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.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Busy, Busy, Busy

It's been a busy week here at Futility Central. In addition to today's Prospectus Hit List, I had a JAWS Notebook article at BP, a piece on the AL Central for the New York Sun, sidecar Unfiltered entries to both of those pieces, and three radio spots — Toledo, Ohio, College Station, Texas, and my usual XM gig.

Somewhere in there I found time to take in the Yankees-Red Sox series, albeit with my thumb pumping the Tivo remote's fast-forward button. I've literally become tired of watching Yankee games; the combination of the team's recent mediocrity and typical plodding pace is a total drag when on a given night you can watch about a dozen other games moving along at a more sprightly pace (offer not valid in Boston). Even with the Tivo, watching Kyle Farnsworth endlessly fidget outside the strike zone is no fun.

Nonetheless, it was good to see a bit of energy flowing through the Yankees as they beat up on Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling; the benefits of time-shifting allowed me to pause after Hideki Matsui's home run in the latter to cue Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" for an impromptu celebration of the team's 3-0 first-inning lead against the Tubby Bitch. And then to see Doug Mientkiewicz upper deck Schilling, both literally and figuratively, aw yeahhh. Derek Jeter passing Joe DiMaggio for fifth place on the Yankee hit list in the midst of a streak of his own added icing to the cake, as did watching Alex Rodriguez get his groove back with homers in three consecutive games, not to mention a nasty take-out slide of Dustin Pedroia that drew words from Boston. Hey, when Jason Varitek takes off his mask to fight A-Rod instead of hiding behind it like a pussy, the latter can send flowers to Pedroia.

Nonetheless, it was a bit of a dark week in Yankeeland for the off-the-field stuff. Jason Giambi's steroid-related comments drew an audience with Bud Selig, not to mention talk of a voided contract (no chance, and given the Yanks' cynical contract concessions none deserved) and a failed amphetamine test (quite likely a smear job from within MLB offices; Peter Gammons says that Giambi hasn't been asked to take follow-up tests, which would have occurred after a positive). My BP colleague Joe Sheehan had an excellent column (free, not subscription-only) on the Giambi situation:
The specifics of Giambi’s point can be debated, but the central idea here, the one that blame for the nominal Steroid Era lies with personnel both in and out of uniform, cannot. The players who took performance-enhancing drugs shoulder the majority of any responsibility, but to absolve non-uniformed personnel, up to and including the ones on Park Avenue, is folly. We live in an era in which the idea of “clubhouse chemistry” is considered a tangible thing that can be manipulated and monitored. With that the case, it’s silly to think that front offices, spending all kinds of time looking for the right mix of personalities, could not be aware of a different sort of chemistry making the rounds.

Fourteen months ago, Commissioner Bud Selig drafted George Mitchell to investigate the use of PEDs in baseball during the pre-testing era. I said at the time, and I believe now, that the Mitchell Commission is a cynical exercise in public relations, designed to turn up no surprises. What I didn’t see coming was how the Commission would be used to focus blame for the era exclusively on uniformed personnel. Every time the Commission makes the news, it’s in some way reflecting badly on the players: they won’t talk, they won’t give up medical records, they won’t cooperate. If the Commission isn’t going to make any new findings along the way, it will certainly make sure to establish in the public eye who the villains are.

To which I say, “enough.” The Mitchell Commission isn’t going to—and isn’t designed to—make any discoveries about the nominal Steroid Era. It has neither the authority nor the gravitas to do any real work. It exists merely in the hopes that it will provide a veneer of credibility to official disdain and/or condemnation of the media-approved bad guys of the timeframe.

The Mitchell Commission should be disbanded. It should be disbanded because all it’s doing is extending the shelf life of a story that does the game no good. MLB isn’t going to get anywhere by trying to figure out who was doing what five to 10 years ago; there’s nothing that can be done, and no credible way or sorting out the impact of PEDs on gameplay, wins and losses, or statistics. If the evidence in Game of Shadows isn’t enough for the Commissioner to come down on Barry Bonds — and no, it’s not — then no amount of paper-shuffling and stern questioning is going to produce actionable information.

The Commission isn’t helping baseball. It’s only keeping a dead story alive, while shifting focus from the evidence we have from three years of testing, from MLB’s toughest-in-sports PED policy, from the great storylines created by the players on the field. In four seasons of testing, going back to the survey year, the number of positives has dropped from the high 80s in survey testing down to a single-digit number. Of the players who have tested positive, we’ve seen a mix of pitchers and hitters—putting the lie to the idea that steroids were responsible for the raised offensive levels of the 1990s—and the entire list has a Q rating comfortably behind your average “Dancing With the Stars” cast.
Also weighing in with a must-read is The New York Times' Harvey Araton:
Imagine if Jason Giambi had gone to the House Government Reform Committee hearing in March 2005 and said what he told a USA Today reporter last week.

Imagine if, after Mark McGwire had ceased stammering and Rafael Palmeiro stopped grandstanding and Sammy Sosa was done pretending he couldn’t understand English, it was Giambi’s turn and this is what he said:

“I was wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago was stand up — players, owners, everybody — and said: ‘We made a mistake.’ We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward.” In that setting, that context, can’t you hear the politicians and reporters gushing over Giambi, saluting him for setting a standard of accountability for the rest of baseball to follow?

Can’t you picture the commissioner, Bud Selig, thanking Giambi for placating the pols instead of summoning him to meet with baseball officials — as Giambi did Wednesday — and perhaps considering punitive action?
Meanwhile, it appears Carl Pavano's tenure in pinstripes is mercifully over, as the various big-name surgeons consulted confirmed that Pavano is a candidate for Tommy John surgery. As I said in the Hit List, here's hoping Dr. Octagon — or Dr. Nick Riviera or Dr. Leo Spaceman, depending which flavor of pop-culture quack you prefer — performs the operation, preferably after some Yankee official slips the guy a $20 and tells him to take a detour through the abdominal cavity. After drinking a six-pack, preferably.

I did a quick bit of figuring on Pavano's contract, comparing it to the infamous Darren Dreifort deal (five years, $55 million) the Dodgers handed out back in 2000. Using BP's marginal dollars per marginal win formula, Dreifort netted the Dodgers one extra win for every $13.1 million of the deal. Pavano blows that away, with one extra win for every $35 mil. It may take BP's equivalent of the Warren Commission to find a worse contract.

On the topic of marginal dollars per marginal win, do check out Maury Brown's tribute to the late Doug Pappas, the originator of that formula. It was three years ago this week that the game lost its foremost expert on financial matters and one of the biggest bees in Bud Selig's bonnet, a sad day indeed.

• • •

A bit more about those off-site articles of mine. The most interesting facet of the JAWS piece, to me at least, was the impact of Frankie Frisch on the Veterans' Committee from 1967-1973. Frisch led the way in the election of some of the Hall's most dubious members, particularly with regards to my methodology:
To give an idea of just how far off the mark these candidates — Frisch's Follies, if you will — are, [Chick] Hafey (CF), [Fred] Lindstrom (3B), [George] Kelly (1B), and we'll-include-him-anyway [post-Frisch honoree and former teammate Travis] Jackson (SS) rate as dead last among Hall of Famers at their positions according to JAWS, which makes them the players that I drop when I compute the positional averages (as explained here). [Jess] Haines is the second-to-last pitcher, which puts him in the same category (I drop four pitchers). [Ross] Youngs is second-to-last in rightfield,[Jim] Bottomley is third-to-last at first base. [Dave] Bancroft, sixth-to-last at shortstop (one hair ahead of Phil Rizzuto), is the closest thing to a defensible pick here.

...Bancroft aside, none of these players are within 25 JAWS points of the average Hall of Famer at their positions. Furthermore, out of the 138 hitters with a JAWS score, Bancroft ranks 100th, Jackson 119th, Youngs 126th, Lindstrom 134th, Kelly 136th, and Hafey 137th — that's right, three of the bottom five. To borrow a phrase suggested by Derek Jacques, these guys should pack their plaques.
Along with that, a look at the cases of Jeff Kent and Bobby Grich, the all-time ranking of Roger Clemens, I also found time to add JAWS to BP's glossary, a long-overdue move that can provide a quick reference for anyone looking for the system's explanation and standard numbers.

At the Sun (which is now free as well), I examined the likelihood that the AL Wild Card would come out of the Central division, as it did last year:
When the Red Sox went into a tailspin last August, the collapse hastened an end to their threeyear monopoly on the AL Wild Card. Confusion reigned, as though birthright and expense guaranteed playoff spots for the AL East's top two teams, the Sox and Yankees. That breach was filled by a thrilling AL Central race, as Minnesota overcame the upstart Tigers' early lead and fought off a late challenge by the defending World Champion White Sox. Though the Twins won the division, Detroit's wild card winners ultimately snagged the pennant.

With the Yankees currently limping along below .500 and nine games behind the sizzling Red Sox, the Central again appears poised to send two teams to the playoffs. This time it's a four-team race, with the Indians joining the White Sox, Tigers, and Twins. But which two teams will win out? Baseball Prospectus's Postseason Odds report uses a team's run-scoring and run-preventing proclivities, adjusted for park effects and quality of competition, in a simulation which plays out the rest of the season one million times. Run the numbers, and the Tribe (67%) and Tigers (47%) have the best shot at October, with both teams' chances dwarfing those of the Yankees (26%), though both are also well behind the Red Sox (93%).
Three days and a series win for the Yankees later, those odds are more or less unchanged: Red Sox 93.6 percent, Indians 57.5, Tigers 51.2, Yankees 27.5, White Sox 16.3, Twins 9.0. Further sobering news comes in the form of my quick hit at Unfiltered: "During the Wild Card era, just three teams have come from at least 10 [games] back to win a division flag, including last year’s Twins. However, 11 out of the 24 Wild Card teams have come back from double digits to make the playoffs. Five of those teams had fallen to 10 back by the 41-game mark [as this year's Yanks did], including the pre-Joe Torre 1995 Yankees, not to mention the 2002 Angels and 2003 Marlins, both of whom went on to win the World Series."

Rest easy on that one.

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Monday, May 21, 2007


Sympathy for the Pinstriped Devil

Outside of a pennant race or a playoff, the phrase "must-win" rarely has a place in baseball. The length of the schedule and the vagaries of hot-and-cold running hitters and pitchers require an ability to modulate such extremes, especially before Memorial Day has even rolled around.

But last night's 6-2 Yankee victory over the Mets was about as close to a must-win as the Yanks have had for awhile. Coming in at 18-23, having already lost the first two games of the Subway Series, and with a double-digit deficit in the AL East -- the first time since September 22, 1995 they've been so far back -- the Pinstripes had arguably reached the new nadir of the Joe Torre era.

Worse, they had Tyler Clippard, the sixth rookie and 11th pitcher overall to start a game for the Yanks, set to make his major league debut the day after fellow rook Darrell Rasner's season may have ended with a broken finger. The offense had produced just 31 runs over the previous seven-losses-in-nine games while hitting .247/.301/.391, with Bobby Abreu (.147 during that span), Alex Rodriguez (.176), Robinson Cano (.182), and a bone spur-addled Jason Giambi (.062) tying bricks around the feet of any potential rally. They were facing the NL's best team, the division-leading Mets.

Amid all of this, the team was making headlines for ugly reasons. First there were Kyle Farnsworth's comments about Roger Clemens' ability to come and go (better to send Farnsworth away for three days at a time; that's not much different from his inability to take the ball for consecutive games). Then came Jason Giambi's offhand comments about steroids, which may have unwittingly given the Yankees an opening to void the remaining $26 million of his contract, and Bud Selig an opening to grandstand by flexing his best-interests-of-baseball powers years after they may have been relevant to the matter at hand. And as ever, the Joe-will-go rumors are in the air like a noxious cloud.

For all of it, the Yanks looked like a fading diva caught in the harsh glare of the spotlight without adequate makeup. Dear Lord, turn off the Ugly!

Somehow, the Yankees pulled it together for one night. Clippard sparkled in his debut, limiting the NL's most potent offense to one run and three hits over six innings while striking out six. Jose Reyes went down swinging to open the game, while three of those K's -- David Wright, and Carlos Delgado times two -- were of the backwards variety. The rookie hurler even laced a double, joining the fun as the Yankee offense finally caught a break or two. Key was Johnny Damon's two-out bloop double in the fourth, which plated two runs and immediately preceded a two-run homer by Derek Jeter off a suddenly rattled John Maine. Jeter's been flat-out raking: .365/.443/.491, with hits in 38 out of 40 games (he holds a share of the season record of 135) and going back to last year, 73 out of his last 76. He's a .370 hitter against the Mets (85 for 230) during the history of interleague play. You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him.

Jorge Posada, who's only killing the ball at a .382/.441/.618 clip himself, extended his hitting streak to 15 by adding a solo shot in the fifth, while Rodriguez made the most of his late arrival to the outburst by chalking up his second homer in as many days. The bullpen preserved Clippard's big W, though Damion Easley homered off Mariano Rivera. You had to squint to see it, but for one night, the Yanks gave off the air of a championship-caliber ballclub.

Alas, that's hardly a consolation given that this was a salvage job for an otherwise disappointing series. And the road -- metaphorically speaking, since the Yanks are actually at home for the next week -- doesn't get any easier. The Red Sox, who at 30-13 have the majors' best record, are in town for a trifecta of agita-inducing games, and the Yanks can ill afford to lose any more ground to their archrivals. They've got a pair of nemeses in Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling surrounding would-be porn star Julian Tavarez -- yes, you may want to take a carrot peeler to your brain after that mental image comes through, but it ought to be good for some colorful commentary at the Stadium -- but at least they avoid the blisteringly hot (and just blistering) Josh Beckett. That series is followed by three more with the AL West-leading Angels, who've kicked the Torre-era Yanks' collective ass so hard they've worn through a pair of cleats.

As for the Giambi situation, this probably marks another turning point in the lengthy steroid saga. You can deplore what he did, but you'd still have to admit that since BALCO broke, Giambi's been the closest thing to a mensch about the matter among those implicated -- no excuses, no denials, no persecution complex, just putting his head down and trying to put the past behind him one pitch at a time. Fans and pundits rode his veiled apology hard a couple years back, and now they along with the feeble Selig, the odious Mitchell investigation, and even the cynical Yankee front office, which agreed to strike steroid language from his seven-year, $120 million deal, have decided to reward his candor with a "Gotcha!" Mark this, neither you nor the powers will hear another active player speak candidly about having used performance enhancers, because the media and the men in charge will instantly turn it against him.

That's unlikely to evoke sympathy for Giambi, or the Yanks, and with the big money invested in both it probably shouldn't. Right now, the wheezing $200 million dollar leviathan looks capable of being drowned in a half-inch of water, and there's no shortage of people who've been waiting for that show for all too long.


Friday, May 18, 2007


Mickey Mouse Baseball

It's Subway Series time, and if you can detect the lack of enthusiasm here, well, that's because the series finds the Yankees -- 12th on this week's Hit List -- reeling as they head out to Shea Stadium, 18-21 and having lost their last two series. Here's what I had to say about them:
It Gets Late Early Out There: five losses in seven games drive the Yankees back under .500 and a whopping 9.5 games out of first place in the AL East, and with series against the Hit List's top two teams on deck, things aren't about to get easier. The offense hits like the Ghost of Joe Girardi for the week (.232/.286/.365), surrendering the scoring lead after cobbling together just 22 runs (luckily, they still lead the league in vaunting). While Jorge Posada (.375) and Derek Jeter (.368) are 1-2 in the AL batting race, Bobby Abreu (.236/.306/.304 -- he's finally hitting like Kevin Stocker), Robinson Cano (.234/.276/.324) and Alex Rodriguez (.237/.348/.303 with one homer since his initial binge) are all mired in slumps, and 900 runs no longer look like Smooth Jay Jaffe's Lock of the Year (though it is a pretty big lock).
I had more to add, but with the entry already the longest on the list, I skipped noting Kyle Farnsworth's edict that nobody, not even Roger Clemens, should be allowed to avoid watching him pour gasoline on the Yankee fires. Yes, yes, Farnsworth's been riding a relatively solid streak lately; BP's stats still have him as their fourth-most effective reliever behind other six million dollar arms like Brian Bruney and Sean Henn, and with data like that, is it any wonder why the Yanks outrank only the Royals among AL bullpens in Reliever Expected Wins Added?

The Mets, of course, are the #2 team on the Hit List, while the Red Sox, whom the Yanks play next Monday through Wednesday, top the list for the second week in a row. Mott the Hoople, Kevin Stocker, Waffle House, the 2003 Winter Meetings and lots of Simpsons references this week, along with a reminder of one of the first ballgames I remember attending, which bears some explanation.

As regular readers know, I grew up in Salt Lake City, which at the time my dad started taking me to games housed the Gulls, the Triple-A franchise of the California Angels. One night during the 1978 season, my dad, my brother and I found ourselves sitting one row of metal grandstand benches above a father and son who lived across the street from us; I think their names were Gordon and Keith, respectively, and that the latter, a shy, sandy blond-haired kid, was in my brother's class.

At some point, with a man on first base, one Gull pummeled the ball into deep right-center, and he was barreling out of the box thinking double all the way. The runner on first base, however, assumed the ball would be caught, so went only partway between first and second. When the ball dropped, the speeding batter passed the momentarily paralyzed runner and was called out, at which point the heretofore seemingly mild-mannered Gordon was moved to yell, "Oh come on! You guys are playing Mickey Mouse baseball out there!"

From then on, any time I thought of the combination of Disney's most famous character and baseball, I associated it with a particularly horseshit level of play (though the 2002 Angels, as annoying as they were, forced me to reconsider this). Thus I was excited that either the Devil Rays or the Rangers dropped an entire three-game series to the other when playing at the Rays' temporary second home at the Disney Wide World of Sports stadium, which holds only 7,500 seats, in Orlando, because I got to use the phrase "Mickey Mouse baseball" for Texas' performance there. Hey, if you can't entertain yourself, why write at all?

Inspired by the greatness of Cardboard Gods, I'll have more to come on the Gulls soon...

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Brewer Buzz

Given my recent disappointment with the tense Yankee Stadium scene and its heavy-handed security, Friday evening at Shea Stadium felt like a breath of fresh air -- the first time in the history of the English language that sentence has been written, I'm sure -- with the Brewers and the Mets squaring off for the first of a three-game series. My brother-in-law Adam had surprised me by scoring tickets through his friend Matt and driving up from Wilmington, Delaware with girlfriend Nicole. With the league's best record at 24-10, holding a seven-game lead in the NL Central, the talented young Brewers are suddenly worth crossing state lines to see.

From our seats way down the leftfield line, we craned our necks -- our seats faced centerfield because Shea was apparently designed by inbeciles who had never seen a baseball game -- to watch as the first three innings passed without a hit. Both the Brewers' Jeff Suppan and the Mets' Jorge Sosa befuddled the opposing bats, but Milwaukee made a couple ugly mistakes along the way. Rickie Weeks, who walked to open the ballgame, was skewered at the back end of a strikeout-throwout double play to end the first frame, while centerfielder Bill Hall embarrassingly dropped a fly ball in the second. Oops.

The Brewers' J.J. Hardy, whose 19-game hitting streak (.418/.459/.835 with eight homers) had ended on Wednesday, registered the game's first hit in the top of the fourth, a clean single up the middle that nonetheless went for naught. In the bottom half, the Mets responded by bombarding Suppan, who baffled them last fall as a Cardinal in the League Championship Series. David Wright led off with a home to left-center, just his third shot of the year. Carlos Delgado followed a Carlos Beltran infield single with a two-run blast to leftfield. Moises Alou doubled noisily off the right-center wall (Willie's Wallbangers?), and one out later, scored on a Paul Lo Duca single. Damion Easley singled Lo Duca to third, but Sosa's sacrifice wasn't effective enough to plate the run. The six hits the Mets collected off Suppan in the inning would be the only ones he surrendered on the night.

As childhood friends Adam and Matt reminisced about ancient Brewers with the help of a handheld connection to (Rob Deer! Glenn Braggs! Ron "The Creature" Robinson! The legendary Chuckie Carr, who drew his release soon after swinging through a take sign and popping out on a 2-0 count, then explaining to manager Phil Garner, "That ain't Chuckie's game. Chuckie hacks on 2-0."...), the modern-day Brew Crew chipped away at the lead with solo homers by Geoff Jenkins in the fifth and Prince Fielder in the sixth. The latter was so emphatic that the Mets outfielders didn't even turn around; it was Little Big Daddy's 10th dinger in 20 games and his league-leading 11th of the year.

The Brewers threatened against a tiring Sosa in the seventh, alternating outs and walks until pinch-hitter Gabe Gross and reliever Pedro Feliciano ushered the starters offstage. Brewers manager Ned Yost countered by burning Gross in favor of Corey Hart -- generally a deplorable strategy in this age of short benches and ever-expanding bullpens, but the lefty Gross is just 4-for-50 against southpaws in his career, and sidearming southpaw Feliciano probably would have eaten his lunch and the sack too. Hart, apparently not wearing his sunglasses at night (admittedly, it was tough to see from our vantage), struck out to end the threat.

With Suppan gone, reliever Carlos Villanueva's second pitch was launched for another home run by Easley to start the bottom of the seventh, running the score to 5-2. But again the Brewers came back, likely buoyed by the sight of an ardent fan standing proudly in his ancient Pepsi Brewers Fan Club tank top in our vicinity (you know, just like Glenn Close in The Natural). Weeks reached on an infield single off Aaron Heilman, and Hardy followed by smacking the game's sixth homer, again to left -- our angled seats were good for a great view of something -- to trim the lead to 5-4. That was all she wrote, however. Heilman set down the next three Brewers in order, while Billy Wagner came on for a 1-2-3 ninth, leaving our foursome in the very small minority disappointed that the Mets came out on top. Still, it was fun to catch a bit of the Brewer buzz with folks for whom this is no annual occurrence.

• • •

Thanks to the efforts of Dan Fox and William Burke, this week's Prospectus Hit List yielded enough interesting data for two Unfiltered entries along the way. The first begins thusly:
While burrowing through various stat pages in the service of assembling this week’s Hit List, I noticed that Kansas City’s David DeJesus was second in the AL with 27 runs scored, certainly surprising for a player on a team averaging just 3.76 per game. Turning to the Royals‘ team stats, I quickly calculated that the DeJesus has scored 21.1 percent of his team’s runs, a level which set off a vague memory I had about an old Bill James Baseball Abstract player comment for Tim Raines that included a list topped by future streetclothes-wearing Dodger manager (my sole frame of reference for him up to that point) Burt Shotton. Both were in the vicinity of 20 percent.

As I queried our stat gurus to find out whether this level had been approached since, not only did I get the data but a note from our own Jim Baker, who served as James’ assistant back in the day: "By coincidence, it was I who put that list in the ‘84 Abstract inspired by the work of Tim Raines. I wonder if he’s been topped since then?"
The short answer is no, and in fact while many have come close to 20 percent, nobody has topped that mark. Check the top 30 over at BP.

Meanwhile, Baker also figures in the second entry, which is based on his "disaster start" stat, one in which a pitcher allows as many or more runs than innings pitched in an outing. In the Hit List I noted that Jeff Weaver had gone 6-for-6 in this department, but it took some persistent digging by Burke to find out whether this is indeed a record. Based on data going back to 1960, it turns out that Detroit's Willie Blair went seven consecutive starts in 1999, but those were interrupted by a stint in the bullpen. Seven pitchers have had six straight disaster starts interrupted by at least one relief outing, while five pitchers, including Weaver, accomplished a pure streak of six straight starts. These Masters of Disaster include the likes of Mike Morgan, Roy Halladay, and Kyle Lohse, and they'll survive in the spotlight at least until Weaver comes off the DL -- he was conveniently placed there on Friday -- to take another crack at infamy.

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Friday, May 11, 2007


Bobbing and Wevoing

I'm pleased to report that my most recent trip to Yankee Stadium, for Tuesday night's 8-1 win over the Rangers, went considerably better than the previous outing. The Yankee offense raked Mike Wood over the coals, Alex Rodriguez went deep for the first time in 15 days (since some genius started doing Too Much Math), and Andy Pettitte bobbed and weaved (bobbed and wove?) his way through seven innings of one-run ball, and everyone went home happy.

The only casualty may have been my wallet. Back when we were promoting Baseball Prospectus 2007 in New Haven, Steven Goldman and I bet a sushi dinner over how long Doug Mientkiewicz would be allowed to hold down the first base fort (which appeared to be constructed out of couch). I said Memorial Day, Steve had the All-Star break. Stinky Minky, who came into the game hitting just .211/.282/.380, started two rallies -- slapping a leadoff single in the third to ignite a three-run outburst, then stroking a two-out single in the fourth that was followed by two more hits and a run -- and made two sterling defensive plays in the field in the fifth. That's the kind of stuff Joe Torre eats with a spork, so I suspect Minky, who's actually 11-for-28 this month with an OPS north of 1.000, is locked into a job for awhile.

Meanwhile, the rotation is coming around. As I noted in this week's Hit List, in April the starters managed just 4.7 innings per start while compiling a 5.94 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, and five quality starts out of 23. Starting with Philip Hughes' Mayday no-hit bid, they've risen to 6.2 IP/GS, a 3.42 ERA (it was 2.57 before Chien-Ming Wang was waxed yesterday), 1.07 WHIP, and five quality starts out of nine. Mike Mussina has looked like the pitcher in the catalog since coming off the DL, Darrell Rasner gave Roger Clemens some thunder to steal, but perhaps the most surprising was Matt DeSalvo's seven-inning, three-hit shutout debut on Monday. My BP colleague Kevin Goldstein has a lengthy look at DeSalvo's career to this point. I had no idea he was such a Division III standout in college nor was I aware of his Steve Blass-like control problems last year. Here's what Goldstein has to say about DeSalvo these days:
With little fanfare, DeSalvo took the mound at Yankee Stadium on Monday night to face the Mariners in what was the American League's only night game on the slate. It's easy to assume that in his entire career, he never faced a hitter of Ichiro Suzuki's caliber, and it sure looked like it when Ichiro led off the game with a double to right. Three batters later, Raul Ibanez would single him home for a 1-0 Seattle lead, and things looked a bit grim.

Over the next six innings, DeSalvo would give up just one more hit, finishing the night with seven innings and just the one run. DeSalvo would walk three, including the first two batters of the third inning when his command troubles briefly appeared, and not strike out a single Mariner. It was one of the most dominating-yet-not-dominating performances you'll see, and awfully fun to watch. In the postgame press conference, DeSalvo mentioned how a pre-game meeting with catcher Jorge Posada limited his arsenal to just three pitches -– fastball, slider, changeup -- in order to keep things simple. But that was a simplification in itself, as DeSalvo mixed in six pitches once you break down all the variants. He threw both a two- and four-seam fastball, with the latter sitting at 88-91, and the former featuring better movement. He also occasionally mixed in what looked like a cutter, which featured late horizontal break. His slider is more of a slurvy, show-me offering, but the changeups were special. DeSalvo's natural mechanics have both a body turn and a hiccup, both which add to the deception of his pitches, especially on his off-speed offerings. His arm action is fantastic on his straight change, and then he also throws what scouts often refer to as a "changeup off a changeup", as the pitch is another 3-6 mph less than normal change, while featuring more fade. Posada called a wonderful game, stirring up DeSalvo's arsenal, and DeSalvo himself -- a player with a long record of praise for his makeup and mound demeanor -- looked like a 15-year-veteran on the mound, working quickly, showing no signs of emotion either good or bad, and showing no fear by challenging hitters at every opportunity.
Here I have to tweak Mr. Goldman for the fact that DeSalvo's not in BP07, while Sean Henn, Chase Wright, and Wil Nieves, all of whom have figured in the early-season Yankee plot, are in the one-sentence "Lineouts" of the Yankee chapter. Obviously, the injury problems have forced the Yanks to dig deeper than they otherwise would, but I suspect BP's readers might wish they could see full PECOTAs of some of those players in the book (DeSalvo's isn't even online yet).

While it was worth a wince or two that the Yanks squandered DeSalvo's effots when Mariano Rivera yielded a tiebreaking homer in the top of the ninth, I'm still willing to chalk up Mo's problems to rust; he hadn't pitched in four days. My back-envelope calculations show that in 2005-2006, Rivera put up a 3.05 ERA on three or more days' rests, 1.32 on less than three. Include 2007 (through Monday) and the figures jump to 4.06 and 1.55.

Anyway, back to the Hit List, as with Goldstein's article, it's behind the subscription wall these days, so if you're not a BP subscriber you'll have to take my word for it that the Yanks are a relatively low 10th (one notch ahead of the Dodgers) while the Red Sox have taken over the top spot on the list. Meanwhile, I got a call this morning that my brother-in-law Adam is making a surprise visit to the city tonight, having scored tickets -- including one for me -- to a matchup between the #2 Mets and #3 Brewers. My wife's family, of course, is from Milwaukee, and I've enjoyed sharing in their enthusiasm over the exciting young Brew Crew. I spent a good deal of time talking about them on my two radio gigs last week. On the latter, Norm Wamer had said the week before, "Am I crazy to be picking the Brewers in the NL Central?" No, I said, you're just reading your BP subscription because we've been touting them pretty heavily. With J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks finally healthy at the same time, Prince Fielder developing into a crusher, and a deep pitching staff, this team can do some damage, and I'm looking forward to catching them tonight.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a special sight-gag-aided entry which includes the former scourge of the Bronx. My friend Nick (who did a fine job with the graphics here) and I would have played this card back in 2002-2003 if Wevo had ever pitched worth a warm bucket of spit during his days in pinstripes:
Six-Piece, Extra Crispy: Jeff Weaver's string of disaster starts--allowing as many or more runs as innings pitched, per our own Jim Baker--reaches six in a row with another pair this week. As scientists sift through the rubble of baseball history to determine if that in fact is a record, the good news is that Weaver's ERA dropped from 18.26 to 14.32 in that span. Given that the Mariner offense has scored just 13 runs in those six starts, one wonders if they've been in on the let's-all-mail-it-in plan all along. On the off chance that it's the Mariner uniform which is the source of the trouble--after all, Weaver has yet to pitch a non-disaster start in one--our fashion consultant suggests more appropriate attire for his next outing.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007


Rocket Ride (Slight Return)

Roger Clemens was on my mind last week. Thanks to a John Perroto piece at Baseball Prospectus, incorporating him into the week's Hit List was an inevitability, but I managed to have some fun with it:
Despite the arrival of Hunter Pence, the Astros are decidedly earthbound after nine losses in 10 games, and at this rate, the only Rocket ride they can look forward to is on Kiss Alive II. Owner Drayton McLane, GM Tim Purpura, president of baseball operations Tal Smith, and manager Phil Garner confer, deciding that Garner's mustache is trimmed to the optimal length to inspire Craig Biggio in his deathless march to 3,000.
And that's without even considering the state of the Yankee rotation, which we'll get to momentarily. Late in my Friday afternoon chat at BP, I made reference to a bit of sarcasm passing me by like a Clemens fastball, and then shortly afterwards, fielded a question about the Rocket:
The Animal (Boston): Speaking of Clemens... got a prediction?

Jay Jaffe: Yes. With the Red Sox lacking a defined need and the Astros going nowhere fast, I think this is the Yanks' play if Clemens comes back, and my guess is that he heists them for something like a prorated salary of $30 million.
Sunday afternoon, during the seventh-inning stretch of the Yanks' 5-0 win over the Mariners, the cameras cut to Clemens as he made a surprise announcement from owner George Steinbrenner's private box: "Well, they came and got me out of Texas and I can tell you it's a privilege to be back. I'll be talking to y'all soon." Terms were not immediately announced, but ESPN's Buster Olney reports that Clemens' salary will be a pro-rated $28 million -- not a bad guess on my part, I must say -- or about $4.5 million per month. Not a bad living for possibly the greatest pitcher of all time.

Clemens, amid his rather tiresome annual retirement ritual, had insisted over the past several months that he wouldn't be making a decision between the aforementioned three teams until the end of May. But the combination of the Yankees' decimated rotation, the other two teams' delayed timeframe, Clemens' accelerated workout schedule, and cold, hard cash made for an inevitable resolution. As Olney reports:
Clemens and [agent Randy] Hendricks made it clear to everyone, even into late April, that he wouldn't make his decision until late May. But as Mike Mussina got hurt and then Carl Pavano, the Yankees felt they could and should become more aggressive. After landing in Texas, Cashman wanted to set up a meeting with Hendricks -- only to learn, to his horror, that the agent was meeting with the Red Sox, which the agent confirmed to Cashman with a text message on May 1. Hours later, Phil Hughes hurt his hamstring. The Yankees' need for pitching was acute.

Cashman and Hendricks e-mailed back and forth on Tuesday and Wednesday, kicking around the idea of meeting during the day Thursday in Houston, but there was a terrible storm in Arlington that forced the postponement of the game. The Yankees and Rangers were scheduled for a doubleheader Thursday, and Cashman felt that if he was away from the team during the game, then the media might get an inkling of how he was trying to make an aggressive move on Clemens. He had used the same approach in signing Johnny Damon: Make a very aggressive offer quickly and force a decision.

So Hendricks and Cashman spoke on Thursday night, and the financial parameters were laid out: Clemens would cost a prorated salary of $28 million. Hendricks got off the phone and called Clemens, and told him that the time was nearing for the pitcher to make a decision, and that if he was going to go to the Yankees, now was the time. "Let's do it," Clemens responded.
The past week-and-change has intensified the need for stability in the Yanks' rotation. Last Saturday, Jeff Karstens was drilled by a line drive that fractured his fibula. On Tuesday, Philip Hughes broke hearts just as he was winning them over, popping his hamstring while chasing a no-hitter. On Friday, Kei Igawa, who had come out of the bullpen to fire six innings of shutout ball in relief of Karstens, pitched like the guy who got sent to the pen in the first place. And as the week wore on, doubts about Crippled Pitcher's Carl Pavano's return this season reached a deafening crescendo. Despite good work from Andy Pettitte and Darrell Rasner, a sizzling start from just-activated Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang chasing perfection, the Yanks' rotation doesn't appear to have the necessary depth to hold up its end of this $200 million deal, which is why a team with the highest-scoring offense in the majors is still clawing its way back to .500 while losing ground to their rivals. Here's a thumbnail comparison of the Yankee and Red Sox rotations thus far:
       W-L  IP/GS  QS%  ERA   K/9  SNLVAR
BOS 17-9 6.25 60% 3.79 7.2 4.1
NYY 8-8 4.97 28% 5.25 5.3 1.2
The Yanks aren't even averaging five innings per start, they're getting a Quality Start less than half as often, allowing about 1.50 runs per game more; the three wins above replacement level difference (according to BP's numbers) seems to be an underestimation given the superiority of the Yankee offense thus far, but the difference in bullpen performances has been even steeper, and there's no question the latter fact is a product of the former. As the Yanks have spent the past decade reminding us, the soft underbelly of long relief can make for quite a feast.

There's no question Clemens can still pitch. Granted, the NL has played as an inferior league during Clemens' three years years in Houston, and that's before considering the DH/non-DH factor, but a pitcher who put up these numbers from ages 41-43 can still get it done:
Year   W-L   IP    K/9   ERA  ERA+ 
2004 18-4 214.1 9.1 2.98 145 Cy Young #7
2005 13-8 211.1 7.9 1.87 221 Led NL in ERA
2006 7-6 113.1 8.1 2.30 197
Despite the drama of the announcement and the Yankees' obvious need, as a fan I've got mixed emotions about Clemens' return. I was no fan of Clemens when he came to New York -- I screamed myself hoarse at some of his early starts -- but I came around. I was in the House That Ruth Built watching him nail down the 1999 World Series clincher, an indelible moment in my time as a fan. I was also at his stellar Game Three performance in the 2001 Seres, where he held off the Diamondbacks in a tense game played under tense circumstances. For all of his checkered history in big games -- a history I've explored several times -- his best big-game performances have come as a Yankee: "In 17 pinstriped [postseason] starts, he had a 3.24 ERA and won two World Series rings; with the other two teams, his ERA is 4.19 with no championships," I wrote in 2005. And I've held that when he retired for the first time, he owed the Yanks and their fans nothing except perhaps the return of that Humvee, which is just more Steinbrenner money anyway.

Having said that, I've watched Clemens reveal himself as even more of a mercenary since then; like Krusty the Klown, selling out is in his blood. Clemens is perhaps the ultimate mercenary in baseball history, one who's not only able to call the shots on where he plays, but exactly when he gets to show up to work. Taking him at his word on any matter involving his retirement or his return is a foolish act, and his burly-redneck-football-adrenaline-junky-drama-queen persona is a bit tough to digest. And that's before his pitching even comes into play. He's still a going-on-45, six-inning pitcher coming to a tough division -- not to mention the loftiest, championship-or-bust expectations to be found in team sports -- and counting on him to dominate as he did even for stretches during this millennium is probably a pipe dream given the contrast to his cushy Houston environs.

Still, when the alternative is watching a parade of Your Name Heres limp from mound to DL to bullpen or Scranton and back again trying to fill out the Yankee rotation, Clemens is the preferable alternative. In for a penny, in for a pound, as my Anglophilic friends would say. His pricey presence allows the Yanks to continue with their attempt to have cake and eat it too, winning while rebuilding, buying time for a young arm like Hughes to develop. If nothing else, this Rocket ride is certain to be an interesting one.

• • •

A reminder to those of you who are XM subscribers: I'll be doing my usual 2 PM Eastern slot with Chris Liss today on XM 144's "Baseball Beat," and I'm sure you-know-who will be at least one topic of conversation between two Yankee fans.

Also on the radio, on Wednesday at 4:10 PM Eastern I'll be appearing on Toledo, Ohio's 1470 AM (WLQR), doing a show called "Front Row" with host Norm Wamer. Wamer had me on last week, and I'm delighted to return. Catch it if you're in the area.

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