Saturday, July 03, 2004

Another look at Thursday night 

The Yanks lost 11-2 tonight to the Mets at Shea. I expected the offense to be listless after last night. I didn't expect Mussina to get rocked for seven runs (five earned) in five innings to earn his first loss since April 22. I didn't expect Jorge Posada to catch the entire game (John Flaherty will surely get the start tomorrow in a day game after a night game with Contreras on the hill). And I didn't expect Derek Jeter to be in the line-up after getting seven stitches in his chin, let alone to draw two walks, steal a base and score one of the Yankees only two runs.

Even so, tonight's game was about as meaningless as they get. Rather, I want to take a second (and for this blog a first full) look at Thursday night's epic against the Red Sox.

It's interesting that a game that will likely be remembered well beyond this season seemed so unimportant going in. The Yankees had a seven-and-a-half-game lead on the Red Sox. They'd taken the first two games of the series, clinching a series win. And they were sending rookie Brad Halsey to the mound in just his third major league start against Pedro Martinez, who had dominated the Yankees in his previous start at the stadium earlier this year. Had the Yankees lost this game in an uneventful fashion, it would have meant no more than the one game in the standings it accounted for. Instead it may have defined this team.

I say that a Yankee loss would not have meant much, but there was still an electric Yankee-Red Sox atmosphere at the Stadium last night. When Pedro Martinez made his way to the bullpen he was lustily booed, the majority of the fans having already made their way to their seats. Pedro earned their disapproval by making the Yankee hitters look foolish, striking out eight, most with his devastating change-up, and plunking Gary Sheffield in the first. According to reports, Sheffield stepped out of the batters box twice on Martinez and Pedro took exception, throwing the 2-2 pitch behind Sheffield. Sheffield barked at Martinez (reportedly "not me") and carried his bat all the way to first base.

Martinez's performance was not drastically unlike the game he pitched in the Bronx back in April. He went seven allowing four hits in each, on Thursday he walked one more and struck out one more. The key difference was that whereas those four hits in April were a pair of singles and a pair of doubles, no two in the same inning, the first two hits Pedro surrendered on Thursday were home runs, the first by Tony Clark following a Jorge Posada two-out walk in the second inning, the second a towering upper-deck shot by Posada to lead off the fifth.

For his part Halsey, who fell apart against the Mets last weekend, made those three runs stand up by not allowing a runner past second until Manny Ramirez followed David Ortiz's second double of the night with a home run with one out in the fifth.

Unfortunately, Paul Quantrill was unable to hold the one-run lead. After finishing the fifth for Halsey, Quantrill gave up a lead-off double in the sixth to Dave McCarty (starting in place of a sore and left-handed Trot Nixon) followed by a single to Kevin Youkilis that pushed McCarty to third. Quantrill then managed to get Pokey Reese to ground into a double play, but Quantrill's having failed to get an out prior to that allowed McCarty to score from third to tie the game at three.

Things really started to heat up in the bottom of the ninth. That's not to say this wasn't a fantastic game before then. Deafening chants of "Pa-a-a-ay-dro-o-o-oh" followed both Yankee home runs (Martinez even seemed to look into the crowd from the set position in response to one of them). Alex Rodriguez made a pair of excellent plays. In the fifth he snagged a hot shot down the line and made a tremendous throw from foul territory to beat the speedy Reese at first. In the eighth he gloved a Jason Varitek liner, popping it up in the air and making the second-attempt catch. Reese, in response, made a near duplicate of Derek Jeter's famous backwards tumble into the third-base stands from Game 5 of the 2001 ALDS on a ball hit by Kenny Lofton in the bottom of the fifth.

But the bottom of the ninth is where this started to move beyond your typical one-run game. With the game tied at three and Keith Foulke in his second inning of work in relief of Pedro, Hideki Matsui lead off with a first-pitch single. Bernie flied out on Foulke's next pitch before Jorge worked him for six before doubling into right, sending Matsui to third with one out. With first-base open, Terry Francona had Foulke intentionally walk Tony Clark to bring up Enrique Wilson.

Flashback to Game 4 of last year's World Series. With the game tied 3-3 in the eleventh, Bernie doubles, Matsui walks and Dellucci sacrifices them up to second and third. Thus in a World Series game, the Yankees have the go-ahead run at third base in extra innings and just one out and Aaron Boone, who hit .200 in the ALDS, .176 in the ALCS and was hitting .125 at that point in the World Series, at the plate. Two words: squeeze bunt. Of course, Torre had Boone hit away. He struck out and John Flaherty flied out to end the inning. In the bottom of the eleventh Torre called on Jeff Weaver. An inning later the Marlins had won the game.

In early June, when the Rockies were in town, I went to see Joe Torre be interviewed by Bob Costas at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. During that interview, someone in the audience asked Torre what managerial move he most regretted making during his career. Torre stalled a bit before admitting that most fans would say bringing in Jeff Weaver in Game 4. He said that he had no regrets about bringing in Weaver, but did say that if a mistake was made in that game, it was not having Boone bunt in the eleventh. With that in mind, I fully expected to see Miguel Cairo hit for Wilson in the ninth Thursday night and squeeze Bubba Crosby, who was put in to run for Matsui at third, home with the winning run. Indeed, the squeeze bunt makes even more sense at home (Game 4 of the World Series was in Florida) because the game ends the second that runner crosses home.

Much to my dismay the pinch hitter brought in to replace Wilson was not Cairo, but Ruben Sierra. Admittedly, Torre made the exact same move back on June 13th. In that game, the Yankees came back against the Padres with a pair of two-out home runs off of Trevor Hoffman only to give up three runs in the top of the twelfth but then rally back in the bottom of the inning. In the bottom of the twelfth, the Yankees had tied the game at five and Hideki Matsui was intentionally walked to bring Enrique Wilson to the plate with one out and the bases loaded. Torre hit Sierra for Wilson and Ruben lifted a deep sac fly to center to win the game. That was one of the best games I had ever seen in person until Thursday night.

On this occasion, Sierra took Foulke's first two pitches for a ball and a strike and then swung through the next two. No sac fly, no RBI-grounder, no key hit. Just a strikeout. Bases still loaded, score still tied, two outs. Kenny Lofton grounded to second to end the inning.

Mariano Rivera came in in the tenth (following Heredia and Gordon who had combined to allow just one baserunner on a hit-by-pitch in the previous 2 1/3 innings following Reese's run-scoring double play) and set the Sox down in order.

Francona went to Mike Timlin in the bottom of the tenth. Derek Jeter lead off and worked the count full before being plunked by Timlin, the third hit-by-pitch of the game, and not the last (though there was surprisingly little tension resulting from any of the HBPs after Pedro hit Sheffield in the first). Sheffield then erased Jeter by hitting into a 5-4-3 around-the-horn double play aided by the fact that Youkilis was guarding the line against the right-handed Sheffield. Alex Rodriguez followed with a double and Francona went to lefty Alan Embree to face Bubba Crosby. On a 3-1 count, Rodriguez, who has an outside chance at another 40-40 season, swiped third. Crosby drew the walk and went to second on defensive indifference on the first pitch to Bernie, but Bernie lined out to Youkilis to end the rally.

By this point the intensity of the game had ratcheted up considerably, simply by virtue of it being the eleventh inning of the final game of a series between the Yankees and Red Sox. But that was only the start.

In the eleventh, with Mo still on the mound, Ortiz finished an eight-pitch at-bat with a lead-off single. Manny Ramirez followed with a single into center. Ortiz headed for third and Bubba Crosby made a strong throw that arrived at third just as Ortiz did, but it skipped by Rodriguez allowing Ramirez to go to second. A perfect back-up job by Rivera saved a Boston run. With first-base open, Torre had Rivera walk Varitek to set-up the force at all bases and bring Kevin Millar (who looks like the quiet kidnapper from Fargo with his bleach blonde hair) to the plate. Millar hit a shot to third base which Alex Rodriguez, with two great plays under his belt already this night, smothered. Rodriguez then touched third and fired home, around pinch-runner Gabe Kapler, from his knees. Posada tagged out Kapler and fired back to third where Rodriguez tagged the advancing Manny Ramirez. Triple Play! Well, not really. Ramirez was the man retired when Alex touched third. Though he himself though he had recorded three outs on the play and was hopping up and down mad until the umpire explained that you can't retire the same man twice. Classic. With the threat reduced to first and second, two outs, Mo got McCarty to fly out to left to end the inning.

After Embree set the Yanks down in order in the bottom of the eleventh, things just got even more extreme. With just two men left in the pen, Joe Torre called on long-man Tanyon Sturtze. Leading off against Sturtze, Kevin Youkilis lived up to his Moneyball reputation by drawing a nine-pitch walk, his second walk of the game. Cesar Crespo then ran for Youkilis and Pokey Reese bunted him over to second. Johnny Damon followed with a fly ball to left that dropped just in front of Ruben Sierra (although many in the crowd were furious at Sierra for pulling up on the ball, had he dived and the ball skipped by him it would not only have scored Crespo, but Damon might have come all the way around himself). Fortunately, the ball was hit too softly, and Sierra came too close to it for Crespo to score. This time, Torre opted not to walk the bases full, partially because Damon was only on first, but more likely because a walk to Bellhorn would have greatly increased the chances of Manny Ramirez (batting two spots behind Bellhorn) coming to the plate with runners in scoring position. Fortunately, Bellhorn hit a towering pop up to Cairo at second on the first pitch he saw. That brought up Ortiz's spot with two out and men on the corners.

Gabe Kapler had run for Ortiz in the previous inning, so Francona went to his bench for Trot Nixon, who was switched to DH at the last-minute on Wednesday because of a tight quadricep, thus necessitating David Ortiz's move to first base where he had a fateful encounter with Tony Clark's hard-hit grounder. Damon moved to second on defensive indifference on the second pitch to Nixon, but it would have no effect. Nixon looked at Sturtze's first three pitches to run the count to 2-1. He finally offered at the fourth, lifting a bloop behind third base, just inside the foul line. It was too deep for Rodriguez to play, but much too shallow for Sierra to even consider, rather this one was in Derek Jeter's territory. Indeed, the Yankee captain bolted out of his shortstop position and snagged the ball on a full run one step shy of the foul line. In his single-minded pursuit of the last out, of retiring notorious Yankee-killer Nixon and ending the Red Sox rally, Jeter paid absolutely no attention to the amount of room he had to make the play, only to the fact that the play needed to be made. Thus his sprint carried him at full speed toward the stands. Ball securely in mitt, Jeter made a Superman leap into the seats, successfully clearing the concrete area just behind the retaining wall, but meeting an empty (or, more likely, evacuated) seat face first and crumbling to the floor. Rodriguez waived over Torre and the Yankee trainers as the umpire searched for the ball, eventually making a delayed out call. Jeter emerged from the stands beaten and bloodied (he'd require seven stitches to close a gash on his chin and had a series of bruises on the right side of his face and around his eye, fortunately x-rays of his cheek were negative). Perhaps Jeter, having watched Reese steel his act in the fifth, had decided to do him one better. More likely, he was going to do anything to keep the Red Sox from winning this game. Although the catch itself woudl not have been exceptionally spectacular in the open field, Jeter's complete lack of regard for his body in the name of a win clearly inspired his teammates. If you missed the game and didn't catch the highlights, don't worry. They'll be playing this one in October. You can be sure of it.

Jeter emerged from the stands dazed and bloody and clearly had to be taken out of the game. With Enrique Wilson already used, the Yankees had to score in the bottom of the twelfth or be forced to get creative on defense in the thirteenth. Fortunately, Miguel Cairo lead off the inning with a booming triple to left center off new Sox pitcher Curtis Leskanic. As fate would have it, Jeter's spot was due up next and Torre's bench consisted of John Flaherty and Jason Giambi. Reluctant to use his back-up catcher in a game that seemed determined not to end, Torre sent a visibly weakened Jason Giambi and his pet parasite to the plate. As if Jeter's dive hadn't given this game a surreal enough feel, Francona then decided to bring Kevin Millar in from right field to play third and defend against Giambi with five infielders (first-to-third: McCarty, Crespo, Reese, Bellhorn, Millar) and just two outfielders (Ramirez and Damon). Perhaps hoping his reputation would force Leskanic out of the strikezone, Giambi watched the first three pitches for a ball and two strikes before weakly flailing at the fourth pitch for strike three. With Francona's five-man infield switching around to put the "hands" team on the right side (1B-3B: Millar, McCarty, Crespo, Reese, Bellhorn--all franticly exchanging gloves from the dugout) Leskanic then hit Sheffield with his next pitch, the fourth HBP of the game and second time Sheffield got plunked. Joe Torre popped out of the dugout to complain that, as the benches had previously been warned and it was actually strategically advantageous for the Sox to put Sheffield on, Leskanic should be tossed. No such luck.

Rodriguez was then walked and once again the Yankees had the winning run on third with just one out and a capable bunter at the plate in Bubba Crosby. Surely Torre couldn't make the same mistake twice. Not after his shortstop just threw himself face-first into the stands to keep his team alive. He couldn't.

He did. In Torre's defense, Francona still had his five man infield in effect. And to Crosby's credit, he worked the count full, both strikes coming on foul balls, before bouncing to Pokey Reese at what I suppose you could still call shortstop. Reese fired home to retire Cairo. Cairo, as Larry Mahnken pointed out, clipped Varitek on his slide, possibly disrupting a would-be 6-2-3 double play. With the bases still loaded, Leskanic then struck out Bernie on three pitches, all swinging.

Having failed to score, the Yankees had to create a legitimate defensive alignment from this cast: Cairo, Giambi, Sheffield, Rodriguez, Crosby, Williams, Posada, Clark, Sierra and Flaherty. My thought was to put Rodriguez at short, Sheffield at third, Giambi at first and Clark in the outfield (alternately, Flaherty at catcher and Posada at first). What Torre did was put Rodriguez at short (for the first time this season) and Sheffield at third (for the first time since 1993), and put Bernie in the outfield, thus giving up the DH and inserting Sturtze into the number two spot in the lineup.

Most fans were still trying to wrap their heads around the implications of this alignment when Manny Ramirez creamed a 2-2 Sturtze pitch over the left-field wall to give the Red Sox a 4-3 lead. Having deflated the crowd, Sturtze then struck out Jason Varitek on four pitches. Kevin Millar then lined a hotshot to third that Gary Sheffield, yes Gary Sheffield, backhanded. Having impressed the crowd and perhaps himself with the stop, Sheffield looked up to make the throw to first and was visibly uncomfortable with the view, making a shortened outfielder's throw that Tony Clark caught in foul territory a few steps toward home. Sturtze then walked McCarty on five pitches, but Crespo hit a perfect double play ball to Cairo, who fed to Rodriguez who turned it perfectly to end the inning.

With the Red Sox ahead by one, and the end of the game finally in sight, home-plate umpire Jim Wolf's strikezone seemed to increase by a solid six inches in each direction (though looking back at the game log there were only two called strikes on the first three hitters). Posada struck out on four pitches and Tony Clark grounded an 0-2 pitch back to Leskanic for the second out. Ruben Sierra then took two pitches, one a questionable strike, the other a ball, and lined the third pitch from Leskanic into right for a game-extending single. That brought up Miguel Cairo, who tripled deep into the left field gap in the previous inning. After falling behind 0-2, taking the Yanks down to their last strike, Cairo took ball one and fouled off another pitch before hitting a booming double into the right field gap that chased Sierra all the way home from first to tie the game.

With the last of their energy the Yankee Stadium crowd came alive once again, unable to fully believe what it had seen go down this night. As suits a game of this kind, Cairo's game-tying bottom-of-the-thirteenth double brought the pitcher's spot up in an American League park. With just one man left on his bench and one man left in his bullpen, Joe Torre got Bret Prinz up in the pen and sent John Flaherty to the plate. Flaherty watched the first four pitches go by to run the count to 3-1 before lacing a shot well over Manny Ramirez's head in left. Ramirez started after it but quickly realized there was no hope. The ball bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double, scoring Cairo and giving the Yankees the win, a three-game sweep of the Red Sox, and an eight-and-a-half game lead in the AL East.

It took a solid half-hour to get out of the Stadium from my seats in the upper deck. Through all of that time, the celebrating Yankee fans did not stop hooting, hollering and chanting. As I was tallying up my scorecard on the subway, a group of Yankee fans told me I should frame it. It was that kind of game.

posted by Cliff at 1:20 AM

Friday, July 02, 2004


Yes, I was there. Fourth row of the upper deck behind home. I got the tickets in December. I've been looking forward to this game for six months. Never in my wildest dreams could I have expected what I saw.

Absolutely unreal.

I got home at 3am. I will try to get a post up about the game today, but I may not be able to get it in before tonight's game at Shea begins. I would not surprised to see this team rather listless tonight, much like they were in Game One of the World Series against the Marlins.

In other news, Derek Jeter is day-to-day with a laceration on his chin, a bruised cheek and a bruised shoulder (not sure, but I think the right one--if that's correct, it's not the one he separated last April). And Kevin Brown has Giambi's parasite. Although his back is no longer bothering him, he's lost fifteen pounds and will need to get back up to strength before returning.

posted by Cliff at 10:14 AM

Thursday, July 01, 2004


We join our heroes in a dangerous spot, down 0-2 in the top of the seventh, Bret Prinz, brought on in relief of Jon Lieber with two on and none out has just walked Pokey Reese on five pitches to load the bases and Joe Torre has call upon the man Larry Mahnken has come to call "The Run Fairy," Felix Heredia, to face the top of the Red Sox order . . .

Heredia, who has walked 4.74 men per nine innings thus far this year and 4.55 per nine on his career, leads Johnny Damon off with a ball. Damon then fouls off the next two pitches before grounding to Tony Clark at first. Clark fires home to Posada to force out Gabe Kapler. Bases remain loaded, one out.

Heredia gets a called first strike on Mark Bellhorn before Bellhorn also fouls off a pair of pitches. Down 0-2, Bellhorn lifts a ball into left field, but not deep enough to score catcher Doug Mirabelli from third. Bases still loaded, two outs and up to the plate strides David Ortiz.

Ortiz has driven in both Boston runs tonight, the first with a single in the first, the second by crushing the first pitch Jon Lieber threw in the top of the sixth deep into the right field bleachers. The AL RBI leader bats left and loses nearly 300 points of OPS against lefty pitching. Heredia, though poor overall thus far this season, has been comparatively effective against lefties. Ball one. Swinganamiss, strike one. Ball two. Ortiz is now in a good hitting count and lets 'er rip at Heredia's next pitch, fouling it off to even the count. Now just one strike from escaping the inescapable, Heredia pours in a called third strike. Inning over. The Red Sox fail to score.

After that, you just new the runs were coming.

In the bottom of the seventh, Tim Wakefield's first knuckler floats into Gary Sheffield, awarding him first base. Sheffield, 0 for 4 on the bases this season, then steals second on a 2-1 count to Hideki Matsui despite his own lack of success and the fact that Mirabelli has already thrown out two would-be Yankee basestealers in this game. Wakefield then floats two more balls, walking Matsui. Terry Francona brings in Scott Williamson in to face Bernie Williams. Williamson, who has held opposing hitters to a obscene .097 average this season, gets Bernie swinging on a 2-2 count, though Bernie does foul one Williamson fastball almost clear out of the stadium. Williamson then walks Jorge Posada, who never took the bat off his shoulder, on five pitches and promptly leaves the game with a groin pull.

With the bases loaded and one out, in comes Mike Timlin and up comes Tony Clark, who's solid defense put the first nail in the Red Sox coffin in the top of the inning on a grounder to first base. Clark, batting left, pulls Timlin's first pitch hard down the firstbase line. David Ortiz gets his glove on it, but the ball tears through the webbing and trickles into shallow right as Sheffield and Matsui score the tying runs. After Ortiz gets a new glove, Miguel Cairo grounds out to end the inning. Tie game.

Defender of the Universe Tom Gordon retires Manny (an eight-pitch strikeout), Nomar and Trot (another K) in the top of the eighth. Timlin stays on in the bottom of the inning.

On Timlin's first pitch, Kenny Lofton hits a grounder to the hole at short. Garciaparra backhands the ball and then bounces the throw in front of David Ortiz, who is unable to get his new glove on the ball. Lofton reaches second and is promptly bunted to third by Derek Jeter. With the go-ahead run on third, Gary Sheffield turns in an epic ten-pitch at-bat in which he takes just one pitch, a first-pitch strike. Timlin tries to go up the ladder on Sheffield, but Sheffield just keeps fouling off pitches, eight of them in a row. Somewhere around the sixth or seventh the YES cameras catch Derek Jeter laughing, shouting "c'mon, Sheff!" and mimicking Sheffield swinging at pitches up around his head. On Timlin's tenth pitch, Sheffield finally keeps one fair, sending the ball under the glove of a diving Mark Bellhorn and into left field for an RBI double, giving the Yankees the lead.

Two batters later, the Yankees tack on an insurance run when Matsui singles home Sheffield. It's not needed. Mariano Rivera--who for all the worries about his workload earlier in the season, has pitched just three times since June 15--strikes out the side, including pinch hitter Jason Varitek on three pitches, to earn his 28th save.

Game over. The Yankees clinch the series and increase their lead in the East to seven and a half games.

Tomorrow they'll go for a very unlikely sweep, offering rookie Brad Halsey against a decidedly human (and increasingly idiosyncratic) Pedro. I'll be there, second row behind home. I've been looking forward to this game since December.

In other news, Gary Sheffield--who has three homers, seven runs scored and nine RBIs in his last five games, a seven-game hitting streak, and hit .361/.456/.736 (.389) in June--has said that he'll likely need offseason surgery on his left shoulder, in his words, "This isn't bursitis. This feels like something worse." Sheffield has had prior surgery on both shoulders, on the left one in 1991. He also spent time on the DL in 1994 due to that shouldler. He claims that his doctors have told him that playing through it will not aggrivate the condition, though he estimates that he's playing at about 80 percent right now (remarkable if it's true). He does not expect to have another cortizone shot. Though he's in constant pain on and off the field, he claims to have a high tolerance and is taking the prescription arthritic pain killer Vioxx. More from Sheff:
"I've had surgery on my shoulder before, and it feels like that now. Whether that's the case, I'll find out in the offseason. I don't want to know now. I thought about getting another opinion, but I don't need one. If I can just play, I can get through it. When it's time to take care of it and worry about it, that's when I'll do it. If I can't hurt it any worse, I'll just play with it. If I'm going to play, I'm going to play. I'm not going to disrupt the lineup just to accommodate me. If we can have our strongest lineup with me in right field, then that's what we'll do. I've never considered sitting out of the lineup. They pay me to play, not to sit here and watch. I try to be accountable for everything I get every season.

For obvious reasons, Sheffield has quickly become one of Joe Torre's favorite players.

In other Sheffield news, Scott Boras is still the devil.

posted by Cliff at 12:26 AM

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

My All-Star Ballot: NL 

National League

1B candidates:

Jim Thome (.365 GPA: .309/.420/.703, 51 R, 26 HR, 55 RBI, 17 2B)
Todd Helton (.355 GPA: .341/.460/.590, 55 R, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 23 2B)
Sean Casey (.332 GPA: .352/.402/.606, 55 R, 15, 54 RBI, 26 2B)
Albert Pujols (.327 GPA: .297/.398/.590, 65 R, 20 HR, 51 RBI, 20 2B)
Lyle Overbay (.315 GPA: .335/.397/.547, 36 R, 9 HR, 56 RBI, 30 2B)

Earlier this month, the Will Carroll Weblog's TwinsFanDan posted on the All-Baseball home page that he and Will were lamenting the lack of "good/great firstbasemen these days." The idea of there being a lack of quality first-sackers is so flat-out wrong that it's still stuck in my craw.

Look at those numbers! Now check out my AL ballot and look at those numbers. There are so many good first basemen in the league that the White Sox have two of them. And I've not even listed Jason Giambi, the injured Richie Sexson, Carlos Delgado, Derrek Lee, Mike Sweeney, youngsters Mark Teixeira, Nick Johnson, and Hee-Seop Choi or still-productive vets Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro. Perhaps TFD is just bitter about the way the Twins are handling Justin Morneau.

Sorry. Flame off.

Thome's just a monster. Imagine if he hadn't had the hand injuries he's had early this year.

2B candidates:

Todd Walker (.292: .288/.370/.502, 46 R, 11 HR, 27 RBI, 12 2B, 0 SB)
Jeff Kent (.283: .293/.348/.507, 46 R, 10 HR, 52 RBI, 20 2B, 4 SB)
Mark Loretta (.282: .322/.371/.462, 52 R, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 24 2B, 2 SB)

You want to talk about week positions? How about second base. I had to go with Orlando Hudson in the AL due to a sub-par season thus far from Alfonso Soriano and Bret Boone's total failure to show up. In the NL, Marcus Giles broke his collarbone in mid-May, Jose Vidro forgot to show up for the first two months, and even Ray Durham's been hurt. Those last two are hanging out with Junior Spivey, a revived Alex Cora (yes, revived, he's hitting like it's 2002), and rookie Scott Hairston.

I'm going with Kent here.

SS candidates:

Jack Wilson (.282: .333/.353/.494, 39 R, 6 HR, 30 RBI, 18 2B, 5 SB)
Barry Larkin (.266: .303/.357/.422, 38 R, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 10 2B, 2 SB)
Royce Clayton (.265: .286/.345/.439, 56 R, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 21 2B, 6 SB)

What about Renteria and Furcal, you ask? Subpar seasons, I say. They're in a group with rookie Khalil Greene and Jimmy Rollins, just a pinch above the suddenly useful Cesar Izturis and the disappointing Kaz Matsui. Orlando Cabrera is off the charts entirely.

Thirty-four-year-old career out Clayton has a .195 GPA outside of Coors, so this is a choice between Barry Larkin, a revived 40-year-old future Hall of Famer whose become underapprecaited in the era of Jeter, Nomar and A-Rod, and Jack Wilson. Wilson, just 26, saw a very gradual across the board improvement in his offense over his first three seasons, but topped out at a .225 GPA in '03. He's also seen a very gradual cooling off since he got off to a hot start in April, but has managed a .261 GPA in June.

Despite a strong excellent defensive reputation from his days as Pokey Reese's keystone partner, BP's Rate stats show that Wilson is dead average. Larkin, meanwhile, has been embarrassing himself more often than not at the plate and in the field for the past four seasons.

I'm going to have to give Larkin one last hurrah here.

3B candidates:

Scott Rolen (.342: .342/.416/.621, 51 R, 18 HR, 76 RBI, 16 2B, 2 SB)
Mike Lowell (.309: .303/.375/.561, 47 R, 17 HR, 47 RBI, 23 2B, 3 SB)
Aramis Ramirez (.308: .329/.374/.557, 58 R, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 21 2B, 0 SB)
Adrian Beltre (.305: .324/.354/.582, 44 R, 19 HR, 52 RBI, 17 2B, 1 SB)

Lowell, Ramirez and Beltre have performed so well they deserved mention, but this is Rolen all the way.

C candidates:

Mike Piazza (.319: .316/.402/.554, 31 R, 16 HR, 38 RBI, 16 2B)
Johnny Estrada (.299: .336/.387/.498, 31, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 24 2B)

Piazza takes this almost as easily as Rolen takes third.

OF candidates:

Barry Bonds (.469: .352/.618/.764, 59 R, 19 HR, 40 RBI, 11 2B, 3 SB)

No, the GPA and OBP are not typos.

Lance Berkman (.358: .310/.465/595, 46 R, 16 HR, 58 RBI, 19 2B, 1 SB)
Bobby Abreu (.339: .302/.437/.570, 61 R, 16 HR, 50 RBI, 19 2B, 15 SB)
J.D. Drew (.331: .285/.418/.573, 53 R, 16 HR, 44 RBI, 13 2B, 4 SB)
Adam Dunn (.324: .260/.405/.567, 49 R, 22 HR, 48 RBI, 12 2B, 2 SB)

Apologies to Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley, Jim Edmonds, Craig Wilson, Miguel Cabrera, Pat Burrell and the 18 homers of Ken Griffey Jr. and Moises Alou. This is just not that hard.

Bonds is so good they should make him play all nine innings. Berkman's way out ahead of the rest and was actually the Astros starting center fielder last year (even if it was by default). Abreu's got Drew beat in just about every category and is 15 for 16 on the bases. Three-true-outcome hero Dunn can't make up in power and walks what Abreu has done in every facet of his game. Easy.

So my final NL ballot:

1B - Jim Thome
2B - Jeff Kent
SS - Barry Larkin
3B - Scott Rolen
C - Mike Piazza
LF - Barry Bonds
CF - Lance Berkman
RF - Bobby Abreu

Now that's an all-star team.

As of this writing the NL vote leaders are:

1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Jeff Kent
SS - Edgar Renteria/Adam Everett (vote Renteria now, he only has a six vote lead!)
3B - Scott Rolen
C - Mike Piazza
LF - Barry Bonds
CF - Ken Griffey Jr.
RF - Sammy Sosa

I almost feel guilty for not endorsing that outfield, but Sosa and Griffey just don't measure up to Berkman and Abreu. Still, this will be, to the best of my knowledge, the only all-500-homer outfield in All-Star history. And I'm including players who would go on to hit their 500 home runs later in their careers. The only other possible combination I could think of was Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson during Robinson's Cincinnati Red days. But Robinson, much to my surprise, was never an All-Star starter in the NL, despite winning the MVP in 1961 and leading the league in OPS+ from 1960 to 1962. In 1961 Mays and Aaron were joined in the NL's starting outfield by Roberto Clemente (in both games). Although Clemente never reached 500 homers, was still one of the greatest All-Star outfields ever, as each member reached 3,000 hits before the end of his career. That outfield repeated in 1966 and in 1967 Lou Brock replaced Mays. Those were the only all-3,000-hit outfields in All-Star history. The only other possibility was Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Robin Yount in the late '80s, but Yount was only selected to three All-Star teams, all as a shortstop, the last in his MVP year of 1983.

And, again, here are my girlfriend's votes:

1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Mark Grudzielanek
SS - Edgar Renteria
3B - Adrian Beltre
C- Mike Piazza
LF - Barry Bonds
CF - Juan Encarnacion
RF - Moises Alou

All but Piazza and Bonds were selected for their names. Tellingly all but Beltre, who played the Yankees just over a week ago, were in last year's playoffs. Her absolute favorites, however, are Renteria and Pujols, because of the scatalogical possibilities of their surnames. The pronunciation key on Pujols' ESPN player page doesn't help this situation.

posted by Cliff at 11:28 AM

Parasite lady, no need to cry 

The Yanks beat the Sox handily last night. Javier Vazquez allowed just three solo home runs--two on the first three pitches he threw to Johnny Damon and one when refusing to walk David Ortiz on a full count with a seven-run lead--but was otherwise in command (4 other hits, 1 BB, 8 K in 6 2/3 IP). According to Jim Kaat's in-game analysis, Vazquez started Damon's second at-bat with a fastball as per the the logic that, since Damon had homered on that pitch his previous time up, it would be the last thing he'd expect to see. Not so much.

So remember in my preview when I said that the Red Sox had a run surplus thirteen runs larger than the Yankees'? Well, one 11-3 Yankee victory later, that Pythagorean advantage is but a memory.

Unfortunately, there was some disconcerting news to come out of last night's game. Jason Giambi, who was a last minute scratch from the line-up after hitting nothing but lazy flies in batting practice, has been diagnosed with an intestinal parasite. The parasite has significantly weakened Giambi, which is why he's not only been struggling against major league pitching, but unable to hit batting practice pitching for power. Giambi has accordingly been switched to a more aggressive antibiotic and is due for a recheck with his doctors in about ten days. In the meantime, the Yankees hope to get him back up to strength and in the line-up some time this week, though he's been sick for three solid weeks, so there's little reason to expect him to get better just days after diagnosis.

Indicative of the kind of night the Yankees had last night, Giambi's last-minute replacement, Tony Clark, went 2 for 4 with 3 RBI and a home run into the black "seats" in center (just the derpty derp player to reach the black in derpty derp years).

Tonight the Yankees send the erratic Jon Lieber to the hill against the equally erratic Tim Wakefield (monthly ERAs: 2.14, 4.32, 7.23). Of course, Wakefield has dominated the Yankees in his last four starts against them (including his two ALCS starts). Maybe if they'd let the Yanks use cricket bats . . .

posted by Cliff at 10:43 AM

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

My All-Star Ballot: AL 

All-Star voting ends tomorrow. I always try to wait until the last minute to let the hot streaks cool off and the slumps to melt away. That said, I do tend to vote for the guys who have had the best three months. On with it.

American League

1B candidates:

Frank Thomas (.351 GPA: .283/.450/.592, 51 R, 18 HR, 47 RBI, 15 2B)
Travis Hafner (.313 GPA: .308/.407/.521, 43 R, 8 HR, 48 RBI, 24 2B)
David Ortiz (.310 GPA: .304/.359/.592, 40 R, 19 HR, 72 RBI, 29 2B)
Paul Konerko (.307 GPA: .281/.374/.554, 37 R, 19 HR, 52 RBI, 9 2B)

Okay, so the top three are really DHs, but the game's in an NL park and there is no DH slot and none of the actual AL first basemen has come close to these three in terms of production. For what it's worth, Ortiz leads those three pack with 28 games at first (thanks to the shift created by Trot Nixon's injury). Hafner has played just ten games at first. Thomas just four, but it's easy to see why. That said, this is a pretty easy decision, Thomas is a future hall of famer who's got a 38-point lead in GPA.

2B candidates:

Mark Bellhorn (.284: .264/.389/.435, 54 R, 9 HR, 44 RBI, 15 2B, 2 SB)
Juan Uribe (.284: .294/.349/.506, 45 R, 10 HR, 33 RBI, 19 2B, 7 SB)
Ronnie Belliard (.283: .312/.388/.435, 43 R, 4 HR, 31 RBI, 23 2B, 2 SB)Orlando Hudson (.279: .277/.361/.468, 32 R, 7 HR, 31 RBI, 13 2B, 3 SB)
Alfonso Soriano (.265: .298/.336/.445, 36 R, 12 HR, 45 RBI, 13 2B, 8 SB)

There's no clear pick here. Soriano's the only true star among those I've listed, but he's clearly not had the best year thus far, despite moving into an extreme hitters park. Belliard and Uribe are surprise NL imports. Uribe is just 24 and could be blossiming while Belliard is 29 and likely isn't. Then again, Uribe's been on a steady decline from a hot April (though he's still getting his homers), while Belliard rebounded from a cool May with a solid June. Bellhorn's a tempting choice, but he's not worth mentioning in the field, is slow of foot, and derives the bulk of his value from drawing walks. I think I'm actually going to go with Hudson, who is an incredible defender, second only to Uribe on this list in slugging, and appears to have begun to blossom at the plate at age 26. Hudson also missed 20 games due to injury, so his counting stats should be even better in comparison to the others.

SS candidates:

Carlos Guillen (.306: .312/.375/.550, 53 R, 11 HR, 52 RBI, 20 2B, 3 SB)
Jose Valentin (.292: .266/.333/.570, 43 R, 15 HR, 43 RBI, 14 2B, 4 SB)
Michael Young (.288: .327/.366/.495, 53 R, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 15 2B, 7 SB)
Miguel Tejada (.285: .313/.363/.488, 38 R, 12 HR, 63 RBI, 15 2B, 0 SB)

This is a tight group, though a far more worthy one than their keystone partners. Tejada's the only real star here, though Michael Young did collect 204 hits in 2003 and is on pace for 237 this year. Ultimately, though it's hard to discount what Carlos Guillen has done, already setting a career high in homers and just four from his career highs in RBIs and doubles. His numbers are inflated by a tremendous May, but he's been excellent in the other two months as well (though curiously trading nearly 90 points off his April OBP for an extra 140 points of slugging in June). Just 28, there's still an outside chance that Guillen is establishing a new level of performance. More to the point, it's a big flag in the face of the Mariners for their ridiculous decision to swap out Guillen for Rich Aurilia (.220 GPA).

3B candidates:

Melvin Mora (.342: .355/.442/.571, 58 R, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 17 2B, 7 SB)
Hank Blalock (.317: .315/.376/.593, 50 R, 20 HR, 55 RBI, 20 2B, 0 SB)
Alex Rodriguez (.304: .288/.378/.537, 55 R, 19 HR, 47 RBI, 12 2B, 16 SB)

Yes, the only category that A-Rod leads this group in is steals. Blalock is just 23 and just keeps getting better. Mora looked like fluke last year and now just looks like a freak. Mora's got a solid hold on this per the stats but has only played in one of the last nine games with a foot injury. Besides which, I just can't bring myself to vote for Melvin Mora here. I can bring myself to vote for Blalock, who won last year's game with a home run of Eric Gagne, however. Cripes this kid is good.

C candidates:

Ivan Rodriguez (.322: .372/.410/.550, 34 R, 10 HR, 54 RBI, 18 2B)
Jorge Posada (.317: .273/.418/.515, 33 R, 9 HR, 33 RBI, 21 2B)
Victor Martinez (.303: .306/.376/.535, 43 R, 10 HR, 54 RBI, 23 2B)

Due respect to Jason Varitek, Javy Lopez and, yes, Rod Barajas, who has 12 homers and a .605 slugging average in 147 AB. The contrast between Posada's and Rodriguez's stats is a perfect illustration of how meaningless batting average can be (though one might argue that walking has cost Jorge a number of RBIs). Martinez, a fantasy sleeper that I had pegged--though not quite for all this--before he got taken two turns before me in the final round, is just 25 and should be a star for a long time. This year, however, the vote swings back to Rodriguez, who has mixes in a perfect 6 for 6 in steals with all that hitting (just don't look at how well others are stealing against him).

OF candidates:

Manny Ramirez (.364: .343/.442/.660, 46 R, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 25 2B, 1 SB)
Vladimir Guerrero (.333: .349/.394/.621, 66 R, 19 HR, 68 RBI, 24 2B, 6 SB)

Gary Sheffield (.306: .304/.405/.494, 51 R, 12 HR, 48 RBI, 13 2B, 0 SB)
Matt Lawton (.299: .325/.398/.479, 55 R, 11 HR, 40 RBI, 12 2B, 14 SB)
Hideki Matsui (.298: .277/.382/.506, 51 R, 15 HR, 47 RBI, 12 2B, 0 SB)
Jose Cruz (.297: .251/.381/.502, 43 R, 12 HR, 41 RBI, 11 2B, 6 SB)
Lew Ford (.296: .317/.384/.492, 37 R, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 15 2B, 9 SB)
Vernon Wells (.285: .300/.366/.481, 41 R, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 20 2B, 6 SB)
Jermaine Dye (.281: .282/.341/.511, 51 R, 15 HR, 46 RBI, 16 2B, 2 SB)

Manny and Vlad are no-doubters and fill left and right field respectively.

Carlos Beltran's banishment to the senior circut eliminated the clear choice for center field, forcing us to chose from among what remains. Of the seven players listed Wells is the only true centerfielder, though Cruz was one once (in Toronto, before Wells pushed him out), Matsui spent about 45 games there last year. Lawton has spent significant time in center over his career, though never a majority in any given year and not once game since 2000. Lew Ford actually played the majority of his major league games in 2003 in center and has 26 games played there this year. All of which weighs heavily against Gary Sheffield (no games in center) and Jermaine Dye (just nine).

Narrowing it down, Wells and Dye are just too far behind the others in OBP and GPA. Cruz and Matsui suffer incomparsison to Ford and Lawton due to the lack of steals and lower averages. That leaves Lawton, Ford and Sheffield. Ford being the only one quasi-legitimate centerfielder of the bunch and a (finally) emerging 27-year-old talent, he's my choice. Yes I'd rather see Sheffield, but he'll fit comfortably in right with the second string.

So my final AL ballot:

1B - Frank Thomas
2B - Orlando Hudson
SS - Carlos Guillen
3B - Hank Blalock
C - Ivan Rodriguez
LF - Manny Ramirez
CF - Lew Ford
RF - Vladimir Guerrero

Those who think this All-Star team lacks actual star power (there are four sure-thing Hall of Famer's among the eight starters I've picked and Blalock is playing like a fifth), can sub in Soriano and Tejada in the middle infield.

As of this writing, here are the vote leaders:

1B - Jason Giambi
2B - Alfonso Soriano
SS - Derek Jeter
3B - Alex Rodriguez
C - Ivan Rodriguez
LF - Manny Ramirez
CF - Hideki Matsui
RF - Vladimir Guerrero

And for fun, here are my girlfriend's votes:

1B - Jason Giambi
2B - Alfonso Soriano
SS - Derek Jeter
3B - Alex Rodriguez
C - Jorge Posada
LF - Coco Crisp
CF - Bernie Williams
RF - Magglio Ordonez

Yeah, she's a bit of a homer. As for her outfield, she would have prefered to vote for Bernie three times, but went with Ordonez because she hasn't warmed to Sheff yet and Crisp purely because of his name.

posted by Cliff at 1:32 PM

The Yankees have signed C.J. Nitkowski to a minor league contract and assigned him to Columbus. Nitkowski is a 31-year-old journeyman LOOGY who made the Braves out of camp this year, but was designated for assignment to make room for Paul Byrd on the 19th after posting a 4.50 ERA in 20 IP. A native of Suffern, NY, Nitkowski was drafted by the Reds out of St. John's University in 1994.

With a career ERA+ of 87 (5.33 entering this season), Nitkowski is not a far cry from Tanyon Sturtze in terms of his potential usefulness. That's not why I've dedicated an entry to him. Rather, I've long rooted for Nitkowski because in the late '90s he ran a magnificent web site that provided fans with a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a major league journeyman. While not particularly revealing, nor exceptionally well-written, Nitkowski's site was nonetheless a rare real-time glimpse into a player's life.

I'd not visited Nitkowski's site in some time, but upon hearing of Nitkowski's joining the Yankee organization, was eager to see if it was still up and running. It is, but only technically. is now Nitkowski's forum for his religious devotion. According to this explanatory essay, Nitkowski was cut by the Houston Astros on March 25, 2002 after what he felt was a solid spring training performance. Although he was initially furious about his dismissal, the fact that he was sent home allowed Nitkowski to save his 2-year-old son from drowning in his pool later that same day. His son's near-death experience and the bizarre confluence of circumstances that allowed C.J. to save him started Nitkowski on a spiritual awakening that was reinforced by teammate and Queens native Peter Munro in the minor leagues early in the 2002 season. As a result, there's really no baseball to be had on

However, Nitkowski has preserved the content from the previous incarnation of the site, all of which can be had here, including some great ballpark photos that include an entire series on old Tiger Stadium. Also to be had are restaurant reviews, Nitkowski's golf stats, tips on how to break in a glove, the correspondence surrounding his 1999 suspension for throwing at potential teammate Kenny Lofton, and his take on being traded and facing old teammates.

Born in 1973, Nitkowski was a big Yankee fan in the '80s, listing Willie Randolph, Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti among his favorite players. For his sake, I hope he gets to put on the pinstripes at least once, though for the Yankees sake, I hope his stay with the team is brief.

posted by Cliff at 12:35 PM

Red Sox quick hits 

As it gets later (2:45 am as I start this post), these get briefer.

I have just a few points to make about the Red Sox prior to tomorrow . . . er, tonight's game in the Bronx.

Since The Sweep, the Red Sox are 30-26 (.536), while the Yankees are 39-15 (.722).

The Sweep gave the Red Sox a four-and-a-half-game lead over the Yankees. Entering this series, the Yankees have a five-and-a-half-game lead over the Red Sox.

The Red Sox are 17-18 (.486) on the road. The Yankees are 25-10 (.714, paging Shaughnessy) at home.

The Yankees have the best record in baseball, four games in the loss column better than the Cardinals. The Red Sox trail just the Yanks, Cardinals and Rangers with the fourth best record in baseball.

Both teams have split their last ten games.

The Red Sox have a run surplus 13 runs larger than the Yankees', but a losing record in extra innings and one-run games. According to Pythagoras, the Red Sox should have a one-and-a-half-game lead on the Yanks.

(morning and I'm "refreshed" . . .) As for the Red Sox team that is coming to town, Nomar and Nixon are both back in action. Nixon has pushed Millar back to first, Ortiz to DH and Gabe Kapler to the bench (at least against righties). Ellis Burks has made room for Nixon on the roster by taking up his rightful place on the DL. Garciaparra has forced Mark Bellhorn and Pokey Reese to share second base, thought the switch-hitting Bellhorn and his .389 OBP (second in the league in walks) have gotten the vast majority of the starts. Reese hurt his thumb last week against the Twins and is listed as questionable for the series in the Bronx.

Elsewhere in the infield, Bill Mueller had knee surgery in late May (arthritis) and is currently on a minor league rehab assignment. Moneyball's infamous "Greek God of Walks," Kevin Youkilis has been starting in his place. Youkilis has drawn 16 walks in 133 plate appearances and has a .391 OBP (.290 GPA).

Meanwhile, David Ortiz (.310 GPA, 19 HR, a league-leading 72 RBI and 29 2B) and Manny Ramirez (.364, fourth in the AL in AVG and RBI, second in 2B and OBP, league best 20 HR, .660 SLG, and 1.103 OPS) are murdalizing the ball, and Jason Varitek (.293) is out-performing his supposed career year of 2003.

On the mound, the new face is Curtis Leskanic, who was signed after being cut by the Royals because of his dreadful 8.04 ERA and 2.36 WHIP in 15 2/3 innings. Leskanic, who was spectacular for the Brewers and Royals last year, has allowed just two hits and walked none in two appearances thus far with the Sox. Rookie lefty Lenny DiNardo, who made his major league debut in Game One of The Sweep, has stuck with the team and has a 4.07 ERA in 24 1/3 innings.

As for tonight's pitching match-up, Javy Vazquez lost the final game of The Sweep on one swing by Manny Ramirez. Otherwise, he shut the Red Sox down in that game. Derek Lowe, meanwhile, was the victor in game one of that series, holding the Yankees to two runs on six hits and two walks in six innings. Lowe has been all over the place this season, posting a 8.19 ERA in May and turning around and posting a 2.08 ERA thus far in June. On the season he's at 5.24, which is pretty close to his April mark of 4.98 and not a far cry from his 4.47 mark in 2003. Thus far this season he's been more than two runs better on the road than at the Fens. Should be a hell of a game, as the two teams battle to gain the psychological upperhand more than two months after their last meeting.

posted by Cliff at 2:40 AM

Catching Up, pt. 2: A little bit of offense 

Some quick notes on the Yankee offense:

Check out the monthly GPA splits for the Yankees 1-2 (formerly 2-1) punch of Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter:

Bernie: .213, .268, .348 (.278 total)
Jeter: .173, .238, .390 (.260 total)

That speaks for itself. On a side note, neither has hit 20 homers since 2001. Bernie's on pace for 20 exactly. Jeter has an outside chance at 30 (his previous career high is 24).

There was some concern when Gary Sheffield missed the entire Orioles series last week after being diagnosed with bursitis in his left (front) shoulder and receiving a cortizone shot. Sheffield only created further worries (and nightmare visions of Richie Sexson) when he mentioned that it felt as if his shoulder "popped out of place" in an at-bat earlier in the month and that he had been playing with the pain. Further talk about not being able to raise his arm and pain caused by steering his car didn't help. He then hit a home run in each of his first two games back as the DH against the Mets and an impossibly hard single in the third game, in which he played the field. There was talk of Sheffield getting a second shot on Sunday, but he intends to continue to play through the pain. Sheffield, who claims that initial pop happened during the Orioles series that kicked off the month of June, has a .384 GPA and seven homers on the month. Play through it, Gary.

Alex Rodriguez has cooled off slightly from a torrid May (.349 GPA) and is producing at a rate more similar to his underappreciated April (.276), but with significantly more power (.297 thanks to an extra 70 points of slugging). That power has him in a four-way tie (with David Ortiz, Paul Konerko and Vlad Guerrero) for second in the AL in homers with 19, behind Hank Blalock and Manny Ramirez at 20. The last Yankee to lead the AL in homers was Reggie Jackson in 1980 (41, tied with Ben Oglivie).

Sheffield, who's OBP is almost thirty points higher than Rodriguez's, batted third in front of Alex for the first time in last night's game against the Mets.

You might remember when Gary Sheffield hit two home runs as the DH against the Rangers on June 4 despite suffering from a stomach flu. Well, Jason Giambi rejoined the team the next day and was activated from the DL on the sixth. He supposedly caught that flu from Sheffield and has been feeling its effects ever since. Troublingly, Giambi's health has only gotten worse over the interveining weeks. Thus, despite getting the game-winning hits in his first two games off the DL and having a 3-hit game in L.A., Giambi has seen his numbers drop considerably since being activated. He missed both games on Sunday against the Mets because Joe Torre sent him to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital where he was given two bags of fluids for dehydration. Properly hydrated, Giambi reportedly feels significantly better and is expected to play on Tuesday.

Remember Bernie and Jeter's monthly GPA splits? Well now check out Posada's: .366, .327, .258. Not tremendously alarming as Jorge remains an on-base machine (still leading the team at .418), but break out his slugging (.683, .460, .364) and there is some cause for concern. After hitting eight homers in March and April, Jorge has hit just one in the last two months, that coming on June 1.

The new/old Hideki Matsui appears not to be a fluke. His groundball-to-flyball ratio is way down from last year's 2.17 to 1.13. He's grounded into just four double plays thus far (25 last season). Despite a slumpy June (.196 AVG), he's keeping his OBP up (.382 on the season). And he's hitting home runs, seven in June, his major league single-month high despite the hitting slump. His next homer will tie his 2003 total.

Miguel Cairo seems to have quasi-Pipped the second base job from Enrique Wilson. After getting the start in the final game of the Orioles series on June 3, Cairo was thrust into action when Derek Jeter tweaked his groin the next day against Texas. Cairo finished that game at second, with Wilson shifting to short, and started in each of the three games Jeter missed (two at short with Homer Bush at second due to Wilson's groin pull, the last at second with Wilson at short). Since Jeter's return on June 9, Cairo has started 13 of the 17 games at second and is hitting .308 (.264 GPA) on the month. On the season, Cairo has appeared in 41 games at second to Wilson's 44 with a .242 GPA to Wilson's .198.

Meanwhile, I'm a bit mystified as to why Joe Torre is refusing to start Kenny Lofton. Perhaps the relationship between manager and bellyaching player is worse than we realize. On the season, Lofton has a .260 GPA to Ruben Sierra's .251 and Tony Clark's .244. Lofton plays hard, gets on base and doesn't strike out. For all his faults (his mouth, his arm, his inability to hit lefty pitching), he remains a valuable player when used correctly. And he most certainly would have been a better option than Sierra to play the field in Sheffield's absence in Baltimore (where he got just one start). Lofton has been given just three starts in the 13 games since his most recent activation from the DL. Actually, it's not quite that bad. Six of those games were played without the DH in NL parks (one of which Lofton started). Still, Sierra, who has a .180 GPA in June, has made four starts (three in right field) to Lofton's two since the Yanks left L.A. Yet another thing to keep your eye on.

Update: Okay, I got a little lazy as it got later last night. The two games Lofton didn't start against the Orioles and one of the two he didn't start against the Mets were all against left-handed starters. So, taking out the six games without the DH and the three games since L.A. against lefties, Lofton has started 2 of the 3 remaining games since June 15. Forgive me on that one. end update

In other news, Aaron Boone has signed a two-year contract with the Indians to play third base. He's currently expected to be activated in late August.

posted by Cliff at 1:03 AM

Monday, June 28, 2004

Catching Up, pt. 1: The Rotation 

So where do we start? Well, foistuvall, the Dodgers series was just the second the Yankees have dropped since what has become known as "The Sweep" (at home at the hands of the Red Sox) back in April. They've won their two series since leaving L.A., but are just .500 over their last 10 games, matching their 5-5 performance from May 10 to May 23 (which included the first two games of the series they lost to the Rangers).

That's hardly cause for alarm, as the Yankees followed those first two losses in Texas with six straight wins and a repeating pattern of one loss and four wins, producing an incredible 18-3 record (.857) between the end of that .500 run in May and their current one. Looking ahead on the schedule, with the exception of six games against the Red Sox (three this week in the Bronx and three at the end of July in Boston), they don't play another winning ballclub until August. [Well, they do play six games against the currently .500 Devil Rays, who are a stunning 26-8 (.765) since May 20 and 15-2 (.882) since the beginning of their celebrated 12-game winning streak. The legitimacy of the Devil Rays as a winning team is a whole other post. However, I can say that the D-Ray's are five games below .500 on the road and that four of those six games in July are in the Bronx. Also, the Ray's have a 31-run deficit on the year.]

As for the Red Sox, another team with a losing record on the road (17-18), I'll get to them in a bit. First I want to take a good look at our boys in midnight blue. Let's start with the team's biggest question mark and, in turn, biggest news generator, the starting rotation.

The big news last week was, of course, the defection of Jose Contreras's wife and two daughters last Tuesday. A lot of people, myself included, have said that this is a "wonderful story." Upon reflection, I think it's more accurate to say that this is a terrible story with a wonderful ending. It's not my place to judge the risk that Contreras took when he left his family behind and defected in order to pitch in the major leagues. He clearly expected his family to be allowed to join him, something the Castro government, which had been harassing his wife with false legal charges, had threatened might not have happened for a minimum of five years. It has been readily apparent to anyone paying attention that the emotional toll his decision and the resulting separation had on him was tremendous. Thankfully, El Titan is now, in his own words, "super happy, very happy, I don't have the words to describe the happiness I feel."

With regard to the effects of the events of last week on his pitching, as Derek Jeter, in classic class-act form, said, "To be honest, I didn't care how he pitched [on Sunday], I'm just happy for him. Sometimes you have to forget about baseball and look at what's going on in life." That said, from the highlights that I saw of yesterday's day game, the first that Contreras pitched since the arrival of his family, he appeared to have a newfound confidence and focus. The results were not spectacular--four walks, only 55 percent of his pitches for strikes--but he did pitch his best game of the season (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 HR, 4 BB, 10 K). What's more, back on June 16 I wrote, "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." Not only did Contreras avoid disaster in L.A. (just one four-run inning to go with five other scoreless ones and no walks, his first major league start not to include a base on balls), but he's now put together four non-disaster starts.

All of this is fan-damn-tastic for John Flaherty's personal pitcher (Posada did catch the L.A. game, by the way), but there's one caveat. The reason Contreras only went six innings yesterday is that his right (pitching) forearm began to cramp up on him. Contreras thinks that the cramp resulted from his technique of jamming the ball between his first two fingers, his forkball grip, before each pitch. There is little concern about it at the moment, but it's something to keep an eye on. Although I'm hoping his luck has finally changed, Contreras, through no fault of his own, is just the type to develop a nagging injury right when he starts to show some consistency.

The second biggest story in the rotation in the past week was Brad Halsey. I actually managed to get a post up about his first start before turning into a pumpkin last week, but have yet to discuss his second start, which was a very different story. It is my theory that the Mets, who have a location lefty of their own, went into the game with the explicit intention of taking pitches and making Halsey beat himself by racking up walks and then compensating by throwing over the plate where they could pepper him with hits. Regardless of whether or not I'm right, that's exactly what happened. Halsey threw 77 pitches in just 3 1/3 innings, just 55 percent of them for strikes (down ten percent from his first start). He walked four men in the first three innings and in the fourth came over the plate and got lit up for five runs on yet another walk and four hits (no thanks to Tanyon Sturtze who let Halsey's last runner score). Halsey, whose value as trade bait (more on that in a bit as well) took a hit with that ugly outing (3 1/3 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 5 BB, 4 K--note the increased K rate as further evidence of the Mets' "take" gameplan), will get another start at the stadium on Thursday against Pedro Martinez. It will be interesting to see if the real Brad Halsey stands up against Red Sox. I'm sure his superiors from Stottlemyre up through to The Boss will be curious to see how effective he is against the Sox's lefty mashers Nixon and Ortiz.

So if Halsey's getting another start, then what's the deal with Kevin Brown, you ask. Well, Brown threw another bullpen session last night. Physically he felt fine, but neither Brown (of course) nor Stottlemyre was happy with the results in terms of the performance of his pitches. Brown will have another bullpen session before the Yankees decide if he will make a rehab start in the minors or slide right back into the major league rotation. Torre sums it up thusly, "I don't call this a step backward, it's just a slower progression. He's not there yet. He's just not at the point now where he's ready to pitch." And thus the Admiral gets a berth.

As for the rest of the rotation, Mike Mussina is still sporting a bulky 4.67 ERA, but he's not walked more than two batters in any start since April 22, which also happens to be the last time he lost a game. Even better, after a dreadful line of 36 1/3 IP, 52 H, 23K, 14 BB, 1.82 WHIP, 6.19 ERA in March and April, Moose improved to 34 IP, 36 H, 18 K, 4 BB, 1.18 WHIP, 3.44 ERA in May and is a marvelously Moose-like 28 IP, 25 H, 23 K, 3 BB, 1.00 WHIP, 3.86 ERA in June. Combined since April that works out to 62 IP, 61 H, 51 K, 7 BB, 1.11 WHIP, 3.63 ERA. Classic Mussina.

Javy Vazquez, meanwhile, has not allowed more than two earned runs since May 28, and not walked more than two since May 6. After a rough May that saw his ERA swell to 3.88 (5.34 on the month) and his monthly walk total reach double digits, he's posted a miniscule 2.38 ERA in June to go with his 2.55 mark from April. On the season he's holding hitters to a .229 average while posting a 3.38 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP (seventh in the majors and tops in the AL), May included.

And thank goodness for Moose and Javy, because John Lieber, since putting together three stellar starts in a row in May, has given up four or more runs in four of his last five starts. He's still not walking anybody (4 in 63 1/3 IP), but opposing batters are hitting .312 off of him, which is the entirety of his problem, he's giving up a ton of hits. Not a ton of extra base hits (21 of 81 hits for extra bases, .150 ISO--by comparison, this is approximately Shea Hillenbrand's isolated power number right now), but a ton of hits nonetheless. His strikeout rate (3.41) isn't helping matters. All of this is fairly typical for a pitcher coming off of Tommy John surgery. Lieber feels fine and has good control. He just doesn't have great stuff. Accordingly, the Yankees have decided to give him an extra day whenever possible, which is why Vazquez has jumped in front of him in the rotation for the Boston series.

So the Yankees have two excellent starters, one excellent starter working slowly to come back from injury, one hopefully solid back of the rotation guy with a potential injury issue, one complete question mark and a still mysterious rookie replacement. No surprise that they're in the market for a starting pitcher.

The trading season has begun in earnest with the Astros swapping out Richard Hidalgo (to the Mets for David Weathers and Jeremy Griffiths) and bringing in Carlos Beltran, answering the A's closer question in the process (Dotel). The Yankees don't need Beltran, at least not at the plate, and are better for not having sacrificed elsewhere to get him, especially because they still have a solid chance to sign him this winter. Freddy Garcia, who was the most readily available pitcher on the market, went to the White Sox for their best prospect (Jeremy Reed) and their starting catcher (Miguel Olivo--the Chisox got Ben Davis in the deal to help fill that hole). Garcia, to my mind, was fairly desirable for the reasons I listed here. Thus, I have mixed feelings about his not coming to the Bronx. I'm certainly happy that Dioner Navarro is still around to fill Jorge's chest protector when the time comes, but I fear that Navarro might still be used to get one of the other pitchers whose names have been bandied about. Those include Garcia's former teammate Jamie Moyer, Russ Ortiz, and Kris Benson, primarily, but also Ben Sheets, Kip Wells, Miguel Batista, Ted Lilly, Jason Jennings, Shawn Estes, Pat Hentgen, Jaret Wright, Ramon Ortiz and even David Wells.

Looking at that list, I don't believe that the Padres, who are in the Wild Card hunt and just three games back in their division to a very flawed Giants team, would want to deal Wells, who's fifth in the majors in WHIP and has yet to walk a batter in four excellent starts since coming of the DL. Never mind that the Yankees would not likely want to reacquire a man they consider a troublemaker, whose balky back played a major role in costing them the World Series just nine months ago. Ramon Ortiz had an awful year in 2003 and has spent time in the bullpen this year. Jaret Wright is still just 28, but has already thrown more innings in 2004 than he has in any single season since 1999. Estes is bad, Hentgen and Jennings have been worse.

Batista and the lefty Lilly are more attractive as potentially affordable back-of-the-rotation guys, but neither is worth Navarro, to be sure. Kip Wells is compelling, though he's had some mysterious pain in his fingers recently. He's just 27, is generally underappreciated and has greatly increased his strikeout rate this year. Of course, his walk rate has also gone up and his 5.03 ERA is unsightly, but the latter is partially due to his opponents' .312 average on balls in play. Wells would be worth a shot, but again, probably not worth Navarro. Sticking with the Pirates, Kris Benson is just 29, but has an ugly injury history and a 5.11 ERA (though, like his teammate, a lot of that is due to a .302 opponents' average on balls in play--the Bucs are tied with the Braves for dead last in the NL in defensive efficiency, only the Twins, a surprising development for a team built on defense, trail them in the AL).

Russ Ortiz, an Andy Pettitte-style 20-game winner last year (solid, but not dominating, lots of offense), is just 30 and has been quite good thus far this year. He's held opponents to just 5 homers in 95 innings pitched, strikes out 7.27 per 9 IP and posted an ERA of 3.87 which would actually be lower if not for the Braves' Pirate-level defense (.292 on balls in play). What's more, Ortiz has been a consistent innings-eater over the past five seasons (minimum 195 IP and on pace for 200-plus yet again). His only real fault is a very un-Yankee like walk rate, about 4.5 BB/9 both this year and for his career. Those walks push up his WHIP (1.40s). Then again, his ability to keep the ball in the park (17 homers or fewer in 212 innings or more each of the last three years) and keep opponent slugging low (max .357 over that span) reduces the damage incurred by those walks.

Jamie Moyer seems attractive because he's won 20 games twice in the last three years and dominated the Yankees in 2001 (he's been less successful against them since, but George's boys have long memories). Moyer, however, is 41 and has an ugly DIPS ERA of 5.43 (against his real-life ERA of 3.80) thanks to the fourth best average on balls in play in the biggs (.233, one thing the Mariners can still do well is field, they're second in the AL in defensive efficiency). That brings us to the man I skipped, Ben Sheets. To my mind, the Brewers would be foolish to deal Sheets, a 25-year-old ace finally fulfilling his potential (2.41 ERA, 105 K and just 16 BB in 101 IP, .198 BAA--.247 BIP--and a sick 0.89 WHIP). I'd trade Navarro and then some for Sheets (who, by the way is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana--gotta love those pitchers from Louisiana!). Otherwise, I'd try to work out a deal for Russ Ortiz, preferably without including Dioner in the deal.

One thing's for certain, the Yankees will have a new pitcher on their staff by July 31.

Wow, that's a lot for one post. I think I'll break hear and start another. Just remember, you asked for it!

posted by Cliff at 7:09 PM

Where the hell have I been? 

I wish I had a good answer. I wanted to write about the Yankees controversial but thrilling middle-of-the-order-against-Gagne loss to the Dodgers last Sunday. I wanted to write about how I was looking forward to the Yankee bats pounding on Butterbean Ponson. I wanted to write about Jose Conteras's family. I wanted to write about the, then, upcoming trio of "rivalry" series against the Mets and Red Sox.

For no good reason (just plain busy elsewhere, really) I never got around to any of those.

When Friday's game got rained out I felt as though I had been given a reprieve by the baseball gods to get a pre-Mets series post up. I set my alarm for several hours before game time on Saturday morning, planning to get up and get to work (I should know better) and proceeded to sleep through to 12:45. Mistakenly thinking that the make-up double header had been scheduled for Saturday, I figured I'd get in a post between games. Didn't happen. Sunday was a wash, partially due to the fact that I attended the 8:00 game against the Mets (during the day I was busy exchanging an extra copy of Moneyball for Veeck as in Wreck and picking up a Tony Little exercise machine, among other various household errands . . . no I'm not kidding).

I've been very negligent and I beg your forgiveness and thank those of you who have written, urging me get going. I can't tell you how great that feels.

At any rate, I've got a lot of catching up to do and will be doing so at length later tonight (as my girlfriend watches the rerun of yesterday's "Six Feet Under," thus significantly reducing the guilt factor).

Again, I'm sorry for the silence. If I don't have something lengthy for you to read posted by the wee morning hours, I'll post my address and you can come egg my house (okay, so it's a brick apartment building, it's the disrespect that counts).

posted by Cliff at 4:57 PM

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