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, October 29, 2005
Clearing the Bases -- 108 Days Until Pitchers and Catchers edition
The curtain came down on the 2005 season rather abruptly, with the White Sox sweeping the Astros 4-0 in the World Series and claiming their first World Championship since 1917. Despite the sweep, it was a riveting if not particularly well-played series, with the four games decided by a total of six runs, and three of the four with the winning run scored in the eighth inning or later. The depth and dominance of Chicago's pitching staff, coupled with some key gaffes by Houston manager Phil Garner, turned out to be the difference in the series.
With only 34 runs (20-14 Chicago) scored total (4.25 per team per game), this was a relatively low-scoring series, as predicted. The six run differential ties a record set by the 1950 Yankees and Phillies, according to All-Baseball.com's Christian Ruzich
, and based on the percentage of half-innings where the score was close, this year's series can claim the title of the closest sweep. Converting Ruz's data into a table:
RD Inn Pct Inn Pct
0 38 47 27 37
1 27 33 30 41
2 13 16 10 14
3+ 3 4 6 8
RD is run differential, Inn is the number of half-innings ending with a given differential, and Pct is, of course, the percentages of same. Despite the closeness and the presence of teams from the third- and fourth-largest cities in the country in this series, it was in fact the lowest-rated World Series ever
, down 30 percent from last year. Pundits may say that's because neither team had a nationwide following the way the Yankees or Red Sox do, but I prefer to look at it as a referendum on Fox's bombastic presentation, particularly in regards to the Tim McCarver-Joe Buck tandem of announcers, who could choke to death on their own tongues without being mourned by anyone beyond their mothers. There's already a website devoted to shutting up McCarver
, and I'll note that the domain ShutTheBuckUp.com
is still up for grabs.
I made it through the four games and avoided most of McC&B's inane patter with the help of my trusty Editor-in-Chief, Mr. TiVo Remote. If I missed a few battles over the strike zone and gave away the outcomes of too many payoff pitches, I also saved myself an average of 90 minutes a night, about half of which was commercials. As I've said before, "TiVo: any TV without it is broken."
The moment of truth for the Astros came in the ninth inning of Game Three
. After Orlando Hernandez walked Chris Burke with one out, the young speedster worked his way around the bases via a throwing error by El Duque and a straight steal of third. Houston's next two batters were Craig Biggio and Willy Taveras, both of whom, as we heard a million times this fall, are excellent bunters and also co-starring in Prison Break
, the new Fox sitcom (wait...). But for all of the emphasis on bunting and fundamental baseball and the glory of the bleeding sacrifice (not this kind
), the two Astros never tried to lay one down. El Duque walked Biggio on four pitches, then Taveras, who slugged all of .341 on the year, took two wildassed swings as though he were trying to qualify for next year's Home Run Derby. He struck out, predictably enough, and after Lance Berkman, the team's best hitter, was intentionally walked to load the bases, Morgan Ensberg, who couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat during the series, whiffed to end the threat. That failure to bunt, coupled with the Astros failure to hit at all with men on base after Jason Lane's game-tying double in the previous inning, was the death knell. The 'Stros went 0-for-30 with runners on base following Lane's hit, and had 14 straight doughnuts on the scoreboard to show for it. Feh.
Throughout the series, Garner got the pants managed off of him by Ozzie Guillen, from letting the unfit Jeff Bagwell eat up outs as the DH in the first two games to tapping the wrong reliever in Game Two and watching Paul Konerko collect a grand slam because of it, to watching Roy Oswalt cough up a four-run lead via a 46-pitch fifth inning in Game Three (Torquemada
would have been proud), to failing to play for one run when the season was riding on that run. That doesn't even include the manner in which he showed up his own team in the aftermath of Tuesday's 14-inning epic. As Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci wrote:
And what does their manager, Phil Garner, do in the first moments after the White Sox punched them in the gut by beating them in the 14th inning of Game 3, 7-5?
He rips his team.
..."It's embarrassing to play like this in front of our hometown."
"I'm really ticked off."
Way to bail on your team, Mr. Manager.
Not once did he credit the Chicago pitchers, especially the relievers, for holding his hitters to a 1-for-33 showing after Jason Lane hit his home run that wasn't in the fourth inning. (The umpires blew another call. Please label it as evidence No. 463 that the commissioner of baseball needs to conduct a full review of postseason umpire assignments as soon as this World Series is over.)
Not once did the manager accept any blame or responsibility himself. But remember, this is a guy who showed up Brad Ausmus in the 10th inning by throwing a public fit when Ausmus flied out on a pitch when Orlando Palmeiro had second base stolen. And it's the same guy who showed up his entire team by flinging a chair against the dugout wall when Geoff Blum hit his game-breaking home run in the 14th.
Way to show you're in control, skipper.
Ouch. One BPer observed that Garner was about 0-for-25 in getting his own players to talk to him on the bench during Game Four. As the baseball fan Leo Tolstoy once told me as we downded shots of of off-brand vodka during a seventh-inning stretch, all unhappy teams are unhappy in their own way
Which brings us to the happy team on the other end of the equation, the White Sox. No, they're not a great team, the 99 regular-season wins notwithstanding. But the 16-1 streak they pulled off dating back to the final week of the season was a truly great run, and Guillen and his staff kept their squad fresh and loose through some long October layoffs. Guillen stayed out of the way of his lineup, leaving it essentially unchanged throughout the postseason with the exception of those extra frames in Game Three, and he pulled all the right levers in his bullpen without turning into Tony LaRussa. He's now the manager of a World Champion team, and my hat's off to him.
But for all of the talk about the Sox' small-ball tendencies, it's the home runs that were decisive. As Joe Sheehan
points out, 32 of their 69 October runs were scored via homers, an even higher percentage than in the regular season, when they ranked fourth in the majors. Looking back to Guillen's stated desire for a faster, more fundamentally-based speed-and-defense team at the outset of the season, Guillen apparently understood -- either objectively or, more likely, intuitively -- that U.S. Cellular Field's underplayed reputation
as the majors' most homer-conducive ballpark meant that the longballs would take care of themselves. Having a broader skill set to draw upon would strengthen the team, making it able to win many different ways. I'm not sure how much stock I can put in that idea, but with a World Series trophy under Guillen's arm as I speak, that's what I'm selling. Congrats to the White Sox, the 2005 World Champions.
• • •
Back here in Yankeeland, the biggest piece of the offseason puzzle has fallen into place. General Manager Brian Cashman has decided to stay
, agreeing to a three-year, $5.5 million deal that comes with verbal assurances (perhaps worth the paper they're written on) that he's at the top of the food chain when it comes to baseball decisions, with the exiled Gene Michael hopefully back in the picture and George Steinbrenner's Tampa goons taking a back seat. As a symbolic gesture, the team's first organizational meeting of the winter will be held in New York, Cashman's turf, not Tampa, Steinbrenner's. As the New York Times reported
[W]hat it symbolizes means everything to Cashman. Though it is not spelled out in his contract, Cashman said that he received an understanding that he, and only he, would sit atop the chain of command in the Yankees' fractured baseball operations department.
"I'm the general manager, and everybody within the baseball operations department reports to me," he said. "That's not how it has operated recently."
Cashman said that Steinbrenner and the rest of the Yankees' upper management - including the general partner Steve Swindal, the president Randy Levine and the chief operating officer Lonn Trost - supported him.
The in-fighting below him made last season miserable, Cashman said.
"There's been some splintering off that's caused a lot of animosity and taken our focus away from our opponents and created opponents among ourselves," he said. "That, obviously, was not a good thing."
Cashman was referring to Steinbrenner's lieutenants in Tampa, whose suggestions often led to roster moves that undermined Cashman's authority. Privately, Cashman longed for the chance to have as much autonomy as his peers, which is why he nearly left the only organization he has known.
...Cashman could have sought another job and probably gotten one. But he said the Yankees now seemed committed to working cohesively. That was the message he heard in negotiations with Swindal, who is Steinbrenner's son-in-law and has been named as his successor.
Whether the Steinbrenner/Swindal message gets carried through remains to be seen, but hallelujah for the recognition that the current dysfunctional state of the front office was to the detriment of the team. Admitting you have a problem is the first step in solving it.
Hats off to Cashman for a well-played hand. Despite the fact that he's been with the organization for 19 years, the threat to leave and take a job with the Phillies, the Nationals, the Dodgers (who appear poised to fire
Paul DePodesta, a sermon for another day), or another team was palpable. Instead Cashman used his leverage to extract a rare commitment from the Yankee brass, acquiring more clout -- and with it more accountability -- to go with his bags of money. "The buck should stop here," he appears to be saying, and while we all know where the buck really stops in the Yankee org, at least we know it won't be with Bill Elmslie and Billy Connors. It won't be an easy offseason for the Yanks, but with less potential for mistakes of Womackian proportions, it's likely to be a more productive one.
• • •
The list of eligible free agents
includes 13 Yankees, not counting Hideki Matsui, whose three-year contract is up but who with less than six years of major-league service, isn't free to negotiate with other clubs: Kevin Brown, rhp; Alan Embree, lhp; John Flaherty, c; Tom Gordon, rhp; Matt Lawton, of; Al Leiter, lhp; Tino Martinez, 1b (pending club option); Ramiro Mendoza, rhp; Felix Rodriguez, rhp; Rey Sanchez, ss; Ruben Sierra, dh; Tanyon Sturtze, rhp (pending club option); Bernie Williams, of.
The only one Yankee fans should give a rip about going forward is Gordon, who may be more interested in resuming his job as a closer and if so, should be patted on the butt and sent on his merry way as well. Williams will likely wind up awkwardly wearing the garish colors of some other franchise as he daydreams his way into retirement. Given Joe Torre's unshakeable loyalty to Williams in the face of all evidence of decline (.258/.350/.406 with below-average defense over the last three years), not to mention mental lapses such as the busted hit-and-run in Game Five of the Division Series against the Angels, that's for the best. Otherwise, even if he displaced Sierra as the go-to guy off the Yankee bench, Williams would continue to suck up at-bats better meant for more able hitters. RIP, #51.
• • •
My first Baseball Prospectus chat, originally slated for October 19, has been rescheduled for Thursday, November 03 at 1:00 PM Eastern
. I'd love it for my readers to submit questions
ahead of time if they can't make the chat -- Yankee, Dodger, JAWS, DIPS, Mind Game
, whatever. Bring 'em on and I'll take my best shot at answering your queries.
As for the rest of the offseason, my next task is to turn my attention towards my contributions to Baseball Prospectus 2006
. I'm going to make an effort to keep up some of the winter staples at FI.com, such as my DIPS-infused free-agent pitcher roundup, but the paid work has to come first. I'm going to try to keep with more frequent and shorter entries here to compensate for the business elsewhere, but that's a pledge I've made before with little success. Here's hoping I can do better this time around.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
It's been awhile since I actually discussed any of the baseball that's still being played, at least in this forum. But it isn't as though I haven't been watching the action. I spent a chunk of time over the weekend working on my latest piece
for the New York Sun
, the subject of which was Roger Clemens' abbreviated Game One
World Series start and his spotty big-game legacy.
It's a topic I've addressed before, first in response
to a column
by Salon's King Kaufman back in the summer of 2004. Kaufman and I went a couple
on the topic and while we never did reach complete agreement, our exchange was friendly enough that he kept me in mind to pinch-hit
for him back in August.
Since our sparring, Clemens has lengthened his list of postseason lowlights, capping it with Saturday night's start, which saw him pulled after two innings and three runs allowed, the strained hamstring he's been dogged by over the last two months aggravated by running to cover first base. Here are the greatest misses I included for the article (the first of which was edited out due to space reasons):
• 1986 World Series Game 6 (Red Sox-Mets): One win away from Boston’s first championship since 1918, Clemens pitched solidly and held a 3-2 lead through seven innings. Sox manager John McNamara pinch-hit for him with one out and a man on second in the eighth, later claiming that Clemens asked out due to a blister (a charge Clemens denied). The Sox bullpen, with an assist (or rather a lack of one) from Bill Buckner, lost the game and the Mets took Game Seven.
• 1990 ALCS Game 4 (Red Sox-A’s): A flustered Clemens is ejected in the second inning for swearing at the home-plate umpire after loading the bases with a walk. At the time, Oakland leads the series 3–0; Clemens’s replacement, Tom Bolton, is greeted with a two-run double as the A’s complete the sweep and the Rocket takes the loss.
• 1999 ALCS Game 3 (Yankees-Red Sox): Returning to Fenway in the enemy’s pinstripes, Clemens is hammered for five runs in two-plus innings, much to the Boston boo-birds’ delight. The Yankees lose 13–1, their only postseason defeat en route to their second straight World Championship.
• 2003 ALCS Game 7 (Yankees-Red Sox): Having already announced his retirement, Clemens looks headed for the showers for good after being battered for four runs in three-plus innings. But the Yankees wait out Pedro Martinez, tie the game in the eighth after Sox manager Grady Little leaves his tired ace in too long, and the Yanks win the pennant in the 11th inning on Aaron Boone’s home run.
• 2003 World Series Game 4 (Yankees-Marlins): Boone’s homer earns Clemens another chance that he nearly blows, yielding a three-run homer to Miguel Cabrera in the first.Clemens guts out seven innings without allowing another run; the Yanks tie the score but lose the game in 12 innings and the series before Clemens can get another shot.
• 2004 NLCS Game 7 (Astros-Cardinals): Taking a 2–1 lead into the sixth, the Rocket runs out of fuel as the Cardinals rally for three runs, snatching Houston’s first-eve pennant out from under them.
Of course, Clemens does have his October successes, such as the 1999 World Series clincher (a game I attended), the pair of thorougly dominant starts in the Yanks 2000 title run which sent Alex Rodriguez sprawling and Mike Piazza ducking for cover via a combined 24 strikeouts, three hits and no runs allowed over 17 innings, and his dramatic three-inning relief stint to close out that 18-inning epic
and the Braves season. But on the whole, his postseason stats don't measure up to his regular season record. In 33 starts -- a season's worth -- here's the comparison:
GS W-L IP IP/GS K/9 K/BB ERA Lg R/G
reg. season* 33 17-8 231.1 7.0 8.6 2.9 3.12 4.75
postseason 33 12-8 196.2 5.9 7.9 2.5 3.71 4.31
*per 33 starts
On the whole, Clemens has allowed more runs in a lower-scoring environment, lasted fewer innings, and showed decidedly less dominance. "Lg R/G "in the chart is the unadjusted, unweighted scoring level of the leagues he's been in (1984-2003 AL, 2004-2005 NL, and all games from the eleven postseasons in which he's participated). In retrospect that number probably should have been weighted by Clemens' innings, but the Sun
editor cut it anyway.
In any event, despite the spotty track record, Clemens has performed particularly well in the World Series, even including Game One: a 2.37 ERA in eight World Series starts, with 49 strikeouts, 12 walks and just two homers allowed in 49.1 innings. That he's got only a 3-0 record to show for his trouble is the real issue: he doesn't last very long, firing his bullets early and leaving the rest of the work to the bullpen. As with Mariano Rivera in Game Seven of 2001 World Series, that doesn't always work out for the best.
The other myth to dispel about Clemens is that at least for the Yankees, his postseason record was better than his regular-season accomplishments. In 17 pinstriped starts, he allowed a 3.24 ERA and an 8.82 K/9, winning two World Series rings; with the other two teams, his ERA is 4.19, his K rate is 6.89, and he's still looking for a championship. Note that the bulk of complaints about his playoff shortcomings come from aggrieved Boston fans (such as this sniveler
) amid the Red Sox 86-year wait for a championship, and entitled Yankee fans expecting no less than one per year. Note also that 38 percent of his postseason innings have come after his 40th birthday, and that Clemens has often hit the postseason at well less than 100 percent; recall the groin problems which dogged him in 2001 and of course, this year's hammy woes.
None of which exactly an excuse; the objective record shows that one of the all-time greats hasn't been so great in the postseason. What Clemens has been is decidedly human
, a more sympathetic figure than the adrenalized intimidator who's racked up 341 wins (ninth all-time), 4,502 strikeouts (second all-time), and a record seven Cy Young Awards (with an eighth a legitimate possibility after his league-leading 1.87 ERA). There are worse lessons to be drawn from our superstars than that.
• • •
Even with Clemens' abbreviated start, Game One turned out to be a tight contest, with the Astros clawing back to tie the game after both of the Rocket's less-than-spotless innings. It was something of a miracle that despite reliever Wandy Rodriguez -- the poster child of a replacement-level pitcher -- allowing four hits and five walks over 3.1 innings, the White Sox could only add a single run on Joe Crede's homer, keeping the game close until the late innings.
But that's where the Astos' plan broke down, and it's the reason I told anyone who asked me that I was picking the White Sox to win the Series in six games (a length it may not achieve). The Astros have a good bullpen, but it's not a deep one, and manager Phil Garner is too rigid in his roles. Closer Brad Lidge, though still smarting from Albert Pujols' game-winning monster shot in Game Five of the LCS, should have been on hand to protect that 4-3 deficit rather than Chad Qualls and Russ Springer, the latter of whom yielded the Sox a fifth run. But since it wasn't a save situation, Garner went with his lesser relievers, and he paid the price.
The same thing happened in Game Two
, which was a bona fide fall classic befitting the Fall Classic. With a 4-2 lead but two men on base in the seventh inning, 'Stros setup man Dan Wheeler got jobbed when an inside pitch that deflected off of Jermaine Dye's bat was ruled a hit-by-pitch -- yet another example of the shoddy umpiring that's been all-too-common in the postseason -- to load the bases with two outs. For the game's most important situation -- nay, the season's most important situation -- Garner shifted from his second-best reliever to his third-best in Qualls, and Qualls' first pitch traveled over 400 feet off the bat of Paul Konerko for a grand slam. Here's what Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan
had to say:
Konerko hit a first-pitch cookie from Chad Qualls, who you could argue was only in the game because 35 years ago, a scoring rule was invented to credit relief pitchers who got the last out in wins. With the bases loaded, a two-run lead and the other team's best hitter up, you would think you'd want your best reliever in the game. Phil Garner--who'd used Lidge to get out of a similar seventh-inning jam in the 2004 Division Series--went with his third-best reliever, and paid the price.
I recognize that using your closer in the seventh inning is a highly unusual tactic, and with other effective relievers at his disposal, perhaps doing so would be too much to expect of Garner. But when you consider the leverage of the situation--not just the game, but how important this batter was to the World Series--it's hard for me to not see this as yet another example of how the save rule has corrupted bullpen usage. From the dawn of the use of relief pitchers as weapons through the mid-1980s, a team would have used their best reliever to pitch in that situation. They had it right, and we, in modern baseball, have it wrong.
In spite of all that, the Astros rallied to tie the game at 6-6 on what looked like another dubious choice, when Garner tapped Jose Vizcaino, a career .271/.318/.346 hitter, to pinch-hit for Adam Everett while lefties Mike Lamb (.274/.329/.412) and Orlando Palmeiro (.277/.355/.356) sat by idly. Vizcaino drove in two runs off of Bobby Jenks, with Chris Burke boldly running on Scott Podsednik's weak arm and executing a perfect slide and hand-touch of home plate just out of reach of catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
Garner called on Lidge at that point, and his ace reliever took one step closer to becoming the new Byun-Hyung Kim when he allowed a game-winning shot to Podsednik, who didn't homer in 568 regular-season plate appearances but now has two dingers in October. D'oh!
It wasn't as though Garner calling on his closer at that point was the wrong move, just that he could have made a better one to protect the lead while he still had it, regardless of the inning. By contrast, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen showed more flexibility and less attachment to roles when he pulled his nominal closer, Bobby Jenks, after Vizcaino's suprising single. In came southpaw Neal Cotts, getting the platoon advantage on pinch-hitter Lamb, who flied out to end the threat. With an admittedly deeper bullpen than the Astros have, Guillen has shown himself willing to play to that strength while avoiding being typecast as a LaRussa-esque micromanager. Ultimately, that -- and four home runs accounting for seven of Chicago's 12 runs -- is a bigger part of the reason the Sox have a 2-0 Series lead than any small-ball antics.
Speaking of which, last Wednesday featured a surreal Dan Le Batard article
in the Miami Herald
in which Guillen revealed himself an adherent to santeria
, a religion which features animal sacrifice. "You bleed, I'm there," quipped the ever-controversial Sox manager. As one BPer put it in, "Sacrifices, eh? That small-ball thing really is pervading his whole life."
I'm still laughing at that one.
Labels: New York Sun
Friday, October 21, 2005
If you're a frequent reader of this space, you know that the buzzards had been circling Yankee pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre long before he made his departure official
last week. Stottlemyre's sacred-cowness within the Yankee organization was a drum
I've been banging
since last fall, and I certainly wasn't the only one.
The Yankees' slow start in April amplified that drumbeat. No less an authority than Allen Barra even asked me to provide some data and perspective for an article
he wrote for the New York Sun
addressing the topic. I called Barra's attention to the fact that the Yankees not only had a lousy recent track record when it came to the performances of their imported high-profile pitching talent (Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright joining the ranks of Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, and others), but that the organization had virtually no success at developing pitchers from within since the likes of Andy Petttite, Mariano Rivera, and Ramiro Mendoza. As Barra's piece was being published, I wrote up the latest of my findings in a piece called "Mystery Stottlemyre Theater
" which to my surprise became one of the most widely circulated in the history of this site, being cited on just about any Yankees-themed site when the topic came up for discussion.
Not everyone agreed with my take, however. My good friend and Baseball Prospectus colleague Steven Goldman defended Stottlemyre
, calling my response "frothing" (ouch), took me to task for my admittedly selective list of Bronx bombing pitchers and promised a debate between the two of us over at his Pinstriped Blog, one which never materialized due to scheduling issues.
But in debating Stottlemyre's effectiveness with him and others, I had resolved to attempt to study the matter more objectively. Now, there's no easy way to do this, but I figured that rather than continuing to harp on Mel's Greatest Misses, I should examine the records of as many pitchers as possible during Stottlemyre's Yankee tenure, which began in 1996 alongside Joe Torre. With the help of my trusty research assistant, Peter Quadrino, I gathered the year-by-year stats of all pitchers who threw at least 50 innings in a season on Mel's watch and compared their Yankee stats with what came before and after.
By the time I completed this task, it was August, and it was quite apparent that with so many new faces in the revolving-door rotation, it would be worthwhile to include the current crop of Yanks in the study, so I tabled publishing my findings until the end of the season. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut's alter ego
, Kilgore Trout, NOW IT CAN BE TOLD. I've written up my findings for a premium piece
at Baseball Prospectus, "Pell Mell: Evaluating the Departed Yankee Pitching Coach."
For starters, the Yankee starters this year underperformed drastically. Besides Randy Johnson, the other four projected members of the rotation, Brown, Pavano, Wright, ad Mike Mussina (incidentally, the highest paid pitcher in the game last year at $19 million, and the fifth-highest paid player overall -- but where's the A-Rodesque outrage at him?) combined for just a 2.7 VORP on the year, virtually replacement level. They did that at a cost of $46.7 million, more than the entire payroll of the postseason near-miss Cleveland Indians, as well as four other teams. A market value formula devised by BP's Nate Silver
showed that the entire starting five underperformed at a level $44.6 million short of what could be expected, another staggering number. Here's a chart showing some of BP's metrics along with salaries (in milllions), market valuations, and the difference between the two:
GS IP ERA VORP SNLVAR WARP Sal Val Dif
Johnson 34 225.2 3.79 44.1 5.7 6.8 16.00 12.56 -3.44
Mussina 30 179.2 4.41 23.3 3.4 4.7 19.00 6.58 -12.42
Pavano 17 100.0 4.77 -1.3 1.0 1.0 9.00 0.61 -8.39
Brown 13 73.3 6.50 -9.5 -0.5 0.4 15.00 0.19 -14.81
Wright 13 63.2 6.08 -9.8 0.1 0.2 5.67 0.09 -5.58
Wang 17 116.1 4.02 17.3 2.1 3.6 0.32 4.20 3.89
Chacon 12 79.0 2.85 25.1 3.1 3.9 0.94* 4.80 3.86
Small 9 76.0 3.20 22.1 1.7 3.6 0.32 4.20 3.89
Leiter 10 62.1 5.49 -1.7 0.7 0.8 0.15* 0.46 0.31
*pro-rated shares for players acquired via trade
In other words, Mussina's performance was worth about 6.58 million on the open market according to Silver's formula, some $12.4 milllion less than he was being paid.
After reviewing the starters' season and the decisions and strategies which brought the Yankees to this juncture, I dug into the meat of my study, those before-during-after numbers. The pool consisted of 39 pitchers who had thrown nearly 59,000 big league innings and won 3,912 games -- yes, you read those numbers correctly. This is a venerable bunch of hurlers.
Now, I don't want to spill too many beans (y'all should be subscribing to BP), but basically the data shows that while the Yankee pitchers as a whole performed at a level below what they had done before coming to the Bronx (using ERA+, the park-adjusted indexing of a pitcher's ERA to the league average), they were still considerably better than league average. Furthermore, they performed even less well upon departing, suggesting that the Yanks at least did a reasonable job of harvesting the value from these pitchers.
But some interesting things happened when I sliced and diced the data further. The veterans, skewed by two very notable ones (whose identities I'll leave to your imagination), underperformed during their time in the Bronx relative to both before and
after. But the previously inexperienced pitchers (including the international free agents) performed much better during their Bronx tenures than beyond, though the sample sizes were considerably small enough to send off some warning bells.
On the whole, my findings suggest that while the group of pitchers failed to live up to their collective expectations in the Bronx, they still performed at a level well above league average. It seems apparent that while the Yankee front office imported a lot of high-priced veterans, they failed to provide Stottlemyre with pitchers who played to his strength, younger and more malleable hurlers that he could influence.
At the same time, there was no doubt the recent Yankee staffs had underperformed:
At the base of the complaint was an undeniable decline in the quality of the pitching staff's performance, one that appeared to have something to do with Stottlemyre's directive for the team's pitchers to rely less on their ability to strike hitters out in favor of putting the ball in play and subjecting it to the whims of a subpar Yankee defense.
ERA (rk) K/9 (rk) PIP (rk) DE (rk)...[T]he broader trends show that the Yankee pitching staff had been moving backwards for the past couple of years relative to the league, and if Stottlemyre was in fact advocating a more contact-centric approach, he was doing so on a team ill-suited to withstand more balls in play. It may be unfair for him to have endured so much criticism given his track record, but it's also apparent that the time for change had arrived.
1996 4.65 (5) 7.12 (2) .677 (11) .683 (11)
1997 3.84 (1) 7.15 (3) .688 (10) .685 (8)
1998 3.82 (1) 6.67 (5) .697 (9) .713 (1)
1999 4.13 (2) 6.95 (3) .680 (12) .699 (3)
2000 4.76 (6) 6.57 (3) .690 (10) .693 (4)
2001 4.02 (3) 7.85 (1) .672 (12) .684 (10)
2002 3.87 (4) 7.04 (2) .706 (6) .690 (9)
2003 4.02 (3) 6.89 (2) .714 (6) .682 (13)
2004 4.69 (6) 6.60 (6) .707 (2) .688 (7)
2005 4.52 (9) 6.20 (6) .714 (7) .689 (10)
DE is Defensive Efficiency, the percentage of balls in play the defense converts into outs, while PIP is balls in play (both hits and outs, but not sacrifices) as a percentage of all plate appearances. The number in parentheses are ranks within the AL. Note the staff's recent decline in ERA went hand in hand with the decline in strikeout rate and more or less with the rise of more balls in play, something the Yankee defense has done a lousy job of for quite some time.
As someone who spent a good deal of time hammering Stottlemyre and egging others on in the service of same, I must admit that I'm somewhat surprised at some of the results in this study. But I think they're important, and they show a lot more nuance than the original arguments I and others had made. I'm very proud of this study and hope that those of you interested enough will find a way to read it, if only so that we can elevate the debate the next time a pitching coach comes under fire.
Monday, October 17, 2005
And now for a Futility Infielder first: it's time to get biblical. Like most observant Jews, I spent a good portion of last Thursday at services for Yom Kippur
, the Jewish day of atonement. I didn't go there with the intention of thinking about baseball, or at least no moreso than I usually do while listening to Hebrew chanting about 2,000-year-old rituals. Still, it wasn't too long before the subject crept into my consciousness.
At the heart of the Torah reading for Yom Kippur (please turn in your prayer books to Leviticus 16) is a passage detailing the ritual of the scapegoat
which was central to the holiday in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem. In this ritual, two goats are chosen and presented to the High Priest. One is sacrificed to God in the proscribed fashion, the other is symbolically burdened with the sins of the community and then banished to the desert. Of course, with the local newspapers still buzzing with the Yankees' recent elimination at the hands of the Angels (not that there's anything biblical about them) and particularly, the failures of Alex Rodriguez, you can see why the topic rang a bell.
Rodriguez's punchless 2-for-15, 0 RBI performance in the five-game series was no small factor in the team's defeat. Right up to the final inning, when he represented the game-tying run and grounded into a double play to put the Yanks one out from elimination, A-Rod failed to deliver. His lapses at the plate were coupled with more in the field, where he made a key error in Game Two and hesitated on several other grounders, resulting in missed opportunities for outs along the way. Reportedly
, the September 30 death of the uncle who raised him played a part in his poor performance, but really, it isn't necessary to explain it away. He's far from the first MVP-caliber player to come up short in a small sample size; even pinstriped gods like Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle had their share of postseason flops
And Rodriguez was far from the only offender in the Division Series. As a whole, the team hit just four homers and slugged just .392 (as compared to .451 in the regular season). The rotation averaged less than five innings per start. Prior to the final game, the Yankee bullpen had allowed eight earned runs in 13 innings, a 5.53 ERA (though they did freeze out all six of the baserunners inherited from the starters over the course of the series). Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui combined for just two extra-base hits and three RBI between them, former clutch god Bernie Williams had just one along with a critical missed hit-and-run that cost the Yanks a baserunner early in Game Five, and even the sainted Derek Jeter's two home runs were both solo shots with the Yanks facing significant deficits (five runs in Game Three, three runs in Game Five). One could point to a couple of bad calls made by umpire Joe West along the way, but the Yanks simply didn't play well enough to beat the Angels, and they got what had been coming to them since last winter's brutal hackjob of a retooling: an early exit from relevance.
As the season dawned, I decribed
the Yanks as "a roster built with all the grace of a congressional spending bill fraught with dozens of tacked-on pork-barrel amendments... or the car Homer Simpson designed
for his half-brother Herb." Smarter people such as Steven Goldman has opined
that the Yanks' 2004-2005 offseason will go down in history as one of the worst in team history. The two big-money free-agent pitchers the team signed, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, both pitched below replacement level
while being limited to a combined 163.2 innings between them, about 40 percent of what was expected from a pair whose track records were already spotty to begin with. The big-money ace they traded for, Randy Johnson, delivered a very un-Randy Johnson-like season, with an ERA more than half a run above his career average.
The team then used that profligate spending as an excuse NOT to sign centerfielder Carlos Beltran, even though Williams could no longer carry the position either offensively or defensively. They signed low-budget, low-OBP geezers like Tino Martinez, Ruben Sierra, and Tony Womack to be the supporting cast for a cracking good lineup. They patched over their bullpen's lack of an effective lefty reliever -- made glaringly apparent by David Ortiz in the now-infamous 2004 ALCS -- in favor of retread Mike Stanton.
Still, the team was projected by Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA
forecasting system to win 95 games, and that's exactly what they did. After spending a half-season looking like they would indeed live up to my vision of a $200 million tightrope walker splattering -- they started by losing 19 games out of their first 30, and stood at 39-39 on July 1 -- the Yanks returned to their winning ways while sporting some ungainly patchjobs, going 56-28 the rest of the way. Despite the renewed optimism from Yankeeland, the truth of the team's quality lay somewhere in between those two poles, the .500 team and the .667 one. Good enough to make the playoffs with a bit of luck, but not immune to the possibility that they could be bounced just as quickly as they had arrived.
Baseball is a game of streaks, and it wasn't all that surprising that the team which roared to the finish of the regular season at 26-11, claiming the AL East crown on a head-to-head tiebreaker, should back that up with a most inconvenient cold one in the first round of the playoffs. Bad weather in New York played a part -- creaky Randy Johnson was ill-suited for the sodden Game Three conditions, and the next day's postponement gave the Angels bullpen a bit of extra gas in the tank. Bad luck -- the Bubba Crosby/Gary Sheffield collision in centerfield during the second inning of Game Five, leading to two runs -- did as well.
But really, I look at Game Five
as Joe Torre's failure just as much as anybody else's. Torre's refusal to remove Mike Mussina -- in favor of Johnson, Chien-Ming Wang, Shawn Chacon, Whitey Ford, or anyone else -- after that two-run inning proved fatal. Moose, who had paired a good and an awful start after returning from elbow inflammation and had apparently gotten the good game out of his system in the series opener, yielded a pair of quick singles to Orlando Cabrera and Vlad Guerrero to start the third frame. To that point, he'd allowed just two hard-hit balls, a Garret Anderson homer which began the inning and then Adam Kennedy's collision-aided triple.
The important point was that Mussina wasn't missing bats
. Only two Angels, Chone Figgins and Darin Erstad, had swung at and missed even one pitch. Three more strikes came on foul balls, two of them to Guerrero just before his hit. The rest were called strikes, eleven of them. Mussina was getting his share of calls from the home plate ump, but between that and the shaky defense, that's a razor-thin margin to be walking, especially once he'd already surrendered the short-lived lead. Unable to finish off the Angel hitters without letting them put the ball in play, he gave up two more runs on another single and two productive outs before the Big Unit came out of the bullpen. For Torre to have left Mussina out there to absorb five runs in an elimination game is to see the Yankee manager's wishcasting -- this is the Moose of old, he's healthy, and he's going to come up big, because he's a veteran and a Yankee -- laid bare.
The rest is history. Johnson pitched admirably out of the bullpen, holding the Angels scoreless until Tom Gordon took over in the eighth, but the Yanks could do no more damage. Robinson Cano, the rookie who had seemed to wind up in the center of every big play in the series, and not always on the right side, was the victim of Bernie's missed hit-and-run in the second inning, and then wound up being called out running outside the basepaths as he sped to first on a dropped third strike to end the fourth; had he run where he was supposed to have -- essentially through Erstad, who didn't have the ball (just because he was a punter doesn't mean he's tough) -- the Yanks would have loaded the bases for Williams. Instead, they let Angels rookie Ervin Santana, who came out of the bullpen in relief of the injured Bartolo Colon, off the hook at critical times.
In the end, the $203 million kludgemobile failed, a victim of both bad design and bad performance. Just how many of the parts will be stripped of this ill-suited machine remain to be seen. Williams is likely done as a Yankee, and after his critical lapse in Game Five, it's not a moment too soon, despite all of the warm sentiments his passing from pinstripes should evoke (that's what those Game Four ovations were for). Kevin Brown, injured for more than half the season, is finally done in this town as well. Between those two, that's $23.5 million off the books once Bernie's buyout is counted. Hideki Matsui, Tom Gordon, Martinez, Sierra, John Flaherty, and all of the bullpen dross are free agents, with only Matsui likely to return. But the core of the team will remain in place, one year older and no necessarily the wiser, and damned expensive. Here are the major 2006 salary commitments for some of the incumbent Yankees, not including prorated bonuses or pending options:
Alex Rodriguez $25*
Derek Jeter 18
Jason Giambi 18
Mike Mussina 17
Randy Johnson 16
Gary Sheffield 13
Mariano Rivera 10.5
Jorge Posada 9
Carl Pavano 8
Jaret Wright 7
Tony Womack 2
That's $143.5 million dollars committed to just 11 players, not even half of the roster. Not even half an outfield, for that matter. But the biggest question coming from the Bronx is who will be around to fill out that roster. GM Brian Cashman's contract expires at the end of October, and he may well decide he's got better things to do than endure another season of marginalization in an increasingly dysfunctional front office. At this point, two scenarios appear to be possible:
1) Cashman stays because George Steinbrenner (who wants him to stay
, to the extent of not granting him permission to discuss other openings before his contract expires) not only meets his price but significantly eases him from the yoke of the goons-without-portfolio who comprise the Yanks' Tampa office and Steinbrenner's inner circle, often undermining the team's day-to-day operations.
2) Cashman leaves, finally free to seek a more sane employer, and the Yanks promote VP of Scouting Damon Oppenheimer, whose moon is quite apparently in the House of Steinbrenner these days. The 43-year-old Oppenheimer took over the team's postseason scouting duties from Gene Michael (who's been thoroughly marginalized
himself since re-upping in June 2003) this year. His promotion might do something to unify the team's dual decision-making nodes, at least until someone else emerges to second-guess him to Steinbrenner. The Boss does like his scapegoats, after all.
It's much less likely the Yanks would go outside of the organization to hire a GM in the event of Cashman's departure, and anyway, that's a topic for another day. Beyond that and despite all speculation about the linking of his fate to Cashman's, Torre is a virtual lock to stay, with $13 million still on his contract. He'll need a new set of consiglieres, however. Bench coach Joe Girardi appears fated to wind up the manager of one of the two Florida teams, while pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre has resigned
, setting fire to the bridge behind him on the way out of town as he highlighted a perceived slight from Steinbrenner.
The time for change is upon the Yankees, a change that may go all the way to the top and one certain to have some impact on the roster despite a lean free-agent class. Let's hope the Yanks do a better job of managing change during this early-arriving winter of discontent than they did last year.Update based on Comment #1 (" It isn't that bad since 8 mil of A-Rod's deal is from Texas")
: Actually, it's a little more complicated than that. Rodriguez agreed
to defer $4 million of his 2006 salary as part of a $45 million deferment arranged in 2001. The breakdown
of the remaining $21 million is 15 NY/6 Tex according to what I published back in February 2004:
2004 3 15
2005 6 15
2006 6 15
2007 7 16
2008 8 16
2009 7 17
2010 6 18
So that may shave as much as $10 million off of the $143.5. It's still a ton of money that by itself is already more than any other team payroll in 2005, including the Boston Red Sox ($126.8 million according to a recent AP report
And that doesn't even take into account the luxury tax hit. As three-time offenders, the Yanks 2005 payroll is taxed at 40 percent for the amount above $128 million; that's $30 million right there. The 2006 hit will be 40 percent above $136.5 million, so assuming that the Yanks more or less match this year's $203 mil, their portion might actually decrease all the way down to $27 million or something like that. In other words, every single player they add beyond the eleven they're already committed to will cost them a 40 percent premium.
As it was last winter
, even the richest team will feel that bite.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
As promised, here's the ballot I cast in the Internet Baseball Awards. Most of my choices are informed by various metrics
at Baseball Prospectus, among them Value Above Replacement Player (VORP), Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), Support Neutral Lineup Adjusted Value Above Replacement
for starting pitchers, Reliever Expected Wins Added
, and the recently introduced Win Expectancy Added
. But circumstances such as a team's status as a contender, time missed due to injury, and other factors make all of these what they are, one person's subjective judgement using objective measures as a guide but not the be-all and end-all. It's easy enough to fill a ballot out 1-10 ranking players by WARP or VORP, but basing everything on one number -- even one well thought out, all-encompassing number -- isn't what this is about.
Also, it's important to remember that this vote was based entirely on the regular season results, not anything that happened in the brutally small sample size of the opening round of the playoffs or beyond.AL MVP
1. Alex Rodriguez 2. David Ortiz 3. Jhonny Peralta 4. Mariano Rivera 5. Travis Hafner 6. Vladimir Guerrero 7. Brian Roberts 8. Derek Jeter 9. Paul Konerko 10. Mark Teixeira
Again, forget the postseason for a moment -- I'll be picking that over from the Yankees' standpoint soon enough -- because this is only about the regular season. The Yankee gets the nod over the Red Sock in a race that literally kept me awake at night thinking about. I'm sure I'll be accused of bias here, but I'm comfortable with my reasoning.
Even with slightly below-average defense (a 95 Rate2, meaning he was five runs below average per 100 games), A-Rod finished with 10.2 WARP (note this is WARP1, used to compare within the same season), Big Papi with 8.0. James Click's Win Expectancy
numbers (updated via email) show the latter with 7.3 WINS -- the fractional improvement in his team's chances of winning before and after each of his at-bats -- the most in baseball, with Rodriguez third in the AL and ninth overall at 4.7 (Hafner was second in the AL at 4.8). That closes the gap considerably, and might be grounds for favoring the latter, but then we don't have any measure of the Win Expectancy produced by Rodriguez's defense, and that might be worth something as well.
Both players, for whatever it's worth, were essentially equal against their rival teams (.934 OPS for A-Rod, .939 for Ortiz). But in the end, Rodriguez's 4-for-5 performance in Fenway on October 1
, the game in which the Yankees clinched the AL East, was enough to seal the deal. It didn't end up meaning much in terms of playoff opponents or home field advantage, but it did force the Sox to use Curt Schilling in Game 162, thereby slotting him for a turn against the White Sox that never came. That's tangible, and from the standpoint of a Schilling hater, it fills me with warm fuzzies, too. Advantage: Rodriguez.
As for the rest, both Hafner and Peralta deserved recognition for the Indians' great season. Rivera's 9.4 WARP put him in the mix for a middle spot on the ballot. Jeter's 8.8 WARP was tempered by the fact that according to Win Expectancy, he was one of the 20 most UN-clutch players in the majors this year. Brian Roberts was fantastic, particularly in the first half, and then suffered a career-threatening injury against the Yanks in late September.NL MVP
1. Derrek Lee 2. Albert Pujols 3. Jason Bay 4. Morgan Ensberg 5. Andruw Jones 6. Jim Edmonds 7. Miguel Cabrera 8. Brian Giles 9. Chase Utley 10. David Wright
Two years ago I refused to put A-Rod (who finally one the award after several years as an also-ran) first on my ballot because playing for Texas, he was a fair distance away from relevance, the Lone Ranger. I was prepared to consign Lee to the same fate until noting that he had a 1.6 WARP edge on Pujols and 5.3 WINS (3rd in the NL), while Pujols, with about 3.6 WINS, was among the unclutch
. Andruw Jones, at 7.9 WARP, was nowhere near as valuable as his 51 homers would lead one to believe (his defense declined by about a win), but I did boost him a few notches based on his importance to the Braves at a time when everything else seemed to be crumbling around him. Jason Bay very quietly had a spectacular season that -- though it took place in Pittsburgh, which at best can boast the beds where the Cardinals slept several times -- deserves some recognition.AL Cy Young
1. Johan Santana 2. Roy Halladay 3. Mariano Rivera 4. Kevin Millwood 5. Francisco Rodriguez
Last year's winner is in good shape to rack up another Cy. Santana led the AL with 7.6 SNLVAR, well ahead of the number two, Bartolo Colon (6.7), who himself was well ahead of Halladay (6.0), who broke his leg in his final start before the All-Star Game. It's impossible to ignore what Halladay did in his half-season; he was still leading all AL pitchers in VORP and SNVLAR into September. Colon and his teammate John Lackey might deserve to be in the mix, as do a few White Sox (John Garland 6.0 SNLVAR, Mark Buehrle 5.7). I'll take Millwood, the rock of the Indians' staff sandwiched between the AL's two highest ranking relievers (who I flip-flopped here on the strength of Rivera's three-win advantage in WARP despite half-win deficit in WXRL).NL Cy Young
1. Roger Clemens 2. Andy Pettitte 3. Dontrelle Willis 4. Chris Carpenter 5. Pedro Martinez
Much as I'd like to vote for somebody besides the guy with seven Cy Youngs already on his mantle -- Dontrelle, perhaps -- the gap between Clemens and everybody else here is too much to ignore. Clemens led the NL with a 9.4 SNLVAR
(Support Neutral Lineup Adjusted Value Above Replacement), Willis, Carpenter, and Pettitte are virtually tied at 8.6, then Roy Oswalt (another Astro) at 7.7, then Pedro at 7.6. Carpenter's late-season fade and Pettitte's fine second half helped sort out the runners-up.AL Rookie of the Year
1. Joe Blanton 2. Robinson Cano 3. Huston Street
A bumper crop of rookies in the AL, but ultimately it's the two A's who put up the most value, and how far down would the A's have finished without them? Cano gets a a boost for a spectacular September and a clear edge over the not-pictured Tadahito Iguchi, who was even worse defensively but very solid overall for the White Sox. Also receiving strong consideration were Jonny Gomes, Felix Hernandez, Gustavo Chacin, and Chien-Ming Wang. NL Rookie of the Year
1. Jeff Francoeur 2. Ryan Howard 3. Zach Duke
By contrast, the NL was a much weaker crop. Duke would get the edge on raw value (4.4 WARP in 14 starts, compared to 2.9 in 70 games for Francoeur and 3.2 in 88 games for Howard), but the relevance of the Brave and the Phillie to their respective teams' playoff chases was impossible to ignore.AL Manager of the Year
1. Ozzie Guillen 2. Eric Wedge 3. Joe Torre
I loathe Guillen's predilection for small-ball and find his personality abrasive, but somewhere the bill comes due for a team that exceeded its third-order
winning projection by 12 games, and I'll hand it to the White Sox manager. He did a fantastic job of handling his pitching staff, not the least part of which was nurturing Jose Contreras into being a top-flight starter, and he built a strong bullpen that was able to adapt to the injury of closer Dustin Hermanson. Wedge kept the surprising Indians in contention into the final days of the season; had the Indians pulled it off, the top spot here would be his. Torre took a deeply flawed team to the AL East title, but his handling of the bullpen and the bench made the race closer than it needed to be, and sowed the seeds of the team's demise in the playoffs.NL Manager of the Year
1. Bobby Cox 2. Phil Garner 3. Ned Yost
For whatever Cox's flaws as an in-game tactician -- and as another Braves team goes down due to some questionable decisions in the Division Series -- he's a great manager for the 162-game haul, thanks in part to having Leo Mazzone by his side. With injuries galore, as many as 11 rookies on the roster, and a strong division in which every team finished at .500 or better, he had his work cut out for him, and he delivered. Garner took a team that lost Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran -- not to mention 30 of its first 45 games -- back to the playoffs on the strength of a great pitching staff. Yost piloted the Brewers to their first non-losing season since 1992 and showed himself adept at handling a pitching staff in his own right. Frank Robinson might deserve a mention for keeping the Nationals in contention all year, but his refusal to keep sending Cristian Guzman and his penchant for writing out lineups that would shame your son's Little League team hampered the Nats' hopes for the Wild Card at too many critical junctures.
I'm interested to hear who my readers voted for in the IBA (or who you would have, if you had). So if you feel like sharing, drop your picks into the comments below.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
The Internet Baseball Awards
voting ends tonight at 11:00 PST. Make your picks for all the major awards and you might win a free subscription to BP. At the very least you can reacquaint yourself with the great banner
I designed for the IBA a couple of years ago. You can't put a price on that.
I'll be back with my ballot soon.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
For just the second time in the last eight years, the American League Championship Series will proceed without the Yankees, who were eliminated Monday night with a dispiriting 5-3 loss
to the Angels. The breaks didn't go their way, they made some key mistakes (including the manager, who stood idly by as Mike Mussina was bled to death by a thousand cuts), and as a result, they're as gone as the defending champion Red Sox.
I've scarcely had any time to mourn the Bronx Bombers' demise, however, working well into the night and back at it early this morning to complete my preview of the ALCS
for Baseball Prospectus before the second dosage of caffeine wore off. The White Sox and Angels both share similar strengths (pitching, particularly in the bullpen, speed, and defense) and weaknesses (offense, having drunk an extra large-glass of One-Run Kool-Aid). In the first round, both beat teams that were much more patient offensively, setting up a series where we'll see a lot more balls in play than a Yanks-Red Sox matchup.
The preview is a premium piece, unlike a lot of my other work for BP, but here's a sampler plate:
Expect to hear a lot of hooey about how the success of the Sox/Angels' PutItInPlayism(TM) is a repudiation of the the patient WaitItOutNess(TM) of those more sabermetrically sound offenses. Or maybe it's how the Sox and Angels represent the triumph of man's natural impulses over the tyranny of spreadsheets and slide rules. Either way, thank your local deity that Joe Morgan won't be jabbering for seven games about the book that Billy Beane wrote.
...[H]ome runs are the dirty little secret of the Sox "speed and defense" mantra. Ozzie Guillen's small-ballers walloped 199 in the regular season, fifth in the major leagues, and a number that has a lot to do with the ballpark they play in. Over the past three years, U.S. Cellular Field (née Comiskey II) has yielded homers to lefthanded hitters at a rate that's 58 percent above average, tops in baseball and 26 percent ahead of the second-place Ameriquest Field (née The Ballpark at Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers). Over that same three-year span, righty hitters have homered at a rate that's 38 percent above average, just one percent behind pacesetting Houston's Minute Maid Park. Forget Colorado's Coors Field; U.S. Cellular is the top home run park in baseball for reasons that don't seem to have much to do with either altitude (Chicago's about 600 feet above sea level, which puts it in the top 10 among major-league cities but trailing most other midwestern venues) or dimensions:
USCEL ML AV DIFBy this data, it would appear that everybody benefits from a shorter centerfield, with lefty hitters perhaps gaining a slight advantage with the shorter right-center power alley, one somewhat negated by the longer foul line adjacent. Perhaps weather (they do call it the Windy City) and a disproportionate number of times feasting on the young arms of the Royals and the Tigers might be factors as well.
LF 330 331.3 -1.3
LCF 377 376.8 +0.2
CF 400 404.1 -4.1
RCF 372 377.4 -5.4
RF 335 329.1 +5.9
...With a pair or strong pitching staffs and subpar offenses, this is likely to be a low-scoring, fast-paced series--at least as compared to the Boston-New York battles of the past two years. Both teams have pitching depth and managers who know how to used it. But the Angels have a couple of serious health questions that may have an early impact, while the White Sox are so much more rested that it will likely prove decisive. The Halos need to hope they can steal a game in Chicago as they catch their collective breath from a whirlwind first round, and that whatever gamble they make on a Game Two starter pays off. Still, with the rest, home field advantage, and the fewer question marks, one has to favor the White Sox. Chicago in six.
As much as it pains me to say this, I'm somewhat relieved that the Yankees lost, if only because I'm simply tired of staring that team's limitations in the face night after night. It's really no surprise that the $203 million kludgemobile
didn't have a strong enough engine to drive back from Cali; the Yankee organization needs to let the lessons of this team's shortcomings sink in. I'll be back to pick at the scabs of the Yanks' defeat after I get some rest and check out tonight's opening game of the LCS.
Monday, October 10, 2005
Back with the bullets because my gun is still loaded...
• After speeding through 18 innings
of Astros-Braves, I was worried I might be as blasé about the night's Yankees game, much as I had been after watching the finale of the Sox^2 game on Friday. I was even more worried the Yankee Stadium field would be as sodden mess, though the weather cooperated on Sunday.
Still, I was happy to see Bubba Crosby in centerfield for the Yanks instead of Bernie Williams. With the Angels having hit 17-for-36 on balls in play on Friday night, something had to change, and with few other options at his disposal, Torre made the best move he could.
Though the sample size is limited, Baseball Prospectus' numbers show Crosby
with a career Rate2
of 114 in centerfield, meaning that over 100 games, he comes out 14 runs above average. Of course, he's got only 53 appearances there, with enough innings that it translates to a mere 23 full games. Meanwhile Williams comes off at an even 100 this year (surprisingly average), but over the bigger picture is at about six runs below average per 100 games over the last four years, a period which included the unmistakable notification that Bernie was no longer the Gold Glover we Yankee fans had been blessed with. As Joe Sheehan
recounted after watching Friday night's debacle:
In the top of the sixth inning last night, with the game tied 6-6, Adam Kennedy blooped a single to center field that pushed Darin Erstad to third base. The ball, skied high in the air, fell between Bernie Williams and Robinson Cano in short center field.
The play was remarkably similar to a ball Erstad hit in Game Four of the 2002 Division Series, one that fell in a similar spot, one that also came in the middle of a game-changing rally. That hit is burned in my memory as the moment I gave up on Williams as a center fielder.
Credit Torre for making a good call there.
• What a pitching matchup. The Angels were forced to scratch slated starter Jarrod Washburn due to a throat infection, and rather than bring back Game One starter Bartolo Colon on four days' rest, Mike Scioscia tapped Game Two starter John Lackey on three. Scioscia called Lackey the most adaptable of the Angels' starters; recall that he started Game Seven
of the 2002 World Series
on three days' rest and got the win, and he had done so in his final start of this season to align himself for the playoffs.
Colon's condition played a part. Even before the Washburn scratch was announced, the Los Angles Times
reported that Colon was unable to answer the bell:
Upon learning Saturday's American League division series game against the Yankees was rained out, Manager Mike Scioscia summoned Bartolo Colon to his office and asked the Angel ace if he could start a rescheduled Game 4 tonight, on regular rest, on the day Colon was originally scheduled to start Game 5.
The answer might have surprised Scioscia and pitching coach Bud Black: Colon, his lower back feeling a bit stiff and his arm not quite 100%, said he wasn't ready to go.
The Angels sent Colon back to Anaheim ahead of the team (perhaps a curious decision to put a guy with an ailing back on a cross-country flight, but let's assume he was flying first class and had ample room to stretch out his ample frame), with Scioscia saying later
"Bart was still in town when we found out, going back to the hotel... He had plans to fly back to the West Coast last night, which he did. Bart needs the time. He'll be fresher and ready for Game 5 if we need to go that route. He's much better off in the slot we have him right now. Even though it's normal rest, the extra day could be important to Bart."
The dirty little secret lost in all of this is that Lackey is the team's best starter now. Since the All-Star break, he's put up a 2.57 ERA and struk out 8.36 per nine innings, while Colon's ERA was almost exactly a run worse at 3.55, with only 6.18 K//9. Lackey was filthy on Sunday night, holding the Yankees hitless until a loud Jorge Posada double with two outs in the bottom of the fifth.
But Shawn Chacon had matched Lackey zero for zero up to that point, showing no signs of the lack of command one might have expected from a finesse pitcher on 10 days' layoff. He wasn't afraid to rely on his breaking ball, even at the expense of Ball One, and he struck out four, including Vlad Guerrero, in his first time through the order. Through five frames, he'd allowed just a lucky infield single by Vlad and looked every bit the cool customer he's been since arriving from Colorado.
• The fourth inning might be looked at as the demise of the Angels if they lose this series. Jorge Posada, not exactly known for his defensive skills, threw out two overly aggressive Angel runners in the inning. First, he nailed speedster Chone Figgins, who led the majors with 62 steals, after Figgins reached on an error by Hideki Matsui, who appeared to lose his fly ball in the lights. The throw was good, but it looked as though Robinson Cano was a bit late with the tag. The rookie managed to sell the call, and the Yanks caught a break.
Then Guerrero reached on a play in which Cano nearly made into highlight reel fodder, fielding the ball in short right, spinning and throwing to first just a fraction of a second too late to catch Vlad. Chacon's first pitch to Garret Anderson bounced in the dirt and under Posada, hitting home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez in the foot. Miraculously, Posada managed to find the ball, whirl and throw a perfect peg down to second to impale the Impaler. It was a once in a lifetime play for Posada, and it ended the inning. For all of the talk about the Angels' aggressiveness, here it cost them dearly. On the series, Posada has now thrown out four out of five runners attempting to steal., effectively neutralizing the running game.
• In the end, the pitchers' duel turned into a war of attrition, with the more patient team winning out. The Angels drew just one walk, a four-pitch one by Juan Rivera to lead off the sixth. Rivera came around to score the game's first run on a Figgins double, and Figgins scored one pitch later on an Orlando Cabrera double.
But the Yanks answered back when Alex Rodriguez, otherwise rather ineffective in this series, worked a one-out walk, one of eight by the Yankees on the night. That was the beginning of the end for Lackey. Rodriguez advanced to second as Lackey turned Jason Giambi's bat into toothpicks (for what, the third time this series?), then Gary Sheffield, also very quiet thus far, promptly singled the run home on the first pitch to cut the lead in half, ending Lackey's night at a mere 78 pitches.
The magic of patience paid off against reliever Scot Shields as well. Shields extricated the Angels from the sixth with the lead and the Yankees required the miracle of Al Leiter getting a double-play in relief of Chacon to end the seventh with the score still 2-1. Cano reached on an infield single and after Bernie Williams flied out -- with the crowd chanting his name, knowing it might be his final game in pinstripes -- Posada drew a walk, his second of three on the night.
With two on and Bubba Crosby's spot up, Joe Torre tapped Ruben Sierra, not the most patient of hitters, to pinch-hit. Sierra, to his eternal credit, waited out Shield's first two offerings for balls, fouled one off, and then ripped a game-tying RBI single that showed why Torre would willingly carry his love child to term. Posada alertly took third on the throw home, while Cano came in standing up on a play that was too close to do so; memories of Jeremy Giambi failing to slide in Game Three of the 2001 LDS -- you know, "The Flip"
-- came up like indigestion.
Posada taking third was HUGE. Derek Jeter followed by grounding to Figgins at third base and Figgins, handcuffed by the ball, took a fraction of a second too long to throw home. Posada slid in just under a tag made by Bengie Molina's mitt, which unfortunately for the Angels, didn't have the ball; Molina picked up the throw barehanded and didn't touch Posada's left leg until his right foot had already touched home. Though Molina and Scioscia argued, replays showed Marquez made the right call, and suddenly the Yanks had the lead.
Credit the Yanks for grinding out three runs on just four hits, and putting a two-run rally together with little more than chewing gum and bailing wire. It wasn't pretty, but it was pretty big.
• With that play, the Chone Figgins Magic Carpet Ride may have crashed. Figgins had made pivotal defensive plays at both third and centerfield in the two Angels' wins, but on this night, he could do no right. On Sheffield's RBI single, he failed to cut off Garret Anderson's throw, and the ball tailed up the first base line, making Molina's attempt to nail the vertical Cano in vain. On Jeter's grounder his throw was again just a moment too late and too far up the first base line for Molina to make the play. Angel defense: another myth crumbles.
• The sudden lead change only amplified Torre's decision to turn to Mariano Rivera to start the eighth; with the season on the line and the rest of the Yankee bullpen blowing chunks, he had no choice even if the Yanks had failed to regain the lead. With the lead, it was the best of all possible worlds to have the greatest closer in postseason history with the season on the line. Even in the face of perhaps needing Rivera for Game Five, Torre wisely followed the famous Leo Durocher line: "Never save a pitcher for tomorrow -- tomorrow it may rain."
Rivera looked a little shaky to start the eighth, falling behind 2-0 to Juan Rivera before drawing a groundout. He fell behind Steve Finley, but struck him out looking; Finley simply dropped the bat on a strike three that hit the outside corner as if to say, "No chance. No chance at all." He finished by getting Kennedy to ground out as well.
The Yanks didn't score in the eighth, but what they did do may well prove key for Game Five. Facing Kelvim Escobar, Cano, of all people, drew a one-out walk on a seven-pitch at-bat, then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Posada worked another walk on a six-pitch at-bat, and both runners moved up on another wild pitch. By the time Tino Martinez popped out, Escobar had thrown 35 pitches to get five outs. The Yanks patiently waited through his sliders, knowing that he relies on geting hitters to chase balls outside the strike zone. Not on this night.
Since returning from surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow and joining the Angels' pen, Escobar has not pitched on back-to-back days, and the times he's crossed 30 pitches, he's had at least three days' rest before returning. In all likelihood, the abortive Yankee rally may have taken him out of the equation for tonight. Much will be made of the fact that the Yanks have left too many men on base and wasted opportunities, but it's important to create those opportunities in the first place. The Yanks have outwalked the Angels 20-3 on the series, and if the vaunted Angel bullpen comes up short in this sereies, that will be a big part of the story.
So it came down to Rivera facing the top of the Angels' lineup. He got Figgins looking to end a seven-pitch at-bat, then drew a weak comebacker from Cabrera. This brought up Guerrero, capable of tying the game with one swing of the bat. But Rivera quicky got ahead 0-2, then battled four more pitches (two balls, two fouls) until the fearsome slugger grounded sharpy to Cano at second, and suddenly it was time to cue L.L. Cool J's "Going Back to Cali." It was his 36th pitch on the night, but you can guarantee that won't stop him from coming back in the same situation tonight.
• So now the two teams will play ball again some 13 hours after landing 3,000 miles away. Game One starter Mike Mussina, who remained on the West Coast while the rest of the team traveled back to New York, will presumably be the most rested player on either team, which should help the Yanks. Randy Johnson and Chien-Ming Wang will both be available to augment the shaky bullpen in front of Rivera. In an elimination game, it's all hands on deck, and as Johnson himself -- not to mention Roger Clemens yesterday afternoon -- has shown a couple of times, baseball theater absolutely does not get any better than when the ace starter comes out of the pen with the season on the line. Pass the popcorn. It's on, baby.
• Win or lose for the Yankees -- and I think the matchup favors NYY tonight, because their patience will help their cause -- my next responsibility is to crank out the ALCS preview for BP in time for Tuesday night's game (a Daily News report
that Game One might slide back to Wednesday was later refuted
by the same paper). If I don't offer up more than a cursory post to comment on tonight's result, rest assured that I'll be back soon enough.
What an amazing day of watching baseball. Saturday night, as the Padres worked the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth
, somebody on BP's mailing list said that they smelled three Game Fours on Sunday. The Padres didn't convert, ending their season with a sweep by the Cardinals as befitting the Worst Division Winning Team Ever. But we got 27 innings of baseball on Sunday, including a record-setting 18
from the Astros as they eliminated the Braves, 7-6 in a game that lasted nearly six hours.
Thankfully, I've got a TiVo. And if you don't, I pity you, because there was likely no way to make it through that ballgame sane. The lack of scoring in extra innings prevented it from being a classic on the order of the 16-inning Mets-Astros Game Six
from 1986. But like that one, they'll still be talking about it 20 years from now, especially in Houston.
I tuned into the game when it was scoreless in the top of the third, spooling the recorder as I made myself a rather elaborate chorizo and black bean burrito from scratch. Mmmmm, burrito. It turned out I'd started recording just in time to see the Braves load the bases for an Adam LaRoche grand slam off of Astros starter Brad Backe. When rookie Brian McCann homered to make the score 6-1 in the eighth, I was counting on a Game Five.
But the Braves' bullpen, the bane of their existence since John Smoltz returned to the rotation, struck again. In the three previous games of this series, the pen had allowed eight runs in 6.1 innings, with Chris Reitsma surrendering six of them. Kyle Farnsworth, the closer Braves GM John Schuerholz acquired from Detroit at the trading deadline, came in after Tim Hudson yielded a walk and an infield single, got an out on a fielders choice only to load the bases by walking Luke Scott, a light-hitting (.188/.270/.288) backup outfielder. Lance Berkman then made playoff history by smacking the game's second grand slam, cutting the score to 6-5. Go figure.
It looked like the Braves might survive despite the grand slam when Farnsworth got the first two batters to start the ninth. But Brad Ausmus, with all of 71 homers and a slugging percentage of .353 to show for his 13-year career, hit a game-tying shot just inches above the yellow line in in left-center as the Juice Box crowd went wild. Hello, extra innings.
I stuck around through the bottom of the tenth, when pinch-hitter Jeff Bagwell came to the plate with two out and two on. The Hall of Fame-bound Bagwell has missed most of the season with some severe shoulder problems, but after surgery, he's recovered to the point of being able to pinch-hit. He'd already delivered an RBI pinch-single that helped to break Game One open for the Astros, but with retirement perhaps on his horizon, this was an emotional moment for the Houston crowd. Alas, he flew out to end the threat, and I left the house to go run some errands. It was 4:30 Eastern time. Reflexively, I set the TiVo to continue recording the remaining 2.5 hours of "To Be Announced," figuring I'd have time to catch up with the game-ending hit before I flipped over to the Yankees game.
Walking back home around 6:15, I passed my gym, where you can see the TVs above the treadmills from the street. I didn't look too hard, but one of the monitors had a guy wearing a red shirt and a silhouette that I knew all too well could only be Roger Clemens. I shook it off; must be a highlight previewing Game Five or the start of the next series. Whatever. I got home 15 minutes later and began playing the TiVo, watching the extra frames by fast-forwarding to get to the payoff pitch. for each batter. It wasn't purity, but it did nicely for someone tuning in late.
By the 14th inning or so, when Clemens was actually down in the Astro pen all by his lonesome, it dawned on me that what I had seen was no highlight, so I sped through to see the Rocket enter the game as a pinch-hitter for Dan Wheeler in the bottom of the 15th, delivering a textbook sacrifice bunt that put the winning run in scoring position with one out.
No luck with that, and so Clemens was left to throw not one but three innings in his first relief appearance since 1984, and on two days' rest, no less. But the Rocket had enough adrenaline to blow the ball by tired Braves hitters, yielding only a pinch-double to Brian Jordan (another wounded warrior likely headed for retirement). Meanwhile the two managers went through their entire rosters of position players, with only Braves catcher Johnny Estrada failing to see action. Astros manager Phil Garner moved Ausmus to first base for a few innings, one of four players to see time there. Eric Bruntlet, who entered the game in the eighth, shuttled between shortstop and centerfield three times.
In the 17th, Braves manager Bobby Cox called upon rookie Joey Devine, he of the grand slams in his first two major league appearances and nearly another one in Game One. Devine had also failed to retire a batter in Game Three, allowing two hits and a walk. It didn't take too much imagination to envision the Braves' season ending with him on the mound. He burned through one inning, striking out two, and came back for more, mainly because the Braves had no one left, except for a couple of fellow rookies, both lefty specialists.
The TiVo recording was running out in the bottom of the 18th, and I was cursing my luck that the last batter would apparently be Clemens striking out. But I made it through to see Chris Burke, a rookie with just five homers and a .368 slugging percentage on the year, hammering a 2-0 pitch over the wall in leftfield. My recording ran out just as he was rounding first base. Incredible.
Chalk up another bitter playoff defeat for Bobby Cox and a hefty addition to the Clemens legend. With the Rocket having allowed five runs in Game Two, he needed a bit of redemption, and he got it. Texas-sized, no less.
Back later with some notes on the Yankees game.
Sunday, October 09, 2005
David Laurila of the Red Sox Nation
website recently interviewed
me on the topic of -- what else? -- Mind Game
as part of a five-part series (part one, with Steve Goldman
, is already up). Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, and relief aces were some of the topics I addressed. Here's a sample:
RSN: If the Red Sox were smart enough to acquire David Ortiz, why weren't other teams -- specifically the Yankees with their inviting porch in right field?
JJ: The Yanks had just made a huge commitment (7 yrs/$120 million) to Jason Giambi, and he'd hit a pretty sweet .314/.435/.598 with 41 homers in the first year of the contract. They also were developing Nick Johnson, an OBP machine with some power and a decent glove, better at least than Giambi's, and considered the jewel of an otherwise nearly barren farm system. At that point they were well covered at the position, and they didn't really have a need for another slow, burly DH type.
Let's not forget that prior to 2003, Ortiz had shown some potential but not accomplished very much prior to coming to Boston. His best season was worth only about 3.5 WARP because of injuries, usage issues, and clashes with the Twins brass. Many teams were turned off by what appeared to be a pretty limited collection of talents, and big, slow first base types who don't field well are a dime a dozen. The credit goes to the Sox management for spotting a diamond in the rough and to hitting coach Ron Jackson for helping Ortiz figure out how to take advantage of his strength and of Fenway.
One of the questions I was asked dealt with a finding credited to fellow BP author James Click, namely, that a pitcher's ERA improves the more he faces the team. Based solely on what I saw in Mind Game
, which is to say a very brief summary of some deeper research, I have a hard time accepting that premise. Oddly enough, today's New York Times
, in the "Keeping Score" column by David Leonhardt where BP authors have made several appearances, takes a look
at Click's work. Here, the assertion appears to be the opposite:
Pitchers are at their most effective in their first appearance of the season against an opponent. In that situation last season, starters had an E.R.A. about 0.23 lower than their season-long average, according to research by James Click of Baseball Prospectus, an online magazine.
The advantage disappears in the next matchup, and the playing field is essentially level. Facing a team for the second or third time, pitchers roughly matched their average performance, Click found.
Then the edge goes to the hitters. A pitcher's E.R.A. rises about 0.22 above his average during appearances four, five and beyond.
So this would appear to say that the advantage goes to the hitter as the gets more acquainted, something which makes much more intuitive sense. Particularly when it comes to relievers with limited repertoires, the hitter's familiarity with his stuff would appear to be an advantage.
I asked Click a handful of questions about the piece -- specifically, where the data is coming from -- and he pointed me to this piece
from back in April. Data for 2002, 2003, and 2004 all shows a similar trend of pitchers improving slightly the more times they face a team, but once the selection bias of having only the better pitchers come back for repeat engagements, the tables turn:
As opposed to the apparent improvement in performance as appearances increase, pitchers actually perform worse as their appearances mount. Pitchers performed about a quarter of a run better in their initial appearance against batters than we would expect from their complete season performance, but performed steadily worse as appearances mounted. The discrepancy between the expected and actual ERA in the initial performance against a team is especially conclusive given the massive sample size of innings involved in the initial appearance. Teams may be pretty good about selecting the correct pitchers for the majority of the playing time, but diminishing returns increase as those pitchers face the same teams more and more during a season.
So the scales tip in favor of the hitters as time goes on, contrary to what was asserted in the interview and when the topic was briefly addressed in Mind Game
. In an email, Click told me that the issue is something he's been meaning to revisit on a larger scale, so I don't think we've heard the last on the topic. Stay tuned.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
More bullets, because time isn't on my side today:
• The weather last night at Yankee Stadium looked awful, conditions hardly befitting the swing game
of a playoff series. Play was never delayed, but the field looked to be fairly waterlogged. Players were slipping, players had a very difficult time holding onto the ball, the mound required in-game attention from the grounds crew, and it all made for some ugly baseball. When Francisco Rodriguez, to use a notable example, slipped on the mound in the ninth, it could have changed the series and, God forbid, his career with only slightly worse luck.
Both starting pitchers suffered, but the 42-year-old with the bad back and the degenerative knee didn't look comfortable. I actually missed the top of the first, when Garret Anderson smacked a three-run homer, because I was frantically trying to finish the TiVo'd Red Sox-White Sox game on ESPN2, but BP's injury expert, Will Carroll, noted on-list that Randy Johnson was having trouble trying to loosen his back. His pitches were up in the zone, though that appeared to be as much game plan as physically-induced result. Either way, he got slapped around by the Angels, giving up nine hits and five runs over three innings.
I had to cringe when the Yankee Stadium crowd booed Johnson upon his being taken out. No, he hasn't had a stellar year, but given his performance down the stretch, particularly the two big wins over the Red Sox in September, the Yanks wouldn't even be playing in October. It was a horseshit reaction from what's normally a classy group of fans, and even siting at home warm and dry, I was embarrassed to be a Yankee fan. Horseshit.
It didn't help Johnson's cause that the Yanks had 104 years of age wading around in that wet outfield; Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams and Gary Sheffield aren't the most nimble of cats in the best of circumstances, and the team is paying the price for lousy design under the worst conditions. The Angels lashed out 19 hits last night, their batting average on balls in play was .472 (17 out of 36). Part of that was hittable pitching, but the defense did them no favors.
• Aaron Small did a great job in his first two innings relieving Johnson, beginning with a Houdini-like escape from a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth with a rare strikeout and then a double-play; Joe Torre later compared it to Mike Mussina's rare relief effort in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. The Yanks appeared to draw some energy off of that escape, putting four runs on the board in the bottom of the inning to cut the lead to 5-4 and then another two in the next inning.
But the chariot Small rode to his 10-0 record turned into a pumpkin in the sixth. Small gave up a run on a Juan Rivera double and a Darin Erstad single. He was one pitch away from escaping with the score tied 6-6 when Adam Kennedy's blooper fell between Williams and Robinson Cano. It was a lucky break for the Angels that probably couldn't have been defended by any team under the best of conditions, but the wet field certainly didn't help, and at the very least it cost the Yanks an extra base when Ertad took third.
With runners on first and third, next came Chone Figgins, 0-for-11 on the series. Naturally, he blooped a ball into right-center, and Williams and Sheffield converged like a pair of rest-home occupants paddling canoes as they cut the ball off to prevent the speedster from turning it into a double. That gave the Angels the lead, 7-6, and ended what had been an uplifiting performance from Small on a sour note.
Despite his 10-0, 3.20 ERA record on the year, Small's peripherals don't say he's that good, of course. Internally, one of BP's fertile minds introduced a new ERA estimator the other day, one that uses K, BB, and groundball-flyball ratios. Small comes up at 5.01 there; his low HR rate (0.47 per nine innings) is what allowed him to beat that considerably.
• The Yankee relief corps(e) just got worse after Small. Tanyon Sturtze needed just one pitch to escape the sixth, but Tom Gordon was lost, yielding a Vlad Guerrero single, plunking Bengie Molina (who had hit his third homer in as many games in the third) on the elbow, and then another single to Anderson, who broke out with four hits on the night, including the homer and a triple off of Johnson.
The point of no return happened on Gordon's watch, another bad break for the Yanks. Sheffield's throw home on Anderson's single had allowed Jose Molina, who pinch-ran for his brother, to take third when it hit Guerrero as he slid home and bounce away from Jorge Posada. Juan Rivera then hit a grounder to Alex Rodriguez at third base. A-Rod's body was in line to throw to first, but when Cano darted over to cover second, he threw there to try for the force.
The slight delay on A-Rod's proved damaging. Replays were in doubt as to whether Cano's foot was touching the bag when he received the throw, but this was a classic "neighborhood play" of the type that generally protect second basemen from having to endure takeout slides and surgery to repair torn ACLs. Universally despised
ump Cowboy Joe West, a belligerent sack of shit on even his most friendly days (and also the man who made the ruling on A-Rod's sissy slap last ALCS), called him safe. Joe Torre came out of the dugout to argue to no avail, and the bases were loaded with no outs.
As if that weren't a scary enough proposition, Torre then called Al Leiter's number. To his credit, Leiter tackled the situation about as well as possible, striking out Erstad to begin things. But with the lefty still on the mound to face Steve Finley, the Angels recognized a mismatch. Angels skipper Mike Scioscia put on a squeeze play, with the slothlike Molina advancing down the third base line like a wandering buffalo. Leiter's back was to the runner, and he delivered the pitch home, where Finley dropped down a bunt, and another run was chalked to make the score 9-6. "You can do it all the time with a lefthanded pitcher on the mound. A lefthanded pitcher can never see the guy break from third base," noted Joe Morgan in one of his more insightful comments of the night.
After the Yanks went meekly in the seventh (Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez lasted a combined seven pitches, flailing at at hitters' counts), Torre left Leiter in to start the eighth, and he began things by yielding a triple to Figgins that was aided by some butchery by Hideki Matusi, who failed to recognize that the ball would bounce off of the left-center wall and then pegged the speedster as he slid into third. Orlando Caberra flied to center, and once again, the Angels didn't test Bernie Williams' weak arm, but one intentional walk and a Scott Proctor (ugh) appearance later, it became academic with a pair of singles on Proctor's first three pitches that ran the score to 11-6. Overcoming one five-run deficit is within the Yankee offense's capabilities, particularly given lousy starting pitching and soft middle relief but overcoming a second one against a dominant Angels bullpen wasn't going to happen.
• For all of the praise heaped on Cano's clutch hitting in the series -- he drove in the tying run in the fifth -- his fatal flaw was revealed in the bottom of the sixth. With the bases loaded and two outs, he swung Scot Shields' first pitch, lofting a harmless fly ball right to Anderson to end the inning.
Of the 342 players who totaled at least 200 major league plate appearances on the season, Cano saw the fewest pitches of any of them, just 3.05 per PA; the next closest was Pablo Ozuna at 3.16. For all of the good things a .297 batting average and a .458 slugging percentage portend for a 22-year old, the lack of any patience whatsoever (just 15 unintenional walks in 551 PAs) will severely limit his value as he develops.
• Now down 2-1, the Yanks are in trouble. With all due praise to Shawn Chacon for the job he did since coming over from Colorado , he's another put-in-play pitcher, with just 40 strikeouts in 79 innings pitched for the Yanks. Playing on what's likely going to be another waterlogged field -- even given the word of Saturday's postponement just as I was finishing this
, he needs better defensive support than the Yanks got last night. That he generates a lot of popups (a 0.90 G/F ratio on the year) will help his cause, but the Yanks would do well to put Bubba Crosby out in centerfield, play Giambi at first base, and DH Williams, who's 4-for-10 on the series. With lefty Jarrod Washburn going for the Angels, that may be academic, especially given Williams' lifetime 5-for-16 with four doubles against him, but it's a point worth making nonetheless.
In any event, it's an uphill climb for the Yanks, who now need to win a game in New York, fly 3000 miles and win another one in Anaheim, only to fly to Chicago to begin the LCS in a very jet-lagged state against a team that will be well-rested thanks to yesterday's clinching.
I'd put the Yanks' chances of pulling it off at about one in three at best. In their favor, Game Five starter Mussina -- never the best traveler, if you'll recall from the Japan debacle that began last year -- has remained on the West Coast and would be well-rested.
• Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead! I expended a lot of energy rooting against the Red Sox yesterday afternoon
, so much so that I was rather blasé watching the Yanks lose. El Duque's three innings of stellar relief -- including an escape from a bases-loaded, no out situation in the sixth with Boston trailing by one, only lengthened his legend as an October hero. Particularly impressive was his striking out David Ortiz in the seventh; at that point the fork looked to be in the Red Sox.
The powerful Boston lineup hit just three homers on the series, all of them yesterday, all of them solo shots off of their two biggest bats, Manny Ramirez and Ortiz. Limiting the damage those two caused was one real reason the White Sox pulled through.
Another was the fine sacrifice bunt the team pulled off in the top of the ninth. Now, as a stathead, of course I normally disdain the sac bunt, and I dislike the extent to which the White Sox, a team that hit 199 homers on the year, has been characterized as a small ball squad. But the difference between a 4-3 lead and a 5-3 one at that point was huge (according to BP data whiz James Click, the extra run cut the Red Sox chances by about 40 percent, from a 10 percent chance of winning to less than six percent). After A.J. Pierzynski's leadoff double, the Sox used two successive bunts to bring him home, the latter on a bold squeeze play. Mike Timlin's Hail Mary pitch glanced off of Jason Varitek's glove, and to the fork already sticking out of the Red Sox collective ass was added a very sharp knife, turned 90 degrees by Ozzie Guillen.
For all of the pleasure I took in watching the Red Sox elimination, I sincerely take my hat off to the team, and not just to throw it into the air with glee. World Championships are very difficult things to come by, as Red Sox Nation has been reminded all too recently after last year's triumph. The Sox-Yanks battles over the past three years in particular -- encompassing the John Henry/Theo Epstein regime -- have been heavyweight bouts of incredible intensity, a storied chapter in baseball history (one that even gave me the opportunity to write a couple of chapters of my own
to add to the narrative). But it's been perhaps a bit too much for all of us to remain sane through. The bombast needs a break, the fans and media on both sides need a welcome dose of perspective. As good as the storyline might have been for another ALCS rematch, I look forward to seeing what comes of a new storyline, and that's whether or not -- or make that weather or not -- it includes the Yankees.
• If I disappear from writing in this space sometime in the next few days, it's because I'm preparing the ALCS preview for Baseball Prospectus. That's a plum assignment I look forward to tackling, but the turnaround may preclude me from writing about the Yanks here in a timely manner..
• Baseball fans in NYC of both Yanks and Sox colors, come on out to Coliseum Books (11 West 42nd St. at 6 PM) to hear Steve Goldman, Cliff Corcoran, Ben Murphy and myself discussing Mind Game
. You won't be missing any action on the TV, that's for sure.
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