The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Saturday, July 30, 2005


Saturday Stuff

On Sunday, Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, and it seems like a good time to point a few things out as I drink my morning coffee.

First of all, if you don't understand why Wade Boggs belongs in the Hall of Fame -- and there appear to be some who don't, though most of them have been shamed into moving to other countries by now -- I'll have to question your fundamental grasp on the concept of baseball, which is this: you get 27 outs, three at a time, in which to do your damage before heading for the showers. Of the 16,000+ players ever to play major-league baseball, Wade Boggs is 26th all-time in not making outs, with a career on-base percentage of .415. Combine that with the fact that he ranks 18th all-time in the number of times on base (at bats plus walks plus hits-by-pitch), and you've got an excellent building block for an offense, one that lasted 18 years in the bigs and racked up 3,000 hits along with numerous other honors.

One single Boggs at-bat stands out to me, and if you're a Yankee fan, you know which one I'm talking about: Game Four of the 1996 World Series, the one in which the Yanks clawed back from a 6-0 deficit thanks in part to Jim Leyritz's eighth-inning three-run homer. The game remained tied into the 10th inning, when the Yanks loaded the bases with two outs against Steve Avery. Joe Torre brought Boggs -- the last player on the bench on this night -- in to pinch-hit for Andy Fox. The perfect man for the job -- you need exactly one base? How about a guy with a 40+ percent chance of getting it for you? -- Boggs worked the count and drew a walk to force in the go-ahead run. The Yanks added one more, and never looked back on their way to a World Championship, one replete with the admittedly bizarre sight of Boggs on horseback.

I looked at Boggs' candidacy back in December, when I reviewed the Hall ballot for Baseball Prospectus using the Jaffe WARP Score (JAWS) system. Here's what I wrote:
Third basemen are the Hall's redheaded stepchildren. Not only are they criminally underrepresented in the ranks of Cooperstown, with only ten enshrinees, but it's quite apparent that the Hall doesn't even have the right ten. Ron Santo (84.2), Darrell Evans (76.4), and Graig Nettles (71.4) all have JAWS scores above the position average, while the likes of George Kell (51.9) and Fred Lindstrom (41.8) rank among the Veterans Committee's more egregious mistakes.

The impending election of Boggs will do more than that. At 103.0 JAWS, Boggs will take over the top score among Hall third basemen from Mike Schmidt (102.8). While this shouldn't be taken as the definitive say on who's the better player--any slight change in either Davenport's methodology or mine might put the other in the lead--that's still a hell of an accomplishment for a guy with 430 fewer career homers. Boggs topped 200 hits eight times and 100 runs seven times; he won five batting titles in a six-year span from 1983-88. He wasn't a slugger, breaking into double-digits in homers just twice, with a high of 24 in 1987, when homers cost a dollar if you wore an onion on your belt (which was the style at the time). But he was a doubles-hitting machine, topping 40 eight times, with a high of 51.

Hits weren't the only things that made Boggs great; there's also the small matter of the walks. To his .328 career average, Boggs added a plate discipline that was almost otherworldly. In 1988, he walked 125 times and struck out 34, and he piled that on top of a .366 batting average and a .490 slugging percentage. In that same 1983-1988 span, he led the league in OBP five times; the one time he didn't, he finished second with a .407 mark. How about this: Boggs led the league in times on base every single year from 1983 through 1990. Yeah, that'll play.

Boggs never won an MVP award, but he should have won a raft of them. Consider:
      AL Winner  WARP3  Boggs
1984 Hernandez 8.7 10.1
1985 Mattingly 10.6 12.3
1986 Clemens 11.6 11.9
1987 Bell 9.0 13.1
1988 Canseco 12.0 12.6
1989 Yount 10.1 11.7
Over a six-year span, Boggs not only outperformed the AL MVP every time, he did so by an average of 1.6 wins a year. Yet at a time when he had a solid claim on being the best player in the league, he never finished higher than fourth in the voting, even on a team that went to the playoffs twice in that span. That's Rodney Dangerfield territory, but no matter; Boggs should get his due in January. He's not just a Hall of Famer, he's another one of those inner-circle types. And he threw a pretty good knuckleball, too.
Sandberg isn't quite the slam-dunk Boggs is, but JAWS puts him in the upper half of all Hall second basemen, and that includes both Roberto Alomar (who retired this spring) and Craig Biggio, who should eventually join him in bronze. Yes, Sandberg was helped by his park, and since that article was written, Retrosheet has filled out his splits to completeness (their box scores and splits now go back to 1960, rather than 1972, a huge boon to researchers). At Wrigley, Sandberg hit .300/.361/.491 with 164 homers, away he hit a more pedestrian .269/.326/.412 with 118 homers. It's never been a crime to take advantage of one's environs when it comes to hitting; even Hank Aaron's homer total was helped by his park.

As I link to this handful of Baseball Prospectus articles, it's a good time to point out that all of BP's premium content is free through August 3, meaning that those of you misers who aren't subscribed can catch up on what you've missed behind the green curtain, including the JAWS companion piece on the pitchers and the one on the Veterans Committee ballot. BP is working extra hard to bring readers trade deadline coverage, and if you haven't checked Will Carroll's rumor mill pieces, you should.

I'm off to the ballpark to witness Shawn Chacon's debut in pinstripes. Chacon was acquired from the Colorado Rockies on Thursday for a pair of live arms (Ramon Ramirez and Edwardo Sierra) from deep within the Yankee system, a considerably cheaper price than what they were asking for before, which was reportedly Scott Proctor and Sean Henn. Chacon's in his fifth major-league season and he's probably best remembered for his disastrous year as the Rox closer last year, when he posed an undgodly 7.11 EA and blew nine saves. Not counted in that total was a key September 28 game against the Dodgers, when, after being called upon to protect a 4-0 lead in the ninth, he issued four straight walks before yielding to another reliever who let them all in along with the winning run.

Chacon's been more successful as a starter; though he's only 1-7, he's put together a 4.09 ERA, which is impressive for a Rockie even if it's a rickety number which masks a low strikeout rate (4.83) and 1.08 K/BB ratio. In other words, he's another Granny Gooden for the Yanks. Oh joy.

In the spirit of hoarding other organizations' pitching detritus (Hideo Nomo, Darrell May, Wayne Franklin, Tim Redding, AL Leiter-- see Derek Jacques' hilarious telethon-style rundown at BP)the Yanks signed former Sox lefty reliever Alan Embree, who's put up a 7.65 ERA this year in 37.2 innings. Embree's strikeout and walk peripherals aren't bad - 7.17 K/9 and 2.73 K/BB ratio -- but he's allowed 8 homers (1.91 per 9) and a .306 BABIP, suggesting he's left a lot of pitches in people's happy zones. It'd be nice if the Yanks could rehabilitate him into a useful reliever, but given their track records, I'm not optimistic. Paging the Big Dingo...

Thursday, July 28, 2005



It took me twice as long as usual to make it to Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night, an hour and a half as opposed to 45 minutes. The Lexington line subway was all fakakta, with a new excuse at every stop -- signal malfunction, sick passenger, incident at 161st St. -- but while I was underground, the 97-degree heat broke, taking the edge off of a sweltering day. Nonetheless, my pal Issa and I didn't make first pitch, and I was jotting down the events in the top of the first as I bobbed and weaved through the tier-level concourse, listening to the play-by-play and catching glimpses of the internal video feed at each concessions stand.

From the get-go, Yankee starter Al Leiter was in trouble, yielding singles to the first two Twins, and escaping only due to some nifty fielding by Derek Jeter, who got the first out by forcing Shannon Stewart at third base. But before the Gold Gloves could be handed out, Jeter flopped on a Torii Hunter ground ball up the middle, stopping it and perhaps saving a run but loading the bases. It was going to be that kind of night.

Leiter wriggled out of that jam, and another bases-loaded situation in the second. But he persisted -- always, with the base runners, oy -- putting two men on in the third. Joe Mauer singled, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Bret Boone drew a two-out walk, and then Justin Morneau drove one into leftfield, a sure double. Mauer scored, but Hideki Matsui, who'd brutally butchered his first carom, played this one perfectly, and the relay throw cut down Boone at the plate to preserve the 1-0 score.

Meanwhile the Yanks could do little against Twins ace Johan Santana. The defending Cy Young winner hasn't been as sharp this year; he came in sporting a 3.89 ERA. But he looked like the guy in the catalog to the Yankees, at least based on the zeroes he kept posting on the scoreboard. Their best chance against him came in the bottom of the third, when Jeter and Robinson Cano put together back-to-back one-out singles. Gary Sheffield scorched a hard shot up the middle. Too hard, in fact, as Hunter quickly got the ball and gunned down Jeter at the plate. The Yanks would put a runner on against Santana in each of the next four innings, all to to no avail. That kind of night.

Leiter kept up the Houdini act through five innings, escaping the last one with a double play on pitch #115. "Room service, room service," I shouted as Justin Morneau's ball reached Cano to start the double play. "Room service?" asked the couple next to me once the play finished. "Just what we ordered," I explained. They nodded with the satisfaction of understanding, "Room service indeed."

Leiter departed having yielded seven hits, five walks and a hit-by pitch but just one run, an outing he referred to as full of "MacGyver" moments. Fourteen of the 26 batters he faced started with "ball one." Had the beer not been so cold and the company so good, watching him would have been maddening. Given the shellshocked state of the Yankee rotation (which went ahead and signed Hideo Nomo yesterday, sending him to Columbus to get his shit together), it was admirable instead.

The score stayed 1-0 until Tanyon Sturtze came on in the seventh, taking the baton from Felix Rodriguez. Then all hell broke loose. Mauer greeted Sturtze with a double, and Hunter drove him in, advancing to second on the late throw home. Hunter stole third, but couldn't score on a Boone grounder. Sturtze intentionally walked Morneau to face Michael Cuddyer, another Twin having a subpar season. He walked to laod the bases, then Shannon Stewart doubled two runs home, 4-0 Twins. "Nerts to Sturtze," groaned the couple next to me.

From there, Yankee manager Joe Torre broke out the bullpen's junior varsity, with unimpressive results. Scott Proctor got two outs before yielding a Hunter single, then Jacque Jones drilled a two-run homer to left-center, 6-0.

The Yanks saw a glimpse of hope once Santana departed for Juan Rincon in the eighth. They finally broke through on a bases-loaded walk by Jason Giambi, then added two more on a throwing error by Boone. With two out and two on, closer Joe Nathan came on in relief, and Bernie Williams just missed tying the game with a ball down the rightfield line that landed foul. Williams struck out.

Alex Graman, another JV reliever who will likely have a different address in a week, yielded a solo shot to Morneau, his second big hit on the night. In this week's Hit List, I noted that Morneau had hit only .184/.282/.321 since May 14, but he's had four extra-base hits over his last three games and looks to be back in the swing of things. That homer wrapped up the scoring at 7-3. As a gentle rain fell, the Yanks went quietly in the ninth, with Alex Rodriguez, celebrating his 30th birthday, striking out looking to end the game. Nerts.

• • •

A-Rod had an undistinguished night, going 0-for-3 with two walks and a near-miss of a home run, but as ESPN points out, he's accomplished plenty in his career thus far. Rodriguez has hit 409 homers by Age 30, more than any other player and the only one to top 400 by that point. The leaderboard:
Alex Rodriguez   409
Ken Griffey Jr 398
Jimmie Foxx 379
Mickey Mantle 374
Eddie Mathews 370
Hank Aaron 342
Frank Robinson 314
Willie Mays 285
Babe Ruth 284
Ernie Banks 269
Barry Bonds 254
That's great company. Even better, Rodriguez is in the midst of a great year, Wednesday night be damned. His 28 homers are tied for the league lead, and while his 1.013 OPS wouldn't be a career high (he's topped the firgure four times, going as high as 1.045), its been accomplished while playing in a park much less favorable to hitters than his previous addresses, the Kingdome and the Ballpark at Arlington. Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average stat, which takes that into account, places him at .341, five points off of his previoius best, done in 2000 in Seattle. So long as the Yankees remain in the playoff hunt, he's got an excellent shot at his second MVP award.

What I'd really like to see, over the next several years, is for A-Rod to make a run at the all-time home run record. Barry Bonds' tainted pursuit of Hank Aaron's 755 homers has left a sour taste, and anyone with half a shot to diminish his memory (I will establish a trust fund so that my great-grandchildren may piss on his grave) is worthy of the adulation of baseball fans everywhere.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Hit It and Quit It

Another week, another epic: the latest version of the Prospectus Hit List went up yesterday, chock full of trade deadline tidbits that had me updating into the wee hours. A day later I'm so busy and brain-fried that I've got little to add to that particular novella, except to say that once again the Yankee rotation looks to be about two avocados short of a guacamole dip. Kevin Brown has been scratched and Carl Pavano pushed back a day, putting the Yankees in a similar situation to where they were a couple weeks ago.

Brown has been godawful in his two starts since returning from the DL, allowing 13 runs in just 7.2 innings, raising his already lousy ERA up to 6.50. Today's New York Times speculates that the cranky old bird may be cooked:
Nobody could say for sure that Brown, 40, would pitch again this season. Brown has been awful in two starts since missing a month with a lower-back strain, and though he said surgery was not an option for now, there may be no point in trying to pitch.

If the doctors determine that Brown would be so limited that he could no longer pitch effectively, the Yankees could simply release him.
Since Brown's likely never to earn any redemption for last fall's transgressions or justify his $15 million salary, that would be just as well, no matter which "Your Name Here" candidate washes up on the shores of the Harlem River to replace him. Meanwhile Pavano's rehab, which had him slated to return to the pinstripes on Saturday, was simply juggled to push him back at least a day. If, y'know, you believe what the Yankee brass is selling.

Meanwhile the Yanks appear to be mulling putting Jaret Wright, injured since late April, into the bullpen once he returns. According to the New York Post's Joel Sherman:
The Yankees are rehabbing Jaret Wright's injured shoulder with designs on putting a power arm in the bullpen, not the rotation, by mid-August.

This decision is much like the one that motivated the Red Sox to have Curt Schilling close. It is a marriage of need and necessity. The Yanks need help in the pen, and are not sure there is enough time to build Wright back up to throwing 100 pitches every five days.

"That (the bullpen) is what (Wright) is pitching toward," Brian Cashman confirmed yesterday. "He's doing very well (in his rehab). I'm not telling you we can count on it, but he can slot into bullpen for us."
Hmmmm.... for what it's worth, Wright did spend 2003 in the bullpen, with drastically mixed results: an 8.37 ERA in 47.1 innings with the Padres before they released him, and then a late-season salvage job with the Braves, where he put up a 2.00 ERA in nine innings under Leo Mazzone's wing, then made the playoff roster and pitched another four scoreless frames. It could work, but that still leaves the Yanks with a rotation of Randy Johnson (who was vintage last night in blanking the Twins on two hits over eight innings), Mike Mussina, Al Leiter (not so good in his second start), Aaron Small (career 5.46 ERA and all), and ______ for the foreseeable future. The Times article speculates that Hideo Nomo, recently released by the Devil Rays for having an ERA that offended the community standards of Florida's elderly population (7.24 overall, 10.32 on the road), might be next. Nomo's agent is playing hard to get, however:
Don Nomura... said he was talking to the Yankees and to West Coast teams about Nomo. "All the clubs have a lot of interest," Nomura said. "It's us that are going to do the choosing."
Good Lord, the Yanks have been reduced to hoping that another team's detritus deems them worthy of his services. As much as I liked Nomo when he was on, he's awful when he isn't (Granny Gooden plus a herky-jerky motion), and I have to think the team can find better results in the trade market even at the cost of a B-grade prospect like Sean Henn or Alex Graman. I'd love it if the Yanks could land a mid-rotation inning-eater like the Pirates' Mark Redman, but I fear they're more likely to end up with some Mariner whose prospect status may be ancient even if his arm is not (Gil Meche, Joel Piniero).

Enough about the Yankees, who rank sixth on the Hit List, and over to the Dodgers, who are 23rd. Though I forgot to deploy my Monty Python Black Knight joke, they're clearly not dead yet. The Padres have lost eight straight and though they still lead the division, they're only 50-50, and they now have a negative run differential just like every other NL West team. The Dodgers are now eight games under .500, but they got Milton Bradley back this past weekend, and with Odalis Perez having returned, the rotation is finally as close to full strength as it's been all year. There's a rumor floating around that they're working on a deal for Adam Dunn, with Antonio Perez and Edwin Jackson headed to Cincinnati, a deal I'd make in a second given that Jackson was posting an ERA of 8.62 in Las Vegas before he was sent down to Double-A Jacksonville, where he hasn't impressed anyone. Répétez avec moi: there's no such thing as a pitching prospect. The Dodgers have a real need for some bullpen help, with rookie closer Yhency Brazoban having allowed 14 runs in his last 13 innings, taking the loss four times and ballooning his ERA to 5.58; turn those games around and the team is right at .500, dead even with the Padres. A little help?

It's a busy week here; I'm hard at work on a top-secret project that's pretty exciting if it pans out, and headed to see the Yanks tonight and again on Saturday. Toodle-oo...

Saturday, July 23, 2005


Jaffe on Raffy

Last week, Rafael Palmeiro joined the 3,000 Hit Club, the 26th player to reach that milestone. More interestingly joined Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as just the fourth player to reach 3,000 hits and 500 homers. Yeah, those guys could hit. Despite all of this, ESPN Page 2's Skip Bayless published an article critical of Palmeiro's Hall of Fame credentials, consigning him (and Murray as well) to "the Hall of Very Good."

There is a case to be made against Palmeiro. He's played his entire career in hitter's parks: Wrigley Field, Arlington Stadium, the Ballpark at Arlington, and Camden Yards. He's never won an MVP award, never won a World Championship, and of his three Gold Gloves, one of them tainted by the fact that he got the nod after playing just 28 games at first base (Tino Martinez got jobbed). He's made only four All-Star teams. He's made only four All-Star teams. He never led the league in batting average, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage or on-base percentage; his only major category leads come in hits, runs and doubles -- each once.

However, Palmeiro scores extremely well using the Jaffe WARP Score system (a.k.a. JAWS). Coming into this season (the last time I compiled full JAWS scores; Clay Davenport's WARP formulas have since been recalibrated, though not to any drastic effect), Palmeiro's JAWS score was 132.6 career WARP3/ 46.4 peak WARP3/89.5 JAWS, well above the Hall of Fame standards at any position. In fact, Palmeiro's score places him fourth among Hall of Fame first basemen, behind only Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, and Murray and ahead of such luminaries as Willie McCovey, Johnny Mize, and Harmon Killebrew, to say nothing of questionable inductees like Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda. Among active and recently retired players, only Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken, and Rickey Henderson rank ahead of him among hitters, meaning that he outpaces Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell and Roberto Alomar, all of whom should wind up in Cooperstown. The only two players with similar or better JAWS credentials who aren't in the Hall are Pete Rose (who's ineligible, but put up a 96.7 JAWS) and Bert Blyleven (talk about jobbed, 92.5 JAWS).

Will Carroll invited me to make the case for Palmeiro on this week's edition of Baseball Prospectus Radio. You can hear what I had to say here (starting at 30:50 into the show), on an episode that also includes interviews with Ray Knight and Buck O'Neill. One of my better BPR performances, if I do say so myself. Check it out.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005


The Race Is On

Shows you what I know. Al Leiter was not party to a double-digit shellacking at the hands of the Red Sox in his Yankee debut. Salvaged off the junk heap, the 39-year-old lefty with the 6.64 ERA reached back and found a part of himself that had gone missing -- namely, the part that knew how to throw first-pitch strikes -- and befuddled the Sox for 6.1 innings, striking out eight and allowing only one run. Behind a pair of two-run homers off of Yankee nemesis Tim Wakefield by Jorge Posada and Gary Sheffield and a solo shot by Alex Rodriguez, the Yanks survived a wild ninth inning to win 5-3, take the series in Boston 3-1, and close to within a half-game of the Sox in the AL East. They won again on Monday night, beating the Texas Rangers in a wild, ugly affair 11-10, while the Sox lost to the othewise hapless Devil Rays, thus moving into first place in the AL East for the first time this season. In the words of the late Mel Allen, "How 'bout that?"

Leiter's effort seemed torn from the pages of a storybook. Drafted by the Yankees 21 years ago and making his first appearance in a Yankee uniform in 16 years, the Grizzled Southpaw Had Come Full Circle, perhaps merely to end his career with a modicum of pinstriped dignity. With the Yanks desperate for able-bodied starters, he seemed worth the gamble even against the patient Sox, especially in a situation in which they had nothing to lose after guaranteeing themselves a split in the series.

Leiter had struggled with his command as a Marlin, walking more batters than he struck out and throwing first-pitch strikes only 49.1 percent of the time, the worst in the majors. On this night, he was much more precise, consistently getting ahead of the hitters with his cut fastball, then forcing them to chase pitches out of the zone. Through four innings, he had thrown first-pitch strikes to 12 out of 16 hitters, whiffing Johnny Damon (twice), David Ortiz, Doug Mirabelli (twice), Mark Bellhorn, and Kevin Millar before the Sox knew what had hit them.

It helped, of course, that that the big Yankee bats came to life early to give Leiter some breathing room. In the second inning, Hideki Matsui slapped a double off the Green Monster, and then Posada, who's struggled mightily of late, drilled a home run into the rightfield corner for a 2-0 lead. In the third, Robinson Cano poked a one-out double down the righfield line and then Sheffield, who had already homered once and doubled four times in the series, launched one over the Monster to extend the lead to 4-0. How do you like them apples?

The Sox finally broke through against Leiter in the bottom of the third. Edgar Renteria -- a former teammate of Leiter's on the 1997 World Champion Marlins and just about the only hitter who seemed to have a gameplan at the plate -- drew a two-out walk and then Ortiz doubled him home before Manny Ramirez popped out to end the threat. But even when he couldn't get strike one, Leiter was successful. All three hitters took ball one to start the fifth; Bill Mueller popped out on the next pitch, and Bellhorn grounded out on the third pitch of the at-bat. Only Damon went deep into the count, and Leiter was out of the inning in 11 pitches. He worked harder in the sixth, going to three-ball counts on Ortiz, Ramirez (who singled), and Millar but escaping intact.

Leiter began the seventh having thrown an even 100 pitches, and after inducing Trot Nixon to fly out, he was done for the night, a hero in his return just for preserving the Yankee bullpen in the face of uncertainty. Tanyon Sturtze and Tom Gordon took the game into the ninth with the Yanks leading 5-1. Gordon came in having not allowed a hit in his previous 9.1 innings dating back to June 28 (the Mike Stanton farewell), completing a hidden no-hitter the day before (he walked four in that span). He got the final two outs of the eighth, then yielded a homer to Ramirez to start the ninth to cut the lead to 5-2 and rouse Mariano Rivera in the bullpen. After walking Millar, Gordon yielded to Mo, who had a rockier outing than usual. On a potential double-play grounder, Cano threw the ball into leftfield, and then Jason Varitek poked an RBI single to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Mueller, who singled to load the bases with nobody out. Gulp.

Fortunately, the next batter was Alex Cora, recently acquired from the Indians and hitting exactly .200. Rivera fell behind 2-0 before Cora slapped a tough grounder to Rodriguez at third. A-Rod made a perfect peg home for the forceout, and Posada threw a bullet to first to complete a beautifully-executed 5-2-3 double play. Damon, who had salvaged his 29-game hitting streak with a double off of Sturtze in the eighth, tapped Mo's first pitch to Cano, who fielded it cleanly, and that was the end of that. The Yanks had stolen a series they had little business winning. When you're hot -- this was their 10th victory in 12 games -- you're hot and when you're not -- the Sox lost for the 11th time in 17 games -- you're not. Amusingly enough, ESPN's headline after the game turned my previous column title on its ear. "Leiter fluid: Yankees' new starter subdues Red Sox."

• • •

I missed most of Monday night's game against the Rangers. Plugging away on this week's Prospectus Hit List, I surrendered the TV to Andra, then couldn't get my MLB GameDay Audio to work, so I settled for updates via ESPN's GameCast. It looked to be a nerve-wracking ballgame. Fresh off the DL, Kevin Brown gave up three runs in the first, but the Yanks dropped a six-pack on Texas starter Rich Rodriguez, with a three-run jack by Posada the big blow. By the fourth inning, four more homers had been hit and the score was 9-6.

The Rangers came back with four runs in the sixth, thanks to a two-out rally that included a dropped fly ball by Bernie Williams; apparently the wind had something to do with it, but it looked ugly on the replays nonetheless. With the score 10-9 Texas in the top of the eighth and the Hit List put to bed, I finally tuned in -- just in time to catch another Yankee rally, in fact.

Cano led off the inning with a single off of Doug Brocail. The rookie second baseman's performance has been beyond the wildest dreams of even the Yankee management, to say nothing of the analytical crowd who dismissed him over the winter (myself included). His plate discipline is lacking -- seven unintentional walks in 258 plate appearances is downright Soriano-esque -- but his surprising power (26 extra-base hits) has more than made up for it. In fact, he's far beyond Alfonso Soriano (who had four hits on the night) at this stage. Compare their rookie campaigns:
         AGE   PA   AVG   OBP   SLG   ISO   UIBB   K   K/UIBB  P/PA
Cano 22 258 .302 .324 .465 .163 .027 .124 4.57 2.91
Soriano 25 614 .268 .304 .432 .164 .047 .203 4.31 3.84
ISO is Isolated Power, simply slugging percentage minus batting average, a good indicator of a player's power potential. UIBB is unintentional walks per plate appearance, K is strikeouts per plate appearance, K/UIBB is the ratio between the two, and P/PA is the number of pitches per plate appearance. Cano has matched Sori's power potential while hitting for a much higher average, and while he's walking only about half as often, he's also striking out considerably less. Based on that last column, it's fair to say he's a different kind of hitter than Sori, one who does his business early in the count rather than waiting the pitcher out. That 2.91 pitches would be the lowest in the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, and not by a little. Here are the bottom 10 (Bobby Abreu leads the majors with 4.50):
PLAYER             TEAM  TPA   P/PA
Cristian Guzman WAS 290 3.03
Vladimir Guerrero LAA 315 3.23
Garret Anderson LAA 368 3.25
Jimmy Rollins PHI 406 3.28
Shea Hillenbrand TOR 383 3.32
Orlando Cabrera LAA 289 3.33
Carl Crawford TB 424 3.33
Pedro Feliz SF 358 3.34
Jose Guillen WAS 382 3.35
That's a motley assortment. Guzman is perhaps the worst hitter in the majors right now, the only one who gives Tony Womack -- the man Cano replaced at second base -- a run for his money. Hitting just .185/.224/.269, he's actually got a lower VORP than Womack, the lowest in the majors (-16.4; Womack is third-worst at -9.3). But Guerrero is an excellent hitter (.317/.371/.551), and while you wouldn't take the rest of them to the bank as exemplars of plate discipline, Anderson, Rollins and Hillenbrand made the All-Star Game, and neither Guillen nor Crawford would have been out of place on their respective squads. With enough power, it's possible to succeed as an early-count hitter (for an excellent piece on early-count hitting, the predictive value of strikeouts and how they relate to a hitter's development, see this Nate Silver article at Basebal Prospectus).

Getting back to Cano and Soriano (who's currently averaging 3.60 P/PA, FYI), the key difference is the first column. Recall that Sori's true age wasn't publicly known at the time; the trade to the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez added two years. Developmentally speaking, that's a huge difference, one which may herald a higher ceiling for the young Yankee. But enough of that digression; the Yanks still had a ballgame to win.

A Sheffield grounder forced Cano, but then Rodriguez walked to put two men on. Matsui flied out to bring up red-hot Ruben Sierra, who in his previous nine games had gone 13-for-27 with three doubles, a homer and eight RBI, and who was already 1-for-4 with a double on the night. With both baserunners in motion on a 3-2 pitch, Sierra blooped one into the left-centerfield gap for two runs and the lead, another huge hit for the big Rube. Alas, he pulled a hamstring rounding first base and is likely headed for the DL.

Sturtze, who had come on with two outs in the messy sixth inning, worked through the eighth before handing the ball over to Rivera. At this point the YES video feed cut out, so I was reduced to listening to Michael Kay's call. Mo struck out the dangerous Mark Teixera on three pitches, got Hank Blalock to ground out back to him, and then got Sori to ground to A-Rod to end the game and put the Yankees in first place.

As if that weren't happy enough news, the Yanks even got some encouraging words on Chien-Ming Wang after his visit to a place where no pitcher wants to go:
Wang... was examined Monday in Alabama by Dr. James Andrews. The diagnosis was inflammation and a strain in his right shoulder.

Yankees team physician Dr. Stuart Hershon said Wang will go through an exercise program for two weeks, followed by a throwing program. Hershon said surgery may be necessary if the right-hander doesn't respond to the therapy.

"That's great news right now for him and us, the fact they're going to do rest and exercise. We'll all keep our fingers crossed that it will be effective," manager Joe Torre said. "I think it's a little early to be optimistic, but I think that's a good first step."
The Daily News added:
Although the statement didn't specify, sources said that Wang has a partial tear of his rotator cuff, but it is considered slight. Several other pitchers currently active, including Mets ace Pedro Martinez and Mariners closer Eddie Guardado, are pitching with partial tears and did not require surgery.
If Wang can return this year, that's a huge break for the Yankees, one that might be "the difference between baseball and golf come October," to use Will Carroll's words. All in all, another excellent day for the Yanks.

• • •

The other day, I made note of the fact that the Yankees hired former Expo, Red Sox and Phillies pitching coach Joe Kerrigan to be an advance scout. As Newsday reported:
"This has nothing to do with uniform issues," he said. "Obviously, he's quite capable, but the purpose of my engaging him was to be an in-house advance scout."

Kerrigan told the Philadelphia Daily News this week: "I'd like to be back on the field as a bench coach or pitching coach, or as an advance scout, breaking down teams. I love doing that. This opportunity with the Yankees is very exciting, so we'll see."

Cashman took responsibility for the hire, saying it's something he's thought about for "about a month." He said he has no plans to send Kerrigan on the road to scout.

"He's a baseball guy I've respected from afar, and now we get a chance to know him upfront," Cashman said.
Reader Adam B. asked me for some insight into this, and since my response is buried much further down the page, I'll repeat it here. The Kerrigan move is intriguing as a low-risk get-to-know-you opportunity that automatically puts him in the running (along with current bullpen coach Neil Allen) to replace Mel Stottlemyre next year. Additionally, he might wind up replacing Billy Connors (who will be 64 in November and is hardly the picture of health) as the Yanks' man in Tampa, though that scenario is less likely.

The interesting thing is that he's Cashman's hire, a man the Yankee GM can turn to for fresh input as the trade deadline approaches and give himself more leverage within the organization's complicated hierarchy, at the very least mitigating the sway which Connors holds over Steinbrenner. As evidenced by the fact that it took them this long to reach first place this season thanks to some questionable offseason additions to the rotation, the team has struggled to identify pitchers than can help them. In tapping Kerrigan, they've hopefully found somebody who can correct that shortcoming as well as those of Stottlemyre, who's not known for his ability to tinker with mechanics. All in all, a very good move.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


Bring on the Leiter Fluid

Friday evening found me at a wedding in New Jersey, one where I knew hardly anybody (including the bride and groom) and which featured several questionable aesthetic decisions (a 45-minute shuttle bus ride to the reception through rush hour traffic?). As I grumbled my way through a thoroughly lackluster salad, I turned to my wife and shouted (because the 10-piece band was already blaring), "The Yankees are probably getting pounded 11-2 right now, and you know what? I'd rather be watching that than sitting here."

The wedding soon improved into a fun time (even if we did spend the night in Mahwah), but I wasn't too far off of that prediction, as the Yanks, forced to start Tim Redding and his 9+ ERA, fell behind 12-1 by the fourth inning and ended up losing 17-1. Still, it was impossible to be upset by the loss, coming as it did on the heels of a rousing victory the night before, and with 16 of the 17 runs allowed by a trio of pitchers -- Redding, Darrell May, and Jason Anderson -- whose pinstripes are being worn on borrowed time.

But the Yanks still needed a win on Saturday to insure themselves of a split in the series, and behind their only other able-bodied starter, Randy Johnson, they got it. Looking more and more like the pinstriped model of Roger Clemens, Johnson gutted his way through another ugly outing, allowing four runs in 6.1 innings while striking out 10. The Big Unit nearly squandered a 6-0 lead to which the Yankee offense had staked him, but the Yanks held on.

Those six runs came at the expense of Sox starter Matt Clement, an All-Star last week despite his unsightly beard. Clement, who was a free agent in the offseason, pitched more like Carl Pavano crossed with Jaret Wright (ouch), walking five and throwing 83 pitches just to get eight outs. Most memorable was a two-out, 2-1 pitch that got away from Clement, sailing behind the back of Gary Sheffield. It didn't look like a purpose pitch (and Sheffield later discounted any malicious intent) but Sheff scowled and broke out his can of Whoop Ass just the same, lashing the next pitch off the Green Monster for a double. Alex Rodriguez then crushed Clement's very next pitch over the Monster for a two-run blast, echoing Thursday night's homer. Choke on that, A-Rod haters.

The fun didn't end there. Consecutive walks to Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi were followed by an RBI single off the bat of Bernie Williams. Tino Martinez walked to load the bases, and then John Flaherty, a man with all of 11 hits and three RBI on the year, banged a double off the Monster for another pair of runs to spell the end for Clement. Derek Jeter, batting for the second time in the inning, greeted reliever Jeremi Gonzalez with an RBI single before Gonzalez could put out the fire.

But six early runs aren't enough to keep the Sox offensive machine down, and they patiently clawed their way back into the game. Solo homers by Mark Bellhorn in the third and Manny Ramirez in the fourth got them on the board, and a Ramirez double keyed a two-run inning in the fifth as Johnson huffed, puffed and offered mediocre stuff. The Big Unit's fastball has lost some of its bite; that .317 batting average he's yielded on balls in play is a commentary on just how vulnerable he's become in front of a still-shoddy Yankee defense. But Johnson at 80 percent is still a better (and healthier) pitcher than the Yanks can otherwise offer, and he hung tough until the bullpen could arrive. The Yanks added an insurance run in the seventh thanks to an A-Rod walk, a balk, and an error by David Ortiz, not known for his glovework and in fact playing the field against an AL team for only the second time this year.

With Joe Torre trying to preserve Tanyon Sturtze for an emergency start in case Kevin Brown can't go on Monday, Tom Gordon went 1.2 innings, throwing more balls than strikes, including an eephus curveball on his first pitch that had Manny ducking. Flash got the job done, and then Mariano Rivera came on for another 1-2-3 save, using just 12 pitches in the process. Schweeeeeet.

During the game, the Yanks acquired Al Leiter from the Florida Marlins to start on Sunday, and the price tag shows just how far Leiter's stock has fallen. Florida gave up this rotting Fish for no more than a $400,000 discount on what they owed off of his $8 million contract for the rest of the year -- not even a player to be named later in return. Then again, with Leiter's 3-7 record, 6.64 ERA and 52/60 K/BB ratio, the lefty gave Florida only slightly more leverage than Brian Cashman had. I can't blame Cashman for grasping at this straw, as he costs nothing but pocket change. But I'm not terribly optimistic it'll turn out well. A lefty flyball pitcher in Fenway sounds like a ticket to another double-digit shellacking; it's good thing they're playing with house money after Saturday's win.

Leiter is possibly the best baseball analyst I've heard in recent memory; his postseason discussions of the finer points of pitching are a must-hear. But the flip side of Leiter's ease in front of the mic is that he's something of a poor man's Curt Schilling, a clubhouse lawyer who's very calculating when it comes to media relations (recall the very public drama of the Mets declining his option seven months ago). Red Light Al is tough to like.

Suffice it to say that if Leiter keeps his ERA around 5.00 long enough for the rest of the staff to get healthy and put him out of a job, I'll be damn impressed, and so, I'll wager, will the Yanks. They've used 11 starters, the most in the AL, and their #5s (Wright, Sean Henn, Redding, May and Sturtze) have been even worse than Leiter:
            GS  IP   K/9  K/BB  HR/9    ERA
Yankee #5s 10 40 4.95 0.81 2.92 11.48
Leiter 16 80 5.85 0.87 1.01 6.64
Avert your eyes, children. Leiter started his career with the Yankees, and this is likely the end of the line for him. If he can't better that shoddy performance, he's got no place in the big leagues. The bar isn't exactly high, but that's a minor matter at the moment. The Yanks deserve a hand for holding serve under these adverse circumstances.

• • •

Speaking of the Red Sox, many of you from both sides of this rivalry are aware that I contributed two chapters, one on David Ortiz's career and the other on Pedro Martinez's lack of success against the Yankees, to a forthcoming book for Baseball Prospectus. I'm pleased to announce that Mind Game: How the Red Sox Got Smart and Finally Won a World Series, which will be published at the end of August, is now on sale via for a mere $11.16 plus shipping. On Friday, Steve Goldman, who edited the book, provided a chapter-by-chapter rundown of its contents as well as this overview:
Mind Game is a book about the Boston Red Sox and how intelligent team design helped them to surpass the Yankees, sustain the winning effort despite all the obstacles and setbacks typically encountered by every team during the championship season, and lay to rest nearly a century of self-defeating mismanagement. Mind Game is a deconstruction of the Theo Epstein-era Sox--where they came from, where they’re going, and how they got where they are, to the title of World Champions.

Before visions of the 6,782 Red Sox championship-exploitations that came out back in April blow your mind, be assured that Mind Game is not another onanistic knock-off along the lines of “Cursebreaker: How My Shamanistic Rituals Won the World Series for Red Sox Nation", by Johnny Damon’s cousin’s ex-boyfriend. Mind Game is something new. We’ve brought the full roster of Baseball Prospectus authors to bear on the Red Sox and the 2004 season, using it as a prism through which we can throw light on the real lessons of the championship.

...Because we’re Baseball Prospectus and we can’t stop writing when we’re this excited, we’ve added “extra innings,” supplementary discussions of everything from the non-curse of Tris Speaker, the strange case of Dan Duquette, Calvin Schiraldi, and much more. We've also included appendices with multiple leader boards for every BP statistic and for the first time anywhere, a comprehensive list of bench-clearing brawls in baseball history, thanks in large part to the work of the late, great Doug Pappas, who had "BP author" as one of his many titles. All of this is served up with BP’s customary insouciance and humor.
If I weren't already receiving a complimentary copy, I'd buy that, especially for less than the cost of two beers at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park. I'm proud to be associated with it and really looking forward to seeing its reception.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold

The outcome of Thursday night's Yankees-Red Sox game was pure Christmas in July for Yankee fans, and in Fenway Park no less. It won't erase the sting of last October, but in the face of increasing adversity for the Yanks, it may not get any better all year. Whether or not they win the division or the World Series in 2005, this victory was special.

Spotting the Red Sox four runs in the first inning, four runs off of one of their two remaining healthy starting pitchers, the Yanks slugged their way back against the Sox, tying the game at 5-5 in the sixth and 6-6 in the eighth. Then Curt Schilling made his debut in his new role as a reliever -- a role not unanimously accepted in the Red Sox clubhouse -- and immediately yielded a double to Gary Sheffield, who scuffled with a Fenway fan his last time in Boston, and then a two-run shot to Alex Rodriguez, the man The Big Shill spent the winter taunting. Mariano Rivera, with his own Red Sox demons to chase, came on to blow away all three Sox hitters to nail down an emotional 8-6 win. Boo-yah!

I missed the first five innings of the ballgame due to TiVo incompetence, though I'll treasure that episode of That Seventies Show I recorded in its place, as it will certainly make for more entertaining viewing than the four runs the Sox plated on Mike Mussina in the first. Moose started the game on the heels of the news that the Yanks had sent rookie Chien-Ming Wang, the surprise of their rotation, to the 15-day disabled list with "shoulder inflammation," an appointment with Dr. James Andrews, and ominous whispers that he is done for the season with a torn rotator cuff.

With Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, and Jaret Wright already on the DL, this was not exactly a welcome development. The team recalled Tim Redding, acquired along with Darrell May in the Paul Quantrill trade, to start tonight, but they'll be scrambling to find enough able bodies to fill out the schedule. Unit and Moose and pray a hyena gets loose and devours the opposition before the Yanks have to send Redding, newly hired advance scout Joe Kerrigan, or yours truly to the mound.

The Yanks clubbed their way back into the game on the strength of second-inning homers off of Bronson Arroyo by Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams, two Yankees who spent most of the season's early days as offensive ciphers. Giambi bashed five homers last week, and since May 24 (an admittedly selective date) is hitting .347/.488/.614 over a span of 129 plate appearances, bringing his season numbers to .279/.427/.476. Williams has hit .328/.400/.531 over his last four weeks, a span of 75 plate appearances, bringing his overall line to a still-meager .257 /.347/.386.

The Yanks added another in the third on an RBI double by Sheffield. While the Sox got the run back off of Moose in the bottom of the inning, Shef pounded a solo homer in the fifth to trim the lead to 5-4, the score when I tuned in. They pulled even by capitalizing on a passed ball and a throwing error by third baseman Bill Mueller, chasing Arroyo in the process.

The Sox came right back, putting the first two runners on base in the bottom of the sixth. A grounder sent Kevin Millar to third base with one out, but Mussina reached back and found the stuff to strike out not only Mark Bellhorn but also Johnny Damon. After the Bellhorn strikeout, the YES camera cut to a shot of Joe Torre pumping his fist in the dugout, a rare display of emotion from the stolid Yankee manager. Alas, Boston retook the lead on a homer by David Ortiz into the Sox bullpen off of Tanyon Sturtze, who's likely slated for the rotation in his next appearance. But the Yanks countered on a pair of doubles by Jorge Posada, who yielded to pinch-runner Tony Womack, and pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra.

The stage was thus set for Schilling. With Keith Foulke having gone to the DL for long-overdue arthroscopic knee surgery after a nightmarish first half (6.23 ERA and murmurs about his off-field problems) and Schilling lacking the stamina to return to the Sox rotation, the Boston brass has slated their pompous, messianic ace for the closer role. The decision appeared to divide the Red Sox clubhouse, which sounded more like 2001's epic collapse than 2005's championship afterglow when Johnny Damon second-guessed the move:
"[Schilling has] never done it," center fielder Johnny Damon told the paper Wednesday night. "He throws 60 pitches to get loose for a game. He needs to get loose. Two outs in the eighth, a home run is hit. Get ready, 10 pitches. He can't do it. Timlin could, Bronson could. I don't think it's a good move for us. We've always talked about all year he'd come back and be a starter, and be a good starter. He can't just walk in and be a good closer. He's not ready yet. He's not ready."
Elsewhere, Damon, who's in the midst of a 26-game hitting streak and thus qualified to comment on matters of national importance, accused the team of "panicking" in routing Schilling to the closer role. Ah, the fragile equilibrium of unhappiness.

After his extended warmup in the Boston bullpen, Schilling took a long, slow journey to the mound, jogging out of the bullpen gate then slowing to a meander as he milked the Fenway crowd's adulation in a manner befitting "Red Light Curt." His honeymoon was short-lived, as Sheffield, already with two big hits to his credit, doubled off of the left-centerfield wall on Schilling's fifth pitch.

Next came Rodriguez, who's spent the last year and a half as Public Enemy Number One in Boston ever since the Sox failed attempt to acquire him from the Rangers. Last season's early clutch failures, the fight with Jason Varitek, the slap of Bronson Arroyo in Game Six of the LCS, the sore winner gripes from Trot Nixon (who?) and Schilling that A-Rod wasn't a "true Yankee"... you couldn't write a better script leading up to this point.

Schilling, Public Enemy Number One to Yankee fans, looked back at Sheffield then fired his first pitch to A-Rod, a splitter that split the field of play in a big hurry. Rodriguez lofted a long fly ball as Damon could only look up for a cursory farewell. A beautiful sight, a burden lifted, a cold plate of revenge served to a pompous douchebag in front of his adoring throngs. Eat it, fatso.

Rivera, who blew two saves in the season's first series in New York (his only such failures on the year), came on to close out the ballgame, and he did it like a man with a vendetta himself. Thirteen pitches, only four of them outside the strike zone, and Mo had whiffed Damon, Edgar Renteria, and finally Ortiz to nail down a crucial win for the Yanks, bringing them to a game and a half behind Boston.

Whether they can close that gap is another story. Redding comes into his pinstriped debut sporting a 9.10 ERA on the year and a 5.04 mark for his career. Randy Johnson will go on Saturday, but it's anybody's guess who will fill the next two starts; interested parties may apply by emailing Brian Cashman with a resume. Neither Al Leiter, who was designated for assignment by the Florida Marlins thanks to his 6.64 ERA nor Shawn Chacon, a failed closer who's back in the Rockies starting rotation and sporting a reasonable 4.30 ERA though a 29/33 K/BB ratio, are appealing trade options, but they've both surfaced in the news. It's more likely that the Yanks buy themselves time until Brown and then Pavano return by filling from within via May, who was bombed last Saturday, and Sturtze, a move that would significantly compromise the Yankee bullpen even as Felix Rodriguez, hardly the cavalry, returns to the active roster.

Those are problems for another day, however. Even in the face of the bad moon rising, this win is worth savoring.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


Buck You, Fox Sports

On Tuesday evening, my pal Nick and I finally broke down and saw Star Wars Episode III: Just Give Us Your Money, the anticlimactic final installment of a groundbreaking, once-great series we had grown up on. Neither of us would dare subject our significant others to the movie -- my wife fell asleep halfway through Star Wars Episode II: Send in the Boring Clones and quite frankly I envied her -- so when the new one opened seven weeks ago, we vagueley agreed weeks ago to attend together once the hype died down. Obviously, it wasn't a high priority.

I'm old enough to remember the excitement and wonder I felt at seeing the original Star Wars trilogy on a big screen, and so felt some inevitable sense of allegiance towards the new trilogy despite the realization halfway through the first bit of Jar Jar Binks dialogue in Star Wars Episode I: Bait and Switch that we've been had. As I pried $10.75 (the cost of a first-run movie in New York City) out of my pocket, I was secure in the knowledge that George Lucas will never see another cent of my money. I was being duped -- by him and his franchise, at least -- for the last time.

As such, I missed most of the All-Star Game, at least in its live broadcast format. Nick and I caught about an inning and a half at our local English pub, where we washed away the sour taste of our inevitable capitulation to the dark side by marveling at Andruw Jones' towering home run off of Kenny Rogers. Later I wizzed through a TiVo'd version of the game, mainly to see how the runs were scored. I was quite satisfied to see that Miguel Tejada's monster shot came at the expense of John Smoltz, a man who spends an inordinate amount of time obsessing about bestiality.

Before I saw that, however, I made the mistake taking in a smattering of the pregame festivities, mainly because I was multitasking by reading my email. But between Jeanie Zelasko shoddily cutting off the legendary Tiger broadcaster Ernie Harwell (a travesty remarked upon by Salon's King Kaufman) in favor of the "Taco Bell Throw The Ball At The Damn Target," (to borrow Bat Girl's phrase) and the appearance of Scooter, the talking goddamn baseball whose face I want to smash, I soon wished I hadn't. Fox Sports: It's All About Everything But the Game.

My dander already raised, I sped through the game in vaguely disinterested fashion. I'm pretty good at watching on fast-forward; I generally get into an at-bat after the first two pitches, saving myself time without spoiling the outcome. But with so many first- and second-pitch hacks, I was too heavy on the button, so I missed at least one half-inning. Big deal.

But I did see the travesty that took place in the bottom of the third, when Joe Buck and Tim McCarver -- without a trace of guile in their voices -- gave airtime to a large Corvette advertisement hanging in the outfield as if it were the handmade work of some fan. "Welcome back to Detroit," remarked Buck. "A lot of banners and signs around the ballpark. No surprise there. Somebody just unfurled a big banner behind left field."

Uh-huh. Of course, this was a premeditated advertising opportunity of which Buck and McCarver were fully aware. "Buck might have been saying that tongue in cheek," Fox Sports spokesman Dan Bell told The Register, a UK tech publication which carries syndicated news feeds. "For sure, it was planned. It's not like we didn't know about it. Both parties knew about it." As the Register's Ashlee Vance reported:
Buck certainly did not sound "tongue in cheek" to us at all. Both he and McCarver sat there debating the sign like marketing automatons, wondering if it was real and how much time some true fan of baseball spent hammering it out. They most certainly wanted all the saps watching to believe in the sign's authenticity and go hunting for this mysterious website. "Yet another Chevy ad" probably would not have worked as well.
Blech. If you listened carefully enough, you could hear Jack Buck, Joe's Hall of Fame-honored father, spinning in his grave. His son has long since barreled through any line between reportage and corporate prostitution via the Budweiser "Leon" commercials. Now he's added to that distasteful legacy.

Look, I realize this isn't first-degree murder, or even all that surprising; I expect no better from Fox with all of its tacky lasers and sound effects and the entire network's complete abdication of journalistic integrity. Baseball and advertising have gone hand in hand since the early days of radio. But it's one thing for a radio announcer to read promos between innings, quite another for a pair of TV announcers to pass themselves off as innocents as they shill. So it's with more than a little glee that I note that Fox's broadcast set a new ratings low for the second year in a row. The people have spoken, and no sir, they don't like what Fox does to the game. As Kaufman put it, baseball fans "get slapped every time they try to tune in to Fox, the network with a contract to broadcast the biggest events of a sport it hates..."

Enough is enough, so I've decided to give the All-Star Game the Star Wars treatment, at least for one year: I wash my hands of the entire franchise. I won't watch next year's game, I won't write about it, I won't vote, and I won't give a shit who makes the team. To Fox Sports, Buck and McCarver and anyone else involved in this charade, I say, "This time it's FUCK YOU."

• • •

Not that Fox's A-team of broadcasters are the only ones on my shitlist, or that they weren't already there before the ASG. I can barely watch ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball because of the continuing ignorance foisted upon listeners by Joe Morgan, who in his anti-Moneyball crusade couldn't be bothered to figure out that Michael Lewis, not A's general manager Billy Beane, wrote the book.

That's old news, of course. Many folks, including Mike Carminati, have been lampooning Morgan's crusade for years. Carminati, who routinely deconstructed the man's ESPN chats, even waxed poetic a couple years back:
These are the gladdest of possible words:
"Joe Morgan Chat Day tomorrow."
Reductio ad absurdum, his facts fleetly blurred,
Joe Morgan Chat Day tomorrow
Ruthlessly promulgating gonfalon babble,
Making a giant hit with the ole rabble--
His words numb your brain like a bad game of Scrabble:
"Joe Morgan Chat Day tomorrow!"
Good stuff. But there's even better stuff to be found in a piece for SF Weekly by Tommy Craggs which was published last week. Craggs caught up with Morgan, who didn't cotton to the writer's line of inquiry.
"Both of you are jokes," he is saying, and what I will learn is that there are many jokes in Joe's world. We are jokes, those of us who dare have a thought or a theory about The Game though we have never worn the flannels of a baseball team; we are jokes, those of us who think a catcher has an effect on base stealing; we are jokes, those of us who believe in science and reason. The Oakland A's, if I may extrapolate, are a joke. Their general manager is a joke (though he played The Game). The front office of the world-champion Boston Red Sox is a joke. The guy in the chat room who had the temerity to question Joe Morgan's wisdom is definitely a joke. The author of Moneyball? Joe's not sure who that is, but he's sure he's a joke. The writer Bill James is a joke, and so for that matter is the entire masthead of Baseball Prospectus. I'm a joke. You're a joke. We're jokes, if not all of us, very, very many of us.

So I wonder: Why isn't Joe Morgan laughing?

Socratic exchange with Joe Morgan No. 1, on the subject of Moneyball, base running in the 2002 American League Division Series, and the use of statistics in baseball:

Me: It seems that you almost take [the book] personally.

Joe: I took it personally because they had a personal thing about me saying Durham should've stolen second base in the game that they lost -- he stayed at first base, and they hit three fly balls, and the A's lose another fifth game.

Me: And that's the chief reason you don't even wanna read the book?

Joe: I don't read books like that. I didn't read Bill James' book, and you said he was complimenting me. Why would I wanna read a book about a computer, that gives computer numbers?

Me: It's not about a computer.

Joe: Well, I'm not reading the book, so I wouldn't know.

Me: I'm not --

Joe: Why would I wanna read the book? All I'm saying is, I see a game every day. I watch baseball every day. I have a better understanding about why things happen than the computer, because the computer only tells you what you put in it. I could make that computer say what I wanted it to say, if I put the right things in there. ... The computer is only as good as what you put in it. How do you think we got Enron?
Yikes. Enron? Craggs goes to great lengths to explore Morgan's Flat Earth Society viewpoint, providing the most thorough glimpse to date of the Hall of Famer's deep-seated insecurity about the stathead movement and the reactionary viewpoints he counters with. He even interviews Carminati, along with Will Carroll, Bill James, and Rob Neyer.

This is essential reading, easily one of the best pieces of baseball writing this year. Read it and weep profusely at one man's disconnection with reality.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


A Weekend at the Ballpark

I spent the better part of the weekend at Yankee Stadium, watching the suddenly resurgent Yanks take on the Cleveland Indians. I already had tickets for Sunday's game, but when Andra accepted an invitation to the beach on Saturday and my boy Cliff Corcoran offered me a shot at Old Timer's Day in the bleachers, I couldn't say no, not with a forecast of 80 degrees and sunshine.

During the ten years I've been going to see the Yanks, I'd only been to one other game in the bleachers, also with Cliff -- the infamous Bloody Sock/A-Rod Slap game, Game Six of last year's ALCS. Needless to say, I was eager for a more positive experience out there, even if I felt like a tourist in that environment.

We arrived in time for the Old Timer's festivities, which consisted of about 45 minutes worth of introductions by John Sterling and Michael Kay, two voices of the Yankees that test the patience of even their most ardent fans. The buzz in the bleachers centered less on the pinstriped legends of our lifetime -- Don Mattingly, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage (in tribute to whom Cliff had shaved his goatee into a menacing mustache; alas, he won't let me post the photo) -- than on the Dark Age-era scrubs who were making their OTD debuts -- Scott Bradley, Dan Pasqua, Neil Allen (now the bullpen coach and perhaps the heir apparent to Mel Stottlemyre), Steve Sax (not a scrub, but of that less memorable time) -- along with current Yankee coach Joe Girardi and broadcaster David Justice.

The obscure and incompetent are equally well met on OTD, forgiven for their past transgressions as if they were simply crazy hairstyles of a bygone era (which covers the decidedly less Afro'd Oscar Gamble), and so Bye Bye Balboni and Kevin Maas, a matched pair of one-dimensional sluggers, drew warm responses, as did Cliff Johnson, best remembered for breaking Gossage's thumb in a '79 clubhouse brawl. More predictably, the Hall of Famers (Reggie, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Phil Rizzut) drew huge ovations, but the biggest was reserved for Mattingly, a man for whom I have a decidely lukewarm reaction. With Jim Bouton not in attendance, my own cheers were loudest for Jim Leyritz, the King of the postseason (eight homers in 61 at-bats, including the big three-run shot in the '96 World Series, and one in the '99 Series clincher -- the last home run of the 1900s, actually -- which I witnessed first-hand).

As the Old Timer's Game intros rolled on endlessly, dark clouds rolled in, and after an inning and a half of surreal play in which Luis Sojo cracked the biggest blow, in which Justice played the infield, rain began to fall, all before the crowd could watch Reggie hit. Drat.

Fortunately, the rain subsided by the time of the 4 PM start, but it quickly got out of hand. Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez cracked first-inning homers off of Indians' starter Scott Elarton, and at first it looked as though the Yanks might add to their six-game winning streak. Shef's shot went over the visiting bullpen, which makes for a ball that ends up a looooong ways away. But Yankee starter Darrell May couldn't hold the lead. Acquired in the Paul Quantrill trade from the Padres, May is a lefty with a career ERA above 5.00, but he's got a pulse and enough working body parts to throw the ball towards the plate, which these days is enough to earn at least the major-league minimum (see Wayne Franklin for further evidence) and even a shot on a thin Yankee staff. He retired the side in impressive fashion in the first inning, striking out both Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner after which I turned to Cliff and said, "Well, it's all downhill from here for his Yankee career."

So true, so true. Before May had retired another batter, Jose Hernandez cracked a two-run shot off of him in the second, immediately followed by a solo homer from the terminally misspelled Jhonny Peralta. Six outs into the game, and we'd seen four homers and five runs. I had predicted a total of 27 runs on the day given the two starters, and we were ahead of pace. Hernandez cracked another two-run shot in the third to keep us on schedule -- seven runs, 14 outs -- but the Yanks were stymied by Elarton, and the prediction of a slugfest faded.

But not the Indians' offense, which chased May in the fifth by scoring two runs, the second on a single by Hernandez, giving him five RBI on a day in which he'd entered with a mere 16 all year; 7-2, Indians. Robinson Cano plated Ruben Sierra, who'd doubled to leadoff the home half of the fifth, but the Yanks couldn't capitalize further.

By the seventh inning, I'd been battling the late-afternoon sun for a good hour, but even with a cap and a pair of sunglasses, I had a splitting headache. Four and a half hours at the ballpark, and I was cooked. So I took my leave of Cliff and his fellow bleacher denizens (considerably better behaved than my last outing there), only to miss an exciting comeback that fell short, with Hideki Matsui stroking a three-run homer and the two teams trading runs in the ninth. Joe Torre made some questionable bullpen decisions, and the Yanks had the tying run on second base with no outs but failed to capitalize; you can read all about in Cliff's writeup. Thanks to my mustachioed friend for the ticket, even if he won't let me publish the pic.

• • •

Though Sunday was about 10 degrees hotter, the view from my more familiar perch in the upper deck made me much more comfortable, as I'd spent the rest of Saturday suffering from some moderate eye strain (I'm hopelessly nearsighted, and the view from the bleachers taxes my vision to the max). With my pal Nick Stone joining me, I felt right at home in the House That Ruth Built.

Randy Johnson started for the Yanks, giving me my first opportunity for a firsthand look at the Unit in pinstripes. But after the Indians scored runs in the first and second, I began to wonder if I'd gotten a 6'10" imposter instead. Johnson gave up hard-hit balls to the leadoff hitters of the first three innings, with rookie Melky Cabrera, who'd made two sun-influenced misplays the afternoon before, again struggling on a double hit way over his head to right center. The Yankee outfield of Matsui, Cabrera and Sheffield looked particularly brutal all day long, Matsui tumbling ass over teakettle in pursuit of a Grady Sizemore fly ball that ended up a triple in the seventh.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. In the bottom of the second, the Yanks loaded the bases with one out against former farmhand Jake Westbrook (sent away in the Justice deal), and John Flaherty "Will Get You Nowhere" (to use my own Bermanism) plated a run with a sacrifice fly, only his third RBI on the year. In the bottom of the fourth, Matsui reached on an error by Peralta, and Jason Giambi, who already had four homers on the week, murdelized (to borrow from Bugs Bunny) a Westbrook pitch deep into the rightfield bleachers-- a tape-measure blast for which I never saw a measurement, but I'd guess 430 feet. Cliff? -- to give the Yanks a 3-2 lead.

Alas, Johnson gave the run right back on consecutive singles to Aaron Boone (who went 8-for-16 in his first return to Yankee Stadium since the 2003 postseason, helping him finally put some distance between himself and the Mendoza Line), and Sizemore and a sac fly by Travis Hafner. Though he'd struck out six to that point, the Big Unit was clearly laboring.

The Yankee offense picked him up, however. With two outs and nobody on, Sheffield worked a walk off of Westbrook, and A-Rod did the same. Matsui followed with a double to rightfield. Giambi was "un"-intentionally walked after a conference on the mound ("Did you see how far that bastard hit my last pitch? Hell if I'm going there again..."), drawing three high pitches before Indians' catcher Victor Martinez stuck his fist out for the inevitable intentional pass. Sierra, who'd doubled twice and homered the day before, kept up his hot hitting by slapping a single to left, with two runs scoring, 6-3 Yanks.

Johnson departed after six, having gritted his way through 109 pitches, allowing nine hits but only one walk while striking out eight on a day when he clearly didn't have his best stuff. This is the Randy Johnson we're going to have to learn to love, Yankee fans; not all that dissimilar from the Roger Clemens we got, and that didn't work out so badly. Wayne Franklin came on and ponderously -- 27 pitches to three batters -- worked his way into a jam, yielding two hits, including the Sizemore triple, and a walk, scoring a run. Tanyon Sturtze, who'd pitched two innings the day before, quickly put out the fire by striking out Martinez and inducing a popup from Casey Blake. Quality relief work there.

The game began to drag, as Indians manager Eric Wedge used three different pitchers in the seventh, each of them striking out a Yankee in the service of quelling a potential rally. With the score now 6-4 and the All-Star break in sight, Joe Torre did summoned Mariano Rivera, whom he should have used to pitch the ninth the day before, for a two-inning save situation. Rivera struck out Hernandez looking, then escaped early three-ball counts to the next two hitters to survive unscathed. The Yanks gave him some breathing room in the bottom of the inning when Sheffield drilled a three-run shot off of Bobby Howry, one set up by perennial Yankee bitch Arthur Rhodes (somewhere, David Justice was lacing up his spikes, itching to pinch-hit). The day before, Howry had put two runners on in the eighth before yielding to Rhodes, who promptly allowed the Matsui homer, so the symmetry worked out nicely. Actually, it was pretty impressive for the Yanks to bomb the Cleveland bullpen so effectively, as they entered the series with the best ERA of any pen at 2.68.

At 9-4, that was effectively the ballgame. The Yanks closed the first half by winning seven of their last eight games, with Giambi hitting .478/.586/1.217 in that span and looking like the big slugger they doled out $120 million to after the 2001 season. Behind him, the Yanks have taken over the major-league lead in scoring at 5.56 runs per game, a fact noted in my epic All-Star break edition of the Prospectus Hit List, where the Yanks rank eighth. Don't say I never gave you anything for free.

Friday, July 08, 2005


Same Game, Different Book

Like most baseball fans, I love baseball books, an affair that began around the time my grandfather started salvaging boxes of dog-eared paperbacks from flea markets in Walla Walla, Washington on my behalf. At age nine, I was reading Roger Angell's erudite essays in The Summer Game and parsing the more complicated swear words of Ball Four, no doubt dreaming of a day some 25 years in the future when I could combine the best (or worst) of both worlds into daily ramblings on some not-yet-invented information superhighway. I probably read every baseball book in my elementary school library twice over, if not more. Who knew Ron Santo was so interesting, or that the bio of him which I read three times was penned by former major league pitcher-turned-author Jim Brosnan (who wrote The Long Season, one of the more acclaimed baseball books I've actually never gotten around to)?

I've got a 500-square foot Manhattan apartment bursting to the seams with baseball books, and a lovely wife who patiently puts up with the stacks that accumulate next to my desk when I'm working on a project. A storage space a few blocks away holds the overflow -- not to mention the household items displaced by said books. And it's not just new books of course; Internet sites such as eBay, ABEbooks and have made tracking down used and sometimes out-of-print books a snap. Here in the East Village, it takes every ounce of my being to resist the siren call of The Strand, a used bookstore that claims no less than 18 miles of books (the awning is 10 miles behind in its tally). Hell, sometimes books even find me on the streets, as did a dog-eared copy of John Helyar's classic, The Lords of the Realm back in February. A trip up to Alex Belth's Riverside abode last fall led me to drop $45 on an oversized book collecting miniature reproductions of 35 years of complete sets of Topps baseball cards. It's like that.

One of the nicer perks of keeping this site is that every so often, somebody with a new book to hawk offers to send me a free copy. The downside is that I don't always get to read these things very quickly, especially in a season that's seen me get married, buy the Extra Inings cable package, take on a weekly column, and pore over every word of the books two of my good friends have put out. So apologies to a small handful of authors for the relatively Robin Ventura-like speed I've had in getting to their books. I'm still working my way through that pile. Which brings me to today's installment of the Futility Infielder Book Rodeo.

Steve Lombardi of NetShrine and the Yankees-oriented Was Watching blog has self-published a book called The Baseball Same Game: Finding Comparable Players from the National Pastime. Spurred by endless hours in front of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, Lombardi has found over 60 pairs of players with roughly similar career stats in a small handful of important categories. For hitters, those categories are Games, Plate Appearances, Runs Created Above Average (the main currency of the SBE), Offensive Winning Percentage, OPS vs. League, and Runs Created per Game vs. League. For pitchers, the categories are Innings Pitched, Runs Saved Above Average, ERA vs. League, K/BB vs. League, BB/9 vs. League, and K/9 vs. League.

With these metrics, Lombardi comes up with some fairly random-seeming pairings; Roy Campanella and Sixto Lezcano lead off, and juxtapositions like Mike Scioscia and Derek Bell, Thurman Munson and Terry Puhl, or Barry Larkin and Jim Rice abound. If these duos have you scratching your head, well, you're not alone. Lombardi's earnest comparisons, which each provide two or three pages on the two players' careers, make no allowance for defensive position, nor for the shape of a player's offensive contribution (nor for even the shape of the player -- take the burly Scioscia and the skinny Bell, please).

Not all of his pairings are that strange. Will Clark and Duke Snider make for a nice matchup of championship-caliber sluggers, while Honus Wagner and Willie Mays is a comparison of two of the game's all-time greats. But the lack of a positional match is still a problem, even as the author's main point is to focus on sets of players who have similarly valuable total offensive contributions.

While Lombardi tosses terms like Runs Created and Offensive Winning Percentage around frequently, he runs into trouble early on. In the lengthy introduction to his methods, he makes absolutely no mention of Bill James, who created those metrics -- even when dragging out the formula for Runs Created! -- though he does spend considerable space playing up Lee Sinins' creations for the SBE such as RCAA and RSAA. Elsewhere he's not clear as to whether his "vs. League" stats are ratios (A/B) or differences (A - B). That's a crucial, basic distinction worth making, and Lombardi's failure to do so is a serious strike against this undertaking (FYI, the answer appears to be the latter). Also not clear is whether any of these metrics has park adjustments built in. Given my other reservations, I'm not sure I want to know the answer.

At the same time, Lombardi has found it necessary to include the official rule book definition of innings, as in innings pitched, and it's worth noting that throughout the book, every one of his statistical categories under investigation is italicized throughout, which is rather grating. I'm just not really sure who the author takes his audience for; if you're going to toss a lot of numbers at a stat-savvy crowd, you ought to be quite clear as to where they're come from, and if you're going to do something as basic as define an inning, your respect for your audience's baseball acumen is called into question.

For all of my reservations about Lombardi's methodology, I have to admit I've enjoyed browsing through the comparisons, even if it's to rubberneck at the strange bedfellows of each chapter. Take the pairing of two contemporaries who were in fact teammates for awhile in the '70s with the Atlanta Braves, Ralph Garr and Davey Johnson. Garr, "The Roadrunner" as he was called, was a speedster with little power or patience but a great ability to utilize his primary asset (.306/.339/.416 for his career), while future manager Johnson (.261/.340/.404) was a slow second baseman with great plate discipline and some pop (his 43 homer-season in 1973 was the Brady Anderson fluke of its day, but he did reach double digits four other times).

Lombardi's point isn't that the two players were analogous, but that the relative value of their offensive contributions was similar. Turning away from his metrics and towards some independently derived ones, that premise holds up. Garr's career OPS+ was 107, and his Equivalent Average was .270, Johnson's OPS+ was 111, his EqA .278. Of course, Lombardi's point avoids the fact that Garr was a subpar outfielder (-56 Fielding Runs Above Average according to Baseball Prospectus' defensive metrics, and a Rate2 of 96 in leftfield) and Johnson an above-average second baseman (35 FRAA, and a Rate2 of 103). Your mileage may vary as to whether you find such comparisons enlightening.

I wish I could say that I liked The Baseball Same Game more than I do. Obviously, a good deal of effort went into this project; very few people write baseball books that aren't labors of love. But I wish Lombardi had taken a big more care at the outset to clarify his methodology, and that his comparisons made allowance for defense, at least via a positional adjustment. The Baseball Same Game isn't without its charms, but its got its warts as well.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Go Fourth and Prosper

As promised, my New York Sun debut is up today. It's on the predictive value of the July 4 standings:
There's an old baseball axiom which holds that the team in first place on July 4 will win the division. While the direct route from regular-season glory to the World Series has disappeared, that maxim is still good news for the Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, Nationals, Cardinals, and Padres. If history holds true, four of those six division leaders should make the postseason.

Like most axioms, no one is exactly sure where this one came from. But as far back as 1934,a Time magazine cover story noted that in the previous 25 years, the leader on July 4 had gone on to the World Series two-thirds of the time. Since then, the major leagues have expanded from 16 to 30 teams, adding two preliminary playoff rounds while quadrupling the number of clubs invited to the postseason. But the predictive power of Independence Day remains intact.
I had prepared a chart for the article in its original form, summarizing the study I did to determine the axiom's historical accuracy (special thanks to my new research assistant, Peter Quadrino, for help in compiling this):
            Divisions    1st on      Won
Era Per League July 4 Division Pct
1901-1968 1 142 (6)* 89 62.7
1969-1993 2 101 (5) 57 56.4
1995-2004 3 63 (3) 40 63.5

* Numbers in parentheses denote ties on July 4 and are included in total.
The strike years of 1981 and 1994 have been excluded from this study.
In other words, being in first place on the Fourth is almost exactly as predictive of reaching the postseason in the three-division era as it was in the single-division era. If Wild Cards are factored in, the predictive value grows to 68.2%, as three teams in the lead or tied on the Fourth entered the postseason through the side door.

The second portion of the article deals with another way of looking at postseason chances, namely via Baseball Prospectus' Postseason Odds page, which uses a variant of a team's Pythagorean record [Winning Percentage = (RS^2)/(RS^2 + RA^2), where RS is Runs Scored and RA is Runs Allowed] to determine a team's chances of winning the division and the Wild Card. A sibling of BP's Adjusted Standings page (the foundation of the Prospectus Hit List), the Odds page uses third-order winning percentage, which is based on run elements (hits, walks, total bases, etc.) and is adjusted for park, league, and the quality of opposition and then fed into a Monte Carlo simulation to estimate how many wins each team will finish with. As of the close of play on the Fourth, here were the division leaders' chances:
Division    Leader      W-L    Lead  Win Div Pct
AL East Red Sox 46-35 2.5 61.5
AL Central White Sox 55-26 8.5 68.6
AL West Angels 50-32 6.5 78.4
NL East Nationals 50-32 4.5 39.0
NL Central Cardinals 52-30 11.5 92.3
NL West Padres 45-38 4.5 79.2
By this method, the two East divisions are the ones that are the most up for grabs, which is good news for the Yankees (up from 10.8% at that writing to 13.4% now) and Mets (a 5.9% chance of winning the division, but an 8.1% chance of the Wild Card).

Anyway, there's some analysis tacked onto the piece, much of it cut for space reasons (sigh, that's print for ya). Still, it's nice to get my name in the papers, especially when it's spelled correctly.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Workin' On My Monitor Tan

I spent a good portion of the holiday weekend in front of a computer, putting the finishing touches on a piece for the New York Sun, with whom Baseball Prospectus has a content deal, and of course, this week's Prospectus Hit List. After getting more of a monitor tan than a suntan, I made both deadlines in time to dash out to Brooklyn to enjoy BBQ'd burgers, dogs, and wings and watch the fireworks with friends while enjoying some cold beers. Not a bad way to go.

The Sun piece, on the predictive nature of the July 4 standings, will run Wednesday. An old baseball axiom -- I found references in Time magazine dating back to 1928 -- holds that the team in first place on July 4 will win the pennant; a 1934 Time cover story noted that in the previous 25 years, the team in first on the Fourth won two-thirds of the time. Of course, today we have three divisions, and winning one of them doesn't equal a pennant, but the axiom holds true with about the same frequency in the three-division era regarding a division title as it did in the one-division era. More on that topic -- including the chart that was axed from the piece (grr) -- tomorrow.

As for the Hit List, I prepare a preliminary ranking every Sunday morning to pass on to another BP writer, Jim Baker, who uses them to prepare his Prospectus Matchups column and start my own work for the week's list. Each of the past two Sundays has found the White Sox in first, but by Monday morning, the Cardinals have the upper hand. Weird.

Anyway, the Yanks come in at #10, with an extended riff about the unimpressive fruits of their bullpen retooling. Since that tally, they've dropped 25 runs on the heads of the Orioles, who after several weeks of ruling the roost have fallen to #6 on the Hit List. Jason Giambi's been heating up for the Yankees, launching three homers over those two games. He's now hitting .268/.420/.433 (.329/.490/.575 since June 1), which is starting to look a lot more like an asset than a liability, at least in the batter's box. The big galoot is so slow that rookie Bubba Crosby, in the weekend's most entertaining gaffe, practically ran right up his back as he dug for second on a looper, not realizing that Giambi had held up between first and second waiting to see if the ball was caught. The two slid into second base one right after the other, with Crosby, who rarely makes it onto the basepaths on his own accord (just 13 major-league hits to his credit in 85 games played), the one called out. It would have been maddening if it hadn't taken place in a seven-run inning.

Where the Yanks are really having trouble now is in the rotation, with Carl Pavano scratched from Saturday's start, and Will Carroll using the L word (emphasis added):
The Yankees are... very concerned about the upcoming MRI on Carl Pavano. The new Yank has been more or less performing up to expectations, their only off-season acquisition to do so. The major concern is that there's some labrum involvement, with reports of popping and locking not seen in the New York area since Ozone and Turbo showed Special K how it was done back in the day. A severe shoulder injury to Pavano could put the Yankees into as close to a full-panic mode as they can be in.
Uh, Will, wasn't Breakin' based in southern California? Anyway, Pavano's scratch led to Tanyon Sturtze taking Monday's start, thinning out a bullpen that's already undergone some pruning. If Pavano really is hurt... well, let's just say that counting down the days until Kevin Brown and Jaret Wright are healthy isn't exactly a ticket to sanity.

As frightening as that is, at this writing the Yanks are just 3.5 games behind the first place Red Sox, who have lost five out of seven and who continue to have their own bullpen nightmares. As noted in the Hit List, the pen posted a 6.50 ERA in June, and closer Keith Foulke's ERA now stands at 6.23 after he blew his second game in five days. It's tough to believe that as bad as the Yanks have been, they're really not out of the AL East race.

Out of it, on the other hand, is where the #22 Dodgers appear to be headed. On Sunday, an errant pitch from the Diamondbacks' Brad Halsey hit J.D. Drew on the hand, and naturally -- given the Dodgers' rash of bad luck -- it's broken, sidelining Drew until September (oh, and that's not a rash of bad luck, that's a flesh-eating virus). Though he'd recently been sidelined by chondromalatia, Drew had been hitting like the real deal so far (.286/.416/.520), especially given that he started the season 0-for-25. Meanwhile, shortstop Cesar Izturis, who had been sidelined with a strained hamstring, finallyu went on the DL, which comes as something of a relief. As noted on the Hit List, he'd hit .085/.128/.098 in 86 plate appearances since June 2, with Jim Tracy stubbornly keeping him in the leadoff spot all the while. Gee, Jim, we know the offense has taken a hit without Milton Bradley, but d'ya think it might have been time to drop Little Cesar to #8 until he started hitting again?

On a positive note for the Dodgers, Izturis' replacement, Oscar Robles, is 10-for-19 since taking over. In other words, it took him only four games to surpass the number of hits that Izturis had accumulated over the past 20 games. Wow.


Saturday, July 02, 2005


Two Saturdays

In the past week I've experienced as full a spectrum of emotions regarding the passages of life as anyone probably should in an eight-day span. None of this has much to do with baseball except tangentially, but I need to share it nonetheless as I count my own blessings.

Last Saturday, I attended the wedding of Issa Clubb and Johanna Schiller, a beautiful ceremony up in the Catskills. A close friend since college, Issa was my roommate at the time I created this site (he's perhaps best known here for the David Segui Foul Ball Incident), and we've enjoyed hundreds of ballgames, thousands of meals, and heaven knows how many pints of beer together. In Johanna, he's found a wonderful soulmate, one who occupied the very next cubicle to him at Criterion, and as I said in toasting their union at the reception, I couldn't be happier for either of them.

On Tuesday I received the joyous news of the birth of Clemens Charlot Goldman, the son of my good friend Steven Goldman and his wife Stefanie. Young Mr. Goldman is named not for the big dumb ox and former Yankee Roger Clemens but for the infinitely more witty and irreverent Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who in his alter ego of Mark Twain begat A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Huckleberry Finn, and other classic tales. A couple of weeks ago, my wife Andra and I had the pleasure of dining with the expectant Goldmans, making the arrival of this babe all the more tangible. Mazel tov to them both.

Less than an hour after I heard the good news emanating from Camp Goldman, I received much more tragic news. A friend and business partner of the woman who introduced me to my wife had taken her own life at age 34. I didn't know Kim very well at all; in fact I didn't even know her last name until after her untimely passing, and I probably saw her on less than a dozen occasions. Nonetheless, in the brief time I knew her she touched my life and those of my friends with an unforgettable warmth that compelled me to attend her funeral service this morning.

I met Kim at the housewarming party Andra and I threw for ourselves upon moving in together two years ago. She arrived early with our mutual friends, bearing gifts: yo-yo water balls. She had recently discovered the squishy, springy joys of these silly toys, and it didn't take ten seconds of playing with one to understand why. Kim and I bonded in laughter and fun as we bounced them around while marveling at the view of Manhattan from our rooftop. I spent a good part of my baseball watching that summer and fall with that toy as my security blanket through tense moments, a nice little outlet for my petty frustrations, and when it expired, I replaced it with another and thought of Kim.

Kim was an exuberant, charismatic woman who emanated a warmth and generosity that was instantly recognizable. She never greeted me with anything less than a beaming smile and a hug, and as I think of her, I'm reminded of the title of an obscure song by the pop group Blondie: "I'm Always Touched By Your Presence, Dear." That may sound incredibly trite, but it's true. To this casual acquaintance, she was never less than a joy to be around.

In attending her service today, I came to know Kim a little bit better, and particularly to understand just how deeply her generosity ran. This was a woman who routinely went to the main post office in Manhattan every December to collect letters to Santa Claus, doing her best to fulfill the Christmas wishes of hopeful children, selflessly spreading her love to those who might never even know who she was and encouraging her friends to do the same. To those of us who recoil in cynicism at the crass commercialism of the holidays, her actions provide a model of the small effort we can make to help make the world a better place for those around us.

The poor woman obviously had her own demons, but who among us does not? I'm heartbroken to know that in her darkest hour she was unable to see that the love she so vividly radiated was reflected back towards her a hundredfold by those whom she touched. I know that if someone like me, who only knew her for a short time, could feel the sadness I do right now, then those closest to her must be enduring an unfathomable sorrow. My heavy heart goes out to her friends and family. Rest in peace, Kim.


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