Tagged: Boston Red Sox

Some Yankees math

The Yankees are now 69-42, which puts them on a pace for 101 wins. Let’s say the Yankees maintain that pace — they don’t get better and they don’t get worse. The Red Sox would need to win 102 games to take the division title. Given their present record of 62-48, the Red Sox would need to win 40 of their remaining 52 games, or 77 percent. That’s equivalent to winning 125 games over a full season.

While not impossible, it’s also not likely. Consider an alternative scenario, one in which the Yankees somehow have a rough go of it the rest of the way and play a game under .500 for the remainder of the schedule. In that case, the Yankees would finish at 94-68. To reach 95 wins, the Red Sox would need to go 33-19. That’s a .635 winning percentage, in the realm of possibility, but it still requires Boston to spend one third of the season playing as if they were a 103-win team. Obviously, for any team behind the Red Sox, such as the Rays, to displace the Yankees, the road is that much harder.

In short: While you can never take anything for granted, this sweep has put the Yankees in a very, very good place.

Taking the Yankees’ initial 0-8 against the Red Sox out of the equation, New York is 69-34 (.670), and Boston is 54-48 (.529). Those wins by the Red Sox were legitimate, but now seem like a fluke event. The record the rest of the way is simply not comparable. The 2009 Yankees could be a team we will remember. However, much remains to be done. As I pointed out yesterday, the Yankees have had “special” teams in recent years that didn’t bring him any rings. The 2002, 2003, and 2004 Yankees all won over 100 games and were, respectively, bounced out of the first round of the playoffs by the Angels team they can’t seem to beat, mismanaged to a loss in the World Series, and the victims of a historic reversal of fortune against the Red Sox in the ’04 ALCS. The intensity that the Yankees showed in this series, particularly on the pitching side, has to carry over or the events of the past weekend will end up as little more than a footnote.

Like all of you, I was initially shocked and appalled at Phil “Home Run” Coke pitching to right-handed batters in the eighth inning, and doubly appalled when premonitions of doom proved to be highly accurate. I’m not going to criticize the manager for that call, not with too much conviction, anyway. For obvious reasons, Joe Girardi had not let the world know that the bullpen was mostly off-limits. I will say that if Girardi really has an ironclad aversion to using pitchers in three consecutive games (a quick look at the record shows that Joe Borowski pitched in four straight games in August 2006 and pitched in three straight games on one other occasion that year; Matt Herges also did so once. Jose Veras appeared in three straight games without an off-day twice last August, and Damaso Marte pitched in four straight games during the same period) then his usage of Hughes for one out in each of the previous two games was shortsighted.

Today will bring more in the way of decisions and bullpen usage because Sergio Mitre is pitching, which is another way of saying that Chad Gaudin will be making his Yankees debut in the fourth or fifth inning. Mitre is 11-23 with a 5.48 ERA in his career, and he’s been lambasted this season. It’s not clear why the Yankees are persevering with him, especially since Brian Cashman has secured the team a better alternative in Gaudin. If the postseason is truly assured, or at least likely, the fifth starter is now auditioning for a role in the bullpen. Try to imagine the circumstances in which Girardi would call Mitre in during a playoff game. No, I can’t think of one either.

The Blue Jays are 12-19 since the end of June. The Yankees will miss Roy Halladay in this series, which means they have a more than fair chance to keep their winning streak alive. That’s if they don’t throw it away on one more Mitre adventure. The only way the club can lose now is to take things for granted, and pitching Mitre is doing just that.

Thoughts on a classic

Wow, what a game.

Junichi Tazawa, welcome to the Major Leagues. Best wishes for the rest of your career.

Is Alex Rodriguez now a “true Yankee?” I feel as if I’ve asked that question before.

What a terrific job by the Yankees pitching staff. Given the home run propensities of Yankee Stadium II, stretches of 15 scoreless innings are not going to happen too often. As the stalemate headed into late and extra innings, every left-handed batter carried with him to the plate the potential to loft a fly ball towards right field for a cheap four bases. Given the eight walks the Yankees handed out during the game, that home run, if it had come, very possibly would have been worth more than one run. Yet it didn’t happen, thanks to a combination of good pitching and everything lining up right for one night. Boston’s four hits were singles, and the Yankees outfielders rarely pressed their backs toward the walls.

Joe Girardi got away with a couple of calls in this game. He burned Phil Hughes on a one-batter appearance in the eighth inning, accelerating his path to the less trusted element of the bullpen after Mariano Rivera had thrown his inning. That these pitchers — Alfredo Aceves, who had struggled of late, the seemingly never-quite-right Brian Bruney, and the homer-prone Phil Coke — performed exceptionally well is a bonus from this epic game, a sign that perhaps the whole bullpen is ready to perform at a high level.

Girardi made another odd call when he used Jerry Hairston as a defensive replacement for Nick Swisher in the top of the ninth. While Swisher’s spot would not come up in the bottom of the ninth and almost certainly could not come up before the inning ended or the Yankees delivered a walk-off hit, it had the potential to deprive the team of a useful offensive weapon had the game proceeded to extra innings, as indeed it did. Inevitably, Girardi had to pinch-hit for Hairston with Eric Hinske, a defender who didn’t harm the Yankees but is not normally thought of as being on a par with Roberto Clemente. With a 5-foot-10 outfielder, you also have to worry about certain balls being over his head. Swisher has had some defensive problems this year, but the move was superfluous and potentially harmful. Girardi proved at least the former when he undid it an inning later.

It was also possible to first-guess his decision to take off the bunt when Melky Cabrera was batting with runners on first and second and none out in the third. It was early in the game and one-run strategies are generally to be frowned upon, but it was already clear that Josh Beckett’s current hot streak was unlikely to be broken on this particular evening. Cabrera retains one of the Yankees’ highest double-play rates (13.2 percent), so the bunt was a reasonable percentage ploy in that situation.

In the end, Alex Rodriguez and six pitchers rendered all the chess moves moot. Put this one on a DVD, Yankees, and show it in full to each incoming class of draftees starting next June. They’ll learn a lot about the pleasures and pain, frustration and elation inherent in playing for this team. 

Once more into the void

swisher250.jpgSWISHER, HALF A HERO
After a long, long cold snap, Nick Swisher seemed to break out on the just-completed roadtrip, going 9-for-27 with four home runs. Such a streak is never a bad thing, but because of Swisher’s oddly divided season it’s entirely possible that he’ll go cold again as soon as he sets foot in Yankee Stadium. Fans attending home games have yet to see the best of Swisher. Fifteen of 18 home runs have come on the road, where he’s batting a terrific .276/.368/.602. At home, he’s hitting just .200/.374/.329. He still has his patience, but everything else disappears.

I sometimes wonder if Swisher, despite his goofy demeanor, is actually quite anxious in certain circumstances. This is the second year in a row he’s had a strange home/road bifurcation. Last year with Chicago he had the reverse problem, hitting .247/.361/.517 at home but only .189/.301/.294 on the road. There is no reason for these splits; Swisher would seem to be the only batter on the planet not taking advantage of new Yankee Stadium’s friendlier dimensions.

It’s not too late for Swisher to stop pressing and enjoy the fruits of the new ballpark. When playing at home, his batting average on balls in play is just .245, which suggests that even when he makes contact at home it’s not good contact, with too many fly balls being sent aloft in the hopes of catching the same jet stream that everyone else has found. If Swisher can resolve whatever ails him in the Bronx, even a small uptick the rest of the way would change his season from one that can be dismissed as just satisfactory and replaceable to something that is an uncontroversial asset.

The Yankees signed Russ Ortiz to a minor league contract. Ol’ Russ hasn’t had an ERA below 5.50 in any length of work since 2004. Since then, he’s gone 10-28 for the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Giants, and Astros, with a 6.56 ERA in 312.2 innings. Pitching at Scranton is awful thin these days, but with any luck they’ll have Sergio Mitre back soon.
20-GAME WATCH: Red Sox vs. Yankees
               W-L    RS/G  RA/G  AVG  OBP  SLG  AB/HR  SB   CS   HR/9   BB/9  K/9
Red Sox  10-10  5.5   4.6    .274    .352    .453      30         13    4     1.0      3.1    8.0
Yankees  14-6    5.2   4.4    .281   .361    .473       25         10    4      0.8      2.9    7.9

Here we are again. It’s difficult to know what to expect from this series given how badly the Yankees have struggled with the Red Sox this year. The Sox have struggled a bit of late, as their starting rotation has been reduced to Josh Beckett and Jon Lester plus prayer. The Yankees will get both of them this visit, and given the variability of the Yankees’ own starters, the advantage may well be with the Sox in those games. You’d think that A.J. Burnett would be able to hold his own on Friday against Beckett, but the Sox can be patient and Burnett wild. As for Andy Pettitte against Lester on Sunday, Pettitte has been all over the map this year, and while he’s been good lately with a 3.77 ERA in his last five starts, Lester has been at his best of late with a 2.65 ERA in his last five starts. Then again, it helps when the opponents are the Royals, Blue Jays, Orioles and A’s. The Yankees have also killed lefties this year, batting .293/.377/.490 against them as a team.

The series’ other two conflicts feature John Smoltz against Joba Chamberlain tonight and Clay Buchholz against CC Sabathia on Saturday. Joba has been on a three-start roll but also hasn’t pitched since the 29th, so the Yankees will have to hope that pushing him back didn’t cost him his command. The Red Sox hit him hard in his two starts against him this year (.341/.442/.477), though he struck out 14 and only allowed six runs. Smoltz is an interesting case. He’s 42, and more machine than man at this point. Since coming off of the disabled list, he’s shown decent stuff, a good strikeout rate, and excellent control. He has also, in all but one start, been pounded. This could be just luck–the batting average on balls in play against Smoltz is .370, but the line drive rate against him is actually low. That suggests that grounders and fly balls are falling more often than they should. Luck can change, and it’s possible that the Yankees will have a harder time with the grand old man than the statistics would initially suggest.

Since coming up from the minors, Buchholz has made four starts, alternating good and bad and not making it through the sixth inning in any case. This would seem like advantage Yankees given Sabathia, but the big man has been erratic of late, pushing an average of five runs per nine innings. He’s also been slightly less effective at home than on the road. Yankees fans will expect some motivated over-performance from Sabathia in this series, and no doubt the heart will be willing, but what if the flesh is weak? When a pitcher who is used to striking out eight batters a game is only getting five or six, performance may not be a matter of psychology but physicality.

After 0-8 and a 6.06 ERA against, I’m not making any predictions. My instinct is a split, which would preserve the status quo. That would be an improvement. You’d sure like to see the first win come tonight, though, just so everyone–team, fans, commentators–can feel as if the spell has been broken.

The banter from Beantown



As you know, I’m up in Boston
on book-tour duty. I’ve had enough train action in recent weeks that I’m
starting to feel like the Joe Biden of the Internet baseball set. Then again, I
shouldn’t complain, as some of my brethren down in Florida are having to scoot to all corners
of the globe to follow both their normal team assignments as well as peek in on
WBC action.

In this part of the woods, the worries are, as you would
expect, oriented around the Red Sox and if their offense will hold up in the
coming season, and if the Yankees have trumped them by adding CC and A.J. There
are few good answers at this point except to flip the switch on the season and
see what happens, but that moment is a month away yet, so we all get to nibble
our fingernails a bit more — Boston fans on their offense (and maybe their
starting pitching, too), Yankees fans on their offense and defense (and defense
is pitching is defense, so this is a bigger issue than is usually acknowledged)
and Rays fans wondering if it was all a dream (it wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean
the sequel will be easy). The WBC gives us an extra week to think about these
things, which now that I think about it, might be good for the collective
mental health. In the same way that Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak kept a nation
on the edge of war distracted for one last summer, if this year’s baseball
season starts late and drags into November, well, that’s one more week when the
specter of financial ruination can be put off. I hope.

Meanwhile, today’s exhibition action was more exhibition-y
than usual, with the Yankees taking on a team of Major League All-Stars in a
WBC tune-up — not a good day to be Phil Hughes or any of the other young
pitchers required to face Dustin Pedroia, Adam Dunn, Ryan Braun, etcetera, not
to mention Derek Jeter. As such, the story wasn’t really in the pitchers today
but in the hitters — the Yankees hitters. Brett Gardner put together another
strong day, and against real Major League pitchers like Roy Oswalt. If he keeps
up his current pace, it’s going to be very difficult for the Yankees to deny
him the starting center field job. And then, of course, he’ll have to keep it
up, because with his first 0-for-4, someone will be arguing that it’s time to
see if Melky has learned to hit by sitting on the bench.

The Gardner vs. Melky competition may seem like small beer
given that we’re talking about the team’s ninth-place hitter, but given the
probable offensive shortfall the Yankees will see in left and right field, and
potentially other spots on the diamond, getting something rather than nothing
out of that position could make a small but significant difference in what
should be a tough division race, perhaps a swing of two or more wins. That
could be the difference.

More from me when I’m not comatose from doing two AM TV
spots. It’s always shocking to me to see so many people awake and producing
television programs when they should be sleeping. Those of you in the
Boston-New Hampshire-Rhode Island-Vermont-Canada-Atlantis region, I look
forward to seeing you this evening.

Talk around the Hot Stove

youkilis250_011609.jpgOPENING VOLLEY
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.

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.

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.

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!

Rice not worthy, Rickey the greatest

I’ve stayed away from commenting on the Rise of Jim Rice as a Hall-of-Fame candidate because the whole thing seemed inevitable, a group of self-appointed reactionaries making a comment on the steroids era. The problem is that the logic of it escaped me. “Look! Jim Rice was mediocre without the help of drugs! We’ll show Mark McGwire and the rest of those overinflated bodybuilders what we think of them by putting in this guy! Sure, he didn’t run, didn’t play defense, didn’t hit outside of Fenway Park, was done as a useful player at 33, and was completely uncommunicative, but he was clean!” The vote sure wasn’t about Rice the ballplayer, who peaked from 1977-1979 and had a bunch of seasons around those years that were just decent, and wouldn’t even rate that if he hadn’t been so good at taking advantage of Fenway. Yes, that’s a skill, but given Rice’s other shortcomings, it shouldn’t have been enough.

It’s done, though, and there’s not much to do about it but shrug. History is always a tug of war, and different perspectives gain ascendance at different times, leaving their detritus behind even as they vanish from the scene. Every Hall of Fame is like that, in whatever guise it exists. Fifty statues stand under the U.S. Capitol dome. Each state gets to send likenesses of two native greats, state hall of famers if you will. The resultant collection is a fascinating congeries of legitimate heroes and scumbags who have no business being there (as well as many complete obscurities), but I guarantee you that if we started debating exactly who belonged in each group, no two of us would come up with identical lists. In fact, I can think of reasons to disqualify some of the guys I personally favor.

Really look that list over. There are some “great” Americans represented who you would think twice about leaving alone in a room with your wallet. The Hall of Fame is a lot like that, except that the inductees should in theory be less open to debate, given that we have a statistical record of their accomplishments. The life of a president or general is not so easily reduced to wins and losses, hits and outs, and so there is more room for interpretation. With the Hall, the best you can do is make an argument that the numbers aren’t representative, that there are other factors at work, and that’s usually where Hall voters get themselves into trouble. That’s what we have here, Rice going in because 76 percent of the voters decided to put their faith in unprovable ambiguities like Rice’s fearsomeness, or even just parked their political position on PEDs over his body.  

Thus, Rice is merely one more scorched-out battleground. Grass will grown on him, cattle will graze, some people will visit sometimes, perhaps. In the long run, though, just saying someone was great because you have an agenda for them doesn’t make them so. Time renders its own verdict. When some of those statues were erected under the Capitol dome, many more than 100 years ago, there wasn’t sufficient perspective for objections, for a large enough body of people to say, “Hey, wait — this guy was a drunk!” or “This guy was a slaver — why are we putting him here so school children can come through and think he’s some kind of all-time great?” When it comes to the Hall of Fame, there’s a more educated electorate on the rise, but it’s time isn’t yet here. Rice gets his plaque, and it is hoped he enjoys the honor. He certainly wasn’t a bad ballplayer. But in the final analysis, his election is a rearguard action, a reaction, and it’s not about him, it’s about honoring a time when the old men who voted for him could still claim to understand the game.

We’ve talked about Rock Raines and his Hall-of-Fame qualifications before; on the YES Hot Stove show, I said that if Rickey Henderson was the No. 1 leadoff hitter of all time, Raines was 1-A. I don’t want to rehearse all the arguments again, but when Andre Dawson gets 361 votes and Tim Raines gets 122, something is amiss.

… But you knew that. No disrespect to Don Mattingly, but Rickey should have had the 1985 MVP award as well.