Saturday, August 07, 2004

Tale of two pitchers 

The Blue Jays didn't lose last night's game because Sean Douglass was tossed after unintentionally hitting John Flaherty in the third inning, but that doesn't make Chris Guccione's call any less absurd.

Meanwhile, after Kevin Brown tossed an eight-inning gem, throwing 71 percent of his pitches for strikes, Javier Vazquez went a full eight for the first time since June 13 (before Kevin Brown went on the DL), throwing 74 percent of his mere 92 pitches for strikes. Like Brown, Vazquez allowed six baserunners (though all of his were on hits, Brown walked two). Unlike Brown, Vazquez gave up a three-run dinger in the first inning on a good low and away pitch to Carlos Delgado. Vazquez retired the next eleven men after Delgado's homer and allowed just three men to reach base in his remaining 7 2/3 innings.

Oh, and C.J. Nitkowski, with an eight-run lead and Gabe White's number on his back, gave up only one run in getting the last three outs. Not sure why he couldn't have done that last night with a five-run lead. That said, Nitkowski needed a double play on a 2-0 pitch to get out of the inning. He got Delgado to ground out to lead off the inning but was pretty dreadful after that.

posted by Cliff at 1:05 AM

Friday, August 06, 2004

Delgado! Delgado! Why are your Blue Jays so bad? 

Last year the Blue Jays scored the second most runs in the AL (third most in the majors) and sent the eventual AL Cy Young Award winner to the mound every fifth day. This offseason they kept that offense largely in tact and added pitching. As a result they looked like a dark horse Wild Card candidate that could slip by the mighty Sox or Yanks should either team stumble.

So why are the Jays suddenly eleventh in the AL (22nd in the bigs) in runs scored, and dead last in the AL East with the AL's third worst record?

The answer is the offense. Despite the fact that Roy Halladay's ERA has swollen by more than two runs (this before he missed a minimum two months with a shoulder injury), this year's pitching staff has a nearly identical ERA to last years' 4.69. Credit the off-season acquisitions of Ted Lilly and Miguel Batista, both of whom are out-performing last year's number two Kelvim Escobar. Credit also bullpen youngsters Jason Frasor (2.19 ERA, 14 saves in 44 games) and Vinnie Chulk (2.83 in 27 games), who have more than made up for the fact that last year's rule-5 closer Aquilino Lopez pitched his way back into the minors by mid-June of this year.

As for the offense, while my mind quickly goes to Greg Myers--who gave the Jays a .294 GPA over 329 at-bats in 2003, well above the level of production (.234 GPA) he had established over his previous 2638 at-bats--that's a red herring. Myers sprained his ankle on April 26 and hasn't played since. But the Blue Jays called up Gregg Zaun on April 27 and he's since given them a .317 GPA over 235 at-bats (against a career .242 in 1487 at-bats).

No, the real loss at the catchers position is actually Tom Wilson (not Wilson himself, who has just 5 plate appearances with the Mets this year, but his production). Wilson gave the Jays 256 at-bats of a .268 GPA. This year Zaun's primary back-up has been Kevin Cash, .201 GPA in 151 ABs.

Orlando Hudson is actually a solid 20 GPA points better than last year, but he's lost time to injury, playing in just 77 percent of the Jays games. However mid-season pick-up Frank Menechino was even better in Hudson's absence, so overall second base remains an improvement over 2003.

Elsewhere, Alexis Rios has given the Jays about what Shannon Stewart and Bobby Kielty combined to give them last year, but Rios spent the first two months in the minors. That gave extra playing time to Reed Johnson, who is giving the Jays exactly what he gave them last year (.266 GPA) (which is actually darn close to what Stewart gave them: .268). I'll call that even, but every other position has seen a decrease in production.

Eric Hinske has been healthier, but also about ten GPA points worse than last year. Chris Gomez has replaced Mike Bordick as the veteran who's taken the shortstop job from Chris Woodward. Gomez has been ten points worse than Bordick (who spent some time filling in for an injured Hinske at third last year and actually finished the year with a higher GPA than the healthy Hinske has now) and Woodward has been about ten points worse than himself. Frankie Catalanotto has not only been a pinch worse than last year, he's lost a good deal of time to injury, giving even more at-bats to Johnson, who is a ten-point drop from 2003's Frankie.

So second base is an improvement, one corner outfield position is a draw. The other corner outfield is a 5-10 point loss, catcher is a net loss do to the absence of a solid back-up and 3B, SS are each 10-point loses. That's enough to make last year's 86-76 Blue Jays sound like a .500 team at best in 2004, but dig this:

Vernon Wells, one of the twin pillars of last year's offense, has missed significant time due to injury. He appeared in 161 games last year with a .299 GPA, this year he's been in only 77 percent of the Jays' games and posted a mere .289 GPA. That hurts. Combine Wells' injury with the injuries to Catalanotto and the late start from Rios and you're into giving at-bats to guys like Dave Berg (.222 in 136 at-bats, down 20 points from his 161 at-bats in '03) and Howie Clark (.237 in 115 ABs up from 70 ABs last year). It should be noted that Reed Johnson leads this team in both at-bats and games played.

Next up Josh Phelps. He's appeared at the same rate, but his GPA is down a staggering 40 points. Last year Phelps was the Jays fifth or sixth place hitter. This year he seems to have played himself out of the line-up, losing his starting job in mid-July. Worse yet, the 26-year old slugger is now on a three-year decline trend and a three-year increase in his ground-ball rate. As Phelps is a DH/1B, heavy on the DH, his hitting trends could kill off the career of a young man that some inside the sport said reminded them of Dale Murphy.

Last, but not least, Carlos Delgado. Delgado had a monstrous .340-GPA year in 2003 in which he appeared in 161 games. This year he's appeared in just 69 percent of the Jays games (more Woodward and Berg) due to, what else, injury and has seen his GPA drop about 75 points. Wait. Seventy-five points!?. Eegads.

Those three push this .500 team into the cellar by all by themselves, with Delgado being the primary reason why his Blue Jays are so bad.

posted by Cliff at 11:25 PM

Thoughts for Thursday 

Don't look now, but Kevin "If He's Healthy" Brown is healthy. He peeled off a gem against the A's yesterday: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K, 71 percent of his 107 pitches for strikes. Since coming off the DL his line over two starts looks like this: 14 2/3 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 12 K. He's now 9-1 on the season with a 3.60 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Big time stuff.

In his second Yankee start John Olerud went 3 for 3 with 2 more RBIs. He's now 5 for 8 with 4 RBIs in his young Yankee career.

Jorge Posada was hit in the right thumb by a foul ball in the second inning of yesterday's game but stayed in because he felt that he and Brown were on a roll. He took an 0-fer on the day, in part due to the thumb, but saw Brown through a fantastic start. Despite starting a day game after a night game on Thursday he expects to be in the line-up on Friday and doesn't expect the thumb to bother him.

Enrique Wilson came out of Wednesday night's game with a bruised shoulder after making a nice diving play in the hole behind first. He's expected to miss a few games. Frankly, I'd like to see him miss the rest of the season, bum shoulder or not. I can't handle it. Things were going so well with Miguel Cairo as the every-day second baseman. Then Cairo took a pair of 0-fers in mid-July and Wilson has gotten 13 of the 18 starts since then. It doesn't take a genius to see that this is hurting the team. Dig:

Cairo: .284/.332/409
Wilson: .219/.260/.353

The two are actually pretty close in isolated slugging (.134 for Wilson, .125 for Cairo) and isolated discipline (.041 Wilson, .048 Cairo), but that's secondary to the fact that Cairo's GPA is nearly 50 points higher than Wilson's (though Enrique is finally off the highway at .205). Wilson's advantage in isolated slugging comes from having twice as many homers as Cairo, despite having five fewer extra base hits. On at team that's already hit 165 homers and has nine guys with 11 or more, six homers versus three homers is rather meaningless. I could deal with Enrique as a futility infielder, but Torre insists on starting him and that just can't be allowed to happen.

My new campaign: Free Felix Escalona! Escalona's hitting .309/.378/.435 in Columbus (340 AB) while playing short. He'd make a great futility infielder and Torre won't try to give him starts. Enrique, meanwhile, can coach third for the Clippers. Problem solved.

And since I'm criticizing Joe Torre, something I've not done for a while, why did he bring Paul Quantrill, who's on pace to pitch in 90 games this season and has appeared in 4 of the last 5 games, to protect a 5-0 lead in the ninth inning yesterday? Did he not trust his brand new lefty, who hasn't made an appearance since being recalled, to get three outs before giving up five runs despite the fact that two of the first three batters due up were lefties (Kotsay and Chavez)? If not, why is he even here? Free Brad Halsey!

posted by Cliff at 12:44 AM

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Ask and ye shall receive 

Esteban Loaiza made his Yankee debut last night. He wasn't great, allowing a pair of homers (one was a solo shot and the other was to the superhot Eric Byrnes) and walking four in the process of allowing five runs on six hits in six innings. But he also struck out six men, ate up six innings, and kept the Yanks in the game. Not bad for his first start as a Yankee wearing the pinstripes in the Bronx. Sans the nerves he'll likely do better next time out.

Meanwhile, for all the raves about Jose Contreras's White Sox debut, he gave up four runs (two earned) on five hits in six innings, allowing a solo dinger, walking one and striking out three. Better than Loaiza's start to be sure, but Contreras was facing the Royals and Loaiza the A's. What's more, overall Contreras walks more, strikes out more and allows more homers. That Loaiza led El Titan in those categories in their respective debuts with their new teams should clue you in to the fact that one start doesn't tell you a whole lot. Loaiza got the Yankees to their Big Three (with a perfect ninth inning from Scott Proctor for the second consecutive day) with a mere two-run deficit. A Jeter single and a towering Sheffield home run with one out in the ninth took care of that. After two scary but scoreless innings from Mo, a Sheffield single and a one-out homer from Rodriguez finished the job, 8-6 Yanks.

John Olerud also made his Yankee debut last night going 2 for 5 with a 2-RBI single in his first at-bat as a Yank and some solid defense at first base.

The best news from last night, however, was that the Yankees have sent Felix Heredia to Billy Connors' School for Funked Up Pitchers in Tampa, ridding the team of the Run Fairy, at least for the moment.

Heredia cleared waivers and accepted the assignment, allowing the Yankees to recall journeyman LOOGY C.J. Nitkowski. I wrote about Nitkowski when the Yankees signed him back on June 28. He's essentially the Tanyon Sturtze of LOOGies. Dig their career rate stats:

Sturtze - Age 33: 5.20 ERA, 5.36 K/9, 3.82 BB/9, 1.26 HR/9 (671 1/3 IP)
Nitkowski - Age 31: 5:29 ERA, 6.52 K/9, 4.96 BB/9, 1.09 HR/9 (462 2/3 IP)

That's a whole lot of crappy pitching. As for C.J.'s LOOGY credentials, in 20 innings with the Braves earlier this year his splits looked like this:

vs. righties: .277/.351/.532
vs. lefties: .273/.368/.333

Not much of a split until you look at the slugging. Looking back of the previous three years we get this:

vs. righties .317/.382/.480
vs. lefties .262/.415/.348

Wait, lefties had a .415 OBP against him from 2001-2003?! Cripes. That wipes out the batting average split completely and the slugging split is less pronounced here. As I said when writing about C.J. back in June, "for the Yankees sake, I hope his stay with the team is brief."

Free Brad Halsey!

posted by Cliff at 9:47 AM

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I'm back now, but I'll be more back soon 

I'm working on a post about the eleven major trades that happened while I was away, but as that is taking a while, I thought I'd give you a few words inspired by last night's trouncing at the hands of the Oakland A's.

The story of the game was bad Yankee pitching. Jon Lieber hadn't had a disaster outing since June 23 in Baltimore, but got lit up last night after the Yanks got out to a 3-0 lead on Mark Mulder (prompting one of my all-time favorite New York Post headlines: "Lieber Hosin'"). Having allowed the A's to tie the game at 4 in the fourth, Lieber entered the fifth and gave up a single to Eric Chavez and a one-out, two-run homer to Scott Hatteberg before walking Erubiel Durazo (his second walk of the game!) and being pulled for Tanyon Sturtze.

Sturtze, of course, allowed Durazo to score--though an A-Rod error is actually to blame for extending the inning and Eric Byrnes has been so hot of late (he was 3 for 4 with 3 RBI a double and a triple last night) he probably deserves more credit for his 2-RBI triple than Sturtze does blame. Of course, that doesn't explain away the two-run homer he allowed in the seventh to Adam Melhuse.

Felix Heredia came on in the eighth with the Yankees down 10-4 and walked two of the first three batters he faced before allowing a three-run homer to lefty Scott Hatteberg.

Scott Proctor worked a perfect ninth.

So here's my question. Why is Felix Heredia still on this team? Tanyon Sturtze is bad, but he does eat innings and he actually has a better ERA and WHIP than Bret Prinz or Scott Proctor thus far. With Mussina still on the DL, I can understand holding on to him. But why Heredia? The man has a 6.96 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP. He's supposed to be a LOOGY, but lefties have a .841 OPS against him. His last six appearances look like this:

Faced one batter, walked him
Faced two batters, walked them both
Faced one batter, allowed a hit
Pitched one full inning allowing three hits, one of them a solo home run.
Faced one batter, allowed a hit
Pitched one full inning, walking two and allowing a three-run home run.

In that first full inning of work he needed an out on the bases to get his third out. Thus in his last six appearances Heredia has faced 16 batters and retired just five of them, failing to get a single out in four of those appearances and allowing home runs in the other two.

The only reason to keep Heredia on this team is the fact that he's a lefty. Of course that's of no use unless he's effective. One could argue that some hitters struggle so mightily against lefties that simply facing a lefty pitcher, regardless of that pitcher's effectiveness, makes them a worse hitter. This argument is particularly relevant to Red Sox lefties Trot Nixon and David Ortiz. Nixon and Ortiz are a combined 2 for 12 off of Heredia this year, a mere .167 average. But that's not the whole story. They've also walked a total of four times against him for a .375 on-base percentage. What's more, the first three appearances in the list above came against the Red Sox, each saw Heredia come in to face Ortiz. Ortiz walked in the first two and smacked an RBI double in the last. So much for that.

One is tempted to pine for Gabe White (was he really on this team?), who was dumped on the Reds in mid-June, but White has been only slightly better in Cincy than Heredia has in the Bronx, and that's not saying much.

The way I see it, if the Yankees need a LOOGY so desperately that they're willing to keep running Heredia out there, why not give Brad Halsey and Alex Graman a shot at the job. Both would benefit from the experience and could return to starting next season. What's more, since both are starters by trade, they could also be used to eat innings, reducing Tanyon Sturtze's role (fringe benefit). Graman was awful in his two starts, but might be able to gain some big league confidence in this sort of limited role, increasing his future value to the team. I actually believe that the Yankees need to give Graman another shot in the show this season unless they're ready to cut bait on him completely. Halsey, meanwhile, had two solid starts and two disaster starts with the big club, but he's cool under pressure and one of those solid starts came against Boston (then again, Ortiz was 2 for 3 with a pair of doubles against the Admiral). Checking the splits, Halsey stymied lefties in his four starts to the tune of .188/.176/.313, Ortiz's two doubles being the only two extra-base hits (and two of just three hits total) Halsey allowed to lefties in 16 plate appearances (no walks). That's a tiny sample size, to be sure, but one worth expanding.

posted by Cliff at 12:03 PM

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