Hey fans of the Canyon.
Just checking in to let you know that I'll be back writing a bit more often in the not too distant future. I've been buried in books for the better part of the offseason, and actually for some time before as well. The Graduate Record Examination is a beast of a test. A few small mistakes can cost you some very important competitive points on your final score. I will be entering the lair of the spider Thursday afternoon Japan time. A trip to Tokyo tomorrow after work will have me on the doorstep of my adventure with graduate school. Please keep your fingers crossed for me.
I graduated from university in December 1993, and I'm attempting this madness 13 years later. Not easy, but I'm up to the task. I'm gritty like Dave Eckstein. Sorry....a nod to FJM.
Daisuke Matsuzaka is likely to be posted this coming weekend, or shortly thereafter. I'll let you know what's going on as soon as I hear. In the meantime, browse Matsuzaka Watch if you haven't already and get up to speed on him. I hear the Yanks are looking at Jeff Suppan in case they don't win the Matsuzaka sweepstakes. If that happens, I hope all of you are in the streets burning Brian Cashman in effigy. Suppan's 4.60 career ERA and 1.416 WHIP are enough to keep him away from the Big Apple, but to replace Matsuzaka with him would be an insult to all of us. No Daisuke means Zito or bust, Cash Money.
See you all soon......wish me luck.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Hey fans of the Canyon.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Two athletes have passed today. One a former Yankee, and the other an international figure that spanned 3 decades. Joe Niekro succumbed to a brain aneurysm at the age of 61. He was a colorful character who helped to raise the profile of the knuckleball, and who may have doctored a few baseballs in his day as well. He'll be missed.
Trevor Berbick is familiar to younger boxing fans as the man Mike Tyson beat to become the youngest heavyweight champion in history. More seasoned fans will remember Berbick for his victory over Muhammed Ali in 1981. Berbick was found in a Jamaican churchyard, brutally murdered. He has had legal problems in his native homeland since his retirement, but it is unknown if these problems have any link to his death. He was reported to be in his early to mid-50s, but no one has ever been able to pin it down.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Since it's the offseason and there's not so much Yankee business to attend to, bloggers like myself often decide to engage in speculation that would otherwise seem absurd in the heat of the Spring or Summer. Today I have just such an idea I'd like to bounce around.
We need pitching. Matsuzaka is on our radar. Zito is there as well. The Yankees probably don't have many other frontline options available via free agency. I won't be caught speculating about specific trades at Canyon of Heroes, because I think the trades fans concoct are almost never realistic, or likely for that matter. I will float an idea to help our pitching staff. Here it goes.
Sign Tim Wakefield as a middle reliever-slash-5th starter.
Think about it for a second. We have Jaret Wright on the roster, as the #4 guy. Behind him was the late Cory Lidle. Before his tragic and untimely passing, Lidle was likely going to hit the free agent waters in the winter. Wright has a buyout that I'm guessing the Yanks will take advantage of shortly. That leaves us with Wang, Mussina, and Johnson. We'll likely get either Matsuzaka or Zito, and I think Cash Money will find a way to bring Moose back. That leaves an opening for a #5. I'd like to see Rasner and Karstens get a shot at the #5 spot in Spring Training. I think either one of them is good enough to be featured in that role. In fact, I'm counting on it. The thing is, I think we can throw Wakefield into the mix as well.
Mind you, this won't happen, but just for fun.....it puts a dent in the Red Sox plans. They have an aging Schilling, a weak Beckett, Clement, Hansen.......the list trails off to Pawtucket. The Sox figure to be in the free agent market fighting for Matsuzaka and/or Zito. If we can keep either one of those things from happening, and take Wakefield from them, they have a lot of question marks still remaining. What does Wake do for us?
He brings a silly pitch with him. We can't hit it very well, and it always looks good sandwiched between two fastball pitchers in a series. Teams always lose their rhythm for a day or two after facing a knuckleball pitcher. He's pitched in the AL East. He'd be a #5 guy with a career 4.30 ERA, and a 108 ERA+. He's not a great pitcher, but he may come cheap, subtract from the Red Sox, and add something funky to our team. He also has experience out of the pen. As a long reliever and spot starter in 2001 he had an ERA of 3.90 and an ERA+ of 116. The following year, in the same role, saw a stellar 2.81 ERA and a whopping 157 ERA+. If you don't want to start him, throw him in middle relief and watch teams flail away.
Just an idea. Run with it.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Completely unrelated to the Yankees today. My high school just completed it's "sports day" on wednesday. In Japan, schools are organized by homeroom. Teachers rotate to homerooms from period to period while students stay put. The homeroom is a very very important collective in the lives of the Japanese. It is a very intimate circle of peers that, while often quite divergent in character, is a family of sorts. The homeroom teacher is a kind of surrogate parent and really devotes more than their fair share of their own life to the class. "Sports Day" is a kind of fun way for the students to enjoy a day free of study to bond with their homerooms. Various races and events are held to foster this connection, and everyone has a blast.
I have a particularly close relationship with the English Course students in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades (there are 3 grades in Japanese HS) and I spent the day bouncing between the homerooms to cheer and lend my support. In the 2nd year group there is a young man who runs track. He's damn fast. I see him practicing in the winter in the hallways of the school after hours. He sets up a few hurdles down the long corridor and flies. It's amazing. He doesn't look the part of the star track athlete. He, in fact, "retired" from the team for some reason recently. Perhaps he's going to study abroad next year. I always thought this guy was kind of a brooder, who avoided talking to me. He looks perpetually frustrated and has a natural scowl that he wears, whether he intends to or not. I've tried to reach out to him a few times in class, or in the hall, and get a polite brush off.
On this day, under the sun, we stood next to the track and watched the classes play around with an entertaining relay of sorts. I noticed on the back of his homeroom t-shirt that he'd chosen the name "Biggio" for himself. The students often take crazy names of one kind or another as an expression of their controlled individuality, and it's not unusual to see random English words as personal monickers. I had to wonder, "Why Biggio?" I asked the student's friends what the deal was with "Biggio" and they told me that it was his favorite player. I struggled to understand how a kid growing up in semi-rural Japan would latch onto a Houston Astros player from a young age.
It was enough of a mystery that I approached him and asked him directly. It was the first time I'd ever seen his face light up. He was excited to talk about it. In the end, I'm not sure I'm much closer to figuring out how he found Craig Biggio. It's just one of those things, but it opened a door for us to talk about baseball, and I got to see the kid smile and relax a bit. He talked about his favorite team with me as well. The Cleveland Indians. Yeah. The Tribe. Again, huh?
The Indians briefly had Japanese pitcher Kazuhito Tadano on their roster, but he was released and now plays for the A's. In the future, I'm going to have to dig deeper to find out why the Indians are his favorite team, but in the meantime we had a nice talk about Travis Hafner and the disappointing 2006 team. We laughed about Aaron Boone and the fact that one moment defined his career. The most interesting point to come out of our talk was the excitement he felt at the prospect of having Akinori Iwamura of the Yakult Swallows on the club next year. Yakult announced 2 days ago that they would post him, and the Indians are interested. He would fit in nicely at 3rd, pushing the useless Boone into no man's land. Iwamura will be a similarly effective third baseman, as Iguchi is a second baseman. Better than average, but not a big star. I have my fingers crossed for my student that the Tribe pulls it off, because it would make his face light up more often and that has to be a good thing.
I love it when baseball brings people together. It helps keep me from being cynical in the face of all the "Trade A-Rod" rumors, and so on. Catch you later....
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Yup. I had a vote for Key and a vote for Pettitte, but I went with Wade Boggs. Talk about throwing you a knuckleball.
In a game against Anaheim on August 19, 1997, Wade Boggs threw 16 knuckleballs and one fastball in retiring the side for a single shutout inning. He recorded 1 walk and 1 strikeout in that inning. He was so good that he posted an ERA+ of infinity in 1997, before tarnishing his record by pitching a second outing for Tampa later in his career, going an inning and a third with 3 hits, a strikeout and an earned run.
Ah, the glory days. Who will show up at COH tomorrow? Only "The Shadow" knows....
Sunday, October 15, 2006
I love El Duque. The whole aura of the guy intrigued me from day one. He always looks like he knows something you don't. (Probably his real age.) The very idea that this caliber pitcher could join the 1998 Yankees at mid-season now seems insane. That team was probably good enough to win well over 100 without him. At the time, no one had a clue at how good he'd be in pinstripes, or how much he'd mean in the subsequent post seasons to follow.
Here are Orlando Hernandez' ERA+ numbers for the Yankees:
1998 143 (in 21 games)
2001 _92 (in 17 games)
2002 120 (in 22 games)
2004 136 (in 15 games)
If you'll recall, we traded an oft-injured Hernandez to the Expos, via Chicago, in 2003 only to watch him sit out the entire season with arm problems. Granted free agency by the Montreal club, he returned to NY for a final go round with the Bombers and pitched extraordinarily well in 15 games, before succumbing to old age. The Mets now know what that's like. In the playoffs for the Yankees, Duque produced the following numbers:
10-3 in 17 post-season games
Not all the numbers are so pretty, but there's no mistaking how much he contributed to our club while he was still physically able. Yesterday, I posted Cone. Today, El Duque. I'm starting to feel nostalgic for pitchers who performed in pinstripes, especially in the glare of the post-season. Look for more as I continue to pine away for the "good old days". Who's next? Come back tomorrow and find out.
It's slow and I have nothing to say today. The Tigers are in the Series. Good for them. This photo makes me happy, and helps me forget the depths that our pitching staff has sunk to in recent times. Coney was one of my all-time favorites and the perfect game was genuinely one of my happiest moments as a Yankee fan. I'll write a piece on Cone later in the off-season, but for today I thought this would do us all some good.
Cone's ERA+ as a Yankee:
1995: 120 (in 13 games)
1996: 176 (in 11 games)
We miss ya' Coney.
Friday, October 13, 2006
These Tigers are showing why they were the best team in baseball for all but the last month and a half. Somehow they mauled the Yankees' All World lineup 3 straight, and have duplicated the feat against a hapless Oakland Athletics team that looked to be in strong form entering the series.
From a Yankee fan's perspective, you have to believe the Tigers are going to win it all. Why? Because the Yankees have lost to the eventual World Series champion every season since 2001, with the notable exception of last year. It seems that teams who beat us keep it going and take home the hardware.
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks (beat Yanks in WS)
2002 Anaheim Angels (beat Yanks in ALDS)
2003 Florida Marlins (beat Yanks in WS)
2004 Boston Red Sox (beat Yanks in ALCS - ouch)
2005 Chicago White Sox (beat Boston in ALDS, Yanks lost to Anaheim in ALDS)
2006 Detroit Tigers? (beat Yanks in ALDS)
Small consolation to be the king-maker every year. It's out there though. Think Kenny Rogers is amped? 15 consecutive scoreless innings in the playoffs is nutty. If they win it all, and he pitches well in the World Series, he'll be the MVP of the postseason. Watch. How ya like me now Yankee fans? (Not much.)
Final note, Cashman just let go two scouts. Wade Taylor and Chuck Cottier were given their walking papers. This is not at all a surprise, as both men were demoted a while back and speculation has been that they would no longer be with the organization sometime in the offseason. Not sure what to make of all this, except that Oppenheimer and company seem to be slowly extricating the Stick Michael people from the organization. Both men were Stick's top assistants. I don't know how this affects Gene Michael, but it can't be good....
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Despite what the clueless Mike and the Mad Dog people are saying, Matsuzaka has been given permission to join the Major Leagues NEXT YEAR. He will be posted. Someone will buy his rights. He will pitch for that team in 2007.
I'll use this opportunity to plug my blog Matsuzaka Watch. It is your definitive source on everything Matsuzaka. Stop by. Browse around. Learn about the next great thing to hit US soil from Japan since PlayStation 3. I'll be on this story and more at Matsuzaka Watch, so keep checking back. I will try to do a recap of the issues surrounding the player, his posting, and the chances the Yankees have of acquiring him in the coming future. In the meantime, head over and do your homework.
His 2006 stats and game log. Ratios at the bottom(click to enlarge):
Sunday, October 08, 2006
The title of this post, "mottainai" means "it is so wasteful that things are not made full use of their value." in Japanese. It's a very expressive word that embodies a lot of subtle points of waste.
The Yankees colossal failure against the Tigers was a waste of money. $200 million dollars a year for the last 6 years of playoff shortfalls is a tough pill to swallow. It was also a waste of talent. "The greatest lineup ever assembled" failed to score for 20 innings, and looked overmatched in most of those frames. They didn't even move runners over with their outs. It was a waste of time. I actually enjoyed this season a lot. It was an entertaining mix of ups and downs, that proved to be a most interesting period to blog about. I did spend untold hours writing and analyzing the 2006 season that I may have better used on other things. I don't regret a second of it, but I think there is some feeling of waste there too. I managed to salvage a little sleep during the elimination game. For that reason, I can say that I avoided a total waste of emotion and energy. At the point that Lidle started coughing up the last chance for the Yankees, I turned off the tv and went back to bed. It was around 6:30am here in Japan.
All in all, the loss to the Tigers was a simple series of subtle baseball truths that govern the ulitmate fate of every team. The most basic of those truths is that good pitching will always beat good hitting. We were all led to believe that the Hall of Fame lineup that we fielded would equate to great hitting, able to overcome simply good pitching. When that aspect of our strategy faltered there was nothing left. The Tigers pitching, which had regressed to the mean after the All Star Break found just enough magic to beat the Yankees. Verlander pitched an amazing game, but was on the losing end until Mussina sputtered to the finish line. That seems to be the end of our chances. If you look at the other two pitching matchups, there's no way we fielded the better pitcher in either game. As shaky as Rogers has been over the years, he was stellar in 2006 from beginning to end. Randy Johnson is nothing more than a big name in an old man's body. Jaret Wright and Cory Lidle are nice 5th pitchers for the regular season. They are guys that you trot out there to fill out your rotation. Neither of those players are the man you want on the mound, facing an excellent young Jeremy Bonderman in an elimination game. Pavano was supposed to be that guy, but he's chosen to flake out on his teammates and fans.
It's not just this year. If you look at all our failures over the past 5 seasons, you have to wonder how often we were putting the best pitcher on the field. Let's examine this and honestly evaluate the matchups....(ERA+ follows each pitcher's name).
2002 ALDS (3-1 Loss to Anaheim)
Game 1 - Clemens(101) vs. Washburn(138)(win)
Game 2 - Pettitte(134) vs. Appier(111) (loss)
Game 3 - Mussina(108) vs. Ortiz(115) (loss)
Game 4 - Wells(117) vs. Washburn(138) (loss)
The series here was lost by the bullpen. Pettitte and Mussina were both good, but not great, and the Angels rallied off our pen to steal the middle two games. Game 4 was lost on David Wells stinker. He left the game after 4.2 innings of ineffective pitching. Here's a series that we should have won by the looks of things. Had the pen done its job, we would have won the Mussina game, and the Pettitte start was winnable too. Either one of those games in the other direction would have given Clemens a shot at a Game Five. Certainly a poor showing by a superior staff.
2003 ALDS (3-1 Win over Minnesota)
Game 1 - Mussina(129) vs. Santana(151) (loss)
Game 2 - Pettitte(109) vs. Radke(103) (win)
Game 3 - Clemens(112) vs. Lohse(100) (win)
Game 4 - Wells(106) vs. Santana(151) (win)
Although the Twins fielded the superior pitcher in two of the four games, asking Santana to come back on short rest against the Yankees is a tough assignment. Had he been able to win, the Yanks would have come back with Moose against Radke, and that favors the Bombers. We won on better pitching here.
2003 ALCS (4-3 Win over Boston)
Game 1 - Mussina(129) vs. Wakefield(115) (loss)
Game 2 - Pettitte(109) vs. Lowe(105) (win)
Game 3 - Clemens(112) vs. Pedro(212) (win)
Game 4 - Mussina(129) vs. Wakefield(115) (loss)
Game 5 - Wells(106) vs. Lowe(105) (win)
Game 6 - Pettitte(109)/Conteras(133) vs. Burkett(91)/Arroyo(227) (loss)
Game 7 - Clemens(112) vs. Pedro(212) (win)
It took an Aaron Boone homer in extra innings to decide this series. That's a series. Both teams can be proud that they sent top line pitchers to the mound and made it last. A classic for all times.
2003 World Series (4-2 Loss to Florida)
Game 1 - Wells(106) vs. Penny(98) (loss)
Game 2 - Pettitte(109) vs. Redman(112) (win)
Game 3 - Mussina(129) vs. Beckett(132) (win)
Game 4 - Clemens(112) vs. Pavano(94) (loss)
Game 5 - Wells(106) vs. Penny(98) (loss)
Game 6 - Pettitte(109) vs. Beckett(132) (loss)
We all know at this point that David Wells was out of steam. His back crapping out of him in Game 5 hurt us badly. The first game was a 3-2 affair that could have gone either way. Game 4 was lost in the 12th inning when Torre opted to use a very ineffective Jeff Weaver to pitch the bottom of the 12th. We all remember the walk-off home run he gave up to light hitting Alex Gonzales. Mystifying. Again, had we won that game Clemens would have been assured of a Game 7 start. In the end, our best 2 pitchers made only a start apiece thanks to the prior series' result.
2004 ALDS (3-1 win vs. Minnesota)
Game 1 - Mussina(98) vs. Santana(182) (loss)
Game 2 - Lieber(104) vs. Radke(136) (win)
Game 3 - Brown(110) vs. Silva(112) (win)
Game 4 - Vazquez(92) vs. Santana(182) (win)
Again we got Santana the second time around. We didn't actually beat Santana, but we managed to put this one into extra innings and send Kyle Lohse to the showers. We were very lucky to win the series with Lieber, Brown, and Vazquez as our rotation behind Mussina. Minnesota wasn't yet the team we saw this season.
2004 ALCS (4-3 Loss to Boston)
Game 1 - Mussina(98) vs. Schilling(150) (win)
Game 2 - Lieber(104) vs. Pedro(125) (win)
Game 3 - Brown(110) vs. Arroyo(121) (win)
Game 4 - El Duque(136) vs. Lowe(90) (loss)
Game 5 - Mussina(98) vs. Pedro(125) (loss)
Game 6 - Lieber(104) vs. Schilling(150) (loss)
Game 7 - Brown(110) vs. Lowe(90) (loss)
Oh...this series was painful. We had it in the bag, save extra inning meltdowns in Games 4 and 5. You can't kill these guys for the loss too much. The Games 6 and 7 matchups favored Boston.
2005 ALDS (3-2 Loss to Anaheim)
Game 1 - Mussina(101) vs. Colon(120) (win)
Game 2 - Wang(111) vs. Lackey(122) (loss)
Game 3 - Johnson(117) vs. Byrd(112) (loss)
Game 4 - Chacon(156) vs. Lackey(122) (win)
Game 5 - Mussina(101) vs. Colon(120) (loss)
The only reason that the 2005 ALDS didn't go the way of the 2006 ALDS, ending in a 3-1 victory for Anaheim is that they tried to bring back Lackey on a couple days rest. Chacon also pulled a rabbit out of his hat.
2006 ALDS (3-1 Loss to Detroit)
Game 1 - Wang(120) vs. Robertson(118) (win)
Game 2 - Mussina(125) vs. Verlander(124) (loss)
Game 3 - Johnson(87) vs. Rogers(118) (loss)
Game 4 - Wright(98) vs. Bonderman(111) (loss)
At best, Game Two is a push in terms of talent. That game was so close that it's hard to throw blame around. A couple of good pitchers matched up and it didn't go our way. Game 3 and 4 were barely competitive in terms of talent. Johnson is a 43 year old guy who stands 6'10" and has a herniated disc in his back. Wright has a career 5.07 ERA.
Taking a look at the whole body of work here, we have only had the pitcher with the highest ERA+ in one series of the eight. That was Mussina(125) in the 2006 ALDS. Verlander had a 124. We should have won the 2003 World Series by all accounts. The 2004 ALDS against Minnesota was more lopsided than it should have been. Things even out over time. The thing is, if you look at our ALDS starters from year to year you see this pattern (average ERA+ in parentheses):
It's easy to see why things have gone south. We were beyond lucky to have dominated the Red Sox in 2004. They won that series and they were better than us. In 2005 we were probably unlucky. That pitching staff was fairly good with Chacon's contribution. This year is by far the worst staff we've had since Torre took over in '96. You can point to the 1999 Yankees and say that we have the same average ERA+, but it's a stretch given the fact that Clemens and Pettitte both pitched below the league average that season, and displayed their true talent in the postseason. Let's look at the 1996-2001 teams.
With the exception of the 1997 team, those are all World Series clubs. The first 3 teams are absolutely dominant. The 1999 and 2000 clubs have better numbers than it looks. I already mentioned the 1999 club. The 2000 club had an average ERA+ among the top 3 starters of nearly 122. The more recent teams are a notch below the World Champion clubs. You've essentially replaced David Cone, Roger Clemens, David Wells, and Andy Pettitte with Mussina, Randy Johnson, Chien Min Wang, and a throw in or two. On paper that isn't awful but taken in context you realize that the best clubs had at least one guy throwing way above league average, and most of the time you had two. Nowadays the highest level pitchers on the club are good, but not great.
There's certainly more to it than that, but I think it's a place to start. I'd like to run down the roster from this season and give a quick thought on who should stay and who should go. I'll truncate everything to include their status, my opinion stay or go, and a brief reason:
C - Jorge Posada (signed, stay, still one of the best)
1B - Gary Sheffield (free agent, go, not a 1Bman and redundant)
2B - Robinson Cano (signed, stay, budding superstar)
SS - Derek Jeter (signed, stay, MVP)
3B - Alex Rodriguez (signed, stay*, Hall of Famer)
LF - Hideki Matsui (signed, stay, consistently good)
CF - Johnny Damon (signed, stay, best available option)
RF - Bobby Abreu (signed, stay, sign him longterm)
DH - Jason Giambi (signed, stay, highest OPS on the team)
Andy Phillips (signed, AAA, mediocre all around)
Craig Wilson (free agent, go, better in the NL)
Miguel Cairo (free agent, go, old and we can do better)
Melky Cabrera (signed, stay, play Giambi at 1B and rotate him in everyday)
Aaron Guiel (free agent, stay, plays OF and 1B and has some PH pop)
Sal Fasano (free agent, go, get younger here)
Bernie Williams (free agent, retire, we love you GOB)
As far as the lineup goes, we have little flexibility without a trade. Sheffield should see the door because we have a logjam in the outfield and I like Abreu in right better. It's hard to part with Sheff, but we can cut $13 million off the 2007 payroll without him. Melky needs time to play. I put an asterisk next to A-Rod's name because I think Cashman may listen to trade offers. I wouldn't do it personally, but if he makes that choice and gets value back in return I won't argue with his reasoning. The thing is, I would hate to see him go....unless we can dump Pavano with him. The bench wasn't a make or break point for us this year. I think we can get younger and better with some smart choices though. Guiel is versatile enough to play 1st and OF, so we can get a couple of specialists to help out. Perhaps Kevin Thompson can finally find some work as a 4th outfielder and pinch runner. Infielders are a dime a dozen. The younger the better. Likewise with our catching situation. Find someone who can really play, and is under the age of 30.
Mike Mussina (option, renegotiate, he's still very good as a #2 or #3)
Chien Min Wang (signed, stay, #2 starter here and #1 in many other places)
Randy Johnson (signed, stay, he's a ghost after 2007)
Jaret Wright (option, go, he sucks)
Cory Lidle (free agent, go, he sucks)
Carl Pavano (signed, stay*, we're stuck with him)
Mike Myers (signed, stay, he's still a good LOOGY)
Ron Villone (free agent, go, mediocre at best)
Scott Proctor (signed, stay, not too bad when managed well)
Octavio Dotel (free agent, go, will cost too much)
Kyle Farnsworth (signed, stay, he's ours and he's okay)
Brian Bruney (free agent, stay, power pitcher with bright future)
Mariano Rivera (signed, stay, GOD)
Looking at the team objectively, pitching is the weak point. If I could get rid of Mussina, Johnson, Wright, Lidle, and Pavano I would. That would leave me Wang. Since that is an impossibility for contractual and competitive reasons, we need to take this in stages. Sign Moose to a one or two year deal at a reduced rate. If he won't take it let him walk, but give it a shot. He's still got something left. Wright and Lidle are both expendable and should be ejected pronto. RJ will grind through another season, but he should be shown the door ASAP. Pavano will be next in line. The three fazes are:
1. Gradually work younger guys in to take the place of the departing vets.
2. If there's a true top flight FA out there, pay. If not, hold.
3. Continue to draft and develop young arms. Pay for bats.
4. Keep active on the international stage. Those arms are up for bidding.
Step one, replace Wright and Lidle with Zito/Matsuzaka and Rasner/Karstens. I'm not a huge fan of Barry Zito, but he is a good performer in both the regular season and postseason. His ERA+ for the last 5 seasons are:
I think he's going to get between $15 and $18 million per year with Boras, so I would hold off on signing him until I found out about the bidding for Daisuke Matsuzaka. He's my top choice at 26 years old with the kind of stuff he has. It's a risk to drop the $30 million or so that the posting will cost you, on top of $8-$10 million a year, but I think he's an ace in the making. The huge risk is how his skill translates to the US and to the AL East. I trust my eyes, but fortunately Cashman and company have scouts to give them the scoop. At an average of $15-$20 million a year when you include the posting fee in the per annum out of pocket figure that's hefty. Half the money doesn't count against the tax penalty though, unlike Zito.
Wright and Lidle open the door for either Rasner or Karstens to join the rotation full time. Each of those guys is on a minor league contract and, frankly, they couldn't be worse than the former duo. I like Rasner's stuff and he figures to be average at worst. Karstens is a bit young at 24, but he could also slide in nicely given the chance. That's what Spring Training is for. Whatever happens you'd be replacing a $7 million pitcher(Wright) and a $3 million pitcher(Lidle) with a big money guy and a minor leaguer. If Zito or Matsuzaka ends up at between $15-$18 million a year and you add one of the kids to the mix, you have basically added between $5 and $8 million to the payroll.
That makes it imperative to rework Mussina's deal. He's got an option at $17 million for 2007. You need to get that number down to $12 million by perhaps extending his deal another year at $10 million. He'd rake in an extra $5 million in the long run and we'd hope to get 2 more decent years out of him. The $5 million in savings would help to offset our FA pitching splash. The rotation now looks like this:
When Phil Hughes is ready in 2008, you plug him into RJs vacated spot and drop the budget another $16 million!! After Pavano drops off the books in 2008, you have $13 million to put in a kiddy for Carlos Zambrano. If my plan worked out your 2009 Yankees would be:
To conclude this little analysis, I'd like to look at the budget that I'm dealing with in 2007 and 2008 with this plan.
Gary Sheffield comes off the books (-$13 million)
Craig Wilson comes off the books (-$3.5 million pro-rated)
Bernie Williams comes off the books (-$1.5 million)
Phillips, Cairo, Fasano off the books (push with new signings/callups)
Jaret Wright comes off the books (-$3 million on $4 million buyout)
Cory Lidle comes off the books (-$3.3 million pro-rated)
Ron Villone comes off the books (-$2 million)
Octavio Dotel comes off the books (-$2 million)
Mussina renegotiated contract (-$5 million)
Zito/Matsuzaka added via free agency (+$18 million)
Rasner/Karstens join rotation (+$350,000)
J. Brent Cox called up to bullpen (+$350,000)
FA bullpen arm (+$2 million)
That's an $18 million dollar savings for next season. I've solved some of the problems with minor leaguers from our system, but we should use it and get value out of it. It's time to get some young players up here to inject some life into the team. We can save even more money in 2008.
Mussina's final year at $10 million (-$2 million)
Randy Johnson comes off the books (-$16 million)
Mike Myers comes off the books (-$1.5 million)
Phil Hughes joins the team (+$350,000)
New bullpen arm (+$1.5 million)
We save $17.65 million in addition to the 2007 salary reduction. That's a two year savings of around $35 million dollars. The team is younger and better, and there's plenty of money to pay Zambrano in the 2008 off season with Moose coming off the books.
The 2008 Yankees could look like this at $35 million less than the 2006 bums.
C - Jorge Posada
1B - Jason Giambi
2B - Robinson Cano
SS - Derek Jeter
3B - Alex Rodriguez
LF - Melky Cabrera
CF - Johnny Damon
RF - Bobby Abreu
DH - Hideki Matsui
OF/PR Kevin Thompson
1B/OF/PH Aaron Guiel
More young players.....
I'm not sure if this team will win the championship, but it looks better than the current bunch at a discount. The years beyond will see important decisions about Posada, Abreu, and Giambi. I would hesitate to sign Posada or Giambi beyond their current contracts, but if the price is right....anything can happen. Abreu is a keeper to me, but we have to track his decline to see how much he's worth. Our dollars can be spent better on younger talent in many cases, and I'm all for that going forward.
It's time to take a deep breath and move on into the off-season. I probably won't be posting everyday for a while. I have some things to catch up on, the GRE to prepare for, and a baby due around Christmas. I promise to keep you posted on Daisuke Matsuzaka, and anything big that happens in Yankeeland. Next may be Torre/Piniella. I plan to do some nice pieces on individual players personal recollections, and other interesting items in the off-season, so please keep coming back. Thanks for a very entertaining year, and let's keep our heads up. See you on the flip.
Friday, October 06, 2006
So here we are. Up against it. Down 2 games to 1 with our shaky number 4 picther taking the mound against a very good 24 year old, Jeremy Bonderman. The Tigers crowd is about all you can ask for if you are the home team. They are loud, enthusiastic about every pitch, and don't engage in too much "Yankees Suck" nonsense. They love the home team and appreciate the opportunity to be here competing. I would imagine it's pretty difficult to hear yourself think in that park right now.
Kenny Rogers was lights out against the Bombers. The "best lineup money can buy" looked like Columbus against him. It was a mixture of our own sorry stench, and a super pumped pitcher looking to erase his past failures. It looked at time like Rogers head was going to explode while he paced around the mound shouting to himself, "Let's go!! Let's go!! C'mon!!!" I was worried for his mental health, but that worry was trumped by my worry for the overmatched and lackluster Yankees. Randy Johnson wasn't bad. You'd hope that the Yankees would win a ballgame that he started so effectively. The 2nd and 3rd Tigers runs were aided by a blown call at third base. The Tigers still scored the runners by capitalizing and working Randy for a few more hits. Hats off. The rest of his outing was very good. He lost it in the end, but it was already one-sided in many ways at that point.
The last two games have felt a bit like some mad scientist has clamped brain wave translators to the tops of the Yankees heads and the Tigers heads and have swapped bodies. You see Tigers batters working counts, building rallies, slugging homers and the Yankees boys are swinging early and often, striking out, and generally looking overmatched. Could that have happened? Halloween is near.....
As for the next game, we have to win or we go home. Actually, IF we win we go home, which is a good thing. I was very bleak about the poor performance we witnessed, knowing that the Game Two winner of a 1-1 series goes on to win 76% of the time. It occurred to me that the Yankees lineup is still the Yankees lineup, whatever they've done the last 13 or 14 innings. Wright may be shaky, but he pitched well down the stretch and, hell, if Rogers could do it, why not Wright? I've heard that same sentiment already at Bronx Banter and Was Watching and I echo it. He's had 10 good starts since the All-Star break, and 2 stinkers. In addition, he worked one good bullpen outing, and another awful showing against Seattle in relief. By "good" outing, I qualify that as 5+ innings pitched and 3 or fewer runs. His final outing of the year is mixed in, although he gave up 4. The relief appearances are also split into the numbers:
10 outings (8 wins and no losses)
4 outings (no wins and 2 losses)
If you get the good Wright from his post-All Star performances, you have a shot. If you get the bad one, you are playing golf with Torii Hunter and company. The best case scenario in my book is a Yankees lineup scores early and often. Wright goes 5 innings, 6 hits, 2 walks, 2 runs and passes the baton to Proctor for one, Bruney for one, and then Mo for two. The way I think Joe will play it is Proctor for two, Farnsworth for one, and Mo for one.
Bonderman, since the All Star break has been up and down. Here's his breakdown using the same criteria:
8 outings (5 wins and 1 loss)
8 outings (1 win and 3 losses)
The odd thing about Bonderman's split is the better K-rate in the games he's stunk up. Regardless, if the 1st guy shows up, we can book plane reservations to the Bahamas. If the second guy shows up, hello Yankee Stadium. Only time will tell. Hang in there people. We won't go down without a fight. See you tomorrow. Go Yanks!!!!
UPDATE: Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched a complete game shutout on 137 pitches and 13 Ks in the Lions' playoff opener against Kazumi Saito(1.75 ERA!!!) and the SoftBank Hawks. Check out the grizzly details at Matsuzaka Watch.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
It was 5:30 in the morning. The sun was beginning to break through the curtains of my living room and my eyes had become bleary from staring at the laptop screen. 3 hours of intense concentration on the moment-by-moment drama of the second game of the ALDS had taken its toll. NHK had not rearranged their telecast schedule to carry the ballgame from 2am, instead sticking with an NFL football game. “Nice choice”, I thought, “Hideki Matsui and the Yankees are playing in the defining moments of their careers and devoted baseball fans in Japan are treated to a sport that almost no one plays or follows here, and a game which has been concluded nearly a week earlier.” Gameday was my only hope.
Johnny Damon found himself at the plate in the bottom of the ninth. There were two outs and two strikes on the leadoff man for the Yanks, but I still had faith. Matsui had singled to open the inning and was replaced by Melky Cabrera on the basepaths. There was still hope. Damon is reknowned for his ability to work and at bat, and in fact his 0-2 count had grown to 2-2 in a heartbeat. Fouling off pitches and scrapping, there was a possibility. And then it ended. 4-3 Tigers. A wasted, sleepless night.
I’m sitting at my desk now. Work is slow today, and I have some time to reflect, write, and conserve what little energy I have. I calculated this kind of opportunity before embarking on my all night affair with Gameday and Bronx Banter. It was worth it, but I’m still tired and slightly uneasy. In the end, the contest was fair, well fought, and hardly a disaster, but losing a game in Yankee Stadium is never an encouraging sign. Watching Justin Verlander escape early trouble to keep the game competitive was a pleasure from a pure baseball standpoint, but as a Yankee fan it was frustrating to watch the $200 million dollar “best lineup ever assembled” squander opportunity after opportunity. If you let a guy get off the ropes, he’ll eventually start hitting back.
Mussina wasn’t sharp in the middle innings and couldn’t finish what he started. The team handed him a 3-1 lead on Johnny Damon’s 3-run blast, but he constantly watched his pitches turn around and head in the other direction for extra base hits. One run in the fifth. One in the sixth. One in the seventh. And then there was Zumaya. Like Zeus, the young reliever came in throwing lightning bolts at the overmatched Bombers. There were opportunities, yes, but the man will make you miss by just enough to fail. That’s the key for a pitcher to succeed. It’s what has made Mariano so great all these years with only one pitch. Todd Jones is not in the same class as Zumaya, but for now he is the closer. We had our chance against him, but it never materialized. When Johnny Damon evened his count, something inside me said that Jeter would get his chance with a runner on second or third, thanks to a scrappy Damon plate appearance. You have to like the fact that, win or lose, the Yankees always seem to be on the verge of coming back in these games. Nothing.
If you look carefully at what transpired, it’s hard to complain. Two good teams met on an even playing field and one performed slightly better than another. The one run margin in the final score shows how close it was, as does my description of the bottom of the ninth. The telling story of Game 2 was one team’s collection of five extra base hits and only ten runners left on base versus the other team’s two extra base hits and twenty stranded runners. A few moments defined this game, and generally it was the same cast of characters coming up short. I want to talk about that here, but I need to preface my comments to appease the readers who won’t like the assignment of blame to certain people on the club. I need to say that failure is not an outcome that is reserved for any particular player more than another on any given night. Miguel Cairo and Derek Jeter are equally capable of putting up an 0-5 night. If you extend the analysis over the long-haul, you see the trends that show why some players are Hall of Famers and others are replacement level performers. This commentary is about the former pattern for the most part.
In the bottom of the first inning, we had Verlander on the ropes. Damon’s single set thing up perfectly. Runner on first, nobody out, and danger coming up. The only thing that worried me was Jeter (or Torre)’s love for the bunt. After all, “one run could be the difference”. Stupidly, Jeter chose to bunt after a 5 for 5 night and a .344 season. He failed miserably and popped up reducing the magic number to 26 outs. I wanted to take back all the nice things I’d said about him after his big night in Game One. So be it, there was still plenty of danger to come. Abreu did his “on base” thing, and worked a walk to bring up Sheffield. As I recall, it was a very tough curveball that struck him out. Giambi did his “on base” thing, and we had bases loaded with 2 outs. Guess who found himself in the spotlight? Alex Rodriguez.
I started a new paragraph here as a way to take a deep breath and say this the right way. Rodriguez has been a lighting rod for criticism and over analysis since the beginning of the season. I’ve tried not to be a part of it as much as possible. I know the man’s place in history. I know the kind of season he had this year, even if it was not up to his usual standards. Players don’t always come up with big moments when handed the opportunity, so it’s unfair to continually single those failures out as a way to crucify a man. A-Rod has nearly been carried off by the angry mob on many occasions this season, and only the hope of better days ahead has kept some of the fan base on his side. In this tough situation, with a very talented rookie on the mound, A-Rod went down on three straight pitches. The first was swinging. The second was a foul ball. The third was looking. The third pitch was the same curveball that got Sheffield. Is it then fair to boo Alex, where Sheff got a free pass? No. Is it fair to aim criticism at A-Rod for failing to produce in that moment. I think it is, if it is handled properly.
I want to criticize Alex Rodriguez for his failure in that moment, and a few others in Game Two. I want Sheffield, Cano, and Mussina to share in that criticism. Referring back to my introduction of this topic, I want to be cautious and qualify these remarks by saying that these guys are allowed to fail without being labeled as failures. All of them have been All Stars. At least one of them is a Hall of Famer, while another two have a shot. Cano is a tremendously gifted young ballplayer. They are in the same boat, and they are all big boys, capable of accepting their roles in the loss.
Phew. Now, after the longest massage in sports blogging history, I will proceed. Alex Rodriguez striking out on three pitches in that situation is an embarrassment. For all the defense I threw up in front of him during the regular season, I think he is deserving of some mudslinging in the post-season. You see, as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, it’s expected that you’ll put up a fight. It’s expected that you will find a way, and that your talent will win out in as many important situations as it can. When you fail, you have to pick yourself up and perform given another opportunity. The reason we think of Jeter with such affection is that he produces the same numbers in the post-season as he does every other game. You are almost prepared for guys to see a dip in their numbers in the playoffs. After all, they are facing the toughest possible opponents every time out. There are no Royals or Devil Rays to pad your stats against. When Alex Rodriguez steps to the plate with the bases loaded, you expect him to succeed at the same rate he has in all other bases loaded situations throughout his career. You expect him to produce. That’s why he gets paid what he does, and why his name is thrown around as a Hall of Famer when he’s still a very young man.
For his career with the bases loaded, Rodriguez is a .338/.406/.683 hitter, which is good for a 1.089 OPS. In the playoffs, for his career, he is .294/.369/.508, which adds up to a .877 OPS. Those are good numbers. The guy deserves a break for having accomplished so much in his career. He’s not a playoff choker, as some would paint him. He doesn’t have a long track record of wilting under the intense pressure of the October spotlight. Even considering his poor postseason last year his career playoff numbers were .305/.393/.537, mirroring his track record in the regular season when he has produced .305/.386/.523 over 11 full seasons in the Bigs. Here’s where the criticism comes into play.
Last season Rodriguez went 2 for 15 with 6 walks in the 5 games against the Angels. He had no RBIs in those games. So far in the young 2006 postseason, A-Rod is 1 for 8 with no RBIs and 4 strikeouts in two games. The key to his tarnished image and the unfair characterization of his psyche comes from a very important string of events that has unfolded in front of Yankee fans’ eyes. Understanding these events will help all of us deal with what has developed. It starts in the 2004 ALCS, Game Four.
With the Yankees leading arch rival Boston three games to nothing, and the historical precedent of no club having even recovered from such a hole, the Yankees looked to be cruising to the World Series, an unstoppable machine. The Yankees had not only beaten the Red Sox, but embarrassed them. The games were a humiliation for Red Sox Nation, and the Yankees were receiving congratulations from players on the Boston club prior to the series turning point. The A-Rod Yankees looked to be a resounding success. We had snatched him from the jaws of the Boston roster and were now waving him in their faces. It was the perfect confluence of events.
Our memories are all smeared with the pain of the following four games. Those games turned history, and left scars on the loyal Yankee army. It is still difficult to fathom how it happened and the image of Ortiz single-handedly ripping our hearts from our chests is one none of us will ever forget. In those four games, Alex Rodriguez went 2 for 17 with 3 walks, a homer, 2 RBIs, and 3 strikeouts. The team collapsed as a group and it was easy to forgive Alex for his part in the shocking conclusion to our season and the 86 year dominance of our rival. He won the 2005 MVP after all. He beat out Ortiz to take home the hardware, and all seemed to be right with the world as we also grasped the division in our clutches for yet another year. The playoffs were a bitter disappointment again, as we bowed to the Angels in 5 games. A lot of players could have shared the blame, but A-Rod’s 2 for 15 with only a double and 6 walks against 5 strikeouts and no RBIs stood out. As one of the most high profile members of the club, and a kind of figurehead for a new era of Yankee baseball, A-Rod was under the microscope.
To start the season, Rodriguez continued to perform below expectations. His April numbers were good but not great and fans became restless. Was this the greatest player in the game? In May, it appeared he was ready to allay those fears and make another run at the MVP. He took home the hardware for American League player of the month. June, however, was a dismal failure as he hit .213 and regularly was assaulted by boos from the home fans. It seemed unimaginable at the time that people would be heaping so much spite and anger at a man who had accomplished so much. The rest of the season was excellent for A-Rod, even if it didn’t match his best production. The media outlets had already picked up on the hot story, the one that titillated the fans best and sold papers, and the speculation about his postseason guts began in earnest. That brings us to today.
Rodriguez has opened the 2006 campaign at 1 for 8 with no extra base hits, no walks, and no RBIs in 2 games. He’s struck out 4 times. Dating back to the faithful Game Four of the 2004 ALCS, Rodriguez has hit .125/.265/.225 for a .490 OPS in 11 games. The Yankees are 3-8 in those 11 games, and A-Rod is the poster boy for that failure. He has only 1 home run (in Game Four’s third inning), one double, and 2 RBIs in that span and has found himself striking out 12 times against 9 walks. That’s a prolonged stretch of failure that has cost him his image and the Yankees some ballgames. He came to New York to perform in these October moments on this October stage. He said so himself. He so craved to be in the spotlight in the postseason that he accepted a position change to move to New York. I, for one, don’t believe that he’s the player we’ve seen over the last 11 postseason games. I don’t feel the link between three completely distinct series that began 3 years ago. I don’t think that fans see it as I do, however, and my hypothesis for the bitter and angry sentiment aimed in his direction is the collapse against Boston.
If we had won that series and lost in the World Series against St. Louis, you wouldn’t see the same kind of desperate angst that you see today. You wouldn’t have fans turning on a Hall of Fame player who has won the MVP in their team’s colors. If it had been any team but Boston, and if he had found a way to string a couple of big nights in the wake of that failure, no one would be booing. He’d be wearing the goat horns after Game Two to be sure, but he’d be sharing them with Mussina, Sheffield, and Cano and we’d all be ready to move on.
I wanted to aim some criticism at A-Rod for his poor play in this series, and specifically for his weak at bats in the second game. I don’t want those harsh words to be added to the chorus, however, as I know how great this man is. I know that there’s a good chance that he’ll put this team on his back and carry us to the World Series. Even if it doesn’t happen this year, it is very likely that it will happen sooner than later. He’s that good. The thing that worries me, is that this is going to eat at him and he’s going to truly wilt. Not from the pressure of the moment, but from the slings and arrows of discontent that were forged in 2004 and are shot mercilessly at him from his own fans. Go get ‘em Alex. Tonight is a new night.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Rambo: There wouldn't be no trouble except for that king shit cop! All I wanted was something to eat. But the man kept pushing Sir.
Trautman: Well you did some pushing on your own John.
Rambo: They drew first blood, not me.
Trautman: Look Johnny, let me come in and get you the hell out of there!
Rambo: They drew first blood...
Trautman: Rambo, are you still reading me? Company leader to Raven! Rambo! Acknowledge!
There's blood in the water. Game One showed why this team is going to be hard to beat. They can throw an inning on you like nobody else. Once it starts rolling it's like the Juggernaut. Listen, the Tigers had a very good season. They finished poorly and it will cost them dearly. There's more baseball to play, but you have to look closely at these teams and be honest. It will take a miracle for the Tigers to win 3 out of 4 against the Bombers. These are not the 2002 Angels or the 2004 Red Sox. These guys are kind of like the early 90's Rangers. We used to sweep them.
I'm a bit tired tonight, so I regret that I'll keep this brief. Hopefully, I'll muster a bit more energy to write over the next few games, and certainly as we get deeper into things. Tonight I'll keep it simple and comment on my "Hero" and my "Goat" of Game One and leave it to Moose and company to do the rest tomorrow.
Hero: Derek Jeter
No brainer. Jeter went 5-5 and showed why he deserves the 2006 MVP award, and why he may be the most valuable player of his generation. Here's where he ranks in MLB playoff history:
Games Played (116, 2nd behind Bernie Williams 120)
At Bats (467, 1st)
Runs (84, 1st)
Hits (147, 1st)
Total Bases (224, 1st)
Doubles (20, 2nd behind Bernie's 29)
Home Runs (17, tied for 5th with Thome)
RBIs (48, tied for 3rd with Manny and Reggie)
Walks (50, 6th)
SOs (90, 1st)
SBs (16, 6th)
Singles (107, 1st)
XBH (40, 2nd to Bernie's 51)
The list could probably go on further, but that's enough. He's a Legend of the first order and he's ours. More ahead.
These guys share the goat horns. Leyland sent the runners in the early part of the game and got Ordonez thrown out at 3rd. That was a huge moment in the game. He also left in Robertson in the 6th after it was clear he was done. With such a stellar pen, he had to have balls enough to know Nate was cooked and replace him to hold it at 5-3. Instead he left Robertson in with runners on 2nd and 3rd and the heart of the order coming up. With 2 outs he could have brought in a tough reliever to face Abreu but he gambled and lost. Robertson deserves plenty of the blame for not doing his job well, but he was put in a position to fail in some way.
See you tomorrow. Go Yanks!!!
Sunday, October 01, 2006
The regular season is mercifully over. It was a wild ride, that essentially was over a month ago. In the interim, we have been treated to a series of fireworks displays interwoven with more than a few duds. That's the nature of this sport, when the stakes of each game are reduced. The Red Sox did half the work for us with regard to making September an exhibition season, and quite pitifully left them sunk in third place with a payroll of over $125 million. Certainly, Theo Epstein has a long winter of reflection ahead of him that will end in his termination should he fail to make big improvements to the club for the 2007 campaign. Manny being Manny won't make that easy, nor will the possibility of Curt Schilling's retirement. Alas, that's for the Beantowners to contemplate as we get the ball rolling on the real season ahead.
Derek Jeter couldn't buck the odds on the season's final day and bowed to Joe Mauer in the race for the American League batting crown. It's quite a remarkable feat that a catcher could produce such sustained excellence at the plate, even as his body took a beating on defense. Jorge Posada has also seemed to get stronger in the waning days of the regular season, going against the odds of the catching profession in the post-"greenies" era. They should both be very proud of their respective seasons. Staying on the Mauer subject for a moment, he could win the MVP and there would be very little to argue about. He won the batting crown. He plays the toughest position in the sport. His team snuck out the division crown on the last day of the season and avoided heading to the Bronx. They get to stay at home and play host to the Oakland Athletics, who like the Tigers, can thank a late season see-saw of games which contributed to their status as road warriors to open the post-season.
The Yankees were lucky to avoid Minnesota. The general consensus among fans and pundits alike has been that Johan Santana in a 5 game series is the single biggest threat to a Yankees championship out there. We won't have to deal with that situation now, and instead get the reeling Tigers who have really sunk to Earth in the post-All Star break portion of the season. The photo at the top of this post is the current ESPN cover page for the MLB section. Check out what it really says, and tell me my caption isn't better. They also gave away the division by losing their last 5 games, including a sweep at the hands of the 62-100 Royals, who took them to extra innings twice in the last three games to doom the Wild Card Cats. The Tigers vs. Yankees series will be the focus of the remainder of this piece, as I look at the fortunes of both teams, compare notes on their seasons and 7 games against one another, and examine the matchups position by position. Buckle up. Here we go!!
The Tigers posted the following Pre/Post All-Star Break splits:
1st place - 2 game lead over CWS, 11 game lead over Twins
5.17 runs per game
3.46 ERA (1st in MLB)
1.24 WHIP (1st in MLB)
2nd place - 1 game behind Twins
4.96 runs per game
The Yankees posted the following Pre/Post All-Star Break splits:
2nd place - 3 games behind Boston
5.57 runs per game
1st place - 10 games ahead of Toronto, 11 ahead of Boston
5.93 runs per game
At the All-Star Break the Yankees were 8 games behind Detroit for the best record in the AL. After the break, the Yankees were 10 games better, finishing 2 games ahead of the Tigers in the AL. The Yanks ERA has gone up slightly in that period, but slugging has jumped and runs per game also increased by almost half a run a contest. The Tigers, meanwhile, collapsed. The offense is a little weaker, but the main difference is that their otherworldly pitching couldn't keep it up. Let's look at the Pre and Post ERAs and WHIPs for their starters.
Kenny Rogers (3.85 and 1.19) (3.83 and 1.34)
Justin Verlander (3.01 and 1.17) (4.54 and 1.55)
Jeremy Bonderman (3.46 and 1.14) (4.87 and 1.49)
Nate Robertson (3.36 and 1.31) (4.44 and 1.31)
Zach Miner (2.57 and 1.21) (6.71 and 1.59)
What you see is smoke and mirrors being exposed. If there was ever a perfect example of "regression to the mean" it is the performances of Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson. Both of those guys posted numbers after the All-Star Break identical to their career numbers. Verlander and Miner are rookies, so you can expect some fluctuation as the season wears on. Rogers is the only guy that stayed steady throughout the year, in typical veteran form. Fortunately, we all know how he takes to Yankee Stadium! Let's look at the position by position matchups and size up the series ahead:
Catcher Jorge Posada vs. Ivan Rodriguez (advantage: Yankees)
I give the advantage to the Yankees, but we all know that Ivan Rodriguez is one of the finest catchers to ever play the game. There aren't too many seasons that Jorge would clearly get the nod here, but this is one of them. Posada leads I-Rod in OPS .867 to .769 and has actually thrown out more runners stealing this year as well. He has thrown out base stealers at a .373 clip to I-Rod's .510, however, as no one steals on I-Rod. Still, as far as his all around game goes, Posada gets the nod here.
First Base Gary Sheffield vs. Sean Casey (advantage: Yankees)
Sean Casey is a natural first basemen, unlike Gary Sheffield. That's about the only nice thing I have to say for Casey. He's been garbage for Detroit in his 53 game tenure with the Tigers. This has been a sore spot for the club, since Chris Shelton discovered Kryptonite and fell back to Earth. The acquisition of Casey was meant to shore up the position with a good stick, and it went bad. With Detroit, Sean Casey has produced a .245/.286/.364 line that has manager Jim Leyland withering away in the dugout faster than you can say, "Wild Card". Casey may bust out of it all of a sudden and get lighting hot, as his career .302/.368/.456 line would suggest he can do, but it's one thing to "have it in you" and another to let it out at the right moment.
Sheff is Sheff, and seems to have adjusted quickly to 1st. He may may some errors that cost us, which we have to be prepared for, but he is an MVP caliber talent with the bat and should easily dominate this matchup.
Second Base Robinson Cano vs. Placido Polanco (advantage: Yankees)
Polanco is a fair player. He's certainly an above average middle infielder, but he has absolutely no pop in his bat at all. He isn't fast either and posts a mediocre OBP for a leadoff man. Leyland will hit him leadoff and he'll run hot and cold. Good for us. Cano, on the other hand, was 3rd in the batting race and had more RBIs than any Major League ballplayer over the last 50-55 games of the season. He's an emerging superstar with Don Mattingly written all over him. No brainer here.
Shortstop Derek Jeter vs. Carlos Guillen (advantage: Push)
I want to give this one to Jeter. He is the better player, but Guillen is playing so well this year. Jeter finished with an astounding .344/.417/.483 line for an even .900 OPS, but Guillen was none to shabby himself at .320/.400/.519 for a .919 OPS. Guillen stole less bases than Jeter, but he also hit for more power. The Tigers would be nowhere on offense without Guillen, while Jeter helped to stem the tide of injuries that plagued the Bombers all year. Jeter gets the "clutch legend" bonus for his post-season heroics, but honestly this matchup is too close to call.
Third Base Alex Rodriguez vs. Brandon Inge (advantage: Please)
A-Rod has been roundly booed all season by Yankee fans, but he still produced a .290/.392/.523 line with 35 homers and 121 RBIs. He is searching for a big post-season to get everyone off his back and I think he's going to have it. He's a Hall of Fame lock, two-time MVP, and probably the best player in the American League playoffs. Inge is hitting .253/.313/.463 with 27 homers and 83 RBIs. Do I need to go on?
Left Field Hideki Matsui vs. Marcus Thames (advantage: Yankees)
Thames is a career AAA guy that I actually have always liked. He was hot for a while this season, posting some outlandish first half numbers. Like the rest of his teammates, he collapsed when his playing time was cut to make room for Delmon Young. Young was subsequently cut, but Thames never regained form. Matsui is a playoff master. He has a knack for all the big moments, and should be in mid-season form thanks to the time off he earned as a result of his horrific wrist injury. That injury was the best thing that ever happened to Godzilla as it gave him time to recover from the grueling and unnecessary 1700+ game streak he was on. He rehabbed like a champ and we will now reap the benefits of his dedication.
Center Field Johnny Damon vs. Curtis Granderson (advantage: Yankees)
Granderson is having a very respectable season for the Tigers in his first full-time action in the Bigs. He produced 31 doubles, 9 triples and 19 home runs. Those are numbers to be proud of. Johnny Damon produced 35 doubles, 5 triples, and 24 home runs. He also had 25 stolen bases. He also walked 67 times to 87 strikeouts. Granderson walked 66 times and struck out...wait for it.....174 times. He only stole 8 bases. Defensively, Granderson is a step up from weak-armed Damon, but I don't think his impact with the glove offsets Damon's superiority with the bat.
Right Field Bobby Abreu vs. Magglio Ordonez (advantage: Yankees)
It's hard to knock anything about Magglio Ordonez' contributions to the Tigers this year. He was a star with the White Sox, but is forgotten about these days in Detroit. His numbers this season returned to pre-injury form and he led the attack for the Tigers much of the year. His .827 OPS is a far cry from the days when he was topping .900 for the Pale Hose, but Detroit wouldn't be in the post-season without him. Abreu is a notch above Ordonez. He has a .926 OPS for the Yanks and is the perfect #3 hitter between Jeter and A-Rod. He also plays a pretty good right field, which was the main knock on him coming out of Philly. That and lack of power. For the record, Abreu's home run rate for Philly this year was a homer every 42.4 ABs. For New York, it's one every 29.9 ABs.
Designated Hitter Jason Giambi vs. Craig Monroe (advantage: Yankees)
We've rounded out the position players for both teams and Carlos Guillen's push with Jeter, was the only place Detroit is even with the Yanks. Even that may be a stretch in the end. Giambi is so clearly superior here, it's almost a waste of breath to go over the details. Here's the story:
Giambi = .253/.413/.558 with 37 homers, 110 walks, 106 Ks
Monroe = .255/.301/.482 with 28 homers, 38 walks, 126 Ks
Chien Min Wang vs. Nate Robertson (advantage: Yankees)
The Tigers blew two things in their final game of the year. The division and the division series. Kenny Rogers is a good matchup against Wang, despite his troubles in Yankee Stadium over the years. By pitching him in extra innings, it pushed his start back to Game Three and set up Robertson against Wang. Robertson is 1-4 against the Yankees in his career, allowing the Bombers a .300 BAA and about 4.5 runs per 9. Wang, on the other hand is 3-0 against Detroit with a 2.52 ERA and a .233 BAA.
Mike Mussina vs. Justin Verlander (advantage: Yankees)
Moose has owned Detroit over the years. This year he threw a complete game shutout, basically. I say, "basically" because he gave up one unearned run, 6 hits, and a single walk. Career, he sports a 2.50 ERA in 200+ innings against the Tigers and a .224 BAA. Verlander has been bad in the waning months of the season and got lit up in his only start against New York this year. He allowed 6 runs, 4 walks, and 7 hits over 5 innings earlier in the year and doesn't figure to do much better in the heat of Yankee Stadium in October. He may prove me wrong, but it doesn't look good.
Randy Johnson vs. Kenny Rogers (advantage: Tigers)
At last!!! Their first advantage. Rogers doesn't have to pitch in Yankee Stadium and gets to face the 84 year old Johnson, who is currently using a walker to get around. It's not to say that RJ won't get some playoff magic, and the Yanks won't throw up a 7 run smackdown on him as we usually do (his career 6.45 ERA against NY proves this), but you wouldn't bet on it. One note of optimism for Yankee fans. If RJ can take the mound without much injury hangover, he has posted a 1.24 WHIP and .250 BAA this season, despite his 5.00 ERA. It's not as bad as it looks.
Jaret Wright vs. Jeremy Bonderman (advantage: Yankees)
Yup. Believe it or not, I'm giving this advantage to Jaret Wright. He has pitched well in his career against Detroit and won his only start this year against them. He went 6.1 allowing 6 hits, one walk, and 2 earned runs. Bonderman's start against the Yanks, 7.1 IP, 9 hits, 2 walks, 4 runs. His career ERA against New York is 5.06 with a .290 BAA. Wright against Detroit, 3.39 and .253 BAA.
Bruney, Proctor, and Farnsworth vs. Rodney, Zumaya, Walker (adv: Tigers)
The Tigers have a stellar pen. No two ways about it. The ERAs and BAAs are Rodney (3.52/.195), Zumaya (1.94/.187), Walker (2.81/.251). By contrast the trio of Bruney, Proctor, and Farnsworth put up the following numbers. Bruney (0.87/.189), Proctor (3.52/.232), and Farnsworth (4.36/.243). Bruney has only appeared in 20 games, but he is off the hook. Proctor and Farnsworth are always an adventure, but I have to say that Proctor is a lot more comfortable than Farnsy. The Tigers can save their season by using this pen at the first sign of trouble with the starters. It's their only hope.
Mariano Rivera vs. Todd Jones (advantage: again, please)
Jones is very good. He'll shut the door most of the time. That said, he has a 3.94 ERA and a .276 BAA this year. Career against NY, he has a 4.67 ERA. In his last appearance versus the Yankees he pitched 1.2 innings giving up 4 hits, a walk, a homer, and 5 runs. I love it. Mariano is sporting a 1.80 ERA this year and career versus Detroit he has a 0.80 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, and .135 BAA. If you see him, it's over. I use him for 2 innings if I have to.
I avoided talking about the benches and some of the peripheral pitchers. It's unnecessary. The Yankees will come out with an advantage in all those places, and they don't figure to be the difference in this series. The only intrigue is Melky and Bernie at the plate. How much do they get to hit? Will GOB get a big home run at any point? Will Melky make a late inning defensive play to save a game? My prediction: Yankees in 3.
So Jeter steps up and delivers a final day chance to go for the batting title. With Mauer idle, the Captain went 3-3 to raise his average to .345 and sits .00157 behind the Twins young star. I took it upon myself to calculate the scenarios for both hitters that may unfold tomorrow. The range goes from 0-1 all the way to 5-5 for both players, and I'll give you the rundown of what Jeter needs to hit in the event that Mauer produces a particular result tomorrow. Let's try it out:
If Mauer doesn't play, Jeter can only win the crown by going 2-2 or collecting 3 hits.
Mauer 0-1 = Jeter 1-1, or any combination of 2+ hits except 2-5
Mauer 0-2 = Jeter 1-1, 1-2, or 2+ hits
Mauer 0-3 = Jeter 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, or 2+ hits
Mauer 0-4 = Jeter 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, or 2+ hits
Mauer 0-5 = Jeter 0-1, 0-2, 0-3, or 1+ hits
Mauer 1-1 = Jeter 3-3 or 4+ hits
Mauer 1-2 = Jeter 3-3, 3-4, or 4+ hits
Mauer 1-3 = Jeter 2-2, 2-3, or 3+ hits
Mauer 1-4 = Jeter 1-1, 2-2, 2-3, 2-4 or 3+ hits
Mauer 1-5 = Jeter 1-1, 1-2 or 2+ hits
Mauer 2-2 = Jeter 4-4 or 5-5
Mauer 2-3 = Jeter 4-4, 4-5, or 5-5
Mauer 2-4 = Jeter 3-3 or 4+ hits
Mauer 2-5 = Jeter 3-3, 3-4, or 4+ hits
Mauer 3-3 = Jeter has no chance
Mauer 3-4 = Jeter 5-5 or 5-6
Mauer 3-5 = Jeter 4-4 or 5+ hits
Mauer 4 or 5 hits = Jeter has no chance
Realistically, Mauer can close the door on the batting title with a multi-hit game. Jeter has to be outstanding if Mauer is 1-3 or better. The best chance Derek has is if Mauer takes an 0-fer, goes 1-4, or 1-5. The only thing Jeter has going for him is Mauer's 2-12 (.167) career average against Chicago pitcher Javier Vazquez. Jeter, in contrast, is 1-3 career against Blue Jays starter Dustin McGowan. Small sample sizes, but we gotta cling to something, right?
Twins have to win, and Detroit has to lose in order for us to avoid Johan Santana in the ALDS. Break out the Twins and Royals pom-poms people. See you tomorrow. Go Yanks! Kill 'em Cap'n.