Results tagged ‘ Alex Rodriguez ’
STRANGE DAYS INDEED
Good evening, campers. I spent part of my day in a drawer undergoing a PET scan. I must have been a very troubled sweater in a former life because once in my overwhelming instinct is to get out. The good news is that I am out and that this sweater was given a clean bill, freeing what remains of my brain to consider baseball again.
The 1927 Yankees went 21-1 against the St. Louis Browns, one of two doormat teams in the league that season. Given the outcome of the late series with the Nationals, it is apparent that this ain’t 1927. Ironically, given the focus on pitching this year, starting and bullpen, the failure was largely offensive — when you score two runs in two games, you’re not going to beat anyone. There has been something like an obsessive grabbing onto the supposed fact that the Yankees supposedly can’t beat a pitcher they’ve never seen before, but that isn’t the issue so much as the absence of Derek Jeter from the lineup both nights, the absence of Jorge Posada in another, and the cooling bats of certain key players. Nor should we ignore the randomness of fate — if Robbie Cano had put the ball in play in any way other than where he did on Wednesday, the Yankees would have taken two of three games and the series would not have held such a bitter aftertaste.
Now comes the news that Alex Rodriguez will be taking two days off, his first since coming off of the disabled list. The way Joe Girardi has handled Rodriguez has been strange — you have a player coming off of a major injury, who was given an incomplete fix for that injury. That would seem to require handling with kid gloves whether the player liked it or not. There is, I think, a mutual enabling going on here, where Rodriguez did not ask out until now, and Girardi, who knows who he would have to list at third base in the alternative, did not ask him to sit out. Girardi’s job, after all, is to win today, and the way Rodriguez hit initially, quickly piling up nine home runs, was helping him do that. Perhaps Girardi needs to think more globally than that, but given that just a few weeks ago there were rumors about his job security, it might be impossible for him to do so.
The fault lies not in the stars but in the front office, which never gave Girardi a viable A-Rod substitute once it was clear that the player required surgery. Cody Ransom bombed and got hurt, Angel Berroa offers nothing in the way of offense or defense, and Ramiro Pena, while a very good glove, is not a hitter. Scranton’s roster is clogged with the likes of Eric Duncan, Justin Leone, Chris Malec, and a rehabbing Ransom, none of whom could be misconstrued as Major League regulars on the darkest of nights. Trenton’s third baseman is Marcos Vechionacci, who shed his prospect status what seems like eons ago.
Given this dearth of viable hot corner men and a clear need for hot corner men, it was incumbent upon the front office to make a deal for a viable Rodriguez substitute. Recently, I have been inveighing against the team making a hasty trade for a reliever, bringing up Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen. The reverse of this is that giving up Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell is never a bad thing, and if you can’t get a Bagwell, any Tom, Dick, or DeRosa will do. It’s not a move anyone would want to make given a choice, but the Yankees have had a very finely balanced operation so far, and there is every reason to think that such a move will keep paying dividends. Rodriguez’s recovery may be lengthy, and his swing may continue to be affected. His energy level may continue to be low. His range has clearly been affected, suggesting an ongoing need for a late-inning substitute. Plus, there may be other injuries to other players.
The Yankees are now 10-7 in one-run games. They could just as easily be 7-10 — that’s the way one-run games work. They are basically coin flips. As we saw on Wednesday, one-run games can turn on one key double play, one missed opportunity. Either you get the big hit or the big out or you don’t. When the Yankees have to rely on an Angel Berroa, today, tomorrow and in the future, they’re reducing the chances that they will get that big hit or make that diving stop.
If you’re going to go through the season without winning a game over the Red Sox, you’d better win every game that you can. They didn’t do this in the Nationals series. Without some help for A-Rod, they might not do it in the future. This is no time for the usual blithe assumptions that a no-name player will rise to the occasion, Rey Sanchez- or Luis Sojo-style. The time to go hunt down a safety net is now.
LET’S KILL TWO!
If the Yankees hitting into three key double plays on Tuesday night bugged you, if you were awake to be bugged, then know that it’s about par for the course for these Yankees, who have gone for the two-outs-on-one-swing sale in about 11.6 percent of their opportunities this year, the seventh-worst rate in the majors this year. The Mariners lead the majors, hitting into a double play in 13.6 percent of their chances. This is kind of amazing, as the Mariners also have the lowest on-base percentage in the majors. They reach base less than anyone else, then kill the few runners they get faster than anyone else.
What’s fascinating about the Yankees’ poor performance in double play situations is that for the most part, it’s not the regulars who are doing the damage. This year, the average AL batter is hitting into a twin killing 10.6 percent of the time (the NL rate is almost exactly 10 percent). For example, Derek Jeter has hit into four double plays in 25 opportunities, which is 16 percent. That looks bad, but it’s not, really — one fewer and he’d be right at the league average. The same goes for Melky Cabrera, who has also pounded into four DPs in 25 chances. Brett Gardner, with two in 17 chances, is at the league average, which is surprising given his speed, but less so when one considers that he hits more ground balls than any Yankee except Derek Jeter. The worst Yankees regular is Robby Cano, who has hit into five in 28 chances, or 17.9 percent, but again, that’s not a horror-movie number — Geovany Soto and Mike Lowell are at 30 percent in a significant number of chances (29 and 40, respectively). Several Yankees have actually done a terrific job at staying out of the double play. Nick Swisher, last night’s DP villain, has hit into only two in 33 chances. Johnny Damon has only two. Hideki Matsui and Mark Teixeira are both around six percent.
It’s actually the guys who haven’t played much, or played too much due to injuries, that are driving the Yankees’ into a high number of twin killings at bat. Together, Cody Ransom, Xavier Nady, Kevin Cash, Angel Berroa, Jose Molina, and Francisco Cervelli have hit into 11 double plays in 44 chances, or 45 percent. There’s not much that Joe Girardi can do to address the situation except not play those guys — he already calls as many or more hit-and-run plays as any manager in the game. Unfortunately, he hasn’t always had the choice not to play them, and the existence or continuation of Ransom, Cash, Berroa, and Molina as Yankees was the general manager’s call — but now we’re away from talking about the double play and once more in the realm of depth, so never mind.
In the short term, it’s little consolation that the Yankees blew a chance to take first place in part because of missed offensive opportunities, but at least you can be sure that it was a bit of a poorly timed fluke on the part of two of the three. There’s also an “on the other hand,” which is that when Jorge Posada comes back the team’s double play rate will actually pick up, because Posada runs like the 37-year-old catcher he is. Fortunately, Posada does other things with the bat that more than make up it. You can’t say that about the 11-for-44ers above.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Orioles 7, Blue Jays 2: Just over 10,000 showed up at Camden Yards to see the Orioles deal the Jays their eighth straight loss. During the streak, Jays batters are hitting .251/.306/.331, which is very bad but isn’t too different from what Padres hitters did during their recent winning streak. Of course, the Padres had great pitching, whereas the Jays have allowed nearly six runs a game. No doubt you’ve heard that Matt Wieters finally comes up on Friday. With Wieters, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis the Orioles are finally changing, and none too soon… I’ll talk more about Wednesday’s game in our next entry, but it should be noted that the Jays dropped their ninth straight to the Orioles in daytime action, the pen being unable to follow up Roy Halladay’s strong start. The Jays are now just four games over .500 and the division is wide open.
Mets 6, Nationals 1: The Nats DFA’d Daniel Cabrera. As Bill Ladson reported at MLB.com, GM Mike Rizzo said, “I looked at the execution of the performance and it wasn’t up to par. I was tired of watching it.” You have to appreciate a candid GM. Among other things, this should inoculate the Yankees from having to face the spectacularly tedious Mr. Cabrera during interleague play (as Bob Uecker said in “Major League,” “Ball three… Ball four… Ball eight…”). Adam Dunn homered again… Just sayin’. Another home run for Gary Sheffield, and he’s now batting .291/.430/.535. Talk about getting something for nothing, and a needed something now that the Mets are in the position of having to play 20-year-old prospect Fernando Martinez, who hasn’t actually looked very prospect-y in years.
Reds 6, Astros 4: Another three-hit night for Miguel Tejada, but that was most of the fun as Roy Oswalt is no longer the lucky rabbit of yore. Among the most unexpected events in baseball this season: a Laynce Nix renaissance in left field for the Reds, which is kind of like a Rod Stewart renaissance taking over for the late Joe Strummer in a Clash reunion tour. It’s just not something you’d ever think about.
Indians 5, Rays 1: Can’t tell a lie — Carl Pavano killed. Four Indians hit home runs, three of which probably shouldn’t have been in the lineup, but sometimes you win with your worst foot forward. Both of these clubs lost key players yesterday, with Jason Bartlett hitting the DL with a sprained ankle, and Grady Sizemore may take a seat with a left elbow that’s feeling poorly. The Indians shuffled Matt LaPorta off the roster to get another center fielder up to the bigs, so my criticism of them yesterday was in error.
Phillies 5, Marlins 3: The much-denigrated (at least by me) Joe Blanton had one of the best starts of his career, shutting out the Marlins for seven frames, striking out 11. That has far more to do with the Marlins with Blanton, as their defining characteristic as an offense is the strikeout. Make that double if Hanley Ramirez’s groin sidelines him for more than 30 seconds.
Cubs 6, Pirates 1: Cut short by rain, and you can expect that Lou Piniella danced in it, maybe more like Roger Daltrey closing out “Quadrophenia” than Gene Kelly — this win got the team that was going to end the 100-year-old dry spell to the break-even point. Elements of the Cubs that haven’t disappointed this year: Kosuke Fukudome, Ted Lilly, Johnny Evers. Evers in particular has done exactly what was expected of him.
Cardinals 8, Brewers 1: The Cards are pitching at about 20 percent above league average, the mark of not only a good pitching team, but a staff on the verge of having a great season. Whether the Cards can improve that much more I don’t know, but in this division they might not have to. Extra-credit to Adam Wainwright for his solo home run, thereby batting in as many runs as he allowed in seven innings.
Twins 5, Red Sox 2: One of the season’s great flukes — Nick Blackburn striking out seven Red Sox. Blackburn never strikes out seven anybodies. Jacoby Ellsbury has a 21-game hitting streak going, during which he’s batting .333/.366/.417. During the streak, he’s stolen 10 bases, been caught four times, and has driven in four runs.
6, Tigers 1: How does Jose Guillen have a .412 OBP? Not “how”– that’s like asking where babies come from–I mean, “Why?” …KC shortstops, principally Mike Aviles (now on the DL) are hitting .183/.214/.250 this year. With anything from the position, they might be leading the division right now. It also hurts that David DeJesus is having the worst season of his career. Haven’t mentioned another fine Zack Greinke start, and I won’t, except to say that for some, “potential” is a curse. It’s grand to see someone survive it.
Dodgers 7, Rockies 1: And there was much gnashing of teeth in Denver given the club’s .400 winning percentage, or maybe it was just losing to Eric Milton (and congratulations to the former Yankees’ draftee for making it back). Andre Ethier in May: .190/.298/.266, following up a .306/.423/.553. Shades of Melky ’08! That’s not to suggest that Ethier won’t be back, but that Melky should have been, or maybe that we just don’t know what turns a hitter on or off–the recipe is probably something like one-third mental, one-third physical, and one-third luck (sprinkle lightly with shredded cheese, serve over pasta).
Diamondbacks 6, Padres 5: Thus endeth the Padres’ winning streak, as Max Scherzer strikes out 10 in seven innings… Mark Reynolds is just off of last year’s 204-strikeout pace; he’d finish with 202 in the same number of at-bats. Scherzer is only 2-7 in his brief major league career, but his ERA is 3.21, and he’s K’d 119 in 106.2 innings. Of the current roster, Scherzer and Justin Upton will be part of the next great ‘Backs team, but you can’t be certain of anyone else. At .173/.220/.313, Chris Young has to be one of the biggest failures to launch in recent baseball history, a kid who came up with all the tools but didn’t develop a centimeter from where he started.
White Sox 4, Angels 2: Big day for the Nix family, as Jayson hit two home runs to go with Laynce’s one. What is it with that family and the letter “y?” Big Scrabble fans? Bart Colon’s win pushed his quality start percentage up to 33 percent, still well below average… Bobby Abreu hit his first home run of the season.
Athletics 4, Mariners 3: The A’s did all their scoring in one frame, Jason Giambi driving in two runs on a single as the Seattle pen tossed away six shutout innings from Jarrod Washburn. With Kenji Johjima off for a long stay on the DL, the M’s didn’t call up Jeff Clement, batting .309/.382/.533 at Triple-A Tacoma. The guy has his limitations — he’s an offensive catcher with a big swing — but given that the M’s are by far the worst offensive club on the circuit , you’d think they would go for a little more offense. Oddly, for a team that can’t hit, the Mariners have tried the fewest hitters in the American League. They’re standing pat, even though their lineup looks a lot like that of the ’54 Pirates.
Giants 4, Braves 0: And nothing to say about it except, “Lincecum!” Also, every time I load up the news on the Internet, there’s something about “Jon and Kate.” I have not the foggiest who they are, and don’t think I’m going to try to find out. Jon, Kate, Bread, Circuses — there are bigger fish to fry, like baseball (?).
THE LAWS HAVE CHANGED
The timing of today’s installment is brought to you by the drive-through line at the local major pharmacy chain store. I suppose there’s no rule book that establishes basic courtesy for the drive-through line, but “drive-through,” taken as literally as you can take it under the circumstances, suggests you drive through, without stopping if that were possible — just roll down the window and the clerk heaves the bag at you. Anything transaction takes would seem to require more standing around than that should require a trip inside the store. It’s just common sense and a bit of courtesy. If you need to discuss the history of Western civilization with the pharmacist, park it. You won’t be idling up clouds of exhaust while holding hostage those who just want to pick up or drop off a prescription. Think about it: would you order French fries for 100 at the McDonald’s drive-through? Better yet, would you ask for a treatise on the potato starting with the primal atom, then order? If you’re guilty of this, please turn yourself in immediately.
REVIEWING THE LAST ENTRY (WITH A FEW REACTIONS TO THE COMMENTS)
I missed a day due to a bad reaction to some medication — I know I’ve quoted Mickey Mantle’s “Kid, don’t be like me” many times before, but it’s worth saying again. Not everyone chooses how they get cancer, and I sure as heck ain’t complaining about surviving it, but my time is no longer my own, ironically so I can be sure of having more time. Hey, you over there! Drop that cigarette! This is not a lifestyle you want to choose! Got it? I’m begging you here. Anyway, that gave the last post a chance to sit around while the Yankees won their seventh straight game in grand style. Before we get to that, stats for the winning streak: .271/.358/.521 for the offense, with 13 home runs, one every 18.2 at-bats. The batters have also picked up a walk every 8.9 plate appearances — the league is taking a pass just once every 11 PAs. On the pitching side, the club has allowed just 21 runs in its last 66 innings.
After five straight wins, I wrote (as you can see below) that it wasn’t yet conclusive that the Yankees had turned a major corner (is there such a thing as a minor corner?). You can pull five games out of any team’s schedule and get a picture of that team that isn’t necessarily accurate, even — or especially — if they are all wins or losses. As the old saying goes, you never look as good as when you’re at your best or as bad as you do when you’re at your worst. Now, since I wrote those words, the Yankees have tacked on another two wins to make it seven straight victories, and those doubts can be eased a bit. And yet, yet, yet, the walks by the pitching staff, the bullpen, the lack of depth are all problems that the team will have to overcome in more than seven games, but over the rest of the season.
Pointing this out isn’t negativity, it isn’t pessimism, it’s your humble old commentator trying to do more than cast runes and read chicken entrails. I’m all for feeling good and going with the flow and enjoying it while it lasts, but I don’t like being taken by surprise, particularly when it’s my job not to be taken by surprise. As such, my method has to be to take theories like, “The Yankees have won seven in a row, so it’s a straight line from here to the next championship” and test them looking for strengths and weaknesses. I figure out what I can, then report back to you so you can test your judgment against mine.
Speaking of which, “4everbronx” says, “Whew, it’s a good thing they didn’t lose those games…What would your reaction have been?”
Almost the same. One-run games are, on the cosmic level, coin flips. This seems especially true when a team’s bullpen is as questionable as the Yankees’ pen has been to this point. If we were talking about a hypothetical pen with Bruce Sutter handing off to Rollie Fingers handing off to Dennis Eckersley (or maybe even Jeff Nelson to Mike Stanton to Mariano Rivera), I would be more accepting of these games as indicators of a repeatable skill on the part of the club. Perhaps now that Brian Bruney is back they will be. For the most part, though, when you look over the history of the game, one-run decisions aren’t something you can extrapolate from.
Obviously it is better for the Yankees to have won these seven games than not, but prior to that they weren’t exactly burning up the league. The Yankees have played 39 games, not seven, and those other 32, however mixed the results, can’t be totally discounted. If the Yankees of the last seven games are substantially different from the Yankees of the previous month’s worth of games, we have to be able to articulate why. I can give you two reasons, actually: A-Rod is back, and Mark Teixeira is finally hot (Teixeira claims the two are not unrelated). However, that doesn’t address the pitching side of the equation.
Despite this, as I suggested in that last entry, some will want to view this winning streak as a matter of character. A seemingly irate “yankee apologist” writes: “As a D-1 college baseball player whose career was derailed by injury I can tell you first hand or anyone else who ever played the game at a high level a win is a win no matter how it happens. If you don’t think that these wins have anything to do with grit and a never say die attitude coupled with some big hits from some key guys (damon, arod) then you’re not watching. If u think damon and arod were the beneficiaries of wind aided homers then that’s a joke. These wins build character and ingrain the players’ minds that this can happen for them at anytime they are trailing late.”
Apologist, I completely buy the last line quoted above. It clearly does and has helped the mood around the team. That the players believe that this is a repeatable thing no doubt helps them repeat it — sometimes. We know, though, that it’s not repeatable all the time or even frequently. Come-from-behind wins in baseball are far more rare than is commonly thought. As such, while winning this way is exciting for everyone, participants and observers alike, it’s not the easiest way to win. Oh, and your saying, “i know u love to call out commenters for bad grammer and spelling and what not, but im so stoned on valium i dont care to spell check, so ridicule me if u want, but ill soon have a law degree so im kinda smart” is perhaps the single best thing that anyone has ever written to me in the ten years the Pinstriped Bible has existed.
As long as we’re delving into the comments, there are a couple on F. Cervelli to take before we close for now. “Paulp15” asks, “So Steve, have to reconsidered Cervelli yet? Or maybe I should ask if you feel you have enough to base an evaluation on him yet? Personally, I think he’s better than Molina, and has shown the ability to lay down a sacrifice, which would be fine for the bottom of the order.” Paulp, I like him better than Jose Molina and Kevin Cash, that’s for sure. Still, it’s bad practice to get carried away by 27 at-bats and 10 singles. It’s certainly better that he’s hitting .370 than if he was hitting .270 or .170, but it’s .370 with no power and no walks, and I promise you he’s not a legitimate .370 hitter. Except for the occasional Wade Boggs or Tony Gwynn, no one is. The question then becomes, when he stops hitting .370, what does he have left to give? This is also, to a lesser extent, the Robby Cano question. With Cervelli, his very limited minor league track record shows very limited power but some selectivity, so you hope that there will indeed be something useful in his bat, but you’d like to see him actually do it. It’s still too early to come to any conclusions, especially optimistic ones. O
n defense, I have no complaints — he’s thrown very well and has been an athletic, active, mobile presence.
JOHNNY DAMON ARMY VS. THE WINKIE GUARD
It’s very difficult to tell when an event you’re witnessing is a matter of luck or true talent. The Yankees are now 6-2 in one-run games, baseball’s best record in such games. This record, propelled by a series of last-minute, walk-off wins, has propelled a five-game winning streak. In the process, the Yankees have been transformed from a rather flat-looking 15-17 team into an electric 20-17 club that seems a good threat to surge to the top of the division. However, it is not certain if what we’ve seen was truly a transformative moment or just a transient moment.
As Bryan Hoch reported at MLB.com, the last time the Yankees made walk-off hits in three consecutive games was late August, 1972, and the last time they had three consecutive walk-off wins against the same club was way back in 1931. You won’t find those years listed on the Bathroom Wall of Champions in right field at Yankee Stadium II–the 1972 club was a mediocre outfit that went 79-76, brought down by weak pitching. The 1931 club boasted a spectacular offense (Ruth, Gehrig, Dickey–you know, those guys) and won 94 games but finished 13 games behind an Athletics club that had, relative to its league, one of the best pitching staffs of all time. In the long run, the big walk-offs did not prove to be steps on the way to a championship, but merely trivia for us to discover at moments such as this one. From our vantage point in the midst of the battle, we can’t know, won’t know until the end of the season, which we’re looking at now, harbinger or happenstance.
Some will be tempted to grab hold of these moments as evidence of superior character, fortitude, dedication, conviction on the part of the Yankees or the specific players attached to them. The presence of Alex Rodriguez on the last will probably suppress the urge on the part of some, but they’ll bend the rules this once while also handing out Medals of Courage to Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon and the Cowardly Lion. “What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk?” Damon asks hopefully.
Those that want to take the cosmic dice roll as a prism through which to view character are welcome to do so, and maybe once in awhile they’ll even see something that’s worth talking about. However, they would be wise not to place any bets on outcomes. The very rarity of these events–the vast majority of the time, the team that goes to the bottom of the ninth losing takes a loss–argues strongly that the last three days are not evidence that the Yankees have turned a corner. While it would be unfair to deprive Damon, Cabrera, and A-Rod credit for their timely hitting, especially Damon, who has been a monster in the clutch (and has also taken to YS II like he thought it was the House that Damon Built), but given similar chances if the next ten series the Yankees play, it’s unlikely that they’ll repeat the feat even once.
We see luck at work on a broader scale when looking at team records over the course of a full season. In a given season, a team’s record in one-run games does not carry over to the next year. Balls drop in on a one-time basis. The wind blows out when you need it only now and again. Now, it does seem to be true that sometimes the wind favors a particular team (fortune favoring the foolish, as Shakespeare wrote) for an unlikely span of time, even the length of a season. Maybe the Yankees have that kind of luck going for them this year, but judging by their lack of ability to deliver key hits before this recent surge, that seems to be asking a lot.
What really jumps out about the last five games after all the drama is pushed aside is the performance of the pitching staff. Its performance was only superficially good. In the 48 innings spanning those give games, the Yankees have allowed just 14 runs, less than three a game. That’s seemingly spectacular, given both the league environment and the performance of the staff to that point in the season. However, there is, here’s that word again, a lot of luck in all of that run prevention. The Yankees walked 32 batters in those 48 innings, six per nine innings, the rate rising to 6.6 over the weekend against the Twins. This is nothing new–the Yankees lead the league in walks allowed and in walks per nine innings (4.3). Given that they are also allowing an average number of hits per nine innings and the second-highest rate of home runs allowed per nine innings, all of these baserunners are more often than not going to translate into big numbers for the opposition. If that didn’t happen against the Twins on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, well, the Twins are not much more than an average offensive team. After Justin Morneau, Jose Mauer, and Jason Kubel, there’s a lot of dross in the their lineup.
Similarly, over the last five games the offense has scored five runs a game. Yes, the hits have been well timed and have included a ton of extra bases, among them four triples and eight home runs, but this is exactly a league-average mark. Give the Yankees an extra bump for facing one of the league’s two best pitching staffs in Toronto in two of those games and you still don’t have cause to rate the lineup as any better than it is.
This entry is not meant to rain on anyone’s parade, especially since for Yankees fans the last three games were no doubt orgasmically exciting. Nothing can take away from that. Nor should the enthusiasm and optimism generated by the current five-game winning streak be taken for granted. It should merely be noted that that the Yankees have miles to go before we can view these events as evidence that the team is ready to pass the Red Sox and Blue Jays. While some will want to call it proof of talent and others character, it’s possible, as Cole Porter wrote, that it was one of those bells that now and then rings–just one of those things.
Ready 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.
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…
Ever 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.
A 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.
Writing 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.
The latest leaks from Selena Roberts’ A-Rod takedown have hit the newsstands, and it’s just endless fun. I mean that sarcastically. I guess it was sadly inevitable that Rodriguez’s “I only used steroids from 2003 to 2005” line was going to be challenged. As I wrote here at the time, Rodriguez’s entire press conference didn’t pass the smell test. Perhaps he should have checked with Roberts first to see if she had more on him before he went out and put the two of them in conflict again.
About the best we can do at this point is to point out again that just about every conclusion drawn about steroids and other so-called performance enhancers is that the enhancement is entirely suppositional. They make you get bigger — provided you work out like a nut. As the book apparently suggests, they can cause gynecomastia, or breasts in males. What they cannot do, and no one has ever proven they can do, not even Barry Bonds, is hit for a higher average or more power. I know that sounds naïve at first glance, but if you think through it reasonably it becomes clear that the size of your muscles are not determinant in baseball. There has to be other stuff going on for a player to succeed, things that require skills and precision. None of that changes the fact that the use of such substances is unethical at best and illegal at worst, and if you want to further revise your opinion of Rodriguez downward a few notches, be my guest.
I suppose that the news that Rodriguez sometimes tipped pitches to pals will get more play at this point, but I wonder if it will be merited. There is an old tradition, going back to the game’s earliest days, of sometimes giving a friend a gift in a game that’s already been decided. You can find countless anecdotes about this kind of thing in baseball history books. What we don’t know is (A) is such a thing still considered acceptable behavior in baseball, and (B) were Rodriguez’s pitchers in on it? If they weren’t, they might have a bone to pick, or a bat.
In the end, there’s not much left for us to do — us being we the spectators and A-Rod — except to persevere, to hope that the past is in the past. If he lacks character, that’s fine. No one says you have to have him over to dinner and he’s probably not going to try to date your daughter. A lot of the great stars were not good people. Some have posited that it was exactly that quality, principally narcissism, that made them great stars. Drive has to be fueled by something, and it might as well be self-regard. In the meantime, the Yankees need him, need him to play like he’s always played (except for the part about runners in scoring position). If he’s clean, this will all go away long before Roberts’ book is remaindered.
And if not, it’s going to become spectacularly tedious, especially at any time that the Yankees aren’t winning and people are looking for stories.
I LOVE MY WIFE
I was looking over Joba Chamberlain’s fine line from last night when my wife came into the room. I pointed out the box score — seven innings, three hits, one run, three walks, six strikeouts, a win. Stefanie looked at it and said, “Yes, but he’d be even better in the bullpen!” and walked away laughing. What made this doubly wonderful is that not only do I have a satirical spouse, which you can’t get just anywhere, but you can find people writing exactly that — no matter how good Joba was in a particular game, he would always have been better doing something else.
I’ll be back later with some additional thoughts on Joba, the season debut of 20-Game Watch (usually 30-Game Watch but we’re not there yet), and the Around section.
THE WEEKEND FROM HELL
Of all the troubling events of the past weekend in Boston, perhaps the most ominous development was Joba Chamberlain’s Friday evening start, in which he pitched like a much older man, walking four and striking out two. Naturally, various broadcast crews spent the weekend wondering if this meant that Chamberlain should be sent back to the bullpen, where he threw harder. Guys: reduced velocity and a loss of control does not indicate that a pitcher is starting or relieving. Reduced velocity and a loss of control indicates that something is wrong. Any argument that Chamberlain is now hoarding his stuff as a starter is purely suppositional and highly unlikely, and Chamberlain’s role is less important at this moment than the possibility that he might be hurt.
MY LATEST THEORY
Steven Jackson is on the roster purely so the Yankees can bring a full complement of players out to the foul line during the national anthem. It is painful to watch Joe Girardi manage games so as to get them into the hands of his so-called dependable veterans, pathologically avoiding the kids now on the roster. This is 180 degrees removed from the Girardi of a year ago, who did so much to revamp the bullpen after years of Joe Torre kiting from veteran to veteran. For some reason, Girardi doesn’t seem to be willing to do it again. Yet, the team isn’t winning and the pen isn’t helping, so whatever he’s trying to do in getting those pitchers reestablished, and in some cases re-reestablished requires rethinking.
WHY THE YANKEES STILL NEED TO ACQUIRE ANOTHER THIRD BASEMAN
Because even if Alex Rodriguez comes back tomorrow, he could be out again the day after. That could be for any reason, not just his hip. A pitch could fracture his hand in his first plate appearance of the season, and the Yankees would be right back where they were. This is what we call insurance. You don’t think your house will burn down tomorrow, but you pay the insurance, just in case. There will be no time this season where it will be safe for the Yankees to have so little depth at the hot corner, just because life is unpredictable. Meanwhile, playing Angel Berroa at third clearly means you’re not altogether serious about winning. Playing Cody Ransom meant that too, but it was marginally worth trying — though not without a safety net. It is stunning how little Yankees management learned from last season’s injuries.
PROBABLY WISHFUL THINKING, BUT…
…If Sidney Ponson could hold the Tigers to three runs over eight innings, as he did on Sunday, the Yankees should be okay in this series.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? In a previous entry, I said that no one can win the NL East. Allow me to add the AL West to that formulation as well.
? Dear Angels: Can the Yankees offer you 1.5 pitchers for your own apparently despised 3B/SS Brandon Wood? With affection, Brian Cashman. Dear Rockies: Can the Yankees offer you .5 pitchers for your own redundant third baseman Jeff Baker? Respectfully, Brian “Manpower Shortage” Cashman. Dear Mike Blowers: All is forgiven. Please come home. With sincere regret, Brian “I Didn’t Work Here Then” Cashman.
? Best wishes to Braves All-Star Brian McCann as he heads for the DL trying to cure his blurred vision. We know from bad vision at the Pinstriped Bible, and we feel for you, Brian. McCann is apparently off for a second Lasik surgery.
? Gavin Floyd was battered by the Blue Jays on Friday night. Given Floyd’s unrealistically low batting average allowed on balls in play last year, forecasting a regression was one of the easiest calls of the offseason…
? I love allmusic.com, because sometimes you just have to know how many bands have covered “Daydream Believer,” “Coconut Grove,” or “Who Put the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?”
? Sometimes I think, “Where would the Royals be without Zack Greinke?” Then a voice answers, “Where are they with him?”
? On the eve of a new Bob Dylan release, a reminder that if you haven’t been with the man on his last three albums, “Time Out of Mind,” “Love and Theft,” and “Modern Times,” you’ve missed a remarkable career renaissance. I’m not certain of Dylan has changed with the times or the times have become strange to the point that Dylan is now able to sing from a timeless American dimension in which civil war soldiers commiserate with hoboes over the Great Depression, both admiring the singing of Charley Patton and Robert Johnson, who are playing just down the line at the next soup kitchen. Many of these songs are fatalistic, but simultaneously reassuring. In the early ’60s, Dylan was an entertainer. In the mid- to late-60s he was angry. It was harder for him to find relevance from the mid-70s through the 90s, but now he’s memory, and boy, do we need memory. “I got my back to the sun ’cause the light is too intense/I can see what everybody in the world is up against/Can’t turn back, you can’t come back, sometimes we push too far/One day you’ll open up your eyes and you’ll see where we are.” Funny thing about history; you can only mourn what you’ve lost if you know what you had, and who in modern times has any use for the lessons of history? Thus the next line of the song: “Sugar Baby, get on down the road/Ain’t got no brains no how/You went years without me/Might as well keep going now.”
? One good sign for Alex Rodriguez is how well Chase Utley and Mike Lowell, both veterans of recent hip surgery, have been hitting. The Yankees have seen the latter’s work firsthand…
? It seems odd how quickly the Twins decided that Carlos Gomez was a defensive replacement rather than a starter, especially when Mike Cuddyer and Delmon Young aren’t giving them anything special at the plate. Just because Cuddyer is the rare Twin under a sort-of pricey contract doesn’t mean he has to play. As for Young, at this point the hype, always out of balance to the actual product, should no longer blind anyone to the realities of the player. The Twins, by the way, possess several mediocre third baseman that can actually play third base, and yet they have no current use for. Just sayin’.
? In case you missed it, Carl Pavano got hammered Saturday. He’s now 0-3 with a 9.50 ERA. Somehow, though the thrill isn’t quite as sweet given that the Yankees passed up their own opportunity to thrash him…
? Charlie Manuel benched Jimmy Rollins on Sunday because “He’s not swinging good.” While it is true that Rollins is batting only .162/.205/.235, unless you really think he needs a mental health break, or he’s doing some Manny-style sulking thing that we don’t know about, do you bench a former MVP and three-time All-Star? You figure a ten-year vet will work his way out of it…
? Are we off the Marlins’ bandwagon yet?
? Given that Reds’ left fielders have combined to hit .171/.275/.300 to date, why not run Micah Owings out there every once in awhile? Is Laynce Nix really going to do that much better?
? Chris Davis of the Rangers has a seven-game hitting streak going, in which he’s hitting .304/.360/.739 with three home runs, including two in his last two games. His strikeout-walk ratio in that time is 12-1, so he’s not over his troubles yet, but at least he’s holding his own for now after his miserable start. Note also Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s eight-game streak (not counting a no at-bat appearance as a defensive replacement), during which he’s hit .407/.429/
.630. His strikeout-walk ratio I during the streak is 10-1. Hey, Rudy Jaramillo: what are you teaching these guys?
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.
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.
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.