GAME, WEATHER PERMITTING…
And really, what isn’t?
I DREAMED I SAW ST. POSADA
There will be a lot of cheap material in the papers and on-line today, stuff about Jose Molina starting Game 2 and Carl Pavano starting in Game 3. After Jorge Posada’s erratic defensive game on Wednesday, it seems to me that it’s harder to criticize Joe Girardi for going with Molina, as egregious as Molina is at the plate. Perhaps Posada’s game was just a case of bad timing, perhaps Girardi’s decision is simply his reenacting the active player phase of his career, when Joe Torre frequently chose the Yankees’ then-Molina — that is, Girardi himself.
Posada gets it twice from the same guy, and in that sense you can’t help but empathize with his frustration. The drag here is that Nick Blackburn is the kind of ball-in-play pitcher that Posada conceivably could have damaged. Strangely, the two have never met in a baseball game, but Blackburn doesn’t strike out many and also allows his share of fly balls, all of which adds up to a nice recipe for runs in Yankee Stadium II. Molina will likely put the ball in play as well, but a lot less happens when he does. This year he hit .264 on balls in play, a slight improvement on last season, when he hit .255. This is actually kind of hard to do; the Major League average this year was about .303.
Despite this, if Girardi observed a difference in Burnett in those late-August/early-September in which the two catchers alternated, this is the right call. The Twins are not a big offensive team, and while this kind of move might sabotage the Yankees if it was carried out over the basis of 25 or 50 games (that is, benching Posada), in one game the Yankees can carry Molina’s bat. Given that the Yankees are carrying three catchers, another decision that would be problematic over the course of the regular season, Girardi can pinch-hit for Molina at any time.
That last is really the key. If Girardi is going to go with a glove man, he needs to channel a bit of Casey Stengel and be ready to pinch-hit as soon as the last notes of the National Anthem sounds. If it’s 0-0 in the third, the bases are loaded, and Molina is up, well, better Burnett struggles with Posada’s defensive deficiencies with a 4-0 lead than Molina and three runners stranded. It’s unconventional, but Francisco Cervelli’s presence sets Girardi up perfectly to manage aggressively. Heck, he could even pinch-hit Eric Hinske instead of Posada and put the highly mobile Cervelli into the game. Posada might pop a blood vessel, but Girardi’s defensive imperatives will be satisfied.
Starting Molina is in itself not a bad decision; Burnett might struggle anyway and it would still be a defensible call. It’s what Girardi does after that will make it a good call or a bad one. He can use Molina to the point that his negatives outweigh his positives and then dispense with him or he can let the offense be strangled in a key spot. Very few managers would feel secure enough to pull the trigger in that spot, but then, there are very few great managers.
POSADA VS. BURNETT
Rob Neyer has it right: if Joe Girardi truly feels that A.J. Burnett is going to pitch better with Jose Molina receiving his pitches, then he has little choice but to bench Jorge Posada despite the huge offensive difference between the two catchers. Burnett is a highly variable pitcher. When he’s on, he’s unhittable. When he’s off, he walks the ballpark and gets pounded. Posada did most of the catching for Burnett at midseason (with some Kevin Cash and Frankie Cervelli throw in). They had the usual mix of good starts and bad, but things seem to have changed in late August after a three-start sequence in which two Posada games bracketed a Molina game. Burnett was savaged in the Posada starts, but struck out 12 Rangers in the Molina start (August 27). That seems to have convinced Burnett or Girardi or someone, because the Burnett’s final six starts were taken by Molina. Burnett’s ERA in those starts was 2.92, so clearly something was working.
The Yankees should survive three Molina at-bats in one playoff game, but this does raise an interesting question for next year. Molina’s contract is up and Cervelli is clearly ready to contribute at roughly the same level as Molina does now. It would be a shame if the Yankees retained Molina just to cater to the whims of one pitcher. And before anyone suggests as an alternative that Posada replace Hideki Matsui as designated hitter while Molina and Cervelli handle the bulk of the catching, keep in mind that the offensive loss would be disastrous.
THE THEOLOGY OF JOSE MOLINA
Jose Molina is Friday night’s designated hitter. Did you know that Molina has set his career high in walks this season? His 14th free pass did the trick, shattering his 2005 record of 13. There are all kinds of players — I bet somewhere in his career Barry Bonds got 13 walks in four games. To give Molina all the credit he’s due for his feat, it really does represent a huge uptick in patience. Last year, when Jorge Posada’s injury forced the Yankees to give Molina more playing time than he’d ever received before or ever will again, he walked only 12 times in 297 plate appearances. He’s exceeded that total by two despite coming to the plate 147 times. He’s walking twice as often as he used to. No doubt this is just another example of the cosmic dice finding the sweet spot on Molina’s Strat-O-Matic card again and again, Rosencrantz’s coin coming up heads 92 times in a row. Albert Einstein famously said that God does not play dice with the universe, but this is pretty clear evidence that He does play dice with Jose Molina’s walk rate. Coming soon: The Book of Molina: When Good Things Happen to Inoffensive Reserve Catchers — featuring a new translation of the Book of Job revealing that the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding.
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE ZACK GREINKE …
… And Jim Leyland is Ophelia. Really. Tonight’s attempt to resolve the never-ending battle of the AL Central features Jake Peavy and the White Sox against Edwin Jackson of the Tigers and Lenny DiNardo of the Royals going against Jeff Manship (whose name always makes me think either of slave-rowed galleys or alien abductions, or both. Methinks the Twins will be but one game out at the end of the night. DiNardo is a journeyman lefty lacking in control or strikeout pitches, and while the Twins have had problems with southpaws this year (they’re under .500 in games started by lefties) DiNardo doesn’t merit any consideration because of his handedness. Manship of Space is a rookie, equally unimpressive in his own way, another Twins pitch-to-contact guy. The thing is, when you’re facing the Royals, pitching to contact isn’t such a big deal.
The Tigers get to try their luck against Peavy, who completely dominated them last week. Familiarity shouldn’t breed success, not with a pitcher of his quality, though it is fair to note that the previous game was at Chicago, and the Tigers have been miserable in road games. As for their own starter, Jackson was impressive early, but note that in the second half his ERA has jumped by two full runs, from 2.52 to 4.53. His strikeout rate has also dropped in that time, going from seven a game to six. In short, his season is a mirror-image of CC Sabathia’s. In his last start against the White Sox, just days ago, he gave up five runs in seven innings. His September includes a solid but unspectacular game against the Rays and seven shutout innings against the Indians. The rest has been mush, the aggregate coming to an ERA of 5.08.
Saturday the odds shift back to the Tigers, as the Twins draw Greinke and they get the sore-armed Freddy Garica. They bombed Garcia last week, but he had actually been pitching very well to that point, with a 3.09 ERA in his previous five starts. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate has been less than intimidating, even in that time, and that means that even if he’s at his best he could give up some runs. The one fly in the ointment for the Tigers is that they’re starting rookie Alfredo Figaro, a sort of functional sinker/change-up guy. One imagines he won’t have too long a leash. The results of Saturday’s play should make Sunday a day of for-all-accounts-and-purposes exhibitions, and the Yankees can get on with the business of figuring out how to beat the Tigers.
TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS, MORE POSADA DISCONTENTS
If you check out the comments on yesterday’s entry, you will see a lot of frustration with Jorge Posada’s defense. A few lines:
Mr. Goldman, you know as well as I do that we should have let the Mets sign Jorge, instead of the Yanks giving a mediocre catcher the amount of money he received. He grounds into many, many rally-killing DPs and he is a big “K” way too often. Molina is twice the catcher that Jorge is.
Molina knows more about catching than Posada could ever dream about. I believe Cervelli should be brought up to work closely with Jose to refine his game. He’s already proven that he is a better defender than Posada, and hits the ball pretty effectively.
It’s time for the front office to stop turning a blind eye when they see Posada catch. Girardi should know this by now, Posada is not going to learn and doesn’t want to hear it.
I’m going to agree on one thing. Jose Molina is a much superior defensive catcher to Posada, and Frankie Cervelli looks pretty good, too. I will further agree that Posada hits into a lot of double plays, although show me a catcher who comes up with as many runners on base as Posada does and I’ll show you a double-play machine. I will not agree that he’s “a big K way too often,” as he’s a career .282/.400/.493 hitter with runners in scoring position and a .292/.405/.474 hitter late and close. Finally, I will strongly, violently disagree that the Yankees would be helped in any way by giving more playing time to Molina and Cervelli.
You don’t have to look too far to see what the Yankees would be like without Posada. It happened in a little season called 2008, which was still slowly bleeding to death at this time a year ago. Posada was on the shelf, Molina was playing, and the Yankees were losing games. There were other things wrong with the ballclub, but the Posada-Molina exchange was one of them.
As I tried to indicate in yesterday’s entry, everything in baseball is relative. Posada’s defensive flaws don’t make him a zero as compared to Molina’s 100, it makes him a 70 compared to Molina’s 100. Molina’s pitchers have actually thrown fractionally more wild pitches per nine innings than have Posada’s. Molina has thrown out 41 percent of attempted basestealers in his career, Posada only 29, but that’s a difference of 12 outs per 100 attempts, which sounds like a lot but only works out to a few runs on the season. We could talk about catcher-specific ERA, but that’s a flawed statistic, as it is open to sample size and other distortions, such as who caught who. The point is that you can’t judge players in isolation, but only in comparison. Compared to our idealized vision of a good defense catcher, Posada is terrible. Compared to actual catchers, he’s just a bit below average overall.
Take that knowledge, set it aside, and then consider Posada’s offensive game, which is much easier to evaluate. For most of his career he has not only been an above-average hitter for a catcher, he’s been an above-average hitter period. In 2000, when Posada hit .287/.417/.527, the average AL player hit .276/.349/.443. The average catcher hit only .261/.331/.425. The advantage conferred upon the Yankees was huge. Posada is no longer in his 2000 prime, but he still towers above his catching brethren. Even with Joe Mauer’s huge season in the mix, even counting Posada himself, the average Major League catcher is hitting only .254/.320/.397. To the extent that winning each baseball game is a battle of potential offenses, of being able to say, “My first baseman is better than your first baseman; my catcher is better than your catcher,” the Yankees win still win that battle with almost anyone but the Twins and perhaps the Braves (Brian McCann).
Molina is a career .238/.278/.338 hitter. He’s a below-average hitter compared to the general population. He’s a below-average hitter compared to catchers, shortstops, bat boys, and Snuffleupagus from “Sesame Street.” The offensive loss from such a transaction would outweigh the defensive gains. The Yankees would be net losers, a few runs up on defense, 50 or more runs down on offense. Going by Molina’s performance last year and Posada’s this year, the Yankees would gain a win on defensive runs saved and lose six on offense. As Posada ages, they will eventually have to make a change, but not this one, and hopefully not any time soon.
And before you say, “Yes, Molina, but Cervelli — !” Cervelli is far closer to Molina with the bat than Posada. He’s now 23 and has hit .270/.367/.379 in the Minors, most of that at the lower levels. He hasn’t even had 300 at-bats above A-Ball as yet and it shows in his offensive approach. He needs more time in the bus leagues if he is ever going to improve, and that’s a big if either way. Neither Molina nor Cervelli is going to be the next great Yankees catcher. It could be Jesus Montero, but right now I’d bet on Austin Romine. He’s at least two years away and has some real work to do on his hitting game, as the 20-year-old has power but lacks in selectivity.
In short, keep yelling at the TV if you want to. Perhaps it’s therapeutic. It’s also a bit misguided, because, as I said yesterday, passed balls advance a runner one base. Home runs advance them four. Unless you enjoyed 2008, with its great defensive catching and poor results, root against Posada at your own peril.
Of the 20 Rangers games surveyed here, 13 were at home, which puts a friendlier tinge on their numbers than is deserved. On the road they have hit .240/.295/.417 as a ballclub. To continue our discussion from above, those are close to Jose Molina numbers. On the whole this is not a great hitting club. They do run the bases a lot, especially rookie Julio Borbon, one of those outfielders that I mentioned in last week’s draft review (which I’ll return to tomorrow). One player to note is Chris Davis, the slugging but strikeout-prone first baseman who returns to the lineup Tuesday night after a long stint in the Minors. A left-handed hitter, he’ll be taking his shots at Yankee Stadium’s right-field porch.
The rookie the Yankees really don’t want to see in this series is Neftali Feliz, a Minor League starter who is doing the Joba Chamberlain ’07 thing for the Rangers’ bullpen. He’s been close to untouchable so far, slinging the ball up to the plate at 100 mph. The Rangers haven’t been great at closing games, but they’ve become very good at the holy eighth inning. In the starting department, the Yankees will face the veteran Kevin Millwood, whose low strikeout rate should work against him in this ballpark — though note that for the last few years he has been much more successful against left-handed hitters than right-handers. Hard-throwing rookie lefty Derek Holland has pitched very well of late, with a 1.85 ERA in his last five starts, and has had a lot of success away from Arlington, so Andy Pettitte has drawn a tough matchup. Journemyman Dustin Nippert takes what would have been Vicente Padilla’s spot, and no doubt everyone involved except Padilla is happier about that. Nippert is a giant at 6’7″, with a good fastball and a power curve but has never pitched with anything approaching consistency. That shouldn’t change in this series.
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.
Ready 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.
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…
…Or so it’s being reported. See the previous entry for more reaction, something akin to outright disgruntlement. The key here is how long Jorge Posada will be out. If it’s going to be more than a month, Mr. Cashman had best start shopping, and not in the superannuated Pudge Rodriguez aisle of Catcher-Mart either.
Actually, I take that back. Even if Posada is out only the minimum 15 days, the Yankees need to find a backstop who can hit at something close to league-average rates. Given Posada’s age, the chance of another injury is high, this year and next year and for however long his career lasts. It’s nice that the Yankees have Yogi Berra, but they need an Elston Howard to get by as well, or at least a Charlie Silvera. They don’t have that, and it was an obvious need — we talked about it in this space all winter.
I just want to repeat something I wrote this morning, because I see in the comments for that entry someone talking about Jose Molina as the awesomest backup of all-time or somesuch thing. Not so much. There’s no arguing he’s a good defender and very tough for opponents to run on, but he just doesn’t reach base enough to play with any regularity. Reaching base is the basis of offense — a team can’t score runs if the hitters don’t reach base. Molina’s career OBP is .277. It is, no matter how you slice it, dice it, adjust it, the 11th-worst OBP of the last 25 years.
Remember Alvaro Espinoza and how little he hit? He reached base more often. Alfredo Griffin once took four walks in a full season of play. He reached base more often. Rey Ordonez’s bat was the joke of the league when he played with the Mets. He reached base more often. You know how my YES colleague John Flaherty likes to make fun of his offensive abilities during many broadcasts? He reached base more often. If you reduce the population solely to catchers, Molina has the sixth-lowest OBP of the last 25 years.
Giving a hitter of this quality anything like regular playing time is extremely damaging regardless of his defense, because the offensive losses outweigh the defensive gains. If the Yankees are going to reap the benefits of having Posada, his bat, they’re going to have to find a better way of dealing with the costs of having Posada, occasional, perhaps lengthy, unavailability.
…The Yankees called up Frankie Cervelli. He seems spectacularly unlikely to hit, but might actually get on base more often than Molina. Yes, this is faint praise.
I’VE SUGGESTED THIS BEFORE…
The Diamondbacks aren’t going anywhere, their bullpen is egregious, and they don’t seem to have much use for 25-year-old backstop Miguel Montero, a career .239/.310/.412 hitter to this point. In 444 career at bats he’s hit 24 doubles and 17 home runs. He’s walked 44 times and has struck out 95 times. In the minors through 2006, he batted .291/.359/.467. He’s not the next Bill Dickey by any means, but he’s overqualified to be a pure reserve and is underappreciated by his current franchise. There might be a match there if the Yankees are willing to part with a pitcher or two. Just sayin’.
Today we begin our annual look at what each player is looking to accomplish this season — a tradition since whenever I started doing it. I believe it was in 1881, when my friend Clemens yielded this feature to me so he could finish work on Huckleberry Finn.
JORGE POSADA — STARTING CATCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Repeat his 2007 performance.
DID HE GET THERE? Nope. Injuries intervened.
2009 GOAL: Health, which means not only staying in the lineup and contributing some approximation of his career numbers (.277/.380/.477) but also throwing out 25-35 percent of attempting base stealers.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: He seems to have a fair shot, but it’s asking a lot given his age.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Even when struggling last year, Posada was strong with runners in scoring position, batting .250/.392/.425. He’s a career .282/.403/.492 hitter in those situations.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: With 27 home runs this year, Posada can pass YES broadcaster Ken Singleton on the career home run list for switch hitters (Singleton ranks 14th with 246). Kenny is probably safe for another year — Jorge hasn’t hit more than 23 homers in a season since 2003.
JOSE MOLINA — RESERVE CATCHER
2008 GOAL AS STATED HERE: Hit as well as he did after he joined the Yankees in July ’07 (.318/.333/.439 in 29 games).
DID HE GET THERE? Heck no, but he did play terrific defense.
2009 GOAL: Keep up the glove work while rebounding at the plate from a career-worst offensive season.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: You’d think he’d have to if he’s going to stay on the roster.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Believe it or not, Molina’s .263 on-base percentage wasn’t the worst of Yankees history (200 PAs and up). Shortstop Jim Mason’s .210 OBP of 1976 takes the prize, while shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger’s .256 of 1925 is even worse than Mason’s mark when contrasted against the league average.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Elston Howard. There’s nothing wrong with having an old starting catcher, but as that catcher’s durability declines, you need a tandem starter who can give you good production the rest of the time, not just defense. The Yankees had this situation with Yogi Berra and Elston Howard in the early 1960s. Acquiring a reserve catcher with a bat is of paramount importance to the Yankees.
MARK TEIXEIRA — FIRST BASE
2008 GOAL AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Just consistency would be good. Teixeira is a .290/.378/.541 career hitter and Gold Glove fielder.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: There’s no reason why he shouldn’t.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: You hear a lot about Teixeira being a slow starter, but the flipside of his slow starts are hot finishes. Teixeira is a career .303/.390/.574 hitter after the All-Star break.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Teixeira is going to see a lot more of the Red Sox this year than he’s used to, and he hasn’t hit them well in his career. He’s a career. 193/.363/.274 hitter at Fenway Park (80 PA) and has hit only .232/.364/.373 against the Red Sox overall.
ROBINSON CANO — SECOND BASE
2008 GOAL AS STATED HERE: Keep on growing and/or simply hold onto present value.
DID HE GET THERE? Not even close. His season was disastrously poor.
2009 GOAL: Get back to being the guy who hit .322/.358/.504 from 2006 to 2007.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Reasonably good given his age and a few lucky hits. He might not get all the way back, but he should get close.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Five games from now, Cano will pass Jerry Coleman for 10th place on the career list of games played at second base for the Yankees with 573. He still has a long, long way to go to catch the team’s all-time leader, Willie Randolph, who manned the keystone for 1,688 games.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: It might seem like Cano led the Yankees in pop ups last season, but he didn’t. He was fifth, with 33. The leader was Johnny Damon, with 45. Derek Jeter hit 13 pop ups all year.
To be continued…
MAKE IT STOP!
Here’s a literal blast from the past for you: In Tuesday’s Royals-at-White Sox game, the Royals took a 2-1 lead into Chicago’s turn at bat in the bottom of the eighth. The White Sox have the 9-1-2 spots due up: Josh Fields, Dewayne Wise, and Chris Getz. Royals manager Trey Hillman calls on Kyle Farnsworth. The Royals, you see, have decided that Farnsworth is a setup man. We in New York know it ain’t true. They even know it in Detroit and Atlanta, but they’re smarter in Kansas City.
Fields bunts to third base and reaches. Wise flies out to center. Gets singles to right, moving Fields to third. That brings up number three hitter Carlos Quentin. Even Joe Torre would have called for another pitcher by now, but Farnsworth gets Quentin to whiff, so score one for Hillman. Two outs now, future Hall of Famer Jim Thome at the plate. Thome is a left-handed hitter, and he’s getting up there in years, doesn’t hit the portsiders as well as he used to, averaging just .233 against them in 2008 (albeit with a ton of power). The Royals have Ron Mahay in the bullpen, but apparently he’s only hanging around for moral support. You know what happened next. Farnsworth throws, Thome swings, boom — it’s No. 542 for Jim and loss No. one of the 2009 season for Farnsworth.
Nice work if you can get it. Joe Posnanski ruminates on the managerial brilliance of the move.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
In an effort to bond with my cat, I’ve started wearing sisal pajamas… Another year, another pounding for Ian Snell, and the Pirates are off to the races… Khalil Greene so impressed Tony LaRussa with his hot spring that he’s batting fifth; it would be nice to see him complete make that kind of comeback. Of course, any player’s bat is going to perk up after escaping PETCO… The Rays lineup sure looks light with B.J. Upton out. Of course, it’s easy to look light against Josh Beckett when he’s on. They and the Red Sox will go at each other nine times by May 10, a nice quirk of the scheduling for the Yankees; the Yankees have ten total games against both clubs through May 7… As with CC Sabathia, you hope that Tim Lincecum wasn’t burned out by overuse last year… The Marlins drew 11,124 against the Nats in Game 2 of the season, but they did get a terrific start from Josh Johnson, so Joe Girardi, you’re off the hook (so long as he lasts)… The Tigers’ pen tanked their game, but Edwin Jackson’s fine start is the more important omen for them in the long term. Good to see Scott Rolen drag his hot spring into the season… Erik Bedard sort of made it through a start; when does he get dealt? …Dan Haren picked up where he left off for the Diamondbacks (good), but so did Jon Rauch (not so good)…I actually saw Jason Giambi hit a bloop double to the opposite field against the Angels… The Beatles remasters are finally coming!
NOW 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?
SO, HOW WAS YOUR VALENTINE’S DAY?
My unscientific polling sample of local types was evenly split between couples who believe it’s a cynical holiday manufactured by the greeting-card companies and those who make something of it. I tend to fall into the latter camp, if only because I like an excuse to get my wife a present or two. I don’t buy greeting cards, though. Those are evil, with soul-crushingly banal inscriptions, like:
My Dearest Love
Let me tell you all the ways,
On this special day of days
How you fulfill me in every way
In spite of that disfiguring mark
In the middle of your forehead
That I so easily overlooked when you were 20
But can bug the heck out of me now that we’re older.
Why don’t you get that thing fixed, anyway?
We can finally afford it
Now that we’ve had that bequest from your uncle.
I never thought he would stop kicking
While we held him down
With the fluffy cat pillow
I guess that’s why I think I love you
Oh, cripes, not “I think,” I mean, “I do.”
Please don’t make a big thing of it.
I wish you wouldn’t cry like that.
You know how I feel better than I do.
You’re always telling me how much I–
Oh, forget it. I can’t talk to you right now.
HAPPY VALENTINES DAY.
On the rare occasions I’m forced to buy a card, I shoot for the blanks and fill in my own inscription. You really don’t want to be going for a lowest common denominator sentiments when expressing yourself to a loved one. That’s lazy, and perhaps, a bit dangerous. No doubt we’ll return to this topic on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I was going to crack that on the former the players swing pink bats and on the latter they just hit you with them, but that would make a wider generalization about fathers than would be fair, including to my own, including myself. It’s all comedy folks, it’s just comedy.
RANDOM THOUGHT ON SOUVENIRS AND FEELINGS OF SECURITY
Remember the stuffed Kirby Puckett dolls the Twins used to sell? Think the Yankees might license something similar for CC Sabathia? I know if I were a kid, I wouldn’t be afraid of the dark if I had a stuffed CC in my room. Mr. Scratch comes out of the closet, CC will bean him with a 95-mph fastball. Take that, Ultimate Evil! This tot knows security! You could save thousands in fees to the child psychologist …
PUDGE, AS PLAYERS STRETCH AND PLAY CATCH
You’ve probably seen the latest from Ivan Rodriguez, who is still out there looking for a job. While I don’t believe Pudge has a lot left (PECOTA says .263/.301/.364), the Yankees would be very foolish not to give him another look. If you believe, as many have suggested, that Jorge Posada, even if ready to start the season, will probably sit for a quarter of the games, then you also have to be praying that the AL East race is not a close one. Simply put: if Jose Molina and Kevin Cash play 40 or more games and the race is at all close, the Yankees will lose it.
The more one considers this possibility, the more stunning it is that the Yankees went through the winter without trying to upgrade at the position — Cash doesn’t qualify; in 557 Major League plate appearances, he’s batted .184/.248/.285, a fair representation of his offensive abilities. I characterized it this way in my most recent chat when I was asked about the possibility of Rodriguez returning:
Eli (Brooklyn): Should the Yankees make a run at Pudge Rodriguez or did him running over Joe Girardi’s dog close that avenue?
Steven Goldman: One of the really disturbing things that Yankees fans will see coming out of Spring Training — well, let me correct that. There are two scenarios, both equally disturbing: (1) Posada is healthy enough to catch, but the Yankees feel nervous enough about this durability that they carry both Jose Molina AND Kevin Cash, or (2) Posada isn’t ready to start the season, so the Yankees start the season with Molina and Cash as their catchers. As such, YES! YES, THEY FREAKING SHOULD BRING IN ANYONE BREATHING! YES!
… I actually raised this point on last night’s Hot Stove show on YES, though somewhat inarticulately: Brian Cashman’s biggest gamble last season was not relying on young pitching, but in going to war with an old catcher and assuming his (to that point) incredible durability would carry them through another year. That he has decided to double up on that bet is really disturbing and will reflect very poorly on him should Posada not be ready to go.
I should have said that it will reflect very poorly on him “should Posada not be ready to go, or if he requires substantial rest to stay healthy — and the latter seems to be inevitable.”
SOME THINGS WORTH READING
? A good MLB.com article on the PECOTA prediction system, which I often site in these here pages and is the backbone of that book I spent the winter editing. How does Bill Pecota feel about inspiring PECOTA? “Hey, any pub is good pub at this point … I definitely didn’t do enough on the field to get people to notice me, so if they’re noticing me now, that’s awesome.” Thank you, Bill. Feel free to come by a book signing. We’ll spot you a copy.
? Sorry for bringing up bad memories, by Joe Posnanski conducts a thoughtful “steroid symphony.”