Thursday, June 09, 2005

Whoo Hoo!

Phew. What a dubya, and just in the nick of time. Sure, we could have used one of those earlier in the week, but at this point, I think the Yankees (and their fans) will take what they can get.

But before I go getting all excited over a breakout win of sorts, I must digress and take a gander at previous “breakout” games this season. When the team dropped to 4-8 on the 17th of April, they responded the next night by beating the tar out of the Devil Rays 19-8, only see Randy go out and drop the next game 6-2. Then on the 26th, with the team sitting at 9-11 (following Randy’s most dominant performance this season), A-Rod had that memorable three homer night as the Yanks steamrolled Bartolo Colon and the Angels 12-4. Too bad they only mustered up one run against Jarrod Washburn the following night.

But both of those games were breakouts with the bats, not necessarily with the arms. It should be of interest to note that the infamous 10-game winning streak was spurred by back to back shutouts by Mussina and Brown. Mussina got the ball rolling again last night, though not in as dominant a fashion as his streak-starting shutout against Oakland. His only faults came off the bats of Carlos Lee and Lyle Overbay, which is more forgivable than giving up a dinger to Bill Hall. And to go with his six innings pitched, three earned run performance, Moose struck out eight and walked only one.

Normally, a day off following a series of events like the Yanks have experienced this week would come at the worst possible time, but this seems to be a different situation. The bats came alive simultaneously with solid pitching for the first time since we beat Boston 6-3 in the last series opener – though the solidity of Randy’s outing is questionable at best. Now the team has a travel day in which to prepare for the National League leading St. Louis Cardinals.

And who better to be on the hill Friday than Chien-Ming Wang? It’s strange that with a rotation that boasts Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano and Kevin Brown everyone (with a brain, that is) wants a 25-year-old rookie pitching in these situations. And when (I’d say if, but I have confidence in the kid) he comes up with another impressive performance Friday night, we might be able to sleep better knowing that this kid might just be sticking around. I mean, why would George trade the only solid pitcher in his rotation, the only one with any consistency at this point? Then again, it’s George Steinbrenner. ‘Nuff said.

Now for some stuff from last night, and I’ll begin with what didn’t happen. Tony Womack and Jason Giambi. I find it hardly a coincidence that the team came around with these two bums sitting on the bench, and if Torre has any sense, he’ll continue to sit them. Of course, they’ll get sporadic PT, especially when they’re back to intra-league play. But Joe can’t continue to play them on a consistent basis, considering their lack of production.

I was watching the game with my buddy Andy last night, and once we hit the 7th and were up 8-3, I broke out the, “See what we do with Giambi and Womack warming the bench?” remark. I was surprised by his quick retort, in which he mentioned that Cano and Matsui also were sitting tonight, and that I’d have to factor that into my analysis. Thankfully Cano is the man and shut Andy up in the top of the 7th with a homer that got out in a hurry, and Matsui had a meaningless pinch-hit single in the 9th. But a hit is a hit. And I’m confident that neither of the benchwarmers would have found such success last night.

A few quick notes before I depart:
-I can only imagine the scene in the dugout prior to Torre's ejection last night.
Torre: Hm, it seems Tino disagrees with that check swing call.
Girardi: You win some, you lose some.
Torre: Hold on a second. Think Joe, think. What would Billy Martin do?
(Pauses for a second)
Torre: Joe, take over. I'm getting tossed.
Girardi: Heh, good one Joe. Wait, where are you going? Oh geeze, he's serious! JOE!

-There was a bit in a local newspaper about Lyle Overbay possibly become available because the Brew Crew has a monster prospect in AAA at first base. Interesting prospect, but I would have to think Cashman would be reluctant to bring in another first baseman, considering Torre’s having enough trouble juggling Giambi and Tino. But the guy is a doubles machine. If we bench/dish Womack, there may be a spot on the roster for Overbay. I’m just worried that we’d have to give up Wang, Sean Henn, or Eric Duncan in the deal. Just not something I think the team should do under any circumstances.

- I know this blog is about the Yankees, but I just have to mention something I heard on WFAN this morning. Jerry Recco – a personal favorite of mine – was hosting the overnight show, and some crazed Mets fan called up and proposed one of his fantasy trades: Heath Bell, Kaz Matsui, Victor Zambrano and Aaron Heilman for Barry Zito and Octavio Dotel. This is just exemplary of how Mets fans are off their freakin’ rockers. Yes, I’m sure Billy Beane – the epitome of frugality – would want to take on Zambrano’s and Matsui’s contracts. Suuuuuuuuuuuuure. What makes this call(er) worse is that he didn’t take into consideration that Dotel is done for the year, as he’s undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery. Yeah, there are some ludicrous Yankees calls in the same tone as that, but come on. To think Billy Beane would take on the age and contracts of those four guys just means the guy is clueless as to the current state of baseball.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Burn On, Big River, Burn On

If the silver screen has taught us anything, it’s that the Yankees will find a way to overcome this horrific slide. Just remember back to 1994, when the Cleveland Indians were suffering from a hangover induced by their Cinderella story a season prior. Sure, the Yankees season was the antithesis of a Cinderella story – more like a wicked step sister story – but there are similarities to be drawn.

Randy Johnson is our Rick Vaughn, minus the whole age thing. We have the notorious fireballer, the guy expected to approach 300 strikeouts for the season, but when the season opens, he looks horribly flat. Instead of reaching back and tossing the heat that elevated them to this level, Wild Thing and the Big Unit are hurling more breaking pitches and pinpoint fastballs. I wonder if Randy has nicknamed his slider The Devastator, or if A-Rod got a piece of it and gave it a more lewd moniker.

We have the former power hitter who has had a religious experience and no longer possesses the mental girth to slug the ball. Yes, I’m comparing Gimabi and Cerrano, though you’ll have to replace the words “a religious experience” with “his abuse of steroids exposed.”

There’s the former catcher turned coach in Joe Girardi, though Derek Jeter seems to embody the spirit of Jake Taylor more than Girardi.

We have the rookie who is doing everything he can to contribute to the team, as Cano is our Rube Baker. I don’t think I need to get into the subtle differences between the two, but I will say that I don’t think Cano was ever kicked in the balls by a horse. But hey, you never know.

The only main characters in the movie that we’re lacking are Willie Mays Hays – who would be a perfect fit for Soriano, being the speedster who all the sudden decides he’s going to sock dingers – Roger Dorn, and Jack Parkman. Some would compare Parkman to A-Rod, but a) he’s not that big a prick and b) I don’t think he’ll be wearing a Red Sox jersey any time soon. And Giambi may embody Dorn more than Cerrano by season’s end if he keeps sucking.

So, according to the movie, Joe is eventually going to get fed up with the team and flip out:
“It’s either a leg thing, or an arm thing, or a psychological thing! Or a heart attack!”
“Who used that one, skip?”

I am in no way prophesizing future health bouts for Torre; I’m merely following the story line. So with Joe in the hospital, Girardi takes over as manager. But, like Jake Taylor, Girardi has no managerial experience, and finds it impossible to keep all those egos under wraps like Joe/Lou could.

One day in July, with the Yanks still playing flat, we’re going to be in the middle of a double header, and Jete and A-Rod are going to get into a scuffle in the dugout. A fight breaks out, and the Yanks are forced to forfeit the first. But, the motivated rookie Cano, having been beaned squarely in his instep, says that he’ll be available to play, after hearing A-Rod quip, “At least you don’t have to play the second one.”

And that’s where the season will turn around. The team will start to get along, and will pick up the slack down the stretch, knocking off Baltimore to sneak into the Wild Card slot.

Facing the Red Sox in the ALCS again, we’re going to take a 3-0 series lead, only to once again see the Red Sox come back and win the next three. But Girardi has yet to play his trump card: “let’s win one for Joe.” Giambi comes up huge late in the game with a monster home run, Jeter makes a spectacular slide to avoid a tag by Varitek, and Randy whiffs David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez to end it.

Sure, it’s beyond wishful thinking, but with the Yanks playing as they are now, what the hell else do we have to talk about? I’m sure as hell not jumping on the “I’m going to route for the Mets this year because I don’t like this Yankees team and the Mets are exciting” bandwagon, because no matter who wears the pinstripes, they’re still the Yankees.

Monday, June 06, 2005

An Addendum To My Proposed Solution

NOTE: Read the below entry, "Bernie's Contribution to the Problem" before reading this.

After thinking longer and harder about this perplexing situation, I've come up with a few more thoughts. This may seem a bit extreme, but hey, the team should be willing to try anything to win games at this point.

First of all, Russ Johnson needs to go so we can recall Andy Phillips from Columbus, where he's 27 for 71. We then should plug him in as the starting left fielder. I'll stick with my Womack/Cano platoon, since it at least gets Womack a little playing time and makes his signing seem a bit less atrocious (though the atrocity is pretty apparent at this point either way).

Next, we need to have a set lineup, nine guys that are going to start the majority of games. So here's the rundown:
1) Jeter - SS
2) Cano - 2B
3) Sheffield - RF
4) Matsui - CF
5) A-Rod - 3B
6) Posada - C
7) Tino - 1B
8) Bernie - DH
9) Phillips - LF

Then you have Womack in place of Cano against lefties. Tino will get a few days off a week in which Giambi can get some PT, though I don't even condone that. Sierra can get a start or two a week at DH as well, as to keep him happy and Bernie rested (though how much rest does a DH need?). But for the most part, we should be putting out a lineup like this on a consistent basis.

The key here is consistency. The team as a whole lacks it, so the place to start is to have a consistent starting lineup. Where else to look to for consistency? Telling Randy Johnson to eff off and accept the fact that he's going to have an extra day rest sometimes, since we don't need to be skipping Wang, the only guy with any consistency in the rotation. If anyone, Kevin Brown could use the extra rest, but there's no way Joe skips him in the rotation, no matter how poor he looks on the mound at times.

It just confounds me that everyone talks about the team not playing to their potential, but the guys who are consistently terrible are still in the lineup.

Bernie's Contribution to the Problem

Not a lot of time to write, but I just wanted to graze over an increasingly prevalent subject: the decline of Bernabe Figueroa Williams. Lacking a better place to start, we begin with his vitals, .247/.322/.361. That’s not terrible – for a defensive middle infielder. But Bernie is a center fielder, and was at once a dominant one, putting up a .333/.415/.493 season as recently as 2002. So what has happened to Bern, anyway?

His age is the most obvious factor, but that can’t be everything. Hell, Griffey Jr., a year younger than Bern but much more injury plagued over his career, is putting up better numbers, posting .266/.338/.467. And this is a guy who came close to not homering in the month of April. And really, Griff has been in his decline since heading to the Reds, putting up 40 dingers in 2000 (his last almost full season) and struggling to even halve that in subsequent years.

So why is Griffey, who has been in a decline for nearly four years now, outperforming Bernie, who has been sliding for the past two and the beginning of this one? We can begin with plate discipline. Now, Bernie has always been a decently disciplined hitter, keeping a consistent 2.1 to 2.3 hits per walks ratio, which afforded him a quality OBP every year. Even this year, his 39 hits to 18 walks translates to a 2.17 hits per walks. You wouldn’t know this by watching the games, though. It just seems that every time Bernie gets up, he swings at the first pitch. And, when your skills are in decline and your bat speed just isn’t what it used to be, that’s going to mean a lot of dinky ground ball outs.

This lack of discipline is evident when examining Bern’s pitches seen per at bat. He’s only seeing 3.54 pitches per at bat, which is by far his worst mark since his first full season as a starter in ’93. Even as recently as last year, Bern was near his career high in the category, watching 3.8 pitches per at bat, while putting up a .262/.360/.435 season. Let me just make the connection in case it isn’t obvious at this point. He sees 3.8 pitches per at bat, he has a .360 OBP, which is great given the context of his .262 batting average. He sees 3.5 pitches per at bat, he has a .322 OBP to go with a .247 average.

I’m no sports psychologist, and I certainly have never met Bernie Williams, but I have to make the quick diagnosis that he’s getting over anxious at the plate this year. This is understandable in a way, since he’s not the regular center fielder for the first time basically in his career and wants to prove to himself and his team that he can still produce. The result is him jumping on pitches he should be taking instead of sitting back and waiting for his pitch.

Opposing pitchers seemed to have figured this out, and are throwing Bern junk to start off, hoping he’ll swing away and dink one to an infielder. And for the most part, it has worked. This strategy is especially effective with a man on first, as his dinks to the infield turn into double plays, hence the moniker my friends and I have bestowed upon him: the Double Play Machine. And trust me, he’d have plenty more, but he seems to get up a lot with no men on base, or man on base with two outs. He still hits the dinkers to the infield, but there is no need for a DP.

The solution to this, in my opinion, is to make Bernie a regular facet in the starting lineup. Plate discipline isn’t typically a skill that wanes with age; actually, most hitters develop a better understanding of the strike zone as they get along in years. Bern still knows the zone, but he extends it in his mind because he wants to get into a groove, get his swing back and prove that he can play every day.

Unfortunately, that fat piece of crap Giambi is playing just well enough to stay in the lineup. And by just well enough, I mean JUST well enough. I still don’t understand how Joe doesn’t bench his .237/.375/.351 ass (yes, his slugging percentage is lower than his OBP). Yeah, it’s probably the contract that’s inflated like his muscles on steroids, but honestly, when a team is playing as dismally as the Yanks are now, how can you keep a guy that terrible in the lineup? For Pete’s sake, the guy strikes out almost once every three at bats (3.275 ratio)! In 131 at bats, he has put the ball in play 67 times. Sixty-seven. Yes, you read that correctly. He has BARELY put the ball in play in half of his at bats. Inexcusable.

Let Bernie split time between center field and DH, get Ruben some ABs as a DH, and let Womack’s worthless ass and his .254/.296/.284 season fill in when Bernie DHs. All this talk about “something has to change” with the Yanks this season, and one look at the stats can tell quite a story. Giambi sits because he’s an aberration on the team. Bernie plays almost every day because he needs that kind of work to get any production out of him. Womack sits more and bats ninth because he can’t get on base with any consistency. Or even platoon him with Cano at second, since Cano is killing righties and struggling against lefties, while Womack fares better against lefties than righties. It may not be the be all, end all solution, but it’s a damn fine start.

Too bad Joe would never consider doing any of the above.