The LoHud Yankees Blog

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


Archive for the ‘Pinch hitters’

Pinch hitter: Tony Bakshi02.04.11

Late last night, I could not figure out what to do about this morning’s Pinch Hitter. This day is going to be all about Andy Pettitte, and it seemed silly to start the day with something disconnected from the main event. Then I remembered Tony Bakshi.

Originally, this post was scheduled for next week, but it fits this morning’s news cycle. Tony is a sophomore at Brown University. He’s the first in his family to be born in the United States — his parents are from Russia — he’s studying economics, and he’s the sports editor of the Brown Daily Herald. He’s of the generation who learned about Yankee baseball by watching Andy Pettitte and the rest of the Core Four.

His guest post pitch was pretty straightforward: “I’d love to write about the strange mix of sadness and fear of the future that I feel about the Yankees with the window of the Core Four closing so quickly… I can’t imagine the team winning another title without them.”

My guess is that, this morning, Tony’s not the only one feeling that way. I left the wording of his post the exactly same, complete with the sentence wondering if Pettitte really would decide to retire.

I am one of those Yankees fans — the front-running, the ungrateful, the ones who have only known winning. When fans call in to Mike Francesa and say something like, “I’ve been a fan since 1967, Mike, I remember the tough ol’ days!” they are proving that they aren’t like me.

That’s fine, though. Just blame my age. When George Steinbrenner was banned from the MLB? Not born yet. When Ken Griffey Jr., slid into home on that ugly AstroTurf field? Not in kindergarten yet. But I don’t think I’m truly ungrateful. I’ve felt my share of pain in my time as a fan — the garbage Luis Gonzalez bloop, 2004. For numeric proof, consider that my age doubled between the 26th and 27th titles!

So when the Yankees won the 2009 World Series, I made sure to take it all in. Right after Game 6, I ordered a t-shirt with the team roster on the back and bought a commemorative mug, too. A few days later, I watched the entire parade on my laptop in class — not to see Phil Coke or Eric Hinske or the other no-names, but to see the legends celebrate for one last time.

It did feel like the last time, didn’t it? It was all too perfect. Jeter’s remarkable season at age 35, Pettitte coming up as clutch as we could have imagined in the playoffs and, of course, Mariano closing it out with Posada behind the plate.

A year later, the fairy tale is coming to an abrupt end, as it probably should have a few years ago — if our players were mere mortals. The Core Four is now a Key Three, if Pettitte doesn’t return, but really more of a Decrepit Set. Jeter’s a groundball machine, Rivera is almost fully entrenched in his sturdy “Use Only in Case of Emergency” seal, and Posada has been relegated to DH, also known as the last position for near cast-offs before they are finally cast off.

Which brings me, mercifully, to my point. As Yankee fans, we parrot the players and say that we want championships every year or else the team has completely failed. But the reactions to personnel moves do not match this view.

Why was there an outcry over the Montero-for-Lee deal that unfortunately fell through last July? With Lee, the Yankees would have been overwhelming favorites to win the crown, ever closer to meeting the stated team goal. Now, Montero is still in pinstripes. And though he’s not quite ready to take over as the full-time catcher, Father Time won’t be waiting up for him. He’ll still be chipping away at Jeter and A-Rod and the rest.

Sometimes, we overthink player moves. How else can the Rafael Soriano signing be debated? Yes, it’s a lot of money, but that’s nothing new. And staying away from Soriano in hopes of striking gold in the draft? The Rays have stockpiled picks and carefully developed talent from within, and we know how many championships they’ve won. Are such ideas foolproof? Of course not. They can lead to disastrous signings of Carl Pavanos and Jaret Wrights and Kyle Farnsworths. But those are the sunk costs that come about when a team pursues a World Series every single year.

Winning a championship takes a lot of luck and good fortune. It takes magic. And, sadly, our good fortune is long in the tooth and thinking about retirement.

Let’s say it’s 2014, best-case scenario style: a 24-year-old Montero is already in the conversation for the top-hitting catcher in baseball, Robby Cano is in his prime hitting .360, and C.C. Sabathia is still a Cy Young Award candidate at 33.

But it doesn’t matter. The magic is gone. Who’s going to get the last eight outs to clinch a playoff series? Who’s going to get that timely hit to bring the team back from the brink? It won’t be anyone on the Yankees, at least not on a consistent basis. And that’s why you can take your future prospects and your smart financial decisions and shove it.

I’ll be wearing my ’09 championship T-shirt, thinking about the glory days.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 265 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Greg Mathews02.03.11

Our next Pinch Hitter is a a 26-year-old New Jersey native living in Delaware and working for the Wilmington Blue Rocks, which is Kansas City’s High-A affiliate.

Although the currently works for another organization, Greg Mathews is a fourth-generation Yankees fan. “My life revolves around the team and its tradition,” Greg wrote. Andy Pettitte has always been his favorite Yankees pitcher. “If this really is the last we’ve seen of him,” Greg wrote, “I’d like to take this moment to say thank you. AN-DY PETT-ITTE [clap, clap, clapclapclap].”

For his guest post, Greg looked back 10 years to find that this year’s Yankees rotation isn’t necessarily one-of-a-kind. The Yankees have been in this situation before.

Learning from the Past to Embrace the Present

For the Yankees, this has been an unusually quiet and rather uneventful winter. Throughout this offseason, Brian Cashman has been preaching his plan of “patience.”

Patience? PATIENCE? You mean to tell me that the Yankee fan base is supposed to just sit back, watch the rest of the league sign all of the good free agents, and accept the fact that the two pitchers rounding out the rotation of our favorite team are named Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre? Plan “A” was Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte, but now we’re supposed to believe that Nova and Mitre — or “patience” — is a sufficient backup plan?

Yes. That is precisely what the Yankees should do and we, as Yankee fans, need to embrace that plan. We’ve been down a similar road in the past.

Ten years ago – 2001 — the Yankees were heading into the season with a rotation of Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Orlando Hernandez and Ted Lilly. On paper, that’s a comforting rotation with a strong front three. It became a different story though, once the season began. Hernandez had thrown 410 innings over the previous two years and the Yanks were going to have to stomach the growing pains of Ted Lilly’s first full year as a starter. Then, “El-Duque” got hurt. Hernandez threw only 94.2 innings in 16 starts, which was 100 innings less than he threw in 2000.

How did the Yankees fill that 100-inning void? Randy Keisler and Sterling Hitchcock were called upon, and they combined to throw 102 innings in 2001. Keisler, in 50.2 innings, had an ERA of 6.22 and a WHIP of 1.697. Hitchcock had an ERA of 6.49 and a WHIP of 1.656 during his 51.1 innings. Combined, they faced 559 batters and 196 of them reached base, 82 of them scored and only three were unearned. That is a lot of base-runners and a lot of runs allowed in a 102-inning period.

Yet, that team made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.

At the moment, the rotation in place for the 2011 season isn’t all that different. Yes, they’re banking on A.J. Burnett rebounding, but if he can even get to just the 2009 A.J., they’ll have a similarly strong front three when you add CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes.

Lilly had three career starts under his belt before 2001, and they all came in 1999. He threw eight innings for the Yankees in 2000. Nova is going into this season with seven starts under his belt and his 42 major league innings are 10.1 more than Lilly’s 31.2 when the Yankees declared him the fifth starter. Think of Nova as this year’s Lilly. If Nova can pitch like he did in 2010, but over the course of 120-140 innings this year, he’ll end up with similar statistics to Lilly’s rookie year, and possibly a little better.

We all know what the Yankees are getting (or not getting) when Mitre takes the mound. Even though his three starts last year are a small sample size, his numbers are right in line with his only full season (27 starts) as a starter in 2007. His WHIP in 2007 with the Marlins was 1.483, which is just about even with his WHIP of 1.463 in those three starts last year. Pitching fulltime in the AL East is going to cause that to rise a bit, but essentially that’s how he should perform.

The parallels between the 2001 and 2011 rotations aren’t exact or perfect, but they are certainly very close. The Yankees are relying on Burnett having a bounce-back year, and if he can do that, they are in very good shape. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the back of the rotation will look different when the calendar turns to June or July. Whether it’s a trade for a starter or a starter from AAA being promoted, we’ll see. Brian Cashman has the right idea, though.

Patience is important. With an offense like the Yanks have, it doesn’t matter what other teams do; the Yankees can afford to be patient. Just making a move to make a move isn’t going to improve the rotation, but being patient and making the right move will pay huge dividends.

Associated Press photo of Mussina

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 188 Comments →

Pinch hitting: David Brandwein02.02.11

Next up in our Pinch Hitters series is David Brandwein, a college professor in the Department of Doctoral Studies at Kean University. He is a lifelong Yankees fan who said his fondest Yankees memory came during Picture Day at Yankee Stadium during the 1980’s where he saw Dave Winfield catch a batting practice fly by jumping at the right-field wall, all while “singing ‘Jump’ while Van Halen’s Jump was playing over the Stadium PA,” David wrote.

For his guest post, David made the case that it’s time for a Yankees youth movement… no matter the cost.

“Let Them Play, Let Them Play, Let Them Play”

OK, take your mind to October 2011. You wake up on the final day of the baseball season and see the following:

**Red Sox 100-62  –
*Rays 87-75 13
Yankees 86-76 14
Blue Jays 83-79  17
Orioles 76-86 24

** Division Winner
* Wild Card Winner

OK, I know this is enough to make some of you say, “I’m not reading this anymore”, but please… give me a minute or two of your valuable internet time.

Some you might have read the title to this blog entry and immediately went to the scene in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training — my favorite baseball movie — where thousands of fans in the Houston Astrodome wanted to see two Little League teams more than the Astros (hey, in the 1970’s, would you have wanted to see the Astros play?)

But, that is not what I am talking about.

The “Let Them Play” refers to the kids, the prospects, our future… Montero, Romine, Brackman, Nova, Betances. Now, if Seattle calls up and offers Felix Hernandez for any combination of these guys, I will pack their bags, book their flights, and drive them to the airport. Outside of that remote possibility, though, I would be willing to give these guys a chance — now.

Put Montero behind the plate, make Nova the fourth starter, and let Brackman and Betances fight it out for fifth starter and/or long reliever. It might mean missing the playoffs in 2011, and it might be painful to watch at times, but I think the team needs to know if these kids can get the job done. I, for one, think they should get the shot.

If last season was any indication of what baseball is becoming, youth (especially young pitching) and speed will reign. Right now, the Yankees are behind the curve. We saw that, painfully, in the ALCS last year. Without the kids, will it be any different this year?

Now, take yourself to the last day of the baseball season in 2012. You wake up and see the following:

Montero .325 BA, 25 HR,  125 RBI
Nova 3.75 ERA, 17 wins, 8 losses
Brackman 3.90 ERA, 15 wins,  6 losses
Betances 4.10 ERA, 13 wins, 7 losses
Yankees 97 wins, 63 losses, 1st place

We could have the makings of a lasting, cheap dynasty, showing everyone that the Yankees can win without spending more than the gross national product of a third-world country. What would Red Sox fans say then?

Associated Press photo of Nova

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 183 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Pete Colgan02.01.11

Our next Pinch Hitter, Pete Colgan, went to the same high school as Joe Girardi, “(but) I’m 10 years his senior and we’ve never met,” Pete wrote.

A Yankees fan since 1962, Pete is a semi-retired banker in Peoria, Ill. He saw his first Yankees game in Chicago in 1963, but notes that both Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were injured and didn’t play. His first game at Yankee Stadium didn’t come until 1976.

For his guest post, Pete looked at the history of the Yankees and Red Sox, searching for the exact moment when a general dislike became an actual, heated rivalry.

They say the New York-Boston baseball rivalry began on that October day in 1904, at Hilltop Park in Manhattan, where the New York Highlanders 41-game winner Jack Chesbro’s spitball sailed beyond home plate and the Boston Americans’ Lou Criger raced home with the tie-breaking run in the ninth inning giving Boston the pennant. Most would agree that that rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, as the two teams would eventually be called, is long and storied.

True rivalries in sports seem to ebb and flow. By that I mean one team may be dominant for a while, then their opponents rule. For American League baseball fans in New York and Boston, it wasn’t always the same ebb and flow as in other great rivalries such as Michigan-Ohio State in the college game of football. Following Chesbro’s wild spitter Boston did go on a run of dominance over its New York opponent that ran through 1919. Then Harry Frazee stepped in and sold his star pitcher (and hitter) George Herman Ruth to New York on January 3, 1920 and everything changed.

For the next 26 years, the New York club dominated Boston in the standings, finishing ahead of the Sox every single year, winning 13 pennants and nine world championships to Boston’s none. Boston was rarely close to the Yankees in the standings (64 games behind in 1932). Worse yet, Boston didn’t stop at Babe Ruth when shipping star players to New York. Do the names Dugan, Hoyt, Pennock and Ruffing ring a bell? You see, Boston of the 1920′s was much like the Kansas City Athletics of the 1950′s as far as the Yankees were concerned. Both Boston and Kansas City, in their days, provided a pipeline of talent coming to New York and mostly unknowns going the other way.

Seriously, this was a rivalry?

True, Boston made a run at the Yankees following World War II, winning the 1946 pennant, then taking the season to the final day of 1949 before bowing to the Yankees. As everyone knows it was a good effort on Boston’s part, but it all ended with the Yankees run of five straight championships and Boston’s return to the second division. The rest of the 50s and early 60s brought more of the same. When the Yankees finished dead last in 1966 — their dynasty finally gone — who was it that finished just 1/2 game ahead of the Yankees? Yep, Boston. When Boston finally won a pennant in 1967, it was the ninth-place Yankees giving them an assist, sending Boston a declining but still useful Elston Howard, who helped capture the pennant in a close race before taking the World Series to Game 7. In the spring of 1972, Boston thought nothing of using the Yankees as a trade partner, shipping reliever Sparky Lyle for a needed right-handed bat, Danny Cater.

Some rivalry indeed.

Now, I’m not here to suggest that there was no spark when Boston played New York in one American League park or the other. Everybody knows about Teddy Ballgame versus Joltin Joe, and later the Splendid Splinter of Boston versus the Mick. But it doesn’t always rise to the level of national acclaim. Do you think FOX or ESPN would have done national or semi-national coverage of a Red Sox-Yankees tilt seemingly every time they played if there were TV in the 20s and 30s, or if those networks existed in the 50s and 60s? Probably not.

So it is debatable that there was an all fired rivalry for the five or so decades following the Babe’s sale to New York, but we know there is one today. So when did this modern rivalry commence? Some would say it was October 2, 1978 , the day Bucky dented the Sox pennant hopes.

I will go with July 27, 1975.

The 1975 spring training issue of the Sporting News featured cover pictures of the two newest Yankees, Bobby Bonds and Catfish Hunter. The magazine said it was to be the Yankee’s year, but it wasn’t. On the morning of July 27, 1975, the Yankees trailed Boston by eight games. A New York sweep in that day’s doubleheader at Shea, and a six-game deficit would have placed the Yankees back in the race somewhat. Instead it was a sweep the other way, and the Yankees trailed by 10 games, and manager Bill Virdon was on thin ice. Two humiliating losses, both complete game shutouts by Boston lefties Bill Lee and Roger Moret. Catfish did his job in the first game, allowing no earned runs in a complete game 1-0 loss. Game 2 was 6-0 Boston, but it did mark the debut of Yankee legend Ron Guidry (speaking of debuts on that same day, in another part of New York future Yankee star Alex Rodriguez came into the world. Both Guidry and A-Rod would later make their mark on the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry. So a disastrous day also marked a new beginning in more ways that one).

So what exactly did that fateful July 27 set in motion beyond the Gator and A-Rod “debuts”? Within a few days the Yankees would dump Virdon and hire Billy (don’t be afraid to start something) Martin, and start something they did. Early in the ‘76 season, at the refurbished Yankee Stadium, Lou Piniella crashed into Carlton Fisk and a donnybrook ensued. Adding to the fun, another battle that day was won decisively by Graig Nettles over Boston’s Lee, and the Red Sox were buried for the season. Then the close race of ’77 — which the Yankees won — and the great comeback of ’78, and Bucky’s Fenway heroics.

Now you have the makings of a real rivalry.

So I’m not going to completely dismiss the rivalry over time, but if you want a starting point to what is undeniably baseball’s (and perhaps all of sports) greatest rivalry, think back to that day in Flushing in 1975. The Yankees, who were supposed to win according to most preseason accounts, were humiliated and knocked out of the race for good. The Yankees response was fast, furious and decisive, and set in motion the no-holds-barred play of Red Sox-Yankees that we have come to know today.

Was it always a rivalry? Probably, but the intensity has never been higher than in the past 35 years, an overall Yankee advantage. Here’s hoping that it is the Yankees that hold that advantage in the future, but the total dominance they enjoyed for many decades probably is a thing of the past.

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 303 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Jesse Rosenthal01.31.11

Jesse Rosenthal is our next Pinch Hitter. He’s a 28-year-old Yankees fan who grew up in Massachusetts, despite the fact his parents are from the Bronx. Now living in Hong Kong, Jesse works for Pepsi (which he proudly notes is the official soft drink of the Yankees).

Jesse attended the final game at the old Yankee Stadium, and the clinching Game 5 of the 1999 ALCS at Fenway. “When faced with the question of where I’m from, I always feel compelled to include the fact that, though I’m from Massachusetts, I’m a Yankee fan,” Jesse wrote. “It’s been a a very good conversation starter over the years, though it has been far less effective out here in Hong Kong.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’re well aware that some of the most sensitive and confidential state secrets have systematically been exposed to the public through an organization known as WikiLeaks. These have been deemed “attacks on the international community” by the US, and have received both praise and criticism.

One school of thought is that the public should be privy to such information, regardless of the damage it could do to international relations. On the other hand, many believe that such sensitive and valuable information should be kept private no matter the degree to which it may affect our lives.

In November, just as the baseball season was coming to a close, WikiLeaks began releasing US State department diplomatic cables. With the Yankees disappointing postseason fresh in my mind, I naturally began to connect the news du jour with our beloved team and wondered about the impact of a hypothetical “WikiLeaking” of the New York Yankees,” a massive disclosure of all the top Yankee secrets that we never knew existed.

I asked myself first and foremost, what are the most treasured Yankee secrets? Surely in some vault or encrypted database only acceptable by fingerprints and eyeball scanners, there lies a massive volume of proprietary information. Within these volumes are not the normal batting average and ERA statistics that we can find on our own through a multitude of websites out there. There are not even the arcane, sabermetric stats that the guys with Harvard degrees enjoy analyzing until the sun comes up.

In this vault, I thought, are full biographies of each Major and Minor League player, with such minutia as their preferred meals, sleep cycles, deepest fears, and most embarrassing fetish. Within these volumes are the engineering plans of each stadium, complete with the location of the sprinkler systems in the outfield, the exact tilt of the first and third base lines, and the density of the dirt on the pitchers mound. There are the hand signals used by each team in every game over the past 25 years. There are the phone numbers and addresses of the 10 loudest and most obnoxious fans of each team, the ones whose voices travel to the field. Within these volumes that have remained secret to the rest of us for decades lies information that we as fans cannot even fathom, let alone understand how to utilize. Within these volumes lies the difference between a true off-season target and a phony offer made to increase the competitive bid.

After going through the limitless possibilities of what this information could be, I then began to wonder what type of damage would be done to the Yankees if the public was given unbridled access to it. After all, it can be argued that the 1988 World Series was decided by a single shrewd piece of private information. Kirk Gibson, barely able to walk and yet called on to pinch hit in Game 1, had been told by a scout named Mel Didier that, if faced with a 3-2 count against lefties, Dennis Eckersley threw nothing but back-door sliders. We know how that at-bat turned out.

Imagine if that private scouting report was made public prior to the game. We may very well have seen Gibson strike out on a chest high fastball to end Game 1, and the A’s could have gone on to win the World Series.

I pose the following 3 hypothetical questions to all Yankee fans out there:

1. What information could possibly be leaked to the public if WikiLeaks ever targeted the New York Yankees? (Creative responses appreciated).

2. What would be the aftermath of such information becoming public?

3. Would you, as fans, want to know these secrets, or prefer to be kept in the dark?

Associated Press photo of Joe Girardi, standing ready to protect his secret binder

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 130 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Kevin Seefried01.30.11

Our next Pinch Hitter, Kevin Seefried, spent his early years in Westchester County before moving to Colorado at the turn of the century. He’s now a freshman at Claremont McKenna College, and he co-founded 6pound8ouncebabyjoba.com back in 2008. Kevin is often featured at the Claremont Sports Connection where his Sports Disconnection series recently debuted, and he’s a regular on The Nightcap sports talk radio show in Claremont, CA.

Kevin spends his free time listening to Mitch Hedberg and Daniel Tosh albums to feed his stand-up comedy addiction. In his more serious hours, Kevin is an Economics major — for whatever it’s worth, I actually minored in economics at Mizzou — and he’d like to land a gig in the sports industry at some point. For his guest post, the self-described “Joba-idolizing character” looked into what it takes to build a winning bullpen.

Bullpen(cil)

Okay, so the Yanks’ signing of Rafael Soriano sort of lit the blogosphere ablaze with debate and disagreement and yada, yada, yada. Questions arose. Should teams spend big dollars on set-up men and lefty-specialists? Or should the bullpen be an assemblage of minimum wage (by MLB standards) journeymen, rookies, fading stars and failed starters?

Well, I’m going to start by apologizing for not taking a staunch hold to either side and settle in the middle.

Brian Cashman has it right: You can have extreme success in the bullpen by throwing a bunch of guys out there and seeing what sticks. Phil Hughes electrified the Yanks’ endgame in ’09 when he unexpectedly stepped into a setup role. David Robertson wasn’t the biggest name on the farm, but he’s proven important over the past couple years. Heck, even Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras saw some success in the ‘pen.

That said, wasn’t Hughes one of the game’s best starting pitching prospects? His dominance in a one-inning role wasn’t all that surprising. Robertson was a K-master in the minors before his promotion, posting a 15.34 K/9 rate at AAA in ’09, a 13.11 rate in 35 AAA innings in ’08, and a 12.54 rate in his other 18.2 ’08 innings at the AA level. So, it shouldn’t have been shocking that MLB hitters flailed at his pitches too. As for Veras and Ramirez, they essentially flunked out of the bullpen in ’09, right?

The Yankee bullpen’s 4.06 FIP in 2010 placed last among playoff teams. With Kerry Wood back on the North Side of Chicago, the team needed to add some insurance to their late-game staff. Sure, you can hope and pray that an eighth-inning messiah arises from the mess of relievers fighting for time in the Bronx, but how likely is that to happen?

Among Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Mark Prior, Robert Fish, Steve Garrison, Ryan Pope, Brian Schlitter, and Daniel Turpen, do you really see anyone that’ll remind us of Mariano circa 1996? The lights-out talents that manned the eighth inning for the Yanks’ last three playoff teams were all former top-prospects: Joba, Hughes and Wood. With a not-so-full rotation, the Yanks can’t be plugging top young starting talents into late-inning roles when those guys would be much more valuable taking the hill for six or seven innings at a time. Even before Soriano signed, it was pretty clear that any gems like the 2007 Joba or the 2009 Hughes are going to be asked to start, not take on a set-up role.

When it comes to the game’s last two innings, it’s nice to have a little insurance, but when patching together the rest of the bullpen, Cashman’s approach can be effective. I’m fine watching Veras/Ramirez/Robertson/Coke/Aceves types in the middle innings, because someone is bound to play over their head for the year and make the stat-lines look good. You don’t need a Mariano-type in the sixth inning, but come the eighth, knowing that your lead is safe is a big deal.

Relievers are volatile, which is why generally it’s not smart to dish out the big bucks to a seventh- or eighth-inning guy. When a guy is coming off one good year, with an injury-laden past or without a strong history of success, dishing out dinero is silly.

Folks with proven records are worth the extra couple mill, though.

Arms like Scott Downs, Ryan Madson, Matt Thornton and — yes — Rafael Soriano proved dominant consistently for two-plus years and thus deserve to be paid accordingly. Sure, some deals won’t work out, but hey, that’s true at any position. The best way to look at relievers is to examine the marginal upgrade of a signee over whatever arms would otherwise take up a roster spot. The difference between a 3.50 ERA/1.30 WHIP veteran and a bunch of rookies that might put up those same numbers isn’t enough to merit a seven-figure salary. If the veteran in question will post a 2.00 ERA/1.10 WHIP, however, he’s worth the investment. That’s a big upgrade over a spring-training standout.

The only way to run a baseball team is with an open-mind to all philosophies. You don’t have to embrace them all or completely abandon a strategy that has worked, but GMs need to constantly reevaluate each situation. Yes, letting a hodgepodge of relievers duke it out for bullpen spots can work. Yes, paying a veteran millions of dollars to join that ‘pen can work too, just ask Tom Gordon. But you can’t just choose one path and never make exceptions.

Moral of the story: You have to adjust for your budget, your situation, your in-house options, your out-of-house options and your rotation. Sticking with one theory because it worked in a different time and different situation just won’t fly. Billy Beane moved away from OBP and poor fielders, Roger Clemens stopped relying solely on his fastball, and Brian Cashman must consider alternate bullpen theories. That’s the game. That’s life. Adjusting to the situation is the only way to see success.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 178 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Mike Cribier01.29.11

Our next Pinch Hitter is Mike Cribier, and those of us stuck in the snow should be jealous. Mike up in Bergan County, N.J., but he’s now living in sunny San Diego. He’s been writing his blog High and Tight for about six years. “I guess my niche is pointing out hypocrisy and mistakes or general buffoonery in the sports media,” he wrote. Mike also noted that I’ve escaped his wrath, “so far.”

This is Mike’s third guest post here at LoHud. “I’m an avid poker player, am firmly in the camp that Jeter’s defense is overrated, believe strongly in sabermetrics, and am hopeful that one day Mariano Rivera will win a Cy Young award,” he wrote.

Are Strikeouts Really All That Bad for an Offense?

Ah, the strikeout. The K. The whiff. Immortalized in film as the ultimate in sports failure many times over and lending its name to failure in securing the favor of a member of the opposite sex.

While romanticized for sure, how much effect does the strikeout really have on a lineup or team? What’s the effect on how many runs are scored by lineups with high or low strikeout hitters? Overall, does the strikeout really matter much at all?

A number of years ago on my blog, I pushed for the Yankees to sign Adam Dunn (Or before that, trade for him. Or after that, trade for him. He was essentially the white whale to my Ahab). Dunn put up huge OPS numbers year after year and would hit 40+ home runs consistently. Yet, as a free agent, he got little interest and signed a two-year, $20-million deal with the Nationals. The biggest knocks on him? He strikes out too much, and he’s too slow. Constantly, I’d receive those complaints whenever I mentioned the guy as an incredibly undervalued player. “All or nothing,” the critics write.

Before we look at some numbers, let’s all agree that strikeouts are, of course, not good. Barring the unforeseen and rarely occurring event of the dropped third strike where the batter reaches first safely, nothing good comes from them for a hitter. Are they the *worst* possible outcome? Not necessarily. I’d rather see someone strikeout with a man on first than ground into a double play, for instance. Just to be clear however, the strikeout is not a good thing, nor is this an endorsement of them.

My theory on the strikeout is this — it’s an out. If a guy makes a bunch of outs, regardless of how they come, he’s not helping the team. I don’t believe the *type* of out is nearly as important.

Let’s look at a sample of the MLB hitters who were the top 100 in at bats in 2010. The top 15 in strikeouts averaged 160 each, but slugged to a .481 clip. The bottom 15 in strikeouts (65 on average) had an aggregate SLG of .412. Are those the best possible statistics to show a correlation? Let’s say not, but no matter where you pick those numbers from, which year, which sample size, strikeouts = power. Every era I plugged in showed the same results, and just thinking about it makes sense. Guys with big, powerful swings are more likely to swing harder and longer and miss more often. (By the way, Dunn had 199 Ks and SLG of .536 last year).

Part of the problem with trying to show statistical correlations in what is essentially a brief blog post is a lack of scale. So let’s take a look at team totals for the 2010 season and see how detrimental strikeouts were last year.

The easiest way to display a direct correlation would be through a scatter chart. The Y value (left) is total strikeouts for a team. The X value (bottom) is total runs scored by a team. Where the dots appear is where on the graph a team’s strikeout and run total match up.

The points are scattered all over the place, leading us to the conclusion that there is no correlation between high (or low) strikeout totals and the ability to score runs.

For a comparison, let’s look at SLG:

As you can see, a direct correlation. Higher SLG = more runs. The same applies for OBP:

So if this is the case — if the numbers do really show that high strikeout totals have no real effect on scoring runs — why all the backlash?

There’s still an “old school” of thinking out there. There are the people who vote for MVP based on RBI totals or Cy Young based on total number of wins. Thankfully this old method of thinking is dying, and people are relying more on statistics, but there are still plenty of people who “believe what they see.”

Regardless, next time you’re at a ballgame you’re sure to hear someone boo a slugger who strikes out, and praise a “scrappy little guy” for at least “putting the ball in play.” Perception can be a funny thing, but when it’s all said and done, both plate appearances are likely to net the same result.

Associated Press photo of Jeter, charts by Mike

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 252 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Doug Waage01.28.11

Our next Pinch Hitter is something of a flashback. Doug Waage wrote a guest post last year, and he’s back to reexamine the same subject: The impact of Brett Gardner.

Doug is a 35-year-old equity analyst working in Manhattan and living in Jersey City. He’s a lifelong Yankees fan who, exactly one year ago, predicted that Gardner would thrive if given a chance to play everyday.

It’s sometimes easy to forget, but a year ago the Yankees were the reigning 2009 World Series Champions, and the team was faced with the decision of who was going to play left field in 2010.

Immediately after the season, the team had three candidates from the 2009 season: Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, and Melky Cabrera, as well two home run-hitting free agents in Jason Bay and Matt Holliday to consider.  Despite having the means to sign Bay or Holliday, or to bring back Damon on a reasonable contract ($20M for 2 years), the Yankees decided to pass on the all three free agents, trade away Cabrera, and give the job to Gardner.

The Yankees were widely criticized for not going with one of the more experienced (and more expensive) free agents and giving the job to the light hitting Gardner.  A year ago I analyzed the Yankee’s decision and concluded that in addition to being the cheapest solution (Gardner only made $452,500 in 2010), Gardner would not only produce more wins for the Yankees than all of the other LF options besides Holliday, but his production would be similar to that of Teixeria’s 2009 output of 5.1 WAR (wins above replacement) production when Teixeria was 2nd in the MVP voting.

While some people agreed with my analysis, most of the fan base thought (a) that I was nuts, (b) that Gardner couldn’t produce anywhere near the level of Teixeria’s 5.1 WAR, and (c) that the Yanks should sign Damon, Bay, or Holliday to play let.  With the 2010 season behind us, let’s take a look back at how the Yankees decision to go with Gardner vs. all the costlier options turned out:

Name Team PA AVG R HR RBI SB OBP wOBA wRC+
Holliday Cardinals 675 0.312 95 28 103 9 0.390 0.396 153
Gardner Yankees 569 0.277 95 5 47 44 0.383 0.358 123
Damon Tigers 613 0.271 81 8 51 11 0.355 0.34 112
Bay Mets 401 0.259 48 6 47 10 0.347 0.336 113
Cabrera Braves 509 0.255 50 4 42 7 0.317 0.294 83

From the raw offensive data, Gardner is clearly 2nd only to Holliday in 2010 offensive contribution.  Both his wOBA and wRC+ are superior to that of Damon, Bay, and Cabrera, and he had at least 33 more stolen bases than any of them. Objectively, Gardner had a good year with the bat while Damon and Bay had OK years (but well below their historical standards and what was expected of them given their $8M and $15M respective salaries), and Melky was just horrendous.

Now let’s look at each players total 2010 contribution (including defense):

2010 “Free”
Name Batting UZR RAR WAR Value Salary Value
Matt Holliday 42.7 8.2 66.4 6.9 $27.6 $16.3 $11.3
Brett Gardner 15.4 21.9 51.9 5.4 $21.5 $0.5 $21.0
Johnny Damon 8.9 0.6 18.2 1.9 $7.5 $8.0 -$0.5
Jason Bay 6.2 -1.9 13.5 1.4 $5.6 $15.0 -$9.4
Melky Cabrera -10.1 -16 -12 -1.2 -$4.9 $3.1 -$8.0

Holliday was awesome as expected, Damon earned his pay for the year, Bay was a huge disappointment (just ask any Mets fan), and the Braves should have benched Cabrera, who should have paid the Braves to compensate them for how badly he played.  And then there was Gardner, who produced lots of value and cost next to nothing.  The Yanks got $21.5M of value out of Gardner for an investment of less than $0.5M.  If only all of us were able to earn such returns on our investments!

From a WAR standpoint, Gardner ended up producing 5.4 WAR, which was even higher than my 4.6 WAR projection from last January, which almost everyone said was crazy high.  How did he do it?  He had a good offensive year led by his 0.383 OBP (8th highest in the AL) and 47 SBs (3rd in AL), and his 21.9 UZR which was the best in baseball! Yes, you read that right, Brett Gardner was the best defensive player in all of baseball in 2010… at any position!

So just how valuable was Gardner in 2010?  Gardner’s 5.4 WAR was better than every other member of the 2010 Yankees not named Robinson Cano.  More valuable than CC (5.1), AROD (4.1), Tex (3.5), and Jeter + Posada combined (2.5+2.4 = 4.9 WAR)…and all for less money than what AROD earned playing about 20 innings of ball.  So given Gardner’s huge contribution to the Yankees 2010 campaign, how much attention did Gardner’s performance get in print, on TV, on the radio, and online vs. his less productive teammates? Virtually none. Every other article was about Cano’s great season (which was well deserved), and seemingly about Jeter’s free agency. Now I realize that Gardner isn’t a household name even for many Yankee fans, but perhaps the fans and media should show Gardner a level of “love” more in-line with his on-field contributions.   But I digress…

So what should we expect from Gardner in 2011?  As great as Gardner was in 2010, his season could have been even better if not for the injury he sustained on June 27th. In that game, Gardner was hit by a pitch in his right wrist, and while he played out the rest of the season, it negatively affected his hitting in the second half.  Prior to the HBP, Gardner was batting .321, with a .403 OBP, and a .418 SLG.  After the HBP (which required surgery in the offseason), Gardner batted .233, with a .361 OBP, and a .342 SLG.  So while Gardner still drew his walks, his ability to hit the ball fell off a cliff.

Now I don’t know if Gardner will be able to return to his level of production from the first 3 months of 2010, but if he can hit at that level for an entire season and his defense ability remains constant, Gardner could produce a 6.8 WAR in 2011.  How good exactly is 6.8 WAR? Here are the players with a WAR higher than 6.8 in 2010: Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Ryan Zimmerman, Adrian Beltre, Cliff Lee, Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria, Matt Holliday, and Carl Crawford.

So if Gardner can play all of 2011 like he did in the first three months of 2011 (a very large “IF” I realize) and the rest of the players’ production remained constant, Gardner would be the 11th best player in all of baseball.  A high bar?  You bet, but he hit that well in Triple-A in 2008 (.389 wOBA) and for the first three months of 2010 (.370 wOBA), so we’ll just have to wait and see if Gardner is able to maintain this level of production going forward.  Barring an injury, my money’s on Gardner.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 172 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Yair Rosenberg01.27.11

Next up in our Pinch Hitters series is Yair Rosenberg, a senior at Harvard College, where he is currently the Movies editor at The Harvard Crimson. “I have a nagging suspicion that this piece will be slightly more controversial than my Toy Story 3 review,” he wrote. As a native New Yorker, Yair said he’s enjoying yet another year in which a New York football team has eliminated the Patriots, and he hope to see the Yankees do the same to the Red Sox this coming season.

That said, for his guest post, Yair wrote about a rather odd feeling that’s grabbed him this winter. He’s actually been — sort of — cheering for the Sox.

Anatomy of a Rivalry

As a lifelong Yankees fan, I have a confession to make: I’ve been rooting for the Red Sox this off-season.

No, it’s not that four years as a New York expatriate and Boston college student have finally eroded my team loyalty or my competitiveness. Quite the opposite, in fact — it is my love of the competition that has put me in this strange predicament. Now, before you begin drafting a choicely worded death threat for the comments, do let me explain.

I don’t think I’m the only Yankees fan out there who felt that over the course of last season, the Yankees/Sox rivalry just wasn’t much fun. With Boston’s lineup decimated by injuries – stocked not with superstars but with mostly minor leaguers, bench players, and a few rapidly declining veterans – the games felt like a sham. This was especially true toward the end of the season, when the Yankees found themselves facing an out-of-contention Sox squad headlined by Darnell McDonald and the line-up of AAA Pawtucket.

In any sport, it may be fun to watch one’s player or team of choice upstage random, hopelessly inferior opponents — like watching Kobe Bryant dunk on some no-name defender, or the Yankees shellacking the Orioles (yet again) — but good, battle-tested rivalries are made of much stronger stuff.

Like many epic enmities, the Yankees/Sox rivalry is fueled by the narcissism of small differences. That is, what makes the competition so acute is the similarity between the two clubs in talent, style and approach, which throws their slight disparities into sharp relief. To take an illustrative example from my backyard, the storied university rivalry between Harvard and Yale sure isn’t predicated on the vast differences between the two twin Ivy League elites; rather, it stems from their commonalities. Because the two schools are so alike in terms of academics, student body, and culture, their most minute distinctions are put under the microscope in a search for uniqueness and superiority, intensifying the rivalry to the extreme. Every detail becomes a battleground. Each side wants to be the best when it comes to the traits both so dearly prize. So to with Yankees/Sox.

Consider plate discipline. The Yankees grind out every single at-bat, jacking up pitch counts, and working one of the best OBP’s in the league. So do the Sox. Joe West was onto something when he griped that Yankees/Sox games tend to go on far longer than any others in baseball. That’s what happens when you pit the two teams with the best OBP in the American League for six of the past eight years against each other. Indeed, the front offices of both squads have cultivated many of the same virtues both at the plate and on the mound. The result? Nine-inning grinds that exhaust umpires but exhilarate fans.

Consider payroll, where New York and Boston are far and away the highest spenders in baseball, especially in the AL. Consider size of fanbase, where both the Yankee nation and the Red Sox nation leave all other teams in the dust. Wherever you look, what makes the NY/Boston rivalry so potent is the spectacle of two well-matched titans duking it out for supremacy.

But what we had last year was a parody of that spectacle. I felt like Boston didn’t hold up its end of the traditional bargain. Who wants to watch the New York Yankees beat the Replacement Level Red Sox? All of which is why this off-season, I’ve found myself cheering Boston’s acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Don’t get me wrong – if the Sox had signed a free agent the Yankees were actually interested in (Cliff Lee, for instance), I wouldn’t be writing this. But so long as the Red Sox can retool without treading on our free agent territory, I’m for it.

After all, who is it more satisfying to pound into submission – an outfield captained by Crawford, or one patrolled by last year’s fearsome trio of Bill Hall, Ryan Kalish and Eric Patterson? With a newly reloaded rival at the ready, I look forward to the singular thrill of Yankee victories in hard-fought, three-and-a-half hour Yankees/Sox duels come September.

Truth or treason? What do you think?

Associated Press photos of Crawford and Soriano

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 226 Comments →

Pinch Hitting: Ben Wolinsky01.26.11

Our next Pinch Hitter is 26-year-old Ben Wolinsky, an IT professional living in Manhattan. He is a contributing blogger at www.nyat.net, with some television work mixed in. Ben’s family has followed the Yankees going back to his great-grandmother, who lived in the same Morris Avenue apartment building as many of the 1927 Murderers’ Row Yankees.

Ben his first Yankees game before his first birthday, and he has since attended the last game at the old stadium and the first exhibition game at the new stadium. Born in Manhattan and raised outside of Albany, he spent four years at Brandeis University outside of Boston and still managed to survive the 2004 World Series.

For his post, Ben considered Brian Cashman’s history of dealing — or keeping — the Yankees top prospects.

In Cashman We Trust

As the head of baseball operations for the New York Yankees, Brian Cashman is responsible for building a strong farm system while at the same time entertaining and evaluating ways to improve the Major League club. He often speaks of “holding onto the future” and not sacrificing talented prospects for immediate fixes. Yet, the Yankees are always focused on the present. Such polarizing demands put Cashman in a difficult position.

The most recent example of this conundrum is Jesus Montero. At the beginning of the off-season, Montero was tabbed as the front-runner to earn the position of starting catcher next season. However, Cashman decided to award the position to free agent Russell Martin. With Cliff Lee having returned to the Phillies, this would seemingly leave Montero available to be traded for starting pitching. Yet, it appears that Cashman is not ready to deal Montero (despite his inclusion in last year’s near deal for Lee). If Montero is not going to be given the opportunity to contribute on the Major League level in the near future, what is the point in holding onto Montero?

Given Cashman’s reluctance to deal his most valuable trade chip, we must take a critical look at his ability to evaluate Minor League talent and determine its Major League potential. Let us take a look at a couple of the deals in which top prospects were dealt for veteran Major League talent and a few of the prospects that — despite having been heavily rumored to have been included in deals — were kept for the benefit of the Major League club:

Players Dealt

Brandon Claussen – In 2003, Claussen was considered the top pitching prospect in the organization, yet the Yankees decided he was expendable if they were to acquire Aaron Boone. I, like many others, did not agree with trading away a young left-handed starting pitcher in exchange for an average hitter in Boone. However, it appears that the Yankees were not worse as a consequence of this deal. Claussen made 57 starts for the Reds from 2004-2006, going 15-27. Boone hit one memorable home run before a knee injury indirectly led the Yankees to acquire Alex Rodriguez. While Claussen may have been able to provide rotation depth, it is apparent that they did not deal away a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Dioner Navarro – Navarro, a switch-hitting catcher, was ranked as one of the top prospects in the Yankee organization and was their top prospect heading into 2004. However, with Jorge Posada entrenched at catcher, he was deemed expendable in favor of acquiring Randy Johnson. Johnson did not perform as expected, but Navarro never turned into the player he was expected to be. With the exception of his All Star season with the Rays in 2008, Navarro has largely been a disappointment. After being sent down partway through last season, he was non-tendered by the Rays this past offseason.

Players Kept

Alfonso Soriano – From 1999-2000, almost every deal that the Yankees were rumored to be a part of included Alfonso Soriano. Yet Cashman held onto him and in the end, his patience paid off. Soriano had three productive seasons for the Yankees, including a near 40-40 season in 2002, before being dealt for Alex Rodriguez prior to 2004. Soriano continued to produce after departing the Yankees and his inclusion in the deal for Rodriguez was well warranted. Needless to say, we would have been quite sorry to see him dealt prematurely for a player such as the oft-injured Rondell White.

Phil Hughes – Phil Hughes was twice ranked the top prospect in the Yankee organization and was undoubtedly one of the top prospects in all of baseball. In his second Major League start, he no-hit the Texas Rangers into the 7th inning before leaving with an injury. Going into the offseason, Cashman was given the opportunity to acquire to Johan Santana from the Twins in exchange for Hughes. However, Cashman decided to hold on to Hughes. While the move initially looked to be an incorrect one, as Hughes went winless in 2008, Hughes went on to be a critical cog out of the bullpen in 2009 and took major leaps forward as a starter in 2010. At 24 years old, most agree that Hughes has not reached his ceiling.

To be fair, many of the veterans Cashman has acquired via trade did not work out as well as he would have liked. However, can we honestly think of one transaction in which the Yankees received a player who provided little value while the prospect traded away went on to superstardom? This is not to say that none of the prospects he has traded have gone to success (i.e. Tyler Clippard, Juan Rivera, etc). But have any of them lurked around the way Ken Phelps-Jay Buhner turned out?

So in conclusion, let us have confidence that if Cashman chooses not to trade Montero anytime soon, it is with good reason and much to the benefit of the New York Yankees.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Pinch hitterswith 147 Comments →

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