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.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Thank Heavens for Angell

Among the numerous things I'm thankful for every year, one of them is the arrival of Roger Angell's annual recap in The New Yorker, which I sat down and read last night over a bottle of seasonal ale after tiring of discerning the minutiae of various Angels pitching prospects. From Angels to Angell, now that I think about it. The piece is in the November 30 issue, which hit my mailbox this week, but alas, the digital edition is available only to subscribers.

Angell is 89 now, at some complain that he's got an air of things-were-better-in-my-day about him. Alex Belth cherrypicks a few of the piece's great quotes regarding Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson, and Hideki Matsui, and they all contain a hint of disdain for the present as opposed to the past. Nonetheless, even if he weren't still such a master of prose, Angell's perspective would be a valuable one simply because the breadth of baseball history he witnessed firsthand — back to the days of Ruth and Gehrig, or the Gashouse Gang, or Willie Mays in his prime in the Polo Grounds — grants him an authority on the subject that's virtually unmatched. If he sounds a bit crotchety at times, well, where the hell else are you gonna get a comparison like this:
He throws with an elegant flail, hiding the ball behind his hip or knee and producing it from behind his left shoulder, already in full delivery. His finish brings his left leg up astern like a semaphore, while his arm swings back across his waist. This columnar closing posture — he's not twisted off to one side, like other pitchers, but driving forward, with the back leg still aloft, as his eyes follow the pitch — is classic and reminded me strongly of some fabled pitcher from my boyhood. He looked a little dusty and work-worn out there, which may have contributed to this impression. I thought about Dizzy Dean or Lon (the Arkansas Hummingbird) Warneke, but they were righties. Then I remembered Hal Newhouser, the Tigers' lefty ace in the nineteen-forties, who ate up batters much in the way that Lee does. Later, I put my question in a phone call to Seymour Siwoff, the dean of the Elias Sports Bureau. "Hmmm," he said when i mentioned the flying back leg, "let me think about this for a minute." There was a pause, and then he said, "Why do I think it was somebody on the Tigers?"
A few other favorites... On the American League Championship Series:
Nothing much about the Championship Series with the Los Angeles Angels feels like fun in retrospect, even from this distance. Mostly, it was terrifying. I remember calling home once in mid-game from the Yankee Stadium press box, and hearing "I can't stand any more of this!" when my wife picked up the phone. Did anyone actually enjoy Game 5, out there in Anaheim, when the home-team Angels went ahead by four runs in the first ininig, watched that lead disintegrate in a six-run Yankee seventh, and came back with a winning three of their own in the bottom half? Top and botom, that inning required forty-four minutes, and it felt like a colonoscopy."
On the Yankees' outsized ace:
Too bad, but I'm not going to get around to C.C. Sabathia's sunny looks and pavillion-sized pant and weird, white-toed spikes, or ask batters how they feel about his fastball-cutter-changeup assortment that arrives (he's six-seven and two hundred and ninety pounds) like a loaded tea tray coming down an airshaft.
On Derek Jeter: "Just when you think you appreciate Derek enough, you don't."

One could say the same thing about Angell. My only beef with the piece was that it felt too short, lacking a grander perspective on the regular season and rushing to a close with the suddenness and finality of Game 6 itself, leaving us to face alone what Ken Burns termed "the hard facts of autumn." I wanted to read Angell's unwritten digression about the new Yankee Stadium and his deeper thoughts about Sabathia; when exactly are we going to get those from the nearly nonagenarian bard, whose output is down to these annual summaries? I realize that print is his medium and that the contraction of magazine advertising and the high cost of paper restricts his space. Why not produce a double-length piece for the web that we can, as Alex did, print out and read at our leisure? It seems like an opportunity missed for a guy who's got all too few innings left.

That said, it's still a damn good excuse to plunk down $5 and enjoy one of the old masters. Get thee to a newsstand while you still can, my friends.

Wishing a happy thanksgiving to family, friends and readers. Here's hoping you're enjoying your turkey and stuffing among those whom you love.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Miller's Crossing

The nation's leading sticks in the mud, the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, are having a vote in a few weeks. Two of them, in fact, one on umpires and managers and the other on executives and pioneers. Marvin Miller, the former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association who led the fight to end the Reserve Clause, is among the latter group. BizofBaseball's Maury Brown examines the ballot and asks if this is finally the year for the man who irrevocably reshaped baseball's landscape.

Sadly, no, I don't think so. I had the pleasure of interviewing Miller for a Baseball Prospectus feature a year and a half ago. Still feisty and sharp as a tack at 91 years old, he had just announced that he was fed up with the Veterans Committee's election process and wished to be taken out of consideration for all future voting:
As former executive director of the players' union that negotiated these changes, I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged Veterans Committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering a pretense of a democratic vote. It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sports writers and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91 I can do without a farce."
Alas, the Hall has not abided by his wishes, as the VC's screening committee has put him up for yet another vote — and likely another defeat.

In our interview, Miller noted that the deck was stacked against him because nine of the 12 members on the VC had management ties. "[On]e thing a trade union leader learns to do is how to count votes in advance," he told me. "Whenever I took one look at what I was faced with, it was obvious to me it was not gonna happen."

Specifically, Miller was referring to the fact that three of the members of the VC — Bill Giles, Andy MacPhail and John Harrington — were front office executives and management hardliners during the late-Eighties collusion era.* Frustrated by getting their asses kicked by Miller, they tried to break the union by conspiring to chill the market for free agents after the 1985, 1986, and 1987 seasons. Their crime wound up costing teams $280 million dollars in damages, according to the 1990 settlement (pdf). From my BP feature:
In the 2007 election, [former commissioner and Miller adversary Bowie] Kuhn had garnered just 14 out of 84 votes, well behind not only Miller but six other candidates. In fact, of the elected, only [former Dodger owner Walter] O'Malley had received significant support beforehand:
                   2007    2008
Barney Dreyfuss ---- 83.3%*
Bowie Kuhn 17.3% 83.3%*
Walter O'Malley 44.4% 75.0%*
Ewing Kauffman ---- 41.7%
John Fetzer ---- 33.3%
Marvin Miller 63.0% 25.0%
Bob Howsam ---- 25.0%
Buzzie Bavasi 37.0% <25.0%
Gabe Paul 12.3% <25.0%
John McHale ---- <25.0%
Bill White 29.6% ----
August Busch Jr. 16.0% ----
Charley O. Finley 12.3% ----
Phil Wrigley 11.1% ----
The reason for that stunning reversal was a deck stacked significantly in favor of Kuhn and against Miller. Of the 12 men on the committee, only Monte Irvin, Bobby Brown and Harmon Killebrew ever played in the majors, and none of them played a single game in the post-Reserve Clause era. Along with three writers — Paul Hagen (Philadelphia Daily News), Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) and Hal McCoy (Dayton Daily News) — the committee contained no less than seven owners or executives: Brown (American League president), John Harrington (Red Sox), Jerry Bell (Twins), Bill DeWitt Jr.,(Cardinals), Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals) and Andy MacPhail (Orioles). If anyone needed further evidence that the vote was reliant on the Old Boy network, it's worth noting that DeWitt, Giles and MacPhail are legacies whose fathers (and in MacPhail's case, a grandfather) were on the management side during the Reserve Clause era. Worse, Giles, Harrington and MacPhail were all on the management side during baseball's disgraceful collusion saga in the Eighties.

"Now I took one look at that committee and I didn't have to have any help. I couldn't possibly get nine votes out of that committee," says Miller, noting not only the taint of collusion among those ranks but also more subtle links to management. "Just take Monte Irvin. Fine player, et cetera, but after he was a player, he worked for Bowie Kuhn for more than 10 years. Would you expect him to vote for me?"

Were this a jury, Miller could have demanded a mistrial due to the slate's bias, but Hall candidates have no such recourse. As Jim Bouton succinctly summarized, "Essentially, the decision for putting a union leader in the Hall of Fame was handed over to a bunch of executives and former executives. Marvin Miller kicked their butts and took power away from the baseball establishment — do you really think those people are going to vote him in? It's a joke."
According to Brown's article, Bell, DeWitt, Giles, MacPhail and Glass — a bloc of enough stooges to prevent Miller's election right there — are all still on the VC. The three players have been replaced... by two players, Robin Roberts and Tom Seaver. Both were among those who declined a seat on the committee the last time around, and while perhaps they can more eloquently state Miller's case to the rest of the committee, that's still one fewer vote than he had going in.

I'm torn here. While I'm 100 percent convinced that the man should be in the Hall of Fame, I also respect his wishes. I suppose I'd rather see him tell the Hall exactly how far to shove it if the election were to somehow turn out in his favor. Given the makeup of the VC, I simply don't see that happening. The bottom line is that we're in for another farce.

* In the interview transcript, I mistakenly listed the three collusion-linked execs Miller was implicating as DeWitt, MacPhail and Harrington. The feature, which was published a few days prior, gets it right.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Everybody Wins, Especially Greinke

The Royals' Zack Greinke was a runaway winner in the AL Cy Young voting, which was announced on Tuesday, netting 25 out of 28 first-place votes. Greinke finished with a major league-low 2.16 ERA while striking out 242 hitters in 229.1 innings. His won-loss record was 16-8, certainly respectable, but also tied with Brandon Webb for the lowest win total by a starting pitcher in a non-strike season.

Indeed, it's a win for advanced metrics today. The Baseball Writers Association of America voters took a bold step into the 21st century today by demonstrating an understanding that Greinke's win total was compromised by playing for a last place club, and that other statistics — ERA, VORP, WARP, SNLVAR, FIP, DIPS and their acronymous playmates — better illustrated his value. Not only that, the winner's underlying strategy on the mound has been colored by his understanding of sabermetrics:
Hernandez had two first-place votes, and Detroit's Justin Verlander the other. The Yankees' C. C. Sabathia finished fourth, and Toronto's Roy Halladay was fifth. All of those pitchers had more wins than Greinke, who was 16-8 for a team that tied for last in the A.L. Central. Hernandez was 19-5 with a 2.49 E.R.A.

"I thought that could push him over the top, because his won-loss record was way better than mine," Greinke said. "But I'm also a follower, since Brian Bannister's on our team, of sabermetric stuff and going into details of stats about what you can control."

Bannister, a right-handed starter, is known for his appreciation of modern pitching metrics, which emphasize the factors for which pitchers are essentially responsible: walks, strikeouts, home runs and hit batters. In Greinke, he found a like mind.

"He’s extremely bright, and he’s really picked up on using all the information out there to make his game better," Bannister said by telephone. "He's always had the talent. His confidence level, which is extremely high, combined with his knowledge of the numbers behind the game now, definitely makes him one of the best pitchers in the world."

Bannister said Greinke has learned to adjust his pitching based on the advanced defensive statistics. Because of the size of the outfield at Kauffman Stadium and the strength of the Royals’ outfielders, relative to their infielders, it sometimes made more sense to induce fly balls.

"David DeJesus had our best zone rating,” Bannister said, referring to the Royals' left fielder. "So a lot of times, Zack would pitch for a fly ball at our park instead of a ground ball, just because the zone rating was better in our outfield and it was a big park."

To that end, Bannister introduced Greinke to FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, the statistic Greinke named Tuesday as his favorite. It is a formula that measures how well a pitcher performed, regardless of his fielders. According to, Greinke had the best FIP in the majors.

"That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible," Greinke said.
Congratulations to Zack Greinke, the thinking man's Cy Young winner, to the voters, for getting it right, and to all the writers and researchers out there who've tirelessly pressed the case that baseball's new alphabet is more than an academic argument about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, that the findings of sabermetrics have practical application on the field even among the game's elite players. It feels like we all won something today.

For more on Greinke's win and the progress of the old guard, see Joe Posnanski, the man next to the word "more" in the dictionary.


Monday, November 16, 2009


The King of the Sports Page Ledes the Way

Last week, Bronx Banter's Alex Belth put together a three-part series (one, two, three) on some of the greatest ledes — the opening sentences or paragraphs of newspaper or magazine articles — in sportswriting history, lines which pack a wallop that's stood the test of time. A student of the genre, Alex called upon great works by some of the heaviest hitters of bygone eras, including Red Smith, Heywood Broun, John Lardner, W.C. Heinz, Grantland Rice, Roger Kahn, and Shirley Povich. Here's Smith, on Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World":
Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it, The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly implausible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.
Baseball wasn't the only sport represented in that Murderer's Row; football, boxing and horse racing were prominently featured as well. There was even one devoted to auto racing, courtesy of Jim Murray, who devoted this immortal lede to a column on the Indianapolis 500: "Gentlemen, start your coffins."

Though I actually didn't get to read a ton of his pieces while growing up, Murray was a favorite of mine based on the handful of Los Angeles Times columns which crossed my path in my travels, and the occasional one which would show up closer to home via syndication. Thanks to the magic of Google, I located the first Murray column that I remember reading. It's from 1982, written on the occasion of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and yes, it's got a hell of a lede:
You folks all know my opinion of the Pebble Beach golf course. If it were human, they'd hang it from the highest yardarm in the British fleet. It's the golfing equivalent of the Spanish Main. Or the Spanish Inquisition.

These 18 holes were not cut in the picturesque countryside of Carmel Bay. They were dragged out of British prisons and shanghaied onto this hell ship. They are a classic band of cutthroats, blackguards without mercy, kindness or compassion.

Every one of them has murder in his heart, a knife in his teeth, hate in his soul, and a bottle of rum in his pocket. He'd kill you for your parrot.
Further down the article, where Murray decries the obscurities in the Open's field of players, is a classic requiem for a duffer that's stuck with me for more than a quarter century: "Stan Stopa is here. He's from Wilshire Boulevard. That's Wilshire Boulevard in Metaire, La., not the one in Los Angeles. Stan should be back early, folks."

I own a few Murray anthologies, so in a bit of downtime, I sent Alex a representative selection of his great baseball ledes, which he compiled into yet another entry in his Bronx Banter series. The first four of them hail from The Great Ones, the fifth from The Jim Murray Collection, both of which can be had for less than five bucks a pop via your friendly online used bookseller.

Apropos of the recent World Series, here's a pair of 'em, one on Reggie Jackson from October 19, 1977 ("Reggie Renames the House That Ruth Built") and one on Orel Hershiser from September 28, 1988 ("They Won't Call Him Dr. Zero for Nothing"):
NEW YORK-Excuse me while I wipe up the bloodstains and carry off the wounded. The Dodgers forgot to circle the wagons.

Listen! You don’t go into the woods with a bear. You don’t go into a fog with Jack the Ripper. You don’t get in a car with Al Capone. You don’t get on a ship with Morgan the Pirate. You don’t go into shark waters with a nosebleed. You don’t wander into Little Bighorn with General Custer.

And you don’t come into Yankee Stadium needing a win to stay alive in a World Series. Not unless you have a note pinned to you telling them where to send the remains. If any.

• • • 

Norman Rockwell would have loved Orel Hershiser. The prevailing opinion is, he wasn't drafted, he just came walking off a Saturday Evening Post cover one day with a pitcher’s glove, a cap 2 sizes too big and a big balloon of bubble gum coming out of his mouth.
You can read the entirety of the Reggie piece here via Google Books, and the Orel piece here via a cache of the L.A. Times's archived version.

Upon Murray's passing, Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly eulogized him in the magazine's pages, writing, "He wrote the nation's best sports column for 37 delicious years at the Los Angeles Times, but, come to think of it, the column was about sports sort of the way Citizen Kane was about sleds." That piece, along with Reilly's moving tribute from 12 years earlier, "King of the Sports Page," are both worth reading. Don't miss them — this means you, Dad.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009


Get Back to Work!

Not a whole lot to report here that hasn't been reported elsewhere. The Hot Stove season is upon us and after busting my butt to cover the postseason, I'm playing catch-up with my allotment of Baseball Prospectus 2010 comments. With my wife out of town on a business trip for a few days, I've taken the opportunity to bury myself in Dodger prospect minutiae while still keeping tabs on the various trade and free agent rumors going around, mostly via Twitter. And I've been sharing my razor-sharp analysis with the world via that medium as well. From today's Sports Business Daily (subscription required):’s Jimmy Traina cites a source as reporting “The Who will take the stage” during the Super Bowl XLIV halftime show. An NFL spokesperson declined to confirm the report, only saying, “When we have something to announce, we’ll announce it” (, 11/12). The L.A. Times’ Sam Farmer writes, “ reporting the Super Bowl halftime show is.... The Who. Excellent.” But’s John Halpin writes, “A band full of guys in their 60s? NO WAY!” Baseball Prospectus writer Jay Jaffe: “Because nothing says NFL like half a band of Brit Invasion senior citizens” (, 11/12).
ZING! I had a better one about the surviving members trying for one last cash grab before reuniting with their deceased rhythm section, but it was longer than 140 characters, hence. Who says my expertise doesn't cross genres?

Speaking of crossing genres, artist James Blagden has set Dock Ellis' tale of his infamous no-hitter to a four-and-a-half minute Flash animation at a site called No Mas. It's also on YouTube, for those afraid to venture out onto the scarier parts of the information superhighway.

Sigh. Only 94 days until pitchers and catchers report. We now return you to your regularly scheduled offseason...

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Thursday, November 05, 2009


Empire State of Mind, Baby!

Just before signing off early Thursday morning in the wake of the Yankees' World Series win, the YES network ran a montage set to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind," the song which had become this team's anthem; the rapper performed it live prior to Game Two of the series, the one I attented. In my haste to record the montage, I changed the channel — I was a bit excitable — but was pleased to find it online today. Enjoy!

Empire State Of Mind
Uploaded by KMFIS

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Start Spreading the News

After a night of revelry — I was a one-man dogpile — let's get straight to the opener of today's piece at Baseball Prospectus:
Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter may be the Yankees for whom the spotlight shines the brightest, but it was Hideki Matsui who did the dirty work on Wednesday night. Setting a single-game World Series record with six RBI, Matsui collected big hits in his first three at-bats to help the Yankees pounce on Pedro Martinez and the Phillies early, building up a 7-1 lead by the end of the fifth inning. As the Yankees did two nights earlier when they found themselves in an early hole, the Phillies made a game of it by summoning a brief hint of their offensive firepower, but it was too little, too late. For the first time since 2000, the Yankees are the World Champions.

Matsui, who punched a decisive solo homer off Martinez in Game Two, homered again in his first turn at-bat, this time following a Rodriguez walk which led off the inning (oh, those bases on balls) to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. An inning later, with two outs, the bases loaded and Martinez's night going down in flames, he stroked a two-run single to widen the lead to 4-1. In the fifth inning, with one out, two on, and another Yankee run having crossed the plate, he greeted J.A. Happ with a two-run double to right-center to expand the lead to 7-1. I believe he also demonstrated his heretofore unknown prowess as a tenor by singing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch, but I could be wrong, as by that point I was busy counting the remaining outs on my fingers.

For his performance, Matsui was named the World Series MVP, becoming the first designated hitter ever to win the award. Though he made just three starts and 14 plate appearances in the series, his .615/.643/1.385 showing (8-for-13 with a double and three home runs) ranked as the Yankees' most potent offensive force. Their lineup had its share of complementary performances, including Derek Jeter (.407/.429/.519), Johnny Damon (.364/.440/.455 and the series' most memorable play, his mad dash to third base in Game Four) and of course the ghost-chasing Rodriguez (.250/.423/.550 and six RBI, including the Game Four winner), but it was Matsui who not only led the team with eight RBI but was the only Bronx Bomber to hit more than one bomb, or to collect more than one game-winning hit. His showing was somewhat bittersweet, as it came in what well may have been his final appearance in pinstripes given his pending free agency and the Yankees' need to clear the DH spot for the aging stars above his pay grade. It left absolutely no doubt that the man can be a viable component on a championship team, so wherever he winds up next, Godspeed, Godzilla.
I took a special pleasure in Matsui's showing, as on Wednesday's Toledo radio hit, I told host Norm Wamer that the Matsui-Martinez matchup was the key to the game given the pitcher's struggles with lefties. It didn't take long for that call to make me look smart, as Matsui and the rest of the Yankee lineup made Pedro's night a short one. The 38-year-old pitcher simply couldn't muster the magic he'd summoned in Game Two, getting significantly fewer strikes on both his fastball and his changeup.

Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte gave the Yankees a dogged effort on three days' rest, yielding just one run through the first five innings even as his strike zone was squeezed by home plate umpire Joe West. He gave up a two-run homer to Ryan Howard in the sixth before departing, but that marked the big slugger's only blast of the series, and it was the only one of the eight yielded by the Yankees' lefties which came with a man on base. His showing marked the third time this October that he gotten the win in a series-clinching game (matching Derek Lowe's 2004 run), the sixth time in his career that he'd done so, and the second time he'd done so in a World Series (1998 being the other occasion). Though he's benefited from a career spent amid the three-round playoff format, he leads all pitchers in postseason starts (40), innings (249), and wins (18), and his 3.90 ERA is a ringer for his career mark. I don't believe he's done enough to reach the Hall of Fame once those credentials are placed alongside the rest of what he's accomplished in his 15-year career — he's a Clydesdale, not a thoroughbred, lacking a Cy Young and a whole host of statistical achievements which identify the game's top starters — but the man's earned his five rings.

The real difference between the two teams, ultimately, came down to the man who closed the door on the Phillies, Mariano Rivera:
Consider how closely matched the overall performances of the two rotations were, regardless of the number of days' rest or the handedness, and the bullpens, minus the Sandman:
Split     IP   H   ER  BB  SO   ERA
PHI SP   36.1  32  21  11  36   5.20
NYY SP   34.1  28  19  20  33   4.98
PHI RP   15.2  17  10   7  20   5.74
NYY RP*  13.1  13   8   4  14   5.40 
Rivera    5.1  3    0   2   3   0.00
* Except Rivera
Mariano Rivera now has a 0.74 ERA across 133.1 postseason innings with a 107/21 strikeout to walk ratio and just two home runs allowed. He is the greatest closer of all time, and arguably the greatest postseason performer as well. The closers of each of the other seven teams which reached the 2009 postseason faltered at least once when the money was on the table, and those mistakes ultimately proved fatal. Rivera, as in three other World Series, was the last man standing. Along with Pettitte, Jeter and Posada — the "Core Four," they're called — he's now one of four Yankees to have earned seven pennants and five World Series rings dating back to 1996.
Old guard, new guard, it was all a gas watching the Yankees win. In doing so they vanquished a very strong and very special Phillies team, one which had been the first one since the 2000-2001 Yankees to repeat as pennant winers, and the first NL team since the 1995-1996 Braves to do so (an error I made in the article, acknowledged in the comments thread, identified the 1975-1976 Reds as such). One which, over the course of the past two Octobers, has given me a considerable amount of frustration as they steamrolled the Dodgers and stretched the Yankees nearly to the limit. As I wrote in the BP piece, it's easier to run across I-95 four times a night than get through the middle of that batting order.

So congrats to the Yankees, their organization and their fans, particularly to those of you who've followed their exploits via my work in this space and at BP. After writing to deadline for each of the Series' six games, I'm going to take a few days to catch my breath and dig into my annual winter workload, but you can rest assured there's plenty more baseball content to come from me during this offseason.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Laying an Egg

You never know what you're going to get when it comes to A.J. Burnett, a sterling performance like he gave the Yankees in Game Two of the World Series, or an implosion like he gave them in last night's Game Five. Through his first four postseason starts this fall, he'd allowed just eight runs, four of them within his first 12 pitches in an ugly first-inning meltdown in Game Five of the ALCS. Last night's performance echoed that rough start. From today's piece at Baseball Prospectus:
The Yankees begain the game in a hole because Burnett laid an egg, surrendering six runs in two-plus innings. Pitching on three days' rest, he was unable to match the brilliance of his seven-inning, one-run Game Two start, not because of fatigue — his average fastball and curveball velocities were higher according to Brooks Baseball — but because he was unable to fool the Phillies with his curveball, in part because home plate ump Dana DeMuth's strike zone wasn't as wide as that of Jeff Nelson. Breaking down the breaking balls thrown in the two starts:
Game  Tot  Ball  SS  SL   F   I
Two    45   20    8   7   7   3
Five   16   10    3   0   2   1
For the unfamiliar, SS is strikes swinging, SL is strikes looking, F is foul balls, I is in play. Whereas Burnett generated not-in-play strikes on 22 out of 45 curves in Game Two (49 percent), he did so on just five out of 16 (31 percent) in Game Five, none of them called strikes. Five of his nine strikeouts in Game Two ended on a curveball, three swinging and two looking, as compared to one of his two walks. He got just one strikeout via curveball (swinging) last night, and two of his four walks.

The result was a nasty, brutish and short start that left the Yankees in a 5-1 hole by the time he departed. [Chase] Utley's homer, which followed a Jimmy Rollins single and a Shane Victorino hit by pitch on a bunt attempt, came on just his eighth pitch of the night. After escaping the second inning unscathed, he walked Utley and Ryan Howard — never, ever a good idea — to start the third, then yielded RBI singles to Jayson Werth and Raul Ibañez. That was enough for Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who called upon David Robertson. He retired both Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz, but the latter's grounder scored Werth to give the Phillies a formidable five-run lead.
Utley has been unreal in this series, tying Reggie Jackson's 1977 World Series record of five home runs. Until his first-inning blast, however, all of them — indeed, all seven of the Phillies' homers in the series — had been solo shots. Colleague John Perrotto had a nice piece on Utley at BP today.

The Yankees had their chances against Cliff Lee, chipping away at the 6-1 lead until it became 8-5. They even brought the tying run to the plate twice in the ninth inning, only to have Derek Jeter ground into a double play and Mark Teixeira strike out. The series now comes back to New York, with Pedro Martinez slated to take on Andy Pettitte, the latter on three days' rest. Of course, the Yanks' decision to use a three-man rotation is under scrutiny:
Burnett's short-rest implosion raises the inevitable question regarding the Yankees' three-man rotation plan for the series. [CC] Sabathia wasn't terribly sharp on three days' rest in Game Four, throwing fewer pitches than in any of his other postseason outings, and yielding more than two runs for the first time. He'll go on three days' rest again in Game Seven if the series goes that far. While the Yankees haven't officially announced that Andy Pettitte will do the same in Game Six, they have little alternative. Potential fourth starter Chad Gaudin, whom some suggested should start Game Five to keep Burnett on regular rest, simply isn't cut out to face the Phillies' lefty-heavy lineup:
         ——————————vs LHB———————————     ———————————vs RHB——————————
Split    AVG/ OBP/ SLG    K %   K/BB     AVG/ OBP/ SLG    K %   K/BB
2009    .296/.408/.415   14.4   0.98    .224/.293/.380   27.2   3.29   
Career  .293/.389/.433   11.1   0.84    .249/.318/.409   23.4   2.80
That's a ticket to a beatdown right there, given that Gaudin can't even strike out as many lefties as he walks. In last night's roundtable, other readers suggested the Yankees do a so-called bullpen game for Game Five; again, a bad idea given that it's inadvisable to punt a World Series game by expecting the lion's share of the innings to come from the bottom half of the team's pitching staff. Prior to last night, none of the Yankees' non-closers — Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Alfredo Aceves, Robertson et al — had given the Yankees more than three outs without allowing a run since Game Three of the ALCS; thus far this postseason only Hughes and Robertson had done so even once. That the Yankees got three such efforts last night from Robertson, Aceves and Hughes doesn't mean they could have done so out of the gate, as those were low-leverage innings with at least a three-run deficit each time.

No, the Yankees are without realistic alternatives to the three-man plan because of earlier failures on the part of Girardi, pitching coach Dave Eiland, and general manager Brian Cashman. They handled Chamberlain so poorly that they got a 7.69 ERA from him over his final 11 starts. They dickered with Sergio Mitre, who gave them nine starts with a 7.16 ERA. Cashman could have dealt for Jon Garland during the post-deadline waiver period just as he did Gaudin (Jose Contreras, Scott Kazmir and Carl Pavano, the other starters of note to change teams during August, weren't fits for a variety of reasons, most of them obvious). He could have dealt for a more reliable fourth starter at the July 31 deadline. He didn't, and because of that, the Yankees reached this stage with just three reliable starters. The record of such starters isn't exactly promising, as I pointed out in my preview: coming into the year, short-rested starters in the wild card era had made 86 postseason starts, averaging just 5.4 innings per start, with a 4.59 ERA, a 21-34 record for the starters, and a 31-55 record (.360 winning percentage) for their teams. Still, given the experience of the Yankees' big three on pitching on short rest (30 starts, an average of over six innings per, and a collective ERA under 4.00), it was hardly the worst plan in the world. Putting as many innings as possible in the hands of your top pitchers is what wins championships, and the Yankees are still win away from doing so.
According to Clay Davenport's Monte Carlo simulations at the BP Postseason Odds report, the Yankees still have an 83 percent chance of winning the series based upon the home field advantage and the actual starting pitchers involved. That may be overstating things, since the program can't see who's on three days' rest, but the odds are still in New York's favor.

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Monday, November 02, 2009


Chasing Away the Ghosts

Johnny Damon's mad ninth-inning dash from second to third once he realized no one was covering will go down in the annals of World Series lore, but it was Alex Rodriguez who was the real story last night. From my writeup at Baseball Prospectus:
Last night, in the ninth inning of Game Four of the World Series, Alex Rodriguez put the lie to the seemingly endless string of complaints that have dogged him since 2004 regarding his ability to come through in the clutch. Never mind the fact that 15 of his 30 homers this year either tied the score or gave the Yankees the lead. Never mind the fact he had already bopped six homers during the Yankees' current postseason run, early-inning homers to kick off the scoring or late-inning — even extra-inning — homers to tie games. For some of his critics, that could never be enough, simply because he's the highest paid player in the game, and a socially awkward one at that.

Last night, in the ninth inning of Game Four of the World Series, Alex Rodriguez came to the plate with two outs and the opportunity to drive in a run to give his team the lead in a World Series game — the kind of situation just about anyone who's ever played baseball has daydreamed about, whether in their own backyards as a schoolkid or when putting pen to ink on a multi-million dollar deal. And he did. And it was good. Knowing that with a runner on third base he could expect a fastball, Rodriguez ripped a 92 MPH Brad Lidge offering into the right field corner to bring home Johnny Damon, restoring the lead that the Yankees had held from the top of the first to the bottom of the eighth, only to fritter it away. The Yanks would add two more runs on a Jorge Posada single one batter later, but it was Rodriguez who drove in the decisive run, giving the Bronx Bombers a commanding 3-1 lead in the World Series. It doesn't get much more clutch than that.

...Johnny Damon's dash is what will likely be remembered years from now, and a well-deserved memory it will be, particularly after the tenacious at-bat in which he worked his way on base. But he's not the only hero of this ballgame. On the night after Halloween, Alex Rodriguez chased away some ghosts with his first World Series game-winning hit. He's now hitting .348/.483/.804 with six homers and 15 RBI this fall, and after all the drama that has dogged him since reports of his steroid usage broke, he produced on the game's biggest stage in the biggest moment of his career. It may never be enough for some if his critics — it wasn't Game Seven in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees trailing, and he didn't pledge to donate his entire annual salary to an orphanage in the postgame jubilation, after all — but those left standing to point a finger at him for being somehow unclutch are completely out of ammunition now.

And the Yankees are one win away from their 27th World Championship. The path to their fourth victory isn't as straightforward as it might otherwise be, given that tonight they'll face ace Cliff Lee, who nearly shut them out in Game One, while hoping that a less-than-fully-rested A.J. Burnett can string together his second straight glowing start, this time against a lineup that got a good look at his repertoire and his pattern of first pitch strikes. It may not be the ideal scenario for the Yankees, but it's one for which the Phillies would certainly trade.
Damon's dash really was something to behold, one of the crazier plays I've ever seen, and also one of the most heads-up. What amazed me after Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz two-hopped the ball to Pedro Feliz (the third baseman covering second during the shift on Mark Teixeira) was that he was so close when Damon made his break, perhaps less than three feet away. While Damon wasn't likely to lose any footrace to a guy who hasn't stolen a base since 2007, I have to think that a desperate lunge might have been enough to tag him out.

In any event, we've got a ballgame tonight, possibly the last one of the year. The boys and girls at BP, including yours truly, will be chatting it up starting at 8 PM Eastern. Check it out.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009


The Trouble With Lefties

The Yankees pulled ahead in the World Series on Saturday night, two games to one. Andy Pettitte survived an awful second inning, while Cole Hamels fell apart like a cheap watch after a dominating three innings, with Pettitte himself contributing to that via an RBI single amid a three-run fifth-inning rally that ultimately chased last year's World Series MVP.

There's been a lot of talk about the root of Hamels' woes lately. As I wrote in my series preview, BP colleague Matt Swartz found that the difference between his 2008 and 2009 performances largely boiled down to fluctuating results on balls in play. While that may be convincing on some level, it doesn't explain why dating back to September 23rd, Hamels has now made seven starts, none of them quality, putting up a 7.32 ERA while allowing 2.3 HR/9. A look at his splits, however, is more telling: while he held opponents to a .228/.270/.388 line in their first plate appearance of the game, they hit .301/.342/.473 when seeing him in their remaining plate appearances. Last night was more of the same, as he struggled mightily once he tried establishing a curveball during his second time through the order. The Yankees went 5-for-10 with two walks, two doubles and a homer (.500/.583/1.000) after that first time through, turning the game around in short order.

Besides Hamels, the Phillies are having a few other problems. From my latest at BP:
As in the first two rounds of the postseason, they're again having trouble hitting left-handers, with the occasional big blow disguising their inconsistency. In Game One, they were 5-for-28 against CC Sabathia, Damaso Marte, and Phil Coke, while last night they were 5-for-25 against Pettitte and Marte. Six of those 10 hits have been for extra bases, but only one — a ninth-inning double off Phil Coke in Game One — has come with runners on base, and their overall line against lefties in the series (.189/.268/.453) is similarly shaped to that of the first two rounds (.194/.322/.444). Take away Jayson Werth's production and for the entire postseason, the rest of the lineup is hitting a fairly tame .174/.304/.383 against southpaws. With Sabathia and Pettitte lined up to pitch as many as three of the remaining four games (if the series stretches that far), this remains a huge problem for the Phillies.

Not that it's the only one. The lineup's first four hitters — Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, [Chase] Utley, and [Ryan] Howard — are a combined 8-for-45 thus far against the Yankees. Howard, who whiffed six times in a row in Games Two and Three, already has nine strikeouts, three shy of tying Willie Wilson's 1980 World Series record. He hasn't walked in the World Series yet, either. Rollins, whose pre-series prediction (Phillies in five) has already been rendered impossible, is hitting an anemic .235/.316/.294 for the entire postseason. Further down the lineup, [Raul] Ibañez has struggled this fall as well (.233/.313/.395), to say nothing of Pedro Feliz (.143/.182/.310).

With Phillies manager Charlie Manuel having decided not to bring back ace Cliff Lee on three days' rest given that he hasn't done so once in his career — a lunkheaded excuse, particularly given that Manuel pushed him to 122 pitches while protecting leads of 4-0 and 6-0 in the final two innings of his brilliant Game One start — the Yanks have the upper hand in tonight's matchup pitting Sabathia versus Joe Blanton:
[Blanton]'s a thoroughly capable number four starter who put up a career-best strikeout rate this year (7.5 per nine), but it came at the expense of a career-high homer rate (1.4 per nine) and a career-low groundball rate (42 percent). Some of that is simply the shift in leagues and ballparks, from Oakland's pitcher-friendly Coliseum to the hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, but it's nonetheless an unsettling trend. Also unsettling is the fact that the righty yielded a .270/.321/.469 line against righties, compared to .252/.320/.401 against lefties. The Yankees themselves have shown more muscle against righties than lefties this fall (.252/.342/.450, compared to .255/.346/.418). They're poised to create another souvenir or two tonight.

The bottom line is that the Yankees come back with their ace tonight against the Phils' fourth-best starter, one who's got matchup problems against the Bronx Bomber lineup. While the series is by no means over, the two games to one margin and the way the rotations line up going forward makes this their series to lose.
The Yankees have also announced that A.J. Burnett will start Game Five on three days' rest. Barring what Joe Girardi termed any "unforeseen things," they'll stick with the three-man rotation from here onwards.

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