Monday, January 31, 2011

Josh Beckett by the Percentages

Not much to talk about. Watching the last night of Rocky IV On Demand was much more reasonable than watching fans pose softball questions at Theo, Francona, and Lucchino. However, while studying this weekend, I looked at something that I had seen a few times before about "if the world were 100 people." This has baseball implications, of course, especially when it comes to Josh Beckett.

Let's take a look at Josh Beckett's career - and his 2007 season - and consolidate each into 100 pitches.

Career Josh Beckett: 6.31 IP, 3 R, 6 H, 1.3 2B, 0.7 HR, 2 BB

2007 Josh Beckett: 6.5 IP, 2.46 R, 6 H, 1.45 2B, 0.55 HR, 1.3 BB

This says two things: First of all, there's not much of a difference when you aggregate a lot of things. The small picture says Beckett had a half-decent outing, the big picture says Beckett had a so-so outing. But the bigger thing, perhaps, is the obvious difference. The Beckett from 2007 actually gave up 0.2 more hits than the career version. However, the big difference is he didn't walk anyone and he kept the ball in the ballpark. Therefore, he gave up half a run less. The difference is home runs and walks.

Your eyes told you this. Numbers back it up.

And yes, the numbers also back up the fact that Josh Beckett is a so-so six-inning starter over the course of his career.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

DV's Lineup Recommendation

Drew RF
Pedroia 2B
Gonzalez 1B
Youkilis 3B
Crawford LF
Varilamacchia C
Ortiz
Scutaro/Lowrie SS
46

I know on many levels, this lineup will never actually happen. Drew will never hit leadoff, mostly because he doesn't like to. They won't hit Varilamacchia ahead of Ortiz, and they won't hit Crawford fifth. Whatever. There's a lot of things that make too much sense to actually happen. I'm lobbying for a second consecutive season for JD Drew to be this team's leadoff hitter, and here's (still) why. Ask Theo: JD does "the one thing that's the most important as an offensive player, and that's get on base." (I thought you were gonna ask me about that.)

Drew frequently comes up to the plate with no intention to do anything except draw a walk, and why not utilize that in front of guys who can hit instead of guys like Ortiz or Varitek who just ground into double plays? The fact that 46 is hitting last in my think tank, every time he gets an infield hit and steals second enhances the possibility that Drew walks and there are two guys on for the guys who are capable of playing competent baseball.

I like Gonzalez third because not only does he get a lot of hits, extra-base hits, and home runs, but he led the league in walks in 2009. Similar to Drew, your standard Pedroia double can often lead to Gonzalez walking and Youkilis hitting a two-run double. Carl Crawford will not contribute the same kind of thing here. So I have him fifth, once again utilizing the "secondary leadoff hitter" idea in front of guys in Varitek and Saltalamacchia who can bunt him to second (if there's no steal) or third (if there is a steal) - opening up the probability of an Ortiz single or sacrifice fly from June through the end of the season. Crawford before Varilamacchia also can potentially break up double plays by sliding into the middle infielder or stealing a base and taking the GIDP out of the question.

46 should not lead off and should remain at the bottom of the order. Not enough walks. Too many strikeouts looking. A one-tool player who really shouldn't have that many at-bats. And, as I already mentioned, his one tool of getting infield hits on dribblers and stealing second base enhances Drew's ability to walk and score on 50 Pedroia doubles throughout the year.

You will also see the good mix of left-right-left-right throughout this proposed lineup, thereby screwing up the LOOGY/ROOGY strategies of other teams. This is more of a coincidence than anything else.

Pat, it's been several hours since St. John's beat Duke. Hopefully it's either subsided or you've called your doctor by now.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Butt-Kissing Era

I was almost late to my first class of the semester last week because the two-man dissertation on the radio was so intriguing. Massarotti and Felger went on more-or-less a twenty-minute rant about how sportswriting, specifically beat writing, has gone to crap. They’re absolutely correct about this. It seems like in 2011 (and, in my opinion, probably starting in roughly February 2008), every beat writer has their guys they protect and the guys they hammer. And it all comes down to one thing: access.

We’re all guilty of having our boys and our non-boys. I don’t like Drew and 46; I love Coco Crisp. Pat loves everyone. Tim loves Matsuzaka. From the Bronx loved Brett Gardner and hated Arod, Reggie Jackson, and Pettitte. Steve Buckley loves 46 but hates Matsuzaka. Massarotti hates 46 and loves Varitek. Even worse, Felger thinks, is guys like Ron Borges who twist stories so they line up with an argument they made three years ago. I’m also guilty of that!

But when you’re supposed to be an objective journalist (which we’re not – we’re here to facilitate discussion to get ourselves through the work day), you should be in the business of the truth, and these guys aren’t. But, unfortunately, they don’t have much of a choice. If you want athletes to talk to you, you can only write nice things about them. And that’s crap.

Not that I’m JD Drew, 46, or anyone of any kind of significance as an athlete except in the eyes of a very narrow range of people. But if someone (with the exception of a competitor) having the balls to say that I absolutely sucked in a certain race (you know, like one about 376 days ago), good for them. They’re doing their job. I’d probably give them even more access because I respect the job they do as a purveyor of the truth. The best comments I got from anyone after running the fun run in April in 2008, as an athlete, was when a couple of former runners pointed out my slowest split of the day. They’re the only ones with any balls. Everyone else wanted to tell me how great I was.

But your typical athlete of 2011 (and this also goes for coaches) don’t get asked hardball questions anymore, because if they get asked a hardball question, they won’t talk to you anymore. On WEEI, Felger was saying, the morning guys (who interview Brady) blame Belichick, and the afternoon guys (who interview Belichick) blame Brady. But if they don’t do that, they lose their hard-fought privilege to talk to the guy.

I like Kevin Millar a lot now that I can distance myself from the 400-foot foul balls and strikeouts on balls in the dirt. But that guy was a baby. He hated WEEI when he was here, offering the opinion of “they think I suck. Well, I think they suck.” If someone said he sucked, he’d stop talking to them. It's hard to do your job if nobody talks to you. So if you want any access from Millar, you have to kiss his butt.

And this is the case way too often. Especially in places like Boston and New York, when you’re being covered by three newspapers, eight television stations, two radio stations, and five websites. The players have all the leverage. If you keep it real and dare to say anything negative, you are in the player’s, team’s, and organization’s doghouse. And considering that all of these outlets are competing for unique information, if you are in the doghouse, you’re screwed.

The way I see it, this blew up to the current level when the Herald’s John Tomase write an irresponsible story about the Patriots filming of the Rams’ walkthrough six years earlier – the day of Super Bowl 42. This pissed me off because of the timing and the fact that there was no proof. That’s irresponsible journalism. But what if it were true? Tomase was completely shunned by the Patriots, and you can say with certainty that this guy will never, ever cover the team again.

From here, it was clear that the journalists didn’t have any leverage. The athletes did. And this continues in all sports, and every beat article you have to read with a discerning eye.

Two more brief points: Ups to Massarotti. He wrote a book with David Ortiz and likely made a ton of money. However, he hammered Ortiz last year when Ortiz blamed the media for a whole bunch of things. My second point: Though I am not a purveyor of the truth, instead being a facilitator of discussion, I will try my best this baseball season to crush when crushing is due, and give credit where that is due. That’s right – if JD goes 4-5 on a Friday night with three home runs, I’m saying he’s great.

Journalists won’t do it. So I will instead.

Enjoy yo day.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dealing With Aging Stars

I've been thinking a lot about the rest of the Yankees team lately, and what they need to do to win in 2011. By the "rest" of the team, I mean everyone but the back of the rotation, which dominates a lot of the conversation. But the Yankees have other things to think about, obviously.

One of the most important, in my opinion, is the way they handle their aging stars. The Yankees are about to enter one of, if not flat out the most unique periods in sports history in this regard. I doubt there have been many scenarios in sports history where a single team has had the sheer number and caliber of stars on the back side of their careers that the Yankees do. Rivera, Posada, Jeter, Rodriguez, and possible Pettitte followed by Sabathia and Teixeira. And it's not just that they have these players in swan song scenarios, on the last year of deals or something like that. They are meaningfully committed to them and need to use them properly in order to get the most out of them in order to help the team win.

This process has to start in 2011. These are all players who have been used to dominating and playing in premier roles and premier roles only. Batting at the top or middle of the order, pitching at the top of the rotation, closing games. They all are or at one point were amongst the best in the game. Those kind of players typically don't take to role changes kindly, but role changes is exactly what the Yankees have to be willing to do. They can't continue to utilize these players in the same ways they always have based on their name and reputation. It has to be based on their performance and what they earn.

In addition to not playing them in any particular role out of habit, the Yankees have to continue to be more and more careful about not playing them a particular amount out of habit. It has to be a player by player analysis, and the Yankees have started to do a good job with this. But they need to keep going. With some if not all of these players, less will be more at some point. Playing them less and keeping their bodies fresh will actually result in better total production in less playing time and more wins for the team.

I certainly don't want to make this situation is the same for all of these players. It's not apples and apples across the board, much more apples and oranges. Certainly Sabathia and Teixeira aren't even at this stage yet, I only included them above because the nature of their contracts makes it possible that it will be a consideration for them at some point as well. For the others, that time is upon us, if not in terms of role, certainly in terms of playing time. For some of them, it's both.

I think the greater concern is the role issue. The Yankees can't bat Jeter leadoff or Rodriguez cleanup because that is what they've mostly done for a long time and that is what everyone is used to. They have reached a stage where they have to earn those spots just like everyone else. And I'm not saying that they won't. Hopefully the will. But the Yankees can't try to hold on too long if they don't. That goes for all of them. I'm also not saying the Yankees won't do this.

I hope they do. And they really have to, because this is likely to be a continued consideration for quite some time for them. They are going to be trying to win with aging stars on the roster who may be anywhere on the spectrum from still a star to just a contributor. In order to balance all of this successfully, it's essential that the Yankees base decisions mostly - not all, because there is something to be said for experience, especially when the lights get brightest, but mostly - on what the players are currently, not what they used to be and not what the totality of their careers says about them. The aging stars have to be treated just like everybody else in this regard.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

God Bless America

Apparently after 1,450 posts, you start recycling titles. This might be because in baseball, themes are recycled. Just like Eric Gagne getting a $10 million contract after his disastrous 2007 baseball season when this post was penned, another Red Sox player with an embarrassing season received a pay raise that would make most people blush.

That, of course, would be Red Sox backup outfielder 46, who played 18 games last year, hit .192 in those 18 games, and spent most of the time nursing a phantom rib injury in Arizona instead of being around with his teammates. Forty-Six got a 383% raise after whining about the organization and after making Jay Cutler look like Aron Ralston (look it up).

Nick Cafardo wrote about why this was the case over the weekend. Teams don't want to harbor the bad blood with the player after each side has to build a case of "I'm valuable" versus "no you're not." According to Cafardo, Michael Bourn at age 27 in 2010 is a barometer where many view 46 to be in 2011 (when he's also 27 - not 22). So therefore he is being paid this year like Bourn was last year.

I could go into a whole dissertation about how Bourn is better than 46, but I'll leave it to these three points: 1) Bourn won a Gold Glove, 2) Bourn isn't the second-best base-stealer on his team, 3) Bourn can stay on a baseball team for an entire major league season. Not that Bourn is any more than a one-tool player - his strikeout totals are staggering. But you gotta think that Bourn struck out looking on pitches right down the middle last year less than 46 did in eighteen games.

The part about this that I really don't understand is why the Red Sox don't want to have bad blood with this player. They already do. He publicly crushed the team's medical staff with his "front AND back" escapades last year. So he doesn't like them. They weren't too pumped about the fact that he sulked and pouted while rehabbing his ribs with the 1930s-era treatment method of heliotherapy - to the point where Kevin Youkilis was calling him out publicly. What more damage would this have caused?

I mean, the real state of the union tonight is the fact that Ronnie Magro can make millions of dollars by telling bros to come at him. Eric Gagne can sign a $10 million contract the day before being named on a steroid list and following a disastrous season. Bud Selig can get $14 million a year by driving his sport into the ground. And Barack Obama can continue being the president despite the fact that he spends more time watching irrelevant mid-major college basketball games than researching facts to back up public policy or learning how to spell "Syracuse."

But the beauty of this great nation is that in other countries, 46 might have been euthanized if he complained about a broken rib for six straight months. In America he gets a 383% raise. This is really why the United States is the greatest country in the world.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ian Patrick Productive

By the time Ian Kennedy burst onto the scene for the Yankees at the end of the 2007 season, there was quite a bit of hype building around him. He was just two years removed from winning College Pitcher of the Year while a sophomore at USC in 2005. He was a first-round draft pick by the Yankees after his junior year in 2006. In his first full professional season in 2007, he blew through the three highest levels of the minors by amassing a 1.91 ERA in 146.1 innings. That earned him a call up to the big league club in early September, who had a need with Mike Mussina struggling. He made three starts and pitched to a 1.89 ERA, allowing only 13 hits in 19 innings. A small sample for sure, but in conjunction with all of the other good that had taken place in his career over the prior three years, having that kind of early Major League success made things look really good for Kennedy. That only continued at season’s end, when he was named Minor League Pitcher of the Year. It looked like he would have a spot in New York’s rotation to open 2008.

All of this gave Yankees’ fans a lot to be excited about. Kennedy was only 22 and had already achieved a high level of accomplishment. At 23 years old when 2008 started, there were sure to be some growing pains, but it seemed like Kennedy had the tools to succeed. He didn’t have overpowering stuff but had gotten overpowering results at virtually every stop in his career thanks to pinpoint control, a filthy changeup, and good pitchability. His control style was a nice balance to the other two phenom prospects on the Yankees at the time, the power-pitching Chamberlain and the all-around Hughes. The excitement surrounding Kennedy was high, and he had already been nicknamed IPK in many circles, short for Ian Patrick Kennedy. This of course has been the subject of much attention on this blog ever since.

A big reason for that is that pretty much everything from that point forward with the Yankees went wrong for Kennedy in a baseball sense. He made 9 starts at the beginning of the 2008 regular season during April and May, getting shelled to the tune of a 7.41 ERA. He made one more start that season, the infamous 2 inning, 9 hit, 1 strikeout, 1 walk, 5 earned run appearance against the Angels on August 8 in which he didn’t feel he pitched that badly, didn’t get hit that hard, and had been pitching well overall since the All-Star Break (conveniently leaving out that every other start but this one since the break had been in the minors). With the Yankees in the middle of a playoff race, this type of obliviousness did not sit well with the fans, not when he gave up 50% more hits than outs recorded, let 3 of 9 hits go for extra bases, and gave up one less run than outs recorded, setting the Yankees up for a 10-3 drubbing. Apparently, this didn’t sit well with the Yankees either. He was sent to the minors before his next start.

Twelve months after most everything seemed to be going right for Kennedy, his performance and his character were being called into question in a major way. Understandably so. However, his 2008 season had been so spectacularly bad in both regards that many blew his lack of future prospects out of proportion. After all, he was still only 23 years old, and even despite his big league struggles and negative media attention continued to dominate the minors, putting up a 2.22 ERA in 77.0 minor league innings at 3 different levels. He continued that momentum into 2009, where he had a 1.59 ERA at AAA before a serious medical situation sidelined him for most of the season. He pitched one scoreless inning of relief for the Yankees in late September 2009, ironically on the same mound in Anaheim where he had last thrown a Major League pitch.

That inning was the end of his very brief Yankees’ career, as he was traded to the Diamondbacks in the Curtis Granderson deal that winter. Which is just fine for the Yankees, and I’m sure if given a second chance they’d do it again. But it sure would be nice to at least see what Kennedy could do at the back of our rotation right now. After all, there is only so much you can put into the fantastic nature of a flop like that while ignoring the other available data. Pretty much everything else from his entire career pointed to the notion that he could slot into the middle-back of a rotation and give you, at the very least, league average innings.

And just better than league average he was for the Diamondbacks in his first full major league season. He made 32 starts, pitched 194 innings, and only gave up 163 hits on his way to a 3.80 ERA. Yes it’s the National League, but that’s a hitters park, and overall reasonably translates to a mid 4’s in the AL, probably good enough for league average.

Which would be a lot better for the Yankees right now than what Sergio Mitre is likely to offer...which is why you don’t just give up on a young kid just because he is struggling, as long as he is showing signs. Kennedy’s minor league performance was that sign. You can have talent, but you have to learn how to pitch and how to conduct yourself at this level. Even just in these narrow stats I’ve given, there is evidence of Kennedy learning. He only gave up 163 hits, which is great, but walked 70, which typically is too many. But perhaps Kennedy has realized that his fastball isn’t big enough to consistently challenge hitters in 2-0 and 3-1 ball counts when they are looking for it, so he is better off making his pitch, and if he ends up walking a batter that is better than letting one go 450 on him. He has enough poise and trust in his stuff to do this and operate with men on base. That’s the difference between being a 23 year old who has never really failed and a 25 year old who has.

Good for Kennedy. I don’t think the Yankees ever gave up on him and his ability to produce for them. I think they saw a deal that made sense and went for it. But I think a lot of fans did in a big way. There were a lot of laughs had at his expense in this space. There are many others that have received similar treatment. Big hype, big failure, out of mind. Sometimes they won’t bounceback, but sometimes they will, and that’s why patience is required. Coming from as low as he was in 2008 to where he was as quickly as 2010 is proof of that. Just two years ago we were using the middle name Patrick to describe those that were disconnected from reality regarding their performance. Now we could use it to describe productivity.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Back to the Future

So this weekend the big story in the AL East came from Tampa, as they signed both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. Obviously, they created a lot of buzz in Boston because of both players' roles in the team's recent history. Three ideas I've heard thrown around this weekend, and I'll present my opinions about them.

1. Why is Damon making more money than Manny? The short answer is, it's not 2005 anymore. The long answer includes information like Manny having two (2) extra-base hits after being traded to the White Sox, the fact that in the past three years, Damon has played 431 games while Ramirez has played less than 300, and the fact that with the exception of giving a multitude of terrible interviews, Damon will not cause a distraction to a team with dogging it, doing steroids, showing up to camp late, or fighting with your third baseman.

Hate to say it, but Scott Boras was right about the Greg Maddux of position players. Damon has aged quite well. Probably not as well as Maddux, but you don't have to cherry-pick stats to see that Damon, even in a 2010 season where he got relatively little attention, is still a serviceable everyday major leaguer. Ramirez is not. Ramirez is a platoon player and a dangerous bat off the bench. You cannot count on him, especially post-suspension, to be any more.

2. Will this make the Rays a better team/a contender? Let's face it: The Rays are not even close to the way they were last year or over the last several years. When you lose Pena, Crawford, half your bullpen, Soriano, and Garza, you're in for a rebuilding year. I honestly don't see them within five games of Boston or New York this year, but they could if Manny wants to show up to play this year. Doubtful.

What might be the most interesting part is the fact that this, on the baseball side, is probably what's best for the organization. This means Desmond Jennings is in AAA for another year. The way I see it, keeping Jennings down there is like the Red Sox keeping Ryan Kalish there for another year. It's in both the players' and the teams' best interest. Plus, if something happens to either of these guys, Jennings will have a shot. The one-year deals means the job is Jennings's next year.

There's also a hint of the Oakland A's business model here, picking up a couple of veteran reclamation projects from six years ago.

3. Will this put butts in the seats? Damon has an attendance-based incentive written into his contract, which is unbelievable. His marquee value as a popular player is a selling point. This actually does make sense. Who are Tampa Bay fans? A competitive Rays team in 2008-2010 didn't sell the Trop out. Probably because a lot of these Tampa Bay fans are transplants from northern cities. Northern cities like Boston and New York, who rooted for at least one of these guys during a special time. Maybe these guys will help sell a couple of season tickets so that the team can actually finance more long-term contracts for their young stars. Remember, they still have Price, Davis, Longoria, Jennings, and Upton.

Maybe, with a little bit of a revenue stream starting from the buzz coming from these two guys will help the team prevent another exodus like the one this past offseason.

Then again, isn't that how Tampa started their franchise, with guys like Fred McGriff, Wade Boggs, and Jose Canseco? That didn't work. But we'll see what happens. It's going to be an interesting year in Tampa this year.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

From Under The Radar To Can't Go Unnoticed

Mark Teixiera's first season in pinstripes could not have gone much better. He carried the team for much of the summer, lead the AL in both homers and RBI, finished second in MVP voting, and won a World Series. His second season wasn't quite his first, but he still managed to punch 33 homers, drive in 108, and lead the league in runs with 113. His average was off and his power was down slightly, but he made up for that by posting the second highest walk total of his career, finding a way to produce runs, and continuing to do his best work in high leverage situations (his AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS splits were higher in these spots than any other in 2010). At the end of the day, while it could certainly be deemed a down season by Teixeira standards, he did the things you want a star to do when he's not a having a typical season, and that's find ways to contribute in important ways so that it's more "down stats" than "down year". That's what Teixeira did, and it made a big difference for the Yankees' season. On that note, his defense was a big reason why the Yankees' starting infield only made 20 errors all season...combined.

With this all said, it is astonishing how little is said about Teixeira. You can find similarities between him and a lot of other guys that get a lot more talk. He and Sabathia joined the team the same year for big money, and have both been smashing successes thus far. Rodriguez and Cano are the team's other superstar offensive players. You hear more about all of them than Teixeira despite their common importance to the team. Sabathia is a key fronting the Yankees rotation. Is Rodriguez in a state of decline? Cano is the best second baseman in baseball. You hear these things and other similar commentary over and over and over. Little on Tex.

It doesn't necessarily even have to be guys of similar qualities and importance to the team. Everyone seems to get talked about and analyzed more than this dude. How much will Posada catch? Will Jeter rebound? Is Brett Gardner going to regress? Can Granderson continue his improvement against lefties that was seen late in 2010? Nick Swisher is awesome. Can Phil Hughes do it again? What is Burnett going to do in 2011? You hear these things and other similar commentary over and over and over. Little on Tex.

I spend a lot of time on the Yankees, and honestly, the only two things I've seen written about him this winter are a brief update that his hamstring was healthy and a general statement that a bounceback to a typical Teixeira year would be big for the Yankees.

A lot of this has to do with his consistency I'm sure. He's in a period of his career where big production can be reasonably expected, and there aren't yet concerns about his decline the way there are for Jeter, Rodriguez, and Posada. Since he's been doing it for a long time, it's no longer a novelty the way it is for Cano. He doesn't have weaknesses in his overall game besides his April weirdness, so outside of that there is nothing to over-analyze the way there is with Granderson against lefties. He also doesn't play in an area of decided concern for the Yankees, as the offense was the game's best last year, so there isn't added attention to the need for him to perform. He's not really a guy that you have to worry about, and that's a good thing. I find it strange how little a guy this talented has been talked about recently, but I certainly don't see it as a problem.

His not being talked about shouldn't be confused with how much the Yankees need him. He was talked about a lot more in 2009, and there was a reason for that. His performance was more noteworthy. This is a totally subjective measurement, but is very much tied to an objective reality. The 2011 Yankees could really use Mark Teixeira to reassert himself as one of the 10 best bats in the game as he was in 2009. Questions surround Jeter and Rodriguez and Posada and what they are going to get from the catching position. While I think the totality of those answers will be positive for the Yankees, it would be immensely helpful to have MVP caliber Teixeira in the middle of the order, not the more under the radar version.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another New York Non-Story

...that has to be covered by the guy from Boston! Not sure if everyone else has noticed it, but any kind of controversial item surrounding the Yankees and what kind of stuff is said has been labeled by our New York representative as a "non-story" or something like that. Pettitte going Brett Favre on the team has been brushed aside. All Burnett controversy over the course of the year was chalked up to beat writers needing to fill space. Seems like the only negative stuff that can be said about Pat's beloved Yankees is the periodic bashing of the manager. This has been the case since the World Series win in 2009. This guy seems to be wearing rose-colored glasses even stronger than the ones my girlfriend wears regarding caring for a dog. So, opposite of what usually happens, keeping it real comes from the north.

Apparently Yankees' GM Brian Cashman isn't too thrilled about the signing of Rafael Soriano, pretty much for the reasons Pat stated in paragraph one of his previous post about this. I'm not going to pretend that Cashman said Hal was an idiot or ripped him. He said that the move, while it wasn't his idea, makes the team better. He also made it a point to say that he is working for great owners. I'm not going to make a story out of this by saying that he said the Steinbrenners suck and know nothing about baseball. The New York Times said he assured them that it was not an "affront to his power."

However, he previously stated that he would rather have a draft pick than give out big money for a setup man. He didn't back off from this. He also said he didn't like how roster flexibility was hampered by this move. Much like Theo Epstein when he made it abundantly clear that the David Ortiz signing was something done by ownership and not baseball operations, he repeatedly said that ownership went against his recommendations. But let's look at the facts. Let's look at some of the quotes that came out of the general manager's mouth:

"I just didn't feel this was the most efficient way to allocate our remaining resources."
"The Red Sox had a tremendous off-season...I didn't hear that we had to do something because of what they did."
"It's not a dispute over the player whatsoever...It's all the other stuff wrapped around it."

After 2005, Cashman was assured autonomy over baseball decisions. He did not deny that he was "displeased" over being overruled, though he did say that he was aware of it and was also aware that it wasn't his team.

When I read comments like these, or hear them on audio, I feel like this is the tip of the iceberg. Similar to the time that Youkilis ripped 46 publicly for not playing baseball last year. I think both Brian Cashman and Theo Epstein are in supremely interesting and debatable positions, both being strictly baseball guys (and trending toward the position of the "efficiency police," for better or for worse) who don't give a crap about placating any disgruntled fans. They both are working for owners who care a lot about disgruntled fans and putting together an interesting TV show. And they are both in positions where they have publicly stated their desire to make the baseball decisions, but have clearly been unable to do so.

So why would both Cashman (with a thin veil) and Epstein (with a thicker veil, as his "ownership" comments regarding Ortiz were similar to Wes Welker's "foot" comments) want to say this kind of thing? My theories:
1. They really are pissed off.
2. They are lobbying for more power.
3. They are covering their rear ends to make sure that their opinions are consistent.
4. They are making sure they are absolved of all blame if these deals wreck their respective teams.
5. With Cashman especially, as he's up for contract renewal next year, he's building leverage for contract negotiations. Other teams see what he's done and know his views on efficiency. There is a market for Brian Cashman, future free-agent GM.

Unless you're Bill Madden of the Daily News, you probably believe this deal makes the Yankees better. Pat and I are in agreement of this. But the fact that the baseball guy is getting overruled and doesn't sound too thrilled about it is most definitely notable.

On the other hand, we can talk about the Murray State Racers basketball team! After dismantling the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles, they're only one game behind Austin Peay for the top seed in the Ohio Valley Conference! Peay has to be afraid of that high-powered offense when February 5th comes along and they have to face the Racers! Chances Obama watches this game instead of doing his job are roughly 98%!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sports Roundup

Another big win for the Johnnies on Sunday, knocking off then #11 nationally Notre Dame. This was a Notre Dame team that was 14-3 and had handled SJU just the prior Saturday in South Bend. This game confirmed a few things to us. First, it's tough to win on the road in the Big East, and is therefore important to hold serve at home. This is hardly the only example, but this conference is just ridiculous on the road, and it was important for the Johnnies to get to 2-1 in conference at home as opposed to 1-2.

Second, the Johnnies proved that they can adjust a second time around against the same team, which is critical. Notre Dame looked like they were on another level just eight days earlier, and the roles were reversed yesterday. SJU played well and the Irish didn't, which was no doubt a factor. But they completely changed their defensive scheme, running a trapping zone press back into man for virtually the whole game, and it as airtight, causing a team that shredded them offensively last week to look overwhelmed and frustrated for most of 40 minutes of basketball.

Third, and related, the Johnnies established that the last two blowout losses to Notre Dame and Syracuse were just a part of playing a Big East schedule, not indicative of who they really are. After those two games it was difficult not to question this, and if their early season success was a little flukey. They've beaten three Top 25 teams in the first three weeks of conference play, and that's legitimate.

Unless something really good/bad happens the rest of the way, they are going to be on the bubble come selection time. They are currently 11-5, 4-2 Big East. They have 14 games left, 12 of them in the Big East. We are now at a point in the season where it is a reasonable exercise to look at where they are likely to be, and what they'll need to get in. They are currently have the 13th best RPI in the country and the #3 SOS. With the Big East being the Big East, and their only two non-conference games remaining against Duke and UCLA, that SOS number should hold if not get better, which is huge. But they still need to perform well against the tough schedule in order to hold that important RPI number as high as it is. If it stays anywhere as close to where it is, that should be enough to get in. 7-7 gets them to 18 wins, and if 6 or more of those are in conference that gets them to at least 10-8 in conference, which has been the big number the last few years it seems for Big East teams. That would mean one win in the Big East tournament and they are likely at 19 wins with their schedule, two wins and the should definitely be in with 20. Worse than 7-7, which is very possible, and they'll need more help in the conference tournament. I'd say they need at least 19, although I suppose it's not out of the question at 18. But they've put themselves in position.

Tough game for the Pats on Sunday, a somewhat shocking performance. I said going in that nothing would surprise me in that game given everything surrounding these teams in relation to each other this season. That held true for the most part, except I thought if the Jets won the Pats would make them work a lot harder than they did. I didn't envision them laying an egg. It was especially surprising to see Belichick and Brady be so central to the flop. By no means were they the only ones, but they are two of the toughest ones for the Pats to get little from and still win. Brady in particular, since he actually plays in the game and is by far their best player. I understand the Jets played very good D, especially in the secondary, making it tough for Brady to find someone open even when he had good protection. But he played a soft game in the pocket. There were times where he got knocked off his spot ever so slightly, seemed to have plenty of space to quickly step into and create more time for himself, and instead rushed a throw or - most shockingly - just rolled to the ground conceding the sack when the pressure wasn't yet at that overwhelming of a stage. It seemed like one hand on him or a body near him and the play was over. Very atypical. Just a really bad spot from that entire team, but give a lot of credit to the Jets as well.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

JDtirement

A lot of people, including the silent majority that read this blog but don't comment, have asked me a lot about what I think about JD Drew's 2011 season. As we all know, the man who posted the second-highest OPS of all AL outfielders in 2009 has started to think retirement, once in March and again in September saying he's considering retirement after his contract expires after 2011. So here I am, clearing up what I actually think is going to happen with this guy.

1. JD Drew will retire after the 2011 season. No doubt about it. I mean, even if he decides to have a compete level above 2.5 at any point of the season and performs well this season, is there any chance he can get a contract more lucrative than $14 million a year? Probably not. And is JD really looking to maximize lifetime earnings? Probably not. He's already made upwards of $125 million. He has a ton of land in Georgia. He has a ton of land in Kansas. He has tons of bows. He has all he wants.

2. This is just an extension of point number one. Unless the economy rebounds and someone is willing to give JD a raise over the $14 million, he is taking a pay cut. Do you think JD would really want to play for less money? It's hard enough to get the guy to show up for $14 million. Do you really think he'd play for $13 million or less? Give me a break.

3. JD will NOT take his compete level above 2.5 this year. Yes, he performed well in 2004 and 2006, when he was in contract years. But he was actually playing for something. Going on assumptions #1 and #2, JD's only playing for pride and his legacy this year. He has been able to play for his legacy for the last thirteen baseball seasons - and he's proven he doesn't give a crap about his legacy.

4. The "light at the end of the tunnel" assumption - the one that will inspire Drew to play hard because he doesn't have too much time left playing baseball - is garbage. Do any of you guys work with people close to retirement? Do they care? No! They're the ones unwilling to learn anything new, the ones who are really good at golf, the ones treating their job like a rental car (in nine months it won't matter!), and the ones counting down the days. The professionals who are the most productive are the young ones who aren't burned out and don't yet have the money for a country club membership. JD was burned out by the time he was 23. As JD is close to retirement, and he treats this job like any regular professional, he will contribute another listless season to the 2011 Red Sox.

4a. The only way this may be different is in October. The Red Sox are a favorite to win the American League (debatable, as we've discussed). If the Red Sox can prevent 5- or 7-game series, it will mean less overall baseball. Therefore, in the last three weeks of his baseball career, JD Drew might actually show up.

This post got bumped to Sunday night after the Soriano signing, which is awesome because I will now be able to defend my post. Here we go.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Yanks Sign Rafael Soriano

Normally I would be against this kind of deal, bigtime. Not the Rafael Soriano the player, but him at this money (3/$35). The only time you sign a reliever to this kind of deal is when you need a closer, and there are some who think the Yankees already have one of those.

The reason I'm okay with this deal is because Soriano is not just a set-up man. He has a second role as Mariano Rivera protection, should he need it. After all, Rivera is 41 years old. While he is showing few if any signs of decline, it would be silly to assume that just because he hasn't yet means that he won't. It would be just as silly to wait until he finally does to try to figure out a replacement.

In fact, replacing lineup staples is something the Yankees have not done particularly well over the last decade or so. Right field was a revolving door for a few years after Paulie. Ditto center field after Bernie. If Pettitte does not come back, the rotation will not be immediately prepared for his departure.

You can't wait until these players finally decide to hang them up or start to decline before figuring out a replacement if you want to compete year to year as seamlessly as the Yankees do. You have to start to put those things in place beforehand. The Yankees have been better about this lately, being extremely proactive in both the international free agent market and the draft acquiring catchers and shortstops to hopefully step in after Posada and Jeter. This is accomplishing the same thing with Rivera in a more immediate sense.

And if Rivera does what all Yankees' fans hope he does and dominates for this two year deal and re-ups again, and Soriano doesn't even have to close in the third year of this deal (there are opt-outs after each year and the contract is backloaded, so this is assuming it goes three years), it's not like he doesn't add real value. Expensive value, but considering the dual benefit described above it's not like the Yankees don't have the money for this kind of thing. In terms of that value, Soriano has pitched 284 innings (all in relief) the last five seasons and has a 2.54 ERA over that period with a ton of strikeouts (9.8 K/9) and few walks (2.7 BB/9). He's exactly what you want in a reliever. What's more, he has the best of those seasons in the only year he was in the offensively stacked AL East, tossing up a 1.73 ERA and leading the league in saves for the best team in the American League in the 2010 regular season.

A few more things to note quickly. First, this is another blow to Tampa Bay. Yes, they get the Yankees' first-rounder, and have about a million first-round picks in this draft which means their system will become more stacked than it already is. But this is going to hurt them in 2011. It's one thing to lose these guys, it's another to lose them to division rivals like they did with Crawford and Soriano. Second, per our conversation in this space the other day, what does this mean for Joba Chamberlain? Rotation? Starter? I don't blame the Yankees for not seeing him being able to offer what Soriano does right now, but this certainly seems like an extreme statement about his role in the bullpen. Third, even when Rivera still is closing, this really gives the Yankees an opportunity to not tax him and attempt to keep him fresh for the whole season. If three save situations arise in three days, there is no pressure to send Rivera out there three in a row. Soriano is certainly capable of taking that last day. Finally, there is more than one way to improve a team. The Yankees have a short rotation right now, and the market for starters (via free agency or trade) seems thin right now. So greatly improving the bullpen with Soriano and Feliciano is another way to go about it. Again, normally I wouldn't support doing it at this cost for a non-closer. But the dual benefit is the key.

To that end, Soriano certainly isn't going to be Rivera. Nobody is. But the reality is someone is going to have to close when he no longer does, and you want to find one of the best options you can to do it. Again, I would not be okay with this deal if there wasn't this element here. I commend the Yankees for not waiting until this situation arises to address it. That's the redeeming quality of this deal for me. And if the situation doesn't arise while Soriano is with the Yankees, then that will only mean good things for the Yankees as it means Rivera will still be doing his thing. In that event, it's not like Soriano is going to go underutilized.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Importance Of A Complete Roster

DV's post about the Yankees lack of a proven 4th and 5th starter got me thinking about baseball rosters in comparison to that of other team sports. If you took away every team's 4th and 5th starters, the Yankees roster would probably be the best in the game. You could probably make a case for the Phillies and Red Sox, but the point is the only concern on the Yankees right now out of 25 spots is these two. They are absolutely stacked everywhere else - they don't have a single positional weakness, have a deep bullpen anchored by the best closer in the game, have a Top 5 starter in the game fronting the rotation, and usually even manage to put together a pretty good and deep bench - and yet these two spots are cause for concern. And rightfully so. In baseball, it is really tough to be a great team in the regular season if you aren't getting much from the back of the rotation. I'm not saying this will be the case for the Yankees in 2011, I'm just saying that is the perception now.

Only in baseball would these be the case. And that is because for a team sport it is an individual game. Yes, the pitcher and catcher have to work together, and fielders have to work together, but that pales in comparison to what goes on in other team sports like football, basketball, soccer, and hockey. And because it is more of an individual game, the more talent matters. The more team a game is in nature, the more you can make up for a lack of talent with other things like coaching, the way a team plays together, and the team's concentrated talent carrying the rest of the roster.

Since we have another weekend of NFL playoffs on the horizon, a football analogy that concerns two teams we all know well. The Patriots were the best team in football in the 2011 regular season, and are the favorite right now to win the Super Bowl. The Giants were a good but not great team during the regular season and ultimately couldn't get it done when it mattered most. Which team has more talent up and down the roster? The Giants. If you take away the quarterbacks, it's even more decided. The Patriots, beyond Brady and a few select others, are a lot of guys most people outside of New England have never heard of. They don't have the depth of individual talent like Tuck, Umenyiora, Manning, Jacobs, Nicks, Smith, and others. But they Patriots have the best player on either team by a wide margin (Brady), have the best coaching in the game, and they know how to do all of the intangibles as a team (like not turning the ball over) that produce wins

I don't mean any of this as a swipe against the Patriots; just the opposite, I mean it as a compliment. It's one of the beauties of these sports that it's not all about talent. You can have a good but not great roster, but by relying on star players like Brady, having great coaches like Belichick outcoach others, and playing a team up with things besides pure traditional production you can be great and not good, like the Patrioits are. We see this all the time in these sports. Look at the Cavs with Lebron and look at the same team without him.

You can't get away with this in baseball. If you could, nobody would be worried about the 2011 Yankees. They have the kind of upper level talent and leadership that really cares (C.C., Jeter, Rivera, Rodriguez, Tex, etc.) that you could see making others better. They have a manager, who though imperfect, is smart enough and works hard enough that you could see him influencing a game more if baseball was the kind of game that could be influenced more by coaching. You could also see them putting the intangibles together because the coaching and the star talent would demand it of everyone. As it is, the Yankees' starting infield committed 20 errors combined all of last season. That's one error as a unit a little more than every eight games, which is insane. Some guys commit more errors in a year all by themselves. So what little the Yankees can control in this regard, they do.

But it's just not as much as in other sports, not enough to really change the course of a season. If the Patriots and Giants were baseball teams, they would probably swap places. The Giants would be elite and the Patriots would be good but not great. Because baseball is all about talent. For that same reason, the Yankees can't do all of the things that the Patriots did this football season. Despite having only two holes, question marks, or whatever you want to call them on the roster, it's a lot tougher to cover them up in baseball. You can try to slug your way to wins, or win every day when the first three in your roster pitch, or whatever, but it's just not easy to do in baseball. The easiest way is to have a complete roster, and thus the Yankees are left in a spot where they really need to fill one or both of those spots.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

N to the Izzo V to the Izzay

Please note that unlike David Ortiz, I will properly cite Jay-Z here.

As much as I continue the gimmick about the Red Sox being no sure thing next year (and I do believe this), I do not envy Pat. Talk about the Red Sox' rotation being a mess. At least they don't have Ivan Nova AND Sergio Mitre rounding out their rotation. Ugh. Wow. Thanks, Andy Pettitte. Go text a massage therapist.

Look, Ivan Nova or Sergio Mitre are fine back-of-the-rotation starters for a team in a weaker division. But not this one. And not if your payroll is as high as the Yankees'. It's like looking at the Red Sox' outfield last year, but Cashman cannot even blame injuries for this.

Of course, if he had any balls, he would do what's right and put a guy with the body of a starter and, for better or for worse, the stuff of either a decent starter or a decent reliever, into the rotation. The bloggers, including Replacement Level and NoMaas, are still calling for Joba Chamberlain to be in the rotation. Forget what's best for the baseball player. At this point, it's probably best for the team.

First of all, it's straight fact that strain in 2008, probably a product of Chamberlain being jerked around between the starter role and the reliever role, has resulted in a slight degradation of his stuff, most spectacularly his fastball. Does Chamberlain still have the raw heat to be a lights-out eighth inning guy? The WHIP of 1.3 and the ERA of 4.4 would suggest not. Not that the 9.7 K/9 is a bad statistic, but he's more human than they probably want from this guy. The slider location problems are also more of a problem when there are no outs and a man on second in a one-run game in the eighth.

However, this decrease in the quality of the raw, pure stuff is something you can overcome as a mid-rotation starter. Seriously, all the guy needs to be is marginally better than Ivan Nova and he presents value to the Yankees. He doesn't need to be "saved," in NoMaas's terms. He'll be able to face a whole lineup a couple of times, including the weaker parts of lineups. He can contribute innings. And, if the Yankees don't ultimately want the guy, they can get more value as a trading chip if the guy is a starter.

Lastly, if he really does have arm troubles and will never throw the smoke again that he threw back in 2007 as a starter or reliever, baseball history dictates that you can develop a brain and overcome less-than-lethal stuff. Many pitchers have put together Hall of Fame careers that way. But they did it as starters. Unless you have great stuff, you will most likely not be a good reliever in the long run. You can for a little while - look at Chad Bradford, Hideki Okajima, or Keith Foulke. But after a while, the party ends.

Joba Chamberlain is 25 years old. For those keeping score, he's two years and ten days younger than top prospect/future Hall of Fame outfielder 46. He can - and still should - be a starter. He isn't going to be Roger Clemens as a starting pitcher. But he can still have a long, worthwhile career. And he can help the Yankees for a long time that way. At least more than Ivan Nova can.

As a reliever? I don't see it happening.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Appeal Of "New"

One stat I think about often is one from Bill James that some absurd percentage of World Series Champions (I think it's around 50%) were won with managers in their first three years with that team. Baseball, more than any other team sport, is a marathon-like grind, and you can see how something can be said for "new" over "better". That is, even a really good manager might grow old rather quickly on a team, and an inferior manager could have better results with a similar group the following year just based on being something different.

I think the "new" effect goes beyond managers to players as well. At least impact players. There is always going to be an excitement and energy surrounding new star players in any sport. I think this is particularly true in baseball because of how often star players move, and what a key part of the game it is. The baseball offseason is by far the most celebrated of major American sports, and that is because no sport sees more power shifts that are so based on star player movement (as opposed to other phenomenons). In conjunction with the length of the season, it is just more exciting in baseball to have new players that you are going to watch almost every day for six or more months.

I think the players really feel this "new" element as well. Again, I would guess that this has a lot to do with the length of the season. Baseball is a long season to do the same thing with the same players a few years in a row. When you add a new star piece, that can really energize the rest of the team. It can also energize the new star player himself, as in most cases he has left something more familiar for new surroundings. I think this "new" element can produce better results in the short-term, until it is no longer new. I am reminded of a comment TimC had a while back, probably some time last winter about how repeating is the sign of a truly great team, and how tough it is to do that. I think a lot of how tough it is to do, and how infrequently we see it in baseball - we haven't had a team successfully defend a title in 11 years - has to do with how tough it is to keep a baseball team from getting stale. It's not the only factor, but I think it is a major contributing one.

The 2009 Yankees are only one example - and a small sample size - but I think they are a good one. An already good roster got a major injection of two elite players. The result was everyone seeming to play better. They won it in year one, but after that it just gets tougher. Now there are expectations - the bar being set is a major element of this "new" theory - to be matched and exceeded, and there isn't the buzz and motivation of having never done it as a group. It gets tougher to do it each and every year, both as individual players and as a team.

I don't think that this buzz and motivation should be underestimated. The 2009 Yankees were not a perfect team. I mean, they used three starters the entire playoffs. But that entire season it was like they were on a mission. 17 of their 57 home wins were on walk-offs! I have no way to prove if this was related to the "newness" on that team, but this is just one example of this team having an extra energy. Winning that many close games in the last at-bat could be all talent and coincidence, but there is likely a little something else involved, just getting it done when it counts. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that this matters more than talent. The "new" players have to be good in addition to new. And how good they are matters far more than the fact that they are new. This is an anti-statistical argument, but then again I'm a believer there is more than stats involved in sports, just as is the case with the stat about the managers in the first sentence of this post. There is a human element, and I think that being excited about something new and good is a really basic one. I'm simply suggesting situations like this can supplement and perhaps propel collective talent.

For that reason, you have to like the 2011 Boston Red Sox. When pre-season predictions start rolling around you are going to hear a lot of people picking them. Some are going to tell you they are an uber-team that is complete top to bottom, which is of course inaccurate over-excitement. This team has questions, both regarding the depth of the rotation and the back of the bullpen. Others are going to tell you that they might just happen to have more talent on their roster than everybody else, which may very well be true. And again, this is the most important thing. But what I'm more interested in is that they have an existing core (Lester, Youkilis, Pedroia) that have won something but are hungry because that is who they are that is being added to in the form of two prime-aged impact players (Gonzalez, Crawford) that are hungry to finally win something. And they have the new factor as champions of the offseason, something everyone from the fans to the players are going to be excited about entering Spring Training. Sounds a lot like the 2009 Yankees to me.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Jeff Bagwell, Fall Guy

I'm probably going to exceed my metaphor quota in this post, but it's starting to look like what Bud Selig and Donald Fehr did in the late 90s through 2007 is something that we have not yet seen all the implications. Like the BP oil spill, this is something that isn't going to be cleaned up for a long time.

And while he's certainly not the first one, Jeff Bagwell is theoretically one of the pelicans covered in oil and not getting what he deserves.

First of all, don't think I have my head in the sand here. I don't think any contact hitting minor leaguers turn into guys hitting 50 home runs a year just through a lot of weightlifting and a chance to Enron Field. Though it probably helps. I think a lot of guys who have never been implicated, including Bagwell, Luis Gonzalez, and Nomar Garciaparra used, and it's my right to judge. This was Tony Massarotti's argument on Thursday night, and he's absolutely right. It's my right to judge and it's the Baseball Writers' Association of America's right to judge every single one of these guys. If they think a guy was doing drugs and therefore should be out of the Hall of Fame - something that obviously happened to the 1994 MVP - they can go ahead and keep the guy out.

Back when we discussed the juice here on a regular basis and before Pat started throwing temper tantrums about it, I practiced the policy of "innocent until implicated," which would have Bagwell, Gonzalez, and Nomar off the hook. People may say, "this is America, where you're innocent until proven guilty." But this is not a court of law. I don't see any lawyers here.

Unfortunately, there might be some players who were innocent but presumed guilty. But that's something that will have to rest on the conscience of the people who let it happen, Selig and Fehr. A big part of me hopes that a lot of the players of my late childhood and adolescence just don't make it in. This would mark in history what deserves to be in history - an indictment of the game during this time period and an indictment of the two executives who allowed the desecration of the game during that time period. Selig says he wouldn't do anything differently. If Ken Griffey was the only person from 1995-2005 inducted into the Hall of Fame, Selig may look into his own pockets and keep saying that it was a "golden age."

But he's wrecked the legacy of players, many of which could have no evidence against them. That's how poor his leadership, the leadership of Donald Fehr, and the lack of initiative taken by the players in support of the ones losing their jobs to the juicers. Think about it: If nobody had ever taken a drug, or if drug use were detected and tested for early, maybe a guy like Bagwell or Nomar could have been great without the rumors. And while I feel like Bagwell got screwed, he wasn't screwed last week by the great arbitrators behind the keyboards. He got screwed by the people in charge of the game fifteen years ago. Hopefully this resides on their consciences.

An update on another beef from the 1990s: Pete Carroll is still a freaking disaster. Enjoy yo day.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

15-Year-Old Controversies

Upon Roberto Alomar's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, there was a little bit of conversation that - if blogs had been invented by Al Gore back in 1996 - there probably would have been another legendary 50-post comment section slugfest about. The Alomar/John Hirschbeck spitting situation at the very end of the 1996 season raised a lot of issues, some of which we still discuss here today.

1. Let's start with Hirschbeck. I believe that in this situation, as well as a couple of other situations in the late 1990s, he was proactive in picking fights with players. This guy was a long-respected umpire who was making the same decisions that a lot of us have crushed the younger umpires for. This guy thought he was bigger than the game and was habitually elevating situations that didn't need to be elevated.

2. Alomar looked like the bad guy initially after this situation. And he should have. Don't spit in an umpire's face. That's a bad idea. But when more time went by, it looked like not Alomar, but Hirschbeck, was the one in the wrong. There were many accounts that claimed that Hirschbeck used a four word racial slur against Alomar, a theory that was given more weight when Hideki Irabu accused Hirschbeck of calling him a "Japanese m-f" after being called for a balk. But that's pretty bad. How, in an international game, can you say stuff like that? Hirschbeck is beyond a clown, and hopefully baseball fans do not forget this. I don't care what kind of stuff is going on in your personal life; it doesn't give you the excuse to be a racist.

3. The most controversial part at the time, at least in my memory, is the fact that Alomar didn't get suspended for blowing up and spitting in Hirschbeck's face until April 1997. They had plenty of comic strips and jokes about it, and maybe this was a harbinger about how much Bud Selig actually cares about disciplining any players. I'm pretty sure there was a negotiation between Selig and the union about the suspension of Alomar, but there's no doubt that if Selig had any balls, Alomar would have served his suspension during the playoffs.

(Of course, what also should have happened in the wake of the Alomar situation was that during road games during the '96 playoff stretch, opposing stadiums should have had some more security preventing people/future Wesleyan baseball players from f***ing with balls in play. But that's another story.)

But here's what I would like to know. You guys were all watching baseball back then. And you guys at least have a vague recollection of the situation.

1. Why don't umpires get any kind of discipline for actively seeking fights on the field? Is it just ego or is it something else?
2. Do you think Hirschbeck really dropped the slurs? If he did, what should the discipline have been?
3. Alomar got five games in April 1997. What should his discipline have been?
4. Would this have been different if it had happened in 2011?

Y'all have a good weekend. By the way, last week, the unranked, irrelevant UMass Minutemen basketball team REJUVENATED THE MULLINS CENTER WITH THEIR HUGE WIN OVER BU! WHEE! HUGE WINS OVER TCU AND BOSTON UNIVERSITY!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Midseason Hoops Review (Bringing The Garden Back Two At A Time)

Pretty incredible that we are just shy of the midway point in both the NBA and college basketball seasons. Seems like we just got started. Looking back at the first half of both seasons from a New York perspective, what's also incredible is just how similar the falls and rises of the city's two primary teams - The Knicks and St. John's University Men's Basketball - have been. About a decade ago, both teams checked out after prolonged stretches of mostly success. With the exception of one playoff appearance for The Knicks and one NCAA Tournament appearance for St. John's, the better part of the last ten years have been a combination of losing and off the court embarrassments. Not a good mix for the organization, the school, or their fans.

Now, for whatever reason both teams have come storming back in the same year in similar fashion. The beginning of each season was marked by ups and downs, as the Knicks searched to adjust to new players and SJU searched to adjust to new coaches. Then in clicked, and both teams went on extended runs of winning, winning games few expected them to because they were games they hadn't won consistently for a long time. That was followed by a period of wondering what both teams really were, nice comeback stories on nice streaks that were nothing more than pretenders, or teams that could legitimately mix it up. These teams 2010-2011 revivals have been so similar that they answered that question on back to back nights, with signature wins against #13 Georgetown and the team in the NBA with the best record, the San Antonio Spurs. I have been to St. John's games and have not yet been to a Knicks game, but I don't need to in order to know just how much the Garden is rocking again. It's just as palpable on TV as it is to be their live for SJU games. New York City, the greatest basketball city in the world, is excited for basketball again in a big way thanks to these two teams and that's a beautiful thing.

Where these two teams go in the 2nd half is not necessarily going to be as similar as their 1st half revivals. Not in a good or bad way, just a different way primarily based on differences between the pro and college games (most notably that the Big East league schedule is more difficult than the NBA schedule - it's sort of like playing 10 of the top 15 teams in the NBA on repeat).

For the Knicks, if everyone stays healthy they should cruise to a playoff spot. The way the East is shaping up there are six really good teams (Boston, New York, Chicago, Miami, Orlando, and Atlanta) and nobody else is even close. There's a lot of season left but those 7/8 seeds in the East could be NFC West ugly. They are without Gallinari for a few weeks, and while that is a tough loss (Gallo had been playing great) during a very difficult part of their schedule, (A) it could have been a lot, a lot worse of an injury, and (B) it has forced D'Antoni to do something he publicly stated he needed to do, which was lengthen the rotation. He could not continue to play Stoudemire, Felton, Chandler, and Gallinari the minutes he was playing them all season. He had started to do this before Gallo went down but this is forcing him to really explore who is going to provide significant depth minutes the rest of the way.

As long as Gallinari comes back as expected and everyone else is able to stay on the floor, the Knicks will have a chance to play playoff basketball. What they do once they get there is primarily dependent upon Felton, Chandler, and Gallinari. Amare has become one of those special players that can get there every night in terms of providing an elite performance on a consistent basis as only the superstars do. What they need beyond that is to have two of the aforementioned three running with Amare every game. They have been doing a good job of getting one every night. When they get two is when they can play with anyone, as we saw last night against the Spurs. Without Gallinari altogether, Chandler and Felton were so out of their minds that the Knicks scored the most points that a team had scored against the Spurs in a regular season game in something like 10 years, causing Popovich to pull his starters with 3 minutes to go in the game. How often do you see that in an NBA game? That's how good the Knicks can be. They aren't there on a night to night basis against the NBA's elite yet, but they can get close enough to really be a tough out come playoff time.

The road to the NCAA Tournament will not be as easy for The Johnnies as the road to the playoffs should be for the Knicks. Before I go any further, I'd like to point out how thrilled I am just to be able to have a serious conversation about SJU having a legitimate chance to get to the NCAA's, let alone them actually getting there. But now that we've accomplished that, I obviously want them to get in very badly. This group of 10 seniors deserves it, they've dedicated themselves to the program for four years that saw a good amount of losing in the first three. It would also be a great building block for the outstanding recruiting class coming in next year, not to mention to continuing the momentum and buzz that recruiting class created for the program this past fall.

Back to it not being easy, SJU has an absolutely vicious schedule. They are currently projected to have the #1 strength of schedule in the country at season's end. That's what a Big East Conference schedule and out of conference games against St. Mary's, Duke, UCLA, Arizona St., Northwestern, and Davidson will do. While it is helpful come selection time to have such a strong schedule, you still have to play reasonably well against that schedule. Starting with Georgetown this past Monday, The Johnnies have eight consecutive games against ranked teams to close out January. They are 1-0, and how they navigate these next seven games will go a long way to determining their NCAA chances. If they could go 3-4 or better, moving from 10-3 overall (3-0 Big East) to 13-7 overall (6-3 Big East), I'd be excited about that. 13 wins with 10 games to play, plus at least one Big East Tournament game. With their SOS, 20 should definitely get them in, and 19 should give them a good shot, so they'd need 6-7 more wins. Especially if they can get to 10-8 in the Big East, which seems to be a de facto record established by the selection committee to get in out of this conference. That makes this Saturday's road matchup with Notre Dame of incredible importance. ND is a team SJU could potentially be grouped with as of similar caliber in competing for tourney spots, and those are always big head to heads to win. Further, getting to 4-0 in conference would give them an incredible cushion in a tough conference, allowing them to go 6-8 the rest of the way and still get to 10 conference wins. Finally, they'd be 3-0 on the road in conference, meaning 8 home games to 6 road games left in conference. Notre Dame is a good team, #15 in the nation, and a very tough place to win on the road. But if they can pull it off Saturday night it starts to set things up bigtime.

Good 1st half, the first good half of a season for both of these teams in a long time. Hopefully there is more to come in the 2nd half. Let's Go Red Storm, and Let's Go Knicks.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010 Pats: Boring!

Lots of talk of this topic on the radio this evening: The 2010 New England Patriots are, in terms of television ratings, the most-watched Patriots team in history. This is even provided the fact that Patriots fans have the options of watching on the Internet, on their phones, or otherwise - many of which do not count in the ratings.

This team is more popular by a whole percentage point than the 2007 Patriots - the one that had the perfect record going.

It's notable to say that this Patriots team was not really expected to perform too well. They got rid of their top player who had star power and national attention and charisma and all that stuff, and replaced him with a guy with a lot less name recognition. Instead, they have these three guys, one receiver who was traded for a fourth-round draft pick, one running back who was released by his former team, and one receiver who came via free agency.

Sounds a lot like the Red Sox in July 2010. Think about this:
Adrian Beltre=Wes Welker (underrated free agent)
Victor Martinez=Deion Branch (big trade acquisition)
Darnell McDonald=Danny Woodhead (waiver wire acquisition)

But somehow, while the 2010 Patriots are the most watchable Patriots team ever, the 2010 Red Sox were "boring."

All this means is that the generation of Pink Hats that died off in the past 18 months or so just have short attention spans and are back to watching whatever Paula Abdul's new dancing show is.

(A quick aside: The Celtics played a pretty tense game against Minnesota and with about 25 second left, when Minnesota had the ball down one point, the TV shots indicated that most fans there were more interested in "Living on a Prayer" than what was actually going on during the game. Would this have happened in 1984?)

We can say that the Red Sox were less compelling to watch after JD Drew caught the foul ball in Tampa and the team was eliminated from the playoffs. But they were the best team in the AL - just like the Patriots are the best team in football - a mere six months ago today (July 4, 2010). Still, their numbers were down on television and people were complaining about how boring they were.

Was it because 46 was the guy who went down and females no longer wanted to watch?
Was it because nobody had the true appreciation for the one-knee home run?
Was it because Tom Werner didn't do as "articulate a job as we can of portraying how interesting the clubhouse is" (from the "Neither Will Your Readers" article)?
Was it the complexion of the unexpected heroes?
Or was it because the fan base doesn't have the attention span to enjoy success for seven straight years, instead becoming spoiled brats who watch reruns of "Men Behaving Badly" (a Tom Werner hit show that was at least as good as a Wild Card berth) if the team is not in contention to go 132-30?

I just don't get it. While I do understand why people don't like to watch Daisuke Matsuzaka starts thirty times a year (it's like watching Ben Stiller make mistake after mistake in front of Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents), I don't understand why people didn't find anything compelling about a waiver wire guy come through in the clutch, a guy who was traded for spare parts not enjoying being touched on the head, or a reclamation project genuflecting while hitting a ball to Brookline.

Especially when it's the very same people who, in record numbers, are watching the Patriots do the EXACT. SAME. THING.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Implications Of The Pettitte Decision

As we enter 2011, the Yankees biggest need is undoubtedly filling out the starting rotation. They return everyone on an offense that scored the most runs in baseball in 2010 despite as many guys underperforming than meeting expectations or exceeding them. While some of that may be due to age, the chances that the Yankees get the same or less production from Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter, Granderson, and DH (Nick Johnson) in 2011 as they did in 2010 are low. Gardner is really the only player who far overshot expectations, so it isn't like they should have a counterbalancing phenomenon occuring in the other direction. They are also likely to see what top prospect Jesus Montero can do. Their bullpen continues to be anchored by Mariano Rivera, and its fluid nature - despite not having a lot of "name" guys - has produced three consecutive plus years. While official rankings don't come out for another month or two, early indications from various publications are that the Yankees have no worse than the 6th best farm system in baseball.

Things are essentially firing on all cylinders for the Yankees with the exception of the rotation. CC Sabathia is one of the five best pitchers in the game, but after that nothing is certain. Phil Hughes took yet another major step in 2010 but still has one last important step to take: doing it two years in a row. Burnett has been up and down his entire career, and at this point you just have to hope 2011 is one of his good years. Ivan Nova might develop into a nice piece in the middle-back of the rotation, but that's a total unknown at this point, and the Yankees would probably be better served with him as their #6 starter/long-man to open the season, let alone #4. If the season started today, Sergio Mitre would be the #5 starter.

When you look at it this way, it looks like the Yankees need a lot of starting pitching. And they do. But that can change very quickly, and the way it can do so is primarily through Andy Pettitte coming back. And it's not just because of him alone. I fully expect the Yankees to add a non-Andy Pettitte starter before Spring Training, whether it is through trade or free agency, although my bet is by trade. Someone that can be reasonably relied upon for innings and effective pitching. Someone like Mark Buehrle. By itself this kind of move would greatly help the Yankees' rotation. Just like Andy Pettitte coming back would greatly help the Yankees' rotation standing on its own.

Put the two together, however, and you go from an area of need to an area that, at the very least you don't have to worry about, and at most could become a strength. Sabathia, Hughes, Pettitte, Buehrle (as an example), and Burnett would be a solid 1-5, with Nova and Mitre offering depth as opposed to being relied upon.

Point being, Andy Pettitte is going to make everything look a lot better. Not just by him coming back of and within itself, but he's going to make any other move the Yankees make in their rotation look even better. The Yankees need the big left back for one more year, and they need him back badly. This is pure, 100% speculation on my part, but if he's waited this long I think it probably means one of two things. One, he knows he wants to retire and is delaying because he knows it would leave the Yankees hanging and a big part of him doesn't want to do that. Two, he is really leaning towards returning but wants to make sure he is fully ready to do it on every level. Either way, it seems pretty clear that he's debating something. I doubt he would wait this long to give the Yankees a definitive decision if he wasn't.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Texts From Last Night

For our first post of the new year, I'm just going to direct all you guys to an article posed as a legitimate article from NESN.com. Nevermind Sox Appeal, Pocket Money, or Employ the Owner's Wife, the three great programs that took chunks out of the Red Sox's regional sports network's legitimacy. It Eric Ortiz's January 1, 2011 that finished NESN off, just as December 6, 2006 stripped Theo Epstein of his legitimacy and November 4, 2010 stripped ownership of its legitimacy.

I don't even need to go into analysis to show how this article just takes it to a whole new level. The title takes care of itself. This is why this is going to be the easiest post of the year. By far.

2011 Red Sox Will Challenge 1927 Yankees for Title of Greatest Team in Major League History

A couple of the highlights:

"Look at the starting lineup...This lineup has it all. Good luck finding a hole from 1 to 7."
Right, like the 1 hitter who hit .192 in 18 games last year and has a career OPS of 92. Or the 6 hitter who shows up in June and is devoting most of his time trying to investigate why his steroid test showed up positive. Or the 7 hitter who is JD Drew.

"the 25-year-old [Saltalamacchia] could be ready for a breakout season"
or another year under .200.

"Youth, experience and versatility will ride the pine like lions waiting to hunt."
Yes, Mike Cameron and Jason Varitek are young.

"The Japanese right-hander is the only pitcher in the rotation who has never been an All-Star, but this could be the ear he ends that streak...While the Phillies might be the popular choice for the best rotation in baseball, don't be surprised if people are singing a different tune come October."
Career BB/9 of 4.3. 13-12 with an ERA close to 5 in the last two seasons. Why let facts stop us? Whee!

"Albers could be a diamond in the rough...Papelbon is pitching for a contract, so trust he will be ready to show he's far from washed up. Reliability and consistency...will be common words associated with this group."
Eric Ortiz has passed various members of the Albers family as the all-time leader in getting amped about a reliever with a 5.11 ERA!

"100 wins doesn't just appear plausible. It seems downright inevitable. So does a date with history." [This precedes rambling about the 116-win Mariners, 116-win Cubs, and 1927 Yankees.]

Two more points to make about this:
1. This guy went to Stanford. I no longer have any respect for a Stanford degree. Surely a writing degree, because phrases like "riding pine like lions waiting to hunt" are something we haven't seen since John Steinbeck. Somewhere, Mike Mussina's crying.
2. Happy new year, it's 1999 again. The era of the pink hat is over. The comments readers left Ortiz on this article ask if it's an April Fool's article, call for his job, ask how he got the job, and wonder if the guy snorted a kilo of cocaine on New Year's Eve. Red Sox fans are back, grounded in reality and skepticism that has normally been reserved for alongside the Schuylkill River over the past seven years. These guys know that this team is questionable, and the recent re-signing of Okajima just makes it worse.

Either way, this kind of nonsense deserves to be on Texts from Last Night alongside text messages involving Jello shots and marijuana bongs made out of Legos.

However, this humor inspired much joy in my living room, so maybe Tom Werner and NESN are ensuring that this article is as good as a World Series.