Friday, February 17, 2006

Sans Stats

Oh my do we have an eventful Sans Stats today. Not only was there a week full of ridiculousness, but we’re going to sum up the 12, er 9 ½ Questions Facing the Yankees. But first, we have some breaking news.

Randy Johnson has a great feeling about this year. "I feel is going to be a great year,” candidly remarked Johnson.

This caused some confusion in Yankees Nation. “I was under the impression that he was going to be mediocre this year. But if he’s great this year, we could win the division!” remarked a Yankees fan. “Though, I heard Curt Schilling said the same thing. Better watch out for those Red Sux!”

Another Yankees pitcher was in the news this week, as the team forbade Carl Pavano to throw off a mound for two weeks upon hearing of back troubles. Howard Rubeinstein also issued in a statement that Pavano would be sent to bed without supper and is grounded for the weekend, with no teevee.

Pitchers and catchers reported yesterday. That news should have been overshadowed by the Olympics, but alas was not. Maybe it was the ceaseless promotion every thirty seconds of our online lives that turned everyone off to it. Maybe it’s because no one gives a crap about some snowboarding ginger kid. But if one thing’s for sure, it’s because no one cares about figure skating. And when I think of figure skating, I think of two things: nominally to very attractive women prancing about the ice and flamers. And what better flamer to ridicule than Johnny Weir?

"I never felt comfortable in this building," Johnny said after dropping from second to fifth. "I didn't feel my inner peace. I didn't feel my aura. I was black inside."

And you know what? With the friggin hippies out there nowadays, he’s probably going to get away with this excuse. Didn’t feel his aura? How about admitting that you fucking blew it, Weir? Just another reason that figure skating will never be recognized as a sport here at the Sporting Brews. We like sports where you can make real excuses like, “I’m having a difficult time transitioning to the American League,” and “I can’t seem to get my mechanics in order.”

In other Olympics news, Bode Miller is a freakin’ loser. “I didn’t win, so I’m going to pass it off like I don’t really care.” Yeah, real original fucking tactic there. Bode went on to say that he could “walk away today.” Do us all a favor, Bode, and do it. It would save some valuable space on ESPN.com’s main page.

Enough about other sports. Pitchers and catchers reporting means that we should be talking baseball and only baseball. Unless, of course, there is some absurdity in the NBA, which is bound to happen. In fact, I’m quite surprised there was nothing rather huge in the NBA this week other then Phoenix’s manhandling of Houston last night.

Before we get to baseball, let’s talk Tracy McGrady. It’s been highly publicized that he recently had a daughter, and we here at the Sporting Brews congratulate him for furthering the human race. However, this should not be an excuse for poor on court performance. Not that he’s given that excuse, but one of the commentators on last night’s game was relentlessly apologizing for McGrady’s performance. Ridiculous. Since when do commentators have to step in and make excuses for players? Why would he do this? In what world does this make sense? He had a bad game. Stop blaming extraneous factors.

Over the last three weeks, we here at the Sporting Brews have covering the 2006 season for the Yankees in our 12 9 ½ Questions Facing the Yankees. They came together well individually, but now it’s time to knead the dough and see what comes out of the oven.

The implicit prediction in Question 1 was that we can’t determine whether Randy’s back will hold up, but it seems his stats are progressing along a logical path, and that he’ll continue along a similar path as 2005. Chances are, his age will hinder him from returning to dominance, though he shouldn’t be all bad barring injury. Another 17 win performance could be what we see.

Then there’s Moose, whose inconsistency has us all worried. Basically, he’s a No. 3 starter pitching in the two slot, which is never encouraging, especially for a team with lofty aspirations like the Yanks. And now he’s looking for a contract extension. Listen, Moose, you pitch like you did in 2001 and 2003, and we’ll have grounds for negotiations. Otherwise, just sit back and let Wang develop into the No. 2 starter.

Speaking of Wang, we’ve also determined that we can expect one of him, Chacon, and Wang to flourish, while the other will likely be an adequate No. 5 starter. This will come in handy when Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright inevitably hit the DL, though Sean Henn could factor into that equation as well. Hopefully, Scott Erickson will have no part in these escapades. I appreciate the team giving him a minor league contract, but let’s be serious about this. No one expects Erickson will factor in at all.

Out in the bullpen, we’ve determined that the new crew will outperform the Gordon/Sturtze/Quantrill tandem, but only if Joe utilizes better bullpen management. As a unit, the bullpen is stronger than last year, though the guys right before Mo might not be a vast improvement. Joe Kerrigan will play an integral role here, as he’ll keep these guys loose and hopefully be in Joe’s ear about getting all of them into games on a semi-regular basis. To have another Felix Rodriguez this year would be a shame, a waste, and probably detrimental in the long run.

We’ve determined that A-Rod will be A-Rod, but Sheffield is a huge question mark. His numbers have been in a steady decline, and it doesn’t really look to be improving this year. My best assessment is that if he continues this streak, Cashman will be seeking help in right field come June or July, and Sheff will be moved to DH. Sorry, Bern, but it may be the only way to get some pop back into his bat.

Jeter’s defense isn’t that bad, Johnny Damon’s isn’t that good but it’s better than Bernie’s. That’s fine and good, but the beyond the starting outfielders, there isn’t much to choose from. This is bad for Sheff, since he won’t be able to get out of right field.

A note on Sheff in right, by the way. I know this is a divided camp; some believe he really doesn’t hurt the team out there, citing his cannon arm and the fact that he doesn’t kill us. But he is aging, and I just have a feeling that he’s much better suited as a DH this season. Especially in the summer months. But I’m confident that Cash will find a solution should that become a problem.

So, when it all comes down to it, we’re looking at what should be a comparable year to last. Another 95 win season wouldn’t bother me at all…so long as Boston or Toronto don’t win 96.

Since my power went out for three hours, I’m just about ready to wrap up Sans Stats for the week. Until next week, when position players will have reported.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Question 12: Is the Bench Deep Enough?

To begin describing the Yankees bench, I’ll paraphrase Randy Quaid. “You’re old Mother Hubbard, and only Cairo’s in the cupboard.” Ouch. Okay, so the guys riding the pine don’t look too promising. But since when have they? Actually, it was 2003, the last time we rode the train late into October, and before that it was 2000, the last time we won it. I won’t even launch into that intolerable “coincidence?” cliché. You all know what I mean.

In order to have a successful team, one needs solid utility help. Solid utility help usually consists of one guy who can lay into a pitch surrounded by guys who won’t kill you. It’s that simple. One guy who can get his slugging percentage over .450 and not strike out a ton surrounded by guys who can get their OBP above .310. Yet, the Yankees haven’t been able to muster up such forces in the recent past.

Take 2005 for example. The bench was absolutely horrendous. Not only did they lack a big bat off the bench, but they couldn’t even find guys who won’t kill them. Check out the top four guys off the Yankees bench in terms of at bats:

Tony Womack: .249/.276/.280
Ruben Sierra: .229/.265/.371
John Flaherty: .165/.206/.252
Bubba Crosby: .276/.304/.327

Note also that Bubba’s decent batting average was boosted during September, a month in which he started many games. So the among the first four guys off the Yankees bench, they couldn’t get a slugging percentage over .375 and barely had an OBP over .300. Just typing the preceding paragraph makes me want to hurtle my printer through a bay window. But I’m going back for more. The first four guys off the Royals bench:

Joe McEwing: .239/.263/.294
Chip Ambres: .241/.323/.379
Aaron Guiel: .294/.355/.450
Alberto Castillo: .210/.292/.310

Yes, ladies and gents, baseball’s worst Kansas City Royals had a better bench in 2005 than the Yankees. Obviously, that was an issue that needed some addressing this off-season, and since we all love Cashman so much, we should all just figure that he’ll get on that right away.

Let me take this transitory time to explain the importance of a bench. To paraphrase Major League once again, “over the course of a 162 game season, even the toughest guys get bruises and sprains.” That’s a lot of games to be playing, 162, and even guys like Derek Jeter appreciate a day off here and there.

(On a side note, the next time Jeter DHs, listen to the commentators. Fifty bux says they mention something about how he hates DHing because all he does is eat. Just watch.)

Not only are they necessary to spell the starters, but there are always pinch-hitting and running situations that play critical roles in games. Plenty of games are won and lost because of the quality of situational personnel. World Series teams don’t lose too many games this way.

So the bullpen was an issue facing the team, so Cashman turned around and signed Kyle Farnsworth, Octavio Dotel, and Mike Myers, traded for Ron Villone, and even exercised the option on Tanyon Sturtze’s contract. A job well done, Cashman, I must say. It may not be a flawless bullpen, but it certainly will be an improvement over last year’s swiss cheese crew.

The bench, however, doesn’t look as optimistic. Sure, anyone – especially Miguel Cairo – is an improvement over Tony Woemack/Blowmack. But look at where else the Yankees have made bench tweaks. Ruben’s role will be divvied up between Bubba and Bernie, and since Bernie is the DH, it will be mostly Bubba. Sure, he came on at the end of last year, and I even advocated him for starting center fielder when it looked like the options were slim. But coming off the bench, he won’t have a consistent string of at bats that leads to a hot streak, a la September 2005. Given 250 or so at bats, I’m thinking he’ll be a .250/.285/.315 guy.

Kelly Stinnett replaced John Flaherty as backup catcher and captain of the Randy Johnson fan club. Stinnett isn’t all that bad in that he actually possesses the ability to draw a walk. And I surely don’t expect him to put up Flaherty’s abomination of a 2005 line. So I guess that’s a marked improvement. Is it worth an extra win? Eh, maybe.

After May last year, we were all disappointed in Tino’s performance, but really, it wasn’t that bad. Not as bad as Andy Phillips is going to be this year. This statement may confuse many of my close friends, since I was a large advocate of Phillips last year. But I was jaded. My first memory of Phillips was him doubling and homering in a game I attended in April, so I have to like the guy. But there’s a difference between liking a guy and thinking a he’s going to succeed. Phillips honestly looked lost at the plate for most of his tenure with the Yanks. He has the ability to make solid contact, but he looks overwhelmed by the balls flying towards him (heh heh). Cashman may be scouring the minors for a temporary replacement until we are closer to the trade deadline, when he can probably trade for Doug Meintkeiwcz on the cheap.

(If he does scour the minors for a replacement, what about that Kevin Howard character we got in exchange for Womack? I know he’s a second baseman, but he has been widely criticized for lack of range. So stick him at first and see if his bat can do some talking. Now wouldn’t that stick it to former Reds GM Dan O’Brien?)

There is no Glenallen Hill for the 2006 Yankees. There is no Tim Raines or Jim Leyritz. Though, we may have a Luis Sojo in Miguel Cairo, given that it’s 2004 Cairo and not 2005 Cairo. That would be bad. That would be Rey Sanchez/Felix Escalona bad. There is not big bat to build the bench around, and though there are fewer players to kill the team, they still exist.

So what does this ultimately mean for the team? Another rocky start? Another tumultuous middle? Another nail biting end? Quite possibly. Sans a bullpen makeover, the team is pretty much the same as last year. So why think that the same problems won’t exist? I think, however, that I’ll save this evaluation for tomorrow. Sans Stats might have a doozy of a time with this one.

Happy pitchers and catchers day!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Say It Ain't So, Cash

I love browsing the Internet for sports news and opinions as much as the next guy, but sometimes I think it may be getting me into more trouble than I need. Take, for instance, today’s "find of the day," an article at ChicagoSports.com that danced around the subject of Brian Cashman’s interest in ex-Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa.

Say it ain’t so, Cash. Say it’s just some hack writer trying to make something up to fuel the fire of us New Yorkers. Here’s the excerpt:

Other teams, possibly including the Yankees, are watching to see what happens with Sosa and the Nationals. Hoy newspaper in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, reported that Alex Rodriguez visited Sosa in Miami last weekend. It's unclear whether Rodriguez was being social or doing legwork for Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who could use Sosa as part of a DH platoon with switch-hitter Bernie Williams (always stronger batting left-handed than right-handed).


The first sign that this is all made up is that it’s one paragraph in a rather drab column. Second, the writer purports that Bernie has been stronger batting left-handed than right-handed. Jigga-what? Okay, so maybe that was the case in 2005, but every other year of Bernie’s career he hit better batting righty than lefty. If the writer put this little effort into such a simple research endeavor, how can we say he’s credible when it comes to rumors like the Sosa one?

This rumor is further discredited when you go back to Cashman’s main idea: roster flexibility. Sosa would actually be worse than Gary Sheffield in right field, making him a permanent DH. Too bad Bernie was signed for that role back in December. By adding Sosa, the Yankees lineup would be as inflexible as ever, especially considering Joe Torre has been on the record lately saying that the team will carry 12 pitchers.

Who would be the odd-man out, then? We’ve established that the 12 pitchers will most likely be Randy, Moose, Pavano, Chacon, Wang, Wright, Small, Sturtze, Villone, Farnsworth, Rivera, and Myers. Add eight starters to that, and you have five bench roles, which will be occupied by Miguel Cairo, Kelly Stinnett, Bernie, Andy Phillips, and Bubba. What, is Cashman going to decide that having Sosa on the team as a DH is more important than having a fourth outfielder? Or a backup first baseman? Or a utility infielder?

The Yankees are absolutely set with their roster, barring injuries. Adding a player like Sosa – or really any player for that matter – will only complicate the issue further. When he re-signed Bernie in December, Cashman made a commitment to sign no more players who could only play one role. Sosa defines a player who can play only one role.

So, just in case you see an article mentioning this ridiculous idea, please just disregard it. I think I’ve proven that it’s absurd to even ponder the possibility of Sosa in pinstripes. Stupid Chicago-ans.

Question No. 11: Has the Outfield Coverage Improved?

Here I go again, delving into a subject matter that I have little more than a pedestrian knowledge of: outfield coverage. Of course, I am privy to Bernie’s recent bouts with futility, but that’s nothing provocative.

What is provocative is Dave Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range. If you’re at all interested in the workings of defensive metrics, this is an ideal starting point. The idea is to figure out how many opportunities a fielder SHOULD have to make a play, and comparing it to the actual results.

Since the foremost area of concern is centerfield, let’s start by comparing Bern to his replacement, Mr. Damon. But before launching into this analysis, it may be of use to head to the Hardball Times and read this article by Dave Studeman on Defensive Efficiency Ratio. The numbers used in Mr. Pinto’s charts may make a bit more sense with this background knowledge (in addition to the links that Mr. Studeman provides in his article).

In essence, Pinto’s chart says what we’ve all known for years: Johnny Damon is a better defensive center fielder than Bernie is. He’s not in the league elite, but he’s a vast improvement over Speedy McBernabe. There is one interesting aspect of Bernie’s defense that the chart makes clear. Well, at least to my pedestrian understanding.

Apparently, a flaw in the PMR system was that fielders were penalized when someone consistently fields balls out of their zone. Pinto explains it much better in his ball hogs article. Before the ball hogs were screened out, Bernie ranked right in the middle of the pack and actually ahead of Damon among center fielders. Yet when the ball hog was factored in, Bernie finished third to last on the list. How I interpret this is that Sheffield, Matsui, Jeter, and Cano were consistently getting to balls that should have been property of Bernie. If this is falsely interpreted, someone please correct me.

If this is true, both Matsui and Sheffield should look relatively good at their respective positions. While I’m surprised that Matsui ranked at the tail end of the upper half of left fielders, I was even more astonished that Gary Sheffield ranked in the upper third among right fielders. This is exactly why I don’t take much stock in the current state of defensive statistics. There are some good ideas floating around there, but instances like Sheff’s make me take them with a grain of salt.

(Another observation that has me scratching my head: when the ball hogs were factored in, Jeremy Reed ranked 9th, and with a significantly larger sample size than his superiors. Yet before the ball hog factor, he ranked second to last. No explanation from Pinto, however. Maybe Jeff over at Lookout Landing can take a stab at this one.)

I really do wish that Cashman used a bit more creativity to fill the outfield void rather than throw a truckload of cash at Johnny Damon. But even with the Damon signing, I wanted to see something done with right field, where I don’t need a defensive metric to tell me that Sheff doesn’t have much range. Something as simple as signing Jacques Jones for a platoon would have sufficed. But with Bernie signed on as the supposed full time DH and no backup outfielder with an arm strong enough to play a consistent right field, we’re stuck with another season of Sheff dogging it to fly balls.

There is still hope, though. If Sheff continues to prove his ineptitude in right field and Bernie does what everyone expects of him at the plate, Cashman should be looking into a right fielder around mid-July. Outfield defense alone shouldn’t be enough to bury the team before that point, but it sure could bolster an otherwise solid team in the second half. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

Thankfully, the coverage certainly has improved over last year, mainly because it couldn’t get any worse. Bernie may be a big man among fans and in the clubhouse, but all the pitchers are going to be thanking their lucky starts that Johnny is patrolling the centerfield grass. Now let’s just hope he can avoid leaping shoulder first right into the 408 sign.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

King of the Knicks

For most of my life, I’ve been able to stave off insanity. But for a few moments two weeks ago, I let my guard down for two seconds and wrote Question No. 10 in the “12 Questions Facing the 2006 Yankees” series. And for that I apologize. I’m so embarrassed about this question that I’m not going to even restate it. You’ll have to browse through the archives if you’re curious.

I’m loving how this 12 Questions series is shaping up, now that it’s down to 9 ½ (the half being yesterday). Man, great idea on my part!

Today, however, I’m going to answer an even tougher question, the likes of which you’ve never before seen. Today, I’m going to play King of the Knicks and solve the Knicks future. Lo and behold, as what you are about to see is nothing less than pure genius.

Well, not the first part. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Isiah Thomas is the managerial equivalent to a pile of bat dung. So he’s obviously gone, but I can’t be all mean to the guy. As a parting gift, he’ll receive a coupon for 50 percent off his next medical bill. This will come in extra handy, since my first duty as King of the Knicks would be to hold a lotto; winner gets to sucker punch Thomas. Genitals are always hilarious, but kidney shots are also encouraged.

Ousting Thomas doesn’t directly solve any of the Knicks current roster and salary cap woes, so what to do with them? There aren’t many tradable contracts on the team, and those that are tradable are players the team kinda should be holding on to – Frye and Robinson, namely. This leaves little room for flexibility. But flexibility matters less when you dig a bit deeper and see the truth: there is no possible way for the Knicks to be competitive for the next few years.

There are three ways to improve a team: through the draft, through free agency, and through trades. Unfortunately, the Knicks are now incapable of improving in any of those ways (and thus not at all). If they had a decent draft pick before 2008 then maybe they could select some talent to build around, but apparently Eddie “Ow, my back. No wait, my knees” Curry was worth a 2006 first rounder and a swapping of first rounders with Chicago in 2007 (and since the team can’t improve, Chicago will surely finish better).

Free agency isn’t much of an option, since the Knicks are a hair over the cap. Their yearly mid-level exception isn’t enough to lure primo talent, though it becomes a moot point when they blow it on guys like Jerome James. Don’t worry, the Knicks will eventually be under the cap…in 2010.

As previously stated, the Knicks have very few tradable contracts, and those that are tradable don’t belong to players who should be traded. Any Knicks trade will ultimately fill one hole by creating another. So, quite simply, the Knicks are in a hole that Isiah buried them in for the rest of the freakin’ decade. Doesn’t matter who they bring in as GM, this is an unfixable situation. What’s worse, it means that the team blew a boatload of cash on Larry Brown for nothing. But we already know that James Dolan doesn’t see money as an object.

I said I have an answer, and now I’m going to lay it on you. Now, I don’t know David Stern, so I can’t speak as to his positions on certain issues. But I think that the following proposal is reasonable enough that he just might consider it. Allow the Knicks to release the totality of their roster; each and every player. Oh, the Dolans will still pay the last remaining penny of the players’ contracts, but they will all be free to sign with whatever team they wish. There are certain logical issues pertaining to the salary cap that would need to be worked out, but that’s a detail for later. In return, all I would ask is that he zero out the team’s salary cap. And as an added proviso, the Knicks would not be allowed to re-sign any of the players they release.

That’s a lot to digest, I know. But read it over a few times, let it sink in. Don’t even think about what to do about putting guys on the court yet. I’ll get to that in due time. Actually, I’ll get to that now.

The Knicks coaching staff will hold try-outs for anyone interested in playing for the team. Yes, try-outs open to anyone, even the guy down the street who hustles little kids’ lunch money. After testing them physically and mentally, the coaching staff could pick the most coachable players who fit in their system. Voila! Here’s a team that could already do better than the current Knicks.

In the coming years, the team would be able to sign free agents, which would allow them to improve in one way rather than zero. And the in 2008 improvement is possible via the draft, and most likely trading will once again become an option. And a full two years ahead of Thomas’ current schedule.

(I must take this time to bring up an important point, possibly the most crucial argument for firing Isiah today. He has the team crippled through 2010. If he stays in office, he’ll extend that to 2011, and 2012, and onward until this power is stripped of him.)

Of course, this plan isn’t flawless. The Knicks still would not be competitive for a few years, though they are better off under my plan than Isiah’s current one. Honestly, if Thomas is to stay on as GM beyond this season, the Knicks might as well just forfeit their schedule.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Question No. 9: Is Jeter's Defense That Bad?

I really think I bit off more than I can chew with this question. Defensive metrics have been a hot topic of late, and it seems that there are plenty of new statistics to help us more fully understand how each player actually performs behind their pitcher. Most of these metrics depict Derek Jeter in an unfavorable light despite his two Gold Gloves.

But you know what? Gold Gloves are based on reputation, and I haven’t come close to understanding the nature of these defensive metrics. I’m not going to go blabbing about statistics when I don’t have a clue about how they’re calculated.

(And yes, I realize that I have done this in the past. But I do have an elementary understanding of offensive metrics and what they’re based on. If you’re interested in defensive metrics, then you’ve probably already seen this nifty chart over at Baseball Musings. They’re of intrigue, but like an old person I’m afraid of things not familiar to me.)

So if I’m not going to delve into Jeter’s defensive performance, what am I going to talk about? Or more importantly, why did I choose this as a question? I really am interested in defensive statistics and intend to study them in the coming year, but this isn’t something you can learn overnight. With the aid of MLB.tv, I hope to compile some of my own data on Jeter’s defense this season. But until then, I’m as confused as most of you on the defensive conundrum.

I’m really stuck on the subject of Jeter’s defense, mainly because I didn’t hear a peep about it during the Glory Years. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t privy to the sabermetric community at that point, but it came as a shock to me when reports were finally published that ranked Jeter at the bottom of the league in defense. Various metrics have been tweaked and created in the interim, and they all come to a similar conclusion: Jeter is not a solid defensive shortstop.

But then we all see him ranging to his right, picking up a ball nearly out of reach and throwing an off-balance cross-body strike to Tino. The explanation: he’s terrible at nabbing balls to his left. This should have been aided by the arrival of Alex Rodriguez. As one of the best shortstops in the game, it would make sense that he’d have better range than a typical third baseman, thus allowing Jeter to shade further to his left. Well, this has been going on for two years with no discernible improvement in Jeter’s defensive metrics.

Hopefully Larry Bowa has the answer. Not that he’s going to single handedly make Jeter a more adequate defender. Rather, he could more optimally position the infield as to accent Jeter’s strong points and off-set his weaknesses. In theory, Jeter should be able to play closer to the bag than most shortstops because of his range to his right combined with A-Rod’s range at third.

Baseball Prospectus ranks the Yankees 22nd in the majors in defensive efficiency. As I stated at the outset, I don’t know exactly how they calculate this, so I’m not going to make conjecture as to how accurate this is. But suffice it to say their defense is not among the league elite. Well, they were second in runs scored and have some quality arms on the mound, so it seems that defense is the one area in which they can improve upon a 95-win team.

So that’s my take on the defensive situation. Insightful, no? I’ll have something later today to supplement this sorry excuse for a column.