Thursday, January 01, 2004

[yawns and stretches] "What year is it?" 

Oops. Looks like I let some time slip away (ain't it funny?) since my last post. Sorry about that. My free time has been consumed by a non-baseball-related project which I'll get to in a subsequent post. In the meantime, I actually did try to post about David Wells and Tony Clark on New Years' Day, but got sidetracked before I finished. I'll post most of what I had written below and then add to it. Fortunately nothing's happened in the past few days (Pete who? Hall of what? Which Vazquez?). Heh.

"Happy" New Year

I put happy in quotes because 2003 ended with David Wells pulling a David Wells on the Yankees by signing a one-year deal with his hometown Padres for the 2004 season. Although Wells had a minor-league deal all but finalized with Brian Cashman, there is little for the Yankees or their fans to complain about here. Wells pulled a similar move on the Diamondbacks when he signed with the Yankees prior to the 2001 season, and the contract Wells signed with San Diego is a major-league deal with a base salary of $1.25 million, a better guarantee than he would have had with the Yankees. So fair is fair.

What troubles me about Wells signing with the Padres is far more practical than a broken promise. Its the fact that the Yankees are now at a point where almost all of their fifth-starter eggs are in John Lieber's basket. The same John Lieber who last threw a major league pitch on August 1, 2002 (coincidentally, against San Diego), and has since had Tommy John surgery. With a top four of Mussina, Vazquez, Brown and Contreras the Yankees can certainly get away with a league average pitcher in the five slot, but I think there is genuine cause for concern that John Lieber might not even be able to provide that level of production, due as much if not more to his physical condition coming back from surgery as to his remaining ability.

After Lieber there's rookie Jorge DePaula, who looked good in four appearances and one outstanding start last season, but is unlikely to be able to repeat that performance over a full season.

What's more, as much as I protested against those mourning the lack of lefties in the Yankee rotation after Andy Pettitte signed with Houston, I'm now genuinely concerned about it. If you read what I wrote when Andy left you'll see that Wells was more effective against lefty batters than Pettitte both last year, when Andy had a reverse split, and over the past three seasons combined. More to the point, reverse split or not, there are now no left-handed pitchers in the Yankee rotation. The only possible lefty options, outside of the spare parts left on the free-agent market, are a pair of AAA starters, Alex Graman and Danny Borrell. Graman had a less than stellar year in Columbus (4.48 ERA, 9-10, 110K and 63 BB in 142.2 IP, that's just under four walks per 9 IP). Borrell, despite an impressive 2.93 ERA and 4-2 record in ten starts, had a worse strikeout rate and an only slightly better walk rate than Graman before a torn ligament in his pitching shoulder ended his season in June.

That's as far as I had gotten on the first. Since writing that, Shawn Bernard, a regular in the Bronx Banter comments discussions, wrote an excellent post on the subject. Actually, my aborted post above is older than Shawn's entire blog! At any rate, Shawn posts the splits for the three departed Yankee starters and their replacements (not counting the Contreras for Weaver switch). His conclusion (in my words): Brown & Vazquez are so good that it doesn't matter what hand they throw with, meanwhile both Wells and Pettitte had reverse splits in 2003 so the advantage of having those two lefties in the rotation was entirely imaginary. To argue Shawn's point slightly, as per my original post on this subject, Pettitte's reverse split, which was pronounced in 2003, was the continuation of a trend. However, Wells reverse split was negligible in 2003 and, as Shawn himself recognizes is likely in part due to Boomer's home ballpark, was more of an aberration, especially as he held lefties to a lower average and an essentially identical OBP as righties in 2003. What's more Wells has a much stronger history against lefties than Andy. Thus my initial concern after losing Wells, but not after losing Pettitte.

What's most interesting about the numbers Shawn posts, however, is the fact that Mussina, Clemens and Contreras also had reverse splits in 2003. In fairness, Contreras's split was almost even, but Mussina's was significant (lefties faired worse in AVG & SLG, only slightly better in OBP), and Clemens' was tremendous (.804 OPS vs. righties, .610 vs. lefties). So for all of the groaning that's been done about the Yankees losing their lefties, their most effective lefty killer was actually the right-handed Roger Clemens. What's more, each of the Yankees top four starters for 2004 held lefties to a lower OPS in 2003 than either Pettitte or Wells. That being said, I'm putting this subject to bed for good here on the BRB. For those gluttons for punishment still not satisfied, this issue has received much attention elsewhere, best summarized in this Bronx Banter post.

Of course, just because the lefty issue is moot, doesn't mean the fifth starter issue is. With Kevin "If He's Healthy" Brown, "Tommy" John Lieber and Jose "There's Nothing Wrong With My Shoulder" Contreras comprising sixty percent of the rotation (not to mention the bright yellow light hung on Javier Vazquez), there is sufficient need for insurance beyond Jorge DePaula and pray for (other) rookies. Fortunately, Brian Cashman seems to recognize this fact. Unfortunately, there's not much out there. As the linked article indicates, it may come down to a few non-roster invitees in spring training or even a mid-season move. At the moment the field looks something like this: Greg Maddux, Sydney Ponson, Kenny "Ed Whitson II" Rogers, Rick Reed, El Duque Hernandez, Andy Ashby, Todd Richie, Pedro Astacio, Rick Helling, Damian Moss, Shawn Estes, Glendon Rusch, Jose Lima, John Burkett (unless he retires), Brian Moehler, Darren Oliver, Brett Tomko, Scott Elarton, Ron Villone, Garrett Stephenson, Julian Tavarez, Terry Adams, and Scott Erickson, who did not pitch in 2003 due to injury. Maddux will likely price himself out of contention, as will Ponson who will also be looking for a multi-year deal. Otherwise it's slim pickings, but then the Yankees really only need a league average pitcher with a knack for staying healthy. Paging Rick Helling (career ERA+: 98, over 30 games pitched in every season since 1997, reverse split in 2001).

As for Tony Clark, he remains the player the Yankees are "focused on," but they seem no closer to a deal than they were a week ago when Clark's signing was initially reported as nearly complete. Word has it that Brian Cashman has received calls from a number of other veteran players, many non-firstbasemen, who claim they could play first on a part-time basis. I'll have more to say when they've finalized something, but for all of those who are comparing Tony Clark or his equivalent to Nick Johnson: cut it out! Just as position-by-position comparisons between teams are uninformative, this sort of position-based comparison is similarly useless. I'll say this once (riiiiight): Gary Sheffield replaces Nick Johnson, Bernie replaces himself, Kenny Lofton replaces Karim Garcia, and Tony Clark (or whomever) replaces Juan Rivera.

In other news, the Dodgers have signed Bubba Trammell to a one-year deal. The deal is worth $1.85 million, but the Dodgers will only pay Trammell the league minimum ($300,000). The rest of the money is being paid to Trammell as a part of the settlement of his grievance filed after the Yankees terminated his contract. Trammell's case was based on the fact that he was suffering from depression and felt he should have been placed on the disabled list (where he would have continued to earn his salary) as opposed to the restricted list (where he did not).

posted by Cliff at 2:00 PM

Sunday, December 28, 2003

George Steinbrenner Health Watch 

Did this make anyone else think of the old "George Steinbrenner Health Watch" bit from Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update? For those who don't remember, the bit debuted back in 1989, when a then-liberal-minded Dennis Miller was hosting the segment. Here's the best description I was able to find:

Because he has sworn the Yankees will never be sold while he is alive, the television program "Saturday Night Live" "as a public service" has begun a George Steinbrenner Health Watch. In a live report from outside the "Tampa Bay Yacht Club," actor Phil Hartman reviews Steinbrenner's status. "I understand his eyelids fluttered," says Dennis Miller in the SNL news studio. "Any cause for concern?" "Just a bad dream, Dennis," laments Hartman. "No cause for optimism." (Bob Andelman)

posted by Cliff at 12:01 PM

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