May 2009

Three-baggers

gardner_250_051409.jpgIt’s always shocking when the Yankees start going for three, even with fast guys like Johnny Damon and Brett Gardner in the lineup. Traditionally the team just doesn’t hit many triples, in large part because the late Yankee Stadium just didn’t give up many. If a Yankee, even a speedy one, was going to get a lot of three-baggers, he had to leg them out of the road as the team did last night. The last Yankee to hit even 10 triples in a season was Jerry Mumphrey in 1982. Willie Randolph did it a couple of times in the late 1970s (1977 and 1979), and then to find the previous example you have to go back to 1955, when both Mickey Mantle and Andy Carey got there.

That’s trivia. Potentially more interesting was the sight of Gardner turning on a couple of fat inside pitches and smashing them for extra bases. This is a welcome return to what he did in Spring Training, when his swing seemed to have more leverage. It’s foolish to overreact to one game — you can pick moments out of any player’s career when, if considered in isolation and ignorance, the Mario Mendozas of the world looked like Babe Ruth, and vice-versa — but perhaps Gardner is finally awakening from his long funk. Now all he needs to do is find a way back into the lineup, which won’t be easy.

WILD BOYS
American League pitchers are averaging 3.6 walks per nine innings pitched. Yankees pitchers are averaging 4.1, which ties them for worst on the circuit with the Red Sox, just ahead of the Cleveland Indians, who are walking an even 4.0. A good deal of the blame most go to the bullpen, which is averaging 4.5 walks per nine innings. After Andy Pettitte walked four in his six innings of work last night, which didn’t help matters, Alfredo Aceves pitched a seemingly miraculous two innings of walk-free baseball, but Jon Albaladejo evened things up by passing two in his single inning of work. Given that the current pen has too many similarly inclined pitchers when it comes to control — and Brian Bruney has never been one for pinpoint pitching, though it seemed like he was getting there before he got hurt — that one possible solution is to forget Aceves’ possible usefulness as a long man/spot starter and instead try him in a few higher leverage situations than last night’s semi-blowout.

Then, of course, there’s the other kind of obvious solution, which is a trip to the Minors for Edwar Ramirez. Given his combined walk rate and home run rate, he’s less a reliever now than an unsecured weapon of mass destruction. He’s averaging close to seven walks per nine innings and a home run every three. He can’t survive those rates, not even with his impressive strikeout rate. Ramirez, for all the wonderfulness of his change, is essentially a trick pitcher. The league has caught up, and he needs to find a new wrinkle to be useful.  

Battered Yanks seek win vs. Richmond

halladay250_051309.jpgOK, NOW THAT WE’VE GOT HALLADAY OUT OF THE WAY …
Roy Halladay has made 31 career starts against the Yankees in his career, or about one full season’s worth. With last night’s victory, his record against them improved to 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA. In 216 1/3 career innings, he’s allowed 190 hits, walked 47, and struck out 167. He’s thrown five complete games and hurled two shutouts. Halladay’s three best teams are the Tigers, Orioles and Yankees. One of these things is not like the other.

For the Yankees, losing to Halladay was the closest thing to an inevitability in this series. Now they have to face Scott Richmond, a 29-year-old righty with 11 career appearances under his belt. Though he is 4-1 with a 3.29 ERA, he’s also had a great deal of luck so far. He’s a fly-ball pitcher who has already allowed a fair number of home runs. Combine that with an unimpressive walk rate and mix thoroughly, and the recipe should produce some crooked numbers. It hasn’t so far, because despite the walks, Richmond has held opposing batters to a .222 average — this despite another unimpressive stat, his rate of line drives allowed. I know this is a bit stat-heady, but stick with me for a moment: Line drives are hits the vast majority of the time. A high number of balls in play against Richmond are line drives, ergo there should be a high number of hits to go with them. In Richmond’s case, there aren’t. Opposing batters are hitting just .245 on balls in play, a rate that’s way, way below average — the league average on balls in play is .305. That suggests that Richmond has had a great deal of good luck so far, with balls practically taking sharp turns and honing their way into fielders’ mitts.

If this suggests to you that the Yankees could rampage around the Rogers Centre tonight, you’re right, but only sort of. With the Yankees order being so dramatically depleted — tonight’s order has Robby Cano batting fifth, Melky Cabrera batting sixth, Brett Gardner seventh, Ramiro Pena eighth, and Frankie Cervelli ninth — they may not have the firepower to rampage over a mound of Jell-O. Oh, those injuries, oh, that lack of second-line talent. This has been a recurrent theme since 2000, a direct contributor (to borrow a title from Buster Olney) to the last night of the Yankee dynasty, and a major issue in most seasons since. With the June draft almost upon us, it might be worth asking if anything in the Yankees’ player procurement and development philosophy has changed given these problems, but this isn’t really the draft to be asking about, given that they vented their picks on free-agent compensation.

Oh well. The more things change the more they stay the same. Perhaps no one drafting in the 900 picks ahead of the Yankees will want to meet Stephen Strasburg’s price of $50 gabooblebillion and he’ll fall out of the first 17 rounds to whenever the Yankees finally get to pick … Nah, won’t happen. Still, at this stage the Yankees could do just as well with a bunch of league-average outfielders. That seems almost like a bigger dream than projecting a Strasburgian Icarus act on draft day.  

MORE OF ME …
… Later on. In the meantime, a transcript of yesterday’s chat is available in the lobby. 

This and that on a Tuesday

WE NOW PAUSE FOR THIS WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR
“Our hittin’ is off, our fieldin’ is off, our base-running’ is off and, I dunno, maybe the managin’ is lousy, too.” — Casey Stengel, August, 1952. Seemed appropriate.

ONE MORE OLD-TIME STORY
Came across this yesterday in a 1954 Arthur Daley column for the New York Times. Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance is talking about when he played for another Hall of Famer, the combustible second baseman Frankie Frisch. “One day I hit into two double-plays and my manager, a mild-mannered and butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth fellow named Frank Frisch blew his top. And the next day we’re playing an exhibition game against the House of David team, which has, believe it nor not, a 14-year-old girl pitching for them. Everybody starts hitting, and the bases are full when Frisch comes to bat. He hits into a double-play. Mad? He’s blazing when he gets to the bench. But I couldn’t resist. ‘Frank,’ I say to him, ‘I’ve hit into many a double-play in my life, but never against a 14-year-old girl pitcher.'”

20-GAME WATCH: YANKEES VS. BLUE JAYS
W-L
R/G
AB/HR
PA/BB
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG

YANKEES 9-11 5.7 23.5 9.7 15 1 .279 .359 .466
JAYS 12-8 5.9 37.1 11.4 9 1 .297 .361 .451
ERA RA H/9 BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 OAVG
YANKEES 5.99 6.43 10.1 4.0 7.3 1.6 .287
JAYS 4.38 4.77 9.0 2.9 6.8 1.1 .257

A couple of splits for the Yankees: home ERA is 6.59, road ERA is 5.16. The pitchers are allowing 1.8 homers per nine innings at The Sequel, 1.2 on the road. The offense is hitting a home run every 20.3 at-bats at home, one every 25.6 at-bats on the road. Intriguingly, the Yankees are scoring more runs per game on the road, in part because they’ve hit in some bad luck at home, averaging just .285 on balls in play. I don’t have line drive splits handy, but one wonders if the Yankees have been so mesmerized by their home park that they’ve fallen into the Rockies-style of trying to hit fly balls. Just a thought.

A QUICK ONE FROM THE COMMENTS
A reader asked how or why I said that I didn’t expect Austin Jackson would be an impact player. The answer is that as good as he’s been, he doesn’t seem to have a big-time power tool. He’s hit only 26 home runs in 1,796 at-bats as a pro, including none this year (though he’s off to a fine start at .360/.430/.440). Baseball America says, “While Jackson’s power comes mostly to the gaps now, scouts and managers agree he’ll have average power as he continues to gain experience and strength.” They don’t really know that, of course; it’s just speculation, and I prefer to count birds in the hand, not hypothetical chickadees in an imaginary bush. As such, what I see right now is a player who might hit .280/.360/.420 in the major leagues. That’s not bad at all, especially coming from a center fielder — last year, the average Major League center fielder batted .268/.334/.420, .272/.338/.420 the year before.

If Jackson can do that in the middle pasture, his team will be ahead of the game (in the corners this wouldn’t be true). It’s not impossible that Jackson will do more than that, and he hits .360 the rest of the year we’ll be due for another conversation on the subject, and the same will be true if he starts lashing home runs every which way. Until then, though, Jackson the superstar center fielder remains conceptual, leaving us with Jackson the very decent player. It’s been very unusual for the Yankees’ system to produce even that much in a non-pitcher, so it would probably be ungrateful to ask for more just now.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Giants 11, Nationals 7: It wasn’t pretty, but Randy Johnson picked up win number 298. He can still get the strikeouts — he’s sixth in the NL in strikeouts per nine innings — but he’s also leading the league in home runs allowed. The overall results are mediocre, but it’s not clear that we should be expecting a whole lot more from a guy who will turn 46 in September… Ryan Zimmerman went 4-for-5 with two home runs. It was his 29th consecutive game with a hit. I doubt Joe DiMaggio is nervous yet, wherever he is. The Zimmerman of 2006-2008 was pretty consistent, batting .278/.338/.458, not bad, but not as good as what had been predicted for him when he was a first-round pick in 2005. It’s easy to forget that he compiled those numbers in the majors at ages 21 to 23.

Braves 8, Mets 3: Omar Santos’ .302 average (13-for-43) is a mass hallucination… The Mets didn’t actually hit all that badly in this game, they just couldn’t master Derek Lowe’s anti-gravity ball, hitting into three double plays. The NL East remains compellingly bunchy. If the Braves could get healthy, they might make a move, but as Brian McCann came back, Chipper Jones went out, and it smells like the Braves might be doing that kind of dance all year.

Reds 13, Diamondbacks 5: Willy Taveras’ 5-for-5 pumped his rates to .315/.381/.414, and with his defense that’s a valuable package. Too bad he can’t do that every year…

Indians 9, White Sox 4: More trouble for Gavin Floyd, which is depressing. The law of averages is no fun, as you’d like to think we have some freedom of action in this life… Carl Pavano won, though he didn’t pitch particularly well, and Jose Contreras went to the Minor Leagues. Under 15,000 watched it all in Cleveland. Thus endeth a slow day in the Major Leagues.

Big series for Yanks in Toronto

damon250_051109.jpgTHE WEEK THAT WANTED TO BE EVERYTHING
Johnny Damon delivered what might have been a season-saving hit for the Yankees on Sunday. Now the Yankees have to capitalize. Beginning on Tuesday, the club will play three games against the division-leading Blue Jays at Toronto. A letdown against the Jays, say dropping two of three games, would leave the Yankees with a 16-18 record and a long five games in the loss column to make up on the leader, with a similar number to be made up against the Red Sox. The Yankees currently have a 5-11 record against divisional opponents, and at that rate they won’t make it to the postseason. Showing up against the Jays would be a good place to start making a change for the better.

The good news for the Yankees is that the Jays have played 34 games, but 20 of them have gone against the American League Central. They’re 2-1 against the White Sox, 3-2 against the Indians, 3-1 against the Tigers, and 3-1 against the Twins. Only the Royals, who have taken three of four against them, have put up any kind of fight. Their only exposure to the AL East has come in three games against the Orioles. They have not seen the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays, which is to say that they haven’t proved anything as of yet.

That will change beginning Tuesday with the series against the Yankees. The Jays will meet the Red Sox six times before the month is out. They’ll also face some tough NL East opponents in interleague play, meeting up with the Braves, Phillies and Marlins, as well as the Reds and Nats. They finish June against the Rays, and then it’s all AL East for them into the third week of July, including a 10-game road trip to the Yankees, Rays and Orioles, and three more games against the Red Sox. They also bookend the month of July with two series at home against the Rays.

That last series against the Rays concludes on July 26. At that point, 10 days after the All-Star break, we’ll have a better sense of whether the Jays will hang around for the rest of the year or not, as they’ll finally have had a real test. Expect it to expose a number of Jays as having played over their heads to date. Whether or not the Yankees will be able to take advantage of this or not is another matter. The matchups for the current series — A.J. Burnett vs. Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte vs. Scott Richmond, CC Sabathia vs. Brian Tallet — argue for a good showing for the Bombers. Halladay is difficult to impossible, but Richmond is a journeyman mystery ripe for solving, and Tallet is left-handed — the Yankees have done very well against southpaws, hitting .319/.395/.533 against them to date.

Post-Jays, the Yankees commence a 10-game homestand against the Twins, Orioles and Phillies. The Twins are 4-8 on the road and haven’t pitched well, and the Orioles are the Orioles, even if the Yankees have split with them so far. The Phillies are a tougher nut to crack given their best-of-NL offense, but their pitching isn’t what it was last year, and should give the Yankees a better than fair chance of winning a few — their starters’ ERA is 6.28. Sure, Yankees’ starters have a 5.68 ERA, so maybe they don’t want to brag about their dominant hurling compared to what the champs have done, but at least they’ll have a shot.

It’s never wise to overhype a short stretch of the season, but it truly seems as if the Yankees are to make a statement, it’s going to be now. They have the opportunity and the means and the spotlight role of poking a hole in the Jays’ gonfalon bubble. If they can hold now, in a few weeks they’ll have Jorge Posada back and the team will be (theoretically) fully staffed for the first time all year and can really make some progress. 

MORE OF ME
On Tuesday, May 12, at 1 p.m., I’ll be chatting live at Baseball Prospectus. The chat is open to all comers, subscribers and non, and if you can’t make it because you’re working or something (an unlikely excuse in this economy), you can enter your questions ahead of time at the foregoing link. I hope to see you there.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Braves 4, Phillies 2: Over his last seven games, Casey Kotchman is hitting .385 (10-for-26), and .347 over his last 20 contests … You think your team has closer problems. The defending champs’ closer Brad Lidge has an ERA of 8.53 and has allowed at least a run in his last three appearances.

Tigers 5, Indians 3: And the Motor City Kitties sweep. It feels like it’s in bad taste to refer to Detroit as the Motor City … Something has to happen to galvanize the Indians, a team that has more talent than it has shown thus far. That’s an understatement given that they have the worst record in baseball. Arizona had less cause to remove its manager than Cleveland does … This was a team that was expected to contend … Pitching coach Carl Willis. Seventh season, since 2003. Obviously the guy has seen his ups and downs and you have to respect the organization’s loyalty to a coach. Derek Shelton, hitting coach for five seasons. Has been there since replacing Eddie Murray in 2005. Toward the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency; the decision not to rearrange the infield around the acquisition of Mark DeRosa is open to second-guessing, though many first-guessed it … Justin Verlander’s last three starts, including April 27 against the Yankees: 3-0, 23 innings, 11 hits, five walks, 31 strikeouts, one, count’em, one run. Catcher Gerald Laird is 1-for-32 over his last 10 games.

Mets 8, Pirates 4: And it wasn’t as close as it looked — it’s just that the Mets used Sean Green. In Green’s first seven games, he allowed two runs in 7.1 innings. In seven games since then, he’s allowed 12 runs in 6.2 innings. Nonetheless, the Mets swept the series at home against the Pirates, won their seventh straight game, and went into first place; you can’t argue with that. The Pirates have lost eight straight and are in the basement of the NL Central. All is right with the world. A loss against the Cardinals on Tuesday would put them on a 100-loss pace … Note that the Mets have hit 13 triples — 11 at home, two on the road. Ironic that the team built an homage to Ebbets Field, and it’s playing just like it did the original for the Dodgers — the 1914 Dodgers.

Cardinals 8, Reds 7: Ryan Franklin, impromptu closer for this season after Jason Motte scared the pants off of ol’ Tony LaRussa on Opening Day, finally blew a save, giving up Adam Rosales’s first Major League homer, then a pinch-hit shot to Micah Owings. LaRussa used eight pitchers in 10 innings. It must have been hell.

Cubs 4, Brewers 2: What a contrast it is to listen to Bobby Fuller’s 1966 hit rendition of “I Fought the Law” back to back with the Clash’s anti-fascist insurrection version from 1979. Fuller sounds like a suburban kid picked up for trying to score some drugs on a Saturday afternoon trip to the inner city having told mom he’d be at the movies. That Fuller was found dead in a parked car adds another shade to the hapless tourist undone by the street scene. Has Sonny Curtis been put into any songwriting hall o’ fames as of yet? He wrote “I Fought the Law,” the Buddy Holly ravers “Rock Around with Ollie Vee,” the English lyrics to “Let it Be Me,” and, incongruously, “Love is All Around,” the theme to the “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” I’ll take the middle one, a minor classic that somehow never found a place in the Holly cannon.  

Astros 12, Padres 5: Don’t let the Astros’ victories in this series of semi-exhibitions against the Padres fool you; they still stink on ice … How is it that LaTroy Hawkins allowed 26 runs in 33 games for the Yankees, b
ut in 38 games since then he’s allowed only seven runs? … Say you go to the Astros game this weekend and Lance Berkman isn’t in the lineup (he has strained cartilage in his left wrist). How do you not ask for your money back? It’s like going to see the Rolling Stone, but the part of Mick Jagger is being played by David Lee Roth … Pudge Rodriguez, of no apparent interest to the Yankees this offseason, went 4-for-4 to raise his rates to .273/.318/.495. His next home run is career No. 300 … Carlos Lee hit his sixth home run to reach .333/.377/.573, but his contract makes him untradeable. Even if not, most of the production is home cooking.

Rangers 7, White Sox 1: Jose Contreras is 0-5, 8.19 ERA and has been banished to the bullpen. Just thought it was worth mentioning for those who track ex-Yankees like so much orbital detritus. When Matt Harrison is pitching complete game shutouts against the White Sox, it’s (A) a great sign for the Rangers; (B) a portent of doom for the White Sox; (C) just one game; (D) all of the above.

Mariners 5, Twins 3:
It was one of those wonderful moments. The Twins were leading, 2-0, in the top of the eighth. Ron Gardenhire yanked starter Nick Blackburn so that the rookie lefty Jose Mijares could pitch to the top of the M’s order. With one out, Mijares walked Jose Lopez to bring the faded Ken Griffey Jr. to the plate. Mijares, the young gun, threw the old gun a flat fastball with nothing on it, and Griffey hit it to the moon, or as close to the moon as you can get a ball in a domed stadium. That tied the game, and the bullpen gave the rest away later on …  Good move by the Twins getting Matt Tolbert up to play second base for Alexi Casilla. Not that Tolbert is Roger Hornsby, but Casilla was miserable. Brendan Harris can probably out-hit both of them, but his glove gives defensive-minded managers fits … Where’s Adrian Beltre’s walk-year surge? (.234/.265/.328, one home run.)

Rockies 3, Marlins 2:
Hanley Ramirez has an eight-game hitting streak going, during which he has hit .548 with four home runs and six walks … Bonifacio Watch: .250/.298/.311, hitting .205/.279/.231 in May. We’ll know the Marlins are serious when they make a change. Tough-luck loss for Chris Volstad, but one-run losses can be chalked up to an unfair universe or self-defeating lineup construction — your pick on Mondays.

Angels 4, Royals 3: As the resurgent Royals are swept by the fallen Angels, and lose ace closer Joakim Soria to the disabled list in the process. Egregious defense cost the Royals in this series (that and Joe Saunders out-pitching Zack Greinke by a hair). The defense will probably never be a calling card. It’s still hard to be more than agnostic about their chances given how much they have to depend on pitching, and within that guys like Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar … And Kyle Farnsworth. Still, S. Ponson is going to the bullpen, so we know that they’re not sleeping. On still another hand: Trying Luis Hernandez as your solution to a season-long slump by Mike Aviles is not a sign of seriousness. Inspirational line of the day: Bobby Abreu, 0-for-0 with four walks. Mickey Hatcher must stay awake nights wondering why he can’t get through that guy (and still no home runs).

Blue Jays 5, Athletic 0: In what would be a distinct novelty for Yankees fans, a team’s top pitching prospect actually, well, pitches. Eight innings, no runs, a ton of groundouts (12) and six strikeouts, the jubilation tempered only by the knowledge that the A’s are hitting like a team out of the deadball era (former Athletic Carlos Pena leads the AL with 13 home runs; the entire A’s club has 18). It’s another rabbit out o’ the hat for the Jays, and as we said here when they called Cecil up, a vote in favor of the bold: why lose with the dregs when you can bet on the upside? Smokey the Jay say, “No reason not to (and only you can prevent forest fires).” … Despite the league-leading six runs of offense a game, the Jays may need to add a bat before they’re done… But, who knows if they will?

Giants 7, Dodgers 5: The Torremen bow in 13. Don’t worry: Jeff Weaver started, he didn’t relieve. That honor, and the loss, went to another faded New York pitching meteor, Guillermo Mota … Since Manny Ramirez was banned, Juan Pierre has been on fire, going 9-for-16 with three doubles (.563/.632/.750) over four games. If he keeps that up, the Dodgers won’t miss Manny too much. Otherwise …

Diamondbacks 10, Nationals 8:
In Howard Bryant’s very fine book, “Juicing the Game,” A.J. Hinch is set up as one of the last good men in Sodom. “One night in 2001, Hinch, frustrated, sat with his wife, Erin, and told her that if he decided to use anabolic steroids, there was no doubt in his mind that his modest power numbers would improve enough to make him a more attractive backup catcher, maybe even give him a chance at being a starter. Hinch was against steroids, to some degree because he believed their use to be cheating, but mostly because they scared him. “Hinch didn’t use, and is portrayed as being resentful of those who take the easy way out and do use. One wonders how he’ll react on the day that one of his players is outed — perhaps with all the good cheer of Tommy Lasorda after Darryl Strawberry was suspended for failing a drug test? … Adam Dunn in the three games at Arizona: 6-for-13, four home runs … What do teammates call Esmerling Vasquez for short?  … I keep wondering if the ‘Backs will trade Conor Jackson when he’s down (very, very down), and how the acquiring team will react when they discover they’ve dealt a prospect for a Matt Murton clone (.269/.360/.402 career on the road).

Red Sox 4, Rays 3: The Sox finally call up Daniel Bard (29 strikeouts in 16 innings at Triple A) but didn’t use him, so we have to wait to see what the tyro can do to even out the team’s pitching problems. If you can’t get the starting pitching right, maybe more bullpen will do the trick … Carl Crawford has hit in 11 of his last 12, going 22-for-51 with four doubles, a triple, a home run, six walks, 15 steals, and hasn’t been thrown out (.431/.500/.608). Don’t know where his home runs have gone, but it doesn’t matter if he’s going to be doing a Ty Cobb imitation … Jason Varitek has thrown out just eight of 42 attempted base stealers (19 percent). That probably doesn’t help Boston’s record, but as you can see from the standings, it hasn’t hurt all that much either. 

Welcome back, Alex Rodriguez

arod_250_050809.jpgReady to save a season?

It’s not that simple, of course. A few extra home runs aren’t going to paper over all of the areas where the Yankees are failing to perform right now. The starting pitchers have the third-worst ERA in the league, and while the bullpen has not been the worst in the league (Cleveland and Anaheim are vying for that dubious title), it has been weak enough to earn a failing grade to this point in the season.

The offense, which is averaging 5.6 runs per game played, hasn’t really been the problem. Sure, a hot-hitting Rodriguez might help the team overcome a few badly pitched games by helping to pile on the runs, but with the Yankees apparently taking the express elevator to the sub-replacement level at catcher (welcome, Kevin Cash), Rodriguez will not fully plug the resultant hole. The place where Rodriguez’s impact is most likely to be felt is on defense. The Yankees, as has typically been the case in recent years, do not excel at turning balls in play into outs. A-Rod isn’t Brooks Robinson, and Ramiro Pena has done decent work on the fielding job, but there’s something to be said for having an experienced player out there.

That said, the team has been miserable in the clutch and the third basemen have been even less contributory than the replacement catchers are likely to be (well, maybe), so perhaps Rodriguez can contribute in ways that go beyond the overall offensive totals.

The pitching should come around. Unless the Yankees have somehow ducked into a perfect storm of nervous breakdowns and physical injuries, the many good arms they have on hand will not struggle forever. The overarching problem is one of depth. A-Rod returns, but Jorge Posada is down, Molina is down (and he wasn’t very good) and now Cash is up. Cash and Cashman go well together, because the former represents the latter’s blind spot. The general manager has never been one to worry much about contingencies, and now the Yankees are carrying a career .184 hitter/.248 OBP backstop, this even though there were many reasons to doubt Posada’s durability. There are reasons as well to doubt Rodriguez’s durability. And Johnny Damon’s. And Hideki Matsui’s. The question for today is not, “What will it mean to have Alex Rodriguez back?” but “Who’s next?”

Francisco Cervelli, of course, has barely played at the Double-A level and has an offensive profile that would seem to translate into a few singles at best. He has been willing to take the odd walk offered to him, so the Yankees can hope that even if all other production is lacking he might accept the odd fourth ball, more than could have been said for Molina.

In fairness to Mr. Cashman, the problem with depth has long been an organizational one. Unlike most other organizations, the Yankees have not been able to draft and develop even a few solid, second-line players. The pitching has been coming along, and that has been a huge step forward, because a few years back we couldn’t even say that much positive about the Yankees’ farm system.

However, Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, and Austin Jackson notwithstanding (and Jackson is unlikely to be an impact player), a parallel improvement in position players is overdue. This has acted to hamstring the GM both in terms of trade fodder and in injury replacements and bench strength for the major league team. That said, the catching problem, along with the advanced age and concomitant brittleness of the big club, not to mention the specific injury situations of several prominent players, should have been taken into account.

As for Rodriguez, a few heroic home runs would go a long way towards saving his reputation and helping his team out of its current rut. The opposite is almost too painful to contemplate as we will never hear the end of it. If Rodriguez goes 0-for-20 to open his season, it could be because he’s still not 100 percent or it could be because he happened to go 0-for-20, but we’ll hear a lot about how he’s not the same guy now that he’s clean. Actually, we will likely hear that anytime he slumps over the rest of his contract. Anyone got a spare set of noise-canceling headphones?

REST IN PEACE, DOM DIMAGGIO
Farewell to the last of the three DiMaggio brothers who lit up the major leagues in the 1930s and 40s. Joe, of course, was the Yankee Clipper. Vince struck out a lot but was a great ballhawk (some said the best outfielder of the three) and had his career damaged by starting it playing in Boston’s Braves Field, a terrible park for a low-average power hitter, which is what Vince was. From 1940 to 1945, his post-Braves period spent mostly in Pittsburgh, Vince hit .256/.331/.433, safely above-average for the time, and combined with his defense that made him a solid player, though not a star. Dom was a star, a seven-time All-Star for the Red Sox, and though he wasn’t, as the song parody went, better than his brother Joe, he was a very solid, Brett Butler-type player — Butler with better plate judgment and a bit more pop at the plate (some of it no doubt provided by Fenway Park, but still). He was also the top defensive center fielder of his time, probably better than Joe on the fielding job (for Joe, being third in his own family still meant he was better than everyone else), and if he wasn’t a Hall of Famer in his own right he was at worst the next level down. He was a key part of the great Ted Williams-driven Red Sox offenses of the 1940s and the team’s 1946 pennant winner. He will long be remembered.

20-GAME WATCH: YANKEES VS. ORIOLES

                     W-L    R/G    AB/HR    PA/BB    SB     CS    AVG    OBP    SLG
YANKEES     9-11    5.6        23.5       8.9         16       2    .277    .365    .463
ORIOLES       6-14     4.6       34.0      12.6        12       6    .256    .321    .399
                                    
                   ERA    RA    H/9    BB/9    SO/9    HR/9            
YANKEES    6.10    6.54    9.9      4.3     7.4      1.6            
ORIOLES     5.04    5.62    10.3    3.0      6.8      1.3            

You would think that given the pitching matchups of this series (Sabathia-Guthrie, Hughes-Eaton, and Chamberlain-Uehara) the Yankees would stand a very good chance of not only ending their losing streak but sweeping the series. Don’t place any bets on that evaluation, because we’ve seen the Yankees find some new ways to lose lately, particularly struggling to hit in situations like having a runner on third and less than two outs (.261/.298/.391, seven sacri
fice flies in 56 opportunities). As for the Orioles, there’s not a lot that’s good here. The big story is that Adam Jones (.346/.413/.598) has seemingly taken a big step forward to join Nick Markakis as one of the team’s building blocks. The bigger story is that no one else has stepped up to join him. Maybe the Yankees haven’t been competitive with the Red Sox to this point, but if they’re not competitive with these guys…

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

manny2_250_050609.jpgEver see a clubhouse picture of Joe DiMaggio with his shirt off? There are a few that pop up in books about the Yankee Clipper. His biceps have a bit of definition, but otherwise the only thing that really pops out at you is his ribcage — he looks as if he just came off of a hunger strike. Had I been a writer at the time, I would have been tempted to bring him bowls of pasta. Steaks. Freshly killed zebras. Joe DiMaggio was not a bodybuilder. Thank you for that, Joe.

The foregoing is an oblique reaction to Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension for failing a test for a so-called performance-enhancing drug. According to one article, that substance was a gonadotropin, a substance used to light a fire in underperforming testicles (I believe that in 10 years of writing this feature that is the first time I have typed the word “testicles”). In other words, these drugs kick off testosterone production. Testosterone helps build muscles. Muscles make you stronger. Stronger makes you… Well, we really don’t know that stronger makes you anything but stronger, but you see the reasoning that is at work here.

As always, what is depressing about this development is not its actual impact but the dishonesty that comes with getting caught. Ramirez’s statement on the matter said, “Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me. Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility.”

No, Manny, actually it’s your doctor’s responsibility too, and I fully expect that you will be suing him. Thing is, we know Manny won’t be suing, because then this tissue-paper excuse would collapse. For that matter, he would also appeal the suspension, submit medical records as proof of his contention, and make every effort to stay on the field and clear his name. That’s not what he’s doing. Rather, he’s meekly taking the rap.

Ramirez is seemingly oblivious to much besides his personal comfort level, so I don’t expect him to have much feeling for his place in the game or its history, but it sure would be nice if we had a player or two who felt an obligation to the game who had made them famous multimillionaires and exercised due caution, even excess caution, so they did not get into these situations, whether by choosing to do drugs that the public considers to be cheating, or by asking some extra questions of their physician so as to make sure they don’t get poor advice, as Ramirez supposedly did. In the end, it’s really not what the drugs do, but what the public thinks of them. Unfortunately, all the propaganda has been in the service of the Incredible Hulk Theory of PEDs (baseball has chosen to capitulate rather than educate), so rightly or wrongly, when you get caught the public starts thinking of you the way they used to think of Shoeless Joe.

As such, Ramirez now gets a seat at the table that now holds Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Alex Rodriguez. This is a hitter who, whatever controversies have surrounded him, has been an All-Star every year since 1998, who has 533 career home runs and nearly 1,750 RBIs, whose career slugging percentage is .594. Whatever one thinks of Ramirez personally, be you a Yankees fan, Red Sox fan, Dodgers fan, if you’re a fan of baseball it is disgusting and abhorrent to you that a hitter of this stature is now perceived to have fallen.

mannytorre_250_050609.jpgA note of sympathy for Joe Torre, a guy whom must have been cursed to live in interesting times. His team has the best record in baseball, in part due to Ramirez’s terrific start. He now finds himself suffering a violent drop in production in left field, from Ramirez to Juan Pierre. That is, to quote Tom Petty, freefallin’. The Dodgers do have some Minor League outfielders that can play a bit, including prospect Xavier Paul at Triple-A (.344/.385/.542 and a big grain of salt at Triple-A) and journeyman bat Val Pascucci.

If they choose to be more assertive than just surrendering to the Pierreness (rhymes with “unfairness”) of life they can try to patch a bit. Regardless, Torre has his work cut out for him. Needless to say, this is one of those meadership moments that can make for a good line on one’s Hall of Fame plaque — if the Old Man can pull a rabbit out of his hat.

If not, the Dodgers, one of baseball’s best teams in one of its biggest media markets, a club off to a record-setting 13-0 start at home, becomes another casualty of steroids hysteria combined with a player’s ignorance, stupidity, and selfishness. Good work, congratulations to everyone. And so we ask again, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”

Actually, if he were here, we’d probably get on him for his cigarette habit. Alas, no one is perfect. 

The Pinstriped Bible — LIVE from the Bronx

andybiblepinstriped09.jpgMORE FROM THE BALLPARK ( 9:35 p.m.)
As I write, the Yankees are batting in the bottom of the fourth. Andy Sonnanstine, who has not been particularly good this year, have held them to one hit (three hits — in the time it took me to complete this sentence, Teixeira singled and Matsui doubled. Either the Yankees are heating up or my sentences are too long). The Rays have played some excellent defense, as is to be expected given that by at least one measure, defensive efficiency, the Rays are the best leather team in the league — just as they were last year.

With two runners on, the ballpark is plenty loud — I wonder if the acoustics are really as has been said or the fans haven’t had enough to cheer about… And Cano flies out to Carl Crawford in left, and all at once it’s quiet again.

A little earlier, A.J. Burnett skipped a ball through Dioner Navarro’s toes, and that reminded me of a brief encounter I had with sports talk radio earlier today. The caller to Sirius-XM’s midmorning show argued that what the Yankees needed to do to beat the Red Sox was hit them with more pitches. We seem to hear this sentiment every time the Yankees drop a series to the Sox: the Sox intimidate the Yankees but the Yankees don’t intimidate them. It sounds pathetic. I can never remember the old saying correctly — is violence the first refuge of the incompetent of the last? It seems to work either way. Whichever the case, such sentiments are an example of it. The way the Yankees will beat the Red Sox is to win some games. I know it’s a novel idea, but if they hit better than .150 with runners in scoring position against Boston, they’ll score some runs, maybe even more runs than Boston scores. Engaging in a beanball war is not going to achieve much more than getting players suspended at best and hurt at worst. These teams see each other a lot of times this year, and the last thing either of them needs is to see sporting competitiveness spill over into violence.

The thing that really struck me about the call, after its ignorance, was its super-ignorance. The Yankees have hit EIGHT Red Sox this year. The Red Sox have hit TWO Yankees. Don’t you have an obligation to watch the actual games before making so reckless a recommendation? Couldn’t the Yankees try hitting a few home runs before starting a fight? All we are saying is give peace a chance. Or at least common sense.

As I put the pen down on this particular entry, it is the top of the sixth. The Rays have two on and one out after a Jason Bartlett sac bunt (Bartlett had struck out in his two previous at-bats, so the bunt sorta kinda makes sense). Burnett is already over 100 pitches, and I see someone loosening in the bullpen. “Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.” Maybe it’s howling at Jose Veras. Wouldn’t you?

———-

SCENES FROM A BALLPARK ( 7:23 p.m.)
The Pinstriped Bible comes to you from the Bronx, New York this evening, where the Yankees and Rays are about to joust. Let’s see… The Rays thrashed the Red Sox, the Red Sox thrashed the Yankees, so next in the sequence is… Yankees thrash Rays? My boss is in the seat next to me, so I’m sticking with that line. Not good to look too curmudgeonly and pessimistic in front of the guy who signs the checks.

Despite the tough losses of the last few days, there was a lot of animated good spirits on display on the pregame field. Bernie Williams was on hand, joking with Derek Jeter, then chatting with Melky Cabrera behind the cage. I couldn’t make out what they were talking about — the ballpark amps were at 11 — but I hope it was some insight about growing at the major league level or how to hit from the right side, and not the best way to shift to an F#m chord from a D#7 diminished chord without breaking your fingers. Reggie Jackson was also on hand, in uniform (Williams was in civvies), watching over batting practice and chatting eagerly with some reporters (off the record ad strictly personal, natch). A few feet away, John Sterling was interviewing Joe Girardi, but somehow Joe was doing a lot more listening than talking.

I briefly tried to imagine that it was 1927, and the Yankees taking batting practice were Ruth, Gehrig, Meusel, etcetera, but quickly gave up: it was too bloody loud. In 1927 batting practice must have sounded like batting practice: the crack of the bat, a few people shouting on the field and in the stands.

CRACK

Silence.
Silence.
Silence.

CRACK

Silence.
Silence.
Silence.

CRACK

It must have been pure heaven.

swisher_pblog_050609.jpgAs Nick Swisher came out of the cage, Girardi asked him a question. I assume it was, “How did you feel hitting today?” or something like that. Swisher made a face, shook his head, and must have said something sarcastic, because Girardi bopped him over the helmet with the mitt he was carrying. Swisher isn’t tall, but Girardi had to do a little hop-step-jump in order to pull off the gesture.

Angel Berroa and Brett Gardner took extra batting practice. Berroa caught my eye when he cracked a ball far deeper into the stands than any of the Yankee regulars had–you’ll note that whereas every Yankee starter could put on a show in batting practice, most of them are more applied in their work, drilling line drives in one turn in the cage, pulling balls in another, and so on. Berroa was hitting deep flies, and one traveled deep into the right field bleachers, landing just short of the back row, just in front of the “26 World Champions” sign. This seemed like a wasted drill–Berroa is not going to be cranking balls out of the park under game condition. It’s just not a skill he has. Few hitters achieve any kind of consistency when uppercutting the ball and trying to hit home runs, and Berroa won’t be the first. Why not try to develop a skill that will keep you on a Major League roster instead of one that won’t?

Gardner’s BP seemed, to my weak, rhino-like eyes, to be a mixed bag. On some swings he used the lower half of his body to pull crisp line drives to right, including one which carried out of the park. On a few other swings, he lunged with his upper body as he has been doing in games, and hit something weak the other way. As he finished, he turned to Kevin Long and asked, “How was that?” I didn’t catch Long’s response, as at just that moment, the scoreboard kicked off the Graig Nettles “Yankeeography” at such volume that John Sterling could have been chastising the Hebrews for their dalliance with the Golden Calf, or threatening to turn Sodom into a parking lot. At one point I looked up and saw an image of Tommy Lasorda as big as an aircraft carrier. “Surrender, Dorothy!” he screamed. I dropped to my knees. In doing so, I narrowly avoided being run down by the entire Rays roster, which was engaged in a pregame stretching exercise in which they hopped, skipped, and jumped down the third base line singing, “Three Little Maids from School Are We.” Okay, they didn’t really sing that, but they could have — they were skipping to the proper rhythm.

This should in no way be construed as a comment on the collective masculinity of the Rays. The only point, if there is one, is that grown men rarely looked dignified when hopping and skipping. It’s also a good way to lose your wallet.

Jorge to the shelf

…Or so it’s being reported. See the previous entry for more reaction, something akin to outright disgruntlement. The key here is how long Jorge Posada will be out. If it’s going to be more than a month, Mr. Cashman had best start shopping, and not in the superannuated Pudge Rodriguez aisle of Catcher-Mart either.

Actually, I take that back. Even if Posada is out only the minimum 15 days, the Yankees need to find a backstop who can hit at something close to league-average rates. Given Posada’s age, the chance of another injury is high, this year and next year and for however long his career lasts. It’s nice that the Yankees have Yogi Berra, but they need an Elston Howard to get by as well, or at least a Charlie Silvera. They don’t have that, and it was an obvious need — we talked about it in this space all winter.

I just want to repeat something I wrote this morning, because I see in the comments for that entry someone talking about Jose Molina as the awesomest backup of all-time or somesuch thing. Not so much. There’s no arguing he’s a good defender and very tough for opponents to run on, but he just doesn’t reach base enough to play with any regularity. Reaching base is the basis of offense — a team can’t score runs if the hitters don’t reach base. Molina’s career OBP is .277. It is, no matter how you slice it, dice it, adjust it, the 11th-worst OBP of the last 25 years.

Remember Alvaro Espinoza and how little he hit? He reached base more often. Alfredo Griffin once took four walks in a full season of play. He reached base more often. Rey Ordonez’s bat was the joke of the league when he played with the Mets. He reached base more often. You know how my YES colleague John Flaherty likes to make fun of his offensive abilities during many broadcasts? He reached base more often. If you reduce the population solely to catchers, Molina has the sixth-lowest OBP of the last 25 years.

Giving a hitter of this quality anything like regular playing time is extremely damaging regardless of his defense, because the offensive losses outweigh the defensive gains. If the Yankees are going to reap the benefits of having Posada, his bat, they’re going to have to find a better way of dealing with the costs of having Posada, occasional, perhaps lengthy, unavailability.

…The Yankees called up Frankie Cervelli. He seems spectacularly unlikely to hit, but might actually get on base more often than Molina. Yes, this is faint praise.

I’VE SUGGESTED THIS BEFORE…
The Diamondbacks aren’t going anywhere, their bullpen is egregious, and they don’t seem to have much use for 25-year-old backstop Miguel Montero, a career .239/.310/.412 hitter to this point. In 444 career at bats he’s hit 24 doubles and 17 home runs. He’s walked 44 times and has struck out 95 times. In the minors through 2006, he batted .291/.359/.467. He’s not the next Bill Dickey by any means, but he’s overqualified to be a pure reserve and is underappreciated by his current franchise. There might be a match there if the Yankees are willing to part with a pitcher or two. Just sayin’. 

The around (and about)

Mets 6, Braves 4: Strange game for John Maine, a quality start despite six walks in six innings. He and Mike Pelfrey are the dark spots when one considers the team’s ability to win the division. Maine has been all over the map and given Pelfrey’s strikeout-walk rates, he’s not pitching hurt so much as pitching dead… Carlos Beltran doesn’t get enough credit in general, but in some towns they’d be collecting funds to raise a statue to him given his .400/.500/.611 start. In New York you never hear a thing about it.

Nationals 9, Astros 4: In which the Nats avoid the humiliation of losing to Brian Moehler, which seemed a sure thing through five innings. Washington played something like it’s “A” lineup — Guzman, Johnson, Zimmerman, Dunn, Dukes, Kearns, Flores, Anderson Hernandez — and if you squint you can see a good offense in there, one that has been about league average this year and should continue to produce as the season goes on. Unfortunately, pitching remains a concept… Astros third basemen are hitting a combined .316/.391/.389, a product of the immortal platoon of Blum and Keppinger.

Brewers 7, Pirates 4: The Pirates sink to a game under .500, as the natural laws of the universe reassert themselves. Andy LaRoche, one of those plotlines we’ve been following, hit his first home run. Nyjer Morgan dropped his average under .300, and it will be interesting to see when or if the Pirates react as his offense continues to stagnate. J.J. Hardy: .167/.234/.286. Now that’s a slump. Note that Trevor Hoffman picked up his fourth save and has yet to allow a run in five innings, a nice (albeit small sample) turnaround from last year, when it seemed as if his declining fastball no longer sufficiently set off his magic changeup. He now leads Mariano Rivera 558 saves to 487. Given the looks of the active leader list, he and Rivera are going to be the only two pitchers with 500 saves for quite awhile. The closest, youngest pitcher is the Mets’ Francisco Rodriguez. If he finishes the year with 42 saves, he’ll have 250, placing him more than half a decade away even at an average of 40 saves a year. His mechanics argue that he won’t be around that long.

Twins 7, Tigers 2: In their last 10 games, the Tigers have hit .226/.290/.377, and yet they’ve split those games. The team ERA during that stretch is deceptive; it’s 3.74, which looks good, but the Tigers have played poor D, resulting in 14 unearned runs in that span. The club has allowed 5.2 runs per game. They’ve scored 42 runs and allowed 51, which is to say they’ve been very lucky to win as many games as they have. On the Twins’ side, Francisco Liriano, who a lot of writers were (inexplicably) touting for the Cy Young award in preseason polls, had his first truly strong start of the season. Maybe he rolls from here, maybe, Jake, it was just the Tigers.

Indians 9, Jays 7: Kerry Wood wouldn’t be my closer, but the Indians went Woodless last year and didn’t find any alternatives, hence the defrocked Cub being hired in the first place. Matt LaPorta picked the perfect time to get his first hit, a home run that ended a Brian Tallet shutout. Jays second line pitching — and it’s all second-line right now, but for the occasional Halliday for good behavior… I keep reading about how it is “baseball’s shame” that Cito Gaston was unwanted for so many years. Shame, shmame: Gaston developed an odd case of public hostility to his own best prospects, negating whatever clubhouse touch he had, and that’s all he had, because as a tactician he never pushed a button. He played one lineup every day and let them hit. His job stopped when he wrote out the lineup card, and he wrote out the lineup card on opening day. Sure, the Jays are doing well now, but it’s always dangerous to assume “after therefore because.” Maybe Gaston has changed, but more likely the Jays have — and it’s all transient anyway.

Orioles 8, Rays 4: Scott Kazmir, who I thought might break through this year (there’s my preseason poll confession, though I only ranked him third among my Cy Hopefuls) has been no fun at all, and the Rays toss a game to the Adam Eaton-led O’s that they really should have won. Not much else to say except that the Rays had better find the stick before Evan Longoria cools off-he’s not likely to hit .360 all year long.

Marlins 3, Reds 2: It took 14 for the Reds to make a fatal error. It must hurt to play 4.5 hours in front of the tired remnants of a crowd that (officially) was only 10,825 to begin with.

Cubs 4, Giants 2: Making a long story short, the Giants walks the ballpark and lose, Jonathan Sanchez failing to find the strike zone after a good start to the season. Note Pedro Sandoval, the Giants’ version of Robinson Cano (the third base/catcher version, that is). He’s hitting .322/.365/.500, and despite four walks, he can really do this, the usual Cano disclaimers about wavering batting averages notwithstanding. Perhaps Cano has been frightened into changing his ways, and we have to come up with a new set of disclaimers, something about not operating certain ballplayers near open flames.

Royals 3, White Sox 0: Another start, another Zack Greinke shutout, and one of the game’s best stories gets even better. If he could get the Cy Young award right now, I wouldn’t mind the rest of the season being called off. That sounds like hyperbole, but the guy has had to overcome a lot, and now that he’s doing so well it’s trying to worry about whether he’ll keep overcoming it. As a side note, the White Sox continue to sink, but we knew that was going to happen.

Phillies 6, Cardinals 1: Rick Ankiel is a lucky man to be walking today; if you saw the video, you’d think he had broken his neck the way it bent when he hit the wall. In baseball terms, the Cards are in good shape if he’s out for a little bit because of Colby Rasmus, but Ankiel is already out of the hospital and they may not need to do without for long. We could suggest that Rasmus could Wally Pipp Ankiel, but that would be in poor taste just now… Raul Ibanez at Philadelphia: .412/.492/.882, a big change from suppressive Safeco.

Angels 5, Athletics 2: Sometimes it seems as if the A’s last won a game under Connie Mack, but it’s only been two straight losses. Unfortunately they’ve both been in-division, so the impact is disproportionate. Notable, because I like him: Mike Napoli, designated hitter, went 4-for-4 (two doubles, two RBIs) to raise his rates to .364/.493/.673. There are 100 points of batting average there that are going to go away, but Napoli’s Posada-style attack means he’s a force at .260.

Rockies 9, Padres 6: Who will be the first Rockies Hall of Famer? You could make an argument for Larry Walker, who was an excellent player before and after, but Todd Helton seems more likely. Injuries have eroded his power game, but he now has his average up to .333 and will pass 2,000 hits in good style this year. Sure, like all Rockies he’s something of a park effect, but that doesn’t make him illegitimate; it would only disqualify him if every Rockies player hit like Helton, and we know they don’t. Seems to me that being able to exploit your environment is a real skill.

Dodgers 7, Diamondbacks 2: Arizona is averaging 3.8 runs of offense per game, and that’s saying something considering their overly friendly ballpark. It seems unlikely to improve by terribly much… If the Dodgers’ outfielders keep up their present work, they’d be on the short list for greatest single-season outfield of all time. Ironic given that two-thirds of the crew had difficulty getting past Mr. Torre last spring.

Rangers 6, Mariners 5: I’m trying to think of something clever to say about Junior Griffey’s inflamed colon, but perhaps sympathy is the best gesture. I remember when Tony Gwynn missed time with kidney stones I thought, “Wuss.” Then I got kidney stones myself, repeatedly, and I’ve been mentally apologizing to Gwyn
n ever since. Anyway, Felix Hernandez only wishes he could blame a are off-day on his colon. The Rangers went a game over .500 with this win, and keep an eye on ’em — Derek Holland is in the Majors, Neftali Feliz will be along as soon as he puts things together at Triple-A, but even if Feliz stays down all year, the Rangers are going to win the AL West. 

All rain means all A-Rod

arod_250_050409.jpgWriting for YES as I do, I run the risk of being labeled a pro-Rod shill if I defend Alex Rodriguez too vigorously. And yet, I’ve been a Selena Roberts detractor for years, because whenever she picked up her pen to write about baseball as a New York Times columnist I tended to become ill. I go out of my way not to attack fellow writers out of a sense of professional courtesy, but when Roberts wrote passages such as —  

At 42, Beane didn’t invent sabermetrics, a sci-fi word formed from S.A.B.R., the Society of American Baseball Research [sic] (a k a The No-Life Institute). But with its philosophy filtered through his Ivy League predecessor in Oakland, Sandy Alderson, Beane applies the tenets of numeric efficiency found in the stapled baseball abstracts of the 70’s fringe writer Bill James.

 — she sunk so far below professional standards that it removed any obligation I might have felt. Anti-intellectualism and schoolyard, ad hominem attacks aren’t deserving of professional courtesy, and if she thinks Bill James is a fringe writer (those “stapled baseball abstracts” quickly gave way to bestselling mass market paperbacks and hardcovers), well, she is fringe ignorant. Another baseball passage that sent me running for the bathroom was written when Roberts imagined that Tony Clark was in a competition with Jason Giambi for playing time.

She sided with Clark. “At the plate, Giambi is a withering vision of power… with an on-base percentage of .376, which would be impressive in ‘Moneyball’ wisdom but falls flat in Yankees logic considering he is paid to produce runs, not draw walks.” Walks produce runs, period, but never mind. Roberts also argued that Giambi’s weakness with the glove meant that he was, “not the Giambi that anyone expected when the Yankees seduced him with the perfume of cash in 2001.” If Roberts expected Jason Giambi to be Don Mattingly around the bag when the Yankees acquired him, she was the only one. As I wrote at the time, going after Giambi for his defense is a bit like saying that Mark Twain was a bad writer because he looked terrible in a bikini. It wasn’t anything anyone ever expected of him.

Roberts has a weak track record in terms of thinking and knowledge of baseball, and she also led the charge against the Duke lacrosse players in the 2006 rape case, the one that ended with the prosecutor who brought charges being discharged. As Jason Whitlock wrote on Saturday, Roberts has never been called to account for these columns. Among her last words on the subject: “No one would want an innocent Duke player wronged or ruined by false charges — and that may have occurred on Nifong’s watch — but the alleged crime and the culture are mutually exclusive… A dismissal doesn’t mean forget everything. Amnesia would be a poor defense to the next act of athlete privilege.”

Yes, let’s look on the bright side, because jocks having slightly more restrained keg parties makes calling innocent young men rapists worthwhile.

I don’t trust Roberts’ judgment, I don’t trust her understanding of baseball, and I don’t trust her motives in writing a book about Alex Rodriguez that surely would not exist were it not intended to be a hit piece. If Rodriguez was juicing in high school or kindergarten, it goes to character, not performance, and we have had countless reasons to know that he’s not Mother Theresa in the clubhouse or off the field. Neither were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, et al. Cobb’s reward was to die friendless, Ruth and Mantle died young, the causes of their cancer probably not unrelated to their youthful carousing, and Williams’ own son had him decapitated and stuck in a freezer.

On the field, they all won their pennants, and for now that should be our main area of interest in regards to Mr. Rodriguez, because the personality stuff is off the slightest relevance. If Derek Jeter loves or hates Rodriguez matters less than this basic equation: Jeter singles and Rodriguez hits a home run. That’s the only relationship, the only trust that needs to be between them — and needs to be between Rodriguez and us.

If Rodriguez used steroids in high school, that tells us a little more about Rodriguez the man but nothing of substance about Rodriguez the ballplayer. If he used HGH as a Yankees, well, HGH seems to help athletes with recovery time and healing, not performance. So does aspirin. Move on. Xavier Nady is having platelets shot into his elbow. The dividing line between these two therapies is entirely arbitrary.

As for Roberts’ allegations of Rodriguez tipping pitches as a Ranger, they had best be better sourced than her work on the Duke case. According to SI.com, “Roberts said that over the course of a couple years, some people with the Rangers began to detect a pattern whereby Rodriguez would appear to be giving away pitch type and location to hitters, always middle infielders who would then be able to repay him in kind when he was at the plate, with his body movement.”

It is extraordinary to think that “some people” would notice this and not alert management as to the practice. Unless there is videotape evidence, or Roberts’ sources are willing to come forward and explain why they sat on their knowledge that Rodriguez was damaging his own pitchers, this must be dismissed as the worst kind of hearsay. That Roberts knows relatively little about baseball must be considered here — her credulity and our skepticism must be of equal proportion.

Rodriguez and his all-too-evident feet of clay are being attacked by a not particularly knowledgeable writer in a way that hurts the player and the game without adding any illumination. Rodriguez should not be made to carry the banner for the steroids era, one which few sportswriters are willing to treat with anything like fairness anyway. Until the mainstream writers are willing to examine in a realistic way what we really know about the impact of steroids on performance, their metaphorically running down Main Street shouting “Cheater! Cheater!” does nothing but add heat where there should be light.

For the thousandth time: the players broke the rules, but they did not rewrite the record books, not A-Rod, not even Barry Bonds. You can’t prove it logically, you can’t prove it by inference, and you can’t prove it medically. Roberts has damaged an already damaged man by wielding a very blunt instrument. Hooray for her, hooray for us for paying attention.