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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.


Bad A.J.

November 3, 2009

jekyll-and-hyde

As much as I’d love to pin the blame on bad management or shoddy umpiring, there’s nothing else I can really say about this one – Bad A.J. showed up. Burnett had his worst start of the season, “lasting” two innings and allowing six runs. His performance was bolstered (and not in a good way) by the efforts of reliever Phil Coke, who allowed two home runs to two of the three lefties he was brought in to face. It’s hard to score six runs and lose the game, but that’s what happened to the Yankees.

I can’t leave, however, without complaining about at least one thing. The A.J. Burnett-Jose Molina tandem has worked to the tune of a 5.27 ERA this postseason. It’s sort of irrelevant at this point, because Burnett will not be making another start, but it’s worth mentioning. It’s worth mentioning because of the ridiculous idea that Molina’s presence improves Burnett’s performance enough to overcome the crippling effect of Molina’s bat in the lineup. It doesn’t. Next year, put Posada back there (warts and all), and hope for the best.

 


One Win Away

November 2, 2009

arodwinner

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

arod

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.


Starting Chad Gaudin Is Just Asking For Trouble

October 28, 2009

Perhaps this is just selective memory, but the 2009 World Series seems to be coming together rather tidily. The narrative is clear, with the defending champion Phillies facing a Yankees team that is hungry to reclaim what was once regularly theirs. The primary talking point is simple: both teams are offensive powerhouses, and whichever team keeps the damage to a minimum will prevail. Generally, there seems to be little drama (although Pedro Martinez pitching Game Two at Yankee Stadium is pretty great) or intrigue.

Of course, as a neurotic Yankees fan (redundant?), this is unacceptable to me. It is my duty to find something either to fret about or something to caution as underestimated in its importance. Luckily, I have found both in the person of Yankees starting pitcher Chad Gaudin. Manager Joe Girardi and his staff are toying with the idea of giving Gaudin a start in Game Four or Five, thereby preventing C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett from pitching on short rest throughout the series. Unsurprisingly, since he hasn’t pitched since October 3rd, there have been reports of Gaudin being “stretched out” for a possible start. As you may have guessed, I think starting Gaudin is a terrible idea, and for a different reason than you’ve probably heard most opponents of the idea cite.

Chad Gaudin’s chronic inability to retire left-handed hitters is a huge reason for concern. Since 2002, lefties have hit .293/.389/.433 against Gaudin (righties: .249/.318/.409). Even more starkly, Gaudin’s career K/BB against lefties is 0.84, as opposed to 2.80 against righties. These trends held true in the 2009 season as well. Lefties hit .296/.408/.415 against him, walking one more time than they struck out. Gaudin’s problems against lefties are not a prolonged fluke. They are a real problem, chronicled in real data over a significant sample size.

This deficiency wouldn’t be worth so much thought if the Yankees were playing a balanced or heavily right-handed team. The Phillies, however, get a great deal of their offense from left-handed hitters. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Raul Ibanez form the heart of the Phillies’ lineup (righty Jayson Werth is mixed in there), and they are preceded by switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. Here are each of their numbers against right-handed pitchers, both career and in 2009:

  • Ryan Howard: .307/.409/.661 (career), .319/.395/.691 (2009)
  • Chase Utley: .302/.375/.536 (career), .279/.387/.489 (2009)
  • Raul Ibanez: .290/.354/.496, (career), .267/.342/.517 (2009)
  • Jimmy Rollins: .272/.327/.435 (career), .257/.306/.422 (2009)
  • Shane Victorino: .287/.347/.415 (career), .283/.347/.440 (2009)

The greatest concern of these five hitters is Ryan Howard. As I’ve mentioned before, Howard is the best hitter of right-handed pitching in baseball, and among the very worst against lefties. This factor alone should make the Yankees think twice about starting a fringy right-hander like Chad Gaudin. It gets worse. Utley murders major league pitching of either handedness, making Gaudin’s difficulty with lefties even more problematic. Interestingly, Ibanez posted a significant reverse split in 2009, destroying left-handers and hitting acceptably against righties. Even if this is a real change in Ibanez’s performance (which it isn’t), Gaudin turns average left-handed hitters (like 2009 Ibanez) into above-average ones because of his significant control problems against them. Starting Gaudin against these three hitters is just asking for trouble.

To be fair, Jimmy Rollins’ and Shane Victorino’s numbers against right-handers aren’t overwhelmingly impressive. In fact, both switch-hitters are stronger against lefties. But it isn’t their ability to put the bat on the ball against Gaudin that worries me. Instead, I’m fairly certain that Rollins and Victorino will draw walks. Rollins has never had a great eye, but he walks more against righties than lefties. Victorino walks more against lefties than righties, but has decent plate discipline overall. Ultimately, it’s not hard at all to envision Gaudin starting the game by walking one or both of them (Rollins leads off, Victorino bats second), and then having to retire the slugging, lefty-heavy heart of the order with runners on base. It’s a terrifying prospect that should never come to pass.

I understand why the Yankees would consider giving Gaudin a start; having Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte pitching on short rest for half the series is a tough alternative to face. This is, however, the World Series. A team must go with nothing but its best in all but the most hopeless of circumstances, and Gaudin is not the Yankees’ best. If the Yankees opt to give him a start (a decision that is still very much up in the air), they are essentially choosing to neutralize Werth, Pedro Feliz, and Carlos Ruiz, while taking their chances with Howard, Utley, and Ibanez. That looks an awful lot like a bad idea to me under any circumstances, but particularly so when the stakes cannot get any higher.


It’s My Moral Duty To Be A Sourpuss About This. I’m Sorry.

October 30, 2007

I would like to preface this post by congratulating the Boston Red Sox. No, seriously. They won the World Series, and that is awesome. Between seeing Keesup’s Cardinals win last year, and my buddy Phil’s Rockies making it there this year, I have a developing appreciation for just how amazing it feels for a fan of such a team. So, honestly, congratulations to the Red Sox and their fans (the real fans though, not that bandwagon junk).

Now I have to dissect this. Again, I would just like to state explicitly my two Red Sox-related beefs. (1) Bandwagon and/or idiot fans. (2) Lazy, shoddy, or outright factually incorrect analysis or interpretation by the media. These are long ways of saying that – Red Sox fans – it isn’t personal. Unless you’re an idiot bandwagoner. To the column:

For the second time in four seasons, the Boston Red Sox are World Series champions and the indisputable rulers of the baseball universe as we know it. They are the Roman Empire of the postseason, having won eight World Series games in a row. Hail, Tito.

Get a grip.

Then again, that sort of self-infatuation helps explain why the Yankees haven’t played in a World Series since 2003 and haven’t hoisted the sterling silver Commissioner’s Trophy above their heads since 2000.

I will briefly outline why “self-infatuation” is not the reason the Yankees haven’t made the World Series since 2003. The 2004 team could not pitch. The team’s best starter was Jon Lieber (!). The bullpen was terrible too. The 2005 team also could not pitch, and it took miracle seasons from Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small to even make the playoffs. The 2006 team also had problems (surprise!) pitching. Not as bad as ’04 and ’05, but not good either. The 2007 team went into the playoffs with Andy Pettitte (and maybe Chien-Ming Wang) as their only even close to reliable starters. Add to each of these postseasons the randomness afforded by small sample sizes, and that is why the Yankees haven’t won the World Series since 2003.

And with each championship, the Red Sox are reversing the conventional financial wisdom of the sport. Fat payrolls — and the Red Sox have the second-fattest in the majors at $143 million — can work if the people operating the wallet know what they’re doing.

No shit? You mean the prior conventional wisdom was to make a lot of money and then spend it wildly and irresponsibly? It’s the best possible scenario to have lots of money and spend it well? You’re kidding. Also, note the omnipresent and implied “if the Red Sox spend loads of money it’s good business, but if the Yankees do it they’re ruining baseball” theme.

“I think if you look at who the stars were of this Series, it’s not all about payroll,” said Red Sox owner John Henry. “It’s never all about payroll.”

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino: “Walk a mile in our shoes and see how different we think we are from the Yankees. They have the benefit of the largest market in the Western world. We have to compete with them, but they are tens of millions of dollars higher than us. It is inappropriate to lump us with them. It is the Yankees out there and 29 other teams in the next category. We want to be the little engine that could.”

Yes, I understand Henry said it’s not “all” about payroll. But man, it sure sounds like payroll is a concern to Lucchino. And also, Lucchino, that entire statement is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read. “The little engine that could”??? Honestly, you have a disease.

Also, let’s not forget GM Theo Epstein’s comments about not being able to acquire Bobby Abreu because of – you guessed it – payroll constraints and having to do things differently than the Yankees, given relative resources. Which is crap, by the way. Anyway, what I’m seeing is that when it suits the Red Sox executives (i.e. Henry’s comments), payroll doesn’t matter. It’s a crapshoot! Anyone can win. But there are times (i.e. Lucchino and Epstein’s comments) when, well, gosh darnit, we just can’t keep up with the Yankees because we don’t have the money. You need money to win! How can you win if you can’t spend money?

But what happened to the Red Sox this season, as well as in 2004, isn’t an accident. They spent money, lots of it, but they mostly spent it wisely. They did a lot of things wisely.

This is when I started to lose it.

The Red Sox are the Warren Buffetts of baseball. They invest and trade well.

Here we go!

While the Yankees were committing $120 million to Jason Giambi in 2002, the Red Sox waited a year and took a $1.25 million flier on a DH discarded by the Minnesota Twins. Maybe you’ve heard of him … Ortiz.

When the Yankees signed starting pitcher Carl Pavano, the Red Sox would later trade for Pavano’s Florida Marlins teammate, Josh Beckett. To be fair, Boston also pursued Pavano. Pavano’s Yankees career is deader than a Barry Bonds-Bud Selig photo op. Meanwhile, Beckett is building a résumé that one day could include Cooperstown.

Way to cherry-pick, Gene Wojciechowski. Jason Giambi? JD Drew. Carl Pavano? The Red Sox signed Matt Clement. Remember him? He actually hasn’t pitched in longer than Pavano. Also, if we’re talking about spending money wisely, then why is Josh Beckett admissible to this argument? The Red Sox didn’t sign him. They traded for him, and gave up quite a bit too. You cannot compare Pavano and Beckett if the whole premise of your argument is “the Red Sox spend their money wisely,” because one was a free agent and one was acquired in a trade.

And also, Julio Lugo. That was wise spending too. If we can throw in trades, as you did with Beckett, that Gagne trade worked out well. David Murphy, Kason Gabbard and a high-ceiling minor league bat for 18 IP of 6.75 ERA ball is a good deal, I think.

They outbid and outsmarted the Yankees on Daisuke Matsuzaka. So the Yankees settled for Dice-K Really Lite, Kei Igawa. Igawa was a disaster, finishing 2-3 with a 6.25 ERA.

Outbid, yes. Duh. Outsmarted? If by “outsmarted” you mean “offer significantly more money”, then yes, the Red Sox outsmarted the Yankees.

I know this is really technical, but it’s worth mentioning. The Yankees paid $46 million for a 6.25 ERA. The Red Sox paid $103 million for a 4.40 ERA. Intuitively, we would expect a product half as good from the Yankees’ bid, because they spent half of what Boston did. If Matsuzaka was what everyone expected and posted an ERA around 3.50 or so, then our intuition would be satisfied, because 3.50 is roughly twice as good as 6.25. But he didn’t. He had a 4.40 ERA, which is not all that great.Of course, I am by no means arguing that the Yankees’ signing was better than Boston’s. That would be really, really stupid. I just think this is interesting, that’s all.

Greed, as Gordon Gekko said, is good. Or it can be. The Red Sox want more. More playoff appearances (that’s the starting point for Epstein) and, if possible, more moments like Sunday night, when commissioner Selig handed them another World Series trophy.

Again, the Red Sox spending money and doing whatever it takes to win is admirable and awesome. The Yankees spending money and doing whatever it takes to win makes them bullies, attention whores, and soulless jerks. I get it.

The starting rotation is a half-light-year ahead of the Yankees’. Beckett, Jon Lester, Buchholz, Dice-K, Tim Wakefield, possibly Curt Schilling (doubt it) or a free agent (don’t doubt it).

The 2007 Red Sox rotation was definitely much better than the 2007 Yankees rotation. But if we’re looking into the future, as Wojocassochaokwski is doing with his inclusion of Lester and Buchholz, then I think “half-light-year” – whatever that means – is a little strong. Beckett is better than Wang. Pettitte is better than Matsuzaka. Wakefield is as bad as Mussina. Lester/Buchholz might be inferior to the best two of Hughes/Chamberlain/Kennedy. If the Yankees instead do the smart thing and give the kids all three spots, thereby ditching Mussina, I think the rotations are pretty close. Maybe slight edge to Boston, but close.

This column is trash. Again, Red Sox fans, this is nothing personal. Rather, this is all about the continually disingenuous, lazy, and hypocritical sports media. I understand that the Red Sox won, and are therefore deserving of a certain amount of attention. This should absolutely be the case. But the writing is lazy. There are so many more interesting (and accurate) reasons why the Red Sox won this year. Their bullpen’s effectiveness (Okajima!), considering its Opening Day makeup, was remarkable. Ortiz enjoyed the best season of his career, even while playing injured. Lowell and Pedroia combined to more than compensate for Manny’s down year, as well as Lugo’s horrendous season. Beckett lopped 1.80 runs off his 2006 ERA, and became probably the best pitcher in baseball. Schilling managed a good season, which was pretty improbable.

What I’m saying is that there were lots of good and interesting stories about the Red Sox this year. As I’ve just outlined, many of these stories are actually better explanations for the team’s success than the tired – and often inaccurate – stuff sportswriters pump out. It’s lazy sportswriting, and it’s not all that hard to avoid.