Thursday, March 10, 2005

The combined mental energy in this room . . . 

A week or so ago I let you all know that I was going to be joining Alex Belth as the co-author of Bronx Banter. In the meantime, I've not had a lot to say in this space, partially because I was saving some ideas for the relaunch of Bronx Banter.

Well, I'm very pleased to report that the new Bronx Banter (same as the old Bronx Banter, but Cliffier), is now live at an exciting new site called Baseball Toaster, which was created by Ken Arneson, formerly of Will Carroll Presents and Baysball, and still Score Bard/Humbug fame. The site brings together a number of former All-Baseball writers and their blogs, some in new configurations, with some exciting new technology designed from scratch by Ken. Right now it's in beta mode, so there are likely to be some bumps (or crumbs), but hopefully we'll be at least up to VHS speed in the near future.

So be sure to bookmark http://bronxbanter.baseballtoster.com, and check out my initial post breaking down every player the Yankees have in camp.

posted by Cliff at 6:38 AM

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Yanks vs. Pirates, running commentary 

God Bless MLBTV.

Top 1:

Tanyon Sturtze, starting for Randy Johnson and his ouchy calf, takes the mound against this Pirate line-up:

RF - Marcus Lawton
SS - Freddy Sanchez
LF - Jason Bay
1B - Daryle Ward
DH - Craig Wilson
CF - Tike Redman
3B - Ty Wigginton
2B - Luis Castillo
C - Benito Santiago

Sturtze's first pitch is a fastball strike down the middle. He then retires Lawton on a nice play by Tony Womack, charging in to field a chopper in front of second and fire to Tino martinez at first. Sturtze then strikes out Sanchez and gets Bay on a grounder to third on which Alex Rodriguez shows some early spring rust.

Bottom 1:

Good news right off the bat as Joe Torre has Tony Womack batting out of the nine hole:

SS - Derek Jeter
3B - Alex Rodriguez
DH - Jason Giambi
LF - Hideki Matsui
CF - Bernie Williams
1B - Tino Martinez
RF - Ruben Sierra
C - John Flaherty
2B - Tony Womack

Remember, Gary Sheffield (shoudler) and Jorge Posada (neck) are being rested due to aches and pains.

Jeter leads off against Kip Wells by fisting a fly out to right. Alex Rodriguez then follows with a single through the hole into left. Rodriguez has supposedly added 25 pounds of muscle this offseason, but it's difficult to see in a baseball card-sized web video. Giambi follows by drawing a five pitch walk. Wells tries to pick Rodriguez off second but hits Alex in the rear with the ball, which then trickles into center. No advance. Matsui follows by slicing a dying quail to left for a well-placed RBI double. Bernie then grounds out to first on the first pitch he sees to make the score 2-0 Yanks. Tino Martinez repeats the feat to end the inning.

Top 2:

Battling for the first base job, Daryle Ward misses badly on an off-speed pitch from Sturtze, then pokes an easy grounder to Jeter for the first out. Craig Wilson, who has lopped off his flowing blonde locks, falls prey to Ruben Sierra's staircase defense in right. The MLB announcers are having fun joking about Sturtze making John Flahrty work by throwing a lot of split fingers in the dirt. Whatever works, he strikes out Tike Redman to end the inning.

Bottom 2:

Setting the scene, it's an ugly, overcast day at Legends Field in Tampa, which features a large NY behind home much like Yankee Stadium. The Pirates are in their black BP jerseys with yellow stripes through the arm pits and their Pirate head logo on the left breast, and corresponding black caps with yellow brims and the Pirate head logo. The Yankees are in their home pinstripes.

Ruben Sierra leads off wearing #28, having yielded #24 to Tino, who batted in the previous inning. Hitting lefty, Sierra pulls off the ball and pokes one to short for the first out. John Flaherty hits a flare behind second, on which Jose Castillo fails to make an over-the-shoulder catch. Man on first, here's Womack wearing #12.

Alex Graman and Brad Voyles are up in the pen. Why Brad Voyles again?

Womack pokes a slow roller to short for a fielder's choice. Two out . . . and there's the first flashback to Womacks' double in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Womack steals second easily on a looping curve from Wells to Jeter. Jeter takes a pitch across the knees for strike three. Looked like a ball live, was clearly a strike on the replay.

Top 3:

Alex Graman takes over on the mound. Great two innings for Sturtze, 2Ks and no baserunners. Wigginton grounds out to short during an interview with Sturtze. Graman then walks Castillo. Benito Santiago is 900 years old and my monitor is not helping things. Santiago rips a single followed by another by Lawton to cut the Yankee lead in half. Sanchez then flies out to center for the second out and Bay sets off the Ruben Sierra whirly-gig in right to end the inning.

Bottom 3:

Brian Mallette takes over for Wells and gets Rodriguez to ground out to second on his first pitch. Giambi also swings at the first pitch, grounding out to first. An odd approach against an unfamiliar pitcher. Matsui works the count, but grounds out to third anyway. Whatever.

Top 4:

Graman's back at it. He looks taller than 6'4" (as if 6'4" wasn't tall enough). He strikes out lefty-hitting Daryle Ward to start the inning. Craig Wilson follows with a grounder to third. Rodriguez still looks a little stiff over there. Tike Redman singles through the hole into right during a Kip Wells interview. Graman is out of options this year so these spring training apprearances will likely be his last in a Yankee uniform. Ty Wigginton flies out to center to end the inning as it begins to drizzle.

Bottom 4:

During a Lloyd McClendon interview, Todd Ritchie, who was the trade bait that got the Bucs Kip Wells and Josh Fogg from the White Sox after the 2001 season and is now back with the Pirates fighting for a job, gets Bernie to fly out and walks Tino. Andy Phillips runs for Tino and is retired on a fielder's choice off the bat of Ruben Sierra, who is then run for by Bubba Crosby. The confluence of pinch runners gets a nice accidental Bubba Phillips reference out of Gary Thorne. Flaherty flies out to left to end the inning.

Top 5:

Crosby and Phillips take over at right and first respectively (here's hoping Phillips gets some time at second eventually). Paul Quantrill takes the mound for Graman, who was unimpressive. Quantrill is already leading the league in appearances (ba-dump bump).

And there's Tony Womack's first error of the spring. Get used to those, he's an awful defensive second baseman. On this play, Santiago hit a grounder that took a low hop off the grass and hit Womack right in the shins, deflecting into right. Santiago is given a hit, which is symbolic of this organization's ability to evaluate Womack's skills objectively. If the ball hits you without you having to move, its an error, I'm sorry.

The rest of the inning is then eaten by the internet and we move on to . . .

Bottom 5:

How many times does a guy make an awful play in the field and then lead off the next inning? Here's Womack. As if to underline his own shortcomings, he grounds out to second, where Castillo makes the play perfectly. Rey Sanchez bats for Jeter and grounds out to short. Here's Rodriguez, look for a grounder to third. Oops. That got eaten as well. Let's assume it happened. By the way, the Pirate pitcher was #72, who I can only determine was an unidentified NRI.

Still 2-1 Yanks.

Top 6:

Felix Rodriguez makes his Yankee debut wearing his usual #47.

Ugh. My computer is killing me here. At this point I'm basically watching a film strip. If this keeps up I may bag this diary and get lunch before the game is over. Just a warning.

Some Pirate just singled to center during a Brian Cashman interview (hey, never mind the game, let's talk about steroids!). Piecing it together, the single was Sanchez. Jason Bay made an out. Sanchez then "stole" second on a pitch that walked Daryle Ward. Craig Wilson then followed with a high fly to deep right that Matsui lost in the wind and rain, falling on his knees and allowing it to drop well out of his reach for a game-tying single. Meanwhile, some NRI pinch-ran for Ward and is now on second. Tike Redman creams one to right that gets held up for Crosby for the second out moving the runner at second to third. Wigginton also appears to fly out to right.

The details remain fuzzy because the game announcers talk about nothing but steroids most of this half inning.

Bottom 6:

Giambi leads off against lefty Mike Gonzalez. Looks like Humberto Cota behind the plate. Giambi works the count full and walks on a breakless ball near his head. Giambi is pinch run for by an unidentified player and a pinch-hitter for Matsui (I think Robinson Cano [it was Damian Rolls]) grounds into a double play. Damian Rolls [actually Doug Glanville] the pops out to short for Bernie.

Top 7:

We're well into sub territory here, so forgive me if I miss a few names, as I've been doing over the past inning and a half. Felipe Crespo makes an out batting for Castillo. The replacement catcher is up, but I can't seem to catch his name thanks to this stop-start video. Meanwhile, the Yankees have a lefty on the mound, which narrows the options considerably, though the #38 throws me. Perhaps it's Buddy Groom, which is good, he needs to get a look. Ah, the catcher is Ryan Doumit, and he flies to right for the second out. Ben Grieve would seem to be up for Lawton except the batter appears to be right handed. Giambi interview, nice that this isn't a major news event. I suppose it's fine that they're not showing the game action at this point, but I don't have the sound up loud enough to hear the interview since I'm at work. Woah, we've moved on to the bottom of the seventh!

Bottom 7:

Brian Meadows retires the side, concluding with a strikeout of David Parrish. More steroid talk. Get used to it.

Top 8:

I assume they'll let this end in a tie if it comes to that. 2-2 now entering the top of the eighth. Outfielder Nate McLouth up at the plate for the Pirates. Scott Proctor, now sporting a nice round #40, on the mound for the Yanks. Proctor strikes out McLouth to start the inning. First baseman Graham Koonce meets the same fate. DH Brad Eldred lifts one sky high to center. 1-2-3 inning for Proctor. Good stuff, though be mindful of whom he faced.

Bottom 8:

Hoo boy, an interview with Ty Wigginton! Now this is riviting stuff.

Lefty Cory Stewart on the mound for the Bucs. Lefty-hitting Robinson Cano is hitting in Womack's spot, which means that wasn't him who hit into the DP earlier. Cano grounds out to Crespo at second. Rey Sanchez, #14, lifts one to McLouth in left, two out. Russ Johnson makes the final out. Good to see Johnson getting some ABs, but he'll have to do more with them, unfortunately.

Top 9:

Still 2-2. Instead of Gary Miller interviewing Matsu, they have Miller doing commentary on Matsui being interviewed by the Japanese media. Fascinating. Tom Gordon on to "close." Outfielder Rich Thompson at the plate for the Pirates nubs one infront of the plate, which Parrish pounces on to retire Thompson at first. Jose Bautista's batting wearing #7 for Pittsburgh, that's optimistic. Rey Sanchez makes a nice play on Bautista, charging a ball at short and picking it off his shoe tops. In the walking-back-to-position close up that follows his number 14 gives me a momentary heart attack as I think he's Enrique Wilson. Whomever pops out to first to end the inning.

The managers and umpires discuss the situtation and decide to play the bottom of the ninth.

Bottom 9:

Homer Bush flies out. Damian Rolls (who, it turns out, was the guy who grounded into the DP in the 6th) grounds out. Rolls is wearing #22. He's followed by Doug Glanville, who also has a number in the 20s (and was the guy I identified as Rolls in the sixth), flies out to end the game.

So there you have it. A 2-2 tie without any real offensive stars. My knee-jerk verdict: Tanyon Sturtze and Scott Proctor came away the best. Alex Graman and Felix Rodriguez the worst. Jason Giambi had a good approach at the plate drawing a pair of walks. Tony Womack made an ugly play in the field, which is to be expected. Both Andy Phillips and Russ Johnson got some playing time, though neither did anything to distinguish themselves. Same is true for Glanville, Rolls and Bubba Crosby. I'll take a more acurrate look once the box score is available, but however you slice it, baseball is back in action!

posted by Cliff at 1:23 PM

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Aches and Pains 

The Yankees kick off their spring training schedule today with the usual list of aches and pains. Jorge Posada has a stiff neck. Gary Sheffield is still nursing his surgically repaired shoulder (and poor grasp of contractual obligation). NRI backstop Joe DePastino has a sore back. And, in case you hadn't heard, Randy Johnson has a ouchy calf, the result of running without proper stretching last week.

With full back-page coverage in the local rags (Post: "Nothing To Calf At," News: "Unit's Message: It's just as sore as calf . . . Don't Have A Cow!"), Randy Johnson's left calf has received the bulk of the attention for three reasons: 1) Johnson was scheduled to start in today's spring opener but was scratched in favor of Tanyon Sturtze, 2) Johnson is the Yankees' most significant offseason addition, 3) Johnson is 41 years old.

So it goes when A-Rod and the Red Sox aren't trading barbs. I couldn't care less about those pathetic verbal battles, and pay almost as little mind to these sort of spring training aches and pains. Such "injuries" are a dime a dozen as players begin participating in baseball activities for the first time in four months (note the lack of such aches among the younger and more marginal players who participate in the Arizona Fall League and other winter leagues--DePastino being a 31-year-old catcher), and rarely amount to anything. One should not read too much into a missed start here or there in early March. Teams have the luxury of treating their star players with kid gloves during spring training as well they should, particularly when dealing with veterans on the wrong side of 30 (or 40) who have no competition for their jobs, lest a tweak in early March develop into a DL stint in April or beyond. That none of the three players listed above will start today against the Pirates is a good sign. One would only have reason to worry were Joe Torre to run them out there despite their minor aches and pains.

That said, if any of the players above warrant closer observation it would be Gary Sheffield, if only because Sheffield's aches and pains are the result of a preexisting condition. It's certainly not unusual for a player coming of surgery to have some discomfort in the repaired area, but news that Sheffield overexerted himself in batting practice is troubling. Still, all reports are that Sheff has learned his lesson and expects to take it easy through the rest of spring training in order to be most ready for opening day. Sheffield claims he'll only need about 30 at-bats to be ready for the regular season (as opposed to the 45 or so most starters can expect). Last year, due to time missed after spraining his thumb, Sheffield got 32 spring at-bats, hitting for high average but little power. He then struggled to being the season, not really breaking through until the end of May. That, of course, with a torn trapezius muscle in his shoulder.

That thumb injury, by the way, was more serious than Randy Johnson's recent calf strain. Initial reports suggested that Sheffield could miss the first couple months of the season and he was sent to see a hand expert, took an MRI, and was listed as out indefinitely. One week after he injured the thumb, Sheff returned to the line-up with an RBI single. He then avoided the DL for the entire regular season despite the torn muscle in his shoulder.

Large grains of salt. That's all I'm saying.

In other news, the Mets lost their spring training opener to the Nationals 5-3. The losing pitcher? Felix Hereida. Count your blessings, Yankee fans.

posted by Cliff at 6:55 PM
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posted by Cliff at 2:09 AM

Movin' On Up 

My dear readers, I have some big news. Alex Belth has asked me to join forces with him over at Bronx Banter and I have agreed to do so. This does not necessarily mean the end of the BRB, but it does mean that the majority of my posts, and nearly all of my larger pieces of analysis, will be found on Bronx Banter starting now.

I want to thank all of you for making this site a success over the past 18 months. I started this site as a lark, unsure if there was anyone out there interested in what I had to say, or if I even had that much to say in the first place. In both cases I've been overwhelmed. Your interest and feedback is what has sustained this site, and helped me become part of a remarkable community of writers, thinkers and, I'm delighted to say, in many cases friends. My move to Bronx Banter is a result of one of those friendships and a natural extension of my desire to reach as many readers as possible, but would not have been possible without the interest and support you have all given me here.

For the handful of hardcore BRB devotees out there, worry not. Neither the frequency nor the style of my writing will be effected by the move to Bronx Banter, nor will my addition effect Alex's contribution to the site. Rather, you'll simply be able to get Alex's writing and my analysis in one place rather than two. One stop shopping, two great tastes that taste great together, my chocolate in his peanut butter and his peanut butter in my chocolate, etc. And yes, I will continue to keep the BRB updated as well, with the odd post that might be a tad too personal, off-topic or downright goofy for Bronx Banter (or at least that's the plan right now).

The first major undertaking I'm . . . er, undertaking for Bronx Banter are division previews, the first of which (the NL West) will be available in about a week to coincide with a relaunch of the site. In the meantime, it will be busness as usual here at the BRB, though this post will remain at the top of the page for a while. Scroll down for new BRB posts.

**UPDATE** The relaunch of Bronx Banter is expected to happen this upcoming weekend. In the meantime, I'll do my best to cover the spring training games here.

posted by Cliff at 2:08 AM

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Good Day for Giambi 

According to this report on the YES site, Jason Giambi walked the walk in his first batting practice session of the spring today, and the Tampa crowd supported him. Here's hoping this establishes a trend for 2005.

In other news, Bernie Williams has a stomach virus (better that than appendicitis), Gary Sheffield will need to be carefully monitored so as not to do too much to soon with his surgically repaired shoulder, and, with Felix Escalona having resolved his visa problems in Venezuela, the Yankees finally have all of their players in camp, the last of which which makes today a good day for Yankee fans as well.

posted by Cliff at 4:17 PM

Friday, February 18, 2005

El Brujo and the rest of the NRIs 

I can't believe it's been almost three weeks since I started going through the Yankees non-roster invitees to spring training. I really do apologize for the lack of posts thus far in 2005. This is just my ninth post this year. That's one every 5 1/2 days, and that just won't do. Thankfully, spring training is under way and there should be plenty of reasons for me to write in the very near future.

First, let's finish of the Yankee NRIs with the infielders and catchers (here are the pitchers and outfielders):


Russ Johnson Johnson provides a solid glove at second and third (not so much at short) and knows how to take a walk, posting a .349 OBP (against a .265 average) in 818 major league at-bats with the Astros and Devil Rays from 1997-2002. He also has doubles power, having hit 10 in 156 ABs in 1999 and 19 in 248 AB's in 2001. Johnson spent last year with the Iowa Cubs in the Pacific Coast League, where he hit a lot of doubles and drew a lot of walks while playing second, third and first. Johnson turns 32 on Tuesday and would seem to be a more desirable utility infielder option than 37-year-old Rey Sanchez and his .280 OBPs, if not a worthy challenger to Tony Womack at second base.

Homer Bush At age 31, Homer tried to come back from a year of retirement last year, but in 234 at-bats with the Clippers, failed to get on base at a respectable rate despite a .291 average (.327 OBP). Though primarily a second baseman, he saw a lot of time at third in AAA last year, but seems to have lost almost all of his value as a baserunner and defender to a career full of leg injuries. Still, he managed to eeke out 9 games with the Yankees (7 AB, 0 H, HBP, SB, 2 R, GIDP, 2 K) in 2004. That and his presence in camp again this year are likely due entirely to his time spent with the Bombers in 1998.

Caonabo Cosme a career minor leaguer, Cosme will turn 26 next month. He cracked AAA for the first time last year, playing 63 games and second and short for the Clippers while continuing to be a dud at the plate.

Utility player Damian Rolls was covered with the outfielders. As for the catchers, teams tend to bring a ton of them to spring training, just to give their pitchers someone to throw to, but with the Yankees' Catcher of the Future squatting in Dodger blue in Arizona, the Yanks will have to find a third-stringer out of this group of NRIs:

Ryan Hankins 28-year-old Hankins is a career minor leaguer out of UNLV who has spent the last seven years slowly moving up the White Sox system. After first breaking into AAA in 2003, he adjusted nicely in 2004 hitting .296/.366/.468 (.282), which isn't a far cry from his career minor league numbers. Like Johnson he's an older player with patience and doubles power and could be worth a look should an injury befall Flaherty or (God forbid) Posada.

David Parrish Lance's son and the Yankees first-round draft pick from 2000 is now 25. He was on the major league roster for three days last May, but saw no action. The man can't hit. End of story.

Joe DePastino A long-time Boston farmhand, DePastino is 31 and has exactly two major league at-bats to his name, both with the Mets in 2003. He struck out once and failed to reach base in the other. He spent 2004 with the Richmond Braves. He seems to have lost the modest power he once had and never could draw a walk.

Jon-Mark Sprowl Sprowl's primary ability is his way with a walk, but in Tampa last year he appeared unable to do much else. At 24, Sprowl is much to old for A-ball, but he's never played at a higher level.

Omir Santos Also known as "Pito," Santos is basically Sprowl without the ability to draw a walk. Which is to say he's in camp to catch bullpen sessions.

Irwil Rojas Rojas's stats on Baseball Cube and Baseball America tell me nothing about him. The only useful info I can track down comes from Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Bible when he did a very similar breakdown of the NRIs. Goldman's column on the NRIs actually went up a few days after I started my NRI breakdown, but unlike your lazy and overworked host, the ambitious and overworked Steamin' Steve Goldman did the whole lot at once. At any rate, here's his take on Rojas:
20, is a Venezuelan signed by the Yankees when he was 17. He's just here for some seasoning and to give the pitchers someone extra to throw to. Rojas is young and needs to cool his jets a bit. When playing for a Yankees team in Santa Domingo, he showed good contact and the willingness to take a walk, though no power. Transferred to the Gulf Coast League in the States, he still had no power, still made good contact, but the walks completely disappeared. Ask about him again in two years.
To this lot the Yankees have added yet another member of the Two-Timer Club, Ramiro Mendoza. Even in his glory days as the Yankees brujo, Mendoza was fragile, constantly expressing his desire to start only to break down when given the opportunity. With the Red Sox over the past two seasons that fragility overcame his ability, inflating his ERA to 6.75 in 2003 and limiting him to a career low 30 2/3 innings in 2004. Mendoza had rotator cuff surgery on January 11 and will be unable to pitch at any level until May, at which point the Yankees will likely try to get him in shape to serve as insurance after they trade one of their many veteran righty relievers for a real-life second baseman (*cough*Polanco*cough*) at the trading deadline, or in the hope that he can recreate El Duque's cavalry-like performance from last season.

Summing up the NRIs, then, the most potentially useful, in order, are:

Russ Johnson - 2B/IF
Buddy Groom - LOOGY
Ryan Hankins - third-string catcher
Ramiro Mendoza - El Sturtze
Damian Rolls (UT)/Doug Glanville (CF) - defensive replacements

posted by Cliff at 12:48 AM

Friday, February 11, 2005

Giambi, Canseco & Howard Bryant 

Jason Giambi finally met with the media today, almost two and a half months after the San Francisco Chronicle published the leaked BALCO grand jury testimony in which he confessed to using steroids during the 2001-2003 seasons. For those with the technology to do so, you can find the video of the press conference here.

As expected, Giambi made a general apology to the media, fans, his team and his teammates (in that order), but did not address the contents of his grand jury testimony other than to say that he told the grand jury the truth. He did not once use the word "steroids" or any synonym or euphemism for steroids and frequently avoided questions by saying that he was legally unable to comment right now, but hopefully will be able to address specifics in the future.

Overall, it was a strong performance. Giambi sat in a chair, but not behind a table, on a small stage in front of a navy Yankee backdrop with his agent, Joe Torre, and Brian Cashman surrounding him. He sounded remorseful but upbeat and eager to make up for his admitted mistakes with his performance on the field. He made no attempt to downplay the severity of his transgressions and repeatedly asserted his desire to take full responsibility for his actions.

The one curious moment came when Giambi was confronted with the allegations about his steroid use that are reportedly in Jose Canseco's tell-all Juiced. This will work best if I just transcribe it:
Reporter: Do you care to address Jose Canseco's allegations in his new book Juiced that you were seen using steroids?

Giambi: I feel sad for Josie, some of 'em, they're so far fetched they're not even funny. I think I saw a quote today from Josie's agent saying that some of the things that he said in his book are not accurate and I think when it all comes down to it I think you're going to find a lot of errors in his book.


Second Reporter: One of the allegations in the book was that you, McGwire and Canseco did steroids together. Your comment?

G: It's so far fetched I'm not even going to comment on it. Like I said there's going to be a lot of things in that book that are gonna be errors, you know, that are going to come out and they're going to be totally false.

SR: Is that false?

G: Yes.
I find this curious because part of Giambi's current problem is that the revelations about his steroid use came after his repeated and explicit denials of any such use. Thus the stakes of this explicit denial are higher. The possible realities are these:

1) Giambi's lying, meaning in his moment of conciliation, he has again broken the public trust.
2) Giambi's telling the truth, but by technicality (he injected steroids with one, but not both of the other players in the question posed to him, or he did do steroids when with the A's in 1997, the only year he and Canseco were teammates, but did them alone).
3) Giambi's telling the truth and Canseco's allegations are false.

On some level I find these all equally plausible. The first would obviously be the worst situation for Giambi, who would have done irreparable harm to whatever credibility he has left should the truth come out. The second is actually very likely, as the Daily News article which broke the Canseco allegations makes no mention of all three players juicing up together, only of McGwire doing so with Canseco and Giambi separately. However, the possibility with the most significant ramifications is the third. What if Jose Canseco really is making things up? I find it difficult to believe that he'd have to, but desperate men resort to desperate measures, and Canseco is very clearly a desperate man.

In this dead period between the signing of the last big-name free agent and the arrival of pitchers and catchers, Canseco's book has become the hot topic, prompting denials from implicated players and a call for investigation from the family of the late, and now former home run king Roger Maris. The Daily News leak has prompted Canseco's publisher to move the book's publication date up yet again to Monday, and in turn "60 Minutes" has moved up their piece on the book to this coming Sunday.

It's all the sort of ugly mess I would usually work to avoid in the interest of bringing you hard facts and analysis amid a maelstrom of allegations and innuendo, but I want you to watch that piece on "60 Minutes" this Sunday, not for Canseco, but for Howard Bryant.

The author of the outstanding Shut Out on the institutionalized racism of the Boston Red Sox, Howard Bryant is currently writing what should prove to be the definitive history of what's become known as "the Juiced Era," a book that you're sure to hear about when it hits the shelves this fall, and one that I just happen to be editing (my heretofore unrevealed day job). Bryant was interviewed for Sunday's "60 Minutes" piece and stands to be the voice of reason amid the shady confessions of Canseco. Working closely with Bryant on his book for several months now and in constant contact with him, I can honestly tell you that he has this topic covered like no one else. You will not only want to read his book when it comes out, but as a baseball fan passionate enough to read this blog, you will have to. On Sunday, you may very well get a preview of why.

posted by Cliff at 2:11 AM

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Buddy Groom and company (NRIs part II) 

Wasn't I supposed to be breaking down the Yankee NRIs some time last week? Sorry about that. My plan was to move from the outfield to the infield, but as the Yankees signed veteran LOOGY Buddy Groom to a minor league deal with a non-roster invitation to spring training on Monday, let's skip over to the pitchers.

To begin with, the Yankees are up to their necks in live bodies in the pitching department. They have 12 men signed to major league contracts (Johnson, Mussina, Brown, Pavano, Wright, Rivera, Gordon, Quantrill, Rodriguez, Stanton, Karsay, and Sturtze), eleven more men on the 40-man (Bean, Marsonek, Prinz, Proctor, Wang, Ramirez, Graman, DePaula, Anderson, Henn and Edwardo Sierra), and now five non-roster invitees. That makes 28 pitchers due to report to camp one week from tomorrow, four more than last year. Of those 28 pitchers, six are left-handed, two from each group. Here's a breakdown of the lefties, with the righty NRIs to follow:

Major Leaguers:

Randy Johnson until Johan Santana proves he can do it twice (which I don't doubt that he can) Johnson remains the best pitcher in all of baseball. As long as his knee holds up (which I expect it to do), he'll give the Yankees 250 incredible innings. That said, he will only pitch once every fifth day, thus making his left-handedness irrelevant in terms of in-game strategy. Those other four days the Yankees will need someone who can retire a big lefty bat in a crucial game situation. The candidates are:

Mike Stanton despite being the lefty set-up man for the Yankees from 1997-2002, Stanton has always been a reverse-split lefty. The reason he was so useful for the Yanks during his first term in pinstripes is that he was just plain good (remember, kids, good pitching is more important than lefty pitching). He's not quite s'good anymore, what with his 38th birthday coming in June, something that's best reflected in his K and BB rates:

with Yanks: 8.18 K/9, 3.29 BB/9, 2.48 K/BB
with Mets: 6.77 K/9, 3.83 BB/9, 1.77 K/BB

He's no slouch either, but he's not going to dominate anymore, and thus can't be used as a lefty killer simply because of the arm he throws with. Rather, Joe Torre should make it a point to use him primarily against righties and go with a top dog such as Tom Gordon against must-have lefties should a true LOOGY fail to emerge.

By the way, you may have read elsewhere that righty Felix Rodriguez could be used as a lefty-killer as he had a pronounced reverse split last year. Of course, if one digs deeper one will find that he also had a significant normal split in 2002, with 2003 being very close to even (though slightly reversed). Then again, Stanton had a pronounced normal split in 2003, a nearly even (though slightly reversed split) in 2002, and a pronounced reverse split in 2004. I'm not sure what all of this tells us about these pitchers, or about the nature of pitcher splits in general. What I do know, lacking access to splits between 1992 and 2002, is that Stanton has a history of reverse splits. There is a chance that Rodriguez has the same. If so, he could turn out to be that top dog that Torre should use against lefties, as he has had periods of dominance in his career, most recently his 23-game stay with the Phillies to close out 2004 (though he also has a reputation for folding in tough spots). The rub here is that Rodriguez also has a tendency to walk too many men (nearly 4/9IP on his career), and the Yankees have had just about enough of supposed lefty-killers named Felix who walk too many men.

Minor Leaguers

Alex Graman was first added to the Yankees 40-man roster following the 2001 season, which means that his three option years (2002-2004) have elapsed and Graman will have to clear waivers in order for the Yankees to send him down to the minors. Now 27 years old, Graman seems to have stalled out as a solid AAA pitcher, having thrown batting practice in his only two major league starts (31 batters faced, 14 hits), both coming in 2004. Failing to give Graman one last chance to right his major league record before reaching this point was one of the laundry list of errors the Yankees made in September in terms of alotting playing time. Expect Graman to be claimed by another team in late March.

Sean Henn the 23-year-old Henn performed modestly in his first season at double-A in 2004. Expect him to return there in April.


Danny Borrell Borrell was a top Yankee prospect until a shoulder ligament tear in mid-2003 derailed his progress. He made just six starts last year, four excellent ones in rookie ball and a pair of stinkers in A-ball. Now 26 years old, Borrell would seem to need to spend this season getting his career back on track in the minors, but if he's able to regain most of his old form, could reemerge as a useful lefty reliever in 2006.

Buddy Groom considering the lefty options we've already covered, Buddy Groom counts as a solid pick-up for the Yanks, particularly as they managed to reel him in as an NRI. Groom will turn 40 in July and has pitched in a minimum of 60 games in each of the last nine seasons, averaging less than an inning per game in the last eight. A classic LOOGY who seems to stick wherever he lands (spending a minimum of four years with three of those four teams he's played for in his career), Groom is reminiscent of Jesse Orosco (who also finished his 30s in an Oriole uniform--his fifth). The problem is, Groom isn't nearly the pitcher that Orosco was, and actually got lit up by lefties in 2004. Then again, he's had the best control of his career over the past four years and was absolutely lights out in 2002. He may not stick, but he's precisely the kind of NRI gamble the Yankees should be taking considering their continually dire LOOGY situation.

As for the sort of NRI gambles that likely aren't worth it, here are the righties:

Brad Voyles this 28-year-old righty reliever is carrying a quadruple-A tag, having failed to break through with the pitching-starved Royals over the past four seasons. A high-K/high-BB guy, I can't see how he is not made obsolete by the presence of Prinz and Proctor, both of whom faired better last year than Voyles ever has at the major league level.

Aaron Small the 33-year-old journeyman has been bouncing between AAA and the majors since 1994 with nine organizations, a few of them twice. Other than a solid AAA showing in 2001, he hasn't pitched particularly well at either level since impressing at AAA as a 23-year old a decade ago.

Marc Valdes another 33-year-old, Valdes has spent the past three seasons in Japan and never really established himself in the majors prior to that.

In summary, don't be surprised if the Yankees pull the emergency lever on Buddy Groom after opposing lefties get a few key hits of Stanton and a few key walks against Rodriguez. As for the rest, bid farewell to Graman, keep your eye on Borrell's recovery, and forget about the rest.

posted by Cliff at 1:06 AM

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