Just a little patience against Phils, for Swish

Before Game 1, I suggested that the Yankees’ trademark patience would test Cliff Lee’s exemplary control. Score that one a clean miss. Unlike just about every other pitcher in the biz, Cliff Lee, who had the demeanor of someone who had just enjoyed a Prozac cocktail, did not bend, did not waver for even a moment. He threw nine innings of mistake-free baseball, never giving the Yankees a chance. A team that walked 38 times in six games against the Angels did not earn one free pass in the game.

You could dismiss this performance as just one game, and say, “Let’s see the next guy do that,” but for two problems. One, the bullpen took a close game and turned it into a rout. Two, Pedro Martinez. Martinez isn’t the old most-dominant-pitcher-ever Martinez, but the new version, which throws strikes and pulls strings, is still plenty good. He completely embarrassed the Dodgers in the NLCS. I will again cling to the belief that the Yankees’ lineup isn’t the Dodgers’ lineup, isn’t a National League lineup, and that lefties hit Martinez reasonably well in the future Hall of Famer’s brief regular season tune-up. The Yankees have also done good work against him (and bad, that also) in postseasons past.

Lee’s start and Pedro’s excellent control points up a way in which this Phillies rotation can take the Yankees’ best trait, their patience, and turn it against them. The Yankees like to work counts and take ball four. Phillies starters just don’t issue ball four. As a whole, Phillies starters averaged just 2.5 walks a game. Lee walked just 1.1 batters per nine innings as a Phillie, Martinez 1.6, Cole Hamels 2.0. The National League average was 3.5 walks per nine innings (the American League was roughly the same). Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ, the club’s wildest starters, walked 2.7 and 3.0 respectively. This staff is simply very good at throwing strikes, and if the Yankees play their usual game — and it’s not advisable that they start hacking, because that doesn’t work either — they may find themselves facing some long counts.

As for the bullpen failure, it had limited bearing on the outcome of the game — you could imagine that if the relievers had held serve, Charlie Manuel might have been more inclined to go to his bullpen — but since the Yankees never made up the initial deficit that resulted from the CC Sabathia-Chase Utley confrontations, it didn’t matter. The real impact is in the uncertainty about the bullpen unit as a whole, which seems to have gone down the rabbit hole this October. Perhaps the relative inexperience of the unit has got them twitchy. Whatever the reason, they have to get over it quickly, particularly Phil Hughes, or this Series is going to end a lot faster than anyone anticipated. Worse, a bad performance could mean a winter of reaction from the Yankees’ front office, chasing veteran relief hands at high cost. This is a subject for another day, but that would be an extremely counterproductive strategy that has rarely worked for any GM that has tried it. It’s a quick path to a job on ESPN, however temporary.

We shouldn’t overstate the impact of one game. Two is a different matter. A lot of pressure falls on A.J. Burnett’s right arm. Does he come ready to dance, or does the wild, uncertain version of the pitcher show up? Mister Cream Pie could do more to improve the Yankees’ morale tonight than all of the cans of shaving cream he’s gone through put together — or he could break it.

I buy that Nick Swisher needs a mental health break, but considering yesterday’s performance to be part of his slump isn’t exactly fair given the way Lee pitched. After Lee, the whole roster might need a mental health break. In addition, Swisher continues to get into good counts, working the pitcher, which has value in itself if you want to get to the Phillies’ relievers already. In any case, Jerry Hairston is a bizarre choice to substitute for him. I’m thrilled that Hairston has had 10 hits in 27 at-bats against Martinez IN A PERIOD THAT BEGAN IN 1999 AND ENDED FIVE YEARS AGO. Martinez ain’t the same Martinez, Hairston ain’t the same Hairston, and the relevance is extremely, extremely debatable. As with Jose Molina’s time in the game, we’ll assume that this decision won’t have more than an at-bat or two’s worth of impact, but wow, Coffee Joe, that’s an odd call. You readers know I believe in the stats, but you can’t be a slave to the numbers. You also have to THINK.

More to come…


  1. steevec@eden.rutgers.edu

    It’s obvious that Swisher needed to benched for at least one game. It is also obvious that his benching is justified by his accumulated stats and not one game against Lee. I’m not buying this notion of him having value working the count. Working the count really got him far against Fuentes, didn’t it? baseball(offense) is about scoring runs. At this point Hairston cannot be be worse than Swisher. Hairston’s stats against Pedro can be used against playing Hairston since it’s been so long, but it can also be used as why Hairston should play. Nobody would argue that Pedro was probably the best pitcher in baseball most of the times Hairston faced him. Hairston having these kind of numbers against him when he(Pedro) was dominant, is itself a really good reason why Hairston should get a shot tonight. Personally, i thought Girardi would go to Gardner. Someone like Gardner would have been especially valuable in last night’s game. Too bad the Yanks didn’t get anyone on base when it mattered. Cliff Lee was comfortable all night long and having something like Gardner at first base could have at least made him more uncomfortable.

  2. neyankee

    Good point about Gardner, steevec. FWIW, the LoHud blog reports that the Yankees “decided to go with Hairston instead of Gardner “because of his numbers against Martinez” (!) and also made a case for Hinkse instead of Hairston based on 8 hits in 30 at bats against Martinez (with no mention of the time period).

    Knowing nothing about anything in baseball, I can only say I feel better about Hairston in the lineup than Gardner but I also feel either of them can do better than Swisher today. Tomorrow? That’s another story. This is going to be a big night!

  3. amdream23@yahoo.com

    Seems to me that Hairston acquitted himself pretty well. I am still not sure why you are so enamored of Swisher. He walks a lot and his stats aren’t bad but to me in key situations, he does not come through. There has to be a reason why he is on his third club in a fairly short career so far.
    I remember ’03 when the regular Yankee right fielder was Karim Garcia — Swisher seems to fit the Garcia mold.
    I think even Hinske would do better than Swish.

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