November 1, 2009
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.
April 1, 2009
As Spring Training mercifully draws to a close, the New York Yankees have filled 24 of the 25 spots on their active roster. The final spot is for the unenviable position of utility infielder. Cody Ransom was set to fill this role, but Alex Rodriguez’s injury has thrust Ransom into to the starting lineup, creating a vacancy on the Yankees’ bench. The competition has come down to former Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa and Yankees farmhand Ramiro Pena. Berroa has had the superior performance offensively, hitting .373/.383/.610. He is, however, 31 years old and nothing more than the .260/.305/.378 hitter revealed by his career line. The 23-year-old Pena has posted a .295/.348/.361 line – slightly better than his career minor-league line. By all accounts, his defense has been exceptional. It has been a fairly uninspired competition, as one would expect when the prize is the utility infielder’s role.
The real story here is not the competition, but the incomprehensible excitement over Pena’s merely average performance. Both local and national writers have begun to include Pena in the discussion of elite Yankees prospects. The New York Daily News‘ Bill Madden wrote the following about Pena: Read the rest of this entry »
March 26, 2009
Astros Manager Cecil Cooper expects to win 90 games this season.
I forget how it happened exactly, but I recently discovered that prominent members of the Houston Astros expect
to win 90 games this upcoming season. Manager Cecil Cooper was quite clear about this, saying:
“We should win 90 games . . . I believe we’ll win 90 games, 90-plus.”
Left fielder Carlos Lee:
“If we stay healthy, yeah, we can win 90.”
Star first baseman Lance Berkman:
“I believe that we can win at least 90 games. At least 90. It could be 91 . . . Why wouldn’t we [win 90]? We won 86 last year. I feel like we have a better team this year.”
I’m here to burst Cooper, Lee, and Berkman’s respective bubbles. I’m going to tell you exactly why the Astros won’t sniff 90 wins this season, and why even mentioning that number as a remotely possible goal is ludicrous. “Why wouldn’t we win 90?” Here’s why you won’t, in succinct and ruthless bullet-point format: Read the rest of this entry »
March 25, 2009
First, Jimmy Dykes whined about the lack of national respect given to Southeastern Conference basketball. He called us crazy if we truly believed that the basketball teams in the 2008-2009 SEC were generally inferior to those in the other major conferences. Based on nothing but regionalism and selective memory, he assured us that teams like Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, LSU and even Arkansas could compete with any team in the more highly-touted conferences. “Just you wait and see,” he said.
Time passed, and college basketball somehow managed to survive without any nationally ranked SEC teams. Unquestionably driven to his wits’ end by this inconceivable development, he promised us that five SEC teams would make the NCAA tournament – three from the SEC East, one from the SEC West, and a fifth from some magical faraway division. It was not the prediction itself that was ridiculous (at the time, it wasn’t), but the total lack of justification for making such an assertion. His guarantee wasn’t born of the careful merging of subjective (scouting) and objective (data) analysis, but of unprovoked defensiveness and regional bias. Dykes’ statement read less like useful insight and more like propaganda issued by a desperate leader as his regime is about to fall. Sure enough, three SEC teams made the NCAA tournament, including one that never would have been considered if not for winning the conference tournament.
Then, the coup de grace. In the same broadcast, Dykes claimed that not only would these five unnamed SEC teams make the NCAA tournament, but they would also thrive. Perpetually walking the line between self-assured and vague, he told us to wait and see how many SEC teams made it past that first weekend into the Sweet 16. Because – and this is a direct quote – “that’s how you really tell what the good teams are.” Read the rest of this entry »
March 16, 2009
Staggeringly wrong about the SEC, but you'll never hear him admit it.
As you may know, ESPN college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes’ continual vouching for the quality of the SEC has been a small but interesting story this season. Both his crusade and my coverage of it began in late January. Dykes disputed the absence of ranked SEC teams, and went on to confuse this very understandable omission with a lack of respect. I concluded that his outcry was unwarranted since only Kentucky was even remotely deserving of a ranking. A few weeks later, inspired by another Dykes-authored defense of the SEC, I checked in with the teams that he had previously described as competitive by any standard. Even with a bigger sample size, the conference appeared to have just three teams worthy of any consideration for a national ranking, and even that was a stretch. Dykes’ impassioned touting of the SEC remained without much credibility.
Shortly after this check-in, Dykes made his most declarative statement regarding the maligned conference. He predicted – in no uncertain terms – that the SEC would get five teams into the NCAA tournament. Specifically, he predicted that the SEC East would get three teams in, the West one, and a fifth would sneak in there from some undisclosed location. I was both deeply skeptical of this prediction and irritated by Dykes’ utter lack of explanation as to his thinking. I promised to return in March and see how his forecast fared. Well, it’s March. Read the rest of this entry »