Results tagged ‘ Joba Chamberlain ’

The garden of Halladay

halladay_250_111909.jpgSince new Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos let it be known that he would not object to trading Roy Halladay within the American League East, there has been much speculation about another Yankees-Red Sox competition for the veteran right-hander’s services. If true, this almost ensures that Halladay will be traded in the division, because these are two teams deep in resources who will be motivated to top each other, thus escalating their offers above and beyond what teams outside the division would be willing to offer.

This news is both exhilarating and depressing. The Yankees just won a World Series by leaning on three starters, and their 2010 rotation is unsettled beyond CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Halladay is one of the best starters in the game and an additional asset in new Yankee Stadium given his groundball tendencies. The depressing part is that Halladay will cost a lot, particularly if the Red Sox and other teams are bidding up the price. It would be sad to see Phil Hughes and Jesus Montero blossom in a Blue Jays uniform. Halladay will be 33 next year, while Montero will be 20, so even if Halladay spends the next five years in pinstripes, Montero will still be in his prime for years after the Doc has checked out.

The “other hand” to that is that flags fly forever, and maybe you trade 20 years of Montero for two more World Series appearances with the present group. Perhaps by that time there will be some other Montero around to distract from the 30 homers a year the original is hitting at the Rogers Centre. On yet another hand (the fifteenth hand, I believe), the Yankees’ position players are rapidly aging, and keeping a player like Montero around may help keep them competitive in ways beyond what Halladay might contribute. We’re lost in Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths here.

Were the Yankees to let the cup of Halladay pass from their lips, it might not be a bad thing. The odds are that Hughes or whoever the Yankees might trade won’t develop into a Cy Young pitcher of Halladay’s caliber, but they might, or might be good enough that the Yankees prosper anyway. Hughes will be 24 next year. In seven years he’ll be 31. Seven years from now, Halladay could be on the golf course 12 months a year. Were he to go to the Red Sox it would be a tough thing, as Halladay has pitched very well against the Yankees over the years (though not nearly so well against the Red Sox), but like the Yankees, the Red Sox have problems that Halladay can’t solve; in fact the same problem, an aging roster. The replacements that Theo Epstein trades for Halladay in December he might need by July.

Here’s another argument for trading for Halladay: Commissioner Selig and his umbrella Perkins say that each postseason series will not have 43 days off between games next year, with no series running less than six weeks each. As such, were the Yankees again to make it to October with just three trustworthy starters, Coffee Joe could not get around it by starting the Golden Trio on short rest–that fourth starter would almost certainly come into play. In addition, the same relievers could not be used in every game. If Halladay gives you anything, he gives you length, so he would be a help to any team trying to work through a more reasonable schedule.

And then there’s the Mayan calendar. If that’s right, then none of this matters anyway.

ANGELS PATRONIZED

I’m offended by the notion that what put Mike Scioscia on top for the American League Manager of the Year award is that his team succeeded despite Nick Adenahrt’s death. Adenhart’s death was tragic and futile, and no doubt the young men of the Angels’ organization were deeply affected. That said, I have more faith in the professionalism of the ballplayers on that team, a fairly seasoned lot, than to believe they would have packed it in on April 9 for any reason, no matter how upsetting.

Further, as one who deals with existentially-flavored depression on a fairly regular basis, I find it impossible to believe that any manager, Scioscia, Joe Girardi, Joe Torre, Connie Mack, John McGraw, could jolly anyone out of a true bout of sadness. Words just don’t mean that much when you’re staring into the abyss. Nor has anyone said that Scioscia held individual counseling sessions or did anything out of the norm except report to work and keep making out his lineup cards. What else can you do in such a situation except keep playing?

Finally, in the most basic baseball sense of things, the loss of Adenhart was not necessarily something decisive the Angels had to overcome. While he was projected to be a big part of the team, and certainly had talent, he had not yet established himself in the Majors. In the same way that Joba Chamberlain or Hughes has advanced one foot and retreated two, Adenhart might have had steps back in his future. Certainly his Minor League record suggests that would have been the case.

The Angels had many such baseball situations that they had to work through to get to the postseason. Howie Kendrick slumped early. Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter got hurt, as did John Lackey, Ervin Santana and key bullpen piece Scot Shields. Brian Fuentes was always a blown save away from losing his job. At the same time, they were also the only really solid team in a weak division, something you can’t say about Girardi’s Yankees and Terry Francona’s Red Sox, both of which had their own baseball-oriented problems to deal with. They didn’t have to confront death, and that’s something we can all be thankful for, but just because Scioscia’s team did have that occur doesn’t necessarily make him the best manager in the league last year. Treating Adenhart’s untimely demise as an excuse to lionize a manager is both trivializing and exploitative.

MORE OF ME, SORT OF
Last weekend, NPR had a “Write a song” contest. I was too swamped by the Baseball Prospectus annual to do much more than kibbitz about a few words in the item ultimately entered by my songwriting partnership, but perhaps that was a blessing to the song that was ultimately created. If you’re interested in a completely different and heretofore unpublicized aspect of my creative output (as here embodied by my collaborator, Dr. Rick Mohring), you can find it on the scroll list halfway down the page under the name “Casual Observer.” I hope you enjoy listening to our “Carrie and Pierre.”

The spine

teixeira_300_110209.jpgAs the old saying goes, momentum in baseball is only as good as your next day’s starter. The Phillies have a very good starter going in World Series Game 5, so perhaps it is premature to say that the Yankees may have broken their opponent’s spine. Yet, the dramatic action of Game 4’s eighth and ninth innings, which wrapped an entire “Yankees Classic’s” worth of action into about 20 minutes, suggests that conclusion.

Let’s review. The Yankees took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth. CC Sabathia, looking a bit frayed around the edges, pitched just that much better than Joe Blanton. The fifth inning was particularly tough, with the Phillies putting two on with none out for Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and the deadly-to-lefties Jayson Werth. Sabathia induced pop-ups from Utley and Howard, and struck out Werth to end the threat. In many games, that might have been the end right there.

Regarding the Sabathia- Utley relationship: I am reminded of Don Mattingly vs. Don Aase, who was the Orioles closer for a couple of years during the center of Mattingly’s career. Aase was often a good pitcher, but he could do nothing with Mattingly, who went 6-for-7 with two home runs against him. After Mattingly hit his second ninth inning homer off of Aase in a year, Orioles manager Earl Weaver was asked if he would ever let Aase pitch to Mattingly again. “Not even to intentionally walk him,” Weaver said. It’s getting to that point with Sabathia and Utley.

Utley’s home run in the seventh chased Sabathia, so Joe Girardi bringing in Damaso Marte’s fresh arm to go after Howard. Marte again rewarded Girardi’s faith in him this series. The Yankees stranded two runners in the top of the eighth, and Girardi decided to roll the dice on a new eighth inning man… Firpo Marberry! Actually, with Werth due up, he went for Joba Chamberlain with Phil Hughes being too scary and David Robertson having left the stadium to pick up some Chinese take-out. Joba is right-handed and has pitched a good inning in this series, so the manager was entitled to his fantasies of 2007.

Chamberlain seemed set to pay those off, as the old Joba was suddenly back, back for perhaps the first time all year, pumping 97 mph fastballs at the Phillies hitters. Unfortunately, Pedro Feliz took one of those 97 mph fastballs and made a souvenir out of it. Joba came back to get Carlos Ruiz on off-speed pitches, striking out the side around the game-tying home run. Baseball is a punishing game. For a moment, Joba had turned back the clock, and yet he still was punished. It’s like something out of Greek myth.

That sets up the ninth. With the game tied, the Yankees finally got their first look at Brad Lidge, the lost-then supposedly-found closer. Lidge looked very tough in retiring Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter, but then came Johnny Damon’s terrific, nine-pitch at-bat. As Lidge threw fastball after fastball trying to get the elusive third strike, you could see Damon getting his timing down. We’ll never know why Lidge didn’t go back to his slider in any of his last five pitches to Damon given that the fastball wasn’t fooling the left fielder. Damon finally singled to keep the inning alive. If Lidge wasn’t unnerved at this point, he surely was after Damon — who didn’t run much in the regular season (and why would you if you’re on base in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez?) — promptly stole two bases on one play, one by taking advantage of the Phillies’ defensive alignment to swipe an unguarded third.

That was all it took for Lidge to turn into the pitcher who went 0-8 with 11 blown saves this year. He hit Teixeira, grooved a pitch to A-Rod for an RBI double, and couldn’t retire Jorge Posada despite getting ahead 0-2. By the time Posada retired himself on the bases, the Yankees were up 7-4. Now, here is where I think we find the broken spine. Girardi called on Mariano Rivera to close out the game. The Phillies have now seen Mariano more times than I’ve seen “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” That’s about a bajillion times, for those keeping score at home. Nonetheless, the Phillies did not battle, did not make it tough on the Yankees’ Father Time. They went out on eight pitches — two to pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, three to Jimmy Rollins, three to Shane Victorino. Some of that economy is due to the greatness of Mo, but it also, I think, reflected the mood of the moment, that this was too high a mountain to climb.

As I said at the outset, Lee is a terrific pitcher, and if the Phillies chose the better part of valor in the ninth inning, there is nothing in that to indicate that they won’t come out fighting in Game 5. These are, after all, the reigning champions. If they don’t get up off the mat, though, no one can blame them — they’ve had to overcome a great deal of adversity this year, much of it at the hands of Lidge and their manager’s loyalty to them. If this loss is one cut too many, it will be understandable. No team in the history of baseball has ever had to work harder to overcome one of their own relievers than the Phillies have had to work to overcome Lidge.

Pinstriped Bible awards: Part I

I don’t get a vote, but as we wait for the quantum states of the Yankees playoff opponents to collapse into a single hostile force, the Pinstriped Bible awards ballot:

girardi_250_100409.jpgAL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
1. Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
2. Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels
3. Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers

Sure, Girardi got all the big-ticket Christmas presents last winter, but let’s review: First, last year he was insecure and came off like Captain Queeg. That wasn’t the case this year. Second, he cut down on the one-run strategies (that guys that were bunting were the ones who probably should have been, like Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli) and self-defeating intentional walks. Third, he remade the bullpen on the fly for the second year in a row. Finally, he was sensitive to having a veteran team and made a point of resting his regulars.

Against this, we have the Joba Chamberlain rules screw-up, a strange loyalty to Sergio Mitre, the weird survival of non-entities like Angel Berroa on the roster and his favoring of Xavier Nady over Nick Swisher at season’s outset. I’m not sure how many of these issues were solely Girardi’s call or how many current managers would have done better. Let’s also throw in the team’s recovery from a rough start and early abuse at the hands of the Red Sox, and the fact that not all of those expensive toys performed up to expectations from the get-go. Girardi is as good a choice as any manager, despite the Yankees’ bulging payroll.

Scioscia managed a very different kind of Angels team this year, a unit that survived more on its offense, which was the apotheosis of the high-average Scioscia/Mickey Hatcher style, albeit with more power, than its pitching staff that endured many injuries and the murder of Nick Adenhart. They also outplayed their third-order winning percentage by 10 games. Leyland’s team was a mess, but he did restlessly experiment throughout the year with patching its various holes. In the end they outplayed their expected record by eight games.

NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
1. Jim Tracy, Colorado Rockies
2. Tony LaRussa, St. Louis Cardinals
3. Bud Black, San Diego Padres

In reverse order: Black had nothing to work with and an unstable ownership situation not only meant that the club couldn’t be improved, but that some of his good players, like Jake Peavy, would be sold out from under him. To his credit, the club didn’t quit and actually posted a winning record in the second half. LaRussa started the season with Albert Pujols and pretty much nothing else, and it got worse from there as Khalil Greene imploded, some of the young relievers didn’t take, and Chris Duncan lost his bat. LaRussa improvised a competent lineup while his pitching czar, Dave Duncan, worked miracles with the hurlers. They outplayed their expected record by five games. Finally, Tracy took over a team that was dead in the water, playing at close to a hundred-loss pace through more than a quarter of the season and presided over a .640 finish and a playoff berth. That’s up there with what Bob Lemon did for the Yankees in 1978.

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. Andrew Bailey, Oakland A’s
2. Jeff Neimann, Tampa Bay Rays
3. Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox
4. Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers
5. Brett Anderson, Oakland A’s
6. Nolan Reimold, Baltimore Orioles

There were many strong rookie seasons in the AL, but none that really popped, and as such it’s very hard to separate one from the other. Bailey pitched very well, but in a comparatively compressed amount of playing time compared to some of the other candidates. Beckham had a strong year, but his weak August (.223/.313/.393) depressed his numbers just enough that it underscores a future in the middle infield and not the hot corner, while Neimann slipped a bit in the second half. Porcello and Anderson probably have the brightest futures of any of them, and of course if the Tigers does something astounding on Tuesday in saving the division title for his team that could change this ranking.

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. Chris Coghlan, Florida Marlins
2. J.A. Happ, Philadelphia Phillies
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
4. Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves
5. Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers
6. Garret Jones, Pittsburgh Pirates

As with the AL, the Senior Circuit enjoyed many solid rookie seasons. Coghlan finished at .321/.390/.460 (128 games) and gave the Marlins the leadoff man they’d desperately needed all season. McCutchen finished at .286/.365/.471 in 108 games. McCutchen may be the better long-term bet, but Coghlan had the more impactful season. On a per-game basis, Garrett Jones was better than either of them on a per-game basis, but didn’t play nearly as much. If Happ took the award it wouldn’t be a crime given the important role he played in stabilizing a pitching staff that was flying apart.

MVP AND CY YOUNG AWARD WINNERS…
…In the next entry.

This series still matters

jeter_250_092509.jpgRED SOX REDUX
The alliterative phrase “possible playoff preview” is overused, but here we have one of those series that could be exactly that. If the current seeding holds through the end of the season, the Yankees would face Detroit in the first round and, if they survive that test, see the winner of a Red Sox/Angels match-up in the second round.

Facing either opponent emphasizes the importance of maintaining the division lead and home field advantage, because the Red Sox are a .500 club on the road to date, and despite the recent successful action in Anaheim, the Yankees want to see as little of California as possible. Beating the Tigers only to find out one has to play up to four games in Anaheim might be the only time in sports history that the line, “I’m going to Disneyland!” would signify a negative.

Announcer: Hey, Derek Jeter! You just thrashed the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs! What are you going to do now?

Derek Jeter: I’m going to Disneyland! Aw, [expletive, expletive, expletive]!”

Thus, this series does matter in a real way, beyond the usual Red Sox-Yankees hoopla. There are also three pitchers undergoing key tests: Joba Chamberlain gets yet another chance to lower his post-Rules ERA from 8.50, and against a pitcher, Jon Lester, who has been almost unhittable since getting off to a rough beginning to the season, so there’s not a lot of margin for error. On May 26, Lester was 3-5 with an ERA of 6.07. He’s made 20 starts since then, going 11-2 with an ERA of 2.13. I hope that you readers won’t fault me too much when I say that I root for Lester as a fellow cancer survivor in spite of the uniform he wears. Some things transcend petty rivalry. I don’t mind if the Yankees beat him, of course, but I’d rather it was by a 2-1 score than a 15-1 score. In any case, much as with Joba’s most recent start in Seattle, the Yankees stand a good chance of being lulled to sleep if Joba allows the Sox to score an early touchdown.

On Saturday, CC Sabathia gets a chance to continue his recent dominance against a resurgent Daisuke Matsuzaka, which is really just a game of minimal expectations: You don’t have to win, but don’t pitch so badly that people start to wonder if you’re hurt, or have turned into Joe Cowley or something. On Sunday, Andy Pettitte will get a chance to put his shoulder fatigue further behind him, drawing Paul Byrd as his opponent, Byrd being Boston’s placeholder for a guy named Hypothetical Better Starter that We Don’t Have.

In short, it’s a weekend of confidence testing, of pulling back from a 3-3 road trip. The playoffs are assured and even the shape of the playoffs as far as the Yankees goes seems largely locked into place, so the key thing here is to not fall apart. That doesn’t seem like very much to add.

DARN PLATOONING
Lester on the hill means Melky Cabrera in the lineup. Last year at Triple-A, Brett Gardner batted .324/.407/.495 against southpaws. This year in the Majors he’s hit .302/.393/.415 against them. Cabrera has hit .261/.335/.418 against them, and those rates have slid in the second half — whereas Cabrera hit .267/.345/.480 against lefties through mid-July, since then he’s hit only .256/.326/.359 against them, which is actually a pathetically poor number for a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching.

This year, all right-handed hitters in the Majors are batting .268/.341/.431 against lefties. All right-handers have a built-in ability to hit left-handers, but not Cabrera. His career averages against southpaws stand at .254/.323/.354, and as with so much about his post-April work, his final numbers are going to be reflective of what he’s done in the rest of his career rather than what he did earlier this year. Joe Girardi really needs to forget about what he thinks he saw this spring and move on with things.

AMERICA, AMERICA
I note Baseball Think Factory:

Van Buren Elementary fourth-grader Nathan Johns thought his teacher was kidding when he instructed him to go to the bathroom and turn his Yankees T-shirt inside out.

The blue shirt read “New York No. 52” on the front and “Sabathia” for the New York Yankees’ pitcher CC Sabathia, on the back.

” I thought to myself ‘Is he serious or is he kidding,'” said Nate, 9, a student in Peter Addabbo’s fourth-grade class. “But he had this look like he wasn’t kidding at all.”

Nate complied, and said he was later told to wear it that way until dismissal. At lunch, Nate said the fifth-graders made fun of him because he wearing his shirt inside out.

“It was such a horrible day.” Nate said. “I don’t ever want anything like to happen again.”

Nate said he felt he was treated unfairly.

“Just because my teacher doesn’t like the Yankees I should still have the right to wear a Yankees shirt,” Nate said Thursday after school. The teacher has Boston Red Sox paraphernalia all over the classroom on display, he said.

I have long felt that one of the problems with the educational experience in our country is that school is a place where they teach you about your rights and then fail to honor them. As an aspiring columnist in high school, I simultaneously learned about first amendment rights and was subject to prior restraint and press censorship because the administration didn’t like my choice of topics.

Apparently, now you can also be bullied because the teacher doesn’t like your choice of teams. Had the kid been wearing an Obama T-Shirt, or for that matter a Richard Nixon T-shirt (a friend actually did wear one in high school, albeit as a kind of ironic statement), the violation of his rights would have been much more obvious and probably wouldn’t have been contemplated. Instead, the kid, a fourth-grader, all of nine years old, was singled out in a possibly traumatic way. The petty tyranny of some teachers over children is astounding to behold. They indulge in arbitrary behaviors that they would never, ever have the guts to pull with an adult.

Longtime readers know that I am no fan of the teaching profession. As time goes on and my own children get further into the school system, and I read of matters like this one, I see little to change my mind. This incident was wholly inappropriate and the teacher should be disciplined — and although this is a Yankees-centric feature, I would say that even if the roles were reversed, and an educator who was a Yankees fan told some helpless child to reverse his Kevin Youkilis T.

Since he’s such a brave Red Sox fan, his punishment should be to stand outside of Gate 4 of Yankee Stadium this weekend and ask everyone coming in to reverse their T-shirts. I’d like to see the reaction of people old enough to answer back. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic.

Gaudin to the rescue?

I WANT TO BANG THIS GONG ONE MORE TIME …
… Because sometimes I just don’t understand the thinking that goes into certain decisions. Today, the (sadly) Boston-bound Pete Abraham reports that not only is Chad Gaudin now in the starting rotation in place of Sergio Mitre, but if he pitches well he has a shot to be in the postseason rotation ahead of Joba Chamberlain:

With Chamberlain not pitching well, Gaudin has emerged as a candidate should the Yankees need a No. 4 starter at some point in the playoffs. Manager Joe Girardi nodded enthusiastically when asked if Gaudin had that chance.

“He sure does,” Girardi said in the dugout Monday night before the Yankees played the Angels. “He’s obviously in the mix or he wouldn’t be starting for us. We went out and got Chad because we felt that he could help us down the stretch and in the postseason, and he has pitched pretty well. He has done a very good job.”

What I can’ t figure out is that if Gaudin was such an important acquisition for the Yankees, why has he done so much sitting around? I’m not trying to pretend that Gaudin is the next Walter Johnson, because we’re talking about a 26-year-old who has a 4.53 ERA in about 600 Major League innings and averages four walks per nine innings. Still, he was a more likely candidate for the fifth starter’s spot, and perhaps even the fourth, than the other fellows the Yankees insisted on using. Let’s review.

Chad Gaudin has pitched only 29.1 innings for the Yankees. He was acquired on August 6 and then didn’t pitch for six days. He didn’t start for almost two weeks, getting his first assignment on August 19 at Oakland. After pitching 4.1 one-hit innings in the game (albeit with five walks), he headed back to the bullpen, not starting again until September 3. He made his third start five days later, but eight days went by before he made his fourth start. Consider what the other Yankees starters have done in that time, and if there was perhaps a place for Gaudin to get a shot at starting:

CC Sabathia has made nine starts with an ERA of 1.79 in 65.1 innings. The team went 9-0 in those games. Hmm. You probably wouldn’t want to pull CC out of the rotation.

A.J. Burnett made nine starts with an ERA of 4.97 in 58 innings. The team went 4-5. This is something of a downer, but opponents have hit only .257/.335/.428 (everyone is Melky Cabrera), which isn’t quite the same as being bombed, plus he’s mixed some good starts in there. Let’s move on.

Andy Pettitte made eight starts, skipping one to rest his shoulder. His ERA was 3.60 in 50 innings, and opponents hit .214. The team went 6-2. No problems here, assuming all the parts are in place.

Joba Chamberlain, kneecapped by his Rules or mechanical problems, or some combination thereof, made eight starts and pitched 31 innings with an ERA of 8.42. Opponents hit .331/.396/.496, which means the average hitter against Joba in this period was Rod Carew. The team went 4-4 since they had turned Joba’s starts into bad relief appearances. This is the only reason you can’t say, “There’s no way the Yankees could have gotten a worse result short of shooting the pitcher themselves.”

Sergio Mitre joined the rotation on July 21 and was started religiously every five days through late August. At the time Gaudin was acquired, Mitre had made four starts and had posted an ERA of 7.50 in 18 innings. He had given up 32 hits and opponents were hitting like Ted Williams, batting .395/.432/.506. Despite the alternative provided by Gaudin, Mitre kept taking his turn in the pulpit. In his next six games before finally being pulled from the rotation, the greatest Yankee named Sergio (also the only Yankee named Sergio) improved his results, the averages against him dropping to a still-miserable .301/.343/.553. His ERA for 28 innings was 7.71. The team record in those games was 3-3. The Yankees actually went 5-4 in Mitre starts, which is (A) a bit lower than a team like the Yankees wants to perform and (B) a reflection of the quality of Mitre’s opponents, teams that let the Yankees back into some games they might have been out of had they been playing a playoff-level opponent.

The Yankees had ample proof that Mitre couldn’t pitch before they got Gaudin, and two appearances since (one starting, one relieving) notwithstanding, he hasn’t given them much argument to the contrary. They could also see Joba, the potential fourth starter in the playoffs, or even third starter if Pettitte’s shoulder continues to trouble him, disintegrating. Yet Gaudin has always been on hold for a rainy day that the Yankees never accepted was here, even though it poured baseballs every time Mitre pitched. Now, with a fraction of the season left and so many games wasted, the guy is supposed to ride to the rescue.

I would tell you what the decision tree that must have led to this point must have been if only I could perceive it myself.

ON YESTERDAY’S MELKY MADNESS
melky286_092209.jpgJudging from the reaction to yesterday’s entry, I did a poor job of making myself clear. My intention was to be forward-looking. I was not suggesting that Cabrera’s performance was overly hindering the 2009 Yankees or was a reason they might fall out of the playoffs or fail to save the world when Galactus comes, or anything like that. The 2009 Yankees have their offense pretty much squared away, and while Melky’s 95 OPS+ isn’t a big part of that, it’s good enough under the circumstances. Despite the current rough stretch, I’m not encouraging panic about the team’s chances, though if they punt away home-field advantage, I might change my position on that.

My point was meant to pertain to next season. The Yankees are an old team. Jorge Posada has been great this year, but next year he’ll be 38 and you can’t keep expecting greatness. You can say the same thing about Derek Jeter and A-Rod and Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, assuming either or both of them come back. Heck, you could say it if they were in their 20s instead of their 30s, because life is unpredictable, but there would be less reason to worry about it. Because of the unsettled state of things, because it is hard to imagine next year’s offense being of the same quality as this year’s offense, the Yankees may need to get more out of center field. That is, they can’t just assume that other positions will make up for whatever sorta-decent to sub-decent things that Cabrera or Brett Gardner might do. As such, if there’s a “Don’t Look at This Until Spring” pile that Brian Cashman has, which one would assume includes Mark Teixeira and first base, Sabathia as No. 1 starter, etc, center field  should not be on it. It is reasonable to suggest that if other positions, within and without the outfield, are going to decline, center field may have to go up. If the Yankees are satisfied, viewing Melky in isolation, that won’t happen.

That was my major point. It had naught to do with 2009. No doubt the current Yankees would do better if Joe DiMaggio was available to play center, but he’s not strictly necessary at the moment.

September: Only the cruelest month for Baltimore

melky250.jpgMISSED OPPORTUNITIES: PRETTY MUCH NONE (OR ONE)
…Although “Waiting for Melky Cabrera’s Next Hot Streak” would have made for a very good Johnny Cash song, something along the lines of “Big River”:

Now, I taught the weeping willow how to cry
And I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky
And I’m still waiting for Melky to start hitting again, Big River
Or I’m gonna sit right here until I die

This is hardly worth a complaint or cavil; with the Yankees having just swept the White Sox, there’s little to complain about. Well, we could always spend more time first-guessing the Joba Rules 3.0, or whatever version Joe Girardi is up to now. The experiment is fascinating in the completely blind way it is being conducted; there is no hope of ever knowing if the Yankees are helping or just sort of messing around. If Joba doesn’t get hurt, it isn’t necessarily because of anything the Yankees did or did not do, and the same thing is true if he does get hurt. Being careful to avoid too large a year-over-year increase in innings pitched seems correct both from an intuitive and anecdotal perspective, but in the final analysis, the only foolproof way to avoid pitching injuries is not pitching.

Simultaneously, if the Joba Rules are in conflict with the goal of developing Chamberlain into a consistently successful Major League pitcher, then it isn’t clear what the Yankees are accomplishing. To paraphrase a tragic Vietnam-era concoction, what if the only way to save the pitcher is to destroy him? Yet another thing we don’t know is if Joba’s recent stretch of weak pitching is due to the rules or just coincidental with their implementation. The righty made 11 starts with a 3.31 ERA in June and July. In August, the month all the messing around really took hold, his ERA was 8.22. If he’s miserable in the playoffs, if he’s miserable next year, then it will be difficult to argue that this was a goal worth pursuing, or that it was pursued correctly.

There is another imperative, one which is in conflict with the Joba Rules, and that is winning ballgames and championships. Had the Yankees been in a tighter race in the middle of this month, they would have faced a fascinating choice between holding to their principles and trying to get back to the postseason. Fortunately for them, and perhaps for Joba, we will never know what would have happened in that situation.

20-GAME WATCH: YANKEES VS. ORIOLES
                W-L   RS/G   RA/G   AVG   OBP  SLG   AB/HR   SB  CS  HR/9  BB/9    K/9
Yankees   14-6   6.3     4.5    .298   .357  .513   20        9     2     1.2    2.9     8.6
Orioles     8-12   4.9     5.2    .281   .343  .465   31        11   5     1.3    3.3     5.9

Another August comes to a close, another series against an Orioles team that has packed it in for the year. The Orioles franchise goes back to the founding of the American League in 1901, when it came into existence as the St. Louis Browns. The Browns, as you can probably infer from the fact that they now play in Baltimore, were generally not too successful, their two high points being a terrific but losing race with the Yankees in 1922 and a random pennant in 1944. Much of the rest of the time, including the early Baltimore period, the club was hopeless, twice going more than 10 years without even putting up a .500 record. The first stretch, from 1930-1941, lasted 12 seasons. The second, from 1946-1956, lasted 11. When this season ends, the club will have equaled the former futile run, having not posted a winning record since 1997.

The Yankees have good timing in this series, in that they won’t see the two top pitching prospects the Orioles now have up, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz. Instead, they get the vet Jeremy Guthrie (hot lately, with consecutive seven inning/one run starts), the rookie David Hernandez, who they have handled before — he remains wild and prone to the home run — and another rookie, Jason Berken, who they battered back in July. This is not something to be boasted of, because pretty much everyone else who has seen Berken has basted him. He has pitched a little better of late, going 10.2 innings and allowing five runs in his last two starts.

The hottest hitter the O’s have won’t play against Andy Pettitte. Outfielder Felix Pie has been a bust in both Chicago and Baltimore, but the 24-year-old got a chance to play with Adam Jones nursing injuries and he made the most of it, batting .333/.394/.651 in August. This aside, the sights to see remain the same: veteran keystoner Brian Roberts, the three young outfielders, and rookie catcher Matt Wieters. If it sounds like I’m not too excited by this series, it’s because there isn’t much reason to be. The Orioles hit at about the same level of productivity as the White Sox, but their pitching is far worse. Given how the Yankees just handled the White Sox, there isn’t much suspense here. Or, at least, there shouldn’t be.

WAITING ON SEPTEMBER CALL-UPS
The Yankees still haven’t said who is coming, nor have they designated all of their Arizona Fall League attendees, so the immediate future of Yankees prospect-dom remains murky. One would hope that Austin Jackson is coming. As miserable as he has been lately (.236/.281/.299 since the break and largely pointless since May), the Yankees still need to get a look at him in big league situations to see what they have. There is some interesting slack in his numbers, including a homerless .302/.346/.414 against left-handed pitching, an oddity for a right-handed hitter. This is not something you would expect to continue, unless Jackson has become such a pronounced ground ball hitter this year that his power is going to stagnate from now on. With a big lead, Brett Gardner hurt, and Cabrera endlessly slumping (.212/.225/.333 in August, .239/.308/.380 since May), veterans in need of rest, and all the leverage in the world on Johnny Damon’s side in upcoming free agent negotiations, giving Jackson a cup of coffee in spite of his weak performance would seem the correct thing to do.

Amending the Joba Rules

joba250.jpgONE GAME DOESN’T PROVE ANYTHING…
It’s more than one game, though. Since we’ve been arguing about Jorge Posada all week, I thought I would point out that his detractors got his wish, with the old man taking a ball off the finger and going out of the lineup for a few days. With Thursday’s loss, the team record in Molina’s starts dropped to 13-14. Having fun yet? Maybe the next time Bob Geren brings the A’s by, he can suit up and spend the series putting up a .280 on-base percentage for the folks who miss the quiet Yankees games of the early 1990s. You know–the pro-Molina guys.

JOBA RULES AMENDED AGAIN
Peter Abraham reports that Joba Chamberlain will now pitch every five games. There is something to be said for not making things up as you go along, especially when dealing with a kid pitcher who probably lacks the perspective that the Yankees have about injuries. He just wants to win some ballgames, get established, make some millions. Maybe he should care more about innings limits, but it’s hard to when you have a strong desire to do something, the way you might linger of a project, a book, or a TV show when you should really quit and go to bed; the way some have trouble turning down a slab of chocolate cake when they know they really shouldn’t eat it (yes, the previous two examples describe me). Consequences or always for another day. If the Yankees have gotten bad results from putting Joba on an innings diet, it is because they failed to make it clear to him at the outset what he’d be doing and when, and by “outset” what is meant is “spring training.” It is clear that the erratic nature of the Rules left Chamberlain confused and under pressure as well as disrupted him mechanically. He appeared to pitch as if he knew this would be his only chance for the next seven to ten days.

As I have pointed out in the past, the worst thing about this second iteration of the Rules is that they were counterproductive. Preventing pitcher injuries is in no way a science. There’s a lot of guesswork, and in the end, it is likely that the only thing that can prevent pitching injuries is not pitching. The best teams can do is avoid the obviously dangerous stuff. That’s what the Yankees are trying to achieve by controlling Chamberlain’s innings. Yet, another danger, and perhaps a more important one than innings, is that of long, high-pitch innings. The more time off Joba had, the wilder he got. The wilder he got, the more pitches he threw. The total for the entire game might be the same, but one or two innings would suffer from a balloon effect. It is those innings, where pitch after pitch after pitch is thrown, that carry the highest risk of injury.

The latest change would seem to carry the best chances of good results for everyone except Yankees relievers. Chamberlain will start in his rotation spot, but will have his pitches limited and his appearances truncated. Given a fairly solid lock on a postseason berth, team goals shouldn’t be compromised too badly, certainly not any more than they have been by putting Sergio Mitre in the rotation.

COKE: THE PAUSE THAT … UM…
The Yankees’ primary bullpen lefty has now allowed six home runs to left-handed hitters this year. Though left-handers are hitting only .209 against him with a .235 OBP, they’re also averaging a home run every 18 at-bats, which is a 33-homer pace over 600 at-bats. Coke might seem too dangerous to use in a key situation, but should we discount some of the home runs by left-handed hitters because they get to take aim at Yankee Stadium’s short right field? It’s hard to say. Three of the six homers have been shots to right field at home. Would they have gone out of the old park? We can’t know for sure. The one thing we can say is that Coke gets very few groundballs. In his brief but effective debut last year, he was much better at keeping the ball down. This year, he’s deep in negative territory when it comes to groundball/flyball ratio. If he’s going to succeed in a late-inning role, be it at Yankee Stadium II or anywhere else (but especially there), a change in style is going to be necessary.

20-GAME WATCH: WHITE SOX VS. YANKEES
                  W-L  RS/G  RA/G  AVG   OBP   SLG  AB/HR  SB  CS  HR/9 BB/9  K/9
White Sox  8-12 4.6    4.9    .251   .337  .412  28       14  2    1.4    3.0    7.2
Yankees    14-6  6.1    4.6    .296   .362  .506  20        9   3    1.2    3.7    9.0

The Red Sox took three of four, and given that the Yankees lost three of four in Chicago, they owe the Pale House some of the same treatment… The Yankees’ runs/game numbers are distorted by the 20 they put up in Boston. Discount that game, replace it with a 21st game, August 5 at Toronto, and they have averaged 5.5 runs per game, still very good… Since his perfect game, Mark Buehrle has gone 0-4 with a 6.21 ERA in six starts. That includes eight shutout innings against Seattle (a 1-0 loss for the White Sox), so you can see how miserable he’s been in the other five games… That Alex Rios pickup hasn’t really worked out so far, with the outfielder hitting only .200 in 12 games. White Sox center fielders have batted .223/.276/.307 on the season, which is a lot like not having a center fielder at all… Gordon Beckham, a Rookie of the Year candidate, has been ice cold, with only eight hits in his last 12 games (.170)… An overly right-handed ballclub, with over 60% of plate appearances going to northpaws, the Sox shouldn’t be able to take too great an advantage of Yankee Stadium II.

BLESSED
I’m very happy my friend and colleague Jonah Keri is still alive.

The most annoying game of the year

joba_250_082609.jpgThe fact that the game probably won’t mean much to the outcome of the season notwithstanding, Tuesday night’s ballgame had to be one of the most frustrating losses of the year for the Yankees. They got out to a big lead, but Joba Chamberlain was unable to shut down an enemy offense that has had a hard time getting on base at a .300 rate on the road. At this point, it’s impossible to tell if Chamberlain is just lost or the Yankees have lost him, playing so many games with his schedule in the interest of protecting him that they’ve actually played head games with their own pitcher, sabotaging him mentally.

Cut to the bottom of the ninth. Ron Washington decided to finish up with Jason Grilli, never a good idea against a top offense. Predictably, the Yankees started putting runners on base with a Johnny Damon single and a Mark Teixeira walk. Washington then reached for closer Frank Francisco, the Santa Domingo Treat, who couldn’t throw a strike, or at least not a good one. A-Rod walked. Hideki Matsui singled. The much-maligned Jorge Posada singled. Robinson Cano singled. What had been a 10-5 game was unexpectedly 10-9, men on first and second with none out and Nick Swisher at the plate.

Joe Girardi called for a bunt. You can first-guess the play, and I did, but it’s not a clear-cut decision. After last night, Swisher is a .200/.376/.313 hitter at home, and although there isn’t any particular reason that Yankee Stadium II should be such an impediment to him, it isn’t unreasonable at this point for Girardi to assume that Swisher isn’t likely to get a big hit in that spot. That said, Girardi could also have tried to give Swisher a mental boost by showing confidence in him — there’s nothing stopping Swisher from hitting at home except Swisher. Alternatively, Girardi could have also looked at the situation — pitcher falling apart, a batter at the plate who, even if he fails to hit, is still taking a ton of walks, and let Swisher try to walk to reload the bases. The double-play threat was relatively weak — the league double play rate is about 11 percent. Swisher, with all his fly balls and strikeouts, is a little better than average in this regard, hitting into a double play in only 10 percent of his chances.

An additional negative to calling for the bunt derives from goals: are the Yankees trying to tie the game or win it? Conventional wisdom says the former, but with two runners on, none out, and a pitcher in mid-meltdown, they had a good chance to do both. Even if Swisher had succeeded in getting his bunt down, Girardi was falling into the trap that Earl Weaver warned against: if you play for only one run, you’ll only get one run. The Yankees were in a position to win, not tie, the game. There was a very good chance that Swisher would have walked, and although Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter are double play threats, even a double play has a good chance of scoring the tying run with the bases loaded and none out. In addition, as bad as Swisher has been, the Yankees would have still had to get through Cabrera to survive the inning, and unlike Swisher, Cabrera doesn’t have the redeeming virtue of selectivity.

You know how it worked out. It easily could have gone the other way; if Swisher executed on the bunt, perhaps the game would have gone to extra innings, and the Yankees, with Phil Hughes, Mo Rivera, and the rest, not to mention the last turn at bat, still would have had a very good chance of winning. Still, with Chamberlain’s erratic performance, perhaps provoked by the Yankees’ erratic handling of him, the Rangers trying to give the game away twice, the bunt call by Girardi, and Swisher’s failure to execute, this easily qualifies as the most annoying loss the Yankees have suffered in a long time. As I said above, the good news is that in the long run it shouldn’t mean very much at all.

cameron_250_082609.jpgLAST-MINUTE TRADES
Five shopping days remain until rosters are frozen for the postseason, which means Brian Cashman can still get his trading shoes on and make a deal. I realize I’ve had a Magellanic range of opinions on Cabrera, but given his current slump (.236/.306/.380 from June 1 on, .198/.239/.326 in August) as well as Brett Gardner’s limitations and his uncertain status as he returns from a thumb injury, and the Yankees might benefit from revisiting an offseason trade target, Mike Cameron of the Brewers.

There are four factors which should combine to make Cameron a relatively cheap acquisition should Doug Melvin be willing to deal: the Brewers have next to no chance of getting to the postseason; Cameron is 36; Cameron is making $10 million; Cameron’s contract is up. The old man has had a relatively good season at .259/.362/.456, and his defensive work is still strong. He’s also played on four postseason teams (though his October work has been miserable). Offense isn’t the Yankees’ problem, but every little bit helps when your goal is to win a World Series, and it’s difficult to image the Brewers would hold out for a top prospect…

…Unless they somehow have delusions that getting nothing is better than getting something, which Melvin suggests is the case, saying, “I’ve gotten calls, but they don’t want to give much up at this time of year … They’ll give you cash, but they don’t want to give me a player … I can’t imagine that a team would give up a good player for one month, unless there is a key injury. I don’t anticipate anything.”

Cameron would likely be a Type B free agent, meaning that if the Brewers offered him arbitration (a big if) and he signed elsewhere, they would receive a sandwich pick after the first round. You’d think a functional Minor League arm would be more valuable than the 40-somethingth pick of the draft, but there’s no way of knowing. And, of course, if the Brewers offer arbitration and Cameron takes it, they’re in big trouble — it’s a weak year for center fielders, and Cameron’s numbers are going to look pretty good come negotiation time.

TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS
THE POSADA DISCONTENTS III

Thanks Steven, but you fail to mention besides Jorge’s injury last year that the Yankees did not have CC, A.J., and others on the pitching staff. Furthermore, you also fail to mention that Jorge was not the reason the Yankees were World Champions in the ’90s…it was their pitching staff! Pitching is the name of the game! Yogi Berra, and a host of other top notch catchers will tell you the same thing.

Let’s try this: For all their weaknesses last year, the Yankees finished six games behind the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card. Depending on whose definition of replacement level you use, in 2006-2007, Posada was worth between six and eight wins above replacement. Last year, Jose Molina was worth somewhere between a fraction of a win and two wins above replacement, almost all of the value in defense, as Molina was among the 20 worst hitters in baseball to have any kind of playing time last year.

The Yankees got less than one win out of Posada last year. Pretend Posada had been in the lineup having his typical season. The Yankees pick up four to six wins, which means that anywhere between 75 and 100 percent of their deficit disappears. Once you get down to a gap of one or two games. The Yankees had too many problems to overcome the Rays, but Posada’s inj
ury was the one thing that kept them for qualifying for the postseason in spite of everything else that went wrong.

Ever see the old baseball musical “Damn Yankees”? It has a song about denigrating Posada in it. It’s called, “A Man Doesn’t Know What He Has Until He Loses It.” Then again, the Yankees lost Posada last year and some people still don’t know.

Responsibility must be with Burnett

ONE AND ONE
Friday was a sort of good Yankees day (great hitting, no pitching) and Saturday was a very bad Yankees day, which sounds like some kind of weird children’s story: “Jorge Posada and the Rumpy Grumpy Starting Pitcher.”

It does seem like Posada has had more than his share of disagreements with his starters this year, but in many ways there is a culture clash at work with the Yankees in a minor key way. The team has a new pitching staff. Few of the current pitchers — CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, David Robertson, Chad Gaudin, Damaso Marte, and Sergio Mitre (that is, just about everyone except Andy Pettitte and Brian Bruney) — have much experience being Yankees and throwing to Posada. The veterans among them have their own way of doing things. The rookies may be headstrong or timid. Posada, one senses (at least from trying to talk with him in the clubhouse), may not be the most diplomatic guy in the world. You can see how this could lead to conflict on those days when defeat wants to be an orphan. Suddenly it’s not what the pitcher threw, but what the catcher called.

When it comes to an established veteran like Burnett, the final responsibility must be with him. He certainly has the standing on the Yankees to call his own game. It’s not important that he disagrees with Posada, only that he either shake Posada off until they come to an agreement (that is, doing it Burnett’s way) or Burnett throws Posada’s selection with confidence. An in-between approach — resignedly throwing Posada’s pitch — can lead to disaster, apparently what happened yesterday.

Perhaps, though, we need not delve that far to find the source of Saturday’s discord. Burnett has rarely been a consistent pitcher. There are days his control just doesn’t show up for work, one of the reasons he currently leads the American League in walks issued. This has been a career-long problem for Burnett, and blaming his catcher would be unfair given just how many catchers have received his pitches on days like Saturday. Note that Burnett did not blame Posada. We shouldn’t either.

SWISHER’S WEIRD SPLITS
If you average Nick Swisher’s 2008 road stats with his 2009 home stats, you get .198/.343/.309. Miserable. If you put last year’s home stats with this year’s road stats, you get .263/.363/.552. Brilliant. I have no further comment, except to say that if the fellow could just get his concentration down in both places, he could have a 40-homer season. Of course, that he hasn’t is why he was available to the Yankees for Wilson Betamax. As with Burnett’s occasional wild days, Swisher’s oddly bifurcated production represent the invisible hand of human psychology at work on the game. 

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.