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.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Yanksfan vs Soxfan Interview II

Here's Part II of the interview which I did with the fine folks at Yanksfan vs. Soxfan. If you missed Part I last week, you can catch up here. The guys came up with some great questions about the Yankees, Red Sox and the rest of the AL East.

YFSF: How psyched are you for Phil Hughes?

JJ: Very, as this kid looks to be the real deal, not to mention the cornerstone of a plan that might see the Yanks rein in their payroll a bit and reap the benefits of growing their own pitchers. That said, I don't think he should start the season with the Yankees no matter how good a spring he has. The scattered April schedule means more days off and fewer opportunities for a fifth starter, and let's face it, the Yanks aren't going to introduce him in the rotation as anything higher than that because the pressure is too great, the hype too overwhelming.

The additional benefit of waiting is the increased likelihood that Hughes won't have enough service time to be arbitration-eligible after the 2009 season, as it takes three full years except for the "Super Twos" (the top 1/6 of the players who have just under three years of service time). That's not an abstract issue, because young pitchers, even great ones, get hurt all the time, and the longer you can wait before you have to pay him big bucks, the better.

Geez, I've already got Hughes to the point of being an overpriced, broken-down bum like Carl Pavano. Sorry about that.

YFSF: Losing Sheff and Randy: addition by subtraction? How do you rate the Yankee offseason?

JJ: To the extent that it rids the Yankees of two aged and potentially fragile players who often create distractions, addition by subtraction is an apt term. That said, I will miss Gary Sheffield; he was a pleasure to watch when he was healthy here, whether he was cracking home runs, ripping life-threatening foul balls down the leftfield line, or simply waving that bat like a tiger waiting to pounce. Or even jabbering about whatever perceived slight he'd endured; that's Gary being Gary just like Manny is Manny. So long as he's not committing any crimes, you just have to laugh at the hubbub about what he says or does and let the guy hit.

The bottom line is that 38-year-olds coming off soft-tissue wrist injuries aren't the horses to be betting on, particularly when they seem more concerned with their next contract than the distraction they cause. He'll be missed, but let Detroit deal with his luggage.

As for Johnson, the same goes doubly for 43-year-old pitchers coming off of back surgery and dealing with Synvisc injections, terminal surliness and potential mullet regrowth. I really wish things had worked out better for him in New York -- he's a favorite from way back, even when he was handing the Yanks their lunch money -- but he was pretty much just a more durable Kevin Brown last year. Blech.

I do like the direction the Yanks went this offseason, stockpiling young arms in deals for those two and elsewhere (such as the Jaret Wright trade, which brought Chris Britton in return). Growing your own pitching is a tremendously worthwhile endeavor that can save the Yankees millions of dollars worth of bad contracts in the future. The fewer Pavanos, the better.

YFSF: Willy Mo Pena: future star, or Boston's Balboni?

JJ: Pena's a curious collection of raw talents and bad habits. The dude can hit, though his plate discipline leaves something to be desired, and his defense... aye chihuahua. It will be interesting to see if any of what he diid last year in the wake of his wrist injury carries over; he showed more patience and ability to hit to all fields than in the past, and I've heard reports that he handled breaking balls better than previously.

Pena's certainly more athletic than Balboni ever was, but not so much that he should be allowed to play centerfield ever again. I wonder if they can teach him to play first base. Keeping on the Balboni comparison, he'll almost certainly enjoy a much better career; remember that he was playing semi-regularly at 22 where Balboni didn't get a full shot until age 27. Huge difference from a developmental standpoint.

YFSF: Moose: There's a strong statistical case for the Hall. Will he make it? Should he?

JJ: Moose is one of nine active or recently retired pitchers whose JAWS scores are better than the average Hall of Fame pitcher:

Pitcher Career Peak JAWS
Clemens 192.9 83.5 138.2
Maddux 165.6 81.9 123.8
R. Johnson 136.6 78.1 107.4
Glavine 129.4 61.4 95.4
Martinez 113.7 75.3 94.5
Mussina 110.1 62.5 86.3
Smoltz 114.1 57.7 85.9
Schilling 103.3 63.4 83.4
K. Brown 100.5 62.9 81.7
Avg HOF P 99.0 62.7 80.9
He's in the middle of the pack here, but the problem is that he's lacking the three major peripherals which could get him over the top without having 300 wins (he's at 239 and counting): no Cy Young award, no World Championship, and no postseason dominance (he's 7-8 with a 3.40 ERA, respectable but hardly Gibsonesque). Compare that to Schilling, who's behind him here and in wins (207) but has an 8-2, 2.06 ERA line in postseason, including two rings. Compare that to Smoltz (193 wins plus 154 saves) and a 15-4, 2.65 line in October, including one ring. Moose will suffer by comparison in the eyes of voters.

YFSF: What's your analysis of the Boston closer situation? Are the Sox better off with Paps in the pen or the rotation? Is the closer-by-commitee solution tenable in Boston?

JJ: The closer situation right now looks like a 2003-esque trainwreck in the making. Mike Timlin's nursing oblique issues while coming off a year where he really showed his age; he would't last the year as closer. Joel Pineiro is a worthwhile gamble; anytime you move a starter to the bullpen, you let him narrow his repertoire to the pitches he throws well, dodge his stamina issues and reap the benefits of increased fastball velocity. But Pineiro's got mechanical issues that need solving before he can be what the Sox envision. I have a feeling they'll start the year with Julian Tavarez or Brendan Donnelly in the role just as the last man standing, and I think they have to have somebody in there, because the moment "closer-by-committee" is whispered to a reporter, the ghost of Grady Little will come out of the woodwork and it will be hell for Terry Francona and Theo Epstein.

I expect the team to make a trade before they'll go that route. If I were them I'd see what it takes to land Fernando Rodney or some other closer in waiting.

I think the Sox have to respect the needs and wishes of Papelbon to return to the rotation, as good as he was in the bullpen. You can't have him turning up sore-shouldered in September. Just as importantly, I don't think there was any guarantee he'd continue his early-season dominance once the league got more looks at him.

YFSF: How does the division shake out? Do the Rays pass the O's? Are the Jays a serious threat? Will the division get the wild card?

JJ: I still see the Yanks ahead of the Red Sox because they've got fewer question marks, particularly in the bullpen. If I'm a Sox fan, I'm concerned about Mike Lowell bouncing back to the way he hit in the first half, about underpowered Kevin Youkilis at first, about Coco Crisp returning to form. Aside from Pavano and the gaping hole at first base, I don't think there's anybody on the Yankees that gives as much concern, and at least in the former case, the Yanks have some warm bodies to bridge the gap until the point where Phil Hughes is ready.

As for the rest, it's still tough to envision the Jays cracking the top two, not with gimps Gustavo Chacin, Tomo Ohka and John Thomson as potentially 3/5 of their rotatoin. Nor is it easy to see the Rays leaving the cellar without improvements to their rotation. If they can convert their surplus of outfielders -- Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes, B.J. Upton (yeah, that's likely where he'll settle) -- into some pitching, I like their chances better, but until then, no.

As for the Wild Card, I think the AL Central, which could have the Tigers, Twins, Indians and White Sox all competing, may yet again threaten the return of the East's second-place team to the postseason. Last year was quite a reminder that there's no birthright which guarantees both teams make the postseason, though I expect the Red Sox to make a much stronger go of it than in 2006.

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