Friday, May 27, 2005

Didn't I Tell You To Get Off A-Rod's Back?

Every time I get an opportunity to write something other than an analysis of the previous night’s game – an off-day, a win over a crappy team or the like – something gets in the way, like my horrendous sleep schedule. I’d like to do these topics justice, so I’m not going to force out 1,200 words minutes before I collapse on my bed for eight hours.

So today, for some abbreviated literature, I’m going to talk about three points that I will not waffle on for the rest of the season (lest the Republican Party calls me out on said waffling, which would hurt me in the election for “Most Unread Sports Blogger”).

1. I’m on the Alex Rodriguez bandwagon. And I’m predicting that the entire town will be once we hit late September, when A-Rahd will be sitting on 50 some-odd homers and at least 150 RBI, with an OPS over 1.000. Of course, his ability to step up in the playoffs will be scrutinized by local columnists who have nothing better to write about, since it’s tough to come up material about a team that’s mopping up. There always has to be something negative, and until A-Rahd has a ring, he’ll be the scapegoat.

But at this point, there’s nothing not to like about the guy (and there goes the English major, tossing in a double negative). Yeah, he underachieved – for being A-Rod, that is – last year, posting a decline in every offensive statistic from his 2003 numbers. Then again, when was the last time you were slamming a guy who hit .286/.375/.512 with 36 homers and 106 RBI? I guess it all has to be taken in the context of his .298/.396/.659, 47 homer, 118 RBI MVP season in ’03, and the fact that he never came up with a timely hit.

But I’m going to say right now that this year is different, and we’re all witnessing a changed A-Rod, a guy who is going to help this team win. And if this statement makes me look like a naïve fool come September, so be it. But I have to stick to my guns on this one; I don’t want to be one of those guys who hates A-Rod after an 0-for, but loves him after he smacks two over the right-centerfield wall. So if you’re still not keen on A-Rod, I’ll be patiently waiting for you to come around. But once you do, don’t turn on him after a bad night.

2. We should not trade for Roger Clemens unless the Astros ship him for no compensation. And ultimately, that means that I do not want to trade for Clemens at all. I don’t care if it would set the team up with the most dominant lefty and righty in the game, the rental of Clemens isn’t worth what the Astros are going to be asking.

As a quick note: no compensation means that we ship the Astros low level prospects for Clemens as more of a salary move. Seriously, do they want to be paying Clemens for half a season that won’t mean anything to the team?

At the very most, the acquisition of Clemens vastly improves the team’s chances for success in the postseason, but that’s it. As these Yanks have proven time and again, there is no such thing as a sure thing, and Steinbrenner’s minions have to go into July with that in the front of their minds. At the very least, regresses into his 1999 form and is completely undependable during crunch time.

Neither scenario looks particularly compelling enough to mortgage the team’s future on, especially when the two guys other teams are going to be interested in – Wang and Cano, obviously – are already performing at the major league level and are helping the team right now. Then again, I’m not George Steinbrenner; I’d like to enjoy the team for years to come while he’s in his waning years, eager for just one more championship.

3. Kevin Brown will break down before October. I didn’t catch too much of him last night, and when I did it was via John Sterling and the radio crew rather than being able to watch his pitches on TV, so I can’t really say anything about what he did other than it was a relief to see that he didn’t walk a batter. But from what I have seen of him thus far, I can definitely see him leaving the ball over the middle of the plate. Thankfully he’s keeping it down and supplying some quality left-right and up-down movement, so he’s been able to avoid the disaster that plagued him his first three starts.

I’m not major league hitter, and accordingly have never faced a pitcher with movement on his pitches quite like Kevin Brown (or anyone who else who really gets the ball to spin nicely). So I can’t tell you if he is throwing uncanny stuff right now, to the point where even the best hitters are clueless as to where the ball is going to end up. But, I do know that I haven’t seen the pitches hitting Jorge’s glove on the inside or outside corners of the plate.

When most pitchers enter the final stages of their career, they use the knowledge that they’ve built up over their careers to continue to get hitters out. Most add pinpoint control and a real command of breaking pitches to compensate for diminished velocity. Brown has added some little twists to his old pitches, getting them to jump around the lower half of the strike zone. Will this continue to be successful? Well, you know you’re getting a “no” from me. There’s just something about leaving the ball over the plate that makes me uneasy, no matter how much the ball is moving – and especially when he’s not hurling 95 m.p.h. inside heaters to keep the hitters honest anymore.

And if none of this convinces you, let me reach back and play the Trump Card: is anyone seriously entertaining the thought of Brown not landing on the DL for at least three weeks this season? Everyone knows his injury history, and even though he managed the entire ’03 season injury-free, this is just a different story now. He’s a season and a quarter and two stints on the DL removed from then, and he’s working much more arduously to hit 92 on the gun than he was with L.A.