Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I Have Such A Headache (It's Not A Tumor!)

Consistency is a wonderful thing. Consistency is winning 16 of 18. Inconsistency is dropping the 19th by 16 runs. Inconsistency is coming out the next night and looking terribly flat, save for two guys putting up early in the game.

Mixing consistency with inconsistency is like multiplying a positive and a negative: you get the negative. This season’s incarnation of the Yankees are most certainly inconsistent, dropping 19 of their first 30, followed by winning 16 of 18, and rounding out the first 50 by two embarrassing losses. This, my friends, is a sure recipe for a migraine.

This migraine may turn out to be a chronic one, as the losses at the hands of the enemy this weekend surely have sent a message to the Boss, which is that this pitching staff just isn’t going to cut it. And, in a way, that’s an accurate message. When four out of your five starters are supposed to be aces, but are putting up nothing more than mediocrity, the alarm should be sounding, and the front office should be busy figuring out if something can be done here.

This is fine if your front office isn’t working for George Steinbrenner, the antithesis of rationality. Don’t get me wrong, I am a George fan and I appreciate what he has done to keep the team in the thick of things on a yearly basis. What I don’t appreciate are moves that mortgage the team’s future, such as the near two decade old move where he acquired Ken Phelps (just imagine Frank Costanza here, “How could you trade Jay Buhner?!?”).

To think that Robbie Cano is an expendable commodity is a brush with insanity at this point. Most teams covet a 22-year-old second baseman who hits the ball hard and has shown that he can hit on the major league level. And in case no one has noticed yet, the Yanks hitting coach is Don Mattingly, who has done a stellar job this year of honing everyone’s plate discipline. Take A-Rod for example, who is on pace for 100 walks, something he hasn’t done since his contract year in 2000. He’s also on pace for 117 strikeouts, down from 131 last year. Or Derek Jeter, who needs only 21 more walks to match his 46 from last year.

And in case you haven’t read a paper/watched TV/listened to sports radio for the past two months, Chieng-Ming Wang is the other name being tossed around in trade rumors. Yes, that’s right, folks, we’re showcasing a 25-year-old pitcher who has shown poise at the major league level. Oh, and he’s currently pitching as well if not better than anyone else on the Yanks staff.

It’s one thing to trade prospects, but it’s another to trade guys that are helping you out in the present. Yes, Cano’s average is sitting at .250, and he has walked merely twice so far, but he’s only 22 games into his major league career. If this kid stays with the team, he’ll surely be in the running for Rookie of the Year. And who was the last Yanks ROY? I think I’ll keep that rhetorical.

So the Yanks potentially could trade a 22-year-old and a 25-year-old for a 42-year-old. Makes sense, right? I mean, after all, 22 plus 25 is 47, so we’re making out on the deal. Well, actually, George might want to think long and hard about this move instead of acting on his first impulse. There are three guys in the starting rotation now, and one on the DL, who have come from the National League in the last two years. And there are three guys in the starting rotation now, and one on the DL, who aren’t performing nearly to expectations.

Pitching Enemy #1, Kevin Brown, has seen the worst of this epidemic, going from a 2.39 ERA with the Dodgers in 2003 to a 4.09 with the Yanks in ’04, and 5.14 so far this year – though he has shown signs of life of late. In fact, in six seasons in the NL, Brown has had ERAs of 1.89, 2.69, 2.38, 3.00, 2.58, 2.65, 4.81, and 2.39. In the AL his best ERA was 3.32, in ’92 with Texas.

Carl Pavano is a more delicate case, since he really doesn’t have much backing to him. He’s a lifetime National Leaguer, hurling for the Expos from ’98 until mid-season ’02, and then onto Florida before his arrival in the Bronx. It’s also more difficult to gauge him, since he didn’t average more than 5.5 innings a start until the World Series year in ’03, when he was a lights out 12-13 with a 4.30 ERA. But come contract year, he was a man on a mission, knocking opponents out with an 18-8 mark with a 3.00 ERA.

A quick note on Pavano and why he’s not enjoying the success that was expected of him. His style of pitching is to let the opponents put the ball in play, but not allow them to make solid contact. This is evidenced by his current pace for around 33 walks for the season. The glaring problem here is the Yanks lack of defense. He has allowed 13 unearned runs thus far, more than double his total from last season. Yes, he still has a problem with those 30 earned ones this season (on pace for circa 90), but until the guys in the field start making plays behind him, he’s going to find himself on the back page of the Post every few starts.

And who could forget the winter blockbuster, Randy Johnson? Now, I’m not going to go over his performance by the years in each league, but I will point out that his career ERA in the AL is 3.42 while his NL ERA is a laudable 2.65. In 10 years in the AL, he has struck out 2162 (216.2, duh, per year), and in the equivalent of seven full seasons in the NL (his half season with Houston in ’98 and his 11 starts with Montreal in the first two years of his career) he has rung up 1999 – 285.5 per season. Do you see what I’m getting at?

So here we are, pondering the possibility of bringing Roger Clemens back for one more stint with the Bronx, one more flirtation with a World Series championship that he’ll never see in Houston. Last time I checked, though, Houston was in the National League. Yes, Roger is a lifetime American League pitcher, but it is common knowledge that his Cy Young award last year was aided by having an automatic out in the nine slot. And if you don’t believe me, just check out his 2.98 ERA last year, a full half point better than even his best season in New York.

So instead of importing another pitcher from the more pitcher-friendly league, why don’t we try and beef up our team in other areas of concern, like the outfield? Why not make a play for a Mark Kotsay or a Mike Cameron (though the Mets would be as insane as the Boss to give him up) who can come in and give the team some more range in the outfield. I’m sure Mr. Pavano would be grateful for such a move. Why not then shop Womack to an NL contender and Jaret Wright – considering he successfully recovers from this injury – to a team in dire need of pitching, like those on-the-brink Texas Rangers?

But Lord, oh Lord, please don’t bring in another ringer from the NL. Because as the Yankees have proven, dominance in the National League can easily translate to mediocrity in the DH League.