Tagged: Joba Chamberlain

The Rodriguez discontents

arod_250_043009.jpgThe latest leaks from Selena Roberts’ A-Rod takedown have hit the newsstands, and it’s just endless fun. I mean that sarcastically. I guess it was sadly inevitable that Rodriguez’s “I only used steroids from 2003 to 2005” line was going to be challenged. As I wrote here at the time, Rodriguez’s entire press conference didn’t pass the smell test. Perhaps he should have checked with Roberts first to see if she had more on him before he went out and put the two of them in conflict again.

About the best we can do at this point is to point out again that just about every conclusion drawn about steroids and other so-called performance enhancers is that the enhancement is entirely suppositional. They make you get bigger — provided you work out like a nut. As the book apparently suggests, they can cause gynecomastia, or breasts in males. What they cannot do, and no one has ever proven they can do, not even Barry Bonds, is hit for a higher average or more power. I know that sounds na´ve at first glance, but if you think through it reasonably it becomes clear that the size of your muscles are not determinant in baseball. There has to be other stuff going on for a player to succeed, things that require skills and precision. None of that changes the fact that the use of such substances is unethical at best and illegal at worst, and if you want to further revise your opinion of Rodriguez downward a few notches, be my guest.

I suppose that the news that Rodriguez sometimes tipped pitches to pals will get more play at this point, but I wonder if it will be merited. There is an old tradition, going back to the game’s earliest days, of sometimes giving a friend a gift in a game that’s already been decided. You can find countless anecdotes about this kind of thing in baseball history books. What we don’t know is (A) is such a thing still considered acceptable behavior in baseball, and (B) were Rodriguez’s pitchers in on it? If they weren’t, they might have a bone to pick, or a bat.

In the end, there’s not much left for us to do — us being we the spectators and A-Rod — except to persevere, to hope that the past is in the past. If he lacks character, that’s fine. No one says you have to have him over to dinner and he’s probably not going to try to date your daughter. A lot of the great stars were not good people. Some have posited that it was exactly that quality, principally narcissism, that made them great stars. Drive has to be fueled by something, and it might as well be self-regard. In the meantime, the Yankees need him, need him to play like he’s always played (except for the part about runners in scoring position). If he’s clean, this will all go away long before Roberts’ book is remaindered.

And if not, it’s going to become spectacularly tedious, especially at any time that the Yankees aren’t winning and people are looking for stories.

I was looking over Joba Chamberlain’s fine line from last night when my wife came into the room. I pointed out the box score — seven innings, three hits, one run, three walks, six strikeouts, a win. Stefanie looked at it and said, “Yes, but he’d be even better in the bullpen!” and walked away laughing. What made this doubly wonderful is that not only do I have a satirical spouse, which you can’t get just anywhere, but you can find people writing exactly that — no matter how good Joba was in a particular game, he would always have been better doing something else.

I’ll be back later with some additional thoughts on Joba, the season debut of 20-Game Watch (usually 30-Game Watch but we’re not there yet), and the Around section. 

Scouting Porcello and explaining Joba

porcello_250_042909.jpgCHIEN-MING WANG’S DAY OFF

Having seen the real Phil Hughes for the first time since that wonderful, fatal start in Texas, the Yankees face another important test as next generation starters Joba Chamberlain and Rick Porcello (born in Morristown, N.J.) face off in Detroit. The former first-round pick has had mixed results in three starts; he’s been competent, not dominating. As in the Minors, his strikeout rate has been light (the Tigers restricted his repertoire in the sticks, but that shouldn’t be a problem now).

However, he has a bit of the old Chien-Ming Wang kicker: his fastball sinks, resulting in a high grounder/fly ball ratio. The trouble has been that when Porcello — who, we should note, is so young he can’t legally buy a drink — is that when he misses his mistake leaves the ballpark. He’s given up five home runs in just 18 innings. Over 20 percent of his flies allowed have left the park, a crazy high ratio. Note that these are the only extra-base hits he’s allowed and that he’s been stingy with the walks, so when he doesn’t elevate, it’s just like trying to build an inning against Wang Classic — it takes three singles to score a run, four to score two, and that’s difficult for any team to do before they make three outs.

The Hutt also has something to prove tonight, as some mediocre starts combined with poor work by the relief corps has renewed calls for Chamberlain’s bullpen parole to be revoked. The basis for the argument revolves around reduced velocity, but that’s not really at issue. In 12 starts last season, Chamberlain struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings. In his career as a reliever, he’s struck out 11.9 per nine innings. This doesn’t seem like a significant tradeoff given that in the latter case the Yankees were getting two innings of Chamberlain and in the former they were getting five, six, or even seven. The team gains multiple innings, gives up one or two strikeouts because Chamberlain is trying to save his stuff, as Christy Mathewson said, for the pinch. Fair enough.

This year, Chamberlain has made three starts and has struck out 6.2 batters per nine innings. The league average is 6.7. The change in role from relieving to starting does NOT account for this difference, especially given Chamberlain’s starting strikeout rate of last season, or, for that matter, his strikeout rate as a starting pitcher in the Minor Leagues. Chamberlain could be hoarding his stuff like an obsessive-compulsive squirrel going through a fit of paranoia about winter in Nome, and it still wouldn’t account for what is practically a 50 percent drop-off in K rate. In short: if things don’t change for Chamberlain tonight against the Tigers, the Yankees may be forced to confront another pitching problem.

Just a little experiment in format today…

? White Sox 2, Mariners 1: It’s got to hurt when Chris Jakubauskas throws a comple game and you still lose. Meanwhile, only the fact that it’s the first game of a doubleheader excuses Jerry Owens (.091).

? Seattle 9, White Sox 1: And in Game 2 the Sox confront the reality that they’ve been playing baseball for eight hours and have scored only three runs. On the other side of the field, Endy Chavez is down to .305, which means he’s gone 4-for-27 over his last seven games. No one could have expected that. Note also Felix Hernandez, 4-0, 2.38 ERA. — and still just a few weeks past his 23rd birthday.

? Braves 2, Cardinals 1: When you consider the Braves’ batting order, you realize that they’re missing a big hitter, and it’s not just that catcher Brian McCann is on the disabled list. They were in on Garrett Anderson when they should have been in on Adam Dunn or Manny Ramirez, and in the latter Ted Turner days, when they were both rich and rational, they would have been. Instead they settle for pot luck in a pot luck division — that is, maybe they’ll win and maybe they won’t, but it could have been a sure thing. On the Cards side, Yadier Molina got me wondering, through an indirect route, what the record for fewest runs scored/most plate appearances combo was. It turns out there are many candidates who were worse than his 485/37 last year, for example 1972 Angels shortstop Leo Cardenas, who batted second, sixth, and seventh and scored just 25 runs. He came to the plate 602 times. With .223/.272/.283 rates not much is going to happen. Molina was much better than that. I remain baffled that Del Rice batted Cardenas third 17 times that year, but my faith in the laws of physics is reassured by the Angels’ going 5-11 in those games. In all others, they were 70-69, which says something.

? Rangers 5, Athletics 4: It wasn’t Mexican Swine Flu, but seemingly every Athletic to get into this game got hurt. It’s not surprising when Nomar Garciaparra twists an ankle and heads for the DL, and the loss is only a blow to notional depth given that even when Eric Chavez is playing, he’s not playing (and he’s not playing now). Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising when most valuable Athletic Mark Ellis heads for the DL is well, but that’s where he’s off to as well after straining his calf… The decisive run in the game came when Jason Giambi let a grounder go through his legs. In 100 years of Giambi in pinstripes, I can remember many misplays, and I’m sure plenty of them contributed to losses, but it’s harder to recall a game where the connection between Giambi’s iron glove and a loss was so obvious… The A’s are hitting .233/.310/.314 overall, which makes the Hitless Wonder White Sox of 1906 look like Murderer’s Row.

? Angels 7, Orioles 5: Dave Trembley was ejected for arguing a balk in this one, and his fury was something to behold, and unsurprising given just how quickly his team is falling away after the Yankees gave them some false hope in the opening series… Batting .196/.226.294 on April 21, Howie Kendrick has turned it on, going 8-for-19 with three doubles and two home runs in his last five games (.421/.450/.895). He’s taken but one walk on the season, though, and until he has the same awakening that Robbie Cano has apparently had, he’s only going to be as good as his batting average.

? Indians 9, Red Sox 8: The winning streak had to end sometime, just as the Indians are due to win one or two. It only hurts because the Sox made three errors in the game, resulting in three unearned runs, and they got kicked with Brad Penny on the mound and they have better options whenever they want to use one. Dear Cleveland: Kelly Shoppach has regressed, as ever he was doomed to do, you’re back to catching Victor Martinez again, and Matt LaPorta is tearing it up in the Minors. Heck, Ben Francisco isn’t hitting either. Why Ryan Garko? Love, Steve.

? Phillies 7, Nationals 1: I was asked if it was too soon to start playing “Nats Math,” where you start figuring out scenarios where they might lose 110-120 games. I don’t think it is, if only because it’s difficult to see where they’re going to find ways to improve. There’s only so much talent trading a damaged Elijah Dukes or a benched Josh Willingham or an impotent Austin Kearns is going to bring you. 

The weekend from hell

jobabiblegoldman042609.jpgTHE WEEKEND FROM HELL
Of all the troubling events of the past weekend in Boston, perhaps the most ominous development was Joba Chamberlain’s Friday evening start, in which he pitched like a much older man, walking four and striking out two. Naturally, various broadcast crews spent the weekend wondering if this meant that Chamberlain should be sent back to the bullpen, where he threw harder. Guys: reduced velocity and a loss of control does not indicate that a pitcher is starting or relieving. Reduced velocity and a loss of control indicates that something is wrong. Any argument that Chamberlain is now hoarding his stuff as a starter is purely suppositional and highly unlikely, and Chamberlain’s role is less important at this moment than the possibility that he might be hurt.

Steven Jackson is on the roster purely so the Yankees can bring a full complement of players out to the foul line during the national anthem. It is painful to watch Joe Girardi manage games so as to get them into the hands of his so-called dependable veterans, pathologically avoiding the kids now on the roster. This is 180 degrees removed from the Girardi of a year ago, who did so much to revamp the bullpen after years of Joe Torre kiting from veteran to veteran. For some reason, Girardi doesn’t seem to be willing to do it again. Yet, the team isn’t winning and the pen isn’t helping, so whatever he’s trying to do in getting those pitchers reestablished, and in some cases re-reestablished requires rethinking.


Because even if Alex Rodriguez comes back tomorrow, he could be out again the day after. That could be for any reason, not just his hip. A pitch could fracture his hand in his first plate appearance of the season, and the Yankees would be right back where they were. This is what we call insurance. You don’t think your house will burn down tomorrow, but you pay the insurance, just in case. There will be no time this season where it will be safe for the Yankees to have so little depth at the hot corner, just because life is unpredictable. Meanwhile, playing Angel Berroa at third clearly means you’re not altogether serious about winning. Playing Cody Ransom meant that too, but it was marginally worth trying — though not without a safety net. It is stunning how little Yankees management learned from last season’s injuries.

…If Sidney Ponson could hold the Tigers to three runs over eight innings, as he did on Sunday, the Yankees should be okay in this series.

?    In a previous entry, I said that no one can win the NL East. Allow me to add the AL West to that formulation as well.

?    Dear Angels: Can the Yankees offer you 1.5 pitchers for your own apparently despised 3B/SS Brandon Wood? With affection, Brian Cashman. Dear Rockies: Can the Yankees offer you .5 pitchers for your own redundant third baseman Jeff Baker? Respectfully, Brian “Manpower Shortage” Cashman. Dear Mike Blowers: All is forgiven. Please come home. With sincere regret, Brian “I Didn’t Work Here Then” Cashman.

?    Best wishes to Braves All-Star Brian McCann as he heads for the DL trying to cure his blurred vision. We know from bad vision at the Pinstriped Bible, and we feel for you, Brian. McCann is apparently off for a second Lasik surgery.

?    Gavin Floyd was battered by the Blue Jays on Friday night. Given Floyd’s unrealistically low batting average allowed on balls in play last year, forecasting a regression was one of the easiest calls of the offseason…

?    I love allmusic.com, because sometimes you just have to know how many bands have covered “Daydream Believer,” “Coconut Grove,” or “Who Put the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?”  

?    Sometimes I think, “Where would the Royals be without Zack Greinke?” Then a voice answers, “Where are they with him?”

?    On the eve of a new Bob Dylan release, a reminder that if you haven’t been with the man on his last three albums, “Time Out of Mind,” “Love and Theft,” and “Modern Times,” you’ve missed a remarkable career renaissance. I’m not certain of Dylan has changed with the times or the times have become strange to the point that Dylan is now able to sing from a timeless American dimension in which civil war soldiers commiserate with hoboes over the Great Depression, both admiring the singing of Charley Patton and Robert Johnson, who are playing just down the line at the next soup kitchen. Many of these songs are fatalistic, but simultaneously reassuring. In the early ’60s, Dylan was an entertainer. In the mid- to late-60s he was angry. It was harder for him to find relevance from the mid-70s through the 90s, but now he’s memory, and boy, do we need memory. “I got my back to the sun ’cause the light is too intense/I can see what everybody in the world is up against/Can’t turn back, you can’t come back, sometimes we push too far/One day you’ll open up your eyes and you’ll see where we are.” Funny thing about history; you can only mourn what you’ve lost if you know what you had, and who in modern times has any use for the lessons of history? Thus the next line of the song: “Sugar Baby, get on down the road/Ain’t got no brains no how/You went years without me/Might as well keep going now.”

?    One good sign for Alex Rodriguez is how well Chase Utley and Mike Lowell, both veterans of recent hip surgery, have been hitting. The Yankees have seen the latter’s work firsthand…

?    It seems odd how quickly the Twins decided that Carlos Gomez was a defensive replacement rather than a starter, especially when Mike Cuddyer and Delmon Young aren’t giving them anything special at the plate. Just because Cuddyer is the rare Twin under a sort-of pricey contract doesn’t mean he has to play. As for Young, at this point the hype, always out of balance to the actual product, should no longer blind anyone to the realities of the player. The Twins, by the way, possess several mediocre third baseman that can actually play third base, and yet they have no current use for. Just sayin’.

?    In case you missed it, Carl Pavano got hammered Saturday. He’s now 0-3 with a 9.50 ERA. Somehow, though the thrill isn’t quite as sweet given that the Yankees passed up their own opportunity to thrash him…

?    Charlie Manuel benched Jimmy Rollins on Sunday because “He’s not swinging good.” While it is true that Rollins is batting only .162/.205/.235, unless you really think he needs a mental health break, or he’s doing some Manny-style sulking thing that we don’t know about, do you bench a former MVP and three-time All-Star? You figure a ten-year vet will work his way out of it…

?    Are we off the Marlins’ bandwagon yet?

?    Given that Reds’ left fielders have combined to hit .171/.275/.300 to date, why not run Micah Owings out there every once in awhile? Is Laynce Nix really going to do that much better?

?    Chris Davis of the Rangers has a seven-game hitting streak going, in which he’s hitting .304/.360/.739 with three home runs, including two in his last two games. His strikeout-walk ratio in that time is 12-1, so he’s not over his troubles yet, but at least he’s holding his own for now after his miserable start. Note also Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s eight-game streak (not counting a no at-bat appearance as a defensive replacement), during which he’s hit .407/.429/
.630. His strikeout-walk ratio I during the streak is 10-1. Hey, Rudy Jaramillo: what are you teaching these guys?

Yankee Stadium II: The Sequel

stadium300_041709.jpgQUICK FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Today I’m making my first trip to the new Yankee Stadium. I opted to give Opening Day a pass: I’m not much for crowds to begin with, so heaping an extra helping of humans on top of the throngs that are normally here just seemed like a bad idea. Part of this reluctance springs from my partial blindness — it’s very difficult to navigate through crowds when you can’t see half of them coming. Intriguingly, when you can’t see people coming, they act like they can’t see you coming. Not for the first time, Douglas Adams was right. I also figured that nothing worked the first day at Disneyland, so I’d give the Pinstriped Magic Kingdom a day to shake the bugs out.  

I’m skipping around the page as I write these words, so it will be hard for me to construct a strict chronology, but just so you get a sense of the action, at this moment in time the Indians are batting in the top of the fourth and Joba Chamberlain, in imitation of CC Sabathia on Thursday, is trying to burn through his entire allotment of pitches in less than five innings. He’s already over 70, thanks to four walks and four strikeouts. That means that among my first-time experiences in the new ballpark will be an early appearance by the Yankees’ middle relievers. My cup runneth under.

The superficial impression given by Yankee Stadium II: The Sequel is that you’re in the old ballpark, albeit a version that has been cleaned up, reshaped a bit so that it’s more capacious, more comfortable. As wide as the new concourses are, it’s still not easy to thread the crowds (as per the above, if it were easy, I would know), but the flow of traffic is still far superior to the cramped cattle chutes of the old ballpark, and thanks to the openness of the design, the air is actually breathable. In the old ballpark, if you were exiting the stands after a long, hot afternoon at the ballpark and happened to get behind some socially untrained fellow who had been stewing out there with you, albeit without the aid of deodorant (roughly 10 percent of the crowd at any game, it seems), your hair might fall out before you were able to escape. That should be less of a problem now.

I pause here to note that Melky Cabrera just crushed a ball to right field, the Yankees’ third shot of the game in that direction. The ball seems to really take off when hit in the air that way, but I can’t tell if that’s an artifact of the new park or because the Yankees are legitimately crushing them.

The similarity of YS II to the old ballpark — meet the new stadium, same as the old stadium — still seems like a missed opportunity. The original Yankee Stadium helped bring ballparks and sporting events into the modern era. YS II could have reinvented the stadium for the 21st century in the same way. The new building is nice enough, but it’s not groundbreaking and new in the way it could have been, and given what it cost, probably should have been.  

I pause again to register a complaint. There have been eight walks and more than 200 pitches in this game, and it’s only the fifth inning. This is like watching Tommy Byrne face Steve Dalkowski. At this writing, the Yankees are trailing by two, and you can blame either Joba, Sabathia, or Joe Girardi. Chamberlain had no control today, and after he labored through the fourth inning, it seemed pretty clear that little would be gained by letting him come out for the fifth. I know that would be a quick hook, but Joba had already thrown a day’s worth of pitches, and in a compact amount of time. While the worries about Joba’s health, and pitch counts in general, are often overblown, there’s something to the idea that a pitcher throwing 100 pitches in five innings may be more of a strain than his throwing 100 pitches in seven innings. Unfortunately, Girardi was not inclined to make a move until he was forced to, and maybe, given the work of the bullpen lately, his reluctance is understandable.

The field does its best impression of the old park, but the stands seem to press in a bit more. Perhaps it’s the giant television in center field, Arthur C. Clarke’s monolith beaming stats, fan videos, and commercials into our apelike brains. Derek Jeter’s face flashes on the screen, two stories tall, and the urge is to scrape before the neon god. Though the upper deck is visibly withdrawn compared to its old, aggressive tilt, almost perpendicular to the field, the bowl seems cozy. That’s only when you look straight out to center or into the power alleys. The lower seats are further away from the action (and not nearly filled).

Robinson Cano just launched the Yankees’ fourth blast to right field. The ball soared out like Werner Von Braun had stuffed some solid rocket fuel into it. Again: Power, or park effect? In the time it took me to ask that question, we have seen a Melky groundout (helpless as always against a left-handed pitcher) and a rare Cody Ransom single. Every day, a new bit of history.

One thing I do enjoy like about the new location is that it actually sits next to human habitation, not just the elevated train tracks and various bars and souvenir shops. Unlike the old building, you can walk completely around the new park without running into a security checkpoint, and as you get around to the building’s rear you see trees and apartment buildings (which have clearly traded down from their old park setting). The stadium seems less an island now, and more a part of the neighborhood. There is also light when you arrive at the ballpark, something you didn’t get crossing under the tracks in front of the battleship gray of the old park.

Vinnie Chulk just chulked the ball down the right field line, allowing the Yankees to tie the game. The crowd roared, but as you have heard, YS II does seem to be a quieter park than its late uncle. Perhaps that’s because the lower dish is only partially filled, perhaps it’s the distant upper deck. The sound system is geared up to overcome a much higher level of crowd noise than seems to exist here.

In a development that I imagine will be of scant interest to most of you, thanks to the reduced territory behind home plate, the press box is even closer to the action than it used to be, and we have better dining facilities as well. Note to self: Do not sample press box pretzels until they’ve had at least five innings to warm up. I will share one special thrill with you, though, one of the reasons that I am blessed to have this job. When I entered the press box for the first time, I asked one of the Yankees media relations staffers to point me to the chair reserved for YES. He pointed to an older gentleman in a baseball cap. “He’s in your seat,” he said, “just ask him to move.” I approached the seat, and saw the man clearly for the first time: it was the great Roger Angell. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to ask Roger Angell to move anywhere. I took the seat next to him. We chatted throughout the game, comparing lists of top Cary Grant films (more about that last in my next entry).

One other note: It’s good that they got the retired numbers out where they can be viewed, but (1) they’re tiny and (2) they’re on a somewhat grubby tile wall, as if they grew in someone’s shower with the mildew. Guys, you’ve got to treat the history of this franchise with at least as much respect as you treat your advertisers, if not more.

As we go to the top of the eighth, the game is tied, 5-5, Cabrera having just popped out with two runners on. We can forgive this given that he had already homered in the game, but did he have to leave Ransom to lead off the next inning? Consumed with feelings of dread, I will sign off for now.

Twenty-five men, 25 goals: The starting rotation


2009 GOAL: More of the magic he showed with the Milwaukee Brewers. Failing that, the stuff and results he gave the Indians in 2006-2007 (31-18, 3.22 ERA) would probably be fine.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Milwaukee-level wonderfulness seems unlikely, but something in his mature Indians catalogue seems doable. The only question is if throwing over 500 innings the last two years will bother Sabathia in any way. With most pitchers we could be pretty sure the answer would be yes, or at least “very likely yes,” but he’s such a unique physical specimen that we’ll just have to wait and see.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: That innings pitched total. Sabathia threw 253 regular-season innings last year. No Yankee came close to matching that total during the Torre years — Andy Pettitte pitched 240.1 innings in 1997. The last Yankee to exceed Sabathia’s total was Ron Guidry, who threw 259 in 1985. Guidry never quite got over it, but he was a very different physical type from Sabathia. Pettitte too was a lot less effective in 1998-1999 than he was in the rest of his prime, but again, Pettitte is a very different pitcher.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Sabathia struck out 251 batters last year. The Yankees franchise record is 248 (Guidry, 1978). The last Yankee to whiff more than 200 batters in a season was Randy Johnson in 2005 (211). The Yankees have had just 14 such seasons in their entire history.

Stay healthy, keep up the good work.
DID HE GET THERE? No. Injuries wiped out half his season.
2009 GOAL: Stay healthy, get back to where he was in 2006-2007 (38-13, 3.67 ERA).
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Ask me again after he makes his next start.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Wang has a career strikeout rate of 4.0 per nine innings. The only pitchers to throw over 1,000 career innings since 1990 with a strikeout rate of 4.5 or lower: Carlos Silva, Kirk Reuter, Ricky Bones, Bob Tewksbury, Brian Anderson, Zane Smith, Mike Moore, and Steve Sparks. Tewksbury and Smith are the keepers, though neither is truly comparable to Wang.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: This isn’t the first time Wang has struggled with his mechanics. In fact, you could argue that he’s been struggling right along, even as he’s been succeeding. Maybe a better term for it would be “evolving.” In addition to the degradation in his ground out/fly out ratio mentioned in this space earlier today, his strikeout rate has been gradually rising, though not so far as to make him a strikeout pitcher, while his walk rate has also been climbing.

2009 GOAL: Show consistency and durability, two qualities that have eluded him in most seasons.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: It seems unlikely that Burnett will achieve either in his 30s, but you never know with pitchers. He has swing and miss stuff, and outside of 2003 has been on the field more often than not, so he’s a better bet than Carl Pavano, but you still wouldn’t call him a truly reliable pitcher.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Batting average on balls in play. It was .318 against Burnett last year, and should come down some this season. Even a slight drop would greatly improve his numbers.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Strikeouts per nine innings. Last year, Burnett led the American League with 9.39 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. The last Yankee to lead the AL in that category? Dave Righetti in 1982, with 8.02. It was the second consecutive year he led the league. In 1984, the Yankees put him in the bullpen, a move still open to second-guessing.

Pitch, not talk. Only speak the name “Clemens” in reference to the life and work of Mark Twain; pursuant to this, memorize passages from “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” and this passage from “The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson:” “One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.” Oh yeah: pitch well without injury, shrugging off last season’s September slide.
DID HE GET THERE? He got through the not speaking about Roger Clemens part alright. The pitching part was complicated by some rough second half pitching.
2009 GOAL: If he can carve about half a run off of his ERA and get back to his 2006-2007 form (29-22, 4.13 ERA) no one will complain.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: It seems reasonable. The Yankees played poor defense behind Pettitte at times last year, something suggested in his .338 batting average allowed on balls in play. His strikeout rate was very healthy, and his control was good. Pettitte may fancy himself a pitcher on the verge of retirement, but the numbers say otherwise.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Yankees career wins list. With just 12 wins this year, Pettitte can pass Lefty Gomez for third place on the franchise list (Hall of Famer Gomez won 189 games for the Yankees). Leader Whitey Ford (236) remains a long way off, as does number two Red Ruffing (231).
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Louisiana career wins list. Pettitte has the second-most career wins of any pitcher born in the bayou state, trailing Hall of Famer Ted Lyons 260-216.

I don’t seem to have written one, but had I done so it probably would have been something along the lines of, “Find way out of the bullpen; avoid being eaten by killer insects.”
DID HE GET THERE? Yes on both counts, though there were some health problems along the way.
2009 GOAL: Put up a big season in the rotation, forever quieting those who would like to see him thrown in chains and dragged back to the eighth inning.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Strong, health permitting. Perhaps we don’t even need to say that — “health permitting” is true of all pitchers.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: One-hundred quality starts. The quality start, a game in which the starting pitcher throws at least six innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs, is a measure of how often a pitcher does what he’s supposed to do, “give his team a chance to win.” One reason the Angels have been so resilient in this century is the depth of their starting rotations: in most years, they have received more than 90, and up to 99 (2005) quality starts from their rotation. When the Yankees reached the World Series in 2003, they received 96 quality starts. In 1998, they received 92. Last year, they had only 78 quality starts. No American League team has had the depth and consistency to receive 100 quality starts since the Angels in 1989. This also reflects the growing reliance of relief pitching over that time. Going five-deep in the rotation should allow the Yankees to compile enough quality starts to contend for the league lead, if not the elusive 100.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: A team doesn’t need five starters in the postseason — it only needs five to get there. Should the Yankees make the playoffs, it’s possible that Chamberlain could be back in his old role, depending on how the rest of the rotation looks at the time. 

One mystery remains before Yankees start season

arodblogpbible033109.jpgNOW OUR REVELS ARE ENDED, KIRK
With the demotions of Alfredo Aceves, Dan Giese, and Brett Tomko, all but one of the spring’s competitions and mysteries have been resolved. Brett Gardner (3-for-4 today) is your center fielder. Xavier Nady is your right fielder. Jon Albaladejo is in the bullpen. Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui are more or less ready to go. Mariano Rivera seems more than ready to go. Southpaw Phil Coke should make the team, and he looks like he’ll be a weapon. Joba Chamberlain started the spring in the rotation and will finish the spring in the rotation. Any time a setup man blows a lead all season long someone will second-guess his being there, even if he’s 16-1 at the time, but he’s in the rotation. All that remains to be determined is the identity of the reserve infielder, a player who may only cling to the roster until Alex Rodriguez returns. Assuming no major injuries and a timely and effective return for Rodriguez (which is assuming a lot, but let’s go with it), that player should only have minimal playing opportunities… Unless, as I hopefully speculated yesterday, Joe Girardi is brave enough to use a late-inning defensive replacement for Derek Jeter.

Earlier this spring I touted Jeff Keppinger as a player who would make a useful A-Rod substitute and post-Rod utility player. While not a defensive standout at any position, he’s adequate around the infield and has a far better bat than either Angel Berroa or Ramiro Pena. Today, the Reds dealt him to the Astros for a player to be named later. As the Astros’ farm system is drier than my aunt’s Thanksgiving turkey, the PTBNL isn’t likely to be anything special, which is to say that the Yankees, had they been in on Keppinger, likely could have topped the offer without giving away anyone of real significance. As the Yankees found out last year, the better your bench players, the better the club’s insurance against injuries to star players. I wrote yesterday that Ramiro Pena could be a fine late-inning defensive substitute, but if he has to start for two weeks the Yankees will suffer greatly. You can’t just look at these reserves as guys who are only going to pinch-run and start once a month when someone needs a day off, and you certainly can’t take the health of your players for granted. Jose Molina should have taught the Yankees that. He’s the true example of what happens when a star player gets hurt, not Erick Almonte.

It was a bad couple of days for ex-Yankees as Gary Sheffield (499 home runs) and Mike Stanton (1,178 games, second all time) hit the release pile. The Tigers are now free to rotate some useful players, like Marcus Thames and Jeff Larish, through the DH spot. In a spot of good news for a former Yankee, it looks like utility infielder Nick Green has made the Red Sox, Julio Lugo being out and Alex Cora being a Met… Amazing that Alfredo Simon, a pitcher with a career 5.04 ERA in the minors (and a 23-40 career record) will be in the Orioles’ rotation… Chan Ho Park is the Phillies’ fifth starter; in other news, the Phillies will not be defending their championship. They also released Geoff Jenkins, who was made redundant last season after Jayson Werth emerged as an everyday player… The Marlins are going to start Emilio Bonifacio at third base; here’s hoping they enjoy their .350 slugging percentage at the hot corner… Dear Royals: Why Sidney Ponson?

Joba psychology, revisited

Siwsher-3-16-250.jpgIn case you didn’t check out today’s action, Joba Chamberlain pitched three shutout innings. Can we stop panicking now? There’s something truly weird about the Psychology of Joba, by which I mean not what goes on in his head, but what seems to go on in ours when he pitches. It seems like a sizable percentage of the population might feel more at ease if he was simply sealed in plastic and never allowed to pitch again. If you don’t use him, he can’t get hurt. There is a kind of denial at work here. Injury risk can be mitigated, but short of a perfect prescience, they cannot be prevented.

In other news from the game, Nick Swisher went 3-for-4 and Xavier Nady went 2-for-4. Swisher’s spring on-base percentage is now .389, Nady’s .267. I don’t expect anyone around the Yankees to care, because consistency at hitting usually trumps consistency at getting on base, even though better to start with the latter and hope for the former than the other way around. There’s still some time, though, for Swisher to show enough for the Yankees to make the right decision.

Finally, Brett Gardner knocked a triple today, took a walk, and scored two runs. Spring Training statistics are meaningless for the most part, especially this year when camps have been decimated by the WBC, but if consistency of hitting is part of what Gardner had to show, he’s done that so far, and he’s also demonstrated far more thump than before with six extra-base hits–the guy continues to lead the Yankees in home runs this spring. Again, that’s not something to get too excited about, as Angel Berroa is tied for second with two, and also leads the club with a .429 average. Heck, the Ransom of A-Rod is batting .400. It doesn’t promise much of anything, but it’s all good to see.

Another one from the comments
And from a frequent commenter, letsgoyankees, this one on this morning’s entry regarding the dynasty teams:

I agree with almost every point you made except pitching and defense. These (today’s) Yankees have great pitching and a very good defesne! Weren’t we lin the top three last year in errors (correct me if I’m wrong!)? Think about it…A-Rod, Tex, and Jeet all have gold gloves (that’s right, I said I think Jeet is still a good shortstop.I’ve argued it in the past and I’m not changing my stance now.) and Cano is pretty good. Yes, he makes a lot of errors, but only because he has great range. He’ll fix the error porblem. At cathcer we’re suspect with Posada but with Molina we have perhaps the best defensive catcher in the league! Our centerfielder, be it Gardner or Melky, will be an excellent defender. And Damon (minus the chicken arm) and Nady aren’t terrible. And our pitching staff speaks for itself. Our defense is pretty darn good!

Letsgo, you’ve got to let go of errors. Not making errors is part of having a good defense, but a bigger part is simply how many balls in play a team turns into outs. If the pitcher doesn’t strike out the batter or give up a home run, and the batter puts the ball between the lines, what happens next? For most of this century, the Yankees have not been very good at collecting those pesky grounders and flies. Commonly referred to as defensive efficiency (DEF), this is the most basic aspect of defense and also the one that, if improved, can yield the most dramatic results: in 2007, the Rays ranked dead last in the majors in turning balls in play into outs. They shuffled some players around and jumped to first in the majors–you know what happened next. In 2008, the Yankees were 25th in the majors; in 2007 they ranked 13th; in 2006 it was 8th; in 2005 it was 22nd; in 2004 it was 20th; in 2003 they ranked 28th; in 2002, 23rd; in 2001, 25th; in 2000 they ranked 13th.

And that leaves me with these questions: if the Yankees defense has been so good, why are so many balls finding holes? If Derek Jeter is such a great shortstop, why don’t the balls he gets to show up in the numbers? It can’t be all balls over Bobby Abreu’s head–the responsibility has to be shared out, to varying extents, around the diamond.

Talent abound in the AL East

matsui250_121708.jpgWHEN LAST WE LEFT OUR HEROES …
… We were in the midst of our subjective position-by-position ranking of the teams in the American League East, with the intention of trying to discern, however unscientifically, how these teams rank in terms of talent. We’re using a simple scoring system: if a team’s player ranks first out of five at a position it receives five points. If it ranks fourth, it receives four points, and on down the line. Having reviewed all the fielding positions (scroll down, pilgrims), the score was Red Sox 31, Yankees 26, Rays 25, Orioles 21, Blue Jays 17 with designated hitter and the pitching staffs yet to go.

Designated Hitter:
1. Red Sox: David Ortiz
2. Yankees: Hideki Matsui
3. Orioles: Aubrey Huff
4. Blue Jays: Travis Snider
5. Rays: Free parking

As with many of these entries, there is a great deal of conjecture here. Will Ortiz be completely healthy? He wasn’t half bad when he was hurting. Will Hideki Matsui’s knee problems be a thing of the past? Will Huff revert to his previously mild levels of production for a DH? How will 21-year-old Snider hit over a full season? Who is the Rays’ DH? The correct signing could jump the Rays up to second place or third place on this list. For now, THE SCORE: Red Sox 36, Yankees 30, Rays 26, Orioles 24, Jays 19.

No. 1 Starter:
1. Yankees: CC Sabathia
2. Blue Jays: Roy Halladay
3. Red Sox: Jon Lester
4. Rays: James Shields
5. Orioles: Jeremy Guthrie

You want to take Halladay over Sabathia, I won’t argue with you. THE SCORE: Red Sox 39, Yankees 35, Rays 28, Orioles 25, Jays 23.

No. 2 Starter:
1. Rays: Scott Kazmir
2. Yankees: Joba Chamberlain
3. Red Sox: Josh Beckett
4. Blue Jays: Dustin McGowan?
5. Orioles: Garrett Olson?

These numbered starter designations are somewhat arbitrary, so if you want to debate who should be sorted where that’s fine. Kazmir rates over Chamberlain on the basis of greater experience; Chamberlain rates over Beckett because of the latter’s health problems this season. Speaking of health problems, it’s not quite clear when McGowan will be back from surgery to repair a frayed labrum. Between injuries (Shaun Marcum is likely out for the season) and the free-agent defection of A.J. Burnett, the Jays have really had a hole blown in their starting rotation. As for the Orioles, their rotation is scary anonymous — and likely scary bad.
THE SCORE: Red Sox 42, Yankees 39, Rays 33, Orioles 26, Blue Jays 25.

No. 3 Starter:
1. Red Sox: Daisuke Matsuzaka
2. Yankees: Burnett
3. Rays: Matt Garza
4. Blue Jays: Jesse Litsch
5. Orioles: Chris Waters

The wild card here is Burnett’s health, Matsuzaka’s ability to dance between walks for another year, and if Garza can take the wonderful things he did to the Red Sox in the ALCS into the regular season.
THE SCORE: Red Sox 47, Yankees 43, Rays 36, Blue Jays 27, Orioles 26.

No. 4 Starter:
1. Yankees: Chien-Ming Wang
2. Rays: Andy Sonnanstine
3. Blue Jays: David Purcey
4. Red Sox: Tim Wakefield
5. Orioles: Radhames Liz

I’m going on feel here. It’s all guesswork at this point, except that Wang should trump the lot if he stays healthy — although David Price could be listed here, and perhaps he blows everyone else away. Liz could turn out to be the best Orioles pitcher, or the worst. He certainly has the potential to be good, but the Orioles aren’t very good at tapping potential. Sending an unrefined pitcher to the O’s is like hiring a porpoise to sniff out truffles.
THE SCORE: Red Sox 49, Yankees 48, Rays 40, Blue Jays 30, Orioles 27.

No. 5 Starter:
1. Yankees: Right now it’s probably Phil Hughes, but they could sign anyone.
2. Rays: Price, barring a Spring Training breakdown.
3. Red Sox: Clay Buchholz likely gets first dibs.
4. Blue Jays: I don’t think they know, either.
5. Orioles: Just what do you want from me, already?

Three pitchers with great potential, two unknowns. I think they call that a full house. The top three could shake out in any order, particularly if Hughes is secretly Derek Lowe or Lefty Grove, Price proves to be Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann or someone like that … Or if Buchholz turns back into Charlie Zink.
THE SCORE: Yankees 53, Red Sox 52, Rays 44, Jays 32, Orioles 28.

1. Yankees: Mariano Rivera
2. Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon
3. Blue Jays: B.J. Ryan
4. Rays: Troy Percival
5. Orioles: George Sherrill

No shame in being third in this group. I’m not going to score middle relief because it’s far too volatile, but if I had to rank them right now, I would pick the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays in some order ahead of the Red Sox and Orioles. That makes our FINAL SCORE: Yankees 58, Red Sox 56, Rays 46, Jays 35, Orioles 29.

So, there you have it. One version of the talent spread among the teams of the AL East. By switching just a few assumptions, you could easily flip the Red Sox over the Yankees, or bring the Rays a lot closer. There are so many moves yet to happen the whole thing could change … except the Orioles being last. That’s set in stone.

I’ll again be chatting from the cyber-closet with Bob and the gang on the YES Hot Stove show, 6:30 p.m. EST on Thursday. Once again, I’ll be looking for your input, so feel free to comment here or in our pre-show thread, which we’ll open up tomorrow. I hope you will tune in.