Archive for January, 2010
See you in a week • 01.31.10
We’re a little more than two weeks from spring training, and before that chaos begins, I’m taking a week off, beginning Monday. I’ll be back to cover the week leading to spring training, and I’ll fly to Tampa two weeks from Tuesday.
You’ll still see my name on the morning guest posts, but only because those are set ahead of time. Otherwise, I’m taking a few days away from the blog. Frankly, the place will be in even better hands with Sam running the show.
See you all in a week. Until then, hold tight. Pitchers and catchers are probably packing their bags as we speak.
Still waiting on individual game tickets • 01.31.10
I’ve gotten a lot of emails lately asking when individual game tickets go on sale. The short answer is, I don’t know. The better answer is, probably not until the middle of March.
Last year, individual game tickets didn’t go on sale to the general public until March 24. Some individual tickets could be purchased one day earlier, on the 23rd, but only for fans who were selected through a random online drawing. Registration for that drawing didn’t begin until March 14.
When I checked with the Yankees about ticket sales for 2010, I was told that the team expects to follow a similar schedule, “but that’s not set in stone.”
Stay tuned. We’ll have something on the blog as soon as the team makes a ticket sales announcement.
To Be Decided • 01.31.10
Four spots in the rotation are set, so are eight places in the lineup. The bench and bullpen roles are largely locked up or have heavy favorites. It more or less goes without saying that the final bench spot and the final bullpen role will be decided in camp, but these seem to be the four biggest battles as the Yankees move closer to spring training.
Favorite: Brett Gardner
Competition: Randy Winn
Wild card: Non-roster invites
Whether it’s left field or center field, the Yankees seem ready to give Gardner an everyday job, or at least a regular role at the bottom of the lineup. Winn is positioned as the fourth outfielder who could fight for regular playing time, and the Yankees could bring in an extra right-handed hitter — someone like Marcus Thames or Rocco Baldelli — to compete on a minor league deal.
Favorite: Joba Chamberlain
Competition: Phil Hughes
Wild card: Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, Alfredo Aceves
Chamberlain opened last season in the rotation, so he earns the “favorite” label. In reality, it seems likely that this is an open competition between Chamberlain and Hughes. A group of long relievers/spot starters could compete for a starting spot, but they seem more likely to open in the bullpen.
Favorite: Ramiro Pena
Competition: Kevin Russo
Wild card: Reegie Corona, Eduardo Nunez
Pena had the job last season, and he’s the only utility candidate with any big league experience. Russo is coming off a terrific Triple-A season and Corona has speed and versatility. There still seems to be a chance that the Yankees could go after a veteran utility candidate.
Favorite: Boone Logan
Competition: Royce Ring
Wild card: Wilkin De La Rosa, Kei Igawa
The Yankees lost Phil Coke and Mike Dunn this winter. Assuming they carry a second lefty beyond Damaso Marte, their best bet is probably recent addition Logan. Ring is coming to camp on a minor league deal. De La Rosa and Igawa are most likely heading back to the minors.
Hasn’t and Can’t • 01.31.10
Alex Rodriguez heard the taunts, and he knew he had the numbers to back them up. One of the best players in the game had been dreadful in the playoffs, and he seemed to be taking the Yankees down with him.
“It was good because I was so tired of hearing that,” Rodriguez said in a YES Network interview. “I mean, it was exhausting, to be honest with you. It was so frustrating to go in every postseason with all the expectations and ambitions to do well, and three, four games (later) and we were right back in Miami and to our (respective) homes. It was frustrating, painful.
“For me, I was just so tired of the whole ‘unclutch’ thing. It was just very annoying, but to come over and be part of a championship team and get some of the biggest hits of my career and to deliver for my teammates when they needed me, that certainly feels really good and I’m very relieved.”
As Jay pointed out this morning, that’s the difference between “hasn’t” and “can’t.”
Javier Vazquez has pitched 15.2 innings in the playoffs, and the results haven’t been pretty, but Vazquez has been a pretty good pitcher in his career. As fourth starters go, he’s been terrific. More than clutch, the Yankees need Vazquez to be available and reliable. They need him to bring stability at the back of the rotation, something that was missing through much of last season.
If he helps the Yankees get to the playoffs, or if his turn in the rotation falls on key dates, the Yankees will have to take their chances that Vazquez can do what Rodriguez did and quiet the naysayers.
Pinch hitting: Jay Gargiulo • 01.31.10
Now up in the Pinch Hitters series is Jay Gargiulo, who took a look at Javier Vazquez’s career to examine his reputation as a pitcher who crumbles in clutch situations.
Jay is one of two regular writers for a Yankees blog that’s listed in our blog roll, but has a name Sam and I aren’t quite sure we can post in such a family forum. You know the one. The blog started in 2008, but Jay says he has, “hated Kevin Youkilis since he, his hideous goatee and his obnoxious batting stance showed up in Boston in 2004.”
Jay has a professional background in market research analysis, and that guides much of his writing. He’s done more analysis of Vazquez in a longer post on his site, but the nuts and bolts are right here.
When the Yankees re-acquired Javier Vazquez shortly before Christmas, many fans were less than enthusiastic about the trade. Vazquez was coming off of an excellent year in which he set career bests in ERA along with K/BB, WHIP and several other peripheral stats and finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting. There were few complaints about his 2010 salary, or parting ways with Melky Cabrera, Arodys Vizciano and Mike Dunn — although neither of those were trivial concerns — so what was the problem?
Simply put, many Yankee fans consider Vazquez to be someone who “can’t handle pitching in New York,” based mostly on his second half in 2004 during which he racked up a 6.92 ERA in his last 14 starts and pitched his way out of the playoff rotation. His first pitch to Johnny Damon in Game 7 of the ALCS only solidified that reputation. More recently, his former manager Ozzie Guillen publicly called out Javy for not being a “big game pitcher.”
Over the course of his career, Vazquez has excellent strikeout, hit and walk rates for a starting pitcher but sports only a slightly better-than-average ERA of 4.19 and a won-lost record of 142-139. In short, his talents as a pitcher seem to outpace his results. What causes this?
One possibility is that Vazquez gives up hits at inopportune times. After all, a double with the bases loaded has infinitely greater impact on a pitcher’s ERA than one with the bases empty. So how does Vazquez perform with men on base?
In the chart we provided, tOPS+ measures opposing hitters’ production in each split against Vazquez. From the pitcher’s perspective, 100 is average and lower numbers are better. The results are clear: Vazquez gets hit harder with men on base and hardest with the bases loaded. How does Javy perform in relation to the score of the game? He’s roughly the same when the lead or deficit is between 0 and 4 runs but is significantly better when the margin is greater than four.
Combine the presence of men on base and the score of the game (along with the inning the game is in) — as Baseball-Reference.com’s leverage index does — and we see that Vazquez pitches worse as the significance of the at-bat increases.
Vazquez’s poor numbers with men on base suggest that he may lose something pitching out of the stretch. His tendency to pitch better when the game isn’t close might indicate he doesn’t respond very well to anxiety (which says more about how he is hard-wired than whether or not he’s mentally tough). But does this mean won’t pitch well as a Yankee this time around?
To say that Vazquez can’t handle pitching in New York requires the assumption that the stress resulting from in-game situations is the same as the pressure of pitching for one franchise or another. And anyway, the expectations of Javy are significantly lower this time around. Instead of being earmarked as a future ace after the departure of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Wells as he was in 2004, Vazquez is only being asked to solidify the depth of a World Series winning rotation.
Furthermore, there’s a major difference between “hasn’t” and “can’t.” While it’s true that Javy hasn’t pitched well under pressure, it’s inaccurate to say that he can’t. As A-Rod proved this past postseason, it’s foolish to brand a player as a choke artist.
The bottom line is that Vazquez is a very talented pitcher who is likely to throw more than 200 innings while maintaining a better-than-average ERA in 2010. He might be frustrating to watch at times, but probably much less so than the Yankees’ previous fourth starter — Joba Chamberlain — was in 2009.
Some things keep getting better • 01.30.10
Earlier this week, the Baseball Prospectus projection system, PECOTA, predicted a third-place finish for the Yankees. In an updated version of the projection, the Yankees are now predicted to finish 93-69, tied with the Red Sox for the best record in baseball.
The latest projection has the Yankees scoring fewer runs — down to 855, still the most in baseball — but also predicts a much better season from the pitching staff, with the expected runs allowed down to 733, which is 56 fewer than in the first PECOTA prediction.
Why the change? I don’t know the entire process, but these folks are trying to predict an entire baseball season, and that probably requires some tweaks along the way. They’ve been pretty good at it in the past. The numbers might not be exactly right, but PECOTA usually gives a pretty good glimpse of the big picture. The real gutsy prediction here is the American League West. Talk about going against conventional thinking!
Also wanted to pass along this picture of CC Sabathia, his wife Amber and his mother Margie Sabathia Lanier at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Thurmon Field, which Sabathia recently helped renovate. Here’s the story — in press release form — and the picture.
It was only less than one year ago when New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia returned to see the first field he ever played on at North Vallejo Little League. What he discovered was covered with weeds and totally unsuitable for children to play baseball. As a man who believes in the importance of giving youth as many opportunities as possible, Sabathia and his PitCCh In Foundation™, vowed to make a change. The reconstructed Thurmon Field will open with a field ceremony on Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 9 a.m., followed by the North Vallejo Little League All Star baseball clinic at 10 a.m.
The result of an intense two-month schedule of construction, coordinated by the Good Tidings Foundation and project general contractor Robert A. Bothman, Inc., this revitalized field will include new irrigation including lateral lines, new heads, valves and controller; new infield dirt, new bases, pitching rubber and home plate; new dugouts; new electronic scoreboard; a black vinyl coated chain link fence donated by the California Fence Contractors Association, and 37,000 square feet of sod provided by West Coast Turf. It will be the exact same turf as the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum where the Oakland A’s play. In addition, the field will be adjoined by a rebuilt snack bar with new electrical and the addition of a new water line, floor and roof.
“We had a lot of help from some very dedicated people who are equally passionate as me about making sure kids get to play this great game of baseball,” explained Sabathia. “Thinking back to what was here in terms of weeds and old dugouts to what we have now, I’m as excited as the kids on the first day of the season.”
World Series trophy heading to Asia • 01.30.10
I think it’s pretty great that the Yankees are sending the World Series trophy on a bit of a tour this winter. They’ve usually been very protective it — and they still are based on the handlers with white gloves — but it’s great to get it out into the public. Next stop on the World Series Trophy Tour is Asia. Here are the highlights of the press release, plus a picture of the trophy boarding it’s flight.
The New York Yankees announced that they are bringing their 2009 World Series championship trophy to Tokyo, Beijing and Hong Kong on a six-day tour beginning Sunday, January 31.
The Yankees delegation will include Team President Randy Levine, Senior Vice President and General Manager Brian Cashman, Vice President and Assistant General Manager Jean Afterman, Senior Vice President of Corporate Sales and Sponsorships Michael Tusiani, Director of Pacific Rim Operations George Rose, Executive Director of Stadium Event Security Todd Letcher and Media Relations Manager Michael Margolis.
The trophy will arrive at Tokyo’s Narita Airport on Sunday, January 31 at approximately 5:00 p.m. Japan Standard Time (“JST”, 14 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time), marking the first time the Yankees have brought their World Series trophy to Asia.
On Monday, February 1 at 5:00 p.m. JST, a historic moment will take place at the MLB Café in Tokyo as the Yankees’ 2009 World Series trophy will be on display alongside the Yomiuri Giants’ 2009 Japan Series championship trophy in the first-ever instance of the two titles being side-by-side. The Yankees’ delegation will be joined by Yomiuri Giants owner Takuo Takihana and MLB Asia Vice President Jim Small. Following an exchange of gifts and a brief press conference, the two trophies will remain on hand for fans to enjoy throughout the evening.
Following a travel day from Tokyo to Beijing, the capital of China, Yankees officials will meet with the China Baseball Association (CBA) on Wednesday, February 3. The Yankees created a partnership with the CBA on January 29, 2007, when the pair drafted a Memorandum of Understanding that formalized the CBA’s first strategic alliance with a Major League Baseball club. At 2:00 p.m. China Standard Time (“CST”, 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time), the groups will hold a press conference at New World Hotel Beijing, Hu Jia Lou, Chao Yang District.
The trophy will make its first public appearance in the world’s most populous country on Wednesday, February 3 at 5:00 p.m. CST at the New World Department Store located at No. 3 Chong Wen Men Wai Da Jie, Chongwen District, Beijing. Media and fans are invited to the press conference, which will include the full Yankees delegation, CBA officials and New World representatives.
The Beijing Yankees, 2009 winners of the first annual Diamond Cup, which is given to the champions of Major League Baseball’s “Play Ball” youth baseball program in China, are also expected to be in attendance. Yankees executives and the young players will join together at Wednesday’s event to celebrate their respective championships. After the media portion of the program, the trophy will be exhibited for all in attendance.
Following a travel day on Thursday, February 4, the trophy will make its Hong Kong debut on Friday, February 5 at 2:30 p.m. CST at New World Development’s recently-opened K11 mall at 18 Hanoi Road TST, where media will have an opportunity to speak to members of the Yankees delegation. Additionally, fans will be able to enjoy the trophy in its final public appearance in Asia, as it will be displayed among other world-class works of art.
* The trophy “will be displayed among other world-class works of art.” How cool is that?
Replacement level • 01.30.10
A few spots will be decided in spring training, but for the most part, we now know how the 2009 Yankees have transformed into the 2010 Yankees.
Of the 31 players who got at least 70 at-bats or pitched at least 25 innings last season, 11 will not be back. All but two have been replaced by someone younger.
Out: Johnny Damon
In: Curtis Granderson
Whether it’s Granderson, Gardner or Winn in left field, this seems to be a defensive upgrade. Offensively, Damon’s replacement seems to be Nick Johnson, who generally has a better on-base percentage, but almost certainly has less speed and power.
Out: Hideki Matsui
In: Nick Johnson
Actually, Johnson is Matsui’s replacement in title only. In reality, the Yankees will probably look for Granderson to replace Matsui’s offense. Granderson actually has a higher career slugging percentage than Matsui, but only time will tell whether he’s actually a more productive hitter in New York.
Out: Chien-Ming Wang
In: Javier Vazquez
Perhaps the biggest difference for the Yankees rotation is that Wang threw fewer than 100 innings each of the past two seasons, and he threw more than 200 innings once in his big league career. Vazquez has thrown at least 200 innings each of the past five years.
Out: Melky Cabrera
In: Randy Winn
This is the spot for a switch-hitting outfielder who will go into spring training to battle for a starting job, and is capable of playing all three outfield positions well off the bench. Cabrera is younger and had much better stats last season. Winn is cheaper and had much better stats in 2007 and 2008.
Out: Phil Coke
In: Boone Logan
Coke held lefties to a .195 batting average and .218 on-base percentage last season. Logan didn’t come close to those numbers — .231 average, .318 on base — but he did keep the ball on the ground and limit lefties to a .308 slugging percentage (left-handers slugged .366 against Coke). Despite having pitched in almost twice as many big league games, Logan is actually two years younger than Coke.
Out: Jose Molina
In: Francisco Cervelli
So far, this is true. Molina is still a free agent, Cervelli is the only backup catcher on the 40-man roster and the Yankees seem content to leave it that way. Cervelli actually had more Yankees at-bats last season than Jerry Hairston Jr., Eric Hinske or Cody Ransom. He was better than Molina in every offensive category and — subjectively — was just as good defensively.
Out: Brian Bruney, Jose Veras
In: David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves
Bruney and Veras were on the Yankees opening day roster last season. Robertson and Aceves were not. Things changed by the end of the season, and that change will likely carry into 2010. Bruney, Veras and Coke are the only Yankees relievers who won’t be back after throwing at least 25 innings last season.
Out: Jerry Hairston Jr., Cody Ransom, Angel Berroa
In: Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo, Reegie Corona, Eduardo Nunez
Berroa didn’t have 70 at-bats, but he was one in a string of utility infielders last season. The front-runner to open 2010 in that role is the same guy who opened 2009: Pena. If he can’t handle the spot, the Yankees have three other young infielders on the 40-man. If none can do it, last year taught the that it’s pretty easy to trade for a replacement.
Out: Eric Hinske
In: Jamie Hoffmann
Hinske was brought in mid-season for depth and power off the bench. He was good to have, but ultimately expendable (hence the one postseason plate appearance). Hoffmann is kind of the same. He hits right handed and probably doesn’t have Hinske’s pop, but he’s being brought to camp as a Rule 5 wild card, a low-cost gamble trying for a bench job.
My first Yankee Stadium memory • 01.30.10
As most of you already know, I didn’t grow up with the Yankees. I was born and raised in Missouri and my first trip to Yankee Stadium didn’t come until it’s final days, when I was still covering the Triple-A team.
Most of my memories from that day are behind-the-scenes. I wasn’t sure what to expect walking into an unfamiliar clubhouse, but the first person I saw was Dave Robertson. Then Phil Hughes.
I remember the dining room with blank spaces on the walls where pictures used to hang, and I remember writers telling me exactly which pictures hung in which spots. I remember the dark runway leading to the dugout and into the light of the field. I remember walking the ramps out of the stadium with Tyler Kepner, who said he didn’t like using the elevator to leave.
The place was old and authentic, and I felt lucky to be there; a minor league guy up for the day to do a job.
As for the game itself, I remember absolutely nothing, except this one thing: Mariano Rivera pitched that day. When the eighth inning ended, a writer actually said to me, “Wait til you see this.”
Metallica. Screaming crowd. Jog to the mound. Game over.
Like Rebecca so poetically put it this morning, Rivera was part of the experience. Authentic as the building itself.
Pinch hitting: Rebecca Glass • 01.30.10
Next up in the Pinch Hitters series is Rebecca Glass, who got poetic about one of the great Yankees we’ve ever known.
Rebecca has been writing her blog, This Purist Bleeds Pinstripes, since September 2007. I’ve been reading her work for a while now, and when her guest post suggestion arrived, I hardly needed to open it to know who she wanted to write about.
I’d go ahead and tell you who her favorite Yankee is — “Until Jesús breaks in,” she wrote — but that might ruin the post.
Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man tells us to think of the Great DiMaggio.
Since I have so little respect for great literature, I’d like to amend that:
When you’re in your skiff, trying to haul in the marlin against the ferocious storm, think of the Great Mariano.
When you are a child, it’s an imperative to choose favorites. Favorite food. Favorite color. Favorite athlete.
How did one choose Mariano, way back when, over Derek Jeter and Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez?
Mariano rolls off the tongue, fluid and easy, like butter melting on fresh-from-the-oven bread. Mariano. Marreeahno.
The name itself is bait.
The first real look comes in October 1999.
It’s not that one hasn’t seen him before; it’s that 1999 is the first season I am old enough to appreciate what I am seeing.
It’s the first time I hear his name in the same breath as “postseason,” “scoreless” and “record.” The first time I understand.
There was an article in the Record. Something about death, taxes and Rivera. Eleven years later, yellowed from exposure, it’s still posted in my bedroom.
Every time I see it I think: did that writer know that by 2010, Mariano would, for many Yankee fans, be myth as much as man?
Mariano is a symbol as much as he is a pitcher.
Stoicism, poise, consistency — all the traits we value in our heroes.
He pitches with an injured shoulder (2008), in the postseason after a cousin is killed in a pool accident (2004), in the World Series with injured ribs (2009).
He gets one save, then ten, then a hundred and on a June night in 2009, five hundred.
And those 500 don’t include what he’s done in October.
After Game Three of the ALCS, when he gets out of a bottom of the ninth inning that sees a runner on third base with none out, you get the feeling that you could tell Mariano to climb Everest oxygen free, and he’d do it in record time while managing to rescue a stranded climber as well.
Almost twenty years after he first signs a professional baseball contract, a year to the day after a landmark election, he stands on the mound and throws one last pitch to a Philadelphia Philly.
In the whole of the 2009 postseason, he is the only closer that does not blow a lead.
Maybe Hemingway knew something. After all, Mariano is a fisherman’s son.