Saturday, April 22, 2006

Yankee Notes: April 22, 2006

A few things struck me about the middle game of the Yankees/Orioles series at the Stadium. On a chilly, rainy afternoon in New York the Yankees engaged in a generally listful and slow moving ball game against Baltimore, coming out on top by the score of 6-1.

The first point of interest was the turn of fortune for embattled pitcher Shawn Chacon, who gave up a single run over 7 innings, earning the only quality start of the young season for a Yankee pitcher not named "Randy" or "Mike". It took 16 games before the Yankees found a successful formula for a player at the back end of the rotation, but it came at an opportune time, with the aforementioned "Unit" and his ace partner Mike Mussina coming up next for the Bombers. It appears as though there is some light at the end of the tunnel for a good homestand.

The second note if interest was Hideki Matsui's two run double in the bottom of the 6th. With the bases loaded this season, the Yankees had only been able to muster 3 hits, all in the opening game in Anaheim. Matsui has struggled over the last 2 weeks, going 5-29 combined in series versus Kansas City, Minnesota, and Toronto. He is now 3-7 with two doubles, 3 runs, and 2 RBIs in two games against the Orioles. With the short porch in right staring him in the face, I expect to see a couple of home runs for Gojira during this homestand, and a strong close to the month of April.

The other note of interest to me was the ridiculous use of the sacrifice bunt by both teams, early in the ballgame. I took some time to defend the sacrifice in the series against Minnesota, going against the grain, and against my own personal feeling about the strategy. In that case, with Mariano Rivera on the mound, Damon on second with no outs, and Jeter at the plate, I though it was fair strategy to play for one and give the Sandman a little pillow to put the Twins to sleep. In today's ballgame, I thought all three sacrifice situations were strictly idiotic and I'd like to quickly run down the plays to show why.

1. In the top of the 3rd inning, Baltimore put runners on 1st and 2nd with no one out thanks to back to back walks by Shawn Chacon. The Yankees held a 2-0 lead, but the Birds appeared to have Chacon in a bit of trouble with Mora and Tejada coming up. To my astonishment, Mora, a career .284 hitter with Baltimore, gave himself up to move the tying run into scoring position for Tejada. It seems to me that his skill with the bat should allow him to push a ball to the right side and move the runners over swinging away. With Chacon on the ropes a bit, he may get a hit. At the very least he may force a few more pitches out of his arm and perhaps even draw another walk to load the bases. According to this trusty chart, the bunt they opted for in that situation actually contributes a -6.7% chance to an Orioles victory. Tejada grounded out weakly to the pitcher and Gibbons popped out to short. No runs, and one wasted out.

2. The Yankees were the village idiots in the bottom of the 3rd. After Robinson Cano drew his FIRST WALK OF THE SEASON against control-challenged Daniel Cabrera, Kelly Stinnett chose to give up his bat to move Cano to second with a two run lead, early in the game. At this point, I turned to my wife and gasped out, "What am I watching here? Did I actually see two sac bunts in the 3rd inning?" She declined to respond. Cabrera had just walked free-swinging Cano on four pitches and had already issued 17 walks in his previous 3 starts, but with a 2-0 count we offer him an easy way out. Damon struck out following the bunt, and Jeter successfully drove in the run from second. The strategy payed off, in that the Yankees got their run, but it struck me a bit like watching Matlock drive an Indy car.

3. Nauseatingly, the team once managed brilliantly by Earl Weaver chose to sacrifice again in the 5th inning. With runners on 1st and 2nd and no outs, Nick Markakis was asked to sacrifice his teammates into scoring position for Mora and Tejada. Having failed two innings earlier, you'd think the Orioles would have the young man swing away and try to drive in a run. The rookie sports a low batting average, but has shown a patient eye at the plate if nothing else. True to form, the bunt went straight to Chacon, who threw to third nailing the lead runner. He may as well have struck out. The aforementioned chart, indicates that a bunt in that situation contributes a -3.8% chance to a Baltimore victory.

The Orioles only scratched one run out against the regularly shaky Shawn Chacon and probably gave him two gift outs at the moments when he looked most vulnerable to big rallies. Of the three bunts offered today, only one run was manufactured, while three outs were given away. When the team who bunted twice loses by 5 runs, you have to scratch your head. I hope we see more of the same from Baltimore against Randy Johnson tomorrow.

[Correction: Chien Ming Wang posted a quality game on 4/16 against Minnesota.]


Anonymous said...

I'd have to imagine that Wang's 7IP 2R effort against the Twins (4/16) counts as a "quality start". Your post is right on about everything else though.

Mike Plugh said...

Of course you're right. I must've spaced on that one, but I do recall him being very good in that game. I'll update the post to reflect the error.

Good to have knowledgable readers to fix my mess. ;)

Anonymous said...

Sure thing, Mike. Nice to have an "international" baseball blog; it's a different perspective from what I usually get.

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