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 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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