Friday, May 26, 2006

My Team

The MLB schedule makers are either terrible at their job or just hate the Yankees. After a string of sixteen games with no off-day, we had a free day yesterday followed by three against the freakin’ Royals over Memorial Day Weekend, which will be followed by another day off Monday. Yes, the schedule makers thought it appropriate to give the Yanks a stretch of sixteen games with no rest, followed by a stretch of five days in which two are off-days. Ridiculous. And once again, there is no Memorial Day Yankees game.

But we’re going to stop dwelling on this, because it’s like complaining about the weather. So, in an effort to post something today, I’m going to go with something that popped in my head while listening to Mike and Chris call the Mets game yesterday.

This is My Team.

Quite simply, if given the ability to pick one player from each position, these would be the guys on top of my list. The main considerations are ability, age, and perceived character (so this isn’t me just finding the statistical leader at each position).

[MORE]Catcher: Joe Mauer, L, Minnesota Twins, 23
.336/.401/.452, 3 HR, 22 RBI
Very very tough decision here. My immediate thought was Victor Martinez, mainly because it’s tough to find a switch hitting catcher with some power (which is why we’re blessed with having Jorge). But Mauer is having a better 2006, has plenty of upside, and is only 23 years old to Martinez’s 28. The only downside to Mauer is his knee injury history, though he’s shown little signs of that wear and tear over his first two full big league seasons. Plus, he seems like good enough a guy. I mean, for all the complaining he does, I don’t think Aaron Gleeman has said a bad word about him.

First Base: Albert Pujols, R, St. Louis Cardinals, 26
.323/.449/.804, 23 HR, 57 RBI

Second Base: Chase Utley, L, Philadelphia Phillies, 27
.328/.406/.554, 9 HR, 30 RBI
This is the guy who initially sparked my interest in compiling such a list. He could possibly be my favorite non-Yankee in the league, mainly because he’s just a tremendous hitter. I mean, look at those numbers; they’d suffice for a left fielder, yet the guy is agile enough to play a mean second base. Best of all, he doesn’t seem like your typical Big-League head case. The Phillies have a right side of the infield they can really build around – that is, if Ryan Howard quits booting grounders to first.

Third Base: David Wright, R, New York Mets, 23
.315/.389/.539, 8 HR, 31 RBI
The other guy who sparked my interest in compiling the list. Actually, it all began over at Pinstripe Alley, when one poster rhetorically asked of A-Rod, “Plus, who would you rather have playing third base?” And even though this was a question that supposedly required no response, I felt the urge to blurt out “David Wright!”

Whenever my cousins come over for dinner, there’s always baseball discussion galore. They’re Mets fans, my brothers and I Yankees fans. The question came up last season: would you trade A-Rod straight up for David Wright? That was last July, and I said yes (my father as well), and my two brothers said no, they’d keep A-Rod. And guess what? My two cousins, from the Mets perspective, wouldn’t take the deal. Fast forward to this year, and it’s a unanimous, “if someone offers you David Wright for A-Rod, you take it every single time.” He’s 23. He’d arguably fetch Alex Rodriguez in a trade. He’s on my team.

Shortstop: Derek Jeter, R, New York Yankees, 32
.348/.433/.519, 5 HR, 35 RBI
Jeter’s my resident geezer. But seriously, when you put it all together, I don’t see anyone I’d rather have at short than Jete. You cold argue that Tejada hits for more power, or that Hanley Ramirez is younger and with a tremendous upside. You could talk about Michael Young and his hitting skills until you’re blue in the face. There are plenty of young, up and coming shortstops to choose from. But you know what? Jeter’s consistency can’t be denied. He’s the quintessential team player. He’s on my team every single time.

Left Field: Nick Swisher, S, Oakland Athletics, 25
.299/.396/.622, 14 HR, 37 RBI
So many LFers to choose from, but Swish is just the man. I guess I hold a certain affinity for him because of his centric role in Moneyball, but it goes beyond that. He’s a hard worker who can hit and hit for power. He’s a switch hitter, which is an immediate plus in any book.

The snubbed include Carl Crawford (came dam close to typing his name in the bold type above), Miguel Cabrera (eh, don’t so much for his attitude), Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Jason Bay, and of course ManRam. But when you combine everything, the hitting, the fielding, the age, the character, it points right to Swish.

Center Field: Grady Sizemore, L, Cleveland Indians, 24
.298/.368/.510, 8 HR, 26 RBI
Once I looked at the list of center fielders, I was wholly unimpressed. Where’s the Junior Griffey of this generation? Sizemore takes the award mainly based on age, though his numbers are nothing to scoff at. Vernon Wells was nearly the winner, but for the slight dropoff in power numbers, I’ll gladly take the speed, defense, and age upgrade. And who knows, maybe Grady puts on some bulk one of these off-seasons and starts whaling on the ball. Maybe HE becomes this generation’s Junior Griffey Lite.

Right Field: Alex Rios, R, Toronto Blue Jays, 25
.357/.384/.662, 9 HR, 35 RBI
I wanted to go with Vlad here, I really did. He’s the most consistent, and you know you’re going to get a certain level of production out of him. But he just hit 30, and while that means he could still have a good 7-8 years left in the tank, I just can’t pass up the opportunity on Rios.

This is a guy who was shopped this off-season. Due to his disappointing performance prior to this season, there was no team willing to meet J.P. Ricciardi’s asking price. And now they may be kicking themselves, as Rios has exploded into the player he was once projected to be. That, really, is my entire reason for picking him. He’s a gamble, since he hasn’t proven these numbers over a period of time. But this is what was projected of him, and this is what he’s producing. Given that and his age, I’d be remiss to pass up on him. I’m not saying he’s better than Vlad, or ever will be. But I know that, barring serious injury, I’m getting 10-12 productive years out of this guy.

Rotation Ace: Scott Kazmir, L, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 22
64 IP, 7-2, 2.39 ERA, 67 K, 21 BB, 1.28 WHIP
There are plenty of young guns out there in the Majors: Dontrelle Willis, Jake Peavey, Matt Cain, Justin Verlander, Brandon Webb, et al. But seriously, Kazmir is 7 and 2 with the DEVIL RAYS. The kid is crazy good, posting a K/BB ratio of over 3.00. And he’s 22!

Not only is he one of the best young pitchers in the majors (hell, best in general), but he single handedly ended a GMs career. Yes, Jim Duquette will have a difficult time finding work in baseball after he pulled the “Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps” trade for the Mets by acquiring Victor Zambrano. Only Duquette’s gaffe was about 1,000 times worse, because there is just no replacement for a dominant lefty starter – WHO IS 22 YEARS OLD!

My buddy Scott (a huge Mets fan, though he’s in the closet about it now): “When I first heard Duquette was thinking about trading Kazmir for Zambrano, I thought, ‘well, I guess that’s okay, but I still wouldn’t do it.’ And then I found out he wasn’t talking about Carlos Zambrano.”

So while Kazmir is helping the Devil Rays actually win games (yes, it is possible), Zambrano is helping the Mets by not pitching. If you can take any positives from the trade, that’s it.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Mike and Chris Calling the Mets Game

I’ve never habitually listened to or watched the Mets. Even as my interest expanded from merely the Yankees to baseball in general in my late teens, I still didn’t have a vested interest in the Other New York Team. However, I’ve never turned down an opportunity to listen to daytime baseball during my year out of the work force (though I’m now in the publishing industry). And when I heard the Mets game would be called by Mike Francessa and Chris Russo on WFAN, there was no way I’d miss it.

I don’t know if they do this on a regular basis, but if they don’t, they should. I’m used to the stylings of Michael Kay and Co., which means you have the outside possibility of having an interesting personality in the booth (Leiter, O’Neill, and to an extent Kaat are the rays of light). Sterling on the radio is okay, though you don’t get a lot of “regular guy” baseball discourse between him and Suzyn Waldman.

As for the rest of baseball, well, I’m not too familiar. This is my first year with, so I’m just getting used to the commentators around the league. Of course, Vin Scully is the top dog. Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper do a fine job out with the Giants (though they were wholly annoying in the MVP Baseball series). And, much as I hate to admit it, the guys on NESN aren’t half-bad, either. I actually dig them because it feels like I’m sitting around, listening to my buddies talk about the game. And that’s exactly how I felt with Mike and Chris on play by play.

Why can’t we have more broadcasters like this? There should be two categories of sports commentators: two guys sitting around, describing and intelligently discussing the game, and Bob Uecker. There is no reason to make us sit through guys who know nothing about the game being played because they have a “good radio voice.” Does anyone honestly care if a commentator has a low, booming voice? Wouldn’t sports fans rather hear Bill Simmons do the color on a Celtics game than some former NBA player who doesn’t know the first thing about analysis?

When I was coming up with goals for the Sporting Brews in 2006, my first idea was to try to set up a streaming podcast of myself and a friend doing the play by play and color commentary on certain Yankees games. It sounded like a great idea to me; have two knowledgeable baseball fans reasonably discussing the goings on. However, I’d be nailed with copyright infringement before the second broadcast got out on the air (I may not be a huge site, but I figure this is something MLBAM would pick up on pretty damn quick).

I have faith we’ll see a change, though. The old creaky men who call the shots now will be gone soon, and the new generation will step up. That doesn’t just go for commentators, but for journalists as well. We can only take so much shallow and pedantic writing/analysis.

We're Getting Swept? Who Said That?


The most uttered phrase on message boards following Monday’s game: “We’re getting swept.” It seemed everyone was so far down following the 9-5 loss that even the possibility of winning one of the next two was far fetched. They may not have been the Prom Queen of wins, but they look like wins in the standings, and they pulled us to within a half a game of Boston for the AL East lead. Not that it matters, considering it’s late May.

Now, onto my gripes.

[MORE]Does anyone understand Randy Johnson? Is it possible he possible to comprehend with a mere human mind? How can he be so good and so bad at the same time – yet always let the bad take over at the worst possible time? For example, from the Red Sox second:

Pena struck out swinging
Mohr struck out swinging
-- all right, now we have something going.
Gonzalez singled to right -- you’re kidding, right? The guy benched because he’s hitting on the Interstate just singled after Randy struck out two straight?
Youkilis homered to left -- I hate you, Randy
Loretta singled to left
Ortiz grounded out to first
-- so you can get their biggest gun, but not the bottom of the order.

And the third inning wasn’t any less confounding:

Ramirez doubled to deep left center -- yeah, Manny’ll do that
Varitek singled to right, Ramirez scored -- Jason Varitek? Really now?
Lowell singled to right, Varitek to second
Pena struck out swinging
Mohr struck out swinging
Gonzalez struck out looking
-- yeah, struck out looking on the TENTH PITCH. How does it take 10 pitches to K Alex Gonzalez?

After going 1-2-3 (finally!) in the fourth, Randy started the fifth by walking Manny (acceptable) and throwing two straight balls to Jason Varitek. The count 2-0 and the Yankees needing him to finish the inning, Joe Torre made his way out, delivered some God-like message and righted Randy.

Varitek flied out to right
Lowell struck out swinging
Pena flew out to right

Warming in the bullpen at this point – well, not really warming, but just standing there and purporting to be ready – was Scott Erickson, which begs the question: is Joe out of his mind? Where’s Villone? Of course, the Great Torre shut my mouth pretty quick, as Erickson breezed through his inning, marred only by a single off the bat of Kevin Youkilis. And that’s forgivable as well because he’s slowly turning into a monster.

My favorite moment of the game, however, came in the bottom of the ninth. Mind you, I had Mike and the Mad Dog on during the bulk of the afternoon, so all I heard was, “Randy’s gotta brush back Ortiz and Manny,” ad infinitum. But when Manny stepped up against Mo, that notion was far from the front of my mind. But Mo knew what was up. He threw Manny a first pitch strike, knowing it would allow him to waste a pitch.

And waste he did, busting Manny up and in, sending the dreadlocked slugger spinning backward out of the batters box. This was of great importance, since Manny was obviously locked in last night, as evidenced by his two homers and a double. But Mo rattled him a bit, and caused him to fly out to center. But would it be Yankees-Red Sox if that was the last dramatic play of the night?

Oh hell no. El Capitan, 2nd inning RBI in his back pocket, pulled the quintessential Jeter play, lunged to his right (strong side), picked the ball out of the dirt, and fired while in the air, hitting Andy Phillips right on the money. Game over, THAAAAAAA YANKEES WIN! (And boy, I don’t think there was anyone more excited after that play than the Voice of the New York Yankees, John Sterling.)

Much needed day off today, giving Damon and Posada an extra day to heal up. Next up: Kansas City, easily the worst team in baseball. My favorite moment of this season came against them, when Jeter hit a tremendous 3-run homer to put the Yanks up 9-7 after being down 7-4 in the bottom of the eighth. Hopefully they don’t catch the “let’s get swept by the Royals” bug like they did last year.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Yay for Jaret! Yay for Gary!


It may not have been pretty; it may have required more runs than it should have; but the Yankees found a way to take the middle game of three up in Boston, 7-5.

Credit Jaret Wright for another impressive performance, no earned runs through five as he worked through a mini-jam and a real jam. Talking with my buddy Andy during the game, I suggested Torre lift Wright after six innings considering his past few appearances. He hasn’t had consistent work until recently, and as such his stamina isn’t at its peak. You can imagine my relief when I saw that Proctor was out to pitch the sixth.

[MORE]However, I watched the first six innings on GameCast, so I had no idea Wright’s departure was the result of a groin tweak. Doesn’t seem like it’s anything to worry about, or at least that’s what I gather by reading the game notes. There were some interesting dealings with the press on the part of Wright and Torre on the issue.

"I definitely wanted to keep going, but decided not to risk something bad happening," Wright said.

To me, this statement was quite impressive, considering what happened last April. If you remember, Wright was pitching and felt something pop in his shoulder in the second inning, but decided to keep his mouth shut. Four innings later, and he’s on the 60 day DL. Maybe Wright is maturing. Or maybe he’s just misleading us.

"He insisted on going back out," Torre said, "but we pretty much told him we didn't want him to do that. Maybe he has to break off the mound, then after all the work he'd done, it would be a step back."

Thankfully, it seems Torre and Guidry are taking a more aggressive approach in dealing with Wright. He’s transformed from “unusable bum” to “potential asset” before two months are up. I think he’ll prove a more than adequate replacement for Carl Pavano in the long haul.

The other story of the night, obviously, was the return of Gary Sheffield. The injury parasite making its rounds in the Yankees clubhouse has morphed into quite the premise for a story. A great team starts off well, but not great. One of their stars, a guy with a questionable character, goes down with an injury and kind of dogs it.

But then another key cog goes down. Unlike the first player, he’s an upstanding man. Also unlike the first player, his injury is rather serious, requiring surgery and plenty of recovery time.

In both their absences, the team just doesn’t look the same. They rally to improbably overcome two deficits, but in the first game against their rivals, they look lifeless. After the game, however, the first player makes a surprise appearance, saying he’ll play in the next game.

And while he may not have had a huge impact, the team finally feels whole again, even though the second player is still on the shelf. He’s there in spirit, however.

This story won’t come to an end for quite some time, but there are sure to be some subplots along the way. One such subplot could come tonight, with Randy Johnson taking the mound. If there was ever a time to snap out of his funk, it was a week ago. But I’ll be more than sated should he decide that tonight’s the night he becomes good old Randy.

But really, I’ll just be happy to see Sheff’s bat wagging.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Welcome Back, Gary

Welcome back,
Your injury was your ticket out.

Welcome back,
To that same old place that you cursed about.

Well the names have all changed since you hung around,
But those dreams have remained and they're turned around.

Who'd have thought they'd lead ya (Who'd have thought they'd lead ya)
Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)

Yeah we tease him a lot cause we've got him on the spot, welcome back,
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Manny the Killer


Why is it that Boston has a knack for running up the score against us? Why is it that we rarely blow them out? I mean, the last time we beat them by more than five runs was Opening Day last year. Since then, the Red Sox have beaten the Yankees by more than five runs six times, and it would have been seven had A-Rod not started a futile ninth inning rally last night.

Over this period from Opening Day 2005 through the present (24 games), there have been two consistent Yankees killers. First we have Public Enemy No. 1, David Ortiz. In 92 at bats over this period, he’s hitting .337/.407/.620, with 13 walks to go with his 18 strikeouts. Five doubles and seven homers have come off this bat, and in the process he has knocked in 29 teammates. The man who bats behind him, Manny Ramirez, is no slouch himself. He’s at .341/.433/.659 – better numbers than Ortiz! – with an offsetting 14 strikeouts and walks. He has one less double, four, then Ortiz, and one more homer, eight. He hasn’t been as directly responsible for runs, though he nearly has one per game – 23.

[MORE]You know who’s been the best Yankee over this period? Alex Rodriguez. His line of .279/.374/.593 is tops among Yankees facing Boston since Opening Day 2005. A-Rod boasts a 19:12 K:BB ratio, doubling thrice and hitting eight long balls. As far as run production goes, well, at least he’s within ten of Manny – 14. I don’t know if the second best Yankee over this period is even worth mentioning, but for shits and giggles it’s Giambi, hitting .254/.369/.521, 18 strikeouts to eight walks, six homers, 11 RBI, and one lousy double.

Here’s how Ortiz and Manny have fared against all opponents since Opening Day 2005. For added effect, I’ll juxtapose their numbers vs. the Yanks. And then I’ll do the same for Giambi and A-Rod.

vs. Yanks92.337.407.6201813729
vs. Everyone762.295.390.60415612461189

vs. Yanks88.341.433.6591414823
vs. Everyone697.293.396.57515811453166

So really, while we shudder when Big Papi steps to the plate, it’s Manny we should be fearing. Beyond what the tables show, Manny has hit 15 percent of his homers over this period against the Yankees, as well as driving in 14 percent of his runs. Meanwhile, Ortiz has hit just under 12 percent of his homers against the Yanks, but has driven in 15 percent of his runs. These guys just play better against the Yankees, and it’s absolutely killing the team. Remember, the Yankees are now 11-13 against the Sox over this span.

Just so we’re observing how their best players hit against us, let’s examine how the Yankees best hitters, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi, hit against the Red Sox and against the rest of the league.

vs. Red Sox86.279.374.5931912814
vs. Everyone768.311.413.58617711858162

vs. Red Sox71.254.369.521188611
vs. Everyone539.267.446.54714215144122

The difference is visible. When your top two guns hit worse against a team whose best guns hit better against you, well, you’re lucky to eek out an 11-13 record. And this isn’t even touching the pitching, mainly because I know what the comparisons are going to look like. Great hitters getting better doesn’t bode well for one’s pitching staff, while great hitters in decline make one’s pitching staff look marvelous in comparison.

There has to be a way to pitch two these juggernauts so they don’t inflate their already impressive numbers. I realize that there’s a psychological aspect to it, that Ortiz and Manny have a certain mentality when they’re up against the Yankees. This mentality boosts their confidence and allows them to stand up there relaxed. Schilling had it last night, too, and has had it a few times against the Yanks in the past. But he’s a head case, and as such can’t do it as consistently as the two Yankee killers.

It appears that A-Rod and Giambi don’t have the same burning desire to beat the Red Sox. Nor do most of the Yankees pitchers. Until they get fired up, nothing’s going to change. Manny and Papi lock into the Yankees because they were the underdogs in the rivalry. The Yankees had a history (albeit a short one) of dominating the Red Sox, and those two took it as a personal challenge to defeat the Evil Empire. And now every time the Yankees come to town, they feed off this energy, lock in, get comfortable, and kill them some Yankees.

Even Jeter hits a ton worse against the Red Sox, posting a .263/.324/.400 line against them over this time period compared to his .319/.399/.465 line overall. That, actually, is a much more significant drop off than those of A-Rod and Giambi.

So it’s J-Wright on the mound tonight against Tim Wakefield. I’m sure that another loss will inspire me to dig up those pitching records vs. the Red Sox since Opening Day 2005.

Thanks to Dave Pinto’s Day by Day Database for enabling me to find these numbers.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Now That's Some Exciting Baseball


*I don’t really get this. He was 1 for 3 with a walk, and his only huge negative should have come when he flied out to start the seventh. But, according to the WE research, his sac fly in the eighth actually netted him a negative mark. Apparently losing the out there is more critical than gaining the single run. I guess that kind of makes sense, since you go from six outs to five and only make up one run off your two run deficit, and now only have one man in scoring position.

This is where we’re missing Sheffield and even Posada a lot. Three one-run games over the weekend and we take the short end by losing two of them. Add either of their bats Friday or Sunday, and they might have eeked out an additional win. Then again, add their bats on Saturday and you certainly don’t get the same dramatic ending. But maybe you never get to that point in the first place.

Last night was especially frustrating on the offensive side, as the Yanks left 15 guys on base. Credit Melky for getting doubled up in the fifth, Jeter for doing the same in the sixth with Kevin Reese on second, Stinnett for striking out with the bases loaded in the seventh, A-Rod for his abomination of a double play with the tying run on second and one out in the eighth, and finally Cairo and Stinnett again for looking like little girls against Billy Wagner in the ninth.

[MORE]If we can take any good from the weekend, it’s Melky Cabrera. He still has fielding issues (lost another fly ball in the wind last night, but was picked up rather smoothly by Johnny Damon), but he’s beginning to loosen up at the plate. His average may not have been stellar for the series (.272), but his three walks – one in each game – marked his OBP at .429 for the series. I don’t know if this trend of plate discipline will continue, but if it should, he’s just some power development away from being a serious asset for the Yanks.

The series brought on an onslaught of “if onlys.” If only we had Sheff back. If only Posada could have been behind the plate. If only Chacon could have started. If only Small hadn’t decided to throw Carlos Delgado an 88 m.p.h. fastball high and right over the middle of the plate. If only Randy Johnson could keep the ball inside the park; if only he didn’t go blowing the hefty leads handed to him; if only he didn’t have to pitch Wednesday.

I’ve got some good news and some bad news from the weekend. We’ll start with the bad news, so we can end this posting on a positive note.

Bad News:

  • Carl Pavano has bone chips in his elbow and is to undergo surgery. He’ll be out for six weeks following the surgery, at which point he can begin his rehab, which will be shut down a week later when they deem it necessary to surgically remove the plug in his butt.

  • Shawn Chacon, meet the 15-day DL. Apparently agitated by a Mark Loretta hot shot off his shin, Chacon will be taking an extended rest, further depleting our already thin starting corps. Thankfully, a day off on Thursday will help ease the pain here.

  • Related, Aaron Small will be starting in Chacon’s spot until June 1. Thankfully, that means just one more time.

  • Jorge Posada was unavailable to pinch hit last night, leaving his status in doubt for the Red Sox series.

  • Terrence Long is now on our Major League club, having been called up in Chacon’s absence. We can now add a guaranteed out to the lineup.

  • Professor Kyle “Hubert” Farnsworth is experiencing tightness in his back. Not good news for debatably our best bullpen arm performance wise this season.

  • While this is just speculation on my part, it appears that Randy Johnson will not be effective lest he is placed on the DL and given time to rest his balky knees and re-think his approach to pitching. Where art thou, Roger Clemens? Seriously, he is more of a necessity than we had previously anticipated.

Good News Everybody:

  • GARY SHEFFIELD MIGHT BE BACK FOR MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND! It’s my speculation that Cashman handed him a note last week reading, “Dear Sheff, If you take a cortizone shot and come back soon, this will act as a promissory note that I will pick up your option. So head to the doctor, take some BP, and make your way back next week, and you’ll be $13 million richer. Sincerely, Cash Money.” I don’t care if he’s back to batting third; I just want his bat in the lineup. Funny how a few weeks without one of your bigger guns changes your perspective on certain issues.

  • The Yanks have inked Erubiel Durazo and are close to a deal with Richard Hidalgo, both on a minor league basis. These are low-risk, high reward scenarios for the Yankees, and there’s a good chance that one could work out to the team’s benefit. Hidalgo rocked in 2003, but looked lackadaisical in 2004 and 2005, struggling in new environments with the Mets and the Rangers (though he did pretty much suck in Houston in 2004 before being traded to New York). With the current state of the roster (injured) and the minors (still have most of the talent in the lower levels), these guys are easily the best of what’s available on the cheap.

  • Despite leaving the game down 4-0, Mussina still pitched rather well on Saturday, meaning he’s still the man.

And now we wait with bated breath as Schilling takes the hill tonight. Joy of all joys, we get to ream the Loudmouthed Schnook again!