SOMETIMES IT DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK
Before Game 1, I suggested that the Yankees’ trademark patience would test Cliff Lee’s exemplary control. Score that one a clean miss. Unlike just about every other pitcher in the biz, Cliff Lee, who had the demeanor of someone who had just enjoyed a Prozac cocktail, did not bend, did not waver for even a moment. He threw nine innings of mistake-free baseball, never giving the Yankees a chance. A team that walked 38 times in six games against the Angels did not earn one free pass in the game.
You could dismiss this performance as just one game, and say, “Let’s see the next guy do that,” but for two problems. One, the bullpen took a close game and turned it into a rout. Two, Pedro Martinez. Martinez isn’t the old most-dominant-pitcher-ever Martinez, but the new version, which throws strikes and pulls strings, is still plenty good. He completely embarrassed the Dodgers in the NLCS. I will again cling to the belief that the Yankees’ lineup isn’t the Dodgers’ lineup, isn’t a National League lineup, and that lefties hit Martinez reasonably well in the future Hall of Famer’s brief regular season tune-up. The Yankees have also done good work against him (and bad, that also) in postseasons past.
Lee’s start and Pedro’s excellent control points up a way in which this Phillies rotation can take the Yankees’ best trait, their patience, and turn it against them. The Yankees like to work counts and take ball four. Phillies starters just don’t issue ball four. As a whole, Phillies starters averaged just 2.5 walks a game. Lee walked just 1.1 batters per nine innings as a Phillie, Martinez 1.6, Cole Hamels 2.0. The National League average was 3.5 walks per nine innings (the American League was roughly the same). Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ, the club’s wildest starters, walked 2.7 and 3.0 respectively. This staff is simply very good at throwing strikes, and if the Yankees play their usual game — and it’s not advisable that they start hacking, because that doesn’t work either — they may find themselves facing some long counts.
As for the bullpen failure, it had limited bearing on the outcome of the game — you could imagine that if the relievers had held serve, Charlie Manuel might have been more inclined to go to his bullpen — but since the Yankees never made up the initial deficit that resulted from the CC Sabathia-Chase Utley confrontations, it didn’t matter. The real impact is in the uncertainty about the bullpen unit as a whole, which seems to have gone down the rabbit hole this October. Perhaps the relative inexperience of the unit has got them twitchy. Whatever the reason, they have to get over it quickly, particularly Phil Hughes, or this Series is going to end a lot faster than anyone anticipated. Worse, a bad performance could mean a winter of reaction from the Yankees’ front office, chasing veteran relief hands at high cost. This is a subject for another day, but that would be an extremely counterproductive strategy that has rarely worked for any GM that has tried it. It’s a quick path to a job on ESPN, however temporary.
We shouldn’t overstate the impact of one game. Two is a different matter. A lot of pressure falls on A.J. Burnett’s right arm. Does he come ready to dance, or does the wild, uncertain version of the pitcher show up? Mister Cream Pie could do more to improve the Yankees’ morale tonight than all of the cans of shaving cream he’s gone through put together — or he could break it.
AND ONE COFFEE JOE NOTE: THINK!
I buy that Nick Swisher needs a mental health break, but considering yesterday’s performance to be part of his slump isn’t exactly fair given the way Lee pitched. After Lee, the whole roster might need a mental health break. In addition, Swisher continues to get into good counts, working the pitcher, which has value in itself if you want to get to the Phillies’ relievers already. In any case, Jerry Hairston is a bizarre choice to substitute for him. I’m thrilled that Hairston has had 10 hits in 27 at-bats against Martinez IN A PERIOD THAT BEGAN IN 1999 AND ENDED FIVE YEARS AGO. Martinez ain’t the same Martinez, Hairston ain’t the same Hairston, and the relevance is extremely, extremely debatable. As with Jose Molina’s time in the game, we’ll assume that this decision won’t have more than an at-bat or two’s worth of impact, but wow, Coffee Joe, that’s an odd call. You readers know I believe in the stats, but you can’t be a slave to the numbers. You also have to THINK.
More to come…
J. HAIRSTON JR.
Say this for the acquisition of the utility man Jerry Hairston: the Yankees have bought into one of the great ball-playing families. Hairston’s brother, Scott, plays for the Athletics. His father, Jerry, was a pinch-hitter for the White Sox for roughly 63 years. His uncle, Johnny, got a cup of coffee with the Reds. His grandfather, Sam, played in the Negro Leagues and briefly made it to the Majors a few years after the color line was broken. There have been more Major League Hairstons than DiMaggios, Niekros, Boones or Bells.
The Hairston under consideration here is 33 years old and, but for a couple of fluke seasons, not much of a hitter. Playing for the Orioles in 2004, he hit .303/.378/.397 in 86 games. Last season he gave the Reds .326/.384/.487 in 80 games. Those numbers stand in stark contrast to his career marks of .259/.328/.372. Even those numbers don’t tell the whole story because Hairston spent 2006-07 hitting .198/.260/.271, then relied on the GAP for his comeback, batting .410/.471/.590 in Cincinnati’s home park. On the road, he hit only .252/.307/.396.
Fortunately, the Yankees didn’t acquire Hairston for his bat, but for his ability to move around the field. This season he’s played everywhere but first base and catcher. Although primarily a second baseman at the outset of his career, Hairston has enough speed that he can move around the field and play competently. Roster flexibility is a virtue, as long as one doesn’t plan on actually making use of it all that much. One assumes that this is curtains for Cody Ransom, which is too bad — as badly as the guy did subbing for A-Rod in April, it was good to see a journeyman get his shot, and he has been passable since coming off of the disabled list, batting .240/.345/.400 in 29 plate appearances. There is no guarantee that Hairston will hit better, but again, the trick is versatility: Ransom was a third baseman-shortstop. Hairston plays everywhere, giving the Yankees more bang for the roster spot.
The Yankees give up a 20-year-old Low-A catcher in Chase Weems in the deal, which isn’t too much given Hairston’s age, ability and one-year contract. Weems hasn’t shown much offensive ability in his 88 pro games, and even were he to blossom, the Yankees are deep enough in catchers that they shouldn’t miss this one.
I’ll be back later today with more trade deadline analysis.