Results tagged ‘ New York Yankees ’

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.

Welcome back, Alex Rodriguez

arod_250_050809.jpgReady to save a season?

It’s not that simple, of course. A few extra home runs aren’t going to paper over all of the areas where the Yankees are failing to perform right now. The starting pitchers have the third-worst ERA in the league, and while the bullpen has not been the worst in the league (Cleveland and Anaheim are vying for that dubious title), it has been weak enough to earn a failing grade to this point in the season.

The offense, which is averaging 5.6 runs per game played, hasn’t really been the problem. Sure, a hot-hitting Rodriguez might help the team overcome a few badly pitched games by helping to pile on the runs, but with the Yankees apparently taking the express elevator to the sub-replacement level at catcher (welcome, Kevin Cash), Rodriguez will not fully plug the resultant hole. The place where Rodriguez’s impact is most likely to be felt is on defense. The Yankees, as has typically been the case in recent years, do not excel at turning balls in play into outs. A-Rod isn’t Brooks Robinson, and Ramiro Pena has done decent work on the fielding job, but there’s something to be said for having an experienced player out there.

That said, the team has been miserable in the clutch and the third basemen have been even less contributory than the replacement catchers are likely to be (well, maybe), so perhaps Rodriguez can contribute in ways that go beyond the overall offensive totals.

The pitching should come around. Unless the Yankees have somehow ducked into a perfect storm of nervous breakdowns and physical injuries, the many good arms they have on hand will not struggle forever. The overarching problem is one of depth. A-Rod returns, but Jorge Posada is down, Molina is down (and he wasn’t very good) and now Cash is up. Cash and Cashman go well together, because the former represents the latter’s blind spot. The general manager has never been one to worry much about contingencies, and now the Yankees are carrying a career .184 hitter/.248 OBP backstop, this even though there were many reasons to doubt Posada’s durability. There are reasons as well to doubt Rodriguez’s durability. And Johnny Damon’s. And Hideki Matsui’s. The question for today is not, “What will it mean to have Alex Rodriguez back?” but “Who’s next?”

Francisco Cervelli, of course, has barely played at the Double-A level and has an offensive profile that would seem to translate into a few singles at best. He has been willing to take the odd walk offered to him, so the Yankees can hope that even if all other production is lacking he might accept the odd fourth ball, more than could have been said for Molina.

In fairness to Mr. Cashman, the problem with depth has long been an organizational one. Unlike most other organizations, the Yankees have not been able to draft and develop even a few solid, second-line players. The pitching has been coming along, and that has been a huge step forward, because a few years back we couldn’t even say that much positive about the Yankees’ farm system.

However, Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, and Austin Jackson notwithstanding (and Jackson is unlikely to be an impact player), a parallel improvement in position players is overdue. This has acted to hamstring the GM both in terms of trade fodder and in injury replacements and bench strength for the major league team. That said, the catching problem, along with the advanced age and concomitant brittleness of the big club, not to mention the specific injury situations of several prominent players, should have been taken into account.

As for Rodriguez, a few heroic home runs would go a long way towards saving his reputation and helping his team out of its current rut. The opposite is almost too painful to contemplate as we will never hear the end of it. If Rodriguez goes 0-for-20 to open his season, it could be because he’s still not 100 percent or it could be because he happened to go 0-for-20, but we’ll hear a lot about how he’s not the same guy now that he’s clean. Actually, we will likely hear that anytime he slumps over the rest of his contract. Anyone got a spare set of noise-canceling headphones?

REST IN PEACE, DOM DIMAGGIO
Farewell to the last of the three DiMaggio brothers who lit up the major leagues in the 1930s and 40s. Joe, of course, was the Yankee Clipper. Vince struck out a lot but was a great ballhawk (some said the best outfielder of the three) and had his career damaged by starting it playing in Boston’s Braves Field, a terrible park for a low-average power hitter, which is what Vince was. From 1940 to 1945, his post-Braves period spent mostly in Pittsburgh, Vince hit .256/.331/.433, safely above-average for the time, and combined with his defense that made him a solid player, though not a star. Dom was a star, a seven-time All-Star for the Red Sox, and though he wasn’t, as the song parody went, better than his brother Joe, he was a very solid, Brett Butler-type player — Butler with better plate judgment and a bit more pop at the plate (some of it no doubt provided by Fenway Park, but still). He was also the top defensive center fielder of his time, probably better than Joe on the fielding job (for Joe, being third in his own family still meant he was better than everyone else), and if he wasn’t a Hall of Famer in his own right he was at worst the next level down. He was a key part of the great Ted Williams-driven Red Sox offenses of the 1940s and the team’s 1946 pennant winner. He will long be remembered.

20-GAME WATCH: YANKEES VS. ORIOLES

                     W-L    R/G    AB/HR    PA/BB    SB     CS    AVG    OBP    SLG
YANKEES     9-11    5.6        23.5       8.9         16       2    .277    .365    .463
ORIOLES       6-14     4.6       34.0      12.6        12       6    .256    .321    .399
                                    
                   ERA    RA    H/9    BB/9    SO/9    HR/9            
YANKEES    6.10    6.54    9.9      4.3     7.4      1.6            
ORIOLES     5.04    5.62    10.3    3.0      6.8      1.3            

You would think that given the pitching matchups of this series (Sabathia-Guthrie, Hughes-Eaton, and Chamberlain-Uehara) the Yankees would stand a very good chance of not only ending their losing streak but sweeping the series. Don’t place any bets on that evaluation, because we’ve seen the Yankees find some new ways to lose lately, particularly struggling to hit in situations like having a runner on third and less than two outs (.261/.298/.391, seven sacri
fice flies in 56 opportunities). As for the Orioles, there’s not a lot that’s good here. The big story is that Adam Jones (.346/.413/.598) has seemingly taken a big step forward to join Nick Markakis as one of the team’s building blocks. The bigger story is that no one else has stepped up to join him. Maybe the Yankees haven’t been competitive with the Red Sox to this point, but if they’re not competitive with these guys…

The Pinstriped Bible — LIVE from the Bronx

andybiblepinstriped09.jpgMORE FROM THE BALLPARK ( 9:35 p.m.)
As I write, the Yankees are batting in the bottom of the fourth. Andy Sonnanstine, who has not been particularly good this year, have held them to one hit (three hits — in the time it took me to complete this sentence, Teixeira singled and Matsui doubled. Either the Yankees are heating up or my sentences are too long). The Rays have played some excellent defense, as is to be expected given that by at least one measure, defensive efficiency, the Rays are the best leather team in the league — just as they were last year.

With two runners on, the ballpark is plenty loud — I wonder if the acoustics are really as has been said or the fans haven’t had enough to cheer about… And Cano flies out to Carl Crawford in left, and all at once it’s quiet again.

A little earlier, A.J. Burnett skipped a ball through Dioner Navarro’s toes, and that reminded me of a brief encounter I had with sports talk radio earlier today. The caller to Sirius-XM’s midmorning show argued that what the Yankees needed to do to beat the Red Sox was hit them with more pitches. We seem to hear this sentiment every time the Yankees drop a series to the Sox: the Sox intimidate the Yankees but the Yankees don’t intimidate them. It sounds pathetic. I can never remember the old saying correctly — is violence the first refuge of the incompetent of the last? It seems to work either way. Whichever the case, such sentiments are an example of it. The way the Yankees will beat the Red Sox is to win some games. I know it’s a novel idea, but if they hit better than .150 with runners in scoring position against Boston, they’ll score some runs, maybe even more runs than Boston scores. Engaging in a beanball war is not going to achieve much more than getting players suspended at best and hurt at worst. These teams see each other a lot of times this year, and the last thing either of them needs is to see sporting competitiveness spill over into violence.

The thing that really struck me about the call, after its ignorance, was its super-ignorance. The Yankees have hit EIGHT Red Sox this year. The Red Sox have hit TWO Yankees. Don’t you have an obligation to watch the actual games before making so reckless a recommendation? Couldn’t the Yankees try hitting a few home runs before starting a fight? All we are saying is give peace a chance. Or at least common sense.

As I put the pen down on this particular entry, it is the top of the sixth. The Rays have two on and one out after a Jason Bartlett sac bunt (Bartlett had struck out in his two previous at-bats, so the bunt sorta kinda makes sense). Burnett is already over 100 pitches, and I see someone loosening in the bullpen. “Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.” Maybe it’s howling at Jose Veras. Wouldn’t you?

———-

SCENES FROM A BALLPARK ( 7:23 p.m.)
The Pinstriped Bible comes to you from the Bronx, New York this evening, where the Yankees and Rays are about to joust. Let’s see… The Rays thrashed the Red Sox, the Red Sox thrashed the Yankees, so next in the sequence is… Yankees thrash Rays? My boss is in the seat next to me, so I’m sticking with that line. Not good to look too curmudgeonly and pessimistic in front of the guy who signs the checks.

Despite the tough losses of the last few days, there was a lot of animated good spirits on display on the pregame field. Bernie Williams was on hand, joking with Derek Jeter, then chatting with Melky Cabrera behind the cage. I couldn’t make out what they were talking about — the ballpark amps were at 11 — but I hope it was some insight about growing at the major league level or how to hit from the right side, and not the best way to shift to an F#m chord from a D#7 diminished chord without breaking your fingers. Reggie Jackson was also on hand, in uniform (Williams was in civvies), watching over batting practice and chatting eagerly with some reporters (off the record ad strictly personal, natch). A few feet away, John Sterling was interviewing Joe Girardi, but somehow Joe was doing a lot more listening than talking.

I briefly tried to imagine that it was 1927, and the Yankees taking batting practice were Ruth, Gehrig, Meusel, etcetera, but quickly gave up: it was too bloody loud. In 1927 batting practice must have sounded like batting practice: the crack of the bat, a few people shouting on the field and in the stands.

CRACK

Silence.
Silence.
Silence.

CRACK

Silence.
Silence.
Silence.

CRACK

It must have been pure heaven.

swisher_pblog_050609.jpgAs Nick Swisher came out of the cage, Girardi asked him a question. I assume it was, “How did you feel hitting today?” or something like that. Swisher made a face, shook his head, and must have said something sarcastic, because Girardi bopped him over the helmet with the mitt he was carrying. Swisher isn’t tall, but Girardi had to do a little hop-step-jump in order to pull off the gesture.

Angel Berroa and Brett Gardner took extra batting practice. Berroa caught my eye when he cracked a ball far deeper into the stands than any of the Yankee regulars had–you’ll note that whereas every Yankee starter could put on a show in batting practice, most of them are more applied in their work, drilling line drives in one turn in the cage, pulling balls in another, and so on. Berroa was hitting deep flies, and one traveled deep into the right field bleachers, landing just short of the back row, just in front of the “26 World Champions” sign. This seemed like a wasted drill–Berroa is not going to be cranking balls out of the park under game condition. It’s just not a skill he has. Few hitters achieve any kind of consistency when uppercutting the ball and trying to hit home runs, and Berroa won’t be the first. Why not try to develop a skill that will keep you on a Major League roster instead of one that won’t?

Gardner’s BP seemed, to my weak, rhino-like eyes, to be a mixed bag. On some swings he used the lower half of his body to pull crisp line drives to right, including one which carried out of the park. On a few other swings, he lunged with his upper body as he has been doing in games, and hit something weak the other way. As he finished, he turned to Kevin Long and asked, “How was that?” I didn’t catch Long’s response, as at just that moment, the scoreboard kicked off the Graig Nettles “Yankeeography” at such volume that John Sterling could have been chastising the Hebrews for their dalliance with the Golden Calf, or threatening to turn Sodom into a parking lot. At one point I looked up and saw an image of Tommy Lasorda as big as an aircraft carrier. “Surrender, Dorothy!” he screamed. I dropped to my knees. In doing so, I narrowly avoided being run down by the entire Rays roster, which was engaged in a pregame stretching exercise in which they hopped, skipped, and jumped down the third base line singing, “Three Little Maids from School Are We.” Okay, they didn’t really sing that, but they could have — they were skipping to the proper rhythm.

This should in no way be construed as a comment on the collective masculinity of the Rays. The only point, if there is one, is that grown men rarely looked dignified when hopping and skipping. It’s also a good way to lose your wallet.

The weekend from hell

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

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

WHY THE YANKEES STILL NEED TO ACQUIRE ANOTHER THIRD BASEMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

?    Are we off the Marlins’ bandwagon yet?

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

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

Twenty-five men, 25 goals: The Outfield

kazmir_350_041309.jpgNEMESIS
Scott Kazmir has made 12 career appearances against the Yankees spanning 68 innings and has an ERA of 2.51. There are two current Yankees who have hit him well, and only one of them is likely to play against him. Jorge Posada is 9-for-19 (.474) against Kazmir, and Mark Teixeira is a career 5-for-6. It could be a long night, by which I mean it could be a short night for the Yankees… Even if the offense lets down, a rebound start by Chien-Ming Wang would be a pretty fair silver lining.

TWENTY-FIVE MEN, TWENTY-FIVE GOALS INTO ONE
Continuing from the infield…

JOHNNY DAMON — LEFT FIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
Get back to hitting .300, get back to hitting with power, or both.
DID HE GET THERE? Yesiree Bob. He had one of the best offensive seasons of his career, if not the best, and the only negative was some injury time.
2009 GOAL: Encore!
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Not strong. Damon has never been consistent and 35 is probably not the time he’ll start.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Damon’s Hall of Fame chances. Bill James’ Favorite Toy estimates that Damon has a 37.8 percent chance to reach 3,000 hits.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Yankees haven’t had many steady left fielders in their long history. Roy White was the only one with any staying power, and yet as good as Damon’s 2008 was the Yankees have had many better from their left fielders. Babe Ruth played a third to half his games in left in most seasons due to an aversion to the Yankee Stadium sun field, but he was only the main starter there once, in 1921. He only hit .378/.512/.846 that year. Charlie Keller had four better seasons, and the aforementioned White, an underappreciated player, had five years that were better.

BRETT GARDNER — CENTER FIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
N/A
2009 GOAL: Establish himself as a major league regular despite his lack of power.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Spring Training and a changed approach at the end of last season argue yes, but it’s going to be a very close thing. He’s going to have to hit enough that the Yankees can look at the sum total of his contributions at the plate, in the field, and on the base paths, and see something positive even if offense isn’t the strongest leg of that tripod. Until he puts together a sustained stretch of hitting in the Majors, his level of productivity will be in doubt.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: No Yankee has stolen 50 or more bases since Rickey Henderson swiped 93 bags (the franchise high) in 1988. No Yankee has stolen 40 or more bases since Alfonso Soriano pilfered 41 in 2002. The last Yankee to steal 30 or more was Derek Jeter (34) in 2006. Gardner could change all that if he plays enough.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Since 1920, the Yankees have had 23 players post slugging percentages under .300 in a season of 350 or more plate appearances. The most recent was Tony Womack, with a .280 slugging in 351 PA in 2005. The franchise low was Wayne Tolleson, with .241 in 398 PAs in 1987. Perhaps more applicable to Gardner, Willie Randolph was routinely under .350 in the 1980s (he slugged only .351 for his career), but that didn’t prevent him from being a very valuable player due to his ability to hit for a decent average, walk, steal, and play strong defense. Gardner might be able to be that kind of player, but it should be noted that Randolph-style players are not as well tolerated in baseball today as they were in Willie’s time.

XAVIER NADY — RIGHT FIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
N/A
2009 GOAL: Nady has always been a weak producer for a corner outfielder, something that has caused him to bounce around a lot. Last year was different. Nady hit .323/.377/.540 through the end of August. He needs to get back there.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: If you’ve been reading, you know I think this is spectacularly unlikely.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Baseball-Reference.com’s similarity scores say the three most similar players to Nady are Pedro Munoz, Shane Spencer, and Herb Perry, all of whom were out of the majors after about 500 games. Nady is at 677 career games now.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Per 162 games played, Nady has averaged 69 runs scored. There’s a reason for that.

NICK SWISHER — ROVER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
N/A
2009 GOAL: Reclaim his offensive production after a very rough year in Chicago, and reclaim regular status, too.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: If he continues to play, he’ll continue to out-produce Nady.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: On-base percentage is the key statistic in baseball. Nothing correlates to scoring like OBP. Last year, having the worst season of his career, Swisher’s OBP was .332, and in 2006-2007 his rate was .377.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Yankees have a nice tradition of switch-hitting outfielders with power who walk a lot.

MELKY CABRERA — RESERVE OUTFIELDER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE:
Be all that he can be. For the second year in a row, Cabrera swung from very good to very bad, and lows were deeper than the highs. He finished with below-average offensive rates. He needs to make permanent contact with the guy who hit .325/.375/.482 from June through August.
DID HE GET THERE? No. After a hot April, he completely fell apart and eventually (too late) was demoted.
2009 GOAL: Somehow get back into the lineup, and to hit like crazy when he does.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Despite a nice Spring Training season, not great. That said, all it would take is an injury and a hot streak for Cabrera to earn a second life.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Relative to the league average, Cabrera’s 641 OPS of last season represented the second-worst by a Yankees outfielder in the history of the team. The only outfielder with a weaker season relative to the league was Jake Powell in 1937. When he hit .263/.314/.364 in 400 PA, the league hit .290/.365/.432. Powell was also one of the worst characters to ever wear Yankees pinstripes, so Cabrera has that over him too.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Steve Whitaker, Bill Robinson … Sometimes players don’t develop the way you think or hope they will.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? A terrific pitcher’s duel between Johan Santana and Josh Johnson was marred by a dropped fly by Mets left fielder Daniel Murphy, the run scoring on the play being the difference in the game. Murphy can hit a bit, but maybe not enough to make up for his being a transplanted corner infielder lacking the experience and instincts for his position. I don’t mean to condemn the lad based on one play, but the quality of his offense is unlikely to be strong enough that it makes up for a Greg Luzinski-like performance in left. In this instance, Murphy didn’t so much take a route to the ball as make vague plans to meet it halfway. Santana struck out 13 and lost. Meanwhile, Johnson had a one-run complete game, his second good start in a row.

? The New Waners, Andy and Adam LaRoche, are 0-for-14 and 3-for-22, respectively. The latter comes around, we know that, but the former has failed to hit in several tries now, so he’s going to have a shorter rope. He will hit, eventually, though maybe not today for this team.

? Headline on the Nats page at MLB.com: “Tickets still available for home opener.” Y’think? Step right up for your “L
egacy of Jim Bowden” seats. Helpings of crow delivered right to your box by our helpless wait staff … Adam Dunn is batting .333 with a Major League-leading 10 walks. Maybe they could flip him now. Parenthetically, no Yankee has drawn more than four walks, and that Yankee is Robinson Cano. The whole thing is disturbing.

? Thirty-seven pitchers have already made four appearances, and one, Carlos Marmol of the Cubs, has appeared five times. You wonder if these fellows are going to have any kind of stuff left come the All-Star break. Heck, come May.

? The bench-clearing incident in Los Angeles between the Angels and the Red Sox was really on the umpires. The umpires are supposed to enforce a timely delivery to home plate by the pitcher. Josh Beckett didn’t do that. They’re also not supposed to grant time, or at least are not forced to, so that the hitter can make his own point and step out on the pitcher, but they never, ever refuse to do that. Thus when Bobby Abreu asked for and got time at the last possible second, Beckett was enraged. Even if this seems like a legitimate response to Beckett’s tardiness in making a pitch, the umpire should not have compounded his first error with another by granting time.

? Which hot start is more perplexing? The Mariners being 5-2, or the Padres being 5-2?

When plans fo awry …

tex250_040609.jpgTHAT DIDN’T GO AS PLANNED
Strange, isn’t it, the way baseball toys with your expectations. CC Sabathia pitched quite well in Spring Training, while Jeremy Guthrie was messed up worse than the Elephant House on bran peanut day. The bell rings and it’s Sabathia that required the cleanup on aisle pachyderm and Guthrie who put in the solid performance. It’s a heck of an omen for the Orioles, given that the rotation goes rapidly downhill after Guthrie — a solid season from him and that might not lose 100 games.

As for the Yankees, getting a wild, no-strikeout start from your ace is always frightening, but Sabathia has been there before and recovered, so there’s no use getting to exercised about today’s performance. Ditto that of Mark Teixeira, who went 0-for-4 and stranded five runners — no doubt some in Yankeeland are already fitting him for the “not a true Yankee” pants. This too shall pass, though in truth Teixeira does deserve to wear the horns for this one, Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon having combined to go 5-for-8  with a walk in front of him. The bullpen didn’t help, but Cesar Izturis’s home run was a matter of inches, as all Izturis home runs are likely to be. He’s hit just 13 of the things, and if you give one up to him, well, you’re a member of a very select club that includes a strangely large number of former Yankees or Yankees-associated pitchers, including Tony Armas, Brandon Claussen, David Cone and Eric Milton. Welcome, Phil Coke. Your commemorative pin is in the mail.

At least Nick Swisher didn’t leave anyone on base.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Life is a changeup pitcher. Hence, several candidates for their league basements won on Opening Day … I said in an earlier installment that I was looking forward to seeing what Jason Motte could do as Cardinals closer. Today I got my answer: four runs on four hits and a blown save against the Pirates. I haven’t seen the highlights yet, but I wonder how many were line drives and how many were just the Cardinals being weak on balls in play … Headline on MLB.com regarding former Yankees first baseman Nick the Greenstick: “Johnson excited to be healthy in ’09.” Missing from that headline: “For now.” That fellow had Hall-of-Fame hitting ability at one time. Now, who knows? … Leadoff man Emilio Bonifacio of the Marlins is probably a fantasy baseball darling after a 4-for-5 with an inside-the-park home run and three stolen bases, but this was the last such day of his career … After not watching “ER” for the last five years, I tuned in for the finale last week and was intrigued enough by the part where the entire cast was imprisoned in the stockyards and slowly minced by the ghosts of 19th century meatpackers to go to Hulu and watch the rest of the season for clues, but that whole abattoir scene remained an inexplicable non-sequitur … Why isn’t Brad Hawpe’s nickname “Hee?”… Back in October 2004, when Tony Clark was on the verge of leaving the Yankees, if you had offered to bet on his still playing five years in the future, few would have taken the pro Tony position, likeable guy or not. Well, he’s still here, and he socked two home runs today. Clark and his ballpark were apparently built for each other; through last season, he’s a career .281/.350/.620 hitter at Arizona with 39 home runs in 405 at-bats (make it 41 in 409) … If you’re the Indians you have to worry about Cliff Lee, abused during Spring Training and by the Rangers on Opening Day (no Andruw Jones sighting despite the lefty opposing starter) … The offseason formula worked better for the Mets on Opening Day than for the Yankees, as their reconstructed bullpen delivered 3 1/3 scoreless innings, something that seemed impossible as of last September. 

One mystery remains before Yankees start season


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

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

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

Remembering Johnny Blanchard

johnnyblanchard_250.jpgFAREWELL, JOHNNY BLANCHARD
Johnny Blanchard had a tough road to the Major Leagues with the Yankees. Three things got in his way: Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and the United States government.

The lefty-swinging Blanchard turned pro as an 18 year old in 1951, and broke out the next year at Joplin, batting .301 and leading the league with 30 home runs and 112 RBI. It seemed like the Yankees had another potential impact player on their hands, but at that moment the military swooped in and claimed Blanchard for two years. These would be two crucial missed years in his development, as the Yankees were in the process of deciding if Blanchard was an outfielder or a catcher, and Blanchard could have used the time to cement his backstopping skills.

Instead, with the gap in training and the roadblocks that were Berra and Howard, Blanchard spent his time in the upper Minors both catching and playing the outfield — in the Majors he would prove to be a Casey Stengel-style super-sub, not only catching but playing first base, left field and right field as well. Though Stengel would only have Blanchard for parts of two seasons, and there was less room in Ralph Houk’s scheme for such players than there was in Stengel’s, the Old Man might have gotten Blanchard 400 plate appearances a year. Houk got him about 250, and it’s very difficult for a player to achieve any consistency in such sporadic playing time.

After his hitch, Blanchard picked up where he left off, at least offensively, batting .281 with a league-leading 34 home runs for Binghamton of the Eastern League in 1955. He got a brief call-up that September, but he seemed to stagnate a bit at that point. A return to what was essentially the Double A level at Birmingham didn’t do anything for his development, and a two-year stay at Denver in the American Association, while superficially productive, don’t impress given what we know about playing at altitude. The Yankees were seemingly not impressed either, or felt that with Berra and Howard there was simply no room, so Blanchard was 26 by the time he got a sustained shot at a Major League job. Even as Berra began to transition to part-time catching and outfield work, there weren’t many opportunities to play. Blanchard was set to have been baseball’s greatest power-hitting bullpen catcher.

This would be how he was remembered if he hadn’t had such a terrific season for the 1961 Yankees. He was an important part of that championship, a 109-53 ballclub, batting .305/.382/.613 and socking 21 home runs in just 243 at-bats. Everything went right for him. He killed the ball whenever he started, and though not a great pinch-hitter in his career, he was great that year, going 7-for-26 with four home runs. On July 21, 22 and 26 he set a record by homering in four consecutive at-bats — a ninth inning pinch-hit grand slam at Fenway Park that erased an 8-7 deficit, another ninth-inning shot the next day, this one a solo shot that tied the game at 9-9 (the Yankees would go up 11-10 later in the inning and win the game). Houk didn’t find a reason to use Blanchard in the next four games, but he started on the 26th at home against the White Sox and pitcher Ray Herbert. Blanchard batted fifth behind Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. After Mantle hit a two-run shot in the first, Blanchard followed him with a solo shot of his own. That was home run No. 3. The fourth game leading off the fourth inning. Not bad work for a part-time player.

Blanchard also had a terrific World Series in 1961. In Game 3 he pinch-hit for the pitcher in the top of the eighth with the Yankees trailing, 2-1. A solo shot changed that, allowing for a Maris shot leading off the top of the ninth to give the Yankees a decisive 3-2 lead. With Mantle hurting, Blanchard started Game 5 in right field, batting cleanup. The game was all Yankees, going into the books as a 13-5 victory. Blanchard keyed the rampage with a two-run homer in the first, and added two other hits in the ballgame.

You might imagine, and Blanchard might have imagined too, that ’61 would have meant more playing time, or at least more of a regular platoon role, but it didn’t work out that way. Howard and Berra were still around, and Houk didn’t see Blanchard as an asset behind the plate anyway, largely shifting him to the outfield in subsequent seasons. Simultaneously, the big home runs of ’61 worked against Blanchard’s approach at the plate. “I was going for the downs, swinging for the long ball,” he told Peter Golenbock. “I’m not up there to punch the ball around. No, I didn’t need that.” This did mean more home runs — he hit 29 in 464 at-bats split across 1962 and 1963, but it also meant that he hit only .228; a line drive might be caught or land safely, but a fly ball that doesn’t leave the park is almost always an out.

Blanchard’s approach also meant the end of his pinch-hitting prowess. Few players are consistent in that role, but Blanchard’s big swing seemed to ensure that he wouldn’t be one of the few who are. He batted .120 as a pinch-hitter in 1962, .071 in 1963, and .258 in 1964, albeit with just one home run. He barely played in the last three World Series of the Yankees dynasty. In May, 1965, he and pitcher Rollie Sheldon were dealt to the Kansas City Athletics for the punchless reserve catcher Doc Edwards. It was a pure giveaway, one that exemplifies just how emphasis was placed on batting average in those days; despite the low averages, inability to hit left-handers, and lack of definitive position, Blanchard’s power and versatility made him a very useful player, particularly at Yankee Stadium. Even as his career with the Yankees declined, he still had his moments. When Maris went out of the lineup in mid-1963, Blanchard got most of the starts in right field, batting .302/.357/.603 with six home runs and 17 RBI in 17 games.

His was not a great career, and on another team, it might not have been a particularly memorable one, but the great thing about the Yankees is that they’ve had so many spotlight moments that players like Blanchard, who never established themselves as stars in the traditional sense, were still able to become historic players through their important roles in the pageant of 26 championships. Blanchard goes to his reward in good company, and the Yankees were in good company with him.

ONE LAST APPEARANCE FOR NOW
Those of you who live in the glorious Garden State, tomorrow beginning at 6 p.m., Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran and I will be appearing at the Rutgers University Bookstore (Ferren Mall,
One Penn Plaza, New Brunswick, N.J. — just across the street from the train station, for anyone who wants to take mass transit) to talk baseball and sign books and veal cutlets. We will also be joined by my pal Allen Barra, whose biography of Yogi Berra I have already recommended to you. He’ll be signing those too, I imagine. If I know Allen and myself it will be a fun, rambling evening of baseball talk. Hope to see you then, because after that I plan to wrap myself in blankets for awhile and heal up my annual tour cold — and write more! More! More! More! 

Notes from around the league

german300_031309.jpgRANDOM BITS FOR A RANDOM FRIDAY
… Because I definitely feel 13th after a very busy week.

?    The Cubs signed Esteban German to a Minor League contract, so those that wrote suggesting he’d make a good depth addition for the Yankees and a possibly useful Alex Rodriguez substitute, forget it. I don’t think it’s a huge loss unless he’s going to go back to walking 50 times in half a season.

?    Remember last week I said that A-Rod’s injury wasn’t the last injury, just the first, and the Yankees would have to survive the cumulative weight of those losses? Now, we have Robinson Cano’s sore shoulder and Damaso Marte’s pectoral muscle. In both cases, the injuries could be nothing or could be something. There’s no reason to worry too much about Marte because the Yankees have the pitching depth to get by without any one reliever, but Cano would force the Yankees to fall back on some pretty weak choices. For any team, as ever, the emphasis must be on the farm, the farm, the farm, the farm, or eventually you’re going to get hit and not be able to cope. Thank you, Uncle WBC!

?    Has anyone who was lukewarm on the Mark Teixeira signing before the event yet conceded that in the absence of A-Rod that signing may very well save the offense, and thereby the season? By the way, Chase Utley had the full-on version of the surgery that Rodriguez is splitting in two back in November. He has yet to get into a game.

?    A-Rod replacement speculation: the guy the Yankees should be looking to make a force majeure kind of move on is J.J. Hardy of the Brewers, who may lose his job to Alcides Escobar at some point in the near future. He can hit enough to play third and is young enough to play short after, just in case, you know, the Yankees ever have any defensive weakness at that position.

?    Before someone asks about catcher Rob Bowen, who the A’s are shopping, there is no evidence he would out-hit Jose Molina. Yes, Molina is a better hitter than somebody.

?    Big loss for the Rays in having Fernando Perez hit the bench for three months with a dislocated left wrist. Perez isn’t an impact player but is a nice complimentary part. Matt Joyce hasn’t played yet due to his own injuries, and B.J. Upton is still working his left shoulder back into shape. Gabe Kapler is going to end up playing a lot more than might be good … Too much of Justin Ruggiano and his amazing capacity to strike out, too.

?    Transcript from today’s chat, with lots of Yankees questions, some politics, and scattered other baseball musings.

?    Those of you in the District of Columbia, I’ll be making two appearances there next Wednesday, along with BP compadres, Clay Davenport and Jay Jaffe. First, I’ll be hosted by the Georgetown Lecture Fund at 4:30 p.m. (open to the public). Following closely on the heels of that talk will be one of my favorite yearly events, a trip to the Politics & Prose bookstore at 7 p.m. For address info, see this page.

Depth perception one hard lesson

ransom_250_030909.jpgTHE ONE AFTER 909
As you know by now, Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees will roll the dice on “hybrid” surgery (first thought: they’re turning him into a Prius?) and will hope to have the big guy back in six to nine weeks. We’ll see how that works out. Until then, the Yankees will have to walk on eggshells, because Rodriguez’s is only the first injury, not the last. What happens when you have Cody Ransom and Donald Duck in the lineup? As they say on the subway, “Stand clear of the closing doors.”

The lesson of Rodriguez’s injury is one that we’ve discussed here time and again over the years: You can spend all the money you want, sign all the big-name expensive contracts in the world, but if you don’t have good depth in the form of young players, your team is going to suffer. After years of having nothing on the farm at all, the Yankees now have a good supply of pitchers, something from which they will benefit as soon as the season’s first arm is scragged. The team has been unable to find the same success with position players, particularly as the club’s history with first-round picks (when it has them at all) rivals that of the New York Jets for sheer waste.

In today’s New York Post, George King quotes Brian Cashman: “But you have to remember Erick Almonte for (Derek) Jeter, and last year we went with Jose Molina and Chad Moeller (for Jorge Posada) until Pudge Rodriguez fell into our laps.” The GM is right that the Yankees might survive one injury, but the lesson of last season is that they couldn’t survive two or more. Maybe Molina/ Moeller/I-Rod would have been survivable if Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera had hit, but they didn’t. Their production was tantamount to their being absent.

One hopes that Ransom plays well — he’s certainly paid his dues — but he’s not going to be the straw that breaks the offense in any case. The replacement to fear is the one after Ransom.

A QUICK TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS
Wanted to snag this response to Friday’s dash through the lineup’s possibilities:

Hey Steve, you sure are a negative guy. How can you possibly know what each player will or will not do for the Yankees. How can you say Damon should have a down year? How can you know that Nady and/or Swisher will not be lights out?
Give me a break!!!!!!!!!!
— Yankeegirl224

Thanks for commenting, Yankeegirl. I’ve written this before: life is not a movie that you’ve never seen before. In fact, it presents all kinds of situations analogous to those that have come before. If you’re aware of the past, you can draw inferences about what’s going to happen next. No, I cannot say with absolute certainty what each player is going to do this year, but given 25 years of seeing how hitters behave first-hand, plus another 80 or so years of historical evidence, I can make some informed guesses. Let’s go back through what I wrote and look at the rationale for each — rationales that I’ve frequently explained throughout the winter, by the way.

1B Mark Teixeira: Solid producer, typically scrapes the underside of MVP-level production but could easily rise to that level with a good season.

I expect you don’t have a problem with that one. Teixeira is a very good hitter, and with some good luck or some slight tweak in his performance, like a mildly improved line drive rate, he could exceed expectations.

2B Robinson Cano: Has to hit .300 to contribute. He might do that, he might not.

Can’t argue here. This is just factual. Because Cano doesn’t walk and isn’t what you would call a slugger, when he doesn’t get his average above a certain level, he eats outs without giving the team much in return. I believe he has a decent-sized rebound in him, but whether he reaches the point of actually being an asset on offense I can’t guess.

3B Cody Ransom: Has some pop, but is unlikely to hit for sustainable average (PECOTA: .216/.293/.386).

This isn’t a big reach either. The Ransom of A-Rod is a career .242/.322/.426 hitter in nearly 1200 minor league games. His numbers at Scranton last year translate to .216/.295/.421 in the majors. At 33, he’s not going to find untapped pools of ability. He’s far more likely to find untapped pools of retirement. While he might find the odd hot streak, as he did last fall, I wouldn’t recommend betting on it. As I said above, I’m rooting for him, but that doesn’t mean having unfounded expectations.

SS Derek Jeter: Offense has declined in two straight seasons. Average of five projection systems: .300/.368/.419.

I didn’t make a prediction here so much as make two statements. If he reaches the numbers cited above, no one will complain.

LF Johnny Damon: Almost certain to take a giant step back.

Here’s one of the ones that caused Yankeegirl to straighten her curls. Unfortunately, I didn’t go out on a limb here either. First, Damon has never been a particularly consistent player, and at 35 he’s not likely to start. Second, his 2008 season was one of the best of his career if not the best. Players generally don’t set new performance norms at 34. I hope Damon does, because he’s had an interesting career and his having a Steve Finley-style last act would put a cherry on it, but it is unlikely to happen. Now, whether Damon dials it back a lot or just a little I don’t know, but the change will be significant either way because all the elements of Damon’s game have to work together for him to make a real contribution — a little batting average, a little power, a little baserunning, a little patience. You kick out any one of those legs and he starts to tread water on the league averages.

CF Brett Gardner and pals: Any production will be a bonus.

This is a conservative prediction, and between last fall and this year’s spring power surge I’m hoping that we’ve seen the birth of a new Gardner, but (as much as I think he’ll be a better regular than Melky Cabrera) until we see him hit with authority for a sustained period of time, he’s still Jason Tyner until proven innocent.

RF Nick Swisher: should be productive in a lower echelon kind of way, Xavier Nady less so, either way, not a big plus.

Swisher is another guy I think will help the Yankees with his walks and his power, but he’s not an MVP-type hitter, and the whole point of this exercise was to suggest that in the absence of Rodriguez, the Yankees are down to one player who meets that description.

DH Hideki Matsui: should hit decently, but not at an MVP level.

We’re entering the seventh year of Matsui’s American career, and he is who he is. There should be nothing remotely controversial about that statement. I actually considered throwing in a few caveats based on age and his physical problems.

C Jorge Posada: may or may not be ready to open the season, may or may not hit as well as he used to, and will probably have to yield to Jose Molina on a regular basis

Again, this is simply a statement of where things are.

So tell me, Yankeegirl and the others who responded negatively, what in here do you really want to argue with?

MORE OF ME
Wholesome Reading is back. After a sabbatical inspired by the BP annual and another urgent project, I’m recharged and ready to wade into current events. About a half-dozen posts went up over the weekend with more to come. WARNING: Politics!

For our readers in th
e Baltimore area (and judging by the number of attendees at O’s games wearing Yankees caps we must have many), the great Jay Jaffe, Clay Davenport, and I will be appearing tomorrow, March 10, at the Johns Hopkins University Barnes & Noble (3330 St. Paul Street, Baltimore) to talk baseball, sign books, and crack wise. Hope to see you, your wives, and girlfriends tomorrow night. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.