Saturday, June 12, 2004

Finger off the Panic Button 

The Yanks got another scare last night when Mike Mussina came out of the game after three stellar innings with a sore groin. I was pretty freaked out about the state of the Yankee staff last night, but after having a night to sleep on it I'm taking my finger off the panic button. Moose didn't seem overly concerned about the injury after the game last night. Joe and Mel did the right thing by getting Moose out of the game before it became something serious (much like Joe did with Jeter, who missed just three games and has three hits, four runs scored and a homer in his three games since).

Here are some key post-game quotes:

Moose: "I'm not concerned about it. It doesn't bother me to walk or do anything else, just stretching down the mound. One pitch, it got real tight on me. This happens once in a while. I'll just have to stay ready and get back when I can. We'll let the guys take care of it here, and we'll see how we do in a couple of days."

Joe: "I'm just going to let it play out the next two days and see what our options are [after Monday's off-day]. We'll see how far along Brownie and Moose are then."

Right now I expect Mussina to make his next start. Though there's a chance that Joe might push that start back, skip Brown entirely and start Sturtze somewhere in the middle.

Actually, right now the worst part of Mussina's injury is that it's already cost the Yanks a game. Moose looked almost as good last night as he did on Sunday against the Rangers. He set down the first seven men in order, striking out four of them. The Padres scraped out a run in the third on a Kerry Robinson infield single, stolen base and some Keystone Kop play by the Yanks that allowed Robinson to score on the attempt. Of course, that run only tied the game. The Yanks would finish the contest with just two runs, but that was enough to win Moose's last start, and probably would have been again last night had Mussina not got hurt. Robinson was the only Padre to reach base against Mussina in three full innings and no one in the first two innings even got the ball out of the infield. Moose threw 69 percent of his pitches for strikes.

Joe went to Felix Heredia in the fourth. Heredia dug a hole allowing three runs in three innings of work. Paul Quantrill pitched the next two allowing one run in the eighth on a lead-off double and a pair of productive outs. Joe then went to Gabe White for the ninth, who literally added insult to injury by surrendering five runs, three of them on a Phil Nevin no-doubter, before getting the final out.

Here's hoping they get the good Jon Lieber in this afternoon's game, lest the Padres become just the second team to take a series from the Yankees since they were swept at home by Boston in April.

posted by Cliff at 3:13 PM

Friday, June 11, 2004

Catching up 

When last we visited our New York nine, I was concerned about the meager five runs they had scored over their previous three games (three of which were driven in by Jason Giambi). No more! As well they should have, the Yankees took the broom to the Rockies and in the process scored 17 runs in their final two ballgames against the Purple Mountains Majesty. The sweep gave them a four game winning streak (their fourth of the season), and pushed them to 8-1 in their last nine games and 14-2 in their last sixteen. One of those two loses was a one-run ball game. Troublingly, both of them were started (and lost) by Jon Lieber.

And this is where the trouble starts. Wednesday's game was yet another stirring comeback. The Yankees trailed 5-0 in the third, but came back to win 7-5 thanks to homers by Sheffield, Jeter (both 2-run jobs) and Bernie (solo), the latter two coming back-to-back in the seventh to chase Rocky starter Joe Kennedy and push the Yanks into the lead. But hidden in all that excitement is the reason they were trailing to begin with. You surely know by now, but Kevin Brown's back seized up on him in the second inning, during which he surrendered four runs, and after which he came out of the game. Ticking time bomb Tanyon Sturtze came on to eat up some innings and promptly loaded the bases with a single, hit-by-pitch, wild pitch and a walk, then walked a run home.

Brown has since had an MRI, CT scan and x-rays yesterday and was diagnosed with a strained lower back. He is listed as day-to-day. Technically that's good news, but Brown's back is his biggest trouble spot. Back surgery ruined his 2002 season--which, despite his history of injuries, was the only season in which he was not at least effective when healthy. Brown has said that the pain he felt on Wednesday was not like that he felt around the time of his back surgery, but his description of feeling like he had a steel rod in his back is not encouraging.

The best the Yanks can do right now is hope. If Brown goes down (which if he doesn't now, he's almost sure to at some point later in the season--the Yankee medical staff can only hope to minimize his injuries), things get ugly quick. As I said, Lieber is responsible for the only two games the Yankees have lost since they dropped the series in Texas back on May 23. Contreras we'll get to in a minute. And the team's preferred sixth option right now appears to be Sturtze.

To his credit, Sturtze settled down quite nicely on Wednesday. Following up that bases-loaded walk with a double play ball and just one more hit over his next three innings of work. But this is still the same 34-year-old pitcher who has a career 5.20 ERA (ERA+: 88) in over 600 innings and couldn't stick in the Devil Ray's rotation or the Blue Jays bullpen. You know, I keep saying that, implying that the Yankees have higher standards for their pitchers, but then I look at Contreras and his 6.75 ERA and I begin to wonder.

For his part, Contreras had his longest outing of the year yesterday, posting this line: 7 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 114 pitches, 57 percent for strikes. That's not great, but it's pretty solid for El Titan. Even better, after giving up two walks and three home runs in his first four innings, Contreras settled down and set down the final eleven men he faced in order, striking out four of them. That said, we've seen this before from Contreras. He'll alternately dominate and quiver on the mound in the same game. His teammates have to act as external sources of confidence (as Alex Rodriguez did yesterday). Just because he finished strong yesterday doesn't mean he'll be able to pick up from there in his next start.

With Brown's injury the Yankee rotation is quickly losing it's precarious grip. I'm very curious to see what they get out of Lieber tomorrow and Mussina, coming off an incredible start against Texas last Sunday, tonight.

As for yesterday's offense, the big blast in yesterday's game was John Flaherty's grand slam (accounting for four of his five RBIs), but the big hit was Bernie's 2000th, part of a 3-for-3, two walk, two run, one RBI day for the burning Bernie.

In other news, expect Lofton to come off the DL for the Arizona series, rather than Bubba Crosby get recalled. Meanwhile, the Yanks can skip Kevin Brown's next start due to their usual Monday off-day, which I would not be surprised to see them do.

As for the Padres, read my pre-season take on them in my NL West preview here. I expected the Padres to make a 19-game improvement, launching themselves into the race for a division no one would claim. Thus far they've exceeded my expectations and are on pace to improve by 23 games. That's even more impressive as Jake Peavy and Ryan Klesko are currently on the DL and David Wells just got off the list. By the way, the Padres just signed Donovan Osborne to a minor league contract.

Oops! Game time! Gotta go . . .

posted by Cliff at 5:14 PM

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Brother Ray 

Ray Charles has died at age 73. I don't have the words . . .

There was no greater joy than that with which Ray Charles performed his music, and no greater sensation than hearing him do so.

If you do not own The Best of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years or a comparable collection of his '50s work. Buy it now. This is not an obligatory tribute. This is from the heart.

posted by Cliff at 4:08 PM

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

More pitching, more Rockies, and some links 

The Yanks eked out another 2-1 victory last night behind Javy Vazquez, who was perfect through 4 1/3 and finished having allowed just one run on five hits and no walks while striking out six in seven innings. Gordon and Mo combined to close it out allowing just one hit (Mo). Jason Giambi, who hit what turned out to be the game-winning homer in the bottom of the eighth on Sunday, drove in the only two Yankee runs with a two-out single in the third. Giambi, Sheffield and Wilson all played the field, but Derek Jeter was given one more day off. He's expected to be in the line-up tonight.

So the Yankees have now scored just five runs in their last three games. I was willing to give Juan Dominguez and Ryan Drese credit, but after seeing Jeff Fassero pitch well against them, I'm beginning to wonder if this offense isn't entering into a small slump following a May in which they hit .293/.374/.503 (.294) as a team.

That said, despite his 5.97 ERA on the season (which was a full half-run higher before yesterday's contest), Jeff Fassero has a handsome 3.09 ERA on the road. So maybe the Yankees really have just hit a run of solid opposing pitching. To continue the trend, Joe Kennedy, whom the Yankees face tonight, has a 2.90 road ERA (to go with a solid 3.63 overall). So even if the Yankees fail to break out again tonight, I'll delay thoughts of a team slump, even though this is precisely how such things start.

Instead I'll present you with two handy little charts (well, thanks to Blogger, not so little) showing you how the players currently on the Rockies' 25-man roster perform on the road as opposed to at Coors Field (using GPA for hitters and ERA for pitchers):

Joe Kennedy4.232.90
Jason Jennings7.166.23
Jeff Fassero10.673.09
Shawn Estes6.215.20
Aaron Cook8.103.00
Shawn Chacon5.568.18
Javier Lopez13.941.93
Steve Reed5.560.75
Tim Harikkala2.451.13
Allan Simpson9.002.45
Scott Dohmann4.76-
Marc Kroon20.25-
Brian Fuentes (DL*)7.151.46
Rockies Team7.354.75

I've included Fuentes because he's among the team leaders in appearances and just went on the DL before yesterday's game. Team totals include players not currently on the 25-man roster and thus not listed here.

Those are some frightening numbers. The Rockies have the worst team ERA in the majors (6.10 combined), but would move up to 23rd of 30 based on their road ERA alone. In the rotation (top five names) Kennedy, Jennings and Estes are fairly consistent, but Fassero and Cook are night and day. In the pen, closer Shawn Chacon has actually managed a pronounced reverse split, giving up more than a run and a half more on the road. Amazingly, this isn't as flukey as it seems, as Chacon had a slight reverse split last year (4.38 in Coors, 4.86 on the road). Elsewhere the bullpen has rather extreme splits with the exception of 32-year-old righty Tim Harikkala (who last pitched in the majors for the Red Sox in 1999 and has 20 2/3 career innings in the biggs prior to this year), who has been excellent all around and pitched 2 1/3 hitless innings last night, and call-ups Dohmann and Kroon who have yet to pitch on the road. In fact, other than Chacon, the Rockies pen has been dominating on the road as a unit.

As for the hitters (starters listed in typical batting order with positions indicated):

Aaron Miles (2B).264.225
Royce Clayton (SS).338.224
Todd Helton (1B).389.297
Vinny Castilla (3B).369.224
Jeromy Burnitz (RF).368.291
Matt Holliday (LF).334.212
Charles Johnson (C).291.314
Choo Freeman (CF).242-
Mark Sweeney.373.306
Luis A. Gonzalez.288.205
Kit Pellow.210.275
Denny Hocking.198.134
Todd Greene.284.190
Rockies Team.309.231

The Rockies currently rank fourth in the majors in overall GPA at .271 (behind the White Sox, Yanks and Red Sox in that order). Their home GPA would put them more than thirty points in front of the White Sox. Their road GPA would put them 29th in the majors, still comfortably outpacing the outright pathetic Expos (.218). Not surprisingly the bulk of the difference is slugging. While the difference in the Rockies home and away OBPs is a mighty 86 points, the difference between their home and road SLG is a stunning 155 points.

Looking at this chart, Clint Hurdle has constructed their line-up perfectly (save for Miles leading off) for their home games, but things crumble on the road. Charles Johnson and Kit Pellow actually have reverse splits, though both had extreme increases in their offense at home in 2003, the first year for each as a Rocky, so that may reverse as the season progresses. Helton, Burnitz, Johnson and Sweeney are the only Rocky hitters who can hit outside of Coors. Helton is a Hall of Famer, Burnitz and Johnson have both been all-stars outside of Coors, Sweeney is a 34-year-old journeyman who will cool off. After that, this team is flat out awful.

By the way, these splits are completely in line with Coors Field's park factors. The Rockies' team GPA is just over 30 percent higher at home, ERA just over 50 percent higher. Coors park factors have reached 130 in the past. Combine that with away games in hitter's parks like Dodger Stadium, PacComLMNOP Park in San Francisco and now Petco (that's three of their four division opponents) and you get your 30-50 percent swing. So, anyone else think they should make the Rockies play in a pressurized dome?

And now for those links. There's some good stuff going on around the Yankee blogosphere. Fabian McNally takes a close look at the Yankees picks from the amateur draft, though you might need a glossary to get through it. Larry Mahnken crunches some numbers to show that the Yankees, despite having the best record in the majors, are still not playing up to their ability (though their crappy April likely brings his numbers down). And Jay Jaffe takes a look at Joe Torre's use of his top three relievers throughout his tenure as Yankee skipper. In addition, Scott appears to be poised to bring the "Yankees" back to Yankees, Mets and the Rest. Good to see him and Shawn Bernard of The Greatest Game (who's actually been back for close to a month now) back in action after some time away.

posted by Cliff at 1:14 PM

Tuesday, June 08, 2004


Yeah, so once again, I failed to come through pre-game on the preview. Fortunately, I previewed the NL West back in March. So here's that.

Note that the Rockies have yet to get a single at-bat from Larry Walker and that I lead off my preview by saying, "the real key here is what the Rockies get out of 37-year-old Larry Walker." Add to that a mere 18 at-bats from Preston Wilson (who is due back soon) and the Rockies have gone from bad to worse, despite surprising boosts from Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla and Joe Kennedy, not to mention the surprise hitting of Mark Sweeney, Matt Holliday, Charles Johnson and Royce Clayton. Castilla, Clayton and Holliday (who's now the starting left fielder) turn into pumpkins on the road, where the Rockies are playing .296 baseball. Wow.

posted by Cliff at 4:24 PM

RIP Robert Quine 

Just one of this blog's 283 posts has nothing to do with baseball, but let this be the second. Robert Quine was found dead this past Saturday in his New York apartment.

For those unfamiliar with Quine, he was an absolutely incredible guitarist, best known for his work with Richard Hell, Lou Reed, John Zorn, Lloyd Cole and Matthew Sweet. I know him best from his work with the first and last of the men on that list. Richard Hell and the Voidoids' Blank Generation is one of my all-time favorite albums, thanks in large part to Quine's gloriously defiant lead guitar. Quine was no flashy shredder, rather he excelled at challenging the listener's expectations. While he was most recognizable for his skronking, and zig-zagging, he was also capable of moments of unusual beauty.

Quine was also a tremendous music fan, as evidenced by the official release in 2001 of his collection of personally recorded Velvet Underground bootlegs (they filled three CDs). His vast musical knowledge informed his playing, as he would often sneak quotes from Miles Davis on down into his solos.

All-Music has a complete list of the albums on which he appeared during his career, from Blank Generation in 1977 to a pair of guest spots in 2003. I highly recommend Blank Generation, but can also speak highly of his work on Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend and Altered Beast for those looking for something a bit easier on the ears. In fact, Quine's lead entry on Sweet's "Devil With the Green Eyes" (which sounds backwards, but isn't) from Altered Beast is almost worth the price of entry itself (of course, Altered Beast is another all-time favorite album).

You can read an extensive interview with Quine about the entirety of his career here.

Robert Quine was 61. The cause of death is believed to have been a heroin overdose. Quine's wife passed away recently. It has yet to be determined if Quine's death was a suicide.

posted by Cliff at 12:38 PM

Monday, June 07, 2004

Pitching Pitching and more Pitching 

That was the story this weekend. Hampered by injuries and illness and probably just flat winded from racing around the bases against the Orioles, the Yankees scored just three runs combined on Saturday and Sunday. Fortunately, they still managed to split the weekend's contests and take the series against the Rangers two games to one, evening the season series at three games a piece.

As the headline says, the weekend revolved around pitching. Saturday the Yankee pitchers just couldn't get it done. Of the four Yankee pitchers that appeared in that game (Lieber, Heredia, Prinz and White), only Bret Prinz managed to post a zero in the run column, retiring the only batter he faced.

Jon Lieber, who has legitimately earned the decision in each of his seven starts and is now 4-3, had his least efficient outing thus far, throwing 98 pitches in six innings. That he threw so many pitches while walking none and striking out just two is an indication of how much Lieber was struggling. Lieber's loss included home runs by lefties Brad Fullmer and Mark Teixeira (a switch-hitter batting left). Lieber has allowed seven home runs thus far this year. That's a rate of one per start, but five of them have come in his three loses with the other two being spread through his four wins. Five of those homers have also come off the bats of left-handed hitters. Indeed, lefties are causing the bulk of Lieber's problems as they have a .262 GPA against him (which is dead league average) and ten of the 13 extra-base hits he's allowed. Righties, on the other hand (ba-dum-bum), have a mere .200 GPA and three extra-base hits off Lieber. Those GPAs, by the way, are perfectly in line with his pre-surgery splits.

All of this suggests that Lieber's effectiveness depends on either a) the strength of the lefties in a given line-up (not good news when Trot Nixon and David Ortiz come to town) or b) his game-specific ability to get those lefties out. In the meantime, he's still walked just three batters in 46 2/3 innings (that's barely over a half a walk per nine innings!), but despite of the impressive K/BB ratio that results (6.00 on the nose), his K/9 rate is way down (3.47 down from high fives pre-surgery and 6.58 career). Putting these two weaknesses together, it should be no surprise that he's struck out lefty batters just five times in their 96 plate appearances against him thus far this season (compared to righties 13 times in 93 PA).

On the other side of things, Juan Dominguez and Ryan Drese both pitched extremely well for eight innings a piece. Dominguez picked up his first major league win, but Drese was victimized by Mike Mussina's best start since August 17 of last year, if not Sept 24, 2002.

Really, it would be difficult to pitch much better than Mussina did yesterday. Working quickly and efficiently, Mussina set down the first seven men in order and faced the minimum through six and two-thirds (thanks to a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play following Eric Young's one-out single in the third). Mussina had struck out ten, walked none and allowed just two hits, both singles, on just 94 pitches through eight scoreless innings when he took the mound for the ninth.

Mussina's first two pitches in the ninth were called strikes (Buck Showalter was not pleased with some of Tim Welke's strike calls, though I saw no evidence supporting his gripes), but after he tried to get Barajas to chase ball one, the Texas catcher blasted Mussina's fourth pitch off the top of the wall in centerfield for a triple. Barajas scored, sullying Moose's line, when Mo came on and got Michael Young to ground out on his first pitch. Mo then struck out Hank Blalock on four pitches, but things got interesting when Soriano singled and, when Soriano took off for second on Mo's first pitch to Fullmer, the Rangers' DH poked a lazy grounder through the hole vacated by Miguel Cairo at short, who went to cover the bag with the lefty Fullmer at the plate. Soriano, the tying run, moved to third on that play. Mo then fell behind 2-1 on Mark Teixeira before pulling even and getting Teixeira to hit a chopper up the first base line that Rivera pounced on and threw straight up the line at a 45 degree angle to the elevated glove of Tony Clark at first. Game over.

Which reminds me, Clark got the start at first despite Jason Giambi's return because Gary Sheffield sat out after having DHed for three straight games due to a stomach flu. Giambi DHed and in the bottom of the eight hit what proved to be the game-winning home run directly in front of my bleacher section in right. The first Yankee run came in the fourth on a short-porch homer by Bernie Williams, who was 3 for 4 while batting in the lead-off spot for the first time since April 16, 1996. All ten of the runs the Yankees scored in the Rangers series came via the home run. Seven different Yankees homered in the series: Wilson, Matsui, Rodriguez, Sierra and Giambi with Sheffield and Williams hitting two each. Bernie's two-run dinger was the first Yankee home run of the series, the other eight round-trippers were all solo shots.

Speaking of Giambi's activation, bad news: Tanyon Sturtze is still in pinstripes. The good news is that so is Bret Prinz. So who went down? That would be Bubba Crosby. That means that Hideki Matsui is now the second-string centerfielder and that Miguel Cairo (58 career games in the outfield) and Tony Clark (two career innings, not counting spring training and the minors) are now visible on the outfield depth chart. Expect Crosby to return in a week, however, as Torre has said he'll go back to eleven pitchers and a five-man bench when they play without the DH in Arizona and LA. That also means that Sturtze and Prinz have just six games to make things more obvious to St. Joe.

Speaking of Arizona and LA, next on the slate is interleague play, with the Rockies and Padres coming to the Bronx. I could take or leave interleague in general, but there is one great story here. David Wells is due to come off the DL tomorrow to pitch against the Red Sox, which would set him up to face Javier Vazquez and the Yankees on Sunday. You know Wells has had this series in his sights ever since he signed with the Padres in December. I would think he'd pitch through just about anything to take the hill in the Stadium one last time, and, after having been at his 200th win on the final day of the season last year, I'm gonna be there for the Dave Winfield Memorial Grudge Match. Huzzah!

I'll take a look at the Rockies before game time tomorrow, though I can tell you right now, the primary reasons to watch tomorrow night are to see if Jeter/Sheffield/Wilson are back in the line-up, to see what Joe does with the RF/1B/DH situation, and to watch Todd Helton play.

posted by Cliff at 4:00 PM

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