Saturday, June 19, 2004

The Dodger Blues, White sees Red 

The Yanks fell to the Dodgers 6-4 tonight in the first game between the two teams since the 1981 World Series. Putting the game itself aside for a moment, this match-up is one of the few that can be used as an argument in favor of interleague play. There's a natural excitement that is generated by the meeting of these two teams, much like there was when the Yankees faced the Cubs in Wrigley last year. However, whereas the Yankees and the Cubs met in the World Series just twice (though one did include Babe Ruth's legendary called shot), the Yankees and Dodgers have met in the fall classic a whoping eleven times, more than any other pair (the Yankees and Giants coming in second with six). Those eleven meetings include three in a five year span from 1977-1981, recent enough to reside in the memories of most fans over 30 or to hold a lofty status as an underappreciated golden age to those who first started to root for these teams in the lean mid-'80s.

There is a genuine rivalry here which is only aided by the fact that the Dodgers were once the Yankees intra-city rivals. For evidence of this excitement one needs no further proof than tonight's regular season record breaking Dodger Stadium crowd, which may have rolled in late, but got very loud and stayed through to Erig Gagne's last pitch.

For my own part I spent most of the day soaking in ESPN's non-stop Yankees/Dodgers programing, which included highlights of those last three World Series, SportsCentury programs on men like Reggie Jackson, Sandy Koufax, Don Larsen and George Steinbrenner, and vintage interviews with Tommy Lasorda, Don Drysdale and an assortment of Yankee greats. There is a lot of wonderful history there, though for all of the majesty of the players accomplishments, some of the most enjoyable moments come from the World Series highlight films (shot and edited in a style imitating, but not duplicating NFL Films), which include full audio from the managers' mound conferences and arguments with the umpires.

Getting back to the 2004 editions of these two teams, the rivalry is aided by the fact that these two teams have made three trades in the last twelve months. Here's a quick look at each:

In the wake of the Yankees deadline deal for Aaron Boone last July, Brian Cashman sent Robin Ventura to the Dodgers for a pair of (then) 26-year-old minor leaguers, Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor. At the time I was furious. To my mind, Ventura hadn't been replaced by Boone, rather he had been shifted into a far more useful role as a left-handed pinch-hitter and potential platoon partner for Boone. Too make it worse, the Yankees still had Todd Zeile on their roster and the deal made it appear that they had chosen to keep Zeile as Boone's backup rather than Ventura. As it turns out, Zeile was released less than three weeks later and the minor leaguers the Yankees got in return have both seen time with the big club this season. Of course, Ventura would have been a nice option to have when Aaron Boone came due to hit in the tenth inning of game four of the World Series with a righty on the mound and the winning run on third and one out, but a squeeze bunt would have sufficed and Joe Torre has since admitted as much. With that in mind, the trade has proven to be a net gain for the Yanks. After seeing a slight decline in his numbers after putting on a Dodger uniform last year, Ventura has vanished in 2004 with a .220/.281/.237 line and no home runs as a backup. Meanwhile, while Scott Proctor throws very hard, but also apparently very straight and has not sniffed the big club since failing in three of his five appearances in the biggs, Bubba Crosby has shown flashes of speed, power and defense and is now in his third tour of duty with the big club this season.

Most recently the Yankees acquired Tanyon Sturtze from the Dodgers for Bryan Myrow. Sturtze never actually threw a pitch for the Dodgers, but had posted impressive numbers for their triple-A club in the hitting-happy Pacific Coast League. Sturtze has since pitched in phenominal good luck with the Yankees, though his luck is sure to run out sooner rather than later. As for Myrow, he was a player-to-be-named that was just named earlier this week. He's not likely to see major league action in LA before September call-ups, if then. Of course, by then Sturtze should be nothing more than a bad memory for Yankee fans by then. Check out my take on Myrow here.

The most significant of the three trades between these two teams came during the offseason when the Yankees sent Jeff Weaver and a truckload of cash to the Dodgers for Kevin Brown. Talented but tempermental, Weaver was never able to pull himself together in a season and a half with the Yankees. Hoping he'd find himself closer to his southern California roots and in pitching-friendly Dodger Stadium, the boys in blue were more than happy to take Weaver off the Yankees hands in exchange for the monstrous contract of the often-injured Kevin Brown. As Brown was a strong candiate for the Cy Young award in the NL last year and Weaver was a glorious failure, the trade looked like a steal for the Yankees. This is what I said about the deal in my spring training preview of the Dodgers:
Kevin Brown, who along with Jason Schmidt and Mark Prior was one of the three best starters in the NL last year, is replaced by Jeff “Crybaby” Weaver. I actually expect good things from Weaver in L.A. He’s a groundball pitcher who was routinely let down by the Yankee defense last year. His DIPS (defense independent) ERA was 1.65 runs lower than his actual ERA in 2003, the fourth biggest difference in baseball (good reason to cry). Now he’s moving to an extreme pitchers park with a slow infield and good defense. He’s also a California native who should find peace back in his home state (that bit of malarkey is to offset the DIPS thing). That said, there’s virtually no chance of him making up for what the Dodgers lost in Brown.

That last comment was comparing Weaver's 2004 to Brown's 2003 (2.39 ERA in 211 IP). Comparing the two pitchers in 2004, things are much closer:

Brown: 4.13 ERA in 80.2 IP, .264 BAA, 1.25 WHIP, 5.36 K/9, 2.02 BB/9, 1.12 HR/9
Weaver: 4.53 ERA in 87.1 IP, .274 BAA, 1.40 WHIP, 7.32 K/9, 3.09 BB/9, 0.72 HR/9

Both have started thirteen games so, while Brown's numbers are better overall (especially when one considers park factors, though one must not forget that Yankee Stadium is also a pitcher's park, just not to the degree that Dodger Stadium is), Weaver has given the Dodgers more innings per start, more strikeouts and fewer homers. What's more, Weaver's DIPS ERA (Defense Independent) is 3.84 to Brown's 4.29. I still think this was a good trade for the Yankees, but it may wind up being a good trade for the Dodgers as well. It certainly didn't bother their fans that Weaver defeated the Yankees tonight while Brown sat in the dugout on the 15-day DL forcing the Yankees to turn to a 23-year-old rookie in his major league debut to keep the Dodgers from clinching the series tomorrow.

In other news, Alex Rodriguez had his 53-game on-base streak snapped tonight. Ironically, Alex actually scored a run in tonight's game, but he was on base because of a fielder's choice, which doesn't count. For those who find this unfair, Keith Woolner wrote an article for Baseball Prospectus last April that argued that reaching on a fielder's choice, which counts against OBP as it is the equivalent of making an out, should count positively toward OBP since the batter did technically reach base. Personally, I think that's a load of malarky. A fielder's choice is defined as a play in which the batter would have been retired had the fielder not decided to retire a man ahead of him on the bases. Perhaps every now and then a situation arises where the fielder's only possible play is to second, third or home, but the vast majority of the time the batter would indeed have been out had there been no one on base. Making fielder's choices count toward OBP would undermine the effectiveness of that most valuable of all statistics. By that same logic, Rodriguez's streak came to an end fairly tonight. Had the Dodgers not retired Derek Jeter at second, they would have had Alex easily at first. Though this does beg the question, do errors count in such streaks? I would think not by the same logic, but I don't know for sure.

One streak that was not broken tonight was Eric Gagne's record saves streak, which now stands at 80, a mind-blowing number. While earning a save is an incredibly overrated accomplishment, doing it 80 times in a row without fail is not. The game of baseball is not designed for a streak of success of that length, regardless of the amount of failure allowed. Even if every one of Gagne's saves began with a three-run lead and two outs and ended with his having surrendered two runs and recorded only the final out, 80 straight would still be impressive (partially because a guy with a 54.00 ERA should wind up giving up three runs against no outs at least once in 80 tries).

The Dodgers' Big Three of Dreifort, Mota and Gagne allowed just one hit (Gagne) while walking none and striking out six in three innings tonight. According to YES, the Dodgers have not lost a game that they have lead after the seventh inning all season. Wouldn't it be marvelous to see the comeback machine that is the 2004 Yankee offense finally rattle the Dodger cage and snap Gagne's streak? If it happens, I would expect it in Sunday's potential football game between Contreras and Lima.

Lastly, but not leastly, the Yankees traded Gabe White back to the Reds today in exchange for a double-A starter, cash and PTBNL. The double-A starter is Charlie Manning, a 25-year-old lefty who was actually picked by the Yankees in the ninth round of the 2001 draft and traded to the Reds with Branden Claussen in the Aaron Boone (and unofficially Gabe White) deal last July. That trade also involved a cash transaction (which is why the White deal, which also involved cash, was officially separate, there's a maximum on how much cash can change hands in a single transaction). If the PTBNL is Branden Claussen, who has a 5.30 ERA in triple-A and has not seen any action with the Reds yet this season, I'm going to get mighty suspicous, especially after the Yankees traded Drew Henson to the Reds for Denny Neagle in 2000 and then reaquired him for Wily Mo Pena in 2001. As for Manning, despite his 5.12 ERA in Chattanooga, he's recorded 9.09 K/9 and 2.69 BB/9 with just five homers allowed in 70 1/3 innings thus far this year. He will be assigned to Trenton, where he pitched for part of last year.

As for the immediate impact of this trade on the Yankees, White's roster spot will be taken by Brad Halsey, who will make his major leage debut tomorrow. In his post-game interview with Suzyn Walman, Joe Torre indicated that this trade is partially the result of the Yankees' appreciation for how Bret Prinz has performed. In essence, Torre was saying that the Yankees are not going to try to find another lefty reliever, but are applying the same priciples to their bullpen that they've applied to their rotation, specifically that a good right-hander will be more effective against lefties than a crappy left-hander. That the Yankees decided to trade White rather than release Heredia (who I assume is untradeable as the Yanks picked him up off waivers from the Reds last year) might indicate that they actually have some hopes for Manning, or have a decent list of PTBNLs. I've compared Heredia and White several times before on this blog and White has come out ahead every time. Heredia has done nothing to gain favor over White thus far this season. The two lefties have been equally awful, resulting in equally limited use (though Heredia's time on the DL may have helped his cause some by negating the breeding of contempt from familiarity). What's more, the two have nearly identical salaries and both have seen their strikeout rates decline steadily over the past few seasons. The only meaningful difference between the two this year, other than the fact that Heredia is four years younger, is that White, who historically has the stronger splits, has been hit hard by righties but absolutely murdered by lefties, whereas Heredia has been equally awful against batters of all kinds.

Holy crap, it's 5AM! I'm going to bed, if some of the above makes no sense I'll fix it tomorrow.

posted by Cliff at 1:52 AM

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Admiral Halsey notified me he had to have a berth or he couldn't get to sea 

The Yankees defeated the Diamondbacks tonight 4-2 behind a solid outing from Jose Contreras (6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K, HR, HBP, 120 pitches, 65 percent for strikes), and flawless relief from Gabe White (1/3 IP), Tom Gordon (1 1/3 IP, 1 H), and Mariano Rivera (27th save), who made his first appearance on the mound at the BOB since Luis Gonzalez's blooper won the 2001 World Series.

Contreras's 120 pitches were a season high, and his 6 1/3 innings marked just the second time that he had recorded more than 18 outs this season, the other time being his previous start against the Rockies. Contreras has not had a three-start stretch this season in which he has not had a disaster start. Having just turned in back-to-back respectable outings, Contreras will have the opportunity to make it three straight this coming Sunday in L.A. Curiously, John Flaherty has caught Contreras in four of the six of his starts in which he has lasted a minimum of five innings, including the last two. I would not expect Flaherty to catch Contreras on Sunday as Saturday's game is a day game after a night game, so Torre will most likely need to use Flaherty on Friday night or Saturday afternoon and catching Flaherty twice in a three game series without the possibility of DH-ing Posada is just plain foolish.

Moving along, Rivera's tight back, which kept him out of Sunday's spectacular 12-inning affair, appears to no longer be a concern. Unfortunately, Steve Hearsay called off his scheduled rehab start in Tampa yesterday after feeling soreness in his shoulder while warming up in the bullpen. Karsay claims not to be concerned. The real test will come when he tries to throw again later this week. Ideally, Karsay would rehab for two or three weeks and rejoin the Yanks just before the All-Star game.

Though it hasn't been officially announced, Brad Halsey will indeed get the start on Saturday against the Dodgers. In the Minor Yankee Blog post I linked to in my last post, Fabian McNally describes Halsey as, "a 23-year-old left hander excelling at AAA with solid stuff, 88-to-92 MPH fastball and good splitter." In the comments to his post Fabian adds:
Claussen 2003 versus Halsey 2004: Halsey is younger than Claussen was, by a year, and while his hit rate is higher [but still below one per inning], his K rate is higher, his homer rate is MUCH lower, and he has better control. So right now, Halsey would be a better prospect than Claussen 2003, albeit without as great a track record [as Claussen had prior to Tommy John surgery].

Here are Halsey's numbers in Columbus thus far this season:

2.57 ERA, 77 IP, 70 H, 46 K (5.38/9IP), 19 BB (2.22/9IP), 1 HR, 12 GS, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 6-2

He was named International League Pitcher of the Week for last week. According to Suzyn Waldman, Halsey started tonight, throwing five innings before being pulled and informed of his promotion. As a result, he'll be pitching on just three day's rest on Saturday. His stats from tonight's game are not included in the above line.

Mike Mussina hopes to avoid the DL and start on Tuesday in Baltimore. Meanwhile, check out the pitching match-ups for the Dodgers series: Vazquez vs. the exiled Jeff Weaver on Friday, Halsey's debut on Saturday, and a potentially wild Sunday pairing of Contreras and Jose Lima. Should be fun.

Lastly, Bryan Myrow, who was many bloggers' choice to be the replacement for Aaron Boone at third base prior to the acquisition of Alex Rodriguez, has been shipped to the Dodgers to complete the Tanyon Sturtze trade. Myrow is an on-base machine, but has displayed little power and no glove. In fact, after not even getting a non-roster invite to spring training pre-Rodriguez, he was shifted to first in Columbus in favor of my pre-Rod third-base pick, Jeff Deardorff (who did get an NRI). Myrow is also 27 and had posted a decidedly average .268/.365/.433 (.273) line thus far this season. With Deardorff, who is two years younger and able to play both of his positions (both of which are blocked by megastars with huge contracts at the major league level), out performing him, Myrow was expendable. That said, I wish they had gotten something better than Sturtze for him.

posted by Cliff at 1:29 AM

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

If He's Healthy 

Sorry for the lack of a post the past two days. I've just been plain ole busy. Of course it didn't help that my computer at work melted down today.

I was in the bleachers for Sunday's duel-comeback victory over the Padres, which I'd like to write up later, just for the joy of reliving the game.

Right now, I'm actually on my way out the door yet again, but wanted to drop a quick post about the Yankee rotation heading into the D-Back's series.

The big news is that Kevin Brown was placed on the 15-day DL today, retroactive to June 10. You can now settle your office pools. The good news is that word on Brown has been nothing but positive since he had to leave last Wednesday's game. As it stands, he'll miss the road trip and be eligible to come off the list for the Mets series in the Bronx.

Taking Brown's place on the roster is Bubba Crosby, who I initially expected to get the call when the Yankees went back to eleven pitchers for their games in the NL parks. I then retracted that prediction, not realizing that Kenny Lofton would be activated early and push Homer Bush down to Columbus, which is exactly what happened over the weekend.

As for the rotation, Contreras will be moved up a day into Brown's place tonight. Sturtze will fill the hole in the rotation by starting tomorrow. Lieber and Vazquez will, likewise, be moved up to Thursday and Friday and the Yankees will cross their fingers that Mussina will be able start on Saturday. Mussina has called this plan "ambitious," which suggests that someone else may need to be called up to start on Saturday, the primary candidates being Alex Graman and Brad Halsey. If Halsey gets the call, he'll be the tenth man to start a game for the Yankees this year (the main five plus DePaula, Osborne, Graman, Sturtze and Halsey), and we're not even out of June. The Yankees used just nine starters all of last year, including September call-ups (DePaula) and despite their struggles with Contreras and Jeff Weaver. They needed just ten starters in all of 2002 and eleven (anyone remember Brett Jodie?) in 2001. Interestingly, the trend continues and they used 12 in 2000, the last year they won the World Series. They also used 12 in 1996, but that's a season high for the Joe Torre Yankees.

Alright, I'm late. More soon, I hope!

posted by Cliff at 6:49 PM

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