20-GAME WATCH: YANKEES VS. ANGELS
It’s an inevitable part of any season that the Yankees have to go to Anaheim. Sadly, the MLB schedule doesn’t offer any NFL-style options, where you might not see a rival ream for a few years. Over the last five years, the Yankees have gone 7-15 against the former Disney vassals. That’s a fairly amazing number given the Yankees’ overall records in those years. In one ballpark, a team that averages 90-something wins a year becomes a 100-game loser.
Due to injuries and disappointing performances, the Angels have been playing a lineup far different from the one they contemplated at season’s outset. They’ve remained competitive anyway. Let’s look at the 20-game picture:
W-L RS/G RA/G AVG OBP SLG SB CS HR/9 BB/9 K/9
YANKEES 14-6 5.5 3.8 .280 .371 .442 15 7 1.1 3.0 7.9
ANGELS 12-8 6.0 5.3 .275 .352 .440 16 6 1.6 3.6 7.4
The Yankees aren’t going to see Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter, as they’ve both hit the disabled list. Scot Sheilds is unavailable. Kelvim Escobar is there too, though that’s no surprise — his spot on the DL is a rental with an option to buy. Howie Kendrick is back from the minors but has yet to win his spot back from Maicer Izturis, who is peaking at .302/.352/.422. Catcher Mike Napoli, one of the best surviving bats on the team, doesn’t play every day, although with the DH spot freed up by Guerrero’s absence, the Yankees may get an extra serving. Kendry Morales is having a strong year at first, certainly a stronger year than this page ever expected him to have; Bobby Abreu is doing his usual fine job of getting on base; another former Yankee, Juan Rivera, has been mostly healthy for once and is killing the ball at .313/.353/.531. In his last fifteen games he’s slugging .645 with six home runs.
On the pitching side, the Yankees will see Joe Saunders, Jared Weaver, and John Lackey. Saunders has been hammered in three of his last four starts, allowing 19 runs in 21.1 innings. Most intriguingly for a power-hitting team like the Yankees, he’s allowed nine home runs in those starts. Weaver’s work of late has also been patchy. As recently as June 15, he had an ERA of 2.05. Since then, he’s four starts and been battered to the tune of .296/.358/.510, allowing 20 runs in 23.2 innings. He’s still awfully hard on right-handers at .176/.232/.255, but the Yankees have so many left-handers and switch-hitters that they should be less vulnerable than most other clubs. Finally, Lackey is normally one of the best pitchers in baseball, but has had injury problems and hasn’t been himself all year. He seemed to be coming around in a series of four starts beginning in mid-June, posting a 2.70 ERA in 30 innings, but three of the four starts were against light-hitting teams, the Giants, Diamondbacks (both DH-free games), and Orioles. His last start was against the Rangers, and he was thrashed.
The Yankees are facing a severely depleted Angels club. Neither their starters nor their pen has been particularly effective. Their offense is down to just a few above-average pieces. The defense, normally a plus, is among the least efficient in the game. They may still be winning, but they’re doing it with mirrors. For once, the Yankees may be able to make a strong showing in Anaheim.
Jeff Francoeur for Ryan Church: Mets bought themselves another fixer-upper opportunity, but Francoeur may be too stubborn to be fixed, in spite of all his great physical tools. As for the Braves, Church is not a great player, and he’s five years older than Francoeur, but he’s an upgrade on the out machine that Francoeur had become. In a light division, small improvements of this nature can help swing the standings in a team’s favor. The Braves really impress with their willingness to reshape their team on the fly this year. They tried to jump Jordan Schafer ahead of schedule. That didn’t work so they dealt for Nate McLouth. Kelly Johnson has been sent down in favor of Martin Prado. Tom Glavine was released so that young Tommy Hanson could pitch, and now they’ve ditched one of baseball’s worst hitters. They’re not living with their failures, they’re deleting them. You can’t ask more from a general manager.
The Mariners picked up two minor league pitchers from the Royals for Yuniesky Betancourt. They had to send some cash along, but still managed to delete a contract that ran through 2011 with a 2012 buyout and promised to do very little for them over that span. Betancourt is a classic triple threat: he doesn’t hit, doesn’t run, and doesn’t field. Even if the pitchers, who are a couple of years off, never develop, they’ve wisely decided that they can pay Ronnie Cedeno less to make the same outs. If they’ve freed up enough cash to add a bat, they might even stay in their divisional race. The Royals might be one of the only teams in baseball that Betancourt can help, although they’ll dearly for the privilege. With Mike Aviles out for the year and spectacularly disappointing before that, they’ve had a parade of shortstops, none of whom has distinguished themselves. Overall, Royals shortstops have batted .208/.234/.281 this year. That’s miserable, and it has no doubt cost the Royals quite a bit in the win column, but you still have to question the deal from their point of view. They’ve gone from pathetic to miserable, which probably isn’t enough of an improvement to win the division, and they’ll be stuck with Betancourt for at least two and a half years. Unless the Mariners are paying all of his contract, it seems like a heavy price to pay for a bid at mere respectability.
Saw a headline on ESPN.com just now that said, “Braves to consider bringing back Glavine, Jones.” I’m guessing that if you click on it, you also find out that they’re willing to think about bringing back Spahn, Sain, and the rain prayer.
AND IN ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST
No doubt you’ve seen that the Red Sox locked up Kevin Youkilis for four years, with an option for a fifth year. While it seems highly likely that Youkilis’ production is going to get dialed back a bit this coming season, he’s still a productive player at his old level, and if he can play third base next year, he’ll up his value while allowing the Red Sox to make room for first baseman Lars Anderson, who looks like he’s going to be a very Youkilis-like hitter. Best of all, the length of time is right. The Red Sox will monopolize whatever good years Youkilis has left, then let some other team pick up the tab on his decline phase.
YET ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST (IT’S AN XXL FOREST)
I’m a bit confused by the Michael Young controversy in Texas. If you haven’t been following the bouncing shortstop, Young is getting pushed from that position to third base to make room for prospect Elvis Andrus. Now, Young is kind of a Jeter out there, a good hitter for his position but not the rangiest cat in the jungle, so the move does make some sense. The problem is, Andrus turned 20 in August and hasn’t played above Double A. He looks like he has the defensive tools to play short now (the Rangers clearly think so), but the problem is that his bat seems very unlikely to carry over — he hit .295/.350/.367 at Double A, but you start applying filters to that and you get a Major League line where his power and OBP are non-existent. The Rangers will bat him at the bottom of the order, let him steal some bases when/as/if he gets on base, and pray that it works out, because after all this drama about moving Young, they can’t just yank him back to short if things don’t work out.
You can smell some kind of additional move coming up, along the lines of the one the Orioles executed today when they signed Gregg Zaun as Matt Wieters insurance. The way the free agent market is (not) moving, they might be able to pick up a David Eckstein or Orlando Cabrera to battle Andrus in Spring Training — and win. It will benefit everyone if the Rangers’ plan doesn’t pay off. Andrus might be pretty good someday, but all the Rangers will succeed in doing by bringing him to the Majors so early is make sure he’s really expensive at 22 and with another organization at 27. The Rangers will let him learn on the job, but some other club will reap the benefit, and/or they’ll have to pay for the privilege of getting to the god stuff.
A QUICK GRAB FROM THE COMMENTS
I messed up yesterday and credited Buzah for the Jim Rice home/road comment when it should have been Charlie F. Apologies, guys. Now that I’m awake again after a long winter’s book season, I’ll get the details right in the future. Now here’s something that Buzah did say:
Though I think Rice has no place in the Hall, that was not me you were quoting above. Anyway, your YES colleague Ken Singleton was a better player, for Pete’s sake, as were former Yankees like Rock Raines, Charlie Keller and Tommy Henrich.
I’m not just saying this because he’s a colleague: Mr. Singleton was a great, great, great hitter. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves because his peak started a little late and ended a little early, he wasn’t a great baserunner or defender, and the 1970s and early 1980s suppressed his stats. However, if you look at the numbers for each of his seasons, he was a top-five producer in the AL year after year. If you check out Singleton’s translated stats, which adjusts his numbers so he and everyone in history played in the same place at the same time, he rates as a .292/.399/.503 hitter, just a devastating combination of power and selectivity. Rice comes out at .290/.350/.535 — good, but not close to switch-hitting Singleton, and it’s not like Rice was a better fielder or baserunner.
And on that note, I bid you, and Kenny, a fine weekend. Stay warm!
WHERE’S THE REST OF ME (AND OTHER TALES OF A PIRATICAL LIFE)
As of tomorrow morning, the annual ordeal known as writing and editing of the Baseball Prospectus book, which always concludes with a human sacrifice — most often me and my co-editor — has concluded. Regular scheduling of this column will resume immediately, and for those left that still care, Wholesome Reading will resume publication by Monday. As for the book itself, if you want to see how I’ve spent 98 percent of my time, the sucker will be out right around Valentine’s Day. It has all the usual goodies, plus a foreword by your friend and mine, Keith Olbermann.
Before I shuffle off for a very long nap, I’ll be making my usual trip to Castle YES for another turn in the Internet Bunker for a new installment of the YES Hot Stove show. You can’t see it on TV, but I’ve got a stocked mini-fridge under the desk. When the revolution comes, I’m going to be sitting pretty — and I’m not going to share with anyone except Bob Lorenz, because Bob always puts out M&Ms when we have a meeting in his office. That’s class. Who can make a sunrise and sprinkle it with dew? At YES, we know who.
Meanwhile, the baseball world has continued to slowly rotate. The Braves have picked up Derek Lowe, which puts the Braves in an interesting position, having gone from being basically rotation-free in 2008 to having an interesting and potentially deep collection of veteran (Lowe and Javier Vazquez), young (Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson at some point), and a lot of options for rounding out the group. It seems unlikely that the offense will hold up, but a solid rotation might be enough in the NL East. In that same division, the Mets are on the verge of signing Alex Cora, which is a nice move for them only in that it gives then some added depth around the infield, particularly at second, which is going to be a suppurating wound for years with Omar Minaya’s Worst Ever Contract — I mean, Luis Castillo — literally on his last legs. Cora will also give the Mets the opportunity to give Jose Reyes a game off every now and again, key since he tends to wear down as the season progresses.
Returning to the greatly fatigued Hall of Fame debate for a moment, I wanted to grab an entry from our last set of comments and respond. This was written by Buzah:
Steve, you mention Rice’s indebtedness to Fenway. Not until I really looked did I realize how bad it was. Career splits were .320/.374/.546 at home vs .277/.330/.459 away. Some of that could be explained with age, but even in his 1978 MVP season the splits were extreme — .361/.416/.690 home vs .269/.325/.512 away. It’s clear that someone who ranks 177th all time in OPS+, tied with John Olerud, Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou, would not have ranked that high if he didn’t play in Fenway. I think there are a slew of left fielders today that you might want to start over him, not including Manny Ramirez, who is a HOFer himself. Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, Cliff Lee … if not definite, there is at least a strong case to be made that there are guys you’d rather have right now than what Rice usually brought to the table.
Buzah, you’re right to a large degree about Rice, but as I tried to suggest the last time around, I do view his ability to hit at Fenway as a skill. After all, though almost every hitter who plays at Fenway is helped by the park to some degree, but not all of them turn into .320/.374/.546 maulers. The same thing is true of the hitters that play for the Rockies. Those teams need players who are capable of exploiting their park to the greatest extent, just like the Yankees have always needed left-handed power hitters to pull the ball into Babe Ruth’s porch. Now, what the player does the rest of the time is important as well. It represents 50 percent of the schedule. It’s ironic, I think, that we call a player who can hit left-handers, but not right-handers, a platoon player, and while we may celebrate his accomplishments in that role, it’s also something of a denigration, a way of indicating that he’s not quite the equivalent of a full-time player. A player who can hit at home but shrivels on the road (or vice-versa) is a kind of platoon player too, but somehow we don’t think of him that way.
See you on TV on Thursday at 6:30 p.m., and here before that.