the Yankees as I did "kid stuff" around the house - I wasn't a baseball fan then, but I knew who Bobby was.
In his area: A-
Overall: B+
I really wanted to love Paul O'Neill as a broadcaster, but it really hasn't happened. One of my favorite players just hasn't taken well to the booth. He's stiff, he sounds rehearsed, and he's not versatile. If he were not a beloved recent Yankee, I don't think he'd have a job in the business. He's been at this for long enough that if it were going to click for him, it would have already. I like that he gives us insight into recent Yankee clubhouses, but Joe Girardi does that a bit better and brings more to the party. YES clearly doesn't know what to do with him either - he has alternated between a studio analyst and game analyst, not really achieving distinction in either.
In his area: B
Overall: C-
Here comes my favorite single member of the broadcast team. I think Ken Singleton does it all, and does it well. He seems to be comfortable with sabermetric thought (he did, after all, play for Earl Weaver), but not overly so as to be hostile to his main audience. He is very smooth with reading scripted stuff, and is a gifted storyteller. He was an All-Star level player, and is capable of conveying that without blowing his own horn overly. He even has a really good sense of humor - he had me on the floor last year when the Yankees had Jesse Orosco and a pitcher named Erasmo Ramirez was on the hill for Texas; Singleton wondered what would happen if Erasmo was in Jesse's family - resulting in Erasmo Orosco! Trust me, it was funny. I think of Singleton as the YES MVP - I wouldn't want to lose him.
In his area: A
Overall: A
Finally, we come to Suzyn Waldman. Again, there's significant baggage here. But let's start with her good points: She has better access to today's Yankee team than anyone else, and she's been able to do this for years. She's capable of giving hungry fans the news that they'd like to hear about injuries or managerial decisions or lineups faster and more concisely than anyone else. Like Kay, I really respect her backstory: She's a breast cancer survivor, and has made a notable career in a traditionally male-dominated atmosphere.
But she might have the most annoying voice ever put on display on TV. Also like Michael Kay, she's fallen for the Conventional Wisdom tract hook, line, and sinker, and has displayed some hostility towards new baseball ideas. I believe she thinks she knows more than anyone else about her specialty - not a wonderful quality in a broadcaster.These grades seem fairly low. But I really think that her shoes could be filled well with another (that's right) replacement-level broadcaster.
In her area: B
Overall: C
That's it... this was a longer post than I envisioned. Anything you've read here is just my opinion, so please feel free to disagree with it.

I was going to rate the radio guys, but I simply haven't heard them as much as the TV people. So I'll leave that to someone else if they so desire.
Hey, Larry hasn't gone anywhere; he just let me post tonight. So don't worry, a talented writer will be along soon. Everyone reading, please have a nice day. And Lock the State!

Monday, August 30, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Since winning last Monday, the Yankees have played 6 straight games in which they've trailed at some point. Through Saturday, they had won four of those games, and yesterday they were only nine outs away from doing it a fifth time.

But then it all fell apart, as Mike Mussina ran out of gas and gave up the lead, and Paul Quantrill came in, and seeing runners on his flank and in his rear, went into suck mode. By the time it was over, the Yankees trailed 6-2, and despite a valiant effort, fell 6-4.

Despite losing this game, despite a poor line from Mussina, despite dropping yet another game in the standings to Boston, the Yankees did well on this latest road trip. They won 5 of 7, and both series they played. They could have, and probably should have won every game, but their opponents can make an equal claim.

They have, however, broken out of their offensive slump. A-Rod came alive with runners in scoring position over the weekend, and they generally beat the crap out of the Blue Jays. Yeah, you can chalk a lot of it up to bad pitching, but sometimes a good lineup needs some bad pitchers to get out of a slump.

While they only got one win from their starters, the results were more positive than they appeared. With the Yankees' lineup, they don't need great pitching, they just need their starters to be good enough that they don't have to bludgeon their way to victory.

Kevin Brown gave up four early runs on Saturday, but pitched exceptionally well after the third inning. What's more, he threw 120 pitches, alleviating fears from earlier in the week that his back might be acting up.

While Moose's lines haven't looked at all inspiring, the actual efforts have been very much so. Early struggles putting batters away on Monday knocked him out early, just as he was starting to breeze through the lineup, and yesterday he was dominant for 95 pitches before breaking down in the seventh. Obviously you want more than 95 pitches from a starter, but considering that this is merely his third start back from the DL, those 95 pitches are a great sign.

Jon Lieber also struggled early, then was brilliant the second half of the game. It was pretty much the theme of the week.

What can be worrisome is that when the starter puts you behind by three or four runs in the first few innings, you're not always going to be able to come back, as the Yankees have the past week. For the whole season, the Yankees are +38 runs in the first 6 innings, and +45 after that. If QuanGorMo's rested, the team can shut opponents down late, but against the better teams, the scoring late part is going to be the problem. They're either going to need to score more early, or give up fewer early.

This last month of the season is the time for the Yankees to figure out who they're taking to the postseason, and how they'll be using them. At this point, the rotation appears like it will be:


with the exact order to be determined by how they pitch down the stretch.

Torre needs to get Enrique Wilson out of his system, because as bad as Cairo's been lately, he's more likely to be useful in October.

Tony Clark and John Olerud have actually been steady filling in for Giambi, posting a combined .802 OPS. I'd still like Jason back, but they can survive with this combo. Now if only Clark got on as much as Olerud and Olerud hit with Clark's power...

Sheffield needs to stay healthy...ish. And why, incidently, was he only given a double on Saturday? He touched third base. It's a triple.

A-Rod needs to Lock The State, and keep hitting with runners in scoring position.

Jeter needs to stop bunting.

Bernie needs to... Bernie needs an infusion of stem cells or something, like that South Park with Christopher Reeve.

And frankly, the Yanks really need Steve Karsay to run out of that bullpen. Not to be a stopper, but just to be a filler, to keep Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera out of the game. Yeah Joe, I know Quantrill says he wants to pitch every day. It's more important that he pitch in October, give him some rest. And don't bring him in to pitch the day after he stinks up the joint, when he was pitching the day after he stunk up the joint. Making him tired probably ain't gonna fix that.

The Yanks have the day off, and then head into the last easy stretch of the season. They need to keep their intensity level high and win at least 12 or 13 of these games, and tack on a game or two in the standings. Boston's unlikely to sweep the Yankees two more times, but just in case, they need to add more of a cushion. They blew it two weeks ago against very good teams, now's their chance to redeem themselves. 14 or more victories will almost certainly lock up the East heading into the Boston series.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

About Damn Time
by Larry Mahnken

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the struggles of Alex Rodriguez when a runner finds his way to second base. It's this bad: if Alex Rodriguez were to hit as well with a runner in scoring position as he does when there isn't one, his line this season would be .305/.383/.553/.937. We might not be talking MVP with those numbers, but nobody would be asking what's wrong with him, and the Yankees might not have to fend off one last run by the Red Sox.

For a while last night, it seemed certain that Inanimate Carbon-Rod and the Yankees were going to be sending their fans to bed unsatisfied, and furniture dealers in Fairport were going to get a bit wealthier.

With Sheffield on first and two out, ICR popped up to end the first inning, and Carlos Delgado put them behind 2-0 right away by crushing a ball into the right-center field seats. Orlando Hudson popped another 2-run shot in the third, and never did a 4-0 deficit feel so large to me. The weight of this recent slump began to push down on me, and I began to lose confidence.

Let me digress. We know that this is a slump, that this is not the real Yankees we're seeing out there. We know this is a slump because the numbers being put up by their players are even worse than even the biggest pessimist could have predicted, and that we can be almost entirely certain that these players will almost all put up numbers better than the past week and a half over the remainder of the season, and for most, those numbers will be appreciably better. We know that, considering the unusual fact that nearly the entire team has entered a slump at the same instance, the slump is likely to end soon, if gradually. And more than this, we know that because of the relative ease of the remaining schedule, the possibility of the Yankees dropping the final 5½ games of their lead and more is exceptionally unlikely, regardless of the events of the past week and a half. Even if Kevin Brown is out, that would have a much greater impact on their postseason fortunes than their chances of getting there.

But I am an emotional being, and often my logical conclusions are vetoed by my impatience, and I have, to a degree, lost faith in the entire Yankees lineup. Only Sheffield has my confidence, when anyone else comes up, particularly with two outs, I feel as though an out is certain. Of course this feeling will pass, but as I watched the game last night, this depair took over, and 4-0 felt like an insurmountable mountain.

Particularly considering that the Yankees had failed to get a single hit off of David Bush through the first four innings. But in the fifth, the lineup awoke. Well, maybe not awoke, but they showed signs.

Posada reached on a throwing error, John Olerud broke through with a single just in front of Reed Johnson, Cairo singled to left to load the bases. Lofton singled, bringing home Posada and keeping the bases loaded, and Bernie drove the ball to deep center to score another run. Jeter brought home one more with a base hit to center, and Sheffield walked to load the bases with one out.

And then ICR did his thing, bouncing a 2-0 pitch to short for a rally-killing double play.

My spirt had begun to lift before ICR's double play, and it immediately sunk again. Would they rally again, could they score that next run to tie it? I doubted it, but my doubts were answered with an RBI single with two outs in the sixth by Lofton, and the Yanks had a new game.

And Lieber had turned his game around admirably after his rough start. After giving up the homer to Hudson, Lieber had allowed a double and a walk, then retired 16 of the last 17 batters he faced, keeping the game tied into the eighth. C.J. Nitkowski took over from there, getting the last two outs before the Yankees tried one more time to take the lead in the ninth.

Jeter led off with a walk, and on the first pitch, Gary Sheffield hit a ball down the left field line so hard that it traveled backwards in time and space, and killed the squirrel that was running in the outfield in Cleveland on Wednesday night. With runner on second and third and nobody out, only disaster could cost the Yankees the go-ahead run -- and disaster was coming up to the plate wearing #13. A swing and a miss, a foul ball, and A-Rod was quickly 0-2.

But just then a woman in white stood up in the stands, and a bolt of lightning streaked across the skydome, destroying the Jumbotron and killing 30 fans.

Rodriguez ripped a single into left, scoring both Jeter and Sheffield, giving the Yankees a 6-4 lead. A balk and a base hit later and it was Enter Sandman, and the Yankees had won 3 of 4 -- albeit the hard way -- and retained their 5½ game lead for another day.

I highly doubt that a single base hit is going to end A-Rod's horrid struggles with RISP, but if they do end, last night is going to be remembered as a much more important game that it really was. It wasn't a meaningless game, of course, but it was hardly a must-win. But if A-Rod stops being Inanimate Carbon-Rod after that game, the impact of it will be monumental.

* * *

Not baseball-related, but I'd just like to extend my congratulations to local soccer hero Abby Wambach, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime to give the USA Women's Soccer team the gold medal. I'm sure she reads this site every day.

On a sorta baseball-related note, I didn't think it did while it was happening, but I guess the hiatus helped. I don't know where it went, and I'm still not sure what I'm doing, but I'm enjoying doing this again, and I feel like I'm back to where I was last year.

Let's see how long that keeps up, huh?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Lock The State
by Larry Mahnken

The only sure thing about luck is that it will change.

- Bret Harte

Clearly, the Yankees have yet to completely break out of their slump, but quite fortunately, they're playing a weaker team that's sliding much worse than they have. For the second night in a row, the Yankees won a hard-fought contest against the Indians, scoring the winning run in the top of the ninth inning.

Frustrating though it is, slumps happen. They're a fact of life, a product of random variation. Players and teams will go into slumps at completely unpredictable times, even in a simulation. And they'll come out of those slumps at completely random times.

Sometimes a slump is real, the result of an injury, or a mechanical flaw, or maybe a player getting exploited when opponents find a weakness in their game. But usually they're just a random fluctuation -- just like hot streaks. A slump can be self-sustaining, as a player starts to exacerbate the problem by adjusting their play to try and get out of their slide, but it isn't always.

There's an interesting thing happening this year to the defending MVP, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod isn't having a bad year by normal standards, but it's one of the worst seasons of his career by his established standards. Some of his statistical decline can be explained by a change from a great hitters' park to a more pitcher-friendly one, but his road numbers are among his career worst, too (although better than the home ones).

Most bizzare is his sudden inability to hit in the clutch. With nobody on this year, A-Rod's put up this line:


Which is not substantially different from his career line of (pre-2004):


Especially considering his move to Yankee Stadium after playing in Arlington and the Kingdome for most of his career. But when runners get on...

Career: .316/.391/.598/.989
2004: .274/.362/.493/.855

That's a dropoff that can't be explained merely by a change of parks, but wait -- it gets worse:

Close and Late -
2004: .279/.366/.459/.825

Runners in Scoring Position -
2004: .205/.314/.375/.689

RISP/2 Outs -
2004: .132/.258/.321/.579

Oddly enough, when there's a runner only on first, A-Rod's line is .346/.417/.617/1.034 -- better than his regular numbers. I guess when A-Rod's up, runners on first should stay put, huh?

There could be real reasons for A-Rod's struggles in situations where hits are most valuable, though he has come through in a few crucial situations. It's clearly not because he's not "clutch" -- he's been plenty clutch in the past, and four months do not erase ten years. But he's clearly not coming through this year. Last night he had three hits, but in his most crucial at-bat of the game, with a runner on third and one out, he tapped out to shortstop, failing to score the run.

We can expect A-Rod to do better than this next year, and we should expect him to do better this year, but Rodriguez might allow these problems to be self-sustaining, and continue to struggle.

Where A-Rod failed, Godzilla came trough, ripping the game-winner into center. Rivera came in to get his 42nd save, just 8 short of his career high (as well as the answer), and Tom Gordon got another win, in another game where he didn't pitch that great. Javier Vazquez had one bad inning in the third, but finished strong and kept the Indians at four runs through seven innings, giving the Yankees the opportunity to come back, and ultimately win.

The Yanks go for the sweep today, starting El Duque. They've won every game he's started this season, so that's a good omen. What they're really hoping for is that the lineup can break out and put up some runs -- though Jake Westbrook has pitched pretty darn good this year, so it won't be easy. A sweep would feel good after the lackluster week they just finished, but breaking out of their slump for real would be much more comforting.

Boston won yesterday, because the Blue Jays couldn't score a run with the bases loaded and nobody out. The Yanks still lead by 6½ games... WHICH IS A BIG LEAD, PEOPLE!!!

Seriously, there's concern, and then there's just plain stupidity. CBS Sportsline's latest Power Rankings rates the Yankees ninth in MLB, down from second a week ago. The Yankees currently have the second-best record in baseball, the third best team is five games behind them.

But what's more foolish is that the Boston Red Sox, 5½ games back at the start of the week, are rated sixth. Yes, they're closer than they were a week ago, but they still have a long way to go to catch the Yankees, let alone make a claim to being clearly better than them!

Friends, one week does not a season make. One week does not negate four months. A slump does not reveal the true face of a team, any more than a hot streak does. It's something that happens, it's something that goes away, it's something that will happen again.

Are the Yankees the best team in baseball? Maybe, though they haven't played like it for anything more than short spurts. Are there teams better than them? There probably are, though maybe not many. But are there eight teams better than the Yankees? I find that highly unlikely.

Clearly, the creator of this power ranking is being heavily influenced by the last week -- SG suggests it's just a report on how they've played lately. Well, I can't buy that latter explanation -- how could the Yankees be rated ninth and the Indians rated 14th then? Surely more than eight teams have played better than the Yankees in the past week. Wouldn't they kind of had to? And besides, couldn't you just look at the last ten games record on the sports page and see the same thing?

No, the author has to believe that the last week offers some underlying truth about these teams that was hidden for all this time. One week makes the Yankees worse than the Red Sox, Cardinals, Braves, A's, Angels, Dodgers, Rangers and Twins. How silly for us to think the standings mattered.

Monday, August 23, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Alas, I have returned!

And not a moment too soon, it would appear. The Yanks were doing okay when I first took off, but they just came off the week of hell, losing six of seven -- their only win by way of a dramatic comeback.

It was a total team effort, to be sure. The starting pitching was horrid, the lineup was impotent, and the bullpen was unreliable. These weren't the Yankees who had run out to a 10½ game lead, this was some horrible watered down version of the Yankees.

But on the other hand, perhaps that gives good cause to not be so alarmed, since we know that this isn't the real Yankees team that's been getting it's butt kicked. From Sunday to Sunday, the Yankees' lineup put up these numbers:
Player             OPS
Flaherty, John 1.667
Sheffield, Gary 1.340
Rodriguez, Alex .945
Matsui, Hideki .803
Williams, Bernie .632
Posada, Jorge .636
Olerud, John .583
Lofton, Kenny .431
Jeter, Derek .401
Sierra, Ruben .400
Wilson, Enrique .286
Cairo, Miguel .190
The top four hitters had a 1.103 OPS -- though Flaherty batted only 6 times, and Rodriguez only 17 thanks to his suspension. The rest of the team, batting more than twice as often as those four, posted a .465 OPS.

Now Bernie Williams may be washed up, but he's not dead. Derek Jeter's had a bad year, but he's still facing the right way at the plate. The only players at the bottom of that list who aren't that unlikely to stay there are Olerud, who may indeed be done, and Enrique Wilson, who the Yankees can't expect to be that hot the rest of the way.

Well, it's not anything to be happy about, of course, but I think we can put last week behind us, and not mistake it for revealing some unknown weakness in this team.

But before we could put last week away, the Yankees had to break their losing streak, and they'd have to do it against a team that was sliding even worse, the Indians.

When a team's in the middle of a long losing streak, you hear some announcers and columnists say that their opponents should be worried about having to play them, because they're due to break out of it. Well, I don't buy that, because you have to believe that when a team is overdue for a win, they're more likely to win. They're not -- they're equally likely to win as they would be had they been playing fine the whole time.

It's possible that a team could be less likely to win when they're in a long losing streak, because a team that's not hitting as well as normal, not pitching as well, and not fielding as well clearly isn't as likely to win as much as normal. But to say they're more likely to win, that means that you're more likely to win if you play poorly... huh?

Regardless, the Yankees and Indians played a fun game last night. The Yanks jumped out to a quick lead in the first off a Bernie double and a Jeter single, then scored another couple in the second when Tony Clark homered. It looked for a moment like the Yankees had awoken, but Cliff Lee settled down to pitch a solid game, and Mike Mussina, gave back the lead in the fourth. Mussina actually pitched reasonably well on balance, though he gave up three runs in five innings, having to give way to Paul Quantrill because he struggled to put batters away in the first two innings.

Quantrill came out to start the sixth, and seeing that there was nobody on base already, didn't suck. He pitched to strong innings, giving way to Tom Gordon in the eighth.

Gordon came in with the lead after Ruben Sierra ripped a single to right field to score the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth, but after getting the first two outs in the bottom of the inning, Travis Hafner ripped a double to right-center, and Casey Blake hit a game-tying single on the next pitch.

In the top of the ninth, Kenny Lofton and Bernie Williams made out, and Derek Jeter was hit on the elbow with a pitch. While the injury turned out to be a mere bone bruise, Jeter had to leave the game, and with Cairo having been lifted for Lofton already, the Yankees were going to have to shuffle their defense again. With Gary Sheffield dealing with a painful shoulder injury, a tough situation had the potential to get much worse. If the game went into several extra innings, Sheffield might get seriously hurt playing a hard ground ball, and the Yankees would be in serious trouble.

"C'mon, hit a home run Sheff..." I mumbled to myself as he batted -- never really expecting it to happen. But once again, Sheff came through, drilling the ball just over the high left field wall. 6-4 Yanks, Enter Sandman.

And Rivera, of course, shut the Tribe down, and the Yankees were victorious once more. Boston lost, so they're back up to 6½. WHICH IS A BIG LEAD, PEOPLE!!!

Sheffield is making a powerful case for MVP. This isn't one of those stupid, Ichiro!, Shannon Stewart or anyone-in-the-NL-whose-name-isn't-Barry-Bonds arguments, Sheffield's numbers are MVP vintage, as good or better as anyone else's when adjusted for park, and the timing of many of his hits only adds to his value -- whether you believe clutch hitting or a skill or not, when something happens does change it's value.

More amazing is that Sheffield is putting up these numbers after putting up poor numbers for the first two months. On June 1st, Sheff had a .789 OPS, since then he's put up a .316/.429/.680/1.109 line. With a bum shoulder.

There's no reason why Sheffield shouldn't be a favorite for the award, aside from the fact that there's still a month left in the season. But I don't see anybody who's been clearly better (though I guess you could make a good case for Melvin Mora), so over the last few weeks, this will be a legitimate argument. And even if he doesn't get the hardware (something he said he doesn't really care about anyway), he's played like an MVP, which is what really matters.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

All Star/Looking in my rear view mirror
by SG

Hey now you're an All Star get your game on, go play
Hey now you're a Rock Star get the show on get paid
And all that glitters is gold
Only shooting stars break the mold

-Smash Mouth, "All Star"

Thanks to another horrendous start by Two Time All Star Esteban (PP™/TTAS™) Loaiza, with an assist to a non-existent Yankee offense, the lead over Boston has been reduced to 6.5. While it's not quite panic time yet, there is cause for concern. The fact that the Yankee offense has disappeared at the same time that they are facing potential playoff caliber opponents with good pitching staffs is not coincidental. I will at some point in the future post my feelings about the events that led to the Yankees trading Contreras for Loaiza, but I want to wait for them both to pitch a few more times to validate my initial thoughts. If you look at Larry's tracker, you can probably guess where I'm headed.

Looking in my rear view mirror,
Looking in my rear view mirror,
I can make it disappear,
I can make it disappear (have no fear),

-Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Aeroplane"

One of my favorite baseball books is The Bronx Zoo by Sparky Lyle. It was a day-to-day journal of the season after Lyle won the Cy Young in 1977. It turned out to be an amazing chronicle of one of the most unlikely seasons in baseball history, the great Yankee comeback in the division race against Boston in 1978. I thought it might be interesting to look at the 1978 season.

Pythagorean record is often a good indicator of team quality.

Actual 1978 American League East standings:

Team Name G W L PCT GB RS RA
New York Yankees 163 100 63 .613 - 735 582
Boston Red Sox 163 99 64 .607 1.0 796 657
Milwaukee Brewers 162 93 69 .574 6.5 804 650
Baltimore Orioles 161 90 71 .559 9.0 659 633
Detroit Tigers 162 86 76 .530 13.5 714 653
Cleveland Indians 159 69 90 .433 29.0 639 694
Toronto Blue Jays 161 59 102 .366 40.0 590 775

Pythagorean 1978 standings (runs scored squared/ runs scored squared + runs allowed squared = pythag winning PCT)

Team Name G W L PCT GB RS RA
New York Yankees 163 100 63 .615 - 735 582
Milwaukee Brewers 162 98 64 .605 1.5 804 650
Boston Red Sox 163 97 66 .595 3.0 796 657
Detroit Tigers 162 88 74 .520 11.5 714 653
Baltimore Orioles 161 84 78 .545 15.5 659 633
Cleveland Indians 159 74 88 .459 25.5 639 694
Toronto Blue Jays 161 59 102 .367 40.5 590 775

According to pythag, the Red Sox weren't even the second best team in the league. Regardless, they led second place Milwaukee in the AL East by nine games on July 19. The Yankees, in fourth place, were back by fourteen. Going into September, the Boston lead over New York was cut to 7-1/2.

The weekend of September 7 is now known as "The Boston Massacre." The Yankees had a total of 67 hits, and won all four games by an average margin of over eight runs. The Red Sox committed twelve errors. It was the first time since 1943 that New York swept a four-game series at Fenway.

Sept 7.
Yankees 15, Red Sox 3

New York arrived in Boston for a four games series, four games back (with 24 remaining). Ex-Yankee Mike Torrez faced Catfish Hunter. The first inning began with Butch Hobson throwing away a routine grounder that the Yankees turned into two unearned runs. Torrez gave up four straight singles in the second and was sent to the showers. Before Boston's number-nine hitter (Hobson) had his first at-bat, Thurman Munson had three hits and the Yankees had a 7-0 lead. By the end of the fourth, the Yankees were ahead 12-2. New York finished the game with 21 hits and a 15-3 victory. Willie Randolph and Roy White joined Munson with three hits each.

Sept 8.
Yankees 13, Red Sox 2

Mickey Rivers hit Jim Wright's first pitch of the game for a single. Rivers stole second on Wright's second pitch, and advanced to third when Carlton Fisk's throw got away from Rick Burleson. Before the Red Sox rookie had delivered his third pitch, New York's leadoff hitter was on third base. Wright gave up four runs before being relieved by Tom Burgmeir in the second inning. Burgmeir gave up a single, a walk, and a homer to the first three batters he faced. Boston had seven errors that led to seven runs, and the game ended with a 13-2 Yankee victory.

Sept 9.
Yankees 7, Red Sox 0

Dennis Eckersley took his 16-6 record (9-0 at Fenway) to the mound to face Ron Guidry. Guidry worked out of trouble in the first inning, and the game was calm until the fourth. With two outs, Chris Chambliss singled. Graig Nettles walked, and Lou Piniella's single to short-center fell in between five Red Sox. Bucky Dent blooped a two-strike pitch to short left. Another walk, a passed ball, a wild pitch, and an error contributed to a total of seven Yankee runs. Those were the only runs scored, as the game ended at 7-0. Ron Guidry, throwing a two-hitter, became the first lefty to shut out Boston at Fenway in four years.

Sept 10.
Yankees 7, Red Sox 4

Boston's rookie lefthander, Bobby Sprowl, started the game by walking both Mickey Rivers and Willie Randolph. Sprowl could not make it out of the first inning. Ed Figueroa built up a 6-0 lead, and Goose Gossage finished the game with a 7-4 victory. Graig Nettles, Roy White, Thurman Munson, and Bucky Dent all had three hits.

Boston managed to fight back and eventually tie the Yankees atop the AL East, by winning their last eight scheduled games of the season, forcing one of the most famous playoff games in baseball history, the October 2, 1978 infamous Bucky Dent game.

Below is an excerpt from The Bronx Zoo about this game:

Monday, October 2 Boston
It was strange, but for a game that was so important to both teams, there was very little tension. Last night a bunch us went out and had a few drinks, and we were sitting at the hotel bar, and the general consensus was "We're gonna win tomorrow." We just knew we were going to win. And the Red Sox weren't tight because they had just had the Division championship taken away from them, and now they were getting a second chance. So they played as good a game as they could play because they felt they had absolutely nothing to lose.

It was a tremendous day, I'll tell you, it really was. It was like being in the seventh game of the World Series. Gid started and he didn't really have his good stuff 'cause he was going with only three days' rest again, but he was still good enough to hold them to two runs in six and a third, quite an accomplishment for a left- hander in Fenway. In the second Yaz got up, and he knew Gid was going to try to pump a fastball by him, and Gid got the ball up, and Yaz has such power in his hands, he just turned those wrists over and boom that ball was gone.

They scored again in the sixth when Rice singled Burleson home. Everything was real quiet in our bullpen, and I said to Tidrow, we're just teasing them. In the ninth inning, we're gonna win this son of a bitch three to two and go home. Dirt said, "I think we're gonna win eight to two.” We were both wrong-the score was actually 5 to 4--but we just knew, we had a feeling out there, that we were going to win. We had all those goose eggs up there on the scoreboard, but the way the game was going, Torrez had been lucky, and there was no way he was going to shut us out. And there wasn't.

In our half of the seventh Chambliss singled and Roy singled and Bucky Dent got up. Because Willie Randolph's still out, Fred Stanley went in to play second when Lem pinch-hit for Doyle, so they didn't pinch-hit for Bucky like they usually do. Torrez threw Bucky a slider, Bucky swung, and he hit the ball off his ankle.
Bucky went down, and when he dragged himself back up, he hobbled over to third-base coach Dick Howser, and he said, “lf that son of a bitch comes in there again with that pitch, I'm going to take him into the net.” And Torrez threw it in there again, and bang there it went. Bucky hit it into the net for a three-run homer.

In the bullpen we were laughing because our shortstops have devastated Torrez. In June, Stanley hit that grand slam off him, and now Bucky hit this three-runner. Seven RBI's in two swings. Torrez just can't get our shortstops out! Then Rivers walked and stole second, and he scored when Thurman doubled off reliever Bob Stanley.

When Reggie got up in the eighth, Mr. October, as he likes to call himself, hit another home run to make it 5 to 2. Despite the fact that Reggie at times can be hard to take, there's no question that in the big games, he can get way up and hit the hell out of the ball. No one's ever denied him that. I can't figure out why he does it, but he does it. I think that in the big games a pitcher has a tendency to be finer around the plate, and that makes the hitter more selective. If Reggie could concentrate all year long like he does in the play-offs and the Series games, his records would be unbelievable. Reggie's so strong, and he has-so much power that a pitcher can't fool with him. If he makes a mistake, and Reggie gets his bat on it, Reggie swings such a heavy bat that it's gone.

Goose relieved Gid in the seventh and got the last two outs, but in their half of the eighth, the Red Sox came back with two runs against him. Remy doubled, Yaz singled to drive him in, Fisk singled, and Lynn singled for their fourth run.

They got us out in tie top of the ninth, so the score was still 5-4 ours when Boston batted in the bottom of the inning. Goose walked Burleson with one out. Remy then hit a line drive to Piniella in right. Lou lost it in the sun, which was beating right in his eyes, but he pretended he was going to catch it, pounding his glove, so Burleson had to hold up and could only go to second when the ball bounced in front of him. That won the game for us, cause Rice flied out, and had Burleson been on third, he would have tagged and scored and tied up the game. With Burleson on second, though, it was just a harmless fly ball.

Now there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Red Sox were down to their last batter: Carl Yastrzemski. I had seen the way the game was going, and l was heating up pretty good in the bullpen cause l thought to myself, ''Goddamn, the way this is going, I'm going to face Yaz if he comes up in the ninth.'' Even Tidrow had said, "They're gonna be using you. Stay ready.” I guess he figured Yaz is left-handed and they'd bring me in to face the lefty.

If I could have gone in there and gotten him out and saved the game, that one out would have let me be part of something. Just one fucking out, which is all it would have been. I've always been able to get Yaz out, and if ever there was a time to bring me in: this was it.

I stood out in the bullpen waiting for Lemon to come out of the dugout and get Goose. Lemon, however, never left the bench. He left Goose. in to pitch to Yaz. I said, “Screw it,” and I stopped warming up.
I suppose I should have been annoyed, pissed off, angry, but I wasn't any of those things. You gotta look at it from Lem's way too. When you have a reliever like Goose-just like I was last year-you gotta go with the guy all the way. You can't be making too many moves.

Yaz stepped in, Goose fired the ball in there, and Yaz sent a high pop behind third. When Graig settled under the ball and caught it and the game was over, suddenly I felt a tremendous surge of happiness come over me. Even though I had hardly contributed at all, for the first time since the spring I really felt part of this team. l was proud of what we did, and all the records the team set. I was happy for Guidry, who won his twenty-fifth, and I felt happy for Goose, who got his twenty-seventh save. I was thinking about how no other team in the entire history of baseball had ever done that. The events were rushing through my mind. There were so many things that happened to this team this year, I’ll probably remember this season more than any other season of my baseball career.

Anyone who wants a day-by-day description of the 1978 season from a Yankee player perspective should check this book out.

The point of all this, is that there are quite a few Red Sox fans who are pointing to 2004 as 1978 in reverse. They are hoping for another parade, like this one from the last time they won it all. This time, the Yankees are the team that jumped out to the big division lead, and the Red Sox are the team that is trying to pull off the miraculous comeback. As a Yankee fan, I mocked this thought process, especially after what looked to be a horrendous trade of Nomar Garciaparra for two mediocre players. However, the events of the last few days have caused me to look at this scenario in a new light. Granting that the Yankees have had the more difficult schedule in August, the Red Sox have still done what they needed to do, and get the deficit reduced. With the Yankee rotation still suspect, and with Sheffield hurting, it's not unreasonable that the Red Sox could overtake them. Another problem for the Yankees with this is that resting the bullpen is now not an option for Joe Torre, as he doesn't have the luxury of the "safe" lead. This could possibly have an impact in September, and the postseason if they get there.
On August 15 the Yankees held a 10.5 game lead over Boston.

As of August 21 the Yankees now hold a 6.5 game lead over Boston.

Pythagorean standings

Team Name G W L PCT GB RS RA
Boston Red Sox 121 72 49 .593 - 697 578
New York Yankees 122 67 55 .552 5.5 668 602
Baltimore Orioles 121 58 63 .476 14.0 622 652
Toronto Blue Jays 123 54 69 .442 19.0 540 607
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 123 53 70 .431 20.0 530 609

Looking a little deeper into the standings, using Baseball Prospectus' adjusted standings(these haven't been updated since Friday 8/20):

Boston Red Sox 67. 52. 677 570 69.4 49.6 695 529 74.9 44.1 698 536 74.4 44.6 -2.4 -7.9 -7.4
New York Yankees 76. 44. 667 591 67.1 52.9 665 571 68.8 51.2 677 576 69.4 50.6 8.9 7.2 6.6
Baltimore Orioles 57. 62. 614 628 58.2 60.8 619 612 60.1 58.9 625 620 60.0 59.0 -1.2 -3.1 -3.0
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 55. 66. 525 595 53.4 67.6 523 580 54.7 66.3 533 571 56.6 64.4 1.6 0.3 -1.6
Toronto Blue Jays 49. 72. 516 599 52.1 68.9 521 602 52.3 68.7 533 598 54.0 67.0 -3.1 -3.3 -5.0

According to component stats, the Red Sox are a better team than the Yankees. I always take these kinds of things with a grain of salt, because not all runs are equal, and as the margin of the game increases, the value of each subsequent run scored or allowed decreases. If a team suffers a lot of blowout wins or losses, it can skew these numbers. The common belief is that these types of things even out of the course of a season, so let's assume that these numbers have some validity for comparison. The Yankees have outperformed their expected win total by 9, while the Red Sox have underperformed theirs by 3. If we assume that the current trends continue, the two teams would approach their true talent level. Boston has won 57% of their games, but should have won 59%. Therefore, they could reasonably expect to win 24 of their remaining 41 games. The Yankees, have won 62% of their games, but their run differential projects to a 56% winning percentage. Therefore, with 40 games left, they would win 22 of them. If both things happened, the Yankees would lose only 1.5 more games in the standings to Boston, and still finish the division comfortably ahead.

There are other things to consider though. First off, the Yankees have the easier schedule in September.

Games remaining for Boston
1 @ Chicago
3 @ Toronto
4 vs. Detroit
3 vs. Anaheim
3 vs. Texas
3 @ Oakland
3 @ Seattle
3 vs. Tampa Bay
3 @ Yankees
4 vs. Baltimore
3 vs. Yankees
3 @ TB
4 @ Baltimore

Games remaining for the Yankees
1 vs. Anaheim
3 @ Cleveland
4 @ Toronto
3 vs. Cleveland
3 vs. Baltimore
5 vs. Tampa Bay
3 @ Baltimore
3 @ Kansas City
3 vs. Boston
3 vs. Toronto
3 @ Boston
3 vs. Minnesota

More importantly, the two teams have six games remaining against each other, Sept 17-19 at New York, and then Sept 24-26 at Boston.

If the Yankees are unable to maintain at least a five game lead heading into that first series, a repeat of 1978 would not be unlikely in my opinion. While the loser of the divisional race would still have the wild card to fall back on, the impact of Boston coming from behind to take the East could be huge for both teams. This would give Boston home field advantage in an ALCS matchup, and it could also manifest in the games on the field, and through panic moves in the front office. It would be exciting to watch, and great for baseball, but as a Yankee fan, I sure as hell hope it doesn't happen. Boston deserves a lot of credit for hanging tough in what has been a difficult season for them, both injury-wise and with their bad luck/underperforming at times.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Roots....The First Black Yankee
by John

"Both as a man and as a ballplayer, this boy Howard looks every inch a Yankee"

-- Paul Krichell, scout for the New York Yankees on prospect Elston Howard

In 1884, a catcher--ironically enough--would play his final game with the American Association's Toledo Blue Hens. What made him stand out was not his hitting, nor his ability to call a game....but rather his skin colour.

He was black.

That catcher, Moses Fleetwood Walker, would be the signpost for an era that would stretch for 53 years; an era where only two colours mattered. The green grass, and the greenbacks, along with the white baseball, and the white baseball player. For the Yankees the drought would continue for another eight years.

"I will never allow a black man to wear a Yankee uniform. Boxholders from Westchester don't want that sort of crowd. They would be offended to have to sit with niggers."

-- New York Yankees general manager: George Weiss

So deep was this ennui toward those of African heritage the Yankees passed on a youngster who played for the Birmingham Black Barons. He eventually would be signed by New York's other team--the Giants. This youngster was a strapping youth by the name of Willie Mays.

"The Yankees will bring up a Negro as soon as one that fits the high Yankee standards is found."

-- George Weiss

Again: "Both as a man and as a ballplayer, this boy Howard looks every inch a Yankee"

-- Paul Krichell

It was easy to see, right from the start, that Elston Howard's tenure with the New York Yankees would be difficult. It was for the first player to break the colour barrier--the Brooklyn Dodgers' second baseman Jackie Robinson; not to mention the first man to break that barrier in the American League--Cleveland Indian outfielder Larry Doby.

Initially Howard--despite hitting .375 with the Kansas City Monarchs--was signed by the Yankees as more of a token gesture than anything else. Bowing to public pressure, the Yankee organization signed a handful of black players. Included along with Howard was a slick fielding first baseman named Vic Power (who would be dealt to the Philadelphia Athletics and debut there in 1954); Artie Wilson (who would have a cup of coffee with the New York Giants in 1951); Ruben Gomez, a right handed pitcher who likewise plied his trade at the Polo Grounds--where he would win 17 games for the World Series champion Giants in 1954 (winning Game Three of the Fall Classic against the Cleveland Indians); and Frank Barnes--also a right handed pitcher who had a brief, undistinguished career with the St. Louis Cardinals.

It appeared initially that the Yankees, or more specifically, George Weiss was doing everything in his power to keep Howard from making the major league roster. By the spring of 1954, Howard was the only black player still in the Yankees minor league system. Suddenly, without warning, Howard was being groomed as a catcher (having been taken from the outfield). Bear in mind that Howard was a good enough outfielder as witnessed by the fact that he was often used in left field at the major league level. This caused a new round of allegations that the Yankees were trying to bury Howard. Why? The Yankees were deep in catching, mostly in the person of the durable Yogi Berra. As Charlie Silvera and Ralph Houk could well testify, you didn't get a lot of playing time as Berra's understudy.

The positional change didn't slow Howard a whit. Despite spending the International League season as a backstop for the Toronto Maple Leafs at Tip Top Park, Howard hit .330, blasted 22 home runs, and plated 109 runs. He walked away with the International League Most Valuable Player award and because of this achievement, the Baltimore Orioles--freshly transplanted from their St. Louis roots as the Browns--offered Weiss $100,000 and a top minor league pitching prospect for Howard.

Weiss reluctantly refused.

The Yankees were among the very last teams in baseball to integrate their roster. Since the Bronx Bombers were the flagship team in the American League (if not all of baseball) public pressure was enormous to have the 1954 International League MVP join the Yankee varsity.

The Yankees left Spring Training with Elston Howard as a backup catcher and outfielder.

The Adjustment Period

With Spring Training held deep in the southern United States, it didn't matter whether you had a NY on your cap, or a B, or a STL; if you were black, you were still a "nigger" as far as attitudes went. Howard had to live in a different area of Florida during Spring Training. Heading north to open the season, the Yankees had an exhibition game in Birmingham Alabama against one of the Yankees minor league affiliates. However Birmingham had an ordinance that stated it was unlawful for white players to compete against blacks and so Weiss sent Howard on up ahead of the team. The Brooklyn Dodgers, who broke the colour barrier with Jackie Robinson, when faced with a similar situation [in Birmingham] simply cancelled the game rather than comply with that bylaw.

It was only the beginning.

When the Yankees went on their first road trip, Howard was barred by hotels in Kansas City and Baltimore from staying with his teammates. However the New York Post pressured Weiss to apply some pressure of his own to the hotels to accept Howard's presence. The hotels finally, reluctantly, acquiesced.

The First Black Yankee

Although he had to endure the slings and arrows that a man of colour had to tolerate during that time period, one place where he did feel welcome was among his teammates. The majority of Yankee players went out of their way to make Howard feel like part of the team. After a game winning hit, Howard returned to the locker room after an on field interview to see that his fellow players had given him "the red carpet treatment"--lining the path from the clubhouse door to his locker with towels as a tribute. When a heckler was hurling racial epithets at Howard, teammate and former United States Marine, Hank Bauer climbed up on top the dugout trying to find the person responsible. The heckler at least had the common sense to shut up. When queried later about the incident, Bauer simply shrugged and said: "Ellie's my friend."

Then Yankees’ manager Casey Stengel--despite a vocabulary that would be considered very politically incorrect today (Jackie Robinson often assailed Stengel for his infamous comment about Howard: "I finally get a nigger, I get the only one who can't run")--spoke glowingly of Howard. For his part, Howard never sensed any negative feelings from Stengel.

At any rate, Howard enjoyed a fine rookie season. He was given 279 at bats, hit 10 home runs--which was an impressive number for a right handed batter playing half his games in a stadium where 425 foot blasts were often turned into long, loud outs. He also plated 43 runs while hitting a solid .290 with an OPS+ of 119. Despite Stengel's quip about his speed, or lack thereof, Howard also legged out seven triples.

Howard’s first World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers saw him play the series in left field. In was an inauspicious debut as he batted .192, struck out eight times, and was the final out of the 1955 Fall Classic as he grounded a Johnny Podres pitch to Pee Wee Reese who threw him out at first.

1956 saw Howard suffer through "the sophomore jinx." He got off to a slow start, mostly due to a fractured finger. He only got 290 at bats that year, batting .262 (80 OPS+), hitting just five home runs, and driving in a mere 34 runs. Howard saw limited action in the World Series, (again against the Brooklyn Dodgers) however his five at bats produced two hits--a double and a home run in Game Seven....a 9-0 romp. Howard's hitting funk persisted into 1957 (82 OPS+)--although he remained fairly productive. Casey Stengel thought enough of his play to name him to the All Star team roster. It was still an impressive feat seeing as he didn't really have a set position; Howard logged time behind the plate, spelling Berra when he needed a rest, and filling in occasionally at first base.

Regardless, his eight home runs and 44 RBI were respectable enough considering he'd yet to have a season where he got 400 at bats. In the World Series against the Milwaukee Braves he hit his second Fall Classic four bagger in Game Four. It went for naught as the Braves won in seven games.

Howard started to find a groove with his bat. He enjoyed his first ever .300 season -- batting .314 and knocking 11 out of the yard (130 OPS+)-- Howard’s best total at this point in his career. Howard also notched 66 RBI that year--also a personal best at this juncture. Howard accomplished this despite not getting 400 at bats.

Stengel again rewarded his efforts with a trip to the All Star Game.

Howard would appear on the All Star roster every year until 1965. The Yankees would avenge the previous year's loss in the World Series triumphing over the Braves in seven games. 1959 would mark the first season Howard topped 400 at bats. He also saw considerable playing time at first base where he appeared in 50 games. Despite a new career high 18 home runs (and 73 RBI), the Yankees -- ravaged by injuries -- didn’t win the pennant for the first time since 1954.

The Bronx Bombers rediscovered their winning ways in 1960; but Howard's bat went south as his body had to adjust to the rigors of regular catching duty. Howard backstopped in 91 games--the most of his career. In the World Series Howard hit very well, batting .462 and notched his third career Fall Classic circuit clout. It went for naught as Pirate second baseman Bill Mazeroski homered off Ralph Terry in the bottom of the ninth of Game Seven (at Forbes Field) giving the Bucs the title.

The Yankees organization underwent a complete overhaul in the offseason. Casey Stengel was let go, and his shift-players-around-the-diamond philosophy went with him. New skipper and former backup catcher Ralph Houk, announced that Howard would be the number one catcher. Given a regular job and regular at bats worked wonders for his hitting. With expansion pitching, coupled with being part of an explosive lineup, enabled Howard to finish second in the American League batting race hitting .348 (153 OPS+). Howard also topped twenty homers for the first time (21) and drove in 77. He was one of six Yankees who topped 20 dingers in that magical year. Howard went on to prove that it wasn't a fluke season in 1962 as he matched his 21 four baggers of 1961 although his OPS+ fell to 113. Howard also drove in a career-best 91 runs. Unfortunately, Howard slumped during the World Series batting just .143. Regardless, 1960 World Series goat Ralph Terry would find redemption as he threw a Game Seven shutout against the transplanted San Francisco Giants.

American League Most Valuable Player

"Whatever can go wrong will go wrong" is the fabled phrase known as "Murphy's Law" and it applied to the 1963 Yankees. First baseman Bill Skowron's booming bat was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Stan Williams. Roger Maris opened the season with back miseries. In June, a collision between left fielder Tom Tresh and shortstop Tony Kubek put Kubek on the shelf for two weeks and his bat for the rest of the season. On June 5th, with Whitey Ford pitching [in Baltimore], the southpaw gave up a long drive to right center to third baseman Brooks Robinson. Centerfielder Mickey Mantle gave chase and slammed into the fence. Mantle got his foot caught in the wire mesh of the fence and broke his foot. “The Mick” wouldn't return to full-time duty until September. Roger Maris added to his woes by slamming a pitch into his ankle and had to undergo rectal surgery (seligectomy) in July. The resultant side effects from those experiences limited his effectiveness.

Picking up the shortfall was the slugging and defense of Elston Howard. In just 487 at bats he would slug a career high (and team leading) 28 home runs. Howard’s 85 RBI was his second best total ever (which also lead the Yankees). For good measure, Howard chipped in 21 doubles and six triples (and second best OPS+ of his career....141). Even more important to the Yankees was handling a pitching staff beset by injuries and inexperience. Howard guided a young Jim Bouton through his best season ever (21 wins). Howard’s superlative work behind home plate earned him both his first of two Gold Gloves and the American League MVP (the first African American player to do so in the junior circuit). Howard continued his stellar play into the World Series. Howard led the Yankees in hitting in the Fall Classic but the pitching of Sandy Koufax ended whatever hopes the Yankees had of winning their third consecutive world championship.

Unfortunately, some things hadn't changed. The following spring Howard had trouble finding lodging in Fort Lauderdale. Howard may have been American League Most Valuable Player, he may have have been the best catcher in the American League, he might have had four World Series rings gracing his hands, but in the deep south, all they could see was the pigmentation of his skin.

Regardless, Howard would pick up where he left off the following year. He continued to supply brilliant defense coupled with another fine offensive season (127 OPS+). Howard hit .300 for the third time in his career (.313), and set career bests in doubles (27) and walks (48). For the third consecutive campaign Howard would top the 80 RBI plateau with 84. He finished third in Most Valuable Player voting, finishing behind Baltimore Orioles’ third baseman Brooks Robinson and teammate Mickey Mantle. Howard also copped his second straight Gold Glove award for catchers. Howard’s efforts in the 1964 World Series accounted for seven runs, and a lofty .393 on base percentage. His efforts went for naught as the Cardinals edged the Yankees in seven games.

The Beginning of the End and "The Impossible Dream"

The Yankees decline coincided with Elston Howard's. Now 36, Howard began the phase of his career where the mind and experience make up for the inevitable physical shortfall that occurs at this stage of an athlete's career. Over the next two plus seasons with the Yankees, Howard hit just 18 home runs while batting .235. In 1967, Howard would find himself in a most unusual position. The Boston Red Sox--trying to shore up the roster for the stretch drive--needed a veteran catcher with pennant race experience. Howard fit the bill perfectly. However when Ralph Houk informed Howard that he had been traded for "two players to be named later," Howard said he was retiring. Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey called Howard personally to urge him to reconsider. Howard wouldn't contribute much offensively--other than a game winning single against the Senators--but his knowledge of American League hitters was invaluable for the Red Sox pitching staff. Howard also contributed a key defensive play against the White Sox when he took an off line throw from Jose Tartabull and still managed to tag Ken Berry who was tagging up from third base. Regardless, Howard only hit .147 with the Red Sox and .111 in the Fall Classic against the Cardinals. Howard’s experience, savvy, and knowledge of rival hitters played an important role on an inexperienced Red Sox team, but at 38 there wasn't much left. The following season Howard stayed with the Red Sox, caught 68 games, ripped five additional home runs, (bringing his lifetime total to 167) and left the game just as he had broken in the major leagues.

With class.

Friday, August 20, 2004

On-field performance vs. entertainment
by TVerik

The true sabermetric types who read this blog may not like to hear it, but I suspect that Jeter fans will. Conventional Wisdom, exemplified by Tim McCarver and Michael Kay, seems to hold that Derek Jeter’s intangibles are very valuable to his team and that this cannot be measured statistically.

Some of our sabermetric brethren seem to delight in reducing Jeter to the sum total of his measurable numbers. They insist that his intangibles are way overvalued by the public at large.

This may be true; as a matter of fact, I’m reasonably sure that it’s true. But they define “value” in a narrow, baseball-related way. The object of an offense is to score runs, and scoring runs results directly in wins.

I submit that we fans really enjoy some parts of baseball that are not overly valuable in a wins vs. losses kind of way. In tonight’s game, Jeter covered third base, making Vladimir Guerrero out at third trying to advance on a single. Does Derek deserve the Nobel Prize for this contribution? No. Did it help the Yankees win the game? Babe Ruth resurrected wouldn’t have helped them tonight. Was it a play that all shortstops should make? I don’t really know, but I doubt it.

Derek Jeter, the ballplayer, did something small to help his team. It didn’t really help. But Derek Jeter, the entertainer, gave millions of fans a certain sense of satisfaction.

The Mariners are going through a horrendous year. But their fans still watch (although their numbers are reduced). They won’t be winning a pennant. So why do people pay attention? Because they’re entertained; the results of the game are secondary in some cases.

I don’t even know if one argument supports another here. Is DJ generally overrated? Is Derek valuable to his team? He certainly is. Does Jeter make the games somewhat more interesting for viewers? I could point to a hundred good examples of this.

But please weigh in on this issue. It’s just my opinion.

Blast From The Past....Remembering Tommy Henrich
by John

A sweltering afternoon at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, October 5, 1941. It was as tight a World Series as you can hope for. The Brooklyn Dodgers had managed a split at Yankee Stadium yet the Yankees had gotten the advantage back the day before, edging the Dodgers 2-1 as a late Dodger rally fell short. However Brooklyn was about to even the series. They were up 4-3 in the top of the ninth with two outs and right handed spot starter/reliever Hugh Casey was in command. He had come in the fifth inning and had blanked the Yankees in innings six, seven, eight and into the ninth. He completed his stellar relief effort fanning the last Yankee hitter knotting the series at two game apiece. The cheers died in the throats of the almost 34,000 Brooklyn faithful when they saw that strike three had skipped past catcher Mickey Owen and the hustling Yankee bolted down the first base line and reached first safely. Joe DiMaggio followed with a single and Charlie Keller doubled home both Henrich and DiMaggio. After Bill Dickey drew a walk, Joe Gordon doubled home two more runs. Final score 7-4 New York, and barely 24 hours later the New York Yankees would be crowned World Series champions.

The player whose hustle was the key to the comeback win?

Tommy Henrich.

Born Thomas David Henrich in Massillion Ohio on February 20th 1913, Henrich learned early in life that there's three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Henrich was one who made things happen. Signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1934, Henrich quickly put together three stellar minor league seasons ...

... and got nowhere.

Henrich decided that the Indians were trying to bury him in the minor league system. The Indians had depth in the outfield with players like Hall of Famer Earl Averill, Canadian slugger Jeff Heath who'd become of the few players in baseball history to have 20+ doubles, triples, and home runs in a single season (1941), .300 hitter and run producer Joe Vosmik and Bruce Campbell who played himself off the St. Louis Browns roster (he played too well and wished to be paid accordingly). So there was no need to promote him but plenty of reasons not to let a rival team get him either.

So Henrich decided to "make something happen."

He wrote then commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis and asked him to investigate. Landis, despised the farm system developed by Branch Rickey. He often liberated large numbers of minor leaguers he felt weren't being given a fair shake.

Landis did likewise with Henrich.

Henrich then signed with the New York Yankees and assigned to the Newark Bears, the Yankees top minor league team. He lasted only a week when Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy, tiring of outfielder Roy Johnson's lackadaisical play and indifferent attitude demanded the front office promote Henrich specifically. Despite not receiving a lot of playing time (logging just 206 at bats) Henrich quickly made a reputation of being a very productive ballplayer. He made excellent contact, batting .320 with an 142 OPS+, walking twice as often as he struck out. He was also a heady intelligent outfielder, Joe DiMaggio said that he was the smartest outfielder he'd ever seen. He was forever looking for an advantage and nothing escaped his notice. On occasion he parlayed an apparent base hit into a double play if the opposition was caught napping. He would take a sharp liner that looked like an out, catch it on a short hop -- while the baserunner was staying between first and second so as not to get doubled up on first -- and fire it in to second. If the hitter was jogging down to first anticipating Henrich would catch the ball he would discover to his chagrin that the keystone fielder would throw to first creating a double play.

Given more playing time in 1938 Henrich continued to prove why the Indians wanted to keep him out off of their rivals rosters. Although he match his earlier production, he still walked almost three times as often as he struck out and flashed a sweet Yankee Stadium swing by depositing 22 balls into the outfield bleachers posting an OPS+ of 119. Although he didn't see any action in the previous season's World Series -- as the Yankees opted to play more experienced Myril Hoag in the outfield -- he did play in the Yankees sweep of the Chicago Cubs homering in the deciding game.

Knee problems began to surface eating into Henrich's playing time. He played less than 100 games in 1939 and 1940, but provided quality play when he was in the lineup. In 640 at bats in those two seasons he hit .291, (111 OPS+) scoring 121 runs, while driving in 110 and walking far more often than he struck out.

In 1941 Henrich broke out with 31 home runs (136 OPS+) however, among the so called "cognoscenti" he was still pretty much unknown, merely being a single star in a galaxy of them. That year, of the top 14 vote getters for the American League Most Valuable Player award, the Yankees had five entries. Although he gained a share of the spotlight in Game Four of the World Series when he reached first base after Hugh Casey's strikeout pitch skipped past Brooklyn Dodger catcher Mickey Owen, he really didn't hit well, garnering just three hits. However among those were a double as well as his second Fall Classic circuit clout off of Dodger right handed ace, All Star and 22 game winner Whitt Wyatt in the decider. It was his second longball in the final game of a World Series.

The distractions of the World War II coupled with his achy -- though otherwise healthy knees -- ate into Henrich's production, having a down season by his standards. However he opened the season well, that taken together with his stellar 1941 campaign, saw his first All Star Game appearance where he hit a first inning double as part of a three run rally that was the difference in the American League's 3-1 victory at the Polo Grounds. He would not appear in the big leagues again until 1946 as he went off to serve his country. He lost what would have likely been his three most productive seasons enlisting at the age of 29 and not returning until he was 33. Henrich would've been the first to say that he did not regret his decision to serve his country.

Like most players returning from the service, Henrich came back a bit rusty. That being said, he was still one of the American League's premiere outfielders and a dangerous hitter in clutch situations. So great was his knack for coming up with the key blow in a game that Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen nicknamed him "Ol' Reliable." Despite the war induced rust, Henrich still blasted 19 home runs, plated 83 runs and crossed home plate 92 times. Although he hit a meager .251 but augmented that with 87 walks giving him a very respectable OBP of .351. Even with the layoff, he remained an above average offensive player (113 OPS+).

Henrich continued his comeback with a fine 1947. Although now 34, he was on the verge of his three finest seasons, campaigns which would make the Charlie Keller, Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich outfield as the consensus pick as the best in the major leagues. For the third time in his career he topped 100 runs, almost drove in a hundred, falling short by just two RBI, and hit for extra bases 64 times including leading the American League in triples (138 OPS+), cranky knees and all. He made his second All Star Game appearance along with outfield mates Keller and DiMaggio. He would cap his season by hitting .323 in the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers including his third four bagger in the Fall Classic in Game Two at Ebbets Field. The Yankees would go on to win in seven.

1948 would he his finest season (151 OPS+). He'd finish seventh in Most Valuable Player voting but would've finished much higher had the Yankees won the pennant that year. Henrich would hit over .300 for the third and final time in his career (.308), set a career high in doubles (42), triples (with a league leading 14), RBI, with 100 exactly and topped the American League in runs scored with a personal best 138 and had his second highest number of big flies with 25. However his knees continued to worsen with arthritis and he saw considerable time playing first base, appearing there in 46 games. Henrich would finish a career high sixth in Most Valuable Player voting in 1949, however, there's no doubt that he was the most valuable player on the Bronx Bombers. Manager Bucky Harris had been fired and Casey Stengel was tapped to replace him. However much of the Yankees roster was unsettled. First baseman George McQuinn had retired, shortstop Phil Rizzuto was nursing a sore throwing arm coming off a mediocre season where he'd hit .252, third base was a hole that Stengel would try to fill with future American League president Bobby Brown and Billy Johnson while catcher Yogi Berra, despite unusual speed for the position, not to mention an unusually strong bat for a backstop, was unpolished defensively.

Adding to the grief was a rash of early injuries which decimated the offense. The Yankees lost two-thirds of their outfield as Charlie Keller tore muscles in his side and DiMaggio -- who had surgery done on his heel -- was not responding. His heel pained him terribly and would shelve him for much of the season as he required further surgery. However, "Ol' Reliable" would step up and carry the offense (148 OPS+). He'd finish the season with twenty doubles, 24 home runs, 90 runs and 85 RBI in just 115 games played splitting time between first base and the outfield. Although he hit .287, he drew the third highest number of walks in his career (86) boosting his OBP to a lofty .416. He was again named to the All Star game but he didn't play since he was playing through a lot of pain at this point as his back was hurting him terribly--joining his gimpy knees--hence was seeing as much time at first as he was in the outfield. As the 1949 campaign wore on, the Yankees and Red Sox were battling neck and neck for the pennant. With two games to go the Red Sox were up by a game with two to play head to head with the Yankees in New York. The Yankees emerged victorious in the first game behind the stellar relief work of Joe Page. Henrich got things going in the second game as Phil Rizzuto tripled and the Red Sox infield played back. Noticing this, Henrich shortened his swing, hit the ball on the ground, driving in the Yankee shortstop from third. It would ultimately turn out to be the game winning hit. He would also get the game winner in Game One of the World Series as he homered off the Brooklyn Dodgers' Don Newcombe in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. The score was knotted 0-0 through eight and a half innings until Henrich landed one in the right field bleachers. The Yankees would go on to win in five games.

When the 1950 opened, Henrich was 37 years old. His arthritic knees were insufferable, his back not much better. He didn't play much that year, although he did appear in the first ever extra inning All Star Game history as the American League fell in fourteen innings to the senior circuit at Comiskey Park. Henrich would play exclusively at first base in the field and had to also been relegated to pinch hitting duties. His swing was as still as sweet as ever (136 OPS+) and his batting eye was still sharp as evidenced by his 27 walks against a paltry six whiffs. Of his 41 base hits, almost half went for extra bases (20) including a remarkable number of triples for an aging ballplayer with gimpy knees (8). However the arthritis was making him miserable. Nonetheless he was an important contributor as the Yankees would win their second consecutive American League pennant followed by a four game dismantling of the National League "Whiz Kids" Philadelphia Phillies. Shortly after the series he announced his retirement.

From a Reliable Source....

  • Despite playing on eight pennant winners, Tommy Henrich only played in four World Series.
  • The Yankees never lost a World Series in which Henrich played.
  • In the 1947 World Series, Henrich got the game winning hit in three of the four games, including Game Seven.
  • Henrich figured in prominently in Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak. With one out, a man on base and Henrich (with DiMaggio on deck) batting against the St. Louis Browns' Eldon Auker, Henrich got permission from Joe McCarthy to bunt thereby avoiding a double play and assuring the Yankee Clipper of an at bat.
  • DiMaggio had his game bat stolen during a rainout when he was trying to break Wee Willie Keeler's consecutive games hitting streak. DiMaggio beat Keeler with a borrowed bat from Henrich.
  • Bob Feller said on American League hitters: "The big swingers, with two exceptions [Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio], never gave me much trouble as the singles hitters, because they aren't as consistent as those who hit for higher averages. Guys like Doerr, *Tommy Henrich*, Taft Wright, Roy Cullenbine and Stan Spence gave me more trouble than most of the long-ball hitters."
  • On August 17 1948, Tommy Henrich hits his fourth grand slam of the season tying Babe Ruth's record, "the Babe” had died the day before.

You can read more of John Brattain's work at his blog, Synaptic Flatulence. I thank John very much for his contribution. - Larry

One Game, One Pitcher
by sj

It’s Game 7, Yankee backs are against the wall, who is the one pitcher you want on the hill? It’s a fun question to throw around. I was talking with my friend the other day, he narrowed the question some, by limiting the options to Yankee starters of recent vintage. He said without hesitation, Andy Pettitte. I have a feeling that many Yankee fans feel the same way. I wasn’t sure what the answer was, but I knew what it wasn’t, Andy Pettitte

I decided to take a look at the numbers. As everyone knows, wins and losses only measures how many runs the offense scored behind a pitcher, and does not effectively indicate the quality of a pitchers performance (Think El Duque, Game 6, 2000 ALDS). ERA doesn’t factor the length of a pitchers performance (witness David Wells perfect 0.00, Game 5, 2003 WS). I used Bill James’ Game Score and look at the each Yankee start since the 1995 postseason. Game Score is somewhat flawed, as it is hard to put up a really big number if you don’t strike anyone out, but I think it is the best way to take a quick look at the numbers. I limited it to pitchers with 5 or more starts, so Gooden, Neagle, Kamieniecki, McDowell, Key and Rogers were not eliminated from consideration. None of them were the answer anyway.

Andy Pettitte, mean:48.2, median: 49.5


ALCS Game 1



ALDS Game 2



WS Game 2



WS Game 5



ALDS Game 2



ALDS Game 2



ALCS Game 5



WS Game 4



ALDS Game 2



WS Game 6



WS Game 5



WS Game 2



ALCS Game 4



ALDS Game 2



ALCS Game 5



ALCS Game 2



ALCS Game 3



WS Game 1



ALDS Game 5



ALDS Game 2



ALCS Game 1



ALDS Game 2



ALCS Game 6



ALDS Game 2



ALDS Game 2



ALCS Game 3



ALDS Game 5



WS Game 3



WS Game 1



WS Game 6


I know where Andy’s postseason reputation was cemented, in 1996 dueled with John Smoltz with the series tied at two. Mariano Rivera unavailable as the bridge to John Wetteland, because he pitched multiple innings two days in a row, the Yankees needed a big start from their Cy Young candidate. They got it, Pettitte went 8 1/3 for a game score of 70. This game is an example of the limitations of Game Score, Good Andy only struck out 4.

Just 4 days earlier, in the first World Series game at Yankee stadium in 15 years, he laid an egg. Actually he was worse than that, saying he laid an egg is unfair to egg layers everywhere. The 1996 World Series was the perfect capsule of what Andy Pettitte was to the Yankees in the postseason, alternately brilliant and terrible, often in the same series.

Andy Pettitte won many, many big games for the Yankees, many of his starts were of ugly, one sided affairs . Of his thirty postseason starts, six times his game score was 22 or less, that is positively Sturtzian. 20% of the time Andy Pettitte took the hill in the postseason, he was shelled, and shelled hard.

Now, I don’t think Pettitte isn’t “clutch.” He obviously can pitch in big games. Pettitte is simply a pitcher that can not be effective without his A game. There is no way I give the ball to that kind of pitcher in game 7 if I have any options not named Contreras, Weaver or Sturtze.

David Cone, mean: 51.42, median:53


WS Game 2



ALDS Game 3



ALCS Game 2



ALCS Game 2



WS Game 3



WS Game 3



ALDS Game 1



ALCS Game 2



ALDS Game 5



ALCS Game 6



ALDS Game 1



ALDS Game 1


I thought Cone’s numbers would be higher. Looking back, I think Cone suffered a little from being left in the game too long in a few games. For example, he pitched very well in Game 5 of the 1995 series with the Mariners, but Buck Showalter left him in for approximately 2,400 pitches.

I would consider giving 1997-99 Cone the ball, but he is my favorite pitcher. I have a feeling he was Joe Torre feels the same way, judging by his year 2000 season.

Roger Clemens, mean: 54.94 median: 58


ALCS Game 4



WS Game 2



WS Game 3



ALDS Game 3



ALCS Game 4



WS Game 4



ALDS Game 3



WS Game 7



ALCS Game 3



WS Game 4



ALDS Game 5



ALDS Game 1



ALDS Game 1



ALDS Game 1



ALCS Game 7



ALDS Game 4



ALCS Game 3


Rocket’s average is boosted greatly by two incredible performances in 2000. In the 2000 ALCS against the Mariners, Rocket’s presence was announced by two high and tight pitches to ARod in the first, knocking him his backside. He struck ARod out, and 14 others that day, allowing only one hit. It was far and away the best start by a Yankee in the Torre Era. A couple weeks later, he put up an 83 against the Mets, going 8. The score would have been higher if James had included thrown bat shards into the formula.

The lowlights included two head to head starts against the Pedro Martinez. One was a complete debacle for the Yankees, the other was one of the best games in Yankee history.

There are worse options in a big game than Clemens, but the Yankees had better.

Mike Mussina mean: 52.22 median: 56


ALDS Game 3



WS Game 5



WS Game 3



ALCS Game 2



ALCS Game 4



ALDS Game 1



ALCS Game 1



ALDS Game 3



WS Game 1


My little study isn’t really fair to Moose because it does not factor in his postseason starts with the Orioles including a brilliant postseason in 1997 (29 Innings, 11 H, 4 ER 41 K/7 BB). He was not as great in 1996, but a few of those game scores would have been at the top of any chart (84, 77 in the 97 ALCS)

As a Yankee, Mussina’s first start was his best. With the Yanks down 2-0 in the series, he shut down the A’s over 7 innings. His game score was only 69 because he only went seven innings. Joe went to a fully rested Mariano Rivera for a 2 innings save. Mussina’s other great Yankee postseason performance wasn’t a start, but a relief appearance. In 2003, ha came out of the pen for the first time in the big leagues and held Boston scoreless over 3 innings, redeeming himself for his terrible start in the season opener.

David Wells mean: 55 median: 60


ALDS Game 1



ALDS Game 3



ALCS Game 1



ALCS Game 5



ALDS Game 4



ALCS Game 5



WS Game 5



WS Game 1



WS Game 1



ALDS Game 4


I was never a member of the David Wells Fan Club, but I always knew if the Yankees needed a start a good start, Wells would provide it. His game scores are a touch misleading, Wells is hurt by his low strikeout totals. He was more than excellent in many of these starts.

If you discount his one inning start in 2003, he has only had 3 sub par starts, but what a sub par start in 2001. As crappy starts go, this Game 4 in 2002 was at the top of the list. I thought the Yankee outfielders were going to collapse from chasing all the balls in the gap. Oh, and those stupid thundersticks, ugh, the less said about the 2002 postseason the better.

Wells is a very good choice to take the ball in the big game, however, the last time the Yankees did that, Wells asked out after the first inning, and not even an appearance by Good Andy two nights later could save them.

Orlando Hernandez mean: 58.54 median: 60


WS Game 1



ALCS Game 4



ALDS Game 1



ALCS Game 2



ALCS Game 5



WS Game 2



WS Game 4



ALDS Game 3



ALCS Game 1



WS Game 3



ALDS Game 4



ALCS Game 3



ALCS Game 6


My choice to start the mythical big game is El Duque. He has proven it over and over, he can and will get it done.

In my opinion, his first start with the Yankees was his fines, down 2-1 at Cleveland. The Yankees faced a juggernaut lineup with the possibility of falling down 3-1. El Duque calmly went 7 innings, allowing only 3 hits, and shutting the Indians down.

The Yankees have the opportunity to throw El Duque in a big game again this postseason. If I was Joe Torre I would not hesitate to give him the ball, I would give it to him in game 1. If the Yankees need a big start, Hernandez will provide it.

In 2001, El Duque was asked why he didn’t feel pressure in the postseason. He replied, “I always feel pressure. Anyone who says he doesn't is lying. What I never feel is fear."

A win is a win
by SG

To say that the series finale against Minnesota was a must-win is inaccurate. With an eight game lead and only 43 games remaining, it would take a collapse of historic proportions for the Yankees to not make the playoffs. However, there was definitely a sense of urgency, and the pitching matchup was definitely in favor of the Yankees, with El Duque looking to move to 6-0, vs. Carlos Silva, who's been workman-like, but not much more than that.

Silva cruised through the first three innings, throwing 35 pitches, 28 strikes. Meanwhile, it was obvious that El Duque did not have great velocity tonight, and seemed to really be battling his control. In the first inning, he threw a breaking ball as the first pitch to every hitter, and needed 26 pitches to get through the inning. A wild pitch to Morneau with a runner on third allowed Minnesota to take an early 1-0 lead, but he recovered to whiff MOrneau with a nasty splitter, then got Jose Offerman(he's still in baseball?) to line out to John Olerud for the third out.

It stayed that way until the top of the fifth, when the Yankee offense finally woke up from their slumber, capped off by a Gary Sheffield three run HR. Sheffield continues to defy the pain in his shoulder, and produce at a near-MVP level. He's not quite at the Ramirez/Ortiz level, but he's close.

El Duque got through the fifth in short order, and it seemed the Yankees were on their way to an easy victory.

In the top of the sixth, Posada doubled, and Olerud singled him in. It's time to acknowledge that Olerud has been a very good pickup by the Yankees. Sample size issues aside, he's hit .319, with an OBP over .400. He hasn't shown much power, but he's helped the Yankees extend innings by not making outs, and he's been very good defensively at first. I wasn't crazy about his signing, I mean he got released by Seattle, but credit to Cashman for talking him into it, and Olerud for coming to the Yankees and doing the job.

El Duque continued on, and in the sixth he started to really struggle. The Twins were able to tack on a couple of runs, although Sheffield threw out Offerman trying to go from second to third with two outs on a sacrifice fly, which is one of the stupidest plays in baseball. You still need a hit to drive you in, getting from second to third with two outs makes no sense. This inning should probably have been an indication to Joe Torre that El Duque was probably not going to be able to go much longer.

In the Yankee top of the seventh, Sheffield(his name is all over this game) walked. Up stepped Alex Rodriguez, to pad his stats with a meaningless two run HR. At least, it sure seemed that way at the time, as his HR pushed the Yankee lead to 9-3. At this point, it's just a matter of letting the scrubs in the bullpen hold the lead, right?

El Duque started the bottom of the 7th at 85 pitches. Not unreasonable. What was unreasonable was walking Cristian Guzman to lead off an inning with a six run lead. Apparently that was ok with Torre, because he left Hernandez in to pitch to Matt LeCroy. LeCroy fouled off a few pitches before striking out, then Luis Rivas doubled to left scoring Guzman.

No big deal, 9-4. Take out El Duque, bring in Quantrill. Unfortunately, for the second consecutive appearance, Quantrill got lit up like a Christmas tree. Single, double, triple, and it was now a 9-7 game. Torre went to Flash Gordon, who got an RBI groundout before retiring Offerman.

It remained 9-8 going into the bottom of the 8th. The formula was still in place, Gordon would hand the lead to Mo, and the Yankees would win again. Except for that SOB Shannon Stewart, who the Yankees could not retire in this series. His two run triple with two outs gave the Twins a 10-9 lead. With Automatic Joe , who had blown one save in 34 chances this year looming, this game looked like another painful loss.

Except for Gary Sheffield. I never liked Gary Sheffield. He always seemed to be a little too cocky, a little too arrogant, I didn't like the way he intentionally made errors in Milwaukee to get traded, I didn't like all the contract squabbles I always heard about with him, etc.,

He's won me over. There is not a player that I can ever remember on the Yankees who has seemed to deliver a key hit when needed as much Sheffield has this season. Clutch hitting is not considered to be a repeatable skill, but that doesn't take away from the big hits Sheffield has provided this year. After Jeter made an out, up stepped Sheffield, and out went the ball. rLr, a regular poster over at once described Sheffield as "having the eyes of a snake". This is a perfect description of the way he glares at the pitcher, daring them to throw it by him. What he's done this year is all the more remarkable, considering the obvious pain he's playing in.

This seemed to rattle Nathan, who then gave up a single to Rodriguez. Alex stole second, then another player having a very good season, Hideki Matsui stepped up. Clutch-zilla singled in Rodriguez with the go-ahead run, Posada, Olerud and Sierra added some insurance, then Mariano came in and showed Joe Nathan how it should be done, striking out the side.

A good win, and the team stays undefeated in games that El Duque has started. Next up, a three game series back home with Anaheim.

Pitching matchups
Friday: Ortiz vs. Lieber
Saturday: Sele vs. Loaiza (if he hasn't been traded)
Sunday: Escobar vs. Vazquez

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Is this what we paid for?
by Sean McNally

The rumbles have started, and if you haven’t been caught in Olympic fever, you’ve probably already heard it: What’s wrong with Javy Vazquez?

Over the first 148.2 innings of his Yankee career, Vazquez has surrendered 68 earned runs, 24 homers, walked 37 and fanned 114. The first three are far more than Yankee fans expected when we traded Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, Randy Choate and buckets of cash to Montreal for him and the last stat is lower than was hoped for.

So what’s the problem? Well, for one, these numbers aren’t that far out of whack with Vazquez’s career lines.

First, the homers. Javy gave up 28 taters in 2003 and 2002, so those numbers already look to be in jeopardy. His career high in big flies allowed came in his rookie year of 1998 when 31 times the home plate umpire threw him a new baseball.

Vazquez is also on pace to have his career worst groundball-to-flyball ratio. Through 23 starts, he has pitched to a 0.82 G/F. In 2000, Vazquez’s first year as a “frontline starter,” the right hander posted a 1.51 G/F ratio. Since then that figure has dropped to 1.28 then to 0.94 then to 0.83 last year.

So, problem one – Vazquez is putting too many balls in play on the fly.

Also this year, Vazquez is on pace to strike out about 173 batters (.77 per inning with an expectation he throws about 225 innings). That would represent a 70+ strikeout drop from 2003, but would be in line with his numbers from 2002.

His K/9 ratio is 6.9 so far in 2004. That’s just slightly worse than the 6.99 he posted in 2002, but a sharp decline from last year’s figure of 9.4. In addition, his K/BB ratio is the worst it’s been since before the 2000 season.

With his strikeouts going down, Javy is putting more balls in play, and as we’ve discovered, more of them are going there in the air.

Opponents seem to be getting on base more, as evidenced by a .293 OBA. This is up from the .276 OBA Vazquez surrendered in 2003. His career OBA is .306, so he’s still under that. Opposing batters are hitting .242 against him this season and slugging .423. Over the course of his career, hitters have a .258/.306/.423 line against Vazquez.

When a hitter does put the ball on the ground, the Yankee defense have turned just 5 into double plays – setting a putrid pace of 7.6 DPs for Javy’s mythical 225-inning season. So those base runners stay on base rather than getting erased by the pitchers best friend.

But what of all those base runners? Surely, Vazquez’s gopheritis must have put a great deal of them on the board. Not so fast my friend.

Of the 23 longballs Javy’s given up, 16 have been solo shots, which is good. Only one, a memorable first-inning blast by Carlos “God Bless America” Delgado, was a three-run jack and just seven were two-run homers. Fortunately, Vazquez has not given up any grand slams.

So in summation, Vazquez is giving up slightly more homers than his career numbers would suggest, he’s not striking out as many guys and the fewer ground balls he does induce are not being turned into double plays by his defense.

So the question remains – What’s wrong with Javy? In short, nothing. The guy was Montreal’s ace the last three seasons and he did it while giving up lots of homers, more and more fly balls and flip-flopping between being a great strikeout pitcher and being just an above average one.

Is it possible that Vazquez has peaked and is declining? Sure. But it’s more likely it’s just one of his “off” years, much like 2002 and in 2005, he’ll be ready to anchor the rotation.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

House Money
by SG

Like Gordon Gecko, I hate losses. I am a Yankee fan, and I am spoiled, and I want this team to win every single game they play. I had a theory about the way Joe Torre seemed to manage games where a series victory had been guaranteed due to the Yankees winning the first two games of a three game series, or first three games of a four game series. I call this my House Money theory. I've heard Michael Kay mention this when not calling every single fly ball deep, but haven't ever heard Torre say it directly. With Sunday night's loss fresh in my mind, and bored at work today, I figured I'd take a look at the Yankees' game log this season and see if there were any interesting trends in the so-called "House Money" games. There were 14 series which qualified as having one of these games. The Yankees record in these games is 7-7. I will list them below with a few comments about the final game in each series. What I tried to look for are any discernible trends that may signify a different approach from Torre in these particular games.

Series: 4/20 - 4/22 at Chicago
W 11-8
W 3-1
L 4-3

Nothing unusual here. The regular lineup all played, and Mussina pitched a complete game in the loss. The Yankees stood at 4-4 at this point in the season.

Series: 4/27 - 4/29 vs. Oakland
W 10-8
W 5-1
W 5-2

The series that was probably the turning point of the season. Again, the regular lineup all played, and QuanGorMo made their token appearance. This pushed the Yankees to .500, at 11-11.

Series: 4/30 - 5/2 vs Kansas City
W 5-2
W 12-4
W 4-2

Another finale that featured the regular starting lineup, as well as Gordon and Rivera in relief of Mussina. At this point the Yankees were 14-11.

Series: 5/4 - 5/6 at Oakland
W 10-8
W 4-3
L 7-4

The first hint of Torre perhaps managing slightly differently showed up in this game. With a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth, Vazquez got two quick outs before giving up two singles and a walk. Another walk forced in the tying run, at which point Torre brought in Gabe White to try and retire Mark Kotsay. Kotsay singled in two runs, and that ended up being the difference in the game. Torre was still trying to integrate White as the main lefty in the pen at this point, so I wouldn't read to much into this game, however it seemed like he stayed with Vazquez a little bit too long. This loss dropped the Yankees to 16-12 on the season.

Series: 5/25 - 5/27 at Baltimore
W 11-3
W 12-9
W 18-5

Turning point of the season # 2? The regular lineup all started, with the exception of Giambi, who missed 11 games around this time. In a big blowout, I wouldn't read too much into The Run Fairy™ pitching two innings. This win upped the Yankee record to 19-12.

Series: 5/28 - 5/30 at Tampa Bay
W 7-5
W 5-3
L 7-6

Lieber got shelled early, and the Yankees put up six runs in the last two innings to make it close. Flaherty and Wilson both started this game. The most glaring thing about this game that I recall was that when the Yankees had cut the deficit to 6-4 in the top of the 8th, Torre kept Tanyon Sturze in there for the bottom of the eighth. Sturze had pitched a scoreless 7th, but gave up a homer to Brook Fordyce in the 8th for what proved to be the margin of victory. A questionable decision, but he had pitched well in the 7th. Yankees drop to 29-18 with this loss.

Series: 6/1 - 6/3 vs. Baltimore
W 8-7
W 6-5
W 5-2

Once again, Flaherty got a start in a "house money" game, but thanks to solid pitching by Vazquez, Gordon, and Rivera, it was a moot point. Back up to 33-19 with a sweep.

Series: 6/8 - 6/10 vs. Colorado
W 2-1
W 2-1
W 7-5

Batting 8th, the catcher, John Flaherty. Batting 9th, the second baseman, Enrique Wilson. Luckily, Colorado was bad enough that it didn't matter, as the dearly departed Jose Contreras pitched seven decent innings in a blowout victory, mopped up by White and Prinz. Yanks move to 38-20 with this win.

Series: 6/15 - 6/17 at Arizona
W 4-2
W 9-4
L 6-1

Despite the misleading final score, this was a close game until the bottom of the 8th.
The regular lineup started, Trailing 2-1, Torre let Lieber start the inning. A single to Finley and a double to Bautista made the score 3-1. Enter The Run Fairy™, to walk Luis Gonzalez. Out goes TRF™, in come Prinz. Shea Hillebrand doubles to right plating two more runs, and the ballgame was basically over. It could be argued that Quantrill should've been brought in instead of Prinz, but it's not likely to have mattered. Yanks fall to 42-22 with the loss.

Series: 6/29 - 7/1 vs. Boston
W 11-3
W 4-2
W 5-4

The best series of the season in my opinion, with one of the best regular season games that I've ever had the pleasure of watching. The Yankees had every intention of sweeping this series, and did so. The Yankees moved to 50-26 with the sweep.

Series: 7/8 - 7/11 vs. Tampa Bay
W 7-1
W 5-4
W 6-3
W 10-3

The last game before the All Star Break featured the triumphant return of El Duque. After five, and up 5-2, the first call to the bullpen went to TRF™, who promptly gave up a run then settled down to pitch 2 and 2/3 innings. The Yankees added another five to put the game out of reach. Yankees enter the break at 55-31.

Series: 7/26 - 7/28 at Toronto
W 6-5
W 7-4
L 3-2

The Yankees took the first two games at Toronto during WWwMW™(What's Wrong with Mariano Week), despite a blown save by Mo in the first game. He ended up pitching two innings in the first game, throwing 33 pitches. Gordon also pitched in that game, 1 and 1/3 innings and 18 pitches. The next night, in a 5-2 game, Torre brought in Gordon in the bottom of the eighth. He got through the inning, then the Yankees hit two HRs to extend the lead to 7-2. No need for Mariano now, Gordon closed it out despite allowing two more runs, requiring 35 pitches for his night's work. That brings us to the finale. With the Yankees nursing a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth, Lieber retired Rios and Hinske, before walking Vernon Wells. Up stepped Delgado, and in came TRF™. Double for Delgado, tie game. Out came TRF™, in came Quantrill. He got out of it, and pitched one more inning. The Yankees failed to score in the 9th or 10th, and so Torre brought in Scott Proctor to pitch the bottom of the tenth. Proctor got one out, then Wells took him over the fence for the game winner. The most galling thing about this game at the time was the fact that Heredia was brought in to face Delgado, but looking at the prior two games, Gordon was probably not available, and Mariano had pitched two innings the night before and was going through WWwMW, so it probably seemed worse than it was. This was another game started by Flaherty and Wilson, incidentally.
Yankees go to 63-37 after this one.

Series: 8/6 - 8/9 vs. Toronto
W 11-4
W 6-0
W 8-2
L 5-4

So, if winning the first two games of a three game series means you're playing with house money in the third game, how about winning the first three of a four game series?
Posada did start, but so did Wilson. Trailing 5-2 in the top of the 8th, Torre brought in Gordon with a runner on second. He got out of it, Quantrill pitched the 9th, and the Yankees scored two runs thanks to a Meaningless-zilla™ HR, to lose 5-4. Interesting use of Gordon by Torre in this game, and seems to be an argument against the house money concept.

Series: 8/13 - 8/15 at Seattle
W 11-3
W 6-4
L 7-3

The last series I will talk about was the one over this past weekend, at Seattle. Flaherty started the last two games, due to Posada being sick with the flu. The Yankees took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the 7th thanks to a Clutch-zilla™ two-run bomb in the sixth, but with Brown not looking sharp, the game quickly imploded. A single and a double off Brown cut the lead to 3-2. Brown recovered to strike out Willie Bloomquist, but enter the latest crappy Yankee lefty to pitch to ICHIRO!!!! Nitkowski walked ICHIRO!!!!!, and in came Quantrill. It is safe to say that Quantrill did not have it this evening, as he gave up three straight singles to Randy Winn, Edgar Martinez, and Raul Ibanez. Scott Proctor came in to put a capper on it by walking in a run and then giving up two run single. Final score, Seattle 7, Yankees 3. My feeling is that Gordon could've been brought in to pitch to ICHIRO!!!!!!, and this game would not have been a loss.

It seems that my initial perception that Torre calls off the dogs in these games is off-base. Flaherty started only 5 of the 14 games, a bit higher than his normal rate, but also with mitigating factors(day game after a night game, illness, injury). When he hasn't used Gordon or Rivera in a key situation, it has usually been due to their use in prior games. Torre gets a lot of flak from most sabermetrically aware baseball fans because of some of his proclivities which fly in the face of statistics, and he does do some short-sighted things. However, one of his biggest strengths as a manager in my opinion is his view of the big picture. He understands the need to occassionally lose a battle to win a war, and is often experimenting with players in roles to find out ways in which they can contribute to the team. When the team has a big lead in the divisional race, this is what I want from my manager. So, while I still hate every time the Yankees lose, and will complain about it non-stop, I understand what Torre is trying to do, and I respect him for doing it. It could be worse after all, we could be dealing with Larry Bowa.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Back to the Future . . .
by Sean McNally

With Bernie Williams at times seeming to age before our very eyes and Kenny Lofton less than 12 months away from his 38th birthday, the Yankees are seemingly in the market for a long-term solution in centerfield.

Bernie is still going to be on the roster through 2005 for 12 million reasons and Lofton will be complaining about inactivity, playing a passable center and taking some of the worst lefthanded hacks ever next season for $3.1 million.

The obvious answer to the problem is throw a truckload of money at Carlos Beltran, but what if Steinbrenner and the Tampa mafia got creative and instead, invested that money in a time machine… a little bullpen cart with a flux capacitor.

Of course, if they did that they could just sign Beltran as a 17-year-old free agent, and Albert Pujols pre-emmigration and a cast of thousands…. But, what if this time machine could only go back four years from today – is there an answer that close.

Indeed there is – punch in March 20, 2001. Why that date? Well, cause it gives us 24 hours to convince Brian Cashman not to make a horrible mistake, for on the next day, tells us this happened:

"March 21, 2001: OF Wily Mo Pena Traded by the New York Yankees to the Cincinnati Reds for 3B Drew Henson and OF Michael Coleman."

Ahhh, the legend of Wily Mo Pena, former Yankee.

Silly big league contract gymnastics not included, 2004 has been a coming out party for the former Yankee farmhand.

We’ll ignore Michael Coleman and instead put Henson and Pena in a steel cage.

In his age 17 and 18 seasons, Pena split time in the Yankee farm system between the Gulf Coast Yankees, the Greensboro Bats and Staten Island Yankees in rookie and A-ball. During that time, the Dominican tools freak hit 17 homers in 488 at-bats with a .234 average and no clue of where the strike zone was as evidenced by his 32-168 walk-strikeout ratio. This does not a prospect make, but remember he was just 18 and playing in A-ball, so he was young for his league.

Drew Henson spent his age 17 and 18 seasons terrorizing high school pitching and Big-10 secondaries.

In 1998, the Yanks reached for the high school home run king in the third round, Henson, who had committed to play quarterback of the Maize and Blue of Michigan. After two years of part-time play, the Yankee brass thought they could have something – Henson had yet to slug less than .474 in either of limited play.

By 2000, New York believed Henson was the heir apparent to Scott Brosious at the hot corner and would join Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson as part of a homegrown infield in the future. However, at the 2000 trade deadline, the Yankees shipped Henson to Cincinnati along with Jackson Meilan, Brian Reith and Ed Yarnall for Mike Frank and Denny Neagle.

Frank never pitched in pinstripes and Neagle gave the Yankees a 5.81 ERA over 91.3 innings all while giving up lots of dingers and generally being miserable. He did got 1-2 in the post season with an ERA of about 4.50, but all in all Neagle was a bust before joining the Denver PTA with Mike Hampton.

Why does this trade matter? Well, Henson was Enrique Wilson awful for Cincy and was going to go play football full-time unless he was dealt back to NY. So, it came to pass on March 21, 2001, Henson was dealt back to Yanks for Wily Mo Pena and Michael Coleman.

At the time, it looked like a great swap, the Yanks got some Quadruple-A filler and Henson back for a tools freak who’d have to be in the big leagues by the time he was 21…. Ahhh, the beauty of projections.

Since that time, Henson signed a 6 year, $17 million deal and was rushed through the Yankee system, all but skipping from the Florida State League to the International League, with a brief five-game layover in the Eastern League in 2001.

During that time, he lost any clue about the strike zone that he had (not much) and regressed every year until he signed a pro football contract this past offseason.

Getting back to Wily Mo, kid broke out at Dayton of the Midwest League in 2001. Pena celebrated his 20th birthday by smoking the league to the tune of .264/.310/.485. His notion of the strike zone was theoretical at best (33-177 BB-K), but he added 16 homers to his previous career high and tacked on 93 points of slugging in what was really his first full season at any level.

In 2002 and 2003 Pena got “Rule V’ed” by the Reds due to their contractual obligation to keep him on the big league roster, so he sat a lot, got hurt and rehabbed quite a bit. Despite this, Pena appeared to make great strides at Triple-A posting a 1.117 OPS with 4 homers in just 51 at-bats over 14 games.

Wily Mo entered 2004 as the fourth outfielder in a Reds trio that featured a lock to be the first hall of famer ever to be made of glass in Ken Griffey Jr., Three True Outcomes centerfold Adam Dunn and the only player more fragile than Griffey in Austin Kearns.

However, injury and opportunity collided for Pena, all serving to make Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection for him look not that silly.

Through Sunday’s action, in 270 ABs, Pena has smoked 21 homers, good for second on the team. His OPS of .849 would be third by a wide margin among Yankee outfielders. His .533 slugging percentage would be number one, that’s right, first among all Yankees. Better than "Hits the ball harder than anyone I’ve ever seen"™ better than ICR™ and reducing No. 55 to Second-Best-in-Team-Slugging-Zilla™.

Now Wily Mo ain’t perfect… he still strikes out too damn much – 86 whiffs versus 17 walks, but he seems to be putting it all together. He likely wouldn’t have “talked” George out of Lofton, but as a potential big-league ready power hitting centerfielder, think of the booty he might have landed at the deadline.

Or, best case scenario, George doesn’t sign Lofton, and the Yankee braintrust goes after a lefty reliever to supplant The Run Fairy™, or per chance to dream, used Pena as part of a package to snag ICR rather than Soriano. Or, option three, Pena is cutting into the playing time of Ruben Sierra and Bubba Crosby, letting Sheffield DH more often and giving New York a legit fourth/fifth outfielder, all while building for the future during a championship run.

Since this is an off day, let this just be a reminder to root for who ever is playing Dallas this NFL season.

Roadside Photos
by Larry Mahnken

When Doug Pappas passed away in May, knowing that his website would disappear as soon as the server bills came past due, Greg Tamer downloaded Doug's entire site, and has now uploaded it on his server.

SABR is planning to upload Doug's archives on their site, but for now, all of Doug's site, including the photo side of it, are available at this location.

If you've never read Doug Pappas' writings on the Business of Baseball, I encourage you to do so now, you will be a smarter fan for it. Thanks to Greg.

And thank you, Doug. We miss you terribly.

* * *

I hope you're enjoying the contributions of SG and sjohnny. A couple more Yankee fans will be contributing also, I expect you will enjoy them too.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Leave Jason Alone
by SG

The New York media has gotten a well-deserved reputation as low-life scumbags, but their treatment of Jason Giambi has shocked even me. I had to write something about this, because frankly, these people are showing themselves to be the worst kind of low-life trash, the way they've been blasting Giambi recently.

Let's start with Jon Heyman.

With the limited information Giambi and the Yankees have provided, it's impossible to know whether the cause of his ailment or ailments is related to steroids or to the late hours he keeps (he denies it's steroids, though he's denied in the past that he's ever taken steroids or that steroids are even a problem in baseball).

It could just be rotten luck to have caught a bug or gotten a benign tumor, or whatever. But if he's aging too fast, it's easy to think that's related to his active off-field routine. A source said Giambi stayed out with Ricky Williams during the World Series in Miami last year. That should gall teammates, given that Giambi sat out Game 5 with knee pain.

Would Heyman's medical degree allow him to know whether or not Giambi's tumor was caused by steroid use? I don't know whether or not Giambi has taken steroids, and there is only circumstancial evidence. I can't see how staying out late before a night game would affect Giambi's play on the field, but I'm sure that since Giambi was sitting around smoking weed with Ricky Williams, that is why he couldn't play in Game 5. Never mind the chronic knee injury he played with last year.

More brilliance from the bitter dwarf, Mike Lupica

When the Yankees think all that is wrong with Jason Giambi is an intestinal parasite, they rush to give us the news.

When it is discovered that he has a benign tumor, they rush to give us the news.

Between the parasite news and the tumor news, we get all these updates about all the tests he has taken, and all the illnesses that have been ruled out.

Now we are told that we are being too nosy, refusing to respect Giambi's privacy, by wanting to know what kind of tumor it is and where it is.

Give me a break.

I hear all these solemn pronouncements from Yankee people that it's none of our business.

Except for this: All the other medical bulletins did seem to be our business.

How does that work?

Don't hold a public press conference to tell us to respect your privacy, that's not how it works.

Not around here, anyway.

I'm sure the Yankees could've placed Giambi on the disabled list without giving a reason, MLB wouldn't have an issue with that, right Mike? Seriously, what business is it of yours to know where the tumor is? Is it only so you can further try to link Giambi with steroid use? I see no other reason that the location is such a big deal.

Lastly, and probably worst of all, Lawrence Rocca weighs in with his insightful, intelligent, and factual opinion.

Now that Giambi is headed for a full recovery from his undisclosed illness -- truly good news for a nice guy -- the time has come to make the harsh admission that the Yankees would be better off without him, for the rest of this season and his spectacularly bloated contract.

Yes, because the first two years of his contract he was such a disappointment, being one of the top hitters in the league, and we all know that he won't do well over the remainder of his contract. Did Rocca use PECOTA to project Giambi's future performance, or has he consulted a psychic?

Recuperate in Tampa the next three months, Jason, then get back to playing in another uniform, in another city. Oh, and for your own sake, make it west of the Mississippi.

Because Giambi has trade value, right Lawrence? So the contract is the problem, but trading him away and eating most of his contract would solve the financial burden?

The Giambi-Yankees marriage, which started with so much promise, has been an overall disaster. Too much money, too many soap operas and way too little production. Some players just aren't cut out for life with the Yankees and Giambi is one of them. He is no Ed Whitson or Kenny Rogers, but he is no Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera, either.

Yes, because someone who puts up a WARP3(Third Order Wins above Replacement) of 10.7 and 8.1 in his first two season on the team is clearly giving "way too little production".

The Moneyball guys can argue all they want about statistics, but Olerud has great intangible values, including his no-maintenance professionalism and the confidence he gives his pitchers and fellow infielders.

Is that why Seattle was doing so well with Olerud there?

Olerud, who has stroked the ball since joining the club, also helps balance the Yankees lineup, making it less of a homer-reliant group and allowing Hideki Matsui, a better contact and situational hitter than Giambi, to move up in the order, where he has become a force.

Was Matsui not doing well prior to Olerud joining the team? Matsui was hitting .293/.385/.503 before Olerud was acquired.

The Yankees are 26-15 in the games Giambi has missed, a .634 winning percentage and proof they can thrive without him.

Or proof that they still have 175 million dollars worth of All Star players who are doing the job.

No team would take Giambi and all the money still owed him, but the Yankees would surely chip in some cash and he could agree to restructure his contract, by lopping off years or deferring huge portions of money, regardless of what the Players' Association says. After all, a player has a right to be happy, and there's not a polygraph test Giambi wouldn't send into spastic scribbles by saying he loves life as a Yankee.

Ok, so although Giambi is a union member, he doesn't have to abide by their rules. Lawrence Rocca, labor lawyer.

The feeling is mutual. While Giambi is personally liked by Joe Torre and most members of the team, he is regarded as soft by many in uniform, who won't ever forget that he begged out of Game 5 of last year's World Series.

Soft by who in uniform then, Sojo? Randolph?

Giambi's insistence on having his personal trainer, Bob Alejo, and father, John, around so much before the club finally put a stop to it this year has worn on his teammates to no end. General manager Brian Cashman, who has the patience to deal with George Steinbrenner, was spewing exasperation earlier this season when he called the Alejo issue a "never-ending saga."

What kind of scumbag would want his father around with him. What kind of athlete who wants to be in shape for baseball would want a trainer that has helped him be an MVP caliber player around? At least David Wells didn't have a personal trainer right? But he begged out of a World Series game too.

There were a few sunny weeks his first spring training, and a few great months that 2002 season, but once the booing started on Opening Day last season and the media zeroed in on his slumping, Giambi began a full withdrawal, from the press and his natural personality. It got so bad last year, he was reciting rehearsed answers, like his "zero to hero" line in last year's Division Series, to questions that weren't even asked.

Why would someone who has been blasted by the press for no discernible reason withdraw from them? I don't get it.

Giambi might never have signed with the Yankees if it weren't for his father's strong influence and lifelong love of the Yankees, so you have to wonder how much this veil of secrecy about his current physical condition comes on instructions from John Giambi, who made some sanctimonious statements about media and fan speculation in an interview in yesterday's Daily News.

Yes, because the media and fan speculation hasn't been cruel or misinformed.

Well, when a millionaire athlete volunteers to the press that he is being tested for cancer, his personal trainer says he is being tested for a potentially fatal parasite and then that player grows as tight-lipped regarding his final diagnosis as he has been regarding his testimony to a grand jury investigating an alleged steroid distribution ring, people are going to wonder what's being hidden.

While that is "people's" right, it does not supercede Giambi's right to privacy.

If Giambi wants to end the speculation and squash the rumors, disclosing the full truth is a good start. An even better move, for all parties, would be a divorce between Giambi and the Yankees.

Sure, because there's no way this would lead to "sources' claiming that there is a link to steroid use for those types of tumors, and it would also change the fact that people think his contract is an albatross.

I hope Jason Giambi isn't going anywhere, and I hope he can put his health problems behind him and be productive for the remainder of his contract. While some decline should be expected, what has happened to him this year is not something that should have been expected, and is, in my opinion, not indicative of how he will perform going forward. As a Yankee fan, I want Jason Giambi to lead this team to the World Series, not just for the thrill of victory, but to make these butchers and vermin in the press eat the crow that they so richly deserve.

Get well Jason.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Chicks Dig the Longball.
by sj

I am back by lukewarm demand. I am not a great writer, so I will try to mask it again by doing another list. Lists fit my style perfectly, because of my short atten…ooh, look at that, Tiger is might miss the cut.

Today I am going to rank the top 10 Torre Era Yankee home runs. As is the case with all lists, this one is completely subjective.

10. Derek Jeter vs. Byung-Hyun Kim, Game 4, 2001 WS

Obviously, World Series walk offs are pretty exciting. This was a great at bat by Jeter, nine pitches; the ninth was a fastball outside that he went hit into the right field seats.

9. Tim Raines vs. Bobby Munoz, May 19, 1998

In the eighth inning, Bernie Williams had the nerve to hit a three run homer off head case Armando Benitez. Benitez then drilled Tino Martinez with a 95 mph fastball in the back. As the Yankee dugout stepped to the top step to exchange obscenities at him, Benitiez dropped his glove, spread his arms wide and invited the Yankees to take their best shot. Extreme ugliness ensued. Big Stein called it the “worst brawl he has seen in 25 years.”

After a very long delay, Tim Raines hit the first pitch after the brawl for a run into the right field bleachers. Raines and they Yankees knocked the defending AL East champs into last place that day.

8. Darryl Strawberry vs. Billy Taylor, August 4th 1998.

I am pretty sure this was an ESPN game. Anyway, I was watching this from the hotel I worked at, because I tore all the ligaments in my knee playing softball.

Strawberry had already homered in the first game which the Yankees won. Torre sent someone named Mike Buddie out there to start the house money game. Buddie apparently won the WFAN, “Who wants to pitch for the Best Team Ever” contest. He was roughed up a little, and the Yanks entered the ninth down 5-1. Straw came up to pinch hit for Joe Girardi with the bases loaded, and promptly deposited a ball into the center field bleachers. The Yankees would score 5 more times that inning. They were pretty good in ‘98.

7 (tie).Chuck Knoblauch vs. Donne Wall 1998 WS Game 1

Tino’s grand slam off Langston gets much of the ink, but he should have been called out a pitch earlier, so that doesn’t make the list. Knobby’s 3 run homer was huge, Greg Vaughn had hit 2 homers, Tony Gwynn added one, and the Yanks were down 5-2 heading into the seventh. But two runners got on, and Bruce Bochy removed Kevin Brown from the game.

Chuck Knoblauch vs. Tom Glavine 1999 WS Game 3

I hope people don’t forget all the things the Knobster did for the Yanks. Sure, while going through a painful divorce, he could not throw the ball to first base, but he had some huge hits for this team. Included in those was a game tying 2 run homer in the eighth inning of game 3. Sure Chad Curtis’ homer was a walk off, but the game was already tied.

6. Jason Giambi vs. Mike Trombley May, 17, 2002

Everyone remembers the rain game. Giambi became just the third player in baseball history to hit a walk off grand slam with his team down 3 in extras. I was in a bar in Hilton Head watching this game; I left after the Twins scored 3 in the 14th. Silly me.

5 (tie) Bernie Williams vs. Arthur Rhodes, 2001 ALCS, and Game 4

It hard to believe the Yankees made it all the way to game 7 of the World Series with that anemic offense. Bret Boone put the Mariners in position to win the game and tie the series with a homer in the 8th. Bernie ended all that nonsense with a homer to left off Rhodes in the bottom half of the inning.

Alfonso Soriano vs. 2001 ALCS, Game 4

Soriano hit a 2 run walk off homer to effectively end the series, continuing the improbable Yankee run into the World Series. If the Yanks hadn’t been 3 time defending champs, they would have been heavy, heavy dogs in the series.

4. Jim Leyritz vs. Mark Wohlers, 1996 WS, Game 4

I talked about this one the other day, but it bears repeating, this was the home run that launched a dynasty.

3. Scott Brosius vs. Byung-Hyun Kim. 2001 WS, Game 5

2. Tino Martinez vs. Byung-Hyun Kim 2001 WS, Game 4

1. Aaron Boone vs. Tim Wakefield, 2003 ALCS Game 7

What can be said about this these that has not been said already? Either of these would be another franchises all time greatest home run.

There you have it, I know, I know, Scott Brosious hit a 3 run homer off Trevor Hoffman in 98, but Larry has a rule. Scott Brosious can only appear on any list once, and the 2001 homer was far greater and more important, IMO.

Don’t get mad at me, it is Larry’s rule, I am just a guest here.

Miguel, my belle
by SG

When Aaron Boone went down to his basketball jones, the Yankees scrambled to solve the newly created hole. Although Boone was really not that great, the Yankees had no alternatives on hand. They swung a trade for Mike Lamb, and signed Tyler Houston to a minor league contract, but neither one of them seemed to be a real option. When Boston decided that the cost for acquiring Alex Rodriguez was too high, the Yankees swooped in and offered their last marketable young player for the reigning AL MVP. This fixed the hole at third, but opened a new hole at second. For all of Soriano's faults, he was very valuable player at second base. The Yankees talked about Enrique Wilson as the starter, but the rumor mill threw out all the big names. Names like Bret Boone, Jeff Kent, and Jose Vidro.

It didn't happen, and the Yankees went into spring training with Wilson as the starting second baseman. They had signed Miguel Cairo to fill the backup infielder role, so they figured they had second base covered. Enrique Wilson, in addition to being one of Joe Torre's guys, hit close to .500 in spring training. Since this was apparently more indicative of his ability than his career .253 average and 68 OPS+, he was annointed the starter. Of course, he stunk offensively, while playing a decent second base. Wilson started the first six games of the year, putting up a lusty .443 OPS. After a well-deserved day off, he played the next six games, and managed to lower his season OPS down to .393. After starting one of the first 13 games, Miguel Cairo started seeing a little more action. Slowly but surely, Cairo's play helped him wrest a good amount of playing time away from Wilson, to the point where he was the primary starter.

Now Cairo's not really a great player, although I like him. He doesn't strike out, he works counts, and he fouls a lot of pitches off. He's a pest, and he's not an easy out. He's a good defender, although Wilson has a stronger arm. The thing that surprised me was how well he seemed to be hitting. At the All Star break, Cairo was hitting .307/.356/.454. It was at that point that I started thinking about another mediocre backup infielder who earned the starting second base job for the Yankees at one point. Mariano Duncan, who hit .267/.300/.398 in his career, but had the best season of his career in helping the 1996 Yankees go on to win the World Series. Duncan was one of the clubhouse leaders for that 1996 team, and his motto "We play today. We win today. That's it!" was the rallying cry of the team. Of course, he reverted to form after that season, but he was very valuable for that one season, hitting .342/.350/.500, while playing cringeworthy defense at second base.

To tie this into 2004, a Yankee team loaded with offensive stars like Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter struggled to score runs against the tattered remains of Scott Erickson's arm. However, Miguel Cairo was up to the task, cranking a grand slam in the second inning, to plate four of the five runs the Yankees would get off Texas. This was all the more impressive because he hit a very low pitch which wasn't a bad one from Erickson.

El Duque was finally facing a team above .500, and I was interested to see how he would fare. Although not as sharp as he had been in last few starts, he battled in and out of tough spots. He seemed to have his best fastball of the season(clocked as high as 92 mph), but his control was off, and he struggled with it through seven determined innings, lowering his ERA to 2.09. He also moved to 5-0 on the season, and the Yankees are 7-0 in the games he' s started. Flash Gordon was his usual brilliant self, striking out the side in the eighth, then Scott Proctor got one out, gave up a hit, and Mariano came into to close it out, getting a weak ground out and K. There's a lot of concern about overworking Gordon, Quantrill, and Rivera (QuanGorMo if you prefer) , but I didn't have a problem with Flash or Mo appearing in tonight's game after a fairly quiet week last week. The games the Yankees can win now will let Torre rest them in September.

The Yankees manage to win the series at Texas, which has always been problematic. I don't see Texas staying in the race much longer, that starting pitching is going to collapse on them at any moment. The Yankees are off to Seattle next, for three games against a team that's hurting. The matchups for the weekend:

Friday ( Lieber vs. Villone)
Saturday (PP™/TTAS™ (Loaiza) vs. Moyer)
Sunday (Brown vs. Meche)

I'll also be curious to see how Jose Contreras does against Boston Friday night. I hope he pitches well. I still think he can be a good starter, and will root for him in his post-Yankee career. Plus Boston losing is always enjoyable.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Looking back.
by sj

Greetings all, it is sjohnny, your fourth or fifth favorite member of the Yankee Chatter crew. Today, I am ranking the greatest Yankee games of the Torre era. There have been many, many, many great games, but I am going with these 5 nominees…

1996 WS Game 4
2000 WS Game 1
2001 ALDS Game 3
2001 WS Game 7
2003 ALCS Game 7

I know, I know, what about Game 4 of the 2001 World Series? Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS? Game 5 of the 2000 World Series? Well, I am not writing a book. I had a really hard time leaving off game 5 of the 96 series, but I felt two 1-0 games would be overkill. I am scoring them in 5 categories, 20 being the highest, and 1 being the lowest

Importance of the Game
Closeness during the Game
Quality of Play
Individual Performances
Memorable Moments

1996 World Series Game 4
Wednesday, October 23, 1996
Kenny Rogers vs. Denny Neagle

Importance of the Game 15.

Game 4 is always an important game, but neither team was facing elimination.

Closeness during the Game 9.

6 innings were played before the Yankees scored; it wasn’t within a run until the eighth. For nearly a third of the game it looked like a laugher.

Quality of Play 8.

Ugh. Kenny Rogers only had one bad inning, unfortunately for him; he was only in there for 2. His game score… I don’t know, it broke my spreadsheet. I am guessing mid-teens. Neagle’s was a little better, 36.

Yanks made one very poor play; Mariano Duncan didn’t cover second on an odd bouncer to the pitcher, allowing Jeff Blauser to reach. The Braves scored runs with 2 outs in that inning, so it may have made a difference in Rogers’s performance, but it is unlikely. The Yankee pen was really outstanding. They combined for 8 innings of 4 hit, 1 run baseball. Only David Weathers was touched for a run. Their combined game score was 59. Can you have a combined game score? Well, I just did it anyway. The Braves pen was less than outstanding. Not only did Wohlers hang the slider, he loaded the bases in the ninth.

The Braves made a couple of very costly errors. Jermaine Dye (wow, that was one hell of a young outfield in Atlanta) kicked a ball and then compounded it by airmailing the cutoff man in the 6th, allowing Bernie Williams to score. A non-error that really hurt the braves occurred in the 8th; Duncan grounded Belliard, who bobbled the ball. It cost the Braves a GIDP, and allowed Jim Leyritz to represent the tying run, and represent he did.

In umpiring news, Tim Welke interfered with a Derek Jeter popup, prohibiting Dye from making a play. Jeter of course singled later in the at bat, and came around to score.

Individual Performances 15.

Nearly everyone had the opportunity to shine in this game, as dozens of players had a hand in this game. Mike Aldrete? He has a World Series ring? Andy Fox? Really?

Boehringer was great, it was important to stop the bleeding. And he threw 2 innings worth of gauze. Charlie Hayes was 3-5 with a walk. Cecil Fielder had his typical fine game, going 2-4 with an RBI. McGriff had a good game, as was his wont that series. A 14 year old Andruw Jones also had 3 hits.

Memorable Moments 19.

This is why this game is on the list. Jim Leyritz lived for the spotlight. Wohlers threw Leyritz a few fastballs that where in the wheelhouse, but Jimmy’s bat was simply too slow. I can’t recall if Perez called for the slider or Wohlers shook him off, but it was thrown, and Leyritz deposited it into left. The rest is history.

The Boggs/Avery AB in the tenth was very good, especially considering the Yankees used nearly their entire bullpen, and really had to score, or Zimmer was going to pitch.

Total Score 66.

2000 WS Game 1
Saturday, October 21, 2000
Al Leiter vs. Andy Pettite

Importance of the Game 14

First in a series is the least important, but it was the World Series.

Closeness During game 20.

Yanks scores in the 6th, Mets took the lead in the 7th. Yankees tied it in the bottom of the 9th and won it in the 12th.

Quality of Play 15.

Starting pitchers were great for a while, nobody scored through 6 and ½. Their final game scores didn’t reflect how well they pitched, especially when they were in trouble. Leiter’s game score was 49. Pettite’s 38. In retrospect, Pettite wasn’t that good, but the Mets helped him

This score would be much higher if the rules allowed for ghost runners. The game was errorless, in stats alone. On four separate the Mets made borderline retarded base running plays. In the fourth, Piazza got on base to lead off the inning, he was then picked off. That is somewhat acceptable, as Pettite has one of the best moves in the history of sport. In a wacky play later in the inning, Todd Zeile hit a roller that went foul, then darted fair, Zeile was out at first because he stopped running. In the fifth, with a runner on second and no outs, Jay Payton hit a ball that was clearly fair. Payton never ran, and decided to argue the mere concept of fair and foul balls. Posada threw him out at first; Pettite got Pratt and Bordick on strikes to end the threat. See memorable moments for the final boneheaded play of the quartet.

Individual Performances 14

Jose Vizcaino had four hits, including the game winner. He is the sjohnny player of the game. Stanton was dominating in 2 innings of relief. He would later say, “I don't know if they're the best two innings I have ever done, but I can't really say they weren't.”

Memorable moments 14

The play everyone remembers was the homer that wasn’t. With Timo Perez on first, Zeile hit a ball that everyone thought was gone, and they cruised around the bases. Unfortunately for the JV, it hit the top of the wall and bounced fair. David Justice made an offline throw to Jeter, who made an incredible relay thrown to nail a now sprinting Perez at the plate by a couple of steps. Jeter defense is much maligned, but I believe if I need a relay throw, I want Jeter to throw it. He is the best in the league.

The ninth was full of drama, in the top half, Todd Pratt was hit by a pitch with one out and Kurt Abbott doubled over O'Neill's head in right. But Rivera got Perez on a bouncer to second with the infield in before striking out Edgardo Alfonzo.

In the ninth, the Yankees needed to score, and Armando Benitez was willing to help. O’Niell was up with one out and nobody aboard. He worked a ten pitch walk. Everyone watching knew that Paulie couldn’t hit the fastball, but he just kept fouling them off. A wonderful at bat by an overmatched aging ballplayer. Said Torre, “That was unbelievable, it was a sensational at-bat.” Luis Polonia, who I completely forgot was on the team pinch hit for Brosious, and singled. Vizcaino singled again, and Chuck Knoblauch hit a sac fly to tie it up. Captain Dreamboat had a chance to win it, but failed miserably, striking out. But I thought he was clutch? What happened Jetes?

Vizcaino had yet another single, his fourth, to win it with the bases loaded and two outs in the twelfth.

Total Score 77.

2001 ALDS Game 3
Saturday, October 13, 2001
Mike Mussina vs. Barry Zito

Importance of the Game 17.

The Yankees were down 2-0, going back to Oakland.

Closeness during the Game 20.

It does not get much closer than 1-0.

Quality of Play 19.

An error on the first play of the game, and a would have been error on the Shane Spencer twirl and throw on the Jeter flip play, other than that, perfect.

This game was an incredible pitching duel Mussina’s game score was 58. I thought he was better than that, but he only K’d 4, and walked one. Zito was amazing, only 2 hits, a lone homer by Posada and a double by Spencer that AB after. Zito’s game score was 63.

Individual Performances 16

Dye on Mussina: "He worked both sides of the plate and he came right at us. He hit his spots and he was on the top of his game."

Zito and Mussina were great. Jermaine Dye had 2 hits, other than that, nothing stands out.

Memorable Moments 15

Nothing really stands out, oh, there was some play by Jeter, a flip or something, I don’t remember. Johnny Damon did though, as he said after the game, “What in the heck is Jeter doing running over there? That is pure instinct. That is why he is such a great player. There is no way that many shortstops would go to back up a play like that. He made perhaps their best play of the season today."

Total Game Score 87.

2001 World Series Game 7
Sunday, November 4, 2001
Roger Clemens vs. Curt Schilling

Note: I get ill when I think about this game for more than 10 minutes, so I will gloss over this one.

Importance of the Game 20.

I can only give it a 20, so that’s what it gets.

Closeness during the Game 20.

Always tight, no one had a lead by more than a run, for more than 2 innings.

Quality of Play 12.

O’Neill was thrown out trying to extend a double into a triple. Posada threw out Womack trying to steal second in the seventh.

Among the good plays, Spencer was robbed of an RBI, and an insurance run, with 2 outs in the sixth.

I will always be very disappointed in the Yankee defense in the ninth. Mo Rivera should have just taken the out at first. Instead, 2 runners reached. I will maintain until I die that Brosious held the ball, afraid to lose instead of trying to win. I have forgiven him, because they wouldn’t have been there without him.

Individual Performances 16

The Starting pitchers were great. Clemens GS: 51, Schilling 52.3

Clemens would have been World Series MVP had Brosious thrown the ball to first. Sigh.

Memorable Moments 20.

You don’t get more memorable than a couple of broken bat hits to win the World Series. Alfonso Soraino’s homer was also great, it was a pitch even Yogi Berra couldn’t hit. He hit a splitter that was less than a foot off the ground.

Total Game Score: 88.

2003 ALCS Game 7
Thursday, October 16, 2003
Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens

Importance of the Game 20.

Did they even play a World Series after this game?

Closeness during the Game 12

It wasn’t close for a while, but it did go extra innings.

Quality of Play 19

One error, one bad pitching performance, one horrendous managerial decision. Walker made a great play that many, many people forget about in the very busy 8th. After the score was tied, Soriano hit a grounder; Todd Walker made a play far beyond his normal range. Nixon may have misplayed Jeter’s double in the 8th.

Individual Performances 18

Clemens, well, he wasn’t good. Mike Mussina was asked to do save the Yanks and he did, pitching 3 scoreless innings. Moose came into the game with runners on first and third with no one down, and didn’t allow a runner to score. Roger Clemens’ postseason ERA sent a note of thanks after the game. Felix Heredia also had a 1-2-3 inning, far and away the most amazing thing about the game. Mo Rivera threw three outstanding innings, picking up a well deserved win.

On the offensive side, Matsui made a great read on Posada’s base hit in the eighth, breaking for home immediately. A gimpy and struggling Jason Giambi hit 2 home runs against one of the greatest pitchers in the world. Kevin Millar and Trot Nixon were the offensive stars for Boston.

Memorable Moments 20.

Among the greatest moments in broadcasting, McCarver and Buck finally shutting up in the eighth, letting America hear the crowd.

Boone’s home run ensures that he will never be forgotten. Matsui’s double was great, a shot down the right field line, I still have the Washington Post sports page from the next day. On it, a large picture of Matsui jumping in the air next to a stunned Jason Varitek after he scored.

Total Game Score 89.

This is just one man’s opinion. You may now tell me all the ways I wrong.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Grand Tanyon
by SG

Tanyon Sturtze's career record is not that of a good major league pitcher. Entering last night's game, he had career ERA of 5.20 in 671.1 IP, with a 32 and 41 record. If you were to look up the term "replacement-level" in the dictionary, you'd probably find this picture. Tanyon Sturtze makes the major league minimum salary.

Sturtze (who some of us have nicknamed ______™ as a means of not mentioning his name) is the classic case of a pitcher who's gotten chance after chance because of his stuff and tools. He throws in the mid 90s, but has no command of the strike zone. His walk totals are misleading, because even when he's not walking guys he's falling behind them and putting them into hitters counts.

Kevin Brown is a borderline Hall of Fame pitcher. Injuries will probably keep him out, but he has been one of the top starters in baseball throughout his career. He is making $15 million this season because of this.

Tonight, Sturtze was able to do what Kevin Brown could not do last night, and that was beat Texas in Arlington. He pitched decently after a bad first inning, which could've been much worse if Sheffield didn't make a strong throw home after catching a fly ball to nail a runner tagging from third. From there, he settled down, pitching okay over the next four innings. His final tally was 5 innings, 5 hits, 2 run, 1 walk, and 1 strikeout. He threw 89 pitches, 47 for strikes, and got 4 groundouts and 10 flyouts. After five, the diabolical three headed monster QuanGorMo came in for four perfect innings of relief, retiring the Rangers on 34 pitches total.

This was all vital, because the Yankee offense could only muster four runs against some overmatched pitching themselves. It was a sloppily played game on both sides, with numerous baserunning blunders, but it was a win, in a tough place to win. Kudos to Sturtze for a job well done. Here is some Desktop Wallpaper in honor of Sturtze's glory days in Tampa.

The far more important news tonight came from Columbus's game, where Mike Mussina pitched three scoreless innings, throwing 46 pitches and striking out five. He's expected to be back on Tuesday against the Twins.

Also, Jason Giambi met the media today in Tampa. He will begin conditioning work this week, with baseball related drills expected next week. I'd guess he won't be back until rosters expand, but am happy to see him feeling better and hope his health problems are behind him.

The Yankees go for the series victory tomorrow with a somewhat favorable matchup, El Duque tries to continue his wizardry against the remains of Scott Erickson. I'm looking forward to seeing El Duque work against a non-Toronto team. Texas has some very good hitters, but they are young and inexperienced, and El Duque may be able to keep them off balance with his bag of tricks and pixie dust.

Filling in
by Larry Mahnken

I've invited SG and sjohnny to fill in for me while I'm destressifying. SG already contributed below, as you can see. Let me know if you like what they're up to while the cat's away, I might keep them on board.

Rebuilding on the Fly
by SG

I'd like to thank Larry for letting me write for his blog. I'm not nearly the writer that he is, but will try and do my best. You can all rip me if you like, I can take it.

In watching the Yankees this year, one thing that's painfully obvious is that this is a remarkably talented team, but one that is deeply flawed. The biggest problem the Yankees will face in maintaining their success going forward will be the age-related decline and increasing likelihood of injuries to their star players. I decided to look at the upcoming offseason to see how the Yankees should deal with this.

First, I looked at the players under contract for next season. (All ages are for the 2005 season)

Starting Pitchers (3)
Javier Vazquez, rhp 29 signed for $10.5 million for 2005
Kevin Brown, rhp 40 signed for $15 million for 2005
Mike Mussina, rhp 36 signed for $17 million for 2005

Relief Pitchers (5)
Paul Quantrill, rhp 36 signed for $3 million for 2005
Mariano Rivera, rhp 35 signed for $10.5 million for 2005
Tom Gordon, rhp 37 signed for $3.75 million for 2005
Steve Karsay, rhp 33 signed for $5.0 million for 2005
Felix Heredia, lhp 30 signed for $1.8 million for 2005 (someone please explain this to me)

Catcher (1)
Jorge Posada, 33 signed for $8 million for 2005

Infielders (3)
Jason Giambi, 1B 34 signed for $11 million for 2005
Derek Jeter, SS 31 signed for $18 million for 2005
Alex Rodriguez, 3B 30 signed for $25 million for 2005 (Yankees are paying $15 million of this)

Outfielders (5)
Bubba Crosby, RF 29
Kenny Lofton, CF 38 signed for $3.2 million for 2005
Hideki Matsui, LF 31 signed for $8 million for 2005
Gary Sheffield, RF 36 signed for $13 million for 2005
Bernie Williams, CF 36 signed for $12 million for 2005

Possible help on the farm
Dioner Navarro, c 21
Robinson Cano, 2B 22
Sam Marsonek, rhp 27
Scott Proctor, rhp 28
Jorge DePaula, rhp 26 (recovering from ligament replacement surgery)
Brad Halsey, lhp 24

Players under options for next year
Travis Lee, 1b 30 option for $3 million, with a $250K buyout
Jon Lieber, rhp 35 option for $8 million, with a $250K buyout
It's probably a good bet that the Yankees decline both of those options.

Yankee free agents
Orlando Hernandez, rhp "35"
Esteban Loaiza, rhp 33
C.J. Nitkowski, lhp 32
Tanyon Sturtze, rhp 34

Miguel Cairo, 2b/ss 31
Tony Clark, 1b 33
John Flaherty, c 37
Ruben Sierra, of 39

The Yankees are committed to $164.7 million in contracts next year for 17 players. The Yankees will need to add two starting pitchers, at least one relief pitcher, a backup catcher, a second baseman and utility infielder, and although they still have Bernie and Lofton signed through next year, a CF would be a good idea.

Potential free agents (All ages are for the 2005 season)
Second Basemen
Jeff Kent, 2b 37 - I'd pass, too old and not a good defensive player.
Todd Walker, 2b 32 - I'd pass, a butcher defensively.

Would they play 2B?
Adrian Beltre, 3b 26 - Intriguing, but not sure if he'd play second
Nomar Garciaparra, ss 32 - I'm also not sure he'd play second, his injury history is troubling, and he's on the wrong side of 30.

Center Fielders
Carlos Beltran, of 28 - Probably the Yankees #1 off-season target, but there could be quite a bidding war for his services.
J.D. Drew, of 29 - I like Drew as a fallback if Beltran can't be signed.

Right-Handed Starters
Matt Clement, 30 - Appears to have put it together after an inconsistent start to his career, probably my first choice as a free agent starter. I think he will be a tough sign.
Derek Lowe, rhp 32 - I'd rather re-sign Sturtze.
Pedro Martinez, rhp 33 - The most marquee of the free agents, there's the whole stick it to Boston aspect, but Pedro's not "Pedro" any more. I'd have a tough time rooting for him, and although I think he will be a top fifteen pitcher for the next five years, you're going to have to pay him like an ace to get him.
Brad Radke, rhp 32 - Would slot in nicely as a third or fourth starter, but probably not flashy enough for the Yankees.
Kris Benson, rhp 30 - Hey, he'd be an ex-Met. I think he could be good signing for someone if he continues to recover from his surgery, but I also think he's too risky. I do like his wife though.
Kevin Millwood, rhp 30 - Another guy who'd I'd be wary of.
Roger Clemens, rhp 43 - Will Roger play another season? Would he come back to New York to do it? Unlikely on both counts.
Carl Pavano, rhp 29 - Another good young starter, but has a somewhat shaky injury history and is really just starting to show the promise he's had for a long time. I think he's a got a bit of uncertainty that would make me wary.
Chris Carpenter, rhp 30 - Nothing special, coming off injuries, but a serviceable starter.
Matt Morris, rhp, 31 - He seems to be declining somewhat, his stuff used to be dynamite but now is a little less so. Also has a spotty injury history.

Left-handed starters
Odalis Perez, lhp 28 - The only blemish on Perez is his injury history. He makes a lot of sense to me though, he's a solid lefty and the youngest available starting pitcher. He would be my #2 choice after Clement.
Eric Milton, lhp 30 - The Prodigal Son returns?. He might not be a bad signing, but will be highly overrated due to his gaudy win total.
David Wells, lhp 42 - Probably persona non grata after the way he left the Yankees last time, but you never know with Steinbrenner.

Left-handed relievers
Mike Myers, lhp 36 - Strictly a LOOGY at this point, but probably an upgrade over Heredia.
Rheal Cormier, lhp 38 - had a great season in 2002, but that looks like a fluke.
Steve Kline, lhp 32 - He must be good, he has a fan site and everything.

If I were the Yankees, I would try and sign Beltran for $17 million, Clement for $11 million, Odalis Perez for $10 million, and a backup C not named Flaherty. Gregg Zaun wouldn't be a bad choice. I don't think Navarro is ready yet, otherwise I'd promote him. I would also start to play Posada at first base some. I also think they should re-sign Tony Clark, he's a solid defensive player with some power, not a bad backup at all. The lefy relief crop is uninspiring, but I could see dumping Heredia and signing Myers. I'd re-sign Cairo, and promote Cano to platoon with him. I'd also promote Halsey and put him in a swingman role.

If they could pull this off, they'd have the following roster next season.

Vazquez, Brown, Mussina, Clement, and Perez

Rivera, Gordon, Quantrill, Karsay(yeah, right), Halsey, Myers

Posada, Zaun

Giambi, Cano, Cairo, Jeter, Rodriguez, Clark

Beltran, Matsui, Lofton, Bernie, Sheffield, Crosby

They could run a lineup out there that looks like this:

Jeter, SS
Beltran, CF
Sheffield, RF
Giambi, 1B,
Rodriguez, 3B
Matsui, LF
Posada, C
Bernie/Lofton, DH
Cano/Cairo, 2B

Assuming they can sign the new guys for what I mentioned earlier, that puts the 2005 payroll at about $202.6 million. If you factor in the other costs they are paying for on bad contracts throughout baseball and releasing Heredia, it probably moves up to over $210 million. They would also work in some younger players in Cano and Halsey. Thoughts, besides the fact that the Yankees payroll advantage is really ridiculous?

by Larry Mahnken

I've been getting weighed down with stress (from the real world) lately, and I'm sure it's come through in the quality, quantity and tone of my writing. I just need a break, but I'm sure just a short one. I'll keep doing Rivals in Exile with Ben, but the blog is going to be static for a little while.

I'll be back soon.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Too Little, Too Late
by Larry Mahnken

I'll say this about Jose Contreras -- at least he won games.

To see Estaban Loaiza pitch these first two games as a Yankee, it's a wonder he ever won 10 games, let alone 21. He just doesn't look very good at all. Unlike some of my fellow fans, I'm willing to give him a little more time, but not too much time. More an more, it looks like he's just going to be along for the ride, and he probably won't throw a single pitch in the playoffs. His value will be in opening a roster spot and cash for a more high-profile free agent pitcher.

I don't view the Contreras/Loaiza deal as I did the Boone trade, but an argument could be made that those trades are very similar. In retrospect, Claussen may not have been much of a prospect, but Boone wasn't much of an improvement over Ventura (I would argue that he was worse), and in this current trade, Contreras may not be better than Loaiza, but there seems to be more room for improvement. Now, I don't necessarily agree with that, but I know one guy who does, so for his benefit, I'm going to start tracking the performances of Loaiza and Contreras. A name for this tracker will, of course, be appreciated.

As for the actual game, Loaiza didn't pitch very well at all, but if the Yankees had been able to get more than 5 hits off of Josh Towers, they still could have won. Bernie hit another home run, a long shot to right to make it 5-2, and Matsui, finally an excellent hitter, hit another two-run shot in the ninth to make it 5-4, but after Posada walked, they couldn't tie the game.

Well, Boston lost, and they're still a million games ahead, so big deal. They've come back again and again this year, so falling short this time really ain't that bad.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Eight is Enough
by Larry Mahnken

Suddenly, everything is going right for the Yankees, or at least it seems that way.

Their overworked bullpen was given the weekend off, limited to a mere four innings in the last four days, two by Quantrill, one by Nitkowski, and one by Scott Proctor. For the fourth straight game, the starting pitcher gave the Yankees eighth strong innings. No sooner had their starters' cumulative ERA gone over 5.00 than they pitched 32 innings giving up only 5 runs, dropping that ERA nearly 20 points.

Only nine times before this weekend had the Yankees' starters pitched 8 complete innings. It could be -- likely is, of course -- an abberation. I mean, they're not gonna pitch eight strong innings ever time out. But it could be the point at which this rotation starts to live up to expectations.

This rotation was expected by me to be the strongest in baseball if it remained healthy. It hasn't remained healthy, and Jose Contreras didn't work out, but the "goodness" of Javier Vazquez hasn't lived up to the "greatness" I expected. Jon Lieber has been a solid back of the rotation starter, and Orlando Hernandez has surpassed all expectations, relying on his creativity to make up for his lost stuff. But Kevin Brown hasn't been what the Yankees hoped for, and Mike Mussina has been hurt and mediocre.

Well, Brown has now had two great starts, and if not for the home run by Delgado, Vazquez would have had a great start on Friday. Maybe those two will be what we expected of them down the stretch and in the postseason, maybe Mussina will come back strong. To put your hopes on "Maybes" isn't something you want, but these all have a good chance of happening. This rotation has the goods, they just need to go out and get the job done.

There really isn't much left to play for in the regular season. At 10½ games back, the Red Sox are pretty much out of the AL East race, and with the Twins and A's 9 back, Home Field Advantage is more or less locked up, too. The only thing to look for now is a third straight 100-win season, something that they have never done before.

Some good news about Jason Giambi, who may be cleared to start training again in the next couple of days, which means it's likely he'll be back with plenty of time to get back into a groove. John Olerud has played really well since signing last week, but his job was likely never in any real danger. The question now is whether Torre plays Lofton or Bernie while DHing Giambi. Bernie's bat has been so weak this season that he doesn't even have that advantage, but Torre is almost certainly going to go with the hot hand, and if Bernie can hit well over the next few weeks (and hey, he hit a grand slam yesterday, which was exceptionally awesome), Joe will likely let the bat decide, rather than the glove. Assuredly, at this point the Yankees are best with Lofton in center, but there's nothing to be done about it.

Friday, August 06, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Wins and losses aren't that crucial at this point, if the Yankees were to play .500 the rest of the way, it's still unlikely that Boston would catch them. The important thing is that they start getting good omens for October. And that's just what they got yesterday afternoon.

Kevin Brown was absolutely fantastic, giving up no runs and four hits, only one for extra bases. He struck out seven in eight innings, and was every bit the ace the Yankees expected him to be, and now need him to be. As a bonus, he gave the bullpen the day off, more or less, though Quantrill came in to get some much needed work.

If Brown is an ace pitcher, and Vazquez is the solid starter he's been, the Yankees' chances of putting together a good postseason rotation are looking better.

John Olerud got three hits in his second game in da Bronx, which I guess is more likely to increase expectations more than anything.

It's 3am, I just spent the evening writing a new article for THT (yeah, I know, a rarity for me). I'm getting to bed, cause I've gotta work.

Speaking of which, I just want to pass along a funny story. Last Sunday a woman (a mannish-looking woman) went nuts in the front of the store. She smashed a watermelon, threw a cart through the glass sliding doors, and tackled and bit a manager. Afterwards, my buddy Mike asked what set her off, I said, "I think somebody dropped a fork."

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Eternal Suckage of Kowalsky
by Larry Mahnken

There's this guy who posts in Baseball Think Factory's Game Chatters, Jeter's #1 Fan, who a few months ago started complaining about this guy he knew, Kowalsky. And the Yankees started a rally. Being the superstitious sort, we picked up on this, and whenever a Yankees rally was desired, we would mention how much Kowalksy sucked. And while it doesn't always work, it's kind of funny how it does sometime. Kowalsky was invoked when Cairo tied the game against the Red Sox on July 1st, and last night, with one out and Derek Jeter up, SG brought up the eventual need of a nickname for new Yankee C.J. Nitkowski. I suggested C.J. Kowalski, since he sucks.

Bam, single by Jeter, homer by Sheffield, tied game. In the bottom of the eleventh, with one out and Sheffield up, Kowalsky's suckiness was again mentioned. Single by Sheff, homer by the Inanimate Carbon-Rod, Yankees win.

A-Rod's homer last night felt, to me, like the least exciting dramatic home run ever. It may be because Rodriguez's terribly frustrating inabilty to perform in anything resembling a clutch situation this season left one with the feeling, "It's about damn time". Had this taken place in May, it would have been seen as the moment when he "earned his pinstripes" (sjohnny says he probably earned them with the bases-loaded double play in the great Boston game), as it is, it was just a nice end to a game that didn't mean all that much to the Yankees.

The most desirable outcome last night would have been a win by Loaiza, but the new Yankee starter pitched disturbingly like the old one, walking four, hitting one and giving up two home runs. Loaiza's in a terrible slump over the past two months, pitching even worse than he did before last year, but to judge this trade by one start each by the pitchers traded is pretty stupid. But regardless of who "won" or "lost" the trade, the Yankees have to be disappointed with Loaiza's performance.

The new first baseman, John Olerud, made a positive first impression, hitting two singles in his first two at-bats, but not doing much of anything else the rest of the way. Olerud's been pretty horrible in the past year, but if he can turn it around a little bit to become "pretty mediocre", then the Yankees should, and probably will be happy. Joe Torre's optimistic about Jason Giambi's return (3 weeks seems a little fast for me), but if that's the case, he should be healthy and back in playing shape by the time the playoffs start.

And of course the playoffs are not even close to being a question mark for the Yankees anymore. 9 games up in the East, the only real question seems to be whether they'll have Home Field Advantage. With a six-game lead on the Twins, that's looking pretty good, too.

What's bizzare about this whole season is how many things have gone very wrong for the Yankees, and how few things have gone right, and yet they're still on a pace to win over 100 games. That might catch up with them in October, but a lot of what's gone wrong -- Jeter and ICR's bats, Giambi's health, Mussina's suckiness and his and Brown's health, might not be concerns then, and all could go well.

Really, it's all gone downhill since 1998, maybe even 1996. Since then, anything less than a title has felt almost like total failure, when in 1992 we would have killed to win two pennants in three years. Do we feel entitled? No, but we're definitely spoiled. I don't look forward to the inevitable down period (though when that'll be, I'm not sure), but the one positive that will come out of it is when they return to the top, it'll feel fresh. At least, that's what I hope.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Farewell to the Big Enigma, and other trade stuff
by Larry Mahnken

I don't think I've ever seen a trade deadline with so many stupid trades. The trades of this past weekend make Boone for Claussen look absolutely brilliant (and to reiterate, that trade was bad because Boone didn't improve the team at all, and they gave up a useful prospect for the privilege -- that he was teh suck made it all the worse).

Fortunately, the Yankees didn't do anything stupid, and in my opinion, made themselves a little better.

The argument against trading Jose Contreras for Esteban Loaiza is:

1) 2003 was a fluke year for Loaiza
2) His last seven starts have sucked
3) Contreras has an insane amount of talent, and has dominated at times

Well, 2003 was undoubtedly an abberation -- though perhaps not so much a fluke as much as a guy finding it and then losing it. Loaiza did add a cutter last year, so he's certainly a different pitcher than he used to be, but of course it would be ridiculous to expect him to repeat last season.

His last seven starts have sucked, too. Loaiza has put up a tasty 7.34 ERA in his last seven starts, while Contreras has had a 5.04 ERA in that time. But what's so special about seven starts? In his last two, Loaiza has had a 5.54 ERA to Contreras's 11.25 ERA. I can cherry-pick stats, too.

Loaiza's overall ERA is 4.86, over ¾ of a run better than Contreras' 5.65. His DIPS is 4.72 to Contreras' 5.72, and under each system, Loaiza would have given up 11 runs fewer than Contreras over the same number of innings -- a full win.

Loaiza has given up 23 HRs in 141 innings in a park that increases Home Runs by 13%, Contreras has given up 22 HRs in 96 innings in Home Run Neutral park. Contreras strikes out almost 2½ more men per nine innings than Loaiza -- and walks more than 1 man per nine innngs more.

Loaiza isn't a great pitcher, but he's better than Contreras. Consider their ERAs vs. common opponents over the past two seasons:
Opponent Contreras Loaiza

Arizona 2.84 1.29
Baltimore 4.43 2.14
Boston 13.95 1.13
Detroit 1.37 1.78
Florida 5.68 1.13
Dodgers 6.00 3.86
Oakland 7.88 3.41
D-Rays 1.57 2.15
Rangers 1.50 4.85
Blue Jays 3.94 4.57

Both have done very well versus the weaker hitting teams, but for the most part, Contreras has struggled against good teams, while Loaiza has pitched well. That 1.13 ERA vs. Boston is one start last year for Loaiza, but that's one more good start against Boston than Contreras has had in his entire career.

Adressing the final point: Contreras does have a world of talent, but he's also 32 years old, and has had 27 major league starts. He has a 4.64 ERA and a 4.75 DIPS, he's just not getting the job done. He may turn it around -- I hope he does -- but the Yankees simply couldn't afford to wait on him any longer. Contreras is Jeff Weaver, who also had the stuff, showed flashes of success, but in the end couldn't keep it going. The Yankees can't afford to have Contreras pitching in the postseason this season, and maybe costing them big-time like Weaver did. They simply don't know what they're going to get.

If you look at Loaiza, and weigh the last seven starts properly -- don't ignore them, but don't focus solely on them -- it's obvious that they're better off with him right now. And that doesn't even begin to deal with the fact that he's a free agent after the season, freeing up money and roster space to accquire another starter in the offseason.

If you read the reviews of the trade deadline moves, the Yankees were listed as "losers" because they didn't get Randy Johnson. Of course, neither did anyone else who's gonna play in the postseason, so how big a loss is that? All not getting Johnson does is leave the Yankees as being less than a sure thing in the postseason... just like every other team in the history of Major League Baseball.

Meanwhile the Red Sox pointed a shotgun at their face, pulled the trigger, and said, "I think we look better now." A lot of reports list the Red Sox as trade deadline winners, which is true only in the sense that everyone who participates in the Special Olympics is a winner.

The trade of Garciaparra could be a big-time win for the Red Sox, if Cabrera and Mientkiewicz come near to last year's number -- not too much to hope for in two months. But if they play to their true level, as they are more likely to, the Red Sox have cut off their Nosemar to spite their face.

Yeah, Garciaparra was going to walk at the end of the year, but this is your best shot at a title this year, if he walks, he walks. Go for it now. Yeah, he was going to miss time in the regular season -- which makes the accquisition of Cabrera a help for the stretch drive, playing him rather than Crespo. But if Nomar did get healthy in time for the playoffs, and the Sox were able to win the Wild Card, their chances of winning the World Series are better with Nomar, bum defense or no.

This team is 8-5 versus the Yankees, they've won 3 of 4 series. They're 5-1 vs. the A's, and while they're 2-4 versus the Twins and Rangers, they can still beat these teams. Boston is, more likely than not, underplaying their projections because of bad luck, and by probably getting worse, and giving up a prospect to do it, they've panicked, something I never thought Theo Epstein would do.

Paul DePodesta wrested the Golden Boy crown from Epstein this weekend. Fabian McNally suggested to me that no trade illustrates the divide between the analytical community and the mainstream community than the Dodgers-Marlins deal, but I think it shows something else. Apart from a few writers, the mainstream sports media is clueless about young players. They're either minor leaguers or unproven rookies, no matter how good they are.

Paul Lo Duca is a quality catcher, though an aging one with flaws in his game. Guillermo Mota is a great relief pitcher. Juan Encarnacion is an outfielder. In return the Dodgers got a 26 year-old pitcher with a a 3.15 ERA and a 3.46 DIPS, and one of the best first basemen in baseball, who happens to be 25.

The mainstream media says they got an 8-8 pitcher with a 4.04 career ERA, and gave up the heart and soul of their team, as well as a great reliever. No mention of Choi. It's like the Yankees traded for Ted Lilly and Carlos Delgado -- except Delgado is young and cheap -- and everyone neglects to mention Delgado.

There are only six first basemen this season with better offensive numbers than Choi, whose offense has been supressed by Pro Player Stadium. Of course it will be supressed by Dodger Stadium even more, but everyone's is, and Choi will be, in terms of real value, better than most first basemen. And the Dodgers will have him for his prime -- and cheap.

The mainstream media has also dropped the ball on the Mets' trades. The Mets accquired two talented pitchers with mediocre results (and one with a smoking hot wife), and in return gave away a 22-year old catcher with a .421 OBP in AAA, and a 20-year old lefty with a 2.94 DIPS between Single-A and AA, and a 2.54 DIPS for his minor-leauge career.

To the mainstream media, the Mets gave up some minor leaguers for great pitchers, but all they got was a slightly better chance at making the playoffs, where they will almost certainly be eliminated in the first round or NLCS, and they're still a longshot to even make it. And they gave up a large chunk of what could have been a great Mets team in three or four years.

The mainstream media simply doesn't understand what a major league prospect looks like, and there's some people involved with the game itself that don't, either. An easily-made error is assuming that all the people on the inside must know what they're doing, and they certainly know better than the people on the outside -- otherwise they'd be on the inside. But Major League Baseball is not, the case of several teams, very well run. It's changing, but it's not there yet.