Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cashman Back on Three Year Deal

Yankees just announced Cashman is back on a three year deal, through 2011, worth roughly $6 million total. I agree with this deal start to finish. Cashman has been running the show with some level of autonomy since 2006. That's three years. I believe people in sports -- coaches, GM's, team presidents, etc. -- should be given five years to see their way through. This is assuming they don't do an absolutely terrible job, which Cashman has not. I believe he is taking positive steps. So three years makes sense here for me. However, he hasn't exactly hit it out of the ballpark yet. So not giving him an increase in pay, and refusing to get into a bidding war by announcing your desires and making him decide one way or the other, is also a good move in my view.

Cashman has a plan. As I've said many times before, I believe his biggest strength as a General Manger is that he knows how to operate in New York and with the Yankees. He knows how to handle the Steinbrunners and the media and let the baseball people do what they need to do, which has been a problem in New York before with the Steinbrunners. He also knows what it means to be sustainable year after year from within, not just hanging by a thread to make the playoffs from year to year. This is what has happened to the Yankees in the past when an impatient owner or owners get pushed by an impatient fanbase into making moves that don't make sense either for the present culture of the team or for the longterm good of the organization.

Overall, I think Cashman knows what he's doing, and I'm a believer in him "running" this team publicly. I'm also a big believer in Damon Oppenheimer, Mark Newman, and Nardi Contreras informing Cashman on many or all decisions behind closed doors. Finally, I think this is an incredibly important time period for this organization. They have taken a lot of positive steps towards operating as efficiently as possible in terms of player acquisitiion and development, and have a lot of players that are right on the cusp of breaking out (Jackson, Hughes, Melancon), if they haven't already (Joba). They also have a lot of veterans that are probably nearing their swan song, but are or can still be incredibly productive players (Rivera, Jeter, Posada). This combintion, with a lot of money coming off the books, makes them "win now". Blowing up the leadership structure at this juncture would not have made sense to me. It would have been "starting over" on a certain level. The Yankees don't need to start over again. They did that in 2005. The Yankees need to win. Let's see if Brian Cashman can do that in three more years, which is ample time. Good move.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Nd Yst: Thnks fr th mmrs

After the half-marathon yesterday, I watched the Mets/Marlins game with one Mets fan and a little more than half a dozen Red Sox fans. You'd think there would be a lot of neutrality (as opposed to religious neutrality) regarding the Mets vs. Brewers situation, but there was not. Everybody was rooting for the Brewers except for me and my boy Bob (the Mets fan).

First of all, maybe it's just Bob, but I'd say the last two years must have stripped Mets fans of their entitlement that Pat has previously referred to. Sure, there's the irrational man-love for Jose Reyes and David Wright, but at least that one Mets fan sounds a lot like a Red Sox fan in the late 1990s with Nomar and Pedro man-love. There is overwhelming pessimism and not wondering whether the Mets would lose, but how the Mets would lose. Can we here from Pat here? How about the Big Ticket?

But anyway, I was rooting for the Mets because, as I wrote two weeks ago, I do not have an ounce of respect for the Milwaukee Brewers' organization. But they won and the Mets lost. Therefore, Milwaukee's going to play in the month there is only one of. What the F.

I already went over why I don't respect the organization, and the fact that they pitched C.C. Sabathia and an injured Ben Sheets for virtually every game in September (actually 42%) probably racks up more pitcher abuse points than Daisuke Matsuzaka's high school coach. Congratulations, Dale Sveum and the Brewers. You made your way into the playoffs. The two pitchers, including an injury-prone Sheets, pitched a total of 451 innings in 2008. They most likely played September on fumes. I'm not expecting them to do the same in the month there's only one of.

The ESPN ticker informed me that Doug "Britney Spears" Melvin text messaged former manager Ned Yost his gratitude for helping the team make it to the playoffs for the first thirty-four weeks of the season. Thirty-four weeks for a friggin text message. Classy.

Also, one more point, I can't fathom the fact that Red Sox fans would root for the Brewers over the Mets on Sunday. The fact that they gave Eric Gagne $10 million the day before the Mitchell Report dropped is downright offensive to anti-steroid people like myself, but should be equally offensive for anyone who watched Eric Gagne on their favorite team after July 23, 2007. That includes my boys from Boston. I can imagine Sox fans hating the Mets because they're from New York and because of their fans' entitlement, yes. But I cannot imagine Red Sox fans hating anyone more than Eric Gagne. Can someone please give me insight into this?

I'll handicap the Rest of Baseball matchups once I can get some research done. There's only one...day left in September.

Edit, 10:35: Please refer to this link to find out how I feel about Rally Monday. Also, Nancy should not be on the playoff roster if he is taking himself out of baseball games (he is, from what I gathered in Sunday's Globe). Sox are in trouble without Playoff Beckett at 100%.

Moose Gets 20/Upcoming HYD Coverage

Congratulations to Mike Mussina, who was masterful this season, and was rewarded with the first 20 win season of his long and consistently successful career. He has now moved himself from the outside of Hall of Fame conversation to the front page. He was not often elite, but always one of the better pitchers in the game. He has now won 10 games or more for 17 consecutive seasons, and has won 15 games or more 11 times. I don't know the exact stats, but I believe only 9 other pitchers in the history of the game can claim such consistency and longevity.

A lot of people criticized him last year and early this year, myself included, and everyone was flat out wrong. He's only the third pitcher in baseball history to win 19 games or more at the age of 39 or older (the other two are Early Wynn and Cy Young...not exactly bad company), and he won 20. A lot of fans criticized Cashman for bringing Mussina back on a two year contract. Well, not only did he win the most games on the team over those two years, but only a handful of pitchers in baseball won more during the 2007 and 2008 seasons combined. Goes to show everything isn't always what it initially seems, you have to have patience.

The Yankees finished a disappointing, but very respectable (when you consider the season long loss of Wang) 89-73, fourth best in the American League. Without Mike Mussina, disappointing would have turned into disastrous, and I don't know if they would have finished above .500. Instead of having a re-tooling off-season, had the Yankees finished under .500, things would be a lot more complicated from an ownership, media, etc. standpoint, and it would have made this winter a lot more difficult than it needs to be. You can thank Mike Mussina in large part for that. Unfortunately, it seems like he is leaning towards retirement, which would be a huge loss for the Yankees next year. With his new found approach as a soft-tosser, he could have success for 3-4 more seasons easily. Here's to hoping he comes back.

A lot to discuss regarding the Yankees this off-season. For now, look for a lot of playoff previews and coverage, as well as a new HYD Series, "Tale of the Tape", where we look back at the opinions of our authors and commentors, and see who was right and who was wrong on so many 2008 topics.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Were we wrong?

Most important time for the season for the Boston Red Sox, and while all in all they have provided very few clues as to which team they are (the team that showed up against Cleveland or the team that showed up against Tampa Bay--they are very different), there is one thing that I feel like I must address.

Relief pitchers, like umpires and managers, are very seldom talked about unless they really suck. Hideki Okajima in 2008 was no exception. While we talked about him a lot last year as well, mostly because his dominance was so unexpected, we talked about him this year because not only did he fail to meet the post-2007 expectations for a long time. He also failed to meet major league standards for a lot of the season. His track record with inherited runners this year was about an 8.5 on a scale from 1 to Mike Timlin.

But as the most important time of the year approaches, it seems like Okajima's started to figure it all out. This is something that Okajima/Red Sox/bullpen apologists insisted Okajima would do. And also something that the blog administrators, especially Pat, insisted was not going to happen. His stuff is not that good. His funky delivery was figured out. His numbers in Japan kinda sucked too.

While I do contend that Pat and I had (and still have) a very valid argument, guys like Craig and Mr. H. nailed it. The guys on NESN were talking about Okajima's newfound rediscovery of his splitter and changeup. And this rediscovery has paid off, as Okajima's been unhittable for the last few weeks.

His battle against I believe Victor Martinez with the bases loaded last night was an unbelievable performance. Everything from the first half of 2007 would say this would be a disastrous situation. A hitter working the count against Okajima after he came in with runners on base. Woof. But he attacked the strike zone, didn't even throw any borderline pitches with the full count, and got Martinez to pop out.

Other stuff:
>While I do like Johnny Pesky and I wouldn't dare writing something about how he doesn't deserve to get his number retired despite his 60+ years in the organization, it is somewhat sad that in the era of the new ownership group has relaxed the previously-stingent standards for retired numbers. It's a somewhat slippery slope. This was a pretty unexpected move at a strange time. Why his 89th birthday? Because it's 46's OPS+? I'm scared that #6's health might be deteriorating.
>Jon Lester would get a higher Cy Young Award vote from me than Matsuzaka.
>Johnny Bench's performance on NESN the other night gets a Joe Namath Award.
>Mark Kotsay has been coming through since my last post about Kotsay not coming through. Hopefully Okajima doesn't make me look equally stupid by reverting to early-season form.
>Mike Timlin, despite all the negative things written about him here, continues to do the same thing.

First Time For Everything

I was first really aware of what was going on with the Yankees in 1994. I started to be able to follow more closely in 1995. By 1996, I was a full fledged fan, knowing what was going on day to day with the team. So figure I have been following the Yankees for some 14 years and 2,200+ games. Last night was the first time any of those games didn't mean anything. Weird.

As I said last week, we would not be able to take anything from Phil Hughes' results this September. Despite an 8 inning, 2 run, 5 hit, 6 strikeout, no walk performance in which he needed only 100 pitches (71 of which were strikes), that still stands. Hughes will tell you that himself, saying, "One game isn't going to erase an awful season." Good to know he hasn't been hanging out with Ian Kennedy in responsibility class.

I did say we'd be able to look at Hughes' stuff and make some analysis there. In that regard, he's back to what he was last year, which is a huge thing to take to Arizona and then this off-season for the kid. Last night his curveball was the best I had seen it since May 1, 2007, recording all 6 strikeouts on that very pitch, 3 called, 3 swinging. Had that nose to toes late bite. He was also told by Mike Mussina to use his curveball more earlier in counts. Moose told him if he only used it 0-2 and 1-2 to put people away, hitters would sit on it. Seems obvious enough. But maybe not for a kid who has spent most of his amateur and professional career facing weaker hitters, getting strike one and strike two with his fastball and then putting them away with the curve. Not going to work against David Ortiz. This is called learning how to pitch at the Major League Level, which everyone has to learn how to do. I also thought Hughes was more willing to use his 2-seamer at 89-90 to get quick contact outs, as opposed to always going to his 4-seamer at 92-93, which might miss bats, but elevates pitch count. Again, learning how to pitch. Good job.

Speaking of learning, Mariano Rivera has apparently been doing some teaching. Phil Hughes' cutter looks outstanding. Last week it looked like more of a swing and miss pitch, but last night he was throwing it for quality strikes as well. Rivera has also taught Brian Bruney the pitch, and all Bruney has done with it is allow two runs on six hits (6!) in 17.2 innings pitched since August 13, including none in the month of September. Even without Joba in the bullpen next year, if Mark Melancon is anything, the Yankees have a chance to have an elite bullpen once again, because Bruney is a beast. On the season he has a 1.87 ERA, allowing 18 hits in 33.2 innings (we missed this guy more than we know this year). Hughes' and Bruney's cut fastball is not what Rivera's is, which is fine, because Rivera's is the single best pitch I've ever seen, probably ranking as a 90 on a 20-80 scouting scale (if that's possible), so I wouldn't expect theirs to be. I'm just glad it's working.

Finally, Andy Pettitte scratched for Sidney Ponson Saturday, further evidence of what we already knew, that Pettitte has been pitching with some sort of shoulder injury for a better part of the second half. Keeping him out of this start is strong indication to me that the Yankees want him back and he wants to come back. It's an interesting case. Pettitte was having an outstanding season. On July 26th he was 12-7 with a 3.76. He finishes the year at 14-14 with a 4.54, having actually been a shade below league average. The falloff is most likely related to the injury, but injuries are what happen to 36 year olds with 2,731.2 Major League innings. If it's me, if there isn't anything structurally wrong with the shoulder, I bring him back on another one year contract. As we learned this year, you can never have enough pitching depth. Even if Pettitte was slightly below league average for the whole season next year and not just the second half, you could do a lot worse for your #5 starter.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Shameless Plug of the Month

I'm going to try to make this as close as possible to the style of "Self-Important Blogger Does A Book Signing."

HYD Baseball personality "The GM," also known as Dan Vassallo, will be making an appearance at the Fourth Annual Wilmington Half-Marathon in Wilmington, Massachusetts between 10:00 AM and 11:09 AM at the very latest. He will be signing copies of his book "Pink Tacos: Why Red Sox Fans Have Singlehandedly Ruined the U.S. Economy" and attempting to break the race's course record by a sizeable margin.

The GM strongly recommends all HYD Baseball fans in the Boston area, especially the Wilm-erville Crew, Mr. H, Bandi, Kaplan, and all other readers in the Boston area to find a place on the course, no matter how hung over they are from the Saturday night Red Sox game, and either cheer, scream that he could run faster if he wore one sleeve, or ask why his shorts are so short. Stomach painting is strongly recommended, as is discreet alcohol consumption (this is not the Boston Marathon, so let's not go nuts).

More information on the race is available at wilmingtonhalfmarathon.tripod.com. More information on a possible post-race cookout is available by contacting The GM.

Also notable is the fact that the blogging capabilities of The GM At Work might come to an end, as my new job (same as my old job from last fall) is at what I like to call the Firm the Recession Forgot. Holy crap, is there a lot of stuff to do. So I might be posting at different times of the night.

Yanks Give Cashman A Week To Decide

We'll get this out of the way now because 1) There is nothing happening in the AL East for the rest of the week, 2) We don't want to do too much of it when there is playoff baseball going on, and 3) This is when it's happening. Also, with the Yankees officially out of the playoffs for the first time since 1993 when I was 8, they have a busy off-season ahead, and this is an important issue. And I want my stance to be clear.

The Yankees have let Brian Cashman know that they want him back as the team's General Manager, and want him to make a decision within a week. I think it is smart to give Cashman a deadline now that they have made their feelings known. The Yankees have an important winter upcoming, and need to have leadership in place sooner rather than later, be it Cashman or his replacement. I also think it is smart to make Cashman commit before talking years, dollars, and cents. Make sure he is in this 100% before giving him another big contract.

And I definitely think it is smart to bring Cashman back. Not because I think he himself is a great baseball team builder. But because I think he allows the baseball people to make baseball decisions, which isn't always easy in New York and with the Yankees. Cash has essentially been able to stand up to the Steinbrunners (George before, Hank now) when they want to do things the wrong way. He backs them off and lets his baseball people decide what's right and what's not. Then, he takes the fall if it goes wrong, and gives the credit to his staff when it goes right, like any good leadership figure would do.

This is so important because of what has happened in the Yankees' recent history. George Steinbrunner was banned from baseball in the early 90s, and as such wasn't around the Yankees the way he was used to being. During that time, General Manager Stick Michael and his staff put an end to purely signing and trading for big names, thus depleting the farm system, and built the foundation for the Yankees championshps of the late 90s. They added guys like Williams, Pettitte, Jeter, Rivera, and Posada. Then they made smart trades and smart signings like Paul O'Niell and Tino Martinez. Once they started winning, Steinbrunner and his boys took the reigns again, and the team started building from the top down as opposed to the bottom up once more. 2008 is essentially a result of this, with 2005-2007 signs we were heading in this direction.

However, in the last three years, the Yankees have worked to correct that behind Cashman. They are operating the way a smart baseball team with a lot of resources is supposed to operate. Pouring money into the draft and the international free agent market, and spending in the FA market and making trades only when it makes sense, not just because they can. This creates a talent pool that is not depleted, but rather plentiful, and elminates the need to get into bad contracts with aging players on a regular basis, which is essentially what a great majority of the FA market has become with teams locking their young players up early.

Unfortunately, this process takes time. Not that much time, but time. And I don't think everyone realizes that. They look at 2008 as a huge disappointment, which in the grand scheme of things it is. But it is a disappointment not because of the Yankees' recent moves, but ones that were made 7 and 8 years ago still bogging them down, not as much because of what Cashman and his team have done recently. Could they have made this team better? Yeah, they could have traded for Santana. That move would have been great for this year. But thinking only about this year is what gets you into trouble, ala the way it was when the Steinbrunners were making baseball decisions.

On the positive side, this team is building for 2009 and beyond, and that was clear when they didn't trade for Santana. And still, with injuries to Jeter, A+L, Posada, Matsui, Wang, Pettitte, Hughes, Kennedy, Bruney, and Chamberlain, the Yankees are .5 games out of being the fourth best team in the American League. This isn't a poorly constructed team. This is a team at the tail end of a cycle where they are getting rid of the residue from bad operations in the early 2000s. This is a rebuilding team. This is an injured team. And yet they are still going to end up with a win total that may just be playoff worthy in theory.

So I hope Cashman accepts. He has a plan, both for the directions of the Yankees as a team and the way in which the organization operates on a day to day basis, and I don't think now is a good time to interrupt that. I think he understands what is strengths and weaknesses are. Anyone who follows the Yankees closely knows that Damon Oppenhiemer, Mark Newman, and the rest of Cashman's staff are driving the decisions as much as anybody, and this is a good thing. Those guys are true baseball guys. But those baseball guys probably (I can't say for sure, because I don't know their personalities), wouldn't be able to make baseball decisions as clearly if they were the ones taking the heat when a bad decision is made (which is inevitable). And that's why Cashman is so important. He's the businessman, the guy with savvy media skills and the ability to stand up to ownership. He's the guy that makes sure the right people are making the decisions. This ensures the Yankees don't act like they did during the 1980s and the early 2000s, and that they do act like they did during the 1990s. And this is PROVEN to be a good thing, just ask those Yankees, just ask the Tampa Bay Rays. I don't like to go against proof.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Conspiracy

In the bottom of the eighth inning last night, Sean Casey hit for Jeff Bailey. Sean Casey, who is hitting .332 this year, got a very unsurprising hit. Coco Crisp pinch ran for Casey. So now there is one man on and one man out after a similarly unsurprising putrid at-bat/strikeout thanks to Captain K Jason Varitek. World Series Hero #46, who DID YOU HEAR! is riding a 13-game hitting streak THIRTEEN GAME HITTING STREAK!!!, promptly grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The fact that 46 hit into the double play is somewhat irrelevant because this post is not about 46...well, not that much.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, after another Jed Lowrie strikeout (he took a page from 46's book and looked at a ball on the outside corner), there were three men on with two outs. The tying run was at third base; the potential go-ahead run was at second. Mark Kotsay, three for his last 34 and looking like absolute crap at the plate, stepped to the batter's box while Casey sat on the bench. Kotsay flew out.

An unsurprising single by Sean Casey would have given the Red Sox the lead against steroid user Rafael Betancourt. Coco would have assumed center field as a defensive replacement and 46 could have moved to right field, as he did in the ninth.

It is not a difficult concept.

If Casey was still too unhealthy to play, that would be one thing. But clearly he wasn't as he came in to pinch hit in a low-leverage situation in the eighth inning. What is a difficult concept is why Casey didn't pinch hit in a high-leverage situation in the seventh. Was Francona asleep at the wheel? Did he value Kotsay's .197 bat too much to take him out of the game. Nauseating.

I was going to write a post this weekend praising Francona, especially when he did indeed take Tim Wakefield out of the game before everything went to crap. Not only is the B-Team practice no longer in Francona's repertoire, but apparently neither is Waiting For Seven, and that is commendable. However, his use of the bench this season is questionable at best.

What also sounds like a conspiracy is the fact that .282 hitter Coco Crisp has been sitting for a few days straight. The first thing I heard about a sore foot was last night during the game. I gotta think that they are benching the hottest hitter on the team because they're afraid he's going to cool off, his average will dip below .280, and his trade value will sink again. While it kind of makes sense, watching him rot on the bench while Kotsay and 46 are playing and hitting into double plays makes me pissed off. Plus, other executives know that Crisp's entire career is based on a lot of mediocre play plus a very long, very hot tear. His .300 season in Cleveland is no different, as he had an OPS of 1.283 over a 56 at-bat period, but I trust executives from other teams to recognize that whereas the Red Sox clearly did not.

My last mention of an anti-Coco conspiracy pertains to NESN's coverage of 46's hitting streak. They are giving the 13-game hitting streak a whole bunch of press, talking about how 46 is starting to get it and will start hitting .353 again like he did last year. It's very similar to the treatment that D.L. Drew got when he was healthy and started hitting in June.

During Coco's hitting streak, I saw very few graphics. I saw only four or five articles total in all the news sources I read. I know he had a .448 batting average over a 58-AB stretch. But it went relatively unnoticed everywhere except for HYD Baseball. And that is beyond sad: It is sickening. And the overwhelming bias that stretches from the comments section here to the bedrooms of 15-year-old girls all across New England, to Steve Buckley's seat in the Fenway Park press box all the way to the NESN graphic arts studios might actually make me more upset than what happened last night.

This Is Enough To Drive Me Crazy

Bandi and John both commented in the previous thread as to how it is too bad that the games this weekend won't mean much for the Sox. It is unlikely they will be in a position to catch Tampa at 3 back in the loss column, especially since Tampa has the tiebreaker, meaning Boston actually needs to make up 4 in the loss column. So unless there is a total Tampa collapse and Boston wins out or something close to it, the Red Sox will be going to Anaheim for the ALDS, and there isn't much they can do in the next 6 days to change that.

The Yankees, I would argue, are playing for something. They are 85-71, a respectable 14 games over .500 all things considered. If they can keep playing well and go 3-3 or better in the next 6 days, they can get to 88-90 wins. I think that's something to build on. That's something you can bring into Spring Training next year and say without Chien-Ming Wang and Jorge Posada, we still managed to win a lot of games. Let's get healthy and get better as a team and as individuals and win more in 2009.

All of this said, the 2008 Yankees are 6 out with 6 to play. Boston needs to lose out, and the Yankees need to win out. This is not going to happen. But that's not what's important. What's important is that 6 out with 6 to play is not THAT much in the scheme of a full seasons. It is THAT much with a week to go (and that's the problem, just wait one second). Just look at it this way. If the Yankees had taken one more game off of Boston in that critical late August set where they lost 2 of 3, that adds two to the magic number, making it 3. Then if the Yankees can win just ONE more game the whole season, the magic number is 4. If this were the case, just two more wins on the whole season, chances are this weekend would mean something FOR THE YANKEES. Would it still be a long shot? You bet, they'd have to sweep Boston in Boston to make the playoffs. But at least you'd have a shot, head to head, with the team in front of you. Unless Boston gets swept and the Yankees beat Burnett and Halladay, this isn't happening.

I could talk about how A+L disappeared in August, particularly against Boston (and I'd love to), but that's happened before and the Yankees have still made the playoffs. I could talk about injuries, but that's happened before, and the Yankees have still made the playoffs. I could talk about underperformances, but that's happened before, and the Yankees have still made the playoffs (although to be fair, this has been the worst year with this last part).

The one thing that has changed is the manager. I'm not blaming the whole thing on him. No way. But he has played his part. When we are talking about MERE GAMES to be in the playoff hunt, his name has to come up in conversation. Sitting Johnny Damon that Monday in Minnesota. Continually allowing Darrell Rasner to blow leads and tight games in the 7th inning. Not bunting Melky Cabrera in the 9th inning and allowing him to hit into double plays. The list of in game mistakes that, had he just done one right in one game, would have put us in better position in the playoff hunt, goes on and on. Imagine had he done it right in two more games, or three more games. I've been saying it all along, I think he's done a terrible job in game managing, and it's probably cost the Yankees 5-6 wins. I think another manager can do better than that.

Still, this is not the most important thing. It has been published that he lost the team. Multiple players rolling their eyes or staying silent when asked about Girardi's performance, and then quickly asking for it not to be written that they stayed silent. This is bad, probably the worst thing a manager/coach can do, losing their team. If you ask me, the reason he lost his team is his "every game from 1-162 is equally as important" approach. BS. If I can't accept a blistering hot Johnny Damon sitting coming off a sweep in LAA and in the middle of a playoff race, what do you think Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Johnny Damon, and all the other guys that would give everything to make the playoffs think? You think they can accept Girardi's "Johnny's played a lot" routine? No way. They have to be wondering what he's thinking just like the rest of us. So not only is he making moves that lose games (see above), but he's making moves that cause his team to question his ability to put them in a position to win, which is his job. The latter is probably more detrimental long term to a season than the former.

It's not always fair to compare, but Joe Torre never did this. In recent years, Torre lost Matsui and Sheffield (who combined for 57 home runs and 239 RBI the year before their injuries) for an entire season and won 97 games. Torre experienced the worst of the worst with A+L's unclutchness in 2006 and still made the playoffs. Torre experienced guys having bad years in 2004 and still made the playoffs. In my opinion, he was able to overcome these things because he had the confidence of EVERY single person in the clubhouse (even if they weren't happy with their own role, I doubt they ever felt he wasn't giving them the best chance to win), and because he didn't treat every game the same way. He identified games he had to have and went after them. While always presenting this "everything will be okay" demeanor the same way Girardi does, his actions spoke differently, which is where he diverges from Girardi. Torre didn't rest guys in a playoff race. His biggest detraction has been his overuse of the bullpen in the later years. Maybe that was because he wanted to make the playoffs, and wasn't going to let the mediocre starters he was given 05-07 (like Girardi this year) decide that for him. Would you rather have a rested bullpen like this year and miss the playoffs, or a tired bullpen and make it every year? There was a sense of urgency Girardi has lacked.

Had Torre been here this year, I don't know if he would have gotten us to the playoffs. 6 games is a lot of games to make up, no matter what. But what I can guarantee is that he wouldn't have lost his team, and we'd have those 2-3 wins we needed to make this weekend in Fenway exciting. We'd have a chance, something Girardi has not given us. These detractions -- losing games, losing your team, and not giving your team a chance late in September -- are worse than mishandling a bullpen, and hence anything bad you could say about Torre.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Wrapping Up the Last Game at This Yankee Stadium

Simply put, last night was awesome. Everything wasn't perfect, but the Yankees, as an organization, did a good job with the pre-game ceremony. Most importantly, the Yankees won, and the postgame celebration, with Jeter's speech and the lap by the team, is something I will always remember. The Yankees really mean something to a lot of people, and the connection so many feel to the team and the Stadium was never more evident than when the team took the lap. It also makes you realize how special Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are, and how lucky Yankees' fans have been to watch them for last 13 years. For a Stadium that has hosted so many all-time greats, these two are the last in line. I think everyone that is or ever has been associated with the Yankees is proud of that. They represent the organization tremendously.

With it totally in perspective in the scheme of life, I'm sad. Yankee Stadium has been a really special place for me, for a lot of other fans, a lot of players, a lot of teams. That can all be summed up by saying it has meant a ton to the game of baseball. Because of everything that has happened there, it is the most significant stadium in baseball's history. Sports Illustrated called in Baseball's Cathedral on their most recent cover. I don't how much they did and did not show on TV, but the Orioles' players and coaches were really into this, you could tell. Standing on the top step for the pre-game, video taping everything, wathcing the legends, they could feel what they, as baseball players, were a part of. After the game, when they were trying to clear everyone but the Yankees from the field, Orioles were hoarding dirt from the mound and third baseline into Powerade cups like little kids. Yankee Stadium wasn't just a Yankee thing, it was a game of baseball thing, and that is big part of why it is so sad.

But it is also so sad because it is a Yankee thing and a New York thing. This team and that stadium have meant a lot to a lot of people. It means a lot because of all the great memories and all of the fun (at least for me, and I would imagine most), which is what baseball is all about. From the start of the pregame to the end of the postgame, people had tears streaming down their face at different times. Again, with it totally in perspective in the scheme of life, I fought back tears on multiple occasions last night, and have been doing the same all day today when thinking about it. It's sad because it was such a fun place and because I do have so many great memories there, as have so many and my family and friends, and I'm going to miss that. This all can and will continue at the new Stadium, as Jeter so eloquently said last night. But it won't be the exact same. And that's why it's sad.

I was given the opportunity to take it all in last night one last time, and I am really thankful for that. I looked all the way around the Stadium one last time after the game ended. I sat in my seat one last time just before we left. And just as I went up the walkway into the corridor before as we were walking out, I paused to look back at that green grass and that infield dirt that have both always seemed extra-lit up to me ever since I was a kid one last time. And I think that was my "thanks for the great memories and all the fun", of which I have had a ton of both in Yankee Stadium. Last week, I mentioned some of the historic games a member of my family has been present for in Yankee Stadium. Despite having gone to many regular and postseason games, and seeing a lot of truly exciting and great games, I had never been to one that will go down in history. Now I have. In a place that has been so special to so many, including me and my family, I'm glad I was not only able to say goodbye and experience it for all of us, but to finally get to one of those kinds of games. Last night at Yankee Stadium is going down in history. And it's something I will never forget.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Last Trip To Yankee Stadium

I'm going to have a pretty special sports day on Sunday. Giants game at 1 PM, and I'll be in the Meadowlands. Last Yankee game ever at Yankee Stadium at 8 PM, and I'll be in the Bronx, seeing one last game at a place that is very special to me.

Both of my grandfathers immigrated to New York City from Ireland in the early-mid 1900s. Knowing little about America and nothing about baseball, both fell in absolute love with the New York Yankees. Joe Featherston of County Galway and then Brooklyn, my father's father, saw Babe Ruth play at The Stadium. Matt Kilcullen of County Sligo and then The Bronx, my mother's father, once received a phone call from Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin, who were prompted to do so by my aunt at a bar in Manhattan. After greeting The Mick pleasantly, the phone was handed to Billy Martin, then manager of the Yankees. When Billy said, "Hello, Mr. Kilcullen, this is Billy Martin", my grandfather, without saying hello or being slightly impressed by speaking to the manager of the Yankees, said in his deep Irish brogue, "What were you thinking sticking with Catfish so long yesterday when you had Sparky Lyle ready, ya moron?!?!". True story. As people who knew my grandfather's have told me many times, it isn't difficult to figure out where this Yankee obsession comes from.

My grandfathers caught on quick both to baseball and to what the Yankees were to New York sports fans, and this family has never looked back. I come from a big family. My mother is one of eight and my father is one of four. I have more cousins than there are words in this post. And for almost everyone, the Yankees mean something. Not necessarily what they mean to me or the rest of the lunatics. But at the very least have shared a baseball game at Yankee Stadium with their husband, wife, son, daughter, grandfather, grandmother, uncle, aunt, or cousin. We've all done it at our own stadium with our own team. Baseball, more than any other sport, is often a family affair. For my family, from Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, it's always been in one stadium. I wish I had an exact count, but with rough math I am either closing in on or have just crossed the 100 game plateu. With multiple uncles who are or at one point were season ticket holders, and a lot of people in the New York area for a long time now, my family has literally attended thousands of games at Yankee Stadiuim. And now that stadium isn't going to be around anymore.

Admittedly, I didn't think the final season at Yankee Stadium was THAT big a deal entering the year. It was on my mind, but I was way more focused on the team itself. And now it's really all hitting me, especially after reading Tom Verducci's excellent piece in SI this morning (must read for anyone who has an inkling of sports interest). There are so many incredible things that have happened there, so many incredible people that have performed there. Outside of the Yankees, multiple Papal Masses, the Giants, Notre Dame, Boxing, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Ali, Sugar Ray, Rockne, Lombardi, Landry, the list of non-baseball names just doesn't stop. Then you have the Yankees, and all of those names, and all of those championships, and the fact that according to Verducci, 21% of all World Series games have been played in one place: Yankee Stadium. Think about that in terms of what this stadium has been to this sport.

And, like many, I have my own personal ties. It was cool to sit at games, knowing that this is where my Grandpa Joe watched Ruth and Gehrig. It was cool sitting where my Grandpa Matt came to his first Opening Day dressed in a suit he was so excited. It was cool sitting in the same stadium where my father and his brothers made their mother, my Grandma Ginny, sit behind the foul pole in left, so she'd have to watch Whitey Ford wind up on one side and deliver to the plate on the other. It was cool sitting where my Uncle Timmy saw Mickey hit his 500th. Cool sitting where my father watched Reggie hit 3 out to clinch the Series in '77. Cool sitting where my cousins watched Boone walk-off in '03.

In terms of what this stadium and this team meant not just to New York, but to my family and so many others in 2001, Tom Verducci hits it right on the nose, and I'll just add this. I remember watching that World Series with my immediate family, my Uncle Johnny, and my cousin Sean. My uncle lost his childhood best friend, Luke Nee, in 9/11. The Nees were almost identical to my mother's family, the Kilcullens. Parents were Irish immigrants, they lived in the same building in The Bronx, and they had 6 kids, similar in age to at least one of my mother, her brothers, or her sisters. The families were extremely close, right up to my mother's mother, my Grandma Eileen, and Mrs. Nee, who were best friends. The Memorial Service for Luke Nee the Sunday following 9/11 at St. Phillip Neary in The Bronx, where they all attended grammar school together, was one of the saddest experiences of my life. It was truly tragic. Without over-simplifying it, all sitting in my living room watching the on-field events leading up to Game 3 of the 2001 World Series (which Verducci covers in detail), after two months of incredible sadness, you just felt a little bit better. I would imagine many people watching that night, so many of which experienced loss and tragedy on 9/11, as well as those who were saddened the way every American was, felt the same way. Yankees, Diamondbacks, Mets, Red Sox, forget it all. You felt like everyone in America was watching and rooting not for baseball, but for each other and for our country. I remember feeling incredibly proud that I was American at that moment.

That all of this happened at Yankee Stadium, and so much more, makes it difficult to think that it won't be around anymore. You aren't just waving goodbye to another game at the park, you are waving goodbye to a place that has a lot of history; for individuals, for families, for a sport, for a city, and for a country. I'm glad I'll be there to do so on Sunday night. It should be a great experience no matter what, but one thing really needs to happen for it to be complete. The Yankees need to win that baseball game. I remember when I was at the Opening Day Game this year, a 3-2 Yankee win, thinking I would always have that game to remember the Stadium by, but believing I would get much more, notably October baseball. Unfortunately, for a place that has hosted infinitely more playoff games than any other stadium in the sport, that's not happening in it's final season. So the next best thing is going out with a win. You know certain people, like Jeter, Mariano, and Pettitte understand. But on Sunday, everyone needs to. And the Yankees need to send this Stadium off really happy with the only way it knows how: a W. And even if that doesn't happen, we should all say "thanks for the memories". I know I'm going to.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Phil Hughes Night"

One of my roomates and I (both are Met fans, one is The Big Ticket, this is the other one) were joking the other day about how excited I was for Phil Hughes first start back in April. I was probably slightly less excited for that game (Game 3) as I was for Opening Day, which is saying something. I had been calling it "Phil Hughes Night" for days. And that night, he was awesome. On a frigid night, 6 innings of 2 run ball and a Yankee win. Impeccable location on the fastball, consistent swing and misses on curveballs in the strikezone, which as I wrote at the time, is when you know you have something going. Due to the circumstances -- first start of the season, cold weather -- it looked like it would all be up from there in 2008.

It has been anything but. For the second straight year he spent a lot of time on the DL for non-arm related injuries. It's good that it isn't his arm, but at some point you have to keep the rest of the body healthy to be an effective pitcher. A lot more than an arm goes into pitching, and of course you have the issue of simply being able to get on the mound and pitch, both of which have been issues for Hughes. 2008 did not going anywhere near planned.

After flourishing in his first real stint ever at AAA (which, as I've said, is a mishandling problem) in August, Hughes dominated in the AAA postseason in September, and now gets another start with the Yankees tonight. If all goes well, he could get two more starts after this, but I would think he'll get skipped so that Mussina gets 3 more chances to get the 3 wins he needs for 20.

I don't think anything Hughes can do in 2-3 September starts will really change much in terms of how we can look at him. If he pitches well, it doesn't mean he's going to be good. If he pitches poorly, it doesn't mean he's never going to be good. A good pitcher could get lit up and a bad pitcher could get outs in 2-3 starts, it's too small a sample size. Hughes will have to get more of a chance at some point. But what we can look at is his stuff, and make some small analysis. If he looks like he did last year, with a low to mid 90s fastball that is located, a plus curveball, and flashing a solid-average change, and he has a solid outing or two, it will put a positive spin on 2008 for him (most importantly), the organization, and the fans. If he is more of what he was in April, high 80s fastball, inconsistent location, relying on the curveball, and no change to speak of, and he gets knocked around again, it is going to curtail the momentum he has rebuilt up, raise questions about his viability as a Major League pitcher all off-season, and the organization will have to essentially be back at square one with him. Again, nothing he does now will guarantee his future one way or the other. But we will be able to take something from it, if not the results, how he looks. Hopefully it will be positive.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

So you can sit me here next to Britney Spears...

Just an oversized comment coming at ya here. Mostly for our resident National League guru J.B.

Doug Melvin is out of his friggin mind, so much that I think he might be the Britney Spears of major league baseball. Before, though he wasn't exactly the best in the business, he did some okay things. Having Ben Sheets take the hometown discount was a win-win for the Brewers' organization. Their farm system is obviously good, as it produced Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. But somewhere, something came undone.

The signing of Eric Gagne for $10 million last offseason was tantamount to when Britney Spears made out with A-Rod's girlfriend.

But since then, while Melvin's stolen quite a bit of headlines, not all of them bad (Sabathia was a very good trade and "Toxic" was a very popular song), you gotta think something up in that organization is not quite right. The Brewers are half a game out of having the second-best record in the National League and they decide to axe their manager.

It's been a bad stretch, and that's for sure. I heard that Melvin and the Brewers' organization didn't like how last September went down and they don't want a repeat. Is replacing the manager, installing a first-time manager, and installing Dale Sveum (!!!!) as that first-time manager the way to get your team's s*** back together?

I understand they're going for broke, as it's unlikely they can retain both Sabathia and Sheets, if either. But this move might create more turmoil than it will solve. It's a panic move and an act of desperation. Like Britney, the entire world is cautiously wondering what's going to happen next. Is Melvin going to be found dead of a heroin overdose in France? Is he going to go to rehab?

Will there be some stoke of fortune, like Sabathia and Sheets both taking the hometown discount? Or is the story of Doug Melvin and the Brewers, like the story of Britney Spears, a tragic E! True Hollywood Story waiting to happen?

It's Why We Watch (Volume 14)

Lots of things to talk about today. I'm in the process of moving back from Maine to Massachusetts, so I've been way behind on the reading, writing, and commenting. Meanwhile, Pat is living in the library. So maybe we're in Phase #4 in the history of HYD Baseball. Trying to catch up...

1. It is safe to say that the Tampa Bay Religiously-Neutral Rays are hurting. Sure, you kind of all laughed it up when A-Rod started belting hits off of them, but between that and the monstrosity of a game they put up last night, you gotta think something is wrong. Kazmir's start is something you rarely see even in the minor leagues. Terrible. And as much as I like Coco Crisp, I've never said he's a patient hitter. He walked three times last night. It wasn't just Kazmir--their bullpen is a freaking disaster right now, too.

2. I would rather have the Red Sox' bullpen than the Religiously-Neutral Rays' bullpen right now. Wow.

3. That said, it is time to worry about Papelbon. It's already been discussed and rehashed, but his fastball, as Peter Gammons wrote yesterday, is "predictable" if he doesn't use any other pitches. What happened to the cutter? Does Papelbon have an avulsion on his finger?

4. The Boston Globe reported a few days ago that the Red Sox are "intrigued" by Jarrod Salalamacchia, a young Texas catcher who was once (and still is) regarded as a huge prospect but has had more than his fair share of struggles. I'm all for buying low, so right now might be the time to trade for the guy. But at the same time, the Rangers know how desperate the Red Sox are (or at least should be) for a catcher. The fan base might exonerate Captain K for sucking at baseball for three years in the name of intangibles, but you gotta think the front office is smarter than that, especially when we're talking about $10 million a year. I'm interested in what Texas's asking price would be, especially as they have Gerald Laird and now also prospect Taylor Teagarden as catching options.

Simply put, I'd rather have a sub-par catcher with potential to improve at the price of a few prospects (Saltalamacchia) than a sub-par catcher with potential to get worse at the price of him having basically a guaranteed roster spot and immunity from criticism because he wears an extra letter on his jersey (Varitek).

5. After writing the post a few weeks ago about Matsuzaka not being a Cy Young Award candidate, I've monitored his last three starts somewhat closely. After doing so, I feel more confident with what I wrote then. Matsuzaka might have the least-impressive 17-2 record in the history of baseball. It was okay because it was a ten-run game, but there were way too many Chris Smith innings last night. This can't happen in a close game.

6. I'd be interested to hear how many "J.D. Drew had found himself" articles there were in the first three weeks of Nancy's hot streak, and what factor you can divide it by to find the number of "Coco Crisp has found himself" articles in the last three weeks. I'd say you could divide the Drew number by at least four and still find more than what I've read about Coco.

7. If I didn't write it in the beginning of the month when WEEI started broadcasting in Maine, I'm dumb. But Glenn Ordway predicted the Red Sox to win the East and I 75% agreed with him. Looks like a good prediction right now.

8. Enjoy the game tonight, folks. I might have quite a bit to talk about tomorrow morning.

Jorge on Joba

Not much to say about last night's game, other thank Varitek hit a home run. If the pitching is so bad that Varitek homers, that means everyone else probably homered too, and the Sox won. And that's exactly what happened last night. Staked to an 11-1 lead through 4, nice to see Matsuzaka throw strikes, attack hitters, and work deep into the game.

When the Yankees season was officially over (after A+L wins it for the Sox series), there were three things I wanted to see with equal desire: 1) Derek Jeter hit .300+ for the year; 2) Mike Mussina win 20 games; 3) Joba Chamberlain, once pronounced healthy, get on the mound and be Joba Chamberlain.

I'm in decent shape on #1. Even after an 0-4 last night, Jeter is hitting .304, good enough for first among AL shortstops, and Top 15 in the American League. After a really bad April and May, he's played well above his season projection for the last four months, including .345 in August and .404 halfway through September. His defense has also been middle of the pack, a big improvement over the last two years. The last thing I needed, with everything that went on this season, was an off-season full of "Derek Jeter is a question mark at shortstop, extreme groundball hitter with declining speed and pop" articles and NESPN segments. His play the last four months, and his history of being a professional who improves things he needs to improve in the off-season, should mean more "Don't sleep on Derek Jeter in 2009" articles than anything else. For this I am happy.

It doesn't look like I'll get #2, which is too bad. Not out of the question, but going to be tough. Mike Mussina has really never been a dominant, blow you away pitcher. More consistently very good, with some elite seasons mixed in. But he is putting together one of the longest, most consistently successful careers of the modern era, and with his resurgence this year will certainly get more HOF attention than had he would have had he not had this magical season. It would have been nice to see him get 20 this year and really have that one traditionally dominant season on his resume. Even if it doesn't happen, he should be part of next year's plan in a big way, and with his new pitching style there is really no reason he can't continue to be successful for the Yankees, and close in on 300 wins. That's encouraging on multiple fronts.

I already got #3. Joba Chamberlain has been filthy his last two times out. 94 on the black, 98 when he wants to, and the off-the-table slider all out in living color. He's been Joba Chamberlain, and that has to be reassuring to him heading into this winer, it has to be reassuring to the organication, and it is definitely reassuring for me.

Because of the injury and the innings situation, we'll hear a lot of talk this winter about the Joba in the rotation vs. Joba in the pen debate. Jorge Posada already chimed in, and unfortunately, he will be the first of many. Gunn asked my opinion in a comments section yesterday, and I'd love to provide it now, as opposed to when everyone else is going nuts about it this winter.

Joba Chamberlain has been a starter all his life. He said as much when asked about Posada's comments last night. He wants to start. While it's not his decision, I think that's important. Two years ago, Papelbon wanted to be in the bullpen. He feels he flourishes in that role. Having a player believe in what they are doing is not the ultimate decision maker, but it should be a part of it. That said, other things will be at play for Joba, there will be conflicting opinions, and he'll have to deal with it. But for me, his opinion on what he can/wants to do should matter more than most, definitely including Posada.

For me, it's simple. Make a decision. But make it according to the following guidelines. Starters are more important than relievers, period. ESPECIALLY if you already have a closer. If he can both start and relieve, you have to put him in the rotation. Just look at the Mets and Red Sox. In the Mets case, they have no good relievers, and are in first place due to a steady rotation. The Red Sox have one good reliever (their closer, which is important, you need a closer), and are in first place thanks in large part to a steady rotation. Joba as the closer, that's one thing. Setting up? It's not even a conversation. You think Timmy Lincecum could be a good reliever? Of course he could. Good starters can usually be good relievers. Good relievers are usually relievers because they can't start. There is a reason teams start people who can start, they impact a team much moreso than do relievers. If Joba can do both, there isn't a decision to be made. He starts.

However, if the Yankees believe, like Posada said, that there is something that is going to keep Joba from being a consistently effective starter, then putting him in the bullpen is a sound decision. You'd rather have Joba healthy and helping in the bullpen all year than starting and breaking down. If you think that's what he is bound for, then make that decision. You also have the prospect of him taking over the closers role for Rivera at some point, and if he wasn't able to start and this ended up happening, it wouldn't be the worst thing.

But you have to make a decision. The one thing that is totally unacceptable in my mind is moving him back and forth even one more time. Make a decision on what his role is going to be, and stick to it. You can't have this back and forth, because I think this season was at least partially a result of it. And that isn't okay. The Yankees need him somewhere more than nowhere, and that is what happened in the heat of the 2008 playoff race. So get him somewhere, and keep him there. I respect Posada's opinion, because I think catcher's often have a good feel for these things. But I don't think he's an expert, and I think a lot more needs to go into this from actual medical professionals, as well as from Joba himself.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Big Game Thread

I don't need to tell any of you this, but if the Red Sox don't win at least 2 out of 3, they ain't winning this division. Sweep, and they will probably win the division. Although, after going 11-7 vs. Tampa to help Boston, you have to love the idea of the Yankees coming into Fenway that last weekend and helping Tampa. Yup, if you're a Yankee fan, you actually have to. There really isn't much else you can do.

I'm not a big believer in winning the divison vs. winning the wild card. I'm a big believer in making the playoffs, and getting hot from there. Barring going 2007 Mets on everyone, both of these teams are making the playoffs. So while I'm sure Boston is all hyped up about this series, I think it's essentially meaningless. I think homefield advantage is totally overrated. And I think who you play in the first round is totally overrated. The reason I think these things are overrated is that teams overcome them quite consistently to win the World Series. Just make the playoffs, and everyone has a great shot, regardless of circumstance.

Enjoy the game.

Is Phil Hughes A Big Game Pitcher?

Phil Hughes' professional postseason line between AA, AAA, and the Major Leagues (four starts, one relief appearance): 24.2 IP, 16 hits, 5 walks, 42 strikeouts, 1 ER.

Wow. What jumps out at you immediately here is, well, everything. Especially the ERA around 0.40. But perhaps more significant is the pronounced increase in strikeout rate. I beleive that the biggest element of being a big game pitcher is the ability to elevate your stuff when you need to and miss bats consistently. Chien-Ming Wang is probably a more effective pitcher than Josh Beckett is over 162 games. In 7 seasons (and one partial), Josh Beckett has pitched 200 innings and posted an ERA under 4 in the same year once (including this year, where it looks like he'll do neither). In 3 seasons (and one partial), Chien-Ming Wang has already done it twice. Wang is a bit more consistent with his stuff game in and game out, not often dominanting but being consistently very good, laying few eggs. Beckett will dominate in at least a third of his starts, and be very good in another third, but because he can give up the long ball, will really have some bad ones that inflate his ERA and hurt his total season production/line.

However, Wang will never be able to be the big game pitcher Beckett is, and it goes back to stuff. Wang, even if he elevates his stuff/location to the max, is still going to be the same kind of pitcher. The ball is going to be in play. If it doesn't find gloves, be they hard hit or dribblers, it could be a long night. Beckett can lock in. He can elevate his stuff and be untouchable in the literal sense that bats don't touch his ball. This guarantees success, something Wang really can't do. Big difference here when a season or series is on the line.

This relates to Hughes because, from a stuff and pitchability standpoint, Phil Hughes is more Josh Beckett than Chien-Ming Wang, in that they both have the ability to strike a lot of people out. In now way am I comparing the two outside of this last sentence. Clearly, they are on totally different levels.

The body of Hughes' big game work has been in the minors. But I don't think that should discredit it. Big games are big games, be it high school, college, the minors, or the majors. From a physical standpoint, he'd have to get more opportunity and continue to produce well before we could call him a big game pitcher where it matters: at the MLB level. But from a mental standpoint, it doesn't matter what level it is, at least in my opinion, for us to evaluate that someone seems to lock in. I would point, as I said above, primarily to the increased strikeout rate. 42 K's in 24.2 innings is nearly 2 punchouts per inning. That's not good. That's a joke. And that's elevating your stuff when it matters most, something big game pitchers like Josh Beckett do. When you factor in that Hughes has had turbulent 2007 and 2008 campaigns (where he did a majority of this postseason work), the fact that he was able to pull it together and turn it on in the big spots at the end of the season is encouraging, both from a physical and mental standpoint.

Like I said, it's way to early to tell if he can do it where it matters. But I was at Game 3 in the 2007 ALDS when he gave the Yankees 3.2 innings of shutout baseball with 4 strikeouts, picking up the only win a Yankee pitcher would get in that series. I was sitting in right field, so I had a great view of the catcher. And I remember saying to my buddy next to me in his second inning of work, "he's hitting the mit every single time, and they can't touch his stuff." And he was, and they couldn't. There was no doubt he had locked in and elevated his stuff.

It's no secret I'm a big Phil Hughes fan, and still a believer in what he can do if he can stay healty (which seems to be a relatively big if at this point). With that said, I have no idea what he is going to be as a 162 game pitcher. Whatever he does end up being in that regard, I hope he is a lot more of what he has been so far if and when he gets more postseason chances. Elevating his stuff, locking in, and being literally untouchable.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Different City, Same Crap

Note: Great discussion on the previous post, and I hope we can keep that going. But this post is somewhat time-sensitive, so I wanted it up before this weekend.

From The FYC, a St. Louis Cardinals blog, speaking about throwback Cardinals jerseys:

#7 - JD Drew - There is no excuse for wearing this shirt.

... (if you're interested in the story, which is great, click the link)

Get a new shirt before your body gets confused about who you are and accidentally gives you a leg injury.

From Rowland's Office, an Atlanta Braves blog, speaking as "Ol' JD:"

I was rolling some snow into a ball when I dang near pulled my hammy again. It's still sore, but I ain't going to fly up to Boston and have some atheist Yankee doctor try to tell Ol' JD there's nothing wrong with him. I'm thinking I'll have Doc Vickers check me out right before the reporting date. He's pretty good about letting me make my own diagnosis.

From Sons of Steve Garvey, a Los Angeles Dodgers blog, speaking of a near-done-deal during the 2006 Winter Meetings:

Note that I wrote five-season, since he will likely play the equivalent of only three of those "years."

So in the first two seasons of the controversial five-year, $70 million J.D. Drew contract, we have gotten absolutely everything advertised about the guy, plus 182 weak ground balls to the right side!

1. A high price tag.
2. Lots of unjustified hype.
3. Lots of hype before long periods of tremendous underachievement (this might not apply in Atlanta, where he only played one season. That season was a contract year).
4. Apathy and lack of effort, either real or perceived.
5. Glimmers of brilliance and wondering if he could actually ever live up to his potential.
6. Irrational fawning over the "sweetness" of his swing.
7. Fantastic performance that he seems to "turn on" when playing certain teams, including Arizona (where his brother plays) and turn off the rest of the time.
8. Taking more than his sweet-ass time returning from injury, resulting in missing a month due to an injury that was originally a "day-to-day" issue.

All these things have happened in every single city D.L. Drew has played in. Except maybe Saint Paul of the independent Northern League.

Due to these eight points, fans of every team Drew has played for (except for St. Paul) have been extremely unimpressed with the total package. Delusional Red Sox fans haven't quite gotten the message yet, but that's okay because they still have over three full seasons to see Drew in action (or on the DL).

In my April 1 post "It's Why We Watch (Volume 2)," I noticed that Terry Francona was starting to lose patience with Drew's unwillingness to play at anything less than 100% health. After the latest "setback" with Nancy's back, I wonder if Francona's counting down to October 2, 2011 as much as I am. And if he is, it shouldn't be long until Red Sox fans start to feel the same way.

Is Fenway Losing Its Punch?


Pre-2004, I had always been impressed by Fenway. Not every person was a good fan (this is true of any fanbase), but the fans at games generally seemed to get it. Cheered at the right times, booed at the right times. When a rally was starting, you could feel the energy building. There was definitely a lot of punch.

This year a lot of that seems to have changed. I was at the Saturday game this past July, the day after Manny sat out against Joba. It was really the seminal moment in the whole Manny drama, before the trade of course. He sat out against yet another top flight starter, the manager who had always defended him completely called him out in Friday's postgame press conference ("We got MRI's on both knees."), and he got ripped top to bottom in Saturday's papers. It was very clear that there was now "Manny" and "the Red Sox", and the two were very separate.

All that was left was for the fans to let him hear it. Part of my excitement that morning for the game was the anticipation of the fan reaction when Manny was introduced. I wonder if DV still has my text from right before first pitch. "80/20 not booing, terrible job by Fenway". To my surprise, boos you could hear were drowned out by people cheering Manny the way they cheered Ortiz and Youkilis and Pedroia. 80% of the people there either didn't know what was going on, or maybe worse, knew and weren't that upset (both pink hat territory). The Manny Ramirez era, looking back, will be the best in 90 years of baseball for the franchise. But had it been even better than it was, it still would not have been an excuse for his actions. 80% of fans that day excused him. This was the first red flag for me that something was going on in Fenway.

Then we have Wednesday night. Biggest game of the season for the Sox to date. Deciding game of a critical three game series, at home, with the division leader. Brilliantly pitched game on both sides, 1-1 in extra innings, the type of game you envision Red Sox fans drooling over in early September. By 10:30 PM, the place was over half empty. By 11:30 PM, you would have thought there was a three hour rain delay, not an ultra-exciting, runner in scoring position for both teams not scoring every inning kind of game. It was that akward "everyone is packed in behind homeplate, but when they pan out from the pitcher's view all you can see is empty seats."

I'm now thinking to myself "huhhhhh?". Is this really possible? For no good reason, 70% of fans have just decided to leave in extra innings of a tie game? Really surprising. And definitely has pink hat written all over it. Whatever the antonym of punch is, this was it. And so was the Manny thing.

This is not unusual. The same thing happened to the Yankees after 2004. The Stadium just hasn't had that same magic, and, before entering Boston into this equation, I had theorized that it was just a natural part of winning. When you enter Boston (this year) into the equation, it firmly supports this theory. When you win, the fan base loses a little of its punch. Maybe not guys like us on this blog. But in general. Maybe the average fan, the guy who was going nuts pre-2004, is complacent that he's "been there, done that, finally saw the championships he wanted to see" and just isn't as into anymore. Maybe another grouping of fans are a bit spoiled, and figure they can just turn it on in the playoffs as far as rooting hard goes (hasn't worked well for the Yankees, who definitely have a lot of fans in this group). And, without question for both fan bases, and perhaps most detrimental, winning brings fans who couldn't care less completely out of the woodwork, buying tickets like wildfire for games. On this blog, we call them pink hats. They were big in New York 5 years ago. Evidence would suggest they are dominanting Fenway Park right now.

It's an interesting phenomenon, what winning brings to even the most passionate of fan bases. If anything good has come from the Yankees' complete lack of postseason success from 2005-2007, and definitely from the overall down year this year, is that some of that is noticably being eliminated. The average fan is back on board. The fan who wants to just turn it on in the playoffs is more into the regular season, because he/she has to be. And the pink hat in New York has definitely lost some interest, which is awesome.

Same is definitely not true at Fenway Park.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Always Remember 9/11/01

As we go about our lives today, lets all take at least a few moments to reflect and remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and those who lost their lives that day. And as we continue to discuss baseball, the important diversion that it as a sport is, let us get some perspective on it first. I know sometimes I definitely need it.

Please read DV's post below, and discuss last night's exciting game there. He has great coverage for you.

2002 ESPN Classic

I'm sure that the majority of the readers here remember their college search process pretty well. Along with some of your adventures I'm sure you remember totally random details. I remember an empty Milwaukee's Best beer can in a Colby stairway. I remember the song "Barely Breathing" driving to Syracuse. And I remember watching a nauseating Red Sox/Yankees game on ESPN Classic when staying at a hotel outside of Hamilton College.

It was around the eleventh inning last night that the game was going to turn into a game just like the one I watched on ESPN Classic in Hamilton. The bad guys just wore different uniforms. The struggle for the upper hand going back and forth. Tampa had it in the early innings, the Red Sox had it later, and Tampa took it for good as Chris Smith, Devern Hansack, David Pauley, and a gassed Jonathan Papelbon sat in the bullpen and watched Timlin throw meatballs.

I remember the first time I watched the ESPN Classic game--live. Even when the Red Sox were up 6-1 in that game, you just knew it wasn't that kind of game that they were going to win. Sure enough, it took extra innings, but the Yankees won it. Watching it on Classic in 2002 was the same--there was never any doubt the Red Sox would lose that game.

Two World Series championships later, I felt that way for the first time in a long time last night. I was plenty angry watching Old Yeller do what he does best. His ERA is well over eight when he pitches in tie or one-run games, according to WEEI, and even when he makes good pitches (the one to Pena wasn't that bad unless you use the Beckett definition of a good pitch) he gets shelled. But for some reason, even in the ninth or tenth inning I knew there was no way the Red Sox would win this game.

It was weird, because Okajima did not suck. Delcarmen did not suck. And Lopez did not suck. But somehow I knew that Joe Maddon, complete with his emo glasses, was going to somehow pull a win out of his butt. I haven't felt that way in years, and it sucks. Probably because MVP Candidate Coco Crisp was only in the lineup for a pinch-running appearance.

Nice game for 46. The Red Sox stranded sixteen runners in this game. This is in a big way thanks to Steve Silva's "star"/Steve Buckley's "Future Hall of Famer." In the seventh inning he struck out looking on a ball on the outside corners at the knees with one man on base to end the inning. In the ninth inning he grounded out to end the inning with two men on base. In the eleventh inning he flew out to end the inning with two men on base. The call on the ground out is beyond irrelevant. If he was not terrible at baseball, he would not have swung as miserably at that pitch as he did and rolled over to third at the first place. And way to pout about it all inning in the outfield after it happened.

How many times am I going to watch this guy look at a called third strike at the knees on the outside corner? Steroid user Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera like to fire strikes high and tight to 46 so he pops up, strikes out, or rolls one over to shortstop. Looks like everyone else in baseball likes to throw it low and outside. If you have a zone similar to the one pitcured above for 46, the nine balls in the top left corner would translate into an average of about .130, and the same with all of the gray baseballs in the bottom right corner. This guy is such an incomplete hitter, but the entire world is in denial. So friggin bad. And as I said in my comment last night, how can someone so fast still hit into double plays? The fact that he has more than 100 at-bats more than the MVP candidate makes me want to slit my wrists and burn down something beautiful. I'd rather see Rick...I mean, David Ross hit instead of this f'ing disaster.

Electricity. Energy. Spark.

Nice game by Jason Bay. Nice game. Your seven LOBs were second on the team last night. Terrible.

It is abominable that Mike Timlin is pitching in the major leagues. Francona, please give Hansack a chance, because the 14th inning last night is an inevitability when Timlin pitches. Francona and Epstein, isn't it your job to make the best players available? Why are you allowing Timlin to be near any baseballs? He just doesn't have it anymore. If a bunch of idiots on a blog realized it in April, you should be able to realize it by September.

I agree with Mr. H. Timlin should just apologize for everything that's happened this season, concede that Hansack would do a better job pitching with the wrong hang, and ride off into the sunset. If even your best pitches are getting taken over the wall, you probably shouldn't be pitching anymore.

The only redeeming part of last night's game is the fact that I got to see another Emo Glasses Maddon/Troy Percival meltdown after 46 hit an A-Rod-style double to lead off the bottom of the 14th.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

BIG Game Thread

Last night it seemed like we had quite a few commentors during the Rays/Sox game, so I figured I'd put up a fresh game thread tonight for you guys to discuss the game. I'd put up a Yankees thread, but I'd rather discuss them being on their way to losing a series to the Angels B team in my head, with myself.

You don't want to get too ahead of yourself, but tonight could be it for the Red Sox in the division. A loss, and they'd be 3 out on the loss side with 17 (18 for the Rays) to play. It wouldn't be insurmountable , but they would be at the point where they either need help from Tampa or they are going to have to play unbelievable baseball to win the division. Tampa has the head to head tiebreak, so Boston would have to win it outright, which doesn't help. That means if the Rays went 9-9, the Sox would have to go 12-5 to win it. The division would essentially be in the Rays hands, as 10-8 probably does it (Sox need 13-4), and 11-7 puts it all but out of reach (Sox need 14-3).

But that is with a loss tonight. A win for the Sox, and we are talking about one game on the loss side. It's game on for the last three weeks at that point. The Rays have been finding a way all season, but once you get to a singular game, you have to like the Sox. This isn't their first September rodeo.

Tonight? Have to like the Sox big. They caught a big break missing Sheilds and Garza while they throw their big three guns, and the Sox don't usually give breaks away. And tonight is a big swing game (see above), so look for Pedroia and Youkilis to be all over the place. I'll go 8-2 Sox.

Enjoy the game. Hope we get a big discussion here, always enjoyable to read and follow along, especially when you guys are fired up like last night.

Curt Schilling Has To Do A Better Job

I don't want to spend too much time on this because 1) I'm sure people would prefer to talk about the actual baseball that went on last night, 2) I have a lot of reading to do, and 3) Curt Schilling is a clown. But because of #3, let's have a little fun with it. All quotes from the New York Post.

“The euphoria in New York is palpable. The Yankees suck this year and they are bitter and mad and making excuses over that. Now they got Tom going down so New York’s excited. It’s unfortunate, but when you crawl to the top of the pile you will have people trying to knock you down.”

If we are going to talk about something, let's have some idea what we are talking about first. On the whole, Yankees fans are Giants fans, and vica versa. Ditto Mets and Jets. I have no idea why, and it's not 100%, but it's the vast majority and that's just the way it is and has been for some time. So those bitter, excuse-making Yankee fans could care less about "Tom", as the Giants do not care about the Patriots unless they are disposing of them in the Super Bowl. That euphoria Curt senses in New York, and the excitement over Brady's injury is from Jets fans, who as far as baseball is concerned, are also euphoric, because their baseball team, the New York Mets, are in first place by 2.5 games. No relationship whatsoever between the bitter fans (which, by the way, is a questionable description) and the euphoric fans. Nice analysis.

As far as being on top of the pile and trying to be knocked down, I'd like to know who is on top of the pile? The Patriots? Definitely not. The Red Sox? The closest thing for sure, but who is trying to knock them down, and how does this relate to Tom Brady? Whoever is on top of the pile, does Curt have anything to do with this, as he sits at home stuffing cheeseburgers in his mouth collecting massive paychecks? The only thing that cares about knocking him down is that next strawberry glazed donut.

Then we have this gem. “I was front row and center when their ‘dynasty’ ended." You sure were my man, this is actually solid analysis. Sitting in the dugout as the losing pitcher of record after Soriano took a split-finger off his shoelaces 450 in the 8th inning of a tie game to decide the World Series. How to finish. Despite having great overall numbers, of your three starts in that series, you left with a lead once. Big game pitcher. I don't know if getting bailed out by your teammates is something to be pounding your chest about.

“They want us to be as bitter and mad as they are. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen.” What?! Now Curt thinks that because the Yankees aren't good, all of New York (including fans of the Super Bowl Champion Giants and first place Mets, none of whom are bitter or mad) wants Boston to be bitter and mad. Curt thinks that New York fans care about Boston fans because the Yankees are bad. Curt has an inside track on New York sports fans thougts and opinons? I can't wrap my head around this.

The only thing that is palpable is Curt Schilling's obsession with New York and this "All for Boston, Boston for All" dreamworld he livs in. Curt, you're from Alaska. You pitched about a fifth of your career for the Red Sox. Nobody buys you sitting in the front row of a Celtics game cheering with real fans who have been basketball starved for two decades. "Tom", as you call him, has better things to do than worry about this Boston vs. New York fantasy you think exists or are trying to create.

Curt Schilling has done a lot of great things in his career, no doubt. But the two important questions are 1) Why is he always talking about New York and 2) Why is he still talking. In regards to question #1, Curt Schilling is 7-8 with a 4.71 ERA against the Yankees for his career. While he has an impressive Championship resume between two teams, those Yankees who are generally from his generation have him trumped. I'm a big believer in being able to completely back things up when you talk. While Curt certianly has some reasons to run his mouth, he has just as many that say he should keep it closed. It's kind of like Nadal talking about Federer as if he really has something on him. It doesn't match up with reality.

As far as #2 goes, there comes a point in most prominent figures' life where they just aren't that important anymore. Curt Schilling has reached that point. Great career, but when it's over, have to stop flapping, especially when you are getting paid to do nothing. And especially when what you are saying either doesn't make much sense or is a creation of your imagination.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Joba Chamberlain Issue in 2009

Sort of lost in the mess that has become the Yankees 2008 season is the emergence of Joba Chamberlain as one of the best pitchers in baseball. For the first time in a long time, it looks like the Yankees have a true, lights out, ace. In his time as a starter he allowed more than 3 runs (earned or unearned), only once, and that was in his last start where he became injured. He struck out a ridiculous 74 in 65.1 innings, posting an ERA just north of 2.00 in 12 starts. If you discount his first "start" (which wasn't a start, he was on a 60 pitch limit), and his last start (where he was injured), the Yankees went 8-2 in the games he started, right in the thick of a playoff race. Dominance.

Unlike my analysis of Phil Hughes the other day, the Yankees didn't mishandle Joba Chamberlain in my estimation. Last year they decreased his workload (starter to reliever) to keep his innings under cap and fill a team need at the same time. This year, they used a model that had worked for many other pitchers (slow build up from reliever to starter) to again keep his innings under control.

Now it's time to look to 2009. When you do so, I don't know if any player (either currently on the roster or not) is more important to the Yankees success. Before the injury, there was no innings situation next year. Now there is, and it is essentially the same one as this year, where he can't go much more than 150 innings. Couple this with the injury (as a starter), and you have a Yankee brass that will probably be looking at starting him in the bullpen next year, if not keeping him there forever. Keeping him there forever is a separate issue. If they think there is something about him physically that makes him better fit for the pen (because there certainly isn't anything performance wise), then fine, but it better be a really good friggin' reason. But if they are just thinking about doing the same thing next year to solve the same innings issue, I AM FIRMLY AGAINST THIS. Here are the primary reasons why:

1. It didn't work this year. You did it this way on a bevy of statistical evidence that it can work, and it didn't. This is fine, every individual case is different, and you can't predict the future. You can, however, try to keep history from repeating itself. Joe Girardi does not do this. Maybe the Front Office can.

2. We are officially nearing the breaking point of "how many times can he be jerked around without seriously damaging his future?". We weren't there last year. We weren't there this year. I was fine with all of those moves. But now he is back in the bullpen, which is at least the 6th switch he's made in the last 14 months, and the first one that has raised a true red flag. On top of this, are you really telling me that you are going to prepare him in Spring Training again as a starter (7), begin the year with him in the bullpen (8), and convert him back to a starter (9). I don't see how this is any way to treat a talent like this, one that comes along only every so often and is only 22 years old.

3. As Bandi and Gunn can attest, I'm big into physiology. I'm no expert, but to me, it seems like building an arm up is more difficult than reducing workload. Going from reliever-starter is more difficult than starter-reliever. Doing the former twice in two years, when it didn't work the first time, just doesn't seem to be good practice in terms of stress on the arm.

4. Joba is a big boy. He's probably never going to look like Hussein Bolt. This is fine. Typically big boys are built for starting, getting the most out of 100-120 pitches at a moderate pace once every five days, rather than jacking it up all out three times per week. I don't think he is built for relieving, and as such don't think he should spend any more time in the pen (ever), unless it is deemed he cannot start.

5. Last and definitely not least, in an ever more competitive American League East (the Blue Jays would, at the very least, win the NL East and NL West, and would probably be poking around for the Wild Card were they in any other division in baseball) the Yankees cannot afford to continue to get off to slow starts. They just can't. The way you get off to a fast start is by having a plus rotation. No matter who is or is not in that rotation, having Joba Chamberlain in it is going to make it better than havig him not in it. Period.

So how do I deal with Joba, and the innings limit in 2009? Do what I wanted to do this year. Hopefully have enough rotation depth (Wang, Mussina, enter big name FA here), to hold him back in Tampa for the first 2-3 weeks. Then give him another blow around the All-Star Break for 2-3 weeks. And as crazy as it sounds, that will probably pretty much do it. You only need to cut his season by 25%. 6 weeks is 25%. It really shouldn't be that hard. Ultimately, the idea of "rest is good for Joba" is better to me than "more work for Joba (in the bullpen) is better for the Yankees". Especially because, as we've seen this year, that isn't even true if Joba can't pitch after August 4th due to an injury that has fatiuge written all over it. The Yankees were about two games out when he went down. Look where they are now. There is a strong correlation here. Can't let it happen again. With a healthy Wang and a healthy Joba, the Yankees could have done some things this year. There is no reason they shouldn't try to do everything the can to ensure these two in the rotation together for next year. All of next year.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Third MVP Candidate

Boston fans have possibly lost their MVP in Tom Brady for the year, and that sucks. Big time. Boston fans love MVP candidates, and having Brady, Garnett, Pierce, Pedroia, and Youkilis all at the same time, while possibly excessive, is very nice to have. Now that Brady will not be with us for a while, this town might need to fill an MVP void. On the baseball field, there seems to be a third MVP candidate emerging.

We'll start with this: Since August 13, 2008 the Red Sox have the fewest losses in baseball (they are 14-7). They have scored more runs (135, or 6.43 per game) than any other team in baseball. So what does this coincide with?

When MVP candidate Coco Crisp started getting consistent at-bats again instead of sitting on the bench so that consistently-mediocre center fielder #46 can watch called third strikes on the outside corner once a night.

The Red Sox have been untouchable since August 13 partially because of Pedroia, but also partially because of Crisp, who's hitting .443 in 61 at-bats since 8/13. He's also walked nine times and has driven in eleven runs, and has scored fifteen times. Coco's OBP is over .500 and his OPS is over 1.000 over that stretch. Crisp has hit .333 since the All-Star Break, .406 in the last four weeks, and .531 in the last two weeks.

The Fastest Member of Red Sox Nation's season-long batting average is now .284, which is third among Boston regulars behind only Pedroia and Youkilis.

Contrarians, including my boy Jack Sox, say that Crisp is known as a guy who rides torrid one-month stretches and is mediocre the rest of the year, even in his years in Cleveland. True story, but it's not like we're talking about Brian Daubach here. I told Jack that I'd take inconsistency over consistent suckitude (such as .229 since August 13th and a season-long OPS of 79), which is what the Red Sox are getting from the "star" who's taken away all of the MVP Candidate's at-bats.

And while we're on the topic of inexplicable Coco Crisp comparisons, let's talk about the guy Crisp replaced. Johnny Damon's numbers have been UM-believable in that stretch, posting a .227 average with 18 strikeouts. The Red Sox totally should have given that stiff four years and $52 million. F that. While A-Rod definitely deserves flack for sucking the last month, Johnny F. Damon deserves some too as he just rolled over and died when the Yankees could have come back in the playoff race.

It was not long ago that the Tampa Bay Religiously-Neutral Rays had a seemingly insurmountable lead. The lead is now down to a mere 1.5 games thanks to heroic efforts by people who seem to come through when it matters the most. While Pedroia's been terrific, it's characteristically unfair to ignore the Red Sox' third MVP candidate.

No longer the "Fastest Member of Red Sox Nation." How about "The Most Valuable Member?"

Speaking Probation

There are many athletes, especially in this decade, who didn't really like to speak to the media that much. They get misquoted, they get their words spun around on them, their mastery of the English language isn't that good, they're just cranky, they don't want to be asked unfair critical questions, so on, and so forth.

Different athletes have done different things. Terrell Owens, when he didn't want to comment, decided to do sit ups in his driveway. Curt Schilling now regulates what can be quoted and what can't, because he now writes his own articles. Sammy Sosa forgot to speak English when they asked him about steroids.

Why can't Alex Rodriguez do that? I mean, he has a Dominican heritage, so Dominican that he had to flip-flop about fifteen times while deciding which World Baseball Classic team to play for. He should probably just forget to speak English. Also, he's such a hard worker that it's shocking he's not doing sit ups instead of answering questions. Of course, he isn't doing that. Instead he's saying this about teams in front of his in the standings:

I'll tell you what, a lot of people should be happy they're not in the playoff race, because they'd be the scariest team, with the 1-2 punch they've got over there with [Roy] Halladay and [A.J.] Burnett...

Joe Girardi should fine this guy every time he says anything, positive or negative, to the media. Because he just looks like an absolute ass every time. You probably shouldn't imply you're out of the playoff race. Ever. He should probably be fitted with a dog collar that electrocutes him every time he speaks, because his intelligence (as well as his clutch hitting) is arguably worse than most dogs. People do not dislike you because you are good-looking and biracial. It is because you are an idiot. Why do Yankee fans like Jeter and not you? Because Jeter says all the right things, such as "we're going to play for the playoffs until the moment we're mathematically eliminated."

Fourth-place Yankee fans might be happy to know that the world will be out of oil, the next president could serve two terms, and Alex Rodriguez will still be in a Yankee uniform.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

You Think Maybe This Guy Should Start For Rasner/Ponson?

Phil Hughes' line to close out Pawtucket in the First Round of the playoffs today:

8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K.

Now I'm not trying to kid anybody here. This is AAA. But this is also dominance. And the Yankees currently have two guys in the rotation who are not part of the rotation's future. Phil Hughes could be a part of that future. Even if he wasn't pitching as well as he has been, it might be worth giving him a few starts in a pressureless environment. But in his last three starts, spanning 20 IP, he's 14 hits, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 26 K. And multiple scouting reports over the last month have his newly added cutter (a develepment -- either cutter or two-seamer, anything to get a quick out -- he needed desperately) as an above average pitch that is getting results.

I know the Yankees want to take their time with Hughes this time. I know he's going to the Arizona Fall League. And I know that Cashman has (correctly) publicly stated that Hughes will not be one of the five incumbents to start next year's rotation. But this may be the only real chance they get to give a guy they mishandled, probably shaking his confidence, some pressure free starts to get some of that confidence back. If he's totally healthy, which it would seem he is, I don't see where this doesn't make sense. But maybe there is something I don't know, and if so, that's fine.

Assuming Joba Chamberlain starts the year in the rotation (this is a story for another day, but if he starts the year in the bullpen, I'm going to lose my mind), it would be he and Wang for sure. The chances that a Sabathia or Sheets isn't on the roster is 0%, so that's three. I would assume Mussina will be back. That's four. The Yankees are then in a tricky spot with that fifth spot. My theory, as I've stated before, is the rotation is where the Yankees should really flex their financial muscle, as it's the most important thing. They should pay fifth starters like third starters, fourth starters like second starters, third starters like #1's, second starters like the '99 Pedro, and #1's like the '78 Guidry. People will balk at the money the Yankees give one or more pitchers this off-season. They'll talk about "over-pay" and "what will the end of that contract look like". On both counts, I say who cares? You're supposed to overpay to get a competitive advantage in the right spots (if you have the money), and it's not about the end of the contract, it's about the next few years. Nobody else has Mariano Rivera, and soon the Yankees won't either. That's why they might be the ultimate "win now" team starting in 2009.

So for my money, I'm finding somebody else to fill that fifth spot to add as much depth and security as possible. Andy Pettitte isn't what he once was, but he's been league average this year, and that would make him the best #5 starter in baseball. On another one year contract, having him filling out the rotation sounds really good to me. If not him, somebody else with an above average Major League track record. There is no reason to have any holes in the rotation with so much financial capability. You make the farm system the best that it can be, but you don't rely on it. The Yankees don't need to do that, they aren't a small market team.

All of this said, things always seem to happen to the rotation. Every year, somebody gets a chance. Unfortunately for the Yankees, in recent years these somebodies have been guys who haven't been very good. Maybe next time it can be Phil Hughes. And maybe the Yankees should be using a season that is over to up the chances of him being good when that time comes. After the way they (mis)handled the last 16 months for Hughes, they owe him as much.

Friday, September 5, 2008

It's Why We Watch (Volume 2017)

1. First to respond to what Pat said, here's a comment regarding Trenton's AA showdown against Portland brought to the forefront by my moderator power:

If a Trenton sweep means I don't have to worry about rain outs due to Tropical Storm Hanna, go friggin Thunder.

I listened to the game on the radio last night and Buchholz pitched well except for that inning. But that inning he surrendered two dink singles before the Jackson blast. Jackson sat on the curveball, which Buchholz thought was not a bad pitch. (Josh Beckett definition of a good pitch, anyone?) But that is pretty indicative of the whole Buchholz problem all season. He has relied on the breaking stuff so much that hitters are sitting on it, and that is a problem. Though his is one of the best curveballs I've ever seen, if hitters sit on it and it sometimes flies a little high, things will not go so well.

Buchholz also pitched well his other two outings in Portland. But before we go Ian Kennedy on the whole thing, it's notable to say that he was facing AA hitters and Austin Jackson, who I think is incredible. His ability to kill Portland in particular is also notable.

2. When I saw a "Red Sox Classic" on NESN today, I was hoping it would be another replay of Wednesday afternoon's game. I was fortunate enough to have a half day Wednesday so I got to watch the whole game, from Matsuzaka sucking all the way to Coco's masterful bunt in the ninth. But it was an exciting game, a great comeback started and continued by Pedroia, who is currently the best player in baseball, and a great finish. The finish was precipitated by a bullpen that kept the game in reach, a very good catch by 46, contributions from the bottom of the order, a little bit of luck and small-ball. It resulted in a walkoff, and NESN loves to re-televise walkoffs and no-hitters.

3. Because of all those reasons, it really is starting to look like this team is coming together. It reminded me of the Bill Mueller walkoff home run off of Rivera during the game where Captain K shoved his glove into Mrs. Strahan's face with his mask on. But there was excitement and there was optimism that this team could catch Tampa Bay in the division. A 3.5-game lead is not much, especially when your second baseman's hitting .500 and deciding to hit bombs when he assumes the cleanup spot. This is the exact opposite of a 5-hitter trying to draw walks instead of getting hits, but we've already been there.

4. Sometimes you hear on television or see in the paper that a hitter is hitting .400 or better in their last X amount of games. Usually it's about 10. On June 21st, you could say that Nancy Drew was hitting over .400 for the last nineteen games. How many is it for Pedroia?

That would be twenty-eight. Pedroia's hitting .402 since August 2nd. He's also hit eight home runs over this stretch and has knocked in 28 runs while posting an OPS of 1.162. And he's stolen six bases.

Edit: The actual figure is 68. He's hitting .401 over his last 68 games, which is longer than Chipper Jones's first 66 of this season.

NoMaas compared preseason MVP candidate Robinson Cano to Pedroia. Sorry, Pat.

5. I agree with Pat about the magnitude of Beckett's start tonight. I have faith in him, as he's starting on the fantasy team tonight in the first round of the playoffs.

6. I skipped Volume 13 and instead decided to remind Pat, Bronx, and friends about when their #13 will still be on their favorite team, hitting three-run blasts in six run games.