On Sunday, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News wrote, “Cashman is poised to spend what it takes on a significant upgrade in left field (read that: Chone Figgins).”
I don’t want to “read that.” In the words of Casey Stengel, let’s make out that’s a misprint. Right now, the common assumption in the media seems to be that when it comes to Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, the Yankees will retain one, but not both, necessitating the addition of another player. We can weigh the pros and cons of retaining one or the other after the playoffs — it’s not a slam-dunk decision either way — but either way, the Yankees will be looking for offensive consistency and a defensive upgrade in left field.
Figgins is not the way to go. The problem is, despite whatever reputation Figgins has, he’s not there: Figgins has no power, his stolen base percentages are edging downwards, is severely diminished when not batting left-handed (.266/.340/.351 career versus lefthanders), and as far as defense goes, has played only 36 games in left field in his career, just one of them coming in the last three years, so you really don’t know what you’ll get. With the exception of two seasons in his eight-season career, 2007 (in which he played only 115 games) and 2009, he hasn’t been a great on-base guy either — and there’s not guarantee he’ll ever draw 100 walks again. He’s also 31 years old, which means the Yankees will be paying for the rump end of his career, and he hasn’t been durable in recent seasons. Finally, to this point in his career he is a .175 hitter in 30 postseason games. Mr. October this ain’t.
This year, the average Major League left fielder hit .270/.341/440. Last year they hit .269/.344/.442. Two years ago, the rates were .277/.347/.453. This is the line the Yankees are shooting to be over when they cast the position. Figgins is a career .291/.363/.388 hitter. In two of the last four seasons, he was well below that, hitting .267/.336/.376 in 2006 and .276/.367/.318 in 2008. Imagine a best-case scenario in which the Yankees get everything that Johnny Damon gave them this year except for 20 home runs. The stolen bases wouldn’t make up for the loss of power, and that’s without the risk that Figgins has another off-year and turns in a .260/.340/.360 season somewhere along the line.
In 1982, the Yankees signed free agent outfielder Dave Collins, another speedster, then realized that he was far below their offensive requirements. It cost them Fred McGriff to get rid of him. Signing Figgins has the potential to repeat that scenario, with the Yankees once again casting a singles hitter at a power-hitter’s position, then immediately regretting it.
RIKKI, DON’T USE THAT NUMBER
As noted here before the series, in Game 2, Joe Girardi put Freddy Guzman into the game in the ninth inning to run for Hideki Matsui, then subsequently was forced to let him bat, a problem given that Guzman is the closest thing to an instant out among the non-pitchers on either team. It was the only discordant note in a game in which Girardi pressed all the right buttons — he backed himself into a corner on a move that didn’t have much of a chance of working out, given that Matsui had singled with two outs. If a home run wasn’t to be hit (in which case the pinch-runner was moot) it was going to take at least two events to score either player Matsui or Guzman, in the former case single and a double or vice-versa, in the case of Guzman a stolen base plus another hit. Perhaps Guzman might have scored from first on just the right ball hit into the gap, but betting on that is gambling Matsui’s next at-bat on a very specific outcome.
It’s one thing to use Brett Gardner in these situations given that Gardner has some ability to hit, but you get into a whole other level of risk when you put Guzman into the game. Before the series, I argued that Eric Hinske would have had more utility to the Yankees. That can be argued given the prevalence of left-handers in Mike Scioscia’s end game — Shelley Duncan would have been a wiser pick than either Hinske or Guzman. Either way, Guzman has to be a tool of very last resort.
GAME, WEATHER PERMITTING…
And really, what isn’t?
I DREAMED I SAW ST. POSADA
There will be a lot of cheap material in the papers and on-line today, stuff about Jose Molina starting Game 2 and Carl Pavano starting in Game 3. After Jorge Posada’s erratic defensive game on Wednesday, it seems to me that it’s harder to criticize Joe Girardi for going with Molina, as egregious as Molina is at the plate. Perhaps Posada’s game was just a case of bad timing, perhaps Girardi’s decision is simply his reenacting the active player phase of his career, when Joe Torre frequently chose the Yankees’ then-Molina — that is, Girardi himself.
Posada gets it twice from the same guy, and in that sense you can’t help but empathize with his frustration. The drag here is that Nick Blackburn is the kind of ball-in-play pitcher that Posada conceivably could have damaged. Strangely, the two have never met in a baseball game, but Blackburn doesn’t strike out many and also allows his share of fly balls, all of which adds up to a nice recipe for runs in Yankee Stadium II. Molina will likely put the ball in play as well, but a lot less happens when he does. This year he hit .264 on balls in play, a slight improvement on last season, when he hit .255. This is actually kind of hard to do; the Major League average this year was about .303.
Despite this, if Girardi observed a difference in Burnett in those late-August/early-September in which the two catchers alternated, this is the right call. The Twins are not a big offensive team, and while this kind of move might sabotage the Yankees if it was carried out over the basis of 25 or 50 games (that is, benching Posada), in one game the Yankees can carry Molina’s bat. Given that the Yankees are carrying three catchers, another decision that would be problematic over the course of the regular season, Girardi can pinch-hit for Molina at any time.
That last is really the key. If Girardi is going to go with a glove man, he needs to channel a bit of Casey Stengel and be ready to pinch-hit as soon as the last notes of the National Anthem sounds. If it’s 0-0 in the third, the bases are loaded, and Molina is up, well, better Burnett struggles with Posada’s defensive deficiencies with a 4-0 lead than Molina and three runners stranded. It’s unconventional, but Francisco Cervelli’s presence sets Girardi up perfectly to manage aggressively. Heck, he could even pinch-hit Eric Hinske instead of Posada and put the highly mobile Cervelli into the game. Posada might pop a blood vessel, but Girardi’s defensive imperatives will be satisfied.
Starting Molina is in itself not a bad decision; Burnett might struggle anyway and it would still be a defensible call. It’s what Girardi does after that will make it a good call or a bad one. He can use Molina to the point that his negatives outweigh his positives and then dispense with him or he can let the offense be strangled in a key spot. Very few managers would feel secure enough to pull the trigger in that spot, but then, there are very few great managers.
POSADA VS. BURNETT
Rob Neyer has it right: if Joe Girardi truly feels that A.J. Burnett is going to pitch better with Jose Molina receiving his pitches, then he has little choice but to bench Jorge Posada despite the huge offensive difference between the two catchers. Burnett is a highly variable pitcher. When he’s on, he’s unhittable. When he’s off, he walks the ballpark and gets pounded. Posada did most of the catching for Burnett at midseason (with some Kevin Cash and Frankie Cervelli throw in). They had the usual mix of good starts and bad, but things seem to have changed in late August after a three-start sequence in which two Posada games bracketed a Molina game. Burnett was savaged in the Posada starts, but struck out 12 Rangers in the Molina start (August 27). That seems to have convinced Burnett or Girardi or someone, because the Burnett’s final six starts were taken by Molina. Burnett’s ERA in those starts was 2.92, so clearly something was working.
The Yankees should survive three Molina at-bats in one playoff game, but this does raise an interesting question for next year. Molina’s contract is up and Cervelli is clearly ready to contribute at roughly the same level as Molina does now. It would be a shame if the Yankees retained Molina just to cater to the whims of one pitcher. And before anyone suggests as an alternative that Posada replace Hideki Matsui as designated hitter while Molina and Cervelli handle the bulk of the catching, keep in mind that the offensive loss would be disastrous.
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:
AL 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.
Ever go to a Broadway play to see a famous actor in a part, only to have the guy not show up? You’ve dropped some serious dough on Brad Pitt as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” (work with me here). As you’re sitting in your seat waiting for the lights to go down, a little slip of paper flutters out of your Playbill. It says, “For tonight’s performance, the part of Willy Loman, normally played by Brad Pitt, will be played by Ethel Birnbaum.” You are, at the very least, nonplussed.
Wednesday’s game had the feeling of an Ethel Birnbaum performance. For reasons of necessity, Joe Girardi started only about half of his normal lineup. There was no Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher, and once the game was turned over to the bullpen — perhaps a bit hastily — there was no Phil Hughes. That the Yankees won in spite of these sacrifices is one of those “any given day” hand-outs that sports, and that Flying Dutchman of a pitcher A.J. Burnett, can grant.
I am reminded of an occasion during Casey Stengel’s Minor League managerial career when, desperate for a starter, he called on a pitcher lacking the stuff to break the proverbial pane of glass, and won. “Casey,” said the opposing manager, “I think you’re underestimating this league.” Girardi wasn’t guilty of that; he had his reasons, but the effect was the same. You wouldn’t want to try this again unless you had to, especially not against the Angels.
DEAR JOE GIRARDI
Can we please have more Brett Gardner? By this I am not asking that he make even more appearances as a pinch-runner or defensive substitute, but that he be given more starting assignments now and into the playoffs. He’s not dramatically more productive than Melky Cabrera is, but as we saw on Tuesday in Anaheim, his style of play can be a welcome change of pace from the usual Earl Weaver-style approach employed by the Yankees.
Now, I’m the last one to ever criticize Weaver-style on-base ‘n’ bash baseball, because I believe it is the most effective form of offense there is. You could almost say I’m religious about it, Joe. Yet, even Earl employed his base-stealers, players like Paul Blair, Don Buford, Al Bumbry and Don Baylor, who in his younger, more svelte period swiped 30 bases a year for Team Baltimore. Even Reggie Jackson swiped 28 bags his one year in the Crab Kingdom, a career high. Earl’s 1973 team even led the league, hard as that is to believe.
See, it wasn’t that Earl totally disdained the stolen base. He saw it as a tactical weapon, one to be used sparingly rather than fetishized. And if the base-stealer in question does some other things, like takes the odd walk and plays solid defense, well, Earl had his Mark Belanger, after all. Gardner is no Belanger, Joe. My point is our particular offensive cult does permit this kind of messing around with speed guys; as long as two guys are on when the home run hitters come up, we’re okay. Gardner would seem to provide your best option for getting that out of your center fielder.
As for the power you would be giving up, there’s not a whole lot there on Cabrera’s part, and its loss should be offset by Gardner’s larger contribution on defense, on the bases, and of course from his reaching base more often. Cabrera is a groundball hitter, and his current 12 home runs seems to be around the upper limit of his power. Sure, he gets into stretches where he gets a little more loft on the ball, resulting in his bunching four of his home runs into the month of April, but outside of those hot streaks the power production comes down to one or two home runs a month.
That’s not a lot to sacrifice given what’s being gained. And here’s another bonus: both Gardner and Cabrera hit a ton of ground balls, but the latter’s speed is unexceptional, resulting in a high percentage of double plays. The Major League average hitter (the number is almost the same in both leagues) hits into a double play in about 11 percent of his chances. Cabrera hits into one 14 percent of the time. Gardner, with his speed, hits into one only seven percent of the time. Over the course of a full season this is a gain of many outs. This is why, despite the gap in home runs, Gardner is creating 5.5 runs per 27 outs, while Cabrera trails at 4.7. Over a full season, this would work out to at least one added win, and that’s without considering defense. Speaking of which, most metrics agree that Gardner is the rangier fielder. I would say that most naked eyes agree as well, but I can only speak for myself, and being down one eye, I should probably leave that assessment to others not part of the Greater New Jersey Order of Cyclopians.
I understand why you’ve been reluctant to start Gardner of late; he had just come off the disabled list, and maybe his thumb isn’t up to the daily pounding. Cabrera would also seem to have “won” the job while Gardner was gone, but in truth, his recent production has been nothing special. He’s hit .255/.318/.382 in the second half, .243/.299/.361 in August-September. Cabrera is also getting to the point in his career where he’s going to cost the Yankees some significant dollars (he’s in his arbitration years), and given that the budget has proved to be only semi-infinite it would probably be a good idea to get Gardner established so the front office knows the full extent of its flexibility. Perhaps a Gardner/Austin Jackson combination next year will be just as good as a Gardner/Cabrera combination. In that case: voila, instant trade bait! Instant payroll reduction! This sounds like the best of all worlds to me.
Thank you for giving this matter your full attention.
Very Truly Yours,
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
Judging 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.
WHAT CASEY SAID
Forgive me if I’ve used this quote before in talking about Sergio Mitre. When the Yankees lost a miserable home game, ten-time pennant-winning Yankees manager Casey Stengel had a saying: “The attendance was robbed,” by which he meant, “We didn’t give the fans fair value tonight.
Each time the Yankees start Mitre, the attendance gets robbed. After Mitre’s last start, Joe Girardi claimed that the defense had undermined what was otherwise a good start. This time, Mitre allowed four home runs in five innings of work. With all respect to Girardi, who has largely done a fine job this season, if he says that Mitre pitched well but the stadium was too small to contain his genius, I’m going to be sick.
The Yankees don’t need these wins, or at least they don’t right now, though if they somehow lose home field advantage in the playoffs, you can start pointing fingers at whoever has authorized Mitre to make start after miserable start. Still, even if they end up with pole position in the postseason, simple professionalism should dictate that Mitre doesn’t get any more games.
Even if these starts rank as throwaways for the 2009 season, surely there is some deserving young hurler — perhaps Trenton’s Zach McAllister? — who deserves a chance to show what he can do so the Yankees are more informed about their options for next year. The more the Yankees know about what they have on hand for 2010, the less they have to sweat subsidizing Chen-Ming Wang’s decline or making any other needlessly expensive moves. At this point, all Mitre is telling them is that he’s currently not a Major League pitcher. What he’s telling the fans, or what the Yankees are telling them by pitching him, is a very different matter.
I was drinking coffee in a bookstore recently when I heard a fellow at the table next to me say, “Denial is a river in Thailand.” I’m still not sure what he thought he was saying.
It seems like just about every observer of last night’s fracas has come to the same very reasonable conclusion, which is that whatever the offense Jorge Posada thought he had suffered — and having someone throw behind you is worse than having someone throw at you, because you can duck the latter, whereas you’re more likely to duck into the former — the fight was not something the Yankees needed. The risk of serious injury to a key player is too great, and with the team needing to protect both the division title and home-field advantage, even a small suspension can be ruinous.
This is particularly true in the case of Posada, who is sure to be seen as the primary instigator of last night’s action. The drop-off in offense from Hip-Hip Jorge to Hic-Hic Jose Molina or the non-alliterative Francisco Cervelli is so huge that an ICBM couldn’t carry the distance – although let’s give all due credit to Molina for his .320 on-base percentage, which is easily a career high; Molina has never cleared a .300 OBP in any season of more than 81 plate appearances. Sadly, his newfound selectivity does not erase his other offensive deficiencies, so he’s literally about half the hitter that Posada has been this year.
Jesse Carlson is a busher, a 28-year-old sophomore spot reliever on a nowhere team. He was wrong to throw behind Posada, even to deliver a message, and he was out of place on the play at the plate during which Posada (needlessly) elbowed him. We talk about players like this playing spoiler, but usually they do that by beating a contender, not taking a beating so that the contender loses its best players to disciplinary action. Tempers can flare, people will fight — that’s all understandable and human. The Yankees have to be smarter than base instinct if they want to win a pennant and eventually a championship. Girardi was right to tell them so after the game. There’s more at stake than masculine pride.
The 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.
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.
THAT WALK-OFF MAGIC
Nothing magical about it. The secret is that the bullpen ranks, somewhat miraculously, as the best in baseball. When you have a reliever corps that can prolong games indefinitely so that the potent offense can get one more at-bat, and then another, and another, you’re going to have a lot of last at-bat wins. Joe Girardi takes some flak for the way he runs a bullpen, and there are certainly some eccentricities in the way he handles things, but his relentless pursuit of a working pen (as opposed to Joe Torre’s relentless pursuit of one reliever he could pair with Mariano Rivera) is commendable.
After the season, we can debate whether the attention devoted to the bullpen came at the expense of the starting rotation, but it doesn’t seem to be the case right now, at least not in non-Sergio Mitre starts. Speaking of which, Chad Gaudin made a nice case for himself on Wednesday, but this weekend’s consecutive Gaudin and Mitre starts will serve as a kind of playoff between the two, or should. Not that the Mariners’ offense is a fair test….
20-GAME WATCH: YANKEES AT MARINERS
The Mariners are a 91-win team at home, the Yankees an 88-win team on the road… It’s hard to believe that the M’s are 10-10 with a hitting and pitching record like that, but there are seven one-run victories hidden there, two over the Tigers, two over the Blue Jays, one over the Royals, one over the Rays, one over the White Sox. That’s a clue that the M’s bullpen has generally been effective, and indeed, Seattle relievers rank fourth in the Majors in wins added. David Aardsma’s transformation from blown No. 1 pick (by the Giants back in ’03) to reliable closer is one of the top 50 stories of the year (he said, without really figuring out what the other 49 are). One suspects it won’t last due to the very low batting average on balls in play against (.258, though the line drive rate is also on the low side) and Aardsma’s high walk rate, but the Mariners get to enjoy it while it lasts.
The Yankees catch a break in this series because Felix Hernandez just pitched, so they get an ex-Pirate salvage operation in Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith, who is still getting established in the bigs, and two rookies, Luke French and Doug Fister. With Mitre and Gaudin starting in this series, the Yankees aren’t exactly putting forth Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing, Vic Raschi, and Ron Guidry, but they lap the M’s in experience this time around.
As for the Mariners offense, it’s down to Russell Branyan, Ichiro (who is having one of his best years and leads the league in hits despite missing the first two weeks), and a surging Franklin Gutierrez, who is finally displaying the kind of ability he showed in the Dodgers’ Minor League system roughly 50 years ago. Overall, this is the least potent offense in the AL, racing the Royals to the bottom. You never know what might happen, particularly if the various nicks the Yankees suffered in Wednesday’s game lead them to post a sub-optimal lineup for a couple of days, but the Yankees should be able to make a strong showing in this series.
CHAT WITH THE FAT, GOATEED YANKEES GUY
Chatting live at Baseball Prospectus. Come one, come all.
I was immensely frustrated by last night’s game, first because Sergio Mitre started it, second because after the Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the fourth Mitre was allowed to pitch the fifth so he could un-tie it again, third because Joe Girardi spun the game as a good start but for a wayward defensive play, and fourth because of a conversation with Brian Cashman that Michael Kay related during the game.
Let me take the last one first. Kay quoted Cashman as saying (I paraphrase, as I don’t have a transcript handy) in defense of Mitre that if you look around the league, who has a fifth starter that’s better than Mitre anyway? This may very well be true — few teams go four deep in good starters, let alone five — but it should not be an excuse to stop trying to find something better, particularly when, in Chad Gaudin, you have someone who has been demonstrably better in his career.
Even if one is willing to grant that Mitre had a good start — I’m not, but you may, Girardi may, Cashman may — that is but one start in a career in which the pitcher has allowed nearly six runs per nine innings pitched. In 57 games started, he’s made just 20 quality starts, or 35 percent, when the league average is closer to 50. And while it is positive that he’s walking just two batters per nine when he used to walk three or four, there are other aspects to pitching. Further, six strikeouts in five innings is nice, but the Jays weren’t playing John Olerud, Roberto Alomar and Paul Molitor. Getting Rod Barajas and Jose Bautista to swing and miss is not exactly unusual. Further, note that Mitre got three strikeouts in the first, then two more in the second, and one leading off the third. After that, he failed to K his last 14 batters. The Jays weren’t fooled anymore.
Gaudin isn’t a great pitcher, but he’s made 69 starts in his career, and at 26 has more time to work things out than the 28-year-old Mitre. Gaudin has made a quality start 42 percent of the time, below average but better than Mitre by a reasonable amount — given the same number of starts, Mitre would make 24 quality starts to Gaudin’s 29. That little edge is something worth shooting for. As I said yesterday, just because the Yankees’ place in the postseason is assured doesn’t mean that it can be taken for granted.
? Tough blow for the Nationals losing Jordan Zimmerman to TJ surgery. Nothing derails a building program faster (and more predictably) than pitcher injuries.
? Keith Law made a very good point at ESPN.com — that even if the Jays got Kenny Williams to take Alex Rios on a waiver claim, the very fact that they gave him away for nothing underscores the magnitude of the misjudgment by J.P. Ricciardi by issuing the contract in the first place.
? Ryan Franklin of the Cardinals demonstrates why many closers are overvalued, as is the closer’s role itself. The man has allowed six runs all year. Where is it written that he is a closer, or that he should have even been considered? P.S. Mariano Rivera is not overrated. He’s sui generis.
? Geovany Soto hit a home run last night, but he’s still looking like the new Rick Wilkins. And Jacoby Ellsbury is the new Dave Collins, who Bill James called, “A leadoff man who doesn’t score runs.” Good enough for me.
? Kevin Goldstein’s most recent article at BP is about how good middle infield prospects aren’t making their way into the Minors. What this says to me is that Derek Jeter’s replacement will be long in coming. Sadly, Troy Tulowitzki (hit for the cycle last night) and Hanley Ramirez are tied up forever.
MORE FROM ME
I talk about the years of Phil Rizzuto’s MVP, when shortstops out-hit first basemen, at Baseball Prospectus. Also, a reminder that I’ll be chatting live at BP Thursday at 1 p.m. EST. As always, if you can’t make it to the event itself, you can put your questions in the queue at the link above and I’ll look ’em over when we start up.