Results tagged ‘ Mariano Rivera ’

Looking back, looking ahead

THIS QUOTE COSTS ONLY FIVE CENTS
jeter_rivera_300_110609.jpgThe Yankees clubs for which Lefty Gomez pitched (1930-1942) went to seven World Series and won the first six. Thus, when the Yankees dropped the 1942 World Series to the Cardinals, he was less than excited to have “just” won a pennant. “The Yankees’ victory celebration,” he said after the fifth and final game, “will be held at Horn & Hardart. Don’t forget to bring your nickels.” Despite all the rings, Gomez never got a tickertape parade, so perhaps he had cause to be jaded. On the other hand, Derek Jeter will never get to eat at an automat, so you win some, you lose some.

COFFEE JOE’S NEW NUMBER
My pal Colonel Lindbergh suggests that “Coffee Joe” Girardi should perhaps now be called “Champagne Joe,” but I think not — it sounds too much like “champagne chicken.” Besides, “Champagne Joe” describes some toff who appears on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Indolent,” not a manager who is often thinking not two steps ahead of the opposition, but 42 steps with a half-twist to the right (in the Olympic thinking event, Girardi gets high marks for difficulty of routine). Perhaps he should be called “Calculator Joe,” and were this the 1920s or 30s, when sportswriters were all about bestowing nicknames like “The Little Napoleon” and “The Tall Tactician,” perhaps he would be.

In any case, I am sticking with my Girardi nom de baseball, even though Girardi is not going to be sticking with his uniform number, trading up from No. 27 to No. 28 to symbolize the quest for the next championship. Fortunately for Joe and his motivational techniques, No. 28 is not one of the many numbers the Yankees have nailed to the wall, though one very prominent Yankee, a Cy Young winner, did have a long hold on the digits.

Courtesy of the book, “Now Batting, Number…” by Jack Looney, select Yankees who have worn No. 28: outfielder Myril Hoag (1931, 1934-1935), pitcher Atley “Swampy” Donald (1938-1945), pitchers Tommy Byrne (1948-1951) and Art Ditmar (1957-1961), famously busted outfield prospect Steve Whitaker (1966-1967), relief ace Sparky Lyle (1972-1978), first basemen Bob Watson (1979-1980) and Steve Balboni (1983), southpaw Al Leiter (1988-1989), future pitching coach Dave Eiland (1991), pitcher Scott Kamieniecki (1993-1996), outfielder Chad Curtis (1997-1999), and DH David Justice (2000-2001). The current holder is Shelley Duncan.

Perhaps the Yankees could bring Sparky in for the ceremonial change of jerseys. He did a lot for the team and deserves the nod.

BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY, A TO-DO LIST
In no particular order, and without going into detail just yet, just a few of the matters that Brian Cashman and pals will have to grapple with in the coming days. Let me know if I missed anything:

? Derek Jeter is going into the last year of his contract. Do the Yankees try to offer an extension now, so as not to have the matter be a distraction throughout 2010? How will baseball’s post-downturn economic realities — for the most part, players are not getting $20 million a pop any more — affect negotiations?

? Mariano Rivera is also going into his walk year and expressed a wish for an extension in the giddy, celebratory moments after the World Series. He had a great season and was a key factor in the postseason, but he turns 40 in about three weeks. As with Jeter, the lack of a contract post-2010 might be a distraction.

? What roles will Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes have next year? Will they be starters? Relievers? Swing men?

? Does outfielder Austin Jackson, who hit .300 at Triple-A (but with only four home runs) have a role to play on next year’s club?

? How to approach aging but important free agents Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Andy Pettitte?

? How about lesser free agents like Xavier Nady, Jerry Hairston, Jose Molina and Eric Hinske?

? Are any members of a weak free agent class worth bidding on? If Damon or Matsui departs, do the Yankees want to take a shot at Jason Bay or Matt Holliday? Instead of trusting in Joba or Hughes again, do they want to bolster the back of the rotation with a veteran starter like John Lackey?

? Do they offer Chien-Ming Wang a contract and thus get tied into an arbitration situation with an injured player?

? What about other arbitration eligible types like Chad Gaudin, Melky Cabrera and Brian Bruney?

? Do they pick up the club option on Sergio Mitre?

? Coffee Joe is also going into the last year of his contract. Does the World Series win earn him an extension as well?

Man, do the Yankees have a lot to talk about, and so do we. If I’m Cashman, I don’t linger at the parade. I get right back to the office and start working this stuff out. After all, yesterday the Red Sox picked up outfielder Jeremy Hermida (career .276/.359/.456 outside of Florida, and still only 26 next year), so the opposition is already hard at work trying to knock the Yankees off their perch.

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.

The real Burnett stands up

My friend and colleague Stephanie Bee suggested that I write up World Series Game 2 as follows:

1. Mo was a bit over-used
2. Jeter shouldn’t have bunted
3. Burnett was brilliant
4. Umps still [expletive]

That seems like a fair rundown to me, though while my temptation is to cavil about numbers two and four, it’s probably best to stick with one and three. Actually, four is just a fact of life, and will be until Major League Baseball accepts that replay in baseball games need not be the Supreme Court hearing that is replay in the NFL and opts for having the most accurate baseball game possible, we’re going to have to live with cloddish umps. There are fewer things happening at once in most baseball replays than in football. Balls are caught or not, fair or foul. It’s not “did the wide receiver have his toes in bounds as he was/was not juggling the ball and did it cross the plane of the goal line or didn’t it?” One replay umpire stationed off the field could have overturned Ryan Howard’s non-catch in 10 seconds.

As for Jeter’s non-bunt, although the Old Captain is top-20 in double play percentage (17 percent of his chances, worst on the Yankees) giving away outs, as opposed to gambling on the better than 80 percent chance that a very good hitter WON’T hit into one, is not good managing. It was a poor decision by Joe Girardi which Jeter doubled down on by bunting foul with two strikes.

burnett_275_103009.jpgThose two items dispensed with, on to the better stuff. On A.J. Burnett’s loss/no-decision days this summer, he walked 4.8 batters per nine innings. When he won, it was only 3.4. Therein lies the sign of a happy curveball or an unhappy curveball. On Thursday night, the curveball was happy, and thereby were the Phillies made unhappy.

It’s the most basic of all human relationships. If only Burnett could be the pitcher he was Thursday night a tad more often, and had had more health — well, never mind. If your grandmother had wheels she’d be a wagon, and if Burnett had health and consistency he wouldn’t be what he is, and that’s plenty good in six starts out of 10. You just have to hope that the other four don’t come at important times.

With the help of umpire Jeff Nelson’s roomy strike zone, Burnett walked just two and struck out nine. In the game’s Nelson umpired this year, the number of strikeouts were average or even a bit below, so it’s puzzling that he gave the pitchers so much room off the plate. Still, he was consistent in having a wide zone for both teams, but for a pitcher like Burnett that little bit of generosity goes a long way. I’m not trying to diminish what Burnett did — he saved the World Series from getting out of hand — but the confluence of umpire and pitcher could not have been more perfectly timed.

During the YES postgame, one of the Yankees’ players (Jeter, I believe) was asked how it felt to know that Girardi had the “confidence” to use Mariano Rivera for two full innings. The choice of term was ironic, as Girardi was really expressing a lack of confidence in any of his other relievers. Insomuch as Game 2 was a must win, it wasn’t a bad call, but you have to question how long Rivera can keep this up. He threw 39 pitches, another high for the year, and though Girardi said in his postgame press conference that he didn’t ask Rivera to do this all year precisely so he could do it now, I’m not sure that that reasoning makes very much sense.

You’re talking about a 40-year-old guy who averaged 16 pitches per appearance this year more than doubling up his pitch counts. Given the lack of an off day between Games 3 through 5, can you really expect him to keep that up? Moreover, can you expect Rivera, a one-trick pony — it’s a wonderful trick, but it’s still just one — to keep fooling the Phillies at that rate of exposure? Andy Pettitte averaged 102 pitches per start this year and his 6.1 innings in each of his ALCS starts were the deepest into a game he’s pitched since August, plus there’s pinch-hitting for pitchers to consider in the National League park.

All of this means that Girardi is going to have to confront his bullpen problems as soon as Saturday. Rivera won’t be able to carry the whole load in Game 3, and maybe not in any of the games in Philadelphia. We will see if anyone else stands up to shoulder his burden. 

On the road to cheesesteak

phillies_350_102109.jpgWithout taking anything for granted (we all remember 2004), it seems as if we’re on the way to a Yankees-Phillies World Series. While I’m sure that some will be sorry that we won’t get JOE TORRE STRIKES BACK headlines, I’m happy that we likely won’t have to rehash all that stuff, or subject any of the people involved to the indignity of it all.

After all, Torre is no traitor — the organization chose to go in a different direction (this is the politest way of summarizing the events that led to Torre’s departure) and he helped direct the club to its most sustained run of success since the 1970s, if not the dynasty years of the 1950s and ’60s. While I was critical of his work in the later years of his tenure, an organization needs change and that can leave personnel who once seemed integral in the dust trying to keep up. When that happens, and it has happened to great leaders (Winston Churchill comes to mind), it does nothing to invalidate all the positive contributions that came before. Things change, we know that; not everyone is adaptable, and even those that are adaptable will eventually reach the point at which they are no longer flexible.

As I said, we won’t have to deal with that. Instead, what we should have to deal with, if things go the way they should, is the defending champs trying to achieve something like mini-dynasty status — pull the Yankees out of the equation and there haven’t been too many repeat winners in baseball history — against a Yankees team that, in many ways, really hasn’t been here before. Holdovers from the last Yankees World Series team include Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. That’s just five players out of 25. The rest are virginal, at least in a Yankees uniform (Burnett was on the 2003 Marlins but was hurt; Johnny Damon was with the 2004 Red Sox). Though the Yankees are a highly compensated, veteran team, and shouldn’t be rated the underdog in any matchup, they are undoubtedly the upstarts in a confrontation with the Phillies.

The Phillies would also make the most legitimate competition for this Yankees team. The Dodgers are comparatively light on offense (on one of the NLCS broadcasts, Buck Martinez called them the best offense in the National League, not sure where that came from) and their pitching staff has fallen into disarray in October. The Phillies have a team that was built to play in Yankee Stadium II, loaded with left-handed and switch-hitters who can take aim at the short porch in right field, as well as a rotation stocked with lefties who can keep Yankees hitters away from it. Sure, their bullpen is a mess, has been a mess, will be a mess, but that pile of southpaws on both sides of the ball covers a multitude of reliever sins.

All this, however, is premature. For today we wait while the NLCS tries to resolve itself. Perhaps this speculation is premature. It’s difficult not to jump ahead, given the dominance of Tuesday night’s performance by CC Sabathia.

ALL IS FORGIVEN
Given the umpiring throughout the postseason, and particularly in last night’s game (an embarrassment, though the ball-strike calls were shockingly good), it seems to me that Don Denkinger has less and less to feel bad about. Sure, he helped give away a World Series game, but it was just one play. His professional descendants are mucking up inning after inning. Baseball games continually interrupted by instant replay is a horrifying notion, but something has to change.

MORE OF ME AND OTHER PEOPLE

Baseball Prospectus is holding another roundtable chat tonight around Game 5 of the NLCS. I should be there, assuming this kidney stone I’m still dealing with doesn’t send me off to cower in a corner somewhere. For more info or to submit a question, here there be linkage. Hope to see you then. Desperately.

Breeze it, buzz it, easy does it

girardi_300_102009.jpg(AND LAY OFF THE COFFEE, COFFEE JOE)
The postseason’s many off days have frequently been observed to allow shenanigans with starting pitchers that wouldn’t be possible in the regular season, such as reducing the rotation to three pitchers as the Yankees are doing in the ALCS.

Less often remarked upon is the freedom it allows a coffee-achiever/manic manager to run pell-mell through his bullpen, pulling out relievers like they were blades on a Swiss Army Knife — Mariano Rivera is the bottle-opener, Phil Hughes is the screwdriver and Alfredo Aceves is the one whose function you’re not quite certain of. If a manager acted that way in the regular season, he’d burn out his bullpen in about a week.

Thanks to the schedule, Joe Girardi has had the freedom to ignore questions of fatigue and can make changes on a whim, or at the command of a black binder that suggests you ignore what’s happening right in front of you in favor of oracular advice in the form of head-to-head data and scouting reports. In the case of the former, the samples are so small as to be meaningless, and as to the latter, whatever Howie Kendrick’s preferences are insofar as whether he likes fastballs better than curveballs or boeuf bourguignon to Lobster Thermidor, his interactions with David Robertson have been so limited that all you really have is a theory along the lines of, “If a tiger fought a lion, we believe the tiger would win,” or “In our prior experience we have seen that when sodium hits the water, things go boom, and we believe that Robertson is sodium and Kendrick is water.”

It’s speculation. There’s no fact behind it, just inferences. You can’t know if those inferences are correct until you test them. Girardi opted not to, and in a situation where he had the platoon advantage all along. Unless Aceves is harboring a specific pitch that we’ve not yet heard of — The Klingon Ball? The High ‘n’ Tight Hemingway Paragraph? The Astro Orbiter? — and Kendrick has been seen to wet himself at the sight of the Klingon Ball, there is no advantage that Aceves could have had over Robertson to justify the switch.

In fairness to Coffee Joe, we don’t know would have happened had he stuck with Robertson. Perhaps Kendrick would have hit the ball to the moon and the game would have ended right there. It could be that the manager’s hunch was correct and Aceves didn’t execute. What we do know is that Robertson was doing a fine job, has done a fine job, and that learning to trust him is a big part of this manager’s and this team’s future. If Hughes rejoins the rotation next year, Robertson could be your eighth-inning guy, and no reason that he shouldn’t be.

The Robertson/Aceves switch, and the Damaso Marte/Phil Coke switch earlier in the game, or all of the hectic pinch-running (which has not availed the Yankees and has actively hurt them) are also symptomatic of a manager who is managing too much in the moment and not thinking about what will happen if it turns out he needs the player he just chucked away. In particular, he seems to have forgotten that Brett Gardner is not just a runner but a full-function player. Since Eric Hinske is not on the roster, he’s the closest thing the Yankees have to a competent hitter on the bench. Because of the way he’s been used, the Yankees have been forced into having Freddy Guzman, Jerry Hairston, and Francisco Cervelli hit in key spots and potentially lost an extra inning of work from Rivera because they gave up the DH to replace Johnny Damon on defense.

This is the opposite of good managing. For the rest of the series, Girardi might better focus on imparting some of his high-caffeine mojo to his hitters, who haven’t had a hit with a runner in scoring position in the last two contests. The speed of the runners on base matters not a bit if the next three guys make outs and that is exactly what’s been happening. Alas, this aspect of things might be out of Coffee Joe’s hands.

YESTERDAY, CC SABATHIA SEEMED SO FAR AWAY
BUT OBJECTS IN THE MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

As for today’s matchup, when the three-man rotation concept was first floated, I brought up Luis Tiant in the 1975 World Series. El Tiante, who had been just so-so in the regular season that year but was nonetheless the team’s ace, had a week to get ready for Game 1, and he pitched a five-hit shutout. He pitched Game 4 on three days’ rest and was just good enough, holding the Reds to four runs in nine innings as the Red Sox won 5-4.

After Game 5 there was rain, which meant that Tiant got to pitch Game 6 after a five-day layoff. He shut out the Reds for four innings, but they broke through for three runs in the fifth, two in the seventh, and one more in the eighth. Given the long rest, the issue wasn’t fatigue, but familiarity — the Reds had seen all of Tiant’s tricks and were ready for them (they would go on to lose the game in extra innings on Carlton Fisk’s famous home run).

Obviously the Yankees don’t want this series to go seven games, and if Sabathia pitches well tonight it might not have to, but they have an extra reason to hope that it does not — a third helping of Sabathia might prove to be too much of a good thing.

Angels-Yanks: Head to head, Part I

MERRY-GO-ROUND
Angels-Dodgers. Angels-Phillies. Yankees-Dodgers. Yankees-Phillies. These are the World Series possibilities thanks to last night’s conclusion of the Phillies-Rockies series, a denouement hastened by Jim Tracy’s Night of the Living Dead decision to let Huston Street pitch to Ryan Howard with the game on the line, a devotion to the idea of the CLOSER so compulsive as to be akin to mental slavery. Howard hit .207/.298/.356 against lefties this year, .226/.310/.444 lifetime. Conversely, he’s a .305/.406/.661 career hitter against right-handers, a number likely to be elevated against Street, who has always had problems with lefties until this year (and there is good reason to believe that he was just lucky). Tracy had Joe Beimel heated up and ready to go, but because Street is his CLOSER he stuck with him and got exactly what should have expected to get. Way to go, Jim.

Before anyone jumps and asks if this means that, should there be a Yankees-Phillies World Series, Mariano Rivera should not be allowed to pitch to Howard, the answer is no, it does not mean that. Rivera’s cutter makes him very hard for left-handers to hit. Lefties are hitting .206/.256/.261 against him for his career, .182/.238/.273. He’s a full-service closer, and the normal rules do not apply.

THINGS WE NEVER SAW IN NEW YORK …
… Happened in last night’s game. First, Jason Giambi singled to the opposite field. He then scored from first on Yorvit Torrealba’s double. Where was that guy the last five years?

TRIAD
In today’s Joe Girardi conference call, the manager suggested that he could go with a three-man rotation in the championship series. This is feasible because due to the wonders of television scheduling, the American League Championship Series will last 10 days if it goes the distance. Thanks to three off-days, after Game 2, Game 4 and Game 5, CC Sabathia would be able to start Game 1, then Game 4 after three days off, and then Game 7 on normal rest. A.J. Burnett would start Games 2 and 5, the latter on normal rest, and Andy Pettitte would start Game 3 and Game 6, also on normal rest. The question is, how has Mr. Sabathia done on short rest? Sabathia didn’t make any quickened starts this year but has in the past. Last year he made three such starts and did quite well, allowing just two earned runs (six total) in 21.2 innings. Those three starts represent 75 percent of his starts under such conditions. In short, there’s a record of success in short rest, but we’re well short of conclusive evidence. This does seem like a better option than going with Chad Gaudin, who has not pitched well against the Angels in his career (19 games) or pulling Joba Chamberlain back out of the ‘pen and praying.

If you want an “on the other hand,” here it is: in the fourth inning of his next start, Sabathia will pitch his 240th inning of the season. The guy could get fatigued. The guy could already be fatigued. This seemed to be a problem in past postseasons; in 2007 and 2008, Sabathia entered October already past the 240 mark. You never know if making a start on short rest will hasten him toward the wall.

ANGELS-YANKEES HEAD TO HEAD, PART ONE

FIRST BASE: KENDRY MORALES (39.8 VORP, 12th among first basemen) vs. MARK TEIXEIRA (54.7 VORP, 5th)
tex250_101309.jpgCuban import Morales finally had his big breakthrough this year, knocking 43 doubles and 34 home runs while hitting .306. Intriguingly, his line-drive rate was actually a tad low, while his batting average on balls in play was high, so he likely had some good luck this year. If his line drive rate is normal next year, we’ll never notice the correction. Morales was much better from the left side of the plate than from the right side, batting .296/.319/.481. He was far more consistent, far more patient, against right-handers, and it’s probably worth it for Girardi to turn him around in the late innings. Mike Scioscia very rarely put Bobby Abreu and Morales back to back in the lineup, as this would have created an exploitable vulnerability to lefty relievers.

Teixeira wasn’t set back by turning around, not this year and not during his career. In fact, he’s a bit more dangerous against left-handed pitching. He’s a career .388/.464/.551 hitter against John Lackey, has hit .261/.346/.652 against Jered Weaver, and is 7-for-11 against Scott Kazmir. The only Gold Glove in the conversation is Teixeira. EDGE: YANKEES.

SECOND BASE: HOWIE KENDRICK (16.5, 20th) vs. ROBINSON CANO (50.3, 3rd)

In their eagerness to whack the ball, Kendrick and Cano are similar players. Both players had a crisis in their 25th year, Kendrick hitting so poorly at the outset of this season (.231/.281/.355 through June 11) that he was sent down. He hit well in the sticks and was brought back about three weeks later. In the 54 games remaining to him, Kendrick hit .351/.387/.532 and was a bit more patient than he had been before, walking 10 times. That doesn’t seem like much, but this is a guy who had taken just 40 walks in 303 career games to that point. He hit .371 against left-handers after coming back, and batted .400 with runners in scoring position.

Cano had his most consistent season in 2009, hitting well except for a two-month, May-June cold snap. Even then, results were never as bleak as they had been the previous year (.271/.302/.439). He was at his best in the second half, hitting .336/.365/.557 after the break. Cano’s season had two major downsides. He continued to be a double-play threat due to his lack of speed, his tendency to hit grounders, and his ability to hit the ball hard even when he wasn’t hitting it anywhere good. The other problem was his spectacularly poor hitting with runners on, runners in scoring position, runners anything. Put a man on in front of him and he melted like ice on a hot stove. Defensively the two are a wash. I see this as EDGE: NONE.

NEXT
Third base, shortstop, catcher.

Five years, what a surprise

yanksalcs250.jpgFIVE YEARS LATER…
…The Yankees are back in the American League Championship Series. This is an accomplishment, no doubt about it, but the sweep of the Twins shouldn’t be taken as any sign of the Yankees’ predestination as champions. Despite their exciting charge into the postseason (or the Tigers’ historic collapse), the Twins were not a very good team, but rather the last survivor of one of baseball’s weakest divisions. They were there because a team had to represent the AL Central, not because they had any claim on greatness. They were no better than the Tigers, Rangers, Rays, Mariners, Marlins, Braves, Cubs, or Giants, teams with similar records who now compete only on the nation’s golf courses. Moreover, the Twins were missing one of their big bats, Justin Morneau; the Yankees defeated a half-strength team that was down half its strength.

The point here is not to diminish the win any, because the Yankees played excellent baseball against an opponent that didn’t roll over. Game Three’s key defensive play by Derek Jeter is another great, heady move to add to his Hall of Fame case, one of two in the series. Actually, the very fact that he was able to make those plays points up the very inadequacy of the Twins as an opponent. Just as Jeremy Giambi made Jeter’s most famous play possible by failing to slide, the Twins made mistakes that an intelligent player like Jeter could exploit. During the broadcasts of the series, you heard a great deal about what a gritty, gutty, speedy, fundamentally sound, ballclub the Twins were — this despite their tripping around the field at every opportunity. The Twins are a myth, one created because calling things what they are isn’t something the media does. Yes, the Twins are small-market. Yes, they have had a miserable stadium deal. Yes, their late billionaire owner never seemed that interested in spending for another winner after the team’s 1987 and 1991 championships. None of that means they had to play Nick Punto or Joe Crede or Delmon Young or any of their other compromise ballplayers. Not counting midseason acquisitions Orlando Cabrera and Ron Mahay, Punto is the highest-paid Twin after Morneau, Joe Nathan, Joe Mauer, and Michael Cuddyer. That’s just not right.

It seems as if The Angels will represent more of a test, because they have things the Twins can only dream of. The Twins have emphasized the drafting and development of low-stuff college hurlers who pitch to contact (Johan Santana was a Rule 5 accident), though they did strike out more than their share of Yankees in the series just completed. Overall, the Angels did not have a great pitching staff for strikeouts, but of the pitchers the Yankees will see in the ALCS — John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders — only Saunders would fit in on the Twins. They also have a deeper offense. Not all of their .290-.300 hitters are created equal given their organizational reluctance (despite much lip-service being given to the positive influence of Bobby Abreu) to reach base via walk. As for their vaunted baserunning game, it wasn’t the most successful operation in the world — the Angels stole at a 70 percent success rate, which was one of the worst rates in the league. By contrast, the Yankees stole at an 80 percent rate, which is to say that in every 50 attempts, the Yankees went 40-10 and the Angels 35-15. Finally, the Angels haven’t much in the way of bullpen. They very much missed the injured Scot Shields. Darren Oliver was their most productive reliever, followed by closer Brian Fuentes. Notwithstanding their historic aversion to playing well against the Angels, something that the Yankees might have put behind them in taking two of three at Anaheim in late September, there is no reason the Yankees cannot take this series.

We’ll get into the head-to-head stuff tomorrow. We’ve got all bloody week to delve into this series.

PUT MARIANO RIVERA IN THE HALL OF FAME TOMORROW OR TODAY
Not that he needs another paean to his brilliance, but the series again demonstrated why Mariano Rivera is a unique talent. If you compare Joe Nathan to Rivera during the regular season since 2004, there isn’t a lot to suggest that Rivera has been dramatically better than Nathan in that time, if he has been better at all. Nathan has pitched in 412 games and converted 247 of 272 save opportunities with an ERA of 1.87. Rivera has pitched 405 games and saved 243 victories in 261 chances. Rivera allowed 26 percent of his inherited runners to score. Nathan allowed only 20 percent. Under most conditions, if you had traded one for the other the teams would have seen a minimal change in outcomes.

“Most conditions” do not include the postseason. Rivera is one of the greatest postseason performers in history. You could make a reasonable argument that he is in fact the greatest postseason performer in baseball history given his level of excellence over so many games, the expansion of the postseason to three rounds in recent years having provided him with more October opportunities than even some of the Dynasty greats like Yogi Berra. Nathan has had many fewer opportunities, but he’s one of the reasons that he’s pitched in fewer games, not having done very well.

Rivera only got one chance at a save in this year’s ALDS, pitching with a big lead in Game 1 and coming in to try to protect a tie in Game 2, something at which he failed, so it’s not as if this series is going to deserve a track on his greatest hits album, though aside from allowing those runners inherited from Phil Hughes to score he did quite well. What he did isn’t as important as what he has done, and what Nathan wasn’t able to do.

PRODUCTIVE OUTS

I was disgusted to see a list of “productive outs” pop up towards the end of TBS’s broadcast last night. It just cemented TBS’s status as a network that broadcasts baseball but doesn’t pay enough attention to the game in any of its aspects to be successful. How the heck do we kill this concept that making  outs can be a good thing? Check out the stats: A team with a runner on first with no outs has the expectation of scoring .88 runs, but a team with a runner on second and one out will score just .69 runs. Even though the runner moved over, the chances of scoring went down. Similarly, a runner on second with no outs meant that teams scored 1.14 runs on average, whereas hit a grounder to the right side and “productively” move that sucker over, and the run expectation drops to .97. Now, it is preferable to have the runner at second with one out (.69) then it is at first with one out, that is, having received a “non-productive” out (.53), so the productive out would be worth .16 of a run. That’s nice, but it’s such a small thing that it doesn’t really mean anything, doesn’t add up into anything you can see in the final record.

If the Yankees can be credited with having a high total of such outs, it is because they had a high total of runners on base. Scoring is the result of reaching base and making extra-base hits, not making outs. All this stuff about productive outs is purely imaginary corn for suckers, and TBS embracing it is just one more embarrassment for an amateurish production.  

I BELIEVE IT IS A CHAT OR AN ELEPHANT

I’m not certain, but I believe that I and some Baseball Prospectus colleagues will be hosting a live chat during this evenings Phillies-Rockies game. Drop by BP.com around game-time for more info.

Banged-up Yankees should survive Seattle

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

W-L RS/G RA/G AVG OBP SLG AB/HR SB CS HR/9 BB/9 K/9
Yankees 14-6 5.8 4.5 .295 .367 .515 21 8 2 0.8 3.1 8.3
Mariners 10-10 4.2 5.6 .270 .320 .382 51 6 3 1.7 4. 6.0

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.

The bench and the bullpen, including Mo

rivera250.jpgNOT UNUSUAL, EXCEPT IN ONE RESPECT
Aside from the victim having been the estimable Doc Halladay, Tuesday night’s win was your standard nail-biting Yankees victory, with Andy Pettitte skating by despite too many walks, a couple of rallies killed by double plays, and some rollercoaster action from the bullpen. That includes the great Mariano, who has shown for all his great accomplishments that he would very much prefer to be used with the bases empty and a lead. Having to pitch in a tie or bail out some other hapless reliever just isn’t part of the deal. Rivera still allows fewer inherited runners to score than the average AL reliever — he’s allowed five of 18 to pass, whereas (hold on) the typical cat will allow about six of 18 to score. It’s a benefit to the Yankees, slim or not, but you might think the greatest closer ever would do better. He’s actually had several seasons where close to 50 percent of inherited runners scored, which is odd given just how dominant he is the rest of the time.

RZEPCZYNSKI (NOUN)
A very high-scoring Scrabble word signifying tonight’s opponent, Marc Rzepczynski. He’s a lefty of the groundballer persuasion with just one home run allowed in his inaugural 27.2 innings. One wonders if this means another outfield start for Jerry Hairston. If Hairston is your main weapon against lefties, you’re really aiming too low. It’s as if we’re back to the days of Clay Bellinger playing center field (20 starts in 2000, Joe Torre, 20 starts!). Hairston is a better player than Bellinger in every way, but that praise is specific to the case and wholly relative.

Given that the 12th man on the staff (Mark Melancon … at least, he didn’t until recently) almost never pitches, it would be a better use of the roster spot to grant Shelley Duncan a berth. In these days of bloated pitching staffs, it would be seen as a brave, daring move to carry only 11 hurlers, but Joe Girardi is proving that the 2009 Yankees, at least, can make it through with less than a dozen pitchers. There is no reason not to acknowledge what is already a reality and use the spot as a weapon rather than a way for a lucky pitcher to get free travel around the country.

REPORTED WITHOUT COMMENT
Courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, pitchers’ wins added above replacement:

AL TOP 5
1. Zack Greinke, KC 6.0
2. Felix Hernandez, SEA 5.4
3. Roy Halladay, TOR 5.3
4. Cliff Lee, CLE 5.2
5. Edwin Jackson, DET 5.2
YANKEES
17. CC Sabathia 3.3
23. A.J. Burnett 3.2
30. Joba Chamberlain 2.4
32. Andy Pettitte 2.3
128. Aceves, Hughes, Mitre, Wang -0.6

BOBBY ABREU, PLAYER OF THE MONTH
He batted .380 in July and is having a fine year overall. The Yankees still made the right choice in letting him leave. The Angels got a bargain, one the Yankees weren’t going to get, either in dollars or term of years, and his 2007-2008 numbers (.289/.370/.458) were just adequate for a defensively challenged right fielder. Perhaps Abreu needed the extra motivation supplied by his free-agency letdown. Perhaps this is just a random uptick, and the numbers certainly suggest that. Abreu has always been a prolific line drive hitter, which explains his unusually high success rate on balls in play (career .349). This year he’s hitting .372 on balls in play despite the lowest line drive rate of his career. That’s the favorable luck component of what he’s doing. To put it in plainer words, Abreu hadn’t hit .300 since 2004, and hadn’t hit over .310 since 2000. There was no reason for the Yankees to expect him to post a top-10 batting average in 2009.

HE MIGHT WANT TO TAKE SOME TIME OFF
I’ve undergone this procedure and Bobby Jenks has my sympathies. Let us just say that the surgery itself is not too traumatic but the aftermath is not pretty.

Beware of the Rays

rivera_250_071509.jpgTHE ALL-STAR GAME
I figured I’d hold off on today’s entry until after the game. That would have been a timely decision had the game started before 8:45, but alas, the pregame rolled on like a matinee of “Gone With The Wind.” The game itself went by briskly but uneventfully.

Then Mariano Rivera came in and I was riveted. Is it wrong that Rivera reminds me of the fragility of things and the cruel passage of time? I keep thinking, “He’s almost 40. He can’t be this good forever, so cherish his every appearance.” That makes really savor each pitch, but it also makes every appearance bittersweet.

Maybe there’s a medication you can get that can ease your feelings of sadness over the ending of Rivera’s career before it has ended…

WHY CAN’T THE WIND BLOW BACKWARDS?
The Yankees are 0-9 against the Red Sox and will face them another 10 times this season, but perhaps the real team to be concerned about is the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees will visit them for three games starting in about two weeks and then host them for four games in September, including a split doubleheader. The two clubs will then see the season out together with a three-game series in St. Petersburg during the first week of October. The Yankees are 4-4 against the Rays so far, but last year’s AL pennant winners, currently third in the Wild Card standings, 3.5 games behind the front-running Yankees, could surge in the second half and threaten for a postseason berth.

Looking at the Rays’ projected won-lost record, extrapolated from their total runs scored and allowed totals, they have cheated themselves of somewhere between four and seven wins. Victimized by a pitching staff that hasn’t lived up to last year’s performance, the Rays have lost more close games than they’ve won. That can change very quickly. The Rays could experience a run of good luck or timely hitting (perhaps the same thing), or some of the changes they’ve made to the starting rotation, removing Andy Sonnanstine from the Major League rotation, bringing Scott Kazmir back from the disabled list, and promoting David Price, could pay off. They could also help themselves in a big way by grabbing a bullpen arm at or before the trading deadline.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Rays stack up very well with the Yankees, even if they’ve scored fractionally fewer runs per game this season (5.4 for the Rays vs. 5.6 for the Yankees). Take it position by position:

First Base
Rays: .236/.367/.531. Yankees: .277/.381/.542. The difference favors the Yankees, but it’s small, about nine runs over a full season.

Second Base
Rays: .273/.373/.425. Yankees: .307/.339/.488. Despite having to compensate for Akinori Iwamura’s wholly unnecessary knee injury, the aggregate of Tampa’s second basemen, principally Iwamura and Ben Zobrist, have out-produced Robinson Cano by a few runs. Such is the power of on-base percentage.

Third Base
Rays: .288/.366/.545. Yankees: .222/.345/.412. The Alex Rodriguez component of the foregoing is .247/.407/.519. We’ll see if he passes Evan Longoria by the end of the year. The aggregate A-Rod subs have hit .184 with no home runs, so Tampa leads by about 20 runs here.

Shortstop
Rays: .347/.393/.536. Yankees: .314/.386/.453. Jason Bartlett is having a crazy good year, and when he put in three weeks on the disabled list, subs Zobrist and Reid Brignac hit quite well. Jeter is having a nice season, but he’s just not hitting at that level. By the end of the year, this should be much closer as Bartlett fades (.400 batting averages on balls in play just don’t last) — unless Jeter fades too.

Catcher
Rays: .234/.264/.342. Yankees: .280/.335/.444. Dioner Navarro is just killing the Rays at the plate. Even though Jorge Posada subs Francisco Cervelli, Jose Molina, and Kevin Cash haven’t hit well, they’ve still been better than Navarro. You almost have to try to be that bad. Navarro was on a little hot streak going into the break, and perhaps he’ll rebound in the second half. For now, the Yankees have something like a 20-run advantage here, and the more Posada they can pile on the better.

Left Field
Rays: .311/.375/.456. Yankees: .272/.348/.497. The Yankees have gotten seven more doubles and eight more home runs in roughly the same number of trips to the plate, and that power advantage helps offset Carl Crawford’s high batting average and stolen bases. In terms of run generation, this is close to being a tie.

upton_250_071509.jpgCenter Field
Rays: .240/.329/.396. Yankees: .289/.356/.432. B.J. Upton’s miserable start was highly damaging, but he had a terrific June (.324/.395/.562, 10 doubles, five home runs and 14 stolen bases), and if he hits up to his capabilities the rest of the way he’ll turn this position into a net positive. The Yankees’ just-good-enough production at the position gives them a roughly seven-run lead on the Rays. Again, that will change, because the Brett Gardner/Melky Cabrera combination is unlikely to improve on its current showing, whereas Upton is fairly likely to have a .380 OBP in the second half.

Right Field
Rays: .274/.364/.456. Yankees: .252/.360/.457. The Rays play someone different here every day, but each part has been very good, with Zobrist, Gabe Gross (.301/.400/.451),and Gabe Kapler contributing. Rays’ right fielders have gotten a few more runs out of right field than the Yankees have, but that could change if Nick Swisher remembers how to hit or Gross remembers that he’s not Country Slaughter.

Designated Hitter
Rays: .255/.365/.401. Yankees: .272/.369/.534. An easy win for the Yankees, who are getting some of the best DH production in the business from Hideki Matsui plus assorted guest starts. Pat Burrell has been a spectacular disaster for the Rays and there’s no end in sight. They only have to live with him for the rest of this year and next, but the experience will cost them $16 million.

Boston’s offense doesn’t measure up in this crowd given David Ortiz’s struggles, Mike Lowell’s age and health issues, absent shortstops, and so on. They’re more of a pitching team this year. They beat the Yankees there, the Rays beat the Yankees on offense. It will be interesting to see if the Yankees have enough of what each team doesn’t have to survive the crunch.