Monday, November 30, 2009

Don't Be Complacent; Don't Be Over-Aggressive

One of the worst things a championship team can do is to get complacent. Thinking that you are going to be right back there again because you were there the year before is a great way to get passed by. As TimC said in a recent comments section (or something along these lines), one championship is fantastic, but the truly special teams are the ones that can string multiple rings together. This is right on point. A big part of that is realizing that winning it the year prior guarantees nothing for the following season. Other teams will get better, and while you may be able to keep almost the exact same team and win it again, you also may need to tweak the team and continue to keep pace with the competition. It all depends on the circumstances. It's a matter of not resting on your laurels and being aware of where your team stands not based on the year just finished, but on the year upcoming.

In turn, there is a buffer that comes with just winning a championship. The pressure is off somewhat, at least in the big markets where that pressure exists. Had the Yankees not won it this year, maybe there is pressure (much like there was last year) to go out and make a big move or a number of big moves. At the very least there would be a lot more pressure than there is actually going to be. This is a good thing. Coming off a championship, there isn't the need to go over the top and make responsive moves that you might otherwise make to keep up with teams in your league or division. For the time being those teams need to respond to you. Being over-aggressive and sacrificing important resources (especially of the prospect variety) to improve the team is not necessary when you are on top.

This balance applies to anything the Yankees do this winter. More than anything, however, it applies to Roy Halladay. In a relatively weak marketplace for free agents this name is going to dominate the headlines all winter. The Yankees and Red Sox, as is the norm, will be connected to him more than any other team. Should the Yankees be seriously involved?

It all comes down to price. Don't be complacent and think there is no reason to go get him. He's one of the five best pitchers in all of baseball and the Yankees are one of the few teams that can realistically acquire him and extend him. Being complacent will allow direct competition like the Red Sox to get him, and that hurts the Yankees chances of repeating immensely. And repeating is important. Not just because of TimC's point that special teams repeat. But because the Yankees are still very much in a win now mode. As I said all of last winter Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte are not going to be around forever. Replacing them will be difficult. The Yankees window of continuing to win with all of them - three very important pieces to any success they have - is probably not big. Winning it this year doesn't change this. They are still on the team, and winning the World Series is just as good if not better every single time. So they may as well try to win with them again. If Roy Halladay is available at the right price he increases their chances of doing so in a major, major way. Imagine CC and Doc pitching 2 of every 3 Yankees' playoff games. Yeah, exactly.

At the same time, the Yankees did just win. If they hadn't, with all the money they've spent and all of the great players they've acquired, there would almost be some sort of obligation to keep going until they won one. This would be especially true given the Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte position set out above. If they hadn't gotten another ring, their decreasing window to get one would loom even larger. But they did win. Everything the Yankees have done to build this team has worked. They don't need to do anything major. They need to fill out their roster, but starting pitching is not an absolute area of need the way left field is with a present vacancy there. It can always be improved, but it is not the top priority. At least not to do what it will take to get a Doc Halladay. There is no reason to give away the farm and pay him a huge extension to come.

Just because they don't need to get him doesn't mean they shouldn't, though. It comes down to price. There may be away of getting him without giving away the farm. If there isn't, then there is no reason for them to do so. That is the beautiful reality of having just won the World Series. There is less pressure. Will it be very tough to watch if the Red Sox get him? You bet. But I'd rather watch the Red Sox overpay for him and hold the prospects and the money for a player whose cost is not through the roof is that's what it comes to. Had the Yankees not just won the World Series, I'd be singing a totally different tune. They did though, and they should approach this offseason from that position of power.

Stopped Short

Looks like another thing didn't go exactly according to plan for the Red Sox last week, as Alex Gonzalez signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. There are many things to be said about this. Not all are bad, but many are.

-First, it's pretty evident that the Red Sox want Marco Scutaro for the shortstop position. And that's fine (more on that in a bit). Retaining Gonzalez was their plan B. Now plan B is Jed Lowrie. Seems like the Sox were a little blindsided by this, and as a result, this very well may mean they might have to outbid the field significantly for Scutaro, just as they typically do with free agents, whether they're stuck in a hole or not.

-The Gonzalez signing for Toronto is a bargain, I think. The Red Sox were thought to be offering him $3 million if their plan A of Scutaro didn't work out. He signed for $2.75 million instead of waiting for everything to shake out. Good for him.

-I was listening to sports radio on Thursday right after this happened and the hosts were continuing to talk about how good Gonzalez is defensively, still without mentioning his bat. While it's true that the guy will never win a Silver Slugger award, the myth that he's an offensive liability is still prominent. You'd think that after two partial seasons in this town in which he's hit .263/14/65 with 34 doubles in 155 games, he'd get at least a little more love. He's being talked about as if he hits .209. Probably because he doesn't walk enough, resulting in an artificially low OPS. He hit .284 in Boston this year. Get a grip.

-On to Scutaro: I am not opposed to this courtship at all. Not the most ideal situation, as the guy is 34 years old and the Red Sox will likely have to give him three years because they have no backup plan, but he's a decent player. It is notable that nothing in his career numbers indicate that he will contribute any more than what Gonzalez has contributed in the aforementioned 155 games, but that can also be said about Gonzalez's career outside of Boston. Scutaro has also had more of an ability to stay healthy.

-What excites me the most about Scutaro is that the guy has a little bit of personality, so bringing him in might stop the trail of tears that has been prominent in this town the last year plus. Specifically, I am talking about this incident, written by Pat F in April 2007.

Scutaro took 20 seconds to get to first, hopping around, POINTING back to his teammates coming to home plate. On his way to FIRST. So he was backpedaling. You have to be kidding me.

If he pisses Pat off, it's gotta be a good thing. Even if he only represents a marginal improvement (if that) in the eyes of most baseball observers, who, unlike the Red Sox, are not completely enamored with the guy.

-It concerns me that Scutaro has only broken .270 once (last year). That he's only broken 40 extra base hits once (last year). That he's performed better than league average offensively just once (last year). But at the same time, he's only been a consistent starter for the last two years. Maybe he's a victim of rough circumstances in Oakland. Or maybe the Red Sox just fall in love with mediocre guys. I'm not going to rip the Red Sox for going after Scutaro as long as they get him for a reasonable contract. By reasonable I mean nothing more than 3 years/$16.5 million. I assume they will probably offer more, but we'll see what happens.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are the Yankees an uber-team?

The Felger and Massarotti Show on 98.5 is by far the best radio show in Boston right now. Yesterday, they were discussing Theo Epstein’s comments (yeah, like Obama, the guy just won’t shut up) about how the Red Sox’ 2010 season may not be the greatest season, that it might be a transition kind of year. I am fine with that. I think it could have been avoided certainly, but it is what it is. Maybe this is signaling what I view as the truth: That the team will not be able to trade for a guy like Adrian Gonzalez. Maybe they fail to sign Bay and Holliday due to their complete ineptitude in negotiations. And maybe they trade Mike Lowell for a prospect. But Theo basically answered my question from last year, saying that the Red Sox are F’ed.

Felger is angry about this: He believes that the Red Sox have the resources to not have rebuilding years—that they should be the uber-team that Epstein said was not possible as described in the Seth Mnookin book Feeding the Monster. They should build the farm system as well as acquire big-time major league talent so they can be a legitimate playoff favorite every single year. Like the Yankees do.

I agree with Theo, saying that the Red Sox cannot be an uber-team. But this leads me to the question posed in the title. And I’d say the answer is no, the Yankees are NOT an uber-team.

And this is why.

-While they certainly have the ability to hide bad acquisitions by bringing in other players to make the bad player invisible in the lineup, even the Yankees have to deal with bad decisions and albatross contracts. Look at Jason Giambi. The guy was not benched and replaced by Mark Teixeira at the 2008 trade deadline. Matsui and Damon still got their playing time despite the fact that during part of their 2008 and even 2009 seasons they probably didn’t deserve to be in the starting lineup. And look at that: Because of a big part of this, the Yankees suffered greatly in 2008. Similarly, I think in several years when Sabathia, Arod, and Teixeira depreciate, the Yankees will be faced with a similar problem that can’t just be patched up.

-They have not always been developing great talent to come up through the pipelines to play in the major leagues. The Hughes/Chamberlain/Kennedy generation was partially such a big deal because their farm system was so depleted from previous years. Dioner Navarro was once on this team. This team was not always able to rebuild as they frantically scrambled for immediate solutions in their lineup and pitching staffs. And while they have been reasonably stingy in terms of trading their talent lately, let’s not pretend that Halladay or Felix Hernandez is not completely unacquirable.

I very strongly believe that even the Yankees sometimes have to go through Prospect Theory cycles of “now periods” and “rebuilding phases” instead of trying to be an uber-team. They tried to do that for the majority of this decade, and they have experienced poor results. The 2009 success was the fact that their rebuilding efforts had finally paid off, the Giambi contract was off the books, and the Hughes/Chamberlain/Cano rebuilding had finally come to fruition. The 2009 year was a “now year” for the Yankees. For an uber-team, every year is a now year and a rebuilding year. The Yankees are not one of them.

And for once I both agree with Theo and disagree with Felger: If the Yankees can’t successfully operate as an uber-team, neither can the Red Sox.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Voting Continues To Be Interesting

Joe Mauer won the AL MVP today in runaway fashion, and that is well deserved. He had a generational offensive season while playing good defense at perhaps the game's most demanding defensive position. Teixeira, Jeter, and Cabrera followed in that order, and that's probably about right too, though Jeter and Teixeira are pretty easily interchangeable.

One thing really jumps out at you.

Player A: .326/.376/.493/.869, 17 HR, 83 RBI, 118 R, 54 2B, 20 steals, 122 OPS+

Player B: .320/.352/.520/.871, 25 HR, 85 RBI, 103 R, 48 2B, 5 steals, 129 OPS+

These players play the same position. No matter which you prefer - and you could make a strong case for either - we can all agree that it's pretty close, no?

Apparantly not. Player A received sixteen 1st place votes and totaled 317 total points on the MVP ballot, winning the award. A year later, Player B received three 7th place votes and nothing else, totaling 12 points on the MVP ballot.

Player A is of course Dustin Pedroia in 2008, and player B is Robinson Cano in 2009. In no way is this me complaining about Dustin Pedroia winning the award. I didn't think Pedroia deserved it (I'd have voted for Morneau or Youkilis in front of him), but we exhausted that topic. He was very much in the ballpark of deserving players and he got it. This is also not about Teixeira and Jeter having seasons that would have won it in 2008 that didn't win it in 2009. That's the nature of one season to the next in sports. If Pedroia had his great 2008 this year, he wouldn't have been in the picture. It goes both ways. Timing matters.

What this is about is two players, at the same position, in the same division, with their teams winning the division in the respective seasons being discussed, having very similar type seasons production wise, finishing this far apart in voting. Something just does not add up.

In no way am I advocating that Robinson Cano should have even been in the picture for the MVP this year. He had more good players on his team than Pedroia did on his, and that is a huge factor, amongst other things. I'm simply talking about the disparity. 317 points versus 12 points. There is something wrong with this.

If nothing else, it speaks to the inconsistency of voting from year to year. This is inherent I suppose since different writers vote every year. But it goes further than that. I think the fundamental problem with this and almost every MLB award is the lack of a consistent criteria from which the writers are to evaluate. And I suppose this stems fom the fact that there is no consensus as to what is the best way to evaluate players, old school, new school, whatever. This is not the writers' fault.

I don't know if there's an easy answer to this. To be honest, I don't really care that much. It's late November, the hot stove hasn't really gotten going yet, and I'm still on too much of a World Series high to dive fully into the offseason anyway. But I do know that those two seasons are too similar for their to be that much of a difference in the voting.

A related but separate topic that perhaps can be discussed in the comments section on this short holiday week is Dustin Pedroia. GM and I sort of brought him up in the comments yesterday. As I said earlier, he wasn't part of the problem, but he certainly wasn't part of the solution for the 2009 Red Sox. Especially because his home/road splits, after normalizing somewhat in 2008, went back to being very decided in 2009. He's basically an All-Star at home and a borderline starter on the road. I think which direction Pedroia heads in moving forward is a big part of shaping the 2010 Red Sox. Is he an impact player, or just a very good member of the supporting cast? 2008 indicated the former, 2009 indicated the latter, and that makes 2010 kind of big for him. 2007 leaned more towards impact, but was as much in between the two as anything, especially considering the home/road thing again. I talked about it again last offseason, and was told I couldn't just keep saying it. But the fact remains that players get dealt with differently the better they play. Pedroia definitely got pitched to with a little more care last year, as one of the two or three best players in the lineup, and didn't fully respond. How he adjusts in 2010 is big for the Red Sox.

Insult, Injury

Look, I know how the game's played. The team goes low, the player goes high, they meet somewhere in the middle. But I am dumbfounded about the final offer the Red Sox gave Jason Bay before he hit free agency last week. The official number was four years, $60 million. Most reports say that all four years were guaranteed, but I did hear a rumor somewhere last week that the fourth year was a team option. That is asinine. If the team option rumor is indeed true, Theo Epstein is starting another winter of absolutely terrible negotiations that he will likely lose.

As I briefly addressed last week, Jason Bay had the highest OPS of all AL outfielders, and he's being "pursued" by the guy who is heralding and praising the guy who had the second-highest OPS of all AL outfielders. This heralding and praising by Epstein is defending giving the guy 5 guaranteed years and $70 million.

The fact that Bay was not given at least this is an absolute insult to the player.

Look, there's not much substance to this. I could find more clever ways to say that Drew is terrible or that Bay is better than Drew, but it's not relevant. Bay is the exact same age as Drew was when Drew was signed. They may be worried about Bay getting old quickly or his defense deteriorating, but when Drew was 30 he had the injury history of a 45-year-old. Using the traditional statistics that Theo doesn't like, Bay has eclipsed Drew's career highs in both home runs and RBIs four years in a row. With the Pirates for many of these years. So wow, he's aggressive at the plate and doesn't like to leave runners on base.

They gave Drew 5 years. They should give Bay 5 years. Drew is the benchmark where these negotiations will be based on. If Theo Epstein said that he regretted the Drew signing and wouldn't do something like it again, that would be one thing. Hell, if he stayed silent, it would be one thing. But he has found more microphones than Ben Affleck lately, talking about how the signing was great. Give Bay 5 years. Let's end this nonsense.

>Also, to add to the injury pantheon, Drew went under the knife to repair his left shoulder. Both shoulders have now been operated on.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

JD Goes to Bath & Body Works, Hilarity Ensues

During the miraculous summer of 2009 when Red Sox right fielder JD Drew posted the second-highest OPS among all AL outfielders, my girlfriend (affectionately referred to as the Franchise on How Youz Doin Baseball) worked at the local Bath and Body Works as one of her summer jobs. Now anybody who knows me knows how I get down, so therefore you know that I’m really not too big into body lotions, bubble baths, or pretty much any product that the Franchise was selling.

However, I was interested in visiting the Franchise from time to time while she was logging her hours at B&BW. So I did.

What was problematic about my visits is the fact that a high priority is placed on a statistic called “conversion.” The corporate heads have mandated that this location should have 70% conversion, i.e. 70% of people who walk through the threshold of the store have to buy something. They don’t have to buy $10 worth of goods; they just have to buy something. And if a location does not reach its conversion goal, the managers get chewed out and the misery is passed all the way down to people like the Franchise.

As I am one who always likes to take one for the team, I sometimes visited the Franchise at work and I agreed to buy something so I wouldn’t screw up the conversion statistic. So every time I went in there, I bought a $1.50 mini-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. Not because it would protect me against swine flu, but because it was the lowest-priced item in the store. So my presence there created next to nothing in terms of revenue for the store or the organization. By wasting the Franchise’s time, my being there was probably flat-out detrimental to the well-being of the store.

But I helped their conversion statistic. I’m not positive if the Franchise’s B&BW had the second-highest conversion of all B&BW locations in Massachusetts, but my unprofitable visit helped their statistic. This statistic is certainly a helpful metric, but placing so much emphasis on it that the firm thinks my visit was helpful is foolish.

The metaphor is pretty obvious. If an organization values JD Drew’s production so highly because he has a high OPS fueled solely by the fact that he goes to the plate looking for walks instead of trying to drive runs in, they are the same as B&BW determining that the 6-7:00 hour was successful because my $1.50 purchase was enough to get them over 70% conversion. Just as the conversion doesn’t tell the whole story because the firm only took in $1.50 revenue, Drew’s OPS doesn’t tell the part about how a walk doesn’t get a run in from second or third base because the guy behind him struck out or about how batters grounded into countless double plays directly after JD Drew walked. I love walks and I understand they’re useful. But for metrics like the one that Epstein valued JD’s worth with, a two-out walk with Varitek on deck is worth as much as a bases-clearing double. Just like some idiot from Lynnfield could be walking out of the store with $2000 worth of merchandise and I help the statistics more because I have several 1.5-ounce bottles of Cucumber Melon, Warm Vanilla Sugar, and Nectarine Mint hand sanitizer sitting in my car.

Sabermetrics speak volumes about the stochastic nature of baseball, and they have changed the game for the better in a big way. But after the Theo Epstein Obama-Style Radio Tour, it has become clear that sabermetrics have gone way off the freaking deep end. People have clearly started to look at one column of the stat sheet (OPS) and that’s a delusional way to evaluate baseball players. That’s why this winter, you will see a series on HYD Baseball called Death of Sabermetrics. Who could imagine that such venom is going to come from hands that are so germ-free and pleasant-smelling?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Left Field Issue

This is probably not the last time we'll talk about this topic this winter. But the Red Sox have a vacancy in left field, and the two top free agents on the market are both left fielders. Of course, there are many questions to ask: Who will they get, Bay or Holliday? Who should they get? Will the Yankees stick with Damon? Can they afford (read: will they feel like paying) Holliday? Will they give a fifth year to Bay? Honestly, I don't know the answer to a lot of these questions.

The situation is like what I'm sure some Class of '10s are going through right now. Maybe the whole time through college, they have had a girlfriend. She's stable, reliable, and solid. She would be okay to continue a long relationship with. But she's a senior, too, so maybe one too many winters of drinking beer and not going to the athletic center has eroded what she brings to the table. You know what to expect, and you like what you expect. She might strike out a little bit too often, but she's solid.

Then, on the other hand, down the hall, there's a freshman girl. Will probably require more attention, perhaps a lot more attention. She's younger (no winters of beer yet/still does 15 minutes on the elliptical machine and pretends it's a workout) and probably a little better looking. You definitely have a chance with her. But you don't really know what to expect. She could be the best thing that would ever happen. She could be a complete disaster and a mental midget who, you know, does things like drop balls in the outfield or get picked off of first base in the World Series. But she has that potential.

So whom do you want to spend the rest of your senior year with? Is the grass greener on the other side? What do the '10s think? I want to hear Tim C's answer. I do NOT want to hear Franchise's answer.

Anyway, I really have no significant beef with Matt Holliday. The crappy numbers in Oakland don't concern me too too much considering Oakland's status as a pitchers' park. He has not said too many stupid/douchbaggy things, at least not that I've heard, like last year's keystone Scott Boras client. He also has a few more productive years in him than Bay probably does, and he probably has a higher ceiling and higher current production. Scouts say he'd easily drop 40 homers in Boston.

On the other hand, the fact that I'm going to have to be alienated by more Boras antics all winter, the fact that the player has made those two brain-dead mistakes on the largest of stages in the most key moments, and the fact that we might be talking about 6-8 years makes me a little nervous.

I'd prefer Jason Bay. As usual, he put up another 30/100 season and then some last year. He's a solid contributor and a guy who probably deserves to be the team's highest paid player. He's aggressive at the plate, but doesn't swing at stupid pitches. He's the kind of player who is functional as a middle-of-the-order hitter. Strikes out a lot, but you know what you're going to get with Jason Bay. He's a player who can handle Boston and a pretty safe investment if you give him the five years he's looking for.

The most dumbfounding part is the fact that the Red Sox are so hesitant about this. It should be a no-brainer and it should have been something that happened a long time ago. They gave JD Drew, who (if you haven't heard) had the second-highest OPS of all AL outfielders, five years when he was the same age as Bay is now. Most people call that contract sub-par, poor, or disastrous. But Theo's doing his best Obama impersonation, going through many different media outlets to advertise how freaking smart he is and how awesome this controversial signing was. So if he's so adamant about how signing the guy who finished second among all AL outfielders in OPS was such a genius move, why doesn't he give five years to the guy who finished FIRST IN OPS AMONG ALL AL OUTFIELDERS? Maybe it's because Jason Bay had too many RBIs.

Concerned about his defense? Dude, he's got a wall behind him that's like three hundred feet away from home plate!

I really don't understand what all this hesitation is all about. Maybe the team really wants to get into another bidding war over Matt Holliday, and that's why they're balking at Jason Bay. And that's understandable. Holliday might be a player worth taking the risks on (by the way, Pat's post yesterday was unbelievably good). But Jason Bay is the sure thing and the safe bet.

Stay tuned for Thursday night's post. It will be the first post in the Death of Sabermetrics series.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What A Terrible Signing

I want to take what GM was saying in his post about Damon yesterday and expand it a little bit further. This may seem like it is directed at the GM but it isn't. He just happens to share the Efficiency Police opinion that many out there have developed these days.

Of the 25 guys on the roster when the Yankees won the World Series this year, a lot of them have already hit free agency once if not twice, meaning the Yankees either re-signed players they already had or signed them away form other teams. Jeter, Rivera, Posada, Pettitte, Rodriguez, Matsui, Damon, Sabathia, Teixeira, and Burnett to be exact. For the purposes of this exercise, let's take out Jeter because he was signed nine years ago. Let's also take out Matsui because it was pretty much an after thought that the Yankees would sign him to the type of contract that they did four years ago, coming off the first three seasons he had in the U.S.

Of the other eight, all were signed in the last two off-seasons with the exception of Damon who was four winters ago. With each and every one of them, there were complaints. To a certain extent this is to be expected. There are a lot of media members and fans alike who are all entitled to their own opinion. But it was overwhelming. And I'm not talking about people wanting the player or not. That's different. It is well known I didn't want the Yankees to re-sign Rodriguez and I was totally wrong about that. I'm talking about general negativity surrounding every and any signing.

What a terrible signing. Damon's breaking down. Rivera shouldn't make that much money. Posada is an old catcher. What is year 10 of Rodriguez's contract going to look like? What is year 7 of Sabathia's contract going to look like? Teixeira doesn't hit in the clutch. Pettitte can't make it through a full season. Burnett can't make it through a full season. What a terrible signing.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Count them all, that's eight times over. Why? Because the Yankees won the World Series in 2009, and that's the goal. The goal isn't to be the most efficient. It isn't to worry about if Posada can't legitimately catch in the final year of his deal. Or if Rodriguez may be wildly overpaid in the final year of his deal. The goal is to win the World Series. In order to do that, sometimes you have to make sacrifices in the future. Sometimes to get the talent on your team necessary to win in the present day, you have to deal with giving them years and dollars that may not be the most efficient thing the world has ever seen in the future.

And that's okay. Part of sports is taking risks. No doubt, all of the above are risks. And it is probably a little bit unique that every single one of them worked out so well in 2009. But each of them made contributions to this championship team to the point that it isn't unfair to say maybe the Yankees aren't good enough without even one of them. Rivera continues to be the best closer in baseball. Posada continues to be one of the best catchers in baseball. Rodriguez showed this postseason just how good he is, having one of the best individual playoffs this game has ever seen. Damon is one of the best #2 hitters in the game, and made bigtime plays in both the ALCS and World Series, because he's always been a big game player. Sabathia was maybe the best pitcher I've ever watched in a Yankee uniform, and was at his best in the playoffs, going 4-1 with an ERA in the 1's and beating two of the best offenses in baseball on short rest. Teixeira had an MVP season offensively and defensively, and had three monster hits in the playoffs. Burnett gave the Yankees 207 innings (11th in the AL), and in the biggest game of the Yankees' season - Game 2 of the World Series - gave a performance very few pitchers are talented enough to give. Pettitte gave the Yankees 194.2 innings (20th in the AL) and was 4-0 in the postseason.

The efficiency police will focus on their downside. The GM and others criticized almost every one of these deals based on nothing more than their merits (money and years relative to player's circumstances). When you look at things that way, sure, you may have a pretty efficient and economic team. But you may never win the World Series. I'll take the risks, and get burned sometimes. Because when you don't get burned, you have a chance to experience what the Yankees did in 2009. Again, they aren't winning it if they don't take some of the risks that they did, and I'd venture to say that is true of most (admittedly not all, sometimes you can win and be extremely efficient) championship teams.

Related, I think some fans just like to complain about things, now more than ever. There were people who criticized the Nick Swisher deal. The Yankees gave up Wilson Betemit (DFA'd by the White Sox in May) and Jeff Marquez (4.07 career minor league ERA) to get him. He makes $5.4 million. He hit 29 home runs this year and drove in 82, and if you looked at his stats so far in his career you knew that's pretty much what he was good for. The Yankees gave up nothing to get a guy who almost hit 30 home runs and is on a very reasonable contract. This is almost model efficiency. The point in bringing this up is not just to show that sometimes people will just complain (obviously), but also to show that if they'll complain about this (no risk, very efficient), of course they'll complain about something that is very risky and potentially very inefficient.

You have to take risks to win in sports. The 2009 Yankees took quite a bit of risks. Thankfully, success in Major League Baseball isn't determined by the amount of risk you assume, or what what the return is on that risk. Success is determined ultimately by winning the World Series. The 2009 Yankees won the World Series, and they did so in large part because they weren't concerned with efficiency. Of course, they can afford to do this more than anybody else. Which begs the question, if this is just acknowledged, what is the point of complaining about the Yankees not being efficient? Chew on that one for a little bit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Disrespect

Well, I was wrong. Here we are, four years later and Johnny Damon's last two years of his 2006-2009 contract with the Yankees did not turn out to be like the second half of a Slurpee, as I predicted in the charter post of How Youz Doin Baseball. It's been a pretty interesting road since the Red Sox were eliminated in four games in 2005, Damon started talking contract immediately after the game, and he decided to have "more sense than that" and join New York.

The Red Sox had seen how much he'd beaten up his body and questioned whether he would be worth the investment. Their offer of 4 years, $40 million was really, in theory, 2 years, $40 million. The Yankees had no fear to take a guy who played so hard for his entire career that it was questionable whether he'd be able to walk by 2008, nevermind put up the numbers he did in 3.5 out of the four years of his Yankee contract.

There was a set of stats already brought up in a Nick Cafardo article over the weekend comparing Damon's stats in four years with New York and in four years with Boston. Granted, we're talking about a more friendly ballpark for Damon, but here are some of the numbers:

Boston: 597 games, .295/56/299, 221 XBH, 98 steals, 262 walks, .362 OBP
New York: 576 gms, ..285/77/296, 217 XBH, 93 steals, 268 walks, .363 OBP

The only stats with a noticeable difference are triples (a lot more in Boston), homers (short porch), and strikeouts (struck out considerably more often in pinstripes). Other than that, he was basically the same player. Still pesky, still worked the count by fouling off a lot of pitches, but still aggressive at the plate so that he could amass a good OPS but still take matters into his own hands instead of passing the buck to the next person in the lineup.

The main gripe I had about Damon during his time in a Yankee uniform was the fact that he had a problem shutting the f up. Every time he had a mic in his face, he was crying and moaning about how much he was disrespected by Boston and how they slapped him in the face by not budging from 4/$40. The fact that most Red Sox fans still embraced him despite his sophomoric behavior is a big part that Coco Crisp became such a hero at this URL. But no matter what way you look at it, it actually does look like the team underestimated him and--yes--disrespected him. If they had known Damon would perform the way he has. In other words, if it were guaranteed he would contribute four more years of the same, he would have gotten that cash and then some from the Red Sox.

But nobody in the world, including even Brian Cashman probably, thought Damon would play as well as he did. I think the whole world was expecting Damon to fall apart, especially after he showed up to camp flat-out fat in 2007, started contemplating retirement, and played horribly for three months in that year before hitting like .600 in September and famously overcoming Coco Crisp's batting average and preventing a 10-page senior thesis about Crisp's superiority on How Youz Doin Baseball. It is a testament to Damon's talent that he could come back from that and then subsequently put together two more stellar seasons. Maybe he was fueled by the disrespect.

The Red Sox' biggest mistake in the whole ordeal was misjudging Coco Crisp's upside, giving him an asinine contract extension right after trading for him. Although Crisp is still #1 in my heart no matter what number he is in your program, that was probably the Red Sox' biggest snafu in their handling of finding a replacement for Damon. If you take me back to 2005 with the information available in 2005 (i.e. without knowing what actually would happen the next four years), I'd still unequivocally say the team should let Damon walk instead of paying him $13 million a year. But now you can't really deny it. He was undervalued. He was underestimated. And while his mouth certainly helped run him out of town...

...Johnny Damon actually was disrespected.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Will Someone Get Traded?

Not an eventful weekend. The best the Globe has is that Johnny Damon's numbers are virtually the same between his four years in Boston and his four years in NY (something that will be addressed here later this week). The best the Herald has is that the Twins have maintained competency instead of aspiring to take it to the next level when letting go of Santana. They will prove their commitment to winning if they can get Mauer to extend himself. The best ESPN has is that the Rookie of the Year award should factor in future projections to prevent the Ben Grieves and Marty Cordovas from winning the award and flaming out.

So this thread is to discuss whatever. You can discuss the Patriots game if you want. But maybe to get some kind of direction, I am wondering whether the Red Sox will trade someone significant to get someone significant in return. None of these guys they want are going to come to Boston for a trade package of Michael Bowden, Ryan Westmoreland, and Dustin Richardson. The Red Sox would have to trade someone of serious substance. It's going to be an interesting offseason with such a weak free agent market. Here are some trade candidates:

-Jonathan Papelbon: The most obvious choice. Despite an abysmal season in 2009 to anyone who was watching the guy play baseball on a regular basis, people who just look at stats probably don't know that he's a one-pitch wonder who's abandoned everything else. They see the lowish ERA and the high save count and might give up something of substance. Plus, the Red Sox have other bullpen options in Ramram and Bard. And he's an upgrade over most closers in the league. I mean, David Aardsma was a closer last year.

-Josh Beckett: One year left in the contract, so he's virtually a poor man's Roy Halladay right now. Except the potential seller is at least a suspect contender, unlike Toronto. Let's face it: Beckett has not put together more than one superb consecutive season in his career, and I don't see the Red Sox overpaying him in the free agent market. I bet the team would rather trade him than trade Buchholz at this point.

-Mike Lowell: The Globe's Nick Cafardo wrote today that there's a market for him. Sox would have to eat some money. But who knows.

-Manny Delcarmen: Do other teams think he has "great stuff and great makeup?" Or is that Kool-Aid actually just consumed in Boston?

-Forty-Six: He's a good player. He's still under contract for a little while. But I bet he's not untradable. There are a lot of center fielders on the trade market, and while nobody would trade Crawford for 46 straight up...or Granderson for 46 straight up, they could be had for 46 and someone else. Even if he's traded for someone other than a center fielder, I feel like the team is still pretty high on Josh Reddick, so finding a replacement might be that easy.

-Matsuzaka: The Red Sox seem pretty committed to Matsuzaka, so I don't see him getting traded. His contract is also reasonably burdensome for a guy who walks the bases loaded all the time. I think he stays.

-Minor league pitchers: The Red Sox won't trade Buchholz. They could trade anyone else though. But that's pretty obvious.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Are the Red Sox F'ed?

In short, yes, they probably are f'ed. Even if they have the perfect offseason, they're still far behind the Yankees barring a slew of New York underachievement and/or injuries. That's kind of an ominous thought, especially for a team with championship aspirations. Really, any way you look at it, the Red Sox can do very little to not become a worse team than they were last year.

What is the main issue is that they have three guys playing basically everyday who are going to be worse than they were last year, most likely. David Ortiz's contract became an albatross right around the time he started denouncing steroid users. Mike Lowell had a good season when he wasn't benched last year, but while he'll be one more year removed from his hip surgery, he's also one year older. And JD Drew is also a year older, plus it's been a little while since he's missed significant time with a minor injury.

Improvements for next year should be in both the rotation and the bullpen. Matsuzaka's return/having his s*** together should improve what the Red Sox have. Watching Lester and Beckett both last year was a constant wait to see the ultimate breakout performance. They're good, and they're so close to reaching the next level, but they have not gotten over the cusp. Also the bullpen could be better next year. It would be scary if Papelbon wasn't better than last year. Bard becoming a year older should help. Ramram is a pitcher in his prime, so there's reason to I guess not be negative about the bullpen.

I have a few offseason ideas that I'll save for another post. I do think the best thing the team can do is re-sign Jason Bay, very much due to the fact that Holliday is a Boras client and the other fact that the guy might lack focus. I didn't even remember this until Felger brought it up yesterday: In addition to the defensive mishap this year on the routine fly ball, Holliday was also the guy who got picked off first base in the World Series.

The rest of my ideas do NOT include the following players:
-Hideki Matsui: Sox already have an untradable DH. He can't play left field, and neither can Ortiz.
-Dan Uggla: What, are they going to move Pedroia to shortstop? Intriguing, but not gonna happen. This is something that might be discussed on WEEI, except they'd talk about trading Drew for Uggla or something.
-Hanley Ramirez: The ship has sailed.
-Adrian Gonzalez: It would be nice for sure, but the Padres will be looking for a significant ransom for their franchise player. I feel like trading Dustin Richardson and Michael Bowden for him is not going to be enough.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Roster And The Title Defense

The Yankees will be defending a World Series title next year, which is always exciting. In large part their core will be returning. For the first time in a long time, that core has really expanded. It isn't just those that were involved with the 96-00 World Series anymore, though Rivera, Jeter, and Posada are massive parts of the team and will be back next year. This really feels like a team. Sabathia and Teixeira would be cornerstones on any team, and they certainly for the Yankees and will continue to be so. While he has been here for quite some time and has certainly been a part of the Yankees core, this was clearly a different Rodriguez this year. He seems more a part of everything, more a part of the team. Presumably and hopefully, that same Rodriguez will be back next year. Cano, Chamberlain, and Hughes are all young players who have shown varying degrees of promise, and they are back. Burnett, Swisher, and Cabrera are all important pieces and they will be important pieces again next year.

So in addition to defending a title, the Yankees will largely be able to do so with a similar team to the one that one the title, and that is even more exciting. There are, however, three key players whose futures with the Yankees are uncertain.

Andy Pettitte seems to be the most simplistic. If he decides not to retire, he probably only wants to pitch for the Yankees and only on a one year deal, and the Yankees will probably want him and only on a one year deal. The Yankees likely still need another pitcher even if they sign Pettitte to round out their staff (their only real offseason need unless they let one or both of the next two players walk), so they definitely need Pettitte. No real decision to be made here, they just need to find out if Pettitte wants to come back or not. If he does, it's a no brainer.

Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui are a bit more complicated. There is no guarantee like there is with Pettitte that they'll take short contracts. And for me that is what it comes down to, years and length. On a two year deal for Damon (think Abreu's 2/$19) and a one year deal for Matsui (maybe 1/$10), brining them back makes a lot of sense. It gives the Yankees a good chance to get production next year (both players were excellent this year), while not locking themselves in at another position for too long. This affords them the opportunity to work players like Austin Jackson into the mix in the outfield (giving Damon more time to rest as well), and also protect against Damon' and/or Matsui's production falling off by not being committed to them for an extended period.

A number of different things could factor into this, and it isn't as simple as I just made it out to be. There are a number of situations where I could see the Yankees bringing both back, bringing only one back, or bringing neither back, and depending on the circumstances I could see any one of these being the right choice. Even if the money and years are right as I said above, maybe a better option presents itself. But that isn't the point.

The point is that it would nice to have them back. Maybe it won't make sense and that's fine. But it would be nice to defend the title with the entire same core that won it for them this year. Pettitte, Damon, and Matsui were a big part of that core. And it should be noted they won't be easy to replace. There aren't a plethora of lefties who can give you 194.2 innings of 14-8 baseball, never mind being a big game pitcher to boot (4-0 this postseason). Johnny Damon had the highest OPS+ of his career this year (126), and hit 24 home runs and had 82 RBI out of the 2 spot in the order, which is not a place just anyone can bat. Hideki Matsui second amongst designated hitters with 28 home runs, and also knocked in 90 runs despite only having 456 at bats. His 131 OPS+ this season is not a number you can just pick someone up and expect them to give you. And we know what both Damon and Matsui did for the Yankees in the playoffs, especially the World Series.

We'll see what ends up happening. Like I said, I could really see any combination of these players coming back and going. And I could see most if not all of these combinations making sense depending on the circumstances. And I'll be happy as long as the prudent decision is made, because what makes the Yankees best next year is more important to me than any type of nostalgia. But a big part of me is hoping that what makes sense is to bring all three of these players back. That way the entire Yankees' core, as big as it is, can defend the 2009 World Series title.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Beat To A Pulp

It's official now. Captain K took his $3 million player option for 2010.

I'm so glad the Red Sox "beat Jason Varitek and Scott Boras to a pulp" last winter, kicking some major butt in negotiations and really showing Captain K who's boss after he hit .220 and cried about being pinch hit for in the playoffs. Now they are paying their backup catcher who cries about playing time and hits .209 (.157 after the break) $3 million next year. How could you not like this move?

I mean, look at Varitek, who really came off as a victim of a mugging in last winter's negotiations. After being insulted by a $3 million offer and threatening to retire, he is now getting paid to play professional baseball. Not only being paid to play professional baseball, but being paid $3 million to be potentially the worst player in the game.

Great job, Theo. By the way, I've been meaning to ask you about JD Drew having the second-highest OPS among all American League outfielders.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are The Red Sox Cheap?

Since the 2004 World Series championship, we've seen the Red Sox pinch pennies and act extremely fiscally responsible. Perhaps they wanted to differentiate themselves from the Yankees so that their fans can cry about how the Yankees "buy" a World Series. Seriously, that could have been a legitimate argument before the new ownership group took over. Or if you're fourteen years old. Which were both in effect when I made those arguments in the Tim Tschida/Knobby era. But we've seen the team pass on Pedro Martinez, pass on Derek Lowe, pass on Johnny Damon, pass on Johan Santana in terms of the contract extension part, pass on Sabathia, pass on Burnout, and, most famously, pass on Mark Teixeira.

A thing about that piece of garbage, by the way: Boras said tonight that the Red Sox could have had Teixeira if they had accepted an offer given to them. That's interesting: I thought Teixeira went to New York because his wife loved New York. Turns out it was just the money if he could have gone to Boston (which his wife disliked) with the right price. Now that's love.

The thesis for this post, though: The Red Sox are NOT cheap. They are just pathetic negotiators. Any big player where there are close competitors in the market, they lose. Pavano--they lost. Javier Vazquez--they lost. Jose Contreras, Hideki Matsui (remember Theo's hotel room temper tantrum?), Damon, Burnout, Santana (in terms of prospects), Kevin Millwood, Derek Lowe (the second time), and a slew of other good baseball players--they lost all of them. Have the Red Sox outbid the competition in any other highly-contested battle since Theo Epstein took over? Johnny Damon (the first time)? Keith Foulke? That's it.

The Red Sox were willing to truck out a lot of money for Pavano, Contreras, Vazquez, Teixeira, Damon, and others. If this money was on the table, it indicates that the team is NOT cheap. They just got out-negotiated in each and every one of these instances.

Another indication that this team is NOT cheap is the way they run up the score on everyone else's bids for players where there really isn't that much of a competitive market. For the Matsuzaka posting fee, they outbid the field by $20 million. Assuming an average league minimum of $500,000 for borderline major leaguers, they probably outbid the field by roughly 3 years and $35,500,000 on Julio Lugo, and they offered JD Drew $3 million more per year...for five years...than a contract that was considered a complete gift by irresponsible Dodgers ownership. The team spent $209 million on those three non-superstar players in one offseason. But they got outnegotiated for Teixeira, Damon, et. al.

They also blew out the field by giving Schilling $8 million in 2008. Nobody came close to the incentive-laden deals for Penny, Smoltz, and David Wells. They outbid the field significantly for Matt Clement, and they gave Edgar Renteria an eye-boggling amount of money while letting go of Orlando Cabrera, who would have been $2 million/year less! They gave my favorite player #10 Coco Crisp a lucrative extension that not even I would have given him. Bottom line is, they fall short for players worth spending for, but they run up the score on undesirable players.

Which brings me to my final point: Dan Shaughnessy said last year that the "Sox beat Jason Varitek and Scott Boras to a pulp" in 2008-09 negotiations. Really. They won so big that Varitek is actually going to eventually get paid three million dollars by the Red Sox to suck next year. For the Red Sox. At least Lugo's getting paid by the Red Sox to suck for the Cardinals. If the Red Sox had really won this negotiation, Varitek would be getting paid by PBS for introducing the letter C on the Sesame Street 40th anniversary episode. He wouldn't even be thinking about baseball.

Moral of the story: The Red Sox are not cheap. Theo Epstein is just awful at negotiations.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tanked




So one of our most loyal readers the Tank left a comment this weekend about some comments Scott Boras made on the Michael Kay Show last week. I emailed him about this right after seeing that Varitek's 2009 stats had temporarily disappeared from baseball-reference.com, and he promptly gave me a link to the Michael Kay podcast. Shortly after waxing poetic about Arod, and saying that Johnny Damon had the "body of a thirty-year-old man," he said that age doesn't matter to some players.

One of those players was Jason Varitek, who has "played at optimal levels" despite being at an advanced age when most catchers are retired, sleeping, or taking their kids to school while Arod is doing stairs.

Let's take a quick look at some of the "optimal levels" that Varitek is playing at. Over the course of the entire year, Varitek hit .202 against right-handed pitchers, with 93 total bases and 70 strikeouts, posting (the most important stat of all) a .666 OPS. After the all-star break, in 134 at-bats he hit .157 with 41 Ks and 32 total bases. Read that last sentence again. Thirty-two total bases is eight singles, eight doubles, and two home runs. I'm pretty sure Pedroia has done that in a week before. Hell, I'm pretty sure Drew has done that in a week before.

Other Red Sox who have gone half of a season with more Ks than total bases include Mark Bellhorn in 2005 (he was released), Bellhorn again in 2006 (released again by the Padres), and Wily Mo Pena in 2008. None of them have ever been referred to as a player playing at "optimal levels."

Should we be fair and compare him to other catchers his age? Sure, why not? We'll start with people Boras is comparing him to: Carlton Fisk had 37 home runs, 107 RBIs, and nine fewer strikeouts than Varitek had at age 37. He finished 12th in the American League in MVP voting. At age 43, he had more plate appearances than Varitek and posted a .241 batting average. His OPS (!!!) was over league average at age 42.

If we want to play the steroid game (which Boras did, putting Varitek in the same class as Ivan Rodriguez), we can say that Gregg Zaun put 33 points on Captain K's average at age 36, with 88 total bases and 36 strikeouts in the second half. Pudge, who once lost 40 pounds once the steroid thing hit so he could become more nimble behind the plate, sucked royally with the Yankees last year. He still only struck out 15 times, had 51 total bases, and hit ten points higher than Varitek. He also threw out more than 1 out of 8 baserunners.

Terry Steinbach hit .284 in 338 ABs at age 37 as a catcher as well. And I'm pretty sure that Gus Sinski's statistics when he was catching Kevin Costner were still better than Varitek's. And granted, many catchers retire before 37 because they're not good anymore. Do people say Minnie Minoso was playing at an "optimal level" when he came back for a gag game at age 54? They're retired because they are no longer good at baseball. At least they realize it.

If we want to talk about defense, fine, we can talk about his ability to block balls in the dirt and his ability to throw out baserunners, both of which are gone. If we want to talk about his game-calling, we can talk to Heidi Watney, who was singing Victor Martinez's praises for learning so quickly (or maybe it's just not that hard). We can also ask Matt Clement, Delcarmen, Smoltz, Penny, and Matsuzaka.

The worst part about this is that Boras doesn't even have to pimp Varitek up this year. Because Varitek will amost definitely exercise his $3 million player option. Nobody else would even give this disaster a minor league contract, even if Tony Massarotti were starting an expansion team. And seeing that he was insulted by $5 million after hitting .220 in 2008, I think he can gauge that nobody's going to pay him any more than $3 million next year.

Moral of the story: First, Tank can still get me riled up. But most importantly, enjoy 2010, Red Sox fans. Because your catcher will be Jason Varitek once again.

Conspiracy Theory?

Tomorrow morning, you'll see a post that I'll admit, I was baited into by Mr. Ross "Tank" Kaplan. I was going to cite Jason Varitek's statistics in this post, but if you take a look at baseball-reference.com, Jason Varitek's 2009 offensive numbers are nowhere to be found.

Coincidence?

It's okay, though, because Theo Epstein told me that the only statistic that matters is OPS. Through another source, I have discovered that Captain K's OPS this year was .703. This OPS is lower than many baseball players, including JD Drew, who has had the second-highest OPS among American League outfielders.

2009 World Series Champions

There is so much that goes into a championship season, it is difficult to put it all into one post. There is no way this particular post will cover everything, but I will try to touch on what I think are the post important points.

In many ways the Game 6 clincher was emblematic of the entire season. Hideki Matsui, a player who had a weak playoffs prior to the World Series, took the series, and most specifically Game 6, over. All season the Yankees were a team that relied on offensive balance. They had a very deep lineup with a lot of players who turned in monster seasons. Few, if any, get to that end result by being totally consistent for 162 games. The Yankees were no different this year. But they had so many good guys that it seemed like someone was always hitting. When two players seemed incredibly cold, two others seemed incredibly hot. The Yankees were deep enough to endure long droughts from key players. That was true in the playoffs as well, with different players getting hot for different series, or at least making crucial contributions in individual games. This culminated with Matsui's outstanding World Series and dominating Game 6 performance.

Andy Pettitte started Game 6 on short rest, and turned in a very strong performance. After the first month of the season, this was what the Yankee starting rotation was all about: turning in strong performance after strong performance. They were lead by CC Sabathia, who if he isn't the best pitcher in baseball, is very close. As good as Wang was in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, the Yankees haven't had a pitcher this dominant in a long time. There just aren't a lot of people you can compare to him. The Yankees won 13 of his last 15 starts in a playoff race, and continued if not bettered that level of performance in the playoffs. He made 5 starts, 2 of which were on short rest, and had an ERA in the 1's with the Yankees winning 4 of his 5 starts. Whatever the definition of an ace is, Sabathia is it. So much for him not being able to pitch in the playoffs, too. This is why you don't take anything from a five game sample size. The rest of the rotation was not as flashy or consistently dominant as Sabathia, in the playoffs or regular season, but they all followed his lead. I'll be writing more on Sabathia and other individual performances in separate posts, but his is really one of the few that truly stand out as absolutely critical to this championship, both in the regular and postseason.

Finally, Joba Chamberlain and Damaso Marte got key outs in Game 6 to get the ball to Mariano Rivera. This is significant because Joba Chamberlain and Damaso Marte combined to rack up 14.1 innings out of the bullpen during the regular season, Chamberlain because he was a starter and Marte because he was injured and ineffective. But they are both quality arms, and they stepped up at the right time. This has been the Yankees philosophy with regards to the bullpen. Stockpile as many quality arms as you can, with the understanding that you need a surplus considering the inconsistency of relievers from year to year. Then just see who steps up each year. This year, three of the Yankees biggest pieces in their bullpen - Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, and David Robertson - were not even on the Opening Day roster. While Phil Hughes' regular season performance gave the Yankees a lot more structure than they had in the playoffs because of his struggles, the fact that the Yankees had two players who barely pitched out of the bullpen in the regular season become the bridge to Mariano Rivera in the playoffs is symbolic of how the Yankees have built their bullpen, and why it has become such a team strength.

Of course it wouldn't be a team strength without Mariano Rivera, who gets his own paragraph. He pitches 16 innings in the playoffs, all in high to extremely high leverage situations, and allowed one run for an ERA well below 1 for the postseason. He saved 5 games, but appeared in 12, and it was his work in some of those other 7 that were a huge part of the Yankees winning this title. Rivera didn't blow any saves this playoffs, but he also never allowed the winning run to score in a tie game on his watch. As my father and I were talking about last night, this makes such a difference. The Yankees didn't lose any games this postseason due to their closer that they would have otherwise won. When you look at the Yankees' opponents, Nathan blew a save in the ALDS, Fuentes blew a save in the ALCS, and Lidge took a loss in a key game in the World Series. The Yankees not having anything like that happen is a massive advantage. At this stage, you really just try to appreciate every Mariano Rivera appearance. He's one of the best to ever put on a baseball uniform at any position.

The Yankees are in a great spot now. Obviously there is plenty of time to talk about next season, and for now you just want to enjoy this championship. But the Yankees have committed a lot of years and money to the four biggest free agents currently on their roster - Rodriguez, Sabathia, Burnett, and Teixeira - in the last two years. Now these players have already accomplished what they were brought here to accomplish. They don't have to play any more years with the pressure of being big money guys who can't win it all. Now they can just go out and focus on joining the rest of the Yankee veterans, and the whole team for that matter, in trying to defend the title and win another one. Winning the second is a lot less pressure than winning the first.

For me, this championship was really sweet, as I commented last week that this was the top sports fan experience of my life. Not because the Yankees had to wait so long or anything (they didn't, and other fans would of course rightfully laugh at that notion). But just because it was the first extended drought in terms of championships for this team in my lifetime as a fan. Any time you experience a period of disappointment it is always going to make a championship that much better. When you consider the way the Yankees exited some of those playoffs (most notably 2001 and 2004, with 2003 not far behind), it really makes winning it all again special. It also helps that this was such a likable and fun team to watch. They had a great personality - which was a nice change for the Yankees - and played an exciting brand of baseball - the walkoffs and everything else. All of this and so much more came together to create a tremendous season. It was maybe the most fun I've had following any team in any sport. Just a great team to follow and root for.

Congratulations to the 2009 Yankees and their fans. And of course, thank you to the Steinbrunner family, specifically George Steinbrunner. Their consistent dedication to winning is such a big part of the Yankees being good almost every year, and we as fans should really appreciate that. I hope every Yankee fan is really enjoying this one right now. I know I am. Go Yankees.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Willie McGee, 18 Years Later

Unless you're over the age of 30 (I'm not) or you have read a lot about Red Sox history (I have), you might not understand why on earth I'm writing about a guy who played 67 games for the Red Sox in 1995? Because it's not about when he PLAYED for the Red Sox, but about when he DIDN'T play for the Red Sox. Before wonderful quotes from like "JD Drew is elite when he's on the field," "Lugo will bring spark to the top of the lineup," "Offerman will replace Vaughn's on-base percentage," and "twilight of his career," there was this one from Lou Gorman in the year 1990.

"What would we do with Willie McGee?"

This is what Gorman said in response to why the Red Sox didn't acquire McGee in a trade while the Oakland Athletics did. The Red Sox already had an outfield of Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, and (my boy's favorite) Tom Brunansky, so bringing in a guy who could hit .335, whack about eighty triples, and steal thirty bases would take away at-bats from one of those three guys or DH Dwight Evans. A reasonable train of thought. The team still won the AL East with the existing outfield. And while McGee struggled a bit in the second half of 1990, his A's swept Boston in the 1990 ALCS. People came down hard on Gorman for that, and the philosophy that still makes "what would we do with Willie McGee" something that is remembered in this town is the lesson: You get talent when it's available, and find out where to put it later.

If the Red Sox had aquired McGee, Bruno and Evans would probably have less playing time, Burks would have had to play out of position, but the Red Sox would have had a better team.

Just like if the team had coughed up the extra ten million dollars to get Teixeira. I'm not going to change my position that it may still have become a major long-term mistake, nor will I flip-flop on the fact that Teixeira's a complete douche. But even back in November 2008 when I said he was a stat-padder and a role player (great postseason, by the way), I wouldn't have denied that he would have made the 2009 Red Sox a better team, even if it came at the expense of the 2014, 2015, and 2016 Red Sox teams.

All year long I argued about how Teixeira wouldn't fill a need. The Red Sox had Youkilis at first base, Ortiz (whom we didn't know was going to suck at hitting as bad as he's sucked at finding answers about his careless use of supplements) at DH, and Lowell (who had a very good season) at third base. Teixeira can't play catcher. But the team probably should have signed the player and moved Lowell. The Phillies would have taken him, as he's an upgrade over Feliz and because Feliz can play about six positions. They would have gotten $0.60 on the dollar for him, but Teixeira would have improved the 2009 team.

It's somewhat dishonorable to move Lowell for Teixeira, but the Red Sox aren't trying to be honorable; they're trying to win a World Series. He fit in with the Yankees a lot better than he fit in with the Red Sox, and he actually fit in with the Yankees a lot better than McGee fit in with the A's outfield of Ricky Henderson, Dave Henderson, and Jose Canseco. But the most important day of this baseball season was the day Teixeira signed with New York. If he had signed with Boston, they would have had one more dislikable player on an already-dislikable team. But they would have been better.

I said there was nowhere to put the player. Lou Gorman said the same 18 years before. And we both forgot that acquiring the player would have hurt some feelings and benched some good baseball players, it would have been best for this year's baseball team in their chances to win the World Series.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Perfect Attendance

Well, that's it for the 2009 baseball season. It kinda sucked. Steroids. A lot of crying on the Red Sox. And now the Yankees won the World Series because they decided to open the checkbook when the Red Sox decided to spend their money on John Smoltz, Brad Penny, and Rocco Baldelli. Damn.

A few things on Game 6, and it has to start with Hideki Matsui. This guy has been a silent assassin pretty much since the moment he came across the ocean. Godzilla's not even the most popular Japanese player. I know he's getting a bit advanced in terms of years, but even at his prime, when you looked at the Yankee order, was he the guy you even paid attention to? No. You paid attention to Arod. You paid attention to Jeter, to Damon, to GiamBALCO, even Posada. Matsui wasn't the guy you looked at.

He also wasn't the guy catching the flack when he was bad. He had a pretty rough spot last year, but he could go 0-8 and Arod could go 0-4 and it's Arod's fault. Which is fine with me. But this guy Matsui, he always seems to get the big hit. If he actually talked, or self-promoted, or went on an expedition to find out what vitamins and supplements he was actually being careless about, Hideki would be David Ortiz. He's quietly come through almost all the time. He's always shown up in the big ones. That's why I entitled this one "Perfect Attendance." You think there's any kind of correlation that the Yankees missed the playoffs when he missed time last year?

He had a multiple-hit game in more than half of his games against the Red Sox this year. And I can't believe it took until he dropped 4 home runs and 9 RBIs in one series for me to wonder aloud "what the f*** can't they get this guy out?" Probably because he's a good player. And a gamer. He's gone Utley on this World Series. But still, it's going to be about Arod and the five rings for Jeter, Mariano, and those two other morons.

But while this team was underachieving over the last eight years, it's not because of Matsui. He just showed up everyday and played solid baseball.

Another smaller thing: The best team in baseball won the World Series this year. While they weren't flawless, they managed to minimize the impact of mistakes and minimized the number of mistakes happening. When Shane Victorino misjudged that ball tonight, or when the Phillies bullpen inevitably blew a game, or when the Phillies couldn't get anything done against Burnout in Game 2, I thought to myself, this team is just not as good. This year's Yankees don't do that kind of thing.

And that's why they won it all.

Also, I hate Mark Teixeira maybe more than Arod. Did he forget where the pitcher's mound was?

Game 5 Recap

You always want to win right away and close it out when you get to 3 wins in a 7 game series. This is especially true when you recently blew a 3-0 lead. Every loss is also magnified in the postseason. While Monday night's loss was undoubtedly tough, it is being a bit overblown as a result of the things mentioned above.

When you look at the big picture, the Yankees went down to Philadelphia and did what you'd hope they'd do and that's win a minimum of 2 out of 3. And that is no small deal. Philly is a tough team that likes to play in that park. When you look at how closely Game 4 was played, where it really could have gone either way, the Yankees could easily be down 3-2 instead of up 3-2. In that sense the Yankees really did do their job for the three road games that were on the schedule for this series.

Still, last night's loss was frustrating. Scoring a 1st inning run off Lee was huge, and it was pretty obvious right from the get go that Lee did not have the same stuff he had in Game 1. It was more obvious that Burnett didn't have it. The chances that it had anything to do with the three days rest are small. He had a great record on three days' rest, and his velocity was there. It is more likely that this is just part of the type of pitcher AJ Burnett is. We've all gotten to know good AJ and bad AJ, and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason to which one shows up. And that includes short rest. Burnett was probably just bad last night because he was bad.

So that was the biggest part of the game right there. But the second part was how careless Joe Girardi was with individual runs. Girardi admitted in his interview with the broadcast booth that he saw Burnett had nothing. No location with his fastball and nothing to his curveball at all really. If that was the case, he should have gotten him out earlier. With that admission in mind, at only 3-1, walking Utley, walking Howard, and a two strike RBI single to Werth to make it 4-1 should have been it. There is no advantage of letting him try to keep working through it at that point. There were two long men (Aceves and Gaduin) rested and an off day the next day. 4-1 1st and 2nd and no out in the bottom of the 3rd inning is not game over. Girardi let him pitch to Ibanez, and that RBI single made it 5-1 with runners on the corners and still no outs. Big difference. Robertson should have had a chance to hold it at 4-1 with runners on 1st and 2nd and no out instead of 5-1 with runners on 1st and 3rd with no out. That run matters.

Either way, it's one batter. Girardi didn't get him, fine. But now, at 5-1, with Cliff Lee on the mound, 1st and 3rd and no out, the infield isn't in? That is inexcusable. At 5-1 you aren't worrying about preventing the big inning by keeping the infield back. You are worrying about cutting off even one more run. Down that much, every run makes a difference. If you're down 3-1 in that situation, you try to prevent the big inning. At 5-1, you have to cut off every run because you are already down pretty big. You can't let another run score on a ground ball, and that is exactly what the Yankees did. Being this careless with these two runs, especially the second one, came back to get the Yankees.

Nothing you can do about Phil Coke. He came in and got lit up. I had no problem with them going to him against two lefties down 6 runs. But let it be known that in Game 4, before the Yankees scored three runs in the top of the 9th, Phil Coke was the only pitcher warming. With David Robertson not yet used. That's scary.

You think it might be time to start pitching around Chase Utley? Considering how Howard is hitting? Maybe at least be careful with Utley? A few pitches well off the plate to see if he chases? How about at least stop throwing him fat pitches right at his belt that he can blast to right field? All five home runs have been off pitches in a similar location, and four of them have been off fastballs. That's just ridiculous. Make an adjustment. He won the game all by himself last night, had a major hand in Game 1, and tried to win Game 4 pretty much on his own. Maybe it's time to treat him like what he is, which is one of the best players in baseball.

Now it's on to Game 6. Unlike with Burnett, who is just going to pitch how he pitches, Andy Pettitte on three days rest is a legitimate concern. As Gunn pointed out in a recent comments section, and as has been pretty widely reported due to the Yankees' pitching choices, the recent record of pitchers on short rest is not good. That said, Pettitte is more of a pitcher than Burnett. Burnett had his stuff last night and couldn't get it done anyway. Pettitte is the kind of guy that can get it done even when he doesn't have it stuff because he has good variety in his arsenal, better location, and he knows how to keep people off balance. He admitted he didn't have anything in Game 3 and still turned in a decent performance. Hopefully he'll have something tomorrow and turn in a rock solid performance. If not, hopefully he'll find a way to just get the job done again.

I had no problem with the Yankees going this route with the pitching. Burnett and Pettitte were/are each being asked to make one start on one days' less rest before getting 4 months off. I know it's not as simple as that sounds, but it also isn't a whole lot more complicated than that. These are professional athletes, and this is a spot where they need to be able to step up and do the job. In Sabathia's case, he's proven he can do this before. Although two consecutive starts on short rest is asking a lot, especially after pitching once on short rest in the ALCS, he had 8 days off between his ALDS start and his first ALCS start, and 7 days off between his second ALCS start and his first World Series start. With all that said, if it goes to Game 7 (which I really hope it doesn't), you want Sabathia on the mound on short rest before Burnett or Pettitte on full or long rest, so I fully agreed with going with only three starters.

Cliff Lee is likely done for the series. The Yankees are coming home. They need one win. We can talk about the pitching all day, and it is important. But the pitching has been largely carrying this team all postseason. Make no mistake, the offense has been incredibly, incredibly clutch. And they have had some games, esepcially recently in Philly, where they scored a bunch of runs. But they haven't really had that game where they came out and blasted a 3 run home in the first inning and knocked the opposition back on their heels. Where they came out and scored 6 runs in the first couple of innings. The offense putting in that kind of performance will immediately change the complexion of the game early tomorrow night.

Lastly, and related, Mariano Rivera is likely available for at least 2 innings tomorrow. Since his long performance in Game 2, Rivera was off Friday, needed only 5 pitches to get 2 outs Saturday, needed only 8 pitches to get 3 outs Sunday, was off Monday, and was off Tuesday. That's 13 pitches in 5 days. So the only thing on the Yankees mind tomorrow is to get 21 outs with a lead. You might even need less than that, because I wouldn't blame Girardi for going to Rivera earlier with a lead with the World Series on the line. But after 21 outs with a lead it's a no doubter, Rivera is coming in. So getting through the 7th with a lead should be the only thing on the Yankees mind tomorrow night.

Go Yankees.

Pedro Tonight

Pedro's comments about Boston yesterday were awesome. I'm really looking forward to him going into the Hall of Fame with the Red Sox hat on...assuming he's clean.

It's good that Pedro doesn't harbor any bad feelings towards Boston, and I think that comes with the territory. When he left via free agency, he was very plain about it. He said he was going to go to the highest bidder, and he did. Therefore, there should be no hard feelings on either direction. It's too bad that others don't do the same thing.

Tonight very well might be the last start of his baseball career. That is pretty sad. Here in Boston, I think when he was in his prime, we did fully appreciate it. I remember people saying that we were watching something that we might never see again. I'm just glad that people noticed it and made me notice it at age 14.

But tonight might be the last time. Stealing a phrase from Field of Dreams, is there enough magic in the moonlight to empower Pedro to deceive the Yankees tonight? Or at least deceive them more than Andy Pettitte deceives the Phillies? Unless you're a Yankee fan, if you don't at least hope so, you don't have a pulse.

Monday, November 2, 2009

AJ Burnout

I guess Alex isn't the only one on the Yankees who likes to "come in early." AJ Burnett, whose Game 2 was still by far the most important start of his career, came in early during the World Series, but apparently he left early as well. In a game that very well may resemble a sandwich game with very little urgency, AJ resembled the same old inconsistent AJ that Yankee fans have seen all season and baseball fans have seen all career.

Six runs. Four hits. Four walks, perhaps the most importantly because of good offenses' abilities to capitalize on unforced mistakes. (Also important because they contribute to OPS, which is the only stat ever worth looking at.) A bomb to Utley. What a disaster.

I'm sure there will be comments in this space that involve what the number 82,500,000 means to them, and rightfully so. The other night, AJ Burnett proved himself to me in a big way, and that's saying a lot because I'm a pretty adamant hater on the guy. However, following up the other night with a disaster like tonight is exactly why people don't warm up to AJ Burnett. He's kind of a headcase. He's enigmatic. He undoubtedly has this "electric stuff" that people drool over and that can effectively make him unhittable at times. But then he throws up stinkers like this.

Other things: I already said it, Pat already said it, and now other people are picking up on how good Chase Utley is as a baseball player. Buck and McCarver actually made sense when they said after tonight's second home run that he's the kind of player you can--and should--build a franchise around.

The Philadelphia fans (though my boy from Philadelphia hates them like I hate Red Sox fans) are perhaps the best in baseball right now. The New Yankee Stadium is distant and apathetic. Red Sox fans show up to games to be seen, hold up signs, and sing "Sweet Caroline." Cubs and Cardinals fans don't get negative. And Dodgers fans are oblivious. But Philadelphia fans are clearly knowledgeable and passionate. Their caustic barbs against opponents this season have been biting and persistent, whereas in other cities, they just die off.

I mean, they do not let the steroid thing go, and they got on Andy Pettitte relentlessly while every other fan base in America has let him off the hook. They got on Arod, every single at-bat. They all razzed in unison, and unlike the way Fenway Park is now, there is no frowning upon profanity or negativity. The championship has not mellowed this fan base at all, and I don't see too much pink hattism there. They know the history--I'm sure they'd get on Jerry Hairston if they could. They get on JD Drew for something that happened twelve (12) years ago while most Red Sox fans can't name half a dozen of their own players during that time period.

Really, the Philadelphia fan base is exactly what the Boston fan base was ten years ago. People in 1999 screamed at umpire Larry Barnett about something that happened in 1975. That's the way Boston was, and that's the way Philadelphia is.

I'd love to see them get one more. Especially behind Pedro on Wednesday.

One More Win, Games 3 and 4 Recap

GAME 3

The key play in this game was Rodriguez's two-run homer in the top of the 4th inning. With the way the Yankees struggle with the bats in Games 1 and 2, and the way Hamels seemed to be settling in during the early part of Game 3, you had the feeling the Yankees needed a big hit or they weren't going to put any serious runs on the board. They needed an ice breaker, and Rodriguez delivered it. Pettitte kept them in the game against a tough lineup in a tough ballpark, and the bullpen did their job. But Rodriguez opened the flood gates, and importantly the rest of the Yankee lineup followed suit. Very nice bounce back game from Nick Swisher too. It isn't easy to be a starter and get benched. If you've been an athlete at any point in your career and been in a similar situation you know that. Responding the next time you get an opportunity can be very difficult, but that's what Swisher did. Good job by him, Rodriguez, and really the whole lineup for the most part.

GAME 4

The at bat put together by Johnny Damon in the 9th inning last night, circumstances considered, was one of the best I have ever seen. The subsequent baserunning - specifically going on the first pitch off a pitcher who is slow to the plate to get into scoring position but also getting to third so Lidge was perhaps more hesitant to throw his slider - was also excellent. Johnny Damon has always been a big play guy, and he showed that again last night. His 1st inning double where he came around to score and RBI single in the 5th were also very big.

What Alex Rodriguez is doing in these playoffs really is incredible. It's just one big hit after the next. Statistically and clutch wise it is now one of the best playoff performances ever. That won't matter if the Yankees don't finish it off. But everything he is doing is helping the Yankees to do just that. I let a scream out the window of my buddies apartment that they probably heard in Florida when he got that hit. Massive, massive hit. Oh, and that's how you respond to getting plunked three times in two games. You go out and produce the way he did in Games 3 and 4. You make them pay. Now just need to do that for one more win.

Derek Jeter continues to quietly be in the middle of everything, as always. He's batting .412 in this series, and his leadoff single where he came around to score and RBI single later in the game were big.

CC Sabathia continues to give showtime efforts every time out. On short rest, against a good lineup, in a hitters park, and he just gets the job done. He didn't completely shut the Phillies out last night, but 6.2 innings and 3 earned runs considering the circumstances is a serious effort. His heart, his desire, and his ability combine to make one of the best competitors I've ever watched. He just competes. I've been saying it all year, but CC Sabathia's total package as a baseball player goes beyond talent. And he's really talented, so this is saying something. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's a pleasure to watch him play.

Jorge Posada is having a fantastic playoffs.

Damaso Marte's performance has been a very nice surprise in the World Series.

Now the Yankees are one win away. Just as I said before Game 5 of the ALCS, Joe Girardi and the Yankees should treat tonight like Game 7. With the off day tomorrow to recover if the Yankees do this and don't win, there is no reason not to. Do everything you can within reason to win tonight's game. If not, regroup and go back to New York. But the Yankees should throw the kitchen sink at the Phillies tonight, and they should do so playing the same confident, loose, and competitive brand of baseball they have been playing.

Go Yankees.