Cliff Lee: The Aftermath

As spoiled Yankee fans, many of us mistakenly anticipated the arrival of Cliff Lee was sure to happen since last offseason. In an unexpected turn of events, Lee surprised everyone and took less money and fewer years to be a part of the Phillies video game rotation (sounds like something that happened this summer). The question that I’m sure most Yankee fans are asking themselves now is: what happens next?

First of all, don’t expect something big to happen right now, or any time in the near future. If you’ve been following Brian Cashman’s moves over the past few years, you can see that he values patience with his organizational talent and is unlikely to empty the farm for Zack Greinke, or any of the other unlikely trades targets that may be thrown around (Felix, Johnson, Latos etc.). So what can we expect as Yankee fans? Here’s what I think.
The Rotation

First and foremost, as much as you and I would love to see it, Joba Chamberlain is not going to get another shot at the rotation. The Yankees screwed that one up and will try to get as much out of him in the bullpen as they can. Second, do not expect Zack Greinke to come to New York. The prospect price is too high. (Notice the issue is not his social anxiety disorder. Greinke would be fine in NY regardless of the speculation, in my opinion). Third, do not even think about the Yankees signing Carl Pavano or any other free agent pitcher left on the market. The scrap heap they would have to choose from includes Pavano, Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis, Kevin Millwood, Brad Penny and Brandon Webb. Pass.
In the near future, expect the Yankees efforts to get Andy Pettitte back for one more year to increase. Make no mistake about it, they need Pettitte. At this point, the rotation is Sabathia, Hughes and Burnett. With Pettitte, the panic button is a little further out of reach.
Also get familiar with Ivan Nova. We’ll see him on the mound a lot this year. Cashman has already said that they like his stuff and they he would have figured prominently into their plans even with Lee in 2011. As a number five starter, the Yankees could do worse. But it’s certainly a question mark for them.
I would bank on things staying relatively quiet until midseason, especially if Pettitte returns. However, if Pettitte stays home, Cashman will have to address the back end of the rotation much quicker.
The Rest of the Roster

Fortunately, the Yankees do not have any gaping holes in the field. The one risk they do have is going into the season expecting Jesus Montero to win the starting catcher spot. With this in mind, look for the Yankees to dump their resources into bringing Russell Martin to the Bronx. He not only gives them Jesus insurance, but he also gives them a trade chip if Montero runs away with the job by midseason.
Another issue is the bench. You have to assume one of Ramiro Pena or Eduardo Nunez will be the utility infielder. Reports have linked the Yankees to Jerry Hairston Jr., who would be a welcome presence on the Yankee bench. 
So if we assume two parts of the bench are Martin and Pena/Nunez, and you assume that the Yankees go after Hairston Jr. or someone of the same mold, that leaves one more hole on the bench: the Marcus Thames role. They need someone who can hit left-handed pitching and possibly play the corner outfield spots. With Matt Diaz off the market, I wonder if they could bring Scott Hairston to the Bronx along with his brother. There were many reports about how much they enjoyed playing together in San Diego, perhaps the Yankees can take advantage of that and bring them both in.
Finally, there is the bullpen. Assuming five spots are taken by Rivera, Chamberlain, Robertson, Logan, and Mitre, that leaves two spots for a lefty and another power arm in the back end. Some left options include Pedro Feliciano, Randy Choate and Will Ohman. Back end type arms include Kerry Wood, Grant Balfour, Bobby Jenks, Jon Rauch, and Matt Guerrier. I would expect the Yankees to be in on Feliciano or Choate as well as Jenks and Wood. Balfour is a type-A free agent, so I have a hard time seeing him as an option. Wood will probably be overpaid by another team to close, which leaves Jenks.
After considering all of this, here are my predictions for the 25-man Opening Day roster:
SP: Sabathia
SP: Hughes
SP: Burnett
SP: Pettitte
SP: Nova
CL: Rivera
RP: Jenks
RP: Chamberlain
RP: Robertson
RP: Logan
RP: Feliciano
RP: Mitre
C: Montero, Martin
1B: Teixeira
2B: Cano
3B: Rodriguez
SS: Jeter
LF: Gardner
CF: Granderson
RF: Swisher
DH: Posada
IF: Nunez
OF: S. Hairston
Util: Hairston Jr.

A Letter to Murray Chass

The following is an email I wrote in response to a post by Murray Chass at his own website.

Mr. Chass,

I have two main issues with your recent blog entry, “The Dark Side To Overtake Cy Young Award”. But before I get to those, I implore you to reflect on one of the main points of your argument. You made reference to Steve Carlton and Murray Dickson, each of whom won an astounding number of games given the team that they pitched for. However, in all the years that this game has been played, it would seem as if it is much more difficult to come up with seasons similar to theirs (success in the win column while playing for awful teams), than it is to come up with seasons similar to Hernandez’s 2010. My point is this: Carlton and Dickson are the exception, not the rule. Doesn’t that point out a flaw in the win statistic to you? That pitchers who perform at a high level in the eyes of all the non-win statistics we have, metric or tradtional, can fail in the one statistic that you value the most. It doesn’t make sense to me. Team wins are clearly the most important thing in baseball and there is certainly value in guys who just plain win ballgames. But when evaluating the performance of individual pitchers, I don’t see how wins are even close to the most effective evaluation tool.

Now onto my issues with your piece. “The development, I believe, is directly related to the growing influence of the new-fangled statistics which readers of this site know I have no use for, a fact that sends stats-freak denizens of the blogosphere into a stats-freak frenzy.” That, as you know, is a direct quote from your piece. How can you, as a journalist for the New York Times, one of the most reputable papers in the whole world, so blatantly disregard the newest advancements in your field? I can understand if you prefer an old-school mentality when talking about baseball. But you, sir, are a professional. Myself and thousands of others who aspire to have a job like yours look up to you. To me, your attitude towards new stats does not say that you have taken the time to understand them and simply prefer your methods. It says that you have not made an effort to understand anything and that you’d rather gain attention for writing to incite conflict. I hope I am wrong, and that you have made the sincere effort to at least educate yourself. Because to me, a baseball writer not at least considering these methods is analogous to a psychologist or biologist disregarding the newest discoveries in their field.

Next, it is extremely offensive and irresponsible to characterize all people that prefer the sabermetric school of thinking. “‘Look out, he’s at it again’ the cry will go out, as if a carrier of the black plague were loose in the land. And a flood of e-mail messages will pour in to my inbox calling me vile names (they are only the best educated and articulate of responders) and telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about.” Again, I am quoting directly from your writing. Perhaps you’ll read this email, perhaps you won’t. Maybe you’ll even recognize that I went out of my way to come across as respectful and intelligent rather than calling you names and insulting you, as you did to me. I understand that you could care less if you offend me, and that is your prerogative as someone in your shoes. But there are many, many intelligent, talented writers that think differently than you and you just disrespected all of them.

My only interest in writing this email is to preserve the relationship between writers like yourself and fans such as myself. You can think what you want, and I may question your rationale, but at the end of the day the only thing I ask is that you give these stats a chance. I’m not asking you to write about them or include them in forming your opinions. I’m asking you to set a good precedent for the next generation of journalists.

Sincerely,

Bryan Geary

Logic — This Is How To Fail At It

At this point in the season, we all know that there’s some conflicting thought over the Cy Young Award. To be honest, there’s not a bad candidate — with Hernandez, Sabathia, Price, Lester, Liriano, and Lee all have excellent seasons. However, there are several wrong choices. And those wrong choices can be narrowed down to anyone not named Felix. But that is one of several opinions out there. The problem is not necessarily that people think CC or Price deserve the award, the problem is the reasoning.

Whatever way you want to break it down – sabermetric stats, traditional stats, grit and guts — the one goal of playing baseball is to win the game. So there is an intrinsic value in a pitcher who has a high win total. But the Cy Young Award is not, by definition, given to the pitcher with the most wins. It is given to the best pitcher. As we can see in 2010, these are not always the same pitcher
Somehow over the years, a narrative has developed around the Cy Young that suggests a pitcher must do three things. First, the pitcher must win a high number of games. Second, he must pitch for a winning team. Third, he must pitch “under pressure”. Notice that nowhere within that narrative do we actually learn anything about how the pitcher has performed. No mention of how many innings he pitched, what his ERA is, his strikeout to walk ratio, and I haven’t even begun talk of sabermetric statistics.
In 2010, a truly stellar season has been tabbed as the number one objective of the “geeks”. Felix Hernandez leads the American League in ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, and games started. All of these are traditional stats that everyone who knows baseball has no problem with. Now, it’s time to get to the good stuff. Hernandez is pitching to a 3.26 xFIP (click for definition), topped by only Francisco Liriano and Jon Lester. But take into account that neither Lester or Liriano have topped 200 IP in 2010 while Hernandez has thrown 241.2. Hernandez has either been the third most valuable, or the most valuable, pitcher by WAR (Wins Above Replacement — a sabermetric stat used to assign value to a player’s performance — takes into account both offense and defense), depending on whether you believe Baseball-Reference (BR) or Fangraphs. According to BR, Hernandez is the most valuable AL pitcher, adding 5.5 wins over a replacement level player. Fangraphs has Hernandez ranked third, behind Cliff Lee and Francisco Liriano, adding 6.1 wins. The point of all of this is not a sabermetrically charged rant, but rather a very simple point. Every method of evaluating pitchers that we have available to us ranks Felix as either the best or one of the three best pitchers in the AL this year, except wins

So what is the real problem here? That Hernandez doesn’t know how to win? Or that the win statistic is completely useless in the evaluation of how well a pitcher has performed. I firmly believe in the latter. But according to Rob Parker and countless others, I’m just a “stat geek” who doesn’t watch baseball but rather I spend hours reviewing spreadsheets and polishing my pocket protector in my mother’s basement while not talking to women. It seems to me that I’m not the ignorant one here.

In a recent article at ESPNNewYork.com, Parker boldly asserted that while Hernandez leads the league in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched, stats should, “never be more important than winning”. Okay, fine. I’m willing to listen, Rob. Enlighten me.

“It would be one thing if Sabathia had 20 wins and a 5-plus ERA. By any standards, that’s not a good ERA, and it would signal to you that that he’s won games despite mediocre pitching. But that’s not the case.”

First, let me call your attention to the consecutive use of “that” in this passage. This is not a typo on my part, it is how the article reads. Noted? Okay, let’s move one. Now to the point; essentially what Rob tells us here is that wins are the most important thing, but only if the pitcher has a good ERA. Read differently — it is useful to evaluate pitchers by their ERA. Yet the fact that Hernandez leads the league in ERA is meaningless. Convenient for him. Moving on:

“And let’s not forget that Sabathia has pitched in games that matter. Hernandez hasn’t pitching in a pressure-packed contest since maybe Opening Day.”

Once again, I’d like to note the incorrect use of the word “pitching”. That is how the article actually reads. Okay, we all saw that. Now we can assess the ridiculousness of this statement. Hernandez hasn’t pitched in a game that matters since Opening Day. So his starts don’t matter to him and his team? They don’t want to win them? Felix isn’t one of the most insane competitors in the game today? Has he ever seen Felix pitch? Maybe they don’t mean as much in terms of the standings, but like his putrid offense, he has no control over that. He pitches to the best of his ability every night just like every other starter. 

Now, the last, most useless assertion in this article and quite possibly of all baseball writing, ever:
“And for all those geeks who believe Sabathia’s success is based on run support by the mighty Yankees’ lineup, they couldn’t be more wrong. If that were the case, A.J. Burnett would have 20 wins, too. But he hasn’t pitched well enough to win.”

First of all, WHAT?! The sense this makes is so minimal it literally makes my brain hurt. For starters, he compares the league leader in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched to a pitcher who has allowed six earned runs or more in a start nine times this year. Nine! By comparison, Hernandez has done this this article after Hernandez lost yesterday after giving up one run on two hits in an eight inning complete game versus Toronto. Take it away Aaron:

“Today marked the fifth time this season Hernandez has failed to get a ‘win’ while allowing zero or one run in seven-plus innings and the 14th time this season he’s failed to get a ‘win’ while throwing a Quality Start. And he’s still yet to get a ‘win’ when allowing more than two runs, because his teammates rarely score more than two runs. For comparison, CC Sabathia has seven wins while allowing more than two runs. In totally unrelated news, the Yankees’ lineup leads the league in scoring.”

So Rob, are you still going to contend that run support has nothing to do with it? Anybody looking to make this argument, can you come up with a counter-point? If you can I would thoroughly enjoy hearing it.

It’s absolutely unfathomable that some journalists in this industry are allowed to get away with completely ignoring recent developments in their field. Only in sports, perhaps baseball in particular, could this happen. In sports, where we are obsessed with the story and oblivious to the results. I don’t need WAR or xFIP to see that Felix has been the best, most dominant, pitcher in the AL this year. Watch him work, look at the facts, open up your eyes.





Why are pitchers getting hurt?

Today we heard the news that Alan Horne is out for the year with yet another arm injury. Over at River Avenue Blues, this sparked some discussion about just why Horne can’t stay on the mound. When his conditioning came into question, I realized just how much there is to say about this part of baseball.
Increasingly, we see pitchers go under the knife at some point during their career. In Horne’s case (this time at least), his rotator cuff is torn (about the worst news you can get as a pitcher). However, one of the most common injuries is a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), leading players to need a replacement procedure you’ll surely know as “Tommy John Surgery”. Incredibly we’ve reached the point that nearly one of nine pitchers in the MLB has undergone the procedure. This leads many of us to ask why — why with all of the medical technology and the advanced training techniques are pitchers getting hurt more and more?
Clearly, one of the main reasons more players are having the surgery is because of just how effective it has become. The success rate for the procedure is around 90% now, with 83% of patients able to resume competing at their previous level. In some cases, pitchers have been known to come back stronger, further emphasizing the faith in the surgery.
But where do the problems stem from? Players train smarter and harder these days, thanks to more research and attention directed at player performance. There are facilities dedicated to getting pitchers in the greatest shape of their lives and some of the stuff they do is mind boggling. Gone are the days of distance running and the heavy lifting. While these aspects of training still have a place, they are more supplemental. Instead, some of the greatest minds in fitness have ushered in a new era of training that relies on medicine balls, bands, kettlebells, resistance machines, chains and so on. Pitchers use these tools primarily in a quick and explosive fashion to help build the fast-twitch muscles that are so important to baseball. Click on this link to see a video of some the training being done at the IMG Baseball Academy (where our very own J.R. Murphy worked out this offseason). It’s really cool stuff.
Is it possible that they have it all wrong and this new training is contributing to the problem? Sure — we thought the Earth was flat at one point too. But personally, having had the opportunity to experience the benefits of this type of training, I don’t think this is the case.
Rather, I believe this problem is rooted deep in baseball’s youth. E. Lyle Cain, MDsees the same pattern:
“The increase in the number of UCL reconstructions being done now can be attributed to many things: improved diagnostic techniques, heightened awareness, increased chance of positive outcome with current surgical techniques, but most importantly, the overuse of young throwing arms,” said Dr. Cain. “In the past 10 years, year-round baseball leagues have proliferated. So the best young pitchers are throwing many more pitches and learning to throw more difficult pitches. It’s great that the surgery is successful, but prevention of the injury should be the goal. Kids should be urged to rest and be careful about saving their arms, rather than leading to long-term problems at a young age.”
Bingo. However, it is not entirely the overuse of young arms (though this is certainly a problem), but the misuse of young arms. In all the paranoia around innings limitations and pitch counts, the baseball community, especially Little League through high school, has lost sight of how to treat a young arm. Consequently, arm injuries are manifesting themselves earlier and more frequently. 
Little League has become one of the worst things about baseball. Surely you’ve all turned on the World Series it holds each summer. What do you see? Countless 12 and 13-year-old kids throwing breaking ball after breaking ball. It’s awful what these kids are doing to their arms. At this age, no one should be throwing a curveball. Kids should be using a fastball and a change-up while learning how to locate. If Little League banned curveballs, I’d be willing to bet that over time there would be a decrease in arm injuries.
Another issue is how players throw and how often they throw. As Dr. Cain mentioned, year-round baseball has evolved into a way of life for many young players. If you’re a pitcher, the opportunity is there to throw as many innings as possible every year. But while game experience is certainly essential to development, there are times when kids would be better served just playing catch.
Going outside and throwing is a lost art. Whether it be because players are busy throwing max effort pitches 11 months out of the year or they’re playing The Show on XBox Live, kids just don’t do it enough. 
The best way to build arm strength is to throw, a lot. It’s likely you’ve heard of players doing a long toss program to build their arm. It’s also likely that said program comes with restrictions — “x” number of throws until you reach 180 feet then work back in while throwing “on a line” (meaning there is no loop to the throw — instead it is thrown as a line drive even if this means bouncing it to your partner). While this isn’t harming anything, it does restrict the growth of the arm. Think about it, if you throw every day for a certain amount of throws at a certain distance, you’ve built a limit for your arm. This type of throwing does not stretch out the arm and allow it to reach its full capacity. 
Rather, long toss should be a day to day thing that does not focus on a specific distance or number of throws. Maybe one day you make 50 throws and reach 200 feet. The next day is 75 and 150 and the third day is 30 and 250. Additionally, throws should be made at different planes and with different grips (this is a great way to teach a changeup). Some throws should be on a line but is also important to air it out. Let the arm dictate what you do and how far you push it. This way, the player will not only learn to be more in touch with their arm, they will acclimate it to making different types of throws. Here is a great article I read awhile back that preaches this method of throwing.
There’s no way of telling what caused Horne’s problems — perhaps it’s just bad fortune. However, I do believe in the things I talked about above. The focus on limits has ruined too many arms to count.
Sources:
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. “‘Tommy John’ Surgery For Elbow Reconstruction Effective, But Number Of B
aseball Players Requiring It Alarming.” ScienceDaily 14 July 2008. Web. 30 March 2010 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080712090831.htm>.

Carroll, Will, and Thomas Gorman. “Inside Tommy John Surgery.” Baseball Prospectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 15 June 2009. Web. 30 Mar 2010. <http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=3486&gt;.

Sims, Abby. “Breaking Down Tommy John Surgery.” WFAN. Intertech Media, LLC, 16 Feb 2010. Web. 30 Mar 2010. <http://www.wfan.com/Breaking-Down-Tommy-John-Surgery/6371045&gt;.

“MLB Preseason Training at IMG Academies.” IMG Academies. Web. 30 Mar 2010. <http://imgatv.endavomedia.com/video/54C04F7FBA/mlb-preseason-training-at-img-academies&gt;.

Jaeger, Alan. “Rediscovering The Lost Art Of Long Toss.” Coach John Peter’s Baseball Tips. Collegiate Baseball Magazine, May 1999. Web. 30 May 2010. <http://baseballtips.com/longtoss.html&gt;.





2010 Pitching Staff

Going into to 2010, there are quite a few questions that need to be addressed in terms of the Yankee pitching staff. While they will still have a legit ace at the top of the rotation in CC Sabathia and the best closer ever in Mariano Rivera, there are holes to fill in between. There is the question of what roles Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain will fill, who will be the fourth and fifth starters, and once again, how they will get the ball to Rivera at the end of games.

The Rotation

Assuming they bring back Andy Pettitte, the top three starters are set just like last year: Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Pettitte. After that, there are decisions to be made. Many pundits debate whether Chamberlain or Hughes should be starters at this point, citing their history of effectiveness out of the bullpen. In my mind, there should be no question: they are both starters until they prove beyond any doubt that they cannot succeed in that role. However, it is fair to assume that the Yankees will at least consider using one of them out of the bullpen.
Recently, Brian Cashman has been quoted as saying any innings limit on both Hughes and Chamberlain would not be significant (via Chad Jennings at Lo Hud). So, I’m going to assume that the rotation will look like this: Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Chamberlain, Hughes. The first four seem to be locks, with Hughes needing to earn his spot out of Spring Training against the likes of Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, Alfredo Aceves and perhaps a free agent like Justin Duchscherer. I believe that Hughes will seize this chance and run with it, putting the others in the bullpen mix, where there are more questions to be answered.
The Bullpen

The bullpen was a huge strength of the 2009 team. Although the numbers will show the Yankees to be in the middle of the pack, there’s no question that once Hughes shifted to the 8th inning role, they were one of, if not the most dominant bullpens in the league. Other major contributors to the success were Aceves, David Robertson, Phil Coke and the better-late-than-never, Damaso Marte. If you want to read more about the bullpen makeover, check out this article from River Avenue Blues.
Going into 2010, the main question is, once again, who will get the ball to Mo. There are plenty of people who want to see either Joba or Hughes stay in the pen and become the Mo’s heir apparent. However, I believe they have other answers internally that will allow them to give those two the chance to succeed in the roles where they will be most valuable to the organization. The emergence of Robertson this year was a pleasant surprise. He showed good velocity and control to go with a plus curveball as averaged 12.98 strikeouts per nine innings (only Broxton had a better average among pitchers with significant inning totals). He has a chance to turn into an elite late inning pitcher with that kind of swing and miss stuff.
I see the 2010 bullpen looking something like this: Rivera, Robertson, Marte, Aceves, Coke, Mark Melancon, Brian Bruney/Gaudin. Robertson and Marte should be able to handle the eighth inning duties with Aceves, Melancon and Coke pitching the middle innings. And let’s face it, if there is no other solution, they always have the option to move Joba or Hughes back into the bullpen.
Bold Predictions

David Robertson emerges as the clear-cut eighth inning guy as well as the heir to Mo’s throne.
Joba Chamberlain pitches at least 180 innings and wins 17 games with a sub 3.50 ERA. He will become the clear number two behind Sabathia.
AJ Burnett experiences a World Series hangover and spends significant time on the DL.
Chad Gaudin will be a reliable and effective spot starter.
Ian Kennedy will be traded.

Waiting for the Stove to Heat Up

Now that we’ve all had a few weeks to linger in the glory of World Championship number 27, I think all of our minds are starting to wander towards what offseason moves Cashman and company are going to make in preparation for the title defense of 2010. Let’s take a look at some of the rumors we’ve heard already.

John Lackey:

The top free agent pitcher of the offseason, Lackey’s name has been connected to the Yankees through various media sources. The school of thought is that the Bombers have some rotation questions and a veteran guy like Lackey would help to ease those concerns. This notion certainly has its merit: Lackey has been the ace of the Angels staff really since 2002, when he won Game 7 of the World Series on three days rest as a rookie. Coincidentally, this is also when he earned his reputation as a big game pitcher. He proved both of these claims in this year’s ALCS, with two strong starts.
However, Lackey is said to be looking for a contract similar to, if not better than AJ Burnett’s (5 years/$82.5 million). Should the Yankees be willing to commit that type of money to a 31-year-old who has missed time in the past two seasons with elbow trouble? In my opinion, absolutely not. The Yankees have enough depth (assuming they bring Pettitte back) to pass over Lackey and wait for next year’s free agent pitching class, which includes the likes of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, possibly Matt Cain, Josh Beckett and Brandon Webb. Bringing a pitcher like Justin Duchscherer, who can start and relieve, would be a must more cost-effective solution. Besides, we know that if the All-Star break comes around and they need a pitcher, they have the resources to make a move.
Matt Holliday:

Holliday is the best position player of this year’s free agent class. Understandably, he has been linked to the Yankees because they will have an opening in left-field if they choose not to bring back Johnny Damon. The logic here is simple: Holliday is younger, a better defender and another powerful bat to compliment the Yankee offense. However, he is a Scott Boras client. Boras has already said he will be trying to get a contract similar to that of Mark Teixeira for his client. While you’d love to have a player like Holliday, like Lackey, you have to consider the implications of giving him that type of a contract.
A big concern that slowed the trade market for Holliday last winter was fear of his numbers away from the hitter-friendly Coors Field. In 2007, the year he should have been the National League MVP, he hit .340 with 36 home runs and 137 RBI, while OPS-ing an insane 1.012. While those are certainly legitimate numbers, he was not nearly as lethal away from Coors. While he still hit .301 on the road, only 11 of his 36 home runs and 55 of his 137 RBI’s came away from home. His OPS and SLG percentage also both took significant hits on the road: while his OPS was 1.157 at home, it was merely .860 away from Coors, and his SLG percentage dropped from a ridiculous .722 at home, to a pedestrian .485 on the road. 
Holliday certainly did nothing to ease his concerns with a slow start in Oakland this spring, before righting the ship after a mid-season trade to St. Louis. This raised yet another question: can he handle the American League? While I have no doubts he is an established player who could help the Yankees, there’s no way I’m investing the type of money Boras wants into a player with those questions.
Curtis Granderson:

Recently made available (along with SP Edwin Jackson) by Tigers GM Dave Dambrowski, much speculation has already risen about New York’s interest in the left-handed hitting center fielder. Much like Holliday, Granderson broke out in 2007, hitting .302 with 23 home runs and 78 RBI. He stole 26 bases, hit 38 doubles and tripled 23 times. It was a monster offensive year all-around for Granderson, as he put himself on the map in a big way. He also has earned a reputation as an above-average center fielder, making him a seemingly perfect fit in New York. However, the concern with Granderson also comes via the splits.
Even in his monster year of 2007, Granderson has struggled with left-handed pitching. That year, he hit a measly .160 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI of lefties. He also had an extremely low OPS of .494. In 2009, these struggles continued in a big way: his triple slash line (BA/OBP/SLG) was a very weak .183/.245/.239, good for an OPS of .484. Only 2 of his 30 home runs in 2009 came off lefties and he also struck out 42 times in 180 at-bats against southpaws. Keith Law went so far as to say Granderson is now exclusively a “platoon player”. So once again, maybe he’s the type of guy you’d like to see in Pinstripes, but a what cost? A trade for Granderson would almost certainly cost them Austin Jackson and at least one pitcher of the Ian Kennedy/Ivan Nova mold. If you ask me, that’s too much to pay when there are other options for 2010 and Carl Crawford as a free agent in 2011.
Roy Halladay:

There are bound to be numerous rumors of the Yankees trading for “Doc” Halladay this offseason. And in all fairness, it’s certainly something to get excited about. Halladay is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. He’s durable (9 complete games in three different seasons), reliable, and has proven effective in the AL East, something fans have to like. There’s nothing about Halladay that would make me not want him on any team I was a fan of. However, the price tag may be a little much for my liking, especially when he’ll be a free agent next winter.
Any trade for Halladay would almost certainly center around Yankee stud-prospect, Jesus Montero. On top of that, the Jays would likely ask for one of Hughes or Joba, in addition to one or more of the other top arms in the system (Kennedy, Nova, Zach McCallister and etc.) For me, that’s too much for one year of Halladay. To steal a line from Mike Axisa over at River Avenue Blues, if it were last year’s deadline it would be different. Then you’d be looking at a year and a half of “Doc” and possibly two championships. Now, it seems silly to give up that much talent when you’d just have to pay him for 2011. To me, it’d be better to wait a year, then go get him if they see fit.
So now that we’ve looked at some of the major story lines&
nbsp;so far this offseason, it’s time for me to put on the GM hat. First, let’s deal with the Yankee free agents: Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Andy Pettitte, Jerry Hairston Jr., Jose Molina, Eric Hinske and Xavier Nady. If I could bring both Damon and Matsui back on affordable 1+1 deals (1-year with team option for 2011), I would do it in a heartbeat. I think this group could win it all again next year and there’s no reason not to have them both back if they can do it reasonably. Next, bringing back Pettitte is a no-brainer, a 1-year deal about $10 million sounds okay to me. If Hairston can be had for at least one more year at a reasonable price, I say he comes back as well. As for Hinske and Molina, in my mind they can both walk. Francisco Cervelli becomes the back-up catcher while Juan Miranda takes Hinske’s place as the left-handed bat off the bench. Finally, we come to Nady. Personally, I’d like to see him back on a 1-year, incentive type deal. However, I don’t see this happening, as he’s too much of a risk at this point and I predict he’ll end up somewhere in the NL.
At long last, we come to non-Yankee free agents. I’ve already voiced my disapproval for signing Lackey and Holliday, and I feel the same way about Jason Bay, Jermaine Dye, Vladimir Guerrero, Tim Hudson, Randy Wolf, Jason Marquis, Joel Pinero and Eric Bedard. Basically, I think this year’s free-agent class sucks, and none of them are worth big money. However, there are a few guys I wouldn’t mind the Yankees taking a run at. To start, I think Mike Cameron would be a perfect fit as a one year stopgap in the Yankee outfield until Austin Jackson is ready (presumably in 2011). He could play center, which moves Melky Cabrera over to left and instantly improves their outfield defense. Cameron would also provide some pop in the Yankee lineup. I’ve already mentioned Duchscherer as a pitching target, as I think he makes perfect sense for 2010. He makes a perfect 6th starter (after Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Joba and Hughes) and has pitched in relief before which would provide great depth to their middle relief corps. Finally, if the Yanks don’t bring back Matsui, they are likely to play Jorge Posada more at DH. If they’re not comfortable with Cervelli catching an increased number of games, a veteran back-up like Gregg Zaun makes a lot of sense. I say Zaun and not Molina because while Molina is great behind the dish, he flat out can’t hit, and Zaun would provide a little more offense.
So there you have it. As you can see, I’m not looking for a ton of blockbuster moves this winter. This Yankee team is good enough to win again. The free agents I have my eye on are coming next year.

2009 WORLD CHAMPS! The trophy is back where it belongs

yanks win.JPGWe Yankee fans won’t get much sympathy from the folks in Chicago or Cleveland, but it sure has been a long wait for the Yankee faithful. It has been nine long, sometimes painful, years since the Yankees last hoisted the trophy. Back then I was only ten years old, and I thought the Yankees won the World Series every year. I was incredibly spoiled as a young fan, as I unknowingly watched one of the most special teams in the history of baseball win four World Series in five years. My father always told me that someday I’ll realize how special that group really was, and I’ll realize how much I took it for granted as a young kid.

I’m 19 years old now. I’m a sophomore journalism student at Saint Michael’s college. I’m still a die hard Yankee fan. And let me tell you, I’m not taking anything for granted this time baby. I still remember crying in 2001 after the Diamondbacks stole Game 7 to win the series. I still remember being shocked when the Yankees, fresh off Boonie’s blast to send them to the World Series, looked so bad against the Marlins in 2003. I especially remember feeling so ashamed and embarrassed in 2004 that I begged my parents to let me stay home from school. And of course, I remember last year; how could the Yankees not even make the playoffs? It was enough to see them merely sneak in with the Wild Card the year before, but they had not missed the playoffs since before I was watching baseball. As much as all of that sucked, it made last night that much sweeter.
Let’s face it, as fans of the greatest sports franchise in the world, we’re constantly spoiled; not only with championships but with the greatest ownership, players, facilities and fellow fans. It’s a lot of fun loving a team everyone else hates so much. For me, 2008 was my first taste of what it felt like to be a fan of one the 22 teams that don’t make the playoffs every year. All the sudden, the October baseball I looked forward to so much every year was pointless and boring. I didn’t care about anything except seeing the Sox lose. But for most teams, missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years would often be the start of a downward trend. Not the Yankees. They treated us to one of the greatest seasons ever in 2009.
It was all over the headlines last off-season: big changes are coming. I knew they needed pitching, but I was weary of handing out big contracts to free agent arms after the Pavano, Brown, Wright (and etc.) sagas. I was a big fan of not trading for Santana the previous winter and holding on to Hughes, Joba and Kennedy. So when the Yanks shelled out three contracts worth $423.5 million dollars for CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett, I was a bit skeptical and nervous. I had already seen so many pitchers fail in the Bronx, and I had seen Jason Giambi not live up to the hype as a free agent. I really had no idea what 2009 had in store for us.
Luckily for all of us, Carston Charles was every bit the ace we hoped he’d be; Mark Teixeira was a monster both offensively and defensively his first year in pinstripes; and AJ Burnett, while sometimes frustrating, pitched plenty of big games, didn’t miss a start, and ultimately was a huge asset for the team. In year one for this trio, they certainly didn’t disappoint. 
So the mainstream media and bitter fans can bitch and moan all they want about how much money the Yanks spent on this season. But none of them can take away the trophy. No one can take away all the walk-offs, all the classic games and most of all, no one can take away our memories of watching the Bombers in ’09. Live it up Yankee fans. And let’s hope it’s not another nine years before number 28.

If they could do it over again…

The decision to start AJ Burnett on three days rest in Game 5 was scrutinized every which way. Some were fervently in favor of the move, citing Burnett’s history on three days rest (4-0, 2.33 ERA in his career) as well as the alternative, starting Chad Gaudin, as justification. Others clamored for Gaudin simply because it was silly to waste Burnett against Lee (who gave up five earned last night…by the way) and because it was set up AJ and Andy on full rest for the final two games. 

We all saw the game; it was quite obvious that AJ had nothing last night. From the first curveball he threw to Rollins, you could tell that he didn’t have the same touch as his did in Game 2. Sure enough, on TV, on the message boards and everywhere else, the reason for his performance was absolutely that he pitched on three days rest. Of course there were still the people that maintained starting AJ was the right move, it simply backfired; however, the other side became increasingly louder, and it was hard not to wonder if maybe they were right.
Here’s what we know: sometimes, AJ does this; there’s no guarantee he would have been any better on full rest; it’s likely Gaudin (who has pitched 2.1 innings in all of October and November) would have been bad as well. Over at River Avenue Blues, Mike Axisa had this to say about Game 5: “AJ Burnett completely crapped the bed, which had little to do with short rest and almost everything to do with the fact that he’s AJ Burnett”I could not agree more. 
Bottom line is that even with the horrible efforts of both AJ and Phil Coke, the Yankees still brought the tying run to the plate in the 9th inning. The offense scored five earned runs of Lee last night in seven innings. They have now scored 20 runs in the last three games. All is not lost! And if the thought of Pettitte on three days rest scares you, try this on for size. What if the Yankees started Gaudin last night, and he got rocked. Then what if a fully rested Burnett blows up in Game 6 like he did last night. You can say, “Well, they would have Pettitte and Sabathia for Game 7″, and you would be right, but I have to say, I like the position the Yankees are in right now much more.
In closing, try to remember how crazy the Bronx will be tomorrow night. Try to remember that this is the second time the Yankees will have seen Pedro; if they were that much better against Lee last night, what do you think they’ll do to Pedro? Try to remember that they have one Andrew Eugene Pettitte on the mound. You may still think that Girardi made the wrong move, but you have to believe the Yankees have still got the Phillies jugular in their sights.

Pettitte as a Hall of Famer?

I was doing my usual browsing of baseball related articles and blogs this morning. Usually this consists of River Avenue Blues, Lo Hud, ESPN.com, MLB.com, and Pinstripe Alley. However, this morning, I was wondering how the blogfather, Peter Abraham, was doing over at the Boston Globe. (For those of you who don’t know who Peter is, he is the original author of the Lo Hud Yankees Blog; he moved to the Boston Globe this fall). In the sports section of the Globe, I found an interesting article by Nick Cafardo on the Hall of Fame candidacy of one Andrew Eugene Pettitte.

Pettitte is perfect example of a “borderline” Hall of Famer. He has been remarkably consistent during his career. He spent most of his career in what many say is the toughest division in baseball, and was very successful. He has also been, for the most part, an incredible clutch performer on baseball’s biggest stage. He has a Major League record 17 postseason wins and could add to that total if the Phillies push the series to a sixth game.

But on the other side of all of the overwhelming positives of his career are the negatives. He has only 229 career wins. He is an admitted HGH user. Also, his 3.91 career ERA is a bit higher than the typical inductee.

Cafardo does an excellent job in his article of clearly showing both sides of the argument. He goes on to quote various baseball writers and baseball people, who are split on the issue. Some say his remarkable consistency and postseason track record are enough. Others argue that he is not a dominant pitcher, and while he has been consistent, he does not belong in the conversations with baseball’s elite.

I tend to agree that Pettitte’s consistency (especially in the midst of baseball’s steroid age) and success in the postseason are enough to reserve a spot in Cooperstown. However, I believe Buck Martinez (from Cafardo’s article) sums up the issue appropriately: “Yes, he should get in, but not before Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris”. I could not agree more with this. Dandy Andy, in my mind, has been more than good enough over the years, but if Blyleven can’t get in, how do you justify allowing Pettitte in?

All of this said, Andy can make this much more of a sure thing by pitching two or three more successful years. Here’s hoping he’s ready to make one more great postseason start if the Yankees need him in Game 6. 

MLB Umps

The umpires, as a whole, have been the brunt of a LOT of criticism this post season. From Joe Mauer’s ball down the line, to the Youka being “off” the bag against the Angels, to the ball that hit Chase Utley in the box, the division series was pretty brutal from an officiating stand point. I’ve heard it all in terms of the solution to the problem; from robots to complete instant replay. But then, on Saturday night in the midst of an extra-inning classic, we saw something else.

Jerry Layne made the correct call on a play at second base. On a routine double play ball, Maicer Izturis flipped to shortstop Erick Aybar, who appeared to throw to first for your run-of-the-mill 4-6-3 double play. Just before I could let a few F-bombs fly and smack my hand on the couch, Layne signaled that Aybar was off the bag. When I saw the replay it wasn’t even close; Aybar was at least six inches away from the bag and never even made an attempt at swiping it with his foot. Layne clearly made the right call and Scioscia jogged out to engage in the obligatory argument. I can’t blame him, it was an important play and he had no way of knowing the call was correct. However, the broadcasters and numerous journalists who saw the replay I can blame.
Buck and McCarver, who I can’t stand to begin with, immediately began talking about the “neighborhood” rule, implying that because Aybar was close to the bag, the runner should have been called out. I heard analysts on various networks say that they were glad the play didn’t factor into the result of the game. It just didn’t make sense to me how the same people can criticize umpires so belligerently when they miss a call at first that is so close you need “x-mo” (or whatever Fox wants to call it) to legitimately tell.
Layne should be lauded for not only the call, but having the fortitude to make it when many “baseball” people say Aybar was “close enough”. The neighborhood rule isn’t a catch all for physical errors around the second base bag. If a shortstop swipes the bag while he comes across for the throw and drags his foot off a split second before the ball hits his glove, I’m okay with calling the runner out. However, if the shortstop straddles the bag with both feet at least six inches away as Aybar did, the call should be made exactly how Layne made it.
 
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