Friday, July 31, 2009

Time To Refocus

Losing 2 in a row and 3 of 4 is hardly something to worry too much about. But the fact that I am posting on a Friday night should tell you most of what you need to know about the way those 3 losses went. Especially tonight.

Everyone needs to refocus, from the top down.

Sergio Mitre starting baseball games is not likely to help win a pennant race.

Joe Girardi leaving Al Aceves out there for 39 pitches in a 1 run game, when he had given up 4 outs to the warning track before allowing 4 runs to score - effectively ending the game - is not likely to help win a pennant race. Especially when he's coming off 4 days of inactivity due to a tired arm. Oh, what, the Yankees and Girardi are in a tough spot because Mitre gave them no length, and Aceves needed to stay out there? Boo hoo. The Yankees were in that tough spot because Cashman and Girardi elected to take a team strength - starting pitching depth - and turn it into a team weakness putting every active reserve starter they had of reasonable talent into the bullpen. That decision continues to boggle my mind. That they though five starters were going to make it through 2/3 of a season without incident is not wise at best, laughable at worst. Now they have Sergio Mitre starting games and getting rocked. This should not happen. You should have guys like Hughes and Aceves ready when Wang goes down. They did, and then they decided not to anymore.

Further, this was a 1 run game. When it gets down to winning time, especially the way this team has come back in games this year, you don't worry about tomorrow, you try to win the game. It was very clear Aceves, who has been great this year, just didn't have it tonight. They were rocking his stuff. For the second time this week, he got beat with 2 outs on an 0-2 count, which should tell you all you need to know about where his location is at. Mitre not giving you length does not mean Aceves has to pitch when he doesn't have it. Go to somebody else, even someone less likely to have it than Aceves. Because at least then there is a chance that pitcher has it. Aceves clearly didn't tonight, and this was evident well before 39 pitches, 4 runs in, and the game being over.

The Yankees getting beat on a steal second/steal home play is not likely to help win a pennant race. That was embarrassing. And it is symbolic of the way the players on the team have played for much of the last four days. These things are going to happen over the course of a season, no doubt. It's a long one, and you aren't at your best every day. But to play two absolutely atrocious games in four days - Tuesday against Tampa and tonight - not in terms of results but in terms of the way you got to those results (a lot of mental mistakes) is something you have to put a stop to. You have to refocus. Right now, the Yankees need to refocus.

Hopefully that starts with Phil Hughes getting stretched back out, because as great as it might be to have him locking down 7th and 8th innings, you need him in the rotation over Mitre more than you need him in the bullpen over whoever would replace him there. And it's not particularly close, especially when you consider how much more important starters are than non-closing relievers.

Victor Martinez to Boston?

If this is true, I cannot be too unhappy about this situation.  It addresses the Red Sox’ lack of depth at three different spots.  As Schilling said last month regarding trading for Halladay, “this is what you have a farm system for.”

The first is catcher—the fewer innings caught by Varitek, the better.  The fewer at-bats given to Varitek (or Kottaras), the better. 

The second is DH.  Santa Claus will probably be getting a lot fewer at-bats, especially with Lowell and Varitek getting a chance to play at that position.  Lowell at least might also represent an improvement over Santa Claus.

The third is the corner positions.  It presents the same opportunities brought on by the LaRoche acquisition.  I’m assuming LaRoche will be traded to Cleveland to prevent a logjam.  But anyway, it’s the same opportunities, but V-Mart is better than LaRoche.  Someone will be on the Red Sox with an average higher than .305.

I hesitate to say I’m thrilled, because V-Mart’s disastrous 2005 season raises a red flag for me.  I drafted him even higher than I drafted Lowell on my disastrous fantasy team.  But more than anything else, this means Smoltz is around for the long haul.  That is bad.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Meant to Hit Like A Little B****

Thirty-eight comments and counting on this afternoon's post. Look, I want to get a little bit past the childish "these titles are tainted" argument here and think about what's going to happen tomorrow contrasted to things Ortiz has already said.

When I heard the news, it was like finding out Santa Claus wasn't real: I put together argument after argument after argument trying to find a way to disspell the obvious. I cited the fact that he was so outspoken this spring about suspending juicers for a year. I cited the fact that the sudden onset of power was due to avoiding Astroturf at the Metrodome and because the Red Sox let him swing free instead of making him hit "like a little b****." You know, things that he wrote about in his book co-authored by Massarotti. As of today, that autobiography can now be placed in the fiction section. Sure, going from getting cut to being cut and hitting 54 home runs in a year is pretty far-fetched. But all the far-fetched reasons, in the end, were way too far-fetched when you look at it objectively. Ortiz juiced--on the reg--probably for at least five years.

The commentary Ortiz has given in the past will make Friday a particularly interesting day. I was naive and guilty of partially exonerating the guy when he said steroid users should be suspended for a year. We'll see if he answers questions about that in the morning, despite the fact that the Peter Gammons interview (available at the link above) said Ortiz only supports the suspension of people getting caught now, not "one year ago or ten years ago."

Perhaps those comments--or the lack of steroid availability for some reason this winter in the Dominican--inspired Ortiz to stop using before 2009. Now we have the answer to "why would he stop now?" So he could look hypocritical, but not THAT badly.

Other things that have been said recently but have gone by the wayside because he had never been implicated anywhere, include his comments defending his association with banned trainer Angel Presinal and his comments saying that he had no idea what were in those infamous "Dominican protein shakes." The "Dominican protein shakes" argument, it seems now, was just Ortiz covering his ass and having an excuse for some day that might eventually come. You know, a day like Thursday.

I really, really, really hope Ortiz doesn't do what I think he's going to do tomorrow, and that is say that he might have been busted in 2003 because of a protein shake. Why else would he say he wanted to know what he got busted for? So he can feign surprise and blame it on a protein shake tomorrow.

It's now fairly obvious that Ortiz poked himself with a needle for a long time, and got away with it because of masking agents--just like Manny Ramirez in From the Bronx's theory mentioned in the last comments section. If he admitted that, it would be better for baseball in general. It wouldn't make me respect him at all, or make me any less pissed off that I read as truth and enjoyed his autobiography about "hitting like a little b****." No matter what happens, I will have to dust off the Paul Byrd jokes from last fall, but Ortiz can save face by admitting that he was a prolific juicer.

He should say he did it because (using Pedro's words--anyone want to wager whether he gets busted?) making tens of millions in the majors was worth the risk of public disgrace and health problems compared to sitting under the mango tree without a dime to pay for bus fare. In the frank Ortiz way we're used to, I hope Ortiz says that naturally, he was meant to hit like a little b****, and a needle was the only way to avoid that.

Three quick hits to finish this one off:
1. The Bronx nailed it, I think, about the strength of the testing in baseball. If Manny used in '03 and used in '09 and passed 15 tests in between, Bud Selig shouldn't be as proud as he is about testing. Golden age.
2. Nomar shouldn't talk about steroids. He and Obama should hire a "shut the f*** up" consultant.
3. Do you think there's someone in the MLBPA, an intern maybe, who at least is thinking "this is devastating to the game. We should really try to release the rest of these names so that an incident like Thursday doesn't happen every three months?"

Some PED-free discussion on the Johnny Damon NY Renaissance coming later Friday. Feel free to read and comment instead of watching John Smoltz get lit up.

Report: Manny, Ortiz on List

There's sure to be a lot said about this, but the New York Times is reporting that both Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were on the 2003 anonymous steroid list.

Obviously, just as the rest of baseball was during that time, the 2004 and 2007 championship teams are now officially just as tainted as the Yankees' 2003 pennant.

Ortiz, who offered a no-comment, is pretty much confirming what we hoped was not true, but kind of figured was anyway.

I'll update this post later this evening.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Sliver of Sympathy for Matsuzaka

I'm not sure how much air time it's getting down there in New York, but it's a big story here in Boston: Daisuke Matsuzaka threw the Red Sox under the bus, saying their training program with their lack of workload is what's really to blame for his disastrous third season with the team. Not the World Baseball Classic. Not showing up fat to camp. But the Red Sox' coddling that does involve stuff like ice and pitch counts and does not involve stuff like 200-300-pitch bullpen sessions between starts.

Look, I don't think Matsuzaka's right. I also think it's prudent for the guy to shut the F up and do his job. Honestly, when Francona and John Farrell are actually bringing up the $103 million thing--it's like Uncle Frank saying no to a movie that's not even rated R: "It must be really bad." The most egregious part of this whole incident is the fact that Matsuzaka decided to pull an Obama and inappropriately spout off his opinion to the media.

However, I do have a sliver of sympathy, despite who represents Matsuzaka in contract negotiations and despite the player's lack of regard for his team's well-being or wishes. Ever since he came over from Japan, I've had a soft spot for Matsuzaka, but not because of a gyroball or anything like that. He's stubborn, has a tremendous amount of training workload, has accumulated a lot of "abuse points" for perceived overexertion before the age of 26, and thinks the best way to overcome aches and pains is to not be a pussy. In other words, his attitude toward training and pitching is very, VERY similar to my attitude toward training and racing.

So in this situation, I know how he feels. I've trained under the same coach since November 2007, and I've run 15% more than he's told me to since...November 2007. I feel like that 15% is the reason last year's Boston Marathon happened and why I've kind of blown up like nitro in the last year before getting hurt a month ago. "Overdoing it" in everyone else's eyes is how I got to where I am today, and if I do only what my coach tells me to, I will not have as much "savings" (Matsuzaka's word translated) for my next marathon or race. I've run about 45% of what I usually run in the month of July this year, and if I come back soon and race well, it would be because of my "savings." If I continue to take my sweet ass time in recovery, I will be using up my savings until I'm just another mediocre runner doing 60 miles a week. Running that amount is for people with more talent than me--and for people with poorer work ethics than me who just want to write about their life-changing marathon experience in Colby Magazine instead of competing at the highest level.

In Matsuzaka's eyes, he's the mediocre runner doing 60 miles a week, letting his gift go to waste because he's not cultivating it by "overdoing it." The Red Sox are forcing him to train with half of his ass. And while it's certainly very easy--and justified--for us to say "listen to science, don't be an idiot, it will make your career last longer," it's hard to abandon the training method that made the guy so coveted that the Red Sox paid $51 million just to talk to him.

Look, I think Matsuzaka will not be pitching when he's 35 if he continues doing what he did in Japan. But I do not fault him for thinking the way he does. I do, however, have a significant beef with him going to the media about it. This is a good way to run yourself out of town, and I will not speak a single foul word about Tony Mazz bashing him, WEEI bashing him, Farrell and Francona bashing him, or even any of the HYD Baseball readers bashing him--as he kind of deserves it. But as a stubborn athlete with a reputation of reckless overtraining, I have sympathy for the guy who has a lot in common.

There's (still) More Coming

That’s the Old School line I referenced in the title of the very first post here on How Youz Doin Baseball back in February 2007. Many things have changed since those days, back when A-Rod came in early but had problems keeping his mouth shut, JD Drew and Julio Lugo weren’t worth what they were getting paid, and Bud Selig was totally incompetent.

This post is our 1,000th post. Actually our 1007th, but our publication standards are so stratospheric that seven posts didn’t make the cut.

Whenever we hit milestones like this, we like to reflect about how we never thought this website would be such a big part of our lives or how it would become a part of so many other people’s lives. HYD Baseball was originally published because Pat and I had a lot to say via instant messenger and lunchtime conversations--and it would be a shame for it to not be saved somewhere. We know that we are somewhat-widely read and we appreciate that a lot. We try our best to put at least one post up every workday, and we do our best to be insightful, funny, and discussion-provoking, whether you’re discussing the issue at hand on our comments section or somewhere else.

We also like to thank all our readers for taking that kind of time out of their day, especially those who make the commitment to formulate arguments and post them in our comments sections. Especially thanks to From the Bronx, who doesn’t even know us, but found HYD somehow two years ago and has become an integral part of the community.

There’s a lot of stuff going on in baseball right now—some big stories around both teams, the trading deadline, the Hall of Fame, Wade Boggs’s and Daisuke Matsuzaka’s mouths, and Johnny Damon’s bat. I’m going to try to post two posts per day for the rest of the week, so schedule your days accordingly. We said a long time ago that there’s more coming, and we delivered on our promise. We will continue to deliver as long as we have things to talk about.

Also, look for a slight change in the comments section. As much as we like Chien Ming Wang posting links to viruses in the midst of our comments, this weekend most likely we will be implementing a token to verify that the people posting are human beings. Just the squiggly word thing—shouldn’t be a big deal.

Feel free to comment on Papelbon, Nick Green, and the Red Sox' debacle last night on the other post. Feel free also to comment on Cliff Lee possibly going to the Phillies on this post.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You Can't Hide

A baseball season is 162 games long. If you suck, there is a large enough sample size to expose the fact that you suck. If you suck but are lucky enough to not have your suckitude come back to bite you, it eventually will.

Obviously, you know where this is going. Tonight was not Papelbon’s worst outing of the year. Even though he surrendered a bomb off the wall to a guy with zero major league hits, he was much worse on at least three different occasions this year. But tonight luck caught up to him. Instead of being fortunate, he was unfortunate to have Nick Green make one bad error (the second one) and one error coupled with an inexcusable mental mistake (the first one).

Quickly: Green should have held onto the ball. When you don’t have a chance to throw the guy out, holding on to the ball will give you a zero percent chance of throwing the ball away and the runners advancing. Green threw the ball—off-balanced—anyway. You learn that in Little League.

But when you fail to miss bats, and your command sucks, and you’re not fooling anyone, and you’re working with very small leads, you’re bound to blow a save eventually. I’ve already said all you need to say about this nonsense. Anyone who has paid attention to this guy pitch this season—and believe me, the guys who will be putting together a contract offer know—know that Papelbon’s not going to have the Curt Flood influence he seems to think he deserves.

Also, nine hits in five innings is not impressive, but Buchholz showed some signs of brilliance. Okajima, Delcarmen, and Saito should probably get their stuff together. And 46 (as my family has been saying for a month now) has to stop swinging for the fences and be the hero in big situations. Get a hit, not a home run.

Look for two posts a day for the rest of the week.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Keep Fist Pumping

The Yankees are on some kind of roll right now. 46-21, 25 over, in their last 67 games. What you like most is that they beat you a lot of different ways. They are getting starting pitching some nights, relief pitching others, offense others, and sometimes two at a time or all at once. They need to stay healthy, and if they can, they should be right in the mix for this division and a playoff spot. Some key things lately, DV style.

- As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am not a big fan of fist pumping. I also think we are too sensitive in baseball to showing emotion. This is sports after all, not a library. However some take it too far, and I think Joba and Papelbon have been examples of this on more than one occasion. This said, as a starter Joba Chamberlain has largely gotten rid of the fist pump. He has broken it out from time to time, but for the most part has been more stoic as a starter. Connection or not, his results have been more mediocre at the same time. In his two starts since the All-Star Break, Joba has been fist pumping like a mad man, and his performance has been off the charts. Again, connection or not, I am now fully in support of him fist pumping after every pitch if he feels like it. Because since he started doing it again he's been back to the Joba we knew the last two years, and the one that has been largely absent this year. And that's the cocky kid with the you can't hit me mentality who uses big stuff do get a lot of outs and looks like a future #1. So keep fist pumping if it even remotely helps bring this out.

- Related, Andy Pettitte has been excellent since the break as well. His and Joba's performances have probably been the biggest of many positives over the course of this 10-1 run. With Wang likely out for the year and a lot of pressure on CC and AJ, the Yankees need these two to pitch well. The Yankees need to go out and get a starter because of Joba's innings limit and the general lack of depth in their rotation, but these two pitching more like 2/3 or even 3/4 as opposed to 4/5 or 5/5 would be a major boost for this team down the stretch.

- Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes have probably turned into the best 1-2 late game combo that the Yankees have had since John Wetteland and Rivera himself in 1996. Very much in the same way as well, with Hughes capable of going multiple innings just like Rivera in '96 setting up one inning of work for the closer. I understand how appealing it has to be to go to these two every time the Yankees have a lead after the 6th inning. But Girardi just can't do it. He's borderline playing with fire since the break. Rivera pitched in 5 of the first 6 games out of the break, and after getting a 4 out save yesterday (necessary), was warming in a 4 run game tonight (not unecessary, but not ideal given the workload he's had). Hughes pitched in 5 of the first 10 games out of the break, which is not wild, but 3 were for multiple innings and one 2 inning stint was the day after a 1 inning stint. There is no way he should be pitching multiple innings the day after pitching, nor should he be pitching the day after multiple innings. Not at this stage in the season anyway. Ditto Rivera regarding the stage in the season. The Yankees are rolling, there is no reason to be using him like this. Especially considering that it's not like he doesn't have other options.

- Really tough break with Brett Gardner breaking his thumb. Big ups to Gardner for staying in the game after breaking his thumb, making two spectacular catches, and delivering a clutch RBI triple to break a tie late in the game. Fortunately it seems like he'll be back for the stretch run, and that the biggest issue will be gripping the ball to throw. Of all the issues you could have with an injury like this, this is probably the best to have (as opposed to say swinging a bat). Gardner has become a very valueable part of this team. He's delivered about league average offense (99 OPS+), but with his legs (20 steals) and tremendous defense (15.9 UZR/150 in center), the overall contribution has been well in the positive. Girardi had found a nice groove using each of them as .5 of the center field job, as well as rotating them both to spell Damon and Swisher. Here's to a speedy recovery and him getting back to help the team soon.

- In the meantime the Yankees should call up Ramiro Pena. He's a just a baseball player, and I'm sure the minimal time he's gotten in center in AAA is enough for him to play center adequately once or twice per week while Gardner is out. He's been with the team before so it's not new to him nor is he new to the team.

- This Yankee offense is fierce right now. Nick Swisher now has 16 home runs and 52 RBI...and is batting 8th.

- AJ Burnett might be more fierce. After another 7 innings of no earned run baseball tonight, he's 8-2 with an ERA pressing toward under 2 in his last 11 starts. He has been utterly outstanding for this club.

- Good start to an important road trip for the Yankees. It's important not only because they are playing good teams, but because the roadie brings them directly into a 4 game set at home with the Red Sox. And the Yankees need to start beating the Red Sox. It's sort of tired to point this out at this stage, because it's been done so many times, but the Yankees are 61-30 against the rest of baseball while the Red Sox are 50-40. A mere 2-6 record against Boston thus far would net a 6.5 game lead in the division. A - gasp - 4-4 split would mean a 10.5 game lead in the division. But the Red Sox are 8-0 against the Yankees, have absolutely dominated them in almost every way possible, and that's that. The opportunity has been missed and the Yankees need to move on. The way you do that is by beating the Red Sox at least half the time over the remaining 10 games. If they can do that and the trends against the rest of baseball stay reasonably similar, the Yankees will put themselves in a good position to win this division.

Sore Glove Hand (Volume 7)

This volume of Sore Glove Hand will address a few former Braves:

-Mark Kotsay: The odd man out on the Red Sox bench upon the acquisition of another former Brave (Adam LaRoche) found himself in a pretty unfortunate situation. He was basically invisible (a PF term) for the entire duration of his time in Boston, which I suppose is what you expect from a guy off the bench. Overall in Boston, he hit a somewhat-disappointing .241 and posted a 60 OPS+. While it is true that he provided days off for Youkilis, Lowell, 46, Drew, and Bay every now and then, that's really all he provided, and not until actually taking a look at it do you realize that he was a pretty obvious player to jettison. Letting him go amplifies the team's trust in Rocco Baldelli.

-Adam LaRoche: Also not a superstar, but it's nice to have a guy with an OPS+ over a hundred for both the year and his career on your bench. LaRoche is hitting .247, but provides a lot more offense than Kotsay did: He has as many home runs this year as Kotsay had extra-base hits during his entire Boston tenure. Granted, that's only twelve (thirteen now), but my point stands. As I said in a previous comments section, everyone talks about how great of a second-half hitter he is, and that reminds me of typical NESN bullcrap. He's hitting .144 in July so far, which makes him fit right in with this Red Sox order. If he can continue at his previous clip, hitting .250 and whacking home runs on a somewhat-consistent basis, I'll be content.

-Mike Lowell: Not a former Brave, but I feel bad for this guy. The Red Sox are clearly skeptical of his ability to perform, and they have been for a long time (hence the aggressive Teixeira negotations). Now they bring a guy who would be a regular on most teams to play first base and move Youkilis to third. Despite Youkilis's recent struggles, he's not going to be the one whose playing time's going to be eaten up.

-JD Drew: Three-game hitting streak! In all seriousness, he hasn't had a multi-hit game since July 3rd. Awful.

-John Patrick Smoltz: I've previously ragged on the player in denial and the manager in a coma, and both of those rants still apply after this outing. Smoltz is talking about how much better he's getting. Good thing he's doing that in the major leagues--and while there are some indicators that he's right, there are more indicators (like the scoreboard or his pitching line) that say he sucks. Francona, once again, left him in to get shelled and the game was out of reach. Does he not realize that a six-run deficit for the Red Sox right now is like a fifteen-run deficit for the same team in May?

Today it's time to criticize the general manager on the handling of the Smoltz situation. Clearly he's not going anywhere, and the injuries to Matsuzaka and Wakefield have solidified this. But the fact of the matter is, Smoltz should not be working out the kinks in the major leagues. That's what minor league rehab is for. And unless there are some regulations about him staying in Pawtucket for too long that I don't know about, Theo messed this one up big time. As nice as an International League title would be, it is more important to win baseball games than to continue experimenting with this guy. I'd rather see Michael Bowden. Hell, I'd rather see Charlie Zink. He only made a few bad pitches yesterday, though, as he would tell you.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Jason May

Don’t get me wrong: I like Jason Bay, and I think he’s gotten a longer leash from me and the majority of Red Sox fans because he pretty much took the rest of this weak-hitting team on his back for a good two months. The Red Sox remained in first place despite David Ortiz hitting .190. He also has a long track record of not saying anything stupid to the media and handling a somewhat-difficult contract situation well so far. Let’s just say if JD Drew were performing the way Jason Bay has been performing for a good two months (oh, wait…), he’d be hearing it a lot more on this blog.

However, it’s time to start hitting again. Bay is currently hitting .252 and is in jeopardy of posting the lowest batting average of his career. More troubling about this fact is that on April 30, he was hitting .324. That means he’s hit .232 since May 1st and .209 since June 1st. Bay is still second in the league in RBIs (more on that in a bit), but is up to sixth in the league in strikeouts.

The strikeouts should be no surprise—he’s been a guy who strikes out a lot his entire career. He’s no Adam Dunn, but he’s not much better. Nonetheless, the strikeout is still the most inefficient thing you can do in baseball. Since June 2nd, Bay has recorded 14 games without a strikeouts and an identical 14 games with MULTIPLE strikeouts. Gotta put the ball in play. Foul some pitches off. Lay off a few outside the strike zone. The infamous 0-5, 5K game against Baltimore was a particularly dull spot in Bay’s season.

Today is July 24th. Did you know that since July 1st, Bay has three RBIs in 17 games (70 plate appearances)? Think about that for a moment. As addressed yesterday, he’s also struck out once every three at-bats. Bay is still second in the league in RBIs behind Justin Morneau, over whom he had a 12-RBI lead on July 1st.

Let’s say that on June 1st, Bay was looking for $15 million a year. Now it’s doubtful he’d be able to get that in Canadian dollars. He hit .324 in April. He had ten home runs in May. Since, he’s been awful. I still want the Red Sox to sign this guy past the end of this year. And if some increased production means a higher price tag, so be it. It would be worth the extra few million to see him start hitting again.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Data Dump

46: .216/.268/.314, 3 XBH
Pedroia: .359/.406/.609, 11 XBH
Ortiz: .220/.277/.492, 8 XBH, 14 K
Youkilis: .254/.319/.524, 9 XBH, 13 K
Bay: .180/.379/.320, 5 XBH, 22 K. Absolutely awful. Absolutely freaking terrible.
Lowell: Injured, off the hook.
Drew: .127, .262/.273, 4 XBH, 18 K, 9 walks. 1 for his last 32. Embarrassing.
Varitek: .195/.353/.366, 3 XBH. Free falling. Also can't throw a guy out.
Green: .150/.261/.225, 3 XBH. Also hit .233 in June.
Kotsay: .214/.258/.250 SLG!, 1 XBH in 9 games. Is it really a heartbreak if he is the odd man out upon the LaRoche acquisition?

Those are the Red Sox' hitters July splits, not including last night's games. I'm trying to not get too upset about it because of the stochastic nature. But specifically Jason Bay and Nancy Drew need to get their heads out of their rear ends. Francona needs to flip over a postgame spread one of these days. Something needs to happen. Maybe the LaRoche acquisition will help somehow.

In today's Globe, they talk a bit about Drew's lack of luck. It's hard to get good luck if you strike out eighteen times in July. Drew has struck out 28.5% of his at-bats this year, which is awful.

Bay has struck out 22% of his at-bats, which is to be expected given his career track record. The last two months, though, he has struck out 32.6% of his at-bats since June 1st. Good God.

The numbers speak for themselves. This is why this team has sucked lately. Thirteen runs in six games. Please, Francona. Flip over a buffet table. Get thrown out of a game. Wake these guys up. Because this is inexcusable. The fact that we're talking about the Texas Rangers sweeping them and allowing six runs in three games against the Red Sox...in Texas...is embarrassing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Another Scientist, Apparantly

Gotta love Girardi. Hughes breezes through the 8th on 16 pitches, protecting a 5-2 lead. In the bottom of that inning, the Yankees tack on to make it 6-2. Mariano Rivera has pitched in 4 of the 5 games since the ASB prior to today. At 39 years of age and given his importance to the team, he could use a day off when it's 6-2. Letting Hughes finish it off would be the smart thing. Chances are, Rivera will not be needed, as Hughes has allowed a run in exactly one of his relief appearances this year. True, Hughes has worked in 3 of the 5 games since the break as well. But he had yesterday off. If you let him finish today, then he is unavailable tomorrow but Rivera definitely is. As long as one of them is rested, the pen has a legitimate 9th inning option with a lead (obviously an understatment as far as Rivera is concerned). The last thing you wanted in a 6-2 game with Hughes already being used is to have to use Rivera, and have both of them be overworked entering tomorrow.

No, Girardi decided he was going to experiment with Brian Bruney. Since coming off the DL, Bruney has not been good. The velocity is there and he's shown flashes, but the location and consistency have been major issues, and he has a 7.04 ERA since being activated in mid-June. With a guy struggling like this, you don't experiment in a 6-2 game in the 9th inning when your closer needs rest. You get him into a low leverage spot. 6-2 is not low leverage. My buddy and I were e-mailing, lamenting this decision before the inning even started. I said, "Watch, Mo is going to be forced into this game."

Sure enough, after retiring the first two batters via the strikeout (because the stuff is there), Bruney allowed back-to-back homers to Jones and Markakis (beause he's inconsistent). Mo then had to come into the game for a 1 out save, now having worked 5 of the last 6 games after not getting a full All-Star Break. Awesome.

A win is a win, and the Yankees are now a season high 20 games over .500, playing excellent baseball. I have no problem with Girardi going to Mo in that spot if that spot arose despite Girardi using the best possible meathods to avoid going to Mo. What I have a problem with is Girardi using far less optimal meathods to avoid going to Mo (inserting a struggling reliever into a 4 run game against essentially the top of the order), and then just going to Mo - who really needs a break - because he can. It should have never gotten to that point, and it's risky to be using Mo as much as Girardi is. Rivera's 41.1 innings to date have him on a pace close to surpassing his highest single season total since his rookie season. Sometimes you can't avoid it. But sometimes you can. This was one of those spots, and it's inexcusable. The least you can do is do everything you can to stay away from him, and go to him only if you absolutely have to.

Now the Yankees have used Mariano 5 times in 6 days and Hughes 4 in 6. Girardi can semi-correct this by making Mo completely unavailable tomorrow and Hughes almost completely unavailable. It should be Aceves' and Coke's game to win or lose tomorrow if there is a late lead. We'll see what happens. But again, it should have never gotten to this. You have to stagger your best reliever and your second best reliever when you can (it's not always possible, but in 4 run games or more like today it usually is), so that you always have at least one available the next day. I'm going tomorrow, and hopefully I can enjoy some sound managing by Girardi making up for today's blunder by giving Mo, and maybe Hughes, a much deserved and needed day off.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hey, Stay In Irleand (Yankees Roundup)

When I arrived in Ireland, the Yankees were 38-31 and 4 games out of first in the East. As I get ready to travel home today, the are 56-37, one game up in the East, and have the second best record in baseball. They went 18-6 while I was away, a sizzling 12 games over .500. Normally, on a streak like this I'd keep doing what I'm doing. But in this case I have to and want to come home. Hopefully they keep it up anyway.

A few Yankees' notes:

- Mark Teixeira has been one of the most clutch players in baseball this season. This is not completely out of the blue, as he's always been a pretty good performer in the clutch. The reason it is notable, however, is because of my co-author, The GM. He railed against his ability all winter, and said he was a stat-padder, a pile jumper, a player who only showed up when it mattered least. In late and close game situations, he's .316/.385/.596 and a .981 OPS. The only situation where he has better numbers is 2 out and RISP (which is clutch of and within itself). In high leverage situations, he's .308/.410/.646(!) with a 1.056 OPS (!!!!!!). Teixeira's done great work for the Yankees overall this season, and he's done it on both sides of the baseball. But the fact that he's been better in the clutch than he has overall just has me really excited, especially considering the nonsene The GM was talking all winter. I hope it continues.

- Speaking of clutch, Alex Rodriguez has hit 19 home runs already this season, which is pretty impressive standing by itself. What's more impressive is that 10 of those 10 home runs have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead. Since his return, the Yankees are 43-22, best record in baseball.

- Difficult not to be excited about what Phil Hughes has done out of the bullpen. He's made 15 relief appearances this season, totalling 21.1 innings. His ERA is 0.84, and he's struck out 27 to only 5 walks. Opponents are .149/.203/.216 with a .419 OPS against him, which is just absurd. He's allowed one home run and one triple, no doubles. While this is all absoultey fantastic, you have to wonder just how good this is. The Yankees seem to constantly be moving guys around to fit present needs, with long term good not always the most important factor. I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying it's worrisome. Especailly considering that the Yankees' rotation depth is currently very thin. Hughes might have been ready to break out like this irrespective of what role he was in, and it just so happened to occur while he was relieving. Maybe not. Either way, Hughes strikes me as the kind of guy who is a starter. You have to be an absolute mental bulldog to be a good reliever. Say what you want about Papelbon's ability (and the detractors certainly have a point at the moment), but mentally he's about as tough as they come shy of Rivera, and that's a big part of pitching in that role. I'm not sure Hughes has it or doesn't have it, we'll have to find out. But he seems to definitely have the mentality to start, and the Yankees need a starter right now. Further, he seems to have altered his follow through. He's now falling off the mound to the first base side. Previously, he was square to homeplate. I'm not sure if this was just a fluke, or if he's doing it to get a little extra on his ball, or something else. But changing your mechanics like that is rarely a good thing. More than anything, I just hope he stays healthy and keeps contributing. He looks awesome right now.

- It will be very intersting to see what, if any, moves the Yankees and/or Red Sox make before the deadline. I suppose the most glaring need between the teams is that the Red Sox look to need a bat. But even that is not make or break, not even close. The Yankees could need a starter. I'm just not sure if either will do anything. If they do, it could seriously tip a close division if the move works out. So there is defintiely something on the table for both clubs.

Nobody Said It Was Easy

Tito was either in a Francoma or decided to be a scientist last night. I would wager that he was a scientist again, performing another John Smoltz experiment instead of trying to win last night's baseball game against the Texas Rangers. I swear to God, this guy likes to experiment more than the guys who want to do the Large Hadron Collider experiment (an experiment that may result in creating a black hole). Because knowing the results of the experiment are apparently more important than the possible consequences.

Smoltz was chugging along pretty well after five innings, as the Red Sox carried a 2-1 lead into the sixth. Immediately, Smoltz (and maybe the fact that HE IS IN HIS FORTIES, JUST BLEW OUT HIS SHOULDER, AND JUST FINISHED REHAB might raise a red flag) started to struggle. You'd think that in a one-run game facing Texas's ace, Francona would perhaps give Smoltz a short leash. No. He waited for (almost) seven and we all got to watch Smoltz hit a snag in his comeback story. An unnecessary snag. An unnecessary snag that resulted in a loss. This is not okay.

Smoltz's comeback and "progress" is not more important than the Red Sox winning baseball games. They are now tied for first place with the Yankees. Apparently Francona, in addition to loving to wait for seven runs, also loves to give long leashes for aging veterans on rehab--something I've criticized pretty much all season and ever since the 2005 Schilling Closer Experiment. You'd think that there'd be a problem after the leadoff Young home run. Or after the Hamilton double. Or the Blalock single. But Terry stayed in the dugout in a Francoma.

Is it about taxing the bullpen? Well, sometimes that's going to happen. The solution to this problem is to not have two guys in the rotation who can't throw more than five innings. I heard the PawSox have one of those guys. But when your team is having a lot of trouble hitting (what's up Jason Bay! Bandi's texting his frustration with you to me!) lately and you're in jeopardy of hitting a 3-game skid, you might not want to Wait for Seven.

This one's not on Smoltz today. He pitched extremely well for five innings. It's not his job to recognize he's coming off of a major injury and therefore is more prone to running out of gas. That's the responsibility of the manager. Or, today, the scientist.

Monday, July 20, 2009

DV Diagnosed with Patellar Tendinitis

For those of you who follow my running career (not many of you, and that's okay), you might already know that I've cut back my training by about 50% in the past month or so due to knee and hip soreness. I was shut down completely by my coach on July 5, and I took six straight days without running so that I don't go Matsuzaka on myself. Today, for the first time in four years, I saw a doctor. The diagnosis:

Patellar tendinitis. This is a reasonably-common condition (inflammation in a tendon below the kneecap) for someone putting in this amount of training (~5100 miles in the past year). My doctor told me that if I took another ten (10) days with a limited amount of running--and missing one race at the end of July--that there should be no residual effect from this injury.

I am glad this guy is not my doctor:

"I had severe patella tendinitis and really didn't know if I'd be effective again to play at all. It took about a full year to come back, and for three years I fought that, and that's where that label came up. I can't do anything about that and I can't do anything about a herniated disk in my back."

Nancy Drew is hitting .241 with 66 hits, 51 walks, 78 strikeouts, and 50 weak ground balls to the right side. Julio Lugo may have been designated for assignment, but the consequences of December 6, 2006 live on.

I am reasonably confident that some time in the next three years, I will consider myself healthy--or at least healthy enough to not suck at my sport.

"What the f*** did I do last night?"

I wonder if Theo Epstein said that on December 7, 2006, the day after he signed Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew for a combined nine years and $106 million at the Winter Meetings at Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Because most people with fully-functioning brains and a familiarity with either baseball or, well, frankly, the Arabic number system (1, 2, 3, etc.) knew that both Drew and Lugo were pretty bad ideas.
Drew has pretty much performed to my expectations, playing with the occasional clutch home run and long series of injuries--so pretty much like a glorified Trot Nixon. But Lugo (and today's post is about him) failed to even meet my expectations.
Right before the advent of this blog, I famously called Julio Lugo a borderline major leaguer, only to be met with a great deal of dissent. During his two and a half years in Boston, when he collected $22.5 million, he played like a minor leaguer. He sucked spectacularly with his bat, posting an anemic 71 OPS+ during his time with the Red Sox (his career OPS+ of 88 is nothing to gawk at, either).
Brought in as a potential leadoff hitter after Coco Crisp failed to do the job in 2006, Lugo posted a .251 batting average with the Red Sox, and his on-base percentage, year-by-year, was .294, .355, and .352. What's funny about that is that Lugo had only posted an OBP above .350 once in his entire career.
They said back in the winter of 2007 (all which can be recalled in the archives of HYD Baseball, which is one of the biggest perks of having this blog for so long) that Lugo had some defensive issues but a lot of "pop" in his bat. He also had a lot of speed and lots of success at Fenway Park.
None of this actually happened. Instead, we saw the projected leadoff hitter go 7-79 (.089) in June 2007, contributing to several losses with his bat. We saw Lugo make unprecedentedly-egregious baserunning blunders, costing the team a game in July 2007 and helping contribute to another in July 2008. We saw him cost the Red Sox several games with his defense, including one particularly-spectacular one in 2008 and three separate games in 2009.
I will say that for a while I felt bad for Lugo. He really did seem to care and feel bad about his overwhelming underachievement, which at least separates him from JD Drew. The guy clearly wanted to play well and probably got into a funk after a while. I also felt slightly bad for Eric Gagne when he sucked as bad as he did. At least these guys cared. And as easy as it was to direct the vitriol toward Lugo, it should all be directed at Theo Epstein, who admitted this signing as a grave mistake.
He did not, however, admit that this was a mistake that everyone saw coming.
Today is a day to reflect on Julio Lugo's illustrious career with the Red Sox. Please use the comments section to post your favorite memories of #23.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Red Sox Second Half Preview--Pitching

No need to preface it. Same as the last post, just with the pitchers.

Lester: Started bad and we all started talking about the 216 innings last year. Then he started minimizing the damage during bad innings and getting out of jams. So the old version of Lester came back. He's striking out a lot of batters. He's probably level with expectations, especially as many thought he'd fall off a bit from last year's level. I'm bearish about the second half, as I think he's going to get tired. Those innings catch up to you after a while.

Beckett: Also a shaky start, but he's had about ten dominant starts where everything's working. He's slightly exceeded expectations. It's reasonable to expect he will continue not quite at the mid-May to present pace, but around the same as his aggregate pace.

Wakefield: He said he would have rather gone hunting than sit in the AL bullpen this week. But the fact that he was there while some people still want to toss him out of the Boston rotation are a testament to how he's blown away expectations. Looking at his career line and his age, it's silly and unfair to assume Wakefield's going to win twenty games. If he slumps a bit and goes .500 for the rest of the season, I'd be satisfied.

Matsuzaka/Smoltz: I'd say that Matsuzaka was his regular dominant self and lived up to expectations, leading Japan to another World Baseball Classic title. Knowing his work ethic, lack of regard for the team that pays him, and propensity to win big games, who can't think he'll be ready to dominate in the 2012 event? In all seriousness, if the Red Sox decide to bring him back in September and experiment with games in the middle of the pennant race, I don't even know what I'm gonna do. His replacement, John Smoltz, has shown flashes of competence, and it's possible to project that Smoltz will do better the second half of the season than Matsuzaka/Smoltz did in the first.

Penny/Buchholz: Of course, Penny was supposed to be injured, out for the season, and replaced by John Smoltz in the rotation by now. Instead, he's been far from great, close to good, and closest to decent, keeping the Red Sox in many games--which is what is expected from a fifth starter. Who knows if it is going to continue, especially with the addition of the sixth starter. It should not require rose-colored glasses to say there is a distinct possibility that the second half could be better than the first. But it could go either way.

Papelbon: The results indicate that Papelbon has only blown two saves in 24 chances, which is commensurate to what would be expected of him based on past expectations. Obviously, if you've watched any of the games, you'd know that he has pitched borderline-poorly. This makes it troubling to forecast the second half for this guy, because if he keeps on pitching long, adventurous innings, both the workload and the sheer element of luck will catch up to him. Which means he might go Byung-Hyun Kim on us.

The Rest of the Bullpen: After a tremendous start, the bullpen has fallen to earth. Saito, Ramirez, and Masterson especially have taken a turn for the worse. However, on the aggregate, this bullpen has been quite good, perhaps even better than expected once they got rid of poor Javier Lopez. It's notable to say that Okajima and Delcarmen (Craig's boys) have both been better than expected. They need to remember to keep executing when the Red Sox have a big lead--something they failed to do twice in the last month. I don't think the recent downtrend is indicative of a greater problem--it's just a collective slump that is inevitable with all middle relievers. To say they will hold steady is a good prediction.

Red Sox Second Half Preview

After a recent comments section, I thought it would be a good idea to evaluate the first half for each Red Sox player/position and briefly forecast how well the second half might end up. Here we go:

-Catcher: Varitek certainly outperformed expectations so far in 2009, although he now flat-out refuses to talk about both his hitting and his ability to throw runners out. As most catchers do, Varitek will likely flame out during the second half of the season. We can expect him to worsen, and a .225 batting average by the time the season's over would be considered a victory.

-Youkilis: I'm labeling it this way because we don't know where he's going to play the rest of the season. But Youkilis performed basically up to expectations in the first half. There is no reason to believe he won't keep it up at a similar pace, though he does occasionally have a bad month during the second half looking at his career.

-Second base: Pedroia performed short of expectations during the first half. There is reason to believe the second half might be better, as he's starting to hit for power again. Plus, nobody could get him out the second half of last year.

-Shortstop: First of all, there will be a weekend post if Lugo is indeed DFAed or released, so keep your computers on. Nick Green has outperformed expectations and probably his own ability. He's played better than a healthy Lowrie could have played. It's unreasonable to believe the second-half shortstop production will match the unexpected first-half production.

-Corner Infield Position That's Not Youkilis: It's hard to pinpoint what was expected out of this position. Those who thought Lowell would bounce back might be a little disappointed, but those who thought Lowell would crash and burn I bet are content with what the Red Sox got out of this position with Bailey, Carter, Bates, Kotsay, and Lowell. I'd anticipate more of the same barring a trade for someone like Scott Rolen.

-Left Field: Jason Bay started off really hot, then cooled off a little. At any rate, he's still at 20 home runs and still leads the league with 72 RBIs. From a macro level, you have to think Bay is good for another 15 home runs to match his stunningly-consistent HR totals of 30-35. It's a bit alarming to announce that he's on a career high pace for strikeouts. My gut tells me we'll get a slight dip in production.

-Center Field: 46 has outperformed expectations undoubtedly. Maybe not his own, but having him hit about .300 and doing some other things with his speed has not been nearly as frustrating as watching him in the past. I think what you see here with 46 is what you'll get for several years--including a continuation of what you've seen in the second half.

-Right Field: Nancy Drew is on pace for 23 home runs!!! Otherwise, he's put together another typical frustrating and disappointing Nancy Drew season, just like the majority of his other non-contract years during his career. I actually think Nancy's second half might be better: He usually has a good month before the inevitable injury.

-Designated Hitter: For the first two months of the season, David Ortiz was awful. People were calling for his release. We already know that. We also already know that he came back to the real world right around June 1st, and since then he's hit in the .280s and has hit for power. He actually has more home runs than Drew does right now. It's very reasonable to expect the post-June 1 Ortiz to show up for the rest of the season, barring injury. If this happens, this is a major improvement over the aggregate version of 1st-half Ortiz.

-Bench: I'd rate the bench in the first half slightly below average. Kottaras started off really slow, but has gotten it together a bit lately. Baldelli's been a slight disappointment. Lugo has been okay with the bat but has lost three games with his glove. And I already addressed the other first basemen. I'd expect more of the same.

So overall, I think the Red Sox' offense has slightly exceeded expectations. When you exceed expectations during the first half of the season, it's logical to think that they'll even back out to meet expectations over the full 162.

I'm making this a two-part post. Look for something on the pitching staff later on today.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Go Get A Starter

Unexpected negative things happen to every team almost every baseball season that you simply cannot plan for. Injuries and underperformance are two of the more prominent. Based on the significance of the player injured or underperforming – or a combination of the two – it can really change the course of a team’s season, especially relative to pre-season expectations.

For the 2009 Yankees, their version of this has clearly been Chien-Ming Wang. The player who was 54-20 (.730), who had a 3.79 ERA across 6.28.2 innings, who won 19 games in back-to-back seasons, and who finished second in Cy Young voting in his first full Major League season has simply blown up. The reasons aren’t entirely clear either (probably a combination of a lot of things), but the point is he’s been much worse than ever could have been reasonably expected. For a guy with his track record, you can always reasonably expect a small variation one way or the other. But you can’t predict a guy with a career 3.79 ERA entering the season to toss up a 9.64. And injuries you can obviously almost never predict.

Every team deals with this change in the course of their season differently based on their own circumstances. A small/middle market team losing their star might cause them to pack it in. Think Cardinals losing Pujols. A middling team that expected to be better but hasn’t because of underperformance might try to make a splash. There are many possibilities and combinations. A lot of it has to do with expectations, what that team is looking to accomplish, and how willing they are or are not to let go of those expectations when their season takes an unexpected change in course.

The Yankees are obviously unique. For many teams, losing a pitcher of Wang’s caliber would be crippling because of how heavily they likely would have been relying on him. I mean, prior to this season, losing him would have been crippling to the Yankees (it was, in fact, in 2008). Now it’s a bit different. The Yankees have so much talent that they can cover up for a loss/underperformance like this. They wouldn’t be able to cover up for every loss, but so far they have been able to cover up for this one.

But as I said, it has to do with expectations. The 2009 Yankees expectations are very clear: win the World Series. They may be able to cover up for Wang’s loss in terms of being in the playoff mix, but even if they can the fact remains they are not as good without Wang as they are with a healthy and effective one. Especially in regards to the playoffs. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m a big believer in the randomness of short series in baseball. The best team does not win with the frequency it does in other sports. But everyone also knows that the reason I believe this is because of hot pitching. Hot pitching is what allows inferior teams to beat superior ones more than anything else. So in this respect the more good pitchers you have the more you increase the likelihood that they will get hot. Good pitchers get hot more than not so good ones. Pretty basic. And this is where not having Wang really hurts the Yankees.

Of course, many things could happen between now and October. The Yankees may not be able to cover up for Wang any further, or may just regress in general, and miss the playoffs. Wang might come back in 2-3 weeks and be his old self. It goes on and on. Given this uncertainty, the Yankees need to go get a starting pitcher. Doesn’t have to be Roy Halladay, but shouldn’t be some marginal guy that slots into the back end, either.

A strong line of reasoning against this would be that the Yankees may be good enough anyway, as rotations around the game aren’t particularly deep. No team really has more than two plus starters that you’d really concern yourself with. Why sacrifice the prospects if you don’t need to. But I think this is a reason to do it. Instead of accepting that you’re right on par with everybody else without Wang, use it as an opportunity to distinguish yourself. You don’t construct a deep farm system and develop prospects to keep them all and hope they pan out. You have to use some of them at the right time (without depleting the system) to make your team better, especially when contending for a World Series. As I’ve said repeatedly, not just because of the talent and payroll, but because of Jeter, Rivera, and Posada – three elite players at three premium positions that will not be that way forever, and will not be easily replaced – the 2009 Yankees are a win now team.

So they should go get a top end guy and increase their chances of doing just that.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dilution

There has been a lot of talk about how the All-Star Game doesn't matter much anymore. A lot of people think that's a shame. I don't really feel that way too much, but that's mostly because I've seen about seven All-Star Games in my life (my family always went on vacation that week). Bob Ryan wrote one of his best articles in recent history on Sunday, saying that the All-Star rosters are too big. In the spirit of "everybody's a winner, everybody plays" the meaning of being an All-Star is totally diluted. Absolutely.

Ryan proposes that the All-Star rosters are restricted to 25 players, as they were several decades ago. Right now you get the fans' choice, the players' and managers' choice, and some people were talking about adding a lifetime achievement choice for future All-Star games. That is ridiculous.

I agree with Ryan: If the rosters are restricted, there won't be any roster silliness like players getting one at-bat and being done. Or players pitching two innings and being done. Part of the lack of the allure of the All-Star Game is that it's not played like a regular baseball game. Play it like a baseball game and the people who watch Wednesday Night Baseball on the reg will watch it.

Plus, by having the roster as friggin big as it is, there are players playing that nobody wants to see. I mean, do you really want to see Andrew Bailey? Mark Buehrle? Brandon Inge? Even Nelson Cruz, who had a great Home Run Derby on Monday, is a very borderline all-star. As much of a nice story as Tim Wakefield is, he is not one of the biggest stars in the game. And don't get me started about Papelbon, who put together another classic Papelbon performance.

Same goes for Jayson Werth, Orlando Hudson, and Ted Lilly. Steroid users Ryan Franklin and Miguel Tejada were on the NL roster as well.

Restricting the rosters to 25 will ensure that only the best players in baseball are playing the All-Star Game. People want to see Pujols versus Halladay more than just once. It is not an unreasonable request. Let's stop giving out the participation ribbons. Let's make the All-Star Game a high honor again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Between Very Good And Invisible

First, great conversation in the comments section yesterday. If people want to keep that going, I’m down. Certainly do not let a new post stop us from a good debate like that.

Second, I have one thing above all else that I’m looking forward to pointing out this All-Star Break. That’s that if the Yankees go 37-37 for the rest of the season, they’d win 88 games. A mere two games over, they win 90. They are on pace to go 94-68. Usually at this time of year I’m saying the Yankees have to X insane number of games above .500 to win 90. So this feels good. Especially in the toughest division in baseball, which has not always been the case when the Yankees were not playing well halfway through.

Third, what transpired on the baseball field in LA last weekend was disgusting. On so many levels. Girardi set the tone by playing B lineups both Friday and Sunday. Good thing there wasn’t a four day break coming up or anything. Jeter was apparently off Friday because he’s playing in the All-Star game. Because taking batting practice Monday, playing 5-6 innings Tuesday, and being off Wednesday and Thursday entirely is really taxing for a guy in his condition. Posada sat twice, and I can understand that aspect of it to try to control the Angels running game. But there is absolutely no reason, against a team the Yankees need to start beating, to play Molina, Gardner, Cabrera, and Hinske in the same game. Especially on the verge of getting swept. Up 2-0, fine. Down 0-2, let’s try to win a game. Of course, these poor lineups are no excuse for the way they played. They scored plenty of runs Friday and Saturday, and couldn’t pitch. They pitched reasonably Sunday, and couldn’t hit. Just a generally sloppy weekend. There are a lot of positives to take from the first half, but 2-12 against Boston and LA is not one of them. The Yankees need to start beating those two teams.

One of my buddies, who’s the kind of guy that just sort of follows the standings until August/September, and even then watches more casually, asked me the other day who was playing well and who wasn’t for the Yankees. I paused and really had to think about it for a few seconds. I eventually told him a lot of people have played really well without any absolute standouts, and nobody had really played poorly outside of Wang. The individual players have essentially alternated between stretches of playing really well and being invisible, meaning not playing well but also playing well enough not to notice, which is better than playing flat out poorly.

Looking at it now, this was the perfect question in terms of formulating how I would evaluate the Yankees to date. Offensively, they have 10 guys with an OPS+ of 100 or more. That has resulted in an offense that leads the majors in runs, RBI, OBP, SLG, and OPS, is tied for the lead in home runs, and is second in hits and BA. In itself, having 10 guys swinging the bat at above average levels producing those kind of results is impressive. What’s better is the way they’ve gotten there. Each player in that top 10 has, to the man, gone on at least one stretch where they carried or co-carried the team. Instead of the subsequent cold stretches that tend to even those things out, for the most part guys have just gone invisible. You don’t notice they’re out there one way or another. While you’d prefer to be noticing them positively at all times, that’s not realistic. Not noticing them at all is better than noticing them negatively. To that extent, pretty much every player on the Yankees has met or slightly exceeded expectations offensively to date. Now we just have to hope it continues.

Pretty much the same goes on the other side of the baseball. The only difference is that Sabathia, Burnett, and Rivera have pretty much been consistently excellent. That has been evened out to a certain extent by Wang’s massive underperformance, both relative to expectations and in total. Outside of this, everyone has pretty much gone between very good and largely invisible. Pettitte and Joba have been noticeable on the negative side at times, but that’s not unexpected from #4 and #5 starters. I’d sign for their present lines to be replicated in the second half in a second. There’s a bit more question here as to whether or not that will happen, not just with Pettitte and Joba but all the pitchers, than there is with the offense, which just looks dominant. Part of that is that the Yankees’ pitching is not as good as their offense, and part of that is the nature of hitting versus pitching in general. Watching what the pitching does will probably be the key to the Yankees’ second half, in addition to health obviously. Similar performance should be adequate to make October. Improving is even better. If they regress, that will be where trouble could come for this team.

All in all, a good first half. They have the third best record in baseball. They trail the Red Sox by 3 games in the division, but as we’ve seen all year that can change in an instant. Three weeks ago they were 5 games down, 3 days before the break they were tied, and now they are down 3 again. And that’s not even the most important thing. The most important thing is that the individual pieces have been producing at or slightly above expectations to date, and that has them in the mix. If they can continue to do that in the second half, they should continue to be right in the mix for October baseball, be it the pennant or the Wild Card. Being in the mix is all you can ask for. Recently the Yankees had to play ridiculous baseball just to get back in the mix. Now they just have to keep doing what they’ve been doing. And that’s a welcome change.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

All-Star Break Optimism

It's been an up and down season for the Red Sox, mostly up though. This weekend was pretty indicative of what's been going on with this team. They can win battles like Friday, they can win behind a dominant pitcher like Sunday, and they can win sloppily like Saturday. They will also occasionally lose sloppily, which is what they did on Thursday.

First, let's talk about the individual games. We'll have a paragraph for each game.

Friday: John, H, Matt, and I were all at this game, but all separately. It was a tense friggin game, and a tremendous performance by both Brian Bannister and Jon Lester. Six baserunners in eight innings speak for themselves, and never too much of a jam at any point. What may have been the most notable part is that Papelbon might have put forth his strongest performance of the entire season. He looked like the 2006 version.

Saturday: Friggin Rusty Masterson is cold right now. He certainly cannot face lefties on a regular basis right now. The bullpen inconsistency is contagious, though. The game that was at one point 9-1 reeked a lot of the Baltimore game when they blew a tremendous lead and lost 11-10. The extent to which the Red Sox, specifically their bullpen, have been taking the foot off the gas when their bats develop a lead, is disconcerting. Their offense burying the Royals was pleasant though. Smoltz wasn't good, but also was not bad.

Sunday: There are just some days were Beckett is untouchable. Today was one of those days. Three hits. Ninety-four pitches. Seven strikeouts. Twenty-eight pitches missed the strike zone. Think about this: Josh Beckett threw only eleven more balls to the Royals than the Royals pitchers threw to Jason Bay.

The big picture is looking pretty promising. But if you told me that the Red Sox would be up three games on the Yankees while David Ortiz is hitting under .230, I'd be pretty happy. You gotta think Varitek's production will slide, Ortiz's will rise on the whole, and not even Lowrie can improve on what Nick Green has contributed in the first half. The pitching staff--it might be safe to say that they will maintain what they've been doing. This team can be a ninety-win team even if they go .500 for the rest of the season. They're on pace for a hundred and they have no more West Coast trips left. Even the most optimistic have to be a little surprised by this Red Sox team. But there's not much reason to think they can't maintain what they've done so far.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Gotta Get It In Writing

Some things that I should have had here for discussion this morning. Now that it's Friday afternoon, few people will read it, but...

My centerpiece birthday gift this year was a pair of tickets to the first Red Sox/Royals game of the year so that I could be there for the return of Coco Crisp. Unfortunately, by the time the game actually rolled around last night, Coco was out for the season, as he is undergoing surgery on both rotator cuffs. I’m not sure (maybe someone watching on TV can fill me in), but I don’t think he was at the park last night. Either way, there was no acknowledgement of his time in Boston. I’m not saying he deserved the Nomar treatment. But for a city and a team that made such a big deal of the return of (just in the last month) Nomar and Derek Lowe, as well as many more marginal players like Eric Hinske or Gabe Kapler, there should have at least been an acknowledgement of the three years he had in Boston. Maybe a pre-game replay of the ALCS at-bat. But whatever, there are many bigger concerns from last night’s game:

-We saw last night why Rusty Masterson should probably remain a reliever permanently. It’s been hidden much more effectively by the fact that he rarely has to face lefties, but he faced David DeJesus last night and hilarity did not ensue. Lefties pound the guy on the reg.

-I’ve written some nice things about Manny Delcarmen this year. To keep it balanced, it’s necessary to point out that he sucked last night. Ram-Ram was also not brilliant, but he blew a few people away.

-Daniel Bard has to be making some people feel good as Papelbon seems to be in danger of going down the toilet. He was extremely impressive last night. It’s also nice to see that the control problems that plagued him for a year in the minors seem to be nonexistent.

-Varitek’s strikeout was among the top five worst at-bats I’ve seen from him this year and perhaps one of the top forty worst at-bats I’ve seen from him ever. Remember: He’d rather retire than play for $4 million a year. I wonder how much Miguel Olivo makes.

-It was nice to be on hand for Ortiz’s 300th home run. Now, five weeks after being a candidate for an outright release, he is within one home run of five-tool player Nancy Drew (who, after his home run on Wednesday, is on the blazing pace to hit twenty-three (23) home runs this year—the third highest total of his career). As much as I could use this space to bash the Red Sox fans on hand last night (I have many things to say, as Pat can attest to), the way they reacted to Ortiz’s home run was touching.

-Last night’s 0-5 performance out of Nancy was very indicative of, well, everything he stands for. He struck out swinging on a ball in the dirt, he hit a weak ground ball to first, a weak ground ball to second, and a very weak ground ball to the right side fielded by the pitcher. He also launched a fly out to the deepest part of the ballpark, illustrating how Theo Epstein so perceptively detected Drew’s “Fenway Park swing.” October 2, 2011.

I’m also going to the game tonight with some fellow injured runners. First place is on the line, which is not what we’re looking for. I’ve heard Jon Lester’s good against the Royals though. And maybe tonight there will be a Coco Crisp tribute. Maybe.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Papringhausen

You wouldn't know it by looking at his overall stat line (22 saves in 24 opportunities; 1.70 ERA), but Jonathan Papelbon may indeed be the weakest link overall in the Red Sox' bullpen this first half of the year. Usually when you're a closer, you're working in close games and it's preferable to miss bats and to not put guys on. Papelbon has done neither of those this year.

Let's first look at the stats. He is walking three more guys per nine innings than he did last year. His WHIP is higher than last year's by 39% and higher than his first two years as closer by 71%.

Let's look at the baserunners. In fifteen of his twenty-one saves over 1/3 of an inning (71%), he has allowed a baserunner. In thirteen of them, he has allowed a hit. In eight of them (38%), he has allowed multiple baserunners. And these stats don't even count the game when he came in with a four-run lead against Detroit and decided to load the bases just for fun.

When you allow as many baserunners as Papelbon has this season in close games, you put yourself in a position when one cheap little dribbler that 95% of shortstops in the league could get but Julio Lugo couldn't get can cost you the game. The fact that Papelbon's strikeout rate is also precipitously lower doesn't help the cause too much.

While I understand that 1) the Red Sox won last night despite Papelbon's adventurous ninth and 2) we've been spoiled the last three years when Papelbon has been an extremely effective closer, I feel this commentary is extremely necessary. The concerns raised by Papelbon's Jason Isringhausen impersonation (as first reported by reader/commenter JB) are used with the baseline of any effective closer--not with the baseline of 2006 Papelbon, which I think we all understand was really something special.

Papelbon, like Isringhausen, is pitching extremely poorly but just well enough to not be costing his team games. But luck like this always seems to catch up to you. Papelbon needs to start pitching again. You can tell he's not fooling anyone, because even his better-located pitches are getting smacked around, like they were last night.

Papelbon about a month and a half ago said he wasn't concerned with the fact that he's routinely throwing 25 pitches, because he's strong enough now that 25 pitches today is like 15 pitches in 2006. I think he missed the point that the 25 pitches are a concern not because of the volume, but because he's surrendering hits and walks at an alarming rate.

It has not surfaced as an issue quite yet, but unless Papelbon starts pitching well again, the stochastic nature of baseball might catch up to Papelbon--and the Red Sox. It's bound to bite him at some point.

The Right Moves, But Tough Ones

With guys coming back off the DL and Wang heading to it, the Yankees have had some decisions to make recently. With two of them, it's the right move, probably even the automatic, no questions asked move. However, with both, it's a tough decision, or at least one that makes me uneasy. A third just absolutely boggles my mind.

With Wang going to the DL Saturday and the Yankees having 8 straight games between last Saturday and the break with no off days, they need a fifth starter this week. Of course, the obvious choice would have been Phil Hughes had he just remained a starter. 6 weeks into being a reliever, he's on the verge of getting his relief ERA below 1, so it's difficult to argue, but I'd do it all day for the exact situation the Yankees face now. They went from having 6 starters to 4, and from being prepared for injury to being left almost completely naked. Related, I have no proof on causation. But the Yankees have jerked Joba around from the pen to the rotation, have jerked Wang around from the pen to the rotation, and have now jerked Hughes around from the pen to the rotation. They did it with Wang coming directly off an injury, and he got hurt again. Joba got hurt last year. Like I said, I have no proof on causation. But considering how different pitching out of the rotation and bullpen are, and how valueable these three arms are, this would seem like an absolutely terrible idea to be shuttling them around on the regular. Especially coming off the DL and struggling the way Wang was. I digress.

Anyway, the Yankees need a 5th starter and the obvious non-Hughes choice is Aceves. He's been throwing the ball outstanding, has plenty of variety in terms of stuff, locates, and is stretched out enough to start. The idea with him was always that he'd be a versatile guy, pitching in short relief, long relief, and even spot starts. This is a spot start, so it's in his job description. But he has exceeded expectations by so much in relief, I'm hesitant to have him start. He's obviously very comfortable in the role he's in, and messing with that by having him start can be a tricky thing. There is something to be said for letting a guy whose thriving continue to do what he's thriving at, uninterrupted. Make even the slightest change and you risk losing some of what you had. Further, the Yankees are going to need a starter for a lot more than one start. That makes me nervous that they will want Aceves to be the answer there. If he really takes to the role, it's a good enough idea. But he's been so valueable doing what he's doing it's definitely a risk.

Jose Molina was activated off the DL, ending Fransisco Cervelli's first stint with the big club. Molina is the back-up catcher, and like the move with Aceves, activating him when he's ready to be the back-up catcher once again is the obvious thing to do. Considering how good he was while he was here, it's probably best for Cervelli to get more regular playing time as well so the Yankees can see how good he can become. We already know he can back-up, and now it's time to see if he can be better than that. All this said, it's still tough to see him go down. His personality and energy was clearly infectious, and you could tell everyone loved having him around. He also played incredibly hard every time he got the nod, flashing plus defense and getting some big hits. I'm a believer that talent trumps all in sports. But, like with Aceves' continuity, there is something to be said for a 25 man roster gelling as they are. I'm also a believer that this matters, and can make a team better (or worse) than they really are. Of course, Molina is a tremendous teammate too, so where the Yankees lose something in Aceves they also get something back in Molina. Again, an obvious move, the right move, but just one you don't want to have to make.

Cody Ransom being on this roster in favor of Ramiro Pena is almost indefensible. Knock on wood, neither of these guys will ever have to play everyday in 2009 for the Yankees because everyone is healthy. But just because the impact won't be huge in a bench role doesn't mean the Yankees should try to make themselves as good as possible in every way in this ultra tough division. To that extent Pena is the clear choice. He literally does every single thing on the field better than Ransom save home run power, and when you're batting .177 it's tough to hit home runs. That's probalby why, despite having the power to do it, Ransom doesn't do much of it (0 long balls this year). Maybe there's an argument for Pena developing? The Yankees think there is, and there is, but I don't think it's more important than having him contributing with the big club now. The Yankees want him to get regular at-bats and learn to play the outfield to become a super-sub. On the first point, I don't think Pena needs regular at-bats. Though he has more than enough glove to do it, he's probably not an everyday player for a team like the Yankees with his bat. So I think it's better for him to be playing in the utility role with the Yankees now and learning how to best do that, while offering the production he was to the team at the same time. It's a win-win. On him learning to play the outfield, look, the Yankees are a game out of first place in the most competitive division in recent memory, which is to say a playoff race. For 2009 the Yankees have five (5) outfielders already on the roster in Damon, Swisher, Cabrera, Gardner, and Hinske. They do not need more outfielders for 2009. There would seem to be plenty of time between 2009 and 2010, between winter ball and Spring Training, for Pena to learn the outfield. During a pennant race is not the time to do it, not when he can be contributing to the big league club and the Yankees have absolutely no need for an outfielder. Really baffling.

Even with this last point considered, there is little to complain about. The Yankees are on their second major run of the season having won 12 of the last 14, and during this streak turned a 5 game deficit in the East on June 23 into a 1 game deficit on July 4th. Any time you can make up 4 games in the standings in 11 days without any head-to-heads it's big. At 2-0 on this roadtrip already, I'd be doing flips for 2-2 the rest of the way, going 4-2 on the road into the break. Hopefully they can get it done, or even better it. Go Yankees.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Why You Develop Your Farm System?"

Of course it's July, and therefore the trade rumors are starting to heat up. The one that kind of blew up yesterday is the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays are open to shopping Roy Halladay, who has one and a half years left on his contract. At first glance, as they were saying on the radio yesterday afternoon, this might be a great trade to make. Unlike the free agent market, where the Yankees have a clear advantage, in the trade market, the Red Sox have such a comprehensive set of pitching prospects that they have a tremendous advantage. They can likely outbid the Yankees and any other team except for maybe Tampa. If they want to.

Curt Schilling called WEEI yesterday afternoon and said that this potential deal is "why you develop your farm system." Halladay is 32 and his numbers have remained reasonably steady. He's been amazingly healthy as well. The exuberance on sports radio reached the point that the 2009 and 2010 World Series are all but guaranteed with Lester, Beckett, and Halladay at the top of the rotation. It's hard to argue.

This is very similar to the Santana deal a year and a half ago--a deal I was a staunch opponent of. In order for Halladay to waive his trade clause, he may want a long-term deal. This could resemble a situation of trading prospects AND paying big bucks for an older ballplayer as if he's in free agency. The prospects are like the posting fee. From what Schilling was saying on the radio, Halladay might waive the clause without the long-term contract because in Boston he can help his free agent value. He might also command less than a free-agent price because a lot can happen in a year and a half. A year and a half is very different from a year in terms of negotiating a new contract.

Other key differences between this situation and Santana are the following:
>Halladay has seen no statistical drop-off like Santana has. Santana had uneasying stats in ERA, WHIP, and home runs allowed, if memory serves me right. By "uneasying," I mean they're going in the wrong direction.
>Perhaps the most important here is that the Red Sox in 2007 only had one top-level pitcher. Trading Lester would have sacrificed the possibility of a second top-level pitcher. In this situation, the Red Sox already have two borderline aces in Beckett and Lester. A trade would probably have to be centered around Rusty Masterson, Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden, and maybe Daisuke Matsuzaka. While this would certainly hurt the team's depth and bullpen, it might be offset by the upgrade represented by Halladay's arrival.

As long as there's no necessity to pay free agent money and have the prospects essentially become a posting fee.

I'm not quite ready to say I endorse a trade for Halladay. But it looks a lot better than the very similar Santana hullabaloo two years ago.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thanks Beautiful

I don't really want to talk about last night's game. Brett Anderson (who, unlike a lot of these other guys, looks like a really good pitcher) joins guys like Dave Borkowski, RA Dickey, and many others who are three months removed from AAA but look three months removed from the Hall of Fame when they play against the Red Sox. A young, flamethrowing lefty just screams Scott Kazmir to me. I'm just glad we won't get to see him five or six times a season. Varitek is worthless in the department of throwing guys out. John Patrick Smoltz was really bad. It was more than the "two bad pitches" he claimed to have thrown. He threw a lot of hanging breaking balls and couldn't locate any of his pitches. He actually should have gotten shelled even more than he was.

It was Nomar Garciaparra's first game back in Boston since departing acrimoniously in 2004, and the topic of the day on talk radio was Nomar's legacy in Boston. There are many choices:

A. The guy who won the Rookie of the Year, hit .372, hit 30 home runs, and was the face of the franchise for a good six or seven years. Nomar was a bigger star than Pedro and a bigger star than Manny.
B. The guy with a rocky relationship with the media who became pretty surly toward the organization after a four-year, $60 million offer was taken off the table (he had previously rejected it). The media ragged on him pretty hard, and probably unjustly.
C. The guy who had a mysterious wrist injury, the guy who had a mysterious Achilles injury sustained playing soccer, and the guy who sat on the bench when Jeter busted his face open diving into the stands.
D. The poster boy for steroids, though he has never been caught or implicated. I'm a believer of giving him the benefit of the doubt unless his name shows up somewhere, but he was an opponent of testing because of the fear of false positives. He was really big and really successful when he was really big. He sustained devastating tendon injuries, which are symptomatic of steroid users. And his career flopped once testing was instituted.

While the answer is probably all the above, the best answer has to be the first. Nomar was the link between some really bad teams in the early nineties and the perennial contenders you see today (I know they won the AL East in 1995, but were back to mediocrity in 1996). Because he was there, the departure of Clemens was not a recurring theme all year in 1997, and the departure of Mo Vaughn was also not that big of a deal. When they acquired Pedro and Manny, they were building that team around Nomar.

Nomar was bigger then than Pedroia is now. People enjoyed the quirks. People in this town favorably compared Nomar to Jeter and B**** T***, just a lot more fervently than they compare Pedroia to Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler.

I'd say you just had to be there, but the majority of you were there. While the end of Nomar's time here wasn't necessarily the brightest time, the way he was treated last night, with the 70-second ovation, was the reception he deserved after all he did here. He was very much responsible for making this team relevant again, and until the day he is implicated somewhere, he deserves his place in Red Sox history.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Bunch Of Guys From SWB?

The Yankees and Red Sox both played their 81st game of 2009 today, marking the half-way point of the season. At this stage, the sample sizes are significant enough to really start making evaluations on where teams and players stand. This coinciding with Alfredo Aceves' 4.0 inning, 1 hit, 5 strikeout save today makes it a perfect time to look at the bullpens of both baseball teams covered on this blog.

The Red Sox have a very good bullpen, as most, including the two authors here, predicted they would. They have a 3.21 bullpen ERA, the best in the game. As anyone reading here for some time knows, I'm not a fan of bullpen ERA. It doesn't account for 1-2 guys carrying or weighing the pen down, it doesn't take into account leverage, and it doesn't take into account peripherals that are more telling forecasting what a bullpen is going to do. And what I'm about to talk about for the rest of this post will be a perfect example why. Not for the Red Sox specifically. When you have a bullpen ERA that is that good, it's highly unlikely that it's misleading.

Rather, it is misleading for the Yankees. They have a 4.11 bullpen ERA, tied for 19th in baseball. You look at this one stat, and you say to yourself the Sox pen is much better and a major asset, and the Yankees pen is much worse and is something holding their team back. But you have to look a little closer.

First, guys carrying or weighing the ERA down. Jose Veras, Edwar Ramriez, Damaso Marte, and Anthony Claggett, etc., crushed the Yankees' bullpen ERA. This does not matter. Why? None of those guys are currently in the Yankees' pen, rendering their contributions to the bullpen ERA meaningless. What matters going forward is who is there now, and what their individual contributions are. When you compare them to the corresponding Red Sox, it becomes interesting. Mariano Rivera has a 2.60 ERA and has converted 21 of 22 save chances. Jonathan Papelbon has a 1.75 ERA and has converted 20 of 22 save chances. Rivera's .92 WHIP is a world removed from Papelbon's 1.33. New Yankee set-up man Phil Hughes has a 1.23 ERA. Red Sox set-up man Ramon Ramirez has a 2.25. Yankee left-handed late inning guy Phil Coke has a 2.97 ERA. Red Sox left-handed late inning guy Hideki Okajima has a 3.25. Yankee multi-purpose reliever Alfredo Aceves has a 2.02. Red Sox multi-purpose reliever Justin Masterson has a 4.12. Yankee sometime late inning guy Brian Bruney has a 3.68. Red Sox sometime late inning guy Takashi Saito has a 3.45. Robertson has a 2.60. Delcarmen a 1.97. Tomko has a 5.19. Bard a 3.10. As you can see, when you look at the seven current members of each pen, it's very similar.

Second, leverage. People get excited about saves and blown saves for closers, and that's it. But leverage is important for all relievers, as the most important thing bullpens can do is protect leads, keep tie games tied, and keep close deficits close. The Red Sox have converted 31 of 39 saves, 74%, 4th best in baseball. The Yankees 30 of 38, 73%, tied for 5th best in baseball. The Yankee bullpen has won 17 games, meaning the are keeping a lot of tie games and close deficits exactly those same things, tied for 2nd in baseball. The Red Sox pen has won 13 games, tied for 9th. Pretty similar.

Finally, other peripherals that are more indicitave of the talent of the bullpen as a whole and what results they will get moving foward. Yankees' pen has a .228 BA against, 2nd in baseball. Red Sox .234, 8th. Yankees' pen has struck out 233, 4th in the game. Red Sox 206, 12th. Boston relievers have walked 103, 11th best. Yankees 104, 12th. Yankees' pen has a .308 OBP against, tied for the best in the game. Red Sox .322, 8th. Red Sox relievers have a .363 SLG against, tied for 4th. Yankees .418, tied for 24th (a slight factor here may be the amount of home runs being hit at a certain new ballpark). Pretty similar once more.

What's the point? In our Yankees/Red Sox season preview, my co-author wrote, "But Brian Bruney and a handful of guys from SWB, as good as they may have been in SWB (please read Pat's lines below), cannot hold a candle to these guys. Even if one guy or two craps out (I'm looking at Saito here), the Sox have by far the best bullpen in recent memory." I'm not pointing this out to get on Dan (well, for the most part). I'm pointing this out because Dan's view was one shared by many. The Red Sox had guys with flashy names and some track record of success. The Yankees had a lot of young power arms to choose from. We like flashiness and proven players. But with the volatility of bullpen arms, that's not necessarily better than having 10 guys in an organization who have the potential to be really good, and then finding the right match each year.

That's exactly what the Yankees have done this year. It's not about which bullpen better, it's about the fact that they are both very good. As you can see from the very quick analysis of the numbers above, both teams have had outstanding bullpens so far this year, with their relief pitching being major assets for both teams. And THAT is the point. While it's great to have guys with flashy secondary pitches and a track record of success, it's just as great to have serious depth in the way of 10 massive power arms and then find the ones that have the hot hand that particular year, or even month to month. The Red Sox were applauded for having the former, and the Yankees were criticized for having the latter. Their abilities didn't matter because they were "a bunch of guys from SWB" with little track record. Because of this, and again ignoring their ability and potential, they "couldn't hold a candle" to the Red Sox bullpen, one of the best in the game. Yet, since it is present ability and not track record that matters, that is precisely what they have done.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Unsure On Direction and Consistency

Two days ago, the Yankees traded for Eric Hinske. They gave up two minor leaguers, High-A Tampa outfielder Eric Fryer and Low-A pitcher Casey Erickson. Both are unexciting prospects so it's essentially a zero downside move. And Hinske can do a few things for you. He's versatile in that he can play all four corner IF/OF spots adequately, providing depth. He hits righties pretty well, and will probably like the short porch in right in his new home park. Most importantly, Rodriguez needs to get days off and Hinske provides a big upgrade over Cody Ransom on paper one day per week. If he can do that, this move will be a good one. If not, it was worth the shot because they gave up very little to get him. Pretty much a low cost medium reward move.

What makes absolutely no sense is the corresponding roster move, keeping Cody Ransom and optioning Ramiro Pena to AAA. With Phil Hughes in the bullpen vs. starting (more on this in a minute) we are told by Cashman and Girardi that it's all about maximizing wins in 2009 and making the playoffs. Then they send Pena down to AAA to get regular at bats and learn the outfield, despite him being better than Cody Ransom in every facet of the game. Pena is everything you want in a utility infielder; supreme defender - especially at short and second -, runs well, and can handle the bat situationally. What's more, he hangs in there offensivley more than enough to allow his defense to make him a positive production player. Cody Ransom, who seems like a really nice guy, just isn't very good. Now, there isn't a huge difference here, and neither is going to play enough (hopefully) for this to much matter. But still, if it's about maximizing wins in 2009, you should go with the best player, however slight. Yet the Yankees are worrying about regular at bats for Pena, despite the fact that he probably will never be more than a utility infielder - and a good one at that, as he has been this year - for them. They are also worried about him learning the outfield, despite the fact that this team now has five outfielders, six if you count Matsui. So him learning the outfield does not forseeably affect 2009. With Pena, clearly we are looking forward and not to what is absolutely best for this year. As I've said in the past with the rotation (and this is somethign that works in the Yankees favor regarding what they are doing with Hughes), there is something to be said for keeping things exactly how they are when the team is going really good like they are now, and not making any changes (excluding getting proven players back), no matter how small.

Then we have Phil Hughes. Still considered a starter long-term, he is now a full-fledged reliever according to Girardi, because that's what helps us most in 2009 according to Cashman. Listen, Hughes has been awesome out of the pen. Awesome. Almost unhittable. He's flashing 96 almost every outing and looks like the guy he was when he first came up. But guess what? Most starters with talent would look great in the pen. Most of their stuff would get a little better blowing it out for one inning as opposed to navigating 6+. With the derth of starting pitching in the Major Leagues, finding and keeping those who can navigate 6+ is more important than those who can really dominate for one.

The Yankees seem to think think this is moot. They have five starters right now, and still consider Hughes a starter in 2010. But it is difficult to ignore the shortcomings with this linie of thinking. Starting and relieving are very different. Especially with a young arm, getting your arm and your body used to and training for one type is very different than getting used to and training for the other. Yes, Hughes has proven he can get AAA guys out at a high level, and in that sense staying at the Major League level is better than being at AAA. But I think that is outweighed by taking the ball every 5th day, and being totally comfortable with everything that goes with that, since that is what he is going to do long-term. It's better than doing something totally different in terms of preparing yourself for the long-term good.

It's not as easy as you think. Look at Joba. The Yankees have started him, relieved him, started him, relieved him, and are now starting him again. He's been pretty good so far this season, but nothing special. In 2007 and 2008, he looked special almost every time out. The difference between those two years and this year could be for a million reasons. But you have to wonder if all the moving around and different types of stress put on his arm and body at such a young age has taken its toll. And you wonder if it is a mistake to do the same with Hughes.

The Red Sox have had a lot of success developing pitchers, and they don't do stuff like this. Maybe there is a connection there, maybe there isn't. But it does seem like the Yankees are much more reactionary. Need in the bullpen? Forget about someone's long-term plans and make a move for the here and now. Of course, there is some merit to this. Hughes could very well be the best guy in the pen outside of Rivera, and could be a major piece in a serious playoff win. Were the Yankees to win the World Series with Hughes in the pen being a big contributor, you'll hear no complaining from me.

What bothers me is the inconsistency. With Hughes, it's about right now, not necessarily the perfect thing long-term. With Pena, it's about developing him for the future, not what's best right now. I realize that two situations are rarely identical. It's a case by case basis. Still, this just seems like two relatively similar situations. What is best for both Hughes and Pena is for them to be at AAA. What is best for the Yankees is to have them both with the big club. And they have done a little of both. I'd like to see some consistency. Mostly because, like with Joba, I'm concerned about the way the Yankees are managing Hughes. It seems like the Yankees' needs dictate what their plan becomes. For guys with this much talent and importance to the future of this organization, this does not seem like the best way to operate.