THE LAWS HAVE CHANGED
The timing of today’s installment is brought to you by the drive-through line at the local major pharmacy chain store. I suppose there’s no rule book that establishes basic courtesy for the drive-through line, but “drive-through,” taken as literally as you can take it under the circumstances, suggests you drive through, without stopping if that were possible — just roll down the window and the clerk heaves the bag at you. Anything transaction takes would seem to require more standing around than that should require a trip inside the store. It’s just common sense and a bit of courtesy. If you need to discuss the history of Western civilization with the pharmacist, park it. You won’t be idling up clouds of exhaust while holding hostage those who just want to pick up or drop off a prescription. Think about it: would you order French fries for 100 at the McDonald’s drive-through? Better yet, would you ask for a treatise on the potato starting with the primal atom, then order? If you’re guilty of this, please turn yourself in immediately.
REVIEWING THE LAST ENTRY (WITH A FEW REACTIONS TO THE COMMENTS)
I missed a day due to a bad reaction to some medication — I know I’ve quoted Mickey Mantle’s “Kid, don’t be like me” many times before, but it’s worth saying again. Not everyone chooses how they get cancer, and I sure as heck ain’t complaining about surviving it, but my time is no longer my own, ironically so I can be sure of having more time. Hey, you over there! Drop that cigarette! This is not a lifestyle you want to choose! Got it? I’m begging you here. Anyway, that gave the last post a chance to sit around while the Yankees won their seventh straight game in grand style. Before we get to that, stats for the winning streak: .271/.358/.521 for the offense, with 13 home runs, one every 18.2 at-bats. The batters have also picked up a walk every 8.9 plate appearances — the league is taking a pass just once every 11 PAs. On the pitching side, the club has allowed just 21 runs in its last 66 innings.
After five straight wins, I wrote (as you can see below) that it wasn’t yet conclusive that the Yankees had turned a major corner (is there such a thing as a minor corner?). You can pull five games out of any team’s schedule and get a picture of that team that isn’t necessarily accurate, even — or especially — if they are all wins or losses. As the old saying goes, you never look as good as when you’re at your best or as bad as you do when you’re at your worst. Now, since I wrote those words, the Yankees have tacked on another two wins to make it seven straight victories, and those doubts can be eased a bit. And yet, yet, yet, the walks by the pitching staff, the bullpen, the lack of depth are all problems that the team will have to overcome in more than seven games, but over the rest of the season.
Pointing this out isn’t negativity, it isn’t pessimism, it’s your humble old commentator trying to do more than cast runes and read chicken entrails. I’m all for feeling good and going with the flow and enjoying it while it lasts, but I don’t like being taken by surprise, particularly when it’s my job not to be taken by surprise. As such, my method has to be to take theories like, “The Yankees have won seven in a row, so it’s a straight line from here to the next championship” and test them looking for strengths and weaknesses. I figure out what I can, then report back to you so you can test your judgment against mine.
Speaking of which, “4everbronx” says, “Whew, it’s a good thing they didn’t lose those games…What would your reaction have been?”
Almost the same. One-run games are, on the cosmic level, coin flips. This seems especially true when a team’s bullpen is as questionable as the Yankees’ pen has been to this point. If we were talking about a hypothetical pen with Bruce Sutter handing off to Rollie Fingers handing off to Dennis Eckersley (or maybe even Jeff Nelson to Mike Stanton to Mariano Rivera), I would be more accepting of these games as indicators of a repeatable skill on the part of the club. Perhaps now that Brian Bruney is back they will be. For the most part, though, when you look over the history of the game, one-run decisions aren’t something you can extrapolate from.
Obviously it is better for the Yankees to have won these seven games than not, but prior to that they weren’t exactly burning up the league. The Yankees have played 39 games, not seven, and those other 32, however mixed the results, can’t be totally discounted. If the Yankees of the last seven games are substantially different from the Yankees of the previous month’s worth of games, we have to be able to articulate why. I can give you two reasons, actually: A-Rod is back, and Mark Teixeira is finally hot (Teixeira claims the two are not unrelated). However, that doesn’t address the pitching side of the equation.
Despite this, as I suggested in that last entry, some will want to view this winning streak as a matter of character. A seemingly irate “yankee apologist” writes: “As a D-1 college baseball player whose career was derailed by injury I can tell you first hand or anyone else who ever played the game at a high level a win is a win no matter how it happens. If you don’t think that these wins have anything to do with grit and a never say die attitude coupled with some big hits from some key guys (damon, arod) then you’re not watching. If u think damon and arod were the beneficiaries of wind aided homers then that’s a joke. These wins build character and ingrain the players’ minds that this can happen for them at anytime they are trailing late.”
Apologist, I completely buy the last line quoted above. It clearly does and has helped the mood around the team. That the players believe that this is a repeatable thing no doubt helps them repeat it — sometimes. We know, though, that it’s not repeatable all the time or even frequently. Come-from-behind wins in baseball are far more rare than is commonly thought. As such, while winning this way is exciting for everyone, participants and observers alike, it’s not the easiest way to win. Oh, and your saying, “i know u love to call out commenters for bad grammer and spelling and what not, but im so stoned on valium i dont care to spell check, so ridicule me if u want, but ill soon have a law degree so im kinda smart” is perhaps the single best thing that anyone has ever written to me in the ten years the Pinstriped Bible has existed.
As long as we’re delving into the comments, there are a couple on F. Cervelli to take before we close for now. “Paulp15” asks, “So Steve, have to reconsidered Cervelli yet? Or maybe I should ask if you feel you have enough to base an evaluation on him yet? Personally, I think he’s better than Molina, and has shown the ability to lay down a sacrifice, which would be fine for the bottom of the order.” Paulp, I like him better than Jose Molina and Kevin Cash, that’s for sure. Still, it’s bad practice to get carried away by 27 at-bats and 10 singles. It’s certainly better that he’s hitting .370 than if he was hitting .270 or .170, but it’s .370 with no power and no walks, and I promise you he’s not a legitimate .370 hitter. Except for the occasional Wade Boggs or Tony Gwynn, no one is. The question then becomes, when he stops hitting .370, what does he have left to give? This is also, to a lesser extent, the Robby Cano question. With Cervelli, his very limited minor league track record shows very limited power but some selectivity, so you hope that there will indeed be something useful in his bat, but you’d like to see him actually do it. It’s still too early to come to any conclusions, especially optimistic ones. O
n defense, I have no complaints — he’s thrown very well and has been an athletic, active, mobile presence.
THE 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?
NO SURGERY FOR A-ROD…FOR NOW
Remember how well no surgery for Hideki Matsui worked out? I hope the Yankees have received better advice this time. The Yankees will still need insurance for the position — even if Rodriguez can “play,” we’ve seen what this kind of injury did to Chase Utley and Mike Lowell last season.
Throughout the evening I’ll be spelunking through the world’s roster flotsam to see if there are any third base possibilities that could provide the Yankees with better depth than they currently possess. This is emphatically a non-systematic look, no better than guesses and random suggestions. I’m sticking with lower echelon guys, because the team is unlikely to try to deal for an All-Star type (if one is even available) until it has a better idea of how much Rodriguez it’s really going to get. Thus the trick is finding someone who will fit on the bench or in the minors if/when Rodriguez becomes available and is also demonstrably more potent than Angel Berroa and Cody Ransom. Fortunately, that group includes everyone. Here’s the first pile.
Ray Durham (Free Agent): Durham, 37, can still hit, having batted .289/.380/.453 for the Giants and Brewers last year. A legitimate switch-hitter at one time, his right-handed stroke seems to have died over the last couple of years. As a career second baseman, the last time he played third base in the majors was… never.
Esteban German (about to be a Free Agent): German was designated for assignment by the Royals a few days ago. He has played a little third base each of the last five years, though he’s not particularly good at it. German was once a useful offensive player, making up for his lack of punch with a high walk rate. Then he stopped walking.
Mark Grudzielanek (Free Agent): Grudz is a career .290 hitter but has never produced much because he doesn’t get on base or hit with any power. Over the last two seasons, he hit .301/.345/.415, though he missed about half of 2008 with injuries. He last played third base in 1995. This would be a desperation pick-up, but “desperate” describes the situation with a high degree of accuracy.
Jeff Keppinger, Danny Richar (Reds 40-Man): The Reds have a legion of infielders in camp and might not mind moving one. Richar will turn 26 this year. He’s a left-handed hitter with a little pop who has spent all but 72 games of his career in the minors, where he has been a .288/.338/.440. PECOTA has a weighted mean projection of .253/.318/.401 for Richar, but that’s as a Red — in another ballpark, that projection would presumably drop. Keppinger is a vet who can usually hit for average, though injuries prevented him from doing so in the second half last year. Keppinger has mostly played short in the majors, but he’s stretched there. Right now he seems to be behind Alex Gonzalez and Jerry Hairston, Jr. on the depth chart.
Kevin Kouzmanoff (Padres 40-Man): This one is likely a reach unless the Yankees want to send a real prospect or two, but the Padres are a financial mess and have a bit of depth at this position as sophomore Chase Headley could take over the hot corner if Kouzmanoff were to leave town. No defensive whiz, Kouzmanoff does have a potent righty bat that has been camouflaged by Petco Park — last year he hit .226/.268/.390 at home, but .292/.329/.473 on the road. He’s impatient and strikes out quite a bit, but the road figures represent the real hitter.
Scott McClain (Giants NRI): The soon to be 37-year-old journeyman, once an expansion Ray, got the call from the Giants last fall and hit .273/.368/.485, which is probably the high upside of his hitting abilities. He’s been a pro since 1990 and has spent some time in Japan as well as the American minors. Including his time overseas, he has hit 405 pro home runs — we’re talking Crash Davis here. As a domestic Minor Leaguer, he’s hit .271/.357/.484, including .300/.388/.553 at Triple-A last season. He’s never been a great fielder, and an optimistic Major League projection would be .240/.320/.420, but that would far surpass the Berroa/Ransom combo.
Dallas McPherson (Marlins 40-man): The former Angels prospect, now 28. A left-handed power hitter, he led the minors in home runs last year, batting .275/.379/.618 with 42 home runs at Triple-A Albuquerque. He also struck out 168 times in 448 at-bats. He’s no fielder and would struggle to reach base 30 percent of the time, but he’d hit a few balls over the fences.
More to come…