Notes From A Delightful Comeback

May 18, 2010

At one point tonight, the score was 9-7 Red Sox following back-to-back home runs allowed by Yankee reliever Chan Ho Park. It felt like fate that I would end up blogging angrily but hopelessly about how poorly current managers use their bullpens. But then, because God is good and evidently a Yankee fan, Alex Rodriguez and Marcus Thames hit homers in the bottom of the ninth inning, thereby neutering my frustration and rendering me incapable of arguing with the fervor that I originally possessed. Instead, before I go to bed and while I fight this bug I’ve picked up, here are seven notes of varying lengths and importance:

  • Try as I might, I can’t totally ignore the fact that this game featured yet another prime example of all that’s wrong with modern bullpen management. With the Yankees up 7-6 entering the top of the seventh inning, Joe Girardi chose Chan Ho Park to relieve Boone Logan. No problems so far, since the Red Sox were sending solid but not spectacular Darnell McDonald, Marco Scutaro, and Dustin Pedroia trio to the plate that inning. Park, who had just come off the disabled list, managed to retire the side with little difficulty. The top of the eighth inning rolled around, and the Yankees still led 7-6. Of course, now the Yankees had to face the heart of the Red Sox order – J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis, and Victor Martinez. I then tweeted the following: “Leaving Park in here to face the middle of the Red Sox order would be a huge mistake, in my opinion. Let’s see what Girardi does.” Girardi left Park in, and one single and two home runs later, the score was 9-7 in favor of the Red Sox, and Park was walking off the mound to a chorus of boos. I will keep my point fairly brief. One day, a manager will look at this situation and decide to bring in his “closer” because he will realize that this situation – a one run game against the heart of the order – is when the game needs “saving,” not simply when the number in the innings column or box or whatever says “9.”  A manager will deploy his team’s Mariano Rivera or Joe Nathan or whomever he deems to be the team’s best reliever and say to him “this is the game right here, go get ’em, and we’ll use [second-best reliever] against the bottom of the order in the 9th.” And more often than not, that move will be the correct one.
  • Marcus Thames has been an absolute abomination in the field this season, so bad that I become uncontrollably nervous even when he settles underneath the laziest of fly balls looking into the clearest of skies on the stillest of nights. But provided he never sees the field again once Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are both fully healthy, he’s been quite an addition to the team. For a whopping $900,000, Thames has hit .414/.514/.621 against lefties and .263/.348/.263 against righties. Even when the former set declines, it will be hard to say that he wasn’t worth the money. $900,000 isn’t a lot of money to any team in baseball, much less the Yankees, and he’s been worth half a win so far this season. Money well spent, I’d say.
  • Going into tonight’s game, Alex Rodriguez’s career line in “close and late” situations was .279/.380/.540. His overall career line is .304/.389/.574. Clutch God Derek Jeter’s career line in “close and late” situations was .293/.388/.422. His overall career line is .316/.387/.458. We can all agree to never again say that Rodriguez is an un-clutch choker, right? Right.
  • Javier Vazquez throw four pitches in the game, striking out Kevin Youkilis with runners on first and third in the top of the ninth inning. He got the win. What a meaningful statistic.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka entered the game with a 6.35 ERA. After allowing seven runs in 4.2 innings, his ERA is now 7.89. Is it too early to say that his signing has been an enormous bust for the Red Sox? The hype surrounding this guy was unbelievable in 2007. He was supposed to be a rubber-armed, ultra-competitive, flame-throwing ace. He purportedly threw at least 16 types of pitches, some of which could – separately, of course – cure cancer, defy gravity, clean up oil spills, and figure out what to do with the other arm while spooning. Teams went nuts bidding for this guy, but none more so than the Red Sox, who shelled out $51 million to negotiate with him. Now he’s owed $8 million this season, and $10 million in each of the next two, bringing the total amount invested in him to $103 million. Going into tonight’s awful start, he’s been worth eight wins since his debut. That’s $12,875,000 per win. There’s still time to make the contract acceptable, but it’s hard to say that the trend is encouraging.
  • The older I’ve gotten, the harder it’s been for me to muster up those youthful feelings of contempt for or ill will towards members of the Red Sox. But if there’s anyone who can bring that version of me out of retirement, it’s Jonathan Papelbon (especially when he’s blowing a save in spectacular fashion). That I got to see Kevin Youkilis fall on his keester and Dustin Pedroia impudently complain about a bang-bang play at first was the icing on the cake.

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November 5, 2009

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The New York Yankees are your 2009 World Series Champions.

I’ll be back with much more much later (a close friend from college will be in town through Sunday). But for now, I can’t tell you how happy I am for Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui. Rodriguez… well, we all know what he’s been through, and if you’ve read this space regularly, you know how much I think it was undeserved. He’s an all-time great, he works hard, and he clearly cares (too much, it sometimes appears). Of course, he made a mistake, but the criticism he received (like most steroid-entangled players) was not proportionate to the transgression. Why no one likes the guy, I’ll never understand. I’m thrilled he dispensed with the idea that he’s a team-killer, a choker, and a loser. Good for him.

It seems less and less likely that Hideki Matsui will be on the 2010 Yankees. Even for a cold-hearted crank who sees players as little more than a series of statistics and probabilities (this is 45% true), Matsui’s probable departure tugs at the heartstrings. He was never the best player on the Yankees, never quite lived up to the ridiculous “Godzilla!” hype, but the guy did nothing but hit for seven seasons. He continued that trend in the World Series, hitting .615/.643/1.385 and winning the series MVP. What a way to go out.

Until next time, when you’ll learn more about my hair than you ever wanted to know.


One Win Away

November 2, 2009

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And much of it can be attributed to Chokey McChokeartist himself, Alex Rodriguez. Here’s to Good A.J. tonight.


“If We’re Nice, We’ll Let It Go Six”

November 1, 2009

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On October 26th, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins predicted that his team would beat the Yankees to win the World Series in five games. Ever munificent, Rollins allowed for the possibility that the series could go six games, but the result would remain the same: a second World Series victory in as many years for the Phillies.

Well, it would appear that Rollins and his teammates were feeling charitable last night, as the Yankees’ 8-5 win ensured that if the Phillies win the World Series, it would be in six or seven games. Generally, I’m not opposed to predictions and other forms of competitive banter. Cincinnati Bengals’ receiver Chad Ochocinco’s checklist is a personal favorite because of its originality and the man’s very real ability to back it up. Rollins’ prediction, however, slightly irked me because of his performance. Rollins hit a miserable .250/.296/.423 in the regular season, making him roughly the 11th-most valuable member of the 2009 Phillies, behind the immortal Carlos Ruiz and barely ahead of Pedro Feliz. Yes, Rollins has a ring and a handful of good seasons to his name, but it must be mentioned that Rollins has been a below-average hitter (97 OPS+) and average-ish fielder (4.9 UZR/150) in his career. Talk is all well and good, but the crank in me believes it should be in proportion to the individual accomplishments of its instigator.

A few remaining thoughts from the game:

  • Alex Rodriguez hit a controversial home run and was hit by a couple pitches, bringing his World Series OPS up to .708. Phillies’ slugger Ryan Howard, on the other hand, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts an a pop-up, making him 2/13 this World Series with nine strikeouts. Trust me when I say that using World Series OPS to make a point makes me want to throw myself off a bridge, but I have to ask: Will we see a national columnist write about Howard’s inability to handle the pressure? Will people question his fortitude and focus? In short, will he (or Mark Teixeira, he of the .607 postseason OPS) get the Alex Rodriguez treatment? No, they will not, because people like Howard and Teixeira, and Rodriguez (for whatever reason) rubs people the wrong way. I know I should get over this double standard, but I simply refuse to.
  • For much of the evening, Andy Pettitte drove me nuts. I watched him hold the top of the Phillies’ order to 1/15 with one walk and five strikeouts (Chase Utley twice and Ryan Howard three times). Then I watched him allow the bottom of their order to go 3/11, including a double to Pedro Feliz (.308 OBP), two walks to Carlos Ruiz, and a bunt single to pitcher Cole Hamels. Having slept on it, I’m not longer flustered by Pettitte’s performance. While the two homers to Jayson Werth here tough to swallow, Pettitte did fantastic work against most of the Phillies’ toughest hitters. Holding Utley, Howard, and Raul Ibanez hitless with seven strikeouts is awfully difficult to do, but he did it. This is me tipping my cap. Now stop walking bad hitters.
  • Try as I might, I simply can’t resist mentioning another bit of stupid (yes, that word is what I mean) bullpen management. Up 8-4 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, Joe Girardi sent out Phil Hughes to finish up the game. I liked the move; Hughes typically sees action in high-leverage situations, but his postseason struggles warranted his use at the start of an inning, with a significant lead, and a clean slate. Hughes retired the first batter he faced on a ground ball. Then, to his absolute discredit, he allowed a home run to Carlos Ruiz. Unfortunately for Hughes and people with brains everywhere, Ruiz’s homer made the game a save situation. And we all know what that means with Mariano Rivera in the bullpen and Girardi in charge. Rivera entered the game, retired the next two batters, and secured the victory. This was just another example of thoughtless, push-button management. If the Yankees don’t have another reliever that can get two outs before surrendering three runs (they have several), their team is hugely flawed. If Girardi doesn’t believe that he has another reliever that can do that, he’s an idiot. With Rivera coming off two innings pitched in Game Two and C.C. Sabathia going on short rest tonight, Girardi should have used literally any reliever but Rivera in that situation (how about, you know, leaving Hughes in there and not messing with his head like that?). The Yankees could very well need Rivera for an extended appearance tonight, and his usage last night might have sunk that possibility.

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October 30, 2009

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Before last night’s game, I meant to post something like the following:

I just can’t shake the feeling that Bad A.J. will be showing up tonight. The Phillies are patient and Burnett is wild anyway, which is not a good combination. I also can’t shake the feeling that Pedro Martinez is going to junkball his way through six scoreless innings in his return to the Bronx. I would love to be wrong in both cases.

I was mostly wrong, and I couldn’t be happier. Burnett struck out nine and walked two in seven innings of outstanding work. Martinez’s performance (6 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 8 K) seemed pedestrian by comparison, but he really was in control for most of his outing. Both pitchers were pleasures to watch, even if I was actively rooting for Pedro’s rehabilitated shoulder to fall off.

On a less heartening note, the front page of ESPN.com has a “story” about Alex Rodriguez’s 0-for-8 performance so far in the World Series. You can get to it by clicking the image captioned “A-Rod’s Struggles.” You can probably imagine how I feel about this, but I want to point how just how stupid (and really, there is no other word for it) this article is. The article basically consists of Yankee players saying “it’s only eight at-bats”, “he’s the reason we’re here”, and “we’re not worried”, while Gene Wojciechowski retorts with “they can dress it up all they want, but A-Rod is choking.” It’s utter nonsense, and I’m profoundly disappointed that it took eight (EIGHT!) unproductive at-bats for national columnists to start readying the torches and pitchforks.

Go get ’em in Game Three, boys.


Alex Rodriguez: Not A Choker

October 27, 2009

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Alex Rodriguez’s career batting line is .305/.390/.576.

Alex Rodriguez’s career postseason batting line is now .307/.408/.570.

Can we finally agree that Alex Rodriguez isn’t a weak-willed, unclutch, team-killing choker? Can we just recognize that his postseason struggles (which were grossly exaggerated, by the way) were just the randomness of a small sample size? With that explanation in mind, can we do away with the idea that postseason futility means a player lacks fortitude or some superior moral quality? Please?

More than a few people owe Rodriguez an apology for attacking his character and gumption over the last several years.


Reviewing The Twins-Yankees Series

October 12, 2009

I missed college a great deal yesterday. I don’t miss it often; the South and I had a doomed relationship, I never found a subject that fired me up, and wearing a jacket and tie to a football game will never, ever make sense to me. Two out of those three could easily be classified as self-inflicted, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m at peace with my dispassion towards much of my college experience. But if there were ever a day to make me long for a time machine, yesterday would be it.

The magnitude of the day revealed itself slowly. I woke up eminently cognizant of the Yankees game at seven o’clock. I also knew the Giants were playing the Raiders at one. Then, as if the sports schedule were a coloring book and these games were the thick black lines, I slowly filled in the vacant spaces. The Angels were playing the Red Sox at noon. The Broncos and Rockies were playing at four and ten, respectively. I realized there would be twelve consecutive hours of meaningful sports, and that’s precisely when I started to miss my closest friends from college. If the year were 2007 instead of 2009, the five of us would have procured our adult beverages of choice, secured some terribly unhealthy provisions, and embedded ourselves in front of our too-large television for a day of witty banter, obnoxious proclamations, and the rare enlightening debate. That’s what I missed and will continue to miss the most about college: those endless, sports-filled Saturdays and Sundays that gave us a great excuse to do nothing but enjoy each other’s company.

On a less nostalgic note, yesterday also provided the faint but exhilarating possibility of the elusive fivefecta (I couldn’t find anything higher than a superfecta, so I made this up.) The fivefecta is the unassisted triple play of sports fandom, albeit less sudden in its occurence. If the Red Sox lost, the Giants won, the Broncos won (at the Patriots’ expense), the Yankees won, and the Rockies won, October 11th, 2009 would have to be considered one of the all-time great days in personal fan history. Naturally, I decided to monitor this situation very closely, only to see it fall short because of the uncharacteristically effective Brad Lidge. And so it goes.

As you can probably guess, the most important game of the day for me was the Yankees-Twins contest. Because it’s October and my doctor says it’s bad for me to be a statistically-inclined curmudgeon all the game, I decided to watch it the way most fans do: with youthful exuberance, relentless optimism, and with the belief in the unlikely. Valiantly, that approach lasted until the bottom of the eighth inning, when a perpetual pet peeve and occasional blog topic reared its ugly head. I simply could not resist the temptation. I regressed into curmudgeonhood, which I why I’m writing this right now. Read the rest of this entry »