Saturday, May 22, 2004

Doug Pappas 

The one-line baseball community lost one of it's most important minds yesterday when it was discovered the Doug Pappas had been killed by heat stroke while on vacation in Big Bend National Park in Texas.

I can't say that I ever spent much time on Pappas's Business of Baseball Pages, but his impact in and beyond the on-line baseball world was tremendous. In addition to his own site, Pappas wrote for Baseball Prospectus (I heard him speak briefly at a Baseball Prospectus event in Brooklyn this past spring) and was a SABR member. He was the chairman of SABR's Business in Baseball Committee since the Committee's creation in 1994, and in the postscript to the paperback of Moneyball Michael Lewis attributes the germ of the idea for the book to Pappas.

For a small sample of the lives and minds he touched, read the comments to his final post. While my condolences go out to those closest to him, I am thankful that he was able to reach so many while he was here.

His official SABR obituary is here, and Jay Jaffe has posted a marvelous tribute to Pappas on the Futility Infielder, which contains many more relevant links to both those mourning Pappas and those seeking to understand his impact.

posted by Cliff at 2:05 AM

If I was a pitcher, would I be Dizzy Dean or Tippy Martinez? 

Hey, remember me?

Sorry about the lack of posts this week, folks. I've had some odd dizzy spells this week (basically I feel like I'm permanently car sick), and haven't really been up to writing. I saw the doctor today and am on what amounts to Dramamine, so I'm a bit better at the moment and figured I'd better get a post in before the driver pulls back onto the freeway.

Thankfully, there wasn't a whole lot to say about the Angels series. The Yanks got three excellent pitching performances from Vazquez (who's control issues seem to be just a minor mid-season bump rather than a legitimate concern), Lieber (who's showing that his rough start in Seattle was indeed a fluke), and Mussina (who now has a winning record and struck out six while walking none on Thursday). By the way, after allowing a minimum of four runs in each of his first six starts, Moose has allowed no more than two runs in three of his last four. Good news.

Although I didn't make it that far into the game on Tuesday night and haven't seen a good replay of the play, from what I hear, Posada was actually safe at home in the ninth inning of that game, despite being called out. That's all water under the bridge now, but it means that the Yankees actually played well enough to win all three of the games in Anaheim, and that Luis Sojo may have a better idea in the third-base coaches box than some are giving him credit for.

Paul Quantrill is now legitimately struggling, giving up runs in four of his last five outings, but that's another post for another time. All I'll say for now is pay attention to his walks. As I said in the comments to my previous post (way back when), I'm not concerned about him.

Perhaps the biggest thing to come out of the Angels series, other than the continued success of the three starting pitchers, is that Derek Jeter is showing signs of life. He drew his first walk in over a week on Wednesday and hit the ball hard, despite taking another 0-fer. On Thursday, he broke out of an 0-fer-17 slump with not just one hit, but two, one of them a home run. Tonight in Texas he drew another walk and collected another hit. Considering the pitching he's going to face over the next few weeks (Texas and Baltimore twice, Tampa, Colorado . . .) this is an ideal time for Jeter to break out of his season-long slump.

Meanwhile, the Yanks are keeping those roster moves a-comin'. On Tuesday they activated Felix Heredia, as expected, demoting Donovan Osborne, who had been doing an surprisingly admirable job in Heredia's role as the second lefty out of the pen. Heredia saw his first action tonight against the Rangers, coming in with men on first and second and two out in the fifth to face Laynce Nix, who had homered in his previous at-bat off of Kevin Brown. Felix struck Nix out on four pitches. Welcome back Felix. What's say we start anew?

Next up on the merry-go-round is Jose Contreras. Here was my take on the reports from Jose Contreras's second start in triple-A this past Sunday:
The surface stats are strong (7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 12 K), but the peripherals are a mess: 2 wild pitches, 2 HBP, [4 BB, I've come to learn], and five stolen bases including a bases-loaded triple steal. Ugly. Connors talks big about Contreras's attitude and command and improvements, but Clippers manager Bucky Dent (shudder) confirms that Contreras is still struggling with his command. Thus Sturtze, who should . . . give Contreras a couple more starts in Columbus. The problem here is that Sturtze is terrible and the reports on Contreras don’t make it sound like he’s improve much at all.

Well, the good news is that Tanyon Sturtze won't be taking Contreras's turn in the rotation. The bad news is Contreras will. Based on those peripherals from his Sunday start, I expect nothing more that what we've already seen from Contreras tomorrow, particularly against a potent young Rangers offense in the second most hitter friendly park in the AL. Expect Soriano, Young and Dellucci to run wild on him. And pray that the Yankee bats can inflict significant damage on R.A. Dickey (whose name belongs in a limerick I just can't seem to write, oh Score Bard! -- and while you're at it, work in Tanyon Sturtze and Metuchen, NJ).

Now, the fact that the Yankees think Contreras is ready is bad enough but get a load of who they demoted to make room for him on the roster. Here are the two prime candidates (both right-handed):

Tanyon Sturtze (2004: 2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 3 K, 2 HR), 33-year-old starting pitcher who couldn't stick on the Devil Rays
Bret Prinz (2004: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K, 0 HR), 26-year-old relief pitcher

Ignoring the sample size issue, the choice is pretty obvious, isn't it? Of course. The Yanks demoted Prinz. [insert expletives here]

The only possible explanation for this is that demoting Sturtze would leave them without a "long reliever." I guess someone has to turn Contreras's 6-0 starts into 12-3 losses, right? Ugh.

Unfortunately, I'm not quite done with the roster moves. After Kevin Brown's worst start of the year (4 2/3 IP, 10 H, 5 R), "long reliever" Tanyon Sturtze turned a one-run deficit into a five-run deficit, creating the opportunity for a stirring Yankee comeback in the top of the ninth. The Yanks only got three of those five runs back (thanks to a Jeter walk, Rodriguez single, and RBI singles by Giambi, Sheffield and Posada), but in the process lost Jason Giambi to the DL as Grape Ape, who had been sidelined with hip bursitis and back spasms at the beginning of the week, turned his ankle rounding first. I don't have an official diagnosis on the ankle, but I partially suspect that it was more the straw that broke the camel's back (as it were) than a stand-alone 15-day injury.

This is bad news for the Yanks in the short term, though considering all of Giambi's ailments (knee, hip, back and now ankle) it's probably good that the Yankees are shutting him down while they take on some week-pitching teams. If he returns on-schedule, Giambi will be back in time for interleague play, and well in advance of the Yanks' late-June rematch with the Red Sox.

In the meantime, Tony Clark has doing a mighty fine job in the field at first and a respectable job at the plate (.364 OBP coming into tonight). Who takes Giambi's spot on the roster, however, remains to be seen. The knee jerk reaction might be to get Bubba Crosby (who's hitting .317 with 7 walks in 41 AB in Columbus) back up to the big club, but rational roster analysis suggests someone with experience at first base. Checking out the Clippers, they've got two mighty fine candidates: Jeff Deardorff and Bryan Myrow. Both are 1B/3B types, though Myrow currently holds the first base job with Deardorff at third. Here's a look at their stats (OBP and SLG fudged from the USA Today stats).

Deardorff: .276/.338/.504, 123 AB, 20 R, 34 H, 1 2B, 0 3B, 9 HR, 34 RBI, 12 BB, 36 K, 1 SB
Myrow: .257/.366/.419, 105 AB, 14 R, 27 H, 7 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 17 BB, 22 K, 2 SB

Deardorff, you might remember, was my dark-horse candidate for the Yankees third base job post-Aaron and pre-Alex, while Myrow was the choice of many of my blogging brethren.

There's no clear choice here. Deardorff offers more home-run power, though his lack of other types of extra base hits is a concern. Myrow is the superior on-base man and has more recent experience at first. Using my fudged OBP and SLG numbers Deardorff has a .278 GPA thus far to Myrow's .269. I'd take Myrow, because he's playing first, because his two triples and two stolen-bases suggest a bit of foot speed that Deardorff doesn't provide, but primarily because his plate discipline (not to say that Deardorff is a hacker, far from it) is more likely to translate to the majors than Deardorff's power. Of course, I would not be upset to see Deardorff, who has the flashier traditional stats, in pinstripes. I would, however, be angered to see anyone other than these two take Giambi's spot on the roster. Of course, following the Sturtze/Prinz laugher, I'm not holding my breath for either one.

I think that brings us pretty much up-to-date. Hopefully I can steady my ship and get back to daily posts. Thanks for bearing with me.

[note: stats for Deardorff and Myrow have been corrected since original post -- oh, and Drese started against Contreras, Dickey the next day. Heh.]

posted by Cliff at 12:01 AM

Monday, May 17, 2004

What'd I miss? 

I'm back! For those wondering just where exactly I've been, I just spent the past 10 days exploring the islands of Puerto Rico and Vieques and loving every minute of it. I'll spare you the vacation photos, but I will say that although I'm back home in New Jersey, my desire to leave the island has yet to arrive. I had such a good time down in PR that I didn't even think about the Yankees. I didn't even check a score until last night when I almost accidentally stumbled upon the Yanks' 2-1 victory over the M's while flipping channels in my San Juan hotel room (San Juan cable includes the New York versions of the major networks, including the local NYC nightly news).

My trip worked out nicely for the purposes of this blog. I missed three three-game series in their entirety and returned on an off-day, a perfect opportunity to play catch up. While I was away, the Yankees won each of those three-game series 2-1 for a total record of 6-3 and a shiny winning percentage of .667. Over that span the Red Sox split ten games, allowing the Yankees to reclaim first place by a half game as of this writing. Money. In a moment I will take a look at how the team is shaping up overall, but before I do, let's take a quick look at the nine games I missed:

5/7: Mariners 6, Yanks 2

Jon Lieber tanked his second start, no thanks to Edgar Martinez, and the Yanks couldn't get it going against Ryan Franklin.

5/8: Yanks 6, Mariners 0

Moose, in his best start of the year (8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K), combines with Quantrill to shut out the M's. Yanks bats are led by Giambi (HR, 2B, 3 RBI) and Posada (4 for 4, 2 RBI).

5/9: Yanks 7, Mariners 6

Making his first major league start since 1999, Donovan Osborne gets rocked for six runs on six hits and two walks in 1 1/3. The Yankee bullpen then shuts the door, lead by a surprising 2 2/3 innings from Bret Prinz in which he allows just one hit and no walks while striking out four. White, Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera add five more innings with just one hit (Quantrill) and one walk (Rivera) while striking out another four. Meanwhile, the Yankee bats chip away. An A-Rod solo shot in the fourth. A Giambi 3-run tater in the sixth. A Jeter 2-run dinger in the seventh to tie it at six. A-Rod works a walk against Rafael Soriano in the eighth and comes around on a Giambi single, Sheffield grounder and a Matsui sac fly to put the Yanks ahead. Beautiful.

5/11: Yanks 8, Angles 7

Started by Escobar and Brown, neither of whom is terribly effective, this is a looney 10-inning affair in which Francisco Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, and Troy Percival all blow save opportunities. Coming into the game, they had combined to blow just one save (Percival) all season.

The Angels get out to an early lead in this one, but the Yanks come back to tie it in the fifth on a Cairo single, Lofton triple and Rodriguez single. A Guerrero homer in the top of the sixth, however, puts the Angels up 5-4 until Francisco Rodriguez enters in the eighth. Three singles and a Shane Halter error later, the Yanks are up 6-5 with Mo on the mound. A Casey Kotchman single and Bengie Molina homer swing the pendulum once more in the Angels' direction, this time with Troy Percival to protect the one-run lead. With one out, Posada singles and is pinch run for by Homer Bush who steals second and scores on a Sierra single to tie the game. An inning later, with Ben Webber on the mound, Alex Rodriguez, who had reached on a single, comes around to score the winning run on a walk-off double by Gary Sheffield.

5/12: Angels 11, Yanks 2

Other than 7 hits and 3 Angel errors, nothing goes right for the Yankees in this game. Just two runs. Eight men left on base. Javier Vazquez gives up five runs on six hits and two walks in 7 1/3. Paul Quantrill and Scott Proctor do far, far worse. Oh, and Jorge Posada gets his nose broken trying to break up a double play (the pivot throw from shortstop Alfredo Amezaga hit Jorgy square in the face). Ugly.

5/13: Yanks 7, Angels 4

Jon Lieber makes amends in this, his third start, allowing just three runs on five hits and no walks while striking out six in eight full. He needs just 101 pitches, 76 of them strikes. Meanwhile, the bats get to John Lackey consistently, scoring in five of the seven innings in which he appears.

5/14: Yanks 9, Mariners 5

Despite a rocky outing (6 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 0 K) that looks more like the rule than the exception for him this season, Moose evens his record at 4-4 thanks to the Yankee hit-parade that makes a mess of Meche, Villone and Mateo and includes ten walks and contributions from every starter except the 0-for-5 Jeter.

5/15: Mariners 13, Yanks 7

Wait, this was 13 innings. How did the M's win by six? What's that about Gabe White? In the top of the thirteenth seven of the first eight batters (the exception being a Randy Win sac bunt) reached base against him? Two via intentional walks? Double, intentional to Ichiro, sac bunt, intentional to Edgar, 2-run double, walk, RBI HBP (cripes!), 3-run double? Ugleeeee.

This was Osborne's second start and he managed to match Jamie Moyer almost exactly. Unfortunately, neither pitched well (5 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER for Osborne). With the Yanks down by a run, Bernie homered in the seventh to tie it up. Gordon and Rivera combined to pitch four scoreless innings. All for naught.

5/16: Yanks 2, Mariners 1

Kevin Brown (7 2/3 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K) and Joel Pineiro (8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 6 K) benefit from the exhaustion following the previous day's 20-run outburst. The M's lone run comes too late to make any difference. Brown and the Yanks had this one going away.

Having recapped what I missed, let's take a look at the state of the team. We'll start with the pitching:


Kevin Brown is 5-0 with an ERA of 3.13. No complaints there, but a closer look at his numbers reveals that his strikeout rate is down and his fly-ball rate is up. One's impulse is to say that the increased number of fly balls is consolation for the decreased number of strikeouts (he's still keeping the ball away from the Yankees' infield defense), but what's really happening is that his SLG-against and homer rates are off the Kevin Brown map. Ignoring his craptacular, injury plagued 2002 season, he's giving up homers more frequently than in any season since he was with Texas in 1994. The same holds true for his SLG-against thus far this season, it's his highest (ignoring 2002) since 1994. Something to keep an eye on.

Javier Vazquez has had four great starts (one of which was a hard-luck loss to Pedro Martinez), and three shaky ones. Two of the shaky ones have come in his last two starts. His first shaky start, early in the season in Boston, was explained as a "too-much rest" start, and was really spoiled by one bad inning. His second shaky start appeared to be a fluke loss of control in Oakland. I missed his last start against the Angles, and Posada's nose used up most of the post-game ink, but I notice that he only threw 59 of his 100 pitches for strikes despite walking only two. I will be very interested to see what he does tomorrow night in his rematch with the Angels.

Mike Mussina seems to have gotten his early season wildness under control, but he still isn't dominating like he should. Like Brown, his strikeout rate is down, but in the reverse of Brown, his fly-ball rate has declined. Thus far this season, Mussina has been more of a groundball pitcher than he's ever been in his career. That's bad news with the infield he has behind him. In fact, the DIPS (Defense Independent Pitching Stats) info compiled by Larry Mahnken shows that Mussina is on the short list of AL pitchers most victimized by their defense. It's almost as if Mussina and Kevin Brown are staring in one of those lame body-switching comedies. Moose even seems more surly than usual. I'm sure he finds this all about as funny as Like Father, Like Son.

Jon Lieber. Three starts isn't enough to go on, but two have them have been delightful. He has yet to walk a batter this season, puts the ball in play, works quickly and efficiently and gives his team a chance to win, all as advertised. That said, he does have a groundball tendency that could come back to bite him. We'll have to wait and see on that one.

The fifth spot is still a mess. I'll get to this in a moment. First the


Mariano Rivera has had a bit more John Wetteland in his this season that one would like. Indeed, his OBP-against is the highest of his career since his cup of coffee as a starter in 1995. That said, the rest of his rate stats are right on target and his one blown save in 21 appearances is actually twice as good as his usual rate of 1 BS per 10+ appearances. If there's any concern here it's that he's on pace to pitch over 100 innings in 90-plus games. Mo's heaviest workload as a closer has been 80 2/3 innings in 71 games back in 2001.

Tom Gordon's current strikeout rate is his lowest since his last full season as a starter in 1996, but he's otherwise been unhittable and is throwing fly balls, so you'll hear no complaint from me. Again, his workload thus far (pace for about 90 games and innings) is a slight cause for concern.

Paul Quantrill, like fellow ex-Dodger Kevin Brown, has increased his fly-ball rate. Unlike Brown, he's not paying for it in the SLG-against department, and has yet to give up a home run this season. Unlike Rivera and Gordon, he's used to the heavy work load. Ignore his hiccup against the Angles last week, Ski-Doo is money.

Gabe White I'm still not so sure about. His strikeout rate, which has been falling for several seasons, is now about half of his career number. Always susceptible to the home run, White has kept the ball in the park this year, and his SLG-against is on target, but his baserunners are up overall despite a consistent fly-ball rate. Could it be that I'm actually getting anxious to see if Felix Heredia can contribute to this team? Bad news from the left side. More evidence . . .

Donovan Osborne, ignoring his two starts (one shaky, one godawful), is still a valuable member of this team as a lefty out of the pen. Here are his numbers out of the pen this year: 3.18 ERA, 11.1 IP, 11 H, 10 K, 3 BB. I'll take that, especially from a fly-ball pitcher.

Bret Prinz occupies the (apologies to Jay Jaffe), Randy Choate Memorial Bullpen Slot. That said, he's given up just two hits and no walks while striking out four in his four innings pitched out of the pen thus far (read: last week). Of course, he could lose his job to Heredia sometime this week. If not, he's sure to have a rocky outing that will remove him from Torre's line-up card and/or see him farmed out for Scott Proctor. So it goes.

Speaking of Heredia and the afore mentioned fifth starter spot, the Yanks have been busy with the sort of piddling roster moves that only the readers of a blog such as this one would care about. Prinz came up two weeks ago when Jose Contreras was shipped out to Billy Connors' School for Funked Up Pitchers. Prinz and Scott Proctor, who was already on the roster, are basically the same pitcher, so when Posada broke his nose, the less successful Proctor was farmed out so that emergency catcher David Parrish (failed prospect, son of Lance) could be called up. To get Parrish on the 40-man roster, Travis Lee, who is likely (hopefully) out for the season with shoulder surgery, was shifted to the 60-day DL. With me so far?

Okay, having started Osborne twice in Contreras's place with very little success, the Yankees promised the Dodgers a player to be named later in exchange for washed-out major league journeyman/workhorse/right-handed crap pitcher Tanyon Sturtze, seen most recently stinking to high heaven in relief for the Blue Jays and probably best remembered as an 18-game loser for the Devil Rays in 2002. Are you ready for a shock? Sturtze is just one year younger than Osborne. Anyway, continuing the roster shuffling, with Posada available as a back-up and possibly ready to start on Tuesday, Parrish was farmed out to make room for Sturtze, who will bounce Osborne back to the bullpen, and has pushed El Duque onto the 60-day DL to create the room on the 40-man. Got all that?

So what does it all mean? Well, the Contreras seems to have zipped through Tampa and made his second start with the Clippers on Sunday. The surface stats are strong (7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 12 K), but the peripherals are a mess: 2 wild pitches, 2 HBP, five stolen bases including a bases-loaded triple steal. Ugly. Connors talks big about Contreras's attitude and command and improvements, but Clippers manager Bucky Dent (shudder) confirms that Contreras is still struggling with his command. Thus Sturtze, who should be nothing more than a stop-gap to give Contreras a couple more starts in Columbus. The problem here is that Sturtze is terrible and the reports on Contreras don’t make it sound like he’s improve much at all. It’s not even May 20th yet and the Yankees are already down to their fourth best hope at filling the fifth starter gap (DePaula, Graman, Osborne, now Sturtze). Seriously, Tanyon Sturtze?! This is bad. Worst of all, it could put further strain on a bullpen that, if given a normal workload, could be nearly unhittable.

Ugh, so it's become another late night on blogger for me. Just back from vacation and with who knows what terrors awaiting me at work tomorrow, I think I'll have to cut this one short before I get to the offense.

Glad to be back here (the BRB), if not so much here (the decidedly untropical land of work and responsibility). Thank god for baseball.

posted by Cliff at 9:44 PM

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