The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Archive for the ‘Pinch hitters’

Postgame notes: One decision that didn’t work out05.23.11

Joe Girardi said his sixth-inning trip to the mound was about telling, not asking. He knew he had a strike-throwing, ground-ball pitcher on the mound. He knew the next three hitters in the Blue Jays lineup were 0-for-6 with four strikeouts. Girardi decided to walk Juan Rivera before he stepped foot on the field.

“I told Alex to tell the manager that we would do whatever he wanted to do,” Bartolo Colon said.

Colon intentionally walked Rivera, then gave up a single, walk and game-breaking, three-run double. That’s when the game turned. The Yankees have come to trust Colon, and tonight’s game hinged on his ability to get one of those three batters out.

“They had a lot of runners in scoring position,” catcher Russell Martin said. “Bartolo did what he normally does, throw a lot of strikes. We loaded the bases and got in a situation where we needed a ground ball to turn two. We got the ground ball we wanted, just not in the right spot. Sometimes things like that happen.”

The ground ball was Aaron Hill’s go-ahead single. The more unexpected outcome was the four-pitch, bases-still-loaded walk to Eric Thames. Colon was trying to work away, getting Thames to roll over a routine grounder. He missed with four straight pitches. Then came the J.P. Arencibia double.

“He was throwing fastballs,” Martin said. “That’s his best command pitch. You get behind in the count, you still don’t want to make a mistake over the plate and with one swing they have a big lead. He was missing with fastballs away, then the next hitter came up and he’s in a situation where he doesn’t want to throw another ball. He threw a four-seamer over the plate and he put a good swing on the ball.”

Here’s Girardi.

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• No one asked about the decision to intentionally walk Jose Bautista earlier in the sixth. At this point, that’s gotta be a no-brainer, right? Especially with Yunel Escobar hitting behind him. Can’t let the game’s best hitter — right now — beat you in that spot.

• Girardi on not using Nick Swisher to pinch hit for Jorge Posada late in the game: “I’m thinking about we need a couple base runners. I’m saving Swish (for) if we get closer.”

• Girardi on Robinson Cano, who did drive in every run tonight, but still hasn’t been quite the game-changing hitter we saw last year: “He’s not swinging the bat as well as he was earlier on this year. Last night, he has a big RBI, tonight he has (all) of our three RBI, so he’s still being productive. Maybe you’re not seeing the long ball as much as we did earlier, but he’s still being productive.”

• Carlos Villanueva held the Yankees to one earned run on two hits. This was his first start of the season — and first since 2009 with Milwaukee — and he got the win. He retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced. “We haven’t seen him too much,” Derek Jeter said. “Try to make adjustments every time you face someone, but if you can make pitches, you’re going to beat the hitters, and today he made some good pitches. He mixed it up pretty good.”

• The Yankees were 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

• Brett Gardner had two stolen bases and Curtis Granderson stole one. Three stolen bases was a season-high for the Yankes.

• Granderson scored all three Yankees runs tonight. According to the Yankees media relations department, he’s on pace for 123 runs, which would be the most for a Yankees center fielder since Rickey Henderson scored 130 in 1986.

• Alex Rodriguez has three straight multi-hit games. He’s quietly pushed his batting average up to .289.

• Chris Dickerson said the leadoff double in the sixth hooked more than he was expecting, which is why he took a funky route toward it. Dickerson said, even without the bad first step, he’s not sure he could have actually caught the ball. Hard to say how much that would have changed the inning, but I can’t get too worked up about that play considering the eight more Blue Jays came to the plate that inning.

• Bautista has 16 home runs in his past 26 games. He has 10 in the month of May, putting him two shy of his own franchise record, which he set last season. “He’s been doing it for, what, a year and a half now,” Jeter said. “It seems like every time he comes up he looks like he’s in a 3-0 count and is trying to hit a home run. It’s pretty impressive to do, but we don’t like to see it.”

• Colin Curtis was in the clubhouse after tonight’s game. When I walked up to say hello, he said, “Watch this,” then held out his right hand. He was able to actually squeeze my during a handshake, something he’s only been able to do for three days. Never tear your labrum almost completely. It’s a pretty nasty recovery.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Pinch hitterswith 53 Comments →

Pinch hitting: James Ramos02.13.11

Our last Pinch Hitter is James Ramos, a 26-year-old who grew up in Hazlet, N.J., before attending the University of Notre Dame. The last game he saw at old Yankee Stadium was had Carl Pavano on the mound. “I never realized how universally hated the Yankees and their fans are until I lived in Minnesota for a few years after college,” he wrote. “ ‘Minnesota nice’ vanishes pretty quickly when the Yankees roll into town.” James now works in the city and lives back in New Jersey with his wife.

For his guest post, James took exception to the idea that the Yankees season is over before it’s even started.

Spring training means hope springs anew for 29 teams. Sadly, according to a large group of their fans, the New York Yankees are the one team that has no hope for the 2011 season. After coming within two games of the World Series last year, the Yankees were only able to upgrade their catcher, designated hitter and bullpen this offseason.

As many Yankee fans have pointed out, “we” were unable to sign Cliff Lee. This will be a miserable season for “us” because “we” will finish fourth behind the Blue Jays. Why haven’t “we” traded Montero, Nunez and Laird for Felix Hernandez?! “We” should trade for Johan Santana so the Mets won’t have a better record than “us.”

I’ve come to realize there is a significant divide amongst us Yankee fans.

There are the reactionaries and the pessimists, only satiated by the offseason in which CC and Teixeira offset the (“retroactively awful”) signing of A.J. Burnett. These fans are more often than not in the “we” and “us” crowd when referring to the Yankees. Then there are the optimists and rational observers who are able to refer to our team as “the Yankees” or “they” when discussing how this team is still better than just about every team in the Major Leagues. Perhaps not forging that “we” link between yourself and the team leads to the ability to objectively judge the offseason in the context of other moves made in the American League.

How can we think that the Yankees are not condemned to failure with their current rotation? The 2009 World Champions had Wang, Chamberlain, Hughes, Mitre, Gaudin and Aceves as their fourth and fifth starters. That group combined for 63 starts (in which the Yankees went 39-24) or 32.5% (304 of the 935) of the innings by Yankees’ starters. Combined, they put up a 16-17 record with a 5.80 ERA and a 1.625 WHIP.

It is certainly plausible that Mitre, Nova and whoever else takes up the back end of the rotation can combine for something similar. The Yankees’ strong offense and bullpen should keep them competitive in every game the No. 4 and 5 pitchers start.

The team in March is never the team in October. The Yankees will be one of the best teams in baseball all year, and as the season progresses, Brian Cashman will make the necessary moves to improve the team.

Contrary to what some may think, the season is not over before pitchers and catchers report.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 167 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Ben Farber02.12.11

Ben Farber is next up in our Pinch Hitters series. He’s a 17-year-old high school junior who lives in New York City, and he said his favorite Yankees moment was, in his words, “Suzyn Waldman’s infamous Roger Clemens freakout.” Ben plays high school baseball and coaches Little Leaguers. He’s a bit of an island at home, living in a family of Mets fans.

For his guest post, Ben looked back to the post-2000 Yankees with hopes that the post-2009 Yankees aren’t following the same formula.

It was Thursday, October 26, 2000. As the Shea Stadium clocks closed in on midnight, Mariano Rivera closed the door on the New York Mets. The defending world champion Yankees poured out of the dugout and amassed in the middle of the infield, whooping and leaping in the air like giddy children on Christmas morning. As if they hadn’t done this before.

For nearly a half-decade, baseball’s regular season proved trivial. No matter who won each division, or who piled up the most regular-season wins, fans of all teams could be assured of one thing: October belonged to the Bronx Bombers. Like death and paying taxes, another banner to hang in the House That Ruth Built seemed inevitable. While a champagne-soaked George Steinbrenner stood in the cramped Shea clubhouse accepting the Commissioner’s Trophy for what seemed to the rest of the world like the hundredth time in a row, I lay restless in bed, an exultant first grader, wondering how much longer my pinstriped idols could keep their streak of championships alive.

Let’s fast-forward a bit, say, eight years. After wading through all the Carl Pavanos and the Kevin Browns, the Yankees finally bottomed out (as much as any team with a $200-million payroll is capable of, anyway), and brought the unthinkable to fans: Failure to reach the postseason. For the first time in my life, there would be no October nights in the Bronx; no bunting strewn from any of the Stadium’s three levels; and the walls of the home clubhouse would be conspicuously free of any adult beverage. On Sunday, September 21, 2008, as Derek Jeter — the only Yankee captain I’ve ever known — bade the Yankee Stadium faithful farewell, I began to feel the familiar sinking feeling. Even though our season was not officially over, I knew that 2008 would be like all the rest — a year of premature conclusions.

Ever since that magical first year in 2000, the only Yankee teams I had experienced were teams of repetitive failure. Usually predicted to represent the American League in the Fall Classic, they consistently fell short, and the two times they did make it to the Series, the playoffs ended in heartbreak. First-round exits, World Series losses and 2004: These were not the dynasty teams of my infancy. No, instead these teams were sloppy menageries of high-priced, aging malcontents. These were teams that rolled through the regular season, only to have an inferior Angels or Tigers team clean their clocks in the first round.

For an organization with a “World Series or bust,” attitude, the Yankees embarrassed themselves. Year after year, they led themselves and their fans to the precipice of victory, only to snatch from it gut-wrenching, heart-numbing defeat. The Yankees needed an overhaul, and 2008 made that abundantly clear.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009. The Yankees were back on top where they belonged. As Mark Teixeira squeezed the final out in his glove, I lept off my couch and shouted for joy, thrusting a triumphant fist in the air. For I, as well as every other teenage Yankee fan coming of age in the aftermath of the Yankee dynasty, had been vindicated. Years of shortcomings and crushed expectations were washed away by the mixture of tears, sweat and champagne streaming down the faces of the 25 men clad in world champion t-shirts. Finally — and for the first time I could appreciate — we were on top again.

Friday, October 22, 2010 brought every Yankee fan still riding high from the previous year back to earth.

The Yankees had been overmatched in the ALCS by a tougher, scrappier Rangers team. Not only that, but their upcoming offseason was filled with more uncertainty than in years past. Although they quickly locked up Jeter and Rivera, the Yankees found themselves faced with similar challenges to the ones that presented themselves at the end of the last dynasty. The aging and eventual retirement of key veterans (David Cone and Paul O’Neill in 2000 and 2001, Andy Pettitte and possibly Jorge Posada now) has been an issue then and now. Ten years ago, the Yankees combated that issue by reeling in the offseason’s biggest fish: Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi. Brian Cashman tried a similar strategy this year, but Cliff Lee didn’t cooperate.

So now what? Can AJ Burnett be fixed? Can A-Rod and Posada stay healthy? Can this team please, for the love of Bubba Crosby, come up with some starting pitching depth? Those questions will resolve themselves eventually, but until then, let’s have some patience, okay?

Sure, it would have been exciting to snag Carl Crawford this winter, or trade Jesus Montero for Lee last summer, but if the last few years have taught us anything, moves made out of restlessness and desperation are not the answer. The latest generation of Yankees fans has grown up with teams built from those sort of moves, and as we’ve seen, teams don’t win with reactionary additions.

So Brian Cashman, I implore you: Stick to your guns. Stay patient. No need to splurge on guys who have bad attitudes, are past their prime, or provide only marginal upgrades. Keep focusing on the farm system. I know you want to see the Killer B’s on the mound in the Bronx as much as I do. If Lee doesn’t want to come here, let’s find someone who does. But most of all, don’t force it. Stay patient and good things will happen. Let’s have the post-2009 years go a little smoother than the post-2000 years, all right? We believe in you, and we believe in this organization. Now let’s be smart.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 164 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Tyler Patterson02.11.11

Our next Pinch Hitter, Tyler Patterson, is a 25-year-old third-year law student at Penn State. He began following the Yankees in 1995 and wrote that he’s been “spoiled ever since.”

“The best two days of my life,” he said, “were when my family was given tickets to sit in a suite at the old stadium for a late-September game during the 1999 season. During this game we met a very wealthy gentleman who gave us seats for the final game of the series that were right next to the dugout. Before the game I was able to strike up a conversation, albeit a very short conversation, with Mariano Rivera (he did not have a ball to show me his cutter grip) and was also able to chase down batting practice home run balls slugged by Bernie Williams. Heaven.”

For his guest post, Tyler looked back at some of the occasionally overlooked Yankees who made a lasting impact.

Unheralded Yankees You Need To Know

Every Yankee fan, or baseball fan for that matter, is intimately aware of the Yankee greats. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Ford, Dickey, Gomez, etc. The list goes on and on. However, there is a myriad of other, lesser-known, and perhaps even underappreciated Yankees who contributed to the franchise’s past successes. The don’t carry the name recognition of the legends, but players such as Scott Brosius and Orlando Hernandez will qualify for the “unheralded Yankees” title; non-superstars but legitimate ballplayers who greatly contributed to title-winning Yankee clubs.

One such unheralded Yankee is Allie “The Indian” Reynolds. Reynolds was one of the best pitchers in baseball during his Yankee stint from 1947-1954. During his time in pinstripes, Reynolds compiled a record of 131-60 with an ERA of 3.30 and a FIP of 3.64. Casey Stengel would often match up Reynolds against the opponent’s top starter and he would rarely falter, ironic since he was traded to the Yankees with the reputation of being a “choker.” In 1951 Reynolds finished third in MVP voting (Yogi Berra won), and he won the Hickok Belt award given to the pro-athlete of the year. He had a 17-8 record, two no-hitters (wow), seven shutouts, and seven saves in 14 relief appe

arances. The following season he finished second in MVP voting, leading the AL in both ERA and strikeouts.

The way to make Yankee fans adore you is to perform in October, and Reynolds did just that. He won six titles with the Yankees (1947, 1949-1954) and was brilliant in World Series play. Reynolds won seven of his nine World Series starts with a 2.79 ERA. If that isn’t clutch enough, he had a slash line of .308/.357/.346 in 28 World Series plate appearances. A stalwart of the Yankees’ starting staff during the greatest sports dynasty ever, The Indian is definitely worth knowing if you’re a Yankees fan.

Another unheralded Yankee, Bill “Moose” Skowron, played nine seasons with the Yankees and was a five-time all-star as the everyday first basemen beginning in 1957. Skowron compiled a slash line of .294/.346/.496. He was a part of four Yankee world championship teams and, like Reynolds, he was at his best in October, hitting .293 while slugging .519 and playing excellent defense. In the 1958 World Series, Skowron knocked in the deciding run in Game 6 to force Game 7, in which he hit a three-run homerun to lead the Yankees the title (coming back from a three games to one deficit to defeat the heavily favored Milwaukee Braves). Like Reynolds, Skowron was no legend or Hall-of-Famer, but his consistent performances — especially in October — should not go unnoticed.

One last unheralded Yankee is Tony Lazzeri, who was inducted to the Hall of Fame by the veterans Committee in 1991, and for good reason. Lazzeri played 12 seasons with the Yankees (1926-1937) and hit .293/.379/.467. He was one of the best infielders, if not the very best infielder of his era, playing second, short, and third. Lazzeri won five titles with the Yankees, and as a second-basemen in 1929 he hit a ridiculous .354/.429./561 with 18 home runs and 106 RBI while scoring 101 runs. Even more insane was Lazzeri’s performance in the 1937 World Series in which he hit .400/.526/.733 with a 1.260 OPS. Reggie Jackson, eat your heart out.

There are a number of other former, unheralded Yankees who were equally important to the franchise, players such as Waite Hoyt, Bobby Richardson, Elston Howard, Gil McDougald, and Billy Martin. It is easy to forget, or perhaps even be aware of these Yankee greats. But just think, where would the franchise be without them? Luckily no one has to find out.

Associated Press photo of Reynolds

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 63 Comments →

Pinch Hitting: Adam Holley02.10.11

Pinch Hitter Adam Holley is a 26-year-old currently living in St. Augustine, Fla., but originally from Staten Island, where he lived until two and a half years ago. “I’m pretty sure my father taught me to choose the Yankees over the Mets right around the time he taught me not to walk into oncoming traffic,” he wrote. “I’m pretty sure he thought the two mistakes went hand in hand, turns out he was right.”

Adam would like to get into professional writing and has a blog called, For The Love Of New York. He started it last year — “really using it for practice back then” — and said he’s looking forward to doing more work with it this season.

For his guest post, Adam wrote an impassioned case for Nick Swisher’s place in Yankees history. And, as a treat for Sam and I, he threw in a rather obscure West Wing reference at the end.

The Importance of Being Swisher

What makes the Yankees, The Yankees? Championships? That’s what many on the outside think, and while it is a nice perk, it’s false. What makes the Yankees “great” are the “Yankee Greats.”

I strongly believe Nick Swisher has a chance to become one, and I don’t want us to miss out.

What makes one a Yankee Great? Every team has a most memorable moment. For the Giants, it would be Bobby Thompson and “The Giants Win The Pennant.” For the Red Sox, rather hilariously, this moment still remains in the glove (or rather under the glove) of Mr. Bill Buckner. While one of these moments is of triumph, the other of regret, they are the most historic plays of their respective franchises.

If you had to pick the most significant moment for the rest of the league, 29 times out of 30, you’d end up with big plays as well. Then you reach the Yankees. If you were to pick a scene most identifying of the Yankees as a whole, I’m picking one of three moments:

1. Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech.

2. Mantle and Maris, side by side, bats up against their shoulders.

3. The Boss looking sternly down at the field from the suite.

Not one of these is a play during the game. Why? Because the Yankees are so good, their history is so rich, they have become so much more as a team that they nearly transcend the game itself. Yankee history is not written by what Yankee greats do. It’s who they are.

Nick Swisher doesn’t play for himself. He plays for us. Has anyone reading this ever accused him of having a lack of effort? When he plays, when he is interviewed, when he partakes in events, you can see it in his face: When he arrived in New York, he realized things were different and so, he sat down and made a decision to take the opportunity to make this so much more. He let New York into his heart, and decided to make himself wholly a Yankee.

More impressively, he succeeded.

Swisher gets it, and it isn’t something easy to get. He let us — this city, this team and this history — into his heart, and he changed himself as a player, not for numbers, not for glory, but because he felt he needed to do more for a team that deserved more. “I’m going to be a part of this, and put every bit of effort into it getting the best from me.” The guys whose faces and actions read this way, they are the special ones.

These facts all translate into one thing: Nick Swisher understands what it means to be a true Yankee. He came to this town, this team, and recognized that things here are just different. He wrapped himself so completely in Yankee pride, it motivated him to make changes, to become a better player, simply because Yankee tradition demanded it.

I hear so much these days that the Yankees will never be the same when the Core Four are gone, but this can’t be true. Did we feel the Yankees would never be the same after DiMaggio? Reggie Jackson? Mattingly? Maybe, but each time we learned that Yankee greats give birth to new greats. Passing the baton is part of what keeps the Yankee tradition alive. It’s a Yankee great’s job to teach those who follow what it means to be a true Yankee. It’s our job, as fans, to accept those who follow.

The outside view of the Yankees is skewed. People see the team, see the payroll, and think the Yankees are only out to buy championships. They lure big-money players with huge-money contracts, then lay them by the wayside when they’re through. When Yankee history is truly known, the opposite is actually true. We have a habit of keeping the special ones, the “true Yankees,” right where they belong.

Nick Swisher has the ability, has the tools – in both his bat and his heart — to forever take his place in the Yankee saga, and losing him and therefore taking that chance from him, would make my blue-bleeding heart pour red.

As I look out over this magnificent vista of Yankee future I hope, I plead, and maybe most importantly, I trust the Yankees to see Mr. Swisher forever in pinstripes so he can do us all proud. He’s earned it, and really… don’t you think we’ve earned him?

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 233 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Dan Hanzus02.09.11

Our next Pinch Hitter, Dan Hanzus, is a Rockland County native and current “Los Angeleno” who has been writing his Yankees blog, River & Sunset, since 2008. Dan admits that he, “sometimes looks up at the night sky and wonders if Shelley Duncan is gazing at the same star.” My guess is there’s a 50-50 chance.

This is Dan’s third entry to the LoHud Pinch Hitter series. He wrote about Derek Jeter back in 2009 and Donnie Baseball in 2010. This year he tackled the subject of Brian Cashman’s contract year.

——

Sometimes I wonder if Brian Cashman woke up one morning and decided he just didn’t care what you thought about him anymore.

In an offseason during which Cliff Lee dissed him, ownership undercut him, and Andy Pettitte Brett Favred him, Cashman has remained unflappable, disconnected even. Some in his position would’ve developed a facial tick from the stress by now. Cashman? He dresses up like an elf and shimmies down a building. He serves pints of Guinness in a Corey Haim wig. He makes half-hearted contract offers to Carl Pavano just to see if the internet can explode from snark.

It reminds me of Office Space, when the restless and disgruntled Peter Gibbons decides the way to escape the monotony of his droll life is to revolt against the system that shackles him. He accomplishes this by barely showing up for work, defying his superiors, and occasionally gutting a trout in his cubicle. In the movie, Peter’s blunt insubordination is rewarded with a promotion by corporate lunkheads who mistake his disobedience for leadership.

Could Cashman be banking on the same result?

If Cashman is restless, perhaps it’s understandable. The 43-year-old has been the general manager of the Yankees for 13 years. That’s a long time to be a manager at The Gap, let alone a chief cabinet member for the most successful sports franchise in America. With The Boss gone and the organization in a controlled state of flux, Cashman — consciously or not — may be testing the limits of how entrenched he really is.

The job he’s done in that time continues to be a lightning rod of debate in Yankee Universe. Supporters say he’s a smart, hard-working executive who has earned the respect of colleagues around the game. Detractors believe he was simply along for the ride during the dynasty run, a poor talent evaluator, and was directly responsible for the team’s title drought last decade.

Wherever you stand, most will agree that no GM works under the same level of expectations. The Boss may be dead, but the Steinbrenner Doctrine — anything short of a championship is considered failure — lives on. Yes, Cashman is armed with the golden checkbook, but he also has the smallest margin of error. Call it a wash.

Cashman is entering the final year of his contract. During his 2005 renegotiation, Cashman demanded, and received, the power to restructure the baseball operations. He said that the dueling factions in New York and Tampa needed to disappear, and they did. For a five-year stretch Cashman was El Hombre, every bit as vital to the Yankees enterprise as A-Rod, Jeter, or Sabathia.

That’s what made the Rafael Soriano signing such an eye-opener. For the first time since he threatened to walk in ’05, Cashman was publicly undermined on a key personnel decision. If Hal Steinbrenner has decided to take a more active role, is there room for both men atop the food chain?

It all makes for great theater as the 2011 season unfolds. By this time next year, we’ll likely know the true alpha dog when it comes to the construction of the Yankees.

(Cut to Hank in his shadowy lair, cigarette dangling, bourbon in hand, black cat on lap: “That’s what you think.”)

Gulp.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 180 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Jay Hyne02.08.11

Next up in our Pinch Hitters series is Jay Hyne, a lawyer who grew up in Wayne, N.J. and now works as a law clerk for a federal judge in West Hartford, CT. He’s regular blogger at www.nyat.net, a blog with beginnings that trace back — believe it or not — to Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., where most of the writers co-hosted a sports talk radio show on Thursday nights from midnight until 2:00 a.m.  ”I guess that was the only timeslot that WBRS would give to a bunch of Yankees fans!” Jay wrote.

In 1998, Jay experienced three of his finest Yankees memories: He traded for his first and only Mickey Mantle baseball card (a 1964 Topps), attended his first and only World Series game (Game 1), and won a sweepstakes that allowed him to play actual baseball in the actual Yankee Stadium. A few hours before a September game against Toronto, Jay took the field with about 25 others to go through drills with various Yankees coaches. “My only regret is that my sister exposed the film in my dad’s camera so I only have a couple of blanched photos as proof of this once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he wrote.

For his guest post, Jay took on a familiar subject: The best role for Joba Chamberlain. His opinion is an unfamiliar one: He actually likes Joba in the bullpen.

Nowhere Else To Go: The Case For Keeping Joba in the Bullpen

One of the keys to the Yankees dynasty from 1996 to 2001 was the strength and depth of its bullpen. The Yankees didn’t always have the best rotation in the league, but they approached each game as though it were only six innings because the bullpen could protect the lead through innings 7, 8, and 9.

Notwithstanding the value of a lights-out bullpen, you need starting pitching to win championships. That’s why Brian Cashman tried hard to acquire Cliff Lee this offseason. It was a logical pursuit, given the Yankees’ surplus of cash and obvious need for another top-of-the-line starter. Unfortunately, Lee signed with Philadelphia and there aren’t many appealing names left on the market.

Without Lee and facing the prospect of Andy Pettitte’s retirement, Cashman seems committed to the next best option, which is to offset the impact of a thin rotation by building the best bullpen in baseball. Sound familiar?

Sure enough, the sting from losing out on Lee has since been assuaged by the acquisition of Rafael Soriano, who is going to be a tremendous weapon in the eighth inning. He and Mariano Rivera represent the best setup/closer combination in the league.

But how will the Yankees get through the sixth and seventh innings? They have David Robertson and two lefties in Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan. The bullpen clearly needs another righty, preferably someone who can generate swings and misses. The best person for that job is Joba Chamberlain, whose 9.67 K/9 trailed only Kerry Wood and Robertson in 2010. To add another chapter to the starter vs. reliever debate, here are six more reasons why Joba should remain in the bullpen:

1. Brian Cashman finally stated what many have suspected: Joba’s shoulder has never recovered from the injury he suffered in Texas in 2008. Or perhaps his arm isn’t strong enough to handle a starter’s workload. Either way, his velocity remains down and Joba seems unable to make up the difference with his control. Consequently, he got knocked around a lot in 2009: 167 hits in 157.1 IP.

2. In fact, he’s gotten hit pretty hard, especially in Yankee Stadium. His career ERA is more than a run higher at home versus on the road (4.26 vs. 3.21). Despite identical .317 BABIP splits, his OPS jumps in the Bronx. Furthermore, his K/BB ratio is lower at home, and he even struggles to hold runners close (31 SB home, 14 SB away). Not a very impressive track record in 43 career starts.

3. There is a significant difference between the value of Joba’s primary weapon, his fastball, as a starter and as a reliever. Fangraphs calculates Pitch Type Linear Weights to denote the standardized amount of runs that a pitcher saves with each pitch over the course of 100 pitches thrown. As a starter in 2009, Joba’s wFB/C was -1.21, but that figure improved to 0.36 as a reliever in 2010. In other words, while Joba’s fastball might not be as devastating as it was three years ago (1.51 wFB/C in 2007), it is noticeably more effective in short relief stints than in full starts.

It also bears mentioning that Joba’s 2010 WAR (1.4) was the second highest among all Yankee relievers, behind only Mariano. Yet it was just 1.8 in 2009, far lower than the other pitchers who started at least 30 games: CC Sabathia (6.3), Andy Pettitte (3.6), and A.J. Burnett (3.4).

4. Joba hasn’t started a game since September 30, 2009, so his arm is not stretched out. Even if Cashman wanted to make him a starter, he would need considerable time in Scranton to get ready. This puts a hole in both the rotation and the bullpen for an extended period of time early in the season.

Here is another thing to consider: Right now, Joba could pitch two innings out of the bullpen, and possibly more in a pinch. Keeping Chamberlain in the bullpen could conceivably help entice Andy Pettitte to come back; he would only need to get through five innings because Joba could bridge him to Soriano and Mo.

5. Unless Cashman intends to sign another right-handed reliever, what better options do the Yankees have? Andrew Brackman and Romulo Sanchez have pitched a combined 4.1 innings in the big leagues. I don’t think either one is ready for the job.

6. Joba may never regain his 2007 magic, but we all saw how much he embraced his setup role that season. His bulldog personality is best suited to bullpen work where he can empty the tank in just one or two innings. His improved wFB/C in relief confirms this perception.

These may be moot points, as Cashman has already said that there is no chance that Joba will be in the rotation. But it’s one thing to take a stand in January, and quite another to remain patient if Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre are injured or ineffective and the Yankees start to fade in the standings. We’ll see if Cashman can take the pressure and keep Joba in the bullpen when things get messy.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 136 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Ban Hofmann02.07.11

There were at least a half dozen guest post suggestions about what it’s like to follow the Yankees from a distance. All of them were terrific suggestions, but I decided to choose only one and went with today’s Pinch Hitter.

Ban Hofmann is a 23-year-old college senior in Germany. He’s studying business, and if nothing else, the Yankees have taught him the power of a brand: He knew the Yankees logo before he knew the game of baseball. For his guest post, Ban wrote about what it was like to discover the Yankees during a family trip to the United States, and what it’s been like to follow the team from a distance for more than a decade.

A man in pinstripes is holding a wooden stick in his hand. He looks awesome. His name is Chuck Knoblauch? That’s funny…. Knoblauch…. Knoblauch means garlic in German. Aaaaaaand, hey! That logo! You know you have seen that one before!

Who would have thought that this is the way my affection to the New York Yankees would begin?

It was October the 18th on the day after the first game of the 1998 World Series. Chuck Knoblauch was on the front cover of the USA Today. I had just turned 11 years old and was on my first trip to the States – visiting the beautiful state of California with my dad and my sister.

Needless to say, I had no chance understanding anything, but it instantly became obvious that I had to find out more about that Chuck Knoblauch guy. He certainly played a sport called “baseball” for some team that played under this well-known logo.

On that day I would beg my father to let me watch the game in our RV. He agreed, and I was able to do the same for the next games, always sitting alone in front of a very, very small TV trying to identify some kind of system or scheme in the whole slugging, throwing, running and spitting. Oh that spitting! I know I saw some guys spitting brown stuff, weird but whatever… probably licorice.

So I witnessed the World Series for the first time in my life and I was hooked on that sport, on that team and especially on the excitement. It was the start of my steady wish to visit New York City and to witness games in Yankee Stadium. I had to wait 10 more years until I had the chance to visit Old Yankee Stadium before it was deconstructed. My second visit came one year later, this time in NYS for two games against the Sawx for the latter half of the great four-game sweep in ’09.

In the meantime (’98 to ’08) it was kind of hard to get any information about how the Yankees were doing. The only thing I was able to do was check the video text of some German TV stations that displayed scores and tables on two hidden pages. It was tough being a Yankee fan far away from the Bronx, and it probably is partly responsible for my ongoing drive towards this great city.

The internet came and I finally had the chance to let my Yankee-fever take over. Since then I am possessed, getting any kind of Yankees action. I even try to adjust my sleep so I can watch the games. I know it’s hard to go to bed at 8 p.m., sleep five hours, watch the game and get back to sleep for two more hours until I have to get up again, but I know:  It’s totally worth it.

In Germany though, I often get asked why I would do that to myself. I know it’s crazy to some degree, but I see so much beauty in the Game. I love numbers, and I love this sport because anything can happen, even if it’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and two strikes. The action comes in a very quick peak and decreases in a second. It’s a roller coaster ride. And I like roller coasters, even if I have to ride them alone.

Granted, it would make my life easier if I were able to cut my ties to this great, great team. It’s just not possible. From the day in Santa Barbara, CA until today, it’s the time I’ve invested, the moments I’ve witnessed and probably the money I’ve spent, that have built these strong ties that connect me to the Yankees. I think I speak for a lot of Yankee fans in Europe when I say that it is a love, which is hard to maintain. But with every visit to NYC, I know why I keep up and don’t even think about stopping this insanity which is my life — every year from April to October.

So I will keep on cheering. And I will thank everyone wearing our logo in Germany (most of them not knowing what it stands for), as they have done the groundwork for my affection, because that is what the Yankees are: A global Brand. Whereas many people think it is a fashion label, there are a few of us outsiders – 6,000 or more miles away from Yankee Stadium — cheering as hard for the guys as you do, wishing to be in Yankee Stadium at least 81 times in a year.

Thank God it wasn’t Mr. Trevor Hoffman who was on the front page that day.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 59 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Alex Bleiweis02.06.11

Our next Pinch Hitter is Alex Bleiweis, a sophomore studying history at the University of Maryland. He co-hosts a sports talk show for the university radio station called Quahog Pizza, which can be heard at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays at wmucsports.com.

Alex says being a Yankees fan runs in the family – his grandfather was born while the old Yankee Stadium was under construction — but experiences away from the Bronx have left him questioning some of the Yankee fan experience.

I have been a Yankees fan all my life, however, after going away to college during the 2009 championship season and being exposed to other baseball markets, I’ve realized that there’s a lot to complain about as a Yankees fan. Sure, it’s always nice to root for a team that puts a great product on the field, but since the opening of the new Yankee Stadium, it’s become more and more frustrating to root for a team that treats its fans so poorly.

As a student at the University of Maryland, I have been immersed in the surprisingly boisterous fan base of the Washington Nationals. With a state of the art stadium and the prospects of slowly climbing up the ranks of the N.L. East, people in the area are oddly excited about the team’s potential.

Because the games are on TV locally and the stadium is so accessible, I’ve adopted the lowly Nationals as my team away from home. I still pay attention to the Yankee Universe on a daily basis but have found it enjoyable to follow another team and familiarize myself with the likes of Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina. I’ve also enjoyed going to a stadium where the employees are courteous and accommodating to their guests — the fans. After experiencing life in Nats-Town, I’ve become severely disappointed in the treatment of fans at Yankee Stadium.

There is no doubt that the Yankees and the Nationals are distinctly different teams. One has 27 World Championships and international fame while the other barely manages to make it onto SportsCenter. But they are still two Major League Baseball teams, and the Yankees should definitely take advice from the Nats when it comes to how to treat their fans at games.

Before I go into detail on my experiences in Washington and in the Bronx, I would first like to dispel some of the arguments that my friends have made when I’ve tried to draw the comparison between the two organizations. I always hear people say that the Nationals stink and pampering the few who actually show up on game day is the only way to maintain a fan base and make a profit. Others have said that since nobody shows up to the games, the employees are less strict and don’t really keep control of the fans like they do in New York. Both of these arguments fall short, as explained through these experiences.

• At a SOLD-OUT exhibition game against the Red Sox in Washington, my friend and I were in line to buy a pretzel at a concession stand. Just before we reached the front of the line, the stand sold out. Instead of sending us on a long search for food (which, by the way, is substantially less expensive than it is in New York), we were given a free bag of roasted nuts while we waited for more pretzels to be brought to the stand. We were perfectly content to wait, as we stood in the concourse with a good view of the game and had a bag of free food (every college kid’s dream). I could never imagine that happening in the Bronx, where the ultimate goal is to make money, more so than to make patrons happy.

• A week later when I went to Nationals Park for an opening series game against the Phillies, where 27,000 fans showed up, my friends and I were treated to another pleasant surprise. While walking around the stadium to explore it a little, an usher actively invited my friends and I to sit in the section that he was assigned to, which was two levels closer to the field than the upper-deck seats we had purchased. There was no need to get bodies closer to the field for TV or PR purposes, as some have suggested, because the stadium was already relatively full. It was simply a kind jester on the part of a Nationals employee who had a few empty seats and noticed a handful of eager baseball fans. Not only could I not imagine this event happening in New York, but I have, in fact, experienced the exact opposite treatment, as I’ll explain.

These are just two examples out of many of where the Nationals go out of their way to please their guests and show a great interest in making sure that their experience is as memorable as possible. They go the extra mile even when it’s not necessary. I contrast that with the following experience at Yankee Stadium and it has led me to become almost hesitant to continue going to games in the Bronx.

• At a game this past summer against the Angels, in which the Yankees were destroyed 10-2, my three friends and I felt mistreated by the Yanks. With the team trailing by 8 runs in the later innings of the game, the Stadium had emptied almost completely and only a small fraction of the 47,000-person crowd remained. A majority of these fans were in the upper deck, like I was, which is apparently where the true fans are relegated to sitting in the new ballpark. After watching our favorite team get clobbered for three hours, we decided to head down to the lower level for the ninth inning so that we could bolt to the train station as soon as Frank Sinatra starting blaring through the stadium. For the first time, I was grateful that the Yankees decided to build a stadium with open concourses so that I could catch the game while standing by the exits, but this was not to be. An usher, who was diligently guarding a literally EMPTY section behind home plate, made it her personal business to rid the lower level of the ballpark from the mere peasants. We were not even attempting the blowout ritual of moving up to the better seats when the fake fans left. However, this usher continued to harass us and attempted to move us out of the concourse. She was aggressive and rude, as were the ushers around her who swarmed in to support her cause. We were only standing next to the concession stands, not even in the ticketed section that she was guarding, yet she continued to push us away until Derek Jeter bounced into a game ending double play. This stood in stark contrast to my experience in D.C.

When an usher actively prevented my friends and I from standing behind a completely empty section while the Yankees were down by 8 runs in the 9th inning, I realized that I had been spoiled by the usher who actually invited me to move down to better seats in a crowded April game in Washington. Although I wrote a letter to the Yankees explaining my feeling that fans who are loyal enough to stay till the last out should be treated better, I never got a response.

Would it kill the Yankees to allow fans to move up when a section is completely empty? If they can’t because we haven’t paid for access to the section, could they at least let fans be when they’re standing in the open concourse? I thought the point of that architectural design was to allow this exact sort of access. As an innocent adolescent, I never cared about how the fans were treated at the stadium.

However, now that I’m older and I’m a paying customer, it has become more enjoyable for me to go to a ballgame in Washington than in New York, which is incredibly disappointing. While the Nats will trail the Yankees in wins for many years to come, the Yankees trail the Nationals in giving their fans a great experience. If the Yankees want to truly maintain greatness, they should aspire to be more like my adopted team, and be willing to go out of their way to improve the ballpark experience.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 87 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Sean O’Leary02.05.11

Next up in our Pinch Hitters series is Sean O’Leary, a 25-year-old freelance web designer, developer and interactive consultant in Rochester, N.Y. He’s a co-owner and co-founder of 161st-and-river.com, an online community for Yankees fans that’s currently under construction but should be open for the 2011 season. It began as a Facebook group and was developed into a fully functioning site providing forums, links to Yankees news, and a blog fueled by fan submitted content.  Sean has also been blogging at Standing Room Only.

For his guest post,

I’ve been told on occasion that my excitement during the offseason parallels or even exceeds the feelings I experience during the summer. This winter has been different, however, and my excitement has dimmed somewhat.

I remember the days when I could put together a list of desirable players much like a Christmas list, but this winter I’ve found myself struggling to build cases for the “top tier” talent without saying, “Well, he’s not really what we need, but I wouldn’t be too upset if we sign him.” I’m sure we’ve all noticed it, and it’s a trend that seems to be gaining momentum: The free agent market now carries a stigma that causes top-notch players to avoid it like the drunk girl at a holiday party. As a result, the players that do have the guts to hit the market are experiencing one of two extremes — severe overpayment or settling for one-year deals a few days before Spring Training.

How did this happen? When did it happen? And will it continue? Personally, I hoped to blame the entire phenomenon on Scott Boras, and although he (and all agents, for that matter) should shoulder some of the blame, it seems unfair to fault an agent for succeeding in their ultimate task of squeezing dollars out of teams.

The Yankees, in fact, may be one of the largest culprits in this situation as the long-term contracts offered in recent years have not only locked up a number of elite players, but have also instilled fear in other organizations that if they allow their superstars to reach the market, the Yankees or other high payroll teams will steal them away.

Look at the Rockies, for example: The extensions of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are obvious attempts to keep them away from free agency as long as possible. Certainly, there is a distinct possibility that Tulo will continue his somewhat disconcerting injury history and slow starts, and that CarGo will never repeat the numbers he put up in his 2010 breakout campaign. Should either player remain an elite player at their position, however, the Rockies made out like bandits and avoided unmatchable offers by large-market teams during free agency. The idea is to wrap them up while they’re young in order to deny them exposure to what may be a much greener pasture (pun absolutely intended).

And who can blame these young stars for wanting to lock up a long term contract early in their careers? The ever present risk of injury, performance slumps and off-field troubles make the opportunity to sign a high-paying, long-term contract very attractive; in many cases, it’s an offer they can’t refuse.

Then there is the short fuse held by all fans when one of their team’s trademarked players hits the free agent market. Personally, I was shocked to hear some of the things that were said about Derek Jeter this offseason, and I know that I am not alone in that sentiment. At the first muttering of difficulty in the Jeter negotiations — as unfounded as those reports may have been — lifelong Yankees fans and Jeter supporters turned on the Captain. Suddenly, he was greedy, not a team player and one of the worst shortstops in the game. If witnessing this sudden and severe shift didn’t turn potential free agents off to the idea of shopping around for deals, they must not have been paying attention.

Players do not even have to be a member of a team to anger a fan base during free agency. No one knows that better than Cliff Lee, whose image may have taken a serious hit this offseason as a result of him not signing with the Yankees. We (and most of the baseball world) were positive that Lee would be in Pinstripes in 2011, and that led to some very negative feelings when he went to Philadelphia. Interestingly enough, a strong resume playing for the Yankees, and a strong resume of dominance over the Yankees, produces similar feelings when a player decides to take his talents elsewhere. Not to mention, the impact that angering a fan base during free agency can have on a player’s pocket. Especially if that fan base is located in as a powerful city as New York. New York is the center of the world, and the Yankees are the center of baseball — whether the collective baseball faithful loves or hates us, companies want to align themselves with Bronx Bombers.

If this trend continues — which seems likely — then what do we have to look forward to? Well, after 2011, we will be witnesses to a free agent class that, at the moment, is headlined by the best player in the game, Albert Pujols. Adrian Gonzalez is also scheduled to become a free agent, but you can almost certainly assume that he and Pujols will sign extensions before the end of the season. Pujols may be the exception, however, as he seems to have the health and consistent play that makes him the perfect candidate for free agency. He is, however, a very loyal player that has developed deep roots in the St. Louis area; it would be a complete shock to me if he’s not wearing Cardinal red in 2012. Should he and Gonzalez sign extensions (and clubs exercise options on players like Robinson Cano and Roy Oswalt), then the highlights of next years class include Jose Reyes and Wandy Rodriguez.

Scratch that, Rodriguez just signed an extension of his own.

The availability of young talent in the midst of or just entering their prime is dwindling, and that seems to be what the future holds. Teams will need to get creative with their gambles on young players and hope to fill out their rosters with veterans that may have a few good years left in the tank or may end up on the 60-day DL before the end of Spring Training. Speculation of performance enhancement means the days of locking up aging players (cough, Gary Sheffield in 2004, cough) with huge contracts are over, so players and teams are justified in trying to create strong ties between one another. More and more, aging players are experiencing free agency every offseason, and unless a young player creates long-term loyalty between themselves and a specific club, that may be his destiny as well. One thing is for sure: Players are learning that if they spend too much time on the hot stove, they can get burned, and even a child knows that if you get burned once, you should stay away from the heat.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 102 Comments →

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