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 31, 2009


The Man Who Would Be King

Attending a postseason game is always a thrill, particularly the later in October the Yankees' run goes. I'm lucky enough to have gotten to go to Yankee Stadium twice in one week, first for the ALCS clincher and then for Thursday night's Game Two of the World Series. It was my first World Series game since the 2003 opener, and my fifth of all time (1998 Game Two, 1999 Game Four, and 2001 Game Three being the others).

I attended the game with my friend Julie, and our seats were in the left field bleachers, providing a fitting bookend to the season given that the two of us were also in the bleachers for the Yankees' April 3 exhibition against the Cubs, the new ballpark's unofficial opener. Raising the stakes even more was the fact that Pedro Martinez started for the Phillies against the Yanks' A.J. Burnett:
For as much baggage as Burnett brought to the party, his opposite number, Pedro Martinez, brought more — an epic history of battles during his days with the Red Sox, highlights (his Yankee Stadium record 17-strikeout performance in 1999, the Red Sox's 2004 ALCS comeback) and lowlights (his 2003 ALCS meltdown, his promise to "Wake up the Bambino, I'll drill him in the ass," and the taunts of "Who's Your Daddy?") aplenty.

But the Pedro who took the hill for the Phillies is a different Pedro, five years and several miles per hour removed from the end of his Boston tenure, and nearly a decade beyond a peak that can stand with any pitcher in the game's history, from Walter Johnson to Sandy Koufax to Roger Clemens. He's older, sadder—his father died of cancer last year—but almost certainly wiser. No longer able to summon superhuman velocity, he showed during his NLCS start against the Dodgers (a rich enough tableau in its own right) that he could still baffle hitters by keeping them off balance, moving their eye level and changing speeds, hitting nearly every increment on the radar gun between the mid-70s and the low-90s while artfully working in and out of the strike zone across seven shutout innings.
Martinez held the Yankees to one run through the first five innings, striking out six and yielding only one run on a solo shot by Mark Teixeira into the Yankees' bullpen to lead off the fourth. But even when he was missing bats, he was running up his pitch count; his first four K's cost him 27 pitches. He surrendered another solo homer, this time to Hideki Matsui, on his 96th pitch.

Martinez finished the inning with his pitch count at 98, but much to our surprise, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel sent him back out for the seventh, apparently forgetting the hard lessons of the 2003 ALCS Game Seven. Martinez yielded singles to Jerry Hairston Jr. and Miguel Cabrera to lead off the seventh, with Hairston's pinch-runner Brett Gardner going from first to third, at which point Manuel finally went and got the wily, wiry 38-year-old. For all the taunts Martinez had endured on the night and over the years from the Yankee Stadium crowds — particularly in the bleachers — it was an incredibly poignant moment. If this was the sun setting on Martinez's career, then it was one hell of a sunset, and I was determined to appreciate its brilliance:
I don't care who you root for, it was impossible not to feel for Martinez as he slowly strode off the Yankee Stadium mound, perhaps for the last time in his storied career. The crowd in the bleachers jeered him rabidly, but I could only stand and applaud, doffing my cap not only at the magnificent effort he'd mustered, but all of the pain and pleasure his years of battling the Yankees had brought. At least from this writer's vantage point, never was there an opposing player who made for better blog fodder. My season at Yankee Stadium wasn't the only thing that had come full circle.

Looking back at a recording of the game a day later, the close-ups of Martinez's face are priceless. Bated breath to collect his emotions before walking off the mound. A raised finger and a glance skyward as he headed towards the visiting dugout on the third base side. A head bowed, and then, as he approached the dugout, chin raised with a genuine smile [pic], perhaps at the large sign held by a Yankees fan near the dugout that read: "Daddy's Got a New House." Unable to withstand the lure of consumer capitalism in favor of a poignant moment in baseball history for one single second more, Fox cut to a car commercial. Perhaps their producer had something in his eye.
Their lead expanded to 3-1, the Yankees called upon the great Mariano Rivera to make his second two-inning save of the week. He went on to close out the game and help the Yankees even the series, and while there was so much more to say about his performance and that of Burnett, what stuck with me was Martinez, particularly as the reports of his post-game press conference emerged. Not to be confused with his pregame conference from the day before in which he made a bold declaration regarding the fans in the Bronx:
Q. You've had a unique relationship with the fans in the Bronx over the years. Why do you think that is? Have you thought about that over your career? And what about it do you enjoy?

PEDRO MARTINEZ: I don't know if you realize this, but because of you guys in some ways, I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium. I can honestly say that. I mean, I have been a big fan of baseball for a long time, since I was a kid. My first ball I ever got from a Big League player I actually got to purchase in Dodger Stadium in a silent auction, was Reggie Jackson. I was actually a big fan of the Yankees, too.

For some reason with all the hype and different players that have passed by, maybe because I played for the Red Sox is probably why you guys made it such a big deal every time I came in, but you know, I have a good bond with the people. After playing in New York, I went to realize something: New York fans are very passionate and very aggressive. But after it all, after you take your uniform off and you deal with the people, they're real human beings. It's all just being fans.

I have all the respect in the world for the way they enjoy being fans. Sometimes they might be giving you the middle finger, just like they will be cursing you and telling you what color underwear you're wearing. All those things you can hear when you're a fan. But at the end of the day, they're just great fans that want to see the team win. I don't have any problem with that.
From his postgame presser:
Q. Could you just walk us through what your feelings were? A long rehab for you over a year, you come in, you pitched a great game in the NLCS, and then tonight. I know when you're pitching, you're not thinking about that stuff, but now that you got back to a World Series game and pitched so well in it, talk about what's going through your mind about the whole year of rehab really.

PEDRO MARTINEZ: You know, regardless of what happened, the fact that I was the loser today for the game, I'm extremely proud and happy being able to participate, compete against a real, real good team, a very solid team, be able to put my team in position to catch up or win that game, and at the same time tell myself that I made the right decision by coming back and getting this opportunity, putting myself in the position to get an opportunity to pitch in the World Series.

It was a real good game. It was a real baseball game.

Q. As you were walking off the field, you were hearing it from the Yankee fans and the TV camera caught you breaking out into smile. Can you talk about as you were walking off the field kind of what was going through your mind in the new Yankee Stadium?

PEDRO MARTINEZ: Yeah, you said it right, it's a new Yankee Stadium, but the fans remain the fans. They're going to give you — like I remember one guy sitting right in front of the front row with his daughter, sitting with his daughter, and his daughter in one arm, and a cup of beer in the other hand and saying all kinds of nasty stuff. I just told him, "Your daughter is right beside you. It's a little girl. It's a shame you're saying all these things."

I had to stop and tell him because I'm a father myself, and God, how can you be so dumb to do those kind of things in front of your child? What kind of example are you setting?

But the fans, I enjoy that, because at the bottom, I know I played for the Mets, I know they really want to root for me. It's just that I don't play for the Yankees, that's all. I've always been a good competitor, and they love that. They love the fact that I compete. I'm a New Yorker, as well. If I was on the Yankees, I'd probably be like a king over here. (Laughter.)

That's not the case right now, and it's going to be that way.
As you'd expect, there were plenty of good articles about Pedro Martinez to go around, both before and after the game. Jonah Keri had some great stuff about Pedro's days with the Expos. The Wall Street Journal's Matthew Futterman provided great context for both of Martinez's press conferences while comparing him to Reggie Jackson and calling his comments "subversive." The Faster Times' Lisa Swan predicted the postgamer would be a doozy, no matter what the outcome (she also did a nice retrospective of great Martinez quotes as he was returning to the majors in August). Esquire's Charles Pierce to compared him to Luis Tiant, the hero ace of an earlier Red Sox era, for his ability to get by on guile and guts.

The legend goes that back when Martinez was breaking in with the Dodgers, manager Tommy Lasorda felt he was too small to withstand the rigors of starting. In retrospect, it seems clear he was right, at least if that meant starting for Lasorda, who broke many a promising young Dodger starter - Doug Rau, Rick Rhoden, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, and older brother Ramon Martinez. Who's to say the baseball world wouldn't have been deprived of a Hall of Fame talent and one of the game's great personalities had he not been traded to the Expos? Ultimately, it was in the best interests of baseball.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, October 29, 2009


A Great Start for Lee, A Rough Start for the Yankees

Well, Game One of the World Series didn't go so well for the Yankees. From my writeup at Baseball Prospectus:
In yesterday's chat, Bronx Banter's Alex Belth asked me, "Is there any particular pitching match-up that you are looking forward to in the series?" I responded that the matchup I was most looking forward to was between CC Sabathia and Ryan Howard, particularly given the prospect of the big man pitching three times for the Yankees in a seven-game series, and the slugger's less-than-sterling reputation against southpaws. "I think that matchup will tell us something about what's going to happen over the next four to seven games," I wrote.

If that's the case, the Yankees are in trouble. Howard stepped to the plate with two out and a man on in the first inning on Wednesday night. Sabathia had gotten quick outs on a Jimmy Rollins bunt and a Shane Victorino popup, and was one strike away from retiring Chase Utley when he suddenly lost the strike zone with three straight balls. Though he got ahead of Howard on a called strike, the slugger roped his second pitch into the right field corner for a double, and Utley might have scored had it not been for Nick Swisher playing the carom perfectly. Sabathia then walked Jayson Werth to load the bases, and only escaped the inning when Raul Ibañez grounded a 3-1 pitch to Robinson Cano to end the threat.

During the first two rounds of the playoffs, Howard went 2-for-11 against lefty pitching, but those two hits were huge, a two-run double off Clayton Kershaw in Game One of the NLCS which expanded the Phillies' lead from 3-1 to 5-1 and chased the struggling southpaw, and a two-run homer off Randy Wolf in the first inning of Game Four. The Phillies as a team got just 14 hits off of lefties during those first two rounds, but seven of them were for extra bases, including five homers, producing an uneven .194/.322/.444 line.

They only got four hits off Sabathia in seven innings, as he settled down after that shaky 27-pitch first frame, but two of those were solo homers by Utley. Which isn't to say Sabathia was all that sharp. In marked contrast to Andy Pettitte's religious devotion to first-pitch strikes in Game Six of the ALCS (20 out of 25), the big man got ahead of just 12 of 27 hitters, at one point starting with ball one to seven hitters in a row, including Utley on his first homer.

The two Utley jacks would have been enough, given how well Cliff Lee pitched for Philadelphia. In this battle of former Indians Cy Young winners who were traded the following summer — Mark Shapiro's worst nightmare, basically — there was never any doubt who had the upper hand. Lee dominated, striking out seven of the first 14 hitters he faced: Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira (twice), Alex Rodriguez (twice), Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada. He also made two plays in the field which showed how in control he was, visibly sneering while making a basket catch on a sixth-inning Johnny Damon popup that scarcely forced him to budge from his landing spot, and snaring an eighth-inning Robinson Cano grounder behind his back.

The record shows that Lee only got first-pitch strikes to 16 out of 32 batters, but he went to 0-2 eight times, whereas his opposite number only got there four times. The irony is that Lee also went to 2-0 seven times, while Sabathia only got there five times, and thus ran up his pitch count. There wasn't all that much separating the two pitchers, and over the course of a seven-game series in which the two starters are slated to pitch on three days' rest in their next two turns, it may count in the Yankees' favor that Sabathia, the experienced one in such matters, threw only 113 pitches, while Lee, who's never taken the ball on short rest, threw 122 pitches. Whether or not that's a strike against Charlie Manuel remains to be seen.
Despite Lee's dominance, the Yankees still had a chance to keep things close. In last night's BP roundtable, I suggested Joe Girardi bring in Mariano Rivera to face Utley and Howard in the seventh inning after Phil Hughes walked both Rollins and Victorino to start the frame given the persistence of Rivera's favorable reverse platoon split due to the break of his cut fastball against lefty hitters. Girardi didn't, because managers don't think like they did twenty or thirty years ago, when they would call their top reliever into a ballgame when they felt it was on the line, regardless of inning. Firemen, they were called, because they were there to put out the fire instead of merely collect the last three outs and the statistical cherry on top, and we wore an onion on our belts as was the style at the time... Check the postseason game logs of Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers; Bob Lemon and Dick Williams weren't afraid to call their numbers early, and that's part of the reason they won championships. In any event, even given the emphasis we place on better bullpen management at BP, at least a few of my colleagues disagreed, both at the time and in retrospect. As Joe Sheehan wrote today, "You're not going to start using Rivera as if he is Dan Quisenberry and we're all hanging out in Lee jeans and Adidas with fat laces." Girardi went to lefty Damaso Marte, who got two outs but allowed Rollins to advance to third on a fly ball to right field. Giriardi again could have called upon Rivera, but no, he went to David Robertson, who spent the first two rounds as the low man on the totem pole. The kid walked Werth to load the bases, then surrendered a two-run single by Ibañez that was essentially the ballgame.

The Win Probability Added figures at FanGraphs, the Yankees' chances at winning stood at just 14.8 percent to start the inning given the 2-0 deficit. They dropped to 9.9 percent after the two walks, climbed back up to 14.9 percent by the time of the second out, and crashed to 4.3 percent with Ibañez's hit. Thanks and good night.

Anyway, I have the good fortune of holding a ticket to tonight's Game Two, which pits Pedro Martinez against A.J. Burnett. Joe Girardi has already announced that he'll start Jerry Hairston (an Enrique Wilson-like 10-for-27 lifetime against Pedro, for the third-highest batting average of any active player with at least 25 PA against him, though the two haven't faced each other since 2004) in right field instead of Nick Swisher, who's mired in an 11-for-77 slump with two homers and four RBI dating back to September 16. He'll also start Jose Molina again instead of Posada, though Molina was helpless to prevent another early-inning meltdown by A.J. in Game Five of the ALCS. The righty's struggled at the beginning of games this year:
Split        HR    AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS  
Pitch 1-25    8   .263  .356  .441  .797
Pitch 26-50   5   .249  .330  .378  .709
Pitch 51-75   7   .232  .329  .400  .729
Pitch 76-100  5   .262  .319  .406  .725
Pitch 101+    0   .174  .371  .174  .545
If a personal valet catcher can't prevent that from happening, then what the hell good is he? I guess we'll soon find out.

Oh and on the subject of Pedro's ancient history, in the second half of today's BP column I take a look at the history of pitchers who started a postseason game for their teams after making less than 10 appearances for them during the regular season. Lots of recognizable names dot the list — Don Sutton, Tommy John, Rick Reuschel, David Cone, David Wells, Ramon Martinez, Oliver Perez — but Martinez's face-off with Vicente Padilla marked the first time two such pitchers faced each other. There's no real take-home as to what to expect tonight, but it was fun to research nonetheless.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I'll Show You the Bronx Banter Breakdown V

Alex Belth, Cliff Corcoran and I cut a snappy two-part video series for's "Bronx Banter Breakdown" yesterday. Part two, covering the lineups, is now up at Bronx Banter.

While you're there, check out Cliff's excellent piece on the 1950 World Series and its future ramificiations:
To give you a sense of just how long it’s been since the Yankees swept Philadelphia’s Whiz Kids, the 1950 World Series was the last Fall Classic to feature two all-white teams.

That fact is not as trivial as it might sound. The Yankees’ struggles in the late 1960s and early 1970s had several sources, including the institution of the amateur draft and the corporate ownership of CBS, but their failure to properly exploit the African American talent pool was undeniably a contributing factor. When they finally emerged from that slumber, it was with black stars such as Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph, Chris Chambliss, Roy White, Oscar Gamble, and Gamble’s replacement, Reggie Jackson.

Similarly, the Phillies’ surprising pennant in 1950 fed the organization’s resistance to integration. The 1950 Whiz Kids got their name not only because they won the pennant, but because they were the youngest team in the National League on both sides of the ball. In fact, the 1950 Phillies were the youngest pennant winners ever. The Phillies’ oldest regular was first baseman Eddie Waitkus (the player whose shooting the previous year inspired The Natural). Just one of the six men to make more than ten starts for them was over the age of 26, and future Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts were both just 23.

Assuming that young squad would only get better with age, the Phillies didn’t even begin scouting black players until 1954, when Roy Hamey took over as general manager following four seasons in which the Phillies finished between third and fifth place. The Phillies didn’t field their first black player until 1957, didn’t have an African-American starter until 1961, and didn’t have an African-American star until the arrival of Richie Allen in 1964.
As i wrote in It Ain't Over, the teams that integrated early dominated then National League for more than a decade after the color barrier was broken. The Dodgers won seven pennants between 1947 and 1959, the Braves won three, and the Giants two. Those Phils were the only breakthrough, their franchise was the last NL club to integrate, and they wouldn't even get back to the World Series until 1980. Serves 'em right to suffer.

Labels: , ,


All World Series, All the Time

Weather permitting, the World Series begins tonight in the Bronx, and as you'd expect, it's a busy day for me. For starters, I had the honor of previewing the series for Baseball Prospectus, and I gave it a similarly epic-length treatment as the first two rounds. Cutting to the chase, here's part of the stuff about the rotation, and particularly the two teams' plans to throw at least some of their pitchers on three days' rest:
Thanks to the ridiculous number of days off built into the schedule, the Yankees reached the World Series by relying on just a three-man rotation. The word on the street is that they'll likely continue to do so, but that introduces a new wrinkle: while up to this point only Sabathia has needed to start on three days' rest, the three-man plan requires each starter to do so for his second turn of the series, and Sabathia for his third turn as well if the series gets to a Game Seven. The Phillies are leaning towards matching Sabathia with Lee in all three starts—dark days for Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, to be sure—but given their depth and their various pitchers' limitations, they're unlikely to maintain the power trio act. The options for the two clubs thus look something like this (days rest in parentheses):

Game 1: Sabathia (7) v. Lee (9)
Game 2: Burnett (6) v. Martinez (12)
Game 3: Pettitte (5) v. Hamels (9)
Game 4: Sabathia (3) or Gaudin (11) vs. Lee (3), Happ (10), or Blanton (12)
Game 5: Burnett (3), Sabathia (4, if Gaudin Game 4), or Gaudin (12) vs. Happ, Blanton or Lee (4)
Game 6: Pettitte (3) or Burnett (5, if Sabathia Game 4 and Gaudin Game 5) vs. Martinez (5), Hamels (3), Happ or Blanton
Game 7: Sabathia (3, if pitched Game 4) or Pettitte (4, if Sabathia Game 4) vs. Lee (3, if pitched Game 4) or Hamels (4)

Despite the plans, the overall postseason numbers for pitchers on three days' in the postseason during the Wild Card Era aren't terribly encouraging: 86 starts, an average of just 5.4 innings per start, a 4.59 ERA, a 21-34 record for the starters, and more importantly a 31-55 record (a .360 winning percentage) for their teams. Perhaps because of that lack of success, the tactic has largely gone out of style, with just 10 of those starts coming over the past five postseasons, including Sabathia's start in Game Four of the LCS, when he held the Angels to one run in eight innings on just 101 pitches.

The Yankees' trio has a good deal of experience on short rest, though drawing conclusions from their small sample sizes is as hazardous as in any other endeavor. Sabathia famously went 2-1 with an 0.83 ERA in three consecutive short-rest starts for the Brewers at the end of the 2008 regular season, though he went a bridge too far and was bombed by the Phillies in Game Two of the Division Series, his fourth straight such start. While he wasn't ridden as hard during the regular season this year, his innings total to date is one out shy of what it was going into last year's postseason thrashing. That aside, between the regular season and postseason, he's 4-2 in six starts with a 2.11 ERA and an average of 6.4 innings per start on three days rest. Though Pettitte hasn't pitched on short rest at all since 2006, he has such 20 career starts, including six in the postseason; he's 7-8 with a 3.93 ERA and an average of 6.4 innings. Burnett is a tidy 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA and 6.8 innings per start in such situations, all in the regular season, with three of them with the Blue Jays last year.

As for Lee, he's in uncharted territory, having never started in the majors on three days' rest. Neither, for that matter, has Hamels, Blanton, or Happ. Martinez did so only in the 1999 postseason opener, but departed after four scoreless frames due to a back strain. Since Manuel was notably resistant to the idea of Hamels going on three days' rest last fall, it's extremely unlikely he'll do so here, which means that the Phils will likely deploy either Happ or Blanton in Game Five, leaving Martinez to make two starts in the Bronx. The new stadium notwithstanding, he's no stranger there, but he's a different pitcher from in his Red Sox heyday, and facing the Yankee lineup in that bandbox on a chilly night carries a higher degree of difficulty than facing the Dodgers on a bluebird day in Chavez Ravine.

As with the NLCS, a lot depends on the Phillies' ability to counter the Yankees' southpaws. Thus far in the postseason, they're only batting .194/.322/.444 against southpaws, with a couple of well-timed Ryan Howard hits against Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw constituting the big blows. Sabathia and Pettitte are more battle-tested than that Dodger duo, and they're throwing the ball better at this point in time. Given the likelihood of them starting the lions' share the games, I've picked the Yankees in six.

More to come later today - a 2 PM Eastern chat, another Bronx Banter Breakdown video, and a Prospectus Roundtable to accompany tonight's action.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I'll Show You the Bronx Banter Breakdown IV

Alex Belth, Cliff Corcoran and I cut a snappy two-part video series for's "Bronx Banter Breakdown" today. Part one is up at Bronx Banter, and in HD at

One correction to an assertion I made within this video: Pedro Martinez has one postseason start on three days’ rest, in the 1999 AL Division Series opener against the Indians. He left after four innings due to a back strain, then famously returned four days later to pitch six hitless innings of relief to close out the series in Game Five.

Regardless, he ain’t going on three in this series.

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 26, 2009


Getting the Monkey Off Their Backs

What a night for the Yankees! It wasn't pretty, but they managed to turn nine singles, nine walks, two errors, an anxious extra day of waiting due to weather, a sterling 6.1 inning effort from Andy Pettitte and a six-out save from Mariano Rivera into their fourth win over the Angels in the American League Championship Series, and their 40th pennant in history. They got the (Rally) Monkey off their backs, beating the Angels for the first time in three playoff meetings and chasing away some of the ghosts from 2004, the last time they held a 3-2 lead in the ALCS.

I had the pleasure of viewing the festivities from Section 406 in high right field:

After the previous night's rain and the previous weekend's chill, the weather was incredibly cooperative, with the game-time temperature announced as 58 degrees. I know this because we were one section over from the auxiliary press box, where a special PA feed fed the writers a stream of tidbits ("Alex Rodriguez now has an 11-game postseason hitting streak," etc.).

Pettitte came out firing, getting ahead of the Angels' hitters in the first inning and striking out Bobby Abreu, but the former Yankee gave the Halos the lead in the third inning with a two-out RBI single to capitalize on a Jeff Mathis double. Meabnwhile, the Yankees had their opportunities to score early against Angels starter Joe Saunders, leaving two men on base in the first, three in the second, and one in the third.

They broke through in the fourth inning, which Robinson Cano led off with a walk — the first time the Yanks had gotten the leadoff hitter aboard thus far. Nick Swisher broke out of an 0-for-12 slump with a single, Melky Cabrera laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Derek Jeter walked to load the bases with just one out. Damon, who'd grounded out weakly with the bases loaded to end the second, this time delivered with a two-run single up the middle. Mark Teixeira reached on an infield single to shortstop Erick Aybar that should have been a double-play ball.

Facing Alex Rodriguez with the bases loaded was something Saunders clearly wanted no part of. Saunders issued a five-pitch walk which scored the Yanks' third run and spelled the end of his brief night. His line: 3.1 7 3 3 5 0. It might have been worse had reliever Darren Oliver not gotten Jorge Posada to ground into an inning-ending double play.

With the Yankees holding a 3-1 lead, I started counting down the outs, at least in my head, working backwards from Mariano Rivera through the suddenly shaky setup corps and back to Pettitte. Fortunately, Andy was dandy, throwing first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 25 hitters he faced, whiffing six while allowing just one walk. He had retired nine in a row before the Angels mounted their biggest threat of the night in the sixth, when Torii Hunter reached on an infield single and Vlad Guerrero blooped a double down the right field line. The Angels looked poised to tie the game when Kendry Morales smoked a ball up the middle, but Pettitte knocked down the hot smash and calmly threw to first for the third out. Money.

He departed to a thunderous ovation with one out and one on in the seventh, with Joba Chamberlain coming on. Chamberlain offered little of his usual drama in either the positive or negative sense — no fist-pumping strikeouts, no well-hit balls following ineffectual nibbling around the plate. He kept the ball in the infield and got two grounders, one a fielder's choice (via a puzzling move by Angels manager Mike Scioscia to pinch-hit for the red-hot Jeff Mathis with infielder Maicer Izturis) and the other on a grounder to Derek Jeter.

With six outs to go, Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to dispense with all further middling middlemen and go for the kill, summoning Mariano Rivera. My friend Nick, who'd been wearing his Lou Gehrig pinstriped replica jersey, stripped down to a navy blue Rivera t-shirt which dates back at least one pennant ago. It was a bold move that almost backfired — Girardi's, not Nick's — as the Angels scraped out a run in the eighth on a pair of singles and a groundout, cutting the lead in half while forcing Rivera to throw 21 pitches.

Luckily, the Yankees reclaimed some breathing room. Cano worked another leadoff walk, and then the Angel botched consecutive sacrifice bunts, with Howie Kendrick failing to handle the throw at first base on the first one (Swisher's) and then reliever Scott Kazmir (!) shot-putting the second one (Cabrera's) into foul territory right field as Cano scampered home. One out later, Damon walked to load the bases, and then Teixeira delivered a sacrifice fly to plate the Yankees' fifth and final run.

At this point the crowd — 50,173 strong with hardly an empty seat in sight — was in a total frenzy, on their feet for the entire ninth. Rivera made it look easy for the first two hitters, quickly retiring Kendrick on a grounder to Teixeira, then inducing Juan Rivera to fly out softly to right. Pinch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr., another puzzler from Scioscia, battled Rivera to a full count before Rivera snuck his trademark cutter — a bit high and outside — by him for strike three and the AL pennant. He calmly walked halfway to the plate to hug Posada, then ran to leap onto the dogpile forming near shortstop:

So now the Yankees have inaugurated each of the three editions of Yankee Stadium with a pennant. After all the extraneous drama the new ballpark wrought, it felt strange to be celebrating in that space. The crowd was cheerful but maybe a bit reserved, dispersing rather rapidly compared to the way they lingered at the 1999 World Series clincher, the most momentous occasion I've had the pleasure of attending at any ballpark. Back then the upper deck shook for 90 minutes, and 56,782 fans dogpiled on each other after the final out, singing "New York, New York" and "We Are the Champions" in unison as we watched the players celebrate on the field.

Okay, that's a nearly impossible standard to uphold. I don't think it's because Yankees fans take such a victory for granted, not with a six-year pennant drought, but because they/we know there's bigger game to hunt. Unlike in the old ballpark, it was a genuine breeze to exit even amid the celebration, and it was cool to get a glimpse of the players' champagne-soaked locker-room celebration in the Great Hall:

As the Yankees received their championship trophy, an official photographer even snapped our pictures (yes, I'm too cheap to pay for a non-watermarked version, but that flash flatters no one):

That's a couple of happy campers who enjoyed a pretty great night at the ballpark. Bring on the Phillies!

Labels: , ,

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Kiss 'Em Goodbye: the Dodgers

All week long, I had an assignment hanging over my head that I hoped I wouldn't have to write, at least for another couple of weeks: the Dodgers' edition of the Baseball Prospectus/ESPN Insider "Kiss 'Em Goodbye" series. Alas, with their Game Four meltdown and Game Five beatdown, their number was up. Here's a bit of what I had to say:
When our initial PECOTA projections were unveiled in mid-February, the Dodgers' overall chances at reaching the postseason only stood around 29 percent, with an eight-win gap separating them from the Diamondbacks. By the time the season opened, their odds were up to 57 percent (48 percent for a division title, nine percent for the wild card) thanks to the late-February addition of Orlando Hudson and the early March re-signing of Ramirez.

Those two deals, along with the early February signing of Randy Wolf, came at substantial discounts in a bad economy. This was a feather in Colletti's cap, as he was able to reduce the Opening Day payroll by about $18 million relative to 2008.

As it was, PECOTA's 93-win forecast was pretty accurate, particularly given that it nailed both the Dodgers' ranking as the league's stingiest pitching staff (they tied with the Giants for the fewest runs allowed at 3.77 per game) and fourth-highest scoring offense (4.81 runs per game). While [Chad] Billingsley didn't live up to the system's expectations due to a bad second half, Wolf put together a career year and [Clayton] Kershaw pitched well beyond his years, posting the league's lowest hit rate (6.3 H/9), second-best homer rate (0.4 HR/9) and fifth-best strikeout rate (9.7 K/9) and ERA (2.79). Jonathan Broxton led the league with 4.9 WXRL while anchoring the circuit's top bullpen.

As for the offense, its .273 EqA ranked second in the league. [Manny] Ramirez was projected to rank seventh in the league with a .315 EqA, and while his 50-game suspension prevented him from getting enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, his .327 EqA would have ranked fifth. [Andre] Ethier (.301) and [Matt] Kemp (.298) both beat their projections slightly as well while becoming the first Dodgers to top 20 homers since 2005.

Key Stat: .346 OBP

Despite playing in one of the league's top pitchers' parks, the Dodgers put up the NL's highest OBP as well as batting average (.270), enabling them to overcome a meager .412 slugging percentage (seventh in the league) and the third-lowest percentage of runs scored via homers (30.1). There simply wasn't an easy out to be had in their lineup; of their eight regulars, only leadoff man Rafael Furcal (.335) finished below .350, and even he came on strong late in the year. Though Ramirez (.418) cooled off after his suspension, he nonetheless set the tone, walking 71 times in 104 games; his 21 intentional passes ranked third in the league behind Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez despite his lengthy absence. Juan Pierre (.365) filled in admirably during that 50-game stretch and elsewhere off the bench. [Casey[ Blake (.363) set a career high. Kemp (.352) and Ethier (.361) set career highs in walks as well as homers, a sign of growing respect in the eyes of opposing pitchers. Russell Martin (.352) and James Loney (.357) kept the line moving despite mysterious power outages which raised questions about their future viability.
This will be a big winter for the Dodgers, with Billingsley, Ethier, Kemp, Loney, Martin and Hong-Chih Kuo all arbitration-eligible and ready to take up a significantly larger chunk of payroll. But whether it's a spillover from the Dodgers' ownership turmoil or a firm belief in their own resources, Colletti doesn't sound inclined to try signing or trading for a true ace who could properly orient the rotation for a short series, as Joe Torre ultimately failed to do. One would think the Dodgers could consider dangling Billingsley in a deal for the Blue Jays' Roy Halladay, or throw a significant amount of money at the Angels' John Lackey, who's been one of the game's top 10 starters over the past five years according to ERA+, and who's been battle-tested in the postseason.

I guess we Dodger fans shouldn't hold our breaths for such an ace. On the contrary, perhaps we should thank our lucky stars that as bad as the internecine struggle between Frank and Jamie McCourt over control of the team appears to look, it's considerably less likely to turn into the kind of fire sale that the Padres underwent in the wake of owner John Moores' divorce, at least in the near term.

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Elimination Blues

After the Dodgers' heartbreaking NLCS Game Four loss, I went into last night's game braced for their inevitable elimination at the hands of the Phillies. So braced, in fact, that I chose to (i)phone in an appearance on Baseball Prospectus' roundtable and instead view the game from an undisclosed Upper West Side bunker in the company of BP colleagues Joe Sheehan and Derek Jacques, and ESPN Insider's Matt Meyers.

None of which lessened my disappointment at their loss, but the outcome was hardly in doubt after the fourth inning. Indeed, the script looked all too familiar. From today's writeup:
Vicente Padilla's chariot turned back into a pumpkin last night. An unlikely hero of the Dodgers' playoff run via his two previous starts, he joined Game One starter Clayton Kershaw and Game Three starter Hiroki Kuroda in failing to survive five innings against the Phillies' offensive juggernaut. For the second year in a row, the Dodgers were unceremoniously bounced from the National League Championship Series in five games. Wait 'til next year.

It didn't have to be that way for the Dodgers, who came into the series as the favorites among a broad consensus of writers, gamblers, simulators, and moral degenerates thanks to the home field advantage, fewer questions about their pitching staff, and more righty hitters and lefty pitchers to counter the Phillies' ample supply of lefties. Dodger manager Joe Torre made a hash of his rotation, however, and far more often than not, the pitchers he entrusted failed to deliver. Consider the two rotations' performances:
Team         IP   H   HR   BB  SO   ERA
Dodgers     21.2  22   6   10  15  8.72   
Philllies   30.2  24   6    4  22  2.93
The Dodgers had four full days of rest between playoff rounds, giving Torre the chance to align his rotation to best advantage, so that line above constitutes epic failure in both planning and execution. Subtract Padilla's Game Two gem as well as that of his opposite number, Pedro Martinez, and the two ERAs become 13.19 and 3.80. If you're the Dodgers, it should go without saying that that's no way to win a pennant.

The problem, ultimately, is that as strong as their rotation was — and they finished with the league's second-best ERA and tied for third in SNLVAR — the Dodgers lacked a true number one starter who could be depended upon to pitch deep into a ballgame come hell or high water and to make multiple starts in a competitive series (i.e., one longer than four games). The 21-year old Kershaw and 24-year-old Chad Billingsley, who was bypassed for a start, may both eventually develop into that stud, but neither is there yet. Randy Wolf, the Dodgers' most dependable starter this year, isn't that stud, either. To expect Kuroda, whose 2008 postseason performance outweighed his recent health woes in Torre's eyes, or Padilla, a free-talent pickup whose ERA has been six percent worse than the park-adjusted league average over the past six years, to rise to live up to such expectations was asking too much.
The Dodgers did have a few chances to make a game of it, but Torre managed from back on his heels throughout the game and indeed the series, failing to give Padilla an earlier hook and notably failing to get pinch-hitter Jim Thome to the plate with the bases loaded even at the expense of one of his trusted but underperforming position players. I suggested in last night's roundtable that one might have trouble finding an active manager with the cojones to bat Thome for one of his regulars, but a Casey Stengel or an Earl Weaver wouldn't have hesitated. Here's Joe's take:
...[W]hen I think about the Dodgers' failures — Torre's failures — I will recall an isolation shot on Jim Thome, alone in the on-deck circle, studying Ryan Madson, just as he'd studied so many pitchers before hitting his 564 career home runs, including 23 this season. I'll think about a team down five runs with five outs to go, with the bases loaded, with a glimmer of a hint of a ghost of a chance against a bullpen just aching to be exposed. I'll think about the decision to let first Russell Martin and then Casey Blake try their luck against Madson, someone who, throughout his career, has been tougher against righties than lefties. I'll think about how, when you start the eighth inning down six runs, you just hope for the opportunity to make a big score with one swing, to make a game of it, to pull off a miracle. I'll think about that miracle never getting closer than that on-deck circle.

I watched last night's game with friends, among them Jay Jaffe, who says that no manager in baseball would have made the move I insist was so obviously the correct one. Perhaps he's right. I could only come up with one name, and after sleeping on it, I don't think even he would do it. But winning a championship isn't something you do by following the path of the other 29 guys. It's something you do by making the right move at the right time to win that game. The right move was to get Jim Thome and his power to the plate with a chance to make it 9-8 with the top of the order batting in the ninth inning against Brad Lidge. Maybe Manuel goes to Scott Eyre (which is why you hit Thome for Martin, rather than wait for Blake), and even if he does, well, that worked out in Game Two. But you don't go down with Martin and Blake without getting 564 home runs and a .557 slugging average to the plate. The entire reason you put Jim Thome on the roster is so that maybe he can get you four desperately needed runs with one swing of the bat. Whatever the considerable skills of both Martin and Blake, they were the wrong men for the job. Their failures are Joe Torre's failure.
Sad but true.

I'll have more postmortem stuff about the Dodgers in tomorrow's edition of "Kiss 'Em Goodbye" at BP and ESPN Insider. In the meantime, I'll be rooting for the other half of my portfolio as the Yankees try to wrap up their first pennant in six years.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Double-Barreled Disappointment

It was a glum day for baseball chez Jaffe on Monday. Fresh off Friday's highs, I was dealt double-barreled disappointment in the form of walk-off losses by both the Yankees and the Dodgers. While I can navigate the line between fan and analyst under most circumstances, the sheer weight of all that made it hard to check my emotions at the door in cobbling together today's Hit and Run:
The late Bart Giamatti famously observed that baseball is designed to break your heart, but the former commissioner was notably silent about its ability to strangle you with your own entrails. That's how I felt on Monday, watching two teams near and dear fritter away late-inning leads and ultimately suffer walk-off losses.

Last Friday had me aglow. For the first time since October 9, 2004 and just the second time in my entire adult life, the Dodgers and Yankees—the two teams at the heart of what I've long referred to as my Bicoastal Disorder, a complicated set of rooting interests borne of blood and geography—both won playoff games. My dream of a World Series which would replicate the formative matchups of my youth was intact. The drop from that high point to Monday's action was dizzying, to say the least.

I offer that introduction not as a plea for sympathy. Indeed, the inherent contradictions of this life I've chosen have been the fuel for nearly a decade of writing beyond the decimals and differentials that make up so much of my work here, and I'm hardly ungrateful for this playoff bounty, particularly in the face of an angry mob of Tigers/Cardinals/Twins/Your-Team-Here fans. Nonetheless, Monday's twin killing will have to suffice as an excuse for the rather disjointed account that follows. As a fan, I feel as though I've been run over by a Mack truck. As an analyst... yep, Mack Truck again.

By far the more glancing of the two blows from Monday's action came in the ALCS, where the Yankees squandered a 3-0 lead thanks to a curious set of decisions by Yankees (over)manager Joe Girardi, all of which blew up in his face in spectacular fashion à la Wile E. Coyote. I'll leave that postmortem to others except to note that the Yankees still hold a two games to one lead in the series. Suffice it to say that my forehead was sufficiently tenderized for the nightcap.

As with the rest of the NLCS, Game Four continued to defy the percentages... [Dodger starter Randy] Wolf came into his start having allowed just one home run against lefty hitters all season long, and having held them to to a feeble .159/.217/.200 line in 185 plate appearances. [Ryan] Howard hit just six of his 45 homers against southpaws, managing just a .207/.298/.356 line. Yet when Wolf left a fastball up in the strike zone during last night's first-inning confrontation, Howard demolished it for a two-run homer.

We can scratch our heads and curse or cheer at the defiance of those percentages, but we'd do just as well to remember that Wolf's fateful pitch was set up by very human reactions. Home-plate umpire Ted Barrett, whose strike zone was small enough to fit into a pocket protector, made a lousy call on the preceding 2-1 fastball, which caught plenty of the plate according to both TBS's pitch tracking device and MLB Advanced Media's Gameday. Catcher Russell Martin had set up on the outside half of the plate, however, and in reaching back across his body to receive the pitch, swayed the umpire's judgment. Backed into a corner against the slugger, the flustered Wolf clearly still had that call on his mind when he served up Howard's homer, given the camera shot of him jawing with Barrett as he received a new baseball.

... At the outset of this series, my prediction hinged on the way the Dodgers' lefty pitching matched up with the Phillies' lefty hitting and vice versa, but thus far the Phillies have gotten the advantage. By my quick tally, Utley, Howard, Ibañez, and Cole Hamels are a combined 5-for-18 with two homers, nine RBI, seven walks, and four strikeouts against the Dodgers' southpaws, good for a .440 on-base percentage and a .611 slugging percentage. In the first two games, Dodger lefties Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Jim Thome started off 5-for-8 with a double, a homer, three RBI, and three walks against Philly southpaws, but they went 0-for-6 with a pair of K's against Cliff Lee on Sunday night.
So it goes. In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, "Tell your statistics to shut up."

Meanwhile, Dodger general manager Ned Colletti, better known as Stupid Flanders around these parts, has been granted a three-year contract extension. I have very mixed feelings about this; on the one hand, the Dodgers appear to have a pair of talented GM prospects in Kim Ng and Logan White, and among Colletti's moves are some real clinkers, such as the Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones contracts, the trades of Edwin Jackson and Carlos Santana. On the other hand, the Dodgers have made the playoffs in three of the four years on Colletti's watch. They did so this year having trimmed $18 million from the Opening Day payroll relative to last year, and late-season pickups such as Vicente Padilla, Ronnie Belliard, Jon Garland and George Sherrill — all of them low cost except for the latter, who required the surrender of third base prospect Josh Bell — were instrumental in the team finishing with the league's best record.

In the context of an extended rumination about the winter's potential front office turmoil, Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman nails it:
Honestly, there's another chapter to be written before we come to a firm conclusion about Colletti's value as a GM, and that's when the young Dodgers stars who have been earning from $400,000 to $4 million earn the service time that multiplies their salaries tenfold. That's when Colletti won't be able to pencil in low-paying stars in half his starting lineup anymore. There will be a host of difficult decisions to be made – the more of these guys Colletti wants to keep, the more difficulty he'll have overpaying to fill the gaps elsewhere, especially if the McCourts' travails lead to the team being put up for sale, with the budget for salaries locked down.
Grappling with the Colletti question is something I'll be doing later this winter in the forthcoming Baseball Prospectus annual.

Speaking of Dodger critiques and moving along the spectrum from astute commentary to blithering idiocy is this takedown of Joe Torre. There's a lot to take issue with regarding the way Torre has run the Dodgers during the NLCS — starting with the counterintuitive rotation plan and some Game One pitching changes — but Yahoo Jeff Passan, who's certainly capable of better, manages to catch absolutely none of it. He's so busy building a gallows for Torre to re-hang him for his crimes in the Bronx that he can't point to a single bad decision that's disadvantaged the Dodgers in this series. The takehome seems to be that Dodgers are losing — and thus about to end the season in total failure — because Torre's years with the Yankees were part of some big fraud, and he now gets paid more than he's worth. Wait, what?

Seriously, robot monkeys could churn out such execrable hackwork, which makes this revelation that an automated product called Stats Monkey can now write semi-competent game stories all the less surprising. No word on whether Passan was running Stats Monkey's sibling program, Outrage Monkey, but would it surprise anyone?

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Bicoastal Disorder, Revisited

Friday was a rare treat. For the first time since October 9, 2004, the Dodgers and Yankees — the two teams at the root of my Bicoastal Disorder — both won playoff games. Oh, what a day.

Back up a bit. On Thursday night, the Dodgers lost the opener of their National League Championship Series to the Phillies in exasperating fashion. After four mostly dazzling innings, Clayton Kershaw suffered a fifth-inning meltdown and Joe Torre, who navigated the Dodgers past the Cardinals thanks to a quick hook and aggressive bullpen management, fiddled while Chavez Ravine burned. Here's an excerpt from my writeup at Baseball Prospectus.
Clayton Kershaw wasn't ready for his close-up. Tabbed to start the opening game of the National League Championship Series, the 21-year-old Dodger lefty dazzled for the first four innings, holding the Phillies to a single and a pair of walks while striking out two, at times flashing the big-bending curve that Vin Scully termed "Public Enemy Number One" before the kid even had a day of major league service. Alas, he came unraveled in the fifth inning, and it was excruciating to watch.

Joe Torre wasn't ready for his close-up either. Lauded in this space and elsewhere for his deft handling of his pitching staff during the Division Series — handling that included boldly giving struggling Game One starter Randy Wolf the hook despite a 3-2 lead with two outs in the fourth inning — the Dodger manager spit the bit on Thursday night. He fiddled while Kershaw became a deer in the headlights of the Phillies' Mack truck offense, all in an effort to prevent himself from having to use one of his three lefty relievers, and one of his six pinch-hitters. By the time he finally emerged from the dugout to pull Kershaw, five runs had scored.

It could have been prevented. By the time Kershaw surrendered the coup de grâce, a two-run double to Ryan Howard (yes, off of a lefty), he had already walked three hitters in the fifth, including the hacktastic Pedro Feliz and pitcher Cole Hamels. He had also surrendered two hits, a leadoff single to Raul Ibañez and a three-run homer to Carlos Ruiz. He had additionally set an LCS record by throwing three wild pitches in the inning. As Chase Utley flung his bat away to take his base, he had thrown 31 pitches amid this meltdown, and Torre had both lefty Scott Elbert and righty Ramon Troncoso warming up in the bullpen. Beyond the numbers, the kid appeared to be rushing his tempo and hemorrhaging self-confidence, but pitching coach Rick Honeycutt had already visited to the mound prior to Ruiz's at-bat — which worked like a charm, obviously — and catcher Russell Martin was putting on a performance behind the plate that was only slightly better than this guy, so he wasn't exactly in a position to be calming his rattled batterymate's nerves...

Torre stuck to the percentages, keeping his wild, flagging not-yet-ace southpaw matched up with a slugger who hit just .207/.298/.356 against lefties this year and owns just a .226/.310/.444 line against them in over 1,000 career plate appearances — the latter more than 300 points of OPS below his showing against righties. He left a 94 mph fastball over the plate, and Howard smoked it to right field, expanding a 3-1 lead to 5-1 and finally spelling the end of the night for Kershaw. The Dodgers would keep the game tight thanks to an off night by Hamels and some shakiness in the grand tradition of the Phillies bullpen, but they ultimately fell, 8-6.
All night long, on both sides, it was lefty-on-lefty violence, the kind of thing that could drive an analyst whose central thesis in previewing the series was that the Dodgers were better suited to attack the Phillies' weaknesses and counteract their strengths based upon the balance of lefties in the lineup and bullpen. Instead, batter after batter seemed to defy my analysis and the percentage, with Howard and Raul Ibañez collecting the big blows off the lefties Kershaw and George Sherrill.

In any event, the Dodgers pinned their hopes for Game Two on Vicente Padilla, a late-season pickup who was released by the Rangers in part because he had become a clubhouse distraction. The Phillies countered with their own late-season pickup, a guy you may have heard of, Pedro Martinez. The odd symmetry of this matchup was that Padilla started his career with the Phillies and Pedro, more famously, with the Dodgers. Tommy Lasorda infamously proclaimed that the young righty — whose older brother, Ramon, was on his way to becoming the staff ace — was too slight to survive the rigors of starting pitching. Given that Lasorda shredded Ramon's arm in the grand tradition of Rick Rhoden, Doug Rau, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, it was probably for the best in the grand scheme that Pedro was traded away.

On a sunny 93 degree (!) day at Chavez Ravine, the two pitchers matched zeroes for three innings before Howard smashed a solo homer to left field. Pedro no longer has the stuff to miss many bats; he generated just four Dodgers swings and misses all day, but he prevented them from making solid contact. Hitter after hitter could only pop the ball up harmlessly. Padilla was nearly as good, throwing mid-90s fastballs to both sides of the plate.

The lone run stood up as the sole blemish on the scoreboard for nearly an entire afternoon as a rich tableau unfolded, with Martinez, the future Hall of Famer, thrilling us perhaps one final time on the big stage through little but guile and deception, and Padilla, the black-hatted villain to Martinez's aging sheriff, standing his own ground by summoning a power he had only intermittently tapped throughout his own career. It was the kind of pitcher's duel that made your hair stand on end, regardless of your rooting interests, filled with a mixture of joy at the opportunity to catch such a great ballgame, and melancholy at the prospect that it would somehow end, and that one of the two valiant, grizzled hurler's efforts would go for naught.

At the start of our BP Roundtable, colleague Kevin Goldstein took the following question from a reader:
Wheels (Virginia): Anyone care to lay odds on a 1 to 0 game with both starters around in the 8th inning?

[KG]: If Pedro pitches into the eighth, I will, in honor of the great Werner Herzog, eat my shoe.
He very nearly had to eat his words and said shoe, just as the German New Wave film director (no relation to Whitey) famously did to pay off a bet with fellow director Errol Morris. Luckily for him, Martinez was pulled after seven shutout innings, still leading 1-0. Padilla got one out in the eighth before he departed to a thunderous ovation.

Freed of those two gunslingers, the game broke open in the bottom of the eighth, as the Dodgers strung together a rally against no less than five Philly relievers, with the tying run scoring as Chase Utley airmailed — Knoblauched, really — a potential double play ball into foul territory for the second time in as many games. The Dodgers pulled ahead when Phils lefty J.A. Happ issued a bases-loaded walk to Andre Ethier, the lefty whom he'd been summoned to face. They might have gotten more had Manny Ramirez not popped up Chad Durbin's first pitch with the bases loaded to end the frame, but Jonathan Broxton bolted the door shut in the ninth to even the series. What a game.

As for the Yankees and Angels, their game, played under wet and frigid conditions in the Bronx, couldn't help but pale by comparison. Both teams featured the odd sight of players wearing ear flaps or body socks, none more conspicuous than Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, who dazedly let Hideki Matsui's potential inning-ending popup drop in front of him as third baseman Chone Figgins looked on with near-equal cluelessness. Johnny Damon, running from second with the pitch, crossed the plate with the Yankees' second run of the inning. Seemingly psyched out because of the cold, the Angels made three errors in the field, and they could do little at the plate against CC Sabathia, who pitched eight strong innings before Mariano Rivera finished things off.

I watched the entirety of both games, chatting with BP colleagues Goldstein and Steven Goldman throughout, with Joe Sheehan joining us for the first game and Will Carroll for the nightcap. It was an epic day in front of the laptop and the TV, but it was a whole lot of fun.

As for the only other day in my adult life that the Dodgers and Yankees both won playoff games, I remember it well. Alex Belth invited my wife and I to trek up to Riverdale to watch the Yankees eliminate the Twins on the strength of a four-run eighth-inning rally to tie the game via a big homer by Ruben Sierra, and then some 11th-inning heroics by Alex Rodriguez, who doubled, stole third, and scored on a wild pitch. I wrote about that game here.

But not before writing about the nightcap. My wife and I had plans to attend a friend's birthday party afterward, so I missed the bulk of what became the Dodgers' first postseason victory in 16 years thanks to Jose Lima's bravura performance against the Cardinals. Knowing the result, I still watched the final three innings when I got home, just to see the frenzied jubilation of Dodger Stadium's denizens. You'd think they had won the World Series given the joy. Instead they'd watched the Dodgers shed a monkey off their backs. They didn't win another game that October, but they set the stage for much better days. Better days like October 16, 2009, a day of baseball I'll not soon forget.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 15, 2009


NLCS Preview: War, Peace, Crime, Punishment, and Bullpen Management

My epic-length preview of the Dodgers-Phillies National League Championship Series matchup is up at Baseball Prospectus. Whatever its merits or flaws, I'm reasonably certain it's the LONGEST preview of its kind. Getting the chance to do a Playoff Prospectus is an honor, and I always try to pour myself into the project, word count be damned. To me, arriving at a prediction — Dodgers in six, in this case — isn't as important as the analysis behind it, because I don't go into the process with my mind made up. Admittedly, my knowledge of the Dodgers is deeper than that of the Phils, particularly because I already previewed their first-round series. I did the Phillies twice last year, which helped make up for seeing less of their first-round series than any of the others.

The key in this series is the bullpens:
Dodgers                  IP     ERA   WXRL   rFRA
RHP Jonathan Broxton    76.0   2.61   4.89   2.63
LHP George Sherrill*    69.0   1.70   4.30   1.83
RHP Ramon Troncoso      82.2   2.72   3.50   2.79
RHP Ronald Belisario    70.2   2.04   0.19   2.99
LHP Hong-Chih Kuo       30.0   3.00   1.10   2.32
RHP Jeff Weaver         79.0   3.65   1.75** 4.02
RHP Chad Billingsley   196.1   4.03   3.72** 4.38

Phillies                 IP     ERA   WXRL   rFRA
RHP Brad Lidge          58.2   7.21  -3.26   8.44
RHP Ryan Madson         77.1   3.26   2.32   3.08
LHP Scott Eyre          30.0   1.50   1.55   2.17
RHP Chan Ho Park        83.1   4.43   1.93** 3.00
RHP Chad Durbin         69.2   4.39   0.95   4.96
LHP Antonio Bastardo    23.2   6.46  -0.10#  7.06
rFRA: Relief-only FRA
*: Full-season combined statistics
Let us not mince words: given the Dodger rotation's limited stamina, this team's post-season fate falls squarely on the shoulders of their bullpen. Fortunately, those are big shoulders, and [Joe] Torre demonstrated his knack for using his relief corps to shorten games in the Division Series. Their bullpen has such depth that they were able to withstand the early hook of Wolf, and to match up Broxton with Albert Pujols in the late innings of all three games, regardless of whether it was the eighth or ninth. Dodger relievers tossed 9 2/3 innings in the series, allowing eight hits and one walk while striking out seven, stranding four baserunners inherited from starters and yielding two runs, both in garbage time. Work like that wins championships.

Not that it should be a great surprise, given that the team led the league with 13.2 WXRL, and that Broxton not only led the league in that category, but led all relievers in strikeouts (114) and strikeout rate (13.5 per nine). The deadline addition of Sherrill was key, as it prevented Torre from burning out the likes of Belisario and Troncoso while offering him a hurler who smothers lefties (.163/.226/.261 career) and has experience closing; Sherrill put up a 0.70 FRA [Fair Run Average] in high-leverage duty after coming over. Fellow southpaw Kuo's second-half return to form (2.19 ERA, 28/9 K/BB ratio in 24 2/3 innings) following elbow troubles provides the Dodgers with two chances to stifle Howard in the late innings. Elsewhere, Belisario and Troncoso generate ground balls by the bushel while steering clear of the long ball. The former was hell on righties (.157/.234/.252). The latter, who didn't pitch in the Division Series after losing a bit of Torre's confidence over the season's final two months (a 4.87 ERA and 5.3 BB/9 will do that) nonetheless finished eighth in the league in WXRL. Weaver was a late addition to the playoff roster, and came up huge in relief of [Randy] Wolf, wriggling out of a bases-loaded jam and getting the win; he provides Torre with another situational righty, not to mention an unhappy reminder that the manager's post-season record in handling bullpens is hardly spotless. Left out of the rotation, Billingsley's ability to miss bats is yet another weapon.

By contrast the Phillies' bullpen rates as a serious concern, even after [Charlie] Manuel successfully navigated it through the Colorado series. One year after converting every save opportunity en route to a World Championship, Lidge blew 11 saves and set a record for the lowest single-season WXRL. The Phils mulled various options during the season's final weeks, but ultimately Manuel gave him the ball to close out the final two games, albeit with a caveat. Reintroducing a cut fastball into his repertoire against lefties, Lidge worked around a pair of walks while pitching the entire ninth inning in Game Three, and came on with two outs and two on in Game Four—following Manuel's situationally-based choice to start the inning with the lefty Eyre—to strike out Troy Tulowiztki, closing out the series.

Part of the reason Manuel wound up returning to Lidge is because of the rest of the bullpen's limitations, primarily due to injuries. Madson remains his top set-up man, capable of missing bats and getting more than three outs when the need dictates. The most obvious choice to supplant Lidge — he saved 10 games this year — Madson's move to the ninth leaves a vacuum that the Phils couldn't fill. The Phils had hoped Brett Myers could assume a high-leverage role, but he remains less than 100 percent following hip surgery. Trouble finding the strike zone in his sole Division Series appearance, as well as doubts about his ability to pitch consecutive days, have cost him a roster spot in favor of Park. The team's second most effective reliever (2.1 WXRL, 3.00 FRA, 9.4 K/9 after moving from the rotation), Park hasn't pitched in a game since September 16 due to a hamstring strain. Durbin's a lower-leverage righty who walks far too many hitters for his own good (5.8 UIBB/9); he nonetheless saw eighth-inning duty in Game Three, after Manuel used Madson to put out a fire lit by Eyre in the seventh. Eyre, of course, is now the top lefty due to J.C. Romero's torn flexor tendon; he doesn't stifle lefties to quite the extent of most specialists (.240/.321/.396 career), nor does he miss many bats. Bastardo is a rookie who showed little platoon difference during his June in the rotation, but he did whiff 7.2 per nine.

How Manuel will use Blanton and Happ, his two options to start Game Four, remains to be seen. Blanton served in middle relief in Game Two and as the long man in Game Three, surrendering a run each time. Happ faced one batter in Game Two, gave up a hit, and served up a dud of a start (three innings, seven baserunners, three runs) under frigid conditions before departing due to a comebacker off of his shin. The summer's rotation savior scuffled down the stretch, with a 4.83 ERA and zero quality starts after August 27.
Admittedly, I've got plenty of emotion wrapped up in this series, but that's one of the reasons I'm so thorough with my analysis. And in the end, I can't help but conclude that the Dodgers' righty-heavy lineup and deep bullpen sets them up to attack the Phillies' weaknesses — and counteract their strengths — better than the Phillies can do same, plus they have the benefit of home-field advantage. Here's hoping they can seize the opportunity and avenge last year's loss.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


All A-Twitter

With a mixture of ambivalence, curiosity, and concern for the battery life of my iPhone, I've dipped a toe into the next frontier of social media blah-de-blah by signing up for a Twitter account. It's handy for disseminating tidbits of information that are too tiny to merit a blog post, and I've found the ability to carry on instant message-length discussions with my BP colleagues and fellow writers during the playoffs to rise to the level of entertainment at least a few times. More importantly it's come in handy for mundane work reasons such as getting a jump on how the Dodgers will line up their rotation for the NLCS (Kershaw, Padilla, Kuroda and Wolf, according to beat writer Todd Zolecki) so I can meet the deadline for my Playoff Prospectus.

That said, your mileage may vary, and if Twitter ain't your thing, there's absolutely no need to join the rest of us twits.


Monday, October 12, 2009


Everything's Coming Up Milhouse

Everything's coming up Milhouse thus far in the playoffs, at least from my standpoint. The Dodgers swept the Cardinals, the Yankees swept the Twins, and the Angels swept the Red Sox, with each of the series more or less turning on a ninth-inning flub by the eventual losers — a harsh reminder that there's almost no margin for error in such a short series.

In the Dodgers series, it came via Matt Holliday's dropped fly ball on the potential final out of Game Two; had the catch been made, the series would have been knotted at one game apiece as it headed back to St. Louis, but as it was, the Dodgers rallied against closer Ryan Franklin for the win. In the Yankees series, it came when Alex Rodriguez slammed a Joe Nathan pitch into the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth of Game Two for a game-tying homer. The Yanks won it in the bottom of the 11th on a Mark Teixeira walk-off, but only after the Twins loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the inning and failed to score, a situation somewhat marred by umpire Phil Cuzzi's failure to see a Joe Mauer drive land in fair territory beforehand; Mauer would have gotten a ground-rule double, but he had to settle for a single. In the Red Sox series, Jonathan Papelbon came on to protect a 5-2 lead with two outs and two on base in the eighth inning of Game Three. He gave up a two-run single, then surrendered three more runs in the ninth, the last two on a single by Vlad Guerrero following an intentional walk of Torii Hunter (Joe Posnanski has a great rant about that one), and soon the Sox were packing up for winter. Riverdance that one, kid.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers will have to wait for their opponents to emerge from the other NL Division Series currently being played under frigid conditions in Denver between the Phillies and the Rockies. From a historic standpoint, a rematch with the Phillies would be more favorable, but the Dodgers' chances at reaching the World Series are probably better against the Rockies, whom they beat 14 out of 18 times this year. Personally, though, I'm just hoping for a protracted, miserable series full of extra-inning games ultimately won by the Donner Party.

I haven't had much chance to write about postseason action yet, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy. The season's final Hit List is up at Baseball Prospectus, with the Yanks finishing atop the list for the first time since 2006 and the Dodgers, who led most of the year, winding up second. The latest installment of our "Kiss 'Em Goodbye" series is up at Baseball Prospectus and ESPN Insider; this one, to which I contributed, covers the just-defeated Cardinals:
Key stats: 62 starts, 425 2/3 innings, 2.45 ERA, .650 SNWP
That's what the Cardinals got from Carpenter and Wainwright, and after the pair combined for just 23 starts last year, it was their performances which were the main reason the Cardinals outdid their PECOTA projection by eight games. After pitching just 21 1/3 innings in 2007-2008 due to various elbow miseries, Carpenter rebounded to go 17-4 while posting the league's top ERA (2.24) and SNWP (.673), with microscopic walk and homer rates (1.8 per nine and 0.3 per nine, the latter tops in the league) further underscoring the fact that he was back in Cy Young form. Wainwright, who missed two and a half months with a finger tendon injury in 2008, emerged as an ace thanks to improved command his curveball, which enabled him to smother righties (.217/.255/.290). He led the league with 19 wins and 233 innings while ranking fourth with a 2.63 ERA and 212 strikeouts.

The Bottom Line
With Holliday, DeRosa, Troy Glaus, and Rick Ankiel all free agents, the team will need to find a heavy hitter or two this winter to keep the lineup from feeling like "Albert and the Seven Dwarves" again. As the Cardinals fill their holes, they'll especially need to emphasize plate discipline, given that Pujols and mid-season acquisition Julio Lugo were the only regulars to walk at least once for every 10 plate appearances. Furthermore, La Russa and Dave Duncan's possible departure might present real problems for this franchise, given the skill both have shown at squeezing the most out of veteran rosters — and particularly rotations — assembled amid the limitations of a mid-market payroll.
Tough to believe that La Russa and Duncan might not be part of the Cardinals next year; they've been constants for so long it's easy to forget they're not surgically attached to the team.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, October 08, 2009


The Bambino in Action

A note from somebody at the New York Times alerted me to this new-found footage of Babe Ruth swinging a bat and playing Yankee Stadium outfield circa 1928. The footage comes via 90-second silent 8-millimeter clip shot recently unearthed by a New Hampshire man from his grandfather’s home movie collection. It won't win any awards for clarity, but the Bambino's distinctive swing and gait are apparent, and the expert researchers at the MLB Network archive have verified it.

From the accompanying story:
Babe Ruth has struck out looking. Displeased, he leans on his bat, right hand on his hip, and looks back at the umpire. He utters something that can only be imagined. Lou Gehrig, on deck, leans on his bat, too, as if he has seen this act before. Ruth finally shuffles away, head turned to the umpire, dragging his bat through the dirt.

...The newly arrived Ruth film is part of the video collection of Major League Baseball Productions, the league’s official archivist, which spans more than 100 years and includes about 150,000 hours of moving images. Most of the collection is stored in plastic cases that line metal shelves of a room labeled “Major League Baseball Film and Video Archive.” The overflow rests in storage a few miles away, in Fort Lee, N.J.

...He is shown in right field, hands on his knees, glove on his right hand. To a casual fan, it appears unremarkable. But it represents the archive’s only game action of Ruth playing in the outfield — where he spent more than 2,200 games — other than a between-innings game of catch.

Nick Trotta, baseball’s manager of library licensing, took a look at the newly arrived Ruth clip first. He quickly realized it was something he had not seen before.

When others saw it, it was “wow, wow, wow,” Mr. Trotta said.
Wow, wow, wow indeed.

Labels: ,


Talking Strategy

For the third time this year, I'll be appearing on a Fox Strategy Room webcast. I'll be part of the "Clubhouse Report" show hosted by Brian Kilmeade today at 1 PM at this link. It looks as though the panel will feature a few other recognizable names:
Rick Cerrone - Sr. Director of Media Relations for NY Yankees 1996-2006,

Jay Jaffe - Baseball Prospectus

Geno Bisconte - Comedian,,

Marty Appel - PR Director NY Yankees 1968-1976, Author of 17 books, including the best-selling baseball book: "Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain."
Not sure how I wind up with second billing in that group. Appel and Cerrone always used to pop up in newspaper reports regarding the Yankees and baseball in general; I really enjoyed Appel's Now Pitching For the Yankees book from several years back. Bisconte is the yukster who's animated the other two appearances I've made on the Strategy Room. Should be plenty of baseball talk about the Yankees and day one of the playoffs.

It sure was a long day. I spent at least 10 hours on my couch watching the tripleheader, though I'd be lying if I said I had an easy time following Phillies-Rockies during my BP chat. The Yankees' win over the Twins was satisfying, with Derek Jeter's towering home run, CC Sabathia's gritty performance, and Alex Rodriguez's two RBI hits helping them pull away slowly in the later innings.

The Dodgers' win over the Cardinals was much more nerve-wracking, as Randy Wolf loaded the bases in the first inning before recording a single out, and Ronnie Belliard collaborated with Matt Kemp on missing a blooper into shallow center that scored the game's first run. Luckily, the Dodgers escaped that jam without further damage and Kemp bopped a two-run homer off Cardinal ace and Cy Young candidate Chris Carpenter in the bottom of the first. Neither Carpenter nor Wolf were on their games. Wolf gave up six hits, five walks (two intentional, both to Albert Pujols, and with good cause) and a hit-by-pitch in 3.2 innings before Joe Torre pulled him for... Jeff F'ing Weaver! Now I don't know about you, but I've already gotten the course credit for Jeff Weaver 101, Jeff Weaver 201, and Jeff Weaver 301 courses, and I'm not really going for my master's degree there. Torre appeared to mistake ol' Wevo, who admittedly did a credible job on mop-and-bucket duty this year for the Dodgers to resurrect his career, for David Cone c. the 2000 World Series, and I nearly had to cover my eyes. Luckily it didn't blow up in his face, as Weaver extricated them from another bases-loaded jam with a weak grounder by Ryan Ludwick.

Men left on base were the theme of the game; the two teams set a postseason record by stranding 30 men, 16 by the Dodgers, who chipped away at Carpenter for four runs in five innings but could never really break the game open. Meanwhile, both managers battled for every single out with their corps of relievers, each using five of them. The Dodger bullpen — Weaver, Ronald Belisario, Hong-Chih Kuo, George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton — gave Torre 5.1 of five-hit ball, striking out five without walking anybody, and surrendering just one garbage-time run. The Cardinal bullpen looked like a shakier proposition, yielding four walks in four frames. Portly lefty specialist Dennis Reyes yielded a double to Andre Ethier, the only Dodger really worth the trouble of manager Tony LaRussa's incessant bullpen machinations, and came around to score on a bases-loaded HBP when Kyle McClelland drilled Russell Martin. He was the only Dodger starter who failed to collect at least one hit, with Rafael Furcal looking like the guy in the catalog by collecting three, including a triple that went for naught.

How big a win was that for the Dodgers? I no longer can count the number of postseason victories they've accumulated since my freshman year of college on one hand. Huge.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Dodgers-Cardinals Prospectus

The Playoff Prospectus I wrote for the Dodgers-Cardinals series is up at BP. It's epic in length, which somehow explains why I didn't get to see the final inning of the Game 163 play-in, because I didn't set my TiVo to record more than an extra hour of the game, and by the time I got a chance to watch -- starting at 11 PM, though I'd seen the first few innings while making dinner -- it was already in the books. FML, as the kids say.

Anyway, as for the Dodgers and Cardinals, here's the rotation segment as an excerpt:
Dodgers                  IP     ERA  SNLVAR  SNWP
LHP Randy Wolf         214.1   3.23   6.0   .564
LHP Clayton Kershaw    171.0   2.79   6.5   .600
RHP Vicente Padilla    147.1   4.46   3.1   .508*
RHP Chad Billingsley   196.1   4.03   3.8   .502

Cardinals               IP     ERA  SNLVAR  SNWP
RHP Chris Carpenter    192.2   2.24   8.0   .673
RHP Adam Wainwright    233.0   2.63   8.5   .630
RHP Joel Pineiro       214.0   3.49   4.6   .532
RHP John Smoltz         78.0   6.35   0.5   .414*
RHP Kyle Lohse         117.2   4.74   1.1   .436 
* Full season statistics
Though the Dodger and Cardinal rotations finished tied for third in the National League in SNLVAR (23.2) and among the top four in ERA — L.A.'s 3.58 was second, St. Louis' 3.66 was fourth — the two teams differ greatly in how they got there. The Cardinal starters absorbed a league-high 69.7 percent of their team's workload, an average of 6.20 innings per start. They did so by being efficient, posting the league's lowest walk and homer rates (2.4 per nine and 0.7 per nine, respectively) to counteract having just the 11th-best strikeout rate. Dodger starters, by contrast, shouldered the fourth-lightest workload among NL starters at 62.5 percent, though that owes something playing an MLB-high 21 extra inning games. Their 5.68 innings per start was the sixth-lowest in the league, a byproduct of a high strikeout rate (7.5 per nine, third in the league) and a high walk rate (3.5 per nine, fourth). Unquestionably, it's the Dodgers who enter the postseason with the greater number of concerns about their rotation, as their top four starters all missed time down the stretch.

Despite a paltry total of 11 wins — a figure sure to be remarked upon by the mainstream media — Wolf enjoyed something of a career year as he set personal bests for starts (34), innings pitched and ERA+ (129). Thanks in no small part to a league-low .254 BABIP, he finished a strong 11th in SNLVAR and tied for fourth in Quality Starts (24), a ranking which reflects his sheer consistency. In the second half, he delivered at least six innings in 17 straight starts; though he skipped a turn due to elbow soreness amid that stretch in early September, it doesn't appear to be a lingering issue. There's considerably greater concern for Kershaw, who made just two starts after September 4 after separating his glove-side shoulder shagging balls in the outfield, an injury which nonetheless kept the 21-year-old from blowing too far past last year's combined minor and major league innings total. The kid misses bats; his 9.7 K/9 ranked fifth among NL ERA qualifiers, and his hit rate (6.3 per nine) was by far the league's lowest. He matches up well with these Cardinals, who have collected nothing more harmful than three doubles off him in 100 PA over his short career.

After losing Hiroki Kuroda for the series and perhaps the remainder of the year due to a herniated cervical disc, Torre has settled on Padilla to start Game Three. The former Ranger pitched well (3.20 ERA, .553 SNWP and 8.7 K/9) after being picked up on waivers in early August, owing much to the easier league and the friendlier park. More interesting is that his start is guaranteed while that of Billingsley, who entered the year as the staff ace, isn't. Though Billingsley led the Dodgers in wins (12) and finished just six strikeouts behind Kershaw, he struggled the second half, with a 5.20 ERA and six quality starts out of 13. His woes may owe something to a hyperextended knee suffered early in August, or simply a lack of stamina; he gave up 16 runs in the nine sixth innings he pitched during that stretch, including six against the Cards on July 28 after shutting them out in the previous five frames, a showing that almost certainly entered into Torre's decision.

The Cardinals go into this series with two of the league's top three pitchers in terms of Support Neutral Winning Percentage in Carpenter and Wainwright; the two placed first and fourth, respectively, in ERA as well. Carpenter's comeback from two seasons in the weeds (four starts in 207-2008) due to elbow miseries has been so complete that it's easy to forget what a question mark he was coming into the year. His stellar performance, which may culminate in a second Cy Young award, is the main reason the Cards outdid their PECOTA projection by eight games. While he doesn't strike out as many hitters as he used to, his walk rate (1.8 per nine, third in the league) is microscopic, and his NL-best home run rate (0.3 per nine) even moreso. If he doesn't win the Cy, Wainwright might; he led the league in wins (19) and innings while significantly boosting his strikeout rate thanks to improved command of his curveball, which enabled him to smother righties (.217/.255/.290), representing a real problem for the Dodgers.

Pineiro, who will start Game Three, enjoyed a strong rebound of his own this year thanks to the league's fourth-best homer rate (0.5) and best walk rate (1.1 per nine); twice, he reeled off four-start stretches without walking a single hitter, and he hasn't walked more than two in a start since April 15. As for the choice in Game Four, Smoltz pitched much better upon being picked up by the Cardinals (4.26 ERA, .508 SNWP, 9.5 K/9) than he did in Boston, though his final start was a dud. As the all-time leader in postseason wins (15), he's likely to have the inside track on Lohse, who has posted a 5.40 ERA and 1.6 HR/9 since his forearm troubles emerged in late May, but neither pitcher is likely to have a very long leash.
quote this text
I'd have excerpted the part about the batting orders, except that it's much longer and, because I didn't have the Cardinals Game One lineup by press time, wrong. As if to spite me for the sarcasm with which I use the term "genius" to describe him, Tony LaRussa decided to start lefty-hitting Skip Schumaker at second after all, and he walked and came around to score the game's first run, poor performance against lefties be damned. On the run-scoring play, Ronnie Belliard failed to catch a blooper into center field that one can only wonder whether Orlando Hudson — whose starting job he usurped — might have, but he also started an inning-ending double play.

Whoa, and Matt Kemp blasts one to straightaway center field to put the Dodgers up 2-1... I gotta get back to this game.

Labels: , ,


I'll Show You the Bronx Banter Breakdown III

The third installment of the series shot Monday with Bronx Banter's Alex Belth, Cliff Corcoran and myself is now up at the video channel. This one discusses the Twins, the Yankees' first-round opponents (given that it was shot before Tuesday night's Game 163 play-in, we also shot a Tigers' segment that will never air). The Twins come in having won 17 out of 21 including the play-in, but as I showed the other day, late-season performance has no reliable bearing on playoff performance. That was my key point here. Also a bit of talk about Alex Rodriguez.

Not surprisingly, I had lots of Yankees-Twins questions in today's chat. A sampling of them:
David (Evanston, IL): Do this year's Twins have one of the least intimidating starting rotations in postseason history?
JJ: It's fairly unimpressive, for sure, and certainly belongs in the discussion. What I'd like to know is why Scott Baker wasn't tabbed for Game Three instead of Carl Pavano, given that after throwing last night, he'd have four days of rest. You've *got* to guarantee your best pitcher a start in that series.

ssteadman (St. Louis, MO): Obviously it's hard to predict because he is just 26, but are we potentially seeing the greatest catcher of all time (maybe excluding Josh Gibson) in Joe Mauer?
JJ: Mauer is great, but best catcher of all time is a tall order even for a three-time batting champion, because Johnny Bench was so incredible on both sides of the ball — his defense made Jose Molina look like Mike Piazza.

Eli (Brooklyn): As a Yankee fan, please talk me off the ledge Joe Girardi has me on. The Molina start is exactly the kind of over-managing that I'm terrified off all postseason — Jeter bunting in the fifth, Coke facing Mauer in the 8th, etc...
JJ: The Molina start is a pretty stupid thing that has me gritting my teeth, but the fact of the matter is that it's a pretty small thing, too, and it's not like it's deviating from something Girardi has done all year by putting him into the mix. Last I checked, they won 103 games, so it worked out OK. 

I'm far more worried about the team's lefty relief situation going into the playoffs than I am about the catching. Neither Coke nor Damaso Marte give me much confidence, and there are a fair number of key lefties they'll need to get through to win another World Championship. Despite that complaint, Girardi has shown that he deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to handling that bullpen — it might be his strongest area as a manager.

William (Orange Beach, AL): What type of player with Delmon Young be 5 years from now ? If not for the 50 something games he sat out this year, its not crazy to think that he could have hit .290-18-80.
JJ: Yes, Young might have approached those Triple Crown numbers, but given his plate discipline (92/12 K/BB this year), all that would tell you is that Triple Crown numbers do a poor job of telling you what a disappointment he is. .284/.308/.425 isn't remotely acceptable for a 23-year-old corner outfielder with his caliber of tools, and I don't know if he's ever going to fulfill the promise that the scouts saw in him a few years back. Five year's from now we'll be watching him hang on for dear life to a major league career.
Ballgame's about to start, second game of the tripleheader to which I'm glued. Go Yanks!

Labels: , , ,


June 2001   July 2001   August 2001   September 2001   October 2001   November 2001   December 2001   January 2002   February 2002   March 2002   April 2002   May 2002   June 2002   July 2002   August 2002   September 2002   October 2002   November 2002   December 2002   January 2003   February 2003   March 2003   April 2003   May 2003   June 2003   July 2003   August 2003   September 2003   October 2003   November 2003   December 2003   January 2004   February 2004   March 2004   April 2004   May 2004   June 2004   July 2004   August 2004   September 2004   October 2004   November 2004   December 2004   January 2005   February 2005   March 2005   April 2005   May 2005   June 2005   July 2005   August 2005   September 2005   October 2005   November 2005   December 2005   January 2006   February 2006   March 2006   April 2006   May 2006   June 2006   July 2006   August 2006   September 2006   October 2006   November 2006   December 2006   January 2007   February 2007   March 2007   April 2007   May 2007   June 2007   July 2007   August 2007   September 2007   October 2007   November 2007   December 2007   January 2008   February 2008   March 2008   April 2008   May 2008   June 2008   July 2008   August 2008   September 2008   October 2008   November 2008   December 2008   January 2009   February 2009   March 2009   April 2009   May 2009   June 2009   July 2009   August 2009   September 2009   October 2009   November 2009   December 2009   January 2010   February 2010   March 2010   April 2010   May 2010  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]