Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hitter Needed

The best and most complete lineups in baseball could struggle against Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, easily two of the top 10 pitchers in baseball, and at least one, maybe both, in the top 5. This is not merely a reaction to the last two nights, because that would be ridiculous. However, the last two nights are part of the analysis. They didn't just lose to these two pitchers, they got absolutely dominated. Back to back complete games is just not something that should be happening. Not against the type of offense the Yankees want to have.

One of the great things about looking back on a World Series is you see just how much it took to get there. There are probably some people that think the Yankees walked to that title, but they couldn't have been watching too closely. Multiple games in the ALCS and World Series hung in the balance, and the Yankees got them in part because they were a better team and in part because the ball bounced their way. The former you can control, the latter you cannot. Even taking out these last two games, the Yankees offense is not in a position to take control of being better than other teams.

That's a problem, but it really shouldn't be surprising. You replace Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Melky Cabrera with Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson, and Brett Gardner. Pretty safe to call that a wash. But with Nick Johnson on the DL for most of the season, they have been replacing Hideki Matsui with below average production. Forget any over or under performances, because those will typically balance each other out. Any team is going to take a hit going from Matsui to below average.

And that's a big part of why the Yankees aren't able to get to where they want to get on a consistent basis offensively. Most notably working pitchers, because they have 1-2 easy-ish outs in their lineup every night. You might tell me that even with those outs the Yankees offense is still better than most, and you'd be correct. But the Yankees don't have the same expectations as everyone else.

They want to win the World Series. A big reason why they did that last year was because their offense was ferocious, 1-9 attack as I like to call it, not just very good. This year they are just very good. Not just in terms of results, but approach. The 2009 Yankees might have gotten locked down pretty good on back to back nights by two pitchers of Lee and Hernandez's caliber, but they probably wouldn't have gotten back to back complete-gamed because they worked counts and scrapped too much. Again, this issue is not isolated to these two games. They did it early. They aren't doing it anymore. That's largely because their lineup lacks it's typical depth. To get to where they want to be, they are going to need a bat. Not a great bat, just one that can be a presence and make some things happen. They're pitching is better than last year, but their offense is worse. Considering what their goal is, how much they had to scratch and claw to win the World Series last year, and how difficult it will be just to make the playoffs out of the AL East, being a similar team to last year in terms of total talent may, or may not, be good enough. It isn't their fault they've been hit by injuries, but now they have to adjust. The lineup is the most obvious place to do so.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Anti-Girardians

First things first: After another 3-4 day with two stolen bases, another double and another triple, #4 in your programs #1 in your hearts for the Oakland Athletics is now hitting .414. The A's are on a four-game winning streak and Coco Crisp is becoming a legitimate MVP contender. Tomorrow the injury-prone center fielder is scheduled to play his ninth game. Just as many as...well...you know.

On to things that people don't want to ignore, tonight is a good start to the hardest 27-game stretch the Red Sox are going to face for reasons explained this morning. In order to hit the treading water mark of 12-15, they now need only eleven more wins.

I will further harp on the last post by mentioning that that three out of the four players who I said needed to show up during the stretch did exactly that. Lackey didn't make it look pretty (as usual), but got guys out despite giving up a lot of hits and having a lot of ugly innings. More on this later. Hall hit a bomb. Varitek had a key RBI single. Drew did his best to keep the bat on his shoulder, but this is what Drew does when his hammy isn't at 100% and/or when he doesn't feel like playing baseball. But good for all three of these guys. Bill Hall doesn't have to be a bad baseball player. And Varitek is now at the same number of at-bats he hit on May 11th last year. You gotta think the ice packs aren't on. Yet.

I think Peter Abraham said it best: As Okajima is demoted to probably the third guy in the bullpen right now, he pitched in an 8-1 game. Abraham said there was a reason for it. And we saw that reason tonight.

My main point of the night, however, is the fact that we saw a reason for another thing. Anti-Patriots people might call it running up the score. Pat calls it not being complacent. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree on that. With Tampa down 8-1 in the seventh, they came back to 8-5 in garbage time against Okajima, Atchison, and Richardson. If Beltre had not hit a rocket off the wall off of one knee, or if Bill Hall hadn't launched a bomb over the monster, this game very well may have been Blown Save #14 and the first bad loss in the 27-game stretch.

Against good teams, you need all the insurance you get. The Yankees, as we have discussed, committed this mistake a few times this year, including in back to back games against Boston. They got an early lead, then they stopped working counts, went through the motions, and made outs. It was a lack of focus, and we both put quite a bit of blame on Girardi for that.

The 2009 Red Sox did the exact same thing on rainy nights against bad teams. They lost both of the games that come to mind. Though it did not rain, tonight's game could have been the same thing. But they kept their focus. They ran up the score. And they needed to. Just as we crushed Girardi for this in 2010 and crushed Francona for it in 2009, we have to give Francona his due credit for handing these anti-Girardians.

A quick hit: We went over this back in March or April, but John Lackey gives up A LOT of hits. This is not a new thing, as he did the same thing against inferior offenses in the AL West. He's paid for it a lot more in the AL East. I'm not sure if this is a correlation (and it's way too damn late to look this kind of stuff up--I'm looking at you, Tim C), but this kind of production level might be what is the reality against the East. Against the West, you have fewer hits in clumps. Against the East, you have more hits in clumps. Therefore, you might have a few games with eight hits and one run and some with eight hits and five runs. The former might be more common in the West. Also, to his credit, he is not 100% at fault for these problems, as he is giving up singles which are not necessarily all hit hard (some are). Matsuzaka walks guys, something that can be prevented 100% by the guy throwing the ball.

Also notable: 21 pitches per inning from Big Game James. More good execution by the team's mediocre replacement-level hitters.

Game One of the DL Era went well. Only four more against Tampa. And only twenty-six games left until August first.

Treading Water

Rough weekend for the Red Sox, with Pedroia, Martinez, and Buchholz all going down. As Bandi was talking about in yesterday's comments section, there are a lot of people ready to jump off the bridge, especially with Pedroia's fractured foot and the fact that the guy might be missing six weeks. There are many things to consider here, and the bottom line is that for the next month this team needs to tread water.

First things first. If there's any time for the entire team to get injured, it's now. The team has six JD days in July. Additionally, their schedule is not rife with semi-JD days, but games against Baltimore (three) and Seattle (three) shouldn't really worry them. They do have five games against Tampa (2-3 should be the goal), but have no games against the Yankees. In this stretch they also run into Toronto on the road for three, four at home against Texas, and nine on the West Coast against Oakland, Seattle, and the Angels. Schedule's bad, but it's not that bad. They'll miss Fenway Park.

A note on the West Coast games: It's not 1996 anymore. This team's not so mediocre that it is bound to go 1-8 on this West Coast swing.

Going 12-15 between now and July 31st is not unfathomable. But it's not necessarily something that is going to sink this ship. If they go worse than 12-15 and the Yankees go through a stretch where they don't lose for a month--like they always do this time of the year--that might be tough. I think there are some problems with Tampa, and BJ Upton vs. Joe Maddon isn't going to make things any better. Their stretch where they don't lose for a month already happened, and by now the Red Sox have covered that.

On to the individual injuries: We'll go from easiest to hardest. Buchholz is apparently just a small bump in the road. He might miss a start. And every team in baseball, including the best, have had a spot start from someone like Felix Doubront. The Red Sox, to the best of my memory, have only had two of these weird spot starts, one from Atchison and one from Doubront (where he was decent). We're not talking about getting nine starts from Doubront here. We're talking about one more. Yes, another injury would be a pretty big problem, but that hasn't happened yet. And even if Buchholz is slightly worse once he comes back, they can probably afford that a little bit.

The Pedroia injury is difficult. He is among the league leaders in WAR, and he will be replaced by basically a replacement level player in Bill Hall. On the aggregate, that might cost them a game. Either that or Hall, not playing in the outfield, will be serviceable.

Victor Martinez is the most difficult, because it means the ice packs will be coming out in September. Francona's done a stellar job managing the time behind the plate for Varitek, maximizing the player's production and making sure he's not wearing ice packs on his knees everyday starting in June. Because of this, this team will be okay in the catcher position for the time being. It may, however, deplete all they have of the Varitek Usefulness resource, upping the chances that in September or October he's the guy hitting .140 again. But, if Martinez only misses two weeks, this is minimized.

Meanwhile, you have to think 46 will feel like playing baseball again soon. And Mike Cameron has not been bad, at least offensively. It's a time for JD Drew to step up, which might not happen because he has a minor hamstring injury and hasn't really gone for a month-long period of grounding to second base twice a game and hitting .230. I think Nava and McDonald are bound to start struggling as opposing teams actually have scouting reports on the guys now. But, once again, it's about treading water.

No trades.

Bottom line is, the team will need elevated performances from Bill Hall, Jason Varitek, and JD Drew. Why not throw John Lackey in there, too, because he hasn't gotten the hot hand yet either. If these four guys can step up, this team will be able to do more than just tread water. Going 12-15 is enough to keep them in this thing, but elevated performances might mean 15-12. Much better than any of us could have even expected.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sloppy Baseball

The Yankees have been a very good team thus far this season. Best in baseball. They've done this despite inconsistent offense and what could probably be defined as inconsistent fundamentals, and that's because their starting pitching has been largely outstanding and their closer rarely gives up a lead. I've discussed the offensive element quite a bit, and it just keeps on going so I won't beat it into the ground. The inconsistent fundamentals were on display all week.

Tuesday night in Arizona, Dontrelle Willis was really struggling in the 1st inning. He walked Jeter, gave up an RBI single to Swisher, walked Teixeira, walked Rodriguez, and struck out Cano. 5 batters faced, 1 out recorded, right? Wrong. Swisher got picked off first and Teixeira got thrown out by about 10 feet trying to steal 3rd base on a strike 'em out throw 'em out of Cano. When you have a pitcher walking three of the first four hitters, and allowing the other to single, you should be standing on the base. Like glued to it until the ball is delivered. To have this happen once is one thing. But then to send Teixeira, who is not exactly a beacon of speed, right after? I understand that a 3-2 count with a contact hitter at the plate is a traditional situation to put runners in motion. But all situations are not equal. You don't want to help a struggling pitcher out. The Yankees did just that through poor player focus and poor managing.

Tonight in Los Angeles Pettitte gave up a leadoff double to start the 3rd inning. Pretty routine. What happened after should have been similarly routine. It ended up being anything but. The pitcher was due up, and Kershaw dropped down a bunt back to Pettitte. Instead of taking the sure out at 1st, he tried to get the runner going to 3rd. Can't completely disagree with the decision. You always want to get an out there, which usually means taking the sure one, but if you have a good shot to get the lead runner you can take a chance. But if you're going to do it you have to be able to make the throw. Pettitte threw the ball away. Mistakes happen. Next Furcal dropped down a bunt for a hit, very nice bunt and usually you just tip your cap. You still tip your cap, but the problem is he did the very same thing the night before in the exact same spot. I'm a big fan of adjusting. Anyway, the next hitter, Belliard, drops down a sacrifice, again back to Pettitte. With Rodriguez charging and Jeter holding the runner at 2nd, nobody is going to be covering 3rd unless Rodriguez gets back to the bag. Pettitte fields the bunt, and looks immediately to 3rd. There are times where Rodriguez might be able to get back to the bag, but this was not one of them. No problem, Pettitte does what he's supposed to do, check 3rd, then throw to 1st. Throws it away. You can't have this type of execution. No question baseball is a game of reaction. Bigtime. But you also have to run through sequences in your head based on the current situation. Not just for yourself, but so that you and your teammates are all on the same page. The Yankees seem very much not on the same page in this regard recently.

This doesn't really have to do with fundamentals, just general annoyance, but for years now it seems like the Yankees give up more groundball hits down the line than everyone else. By everyone else, I mostly mean that they don't get nearly as many as they give up, but also other games that I watch. I understand they are probably playing the percentages, but you can only hope that those percentages are balanced against the fact that when you get to a ball in either hole you are saving a single, but when you get to a ball on the line you are saving a double. So in playing those percentages, you have to consider that you might get to more balls playing off the line because more balls are hit there, but the ones you give up down the line go for more bases. Just tonight, all three innings the Dodgers scored in were set up by groundballs down the line that could have been caught, not even by playing on the line, but just by protecting it a little bit more. I have no idea about any of the numbers, and I certainly trust that the Yankees staff is positioning people where they are for a reason. But just by eyeballing it, it seems like this is an issue.

Friday, June 25, 2010

G'd Up

I went to back to back Sox/A's games in early June this year, and this was the point where Dustin Pedroia was making its dive below .250. He was looking pretty bad with a consistency we hadn't seen since his first sixty at bats when he was hitting .170 and everyone wanted to kill him (his words). People were worrying about the health of his knee. I was worried about his walkup music. I was actually going to write about how he should change it, as his 2009 stats were with "Dre Day" as the walkup music and his 2010 stats were with "G'd Up" by Snoop Dogg. I've spent enough time in baseball to know how important the music is to a player.

Meanwhile, some people were projecting that he was in for an extended hot streak.

Apparently Pedroia's okay. He was G'd up last night, going 5 for 5 with a double and three bombs. He singlehandedly (well, not quite. Beltre was on the attack last night too) made up for another bullpen implosion, where Delcarmen sucked, Okajima sucked, Bard was not good, and Papelbon sucked again. He made sure that the Red Sox wouldn't do what they did in the Baltimore, Cleveland, New York, and Wednesday's Rockies game we talked about yesterday--make pretty good comebacks just to have the bullpen blow it. And he is just fun to watch when he's got it going.

By the way, I'm not quite going to start crushing Papelbon yet. He has pitched somewhat well up until two nights ago, so I'm not going to hit the panic button. If he had done this after a long stretch of Matsuzaka-style lucky performances, maybe. But he's been okay before the last two nights. I'm actually going to have to say the same thing about Delcarmen. Okajima--well, that's a problem.

I will, however, mention that blown saves #12 and #13 happened last night for the Red Sox bullpen. They're on pace to fall short of my projection of 37.5, but not by much.

Mike Lowell got placed on the DL. That's not a good way to enhance his trade value.

JD Drew has not been placed on the DL. Back five days ago, it was said that Drew wasn't remotely unhealthy enough to go on the disabled list. Well, if he doesn't play tonight he's halfway to fifteen days with only that one at-bat last night pinch hitting for Matsuzaka. Felger said something pretty valid the other day: If you're really hurt, you go on the DL. If you're just not playing without being serious enough to go on the DL, that's where people question how willing you are to play through pain. Considering that Nancy played one game out of 45 during the late part of the 2008 season, this is not new. I want to hear Theo drop the "he's played a lot" line again.

I take every triumph from Mike Cameron as a personal source of pride due to our mirroring injuries.

Last night was the uplifting win the team has been looking for. It's pretty significant to NOT get swept by the Rockies. And it's pretty significant that arguably the team's best hitter is G'd up again.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Offensive Masterpiece

Unlike Theo Epstein and Pat, I sometimes like to admit I'm wrong. In March 2010, I wrote the following: "We can complain about how neither Lackey, Lester, and Beckett is not a true 1-A. At least Ubaldo Jimenez is not our ace." I thought you were gonna ask about that.

At age 26, Jimenez, whom Boston has not seen since he was 23, is doing his best Pedro Martinez impression. Pedro cut his ERA in half when he was 25 years old, and his first year in Boston was at 26. Not that I think Jimenez is Pedro, will be Pedro, or will be close to Pedro. But this year he has a no-hitter and thirteen wins. I wondered aloud today whether the Red Sox would get a hit today. Despite the ultimate result, Jimenez was largely brilliant tonight.

I made it a point to pay specific attention to the pitcher tonight after all I had heard. And it was worthwhile. The fastball with the counterintuitive late movement (away from lefties, in on righties), the splitter, and the occasional changeup were baffling. Pedroia looked awful on a few at-bats. Ortiz looked bad. Beltre looked silly. Drew looked healthy sitting on the bench.

But there were the occasional mistakes. There was a hanging curveball to Nava that scored two runs. There was the HBP against Beltre. There was the McDonald home run. Those were all bad pitches. But for the most part, the Red Sox executed against a series of good pitches. We saw some patience (despite the fact that his control is much better than it was earlier in this very season) and we saw some good pitches fouled off. The Red Sox, on many of their singles, just went with pitches where they were thrown and just hoped they could either put enough together or wait for a mistake. Clawing back after Lackey put them into a hole--with Lackey helping and the minor leaguers helping big time--was clearly uplifting.

By the way, a lot of uplifting Red Sox comebacks have been wrecked by bullpen implosions this year. The Monday night in Yankee Stadium and a Friday during the Baltimore sweep come to mind. Blown Save #11 tonight could have been scripted knowing the way this bullpen has wrecked big-time comebacks. Papelbon is not helped by the humidor apparently. Good.

I was also uplifted by the fact that everyone in the dugout was clearly pumped up about the execution of the gameplan against Jimenez. McDonald was mobbed. So was Lackey. For a generally grumpy roster between Lowell, Wakefield, Number Two, and others, it is nice to see NESN pan over and have people looking like they like to play baseball. It was really an uplifting win.

Until Papelbon took the ball.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mr. Consistency

Derek Jeter now has more hits at this point of his career than any other player in the history of baseball at the same point in their career. That's about as impressive a statistic as they come, not only because of the sheer talent and ability on display, but because of how consistently they are on display. You have to do a lot of hitting for 15 consecutive years to accomplish something like that, and that is exactly what Jeter has done. It really does take a ridiculous about of talent and consistency.

It is somewhat of note that this occurred for Jeter in the midst of what is so far one of the slower seasons of his career. His average and on-base percentage, two of the staples of his career, are down. Oddly his power, always good for a shortstop, is a big reason why he's having a much more productive season than he would be otherwise. His slugging percentage looks low, but that is largely a product of his low average as he's on pace for over 20 homers and around 40 doubles, both better than his career marks. Of course it's early. His traditional statistical strengths could come back and his power could normalize a bit, or one or the other, or neither.

In terms of core numbers, his 85 hits, 39 RBI, and 45 runs scored are all very productive, especially form the shortstop position. So in that sense he's in good shape. His peripherals are a mixed bag. His BABIP is way down, which usually calls for a bounceback, especially when it's someone who puts the ball in play as often as Jeter does. But of the numbers that typically correspond to BABIP, his line drive percentage is down slightly, his flyball percentage is down a little bit more, and his groundball percentage is up pretty substantially, and he was already a pretty extreme groundball hitter. If these numbers don't come back a bit, that BABIP number may hold more true instead of correcting as much as we might think it should, because the less you put the ball in play hard the less hits you are likely to get. His K rate is virtually unchanged which is good, and his walk rate is down which is bad, although it is creeping back towards career levels.

Most major defensive metrics see his defense at about even this year, maybe a little less.

Back to the offense, Derek Jeter at less than 100% of what Derek Jeter has been is still going to be a competitive advantage for the Yankees because he's still going to be better than most shortstops. But in terms of impacting the Yankees overall, obviously any decline is not going to give them as much production they have become accustomed to. Because of his age, it's a valid to wonder just how long he can keep up this much consistency. Not in terms of being unproductive, just being as productive as he's been for his career. Because of who he is, it's valid to not want categorize him as on the decline just yet. With a middling first few months, we'll just have to wait and see what happens the rest of this season. For the Yankees, in this division, in this particular year, it would be very big to continue to have Jeter be Jeter, not just have him be very good. We'll see if he can keep the consistency going. I certainly hope he can.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lack Of Grinding

My father and I talk a lot about the importance of depth in baseball, specifically relating to the Yankees obviously. Not just in the context of protecting against injuries (although that is important to have too), but relating to baseball's nature as a game of failure as well as an extremely long season. When you pair those two things up, it makes it difficult for an individual players, or even a small group of players, to carry a team the way they can in other sports. The best teams are those that have enough depth to deal with the ebbs and flows every individual goes through over the course of the season. When one guy is down, another is usually up. If you don't have this depth, or are overly reliant on one player or small group of players, when they are down you have a tough time winning baseball games.

The Yankees have really had this in the rotation so far this year, where they are incredibly complete. Each of the five starters has spent at least half of the season to date pitching like a #1 or #2 starter. When you have five guys all capable of getting to that high of a performance level, it is unlikely that all will go through inevitable down cycles at once. These period of brilliance have helped them to absorb abysmal stretches from Vazquez and Burnett, as well as a period of mediocrity from Sabathia (by his standards), and still have a 3.80 ERA as a rotation, 3rd best in the American League (9th in baseball, and they've been higher than that for most of the year). The Yankees have not had this kind of depth in the rotation for a long time, and you just hope they all stay healthy. I'm very happy to see them getting out in front of Hughes' innings limit, and skipping him this time through the rotation. Better to deal with it now than later.

The Yankees have almost always had this offensively in recent years. They'd sometimes have lineups where every single batter was capable of taking games over on a regular basis. Not only did this enable them to deal with down cycles from individual players, but it also made it a very tough lineup to get through. A pitcher could give up no runs and be out after the 5th inning because he was over 100 pitches already.

You might look at the overall numbers this year and assume this is the case again. Second in runs, fourth in average, first in OBP, fourth in slugging, second in OPS, it's one of the best offenses in all of baseball. I'm not complaining about this. But just looking at the overall stats can be a little misleading. This offense has been slightly boom or bust. They will rock pitchers - both good and bad - and then go into a funk against pitchers - both good and bad. No example is better than this last week. They beat Roy Hallday, Mike Pelfry, and Johan Santana, and lost to Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, Hisanori Takahashi, and Rodrigo Lopez (with all due respect to them). This type of ebb and flow is going to happen to every team, but it has been happening to the Yankeees a lot this year.

Most teams would love to trade places with the Yankees' offense, and I understand that. But the Yankees also don't have the same expectations as most teams. Where most teams would be happy with great overall offense no matter how it comes, the Yankees are trying to defend a title. That means being as complete as possible. Where they are currently incomplete is that they don't consistently grind pitchers. They'll do it one night and then not the next. They don't get starters' pitch counts up and into opposing bullpens as quickly as usual. They just don't make opposing staffs work on a night in night out basis the way they are capable, as they are showing right now putting a 6 spot on the Arizona bullpen in the 8th, turning a 3-2 game into a 9-2 rout.

It isn't because they aren't talented. It's because they just don't grind every night. I don't want not grinding to get confused with not trying. They are different things. The effort is there, the approach isn't. Too many bad/quick/soft at bats. The good news is this is correctable. You'd rather have talent that needs a tweak in approach than an approach that needs a tweak in talent. I know this is correctable because earlier in the year I was raving about the way they worked counts, and while he was a big part of it, I don't think it all has to do with not having Nick Johnson. People have been in and out of the lineup, and that's a part of it too. Now they are getting healthier, and it's a matter of getting there more consistently. You might be able to get away with this - big overall offense but by doing it in bunches - but if it looks like there is going to be one theme this year it is: "Not this year, not in this division." And that's why I'm saying all of this. The Yankees offense has by no means been a problem. In a tough division you simply have to look at every way to get better. A little more grinding of at bats on a game to game basis would go a long way. They are definitely capable.

Incidentally...

"Incidentally, the pitcher who gives up the most home runs also receives a bonus."
-Rules of the 1959 TV Show "Home Run Derby." Unfortunately, AJ Burnett is pitching in major league baseball in 2010.

Looks like there has been a lack of electricity in New York lately.

I thought you were gonna ask me about that.

A F'ing Body in the Outfield

Obviously, the Mike Cameron sports hernia situation is of special interest to me because I am suffering from the same condition. We got diagnosed on the same day, so it is therefore worthwhile for me and my running-related sanity to contrast my development with his. The latest development for me (just in case I have fans) is that I'm having minimally-invasive surgery to fix the problem.

But especially Friday, it has been looking more prudent for Cameron to go ahead and have the surgery, like me, sooner rather than later.

Of course, JD Drew's hamstring injury (he had previously only missed four games, so minimal criticism is due) is a factor. Drew, however, is supposed to return tonight against the Rockies. I'll believe it when I see it.

Either way, if Nancy comes back or if Number Two ever comes back to playing baseball with his shattered, I mean, non-displaced but cracked ribs, it is worth considering putting Cameron under the knife.

Cameron should continue playing until the time he gets the surgery. With the surgery, he will most likely miss two months, putting him back to 100% by September 1st. But, to use Terry Francona's term, Cameron is a "f***ing body in [center] field." His range is completely gone. Balls are going over his head because the injury is preventing him from turning around and running explosively. A healthy Cameron could have caught two or maybe even three balls on Friday alone. They instead became extra-base hits.

So the two options right now are surgery and no surgery. No surgery means you get Cameron at 75% playing four times a week and having Bill Hall/Darnell McDonald/token minor leaguer the other three days. It will be this way for the rest of the season, including whatever kind of playoffs the Red Sox might qualify for.

Surgery means you have Hall/McDonald/token minor leaguer everyday for two months. And yes, we should ask the Strength of Schedule Crusaders about this. But then on September first, you get Cameron back at 100%. You get true run prevention down the stretch assuming Number Two didn't break another rib walking down the street.

Yes, the surgery option may have gotten more difficult with Nancy going down and probably being either well shy of 100% or being unwilling to play consistently anymore. But the only way to fix the condition is surgery, something that Cameron was planning on having in the offseason anyway. With the bench playing as okay as they have been playing, however, the player should bite the bullet. There is no benefit reaped by having a player become a "f***ing body" out there, especially if he's gone from an elite outfielder to Mike Lowell 2009.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lessons Learned in the Dodgers Series

A good series sweep for the Red Sox this weekend. We also learned a lot of things during this series. Here goes:

-We learned the power of pinstripes. Manny Ramirez got a significantly better reception than Johnny Damon did when he was welcomed back to Fenway Park. Let's see what they did differently while running themselves out of town.

Similarities include the following: Talking contract at an inappropriate time, general Scott Boras underhandedness in negotations, and talking way too much crap on their way out. Saying that the secret negotiations with the Yankees balance out the negotiations with the Dodgers to make sure Manny's contract is not extended, we can keep that all equal. Bringing World Series titles can also be held equal. So this leaves the following:

Manny faked injuries, dogged it on the field, fought Youkilis, pushed Jack McCormick, and pissed off his entire team to the point that they unanimously voted that he had to be traded. Damon went to New York after saying he wasn't going to. Apparently the latter is more unforgivable to quite a few people, as there were definitely people who booed Damon but cheered Manny.

Of course, I would have booed both.

-We got statistical proof tonight that Clay Buchholz is one of the best pitchers in baseball. He could have thirteen wins by the All-Star break. He did not have the best command of his pitches today, especially not his curveball. But his fastball and his pitch selection tonight was superb.

-Felix Doubront is 22 years old. He's not there yet, but he very well might be better than an Abe Alvarez spot starter someday. I have a feeling he'll end up as trade bait (more on this Tuesday night), but he got the job done and then some on Friday.

-Beltre hit a home run and a double from one knee this weekend. He also made an impressive stab at third base that Mike Lowell may have had, but may not have had. As he has not been officially implicated in any steroids scandal, he is slowly becoming one of my favorite players on this team.

-LA is not a bad team, and they did not play a terrible series here in Boston. Red Sox won two out of three hard-fought games. The way the Dodgers worked the count in the first inning Sunday night was impressive. Red Sox are really hitting their stride, and the fact that they're doing it without their outfield is a testament to the players and manager. I don't think the general manager--or anyone--anticipated this level of aggregate performance from the offense. Ortiz and Beltre have a lot to do with it. But if their pitching staff can continue run prevention and their offense can be one of the top-three in the league (as opposed to top-five), the Red Sox, who are now one game back, can actually win this division.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Great Theater

Tonight was one of the best professional basketball games I've watched in the last 10 years. I say one of because, for someone who hasn't had any rooting interest in the sport for 10 years, there have been some incredible individual performances in big spots that I don't want to just gloss over (Lebron's 20 something straight on the road in Detroit in the playoffs; Lebron vs. Pierce in Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals where both had 40+; etc.). But from a team perspective, this game was absolutely outstanding.

I say that despite it being ugly. And it was ugly. But I like ugly. To me ugly is good basketball. We've had a few conversations in this space about the 1990's Knicks. Although I would argue it was started by the Pistons, Lakers, and Celtics of the late 80's (not in terms of comparative talent, but taking the game to a completely different level of physical play) the Knicks were certainly a prime example of it because they didn't have the talent, but still won. They won because they had to play harder than everyone else to make up for what they lacked in talent.

When you play that hard it's tough not to make it ugly. And that is exactly what happened tonight. Both teams. Both ends of the floor. It was like their was a lid on both baskets for extended stretches, only it had nothing to do with the rim and everything to do with the shots both defenses were forcing. To me that creates a greater level of suspense than "pretty basketball" ever could. Without question, it's a lot of fun to watch two high octane offenses play at their peak, trading baskets for 48 minutes, one play more exciting than the next. But in that scenario you always feel like your team is in it. In games like tonight, both teams feel like they are out of it. The drama that creates inside the fan is just outstanding. And it's because the teams are just playing so hard.

Again, it is my opinion when you play that hard, you just can't get the offense you'd get otherwise. There is too much attention on every defensive possession, every rebound, every opportunity to control the basketball. Given a choice, I'd rather that level of intensity than pretty offense every day of the week. That's how basketball is supposed to be played. If you could have both I'd love it. I just don't think you can get there, and we saw why tonight with these two incredibly talented teams. They are so gifted physically that, when they want to, they can push each other for every single inch for four full quarters. I'm amazed when I watch something like that, and it was a pleasure to do so tonight.

A few other thoughts. Related to the above, Pau Gasol made about as big a 180 as you can make in two seasons. It was like he saw in 2008 what it took to win as a big in the NBA, and did everything he could to get himself to that point. He's done it in back to back years now, and this series was really evidence of it as he had to shoulder a big load against a physical team up front without Bynum. He won the game for the Lakers in the 4th quarter with a number of sheer will plays. Kobe Bryant, despite the poor shooting (it seemed like everyone shot poorly in that game, and again, there's a reason for that) did other things to get his team to this W. Specifically, he saw the way this game was going and being played, with both teams having a tough time wrapping up possessions. And so he just took the defensive backboard over for the Lakers. It was his in the 4th quarter. He came up with seemingly every ball, usually in a lot of traffic, on his way to 15 rebounds. He also made things very tough on Rondo with his combination of length and quickness, and hit that one very tough jumper going right in the 4th when it was tight. Finally, it was very surprising to see Boston meltdown like that offensively in the 4th with such a veteran team. As this entire post was about, neither defense was making it easy. But even when they weren't scoring, and let it spin out of control for a bit, the Lakers were able to regain their offensive composure in the final six minutes with their veterans. The Celtics weren't. That went a long way towards deciding who won the NBA Championship tonight.

Back to the playing hard/ugly result notion for a moment, it reminded me of Yankees/Red Sox at the most recent peak of their rivalry tonight. If you really broke the game down, there were so many missed opportunities and not a lot of pretty play going on. But in the moment it didn't matter because both teams were playing so ridiculously hard and absolutely refused to give in. That's what sports is all about. Great stuff. Great theater.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Split Decision? Shouldn't Be!

For some reason, the return of Ian Kennedy (who probably thought his 6-ER outing Tuesday was a stellar start) and notorious Sox killer Rodrigo Lopez isn't going to be making too many ripples around Boston right now with the NBA Finals going on. So all baseball attention is going to be focused on something that will be the center of the Boston universe, period, once the final buzzer sounds on Game Seven tomorrow night.

That, of course, is the return of the mack like few other returns of the mack. The mack, of course, would be possibly the third-longest-tenured Red Sox player in the last decade (off the top of my head, only Varitek and Wakefield had been around longer, and I'm not doing the research). He's also one of the most enigmatic and most controversial. Oh, Manny Ramirez was also a good baseball player.

And the focus will be on the reception. There's been a lot made about this, probably since Clemens left town. Clemens got mostly cheers, then mostly boos when he went to New York. Pedro got cheers. Nomar got an ovation. Coco Crisp would have gotten a 20-minute ovation from me, but he has been on the DL during his teams' returns the last two years. Damon got booed. Derek Lowe and Dave Roberts were cheered.

The question is what Manny's going to get. His tenure here marked the beginning of the Red Sox' seriousness in trying to win the World Series. The Pedro acquisition was a step in the right direction, but when Duquette signed Manny, that signified that he was no longer F'ing around. And the new ownership group just took the ball from there. Because of the player, the team was obviously significantly improved on the field, and he was centrally responsible for the following:

-The playoffs in 03-05 and 07.
-David Ortiz.
-Timely hot streaks where he put the team on his back. This happened in the playoffs as well.
-The two World Series.
-The ingenius 2006 "Manny Being Manny" commercials.
-The Julian Tavarez head rub, the Manny Cutoff, the Green Monster urination, the double point, and a long series of awesome handshakes.
-Not believing in curse and making your own destination.

But do these outweigh the player's downfalls? Do they outweigh the on-field shirking, the questionable injuries, the showing up at spring training late thing, and the occasional sulking about wanting to be traded and hating Boston, the fans, and the media? That alone can probably be dwarfed by the achievements. It was almost unanimous among the HYD Baseball comments section participants.

Then the Scott Boras thing happened.

Since Manny hired Boras as his agent, he orchestrated a series of stunts that ran him out of Boston and guaranteed his $40 million options were not picked up. There was the normal shirking. There was the fake knee injury. Sitting against good pitchers. Taking three down the middle against Mariano. There was the dugout fight with Youkilis. And then there was Jack McCormick. Even upon the Jack McCormack incident, I was hesitant to write him off as an unperson the way I have with 46. As far as Boras went, I thought he just didn't know better.

The day he clinched my boos on Friday was July 28, 2008, when he decided to talk contract to the media. I called it the "Johnny F. Damon Method of Running Yourself Out Of Town." If you behave so badly as to do what he did throughout the 2008 season (all things previously aforementioned in this post and in the linked post) for the specific ends of peacing out of the city, that's saying that despite all the good you did, you hated the place.

The fact that after he orchestrated the trade that would only go through if the Dodgers didn't exercise the option (and guaranteed a payday for Boras), he took off at the plate, was just salt in the wound and left Red Sox fans wondering if he was semi-shirking the whole time. Plus he talked crap about how much he hated Boston. He revolutionized the Johnny Damon Method of "talk contract, then talk trash." Damon deserved the boos he got for both the methodology and the Yankees aspect of it. Manny deserves the boos for taking the methodology to a whole new level.

And only AFTER that all happened, the HCG suspension and the List of 104 inclusion happened.

Is there anyone else left (Bandi?) who would still cheer Manny Ramirez if they went to Friday's game? If so, they might want to read back on the July 2008 archives for a friendly reminder on how hard this guy sabotaged the team to get that cash in the 08-09 offseason. You do what he did in 2008, you get the consequences in 2010.

The Anti-Red Sox?

Enjoy it, Boston fans. Thursday night will probably be the last time you see the Big Three playing together. This is a point brought up on the radio this afternoon, but not only is Ray Allen hitting free agency, but with (Felger's term) "collective bargaining armageddon" happening after the 2010-2011 season, Paul Pierce might want to get a new contract under the old CBA. Let's say both have a 50% chance of coming back. That means there's a 25% chance they both return. But I see it as even less likely than that, as the team said at some point they'd have to move on.

While thinking about this, I was pretty sad. Because as the Red Sox teams in the past several years (pretty much since the advent of HYD Baseball) have become increasing dislikable, the Big Three have been supremely likable. The whole Celtics team, at least this year, has been likable for the most part. I thought about it more, and while they certainly aren't perfect (for reasons discussed below), they're a lot more likable than this year's Red Sox team--or any Red Sox team for that matter, probably since 2004. At the same time, especially since they decided to play better than .500, the Red Sox team has scored some likability points, especially as I've come around a bit on Beltre and even JD Drew. But I know that no matter what the outcome of the game on Thursday night, I'm going to miss this year's Celtics team.

My dad said sometime in the past year that it's a good thing Garnett ended up with the Celtics because if he never did, we'd never get a chance to find out how much we liked him. So absolutely true. I feel like someday I will tell my grandkids how the guy smacked himself on the back of the head and screamed profanities constantly to nobody in particular. I might also talk about Shrek and Donkey (no matter how inconsistent they can be), Rondo going Barry Sanders on some defenses, Ray Allen reminding me that you don't have to suck to go to UConn, Rasheed's "Ball Don't Lie" spiel, and the occasional dumb things said by Paul Pierce. Plus I once saw Shelden Williams doing his Christmas shopping within six miles of Wilmington. I might not always remember all of this, but I'm the type of guy who can still name ten players from the 1995 UMass Final Four (vacated) team. The coach is reasonably likable and the organization as a whole is ultra-competitive instead of profit-maximizing or "look how smart I am"-maximizing.

I know that I can't give a completely glowing endorsement for the team because of their occasional maddening play on the court (like tonight, for example), the fact that they basically JDed their way through the regular season, the fact that Pierce, Davis, Perkins, and the fact that Tony Allen never has any idea where the F he's going have most likely taken 5-10 years off of my dad's life. I think Pierce saying stuff like "we're not coming back to LA" isn't bad, but at least he's talking about the whole team being awesome. I can easily contrast that kind of stuff to the stuff Papelbon says.

Meanwhile, as I've mentioned a few times, the recent Red Sox are not that likable. You got a general manager whose smugness, arrogance, and self-congratulatory attitude can only be exceeded in the alumni notes of Colby Magazine. The right fielder is only playing hard because he's retiring soon, the center fielder is not playing because he wants to protect his .250 batting average, one pitcher got a paycheck but can't stay healthy, another one is jawing at the catcher, the catcher is jawing back, the other catcher whined about playoff playing time, three guys are explicitly linked to steroids, at least one more is a pretty obvious user, each starter is trying to have their own personal catcher, one stole a couple of laptops, the closer wants to be Curt Flood, one DH blamed the media for his bad start, two veterans have been left to die, and the third baseman embodies all the beef you could possibly have with Tony Allen except for the fact that his lack of baseball fundamentals have fractured five outfielders' ribs in 65 games.

Likablility points have been scored by the usuals (Youkilis and Pedroia), an independent league refugee, Mike Cameron because he's played through the same injury I'm having surgery for, Scutaro for playing through another injury, Joe Nelson because of his Miley Cyrus walkup music, and two unusual suspects in Beltre and Drew. There's something to be said about a previously-apathetic player temporarily caring, and there's something different to be said about a guy whose talent and lack of polish are downright comical.

Either way, despite the likability points, this Red Sox team's likability, not to mention the likability of all the rest of the recent Boston sports teams, fall way short of this year's Celtics. While it's true that they built a lot of likability credit over this playoff run by knocking off villainous opponents (hopefully Pat spews about this one), a win Thursday night would obviously be good. But it would also be the ultimate anti-end of the 2009 baseball season. I was relieved the 2009 Red Sox were broken up. But I'm going to miss this year's Celtics.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Doing What You're Supposed To And A Great Match-Up

Quite a bit was made of the the 16 game stretch the Yankees just completed, where 13 of them were against the Indians, Orioles, and Astros, three of the worst teams in baseball. The Yankees went 12-4 over these 16 games, and did so despite losing the one series they played against a good team during this stretch, dropping 2 of 3 on the road to the Blue Jays. So they actually went 11-2 in the 13 games against some of less talented teams in the game.

Any way you slice it, even including the series loss to Toronto, this is exactly what you're supposed to do against teams like this. It's probably more. I think most people would have said 11-5 should be the goal. That's .688 baseball. 10-6 would have been more than acceptable, as that's .625 baseball. 9-7 (.563) would have been a disappointment, and anything above 11-5, or better than .688, would have been a big bonus. 12-4 (.750) is just that. It's great baseball, even better than could have been expected, even against mostly weak teams like this. That baseball has the Yankees, six games back of Tampa Bay just three weeks ago, back in a tie for first place.

The Yankees now have 25 games left before the All-Star Break. 22 of them are either against good teams or on the West Coast, with the lone exception being a three game set with Seattle at home, and we all know anything can happen in a series that short. At 17 games over, this is a trap stretch for the Yankees. The All-Star Break seems pretty close but in reality 25 games is a substantial portion of the season. Really anytime, but especially in a division like this, you don't want to allow yourself to come up on the wrong side of trap stretches. It's not a particularly easy part of the schedule, and the Yankees need to continue to play good baseball to finish out the first half strong. They've put themselves in a great position tied for the best record in baseball to this point, and have largely played consistently which is great to see. Can't have a let up now though.

A few other notes:

- Each of the Yankees starters has at least six wins. This is the first time since 1939 that this has happened through 62 games of the season (it happened after game 62 on Saturday. Wins and losses are usually not the best indicators of pitching success, but that doesn't mean they never are. Yankees starters have picked up the win in 35 of their 40 victories as a team. That is simply an astounding mark, and speaks to the starting pitching this team has been getting. Despite having scored the most runs in baseball, this offense has had bouts of inconsistency. The Yankees have pretty much always just continued to win, however, because of the strength of their starting pitcher.

- Robinson Cano is absolutely unconscious so far this year. At the age of 27, he has already had multiple All-Star caliber seasons. He is now in the midst of his first take-over, consistent game-changing, #1 type bat, superstar level seasons. The Yankees always had high hopes for him, but this has to be entering the territory of exceeding most expectations. He's been that good. He's hitting .371/.418/.614/1.030 with 13 homers, 19 doubles, 47 RBI, and 50 runs scored. He has 92 hits in 63 games. All at second base. With 99 games to go, there is a lot of time for him to improve on these crazy numbers. I hope he continues to do so, because he's just a lot of fun to watch.

- Fun match-up tomorrow night. Rematch of the two World Series participants from last year. Sabathia vs. Halladay, probably the two best pitchers in baseball across the last three seasons. I get going for pretty much every game, but as a fan this one really has to get you going for a mid-June game.

More Medical Incompetence

Between December 2009 and now I've learned quite a bit about doctors in general and how, more or less, they're completely full of crap. Among my experiences, I have been handed a poorly-stapled print-out from a coloring book that outlined basic stretches, I've had to wait nine weeks--twice--to see a certain doctor, and I've been given a psychiatric evaulation from an orthopedist that said the Olympic Trials weren't important because only three people from that race make it to the Olympics. (Good story--might show up in the comments section.) But now I've realized that during 40% of the duration of my medical odyssey, Number Two has experienced similar medical incompetence.

While I still firmly believe Number Two (or 46) is being as soft as hell regarding these injuries (could you imagine Aaron Rowand taking this time off after one of those times he broke his face?), his beef regarding the Red Sox' misdiagnoses of his maladies is completely justified.

When 46 first suffered a rib injury colliding into Adrian Beltre, he was diagnosed with a contusion of his ribs. He was listed as day-to-day. It took nearly a week for the Red Sox to perform an MRI on the player and figure out that there were non-displaced hairline fractures in four of the outfielder's brittle bones. When I heard that the team's justification was that rest was the only option whether it's a contusion or a break, I was a little blown away. I speak from both personal experience and common sense that it it profitable to get a conclusive diagnosis so that there can be an accurate recovery time objective. It's better mentally for the player. It's better for the team's planning. And it's better for the fans and media to have this insight instead of questioning the player's toughness. This is common sense. The second point here is the most important--more on that in a second.

When 46 made an unnecessary diving catch a few weeks ago in Philadelphia and broke another rib in a separate area, you'd think the Red Sox wouldn't make the same mistake. Wrong. They threw him on the DL but still didn't run an MRI until last week. This is absolutely dumbfounding.

I mean, as overrated, soft, and mediocre as 46 might be, does this team and its medical staff led by Dr. Thomas Gill realize that this is a multi-million-dollar asset in a huge freaking business? Is it an issue of Dr. Gill's time? (Could have been--I have called his office in regards to my own injury and the phone rang off the hook.) Is it an issue of investing in the MRI? Is it an issue of insurance? If any of these are true, that is ridiculous. It's the Boston freaking Red Sox. They can't shell out $750 for an MRI? Or they can't find a team doctor who has more time on his hands? We're not talking about a pizza shop here, we're talking about a business who literally stands to make or lose millions of dollars contingent on its employees' health.

It wouldn't surprise me if 46's organization-wide reputation of being somewhat of a pussy makes the team skeptical of all his ailments. Maybe Manny Ramirez and JD Drew's phantom injuries have influenced the team's philosophy to not get tests whenever a player wakes up with a sniffle, a hangnail, a finger avulsion, or the dreaded condition of sore glove hand. But the team's success is pretty important to the region and the organization's finances. So why is their medical team not ponying up the dough or time for another test? Why are these doctors doing such a crummy job?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Maybe It Was The Ballpark

I've been waiting for a while to write this post, and once Adrian Beltre smoked a lined shot into the bleachers off of Kerry Wood, I finally decided it was my opportunity.

(By the way, I was going to write about how maybe I was wrong about the 46 situation as a new fracture was found. Drink some friggin milk, bro. I was also going to mention the fact that World Cup refs are going to yellow card players who swear. Swearing is part of sports. Feel free to talk about this.)

I wrote in February that the Adrian Beltre move, while it certainly wasn't my favorite by any stretch of the imagination, was not a terrible move. It presented a slight upgrade over Mike Lowell, and now that we're a third of the way through the season, it has been evident that it's more than just a slight upgrade. I certainly will continue to contend that he might be the only player on the team dumber than Jonathan Papelbon, but the guy can actually play baseball. Good baseball.

I talked to one of my boys from Seattle in January, and he said that I wouldn't dislike Beltre as much as I anticipated I would. He asked me this week now I'm liking Beltre. What can I say?

We heard Beltre pop his mouth off a little bit in the offseason about how his lack of production as a member of the Mariners was because of the ballpark. And this might actually be true. A lot of the balls he smokes might just kind of stay up there in that dense air in Seattle. A lot of them might also be crushing walls now whereas they won't be in Seattle. He also battled injuries in his last season, but it shouldn't matter: His numbers were terrible last year. And his performance in 2004 screams steroid use.

But the guy has never been implicated. Even I will admit that the guy has been leagues better than Lowell would have been at this position on both sides of the ball. It may have been a comments section or it may have been in a past post, but the power that Adrian Beltre represents what Wily Mo Pena was supposed to be. Bad plate patience, a lot of strikeouts, but can hit the ball a mile and a half when he can get a hold of one. He's actually more refined than Pena, as he can (obviously) hit things other than home runs too. He's certainly not a smart batter. He's not a smart defender. He's not a smart baserunner. And he's as weird as hell (what is up with the "don't touch my head" thing? Makes no sense.

But loss tonight or no loss tonight, Adrian Beltre has been a difference-maker on this team. Perhaps the team's most consistent hitter. And that's because he's got a lot of talent. Guy's oozing with it. There's something that has to be said about a guy who can launch a ball 450 from one knee.

The thing that must be said is that he's worth watching. More so than anyone else on the team. Definitely an upgrade. Definitely a pleasant surprise. And yes, this is the real DV and not someone hijacking my computer: Beltre is absolutely a good scouting job of a major league player by the Red Sox' organization.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

15 Over

The Yankees are 15 games over .500 on June 9th. It feels like it's been at least a few years since they were this far over .500 this early in the season. Just three years ago they were a game under .500 at the All-Star Break, before having to go nuts in the second half to make the playoffs.

This has me thinking though, why we put so much emphasis on record being a reflection of the way teams are playing in baseball. In other sports we heavily factor scheduling. If an NFL or college football team has a vicious 5 weeks and goes 2-3 it's not the end of the world. If an NBA or college basketball team has a tough 10 games and goes 4-6 we're generally okay with that. While we might be fine with either of those records in baseball too, the proportional equivalent is 8-12 across 20 games, which we would likely be not so fine with. Each example is .400 ball, but only one would be viewed as truly poor against a tough schedule. At least in my opinion.

This doesn't make a lot of sense. Baseball is no different than the other sports in that you are supposed to play better against the worse teams and you aren't likely to play as well against the good teams. It's just that you aren't expected to beat the bad teams every single game. Just 2 out of 3 or better.

To bring this back to the Yankees, it seems like in years past they had very tough schedules the first half and easier schedules the second half. While they undoubtedly weren't at their best early and played better later in the year, and while the schedule didn't have everything to do with it, I think it had a big impact both ways. I'm sure most remember the same 2007 season I referenced above, where the Yankees had something like 75% of their games over a 40 something game stretch against teams under .500, which is a big reason why they made the playoffs despite being a game under at the break. Chances are if the schedule was that easy for that long late, it was probably tough for a long time early, which probably contributed to their record. You get my point.

This year the Yankees schedule is much more balanced. With almost perfect consistency (meaning no mixing and matching of good and bad teams) the Yankees season thus far has been completely composed of four big cycles. Tough opening, then an easy stretch, then another tough stretch, and now the easy stretch they are in right now. Which is why it's good to see them at this many games over against that schedule, because the schedule the rest of the way should be about as tough as it has been thus far. Maybe a little tougher, but I may only be saying that because of how favorable the schedule has been for over two weeks now.

Further, it has been nice to see the Yankees play with good balance for the most part. Of their 37 wins, their starters have gotten 31 of them (not including Vazquez's relief win) which is incredible. The starters have a combined 3.67 ERA despite Vazquez's April, tied for 5th best in the game. The offense is first in baseball in runs at 326, and is also first in AVG, OBP, and OPS. The bullpen has been very middle of the pack with a 4.35 ERA (19th in the game) and a 67% save percentage (tied for 16th in baseball) neither of which are great but neither of which are not serviceable, especially considering (1) the strength of the rotation and offense and (2) the fact that they have Mariano Rivera at the very back of that bullpen, which is what matters most for their bullpen. He can and does cover up a lot of things. If there is one area of need right now, however, this is it, although the pen has been a lot better lately.

They have also been doing what they are supposed to do against the easier parts of their schedule. After hitting their first legitimate rough patch of the year losing 5 of 6 to the Red Sox, Rays, and Mets, the Yankees have won 11 of their last 15 including a series against the Twins on the road. It would be nice to continue that tomorrow against the Orioles and over the weekend against the Astros, before a stretch of the schedule, including two west coast trips in three weeks, leads them into the All-Star Break. If they could build further upon 15 over at that time, they'd have to be pretty happy with where they would be.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Reality Check

Tim Kurkjian needs to calm down. Let me throw it out there that the Rest of Baseball division is a lot more exciting than the Red Sox/Yankees division this year. Nonetheless, Tim Kurkjian and pretty much the rest of the baseball media needs to calm down about Stephen Strasburg tonight. You can't take away from what he accomplished tonight, living up to the hype for one night, dropping a downright Pedro line (7 IP, 2 R, 0 BB, 14 K) on the Pirates in his first major league appearance. He struck out his last seven batters. But the inappropriate context references to Fernando Valenzuela and Tom Seaver (both of which I heard tonight) must stop. Immediately. And here's why.

1. The most obvious, but least believable reality check is that it's the Pittsburgh Pirates, who is hitting under .237 on the season with an OPS under .700. They have the fewest hits, the fewest runs, and straight-up can't hit. It's too bad. They're bad. But they're better than the Rochester Red Wings.

2. Most teams have detailed scouting reports on each pitcher they face. There was actually a pretty robust amount of unintentional coverage of the Orioles' Clay Buchholz scouting report notebook over the weekend. Do the Pirates have the Oregon State University scouting report on Strasburg? Do they have the scouting report from AAA? Even if they did, the guy was not facing major league hitters.

3. The guy's going to be good. And I'm pumped that I have him on the bench for my fantasy team. But he is not going to K fourteen batters every night he pitches. Major league baseball teams will make the appropriate adjustments. The league adjusted to Sam Militello, and the league adjusted to Vaughn Eshelman. Shoot, the league adjusted to Daisuke Matsuzaka, Felix Hernandez, and Francisco Liriano, pitchers with considerable talent like Strasburg.

4. Here is the most speculatory remark: He is on a team that is not really considered a contender. They're playing well right now, but are they for real for the long haul? Uncertain at best, doubtful at most realistic. It's quite possible that the player, like Zach Grienke, might get bored. After all, a comprehensive biography of the player in Sports Illustrated revealed a work ethic that has not always been there. There's a reason he wasn't drafted out of high school. Is it possible to see a 50-MPH curveball out of Strasburg because he doesn't feel challenged in potentially-meaningless NL East games? Probably not, but you get my point.

5. Innings workload. In my very perfunctory research, it doesn't look like the player has amassed any more than 150 innings in a year--probably not even close, even during his Olympic year. He won't be an ace for a full season until he's 25 given the way pitchers are babied in the year 2010.

This performance, however, deserves the following positive comments. Not that anyone's going to wade through the negativity to actually read these.

1. Scouting has come a long, long way. I feel like the Brien Taylors and Greg Blossers of the world aren't going to be drafted supremely high anymore. Can't-miss prospects are less likely to flop, and players are not going to pay their dues in the minor leagues if they no longer have to.

2. The above is indicative of how some signing bonuses might be justified in the future. If this guy is for real over the long haul, he becomes the gold standard. Previously, Brien Taylor was the gold standard. Good. Hopefully this leads to good, as the commissioner's office will realize big-market teams can and will shamelessly exploit the unenforced slotting system and allow draft picks with "signability problems" to fall in the draft. This is idealistic.

3. Good for the Nats for shelling out the $15 million.

4. Good for the player for accepting the $15 million instead of making this debut with the St. Paul Saints like JD Drew did.

It was a special night and a thought-provoking night on all accounts. But it's unreasonable and unfair to expect that the player will play like he did tonight on an every-start basis. Should be interesting to follow the story though.

The Matsuzaka Strategy

Another enigmatic outing from the $103 million man last night. He was absolutely brilliant. I didn't see the no-hit bid, but I doubt that outing could be any better than this one. Haters can go ahead and cite Cleveland's .241 home batting average, but it's not necessary. He can drop performances like this against the worst teams in the league but also the best teams of the league (like Philadelphia used to be).

Matsuzaka gave up four hits and walked two. The most important stat here is that he only struck out five. Which brings me to my point.

What we've seen out of the player this year is a hesitance to attack the strike zone. The guy did not want to pitch to contact. He's the anti-Bill Hall. Watching him pitch is similar to an average person putting in golf or bowling. You have to concentrate big-time, have pinpoint accuracy, and if you screw up a few, you psyche yourself out mentally. This seems to be exactly what happened with Matsuzaka's bad innings. Including the Oakland game last week.

Bottom line, you shouldn't play baseball that way.

My modest proposal is for Matsuzaka to pitch to contact more. He did this yesterday. He picked at the corners a few times, especially when he decided to switch up his pitches toward the end of the game. But when Matsuzaka pitches to contact, the contact he gives up is awkward, uncomfortable, and crappy about 90% of the time. Did anyone actually hit the ball hard against Matsuzaka last night? Other than the first inning, did anyone actually hit the ball hard during the Oakland game?

I didn't think so.

So by pitching to contact, Matsuzaka can waste fewer pitches, get a lot of routine fly outs created by unbalanced, terrible swings. He has the repertoire (and sometimes the command) to baffle batters, and that's what we saw last night. Sometimes you'll get some Jeter hits that fall in between the first baseman, second baseman, and right fielder unless the right fielder decides to hustle. Better that than walking the bases loaded and being forced to throw a meatball down the middle.

Also, one more comment: How much did Victor Martinez suck at calling the game last night? Enjoy your day.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pretty Big Problem

If it were any other pitcher, normally I'd say that 7 innings of one hit baseball (allowing only 2 runs), 9 strikeouts, and a win against the team with the second most runs in baseball (and leading the game in home runs) is pretty good. But since it's Javy Vazquez I know if I did so my co-author would tell me I'm just looking for a silver lining, so I'll just refrain.

The umpiring in baseball has been a problem for a while, by far the worst officiating of the three most major professional sports in this country (I have no idea about hockey). It has also been getting worse for a while. The 2009 playoffs were off the charts, as other playoffs have been, but this one for whatever reason seemed to garner a particular amount of attention and bring the issue of poor umpiring in baseball to the forefront. Considering there are six umpires on the field in the playoffs, you can certainly understand the cause for concern.

However for me that is not what it's about. You could have 10 umpires out there and calls would still get missed. That's the nature of the game and the nature of sports. Missed calls are frustrating but they happen.

What it's about for me is that the umpiring has gotten worse (and the umpires have to know how much negative attention they are getting) some of the biggest problem umpires have become even more defiant. Joe West has already been involved in three pretty questionable situations this year. He opened his mouth for no reason on a topic he really shouldn't be concerned about regarding the Yankees and Red Sox. He was involved in an altercation with the White Sox/Ozzie Guillen/Mark Buerhle over some iffy balk calls. And just a few days ago he reversed a call at third base from first base. Normally I'd have no problem with this last one, but in conjunction with these other "look at me" moments, it's an issue because you don't know if he really had the call or if he just wanted to be part of the action. And that's exactly the problem. It's cliche at this point, but some umpires just don't understand that the fans aren't there to see them.

As the umpiring continues to get worse in general, many of the worst in terms of calls made seem to suffer from the same lack of understanding of this simple concept. Angel Hernandez and C.B. Bucknor are two of the worst umpires in the game, and they are constantly inserting themselves unnecessarily into situations. Just today, the homeplate umpire in the Yankees/Blue Jays game was lost with balls and strikes. I completely understand that there is a big subjective element to balls and strikes, and no two strike zones are exactly the same. It's too difficult of a job to accomplish that anyway. However there has to be a general guide. This guy's strikezone was about 6 inches too high both on the bottom and top of the strikezone. That is absolutely too much, because it changes the norm of what players are used to by too much. But as if this isn't bad enough, he takes control of a check swing call in a key spot in the 8th inning, ringing Nick Swisher up even though he did not swing without even checking with his 3rd base umpire. This is inexcusable. I know I've said something along these lines before, but first, how can you watch balls and strikes and also watch whether or not a batter checks his swing from that angle? Second, if you aren't going to check with the third base umpire, what is he there for, only to call out and safe and third base? I mean, even if you have the call, why wouldn't you just check with someone in a better angle who has less to worry about? It defies common sense.

That is really the whole issue for me. It isn't enough for some umpires to just make bad calls, or in certain instances to just be really bad at what they do. They have to go the extra mile and really call attention to themselves in unnecessary ways. You can accept missed calls. What you can't accept are some of these attitudes where umpires seem to think they can just do whatever they want out there with no repercussions. Seriously, in what other industry can you be this bad at something, have a bad attitude on top of it, and just consistently get away with it?

I don't want to include all umpires in this. There are a lot of really good ones. There are also some average and bad ones that are more than fine in my book because despite blowing more calls than they should, don't have this ridiculous sense of entitlement.

Interestingly, even though Jim Joyce blew one of the biggest calls you can ever blow this past week, he should really be viewed as a model for how umpires should conduct themselves. He acknowledged the missed call and seems to genuinely care about it. That's probably why he's considered one of the better umpires in the game. It's not all about calls made versus calls missed, although that's important. It's as much about how you conduct yourself alongside those calls, good or bad. Nobody can expect the umpires to be perfect, although I would argue they should really be better than they are. What we should be able to expect is appropriate conduct, and we just aren't getting it consistently enough. Jim Joyce should be commended for the way he's handled himself this week. A summary of this conduct should be given to all umpires, as there are many of them who don't get what he gets: no matter how good or bad your calls, you can always act properly. This is even more true if you're stinking the joint out on the regular, which is the two-faced problem with many umpires currently.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

RoB Roundup

A few things worth mentioning from west of the Hudson River this week. There are two big ones in particular, and then a handful of other ones that I'll write provided the Lakers continue to run up the score.

-As I said in the comments section tonight, I hadn't heard about the Tigers/Indians game and the Armando Galarraga/Jim Joyce situation until I got back from the Red Sox game. But like everyone else in the United States and beyond, I have been thinking about it all day and going back and forth about it all day. First of all, good for Joyce to come out and admit it. Second of all, I thought it was bold (in a bad way) for Joyce to call the runner out in the first place. Sure, tie usually goes to the runner, but--as the argument goes--this is a special situation, something that may have happened twice in a week, but has only happened 20-21 times in 120 years. An incorrect out call would have carried fewer negative consequenes than an incorrect safe call.

The "special situation" argument is a somewhat-valid one, having the commissioner's office overturn the call because it is something that wouldn't affect the outcome of the game (except for one at-bat), it is something that has happened so rarely in the history of baseball, and because it is something that really shapes a player's career and life. Not to mention the umpire's. However, each player knows what he's up against when he puts on the uniform--everyone, including the umpires, are human. You are up against the human element. Galarraga should understand that, and so should everyone else.

But as it is, as the Red Sox' management said, it becomes a slippery slope. Should the Jeff Maier call be reversed? Should Games 1 and 4 of the 1999 ALCS be reversed? Because of the high stakes (especially in hindsight), those were very high-leverage situations. We don't want the commissioner's office to be taking away at-bats that happened because an umpire makes a mistake. It's a messy situation in several ways, it sets a bad precedent that can and will be cited forever, and it would be nice to see Bud Selig take a stand about something.

Lastly, this does definitely assign more weight to instant replay. Originally, I wasn't for instant replay, but if it is executed correctly (not the way it is currently executed), it could be helpful in a lot of these situations. Every MLB game has a fifth umpire waiting just in case someone gets hurt. That fifth umpire should be in a booth watching a monitor. Each obvious call should be reversed within fifteen seconds. No time waiting for Joe West to walk into the umps' room, eat a burger, and make a decision. A reversal could be made before the manager goes back to the dugout.

It would largely eliminate the need for a manager to go out and argue, but it is only debatable whether these arguments are good for the game. Traditional, yes, but would it really be missed?

For what it's worth, I'm sticking with the human error being part of the game. "Man in the booth" replay is good for homers, but not for plays like this. I'm also for sticking with the original call.

IN OTHER NEWS, Ken Griffey Jr. retired this week after an abysmal start. With a .404 OPS at age 40, looks like he's even more toast than he has been. I mentioned a few months ago that Nomar's retirement should make a lot of my generation feel old. Griffey's retirement should evoke the same emotions, but to a lesser extent. This guy transcended uniforms: In the mid-90s, Griffey was just as popular in Boston as Mo Vaughn or Roger Clemens was. Everyone imitated his stance in Little League, and I think he was at least partially responsible for the backwards hat becoming acceptable in suburban/white kid culture.

Beyond his undeniable accomplishments on the field, which made him a sure Hall-of-Famer even before he broke his wrist for the first time, he was really the most recent universally-liked baseball superstar. He didn't have any steroid accusations around him, he was great with kids, the media, and his teammates, he left Seattle for free agency--but left it for his hometown--there was nothing to dislike. There hasn't been anyone in baseball that good and that likable simultaneously. Jeter doesn't count because he was a Yankee. There may never be another player like that, partially because of the ESPN/blog/hype culture around sports in the year 2010.

There was even something special about his return to Seattle, after many injuries tragically derailed a career that could have outshadowed all the numbers that have been skewed by steroids. In Sports Illustrated there was a two-page picture of him at bat with his favorite video game being listed: "Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball," a Nintendo game from like 1996. That's hilarious. That's awesome.

I hope we have some other people with historical perspectives (i.e. FTB) cast some kind of analysis toward this guy. But I have a feeling that when I'm 65 years old, I'll be telling people about how I watched Griffey the same way other people talked about how they watched Mantle. I won't be saying that about Bonds, Clemens, Arod, Pujols, Ortiz, Manny, or even Nomar. I might say it about Jeter. But I'd definitely say it about Griffey.

OTHER STUFF:
-I don't like the guy, but I am excited for Strasburg's debut next week.
-The Blue Jays' success is more surprising than the Padres', Nats', Reds', or Athletics'.
-Wakefield got lit up today, but I love how some are still blaming him for the Phillies' offensive struggles.

Y'all have a good weekend.

Observations from Fenway Park

So I got tickets for each of the last two Red Sox/Athletics game. It is pretty obvious why. Coco Crisp, the most underappreciated player in Red Sox history, now plays for Oakland. Well, #4 in your program, #1 in your hearts has been on the DL all season with the exception of two games in which he has hit .333 (2/6). So I was a little disappointed about his presence on the DL this week, especially after the same thing happened last year when he was on Kansas City. Anyway, I still got two pretty good, exciting Red Sox wins. And now I'm going to write about them.

-Dr. Number Two, also on the DL but unlike Crisp, for no apparent reason, should be charged with at least two more runs. In the last two games, we had three errors or miscues by outfielders. Bill Hall missed a fly ball Tuesday, Darnell McDonald did a bellyflop in center field that turned into a triple Tuesday, and Jeremy Hermida had a semi-routine liner go off his glove eventually leading to a run last night. Depending on where he's playing, two of the three should have been caught by a competent outfielder like 46. But 46 is chilling out on the bench with his injury that's going to stay with him all year.

-The official scorer was extremely generous in both games. Those three plays (McDonald didn't deserve an error), two errors by Kouzmanoff, and errant throws by Matsuzaka and Daric Barton were all not called errors.

-Adrian Beltre is what Wily Mo Pena was supposed to be. As we've discussed, he doesn't exactly play the most fundamental baseball, but you can tell that steroids or no steroids, he is a pure athlete. If you can crush a ball 425 off of one knee, it's pretty impressive. He's playing pretty well on the whole right now, and I'm a little bummed out he didn't crush any when I was there. Also looks like he's enjoying himself right now.

-Think about this: Dustin Pedroia is hitting .254, has a .776 OPS, and is on pace for more strikeouts at any time of his life while playing "G'd Up" by Snoop Dogg as his walkup music. He hit .296 with an .819 OPS with "Dre Day" by Dr. Dre as his walkup music. During my time working in the industry, I learned how much players care about the walkup music. But I think it's time to go back to Dre Day.

-Lackey looks extremely uncomfortable on the mound. This doesn't get its full due on televison. His line doesn't reflect how bad he was on Tuesday. He might be hurt. His posture sucks, he's grimacing all the time, and he moves around the infield similar to the way PF hobbled around the basketball court by the time he was a senior. I don't mean this as an insult, but it just looks painful and uncomfortable to watch.

-Matsuzaka's line won't reflect how good he was for most of that game. The first was pretty bad, as he hit the strike zone, then gave up the home run, then threw three straight balls (it was like, this guy's not gonna throw a strike again). But someone must have said something good in the dugout after that bad first, because he got it together and pitched one of his best performances in a long time.

-Going back to the hobbling department, long-time minor league manager Ron Johnson is now the first base coach. Poor guy can barely walk. When Victor Martinez hit the four doubles Tuesday, he had to limp out to second base to collect VMart's stuff each time.

-This has been the least-frustrating JD season thus far. There was a time last night where I was happy he was up. Guy actually seems to care. He's argued a few called third strikes. He engages in timely hitting. He's on pace for nearly 95 RBIs. When going after fly balls, he's running at about 80%.

-Rough series for former Red Sox pitcher Craig Breslow. Guy got shelled in both outings. Tyson ("Rick") Ross and his funky short-arm delivery is interesting because of the weird release point and the fact that nobody knows where his pitches are going, but I have a feeling the A's bullpen might lose them a lot more games between now and the end of the season.

-Kouzmanoff's homer in the 9th was crushed. Ortiz was irresponsible with his use of vitamins and supplements. And while for a while I was a bit of a hater of the wave, I feel like it's harmless. The rise of the "Sweet Caroline" phenomenon and my acceptance of the wave are completely related. Roman Polanski might as well have written that song.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Another Lesson In Small Sample Size Reactions

After his 7 inning, 1 run, 4 hit, 7 strikeout, 1 walk performance against the Orioles tonight, Javier Vazquez has a ~2.90 ERA in his last 5 appearances (4 starts). A small sample. However it's almost exactly as small as the sample in April when he was getting lit and skipped in the rotation and people were going nuts. The reality is he is neither as bad as he was then or as good as he's been recently (for the record, he got rocked by both good and bad teams and has not pitched well against both good and bad teams).

We're all guilty of it, and it gets largely driven by the media, but you just can't get overly excited either way about a month in this sport, whether it's the first month, the last month, or somewhere inbetween. To give another example, Phil Hughes is unlikely to be this good every single start all season long. He's probably going to have a few more rocky outings like we already saw a few weeks ago. Now, you might tell me Vazquez still has a 6.06 ERA, and you'd be right. But the reality is he had a 9.78 a month ago. He's 4-5 through two months and despite three absolute disastrous games is on pace to win 12 games, maybe a few more if he can be just plain old bad when he's not on, not completely terrible. You could do a lot worse than 12-14 wins with solid innings from the back of the rotation. Not fantastic production by any means, but beneficial production. We'll see what ends up happening. Certainly positive signs recently, and I think all Yankees fans would settle for something right between the near 10 he was pitching to in April and the sub 3 he's been pitching to recently, say 4.50.

Nick Swisher stinks. .317/.397/.563/.960 with 9 homers, 28 RBI, and 34 runs scored. Too bad we sold the farm to get him and are paying him one of the highest salaries in all of baseball. Oh, wait...

A.J. Burnett has also been terrible. A .633 winning percentage and a 3.75 ERA across ~1.5 seasons. Woops...

Oh yeah, and that whole World Series thing that both of these players were involved in. My bad...

Curtis Granderson should bat 2nd every night, no matter if its a righty or a lefty. Since returning to the lineup (4 starts) he has 3 doubles and a homer off of lefties in like 7 total at bats against lefties. He just strikes me as the type of guy that will thrive with the more responsibility he is given. Plus, pitchers basically have to throw fastballs to that part of the Yankees' order, which will make it much easier to hit lefties. It's nice to have a somewhat consistent lineup night to night, and I like what Granderson's versatility brings to that spot in the order. Plus, I like Swisher in more of an RBI spot, and batting him 2nd against lefties takes some of that away from him I think.

Good win tonight with Vazquez on the mound. Hopefully Hughes continues to pitch well and C.C. can bounce back, netting another series win or maybe even more for this club.

I Thought You Were Gonna Ask Me (Vol. 3)

Got several observations about the Red Sox/Royals series. One that was a split but should have been a win. Here we go.

1. The Red Sox performed rather well during that killer stretch against the contenders. It's now over and they're back to playing the dregs of the league. There are the teams where theoretically the offense should be able to beat up on bad pitching and the pitching should shut the opposition down. To be able to actually have a chance in the AL East or even the wild card, I feel like this team has to play .700 ball. That's why I say they should not have split this Royals series.

2. I know the Royals are playing well after firing Trey Hillman and hiring Ned Yost. And good for them. It still is not an excuse for the Red Sox to only split this series at home. Same goes for the fact that the Oakland A's are in first place. Red Sox have to take 2 out of the next 3, no doubt. More on this series later.

3. Matsuzaka really needs to learn how to throw the ball over the plate. As I think I mentioned previously, this is a US-only problem. He never walked this much in Japan.

4. I think the Real 46, Joe Nelson, is easily assuming the "Terrible Reliever Because He's So Bad" title, a position last held by Curtis Leskanic in 2004. His walkup music, according to boston.com, is Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA."

5. Leskanic, by the way, is still working in the Red Sox organization, according to the Red Sox' official yearbook. He is working as a professional baseball scout. If I find out he's the one responsible for December 6, 2006, it would make me sad. But it would not surprise me, knowing how bad he was at his original baseball job.

6. I am pretty pumped up about Bill Hall being able to throw 88 miles an hour. I mean, Jonathan Van Every only throws like 79. Mark "Clutch" Teixeira might not be able to catch up to Hall's 88-MPH fastball quite as easily.

7. I like Dallas Braden, but let's not get it twisted. Dallas Braden is NOT a prospect unless your name is Kathryn Tappen or Buck Martinez, who like to talk about players' upside when they're in their thirties. Braden's 26 years old and has really not been on the map until he started barking at Arod. Red Sox will be missing him this series, but I thought you were gonna ask me about that.

8. The fact that Oakland is in first place is probably about 90% because Coco Crisp is hitting .333 this year. Number four in your programs, number one in your hearts is 2/6 in between his DL stint to start the season (broken hand caused by sliding into second base) and his current DL stint (he was DLed on Thursday, retroactive to last Sunday with a strained intercostal muscle. Rajai Davis is among the biggest winners with this development, as he currently leads the league in stolen bases.

9. Among the biggest losers in this development would be me, as I'm going to the games tonight AND tomorrow. I also get to see Lackey and Matsuzaka. If if gets rained out tonight, I might have to take a JD from work tomorrow.