Friday, August 15, 2008

The Yanks are coming... Maybe...

The following piece is a column from one of our guest writers, Geoff, who runs the Bleeding Pinstripes. Visit his site and give him the TABC bump.

geoff I’ve been promising my boy Reid a piece for a while now on the Yankees’ chances this year, and since I’m waiting for my iPhone to back up anyway, here goes.

First let’s get up to speed on where we are. My thought going into the recent brutal road trip, and even the few series’ before (Boston, Minnesota, Anaheim, Baltimore) was that the Yankees season would take shape by the time they got back.

Not good news.

And last week I was screaming for the Yankees to send Melky down to triple A, as I saw his usefulness solely as an outfielder and a pinch runner; two roles I felt Brett Gardiner was better suited for. And I was railing against starting Richie Sexson against lefties, preferring to see him strictly used as a pinch hitter. So what happens next? Melky gets demoted, Gardiner is recalled, and Sexson is waived.

Worse news.

I know. Sounds a bit off. I’m contradicting myself. But the truth is – what do I know? Nothing. I was the guy screaming for Tony Womack to get more playing time in ’05; that Robinson Cano was a useless rookie. I was the guy saying that Posada was going to fade last year and end up at .270. That David Archuleta was going to get voted off the second week of American Idol because he was such a drippy little wuss. I shouldn’t be right. This can’t be good...

So what are the Yanks’ chances? If you ask me, it always comes down to one key thing. Schedule. It’s huge before the season even starts. Look at the Yankees. Every year they play the Angels ten times. And always predominantly on the road. Like clockwork. It’s a marquee match-up, and the Angels are the one and only team that have had the Yankees’ number. You think MLB is going to pass that up? Since the days of the unbalanced schedule, there is only one team outside of their division that the Yankees have played ten times. Yup. And it happens almost every year. And it’s not just the Yankees. The schedule tells a lot of tales before the first pitch on the first Sunday night. Look at the Mets. Every year they play six brutal games against the Yankees. They lost the NL East to the Phillies on the last day of the season last year. Do you think the Phillies still would have pulled that off if they were forced to play the Yankees six times while the Mets got to kick around Baltimore and whoever else? How about the Blue Jays? They were way better than the Cardinals when the final out was called on the 2006 regular season. Better record, better team, you name it. They just had the misfortune of being fed to the Yankees and Red Sox 38 times. So the Jays don’t even approach the playoffs, and the Cardinals get a shot at upset glory. While we’re at it, the Red Sox might be the best example. Good enough to win two World Championships in four years, good enough to elicit whispers of “dynasty?” around the sports world. Imagine. They’ve only won their own division once in the last thirteen years. And even that was on the strength of exactly one swing game with the mighty Yankees. Point is, the schedule is huge. And it gets more huge as the games get ticked off and teams make moves to shore themselves up for the stretch run as we hit the last weeks of August.

So with that said, the theme for the last twenty-three Yankee games was to simply hang on. This looked to be their most difficult stretch of the season. Three at Boston, three against Minnesota, four against LA, three against Baltimore, four at Texas, three more at LA, and three in Minnesota to close it. Twenty-three brutal games. And as I said, it didn’t exactly go swimmingly. They were 10-7 in the first 17. Then they needed to grasp and clutch for some wins while Boston and Tampa played the Royals and Seattle, over and over. They didn’t. They lost 5 of 6, with the lone win coming in 12 innings. So now they’re a big pile of games behind Boston and a big pile of games behind Tampa.

So what’s next. Tampa is going to lose. Probably a lot. Tampa is not a good road team. They’ve been good lately, but that’s mostly because they’ve played the Royals, the Mariners, and the recently castrated A’s. They did a great job of seizing on a bizarre schedule that featured a lopsided number of early games at home. When they get back East they’re going to lose. They’re going to lose to the Yankees and they’re going to lose to the Red Sox. Especially since they’ve been riddled with injuries that aren’t going to get better. The problem is they’re so far out in front it might not matter. To the Yankees, anyway. I think the Red Sox are going to catch them. The Red Sox aren’t going to lose any ground. They don’t play well on the road either, but they’re a veteran team that has incredible resilience and knows how to win. They’re loaded with tough outs and they’re never out of a ballgame. But they’ve also been bitten by injuries, which is going to keep them from the World Series, but I think they win the East.

So can the Yankees catch the Rays and everyone else in front of them for the Wildcard? They could. But it’s going to be so difficult to make up all that ground. On paper they are more talented than anybody outside of the Red Sox and the Angels. And they, too, are a proud veteran team that always seems to find a gear to get there. I think they need to get Hughes back healthy (I’m not even going to mention Pavano, because that truly would be hilarious), and they need to get Joba back healthy. And if they get the Ferocious Lion, Hideki Matsui, back in any meaningful way, they could make a run. The schedule includes lots of Boston (always difficult but never scary for the Yankees this time of year), and three more against the Angels (0-3). Other than that there are a lot of winnable games against beatable teams.

Bottom line: unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely.

We’re probably looking at the Angels feeding on the hapless National League to give Mike Scoscia his second piece of Orange County hardware. Probably. But probably isn’t definitely. That’s why they play the games, as the old saying goes. What I can say definitely, is that my boys and I will be waving the flag in section 24 at the Stadium until the last pitch is thrown. Right until the end.

And we’ll be rooting like hell for the Yankees to win the World Series.

Thanks to Geoff. Again, visit his blog, the Bleeding Pinstripes.

Rocky Road (Bleeding Pinstripes) - August 12th, 2008

"It's time to put all the women and children to bed"

gary sheffield Some of you may remember an article that appeared in the October 11, 2004 issue of Sports Illustrated. The article was titled, "Swinging Away," and it was an inside look at Gary Sheffield. In the article, Tom Verducci recalls that, in Gary's first season with the Yankees in 2004, he was hitting only .265, with three home runs in 44 games. Gary felt as if the Yankees didn't want him on their team. So he went to Joe Torre's office, and talked it over. When he emerged, he called his uncle, Dwight Gooden, and exclaimed, "They ain't seen me hit yet, but I'm about to get started. It's time to put all the women and children to bed."

This is possibly one of the best quotes that will appear here on TABC. Right up there with, "it makes my head explode," or, "You say 'bullpen by committee' and that sounds like everybody, and it's not everybody," or, "walks just clog the bases for guys that can actually run." However, what really sets this line apart from the others is what happened after. That night, Sheffield smacked four hits and drove in six runs. The following night, he had another three hits. In the rest of the season, he drove in 102 runs in 110 games, and hit 33 home runs.

All this, believe it or not, fits into the current conflagration with Gary Sheffield here in Detroit. Gary Sheffield, I have always said, can hit on command. For the most part, he hits what he wants, when he wants. In Detroit, he has been swinging for the fences, every time up. He's eight homers away from 500, and he desperately wants to get there. He's hitting .220, and he strikes out 25% of the time he steps up to the plate. I was at the game on Monday night, and every time Sheffield stepped up he was booed, tremendously. he was booed when he flied out, when he struck out looking, and hell, he was even booed when he drew a walk. He was then placed on waivers. The next game -- Tuesday -- Sheffield hit two home runs.

I've always wondered why the Tigers signed Sheffield. He's 39 years old. And now it looks as if they won't be able to move him, even on waivers, ($30 million contract?) And is it any wonder? Sheffield went public with comments that he's unhappy with the role he's playing on this team. When he signed in Detroit, he did so with the explicit understanding that he would be doing a lot of DH-ing. He was put in left when the Tigers released Jacque Jones. He couldn't play left, because he couldn't throw the ball. He now complains that he is part of a platoon. As Jim Leyland so eloquently put it, "anybody who has a brain knows that's not a platoon." Unfortunately, this looks really bad for Gary. I can understand where he is coming from -- he wants more playing time, and although he didn't say it, he probably believes he would play better if he was a regular starter. Unfortunately, you can't start a guy everyday who can't field and hits .220.

At some point, Gary is going to have to accept his role as a part time DH. He simply can't produce at the level he used to, because he's gotten old. It can't be easy for a guy who was a star to realize that he is now a low-level support player, but that's what he needs to do. And after that, he should hit his 500th home run, take a bow, and calmly exit the venue.

Swinging Away (Sports Illustrated) - October 11th, 2004
"It makes my head explode" - June 12th, 2007
Kerry Wood and Dusty Baker - May 1st, 2005

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Is Manny apprised of his own situation?

The last few weeks have seen a resurgence of Manny-talk throughout the country. But I have just one question -- in the midst of all of this, has anyone mentioned how awkward it is that Joe Torre is managing Manny Ramirez? In fact, is Manny even aware of it himself? Joe Torre's new star is the man that likely precipitated his demise in New York. This fact appears totally lost on Manny Ramirez.

But this is just where the fun starts. Recall that Manny has, in the past several years, demanded trades from Boston. Remember that, two days after being traded to Los Angeles, the jovial Ramirez explained that, "I like this city, the environment, the energy, the fans. I think that I'll play here for the remainder of my career." But now, Manny want out of Los Angeles.

Apparently, unnamed sources  have indicated that Manny wants to sign next year with the Yankees. Even more interesting, they claim that Manny's chief reason for doing so would be to get back at the Red Sox. This seems like typical Manny bull-headed-ness. "I want out of Boston. I love LA. I want out of LA. I want into New York." I fear that moving to so many new places might really confuse him.

The Yankees have to at least try to sign the guy if he comes their way, right? You'd be stupid not to, right? Personally, I don't think it will even be an issue. From what I gather, there is about a one in a million chance that Manny actually knows what team he is playing for, where he lives, what he's doing, etc. He just goes where they tell him to, but once he gets into the box, he's in his own world. If they throw some money at the guy -- which the Dodgers seem to do with alarming ease -- they can keep him around until he turns 60.

The Greatest Play of All Time - February 28th, 2006
What business does Andruw Jones have on a diamond? - August 4, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008

Vlad Guerrero has destroyed your fantasy team

If you are like 100% of fantasy owners, you own Vladimir Guerrero. And, unless your league rewards points for mediocre play, Vlad has ruined your chances of winning anything. Vlad is not playing terribly. He is still a decent start. But he's probably not the 2nd or 3rd round pick that you threw down for. For a guy who has a career average of .322, a drop to .282 means mediocre play. His OBP, at .346, is 40 points off his career average. Most discouraging is the .479 SLG%, which is 100 points off his career average.

Quite frankly, he's playing worse than the numbers tell you, because you can never tell when he's going to tee off. He's either going to get 3 walks and 2 singles all week, or he's going to hit 3 home runs and get 2 doubles, while knocking in 9. It's like playing Russian Roulette with your roster.

The truth is that Vlad is 32, and this decline is to be expected. Vlad isn't going to come back next year and return to his old self, no matter how much they pay him. Of course, I would still rather get a Vladimir Guerrero for my $15 million than an Andruw Jones, or a Barry Zito.

What business does Andruw Jones have on a diamond? - August 4th, 2008

What business does Andruw Jones have on a diamond?

andruw jones Andruw Jones, as you may know, has been struggling as of late. He is not hitting the baseball. Jones finished the 2007 season with the Braves with a shiny .222 average and a glimmering .311 OBP. Not quite what you expect from a guy making $14 million a year. After that disaster of a season, Jones declared himself a free agent. You'd think that the race to sign a guy coming off a season like that wouldn't have many competitors, and you would be right. Unless, of course, your name is Ned Colletti, GM, LA Dodgers. Colletti decided that Andruw Jones was the big bat his team needed. Colletti -- the only GM interested in signing Jones besides Royals GM Dayton Moore -- rewarded Jones handsomely, signing him to a 2-year, $36.2 million deal. Jones received a $12.2 million signing bonus, earns $9 million in 2008, and $15 million in 2009. Usually, when you sign a suspect player, you leave your back door open, your ramp down, and your stairway fully extended. Not Ned! He locked himself in, big time. The Red Sox couldn't move Manny when he was making $17 million a year. Do the Dodgers have any chance of moving a scrub like Jones when he is set to make $15 million next year? No.

Well, Jones didn't disappoint. He is batting .161, with a .260 OBP. He has 2 HR, and has knocked in 13 runs. His SLG% is .241 -- 20 points lower than his OBP. "Well, he must not be starting a lot," you say. Wrong. Jones has racked up 199 at bats, more than half of what would be expected if he was a full time starter. He is on track to knock in 23 runs all season. If we multiply that projection to assume that he makes 550 at bats in the season -- a starter's number -- he would knock in 37 runs. Probably not the big bat Colletti had in mind.

Now, all these numbers are interesting. But here is the real kicker. Jones has played in every single game since July 4th, when he came off the DL. Prior to his injury, he had played in all but one game this season.

Unbelievable. The guy is giving away outs to the opposing team, and you continue to throw him out there every single night. And, Jones doesn't even try to move the ball. Of his 227 plate appearances, 73 have ended in strike outs. Every three times Jones steps to the plate, he strikes out once. By comparison, Adam Dunn -- who had 195 K's in 2004, which at the time was an MLB record* -- does so once in every four plate appearances. Why is the NL West incapable of making smart personnel decisions? What is it about that division that makes them unable to resist signing bad players to monster contracts? Barry Zito, Mike Hampton, Andruw Jones, just off the top of my head.

Statistical proof that Andruw Jones has stopped hitting - June 23rd, 2007
If someone handed you $15 million... - May 2nd, 2008

*Thanks to our anonymous commenter for the correction.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Todd Jones has some advice for you

todd jones As you may be aware, Todd Jones was recently removed from the closer's role with the Tigers and place on the Disabled List. Jones, who managed to blow only 3 saves while earning his 5.05 ERA and 1.51 WHIP, has some advice for those youngsters out there who want to succeed where he failed. "If I could recommend one thing," Jones opined, "it would be: Don't get old."

Thanks, Todd, for the valuable life lesson. Pausing time will usually get you out of those trouble spots. Jones, who was put in the DL with tendonitis of the shoulder variety, is the Tiger's deputy Timekeeper, clocking in at 40 years of age; (Kenny Rogers, at 43, is the real Father Time on this team.) I will be the first to admit to sending text messages to the tune of, "We're up by one and they just brought Jones. Uh oh." Let us critically analyze Jones' season here. His 5.05 ERA is atrocious. But how much damage could he have possibly done to the team if he only blew three saves?

Jones earned 4 wins in addition to his 18 saves; all 4 wins came after Jones preserved a tie game in the top of the 9th inning, and the Tigers took the lead in the bottom. So, in effect, these are super saves. In these appearances, plus his successful saves, Jones allowed only 3 ER in 21 IP. This gives him an ERA of 1.29 -- not bad at all. Then there are the blown saves. In the 2.1 innings he pitched that resulted in blown saves, he allowed 7 ER, for an ERA around 27. What sets the Tigers apart from other teams, however, is that on game day the offense is either hitting on all cylinders or still in bed. Jones has only been given 21 save opportunities two-thirds of the way through the season. Joe Nathan, of the Twins, has saved 30 games in 32 opportunities, despite his team winning only 6 more games. As a result, Jones has found himself pitching in many non-save situations. In the 19 games where Jones did not factor into the decision, he went 17.2 innings and allowed 13 ER. This makes for a 6.62 ERA. Does this prove the idea that closers can't pitch in non-save situations?

  IP App. ER
Wins + Saves 21 22 3
Blown Saves 2.1 3 7
Non-save sit. 17.2 19 13

One five-year old fan, while Jones was signing his baseball, remarked, "Look Mom, heart attack Jones is signing my ball!" Why is Jones one of the most heavily criticized men in Metro Detroit? I believe it is, simply, the result of Jones' tendency to put a lot of men on base, his collection of less-than-stunning stats (that 5.05 ERA,) and the fact that he seems to allow a run half the time he takes the field. Now, in my heart of hearts, I know that Todd Jones is not a good pitcher. I know he lets men on like a desperate lady of the night. But why do the numbers imply that he isn't really that bad?

The misconception here is that Jones is incapable of saving games. In 22 saves and wins, he gave up earned runs on three occasions, and only allowed only one run in each time. Of the 25 times Jones was handed the ball with Tigers tied or up by three or fewer runs, Jones did his job 22 times. Thats an 88% success rate. In those 25 appearances, he allowed 10 ER, for an ERA of 3.86. Not bad for a 40-year-old who Tiger Fan has essentially run out of town.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Is Rich Harden Pitching in God Mode?

rich hardenFor those of you who haven't been following Rich Harden lately, be prepared to be amazed. Harden, who busted onto the scene with the A's in 2004 -- which was also the last time he started more than 20 games -- has returned, and is pitching in rare form, (which means he is pitching in real major league games, as opposed to those mysterious simulated games.) He spent five weeks on the sidelines this year with a strained right shoulder earlier in the season. Shortly after his return, he was traded to the Cubs. And Harden has managed to remain healthy for a solid three months now, and things seem to be back on track.

Most importantly, Harden is owning the National League. Now, we know that the when a pitcher and batter face each other for the first time, the advantage generally lies with the pitcher. And this is why pitchers, when changing leagues, tend to perform better, (see Bronson Arroyo.) In four starts with the Cubs, Harden's stats are as follows:

SF - 5.1 5 0 3 10
ARI L 7.0 1 1 2 10
FLA - 5.0 2 1 3 10
MIL W 7.0 6 1 0 9
TOTAL 1-1 24.1 14 3 8 39

Those are pretty impressive numbers. Simply put, since joining the National League, Harden has gone off on NL batters. Especially with the 14.43K/9IP. The 1.11 ERA and the 0.91 WHIP? These are God numbers. Overall, Harden's season numbers aren't that far off the mark either. Despite having pitched 61 fewer innings than strikeout leader CC Sabathia, (101 v. 162), Harden has just 26 fewer strikeouts, (131 v. 157). Harden's season ERA is 2.04, and his WHIP is 1.09. And of course, that 11.64K/9IP. (Scott Kazmir is in 2nd place among full time starters, with 9.95K/9IP.) Opponents are batting .196 against him. Let me repeat that -- when you go up against Rich Harden, you are essentially a Mendoza Line Hitter.

Quite frankly, Mr. Harden is spewing fire out of his right arm. And if that shoulder stays intact, the Cubs would do well to sign this man for a very, very long time, (he is only 26). Now that Dusty Baker is out, they can count on actually being able to use the arms that they sign in the future. As far as I am aware, Lou Pinella doesn't have a strange habit of throwing his young pitchers out there for 130 pitches each start until their arm flies towards home plate, (see Kerry Wood; Mark Prior.)

Remember Mark Prior? - April 8th, 2007