Thursday, August 31, 2006

My Liver, My Liver! (Lower, Dude) My Liver, My Liver!

After trawling the Interweb for further confirmation, I've got nothing. But I still think this warrants mentioning:

Carl Pavano is now claiming shoulder problems.

Unfortunately, that link requires a Baseball Prospectus subscription. It comes from the ever-reliable Will Carrol in his "Under the Knife" column. It's just a one-line quip with no elaboration, and there is no indication of the source.

I'll be browsing sources of information during today's game, and will post anything further I find. If this is true, it should be the last straw.

Update: Here's confirmation from Sports Illustrated.

They Use Advanced Metrics in the NFL

Late last night, I was routinely browsing one of my favorite sites, Fire Joe Morgan. After reading the hilarious dissection of the latest JoeChat, I found an absolutely brilliant blurb.

Look at the formula for QB Rating. It's a fucking nightmare. Yet NFL fans -- NFL fans! -- are smart enough to realize that regardless of how hard it is to compute, it gives us a basic overall understanding of how good a quarterback is. It may not be perfect, but it's better than just looking at a QB's, say, completion percentage.

Why is this the first time I'm reading about this association? Advanced baseball statistics are thrown out the window because of they are difficult to compute (though, contrary to mainstream perception, they are not at all difficult to understand). How is EqA any different than QB rating?

Just listen to dak, people:

Say it with me: "Oh, okay. It's a weird equation, but at least now I have a pretty good sense of how good this particular position player is at hitting. .260 is average, .300 is really good, and .350 is like top of the league shit. This is like QB rating only better because it's about baseball and baseball is better because it's untimed and beautiful and doesn't feature guys hitting each other super hard and people like John Updike write about it more and stuff!"

And, for the record, I agree with his statements in the final sentence. Nothing against football, but baseball remains the greatest game ever invented.

You Gonna Eat That Stapler? Wanna SPLIT It?

At about 9:15 last night, I began devising my column for today. It was to be a joyous poring of words, reflective of the Yankees season-long dominance of the Detroit Tigers. But now? Not so much. I'd like to thank Scott Proctor, but most of all I'd like to thank Joe Torre for burdening my mind with last night's ninth inning loss. You know how I always get a little more worked up when the Yanks lose a winnable game? This is like that times a thousand, because there is absolutely no reason for a team to blow a game in the ninth inning. Especially not when you have the greatest closer in the history of the game roaming in your bullpen.

But Mo was unavailable for last night's bout because he closed the 2-0 win earlier in the day. And while I agree that Mo shouldn't have been used in both games, I don't exactly see eye-to-eye with Torre on his usage in the first. Obviously, the thought process was that they had a game to win right then, and he wanted to make sure his team closed it out. That's all fine and good under normal circumstances. Had Wang finished the eighth, I would have wholeheartedly agreed with the move to pitch Mo in the ninth. The reason I disagree is the same reason the Yanks lost the second game: Scott Proctor.

With a man on first in the top of the eighth, Curtis Granderson doused a double off Wang, leaving runners on second and third. This was cause for the hook, and Proctor was brought in to finish off the inning. And he did, in remarkable fashion by getting Magglio Ordonez to pop out on the first pitch. Excellent, right? With a two-run lead, the Yanks have a little wiggle room, and Proctor should have been fully prepared to pitch the ninth. I mean, what's the sense of warming up one of your best relievers, having him toss one pitch, and then pulling him at the end of the inning? Joe Torre is notorious for his overuse of trusted relievers, a group to which Proctor belongs. It would stand to reason that Torre fully intended to use Scott in the second game, especially since Jaret Wright was to pitch.

I do not subscribe to such logic. If you're going to get Proctor up and warming – and according to Gamecast, he was up in the seventh – you might as well use him to his full capacity. Because using him for that one pitch and that one pitch only is a complete waste if you're playing a doubleheader. If you want to use him again, you have to get him up and warming in the second game and then trot him out there. All told, Proctor probably threw some 50 pitches yesterday with all his warmups included. True, some of those pitches aren't with full exertion, but he's still performing an unnatural motion 50 times. Proctor blamed his failures on not attacking hitters, and while that's mostly true, the objective reason he failed last night was fatigue, which played a part in his hanging of a slider to Craig Monroe.

My suggestion, if you will, is that Proctor should have closed the first game since he was already in it. He's a big boy and he hadn't pitched in a few days. A rested Proctor could have handled the Tigers in the ninth, but a tired Proctor had too much going against him to stave off the best team in the AL. It's not that he was doomed from the start; it's that the probabilities involved were pretty much against him. And I don't know the exact odds or the calculations, but I'm saying this from an anecdotal point of view. Trust me, if I had time to study the effects of using a pitcher twice in the same day, I certainly would. And maybe I will make that a future endeavor. But for now, you'll just have to follow the logic.

The last-minute loss places the pressure firmly on Randy to avoid a series loss. The Yanks have dropped two straight series on the heels of the Red Sox sweep, so while it's not completely necessary to take two of three from the Tigers, it would be a nice step in the battle to attain home field advantage in the playoffs. Because with eight games separating the Yankees and Red Sox, the AL East seems all but a certainty.

My favorite appearance of the night was by newcomer Brian Bruney, of whom I've become very fond lately. He was cast off by the Diamondbacks in late May, and was signed by the Yankees in early July. Now he has the chance to make an impact in the bullpen down the stretch. The guy tosses gas, and I figure that a little work with Joe Kerrigan and Ron Guidry could mean miles of progress for this kid (and I use kid lightly; he's but two months older than yours truly). And, dare I say it, he could end up being our Bobby Jenks/Francisco Rodriguez. The best part about that is he wouldn't even be saddled with the pressured burden of closing games. He'd be another guy in the seventh and eighth inning mix, and would clearly give the Yanks the best bullpen in the league. I may be getting ahead of myself here, because we've seen precious little of Bruney. But you can be damn sure he'll get his work in, and we'll have a great gage of him by the time the playoffs roll around.

While I'm talking about pitchers, let's talk about Sunday. The rainout gave the Twins a break, as they won't have to see the Yankees ace during their weekend series. It is extra burdensome to the Yankees, as they need yet another starter to fill a gap, a gap that Carl Pavano should be filling. But he's a bum and isn't there when his team needs him, even though he should have been back for that start. The YES commentators were speculating that Ron Villone could be called on to start, but he's far too valuable in the bullpen to waste for six days (figure three days before the start, and at least three days after). The roster expand tomorrow, so a minor leaguer could be an option. But who? Tyler Clippard? Certainly Phil Hughes won't be in the discussion. Personally, I believe it will be recently activated Darrell Rasner, who had an “eh” outing for Columbus earlier this week. He definitely has Major League stuff, and probably would already have started a game or two for the big league club had he not gone down with a phantom/freak injury shortly after his June call up. For the sake of testing the youth, I'd like to see Clippard in that spot. But since he's just 21 years old and likely doesn't have enough stuff to face Major Leauge hitters yet – not to mention that the Thunder are headed for the Eastern League playoffs, possible with Hideki Matsui on their roster – I'd expect to see Rasner in that spot.

In closing, I'd like to thank Alex Rodriguez for barely nubbing the ball last night, which allowed Derek Jeter to score from third. A pop up and the game is still tied; a strikeout and we want to kill him; even if he had hit the ball hard, there's a chance that he hits it right at someone, reducing Jeter's chances of scoring on the play. So, uh, thanks for not hitting the ball hard, Alex. Now acknowledge my gratitude by getting a hit today. Just one. All I ask is that you just hit it hard somewhere. Hell, if someone makes a diving catch on a ball you hit hard, I won't even get mad. I'm just sick of the pop outs and the strikeouts.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

On Gamecast

Should the rain permit the Yankees and Tigers to start today's doubleheader on time, the first pitch will be delivered right around the time I take lunch. Same for tomorrow's scheduled game. These games are quite burdensome to the baseball-obsessed working man, because it means that we have to follow the game through the dreaded Gamecast. You can take your pick of ESPN, CBS, FOX, or MLB, but it won't matter. They all share the same premises: follow the game in near-real-time, but find yourself grossly uninformed.

There are no spectacular plays on Gamecast. Melky made a diving catch to end the threat in the fourth, you say? Looked like a routine pop-up to me. Jeter really did beat that throw to first? Wish I could have seen that. Instead, I just saw some text scroll by that said, “Jeter grounds out to third.” And so the agony goes. You never really get a feel for the game while watching Gamecast; what you get is a ticker-tape of the game's events.

Thankfully, there have been advances in Gamecast technology over the past few years that have made the necessary experience a bit more bearable. Pitch location is the most notable improvement. And, on sites like CBS, they'll even give you the velocity and the pitch type, which further helps the viewer paint a mental picture of the game. Hell, I'm to the point of almost being able to write a recap from the Gamecast version of the game. With ESPN adding a graphic depicting the ball in flight, we have a more total understanding of what's happening on the field.

My question is: how can we further improve Gamecast to better cater to the working man? One of the few joys that breaks the drudgery of a 40+ hour work week is daytime baseball. We can forget our misery for just a few hours and think about nothing but baseball. In the days before Gamecast, our heads were filled with idle thoughts about the game. Can I get to my car and catch a score on the radio? I wonder if Mattingly hit another homer. But now with Gamecast, we can have some idea of what's happening to our beloved team. And as the years pass, we're getting a better and better idea of what's happening.

CBS has employed an individual to watch each game and write up an inning-by-inning Game Log (Glog). This is a nice idea, except it gets posted at the end of every inning. It's basically like a more quickly updated beat reporter, but not quite quick enough. The descriptions are often bland, as if you're reading the actual Gamecast, but you have to wait until the end of the inning to view it. If this is going to be a straightforward synopsis, why not employ that individual to type these descriptions real time? For example, instead of Gamecast saying, “Jeter grounds out to third,” and the Glog saying, “the replay showed that he was safe,” why don't we just include that description with the Gamecast?

Ball, strike looking, strike swinging, ball, Jeter grounds out to third
Strike swinging, ball, ball, strike looking, ball, foul, foul, foul, Abreu walks
Ball, ball, strike looking, ball, Giambi grounds into double play, shortstop Guillen to first baseman Casey

That's how an inning might look on Gamecast. And, thanks to the updated technology, I can see the location of the pitches Abreu fouled off. I can also judge, using my knowledge of Giambi's swing, whether he reached too far on that double play, or if he just missed a pitch in his zone. What I'm missing is what the inning looked like.

Ball, strike looking, strike swinging, ball, Jeter grounds out to third
From the replay, Jeter appeared to have beat that throw by a half step
Strike swinging, ball, ball, strike looking, ball, foul, foul, foul, Abreu walks
Ball, ball, strike looking, ball, Giambi grounds into double play, shortstop Guillen to first baseman Casey
Neifi Perez almost lost the ball in the exchange, but still had enough time to throw out Giambi

See? Little stuff like that would amplify the effectiveness of Gamecast tenfold. It would not only lead to a better understanding of games which we cannot see, but it makes the working man's day just a little easier. Because if you're stuck in front of a computer for most of the day, well, you probably need the mental break. For the sake of your own sanity and in the name of all that is baseball.

So in the future, when you sit down to watch the 2008 Yankees on Gamecast at work and you see vivid descriptions and accounts of the events on the field, you can think, “wow, it looks like that Joseph finally did something with his life.”

And I'll be sitting at my desk, watching the same advances in Gamecast, and think, “wow, somebody actually read that post.”

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Just A Few Wins Away

A lot can happen in the season's final month. Just ask the Yankees, who trailed the Red Sox by two and a half games heading into last September. Or Oakland, who had a one-game lead over Anaheim. Or even Chicago, who led Cleveland by seven games at this point last year. They may not have been usurped, but they had to fight into the last series of the season for their AL Central crown. September is a cuh-razy month where anything is conceivable.

Except, of course, for the Red Sox making a comeback in the AL East race. Hell, they may have played themselves out of a Wild Card berth. They are currently 71-60, seven games behind the Yankees and six behind Wild-Card-leading Minnesota. That's a lot of ground to make up in a single month, even if the Indians set a similar precedent last year. The difference is that this Red Sox team isn't nearly as well off as the 2005 Indians. Hell, they're not as well off as the 2005 Blue Jays.

Unless you actively avoided baseball during the Yankees off-day, you know that David Ortiz has left the Red Sox to undergo tests for an irregular heartbeat. This is coupled with the loss of Manny Ramirez, who is day-to-day with a strained vagina. Just look at the lineup fielded by the Sox last night:

Crisp, CF
Cora, SS
Loretta, DH
Youkilis, LF
Hinske, RF
Lowell, 3B
Lopez, C
Pena, 1B
Pedroia, 2B

Who in that lineup scares you? The only guy who frightens me more than even Melky Cabrera is Youkilis, and he's Jewish so it doesn't count. This group of pedestrians stuck it to Esteban Loaiza last night, scoring a whopping zero runs over his seven innings of work. Joe Kennedy and Chad Gaudin finished off the Sox, making Yankees fans everywhere just a little happier. As it stands, the Red Sox are only two games ahead of Toronto, and nothing would be sweeter than seeing the Blue Jays second in the 2006 AL East standings.

Remember the 21-game, 20-day stretch the Yankees endured (had to ask, some people might be senile)? The Red Sox are right in the middle of their own version, which started with the five-game sweep. Imagine that. You're heading into the longest uninterrupted sequences of games of the season, and you kick start it by dropping five straight to the first place team in your division. And in the process, you lose your superstar left fielder to his menstrual cycle and your superstar DH because of medical concerns. Which, by the way, he might have been able to avoid if he could turn down his nightly bucket of KFC once in a while.

Boston doesn't get a rest until a week from Thursday, but that's not the worst of it. In that time, they have two more games against the A's – and against decidedly better pitchers – four games against the Blue Jays, and three games against the White Sox before they're mercifully bestowed a day of rest. The have another off-day that wraps around a weekend series in Kansas City (though we can't be sure they'll find any reprieve there), and three in Baltimore before heading into Yankee Stadium, where their season will officially come to an end if it already hasn't by that point.

And, as if the Baseball Gods – or at least the scheduling Gods – have a bone to pick with Red Sox Nation, they head right from New York back home to face Minnesota, and then north of the border to once again face Toronto, who, prior to the five-game sweep, were giving the Red Sox much more trouble than the Yankees. So it appears that everything is stacked against the Sox. Which brings me to this:

Everything was stacked against the Red Sox before, namely in the 2004 ALCS. However, there is a huge difference between then and now, and it's evident when you scroll through their current roster and stat sheets. There are serious problems with your pitching staff when you're forced to trot out Kason Gabbard* on any kind of regular basis. So when your stopper doesn't stop, your next best starter could go down on a moment's notice, your overpaid free-agent misses the second half of the season, your Mr. Reliable misses two and a half months, your rookie "sensation" hits the DL for the remainder of the year, and your next best option is a Royals castoff, you're in for a shitty finish to what started off as a great season.

As a commenter at Pinstripe Alley hilariously states in his signature line:

I wish the Red Sox the best of luck in their 2090 pennant chase.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Carl Pavano: Big Fat Sinkin' Pussy

Read this, then puke

I told myself that after I left work today, I wouldn’t think about baseball until midnight at the earliest. For my mental stability, the best action would to be avoid thoughts of the game until waking tomorrow morning, but I know I can’t keep away for that long.

Of course, I check my mail when I get home, and there are two e-mails in my Inbox, both with the word “Pavano” in the subject line. Obviously, I broke my resolve and read the linked article, in which Buster Olney details a car accident involving our troubled starter on August 15. The gist is that he may have fractured a rib in said accident, and that is the pain about which he is currently complaining.

This has Yankeeland up in arms, and with good reason. I can understand the frustrations with Pavano, since he began his Yankee career by not pitching well, and continued by not pitching at all. I, for one, gave him somewhat of a break when May rolled around and bone chips were discovered in his pitching elbow. I had a sneaking suspicion that he had never been healthy while with the Yanks, and that basically confirmed it for me. The bone chips caused him discomfort, causing him to alter his mechanics, which led to the shoulder tendinitis and his sidelining for the second half of 2005. And then he further altered his mechanics as to favor his elbow AND shoulder, and effed up his back. It’s not scientific, but it follows a path of reasonable logic. But I digress. From the article:

Pavano was injured on the day he pitched for Class A Tampa on Aug. 15 but pitched that night anyway, throwing four innings.

Pavano’s line from that night:


Okay, so it’s a 30-year-old Major Leaguer going against Advanced-A players. But he put up those numbers despite having been in a car accident earlier in the day. One would think that if there was a problem, it would have been evident at that point. But since he walked only one batter and managed more strikeouts than innings pitched, you’d think he would be fine. And, according to him, he was.

His next start, on the 20th in Trenton:


Couple more hits, one run, higher level of competition. Everything seemed to be moving along smoothly, and once again, no complaints about the after-effects of a car accident. Next up, Columbus, another five days later:


Afterwards, the indication was that he was ready to go should the Yankees need him. But, oh, now is a great time to bring up that injury, Carl. You know, because you wouldn’t want to go through the pressure of pitching in New York, now would you?

And, as an update, the Yankees have removed any news of Pavano’s injury from their official website. I have no idea what this could possibly mean at this point.

Update: Thanks to Pete Abraham for keeping us on the up and up. Here are some quotes in which Carl basically admits that he's a pussy:

"I'm going to keep moving forward to the big-league club," Pavano said. "I don't feel (the injury) will hold me back. But if I feel it's something that's going to jeopardize my arm or the team, those are things I need to take into account. I can't be selfish and feel like I have to prove to the world that I can pitch through this."

No, Carl, you do have to prove to the world that you can pitch through this. Had you succumbed to injury in, say, June or thereabouts, that might be a valid statement. But at this point, with the amount of time you've missed and the progress you've recently made, you need to get your ass out there and pitch.

From Peter himself:

Pavano said on a conference call that the "only reason" he told the team was that the injury wasn't getting better. He seems to be in clear violation of his contract, which obligates him to inform the team of any change in his health or injuries. The Yankees could make a move in terms of trying to invalidate his contract.

Pretty please?

Bob Klapisch Watches Baseball

Over the past few weeks, I've written criticisms of mainstream columnists and their outlandish opinions about what they perceive to be sports. This brought my some degree of joy, because I feel that poor writing needs to be exposed as such. Even if I'm only reaching 150 people with this message, it's 150 more people who understand the lamentable state of mainstream sports writing.

A recent discussion with a much more popular blogger brought something to my attention, however. Instead of extolling the virtues of good sports writing, what I'm doing is merely pointing out bad writing and offering snarkiness in place of a solution. This can be funny to a degree, but in the long run, it's rather meaningless. No one is going to remember that someone pointed out how markedly terrible Writer A was. It's an ephemeral practice that, while entertaining, shouldn't be overdone.

I'm taking the same idea in a different direction today. I'm sure there are plenty of over-dramatic and under-analyzed columns this morning, plenty of which are prime for a ripping. But, to paraphrase vintage Bill Simmons, what does that prove? Why do I want to make a name nitpicking other writers? Wouldn't I rather accomplish something original? And wouldn't I rather do it in a positive manner?

As fun as ripping columns was, it's just not the direction in which I'd like to take the site. If there is something that really sets me off, as was the case with the original Mike Vacarro column, I'll probably rip into it. But this will no longer become a weekly witch hunt for poor writing. It's out there. You know it, I know it, and it doesn't take a web trawler to pick out a few.

So, as my closing segment, I present you with a fine piece of sportswriting. You may not agree, and there may be some flimsy analysis mixed in. However, no one's perfect, and this column does a good job of analyzing a situation with reason and logic, which is all I ask for from a sports columnist. I'm not going to rip this one, but I will quote a bit from it and comment. I urge you to click the link and read it in it's entirety.

Subway Series winner? Read on
By Bob Klapisch

NOTE: I got a complaint or two about the [MORE] button not working. It works from this computer. If you are having a similar problem, hit "reload" and then try it again. If, for some reason, it still doesn't work, just click the post title. They're always linked to the permalink.

[MORE]Willie Randolph was dead-on accurate last week when he nominated the Mets as the National League's premier team. All the evidence supports his theory – stats, personnel, momentum and, perhaps most significantly, the dramatic three-game sweep of the Cardinals, who were supposed to be one of the Mets' only obstacles to the World Series.

If they could crush Tony La Russa without Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez, it's hard to imagine the suddenly resurgent Dodgers having better luck in October. So if the Mets are theoretically headed to the Fall Classic, how would they match up against the Yankees?

Introduction, evidence, thesis. This is a pointed, relevant column from the beginning, giving it two more legs than most mainstream columns I've read in the past, oh, decade.

Granted, this is a presumptive question, since the Bombers will have a tougher time than the Mets in winning the pennant. Still, there are moments, like in the Yankees' five-game sweep of the Red Sox, when another Subway Series seems inevitable. And unlike the five-game 2000 edition, which was a mismatch between an aging Met team against a Yankee club that was in the latter stages of its late-90s dynasty, Round 2 would be a fiercer battle.

And a concession, as to not say, “this is going to happen! The Yankees WILL win the AL!” Klapisch understands the nuances of baseball, and isn't a guy who needs to make a bold prediction in order to garner attention.

The Yankees have better starting pitching, at least until the Mets prove they're healthy. The Yankees have a more dangerous offense, and they'll have the home-field advantage this year. But the Mets are younger and more athletic; certainly they play better defense. Their bullpen is more dependable, too. But most of all, Randolph's club has a certain charm that is periodically bestowed upon a team that seems destined to win it all.

The only thing I don't like about that paragraph is the blurb about the Mets “certain charm.” But that's just the objective analyst coming out in me. To deny that intangibles affect a team to a degree is to lose contact with what is human. I just don't like harping on these intangibles, since there's no real way to prove that 1) they exist and 2) the degree to which they affect the team. Thankfully, this “certain charm” is not the focal point of the article.

STARTING PITCHING: Chien-Ming Wang doesn't have quite the same bite on his two-seam fastball from earlier in the season, but his 3.13 ground ball/fly ball ratio (best in the AL) is still good enough to throttle the Mets. Wang's only demerit is his anemic strikeout percentage (2.96 per nine innings), which is the result of hitters swinging early in the count. That keeps his pitch-count low, but too many balls are put in play – which is always a potential threat with Alex Rodriguez 90 feet away.
Of all the Mets' starters, it's rookie John Maine who has the arm strength to neutralize the Yankees; he's the only one who throws hard enough to get swings and misses in the strike zone with his four-seam fastball. Everyone else is relying on deception and change of speeds. That's risky business against one the AL's more potent lineups.

Not only does Klapish quote the numbers, but he puts them into perspective. And when numbers don't tell the whole story, as in the case of John Maine, he sticks to relevant rhetoric and analysis. That's the main reason why this column is superior to its peers: relevancy.

RELIEF PITCHING: Mariano Rivera has that nearly untouchable postseason resume, although the AL's average against him has risen by almost 50 points from last year and his strikeouts per nine innings are down by 33 percent (9.19 to 6.05). Nevertheless, it's hard to say which team has the advantage in the ninth inning, even though Billy Wagner has converted on 24 of 26 save opportunities since May 3 and has 77 strikeouts in 601/3 innings.

The real separation between the Mets and Yankees is in the rest of the relief corps. The Met bullpen's 3.19 ERA is second in the NL, no small achievement considering the club lost Duaner Sanchez. Scott Proctor has a better fastball than Aaron Heilman, but with his league-high 65 appearances, is there any doubt he's headed for the same doom as Paul Quantrill and Tanyon Sturtze?
The Yankees believe Octavio Dotel will eventually phase out Proctor, but the Mets' secret weapon could be Guillermo Mota. Just a hunch.

Once again, he's talking numbers and putting them in perspective. Though, I would have replaced the phrase “eventually phase out Proctor” with “eventually unburden Proctor of some innings.” And, in a reach of a statement, he purports that Mota could play a large part in the Mets bullpen. But, he makes sure to note that this is a hunch, not something he can prove. Other columnists might make such a statement as if it were fact.

The most interesting comparisons are found on the left side, where Derek Jeter's bat trumps Jose Reyes'. Defensively, Reyes eclipses Jeter in range and in arm strength. Third base is an even more compelling one-on-one. David Wright's post-home run derby drought (none since July 28, .210 average in August) is odd, although not entirely inexplicable. He just looks and plays like he's burned out (or bored), which is a possibility on a team with a 14½-game lead.

Wright figures to recover next month. But will A-Rod? His league-leading 22 errors are baffling, coming from a former two-time Gold Glove shortstop. Rodriguez looks even worse lately swinging and missing at middle-of-the-plate fastballs. If he comes up short in the playoffs – or even more damning, evaporates against the Mets in a Subway Series – he may have to rethink his vow to retire in pinstripes. It might be time to move on.

At second base, we'll take Robinson Cano over Jose Valentin, and at first base Jason Giambi over Carlos Delgado, although just barely.

Behind the plate, Jorge Posada has a better throwing arm than Paul Lo Duca and hits for more power. But Lo Duca is at least an accomplished gap hitter, batting over .300 with 30 doubles. It's a push between the catchers.

If this column wasn't near over, I'd probably cease quoting from it. Everything is presented in an easy-to-understand format, and there aren't any ridiculous, attention-garnering statements strewn within. I think Mike Lupica could learn a lot from Klapisch...even though Lupica broke onto the scene earlier.

OUTFIELD: The Mets are worse off in the corner positions than they were on opening day; the opposite is true of the Yankees. The Bombers have the better rookie (Melky Cabrera over Lastings Milledge, who was sent down last week) and made the more dramatic trade (Bobby Abreu over Shawn Green).

Green is already a crowd pleaser at Shea, but the Mets could still use some of Xavier Nady's home run potential from the bottom of the order. Green's slugging percentage, which peaked at .598 in 2002, has declined steadily to its current .429.

In left field, the Mets were clearly disappointed by Milledge's lack of production, albeit in a small sample, once Cliff Floyd became a non-factor. Milledge will get a much longer look in 2007, but in the short term he's been outplayed by Cabrera. You have to at least wonder if Omar Minaya miscalculated when he refused to consider dealing Milledge as part of a deal for Barry Zito.

Johnny Damon obviously can't match Carlos Beltran's production in center, but between Cabrera and Abreu – not to mention the expected returns of Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield – the Yankees have more firepower than the Mets could cope with in a short series.

See what I mean? Does anything here seem egregious? Does he misuse numbers, or blur the lines between opinion and fact? If the most inaccurate statement is that the Yankees expect Sheffield to return, you've got yourself a quality column.

MANAGER: Willie Randolph knows every one of Joe Torre's secrets and tactics, the most important of which is keeping his team calm in the face of relentless pressure. Torre isn't perfect; his Bombers melted in the 2001 World Series, and no one will ever forget the 2003 ALCS collapse against Boston. But beating the Sox five straight at Fenway went a long way in proving Torre still has the right touch in the clubhouse.

Randolph is just as cool and composed, certainly as confident. All that's missing is the October experience.

And he finishes not by lubing Randolph's and Torre's chipmunks, but by noting their flaws and extolling their virtues.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are looking for well-written, pointed Yankees and Mets analysis, look no further than Bob Klapisch. He may not be perfect, but there really is no perfect writer. I'm just thankful that I can go to a newspaper website and read something smart and insightful, rather than something that's printed merely to push buttons.

Unburdening the Yanks

I really needed a weekend away from baseball. And, thanks to the inconvenient timings of the Angels series, I was able to successfully avoid the bulk of Friday and Saturday's bouts. Apparently I was fortunate; the results were typically pathetic, the absurd number of men left on base being the revisited main story – 13 on Friday and another 10 on Saturday. These numbers are expounded when you factor in the Yankees run totals from those days, 5 and 7, respectively.

I caught the first three and the final two innings of yesterday's game, which was a combination of unimaginable glee and pure disgust. How we're going to rely on Kyle Farnsworth in the eight inning of playoff games is beyond me. I've been behind this guy all year and have endured flat slider after flat slider after hundreds of pitches outside the strike zone. At this point, I'm quite sick of him, and will accept any and all related complaints. And the backup plan, the guy who might have been able to wrest some of the workload and related pressure from Farnsworth, isn't close to being ready.

The quick answer is to re-slot the bullpen. Move Proctor into the eight inning role, Villone into the seventh, and have Farnsworth work random spots in the sixth and seventh innings. The problem, of course, is the abuse Torre levies on his late-innings men. This is why Dotel's recovery is so integral to the team's success in the stretch. If he can return to form and lock down the seventh or eighth inning, that removes stress from the already overworked relievers. We are, after all, approaching bullpen abuse reminiscent of 2004. We don't want to fight that battle again.

2006GAL Rank2004GAL Rank
Scott Proctor661Paul Quantrill861
Kyle Farnsworth612Tom Gordon802
Ron Villone603Mariano Rivera747
Mariano Rivera5712

Thankfully, there's one more to take the load, though it doesn't seem to be helping too much. Proctor is on pace for 82 appearances, which will near Quantrill's mark. Farnsworth is on pace for 76, Villone 75, and Mo 71. Ideally, you'd like to see Dotel snatch up three or so innings from each guy, but he's not going to be able to accomplish that as he currently stands. This, I think, is going to turn into the story of September. No, wait, I totally forgot the way more important story.

Let me all tell you a tale about a man so great that his only downfall was himself. He goes by the moniker A-Rod, but those of us who don't hate him just call him Alex. Once upon a time, he was the best player in baseball, knocking 36 homers and 54 doubles at the age of 20. And, as if that wasn't enough, he hit 42 home runs and stole 46 bases two years later, firmly installing him in the elite class of the greatest game on the planet. Even as recently as last year, he hit an astounding .321/.421/.610. It seemed as if Alex would be remembered by gilded shrines memorializing his status a man among slightly lesser men.

Even the super-smart people out there who avoid the mainstream Yankees coverage are by now familiar with Alex's struggles at the plate. Even yesterday, as he broke an 0-for-20-something skid at the plate, he didn't look particularly comfortable. It was a pitch slightly above the waist from the lefty Joe Saunders, and Alex slapped it into center for a base hit. On the upside, it didn't look like he tried to do too much with the pitch. His swing looked pointedly shorter, and he just wanted to slap that ball somewhere for base hit. The problem I saw with it was that he was very slow reacting and deciding whether to swing. Had he started his swing sooner (as a result of deciding to swing earlier), he might have drilled that ball on a line to center. Of course, that might have headed straight into Chone Figgins's glove, but I would have rather seen a laser right to a fielder than to see his continued discomfort at the plate. It's like when your buddy is on a dry spell with the ladies; you'd rather see him have the confidence to talk to a beautiful woman and get rejected than sidle up next to the skankiest ho at the bar. However, sometimes it's that skank that puts you back in a more realistic frame of mind, so there is still hope for Alex's recovery. There's always hope when you're 31 and your past includes two MVP trophys.

I said that a lot would be revealed about this team over the 20-day stretch, but that turned out only partially true. We lost quite a few winnable games, especially earlier on (i.e. Chicago), which is disheartening, but it was nice to see them pick up all the pieces and throw them at Boston, who comprised just shy of a quarter of the stretch. Slaying their most direct competitor showed valor on the Yankees part, and gives me hope and confidence that this team can survive a playoff series or two (but hopefully three).

What we haven't seen is the recovery. The team still barely managed to tread water over the span, and much will be learned as they host Detroit and Minnesota this week. Four out of six here would be pretty sweet, as the following 11 days are filled with 10 games against Kansas City, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay. Then it's Boston at home for four, up north to Toronto, down to Tampa Bay (thank jebus there's an off-day in between), then back home to finish the season against Baltimore and Toronto. Judging by the way the team has played over this stretch, the strength of the division and the strength of remaining schedule, the Yankees are set up nicely for another AL East title.