Friday, August 12, 2005

Some Positives After A(nother) Bullpen Meltdown

Add another name to the Miracle Boys of the ’05 New York Yankees. Not that this is a magical season where miracles appear at just the right time, saving the team from sure peril. But in a season in which the Yankees have struggled more than any season since ’95, you learn to appreciate the little June, July, and August miracles that keep the team from crumbling.

Last night was one of those games. Coming off a series loss to the AL best White Sox, the Yanks needed a shove in the right direction. The man scheduled to start the game was just the man for the job: Randy Johnson.

Wait, scratch that last line. No, Randy’s back forced him to miss the start, and he’s not the guy I’d want pitching that day, anyway. Scott Proctor was the guy tossing warm-ups right before the Thursday night game, and Scott Proctor was out there to accomplish one task: keep the Yanks in the game.

Maybe that’s Randy Johnson’s problem. He sees these three and four pitchers being praised by Torre for keeping the team in the game, and all the sudden he thinks that’s his objective. “You mean all this time I was dominating games and striking out batters, I should have just been trying to keep the team in the game? Damn, how many wasted years?” So maybe it’s a mental thing…and maybe Randy’s brain runs all the way down his posterior.

But I digress. Great job by Proctor, though, tossing 76 pitches, which must be more than he’s thrown in three years. And he even came out for the sixth, which was a great move when you’re up 6-2. But when Barajas reaches on a strikeout because your catcher misjudged a waster pitch and the guy who has taken you deep twice is stepping up, the logical move is to go to the pen.

Which Joe did. Embree didn’t exactly do his job, surrendering a hit to the guy he came into face and allowing two runs (including Barajas’s unearned one) to score. But, he got the other big lefty in the lineup, Blalock, to strike out, which is big. Not huge. Big.

Bringing in Felix right there was the move to make, as was letting him start the seventh. And then bringing in Sturtze when F-Rod got in trouble was also the right move, despite the ding-dong he served up (and the subsequent bewildered look on his face. Combination bewilderment and constipation).

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I’m sick of the slew of Yankees fans that ride Torre every night for his bullpen management. Yes, there are times that I disagree with his choices of arms, but since everyone in the area seems rely solely on short-term memory, I’ll give a refresher. 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000. Torre was in the driver’s seat those four years, and something tells me he’s not quite senile enough at this point to up and forget everything he knows about bullpen management. The problem simply is that there is a lack of dependable arms out there. It’s like the cliché goes: pick your poison.

And I can tell all of you this: if we weren’t up 6-2, Torre might not even have sent Proctor out for the sixth. F-Rod would have probably been in the game, but Sturtze would have started the seventh, with Gordon possibly taking some of the inning. See, this is what I love about baseball; everything, every little detail changes the strategy of the game.

Not really much else to comment about from last night. The bats came alive, and everyone either got a hit or was on base twice. Hats off to Robbie Cano for his smash double in the gap. Kid needed a hit like that to break out of this rut he’s in. Let’s see if he rides that into tonight.

But a commentary on last night’s game wouldn’t be complete without a pat on the back to Tony Womack, who produced in the only manner he is capable. First at bat, an infield single, which caused my buddy Andy and I to refer to him as Willie Mays Hayes. “For every ball you hit in the air, you owe me 20 push-ups.” Yeah, and maybe after you do 6,000 of them, Tony, you’ll be able to put enough mustard into your swing to get an extra base hit.

Anyway, second at bat, bloop single to center. Third at bat, sacrifice bunt. So instead of trying to be the guy he was last year (.307/.349/.385), he played within his means. Problem is, he plays outfield now, and you expect a little more in terms of slugging percentage from your outfielders. If Robbie Cano can pick his pace back up, though, having Womack doing the little things might just work out.

And that’s what we’re going to need down the stretch. We’re going to need somebody to sacrifice a guy over, and Womack is just the guy to do it in the nine hole. But then we need someone to get on base ahead of him. Enter Bernie, who can draw walks with the best of ‘em, like he did pinch-hitting last night.

And kudos to Jorge for his dinger last night. Now, buddy, I know I’m just a (lunatic) fan, but hear me out. Jorge and Bernie should only bat from the right side now. I understand that there’s the whole match-up thing, and that too many righties in a row isn’t good for a line-up, but if Jorge and Bernie are batting seven and eight, they’ll be surrounded by lefties – Matsui and Giambi at five and six, and Womack at nine. In fact, against a righty, that’s five lefties in a row, even if you throw Tino in and take Womack or Bernie out. It makes too much sense to not try.

So tonight the Miracle Boys (Small, Chacon, and now Proctor) send out their doofy older brother who, with a quality game tonight, will officially join their ranks. Just the prospect of six solid starts in a row is exciting, and especially since only one of them was tossed by a regular facet in the rotation.

Coming Monday: Jaret Wright, We Barely Knew Thee.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Long Way To The Top

Everyone talks about pitching, pitching, pitching. Pitching is our problem; pitching is why we haven’t already run away with the AL East. Our hitters can hit, so it must be our pitchers, right? Blah blah blah pitching, blah blah blah pitching, blah blah blah pitching.

But now, nine games into August, the Yanks actually rank worse in Slugging Percentage (9th) and On Base Percentage (9th) than ERA (7th) and WHIP (8th). This is quite a difference from July, where we ranked 12th in ERA, 6th in WHIP, and first in OBP and Slugging.

And you know who’s on top of that OBP heap in August? Yes, those forsaken Red Sox (they rank 4th in Slugging). What’s their record this month? 7-2? Compared to our, what, 4-5? By the way, Boston ranks 10th in both WHIP and ERA this month.

These numbers are killing me, because I’m a huge pitching guy. I’d rather see the Yanks with five solid arms than have six sluggers in the lineup. Give me nine guys who understand the strike zone and draw frequent walks, and I’m set if I’ve got pitching. This is why I’m a closet A’s fan.

This whole hitting and pitching in correlation with a team’s record is quite intriguing to me at the moment, so I’m going to do you all a (dis)service and go over the numbers by the month. Maybe then we can figure out the conundrum that is the 2005 season.

April
OBP: .357 – 2nd (Boston – .358)
SLG: .422 – 5th (Baltimore – .497)
ERA: 4.61 – 10th (Chicago – 3.13)
WHIP: 1.50 – 12th (Minnesota – 1.14)

Record: 10-14; Boston: 12-11; Baltimore: 16-7; Minnesota: 15-8; Chicago: 17-7

Comments: See, I toooooooold you pitching wins ballgames. Look at those whacky teams from the Central!

May
OBP: .349 – 2nd (Boston – .367)
SLG: .452 – 3rd (Texas – .517)
ERA: 4.54 – 9th (Minnesota – 3.22)
WHIP: 1.39 – 10th (Minnesota – 1.17)

Record: 17-10; Boston: 16-12; Texas: 18-7; Minnesota: 14-13; Chicago: 18-10 (6th in OBP and SLG, 8th in ERA, 4th in WHIP)

Comments: Um, about that whole thing with pitching winning ballgames…seems you need guys to actually hit, too; Minnesota ranked 10th in OBP and 12th in SLG. For us, a slight improvement in rank, a huge improvement in record. Still, the hitting is carrying us…not a good sign.

June
OBP: .359 – 2nd (LAA – .360)
SLG: .426 – 9th (Boston – .501)
ERA: 4.42 – 9th (Oakland – 2.83)
WHIP: 1.30 – 7th (Oakland – 1.08)

Record: 12-14; LAA: 17-9; Boston: 17-9; Oakland: 19-8; Chicago: 18-7 (8th in OBP, 7th in SLG, 2nd in ERA and WHIP)

Comments: Third straight month we’re second in OBP. I guess it doesn’t have much bearing on our record. Huge drop in slugging, which seems to be more the problem, since our pitching actually improved from May. At this point, Slugging Percentage seems to be the stat to watch, though Oakland is proving that pitching may in fact win ballgames – though it helps that they were 3rd in OBP and 5th in Slugging.

July
OBP: .357 – 1st (tie for 2nd, Boston and Toronto – .354)
SLG: .504 – 1st (2nd – Detroit, .463, 3rd – Oakland, .462)
ERA: 5.09 – 12th (Oakland – 3.66)
WHIP: 1.41 – 6th (Oakland – 1.26)

Record: 17-9; Boston: 14-13; Toronto: 13-12; Oakland: 20-6; Detroit: 14-15; Chicago: 15-11 (7th in OBP, 7th in SLG, 6th in ERA, 11th in WHIP)

Comments: Kickass month, and we did it without pitching. The WHIP is down and the Slugging is up. Beginning to make a connection? And notice that this is Chicago’s worst month, and they’re down in WHIP, too. Let’s see if we can use our nine games in August in the same way…

August
OBP: .321 – 9th (Boston – .399)
SLG: .405 – 9th (Texas – .553)
ERA: 3.76 – 7th (Chicago – 2.50)
WHIP: 1.42 – 8th (Oakland – 0.98)

Record: 4-5; Boston: 7-2; Texas: 3-6; Chicago: 6-4; Oakland: 7-2

Comments: Slugging is way down, record is way down. Texas proves that Slugging isn’t everything, as their pitching just can’t get the job done. The pitching is showing improvement…

Upon Analyzing the Data…
I just can’t expect our ERA to ever cross the Mason-Dixon Line in the AL. But at this point, we need it more than ever. There is no reason for our OBP and Slugging to stay in the bottom half of the league. And it seems that when we get that Slugging up above .450 and when the WHIP gets below 1.40, we win ballgames. The ERA and OBP seem to be incidental stats for the Yankees at this point. By the way, Texas has a 1.84 WHIP this month.

If the team can take solace in something at this point, it’s that there is plenty of time for the bats to get hot. Conversely, there is still time for the pitching to falter and kill the season. But right now, the focus should be on the slumping bats, and I know just where to start.

Bernie Williams (.208/.208/.250 in August) and Jorge Posada (.219/.219/.313). Neither has drawn a friggin free pass all month! Nine games, zero walks combined. I’m actually livid while typing this right now. And this is especially for Jorge, who was hitchhiking on the Interstate (.169 BA) in July. Is he just in a Jabba the Hut sized slump, or is he showing signs of decline as a 33-year-old backstop? I vote for the latter. Everyone talks about how we need a new center fielder, and they forget our pressing need at catcher.

Needless to say, finding a catcher (possibly overpaying for Bengi Molina or Ramon Hernandez) and a center fielder (maybe dealing for Corey Patterson) will be right up there on the off-season to-do list with signing A.J. Burnett – which I think is a good idea. But, once again, I thought signing Carl Pavano was a good idea.

I doubt any solution I come up with will hold any merit, since I don’t know the team like Joe does, and he can’t seem to find the answer, either. But I have to say, DL Bernie, call up Kevin Thompson (he can’t be much worse), and start playing Flaherty twice a week to give Jorge some time off. That 1) gives him some extra rest, which he may need at his age, and 2) keeps his suddenly undisciplined arse out of the lineup.

The deficit seems Everest-sized. But remember the words of Bon Scott: It’s a long way to the top if you want to win the AL East. And I’m pretty sure that’s the exact line from the song.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

(Mile) High on Chacon

A day game normally helps the healing process following a night like last night. And who knows, maybe we’ll have a game like one summer Wednesday game last year, when Ruben Sierra hit a walkoff jack in the ninth to defeat the Tigers 1-0. Because that would certainly fit the two-game trend the Yanks and Sox have started.

What I’ve noticed this morning in the New York media is the attention to Contreras rather than Chacon. Look, fellas, Contreras left town last July. I know it’s a story and all, him pitching against his former team for the first time and winning. But there’s another story in town, and this guy may affect us not only down the stretch this year, but in the years to come.

In the process of picking up his first loss in pinstripes, Chacon actually lowered his ERA to 1.42. Over the course of his longest start thus far – seven strong – the only aberration on his record was a solo homer to Tad Iguchi, who would get my vote for Rookie of the Year if 1) I didn’t think voting a 30-year-old as ROY was stupid and 2) I had an actual vote.

Once again, Chacon hurled six innings – plus the bonus seventh inning – and gave up less than three runs. When his fellow newcomers Aaron Small and Al Leiter put up such figures, the Yanks had enough in their bats to overcome their foes. But last night, and also in Chacon’s two prior appearances, the bats just weren’t there. Maybe Chacon is cursed (though the connotation of that word is much weightier in other contexts), maybe the team was just overmatched by Contreras last night. In any case, Chacon is proving that if you score him runs, he’ll win you ballgames.

After the fourth inning, Chacon had thrown 67 pitches, 31 balls to 36 strikes – not exactly a solid ratio, though he only had walked one at that point. Fast forward to the end of the seventh inning. Chacon left the mound having tossed 120 at Posada, 69 of which were strikes, an improved ratio from three innings earlier. He also walked two more over that span, meaning he really locked in and threw strikes when he really needed them.

This leads me to the one real problem I have with Chacon: the walks. Not that they’re overt totals; eight over three games. But I’ve always been a believer in the walk to strikeout ratio. If you’re not going to overpower guys and strike them out, you’d better not put them on for free. This is especially true for fly ball pitchers like Chacon, who won’t see a festival of double play balls.

But he managed to escape the free passes unscathed. Chacon actually worked out of quite a few jams, including two instances of Scott Podsednick dangling off of first base. But what impressed me most was his endurance in throwing those 120 pitches. Guy looked strong from pitch one to pitch 120, and there can’t be enough said of that. Now all he has to do is throw more strikes and take down his average of 17 tosses an inning.

Oh, and have I mentioned his curveball yet? Kid has a NASTY hook, and now that he’s hurling it in the thick Bronx air, it’s actually dipping and diving, fooling hitters like it was intended, not hanging all the way to the seats in Denver. My favorite instance of it: with Podsednick on first and one out, Tad Iguchi was standing in the batter’s box. A guy like Podsednick – with Henderson-esque base swiping talent – needs to be held in check. This caused Chacon not only to throw over every other pitch (sometimes two or three times before delivering to the plate), but forced him to throw heater after heater, in order to give Posada an inkling of a chance to gun him down.

And Iguchi just kept fouling them off. Of course, during that series of foul balls, Podsednick took off twice, but all for naught. After too many fastballs to count, Jorge finally made the right call and signaled for the deuce. Forget Podsednick, let’s get this guy and then worry about Pierzynski. That they did, and Iguchi was sent back to the dugout. It was such a great moment that it may have bought Chacon some confidence from Joe and Mel, which he parlayed into a trip to the mound in the seventh.

It was not meant to be for Chacon, though, as he left with a 1-0 deficit, which was widened by a Paul Konerko dong off Alan Embree in the top of the ninth. This woke the sleeping monster, as George ripped Torre for the decision to leave Embree in the game. This is reminiscent of the message boards I read daily, where guys will relentlessly rip Torre for mismanaging the bullpen. I actually agree on this one. As I’ve said before, Embree is a one, maybe two batter guy out of the ‘pen. His worst outings are the ones where he’s in for more than an inning, and last night was such an instance. I guess Joe wanted to see this for himself. I do hope he keeps using Embree in a situational manner, however, as he can get the job done for a batter or two.

And finally, Bernie Williams. In a season where he has done little right, he actually came within inches of tying the game last night. I can’t even blast him for not coming up with the tying run on third, because he hit a SHOT that would have normally been a double, which could have scored the winning run from first. But, Konerko was playing a few step towards the line, which put him in perfect position to snag the liner.

But as I said just a few paragraphs ago, a day game can heal all. Aaron Small experiment, take four. I have a good feeling about today…but then again, I had a good feeling about Pavano.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Happy Madden Day

Normally, after a win like last night, I’d want to write a thousand words on the Yanks more than impressive performance last night. They did just about everything right: they were patient with El Duque, took plenty of pitches (116 through 6 innings), got to him early, and let the pitching do the rest.

Thing is, I don’t exactly have the time today to break down the game last night. Nor should many of you have much time to read this. Of course, I’m referring to what should be a national holiday: Madden Day. And, as per standard Madden procedure, I’m taking today and playing the shit out of the newest version. But, first a few quick words about the greatest video game ever created.

I realize that, in essence, it’s the same game every year. The gameplay doesn’t vary much, and there is little else they can add to the off-field activities. But that doesn’t deter any obsessive Madden player, and I’ll tell you why. Even though there have been a couple of preseason matches so far, Madden Day officially marks the beginning of football season.

Any die hard Madden head will tell you he starts off one of two ways: he either takes his favorite team in a franchise, or he hooks up with a buddy and fantasy drafts. I’ve always been a fantasy draft man myself. Even as I type this, I have already drafted a team to rival my brother. What I love best about fantasy drafting is finding all of the young players who are rated in the low 80s and high 70s, guys I might have missed last year or are rookies this year. Then, of course, I can follow their actual seasons this year.

The problem with fantasy drafting, however, is that when you do it with a buddy, 1) it takes vaaaaay too long, and 2) anyone who knows a lick about Madden drafts their team the same way: young, cheap talent. No one drafts a 33-year-old outside linebacker, because there’s normally a 25-year-old who is only four points worse, and cost a bundle less. True, everyone has his little quirks about drafting (e.g. my brother follows Al Davis’s mantra of going with raw speed), but when it comes down to it, you’d better not wait on that 23-year-old cornerback, because if the computer doesn’t take him, your buddy surely will.

But then it gets down to the nitty gritty, the actual games. And there’s no greater feeling in Madden than defeating your friends. Sure, you can sit and play the computer for 8 hours a day, and even work your way up to All-Madden. Playing another human, however, is a completely different story. I don’t care if you win every game 100-7 on All-Madden; if you play an experienced player head to head, it’s almost a coin flip as to who will win.

Speaking of head-to-head games, I’m also looking forward to playing the braggarts. You know, the guys who say they’re so good at Madden, but you know they’re full of shit. They’re very identifiable, even from the very beginning. First, they’ll more than likely not know a lick about the NFL. Sure, they’ll know who the players are because of Madden, but they’ll glance at a headline and think they know about a player. But in actuality, they can’t even give you a ballpark figure as far as last year’s numbers go.

Second, they will always pick the Atlanta Falcons. This is a certainty. After selecting the Falcons, they’ll talk about how awesome Mike Vick is, and how he destroys with him. Now, EA has installed a few features in their revamped defense system to stop such players, but if you’re the Falcons playing the computer, you can still tear it up with Vick. Not so against another human, and especially if they’re like me and play with the Ravens. A few blitzes with Suggs and Lewis and they’re crapping their pants. They can’t run, because they’ve got guys in their face constantly. And since they don’t know how to throw the ball, they can’t identify the three wide open receivers downfield. This will cause a sure safety, their controller to be thrown to the ground in frustration, and it’s more than likely that they’ll quit.

EA actually added a new in-game feature this year, the QB Vision. I was excited about this at first, as a new aspect in gameplay is just what this franchise needed. But this is a ridiculously stupid feature. You can only throw an accurate pass to a player in your field of vision, and if you stay on a player for more than a second or two, the DBs are on him like white on rice. The worst part: the cone moves with the R stick, which just isn’t sensitive enough. Now, I only tried this with Eli Manning, so other QBs may be different, but the cone would only react when I went far left or far right, and that’s where the cone went. So how do I hit a receiver slightly to my left? And if I can’t do that, how does my QB get better. Thankfully, you can turn this feature off, and it’s already been done in my franchise.

And it’s my turn to play. Until tomorrow.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Value Over Replacement Pitcher

It’s official – our pitching staff is a group of scrubs. Rejects, misfits, call them what you want. But these guys – mostly being paid the league minimum by the Yanks (though many are collecting paychecks from elsewhere) – are turning into an effective gauze to the Yanks’ profusely bleeding season.

This group of guys might not get any love from Left Eye Lopez and the rest of TLC, but they’re sure – what’s that term? Earning their pinstripes? It may be early in their tenure in the Bronx, but the three new starters, combined with a new yet familiar face in the bullpen, have been doing exactly what they’re being paid to do: keep the team in games.

Obviously, this wasn’t the plan entering the season. With a rotation that bolstered such names as Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown, the Yanks were finally poised for a season in which they wouldn’t have to worry about their pitching being able to carry them. And I almost managed to type that with a straight face.

On paper, however, the Yanks were set entering this season. On paper, they had a 20-game winner, two 17-gamers, and two 15-gamers. It’s a shame that they don’t play baseball by looking at everyone’s stats and rolling dice to determine the outcome; we’d have run away with the AL by this point (along with capturing the 15-35 Dungeons and Dragons demographic). But realistically, I just don’t know how Cashman and Torre could fathom for a second that this set of starters would hold up. Let’s take a look at the rap sheet.

The name that stands out most on the list is Kevin Brown, to whom a stint on the disabled list is like staying at a buddy’s place when you’re in the doghouse. It was such a given that he would end up on the DL this year that many wondered why Cashman didn’t reel in another starting pitcher (Eric Milton, Odalis Perez, anyone with a pulse) as an insurance policy for Brown, who actually began the season on the DL (though this indirectly led to the uncovering of gold in Wang, so I’m not technically complaining). I said it before the season, and with the benefit of hindsight, I’ll say it again: we were better off shipping Kevin Brown elsewhere and paying 100 percent of his $15 million salary. What we would get in return: not having Kevin Brown any more.

Then there’s Jaret Wright, a guy who looked like a stud in ’97 when he came up with Cleveland, and had flashes of that greatness last year with the pitcher’s haven in Atlanta. Too bad the only significant humbers he put up between then was days spent on the DL. From 2000 through 2002, he made a total of 24 starts for Cleveland (7-9, 7.20 ERA) before being shipped to Atlanta for bullpen work in 2003, who shipped him to San Diego after nine innings of work. Combined, he was 2-5 with a 7.35 ERA (8.37 in San Diego), two saves and three blown.

And we expected what of this guy? We expected him to reproduce last year, the only truly solid year of his career? His contract year? Fat friggin’ chance. What I don’t understand is how the Yankees broke one of the cardinal rules of free agency: don’t sign a pitcher from Atlanta who is not welcome back there. They know things the rest of us don’t, and it’s scary sometimes. You just watch, when Horacio Ramirez is 29, they’re going to cut him loose and there will be a mad scramble for him. And, of course, he’ll be a bust in any city he arrives in. Why? Because the Braves know pitching. They’ve proven it time and time again.

Now that I’ve mentioned contract years, it’s natural that I move on to Carl Pavano. For some reason I can’t explain, I really do think that Pavano is as good as he showed last year. Yes, his career stats (57-58, 4.21 ERA before New York) don’t justify my stance in the slightest. But sometimes you have a feeling about these things, like Abe Simpson –
“Put it all on 41. I’ve got a feeling about that number.”
“Sir, the wheel only goes to 36.”
“Put it all on 36. I’ve got a feeling about that number.”

Guess I’m feeling a little like Grandpa on this one. Maybe his shoulder has been bothering him the entire season, and he just didn’t let anyone know until it was physically impossible for him to make another start. This may be evidenced by following up his 3.10 ERA April with a 5.05 ERA in May and a 5.86 in June. And now reports are running rampant that he may miss the rest of the season. Wonderful, just wonderful. Another $10 mil wasted.

Moose was another concern coming into the season, as he spent an extended period (July 7th to August 17th) on the DL last season. His relatively injury-free past helped alleviate some of that concern, as did the way he recovered from that injury (3-1, 2.14 ERA in September). The problem with Mussina this season is that he’s not providing the consistency the team needs. Sure, he’s had some good starts and even a few great starts, but they’re all part of a smorgasbord that’s littered with terrible outings – five starts with five or more earned runs.

And don’t even get me started on Randy. I’ve dedicated far too many words to him in the past couple of weeks.

So let’s compare the injured regulars with the replacement scrubs:
Pavano: 4-6, 4.77 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 56 Ks, 18 walks over 100.0 IP
Small: 3-0, 3.15 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 6 Ks, 6 walks over 20.0 IP

Wright: 2-2, 9.15 ERA, 2.29 WHIP, 13 Ks, 9 walks over 19.2 IP
Leiter: 2-3, 4.68 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 16 Ks, 19 walks over 25.0 IP

Brown: 4-7, 6.50 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 50 Ks, 19 walks over 73.1 IP
Chacon: 0-0, 1.50 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 8 Ks, 5 walks over 12.0 IP

And the scrubs have proven an upgrade. Any way you slice it, the replacement guys have performed better than the regulars, which says a boatload about their VORP (a stat that I still don’t really understand).

Why do I bring up pitching for the umpteenth time today? Because the best pitching team in the league is coming into town for three days. Thankfully, we miss their two aces, though the three guys we get aren’t exactly Pavano, Wright and Brown. The Yanks are going to have to work to get runs off El Duque, Contreras and Garcia.

But most of all, we’re going to need a little help from Mussina, Chacon and Small. Here’s to the new guys.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Weekend Rant on Randy

After Saturday’s calamity, my first thought was, “well, at least it was a weekend game, so I won’t be dedicating 700 words to it.” The issue could be put to rest until Monday morning, when I wake up, sip my cup of coffee, and pen my daily thoughts about the Bronx Bombers.

Funny thing, though. I woke up on this pleasant but cloudy Sunday morning, and I felt the need to write about Randy Johnson. This is an anomaly, mainly because I haven’t been lacking words for the Big Unit in the recent past (7/27/05 – Not Sold On Randy, and 8/01/05 -- Randy Just Being Randy). You'd think I'd be sick of it by now.

What’s eating me most about Randy is his constant excuse making. From the New York Daily News:

"Every year I'm going to have a couple of bad games," Johnson said. "But this year has been a year where I'm very frustrated. ... I can't put my finger on it. I'm disappointed and I'm frustrated.”

I’m no shrink, so pardon me if I’m out of line, but could his mounting frustration be part of the problem? I know that when I was behind the plate in my high school days, if I let a passed ball hit the backstop, I became frustrated. And my frustration would manifest itself while I was in the batter’s box in subsequent innings. Let’s suffice it to say that I was perpetually on the on-ramp to the interstate.

But the frustration has to come from somewhere, and I don’t believe that a bad game or two earlier in the year clouded Randy’s head to the point that it’s affecting him in August. No, there’s more of a grand scheme to this frustration, and today I’m playing the part of Freud.

No matter what excuse he comes up with following a poor start, there is one constant with Randy Johnson: questions concerning his health. From the New York Daily News:

Johnson says his back isn't a concern and noted "that's not why I came out of the game. I came out because I wasn't effective."

I’d offer more Johnson injury-related quotes for evidence, but 1) you have to pay for online newspaper archives and 2) all such quotes are more or less the same.

So is his frustration centered on the New York media prodding him incessantly about health problems that he doesn’t have? It could be, but if the media is the source of his frustration, he should attempt to find employment elsewhere, as the media isn’t going to relent.

The problem with finding employment elsewhere, though, is that it’s not very possible. Even if Randy waived his no-trade clause, what team is going to trade anything of value for a 41-year-old coming off a mediocre year? I know it’s cynical, but think about it like this: we traded away viable pieces (Vazquez, Halsey, Navarro) for a guy with no resale value. Even if the Yanks ate 100% of his remaining contract, there would be no buyers willing to ship a 21-year-old for him.

But I digress. I now offer this idea (and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has come up with it): Randy’s frustration stems from his injuries this season. Every start, it’s either his back or his groin, and I believe that the injuries are beginning to mount, which is affecting his physical ability to pitch effectively, which is in turn leading to heightened frustration, thus equating to even more disappointing starts.

Randy has too much pride to admit being injured, though. Remember earlier in the season, when he expressed displeasure about being scratched from a scheduled start because of an aggravated groin? The guy refuses to admit injury, and it’s becoming detrimental to the team.

As the cliché goes, Randy was brought in for dominance, and he’s never going to provide said dominance if he’s not healthy. And if that means sending him to the DL for some rest, then that’s the move the team should be making. But Randy would never allow that to happen. A trip to the DL, to him, would be an admission that his body is breaking down, thus confirming concerns that have been mounting all year.

If this is the scenario, then in all likelihood, Randy is trying to shrug off his injures, thinking that his innate talent will be able to carry him through games. But I don’t care if your name is Randy Johnson or Bob Gibson, if you’re pitching injured, it is going to affect your, well, effectiveness.

This is my plea to Randy Johnson: go get some rest! You’re 41 years old, and your body is going to be feeling the effects of 19 years in the bigs. And the way you’re pitching now, you’re not going to be helping anyone down the stretch. Yes, I realize that Randy will never read this address personally.

Seriously, if 15 days off will help heal these injuries, there is no reason for the team to not explore that option. Randy was brought in to push the team over the top in the playoffs, but if the season ended today we wouldn’t even make it. And with Randy pitching like he has been lately, he’s not going to help us battle back into a spot. So why not cut your losses, get some rest, and come back when you can be of use to the team?

Too bad pride is too much of an issue.

Update

From ESPN.com:

Randy Johnson's next start with the New York Yankees is in doubt because of a bad back.

"He's really uncomfortable," manager Joe Torre said. "If it was like this yesterday, he wouldn't have pitched."


Later in the article:

"It's real tight right now. It's hard to move," Johnson said. "I'm going to continue to get treatment. Hopefully, it will be day to day."

Quite a divergence from his quote in the Daily News that I cited earlier. So let me get this straight. He DID come out of the game because of his back? So he brushed the issue aside to the media, but once Joe starts breathing down his neck about the injuries, he makes an admission.

Hopefully it won't be day to day. Hopefully he hits the DL. But I've exhausted myself on that topic.