Results tagged ‘ Derek Jeter ’

To praise Jeter, and not bury him

jeter250.jpgTO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS: DO YOU LOVE DEREK JETER (GLAD ALL OVER)
As long as I’ve been writing this feature, I’ve had to respond to this kind of comment:

Steve, I always look forward to reading the PB. You are very knowledgeable and have a great sense of humor and write extremely well. That being said, have you ever written anything on Jeter that was totally positive? As, I tell my 10 year old son all the time, we are very blessed to be able to watch him play. Of course he has weaknesses, everyone does, but the total package is to be appreciated. You are able to do this with Posada, why not Jeter? There is no need to put this hits record into perspective. It is what it is. No one is suggesting that he is a better hitter than those he is passing (Mantle, Ruth, Gehrig) anymore than anyone would suggest that Pete Rose was a better hitter than Ted Williams, Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. — RTO

You can’t be much of a baseball fan if you don’t appreciate Derek Jeter. I appreciate Jeter not only for all the things he is, but for all the things he’s not, which is to say that I’ve been following the Yankees long enough to remember in excruciating detail his many predecessors, most of whom were advertisements for how not to build a winning ballclub. Put it this way: I’m just old enough to remember people debating the merits of Chicken Stanley, and I attended games in which Bucky Dent played. Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to follow the Yankees with anything like an adult comprehension of the game, Dent had stopped hitting even at the low level he had previously; he was essentially done at 30, and the Yankees swapped him for Lee Mazzilli. He gave way to…

ROY SMALLEY (1982-1983)
Smalley was a very good hitter for a shortstop of the day, batting .266/.351/.434 as a Yankee in ’82 and ’83, but injuries had reduced his range to that of a rusty coat rack. Before the 1983 season was over, the Yankees were experimenting with other players. Worse, they traded Greg Gagne to the Twins to acquire Smalley; Gagne was a not a great player, but he played a fair shortstop for two championship teams while the Yankees watched from the sidelines.

ANDRE ROBERTSON (1981-1985)
The Yankees tried hard to pretend that Robertson was a Major League shortstop. His glove got good reviews, but he had struggled to post even a .285 on-base percentage in the minors. In 1983 he got a chance to take over for Smalley and hit .248/.271/.326, which is actually better than would have been projected from his showing in the sticks. Indeed, he was in an extended slump when a serious car accident ended his season in August. The rest of his career was one long attempt at a comeback. At the time, there was a good deal of asking “what could have been,” but the correct answer was, “Not much.”

BOBBY MEACHAM (1983-1986)
Meacham took over shortstop after Robertson got hurt, and then repeated the experience when Robertson’s 1984 comeback was aborted due to his making a disproportionate number of outs. Meacham was a double-threat. He couldn’t hit and was an erratic, error-prone fielder. He was also singled by the owner, which almost certainly did not help. In 1985, Meacham’s .218/.302/.266 rate stats and 24 errors played a decisive role in the loss of a close divisional race to the Blue Jays. In 1984, we also had the pleasure of seeing 33-year-old infielder Tim Foli dramatically under-hit his career .251/.283/.309 rates as a Robertson/Meacham substitute. Meacham began 1986 in the same role, likely because offseason moves were being misguidedly  being restricted. When Meacham had batted only .222/.301/.278 through mid-June, the Yankees finally sent him down. This was a terrific move, except there was no substitute on hand. In the short term, the Yankees tried veteran non-hitter Mike Fischlin, who batted .206/.261/.225 on the season. They also tried Dale Berra and veteran National Leaguer Ivan DeJesus. Ken Griffey and Robertson were then dealt to the Braves for Claudell Washington and 27-year-old Paul Zuvella, who was installed as the sorting shortsop. He hit .083. The Yankees then traded for…

WAYNE TOLLESON (1986-1987)
The 30-year-old Tolleson came to the Yankees on July 30, 1986. The 5’9″ infielder had primarily been a light-hitting second baseman in his career, but he was coming off a fluke season in which he had hit .313, albeit with no walks or power. Still, he made the Yankees look good over the remainder of the season, batting .284/.332/.344. This was great production compared to what they had received from shortstop over the previous months and year. In 1987, a year in which everyone hit, Tolleson became an out machine, and by the end of the year, the Yankees were giving Randy Velarde a look and also gave Meacham one more chance. There were also one-game cameos from veteran Jerry Royster and minor league journeyman Jeff Moronko.

RAFAEL SANTANA (1988)
In December of 1987, the Yankees dealt three middling prospects (all they had at the time) to the Mets for Santana, who had a bit of a glow on him from being the starting shortstop on the champion 1986 Mets. The glow seemingly blinded Yankees decision-makers to the painful realities of Santana’s game — he couldn’t hit, had neither good range nor sure hands and was suffering from an arm problem that hampered his throwing. Billy Martin, then managing his final season, was reportedly appalled by him. Unfortunately, the club had few alternatives. Velarde got in a few games, and veteran Luis Aguayo, brought over from the Phillies to platoon at third with Mike Pagliarulo, got in one game.

ALVARO ESPINOZA (1989-1991)
It was assumed that Santana would start again in 1989, but his arm proved to require surgery that would keep him out for the season. In desperation, the Yankees turned to Espinoza, who had joined the team as a Minor League free agent the year before, spending the entire season at Triple-A Columbus. Espinoza was a fairly steady fielder, but had no business holding a bat in his hands. His .224/.258/.274 season of 1990 still qualifies as one of the most pathetic offensive seasons in Yankees history, and it is no coincidence that Espinoza’s reign coincided with some of the worst years the team has ever had. Substitutes during this period included Tolleson, Velarde, Yankees farmhand Carlos Rodriguez, and veteran infielder Tom Brookens.

STAFF (1992)
The Yankees released Espinoza during spring training 1992, having signed free agent utility infielder Mike Gallego away from the Oakland A’s. Gallego got hurt during spring training and didn’t make his Yankees debut until mid-May. Velarde, now 29 but not yet established in the Majors, played in his place, as did Andy Stankiewicz and farmhand Dave Silvestri, whose Minor League numbers suggested he might hit a bit for a middle infielder, but somehow he never did. A  broken wrist shelved Gallego for most of the second half, leaving Velarde and Stankiewicz sharing the shortstop’s job. Overall, team shortstops hit .248/.317/.331, which was miserable but better than what they had been getting out of Espinoza.

SPIKE OWEN (1993)
Another free agent signing, this time from the Expos, Owen was no hitter, though he did walk a bit. Defensively, his range was extremely limited. Buck Showalter rapidly soured on him, and by late April was giving him regular time off, then benched him completely not long after the All-Star break. Gallego and Velarde split time at short over the rest of the season. Velarde was starting to find his bat in this period, but never showed great hands at short.

MIKE GALLEGO (1994)
Gallego played 69 games at short in the 113-game season, although there were also many starts by Velarde and an odd
flirtation with Kevin Elster, who was neither a good hitter nor strong fielder and hadn’t played more than a smattering of games in two years while rehabbing an injury. At this point in his career, he had the range of Jason Giambi. Gallego hit .239/.327/.359, which was beginning to look positively Ruthian as far as Yankee shortstops were concerned.

TONY FERNANDEZ (1995)
The Yankees signed the former All-Star and Gold Glover as a free agent after he had spent a year playing third base for the Cincinnati Reds. The Yankees would be the last team to ask Fernandez to play shortstop for any length of time. There was good reason for this; at 33, the Gold Glove days were long gone, as was the pretense of throwing hard to first base on routine grounders. Fernandez could be a very solid hitter for a shortstop, but as the Mets had discovered a couple of years earlier, his bat had a New York aversion, and he hit a weak .245/.322/.346. When Fernandez required time off, the Yankees tried Elster, the unavoidable Velarde, light-hitting Netherlands import Robert Eenhoorn, the unavoidable Velarde, and a then-obscure fellow named Jeter. The next spring, as Joe Torre was grousing about having to play a rookie shortstop, Fernandez went out for the season, and the rest is history.

IN TOTAL (1982-1995)
For the entire period under discussion, Yankees shortstops hit .245/.306/.331. Given that they played in a division with Cal Ripken (Hall of Fame), Robin Yount (ditto), and Alan Trammell (inexplicably isn’t in, but should be), as well as the occasional Julio Franco, this is even worse than it looks. The Red Sox, who were not exactly playing Vern Stephens and Johnny Pesky at this time, got more production out of their shortstops as well. Yankees shortstops also made more errors during this time than all but a handful of teams.

The Yankees won nothing during this time, and at best did little more than tease the possibility of winning. There were days when you could spend half the game on the phone or in the bathroom or just asleep and know you weren’t going to miss anything from the Yankees’ lineup. Just picking a game at random, on July 31, 1987, the bottom four hitters in the Yankees’ lineup were Gary Ward, Mark Salas, Juan Bonilla, and Wayne Tolleson. Incredibly enough, the Yankees won that game on a walk-off home run by Ward, but such days were few and far between — Ward hit .248/.291/.384, which competes with Rondell White’s 2002 as one of the worst seasons by a full-time Yankees outfielder. But I digress — the point here is the years of Waiting for Jeter, of hoping against hope that the Yankees would solve this ongoing, bleeding, suppurating hole in their roster. Jeter not only put an end to that, not only became the greatest shortstop in franchise history, but he ushered in an age of championships and is going to the Hall of Fame. In short:

OF COURSE I APPRECIATE DEREK JETER! OF COURSE I HAVE WRITTEN POSITIVE THINGS ABOUT HIM!

Yeesh.

If I have written critically about Jeter at times, it is only because the whole world sometimes seems directed towards writing a Jeter hagiography, and I am of the firm belief that we cannot properly appreciate even the best among us unless we fully measure the precise dimensions of their strengths and weaknesses. A Jeter who is perfect isn’t real and isn’t much of a hero, because where is the heroism in perfection? A true hero is a hero in spite of his or her flaws. They overcome. I want to know that George Washington had an incredible temper, that Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression, that Babe Ruth had to keep reminding himself that the world had rules once he got out of the orphanage. These things magnify their accomplishments rather than diminish them, and to discuss them does not betray their memory but exalts it, does not show a lack of appreciation or respect but rather enhances appreciation or respect.

Some people want to worship a Jeter that doesn’t exist, a paper god. I want to see him for what he is — and what he is, especially given what came before him, is great but hardly flawless. If you want more than that from me, I’m sorry, but the Pinstriped Bible is not about alternate realities. Major e longinquo reverentia.

Musings before the big series in Boston

DAMASO MARTE ACTIVATED — TELL TCHAIKOVSKY THE NEWS
Funny how those extra lefties start showing up right before a team faces David Ortiz in Fenway Park. Ortiz hasn’t hit much this year, but if you’ve seen him do well it was most likely at Fenway, where the Pesky Pole forgives sins of age and PED abuse. The .234/.322/.487 he’s hit at home, including 13 home runs in 278 at-bats, is just dangerous enough that dragging in that extra southpaw is justified, especially when your primary LOOGY is Phil Coke, who has problems with the home run.

I DON’T NEED TO FIGHT TO PROVE I’M RIGHT AND I DON’T NEED TO BE FORGIVEN
One comment on Jim Rice’s Little League rant, and it’s the same one that everyone else is going to have. Rice said:

jeter250_082109.jpg“You see a Manny Ramirez, you see an A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez), you see (Derek) Jeter … Guys that I played against and with, these guys you’re talking about cannot compare … We didn’t have the baggy uniforms. We didn’t have the dreadlocks,” Rice said. “It was a clean game, and now they’re setting a bad example for the young guys”

Rice is a misanthrope, we knew that. Still: A-Rod, Manny … and Jeter? The worst thing Jeter has ever done is shill for cars with low MPG ratings. He does not deserve to be associated with two PED users, nor dreadlocks or baggy pants, though dreads and baggy pants don’t really reflect anything significant except an era in which baseball and all sports have relaxed uniform codes to allow for individual expression.

As for the game of Rice’s era that was so clean, one word: cocaine. I’m not saying Rice used, but so many ballplayers did, prominent ballplayers. Some like Willie Wilson, LaMarr Hoyt and Vida Blue, went to jail. At least a few, like Alan Wiggins, Steve Howe, Rod Scurry and Eric Show, eventually died as a result of their drug habits. More than 20 ballplayers were cited for substance abuse during the 1980s, and that was just the tip of the iceberg — it was speculated by some, among them Keith Hernandez, that close to half of ballplayers were using cocaine at that time. It would also be interesting to ask Hall of Famer Rice if he ever took or had knowledge of players taking amphetamines in his clean game.

In any case, barring some amazing revelation of malfeasance, Jeter is going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, whereas Rice is someone that the Baseball Writers are going to spend decades apologizing for passing. There are 50 players who should be in ahead of Rice; when Jeter becomes eligible it will be 51. Years from now, Rice will be as much of a Hall of Famer as is Chick Hafey and Rick Ferrell and Jesse Haines — he’ll have a plaque on the wall, but no one will take it seriously, passing it by on the way to view those of Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, and many more … including Jeter.
 
20-GAME WATCH: YANKEES VS. RED SOX
                   

W-L
RS/G
RA/G
AVG
OBP
SLG AB/HR
SB
CS
HR/9
BB/9
K/9
Yankees 14-6 5.3 4.1 .282 .342 .473 23 7 1 0.9 3.6 8.7
Red Sox 11-9 5.4 5.8 .265 .356 .471 19 11 4 1.5 4 7.7

Since last we left the Red Sox, they’ve gone 7-3 against Detroit, Texas, and Toronto. The principal change the Red Sox have undergone since leaving New York is the addition of shortstop Alex Gonzalez, imported from the Reds. The veteran can’t hit much (career .246/.293/.393) — every few years he has come close to posting a league-average OPS — and this year, having lost all of 2008 to knee surgery, he’s not even halfway there, hitting .214/.258/.298. However, he remains a good glove, certainly better than Nick Green, and Boston hadn’t gotten an ounce of offense from their shortstops anyway, just .220/.291/.327. If the Red Sox slip out of the wild card by a few games, the margin of loss will be exactly the size and shape of the missing shortstop production… 

The pitching matchups seem to favor the Yankees this series. Since being abused by the Blue Jays and Angels in consecutive starts at the beginning of July, Andy Pettitte has been very solid, allowing just 10 runs in 39.2 innings, walking 10, and striking out 43. Pettitte has an ERA of 3.63 in 34 career appearances at Fenway Park. In the same period that Pettitte has been pitching well, Friday’s starter Brad Penny has been roughed up, allowing 26 runs in 34 innings and giving up seven home runs. Opponents are hitting .299/.353/.537 against him over that span.

Saturday’s conflict has the occasionally enigmatic A.J. Burnett facing rookie Junichi Tazawa. Tazawa’s Minor League numbers were good, and he pitched well against Detroit in his first start, but the Tigers don’t have a lineup half as deep as that of the Yankees. If the Yankees can lay off of Tazawa’s splitter, or he’s a bit twitchy in locating it, he’ll be out of the game quickly. Finally, Sunday’s 8 p.m. game has CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett dueling, and with Sabathia’s recent run of good starts and Beckett’s great stuff, that should be a game worth tolerating Joe Morgan for. Keep in mind that whatever happens with the starters, the two best bullpens in baseball this year are contained in Fenway Park during this series. The Yankees are No. 1 in wins added, the Red Sox No. 2.   

The Yankees are playing with the house’s money here. If they lose the series, even if they get swept, they would retain a significant lead. If they win or sweep, they can probably put the champagne on ice. The Red Sox are tough at Fenway (38-18, .679) but all the pressure is on them. Unlike the last time these two teams met, the only way this series will be historic is if the Yankees execute another sweep for a New Millennium version of 1978’s Boston Massacre. It ain’t over ’til it’s over, but with a 9.5-game lead, it would be pretty darned close.

MORE FROM ME
As always with Yankees-Red Sox series, I’ll be filing updates throughout the weekend. See you then.

New set of rules hurting Joba

A FEW QUICK NOTES BEFORE THE DAY GAME
Randy Ruiz is a nice story, but are the Blue Jays kidding, calling him up to DH and playing Joe Inglett in right field when they have Travis Snider in the Minors? Sure, Snider failed to hit coming out of Spring Training, but he’s batting .319/.414/.650 at Las Vegas, is crazy hot right now and remains a top prospect. The decision is a nice break for the Yankees, given they get to play an opponent without a right fielder and a DH without plate judgment — Ruiz has power, but what has kept him in the Minors is that he’s a hacker without a position. It’s a dubious call on the part of the Jays, unless they care more about retarding Snider’s service time than fielding a competitive unit for the rest of the year.

On Derek Jeter’s quest for 3,000 hits: If Jeter plays in the Yankees’ remaining 49 games (we know he’ll be forced into a day off shortly, but this is a thought experiment; adjust accordingly) and continues to average 4.3 at-bats per game, that would give him another 211 at-bats. Say he maintains his current .318 average over those at-bats. He would add another 67 hits to his current 145, giving him 212 for the season and 2,747 for his career. Three-thousand would still wait for 2011, but he’d be much closer than could have been expected at the start of the season.

Finally, a quick note about the Joba Rules II: They might not make sense and could hurt Joba. The danger might not be innings pitched, but stressful pitch counts. That Joba might throw a few more innings than the Yankees want is probably not a big deal, and in any case, you can’t know exactly where the injury inflection point is. The only foolproof way of dealing with that is to wrap him in Mylar and stick him in the basement.

No, the bigger danger is more likely to be created by the extra time off than to be prevented by it, and that is high-pitch innings. The less fine control Joba has, and he seems to have less with the extended layoffs and the knowledge that he’s on a short leash, the more he’ll labor in games, have innings in which he walks two batters, allows a hit, and strikes out another. We don’t know for sure, but it’s entirely possible that 110-pitch outings are not created equal, and that a game where a pitcher throws 50 pitches in one inning and 60 in all others is far more damaging to the arm than one in which the pitches are more evenly spread out. It is entirely possible that the Yankees are creating exactly that situation here. There’s nothing more dangerous than good intentions.

Getting the best from everyone

SHOCKER
I don’t think I have single thing to complain about today. Analysis is about finding problems and advocating solutions, but everyone is playing well right now. Even Nick Swisher, who I’ve (reluctantly) become disillusioned with, pulled out of his slump with a two-homer day. To quote a line from John Lennon and the Beatles, “I’ve got nothing to say but it’s OK.” (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the happiest album about alienation, distraction and disconnectedness.) That’s not quite accurate, now that I think about it — I’ve always got something to say, and it’s not “Billlllly Shears!” Though I wish it was.

jeter250_072809.jpgANOTHER RUN AT AN MVP FOR JETER?
On last night’s broadcast, my fellow YES-man Michael Kay suggested that Derek Jeter is putting together a campaign worthy of the Most Valuable Player award. My first reaction was, “Nah,” first because Jeter’s year seemed to be in the good-not-great category, second because if he didn’t win the award in 1999 or 2006 he’s not going to win it now — voters go wild for RBIs, not runs scored — and third, because there are so many other good candidates. However, on further examination, the idea is not as wild as it at first seemed, though still unlikely.  

Thanks to his .402 on-base percentage, fifth in the American League, Jeter is having one of his strongest seasons. He hasn’t reached base 40 percent of the time since 2006, and has gotten there in only two other seasons, 1999 and 2000. He’s also fifth in batting average and second in hits behind Ichiro Suzuki. He ranks ninth in runs scored. He’s not having the best season of any AL shortstop — Jason Bartlett currently ranks him, but that’s going to change over time. Jeter also has had 120 more plate appearances than Bartlett due to the latter’s stint on the disabled list.

Still, the line in front of Jeter is long, and starts with two Twins, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. The latter, a past MVP balloting favorite, leads the league in home runs and RBIs, which is usually enough to nab the award. In fairness to Morneau, he’s having a tremendous year, one that is far superior to his 2006, when he last won the award. Mauer has been the best all-around hitter in the league, but he has come back to the pack a bit in July. If the Twins can come back and win the AL Central, still a strong possibility, the M&M Minnesota boys are going to get an extra push, whereas if the Yankees hang on to win the AL East, Jeter will be perceived as one among a cast of talented performers.

Since an April batting line that was indifferent by his own standards, Jeter has hit .337/.418/.459. He’s going to have to top those rates the rest of the way to make a serious dent in the gaudier statistics put up in the Twin Cities. He seems a long-shot to get serious consideration, though it would be only fair if the voters stiffed Morneau to give Jeter an award just as they stiffed Jeter to give Morneau an award in 2006.

BRONSON ARROYO
Rumors surfaced yesterday that Brian Cashman has been burning up cell-phone minutes in calls to Cincinnati, trying to get the richly-salaried Bronson Arroyo for the Yankees’ rotation. The Bronse is under contract next year for $11 million, and there’s also a club option for 2011 at the same price, with a $2 million buyout if Arroyo’s presence is no longer desired. Thus the Yankees would get the right-hander for the remainder of his age-32 season, age 33 and potentially, 34. Arroyo is having a very strange year, in that he’s either unhittable or he has no idea how to pitch. That’s no exaggeration: In his wins he has an ERA of 2.19. In his losses, it’s 11.01. I asked the statistical geniuses at Baseball Prospectus if that differential was particularly dramatic, and indeed it is. Among pitchers with at least 10 decisions, it’s the second-largest spread in baseball this year behind that of Brian Moehler, who has an ERA of 2.62 in his wins and 12.13 in his losses. Felix Hernandez, Jason Marquis and Clayton Kershaw round out the all good/all bad top five. Pitchers with fewer than 10 decisions in this category include Brett Cecil, who has a 1.33 ERA in his wins and a 15.43 ERA in his losses, and Rich Hill, who is at 1.86 in his wins and 15.75 in losses.

If you’re the Yankees, which Arroyo are you going to see most often? There doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern to his periodic lapses into incompetence. This is a deal you might make only if Dave Eiland and the rest of your organizational pitching gurus view hours of tape and say, “We see the problem and we think we can correct it.” If not, the aggregate — a quality start half the time, a sure loss the other half of the time — may not be worth the money and the low-level prospects necessary to spring the pitcher from the Queen City.

MORE OF ME
My take on the Omar Minaya-Tony Bernazard affair can be found in my You Could Look It Up spot.

Ready for your midterms?

THE DREADED MIDTERM GRADES
On Sunday, the Yankees played their 81st game. The season’s official halfway point comes at the All-Star break, but this is it’s actual halfway point. In my ten years as pinstriped armchair detective, I’ve sometimes resorted to the clichéd midterm grades and sometimes not. This year it seemed like a helpful device to review the season. Today we’ll cover the position players, tomorrow the pitching staff.

As you review the report card, remember that the same grade might not mean the same thing for two different players, because each player must be viewed in the context of his position, his career, and his role. Expectations for Mark Teixeira are different than they are for Brett Gardner, so the latter could conceivably get a better grade than the former without implying that he is the better player in a head to head comparison. With that in mind, feel free to offer your own grades in the comments section.

posada_250.jpgJORGE POSADA-CATCHER
Putting his 25 days on the disabled list aside, you can’t fault Posada’s season. When a 37-year-old catcher is hitting .284/.368/.523, you give thanks for your good fortune and try not to ask too many questions. On defense, he’s thrown out over 30 percent of runners trying to steal, a solid number (the overall Major League success rate on stolen bases this year is 73 percent). The notion that his handling has damaged Joba Chamberlain or anyone else is farfetched bushwah given his career record, as well as those of his many battery-mates. As with several Yankees, Posada has done far more damage at home than on the road. GRADE: 89/100

MARK TEIXEIRA-FIRST BASE

Teixeira has been quite streaky, only reaching a “hot” temperature in May. He’s been vastly more successful at home (.310/.402/.632), but his road production (.243/.373/.472) also gets the job done, albeit at a far more pedestrian level. He’s also been a revelation on defense, even if for some reason the metrics don’t show it. While Teixeira’s season is consistent with his work in previous seasons, he’s not quite at the level of the last two years (.307/.406/.557 in 289 games),  and it’s worth noting that he’s having only the fifth-best season among AL first basemen, trailing Justin Morneau, Kevin Youkilis, Russell Branyan, and Miguel Cabrera. Of these, Branyan probably won’t hang on until the end, but the others almost certainly will. Bumped out of the “A” range, but only in comparison to previous performances. The 20-game homerless streak with which he ended the half (.244/.366/.321) didn’t help. GRADE: 86.5/100

ROBINSON CANO-SECOND BASE
Cano has bounced back from his spectacularly miserable 2008, but a league-average on-base percentage is still a bridge too far, as is consistency–in May and June combined, he hit .271/.302/.439, which doesn’t help all that much. He’s on a pace to ground into 24 double plays, and he’s batting .196 with runners in scoring position. There are certainly worse second basemen to have–Howie Kendrick is actually the evil Cano from the Star Trek mirror-verse–but as usual, the whole is less than the sum of the parts. GRADE: 79/100

ALEX RODRIGUEZ-THIRD BASE
With 45 walks and 14 home runs in 51 games, A-Rod has been productive despite his low batting average. Eleven of his 14 homers have been hit at home. Conversely, he’s hitting just .211 in the Bronx, with a truly strange .131 average on balls in play–one wonders if he’s trying to get the ball in the air at the new park, trying to catch up on all the short fence/jet stream-generated fun his teammates had without him. His hip problems seem to have sapped his speed and defense, and he hasn’t been around that much. Docked a few points for days absent and the whole juicing thing, which is spectacularly annoying. GRADE: 83.5/100

DEREK JETER-SHORTSTOP

There are a few nits you can pick with Jeter’s season. He’s only hitting .264/.340/.383 against right-handers, most of his damage coming thanks to .452/.524/.644 rates against lefties. All of his power seems to be a product of Yankee Stadium II; just two of his ten home runs have come on the road. On the plus side, his walk rate is up, he seems more limber this year, both on the bases and in the field, and though he still hits everything on the ground (he ranks 11th among players with 150 or more plate appearances this season), he’s kept his double play rate in hand. Overall, I’m not complaining–after the lethargy of last year, this qualifies as a comeback. GRADE:  91/100

JOHNNY DAMON-LEFT FIELD

Damon hit 17 home runs last year. He’s hit 16 in 76 games this year. The difference is Yankee Stadium II; the former Caveman is hitting .289/.390/.592 with 12 home runs (one every 12.7 at-bats) at home, .278/.340/.465 with four home runs (one every 36 at-bats) on the road. Now, that doesn’t mean that Damon shouldn’t get his due, as being able to take advantage of one’s environment is a skill. It’s much like Jim Rice’s home-road splits in Boston: if everyone who played in Fenway hit like Jim Rice, you’d have an argument about discounting his stats. Damon’s road stats are also sufficient–the average Major League left fielder is hitting .267/.342/.433 overall. At his current pace, Damon is going to obliterate his career high in home runs, his career high in walks is also in reach, and he’s easily going to have his tenth 100-run season. Stolen base frequency is down and his range in left seems down a bit, but as with Jeter I’m not going to complain about a late-career high. GRADE: 90/100

MELKY CABRERA-CENTER FIELD
He’s doing some things he’s never done before, like hitting as a right-hander and taking the occasional walk–he had 29 free passes all of last year, compared to 22 now. That said, he’s mainly helping with his defensive versatility, not his bat. His home runs are a gift of YS II, with seven of eight round-trippers coming in the friendly confines, and coincidental with the injury he suffered in Texas or not, his bat turned off at the end of May and hasn’t come back–even with a semi-hot streak over the last couple of weeks, in 31 games since the end of May he’s hit .221/.303/.379. Given that Cabrera hit only .235/.281/.300 after April last year, the idea that the injury is what’s holding him back should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Cabrera is an asset as a reserve, but he’s not a starter. Alternatively, he’s playing hurt under the misguided belief that he’s helping. At that point, Austin Jackson would be the better choice. GRADE: 72/100

NICK SWISHER-RIGHT FIELD

What a weird player, inconsistent in every phase of his game. At his April level of production, he was a Ruthian terror. In June he hit .253/.379/.506 and was still plenty productive. In between, he took a lot of walks but hit .150. Six games into July he just drew his first walk of the month and was 4-for-22 with one walk in seven games since hitting his last home run going into Tuesday, when he finally broke through with three hits (which doesn’t count towards the midterm). He hasn’t been all that productive with runners on–this seems to be a career-long problem, as if he shortens up his swing and worries about striking out in those situations. The result is quite a few walks but not many hits. His defense is usually solid, but he also has his off days. As he did last season, Swisher has a pronounced home-road split. He’s batting .279/.373/.625 with 11 home runs (one every 12.4 at-bats), but only .181/.347/.302 (again, through Sunday) with three home runs (one every 38.7 at-bats) at home. He’s been helpful on the whole, but the only reason he ranks among the top 15 right fielders in productivity is
that there are only 15 right fielders having good years. In short, I don’t know what to make of him. GRADE: 80/100

BRETT GARDNER-THE OTHER CENTER FIELDER

Gardner is listed among the starters because he’s actually started more games in center than Cabrera, even though Cabrera has played more overall. Given what little was expected of Gardner, not to mention the way he started the season, he probably deserves an A grade just based on performance vs. expectations. He started only 25 games across May and June, but he also appeared in 21 more and hit like crazy, batting .330/.427/.510 with four triples, three home runs, 16 walks, and 12 steals. He has not been handled brilliantly. After Gardner’s 5-for-6 game against the Mets on June 26, he was given just two more starts (he went 0-for-7) before Joe Girardi presumably decided he had gone cold and it was time to try Cabrera again. It’s not clear how a kid is supposed to build up any momentum under those conditions. When he sits, the Yankees aren’t suppressing a great bat, but they do lose some patience (Gardner has drawn a walk every 9.7 plate appearances, whereas Cabrera has taken a pass every 11.6 plate appearances), their best baserunner, and their best center field defender. Despite the hot streak, it’s doubtful that Gardner will ever be a big run producer, but he’s certainly been worth playing. GRADE: 85/100

Bombers hitting into double plays too often

BY GEORGE
We open today with a Steinbrennerism. Though many of the Yankee owner’s most acerbic comments have been well publicized over the years, this one is more obscure. Criticizing an umpire’s calls in July, 1979, the Boss said, “He’s with an excellent crew, but he fits like a $3 bill in the cash drawer.” I dedicate this Boss bit of wisdom to Angel Berroa, whose strange reign on the Yankees roster as a non-utile utility player may come to an end later today, when Cody Ransom comes up from Scranton.

angel_062409.jpgIn 14 games in Pennsy, Ransom has done his usual Ransom-y job, batting .250/.346/.477 with two home runs while striking out an unsustainable 12 times in 44 at-bats. Ransom is a fun guy to root for (this seems like a necessary qualifier to issue each time this subject comes up, while also having the benefit of being true), and he’s certainly a more useful player than Berroa, but at 33 years old his problems are ossified, calcified, and calcareous, set in stone and bone.  He has power but has problems making contact, with the result that maintaining a functional rate of reaching base becomes an insurmountable problem. With the Yankees anticipating more time off for Alex Rodriguez in the future, and Rodriguez playing like he needs it, the club needs a more viable substitute. That player is not currently in the organization. Whatever trading chips the Yankees are hoarding, they would be better spent on an infielder with some two-way bona fides than on yet another reliever.

DOUBLE PLAYS REVISITED
With Derek Jeter doing some decisive GDP damage the last couple of games, it’s time to check out the double play percentages for Yankees’ batters. The first thing to know is that in the American League, batters are hitting into double plays in about 11 percent (specifically, 10.9 percent) of opportunities. The Yankees as a team are hitting into twin killings a little more often, 11.5 percent of the time. Last year, the average AL team had about 1210 possible double play situations when hitting. This year’s average rate would result in 132 double plays. The Yankees’ rate would result in 137 double plays, which doesn’t seem like much but might matter in a close race — quite recently we’ve seen key double plays by Jeter and Robinson Cano kill the Yankees in close games.

robinson_062409.jpgRobinson Cano has been the player causing the Yankees the most trouble so far, knocking into a double play nine times in 42 chances, a rate of over 21 percent. With his double play on Tuesday night, Jeter also brought his rate up to 21 percent. Other Yankees who require Joe Girardi to give their baserunners a flying start include Alex Rodriguez (17 percent), Nick Swisher (14 percent), and Melky Cabrera (13 percent). Surprisingly, the very slow Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui have above-average performances in this category, hitting into double plays in nine and five percent of their chances, respectively.

One argument for giving Brett Gardner more playing time is that, particularly if he’s batting ninth in front of Jeter, might limit the team’s exposure to the double play in some situations. With Jeter hitting ever more balls on the ground — he’s grounding out three times for every one fly out, a career high — this is going to continue to be a problem where the Captain is concerned.

PARENTHETICALLY, A-ROD

A look at the Yankees ground ball ratios reveals that there’s a reason that A-Rod has such a high double-play rate: he’s hitting more balls on the ground than he has at any time in the last ten years. His offensive problems may or may not be caused by fatigue, but there might also be a mechanical component to the problem.

AN ORPHANED LINE ABOUT PHIL HUGHES

It might be time to give him something more challenging to do.

ANOTHER ENDORSEMENT OF BRETT GARDNER
The average AL center fielder is batting .260/.327/.403. Gardner is now hitting .285/.361/.401. His defense has been impeccable, as has his baserunning. If he can just keep doing what he’s doing, he doesn’t need to improve. Sure, improvement would be good, but the offense would be sufficient to support the other aspects of his game. While Gardner could still stand to be protected from the occasional lefty — one senses with Gardner that at some point more would likely become less — the ratio of playing time in center field should shift dramatically, from 75-25 in favor of Melky Cabrera towards Gardner. Plus — and this is no small thing — he’s the only guy on the team actually performing right now.  

The trouble with offense … and A-Rod

SO, WHAT HAVE WE GOT?
During the offseason, I frequently argued that though the Yankees had their attention focused overwhelmingly on pitching, the offense might prove to be a bigger problem. Then they signed Mark Teixeira, and I promptly shut up. It seems odd to talk about a team that has averaged more than five runs a game as having offensive deficits to make up, but the truth is that the particular construction of the Yankees means that it’s still a realistic possibility. The Yankees have to guard against being fooled by the numbers they are seeing, many of them distortions caused by their generous new home park. To this point in the season, certain aging Yankees would seem to have found the Fountain of Youth. What they’ve really discovered is a beautifully appointed new ballpark with wide concourses, laptops in the lockers, and a loving right-field power alley.

The home/road splits are damning: Derek Jeter, .295/.364/.381 with two home runs in 239 at-bats. Melky Cabrera, .278/.329/.354 with one home run in 79 at-bats. Johnny Damon, .260/.317/.449 with four home runs in 127 at-bats. Jorge Posada, .253/.348/.440 with three home runs in 75 at-bats. These numbers aren’t terrible, but they’re more realistic than what the players have done at home, more in line with what the players have done in the recent past and what we might have projected them to do this year.

arod250_062209.jpgThe Yankees are a .500 team on the road so far this season. Their road production has been, overall, quite good, given that Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui have done the bulk of their hitting while traveling. Teixeira has also done his part. Still, this hasn’t been enough to give the team the same explosiveness that it has had in the Bronx, especially when you throw in Alex Rodriguez’s post-surgical problems. (Likely unrelated to his staying up late. Though I’m sure we all want to jump on Rodriguez for his latest transgression, I’m pretty sure that sitting on a barstool next to Kate Hudson doesn’t stress his hip as much as playing does, which was more the point of his “fatigue” problems than his lack of sleep, dig?)  

Insofar as winning the division goes, this bifurcation would present less of a problem if the Yankees had won more than 60 percent of their games at home. The 1987 Minnesota Twins showed that in a soft division you could be a hundred-loss team on the road if you were a 100-win team at home. The Yankees are a few games off the latter pace. Say they were just a few games better in their own park, 25-10, instead of 21-14. That’s asking a lot of the Yankees, but we’re in the land of make-believe just now, so stay with me. Were the Yankees to maintain that kind of pace at home while staying around .500 on the road, they would finish the season with a record of somewhere around 99-63, and be in very good shape to win the Wild Card if not the division. They may win the Wild Card anyway, but you can’t take anything for granted.

There is something to be said for players that can take advantage of the features of your home park. Not every Yankee has popped a home run every 13 at-bats at home, as Damon has. The problem is that the park can’t discriminate. The Yankees have outscored their opponents by just 13 runs at home. Over time, that gap may narrow, perhaps because of the park, or maybe because Brett Tomko is pitching. Or Brett Tomko is pitching in the park. The players who have reaped the extra support might also regress, simply through age, fatigue (to use a dangerous word), injury, or changing weather patterns or other effects of the new park we can’t yet foresee.

In June, the Yankees are batting .247/.342/.424, roughly a league mark. The pitchers have been fine. June’s ERA is 3.85, actually the team’s best of the season. June’s starters have an ERA of 4.40, above-average for the league, and the transformed, Veras-free bullpen has an ERA of 2.87. Assuming that CC Sabathia isn’t hurt in any long-term-kind-of way, the pitching staff may well have achieved stability. It is the offense that should now be the source of worry. The lesson for the Yankees is clearly that if opportunities to upgrade the offense present themselves, any chance to replace a middling 35-year-old bat, they have to take it. If finances mitigate against such a move, that’s one thing, but sentimentality or the belief that Melky Cabrera (injured shoulder or not) is going to achieve consistency or Hideki Matsui is going to turn back the clock need to be ignored.

And most of all, perhaps more than anything else, a day-in, day-out A-Rod substitute must be found. Applicant should be able to out-hit Angel Berroa and outfield both he and the less-than-limber Rodriguez. Rodriguez could struggle all season, even if he takes a vow of celibacy. Again, the Yankees don’t want to take anything for granted.

A-Rod needs a rest

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.

arod250_061909.jpgNow 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.

To the mats with reader comments

veras_250_061609.jpg1: FROGPEN
Frogs worldwide are dying off at a high rate, which is depressing. Add in the state of Yankees’ middle relief and I am almost unbearably sad. Reader Ben is too:

Honestly Steve, your comment about the Yankees overusing Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves and Mariano Rivera are not well-thought out. Jose Veras is as inconsistent as can be. His stuff is so great, yet never can stay in the strike zone on the first pitch. I swear, it is a loud exhale every time when he throws ball one and you see 15,000 beads of sweat on his face with that deer-in-the-headlights look and it’s like Kyle Farnsworth all over again. Great talent, no clue how to pitch.

I don’t mean to pick on him, but Jonathan Albaladejo and David Robertson can at least claim they have not had much Major League experience. The Yankees have no one else dependable to go to. Maybe things are different with Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte healthy, if that ever happens. But right now, they don’t have depth, because of health and ineffectiveness.

Ben, I don’t see how my observation and your point are incompatible. I said Joe Girardi was turning to certain relievers with frequency because the others had been unreliable. You seem to agree with that reason. I didn’t say that Girardi was wrong to do this, but merely pointed out that there can be consequences to overusing certain relievers (call this the Proctor Rule). If there was any criticism even implicit in what I was saying it was meant not for Girardi but for the front office for not shuffling the bullpen deck again: “Given that the Yankees have other options in the Minors, it would make far more sense for the Yankees to try something new than to continue to burden Girardi with options he’s already discarded.”

By that I meant (at minimum) giving Mark Melancon another shot rather than persevering with Veras — and the Yankees have just taken a step in that direction by designating Veras for assignment. No doubt that move was prompted by the need to keep Phil Hughes around should Chien-Ming Wang fail to pitch well on Wednesday, but with any luck it means that when the club finally is able to have one starter for that spot (as opposed to the tandem starter Chien-Phil Hughes), the resultant opening in the pen will be filled by a fresh face.

2: PESSIMISM, DEAR LIZA, DEAR LIZA
They say I tend to look at the glass as half full. Reader Kevin here sees a hole in the bucket. Truncated some for length and several ill-considered word-choices:

This is not a special team yet. But it is need of some special help. We are seeing this far too often for a Yankee team: 1. Derek Jeter. The “Captain” of the team. He is hitting ok. Every once in a while he is ok in the clutch. But more than not, when he gets up to the plate you are waiting for him to hit that pop-up or hit into the double play. I don’t get it.

2. Johnny Damon. He is hitting “ok” but not clutch. He looks like a nine-year old boy in a little league game every time the ball is hit towards him in left field. No confidence… Wang. Why he is still with the team and not down in AAA I don’t know… Joba. Needs to be a reliever. Bottom line. Pull Wang, insert Hughes. Joba in the bullpen as a reliever. Girardi is acting too optimistic as a manager right now… We went 13 years in a row making the post season until….2008. Common denominator…Girardi. He is too much like a buddy than a manager. It’s obvious to me due to a lot of the decision making that is going on by him.

Jeter is batting .308 with men on, .316 with runners in scoring position, .476 with two outs and runners in scoring position, .375 late and close… What do you want from the guy? Damon is batting only .254 with men on, but has hit six home runs with runners on base, is hitting .355 late and close, and had a memorable walk-off homer against the Twins exactly a month ago. I can’t defend his defense, but he’s 35. He’s still far from a Pat Burrell out there given his speed… Wang isn’t in Triple-A because he’s out of options. Get over Joba as a reliever. He’s about 1.5 changes of role short of becoming Neil Allen. Just relax and let him settle in, try to suppress your panic every time he doesn’t pitch well. Joba has made 24 career starts and has a 3.29 ERA. I don’t have an exact list on hand, but my guess is that very few starters have begun their career with those kinds of results. True, he has only averaged five innings a start, but that’s partially due to the way the Yankees have chosen to manage him. It might also be better to have a starter who throws five strong innings than a pitcher who throws two, no matter how dominant, though I don’t know that for sure.

3: BATTING ORDERS AND THE INTIMATE LIVES OF YOUR FRIENDS DON’T MATTER MUCH…
…But they sure are fun to talk about, as reader Alightningrodfan shows:

I have been critical on these blogs in the past of Robinson Cano, but only regarding his hitting behind A-Rod. I think Jorge Posada hitting behind A-Rod would lead to better protection for A-rod and that might help A-Rod get better pitches, fewer walks, and a chance to more quickly get his groove back after surgery. However, Cano can sometimes do very well. And it seems as if A-Rod, despite his .234 average, keeps finding ways to help his team win and provides inspiration. Even through a pop-up! In any event, since it seems that Joe is going to keep Cano in fifth, I will cheer Cano on to have a successful season.

One of the better things to come out of the Mets-Yankees series was Cano going 5-for-12 with two doubles and two home runs, as he really hadn’t yet taken advantage of Yankee Stadium II. Even after his hot weekend, he’s still batting just .278/.324/.452 at home, compared to .301/.350/.534 on the road… The average AL No. 5 hitter is batting. .269/.340/.456, with a home run every 24.5 at-bats. Yankees No. 5 hitters are batting .241/.285/.425 with a home run every 26.1 at-bats. On the whole, Joe Girardi’s choices for the fifth spot haven’t worked out, but Cano isn’t the major part of the problem, having hit .301/.316/.484 in the spot. His other choices, primarily Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, and Nick Swisher, have bombed there. The sample is small enough for each that it wouldn’t be useful to read anything into that. In the long run, Posada is the better choice. It’s fascinating that Posada has spent most of his career batting fifth or lower — the Yankees have given up a lot of Posada plate appearances over the years by keeping him buried. I’d be very curious as to if Girardi or Joe Torre think they see something emotional in Posada that makes him a bad choice to bat up in the order. In his career he’s been much better when batting sixth (.295/.400/.518) instead of fifth (.277/.378/.460), so maybe there’s something to that.

…A walk is obviously not as valuable as a home run, but as long as Rodriguez keeps taking those walks while mixing in the odd home run, he’s going to be productive at the plate regardless of where his batting average ultimately falls.

4: THE UNSUBTLE PLUG
Charlief writes:

The thing to remember about the Nats is the hitting is actually quite good. You say average, but up until the last two weeks – when Guzman, Dunn and Zimmerman all fell into slumps, they were 3rd in the NL in scoring. I think that will tick back up at some point. Throw in future Met Nick Johnson, plus Josh Willingham’s .891 OPS, they aren’t slouches with the bats… In terms of pit
ching, it’s just not there. All rookie starters other than Lannan means a rough go. Lannan vs. Wang should actually be a great matchup. They are similar in more ways than they’re different, strikeout rates aside. I think from a Nats fan point of view it’s good that Detwiler and Zimmermann don’t start in this series. They will be needed in 2010 along with Strasburg, and the Yankees at home can mess with pitchers heads. Also needed are some people who can field, if you know any. This may be Manny Acta’s last series, and Mets fans, he could be sitting on a bench near you in the near future..
.

I purposely left Josh Willingham out of my evaluation because he’s currently on the bereavement list due to the sad death of his brother in an auto accident, and I wasn’t sure if he’d be back in time for this series. It is true that the Nats were hitting a bit better just a couple of weeks ago, but I’m reluctant to say that that was their true offensive level. I think it more likely that Zimmerman, Dunn, Nick the Greenstick, et al were playing a little over their heads, and what we’re seeing now is a return to a more realistic level of production.

I wish Manny Acta all the best, and hope he gets another chance with a real ballclub, should the Nats pull the trigger as was rumored. No manager could have overcome a bullpen as poor as that of this year’s Nats club. As always, whenever Acta comes up I feel proud to point out that he has cited the book I edited and co-authored, Mind Game as having been an important influence. Someone should get him a copy of Forging Genius as well, given that it’s about a manager who gets fired a lot before going on to greatness. It could be therapeutic… And he’ll probably be more careful about looking both ways before crossing the street. Four things Winston Churchill and Casey Stengel had in common: (1) late-career success after they had been written off; (2) handy with a turn of phrase; (3) enjoyed alcohol, perhaps a bit too much; (4) hit by cars while attempting to cross a street in a major American city. I’m sure there are more…

5: SCARCITY
…Or is that Scar City? Midcoaster asks:

My big question about Jesus Montero is – if he is not expected to be a catcher in the big leagues why is he still catching? Should’t he be learning how to be, at least, adequate in a position he will be playing? Looks like the Yankees are making a career DH. Please no more DH only types. Get him to learn a position he will be playing while he is still on the farm. Yes a big clunky guy could play the outfield if he gets gets experience and is well coached. The way ball are flying out of the new stadium it might be a good idea to keep him.

Jesus Montero is definitely a keeper. The reason he’s still catching is that the Yankees know how hard it is to find a top bat to stick behind the dish. If they can keep Montero back there, he’ll be infinitely more valuable than if he’s a first baseman, left fielder, or designated hitter. They’ve made a determination that until he proves that he absolutely cannot catch he’s going to stay, and it’s a good call, especially since Mark Teixeira has him blocked at first base for the next hundred years. His Tampa numbers this year are equivalent to his hitting .301/.325/.470 in the Majors as a 19-year-old. He could be Mike Piazza for the Yankees, with all the associated pros and cons. There’s no rush to move him.

MORE OF ME–TV
I’ll be on the YES’ Yankees Batting Practice Today show tomorrow, Wednesday, at 6 p.m.. Hope you see me then. 

Too many double plays

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.

jeterblog_pbible052709.jpgWhat’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.

pavano_052709.jpgIndians 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.

Royals
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 (?).