Can Nick Swisher play now? Can Joe Girardi say, as Lincoln did of Grant, “I can’t spare this man — he fights”? A reader recently wrote me to say that I had been quiet about Xavier Nady outperforming Swisher during Spring Training, and it would be more fair to Girardi to admit that Nady had legitimately won the job. My answer here is that it depends on how you define “legitimate.” Making decisions on the basis of 40-60 Spring Training at-bats against highly variable competition is nonsensical, particularly when you have a track record of a couple of thousand at-bats on which to base your evaluation. If those 60 wind-blown at-bats are going to outweigh 2,000 regular-season turns at the plate, there had better be some extenuating circumstances.
Now, in this case I think there were some extenuating circumstances, and I said so: As much as I think Spring Training stats are overblown, given that Swisher came off a .210 season, he had to show the Yankees something to prove that his inconsistency was a fluke. He did not do this, and so he’s going to have to prove himself, start by start.
That said, there is still no reason to believe that Nady is the .328 hitter he was in Spring Training, and only slightly more reason to believe that Swisher is only capable of the .222 he hit. We should also note that Swisher led the spring squad in walks with 13 (Nady took only two), and that he hit the same number of home runs as Nady, one. The difference between them comes down to a few hits.
In short, did Nady really win the job, or were the Yankees guilty of a selective review of the evidence? We’ll see as the rest of the season plays out. Note that Swisher is in the lineup again today, and Nady is not: The competition is not yet over, and with another good showing from Swish Nicker today (a home run off of Kyle Farnsworth? Nah — anyone can do that) it may be that the issue will remain open.
What a senseless loss. Trying to grasp for a silver lining, the one thing I can think of is that if you asked most pitchers how they might like to go, perhaps they would choose to exit right after a strong start. It is small consolation that the police nabbed the perpetrator, a drunken driver, and charged him with “felony drunk driving, felony hit and run, three counts of murder, three counts of vehicular manslaughter and four counts of committing bodily injury during a crime.” There is no circle of hell low enough for drunk drivers, and it is to be hoped that the Orange County District Attorney does not reach for any kind of settlement but prosecutes to the full extent of the law, such that the murderer will never see the light of day again.
Parenthetically, I would be this emphatic were we not talking about a professional ballplayer and his friends but any three victims. There are few more selfish acts than getting behind the wheel of a car when one is inebriated. I don’t think much of drinking to the point of intoxication — I have never done so — but I don’t begrudge others the right to pickle their brains if they so choose. However, if you drive at that point, you are extending an invitation for involuntary audience participation in your potential suicide. The murders committed under the influence are crimes of simple, selfish negligence and deserve not the least bit of sympathy.
As baseball fans, our loss pales beside that of Adenhart’s Angels teammates, his friends and his family, but we do feel it. We did not know Adenhart well, and beyond our basic human sadness at a young life snuffed out is the lost opportunity for Adenhart and for ourselves. When Thurman Munson lost his life, we could, as fans, look back on a long career and a familiar personality. The interruption was sudden, tragic, shocking, but the legacy was there for us to hold on to. Adenhart was just beginning. His legacy is the tragedy of not getting to have a legacy. Baseball is all about history, and we’ve been deprived of one here.
TWENTY-FIVE MEN, TWENTY-FIVE GOALS INTO ONE
Continuing from second base …
ALEX RODRIGUEZ — THIRD BASE
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Win another MVP award, and try to avoid offending easily irked Yankees fans and media.
DID HE GET THERE? Pretty much whiffed on all counts, though his season wasn’t bad by any means.
2009 GOAL: Quickly return to hip-health despite having foregone, for now, the complete hip reconstruction procedure; hit more like 2007 than 2008, in the process putting questions about steroid-fueled production behind him.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Seems like a mighty tall order.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: It won’t last much longer than A-Rod’s DL stay, but with two more home runs, Derek Jeter will pass Rodriguez on the Yankees’ career home run list.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Rodriguez warps the fabric of space-time with his personality, creating dangerous singularities that will be the subject of a forthcoming series of science fiction films starring Seth Rogen. Sir Anthony Hopkins will portray A-Rod.
DEREK JETER — SHORTSTOP
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Stay healthy, get some life back in those legs, recover defensive value.
DID HE GET THERE? Not really. He played through a hand injury that ruined his production, hit into a career-high 24 double plays, and his defensive range wasn’t any better than usual.
2009 GOAL: Stay healthy, get some life back in those legs, recover offensive and defensive value.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Last season’s production was strong in the context of league shortstops, weak in the context of Jeter’s own career, not to mention league-average production. If that was only attributable to the injury, then he has a good chance of hitting well this year. He did bat .344/.406/.434 in August-September of last year. Even then, though, he was lacking some customary pop — there were 65 hits in that period, but the only extra-base hits were two doubles and five home runs.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: When are we not thinking about Jeter?
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Lou Gehrig. Jeter should pass him to become the Yankees’ all-time hits leader in September.
CODY RANSOM — THIRD BASE/UTILITY INFIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Fill in for Alex Rodriguez without killing the team, then remain on the roster as a utility infielder.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Not great, actually. While Ransom’s 1-for-10 showing in the first three games is nothing to get exercised about, there is a reason that he has spent most of his career (going back to 1998) in the Minor Leagues. While his career 162 homers in the sticks attest to some nice pop for a guy who has primarily been a shortstop, his .242 batting average argues that he lacks the hitting consistency to succeed in any sustained way. Last fall’s exciting 13-for-43 with four home runs was a spectacular fluke.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Ransom was drafted by the Giants in the ninth round in 1998. Another future Major Leaguer taken in that round was Mark Teixeira, selected by the Red Sox 13 picks in front of Ransom. He didn’t sign. The Yankees picked one in front of the Giants and selected a college outfielder named Claude Greene, who didn’t make it.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: There have been only three players named Cody in Major League history. All of them played in this century, and two of them, Ransom and Cody Ross, are in the Majors now. T
he Marlins’ Ross easily leads the Codies in all statistical categories.
RAMIRO PENA — INFIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Avoid being overexposed, simultaneously giving the Yankees a reason to retain him on the roster once A-Rod comes back.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Not good given that he has yet to play at Triple A; the Yankees almost certainly plan on getting him some Scranton time this year. He’s a career .258/.316/.319 hitter in the Minors, so he has plenty of work to do if he wants to have a career greater than quickie injury cameos.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: When Pena appeared at shortstop on Thursday, he became the 21st player to appear at the position during the Jeter era, not including Jeter. He is now entitled to attend a once a year luncheon with Enrique Wilson, Felix Escalona and Alex Arias.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Though we’ll hear a great deal about Pena’s speed whenever he’s asked to pinch-run, he was not a basestealer in the Minors, nabbing just 28 bases in 43 tries over 334 games.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? I was going to comment yesterday that few pitchers can burn though 100 pitches faster than Scott Kazmir, but had I done so it would have been a grave disservice to Oliver Perez of the Mets, who got there in 4.1 innings on Thursday thanks to five hits, five walks and seven strikeouts. When the Deity modeled hard-throwing lefties, he included wildness in the young’uns, which explains Kazmir, still only 25. Perez is 27 and still has some shelf-life, but it doesn’t seem as though he’ll get that walk rate down under four per nine. Just think: Somewhere there’s a parallel universe where the Mets have Perez and Kazmir in the same rotation. Perhaps in that universe they also built their new park with the stairs behind the seats instead of in front of them.
? The Rays held on to beat the Red Sox yesterday, but not before Troy Percival gave up a solo homer to Jason Varitek in the ninth. I imagine a sequence for the Rays in which Percival is replaced by Jason Isringhausen, and then Isringhausen is replaced by a player to be named later at the trade deadline. Percival doesn’t allow many hits, but too many of his mistakes reach escape velocity.
? Who would have suspected that Chris Carpenter had another start in him like Thursday’s against the Pirates (7/1/1/0/2/7)? Heartening to see, given the fellow’s many, many (many) injuries … Ross Ohlendorf had a good start in the game too, though not good enough. Nor were the Pirates helped by their Adam LaRoche-free lineup.
? No doubt you have already seen and perhaps celebrated Carl Pavano’s long Thursday: 1/6/9/9/3/1 with two home runs allowed. He failed to retire a batter in the second. Andruw Jones played and went 3-for-5.
? Staying away from Kyle Farnsworth helped the Royals get to 2-1. If not for the whole Kyle debacle the boys in powder blue would actually be undefeated right now. They got seven innings of three-hit, eight-strikeout shutout baseball from their other Kyle, Kyle Davies. I don’t know if that was really Davies taking a major step forward or simply a White Sox lineup that looks a bit light in the lumber. Center fielder Dewayne Wise is now 0-for-10 on the season with four strikeouts, and Ozzie Guillen dropped him from the leadoff slot yesterday, then pinch-hit for him late in the game. The next step in that sequence is Melky Cabrera.
? The Padres got away with one, walking seven Dodgers but still holding them to three runs. San Diego is an improbable 2-2.
? Horrible moment in the Brewers-Giants game when Giants pitcher Joe Martinez took a Mike Cameron line drive off of his forehead. Martinez popped right up, then fell again, his head bleeding. He walked off under his own power and seems to have gotten away with nothing worse than a concussion (though those are bad enough). Best wishes to the rookie for a speedy recovery … The Giants got great pitching from Matt Cain in that game, as well as fine hitting from Randy Winn, Fred Lewis and Bengie Molina. The Dodgers should win the NL West pretty easily, but the Giants have enough pitching to make it interesting. They probably don’t have the offense or the defense either, but if you’re going to have one out of three, having Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain isn’t a bad option.
I recently missed a media appearance due basically to negligence on my part. I apologize to those involved for what was a purely unintentional oversight.
ONE THAT I DIDN’T SCREW UP …
On Thursday I was on Fox News’ Situation Room with my Baseball Prospectus pal Jay Jaffe. In the linked excerpt, we talk about the “pressure” on Joe Girardi. This was, by the way, a fun format. As the show’s description states, “There is no script, no commercials, just great panelists and conversation on the biggest topics in today’s news. Viewers are a big part of the program, as our hosts read fan emails throughout the show often sparking more conversation.” They’re on eight hours a day online, and do sports each Thursday from 1-2 p.m.