Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Bombs Bursting in Air

19-1 is no way to celebrate a holiday.....well, unless you are on the "19" end of things. That loss was totally inexcusable and should result in a ferocious series of phone calls between Steinbrenner and Cashman. I'm guessing that they will be placed at around 4am and that only one of the parties on the line will be "talking".

The debate that I alluded to in yesterday's post continued at Bronx Banter during the so-called ballgame, and I think has yet to be resolved. Not that it has to be resolved, but it tells us something about the Yankees right now that we're debating a number of problems all at once. Clearly the offense is struggling. It's expected on a day when Torre starts 4 AAA players at the bottom of the lineup. Phillips, Cabrera, Reese, and Green were all hitting in an awful bunch at the end of the order and didn't do a thing all day. There's plenty to worry about when we are sporting that kind of lineup on the Boss' birthday, in his hometown. Not smart.

The debate about the offense, and getting a bat, is still off the mark to me. We don't need another bat as much as we desperately need another decent starter. I'm not talking about a good starter. I'm talking about a guy that will give up less than 5 runs over 6 innings. We'll do the rest. Right now, Wright and Chacon can't get out of the 4th or 5th inning most nights, and recently Chacon can't get out of the 2nd. That forces us to overextend our already horrendously overworked bullpen, and probably severely hurts their effectiveness in ballgames that we have a chance to win. As I see it, the bullpen is mediocre, but managable. The pitching is abyssmal at the end of the rotation, and we need to use our resources to address that situation more than the hitting.

You may say, "The Yankees offense is bad since Matsui and Sheffield went down. We can't score. We are at the league average 4.3 or so per game in run scored in that time. We can't win."

The thing is, I just did a little research. The Yankees have been scoring plenty. Here's a little breakdown for you with some milestones to solve the mystery of our sluggish O.

May 12th Matsui is injured. From May 12th until the end of the month we scored 107 runs in 19 games for an average of 5.6 runs per ballgame. Not bad.

Sheffield joins Matsui on the DL on June 1st. From June 1st until the June 24th rainout against the Marlins, the Yankees scored 103 runs in 20 games for an average of 5.2 runs per ballgame. It seems that even injuries to our two power hitting corner outfielders couldn't dip us below 5 runs a game. (Over 162 ballgames, 5 runs per contest equals 810 runs. That's more than 2 of the last 5 World Series champions scored in their victorious seasons. Arizona scored 818.)

This is where things get ugly. June 24th sees the Yankees and Marlins get rained out. The game is made up as part of a split double header the next day. On June 25th, Mussina outduels Dontrelle Willis 2-1 in the first game. In the second game we lose 5-0 and Robinson Cano goes down with an injury. That is the key. In the 10 games since the rainout in Florida (including 8+ without Cano) the Yankees have scored 37 runs for an average of 3.7 per game. If you exclude the recent 16 run explosion against the Mets, we have averaged 2.3 runs over 9 games.

I think the key is Robinson Cano's absence. Or rather, the absence of 3 key hitters in our lineup. Our average dipped slightly from 6.2 runs over the 1st 32 games to 5.6 when Matsui went down. When Sheff joined Matsui on the DL the average went down again to 5.2 per game. Without Matsui, Sheffield, and Cano we have averaged under 4 runs a game. I would hold off on analyzing the effect of Cano's addition to the walking wounded until we played without him for 19-20 games, so the sample sizes match up better, but he'll be back soon and thankfully we won't need to find out how the data materializes.

I would argue that Bernie(.719 OPS) and Melky(.693) replace Matsui(.807) and Sheffield(.811) with slightly below average players, but the dropoff from Cano(.792) to Cairo(.564) is far more severe and has really hurt the hitting. You lose a combined .206 points from the order with the 2 replacement outfielders, but you lose .228 between Cano and Cairo alone. The loss of the outfielders created a 1 run deficit in the team average, but a similar drop in OPS from one regular position player has had a similar effect on the overall runs scored.

That's why I think you'll see the scoring increase with the return of Robinson Cano. If any bat needs to be acquired, it should be a good hitting backup infielder so we don't have to watch Miguel Cairo stumble around like a drunk with a Yankee uniform on. The pitching is where it's at. That having been said, I'd like to examine a few pitchers I think would help shore up the back end of the rotation. These guys would be available without sacrificing Hughes, Wang, or Cano in my opinion. Here we go, in no particular order...

1. Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh Pirates - LHP, 24 years old
Strenghts: Excellent GO/AO ratio, keeps the ball on the ground. 24 years old and lefty.
Weaknesses: 11 hits and 4.5 walks per 9 innings means a lot of baserunners.

I wrote about Maholm the other day as an option. I don't know if he'll end up sucking it up in the end, but I'll take a 24 year old lefty that keeps the ball on the ground anyday. His ERA in the minors peaked at 3.58 at AAA after being in the high 2's at the lower levels. He also had a 1:2 walk to strikeout ratio, which means he has it in him to locate the ball better. In his last outing against the Mets, he went 6 innings and only gave up one run, although his WHIP was 1.67 in that game.

2. Livan Hernandez, Washington Nationals - RHP, 31
Strengths: Good veteran pitcher who doesn't give up many runs.
Weaknesses: Lingering injury issues, high asking price, down season in 2006.

In the end, Livan Hernandez won't be a Yankee because the Nationals want too much for him. The price will eventually come down as offers fail to make headway around the league. Someone will throw away a perfectly good player to acquire El Duque's brother, but I don't believe it will be us. He'd help though....if he could stay healthy that is....

3. Jon Lieber, Philadelphia Phillies - RHP, 36
Strengths: Sick control. Doesn't beat himself with walks. Was good in pinstripes.
Weaknesses: Coming off a groin injury. A lot of balls in play...

Lieber was a good Yankee. It was a mistake to let him go. He's exactly what we need right now, a guy who can go 200+ innings when healthy who doesn't walk the ballpark. The Phillies are 5 games in back of the wild card chase and 6 games under .500, but they may want to hang in there until it looks worse for the post-season. He may be available near the deadline if the Phils look out of it.

4. Phil Hughes, Trenton Thunder - RHP, 20
Strenghts: No trades necessary. Wicked stuff dominates minor leaguers.
Weaknesses: A bad experience in the bigs could hurt his confidence. Is he ready?

I wrote a piece about bringing Hughes to the Bronx a little while back. I think it may be a bad idea, but it's out there. Liriano and Jered Weaver are carrying the load for their teams and dominating big league hitters. Liriano is 22, Weaver is 23. They have a little edge in maturity on Hughes. Highly touted guys like Cole Hamels and Chad Billingsly have seen mixed results in their limited MLB service this season, but have shown flashes. Others are doing it as well, and some are really helping their teams. Hughes, in his last 6 starts, has gone 3-1 with a 0.72 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, and 45 strikeouts in 37.2 innings. It's the mental part that will keep him in the minors until next Spring Training at the earliest. Still....he's out there.

One additional note: upon further review, Scott Kazmir is only 22 years old. He was brought up to the Rays when he was 20 years old and had only pitched in 8 games at AA. Overall he pitched in 49 minor league games, with 41 at the A ball level. Phil Hughes has pitched in 37 games with 12 at AA Trenton. Kazmir was both good and bad in his first callup with the Rays in 2004, but dominated Boston as he continues to do today. He's now one of the best ace pitchers in all of baseball. I'm not saying Hughes is Kazmir, but we might learn something from that experience that could help us THIS year.

Any ideas from the peanut gallery?


Singledd said...

Hey Mike.
You're up early, or late, or simply couldn't sleep after that abortion of a game.

Round 2:
Some comments:
"Over 162 ballgames, 5 runs per contest equals 810 runs. That's more than 2 of the last 5 World Series champions scored in their victorious seasons. Arizona scored 818.)"
Again, random comparisons to teams and times past doesn't cut it. Todays situation is our only issue. However, your example favors my point. That year, Arizona was a shitty hitting team. Very weak. One quasi-stud and who? BUT... They had RJ and Schill in their primes. Thats 4 PS starts out of 7 with Pitching Gods. If you make comparisons, compare it to a PS team with shaky pitching and poor defense... like the Sox of past years. What kind of O did the Sox need to make the PS?

Also, in past years, we have had the WC to fall back on... although never had to. This year, it looks like 1st place or bust.

Also, with one addition injury (Cano), we are not averaging even CLOSE to 5 RS/game.

Also, because we have ARod, Giambi, Jetes, Damon, Posada (and Cano most of the time), we will have games where we score double digits. In the last month, the Yankees had games where we scored 15,14,13,11 and 10 runs.... 13 RS/game over 5 games. If in an additional 5 games we get shut out 5 times, our RS is still over 6...., but we have a 5-5 record.

RS by itself, is not necessarily a tell-all number. You have to qualify it with Pitching and D. Big time blowouts skew the RS comparisons. Just look at the above example.

"Bernie(.719 OPS) and Melky(.693) replace Matsui(.807) and Sheffield(.811) " Bad comparison. Both guys off to a slow start. Last year, ShefSui combines for a 1.754 OPS. Compare that to BernMelk at 1.404.
No reason why ShefSui wouldn't come close to 1.754 this year. Mats did not have a great year last year and Shef was under .900.

CONCLUSION. I agree, if we can get a slightly-better-then-league-average #4 or #5 guy to eat innings, it will really help. Definitely save the pen some. However, I don't think we can get an impact #1 or #2 (or good #3) guy, which is what most folk think you are talking about when you say 'get pitching'. When I say get an 'impact batter', I'm talking about and .800+ OPS guy with a decent glove or an .850+ OPS guy and any glove. The Braves will be rebuilding and dumping salary. A. Jones might be had.

The Mets, Cards, Red Sox and other contending teams all NEED a pitcher. How many of these teams need a $10mil+ OF'er? You must consider supply and demand when thinking about what we should go after.

Also, we know what Melky, Bernie, KT, KR, Bubba, etc will give us.... Nothing. But there is small hope that between Mendoza, Pavano, RJ, Chacon and Matt Smith that we could possible have much better pitching in the second half. Moose is the only one that might get worse. Wright might even become a 6 inning guy. There is some hope for our CURRENT team pitching, but NO hope for the offense. And if one of our BIG guys goes down (of which Cano is a small example), we are cooked, done, put a fork it it. Our mediocre offense that we field now is backed by NO bench what-so-ever.

I also believe the Chacon we have seen of late is not the real guy. Historically he has been better. Even if he is not the 2005 Chacon, he is better then what we have seen so far.

Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh Pirates - LHP, 24 years old.......... Sounds like Chacon to me.

Livan Hernandez, Washington Nationals - RHP, 31...... Isn't he inconsistant? Walk a lot? Can he stand up to NY? But would probably help. Worth giving up one of our good (non-Hughes) kids?

Jon Lieber, Philadelphia Phillies - RHP, 36.... This would be nice, Christmas in July.

Phil Hughes, Trenton Thunder - RHP, 20.... Not in the discussion. Already a Yankee. Isn't coming up, too young, unless for a stop-gap start due to injury. He ain't ready for the NY Show.

Again, I mention that we could use 2 OF'ers, as Sheff may not come back next year. Won't come back if we don't want him. So even if we lose some $$ and farm talent for an Abreau, A. Jones or the like, we have a RF for years to come. A good OF'er is not a stop-gap measure, but building for the future, and well as 2006.

Actually, we need both a #4/#5 guy and an OF'er. Pitching and Defense win in the PS. Since our Pitching is just slightly above average, and our Defense is below average, for THIS YANKEE TEAM to make the PS and WS, we need an AWESOME offense. Not good or very good. AWESOME. With 1 big bat, Cano and Phillips in the lineup, we have a very solid and dangerous 1-8.

Abreau/A. Jones

Cashman ain't dumb, no matter what some BB's post. He is working overtime now. No one like to make us better, so Cash needs to be very cool (ala the Damon deal) or very creative (ala ARod). I think he is just wanting for tents to fold (Cubs, Stros, Braves, etc). The Indians might deal for some youth. It is NOT an easy situation.

It will be VERY interesting to see what Man-of-Cash pulls out of his hat.

Mike Plugh said...

Thanks Damon.

I'm actually with you more than my posts indicate. The Cano injury highlights the fragility of our offensive situation. My thoughts on your comments here:

The two teams who scored less than 810 runs and won the series were last year's White Sox and the 2003 Marlins. Both of those teams had superior frontline pitching and a few big bats in the middle of the lineup.

If we hope to follow their lead we need Damon, Jeter, Giambi, A-Rod, Posada, and Cano to produce consistently and get great pitching from Mussina, Unit, and Wang. Not good pitching but GREAT. It can be done.

I'd love to score closer to 6 runs a game, but I'm not sure if there's enough to get Jones or Abreu. If Cash Money can pull it off, I'll kiss him.

I don't want to use our last chips to get Reggie Sanders or David Delucci or something, even if they're better than what we have in the field now.

I think the place that we differ is our optimism. I'm more optimistic that we can win ballgames with Bernie and Melky and another good pitcher. You're optimistic that we have the pitchers we need to win if we get one more impact bat.

Maybe we're both right. Only time and Cashman will determine the answer.

Oh...by the way, I'm up because I live in Japan and it's evening/night here. No fourth of July fireworks for me.

Thanks again for posting, man. Good thoughts.

Singledd said...

"Both of those teams had superior frontline pitching and a few big bats in the middle of the lineup.
"..... But that's just the point Mike. We don't have SUPERIOR pitching and can't get it. That's why we need SUPERIOR offense. After all, if you can't get a beautiful girl, at least get one with money.

"get great pitching from Mussina, Unit, and Wang."..... Gamble away this year with a dream?

"I don't want to use our last chips to get Reggie Sanders or David Delucci...." .... Agreed. We need an impact guy, not slightly-better-then-average.

"we can win ballgames with Bernie and Melky...." ..... Unfortunately, it's Bernie and Melky and Phillips and sometimes Stinett and sometimes Cairo.

Please answer this question:
What has the better odds...
Current Yankee offensive players (not the Bif Guns) have a MUCH BETTER 2nd half


Current Yankee pitchers have a MUCH BETTER 2nd half (including Dotel, Mendoza and Smith)


Mike, is there an EMail address on the site to contact YOU (the cheese) directly? I would love to share some ideas about your site.

Mike Plugh said...

Hey singledd....

I think you missed my point on the past champions bit. I was saying that teams have won in the past with less offense and more pitching. We have less offense, but good and potentially great pitching if Unit can ever figure it out consistently.

Plus, I don't think the pitching will be better in the 2nd half. Maybe Unit, but Moose and Wang will probably continue what they're doing now and the back end isn't really a reliable group of pitchers to begin with. Those guys may give us less. Hard to imagine, but possible.

As far as the hitting goes, Bernie figures to run hot and cold to the tune of his current OPS, but I think Melky and Phillips will hit better. They are settling in and the experience should help them inch closer to their AAA numbers.

Just my opinion.

I don't have a link to my e-mail yet. I'll try to put something up today.

I hope you're right about Andruw Jones. If we can get him, I'm with you on adding a bat. I don't want to add anyone silly.

Mike said...

I was thinking today about your old post about bringing up Hughes, and when you first proposed the idea I agreed with you 100%.
I feel that the offense is good enough to win and will put up enough numbers for the rest of the season.

However, as i write this, Damon has been taken out of the game and replaced by Bubba. With Cano now on the disabled list and possibly Damon (who probably had explosive diarrea or some shit), the Yankees need to look at how they won championships and they were decided with PITCHING. Bringing up Hughes is not the answer though. Two perfect examples are Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Two of the most promising young pitchers of the last couple of years have been relegated to injuries and Wood is on the DL again for an extended period of time. If Hughes comes up and dominates -which i would expect him to do- Joe will continue to pitch him longer and longer, making his innings pitch climb immensly. Something else needs to be done because the Yankees desperately need a core of players to usher in the new stadium for years to come. Guys like Sheffield and Johnson need to be discarded, along with Wright and Pavano who is a CANCER for the Yankees organization. The future needs to start now. Today.

RollingWave said...

Mike, Cano was a huge reason for the bad June.

He hit .998 OPS in June, but drove in a measly 7 runs. for the season he is a pathetic .233 hitter in RISP. obviously, that will probably correct itself sooner or later. but at least for the early part of the season he's contribution on offense have not really corresponded with his numbers.

Chacon seems to be a streaky guy, I think he should be alright once he makes some adjustments, he was pretty good early in the season before being hit in the leg.

I think the main approach should still be around the same as last year... if there's a deal that makes sense, go for it, if there isn't, don't. The Jays been hitting at an incrediable pace and yet they havn't been able to pull ahead... the Sox have pretty much everyone "useful" (AKA excluding Foulke / Clement / Wells ) healthy and managed to pull away a wooping 2 games since April .

It took Melky 130+ at bats to hit his first HR.. but he has now hit 2 in his last 50ish... and during that span only Giambi and A-rod have hit more HRs... I'd think he should turn out fine with around .800 OPS eventrually... which would make him more than decent back up OF. I'm guessing they will call up KT now and give him another shot at starting... as long as he can be around .750 + OPS and plays better than Bernie defense he is fine. too

Boston and Toronto been dealin with it's own problems, their pitching have been even more problematic than the Yanks, having a horrible pen past the closer and setup man and a rotation that hasn't been healthy....

Also, I'm not completely sold on the Tigers... although even if they do start to fall the Twins are making a incredible run anyway ...

But I still think this should be a very fun season to watch.

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