Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 Rivalry Matchups: Overall (Division Winner)

PF: The strengths of the New York Baseball Yankees this year are twofold. First, of course, their offense. It is relentless 1-9, as even often offensively criticized Yankees #9 hitter Melky Cabrera collected more RBI (73) than Red Sox $14 million #5 hitter JD Drew (64). They drive starting pitching crazy, as even the best starter can give up 2 hits and 1 run over 5 innings and still be out of the game due to 108 pitches. Then the Yankees' beast feasts on middle relief. They can walk you, single you, double you, sacrifice you (finally), go first to third on you (finally), and definitely take you over the wall. This lineup is as complete as complete comes, with no holes, and bats to spare. This offense will go on 2-3 streaks this year, like they do every year, where it wouldn't matter if I was starting, setting up, and closing, the Yankees are still winning.

The second strength is the quality and depth of the young pitching. Not just The Big Three, who we have already stated are paramount. Alan Horne continues to blow people away, and many predict him to have a Joba level impact on the second half of the Yankees' season, if not sooner. You also have Marquez, McCutchen, Sanchez, Melancon, and Cox. Good prospects, all of these pitchers are. Impact players, not all of them will be. But it's a numbers game. Chances are, when you have this many guys who "could" be good in 2008, at least one of them will be. Further, and most importantly, these pitchers (including The Big Three) are not Jeff Karstens, Darrell Rasner, Chase Wright, Kei Igawa, and Matt DeSalvo. If Wang and Pettitte can be close to what they were in 2007, they are going to get a lot more help from rotation spots 3-5 this year. The Yankees won 94 games with the former list making 40 something starts in 2007. What can they do with more starts from quality pitchers? The point is, the pitching should get substantially better.

At the same time (small hat tip to Bandi), this youth is the Yankees' biggest weakness. While it makes them a more "complete" and well rounded team on both sides of the ball, as well as more exciting to watch, there is also more uncertainty. As good as it can go, with Hughes, IPK, and Joba all making contributions from the start, and Horne and Melancon coming up and crushing it after the All-Star Break, it could also go bad. This uncertainty, as well as some aging regulars who could, but are unlikely, to breakdown are the Yankees' potential weak spots. And let's make sure we are clear how important these two things are. If Posada or Rivera do decline significantly in thier production, things will be difficult for the Yankees (though not necessarily season-ending). If the Yankees don't get production from at least two of Hughes, Joba, and Ian Patrick Kennedy, it's goodnight.

I'll let DV handle a majority of the Red Sox strengths/weaknesses, but the way I see it this team is built on having very few holes. They don't blow you away in certain categories the way the Yankees do, but they also don't have some of the potential gaping holes the Yankees do. Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez (especially him this year) are capable of carrying them for stretches, and that always helps. The Yankees only have one person who can do this, #13. They won't go on hot streaks the way New York will, but their lack of holes should keep them away from cold patches, too.

Their weaknesses are a miserable back half of the lineup (Drew, Varitek(x6, so far), Lugo, at the very least). A lot of people are predicting a boucneback year from Drew and even Lugo (no, that last name is not a misprint) but...come get me when that happens. Ellsbury can and will off-set some of this in 2008. But don't expect Mike Lowell to replicate 2007, so that could be a double off-set. The last thing I would say about them is that they can't fill holes that may arise from within the way the Yankees can if anything goes wrong. The Red Sox have a deep system just like the Yankees, but the Yankees' is far more ready to go.

EDGE: I'm picking the Yankees to win the division, and that is only because I think it is a toss up and I root for the Yankees. These teams were neck and neck last year, and it's going to be the same again this year. Outside of them being my team, I like them because I think they will be energized behind Girardi and will also get much, much, much better starting pitching this year. The offense is still going to dominate, and I think the spike in the two aformentioned areas puts them over the top. That said, unlike other categories, I will not even think about arguing those that pick the Red Sox to win the division. Like I said, it's a toss up, and there are a million great reasons Boston could win this division as well (defending division and world champs, few holes, consistency, etc.). The only thing I would argue is if someone, on either side, said one team was "a lock" to win the division. Because that just isn't the case.

2008 Rivalry Matchups: Overall (DV)

I can understand if six paragraphs from Pat and then another 6-7 from me might be too much to read in one sitting. So I decided to break this up into two posts. I'm going to disallow comments on my post so that all of the comments can be referred to Pat's. But here goes:

Maybe it's because I am so glaringly negative, but I feel like the team that will come out on top of this division is the one that can most effectively "cover for" its flaws. It's true--no team is ever flawless over a 162-game baseball season. The 2008 Yankees and Red Sox are no exceptions--they both have MAJOR deficiencies that will cost them multiple games and also may cost them a short postseason series. With Boston, New York, and Toronto all likely in the mix, a stretch of games lost as a direct result of these flaws may be the difference between the division title or no playoffs at all.

The Yankees have a very flawed starting rotation. As bullish as Yankee fans are about Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, it's usually not good policy when your entire season is riding on two guys who have a combined 91 2/3 innings in the major leagues. There's no way around it--each of these guys COULD be great. Each of them COULD also be disasters. The fact of the matter is that each of the NY starters probably will struggle for an extended period of time--especially the young guys and ESPECIALLY ESPECIALLY Mike Mussina, who probably shouldn't be pitching in the major leagues anymore.

What the Yankees do have, however, is the same as they've had the last few years: An explosive offense that will make on forget how Phil Hughes and Kyle Farnsworth combined for seven earned runs in one game because with these guys, they can win a game 18-11 or 13-12. From 1-9, each guy can produce. Pitchers must be caseful with all of these guys, because if you throw a bad cutter, they can take you deep or at least whack a double into the gap. They are also very patient at the plate, so if your pitcher can't find the plate, they can hurt you there, too. And even if you pitch well, many Yankees, especially the gentlemen at the top of the order, can waste many pitches and capitalize on that mistake. Look at Matsuzaka's ERA against the Yankees last year (6.12). That's what the Yankee lineup can to do you, even if you're a decent pitcher. If they couldn't do that, Rivera's bad 2007 would have been a larger problem. Karstens, DeSalvo, and even Hughes would have been bigger villains than they were in the first half.

BOSTON HAS A fair share of problems, too. What is scary for Red Sox fans except for the infinitely optimistic Craig Harmon is the fact that these problems are on both sides of the ball. The Red Sox have similar pitching problems to New York's--inexperience, as well as Buchholz, Lester, and Matsuzaka's tendencies to struggle. It is crucial that Matsuzaka takes off the Derek Lowe Face and starts throwing his full arsenal of pitches with the "catch me if you can while I'm speeding away" mentality he had in Japan and even has occasional in the US before the point where he serves up that first meatball. Buchholz also needs to master his command, something that looks like more of a problem after a very bad spring. Lester must avoid falling behind in the count and walking batters. His ERA was 4.57 last year, but he still went undefeated. Must have gotten some serious run support, which brings me to the next point.

That, of course, is the Red Sox' ability to score runs. Drew, Varitek, Crisp, Lugo. Pat and I discussed if a team, with Ortiz leading off, should risk walking Ortiz and Manny, trying their luck with Lowell, and just throw right at the next four cupcakes. These four guys, if they perform like they did in 2007, can shorten the opponents' game to 5-6 innings. Great. You may reference the Red Sox' 867 runs scored last year. Let me refer you to the Lorenz Curve Red Sox. This year doesn't look any better, especially with Varitek actually a year older but looking about six years older.

Beckett will probably return to earth a bit this year. But even if he doesn't, a guy who only plays 20% of the games can't cover up the Red Sox' deficiencies on both sides of the ball all the time.

An afterthought, but still relevant, is the return of Curt Schilling this summer. If he is awful, how many games is Francona willing to sacrifice in the interest of Schilling's rehab? In 2005, it cost the Sox the division because in the bullpen, he sucked. And that cost them games. Francona did the same thing with Gagne last year. In the 2008 AL East, games can't just be thrown away like that.

Edge: Yankees. But like Pat said, either the Yankees, Red Sox, or Blue Jays could win this division. It's going to take some serious thinking before I decide who I'm going to pick. Right now I'm leaning toward Toronto.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

2008 Rivalry Matchups: Bullpen

PF: I'm going to take this one step by step. The only closer I would consider taking over Mariano Rivera is Papelbon. Even though Papelbon is currently the best closer in the game (that's right, I'll admit it), and the only one better than Mo, I'd still take Rivera since he is, well, Rivera (to reiterate, Papelbon is better). The tailoff will happen for Mo at some point, but don't expect it this year. Since we were getting all excited about Daisuke's projections yesterday, I'll take this opportunity to note that almost every projection likes a bounceback season from Mo. He's going to be really good again this year, just like always.

Assuming these two closers are the best relievers amongst the two teams (they are), the kicker for me here is Joba Chamberlain. When you talk about the top 5-7 relievers in baseball, you are talking about inlcuidng JP, Mo, AND Joba in that list. The next person on these two teams isn't even close. A popular argument here might be to point to Okajima's numbers last year. Then I'll point to Joba's. He separates the Yankees back end from the Red Sox in my eyes.

The rest of the bullpens are similar. I probably like Delcarmen more than anyone else based on last year, but there are a lot of people thrown in the mix. I expect Okajima and Delcarmen to give the Red Sox some quality, and I expect Ross Ohlendorf to give the Yankees the same. Billy Traber has had an excellent spring as a left-handed specialist, and if that translates, it's big for New York.

There are always a lot of unkowns in the bullpen. The Yankees, for example, are probably going to get a big contribution from one of Melancon, Sanchez, JB Cox, or Alan Horne this year. Probably not as big as Joba last year, but big. All are Top 10 type prospects, and someone is going to need to fill the vacancy left by Joba in June. The same could happen in Boston with Masterson.

Overall, I'm going to wash this one. Being fair, I like Papelbon over Mo, but the difference in the back is that even if Joba comes to earth a bit (he will), he's still going to be better than Okajima was last year, and Okajima is coming back to earth as well. To start the season, I like the Red Sox pen after those three with Delcarmen and Okajima, although Traber could sway this closer to even if he keeps getting lefties out. In the end, neither team is going to lose games because of the back of their bullpen, at least to start the season while Joba there. This one will ultimately be won by Joba having to leave and the Yankees having no one to replace him, or an unknown on either side stepping up and locking things down. For right now...

EDGE: Even.

DV: I agree with Pat here, and I commend him for actually admitting that Papelbon, with all his intensity on the mound, finally being better than Rivera. I have been predicting Rivera's "crap-out" season every year since about 2003, and it's just never happened. He declined last year quite a bit, and it's hard to believe he'll decline more. I'll stick with Pat and the projections, though I don't think it's fair to say his ERA will be under 2 ever again.

Joba over Okajima, sure. But Okajima and probably Manny D are better than the Yanks' third guy, and whoever the Joba Replacement is won't be able to match what Joba did last year or will do this year. Traber's a better situational dude than Lopez, but then again, you could say that about almost anyone. I like Corey (at least for a while) and Aardsma's okay, but I also like Albapendejo, if he makes the team. From the "why are they pitching in the 8th?" department, I like Timlin over Farnsworthless, but only by a little bit. And I have slightly more faith in Julian Tavarez than I do in Jeff Karstens, more in Karstens than Snyder, and more in Snyder than Aychar (sound it out like you'd sound out Kei) Igawa.

Edge: Even...maybe the Sox by an eyelash.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More Days in First Place

In the pitching preview, as well as pretty much every time we have discussed Jon Lester, we have discussed his ability (or lack thereof) to get the ball over the plate. Maybe it's because it was 6:15 in the morning, but I made a fuzzy observation about Lester's number (31) and related it to the count he seems to work every batter to (3-1). This was an issue in 2006, it was somewhat of an issue in spring training, and it continued to be an issue this morning. Remy, ever insightful when he's still talking about baseball, pointed this out early on in the game, as my dad has nonstop since he returned to the majors last year.

Lester did only (and I use the term "only" loosely) walk three guys today, compared to Matsuzaka's five yesterday. But he fell behind most batters, only getting 57% of his pitches over the plate for strikes today. This runs up his pitch count and it forces him to throw fastballs out over the plate so he doesn't walk more guys. Lester's fastball when mixed with other pitches is okay, but it's not a difficult pitch to sit on. Emil Brown sat on a 1-0 cutter after a Mark Ellis walk and a Mike Sweeney single on a 2-0 pitch. This is no secret, and there's not much more to say about it. This is Jon Lester taking his lumps, as he will. It's just a shame that we have to dwell on it for an entire week, and especially the day after Matsuzaka showed the same problems.

The people who read my writing before the days of HYD know that I found the Keith Foulke story very sad. Mostly because I was at the "Johnny from Burger King" game against Cleveland and I had just as bad of a day as he did that day. But a part of me is glad to see that he's playing ball again, and playing ball effectively. Unfortunately it came at the expense of the Red Sox today.

Rich Harden = Ken Griffey Jr. = Kerry Wood = Mark Prior = Archie Abrams (gotta give a shoutout to my boy). It's an absolute shame that none of them can stay healthy. Because when they stay healthy, they're good. Really good. A pleasure to see doing their jobs. There's not very much the Red Sox could have done about Harden today. He was that good.

KKKKKKaptain Intangible Jason VariteKKKKKK is still on pace for 486 strikeouts, and he has looked especially lost out there in Japan. The last pitch of the game from Embree, he must have missed by at least Nelson De La Rosa's height. The problem is, I'm not exaggerating by that much. I feel like my Varitek disdain (not loathing, not hate, not animosity, actually, why don't you check out the Varitek Disclaimer by clicking here) is safe here on HYD Baseball because people can look past the age-old argument of "he brings a lot of intangibles to the team and he's really good at handling the pitching staff." I was compared to Dan Duquette at the AA Affiliate today because I dared to offer my opinion that he should not be signed to an extension...because he's like having an on-field coach. Yes. An on-field coach who puts up Dougie numbers. Three to four automatic outs per game, times 125. I appreciated what Varitek brought to the table in his history in Boston, but I won't blink twice to say he's in the...gulp..."twilight of his career" and that Corky Miller could probably "replace his on-base percentage."

Me on a normal day would say I'm thrilled to see Coco Crisp out there in center field and at the plate. But while we're still on the topic of body language from last post, I have never seen anyone wear the emotion of "I want out" on their sleeve more than Coco. He has the Melvin Mora "I want to cry" face on pretty much constantly. For the good of the player and for the good of the team, I can't believe I'm saying it, but the Fastest Member has to be traded.

Fire away, folks. I know the Varitek free pass expired for most Red Sox fans on this blog somewhere between 3 and 18 months ago, but how low will his numbers go before the free pass expires for your average "I watch the game three times a week at home and once at the bar" Sully from Medford?

2008 Rivalry Matchups: Starting Pitching

A bit of a different format here, as with the season starting tomorrow and then again in full on Monday, we need to get all the starters into one post. So not as detailed as we'd like. Though pitching gets more coverage from me than anything else on this blog during the season, and I break down nearly every start I can, so I'm not too worried.

Editor's Note: PF's thoughts in regular font, DV's in italics. And this post was written largely before the two regular season games in Japan started.

#1: Josh Beckett vs. Chein-Ming Wang. It's a #1 vs. a #2 here, so it's an easy decision. However, while Beckett was about as good as you can be last year, it was really the first full and effective season of his career. He needs to show he's last year's Josh Beckett, not 2006, and not somewhere in between. Wang has the most wins in baseball over the last two years, but needs to erase a terrible playoffs. Even if he does (and I expect him too), Josh Beckett controls this one if he's anywhere near last year's form.

Totally in agreement here. It is troubling thinking that Beckett may have possibly gotten complacent in this offseason, staying out of shape instead of coming back the same pitcher than he was last year, when he had something to prove in an "F-You" year. If 2007 Beckett was "full" on a gas gauge and 2006 Beckett was "empty," I'd be happy with three quarters of a tank. As far as Wang goes, he'll be solid--he'll be a #2. But people have put together Hall of Fame careers as perpetual #2's (Tom Glavine, most notably). He's a good #2, and a healthy, in-shape Beckett is a great #1.

#2: Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Andy Pettitte. Matsuzaka's 4.40 ERA and overall performance last year wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. Importantly, his stuff wasn't as good as I expected it to be (granted I had high expectations). His fastball is average and he was throwing it too frequently. His off-speed stuff isn't blow away like advertised, but it was better than a 4.40 ERA if he used it more. I think he gets better this year. But he won't get better enough to be more valuable than Pettitte, who is a horse, consistent, and a big game pitcher. He also doesn't blow up when he surrenders a home run. And he also doesn't walk the ballpark. Better stuff doesn't make up for any of this. At best Daisuke can wash it, and right now, it's a Yankees win.

Am I the only guy who has question marks about Andy Pettitte? Bandi, can you back me up here? The guy's 36, he's thrown a TON of innings the last three years since his most recent injury, and my boy thinks that even if Matsuzaka really gets it together, he still won't be better than Pettitte? Matsuzaka with everything together can post an ERA of 3.40-3.50 in my eyes. Is that what Pettitte is capable of? His ERA last year was 4.05, which is good, but let's not all pretend he's untouchable. As far as Matsuzaka goes, Pat's right: He has to throw all of his off-speed stuff, and after watching today's game, you gotta remember he HAS TO get the ball over the freakin' plate. I'm starting to be concerned that Daisuka Matsuzaka is Japanese for "Derek Lowe," as in "If I give up a home run, I'm gonna lose my mind, put on the Derek Lowe Face for a while, and walk the bases loaded." If he gets it together (and this is largely going to be a result of Captain Varitek intangible leadership chemistry intangible gamecalling leadership intangibles), he will absolutely be better than Pettitte. He has the stuff to do it--we saw it not only on YouTube, but in the Major Leagues last year. Who knows if he has the stuff upstairs to do it.

#3: Jon Lester vs. Phil Hughes. Lester can be good. Hughes can be really good, maybe even great. Based on everything we've seen to date, Hughes is better.

Just thinking about it, the Red Sox might walk A LOT of people this year. Lester needs to keep the ball over the plate. He'll give up some runs for sure, and he's going to "take lumps" more than anyone else in this rotation, the way I see it. So will Hughes--I mean, look at his spring--but Hughes has flat-out better stuff and better control. Barring injuries, Hughes has the edge.

#4: Clay Buchholz vs. Ian Patrick Kennedy. Buchholz is nasty, and has a higher ceiling. IPK is probably more seasoned and ready right now. I'd say he's a safe bet this year, and for everyone moving forward. Buchholz isn't safe, because when you have the stuff he has their is higher "crap out" potential, but he also has the ability to be great, while IPK probably tops out at very good. I'll wash this one pre-season.

Everything Pat says above echoes my opinion. It is also worth mentioning that Kennedy's spring overall was very good, and Buchholz's was very, very, very bad. Sure, I'm not going to step up to the ledge, but this is not a good sign. While we're on it, why are Pat and many Yankee fans always referring to Ian Kennedy as "Ian Patrick Kennedy?" Triple-names are usually reserved for high-profile assassins, like Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, John Wilkes Booth, and Osama bin Laden. Has Kennedy committed bigger crimes than Buchholz's laptop incident? Can someone give me a little bit of background here?

#5: Tim Wakefield vs. Mike Mussina. You know what you're getting from Tim Wakefield. Mussina? Literally, who knows. Even in a bounceback year, I doubt he gets past a wash. This goes to Boston right now.

I wouldn't say "you know what you're getting" from Wakefield. Roughly, you might. But in 2006, he was often injured and went 7-11. It's too much to ask if you're thinking 15-10, 4.25, and 210 innings. On the bright side, he had an AWESOME spring. And even if he's the bad version of Tim Wakefield, he's better than Mussina. If Mussina was a racehorse, it'd be time to go to the glue factory.

Overall Assessment: The Red Sox have a big advantage in that they have a clear #1, who if he is in 2007 form, is a top two pitcher in baseball. After that, the Yankees have more quality and more depth, especially when you consider the Red Sox contingency is Bartolo Colon and the Yankees is Joba Chamberlain. I wonder who gets the edge there. Both rotations are filled with uncertainty to a certain extent, and I have already stated that whoever gets more out of the Daisuke/Lester/Buchholz vs. Hughes/Chamberlain/Kennedy tandems will win the division. I like the Yankees in that matchup, but I like Beckett at the top.

Both teams have question marks for certain in their rotation. Whereas the Red Sox might be resting on a lot of "if"s, such as Beckett's health/back, Matsuzaka's control/pitch selection, Lester's ability to get the ball over the plate, and Buchholz's and Wakefield's overall performances, they have a much higher ceiling--and they're bound to get good answers on many of these questions. The Yankees have just as many questions from 1-5 as the Red Sox do. If they're ALL answered in a good way, the Yankees have the edge. If only some of them have good answers, which is the most likely, I like the Red Sox.

Edge: Even Red Sox

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Worst Case Scenario: 1-161

Today was probably one of the most busy days so far at the AA Affiliate, so I'm totally moonlighting tonight to throw down some of my observations of this morning's Red Sox/A's game.

>Top story would be Matsuzaka--sorry about discounting the late-inning heroics. But he was bad. Five walks, a hit batter, a home run. He was lucky he didn't get lit up more. At least tonight I don't have the time to dissect any of his other really bad/really high pitch count early starts from last year and even spring training, but from memory, I can conclude in a pretty accurate way that many of Matsuzaka's control problems happen shortly after having one of his pitches get nailed. He gets nailed, perhaps loses confidence/puts on the Derek Lowe Face, and panics to the point that he's not getting the ball over the plate anymore.

This is understandable. It's like when you're cramming for an exam, then you realize you forgot that a whole new chapter is going to be included on the exam. It's 90 minutes before it starts, and you can't study all the questions in the time remaining. You might be screwed. So you haphazardly try to pick and choose which words to study, basically spraying the pages you missed. That's what Matsuzaka looks like after he realizes that he's hittable.

And yes, Red Sox fans, you've seen it before. Lowe himself made an art form out of it. Same with Bronson Arroyo. Matsuzaka, it looks like, now that Year 2 is upon us, might be from the same mold. And as we've discussed, he has to use more of his breaking pitches. With confidence. That's all I got to say about that.

Except for this: Derek Lowe was, and still is, a very, very solid #2 starter. If Matsuzaka can, despite occasional appearances of the Face, perform like Derek Lowe (which I think he can), he can also be a very, very solid #2 starter.

>Right field: My boy J. Lester put it in a much more crude and possibly much more effective way on the phone today, but he said that while he was happy with Brandon Moss's big hits today, he's not going to get overexcited while looking at Moss's rookie card. The Whiner Line today said that J.D. Drew is already in midseason form, missing games with seemingly minor, strange injuries. Sore back must have come with overexertion while belting those two home runs. Obviously he's not using muscles he's used to using.

Unfortunately, because of Drew, Moss will likely not have a job (deservedly or undeservedly) as a starting outfielder anywhere until October 2, 2011. Honestly, Red Sox fans not named Jack or Craig, would you rather have Moss for the entire year or Drew for the entire year? I have 111 problems but a double ain't one. But yes, it is notable to point out that his two big hits today were virtually the only big hits in Moss's career. He had ample opportunity to prove himself last September...but he didn't do it until today.

To address Tim C's comments on whether Drew would have cost the Red Sox the game today: I'll buy it. Which are the four most likely scenarios for Drew in that at-bat? 1) Moss takes the Huston Street breaking ball low and outside and eventually draws a walk instead of taking an aggressive approach and belting it into the right field bleachers. Varitek strikes out (for the third time in the game), Ellsbury lines out. Drew stranded at first, game over. 2) a strikeout looking. Varitek strikes out (for the third time in the game). Game over. 3) scratch single to short right field. Varitek strikes out (for the third time in the game), Ellsbury lines out. Game over. 4) weak ground ball to the right side. Varitek strikes out. Game over.

I am surprised and concerned that it was Moss playing right and Coco Crisp playing nowhere, but that's probably because of Crisp's extremely weak arm.

>Manny: Big hit. Contract year (kinda). Pimping a wall-ball double and almost getting thrown out at second in a key spot. Bob Ryan and Jackie MacMullan already wondering whether he's "in the groove" on NESN. Is there any doubt he has 35-40 home runs this year? It's why we watch.

>From the "after one game he's on pace for" department: Tim touched on this earlier, but the guy wearing a hockey jersey scored a hat trick today with three strikeouts in an 0-4 effort. KKKaptain Intangible is on pace for 486 strikeouts. As always, you can't spell "contract year" without "C."

>Emil Brown: A reason baseball shouldn't start in Japan is that players lose a week of spring training. To work on fundamentals. Like baserunning.

Back up in six to watch another one. You never know what will happen. But hey, it's why we watch.

2008 Rivalry Matchups: DH

PF: The Yankees have a lot of flexibility at this position, as they do with the bench in general this year. On paper, this would seem to be a strength of the team, much as it was towards the end of last season. This is a good thing, as this position will probably need to be flexible to accomodate the potential, and perhaps probable, injury needs of the Damon/Matsui/Giambi Trio. When everyone is healthy, Matsui and Duncan will get a majority of the ABs here, with Matsui playing against righties and Duncan against lefties. Ensberg (vs. lefties) and Betemit (vs. righties) could work there way into this equation, either as the DH themselves or playing the field and pushing someone else to DH, based on if they are swinging the bat well. Girardi is going to be more willing than Torre was to get creative with lineups based on matchups, and this should serve as incentive for the players to earn playing time, which should help the Yankees as a result.

Big Papi. Well, the Yankees could get a different person to DH every day of the week based on matchups and they wouldn't get more production from the position than Boston. Papi was sapped of his power last year, but still had a great year. If his knees are okay, I imagine that power will come right back. Scary hitter. You can see what I wrote last year about him tools wise (probably something about how he can beat you with his arms and his wrists, which can drive an oppossing fan, ie me, insane), but I'm not going into right now. We have to get through these things, because as I write this Gameday just told me that Brandon Moss homered of Huston Street to tie the game in the 9th. Really? I mean REALLY? We HAVE to have some Red Sox 9th inning magic in the first game of the season? F. F. F.

EDGE: Red Sox (Blowout)

DV: Not since Larry Bird's back has one body part on one athlete become so important to Boston. But David Ortiz's knee is a major, major issue. Sure, if it's healthy, he's way, way, way better than Jason Giambi, Shelley Duncan, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, or all four at the same time. But if his knee is anything less than 90%, the Red Sox have some major issues. He only hit 35 home runs last year, compared to 54 the year before. He only had 117 RBIs. His slugging percentage fell from .636 to .621, as all those hits that would have been home runs became crummy doubles (52 of them).

If you couldn't tell, every sentence of the last paragraph was sarcastic. He hit .332 last year and had a higher OPS (1.066) than he did in 2006. The year 2007 was the year that David Ortiz proved to everyone that he was, indeed, a complete hitter instead of just a clutch home run hitter. The only problem is, most Red Sox fans have the emotions listed in the previous paragraph, and for some reason they thought 2007 was a crappy year for him. It may have been the best year of his career. And he did it on one knee. Now he has twice as many knees. Too bad Red Sox fans don't have twice as many brain cells so they could realize how good 2007 really was for this guy.

EDGE: Red Sox (Blowout)

Overall Final (for real this time): Yankees 5 (C: Blowout, 2B: Undecided Margin, SS: Blowout, 3B: Clean Win, RF: Clean Win). Red Sox 3 (1B: Clean Win, LF: Blowout, DH: Blowout). Push: 1 (CF)


I was hoping my side comment in the DH Matchup I was writing this morning was going to be enough, but it isn't.

This is though. HOW BAD IS HUSTON STREET????????????????????????????

Monday, March 24, 2008

2008 Rivalry Matchups: Right Field

PF: Bobby Abreu is not a superstar, but he is a pretty rock-solid player across the board. He's a great guy to have in front of #13 because of his "all-around" nature, and A-Rod's numbers when Abreu bats in front of him are absurd. He had a rough April/May, but when he went last year, boy, did the Yankees go with him from June-September. He doesn't blow you away with anything besides his on-base skills, but he does everything well, and the Yankees need him to be that complete #3 guy that he has been most of his career this year. I think he will be. DV will link to last year's post if you want a breakdown of Abreu's tools on both sides of the baseball.

JD Drew. Well, I'll let Daniel J. Vassallo handle this one.

Edge: Yankees (We'll wait to see how DV attacks this one to decide by how much.)

DV: Dude, it's not even close. It's not even worth dissecting. Not that I think Bobby Abreu is a future Hall of Famer, but he's a good ballplayer. He's a three-time all-star, which means that in the eyes of fans or managers, he was deemed one of the six best outfielders in his league three different times. His power numbers have experienced a precipitous dropoff in the last two years, belting 15 and 16 home runs in the last two years after seven straight seasons of 20+. Largely a product of the guys getting on base in front of him, Abreu decided to take matters into his own hands, producing 101 RBIs. He had his sixth season of 40+ doubles last year, actually accumulating more doubles to left-center than anywhere else. It may actually be possible that Abreu hit the Green Monster more in 9 games than Mr. Baseball did all season, according to his spray chart. That says more about Mr. Baseball than it does about Abreu.

Furthermore, Abreu has remained a very patient hitter with tremendous judgment of the strike zone. He walked 85 times last year, his first year under 100 walks since 1998. He whiffed once every 5.99 plate appearances, which is pretty decent for someone with power numbers like Abreu. His defense, specifically his arm, isn't what it used to be, but it is worth mentioning that he has played at least 150 games in each of the last ten seasons. To address ongoing comments, Abreu's last two seasons have been far under his career averages. Mr. Baseball...not so much.

J.D. Drew, AKA Mr. Baseball, is a zero-time all-star, being viewed in the eyes of fans and managers as one of the top six outfielders in his league a whopping zero times. His power numbers dropped off last year also, as he hit 11 home runs after one straight season of 20+ home runs, and only three seasons above 19 homers in his entire career. So what I'm trying to say is that he was bad, but it wasn't that atypical. The players hitting in front of Drew were Manny Ramirez (OBP of .388), David Ortiz (.445), and Mike Lowell (.378). But somehow, despite the 429 runners on base during his at-bats, he only drove in 64, lower than the league average with 351 runners on base (source: This is, by my conjecture, because he decided to draw the walk (not that there's anything wrong with that) and leave the RBI opportunities to Coco Crisp, Jason Varitek, and Julio Lugo. Being an OBP guy like Drew is good...but better when the guys hitting behind you are people who can hit, like Manny, Ortiz, or Lowell. Crisp, Varitek, and Lugo are not like those three guys, specifically because they can't hit. Therefore those runs are not driven in, and neither is Drew, rendering his walk useless.

Drew, brought in for the next four years as a #5-type guy, hit 30 doubles. This seems like a pretty unimpressive number, because guys with more than 30 doubles last year include (on his own team) Ortiz, Youkilis, Pedroia, Lowell, Manny, and Lugo. He is actually tied with backup first baseman Sean Casey, who also had thirty last year. But this double total is actually the second-highest double total of his entire career. He's a gap hitter, though, or so I've been told.

Drew's plate patience has been used as a justification for his pathetic 2007 performance in all other categories and metrics. His .373 OBP was better than league average, and was actually higher than Abreu's .369. However, Abreu previously recorded eight straight seasons of .400+ OBP, whereas Drew has done so in only two full seasons. His defense is also better than league average, but while Abreu's durability is a strong point, Drew has never played in more than 146 games in a season.

I trashed Drew in this matchup last year, and he didn't even live up to my low expectations. I found out that he not only can't hit curveballs, but he also just flat-out can't hit lefties. However, as I said, he's swinging the bat a little bit better this year. Maybe he's primed for an A-Rod-style "F You" season, but that seems unlikely because even his old manager Tony LaRussa has said he's a guy who always plays at 75%. And maybe he's primed for some career highs. But as I addressed in my last post, even if that's the case, he probably still wouldn't be as good as a "solid" Abreu.

People will bring up the Game 6 ALCS grand slam. Before you even say it, I'll point out that the baseball season is more than one at-bat long.

Just as a bonus, what does the number 111 mean to you? It was the favorite number of author Samuel Beckett, because of its symmetry and its resemblance to three parallel lines. It's higher than Julio Lugo's batting average in June, 2007. It's the time per lap in my best 5,000 meter race.

It's also the number of times J.D. Drew grounded out to the right side (pitcher, second baseman, first baseman) in 2007, including playoffs. This is over 20% of his at-bats. One hundred eleven times. CXI in Roman numerals. If I had a quarter every time he grounded out to the right side, I could buy a week's worth of Wendy's meals. He grounded out to the right side one hundred and eleven times. Watching Mr. Baseball in 2007 was more enfuriating and nauseating than watching any other baseball player play for my favorite team, in my 15 years of being a serious baseball fan. A St. Louis fan told Bill Simmons last December, "you have no idea how much you are going to hate J.D. Drew." Now I know. And I get to enjoy it for another four years.

Edge: Yankees (Clean Win)

Overall (Final): Yankees 5 (C: Blowout, 2B: Undecided Margin, SS: Blowout, 3B: Clean Win, RF: Clean Win). Red Sox 2 (1B: Clean Win, LF: Blowout). Push: Centerfield (under further review, looks like Boston).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

It's Why We Watch (Volume 1)

Last year we had 38 Bitches in honor of Curt Schilling's asinine (but very readable and reference-able) technique of bypassing the media and running his mouth through his blog. This year, in honor of the charming, heartwarming, wonderful commercials being run by NESN every eight minutes that will have me cutting my wrists horizontally by April 13 and vertically by May 1, this year's series will be called "It's Why We Watch." Here I will compile some observations--none of which are important enough for an entire post, but none unimportant enough to ignore. And now, without further ado, It's Why We Watch.

1. At least temporarily, I will stop referring to the Red Sox' weak ground ball to the right side-hitting right fielder as "Nancy Drew" and start referring to him as "Mr. Baseball" after the 1992 Tom Selleck movie about an aging baseball player who eventually starts to hit while playing in the Japanese leagues. In two exhibition games against guys like Yomiuri starter Seth Greisinger, Mr. Baseball has gone 2-7 (.285) with two home runs and 7 RBIs. Looking beyond the box score, his other five at-bats have included a pop-up to shortstop, two strikeouts looking, and two weak ground balls to first base (one was a 3-6-3 double play).

In all honesty, the at-bats in which I've seen Mr. Baseball so far this spring haven't looked as awful as the majority of his 2007 at-bats (of course, that's like saying that Soulja Boy's song "Crank That" is more profound than his song "Yahhh"). Yes, I've seen plenty of weak ground balls to the right side, but I've also seen him go the other way with pitches. Not that I'm optimistic about him hitting any higher than .270 or hitting any more than 16 home runs, but maybe this year Mr. Baseball can put forward a 76% effort from time to time, which is higher than any of his other years in the Major Leagues.

2. The Detroit Tigers have to be on tilt or something. Sure, it makes sense that they're bullish on Miguel Cabrera, but have all those concerns I heard about when he was on the trading block disappeared? Isn't his defense still deteriorating to the point that he'll be a DH very very soon? Doesn't he still have a weight problem? Not only are these concerns, but aren't these concerns big enough that teams didn't want to trade for him? $153 over eight years has to be close to free-agent money two years early. Even if he had a good year this year, I would have been surprised to see him ask for more than what he was given. That's a lot of money and a lot of years on a very good ballplayer--but a risky one too.

3. Buster Olney "heard" that the Red Sox might not really be all that interested in trading Coco Crisp (who had a triple last night, by the way). Between that rumor and the article I read in the Globe last week citing Theo's Ellsbury-related concerns, I'm leaning towards the thought that the Fastest Member of Red Sox Nation is, in fact, the "starting centerfielder" for this team. As he should be. And upon further review (to answer Mr. H's comment from yesterday), I think the assessment that the Red Sox have an edge at the CF position is definitely valid, and one I can buy into.

4. It was not a good last few days for the "where's my laptop?" department. Clay Buchholz struggled again, capping off a very unimpressive/disconcerting March for him where he couldn't find a) his command or b) the fifth inning in any of his starts. In related news, the UConn basketball season is over, as the part-time stolen laptop vendors were stunned by the University of San Diego in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

5. The Players' Association will definitely find something significant when they "investigate" whether team owners are colluding against hiring Barry Bonds. They may actually realize that nobody wants to pay a huge amount of money for a guy who is the following:

>A reclamation project. Derek Jeter had more hits in 2007 than Barry Bonds did in 2005, 2006, and 2007 combined. P.S. American League pitchers will not walk him as much as NL pitchers did. You want to see reclamation project contracts? Ask Bartolo Colon. Maybe Bonds and agent Jeff Borris is setting too high an asking price.

>Not worth the trouble. Even Barry Zito is talking about how it's more comfortable to play in San Francisco now that Bonds is gone. He sucks as a teammate. He sucks as a person. He's in the middle of a federal perjury charge. There will be a media blitz every place he goes, and no team wants to deal with that nonsense all year. They want to deal with winning baseball games.

>Might get suspended because his behavior was so egregious that his suspension is for the good of the game. No, wait a second. That would take balls on the commissioner's part. Scratch that.

Sure, Bonds can smack some dingers. He can get on base. He's still not an awful baseball player, but that's probably because he's on HGH or other drugs that MLB doesn't test for. If McDonald's comes out with a burger that is way too messy to eat on the run and also presents health risks, it's probably not going to sell for ten bucks a pop. It's got nothing to do with a consumer conspiracy against the Golden Arches. Same with Barry Bonds: If you lower your salary expectations a little bit, you just might get a job! Imagine that!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

2008 Rivalry Matchups: Center Field

In all these matchups, center field is probably where we’re going to see the closest of a wash. In both situations (maybe it’s magnified on the Yankees’ part because of Bronx’s love affair with Brett Gardner), we see a young incumbent center fielder who is okay. Not brilliant, but okay. We’re talking about two guys in Melky Cabrera and Coco Crisp who are either serviceable starters or slightly-overqualified fourth outfielders. Trying to remain unbiased about it, it’s accurate to say that Cabrera has the nod over the Fastest Member of Red Sox Nation. Defensively, it’s not even close—Crisp is better. But offensively, Cabrera has the better bat (not by as much as you’d think), has upside because he’s still young, and is less injury-prone.

Both Boston and New York have prospects knocking at the door, taking away all semblance of job security for the incumbents. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, as far as I know, are similar players: They hustle, they’re fast, they’re good defenders, and they can hit, but not for much power. Ellsbury has performed better on all minor league levels, with Gardner not seeing a batting average over .300 since high-A ball. Their spring trainings have been very different though. Gardner’s raked, Ellsbury’s struck out a lot. Ellsbury’s performed so badly that even Theo's admitting that he’ll be a star someday, but someday is not today. As far as the starters go, the Yankees have a slight edge. As far as the challengers/possible starters by July go, the Red Sox have a slight edge. I’ll call it a wash.

Edge: Even.

PF: DV pretty much covered this one. Trying to predict the production New York and Boston will get from this position this year would be silly, because literally anything could happen. The only thing I would add is that DV is off on how much better Crisp is than Melky defensively. Crisp is better, but probably about as much better as Melky is offensively--it's not as much as you think. There is a perception that center fielders have to be lightning fast. Not true. It is ideal, but not necessarily a must. Melky isn't lightning fast, but he isn't slow either. What he does well is take very good routes to the baseball, and makes up for stuff he doesn't get with perhaps the best CF arm in the game. That is why he ended up with a Defensive VORP that was fourth in baseball last year (I believe Coco was 1 or 2). So while there is a difference, it is actually pretty close.

Regardless, it's slight edge Melky, and slight edge Ellsbury. Given that we don't know who is even going to be playing a majority of the games in center for either team, there are too many unknowns to properly predict.

EDGE: Even.

Overall: Yankees 4 (C: Blowout, 2B: Undecided Margin, SS: Blowout, 3B: Clean Win). Red Sox 2 (1B: Clean Win, LF: Blowout).

Friday, March 21, 2008

2008 Rivalry Matchups: Left Field

DV: I've mentioned it a few times before, but the title of Pitbull's debut album is a theme that continues to permeate both baseball and life. The title, of couse, would be MIAMI: Money Is A Major Issue. And for left field, the Red Sox, and Manny Ramirez, MIAMI.

After the 2008 season, the Red Sox have the option to pay Manny $20 million for each of the next two years. If he plays very, very well, he will get that money. If he plays like crap, the Red Sox will let him go, possibly try to sign him for less money, or let someone else pay him the big bucks. He's going to be looking for a lot. If you hire Scott Boras, you're looking for a lot, and Manny has never really hidden the fact that he likes to gather his paychecks and deposit them all at the same time at the end of the season (or so I've heard).

That said, I think it will be hard for Manny Ramirez to command $20 million for each of the next two years, as he was plagued by injuries (whether real or imagined) at the end of each of the last two years. His 2007 numbers were good, but they weren't Manny good (.296/.388/.493 with 20 HR and 88 RBI in more at-bats than he had in 2006, when he had 35 HR and 102 RBI). And he's going to be 36 this year. So if he wants to get the necessary cash next year, he will have to play really well this year--well enough to make the Red Sox re-up for the next two years. There are stretches in each season (except for last year) when Manny has a Brian Daubach-style "I'm not making an out for the next fifteen days" hot streak--except his hot is hotter than Brian Daubach's hot. Last year, that streak didn't happen at all. But I'm expecting those streaks to happen at least two times this year. Why? If that amount of money is on the line, you know Manny will show up for all 162.

And you know how I feel about Johnny Damon. I think these quotes say it all--because none of these prophecies came true. Damon, as expected, broke down. His 2006 was good, his 2007 was bad except for the end of the season when he was hitting against September call-ups, and his 2008 I expect him to be like the second half of a Slurpee: an icy, flavorless shell that somewhat resembles what you paid $1.69...or $52 million...for. I know Bronx expects him to be the Comeback Player of the Year, but let's remember how hideously bad he was at the beginning. No matter what shape he's in, he's not even close to what they paid for. He still fouls off pitches well and has a great eye. His arm sucks more than ever. He runs his mouth better than he runs the bases or across the outfield. When you play as hard as he did, and then get old, this is what happens. Susyn, in life, unfortunately, all good things come to an end. Including Johnny Damon's productivity as an everyday major leaguer.

Edge: Red Sox

PF: I spend a lot of time looking at numbers, and I had no idea that Manny Ramirez only had 20 homers and 88 RBI last year. While it's certainly not a very good season by Manny Ramirez standards, the fact that I would have guessed much better numbers proves a few things about Manny. One, he crushes the Yankees. Two, no matter what his numbers are, they always seem better. I promise there have been years when he's collected 120 RBI and it felt like 170. Much like A-Rod, I'm not going to spend much time talking about Manny's tools. They are the two best natural hitters in baseball (with David Wright making a push). He's also not as bad a defender as everybody thinks. It's just that when he makes mistakes, it looks awful/hilarious, because he just doesn't care. But as a fan of an oppossing team, there are only so many times you can say "how did he catch that?". He caught it because he's actually a fairly smart and effective defender when he wants to be.

All in all, Manny Ramirez is in a contract year. Let me repeat, Manny Ramirez, the ultimate turn-it-on, turn-it-off player, is in a contract year. When he cares, he turns it on. And he cares about money. He is going to turn it on, and as long as he has not broken down physically (I don't think he has), the results are probably going to be scary.

Johnny Damon is not as bad as DV thinks he is...yet. He had a good May (.292), a good August (.297), and a good September (.313), so he wasn't just beating up the September call-ups Coco couldn't hit. He also had three terrible months mixed in. Done, this does not make him. Doesn't mean he is ready to be productive, either. To be honest, we just don't know what to expect from him in 2008. He is in great shape in camp (which should be a friggin' requirement at 130,000, let alone 13,000,000). That and staying healthy are the keys. He still knows what he is doing at the plate. The difference for him is if he is handling the fastball on the inner half and driving it to right field for power. When he's doing that, you know he is feeling good and is going to produce. He'll always be able to foul stuff off, take his walks, and slash stuff to left. But when he is opening his hips up and getting the bat to good inside fastballs, he's a plus player. And he needs to do it, because when he doesn't get to inside pitches, pitchers just attack him there, and he doesn't have a chance to do the other stuff he does well, like slapping stuff to left. He's also an above average left fielder, and the position suits him better than center at this point. It also takes Matsui out of the position full-time. I like Hideki, but this is a good thing.

If he were to give more of his 2007 good months than bad months, the Yankees would be in good shape. If he goes the other way, the Yankees can't afford to have him play this year. And there are now other options. A CF/LF of Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera seems to be an option, and I'm fine with that. I'm sure Damon knows this, and hopefully it will drive him. Competition is a good thing. Thank you Brian Cashman. Either way, in Johnny Damon's best possible 2008, and Manny's worst, I'd have a tough time believing JD would be better. Since I expect Manny to have a monster year and JD above average...

EDGE: Red Sox (Blowout)

Overall: Yankees 4 (C: Blowout, 2B: Undecided Margin, SS: Blowout, 3B: Clean Win). Red Sox 2 (1B: Clean Win, LF: Blowout)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Big Three Update

Even Yankees fans may get tired of hearing about these three. Deal with it, because they are the Yankees season. At least two of them need to perform in order for the Yankees to have a chance to do anything, as I've said before. So it is important to follow their progress.

Phil Hughes has been terrible his last two starts. I have seen it, but he's been really bad. Allegedly last night wasn't totally indicative because the 40 mph winds were carrying balls out on both sides. I don't care. It was his fourth start. Generally, in Spring Training, for any pitcher you are looking at you throw the first three starts out. That made last night somewhat important. He bombed. That definitely makes his next start important.

As bad as Hughes has been is as good as IPK has been. I've see him almost every time out. He's just a very impressive pitcher. He's one of those guys who makes 91 look like 95 because of the way he changes speeds. The reason I know 91 looks like 95 is because of the amount of hitters who swing through high fastballs. You don't swing through 91 mph fastballs up in the zone consistently unless there is something going on there. And there is, and IPK knows it, because he continues to throw it there, especially with two strikes. Hughes seems to be having a reverse issue, where 94 mph seems too managable for hitters at times.

Joba to the pen? No problem. Three up, three down, three strikeouts on 11 pitches, 9 strikes. He's still more valueable as a starter, but he is more "wow" as a reliever. Most guys with his stuff would be. This will cause many, as Kaplan pointed out yesterday, to want him to stay in the pen. They'll be apalled when he has an ERA in the 3's as a starter. But an ERA in the 3's as a starter is more valueable then anything in the bullpen if the guy in the bullpen isn't closing. Last I checked, Joba isn't closing. He'll be great in the pen, but the Yankees need him to start. Especially if Hughes doesn't clean it up, which I expect him to.

2008 Rivalry Matchups: Third Base

PF: Mike Lowell is a very good baseball player, one that scares me on both sides of the ball. He might have the quickest wrists in the game, and his bat speed and control with pitches on the inner third, and even inside off the plate, is truly incredible. Just ask Joba Chamberlain. The only run he surrendered last year was a 97 mph fastball that looked like it might hit Lowell in the letters, and he took it out. It's an incredible feat just get good wood to a pitch that high and that hard. Keeping it fair is just outrageous. And that is what Lowell does to you. He hits a seemingly crazy amount of doubles on the ground down the line, and can beat you off or over the monster with anything you give him that he can hit inside. Why the Yankees don't shift left on him and pitch him away, daring him to dump singles into right where he has no power, is beyond me and a story for another day. If you don't do that, this guy will crush you on the pull, and he does the Yankees. He's also a terrific defender. Great first step, soft hands, quick release with strong results. Everything you want out of your third baseman.

Taking nothing away from Mike Lowell, Alex Rodriguez is the best player on the planet, and is probably already one of the top five players ever. I'm not going to talk about his skill set or numbers. It's pointless. But I do want to use this as an opportunity to make a few quick comments regarding my own feelings towards this guy we all spend so much time talking about.

I don't dislike Alex Rodriguez as a person. He's a good guy that can't get out of his own way. Because of how good he is and the attention he receives, he gets a lot of opportunity to not get out of his own way, and the result are often bad. If he wasn't so good, he'd just be another guy who can't get out of his own way. Just because he doesn't know what to say or when to it, and gets a lot of attention making this look really bad, doesn't make him a bad guy. It just makes him dumb.

I also don't dislike Alex Rodriguez from a results perspective. It has never been about results for me with him. Whether he hits 35 and 110 or 55 and 140, he's still helping the Yankees. His worst season would probably still be a top 10 in baseball, and trust me, I appreciate what he brings as a fan of this team.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, I don't dislike Alex Rodriguez in the postseason. If he doesn't play well, does it infuriate me? You bet. Will I curse him? You bet. But ask any of my buddies at Games 3 and 4 with me last year what I was saying about Wang and Posada and Jeter. I don't discriminate, and neither should Yankees fans. Tons of guys struggle in the playoffs. This idea that Alex Rodriguez is a reason the Yankees aren't winning in October infuriates me, Yankees fans and not. He could hit .600 and they could lose. He could hit .000 and they could win. Why? The postseason is about pitching. If the Yankees had Josh Beckett in 2007, I have news for everybody involved, they are winning the World Series. So Yankee whiners and Yankee haters, stop talking about Alex Rodriguez in October like it's some big to do.

So, since people know I haven't always been the biggest fan of this guy, what DOES bother me about him? His uncomfortability in his own skin, and the way that impacts the team. 35 or 55 homers, .600 or .000 in October, be yourself. Because when he's himself, it's going to be more 55 than not. When he's not himself, not only does he drag, but it has to take a toll on the entire team seeing someone so talented underperform so dramatically because he's not being himself. In 2007, we saw A-Rod. Not numbers-wise necessarily, because he'll have a tough time duplicating that. Personality-wise. A swagger that bordered on arrogance. A little less "professional and polite" with the media. A little more F U with everything in general, but not being a jerk. More outgoing with his teammates. I didn't like it. I loved it.

Where does the problem potentially exist moving forward? If he reverts to not being himself. 2007 was a contract year. Coincidentally, it was also an F U year from A-Rod. If he goes back to his old ways, you have to think it was totally money driven, and I'm out on that. We all know how I felt about the opt-out fiasco, and I don't blame Boras as much as A-Rod does. But I'm willing to forgive if he can just show me that 2007 was for real. That he can play and be a leader and not make it look fake. Just like 2007. This is a big deal for me, because if I start seeing the "A-Rod face" again, that scared look I saw all to often pre-2007, the back and forth flip-flop I've had with this guy will probably be over. I just won't be able to root for him anymore, because I will know 2007 was a fake.

No matter what though...
EDGE: Yankees (clean win).

DV: I don't really want to talk about A-Rod that much in the actual post part. I think Pat's opinions on this guy are a little more important than mine, because I think the guy sucks as a person and my life would be seriously enhanced if I went a week or two without even thinking about the guy. Yo A-Rod, give me space. I could (and probably will) dissect every line Pat wrote later on in the comments section. But it's undeniable that A-Rod is probably the most feared hitter on the planet. And rightfully so. The guy can hit. He can also field, but man, can he hit. He can hit good pitches, bad pitches, for contact, for power, whatever. If getting up and working out at 6:15 in the morning when everyone else is sleeping or taking their kids to school worked for me as well as it worked for him, I'd be an Olympian by now. A-Rod's a special baseball player--and he's the first person to let you know that. What a jerk.

As far as Mike Lowell goes, we've already talked about this guy a lot, and I'm going to reiterate that he's in the one place that maximizes his production--both for himself and for his team. He will play up to 81 games in Fenway Park, and his OPS last year at Fenway was over 200 points higher than it was on the road. If you want to see that breakdown, catch the post I wrote back on November 13. Looking a little deeper into it, you see that Lowell hit 21 home runs in 2007. Fourteen were at home. All 14 were specifically over the Green Monster at Fenway Park (source: Lowell also had 11 doubles off of the Green Monster and 12 singles off the Monster (these are estimates judging by the spray chart). This is more evidence that he is indeed a dead pull hitter and unlike what Pat wants to do, for half of his games, when there's a wall there, there's nothing opponents can do to rob him of those 37 hits, 20 of which might be outs in any other park. Guy hit .373 at home, and he's playing half of his games at home again this year.

You can probably expect Lowell's numbers to regress just a bit, and Red Sox fans just gotta hope that he's serviceable when he's hitting on the road. His defense did regress in 2007 compared to 2006 and 2005, but nobody really remembers that because it was still okay. Offensively, there are certainly concerns--he went 29 days without a double when the Sox went south in 2006, and he went .235/8/50 when my fantasy team went south in 2005. But let's put it this way: He's no A-Rod, sure. But if he matches his 2007 home statistics and went 0-for-the-road, he still wouldn't be much worse than Julio Lugo was last year.

Edge: Yankees

Overall: Yankees 4 (C: Blowout, 2B: Undecided, Shortstop: Blowout, 3B: Clean Win). Boston 1 (1B: Clean Win).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Joba to the Pen

No suprise here. He starts the season in the pen, enters the rotation in June/July. It doesn't thrill me, but then again, there is no way he could have been used where I would have been. Even my ideal plan, letting him start all the way, taking 2-3 two week breaks over the course of the season, doesn't maximize his effectiveness and his health at the same time. That is what I want, and it is unrealistic.

This is probably the best way to go about it. The Dodgers had success using this plan with Chad Billingsly last year, and I suspect the Yankees will use a similar one for Joba. Billingsly appeared in 23 games as a reliever, moved to the rotation in June, made 20 starts, and totaled 147 innings. I would say we can expect 20-25 relief appearances from Chamberlain, followed by 18-20 starts.

The most important thing is that he stays healthy. No matter where the value comes from (rotation or bullpen) the Yankees need that value. They can make the playoffs with him in the pen, they can improve upon that with him in the rotation, but they will have a tough time doing anything with him on the bench. That's how important he is.

The Least You Could Do

This reaction might be the opposite of what you would think The GM would say about this event. If you haven't heard, the Red Sox players will refuse to board the plane today if Major League Baseball doesn't pay the coaches $40,000 extra to go to Japan. I mean, I'm the guy who questions people's characters if they sign with Scott Boras.

But this time, I agree with the players. It's absolutely absurd that the coaching staff is asked to go to Japan for free. Maybe $40,000 is a bit excessive. But let's think about this here:

-These guys are the real C-factor, and by "C-factor" I obviously mean they bring the real intangibles to the team, working on hitting, fielding, pitching, and making sure Julio Lugo isn't going to make 40 errors a year. This cannot be measured, and the only time any of these guys gets any publicity is if something goes wrong or if Manny runs over DeMarlo Hale.
-These coaches do not get paid much. I read in the Herald that $40,000 is between 40% and (in the case of the bullpen catcher) 133% of their salary. And these guys are away from their families more than the Kenosha Kickers (the Polka Kings of the Midwest...they're very big in Sheboygan), but still are being paid peanuts.
-The 16-hour plane ride.
-The "two weeks" of having their biological clock getting "f[oul]ed up," according to David Ortiz.
-All of the other non-perks that go with leaving spring training in Fort Myers early to go to play baseball in Japan.

Major League Baseball is now a $6 billion conglomerate. They're going to be making several million in sponsorships and other revenue for this overseas stunt. They obviously have money to kick around, because they're obviously not spending much on their drug program, well, except for the production of "Mitchell Report: The Movie" so that Bud Selig can learn about steroids without reading the report. Plus, these are the guys who are making the Cape Cod Baseball League (free admission) pay them to use team names.

But $40,000 apiece for an underappreciated part of a baseball team to be part of an inconvenient, unpopular, impractical exercise? It's the least MLB could do. I don't blame the Red Sox one bit for making a stink about this.

Yankees at Virginia Tech

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention in this space what a bigtime play that was by the Yankees yesterday. I didn't see it live, but caught the beginning on Yankees Encore and checked out the photo gallery on the Virginia Tech website this morning. First class all around, everyone involved on both sides making that possible.

We spend a lot of time going back and forth on this blog about teams we love and teams we love to hate. It's all in good fun and it is all part of what sports are for us: a hobby, a distraction from more serious things in our lives, and a lot of fun. But if you saw anything from this game yesterday, it is another reminder that sports can be far more powerful than any of that.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Little About Yesterday's Game

DV: I got to see yesterday's game whenever I wanted to look over my shoulder. I'm not sure whether Pat got a chance to see it, but I hope he did so he can add what he saw. Here's what I got.

Colon: Bad. Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan once told me for about seven innings straight in back-to-back games that there's a big difference between command and throwing strikes. Colon was unable to succeed in either category, and looking a little bit at his stats, it's something he's struggled with before. In the years he's remained healthy, it looks like at times he walked a lot of guys (98 and 91 early in his career), and at other times he gave up a lot of bombs (38 in one year). We saw a lot of both yesterday. He has okay stuff. But he might want to work on getting it in the correct spots. At least he struck out...

Johnny Damon: I wonder if he listened to the "you had a bad day" song on his way home. But it was very fun to watch him strike out twice and lose a fly ball in the sun. It was probably because the sun disrespected him.

Brett Gardner: Maybe I was looking too hard into his one at-bat where he got jammed and popped a ball up. But you can see that he's trying really hard to get himself on this roster. I'd say he's a "spark," but it seems like around Boston, the new buzz words are "spark" and "electric" when baseball fans want to prove a player's worth while ignoring numbers. He didn't live up to the hype. But I can see why guys like Bronx have taking a liking to him.

Andy Pettitte: Still a work in progress. We'll break it down later what we can expect from Pettitte, but there's a pretty wide range of possibilities. He wasn't terrible yesterday, but that bomb Youkilis hit was on a really, really fat pitch.

Jonathan Albapendejo: Probably as a result of How Youz Doin Baseball or of being a friend of Pat, I heard a lot of hype about this guy. He lived up to it. He's a big guy with a pretty violent windup, which is an okay thing. Most importantly, his stuff was really good. I'm impressed.

I know Pat has more to say, so I'll leave the rest to him.

PF: Didn't catch the game (lots of Guinness got in the way...lots), but saw some on DVR. DV hit the points I probably would have hit, so I'll run them down quickly.

If Colon is effective this year, I'll be shocked. The YES gun was fast by about 4 mph yesterday (Brian Bruney does not throw 100), and if Colon actually wasn't throwing 94 (he wasn't), that's about as negative a performance as you can have. Truly, not one positive thing I could say. Terrible location, fastball getting bombed. If he can't work off his fastball, he can't pitch. At 90 with no location, tough to work off the fastball.

I've seen Pettitte three times this spring, and the good news is, he's still Andy Pettitte. As long as he stays healthy, 15 wins, an ERA around 4.00, a lot of battling and some good hitters beating him on mistakes are what we are going to see. We saw that yesterday the way he battled Papi to two K's, but Youkilis beat him on a mistake. That's how it usually goes for AP, and we need it to go as it usually does fom him this year.

While I'm on it, Kevin Youkilis drives me insane to almost Dustin Pedroia levels. He's just a rock solid baseball player. If he can put together a second half at some point, you really have one of the better all around players in the game. Sounds crazy due to the lack of power (especially relative to position) but it's true.

Brett Gardner is going to give my boy Melky a run for his money. I've always liked Gardner as a prospect, but now I don't know if you can keep him out of center, he's been that good. We have to see if he can do it in the Majors, and he should get his chance this year.

Albaladejo has looked good and bad this spring. Yesterday he looked good. I need to see more. But I like that the Yankees have depth at the "right handers who have great stuff but it doesn't always translate" position (Albaladejo, Ohlendorf, Veras, Bruney), because hopefully one of them will work out.

The real story in the Yankee pen is if they actually have something in Billy Traber. The lefty has looked great on both the stuff and results side, which is what you like to see from a reliever trying to win a spot.

Finally, and nothing to do with yesterday's game, how do we feel about the Red Sox bullpen short of Papelbon? Is Okajima good or bad? It bothers me that I don't know more about what is going on with the Sox pitching (really all you can follow in spring, and I'm following the Yankees), but this is the reality without NESN in my life anymore. This is a good life because I no longer have to listen to Remy, who deteriorated from one of the best color guys I've ever heard in 2003 to downright abominable by the time I left. If anyone else but Orsillo (say Michael Kay) was on the play-by-play, you'd have to put NESN on mute every night at 7.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Catching Up: Dougie's Going Home Tonight!

Note: After the slew of comments related to this post, I feel it is necessary for me to post the Varitek Disclaimer. It is available by clicking here.

Sorry about the lack of timeliness for this post--the ticket office has been busy the last few days and I was away from the computer as I headed to the New Bedford Half Marathon yesterday. But it would be a crime to ignore the release of backup catcher Doug Mirabelli last week. During his time in Boston, he became probably the most well-known and beloved backup catcher possibly in the history of baseball for various reasons. One of them has to be the fact that the only reason he was still in the majors was because he could catch Wakefield's knuckleball--and because of that, the team largely ignored the fact that he couldn't hit (.191 and .202 the last two years). Maybe it was because he didn't wear batting gloves. Maybe it's because the story of "Dougie's Going Deep Tonight" became so widely known. Either way, the police escort/panic trade story of May 1, 2006 turned Dougie from a larger-than-life backup catcher to a flat-out tall tale, for better or for worse. The guy has two more World Series rings than Ted Williams or Don Mattingly.

After 2005 was probably the time for Dougie to go. But after 2007, it was definitely the time for him to go. He had been battling injuries, and losing...and he had been battling opponent pitchers, and losing. I would be surprised and saddened if he didn't just hang up the cleats at this point. He was good at catching the knuckleball, but apparently so is Kevin Cash, catching the latest gem from Tim Wakefield, who has been almost unhittable all spring. Cash also can't catch, but if he isn't used, there will be three catchers sharing time in Pawtucket (Cash, George Kottaras, Dusty Brown). It's hard to develop minor leaguers if they only play twice a week. With Dougie gone and Cash in, both Kottaras and Brown can get some at-bats in AAA. And that's a good thing, because in my eyes a Varitek injury might be inevitable this year.

Nick Cafardo wrote on Friday that the Dougie release shows a sharp contrast to Captain Intangible, then writes two pages about the upcoming free agent's intangibility, leadership, and preparedness. The only numbers used were Dougie's .202 batting average, a MPH statistic, years, and dollars. Not a single mention of Varitek's dismal offensive and defensive numbers. Captain Intangible wants to catch until he's 45, and it looks like Cafardo would be okay with that, too. But the way I see it, the Dougie release is bad news for this guy who will likely be asking for more than the 2/$20 that Cafardo's projecting.

Dougie was let go despite the fact that he was an old (not aging, old) catcher who couldn't hit, couldn't field, and remained around because of weird quirky reasons. Will the Red Sox want to pay big bucks for many years for another old catcher who has offensive problems, defensive problems, but will be valuable only for weird quirky reasons? True, it is the team that signed fellow Boras client J.D. Drew for 5/$70.

But the question I believe I presented on this blog last week was cleared up a little bit. How low can Captain Intangible's batting average get until the Red Sox don't sign him? There's gotta be a supply/demand curve available. Hitting .202 for $550,000 isn't worth it. Can Varitek hit .230 or .220 and not only keep getting the fans' free pass, but still get a lucrative contract extension?

The GM Fires Back on Crystal, Verducci, and Gaedel

This is my last post on Billy Crystal--I don't really want to even mention him for the rest of the season. But I'm taking my moderator power and posting final thoughts that go beyond the realm of just a simple comment. More important baseball-related posts are coming later, but I have to put the final nail in this coffin so we don't have to discuss it anymore.

Unlike Pat, I am continuing to hold my ground as far as the fact that letting Billy Crystal play in an inter-team spring training game is a travesty to the game and especially the Yankees' organization, who have generally been the sole survivors of the unnecessary gimmicky-ization of major league baseball. As far as I'm concerned, baseball right now is more popular than it has ever been, and now more than any other time (I will later mention 1979 and 1951) the gimmickry that has often permeated baseball is not necessary at the game's highest level. If you haven't heard, Major League Baseball, under its genius commissioner Bud Selig (sarcastic), grossed over $6 billion last year. And with the advent of instantaneous technology, your average fan DOES know who Jed Lowrie and Alan Horne are, and even if they don't, they want to see them! Here at the AA Affiliate, I'd estimate that 10+% of the fans that come here to watch a game are from the Boston area and just (for some reason) they crave that much to see a baseball game.

In 1951, the St. Louis Browns, in a turf war with the Cardinals, decided (to help themselves and to help a sponsor) to let 3'6" Eddie Gaedel have an at-bat in a regular-season game. That generated a lot of buzz, obviously, seeing that people are still talking about it in 2008, and it is probably the biggest "gimmick" in baseball history. The second biggest might be 1979's Disco Demolition Night, where people could pay a buck and bring a disco record to the know what happened then. It is also notable that the White Sox were also fighting a turf war when Disco Demolition Night was going on. Neither of those time frames are known as the golden age of baseball, when people packed the stands. The attendance for those teams at those times were also likely not good--because both of those teams were BAD. The Sox' leading home run hitter had 17, and the team was not much better when it let Minnie Minoso play five games in 1976 and 1980. The Browns lost almost 2 out of every 3 games they played. These are the times that gimmicks are needed. That and in minor league and independent baseball, where the caliber of baseball is not good enough to attract fans by itself.

Yankees baseball is good enough to attract fans and attention by itself. If not, A-Rod could just say something unintentionally stupid and the Yankees could get a couple more back pages. The Yankees don't need gimmicks like that.

As far as Billy Crystal goes, I don't understand why he feels so friggin entitled. Kevin Costner has made three (3) baseball movies, and he kicked butt in all three of them. I don't see Kevin Costner begging the Tigers or Tampa Bay Religiously-Neutral Rays to let him catch an inning. I don't see Mel Gibson or Leo DiCaprio or the guy who played Henry Rowengartner ask to play baseball. Fidel Castro would have dropped the trade embargo on the United States if he got a chance to play an inning with the Dodgers. But none of those guys have ever asked to play a baseball game, because they know their places. Billy Crystal doesn't. He's an overrated actor with an inflated sense of self-worth who either 1) doesn't understand that baseball games are supposed to be played by baseball players or 2) understands that but finds that he's more important than that guideline.

I did research on SI senior baseball writer Tom Verducci's five days as a Blue Jay in 2005 and his appearance in the Hall of Fame Game in 2007 on Toronto. Verducci, in that spring training session, practiced (something Crystal didn't do much of). Verducci played in an intrasquad game, not in a real spring training game. But most importantly, Verducci was actually doing something positive for baseball and for baseball fans, as he wrote spectacular, informative articles about both experiences.

Billy Crystal was doing something positive for Billy Crystal, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Brett Gardner

Question for Yankees fans, especially Bronx. Have we reached the point where this kid HAS to make the team? Is there any way he doesn't? What else does he have to do? Yes, it is Spring Training, but the numbers aren't even what I would point to (though they are great).

Leading off the game today, he hits a routine ground ball up the middle, fielded cleanly by the shortstop, and beats it out. He proceeds to steal second. He then has third stolen before Abreu lined out. He seems to do this kind of thing every game. That's what I would point to here. He isn't the only player in the Majors with this kind of ability with his legs. But he is the only Yankee that has it. They haven't had a player like him in a long time, and they could use it. Would make the lineup that much more versatile.

Tough not to think about what he would be like batting 9th, acting as a second lead off guy. He'd put a different kind of pressure on pitchers, working them every time he gets on base. 60 steals is not out of the question, and you have to think that's just that many more RBI opportunities for Damon, Jeter, and Abreu. In my opinion, he should make this baseball team.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Suspensions: Unbelievable!

I'm not a whiner. I have no problem with Melky Cabrera and Shelley Duncan getting suspended, nor Joe Girardi, Bobby Meacham, and Kevin Long getting fines.

What I do have a problem with is that Johnny Gomes' suspension is less than Cabrera and Duncan's. I'm not saying any more Rays deserved to be suspended or fined. I'm saying Gomes deserves what Melky and Duncan got. The brawl didn't start until he charged in from right field and blasted Duncan. This isn't malicious intent? Just like Duncan and Cabrera?

It boggles my mind how MLB continues to brick these things. What's worse, I can't stand their insistance upon always punishing the Yankees more substantially than the other team involved in the altercation. If you had seven hands, you wouldn't be able to count on all your fingers how any times this has happened in the last decade. It's only one game in this instance, but that's the point! It's like they do it out of spite. F that. The Yankees better put this on their shoulder when they see Tampa 18 times in the next 6 months.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Billy Crystal

I'm not speaking for anyone else here, just myself. I always like to admit when I am wrong, and I was wrong on this one. Billy Crystal getting a batting practice jersey, a pair of pinstriped pants, a hat, and an at bat in a Spring Training game just isn't that big a deal. It's not like he is some sort of outsider or fake fan: this is a guy who has done a lot for baseball, and more importantly the Yankees, not to mention being a die-hard fan since he was a kid.

This wasn't some gimmick to make money (they don't need it anyway), and it wasn't a throw in to a Sarah Jessica Parker because she's a fan and she asked if she could, or worse a combination of the two. I just watched it for the first time on DVR, and I think this was a sincere thank you to someone who has done a lot for the team.

Is it silly? Yes. Is it ideal for someone who wants to keep the game as pure as possible? No. But at the end of the day, this is baseball, and baseball in spring training. That's supposed to be fun. And this was fun.

In this respect I owe Bronx an apology. He made this point from Day 1 when I, and others, were flipping out. I have done a total 180, and think this was actually an okay little thing. More importantly, it doesn't put the Yankees in the Red Sox, Mets, and Phillies' category in terms of shameless marketing tactics. So I have that to hold on to.

2008 Rivalry Matchups: Shortstop

DV: As always, please check out what we wrote last year about this matchup. My feelings haven't changed much. Neither have Pat's, as he's still talking about how great Jeter's 1999 season was. The only comments I want to add about 1999 are that Jose Offerman never replaced Mo Vaughn's on-base percentage and that Tim Tschida should be umpiring Little League games due to lack of competence and professionalism.

As far as the shortstop thing goes, Jeter's 2007 was good. Not as good as 2006, which was a stunning year-long display of good baseball. Another year of 200 hits, almost 40 doubles, and a .322 batting average. His .388 OBP and .452 SLG aren't .417/.483, but Jeter is still the best 2-hitter in baseball (I mean the batting order position, not the A-Rod insult), if not the best 2-hitter in baseball history. Still has awesome at-bats, fouling off pitch after pitch in a manner better than even Youkilis and possibly better than Johnny F. Damon. Doesn't try to do too much, but if you need a guy advanged a base for the heart of the order, you can always count on Jeter not striking out. His clutch hitting has been under fire a little bit after a bad 2007 playoffs, but he's still the guy I would want at the plate with the game on the line.

Meanwhile, I wish Julio Lugo had a sales receipt. The excuse machine ("I didn't get to play my position in LA, I had a tummy ache in Boston") didn't only disappoint Theo Epstein's expectations of him living up to a $9 million contract, but he even disappointed my modest expectations of "his career OPS is lower than league average. He hit .219 in Los Angeles. He is a borderline major leaguer." His 7-for-June performance coupled with his OBP of .298 (.286 from the leadoff spot) prompted me to compare him unfavorably to Red Sox disaster (and steroid user) Donnie Sadler. There may have been five moments in 2007 that made me say, "wow, the fact that Lugo's on this roster until 2010 makes me want to only jump off a five-story building instead of a 10-story building." That may have been overly harsh, but the fact still stands that Lugo was putrid last year. I think the majority of Red Sox followers have learned from this nauseating debacle that a year and a half of productivity (by productivity I mean OPS+ numbers of 124 and 105...Cooperstown's calling) with Tampa Bay is less of an indicator than the far less impressive 689 games of his career. J.L. should be a productive 9-hitter and shortstop for the Red Sox this year. And by J.L. I mean PawSox shortstop Jed Lowrie. However, there are still 27 million reasons there is no shortstop controversy in Boston this year.

Edge: Yankees

PF: I don't have much to say here, and you'll get enough Derek Jeter off me when he does something, so you don't need it when he's not doing anything. He's really good. He was once a great defender. Then he couldn't go left. Then last year he started to show some weakness going to the hole, and couldn't get to a ball that wasn't moving if it was up the middle. But you could ask him to bat left-handed and close games out of the pen and he would still have more value than Julio Lugo.

The one thing I will say is that it will be interesting to watch Jeter's defense this year. Whether you like him or dislike him, I think we can all agree he wants to win. And as a competitor, I'm sure he wants to play better defense than he did the last two years. I doubt he'd admit it publicly, but he knows where he was defensively, and not only does he want to win, but I don't think he wants to be in a situation where he has to be taken off short next year because he can't field the position. He hasn't lost his athleticism, instead of intentionally putting on 10 pounds in the off-season he stayed naturally lighter, and was once a good defender. This is the kind of player that could (could) improve himself again. I doubt he could ever get back to 1998, but maybe he could get back to 2005. Having him make a contribution on defense would really help the 2008 Yankees.

Either way, this position is probably the biggest edge either team has, even bigger than catcher and DH.

Edge: Yankees

Overall: Yankees 3 (C: Blowout, 2B: Undecided Margin, SS: Blowout). Red Sox 1 (1B: Clean Win).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

$14 million a year for absolute crap

>The 1994 baseball strike.
>The news that Mike Greenwell thought about taking steroids, implying that everyone else in baseball was using even as early as the early 1990s, before Balco, before McGwire, before everything.
>Insisting that baseball has taken tremendous strides in eradicating the juice.
>The World Baseball Classic, scheduled in the middle of spring training. Does anyone really not realize that the World Series is already "world" because it features the best players worldwide?
>The 2002 All-Star Game/"This Time It Counts."
>Disrespecting the century-long history of the game as well as creating unfair advantages for whichever teams are facing the NL Central in a given year through interleague play. Proposing a plan for radical league realignment along the same lines in the late 1990s.
>Attending Barry Bonds's home run record-breaking game...I mean, not attending...I mean, attending...I mean, not attending...I mean, not being able to make up his mind as a chief executive. A-Rod's "Dominican vs. American" inner dialogue was handled better.
>Presiding over the biggest scandal in the history of the game, and sending doctors to teams so that players can use illegal drugs in a safer fashion.
>Ignoring John Rocker's drug use, even though Rocker claimed he knew everything about it.
>Allowing the Yankees to sign a sixty-year-old actor to a one-day contract, behavior that is typically reserved for the independent leagues.
>Refusing to stand up to Donald Fehr and the Players' Union as they balk at blood testing.
>Considering letting Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame, reversing the decision that was made by the first commissioner of baseball to protect the integrity of the game.
>Refusing to cooperate with Congress and not taking any action until after being harshly reprimanded.
>Allowing FOX, Joe Buck, and Tim McCarver to broadcast baseball games. Period.
>Not reading the Mitchell Report in the three days he had before its public release. Did he have better things to do?
>Having the entire MLB offices in New York, having six secretaries. But not being devoted to his job enough to move his personal offices away from Milwaukee.
>Being so inept at his job that Congress has had to intervene and do his job repeatedly in the last five years.

JD Drew gets a bad rap around these parts, especially from this particular author. He is hideously overpaid, and there are few indications that his value over a replacement-level player would command his $14 million salary. But you know what? According to Baseball Prospectus, despite all the weak ground balls to second, JD Drew's value over replacement player (VORP) was 8.4 runs.

Contrarians, go ahead and tell me about how much money baseball has made under Bud Selig's watch. With the informational revolution that happened with the Internet, the constant interest and resulting revenue for baseball would have been inevitable with Mick Foley, Johnny Damon, Albert Belle, or even Jon Bandi as the commissioner. The fact that Bud Selig was in charge was just an instance of being in the right place at the right time. Any "replacement-level" commissioner could have done as good of a job as he did.

By "as good," I mean "better." Bud Selig is a wishy-washy decisionmaker, and that's exactly why John Kerry was not elected president. He couldn't make decisions because he didn't have the guts to. He lacks the balls to tell Pete Rose to stick it, he lacks the balls to tell Barry Bonds to stick it, he lacked the balls to halt a drug empire that proliferated in the game, and lacks the balls to prevent the continuation of the same drug syndicates. Selig's VORP has been negative since the day he took office while refusing to relinquish his ownership stake at the Brewers. His VORP will continue to be negative, but somehow he got a contract extension that lasts until he's 2012, when he's 78 years old and is too old to be literate (as opposed to now, when he's just too lazy to read).

In each of the past two years, Selig has made over $14 million. And I thought J.D. Drew was getting grotesquely overpaid for not caring and doing a crummy job at what he does. Compared to this guy, J.D. Drew is a saint.

Yankees Spring Training Notes: Andy Pettitte

Andy Pettitte is missing today's start due to "minor tendinitis outside the elbow". Supposedly not a big deal. He would have started if it was the regular season, yada yada. Fine. But any time I hear the word "elbow", I really don't care what follows it. I'm going to be concerned. This is the case for any team when it comes to their pitchers, I suppose. But every team isn't expected and trying to win the way the Yankees are, and every team isn't relying on three young kids in the rotation. This is going to be life for the Yankees and their fans this year. I doubt we'll be able to get comfortable, even when the pitching is going well (which I anticipate), because it could change so quickly. Let's hope Pettitte's elbow situation is as minor as described.

On a related note, I haven't had a chance to talk much about Phil Hughes this spring, and that's mostly because I haven't gotten the chance to see him pitch (none of his games have been aired on YES). But I have seen highlights. And he looks sharp, like the one I saw at AA and in Texas and in September and in the ALDS. Sharp is really the right word for him. His fastball and curveball just pop. He didn't have that for much of 2007, with a shaky fastball and a curve that he rolled as oppossed to snapped. Tearing your hamstring will do that to you. But it's back now. From what I've read, his changeup looks great and the slider does not. He may never develop the latter (he doesn't need to), but it would be a nice thing to show five times a game to keep hitters guessing.

I'm not saying any of this means he will win 15 games this year or 20 down the line. I'm just saying it's nice, and encouraging, to see that special stuff back now that he's healthy. If he stays that way, I have no concerns about this kid's effectiveness.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

2008 Rivalry Matchups: Second Base

DV: First, for standard operating procedure, check out what we wrote last year. From last year, things changed. A lot. Cano had a weak first half of the season. Pedroia had an awesome last five months of the season and I can safely say he's my favorite player on the Red Sox.

I was wrong last year. I said that Pedroia would hit some singles, hit some doubles, and make a lot of outs. He didn't make a lot of outs. There were definitely some points in the season where he reverted to the "too big" swing that got him in trouble in 2006, but most of the time he knew his role and hit the ball where the fielders weren't. Sometimes he was rocking bombs out of the ballpark. Just take his advice and ask Jeff Francis about it. Pedroia was the guy who wanted the bat when the game was on the line, because he felt the opposing pitcher sucked and was terrible. Watching this guy play was one of the highlights of the World Series season. That said, his 2008 might be a bit of a letdown. Lots of people (including Pat) feel that pitchers might figure him out and expose a few holes in his swing, and his biggest 2008 challenge is to prevent that from making too much of an impact. Should be interesting to see how his numbers progress, as he is now 24 and still on the upswing. But hey, even if last year's Pedroia's ceiling, that's a guy I'd love to have on my favorite team until well, well, well past October 2, 2011.

As much as I want to say that compared to Pedroia, Craig Biggio and Ryne Sandberg suck and are terrible, that's not true. He's not even the best second baseman in the AL East, because Robinson Cano is the real deal. Peter Abraham thinks he has no ceiling, and people are talking about how he could be a future batting champion or MVP candidate. As good as Pedroia is, he's probably never going to be an MVP candidate. Cano's 2007 was a big year as far as development goes, and it showed that he can make adjustments after a horrid start and continue to be the impact player he showed promise of being. Also 25, he'll continue to get better as far as he stays healthy.

Edge: Yankees, but not by that much.

PF: I make no qualms about the fact that I do not like Dustin Pedroia. This is mostly because he is short and plays with an attitude, a tell tale sign of Napoleonic complex, which he clearly has, and which I clearly don't like. That said, me not liking someone is usually a compliment (I don't dislike players who aren't good), and it never takes away from the respect I have for a player. And I respect Peroia's game. He has a great eye, finds a way to make good line drive contact, knows how to get on base, and he really gives you tough at bats. He also doesn't take plays off on defense, which I love. (Sidenote, I don't actually dislike Pedroia. I'm sure he's a nice guy. He just drives me crazy on the field).

He does have his limitations. His upper-cut swing can and may be neutralized by some non-traditional pitching (ie. working high in the strike zone where it's tougher for his bat to get to it). He does play hard on defense, and has some quickness, but he isn't fast and doesn't have a plus arm, which hurts him. This year will tell us a lot about what kind of player he is going to be (years two and three almost always do), and if he repeats or improves upon last season, he is a very good second baseman.

But Robinson Cano is presently in a different class. Pedroia will hurt you. Robinson Cano will beat you. That's the difference here. Cano has shown above average power for a second baseman already, and has shown slight power improvement every year, which is usually a great sign. Anyone around the Yankees will tell you, outside of A-Rod, no player's swing produces more power than Cano. He makes smooth, effortless contact that produces that beautiful backspin that makes the ball carry, and A-Rod is really the only other person on the team with this ability. Don't be suprised to look up in two years and see Cano batting 3rd or 5th with 30 homers and 120 RBI.

He can already beat you over the wall from left center (we all remember the 2-0 game last August where the only runs were Cano shots off Schilling to Death Valley, one of the biggest left-centers in baseball), all the way to right, and has the type of swing where he could eventually beat you foul pole to foul pole. No other second baseman in the game even thinks about doing that. He has also forgotten about 2005 defensively (awful), turning in back-to-back years of defense where he used his long legs and arm that doesn't belong at second base to be one of the best defensive 2Bs in the game.

No, he doesn't have good plate discipline. And that is probably about as likely to change as it is for Pedroia to hit 30 home runs. But walking isn't for everyone. He has a swing that is as pure as any in the game, and he knows how to handle pitches in different hitting zones. He's getting better at learning what to do with those pitches for power. If he ever totally does that, which is a possibiity, and maybe even takes a few more walks, you are talking about potentially one of the better players we will see at second base in this era.

Taking nothing away from Pedroia, I don't see these things in his future. Last year he came as advertized: a guy with limited tools that plays way above those tools to be successful. And he was successful. But Cano hasn't even realized all of his tools yet, and he's still better than Pedroia.

EDGE: Yankees, and it really isn't very close.

Overall: Yankees 2 (C: blowout, 2B: Undecided). Red Sox 1 (1B: Clean win).