April 2009

Twenty-five men, 25 goals: The starting rotation

sabathia_250_041409.jpgCC SABATHIA — LEFT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A

2009 GOAL: More of the magic he showed with the Milwaukee Brewers. Failing that, the stuff and results he gave the Indians in 2006-2007 (31-18, 3.22 ERA) would probably be fine.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Milwaukee-level wonderfulness seems unlikely, but something in his mature Indians catalogue seems doable. The only question is if throwing over 500 innings the last two years will bother Sabathia in any way. With most pitchers we could be pretty sure the answer would be yes, or at least “very likely yes,” but he’s such a unique physical specimen that we’ll just have to wait and see.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: That innings pitched total. Sabathia threw 253 regular-season innings last year. No Yankee came close to matching that total during the Torre years — Andy Pettitte pitched 240.1 innings in 1997. The last Yankee to exceed Sabathia’s total was Ron Guidry, who threw 259 in 1985. Guidry never quite got over it, but he was a very different physical type from Sabathia. Pettitte too was a lot less effective in 1998-1999 than he was in the rest of his prime, but again, Pettitte is a very different pitcher.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Sabathia struck out 251 batters last year. The Yankees franchise record is 248 (Guidry, 1978). The last Yankee to whiff more than 200 batters in a season was Randy Johnson in 2005 (211). The Yankees have had just 14 such seasons in their entire history.

CHIEN-MING WANG — RIGHT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
Stay healthy, keep up the good work.
DID HE GET THERE? No. Injuries wiped out half his season.
2009 GOAL: Stay healthy, get back to where he was in 2006-2007 (38-13, 3.67 ERA).
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Ask me again after he makes his next start.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Wang has a career strikeout rate of 4.0 per nine innings. The only pitchers to throw over 1,000 career innings since 1990 with a strikeout rate of 4.5 or lower: Carlos Silva, Kirk Reuter, Ricky Bones, Bob Tewksbury, Brian Anderson, Zane Smith, Mike Moore, and Steve Sparks. Tewksbury and Smith are the keepers, though neither is truly comparable to Wang.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: This isn’t the first time Wang has struggled with his mechanics. In fact, you could argue that he’s been struggling right along, even as he’s been succeeding. Maybe a better term for it would be “evolving.” In addition to the degradation in his ground out/fly out ratio mentioned in this space earlier today, his strikeout rate has been gradually rising, though not so far as to make him a strikeout pitcher, while his walk rate has also been climbing.

A.J. BURNETT — RIGHT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
N/A
2009 GOAL: Show consistency and durability, two qualities that have eluded him in most seasons.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: It seems unlikely that Burnett will achieve either in his 30s, but you never know with pitchers. He has swing and miss stuff, and outside of 2003 has been on the field more often than not, so he’s a better bet than Carl Pavano, but you still wouldn’t call him a truly reliable pitcher.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Batting average on balls in play. It was .318 against Burnett last year, and should come down some this season. Even a slight drop would greatly improve his numbers.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Strikeouts per nine innings. Last year, Burnett led the American League with 9.39 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. The last Yankee to lead the AL in that category? Dave Righetti in 1982, with 8.02. It was the second consecutive year he led the league. In 1984, the Yankees put him in the bullpen, a move still open to second-guessing.

ANDY PETTITTE — LEFT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
Pitch, not talk. Only speak the name “Clemens” in reference to the life and work of Mark Twain; pursuant to this, memorize passages from “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” and this passage from “The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson:” “One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.” Oh yeah: pitch well without injury, shrugging off last season’s September slide.
DID HE GET THERE? He got through the not speaking about Roger Clemens part alright. The pitching part was complicated by some rough second half pitching.
2009 GOAL: If he can carve about half a run off of his ERA and get back to his 2006-2007 form (29-22, 4.13 ERA) no one will complain.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: It seems reasonable. The Yankees played poor defense behind Pettitte at times last year, something suggested in his .338 batting average allowed on balls in play. His strikeout rate was very healthy, and his control was good. Pettitte may fancy himself a pitcher on the verge of retirement, but the numbers say otherwise.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Yankees career wins list. With just 12 wins this year, Pettitte can pass Lefty Gomez for third place on the franchise list (Hall of Famer Gomez won 189 games for the Yankees). Leader Whitey Ford (236) remains a long way off, as does number two Red Ruffing (231).
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Louisiana career wins list. Pettitte has the second-most career wins of any pitcher born in the bayou state, trailing Hall of Famer Ted Lyons 260-216.

JOBA CHAMBERLAIN — RIGHT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
I don’t seem to have written one, but had I done so it probably would have been something along the lines of, “Find way out of the bullpen; avoid being eaten by killer insects.”
DID HE GET THERE? Yes on both counts, though there were some health problems along the way.
2009 GOAL: Put up a big season in the rotation, forever quieting those who would like to see him thrown in chains and dragged back to the eighth inning.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Strong, health permitting. Perhaps we don’t even need to say that — “health permitting” is true of all pitchers.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: One-hundred quality starts. The quality start, a game in which the starting pitcher throws at least six innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs, is a measure of how often a pitcher does what he’s supposed to do, “give his team a chance to win.” One reason the Angels have been so resilient in this century is the depth of their starting rotations: in most years, they have received more than 90, and up to 99 (2005) quality starts from their rotation. When the Yankees reached the World Series in 2003, they received 96 quality starts. In 1998, they received 92. Last year, they had only 78 quality starts. No American League team has had the depth and consistency to receive 100 quality starts since the Angels in 1989. This also reflects the growing reliance of relief pitching over that time. Going five-deep in the rotation should allow the Yankees to compile enough quality starts to contend for the league lead, if not the elusive 100.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: A team doesn’t need five starters in the postseason — it only needs five to get there. Should the Yankees make the playoffs, it’s possible that Chamberlain could be back in his old role, depending on how the rest of the rotation looks at the time. 

Twenty-five men, 25 goals: The Outfield

kazmir_350_041309.jpgNEMESIS
Scott Kazmir has made 12 career appearances against the Yankees spanning 68 innings and has an ERA of 2.51. There are two current Yankees who have hit him well, and only one of them is likely to play against him. Jorge Posada is 9-for-19 (.474) against Kazmir, and Mark Teixeira is a career 5-for-6. It could be a long night, by which I mean it could be a short night for the Yankees… Even if the offense lets down, a rebound start by Chien-Ming Wang would be a pretty fair silver lining.

TWENTY-FIVE MEN, TWENTY-FIVE GOALS INTO ONE
Continuing from the infield…

JOHNNY DAMON — LEFT FIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
Get back to hitting .300, get back to hitting with power, or both.
DID HE GET THERE? Yesiree Bob. He had one of the best offensive seasons of his career, if not the best, and the only negative was some injury time.
2009 GOAL: Encore!
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Not strong. Damon has never been consistent and 35 is probably not the time he’ll start.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Damon’s Hall of Fame chances. Bill James’ Favorite Toy estimates that Damon has a 37.8 percent chance to reach 3,000 hits.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Yankees haven’t had many steady left fielders in their long history. Roy White was the only one with any staying power, and yet as good as Damon’s 2008 was the Yankees have had many better from their left fielders. Babe Ruth played a third to half his games in left in most seasons due to an aversion to the Yankee Stadium sun field, but he was only the main starter there once, in 1921. He only hit .378/.512/.846 that year. Charlie Keller had four better seasons, and the aforementioned White, an underappreciated player, had five years that were better.

BRETT GARDNER — CENTER FIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
N/A
2009 GOAL: Establish himself as a major league regular despite his lack of power.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Spring Training and a changed approach at the end of last season argue yes, but it’s going to be a very close thing. He’s going to have to hit enough that the Yankees can look at the sum total of his contributions at the plate, in the field, and on the base paths, and see something positive even if offense isn’t the strongest leg of that tripod. Until he puts together a sustained stretch of hitting in the Majors, his level of productivity will be in doubt.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: No Yankee has stolen 50 or more bases since Rickey Henderson swiped 93 bags (the franchise high) in 1988. No Yankee has stolen 40 or more bases since Alfonso Soriano pilfered 41 in 2002. The last Yankee to steal 30 or more was Derek Jeter (34) in 2006. Gardner could change all that if he plays enough.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Since 1920, the Yankees have had 23 players post slugging percentages under .300 in a season of 350 or more plate appearances. The most recent was Tony Womack, with a .280 slugging in 351 PA in 2005. The franchise low was Wayne Tolleson, with .241 in 398 PAs in 1987. Perhaps more applicable to Gardner, Willie Randolph was routinely under .350 in the 1980s (he slugged only .351 for his career), but that didn’t prevent him from being a very valuable player due to his ability to hit for a decent average, walk, steal, and play strong defense. Gardner might be able to be that kind of player, but it should be noted that Randolph-style players are not as well tolerated in baseball today as they were in Willie’s time.

XAVIER NADY — RIGHT FIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
N/A
2009 GOAL: Nady has always been a weak producer for a corner outfielder, something that has caused him to bounce around a lot. Last year was different. Nady hit .323/.377/.540 through the end of August. He needs to get back there.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: If you’ve been reading, you know I think this is spectacularly unlikely.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Baseball-Reference.com’s similarity scores say the three most similar players to Nady are Pedro Munoz, Shane Spencer, and Herb Perry, all of whom were out of the majors after about 500 games. Nady is at 677 career games now.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Per 162 games played, Nady has averaged 69 runs scored. There’s a reason for that.

NICK SWISHER — ROVER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
N/A
2009 GOAL: Reclaim his offensive production after a very rough year in Chicago, and reclaim regular status, too.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: If he continues to play, he’ll continue to out-produce Nady.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: On-base percentage is the key statistic in baseball. Nothing correlates to scoring like OBP. Last year, having the worst season of his career, Swisher’s OBP was .332, and in 2006-2007 his rate was .377.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Yankees have a nice tradition of switch-hitting outfielders with power who walk a lot.

MELKY CABRERA — RESERVE OUTFIELDER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
Be all that he can be. For the second year in a row, Cabrera swung from very good to very bad, and lows were deeper than the highs. He finished with below-average offensive rates. He needs to make permanent contact with the guy who hit .325/.375/.482 from June through August.
DID HE GET THERE? No. After a hot April, he completely fell apart and eventually (too late) was demoted.
2009 GOAL: Somehow get back into the lineup, and to hit like crazy when he does.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Despite a nice Spring Training season, not great. That said, all it would take is an injury and a hot streak for Cabrera to earn a second life.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Relative to the league average, Cabrera’s 641 OPS of last season represented the second-worst by a Yankees outfielder in the history of the team. The only outfielder with a weaker season relative to the league was Jake Powell in 1937. When he hit .263/.314/.364 in 400 PA, the league hit .290/.365/.432. Powell was also one of the worst characters to ever wear Yankees pinstripes, so Cabrera has that over him too.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Steve Whitaker, Bill Robinson … Sometimes players don’t develop the way you think or hope they will.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? A terrific pitcher’s duel between Johan Santana and Josh Johnson was marred by a dropped fly by Mets left fielder Daniel Murphy, the run scoring on the play being the difference in the game. Murphy can hit a bit, but maybe not enough to make up for his being a transplanted corner infielder lacking the experience and instincts for his position. I don’t mean to condemn the lad based on one play, but the quality of his offense is unlikely to be strong enough that it makes up for a Greg Luzinski-like performance in left. In this instance, Murphy didn’t so much take a route to the ball as make vague plans to meet it halfway. Santana struck out 13 and lost. Meanwhile, Johnson had a one-run complete game, his second good start in a row.

? The New Waners, Andy and Adam LaRoche, are 0-for-14 and 3-for-22, respectively. The latter comes around, we know that, but the former has failed to hit in several tries now, so he’s going to have a shorter rope. He will hit, eventually, though maybe not today for this team.

? Headline on the Nats page at MLB.com: “Tickets still available for home opener.” Y’think? Step right up for your “L
egacy of Jim Bowden” seats. Helpings of crow delivered right to your box by our helpless wait staff … Adam Dunn is batting .333 with a Major League-leading 10 walks. Maybe they could flip him now. Parenthetically, no Yankee has drawn more than four walks, and that Yankee is Robinson Cano. The whole thing is disturbing.

? Thirty-seven pitchers have already made four appearances, and one, Carlos Marmol of the Cubs, has appeared five times. You wonder if these fellows are going to have any kind of stuff left come the All-Star break. Heck, come May.

? The bench-clearing incident in Los Angeles between the Angels and the Red Sox was really on the umpires. The umpires are supposed to enforce a timely delivery to home plate by the pitcher. Josh Beckett didn’t do that. They’re also not supposed to grant time, or at least are not forced to, so that the hitter can make his own point and step out on the pitcher, but they never, ever refuse to do that. Thus when Bobby Abreu asked for and got time at the last possible second, Beckett was enraged. Even if this seems like a legitimate response to Beckett’s tardiness in making a pitch, the umpire should not have compounded his first error with another by granting time.

? Which hot start is more perplexing? The Mariners being 5-2, or the Padres being 5-2?

The Nady-Swisher situation

nayd_girardi300_041009.jpgWIN #1
Can Nick Swisher play now? Can Joe Girardi say, as Lincoln did of Grant, “I can’t spare this man — he fights”? A reader recently wrote me to say that I had been quiet about Xavier Nady outperforming Swisher during Spring Training, and it would be more fair to Girardi to admit that Nady had legitimately won the job. My answer here is that it depends on how you define “legitimate.” Making decisions on the basis of 40-60 Spring Training at-bats against highly variable competition is nonsensical, particularly when you have a track record of a couple of thousand at-bats on which to base your evaluation. If those 60 wind-blown at-bats are going to outweigh 2,000 regular-season turns at the plate, there had better be some extenuating circumstances.

Now, in this case I think there were some extenuating circumstances, and I said so: As much as I think Spring Training stats are overblown, given that Swisher came off a .210 season, he had to show the Yankees something to prove that his inconsistency was a fluke. He did not do this, and so he’s going to have to prove himself, start by start.

That said, there is still no reason to believe that Nady is the .328 hitter he was in Spring Training, and only slightly more reason to believe that Swisher is only capable of the .222 he hit. We should also note that Swisher led the spring squad in walks with 13 (Nady took only two), and that he hit the same number of home runs as Nady, one. The difference between them comes down to a few hits.

In short, did Nady really win the job, or were the Yankees guilty of a selective review of the evidence? We’ll see as the rest of the season plays out. Note that Swisher is in the lineup again today, and Nady is not: The competition is not yet over, and with another good showing from Swish Nicker today (a home run off of Kyle Farnsworth? Nah — anyone can do that) it may be that the issue will remain open.

NICK ADENHART
What a senseless loss. Trying to grasp for a silver lining, the one thing I can think of is that if you asked most pitchers how they might like to go, perhaps they would choose to exit right after a strong start. It is small consolation that the police nabbed the perpetrator, a drunken driver, and charged him with “felony drunk driving, felony hit and run, three counts of murder, three counts of vehicular manslaughter and four counts of committing bodily injury during a crime.” There is no circle of hell low enough for drunk drivers, and it is to be hoped that the Orange County District Attorney does not reach for any kind of settlement but prosecutes to the full extent of the law, such that the murderer will never see the light of day again.

Parenthetically, I would be this emphatic were we not talking about a professional ballplayer and his friends but any three victims. There are few more selfish acts than getting behind the wheel of a car when one is inebriated. I don’t think much of drinking to the point of intoxication — I have never done so — but I don’t begrudge others the right to pickle their brains if they so choose. However, if you drive at that point, you are extending an invitation for involuntary audience participation in your potential suicide. The murders committed under the influence are crimes of simple, selfish negligence and deserve not the least bit of sympathy.

As baseball fans, our loss pales beside that of Adenhart’s Angels teammates, his friends and his family, but we do feel it. We did not know Adenhart well, and beyond our basic human sadness at a young life snuffed out is the lost opportunity for Adenhart and for ourselves. When Thurman Munson lost his life, we could, as fans, look back on a long career and a familiar personality. The interruption was sudden, tragic, shocking, but the legacy was there for us to hold on to. Adenhart was just beginning. His legacy is the tragedy of not getting to have a legacy. Baseball is all about history, and we’ve been deprived of one here.

TWENTY-FIVE MEN, TWENTY-FIVE GOALS INTO ONE
Continuing from second base …

ALEX RODRIGUEZ THIRD BASE
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Win another MVP award, and try to avoid offending easily irked Yankees fans and media.
DID HE GET THERE? Pretty much whiffed on all counts, though his season wasn’t bad by any means.
2009 GOAL: Quickly return to hip-health despite having foregone, for now, the complete hip reconstruction procedure; hit more like 2007 than 2008, in the process putting questions about steroid-fueled production behind him.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Seems like a mighty tall order.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: It won’t last much longer than A-Rod’s DL stay, but with two more home runs, Derek Jeter will pass Rodriguez on the Yankees’ career home run list.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Rodriguez warps the fabric of space-time with his personality, creating dangerous singularities that will be the subject of a forthcoming series of science fiction films starring Seth Rogen. Sir Anthony Hopkins will portray A-Rod.

DEREK JETER — SHORTSTOP
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Stay healthy, get some life back in those legs, recover defensive value.
DID HE GET THERE? Not really. He played through a hand injury that ruined his production, hit into a career-high 24 double plays, and his defensive range wasn’t any better than usual.  
2009 GOAL: Stay healthy, get some life back in those legs, recover offensive and defensive value.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Last season’s production was strong in the context of league shortstops, weak in the context of Jeter’s own career, not to mention league-average production. If that was only attributable to the injury, then he has a good chance of hitting well this year. He did bat .344/.406/.434 in August-September of last year. Even then, though, he was lacking some customary pop — there were 65 hits in that period, but the only extra-base hits were two doubles and five home runs.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: When are we not thinking about Jeter?
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Lou Gehrig. Jeter should pass him to become the Yankees’ all-time hits leader in September.

CODY RANSOM — THIRD BASE/UTILITY INFIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Fill in for Alex Rodriguez without killing the team, then remain on the roster as a utility infielder.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Not great, actually. While Ransom’s 1-for-10 showing in the first three games is nothing to get exercised about, there is a reason that he has spent most of his career (going back to 1998) in the Minor Leagues. While his career 162 homers in the sticks attest to some nice pop for a guy who has primarily been a shortstop, his .242 batting average argues that he lacks the hitting consistency to succeed in any sustained way. Last fall’s exciting 13-for-43 with four home runs was a spectacular fluke.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Ransom was drafted by the Giants in the ninth round in 1998. Another future Major Leaguer taken in that round was Mark Teixeira, selected by the Red Sox 13 picks in front of Ransom. He didn’t sign. The Yankees picked one in front of the Giants and selected a college outfielder named Claude Greene, who didn’t make it.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: There have been only three players named Cody in Major League history. All of them played in this century, and two of them, Ransom and Cody Ross, are in the Majors now. T
he Marlins’ Ross easily leads the Codies in all statistical categories.

RAMIRO PENA — INFIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Avoid being overexposed, simultaneously giving the Yankees a reason to retain him on the roster once A-Rod comes back.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Not good given that he has yet to play at Triple A; the Yankees almost certainly plan on getting him some Scranton time this year. He’s a career .258/.316/.319 hitter in the Minors, so he has plenty of work to do if he wants to have a career greater than quickie injury cameos.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: When Pena appeared at shortstop on Thursday, he became the 21st player to appear at the position during the Jeter era, not including Jeter. He is now entitled to attend a once a year luncheon with Enrique Wilson, Felix Escalona and Alex Arias.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Though we’ll hear a great deal about Pena’s speed whenever he’s asked to pinch-run, he was not a basestealer in the Minors, nabbing just 28 bases in 43 tries over 334 games.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
?    I was going to comment yesterday that few pitchers can burn though 100 pitches faster than Scott Kazmir, but had I done so it would have been a grave disservice to Oliver Perez of the Mets, who got there in 4.1 innings on Thursday thanks to five hits, five walks and seven strikeouts. When the Deity modeled hard-throwing lefties, he included wildness in the young’uns, which explains Kazmir, still only 25. Perez is 27 and still has some shelf-life, but it doesn’t seem as though he’ll get that walk rate down under four per nine. Just think: Somewhere there’s a parallel universe where the Mets have Perez and Kazmir in the same rotation. Perhaps in that universe they also built their new park with the stairs behind the seats instead of in front of them.

?    The Rays held on to beat the Red Sox yesterday, but not before Troy Percival gave up a solo homer to Jason Varitek in the ninth. I imagine a sequence for the Rays in which Percival is replaced by Jason Isringhausen, and then Isringhausen is replaced by a player to be named later at the trade deadline. Percival doesn’t allow many hits, but too many of his mistakes reach escape velocity.

?    Who would have suspected that Chris Carpenter had another start in him like Thursday’s against the Pirates (7/1/1/0/2/7)? Heartening to see, given the fellow’s many, many (many) injuries … Ross Ohlendorf had a good start in the game too, though not good enough. Nor were the Pirates helped by their Adam LaRoche-free lineup.

?    No doubt you have already seen and perhaps celebrated Carl Pavano’s long Thursday: 1/6/9/9/3/1 with two home runs allowed. He failed to retire a batter in the second. Andruw Jones played and went 3-for-5.

?    Staying away from Kyle Farnsworth helped the Royals get to 2-1. If not for the whole Kyle debacle the boys in powder blue would actually be undefeated right now. They got seven innings of three-hit, eight-strikeout shutout baseball from their other Kyle, Kyle Davies. I don’t know if that was really Davies taking a major step forward or simply a White Sox lineup that looks a bit light in the lumber. Center fielder Dewayne Wise is now 0-for-10 on the season with four strikeouts, and Ozzie Guillen dropped him from the leadoff slot yesterday, then pinch-hit for him late in the game. The next step in that sequence is Melky Cabrera.

?    The Padres got away with one, walking seven Dodgers but still holding them to three runs. San Diego is an improbable 2-2.

?    Horrible moment in the Brewers-Giants game when Giants pitcher Joe Martinez took a Mike Cameron line drive off of his forehead. Martinez popped right up, then fell again, his head bleeding. He walked off under his own power and seems to have gotten away with nothing worse than a concussion (though those are bad enough). Best wishes to the rookie for a speedy recovery … The Giants got great pitching from Matt Cain in that game, as well as fine hitting from Randy Winn, Fred Lewis and Bengie Molina. The Dodgers should win the NL West pretty easily, but the Giants have enough pitching to make it interesting. They probably don’t have the offense or the defense either, but if you’re going to have one out of three, having Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain isn’t a bad option.

AN APOLOGY
I recently missed a media appearance due basically to negligence on my part. I apologize to those involved for what was a purely unintentional oversight.

ONE THAT I DIDN’T SCREW UP …
On Thursday I was on Fox News’ Situation Room with my Baseball Prospectus pal Jay Jaffe. In the linked excerpt, we talk about the “pressure” on Joe Girardi. This was, by the way, a fun format. As the show’s description states, “There is no script, no commercials, just great panelists and conversation on the biggest topics in today’s news. Viewers are a big part of the program, as our hosts read fan emails throughout the show often sparking more conversation.” They’re on eight hours a day online, and do sports each Thursday from 1-2 p.m. 

At least the bullpen pitched well

uehara_250.jpgThat’s about all you can say about Wednesday’s loss to the Orioles. The Yankees put the ball in play against Koji Uehara, and not ground balls but flies. Most days that will pay off, perhaps on a warmer day when the ball will travel more, but it didn’t last night. Offense is going to be a problem for these A-Rod-less Yankees, and may be an issue even when A-Rod comes back, and even if he comes back strong.

Having said that, Wednesday night was not an example of that problem, but of a pitcher in Uehara having good luck on balls in play and being stingy with the walks. Chien-Ming Wang simultaneously buried the Yankees. It is fascinating how a sinker pitcher can fail to sink the ball on some nights, but even the great Tommy John, among the best in history with that pitch, would lose his feel for it sometimes, in the process changing from a borderline Hall of Famer to a batting practice pitcher. In an ideal world, every pitcher would have a sinker — in the home run era it’s the perfect weapon. The reason that so few pitchers do have it is that it’s not an easy pitch to throw.

Wang’s occasional struggles illustrate that. His biggest sin is bad timing in losing his command the game after CC Sabathia executed his own version of same.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? Odd finish to Randy Johnson’s Giant debut yesterday. With two out and a runner on second in the top of the fifth inning and the game tied at 1-1, Johnson intentionally walked Brewers catcher Jason Kendall, the No. 8 hitter, to face the pitcher. This is one of those conventional bits of baseball strategy that doesn’t make a ton of sense when you think about it. Yes, Kendall is a .317 career hitter against Johnson, but first, he’s not who he used to be and second, of his 13 career hits, nine are singles and four are doubles. The man hit two home runs last year, three in 2007, one in 2006, none in 2005. The most damage he’s likely to do is one run, and then you still have the pitcher coming up after him. Might as well take the shot at the out. If you succeed, the game is still tied 1-1 and the pitcher will lead off the next inning, which likely makes the top of the sixth a freebie. If you fail, it’s 2-1 and you can still go after the pitcher for the final out of the inning. Don’t know if it was Johnson or Bruce Bochy who over-managed, but Kendall got the automatic four, and then pitcher Yovani Gallardo parked a three-run homer. Say bye-bye to Big Unit win No. 296.

? I was already a bit down on the Angels heading into the season, and nothing confirmed my prejudices like the top of the ninth in Anaheim, Calf., yesterday as the A’s chipped away at closer Brian Fuentes, helped along by some almost-not quite-nearly defense on the part of the Halos. These things happen (even to Mariano Rivera once in awhile), but it was still an exhilarating finish just based on Oakland’s underdog status. There was a key pinch-hit single by Nomar Garciaparra in that rally. I’m glad he didn’t retire; another strong part-time season for a winning team (last year sort of qualified as that) might help his Arky Vaughan-style Hall of Fame case.

? On Day 2 of the season, Kyle Farnsworth rested. Trey Hillman got a shutout jumping from Zack Greinke to Juan Cruz to Joakim Soria. That’s a winning combo, and would have been on Day 1 as well. The Royals can’t afford to throw away too many of those. Next time, we might ask why Mike Aviles is batting ninth and Coco Crisp leadoff. Coco is many things, but he’s not a prime time hitter.

MORE AFTER THE GAME…
… Including the continuation of “25 men/25 goals” and commentary on the tragic death of 22-year-old Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart. 

Twenty-five men, 25 goals into one

posada_250_040709.jpgToday we begin our annual look at what each player is looking to accomplish this season — a tradition since whenever I started doing it. I believe it was in 1881, when my friend Clemens yielded this feature to me so he could finish work on Huckleberry Finn.
    
JORGE POSADA — STARTING CATCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
Repeat his 2007 performance.
DID HE GET THERE? Nope. Injuries intervened.
2009 GOAL: Health, which means not only staying in the lineup and contributing some approximation of his career numbers (.277/.380/.477) but also throwing out 25-35 percent of attempting base stealers.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: He seems to have a fair shot, but it’s asking a lot given his age.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Even when struggling last year, Posada was strong with runners in scoring position, batting .250/.392/.425. He’s a career .282/.403/.492 hitter in those situations.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: With 27 home runs this year, Posada can pass YES broadcaster Ken Singleton on the career home run list for switch hitters (Singleton ranks 14th with 246). Kenny is probably safe for another year — Jorge hasn’t hit more than 23 homers in a season since 2003.

JOSE MOLINA — RESERVE CATCHER
2008 GOAL AS STATED HERE:
Hit as well as he did after he joined the Yankees in July ’07 (.318/.333/.439 in 29 games).
DID HE GET THERE? Heck no, but he did play terrific defense.
2009 GOAL: Keep up the glove work while rebounding at the plate from a career-worst offensive season.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: You’d think he’d have to if he’s going to stay on the roster.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Believe it or not, Molina’s .263 on-base percentage wasn’t the worst of Yankees history (200 PAs and up). Shortstop Jim Mason’s .210 OBP of 1976 takes the prize, while shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger’s .256 of 1925 is even worse than Mason’s mark when contrasted against the league average.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Elston Howard. There’s nothing wrong with having an old starting catcher, but as that catcher’s durability declines, you need a tandem starter who can give you good production the rest of the time, not just defense. The Yankees had this situation with Yogi Berra and Elston Howard in the early 1960s. Acquiring a reserve catcher with a bat is of paramount importance to the Yankees.

MARK TEIXEIRA — FIRST BASE
2008 GOAL AS STATED HERE:
N/A
2009 GOAL: Just consistency would be good. Teixeira is a .290/.378/.541 career hitter and Gold Glove fielder.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: There’s no reason why he shouldn’t.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: You hear a lot about Teixeira being a slow starter, but the flipside of his slow starts are hot finishes. Teixeira is a career .303/.390/.574 hitter after the All-Star break.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Teixeira is going to see a lot more of the Red Sox this year than he’s used to, and he hasn’t hit them well in his career. He’s a career. 193/.363/.274 hitter at Fenway Park (80 PA) and has hit only .232/.364/.373 against the Red Sox overall.

ROBINSON CANO — SECOND BASE
2008 GOAL AS STATED HERE:
Keep on growing and/or simply hold onto present value.
DID HE GET THERE? Not even close. His season was disastrously poor.
2009 GOAL: Get back to being the guy who hit .322/.358/.504 from 2006 to 2007.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Reasonably good given his age and a few lucky hits. He might not get all the way back, but he should get close.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Five games from now, Cano will pass Jerry Coleman for 10th place on the career list of games played at second base for the Yankees with 573. He still has a long, long way to go to catch the team’s all-time leader, Willie Randolph, who manned the keystone for 1,688 games.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: It might seem like Cano led the Yankees in pop ups last season, but he didn’t. He was fifth, with 33. The leader was Johnny Damon, with 45. Derek Jeter hit 13 pop ups all year.

To be continued…

MAKE IT STOP!
Here’s a literal blast from the past for you: In Tuesday’s Royals-at-White Sox game, the Royals took a 2-1 lead into Chicago’s turn at bat in the bottom of the eighth. The White Sox have the 9-1-2 spots due up: Josh Fields, Dewayne Wise, and Chris Getz. Royals manager Trey Hillman calls on Kyle Farnsworth. The Royals, you see, have decided that Farnsworth is a setup man. We in New York know it ain’t true. They even know it in Detroit and Atlanta, but they’re smarter in Kansas City.

Fields bunts to third base and reaches. Wise flies out to center. Gets singles to right, moving Fields to third. That brings up number three hitter Carlos Quentin. Even Joe Torre would have called for another pitcher by now, but Farnsworth gets Quentin to whiff, so score one for Hillman. Two outs now, future Hall of Famer Jim Thome at the plate. Thome is a left-handed hitter, and he’s getting up there in years, doesn’t hit the portsiders as well as he used to, averaging just .233 against them in 2008 (albeit with a ton of power). The Royals have Ron Mahay in the bullpen, but apparently he’s only hanging around for moral support. You know what happened next. Farnsworth throws, Thome swings, boom — it’s No. 542 for Jim and loss No. one of the 2009 season for Farnsworth.

Nice work if you can get it. Joe Posnanski ruminates on the managerial brilliance of the move.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
In an effort to bond with my cat, I’ve started wearing sisal pajamas… Another year, another pounding for Ian Snell, and the Pirates are off to the races… Khalil Greene so impressed Tony LaRussa with his hot spring that he’s batting fifth; it would be nice to see him complete make that kind of comeback. Of course, any player’s bat is going to perk up after escaping PETCO… The Rays lineup sure looks light with B.J. Upton out. Of course, it’s easy to look light against Josh Beckett when he’s on. They and the Red Sox will go at each other nine times by May 10, a nice quirk of the scheduling for the Yankees; the Yankees have ten total games against both clubs through May 7… As with CC Sabathia, you hope that Tim Lincecum wasn’t burned out by overuse last year… The Marlins drew 11,124 against the Nats in Game 2 of the season, but they did get a terrific start from Josh Johnson, so Joe Girardi, you’re off the hook (so long as he lasts)… The Tigers’ pen tanked their game, but Edwin Jackson’s fine start is the more important omen for them in the long term. Good to see Scott Rolen drag his hot spring into the season… Erik Bedard sort of made it through a start; when does he get dealt? …Dan Haren picked up where he left off for the Diamondbacks (good), but so did Jon Rauch (not so good)…I actually saw Jason Giambi hit a bloop double to the opposite field against the Angels… The Beatles remasters are finally coming!

When plans fo awry …

tex250_040609.jpgTHAT DIDN’T GO AS PLANNED
Strange, isn’t it, the way baseball toys with your expectations. CC Sabathia pitched quite well in Spring Training, while Jeremy Guthrie was messed up worse than the Elephant House on bran peanut day. The bell rings and it’s Sabathia that required the cleanup on aisle pachyderm and Guthrie who put in the solid performance. It’s a heck of an omen for the Orioles, given that the rotation goes rapidly downhill after Guthrie — a solid season from him and that might not lose 100 games.

As for the Yankees, getting a wild, no-strikeout start from your ace is always frightening, but Sabathia has been there before and recovered, so there’s no use getting to exercised about today’s performance. Ditto that of Mark Teixeira, who went 0-for-4 and stranded five runners — no doubt some in Yankeeland are already fitting him for the “not a true Yankee” pants. This too shall pass, though in truth Teixeira does deserve to wear the horns for this one, Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon having combined to go 5-for-8  with a walk in front of him. The bullpen didn’t help, but Cesar Izturis’s home run was a matter of inches, as all Izturis home runs are likely to be. He’s hit just 13 of the things, and if you give one up to him, well, you’re a member of a very select club that includes a strangely large number of former Yankees or Yankees-associated pitchers, including Tony Armas, Brandon Claussen, David Cone and Eric Milton. Welcome, Phil Coke. Your commemorative pin is in the mail.

At least Nick Swisher didn’t leave anyone on base.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Life is a changeup pitcher. Hence, several candidates for their league basements won on Opening Day … I said in an earlier installment that I was looking forward to seeing what Jason Motte could do as Cardinals closer. Today I got my answer: four runs on four hits and a blown save against the Pirates. I haven’t seen the highlights yet, but I wonder how many were line drives and how many were just the Cardinals being weak on balls in play … Headline on MLB.com regarding former Yankees first baseman Nick the Greenstick: “Johnson excited to be healthy in ’09.” Missing from that headline: “For now.” That fellow had Hall-of-Fame hitting ability at one time. Now, who knows? … Leadoff man Emilio Bonifacio of the Marlins is probably a fantasy baseball darling after a 4-for-5 with an inside-the-park home run and three stolen bases, but this was the last such day of his career … After not watching “ER” for the last five years, I tuned in for the finale last week and was intrigued enough by the part where the entire cast was imprisoned in the stockyards and slowly minced by the ghosts of 19th century meatpackers to go to Hulu and watch the rest of the season for clues, but that whole abattoir scene remained an inexplicable non-sequitur … Why isn’t Brad Hawpe’s nickname “Hee?”… Back in October 2004, when Tony Clark was on the verge of leaving the Yankees, if you had offered to bet on his still playing five years in the future, few would have taken the pro Tony position, likeable guy or not. Well, he’s still here, and he socked two home runs today. Clark and his ballpark were apparently built for each other; through last season, he’s a career .281/.350/.620 hitter at Arizona with 39 home runs in 405 at-bats (make it 41 in 409) … If you’re the Indians you have to worry about Cliff Lee, abused during Spring Training and by the Rangers on Opening Day (no Andruw Jones sighting despite the lefty opposing starter) … The offseason formula worked better for the Mets on Opening Day than for the Yankees, as their reconstructed bullpen delivered 3 1/3 scoreless innings, something that seemed impossible as of last September. 

Magnetic poles, fast grass and other impressions

jeter_250.jpgTHE FIRST “GAME” AT YANKEE STADIUM
In watching Cubs-Yankees on Friday evening, I tried to be alert to any events that would suggest that the park will be dramatically different in its influences than was the old ballpark. Given that we’re talking about one game, the penchant for distortion would have had to be fairly obvious — like a moat in center field. In the event, no moat appeared, but with two home runs bouncing off of them in one game, we might have to classify the foul poles as magnetic attractors.

There was some talk by our YES broadcast crew about the infield playing fast. Again, there is no way to know for sure if this is the case after just one game, but if it’s true, it will represent a double-edged sword for the Yankees. The hitters will benefit, but the pitchers will suffer, perhaps disproportionately to the opposition, because their deficiencies in range will be exacerbated. Fortunately, this can be corrected to some degree should the Yankees choose to do so — they can just let it grow.

The bigger question mark, and one that the Yankees won’t be able to do anything about, is if the open concourses or orientation of the new park have made the building more of a home-run park. The Yankees hit three in the game, and foul poles or not, they seemed to have a little more life in them than what we’ve seen from long flies in the old park. For the third time in just three paragraphs, I will emphasize that you can’t know anything about anything from just one game, and we probably shouldn’t come to any conclusions until the team has spent something like half a season in the new dish, and maybe not then.

I’ll be back with some additional observations after Saturday’s exhibition.

OTHER GOOD STUFF
Derek Jeter pulling two hits. Brett Gardner’s speed both on defense and stretching a single into a double. Four scoreless innings from the bullpen (albeit against Cubs subs). Robinson Cano with two hits, including one into the shortstop’s hole —  nice to see him do something with the opposite field that doesn’t involve popping up to shallow left.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Injuries mean the Angels’ initial rotation will be Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, Nick Adenhart, Dustin Moseley, and Shane Loux. No wonder the A’s feel empowered. And R.A. Dickey and his career 5.57 ERA have a spot in the Twins rotation until Scott Baker comes back: spring is a cruel mistress… Mike Lamb went unclaimed and was released. The Twins are paying him this year, so he would be cheap depth if the Yankees want to add a third baseman. That assumes Lamb can find his stroke again. I’m rooting for Cody Ransom, Journeyman, but it never hurts to have insurance. Assuming a modest rebound, Lamb should post a higher OBP than Ransom… One wonders how long Gary Sheffield will be happy with part-time status as a Met. Assuming he has anything left at all, both at bat and in the field, he should help on a platoon basis, with career .308/.407/.540 rates against southpaws. Even last year, which was a disaster overall, he hit six home runs against them in 109 at-bats.

Upsetting fact: Yankees have had weak defense

jeterblog040209.jpgONE MORE QUICK NOTE ON JETERIAN DEFENSE
Last year, opposition batters put 4,351 balls in play against the Yankees. They turned 68 percent of them into outs, which is a low rate. Boston turned 70 percent of balls in play against them into outs. The Rays turned 71 percent of balls in play against them into outs. These differences may seem small, but over the course of a season they can make a difference in a pennant race. Had the Yankees caught balls at the rate that the Red Sox did, for example, they would have retired an additional 74 batters. Had they fielded them at the Rays’ rate, they would have put out an additional 122 batters. The Yankees only allowed 1,170 fly balls all season long, so you can’t blame the entire shortfall on Bobby Abreu letting balls drop at the base of the wall. Their rate of line drives allowed was actually on the low side. Only so many balls were pulled down the lines past Jason Giambi or Alex Rodriguez. No one is to blame, apparently, and yet the balls weren’t caught. This happens year after year — the Yankees don’t catch as many balls as the opposition does, but no one is to blame.

This isn’t an argument. This isn’t subjective. Weak Yankees defense is a fact. You can choose not to see it when you watch a game. In the end, though, you have to account for what actually happens in those games. If the fielders weren’t at fault, then what happened? Unexpected stadium tilt? The moons of Saturn get in their eyes?

WE KNOW A REMOTE FARM IN LINCOLNSHIRE WHERE MRS. BUCKLEY LIVES… EVERY JULY, PEAS GROW THERE
The moment the Marlins bagged on former Angels’ prospect Dallas McPherson, the 28-year-old who led the minors in home runs last year, his name was circulated as a potential A-Rod sub. McPherson clearly has left-handed power, and the Yankees can use all the power they can get this year. There are two problems: First, McPherson strikes out so much that he would have trouble maintaining a .300 on-base percentage in the majors. Second, his defense at third is suspect. I’ve been skeptical of Cody Ransom’s ability to hit for average as well, but he should be able to field the position and hit a couple of home runs of his own. I figure the added defense makes Ransom a better fit than McPherson, or at least makes the two a wash. Now, you can argue about McPherson being a better bench asset than Angel Berroa or Ramiro Pena, but until Rodriguez comes back you might be forced to actually play him at third base if Derek Jeter leaves a game early, requiring Ransom to slide over to short.

It just occurred to me, reading what I just wrote in the context of our first item, above, that the Yankees worry an awful lot about defense but get very little out it.

FLESH PEDDLERS
If there’s a market for Gary Sheffield’s services, there’s a market for Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady. One also wonders if the Phillies would like to adopt Melky Cabrera — now that Geoff Jenkins has been released, their only reserve outfielder is Matt Stairs. They have rookie John Mayberry on the 40-man as well, but like Stairs he seems to be strictly corner material. Former Yankee Chad Moeller is going to back up Gregg Zaun for the O’s, at least until Matt Wieters comes up. Henry Blanco is going to be the starting backstop for the Padres. Consider those two pieces of information and feel free to speculate about a possible Jose Molina trade market. Say the Yankees brought up Frankie Cervelli halfway through the season, and… but no.